Pastor's Blog

Die to Save Your Life

     There is a right time for a person to die, but the only person who truly knows when that moment will come is God. And when death comes there is no debate. But until that moment comes, there is plenty of debate. You may remember a woman by the name of Terri Schiavo. Many years ago, she was going through life in a “persistent vegetative state” being kept alive by a feeding tube. Her life, such as it was, brought this debate of dying back to the headlines. And I am sure that you have had to personally wrestle with this issue.

            So why is the debate there in the first place? Part of it, I think, has to do with medicine’s ability to sustain life. We have a lot of technology at our disposal which can stave off death. But is that always the right thing? The other part of the debate goes deep within the recesses of our souls, to the dark corner of the sinful nature. We don’t want to let go of this life. Sometimes people, even Christians, say they don’t want to die because they’ve got too much they want to accomplish. It boils down to a love of this life that borders and, yes, passes into, idolatry.

            So we need to die. We need to put to death this sin. We need to put to death our love of this world and the only way this happens to us is when we die with Christ. Then sin is no longer our master, our sinful nature no longer has its death-grip on our souls, and we can die to the world. Life through death, it’s one of the great paradoxes of Scripture. But it is the only way to survive to eternity. Die to save your life.

Jesus says, "Whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it." Mark 8:35


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One Word and We're Saved

It’s amazing the power words have. Sometimes all it takes is one word and you’ve had an entire conversation with someone.

She says just the wrong thing to you and that’s it, you’ve lost your temper. Your boss comes up to you and it’s the same thing he always brings up, and in your mind you roll your eyes. Sometimes it’s the avoidance of a certain word that really gets us. You know what someone wants to say, but they won’t say “that” word, so they talk around that word, as if we’re not observant enough to realize what they’re really saying.

But these one-word conversations aren’t always bad. In fact, they’re quite often pleasant. A well-timed, “thanks,” can make your spouse’s day. Telling a child they did something perfectly helps them build confidence. Encouraging the young person by telling them you respect them, helps them grow into respectable people.

Words carry power. And no one’s words were more powerful than our Savior’s. If you were looking at the Mark 7:31-37 with a red-letter edition of the New Testament (the one that puts all the words of Christ into red ink) there would be one red word, “Ephphatha."

"Jesus looked up to heaven and with a deep sigh said him, 'Ephatha,' which means 'be opened.'"

That's it. One word but it carried the whole of Jesus’ love and compassion for a man who was deaf and mute, one word that healed him, and one word that tells us we’re saved. "Ephphatha, and we’re saved." That power of Jesus' word makes us well: it destroys the work of Satan and gives us eternal life. So how else could we respond but with words of thanks and praise for a Savior who by his word has made us whole?


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One Cup of Tradition, Please

Jesus quoted Isaiah in Mark 7, "These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men."

There’s something comfortable about the familiar, isn’t there? Catching up with a familiar friend, or sitting down to your favorite meal or favorite movie are comfortable things. There is a relief when you return to familiar surroundings after being away for a while. That’s probably why traditions hang on for so long. They’re comfortable, they’re familiar.

But isn’t there a feeling among us that what is familiar, what is traditional, must be modernized? You take something as simple as the traditional cup of coffee and that’s just not good enough anymore. Starbucks has introduced us to the world of mochas, Americanos, lattes, espressos and Frappuccino. Someone who grew up in the age of diners and drive-ins might step back and wonder, “What’s wrong with a plain ol’ cup of coffee these days?”

To the opponents of Jesus, he was a kind of a rebel. That’s because Jesus was challenging the traditional values of the Pharisees. But Jesus wasn’t trying to undo their traditions for the sake of modernization like someone might claim Starbucks has done to coffee. What Jesus was trying to do was to actually restore the traditions of God. The traditions of the Pharisees only told people to focus on themselves and what they could do for God, traditions that ultimately resulted in eternal death. But the traditions that Jesus wanted to restore focused on what the Lord does for people, traditions that result in clean consciences and eternal life.

We like to think that we’ve moved beyond the Pharisees, but if you look at our own culture, our own lives, which tradition seems to be more popular? God's or man's? Looking at my own life, it seems I like the traditional religion of man way too much. And perhaps you see the same thing. You see in your life a desire to focus on your own actions and efforts, but find that those often disappoint. We fail. The traditional religion of man fails.

That’s why I want Jesus to restore God’s tradition in my life. So...

"I’ll have the traditional faith, please." 

The one that focuses on Christ and the one that gives us a clean heart.


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Well, What did you Expect?

We’ve all been disillusioned somewhere along the way. This is that disappointment we feel when that person whom we thought was better, was acting outside of our expectations. Maybe it happened the first time you saw your pastor drinking a beer. Or maybe it was when you realized that your parents weren’t perfect. These are memories we have from our childhood usually, so it doesn’t take us long to realize that people aren’t as good as we expect them to be. But for some reason we still set ourselves up for disillusionment. For instance, we put all our political hopes into one candidate only to see that he or she is the political equivalent of a dead tree. Whoops. Let’s hope that one doesn’t come back to haunt us.

