Category Archives: Christian discipleship

Rebuke, Exhort! Don’t minimize and “tolerate”

St Paul wrote the largest amount of the content of the New Testament. Certainly the Gospels are specifically about the life and teachings of Jesus. But on the road to Damascus Jesus personally knocked Paul off his donkey and made Paul focus on who Jesus is and what being a Christian is all about. From there the Holy Spirit took Paul in hand and led Paul to be one of the greatest missionaries of Christianity and one of the greatest, if not the greatest, Christian teacher. Many people like to minimize doctrine, but without Paul’s writings on doctrine we would have very little understanding of our Christian faith, a lot of what we accept as normal Christian practice, we would have to guess about, without Paul.

Paul founded a number of churches during his mission trips and he spent a lot of time and ink teaching people the important aspects of being a Christian. His “epistles”, letters, were written to people in Corinth, Thessalonica, Rome, Ephesus, Galatia, Philippi, Colassae, and undoubtedly other groups in the Roman Empire. These were to address issues the churches were dealing with, or to pass on to them important aspects of being a Christian. In addition to Paul’s epistles to the churches, he also mentored, at least two pastors, Timothy and Titus. His letters to them were how to be pastors and how to lead congregations in the difficult times that these churches, all Christians, were going through at the time of Paul’s letters. Much of what Paul writes about is directly applicable to the Christian church and Christian pastors today.

Paul was not a shrinking violet, he had to contend with an immense amount of adversity during his ministry which culminated in being beheaded. As I said, Paul was probably the greatest missionary and pastor in Christian history. But if you really read Paul’s writings most Christians today, would be taken aback by Paul’s straightforward, even abrupt pastoral style. He wasn’t playing around, things had to be done in the church and in confronting a pagan and hostile society. Again so much of what Paul had to deal with we see today. While I’m not telling people to go out and be contentious, look for fights, or not try to be winsome and inviting, I am saying that there will be many times where you have to be straightforward in proclaiming the Gospel and not worry about who will be “offended”, or upset. As Christians and certainly not pastors we are not here to patronize people, or play to the crowd. As a pastor I took vows, to my death, promising to proclaim the Gospel. Many will be offended as Jesus tells us in KJV Matthew 24:10 And then shall many be offended, and shall betray one another, and shall hate one another.” The adolescent whining you will often hear while proclaiming the Gospel is just a convenient way for people to not deal with the truth. They will be held accountable for their silly little posturing, but we can’t let them intimidate us into shutting up about Jesus and that’s what they’re shooting for.

Believe me if they had interacted with Paul, they would think that someone like me is a little candy cane. Paul wanted to make it clear to churches, like Corinth and Thessalonica, that the Gospel is not about kid gloves. It’s about people’s eternal life, that is the ultimate issue, even if people don’t recognize it. It’s not up to us to candy-coat it or treat it like entertainment. It’s up to us to proclaim it with great knowledge, great compassion, integrity and urgency. Treat the Gospel in a way that is with utter respect as to its importance, not the way most people treat it which is a secondary issue and why worry about it, God will work everything out. I get that attitude all the time and it is just not true.

 

Paul writes to Timothy, one of his disciples who he is mentoring as a pastor. Timothy is in Ephesus, he is a young preacher and it would seem that he was contending with a lot of different people who were teaching false doctrine. Paul tells Timothy: “ESV 2 Timothy 3:14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it 15 and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.”

Paul is telling Timothy you know what is important, you know what you need to do, don’t stop doing it just because there are some people who are opposing you and trying to shut you up. We see that in too many young pastors today, “I don’t want anyone to get mad, I don’t want to offend anyone”. I look at it in terms of; “am I worried about upsetting this guy here, or God”? If it’s a choice, I’m sure not going to upset God. Paul makes it clear that it’s about what is in Scripture.

To underline that he goes on to write in the strongest terms: “ESV 2 Timothy 4:1 I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: 2 preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. 3 For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, 4 and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. 5 As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.”

Paul is serious and he’s telling Timothy; by all that we hold as holy, you need to go out and teach that. Don’t pull punches, don’t tell people what they want to hear. That’s not your call, your call is to tell people what God has given us in Scripture. Anything else would be to “suit their own passions”, which isn’t God’s intention, is it? Reprove, Rebuke, Exhort. These are not make nice words. Paul’s words are telling Timothy to make sure people understand these words are serious. Don’t let people get away with it if they’re trying to sell nonsense. We see that today with so many false teachers, it’s no less today than it was 2,000 years ago. Today when you’re faithful to Paul’s teaching you’re going to catch all kinds of flak as to how mean, judgmental, unloving, whatever phobic and whatever other adolescent prattle you hear from people who don’t want to hear God’s word and want to wallow in their nasty little sin. But they still expect God to come through for them and save them, do things their way. Bizarre, but people today truly expect everything their way and that includes God. After all, to quote the prattle from false teachers, God just wants us to be happy! Huh!? God wants us to become mature Christian disciples. That’s much more than “happy”.

