Pastor's Blog

October 2014

Open Heart Ministry

If we truly appreciated God’s love in all its beauty, we wouldn’t go on sinning. But that’s the horrible truth about us. Our hearts are broken. The prophet Jeremiah says, “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?”

It’s true, though, isn’t it? Our hearts are broken. They are capable of so much sin and we do so much sin. And who among us can do anything about it?

I know a doctor, and I think you know him, too. He fixes broken human hearts. He understands your problem of sin because he lived it. He lived your life. He knows the damage of sin. He saw it with his own eyes: he felt it on his back, his hands, his feet, his head. He saw hatred. He saw lust. And his heart hurt for us. His perfect heart ached with love and concern at the broken hearts he saw everywhere. So he took sin upon his own heart and was punished for that sin and died.

In that moment, when darkness covered the land, he exchanged your broken heart with his perfect heart. The perfect life that he lived was charged to you. And when he rose from the dead, he proved that he had saved you and me. You know this doctor very well. He is Jesus. And his heart opened your heart. That’s what open heart ministry looks like.

Open heart ministry is all about opening our hearts to God’s love. So take hold of that love and live that love.

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It's Time to Change - Are you Ready?

The religious leaders of Jesus’ day refused to repent of their sin. They were not terrified to stand before a holy God.

So what about you? God demands perfection from you. But you know how it is. “Yeah, pastor, I make mistakes all the time, but that’s part of being human, amiright?” We tend to be pretty easy on ourselves when it comes to meeting God’s demands. But God says in 1 John, “No one who is born of God will continue to sin…he cannot go on sinning.” If sin does what it wants in your life, you can be assured that you are not good enough for God.

You and I need to be different than we are right now. It doesn’t matter if you’re an obvious sinner or a saint. It doesn’t matter if you come to church twice a year or every week. We all need to be different people.

Why does Jesus come to you today with such urgency to change? Because he has your eternal soul in mind. He loves sinners. And when the Lamb of God went to Jerusalem, he offered himself at the altar of the cross, to sacrifice himself for you. God’s wrath, which flashes like a lightning bolt, struck Jesus.

For you! In your place! Instead of you!

Listen to Jesus speak to you today! There is no reason for you to die for your sins. Christ presented himself as your substitute in receiving God’s anger. Christ spilled his innocent blood to pay for your sins. Christ presented his perfect life to God in your place. In this way God’s demand to be perfect was met by...who? Not you! It was met by Christ. In this way God’s sentence of death was imposed on...who? Not on you! It was imposed on Christ.

For you! In your place! Instead of you!

And God swears to you today by the holy and innocent blood of his Son, you are not his enemy but his dearly loved child.

God has changed who you are. So what could you be for God? You can be his child. You can make up for the wrongs you have done in your life. You can mend the relationships with words and deeds of kindness. You can spend your days being spiritually minded about everything. You can delve into God’s Word and feast on it hungrily. You can change, because God has changed you. God opened up his heart of love to you; won’t you open up your heart to him and to others?

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God Thinks Differently

If you or I were in charge of who received God’s forgiveness, we would always be asking the question, “Who deserves God’s love?” But God thinks differently than you or I. Despite who you are, despite what sins you have committed: be they gross, graphic or gruesome—despite that, God has chosen to forgive your sins through Jesus. He chooses to give each one of us the same gift. And so in the Church, in congregations like Good Shepherd's, each person has an equal status before God. There is no one better than another or no one more deserving than another.

This is what breathes life into a congregation. This is what cleans out the sins of pride or the anger we may have towards one another. This removes the guilt we may feel about ourselves. It solves the biggest problem the church faces: us! It allows us to see each other as people for whom Christ died. And when that happens, we can start to see the gifts Christ has given to each of us. We begin to see how we are mutually dependant on each other, that no one person is more important than another. We don’t need to compare our abilities or our efforts or our involvement to someone else’s. Instead, we always encourage, we always carry each other’s burdens, we always pray for each other, we always forgive each other, we always help each other. We do that not to get anything in return, but to serve each other as Christ has served us.

