Live the Word

Confidence. It can come naturally. It can also come from training. What about those of us who are naturally charismatic or haven’t gone through extensive training? Can we have real confidence to face either struggles or the naysayers of life? What can give everyday Christians the confidence of the apostles?

Now as they observed the confidence of Peter and John and understood that they were uneducated and untrained men, they were amazed, and began to recognize them as having been with Jesus. – Acts 4:13

There was something unusual about Peter and John. It wasn’t their charm or their specialized training. It was that they had been with Jesus. That is what the priests noticed. They appeared to be rough fishermen. They spoke with the authority of a priest or a prophet. Walking with Jesus made the difference!

How do we do this today? We walk with Jesus by beginning with trust. We use words like faith and believe in so many contexts that we can forget what they mean in Scripture. Faith and belief are foundational to walking with Jesus. Trust is foundational to faith and belief. We trust in Jesus’ character. We trust in Jesus’ promises. We trust that what Jesus did on the cross is completely effective to save us. We trust.

Once we trust Jesus, walking with Him is all about learning and leaning on what He has promised. This is the second part of trust.

All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work. – 2 Timothy 3:16-17

The “Scripture” consists of the history of God with His people and His promises to us through Jesus. What power we discover when we learn and lean on it. This is where Christian confidence comes from. When we learn what promises we can count on, we marvel. Then, when we lean on those promises, we live in confidence. It is the confidence of knowing God’s character. It is the confidence of knowing God’s love. It is the confidence of knowing God’s promises.

May you live in this type of confidence – the confidence of walking with Jesus. Learn of Him and lean on Him. Then you can face the future and challenges of life with real confidence.

Something to think about,

Pastor John

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We Can Worship

We read in the Psalms,

“Shout joyfully to the Lord, all the earth. Serve the Lord with gladness; Come before Him with joyful singing. Know that the Lord Himself is God; It is He who has made us, and not we ourselves; We are His people and the sheep of His pasture. Enter His gates with thanksgiving And His courts with praise. Give thanks to Him, bless His name. For the Lord is good; His lovingkindness is everlasting And His faithfulness to all generations.”

Psalm 100

That sounds like fun, doesn’t it? It sounds like the worshipers are excited to be worshiping. It sounds as if they are looking forward to the experience. It sounds as if the God they are worshiping has captured their imagination. Is it that way for you and me? Do we worship that way?

Talking about worship should be an exciting and wonderful thing. Many times, however, that isn’t our experience. Usually, thinking about worship follows one of two paths. 1) We think about tools (music, PowerPoint, instruments, preaching) or 2) We lament the dryness of the worship we have experienced. It gets us to wondering, can I really worship?

Jesus tells us two very important truths that will help us experience worship as the Psalmist describes. First He tells us what worship must be. He tells the woman at the well in John 4:

But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers. God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.

John 4:23 — 24

Notice the description Jesus gives of worship here. It’s not about a place (that is the question she just posed to Him). It’s not about abilities or skills. Worship happens when it includes spirit and truth. This means that worship has two parts: 1) Worship begins with an honest understanding of what God has said in His Word about Himself,  and 2) Worship continues with our living response to what God has said about Himself in His Word. The truth is the declared truth about God, His nature, and His work in the world. The spirit is our genuine and living response to that truth. It is both. It isn’t just digesting truth. It is us moved in our spirits by God’s Spirit because of the truth we have heard. This is not passive. It is also not something others should have to create in us. This is our response, our wonder at His truth.

The second truth that Jesus shares that helps us understand how we can experience the worship the Psalms call us to is found in a question from a teacher of the Law. They asked:

“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And He said to him, “ ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the great and foremost commandment.”

Matthew 22:36 — 38

The greatest commandment describes a love of God that is beyond mental assent or good feelings. When Jesus includes the words heart, soul, mind, and strength He calls us to never be passive in our love for God. We don’t just love God with our mind and thus know lots of facts. We don’t just love God with a spiritual part of us and thus our love makes no difference in the material world. We don’t just love God with mere emotionalism and thus our love fades when circumstances change. We love God with our whole being.

When we bring this type of love to bear on worship, what would happen? The truth of God would touch our hearts. The God who deserves our adoration would receive it. The petty distractions that happen in any worship service would be noticed and then disregarded because they cannot possible compete with this God we love. And any self-consciousness we feel over what someone else might think of our singing, or tearing up, or saying amen, or our smiling would be overcome by our desire to worship this God we love.

This is how worship moves from a meeting we go to that’s about God to the worship described in the Bible. When it is about listening carefully to the truth of God and then responding to that truth with the love we already have for God that changes everything. We meet the Spirit of God in our worship when we worship that way. When it is about God, worship becomes all that God has created it to be. So the question to us now is: will we make our worship each week about God? Will you give yourself wholly to Him in those times?

Something to think about,

Pastor John

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Being Welcomed by Jesus

Last Sunday I visited a friend’s church. He was preaching through two of the post-resurrection passages where Jesus appeared to His disciples. His opening thoughts got me to thinking. He posed this question: as the disciples wrestled with the reality of the resurrected Jesus, did they wonder how He fit into their lives now that He proved to be much more than even they had imagined?

