November newsletter article

ὑποκριτής , hypocrite, one who pretends to be other than what he/she is

Hypocrisy means that your heart and your actions are out of sync. You are doing things for the wrong reasons. Jesus points out the hypocrites and tells us not to be like them. He points to our prayers and says that they should be heartfelt, and not done to be heard and seen. He points to our giving and says that it should be done in secret, and not broadcast to the rest of the world. Hypocrisy in the Christian life is generally a very bad thing.

But there are also times that you play a part simply because you feel that you have to, and you feel like a hypocrite even though you have the best of intentions. I felt that way this past Sunday. Valerie was finally coming back to church after a seven month hiatus due to her cancer treatments. She had been declared cancer free. Life was finally getting back to normal. And then, Saturday night, right before church, we discovered a lump on her foot. What do we do? We smile and carry on, while on the inside we are struggling.

Why do I share this with you now? Because we are entering into a time of year that can be very difficult for people. Many of us have happy memories from around the holidays. Some of us remember sad or difficult times. Most of us probably have a mixture of both. It is not uncommon for people to hide what they are feeling because they think that it is inappropriate, discouraging, or just too difficult to share. Scripture gives us two pieces of advice to guide us during these times. The first is a good general principle for everyone, but is especially poignant for those who are struggling: “Cast your burden on the Lord, and He will sustain you” (Psalm 55:22). The second is a reminder that God has given us a community to help us survive and thrive: “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2).

Valerie and I never intended to keep what was going on a secret for long. We just hoped to have an answer one way or another before we talked about it. After an x-ray the general consensus seems to be that it’s something to watch, but not something to be concerned about right now. So we watch and wait, and are thankful for each day God brings us. And we are thankful for the community of faith, which helps us to bear our burdens.

March Newsletter Article

For those of you following the Bible reading plan in the bulletin or the reading app, or simply trying to read through the Bible on your own during the year, the first few months may be the hardest.  Leviticus and Numbers are difficult at times, and we often don’t see the need.  Why study the Old Testament at all?  Isn’t the New enough?  Let me share some principles that I came across that can help us to understand why we need the Old Testament.

  1. The Old Testament reveals Jesus Christ. It continually reveals something about Him on every page. From the sacrifice of Isaac to the Suffering Servant of Isaiah 53, Jesus is constantly revealed.
  2. The Old Testament helps us to understand the New. Where does the idea of “substitutionary atonement” come from? Or God’s sovereignty?  God’s holiness?  God’s mercy?  It all starts in the Old.
  3. The Old Testament is a manual for Christian living. We struggle sometimes trying to understand what laws are still applicable, but 9 of the 10 commandments are repeated in the New Testament.  The Old shows us how God expected His people to live out His commands.  Which leads us to…
  4. The Old Testament presents doctrine in story form. See Hebrews 11 for insight!
  5. The Old Testament comforts and encourages us. Where would we be without the 23rd Psalm? Or the story of Joseph with his wonderful insight?  “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good” (Genesis 50:20).
  6. The Old Testament saves souls. 2 Timothy 3:15 says “from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.” These sacred writings are the Old Testament. Is this sentiment only for the Jewish people?  No, because Paul goes on to remind us that “all Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16).

I hope that these thoughts encourage you in your Bible reading, and that you stick with it!

August Newsletter Article

You may have read through the Gospel of John in the past and noticed that his story of Jesus is a little different. In contrast to the other Gospels, John takes Jesus all the way back—to the beginning of Creation! This startling introduction presents Jesus as part of the Godhead. In words reminiscent of the Creation story, John begins his book: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (1:1). Word is from the Greek term logos, which means different things to different people. The Jews think of it as the power of God, for all God has to do is speak the words, “Let there be light” (Genesis 1:3) and there is light. The Greeks think of it as cosmic reason, the well-designed frame on which the universe is built. Jesus is both of these—the power of God, and the one whose signature is stamped on the universe. But John takes the term still further. Just as a word reveals a thought, Jesus is the expression of God, physically revealing the invisible, spiritual presence of God. Jesus is God who “became flesh and dwelt among us” (1:14).

