Dear Brothers and Sisters of CLBC,
Since our last “normal” church gathering on March 15, we have been thoughtfully and prayerfully considering our response to COVID-19 and the resulting restrictions. For much of this season, our attention has been focused on our daily and weekly tasks including online sermons, Zoom meetings, phone calls, and emails. Our overall approach to getting back together, however, has been one of prayerful patience and following the leadership of our state and local governments. The vast majority of churches have taken this same approach.
In the past few days, we have been working on communicating a way forward. However, as soon as we have planned a measured response, it seems events change. Ultimately, President Trump’s announcement this afternoon that churches are essential allows us to move forward while maintaining our position to submit to our government, which we communicated back in March.
With this said, we eagerly anticipate holding services in our building on May 31, of course with necessary precautions in place which we will communicate next week. We are working together with several individuals in our church to ensure that we follow the health guidelines as much as is possible and practicable. We want to encourage those who are at risk or who would choose not to attend to continue to watch the sermons online and stay in touch with others in our church body through other channels. Nobody should feel pressure to come on May 31. Your choice concerning whether to come during Covid 19 should be made prayerfully, and we should all be charitable with those that make a different decision.
Our plan for this Sunday, May 24, remains the same as what Pastor Kraig communicated in a church-wide email earlier this week. We will be holding our second parking lot service. Please see his email for details. You may wonder why we are not meeting this Sunday. Since the plan for our parking lot service was already in place, we wanted to continue with that for this weekend. With President Trump’s announcement coming on a Friday afternoon, we did not feel that we had sufficient time to change all the logistics and safety measures and do it well.
Whenever we have gathered in the past, we have made it our aim to be gracious in regard to differing viewpoints on matters such as secondary doctrines, political views, and our favorite football teams. ;) Let us do that in this matter of Covid 19 and reopening as well. Let’s continue to work together that Christ may be magnified. And please keep us in prayer. We want God glorified through our church.
For His Glory,
Pastor Kraig and Pastor Ben
Is This Picture Worth a Thousand Words?
A picture is worth a thousand words. You’ve heard that statement many times, but it’s not always true, is it? The statement could imply that a picture says all that needs to be said, with no further need for interpretation. But we have all seen many photos that cause us to ask “what is going on here?” Captions are often necessary for us to understand what’s going on, lest we misunderstand or misinterpret them.
The dreadful “picture” of Jesus hanging on a cross was an image that some subjected to faulty (even wicked) interpretation. In Matthew 27:42, we read of the chief priests, teachers of the law, and elders who were mocking Jesus, sneering “He saved others, but he cannot save himself!”
To them, this was merely a question of ability. “If he had the ability to save himself, surely he would”, they thought. But their statement merely exposed their own hearts, not the Savior’s lack of ability. All this shows is that if the lives of these so-called leaders of Israel were on the line, they would have done everything in their power to preserve themselves.
Such is not the case with our dear Savior. Jesus himself had said “no one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down and power to take it up again” (Jn 10:18).
The bloody crucifixion of Christ had nothing to do with his powerlessness. It had everything to do with what the “teachers of the law” did not have: sacrificial love. Thus, their interpretation could not be more defective. It was precisely because he lovingly refused to save himself that he could save others.
The sad thing about this is that there was a plain-to-see, giant-print caption that accompanied this dark picture. That caption consisted of all of Jesus’ teaching up to this climactic point. In fact, the caption was the entire Old Testament (Lk 24:25-27). In short, love was the caption (1 Jn 4:10). We could say that this picture requires far more than a thousand words of explanation, but each word testifies of and points us back to what, or really Who, we see in the picture.
The leaders of Israel, in rejecting Christ, rejected the Father and his love for them. My prayer, this Passion Week, is that you will embrace all that God tells you about his Son, that you will see Jesus more clearly; that when you see the cross, you would not see a powerless victim that evokes hollow pity, but the Sovereign Creator who loves you and laid down his life for you. Praise Him!
Not Meeting and Hebrews 10:25
In an email I was asked how our not meeting right now matches with Heb 10:25.