Titus was probably an older man, another of Paul’s disciples and he was the pastor of the church on the island of Crete. Ever hear the expression “Cretans”? Not a flattering expression. Titus apparently had to deal with some pretty crude actors.

Paul gave Titus the same direction. Don’t be bashful, preach the truth of the Gospel: “ESV Titus 2:15 Declare these things; exhort and rebuke with all authority. Let no one disregard you.” The last part “Let no one disregard you.” Don’t be brushed off or ignored, don’t let people patronize you, and wow you see a lot of that in the world today dealing with Christians. No! This is the truth, you may not like it but don’t be cavalier about it either, this is serious, treat it as such.

Paul goes on to write: “ESV Titus 2:1 But as for you, teach what accords with sound doctrine.” Yes doctrine does matter, don’t play around or minimize it, preach it. “7 Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, dignity,” Have Christian integrity, stick to what you know is the truth, be faithful and strong. But do it with dignity too. Don’t look silly and get all emotional and flakey. Assert the truth and move on. People too often don’t treat Christians seriously, make them take you seriously know what you’re talking about. Now more than ever we need to take those words seriously and stop putting on shows of “tolerance” or accommodation. “I am the way the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father except through Me.” (John 14:6) There is no other truth! You may disagree with me, but you have to take Jesus’ words seriously.

As Christians we get a lot of just straight out stupid messages from the world. Too often we make the mistake of trying to dignify them, of being too gracious. Paul, Timothy, Titus and us, we don’t have that luxury. We need to be serious strong disciples and evangelists and witness in a way that we will be taken seriously. It’s not always going to result in conversion, but, Paul told both his disciples, don’t be bashful, rebuke wrongful teaching. Don’t get defensive about someone telling you you’re being judgmental. Say what you want and try to use weenie words to avoid the truth, I’m telling you the truth, and it is judgmental. If you disregard the truth of Jesus Christ : “ESV John 3:18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” I’m telling you the truth, if you chose to ignore it or minimize it you’ve “judged”, “condemned” yourself, not me.

Idols hmmmm, really? Tells me to remember who’s really in charge!

I am the pastor of First Saint Johns Church in York, Pa. First Saint Johns (FSJ) was completed in 1875, as you can see from the featured image, the altar, and the rest of the sanctuary are very nice and very reverent.

There are those who I have showed the sanctuary to and felt that there was just “heavens, too much idolatry”. Rather amuses me. I’ve been in a lot of sanctuaries where you might truly wonder what the space is actually used for. By looking at this picture, there should be little doubt what or, better, Who this space is about. It’s all about Jesus and the people who built his sanctuary 140+ years ago knew it.

The altar is especially interesting in that it shows the most important aspects of who and what Jesus is all about. Underneath the flat part, called the mensa, is a lamb, shows that Jesus is the Lamb of God. Next is a crucifix, reminding us that Jesus died on the cross for our sins. Next is Christ ascending to glory in heaven. The top stained glass window shows Jesus as Lord of all creation, at the right hand of God the Father.

The stained glass windows on the sides have various Christian symbols and at the top is one of the apostles.

People have actually told me how idolatrous this is??? Yet I can go into an old Quaker, Calvinist, etc churches and honestly wonder what’s going on there. I can go into a lot of “community”, “independent”, etc and see no indication that I’m in what purports to be a “Christian” sanctuary. There is a lot of symbology on the altar and on the stained glass at FSJs. A lot of visual reminders of what we believe and Who we hold important. Over the ascending Jesus is the motto “Sola Deo Gloria”, yea wow, “To God only the glory”, yikes that’s a first commandment buster, right?

Why do people really object to this? Why do they prefer to have a “church” that is essentially void of anything that is Christian? I would submit that especially with all the “big-box” non-denominationals, that it’s really more about those in the church preferring to kind of push aside all the Jesus stuff. Yea, they sing about Jesus and kind of preach about Him. But it’s not really about Him, if it was why is there a problem about having a lot of visual reinforcement.

