Sunday, December 27, 2015

If…then…


This morning I preached from Mark 2:1-12.  This is the story where Jesus heals a man who is paralyzed.  The story unfolds like this:  Jesus is preaching.  Four men bring their friend to Jesus but the place is too crowded to get inside.  So they take him up to the roof, pull the roof apart to make an opening, and then lower their friend through the hole, directly in front of Jesus.  At this point in the story Mark writes:

 "And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, 'Son, your sins are forgiven.'"

There are some experts in Jewish law present.  They may not have been listening closely while he was preaching but these words by Jesus catch their attention.  According to Mark they are thinking this:

"Why does this man speak like that?  He is blaspheming!  Who can forgive sins but God alone?"

Blasphemy.  The high crime of all Jewish religious crimes.  And Jesus, for all practical purposes, has committed the worst form of this crime and put himself into the place reserved for God.  A place held by God alone, with no part shared with anyone else.  Ever.

The religious experts are right in their understanding of the law, but they are also on very thin ice.  God, and only God, can forgive a person's sins.  Jesus could just be a man, a man like any other man, a man claiming the place of God.  And if that is the case then he is indeed committing blasphemy.

But what if Jesus isn’t quite who the experts think he is?  What if the power of God runs through him, because he is indeed God?  If that is the case then the ice that the experts have stepped out on won’t thick enough, won’t be strong enough, to hold their weight.  And as Mark tells the remainder of the story that proves to be the case. 

As the experts crash through the ice they are faced with this fact:  If Jesus is God, then he cannot be ignored.  That fact, and its implications, continues to confront anyone wondering about the identity of Jesus today.

If Jesus is God then we have to take what he says seriously.  Everything.  We may want to pick and choose among the things he says and the way that he calls his followers to live in the world, but that really isn't an option.  Not when the one speaking to us speaks with the authority of God, because he is God.

Ponder that thought.  Pray over that thought.  What is Jesus saying to you?  Where is he calling you to follow him?  This somewhat unlikely man, preaching to a crowd in a small town in Galilee, truly is God, and as the gospel unfolds we see how good of a thing that fact truly is.



Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Cast out no more


Today is the fourth Sunday in Advent, the last Sunday before Christmas.  This morning I preached from Mark 1:40-45, where Jesus heals a leper.  To be a leper, or to have what in some translations call a "dreaded skin disease," meant to be cast out, completely, from the culture.  According the rules concerning leprosy in Leviticus 13:45-46, persons with this skin disease wore ragged clothing, had unkempt hair and they had to cry out a warning to others that they were approaching, so that they didn’t make direct contact with someone else and transmit their uncleanness to anyone else.  Verse 46 ends, "He shall live alone.  His dwelling shall be outside the camp."

Imagine waking up one morning with an itch on your skin, looking at your skin and knowing as you see it that you have this disease.  Immediately, everything in your life is changed.  Perhaps you are a mother or father, and instantly you are torn from your spouse and children.  You had a family and a home and now you are separated, watching them from a distance, at best.  And perhaps this situation goes on for years and years.  

This is the desperation of the leper as he approaches Jesus.  He comes and asks for Jesus to radically restore his life, believing that Jesus has the ability to do so.

"If you will, you can make me clean."

The response of Jesus is to reach out and touch him, the untouchable person, and say,

"I will; be clean."

Mark then says,

"And immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean."

Just like that, at the touch of Jesus, the man is made clean.  He is no longer cast out from society but is in a place to be fully restored. 

This is a picture that helps us to see the work of salvation that is done as we come to have faith in Jesus as Savior.  When we come to Him in faith he reaches out and touches us, giving us the salvation and restoration with God that we long for but can’t do on our own.  He removes our sin, our uncleanness, every last bit, so that we can be in the presence of God. 

We may not understand our situation as clearly as the leper did his, but it is every bit as desperate.  Sinners, we are cast out from the presence of God, never to come in, unless there is some sort of miracle.  And that miracle is what we celebrate on Christmas.  The only one who can possibly heal us, who can possibly make us clean, comes into the world for exactly that purpose.   

May you know the saving touch of His hand in your life today, a hand that, when it touches you, holds you now and forever.




Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Without Beginning or End


I like to run.  Over the past 37 years the past I have run many, many miles.  And every one of them without the "benefit" of musical accompaniment.  No radio, Walkman, ipod or MP3 player.  Just myself, perhaps a companion and some conversation, and the sounds of the environment I'm running in, wherever that may be.  And the thoughts moving in and out of my head.

Today I was running east of Dulce.  It was about 40 and warm enough for shorts.  I had reached my turn-around point, a bit more than six miles from home, and was just starting to make my way back.  Twelve miles today seemed like a good idea when I left and I felt good on the out-bound leg.  But with nearly the entire trip back ahead of me I was beginning to wonder a bit.  Too late to do anything about it today, but maybe next time I should consider both my ambition and my energy level.

Without music my mind wanders pretty easily and the next thought was of a piece of scripture I'm trying to memorize.  It is Hebrews 13:20-21.  Truthfully, I memorized it a number of years ago but it has faded and I'm trying to bring it back.  It says:

"Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant,  equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen."

As I thought about those verses two words seemed to jump out at me.  

Eternal covenant.

In 1 Corinthians 11:25 Paul is talking about the meaning of the Lord's Supper and he says that Jesus told him this:

"This cup is the new covenant in my blood.  Do this, as often as you drink of it, in remembrance of me."

I happened to be reading something over the weekend that said we should understand what Paul wrote to the Corinthians as meaning not an entirely new covenant between God and His children, but a new way of looking at the same covenant.  The blood of Christ is what has always brought salvation to sinners.  It is anticipated in the Old Testament and revealed in the New Testament.  This is also brought out in the Hebrews passage, "the blood of the eternal covenant."

