You Need the Church
This morning I came across this blog post--I don't even know the author. However, I encourage you to read it.
She makes a great point that since we need the church, it's good for us to have a commitment that keeps us coming to church. Serving in your church can be that commitment, and there are lots of places to serve: ushering, nursery, security team, greeters, ABF teacher, SS teacher, children's church, orchestra, accompaniment, sound room, and others.
I've seen it too often. A church member gets busy with life and asks to be let out of a ministry commitment. Sometimes that might be necessary, but what happens too frequently is they then become detached from the church. Pretty soon their attendance suffers. Sometimes it ends with them not attending anywhere.
If you have a ministry commitment that tires you out and sometimes you just wish you were done with it, don't wish that. Instead, thank God that he's used that to keep you coming back to a community of believers that will help you grow. That's what church does. We don't grow without it; we can't grow without it (Eph 4:11-16).
Yes you might attend just as faithfully without a ministry commitment, but maybe you won't. Praise God for a ministry responsibility that gets you to church every week. It's where you should be. It's where you need to be (Heb 10:24-25).
A year ago I preached on this passage in our Hebrews series. I was looking over it again today, and I thought it might be helpful to summarize it as a blog post.
A background note: The KJV and NKJV use the word, chastening. That has led many to think that this passage is just about punishment. Or that what the author is talking about is something punitive for specific disobedience. However, it’s really the word, discipline. And discipline is whatever God uses to bring us to maturity, to correct us. Remember that we are not condemned (Rom 8:1). We won’t ever pay the price for our sins. Jesus did that on the cross. However, we are God’s children and we will be disciplined. He wants to make us like Christ in any way that we’re not.
God disciplines His children…and it’s good. Hebrews 12:4-9 tells us how to reinterpret suffering. How to recast hardships. By reinterpreting I mean that we come to a true understanding of them. We come to God’s understanding of them.
There are four reinterpretations we need.
Don’t Overstate Your Suffering—It’s Not As Bad As You Believe (12:4-5)
•Hebrews 12:4 (ESV) In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.
The audience of this epistle had suffered. We know that from Hebrews 10:32-34. They have suffered public abuse, loss of property, and even imprisonment. Those are substantial losses. This is not light suffering they’ve experienced.
But they hadn’t experienced loss of life of anyone in the community yet. Why mention this obvious fact to them? Surely they know they haven’t resisted to death yet. Why say it? Because our temptation is to overstate our hardships. And it’s not as bad as you believe. It’s really not.
You see our tendency is to think that we are the center of the world—certainly the center of our worlds. And that makes us look at our hardships as more difficult than they really are because they are happening to us.
But Scripture wants us to get perspective. We need to look around us and sympathize with the suffering of others. We need to bear one another’s burdens. When I’m suffering, I find it hard to think about the hardships of others. I can only see my own pain.
If we don’t understand God’s discipline it leads to two sinful responses found in verse 5…
•Hebrews 12:5 (ESV) And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons? “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him.
You Disregard God’s Discipline
If we get focused on our pain we can assume it has no purpose. It’s just the random stuff of life happening to us now. God has a purpose for your hardships. He never wastes pain, so don’t treat it lightly.
You Become Discouraged
This is probably the more likely sinful response. You get tired of God’s chastening. It seems so oppressive that you actually lose heart.
I think one of the difficult lessons that Christians learn over and over again is that God is not interested in making our lives pain free. Salvation doesn’t mean that your life suddenly becomes wonderful and prosperous and your car never has expensive mechanical problems.
God is not concerned with that vision of life. He has bigger plans for you. He actually wants you to be like His Son, Jesus. And He will discipline you and me to get us to that objective.
Don’t Think God Has Abandoned You—He Only Disciplines Those in the Family (12:6-8)
•Hebrews 12:6–8 (ESV) For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.” 7 It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? 8 If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons.
Here’s where our understanding really needs to change. We really need to reinterpret our hard times. Discipline means that God loves us. It’s actually the assurance that God loves us. A lack of chastisement is a bad sign. God disciplines those that He loves.
A father that doesn’t discipline, doesn’t love his child. You can say you do, but if a father doesn’t discipline his children, then he doesn’t care how they turn out. That’s a sign of indifference, but not a sign of love. So the father that loves his children will discipline them.
And it’s the same with God. It’s a sure sign of sonship to be chastened by God. Adversity, suffering, and hardships are the tools that God uses to sanctify His children. Suffering is not a sign of abandonment by God. No, it’s a sign of His love. Hardships don’t indicate God’s rejection. They are clear evidence of God’s fatherly care.
This is radical reinterpretation of suffering. Rather than being an indication of God’s indifference, it is a mark of His love for His children. Suffering should assure us of God’s care, not make us question it.
Don’t Resist God’s Discipline—You Can Submit to God (12:9-10)
•Hebrews 12:9–10 (ESV) Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? 10 For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness.
This passage makes an argument from the lesser human relationship to the greater. Our fathers might have poorly disciplined, but we still submitted to them. Can’t we also submit to our heavenly Father? With our human fathers it was their duty to discipline us and our duty to submit. Your father might not have disciplined well, or you might not have submitted well, but those were the responsibilities. Therefore, submit to the God that does discipline well.
Don’t resist God’s discipline. Why? Because…
God is Wiser Than Your Father
Your dad may have been mistaken in his discipline, but your heavenly Father will never impose any discipline that isn’t for your good. God doesn’t make arbitrary judgments.
God’s Purpose Is Better Than Your Father’s
Your dad was a sinner. So he made decisions about discipline that were often at least tainted by sin. That means that sometimes he disciplined you for his own convenience. Sometimes it wasn’t about your character, it was about what was best for him.
But God has no such limitation. God disciplines so we may grow in holiness. We are to become like Him. Your trouble is used by God to make you grow into holiness.
Don’t Focus on the Pain—the Result of Discipline Is Worth the Trouble (12:11)
•Hebrews 12:11 (ESV) For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.
In the moment, nobody enjoys discipline. When we’re in the midst of God’s discipline, it’s easy to focus only on the pain. Sometimes it does hurt so much. We lose something that we really value. God uses the pain to conform us to Christ’s image, but at the time, it doesn’t seem worth it to us.
