Thursday, April 30, 2020

Value the Moment

We all have dreams.

Dreaming is part of what makes us human.

I dream of writing a book, getting into shape, and going on camping adventures. 

There are many things that I would like to accomplish in life, but when I examine my life I realize that time continues to move forward while my dreams gradually fade away. 

Too often it feels like life, quiet literally, is passing me by.

I assume that the same is true with you? 

Sure your dreams are different, but you too have moments when you feel like the life you have is not the life you want. You want your life to count for something and you long to be part of something special,  but now time is running out. 

Apparently our dreams come with an expiration date.

Why does life seem to gradually slip away? 

I believe it is because of the choices that we make. 

I am not talking about choices between good and evil, but about how we choose to use our time.

Erwin McManus wrote:
“This may sound too simple, but the abundant life that Jesus promises is ushered in through the choices we make in the ordinary moments of life.” (Seizing Your Divine Moment, p. 35)
Each day we are given 24 hours to use at our discretion. 

It is true that a large part of that time is taken up by our responsibilities. There are clothes that need to be washed, meals that need to be prepared, jobs that need to completed, and children who need to be loved. 

Yet, even with all our responsibilities we still seem to find time to watch Netflix, scroll through our Facebook feeds, and create awesome images of Instagram. 

Since busyness is a badge of honor in our culture, we will declare to the world how busy we are, but the reality is we are able to find time to do the things we want to do.

In those moments when we get to choose what we want to do, how do we use our time? 

I am afraid that too often I end up wasting my time. I scroll through Twitter, listen to podcasts, or play a game on my iPad. Rather than doing something productive I choose to entertain myself. 

In the process I squander the moments of life. These moments turn into days, which turn into weeks, which turn into months, which turn into years. 

It is important to remember: A moment may not seem like a big deal, but a moment is all that is needed to change the course of our lives. 

Again I like what Erwin McManus wrote in Seizing Your Divine Moment:
“The present moment is where the past and the future collide, and within a moment there is monumental potential. That’s the mystery of a moment. It is small enough to ignore and big enough to change your life forever. Life is the sum total of what you do with the moments given you.” (p. 18)
When we choose the path of least resistance, we miss out on the life God created us to live. 

There will come a time in your life when you look back and wonder: Where has my life gone?
So be careful how you live. Don’t live like fools, but like those who are wise. Make the most of every opportunity in these evil days. Don’t act thoughtlessly, but understand what the Lord wants you to do.  (Ephesians 5:15-17; NLT)
We are to be good stewards of the moments God has given to us. 

To live carefully has very little to do with taking safety precautions and has everything to do with how we choose to use our time. 

The apostle Paul wants us to be wise in our use of time.

Time is our most precious commodity, it is even more valuable than money. You can use time to earn money, but you can't use money to buy more time.

Time is also valuable because our lives are determined by the way we decide to use the ordinary moments of life. When we consistently use the ordinary moments of life to follow Jesus, sooner or later we realize, much to our amazement, that we are living the abundant life he promised us.

Here is the question I want to leave you with: How intentional are you in how you use your time? 

The good news is that it is not too late to become a good steward of the ordinary moments of our lives.

Don't look back on your life with regret, but look forward with hope.

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

How to Read the Bible: Plot

One of the most important tools that God has given us for our spiritual formation is the Bible.

The Bible contains wisdom from God that helps guide our lives.

But the Bible is more than a collection of eternal truths. If it was then all 66 books would read like Proverbs. No,  the Bible is made up of a collection of different literary styles. The most common style is narrative.

As we read the Bible, we notice that there are many stories that tell us about the lives of people and their pursuit to follow God. Some of these stories are strange to our ears and don't make a lot of sense to us. This problem is made worse because we are constantly looking for the lesson from the story so we have something to apply to our lives.

When we do this, we often miss out on the real lesson that these stories teach us.

So how do we read the stories of the Bible?




It is important that we don't look at stories as isolated events that are there to teach us some eternal truth. We are to look at the whole scope of the narrative and discover how God worked in the lives of people. This gives us a better sense of what God wants us to know.

There is a central plot the runs through the story of each person that connects the individual events of there lives. Understanding this plot helps us to learn the lessons we need to be the faithful people God created us to be.

Not only is there a central plot the moves through the story of each person, but there is a central plot that connects the stories throughout the Bible. Finding this plot helps us discover that the main story of the Bible points to Jesus.

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

I Hope You Don't Burn in Hell

Several years ago I was at a meeting with other youth pastors planning a week of high school camp. During the meeting we discussed how we could do a better job of holding the campers accountable for the commitments they made during camp.

