Obadiah

May 20, 2018

As I sit down to write this little article, I’ve just come from a hospital room visiting one of our long time members at Calvary. In addition to the circumstances that caused him to be admitted, he has been battling a serious health condition for many years.

As I sat with him and talked, what struck me is how very tired he looked. The groaning of creation under the weight of sin and its consequent effects that the Apostle Paul writes about (Romans 8:22) was heavy on him. Here was a man who, through the suffering and affliction that he has valiantly faced without complaint, could say with the great Apostle,

And we believers also groan, even though we have the Holy Spirit within us as a foretaste of future glory, for we long for our bodies to be released from sin and suffering. We, too, wait with eager hope for the day when God will give us our full rights as his adopted children, including the new bodies he has promised us. (Romans 8:23, NLT)

It is a hard thing to live in a broken world. For even though I have great confidence in Jesus, and in the good news of salvation that he has brought through his cross-work, my heart is heavy to see the suffering of precious saints and children of God. 

This man, sitting on the edge of his hospital bed and chatting with me, has been such an amazing example to me of tireless joy in the face of remarkable, extensive, and prolonged adversity. As I drove home, and watched cars passing me by, and observed homes and apartment complexes and business filled and bustling with people, I thought about how probably none of them would ever know of this man and his life of faith. And of how I wanted them to know of this man! To know the strength of his character, the resiliency of his faith, the extent of his love and care for his friends and family, the way he has poured out his gifts within and through our church family, his indelible mark on our community and city, on and on I could go describing to them a life of faith well lived — even though he would never want me to do that

He has run the race so well, even as it appears he may be nearing the finish line. He’s even been sharing the story of salvation with one of his doctors.

So faithful.

You may be wondering, “What does your hospital visit to your friend have to do with a little article on the focus of this past Sunday’s sermon, the book containing the prophecy of Obadiah?”

Well, Obadiah warned of a coming day of Yahweh, a day when all accounts would be settled between the God of the universe and all members of the human race for all time (Obadiah 15). He warned that on this day Edom and “the surrounding nations will swallow the punishment [Yahweh] will pour out on [them]” (Obadiah 16). It is a punishment described as “a foaming wine” of God’s wrath which will be swallowed down by all of those sinners that find themselves outside of the family of God (Psalm 75:8; Jeremiah 25:15).

It is a terrifying picture.

And it is something my friend, still in that hospital room as I write, does not have to be afraid of, and is not afraid of. Why? Because he knows a Man who drank that cup of wrath, filled with the punishment my friend deserved for the sins my friend has committed. My friend knows of a King who came, and went to a cross to die for him, even as that King asked if the cup of wrath could pass from him (Matthew 26:39). My friend knows that our Savior, Jesus, submitted to his Father, saying, “Not my will, but yours be done.” 

Therefore, my friend, and the rest of us sinners who are trusting in Jesu, are not afraid. Because Jesus paid it all. Sin had left a crimson stain, but he washed it white as snow through his death on a cross, and his rising again, and his ascension to the right hand of the Father.

So I guess it doesn’t matter much that there will be so many in the world who will never know about my friend, even though I would like them to. Because one day, this Jesus, who drank down the punishment, and saved my friend; this Jesus will look him in the face — recognize him! — and say before countless other saints who will hear the same words,

“Blessed are you who had to weep and suffer, for now you shall laugh as you spend eternity with me! Great is your reward in heaven! Well done, good and faithful servant, well done. Come, and enter into the joy of your Master!” (cf. Luke 6:21, 23; Matthew 25)

One other thing my friend shared today — how much he loves the Bible. After more than eight decades on this planet, he still treasures God’s Word. I think he would agree with me that a big reason he does is because it is this unified story that points us (even Obadiah!) to Jesus. 

So as you read this right now, I hope you believe in Jesus. I hope you are trusting in him. For there is a day coming when our lives will end. There is a Day of Yahweh coming when a judgment will be rendered. And the only thing that will save any of us from the wrath we deserve for the sins we have committed is this good news — it is by grace alone that we will be saved, through faith alone, in Jesus Christ alone. If you’d like to know more about that, take a look at this life-saving Story.

And, for further study on Obadiah, head over to our friends at The Bible Project. There you will find videos, milestones, study resources, and recommendations for further reading and study on all the books found in The Whole Story, including Obadiah. You can also watch my sermon on Obadiah.

Finally, just a reminder that this coming Sunday we will study one of the most famous stories in all of Scripture, found in the book of Jonah. Be sure to read it a few times this week so that you may come with a ready and expectant heart as we gather together Sunday morning at 10:30am at Calvary.

In Awe of the Saving Grace and Mercy of God, through Jesus, the Christ, our Master,

Pastor Matthew

matthew@calvarystcloud.org

matthewmolesky.com

Amos

May 13, 2018

We continue to study the 400 year history of God’s covenant people, the Israelites, as found in the books of first and second Kings, but as seen through the eyes of Yahweh’s prophets. Our most current study? The prophet Amos, and his poetry, sermons, and oracles.

The benefit of moving through this prophetic literature by covering a book each Sunday is that it is easier to identify some themes. For example, a common progression in each book is the identification of covenant failure by Israel, a proclamation from Yahweh via a prophet of his accusations, a description of judgment, the opportunity for repentance, and the promise of salvation and restoration for the repentant.

One of the most encouraging things I am learning about God in The Whole Story is his steadfast love for his people expressed through his promise of salvation and restoration for those who repent. It is remarkable to see that, no matter how long the list of sins and accusations against his people, no matter how abhorrent their failure, regardless of the amount of time that has passed, the steadfast love of Yahweh never ceases, and his mercies never come to an end.

And that is really good news.
Because we are no better than Israel.
And we are all really ‘good’ sinners.
So I need this kind of repeated, consistent message:

Hosea 14:1—7
1 Return, O Israel, to the Lord your God, 
for you have stumbled because of your iniquity. 
2  Take with you words 
and return to the Lord; 
say to him, 
“Take away all iniquity; 
accept what is good, 
and we will pay with bulls 
the vows of our lips. 
3  Assyria shall not save us; 
we will not ride on horses; 
and we will say no more, ‘Our God,’ 
to the work of our hands. 
In you the orphan finds mercy.” 
4  I will heal their apostasy; 
I will love them freely, 
for my anger has turned from them. 
5  I will be like the dew to Israel; 
he shall blossom like the lily; 
he shall take root like the trees of Lebanon; 
6  his shoots shall spread out; 
his beauty shall be like the olive, 
and his fragrance like Lebanon. 
7  They shall return and dwell beneath my shadow; 
they shall flourish like the grain; 
they shall blossom like the vine; 
their fame shall be like the wine of Lebanon. 

Joel 3:16—18; 21b
16  The Lord roars from Zion, 
and utters his voice from Jerusalem, 
and the heavens and the earth quake. 
But the Lord is a refuge to his people, 
a stronghold to the people of Israel. 

The Glorious Future of Judah
17  “So you shall know that I am the Lord your God, 
who dwells in Zion, my holy mountain. 
And Jerusalem shall be holy, 
and strangers shall never again pass through it. 
18  “And in that day 
the mountains shall drip sweet wine, 
and the hills shall flow with milk, 
and all the streambeds of Judah 
shall flow with water; 
and a fountain shall come forth from the house of the Lord 
and water the Valley of Shittim. 
….Yahweh dwells in Jerusalem.”

Amos 9:11–15
11  “In that day I will raise up 
the booth of David that is fallen 
and repair its breaches, 
and raise up its ruins 
and rebuild it as in the days of old, 
12  that they may possess the remnant of Edom 
and all the nations who are called by my name,” 
declares the Lord who does this. 
13  “Behold, the days are coming,” declares the Lord, 
“when the plowman shall overtake the reaper 
and the treader of grapes him who sows the seed; 
the mountains shall drip sweet wine, 
and all the hills shall flow with it. 
14  I will restore the fortunes of my people Israel, 
and they shall rebuild the ruined cities and inhabit them; 
they shall plant vineyards and drink their wine, 
and they shall make gardens and eat their fruit. 
15  I will plant them on their land, 
and they shall never again be uprooted 
out of the land that I have given them,” 
says the Lord your God. 

Over and over again, his promise to those who would turn to him is that he is faithful to forgive, heal, and restore. And for us, that means trusting in the Messiah that Israel could only look forward to, but that we now celebrate — Jesus. When we embrace the Christ, all the promises are ours. One day we will enter into the joy of our Master, because of his finished work and perfect life and spotless righteousness given to us in exchange for our incomplete works and imperfect life and corrupted souls, so that we might live with him in a new heavens and new earth that will be glorious beyond our imagining and which will never end.

If you’d like to listen to a song celebrating and articulating a stunning vision of that King, and our future, I highly recommend heading over to the Rabbit Room, with Andrew Peterson, to take in “Remember Me.” It’s always a good thing for our theology to lead to doxology.

And, for further study on Amos, head over to our friends at The Bible Project. A great way to start your weekly reading of a book that we are working on (or to review it after the sermon) is to visit their website. There you will find videos, milestones, study resources, and recommendations for further reading and study on all the books found in The Whole Story, including Amos.

Finally, just a reminder that this coming Sunday we will study our smallest book yet, weighing in at just one chapter — the prophetic proclamation of Obadiah. Be sure to read it a few times this week (every day if you can), so you may come with a ready and expectant heart as we gather together Sunday morning at 10:30am at Calvary.

Grateful with you for a loving and merciful Father,

Pastor Matthew

matthew@calvarystcloud.org

matthewmolesky.com

Joel

April 29, 2018

The main aim of the sermon series we are currently in, The Whole Story, is to inspire you to read through the whole Bible over the course of about eighteen months, which began in January 2018. A foundational reason for this is that we believe that on this journey we will experience, week by week, the exciting truth that the Bible is a unified story that points us to Jesus. 

If you’ve been with us for most of this year, you know that our goal has been, in most cases, to cover one book each Sunday morning when we gather as a church family. Now, as the Bible is made up of books of varying lengths — from one chapter (e.g., Obadiah) to one hundred and fifty chapters (Psalms), it means that our reading homework each week varies as well.

Take the last three weeks as an example. We went from Isaiah (66 chapters — whew!) to Hosea (14 chapters) to Joel (3 chapters). In two weeks, we’ll be in Amos (9 chapters), and for the following six Sundays after Amos, no book will be longer than four chapters.

This last week, I had the opportunity to ask a friend if he had completed the three chapters of Joel (it was Thursday). He said he hadn’t, because he was wanting to stretch it out over the course of the week. I suppose that’s OK, but I’d like to suggest a different approach to you for your reading over the next few weeks, as I did to him, borne out of my own study of these prophetic books.

It’s quite simple, really.

Read the whole book every single morning. 

I’m often blessed to hear someone say to me, “I’m amazed at what you see in the story that I didn’t see in the story when I read it.” Would you like to know my secrets to such discoveries?

Well, first, it’s prayerful dependence on the Spirit of God in order to understand (and proclaim) the Word of God. That is a must. A non-negotiable. When you sit down to read, ask him to open your eyes, that you may see wonderful things from his Word (Psalm 119:18).

Second, it is simply reading the text over, and over, and over again. Doing so with a pencil in hand, and a Moleskine right next to my Bible. It is circling words and phrases that are repeated, that seem emphasized, that I don’t understand and am prodded to study further. It is underlining things and drawing arrows and making lines that connect ideas. And the only way all of that can happen is by immersing myself in the text, by saturating myself in the story.

You see, I’m certainly not smarter than you. I don’t have access to a greater power than you. We all have the same Bible, the same Father, the same King, and the same Holy Spirit. That same GOD is there with you, eager to reveal his truth to you, and to answer your prayer for eyes that are open.

Imagine if you did this for the coming book of Amos. As I will be traveling this week to attend the graduation of our oldest son from Minnesota State University, I will not be preaching Amos until Sunday 13 May. So if you start reading Amos every day today, that means you will have read this book thirteen times before you walk into our Sunday morning gathering that day. 

Imagine what God will reveal to you! I was still making new discoveries this last Sunday morning in the book of Joel when I read it before heading to the church campus for our gathering. So imagine how ready you will be for the preached word — the questions you may have, the observations you yourself will have drawn, the applications to your life you have already begun to work on, the points that you would love to discuss with your family or community group.

And all from simply asking God to help you understand his Word, and then applying yourself — in a workman-like manner — to immersing and saturating yourself in that word. Trust me, friend, these two simple practices will transform your walk through The Whole Story of Jesus.

But there is one more secret to share with you. One more tool that we have in common. 

And that is our friends over at The Bible Project. A great way to start your weekly reading of a book that we are working on (or to review it after the sermon) is to visit their website. For example, if you’d like to study further on the book I preached from this last Sunday, Joel, visit the page on Joel. There you will find videos, milestones, study resources, and recommendations for further reading and study on this small but power-packed prophetic word.

One more important thought before I let you go. We must continue to remind each other why we are doing this, why we are going through all the books of the Bible in eighteen months, the core and heart of this journey through The Whole Story. 

And it is this:

We want more of God.

The Psalmist says it this way in Psalm 119:2 — 

Blessed are those who are preserving his testimonies [i.e., his Word],
with the whole heart they are seeking him.

Do you see? The goal of the psalmist is not the testimonies, or the Word, itself, but where the Word is taking him. To whom the word is taking him. The reason he is preserving and spending time in the Word is because his heart is consumed with seeking and knowing its Author. He is found in the Word not for the sake of the Word, but because in that Word he meets his God.

Dear friend, that is my prayer for you this week as you read Amos. That you will enter Amos’s book, and his world, because you want to see more of our Father, and his Son, by his Holy Spirit, and having spent time there, you will be satisfied with more of this amazing God.

Confident he will open our hearts and enlighten our eyes,

Pastor Matthew

matthew@calvarystcloud.org

matthewmolesky.com

Child Dedications

April 29, 2018

Watch as children are dedicated this last Sunday morning.

Hosea

April 22, 2018

The book of the prophet Hosea. 

Honestly, in first reading, it can be difficult to grasp. There are quite a few movements and shifts in thinking, and our author mixes various styles of writing and a multitude of images and themes. So as I spent time over the course of a week with this book as a reader, and studier, what struck me was that I needed to process and meditate on Hosea as a whole. To step back and see the larger picture. To not get lost in the details. And I kept asking the question, “Is there a major theme here that you are trying to communicate, Father?”

Now, different readers, commentators, teachers, and preachers may all answer that slightly differently. It may be that the theme is judgment. It may be that the theme is the covenant breaking of the children of Israel. Those would be fine choices. They are certainly present in Hosea.

And, what is also present here is the long-suffering mercy, compassion, and love of God. This essential message in the book is put on visual display through the powerful metaphors of marriage and fatherhood. Over and over it struck me, as I read, and studied, and stepped back to look at the wide vistas of the story, that God, through the prophetic ministry of Hosea, wants us to see how our unfaithfulness and stubbornness “are not enough to exhaust God’s redeeming love that outstrips the human capacity to comprehend” (ESV Study Bible note). 

And friend, that love is breathtaking. In this book you will find pictures of the kind of love that your heart truly longs for, the kind of love you were made for. That may sound like over-emotional language, but trust me, its not. Hosea delivers. There are treasures of hope to be found here. I know. I dug in the soil of this story for a week, and came away with many, a few of which I shared in a sermon on this book. You can watch or listen here.

And if you’d like to study further, I highly recommend heading over the The Bible Project’s page on Hosea. There you will find videos, milestones, study resources, and recommendations for further reading and study on this deeply encouraging and satisfying prophetic word.

One thing we often forget is that our theological study (orthodoxy) ought always lead us to worship (doxology). Therefore, I want to draw your attention to two songs that you could use yourself, or in the context of family, or a gathering of a community group or friends. For singing shouldn’t only happen on Sunday!

The first is the song we ended our service with when I preached Hosea. It is a song called “Good Good Father,” and my favorite performance of it is by Housefires. You can watch here. Another song quite popular right now that explores God’s extravagant love is called “Reckless Love.” You can view a lyric video for it here. It is my prayer that you find them helpful to both bask in the biblical truth of God’s love, and to reflect a heart of gratitude and praise to him for that love.

One final note: to prepare for this coming Sunday, be sure to read through the book of Joel, prayerfully meditating on its three chapters.

It is my prayer that you will continue to grow in your understanding of, love for, and hope in God as we continue to make our way through The Whole Story. And, as always, please feel free to email me with questions about or ideas for The Whole Story.

Resting in the extravagant, astounding, reckless love of GOD,

Pastor Matthew

matthew@calvarystcloud.org

matthewmolesky.com

Isaiah

April 15, 2018

We are now making our way into the “Prophets Before the Exile” section of The Whole Story. I really like the way our Read Scripture plan breaks a bit here from the order of the books of the Old Testament in our common English translation of the bible. For the Read Scripture plan is more in line with how the story actually unfolded.

You see, the books of the Kings give us this four hundred year story of forty kings ruling over the divided kingdom of Israel to the north and Judah to the south, a multitude of prophets, and the runaway covenant disobedience of God’s people. With that now established in our minds, we will focus in on that one set of characters — the prophets —  and hear the details of what God had to say through them in that same four hundred year period before the exile (2 Kings 25).

Eugene Peterson has this to say about the prophets:

The unrelenting reality is that prophets don’t fit into our way of life. For a people who are accustomed to fitting God into our lives or, as we like to say, “making room for God,” the prophets are hard to take and easy to dismiss. The God of whom the prophets speak is far too large to fit into our lives. If we want anything to do with God, we have to fit into God.
The prophets are not reasonable, accommodating themselves to what makes sense to us. They are not diplomatic, tactfully negotiating an agreement that allows us a say in the outcome. What they do is haul us unceremoniously into a reality far too large to be accounted for by our explanations and expectations. They plunge us into mystery, immense and staggering. 
Their words and visions penetrate the illusions with which we cocoon ourselves from reality. We humans have an enormous capacity for denial and self-deceit. We incapacitate ourselves from dealing with the consequences of sin, from facing judgment, from embracing truth. Then the prophets step in and help us first to recognize, and then to enter, the new life God has for us, the life that opens up hope in God.

As he says there at the end, we will see much over the next ten books of God speaking through the prophets against our sin, describing its consequences, leading us to truth, and making it possible for us to enter “the life that opens up hope in God.”

And it all begins with the magisterial work of Isaiah. If you’d like a primer on what many scholars have called “the most complex book in the Bible” and “the fifth Gospel,” I highly recommend heading over the The Bible Project’s page on Isaiah. There you will find a whole page of videos, milestones, study resources, and recommendations for further reading and study on this stunning and wide-ranging prophetic word.

I’d also like to direct your study to a very helpful video on how Isaiah fits into the larger biblical story — The Gospel of the Kingdom. And finally, you could watch last week’s sermon on Isaiah.

To prepare for this coming Sunday, be sure to read through the book of Hosea, prayerfully meditating on its fourteen chapters.

It is my prayer that you will continue to grow in your understanding of, love for, and hope in God as we continue to make our way through The Whole Story. And, as always, please feel free to email me with questions about or ideas for The Whole Story.

Hoping in GOD,

Pastor Matthew

matthew@calvarystcloud.org

matthewmolesky.com

Kings

April 8, 2018

As the Bible is an ancient text, it makes sense that much of it is a recording of history. But to respond by merely reading it as a textbook would be a mistake, for this is history written with a very particular purpose. Namely, it is a theological history — its authors, under the inspiration of God, make theological arguments by the way they tell the stories, and what they include in them.

The books of the Kings are a prime example of this. A small group of historians sat down, with the Israelite exilic community of around 500 B.C. in mind, and aimed to explain how it is that the nation found itself in the place it was in. They had compiled what happened before, written it down, recording it for the generations that follow, in the hopes of helping Israel understand why they are where they are, and who they are where they are.

The lessons they draw are helpful for us in very similar ways. Their efforts are an attempt at grabbing us by the collar to get us to slow down for a moment, and to look behind us — in our case, around 2,500 years behind us — to see where we’ve come from, in the hopes of positively influencing where we are going, and who we will be when we get there.

These historians use three powerful types of characters to tell the story and unfold their theology. And it becomes clear that there is a sobering warning here, and great hope. A warning of a very clear and present danger in this world, and a message of hope for the one and only way it can be overcome.

If you’d like to explore this book of the Kings further, to see how that unfolds, I suggest you continue by means of the following helpful resources:

  • Watch last week’s sermon on Kings.
  • This video, The Story of The Bible, is a superb 5 minute summary of this kind of theological history.
  • And this 6 minute video on sin, from the Bible Project’s “Bad Word Series,” helps us understand this very clear and present danger in the world.
  • Click here to find a whole page of videos, milestones, study resources, and recommendations for further reading and study on the 400-year history of the Kings.

Finally, be sure to dive into the book of Isaiah in preparation for this coming Sunday. Plan ahead in your reading, as this one is 66 chapters long! As always, please feel free to email me with questions about, or ideas for, The Whole Story.

