Pastor's Blog

October 2019

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 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 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 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 for this week's blog.

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