Pastor's Blog

Forgiven

Forgiven: People are digging up dirt on everybody. Every day brings new accusations from the past. It’s a little scary, isn’t it? If people were to search, what sins could they dig up from your past? What secrets that you hope no one ever finds out about?

God’s people in the Old Testament a had a lot to hide too. That’s why it’s remarkable to hear what God told them, “‘In those days, at that time,’ declares the LORD, ‘search will be made for Israel’s guilt, but there will be none, and for the sins of Judah, but none will be found, for I will forgive the remnant I spare’” (Jeremiah 50:20). God says, “Go ahead. Try to dig up dirt on my people! Search all you want, but you won’t find anything. Because everything is forgiven.”

That wasn’t just true for them. That’s true for you too! When Jesus died on the cross, he died for every one of your sins—past, present, and future. Our world loves digging up dirt from the past. But not God. When he looks at your past, he says just one word: Forgiven!

We thank Pastor Nathan Nass and https://www.breadforbeggars.com/ for this week's blog. 



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Jesus' Upside-Down Story

Jesus’ Upside-Down Story: It was the senior banquet for me and my classmates after studying to be pastors at our seminary. We were just days away from being assigned to our first congregations. The seminary president got up to speak. The room got quiet. He told a personal story about his kids and an experience they had growing up together. When he finished the story, everybody leaned forward, waiting… He said, “There’s actually no point to that story at all, but I’ve heard that people like stories, so I thought I’d tell one.” Then he went on to give us encouragement as future pastors. What’s ironic is that I don’t remember any of the encouraging things he said. I just remember the story!

Stories are powerful, aren’t they? People love stories. Stories change lives. God knows that. So he gave us the Bible. Sometimes people picture the Bible as old and stodgy and boring. Ever thought that? If you have, I’d encourage you to trying reading it. The Bible isn’t boring. It’s the greatest adventure and action and love story ever told! Do you know who the best storyteller in the Bible is? Jesus. Jesus loved to tell stories. We call them parables. Jesus’ stories are different than the story that seminary president told. His stories always have a point to teach us about God.

But here’s a problem: Sometimes the “point” of Jesus’ stories doesn’t seem true. Sometimes it seems like what Jesus says is just plain wrong. Upside-down. Here’s an example: Jesus says, “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied” (Luke 6:20-21). Blessed are the poor and hungry… Does that match what you see? No way! When the wealthy Pharisees of Jesus’ day heard that, they sneered at Jesus. “What are you talking about, Jesus? Just look at us. We’re rich and loving it! Life is not the way you describe it.” Ever wrestle with that? Does what you see not match what Jesus says?

Jesus knows. So Jesus tells a story. “There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day.” And the Pharisees in their fancy suits must have smiled and said, “Yep, that’s us! It pays to be rich!” “At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores.” The people with tattered clothes and rumbling stomachs sadly nodded their heads with tears in their eyes: “Yes, that’s us. Life’s hard. It doesn’t make sense.”

Whom would you rather be? The rich man or poor Lazarus? Dressed with fine linen or dressed with sores and licked by dogs? Whom would you rather be? Can I see a show of hands? Wealth, friends, and food… or hungry, forgotten, and alone? Have everybody know your name… or have no one look your way? Blessed are the poor? “There you go again Jesus. That’s upside-down!”

Until they died. Both of them died. Death is the great equalizer. Have you heard that? Death doesn’t discriminate. Rich or poor. Black or white. Man or woman. Everybody dies. There’s a reason for that. The Bible says, “The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). How many people have sinned? Everybody! So how many people die? Everybody! That’s true for rich and for poor.

But death is where Jesus’ real story starts. All die, but all don’t go to the same place. Life in our upside-down world doesn’t make sense unless you see what happens after death. Just like you can’t understand a book by reading just one chapter, so you can’t understand life by just seeing this world. “The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side.” What a beautiful surprise! The angels carried poor Lazarus to heaven. There’s no purgatory. No waiting. Just heaven. What we see with our eyes doesn’t tell the full story. Earthly suffering doesn’t indicate a bad relationship with God. Lazarus was carried by the angels to heaven.

That means that heaven is a real place with real people in it. At least Jesus thinks so! Who welcomed Lazarus to heaven? Father Abraham. Have you heard of him? Maybe some of you can sing his song with me: “Father Abraham had many sons, and many sons had Father Abraham. I am one of them, and so are you, so let’s all praise the Lord!” Abraham was the one God choose to be the father of the Israelites. He was the guy God promised would have a son, even though he was 100 years old. Sounds upside-down! What did Abraham do? “Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness” (Genesis 15:6). Abraham hoped against hope. Abraham believed in what he couldn’t see. A man of faith. Where is Abraham right now? In heaven!

