DON’T MOVE THE TARGET

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Thursday, March 17, 2022

One day an elderly man was driving in the country enjoying the scenery, when he saw a young boy standing in front of a barn. Three targets had been painted on the side of the barn, and in the bull’s-eye of each target was an arrow. The man stopped his car and spoke to the obviously talented archer. “Son, how did you get so good at shooting?” The boy replied, “Well, I take each arrow, lick my fingers and straighten the feathers like this. Then I pull the bowstring back to an exact spot on my cheek and let go. Then wherever the arrow lands I paint a target.”

That’s exactly how many of us live our spiritual lives. We have replaced the True Target with man-made ones so that we can consider ourselves spiritually successful. We satisfy ourselves by painting our own targets at the end of the day, rather than looking at the True Target at the start of the day. We are convinced that it is much safer and more fulfilling to let the flesh have its way throughout the day, and then at appointed times, like on Sunday at church or at night when we go to bed, to reflect on any small spiritual moment we had and paint a big bull’s-eye around that and call ourselves imitators of God (Eph. 5:1).  In reality we are only imitators of the flesh, creating false spiritual targets that do nothing more than perpetuate the flesh rather than crucify it.

There is only one True Target, and it has already been painted on our lives. It is the life of Jesus Christ. There is no need for us to paint additional targets. I admit that it’s a tough target to hit, and that in this life none of us will ever hit the bull’s-eye every time. That may be discouraging. It may seem that having targets easier to hit will bring more satisfaction to life. But this is a deception of the one who holds the can of paint and the brush. He has always tried to paint a different target – a target that appeals to the flesh and offers the false hope of fulfillment. Satan painted alternative targets for Adam and Eve that appealed to their fleshly sense of self-fulfillment. His targets make us feel good about who we are and keep our attention focused on the image we want to have for ourselves. Every morning when we wake up, our spiritual enemy offers us the opportunity to paint targets on our life’s calendar of events, and each of those targets keeps us from aiming at the True Target. Each freshly painted target serves to satisfy our flesh, and when the flesh is satisfied there is no need for God. If we aim at Satan’s targets, then we make God unnecessary and irrelevant. We become our own god. 

For me, the best illustration of this principle is the game of golf. Every hole on a golf course has a target, marked by a flag. It is the goal of every golfer to get the ball into the hole. Because of man’s need to measure himself against others, we have decided that we should count how many strokes it takes to get the ball into the hole, and then offer a reward to the one who does it in the fewest strokes. I have been a victim of that competitive philosophy all my life. Our image gets so wrapped up in our performance that some will even cheat to enhance their image. Rules are set aside for the sake of “having fun,” when the truth is they only want to feel better about themselves by keeping their score down. How did their personal worth get wrapped up in the score? If only we could be like little children at a miniature golf course. They don’t care about the score. They can’t even count that high. All they care about his hitting the target, no matter how many times they try.

God is not keeping score. He does not compare your life to anyone else’s life and offer rewards only to the one who hits the True Target in the least number of attempts. There will be some holes on the course of life that will be easier than others. Some of us will score well on one hole, while others will score well on another. But when we all meet in the clubhouse after our round is over, we will all be greeted by the same words from the Course Designer – “Well done. You finished the course. Here is your crown of righteousness.” No one will compare scores. Everyone will enjoy the thrill of hitting the target.

“Jesus, you are the True Target. I want to imitate you in every area of my life. I confess I have painted some targets to please my flesh and have changed some rules to justify it. I confess I have compared myself to others to better my image in my own eyes. I confess my need to refocus on You as the One True Target. Thank you for your forgiveness, and for the grace you will grant to imitate you.”

Pastor John

IMITATORS OF GOD

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Wednesday, March 16, 2022

One day a young mother was sick in bed at home. Even though her daughter was only four years old, she had been taught that love meant serving others in need. She got some magazines for her mommy, fluffed her pillow, turned on the TV, and then went to the kitchen where she was determined to make a cup of tea. When she returned, her mommy was impressed. “Who taught you how to make tea?” she asked. “Oh, Mommy, I’ve seen you do it lots of times. But I couldn’t find your strainer, so I used the fly swatter instead.” Mom was shocked, and yelled, “You what?” The little girl calmly replied, “Don’t worry, Mommy. I didn’t use the new one – I used the old one so you wouldn’t be mad.”

