Saturday, January 30, 2016

Lies and Truth

Our church works together with some other churches in the community to offer an Awana program as part of our ministry to children.  One of the things that happens when Awana meets is that all the children have a short lesson together before going off into smaller groups for the rest of the evening.  Lately I have been doing this teaching and last Monday the lesson had to do with the temptation Jesus endured while he was in the desert after his baptism.  Matthew 4:1-11 tells of the encounter between Jesus and Satan.  In preparing for the lesson some words of Jesus about Satan came to mind.  In the ending to John 8:44 Jesus says of Satan,

"When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies."

In the temptation that all Christians experience, and the sin that results when we give in to temptation, Satan lies to us twice.  The first is in the temptation itself, when as we think about turning from God's will for our lives we consider the same words Satan spoke to Adam and Eve in Genesis 3:1, "Did God really say…?" 

In our minds we have all kinds of ways to convince ourselves that whatever it is we are considering is not really wrong, or not as bad as something else, or something that we know is wrong but we are also sure that God will forgive us.  We hear the words of Satan calling us, calling us away from God.  They sound so seductive.  We really shouldn't go that direction, but...  He is a liar, and his lies can sound so good.

But he doesn’t stop as he draws us into temptation.  We may give in to a sin one time, or we may give in to a whole bunch of them many times.  Eventually we come to our senses and realize we need to turn back towards God in confession and repentance, seeking his forgiveness.  And that is when the "father of lies" gets started on us again.

The lies we hear in these times are varied, such as, "You can't be forgiven again;" "God has no more patience for you;" "You've crossed a line where forgiveness can't go;" "You've never truly believed in God."  Whatever particular words we hear from Satan as we turn towards God, Satan's intent is always the same.  To keep us trapped in misery and separated from God.

As Jesus so clearly said, Satan is the father of lies and it is in his basic character is to lie continually, especially to anyone whose heart is seeking God. 

And so we fight these lies with two truths.  One is that our place with God as his dearly loved children is always and entirely in his hands.  Paul writes in Ephesians 2:8,

"For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God."

And the second truth also comes through Paul, in Romans 8:38-39,

"For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord."

When you hear the lies of Satan, remember, and stand firm, on the truth from God.

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, January 24, 2016

Not Such A Strong Man After All

This morning I preached from Mark 3:20-30.  Jesus has been healing people, including healing them of evil spirits, and the powers that be have accused him of using the power of Satan to do this work.  This is a ludicrous charge and Jesus paints several verbal pictures that point this out.  In verse 29 he gives the last of the pictures, saying,

"But no one can enter a strong man's house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man.  Then indeed he may plunder his house."

What Jesus is saying here is that Satan is a strong man, and that no one can take things from a strong man without first tying him up, or putting a limit onto his ability to use his power.  Satan's own power cannot be used against him, meaning that in order for Jesus to drive evil spirits out of people he must both have the ability to overpower Satan, and he must use that ability.  Which is precisely what Jesus has done.

But as I thought a bit more about this verse this afternoon I realized it shows us a bit more than the point Jesus was making to the Jewish religious authorities. The image of verse 29 is an image we can also see at work today.

In the death and resurrection of Jesus, Satan has been bound.  The power that he has as a "strong man" is clearly shown to be weaker than the power of Jesus.  He still fights against God, as he always has, but he knows the ending just as clearly as anyone who reads the Bible with faith in Jesus as Savior and Lord does. 

Luther said it well in the third verse of his great hymn:

"And tho' this world with devils filled, should threaten to undo us,
We will not fear, for God hath willed His truth to triumph thro' us.
The prince of darkness grim, we tremble not for him,
His rage we can endure, for lo, his doom is sure:
One little word shall fell him."

In Christ, Satan has been bound.  His house is being plundered.  All to the glory of God.

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, January 19, 2016

Who are you?

I have "no Facebook" a rule when I'm writing my sermon, meaning I don't go on Facebook that day until after I do the writing I intend for the day. My original plan today had been to write but late in the day, when it was apparent that I wouldn't and I had the other work-related tasks for the day finished, I spent some time catching up with the world on Facebook.  And in doing so I came across something I couldn't pass up.

It was a quiz. I usually skip quiz's. This one was called Which Bible Character Are You? and I passed it by, but then came back.  A friend had done it and was told he was King Solomon. So I decided to check it out.

I was asked a question about who I was (curious, because they already knew I was Brad) and then, with a single click, I would be told which Bible character I was and put that information on  Facebook.  I paused.

My friend was told he was Solomon.  Not too bad at first glance.  Most powerful of all the kings of Israel.  Unparalleled wealth and wisdom.  But there is also the matter of 700 wives, 300 concubines, and most seriously, the words of 1 Kings 11:4,

"For when Solomon was old his wives turned away his heart after other gods, and his heart was not wholly true to the Lord his God, as was the heart of David his father."

