Pastor's Blog

May 2019

An Earnest Faith

There are certain qualities we should really have in life. One of them is honesty. Another would be having a good work ethic. Certainly kindness and an even temper would be on the list, too. Being earnest would be another quality I would add.

Being earnest is being serious about something. Being earnest is the first step in being honest. If someone asks me to help them, I should be serious about helping them and then follow through. Marriage would be a great example of this. If you commit to being married to someone, that’s a commitment that should be made in earnest. It’s serious business!

So are you earnest about your faith in Jesus Christ? Jesus wants to know. Is trusting and obeying Jesus something you seriously pursue? These are good questions to ask because you cannot sit on the fence. Either you pursue Christ with an active faith, or you don’t. Either you are alive in your faith or you are dying/dead. In the book of Revelation, Jesus writes seven letters to seven different churchs and each one examines the heart of faith. He tests faith so you can see if you are alive or if you are dying. If that sounds pretty serious - it is! It’s serious business because Jesus wants us to live an earnest faith. So let’s earnestly confess our sins and then earnestly follow Christ.

Revelation 3:19-20, "Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest, and repent. Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me."

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Grief Doesn't Have to Stink

Grief is normal.

Grief is necessary.

Grief is needed.

It also stinks.

Probably everyone who reads this blog has had to bury a loved one. Our church, Good Shepherd's, recently heard of the unexpected death of a former principal. Dead at 41. Massive heart attack. It stinks.

"Lord if you had been here..." We always have lots of questions when it comes to death and even more when the death is sudden or unexpected. It seems easier to bury someone who is old and sick, but even then the heartache and pain and grief are still there. A question forms in our mind that is at the same time unanswerable and mildly accusing, "Lord, why?" Or, to put it another way, "If you had just done something."

But he does. He did. This is the season of Easter, after all. "Christ is risen, he is risen indeed!" We celebrate that. We should celebrate that. Death is not the end. The sudden loss of a friend, a colleague, a family member, a spouse, a child, need not be just a crash into a brick wall and a life shattered to pieces. There can also be hope.

"Lord if you had been here...but even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask." And what is it that Jesus asks for every human being? It is that they would not die but live. For our former principal at Good Shepherd's, that means he lives eternally. This is a good thing. This is THE good thing the only thing that really matters in a world full of death. And Jesus doesn't just want this, he grants this. It is why he came.

"I am the resurrection and the life, he who believes in me will live, even though he dies. And whoever lives and believes in me will never die." John 11:25,26

Grief is normal.

Grief is necessary.

Grief is needed.

It stinks.

But in Christ our grief finds an answer that leads to eternal life.

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Coming Out of Tribulation

You would never have planned it this way, but there he was. You happened to be strolling through the park one evening when you saw him, kneeling in intense prayer a little ways off. There was something striking about this man that drew you closer and as you watched his lips move you wondered what could be weighing on this man’s heart. You could see the beads of sweat forming around his forehead and dropping to the ground. What was going through his mind? What was he struggling with that he came to the Lord with such fervent prayers?

It wasn’t until several days later, when Jerusalem was abuzz with excitement about the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth that you realized you had the honor of witnessing the prayers of Jesus hours before he was put to death.

We owe a debt of thanks to the writers of the gospels because through them we were with Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane and we know exactly what was going through his mind when he fell to the ground, crushed by the burden of what he was about to do. We know how he opened his mouth to plead before his Father that the cup of wrath he was about the drink would be taken away from him. We know how he suffered! We know the great tribulation our Good Shepherd passed through to earn us forgiveness.

Christ was no stranger to tribulation, and neither are we. We may not carry the weight of God’s punishment against sin on our shoulders, but we encounter our own things that press us down, that squeeze us until we wonder if we can take it anymore. The question is: how are we going to handle it? Where does our courage come from? Well it doesn’t come from inside of us. It comes from a tomb which does not contain a dead Jesus but is a living witness to the reality of what Jesus did. This living Jesus has washed us with his blood and will guard and shepherd us through this great tribulation until we join believers from every nation, tribe and language in the eternal joy and comfort of heaven.

Revelation 7:14, "These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb."

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A World Grown Cold but Filled With Love

When Jesus was still walking with us on earth, he told us that a time would come when the love of most would grow cold. He didn’t tell us what that would look like. He didn’t tell us that the world would suddenly become a hateful place of people spewing one angry word after another. He didn’t say that the world would be filled with racists, or xenophobes. All Jesus said was that the love of most would grow cold. What that actually looks like—I can’t say for certain.

