The Perseverance of God’s Royal Priesthood

Sunday’s Message | November 20, 2016
Series | Building A Church From the Ground Up
Message | The Perseverance of God’s Royal Priesthood (8/8)

Acts 19.23-29
23 About that time there arose a great disturbance about the Way. 24 A silversmith named Demetrius, who made silver shrines of Artemis, brought in no little business for the craftsmen. 25 He called them together, along with the workmen in related trades, and said: “Men, you know we receive a good income from this business. 26 And you see and hear how this fellow Paul has convinced and led astray large numbers of people here in Ephesus and in practically the whole province of Asia. He says that man-made gods are no gods at all. 27 There is danger not only that our trade will lose its good name, but also that the temple of the great goddess Artemis will be discredited, and the goddess herself, who is worshiped throughout the province of Asia and the world, will be robbed of her divine majesty.”
28 When they heard this, they were furious and began shouting: “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” 29 Soon the whole city was in an uproar.


“Persecution is Satan’s reaction against Christians who choose to not keep silent about their faith. If we are keeping our faith to ourselves, why would Satan want to wake that up? Where we find a great harvest, we find a great persecution; where we find little harvest, we find little persecution.”  |   Nik Ripken

There is nothing like being unappreciated to put the brakes on good work.

When we know our boss likes our work, we do good work. When we are not appreciated, we tend to not work up to our full potential. The problem is, how do we know we’re appreciated? How can we tell the boss accepts our work and that we are useful in what we do? For many of us, the paycheck says it all. For others, the benefits differ: our personal relationship with the owners of the business may play a part, or there may be health benefits, or a very liberal time-off policy might give you the incentive to work because you know your this company – these people – value your time, as well. The signs of being appreciated are powerful motivators, and our perseverance in a lot of things depends on what we think the payoff is going to be.

The Work is Always Worth It

So, what about Paul and his coworkers in the Gospel of Christ? Some might conclude that working for the gospel of Christ is simply not worth the effort. The evangelists go out to preach Christ and a hockey match breaks out! Their lives may have been in danger. All the  work they accomplished before may have been in jeopardy – would people leave the faith if they thought it might bring on riots? What Paul and his coworkers understood is that, the work of the Gospel is worth whatever the cost. Practically, that only makes sense if Christ is not just worth something big – He is everything.1

35 So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. 36 You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised.”  |  Hebrews 10.35-36

“Wait; even if I lose?” Good question. Maybe the Gospel has led you to vote differently this year than your friends or family expected, and maybe you’re not relishing sitting down with these people this year for a happy Thanksgiving dinner. Maybe the Gospel has led you to walk away from opportunities that people close to you expected you to take. When the explanation of “why not?” leads to Jesus our Savior, is the pressure on those relationships worth it? When it comes time to give a reason for the hope you have to those who you disagree with, will Christ be enough?

Is It Worth It?

The basic question for consumer-minded Americans almost always is, “Is it worth it?” Jesus has a great way of answering that. Only one verse says it all; The Parable of the Hidden Treasure in Matthew 13.44: “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.” Yes, he said sell everything to buy the field with the treasure, and the man still had joy. Yes, it was a complete exchange. Yes, it was worth it.

The basic idea has two sides: 1) We put all our hopes with Christ. No-thing and no-one is left in this world that holds our hopes and fears. But also, 2) Because Jesus himself is worth more than all of that. He is not only “enough,” He is everything. A life lived in a faith that may bring persecution is also a life of faith held by a Savior that beats death for you. He will keep you and never lose you.2 So, yes, He’s worth it.

How Do I Work As A Royal Priest of God?

1…let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.”  |  Hebrews 12.1

This is not an easy world to live in. Our times are getting darker, it seems. There is less certainty and less trust between family, between friends, between black lives and white lives, between the people and their government (which is, actually, people). When jobs are scarce and trust is thin, how do I keep running the race?

The message attached to this recap below walks through the Armor of God found in Ephesians 6.12-13. Feel free to listen, but here I am also going to boil down a couple of points from Jesus’ call to persevere in faith from John 14.6: “I Am the Way, The Truth and The Life.

The Way

Jesus lived by a single rule when He was with us: he obeyed His Father in Heaven. Maybe you have grown up thinking that obeying God in everything is “too churchy.” Maybe it’s for other people: super-Christians like pastors (yes, I’m laughing). But Jesus meant us to follow Him:3 to who he loves in the way that He loves them. He is The Word of God, remember, and He showed us the way of being close to God in this world is pretty simple: obey Him.4 This way of life continually puts God’s interests ahead of our own, and it makes us priests of a sort: it makes us people who point others to Christ. It puts God’s interests ahead of our politicians, our music and movie stars, our advertising, our bullies, our abusers and our fantasies. If you’re looking for a way not to get lost in this crazy-upon-crazy world, follow The Way. We may end up starting a riot, but we’ll be in God’s hands while we do it.

The Truth

Truth seems to be in short supply these days. Did Russia really mess with our election? Did I really get that job because I earned it? Does _________ really love me? There is no end to the questions that we cannot answer – and it takes a toll. Jesus is the one who stands on God’s Word as God’s Word and claims that you can trust him. As a Christian, part of “The Way” is “The Truth” – we do not shy away from the truth, nor do we do things that make others doubt our true intentions. We promote truth in our home, school, and our business by not lying. We promote truth by not putting our interests ahead of others. People are much more willing to trust us – and our work as priests leading people to Christ – when we are honest. The best part is, since Christ frees us from sin and holds our future, we are free to be honest. How much is that worth to your heart when you go to bed at night?

