Pastor's Blog

July 2016

The More You Know

The more you know...(remember those commercials on NBC back in the 90s?)

Knowledge is power, we're taught. So let me ask you how powerful knowledge makes you.
When you learned that Omar Mateen shot up a nightclub in Florida and killed a bunch of people, what power did you gain? When police officers in Baton Rouge were viciously gunned down by a man who planned their assassination, did that make you feel powerful? When you learned about a French pastor's throat being sliced during church services, did that empower you? Do you feel like the knowledge of all the evil in the world is making you smarter every day?

If you're like me, you probably read stuff like that and countless other things like that, and you wonder if this world is spinning out of control! Things just seem to be getting worse and worse.

Could you imagine, then, what it must be like to be God? Imagine this from his perspective. He knows every act of violence. He hears every word spoken in anger. He knows the thoughts and attitudes inside a person's head and heart. He watches as people slaughter the innocent, steal from the vulnerable, cheat their neighbor and lie through their teeth. God has the front row seat on all of mankind's wickedness and evil.

But we see just a sliver of the wickedness of mankind and we recoil with horror. "This world is getting out of hand!" Getting? Folks, it's been like this ever since mankind ventured out of the Garden of Eden. You will recall that the very next story after Adam and Eve leave the Garden of Eden is of their own son murdering their other son. No one had to teach Cain how to commit murder, that came from his own evil twisted heart. This world's been "out of control" for millennia. "The LORD saw how great man's wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil ALL THE TIME." That's from Genesis 6--we haven't even made it 10 chapters in the Bible and already the story of man is one of sin, rebellion, murder, theft and on and on and on.

I think the reason we are so appalled at all this evil we see is that we notice it more than we ever have before. Not too long ago, we got our news from the newspaper--a once per day review of the world's happenings. Then TV evening news. Then the 24 hour news cycle. Now news is constant on our devices. Facebook "pings" or I get a tweet to let me know something important is happening and I reflexively check it. Often, the news is not good. And that's just the tip of the iceberg, just a sliver of humanity's woe, and that is enough for me to be totally disgusted with sin.

Our reaction to this knowledge is horror, disappointment, a lot of wringing of the hands, letters to the editor advocating human solutions. Our solution is to worry for ourselves, but especially for our children. "What kind of world are they inheriting?" Our solution is to put things into a different context. To read the stories that only make us feel better. To listen to a narrative that agrees with our thinking.

God's solution is totally non-human: "While we were still sinners, Christ died for us." Let me back up...

"You see, at just the right time, WHEN WE WERE STILL POWERLESS, Christ died for the UNgodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: WHILE WE WERE STILL SINNERS, CHRIST DIED FOR US." That's from Romans 5. God looks upon a world of powerless, unrighteous, sinful people and he is not disappointed, he is not appalled or disgusted. His heart aches with love. His affection for his poor children surrounds us, and in love he provides the way out of human misery and sin: the death of Christ. The greatest human tragedy is also the greatest triumph of a man: Jesus Christ was sacrificed on a cross to be punished in our place. His death pays for humanity's wickedness. His death frees us from our sin and opens the way to eternal life.

God knows us. And the more God knows us the more he loves us. That's the knowledge that, if you have it, you have the greatest power known to man. You have through that knowledge the power of life, the power of forgiveness, the power to love, the power to live a better life, the power to live eternally. And that knowledge surpasses all, even the evil. Know it more!

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Controlling Temptation

     Perhaps the hardest part of being a Christian, is being Christian. In every situation, in every moment of our life, in every role we fit into, being and acting like a follower of Christ is our greatest struggle. When that clown on the freeway darted in front of you causing you to slam on your brakes, was your first thought one of peace and forgiveness, or was it anger and frustration? When your friends at work were ganging up on the employee that no one else really likes, was your first reaction to stand up for her or to join in? When your spouse made a mistake, were your first words ones of criticism and anger? In every situation we have the choice to either follow the voice of our sinful flesh and sin or follow the voice of our new person and resist sin.