Children are great imitators. Unfortunately, imitation without reasoning skills can be dangerous. That little four-year old was imitating her mom, but still needed the direct influence of her mother to do it correctly. This is an important distinction for us to understand when it comes to our imitation of God.

Ephesians 5:1-2  Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”

As His dearly loved children, we are never left to imitate without His direct influence. Several years ago a bracelet was created for people to wear that had four letters on it – W.W.J.D. Those letters stood for What Would Jesus Do?  That phrase first gained real popularity as a result of Charles Sheldon’s 1896 book, In His Steps. Sheldon’s novel grew out of a series of sermons he delivered in his Congregationalist church in Topeka, Kansas. Sheldon’s theology was shaped by a commitment to Christian Socialism. The ethos of Sheldon’s approach to the Christian life was expressed in this phrase “What Would Jesus Do”, with Jesus being a moral example rather than a Savior figure. The end result of his teaching for many was to emphasize the ability of man to please God and to minimize man’s need for salvation from sin and the necessity of the indwelling presence of God.

Now that’s not to say that there isn’t a great need for the social application of God’s love. In fact, that’s the whole point of the Apostle Paul’s command in Ephesians 5:1-2. We are, as dearly loved children of God, to imitate the love of God in our lives to the fullest extent that Christ Jesus did when He sacrificed His life to meet our need of forgiveness from sin. But the imitation of God’s love is not a learned behavior that we put on over top of a sinful flesh. God’s love is not a series of rules and regulations we follow because we want to please God and somehow look and behave like Jesus. God’s love cannot be understood or practiced by studying it. God’s love can only be imitated by those who have been transformed by it. The external imitation of God’s love is only possible by the person who has been born-again by Jesus Christ. We do not earn our salvation by imitating God – we imitate God because we have been saved. We have no need to ask, “What would Jesus do?” so that we appear spiritual. We who are spiritual already know what Jesus would do because He lives in us. He is the direct influence that is needed for us to live lives that are pleasing to God. Jesus Christ, the hope of glory, lives in us by the power and presence of the Holy Spirit. There’s no need to ask, “What would Jesus Do?” It is only necessary to surrender to the life of Jesus that is in you and He will live out God’s love through you.

On June 3, 2008, United States President George Bush honored a soldier who responded sacrificially when all of his training had told him to protect himself. You see, if there’s an opportunity to escape the deadly blast of a grenade, the Army trains soldiers to take it. But when an Iraqi insurgent threw a grenade into the Humvee where PFC. Ross A. McGinnis manned the machine gun, he had time to jump from the turret and save himself. But according to his buddies in the Humvee he would have probably been the only one to escape. Instead, McGinnis yelled “grenade” into his microphone, dropped down the turret and used his back to smother the grenade. On Monday, during a solemn White House ceremony, President Bush presented McGinnis’ parents, Tom and Romayne, with a posthumous Medal of Honor for their son, who absorbed the grenade’s blast and saved the other men. “America will always honor the name of this brave soldier who gave all for his country,” Bush said.

That’s exactly how our lives can be lived – so that the life of Jesus Christ overwhelms the training of the world in a moment of need. We honor the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross when we do what He did – sacrifice our lives for the sake of others. That’s what proves we are His dearly loved children. Then we too are true imitators of God.

Pastor John

STOP GRIEVING

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Tuesday, March 15, 2022

Children, and even grandchildren, can be a source of both joy and sorrow. From the moment they are born we invest our time and energy into nurturing them and teaching them the values that will sustain them through this difficult preparation period for eternity. We set up boundaries and provide guidance, knowing from our own experience the consequences of ignoring them. To the children we may seem mean, unfair, and constricting, but our motive is to protect them and show them true freedom. When we finally trust them to make decisions for themselves, and they reject the training we gave them, we are grieved. We experience the pain of knowing the pain they are going to experience. Our love for them magnifies the sorrow. We hurt even more deeply because they have chosen not to trust our guidance. We may even think they have rejected our love. We experience both the grief of watching someone we love being hurt, and the grief of our own rejection.

Now consider the response of the Holy Spirit of God when we reject His teaching and guidance.

Ephesians 4:30  And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.”

The Holy Spirit is the third Person of the Triune God. He is the fullness of God and the spiritual expression of the living Christ who dwells in each and every born-again believer. He has personality, emotions, and feelings, all existing in sinless perfection. He brings to us all the nature and characteristics of God as seen in Jesus Christ. He is God’s gift at the request of Jesus, so that His life might be lived in and through us. He teaches us all the things we need to know about Jesus so our lives will be lived to His glory and honor. He guides us into all truth. He gives wisdom for every decision. His love is God’s love, complete and perfect, and motivates every input into our lives. His influence is constant. His patience is perpetual.