A fellow follower of the King,

Pastor Matthew

matthew@calvarystcloud.org

matthewmolesky.com

Baptisms 4/8/18

April 8, 2018

King of My Heart (Samuel part two)

April 1, 2018

It’s a little hard to believe that we are already twelve sermons into our adventure through the Bible called The Whole Story. I have been very encouraged to hear from many of you how this pace of moving through the Scriptures week-by-week, book-by-book has helped you see things you’ve never seen before, and appreciate our Father and his Son, Jesus, so much more. Personally, I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed preaching as much as I have this year, discovering how, as our friends at The Bible Project say it, “The Bible is a unified story that leads to Jesus.”

That truth is exactly what we discovered as we came upon Holy Week and Easter Sunday. It wasn’t necessary at all to step away from The Whole Story (at this point in the book of Samuel) to find Jesus, and clear promises about who he is and what he is doing in the world. What a delight to uncover, in the middle of this story about Israel’s first kings, the promise of a forever king and forever kingdom, and how that connects from the time of David all the way to the resurrection of the Christ.

If you’d like to see some of those connections from a slightly different perspective of what we studied together on Easter Sunday, please check out this great resource on the Messiah from the team at The Bible Project. And, if you weren’t able to be with us on Easter Sunday, you can watch the sermon, “King of My Heart” here. If you missed our Good Friday service, you can find that sermon here.

Finally, I’d like to encourage you again to read the Whole Story along with us. I just received yet another note yesterday from someone sharing the impact of doing that this year. She said, “So thankful for your encouragement to read through the Bible…changed my life. Wow.”

God’s words have a way of doing that.

I would love for you to have the opportunity of that life-changing experience as well, and all you have to do is take up this book, and read. And really, it’s more achievable than you may think.

Did you know that the average person reads about 200-250 words per minute? So, let’s take the average of that, and say you can read 225 words per minute. If you divide out all the words in the Bible (775,000) by the days in a year and that average per minute, you can read the whole bible in a year with an investment of about 10 minutes per day. That’s really doable.

Maybe for you, it would help to be able to listen to the Bible. With most narrations of the Bible coming in at about 75 hours long, you can read/listen to the whole Bible in a year with an investment of about 12 minutes per day. You can listen for free at ESVBible.org

Even if you haven’t been reading along thus far, please don’t miss out on a life-changing experience by letting that stop you. Jump on our little moving train of The Whole Story and read 1 and 2 Kings this week, in preparation for Sunday. And if you are really up for a challenge — and a treat! — take a separate 20 minutes a day on Genesis through 2 Samuel, and you’ll catch up in no time.

Happy Reading! And, see you Sunday.

So blessed to be on The Whole Story journey with you,

Pastor Matthew

matthew@calvarystcloud.org

matthewmolesky.com

Eight Acts of Service on Easter

March 29, 2018

We’ve arrived once again to the glory of Holy Week. And as Easter Sunday draws closer, it is good to remind ourselves of ways we can bless those who don’t normally attend Calvary on this highest attended service of the year.

I am grateful that I am a part of a church like Calvary, where you already do a wonderful job of this. I hear quite frequently from guests, and newer regular attenders and members, that part of what drew them in to Calvary was the friendliness of our church family. So, many of these reminders are things many of you are already pretty good at. 

That said, it’s always good to be freshly encouraged in ways that we can make a Good News impression on guests with just a few simple acts. Which was exactly the goal for Thom Ranier as he wrote Nine Considerations for Church Members on Easter, in the hopes that we would all remember that we “have an opportunity to make an eternal difference.” Here are eight of them:

  1. Pray as you enter the property. Pray for the guests. Pray for the services. Pray for the pastor and the sermon.
  2. Park at the most distant spot available. Save the closer parking places for guests.
  3. Greet people. They may be guests. They may be members. It’s okay to introduce yourself to either.
  4. Look for people to help. You know the place well. Many others will not. Be a guide. Help someone who looks like he or she needs help.
  5. Sit as close as possible to the front of the worship center. Save the back rows for guests and late entrants, so they don’t have to walk past so many people.
  6. Sit in the middle. Don’t claim that aisle seat where people have to walk over you or past you.
  7. Sit closely. Your worship center may be packed. If so, be willing to sit cheek to cheek.
  8. Pray as you leave. The Holy Spirit is likely working in many persons who attended. Pray for His continual work of conviction and comfort.

“These are simple acts, family. They are acts of service. And if you survive doing these acts of kindness and service on Easter, you just might be able to do them on other days of worship as well.”

I am looking forward to celebrating the life, death, and resurrection of our King at our Good Friday service (7pm) and our Easter Sunday service (10:30am) with you this weekend.

The Lord is Risen!

He is Risen Indeed!

Pastor Matthew

Samuel Part One

March 25, 2018

As Douglas Wilson has observed, these are fragile times. And when a nation finds itself in the kind of mess we find ourselves in, there is a kind of widespread longing for a leader who has the qualities, vision, and ability to show the way out. That makes sense. Who doesn’t want to find their way out of a mess? But it’s a dangerous spot to be in. It can leave one vulnerable to charlatans and pipe dreams.

A wise dead guy once wrote that there is nothing new under the sun. Given the fallibility of humanity, it makes sense to look and see if such a mess has happened on a nation-wide scale before, and what was successfully done about it. And given our desire for a solution we can actually count on, it makes sense to do that in the Bible.

Which brings us to the book of Samuel (found in two parts in our English Bibles). There’s guidance here for this longing inside of us for a leader. A leader who won’t fail us. A leader who can truly deliver. And it’s all found in the story of David and Goliath, which is actually — as we discovered on Sunday — a story about three Kings. A story that helps us understand all of 1 and 2 Samuel. We could sum up that whole story this way:

God raises up kings to rule the Israelites. The first is a failure, and the second becomes God’s most faithful king, but then rebels, resulting in the slow destruction of his family and kingdom. And it all points to the Leader we long for.

This past Sunday we spent the majority of our study discovering where not to look for that One who will show the way out. But that doesn’t mean the longing was wrong. Or even that the longing for a King was wrong. It has always been God’s plan to save us from this mess through a man. And this coming Sunday, we will find, in the middle of this story brought to us in Samuel, the answer to humanity’s longing for a Leader.

I hope you’ll be able to join us, both on Easter Sunday at 10:30am (as well as Good Friday at 7pm). A great way to prepare would be to:

  • Make sure you’ve continued reading through The Whole Story as we preach through it each Sunday, which means this week you’ll complete 2 Samuel. And don’t worry, if you are behind, or haven’t even started, don’t let that stop you. Jump in right now by reading 1 and 2 Samuel this week.
  • Review last week’s sermon on Samuel (part one).
  • Click here and here to find videos, milestones, study resources, and recommendations for further reading and study on this remarkable tale of some of the most famous stories in the Bible. A tale filled with Kings, Giants, Miracles, Battles, War, and — the Leader we all long for.

As always, please feel free to email me with questions about or ideas for The Whole Story.

Looking forward to our Gathering on Sunday morning,

Pastor Matthew

matthew@calvarystcloud.org

matthewmolesky.com

Ruth

March 18, 2018

Two weeks ago, we spent our Sunday morning gathering in the book of the Judges. It describes a time in the nation of Israel of great darkness, disobedience, destruction, and dystopia. It was a time, states the last sentence in the story, when “there was no king in Israel, and everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” (Judges 21:25). It was very disturbing.

This past Sunday we, we stayed right there, “In the days when the judges ruled…” (Ruth 1:1). We made our way through the remarkable story of Ruth, Naomi, Boaz, and God. The simple story of an ordinary Israelite family facing tragic loss, and God using an immigrant to bring about unexpected hope, both in the present, and forevermore. It is this small but bright light in a very dark time.

The story and example of Ruth and Naomi provided some really great points of application for our lives, and we had the time to move through a few of those. The power of friendship and the radical nature of discipleship (I got that structure and ideas there from some great work on Ruth by Tim Keller), as well as the very ordinary nature of our lives providing a theater for the omnipotence of God.

One of the areas we didn’t get to spend much time on is the nature of a kinsman-redeemer, how Boaz fulfilled that role, and that in doing so he was a type of the Messiah, the Christ, as our Redeemer. In this way, this story is a beautiful reminder that God is always doing more than we know or realize in the small spaces of our stories to accomplish his plans and purposes for the world.

One of the books I am consulting throughout The Whole Story series is A Biblical-Theological Introduction to the Old Testament: The Gospel Promised. In his essay on Ruth as part of this volume, John J. Yeo writes:

…the kinsman-redeemer serves as a messianic type for the following reasons:

(1) he must be a blood relative (even as the incarnate Christ became a blood relative to humankind via the virgin birth); 

(2) he must have the means to redeem the forfeited inheritance (even as Christ alone had the merit to redeem sinners);

(3) he must be a willing redeemer (even as Christ willingly laid down his life for sinners); and

(4) he must be willing to marry the wife of a deceased kinsman (which typifies the marriage relationship between Christ and his church).

This is just one of the beautiful aspects of the unified story of the whole Bible that always points to Jesus. Over and over and over again we see in the old covenant story of God’s dealing with his people these types of the One who is to come. In this way, the richness and depth of the new covenant story of God’s dealing with his people and the world through Jesus is intensified. Right up to today. For us.

Which is what Ian Duguid points to in his commentary on this story:

[God] is the Redeemer behind the human redeemer, [Boaz], in Ruth and Naomi’s story. This is also what [Yahweh] has done for each of us. He is the Redeemer behind each of our own personal salvation stories. He sought each of us while we were utterly lost. Not only did he make us feel valuable; in Christ, God actually made us valuable. It is not just Ruth’s story that turned out to be part of a much bigger narrative than she ever imagined. Your story and my story are also woven into the bigger tapestry of what God is doing in Jesus Christ.

How encouraging!

For further study on the book of Ruth, I suggest you continue exploring by means of the following resources:

  • Review last week’s sermon on Ruth.
  • Click here to find a whole page of videos, milestones, study resources, and recommendations for further reading and study on this remarkable story of a very ordinary family that brought unexpected, eternal hope to the world.

Finally, be sure to dive into the story of Samuel in preparation for this coming Sunday, which is also the first day of Holy Week. As always, please feel free to email me with questions about or ideas for The Whole Story.

Looking forward to our Gathering on Sunday morning,

Pastor Matthew

matthew@calvarystcloud.org

matthewmolesky.com

Judges

March 4, 2018

This past Sunday we continued our trek through The Whole Story of the Bible, entering into the world of the Judges. This bit of the story contains stark contrasts. 

On the one hand, we continue to marvel at God displaying his power on behalf of his people — lop-sided victories and a magic fleece (Gideon), bandits overthrowing kings (Jepthah), and an ancient superman whose strength breaks the backs of Israel’s foes (Samson).

On the other hand, every one of Israel’s deliverers is revealed as flawed and deeply imperfect, and both people and chieftains continue to devolve into ever-increasing acts of such darkness and wickedness that this tale would receive a parental-advisory warning, even by our culture’s standards. 

This darkness is a display of the dehumanization of humanity. And in order to comprehend why this is so tragic, one needs rightly understand the image of God, and how we are meant to reflect that image. Our friends at the Bible Project have created a six-minute video (along with some other helpful materials) that will help you better understand this theological concept, and how it sheds light on the tragedy and significance of the story of Judges.

For further study on the book of Judges itself, I suggest you continue exploring, by means of the following resources:

  • Review last week’s sermon on Judges.
  • Click here to find a whole page of videos, milestones, study resources, and recommendations for further reading and study on this remarkable history, Judges.

One important note. This coming Sunday, March 11, we will take a slight break from moving through one book at a time in The Whole Story, as I will be out of the pulpit. But it is just a slight break. Tim Tomlinson, President of Bethlehem College and Seminary (my alma mater), will be preaching. His study and sermon will be on the 23rd Psalm. 

So how is this just a slight break?

Well, for those of us reading each book of the Bible every week, as we make our way through The Whole Story (and using the Read Scripture app to do so), you have also been reading one psalm per day. This has been a helpful and encouraging practice, as the Psalter forms a strong foundation to our worship and prayer lives. 

Therefore, Tim’s proclamation will serve as a very minor detour on our journey through The Whole Story. And, having spoken with Tim, and hearing how this familiar psalm has been captivating his heart, mind, and imagination in new and fresh ways, I am eager to sit in the gathering alongside you as he preaches. You won’t want to miss it family!

Finally, for those of you who might be a bit behind in your reading along with us book-by-book, the next two weeks afford a wonderful chance to catch up; especially as our next book of study will be Ruth (just four chapters long!). As always, please feel free to email me with questions or ideas for The Whole Story.

Looking forward to our Gathering on Sunday,

Pastor Matthew

matthew@calvarystcloud.org

matthewmolesky.com

Joshua

February 25, 2018

I was talking with a member of our church family after the service Sunday morning. He shared with me how, when his children lived at home with them, he used to teach them about the Bible. Namely, he didn’t call what we find contained within it merely stories, though they are that. Rather, he went out of his way to describe them as histories.

I really liked that idea, because in our culture, when we hear the word story, we would probably think in our minds of fiction, nine times out of ten. In the words of my friend, the word history makes us think of something that did, truly, occur. It is an account of reality. We probably wouldn’t even question it.

Which is why we started there in the sermon on Sunday, describing Joshua and a number of books that will now follow in our ongoing study of the Bible, the histories. For these things actually did happen, and it’s important to understand the facts of the past, as recorded and told in the Bible. And we must then move beyond what merely happened, to ask the question “why,” and what the significance of these histories may be both in the past, and our present.

If your curiosity and interest has been piqued (and I hope it has), I suggest you continue exploring the history found in the book of Joshua. The resources below will help you proceed:

  • Review last week’s sermon on Joshua.
  • After eight weeks in our series now, your probably used to this second suggestion, and have already bookmarked in your browser the book summaries from the Bible Project. Namely, Click here to find a whole page of videos, milestones, study resources, and recommendations for further reading and study on this remarkable history, Joshua.
  • Watch the theme video and check out resources on The Day of the Lord, which helps us think through the violence within the histories found in the Bible.

As always, please feel free to email me with questions or ideas for The Whole Story. I look forward to seeing you on Sunday, when we will begin the next chapter of the drama by studying the story found in Joshua. Be sure to read it before you come!

Grateful to Serve the God of all History with You,

Pastor Matthew

matthew@calvarystcloud.org

matthewmolesky.com

Deuteronomy

February 18, 2018

You’ve probably never considered the book of Deuteronomy as one long funeral sermon, given by a man who knew he would die, to a people aware of his impending death. That’s exactly what we reflected on this last Sunday.

As such, it is a poignant proclamation of the paramount. It is a declaration of how to live in a way that honors the Creator and brings us joy and the abundant life. In a word, it points us to love. But the question is: Do you know what that word means?

If your curiosity and interest has been piqued, I suggest you continue exploring this chapter in The Whole Story that God has written, the book of Deuteronomy. The resources below will help you proceed:

  • Review last week’s sermon on Deuteronomy.
  • Watch the video that is part of the Bible Project’s Torah series for an extremely helpful overview, and for how this story addresses the condition of the human heart (and what the Bible means when it speaks of ‘the heart’).
  • After seven weeks in our series now, your probably used to this last suggestion, and have already bookmarked in your browser the book summaries from the Bible Project. Click here to find a whole page of videos, milestones, study resources, and recommendations for further reading and study on this remarkable book, Deuteronomy.

Finally, the foundational statement in all of Deuteronomy is found in what is known as The Shema. 

“Hear, O Israel: 
Yahweh our God, Yahweh is one. 
You shall love Yahweh your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” (Deuteronomy 6:4-5, ESV)

The Bible Project has also created an in-depth study of what I believe is this single greatest summary statement for how to live (if you think that’s an overstatement, just read Jesus and Paul). Be sure to check out their series on The Shema.

As always, please feel free to email me with questions or ideas for The Whole Story. I look forward to seeing you on Sunday, when we will begin the next chapter of the drama by studying the story found in Joshua. Be sure to read it before you come!

Resting in the love of Father, Son, and Spirit,

Pastor Matthew

matthew@calvarystcloud.org

matthewmolesky.com

Numbers

February 11, 2018

This last week we made our way through the book of Numbers. We learned how this book, filled with some pretty famous Sunday School type of stories, is also shot-through with the sad themes of unbelief and rebellion. It is shocking how a people who experienced so many displays of God’s faithfulness could still be ungrateful and unsatisfied with his provision and timing. Which ironically makes it so relevant for our study, for we all struggle with being satisfied with the circumstances of our lives.

We also discovered that while God must address such an attitude with his justice and discipline, he also continually displayed his mercy toward his people. In fact, we were able to see how his justice can actually function as mercy, for Israel, and for us

If you would like to continue exploring this section of The Whole Story found in Numbers, the resources below are a great place to start:

  • Review last week’s sermon on Numbers.
  • Watch the Numbers video that is part of the Bible Project’s Torah series for an extremely helpful overview, and for how this story points us to the grace of God in Jesus.
  • Click here to find a whole page of videos, milestones, study resources, and recommendations for further reading and study on Numbers.

One of the other things that we explored this last Sunday was a little on how to read the Story of the Bible. Namely, how Numbers should be understood as a story that stands on its own, how it functions within the overall story of the Old Testament, as well as how the New Testament authors (e.g., Jesus and Paul) understood it as part of the Whole Story. If you’d like more instruction on how to understand the broader scope of Scripture, I highly commend this six-part video series on How to Read the Bible

Each video is only about six minutes in length, and you will find a study guide on the webpage for use along with the videos.

As always, please feel free to email me with questions or ideas for The Whole Story. I look forward to seeing you on Sunday, when we will begin the next chapter of the drama by studying Deuteronomy. Be sure to read it before you come!

Overflowing with thanksgiving for the snake-crusher and sin-bearer, Jesus,

Pastor Matthew

matthew@calvarystcloud.org

matthewmolesky.com

Leviticus

February 4, 2018

This last week we explored how Leviticus comes crashing into our current cultural context declaring our sin and resultant need, as well as the only pathway to true validation and acceptance in the face of such a possible crisis of identity. In addition to our weekly sentence summary of the book of the Bible from the folks over at the Bible Project, we were treated to this deeply encouraging truth seen in the book of Leviticus, and fulfilled in the Good News of Jesus:

We are far more sinful and flawed in ourselves
than we ever dared believe;
yet at the very same time we are more loved and accepted 
in Christ Jesus 
than we ever dared hope.

(Tim Keller)

It is the backdrop of Leviticus — with its thousands of priests and millions of sacrifices — that causes the beauty of the work of Jesus — the one priest, and the once for all sacrifice — to shine all the more brilliantly.

If you would like to continue exploring this section of The Whole Story found in Leviticus, the resources below are a great place to start:

  • Review last week’s sermon on Leviticus.
  • Download the Leviticus study guide here (scroll down the page a bit to ‘Related Resources’) to study on your own, or even better, as a family or in your community group.
  • Click here to find a whole page of videos, milestones, study resources, and recommendations for further reading and study on Leviticus.

____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Every once in awhile, I will recommend a book that I find accessible and helpful for further study on The Whole Story. This week, that resource is Introducing the Old Testament: a short guide to its history and message, by Old Testament scholar, Tremper Longman III. 

This is the first volume I pick up each week as I begin my preparation for the sermon. It is less than 200 pages, but what it may lack in overall length it makes up for with concise, insightful commentary on every book of the Old Testament, in just a few pages per book. For each book, Longman provides analysis on content, genre, and most helpfully, ‘Connections’ (how the book anticipates the Good News). He also ends each chapter with questions for review and discussion. And Longman doesn’t sacrifice scholarship while making this an accessible and enjoyable read — a tough balance to deliver on!

I highly commend it to you. It is available on Amazon, as well as at the Whole Story resource table in the lobby (beginning on Sunday, February 11th). 

As always, please feel free to email me with questions or ideas for The Whole Story. I look forward to seeing you on Sunday, when we will begin the next chapter of the drama by studying Numbers. Be sure to read it before you come!

Filled with joy because of the welcome and acceptance found in Jesus,

Pastor Matthew

matthew@calvarystcloud.org

matthewmolesky.com

Exodus 19-40

January 28, 2018

There are a number of major themes that weave their way through the whole story of the Bible: covenant, kingdom, and temple, just to name a few. This last Sunday we looked at the theme of God’s presence in each of the sections of the story that we have covered thus far (Genesis 1-11, Genesis 12-50, and Exodus 1-18), and then how this idea of God’s presence comes into a bit of a sharper focus in Exodus 19-40.

Moses himself gives us an example of how important this idea of God’s presence with his covenant people is in one of his interactions with God. It happens immediately following the golden calf incident, which occurred while Moses was on Mt. Sinai receiving instructions from God regarding designs for his dwelling place, the tabernacle.

[And God said,] “Go up to a land flowing with milk and honey; but I will not go up among you, lest I consume you on the way, for you are a stiff-necked people.”
When the people heard this disastrous word, they mourned.
And Moses said to God, “If your presence will not go with [us], do not bring us up from here. For how shall it be known that I have found favor in your sight, I and your people? Is it not in your going with us?…” (from Exodus 33)

Moses, and the people with him, cannot imagine life without the presence of God. And it is in interactions like this that we see how they are desperate to know and experience the presence of God (this is further displayed in his famous story of Moses pleading to see the glory of God, found in Exodus 34).