As we discussed the importance of commitments and what we could do to encourage the campers to honor their commitments, one of the other youth pastors said; “I am the type of guy that if someone doesn’t live up to their commitment to God I hope they burn in hell.”

I remember sitting there shocked that he would say that with such conviction. I was even more shocked than no one challenged him on his statement. I guess we were all shocked by what we heard.

It is true Christians are often portrayed with this type of judgmental attitude, but is this the attitude that Christ Followers should have?

Any time we hope for the eternal damnation of another person we are hoping for something that is contradictory to the will of God.

Consider these passages:

And have mercy on those who doubt; save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh. (Jude 22, 23; ESV) 
My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins. (James 5:19-20; ESV) 
Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. (Galatians 6:1-3; ESV)

It seems clear to me that rather than hoping a person burns in hell for not living up to their commitments we are to do our best to restore that person to a relationship with God.

We may think that we only have to worry about ourselves, but that is not what happens in a family. To be part of the Church means that we have a responsibility for the spiritual formation of each other.

According to the apostle Paul when we don’t share in the burdens and problems of others we are not following the way of Christ.

To be a follower of Jesus means that we are part of a community.

The New Testament teaches us that our relationship with God is tied to our relationship to each other. If we get caught up in our own “personal relationship” with Jesus and neglect other Christians, then we are not being true to our calling.

Only a person who believes we are called to judge others can say what my youth pastor friend did so many years ago.

It is true that one of our roles as disciples of Jesus is to challenge people in their sin (while we continue to confess and overcome our own sin). This is to be done with grace and mercy. People are more likely to listen when they know that we care for them and when they know we practice what we preach.

One of the ways we develop this attitude is to spend time praying for and serving others. These disciplines help us develop compassion for other people. The judgmental attitude begins to melt away because we realize that, just like us, they face real obstacles in their desire to follow Jesus.

All of us need encouragement rather than condemnation.

Take time to evaluate your life and consider these questions:

  • Do I find it easy to judge people who don’t live up to my standard of what a Christian should be?
  • How am I encouraging people in their life of faith?
  • Have I shown compassion to someone who is struggling with life or do I simply cast judgement?


Jesus had harsh words for those religious leaders who were eager to burden people with shame and guilt, but did nothing to encourage them. He held people to a high standard for life and showed grace and love to them. His desire was that they would experience the love of God.

We are to follow his example.

Friday, April 24, 2020

Protect Yourself with Disciplines

All of us have those days when we don't feel like doing much of anything.

It could be the result of:

Not having a good night sleep.

Experiencing loneliness.

Feeling overwhelmed with responsibilities.

The presence of trouble in a relationship.

Or, depression settling in.

Whatever the reason maybe, we all have those days when we don't want to face the world.

I think that is one of the danger of being at home during the Covid-19 pandemic. The activities, projects, and relationships that keep us motivated and positive are not available to us. Working at home and Netflix now feel tedious. We have to be on our guard to protect our hearts and minds.

One of the best things we can do for our spiritual and mental health is to establish routines. These routines help us to get moving and thinking in ways that are productive and healthy.

Christians throughout history have found value in spiritual disciplines. Spiritual disciplines are practices, found and adapted from Scripture, that help strengthen our relationship with God and mature our faith. 

This same principle can be applied to other areas of our lives. Daily exercise, taking vitamins, following a sleep routine, taking a nap, and journaling are all examples of  disciplines that we can add to our lives that provide a sense of routine and focus to our lives. 

Disciplines, whether they are spiritual or not, help give focus to our days, and provide meaning when the rest of the day seems meaningless.

Since we know we will have days when our self-discipline gives out, it is important for us to have a routine that will get us moving in the right direction. 

For us who follow Jesus we need to set aside time each day to connect with God. We do this by reading and meditating on Scripture, praying, and journaling. By having a daily routine we become intentional about our spiritual formation, we create a time to reorient our focus, and we provide steps to help us keep moving forward in life.

I have come to discover how vital disciplines are in my life. As a guy who likes routine, they give me a path to follow as I go through my day. They also give me any opportunity to connect with God when I would rather spend more time in bed. 

We need disciplines in our lives, not because we want to show people how spiritual we are, but because with out them we will disconnect ourselves from God,  our source of life. 

For the sake of life and to grow in our relationship with God, we need to have spiritual disciplines in our lives. We cannot live a life of faith without them.

Thursday, April 23, 2020

An Example for Others

A fundamental belief that I have is: How we live our lives reflect what we truly believe.

This is why faith is more than just what we believe. Faith encompasses our actions as much as it is about our beliefs. The reason that our beliefs are important is the way they influence our actions.