My answer. In the world today it’s all about me, what’s good for me. Well Jesus is good for you, the only and ultimate good. But too many people don’t see it that way. Today’s culture says: I don’t want to be reminded of all that Jesus stuff, if I’m here I’m worshiping what I want, “ooo that gory crucifixion stuff”. Well that’s a whole big subject, and well we just shouldn’t have to do that, just make me happy God. I showed up, I should get the big payoff. Doesn’t work that way folks. It is all about God and not about you. That’s why we have all these reminders to reinforce that in us when we are in true worship, lifting up and praising God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

People who built these great old churches understood that and when I stand in front of the altar here I know exactly what and especially Who it’s all about. It’s why we at First Saint Johns are serious about what we do and why we do it, it’s for Jesus who sacrificed all for us and we will be His for all eternity. So instead of mouthing silly platitudes and not thinking about what is important, let’s all do some serious thinking about what and Who is ultimately important. I have all these beautiful and compelling reminders here, maybe it’s time for you to think about why this is all important.  Sanctuary 140th anniversary

If it is of God… Acts 5:29, John 20:19

[for the audio version click on the above icon]

We make our beginning in the Name of God the Father and in the Name of God the Son and in the Name of God the Holy Spirit and all those who join Thomas saying to Jesus “My Lord and My God!” said … Amen!

We now have this pretty interesting conflation, two different perspectives have started to see Jesus as something much more than what was imagined. The leaders of Israel seem to be rethinking what they did to Jesus. Thomas straight out asserts Who Jesus is “My Lord and My God!” Gamaliel was a very important man at the time. Luke, the writer of Acts, singles Gamaliel out by calling him “a teacher of the Law held in honor by all the people. The Jewish Encyclopedia says: Gamaliel was the son of Hillel who is still one of the leading authorities on Jewish law and is quoted by many people today. He was the head of the school Hillel in his time succeeding his father. “Gamaliel, as it appears, did most toward establishing the honor in which the house of Hillel was held, and which secured to it a preeminent position within Palestinian Judaism soon after the destruction of the- Temple. The title “Rabban,” which, in the learned hierarchy until post-Hadrianic times, was borne only by presidents of the highest religious council, was first prefixed to the name of Gamaliel.”[1] Much later on in Acts, Paul seems to take special pride in being a student of Gamaliel’s. (Acts 22:3) He gets a lot of notice in Acts, during the early church. If he is proceeding with caution against the embryonic Christian church, then he must have some idea that Jesus is who He says He is.

The amazing things that have happened, certainly culminated in the Resurrection of Jesus, leaves little doubt as to Jesus’ claim to be God. Gamaliel had to have been part of the court that condemned Jesus. I would guess that Gamaliel fell right in line with the majority consensus. Caiaphas proclaims to the leadership that this man, Jesus, must die to save the nation. No thought is given that there might be something a lot more compelling with Jesus, that He might be who He said He was. The concern was with the preservation of the status quo; Israel, it’s leadership and maintaining their way of life. As highly regarded as Gamaliel was, he certainly followed the party line. While we know that there were members of the Sanhedrin who objected to the illegality of the proceedings to try Jesus, Gamaliel wouldn’t have been one of those objectors. If he had objected the Sanhedrin might have at least backed off from condemning Jesus to die and might have even decided to do something else regarding Jesus.

The paradigm has clearly changed for the leadership in Israel. They thought that they were dealing with a nuisance that would burn itself out. They tried, and for the first time in history, killing a man didn’t make Him go away. It seems Gamaliel is hedging his bets a little, but it’s pretty clear that he sees Jesus as a lot more than being an ordinary man. Gamaliel compares Jesus to Theudas and Judas the Galilean. It seems though that Gamaliel is taking Jesus a lot more seriously than Theudas or Judas, neither one of them rose from the dead. It seems that the leadership is trying to prevent a panic. They’re trying not to acknowledge it, but clearly there is a new archetype and they know that they can’t just make the problem, Jesus, go away. They hope that they can, but now they have something much bigger than they expected while trying to avoid setting the rest of Israel off, that Jesus is who He says that He is.

The difference is that while Gamaliel is trying to hedge, not set off a rush to Jesus and still not taking Him seriously. He seems to know the truth, but as so many people do for so many bad reasons, Gamaliel is trying to save his position in Israel. The disciples, as Luke writes, know the truth, they know that there is no other option, they are beaten and we know how brutally Jesus was beaten. Maybe the disciples weren’t beaten as badly, but you know that they suffered more than enough that they shouldn’t be back out on the street rejoicing and teaching and preaching about Jesus. They knew the truth and saw there was no alternative to Jesus, the Sanhedrin was still trying to play its political game with its own people, the Romans and irrational as it sounds God, even though Gamaliel certainly had some perception that Jesus and his disciples were more than the garden variety revolutionaries of previous years.