But who could ever be disillusioned with Christ? I mean if there was ever a guy who delivered on what he said, it was him. If there was ever a guy who could meet our expectations and even exceed them—he’s the one. But you see it all depends on exactly what your expectations are. If Jesus doesn’t meet those, then what happens? If following Jesus becomes unpleasant and hard, then what happens?

Now we see. Now we see. It can be hard to follow Jesus. It is hard to follow Jesus. It can be unpleasant to follow Jesus. Sometimes, it is unpleasant to follow Jesus. Disillusioned? Disappointed? Disheartened? Should we just give it up? I don’t think so. In fact, I think Jesus has something to say about this. Don’t go, but follow. Follow Christ because he gives us the spiritual message and puts a bold confession on our lips. There is no disillusionment when we follow Christ. We just need to have the right expectations.

John 6:67-69, "'You do not want to leave too, do you?' Jesus asked the Twelve. Simon Peter answered him, 'Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.'"


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Wise Up!

“You’re ignorance is showing,” she said. With the arrogance that comes so naturally to a teenager, I had been pontificating about something or other. And the older mother who was there with me just matter-of-factly stated, “you’re ignorance is showing.” It stopped me cold. I had been so convinced of what I was saying, so sure of it. And then—bam!—back to reality. Wise up!

Does our ignorance ever show as Christians? Yeah, it does. Someone once said, “If you want to find a hypocrite, just ask what they do on Sunday afternoon.” Ouch! Now that’s probably an exaggeration, but the point is clear. Are we living consistently with our faith? Or do we say one thing to God and another thing to the people of the world?

We need to wise up, we’re Christians after all! And as Christians, we have the wisdom of God laid out before us in the Word of God. And when we connect to that wisdom we wise up and our faith shows up. 

St. Paul put it this way in Ephesians 5:15-17, "Be very careful, then, how you live--not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord's will is."


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The Gift of the Impossible

Standing in her boss’s office with hands planted on the edge of his desk she looked him straight in the eye and said, “You’re asking for the impossible!” And she stormed out of her boss’s office. It wasn’t so much the task that got her upset, but it was the timeline. Her boss just didn’t understand that this project took much longer than what he was giving her. Once again she was being put into an impossible situation.

But this time it was different and had she not stormed out of her boss’s office, she would have realized that. Sitting back at her desk an e-mail was waiting for her from her boss, subject line: Our meeting. She dreaded opening it up fearing that she was going to be asked back in to be fired. But the e-mail was simple enough, “I’ve seen how hard this task is to complete within the timeframe so I’ve assigned two other people to assist you.”

If you’re anything like me, you’ve been in that lady’s shoes. Only it’s not our boss’s office we stand in, it’s the throne room of God. Just look at the demands he makes of us, “Be imitators of God. Get rid of all anger and bitterness.” I know I haven’t lived up to that standard. I can get pretty angry and I sure don’t imitate God very well. God commands that we believe in some pretty unreasonable things like a man rising from the dead or that every word in this Bible is exactly what God wanted written down. Our minds come up with plenty of reasonable excuses to these things. We say to God, “You want us to believe the impossible.”

Jesus quoted the prophets in John 6:45, "It is written in the prohets, 'They will all be taught by God.' Everyone who listens to the Fatehr and laerns from him comes to me." It is precicesly because the task is impossible that we are taught by God. This is why God does all the work of drawing us to himself through his message and focusing us is on the One who came down from heaven. Then God can give us what God commands: faith to believe and to do the impossible.

If you enjoyed this blog, share it with your friends and help spread the message of Jesus!


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What the Mist Can Never Give Jesus Does

A while back the insurance company, Allstate, ran an ad picturing a family gathered around the dining room table playing a board game. The family is on a tighter budget now and instead of going out and spending money at the movies, they’re staying home. In fact, the commercial seems to imply, maybe they never needed to spend the money at the movies in the first place to be happy. All they needed was to spend time with each other.

We know that nothing on this earth lasts—nothing. But the irony is that most of us spend our precious time and resources on the very things that won’t last. We spend big bucks on homes that will fall apart, on careers that can change in a snap, and on people or causes that change over time. The apostle James put things into perspective when he said, “What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.” (James 4:14)

If this is the state of things, then how should we be living our lives? With what kind of an attitude should we seek our Savior? Perhaps we have pursued a relationship with Christ out of purely selfish motives? Perhaps we have treated him like a kind of spiritual ATM, just push the right Jesus-buttons and he’ll bless us with what our stomachs desire. But those desires don’t last, and we’re off to the next thing. If all of this stuff on earth doesn’t endure, than what does? If we are a mist that appears and then goes, what should we be focusing on? Seek what endures: worldly things spoil and slip away, but Christ gives us eternal life. Seek that.