When our beliefs simply remain truths that we agree with they make little difference in our lives. It is when those believes affect our actions that they take on a greater significance. 

Abraham, the great example of faith, was credited with righteousness because his belief in God was made real by the way he trusted God with his life. We can say we believe in God, but if that belief isn’t manifested into action then we really don’t have faith. 

The simple definition of faith I like to share with people is "life influenced by belief."

Faith is about applying what we believe to the way we live. 

This is why James wrote: "For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead" (James 2:26; ESV).

Our belief maybe the root of faith, but our actions (the way we live) are the stem and branches of faith. Faith requires both.

Why is this important?

It is important because it reminds us that our faith is not a simple matter of personal preference. A person who faithfully follows Jesus is an example for others to follow. 

Think about it.

The people who have influenced you the most are not only people who taught  you true things, but also applied those truths to the way they lived. Their lives validated what they taught.

In the Gospels we discover a group of people who were not interested in being a good example for people to follow. Rather, they were interested in impressing other people with how "righteous" they were.

The Pharisees were the religious teachers of Jesus’ day. They interpreted Scripture for people and taught them how it applied to their lives.

Yet, they missed a key component in their teaching—they didn’t live it out in their lives. People were impressed by their religious piety, but people were also discouraged because they knew they couldn’t achieve that level of “righteousness".

 It was on this point that Jesus confronted the Pharisees.

Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples:
"The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses' seat, so practice and observe whatever they tell you—but not what they do. For they preach, but do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people's shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger" (Matthew 23:1-4; ESV)
The underlying theology that the Pharisees taught was not the issue. The issue was that the Pharisees burdened people with law but did not teach them how to obey the laws. They taught the truth, but did not show people how to live a faithful life.

 Jesus told the crowd that the Pharisees had bad faith, not bad theology. He urged people to listen to the Pharisees' teaching, but discouraged them from following their example.

We need to keep in mind that there are two parts to effective teaching—explaining truth and letting that truth be seen in your life. When our lives do not reflect the truth of the Gospel, those closest to us will wonder whether or not it is really the truth.

The best evidence for the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ are the faithful lives lived by His followers. When we live faithful lives we make the teachings of Jesus real and accessible to the people around us. Without living examples, Jesus’ teachings remain a philosophy rather than becoming a way of life.

Having the truth doesn’t do us, or anyone else, any good if we don’t apply that truth to our lives.

The life of faith is the life that is lived based on the truth that we know.

Faith happens when we live our lives in the light of what we believe. A life that is lived by faith is a life that provides an example for others to follow.

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

How to Read the Bible: Ancient Jewish Meditation Literature

I want to return to posting BibleProject videos on How to Read the Bible. You can find the previous three here, here, and here.

We understand that there are different types of literature. How we read a news article is different than how we would read a fictional story.

This difference in literary types is expanded as we look are different cultures at different time types. One of the reasons the Bible can be hard for us to understand is because it was written in a different time and place. If we approach the Bible the same way we would our modern day literature we are going to miss much of what the Biblical authors wanted us to understand.



There are two important lessons that we are to remember as we read and study the Bible.

The first lesson is to read the Bible slowly and deliberately, giving ourselves time to think about what was written. We are not meant to understand everything in one reading of Scripture, so we return and reread and meditate on what we have read.

The second lesson is to discuss our readings with a group. The dynamic of a group allows us to hear from perspectives we don't have as we read Scripture. This opens up the possibility for us to see the truth of Scripture in a whole new way.

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Trust Jesus for New Life

It was strange to celebrate Easter at home this year. Right now Bethlehem, like most churches around the United States, are coping with the regulations given by our state government. Even though we cannot meet in person, we are doing what we can to continue to have a Christian community via the power of the internet.

This is the sermon I preached for Easter Sunday: Trust Jesus for New Life.


Monday, April 20, 2020

Trust Jesus to Lead

One of my favorite stories in the Gospels is the story of the Rich Young Ruler (Matthew 19:16-30; Mark 10:17-31; Luke 18:18-30).

I like the story because the Rich Young Ruler is a person in the Bible who American Christians can relate to.

While we may not consider ourselves rich, compared to rest of the world we are. In fact, the greatest stumbling block for Americans, just as it was for the Rich Young Man, is materialism (measuring the worth and purpose of our lives by the things we have or desire to have).

The Rich Young Man comes to Jesus with the question: "How can I have eternal life?"

Ultimately what the Young Man asked Jesus is how he can be part of God's eternal kingdom.

Jesus responded, "You need to keep the commandments."