But it bears good fruit. The outcome of suffering is substantial and pleasant. The period of discipline is followed by one of joy. We grow in righteousness through discipline. When reinterpreting our suffering this way, we can actually submit to it in the present. “Peaceful” reflects that the man that believes God’s discipline is designed for his good will cease to feel resentful and rebellious.
Pain wakes us up. God doesn’t waste pain, but He also doesn’t avoid it either. It’s a tool to make us grow. You and I wouldn’t have near the desire to grow if it weren’t for God’s discipline in our lives.
Don’t focus on your pain; instead think about the good fruit that God is growing in your life. Listen, God disciplines His children…and it’s good.
No Evening Service on Super Bowl Sunday?
Why We Don’t Have an Evening Service During the Super Bowl
Our church will not have our normal evening service on February 5, 2017. We started doing this a few years ago when our teens would meet at the church to watch the Super Bowl. They actually used the sanctuary for that night, so we vacated it. We’ve continued it because I am convinced that it’s practically another American holiday and it is best used by our church members differently.
Sunday morning is our main service of the day and we would never cancel or alter it for the Super Bowl. Scripture, however, doesn’t command us to meet twice on Sunday, so I think we can make changes to the evening service. I love our evening services. Most often we have 100+ people that come with a hunger for God’s Word. It’s our designated church family service at Chisago Lakes Baptist. By that I mean it’s when our membership gets care for, love, and listen to each other. It’s more informal, more practical, more testimonial, and more flexible. If you don’t come normally, you’re missing out.
But there are already days on the church calendar when we cancel our evening service. We cancel for Mother’s Day and Father’s Day so you can spend time with your family. We cancel Super Bowl Sunday so you can accept that invitation to your co-worker’s house or so you can invite them to your house. Use this evening for outreach, use it for family time, or use it for fellowship.
But most of all please, please cheer against the Patriots. ;)
Sanctity of Life Sunday 2017
Here's what I said in church on January 15, 2017.
Today is Sanctify of Human Life Sunday. I’m glad that President Reagan designated the first one in 1984, and churches have been celebrating it ever since. I also agree with what Russell Moore said in 2009.
I hate Sanctity of Human Life Sunday because I’m reminded that we have to say things to one another that human beings shouldn’t have to say. Mothers shouldn’t kill their children. Fathers shouldn’t abandon their babies. No human life is worthless, regardless of skin color, age, disability, economic status. The very fact that these things must be proclaimed is a reminder of the horrors of this present darkness. We’ll always need Christmas. We’ll always need Easter. But I hope, please Lord, someday soon, that Sanctity of Human Life Day is unnecessary. (Russell Moore, "Why I Hate Sanctity of Human Life Sunday", accessed on January 14, 2017.)
I’m going to make a political statement. I rarely make those. I’m all for defunding Planned Parenthood. Last year those undercover videos were released and we learned that Planned Parenthood is not really interested in women’s health. Of course we already knew that. They are in the business of making abortion available and prolific. They want to murder babies. I want them defunded.
Planned Parenthood was started by Margaret Sanger who was a proponent of eugenics. That’s the belief that some lower ethnic groups or classes shouldn’t reproduce. While Planned Parenthood would reject that philosophy today, ironically their existence still results in more black babies being killed as a percentage of the population than white babies. The racist Margaret Sanger, their founder, would be proud.
It’s interesting to me that white liberals are for abortion when aborted babies are disproportionately ethnic minorities. There is something paternalistic and even racist about white people helping black people kill their babies. And I think it’s good to point out how the application of abortion has a disproportionate impact on African Americans and Latinos.
Abortion is not wrong because minority babies are being killed, but because any baby is being killed. But it’s especially sad that those that our country has a sad legacy of oppressing are most likely to opt for abortion.
How do we respond to abortion. I’m hoping some year not have to suggest this because it will be over. Until then, however…
1.We weep. We cry for the babies that are murdered. We cry for the mothers and fathers that are so deceived by their sin that they think the evil of abortion is a good thing.
2.We pray. We pray for the medical professionals involved that God will reach their hearts. We pray for the mothers that they will trust Christ. We pray for ourselves, that we won’t be calloused to the scope of this tragedy.
3.We love. You and I cannot stop abortion by ourselves, but the Gospel can change lives. Maybe you reach one co-worker with the Gospel and his or her life is different than it would have been. Maybe…maybe a baby isn’t aborted that would have been otherwise.
4.We praise. We praise a God that can forgive the sin of abortion. We praise a God that can forgive our indifference to the plight of the unborn. We praise a God that can forgive mothers that seem to have few options. We praise a God that through Christ can forgive all of us—yes, even you—in spite of our sin.
God, You are a God of great mercy. You save those that deserve only Your judgment. You forgive those that repent and believe. God, we pray that Your mercy would pour down on our country. Abortion is a sinful blight; so many babies have been destroyed by mothers that were misled and deceived. These babies are not a mass of tissue; they are human life that should be allowed to live. Father, please change our country so that we begin to value unborn life. Help more and more women choose to have their babies. Father, help us to offer Your forgiveness to those mothers and fathers that wrongly thought abortion was their only option. May the gospel free them from their sin and grant them the joy that is only found in You.
Christmas Is on a Sunday--Be at Church
Guess what? Christmas is on a Sunday this year. I learned something is a thing that I was surprised was a thing. Here’s the thing I learned-—some churches are cancelling church on Christmas Sunday. I don’t mean canceling some services; I mean cancelling all services. They’re not meeting at all. And I’m not talking about churches that don’t believe the Bible is God’s Word or don’t believe Jesus is God. I’m talking about conservative evangelical churches. I’m not speechless because I’m almost never speechless, but I am very surprised. I don’t get it. Don’t decry the secularization of Christmas and then admit that opening presents is what Christmas is all about, not celebrating the birth of the Messiah. I mean, we’re talking the day we supposedly celebrate the birth of our Savior intersecting with the day that we worship Jesus together in church. And you’re cancelling church? I don’t get it. As one Christian said, “If we desire for the world to stop taking Christ out of Christmas, then we need not do the same through our actions on Christmas Day.” (Kaylee Freeman)
But I also learned another thing was a thing. That thing is some Christian families are planning to skip church on Christmas day. What? I get that you might not be able to get your present opening in before the service. So what? If your kids have to wait a little longer, they can. Yes, they really can. If you have to do them after church that morning, won’t you be teaching your kids vividly that Christmas is about Jesus, not them?