Hebrews 10:25 (NASB95) not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.
It was a sincere question, and I think many of us have wondered this too. We’ve got the command to attend church (Heb 10:25), but we also have the command to obey government (Rom 13:1f).
Romans 13:1 (NASB95) Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God.
Government is ordained by God; it’s not a human institution—we didn’t invent it. God planned it for the protection of good behavior and the punishment of evil people. We could summarize it as government is supposed to help human flourishing. And we also know that when government and God conflict, we go with God. That’s what Peter said in Acts 5:29.
Acts 5:29 (NASB95)But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men.
So if the government just targeted churches for closing down, and not other places like movie theaters where people gather in groups, we would have to disobey. This is what our brothers and sisters in Christ face in China during normal times. They meet on the sly. Before the Iron Curtain fell, believers all across Eastern Europe had to make the same choice. Many were imprisoned, but they had to obey God rather than man.
This situation grieves me—I don’t like not meeting, but it is a little different. There’s the very real possibility that meeting together could make our church a local center for spreading the virus as some other churches across the nation have become. That puts our neighbors at risk. I think this falls under the Second Great Command of loving our neighbor (Mt 22:37-40).
Matthew 22:37–40 (NASB95) And He said to him, “ ‘YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND.’ 38 “This is the great and foremost commandment. 39 “The second is like it, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.’ 40 “On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.”
Often loving our neighbor is something we do actively: we mow their lawn, or we bring them food, or—and most importantly—we bring them the gospel. But now we’re loving our neighbor passively by trying to prevent the spread of a virus that will kill some of them—especially if they are older and have an underlying health condition.
So while I don’t like not meeting, we’re not being targeted unfairly. In fact, pastors are considered essential workers, so Pastor Ben and I can still come to the office and shoot videos—a new “talent” we’re developing. If our governor said we weren’t essential, I would disagree with that and would still conduct my ministry as best I could believing pastors are essential workers.
So the summary is loving our neighbor means we temporarily obey government’s request that we don’t meet. If they extend this beyond what is necessary for safety’s sake, then we have a decision to make. Or if they threaten to shut us down permanently as one politician in New York City threatened, then we find redress in the courts for our constitutional rights. But now, it seems this is the best way to love our neighbors.
Of course this isn't the final or complete word on this. Other Christians have written on this too. For example, here.
4-4-2020 Weekly Update
Another week has gone by, and with it many opportunities to trust our sovereign Lord. We know there will be many more of those opportunities, even in the near future with all that is going on. It has been encouraging to talk to many of you via phone or email. So many of you are busy finding ways to be an encouragement to your brothers and sisters in Christ. What a blessing!
We hope that our time thus far in the Book of Psalms has been helpful to you. We see so much of God's character and His care for us in these texts, don't we? This week's sermon is from the first twenty-one verses of Psalm 22. You can click here to access the worship guide and sermon. We are having some technical difficulty today with getting the correct worship guide posted, so in case that doesn't get resolved we have also attached the PDF to this email.
Tomorrow is Palm Sunday, and like any other Sunday, it would be a great day to gather together. Until we are able to do so, may we render praise to our King. May we pray that Israel and all nations would turn to Him and cry, "Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!" This Friday, the two of us will be reading some Scripture and sharing some thoughts on video regarding Christ's death on our behalf. Stay tuned for details on that.
One other quick note (please excuse the long-winded message)... We had planned our marriage conference for April 24-25, and this week we unfortunately had to officially cancel that. This event has been a really good time for our couples in the past, but as with so many other plans right now, we rest in God's providence.
"May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ." (Romans 15:5-6)
Your Shepherds, Pastor Kraig & Pastor Ben
3-30-2020 Church Finances
Dear Chisago Lakes church family,
I know you know that Jesus talked more about finances than he did about most other subjects. It’s because our view of finances shows a lot about our values—even our spiritual lives. I’ve said this in good times; it’s harder to teach that now, however, but it’s just as true.