The Life

These all kind of intersect. So, when you are free to honestly live like Jesus lives, you have life. Not just a good life, but “abundant” life. Fulfilling. Complete. When God leads us in a life that is completely satisfying, we are not as easily led to believe that a political candidate, new boyfriend, or better-paying job is going to save us from our problems. When our life is full of Jesus himself, it will show others how worthless some choices are in this world. Again, it may start a riot, but when Jesus holds your life it cannot be taken away.

Happy Thanksgiving!

If there’s something to be thankful for, it’s that Jesus is The Way, The Truth and The Life. Every celebration – like the one tomorrow – is just a small part of the way we will be able to celebrate the Christ who saves us from death and hell in the future. If you have an opportunity to celebrate Thanksgiving tomorrow, do so with the hope Jesus bought for you. Keep running and keep persevering, because Christ runs with you and keeps you persevering. He is worth everything, and all things will be made right when he comes again.


1  Revelation 22.12-13:12Behold, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to everyone according to what he has done. 13 I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.” Also, Colossians 1.15-17:15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.”
2  John 6.39-40:39 And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all that he has given me, but raise them up at the last day. 40 For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.”
3  Luke 9.23: Then he said to them all: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.”
4  John 14.21: “Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him.”

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Speaking of Sunday: Flipping the Switch

Sunday’s Message | September 25, 2016
Series: Building A Church From the Ground Up
Message: Flipping the Switch (2/8)

Acts 2.1-13
1 When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. 2 Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3 They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.

5 Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. 6 When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard them speaking in his own language. 7 Utterly amazed, they asked: “Are not all these men who are speaking Galileans? 8 Then how is it that each of us hears them in his own native language? 9 Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome 11 (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!” 12 Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?”

13 Some, however, made fun of them and said, “They have had too much wine.”


The Spirit will lead you into the way of the cross, as He led Jesus to the cross, and that is definitely not a safe or pretty or comfortable place to be. The Holy Spirit of God will mold you into the person you were made to be. – Francis Chan

What were you made to be? I ask myself that same question just about once a week – usually in the middle of the week when my deadlines are starting to break and my expectations for the week are running away like malicious gremlins bent on destruction.

So, I sit down with my Bible and a cup of espresso and ask God, “Is this what I’m supposed to be doing?” Now, I’ve been ordained in pastoral ministry for six years. I guess a lot of people might ask, “isn’t that good enough?” Hey, when I was working in a graphic design studio ten years ago, I would have asked the same question. “Really – isn’t it kind of sown-up for pastors? Of course they’re serving Christ and His Kingdom! Not like us 50-hour-a-week grunts just trying to pay mortgage and keep our kids flush in Fruit Loops and iPods!”

Ah, hindsight. As I get older, I have more hind to sight, and I have a different set of glasses to use when looking. One thing that hasn’t changed in the years between shifting from design & marketing to pastoral ministry is: the nature of my Christian anointing.

An Anointing for Ministry vs. Super Power for Super-Christians

God often does something for a specific purpose. Say He gathers thousands of people in one place on earth and then pours out His Spirit on a few of them, in order to promote the good news of Jesus as Savior. That should mean something for us; not just in how we know God but how we relate to him and how we serve His Kingdom purpose. The point of Pentecost gives us some perspective on our daily life: if we are Christians, then we should be more defined by how we serve the Gospel of Christ than by our dreams, desires, schooling, income, address or even our family.

“Wait a minute – you’re the minister. You went to school  and got a fancy degree to be a minister. I get up wondering if I’m going to catch the bus on time.”

If you and I have the Holy Spirit by faith in Jesus as our Savior, then you and I were called to Christ and anointed to be His ministers. Again, I can hear your thoughts: “Wait a minute – you’re the minister. You went to school  and got a fancy degree to be a minister. I get up wondering if I’m going to catch the bus on time. You get paid to read theology all day; I (barely) get paid to deal with angry people all day.” If that’s what you’re thinking, you’re not entirely wrong. But, here’s something else to think about:

Out of the 120a people in the first Christian Church of Jerusalem, only 12 were “Apostles” with the power and authority of Christ to preach and teach. Only 12 were professional ministers. What do you think the other 108 people did on a daily basis?

Take Doctor Lucas, the writer of the Gospel of Luke and Acts. We know that he was a doctorb, and most likely he trained for several years to be one. While a Christian, having the Holy Spirit and assured of the forgiveness of sins, we have no record that he healed people miraculously. We don’t even know if he spoke in tongues or prophesied or any of the “super” things Christians are supposed to do. Luke did his regular doctoring according to the training he had. But, he also lost his life for Christ – he went with the Apostles Peter and Paul on various trips and recorded their preaching. The Spirit of God made Doc’ Lucas a servant to the Cross of Christ.

Later, in the Bible we read about Lydia (a fashion buyer), Onesimus (a slave), and many others who had regular, everyday jobs, but became more defined by God’s work in the Gospel of Christ than by the regular problems of their day job – even though they didn’t completely abandon their day job.

A Unique Opportunity

Our lives boil down to a lot of either/or choices. Lots of times, I make these decisions based on how they will make me happy. I wonder how many decisions go by that, had I made the decision to become more involved with the Gospel – with my job and my family – I would be fulfilling my anointing. And because of that, I’d have been even happier. What if we are missing out on a greater purpose and happiness by running from our anointing to be ministers of the Gospel? What if that’s the purpose that fulfills us like nothing else?