Exodus concludes with the desire for his presence being met: God has descended in glorious fashion from Mt. Sinai, into the Eden-like tabernacle that he had designed, and the people had built. What a marvelous turn of events from the “disastrous word” to the beauty of his glory among the people!

But then, in the last few verses of Exodus, comes this surprising problem:

“Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. And Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting…” (Exodus 40:34-35a)

It appears that the presence of God brings its own set of challenges for the people of the covenant, who are sinful and fall short of what God requires. So how will they enter his presence? Moses is positively egging us on, to turn the page, and continue reading in the book of Leviticus.

If you would like to continue exploring this section of The Whole Story found in Exodus 19-40, the resources below are a great place to start:

  • Review last week’s sermon on Exodus 19-40.
  • Download the Exodus 19-40 study guide found here (scroll down the page a bit when you get there) to study as a family or in your community group.
  • Click here to find a whole page of videos, milestones, study resources, and recommendations for further reading and study on Exodus 19-40.
  • This coming Sunday, 04 February, we will be studying Leviticus. As we discover how God will solve the problem of sinful people living in his presence, a couple of important themes will surface. Watching the videos on Sacrifice and Atonement and Holiness from the Bible project will help you prepare as you read the story and come to the Sunday morning service.

I’d like to repeat a suggestion I made last week or keeping up on your bible reading as we make our way through The Whole Story sermon series. One of the best ways to do this is listening to the Bible. While you are on a commute, making dinner, shoveling the walk, or on a run, you can listen to the Bible reading that day. Yes, listening counts! My favorite website and app for that comes from ESV.org. Check it out.

As always, please feel free to email me with questions or ideas for The Whole Story. I look forward to seeing you on Sunday, when we will begin the next chapter of the drama by studying Leviticus. Be sure to read it before you come!

Seeking Jesus, the point of The Whole Story, with you,

Pastor Matthew

matthew@calvarystcloud.org

matthewmolesky.com

Exodus 1-18

January 21, 2018

I think it is probably safe to say that there are two great peaks in the mountain range of God’s rescue and restoration of the earth. What the cross-resurrection event is to the New Testament, the exodus is to the Old Testament. In each case, the great redemptive salvation act (exodus/cross) produces the covenant community of God’s people (Israel/church) who are called to serve God and his universal mission. (I suppose one could argue a third peak: his culminating rescue of us when King Jesus returns and consummates his kingdom.)

This last Sunday we looked at that first peak: the great salvation act of the exodus that produces the covenant community of Israel, who are called to serve God and his universal mission. Further, we discovered the reason God did all this in Exodus 6:6-7:

“Say therefore to the people of Israel, ‘I am Yahweh, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from slavery to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great acts of judgment. I will take you to be my people, and I will be your God, and you shall know that I am Yahweh your God, who has brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians.”

There it is: that they (and we) will know that Yahweh is our God. He is the one who has brought us out from the burdens of our slavery, for his glory, and our joy. What a God we serve!

If you would like to continue exploring this section of The Whole Story found in Exodus 1-18, the resources below are a great place to start:

  • Review last week’s sermon on Exodus 1-18.
  • Click here to find a whole page of videos, milestones, study resources, and recommendations for further reading and study on Exodus 1-18.
  • This coming Sunday, 28 January, we will be studying Exodus 19-40, where we will find the next step in a line of God’s covenant dealings with us as his people and family: the Mosaic Covenant. You could watch this 5 minute video from the Bible Project to get a great overview of the bible’s covenant theme.
  • Download the study guide found here (scroll down the page a bit when you get there) to study the bible’s covenant theme.

And remember our sentence summary for Exodus 1-18, with the emphasis placed on Yahweh:

YAHWEH rescues the Israelites from slavery in Egypt and confronts the evil and injustice of Pharaoh.

One final suggestion and reminder for keeping up on your bible reading as we make our way through The Whole Story sermon series. One of the best ways to do this is listening to the Bible. While you are on a commute, making dinner, shoveling the walk, or on a run, you can listen to the Bible reading that day. Yes, listening counts! My favorite website and app for that comes from ESV.org. Check it out.

As always, please feel free to email me with questions or ideas for The Whole Story. I look forward to seeing you on Sunday, when we will begin the next chapter of the drama by studying Exodus 19-40. Be sure to read it before you come!

Seeking Jesus, the point of The Whole Story, with you,

Pastor Matthew

matthew@calvarystcloud.org

matthewmolesky.com

Genesis 12-50: I Will Bless You

January 14, 2018

It is hard to look at any one text in the Bible and say that it is more important than any other text of the Bible. Since the whole Bible is inspired by the Holy Spirit as God’s Words, it is all equally valid and useful for growth in the grace and knowledge of our King, Jesus (cf. 2 Timothy 3:16; 2 Peter 3:18). At the same time, there are those passages that are particularly vital and important to knowing what God is up to in his rescue and restoration plan for the world.

We came across just such a passage in our sermon series on The Whole Story this last Sunday. As we began our exploration into Genesis 12-50, we read what is arguably the most important text between the Creation account and the birth of Christ — Genesis 12:1-3:

Yahweh had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you. 

       “I will make you into a great nation, 
       and I will bless you; 
       I will make your name great,
       and you will be a blessing.
       I will bless those who bless you,
       and whoever curses you I will curse;
       and all peoples on earth 
       will be blessed through you.” (NIV)

What hope! God’s blessing is dependent on God, and not me. See how many times he says “I will…I will…I will.”

Now, it is true there are things that I must do in response to God’s blessings and promises, and as a result of my love for him (cf. Exodus 20:6: Matthew 22:34-40; John 14:15). At the same time, what we learned in the Genesis account is the truth that at every point of failure and folly in Abraham’s story (and the successive generations), God restated his blessing, promises, and covenant. The fulfillment of those blessings and promises are on his initiative, and dependent on his steadfast love and faithfulness. Not my initiative, or steadfast love and faithfulness. Again, what hope!

If you would like to continue exploring this truth, and further implications of this section of The Whole Story found in Genesis 12-50, the resources below would make a great start:

  • Review last week’s sermon on Genesis 12-50.
  • The covenant God made with Abraham in Genesis 12-50 is one in a line of his covenant dealings with us as his people and family. You could watch this 5 minute video from the Bible Project to get a great overview of this theme in The Whole Story.
  • Download the study guide found here (scroll down the page a bit) to study the covenant theme in The Whole Story.

Finally, remember our sentence summary for Genesis 12-50?

God promises to bless rebellious humanity through the family of Abraham, despite their constant failure and folly.

Click here to find a whole page of videos, milestones, study resources, and recommendations for further reading and study on Genesis 12—50.

As always, please feel free to email me with questions or ideas for The Whole Story. I look forward to seeing you on Sunday, when we will begin the next chapter of the drama by studying Exodus 1-18. Be sure to read it before you come!

Seeking Jesus, the point of The Whole Story, with you,

Pastor Matthew

matthew@calvarystcloud.org
matthewmolesky.com

The Whole Story: Genesis One Through Eleven

January 7, 2018

This last Sunday, January 7th, we kicked off our new sermon series, The Whole Story. As Genesis is the first book of the Bible, we began there, by covering chapters one through eleven (we’ll cover twelve through fifty next week). This breakout is because this expansive book of the Bible deals with two very important themes for the rest of the Story. Namely, “Creation and Fall” (Genesis 1-11) and “The Covenant with Abraham” (Genesis 12-50).

In addition to posting the sermon each week (you can find it here), we are providing additional resources for your further study and understanding in response to the sermon and, more importantly, the text of the Story. It is our hope that you will use these resources in your community group, in your family worship time, or in conversations with friends, to further interact with and apply this portion of God’s Story to your lives.

As I mentioned in the service on Sunday, we have partnered with the Bible Project to provide the majority of these additional materials. We are incredibly grateful for this highly skilled group of artist theologians who are inspiring us all to more pleasure and delight in The Whole Story of God’s plan of rescue and restoration. Here are the resources for this past week’s sermon and text, Genesis 1-11:

  • The Bible Project page for Genesis 1-11
  • Each week, this will be the most important part of further investigating this section of The Whole Story. On this page you will find the one sentence summary for Genesis 1-11, an interactive “Milestones” section, multiple videos that will help you grow in your understanding of this portion of the story, the ability to download a study guide for the text, recommended books to read further, and finally, additional articles and podcasts on the text.
  • In the sermon, I reflected on the pursuit of Bible reading, and how sometimes that can be quite difficult. I quoted from a book I recently read, and many of you asked about it. You can find Liturgy of the Ordinary: Sacred Practices in Everyday Life here.
  • I also mentioned a very helpful podcast by a good friend of mine, which will be covering Biblical Theology over the coming year. Biblical Theology is, in essence, a branch of theology that better helps us understand the whole story of Scripture. The name of the podcast is Doctrine and Devotion, and you can find out more information about following it, and their blog, here.

One final thing. This will also be a place where we continue to share ideas for how to be consistent, regular, and successful in reading through The Whole Story together this year. If you find yourself having difficulty keeping up reading the story traditionally, that is, holding a paper Bible in your hand, you may find great help listening to the Bible. It still counts! There are multiple apps and websites that allow you to listen to a text of your choosing for FREE. My favorite is probably the ESV mobile app and the ESV website.

And by the way, if you have questions, suggestions, or a testimony you’d like to share as we make our way reading and preaching through The Whole Story, please call, email, or talk to me on a Sunday morning. I’d love to hear from you.

And remember, be sure to read Genesis 12-50 in preparation for the upcoming sermon on Sunday, January 14th.

In the name of Jesus, the point of The Whole Story,

Pastor Matthew

matthew@calvarystcloud.org

Why Should I Read The Bible?

January 4, 2018

I was reading the introduction to a book on the Bible the other day, written by Francis Chan. Here is a portion of what he said:

For the past 35 years, I have been reading and studying the Bible daily. I honestly can’t imagine how life would have turned out if I neglected this habit. Each morning, I take time to seek God and remind myself of what is true and real.
It is my favorite time of the day.

Huh.

His favorite time of the day.

I wonder, is that true for you?

So let’s make this a safe place for a moment, shall we? I’m betting that it’s not true for you. At least, not all the time. Maybe not most of the time. Heck, if we asked Francis Chan, he might even admit that it’s not his favorite time of the day, every day. I mean, some of us are hoping that at least half the days it can be our favorite time of the day. 

Or it’s a goal, even as you read and internally respond to this — you desire for the time you read the Bible to be your favorite time of the day, but you just don’t know how to get there. Maybe you don’t even really know where to begin.

As a pastor, I feel like I’m supposed to say exactly what Chan has written, “Reading the Bible is my favorite time of the day.” And most days it is. Most days I love waking up, coffeeing up, praying up, and then gobbling up the Bible. But not every day. I’m just like you in that. I need reminding about why the Bible — God’s Whole Story — is an important part of my day, for every other part of my day. That the story is here for my pleasure and enjoyment. That I don’t have to feel guilt or shame tied to the pursuit of God’s Whole Story, rather, I want to delight in the Story.

It’s another reason we are beginning this adventure we’ve been telling you about. An eighteen month (or so) hike through God’s Whole Story. And we begin this Sunday exploring why you should read this story, as the pathway toward your delighting to do so. I believe God will bless you with being able to say, with Chan, “It is my favorite time of the day.”

Between now and Sunday, as a small first step in the journey, take a few minutes to watch a helpful video from the organization we are partnering with in this series, The Bible Project, as they show us that the Bible is, in fact, one big amazing Story told by God. And they introduce the app we are encouraging you to use, Read Scripture, and how it helps you read The Whole Story. (We’ll talk more about that on Sunday too!)

 

Advent 2017: Hope and Love — Christmas Eve 2017

December 24, 2017

This last Sunday, we completed our Advent Series for 2017 with two unique services on Christmas Eve.

Our first service was Sunday morning, and we unpacked the Biblical theme of Hope. We clarified the difference between Biblical idea of Hope, as opposed to mere human optimism. And in the clarification, we discovered what healthy human existence can look like in Jesus. To view that morning sermon, please click here.

Our second service was Sunday afternoon, where we heard a Christmas Eve devotional on the Biblical theme of Love. We heard from two biblical prophets in history, found in the Bible — one of them human, and one of them divine. They interpreted the Luke 2 Christmas story for us, and taught us that the love of God helps us see that we are far more wicked than we believe, and yet far more accepted and loved than we ever dared hope. To view that afternoon devotional, please click here.

As we have shared with you over the last two weeks, we have teamed up with the Bible Project for our Advent series this year. In fact, it was this wonderful team of people who love Jesus who gave us the idea for this series in the first place! So, please take a look at the videos below. The first further explores the Biblical theme of Hope, and the second, the theme of Love. Each are only about four minutes long. You will find your comprehension broadened as you go on an animated tour through the whole Bible. 

Finally, download the study notes (see the links right above each video) to use as a guide with your family, some friends, or your community group. It will guide your continued exploration to discover what these Biblical themes are all about.

May God grant you his Shalom, Joy, Hope, and Love,

Pastor Matthew

study notes on Hope

 

study notes on Love

 

Advent 2017: Joy

December 17, 2017

This last Sunday, we unpacked the Biblical theme of “joy.” And we began by asking a simple — but very important — question. Namely, “What is joy?” 

While it may seem obvious, unless we really understand what joy is, we will search for the wrong thing. So we then spent some time thinking through what our misconceptions about joy may be, and getting some clarity on what God had to say about it (hint: see Luke 2:10, and context). To view the sermon from Sunday, 17 December, click here.

As we shared with you in last week’s post on “peace,” we want you to continue learning about the bible’s teaching on “joy.” Therefore, we have teamed up with the Bible Project for our Advent series this year. In fact, it was this wonderful team of people who love Jesus who gave us the idea for this series in the first place! So, please take a look at the four-and-a-half minute video on Joy below. I think you will find your comprehension broadened as you go on an animated tour through the whole Bible. 

Finally, download the study notes (see the link right above the video) to use as a guide with your family, some friends, or your community group. It will guide your continued exploration to discover what biblical joy is all about.

For our joy,

Pastor Matthew

Study Notes

 

The Whole Story

December 13, 2017

In the early 1990s, George Barna spoke at a gathering of ministry leaders sponsored by the International Bible Society. In his speech, he pointed out, to this group of people dedicated to getting the Bible into the hands of people, that easy access to well-translated Bibles isn’t enough. “Bibles are everywhere in this country,” he said, “but the research shows an alarming disconnection problem. People find the Bible to be a difficult book, don’t understand it, and in fact, are abandoning it in droves.”

In the audience was a man named Glenn Paauw. Right then and there he made a commitment: “I don’t know how long I’ll work here, but for as long as I do I will not be content to just sell or distribute Bibles. I am going to work on understanding this disconnection problem….thirty years from now I don’t want to hear the same story.”

That commitment turned into a book, Saving the Bible from Ourselves: Learning to Read and Live the Bible Well. In it, he argues that at the heart of disconnection from the Bible is understanding, quite simply, how to read it. So, unsurprisingly, that book birthed a reader’s edition of the Bible, The Books of the Bible.

Which leads to why we are starting a sermon series called The Whole Story. In part, this series is further fruit from that talk in the early 1990s, and the burden God put on Glenn Paauw’s heart, along with my own. The majority of my life is bound up in a passion for the Bible, and by an extension, the God of the Bible. And now at forty-eight years old, I understand the disconnection problem between people and the Bible. And I agree with Glenn — a great deal of that is because we simply don’t know how to read and enjoy and revel in the story God tells in the Bible.

So on Sunday, January 7th, we will begin a year and a half exploration of the whole story of the whole Bible. We will savor it through single sermons unpacking whole books of the Bible. And we will see it is not, actually a difficult book. That it can be understood. And that it is worth our attention, meditation, and, lo and behold, our enjoyment! We will learn how to read it, and how to live it. And we will do so by God’s active involvement in the process through the gracious work of his Holy Spirit.

And all along the way we will celebrate the One whom the story is about, for the Bible is one big unified story that points us to Jesus.

Eager to begin the journey with you,

Pastor Matthew

on behalf of the elders and pastors of Calvary

 

Advent 2017: Peace

December 12, 2017

This last Sunday, we unpacked the Biblical idea of peace. Our english word and understanding needs to be informed by what God means when he declared through the angels, “on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” (Luke 2:14b). So we studied some texts that helped us learn about the concept of shalom (Hebrew) and eirene (Greek), and how it is Jesus, and only Jesus, who can fulfill all our desires for peace, wholeness, and completeness. To view the sermon from Sunday, 10 December, click here.

In order to help you continue delighting in this Biblical truth, we have teamed up with the Bible Project for our Advent series this year. In fact, it was this wonderful team of people who love Jesus who gave us the idea for this series in the first place! So, please take a look at the four-and-a-half minute video on Peace below. You’ll love how they take you on a visual tour through the whole Bible. And then download the study notes, also below, to use as a guide with your family, some friends, or your community group to continue exploring this rich, encouraging, biblical concept of peace.

Peace to you,

Pastor Matthew

 

STUDY NOTES

Upcoming Preaching

November 14, 2017

In this excerpt from a recent sermon, Pastor Matthew gives us a roadmap for where the preaching on Sunday morning will progress as we complete the series in Acts, move into the Christmas season, and what’s on tap in 2018 and beyond.

How to Keep Studying the Sermon

November 14, 2017

In this excerpt from a recent sermon, Pastor Matthew gives us some insights on how to keep working through the sermon Scripture text as we move into our week. The key? Inwardly digest the Word.

Baptism 8/20/17

August 20, 2017

Baptism is a joyous celebration as believers follow God's commandment. Watch here as Shikhar commits his life to Jesus by following this beautiful command.

com·mu·ni·ty

June 7, 2017

com·mu·ni·ty - a feeling of fellowship with others, as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests, and goals. Each of us was designed to be in community, to talk and listen, to love and be loved. We long to relate, to commune, to belong. 

How do I get in community? 

“What makes an aggregation of people into a community is that they are drawn together around some common object. Weaker community can be created by a common interest, such as a hobby, a sports team, a musical genre. Stronger community comes together around deep beliefs and causes, or powerful common experiences, like going through a flood or battle together—and surviving. There have been countless ‘buddy movies’ about some group of misfits who are extremely different in all kinds of ways, but then they are thrown together into a life or death situation. When they come through it together, it becomes the basis for a deep, permanent bond, stronger than blood.” Timothy Keller (Full Article- http://www.timothykeller.com/blog/2008/10/1/the-difficulty-of-community)

What is the “common object” that makes US a community?

The apostle Paul tells the church in Ephesians 2 about us being dead in our sin, feeding off our own desires. He goes on to say, “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together in Christ.” (v. 4,5)

Stop for a moment and consider those verses (for as long as it takes)

God’s Mercy.   God’s Love.   We were Dead.    We are Made Alive, in Jesus.

There is no deeper sense of community than what Christians have in Jesus. We all were dead in our sin, and have been restored to God through Jesus.

So amazing— Shocking! Yet, we often forget this beautiful truth. Our unity, we have in Jesus, surpasses any other sense of belonging. God makes you His own, through Jesus. You are drawn in as part of the family. That is why we call each other a family here at Calvary.

The only problem is, we don’t always act like Jesus, even though we are in Jesus. We’ve been adopted into the Family of God, yet we still tear each other down with our words and actions.

If you’ve been the church for any amount of time, you’ve likely been stung by your community, your family. We forget that we are to be humble, gentle, patient, and loving (as Paul shares later in Ephesians 4). That we are a part of one body. To harm someone within your family directly harms the whole family unit.

So family, “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” Ephesians 4:31,32

In our American culture, where we want it done fast, on the cheap, and to perfection… Remember being the church, a family, takes time, effort, and commitment. There is no greater place to belong, no greater community than when you are in Jesus.

Practical Speaking-

So what should you do if you aren’t experiencing the kind of community you want?

In an article by Aaron Menikoff, You Don’t Find Community by Looking

for It, he shares 3 insightful answers.

#1- Pray for your church faithfully. Pray the body of Christ you’re part of would grow in this area. Churches fall short. No church is perfect. So pray your church would be so filled with Christ’s love that it would overflow into personal relationships within the church.

#2- Examine yourself. Are there patterns of behavior in your own life that serve as obstacles to the community you desire? Maybe your work schedule makes the kind of face time needed to live together difficult. Perhaps you’re prioritizing certain hobbies over gathering with God’s people (Heb. 10:24–25). Maybe, for whatever reason, you’ve kept others at arm’s length—refusing to let them really get to know you. Consider how you could make a greater effort to create the community you want to see.

#3- Seek solace in Christ. True community is never found by looking for it. It can only be found by pursuing Christ. He understands loneliness better than we do. Jesus hung alone, deserted by his closest friends, bearing the shame of sins he never committed. He knows what it’s like to be ignored, abandoned, overlooked. Fallen humans are inherently disappointing. Only Jesus is perfectly fulfilling. So let your seasons of loneliness point you to his sufficiency. 

