This past week we celebrated Thanksgiving. Yet, I wonder how often we really have given thanks. I mean, it is one thing to utter the simple, “Thank you.” It is quite another to truly give thanks. Do we even understand how powerful thanksgiving is? God has said in His Word that refusing to give thanks is part of what leads us to be estranged from Him. (Romans 1:20-21) We are told by God to give thanks in everything. (1 Thessalonians 5:18) And the giving of thanks by one leper astounded Jesus. (Luke 17:12-19)

I think that thanksgiving, like forgiveness, has the power in our spiritual lives that water has in the physical world. Yes, water appears to be just a nice, helpful addition to our world. Yet, water can create and destroy with breath-taking power. We carve rock with water. Ice cracks even the strongest structures. Water fills our bodies and our cells and allows nutrients and energy to pass through us. Water keeps us alive! We take it for granted. Yet, water is one of the strongest forces in the universe.

This is thanksgiving. It sets right our relationship with God. It transforms our thinking and prepares us to see the work of God in the world. Thanksgiving protects us from becoming proud, forgetful, and taking things for granted. May thanksgiving be much more than a single day. May giving God thanks be our every day practice. May we we be truly thankful as we step into the next weeks.

Something to think about,

Pastor John

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Faith – In Disappointment (part 1)

We have all experienced it. Maybe it was when you were little and Grandpa promised you an ice cream cone, and then you were disappointed when no ice cream cone came. Maybe it was in middle school when you experienced your first crush, and your beloved didn’t return your affection. It may have even happened for you as you were on your way to college, and the school you thought you had all sewn up turned you down. We have all experienced disappointment. It is an unfortunate reality of life. It doesn’t matter if we are let down by circumstance, someone’s thoughtlessness, or an intentional act. It hurts, and we don’t know what to do next. We are angry, we are in pain, and we are confused. We are disappointed!

When I think about disappointment I think about Hosea. Hosea knew what it is like to have someone let you down in a way that hurts. The prophet Hosea was a man who had the very traditional call to lead God’s people back to Him. That’s pretty normal for a prophet. It’s hard work, but a prophet knows that he is called by God for that work. Hosea’s greatest struggle was not with the people of Israel. Hosea’s struggle was with the members of his own family. Hosea’s struggle was with the woman God gave him for life. His struggle was with his wife and her faithfulness (or lack thereof). In fact, God’s call to Hosea was both a calling and a warning for Hosea. God says, “Go, take to yourself a wife of harlotry and have children of harlotry.” (Hosea 1:2) Can you imagine? If it were me, I would be asking, “Can’t I go around preaching half-naked or lay down on the ground and pretend I am a city under siege like Isaiah or Ezekiel?” I cannot even fathom what kind of man I would have to be to receive Hosea’s call.

Have you ever gone to a special church service where someone shared their testimony? Or have you gone to a conference where the speaker shared personal stories to illustrate something from God’s Word? We laugh with their stories. We weep at their heartwarming anecdotes. In those moments it is easy to forget that, for those who are speaking, those stories came at a price. They lived it. Their call of faith happened in the midst of pain or disappointment. It is a great story today, but then it hurt and they had to live through it. How they lived through it speaks to us, doesn’t it? We will look at that more in our next post, but this week let’s find comfort in an oft overlooked part of Hosea’s story – why God asked him to live it!

“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, just as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not have it!”

(Luke 13:34)

Hosea’s story is fascinating and it touches our hearts, but as we put ourselves in his place I am sure that we would not have enjoyed being him. Yet, he was told that his experience looked a lot like God’s experience. Have you thought about that? God, too, knows what it is like to be disappointed. Look back at what God says to Hosea in 3:1, “Go again, love a woman who is loved by her husband, yet an adulteress, even as the Lord loves the sons of Israel, though they turn to other gods and love raisin cakes.” What does God say there about His people? He declares the disappointment of His heart. He declares that He loves the children of Israel, yet they do not love Him back. It is the same disappointment that Jesus declares when He says, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, just as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not have it!” (Luke 13:34) Do you hear the heart of our God? Do you hear His disappointment? Do you hear His pain? He longs for people to love Him, Yet, we know from experience and the Scripture that we, “like sheep have gone astray, each to his own way.” Have you ever contemplated the fact that God too, knows what it is to be disappointed? God knows what it is like to want things to be different than they are.