Clearly John is continuing to emphasize that Jesus is much more than what most people seem to want to believe. Thomas declares it: “My Lord and my God!” Jamieson writes: “He is overpowered, and the glory of Christ now breaks upon him in a flood. His exclamation surpasses all that had been yet uttered, nor can it be surpassed by anything that ever will be uttered in earth or heaven.”[2] This is not some gratuitous acknowledgement, Thomas was completely overwhelmed and was utterly sure who Jesus was. Meyer writes : “ It is a confessionary invocation of Christ in the highest joyful surprise, in which Thomas gives the fullest expression of profound emotion to his faith, which had been mightily elevated by the conviction of the reality of the resurrection, in the divine nature of his Lord. The ὁ κύριός μκὁ θεός μου was the complete and highest confession of Messianic faith,” This is the first time when someone really addresses Jesus as God. For those who like to question who Jesus was and whether He claimed to be God, here is where someone is declaring who Jesus is. It may not be bragging if it’s true, but it’s more credible when someone else is declaring the fact. And again, there are plenty of places where Jesus is readily understood by those He is talking to as to who He is. If it wasn’t true, wouldn’t Jesus lift Thomas off his knees and set him straight? If it wasn’t true Jesus wouldn’t have just let Thomas’ comment ride.

We are His disciples. We see Jesus is making it very clear that Jesus has the authority to and intends for us to take what the disciples then and we who are His disciples now, that we aren’t to just go back home as if it’s all ending. He makes it clear to His disciples then it’s only beginning. He tells them, and us, that the Father sent Him. He has been sent to us to take His word, His life, what He has done for us dying for our sins and then resurrected to give us eternal life, that it isn’t for us to keep to ourselves. Matthew 28:18, John 20:21, Acts 1:8, Mark 16:15, Matthew, John, Luke and Mark all report that Jesus came to send us to tell the entire world about the salvation that Jesus gives us. In John He reinforces this message by giving them a preview of Pentecost. “He breathed on them.” The Greek word the hagios pneuma, the Holy Spirit, pneuma meaning the movement of air, the breath of His Body. He is giving them the Holy Spirit to strengthen them and for them to understand that they constitute His church. As He does by giving them the keys of the kingdom of heaven in Matthew 16:9, He is empowering His church to not just bring the Good News to the world, but that Jesus is empowering His church to save people to the Kingdom, but to also make it clear to those who aren’t saved and that His work is done through His disciples in His church.

The peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Amin and Shalom

[1] http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/6494-gamaliel-i

[2] Jamieson-Fausett-Brown Bible Commentary on website  http://biblehub.com/commentaries/jfb/john/20.htm

Why are you talking to her? John 4: 5-26

We make our beginning in the Name of God the Father and in the Name of God the Son and in the Name of God the Holy Spirit and all those who drink the Living Water of Jesus said … AMEN

In a sense it’s a kinda “what’s the big deal kind of encounters”. Jesus stops at a well in the middle of the day. It’s not just any old well, it’s Jacob’s well and that’s important. Jesus is well aware of what it is. It’s in Samaria, what’s He doing there? There’s a woman at the well. OK, so what’s the big deal? It’s the middle of the day, the hottest part of the day, no one else is schlepping water at that time. Jesus is thirsty, He’s been walking and it’s caught up with Him and they see the well. Last week we read about Jesus’ encounter with Nicodemus. That was interesting, kind of a big deal. Sort of like the mayor of your city slipping into your house at night unobserved to share with you. What Nicodemus got was much more than he expected, he didn’t know how to deal with it, but Nicodemus became a disciple, albeit undercover disciple of Jesus and didn’t run out to share the truths Jesus taught him. Nicodemus was an important, righteous, upright man, who seemed to be genuinely seeking the truth. He initiated the encounter. The woman at the well, not important at all, in fact the general perception would have been that she was a very unrighteous woman, maybe just a half step above a prostitute. She certainly didn’t initiate the encounter, if anything she really shouldn’t have been at that well to begin with. Theodore writes: “When He [Jesus] makes a request of this woman for a drink of water, she demonstrates a concern for law and custom in her initial refusal”.[1] That’s kind of the route we all go isn’t it? When in doubt run for cover under the Law, refuse to deal with the issue. You can understand, she’s at the lower end of the social scale, she feels easily threatened and yet despite her fear, she actually listens to this strange man and because of that, her whole life changes.

