Pastor's Blog

February 2016

Pain to Boast About

One day, Peter pointed the finger at Jesus and said, "No Lord! You will never suffer this way." He was telling Jesus that he would not allow him to go to the cross, suffer and die.

I think I understand why Peter rebuked Jesus. I think I know the emotions that were going through his head: how he didn’t want to see his friend hurt; how he knew Jesus didn’t deserve to be arrested; how he didn’t want Jesus taken away from him. He didn’t want the pain. He couldn’t bear the thought of how he would suffer watching his friend, Jesus, go through all that.

I think I understand all of that because I act the same way when it comes to suffering. I don’t want to think about it. I don’t want to deal with it. I don’t want to suffer. But I do. And so do you. And the problem with suffering is that it doesn’t go away, really. One problem is solved and the next one comes. We make it through one trial only to head right into another trial.

But the greater problem of suffering is that you and I spend so much energy rejecting it. We spend our energy complaining about how terrible it is when God intends suffering for our good. Paul says it this way in Romans 5, “…we also rejoice in our sufferings.” God tells us there is actually joy in suffering. There is joy because God is improving us.

Now, I’ll be honest with you, something about rejoicing in the midst of suffering sounds wrong. When was the last time a woman in labor praised God and rejoiced that she was in so much pain? But we need to make sure we correctly understand this word “rejoice”. The word translated “rejoice” has less to do with the emotion of joy and more to do with how we respond to something. When your child walks for the first time there is joy, but you also go and tell people your child just walked. You brag about it. That’s rejoicing. Rejoicing is boasting and taking pride in something. And often it does involve joy. But it’s not so much about joy but about taking pride in something and talking about it. And so when Paul says to rejoice in suffering he doesn’t necessarily mean to be happy about it, but to boast about it.

So that means it’s possible to be sad about suffering and yet at the same time boast about how good it is. And that becomes easier to do when people see how God uses suffering to improve them. Suffering teaches perseverance. That’s the ability to stand up under heavy trials. And perseverance builds up a person’s character. When a person holds up under heavy suffering and doesn’t give up hope in God they pass the test, so to speak, and they become stronger in their relationship with God. And that stronger character leads a person to hope more and more in God’s blessings. And that hope doesn’t disappoint because God has poured his love into believers’ hearts through the Holy Spirit.

You may not be joy-filled about suffering, but with all the good that God wants to accomplish in your life through suffering, it does give you something to boast about. You can boast about God’s love.

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The Lenten Basket

"Take some of the firstfuits of all that you produce from the soil...and put them in a basket....Then say, 'The LORD brought us to this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey; and now I bring the firstfruits of the soil that you, O LORD, have given me.' Place the basket before the LORD your God and bow down before him." Deuteronomy 26

Our lives are a continual “thank you” to God, an opportunity to set our "basket" before the LORD. In this basket is our offering to God: our life of service to him, our life of thankful praise for what he's done for us. So how is that going?

Too often I think we're mired in our selfishness. It’s my time, my life, my work, my church, my ministry, my family, my stuff, my right without even realizing that if God withdrew his love for even a moment everything we think belongs to us would be gone! God catches us all in this selfish act with the first and greatest commandment: you will have no other gods. But it’s too late—we’ve already spent too much time placing ourselves first. God calls that idolatry. And God’s curse for that is to cut us off from his kingdom, apart from his love, for eternity.

Time for a quick review of the LORD's mighty deeds.

We know it’s true; we were once slaves to sinful urges. And that slavery is very tempting, even at this moment. It’s very tempting to go back there. But that’s just the point: we don’t have to be slaves to our corrupt, blind, sinful natures. We have been set free by the LORD. We have Jesus who went toe-to-toe with Satan. Satan relentlessly tempted Jesus for 40 days. I doubt I could last 40 minutes enduring that. But Jesus did it for 40 days. Why? Was is so that Satan could possibly trick Jesus. That’s what the devil hoped would happen. But Jesus already knew Satan was defeated. Jesus went toe-to-toe with the devil so that we would see the mighty acts of the LORD, so that we could believe how the devil is no longer our master because Jesus trounced him in the desert, Jesus trounced him with his perfect life, and Jesus trounced him on the cross. The temptation in the wilderness is the prelude to the devil’s ultimate defeat on Golgotha. We speak of this in the Apostles’ Creed when we say that Jesus “descended into hell.” What was that? It was the LORD announcing to the devil that he was defeated. The serpent was crushed by the mighty deeds of the LORD.

Lent begins with the resounding triumph of Christ’s victory over our foe. “Though devil’s all the world should fill, All eager to devour us, We tremble not, we fear no ill; they shall not overpow’r us. This world’s prince may still, Scowl fierce as he will, He can harm us none. He’s judged; the deed is done! One little word can fell him.” The LORD set you free.

Set your basket before the LORD and give him thanks.

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What is Lent?

Here in the Milwaukee area Lent is a big deal. Lots of people give things up, go to church, put ashes on their foreheads--but why? What is this season all about?

He couldn't hold the guilt in any longer. As she stood there in front of him, he couldn't look her in the eye. He had to come clean. He had to pour out of his heart all that he had done wrong. He had to ask for her forgiveness.

In the end, she forgave him. And he--they--were never the same. They grew closer. Their love blossomed. And they were whole.

Lent is a season of putting off: putting off the old ways of sin, of coming clean before God, of hiding nothing from him. And Lent is a season of reflection on what God has done to rescue us from sin. God has made us his children through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.

Lent may be somber. Lent may be serious. But Lent is a truly happy season, because it brings us closer to our Lord and he makes us whole.

Below is a video that I pray blesses you in your Lenten meditation.

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They All Can Be Beautiful

It wasn't that long ago that some lost paintings of Picasso (among others) were discovered in the apartment of a man in Germany. Supposedly he had kept these "safe" after they fell into his possession after WWII. The paintings were among hundreds stolen by the Nazi's during WWII. If I remember the story correctly, the German authorities were trying to get these paintings back. It wasn't right, they argued, that these valuable and beautiful paintings should be hidden away.

That's the thing with beauty, it needs to be shared.

Not many of us would probably consider ourselves beautiful. We could lose some weight. We could eat healthier. We could exercise more. We could do without those pesky age spots or that receding hairline.

But while the world is busy worrying about the outside, God is busy taking care of what's eternal--our soul. God knows that what is external will one day pass away. That's not to say that our appearance or our life is worthless; but it is to say that (like mom always said) it's what's on the inside that counts. Inside of each of us is an eternal soul. A soul that is integral to every aspect of our humanity from our intelligence to our beauty, from our abilities to our emotions. Our soul is what sets us apart from the animal world. It is the spark. And that eternal soul needs to be right with God.

Born with sin our soul is an ugly mess. But God has offered us something amazing: Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. That's a beautiful message! It excludes no one. The ugliest sinner to the best person are all welcome to call on the name of the Lord. And the Lord promises rescue for our eternal souls. We will be saved. The sin we were born into, is paid for by the life and death of Jesus Christ. God has made us beautiful.

But what good is it if we don't share that beauty? Beauty needs to be shared. In fact, how can anyone claim to be beautiful if they hide themselves in their own home and never show themselves? In the same way, how can we as Christians claim to be beautiful on the inside if we do not share that beauty with other people? We need to go with this beautiful message. We need to go to people lost in the darkness of their own sin and guilt and shame and show them the depth of God's love for them; show them how God sent Jesus to live and die for them; show them that God means this message to be for them too.

Then the beauty that God has put into you, can be shared with others and they can be beautiful, too.

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Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. ~ EPHESIANS 5:19 (NIV)