Never Alone


Bill Jones was called home to heaven last Friday. His transition was unexpected and a little shocking to friends and family. This photo was taken as he acted in one of our church’s Christmas performances. Although Bill wasn’t a smoker, this seems to capture something of his actual demeanor – friendly and laid back, but always in charge. And, always just a little swagger in his step and a wry smile on his face.

We would often meet in the morning for a cup of small-talk at Starbucks. He was filled with fascinating stories of his family’s history, extraordinary reads on world events and politics, and many adoring words about his grandkids who, apparently, hung the moon and stars in Bill’s world.

I will always remember his quick smile and confident manner. Distrustful of authority, he was very open and assertive concerning his perspectives. I think that, maybe, he liked me because I didn’t seem much like an authoritarian leader, but more like the listening ear of a friend. It felt good to be accepted into his circle.

Bill leaves behind a godly, gracious wife who is a role model for young women everywhere. Betty’s maturity in Christ is shining like never before. Betty says her mom was a Saint, and I’m sure that’s true. May I be among the first to say that Betty Jones is a Saint, too. Let’s pray daily for Betty and family.

We will miss you Bill. When God made you he broke the mold. A one-of-a-kind, fun-loving, intelligent, articulate, well-meaning trouble maker. Can’t wait to see you when we all get to Heaven. So glad your life was entrusted to the strong grip of Jesus’ grace.

All my love,

Never Alone


Christ in Me, the Hope of Something New!

“We have escaped like a bird
from the snare of the fowlers;
the snare is broken,
and we have escaped.” Psalm 124:7

(Fowler: In the Bible, a fowler used traps to capture birds for a meal, sacrificial purposes or as pets.)

When I was a weird little kid, I became fascinated with the flight of the birds in our backyard. With my best friend, I hatched a plot to catch a bird or two and keep them as pets. My friend’s dad knew how to build a humane bird trap. All we needed was a wooden box with a mesh top, a handful of birdseed, and two sticks; one to raise the box lid off the ground and another stick to serve as a perch and trigger.

With our trap set, we went into the house for milk and cookies. When we returned an hour later, we had trapped a little bird. Success! My heart, however, was tender to small animals, so I watched the terrified bird for just a moment and then set him free. Coulda’ been a fowler – another possible career path down the drain.

Have you ever found yourself ensnared by a well-concealed trap? Just a little enticing morsel of sin, and the lid drops hard and fast. This morsel catches your eye, promising pleasure and fulfillment of needs without consequences; an inappropriate relationship, a purchase on credit you really couldn’t afford, or partaking a dangerous substance at the recommendation of a “friend.” Once ensnared, we feel powerless to break free. We continue to sing our songs, but this only serves to draw others into the trap with us.

Good news – Jesus came to set the captives free! When we open our hearts to Him, He opens the doors of our spiritual prisons. He loves us and pursues us. He enters our hearts, and by the very power of His presence, breaks the chains that bind us, and then charts a new course for our lives. This new freedom brings Christ-centered ways of thinking, better grids for decision making, and new heart-attitudes toward people and circumstances. No longer entrapped by sin, we are free to walk out a life of purpose and blessing, pointing others to the hope of something new. We begin to sing new songs of freedom, drawing others to receive the gift of freedom Jesus offers (John 8:36).

Now, those who have been set free sing this song,

“Our help is in the name of the Lord,
who made heaven and earth!” Psalm 124:8

Singing songs of freedom,
Pastor Steve

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released,
that the blind will see,
that the oppressed will be set free,
and that the time of the Lord ’s favor has come.”
He rolled up the scroll, handed it back to the attendant, and sat down. All eyes in the synagogue looked at him intently. Then he began to speak to them. “The Scripture you’ve just heard has been fulfilled this very day.” Luke 4:18-21

Never Alone

Image 10-27-15 at 11.58 AM

The Bread and the Wine

Tina Turner was a captivating and energetic performer. Her career spanned half a century, but her signature song was released in 1984: “What’s Love Got to Do with It?” This song portrays human attempts at love as futile and self-serving. Sounds like it was written from a well of deep pain and betrayal in the composer’s life.