Even considering not being at church on Christmas Day shows that we have our priorities messed up. As one pastor said "Family is a gift, not a god. We rearrange our schedule for corporate worship; we don’t expect corporate worship to be rearranged for us." (Kevin DeYoung) Did you hear that? That deserves to be said again. "We rearrange our schedule for corporate worship; we don’t expect corporate worship to be rearranged for us."
It’s Christmas, it’s a celebration of the incarnation-—the Messiah became our Savior. Where else would you celebrate that on a Sunday but church? It’s also Sunday before it’s Christmas. Resurrection Day. The one day the church must gather together.
I’m excited about having our AM service on Christmas morning, What a great way to help ourselves and our kids have a God-honoring perspective about Christmas. We are commanded to meet as a church. That meeting happens on Sunday. We have made some accommodations. We won’t have our ABF hour nor our PM service. But we will have our main worship service that morning. Even if you’re out of town visiting family on Christmas Day, let me exhort you to be in church that morning unless Providence prevents you.
Two Questions about Our Bodies After Death
This past month a church member asked me a question about whether believers have physical bodies between death and the Rapture. Since this topic came up in our sanctuary ABF, I thought I would put it here. I've also included some thoughts from a sermon I preached in 1 Corinthians 15 about what kind of bodies we will have in the future resurrection.
Will Believers Have Physical Bodies Between Death and the Rapture?
This is not as clear in Scripture as other doctrines. We’re talking about the intermediate state of believers. It’s the state between death and the rapture. Where are we? Well we are “absent from the body and present with the Lord” (Phil 1:23; 2 Cor 5:8), so we are in heaven. However, do we have bodies or not at that point? that’s the controversy. When I was in college I wrote a paper explaining in part why I believed we had an intermediate body until we were united with our own bodies. However, now I don’t believe that. Here’s what my doctrinal statement from my ordination says.
I believe the next prophetic event to be fulfilled will be the coming of the Lord in the air to rapture all believers of this age. It is an imminent (Jn. 14:3; Phil 3:20; Titus 2:13), pre-tribulational and premillennial (1 Thess. 1:10; 2 Thess. 2:3-8), and personal return (1 Thess. 4:13-18) of Christ at which time the body of each dead Christian will be united with his spirit and living saints will be taken from the earth to meet the Lord in the air.
Notice it doesn’t talk about the intermediate state. That was probably purposeful. The less you say at an ordination, the less you can get quizzed on. ;)
So it’s not clear in Scripture, but there is no inherent problem with a disembodied existence for the believer. The soul/spirit can survive without a body (Mt 10:28). Several passages talk about death for a Christian as the death of the body, but not the soul/spirit (Acts 7:59; Phil 1:23-24; 2 Cor 5:8; Rev 6:9-10). Since Scripture never talks about Christians having bodies in the intermediate state, to believe so is based on speculation. Sometimes we guess because Scripture doesn’t say. However, here I think it’s safer to assume that our souls will exist apart from our bodies with Christ in heaven between death and the rapture. We will have a conscious existence; it just won’t be with a body. At the Rapture our souls will be reunited with our bodies which will also be glorified. From then on we will have a body for all eternity.
Will We Have the Same Body when We Are Resurrected?
Now as to whether we will have the exact same body we had when we died I believe there will be some differences.
• 1 Corinthians 15:35-38 (NKJV), But someone will say, “How are the dead raised up? And with what body do they come?” 36 Foolish one, what you sow is not made alive unless it dies. 37 And what you sow, you do not sow that body that shall be, but mere grain—perhaps wheat or some other grain. 38 But God gives it a body as He pleases, and to each seed its own body.
In verse 35 Paul is answering the question, “What kind of a body does a resurrected saint have?”
First century culture looked at the human body in some unique ways. Greek Gnostics believed that the body was evil; therefore, a bodily resurrection seemed like a bad idea to them. Why would you want to resurrect the source of evil—the human body? We don’t believe that your actual body is the source of your sin. If you could live without a body in this life, you would still be a sinner. Sin is in you—the real you, not your outward, bodily shell.
If you look at 1 Corinthians 6:12-20 Paul gives us a theology of the body in that paragraph. What you do with your body matters to God. Your body is the vehicle used to either glorify God or please yourself. But it is not the cause of your sin like the Greek Gnostics believed.
Supposedly Jewish rabbis believed that the resurrection body was identical in every way to the earthly body. It was the same exact body. They believed in a general resurrection, but they expected it to be the same body that went into the grave. Well, Paul is going to teach us that it’s not the identical body that went into the grave.
There is connection between physical bodies and resurrection bodies—there is continuity. In other words, they are not completely different. That’s what the analogy of the seed communicates.
The passage uses a simple illustration. Everyone knows that the plant doesn’t look at all like the seed that sprung it. The seed actually must die for the plant to come forth. Germination causes the seed to disappear—to die. Generally, the seed is gone, but the plant comes from the seed. Farmers don’t harvest seeds; they harvest plants. If all you wanted was seeds, then buy more packets of seeds. Don’t even plant them. But that’s not what any farmer wants.
It dies as a seed to spring forth as a plant. Even though the seed is dead; it is “resurrected” or brought to life in the plant.
The plant is something completely different from the seed, yet it’s not. There is continuity between the seed and the plant.
So what do we learn from this illustration? You don’t get a new body until the old one dies. You will have a better body someday. Your physical body is the bare seed of what will be when you are raised. Why do we need a better body? Since this entire world is under the curse of sin, even our bodies must be redeemed.