The key, according to Jesus, is to remain in God's will. God revealed His will to Israel through the Law. For the Rich Young Man to remain in God's will required that he keep the commandments.

Young Man replied to Jesus, "I have kept the commandments."

We should not hear this as being arrogant, but rather a declaration that he was following what the Law required. He obeyed the commandments, and when he broke one he made sure the appropriate sacrifice was offered. In his mind he could truthfully say, "I have kept the commandments."

Notice Jesus did not challenge him on this point. Rather, he gave the Young man one more thing to do: sell his possessions and give the money to the poor.

Remember Jesus hung all the commandments on two commands: love God and love your neighbor.

What the Young Man revealed by holding on to his wealth is that he really did not keep the commandments. He participated in a religion, but true love eluded him.

The Young Man was torn between two desires. He desired the lifestyle that his money gave him, but he also desired to be part of God's Kingdom.

The Young Man chose the immediate desire of an easy life rather than the long term desire of following Jesus.

The result was that the Young Man missed out on being part of God's Kingdom. He came with the desire to be part of the eternal Kingdom of God. He went away sad because he knew his desire would not be satisfied.

I wonder if the Young Man was still alive in 70 AD.

Did he witness the siege of Jerusalem by the Romans?

Did he experience hunger that no amount of money could fill?

Was he one of the rich people who had their bellies slit open as they tried to sneak out of Jerusalem with their riches in their stomach?

Did he see the futility of trusting in his wealth and wonder how life would have been different if he had followed Jesus?

It doesn't really matter if he was alive then or not, because his choice led him down the path of the temporary which always leads to an ever increasing desire of the things of this world. The sadness he experienced when he left Jesus was the same sadness that had him seeking Jesus. His life was missing something, but he wasn't willing to to do what was necessary to fulfill the craving of his soul.

What about you?

Is there something in your life that you are hanging on to even though you know it is an obstacle to the life God has for you?

Is there something in your life that you have learned to rely for comfort and fulfillment but pushes Jesus out?

Until we are willing to trust Jesus more than we trust ourselves we will continue to be frustrated with the direction of our lives.

Following Jesus requires us to live with courage.

The first courageous step that we must take is to give up those things we have trusted to bring us happiness, pleasure, and meaning. It is a scary thing to give up what we comfortable with in order to venture into the unknown. We will never know the life God has for us until we do exactly what he tells us to do.

We must trust Jesus to lead the way to life.

Sunday, April 19, 2020

The Outcome of Worship

"Worship is a deliberate, steady, focused time with God. Worship anticipates not only an encounter with God, but also a clear next word from God. Worship is totally God-centered! God-focused! out of worship comes a clear and more focused relationship of faith and obedience with God. Worship is God's way of developing character and directing the life into the center of His will...The ultimate outcome of consistent worship is a life totally yielded to God, on God's terms." ~ Henry Blackaby, Created to be God's Friend, p. 83

We worship God out of recognization for who He is and what He has done for us.

God is our Creator and we want to thank Him for giving us life. He is our Savior and we want to praise Him for rescuing us. He is our Father and we want to bless Him for loving us.

In worship we re-orient our focus on God. We need to do this consistently because we continually turn our focus on ourselves. Life becomes about what we want, our desires, and our will. The result is that we push God out of the picture.

When we consistently worship God, allowing our focus to leave us to be put on Him, our perspective changes. We come to understand the bigger picture of life and be reminded that God is calling us to join Him in His work.

This renewed sense of perspective challenges us to surrender our lives to God, because we can't truly worship until we put God on His throne and take our place in His Kingdom. 

Saturday, April 18, 2020

Life Is Worth It

Celebration is a part of life.

No matter how difficult circumstances might be, people always find moments to celebrate. This has been true throughout the history of the world.

We celebrate births, graduations, championships, new jobs, marriages, and personal successes. These events remind us of the importance that is woven into everyday life. 

Always remember that life is worth celebrating!

In contrast to our celebrations is harsh reality that life is difficult.

The tragedy of a job loss, the constant pain of a debilitating injury, the heartache of a messy breakup, the fear of a terminal illness diagnosis, and the grief of death are evidence that life is not what it should be. Difficulties rob us of the joy of life.  The sorrow experienced because of tragedy and hardship remind us that life is valuable.

Grief is reserved for the loss of people and things that bring joy into our lives!

Both celebration and grief teach us the value of life.

The question we need to ask is: What makes life valuable?

The apostle Paul wrote:
Can anything ever separate us from Christ's love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death? (As the Scriptures say, "For your sake we are killed every day; we are being slaughtered like sheep.")  No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us. 
And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God's love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God's love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord 
(Romans 8:35-39, NLT).

