Pastor's Blog

Moving Past Babel

When your home has been destroyed and the city lay in ruins, starting over doesn’t happen so easily. Imagine a French family living in one of the many towns utterly destroyed by the allied bombings of World War II. How do you move on when every building on the street has been bombed out, shattered bricks spilling out onto the roads, rooms exposed on three sides because their walls were blown apart? Is it even feasible or compassionate to suggest starting over at that point? Or think of the people in Iraq who desire to move past the tribal wars and historical blood feuds that have destroyed their homes for years. It’s hard to move past all of that and start over.

Moving away from the desolation of life to something better can seem like a monumental task. When we have been torn up by sin, when the foundation of our life has been blown apart by guilt and the consequences of our sin, it seems unimaginable to move away from all that pain. Each year we ask young men and women to pledge before God and Church that, what? That they will run away at the first sign of difficulty? That they will run for cover when someone challenges their faith? No, they pledge that they would rather die than give up their faith. 1 Timothy 6:12 puts it this way, “Fight the good fight of faith.”

It is a fight. Being a child of God is a fight. So how do we move on from the rubble of our sin? How do we carry the light of God’s promise into the darkness of this world? We take God’s word, we take his promises, and we move on.

As humanity on the dawn of its second age moved away from their rebellion at the Tower of Babel, so we move away from our own “babels.” We move away with the LORD’s forgiving presence leaving behind our sinful pride. And as we move away from that we head into our futures with the LORD’s faithfulness.

Genesis 11:8, "So the LORD scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city."



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Help Me Help the World

Perhaps you remember the day of your confirmation: whether you were confirmed as a youngster or as an adult, I hope it was a happy day. And it should be because confirmation is a celebration of God’s word. He brought you to faith. He keeps you in the faith. And he will bring you to himself in heaven.

So now what? Sometimes confirmation can seem like such a big deal that we put all this emphasis on it without thinking about the day after confirmation, or the life after confirmation. Confirmation means strengthening—strengthening for a life of showing your faith. Because whether you are aware of it or not, there is a world out there that hurts. It hurts because it’s lost in sin. And you and I, who have been confirmed or those who will be confirmed, have the answer for that world.

The problem is sharing that answer with the world is painful. There was a believer from the book of Acts named Stephen who understood how painful it was to share Christ in the world. When you look at his story, you might think, “What terrible experience!” But in the midst of all the bad things that happened to him, Christ was right there to strengthen him. And just like then, Christ knows that we need his help if we’re going to be any help in this world. Jesus helps us help a hurting world: Jesus encourages us, and Jesus gives us love to share. 

Acts 7:54-60, "When [the Pharisees] heard these things (from Stephen's sermon), they were furious and gnashed their teeth at him. 55 But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed up into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. 56 He said, “Look, I see heaven opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”

57 But they screamed at the top of their voices, covered their ears, and rushed at him with one purpose in mind. 58 They threw him out of the city and stoned him. The witnesses laid their cloaks at the feet of a young man named Saul.

59 While they were stoning Stephen, he called out, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!” 60 Then he fell to his knees and cried out in a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” After he said this, he fell asleep.



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An Earnest Faith

There are certain qualities we should really have in life. One of them is honesty. Another would be having a good work ethic. Certainly kindness and an even temper would be on the list, too. Being earnest would be another quality I would add.

Being earnest is being serious about something. Being earnest is the first step in being honest. If someone asks me to help them, I should be serious about helping them and then follow through. Marriage would be a great example of this. If you commit to being married to someone, that’s a commitment that should be made in earnest. It’s serious business!

So are you earnest about your faith in Jesus Christ? Jesus wants to know. Is trusting and obeying Jesus something you seriously pursue? These are good questions to ask because you cannot sit on the fence. Either you pursue Christ with an active faith, or you don’t. Either you are alive in your faith or you are dying/dead. In the book of Revelation, Jesus writes seven letters to seven different churchs and each one examines the heart of faith. He tests faith so you can see if you are alive or if you are dying. If that sounds pretty serious - it is! It’s serious business because Jesus wants us to live an earnest faith. So let’s earnestly confess our sins and then earnestly follow Christ.