2017 Graduates

June 4, 2017

In our worship service on June 4th, we honored our graduates, and Pastor Josh prayed over them. Please continue in prayer for these young men and women as they begin their next chapter!

A CULTURE OF URGENCY

May 31, 2017

I am thankful for the chances I have to mow my lawn. Yes, you heard me right! I’m thankful because it provides opportunity to multitask and listen to leadership podcasts. Most people listen to podcasts in their car, but when your commute to work consists of a short walk, you have to find alternative times.

This past week I listened to a leadership podcast from Craig Groeschel titled, “Institutionalizing Urgency”

In this podcast, he makes the case that we need to:

Learn to declare war on complacency and embrace urgency, because we cannot change what we’re willing to tolerate.

See, for many organizations, complacency is hard to see. Unfortunately, urgency is not always the default mode, complacency is. The greatest threat to future success is current success. Success feeds pride, and pride kills urgency: nothing fails like success.

Now, while Craig was sharing from an organization church leadership perspective (with hope that churches would not get complacent in their mission), I began to also think about urgency in terms of sharing the Gospel from a personal perspective. Whether as a church, or personally, my hope is that we will have a culture of urgency when it comes to sharing the Good News!

At Calvary, our mission (and hopefully your mission as well) is to make more and maturing disciples of Jesus Christ. Now, understanding that Jesus could return at any time (Matthew 24:36-44), it makes that mission all the more urgent. We might have 24 hours to accomplish that mission or 24 years. We don’t know!

The danger is in becoming victims of complacency - willing to ‘tolerate’ our current commitment to the mission. Over time, our bias for action becomes a bias for discussion. We sit around and talk about the mission but we’re no longer productive in accomplishing it. Yes, I understand it really is Jesus who accomplishes the mission by drawing others to Himself, not us. The goal is not activity, busyness, or doing ‘more’. The goal is that we’re faithfully following the great commission (Matthew 28:16-20), that is productivity. 

Here’s a short illustration from William Booth’s - A Vision Of The Lost to help us see the importance of urgency: 

“I saw a dark and stormy ocean. Over it the black clouds hung heavily; through them every now and then vivid lightening flashed and loud thunder rolled, while the winds moaned, and the waves rose and foamed, towered and broke, only to rise and foam, tower and break again.
In that ocean I thought I saw myriads of poor human beings plunging and floating, shouting and shrieking, cursing and struggling and drowning; and as they cursed and screamed they rose and shrieked again, and then some sank to rise no more.
And I saw out of this dark angry ocean, a mighty rock that rose up with it’s summit towering high above the black clouds that overhung the stormy sea. And all around the base of this great rock I saw a vast platform. Onto this platform, I saw with delight a number of the poor struggling, drowning wretches continually climbing out of the angry ocean. And I saw that a few of those who were already safe on the platform were helping the poor creatures still in the angry waters to reach the place of safety.
On looking more closely I found a number of those who had been rescued, industriously working and scheming by ladders, ropes, boats and other means more effective, to deliver the poor strugglers out of the sea. Here and there were some who actually jumped into the water, regardless of the consequences in their passion to "rescue the perishing." And I hardly know which gladdened me the most - the sight of the poor drowning people climbing onto the rocks reaching a place of safety, or the devotion and self-sacrifice of those whose whole being was wrapped up in the effort for their deliverance.
As I looked on, I saw that the occupants of that platform were quite a mixed company. That is, they were divided into different "sets" or classes, and they occupied themselves with different pleasures and employments. But only a very few of them seemed to make it their business to get the people out of the sea.
But what puzzled me most was the fact that though all of them had been rescued at one time or another from the ocean, nearly everyone seemed to have forgotten all about it. Anyway, it seemed the memory of its darkness and danger no longer troubled them at all. And what seemed equally strange and perplexing to me was that these people did not even seem to have any care - that is any agonizing care - about the poor perishing ones who were struggling and drowning right before their very eyes . . . many of whom were their own husbands and wives, brothers and sisters and even their own children.”
"Who Cares?" by Mauricio Palacio

As God has laid this on my heart, it’s been personally convicting. I am far from being the best disciple maker. What I am though, is committed… committed to becoming a better disciple maker and not getting complacent (or distracted) in the mission. 

Take a moment and think about your own life.

What are you willing to tolerate (because you cannot change what you’re willing to tolerate)?

As you think about your own life and journey, what are you doing that’s ‘busy’ work but not ‘productive’ work when it come to making more and maturing disciples of Jesus? 

What are you most distracted by?

If Jesus was coming back tomorrow, how would your to-do list for today change?

How uncomfortable would you allow yourself to be in order to see others come to know Jesus?

My prayer is that this would be an encouragement to you - and that we, the Calvary family, would embody a culture of urgency when it comes to sharing The Gospel.

PRAYING FOR OUR MUSLIM NEIGHBORS DURING RAMADAN

May 30, 2017

This year I am once again using the 30 Days of Prayer for the Muslim World to guide my prayers for my Muslim neighbors during Ramadan. It is available from WorldChristian.com, and this year focuses prayer on family life--"the place where most people first learn about faith, where our values are formed, and where we are influenced in more ways than we realize" (pg. 1, from the guide).

Last year, the publishers estimate one million Christians around the world used this guide to pray for Muslims. Given that I live in a community of around 63,000 people that also has an estimated 10,000+ Somali Muslim refugees among us, this is a golden opportunity for God to increase my love and compassion for this beautiful people who does not yet know Jesus as the Savior of the world. I would encourage you to use this resource to plead with our Father to give us bigger hearts to reach this particular people that make up those who still remain in darkness.

An additional resource to inform your thinking, evangelism, and praying comes by way of Joe Carter over at The Gospel Coalition, entitled "Nine Things You Should Know About Ramadan." I've attached it below for your perusal.

May God use us -- a people who have received mercy -- to proclaim the excellencies of Jesus to those still in darkness and apart from the light.

9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.  (The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (1 Pe 2:9–10). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.)

Because Muslims account for 1.6 billion of our global neighbors, Christians need to become more aware of Ramadan and Islamic practices. Here are nine things you should know about Islam’s holiest month.

1. Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar. Because it’s based on the lunar calendar, the beginning and end dates vary from year to year. This year in the United State Ramadan began on the evening of Friday, May 26, and ends on Saturday, June 24.
2. The Qur’an claims that it was during the month of Ramadan that Mohammed received his revelation from Allah:

The month of Ramadan [is that] in which was revealed the Qur'an, a guidance for the people and clear proofs of guidance and criterion. So whoever sights [the new moon of] the month, let him fast it; and whoever is ill or on a journey—then an equal number of other days. Allah intends for your ease and does not intend for your hardship and [wants] for you to complete the period and to glorify Allah for that [to] which He has guided you; and perhaps you will be grateful.
3. Islamic tradition holds that three of the religion’s other holy texts were also revealed during Ramadan: The Scriptures of Ibrahim on the first night of Ramadan, the Torah on the sixth of Ramadan, the Gospel on the 13th of Ramadan. (Note: The Islamic “gospel” is not the same as the four Gospels of Christianity. The Islamic view of the Bible is based on the belief that the Torah, Psalms, and Gospels were revelation from Allah that became distorted or corrupted. Muslims believe that Jesus was a Muslim prophet [a messenger of Allah], and that he was not the son of God.)
4. The Qur’an claims, “When the month of Ramadan starts, the gates of the heaven are opened and the gates of Hell are closed and the devils are chained.” As the BBC notes, “Muslims believe that their good actions bring a greater reward during this month than at any other time of year, because this month has been blessed by Allah. They also believe that it is easier to do good in this month because the devils have been chained in hell, and so can't tempt believers. This doesn't mean that Muslims will not behave badly, but that any evil that they do comes from within themselves, without additional encouragement from Satan.”
5. Fasting during Ramadan, known as “sawm,” is one of the Five Pillars of Islam, the basic religious duties for Muslims. The other four pillars are Shahadah (declaring there is no god except Allah, and Muhammad is Allah’s Messenger); Salat (ritual prayer five times a day); Zakat (compulsory charity for the poor, assessed at 2.5 percent of capital assets); and the Hajj (pilgrimage to Mecca at least once in a lifetime if he or she is able; the hajj takes place during the last ten days of the 12th lunar month).
6. Fasting during Ramadan begins 20 minutes before dawn (fajr) and ends at sundown (maghrib). All able-bodied adults are expected to participate in the fast. Children are exempt, as are the elderly, the ill, travelers, and women who are pregnant, breastfeeding, or menstruating.
7. The day’s fast is considered invalidated if the Muslim participates in any of the following activities from sunrise to sundown: eating or drinking, sexual activity, telling lies “about Allah and/or His Messenger,” immersing the entire head in water, deliberate inhalation of smoke, taking injections whereby nourishing liquids reach the stomach, deliberate vomiting, intentionally passing an object through the throat or any other natural opening (including chewing gum). 
8. If Muslims miss or invalidate their fast they must make up the missed fast days before the next Ramadan begins. The missed days can be made up any time during this period, on consecutive days or separately.
9. In some Muslim countries, failing to fast during Ramadan can bring civil penalties. For instance, in Saudi Arabia, where the Qur’an is considered a constitutional document, all people including foreigners and tourists of other faiths are required to fast when in public. In 2013, Saudi officials warned, “Those who are caught will be examined and will face legal action commensurate with their violation. Punishment could be a prison term or lashes or both while foreigners could, in addition, be deported from the kingdom.”

NO MIXED FEELINGS

May 25, 2017

I am not a morning person. And that is putting it mildly. My ideal sleep schedule would be 1am until 9:30am, because I prefer to stay up late, and I love sleeping in. I love the coolness and darkness of our bedroom, the warmth of being curled up in the bedcovers, and spooning with my wife. I love the slow wake-up, and groggily heading downstairs in my PJs to begin a pour-over of True-Stone Peru roast with raw sugar and cream. Pulling up a chair in the fireplace room and spending time in the Holy Scriptures, and talking with the Father in the name of the Son with the guidance and help of the Holy Spirit. At a leisurely pace. So that the rest of the day would start somewhere around 11:30am. 

Somehow, about a year ago, I joined a discipleship group that meets every couple of weeks, early in the morning. Which means that every time we meet, I don’t want to get up and be part of it, but every time we do, I can’t believe how great it is. I think a great deal of discipleship probably works that way.

One of the things that being a part of community like this has reminded me is how much I need other people in my life who will speak truth to me when I seem to be doing nothing but listening to the lies of my flesh and the Evil One. Which is exactly what happened recently at one of our meetings. One of the men shared this with me, and us, among a host of other comments, and it hit me like a thunderclap.

God has no mixed feelings about you whatsoever.

Ok, stop. Stop, Mr. or Mrs. or Miss Busyness, rushing through this little post and on to the next thing in your stuffed-to-the-rafters schedule.

Take a look at that sentence again. 

Let it soak in. 

Say it for yourself, preferably out loud

God has no mixed feelings about me whatsoever.

It strikes me that I don’t functionally live or think that way. I look at me and see plenty of reason for skepticism and disappointment. I see all kinds of areas for improvement. I’d like to submit my person to Chip and Joanna and their Fixer Upper program and see what they could do with this old house that is in need of some serious repair.

You see, I am filled with mixed feelings about me. But God looks at me, as a follower of Jesus, as his adopted child, and has no mixed feelings whatsoever. 

His love is steadfast,

“Yahweh, Yahweh, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love…” (Ex 34:6)

“Know therefore that the Lord your God is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him…” (Deut 7:9)

“Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; 

for his steadfast love endures forever!” (1 Ch 16:34)

“All the paths of the Lord are steadfast love and faithfulness…” (Ps 25:10)

“…steadfast love surrounds the one who trusts in the Lord.” (Ps 32:10)

“The steadfast love of God endures all the day.” (Ps 52:1)

“Because your steadfast love is better than life, 

my lips will praise you.” (Ps 63:3)

“For the mountains may depart

and the hills be removed, 

but my steadfast love shall not depart from you…” (Is 54:10)

and his mercy is neverending.

“As for you, O Lord, you will not restrain

your mercy from me; 

your steadfast love and your faithfulness will

ever preserve me!” (Ps 40:11)

“The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; 

his mercies never come to an end; 

they are new every morning; 

great is your faithfulness.” (La 3:22–23)

“Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me

all the days of my life…” (Ps 23:6)

“…God, being rich in mercy…” (Eph 2:4)

“Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy…” (Heb 4:16)

“Grace, mercy, and peace will be with us, from God the Father and from Jesus Christ the Father’s Son, in truth and love.” (2 Jn 3)

He delights in me, takes joy in me, loves me, sings songs over me. 

“The Lord your God is in your midst, 

a mighty one who will save; 

he will rejoice over you with gladness; 

he will quiet you by his love; 

he will exult over you with loud singing.” (Zep 3:17)

He has grace on top of grace to heap upon me. (Eph 2:7)

He is happy about who I am and that I am part of his family. (1Pet 2:9-10)

He placed me on mission and is ready to celebrate what he will do through me for the sake of his kingdom. (Luke 15:1-32

He’s guaranteed me he is going to keep me around forever. (John 10:1-42)

I hope you (and I) are getting the point. On and on we could go through the Holy Scriptures, mining them for all the encouragement that is there supporting the truth that God has no mixed feelings about you or I, as followers of Jesus, and his children, whatsoever.

Part of what makes us feel like God (or anyone) has mixed feelings about us is because we look at our incompleteness and deficiency, and merely see someone who just can’t seem to get their act together. But we are not defined by our doing and performance and a perfectly executed “act.” Jared Wilson has recently written a whole book about that, which is saturated and dripping with grace for people who can’t get their act together. From his conclusion:

What I’m trying to say is this: you are not your quiet time.

Okay, day to day, you kind of are your Bible reading. The spiritual disciplines—the rhythms of the kingdom—do shape us and help us become more of what Jesus is making us through them. But in the end, you are not your quiet time.

You are not your cruddy prayer life. Prayer is vital and necessary. When you pray, you strip your soul down to your proper proportion, helpless and needy and desperate. Prayer of all kinds is basically confessed need of God. It is an expression of our un-God-ness and God’s total God-ness. But in the end, you are not your prayers. Jesus is meditating for you and the Spirit is interceding for you, making up for all your prayerlessness.

You are not your standing before people.

You are not your past.

You are not the accumulation of harsh words from others and negative self-talk.

You are not even your sin, as primary and as serious as that problem is.

I’m not trying to affirm your sense of goodness. I’m doing the opposite, in fact.

I want to, by God’s grace, give you the freedom to own up to your not having your act together. I wrote this book for all who are tired of being tired. I wrote this book for all who read the typical discipleship manuals and wonder who they could possibly be written for, the ones that make us feel overly burdened and overly tasked and, because of all that, overly shamed.

You are not your ability to pull yourself up by your own bootstraps.

You are not the sum of your spiritual accomplishments and religious devotion.

You are a great sinner, yes. But you have a great Savior.

Child of God, you are a child of God. And he will never, ever, ever, leave you or forsake you.

(from The Imperfect Disciple: Grace for People Who Can’t Get Their Act Together, by Jared Wilson, pgs. 229-230)

AND, HE HAS NO MIXED FEELINGS ABOUT YOU WHATSOEVER.

The Imperfect Disciple: Grace for People Who Can’t Get Their Act Together, by Jared Wilson is available at the Calvary resource table.

Trusting God

May 16, 2017

We had the wonderful privilege to be in CA last week for about 5 days. Our daughter Allison, and our youngest son Logan live in CA right now, so we have made it a priority to be with them whenever we can get time together. While we were in CA our oldest son Marcus proposed to his fiancé Sarah along a beautiful hiking trail in the Smokey Mountains of TN. 

As I have been reflecting over the incredible blessings of these family relationships that God has given to us, I thought of the verse from Psalm 127:3, “Children are a gift from the Lord; they are a reward from him.” (NLT version) 

Sometimes in the midst of demanding seasons of life we forget that our children are a gift from God and a precious reward to us.  “Growing up” always comes with challenges and days that seem like they will never end. Trusting God to work in our lives and our kid’s lives is always a step of faith. We want to be in control and not lose control so we often rush the growing up process. We seek to conform our kids to what we want and don’t lead them in the path or way that fits who they are and need to be. (Proverbs 22:6) But then God does something just right in our lives and in our families that gives us hope, joy, and peace that is beyond our understanding. 

I remind you in whatever season of life you are in with your family, to let God do his work and to wait patiently for the outcomes.  When the Bible says to, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding, and in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight” (Proverbs 3:5-6 NIV), God is simply reminding us that he knows what is best for us and for those within our sphere of influence. I pray that God’s love for you, and the blessing of those that he has rewarded you with, will be an encouragement to keep pressing on as you serve and lead in the place that God has given to you.     

Child Dedications May 2017

May 14, 2017

Six children were dedicated this past Sunday. We pray God's blessings upon these children and their parents!

Wonder

May 9, 2017

It’s that time of year again when restoration from the frigid winter has finally come.  I am always reminded of the grand narrative of the Bible in the Spring, when I look around and see new life budding and blooming all around.  

It is quite a privilege to walk this earth and experience the beauty God has designed in it.  Have you ever thought about that?  We get to wander around this incredibly composed sphere and enjoy the fingerprints of our Creator.  From the smallest of creation, to the largest, we’re made to enjoy and be amazed.

Have you ever taken the time to look at a blade of grass? A bug?  A leaf?  I mean really look at them?  Now, I know you may be thinking, either this guy has too much time on his hands or he’s crazy (maybe you’re thinking both).  Well maybe you’re right, but I bring this up because if we took the time to take in the intricacies of creation, I strongly believe it would increase our joy and worship.

Creation bears witness to God (Rom. 1:20).  It reveals to humanity His existence and character.  This is what we call general revelation.  God gives us glimpses of His glory through His creation.  We were meant to enjoy the beauty of His handiwork before our eyes simply because it points us to Him.

Steve DeWitt describes this well in his book Eyes Wide Open: Enjoying God in Everything.  He writes:

“Beauty was created by God for a purpose: to give us the experience of wonder. And wonder, in turn, is intended to lead us to the ultimate human expression and privilege: worship. Beauty is both a gift and a map. It is a gift to be enjoyed and a map to be followed back to the source of the beauty with praise and thanksgiving.” (91)

Do you see that?  The beauty of creation is intended to lead us to worship, which as DeWitt correctly describes, is the ultimate human expression and privilege.  How great of a gift is that?  All around you are expressions and reflections of God Himself.  DeWitt states:

“Wouldn’t such beautiful and desirable reflections mean that their Source must be even more beautiful — and, ultimately, most desirable?” (8)

What an amazing truth!  Do you think about this when you watch a sunset?  Or as you bike on a trail through the woods, or as you fish on a lake?  Creation is meant to point us to the glory of the Creator.  He gets glory in our enjoyment of Him and we get satisfaction.  What an amazing design of God.

I urge you to go outside and enjoy the beautiful weather we will be having in the upcoming months. I pray that you will find great joy in your Creator through the gifts of creation that He has graciously given us.

God is Pro-Women

May 3, 2017

Since the dawn of the feminist movement the church has often been marked as a breeding ground for misogyny and sexism. Certainly, there are occasions where the church has invited this judgment and may indeed be deserving of these accusations. However, if the church were truly obedient to God’s Word there would be no warrant for this kind of indictment.

God said it was not good that man be alone and so He created women. Proverbs says that a woman who fears the Lord is far more precious than jewels and that the heart of her husband should trust her. Scripture commands children to listen to their mother’s teaching. God created women, loves women, and has blessed humankind with women. There is no one more pro-women than the God who created and celebrates them. He chose to send His Son into the world through a gentle, faithful, and brave woman.

I have never been more amazed at God’s gift of women as I was watching my wife Rachel become a mother. After the announcement of her pregnancy I was elated and ready to begin this journey to parenthood. I wanted to help and bless this child I hadn’t even met, but I found that difficult to do as the baby was in the womb. As much as I could be supportive and care for my wife, only Rachel could nourish and care for the baby directly.

Even through the process of labor I found myself in a position of helplessness. As I watched my wife endure the pains of childbirth, all I could do was encourage and support her. I thought that after little Tatum was born I would be able to really help then, but again, I was amazed at how little I could do. I couldn’t even feed this child I loved. In the weeks that have followed I am learning how I can be of more help, but I stand amazed at God’s design for women to raise, birth, and then care for children in such a remarkable way.

We know that God is our Father, and we should call Him that. Nevertheless, in a lot of ways He is also like the mothers who bear His image. Like a mother, He nurtures us in a way no one else can, through His living and abiding Word. Like a mother, He comforts and cares for us in a way no one else can. The psalmist writes, “He will cover you with his pinions, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness is a shield and buckler.” 

As Mother’s Day approaches I want to consider how I can honor not just mothers, but women in general. Women are a gift from God and I am forever grateful for the women God has placed in my life. I am undeserving of a wife that faithfully loves and supports me, a mother that nurtured and cared for me, sisters in Christ who point me to Jesus, and now a little daughter who fills my heart with joy! Let us praise God together for the gift of women!

