Pastor's Blog

Unbelievably Rich

Have you ever felt "it?" Right here, in your heart? A loneliness, an emptiness, something dark and sorrowful, the feeling like you’re missing something. You come home, set your keys on the kitchen table and collapse into the nearest couch. Or you wake up look at your face in the mirror, and the loneliness stares back at you. When will it end, Lord? When will the sorrow be over? When will the pain stop and the joy begin? In our mind’s eye, we see the rest of the world and we accuse God of being unjust: Lord look at them, they have it all, they have happiness. Where’s mine? Where’s my slice of the pie? Why do you bless the wicked and forget about me?

And God’s answer doesn’t seem to satisfy us: My love is all you need, though the world may hate it, my love makes you rich.

Luke 6:20, "Looking at his disciples, Jesus said: 'Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.'"

You and I may look as poor and worthless as dirt to the world, but we have an inheritance that makes a palace look like a shack in the woods: we have the kingdom of God. This is God’s eternal city, the place where the fullness of his glory resides, the glory which no human may see lest he die. This is where we belong. When Christ died on the cross he paid the price for all the times we sold ourselves to the lie of the world; for all the times we didn’t think God’s love was good enough. Through Christ, God has placed his name on your heart, you belong to him as a child. And as a child you have the right to claim the eternal city of God as your eternal city. There, surrounded by the angels and the faithful believers who have gone before us, we will finally be free from our sinful natures that we drag along in this life. We will finally be able to live perfectly in harmony with the will of God: no more doubting God’s love for us, no more sadness, no more anger, no more loneliness, no more hatred, no more sin.


Beautifully, unbelievably rich.


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This is Why We Are Here

At a dusty wedding in Cana, Christ performed his first miracle. You no doubt remember it well. Mary, his mother, tells him that they have run out of wine and then casually tells the servants to do whatever Christ says. You know the rest: water was changed into wine. And not that cheap stuff you get in a box, this was first rate wine that tasted like it had aged for years. We find this first miracle in the gospel of John.

In the gospel of Mark, however, the first recorded miracle is a healing. In fact, when you look at all of Christ’s miracles, there are only a handful of times when he provided something like food or drink. For the most part, we see Christ healing people or casting out demons.

This is important because it shows us something about Christ. It shows us that he came with an interest and concern for the person. He did not come to gain notoriety for himself. Christ often told people he healed not to say anything about it. Christ wasn’t interested in fame. He had no hidden motives for healing people. He did not come with a bait and switch: come for healing, stay for grace. Instead, he sought to give each sinner what they truly needed: eternal life. And his work wasn’t done in a vacuum. He never operated alone. He was always seeking time with God the Father.

You and I want to pattern our own outreach after Christ’s.  That means we must jettison any hidden motives for spreading the good news and adopt Christ’s reasons. We’re here, at this place, at this time, to help sinners. We’re here to seek a stronger relationship with God. We must say along with Christ, “That is why I have come: to help sinners, to seek God.”

Mark 1:37-38: When [Jesus' disciples] found him, they exclaimed: "Everyone is looking for you!” Jesus replied, "Let us go somewhere else—to the nearby villages—so I can preach there also. That is why I have come."


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Can't Hide From God - Why Would You Want To?

"Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man.”

“I was afraid because I was naked, so I hid.”

“Woe to me, I am ruined.”

“We are doomed to die! We have seen God.”

It is the same story repeated throughout the Scriptures. The closer sinners get to God, the more they realize they are unworthy and they are sinful.

Maybe you feel like that, too. You look to the front of Church and you see the cross, you see the altar. You know what it means. You have stepped onto holy ground here. The cross is Christ. The altar is the place of sacrifice. You know the cross was the altar on which Christ died. But was it really for me? Is it really mine?

You open your Bible. You sing a hymn or song and the words fall off of you. They don’t stick because you don’t want them to. “Those words can’t be for me because I don’t deserve them.”