But thinking as I ran this morning I had a new understanding of eternal in relation to the covenant.  We often think of eternal as "having no ending."  The Christian promise of eternal life is a promise that the person with faith in Jesus will one day go from this life into a never-ending life in the very presence of our Savior and Lord.  That is a pretty good promise, one that really has no equal.  There is not one thing compares to that promise.

And it is a promise that is based upon an eternal covenant, and eternal means so much more than merely everlasting.  The promise that God makes is a promise without a beginning and an end.  It is a promise that has always existed.  It is a promise that precedes the very act of creation.  It is not just an "everlasting" promise.  At the same time it is both a "has always existed" promise and a "will never end" promise.

May this promise, this eternal promise of God, be the promise you find rest and comfort in, now and forever.  Amen.





Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.



Monday, November 30, 2015

Salvation


In the book of Exodus, Moses is called to be the leader of God's people, and, very specifically, to lead them from slavery in Egypt to freedom in the Promised Land.  This is not an easy task, to say the least.

Pharaoh doesn’t want to let the people go, but he is compelled to.  When the Hebrews have left Egypt, Pharaoh changes his mind and his army chases them down at the Red Sea.  At a point of crisis, with the water, seemingly impassable in front, and the Pharaoh's army behind, the Hebrew people appear on the verge of defeat.

But these are God's people, called by Him for His purposes.  And so throughout their entire journey He is with them and He provides for them.  The crisis at the Red Sea is no exception.  God separates the waters so that the Hebrews can pass through and then He allows the waters to close up and defeat the army of Pharaoh. 

In response to this saving action by God, Exodus 15:1 tells us that Moses and the people sang a song to the Lord, which includes these words in verse 2:

"The Lord is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation;
this is my God, and I will praise him, my father's God, and I will exalt him."

"He has become my salvation."  This seems to be the heart of this verse, and of the whole song of praise.  The Hebrews were in grave danger.  They needed to be saved, and they were in a position of complete vulnerability.  They were unable to do a single thing to save themselves.  They were God's people, and God saved them.   

God is still in the business of saving His people today, something we remember as Advent begins and Christmas draws near.  Without Jesus we would be in the kind of danger the Hebrews faced at the Red Sea, with no apparent reason to think that anything besides our end was near.  They were confronted with the end of their earthly lives, and the fuller story of the Bible teaches us that without Jesus our death in this life will end in eternal separation from God. 

But God is a God who saves, and true salvation comes through Jesus, and no one else.  The salvation that came to the Hebrews at the Red Sea, and at every other crisis in their journey, points us to the better salvation that comes through Jesus.

As we journey through Advent and towards Christmas may you see that your salvation is in Jesus, and no one else.




Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Thanksgiving

I was thinking about thanksgiving and wondering if that word was used in the Bible.  It is used twelve times, including these words that Paul writes in his second letter to the church at Corinth:

"You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God."

One way that we could read this verse is with the expectation that God will give us everything we desire, so that we could then share some of our blessings with others, and then give our thanks to God.  That reading would be only partly correct. 

Our error would be in reading "You will be enriched in every way" too literally, thinking that we could go through life without any kind of hardship or disappointment.  The truth is that sometimes it is through hardship and disappointment that we come to understand unexpected ways in which God's hand has been present as rich blessing in our lives. 

As the season of autumn deepens and Thanksgiving approaches I have been remembering some of the things I have to be thankful for this year.  Those things are many.  Some are fairly minor and others are things that have given me memories I will treasure for years.

But everything hasn't been perfect this year.  There have been some disappointments, and times of hardship.  The hardest thing that my family and I have dealt with this year has been the passing of our granddaughter, Raelyn.  But as I think about the sudden loss of Raelyn I am also able to see the hand of God present with our family, a hand that brings peace and comfort that never fails.

Our loss wasn't the kind of situation where we could see God's comfort immediately, but when we did see it we also saw that it was always present.  There was never a moment where it was absent or lost, as if for a moment God forgot to do what He was supposed to do.  Even in the hardest times of our lives, God is always doing exactly what His word teaches over and over that He does. 

Things such as these: He never stops being good.  He never stops being holy.  He never stops saving sinners.  And as one of the saved, He never stops being the one to whom my thanksgiving should always be given to.

May this season of Thanksgiving be one in where you see the ways God has been present to you this year, and may He receive your thanks and praise.




Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Well Pleased


In Mark's Gospel there is a very brief story of the baptism of Jesus.  In just three verses of chapter 1 Mark tells us everything that we need to know about this episode in Jesus' life, including these words in verse 11: 

"And a voice came from heaven, "You are my beloved Son; with you I am well-pleased.""

Jesus himself only entered the story in verse 9 and yet the Father calls Him "beloved" and says that with Jesus, the Father is "well-pleased."

As a father myself I can understand the idea of a child as beloved.  Parents often love their children through thick and thin.  The children may not do things parents like, but parental love can often endure a great deal of poor behavior from the child.  It is the fact of the relationship itself that makes the child beloved in the eyes of the parent.

But what in Jesus causes the Father to be well-pleased at this point in the story?  He enters the Gospel in verse 9 and has been baptized.  According to Mark Jesus has not done anything else, nor has he said a single word.  Well-pleased?  Why?

One reason would be the fact that even though we don’t know the details of Jesus' life to this point we do know that it has been lived without sin.  1 Peter 2:22 is one of several places where the Bible teaches that Jesus lived a life free from sin, which would include His entire life before His baptism and public ministry.  That in itself would give the Father pleasure.

But I think there is another reason, one which has to do with the vantage point of the Father in considering His Son. 

Mark tells us that the voice of the Father comes from the heavens, which, for a moment after Jesus' baptism, have been torn open.  We may not understand quite how that "works" but I think it shows us that the Father is speaking from a place where time is eternal, and so the Father sees Jesus in a way that is completely different than what we see, or even what Jesus himself has known to that point in His earthly life.