What makes the achievements of life worth celebrating and what makes the tragedies of life worth enduring is God's love.

Without God there would be no reason to celebrate, for even our biggest victory will one day fade away. Without God life would only cause depression since the only sure thing we could look forward to is death.

Through Jesus' death and resurrection God infuses hope, purpose, and joy into life. He does that because he loves us. Life is worth living because of God's love.

Friday, April 17, 2020

Trust Jesus for Transformation

In this time of COVID-19 isolation I am recording my sermons so we can do "church" online.

This is the second sermon in the Trust Jesus series.

Thursday, April 16, 2020

Rend Collective - Build Your Kingdom Here OFFICIAL

Jesus asked us to pray: "Your kingdom come..."

May we continue to pray for the coming of God's Kingdom and may we yield our lives to God's will. 

This is one of my favorite Rend Collective songs.

 

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Stand Firm!


The Bible does not hide the reality that life is hard, that we will face times of tragedy, and that we will experience attacks from the Evil One. We should not be surprised that temptations, trials, and struggles are a normal part of life.

Those of us who follow Jesus should be prepared to face these difficult times. We know that they are coming, and even if they are not a part of our lives in the moment, we know someone who is experiencing them right now.

It  is essential that we get prepared, but we don't know what to do!

God in His wonderful grace and mercy has not left us to fend for ourselves. 

He has given us the equipment we need to stand strong regardless of our circumstances!

The apostle Paul wrote:

Put on all of God's armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil...Therefore, put on every piece of God's armor so you will be able to resist the enemy in the time of evil. Then after the battle you will still be standing firm. (Ephesians 6:11 and 13; NLT)

During difficult times we are commanded to stand firm. 

How do we do that? How is it possible to stand firm in the face of adversity and struggle?

There are two truths we need to remember.
  1. We need to remember that we are not alone. When Paul wrote this letter, he was not appealing to them to stand firm as individuals, rather to stand firm as a group. The image of “standing firm” and “God’s armor” would have created the picture of the Roman Army. The Romans were able to conquer the world by standing together. With shields linked and lances out Rome invited the opposing army to break themselves on their collective strength. That is what we are to do. One of the reasons being part of a church family is important is because we can support one another when the going gets tough. We cannot stand strong on our own.
  2. We need to remember that God provides. Paul wrote that we are to put on God’s armor. He provides what we need for protection. This was in contrast to being part of Rome’s army, which made you purchase your own armor. We can stand firm in confidence because we know that God has given us the equipment that we need. Yes, we need to learn to use it and use it at the correct time, but it is not something we have to go looking for. God has provided it for us.


The way we get through difficult times and the way we resist Satan, is by standing firm. 

By standing firm we are able to hold back the full extent of evil that Satan wants to bring into the world. We may feel like the Gospel isn’t advancing like it should, but we need to remember that when we stand firm in the face of evil, we are still proclaiming the Gospel.

Advancing the Gospel isn’t just about evangelism and converts. It is also about opposing evil and remaining firm in the face of adversity. By standing firm we keep Satan from reclaiming territory and we frustrate his attempt to halt the movement of Jesus.

Stand strong! 

Be confident!

Live with hope!

When we are united together we become an unstoppable force that even the gates of hell cannot prevail against.

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Hope and the Resurrection

My family is made up of pastors.

I am the pastor at Bethlehem Church in Austin, MN and my older bother is the pastor at Iowa City Church (our brother-in-law is also a pastor).

This past Friday my brother texted me and asked if I wanted to do a podcast with him about the resurrection of Jesus. So we spent 45 minutes talking about the hope of the resurrection, evidences for the resurrection, and the implications of the resurrection.

Here is the result.
     

Monday, April 13, 2020

The Most Important Sign

One day Moses was watching his father-in-law's sheep when something caught his eye. It appeared to be a bush that was on fire, but it wasn't being consumed.

Moses decided to investigate this strange sight. When He approached the strange phenomenon a voice called from the bush. 

It was at this moment God called Moses to deliver Israel from Egypt.
Moses asked, "But who am I to appear before Pharaoh? How can you expect me to lead the Israelites out of Egypt?"

God answered, "I will be with you. And this will serve as proof that I have sent you: When you have brought the Israelites out of Egypt, you will return here to worship God at this very mountain." (Exodus 3:11, 12; NLT).

I find it odd that the evidence God provided to Moses that He would be with Moses would happen after it is all said and done. Moses would know it was truly God who sent him when he returned to the mountain with Israel in tow.

Now did Moses lack proof that his calling was from God? 

No, God provided proof. 