So how did Lazarus get up there? Here’s a cool detail: In all of Jesus’ parables, Lazarus is the only character who has a name. Ever noticed that? No other person in any other parable has a name. Just Lazarus. Jesus must be teaching us something! Do you know what “Lazarus” means? It means, “God has helped.” Lazarus on earth seemed unknown and forgotten. Was he? No way! Lazarus’ name was written in heaven! It seemed like only the dogs were on his side. True? No way! “God has helped.” Lazarus was loved by God! Remember the word for God’s undeserved love? Grace. Lazarus was saved by God’s grace. “God has helped.” Tattered clothes. Sores all over his body. Poor. Hungry. That didn’t matter! Lazarus was carried by the angels to heaven.

But not the rich man. Jesus doesn’t even bother to give him a name. That’s ironic, because I bet everybody knew his name on earth. I bet he was famous. But his name wasn’t written in heaven. “The rich man also died and was buried. In Hades, where he was in torment…” Where did the rich man go? Hades. Hell. It’s interesting that way more people today believe that heaven is real than that hell is real. Do you know who tells us about heaven? Jesus. Do you know who tells us about hell? Jesus. Like heaven, hell is a real place with real people. What we see with our eyes doesn’t tell the whole story. Lots of people are going to be surprised when they die! Are you?

So how bad is hell? It can’t be that bad, right? Listen: “In Hades, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.” How bad is hell? This rich man begged for just one drop of water in the midst of the fire. That’s bad! Surely Abraham will say, “Yes,” right? We expect him to say, “It’s all going to be okay.” But he doesn’t. Not even close! “Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been set in place, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.” There’s no getting out. No second chances. That’s hell!

Why would God create a place like hell? Because we deserve it. When we gorge ourselves and ignore those starving around us, there’s a hell for that. When we treat our dogs better than other human beings, there’s a hell for that. When we reject God and love our money, there’s a hell for that. I have a problem that all the money in the world can’t solve. So do you! It’s my sin! Earthly wealth is no guarantee of a good relationship with God. If my heart isn’t right with God, if I treasure money—or anything —more than him, I’ll end up in hell forever. Do you get the point? Jesus’ stories have a point! What we see on earth—good or bad—doesn’t tell the whole story!

Finally, the rich man started to get it. He got how awful, how eternal hell is, and he didn’t want his brothers to go there too. So he said to Abraham, “Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my family, for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.” I once heard someone say that we Lutherans must not believe in hell. “Of course we do! Why would they say that!” Because we don’t have much urgency in our evangelism. If you believe hell is real, you’d tell everyone you know! “Send Lazarus to my family!” But Abraham said, “No. They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.” What’s another word for Moses and the Prophets? The Bible. That’s all we need. Faith comes from hearing God’s Word.

Because stories are powerful. Especially God’s story! Jesus’ little story today is part of the big story of how God has saved us from hell. Do you know it? Could you tell it? God’s story starts with creation. God made you, me, everything. You’re not an accident. There is purpose and meaning for your life. You’re God’s creation! But instead of thanking him, we sinned—Adam and Eve and us. Sin wrecks everything. God should have sent us all to hell right away! But he didn’t. He sent Jesus our Savior. You talk about upside-down… Jesus died on the cross for you and me and the sins of the whole world. You’re forgiven. For every sin. Forgiven. But the story doesn’t end at the cross. Jesus rose again and promises life in heaven to all who believe in him. It doesn’t matter how upside-down your world looks, here’s the truth: Jesus’ story changes lives. “Faith in Jesus through the Word of God,” Abraham said. “That’s what your brothers need!”

But do you know what the rich man said? “No, father Abraham, but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent. The Word is not enough. That book is too old. They need more. Something big. Like having someone rise from the dead. Then they will believe!” But Abraham said, “If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.” This is so important! Faith in Jesus comes from the Word of God. If we don’t believe the Word, than nothing will convince us, not even if someone rises from the dead.

Here’s the irony: Someone did. A dead man did come back to life, but it wasn’t Lazarus. It was Jesus! You talk about an upside-down story. Jesus left heaven to open the way to heaven for us. Jesus was poor, so that we are rich. Jesus died, so that we live. What we see with our eyes doesn’t tell the whole story! The Gospel message is not about seeing. It’s about believing. Believing the upside-down story of Jesus. Victory through a cross. Those who are poor are blessed. Those who are weak are strong. Those who die, live. That’s Jesus’ upside-down story!

That story changes your life. Whether you’re rich or poor or somewhere in the middle, you matter to Jesus. He wants you to know that your outward circumstances don’t tell the full story. Life in our upside-down world doesn’t make sense unless you see what happens after death. Until you see faithless men in flames and beggars with angels. When times are good, your wealth or success doesn’t mean that you’re better than anyone else. So be careful not to trust in it! When times are bad, your suffering doesn’t mean that you’re forgotten by God. He knows your name. It’s written in heaven! So don’t trust in what you see. Trust in Jesus and his upside-down story.