But I like to think that you and I would easily recognize a world of no love. Don’t you think that would be easy to recognize? Hatred seems like something easy to spot. But what if the devil tricked us? What if the devil tricked us into isolating ourselves into our own worlds with things like computer and video games, television, the World Wide Web, mp3 players? Not that those things are wrong by themselves, but what happens when people no longer interact with one another in meaningful ways? What if the devil tricked us into to becoming so selfish that no matter what my behavior is in public I will always justify it? What if the devil tricked us into thinking that to truly show someone kindness we must leave them alone, stop judging their life and their choices, “Well, to each his own.” If the devil tricked us into those things, would that be a world whose love has grown cold? And would those people be Christians whose joy for the gospel, whose joy for Easter, had become so jaded that they stopped loving their neighbor or, worst of all, their Savior?

I don’t know if we’re living in a world where the love of most has grown cold, but what I do know I tell you now: we live in the joy of an empty tomb. We live in a world that has a loving and merciful God, a world that has a Savior, and a world with believers who know and believe this, too. So don’t let your love grow cold. Sing Easter’s joy, sing with all believers and sing the glory of God.

"Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them singing: To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!" Revelation 5:13

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Easter Love - Part 2

This is part two of a two part series on John 21. For part one, click here.

The final chapter of the gospel of John is a wonderful account of Jesus showing his love to his disciples after his resurrection.

But what happens when love is violated and how is that relationship mended?

In John 21 Jesus has an interesting exchange with Peter.

Jesus: Simon son of John, do you truly love me more than these?

Peter: Yes, Lord. You know that I love you.

Jesus: Feed my lambs.

Jesus: Simon son of John, do you truly love me?

Peter: Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.

Jesus: Take care of my sheep.

Jesus: Simon son of John, do you love me?

Peter: Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.

Jesus: Feed my sheep.

Ok, so what's going on here? First, some Greek, because this is one part of Scripture that doesn't translate well into English. In biblical Greek, there are several different words to describe what we would call love. There is "phileo" which is like friendship love.

Another word for love is "ero" which is the sexual love God desires between husband and wife. It gives us the root for our word "erotic."

And then there is "agape". No that's not "agape" as in, "His mouth was agape at the sight of the huge tracts of land." It's a•gah•pey. This kind of love is the sacrificial love, the willingness to put the needs of others before your own.

So, back to the conversation. Jesus asks Peter first, "Do you love (agape) me?" But Peter replies, "Lord I love (phileo) you." See the difference? Jesus was asking Peter if he was willing to put his own needs aside, his own concerns, his own desires aside and put the desires of his Lord first. But Peter sidesteps and says, "Lord, you know that we're buds." Not good enough Peter, try again.

"Do you agape me?" But Peter doesn't get it quite yet and answers the same as before. 

Then Jesus asks him a third time, but this time he switches to "phileo." And then Peter seems to get it. John tells us in verse 17 that he was hurt that Jesus asked him the third time. And Peter replies that he loves (phileo) him. The difference is this time, his love (phileo) is prompted by the love (phileo) of Jesus.

In essence Jesus was saying to Peter: you need to put yourself second if you're going to follow me and even when you don't (because you're a sinner), I'm still your very dear friend.

Did you notice anything "coincidental" in this exchange? How many times did Jesus ask Peter if he loved him? 

Three, right? Sound familiar?

Peter had denied knowing Jesus three times, and Jesus has him publicly acknowledge, three times, that he loves Jesus. Jesus wasn't going to pretend that what happened in the courtyard of the high priest didn't occur. But he would use it for Peter to grow. If Peter was going to be the kind of pillar of the Christian church he turned out to be, he would need to put his own selfish desires aside for the sake of his friend, Jesus, who loved him very much in spite of his continual sinfulness.

Peter had violated the love of Jesus. But what did Jesus do? He restored his friend. He forgave.

Is the relationship between you and Jesus any different? Our denials may look different than Peter's, they may be quite private even, but the consequence is the same. We violate the love of our good friend Jesus. But Jesus will leave you with the same love he left Peter, because Jesus knows the power of the love he has placed into your heart. He knows that his Easter love isn't fickle. He knows that his Easter love doesn't fade. He knows that his Easter love always puts the needs of others ahead of his own. And this is the love he gives to us because he has risen from the dead.

So take that love of Jesus, your good friend who died for you, aim it at your denials and sin, and, like Peter, follow Jesus with a clear conscience.

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For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. ~ ROMANS 6:23