Thursday, September 29, 2016

Before It's Too Late

“Working together with him, then, we appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain. For he says, "In a favorable time I listened to you, and in a day of salvation I have helped you." Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.”

(2 Corinthians 6:1-2 ESV)

            It’s so easy to take for granted the many blessings we enjoy every day.  It’s easy for us to take our freedom for granted.  It’s easy for us to take our family for granted.  It’s easy for us to take our job, our home, and our wealth for granted.

            We do this because these blessings have always been there for us.  We’ve never been without them.  And, because of this, we seem to think that they always will.

            We often do the same thing when it comes to God.  More specifically, we do the same thing when it comes to his salvation.  We understand the love he has for us.  We know the sacrifice he’s made for us.  We know his desire for our salvation.  And, for this reason, we take it for granted.  We just assume that his salvation will always be available to us.

            Many people approach life thinking that they can turn to God later on.  They want to enjoy themselves now.  They want to satisfy their sinful desires.  And they think that they have plenty of time to confess to God and receive his mercy.

            Many people simply believe that, because God is loving, and because he desires their salvation, it doesn’t matter what they do.  No matter the life that they live, they believe that God will forgive them.  No matter how great their rebellion, they believe that God will save them.

            However, as we see in the above text, salvation is not something we can take for granted.  In this passage, Paul urged that the Corinthians would not receive God’s grace in vain.  He didn’t want them to receive it in an empty or meaningless way.  He didn’t want them to take it lightly. 

            He also makes it clear that God’s salvation will not be available forever.  He tells us that now is the favorable time.  He tells us that now is the day of salvation.

            We all realize that, as far as our life in this world is concerned, tomorrow isn’t promised to us. A sudden accident could take our life.  We could suffer a heart attack or go into cardiac arrest.  We could be unexpectedly diagnosed with a serious illness that brings our life in this world to an end.

            We also know from Scripture that Jesus will soon return.  We don’t know when that day will come.  But it could come at any moment.  And, for this reason, we must be prepared.

            We must make sure that we are not treating God’s grace lightly.  We must make sure that we receive his mercy while we still can.  We must make sure that we receive God’s mercy through faith in Christ before the day of grace comes to an end.

            This passage also speaks to us in another way.  As we share in God’s call to make disciples of all nations, like Paul, we are ambassadors for Christ.  And this passage reminds us of the urgency of that mission.

            We often allow the demands of our day to day life to interfere with this call.  We allow our job, our chores at home, or even our recreational activities to get in the way of our ministry.  We allow these things to overshadow every opportunity we have to reach out to others.

We must not allow this to happen.  We must remember that, because the day of grace will one day come to an end, we must reach out to others before it’s too late.  We must reach out to them with the life changing message of the gospel, providing them with the opportunity to look to Jesus in faith, while it’s still the day of salvation.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Hell No?

“But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him!”

(Luke 12:5 ESV)

            Lately, I’ve run across several blog posts from “progressive” Christians.  And, in these posts, they’ve challenged the traditional Christian doctrine of hell.  They don’t believe in hell.  They don’t believe that God would send anyone to hell.

            The only way they can make this challenge is by dismissing certain passages of the Bible.  After all, hell is a theme that runs all throughout Scripture.  They have to, essentially, cherry pick the Bible that they might hold to this view.

            They use their reason and emotion to justify their belief.  They tell us that a righteous God, that a loving God, could not condemn people to an eternity of suffering in hell.  And they defend this by pointing to passages of the Bible, like 1 John 4:8, which tells us that God is love.

            We must remember, first of all, that we can’t use our reason or emotion to make a determination of truth.  Both our mind and our heart have been corrupted by sin.  As we read in Jeremiah 17:9, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick…”
            In the same way, we read in Romans 1 that God has given man over to a debased mind.  We see, in Colossians 1, that we were alienated and hostile in mind before coming to faith in Christ.  And we see in 1 Corinthians 1 that the wisdom of God is foolishness to those who are perishing.