Obviously for all of us our normal giving routine has been completely upended. We’re not meeting on Sundays and physically passing a plate so the reminder is not there. God will provide and he will do it through the faithful and generous gifts of our church family as he always has. You can mail your gift, use your bank’s online bill pay, drop it off at the office (call Pastor Kraig or Pastor Ben first to make sure someone is here), or use our new online giving tab on the home page of our church website (clbc.me). Online giving has two options: a credit card or through your bank. It’s a secure site.
Our finance committee in conjunction with our treasurer has figured out that over three Sundays, (3/8 - 3/22/2020) the total weekly giving is $14,500 behind budget. Over these three Sundays the weekly giving has averaged 58% of the weekly budgeted need. Yesterday’s (3/29/20) giving was 54% of our weekly need ($6,229 of our weekly budget of $11,604). It’s not just church bills that get paid with what is given; we also support missionaries through the regular giving of our church family.
I bring these numbers to you just as information. I realize that some of you might have had your hours or salary cut because of Covid 19. Please don’t see this as an indictment of the generosity of our church. You have proved over and over again that you enjoy giving to God. I just want our church family to know where we are financially. God will sustain us financially as he always has, and he will use me and you to do so.
3-26-2020 Plans for Sunday & Some Announcements
Dear Church Family,
This Sunday morning we’ll be looking at Psalm 23, probably the most beloved psalm in the psalter. The video for the sermon will be posted Saturday night, and I hope that you’ll work through the family worship guide. The link will be on the homepage of our website, clbc.me. Can I suggest you do two things in preparation for Sunday? One, pray that God will work in all of our hearts even though we cannot meet together. His Spirit is not limited. Second, read Psalm 23 a few times in preparation for Sunday. It’s six very familiar verses.
This pandemic has been a stretching time for your church staff. We’ve had to make decisions that we never could have anticipated. One recent one involves Awana. Since we are not meeting on Wednesday nights for the foreseeable future, we’re going to allow kids to say sections to their parents and count them as being completed. Normally you know that children work on them during the week with their parents, but they have to say them to an Awana leader on Wednesday to get credit. However, in these extraordinary circumstances we want clubbers that have worked hard for 3/4 of the year to be able to finish their books. So this is an option to keep your children in the Word and completing their books.
Another item: this Friday night I’m teaching online for the Biblical Counseling Alliance. This was planned months ago—they do their teaching through online webinars. It’s normally a subscription service, but they are allowing any in my church to join the zoom meeting for free. The attachment explains it all. You might need to download the zoom app ahead of time, but it’s a pretty intuitive experience. You’re welcome to attend virtually. This will also give you some exposure to the BCA. They’re a national group doing a good work promoting the sufficiency of Scripture.
Finally, our online giving is up and running. If you go to the home page of the church website, you will find a tab on the front page labeled online giving. It redirects you to a secure site for giving. Of course you can always mail your gift, use online banking billpay, or drop it off at the office (you might need to call one of the pastors ahead of time since we have adjusted our office hours).
Until we can meet together on Sunday, may God grow our longing for exalting his Son together.
Pastor Kraig and Pastor Ben
Do You Love the Gospel... More?
Been reading a book on forgiveness by Gary Inrig and one of the chapters I read recently was based on the biblical account of Jesus visiting Simon the Pharisee's house in Luke 6:36-50. It’s different but similar to how Jesus talks about forgiveness in Matthew 18. Simon the Pharisee isn’t rude, but also isn’t welcoming to Jesus. He doesn’t think he’s (Simon) much of a sinner. Jesus tells a story and Simon correctly understands it. Read the passage to get up to speed.
Here’s the bottom line. Those love the gospel best that know their sin best. If you don’t think you’re much of a sinner, then you don’t think much of the gospel. I mean you like it, but you’re not amazed that Jesus could forgive you. If, however, you rightly understand your sin, then you love the good news. Which means that our appreciation of the gospel should always be growing as we grow in our understanding of our sinfulness. If my greatest appreciation for the gospel is from years ago when I got saved, then I’m not growing in my knowledge of God’s Word.