We push Christ away! We are troubled by our sins. The guilt of the past overwhelms us. And our reaction sometimes is to get Christ out of our lives. Maybe if he would just go away I wouldn’t feel this way anymore. Maybe if I don’t see Jesus, he won’t see my sin and I won’t die and I won’t think so much about my sin.

"I was afraid because I was naked, so I hid.”

“Get away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man.”

So we push him out. We push when we ignore Jesus. We push when we ignore our sin. We push when we just don’t want to deal with our sinfulness. 

The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?

The funny thing is, Jesus understands this problem better than you or me. He understands that the problem isn’t because of him; it doesn’t have anything to do with how close God is. The problem is that we’re afraid. We’re afraid that if we admit to God how wretched we are he will condemn us forever. We’re afraid that if we admit our sin to other people, that if we confess the wickedness and filth of our life, that we won’t be able to bear the consequences. So Jesus says to you and me, “Do not be afraid.”

“I do know your sin. And I’m here to fix that. I’m here to help you. I have come to you. You couldn’t come to me, so I came to you.”

Jesus came for you. He knows your sin. He knows your struggle. And he also knows that he did everything to remove that. Jesus found you and me knee deep in sin, and he changed us. He changed us by giving us something better than fear, he gave us hope that God had come to rescue us.

You there, sinner, look at Jesus. You there, weighed down by the guilt of your past, look at how Jesus died for you on the cross. Look at how he paid the price for sin. This is for you. This is how fear is taken away.

Remember when Adam and Eve tried to hide from God after they sinned? God had to practically chase them down and grab hold of them and tell them that all was not lost. He had a plan to save them from sin. He wanted them. Jesus grabs hold of you, even as you try to scramble away from him in fear, and says in your ear, “I love you. Do not be afraid.”

God wants you. Jesus wants you to be a part of his work. So Jesus did everything to change you. So come, let’s follow him.

Luke 5:8-11, "When Simon Peter saw [the miraculous catch of fish], he fell at Jesus' knees and said, 'Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!' For he and all his companions were astonished at the catch of fish they had taken...Then Jesus said to Simon, 'Don't be afraid; from now on you will catch men.' So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everytihng and follwed him."


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Fear Shouldn't Own You

One day Martin Luther (this guy, not this guy though he's cool, too) got into the pulpit to preach a sermon to the Christians gathered in Wittenberg, Germany and this is part ofwhat he said, “I am sorry I ever freed you from the tyrants and papists. You ungrateful beasts, you are not worthy of the Gospel. If you don’t improve, I will stop preaching rather than cast pearls before swine!” (source) And Martin Luther was true to his word. He stopped preaching for nine months, almost a whole year. Could you imagine!What happened? What made him stop proclaiming God’s Word?

Well, it’s the same thing that can happen to all of us. We expect God’s Word to have this or that effect on people. We want them to rejoice with us that we have a Savior. We want them to welcome the gospel message. We want this message which is so precious to us, to be precious to others, too. And when it isn’t, we get discouraged. And, like Martin Luther, we may feel like giving up.

Perhaps the greatest enemy of faith is fear. Not only is it the opposite of faith, but it’s sneaky. We often make decisions on the basis of fear without even realizing it. We may not fly on airplanes. Why? Because we’re afraid it might crash. Yet we happily get into a car where the chances of injury or death are much greater. We avoid telling someone their breath stinks. Why? We don’t want to embarrass them. We’re afraid of making them feel bad. We sometimes don’t discipline our children. Why? We’re afraid of making them upset. Why did Luther stop preaching? He was afraid. He was afraid that God’s Word wasn’t working. He was afraid that he wasn’t doing a good enough job. And we do the same thing. Fear can fill up our life and motivate our decisions. And fear can cripple us so that we stop sharing Jesus.

What we need is a way we can get rid of the fear that so easily cripples our lives. We need a way we can live fearlessly. And that starts by realizing we’re a part of God’s plan and that God gives us courage.

