To Know Jesus

The issue of church growth seems to haunt every pastor at some point.  Why?  Because so much is being said about it.  I was at a conference this weekend where during one of the break-out sessions I was told all kinds of methods about church growth.  I must be honest; I struggle with that.  I have a real problem with the methods when I read what Scripture tells us.  Listen to this:

“What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ.” – Philippians 3:8

It seems to me that by far the greatest thing I can offer someone is Jesus Christ.  We must share the Gospel.  He is the draw.  He is the need.  Knowing Jesus is the goal of life!

If we get sidetracked, we start to look a lot like the Judaizers Paul was referring to in Philippians 3.  They worked very hard to earn God’s favor. But let’s be honest, any attempt at cleaning up our own sin just smears it.  It is like all of those times I have sent one of my kids to the bathroom to clean up after eating something sticky.  Sure they try hard, but they get it everywhere else.

Let Jesus clean up the mess!

Would you say that your heart considers everything else a loss next to knowing Jesus?  If not, what needs to change?  

Staying Untangled

It seemed like a reasonable request to him, but to me it might be a bit much.  “Dad, you need to change the carpet in here right now.”  Why the sudden concern over the flooring choice in our living room?  Like most things in life with him, it starts with a John Deere tractor.  As it turns out, the new cultivator he bought with his Christmas money does not work well on the longer carpet.  It gets tangled up and it falls off.  We have ourselves a frustrated farmer. The only solution is to change the carpet.

We might laugh at that, but it isn’t actually too far away from how serious God is about our sin.  Jesus even went so far as to say that if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away.  Which, by the way, is hyperbole — don’t really cut your hand off. But what it does is show how serious it is to stay untangled in the “carpet” of your sin.  Run from sin. Stay away from sin.  Change your scenery if it is just causing you to stumble.

Remember that this world is doing everything it can to take you away from God. Change whatever you need to avoid the trap of sin.

Stay untangled

Sin Always Kills, God Always Saves

On September 11, 2001 I was driving school bus before my college classes for the day.  When I got back to the bus terminal I heard that something had happened, but like most people I really didn’t have a very clear picture of all that was taking place.  When I was driving back to the college, listening to the radio, I knew it was serious.  The rest of that day revolved around news reports and confusion.  I remember a few key points of that day.  I remember how quiet it was without planes flying overhead.  I remember the feeling of despair that came with the realization of the amount of people who had just been killed.  There were just too many unknowns to be fully comfortable anymore.  We know that the world has not been the same since.  How could it be? This became a vivid reality for me when I flew home for a weekend in October of 2001 and there were people with large weapons all through the airport.  This was happening in the United States!

That day put a very real face to evil.  It showed us in vivid and tangible way what the result of sin is.  The Bible says that the wages for sin is death.  Sin will lead to death.  If you remember the story of Adam and Eve you will recall that it didn’t take very long for sin to claim its first victim.  Abel was killed by his brother Cain in cold-blooded, premeditated murder.  I guess things don’t change.

Yet we have seen that while sin still kills, there is a way around it.  Jesus Christ came into this world not simply to show us a better way to live.   He wasn’t just an inspirational leader for people.   He came to die for our sins so that we would not have to die for them.  He paid for them with His life.  The only way out of this cycle of sin is in a Savior.  While the world contemplates evil and how to counteract it, we know that evil has already lost.  We know that in Jesus Christ we have victory over sin and death.  Terrorists will kill.  Friends will turn on each other.  Marriages will break apart because of infidelity and sin.  But there is a better way.  There is an answer.  That answer is in Jesus Christ.

I am grateful that He has saved me from my sin.  He also can save you from anything you are dealing with.  There is no limit to what God can do.  He is truly stronger than the worst evil and sin we experience.

Never Forget

But who will forgive me?

Does that hurt?

My son caught a turtle while fishing.  I suppose that is the good news.  The bad news is that he played a part in seeing a fish cease to be alive and it bothered him.  In fact, he wanted to know whether or not he should tell mom when we got home or not.  It was as if he was hoping to come clean from his awful crime.   He is what I would call a compassionate fisherman.  He really loves to fish, but he also doesn’t want the fish to feel pain.  If there is blood or if the fish shows itself to be in some sort of distress, he gets concerned for it.  This is nice, but it does throw me off a bit.  You see, it wasn’t but a matter of hours and he was at a campfire and a large beetle was crawling across the ground.  Immediately he looked at me and said, “hey dad, can I throw it in the fire?”  I guess he is selective on what he has compassion for.   In case you were wondering, I told him not to do that to the poor beetle.

He doesn’t feel the same remorse when he does something to his brother. I would not expect it either, since brothers fight as a part of their job description.  He can be friendly to his brothers one moment and then the next minute throw something at them with no visible remorse, at least until we confront him.

To be fair, this is not something that only he deals with.  We all deal with this.  I know I don’t always feel immediate remorse for sins I commit.  But, the result is still the same, a rebellious act against a holy God.  God is not only the one offended, He is also the one who judges the offender.

This very concept came up in 1 Samuel 2:25.