Revelation 3:19-20, "Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest, and repent. Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me."



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Grief Doesn't Have to Stink

Grief is normal.

Grief is necessary.

Grief is needed.

It also stinks.

Probably everyone who reads this blog has had to bury a loved one. Our church, Good Shepherd's, recently heard of the unexpected death of a former principal. Dead at 41. Massive heart attack. It stinks.

"Lord if you had been here..." We always have lots of questions when it comes to death and even more when the death is sudden or unexpected. It seems easier to bury someone who is old and sick, but even then the heartache and pain and grief are still there. A question forms in our mind that is at the same time unanswerable and mildly accusing, "Lord, why?" Or, to put it another way, "If you had just done something."

But he does. He did. This is the season of Easter, after all. "Christ is risen, he is risen indeed!" We celebrate that. We should celebrate that. Death is not the end. The sudden loss of a friend, a colleague, a family member, a spouse, a child, need not be just a crash into a brick wall and a life shattered to pieces. There can also be hope.

"Lord if you had been here...but even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask." And what is it that Jesus asks for every human being? It is that they would not die but live. For our former principal at Good Shepherd's, that means he lives eternally. This is a good thing. This is THE good thing the only thing that really matters in a world full of death. And Jesus doesn't just want this, he grants this. It is why he came.

"I am the resurrection and the life, he who believes in me will live, even though he dies. And whoever lives and believes in me will never die." John 11:25,26

Grief is normal.

Grief is necessary.

Grief is needed.

It stinks.

But in Christ our grief finds an answer that leads to eternal life.



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Coming Out of Tribulation

You would never have planned it this way, but there he was. You happened to be strolling through the park one evening when you saw him, kneeling in intense prayer a little ways off. There was something striking about this man that drew you closer and as you watched his lips move you wondered what could be weighing on this man’s heart. You could see the beads of sweat forming around his forehead and dropping to the ground. What was going through his mind? What was he struggling with that he came to the Lord with such fervent prayers?

It wasn’t until several days later, when Jerusalem was abuzz with excitement about the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth that you realized you had the honor of witnessing the prayers of Jesus hours before he was put to death.

We owe a debt of thanks to the writers of the gospels because through them we were with Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane and we know exactly what was going through his mind when he fell to the ground, crushed by the burden of what he was about to do. We know how he opened his mouth to plead before his Father that the cup of wrath he was about the drink would be taken away from him. We know how he suffered! We know the great tribulation our Good Shepherd passed through to earn us forgiveness.

Christ was no stranger to tribulation, and neither are we. We may not carry the weight of God’s punishment against sin on our shoulders, but we encounter our own things that press us down, that squeeze us until we wonder if we can take it anymore. The question is: how are we going to handle it? Where does our courage come from? Well it doesn’t come from inside of us. It comes from a tomb which does not contain a dead Jesus but is a living witness to the reality of what Jesus did. This living Jesus has washed us with his blood and will guard and shepherd us through this great tribulation until we join believers from every nation, tribe and language in the eternal joy and comfort of heaven.

Revelation 7:14, "These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb."



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A World Grown Cold but Filled With Love

When Jesus was still walking with us on earth, he told us that a time would come when the love of most would grow cold. He didn’t tell us what that would look like. He didn’t tell us that the world would suddenly become a hateful place of people spewing one angry word after another. He didn’t say that the world would be filled with racists, or xenophobes. All Jesus said was that the love of most would grow cold. What that actually looks like—I can’t say for certain.

But I like to think that you and I would easily recognize a world of no love. Don’t you think that would be easy to recognize? Hatred seems like something easy to spot. But what if the devil tricked us? What if the devil tricked us into isolating ourselves into our own worlds with things like computer and video games, television, the World Wide Web, mp3 players? Not that those things are wrong by themselves, but what happens when people no longer interact with one another in meaningful ways? What if the devil tricked us into to becoming so selfish that no matter what my behavior is in public I will always justify it? What if the devil tricked us into thinking that to truly show someone kindness we must leave them alone, stop judging their life and their choices, “Well, to each his own.” If the devil tricked us into those things, would that be a world whose love has grown cold? And would those people be Christians whose joy for the gospel, whose joy for Easter, had become so jaded that they stopped loving their neighbor or, worst of all, their Savior?