All the women of the village would have been there right at the beginning of the day. The coolest part of the day. There’s still enough light so that they can make their way to the well, get what they need for the day and find their way back to their home. A really stark contrast, yet they both resulted in the people coming to know the truth in who Jesus is. This was an unlikely encounter for both persons. Jews would normally have nothing to do with Samaritans. They certainly wouldn’t have accepted water, or anything else from the hand of a Samaritan. But this is different for Jesus. He created this unrighteous woman as much as He created Nicodemus. She was a woman, and men and women in that time just didn’t interact with each other normally. Much like it is in many parts of the Arab Middle East today. If you had some reason to talk with a woman you found the husband, father, brother of that woman and talked with him. She really didn’t have that option because she wasn’t married, she’d had five husbands, which would have been a huge shame for her. She was living with a man now, which, as I said, really put her a half step above a prostitute and below the line of what a righteous woman would have been. She was a Samaritan who were “untouchables” to a Jew. Yet Jesus treated her with respect, shared His truth with her and she responded. She was His creation as much as anyone and for all we know, she might have been baptized as a result of this encounter. I doubt that Nicodemus would have accepted baptism, at least at this point in the game. But Jesus and presumably His disciples spent two days in the Samaritan village and perhaps Jesus directed one of the disciples to baptize this woman, and Scripture says “Many Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony … And many more believed because of his word.” Puts me in mind of Philip’s encounter with the Ethiopian eunuch. To the effect “is there any reason I can’t be baptized here?” Philip saw no reason and gave the Ethiopian baptism. Philip gave this man the new life in baptism, the Ethiopian was reborn that day in Jesus, became a child of God, received the assurance of eternal salvation. Jesus and disciples were right there, the Ethiopian wasn’t a Jew, these Samaritans weren’t Jews, no reason to withhold baptism from them any more than Philip refusing to baptize the Ethiopian. Probably creeped the disciples out to no end being around these Samaritans at all, no less two days and then even baptizing them!! Yet, if they came to believe it would have to have been under the guidance of the Holy Spirit and that would have happened only in baptism. While Jesus initiated this contact with this obviously unrighteous woman (it would have been obvious to any Jew of the time). Unlike Nicodemus, she picked up what Jesus told her, what He taught her and she ran with it. She told everyone in the village who Jesus is, based on His rather short witness. The big point was Jesus pointing out to her how unrighteous she was. There she was talking to a man she had no business talking to, but what’s the big deal there? She had already crossed the line below what was acceptable, being married to five men, that was horrible, then living with a man she wasn’t married to. Talking to Jesus was something a prostitute would do and she knew that she was below that line already and went ahead. Obviously she didn’t want to have to deal with the women of the village who would have been at that well six hours earlier. So she knew perfectly well that she was outside of polite society. Yet, unlike the righteous Nicodemus, she doesn’t just listen and take in what Jesus says for her own benefit, she even leaves her jar at the well. The whole point of her going to the well was to get water for the day. A jar wasn’t a cheap item, yet she gave up the jar, the water, because she had something much more precious to share and she did! The result was an entire village of people came to be saved in Jesus because she went and witnessed to the whole village. This must have been a difficult proposition for her, because she knew how the people in this village felt about her, they wouldn’t have had anything to do with her. Yet they listened when she told them about this man and what He said and welcomed Jesus and His disciples to their village and hosted them for two days. Hosting thirteen men for two days was probably an expensive proposition for them, no doubt everyone there was living day to day, hand to mouth. So there must have been something pretty compelling in Jesus for them to host Him and His disciples, listen to Him for two days and come to believe what He said to them. The righteous Nicodemus left his private meeting with Jesus and didn’t breathe a word of it to anyone, he came in the night, he left in the night, assuming he wouldn’t be observed. He wasn’t going to suffer the abuse he might have taken from his fellow important people by talking about Jesus. This unrighteous woman, right smack dab in the middle of the day, drops everything she has, rushes back to her village, knowing that she was going to have to deal with people giving her a hard time because who she was and telling everyone everything about Jesus. I think this is about hope and promise. Nicodemus was probably making his encounter into an academic exercise. Here’s this guy, he certainly is interesting, look at what He’s been doing. I’m curious enough to go and talk to Him and get the deal on what is going on. But my trust is still in my position, my power, my social status, my wealth, I’m not going to risk that with this guy. Admittedly Nicodemus stepped up after the crucifixion and did become a disciple. This woman, the complete opposite on the social scale, she had nothing, no hope or promise for anything. This strange man who stooped down to talk to her, gave her that hope and promise. She had gained everything in Jesus and now she was going to make sure that she shared this with everyone she knew, even though she knew she was going to have to put up with their contempt. She charged right back, leaving a valuable possession, her jar, because now she had something much more valuable. She had the hope and promise that Jesus had given her in a new life, and she obviously felt that she had no reason to keep this to herself, and every reason to share this with everyone she knew, even though she knew she was going to get attitude from them. While the rich, powerful man, just kind of slinked away from his meeting with all the amazing things that Jesus shared with him. This destitute, unloved, unvalued woman rushed away from her encounter with Jesus because she had something of true value to share with people and she wasn’t going to wait around and keep it to herself. She wanted to share with people who had no doubt treated her like dirt for years, she loved them enough to endure their disdain. Nicodemus? Well he probably got some intellectual stimulation, but did nothing with it. Went back home, and while he came around later, had an immense treasure that he decided to just keep for himself. He probably didn’t feel as if he really needed it, because he had plenty as it was and therefore saw no reason to share it with anyone else. “Living water is not stagnant. It gushes out as the Spirit of Christ for our eternal life and others as it waters our parched human nature.”[2] Are you going to leave your jar, whatever is valuable to you, to witness to people who might treat you with contempt in order to witness to the truth of Jesus, that He is the Living Water who gives us true life?

The peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Amin and Shalom

[1] Quoting Chrysostom Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture New Testament IVa p 146

 

[2] Quoting Augustine, Heracleon, Cyril of Alexandria Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture New Testament IVa p 146

Passion for Jesus, desire and drive to serve Him and others for Him

In  a business context I can understand the following quote in Forbes: “They should be doers, not managers. You need people who are hungry to prove themselves and to help you win by feeding off your passion and their experience.” (Forbes Magazine Sept 7, 2015 p 39)

I’m taking this quote a little out of context, but it really is applicable to the church, especially in terms of “passion”. We have the ultimate Savior of the universe, who in His “passion” died for us in order for us to have the assurance of eternal life in the New Earth, the Resurrection. Frankly, Christians, the church, the whole Christian community really does need to act in that passion. Now I’m not talking about phoney Pentecostalism “passion”, just a show put on to convince others that you are somehow singled out by the Holy Spirit and a show more for your own pleasure then genuine worship of God. I am talking about passion in doing what we are called to serve Jesus. An intensity, a desire, more of a passion that a man would express, pushing for what is important, having the integrity to stand up for what is right. That certainly is missed in the church, we really see passion in terms of what we want to please us. This is not what we are called to do in Jesus. As I said, that passion, in a business sense, is how to we make this sale, how do we achieve our quarterly goals, how do we serve best those who are stakeholders in what we do, how do we make the best product or provide the best service, truly believing in what you do.

Too often in the church of the last century passion has been more in terms of what will be “pleasing”, entertaining, having people leave with a big smile on their face because the pastor told them, no matter how sinful and unrepentant the person is, that they’re just fine and God really is just a wishy-washy people pleaser. We know that it’s not true. God expects us to live and act in Christian integrity. He expects us to step up to serve Him. I preached on Elijah, 1 Kings 19, this Sunday. Elijah was certainly put through a lot to serve God. I am sure that for too many who call themselves “Christian”, if they were called on by God to do what Elijah was asked to do, well, they’d pull the usual phoney move and decide that they need to go to another church.

These “people-pleasers” of the last century have really set the church up for failure. Taking the easy way out, being managers instead of leaders. Making sure the numbers are still up, but not doing the job with the integrity required in order to proclaim Jesus and what He wants in His church. This sort of “country-club” type of “Christian”, everything’s pretty, aesthetically pleasing, pleasant to the ear, then we go on with our regular life, church worship having essentially no impact. These “managers” are not there to prove themselves in Jesus, they’re there to make sure that the boat isn’t rocked. If no one gets mad and leaves then they’ve succeeded. Really?! seems to me that in John 6:66 (interesting that this verse should have this number, “Then Jesus said, “This is why I told you that no one can come to Me unless the Father has granted it to him.”66 From that time on, many of His disciples turned back and no longer accompanied Him. 67 So Jesus asked the Twelve, “Do you want to leave too?” 68 Simon Peter replied, “Lord, to whom would we go? You have the words of eternal life.…” Hmmm, Jesus had a whole lot of people walk out on Him! Case could even be made that he was down to much fewer at the end. Only about 4 were with Him at the Cross. But Peter, John, Mary, a remnant of disciples knew what was genuine, had integrity and they stuck with Jesus even though it was obviously not the popular thing to do anymore.

There are times and places when you do have to “manage”, make sure things get done. Pastors do have to be managers sometimes, there is church business they have to attend to. But our Savior was passionate for us, He wasn’t there to be a people pleaser, and He let a whole lot of people know that. We pastors cannot be in our positions to just entertain or indulge, we are called on to proclaim Jesus and to be His disciples and all that means. To be hungry for Jesus, for His Kingdom and for the eternal life in the resurrection. If we are hungry for that, shouldn’t we be instilling that hunger in others? Too often pastors are simply about lulling people into a nice, warm feeling of security. We should have a passion, meaning acting with integrity, striving to proclaim Jesus at every point, a passion to do our best to help anyone we know, to know true life and true salvation in Jesus. To truly read and study His revelation, the Bible. To help others to genuinely present Jesus to all they know, really a manly passion of what is right and truly salutary in Jesus and to stand under the stress that people in the world and yes, in the church will put you under to compromise with the world and divide your loyalty between the world and the church of Christ. We look for those opportunities to serve to help in a material way, but to remember that we are not social workers, that we are always first and foremost to serve the Creator, Sustainer, Lord and Savior of the universe, to point people to Him so they will know true life in the baptized life of Jesus and will move from their and act accordingly. Anything else is indulgence and people pleasing and not doing anyone any good. It’s managing, but the result is into condemnation and not challenging them and lifting them up which is passion and Christian leadership. What we all need to have “life and life more abundant.”