Baptisms 4/16/17

April 16, 2017

On Easter Sunday, the Calvary family got to witness God working in the lives of two men who publicly affirmed their faith through baptism. It was a joy to see!

The Shema

April 12, 2017

One of the tools I use to encourage myself in the memory of Holy Scripture is the Fighter Verse app. It is a really helpful way to get weekly passages hidden in my heart, that I might not sin against God (Psalm 119:11).

This week, the passage is from the book of Deuteronomy and the story of Israel. After their rebellion against God and forty years in the wilderness, wandering, they are now on the cusp of the Promised Land. Before they enter, Moses launches into an extended sermon, preparing the people for obedience and blessing in their new home. A few minutes into his exhortation, we find our memory passage:

Hear, O Israel:  
Yahweh our God,  
Yahweh is one.  
You shall love Yahweh your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.
(Deuteronomy 6:4-5, ESV

"Hear, O Israel."

Hear.

Huh. Why would Moses utter what seems like such a rudimentary and simple command at this point in the life of God's people? What might be bound up in the word, "hear"? And how might such an exhortation continue to apply to God's people today?

Well, thanks to the folks over at The Bible Project, we've got a great start on meditating on this passage and its ongoing significance. Take a few minutes to watch and hear.

 

READ SCRIPTURE

March 29, 2017

This past Sunday at Calvary, I preached a sermon in the hopes of inspiring our people to embark on the adventure of immersing themselves in the capacious story of the books of the Bible. From my introduction,

 

(If you'd like, you can view the whole sermon here.)

Now, one of the obstacles to reading the books of the Bible is that we don't approach them in the correct way. We treat the Bible more like a textbook to be mined for little bits of advice for good living, rather than the grand narrative it is -- telling the story of God's work of creation, rescue, and restoration of a fallen and broken world. A story big enough to make sense of our lives, which, in the words of Eugene Peterson, are lived in storied conditions.

But most of us need help to see it and read it as this big story. And by God's grace, there are a couple of wonderful organizations creating remarkable tools to provide the help we need. The first is a group called Read Scripture. They have designed an app that breaks the books of the Bible into sixteen large sections to help you get a handle on the story God has told, and is still telling. Click on the picture below to go to their site and download the app.

I have been amazed at how helpful it has been to use this app to direct my daily communion time with our Father. Each day, I sit down with my morning smoothie and open the app on my phone. It instructs me to "take a deep breath before you begin to spend time with God," and then supplies my first reading for the morning. I open the text in my physical Bible, because I am still old school that way. I use The Books of the Bible, as it has a far more helpful order for the books in the Bible (e.g., the first testament follows the common Hebrew version for ordering, and the second testament is ordered in a far more logical way than traditional bibles). And, it has removed all chapter and verse numbering, as well as a far more aesthetically pleasing format. In other words, it looks like something you'd actually want to read. 

Each time you begin a book of the Bible in the app, it includes the overview video for that book right there in the app, created by the folks over at from The Bible Project. I also print out the visual outline for the book (after watching the video) and use it as a bookmark as a way to keep track of where I am in the story. These 'posters' are also available as a free download, and represent the completed picture at the end of each overview video they create. Here's the one for Mark (I've included that video at the end of this article):

After that first reading, the app then instructs me to "move into a time of prayer and meditate on the following Psalm," and I again open up in my paper copy and read the Psalm and then spend time in conversation with God.

In order to better understand what what the Read Scripture and Bible Project teams are doing to help us see the story of the Bible, take a mere three minutes to help you make the decision to read and understand the whole story of the Bible in a way you never have - a promise they actually deliver on!

 

I can't recommend this to you enough.

I have read through the Bible every year for around the last fifteen years using various kinds of reading plans. I have a seminary education from a fine institution, and have been in vocational ministry for over thirteen years. And these resources have helped me see and understand the big story of the books of the Bible in a way that I never have. My nineteen year old daughter has exclaimed that she has "never enjoyed reading the bible as much as I have this year daddy!" And our family worship has been refreshing and invigorating as we make our way through the overview videos for all sixty-six books of the bible.

Why not "see for yourself the beauty and wisdom of this ancient story that points us to Jesus"? For further encouragement, it would be worth your time to view the video below from the Read Scripture team. And below that, as an example, I have inserted the overview video of Mark's story of Jesus from The Bible Project team.

It is my prayer that all of this will lead you to immerse yourself in the only Story that makes sense of all our stories.

Tolle Lege!

 
 

Presentation of the Pulpit

March 26, 2017

On Sunday, a new pulpit that was created by Grant Kaihoi was presented to the congregation.

How Quick We Forget

March 26, 2017

Last Friday my wife and I were sitting in the LAX airport waiting to get on a flight back from our California vacation.  We had purchased standby tickets for the flight, which saved us a good amount of money.  The only issue with standby tickets is that you always run the risk of not getting on a flight depending on how full that particular flight is.  Our flight was a red-eye flight and so we had bought the tickets weeks prior thinking that there should be plenty of seats available because no one really likes flying through the night.  However, we underestimated the amount of people who were on spring beak and were taking this flight.  

As we sat waiting to be called up to get our tickets, I felt anxiety that we may not get on the flight.  This would have lead to a long night of getting back through the craziness of LAX, trying to find a hotel room at midnight, and getting on a flight hopefully the next day.  In other words, this option wouldn’t be ideal.  We were praying that the Lord would help us to get on the flight.  Finally, the ticketing agent called Mindee up and we got our tickets confirming that we would be on the plane headed home.  This was a moment of rejoicing!  After a long day of not knowing, we were excited to be able to head home.  I thanked God for His provision and we boarded the plane.  

Once we got on the plane I noticed that the luggage space above my seat was full and I would have to move back a couple rows to find space for my carry on.  Dissatisfied, I found an open space a few rows back and put my luggage there.  I then found my seat, which at first I thought was great and then minutes later I began to feel a little claustrophobic and uncomfortable.  It also didn’t help that the person behind me kept pushing on my seat.  I started to grumble to myself about it.  After we took off, I started to get really thirsty.  Frustrated, I thought to myself, “Where is the beverage cart?”  It was at this moment that I realized how discontent I was being.  I had gone from not knowing if I would be on the flight to all this feeling of entitlement in just an hour.  I was just saved from not having to go through everything I would have had to go through had we not been allowed on the flight to grumbling and wondering about when I would get my ginger-ale.  I felt the Spirit convict me and I repented immediately.  I had so quickly forgotten how joyful I felt just to be on the flight.

I think this relates to many of us as Christians.  Maybe you have been a Christian for many years or maybe you are newer to the faith.  Either way, we need to guard ourselves against feelings of entitlement and boredom.  After walking with Jesus for awhile, I have seen some Christians start to feel entitled as if God should be doing more for them.  They look for other avenues of how God can serve them and bless them.  When their prayers are not answered the way they want, they grumble.  Maybe this is you right now.  

I have also witnessed Christians become bored with Jesus as if he is just another thing in their busy lives.  The gospel becomes less and less glorious to them as time goes on.  Some of you may be feeling that way right now.  It’s in these times that we need to remind ourselves, or have others help to remind us, of the beauty that is the good news of Jesus.  We need to be reminded of back when we first believed in this glorious truth and held it so dear and precious to ourselves.  We need to be reminded of how thankful we were just to hear this good news.  Think back to when that was for you? I’m sure you were rejoicing, because when the Holy Spirit illuminates the glory of the death and resurrection of Jesus for you, there is no other response.

I pray that we would not feel entitled as if God owes us something more.  Family, we already obtain infinitely more than we ever deserved from God.  I pray that we would not get bored with the gospel.  Would we not sigh and say “I know this already” when we hear it preached or taught.  Rather, I pray we would revel in the fact that God chose us to be His children and that we are saved from our sin.

Brothers and sisters, entitlement and boredom can be a deadly foe to our spiritual growth.  Would we not fall into these.  Rather by God’s help, would we be like a guy who rejoices in the simple fact that he doesn’t have to be left where he is, but gets to be included on the flight that’s headed home.

IN EVERYTHING

March 21, 2017

"Prayer is meant to be the conversation where your life and your God meet."

I’m continuing to meditate on this simple and profound definition of prayer from David Powlison. It is creating in me the desire for (and increasing practice of) continual conversation with God in all the nooks and crannies of my daily living. And for me, such desires are fanned into flame through reading the encouragements of thoughtful disciples of Jesus toward pursuing this more. 

Charles Hodge, a nineteenth-century Princeton theologian and disciple, gave us this tender example of conversations where your life and your God meet:

In my childhood I came nearer to “Pray without ceasing” than in any other period of my life. As far back as I can remember, I had the habit of thanking God for everything I received, and asking him for everything I wanted. If I lost a book, or any of my playthings, I prayed that I might find it. I prayed walking along the streets, in school and out of school, whether playing or studying. I did not do this in obedience to any prescribed rule. 

It seemed natural.

I thought of God as an everywhere-present Being, full of kindness and love, who would not be offended if children talked to him. I knew he cared for sparrows. I was as cheerful and happy as the birds and acted as they did.

Take this one step further back in time, and you will discover that the young Charles was practicing the teaching of the Apostle Paul, who also advised using prayer as the conversation where your life and your God meet:

Don’t worry about anything; instead, in everything, tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus. (New Living Translation; Php 4:6–7)

I think I’ve always understood Paul to mean, when he says “in everything,” that in all the items I have on my list of concerns, I need to pray. For all those things I may be worried about, I need to pray. But now I see what I think he really means; namely, emphasize the “in”. 

IN everything, tell God what you need.

IN everything, thank him for what he has done.

IN the morning when you rise, IN the kitchen as you eat breakfast, IN the car as you drive to work, IN the study as you begin to prepare the sermon, IN the conference room for the staff meeting, IN the coffeeshop as you meet with a member of the church and carry their burden with them, IN the car on the way home, IN the dining room as you eat with the family and share in family worship, IN the family room as you watch Fixer Upper together, IN the Littles' bedroom as you tuck them in and pray a blessing over them and kiss them on the forehead, IN the bedroom as you read with your wife, IN the bed as you read a Psalm together and close your eyes and begin the night’s rest, and IN the morning when you rise and start all over again.

IN everything, tell God what you need.

IN everything, thank him for what he has done.

And do you know what? 

If you would do that -- create conversations where in the everything of your life you cause those things to come into contact with God -- then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything you can understand. For he will guard your minds, because in this way, living this way, in constant conversation with God as you live, you are thus living IN Messiah, Jesus.

May it be so (which is what we mean when we say, ‘amen’), in Jesus’ name.

CONVERSATIONS

March 15, 2017

This past Sunday in a sermon at Calvary, I described what a praying life could look like through the lens of a definition from David Powlison:

“Prayer is meant to be the conversation where your life and your God meet.” 

This one sentence has profound implications for the disciple of Jesus Christ. If you’d like to hear how I tried to apply it, you can watch or listen to the sermon at Calvary's sermon page. What I’d like to do here is expand on one of the illustrations I used to attempt to drive the point home. The illustration was comparing my relationship with my wife through our regular interactions to our relationship with God through regular interactions.

For example, I get to know my wife better through our conversations as we spend time with family, go shopping, have friends and neighbors for dinner parties, or embark on our weekly date night. The variety of these times together, and the conversations that attend them, are part of our healthy relationship. And so it is with God. Powlison is instructing us to bring God into the picture of all the nooks and crannies of our lives through the medium of conversation.

So, what I’d like to do now is expand on what ‘date night’ with God could look like if we had a daily morning ‘date’ with him. And by that, I mean I’d like to provide some very helpful suggestions from Paul Miller on scheduling and preparing for a daily morning routine with our Father.

Get to bed. What you do in the evening will shape your morning. The Hebrew notion of a day as the evening and morning (see Genesis 1) helps you plan for prayer. If you want to pray in the morning, then plan your evening so you don’t stay up too late. The evening and the morning are connected.

Get up. Praying in bed is wonderful. In fact, the more you pray out of bed, the more you’ll pray in bed. But you’ll never develop a morning prayer time in bed. Some of my richest prayer times are at night. I’ll wake up praying. But those prayer times only began to emerge because I got out of bed to pray.

Get awake. Maybe you need to make a pot of coffee [or tea] first or take a shower.

Get a quiet place. Maybe a room, a chair, or a place with a view. Or maybe you do better going for a walk. Make sure that no one can interrupt you.

Get comfortable. Don’t feel like you have to pray on your knees [though that may help].  For years I was hindered from praying because I found it so uncomfortable to pray on my knees.

Get going. Start with just five minutes. Start with a small goal that you can attain rather than something heroic. You’ll quickly find that the time will fly.

Keep going. Consistency is more important than length. If you pray five minutes every day, then the length of time will slowly grow. You’ll look up and discover that twenty minutes have gone by. You’ll enjoy being with God. Jesus is so concerned about hanging in there with prayer that he tells “his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up” (Luke 18:1).

(from A Praying Life, by Paul Miller, pages 50-51)

I hope these are an encouragement to you, dear friend. I believe that as you give God space alone with him, and in every other moment of your day, he will increase your sense of his presence, help, and love.

Psalm 5:3   Listen to my voice in the morning, Lord.
Each morning I bring my requests to you and wait expectantly.

Psalm 59:16   But as for me, I will sing about your power. 
Each morning I will sing with joy about your unfailing love. 
For you have been my refuge, 
a place of safety when I am in distress.

Psalm 88:13  But I, O Lord, cry to you; 
in the morning my prayer comes before you.

Psalm 143:8  Let me hear of your unfailing love each morning, 
for I am trusting you. 
Show me where to walk, 
for I give myself to you.

Don’t Leave Your Family

March 10, 2017

Calvary Community Church is a family. Alongside an amazing biological family, I had the privilege of growing up at this small expression of the larger family of God. I have seen the Calvary family walk through times of great growth and through times of great trial, sometimes simultaneously.

Studies show that the average life-expectancy of a youth pastor at a local church is 1-2 years. I’m convinced that the credit for my ten-year ministry at Calvary is, in part, connected to the fact that I see Calvary as my family. My hope is that everyone who attends on a Sunday morning would grow to see this church as your home and the people of Calvary as your family. I also pray that we would all think twice before leaving this family when times inevitably get difficult.

Paul writes in Galatians 6:10, “So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.” The Greek word for household here could be rendered family. Because of Jesus we, who were dead in trespasses and sin, can be made alive and adopted into the eternal family of God. Paul’s admonishment is that if we are in the family we are to do good to everyone, especially those who are part of the family of God, our brothers and sisters in Christ, the church. 

As Paul commends, we would be wise to “do good” to this family. Here is a brief profile of families alongside some practical ideas, ordered by increasing complexity, to continue to grow together as this family.

I. Families know one another best. Do you know your family at Calvary?

  • Introduce yourself to someone new this Sunday.

Andy Stanley coined the phrase, “Time in, erodes awareness of.” For those of us who have been at Calvary for many years, we may have forgotten what it was like to sit by ourselves not knowing anyone in a large congregation. I am often unaware of how new people might be feeling on a Sunday morning. In addition, I confess that I can be afraid to branch out and introduce myself to people I don’t know. We must remind ourselves of how we long to be cared for and known. Jesus knew us perfectly and still cared enough to pursue us. I want to care like Jesus did and stretch myself to meet someone new this week.

II. Families eat together. Do you eat with your family at Calvary?

  • Invite someone to dinner.

Food is second only to the Gospel in its ability to unite people from all walks of life. If it’s free food, even better. Invite someone to go out to eat, or if you’re brave, invite them over to your house for a meal together. If that’s too stretching, take advantage of the times when Calvary offers church-wide meals and sit with someone you don’t know well. There are people at Calvary I only know because we ate together at a Wednesday night meal.

III. Families share stories with one another. When was the last time you heard a story from your family at Calvary?

  • Ask to hear someone’s story.

It’s not enough to just eat food together and talk about the weather. Share your interests, share experiences from your job/school, and share stories from your life with one another. Then, get ready to be surprised, laugh, and even cry together (these are appropriate emotions to express with family). I laugh a lot with my brothers and sisters at Calvary.

IV. Families serve one another and serve with one another. Do you serve at Calvary?

  • Serve in a ministry at Calvary.

There are countless ways to serve the Calvary family. Whether it’s volunteering in the nursery, singing on the worship team, or visiting the nursing home, you will be blessed as you serve the people of Calvary and as you serve alongside people at Calvary. I remember meeting many great friends washing the dishes after a monthly Sunday night meal many years ago.

V. Families stick together through thick and thin. Have you committed to stick with your family at Calvary when things get difficult?

  • Don’t run from the messiness of this family.

I can have the most candid and honest conversations with my family because I know that they are with me no matter what happens. I can talk about anything, even things we disagree about, because we have a commitment to one another. Nothing saddens me more at Calvary as when I hear of people leaving the family because they were hurt or upset with something or someone.

We all bring sin into this family which means things are going to get messy, it is inevitable. I want to plead with you to not run when it gets messy. Amid conflict and disagreement, we have a Savior who has forgiven us and helps us forgive one another, a Gospel that is big enough to bridge our differences with one another, and the Holy Spirit who helps us to “do good” to the messy family that is Calvary Community Church.

Exhaustion

March 2, 2017

We all know what exhaustion feels like. When we’ve reached our maximum capacity and are pushed beyond it. As parents we are forced to go beyond it all too often.

Parenting is ripe with exhaustion at all stages. Even though I don’t have adult children, I have been assured that the sleepless nights don’t end once a child grows up and leaves the home.

Think for a moment about children.

Babies can be sweet, cuddly, and precious; they can also be back-arching demanding cryers.
Children are inquisitive, kind, and helpful, while also being whiny, brattish, and throwing tantrums.

You may be asking, What’s the cure to this parental exhaustion?
I’m glad you asked.

NOTHING. Suck it up and tough it out!

Kidding.

I would like to point out that in life, there are seasons that come and go that are exhausting. There’s no specific pill I can give you that will thwart the entrance to the halls of exhaustion. 

However, I will show you the source of strength. The Psalms often help my weary heart as an exhausted parent. David cries out to God in Psalm 28, and this reminds us to do the same. God uses the Psalms to help our hearts know how to talk to Him. To honestly cry out when you are at your wits’ end. 

Psalm 22 verse 7 says, 

“Yahweh is my strength and my shield; in him my heart trusts, and I am helped.”

Turn to God right now, be helped. I pray God’s word would be a balm for your exhaustion.

Usually after I cry out to God, He brings to mind just how much a gift my children are to Lacey and I.

Children are a great way God works on our hearts. We can be critical, foolish, and self-centered. God uses children to draw us to himself, simply because we are not capable of raising our children with what they need without God present in our lives.

Pray for the next generation. Pray for your future children, children, or grandchildren. Most importantly, pray for their hearts.

Christina Fox reminds us, 

“While asking for healthy bodies and good behavior certainly makes my life easier, it doesn’t address my children’s most serious and deadly ailment: their heart"

The most important prayer I can pray for them is that they would see their sin and need for you.

(Read more of Christina’s prayer here- https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/the-most-important-prayer-for-our-kids)

Depend on our Father, who never gets exhausted. Commune with Him. He will satisfy you.

Elder/Pastor prayer

February 26, 2017

Song Selection

February 22, 2017

During last weekend’s message, in a short side note, Pastor Matthew shared: 

“I sat next to my wife as we sang All I Have Is Christ. Do you realize? I hope you were paying attention because Pastor Matt and our worship team work so hard to give us good songs. He has a really important job, cause he puts words in your mouth - so you can think about the words you’re saying. It makes my heart feel so good to listen to you be confessional as you sing. You said in a song this morning, I don’t need anything else but Jesus.”

What Matthew shared is very true, and I’ve received bits of feedback this week indicating a thankfulness and appreciation for the work we put forth in song selection. 

Yes, I said ‘we’ and that’ll make more sense in a moment. 

That kind of feedback means a lot, and I thought it would be a good use of my blog post this week to briefly share with you the thought and intentionality that happens in our song selection process.

I believe song selection is one of the most important aspects of my role as your Worship Pastor. See, at Calvary, we have the opportunity to introduce around 12 songs per year - 17 songs max. That’s a new song every 3 weeks to a month. Introducing new music too often doesn’t serve our worship gatherings well and can even discourage participation. Not often enough and we could become too comfortable and no longer stirred by the lyrics. We want healthy rhythms of new songs that allow people to get familiar with the songs we sing so they can not only engage, but also firmly grasp the truths we’re singing about. We, as a Worship and Production community, want to do everything we can to encourage engagement! Sunday mornings are not a concert.

Now, to some that may not sound hard - picking 12-17 songs a year. It’s a lot harder than you may think. With a worship industry that pushes out new worship records almost weekly, it can be daunting to sift through hundreds of new songs every year to unearth the best and most timely choices for our church family - songs that help people worship well. 

The mission of Worship & Production is to help the gathered church worship well

“As a Worship & Production Community, aided and led by the Holy Spirit, we will skillfully combine biblical truth with the arts to magnify the worth of God and the redemptive work of Jesus Christ, thereby motivating the gathered church to join in proclaiming and cherishing the truth about God and seeking to live all of life for the glory of God.”