The apostles show us the way in Acts 4, "On their release [from court], Peter and John went back to their own people and reported all that the chief priests and elders had said to them. When they heard this, they raised their voices together in prayer to God...'Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness...' After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly."


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Egyptian Throw Down

Exodus 7:10, "So Moses and Aaron went to Pharoaoh and did just as the LORD commanded. Aaron threw his staff down in front of Pharaoh and his officials, and it became a snake."

Imagine it was you, standing there in front of Pharaoh holding your staff in your hand. You—an Israelite. Pharaoh—an Egyptian. You—part of a slave nation, viewed by the Egyptian people as their property. Pharaoh—the king, viewed by the Egyptians as the priest of god, one who held your life in his hands. And the LORD tells you to confront Pharaoh and tell him to release his slaves. “And to prove it to you, Pharaoh, I’m going to throw down my staff on the ground and it will become a snake.”

That would take…well, let’s say courage. To storm into the palace and announce the will of the LORD to a pagan king who doesn’t even care about your so-called god—yeah that takes some courage. And you know what the remarkable thing is? Moses and Aaron did it! They presented themselves to Pharaoh, and Aaron threw his staff down right in front of him. After all, that was what the LORD had commanded him, “Take your staff and throw it down before Pharaoh.”

"Throw down your staff.” You ever had to do that before? Not literally, of course; I’m being figurative. Have you ever had to stand before a person who doesn’t believe in God’s Word, is skeptical about it and tell them things like: the world was created from nothing; there is a heaven and a hell; God is one but he is three persons; the Bible doesn’t have any mistakes. Have you ever stopped to think just how crazy you sound to that person? It takes courage.

So how do we do it? How do we have confidence in God? How do we stand before the “pharaohs” in our life and throw down our staff like Aaron did? We follow the example of Moses and Aaron remembering we have the word of God and our confidence doesn’t come from people. So take God at his word and thrown down your staff.


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Have a Hug

There’s something about a mother’s hug. I don’t know what it is, but mom’s hugs can cure all sorts of problems. Fights with siblings, stubbed toes, sore tummies, bad dreams—mom’s hugs fix them all. And it’s not just limited to mom’s hugs, of course. Dad’s hugs, or grandma’s hugs or a friend’s hugs help. What is it about them? Is it the physical contact? Is it the emotional connection and the love that a hug seems to imply? Is it just that someone cares and wants to show that love and concern? Yes, I think we’d agree.

You see, we need to feel safe. We need to have security in our life. Our bodies need to be safe. Hugs help us feel safe. And our souls need to be safe. When our souls are safe, when the essence of our humanity feels at peace that radiates out into our whole life. And there is a lot that tries to take away that safety from our souls: from an unbelieving world, to a heart corrupted with sin, to our own guilty consciences.

So Christ gathers us up. He brings us to himself. He gives us safety. John the Baptist says about Jesus, "[He will] gather the wheat into his barn, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire." Luke 3:17

Chaff is the unusable portion of grain. It gets thrown away. Here is comfort for the believer! Evil, wickedness and all the forces of Satan will be thrown away forever. Jesus Christ destroyed all of that on the cross when he died and proclaimed that victory when he rose from the dead. 

And you and I who have placed our hope in Jesus, we will be gathered up forever. Safe!


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Does the Christmas Star Still Shine?

Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson went on a camping trip. After a good meal and a bottle of wine, they lay down for the night and went to sleep. Some hours later, Holmes awoke and nudged his faithful friend, "Watson, look up at the sky and tell me what you see." Watson replied, "I see millions and millions of stars."

"What does that tell you?"

Watson pondered for a minute. "Astronomically, it tells me that there are millions of galaxies and potentially billions of planets. Astrologically, I observe that Saturn is in Leo. Horologically, I deduce that the time is approximately a quarter past three. Theologically, I can see that God is all powerful and that we are small and insignificant. Meteorologically, I suspect that we will have a beautiful day tomorrow. Why, what does it tell you?"