So, when we feel disappointed, let us start with remembering that God knows what it is like to be disappointed. He knows what it feels like to wish things were different – to want to make them different. We are not alone. We are never alone. God walks this road with us.

Something to think about,

Pastor John

Next time… Do we just survive disappointment?  How does faith empower us to thrive over it?

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Faith, Grace, and Real Life – Forgiveness

“My heavenly Father will also do the same to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart.”

Matthew 18:35

Words have power.  They do not have the power of magic, but the meanings of words can change our lives.  We see this any time we talk to someone and they say something that makes us happy or sad.  We can do it for someone else as we give a word of encouragement or criticism.  Words have power because they mean something.  When we forget what a word means its power in our lives becomes less.  Words like love, hate, hope, happiness all mean something profound.  Yet, there is a word in the Christian life that we struggle letting mean all that God wants it to mean.  It is a word with a deeply profound truth.  This truth turns the world upside down.  It changes the standard by which we live.  It challenges our standard for the decisions we make.  The word is grace.

Grace.  Seems innocuous enough, doesn’t it?  It has just five letters.  You wouldn’t think that a five letter word could do all of the things you just read.  ‘Grace’ isn’t even a sentence.  It is just a word.  If we think that it is just a word, we have no idea what we are talking about.  Perhaps the life we live has blunted its meaning.  Perhaps what we feel has made us stop believing in the power of grace.  It is possible that the grace-filled life is something that has become only a distant dream.  It has become only the hope of children and not the reality of us adults.  Nobody in our world uses grace for anything other than church speak.  Nobody.

Have you ever asked a question that revealed something about you? Peter asks such a question.  He asks Jesus, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?”(Matthew 18:21)   Seven times seems like a good amount.  In fact, since Peter is probably not considering small slights we could say he was asking ‘how often do I have to forgive my brother when he deeply wounds me?’  I wonder if Peter thought that his answer sounded spiritual.  It sounds spiritual to me.  If I was in his place I might have specified that my brother was sinning in the same area over and over again.  I might have emphasized the hurt that the brother caused.  Then, I would have been sure that my answer of seven times would be sufficient.  Finally, I would think that I had proven that I understood Jesus’ message of forgiveness and grace.  I, like Peter, would have been wrong.

The extent of grace is appalling.  I could have used the word surprising, but I use the word appalling on purpose.  Think for a moment about Jesus’ reply.  He says, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.” (22)  We are familiar with this passage.  However, I think that we might miss the full meaning when we read it without the accompanying parable.  Jesus did not just end the teaching with seventy times seven.  He continues with a parable about a king who wished to settle his accounts.  In other words, the king wanted to collect the debt he was owed.  In Jesus’ parable a man owed the king 10,000 talents.  What is a talent?  Jesus doesn’t tell us whether the talent is gold or silver, but it would have been a lot of money.  In today’s market a golden talent is worth over a million dollars.  So, in today’s market the man owed the king a minimum of 10,000,000,000.  That’s ten billion dollars!  A study Bible I have called a talent fifteen year’s wages. I’ll let you do that math.  What does the king do?  When the man begs to be given more time, the king cancels the debt.  (23-27)  What kind of king would forgive such a debt?  Is that not an appalling type of forgiveness?  Wouldn’t that type of forgiveness cause a scandal?  Shouldn’t the king at least be worried about his reputation among the other servants?  I can hear the people whispering in the background.

Forgiving someone when they have deeply wounded you is difficult.  Forgiveness is hard. Anger is easy.  Peter and the disciples may be like us.  They may accept that God would be so forgiving.  It is the second half of the parable that puts grace firmly into our hands as well.  Jesus goes on to say that the servant of the king had another servant who owed him one hundred denarii.  A denarius is about a day’s wage.  The second servant begged the first to give him more time.  Does this sound familiar?  The first servant refuses to give more time or forgive as he was forgiven.  Guess who hears about it?  Yes, the king hears about the exchange and in anger throws the first servant into prison until he can pay the ten thousand talents back.  Jesus’ final words on the subject are, “My heavenly Father will also do the same to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart.” (28-35)  The gospel of Luke records the disciples response to Jesus’ teaching on forgiveness.  They say, “Increase our faith!” (Luke 17:4)  They struggled like we do with how deep God’s grace really is.  They also struggled with how we humans are supposed to live in the light of such grace.