As your Worship Pastor, I feel the weightiness and responsibility of the song selection process, but I do not choose the songs by myself. Many Worship Pastors do, and there’s nothing wrong with that. After serving in worship ministry for over 10 years now, I know there are incredible dangers when the song choices are left to one person. When that’s the case, it’s so easy to lean towards only certain styles, artists, bands and themes. It ends up being the Worship Pastor’s favorite songs and not necessarily the ‘best’ songs for the church family. 

To avoid these pitfalls, I have developed a very different process here at Calvary. So let me open up the doors a little and give you a behind the scenes look at the song selection process.

We have a Song Selection Team that serves in selecting the songs we introduce to you, the Calvary family. This is an incredibly healthy approach that I’ve seen the benefits of time and time again. After having made song selection decisions all on my own in the past, this is a much healthier model. 

On this team, we each bring songs to the table and have an equal vote after considering each song. Yes, an equal vote. That means my song ideas don’t always get voted in, and that’s a great thing - that’s healthy. I’m thankful for that! I, of course, still hold full responsibility of what gets introduced, and have pastor veto power that I can exercise if needed. (I’ve only had to do that once and the team has never let me forget about it!) 

This process really has proved to unearth the best and most timely songs. I walk away from each meeting feeling incredibly thankful for each team member and the quality of songs brought forward. Voting is not always easy with so many great songs up for consideration. 

Here’s some guiding principles we operate under each time we meet - questions we ask when considering a song:

Healthy Tensions to Feel

  • Rooted and Relevant: As faithful stewards of this process, we want to draw upon the rich heritage of the past, while at the same time seeking to communicate the eternal Gospel in ways our culture can understand. 
  • For The Church & For Unbelievers: Let’s not ignore non-christians when we think through songs at our gatherings. But let’s not allow them to dictate our direction, methods, and values either. Those have all been determined and modeled by the risen Savior who now invites us to celebrate as a family and to invite others to join in on the feast. 

Questions to Ask When Considering a Song

  • How singable is the melody? It is easy to learn?
  • What is the vocal range required to sing the song?
  • Is the lyrical content in line with scripture? Does scripture prove it to be true? 
  • What is the tempo? Have we introduced too many songs of similar tempo? 
  • What is the theme of the song? Do we have a balance and diversity? 
  • Is the song just one that I like, or like to listen to, am I venturing out? 
  • How difficult is the song for the band to play? 
  • Is the lyrical content deeper or lighter? Do we have a healthy balance there? 
  • Where is God leading us to lead our church body?

This hopefully shows you the thought and intentionality we put into each song consideration. 

You have to know, I’m incredibly thankful for the Song Selection Team which currently includes Christy Freeman, Berto Ramos, Josh Svendsen, and myself. I’m grateful for each of these team members, their unique perspectives, their heart for Jesus, and their heart for the church family. Each time we gather is such an encouragement. We have better songs because of this team effort and I’m grateful for their impact on our musical worship. 

I hope by opening up the door to what goes on behind the scenes, you are encouraged and reminded to keep us in your prayers. We do not take this responsibility lightly and feel so humbled and privileged to serve among the other Worship & Production volunteers as we glorify God together and serve you, the Calvary family. 

Thank you for engaging with us each week as we glorify God together!

Celebrating Black History Month

February 18, 2017

February is Black History Month, and it is likely that this month is needed in 2017 more than any year since. In a time of turmoil and division, it opens up an opportunity for racial divides to be bridged. David Mathis recently wrote,

“As a white Christian in America, I have wrestled with what it means to orient on Black History Month. I remember well my unsympathetic heart as a teenager growing up in the South — not only uninformed, but unrighteous — leading me to roll my eyes and say, “So, when’s White History Month?” Such is not the spirit of Christ, nor is it walking by his Spirit to suspect the worst of non-blacks who rush to join the annual celebration. Nor is it Christian — not in this nation or any other place on the planet — to keep silent with our children about the realities of ethnicity in view of Christ. If we don’t cast a positive vision for our children about the glories of God-designed ethnic diversity, we leave their inherent ethnocentrism to swell and take root. 
Rather, as Christians, we can rehearse the many reasons why we love ethnic diversity. And where the grand, theological, and global theory meets practice is in the particular locality in which God has placed us. God not only “made from one man every nation of mankind,” but he also “determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place” (Acts 17:26). For most of us in the United States, the Christian journey to loving all peoples will eventually take on countless shades and textures, but it typically begins very Black and White.”

And,

“Black History Month isn’t simply about ethnic diversity in general, but remembering the horrors of our shared history and celebrating the progress that has been made, in God’s common kindness, and specifically the many successes of black Americans despite such a history. Christians honor this month, at least in part, because it helps us understand the awful plight of a people made in God’s image, many of them fellow believers, and acknowledges God’s goodness at work in remarkable achievements (like the presidency) in and through a people who often have been treated with utter wickedness.”

So, what might be some of the ways that a white Christian in America can celebrate and honor this month? One of my favorites is through reading. There are a host of articles that have posted the last couple of weeks by thoughtful folks regarding Black History Month. Here are a few:

We Need Black History Month, by David Mathis
More Than a Month Long, by Trillia Newbell
Black History Month: John Chavis (1763-1838), by Kevin DeYoung
5 Facts About Black History Month, by Joe Carter

Or, you could listen to Bryan Loritts encouraging the necessity of all Christians to cross ethnic lines and invest in others who are different than us. He recently preached the message, Right Color, Wrong Culture: Pursuing Multi-ethnic Cultural Engagement at ERLC’s National Conference, in the hopes of helping us all build relationships that look more like God’s intention for the church.

And certainly, far more effective than reading or listening to something online would be to strike up a conversation with someone different than you, preferably over a cup of coffee or a meal, to begin the path down increased understanding, transformation, and beautiful relationships of multi-ethnic diversity.

I am certain there are many other great ways you could pursue celebrating Black History Month. If you have any you’d like to share, please do so in the comments section below.

I am praying with you and for you, that God would align our hearts with his mission to reach all nations, and call them out of darkness to enter the light of Jesus, and be a part of his beautiful bride, the church.

Say What You Mean

February 8, 2017

Not What You Think it Means

"He didn’t fall? Inconceivable!” "You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means." 

Some of you might remember the above exchange in the movie, The Princess Bride. It happens between Vizzini and Inigo Montoya. Vizzini thinks himself a genius and Inigo picks up on his overuse of the word, inconceivable. Vizzini had been applying the word liberally and probably wasn’t using it in its proper context. Inigo calls him on it. 

A few years back I remember talking to a student leader who had been part of our Summer Training Project (if you’re a student, go ahead and click on that link 😉) about a similar exchange. Apparently one of our student leaders was chatting with a participant in the project who was struggling with some of the challenges of the Christian life. The student leader, sincerely hoping to help the participant, explained how he simply needed to “believe the gospel.” The participant, having heard the phrase repeated throughout the summer, exclaimed, “Everyone keeps telling me that, but I have no idea what that means!” I believe it may have been a bit more colorful, but you get the idea. 

Lingo Without Literary Understanding

Now, I wasn’t present at this exchange. I can’t speak with great certainty about the exactness of it, but I certainly understand the context and have heard similar exchanges happen in our ministry. I have no doubt the student leader was earnest and wanted to help. And, theologically speaking, I think the leader was on the right track. The danger, however, is that like many words or phrases in the Christian community, they can become lingo without literary understanding. That is to say, a word can simply be repeated because it’s been heard, but accurate understanding of the word is void. 

Certain words are heard by many of us from the pulpit, in the context of small groups, just outside the sanctuary after a worship service, or even around the dinner table that ultimately lose meaning because they’re simply repeated over and over again. It’s not that repetition is bad, not at all. However, repetition without explanation can be really harmful. We need to be careful about people, especially those who grow up within the Church, who know a lot of the right answers and are able to speak the right lingo but don’t really “mean what they think they mean”.  

We need to state biblical truths in fresh and new ways in order that they resonate with us and sink down deeply into the soul. I’m not talking about seeking to be hip or cool. Rather, I’m talking about stating biblical truths by explaining them fully, articulately, and as often as possible connecting them to the everyday stuff of life. And there may not be a more important word in all of the Bible than “gospel” that needs repeating in a fresh and new way. 

Learning From Paul — Appropriating the Gospel

Consider Paul’s confrontation of Peter in Galatians 2:11-16. I won’t get into all of the theological backdrop of the passage. But what I would like to point out is that Paul could have confronted Peter about a couple of ways he was in sin. He could have told Peter he was being racially insensitive. He could have told him he was simply pleasing people. But Paul didn’t mention either of those explicitly.  

What did he say?  

I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel
…we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified (Galatians 2:14-16, ESV).  

Paul saw the central issue Peter was struggling with as one that dealt directly with the gospel. Paul went beyond simply stating jargon, however. He is helping his Galatian audience understand that to feel a sense of superiority because of one’s ethnicity or religious heritage is to walk out of step with the truth of the gospel. Indeed, Peter was afraid in this particular instance of what others thought. And what one fears can usually be traced to what a person values. When someone understands how Christ is the ultimate fulfillment of our value we need not fear what others think.  

Paul spoke the truth of the gospel to Peter in the way Peter (and the church of Galatia) needed to hear it. He appropriated the message. This is what we all need to be able to do as we preach to ourselves first and foremost, and also as we preach to others. We need to heed Inigo Montoya’s advice and not "keep using that word” that may not mean what we think it means. More importantly, we need to figure out what the gospel means so that when we use that word we are confidently saying what we mean. 

Visible Grace

February 4, 2017

A few weeks ago, Calvary Student Ministries embarked once again on our annual winter retreat, Blizzard.  God did some amazing things over that long weekend and there is still much fruit being produced from the trip. There are many things that I absolutely love about this retreat, however, there is one thing that I find difficult to cope with every year.  It is one thing I find difficult to cope with every winter season: cold temperatures.

I am actually quite amazed that I still live in a state that gets ridiculously cold every year. This is because I am a person who loves warm weather.  I love being able to wear shorts and a t-shirt.  I love it when I can go outside and be active without any fear of losing feeling in my body.  Naturally, this is not easy with the brutal winters here in Minnesota that seem to last forever.  

As true Minnesotans, we know that the weather gets brought up often in conversation.  Every now and then in these conversations I will come across someone who actually enjoys winter.  My typical response to this is “You’re crazy.”  They usually give me a lengthy list of things that they enjoy about the frigid season.  After all of these years in Minnesota, my list of things that I enjoy about winter has shortened to just a few things.  Two of the things on my list are similar – pond hockey and broomball.  As I stated before, I love being active.  These are two things that allow me to be active in winter and are extremely fun.  I get excited when I see good ice on the rinks around town.  There is something amazing about the experience of being able to do these things outside in a natural state, rather than in an ice arena.  

The other thing on my list is somewhat unique and usually catches people off guard.  Are you ready?  The other thing I love about winter is the fact that I can see my breath when I exhale.  Ever since I was young I was fascinated with being able to see my breath.  Now I know that’s weird, but stick with me here.  

As I got older, the ability to see my own breath in the cold took on a new significance for me.  When I exhale in the cold weather, I am reminded that God is showering His grace upon me.  To me, being able to see my breath is visible grace.  It reminds me that I have life and that God is sovereign over it.  It reminds me that my Creator chose to breathe breath into my lungs and give me life.  I am immediately reminded of the creation narrative in Genesis 2 where we read of God’s creation of man.

Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being” (Genesis 2:7).

Do you see the intimacy involved in this creation act of man being created by God?  These are vivid details that are not written for any other creation of God’s.  He formed us and breathed life into us.  We have “the breath of life” because of Him.  We have breath because He sovereignly chose to give us breath and sustain our breath by His power; by His word.  As you read this right now, you are breathing because God is upholding your breath by the word of his power (Hebrews 1:3).

This truth becomes even more miraculous after sin entered into the world.  We have all fallen short of God’s glory (Romans 3:23).  Sin has created a great chasm between man and God.  This separation between man and God means that without a mediator, man cannot dwell with God for eternity.  Without a mediator there is eternal separation.  Without a mediator, we fear death.  But God acted:

“For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21).  

Yes! Jesus is our mediator.  He is, as John wrote, 

“the lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world” (John 1:29).  

For those in Christ, he takes away our sin and gives us his righteousness!  What a great exchange; the best exchange the world has ever known!

I am reminded of this verse and these glorious truths every time I look at my visible breath.  I am reminded that with each passing breath there is hope, not hopelessness; there is joy, not fear.  I am reminded that I am loved; that I have a God who loved me, a broken and undeserving sinner, so much and wanted me in His family that he acted out of His great love and rich mercy (Ephesians 2:4).

Now I could ramble on and on about the truths that I’m reminded of when I see my own breath. Instead of taking that direction let me just simplify it for you in this way:  I am reminded that I am always better than I ever deserve because of Jesus.

God has given me life.  And even when my breath on this earth runs out, I know things are just getting started, because His intention in giving us life at the beginning was to give us life everlasting in Him and with Him.  

Children of God, we are loved and cherished by the One who gave us breath.  So the next time you have to go out and shovel the driveway because of the snowfall and you let out a sigh of annoyance, or the next time you slip on the ice and fall on your back and breathe out a breath of frustration, or the next time you get home from work or school and get out of you car letting out a breath of exhaustion, or even just when you go outside in the cold and exhale, look at your breath and remind yourself that God is showering His grace upon you.  

In those moments remember that you are more loved than you could ever want or imagine.  Remember that God is sustaining that very breath and will continue to until he calls you home to live with Him forever.

Child Dedications January 29, 2017

January 29, 2017

Deuteronomy 6 calls us as parents to live out what we believe. It commands us to be careful and diligent as we teach our children to follow God. On January 29th at Calvary, we had parents commit to loving the LORD with all their heart, soul, and might. These parents dedicated their lives to live in such a way as their children will marvel at God. Let’s remember to lead these children to love Jesus with their whole being and follow Him all their days.

You Have Been Freed

January 17, 2017

How long, Yahweh? Will you forget me forever? 
How long will you hide your face from me? 
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
and day after day have sorrow in my heart? 
Look on me and answer, Yahweh my God. 
Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death... 
But I trust in your unfailing love; 
my heart rejoices in your salvation. 
I will sing Yahweh's praise, 
for he has been good to me. (Portions of Psalm 13, NIV)

Don't miss what David just said there in the beginning of this prayer. It is so very human of him. Day after day David finds himself wrestling with his own thoughts. They plague him, spinning out of control, tinged with darkness, stained with the auroral flare of anxiety. And his experience reveals the connection between mind and heart, thoughts and emotions. For his daily thoughts plant seeds in his heart that have grown into sorrows so extensive and weighty that he believes Yahweh himself must have forgotten him. Yahweh must not even be watching anymore.

"Don't leave me here, Yahweh. LOOK at me! Please! Restore the twinkle in my eyes, or I shall sleep a slumber from which I will never awake."

It's that bad.

We are familiar with this, are we not? We too feel the effects of a negative thought life that at times spirals out of control. How often have you thought badly about yourself? How often have you constantly spewed negative speech inside the auditorium of your mind, with the sound system maxed out? Or what is the content of the audio loop running between your ears?

The moment after I read this Psalm this morning, I turned my attention to Paul Tripp's tome, New Morning Mercies: A Daily Gospel Devotional. I found that Tripp spoke similarly to David in his morning meditation, and new understanding dawned on me. 

Preaching the good news to yourself functions similarly to those Bose noise-canceling headphones. You know how those work, yes? My non-expert understanding is that they find the frequency at which sounds are coming toward you, and then match that frequency exactly, which cancels out the external noise you are hearing, so you can listen to what you really want to. 

And that is how good news declarations work - they smack up against your anti-gospel speech, cancel it out, so you can hear what is good and true. So for all of us strugglers who find ourselves easily relating to David, listen up to some Tripp good news audio tracks.

It is an intensely human endeavor. It is the quest we all pursue. We all want to feel good about ourselves. We all want to think that we are okay. It is a fearful and anxious quest from which only grace can free you.
Here's what happens to us all--we seek horizontally for the personal rest that we are to find vertically, and it never works. Looking to others for your inner sense of well-being is pointless. First, you will never be good enough, consistently enough, to get the regular praise of others that you are seeking. You are going to mess up. You're bound to disappoint. You will have a bad day. You'll lose your way. At some point, you'll say or do things that you shouldn't. Add to this the fact that the people around you aren't typically interested in taking on the burden of being your personal messiah. They don't want to live with the responsibility of having your identity in their hands. Looking to people for your inner self-worth never works.
The peace that success gives is unreliable as well. Since you are less than perfect, whatever success you are able to achieve will soon be followed by failure of some kind. Then there is the fact that the buzz of success is short-lived. It isn't long before you're searching for the next success to keep you going. 
That's why the reality that Jesus has become your righteousness is so precious.
His grace has forever freed us from needing to prove our righteousness and worth. So we remind ourselves every day not to search horizontally for what we've already been given vertically. "And the effect of righteousness will be peace, and the result of righteousness, quietness and trust forever" (Is. 32:17). That righteousness is found in Jesus alone.

Friend, that is a soundtrack worth listening to — set it on a repeat loop and never turn it off!

But I trust in your unfailing love; 
my heart rejoices in your salvation. 
I will sing Yahweh's praise, 
for he has been good to me!

Listen

January 12, 2017

Listen

Hearing is something your body does without thought. Listening takes intentional effort and focus to process the meaning of what is being heard.

On any given day at any given moment you may receive a deluge of words and noises that your ears are forced to hear. Think about it. What does your day look like? Who are the people and voices in your life? Who’s loudest?

Everyday you hear, but do you listen? 

Well, that likely depends on who is talking.

Right now, who is the most prominent voice you are listening to? Is it your roommate, parents, pastor, children, friend, Beyoncé, or yourself? The truth is, we speak to ourselves and we all have many voices trying to reach us and speak to us. 

Whether you listen to the voice speaking or not often depends on who’s speaking and if you find what they have to say important. True?

If grandma said, “Your clothes look strange,” You would likely take it differently than had your best friend said the exact same thing. Or if the toddler next door yelled out, “you’re stupid,” versus if the one whom you love the most were to yell it.

I am a voice right now. I am writing to you in such a way that I hope you will listen and make it to the end of this post. That’s my goal.

So what do I have to say, anyway?

I want to say that among all the voices that you are hearing, you may not be listening to the most important voice. I want you to reprioritize your voices. I want you to place a different value on those speaking into your life. 

Why?

If you’re anything like me you get tired of all of the listening. It wears you down. And if that’s true for you, please quiet your soul and LISTEN to this. 

Listen to what God has to say.

 “Come to me,
all who labor and are heavy laden,
and I will give you rest. 
Take my yoke upon you,
and learn from me,
for I am gentle and lowly in heart,
and you will find rest for your souls. 
For my yoke is easy,
and my burden is light.”

Daily, discipline your ears to listen to the voice of God. For God has spoken, and continues to speak through his perfect word. And what He has to say is absolutely precisely what you NEED to hear. 

“All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right.” 2 Timothy 3:16 NLT

Wrestling with the Notion of Pleasure in Pain

December 29, 2016

PAUL’S VISION AND HIS THORN IN THE FLESH

This boasting will do no good, but I must go on. I will reluctantly tell about visions and revelations from the Lord. I was caught up to the third heaven fourteen years ago. Whether I was in my body or out of my body, I don’t know—only God knows. Yes, only God knows whether I was in my body or outside my body. But I do know that I was caught up to paradise and heard things so astounding that they cannot be expressed in words, things no human is allowed to tell.
That experience is worth boasting about, but I’m not going to do it. I will boast only about my weaknesses. If I wanted to boast, I would be no fool in doing so, because I would be telling the truth. But I won’t do it, because I don’t want anyone to give me credit beyond what they can see in my life or hear in my message, even though I have received such wonderful revelations from God. So to keep me from becoming proud, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger from Satan to torment me and keep me from becoming proud.
Three different times I begged the Lord to take it away.
Each time he said,
“My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.”
So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ.
For when I am weak, then I am strong.

(New Living Translation, 2 Corinthians 12:1–10)

How can Paul say this?

Pleasure in your weaknesses? Pleasure in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles?

Weakness as strength?

In times past, I think that I would have—with certainty, conviction, and a certain amount of boldness—quoted these words of the apostle. I rejoiced in the logic of the theology, and moved quickly to practical application. What a great Scripture passage to share with people who are going through difficulties, “Hey, God is displaying his power in you. God is working out his strength through this momentary weakness you are experiencing. Your weakness is actually strength.”

Bible quoted and applied. Problem solved.

And now I cringe at the thought of how many times I may have done this (or how many times Christians this to each other). Or maybe, as I think about it, it isn't so much about what I was saying being true or untrue, but more importantly, how I was saying it.

The tone. The heart. The thoughtlessness. To be so cavalier.

I was on a run recently thinking about this passage, along with the last couple years of my experience. You see, over that timeframe I have been in counseling for depression and generalized anxiety disorder. And when I hear these words of Paul now, there are two conflicting responses that arise within me.