I don’t know if we’re living in a world where the love of most has grown cold, but what I do know I tell you now: we live in the joy of an empty tomb. We live in a world that has a loving and merciful God, a world that has a Savior, and a world with believers who know and believe this, too. So don’t let your love grow cold. Sing Easter’s joy, sing with all believers and sing the glory of God.

"Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them singing: To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!" Revelation 5:13



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Easter Love - Part 2

This is part two of a two part series on John 21. For part one, click here.

The final chapter of the gospel of John is a wonderful account of Jesus showing his love to his disciples after his resurrection.

But what happens when love is violated and how is that relationship mended?

In John 21 Jesus has an interesting exchange with Peter.

Jesus: Simon son of John, do you truly love me more than these?

Peter: Yes, Lord. You know that I love you.

Jesus: Feed my lambs.

Jesus: Simon son of John, do you truly love me?

Peter: Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.

Jesus: Take care of my sheep.

Jesus: Simon son of John, do you love me?

Peter: Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.

Jesus: Feed my sheep.

Ok, so what's going on here? First, some Greek, because this is one part of Scripture that doesn't translate well into English. In biblical Greek, there are several different words to describe what we would call love. There is "phileo" which is like friendship love.

Another word for love is "ero" which is the sexual love God desires between husband and wife. It gives us the root for our word "erotic."

And then there is "agape". No that's not "agape" as in, "His mouth was agape at the sight of the huge tracts of land." It's a•gah•pey. This kind of love is the sacrificial love, the willingness to put the needs of others before your own.

So, back to the conversation. Jesus asks Peter first, "Do you love (agape) me?" But Peter replies, "Lord I love (phileo) you." See the difference? Jesus was asking Peter if he was willing to put his own needs aside, his own concerns, his own desires aside and put the desires of his Lord first. But Peter sidesteps and says, "Lord, you know that we're buds." Not good enough Peter, try again.

"Do you agape me?" But Peter doesn't get it quite yet and answers the same as before. 

Then Jesus asks him a third time, but this time he switches to "phileo." And then Peter seems to get it. John tells us in verse 17 that he was hurt that Jesus asked him the third time. And Peter replies that he loves (phileo) him. The difference is this time, his love (phileo) is prompted by the love (phileo) of Jesus.

In essence Jesus was saying to Peter: you need to put yourself second if you're going to follow me and even when you don't (because you're a sinner), I'm still your very dear friend.

Did you notice anything "coincidental" in this exchange? How many times did Jesus ask Peter if he loved him? 

Three, right? Sound familiar?

Peter had denied knowing Jesus three times, and Jesus has him publicly acknowledge, three times, that he loves Jesus. Jesus wasn't going to pretend that what happened in the courtyard of the high priest didn't occur. But he would use it for Peter to grow. If Peter was going to be the kind of pillar of the Christian church he turned out to be, he would need to put his own selfish desires aside for the sake of his friend, Jesus, who loved him very much in spite of his continual sinfulness.

Peter had violated the love of Jesus. But what did Jesus do? He restored his friend. He forgave.

Is the relationship between you and Jesus any different? Our denials may look different than Peter's, they may be quite private even, but the consequence is the same. We violate the love of our good friend Jesus. But Jesus will leave you with the same love he left Peter, because Jesus knows the power of the love he has placed into your heart. He knows that his Easter love isn't fickle. He knows that his Easter love doesn't fade. He knows that his Easter love always puts the needs of others ahead of his own. And this is the love he gives to us because he has risen from the dead.

So take that love of Jesus, your good friend who died for you, aim it at your denials and sin, and, like Peter, follow Jesus with a clear conscience.



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Easter Love - Part 1

One of my favorite chapters from the New Testament is found in the last chapter of John, chapter 21. 

This section contains two very powerful stories of Jesus' ministry after he rose from the dead. It shows what the power of unconditional love can do for sinners. A question many people ask is, "Could God love a sinner like me?" These stories powerfully illustrate what God's love is capable of doing for sinners.

