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.

The Discipleship Road: Providence

 I am preaching a sermon series called The Discipleship Road  at Bethlehem Church. The series is loosely based on Eugene Peterson’s book A L...