Based on this Bible account: 19 “There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. 20 At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores 21 and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores. 22 “The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. 23 In Hades, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. 24 So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’ 25 “But Abraham replied, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. 26 And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been set in place, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.’ 27 “He answered, ‘Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my family, 28 for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’ 29 “Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.’ 30 “ ‘No, father Abraham,’ he said, ‘but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’ 31 “He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’ ” (Luke 16:19-31 NIV)

We thank Pastor Nathan Nass and https://www.breadforbeggars.com/ for this week's blog. 

 

 



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See the Unseen

See the Unseen: What you see doesn’t tell the whole story. Do you see chaos around you—a world out of control? Do you see your body wearing out—with sickness and cancer raging? Do you see troubles that lead you to doubt God’s love for you? Do you see sin and death and the devil winning? What you see doesn’t tell the whole story.

Here’s the truth:

“16 Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. 17 For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 18 So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18 NIV).

May God give us grace today to see and trust in the unseen.

We thank Pastor Nathan Nass and https://www.breadforbeggars.com/ for this week's blog. 



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The Special Look, Smell, and Feel of Autumn...and of God's Grace

The Special Look, Smell, and Feel of Autumn...and of God's Grace: Few things enliven me more than a beautiful Autumn day.

This time of year I always find myself with an extra spring in my step, as though God has graciously gifted the gas tank of my energy levels with a robust top off. I also find myself taking more walks - ambling about in blissful contentment, relishing the pleasant introspection this season always seems to produce in me.

And the colors, my goodness, the colors!

It’s one thing to say the word ‘orange’ and know that it refers to a whiteboard marker. It’s another thing entirely to have over a hundred different shades of this color greet your eyes as you turn a corner with all the jubilation and daring of a toddler let lose on a double decker chocolate cake. There is a subtle yet intense pleasure to be found here - and I haven’t even brought up the reds and yellows yet. Nature at her most visually luxurious; as though God had designed this season solely as the optimum time for observing his glorious creation. Fall has a look all its own.

And the smells, my goodness, the smells!

Bonfires - as we all know - have a slightly better smell cast in 45 degree air rather than 75 degree air. Pumpkins and apples deserve the candles they sell so much of (and which I can’t seem to stop buying). But it’s the leaves themselves, that’s what takes the cake. The smell of millions of leaves scattered across every lawn and road and sidewalk and alleyway and forest path and windshield in sight. Fall has a smell all its own.

I could go on like this for a while (and I just might when I get home), but think everyone gets the picture: Pastor Zarling likes Fall. It has a look and a smell and a feel all its own.

And so do you.

For by God’s grace you have a look that looks a lot like Jesus’ righteousness in his eyes. You have a smell of complete perfection in his nostrils. You have a feel of unending love and mercy. And you have all of this through your Savior’s blood. All of us here at Good Shepherd’s are sinners - and often that truth is all too real for us. Yet, all of us are also forgiven children of God, who get to daily rejoice in his love. When God looks at us he sees Jesus. When he turns his face toward us, he smells Jesus atoning sacrifice. We look and we smell and we feel like our Savior, because we are covered in his perfect righteousness.

Few things enliven me more than a beautiful Autumn day.

Except for the Gospel, that is.

We thank Good Shepherd's pastor, Reverend Joshua Zarling, for this week's blog post.

 



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(Sometimes) Unpopular Things Christians Do With Their Money - Tithe

(Sometimes) Unpopular Things Christians Do With Their Money – Tithe: Can’t entirely explain it. I’ve had the overwhelming urge to write about money management recently. It might be the fact that my church will soon be partnering with a generosity/stewardship consultant for the upcoming year. Or, it might be the consumer freakout that is Amazon Prime Day– an important annual holiday in which we American consumers are reminded not to pay full price for pressure washers, flatscreens, and survivalist party straws like idiots when we could be saving 16% off. (You went and clicked on the survivalist straw, didn’t you?) And this all with that Amazon doomsday clock ticking down in the upper righthand corner of your browser. Yes, the digital sales Rapture is more panic than excitement; more an opportunity to brag to others of the deal you got rather than fill a legitimate need in life. 

But this is the sickness of American consumer mentality. It’s literally an addiction. A paranoia. An apocalypse.

So, yeah, the idea that we Christians probably need some financial guidance is warranted. And considering the climate, the idea that some of the Bible’s directives may possibly offend the consumer shouldn’t surprise us either.

Why not begin with the point that will likely be most controversial?

1) Tithe

The first thing that probably needs to be said is that in the history of God’s people, a “tithe” (a giving away to God of 10% of what has been received as blessing) has not been controversial to God’s people. Even prior to the Mosaic Law, Abraham gave “King Melchizedek, Priest of God Most High” a tenth of everything he had (Genesis 14:18-20). Upon receiving a vision from God at Bethel, Jacob promises to give God a tenth of everything God blesses him with.