“If a man sins against another man, God may mediate for him; but if a man sins against the LORD, who will intercede for him?” – 1 Samuel 2:25a

Consider the implications of this here.  If we harm our brother, we have a way to mediate that offense.  In our legal system, we have judges who do that.  In that situation there is a judge and jury that are both supposed to objectively decide the ruling.  But, let’s say you hurt the judge’s family or the judge himself.  Does that change things?

In this case, we have seriously offended the judge to the point where we cannot even be in His presence.  We were destined for destruction because we had violated the law of a Holy God.  What this text left unanswered here, God answered in His Son, Jesus Christ. The only way there was going to be mediation was through a perfect Savior.  This Savior was one who would mediate and allow us to be in the presence of God again.

Oh how we need to feel the grief of our sin and the power of the resurrection of Jesus Christ to cover it!  The truth is that there is forgiveness for you no matter what you have done.  Even if you don’t feel bad for what you have done, there is a law that needs to be upheld.  I know I am grateful for God’s mercy and long for more to experience it.  Where are you at today?  Who will forgive you?

When the Mallow’s Flaming

There are lessons that we just need to learn from experience because it is there that the lesson really sticks.  I remember the times I get injured the most.  Usually these come after a warning like: “don’t touch that.”   Except we forget quickly and just don’t care until that moment when it all makes sense.  I guess that is the point of impact.

My boys have gotten quite good at making s’mores.  What amazes me is how many of them they can consume before I ever realize they have had one.  It is a real gift.  Of course who could possibly make a s’more without referencing the sandlot character Ham Porter and his ability to teach us all how to make one.

“First you take the graham, you stick the chocolate on the graham. Then you roast the ‘mallow. When the ‘mallow’s flaming… you stick it on the chocolate. Then cover with the other end. Then you scarf. Kind of messy, but good!” (Sandlot)

Lessons are sometimes hard ones
Lessons are sometimes hard ones

Despite my attempts to talk some sense into my kids, they insist that a burned marshmallow is equal to some sort of heavenly bliss.  Despite my warnings of “you’re going to point your eye out” they still light them on fire and watch them burn. Except the other night it was a little different.

Sure, the mallow was flaming, but that is where things got interesting.  My 6-year-old son, with the flick of his wrist, landed a piece of flaming marshmallow on his face.  Let’s just say that it hurt.  He claims that he lost control of his arm.  I guess that is one way to explain it.   I actually was reminded of that scene from Dennis the Mennis when he flicks the flaming marshmallow and it lands on Mr. Wilson’s head.  In our case, it burned some skin on his cheek.  He told me immediately that he learned a lesson.  What lesson is that?  “Don’t put hot marshmallow on your face.”  I guess that works. As a parent, this is a little funny because I have been telling them all along that this is what could happen if they did not be careful.

In ministry I am often reminded of this with people.  God’s Word warns us about the dangers of leaving His path.  We are shown how dangerous it is to let sin rule in our bodies.  We are warned about the wages of sin – death.  Yet, it takes often takes some dramatic event for us to really get it.  What would happen if we simply heard and listened to what God said the first time?  Well, let’s just say that the world would be a different place.  But, seeing as that is not the case, let’s learn from the mistakes we have made and the mistakes of other people.

There is a way which seems right to a man,
But its end is the way of death. – Proverbs 14:12

Freedom has given you a voice: use it or lose it.

After three days of feeling ill, I had finally reached a point where I had to stop.  I knew that I was not 100%, but I had a part in the worship service and taught a Sunday School class.  I needed to be at church on Sunday and didn’t want to miss it.  As the second service neared its conclusion, I thought I had made it.  I was feeling worn out and my head was a little foggy, but I had made it, or so I thought.   I got up to lead my part of the communion time, opened my mouth and realized that I had only a small part of my voice left.  My voice cut in and out from a whisper.  It caught me off guard.  I didn’t know whether to be embarrassed or mad.  I didn’t know if my raspy voice was getting the message across, or just distracting the congregation.  One thing was clear,  I knew that I was out of time.  The next morning I woke up with no voice.

Happy Independence Day!

Not having a voice proved to really frustrate me.  I wanted to speak, but physically could not.  I had things I wanted to talk about with my wife, but could not get the words to come out.  I had to bang on the wall to get my kids’ attention.  Being forced to be silent is not something I enjoyed at all.  But, all of my frustration did me now good as I had very little I could do about it.  The fact of the matter was that I was without a voice.

Today is Independence Day.  A day in which we celebrate our freedom as a country and our freedom as individuals.  We celebrate our ability to have a voice in the direction of our country.  We celebrate that we can be heard.   This is a right that we have as citizens of the United States of America.

 “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” – First Amendment of the Constitution

We are able to worship God openly in this country.  We are free to say, “God Bless You” and “Merry Christmas” to whomever we want to.  That is the nature of free speech.  However, these freedoms are always at stake.  I recently had someone tell me that I am free to believe whatever I want, but should keep it to myself.  Really?  What about them telling me their belief?  Doesn’t it work both ways? That is not what free speech is.  Free speech means I can share what I believe.  If someone doesn’t like it, that is their choice.  This is the same right that atheist or other secular groups have.  I don’t go bother them when they share what they don’t believe.