I may have talent to be an artist and a public speaker, but I think I question my purpose less when I spend more time trying to live out my anointing in the Holy Spirit to serve God in “a royal priesthood”c – wherever, however, and whenever God defines that.

a  Acts 1.15
b  Colossians 4.14
c  I Peter 2.9

 


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Speaking of Sunday: We Delight Our Creator By Suffering Faithfully

Sunday’s Message | August 7, 2016
Series: Knowing God’s Heart
Message: We Delight Our Creator By Suffering Faithfully

Psalm 11
For the director of music. Of David.
1  In the Lord, I take refuge.
How then can you say to me:
“Flee like a bird to your mountain.
2  For look, the wicked bend their bows;
they set their arrows against the strings
to shoot from the shadows
at the upright in heart.
3  When the foundations are being destroyed,
what can the righteous do?”
the moon and the stars,
which you have set in place,
4  The Lord is in his holy temple;
the Lord is on his heavenly throne.
He observes the sons of men;
his eyes examine them.
5  The Lord examines the righteous,
but the wicked and those who love violence
his soul hates.
6  On the wicked he will rain
fiery coals and burning sulfur;
a scorching wind will be their lot.
7  For the Lord is righteous,
he loves justice;
upright men will see his face.


The American culture revolves around insulating people from suffering. And, despite the news, we really do a pretty good job of it. I’m not from a particularly well-off family, but I have never (without parental punishment) gone to bed hungry. I have had my choice of personally-fulfilling experiences to choose from as I grew up. I am currently serving my second congregation as an ordained minister of the Christian Reformed Church without violent reprisal from my government or other faith groups. My wife still loves me and my kids are not in jail. I’ve grown up with the freedom to make choices about my life that have ensured my comfort, and they’ve (mostly) paid off.

So, what happens when the comfort disappears? What happens when “the foundations are being destroyed?” The love of someone close comes to an end; the comfort of home falls to pieces or the security of your savings vanishes. “What can the righteous to do?” Like the guy questioning David in Psalm 11, we sometimes ask  what our righteousness is worth if we can’t hold it up to God and expect him to protect us from suffering. Let’s consider two different aspects of the situation:
1. What exactly is the Christian’s righteousness, and;
2. What does God do with it for his glory?

“In the Lord I take refuge.”

In Psalm 11, everything is breaking loose in King David’s life. People are shooting at him from the shadows (literally) and the promise of God to keep him and his sons as kings of Israel forever seems like it’s crumbling away. David says, “In the I AM WHO I AM, I take refuge.” And that, it seems, has made all the difference. Much like The Road Less Traveled, David has a personal readjustment to the dangerous world he lives in. This is a relationship with God in the attitude of our heart and mind that doesn’t change the outward situation as much as it changes our heartfelt experience of “suffering.”

I’m not going to list what “foundations” are being destroyed around Christians today. After a while, these sermons begin to sound like the old man telling kids to pull up their pants  and stay off his lawn. I’m guessing that you don’t need help identifying what’s causing suffering today. The point is, this week – today – you can know God’s peace in the middle of suffering through faith that God is doing something to make Christ glorious through a really bad time.

“What does it mean to ‘take refuge’ in the Lord? How do I actually do something like that?”

Psalm 28

Wait: we’re on Psalm 11! Yes, we are. But, David describes some things about his faith in Psalm 28.6-9 that are wrapped up in the very first verse of Psalm 11. How do you take refuge (find safety) in the Covenant God? Psalm 28 has a couple of good ways of visualizing it.

Cry for Mercy
28.6 says that the I AM WHO I AM hears Davids yell for mercy. We have admit to God that, without him hearing us and reaching into our situation to save us, we’re as good as dead [Ps. 28.1-2]. It is God’s merciful intervention into our lives that breaks our suffering.

A Trusting Heart
Do you trust God’s promise in Christ to “never leave you or forsake you”? [Deut. 31.6; Matt. 28.20] The idea of “trust” is simple to explain, but harder to make happen. Example: In 28.7, David compares God to a shield. Simple comparison: shields blocks stuff that hurts you. If you really believe the shield is going to block the stuff that hurts you, then you hold it up and hide behind it. It’s the same kind of trust: do you really believe God will do what he has promised? Trust is essential for peace in the midst of suffering.

Express Your Joy
Have you ever given someone a particularly strange reindeer sweater for Christmas and not received the look of excitement and joy you were hoping for? The same is with our trust in God. Trusting God to work miracles is not just brain-based. Our hearts will be moved to joy, or else it’s not God we’re dealing with. Are you joyful about God’s mercy and protection in your life? Betcha it’s worth a song or two.

Let the Shepherd Lead You
A lot of people know about Psalm 23. David was a shepherd, and so he composes a song to God calling him the shepherd… Well, David keeps on using that analogy. The thing about God being the shepherd: that means that you and I are sheep. Wooly, stinky and a little dense. Sheep don’t always know where the shepherd is leading them, but they follow the shepherd’s voice just the same. Remember: Jesus is “The Good Shepherd.” [John 10.11] Sometimes the road is hard, or dry, or full of rough and possibly life-threatening terrain – but the good shepherd proves his qualities by safely bringing the sheep home. Go where he leads, even if it is through suffering.

What Can The Righteous Do?

If you’ve expected me to tell you that God will remove all your suffering if you trust him, then you’re probably disappointed at this point. I’m not gonna lie: this life stuff is hard. David says as much in many of the psalms. Life with Christ is not free from suffering. Life with Christ is free from the anxiousness, worry and fear that often comes with suffering.