How should that look at your workplace? How should that look in every area of your life? Are we truly about church being one thing and then as soon as we’re out the door, on to the more important(?) things. Or are we men of integrity truly striving to serve our family, our church, our vocation and always, most importantly our Lord and Savior, with true passion, strength and integrity.

All are welcome to talk about this more Wednesdays 10am, the coffee shop at the corner of W King and Beaver Sts in downtown York, Pa. The church is at 140 W King, you’re welcome to park right behind, walk about half a block to the coffee shop. I always buy first timers their coffee.

I’m going to do it God’s way, by His Word in Scripture

A lot of feedback I get is to the extent, “sound really strict”, “not very loving”, “why are you always quoting the Bible?”. There is a lot of pretty superficial Christianity out there. As a Lutheran pastor I’ve always been taught, to be faithful to what the Bible says, it’s God’s Word that matters. It’s your job to help people understand it, grow in it, live their life in accordance with the Bible, not to make things up. Imagine if we all lived according to the Bible and not just the way we think things should be, the world would be a much better place. Fact is, we are all sinners, even in our best intentions we do things that are messed up and hurt people and hurt our relationship with God. We can turn back to Him for His forgiveness and blessing, or we can keep messing things up, even unintentionally and keep driving each other away. We live so isolated from each other today, we have our superficial relationships, heck we really think we’re friends with someone because they accepted us on FaceBook. No it’s really time to build relationships the right way and not the way the world tells us that we all know inevitably hurts us and other people.

For example, “it’s all about love”. It’s not about “love” in terms of doing what’s right, of being a blessing to others by helping them to really focusing on God, His Word and your neighbor. (I do find it interesting that people will always quote “Love they neighbor”. They seem to forget that Jesus said first, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your strength.”) You can’t really love your neighbor until your relationship of love with God is firm and established. Until you know how to “love” as God wants you to “love”, then you’re really just kind of playing with people.

To many people “love” means, “you make me happy, you do things for me”. (Often those things are give me sex, booze, drugs or just cash, make it easier on us.) Love means what’s doing the best for that person, helping that person be the best they can be and not just an enabler for whatever sin that they’ve become chained to, that’s supposed to make them “happy”. Come on, let’s face it, let’s take a, somewhat, benign sin like ice cream. It costs money, good ice cream gets a little pricey after awhile. It puts on weight, with very little nutritional benefit. It causes much more serious health issues. I know plenty of people with diabetes, yet we’re so consumed with smoking. Smoking is sin too, but get a grip. Too much junk and diabetes will kill you. There’s people all around getting constant medication for diabetes, going blind, losing limbs, dying. Don’t know anyone with lung cancer.

Let’s really love and start holding people accountable to what they should be doing. Being “happy” today, is just a fast track to poor health  and early death. Throw in drugs, booze, lack of exercise. Poor health in general is everywhere, do we really love when we see someone tooting another joint, or doing another in a long line of “16 ounce curls”?

There is so much “me” today and so little in terms of God’s will. We make God to be an agent of our “happiness”  and we really aren’t interested in what God has for us. People would look at my life and think that it might be pretty goofy. Picking up and moving from a place I had grown up in, raised children in, then moved to an unfamiliar place (actually two), far away from family and friends. But I do have peace that this is where God wants me and I am doing what He wants me to do. Way too many people today do what they think makes them happy, but have very little peace, hmmm, how do you think that happens? Telling God to go take a hike in order for me to do what makes me “happy”, then finding out what makes you “happy”, just messes you up. What God wanted for you would make you “happy”, but you just decided “don’t confuse me with the facts” if God wants it, then it’s probably boring or lame, I don’t want to do that.

But yes, in God’s will I do have peace. Doesn’t mean things are easy, we see with the disciples, many people down through history. Things weren’t easy, read what Paul wrote about 2 Corinthians 11: 16-33, he went through more in a few years, then most of us will in a lifetime. He knew God was guiding him and strengthening him, making him a better man and certainly a more godly man, and certainly not a messed up man.