The tithe system is later codified into Mosaic Law for God’s people in Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. From the regularly collected tithe, God provided for worship celebrations, for the Levites (who had no allotment of land in Canaan), and for the marginalized of the believing community (i.e. widows, orphans, foreigners, and poor). You can read all about this in Deuteronomy 14:22-29.

For a few thousand years, God’s people got into a regular rhythm of giving to the Lord their tithes, their firstfruit offerings (Leviticus 23:9-14), their best. This didn’t come naturally. The Children of Israel needed to be taught to express gratitude and trust in the same way that your children do. No one thinks it’s legalistic to teach a child to say “thank you” when someone gives them a ride or holds the door open for them. We understand that gratefulness is a necessary, learned attitude and behavior. So God programmed opportunities for his children to grow in this way. The tithe was one of these chief opportunities. The tithe was what God said was an appropriate way for believers to express 1) GRATITUDE for all that the gracious Lord had already poured out into their lives, and 2) TRUST that this same God would continue to meet all of their needs moving forward.

The tithe wasn’t controversial for Old Testament believers, but that doesn’t mean they always liked it. In one of the most scathing, but nonetheless hopeful, rebukes in Scripture, God says through the prophet Malachi:

“Will a mere mortal rob God? Yet you rob me. But you ask, ‘How are we robbing you?’ In tithes and offerings. 9 You are under a curse—your whole nation—because you are robbing me. 10 Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the Lord Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it.” Malachi 3:8-10

No question. For the Israelites, tithes were good. And necessary. And blessed.

The question for modern believers, however, is “Does this still apply to me?”

The tithe fell under the Old Covenant of God’s people. This included Sabbath regulations, dietary restrictions, guidelines for circumcision, etc. Most Christians are (rightfully) not overly concerned with obedience to such commands. Why should the tithe be any different if it’s baked into that Mosaic code?

The transition from Old Covenant Judaism to New Covenant Christianity is admittedly a challenging study. For our purposes here, however, as a general rule, the New Testament specifically and overtly mentions the aspects of of the Old Covenant that were culturally conditioned for that particular time and place. So, for instance, the Apostle Paul makes it clear that festival regulations and dietary restrictions and Sabbath rules are no longer necessary for God’s people when he says, “Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day.” (Colossians 2:16) Or, Stephen and Paul make it clear that Temple treks and special ceremonies are no longer necessary when they say “(God) does not live in temples built by human hands”. (Acts 7:48; 17:24) The writer to the Hebrews makes it clear that special sacrifices are no longer necessary when he says, “Unlike the other high priests, (Jesus) does not need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for the sins of the people. He sacrificed for their sins once for all when he offered himself.” (Hebrews 7:27)

These are big changes. No Temple. No sacrifices. No diet restrictions. No worship day regulations. No circumcision (Galatians 5:1-12). Massive changes.

But when you come to the issue of tithing, you notice something fascinating, from the Man himself. During Holy Week, in the midst of one of Jesus’ feisty interactions with the Pharisees, he calls the hypocritical religious leaders out on their financial management. He says:

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. Matthew 23:23

Notice that the Pharisees were really fastidious about their tithing, right down to offering a tenth of the herbs out of their spice racks. Jesus’ rebuke here is that they used their tithing as an excuse to not feel guilty about overlooking care for the poor and needy. But look at what he says next: “You should have practiced the latter (i.e. mercy), WITHOUT NEGLECTING THE FORMER (i.e. tithing).”

Far from abolishing the tithe, Jesus appears to uphold it.

And even if one is still convinced that the tithe is strictly an Old Testament command…fine. Consider nonetheless the very premise of the tithe. God, at one point in the past, said to his people, 

“On the basis of all the grace you’ve received from me, it is appropriate for you to give a tenth of all you are blessed with as a way of expressing 1) gratitude for blessings that have been received and 2) confidence in future blessings that will be received.”

Well, what about us? As a New Testament, New Covenant believer, on the other side of the cross of Jesus Christ, have we received more or less grace than the Old Testament believer? I don’t know how one could argue we’ve received less grace. And if 10% was the appropriate expression of gratitude and faith for the Old Testament believer, how does that become anything but a starting point for New Testament believers? 

I have zero doubts that some might consider me legalistic for even mentioning a percentage to Christians when it comes to their offerings. To that, I’d say, for starters, that I think we have very different definitions of legalism. I’m certainly not suggesting that someone is saved by their tithe. That’s ludicrous. I’m simply pointing out what makes sense in light of the gospel. It’s no different than when the Apostle Paul tells the Thessalonians to not grieve over deceased loved ones who have passed away in Christ in the same way that the pagans grieve for their departed. He basically says, “That doesn’t make gospel sense. You’ll see these people again! You’re not acting in line with the gospel!” (1 Thessalonians 4:13) Paul again uses the same technique with the Apostle Peter when Peter is guilty of racial insensitivity in Syrian Antioch (Galatians 2:11-13). Paul is not trying to shame people. He’s simply telling them that they’re not acting in line with liberating gospel truths. 