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds,” – James 1.2

Remember Psalm 23? There’s that part where David sings, “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.” [Ps. 23.5] Notice: God does not remove David’s enemies. Instead, God prepares a rich banquet for David when his enemies think they have him cornered. David should be sweating, crying and overall hiding in a corner from fear. But, because the Lord is his “strength” and his “shield” [Ps. 28.7], David can follow his shepherd through some pretty rough times – even through “the valley of the shadow of death.” [Ps. 23.4]

For the Christian, our “righteousness” isn’t really ours – it comes from Jesus himself. He is our righteousness that fulfills God’s covenant [Rom. 3.22; II Corin. 5.21]. So, you and I really can’t tell God how good we’ve been and expect him to tally up our goodness and say, “Wow, you’re right! You you’ve been too good to lose your job!” Something amazing happens when we’re following Jesus and resting in his leading and power: since our righteousness is all from him, he uses his righteousness in us to demonstrate his glory and power! In fact, Jesus’ friends John and Peter considered it a privilege to get beaten up by the ruling council in Jerusalem because of how they served Christ! Still with me?

Christ will demonstrate his strength in his brothers and sisters to show others how worthy he is of their worship. But, that requires us to be in a position of needing Christ’s power. For many people, the suffering of cancer, a bad marriage, a hopeless situation – even abuse and personal loss is an excuse not to have faith. But, if Christians suffer faithfully, we can demonstrate to future brothers and sisters in Christ that there is something infinitely worse than our worst suffering and something infinitely better than a comfortable life. Certainly, not having Christ remove our unholiness will result in something worse than the worst suffering we can experience on earth. And likewise, having Christ and his righteousness simply by faith is infinitely greater than all the riches a comfortable life could enjoy in this life.

Your trials this week may be an opportunity from God to show the strength of Christ. He’ll show it to you and to the people around you, if you cry out to God, trust him, and joyfully follow The Good Shepherd. If we must suffer, brothers and sisters, suffer faithfully.


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I Am Blessed By Resting in God’s Gifts

Sunday’s Sermon | April 24, 2016
Series: The Blessing of God & The Man of Psalm 1
Sermon: I Am Blessed by Resting in God’s Gifts

Psalm 1.1
1 Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
2 but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night.
3 He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers.
4 The wicked are not so, but are like chaff that the wind drives away.

Mark 15.25-32
25 And it was the third hour when they crucified him. 26 And the inscription of the charge against him read, “The King of the Jews.” 27 And with him they crucified two robbers, one on his right and one on his left. 29 And those who passed by derided him, wagging their heads and saying, “Aha! You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, 30 save yourself, and come down from the cross!” 31 So also the chief priests with the scribes mocked him to one another, saying, “He saved others; he cannot save himself. 32 Let the Christ, the King of Israel, come down now from the cross that we may see and believe.” Those who were crucified with him also reviled him.


Are you satisfied with what God has given you today?

Depending on your day, your employment status, your family situation or your tax refund, this may seem like a loaded question. Honestly, we are not a bunch of really patient people. I have had days where, at the first sign of a hangnail I throw my hands up and scream Psalm 13: “How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?” Maybe you can relate.

In fact, I have been so unsatisfied with God’s generosity at times that, when God steps in to really prune my life down to essentials, I have no way to handle it. I have to take a day in prayer and wait for the Holy Spirit to reorient my selfishness so that I have a way to understand what he’s doing.

I know what you’re thinking, right? “He’s a pastor! This stuff doesn’t happen to them! They recite all of their memorized scripture while floating 2 feet above the ground and teaching all 12 of their kids the Catechism word-for-word.” I know – it’s a tough image to live up to, and so I’m not really sorry for shattering it. But it’s essential that we not deceive ourselves on how weak we can be. I mean, look at the Priests and the Scribes at the crucifixion: they had forgotten more scripture at this point than I have yet learned, so they should have recognized God’s gifts staring them in the face. From the cross. Bleeding. Dying for them. But they made fun of God instead.

“God is most glorified in me when I am most satisfied in him.”
– John Piper

There’s a point at which our suffering causes us to get really angry. And, honestly, I haven’t a lot of reason to claim that ground. I’ve had it pretty good my whole life. Not in comparison to kids who got a Lexus on their 16th birthday or people who get promoted because they’re tall and they smile really, really well. But, I’ve had a good life so far. Better than most – even Christians. In fact, most Christians in history have been treated pretty poorly. Especially in the beginning of the Church, it was tough to be a Christian – even painful.

We all have those great verses that we like to quote at High School graduations: “I know the plans I have for you; plans to prosper you and not to harm you.” “”The Lord has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy..” “”Delight yourself in the LORD; and He will give you the desires of your heart.” And, these are good verses. They are true. But, in what way? On Facebook I saw an illustration of Christians facing lions in the Roman Colosseum with Jeremiah 29.11 pasted over it: “I know the plans I have for you…” and that brought my morning to a screeching halt. I had to ask myself how often I had misused Jeremiah 29 myself. Obviously, God gave some Christians over to Rome as martyrs – real live (and then dead) martyrs. He does it today. In China, Cambodia, India – our brothers and sisters in Christ face pain and death in order to prove to the World that it cannot defeat God. Jesus is a savior more powerful than lions or fire or death. Or bad sermons. Or unloving family members. Or bankruptcy. Or sexuality. Or doubt. Or (this is your fill-in-the-blank moment).

Paul tells us this much in his letter to Rome: “neither death nor life, nor angels nor demons…” And yet, I have often forgotten. I have, at times, unwittingly doubted the good things of God and mocked him for his “adverse providence.” What is that? God’s adverse providence is that stuff that God does which we don’t like, but which glorifies Jesus more than something I’d rather have. I’ve seen God break off relationships with family and friends, when I thought winning the Powerball would give me sooooo much more opportunity to glorify Jesus. I’ve had pain stare right at me and I’ve had the audacity to mock God in his goodness to me. I was not blessed in that. It was only after I saw the good that came through the pain that I understood – what looked like a loss was a gain for Christ in my life.