The first is that I want to scream,

“Are you kidding me!? I mean, I understand what you are saying, but it doesn't make sense in the feeling of it. Pleasure. In hardships and troubles, like depression and anxiety and the weakness they bring. Pleasure? NO!”

But the second is more the norm. My shoulders slump. My head bows. My voice, if speaking, would tremble.

“Paul, I don’t get this. I don’t feel pleasure in this brokenness and weakness. I sense no joy here. None of this feels like strength. It feels the opposite, I feel only weak. I feel useless and a failure, and everything in me wants this to change. I want to go back to the way I was before.
I want the darkness to lift and the anxiety to evaporate away.
I want to be happy again.
I want to feel strong again.”

So what do I do with this text?

What struck me on the run, and as I sit writing this, is I need to figure out how to want what God wants for me. That his will and his ways and his plans truly are best. For that is why this story from Paul is in the Bible for me to wrestle and argue with. It’s not there for me to carelessly drop on someone else, but here to transform us as we share it together.

FROM GOD'S VIEWPOINT

The way that this started changing me was when the Holy Spirit helped me see that this text from Paul is telling me something about how God views me in the midst of my weakness. Namely, our Father looks at us in all our brokenness, and all our weakness, and in the depth of our dependancy, and says,

“Huh. There is something, someone, I can work with. Perfect.”

Which is so often not the view I have of myself in my weakness. Here is what usually plays out in my mind.

I look at all of my fear, sadness, grieving, and anxiety, and feel the weakness of that. I see it as this obstacle to all I feel I should be and do. It’s in the way--of being a better follower of Jesus, a better father, and husband, and friend, and senior pastor/leader for our church family and staff, and effective preacher. I listen to podcasts of preachers, read books of living and dead theologians, see people around me serving, and think, “If only I was that happy and strong, how much I could do and what a help I could be to those in my life, the way that they are!” (Never mind I have no idea of what weakness, trouble, or heartache they may be struggling with; ah, the danger of comparison...)

But then this text comes in with the voice of the Father and says,

“No. It is not my design for you to be free of the thorns of depression and anxiety that I have placed in your life. No, my child. I have placed them there so that you might more deeply drink of my grace in the midst of them. In fact, you will drink more deeply of my grace because of them. And it is in your weakness in those things that my power will be displayed, in exactly the way I want, in all the circumstances of your life. And if you will trust me, and quietly rest in me, if you will breathe that in, you will slowly and in ways that surprise you, discover pleasure. Pleasure in the hardship. Pleasure in the troubles. Pleasure in the brokenness. Pleasure in the weakness.”

When I hear my Father speak that way, in this text and story from Paul, hope breaks into my story like a thin shaft of sunlight through skies darkened by threatening clouds. I feel a bit stronger, in the same way a bone is stronger after the breaking, and the healing.

And that is where I am today, dear reader. In the fragile place of hearing his voice that way, at various moments throughout my experience of weakness, day by day.

ON BEING WEAK...TOGETHER

I was talking with someone the other day in their own place of darkness and brokenness. After a season of tears, it was clear that part of what this person was feeling so acutely was the pain of their own weakness, and the embarrassment attendant to it. I could literally feel with them the intensity of their weakness, and the desire, right along with it, to be strong. And then that common declaration of the hurting, “I don’t want to be a burden to other people!” (Oh how I can relate!)

As we spoke, and I shared a few hugs, and we prayed, part of what I wanted this person to know was what I am learning.

That our Father looks at them and says,

“Huh. There is someone I can work with. Perfect.”

That one of the ways that God’s power is made perfect in weakness is because it pulls out the best in the body of Christ and reflects the glory of Christ, in this way--

It used to be when someone would say, “I’m such a burden” (implied: because of my weakness), I would say, “No, you’re not!”

But now I say, “Yes, you are. You are a burden. And that’s OK. Because what we do in the family is bear each other’s burdens. God’s strength is operating in me in such a way right now that I am here to stand with you. And together, with Christ’s help, we are strong. And someday, when I need that help, you will be here to bear my burden and be strong with me. And all of that show’s our Father’s perfected power in weakness.”

It is beauty I may have missed, without depression and anxiety. The beauty of a small, intimate group of loving friends who ask each day how I’m doing. Who care about my brokenness and weakness. Who bear the burden with me, and speak God’s truth to me. Who help me better understand my own story, and how God is getting himself glory in it.

It’s been over two years, and the learning isn’t over. I’m slowly seeing how these thorns are precious gifts that open the way to more of God’s grace for me. If I could sit down with Paul right now, I could share with him how I see what he was talking about, that I am beginning to see how pleasure is possible in the midst of the pain. And I would thank him for sharing his story.

And one day, because of Jesus, I will.

 

(The idea for this article came from some meditations on a sermon by Raymond Ortlund Jr. on 2 Corinthians 12, and how the Holy Spirit continues to use that in my life.)

Christmas - God’s Connection to Us

December 21, 2016

My Claim to Fame

When I was fourteen I was on a connecting flight headed to LA and happened to meet Larry King (the longtime CNN talkshow host). Ok, so perhaps this isn’t so much a claim to fame as it is a claim to connect with someone who is famous. Perhaps I should call this my vicarious claim to fame.

I’ve always found Larry King fascinating because of his detached inquisitiveness. He would ask really hard-hitting questions, but seemed emotionally disengaged with those he was interviewing. It often felt painfully so. Perhaps I’m being too hard on Larry considering how invaluable seconds are in television interviews. Still, I’ve always felt for the interviewee. Can’t they at least hear a few words of sympathy or receive a nod of affirmation? People want to feel emotionally connected even if it’s an interview, right? 

The Universal Longing to Connect

There is an ongoing (75 years!) Harvard research project that studied the life of 268 Harvard undergraduate men. These men came from all walks of life. There have been many who have headed up this project over the longevity of its undertaking. I would like to quote the latest in charge. He says something quite profound regarding human relationships. "Let me lay out 70 years of evidence that our relationships with other people matter, and matter more than anything else in the world," writes Vaillant in a 2009 Positive Psychology News article." (Harvard's 75-Year Study Reveals The Secret To Living A Happy Life. And Here It Is.

Don’t gloss over that too quickly. The findings from this study are clear. What makes people happy and satisfied in life are deep, meaningful, relational connections with others. This is the case despite tragic external circumstances like cancer or poverty. I’m going to go so far as to say that the key to happiness is connection. It’s not a key, but the key.

Consider Jesus’ words in John 17:3, 

“And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” 

For those who have worried that heaven will be a long, boring, isolated ride atop a cloud you need to consider this verse. Eternal life is to know God on the most intimate of levels. It begins once someone trusts Christ in a saving way. My intent in this post isn’t to expound on all of the reasons as to why that will be so satisfying (I hope initially they’re self-evident), but to simply strengthen my case that we were made for deep, meaningful, intimate connection…especially with the God of the universe.

The Human Condition Hinders Connection 

Unfortunately, as the Christmas season rolls around many of us are reminded of just how difficult it can be to connect with others in the way I’ve been describing. Christmas can be a time that reminds us of just how disconnected, detached, and trite some of our relationships are. There’s a profound fracture in the world because of sin. Sin embeds itself deeply into the human soul and its ripple effects sever the connections we’re supposed to have, both to God and to others. 

Christmas — God’s Connection to Us

Let’s revisit my vicarious claim to fame. Larry King was once on the other end of a question and asked if he could interview one person who would it be and what would he ask. His response? “Jesus Christ.” And King followed up with, "I would like to ask Him if He was indeed virgin-born. The answer to that question would define history for me”  (I can’t find the original source material for this quote, but it is all over the Internet, i.e. Questioning Christ).

I doubt very much Larry King would describe this desire of his as one of longing to connect deeply with the God of the universe. But this is precisely what we are celebrating during Christmas. We are celebrating the Divine coming into deep, meaningful, intimate contact with the dust of the earth. 

The Hebrew writer reminds us of the beauty of God’s connection to us, 

Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need (4:14-16). 

Jesus sympathizes with every human weakness and every temptation to sin. He understands the human condition because he lived in the broken state of hunger, thirst, weariness, and death. He felt the pain of the profound fracture of sin. And he didn’t just feel this because of a dysfunctional family. He felt this most profoundly because the wrath of God poured out on him in our place. 

And he endured all of the above and so much more so that we might experience connection with our estranged heavenly Father. Meditate upon that with me this Christmas and hopefully intimacy with God will be more than just a mere desire, but also a felt reality. 

Baptisms - December 11th

December 15, 2016

What a joy to celebrate with those who were baptized on Sunday!

Why We Are Still Gathering On Christmas Sunday

December 14, 2016

Well, it’s happened again for the second time in my pastoral vocation. Christmas is falling on a Sunday, and the discussions on the merits of still gathering as God’s people that morning are occurring across all media platforms — blogs, magazines, podcasts, and more.

We spent a great deal of time talking about this as a ministry and pastoral staff. We discussed service times, length, sermon content, songs, prayers, and even decorations. But never once did I question that we would gather, just how. In case you were wondering, since Christmas Eve and Christmas fall on a Saturday and Sunday, we decided that each of those services would be only about 45 minutes, with about 25 of that being dedicated to the preaching of God’s Word.

So, why are we still gathering?

Allow me to cheat (since he beat me to the punch) and point to a great piece written by Kevin DeYoung answering the question, in a form of a plea to pastors to still gather on Christmas. He supplies five reasons why, of which these are my favorites:

It’s Christmas for crying out loud! It’s the day we celebrate the incarnation, the birth of the Messiah, the entrance into our world of the second Person of Trinity. Don’t we want to sing? Don’t we want to celebrate? Don’t we want to preach and praise and pray?
It’s Sunday for crying out louder! I don’t have a problem with Advent and Christmas. In fact, I love this time of year. I’m not a huge church calendar guy, but I’m not bothered by focusing on the incarnation once every twelve months, especially when the world around us may, by God’s kindness, be tuned in to some of the same spiritual realities at the same time. But I’m enough of a Puritan to think that December 25 is Sunday before it’s Christmas. It’s the Lord’s Day. It’s a resurrection morning. It’s the day on which Christians have gathered for 2,000 years to sing the Bible, preach the Bible, pray the Bible, and see the Bible in the sacraments. It’s the day of the week given for rest and worship. Why would we cancel church on Sunday just because that Sunday is extra-special?

In case you were wondering, here are his other three reasons:

  • Most people will come back.
  • Visitors will be looking for a place to worship.
  • Family is a gift, not a god.

And if you are a brother pastor reading this, and had already cancelled the gathering on Christmas, or you are a church member at such a church where that has happened, here is DeYoung’s final plea:

Maybe you’ve already printed the Advent schedule. Maybe the plans are already set. But it’s not too late to change your mind. Will your church’s ministry crumble without church one Sunday? I doubt it. But might it say something good and healthy about your convictions and priorities if you gather for corporate worship on December 25 just like you do every other Sunday? Something to think about.

(You can find DeYoung's full article here.)

A Glimpse of What is to Come

December 14, 2016

About two weeks ago, my wife Mindee and I had the privilege to go to the Minnesota Vikings game in the brand new US Bank Stadium in Minneapolis.  I have been a big fan of the football team ever since I was very young and so this was something I was exceptionally excited about.  I had never been inside of the brand new stadium before.  I had only ever driven past the brand new fortress in complete awe of its enormity.  I couldn’t wait to see it from the inside.  Game day finally came and we scurried down the interstate full of excitement to watch our favorite team play some Thursday Night Football.  

We arrived about two and a half hours early to the stadium.  After walking around admiring the outside of the stadium for awhile, we finally entered the gates.  My initial thought that we would be there with plenty of time before other fans filtered into the stadium was completely wrong.  It was already packed about an hour and a half early.  We walked around the whole stadium in a passionately flowing purple stream of Vikings fans.  As we walked around the new stadium my eyes were widened and my jaw was dropped the whole time.  I couldn’t help but contrast the magnificence and beauty of this new stadium to the old run-down Metro-dome I had been in several times.  I felt so grateful that we had the honor to be inside such a tremendous place to watch our favorite team. 

After walking around the stadium we took our seats about six rows from the top of the stadium (which were still expensive seats) and watched as our team was introduced out on the field.  I had never seen so many passionate people fill a stadium like that before.  People from all different places were clothed in purple and gold from head to toe shouting and jumping up and down in excitement and praise of this team.  As I scanned the stadium for a second time my mind immediately thought of what we have been talking about in church for awhile now, namely “Living on Mission.”  

Unusual Thoughts During a Football Game

I couldn’t help but think of the book of Revelation as I was taking in this whole experience.  I thought about how this brand new stadium had been ushered in to replace the old broken down stadium.  As I thought about that, I couldn’t help but think about how God is going to restore our broken down, fallen world by ushering in a new heaven and a new earth (Revelation 21).  

I thought about how in awe I was at this new magnificent stadium as I explored it’s splendor.  As I thought about that, I couldn’t help but wonder what my reaction will be living in the perfection of heaven in an eternity with God.  I know it will be far more than just jaw dropping and eye widening.

I thought about the passionate sea of purple around the entire stadium surrounding the field with loud praise.  As I thought about the approximately 66,000 people from all around, clothed in purple, I couldn’t help but to be reminded of John’s witness in Revelation 7:9-10: 

“After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”

What an amazing picture! A multitude from all over, clothed in the righteousness of Christ praising our God! 

As I felt honored by being able to watch my favorite team right in front of my face in such an impressive place, I couldn’t help but wonder how honored I would feel to spend an eternity with my Savior face to face in heaven.

Now obviously it is quite far-fetched to compare a new football stadium to an eternity in heaven with God.  However, I think the Spirit works to remind us in unique ways of what we have to look forward to because of the sacrifice of the Lamb of God.  This was one of those ways.

As I scanned the stadium throughout the game, I couldn’t help but wonder how many people in this stadium actually knew Jesus as their Lord and savior and live in obedience to Him.  I don’t know their hearts, but if I had to guess it would probably be a small percentage.  As I cheered on my team throughout the game and watched others around me cheer I thought to myself, “I want to stand beside all of these passionate people in heaven rejoicing and praising God.”  I felt so motivated to live on mission.

An Ambassador’s Desire

When our hearts desire is that people have a personal relationship with Jesus and one day spend an eternity in heaven with him, we will go to great depths to tell others about him and love others with his love.  We will joyfully and boldly live on mission.    

The great Jonathan Edwards once prayed, “Lord, stamp eternity on my eyeballs.”  Family, as we look at others, would we consider their eternal souls.  Let’s run our race with a kingdom mindset.  As we encounter our everyday ordinary interactions, would we be prayerful and expectant that the extraordinary could happen.  

You have a great honor and responsibility child of God; you are an ambassador of the Most High.  You get to live on mission for Him.  

Living on mission can present many struggles, but it will all be worth it one day. On that glorious day we will all be together gathered around the throne praising our God forever.  

I can’t wait for that day.

Living On Mission Generously Update

December 8, 2016

Seeking Wisdom

December 8, 2016

Money…we always had it, we never seemed to lack it, and we rarely talked about it.  

This is how I describe my family of origin and what I grew up thinking about money. 

As we began our married life, I carried that same understanding of money into the early years of starting a family. This presented some challenging life issues and brought us to a point of needing some help from others. 

There were some very important lessons about money that were learned during that time. God provided wise counselors in our lives so that we could learn to “seek first his Kingdom and his righteousness.” God used these counselors to graciously show us the error of our ways and provided us with discipline and new financial freedoms.  God also blessed us with many things that we did not deserve, and showed us how to bless others and steward what he has so wonderfully provided for us.  

One of the hardest things we all face is dealing with pride. It is hard to admit to others when we have made poor choices. It is hard to let others in when we think that we can handle it on our own. It is just plain hard to ask for help even when it seems so obvious that we need the help.  

Proverbs speaks over and over about the wisdom that is found in seeking to connect with those that are wiser than us. Following these wise people and learning from them not only helps us, but also grows us so we can help others.

Dealing with money is a progressive journey.  We are still growing in our understanding of how to manage it well. We are still seeking to learn from others and are trying to be generous with what God continues to lavish on us. 

I would encourage you to seek guidance from others in understanding how money impacts your life.  Talk to a close friend who also follows Jesus. Be open with your community group. Seek out a mentor, be a mentor. Let others in and be authentic with others who you trust. Let God show you all that He has in store for you as you seek to honor him with your life and your money.   

“Do not forsake wisdom, and she will protect you; love her and she will watch over you. Wisdom is supreme; therefore get wisdom. Though it cost all you have, get understanding.”  Proverbs 4:6,7 (NIV)

What’s Wrong with “Kids These Days”?

December 1, 2016

Following the heated and divisive election of 2016, the “us” versus “them” dialogue continued in a new form as the media bombarded us with stories about upset millennials throwing temper tantrums in the streets. As images of these crying, yelling, and destructive youth, flashed before the eyes of America, everyone became sociological experts as they began diagnosing what’s wrong with “kids these days.” 

The commentary was copious. “The problem is they haven’t had to work for anything.” “The problem is they have never learned to lose, as schools give trophies to everyone.” “The problem is they are too soft because we live in an age of political correctness.” “The problem is technology.” “The problem is entitlement.” “The problem is...” Yet as diverse as these answers were, there was one clear connection, the finger of blame was always pointed outward. I was left wondering. Is the problem as simple as the commentary suggests? Are these assessments even true? Have we forgotten that younger generations are the product of older generations?

Lest I run the risk of pointing the very same finger, we must put the problem into perspective, remember the only sure solution, and seriously contemplate how generations can come together as the multi-generational church God has intended us to be.

The Problem in Perspective

Don’t get me wrong, there are many problems facing the youth of today. The breakdown of the family unit, the spread of post-modernism and moral relativism, economic uncertainty, the pandemic of drug and alcohol abuse, sexual degradation, and Biblical illiteracy (to name a few), have all had palpable influences on youth today. 

The problems are numerous and complex. However, at the root, these problems are nothing new. They have plagued every generation since the fall of man. The problem is sin. Paul reminds us, “Just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned” (Rm. 5:12).

Is it wise for any generation to point the finger of blame and judgment on another? Is it helpful to diagnose the problems of a generation without drawing clear connections to the sins of generations past? The beauty for all generations is that God has designed a solution to every problem, for all time.

The Sure Solution

Instead of gripping over the specific problems facing any generation, we would be wise to consider John’s exhortation, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (Jn. 1:29). The Gospel hasn’t changed, and Jesus alone is the sure solution to every problem, past, present, and future.

When we remember that all of us were dead in trespasses and sin, children of wrath, and awaiting the judgment of God, we will humbly rejoice in the Good News that He has made a way for all of us to be alive in Christ Jesus! Our generation brought nothing to the table; our Father in Heaven brought everything in Jesus. The ground is truly level at the foot of the cross.

Coming Together

The reality is that the clear majority of millennials were not throwing temper tantrums on the streets after the election. Despite the media’s attempt to show the millennial generation as lazy, entitled, whiners, most of the students I have had the privilege of working with are hard-working, Jesus-loving, passionate, servants. We cannot forget that God uses people of every generation to advance His Kingdom. 

Let us be careful as we speak of other generations, lest we create a generational divide that is out of place among believers. The church has a responsibility to protect itself from all media-perpetuated division caused from a hostile election season. 

Younger generations need to take ownership over the problems they are facing and humbly look to the example, wisdom, and counsel of older generations who have applied the Gospel in similar situations. Older generations need to reach out to younger generations with calmness, faithfulness, understanding, and patience as they seek to help them grow to maturity in Jesus Christ.

Instead of complaining about the generational problems and exacerbating a generational divide, let us all heed the counsel of David and commend Jesus to one another as we seek to make manifest His Kingdom on Earth. “One generation shall commend your works to another, and shall declare your mighty acts” (Ps. 145:4). Lord willing this will help us think twice before saying, “kids these days…”

Being Thankful

November 22, 2016

What does God really want from me anyway?

In Short: A life filled with giving thanks for absolutely everything

Giving Thanks. Not a new idea. Not all that difficult. Something we hear a lot about and are often found practicing during the holiday season of THANKSgiving. 

But what if I’m not thankful? Has life come at you so hard, you don’t even know which way is up? Hold fast, there’s hope.

As Christians being thankful is not optional nor just seasonal! 

The Apostle Paul fills the letter to the Thessalonians with helpful reminders of what a Christian is and does. Smack dab in between “pray without ceasing” and “do not quench the spirit,” are these words, “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”

So what does THAT look like?

It means not only are we to be thankful for those things we FEEL grateful for, we are to thank God for the hardships too. Whether your day is filled with pleasure or pain, smiling or sadness, fresh air or flat tire— One thing is for sure, as Christians we should be breathing out thankfulness. At home, work, the concert, the market, the bank, the dentist, the toy store, the bookstore, and at the hospital. Give thanks.

How is this possible?

Have you ever heard a child say, “I’m starved” right after eating dinner? A skewed perspective happens to all of us, throughout life. To an ant, a pebble looks huge and to a human it’s tiny. When we begin to view that all things we receive are from God and with a purpose, we then have the ability to be grateful for the good AND bad things.