Seek first

What is the gospel truth about our financial management? It sounds like this: “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.” (2 Corinthians 8:9) The idea that the king of heaven left his throne, to come and pour out his riches at the cross, so that I, who have spent so much of my life hoarding and thieving his planet, could be forgiven and now set free to live in eternal riches…that’s the crazy economics of the gospel of Jesus. And it radicalizes your finances. At that point, the only sensible thing to do then is “seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, (knowing that) all these things (i.e. worldly needs) will be given to you as well.” (Matthew 6:33)

We thank Pastor James Hein and https://www.breadforbeggars.com/ for this week's blog.



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You Are Loved

You Are Loved: Toleration is a popular word in our society today. Everywhere we look, toleration is praised as the highest virtue. I suppose it makes sense. Our culture has decided there’s no one absolute truth. We’ve convinced ourselves that no religion is better than any other. We have to get along somehow. So how’s this going to work? We better emphasize tolerance at all costs! Hold on… If you think tolerance is the greatest thing, imagine this: It’s your birthday. Your spouse or your best friend gives you a present with a hand-written card. In big letters, it says, “I tolerate you!” Huh. Is “tolerance” really that great?

God offers you so much more! God doesn’t tolerate you. God loves you! “This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him” (1 John 4:9). God doesn’t tolerate you. He loves you! God doesn’t just put up with you the way you are. Instead, he sent his Son Jesus into the world to live for us. To die for us. To fundamentally change us into something we weren’t before—the forgiven, loved children of God. In our toleration crazed world, remember that you aren’t just tolerated. You are so much more. You are loved by God himself. Jesus proved it!

We thank Pastor Nathan Nass and https://www.breadforbeggars.com/ for this week's blog. 



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Hidden Dangers

Hidden Dangers: A fin. We saw a fin. While my family and I were swimming in the ocean last month, we saw a big fin swim less than 20 yards from us. I don’t know what it was. Our first thought was that it was a shark. Or it could have been a dolphin or a big fish. All I know is that it was scary! There are a lot of scary things in our world, aren’t there? There are hidden dangers all around us. Accidents. Sickness. Violence. You don’t have to be in the ocean. Disaster could strike at any time. How can we live like this? Isn’t it scary?

The world is scary, but we have our God. Or—better yet—God has us! “He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, ‘He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust’” (Psalm 91:1-2). So, “You will not fear the terror of night, nor the arrow that flies by day, nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness, nor the plague that destroys at midday” (Psalm 91:5-6). It’s true that there are hidden dangers all around us, but so is our God. He is our fortress and refuge and Savior. You don’t have to fear hidden dangers. The worst that can happen is that you will open your eyes in heaven. Even if you see a fin, may God take away all your fears today.

We thank Pastor Nathan Nass and https://www.breadforbeggars.com/ for this week's blog. 



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Feeling vs. Reality

Feeling vs. Reality: In the past couple of generations, there has been a MAJOR shift in the way that our country’s populace generally views truth, and then specifically views organized faith groups, i.e. “church” or “organized religion.”

I’d liken it to the difference between medication and a placebo. As a general rule, we find medication helpful because it works. But only if you believe in a placebo will you find it helpful. You see, a placebo is inherently powerless to help you, but if you personally think it’s helpful, in the 21st century, no one’s going to fault you for using anything that “works” for you.

Today, many modern people look at religion as something that they won’t knock you for if you find it helpful. But they do not believe it is innately helpful, much like a placebo.

Do you see the difference? Several generations ago in our country, and really in most cultures throughout history (excluding modern Europe), people have always believed that basic notions of God and religion were true, and therefore they must be helpful. But modern people believe, for the most part, that we’ve progressed beyond the need for “God” to explain things. Consequently, if you want to be naïve enough to believe in God and religion, that’s fine, but please don’t try to share those beliefs with the rest of us and certainly don’t bring them into the social arena, because no one else should have their lives negatively impacted by your distorted belief in fairy tales. In other words, the basic current understanding of faith by most of the academic elites, the movers & shakers in the world, is that if you want to gullibly swallow the placebo of Christian faith, that’s fine, but the subtle insinuation is that you’re probably pretty weak-minded for believing something so antiquated, childish, and foolish.

What’s interesting to me about this common argument against biblical truth is that, while it’s backed by more Ph.D.’s, it’s really the same basic argument as a young teenager for why she believes what she believes – she feels that way. The academic might be able to cite some research, which has value, but do NOT let academics convince you that their beliefs are entirely evidence-based. They’re not. Every assessment we make stems from presuppositions we have. No interpretation is unbiased.