And so, I find that mocking God is really easy to do when I’m focused on, well, me. When I am the center of my universe I don’t really care if God’s thoughts are higher than my thoughts or not – I’m too into me to worry about the glorious, all-powerful Creator to think that he wouldn’t bow to my wishes. Afterward, after repenting of that, I learn that I am a much better mirror of God’s glory when I am satisfied with whatever he gives. When the loss of the Cross is really the greatest gain in my life, I am on the path of a faith that makes all other things come into a kind of ‘peace.’ And that, I find, is a blessing. I am blessed when I do not mock God, but I am fully satisfied in his gifts for that day – lions or cake; pain or Powerball; adverse or blatantly joyful. I can be satisfied in what God gives me this day – not because it feels like a cold beer in the shade by the lake – because God means it demonstrate the glory of Christ in me this day. In that Spirit, I can sing joyfully in any situation: In my life, Lord, be glorified. Be glorified. In my life, Lord, be glorified, today.


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The Purple Reign Ends | Goodbye, Prince

For the record: I write this as a fan. The death of Prince Rogers Nelson has hit me – and many of my friends – like the proverbial ton of bricks. I did not start yesterday with an update of Prince’s health and his daily itinerary. Like many people, I had come to see Prince as a semi-permanent essence of American musical culture – much less a man vulnerable to deteriorating health. Prince simply is; or…was.

A lot has happened since I first imbibed The Minneapolis Sound. I was allowed to graduate high school (it was a 50/50 shot). I have been given venues for my efforts as an artist. A woman of equal parts exquisite beauty and practical wisdom was deceived by God to accept my proposal of marriage. I am now a father worrying over children as old as I was when my eyes and ears awed over Purple Rain. I have been ordained in the Christian Reformed Church as a Minister of The Word. It’s been a long, weird story so far. And Prince, like the Purple Haze he emerged from, has always clung to the edges of the stage.

As a Minister of the Word who has walked as an artist and with artists, I value the creative power that was given to Prince by the triune God.

There will be no shortage of articles glorifying Prince’s attributes: artistic vision, creative passion, musical (and marketing) genius, not to mention his absolute technical precision. These are the qualities that artists and music lovers like myself, and real musicians like my brother, all came to appreciate and leverage in our own pursuits. Prince became a unique but continuously reincarnated icon because of his fans – we who value creativity nurtured his as much as he nurtured ours. This cyclical relationship has come to an end, and many are hurt – if not crushed – by the sudden stop at the end of the ride.

As a Minister of the Word who has walked as an artist and with artists, I value the creative power that was given to Prince by the triune God. Some would say that’s blasphemous, considering how Prince (especially in his early career) may be singlehandedly responsible for casting untold youth into the open arms of hedonism. Now, you may take that as a self-righteous, Jesus freak’s hypocritical judgment of a great man. I would take it as a confession-of-sorts, because I was one of the untold youth. Before my conversion to love Christ I loved the carnal freedom that Prince sung – or, preached with both reckless abandon and skilled articulation. Even after being awakened to love Jesus I was still confused about Christ’s holiness, so Christopher Tracy’s paisley-plush universe still called to me, even after losing its its ecstatic promise.

Prince was never my savior. He concocted a magic that nurtured my lust and coddled my frustration, but he could never save me from myself or the world around me.

Today, many gather around purple lights and replay youthful images in their minds. The soundtrack of this reminisce is a neon-funk fusion of Jimi Hendrix and Charlie Chaplin; Little Richard and Bob Dylan; James Brown and Aerosmith; Jimmy Swaggart (Jerry Lee Lewis’ cousin!) and Parliament (P-Funk, not the gents in London). The great talent that can bring all of this together and make it unique is, as they are saying, legendary. Prince’s music will be played for decades to come. The icon will endure, but will the man?

In the wake of such a great talent, we expect a great man to inherit a great place, as if God is just as in awe of Prince as we were; as if Prince’s prolific genius is an acceptable substitute for the righteousness and holiness of a crucified and resurrected Jesus. Certainly, we wish for good things like, “He lives on” and “Rest in Peace.” But…does he? Does he live with Christ today because his heart rested with the only one who is “the resurrection and the life”?

Maybe you read this as nit-picky and possibly insensitive so close to Prince’s death but, Prince was never my savior. He concocted a magic that nurtured my lust and coddled my frustration with an unjust world, but he could never save me from myself or the world around me. He could make me feel better about my sin, but he could never take it away.

It’s not blasphemous to credit God with Prince’s talent – where else would he get it? And certainly, Prince’s sin is often our own: God’s gifts are not always used to reflect his glory. What has been created in Christ, by Christ and for Christ is not always returned back to him righteously. However, Prince’s passing actually gives us an opportunity greater than Prince himself was: today we can recognize the real savior. We can use the gifts we’ve been given – heartbeat, breath, imagination, desire – to love the Great Father who gives a Great Savior in the death of a cross and the power of a resurrection to forgive our sin completely. Today, we can turn to Jesus as the one who overcomes the sin and death that takes away our icons all too quickly.

Behold The Lamb of God | Cain & Abel

Sunday’s Message  |  February 28, 2016

Genesis 4.3-7
3 In the course of time Cain brought to the Lord an offering of the fruit of the ground, 4 and Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions. And the Lord had regard for Abel and his offering, 5 but for Cain and his offering he had no regard. So Cain was very angry, and his face fell. 6 The Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? 7 If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.”


What will you give to God today?

Everyone gives God something. Some people give God their faith as a gift back to him. Some people give God their unbelief as independence from him. Some people give God their children’s performance or their spouse’s success as proof of their own value. Some people give God their personal successes – in school, on the field or in the office. In all of these things, what we give God is often determined by how we love him.

