Pastor's Blog

Light Up This World

A lot of people today want Christians to keep their faith to themselves. But do you think people would say that if they could see how good the Father was? Honestly, I can’t answer that. But here’s what I can say: it’s a lot harder to say no to someone who is so good to you all the time.

People need to know about God’s love. Jesus says to light up this world so that people would praise the Father in heaven. Has this ever happened to you? It could. When you come alongside someone who is grieving the death of a loved one and you show them true compassion that comes from the Father’s love. They may just listen to you and their heart may open just a bit, and God’s love might just get an opportunity to go into the inner chambers of their heart and find a home just like in your heart. When you stand up for someone because God’s love has taught you to love all people regardless of who they are, you might just earn their respect and you might just begin a friendship and you might just get a chance to explain the love God has put in you. When you receive an unexpected blessing and give your thanks to God, you might just show this world how good God is; or, if God takes something away from you and you struggle and yet in that struggle draw closer to God, you tell people, “When you love someone this much, it’s worth suffering for.”

Take the love that God has put into your heart, the love that comes from Christ who died on the cross, and light up this world.


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Ash Wednesday - From Death to Life

Genesis 3:15, "And I will put enmity between you and the woman and between her offspring and yours; he will crush your head and you will strike his heel."

It all began in a garden, the Garden of Eden. God the Almighty broke into our world and announced the very first gospel promise. Without this promise there would be no Lent and no Easter. There would only be death and damnation for us. But the seeds of our salvation were first planted in this Garden of Promise.

The promise completely reversed what had just taken place. Satan had planted the seed of unbelief by tempting Adam and Eve to sin. They no longer believed God’s words. They ate the forbidden fruit. That single seed of unbelief immediately sprang to life and, reaching out like some horrible death-plant, wrapped its tendrils around this man and woman to squeeze the life out of them.

They felt the squeeze of God’s decree: “The day you eat of it, you will surely die!” They didn’t turn to God for mercy. They didn’t look to him for a second chance. They ran for cover and tried to hide from God.

The death-plant produced a foul fruit: enmity. They felt nothing but enmity—in other words, the opposite of peace. They shook their fists at God. They shook their fists at each other. They shook their fists at Satan. They were quick to blame God for their circumstances. They were willing to throw each other under the bus if it would save their own skin. What had seemed like such an inviting friendliness from Satan was now unmasked as a malicious trick to destroy them. In great irony they had become unwitting allies of this serpent who hated them and wanted them doomed like himself. Inside and out, they now felt the permeating, damning hatred that a holy God has for what they had become. It was sheer terror.

But God announced a reversal of that enmity. Speaking to the devil, God said, “I will put enmity between you and the woman.” God would change things! The woman wouldn’t be an ally to the devil anymore. God would create enmity between her and the devil. God would put her at odds with Satan.

That means she and God would have to be reconciled and be at peace with each other and be friends again. For to be an enemy of Satan is to be a friend of God. And this announcement of friendship was not offered to the woman only, but also to her husband and to all their descendants—that means you and me. God said to the snake, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers.”

Notice how wonder-inspiring our God is. He did not advise Eve to redirect her hatred upon the serpent. He did not command her to hate the evil one. Nor did God urge her to reach up to heaven with her prayers to invite the change. The fact is, when God did give her the opportunity merely to fess up, she couldn’t do it. She utterly lacked the power to change her feelings about God and save herself.

So God would do it. He said, “I will put enmity between you and the woman.” God cut off the tendrils of death at the roots and saved the man’s and woman’s lives by promising to send a Savior.


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What are You Doing Down There? Get Up!

She sits in your living room sobbing. Not sure what to do, not sure what to say. But it’s happened again and once again she feels guilty. Christians aren’t supposed to do this. Christians aren’t supposed to sin like this. And as her tears fall onto your carpet, you can’t help but share her feelings. You’ve been there to, face-to-face with your own guilt. Face-to-face with the guilt of the same sin repeated a thousand times before. And whispering a quiet prayer in your soul for your guilt and for the guilt your friend is feeling, you kneel down, put your arm around your friend and say: “My friend, get up, Christ has healed you.” In fact, Christ says this very thing to you, too: “My child, get up, I have healed you: I have forgiven your sins."

The sickness of sin is a serious one. It comes from our sinful nature which is in constant battle with God. And the devil compounds the sickness by clouding the issue with lies like: this sin is too great for God to forgive, or, no Christian would ever repeat the same sin over and over. And in all of this confusion and conflict we can forget that God still loves us despite our sin. And finally this sickness leads ultimately to hell.

But Jesus says to us, “Get up, your sins are forgiven.” It was his job to forgive sins. His very purpose in coming down to earth was to earn God’s favor for the unlovable. His job was to reveal the lies of the devil and show us that there is an answer for sin. Best of all, it is his joy to tell us that our sins are forgiven. His job was to comfort people who were ridden with guilt with those words, “your sins are forgiven.”

When you and I are frustrated by our stupidity to repeat the same sin over and over again, Christ is there to soothe our conscience with his perfect blood shed on the cross. When the devil throws our past sins at us, Christ is there to tell us that he has paid for them and the empty tomb on Easter morning is God’s promise to us that he has forgotten our sins.

And so when you or I sit in the cesspool of our own sins, and we look around us and all we see is the guilt of our own actions, and all we hear is the devil whispering his lies in our ear, Christ marches into the midst of our darkness and says to us, “My child, get up, I have healed you, your sins are forgiven.”

Mark 2, "A few days later, when Jesus again entered Capernaum, the people heard that he had come home...Some men came, bringing to him a paralytic, carried by four of them...When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, 'Son, your sons are forgiven...I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.'"


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Unbelievably Rich

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

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

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

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


Beautifully, unbelievably rich.


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This is Why We Are Here

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

“Woe to me, I am ruined.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Fear Shouldn't Own You

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

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

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

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

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


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Egyptian Throw Down

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

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

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

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

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


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Have a Hug

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

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

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

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

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


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Does the Christmas Star Still Shine?

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

"What does that tell you?"

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

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

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

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

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


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For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith--and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God-- not by works... ~ EPHESIANS 2:8-9