Holmes was silent for a moment, and then spoke. "Watson, that’s not it at all. Some jerk has stolen our tent!"

Maybe you’ve found yourself lost in the sky. I can confess that from early on I have been fascinated with the night sky. I remember often looking out and seeing all the stars, trying to remember the names of all the different constellations. Watson was right: from the sky we can see that God truly is a powerful being. And that same amazement has gripped man from the beginning. So much so that God had to warn the Israelites not to worship the Sun, Moon and stars.

Shortly after Christ’s birth, the night sky drew the special attention of a group of Magi from the east. They noticed a star, and from what they knew about the Jewish religion they knew this star meant a king was born. And this special star led them to Christ. Ever since Matthew wrote about the visit of the Magi, the Christian Church has celebrated the season of Epiphany. The season of Christ’s light shining out. 

The Magi show us something incredible about God’s plan though. Even though they were foreigners, God took extraordinary measures so they would find Christ. God’s message is pretty clear: Jesus is for Jews and Gentiles alike, he came for the entire world. That’s the world you and I are very much a part of. We are worldly-minded, sinful people, yet we are the people Jesus came to rescue. We are the people God leads to Jesus with that star shining in the sky. As we follow that star, we find a baby human being; we see God’s love there because God became flesh. The star leads us into the life of Christ: his gentle words, his perfect life, a perfect life lived in our place. The star leads us onward to the top of a hill outside Jerusalem, to a cross where Christ poured out his blood for the payment of our sins. It leads us to a tomb where he was laid and where he would rise again on Easter morning. The star of Epiphany points the way to our rescuer, the one who lived and died to rescue us from the punishment of our sins and who rose again to prove it was true, who shines brighter than that Epiphany star and leads us on to eternal life in heaven. Follow the star to Christ: it leads the world to find him.


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What Kind of Jesus?

Imagine you woke up one day and the world had changed. Everything looked the same, but as you were brushing your teeth, something just felt odd. You go grocery shopping that day and as you go down the aisles you notice what’s happened: there is no more variety. You get to the apples and instead of there being Fuji, Washington Delicious, Granny Smith, Braeburn, Pink Lady, all the kinds of apples you’re used to seeing, you only see one kind: Apple. You head to cereal and notice instead of Lucky Charms, Cheerios and Corn Flakes there’s only one kind of cereal called “Healthy Morning Breakfast”, a whole aisle of it. And on and on down your list it’s the same thing. Instead of there being variety, there is only a single brand, or a single kind. It’s a strange thought because we are very used to there being many kinds. We have a consumerist mindset which says if enough people want this kind of thing they’ll get it.

So what kind of Savior would you like today? You can have a loving one, a stern one. You can have one who is your friend, one who is your confidant. You can a have a powerful savior, or a hands-off savior. You can even have a savior who will hide himself away and only come out when you want him. There are a lot of options out there for what kind of savior you can have. There are even churches that will give people the kind of savior they want on that particular day. But will they have “the Savior,” the one the Bible tells us about?

The kind of Savior the Bible describes is the kind of savior who bleeds and dies. It describes the kind of savior who died when he was only about 30 years old. We have the kind of savior who called himself God but needed to sleep; who allowed himself to be tortured. And this is the Savior the world needs. Not the kind of savior the world wanted. No, humanity’s savior is the one who bleeds and dies so he could dismantle death. Humanity’s savior is the one who bleeds and dies so he could pay for sin. In fact, humanity’s savior is a human being, just like them.

Hebrews 2:14-15, "Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death--that is, the devil--and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death."


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A Voice of Comfort for Today

A number of years ago a teenage daughter made some mistakes. She went out with some friends her parents didn’t approve of. She stayed out past her curfew. And during a late night joy-ride, totaled a friend’s car and wound up in the emergency room with some pretty bad bumps and bruises. And while she lay there in that hospital bed, the only thought that kept coming back to her was what her father was going to do to her and how much she had disappointed him and mom.