John also leaves out some things. Where are the parables?  What about Jesus’ birth, His baptism, temptation, the Last Supper? What about His agonizing prayer on the night of his arrest, or His ascension into the sky? John, probably written last of the four Gospels, does not repeat most of stories that may have been circulating for decades. Instead, he focuses on Jesus’ deity, using carefully selected miracles and teachings that propel this theme.

John focuses on seven “signs” whose purpose is to reveal “Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God” (20:31).  John selected the signs he used with the apologetic purpose of creating intellectual (“that you may believe”) and spiritual (“that believing you may have life”) conviction about the Son of God.  But there is also great depth for believers in this Gospel as well. John reveals that Jesus used seven “I am” statements to describe His ministry, each revealing something else about His ministry and each rich with symbolism and meaning. If the action-packed Gospel of Mark was written for shorter attention spans, John has the opposite end of the spectrum in mind: people who enjoy peeling off layer upon layer of dramatic, insightful symbolism, and people who want nothing more than extensive, detailed teaching sessions led by the Master Teacher.

I hope that you will continue with us on this exciting journey as we look at the Gospel of John over these next few months!

My memorial message from Tessa Erickson’s “Celebration of Life” service

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

Some of you may recognize that cry. It’s first found in the Bible in Psalm 22, but it’s most well know from when Jesus quoted it on the cross as He was dying.

Even if you don’t recognize it, it may still resonate with you.  You may believe in God.  You may not.  But chances are something has happened in your life that made you ask the question: Why? Why is this happening to me? Why is this happening to us? To my friend? To my child? To my spouse? To my parent.

You may be surprised that the Bible has a lot to say about suffering.  About pain.  And about our reaction to it.  In fact, there is even a whole book about it that we looked at in church a few months ago.  The book of Job.  In that book Job loses just about everything he has, and everything he loves.  He’s sick.  He’s suffering.  And he asks God why.  And there are four significant truths that this book teaches us.

1) Number one is that we can cry out to God with our pain.  Job is a mess.  He weeps.  He moans.  He complains.  He accuses.  God hears it all.  God takes it all. For months Job is like this, until God finally responds to him.  Is it any wonder that we find Jesus crying out to God with His pain since we have the example of Job that has been given to us?  God already knows when we are in pain, when we are struggling, when we are suffering from a lack of faith, and we should not be afraid to express ourselves to Him.

2) The second truth is that we don’t always cause our pain.  Some of Job’s friends assumed that what was happening was a result of his bad choices.  That it was all a consequence of his actions.  “God must be punishing him for something” is what they thought and what they expressed to Job.  The book of Job goes out of its way to say that Job didn’t do anything wrong.  —  Tess came to talk to me a couple of months ago about this same issue.  She was concerned because of what some people insinuate regarding illness and faith, and we had a long talk about it.  We also talked about the third lesson that Job teaches us.

3) We won’t always know why.  Sometimes we figure it out — why the pain, why the suffering, why the hardship.  But not always.  We’re let in on the secret from the book of Job; we know why Job is suffering, but Job never finds out. Not in this life anyway! And Job ended up being okay with that.  Because the final lesson, and perhaps the most important one, the one Tess knew and lived is that…

4) We can trust God.  At the end of the book of Job, we find Job finally encountering the God that he was crying out to.  And he learns something important.  That God is greater than he is.  That God knows all and sees all, and that God understands the reasons behind what happens.  That God works all things together for good to those that love him, as Romans 8:28 says.  It gave Job comfort and he learned that he could trust God.

We find this cycle lot in Scripture.  There is something cleansing and purifying about expressing our feelings to God.  When we keep the anger in it festers, it poisons, and it makes us sicker than we already are.  When we express our pain it allows us to trust again.  This is a pattern we see in Psalm 22 as well.  It starts out with:

1  My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning? 2  O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but I find no rest.