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Bread to Share

Where does a Christian buy bread? The question today has nothing to do with where we shop. It has nothing to do with real bread and nothing to do with the money in your wallet that you might spend on bread. Today’s question is really a challenge from Christ. Christ is challenging us to once again look beyond ourselves. Christ is challenging us to put our faith into action. Christ is challenging us to provide the spiritual nourishment that people need. Last week we talked about sharing Christ’s compassion and his compassionate message. Today we talk about a test that Christ gave to his disciples when they were faced with thousands of hungry people and he asked them, “Where are we going to buy bread for these people to eat?”

The only answer to Christ’s test is Christ himself. He alone had the power to help those people and he alone has the power to help us. His was the power over sin: the power to keep the requirements of the law perfectly; the power to keep his heart and his mind and his intellect pure. His was the power to take his perfect life, his perfect body, his perfect soul and put it up on the altar of the cross as the perfect sacrifice for sin. His was the power to die, to absorb the energy of God’s wrath over sin. His was the power to take your place and my place and die for us. And his was the power to raise his dead body back to life, something no one would have ever imagined or deemed possible. But Christ did it because he has the power.

The same power to take a handful of bread and make it feed thousands of people, is the power of Christ to triumph over sin and death. The same power that filled the stomachs of those people fills our souls with the love and forgiveness of God. So Christ’s death becomes our life. Christ’s triumph becomes our victory. Christ’s perfection becomes our new life and mind. Christ’s reward becomes our eternal treasure.

And so Christ’s asks you, dear Christian, “Where will we get bread to feed all these people? How will you serve the people in your life?” And you will answer, “Lord, if I’m going to provide for these people, then you’re going to have to give me bread to share?"


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Time for Compassion

Mark 6:34, "When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, becuase they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things."

In one of the churches I served at, we were rocked by a tragic motorcyle death that took the life of father and son. It was one of those tragic accidents that made us all cringe with pain. It was one of those tragic accidents that reminded us how fragile life is. It was one of those tragic accidents where our compassion went out to the family members and friends left behind. And those aren’t the only deaths we mourn. Some of you are mourning loved ones recently passed away. The need for compassion is great.

Compassion is really the only thing we can offer these people. We cannot promise to make things better for them. We cannot promise to bring loved ones back. We cannot promise them it won’t hurt. But we can share compassion.

If these tough and tragic deaths remind us of anything it is that the people in our lives need true compassion. There are people who don’t know their Savior, who walk around with a darkness, an emptiness, inside them that this world doesn’t fill. These are the people for whom Christ died; people like you and me, people we can share compassion with. And the kind of compassion that you and I can share is very different from the kind of compassion the world offers. Our compassion is the compassion of Christ. That selfless love of Christ, who loved us when we didn’t deserve it, is the source of our own compassion.

So when we raise our eyes and see the people in this world who don’t know Christ, then it is time to share Christ’s compassion. We do that when we share in Christ’s desire to love and when we share Christ’s message. Now more than ever, I think, it is time to share Christ’s compassion.


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Facing Rejection

When someone talks about prophets I usually think of Elijah. Elijah was a prophet during a very troubling period of Israel’s history. Ahab was the king and Ahab had forsaken the Lord by worshiping other gods. Elijah condemned him for this and you can imagine that didn’t make him very popular with Ahab.

But Elijah was determined to make his stand on the word of the Lord. So Elijah held a contest between himself and the priests of a false god named Baal whom Ahab worshiped. The contest was simple: whichever god answered their prayers that one was the true God. Well, of course, the Lord God is the only true God and he answered Elijah’s prayer. Baal is a piece of stone or wood—he can’t answer anything. So there, Elijah had it, proof that the Lord was the true God of Israel. Did that change Ahab’s heart, though? Nope. Elijah received a death threat from Ahab the next day. So he fled for his life. From the height of victory, to the pit of despair, Elijah faced the rejection of God’s people.

It’s actually the story of all of God’s prophets: from Isaiah to Jeremiah, to John the Baptist, to Jesus and, yes, to you and me. God’s prophets are the people who declare God’s message. In a way, that makes us all "prophets." And it also means that like Elijah, or John the Baptist or Jesus we get rejected.

So what do God’s prophets do in the face of rejection? They stay faithful. That’s what Elijah, John the Baptist and Jesus did. And that is all the Lord ever asks of you and me: stay faithful. Yes, being a prophet of the Lord means you must endure rejection, but all the Lord asks is that you be faithful. 2 Timothy 4:5, "Do the work of an evangelist."


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My soul finds rest in God alone; my salvation comes from him. ~ PSALM 62:1