So, for instance, you might ask a 14-year-old girl why she likes one of the boys from One Direction and she’ll tell you “because I LOVE him!” Okaaaay. Got it. She has a strong feeling about him, so she believes it MUST be true. You ask a 30-year-old journalist why she thinks same-sex marriage should be legalized and she’ll maybe tell you that it’s because the majority of people today deem it “right.” You explain to her that 150 years ago the majority of people in our country believed that slavery was “right” and ask if she thinks that makes it right. She’ll tell you “It’s complicated.” But, you see, her opinion really wasn’t ever based on evidence; it was based on her own personal feeling about who we should be able to love. You ask a 50-year-old biology professor what a child in a pregnant woman’s stomach is and she’ll tell you it’s a “fetus” or an “embryo” or a “zygote” or whatever term-of-the-day language we’re calling unborn children these days, but if we discovered just a fraction of that fetus’ cells on planet Mars, that exact same biologist would tell you, “We’ve found life on Mars!” Uhhhhhhh. Her declaration of an unborn child as a “fetus” and not simply a “human” is not based on evidence; it’s based on presuppositions, feelings, about what the most convenient way to define something is. Had doctors been saying “We’re going to kill your child now” for the past 50 years, I feel that the abortion number would probably be about half of what it’s been.

I don’t think I’m overreacting when I suggest that the postmodern transition from reality dictating feelings to feelings dictating reality is something of an epidemic. I see it ALL the time from a theological standpoint. People say things like, “I don’t think a loving God would allow..” or “I don’t think God would be so exclusive about….” or “I don’t think miracles make sense because…..” But it isn’t really higher logic that drives people to those conclusions. It’s their feelings. There is absolutely nothing illogical about a loving God punishing sin or a wise God holding to exclusive truth or a supernatural God possessing the ability to intervene in his own created laws. Those individuals don’t hold those opinions because they’ve just carefully thought them through. They hold those positions because they feel that way – their gut reaction, their sinful hearts, have actually clouded their judgment at that point.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not suggesting that modern people are the first people to project their feelings upon objective truth, reality, and God himself. What I’m suggesting is that we are probably the first culture in history that reasons that our own personal feelings are a good barometer of making claims about truth and how God should/does operate.

You might also notice that I used women in all of the examples above. That was intentional. For starters, and I mean this as a complement to women – they tend, on average, to feel more than men. Again, in general terms, the Bible suggests that they were designed by God as more relationally aware, emotionally intuitive creatures than men. In many ways, that’s an advantage and tremendous blessing. As a human race, we NEED that. But human strengths can also become weaknesses when we trust them too much. Additionally, and to be perfectly honest, I’ve simply encountered more women than men who will tell me how God should/would operate and base it on nothing from Scripture but on what they personally feel to be right.

But what if reality alone dictated our feelings? What if something was helpful simply because it was true, not true because we found it helpful? Christians should take this one step further – what if we actually let God’s promises in the Bible dictate the way we felt about everything and everyone?

Jesus said, “Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20) If I believed the reality, I would never feel alone. After talking about how wonderfully he provides for the sparrows, Jesus said, “So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.” (Matthew 10:31) If I believed the reality, I would never feel worthless. Jesus said, “God blesses those who are humble, for they will inherit the whole earth.” (Matthew 5:5 NLT) If I believed the reality, I wouldn’t ever feel superior to others. Jesus said, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:44-45) If I believed reality, any anger I have towards people who mistreat me would turn into compassion towards those who God intends to be my family. Jesus said, “For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.” (Matthew 6:14) If I believed the reality, I’d stop beating myself up for mistakes I’ve made that God himself has already pardoned.

What kind of people would we be if we allowed the reality that the Bible teaches to shape our feelings, instead of letting feelings that are generated by sinful hearts shape our reality?

On a bigger scale, what if everyone in the world let the reality of Scripture, the truth of Jesus Christ, dictate humanity’s existence? I feel like it would be a little slice of heaven.

We thank Pastor James Hein and https://www.breadforbeggars.com/ for this week's blog.



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Know the Cost

Know the Cost: I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but football season has started! I love football, but it’s been a little harder to watch the NFL ever since I saw the movie “Concussion” a few years ago. Have you seen it? “Concussion” tells the story of a doctor from Nigeria—Bennet Omalu—who studied the brain of a former NFL star who had committed suicide. Dr. Omalu realized that year after year of collision after collision in the NFL had damaged this man’s brain and caused his death. When he made this discovery, Dr. Omalu was sure that the NFL would be grateful to find out! But they weren’t. They did everything they could to disprove his findings. But Dr. Omalu didn’t give in. He wasn’t trying to destroy the game of football, but he insisted players have a right to know the cost of playing professional football. It’s good to know the cost.