This is what the Father sees in Jesus.  He sees the Son who was present with the Father, from before the very beginning of time.  He sees the Son through whom all things were created.  He sees the Son who set aside His own glory to enter into a fully human life, beginning that life in the same place of complete dependence that everyone on earth does.  He sees the Son living a life that is free of sin and obedient to God at every single step.  He sees the Son whose obedience is to the point of laying down His very life in order to bring freedom for every person who would place their faith in God through Him.  He sees the Son who is raised to glory and enthroned in heaven.  He sees the Son who returns to earth in power and glory, bringing the end to all earthly things and the fulfillment of all of God's eternal plans. 

In short, as the Father speaks from heaven to the Son, He sees the Son from before the first verse of Genesis and after the last verse of Revelation.  He sees all of creation and redemption, and the presence of the Son, fully obedient to the Father, in every bit of it. 

Well-pleased?  With all that in view, how could the Father be anything less than well-pleased?

May you know that peace and joy that come when Jesus is your Savior.  Your Lord.  These things that He has done, which so please the Father, He did not only in love for the Father.  

He did them for you.



Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Unlikely Messengers


This morning I preached from Mark 1:1-8.  These are the opening verses of the Gospel according to Mark, and they contain a whole lot of Good News from God for His people.

One of the things I noted was that the central character of this passage, John the Baptist, hardly looks like God's leading messenger.  Out in the wilderness, dressed in rough clothing and eating a diet that, quite frankly, doesn't attract my taste buds.  If God wants to reach lots of people shouldn’t the messenger go to the places where all the people are, dressing and living in ways that show he fits in, so that people will listen to him?

Perhaps.  As we read this passage we do see that many people are hearing about John and coming out to the wilderness to see him.  To listen to him.  And as unlikely as it seems, he must be having some effect, as people are repenting of their sin, confessing their sin, in response to God's message, as delivered through John.

What about today?  Is God still calling on people to repent, to turn away from sin and turn towards Him?  Absolutely.  Is he still using messengers?  Again, absolutely.  And who are His messengers?

Some of them are fairly obvious, people such as myself, who are called to serve churches as their pastors, coming to the pulpit Sunday after Sunday and preaching God's word.  Bringing the Good News of Jesus to people in many other ways during the course of the week.

But there are other messengers as well.  People who may think of themselves as fairly unlikely messengers, if they think of themselves as messengers of God in the first place.  These are the people sitting in the pews, Sunday after Sunday.  They are people who know first-hand the presence of the King of Kings in their lives.  They are people who love the Lord.  They are people who know God, who love God, and who have the ability to share a bit of that knowledge, a bit of that love, with other people. 

Every one of those unlikely messengers has a different part of the story of God to tell, and a different way to tell it.  And as they tell their stories they lead others to experience the powerful move from unbelief to faith.  They become a means that will God use to bring change  in lives,  The eternal change that comes when Jesus is not some abstract person, or the main character of an obscure book, but Savior and Lord.

Praise God for His messengers, both the likely ones, and especially the unlikely ones.  may it be your blessing to serve God as His messenger today.

(The picture above is of two of God's messengers, one of whom wasn't told why to pose for the picture.) 




Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.



Saturday, November 14, 2015

Terror abroad and at home

Last night, while we here in the United States went about whatever it was we were doing, there was a terrible terrorist attack in France.  As I write this afternoon the latest news is that 129 people were killed and 395 were injured.  The attacks were horrible crimes, and the outrage and calls for justice, in France and throughout the world, are entirely justified.

It was an ordinary Friday evening here in Dulce.  I learned of the attacks in France while we were having roller-skating in our church gym.  There were over 30 children skating, playing, laughing and just generally having a good time.  It was the biggest turnout I've seen since we've been here. 

I imagine that in a broad sense, including both the good and the bad, it was an ordinary Friday night throughout America, following an ordinary day.  Meaning that in America it was  a day in which about 3,000 babies lost their lives through abortion.

Over 20 times the number of deaths as in Paris, but not happening simultaneously in one or two locations in one city, but happening  in many places scattered throughout our country.  Not deaths that come through the means used by terrorists, means that nearly everyone would say are illegal and immoral, but through means that in this country are protected by law and considered by many to be morally neutral, simply a matter of choice.  Legal or not, moral or not, those means are just as deadly for the victims in the womb as for the victims in Paris.

Three thousand babies who won’t grow up to roller-skate, to play, or to laugh with other kids.  Three thousand babies who won't grow and learn to read school books and blog posts.  Three thousand babies who won't grow to be adults who can express outrage at the world's injustices, or seek to correct them.  Three thousand babies, every day.


It is right to pray and seek for God to bring peace and justice in the world.  And was we pray for peace and an end to terror abroad, let us also pray for peace and an end to the terror we allow at home.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Assurance in adoption


I am spending a few weeks preaching on the Bible, asking questions about it so we might better understand how God speaks through it and that we would grow in our love of Him.  

The first week we asked questions of "What?"  Since then we have dealt with "Who?" "Where?" and "When?"  This morning we asked "How?"  Specifically, the questions I tried to answer were:

How was the Bible put together?
How do we know the Bible is true?
How do we know if we are using the Bible correctly?
How does the Bible assure us of our place with God?
How does God call us to live in the world?

How does the Bible assure us of our place with God? 

The Bible answers that question in a number of places, sometimes directly and sometimes indirectly.  The place I decided to go to find that answer was Galatians 4:1-7, which is an answer of the more indirect sort. 

Paul teaches a number of things in those verses and what I brought out of them was this: Prior of coming to faith in Jesus as Savior and Lord we were sinners, "enslaved to the elementary principles of this world," but that now, by faith, Christians have been adopted as children of God.  Paul says that we are saved "so that we might receive adoption as sons [and daughters]."  

A dictionary definition of adoption says: "To choose or take as one's own; to make one's own by selection or assent."  This is what has happened when we come to faith in Jesus.  By faith we are made children of God.  Adopted children of a perfect Father.