So, is your love of the gospel growing?
3-18-2020 Updated Church Response to Covid 19
It appears that it may be a good while until we worship together again as a church. And while this is not what we would have chosen for ourselves, it is what God has ordained, and we know that “what God ordains is always right.”
Until we are able to meet again, here is our plan.
We will be posting a pre-recorded video sermon on our website by late Saturday night. This will give you some flexibility as to when you can watch it. All you’ll have to do is click the first banner that comes up on our website on Sunday AM (it will say “Sunday Worship”). On the same page, you will see a link entitled “Worship Guide - March 22”. Click on the link for what we hope will be some helpful suggestions for worship.
God willing, we will have online giving available by Sunday. If you prefer, you may mail your regular giving to the church. Thank you for your continued support as our church and missionaries depend on your faithful giving.
Our other regularly scheduled activities are canceled until further notice (except our men’s book studies on Friday and Saturday). If you need any help with getting supplies, etc. please do not hesitate to email or call the church office.
Every time we gather on a Sunday morning to worship, it is a foretaste of the praise we will one day render to King Jesus when we finally gather around his throne. For now, we are left with a foretaste of a foretaste. We’re thankful this is possible. We need it. It is far better than nothing, but it leaves us wanting more. And that is good.
Pastor Kraig & Pastor Ben
3-13-2020 Covid 19 and Our Service Schedule
Dear Church Family,
Yesterday we sent you an email telling you that we were taking the coronavirus pandemic seriously and that as the situation evolved, we might make some decisions about activities this week. It’s only been 24 hours, but that’s a lifetime in this fast moving situation. Most colleges have moved up their Spring breaks and told students they wlll be doing online classes for the rest of the semester. Sporting events from all major pro and college sports have been cancelled. We are not succumbing to panic because we trust God. And meeting as a church is far more important than any sporting events—or even college classes.
However, just like vaccinations are a way we love our neighbors, so restricting our contact to limit the spread of this virus is a neighbor-loving practice to take. Therefore, we are cancelling our ABF and Sunday school classes for this Sunday. Of course this means our beloved coffee and donut time is gone too. ;) Also, the PM service was supposed to be a baptism and membership service. Normally those services are really well attended as we hear testimonies of the gospel and we gladly welcome new members. We are postponing that service for the foreseeable future as a precaution. Hopefully we can have it in the future with a large part of our church family there. We will also be cancelling our Wednesday activities (Awana, youth group, Bible study & prayer) for this coming Wednesday. We take these steps as prudent actions. Scripture encourages prudence, not panic. Proverbs 22:3 (ESV) The prudent sees danger and hides himself, but the simple go on and suffer for it.
The cautions we mentioned in our last email still stand:
• We strongly encourage those who are high risk to stay home. This would include elderly members/attenders as well as those with chronic medical conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, and lung disease. Please do not mistake attending church during a pandemic for a test of spirituality or faithfulness. If you have ministry responsibilities, please contact one of us or the church office, and we will find a replacement for you. Also, if there are any needs you may have as a result of being homebound, please do not hesitate to call the church office and let us know. You have an army of brothers and sisters who would love the opportunity to serve you, whether that comes in the form of yard work, dropping off groceries, or something else.
• We are working on solutions for live-streaming our services. In the meantime, we strive to post the sermon audio each Sunday afternoon. You can find our sermons on this website. We are also working on solutions related to our offerings, as ministry needs continue as normal even if life changes significantly for a while. On both of these matters, we will keep you posted.
One of the songs we sing on Sundays says,
Fame, youth and beauty hurry by
But life eternal calls to us
At the cross
I will not boast in wealth or might
Or human wisdom’s fleeting light
But I will boast in knowing Christ
At the cross
I rejoice in my Redeemer
Wellspring of my soul
I will trust in Him, no other.
My soul is satisfied in Him alone.