For all that God had given to Solomon, his story ends with him being a long ways from God, worshipping everything but God. 

There is a character in the Bible that I do identify with, although I suspect that the quiz didn't include many of the lesser-known people found in the Bible's storyline.  He is a man who speaks but six words.  Luke 18:13 says,

"But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’"

A man who knows the distance between God and himself.  A man who knows that his sin against God lies in that distance.  A man who knows that God is a God rich in mercy, and who will lavish His mercy on all who turn from their sin and seek Him.

When it comes to the characters of the Bible, I am the tax collector coming to God, seeking His mercy.  Who are 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, January 17, 2016

A motley crew

This morning I preached from Mark 3:7-19.  This passage includes Mark's account of Jesus calling his disciples, mentioning by name the twelve disciples that are also designated apostles.  Mark gives just a few details of these twelve people and if we take what we can learn about them from the other Gospels we find that it is a pretty rag-tag group.  A motley crew.

As far as we know they are a largely uneducated group.  Several of them, Simon, Andrew, James and John must be used to hard work, being fisherman.  Another, Matthew, is a tax collector, and yet Jesus also includes in this inner group a person, Simon the Zealot, for whom it is likely believed that the only good tax collector was a dead tax collector.  That is as if Jesus put a burning candle right next to a box of dynamite.  And there is Judas Iscariot, the betrayer of Jesus.  These are the people Jesus chooses to be his closest students and to lead the work of his ministry in the period after his death.    

In the past I have heard about all the phonies, the hypocrites, that one finds in a church.  I also heard things such as, "If that person is in church then I'm not having anything to do with it."  I imagine that some of that kind of thinking took place among those close disciples of Jesus.  But what they came to learn was it didn’t matter who was included as a part of the group.  What mattered was the leader of the group.  Eleven of those twelve men learned that the one leading them, Jesus, was infinitely more important than anything they thought or felt about the others in the group.  If they put their attention on Jesus and learned from Him then everything else would work itself out, and work itself out in ways that were pleasing to God. 

And that is a good lesson for us to mindful of today.  The church that gathers today is a rag-tag group.  Groups of unique individuals, with each one at times believing that all would be better if "that person" or "those people" would just change.  When we look at the twelve disciples of Jesus' inner circle we see that He knew each one of them and called them by name.  They learned from Him and He shaped them, so that they would go forth and serve Him until their last day.   

A motley crew, in service to the King of Kings.  And that is still the way our King is working today.  To Him be Glory forever.  Amen.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

David Bowie and eternity

David Bowie passed away yesterday and tributes were to be seen all over the internet.  I graduated from high school in 1975 so his music was certainly present in my world, although not to the extent of many other musical groups of that era.  There are a few of his songs so deeply embedded in my memory that I would recognize them in an instant, but I never bought any of his music, so I wouldn't call myself a fan of his.

Among several of the tributes that I saw this comment grabbed my attention:  "Heaven or Hell just got good!"  I'm a pastor so those kinds of things seem to "jump out" at me, and this is a comment that contains both truth and untruth, although perhaps not in the way the author understood it.  My observations are these:

First, the author believes that there is more "out there," i.e. that there is existence that extends beyond the world we live in and see each day.  This is true. The Bible teaches that there is much more than what we see and experience here on earth, and that one day every person who ever lived will know this to be true.  There are people today who empathically deny this but the testimony of the Bible is quite clear.

Second, the author believes that there are two options after a person leaves this world, either Heaven or Hell.  This is also a biblically-grounded truth.  What we might call the final, or eternal, destination of every person on this earth is one of those two places, Heaven or Hell.  A person holding to a plurality of religious belief, i.e. "all faiths are basically the same" would disagree, but the Bible's position on only two eternal destinations is, as above, quite clear.

Third is the idea that humanity is what is at the center of Heaven or Hell, represented by the words "…just got good!"  This is a complete misunderstanding, at best, of the nature of both Heaven and Hell.[1] 

Hell is a place of suffering and wrath.  It is the place for the punishment of sin for all who refused to turn, in this life, from themselves and to seek forgiveness from God through the love of Jesus Christ.  That God would create a place such as this does not make Him evil.  Rather, it maintains His holiness and justice. There is no "good" in this place known as Hell.  Should this be David Bowie's destination he is not making everybody's day better through his prodigious musical talent.