There was the burning bush, the audible voice of God, and two signs: the staff into a snake and the leprosy of on Moses' hand. 

Moses witnessed the ten plagues, the Red Sea divide, and the pillar of cloud/fire which led Israel. 

All through his experience God showed Moses that He was with him.

Why was worshiping at Mt. Sinai the proof that God sent Moses? 

While all the miracles pointed to God and showed Moses that God was with them, none of it would have meant anything without God's covenant. 

It was at Mt. Sinai when God established a covenant with Israel. This covenant formally set them apart as God's people and separated them from all the nations of the world. 

If God delivered Israel from Egypt but never established a covenant with them it would have made little difference to them. They would not be God's chosen people. 

It was the covenant, the promise of God at Sinai which made all the difference.

Flash forward a few hundred years. Jesus turned water into wine. Not long after that he went to Jerusalem and cleared the marketplace out of the Temple.  He taught everywhere he went with authority. 

The religious leaders demanded:
"What right do you have to do these things? If you have this authority from God, show us a miraculous sign to prove it." Jesus replied, "All right. Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up." (John 2:18, 19; NLT)

We know Jesus meant his death and resurrection when he talked about destroying the temple. That was the sign he gave to to those who demanded one.

 Jesus continued to teach, heal, feed thousands, walk on water, and calm storms. 

Much of what Jesus did provided evidence that he was the long awaited Messiah, the Son of God. But the ultimate sign, the one he said would offer the final proof of his authority, is the resurrection. 

All the miracles Jesus performed, all the teachings he taught, and even his death, meant nothing without the resurrection. 

If Jesus didn't rise from the dead we are still in our sins, and we are wasting our time.

Read what the apostle Paul says as well in 1 Corinthians 15:12-19:
But tell me this—since we preach that Christ rose from the dead, why are some of you saying there will be no resurrection of the dead? For if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, then all our preaching is useless, and your faith is useless. And we apostles would all be lying about God—for we have said that God raised Christ from the grave. But that can’t be true if there is no resurrection of the dead. And if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then your faith is useless and you are still guilty of your sins. In that case, all who have died believing in Christ are lost! And if our hope in Christ is only for this life, we are more to be pitied than anyone in the world. (NLT)
Here is the point. The central truth of Christianity is not the cross, but the resurrection. 

Just as the covenant established at Sinai gave meaning and significance to everything which happened before it, the resurrection gives meaning to everything Jesus did before his death. All the teachings and miracles find there meaning not Jesus' death, but his resurrection. 

The Resurrection of Jesus is what gives meaning and hope to Christianity.

What does that mean for us? 

Often we talk how Jesus' death was the sacrifice for sin. In some mysterious way the crucifixion of Jesus absorbed the wrath of evil and sin, and that is a wonderful truth that is worth celebrating.

Yet, without the resurrection, Jesus' death was just another sad reality of cruelty of the Roman Empire. The resurrection declares that all Jesus said and did was true. We can be confident that our sins are forgiven because the cross leads to an empty tomb. The resurrection promises new life and a better tomorrow. 

The resurrection is what sets Christianity apart from other religions and philosophies of the world. It is the evidence that needed to verify the validity of the teachings and put confidence in the promises.

Without the resurrection Jesus is just another good teacher and moral philosopher.  With the resurrection Jesus is the one true King of the universe who has promised to return and make everything right.

That is the difference this one event makes.

Saturday, April 11, 2020

Live as Free People

You and I have certain rights simply because we are people.

In the Christian tradition we believe that these rights are a gift from God. These inalienable rights declare that people are equal.

We are not equal in talent, intelligence, beauty, strength, wealth, privilege, or a number of other variables that set people apart from one another. We are equal in that we have the same right to life, self-determination, and responsibility as everyone else has.

The way this equality should be seen is in how people are treated under the law. It shouldn't matter who you are, equal protection should be given to everyone.

You and I are free people, but that doesn't mean that we are able to whatever we want to do. To protect the liberty given to us by God requires living in a certain manner.

Consider the following quote attributed to Samuel Adams:

He therefore is the truest friend to the liberty of his country who tries most to promote its virtue, and who, so far as his power and influence extend, will not suffer a man to be chosen into any office of power and trust who is not a wise and virtuous man...The sum of all is, if we would most truly enjoy this gift of Heaven, let us become a virtuous people.

What does a free life look like?

According to Samuel Adams the person who enjoys freedom is the person who lives a virtuous life. This is a crucial thought.

Often when we talk about freedom and liberty the focus is on what we are free to do.

"Is this activity legal?" we ask.

We declare, "It is my life I am free to make my own decisions!"