            The simple fact of the matter is that we cannot trust our human mind or emotions to guide us into a true understanding of God.  They will lead us only away from him.  They will lead us only to sin and judgment.

            For this reason, we must look to the Word of God to discover what is true.  We must not make ourselves to be the judge of God and his Word.  We must, instead, submit ourselves to God and his Word.

            We see, from the very beginning of the Bible, that suffering and death are the consequence of sin.  And the only way we’re able to escape this fate is through Jesus.  Through faith in him, through faith in his promise, we’re able to receive the blessings of forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life.

            If we fail to look to Jesus in faith, we remain under the consequence of our sin.  And this is essentially what hell is.  It’s the place where we suffer the consequence of our sin in eternity.

            Does the reality of hell reflect a lack of righteousness on God’s part?  Does it reflect a lack of love on his part?  Absolutely not.

            After all, because of our sin, we deserve God’s wrath.  We in no way deserve God’s forgiveness or salvation.  Those who do stand condemned are receiving only what they are due.

And not only is this true.  We find also that God has done everything necessary to provide salvation to all mankind.   He sent Jesus, who gave his life on the cross, providing atonement for the sin of all people (1 John 2:2). They need only to receive it by faith.

            Telling people that there is no hell, telling them that God would never send anyone to hell, is the same tactic used by the snake in the Garden.  “You will not surely die…” he said to Eve.  He sought to convince her that, by disobedience, she would not bring upon herself the consequence threatened by God.  In the same way, these modern day serpents are telling us: “You won’t go to hell.” They are denying the reality of eternal punishment to those who do not look to Jesus in faith.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Thank you, Prince of Peace!

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.”

(John 13:34 ESV)

As a pastor, I’m expected to be there for people during difficult seasons of their life.  This is part of my calling.  And I love the fact that I can be a support and an encouragement for them.  However, I want to publicly thank my congregation, Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Beulah, North Dakota, for the support they’ve recently shown to me.

            So often, pastors are not given the level of support I’ve received.  Unrealistic expectations are frequently placed upon them as they labor among their flock.  It seems that congregation members don’t realize that, although we’re called to serve God and his people full-time, we too are human.  We too experience hardships.  We too get tired.  We too are burdened.  And this often ends in pastors becoming burned out.

            As my mom was suffering from terminal cancer, and as she passed away, the people of Prince of Peace were incredibly gracious.  I was told at the outset of her illness that I should take as much time as I needed to be with her, and that this would in no way be counted as vacation.  And these were no idle words.

            Having a big family, summer is really our only opportunity to travel.  And, on top of personal vacation, I also had two ministry related trips scheduled.  This made it seem that my time at the church was extremely limited. 

            Yet, in addition to a week with my parents in late May, I was able to schedule two trips to see my mom as her condition worsened.  And the church had no hesitation when, on the Friday before her death, I made a last minute decision to jump on a plane to be with her and the rest of my family.

            Her funeral required that I be gone yet another Sunday.  And, once again, the people of Prince of Peace were so supportive.  Our youth pastor jumped in to cover for me, as he always does.  And I was told repeatedly that I was not to worry about anything at the church.

            I so greatly appreciate the time that was given me to both be with mom and also to mourn.  It’s been an extremely stressful time, and the flexibility given to me made it so much easier.  I did have some feelings of guilt, being away so much.  But these were the result of my own sense of responsibility, and were in no way placed upon me by the church.

            I also appreciate the cards that were sent, the prayers that were raised on behalf of my mom and my family, and the condolences that were expressed.  I appreciate the congregational leadership who stopped by to simply check up on me and to reassure me that all would be taken care of.   And I appreciate the beautiful flowers that were sent to her funeral.  

            I am truly blessed to labor among you.  I am blessed by a congregational leadership that recognizes my needs.  And I’m blessed by a supportive staff, who gladly adjust and take on additional responsibility at a moment’s notice.