So, how about you and me?  If living in grace is tied to forgiveness, does a face come to your mind?  Is there someone you have held back from forgiving?  Have you waited to forgive for this or that reason?  Are you saying with the disciples, “Increase my faith!”  I am with you.  But, I want to live in grace.  I want my life to be like Jesus.  That means forgiveness.  Who will we forgive today?

Something to think about,

Pastor John

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Faith, Hope, And How They’re Connected

This week let’s think about walking in faith. There are times that it is easy and times that it is hard. It is easy to walk in faith in the areas that you don’t really feel threatened. For most of us, the call to come to church isn’t hard because we aren’t threatened. The same is true for most of us in the area of serving. Stretching our faith by raking a widow’s leaves or taking meals to someone who is struggling may stretch us, but it isn’t really hard.

The tough times to walk by faith is when God asks you to walk by faith through something that is close to your heart. In those times, we feel scared or threatened. Even when we generally use our faith to guide us, there are those times when something happens that hits close to home. Our faith is challenged in a place that we really care about. Suddenly, all those truths that we have heard, studied, and even quoted to others seem shaken. It’s not easy at all then. We cry or shake our fists, and then we wonder if we aren’t the biggest hypocrites in the world when we come to church and nod our head at the preacher’s words. At times like that, I think about Mary and Martha.

Why do I think about Mary and Martha?  I think of them because of how similar and yet different they are.  I also think of them because of how differently we see them. We get to see how these women live their life with Jesus.  In those instances both Mary and Martha were faced with this type of faith challenge.  Something they cared about deeply was being challenged.  When Martha fails, I respond as if her concerns are unimportant. When Lazarus dies, I am deeply moved by Mary’s deep and consuming grief. Did you notice how both of these women were deeply hurt by the circumstances in front of them? Martha was hurt because she felt that Mary was abandoning her. Martha believed that her role as hostess was paramount to her identity. Jesus challenged her. Mary’s deep grief over the death of Lazarus overcame any sense of hope that the presence of Jesus should have given her.  Both of these women stumbled in regard to faith. Why did they stumble? They stumbled for the same reason we do: God was asking them to believe His promises when what they cared about said God’s promises had failed. Martha stumbled because her self worth was wrapped up in how she could perform.  Mary stumbled because she had lost her brother.  What is the good news?  The good news is a person.

Life is always truly found in the person and plan of God.  However, there are many areas of life where we build (probably unintentionally) apart from God.  This happens when you are saved at an older age.  It also happens when a Christian believes something about their life that does not reflect the absolute truth of the Scripture.  In either case, those assumptions about life will eventually be challenged by Jesus.  He loves you too much to leave parts of our lives built on sand.  We are told in Proverbs 3:12, “For whom the LORD loves He reproves, even as a father corrects the son in whom he delights.” God does not correct our misconceptions because He is angry with us.  He works in these areas that we care deeply about precisely because He loves us.  He knows that building our spiritual house on sand (even if we are well intentioned) is a recipe for disaster.  When we feel we must live by what see or think instead of by the truth God reveals, we set ourselves up for pain.

For example, when our life changes and those changes affect who we think we are, faith is a struggle.  Think about a man who works with his hands.  For years he has built things. It is his occupation. He has made Christmas presents for his wife and children over the years.  He has served his church by remodeling the baptistery, redoing the nursery, and changing out the carpet in the sanctuary.  Suddenly, he is in an accident where nerve damage takes away the use of his hands for this purpose.  He may learn a new trade.  He may pick up singing in the choir at church.  He may buy presents instead of making them. However, we all know that these things are inconsequential to his main question: who am I now that I can’t work with my hands? His pastor speaks with him about being a child of God.  The pastor encourages him to value himself because God gives him value. His struggle between the reality of what God says gives a person value and how he had gotten value in the past will be very real. Such a man knows what both Mary and Martha feel like.

Nothing hits us like death. It doesn’t matter if that death is a person or a much loved dream.  For anything that is important to us to be suddenly taken away we feel a tremendous loss. When someone or something we love dies, faith is a struggle. Have you felt that struggle? The struggle comes when God’s truths feel like platitudes. The struggle comes when we feel anger toward God for taking away that something or someone that gave our life meaning. The struggle comes when we think that we understand what life is about and then find out we’re wrong. This is the struggle of Mary and Martha. This is our struggle every time we focus on something that we think is real and God points us to faith instead. It is hard.