It can be easy to read references to fathers in the Bible and get caught up with memories of our own fathers.  Some of those memories may be very good, but I stand in the pulpit fully aware that for some of the people I preach to, their father is the last person they want to think of.  They have had fathers who, at best, failed them in every way possible, and who, at worst, were abusive and/or absent.

So we need to remember what kind of father God is.  He is a father who always acts according to His character, meaning that He is always loving, always protective, always seeking the best for His children, even when our reaching for the best means learning some lessons the hard way. 

He is a father whose children, every single one of the save one, is adopted.  Except for Jesus, every single one God's children was once on the outside.  Lost in their sin and unable to do a single thing about it. 

And now, by faith in Jesus, they have been adopted into the family of God.  Their sin has been washed away and they stand before the Father with the same sense of assurance as every other child of God.  Their place in the family, as children in the very best of families, is certain. 

At times when life is hard, when things are going wrong and you can’t understand why,  or even at times when life is a mess of your own making, know this beyond any doubts.  If you have faith in Jesus as Savior and Lord  your place in the family God is certain.  You have been adopted into the very best of families, the family that knows God as Father.  And He is a Father that will never, ever, fail to hold onto every one of His children.



Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.


Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Guidance…by pit bull


This morning was a fairly typical one for me.  I got up before everyone else, had breakfast, read my Bible, prayed and did some things for work.  Most mornings I am up first and depending on when others arise the early time I have to myself can vary.  Yesterday it was zero minutes and today it was an hour. 

I spent a little time with my family while they ate breakfast.  I am reading the Chronicles of Narnia to our daughter and today we finished The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe.  It is our second time through the Chronicles and I am noticing things that didn’t catch my attention the first time.  And I delight in spending time in this particular way with our daughter. 

Then it was time for a bit more work, followed by a conference call with two other pastors, both in Denver.  Among the things we talked about were some similarities and some differences between ministry in suburban Denver, where they are, and the reservation in New Mexico, where I am.

After the conference call it was time to run, as in "getting in my daily run."  I changed into my running clothes and headed out the door, taking the highway through town over to the next town, two miles east.  I had planned to head east to a point, turn around, and then take a slightly different way back as I got close to home.

Heading east takes me past a park, where a few people were sitting at a table.  There aren’t always people at the park.  Today there were and one or two of them called out to me.  I couldn't see who they were and I just waved back as I continued my run.  This particular park is across the parking lot from the liquor store, which is generally the primary attraction for people sitting at the tables.

A few miles down the road I neared the town east of us.  I heard a dog barking and stopped to take a closer look.  There is a large pit bull living at a house there, and almost always it is inside a fenced yard.  Sometimes it barks, a little bit, and more often it pays no attention to me.  Kind of like the dog in the picture.  However once this past summer, things were different.

That day I had passed the dog, in the yard, while going through town, but on the return he was out on the street.  And even though I was on the other side of the highway, he wasn't particularly interested in letting me pass.  In all my years of running I have never encountered a more aggressive dog.  Strong, angry, crouched down while barking up at me, and circling. 

Trying to get past him that day was a risky endeavor and I decided that should I encounter him on the highway again that I wouldn’t try to get past on foot.  And there he was, outside the fence this morning.

Quickly deciding to play it safe I just turned around and headed back to Dulce.  Safe from the dog but now with a new problem.  How to get in the amount of mileage I had originally intended, given that my plan had been altered by the pit bull?  So I came up with plan B.  Go to the corner where the park is and turn right, heading uphill and taking a bit longer path home. 

As I came back to town I hopped up on the sidewalk, which brought me closer to the tables at the park.  People at the park don’t often stay long.  They may be there when I go by in one direction but they are usually gone when I come back in the other direction.  Today was different, as they were still present, and there were more people.  I hadn’t counted on the way out but the return there were two groups, totaling seven people.

They called out to me, and I called back.  And I stopped to talk.  I was close enough now to see and recognize a few of them, and so I stopped and talked a bit with all of them.  And when asked, I prayed with two of them. 

My altered running plan, and the time I spent with the people in the park, was answered prayer.  It may not have looked like it, and it took me a moment to realize it, but that’s what it was.  Alcohol abuse has a devastating effect on this community and each week in worship we pray that God would deliver people from it.  That He would show us how to support and encourage people seeking freedom.  That is what was happening this morning. 

In the two years we have lived in Dulce I have come to know a number of people who really struggle with alcohol.  I have come to see them as people God has placed in my life for a reason.  They are people I pray for often, and whom I intend to pray for until either God delivers them from their addiction, or until we leave Dulce.  And in either of those two outcomes I may still continue to pray for them.[1]  I pray for them, and there are times such as this morning, where I pray with them. 

And so in the final analysis, the pit bull on the road was not quite the enemy I had supposed it to be.  This morning he was there as guidance from God, changing my plan to become something that fits within His plan.   

And His plans, no matter how they become apparent, are always best.







[1] In Letters to Malcolm C.S. Lewis wrote words to the effect that there were people he may one day stop praying for, but he didn’t believe that today was the day.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

When should we doubt the Bible?


I am spending a few weeks preaching on the Bible, asking questions about it so we might better understand how God speaks through it and that we would grow in our love of Him.  The first week we asked questions of "What?"  Two weeks ago it was "Who?  This morning we asked "When?"  Specifically, the questions addressed were:

·         When was the Bible written?
·         When should we read the Bible?
·         When should we question the Bible?
·         When should we doubt the Bible?
·         When will the promises of the Bible be fulfilled?

The Bible is an old book, written by many different authors, in languages that no one speaks any more.  Those authors all had their own particular point-of view, and maybe their own axe to grind.  And the circumstances of our day are so different, in so many ways.  Given all that it's only natural for us to question what the Bible has to say in our day, isn’t it?  When should we doubt the Bible? 