Neither our possessions, nor our might, nor human wisdom are our hope. Our greatest treasure is Jesus Christ and no virus can take Him from us. He is what we have in common. And we will worship him together on Sunday morning in our AM service together at 10:30am. See you there. Just don’t try to shake my hand. ;) Let’s not greet each other with holy kisses for at least this Sunday. ;)
Pastor Kraig and Pastor Ben
Self-Righteousness in Society and the Church
Luke 18:9 (ESV) He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt:
I read this and thought that if any verse can characterize America right now, this might be it. Both believers and unbelievers; both Republicans and Democrats, both conservative evangelicals and religious liberals. All of us are self-righteous. We’re convinced of our opinions and we are condescending to those that disagree with us. We don’t tend to be gracious with each other. No, whomever disagrees with me is the enemy.
Ellen Degeneres sat next to President George W. Bush in a private box along with a lot of other people at the Cowboys Packers game two weeks ago. She got lots of blowback from self-righteous celebrities that were too good to sit next to President Bush. He’s Hitler after all. Or at least he’s so evil that Ellen shouldn’t sit with him. By sitting next to him and being pleasant she’s agreeing with his policies or some other such nonsense. It goes both ways although personally I think Progressives are more guilty of it in politics. But it would be hard to beat Christians in religion. We’ve cornered the market on self-righteousness.
“trusting in themselves” is having confidence in yourself. It’s having no doubts about your opinions, the rightness of your positions. There is no second-guessing. I’m right and everyone else is evil. No one is wrong anymore; they are just evil if they disagree with me. It’s so pompous, or as Jesus says, self-righteous.
Contempt is a good translation of exoutheneo (ἐξουθενέω). It means “to despise someone or something on the basis that it is worthless or of no value.” It shows up in Rom 14:3 in the context of Christian liberty. The one eating shouldn’t despise the one that doesn’t. Contempt is despising someone. That’s what our self-righteousness leads to. It’s why the political climate is so poisonous in America. It’s why politicians have to apologize when they say something nice about someone across the aisle from them. Ridiculous. If you don’t question the humanity of someone that disagrees with you, you’re evil too. That's the climate.
Again, Christians are guilty of this also. We have contempt for those that aren’t “woke” enough or for those that are “woke.” We have contempt for those that don’t understand the church’s problems with sexual abuse the way I do. Or for those that seem to be going too far to correct it.
Contempt dooms relationships. You cannot be reasonable with the opposite viewpoint and also be contemptuous.
Jesus recognized this in his day, and he told this parable to correct it. But the parable won’t help you if you think it applies to your “enemy.” Can you own your own self-righteousness, misplaced self-confidence, and contempt? Can you admit it?
Luke 18:11 (ESV) The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.
Now the parable. Verse 11 is key. The Pharisee imagines himself as better than other men and specifically, better than this man—a publican. And this is us. We are self-righteous and imagine we are better than most others. And when we look at individuals, we imagine we are better than them too. We are Pharisees with all the pride and arrogance that go along with it. And the answer is humility as this parable teaches.
God's Will in Open Doors?
Sometimes I come across a blog post that is so well written that I feel I must link to it. I've never heard of this guy before, but he is spot on in thinking about open doors when it comes to God's will. As Jay Adams said, "Sometimes open doors lead to elevator shafts." Read this and think carefully about how you make decisions.
Spiritual Check-Up Questions
I came across this blog, and I like it. It's good for us to consider how we've grown over the past year, and how we're doing spiritually now. I hope the questions in this link will encourage and challenge you. Annual Spiritual Check-Up
Questions about Forgiveness
On October 28 we talked about Joseph's forgiveness of his brothers from Gen 50:15-26. You can find that message in our sermon files on the website. That Sunday evening and next we looked at a few questions about forgiveness. I want to include some of them here. There are many more questions we could have asked and answered. Forgiveness requires real biblical wisdom in the specific details of a person's life. Hopefully these will be a help to you.
What’s a Definition of Forgiveness?
The definition of forgiveness is promising…
Not to bring it up to the person's face
Not to bring it up behind the person's back
Not to dwell on it
This is not original with me, but I like this definition because it lines up with how God forgives us.
What If You Didn’t Sin, but They Are Offended? Should You Ask Their Forgiveness?