But first we have to go back to very early on the morning of Good Friday. Perhaps is 2 or 3 o'clock in the morning. From the courtyard of the high priest's home, Peter is observing the Jewish authorities question Jesus. And Peter does what he never thought he would ever do, he denies that he knows Jesus. Motivated by self-interset, fear and panicking at the thought of being treated the same way Jesus was being treated, he calls curses down upon himself and swears he doesn't know the man. 

Then the rooster crows, Jesus looks at him, and Peter's heart breaks.

Fast forward to the weeks following the resurrection. Jesus has now appeared to his disciples, including a special appearance to Peter (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:3-8), several times. John 21 records a very special appearance. The disciples had returned to Galilee according to Jesus' directions. What's there to do while they wait around? Why not do what they did before Jesus called them and go fishing? So that's what they do.

But wouldn't you know it, they get skunked! Not a fish night long. If this sounds familiar, you're right. Peter and his fishing buddies had been skunked once before in Luke 5. And just like then, this would be a day of fishing they wouldn't forget. Just as they are giving up, Jesus appears on the shore (but they don't recognize him) and he asks if they've caught anything. When he finds out they haven't, he tells them to cast their nets on the right side of the boat. Sure enough, a huge catch of fish (just like in Luke 5).

The reaction this time is quite different than Luke 5. In Luke 5, Simon Peter got on his knees and begged Jesus to go away because he was a sinful man. This time, Peter jumps off the boat and swims to shore! (That's so Peter, by the way!) This repeated miracle of Jesus confirmed that Jesus desired a relationship with them. I gotta think Jesus was chuckling to himself at the thought of what was going to happen when he repeated this miracle. Was there a twinkle in his eye when he told them to throw the net off the right side? He probably couldn't wait to see their reaction. In a way, this is like when a father teases his child just to get a rise out of them and see them smile.

Love made all the difference. This was their good friend Jesus. The one they thought was dead, but was very much alive. The one who had said so many important things to them. The one who meant so much to them. And because he was alive, because he loved them and they loved him, they wanted to be with him. So, go ahead Peter, swim to shore, there's no reason to be afraid of Jesus. You are forgiven. Your denial is forgiven.

Maybe you can relate, too? Jesus' victory at Easter means victory over sin. Could a sinner like you be forgiven, in spite of the horrible things you've done and thought? Love makes all the difference, doesn't it? Your Savior loved you, died for you, and rose again for you. Your sins have been destroyed. You are forgiven. And Jesus wants to be with you forever. 

That's Easter love.

Next week we'll take a look at the second half of this very powerful chapter of John 21.



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Curtains, Blood, the Old Testament and Jesus

One of the questions that people often have is, "How did the Old Testament people learn about Jesus?" In today's blog, I thought we'd depart from our normal devotional format, and talk about the important lessons God was teaching with the Temple in Jerusalem. (consult Leviticus 16 and Hebrews 9 and 10)

We're told in the gospels that when Jesus died, the curtain in the Temple was torn in two from top to bottom. This curtain was a thick curtain about 4" thick and separated the two rooms of the Temple in Jerusalem: the Holy Place and the Most Holy Place.

The Holy Place

In this part of the Temple, the priests performed their daily functions. They offered prayers at the altar of incense and put out, each day, 12 fresh loaves of bread. These loaves symbolized the 12 tribes which made up the nation of Israel, God's chosen people. Also in this room was the golden lampstand, which symbolized the light of God shining upon his people (symbolized by the loaves of bread). Only priests could enter this room.

The Most Holy Place (Holy of Holies)

This room contained the Ark of the Covenant. The Ark of the Covenant was a special box which contained the 10 Commadnments, a specimen of manna (the miraculous food Israel ate in the wilderness for 40 years) and the staff of Aaron which had miraculously budded. On top of this ark were two cherubim (angels) facing each other, with outstretched wings that touched in the middle. This place where the wings touched was called the Mercy Seat. In this place was the visible presence of God's glory, perhaps an orb of light or a sparkling cloud. No one was allowed in this room except the High Priest and only once a year.

Why the curtain?