They said to one another, “Were not our hearts burning within us while He was speaking to us on the road, while He was explaining the Scriptures to us?” Luke 24:32

Before the crucifixion, the disciples believed that Jesus was the promised Messiah. Peter had even declared Jesus to be the Son of God. However, their view of Him was still narrow. They still believed that Jesus’ kingdom was of this world. They believed that His kingdom was focused on the Jewish people and their political future. A Savior for the whole world was beyond their imagination. Then that final Passover week happened. A beautiful feast with words of love and profound promises (see John 13-17) was crushed by soldiers boots, whips, a crown of thorns, and a crucifixion. When we next see the disciples they are hiding in the upper room. The two disciples mentioned in Luke 24 above were escaping Jerusalem and heading to Emmaus. In these situations – hiding and running – Jesus appears to them.
When Jesus appears to them, what does He do? He does what He had always done. He teaches them. He broadens their understanding of who He is and what He is doing in the world. He invites them to be a part of it all! What it must have meant to them for Jesus to receive them anew. They had failed Him. They had run. They were hiding. Again and again Jesus had called them to be men of faith, and they weren’t. Did they wonder if Jesus was going to start over with other disciples who would be more faithful? Did they wonder if they were going to be rejected?
That isn’t what happened. Jesus reached out to them again. He called them to Himself. He invited them to join Him on this amazing journey of faith. He commissioned them to take the good news to not just Jerusalem and Israel but to every nation. He welcomed them. If they wondered how Jesus would fit in their lives as they understood His mission and person more clearly, they now knew. He was calling them to follow Him. He was no longer hidden from their hearts and minds. They would no longer be following a Messiah of their own imagination. They would be following the One who would command their destiny. He wanted them. Here is the exciting thing – He wants us too! He told them:

“Thus it is written, that the Christ would suffer and rise again from the dead the third day, and that repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem.” Luke 24:46 — 47

The nations includes you and me. We, too, are welcomed by Jesus. Will we follow like they did?
Something to think about,
Pastor John

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How Precious is the Crucifixion to Us?

Why does the crucifixion matter? Why do we talk about the blood? There are those in the world that are surprised that we still talk about the death of Jesus every year. However, His death is central to the message of Jesus. It wasn’t peripheral to Jesus. It should not be forgotten by us.

Then He took the twelve aside and said to them, “Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and all things that are written by the prophets concerning the Son of Man will be accomplished.For He will be delivered to the Gentiles and will be mocked and insulted and spit upon.They will scourge Him and kill Him. And the third day He will rise again.”

Luke 18:31-33

This Scripture is not the only passage where Jesus predicts His death. In the gospel of Luke (as well as Matthew and Mark) we see Him predict His death in Luke 9:21-22, Luke 9:43-45, and Luke 18:31-34. In case that isn’t enough for us, Jesus also alludes to or suggests His intentional death for us in these passages as well: Luke 13:32-33; Luke 20:9-20; John 2:19-21; John 3:14-15 John 8:27-30; John 10:11&18; John 12:7-8; John 14:25-31. This makes Jesus’ teaching on His own death incredible important.

In case we wonder about why Jesus thought that He was going to die, Jesus tells us why He was going to die in John 3 and John 10. He says that He is going to die for us. Just like Moses’ bronze serpent was lifted up so that the people could believe God’s promise and be saved, so would Jesus be lifted up. Just like a good shepherd will die to save his sheep, so Jesus will die to save us.

Understanding the cross is straight forward. It is Jesus’ life for our life. It is a trade. A glorious, unimaginable trade. He traded His life for me. He traded His life for you. Let us marvel at this. Before the crucifixion the disciples struggled with it. Luke comments that, “But they understood none of these things; this saying was hidden from them, and they did not know the things which were spoken… Luke 18:34

May we not struggle. May we instead marvel and glory in the cross. The cross should have been mine, but Jesus took it in my place. Theologians have used big words like propitiation and atonement. Paul said it in a way that everyone can understand:

For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

2 Corinthians 5:21

This means something wonderful to me. What does it mean to you?

Something to think about,

Pastor John

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Thinking deeply as We Head to the Cross

For us, many things happen by accident. We have flat tires that make us late for work. We have trees that lose branches and knock out windows. We forget our keys, have to call our family, and are late for an appointment. Yet, in the life of our Lord Jesus, the cross was no accident.

Now it came to pass, when the time had come for Him to be received up, that He steadfastly set His face to go to Jerusalem.

Luke 9:51

What does that mean to you that Jesus set His face toward Jerusalem? Luke uses the word steadfastly. Jesus meant to go to Jerusalem. He meant to both go to Jerusalem and face the cross. Neither were accidents. They weren’t a conflagration of circumstances that He just couldn’t avoid.  Jesus went on purpose. He faced the cross for you and me on purpose.

It wasn’t something that He sought to escape or avoid. He didn’t just go because it was inevitable. He went on purpose. 