While it may be a natural tendency to want to doubt what the Bible has to say about any particular issue that is a place we should only venture towards with the greatest of caution.  It should feel a bit like getting close to the edge of the Grand Canyon and wanting to lean out to get a better look.  What seems to be a potential gain is not worth the risk.

When we call into doubt what God teaches in the Bible we blur the distinction between God and the people he created.  We make more of ourselves and less of God.  We make more of our ability to decide right and wrong, and disregard the boundaries God has put in place, boundaries that exist for our protection.

Sometimes we doubt what the Bible has to say about an issue because we are misunderstanding what God is saying through it.  It deals with matters of biology and geography but it is not a science textbook.  It addresses issues of marriage and relationships but it is not a handbook for counseling or self-improvement. 

And perhaps the greater reason we doubt the Bible is that we disagree with what it has to say about a particular topic, one that may be dear to our heart.  In our day marriage is one of those topics that easily comes to mind.  It is so easy to say that our culture is so different from the culture the Bible was written in that much of what it says about marriage is no longer relevant. 

And that approach would be one of placing ourselves in grave danger.  To doubt the Bible and openly dispose of what it has to say is doubt God, who stands behind each word of the book.   

Some things the Bible teaches are hard to understand.  There are things that will challenge us, things that we would really rather not consider to be true. 

But a better approach than doubt is trust, and that when faced with a hard teaching we continue to trust the Author of the teaching.  We trust that what He said is true, and we wait, on Him, to make it clearer for us, on His timing, and not according to our own demands.

Or, as Proverbs 3:5-6 reminds us,

"Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths."



Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Who?


I am spending a few weeks preaching on the Bible, asking questions about it so we might better understand how God speaks through it and grow in our love of Him.  Last week we asked questions of "What?"  This past Sunday we turned our attention to "Who?"  Specifically, the questions raised were:

·         Who wrote the Bible?
·         Who should read the Bible?
·         Who is the Bible about?
·         Who is the Bible for?
·         Who perfectly shows God's love to God's children?

Broadly speaking, the questions addressed the author of the Bible and the audience.  And while the Bible itself identifies human authors for most of its books, it also teaches that the Holy Spirit is ultimately at work through each human author, so that God Himself is the true Author of the Bible.

And the audience?  The Bible contains things that would be beneficial for anyone to read, ponder and follow, such as the second section of the Ten Commandments.  People may not believe in God but nearly everyone would agree that instructions not to steal or murder make sense. 

But just as there is an Author at work behind the other authors, so too is there a more specific audience for the Bible, and that is the people who believe in God and believe that He is speaking through His written word.  These are the people who find life in things such as the first section of the Ten Commandments.  These are the people who, as they read the Bible, find more than common wisdom.  They find words of peace, of hope, of encouragement, to name but a few of the kinds of things they read.  These things are precious to them because they are written in God's word, and intended for God's people. 

And, perhaps best of all, the Bible shows one person in whom these two groups, Author and audience, meet.  In Ephesians 1:7-10, Paul writes:

"In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ  as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth."

That is a long and rich sentence about the work of Jesus Christ, and the two things I want to note here are these:  First, in the work of Christ on the cross there is redemption for God's children, so that the debt their sin against God demands is paid for in the blood of Jesus, and second, that this work of Christ is a part of God's plan to unite His children with Himself. 

Who perfectly shows God's love to God's children?  Christ Jesus, that’s who. 

May you know the presence of His love in your life today, and give to Him the praise that only He deserves.




Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

The Bible...and hope


The Bible.  According to my dictionary it is "The sacred scriptures of Christians comprising the Old Testament and the New Testament."  It is an old book, seemingly written by and about a small, obscure group of people living in a time and place very different than ours.  We stumble over their names and struggle to follow the storylines of their lives.  We read their stories and everything seems to be so obvious to us.  What on earth is their problem?  Why can't they seem to get things right?

And yet as Christians we hold the words of this book dearer to our hearts and minds than the words written anywhere else.  Why is that?  What is it that makes this one particular book so special?  Over the next few weeks we are going to take a closer look at the Bible, asking questions and seeking answers about this book, this one book whose words are so essential to our faith. 

The basic questions are What, Who, Where, When, How and Why?  Each Sunday we will look at questions about the Bible that follow from the basic questions, such as:

·         What is the Bible?
·         Who wrote the Bible?
·         Where does the Bible speak today
·         When should we read the Bible?
·         How should we apply the Bible to our lives?
·         Why does the Bible matter?

It is my hope and my prayer that as we dig into these questions we will find answers that strengthen our faith.  That we will find answers that deepen or understanding of God and His love for us.  And that we will find answers that deepen our love of God. 

On the one hand the Bible is a very old book, a book that for many people is out-of touch with the culture of our time.  But on the other hand I am certain that the Bible, while indeed old, continues to be relevant, and the message in its pages is one that is urgently needed in the times in which we live. 

I look forward to exploring some Bible basics as a congregation.  I welcome any questions you might have that would add to our understanding.  And I pray that God would lead us, through His Word in the Bible, to more fully love and serve Him in the world.


Addendum:  I wrote the body of this post a few days ago.  This morning in worship our basic question was "What?"  The questions that came out of that basic question were these:

What is the Bible?
What does the Bible contain?
What is the purpose of the Bible?
What ties the Bible together?
What relevance does the Bible have today?

Here is a brief look at the continuing relevance of the Bible.

There are many ways in which the Bible is relevant today.  This morning I focused on hope.  In Romans 15:4 the apostle Paul writes,

"For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the scripture we might have hope."

This last week was a fairly ordinary one for me in ministry here in Dulce, which means that there were a number of people and life situations that came to my attention as pastor.  Some of these situations were expected in some way, and others were completely new.  And as a pastor there is little direct help that I can provide to people in need.  I can’t "fix the problem."  But what I can do is listen, and pray.  And in prayer I can turn the person I am with and their situation over to God. 