The curtain did more than separate the two rooms, it separated man from God. It was a symbol of mankind's sin. Nobody could just walk into the presence of God because they were sinful. So the curtain reminded them that sin separates them from their God.

God provided a solution to sin

Once a year, the High Priest entered the Most Holy Place with the blood of a bull and the blood of a goat. The bull would die for the sins of the priests, the goat would die for the sins of the people. In each case, the High Priest would bring the blood of the animal into the Most Holy Place. He would sprinkle that blood onto the Mercy Seat.

Now here comes the cool symbolism. God's presence which looked down from the Mercy Seat and onto the Ark of the Covenant, would see the 10 Commandments - God's law. God's law had been violated by the sins of the priests and the wickedness of the people. But the blood of the innocent animals, sprinkled on the mercy seat would cover the law of God, and cover the offenses against that law. And therefore God would not punish Israel for their sin; he would accept these animal sacrifices in their place.

But these animal sacrifices weren't enough. They had to perform these sacrifices over and over again becuase these were just animals. These animals served as a teaching tool to teach Israel important lessons about sin:

• Sin violates God's law and is punishable by death (blood)

• God would accept the perfect blood of another in place of the death of the sinner

These animals taught the people that they needed a substitute and they needed a better substitute than these animals. It created in them a desire that God would one day fullfill his promise to have mercy on them by sending another, the Messiah, the Christ, who would be the final sacrifice for sin.

Why did the Temple Curtain tear in two?

Jesus Christ was that final sacrifice. His blood was the perfect blood because his life was never tainted by sin. So God accepted him as the one sacrifice to pay for all of mankind's sin once and for all time. This meant that sin no longer had to separate God and man.

So the curtain tore in two. God and man are at peace now. 

Just like the ancient Israelite's looked ahead to the Messiah to be that one, final sacrifice, we look back and see that same Messiah give his life for our sins. On Good Friday, we commemorate this most important event in human history as the day God accepted a sacrifice for you and for me and for this whole world of sinners.



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The Underestimated Savior

It had been a long time since the smell of bacon and eggs filled the Clark house. Both parents, with two teenagers and one autistic 12 year old, were living life at full throttle. The morning routine went something like this: dash out of bed, dash through the shower, dash through breakfast, dash out the door. Sometimes there was even time to look at each other and say good morning!

Frustrated by this, mom and dad were in the other room talking about the last time they remembered sitting down as a family to eat. It happened that Thomas, their 12 year old autistic boy, overheard them. Now Thomas wasn’t known for being able to do much around the house. Because he was autistic they were usually taking care of him. Imagine everyone’s surprise when the next morning, perfectly cooked bacon, toast and eggs were all prepared on the kitchen table. As curious family members stuck their heads into the kitchen, they were greeted with the goofy grin of Tom, the one member of the family no one ever expected to be able to cook a meal. It turned out he had a gift for cooking.

We like those kind of stories because they remind us never to underestimate human potential. What other kinds of things don’t people expect? No one ever expects the straight-A student to fall into a pattern of drug abuse. No one expects a life-long Christian to abandon God. No one expects those kinds of things. Think about some famous "unexpecteds" from the Bible. Would you have expected King David to sin with Bathsheba? If you had been a Jew, would you expect the Pharisees to murder the Messiah? Experience teaches us to never underestimate the human potential for unbelief. In fact, Scripture teaches us that while we have no power to come to faith on our own, we do have the terrible power to abandon the faith.

So God sent his son. Already at the beginning of time God had a plan to undo the effects of sin. And his Son came with a message—an invitation, really. He was inviting humanity to believe what he was saying. But the Son also came with a warning so that believers would learn to avoid unbelief. 

And this underestimated Savior, this man who nobody thought could do what he claimed he could do, did it all. He alone paid for humanity's sin. He alone could bring us back to God.

Listen to how Jesus compares himself to some rejected building material that surprises everyone with what it becomes.

Luke 19:17, "Jesus looked directly at them and asked, 'Then what is the meaning of that which is written: The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone?'"

The underestimated stone, Jesus, would indeed become the capstone. He would do the incredible, the unexpected - he alone would save the world.



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