Oh what’s love got to do, got to do with it
What’s love but a second hand emotion
What’s love got to do, got to do with it
Who needs a heart
When a heart can be broken

Many of us have experienced this same pain and betrayal from human love. In contrast, however, God’s love is defined and driven by sacrifice and servanthood. Jesus, whose love is perfect, displayed this love most completely on the cross. He held nothing back, and no self-defense was attempted – just humble submission to the will of the Father and His mandate of love for the world.(1) Our most profound reminder of this love was given on the night Jesus was betrayed.(2) Betrayal: “an act of deliberate disloyalty,” and the most heart-breaking word in the english language.(3)

When Jesus broke the bread and shared the wine with His disciples, he answered the question posed in this hit song. Love has nothing to do with dominance, control, pleasuring self, or seeking to gratify one’s own personal desires. Christ’s love serves, sacrifices, and pours out life for the provision of others.

On that night, when He broke the bread, we learned this about Jesus’ love – it is willing to sacrifice comfort and pleasure to make others whole.

And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” Luke 22:19

And Jesus, rather than walking in anger and offense toward those who perpetrated sin against Him, willingly poured out His blood in the offer of forgiveness.

“This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.” Luke 22:20

Turner sang, “who needs a heart when a heart can be broken?” Jesus died of a broken heart – broken by mankind’s sin and betrayal, hatred and selfishness. But His sacrifice was not in vain as he paid the price for our sin. Jesus shed His blood to provide a new way to have peace with the God of perfect love and to step out of darkness into His marvelous Light. He has taken our rightful penalty on the cross that we might live and know the love of God.(4) And now this love has set the pace for how we are to love others.

What’s love got to do with it? Everything. There is no greater love than this, “that a man lay down his life for his friends.”(5) Jesus said, “do this is remembrance of Me.” Once you experience this kind of love, it’s hard to forget. Only His love will satisfy forever.

Because He first loved me,
Pastor Steve

(1) John 3:16, English Standard Version

(2) I Corinthians 11:23, English Standard Version


(4) II Corinthians 5:21, English Standard Version

(5) John 15:13, King James Version

Never Alone

broken heart

Christ in Us, The Hope of Something New

“The Heart Wants what it Wants.” This romantic phrase is the title of a popular Selena Gomez song, loosely based on a letter written by poet Emily Dickinson. Some use this philosophical statement to explain their natural pursuit of personal passions. With no evaluation of consequences or apologies to people wounded along the way, it seems enough to justify behavior and decisions when we say that “my heart wants it.”

Our desires don’t have to be constructive or beneficial to be all consuming. Led by this philosophy, we tend to go from longing to longing, always seeking, but rarely satisfied.

In Christ we learn the path to lasting joy and steadfast love – my heart is most happy when I want God. And He wants to provide love and joy! The Westminster Shorter Catechism of the traditionally reformed churches begins with this enticing question and answer:

Q. What is the chief end of man?
A. Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.

When we seek Jesus first, we find “all these things added unto us.”(1) Our hearts are satisfied and healed by looking upon things that are “true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable.”(2) A higher calling for our hearts is discovered when we seek God first.

C.S. Lewis, in his classic book, The Weight of Glory, said it this way;
“If we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”(3)

“Christ in us, the hope of glory.”(4) John Piper hits the nail on the head when he writes, “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.”(5) The more we desire God, the more His eternal joy floods into our soul. The more we know Him, the more we are transformed by His love.

Saint Augustine wrote these eternally true words; “Thou hast formed us for Thyself, and our hearts are restless till they find rest in Thee.” Rest, peace, joy, truth, beauty, wholeness, healing. These are the words that describe the people who know their God and find their joy in Him.

Eternally yours,
Pastor Steve

(1) Matthew 6:33, English Standard Version

(2) Philippians 4:8, New Living Translation

(3) C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory, (New York: MacMillan Publishing Co., 1962)

(4) Colossians 1:27, English Standard Version

(5) John Piper, Desiring God, (New York: Multnomah Books, 1986)

Never Alone

12141611_10153522704736558_6904398879045281937_nA Tribute to a Much-Loved Friend

This week, our church community is grieving the loss of a very special brother. Our beloved friend Tudy Lara was killed in an accident last Monday, and his parting has left us all with hearts filled with deep sorrow. He was just the right combination of boldness and compassion, courage and tender love. A faithful friend and sacrificial servant, Tudy was truly a man of God and a leader among men.

“When’s he gonna get over this?” This question was asked of me regarding a man who had experienced the loss of a child, an unimaginable sorrow. My answer to this question is “never.” We never “get over” the loss of a loved one or any sorrow this deep. Our sorrows and grief simply become part of our life narrative, the fabric of our story. Sorrow shapes us and changes us, but the sadness of loss never goes away.

During times of sorrow, its best to keep our hearts abiding in Jesus Christ and daily lay down our burdens before Him. In the hands of God, our sorrows work to greatly increase our capacity for love and compassion.(1) Know this – he who has not suffered much cannot love much. In the fire of pain and tribulation, our love is purified, beautified, and empowered.