This is nothing new for those of us who follow Jesus Christ.  There been many circumstances where tolerance is promoted as a virtue until the person is promoting Jesus Christ.  Once Jesus is brought up then they are not allowed to talk anymore because Jesus is supposedly so “divisive.”  The claim is that Christians are “out of touch.”   At Christmas time it shows up in the use of the word ‘Christmas’ or the displays of the nativity.  In the Spring people would rather talk about bunnies and chocolate than a Savior who left His throne to die for humanity.

Freedom isn’t easy.  It never has been.  Freedom does not just naturally occur.  In the history of our country, something needed to be done to release us from the control of England.  In the history of our faith, we needed someone to come release us from the sin that entangled us and condemned us to eternal separation from God.  In both cases, freedom came at the cost of human life and in both cases, this freedom is still worth defending.

But, we do  have a voice.  We have the ability and right to speak up.  We have a conscience which still reminds us that we are not controlled by what is popular in the culture.   We have a God who leads us by the power of His Word and Spirit to be a voice for Him in a world that doesn’t naturally want to hear it.   We are directed by the Word of God.  We must use the voice we have been given so that we don’t lose that voice.

As you celebrate today, remember those who served to defend your freedom.  Also, remember the God who left His throne, took on flesh and died in our place.  Lastly, remember those you are able to be a voice for.  There are those who live in poverty, slavery of different kinds,  the unborn, the young and the vulnerable.  They need us with a voice to speak out and help them find the freedom they too deserve.

You are free to live a life of obedience to God and to tell others why you do that.  That is what freedom does; it wants others to be free as well.

Sin’s Ugliness vs. God’s Grace

So the Lord Jesus Christ takes us, a company of poor, worthless sinners and things that are despised, and, by the transforming power of His grace, He lifts us into His own likeness, and crowns us with His glory.” – A.B. Simpson from the book Danger Lines in the Deeper Life. 

It would not take much for any of us to get depressed at the things we have done in rebellion to God.  It can be overwhelming to stand before the holiness of God and wonder how it could ever all be made right again.  How can I ever change?

In John 4 there is a story about a woman who had a long list of issues in her past. We find out that she has had 5 husbands and was living with what could potentially be number 6.  She was certainly living with a regret or two with a side of guilt or shame.

I am pretty good, compared to that guy!
I am pretty good, compared to that guy!

The story is of her going to the well to get water; this is a task she had to do over and over again.  I can’t imagine what that was like because we don’t have to work hard to get water today.  But, all the time walking back and forth to the well would leave one to their thoughts a lot.   Jesus interrupts her daily routine to ask her for a drink.  She has no idea why he would ask her for a drink given that she was a Samaritan woman and He was a Jew.  Either he had no idea about the cultural issues between the Samaritans and Jews, or he just had a lot of nerve.  In either case, she had no idea what his angle was. So, Jesus pushed a little more.

“If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.” – John 4:10

Can you picture the look on her face?  I think she probably had a rather confused expression while her mind tried to understand what this was all about.  In fact, she vocalizes this: “You have nothing to get water out of the well from.”   In other words, “sir, you are making no sense.  The well is deep and you are empty-handed.”

Jesus goes on: “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I Give him will never thirst.  Indeed the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” – John 4: 13-14

This seemed like a good thing.  I mean, after all, she was coming here daily to carry heavy water back home.  I think any opportunity to make life easier would be nice.  Except Jesus was after something deeper than that; He was after her heart.   He tells  her to go get her husband, hitting at a likely sore spot in her life.   Of course she doesn’t have a husband, something he tells her he is aware of.  In fact,  He makes it clear that he is well aware of her sin and He still wants to offer her a way out.

She is clearly impressed and leaves to go back to town without her water jug.  She came to get water and Jesus had offered her something far greater.  He changed her life.

So many people live with heavy sin burdens like this woman.   They walk around with a burden of sin and regret.   They work hard each day to satisfy a thirst in order to just keep things together.  Jesus offers a way out of that.  In fact, it says that she went back and told everyone about Jesus and many of them believed.  He got to the heart of the matter and offered her grace.  She knew she needed it and that others needed it as well.

Jesus meets people where they are at and calls them out to a place of forgiveness and hope.   The question we all need to consider is: what well are we drawing our water from?  If it is any other place than Jesus Christ, we will never be satisfied.  The thirst quickly returns and the cycle continues.  Sin is not something we should take lightly because when we look at it all in light of the cross, it makes the good news that much better.

“Let me never forget that the heinousness of sin lies not so much in the nature of the sin committed, as in the greatness of the person sinned against.  When I am afraid of evils to come, comfort me, by showing me that in myself I am a dying, condemned wretch  but that in Christ I am reconciled, made alive, and satisfied;  that I am feeble and unable to do any good, but that in him I can do all things;  that while I now have in Christ His mind in part, but shortly I shall have it perfectly in heaven.  – Humiliation from The Valley of Vision.