As we pray we remember that all things are in God's hands, all the time.  And we remember that it is God whom we hope in. All the time.  We don't hope in some lesser thing, and there are any number of lesser things in which people hope.

We place our hope in the God of the universe, the Lord of heaven and earth, the One through whom all things were created, and for whom all things were created.  And the only place we have to turn to in order to learn about this God in whom we hope is in His word, the Bible. 

The Bible is relevant because it teaches us, fully and reliably, about God and thereby encourages us to seek Him, to find and know true hope in all things.




Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Always at work


At work.  Always at work. 

"Always at work" isn’t me.  I have a job and I believe I'm conscientious about it.  I do some parts better than other parts but I don’t work at it from dawn to dusk.  And when I'm not "at work" but working on things at other places, such as around the house, there are breaks and periods of distraction.  And each day has its times of recreation and relaxation.  "Always at work" doesn’t describe me.

"Always at work" doesn’t describe my wife either, and she is probably the most diligent and energetic person I've ever known. 

"Always at work" does apply to God, and sometimes we see this in the most surprising of places.  I have been preaching through the book of Ruth and last week we reached the final paragraph, where this is written in chapter 4, verses 18-22:

"Now these are the generations of Perez: Perez fathered Hezron, Hezron fathered Ram, Ram fathered Amminadab, Amminadab fathered Nahshon, Nahshon fathered Salmon, Salmon fathered Boaz, Boaz fathered Obed, Obed fathered Jesse, and Jesse fathered David."

It looks like a collection of names.  The heading in my Bible says that it is the genealogy of David.  It would be easy to read the names and think, "Nothing going on here.  Kind of a flat way to end the story."  And coming to that conclusion would be missing something.  Something powerful.

The story of Ruth takes place during the time of the judges.  The book of Judges comes right before Ruth and reading it we see the Hebrew people in trouble, over and over again.  God raises up judges to lead them, but the author of the book doesn’t shy away from showing the character flaws of the leaders.  And the flaws become increasingly obvious as the book progresses.  The closing words, Judges 21:25, say,

"In those days there was no king in Israel.  Everyone did what was right in his own eyes."

So Ruth takes place during this dark chapter of the history of God's people.  But God is not absent.  The ending of Ruth shows that God is at work, keeping a family line intact, a family that He has promised will one day produce the Savior of His people. 

The time of the judges was a dark time for the people of Israel, but God remained at work among them, for His purposes, and this is what we see in the closing verses of Ruth.

And He remains at work today.    

The closing verses of Ruth, and the time period in which it is set, remind us that whatever the world may look like from our point-of-view, that God is at work, always at work, for His purposes.  And His purposes are always better than our purposes and our desires.     

We sometimes wonder what God is up to, or if He is paying any attention to our world and the troubles in it, troubles that seem so obvious.  Some of those troubles are on the TV news, and some of them are within our hearts.

Whatever you may be going through right now, know that God is at work.  Seek Him, and you will find Him.  Seek to know the peace of His presence.  Seek to know His purposes in your time of trial. 

For God is at work.  He is always at work.




Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Coming out of the closet on abortion


Out of the closet
It is time for me to come out of the closet on abortion.  I have long had views on abortion, views which I mostly kept to myself.  Over time these views changed significantly.  I still kept them to myself.  And it is time for that silence to end.

This is what I believe about abortion.  Abortion is wrong, from virtually every place it may be considered.  It ends the life of a human being.  Additionally, it is the intentional ending of the life of a human being, so that in essence, abortion is murder. 

Under the present laws of our land, abortion is not classified as the crime it is.  The fact that at present in the United States it is legal for a woman, while pregnant, and her physician, to end the life of her child, at any time and for any reason, does not change my belief that abortion is morally and ethically wrong.

You may or may not agree with my position.  If you continue reading this I will try to explain myself, my position, and its implications further.

My changing views
First of all, for a long time my position on abortion was that it wasn't any of my business.  I considered it to be a "women's issue" and not being a woman I felt it was out-of-bounds for me to either facilitate or suppress the availability of legal abortion in this country.

I don’t know when in my life I came to that position, or for how long I held it.  I know that for many men who are silent on the issue this is the position they hold. 

Later in life I came to a position that abortion was acceptable early in a pregnancy, say the first three months, but not later, at that time in the pregnancy when that baby had a clearly more human appearance.  I am not entirely certain but I think that my position may have changed about the time my wife and I had our children. 

And eventually  I came to believe that abortion was wrong at any stage of a pregnancy.  Again, I am a bit uncertain as to when this change in my thought happened.  I do believe it was clearly a consequence of my becoming a Christian and participating in a Bible study, things which happened in 2000 and 2001.

Looking back, my guess is that the change came while studying the Psalms, in 2004.  The Psalms have several things to say about human life, from God's vantage point, that suggest that the essence of human life begins at conception.  And if human life begins at conception then abortion is the taking of a human life, no matter what the physical resemblance of the baby is before its birth compared to after its birth.

The catalyst for making my position more public
The catalyst for my speaking out now is simple.  It is the release of a number of videos that portray a side of the abortion industry that was previously unknown to most people.  These videos show an aspect, an ugly aspect, of an ugly business.  And they show this ugly business as practiced by the largest abortion provider in the United States. 

You may have heard of these videos.  You may have seen some of these videos.  You may have chosen not to see the videos.  While the videos show what happens through one particular abortion provider, and they have unleashed a torrent of comment both in favor and against that provider, one thing I believe those videos show is the reprehensible nature of abortion, no matter who is providing the abortion, no matter what happens with the aborted baby.  The videos show abortion for the evil that it really is. 

To this date there have been nine videos released.  If you doubt the humanity of the aborted baby, or perhaps think that abortion is essentially an undesirable necessity of our day, then I suggest you watch this video, the 5th of the series.  And before you watch it I want to remind you that some things, once seen, cannot be unseen.