Jesus was prophesied by Isaiah to be the “man of sorrows, well acquainted with grief.”(2) Jesus is well acquainted with every sorrow we will encounter. Isaiah also promised to those who mourn that this Messiah would provide

“a crown of beauty instead of ashes,
festive oil instead of mourning,
and splendid clothes instead of despair.”(3)

Tudy “fell asleep” on earth and woke up in the presence of the Savior He loves and worships.(4) Our hearts and prayers go out to his precious wife, Bonnie, and his family. As one modern song writer sings, “earth has no sorrows heaven can’t heal.” All who sorrow eagerly await the day of healing in heaven, trusting God on earth with each new day.

Tudy – love you always and see you soon!
Pastor Steve

(1) II Corinthians 1:3-5

(2) Isaiah 53:3, English Standard Version

(3) Isaiah 61:3, English Standard Version

(4) I Corinthians 15:18, 19

Never Alone

IMG_0696Christ in Me, the Hope of Something New!

I “threw” this pot on a wheel when I was in a college. A liberal arts degree requires art. This is my art. Pretty nice, don’t you think?

This pot didn’t really contribute anything to the process of becoming a pot except raw materials. In fact, when I scooped up a glob of wet clay and plopped it on the wheel, it didn’t look like much. As I worked it on a wheel, this pile of wet mud was slowly but surely formed into the fully functional container that you see here, with a beauty all its own. And all the clay had to do was remain in my hands and patiently await the forming, shaping touch of my fingers and motion of the wheel.

Most of us have friends and family we’d love to see changed. Explosive anger and the spirit of control need to go, along with lust and greed. Deliverance from addictions is necessary, replaced by self-control. A new attitude of love and understanding should be embraced. And, a rare few of us realize that we, too, need to change. We live in hope that destructive habits and thoughts can be replaced by something better.

For those of us who follow Jesus Christ by grace, we bask in His love and enjoy His presence in spite of thoughts and habits we know to be negative. But we also have Jesus’ perfect example to live up to. We read Jesus’ imperative command – “be holy as I am Holy.”(1) Knowing the condition of my own heart, this feels like an impossibly high standard.

So we set out to make some changes for the better. With white-knuckle determination, we attempt to improve our personal discipline, make better choices, and institute healthier habits. The shelves of our local book stores are packed with self-help titles. No matter how hard we strive, however, this process proves to be slow, exhausting, and discouraging at times, producing only surface-level changes. Deep down in our heart, we secretly hope that there is a better way.

In the eighteenth century, Scottish theologian Thomas Chalmers concluded that people will never overcome bad habits or character flaws by simply trying harder. In his classic Sermon, “The Expulsive Power of the New Affection,” Chalmers asserted that the human heart “. . . is so constituted that the only way to disposes it of an old affection is through the expulsive power of a new one.” That new affection is Jesus.

So, good news! Jesus has provided a better way. Rather than expending all our focus and energy trying to fix our problems, we can fix our eyes on Jesus and be transformed in the process. The author of Hebrews puts it this way,

“And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith.”(2)

We keep our eyes on Him and He initiates and perfects our faith, resulting in deep life transformation. Instead of attempting to modify behavior as our path to perfection, we learn that He just wants us to remain in His hands. It’s all about Jesus.

“But now, O Lord, you are our Father;
we are the clay, and you are our potter;
we are all the work of your hand.” Isaiah 64:8

“But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.” II Corinthians 4:7

Nothing His children can do will make Him love us more, and no sin His children commit will make Him love us less. When our eyes are focused on Him, we find ourselves wanting what He wants, loving what He loves, and discovering our greatest joy in His presence. The hope of glory is transformation into the likeness of Christ Jesus, who is the treasure within us! (3)
He is perfect; I’m not. When He takes up residence in my heart, someone’s gotta’ change. When I keep my eyes fixed on Him, true transformation comes through Christ living in me. And all I have to do is remain in His loving hands as He shapes me into His glorious image.

Remaining in His hands,
Pastor Steve

(1) I Peter 1:16, English Standard Version

(2) Hebrews 12:1b-2a, New Living Translation

(3) Romans 8:29 English Standard Version

Never Alone


Yogi Berra, 1925-2014

Christ in Me, the Hope of Something New!

Part 1 – Luke 17:20, 21

Baseball great Yogi Berra died on September 22 of this year. He played for the New York Yankees for 19 years and was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1972. Yogi was a beloved husband, father, and friend to many. He will be missed.