We need to realign our minds and hearts to the the One who created us in His image. We need to power down and reboot our system. We need the Good News. When compared to the amazing sacrifice God has provided for us, the challenges we face in life are minuscule. The song bridge in the song We Have Been Healed talks about “the glorious exchange” of all our sin for God’s grace ( https://sovereigngracemusic.bandcamp.com/track/we-have-been-healed). This is “how” it is possible to be thankful all the time.

So for this Thanksgiving holiday— Quiet your heart. Ponder anew the joy of salvation we have because of Jesus. Remember the sweet forgiveness from all the lies, lusts, and lovelessness of your heart. Give thanks.

Be thankful for your home, your family, and your dog. But also be thankful in your sickness, your heartache, and your back pain…for every circumstance we are to be a thankful people.

“When it comes to life the critical thing is whether you take things for granted or take them with gratitude.”—G. K. Chesterton

CRU Milestone

November 16, 2016

Calvary was recognized on November 13th for the contribution of over 1 million dollars to the ministry of CRU! A milestone award was presented in the service followed by a word of appreciation from CRU president Steve Douglas.

Dear Calvary Community Church,

I want to take this opportunity to thank you personally for your generous partnership with the ministries of CRU. I especially appreciate your support of our Campus Ministry, various international projects, and numerous staff members through the years. We can only begin to imagine the impact your giving has had in the eternal destiny of hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions of people.

Thank you for your generous and faithful partnership in helping fulfill the Great Commission, and for investing financially in what God is doing around the world in drawing people to himself in every tribe, tongue and nation.

We look forward to continued partnership with you as we help build spiritual movements everywhere, so that everyone will know someone who truly follows Jesus.

May God bless you with His abundant goodness and grace.

Yours in Christ,

Steve Douglas
CRU President

What Happened to Singing?

November 15, 2016

Have you ever noticed that we rarely worship through singing outside of the Sunday gathering? In fact, we rarely sing anywhere in public anymore. Is that contributing to the lack of singing when it comes to worship? What happened to singing?

Please understand, what I’m asking us to think about in this post is not an indictment, but an observation. When you stop and think about it, most people don’t spend time singing as part of a lifestyle of worship. I’m not talking about church on Sundays. I know a vast majority of people sing there each week. I’m talking about the other 6 days of the week - between Sundays.

Time and time again we are presented with the challenge to spend time daily with God through reading His Word - individually and as families. We go to Bible studies, retreats, friend’s houses, small groups, and even church meetings where the reading of God’s Word and prayer are present. Those are great things, and my goal is never to diminish their importance. I ask though, where is the singing?

Why doesn’t the latest Bible study packet come with a songbook?

Where is the house party gathered around a piano singing worship songs?

Where is the family that sings together as part of their regular devotional time?

Where is the small group that sings songs of worship before they dive into their video series?

This all came to mind recently when I was helping a friend move a piano into her home. As a group of us are busting our butts to move this century old piano into a pickup truck (it was a beast!), she mentioned her desire to potentially have gatherings at her house where others could come, enjoy each others company, and sing together around the piano. This was a short and passing comment from her, but it really got me thinking and ultimately compelled me to write this blog post.

I thought to myself, “Who does that?… nobody… why not?… That sounds like fun!… maybe we’re all missing out on something.”

All throughout Scripture we see God’s people singing praise to Him, giving thanks and celebrating who He is and what He has done. There are so many verses in the Bible just like these from Psalm 33.

Psalm 33 (NLT)

1 Let the godly sing for joy to the Lord;

    it is fitting for the pure to praise him.

2 Praise the Lord with melodies on the lyre;

    make music for him on the ten-stringed harp.

3 Sing a new song of praise to him;

    play skillfully on the harp, and sing with joy.

The Bible instructs us to sing to the Lord. Both the Old and New Testaments address music and strongly support its use in worship. There is such an anthology of songs found in the Old Testament - indicating the importance and value God places on creative musical expression.

Now, I know it may be a challenge at first. After all, singing in public is very uncomfortable for some people. At rehearsal the other night, one of our volunteers was noodling around on the B3 organ - leading us to break out into “Take Me Out To The Ballgame”. While being commonly sung at baseball games during the 7th inning stretch, it dawned on me - that’s one of the few times in our culture that people sing in public other than church. As we sing together, we need to realize that challenge and encourage people to step out of their comfort zone.

When it comes down to it, like I mentioned above, maybe we’re all missing out on something by not singing praises to God more often?

So whats holding you back? Get creative and find ways to worship God through song in your home or gatherings. Thanks to my sister-in-law, we discovered a simple way to incorporate singing at our mealtime prayer. Sydney loves to sing to God!

 

Let’s not miss out on the joy of singing to the Lord!

Colossians 3:16 (ESV)

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.

Living on Mission Generously

November 2, 2016

As we continue to explore Living on Mission Generously as a family, my prayer is that we may be inspired to join an adventure. To join this adventure. 

Imagine with me for a moment what the future could look like. Last Sunday, we did just that and set before ourselves visions of what God can accomplish through our collective generosity. A vision of freeing the future for what we can achieve together, by eliminating our mortgage. A vision of empowering your ministry aspirations, by providing micro-grants to fuel those dreams. A vision of every tribe and tongue and nation knowing Jesus, by funding missions to the unreached peoples of the earth. Those are some incredible visions. 

While we may be inspired by the external, my hope is that we’re all ultimately inspired by the internal. We’re going to take time as a church family to talk about the wellspring of the Generous Life. You see, living on mission generously will flow from a heart inclination. Or to say it another way, it will flow out of what we are believing. So if we aren’t living the generous life, it must mean that there is something else we are believing in. What might that be, and why? How can we change?

Our aim as a preaching team over the coming weeks (and really from here on in as a family) is to inspire you to live on mission generously by turning to the Scriptures and Jesus to paint a picture of the Generous Life. I hope you’ll join us each week in the services, and day by day in prayer, expectant for what God will do in and through us by the power of the Holy Spirit. 

Living on Mission with you,

Pastor Matthew

Our Future Hope Sustains Us In Our Present

October 26, 2016

This past Sunday, I preached from Acts 3. My central aim in recounting this encouraging story of a lame man being healed at a gate of the Temple mount was to show that because we see what God has done through the name of Jesus (healing the lame man), we can trust what God will do through the name of Jesus (heal every single one of us, who are also lame in some way). 

In showing what God will do, it was intriguing to note Peter’s use of three unique words to describe God’s accomplishments through Jesus. He described the wholeness Jesus brings (Acts 3:16), the refreshment poured out upon us through Jesus (Acts 3:20), and the future hope of the complete restoration of all Creation, which will be consummated at the coming of Jesus (Acts 3:21).

As I often do, I ran out of time for the preaching, so I didn’t get to fill out that last and critical bit, that remarkable future hope of restoration. You see, the Bible wants us to look to our future in great hope as a way to sustain us through difficulties in our present. God tells us that someday everything will be made right, and he wants you to hold fast to that promise, thus persevering in an age where things are not the way they are supposed to be because of the destructive influences of sin, Satan, and death.

If all that is true (and it is), then we need vivid pictures of that future hope, that we might be sustained.

I find one such Biblically inspired picture through one of my favorite poems, "Justified Forevermore" (found in pastor John Piper’s remarkable book, Future Grace). Soak in this vision again and again, and may it be an anchor for your soul in the difficult seas of life in this age.


As far as any eye could see
There was no green.  But every tree
Was cinder black, and all the ground
Was gray with ash.  The only sound
Was arid wind, like spirits’ ghosts,
Gasping for some living hosts
In which to dwell, as in the days
Of evil men, before the blaze
Of unimaginable fire
Had made the earth a flaming pyre
For God’s omnipotent display
Of holy rage.

The dreadful Day
Of God had come.  The moon had turned
To blood.  The sun no longer burned
Above, but, blazing with desire,
Had flowed into a lake of fire.
The seas and oceans were no more,
And in their place a desert floor
Fell deep to meet the brazen skies,
And silence conquered distant cries.
The Lord stood still above the air.
His mighty arms were moist and bare.
They hung, as weary, by his side,
Until the human blood had dried
Upon the sword in his right hand.
He stared across the blackened land
That he had made, and where he died.
His lips were tight, and deep inside,
The mystery of sovereign will
Gave leave, and it began to spill
In tears upon his bloody sword
For one last time.

And then the Lord
Wiped every tear away, and turned
To see his bride.  Her heart had yearned
Four thousand years for this: His face
Shone like the sun, and every trace
Of wrath was gone.  And in her bliss
She heard the Master say, “Watch this:
Come forth, all goodness from the ground,
Come forth, and let the earth redound
With joy.”

And as he spoke, the throne
Of God came down to earth and shone
Like golden crystal full of light,
And banished, once for all, the night.
And from the throne a stream began
To flow and laugh, and as it ran,
It made a river and a lake,
And everywhere it flowed, a wake
Of grass broke on the banks and spread
Like resurrection from the dead.
And in the twinkling of an eye
The saints descended from the sky.
And as I knelt beside the brook
To drink eternal life, I took
A glance across the golden grass,
And saw my dog, old Blackie, fast
As she could come.  She leaped the stream -
Almost - and what a happy gleam
Was in her eye.

I knelt to drink,
And knew that I was on the brink
Of endless joy.  And everywhere
I turned I saw a wonder there.
A big man running on the lawn:
That’s old John Younge with both legs on.
The blind can see a bird on wing,
The dumb can lift their voice and sing.
The diabetic eats at will,
The coronary runs uphill.
The lame can walk, the deaf can hear,
The cancer-ridden bone is clear.
Arthritic joints are lithe and free,
And every pain has ceased to be.
And every sorrow deep within,
And every trace of lingering sin
Is gone.  And all that’s left is joy,
And endless ages to employ
The mind and heart, and understand,
And love the sovereign Lord who planned
That it should take eternity
To lavish all his grace on me.


O, God of wonder, God of might,
Grant us some elevated sight,
Of endless days.  And let us see
The joy of what is yet to be.
And may your future make us free,
And guard us by the hope that we,
Through grace on lands that you restore,
Are justified for evermore.

Longing For The New

October 13, 2016

Unless you have familiarity with death I’m not sure it’s very easy to be encouraged or moved by Jesus’ words in Revelation 21:5, “Behold, I am making all things new." I’m not necessarily referring to physical death, although that certainly applies, but rather to the far-reaching implications of the brokenness of this world. Doing college ministry familiarizes one with death and sin. Our staff have gotten more and more familiar with students who desire to numb life’s pains through drugs or alcohol, who believe that a romantic relationship will give them final satisfaction, who think that as long as everyone likes them they will feel loved, and even students who simply ignore the realities of a world they cannot see in hopes that they will be absolved of answering to their Creator who sees them. Is it a joy to wade into these waters? Yes and no.

As we enter into our third year of ministry at Saint Cloud State University I think we have been sobered by the sins that surround us. Don’t get me wrong. Myself and my team (Berto and Elisa) are well aware of our own contributions to the brokenness around us. In fact, I think we all would agree that consistently holding out the light of life to those who prefer the darkness causes us to question the brightness of the very light we’re holding. When we’re not careful, our questions can take a sinister turn. This is when the wading is not so joyful. Strangely, though, we know the light wouldn’t look so bright unless it were contrasted with utter darkness. This gives us hope and longing. We long to see students able to deal with life’s difficulties not by numbing the pain, but by crying out to God. To see romance simply as a gift given that points them back to the Giver is our aim. We hope for students who know they’ll experience disapproval from others at times but not be crushed. And we hope the eternal truth that in Christ "there is no condemnation" would make their faces gladly turn toward their heavenly Father. We aren’t promised we’ll get to see all of this take place in every student’s life, but by his grace we have seen glimpses. Please pray we continue to see more for God’s glory and our joy.

Child Dedications

October 9, 2016

Deuteronomy 6 calls us as parents to live out what we believe. It commands us to be careful and diligent as we teach our children to follow God. On October 9th at Calvary, we had parents commit to loving the LORD with all their heart, soul, and might. These parents dedicated their lives to live in such a way as their children will marvel at God. Let’s remember to lead Oliver, Ezekiel, Ezra, Evie, and Isaac to love Jesus with their whole being and follow Him all their days.

Life, In Fact, Is Too Much for Us

October 4, 2016

From an interaction between GOD and his prophet, Jeremiah, as GOD was preparing him for his prophetic ministry to the nation of Israel:    

But I (Jeremiah) said, “Hold it, Master God! Look at me.

I don’t know anything. I’m only a boy!”

God told me, “Don’t say, ‘I’m only a boy.’

I’ll tell you where to go and you’ll go there.

I’ll tell you what to say and you’ll say it.

Don’t be afraid of a soul.

I’ll be right there, looking after you.”

God’s Decree.

“Stand at attention while I prepare you for your work.

I’m making you as impregnable as a castle,

Immovable as a steel post,

solid as a concrete block wall.

You’re a one-man defense system

against this culture,

Against Judah’s kings and princes,

against the priests and local leaders.

[Peterson, E. H. (2005). The Message: the Bible in contemporary language (Je 1:6-8, 18). Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress.]

And, from an interaction between the wizard, Gandalf, to Frodo, as he prepared for his ministry of ring-bearer to Middle Earth:

"I am not made for perilous quests," cried Frodo. "I wish I had never seen the Ring! Why did it come to me? Why was I chosen?"

"Such questions cannot be answered," said Gandalf. "You may be sure that it was not not for any merit that others do not possess; not for power or wisdom, at any rate. But you have been chosen and you must therefore use such strength and heart and wits as you have."

(J.R.R. Tolkien)

Eugene Peterson comments:

If we look at ourselves and are absolutely honest, we are always inadequate. Of course, we are not always honest. We budge and cheat on the tests. We cover up a bit here; we bluff a bit there. We present to be more sure than we are.

Life, in fact, is too much for us.

This business of living in awareness and response to God, in attentive love to the people with us, and in reverent appreciation of the world round about exceeds our capacities. We aren't smart enough; we don't have enough energy; we can't concentrate adequately. We are apathetic, slouching and slovenly. Not all the time, to be sure. We have spurts of love, passionate risks of faith, impressive episodes of courageous caring. But then we slip back into indolence or greed...

It is not our feelings that determine our level of participation in life, nor our experience that qualifies us for what we will do and be; it is what God decides about us.

God does not send us into the dangerous and exacting life of faith because we are qualified; he chooses us in order to qualify us for what he wants us to be and do...

(From Run with the Horses: The Quest for Life at its Best)

If you are going follow in the way of Jesus, living life at its best, you must get the order down rightly, and you must do so now. It is not that you are qualified. You are not. You are supremely inadequate. So be of good cheer! For you have been chosen, and the Father, by the work accomplished through the Son, and by the empowering presence of the Holy Spirit, will qualify and make you adequate to the good works that he has created for you before the foundations of the world, that you might walk in them.

How would you answer, "I live on mission by______"?

October 3, 2016

We enjoyed announcing some great new Living On Mission resources and tools with you this last weekend! One of the things we focused on is the value of sharing our stories and ways in which we're living on mission in the everyday. Our hope is that we can inspire and encourage one another by sharing how we live on mission. If you weren't here last weekend, check out this video montage of how some of our Calvary family are currently living on mission.

On October 9th, we want to invite you to join us in creating your own video answering the question, "I live on mission by______". We want to share these individual videos online as an encouragement to others, and we hope you'll share yours as well. Can you imagine how amazing it would be if God used your video to inspire others? Please come, make your own living on mission video, and join with us as we live on mission together!

Baptisms - September 18th

September 18, 2016

What a joy it was to celebrate with these 21 people!

My Hope On Sabbatical

August 29, 2016

“Possibly one of the most devastating things that can happen to us as Christians is that we cease to expect anything to happen.  I am not sure but that this is not one of our greatest troubles today.  We come to our services and they are orderly, they are nice ‒ we come, we go ‒ and sometimes they are timed almost to the minute, and there it is.  But that is not Christianity, my friend.  Where is the Lord of glory?  Where is the one sitting by the well?  Are we expecting him?  Do we anticipate this?  Are we open to it?  Are we aware that we are ever facing this glorious possibility of having the greatest surprise of our life?

Or let me put it like this.  You may feel and say ‒ as many do ‒ ‘I was converted and became a Christian.  I’ve grown ‒ yes, I’ve grown in knowledge, I’ve been reading books, I’ve been listening to sermons, but I’ve arrived now at a sort of peak and all I do is maintain that.  For the rest of my life I will just go on like this.’

Now, my friend, you must get rid of that attitude; you must get rid of it once and for ever.  That is ‘religion’, it is not Christianity.

This is Christianity: the Lord appears!

Suddenly, in the midst of the drudgery and the routine and the sameness and the dullness and the drabness, unexpectedly, surprisingly, he meets with you and he says something to you that changes the whole of your life and your outlook and lifts you to a level that you had never conceived could be possible for you.  Oh, if we get nothing else from this story, I hope we will get this.  Do not let the devil persuade you that you have got all you are going to get, still less that you received all you were ever going to receive when you were converted.  That has been a popular teaching, even among evangelicals.  You get everything at your conversion, it is said, including baptism with the Spirit, and nothing further, ever.  Oh, do not believe it; it is not true.  It is not true to the teaching of the Scriptures, it is not true in the experience of the saints running down the centuries. 

There is always this glorious possibility of meeting with him in a new and a dynamic way.

(Martyn Lloyd-Jones, on John chapter 4, cited by Ray Ortlund here.)

That last sentence is my hope for three months of sabbatical, from May 1 until July 31. I am hoping in the glorious possibility of meeting with him in a new and a dynamic way. I've been reading books and preaching sermons, and now I want to meet with Jesus and hear him say something that changes the whole of my life and my outlook and lifts me to a level that I had never conceived possible.

And let me be clear - that is not a hope for some external, pedastal-like level for me. What I want is a whole new level of HIM, that then saturates every other aspect of my extremely ordinary life with his extraordinary presence.

Here I am God.

Being still.

Help me know you - Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Amen.

How To Start A Movement Of Prayer At Your Church

August 26, 2016

It is rare today to see a passion for prayer as the essence of gospel ministry. But I also believe it is futile to try to work people up into prayer. It just doesn't get results beyond a surge of enthusiasm that soon wears off. I know of only one infallible way to get a church praying, and to keep it praying, for the power of God to come down...

we need to fail.

We need to fail so badly and obviously that we find out how much we really do trust ourselves rather than God. We need to be shocked by the collapse of our best methods. But what a blessing catastrophic disaster is, with all its misery and shame, if it turns us back to God!

(The Gospel: How the Church Portrays the Beauty of Christ, by Ray Ortlund, p. 106; emphasis and paragraphing mine)

I find myself thinking this afternoon about praying to fail.

So to keep me from becoming proud, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger from Satan to torment me and keep me from becoming proud. 

8 Three different times I begged the Lord to take it away. 9 Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. 10 That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong. 

(Holy Bible: New Living Translation; 2 Co 12:7–10)

He Sees Vistas Of God's Extraordinary Grace In The Good News

July 11, 2016

As I continue to make my way through memorizing passages of Scripture this year, I come to a prayerful act of praise by the Apostle Paul in Romans 11:33-36. However, you can’t really understand someone’s outburst if you don’t have the context. Yes? So in order to truly grasp what you may be memorizing with me, if you are following the Fighter Verse program, you need to step back a few pages and listen to Paul’s heart in Romans chapters nine through eleven.

For it is there that Paul has reflected upon his desire for his kinsmen to be saved, as he has been gloriously saved by God through Christ. He has poured over the nature and progress of God’s salvation project through the history of his people and the nations, a project that is at once simple and complex. Paul's work takes time, and effort. He is drawing conclusions and connecting dots that have immensely significant implications for very real people — immortal souls every one of them. The meditations of his heart and the words of his mouth are earnest, zealous, passionate, compassionate, thoughtful, energetic, and extensive.

And such thinking, though difficult and demanding, produces dividends.

For as Paul has been scraping his way up the mountain of God’s providential plan, and begins to ascend the summit near the end of Romans 11, what he discovers at the top is not that he has arrived, but that he now has a view of the endless vistas of God’s extraordinary grace in the good news of the kingdom of God that has come in Jesus Christ. So that he stands there atop his one, theological mountain, and exclaims,

33 Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!     

34 “For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?”     

35 “Or who has given a gift to himthat he might be repaid?” 36 For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen. (The Holy Bible: English Standard Version; Romans 11:33–36)

I am so grateful for the dividends of delight that God has produced in my own heart through meditation and memorization of this passage of praise from Paul! Oh how I love the Bible, and how I love the good news - this gift from God that keeps giving and giving. Spend some time climbing the mountain today, and looking on the vistas of God's extraordinary grace with our friend, the Apostle Paul.

I believe that you won't be disappointed by the investment.

Delivered!

July 11, 2016

I've been reading through the book of Hebrews to begin the year in the Scriptures. I keep going back to chapter two, verses fourteen and fifteen. Here is what I wrote in the margin of my Bible:

"Jesus destroys death through death so that I don't need to fear death."

Huh.

Thank you Jesus.

"Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery." 

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). (Heb 2:14–15).