Christ’s resurrected body is the pattern for ours. It was the same, but different. Christ’s resurrection body was His body, but it was also different. His Resurrection body went through walls; it appeared out of nowhere. • Luke 24:15 (NKJV), So it was, while they conversed and reasoned, that Jesus Himself drew near and went with them. • Luke 24:36 (NKJV), Now as they said these things, Jesus Himself stood in the midst of them, and said to them, “Peace to you.” • John 20:19 (NKJV), Then, the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in the midst, and said to them, “Peace be with you.”
So it was different. However, His followers could recognize Him. • Luke 24:31 (NKJV), Then their eyes were opened and they knew Him; and He vanished from their sight.
So there was continuity between Christ’s physical body and His resurrection body.
Verses 35-38 indicate that your resurrection body will be different, but still recognizable as you. It will change, but still be you. You will still be you, but with a much better body. Paul didn’t believe that the same body you had at death is what is raised. It has continuity with your original body, but it is different. It’s the same body only…different.
Your loved ones that have died in Christ will still be your loved ones, but with much better bodies. And they’ll be recognizable. If you knew them in this life, you will know them in the next life.
Thank God your Child is a Mediocre Athlete
I came across this online article, and it points out our tendency to idolize our kids' athletic abilities to the detriment of their and our spiritual lives. The author has a sense of humor in communicating his message. Read and enjoy.
When Should Your Child Date?
I came across a blog from Desiring God ministries that I’ve linked to below on this topic, and it prompted me to let you know how my wife and I have tried to think through this issue. BTW, I’m going to switch between past and present tense somewhat incomprehensibly since two of our children are in college and the other two are in high school.
Our goal was for our kids to please God in how they related to the opposite sex. One of the best outcomes in our opinion was if our children developed friendships that were pure and holy. We didn’t want them to have regrets. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if your child could bring their spouse to meet an old high school romance and it wasn’t awkward—they didn’t have memories of sinning together? That was a scenario that we painted for our kids.
So I’m describing an ideal, and I am not embarrassed about holding out that ideal to my children. But the gospel teaches us that God takes messed up people, forgives their sins, and clothes them with Christ’s righteousness. Sinful failures in our relationships to the opposite sex don’t have to define us. Our identity in Christ is what defines us. God grants forgiveness to repentant sexual sinners. Praise God for that!
So what was our rule? Our kids weren’t allowed to have a dating relationship until they were able to get married. Our thought was that dating is for marriage. I’ve said that dozens of times to my children. So if you aren’t old enough to get married, then you aren’t old enough to date. Practically what that meant was they couldn’t have a dating relationship until they graduated from high school.
However, I’m not saying that the first person they date after high school should be whom they marry. No. Dating is for marriage, but that doesn’t mean that each dating experience should lead inevitably to marriage with that person. An adult might date several people less seriously and maybe a few more seriously before moving toward marriage with one particular person. Dating should be leading somewhere though. Even a bad date can help them on the road to marriage because they probably just learned some things that they don’t want in a future spouse. ;)
This is not the gospel. This is not biblically mandated. It’s an area of Christian liberty where we tried to help our kids make wise decisions. Of course we can’t prevent them from liking a particular person of the opposite sex nor would we even try to. But they couldn’t go on dates with that person. The only exceptions were a formal date like our school’s Junior-Senior Banquet because that is chaperoned and because it helps them learn how to properly relate to the opposite sex in a formal situation.
And even if our son/daughter had a girl/guy that they were really good friends with, we regularly ask them if they are looking at them as a good friend, which is okay, or a dating relationship, which isn’t. How would they know? Are they relating to the person in ways that they wouldn’t relate to a good friend of the opposite sex?
This doesn’t have to be everyone’s family rule. However, I do wonder why Christian parents are sometimes in such a rush to have their kids date. What’s the hurry?
Frankly I’ve seen enough Facebook posts to doubt that Christian teens are handling their dating relationships wisely while they’re in them, and the aftermath when they break up sometimes shows their misplaced values and immature search for identity. And you’re never going to convince me that a history of dating early and intensely and then breaking up has prepared a teen better for eventual Christian marriage than not dating would have. Seriously, can you name one spiritual benefit from dating in high school? Maybe you can. I’ve not thought of one. And I can think of several temptations dating could bring.
Our children are encouraged to have wholesome relationships with the opposite sex through school and church events or other group activities. They don’t need the pressure of finding a girlfriend or boyfriend in junior high or high school.
You are not helping your child find satisfaction in Jesus if even unintentionally you encourage them to find their identity in a boyfriend or girlfriend. Like I said, it’s not the gospel. It’s just something to think about.
Here’s the link to a well-written article on this topic from Desiring God Ministries.
I’ve been thinking about our annual theme this year from Hebrews 12:1-2—Run Light, Run Long, and Follow Christ. Specifically I’ve been thinking about running light. That’s a summary of part of Hebrews 12:1, “let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely” (ESV).
It’s not surprising to most of us that running light means laying aside sin. Some Christians’ spiritual life is on life support because they have indulged the flesh. There is little difference between them and their atheist neighbors. They have been sidelined by pornography, materialism, envy, bitterness, or idolatries of many different types. Running light means repenting of sin. But you expected that.
But running light also means laying aside every weight. These can be activities and interests that aren’t necessarily wrong, but weigh us down. We are so busy; we have so many things to do and most of them are obligations that were voluntary. Let me be clear. If you are too busy to attend church, then you are too busy. If you are too busy to serve in church, then you are too busy. Things have weighed you down, maybe even good things, but you are not running the Christian race like God wants.
So look at your life. What distracts you? What slows you down? What keeps you from church? What keeps you from service? Following Jesus means saying no to some good things so you can say yes to Jesus. God doesn’t want the hours you have left over after you’ve done what you want to do. He wants your whole life. Are you running light?
The Book of Jonah: An Introduction
This Sunday (July 17, 2016) we are starting a new Sunday morning series in the Book of Jonah. Like all series that I preach, I'm excited about this one. I've been studying for our first sermon this Sunday, and I came across a youtube video that I think will help you understand Jonah. The Bible Project is a group that creates animated videos (think whiteboard, not cartoons) about each book of the Bible. The one on Jonah is about 10 minutes, but I think you'll find it helps you understand this minor prophet. So click Jonah and enjoy!