Are the videos valid?
Some supporters of the abortion provider in the videos have challenged their validity, based on the fact that they were made in an undercover fashion and then edited before release.  To those arguments I would reply that undercover  investigation has a long history in this country.  We can go back more than 100 years to Upton Sinclair and his work in the meat-packing industry and can see undercover investigation as something that drove positive changes in this country.  Here is a link to a current story, from the food industry, generated through undercover investigation.

Undercover work has been the kind of work that has brought things from darkness to light.  To bring change to things that were terribly wrong.  And abortion is a terrible wrong.

As far as editing goes, I understand that the full videos and transcripts of them have been made available.  The videos, as compiled and shared, in no way misrepresent what is being done in the abortion industry.  The representatives of that industry, as they speak their own words on tape, shine light on what had previously been in darkness.  And as painful as it may be for us to see, those videos need to be seen.

William Wilberforce, who led the struggle in the British Parliament against slavery, once spoke at length and in graphic detail on the very vile nature of that trade.  He concluded his speech with these words:

“You may choose to look the other way but you can never say again that you did not know.” 

Those words ring true for the true nature of abortion, and the true nature of it is repeatedly shown in these videos.

Is abortion murder?
Is abortion murder?  I believe that it is.  Many other people are not so sure.  Some people are quite certain that it is not.  A key element in deciding if abortion is, or is not, murder depends on if that baby, not yet born, is a person or not.

Here is a link to a summary and an explanation by Peter Kreeft, a philosopher, on the four choices we have in considering abortion, after we have decided if that baby is, or is not, a person.  Having already come to the conclusion in my own mind that the baby is indeed a person, at every stage of development, I found Kreeft's explanation of the implications that follow to be coherent and compelling.

Public outrage
If abortion is the death of a person, then abortion becomes the leading cause of death in this country for black Americans.   Here is an article that shows for 2005, the last year the CDC collected abortion statistics by race, that abortion itself killed more black Americans than heart disease, cancer, strokes, accidents, diabetes, homicide, and chronic lower respiratory diseases combined. 

According to this article, in 2012 in New York City there were, on average, 85 abortions of black babies every day, compared with 67 births.  Here is an article, from a different source, reporting on 2013.  Slightly different numbers but the same general conclusion.  In New York City more black pregnancies end in abortion than in live birth.

I cite the two above examples to show the disparity in public outrage over recent events receiving significant publicity in this country.  Most of us are familiar with the events that triggered "Black lives matter" and "Save our girls."  Those two events are understandable examples of outrage over injustice, over wrong that shouldn’t be allowed to be.  Yet abortion is both numerically and exponentially more heinous, and sadly, an everyday occurrence.

The hard cases
There are several arguments used to justify abortion that maintain that while it may be a generally objectionable choice there are certain, albeit rare, circumstances where abortion is a valid option. 

One of these arguments is that if abortion is made illegal we will return to the pre-Roe days, when abortion was illegal and when women died from the complications of abortion.

I have no doubt that if abortion were to be made illegal that it would still occur.  However the fact that when laws are made there is also knowledge that some people will break those laws is not a reason for not making the laws in the first place.  The presence of lawbreakers does not stop society from making laws that are ultimately for its good. 

I don't have the reference at hand but I read recently that at the time the Roe decision was made  less than 100 women died annually from complications of illegal abortions.  One hundred deaths from the complications of abortion is indeed a tragic thing.  And given that our nation's population is significantly larger now perhaps that number would be as high as 200 annually, should abortion again become illegal.  However that number, tragic as it is, pales when compared to the 3,000 deaths by abortion that occur in this country every day. 

Another allowance is often made for abortion in the cases of rape and incest.  These are also tragic and horrible crimes.  They bring real pain to real people.  However, if abortion is murder, under what rationale is it acceptable to make a third party pay, with their life, for a crime that they were not a party to?  I don't presume to know all of the answers to give to women, and in some cases children, who are the victims of these crimes as we as a society support and care for them.  However, I don’t believe that providing care for the victims should include killing the baby that was created through a criminal act.

An acceptable percentage?
To this point I have refrained from naming Planned Parenthood.  They are the abortion-providing organization that has been targeted in the videos.  Many people are supporters of Planned Parenthood.  They believe that abortion is just one of a number of things Planned Parenthood provides to women, and a fairly minor thing at that.  Planned Parenthood itself has circulated reports that abortion only accounts for 3% of its services.  Numerically, abortion may only account for 3% of Planned Parenthood's services.  I have read information that shows that from a financial point-of-view, the value to Planned Parenthood of abortion is significantly higher.  But let's just consider the 3% number.

If 3% of a company's business is murder, is that allowable?  Should we not be concerned, even outraged, at doing business with a person or organization where 3% of what they do results in someone's intentional death?  At what point to we decide to be outraged?  Is 3% okay, but if they move to 10% then I'll no longer give them my support?  25%?  50%?

Every day Planned Parenthood kills babies.  The videos touch on what happens after the fact.  I believe that the fact of murder itself is sufficient reason to back away, completely and immediately, from Planned Parenthood.

Some of Planned Parenthood's supporters argue that it provides many important services to women, in terms of general healthcare, and more specifically, contraception.  Be that as it may, one of the benefits of Obamacare is that there are many options beside Planned Parenthood to get those services.  There are many options to obtain contraception without dealing with an organization that is more than willing to kill your baby, for any reason, should you become pregnant.

The future
What will our country look like if abortion is ended?  Here are few thoughts.

We will have more people.  We will have more racial diversity.  We will have more babies born into families that are struggling and needing the support of society.  We will have more babies requiring foster care and adoptive homes.  We will have more babies born with disabilities, some requiring life-long care.  We will have more people in jail, as abortion goes underground.

