Pastor's Blog

May 2015

Faith Without Fear

Pentecost is the celebration of an end and of a beginning. It is a celebration of the end of the disciple’s education. For nearly four years, Christ had been their professor and now he had departed from this earth. He is not there with the disciples, now called apostles. He isn’t there to be the “go to” guy to answer all their questions. They’ve graduated from all that. So Pentecost is a celebration of the beginning of their ministry. It is the beginning of doing what Christ told them to do, to proclaim the gospel to all nations.

But what would the future hold for these men? It wouldn’t be long before the apostles would be beaten for teaching about Jesus. It wouldn’t be long and the first great persecution of the church would break out, scattering believers throughout the known world. And so is Pentecost also a day of uncertainty? Is Pentecost the day that reality begins to settle in on the apostles: “Man, this is the real deal, or what!”

If the apostles were worried about the future, we certainly don’t see it today. In fact, a quick glance through the book of Acts demonstrates the exact opposite. The apostles were beginning to see that Pentecost is faith without fear. Pentecost is about Christ’s promise to send them the Holy Spirit. Pentecost is about enjoying the unique peace of Christ. With this in hand, the apostles fearlessly proclaimed the gospel.

Faith without fear… It’s a bold statement because we have plenty we could be afraid of. Pentecost is an end and a beginning for us as well. It is the end of “having Christ” with us as he teaches the disciples. And it is the beginning of our own ministry. Does this frighten you? Today, we follow in the bold footsteps of the apostles. There is no fear because Pentecost is faith without fear. Like the apostles, we too enjoy the Holy Spirit as our counselor and we too rejoice in the peace of Christ. Today is fire. Today is power. Today is courage. Today is Pentecost.

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God has Planters

I remember the year we planted our garden in Rapid City. It was 2008. The seeds went into the ground with great hopefulness. But as we watched hail storm after hail storm strip the leaves off the young plants, we knew all hope was lost. And that's the wretched life of a gardner. But not always. Some years the harvest is plentiful becuse the seeds found good soil and good conditions.

When you share your faith, it's like you're a gardener planting seeds. You meet all types of people. Some people will reject the message outright. And that’s a shame because they’re rejecting the only thing that will save them. Other people do honestly believe. They hear you speak of the joy and peace you have in Christ and they come to know Christ, too. But they never nurture their faith. When the problems in life come, they reject their faith because it was never fed by God’s Word. Or they are seduced by the world and reject their faith. But to our delight other people believe! They hear the message, they plant themselves deeply in God’s Word and their faith grows and is sustained by the Word of God.

Now, we would obviously prefer everyone to believe, right? And sometimes that good desire to want people to have the same happiness and peace we have, makes us put too much pressure on ourselves. We kick ourselves and think “Oh man, if only I would have said this. If only I would have said it this way.” But we can’t. And when we try to force people into believing, then we are putting ourselves in God’s position presuming to know more than God or be more powerful than God.

What we do know is what has happened in our own life. We know that we didn’t make a choice to believe. We know that it was the Holy Spirit who changed our hearts. The seed has fallen in good soil by the grace of God and we grow in faith and produce fruit.

Jesus teaches us that all we must do is scatter the seeds of the gospel. Let them fly, my friends! Don’t think to yourself, “Well, I might say something wrong.” Just tell people what you know. Tell people what it means for you that you are saved. Tell people that Jesus has died for them, too. Throw those seeds of the gospel and let them fall wherever they will: hard soil, rocky soil, weedy soil or good soil. We are all God’s planters.

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True Love

Look around you today and you see the evil in the world. I’m sure you shake your head like I do whenever you hear about another senseless argument turned into a gunfight, another person dying with a needle in their arm, another church that gives in to false teaching, another home wrecked by divorce or unfaithfulness, another life hurt by disease, another person who lives life all alone. How can love exist?

Or we look at all the false spirits in this world. Spirits that tell us it’s ok to sin against God. Spirits that re-interpret what God says in his word, spirits that invite us to become lazy in our Christian life and to neglect our relationship with God. God’s love can’t live in that environment.

And we may feel crushed by this evil, but we should also feel devastated because we have brought our own false teachings into the mix. We love ourselves first and thus deny the love of God and in fact rebel against God who loved us first. And then the God who loved us first will rise up against us to condemn us together with all else that is evil.

But God overcame all that. Today you stand in the presence of God because God made you a part of him. Actually, I should turn that around: God made himself a part of you. God took your wicked flesh and gave you a new birth. He took away the sinfulness of your corrupted human flesh and gave you a fresh start. No longer are you and me “from the world” but we are now “from God.” Our source, our beginning, our life is not the love-less-ness or selfishness of this world, but the love and generosity of our God who saved us from sin because he punished Jesus for all that was evil. And because God overcame these false spirits in our heart, God has created a place where he can dwell in our hearts. And from that place, God overcomes all the false spirits in this world. He overcomes evil with his goodness. He overcomes injustice with his perfect justice. He overcomes sin, with grace—his undeserved love. And this transforms us; this changes the environment inside of us, so that we are “from God” and we can love.

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Growing God's Fruit

Suzie looked at the tree in her backyard and wondered if it would grow any pears this year. She was too little to realize that the pear tree in their backyard was dying. But she wanted pears. Every day in the spring she would go out and look at the tree, hoping that it had made a pear. But all it ever did was grow leaves that eventually just fell off. The tree just didn’t have the strength to produce pears. Once Suzie went out and yelled at the tree, “Why won’t you make any pears?!” She even kicked it. But the tree couldn’t do it; it was too sick.

Sometimes we’re like little Suzie when it comes to growing God’s fruit. God wants us to live perfect lives. Our consciences tell us what we should be doing and how we should be living. Yet, no matter how often we tell ourselves to do those things we still can’t produce the kinds of perfect fruit that God wants. No matter how hard we kick ourselves, we still sin. We’re too sick to grow God’s fruit on our own.

Making the kinds of trees that can grow God’s fruit is the work of Christ. His work reverses our sinful dying condition and we can grow the kind of fruit God wants. Christ connects us to himself, the true vine and that connection cleanses us from our sin and gives us the power to grow God’s fruit.     

The truth is we can’t grow any of the fruit God wants us to, we’re sinners. So God comes to us and he cleanses us. The words of Christ that cleansed the disciples reach our hearts and cleanse us, too. These are Christ’s words saying to us, “I have paid the price for your sin. I have paid for your hypocrisy. I have paid for your stubbornness.” Christ is the one who was cut off and cast into the fire of hell. Christ became that dead branch he was talking about, the one that wasn’t producing any fruit. He became like us and paid the price. These are his words spoken to us so that you would believe that you have been saved from all your sin. With those same words of comfort, Christ connects us to himself. He died, yes, but he rose again and he lives to give us life. He takes you and me who were once dead branches and connects them to his life-giving spirit and we grow. Our faith is nourished by his word of forgiveness and we grow God's fruit.

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he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. ~ TITUS 3:5