That’s the pain.   Here’s the trust:

3  Yet you are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel. 4  In you our fathers trusted; they trusted, and you delivered them. 5  To you they cried and were rescued; in you they trusted and were not put to shame.

The author expresses his pain again in verse 6:

6  But I am a worm and not a man, scorned by mankind and despised by the people.
But it is quickly followed by trust again starting in verse 9:

9  Yet you are he who took me from the womb; you made me trust you at my mother’s breasts. 10  On you was I cast from my birth, and from my mother’s womb you have been my God. 11  Be not far from me, for trouble is near, and there is none to help.

And finally, we see the cycle again in verses 14-15:

14  I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint; my heart is like wax; it is melted within my breast; 15  my strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to my jaws; you lay me in the dust of death.

With the response of trust starting in verse 19:

19  But you, O LORD, do not be far off! O you my help, come quickly to my aid! 20  Deliver my soul from the sword, my precious life from the power of the dog! 21  Save me from the mouth of the lion! You have rescued me!

And we see something similar with Jesus when he’s dying on the cross.  He starts by crying out, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” He ends with “Father, into your hands I commend my Spirit.”  So we have the cycle again.  Pain.  Suffering.  Crying out.  Trusting.  And acceptance.  We must be willing to go through the cycle ourselves if we want to be whole.

But there is another connection between Psalm 22 and Jesus’ death on the cross.  The Psalm starts with “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me.”  The Psalm ends with a cry of victory: “God has done it!”  God has answered the cry of the suffering psalmist and saved him.  Jesus first cries out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me.”  But one of the last things that Jesus utters from the cross is: “It is finished,” or, better, “It has been accomplished.”  It is done.  Jesus has finished His work.  God has heard Him.  God has saved Him.  We can say that it may be finished, but it isn’t over – because God raised Him from the dead and He lives!

And that’s what we should remember here today.  It is finished.  Tess’ struggle is done.  There is no more pain.  No more sickness.  It is finished, but it isn’t over.  There is more.  There is eternity.  There is life.  All because of Jesus Christ.  He suffered.  He cried out.  He died. And he did it for us.  He did it so that we could be forgiven of the wrong that we have done.  He did it so that we could enter into a right relationship with God.  He did is so that we could know love.  He did it so that we could know peace. He did it so that we could have everlasting life.

John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”

Tess believed.  Tess is with God today.  And you can have that same assurance.  If you trust.  If you believe.  If you have faith.

May newsletter article

I worry about our culture and the Christian response to it.  This issue is an age old one, with many different solutions.  Should we withdraw from culture?  Should we go along with culture?  Do we try to transform culture?  Do we exist in parallel with culture?  My musings were actually brought about by the comments of a football player, whose jersey I regularly wear.  The comments made me wonder if perhaps my allegiance should be elsewhere.  How should I respond?  What should I do, if I do anything at all?

Now some might feel that I’m making a mountain out of a molehill.  After all, just because I wear the jersey doesn’t mean that I support everything that they say or do!  True, but perhaps there are role models out there that I would be better off supporting, even if they don’t play for my team!  I remember when Charles Barkley famously said, “I’m not a role model,” and belittled the idea that professional athletes serve as examples for society.  That begs the issue.  We are a celebrity culture, and we like anyone that is humorous, beautiful, wealthy, powerful, or athletic. We follow them on Twitter, and Facebook.  We buy their products.  We go to their movies.  We watch their games.  We support their campaigns.  We wear their jerseys.  And we say something about ourselves when we do.  We say something about who we like, who we support, and who we are.  And we need to remember that we are role models too! 2 Corinthians 5:20 says, “Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us.” We represent Jesus Christ to the world, and it should impact everything that we do.