In Honor of Our Country
I gave this eulogy at three local cemeteries on Memorial Day, 2016.
I always feel a bit inadequate providing the eulogy for our local Memorial Day celebrations because I realize my debt to those that have served. I think if you’ve served our country in the military, you can understand the sacrifice of those that gave all, and you’ve done your part to pay for our liberty. With an all-volunteer army many of us have never served. Those of us that haven’t served should feel a little inadequate… like we are in the midst of giants because we are. We are recipients of great liberty that we haven’t paid for.
We do this in cemeteries around our community because we think of those that died. Let me tell you a story of one American that gave his all.
Death was not uncommon among aircrews during World War II. Over 6500 B-17s and B-24s were lost during the war in Europe. That’s a staggering number. Many of them with loss of life. So the true story I’m about to tell to you is not unique because an airman died, but because of the way he died.
[Reporter] “Andy Rooney witnessed a particularly awful death. He was on an air base in England as a flight returned. The radio was crackling as there were half a dozen bombers with dead and dying men aboard. Then there was a frantic call: the ball turret gunner in one B-17 was trapped. [the ball turret gunner was in that plastic bubble below the airplane.] The gears that rotated the ball to put the gunner in position to shoot and then returned him to the position that let him climb out and back up into the airplane had been hit and were jammed. He was caught in his plastic cage. “Two engines were out and the plane was losing altitude fast and barely making 135 miles per hour, close to stall-out speed. The pilot ordered the crew to throw out everything. The men started pitching out machine guns, ammunition, oxygen tanks, and every instrument they could tear loose. The pilot opened the [valves] on the fuel tanks to drain them down to the last few gallons. The hydraulic system was spewing fluid. The wheels could not be brought down. A belly landing was inevitable. For eight minutes, the pilot, the tower, and the ball turret gunner talked on the radio. The gunner knew what was coming. Rooney wrote, ‘We all watched in horror as it happened. We watched as this man’s life ended, mashed between the concrete pavement of the runway and the belly of the bomber.’”[Stephen E. Ambrose, Citizen Soldiers (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1997), 300-01]
It doesn’t sound like a noble death for an airman. No one goes to war thinking that’s how he is going to die. We all imagine ourselves—if we have to die—dying an admirable death. But no soldier imagines himself or herself dying in a tragic way. We wish that all that gave their lives died in dignified ways, but war is not dignified. It’s messy and ugly and lives are sometimes so cheap.
But all military deaths are worth appreciating on Memorial Day. Maybe the tragic even more than the noble because a war cannot be won without many many tragic deaths.
One of my favorite presidential speeches is one that President Ronald Reagan gave in Normandy, France on the fortieth anniversary of D-Day. It was June 6, 1984, and it’s called “The Boys of Pointe du Hoc.”, and he gave it in the presence of some of the very Army Rangers he was talking about.
Of course D-Day was the beginning of the end for Nazi Germany. While the Allies had some successes to that point, most of Europe was still under Nazi oppression. D-Day was successful because of the thousands of sacrifices big and small that soldiers made for freedom.
Let me read you some of President Reagan’s speech.
… We stand on a lonely, windswept point on the northern shore of France. The air is soft, but 40 years ago at this moment, the air was dense with smoke and the cries of men, and the air was filled with the crack of rifle fire and the roar of cannon. At dawn, on the morning of the 6th of June, 1944, 225 Rangers jumped off the British landing craft and ran to the bottom of these cliffs. Their mission was one of the most difficult and daring of the invasion: to climb these sheer and desolate cliffs and take out the enemy guns. The Allies had been told that some of the mightiest of these guns were here and they would be trained on the beaches to stop the Allied advance. The Rangers looked up and saw the enemy soldiers -- the edge of the cliffs shooting down at them with machineguns and throwing grenades. And the American Rangers began to climb. They shot rope ladders over the face of these cliffs and began to pull themselves up. When one Ranger fell, another would take his place. When one rope was cut, a Ranger would grab another and begin his climb again. They climbed, shot back, and held their footing. Soon, one by one, the Rangers pulled themselves over the top, and in seizing the firm land at the top of these cliffs, they began to seize back the continent of Europe. Two hundred and twenty-five came here. After 2 days of fighting, only 90 could still bear arms. … These are the boys of [Pwent du hoe] Pointe du Hoc. These are the men who took the cliffs. These are the champions who helped free a continent. These are the heroes who helped end a war. … Forty summers have passed since the battle that you fought here. You were young the day you took these cliffs; some of you were hardly more than boys, with the deepest joys of life before you. Yet, you risked everything here. Why? Why did you do it? What impelled you to put aside the instinct for self-preservation and risk your lives to take these cliffs? What inspired all the men of the armies that met here? We look at you, and somehow we know the answer. It was faith and belief; it was loyalty and love. The men of Normandy had faith that what they were doing was right, faith that they fought for all humanity, faith that a just God would grant them mercy on this beachhead or on the next. It was the deep knowledge -- and pray God we have not lost it -- that there is a profound, moral difference between the use of force for liberation and the use of force for conquest. You were here to liberate, not to conquer, and so you and those others did not doubt your cause. And you were right not to doubt.
Can you picture the impossibility of their task? It was terrifically unlikely that they would succeed in climbing the cliffs and silencing the enemy’s guns. But faced with impossible tasks, American soldiers just press forward and accomplish them. It’s been a defining characteristic of the American military for over 200 years.
I’m glad you are here today. Memorial Day is not primarily about BBQ or camping or picnics. It’s about taking some time and appreciating those that served our country and in some cases, gave their lives. Thanks for doing that today.
Heavenly Father, we thank you for the sacrifices of the men and women in this cemetery that served in the military. Most of them didn’t die in battle, but all of them were willing to. It’s really impossible to thank them appropriately. We enjoy amazing freedom because of their service. Saying a simple thank you seems so inadequate. But that’s all we can do. So we thank them, and we thank You for providing our country with such men and women. People for whom no task was too hard and no sacrifice was too much.
Father, I also thank you for the greatest example of sacrifice that we find in your Son, Jesus Christ. I’m grateful that because of His death, every person that repents and believes can have You as a friend, not an enemy. We don’t have to be at war with you.