Berra was famous for his “Yogi-ism” responses in interviews; “Baseball is 90% mental and the other half is physical,” “Always go to other people’s funerals, otherwise they won’t come to yours,” and “He hits from both sides of the plate. He’s amphibious.” Humble, wise, and, in the words of his manager, “quick as a cat!” When he answered questions, reporters recorded every word – not always logical, but always lovable.

According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, a non-sequitur is “a statement (as a response) that does not follow logically from or is not clearly related to anything previously said.”(1) The Pharisees asked Jesus when the Kingdom of God would arrive and Jesus replied with an apparent “non sequitur.”

Pharisees. “When will the Kingdom of God arrive?” (time)
Jesus. “. . . Behold, the Kingdom of God is within . . .” (location) (2)

The Pharisees asked the question of timing and Jesus answered with the location. The Kingdom of God lives inside those who follow the King! Jesus doesn’t live in a man-made temple, cathedral, or church building.(3) No matter how breathtaking the architecture, no matter how massive the building, no man-made structure can hold the Eternal King of glory. People’s hearts, however, make a fitting home for Jesus.(4) The apostle Paul even says that, rather than living in buildings made with human hands, our hearts are now His home and our bodies are His living temple!(5)

The Greek word for “within” (entós) literally means “inside.”(6) The Kingdom of God already lives inside Jesus’ followers! It is present where and when the King is present. If Jesus is our King, then His Kingdom lives within us. How’s that for a “value added” life?

With the all-powerful, all-knowing, perfectly loving God living inside us, we can be assured of His steadfast love and mercy. His presence in our hearts brings the promise of transformation and something new!

Yogi was fond of saying, “It ain’t over till it’s over.” Since the Kingdom of God is within you, your struggles are not over, but your ultimate victory is certain. Christ in us, “the hope of glory,” – the hope of something new.(7) These are words with plenty of hope to live by.

He’s still working in me . . .
Pastor Steve

1.Merriam-Webster Dictionary,

2. Luke 17:21, New King James Version

3. Acts 17:24

4. Ephesians 3:17

5. I Cor. 3:16, E.S.V.

6. (See Matthew 23:25 for entós as “inside”)

7. Colossians 1:27, English Standard Version

Never Alone


(Francis Thompson, 1859-1907)

News so Good it’s Just Gotta’ be told
Part 4

Can Steve Come Out and Play?

An old friend passes through town. Although you haven’t thought about him in awhile, a text beeps your phone to life; “Hey, I’m in town on business for a couple of days. Wanna’ meet for coffee and catch up on life?”

Love is communicated clearly when someone initiates time together. Their initiative seems to add value to our lives – we are not forgotten after all. What great joy! I’m not too old to get excited when I hear, as I did in childhood, a friend at the door asking, “Can Steve come out and play?”

In his poem published in 1893, “The Hound of Heaven,” Englishman Francis Thompson tells the story of a man fleeing from God while drowning in worldly indulgences. God is seen as initiating a love relationship with him, empowered by Divine love. He is the “Hound of Heaven” who relentlessly pursues the hearts of wandering men and women. The author honestly confesses,

I fled Him, down the nights and down the days;
I fled Him, down the arches of the years;
I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways
Of my own mind; and in the mist of tears

God then goes on to explain that the worldly pleasures removed from him were for his benefit that he might find the right path – the path to God. The happiness the poet longed for was not to be found in worldly pleasures, but were “stored for thee at home.”* The Hound of Heaven tenderly says ““Rise, clasp My hand, and come!”*

Rather than leaving us to work our way to Him, God initiates a love relationship with us. He pursues us and woos us. Jesus came to earth while we were “utterly helpless.”* Without spiritual resources of our own, we were lost and hell-bent on self destruction.

Now, because of His initiating love, “we know how dearly God loves us.” And when we turn from worldly affections and accept His grace-gift, He increases His initiative by giving “us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love.”*

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, initiative is defined as “the power or opportunity to do something before others do.” Or, when others can’t do anything for themselves. When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners. And all we have to do is clasp His hand and come.

Always saying “yes” to His love,
Pastor Steve

Poem published in 1893, “The Hound of Heaven,” by Francis Thompson
Excerpted from Romans 5:3-5, N.L.T.

Never Alone


News so Good it’s Just Gotta’ be told
Part 3

What a Friend We Have in Jesus

I have a good friend. We’ve met weekly over the last 10 years for lunch, fellowship, counsel, and support. He is the pastor of a wonderful church down the street from our church campus. Risking life and limb, he likes to ride his bike fast and far (see picture). Still, he puts even more energy into knowing Christ and making Him known.