Where is the hope?  How do we weather a storm that challenges the core of what we are?  Sometimes it feels like the very foundation of who we are is being challenged.  We aren’t sure if the challenge is coming from God, Satan, or just circumstance.  We feel like a boat without an anchor in a hurricane.  Where do we find hope?

The hope that Martha points to in John 11 is the hope for us.  Martha’s declaration of Jesus’ ability to save her brother was not just an accusation or even a statement of faith.  She declares, “Even now I know that whatever You ask of God, God will give You.” (John 11:22)  Even more so, she hears Jesus declare a most profound truth.  He says, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die.” (John 11:25-26)  What was her hope?  Her hope was not to be in a religion or even a body of knowledge.  Jesus called her to place her hope in Him. She was to place her hope in the person of Jesus. This is what she did. She says in response to Jesus’ statement, “Yes, Lord; I have believed that You are the Christ, the Son of God, even He who comes into the world.” (John 11:27) She does not question Jesus’ statement.  She does not argue that His statement is confusing. Martha states her agreement. She declares that Jesus is her hope. The person who is hope gives her strength. That hope moves her to be one of the few who declare before Jesus’ own resurrection that Jesus is the Messiah.

If you think about it, this is where hope really comes from: a person. The hope we experience in the truth of the Scripture is not a dry and impersonal hope. It is the personal hope that the One who has made promises to us can keep them and also loves us enough to keep them as well. It is this hope of Jesus’ love that invites us to trust Him with our lives even when He is asking of us something that we aren’t ready to give. Hope comes from trust. When we trust Jesus we can take the curves, bumps, and pains of life. We need this hope when the very foundation of what we think is real is challenged. Here’s a simple example: as each of my children learned to ride a bicycle without training wheels they believed that they couldn’t do it.  They each felt that it was just not possible for them. I always asked them to trust me. When they trusted, they learned that I love them so much that I would take care of them and would tell them the truth. This made them hope that one day they would ride without training wheels. This is what I mean when I say that hope must be a person. The hope that can overcome our false reality must be based on trust.  It must be in Jesus. It is in Jesus that we find victory!

Something to think about,

Pastor John

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Do You Live in the Love of God? (question 4)

Our final question that checks the reality of our faith is a different type of question.  The first questions all dealt with our attitudes and values: Is Heaven your home? Do you want godliness or painlessness from God? Are you willing to look childish to become childlike?  The last question is something about God.  The question is simple, but is also essential to develop God trusting faith: Does God love you or not? 

“What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us?”

Romans 8:31

Why is this question so important?  Isn’t it an, “of course He does!” type of question?  Not really.  What we truly believe about that question changes what we do.  It changed the apostle Paul.  The fact of God’s love in Jesus gave Paul confidence.  It gave him the confidence to stand before kings and religious leaders.  It gave him the confidence to stand before a Christian community that at first questioned his motives. The reality of the love of God for him gave a murdering sinner like him supreme and unshakable confidence as he stood before God!  Imagine that… You can see yourself in all your sin and know that God’s love invites you into His presence.  You can call yourself the chief of sinners and still know that you are forgiven.

Do you and I have that confidence?  Do we face each day knowing that God’s love for us does not fade or spoil or stop?  Do we know it because of what Jesus has done for us?  Read Paul’s analysis of God’s love again in Romans 8.  He declares that God is for us.  He then asks who can be against us.

There could be many reasons that we struggle believing in the depth of God’s love.  Bad treatment by humans we are supposed to trust, our own sense of self doubt or self condemnation, or past moral or ethical failures can all contribute to a shaky view of His love. Yet throughout his letters, the apostle Paul keeps coming back to an unshakeable fact: God sent His Son to die for us.  He would not send His Son to die for us unless He has an unchangeable love.  God is certain: He loves you.  Are you as certain?

Something to think about,

Pastor John

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Are you willing to look childish to become childlike? (question 3)

“Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.”

Matthew 18:3

This week’s question is actually a challenge from our Lord Jesus. It isn’t just a question about what you and I are seeking or wanting from God. It is a question that digs deep into our values and our vulnerabilities. It is a question that asks us to be vulnerable. In fact it asks us to value being vulnerable rather than being strong. The question is from Matthew 18 above: Are you willing to look childish to become childlike?