Out of love for God, Abel gave an example of what God had promised to him – a living sacrifice. Out of separation from God, Cain gave an example of his success to prove that God should love him.

When we try to find our personal value today, we can’t be valued higher than how God sees us: beloved sinners, not worthy of a sacrifice, but needing one to be reconciled to our God. Because God loves – not because we deserve it – God sacrifices himself to cover our sin.

Abel knew this. Abel knew his sin deserved death – after all, that’s what God had told his mom and dad in the Garden. But since Abel was born, and was allowed to exist and was allowed to bring an offering to God, there must be grace somewhere in God’s plan. Mom and Dad were kicked out of the Garden, but they were promised a redeemer – a son would come and crush the head of the snake that destroyed their lives. The redeemer would set them free, but he would be bitten doing it.

Cain took a different look at the situation. Take note: Cain believed in God. He wasn’t unbelieving, he was unfaithful. Cain saw God as someone to impress; someone to be bargained with. Cain brought God his own best work, expecting God to bless him for his excellence. In the end, Cain was more faithful of his own work than he was of God’s work.

And then there’s Abel. He doesn’t offer God examples of why God should love him. Abel – a “saint” still “sinning” daily – does his work under the eyes of God each day offers back to God a gift faithful of what God will do for him: a perfect substitute will die in his place. Abel offers God a “better sacrifice”1 because he has faith that God will do what he promised.

Thank God our lamb has been sacrificed! Thank God the snake has been crushed! And even in his death, Jesus won our victory over Satan, because after dying Jesus had authority to rise from death. Death has been defeated – we are free. We are free, as “saints” still “sinning” daily. We are free from the pressure of our performance. We are free from the idols of success and we no longer have to be “the best” to prove that God should love us. We are free to offer God the only faith that makes a difference – faith in Jesus as our lamb sacrificed for our sin. And in that faith, God will work through our great achievements and not-so-great ones to demonstrate that he is building what we never could: the friendship lost in the Garden is being restored.


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1 Hebrews 11.4: By faith Abel offered to God ia more acceptable sacrifice than Cain, through which he was commended as righteous, God commending him by accepting his gifts. And through his faith, though he died, he still speaks.

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Behold The Lamb of God | The Garden

Sunday’s Message  |  February 21, 2016

Genesis 3.14-15
14 The Lord God said to the serpent,
“Because you have done this,
indent cursed are you above all livestock
and above all beasts of the field;
on your belly you shall go,
and fdust you shall eat
all the days of your life.”
15 “I will put enmity between you and the woman,
and between your offspring5 and gher offspring;
hhe shall bruise your head,
and you shall bruise his heel.”

f Isaiah 65.25; Micah 7.17.
5 Hebrew seed; so throughout Genesis. This is singular.
g Isaiah 7.14; Micah 5.3; Matthew 1.23, 1.25; Luke 1.34, 1:35; Galatians 4.4; 1 Timothy 2.15.
h Romans 16.20; Hebrews 2.14; Revelation 20.1–3, 20.10


If you’re like me (which I pray you’re not), Genesis is not the first place in the Bible you turn when trying to find some sort of hope in a dark time, or an insight into God’s will when you’re overwhelmed and confused. Genesis is the old stuff, the basic stuff. My problems (so my problems tell me), usually require deeper theology: maybe something from the deep prayers of the Psalms, or certainly insight from Paul will reveal a secret that I’ve been missing in a particularly disturbing time.

At the beginning of the world being cursed and falling apart, my God jumped between me and the snake that bit me.

But, Genesis is there for a big reason. When I think my current situation is beyond help, it helps me to know that God saw me in my mess at the beginning. At the beginning of sin, at the beginning of the world being cursed and falling apart, my God saw me. When Satan took the keys of the Kingdom out of our hands, our God promised to put his own life on the line to save mine. “He shall strike your head, and you shall strike his heel.”1 It’s all there in Genesis. The Lamb of God died so that I could live with God. The single Lamb of God put himself in the way of Satan so that my sin today could die with him.

Fast-forward to today (which is what I do with most of history, unfortunately), and I can trust my God. My life now is not what it will be, now that Jesus has crushed the head of my sin. If Genesis is true, then Jesus has been preparing my grace much longer than I’ve been sinning. Which is good for me, because then he has much more experience with my situation than I do: despair, pressure, worry, loss. God’s entire solution for our darkness is rooted in despair – he gives up his only Son to die – in exchange for my only opportunity for joy.

God’s been busy long before I was. God is strong enough and loving enough to bring me through this one open door in the middle of a dark world. “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”Be enthralled by him. Trusting Jesus to leave my sin in his grave is the one way to the life I really need – and because of that our God gets all the glory of everyone who has lived or will ever live. God has given a light in our darkness. He is Jesus: my Lamb and my God.


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1 Genesis 3.15. The word for “bruise” [ESV] and “crush” or “strike” [NIV] is the same Hebrew word, “shoot” and literally means, “to rub off or rub away; to grind.” This suggests that both the snake and the one crushing the snake will be “rubbed out” or killed. The Gospel is in the fact that Jesus is not only a man that gives up his perfect life for sinful people, but is also God who has the authority to raise himself from death three days later.