So I do what God guides me to, yea sometimes it’s not very pleasant, there are plenty of times I take shots for what I preach, teach or write. Doesn’t mean what I’m doing is wrong, just means someone thinks it’s ok to take shots at me, even if they don’t have a good reason to, don’t know what they’re talking about. Being faithful in God is not settling for just a “feel good” Gospel, something that makes everyone happy for the moment. Sorry just doesn’t work. The trials and tragedies of life pop up all to quick and then we don’t feel good anymore and it’s all God’s fault. My job is to equip those who are in Jesus in order for them to deal with all the good times, tough times, and mundane, maybe even boring times in order for them to grow closer to God and to glorify Him who provides so much for us. That includes eternal, perfect life in the resurrection, it’s only through Jesus. This also includes being strong and being a Christian example for others. The next time you need to be encouraged and strengthened, you think your local drug pusher is going to help you? No! In the end he’s only going to make it worse. What really works is a strong /mature Christian man or woman (and yes that excludes the “feel good” Christians out there too). Too often we want to be made “happy”, placated like a child. We know that leaves us worse off then we were.

God sacrificed greatly for me in His Son Jesus. I have to step up and live a true life in Jesus, not a life of go-along to get-along. I have to be that example of a mature faithful Christian man. That is what God expects from me, to be faithful in continuing to grow, in following where He leads and not in what I think is “happy”, or what I “like”. Lots of other people look to me for that too, imagine what a great place the world would be if everyone were living that way. But that’s not going to happen because in this day and age it’s all about me and what makes me, what I think, happy. We can’t just continue to “hang” where we are and to be pacified, You aren’t going to find any example of that in the Bible. The Bible is what God wanted us to know about Him. He inspired men to write the Bible and show what is the truth. You don’t see people just coasting along in life, sitting around getting snookered and honoring God. Only those who are strong and faithful honor Him. What you find over and over again is men and women who are pushed to step out of their comfort zone in order to live up to God’s will and not their own. Why on earth do we think we should be different today? Is it because we know we can’t handle it and need to be babied?

You will think what you will, but Jesus made it very clear that many will be deluded, fooled, by wrong messages. That His true disciples will have to deal with the trials and antagonisms of the world. We are seeing Christians being martyred right now, all around the world. Not for “feel good”, but because they know who Jesus is and that they need to serve Him and others even in extremely difficult circumstances. There were more Christians martyred in the 20th century, then in all of history, combined! There’s no “feel good” Christianity there, yet it is only through Jesus that we are saved, some of us do have to suffer to the extreme in order to be saved. It dishonors them and Jesus when we make being a a Christian about “what makes us happy”.

What does honor Jesus, the millions who have lived in Jesus through the centuries, the millions who live around the world? It is being true, faithful disciples of His. Doing what He teaches us in His Word the Bible, and not what other people try to make Him out to be. To follow where He leads us and to what He leads us to do through His Holy Spirit. Jesus said He will tell many to be gone because “I never knew you”. Many who thought that what someone told them to “tickle their ear”, was actually genuinely in Jesus. Someone who tried to make Jesus into what they wanted instead of what Scripture truly says about Him. I know my responsibility as a teacher will be greater and I will be held much more responsible for what I teach. I intend to do all that I can to truly teach God’s Word in the Bible. I seriously fear for those who have to answer to God who ignored God’s Word and made up what they thought would make people feel good, it will be very scary for them.

Jesus the Bread of life, His flesh saves and sustains us.

John 6:5 we have all these people and Jesus has told us we have to find food to feed them. 5,000 men, plus women, children! Where do we come up with all that?

Everyone gets fed, we pick up what’s left, hey food’s too precious, we can’t leave anything behind. Interestingly there are twelve baskets left, one for each of us disciples. That night we’re rowing across the Sea of Galilee and there’s food under our seats, giving us enough energy to keep going. He provides, even when we have no idea what we’re going to be dealing with. Who can do that? Yes, Jesus and He is God the Son.

Jesus is the Bread of Life. He told the Jews who were hounding Him that He was the Living Bread that came down from heaven, the manna that kept their ancestors alive in the desert. But now the Bread of Life is His flesh. The flesh that He sacrificed on the Cross, His true flesh for our spiritual and physical sustenance. His disciples knew exactly what He was saying, and He didn’t try to convince them otherwise. Most of them picked up and left, probably a little freaked out.

“Do you take offense at this?” Why would they be offended by what’s supposed to be a figure of speech? Sure a metaphor might bother you, but what would really bother you is hearing someone say that you have to eat His flesh in order to have eternal life.

It will be a little longer, but Jesus solemnizes, makes a new covenant, based on the eating of His flesh and drinking His Blood. No metaphor intended, hey read the Greek. He is the Bread of Life, He gave His Body, shed His Blood on the Cross for the atonement of our sins. He continues to give His Body and His Blood for our sustenance to eternity, to nourish our eternal life. For those who have been born again and are the eternal sons and daughters of God, we need divine sustenance for our born again body. That can only be through the miraculous sustenance provided by His Body and Blood we receive from His undershepherds, your pastors to sustain us to eternal life.