That’s exactly what Jesus wants you to know. He wants you to know the cost. Not the cost of playing football. The cost of following him. Did you know there is a cost to following Jesus? He uses two stories to illustrate that. First, “suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it? For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you, saying, ‘This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish.’” If you want to build a new house, it would be foolish not to make sure you have enough money to complete it! Can you imagine the ribbing you’d get from your friends if you built just half a house? You’ve got to know the cost!

Or Jesus says, “Suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Won’t he first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace.” This is more serious than building a house. Before a country goes to war, it’s necessary to know whether they have the resources to win. Any leader knows to calculate the cost before going to war. It’s obvious. You’ve got to know the cost!

So here’s the cost of following Jesus. Ready? “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters—yes, even his own life—he cannot be my disciple.” Wow! Did you know Jesus said that? Following Jesus means refusing to let anything get between you and Jesus. Whom are we most tempted to love more than Jesus? Family. Parents, spouse, children. Could that be wrong? A woman once said to me, “Pastor, you don’t have to worry about my faith. I love God almost as much as I love my kids.” Is that wrong? Yes! That woman has an idol—her kids. God wants you to love your parents. There’s a commandment about that! God wants you to love your spouse and your kids. But he wants you to refuse to let anyone get between you and Jesus. Sometimes faith in Jesus separates families.

Jesus wants you to know the cost. “Anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.” That’s well-known phrase today, “Carry your cross.” It must have shocked Jesus’ disciples. A cross in Jesus’ day was the worst thing imaginable. “That cross that people get nailed to until they die, be ready to carry that around as my disciple.” Sound nice? This is a hard saying from Jesus! If you follow Jesus, you can expect to carry a cross—sufferings like broken relationships because of your faith in Jesus. There is a cost to following Jesus.

That doesn’t sound right, does it? We’re not used to talking like Jesus talked. If you’re new here today and thinking about following Jesus, I’d like to tell you it’s going to be easy. I’d like to say, “Join our church. It’s going to be great!” I’d like to promise, “Believe in Jesus, and your life’s going to go well.” Do we make it sound easy to be Christians? Jesus doesn’t. Jesus was not a people pleaser. He tells the truth. He wants you to know the cost of following him. “Those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciple.” Want to follow Jesus? Here’s the cost: Be prepared to give up everything, starting with some of the people you love most.

I’m afraid that’s not our expectation as Christians in America. We’ve been so blessed that we’re used to having everything—and Jesus too. We expect to be safe. We expect to be free to believe what we want without persecution—without a cross! We expect to have wealth. We expect to enjoy sports. We expect to go on vacations. We expect to have beautiful families. And we expect Jesus to fit in with everything else in life. Right? Jesus and… But Jesus says that’s not how it works. “Those who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciple.” If it seems easy to be a Christian, Jesus challenges you today: “Are you really a Christian? Does Jesus really come first in your life? Does your family know what you believe?” It won’t be easy!

For some of you, hearing what Jesus says about hating—losing—family for his sake hits right at your hearts. You’ve talked to me about it. You have children who’ve fallen away from Jesus. Brothers and sisters and even spouses who don’t share your faith in Jesus. It hurts, doesn’t it? If you weren’t a Christian, it wouldn’t bother you at all. You’d say, “It’s okay. To each his own. It doesn’t matter what you believe.” But you know that’s not true. It’s not okay for someone not to believe in Jesus. It does matter what you believe. Faith in Jesus is the difference between heaven and hell. You look at the people you love, and you know exactly what Jesus is talking about. You know the cost of following Jesus. Your family. Your life! It hurts. Is Jesus worth it?

Last month, there was surprising news in the NFL. Andrew Luck, the star quarterback for the Indianapolis Colts, suddenly decided to retire at 29 years old. People were shocked! The owner of the Colts estimates that Luck will miss out on $500 million by not finishing his career. $500 million! But Andrew Luck thought about the cost. He was constantly battling injuries, and he decided it wasn’t worth it, not even for $500 million. I think a lot of people are deciding that about Jesus. They hear what Jesus asks for—our lives. They hear what he wants us to be willing to give up—everything. And they decide it’s not worth the cost. 29-year olds are retiring from Jesus. 49-year-olds are retiring from Jesus. 69-year-olds retiring from Jesus. He’s not worth it!

So what about you? Now that you know the cost, is following Jesus worth it?

Before you decide if Jesus is worth it, there’s another side to the story. It’s true that there is a cost to following Jesus. God asks for everything. But you can’t consider our cost without first realizing what God has given up for you. What was God’s cost to have a relationship with us? Do you know? His Son Jesus. God gave up his family, so that we could be his family. Just think about that: God the Father knew the cost to save us—his only Son. Would you have done it? God did. God our Father doesn’t ask from us what he hasn’t already given up for us—everything!

Now think of Jesus’ cost. The Bible describes what Jesus gave up for us: “Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:6-8). You got all that? Jesus is God, and yet he decided to become a human being. But he didn’t just become a human being. He became a humble servant. And then he died—for us. I want you to know the cost. To know the cost that Jesus paid for you: His life.