2 John 1.29

Speaking of Sunday: “Hand This Man Over to Satan” 2: Marriage & Sex

Hand This Man Over to Satan: Marriage & Sex
Sunday’s Message  |  October 11, 2015

1 Corinthians 5
     1 It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that does not occur even among pagans: A man has his father’s wife. 2 And you are proud! Shouldn’t you rather have been filled with grief and have put out of your fellowship the man who did this? 3 Even though I am not physically present, I am with you in spirit. And I have already passed judgment on the one who did this, just as if I were present. 4 When you are assembled in the name of our Lord Jesus and I am with you in spirit, and the power of our Lord Jesus is present, 5 hand this man over to Satan, so that the sinful nature may be destroyed and his spirit saved on the day of the Lord.
     6 Your boasting is not good. Don’t you know that a little yeast works through the whole batch of dough? 7 Get rid of the old yeast that you may be a new batch without yeast—as you really are. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. 8 Therefore let us keep the Festival, not with the old yeast, the yeast of malice and wickedness, but with bread without yeast, the bread of sincerity and truth.
     9 I have written you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— 10 not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world. 11 But now I am writing you that you must not associate with anyone who calls himself a brother but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or a slanderer, a drunkard or a swindler. With such a man do not even eat.
     12 What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? 13 God will judge those outside. “Expel the wicked man from among you.”


Do you feel loved this week?

If you’re like most people, that feeling comes and goes. One week is more full of love than another. And, it’s not always determined by those who we seek love from. Sometimes in our days when we feel the least loved, it’s not because people aren’t loving us. Sometimes, it’s because the stress of the week, the stress in other people’s lives and the fear of our future get in the way. It’s possible to be loved, and not feel it. It can be worse when it’s our own performance that gets in the way. Some weeks it’s hard to feel loved when we know we’re not that lovable.

One of our natural reactions is to avoid God when we just don’t feel lovable. It’s been ingrained in our flesh since Adam & Eve: hide from God. We will even convince ourselves that love for another person is more important than loving God – that someone else will give us love without judgment, or attachment without jealousy. More specifically, we often don’t seek out 1 Corinthians 5 as Scripture to reinforce the fact that God, above all others, loves his Church – even before we were lovable.  There’s a judgment in 1 Corinthians 5; there’s a hard situation that just doesn’t sound like love to us – especially when love is hard feel.

The good news is, 1 Corinthians 5 is actually about God’s love for his people.

God is passionate about his people. The LORD is a jealous for the love of his people.1 His love for them is eternal.2 Those who the Father draws to the Son cannot be lost,3 and those who trust Jesus for atonement will not see God’s wrath.4 This God is so concerned for his people, that he does not want even one of them to mistakenly lead others away. You who have faith in Christ as the Son of God and your atoning sacrifice: you are so precious to the God of the universe that Jesus would rather separate out someone from the church who was confusing God’s love rather than allow their confusion to ruin the love of others.

God is passionate about his people.

Notice 2 things above in chapter 5. 1) The man to be handed over “to Satan” is a believer. God is not saying he takes away the man’s eternal forgiveness, just that this man needed to be excused from the group of believers while he was confusing the love of God for sin. God will not tolerate this kind of blatant, unrepentant sin in his Church. He loves you too much to say, ‘Hey, let this guy go. It’s okay.’ God is so passionate about having us know him and love him for who he is, that he doesn’t take it lightly when people confuse his love for sinfulness.
2) God does this for our benefit. God knows we’re weak. He walks with us through the daily struggles and knows what it’s like to have people’s expectations crush you and to have your hopes cut short. He is not about to excuse people (even believers) when they put unholy notions of sin and grace in your heart. God would rather remove them for a time than allow their sin to “work through the whole batch of dough.”

God talks tough because he loves much. Neither our marriage nor our singleness will satisfy the longing for love we really need, because no sinful person can love us as purely as a holy God can. A guy who really doesn’t care if other men romance his wife doesn’t really love her. God is not that guy. He doesn’t laugh it off. He takes the side of building up love and removing sin from his people. Sometimes, this may not feel like love. But even when it doesn’t feel like it, Jesus still stands by his Father, having beaten death in order to protect his bride. Be assured, even from 1 Corinthians 5, you are loved.

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1  Deuteronomy 4.24.
2  Psalm 136.
3  John 10.28.
4  1 Thessalonians 5.9.

Speaking of Sunday: “The Successor of Peter”

How Should Christians Understand the Pope’s Visit?
Matthew 16.13-20 

Sunday’s Message | September 27, 2015

13 Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” 14 And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” 15 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16 Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” 17 And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. 18 And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” 20 Then he strictly charged the disciples to tell no one that he was the Christ.


By now, Pope Francis has left America, and we are still talking about him: where he went, what he said and what he meant by what he said…and didn’t say. I can imagine that this may go on for a while, especially with the latest development. Pope Francis: champion of the poor, espouser of socialist economics, promoter of environmental activism, met with a conservative icon of opposition to same-sex marriage, Kim Davis.

The Pope keeps us guessing, even after he’s gone. And in a way, this is a good thing for our faith because as Christians, we are driven to the Word of God as our rule of faith in life. As Christians, we are called to follow the Way, and him only. Only through Scripture can we know if our Church leaders are actually shepherding sheep or merely (as Charles Spurgeon said) “amusing goats.”1

On Sunday I made the case from Scripture that, while Peter probably did have some special place among the Apostles, at no point did Jesus give Peter or a particular congregation an office an authority that was transferrable. It was Jesus’ Father who revealed the truth of Jesus to Peter and it was Jesus who confirmed it and proclaimed Simon as “rock”, but Peter himself could not – and did not – pass that kind of authority to another. It is still the Father today who reveals his Son to us through his Spirit. And we, who know Christ as our shepherd, hear him in joy through the teaching of the Apostles in Scripture. When someone – anyone – champions the Apostles’ testimony of Christ, we rejoice. And, when someone – anyone – dismisses or makes fun of the Apostles’ testimony of Christ, we mourn. We do this because Jesus is our Way, Truth and our very Life. All of our life and love and passion and prayers are to be caught up in this Christ.