It’s your grace that has given us the freedom we have. Thanks for providing that freedom through the men and women in this cemetery. We commit them to You, the God of all the earth that always does right.
Prophecy in Isaiah 24-27
This week in our Summer Home Bible Study we are looking at Isaiah 24-27. We knew when we decided on this study that some of the prophetic sections might be interpreted differently than our church would do so. For example, we understand the Rapture to be the next event on God’s prophetic calendar. It could happen at any time, and it is followed by the seven-year Tribulation. At the end of the Tribulation Christ returns (His Second Coming) and inaugurates the Millennium when Jesus will rule from David’s throne in Jerusalem.
So we see Isaiah 24-27 as describing the awful devastation of the Tribulation followed by the wonderful blessings of Jesus’ millennial rule. Isaiah 24 talks about the Tribulation (vv. 1-20), the punishment of world leaders (or wicked angels) at the end of the Millennium during the Great White Throne Judgment (vv. 21-22), and God’s eternal reign from the New Jerusalem after this judgment (v. 23). Isaiah 25-27 take us back to the Millennial (1000 year) Kingdom rule of Christ and the blessings which will characterize it with a few references to the judgment at the end of the Tribulation. Since these chapters are poetry, it can get confusing as the author refers to different prophetic events. Our study doesn’t reflect this prophetic timetable. One place it’s most apparent is when it confuses the trumpet blast of Isaiah 27:13 (heralding the future regathering of Jews to worship the Lord in Jerusalem in the Millennium) with the trumpet blast of 1 Thess 4:16 (referring to the Rapture).
Maybe that was more than you wanted to know, but since our study doesn’t always exactly fit how our church views prophecy (dispensational and premillennial are two important theological terms for us), I wanted to help clarify these chapters. Let's meet on Wednesday night and enjoy Isaiah.
Raising Christian Kids in a Public School
This morning I read a wonderful post by a pastor's wife encouraging parents that were putting their oldest child in kindergarten. They had chosen a public school and since her own children were in public schools, she had biblical wisdom and practical experience. Her first lesson on centering your life on the church is worth the entire read. I hope it helps and encourages parents in our church that have chosen public education.
Statement on the Same Sex Marriage Ruling by the Supreme Court
I wrote this and read it to the church in the evening service on June 28, 2015.
This morning I made a subtle reference to the recent Supreme Court ruling on same sex marriage. By God’s providence we were honoring our elected leaders in our morning service and I didn’t think it appropriate to talk directly about it then. We invited them for the purpose of honoring them; not for the purpose of making them feel awkward.
We live in a topsy turvy world where wrong is called right.
Isaiah 5:20 (NKJV) Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; Who put darkness for light, and light for darkness; Who put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!
The Supreme Court ruled that same sex marriage is a civil right. That’s not a righteous decision, and it’s also not a constitutional decision. Nothing in the constitution talks about marriage at all. Chief Justice Roberts said in his dissent, “The majority’s decision is an act of will, not a legal judgment.” You cannot redefine a term because you feel bad for people. Calling a circle a square doesn’t make it a square. Calling the relationship between two homosexuals a marriage doesn’t make it a marriage. This was a narrow victory, 5 to 4. For such a far-reaching and impactful decision they won by one vote.
Christians have known virtually no persecution in the United States. That is a historical bubble in the history of the church, and it’s unique even today as our brothers and sisters in Christ in other countries face persecution and oppression for their faith.
This ruling will probably change that. It will be subtle at first. A newspaper in PA immediately after the Supreme Court ruling said this: “As a result of Friday's ruling, PennLive/The Patriot-News will very strictly limit op-Eds and letters to the editor in opposition to same-sex marriage. These unions are now the law of the land. And we will not publish such letters and op-Eds any more than we would publish those that are racist, sexist or anti-Semitic.”
Did you catch that? Opposition to same sex marriage is going to be seen as bigotry, and there is no civil discourse to be had with a bigot. It’s in the same category as racism, sexism, and anti-semitism. Of course that shuts down discussion. The paper later backtracked and said they were only concerned that profanity not be used, but that’s dishonest. That was already the policy of that newspaper and every other newspaper in the land. Opposition to homosexuality has been called homophobic for a long time. It’s a pejorative term designed to equate religious objections with hatred and ignorance.
And Christians will be hated. This shouldn’t surprise us.
Luke 6:22 (NKJV) Blessed are you when men hate you, And when they exclude you, And revile you, and cast out your name as evil, For the Son of Man’s sake.
John 15:18–19 (NKJV) “If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you. 19 If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.
This ruling by the Supreme Court sets the stage for the elimination of certain government privileges and constitutional safeguards for religious groups. They will start with Christian businesses, then non-profit parachurch organizations like Christian colleges, and finally churches. If you disagree with same sex marriage, you will lose your non-profit status. Christian colleges will lose their accreditation. The government will be used to pressure you to conform. It’s a sad day for religious liberty, and it’s all the more ironic when you realize that people that were fleeing religious persecution founded our country. All they wanted was freedom to practice their religion and allow their faith to intersect public life. It seems that that will eventually be restricted after this ruling by the Supreme Court.
And this ruling won’t provide the happiness that homosexuals want. They believe that their unhappiness is caused by the bigotry of others. One of the arguments at the Supreme Court was that the only reason for preventing homosexual marriage is animus—strong dislike or hostility to homosexuality. If you eliminate the animus they assume, they will be happy. That’s not true.
John Piper says “Christians, more clearly than others, can see the tidal wave of pain that is on the way. Sin carries in it its own misery.” There is a built in dissatisfaction with sin. Buyer’s remorse is part of sin. Homosexuality cannot satisfy no matter how much society changes.
Romans 1:26–27 (NKJV) For this reason God gave them up to vile passions. For even their women exchanged the natural use for what is against nature. 27 Likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust for one another, men with men committing what is shameful, and receiving in themselves the penalty of their error which was due.
Romans 1:27b (NASB95) men with men committing indecent acts and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error.
Romans 1:27b (ESV) men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.
All sin has built in dissatisfaction, but we’re told specifically that homosexual sin does. It has the seeds of punishment built into it.