Individuals and our culture will have to change if abortion in this country ends.  And, if legal abortion in this country ends, that will in itself be a clear sign that profound change is underway, the kind of change that can also positively address the changes of a post-abortion America.

Concluding thoughts
Recently I had a conversation about abortion where it was pointed out to me that abortion is legal service in the United States today, and has been so since a January day in 1973.  That is a point that is beyond doubt, but legal is not the same as moral or ethical.  And the United States has a number of historical examples of things which were legal, but eventually the lack of ethics and morality of those things came to be the consensus of society.  And those things are no longer legal today. 


And it is my hope, my desire, that one day we would reach a consensus in this country that abortion is also something that would be rightly moved from legal to illegal, and that as a society we would care and value life, all of it, from conception onward.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Reflections on two years in Dulce


August 26th marked a big milestone for Robin, Kat and I.  It was two years ago on that date that we arrived in Dulce.  Two years!  Already!  What an incredible adventure!  As I think back over that time and organize my thoughts I hardly know where to begin. 

Friendships.  We came to Dulce with deep roots in the Midwest.  With rare exceptions it was the only part of the country each of us had ever lived in.  Leaving there meant leaving behind many good friends.  But God has blessed each of us with new friendships here.  They aren't quite like the friends we left behind, but those friendships developed over time, and we've only been here two years.  We cherish the friendships we have been building in Dulce and we look forward to continuing to grow new friendships in the years ahead.

Events.  Into the rhythm of the year and the movement from one marker to the next, such as from Thanksgiving to Christmas, we have added some new things, such as Jicarilla Day, Little Beaver and Go Jii Ya, along with other, less formal, gatherings.  We treasure these new activities and the ways in which they have helped us to understand the culture of the Jicarilla Apache people.

Foods.  We have been exposed to a number of foods that a person just never sees in the Midwest, and it has been a delight.  Soup, of the Jicarilla variety, posole, red and green chili, and frybread come to mind as I write this.  And closely related to the foods has been the hospitality that has been shown to us in the sharing of food. 

Sorrows.  Since leaving Minnesota for Dulce we have a had several dear friends, a close uncle and a granddaughter leave this world for God's eternal kingdom.  In each case there is a unique sense of loss, a place formerly filled that for the remainder of this life will be empty.  And this community, this congregation,  has known loss too.  As pastor, I have sat and prayed with people during times of deep heartache and sorrow.  It is easy to see God's goodness when things are going well.  It may be harder to grasp but it is no less true, that God remains good even when hearts are breaking. 

God's providence.  I have been preaching through the book of Ruth and time and again in that book we see things take place that seem to be completely at random, and yet they have their place in bringing together the story of God' plan of redemption.   God is at work, behind the scenes, fitting together various parts of the story, not so much for the benefit of the people of the story, but for His grand story, which is fulfilled in His Son, Jesus.  And in a similar way Robin and I look back, at the last two years, and beyond, and see that God has been working in us, to bring us to this place, and to use us in this place. 

May our family and the people of the Jicarilla Apache Reformed Church continue to grow in the love of our Savior and Lord, Jesus.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

"How can this man save us?"


Yesterday I was reading 1 Samuel 10.  It's the chapter of the Bible where Saul is anointed as the king of Israel.  Anointing means that oil is poured on his head as a sign that he is being set apart for service to God as the first king of God's people.  He is not actually their king yet but anointing is the sign that he will be.

The anointing of Saul takes place at pivotal point in the history of Israel.  Frankly, they have been a mess.  Instead of having a king they have been led by judges, who were people that God would raise up at different times as their leader.  The book of Judges ends with these words:

"In those days there was no king in Israel.  Everyone did what was right in his own eyes."

They did what they wanted, when they wanted, a situation that then, and now, usually doesn’t end well.  When my wife and I occasionally see certain forms of this in our daughter we remind her that, "We're not going to let you grow up to be a tyrant."

So, Israel is a mess.  They have much trouble with their neighbors.  Their neighbors all have kings.  They want a king of their own.  God, speaking through His prophet, Samuel, tells them that this isn’t a good idea.  After all, He is supposed to be their king.  In their demand for a human king they are taking a step away from Him and from living as His people in the world. 

But, in the spirit of doing what is right in their own eyes, they persist in their demand for a king.  So God sends Samuel to anoint their king, and the person God has chosen is Saul. 

Saul is a somewhat unlikely candidate.  As far as we know he has no reputation to speak of.  He is a physically imposing person, being much taller than most men.  But beyond that he appears to be a nobody, the member of a minor clan in a small tribe of the Israelites.  And to top it off, when the people of Israel are gathered to anoint him and they are looking for him, he is hiding among the luggage.

This is the future king?  A no one from an insignificant tribe?  An apparent coward?  Small wonder that in the midst of their troubles some people respond,

"How can this man save us?"

When I read that phrase my mind was immediately taken to thoughts of Jesus, because the popular response He drew in His day was much the same.  Ignored, mocked, threatened.  And then it got worse.  Arrested.  Beaten.  Executed.

The words of 1 Samuel 10 just after the phrase above add that the people speaking those words of Saul "despised him."  And Jesus, hanging on the cross, with a sign above His head proclaiming Him as 'King of the Jews', received the scorn of those gathered as He took His final breath. 

This man?  A king?  How can this man save us?

The truth of the Bible teaches that it is only Jesus who can save us.  Acts 4:12 says,

"And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved."

Saul was anointed as Israel's first king and if you read the following chapters of his story you will see his failings come to light.  He started well but soon the failings common to all humans came to light, and he followed his own ways rather than the ways of God.  

Saul couldn’t save God's people because he was never called to that task.  Only one person was.  Only one person ever lived who could save God's people, and that is precisely what He did.

He did it for all people who would call on His name, Jesus, in faith as their savior.  He did it for me.  He holds out His salvation for you.

Salvation is found in His name. And nowhere else.  May you know the promise of His salvation today.  And to God be all the glory.  Amen.





Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.