For example, someone expected you to call them while they were in the hospital, but you didn’t. They are angry with you for not calling. In fact, they’re giving you the cold shoulder. You didn’t promise you’d call them, but they expected you to. Is that sin? Probably not.
So the break in the relationship is real, but the sin is not. Do you ask forgiveness just to reconcile? One question to ask is who has sinned in this relationship? It’s not you; it’s them. They didn’t get what they wanted and now they are responding sinfully.
You shouldn’t ask forgiveness in order to appease someone. Forgiveness is not mine; it’s God’s. He invented it so to speak. I cannot use it for whatever I want. Don’t use forgiveness as a gimmick. Don’t use it to patch things up unless you think you have actually sinned. Don’t cheapen it.
So what can we do in those situations?
•If it’s a pattern, we can confront their sin.
•I’ve said, “I wish I would have done that” because I really do wish that. If it would have prevented them getting offended I really do.
Do You Need to Forgive God?
Some Christians will recommend that you pray and forgive God for certain tragic events. For example, if your child is born with a serious and terminal health problem, you might need to forgive God for that.
God is the absolute standard of right and wrong. He never does wrong. He is not unjust. Therefore, it’s blasphemy to accuse Him of doing wrong to you by telling Him you forgive Him.
The reason we would think that God has done wrong is because things didn’t turn out the way we thought they should turn out.
We are told that everything that happens in a believer’s life is for their good (Rom. 8:28-29). Therefore, when “bad” things happen in a believer’s life, the proper attitude is one of thanksgiving (1 Thess. 5:18).
So it’s always wrong to be angry with God—to think we need to forgive God—but it’s right to bring our questions to God with a heart of faith. The Psalms are full of questions to God when life seems inexplicable. However, they brought their questions to God in faith. They didn’t accuse Him of wrongdoing, but they did have doubts about His dealings. They moved towards God, not away from Him. We should too.
Do You Need to Forgive Yourself?
Maybe you’ve heard this view before—that you need to forgive yourself. What you did was so horrible that it demands not just God’s forgiveness and the offended person’s forgiveness, but you must also forgive yourself.
Do you now what the Bible says about forgiving ourselves? Nothing. It doesn’t show up in either example or command. Scripture teaches vertical forgiveness—God forgiving us. It teaches horizontal forgiveness—us forgiving others. But it doesn’t teach internal forgiveness. Clearly that is significant. It indicates that this idea of self-forgiveness didn’t come from careful study of Scripture but from somewhere else.
So, when someone tells us that “I just can’t forgive myself”, can we help them? Yes. Someone that expresses this thought may actually be telling us something else.
They might be expressing an inability or unwillingness to receive God’s forgiveness. We say this because we really doubt that God has forgiven us.
They may not be willing to acknowledge the depth of their sin. Sometimes this means “I cannot believe that I did that.” This is a form of pride; as if this type of sinful failure was beneath me. It’s an indication of self-righteousness and a lack of realistic self-knowledge.
They may be venting regrets for not achieving a certain cherished desire. I had an opportunity and I threw it all away. When desires are thwarted, the result is self-reproach and a case of “if only I had….” In this case a more careful use of language is helpful. They should say, "I regret how I blew that opportunity."
Self-forgiveness is unbiblical because you are the offender, judge, and the forgiver. Only Jesus Christ can fill all three roles. When you or I do it, we are trying to be God.
A Grudge Has Serious Consequences
I read this last week and was reminded that holding a grudge is no small thing.
Mark 11:25 (ESV) And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.”
A forgiving heart is necessary for answered prayer. But it’s also hard. I don’t think I’ve been greatly sinned against, but I do hold grudges nonetheless. Grudges for ways people have stepped on my idols, not necessarily ways that they have sinned against me. I have lots of minor grudges because I am a wicked sinner. I take offense at others. Just saying. Often I’m not a pleasant fellow in my heart.