Piper goes on,
And on top of sin’s self-destructive power comes, eventually, the final wrath of God…. Christians know what is coming, not only because we see it in the Bible, but because we have tasted the sorrowful fruit of our own sins. We do not escape the truth that we reap what we sow. Our marriages, our children, our churches, our institutions — they are all troubled because of our sins. The difference is: We weep over our sins. We don’t celebrate them. We don’t institutionalize them. We turn to Jesus for forgiveness and help.
How do we respond?
We trust God.
God is still in control. He could have had Justice Kennedy vote the other way, but He didn’t.
We love homosexuals.
We will be accused of hatred, but they shouldn’t have any reason to believe that other than our opposition to their sin. We should love them like any other neighbor God calls us to love.
Russell Moore is a Southern Baptist leader and he said in a commentary in the Washington Post, “We must stand with conviction and with kindness, with truth and with grace. We must hold to our views and love those who hate us for them. We must not only speak Christian truths; we must speak with a Christian accent. We must say what Jesus has revealed, and we must say those things the way Jesus does — with mercy and with an invitation to new life.”
We stand for traditional marriage.
We don’t validate their sin. Chisago Lakes Baptist Church will not concede on traditional marriage. We will continue to uphold God’s plan for marriage as one man and one woman for life. We are imperfect in our pursuit of it, so humility is in order. But you don’t help a sinner by validating their sin.
This is very serious. 1 Corinthians 6 gives a list of sins that cannot characterize a genuine believer.
1 Corinthians 6:9–11 (NKJV) Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, 10 nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God.
This is not the only sin, but it is clearly one that cannot be habitually practiced by a believer. Same sex attraction is a struggle for some Christian brothers and sisters in Christ. There is grace for their struggle. There really is. But giving into homosexual practice is not a mark of a believer. A habitual practicing homosexual is unsaved. A habitual drunk is unsaved. That’s what God’s Word says. This is a Gospel issue and in coming years churches will be divided between those that love the Gospel and those that have given up the Gospel over this issue. Our church has loved the Gospel for over 50 years. By God’s grace we will continue to preach the Gospel not just to homosexuals, but to all people that are broken by sin.
Russell Moore ends his article this way,
The witness to marriage will be, like the pro-life movement, a long-term strategy that is multi-pronged. This is no time for fear or outrage or politicizing. We see that we are strangers and exiles in American culture. We are on the wrong side of history, just like we started. We should have been all along. Let’s seek the kingdom. Let’s stand with the gospel. Let’s fear our God. But let’s not fear our mission field.
Let’s not fear the future. God still reigns. As I said this morning, the Supreme Court doesn’t get the last word. The Supreme Being does.
 “The Supremes got it right - It's no longer 'gay marriage.' It's 'marriage.' And we're better for it: Editorial,” PennLive Editorial Board, accessed 6/28/2015, http://www.pennlive.com/opinion/2015/06/gay_marriage_anthony_kennedy_o.html#incart_2box_opinion.
 John Piper, “So-Called Same-Sex Marriage: Lamenting the New Calamity,” Desiring God, accessed 6/28/2015, http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/so-called-same-sex-marriage.
 John Piper, http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/so-called-same-sex-marriage.
 Russell Moore, “Why the church should neither cave nor panic about the decision on gay marriage,” Washington Post, accessed 6/28/2015, http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/acts-of-faith/wp/2015/06/26/why-the-church-should-neither-cave-nor-panic-about-the-decision-on-gay-marriage.
 Russell Moore, http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/acts-of-faith/wp/2015/06/26/why-the-church-should-neither-cave-nor-panic-about-the-decision-on-gay-marriage.
Should Christian Parents Leave An Inheritance To Their Children?
I came across this blog post by Randy Alcorn and it's interesting food for thought. It doesn't take long to read.
Memorial Day Eulogy 2014
Yesterday I had the honor of joining our community's remembrance of fallen soldiers at the Memorial Day Observances at Lakeside Park in Forest Lake and three local cemeteries. Here is what I said.
Memorial Day Eulogy 2014
This is my third time being honored to give one of the Memorial Day Eulogies for our community. I confess that I always feel my words are inadequate to express the earnest, grateful, and contemplative attitudes that are appropriate for this occasion. It’s not just that I feel my words don’t mean enough, but that the task is too great for my pen.
How do you thank the dead on behalf of the living? How do you enjoy freedom, but not take it for granted? How do you celebrate this weekend with a mixture of sorrow and joy? How do you eulogize our departed military veterans?
Eulogy is a combination of two Greek words that means “good words” or “good speaking.” I hope to speak well of the dead this morning.
In 1962, just two years before he died, General Douglas MacArthur gave a speech titled, “Duty, Honor, Country” at the United States Military Academy at West Point. He does a better job of extolling the American soldier than I ever could.
He’s addressing future officers of the US Army when he says…
And what sort of soldiers are those you are to lead? Are they reliable? Are they brave? Are they capable of victory? Their story is known to all of you. It is the story of the American man-at-arms. My estimate of him was formed on the battlefield many, many years ago, and has never changed. I regarded him then as I regard him now -- as one of the world's noblest figures, not only as one of the finest military characters, but also as one of the most stainless. His name and fame are the birthright of every American citizen. In his youth and strength, his love and loyalty, he gave all that mortality can give.
He needs no eulogy from me or from any other man. He has written his own history and written it in red on his enemy's breast. But when I think of his patience under adversity, of his courage under fire, and of his modesty in victory, I am filled with an emotion of admiration I cannot put into words. He belongs to history as furnishing one of the greatest examples of successful patriotism. He belongs to posterity as the instructor of future generations in the principles of liberty and freedom. He belongs to the present, to us, by his virtues and by his achievements. In 20 campaigns, on a hundred battlefields, around a thousand campfires, I have witnessed that enduring fortitude, that patriotic self-abnegation, and that invincible determination which have carved his statue in the hearts of his people. From one end of the world to the other he has drained deep the chalice of courage.
Those are the people that we honor today. It’s hard to say too much about them. When duty called, they answered. Some volunteered and some were drafted, but all served their country nobly… and without a thought of what they could get out of it.