At the end of time, when our heavenly Father judges us, he will give each believer their reward. And the reward isn’t based on what we’ve done; it’s based on what Christ has done. So it’s the same reward for everyone. And as we stand in line, waiting for our Father to hand us our reward, we have the joy of listening to each person before us receive their reward. We have the joy of hearing our Father say to them, “Well done! Come and take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you. Welcome home.” In fact, we don’t have to wait for heaven to start enjoying that gift. We can enjoy it right now. We see our Savior, we see our forgiveness, and we are rich. So take your pay and go. Take the forgiveness Jesus has given to you and go with joy because your Father loves you. Go in peace, because your sins are forgiven. Go together, because the Father loves us all.

Now that's a different-better-way to think, don't you agree?

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Forgiveness is never free

For the human heart, forgiveness is never free. Forgiveness always comes at a price. Is the ex-con really ever forgiven for his or her crime? Or for the rest of their life do they have to check that box on their employment application that says, “Have you ever been convicted of a felony?” For us we don’t want to hand out forgiveness free of charge. The other person has to prove themselves worthy of forgiveness. Maybe after they’re dead and gone we’ll forgive them. Maybe, but not likely. It’s much more fun to carry around the grudge, to keep it in our pocket like we keep our wallets or money. Ready to be pulled out at a moment’s notice to flash in front of that person’s face, to display it back to the world, “See what they did to me!” We wield our grudges like swords ready to strike back. Forgiveness for the human heart is never free.

That was what lay underneath Peter’s question to Jesus, “How many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?” Peter thought he was being generous. Seven represented fullness, completeness, the end of the matter. So to forgive someone seven times would be sufficient. But the eighth time…well, then Peter could hold a grudge. Then he could strike back. Then he could take his revenge. Forgiveness wasn’t free for Peter, either. It had its limits.

Do you have your limit?

God wipes out your debt completely, and it did cost something. Our Heavenly Father charged our debt to his son. Jesus expressed that cost with three simple words, “It is finished.” The payment of mankind’s great debt? Finished. Earning God’s love and favor and kindness for mankind? Finished. Dying for your sins? Finished. God had pity on you, and in his love rescued you. There is no limit.

There may be a great cost for forgiveness, but that's been paid...and paid...and paid...without limit.

And you can forgive, too.

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A Simple Way to Show Your Love

     Jesus said, “Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” (Matthew 18) Maybe a better way to say this would be, “whatever you bind on earth has already been bound in heaven, whatever you loose on earth has already been loosed in heaven.” The idea is that Christians are just recognizing what Christ in heaven already knows about that heart. And what’s more, Christ is present with Christians who gather together in his name. And when Christians forgive or don’t forgive, God answers that prayer because Christ is in their midst.

     So what does this look like? Let’s say a friend cheats on his taxes and you learn about it. As a fellow Christian, you confront him with that sin, “Hey man, what are you doing cheating on your taxes? Don’t you know that’s wrong?” If he refuses and says, “No, it’s not. And who are you to judge,” then Christ gives you the authority to tell him he’s not forgiven. His attitude is stubborn and unrepentant. If he does admit it’s wrong and says, “You’re right. That was wrong.” Then Christ gives you the authority to tell him his sin is forgiven by the blood of Christ, and you can speak kindly to him and maybe even help him fix his taxes.

     Have you ever noticed that’s exactly what we do at the beginning of worship, too? Each Sunday we confess our sins together, admitting that we are sinful people and asking God to have mercy on us sinners. And then the minister tells you the great news: you’re forgiven. He usually says something like “through Christ and by his authority I forgive you all your sins.” He does it and it’s as good as if Christ himself were standing in front of you and telling you that he forgives you.

       When we remember that Christ is the good shepherd who left everything to find us, who died for us and earned God's love for us, we can show others that same love.

       Through faith he gives you the authority to show that love to other people. It’s what Christ wants you to do, he wants you to take that authority and put it to use. When we take this authority to forgive or not forgive, we’re putting God’s Word to work. It reigns in sinful behavior. It defeats gossip and rumors. It encourages people to live in the gospel. It encourages us to be charitable and tolerant with each other. It encourages us to express our love not just through words but through action. It encourages peace, growth, happiness, and friendliness. It’s the first step of this simple way to show your love.

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Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. ~ LUKE 12:32