My friend takes time to tell me the truth even when it hurts and stands by me when I begin to falter (Prov. 27:6). I respect his faith and integrity and am unspeakably grateful to God for providing all these years of friendship. Dr. Weir, thanks for your investment in my life.

Our closest friends influence our behavior and decisions. We find ourselves seeking their counsel (what do you think?), approval (does this seem wise to you?), and blessing. Just as “bad company corrupts good morals,” good friendships with wise friends can make us better than we would have been on our own (I Cor. 15:33).

To fully comprehend the gospel, we have to understand what Jesus has done for us. The miracle began before the foundation of the world in the heart of the Father. Jesus was in heaven with the Father and came down to earth, born of a virgin, to re-establish that which had been broken – relationship with fallen mankind. Jesus sacrificed the pure, uninterrupted joy of heaven, laying aside its resplendent glory, and humbled Himself to take on the flesh of a man (Phil. 2:5-8).

Jesus then lived on earth with a “dual nature” as fully God, fully man. He humbled Himself in the form of a servant that He might redeem us. No wonder He didn’t stay dead but rose from the grave! And on the night He was betrayed he shared some bread with His friends and said “this is my body, broken for you” (I Cor. 11:24). Don’t miss the impact; He allowed Himself to be broken for you. For you.

Only God is capable of such perfect love and sacrifice. God lavished His love upon us in the person of Jesus Christ. When the Father sacrificed His only Son for us, the way was made open to knowing Jesus in an intimate and close personal relationship (John 3:16).

What is Christianity about then? Simply . . . knowing Jesus and striving to know Him more and more. In seeking to know Him more deeply every day we are transformed. We can’t help but share the good news and serve the brokenhearted because of the transformational love produced by simply being with Him (Mark 10:45).

The rulers of this world want to “lord it over us,” but Jesus, the King of all Kings and Lord of all Lords, has called us His friends (John 15:14, 15). Those of us who truly know Him are being transformed daily into His likeness. We are becoming more like Him in character and love. That’s why we can’t help but love people like He loves them, serve people like He serves them, and tell people how they can come to know Him, too.

The joy of friendship on earth is only a refection of friendship with Jesus. The best friendships on earth encourage us on our journey toward knowing Him more deeply every day.

Your friend,
Pastor Steve
I Cor. 15:3, 4

Never Alone


News so Good it’s Just Gotta’ be told
Part 2

The Cup of Fellowship

I love to ride the California Coast. I’m grateful that God has made a home for me close to the Pacific Coast Highway. The only way to improve this ride is the company of friends. The scenery is stunning and the vistas are breathtaking, but sharing the view with friends makes these times memorable. And, there is a Starbucks within sight of the ocean for enjoying a cup of fellowship on sunny days.

One of Jesus’ favorite spots was the beautiful Garden of Gethsemane. No ocean view for Jesus, but the flickering of lamps in the city just three miles away, powered by the oil from the olive trees in the garden.  He often traveled to this quiet place to pray with close friends. A garden of ancient olive trees can still be seen there to this day. The name of this productive garden literally means “oil press.” Olive oil was used for cooking, lamps, and even spiritual applications such as anointing the sick for prayer. But, for Jesus’ purposes, this was a place of intimate connection with the Father in prayer and His brothers in fellowship.

The most impactful moment of prayer in this place came the night Jesus was betrayed.* For those of us who love Jesus, this moment in time is heart-wrenching. Friends had accompanied him in order to provide support and comfort, but they were too sleepy to provide any fellowship. Even in the company of friends, he found himself all alone.

As Jesus confesses the depth of his sorrow, he prays to the Father requesting the removal of a cup. What could have possibly have held such dread?  A cup of poison, sewage, or shards of glass? The truth was actually much worse; this “cup” contained the all righteous wrath of God toward all the sinful rebellion of mankind. In the moment he drank that cup on the cross, Jesus would experience His first and only moment of separation from His perfectly holy Father. Broken fellowship due to sin; our sin, not His. Although Jesus never sinned, He willingly became “the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ.”*

Greatness in God’s Kingdom grows from the soil of suffering and sacrificial service to mankind. The greatest sacrifice in all eternity was made by the one who deserved His suffering the least. He drank the cup of wrath and sin so that we might enjoy the cup of unbroken fellowship with our Father in heaven.

So now, we find courage to live in the knowledge that, because of the sacrifice of Jesus, He will always be with us. We will never be alone.

Pastor Steve

*Matthew 26:36-46

*II Corinthians 5:21