What do we mean when we say childlike? Well, it means trust. It means abandoning our self consciousness. It means a reckless love that doesn’t mind being noticed. Think about how children are with their parents. They trust their parents without needing to be taught. Children aren’t self conscious about acting on that trust. They don’t worry about who is watching when they hug their dads or kiss their moms. The believe freely. They are happy to be gullible to their parents.

Is that us toward God? Jesus said in Matthew 18 that such characteristics are the very definition of Biblical faith! He said that it is only by that type of faith that people enter the kingdom of Heaven. So, are we willing to look like that? I used a word that is derogatory in our culture: gullible. I don’t mean gullible toward the world. I mean gullible toward God. Are we willing to look foolish with Him? Do we believe everything He says? Do we praise Him without caring who hears? Do we sing with passion, obey with determination, and follow wherever He takes us? Are we okay looking foolish as long as it is Jesus we are following?

Yes, it will make us look a bit childish to those who aren’t with us. They will ask us how we can believe the Bible so fully. They will look askance at us as we sing (even when we can’t carry a tune – just like kids) to our Father. They will call us silly, foolish and eve gullible. So, which do you value: Looking grown up or being childlike?

Something to think about,

Pastor John

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The Reality of Our Faith – Question 2

Last time we thought about this question: Is Heaven or Earth our home?

Today we ask this question: Do we want godliness or painlessness from God?

Consider that for a moment. Which do you really want from God? The apostle Paul said, “Whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. (Philippians 3:7) He then said that ,”More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of  knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ,” (8) Did you catch what he valued most? It wasn’t painlessness. It was Christ. He wanted to be found in Jesus. He wanted Jesus’ righteousness to be the righteousness that he lived by. It was worth suffering to have that righteousness. Being close to Jesus was worth the cost.

7 But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. 8 More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of  knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ,

Philippians 3:7-8

Now, I know our next question: Can’t I have both? Of course, the answer is no. That’s not the life God has set up. Life has choices. Choices have consequences. Those consequences cost something. Consider an athlete. No athlete can become an athlete without exertion and pain. They have to train. They have to stretch those muscles in new ways. They have to work through pain to get to the next level of performance. Why do they do it? They do it so that they can compete. They do it so they can stay in shape. They do it to win. (see 1 Corinthians 9:24-27) Now imagine someone claiming to be an athlete that doesn’t break a sweat when they exercise. They don’t stretch their muscles. When they are tired they skip training that day. Are they athletes, enthusiasts, or couch potatoes?

I could give several more examples in work or academics or hobbies where the same principle is at work. If we truly value something, we are willing to sacrifice and suffer for it. This is a clear test of the reality of our faith: are we willing to suffer to grow? We are the athletes who have a prize to win. Our prize is Christ today and forever with Him in Heaven tomorrow. Do we cringe from the cross we are called to carry or do we embrace it as the call of our faith, our way of coming close to our Savior?
What is your answer? Do you want godliness or painlessness from your Savior?

Something to think about,

Pastor John

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4 Questions to Check How Real Our Faith Is (part 1)

For we walk by faith and not by sight

– 2 Corinthians 5:7

For the next several weeks I want to think together about the reality of faith in the life of a believer.  Paul says that the regular life of the believer is the life of faith.  He contrasts this with a life of sight.  Just what does that mean?  Well, it is the difference between living by what we have been told in the pages of God’s Word instead of what the world around us is demanding that we must believe all the time.  Defining such a life is simple.  Living by such a life is what is hard.  So, before we look at how we can live such a life, let us consider for a few moments how we might discover if a life of faith is where we are living today.

To examine that life of faith, I have 4 questions for us to consider. Let me give you one of those today.  The question is this: Is Heaven or Earth your home? Before you answer consider carefully the ramifications of your answer.  Home is where we find contentment and happiness.  Home is what you protect.  Where home is determines how you understand your identity.  For some people, home is actually their workplace.  For others, home is a country or region or ethnic identity.  Where is home for you?  Where is the home that you are looking forward to going?  Where is the home that you protect?  Where is the home that makes you happy?  Where is the home that determines how you see yourself?