     Temptation. It follows us around wherever we go. It comes from the outside of us through other people. It comes from inside of us from our sinful natures. And the worst thing about temptation is there is no escaping it. It is the constant pain that throbs throughout our bodies. And because it’s always there pulling and tugging at us we sometimes feel so helpless. We echo Luther’s words from his hymn “with might of ours can naught be done; Soon were our loss effected.”

     Temptation seizes us. But there is hope. Temptation seizes but God controls. If we are going to be successful in overcoming the constant barrage of temptation, then we must remember God’s promises. He has promised that he will never let you be overwhelmed by temptation and he has promised you the way out.

     Jesus taught us to pray, “Lead us not into temptation.” It is a prayer that God always answers with his promise to give us strength to overcome temptation and win the victory.


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Imitation Forgiveness

     Some of you may remember this one, but it's worth repeating...

     I used to be fine with the maple syrup my wife bought. It was just the no-name generic brand stuff for a couple of dollars. Brown corn syrup, basically. But you put in on your French toast or your pancakes and it tasted fine. Then my father did something terrible and wonderful at the same time. You see, my father used to live in Vermont. And if you think of one thing about Vermont, you think of maple syrup: true, honest-to-goodness, from-the-tree-sap-that-God-created, maple syrup. And my father sent us some for a Christmas present. And it was like my whole world changed. I didn’t realize that pancakes could be taken to such heights of culinary grandeur. I didn’t realize how good it was. Tears of joy streamed down my face as I savored each bite! That was the wonderful part. The terrible part was the half bottle of the cheap stuff in the refrigerator. I realized how terrible the cheap stuff was. Not that it didn’t get the job done! But in comparison to the authentic, imitation maple syrup just wasn’t anywhere near the same.

     And that’s the problem with most imitations, they just don’t cut it. And you can have really really good imitations, but to the trained eye (or tongue) an imitation is always that: it’s not the same as the authentic.

     But of course, the reason there are so many knock off brands, or imitation brands, is that the authentic ones are so expensive. We don’t buy a lot of Vermont maple syrup—it’s expensive stuff.

     But there is one imitation that we need more of. There is one imitation that the more we get the better we feel and the better our relationships with God and with other people are. And that is forgiveness. Forgiveness needs imitators. Forgiveness needs imitators that start with the cross of Jesus Christ. Forgiveness needs imitators that share God’s love with others. And the best part is that when God’s forgiveness is imitated by you and me—you can’t tell the difference because it’s really the same.

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Toward Better Freedom

"Make America great again!" If you're following politics, you've heard Donald Trump say those words. And whether you agree with him or not, I don't think any of us would disagree that having a great America is a good thing. 

Of course, what is it that makes America (or any country) great? That seems to be open for debate.

Ceratinly freedom comes to mind. And I must agree that freedom is truly a gift from God. I recently heard a young Pakistani man talk about his life growing up as a Christian in Pakistan. To say it was tough doesn't quite capture the struggle. Imagine being in a private school, and called upon by the teacher to "defend" your Christian faith knowing that if you went too far, if you pushed your Christian faith a little too hard, you could be hanged or stoned to death? That's a lot of pressure!

This young man talked of feeling so alone, like he was the only Christian on earth. He knew he wasn't, but his heart was still very alone. Then he took a trip to the United States and gathered with a group of a couple thousand Christian teenagers at a youth rally. Here were people his own age praising God, worshiping God and they didn't have to be afraid. They were free to worship. And he was free.

But Christians are always free. Christian freedom isn't political and it's hardly even earthly. It's spiritual. It goes beyond our bodies and transcends this world and this universe. It points us to our God in heaven who has set us free from the requirements of this world and given us a new home in eternal life. The requirements of this world lead us to guilt, shame and despair as we struggle with our sinfulness and our inability to be perfect. But God has set us free and pointed us ahead to a time when we will be made perfect, in fact, that time has already begun in our life.

This is the better freedom that no politician, no earthly government, no social program can come close to touching. It's the freedom that comes from knowing Jesus as your Savior.

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Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith. ~ HEBREWS 12:2 (NIV)