Heaven, on the other hand, is a place of complete joy, a joy that is centered at being in the eternal presence of the one who, alone, is Savior and Lord, Jesus Christ, and praising Him forever. Should this be Bowie's destination, then he is not a celebrity, bringing to the presence of His Lord a musical performance that, by its absence, made Heaven in some way less beautiful.  Rather Bowie's presence in Heaven is more like the picture my wife took of the hoarfrost this morning, making something of rich and near-infinite beauty just a bit richer and more beautiful.     

Isaiah 55:6-7 writes,

“Seek the Lord while he may be found;
    call upon him while he is near;
 let the wicked forsake his way,
    and the unrighteous man his thoughts;
let him return to the Lord, that he may have compassion on him,
    and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon."

If you don't know Jesus as Savior and Lord, then, as Isaiah says, seek Him today, as you turn from your ways to His.  Receive His pardon, know His compassion, and when the time comes when you pass from this world you will know, most certainly in the assurance of His word, the everlasting joy of Heaven.

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.

[1] Read Revelation 19, 20, 21 and 21 for a biblical overview of both Heaven and Hell.

Friday, January 8, 2016

Knowing God

I read a book recently where two sisters, both single and in their 50's, sat down to dinner with their nephew, a 16 year-old they have just met for the first time.  Before eating one sister says to the boy, "We ask no grace at this table but the grace to accept the workings of the Lord, mute and unknowable as He is in His wisdom."  That one brief sentence says a lot about what they believe about God.  They believe that God exists, and that He is wise.  They also believe that God is silent and that it is not possible for humans to know Him.  Is what the author says about God through this woman true?  Yes, and no. 

I believe the first part is true, that God exists.  There are many people in our culture who deny the existence of God.   There are also many people who would say that He exists, but their knowledge of God  stops there and they don't know what else to say about Him.   I also believe that God is wise, but my reasons for that are connected to the other half of the sentence in the book.

Is God silent?  Is He unknowable?  No, to both questions.  If we believe that God exists then all we have to do is to open our eyes and take a look around us to see, in a limited way, how He shows Himself to us.  We can look at nature and see that God loves beauty, order and variety.  We can see that God has limitless imagination in the designs of the things we see in nature. 

But to really know God, to really hear Him speak, we have to open a book, a specific book.  When we open the Bible and begin to read it we see more clearly the character of God.  Looking at nature helps us see His beauty and imagination but it is in His word that He shows us His wisdom, His power, His justice, His love, His holiness.  And those are just a few of the things we learn about Him in His word. 

As this new year begins take a look at the beauty of His world and know that God exists.  Then begin to read His word, the Bible, and gradually come to know God as He truly is.  He is a God who speaks, a God whom we can know, and while the things He teaches and says about himself may at times challenge us, they are things that are always good.  

This piece was also submitted for publication to the Jicarilla Chieftain.

Saturday, January 2, 2016


Last Monday I ran out on Narrow Gauge road.  It was cold out and the road was covered in ice and snow, which on one hand was not exactly unexpected, given the snow and deep cold of Christmas week.  On the other hand it was a bit unusual.  This has not been the kind of weather we have known to this point of our journey in Dulce. 

Many times we have told our family and friends back in the Midwest how the temperature can regularly change 20-30 degrees in a day, so that when snow falls here it often melts away in a few days in any place where the sun shines on it.  We get cold and snow but not the kind that endures, certainly not that endures in the way it does where we lived before.  For all practical purposes we could expect winter in Minnesota to begin the first day of November and last until the end of March.  When the first good storm of the season came you could be fairly certain that snow would be on the ground continually for 3-4 months. 

The present conditions in Dulce are unusual for our experience here, but we have been through many winters that were much worse, and we know that winter, while occasionally unpleasant and inconvenient, doesn't last. 

Thinking about winter as I ran reminded me that the rough seasons of our lives don't go on without end either.  Going a step farther, when we travel through life as followers of Jesus we can have a completely different understanding of all times, good and bad.

First, He promises to always hold those who have come to Him in faith. So we can go through hard times knowing that He is present with us and will never let us go.

Second, because we know that He is with us, we can begin to seek to understand His purposes in our hard times.  There may be something about a particular struggle that He is using to shape us in His image.  At some point during our struggle we need to turn our attention off of ourselves and onto Him, so that we can begin to see and understand His purposes.

And lastly, we need to remember that He has promised His children a future that is better than anything they can imagine.  The seasons of the calendar come and go.  The unrelenting cold and snow will pass to the warmth and beauty of spring and summer, a cycle that repeats over and over.  But the time-line for believers in Jesus extends beyond the horizons of this world and into eternity.  We know that one day that Jesus, our Savior and Lord, will carry us to a place where well be with Him forever.   Revelation 21:3-4 says,

“Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

If you are going through a period of struggle in your life, know that by faith in Jesus you have a sure and certain hope that will not fail.  Ever.

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.