With these thoughts in mind, now answer the question – Where is your home?  Is it Earth?  Is it Heaven?  It does make difference.  If home is Earth, then letting go of the things of Earth will be more difficult when God asks it of you.  If home is Earth, then it becomes easier to identify with how the world does business.  However, if home is Heaven, then the focus of our life is on Heaven’s goals and Heaven’s values.  When the world states its opinion, it cannot threaten us because this world is not our home.  Heaven is.  It changes everything.

I leave you with this thought.  As Abraham grew in faith it became obvious that this Earth was not his home.  The writer of Hebrews declares that Abraham was looking for a better country whose builder and maker was God.  That changed him.  As we read Genesis we can see that change.  He stops trying to keep God’s promises for Him.  Abraham doesn’t hold onto the son of promise.  He leaves him in God’s hands.  Why?  What could make Abraham such a man of faith?  My answer is this: his home became Heaven instead of Earth.  Where is our home today?

Something to think about,
Pastor John

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When You Have It All, Do You Have Anything?

Are we ever like the person who has everything and doesn’t realize what they have until it is gone? Have we, who have so much become so consumed with having that we no longer really believe that it is more blessed to give than receive?

But godliness actually is a means of great gain when accompanied by contentment. For we have brought nothing into the world, so we cannot take anything out of it either. If we have food and covering, with these we shall be content.

1 Timothy 6:6-8

What are we chasing after really? When we chase after things, are we chasing after life?  I don’t think so.  Paul is clear. Real life is found in being like Jesus. Real life is not found in the accumulation of stuff.  Real life is found in godliness with contentment. We talk about life as our activities and stuff, but do we really find life in being busy? Does being busy fulfill us? Or is life something much more profound?

Paul points out that we should be content with food and clothing. He points out that when we came into the world we had nothing. When we leave this world we will have nothing of the stuff that we so often think of as life. Yet, life isn’t something that you leave behind, is it? Life is God. Life is the people that He has put in our lives to serve and love. God gives life. He defines it. It is God’s presence and leading that makes life truly wonderful. It is His absence that makes it a disaster.

So, I am left with two questions: Do I seek life, or just trinkets?!  Do I have relationships or just activities? How sad would it be to discover that I am chasing after the stuff of life instead of real life.  So, I will try to chase after real life.  In Christ I find my purpose, my joy, my future. I want to spend my time loving and serving the people He has put into my life. What about you?

Something to think about,

Pastor John

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What Bothered Jesus Most

Jesus gives many warnings. However, the tone of most of most of the warnings of Jesus are redemptive in nature. He warns us so that we will avoid the snares of the Devil. He warns in order to save.

However, when it comes to the warnings in Matthew 23, Jesus’ warnings go a different direction. He doesn’t just warn of Satan’s traps. He doesn’t say that we should avoid the temptation. He simply and straightforwardly condemns.

“But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you shut off the kingdom of heaven from people; for you do not enter in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you travel around on sea and land to make one proselyte; and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves.”

Matthew 23:13, 15

What does He condemn? In verses 13 and 15 He condemns those who would bar the door of the Kingdom from others. Either through active disobedience or through legalistic burdens, those He condemns are those who keep people from following God. They encourage by their life a rejection of God’s call. They discourage by their additions to God’s call anyone from being willing to say yes.

Do we ever see ourselves in Jesus’ warnings? Do we see ourselves neglecting our relationship with God so much that we are no longer a witness for Him? Do we see ourselves standing in another person’s way to trust Jesus because we are presently neglecting our own salvation? They see no difference, no transformation in our life and so they reject Christ’s message. Is that us?

Or perhaps we see ourselves adding things to grace when we try to help new believers conquer sin. We reject rules and regulations which would say that we have to somehow earn God’s approval (as if such a thing were even possible for fallen man), but perhaps we have given those new Christians a list of do’s and don’ts which communicate the same thing. We haven’t encouraged them to let the love of Jesus guard their hearts and minds. Instead, we give them the very list of commandments that they have already discovered that they cannot keep. Are we drawing them to Jesus or are we increasing their feeling of hopelessness?

The Pharisees of Jesus’ day are easy marks for our criticism today. Yet in His criticism of the Pharisees, Jesus warns against all forms of self-righteousness. They were true warnings then. They are true warnings now. Woe to us if we are modern day Pharisees. May we heed His warnings.

Something to think about,

Pastor John

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