            Now that I am home and once again engaged in ministry, I continue to grieve.  I’m still a bit drained emotionally and physically.  But I am eager to be a blessing to the people who have been such a blessing to me.


Monday, September 12, 2016

Better By Far

Mom was a great lady, and she’ll be missed by all of us.  She was a great mother to Kristy and I.  As kids, she was so patient with us.  And, when she did lose it, it was short lived.  In fact, even when she gave us some much needed discipline, she would end up feeling bad about it.

She was also a tremendous grandmother.  All of the kids love her.  And she always enjoyed being around her grandbabies.

Most importantly, she was a woman of faith.  She wasn’t a theologian.  But she enjoyed going to church and attending Bible studies.  She also enjoyed reading her Bible at home.

As most of you know, mom’s diagnosis was very unexpected.  She wasn’t very old. And, outwardly, she seemed pretty healthy.

Like most of us, she worked to keep her weight down.  She made a habit of walking most days.  She liked to get in her 10,000 steps every day. In fact, she was wearing her fitbit all the way until the end.

It all started when she woke up with back pain.  And after visiting the chiropractor, who advised her to seek medical help, her real problem was soon discovered.

Mom was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer. She was told from the outset that there would be no cure, from a medical standpoint anyway. Her treatments would serve only to minimize her pain and to provide her with a better quality of life.

She could be cured by God, of course. He has the power to do anything. And, if he so desired, he could have simply spoken the word, as he often did in the gospels.

And that's the rub, you see. It's the place where we often get hung up when it comes to our faith. If God has the power to heal, why didn't he do it? If he's as loving as Scripture proclaims him to be, why would he do nothing?

This is explained to us in Philippians 1, which is our epistle lesson for this morning.  When he wrote this passage, Paul was facing the prospect of death. Not in the same sense as mom. But he was facing the possibility of death in a very real way.

He had been arrested because of his faith and his ministry activities. He was now awaiting his trial, the verdict of which could be life. But it also could be death.

And look at the words Paul penned when faced with this prospect. Starting in verse 18, he says: “Yes, and I will rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance, as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith, so that in me you may have ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus, because of my coming to you again.”

He says, first of all, that to live is Christ and to die is gain. If God spared him from the power of his earthly rulers, he would be able to live for the Lord. He would be able to continue in his ministry of directing the lost to the salvation found in Christ. To die, however, was to gain a blessing not possible this side of eternity.

Paul goes on to say that, if the choice were his, it would be a difficult one. He desired to continue in his service and ministry. But to be with Christ, he says, is better by far.

This is what we must bear in mind in a loss like this. Yes, had God healed mom, that would've been a great blessing. She would have loved to live among us for a while longer.  I know that she desired to watch all of her grandkids graduate, grow up, get married, and have families of their own. And, had she remained, it would've enabled her to be a blessing to all of us, as she’d always been. But, the simple fact of the matter is that to be with Christ is better by far.

No, I didn't want to lose mom. If I had been able to impose my will, she’d still be with us. But would I want to deny her the great blessing she's now received?

When it comes to our loved ones falling ill and passing away, we often make the mistake of thinking that this life is the greater blessing. We think that the greatest thing God could do for our loved ones is to restore them to us. But that's not why Christ was born into this world.

He came, he suffered and died, and he rose from the grave that we might be delivered from this world of sin and death. He endured the cross that we might dwell forever with him in his presence, in a place free of the sufferings of this life.

So, in calling her home, the Lord didn't fail her. And, in calling her home, he did not fail us. He answered our prayers by giving her the greater blessing. He answered our prayers by giving her the blessing that's better by far.

Isn’t this what we also look forward to?  Most of us enjoy our life in this world in many ways, and none of us are eager to die.  Yet, our life is filled with problems and hardships.  And our hope is that, one day, this will be a thing of the past.  Our hope is that, one day, we too will live in the presence of Christ.  And, through faith in Jesus, this is exactly what God has promised us.