While it is true that freedom often allows you to make all types of choices, that doesn't mean that those choices are equally beneficial.

Enjoying the benefits of freedom is not the same preserving freedom.

I believe that the number one reason why people lose their liberty is because of poor choices. Yes, their freedom allows them to make those choices, but those choices end up stealing their freedom.

Should a person be free to use drugs?

Yes!

God has gifted them personal responsibility and free will.

Admitting that a person has the freedom to use drugs is not the same thing as proclaiming  drug use as a positive thing. The addiction and personality change that can accompany drug use, even with alcohol, is a terrible thing.

Addiction is a self created prison that many people cannot escape.

This reminds me of what the apostle Peter wrote.

In 1 Peter 2:16 we read; Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God (ESV).

Peter taught us that we are to live as free people.  The best way for us to live as free people is to live as servants of God.

I know this idea is counter-intuitive, that true freedom is found in being a servant, but when we obey God, we are not being oppressed by some tyrant. Rather, we are being directed by the Creator of the Universe: the One who knows the best way for people to live.

Ultimately freedom is found by living out God’s design for our lives. The way we enjoy freedom is to be faithful to God's will for us.

Please understand this: No one can rob us of our freedom.

Even if someone takes over and destroys the Constitution, along with the Bill of Rights, we are still able to live free lives.

The reason for this is because it is NOT the government that makes us free.

Freedom is a gift from God. The choices we make, even under an oppressive government, enable us to enjoy God’s gift of freedom.

Have hope!

God, in His great wisdom and mercy, placed the control of our lives in our hands.

The choices that we make determine the level of freedom we enjoy. God left it up to us to decide whether or not we will live with freedom. This freedom is not about doing whatever we would like to do. Freedom is ultimately about choosing to live the life God planned for us to live (see Ephesians 2:10).

The ability to be free is discovered in the choices we make. Choose to follow Jesus and enjoy real freedom.

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Trust Jesus for Righteousness

In this period of staying at home and social distancing I am forced to preach in front of a camera. This is my message from March 29, 2020.
 

Thursday, April 2, 2020

The Secret to Having an Abundant Life

Is your life going according to plan?

Many of us have a vision of what life should look like in the future, but experience tells us that life rarely follows our plan.

My life today hardly resembles that life I thought I would have when I was younger.

You know what?

I wouldn’t exchange the life I have now for that previous vision for my life. 

When I think about the circumstances of my life, I develop the sense that I am exactly where God wants me to be.

It is okay that life doesn't follow our plan. God often uses the unpredictability of life to guide us to where He wants us to be.

While it is a good thing to have a plan and to work toward goals, we also have to be flexible enough to respond to the circumstances of life.

I know this can be a scary thought because it reminds us that much of life is outside of our control. We like to think that our life is simply a product of our choices, it is not.

I believe that as we learn to follow Jesus through the ups and downs of life our faith is strengthened and we are able to become the people God wants us to be. Having a life outside of our control forces us to learn to trust God through all the different circumstances of life.

There is a side of us that would like to believe that because we have faith in Jesus then our lives will be smooth and easy. We may not actually say it out load, but there are times when we have become disappointed with God because He didn't protect us for the bad things in life.

Sadly, that is not one of the promises of the Bible.

The reality is that following Jesus often brings hardships and pain, because the enemy wants to prevent us from living the abundant life that Jesus promised his followers.

On top of that, our dreams (the dreams we created before we knew Jesus or when our faith was young) often get in the way of where Jesus is leading us. These dreams actually become the obstacles that get in the way of experiencing the life that God created us to live

A frustrating aspect of this process is that God doesn’t treat us all the same.

For some people God will allow great tragedy into their lives in order to prepare them for what lies ahead. Other people God will allow constant obstacles thrown into their paths that will teach them endurance and trust. Still other people will seem to have a life of constant success and ease.

When we compare our lives to the lives of those around us will begin to feel like God is being unfair. There is no blueprint that God follows to direct the lives of each person. Instead, God uses the unique circumstances of our lives to mold us into the people He wants us to be.

Think about Joseph, the son of Jacob, for a minute. (The story of Joseph is found in Genesis 37-50) In the life of Joseph we can see how unfair life can seem.

Joseph experienced slavery and false imprisonment in a foreign land while his brothers enjoyed freedom in their homeland.

How can that be fair?

Yet, what we discover on the other side of these experiences, when famine hit and Joseph’s family came to Egypt for help, circumstances had changed.

Even though they remained at home the brothers did not have an easy life because of their guilt for selling Joseph into slavery.Their guilt softened their hearts.