The answer to my current dilemma is easy: I wear the colors and the logo, but not the jersey.  I support the team, but I don’t necessarily take a stand on the individual.  No, nobody is perfect.  But my responsibility as a Christian is to be and to point people to good examples and godly lifestyles, not end up in a position where I am defending what someone else does simple because I’m a fan.  I need to be a bigger fan of Jesus, which brings a responsibility of its own!  For you see, Jesus “died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised” (2 Corinthians 5:15).

June Newsletter Article – Dealing with Hard Relationships

We are in the midst of what I am calling my 2015 family and culture series, and we are preparing to get to the heart of the study.  As I think about family relationships, I find that I am surrounded by issues and situations that would make just about anybody cry.  It seems that every day I am being reminded that families can be difficult, and that we often need a lot of grace and understanding to get us through.  With that in mind, I’ve come up with some unofficial rules over the past 46 years that I think are very important and that I like to share with people in counseling situations…

  • You can’t turn the Adams family into a Norman Rockwell painting. I know, a little dated. What would it be now? You can’t turn the Kardashians into……anybody know the name of a mature TV or celebrity family? Anyway, I digress. The point is that you can’t do it! You can’t control what other people do, or make them behave in a different way. And that is further complicated by my next point…
  • Some people don’t want to be helped. It actually goes beyond that. Some people are violently opposed to being helped and will lash out at you if they even suspect that you are being critical of them. It’s a dangerous world out there! Proverbs says “Answer a fool according to his folly,” and “Answer not a fool according to his folly” (Proverbs 26:4-5). Which is right? Both are! What we need is discernment to understand when each is appropriate.
  • My final point is probably the most controversial, even though I don’t believe it should be. Sometimes, for your own health and well-being, you have to let go, at least for a time. Does a battered wife need to stay at home? Does an abused child need sanctuary? Hopefully you answered those questions “No” and “Yes.” But does that only apply to physical abuse? What about verbal, mental, and emotional abuse? Why should we allow that type of battering to take place? Sometimes there may be extenuating circumstances that need to be taken into account (illness, medication, etc.), but why do we often refuse to allow someone the space and distance they need to heal just because the bruising isn’t physical?

I don’t know what you are going through right now in your own life, but I would remind you of that day when “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:4).

Easter newsletter article

Charles Haddon Spurgeon (1834-1892) was the best-known preacher of his time. Many still consider him the best preacher, if not the most popular one, in church history. The noted twentieth-century German pastor and theologian Helmut Thielicke, said: ‘Sell all [the books] that you have … and buy Spurgeon.’ Today, over a hundred years after his death, there is more material by Spurgeon in print than by any other Christian author, living or deceased.  As we prepare to celebrate Easter, I want to share some of his insights with you:

“The resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead is one of the best attested facts on record. There were so many witnesses to behold it, that if we do in the least degree receive the credibility of men’s testimonies, we cannot and we dare not doubt that Jesus rose from the dead. It is all very easy for [non-believers] to say that these persons were deceived, but it is equally foolish, for these persons could not every one of them have been so positively deceived as to say that they had seen this man, whom they knew to have been dead, afterwards alive; they could not all, surely, have agreed together to help on this [deception]: if they did, it is the most marvelous thing we have on record, that not one of them ever broke faith with the others, but that the whole mass of them remained firm. We believe it to be quite impossible that so many rogues should have agreed forever. They were men who had nothing to gain by it; they subjected themselves to persecution by affirming the very fact; they were ready to die for it, and did die for it. Five hundred or a thousand persons who had seen him at different times, declared that they did see him, and that he rose from the dead; the fact of his death having been attested beforehand. How, then, dare any man say that the Christian religion is not true, when we know for a certainty that Christ died and rose again from the dead? And knowing that, who shall deny the divinity of the Savior? Who shall say that he is not mighty to save? Our faith hath a solid basis, for it hath all these witnesses on which to rest, and the more sure witness of the Holy Spirit witnessing in our hearts.

(Larsen, Timothy, Baker Dictionary of Evangelicals, IVP 2003; Spurgeon, Charles H. “The Resurrection of the Dead,” 2/17/1856)