So what are we to do with a Pope? Especially with a really nice guy like Pope Francis, but who claims to be the leader of all Christians because of the authority he believes he inherits from Simon Peter in a succession of Roman church leaders? We go to Scripture. You and I must turn on the light of God’s Word if we are to have light in our lives and in this world. If we want to hear God speak to us, we need not wait for a Pope to come to our city. We only need to open our Bible and read it.

“O, how precious is the Bible. It is the very word of God. In it God speaks in the twenty-first century. This is the very voice of God. By this voice, he speaks with absolute truth and personal force. By this voice, he reveals his all-surpassing beauty. By this voice, he reveals the deepest secrets of our hearts. No voice anywhere anytime can reach as deep or lift as high or carry as far as the voice of God that we hear in the Bible.”
JOHN PIPER2

Would you walk around your house for a week without turning on the lights at night and say, “I don’t need the lights every day. I just turned on the lights last Tuesday.” Of course not. Especially if you have small children – I find that lego bricks left on the floor get sharper once the room gets darker. But, how many times to we go from Sunday to Sunday not opening the Word of God and expect to not fall over the sin in our life? How many times have you heard the Word of God call for the blood of Christ to purify an attitude that “really doesn’t hurt anyone”? To know God is to know his Word, and to show Christ to the world is to be in his Word – by faith and by being discipled.

When Jesus ascended to the Father, he left us an enduring Counselor, uniting us to Christ throughout time until he returns. This was not Peter, nor Linus, nor Gregory, nor Leo nor John Paul nor Francis – he’s better, and removes the need for a figurehead leader. God gives us his own Spirit so that we may know him and his Word until Jesus returns. You do not have to settle for a long-distance blessing, or a televised nearness to God. Where two or three are gathered, he is there with them. Where the Bible is read in faith, there the blessing is given.

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1  Charles H. Spurgeon, Feeding Sheep or Amusing Goats?

2  John Piper, The Morning I Heard the Voice of God; Desiring God, http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/the-morning-i-heard-the-voice-of-god, March 21, 2007.

Speaking of Sunday: “Our Work Will Be Revealed by Fire”

The Church for the Glory of God  |  1 Corinthians 3.10-15
FROM SUNDAY, AUGUST 19 2015
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10 God has given me the grace to lay a foundation as a master builder. Now someone else is building on it. But each one should build carefully. 11 No one can lay any other foundation than the one that has already been laid. That foundation is Jesus Christ.
12 A person may build on it using gold, silver, jewels, wood, hay or straw. 13 But each person’s work will be shown for what it is. On judgment day it will be brought to light. It will be put through fire. The fire will test how good everyone’s work is. 14 If the building doesn’t burn up, God will give the builder a reward for his work. 15 If the building burns up, the builder will lose everything. The builder will be saved, but only like one escaping through the flames.


Purity.

What comes to your mind when someone says the word, “purity”? While there are several images and definitions that could come up, is the Church one of them? Probably not. After all, the Church is full of people. And people, the Bible tells us, are ‘sinful.’ In fact, the Bible is choc full of shame, judgment and fire for ‘sinful’ people.

Now, If you’re human, this will make you uncomfortable. As a Christian, you probably don’t enjoy hearing about fire and judgment. I know I don’t. It’s much easier to focus on the child-blessing Jesus or the loaves-and-fishes Jesus. And even if you’re not a Christian, you probably don’t enjoy reading a book that points out how unacceptable to God you are – much less being around a bunch of other ‘sinners’ who think they’ve found a loophole that allows them to stay imperfect and sill avoid the fire.

So if we read the text above, why would Paul bring it up? Why risk turning people away? Why play the ‘fear card’ if there’s no need for it? The answer is, purity.

The Church is not a building, or even a group of really good people. The Church is a group of horribly impure people whose impurities are mercifully placed on shoulders of a crucified and resurrected Son of God.

In this case, Paul is talking about the Church – particularly the church in Corinth. Now, he doesn’t mean the ‘church’ like the building with hard benches we go to on Sunday. Paul means the Church as, “those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”a He’s talking about ‘sinners’ who really do get to escape the fire their sin deserves because they are made holy in Jesus who took their judgment for them. The Church is not a building, or even a group of really good people. The Church is a group of horribly impure people whose impurities are mercifully placed on the shoulders of a crucified and resurrected Son of God.

God is building a new group of people out of an old one – and these new people are called to be just as pure and holy as God himself is. But there’s a final judgment yet to come. That’s why, as a Christian, you feel such a drain on your efforts to work well, raise your family and love people near you. It’s why, as a skeptic, you can’t understand why those Christians do the things they do and say the things they say. God is bringing these horribly impure people into the purity of Christ, but the whole work of God isn’t finished…yet. Listen to how Jesus’ brother James builds up faith in Christians:

“ 2 Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, 3 for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. 4 And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” b

Jesus’ Kingdom is coming, and it’s completely different from the way this world works.

You might ask, “Why are trials great? Why would I want a difficult time on earth? Isn’t Jesus supposed to make everything better?” He is…but he’s still working. James’ words here are great because he builds us up on the hope of Christ alone, just as Paul is claiming is needed for the Church. Jesus’ Kingdom is coming, and it’s completely different from the way this world works. Paul wants us to continue being built up in Christ’s grace alone because he is working through the impurity of this world and of our own selves to bring a pure people into a pure kingdom.

Your struggle this week is not for nothing. Your work this week to live and to love as Christ has shown us may not be perfect, but it is being purified if you are in Christ, and that is the work that will last eternally. Keep the faith, brothers and sisters. We’re not perfect, but he’s working on it.

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a  1 Corinthians 1.2

b  James 1.2-4