Even though Joseph went through very difficult circumstances, he was now second-in-command in Egypt. God continued to work in the life of Joseph so he could be in the right position to help people. Being a slave and then a prisoner didn’t make sense to Joseph at the time, but God even used those evil circumstances to work good in and through the life of Joseph.

Things will not always make sense, but we must trust that God will do what is right.

What does that look like?

It looks like doing the next right thing.

When the future is bleak and we don’t know how we will ever come out of the hell hole we find ourselves in, all we can do is pursue the good that is right in front of us.

This is the secret to abundant living that we learn from Joseph’s life.

Joseph proved himself to be trustworthy and a man of godly character in the bleakest of circumstances.  Why?

He did the next right thing.

This is what God requires of us no matter what the circumstances we have in our lives.

When we remain faithful, in even the toughest of circumstances, God is able to use those circumstances to move us closer to abundant life He has promised us.

What we discover in this process of trusting God is that the life that He has for us is far superior to the life that we thought we wanted.

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

The Most Amazing Truth

Here is the most amazing truth that I know: God loves you!

Take moment and reflect on the reality that the Creator of the universe desires to have a relationship with you.

Not only does God love you, but He is willing to do whatever it takes to be in relationship with you. We can be confident of this fact because of the life and death of Jesus.

I know for some people the truth of God’s love seems too good to be true. They don’t “feel” God’s love in their lives. Instead their lives are full of hassles and problems. In their minds, the presence of difficulties are evidence that God’s doesn’t exist.

I wish I could help them see that this is not true!

God loves us, and His love is all around us.

You may wonder how I can write about God’s love as if it were right there within our reach.

That is because it is.

God’s love is seen in many different ways, but too often we miss it.

We miss it because we are either looking for something that God’s love isn’t, like a perpetual warm fuzzy, or the realities of everyday life have distracted us from what God is doing in our lives.

Remember: Just because you don’t “feel” loved by God doesn’t mean that God’s love for you isn’t real.

I know God’s love exists and I know that He loves me.

The evidence of God’s love for me is found in the love of my family and friends.

I have found proof of God’s love for me through times of prayer, worship, and meditation.

God’s love has been revealed to me in the peace and confidence that I have in my life.

I can see God’s love everyday as I walk among His creation and marvel at what He has done.

All of this pales in the light of the great revelation of God’s love: Jesus.

Remember the apostle Paul’s words from the book of Romans:
When were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners. Now, no one is likely to die for a good person, though someone might be willing to die for a person who is especially good. But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. (Romans 5:6-8; NLT)

You know why Jesus’ death is the great demonstration of God’s love?
  1. God is under no obligation to save us. There is no force outside of God that dictates that He has to save human beings. To save His creation is God’s choice. He saves us because of His character.  It is God’s mercy, grace, and love that compels Him to save us rather than condemn us.
  2. God doesn’t need us. Humans do not fill some need God has for companionship. God, being three in one, has all the companionship that He needs. It is His faithfulness to creation and His desire for us to experience true life  that moves God save us. His love is totally unconditional. His love is not based on who we are or want we have done for Him, but based on His desire for people to experience what is best.
  3. God experienced pain.  This flows from the previous two. Saving us was not something God had to do, but it is something He chose to do. That choice involved a great cost. Our salvation involved real pain.  Pain that exceeded the physical pain of crucifixion. It appears that as Jesus took on our sins, he was separated from God. We will never fully understand the love it took for Jesus to go to the cross.
Does God love you?

He loves you more than you can imagine.

It is experienced everyday we walk with God. It is seen in creation, in our families and friends, and in circumstances as we surrender to God’s will.

But that is the key.

If you are missing out on God’s love it is time to surrender your life to Him.

When you love someone you have the hope that they will respond to your love.

Rejected love is always painful.

The same is true for God.

God loves you, but for you to fully experience that love you need to surrender to Him.

We don’t experience all the love another person has for us until we enter into a relationship with him. This also applies to God. To fully experience the love of God we have to enter into a relationship with Him. We do that by surrendering our lives to Him.

I realize that this is hard to do. We don’t want to give up control of our lives or be committed to the will of another person, but that is what is required of all lasting relationships. Love will always move us to care more and more for the other person, which will cause us to sacrifice on their behalf.

The most amazing truth in the universe is that the Creator of the universe loves you.

When we grasp that reality the question we need to answer is: How can we love Him back?

God loves us.

His love is all around us, calling us to accept Him as our Lord, Savior, and Father.

You can choose to see God’s love or you can choose to ignore it.

You have the choice to either reject or accept His love.

The choice is yours.

I urge you to accept this amazing truth and make the choice to love.

What We Think About Most

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