Later that morning Dad came back—he had already visited her but she didn’t remember—and he sat down in the chair next to her bed. Her heart started to race. What would dad say? How angry would he be? She heard him open up a book, turn a few pages and then he started to speak, “Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.” He closed his Bible, bent over his daughter and kissed her on the forehead and left. There would be more to talk about later, Dad knew that, but in that moment he wanted his daughter to know she was forgiven.

There is nothing more important that you need to know about God than that he cares for you and loves you with every fiber of his being. His entire essence is wrapped up in love for you. Like that father to his poor daughter, your heavenly Father wants you to hear the voice of comfort.

Jesus speaks tender words to you today. He speaks to your heart because that’s what’s so wrong in this world today. It’s what’s been wrong since Adam and Eve were chased out of Eden. And Jesus wants you to know that the hard service of sin is over. The punishment is done because he took it on the cross. That’s the victory he announced to Satan when he descended into hell. That’s the triumph that shouts from an empty tomb! Sin has been defeated. Comfort.

That voice of comfort has to mean something to you, right? And if it does, then put it into practice in your life. Fill in the valleys with the comfort of forgiveness. Tear down the hills with the power of that comfort. Leave your sin behind. Don’t wait for the divorce papers to deal with your problem of addiction. Don’t wait for the next argument to deal with your problem of anger. Don’t want for sin to get a hold of you, put it away today. Look at what Christ has done for you, look at the comfort he has earned for you and then welcome his arrival with hearts that have been comforted through repentance.


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It's Time to Be Done With Fear

There is a powerful and malevolent force that is sweeping through our lives taking away our freedom, our morality, justice, happiness and peace. It whips into our homes like an icy wind sucking away the warmth of joy. It is fear. Right now, somewhere in this world a person is contemplating ending their own life. Right now, somewhere in this city, a person contemplates leaving everything—home, family—in the dead of night to start over somewhere else. And perhaps even in our own midst there is a person whose life is spent dodging one fearsome event after another.

Fear is a gripping and choking power. It causes people to find relief in what is temporary, to find escape if only for a moment, to envy the paper-thin happiness of others. Fear makes us put on a happy exterior, even though our souls are crushed. Fear is a cruel master who forces us to only look inside, to only look to ourselves, to isolate ourselves, in short, to worship ourselves. And it is a cruel and unhappy worship. It is a worship whose hymns are strains of guilt and remorse, a worship of self-pity. It is an idolatrous and godless worship that never delivers the happiness and peace we crave, but only the damned eternity reserved for those whose faith is smothered by fear.

Our hearts crave something better. Our hearts crave eternal relief. Our hearts crave joy. Not the external joy of unbelief’s so-called happy people. Our hearts crave joy that goes beyond the smile and down to the soul. Our hearts crave the kind of joy that causes a sister who mourns the death of her brother to hold her head up high in hope. We crave the kind of joy that causes a family in the midst of disaster to move beyond the loss and difficulty.

And this joy is not far away, it is not something we must come up with on our own, it is the free gift from God, given to us in his Anointed One. Fear can be done with in your life. Its choke-hold can be broken by the joy-gift of God. Fear gives way, it must, because the Lord’s Anointed was sent to destroy fear’s source and to replace fear with his presence. Now is the time for joy. Now is the time for singing. Now is the time to shout aloud. Sing, shout aloud, be glad and rejoice, sin is gone, your Lord is near.

Zephaniah 3:14-15, "Sing, O daughter of Zion; shout aloud, O Israel! Be glad and rejoice with all your heart, O Daughter of Jerusalem! The LORD has taken away your punishment, he has turned back your enemy. The LORD, the King of Israel, is with you; never again will you fear any harm."


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For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. ~ ROMANS 6:23