During that last week before the crucifixion Jesus begins to express His feelings about what is coming. He says, “Now My soul has become troubled; and what shall I say, ‘Father, save Me from this hour’? But for this purpose I came to this hour.” (John 12:27) Notice that He feels exactly what we would feel, but that He has no desire to avoid it. He asks the disciples, “shall I say, ‘Father, save me from this hour?'” He then says, “for this purpose I came to this hour.” He comes to what we now call holy week on purpose. Think about how wondrous this love Jesus says He has for us is! The apostle Paul prayed that the Ephesian church would understand this love of Jesus:

14 For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, …17b that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God.

Ephesians 3:14-19 (emphasis: 17-19)

What does it mean to you that He would intentionally give Himself for you? Do you marvel at it? Does it blossom in your heart into praise? Does His love call you to live anew for Him and Him alone?

Something to think about,

Pastor John

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Mediocrity with Jesus?

Mediocrity. When you hear that word, what do you think about? When I think about mediocrity I think about not trying. I think about settling for less because it is easier. When I think about my relationships, especially my relationship with God, I don’t want to be mediocre.

Paul says, Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth.

Colossians 3:1-2

When you work hard, try your best, and do what you love with passion, it is never mediocre. It doesn’t matter what that thing is, if you are doing what you love with passion it is not mediocre. Do we do that with Jesus? Do we chase after Him with passion? In our church life, worship services can look like mere ritual or ceremony. They can lose their significance to us and become rote. When it comes to God, do we even know what passion looks like? Paul’s thoughts will help us here. Consider these encouragements from Colossians 3:1-2:

  1. Passion keeps seeking the things above. “Keep seeking” is a key component of passion. It doesn’t ever say, “I’ve had enough.” It always says, “I want more.” Do we still want more of Jesus?
  2. Passion zeroes in on its desire. Setting our mind on things above is that zeroing in process. Whenever someone is passionate about something (or someone) they get a little lost in it. Time becomes irrelevant. Spending time with that special someone means that we lose track of time. When was the last time you lost track of time thinking of the things of God?
  3. Passion lets go of lesser passions. Whenever we are caught up in something we pass on other opportunities. Why? We do that because our passion takes center stage. Paul says here to not [set our minds] on the things that are on the earth. That’s his pedestrian way of putting it. We are more familiar with the stronger, “crucify the flesh with its passions and desires.” (Galatians 5:24) Yet, its the same idea. A new passion has come into the Christian’s life. It is a passion for Christ and the things of Christ. When was the last time the things of Christ pushed out the things that tempt you to compromise or quit?

Is this easy? Of course not! Passion (both living in it and nurturing it) is only easy in the beginning. Sustaining it requires intentionality. It requires that we not just get caught up in excitement over Jesus, but also nurture these three qualities by continually seeking, zeroing in, and letting go of lesser passions.

Think about tag when you were a kid. Which strategy did you use? Did you tag the slower, easier runners or did you chase after the swifter, sometimes more obnoxious, runners? Which was more satisfying? We are all chasing something – even today. Which do you chase after, the easy to reach or the truly rewarding? Do you really find living in neutral satisfying? We could chase a relationship with God that is easy: soft comfort, a vague sense of purpose, ritual. The alternative is to chase a relationship with Jesus that is much more challenging but infinitely more rewarding: passion, holiness, and true communion. Which will we chase after together?

Something to think about,

Pastor John

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Bringing Back Graciousness

Photo by Craig Adderley from Pexels

In our culture we hear people lament that there isn’t enough civility. Is it possible that in order to get our messages out we have chosen passion and lost graciousness? I personally think it is time to bring graciousness back.

What is graciousness? Graciousness is simply responding to people with intentional grace. Paul says, 

 5Conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunity. 6Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person.

Colossians 4:5-6

He says that we should act with wisdom toward outsiders. In other words, we always remember that we are being watched. People are measuring our response. In our modern world of blogging and Facebook this is even more true now than when Paul said it. So, the first part of graciousness is to always remember that people are measuring what we say. The second part of graciousness is how we respond – is it always with grace? He clarifies how grace should exist in our speech: just like salt goes throughout a dish that it is mixed in with. That is how grace should be in us.

I think I know what question we have next: what does that look like in everyday life? Let me give you some thoughts:

  1. Stop and think before you respond to anyone.
  2. Say what you mean. Don’t just say what you feel. (Consider the message your words are conveying to the other person)
  3. Remember these three questions: Is it kind? Does it edify? Is it necessary?
  4. Use words and tones that invite conversation and questions rather than win arguments.

If you lament the lack of civility in the world, start today in your own families. If you interact with people in the world, choose graciousness. When you find yourself in conflict, choose graciousness to solve the problem. If you have contact with folks on the web or Facebook, type graciously.

One final thought… I have looked far and wide for a discussion group or blog that showed Christian graciousness. It has been hard. Bloggers are not known for their tact, let alone graciousness. However, I ran across a young lady writing about body image issues (and everyday life) that truly impressed me. No, I am not usually interested in the subject she writes about, but her graciousness in her writing and her response to those who comment on her blog is truly different. So, I have become an avid reader of her blog. Consider that… we are drawn to people (even total strangers) who practice graciousness. If we really want to make a difference in the lives of people around us, shouldn’t we be pictures of grace?

Something to think about,

Pastor John

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