And God convicts me for which I’m thankful. And he prompts me to confess my pride and grudgeholding. And often I do. Which is necessary according to this verse. If I have anything against anyone, I need to give it up. Otherwise it affects the Father’s forgiveness of me. So my grudges are more serious than I think they are.
Of course this is talking about familial forgiveness I believe, not judicial forgiveness. The latter was settled at the cross. But like after the Lord's Prayer in Matthew 6:14-15, this passage tells me that my relationship with God can be affected by my unforgiveness towards others.
And notice this verse doesn't claim that the offender needs to ask for forgiveness. Of course other passages encourage that, but here, I just need to extend grace to even an unrepentant offender.
It's an urgent matter. This person is standing in prayer, and they recall they're unforgiving. They need to repent right then.
So you cannot hold a grudge if you want to pray effectively. God doesn't hear the unforgiving.
The Three Greatest Miracles in Jesus' Birth
Sunday, December 24, 2017, I will be preaching from Matthew 1:18-25, which is a marvelous account of Christ's birth. Often we think of the fuller narrative in Luke 2, but Matthew has his own succinct story of the birth of Christ.
There were three miracles that occurred in the birth of Jesus and all are present in Matthew's account. Normally we only think of the virgin birth, but there are actually three astounding miracles.
Shielding Jesus from Sinfulness
Matthew 1:21 (NASB95) “She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.”
This passage certainly implies and I think clearly indicates that Jesus was sinless. How can he be our Savior if he needs to save himself from his own sins? Our Savior must be sinless. That would normally be a problem because sinful parents have sinful children. Some claim that our sin only comes through the man and since Jesus didn't have a human father, he would be sinless. However, sin comes through both man and woman according to David.
Psalm 51:5 (NASB95) Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, And in sin my mother conceived me.
So Jesus would have had a sin nature just from his mother, Mary. However, the Holy Spirit shielded him from sinfulness (Lk 1:35). This is a miracle of Christ's birth. That he could be born to a human mother and yet be without sin. And it was necessary for him to be our perfect sacrifice, the Savior who would save us from our sins.
The Hypostatic Union
Matthew 1:23 (NASB95) “BEHOLD, THE VIRGIN SHALL BE WITH CHILD AND SHALL BEAR A SON, AND THEY SHALL CALL HIS NAME IMMANUEL,” which translated means, “GOD WITH US.”
Theologians use this term to describe the fact that Jesus is both God and man. Jesus was God and became man. Of course he had to become man in order to be an acceptable sacrifice for our sins. Jesus needed to be of the same nature as the offenders he would save. Only a human can die for other humans and be an acceptable substitute that appeases God's righteous wrath.
And he would also have to be God. Jesus had to be free from all the demands of the law himself--he had to be sinless. Only God is sinless. Only God could have a death that was sufficient for all sinners and was efficacious for all believers for all eternity--the once-for-all sacrifice for sin. And only God could do that in three hours on one sad Friday.
Christ's birth is miraculous because Jesus became the God-man.
The Virgin Conception
Matthew 1:18 (NASB95) Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: when His mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child by the Holy Spirit.
Matthew 1:20 (NASB95) But when he had considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; for the Child who has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit.
Matthew 1:23 (NASB95) “BEHOLD, THE VIRGIN SHALL BE WITH CHILD AND SHALL BEAR A SON, AND THEY SHALL CALL HIS NAME IMMANUEL,” which translated means, “GOD WITH US.”
We think of it as a virgin birth, but it's more properly understood as a virgin conception. We know that Joseph and Marry didn't consummate their marriage until Jesus was born (Mt 1:25), but that seems to be a decision they made on their own to avoid any accusations that Joseph was actually the biological father of Jesus. Nowhere were they commanded to refrain until Jesus was born.
While this is the miracle that most of us think about when considering the birth of Christ, it's might be the least of the three. How hard is it for the God who created the world, who created biology, to overrule the creation he created? But it's still a great miracle and it's still significant. It was a fulfillment of prophecy given over 700 years before (Is 7:14).
So there are the three greatest miracles surrounding Christ's birth and all found in Matthew's account. How many did you know?
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 members 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.