Jesus refused to let anything get between him and you—not even his family! Once when Jesus was preaching, his mother Mary and his brothers tried to get him to stop. Do you know what Jesus said? “Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother” (Mark 3:30). That must have hurt Mary! But Jesus was letting even Mary, his mother, know that she did not have a right to get in the way of God. Or one time Peter—one of Jesus’ best friends—told Jesus he didn’t have to die. Do you know what Jesus said to Peter? “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men” (Matthew 16:23). Ouch! “Jesus, that’s not Satan. That’s your friend Peter!” But the moment Peter got in the way, he was Satan’s tool. Jesus didn’t let anything get between him and you.

Why? Why would God the Father sent his Son to die for you? There’s only one answer: He must love you—a lot! Why would Jesus stop at nothing to die on the cross for you? He must love you—a lot! God loves you more than anyone and anything else in the world. Do you know how much Jesus thinks you’re worth? Everything! There is nothing more wonderful than knowing the cost that Jesus was willing to pay for you and for me. To Jesus, you’re worth everything!

When you hear that, how can Jesus not be your dearest treasure? God doesn’t force us to follow him. He gives us the ability to push him away. But God wants you to know that whatever is coming between you and Jesus isn’t worth it. Whether it’s money or work or a relationship or even your mom or your kids, whatever comes between you and Jesus isn’t worth it. Not when you know the cost he paid.

The truth is, if you don’t have Jesus as your dearest treasure, you can’t be a good friend, because you will expect your friends to do for you what only Jesus can. If you don’t have Jesus as your dearest treasure, you can’t be a good spouse, because you will expect your spouse to do for you what only Jesus can do. If you don’t have Jesus as your dearest treasure, you can’t be a good parent, because you will place this pressure on your kids to do for you what only Jesus can do. The best thing to help your marriage is for you to grow closer to Jesus. The best thing for you as a parent is for you to grow closer to Jesus. In Jesus and only in Jesus do you learn what truly makes a relationship work: Forgiveness, undeserved love, forgiveness, sacrifice, and forgiveness. And if, in the end, your relationship with Jesus separates you from those you love, you always have Jesus. Because you know the cost he paid. You’re worth it! He’s worth it too.

This blog is based on Luke 14:25-33. (NIV)

25 Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said: 26 “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple. 27 And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.

28 “Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it? 29 For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you, 30 saying, ‘This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish.’

31 “Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Won’t he first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? 32 If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace. 33 In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples.

We thank Pastor Nathan Nass and https://www.breadforbeggars.com/ for this week's blog. 



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Citizens of Heaven

Citizens of Heaven: Presidential campaign season is officially in full swing. Have you noticed? It’s hard not to! Politics are on people’s minds. Just scroll through your Facebook news feed and note all the political articles and comments shared by your friends.

So what do we say? What attitude can a Christian have during campaign season? We need guidance and truth from sources other than CNN or Fox News or Facebook. We need the truth and comfort of God’s Word. Here are some beautiful truths from the Bible for us to remember during campaign season.

First, let’s remember that God is the authority over everything. That’s easy for us to forget. The Bible says, “The kings of the earth rise up and the rulers band together against the Lord and against his anointed….  The One enthroned in heaven laughs; the Lord scoffs at them…. ‘I have installed my king on Zion, my holy mountain’” (Psalm 2:2,4,6). There is a real King. His name is Jesus. He already triumphed for his people. Don’t let the chaos fool you. Jesus isn’t worried! We know who is King.

Second, let’s trust God’s promise that the only thing that can change hearts is the Gospel. What America needs isn’t a certain president or political party. We need God’s Word. “‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the Lord Almighty” (Zephaniah 4:5). If our country is going to return to Christ, changing laws isn’t the answer. It’s only going to happen through the preaching of the Gospel. Let’s share God’s Word—often!

Third, let’s remind ourselves where our real citizenship is. To the Philippians who were super proud of their Roman citizenship, Paul wrote, “But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Philippians 3:20). We are citizens of heaven! It’s a blessing to live in the United States, but when cancer strikes or death comes, being an American is no comfort. Let’s remember who we really are: Citizens of heaven because of Jesus. 

Finally, if our citizenship is in heaven, our goal on earth isn’t ensuring the success of any country. It’s winning souls for heaven. The heroes of faith in the Bible understood this. People like Moses and Abraham admitted “that they were foreigners and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own…. They were longing for a better country—a heavenly one” (Hebrews 11:13-16).

Let’s use the opportunities this campaign season provides to remind each other over and over again about our real King and our real home and our real citizenship. We’re citizens of heaven! That’s the only way to have true peace regardless of the outcome in November 2020.

We thank Pastor Nathan Nass and https://www.breadforbeggars.com/ for this week's blog. 



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Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith. ~ HEBREWS 12:2 (NIV)