General MacArthur also said.
The soldier, above all other men, is required to practice the greatest act of religious training -- sacrifice.
In battle and in the face of danger and death, he discloses those divine attributes which his Maker gave when he created man in his own image. No physical courage and no brute instinct can take the place of the Divine help which alone can sustain him.
However horrible the incidents of war may be, the soldier who is called upon to offer and to give his life for his country is the noblest development of mankind.
No country can survive without citizens that are willing to put their well being at risk for the sake of their country. By God’s grace, America has produced people that pay this price every time it is necessary.
That willingness to give your life for others can be one of the highest expressions of noble character. It’s like what the Bible says [John 15:13, ESV] “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.”
Minnesota has an especially rich heritage of military sacrifice. In the Civil War—that awful conflict—our state had one of the highest volunteer and casualty rates per capita of any northern state.
Many of you probably know that the First Minnesota Regiment sustained especially heavy casualties at Gettysburg. On the evening of July 3, 1863 they were commanded to charge General Cadmus Wilcox’s Alabama Brigade as it was about break the Union lines. The First Minnesota was outnumbered 5 to 1, but they didn’t hesitate. Percentages differ but they sustained at least 68% and as many as 82% casualties on this one charge.
In his book, Last Full Measure: The Life and Death of the First Minnesota Volunteers, Richard Moe relates the story of when President Calvin Coolidge came to Cannon Falls, Minnesota early in the last century to dedicate a statute to Colonel William Colvill.
In speaking of the First Minnesota and their charge at Gettysburg, President Coolidge said…
In all the history of warfare this charge has few, if any, equals and no superiors. It was an exhibition of the most exalted heroism against an apparently insuperable antagonist. By holding the Confederate forces in check until other reserves came up, it probably saved the Union army from defeat…. So far as human judgment can determine, Colonel Colvill and those eight companies of the First Minnesota are entitled to rank among the saviors of their country.
–Moe, Richard. Last Full Measure: The Life and Death of the First Minnesota Volunteers. St. Paul, MN: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2001, 313.
Soldiers like that were minted in Minnesota. Soldiers like that are what we honor today.
And we say thank you. That’s the best we can do, and it’s appropriate even if it will never be enough. In the midst of the busyness of this weekend we carve out a little time to say thank you to those that were willing to give their lives for us.
And we commit them to God who does all things well, and knows each one by name.
O God our Father, we thank You for giving us men and women like the ones that are laid to rest in this cemetery and so many other cemeteries across our country and in foreign lands. No one deserves the sacrifice of another’s life for himself or herself and we honor those that were willing to make that sacrifice.
God, you elevated sacrifice on that day when you gave Your own Son on the cross for us so that those who repent and trust could enjoy eternity with You.
Your sacrifice is the pattern for all other sacrifices.
It is proper that we honor those military dead that were willing to give everything. We pray to you, the giver and taker of life. No one falls without Your notice. None are missing that You have not known.
We commit them to you, the God of all the earth who always does right. And we thank you for them in the name of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world,
Are You Semi-Churched?
Kevin DeYoung has an excellent post the thoughts of which most pastors would echo. It's short and challenging. Please read and consider whether you are semi-churched.
Can I go a day without sin?
We had a good discussion in our men’s Bible study this morning. We’re reading Living The Cross-Centered Life by CJ Mahaney and we discussed chapters 4-5. Since Mahaney emphasizes our sinfulness, one person asked whether it’s possible to go a day without sinning. He said what many have thought, that at times you review your day and maybe can’t think of a specific sin you have committed. So are we as sinful as Mahaney and other pastors (this pastor) thinks we are?
Yes we are. Sin blinds us to itself, so it’s not surprising that we might think we’re less sinful than we are. And growth in Christian maturity means we will grow in being aware of our sinfulness. That’s what the church, the Holy Spirit, and the Word help us see more clearly.
However, I think the question of whether we can go a day without sin is not one the Bible seems concerned about. I can’t think of any passage that discusses whether Christians can go a day without sin. It doesn't seem to be a question that biblical authors considered. It has a fascination for us, but not for them.
More importantly, I wonder if the question misunderstands sin. It seems to assume that sin is just acts or behavior, not an orientation of the heart. Let me explain. There have been a few times in my life when my family has been gone for a few days and I’ve been alone around the house. Surprisingly, I commit no relational sins while I’m home on those days. No arguments, no hurtful sarcasm, no frustration with the kids leaving lights on, and no anger directed at my wife. Now, does that mean that for those few days I have become holier? Of course not. It’s just that circumstances haven’t squeezed my heart enough to expose the sin. When my family returns, I experience all the temptations that I experienced before they left. While they were gone, it’s possible I could have reached the end of the day and not had one relational sin to confess. But that has nothing to do with holiness.
One of the men in our Bible study suggested a monk living alone on a mountaintop as another example. He has no relational sins to confess either. If he’s fasting, he’s probably not worried about his next meal, nor is he complaining about a previous meal. He has no worries about finances either. So he could convince himself that he’s living a holier life. When he comes down off the mountaintop, he will be faced with the same temptations, and he will succumb to some of them again. Why? Because his circumstances are now exposing his indwelling sin in a way they didn’t before.
So it’s possible I might go sometime without being aware of my sin because sin blinds me to itself. Or it’s possible I might have pleasant circumstances that don’t expose my heart’s orientation. But neither of those are evidence that I am any less a sinner. Just because God has graciously given me pleasant circumstances that don't as readily expose my heart doesn't mean I'm not still dealing with indwelling sin. Growth in maturity means being skeptical of my heart when it tells me I’m not much of a sinner.
The Idolatry of Thrift
I came across this blog and really enjoyed it. I think sometimes that those of us that value thrift can be idolaters just like a materialist is. Read and see if your "wise stewardship" is actually self-reliance--something that doesn't please God.
Minnesota has a proposed constitutional amendment defining marriage as between a man and a woman that will be on the ballot in November. I hope every member of our church votes to maintain a biblical definition of marriage. Here is a great article on how to respond to the charge that homosexual marriage is the next step of the civil rights movement.