Yet He can be grieved. Every time His influence is ignored, He is grieved. Each time His wisdom is outweighed by our wishes, He is grieved.  Whenever we turn from trusting Him to trust in self, He experiences the pain of rejection. If we, as parents and grandparents who love deeply yet imperfectly, can experience such sorrow over a child’s rebellion, how much more deeply does the One who loves perfectly feel that pain? All rejection of the Holy Spirit’s direction is rebellion. All choices made to please self are rebellion. All distrust of the Holy Spirit’s love and purpose is rebellion. All rebellion grieves Him.

It not only grieves the Holy Spirit when we rebel, but it grieves Him when we redefine rebellion to justify our rebellion. How often are we guilty of justifying sin because it provides us immediate gratification? It is time for revival in the church of Jesus Christ, and it must start with our repentance from sin. That is only going to happen when we truly define sin as God does. The Holy Spirit who lives within us has taught how God defines sin. He reveals every temptation to sin when it shows up in our lives. We are grieving the Holy Spirit when we ignore His input for whatever reason. Imagine the power of God that will be revealed in and through us in our churches if we would all live in the fullness of the Holy Spirit and stop grieving Him. Imagine the number of people who would come to Christ if they saw the effects of His transforming power in our lives.

The Holy Spirit knows the will of God for our lives. He is intimately involved in every detail.  He is constantly present providing wisdom. He knows exactly how to nurture us and teach us the values that will sustain us through this life. Do not grieve Him by ignoring Him. Do not grieve Him by distrusting Him. Do not grieve Him by rejecting His influence. Surrender to Him, for in that surrender you will be truly free.

Pastor John

HEALTHY COMMUNICATION

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Monday, March 14, 2022

One day a man was driving down a lonely stretch of country road, when he saw another car approaching. As the car got closer, he observed the driver waving her hand out the window. He was totally focused on her, and as they passed, she was screaming at him. The only word he heard was “Pig!” He was furious, and immediately yelled back, “Idiot!” He was still looking at her in his rearview mirror when he crashed into a huge pig that was standing in the road.

Clear communication is so very important. In just one verse of Scripture today we are given several principles that will help us be better communicators.

Ephesians 4:29  “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.

First, good communication is motivated by the needs of others and not our own needs. The woman who yelled “pig” was not satisfying some emotional need to belittle another person to elevate her own worth, but she was attempting to help another person. She observed a need, and she tried to meet it. So much of our communication is wrapped up in self and not in others. That’s why we get in trouble with our words. Communication that is intended to draw attention to self will result in hurt and shame, both to the hearer and the speaker. When we learn to seek the benefit of others we will be seen as exceptional communicators.

Second, we are to be in control of our words. Words are a choice. We must learn to make wise choices about words. We are to be in control of our words, so that no unwholesome talk comes out of our mouths. Words are an indicator of what’s in our heart. Jesus said, “For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks.” Jesus also said, “But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man ‘unclean.’”  Hurtful words that come from our mouth originate in a sinful heart.  

Finally, being a good communicator doesn’t require good listeners. What? You heard right. Good communication does not require people to listen. Our Scripture does not say that our words will benefit everyone. It says they are to be spoken so that they will benefit those who choose to listen. Not everyone chooses to listen. Does that mean we are communicating poorly? Not necessarily. If our communication is wholesome and spoken to benefit another person and meet their needs, and if our words will build that person up and help them grow in the spiritual maturity, then our communication is good. It is now their choice to listen or not. We are not responsible for the application of our communication: we are only responsible for the content and motive of our words.

Some people will listen. Others will crash into pigs. We do not take credit for those who listen, and we do not take responsibility for those who don’t. If we have designed our words based on the need of the person to whom we are speaking, then we have fulfilled our responsibility. Don’t get trapped in the bondage of believing that we are responsible for the results. That’s God’s territory, not ours. We are only responsible to communicate the truth out of our love for others. God handles the application. 

Pastor John

STRETCHING EXERCISES

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Friday, March 11, 2022

Membership in the body of Christ provides the most complete and fulfilling form of relationship with others. Or at least it’s supposed to. Most of the time we don’t get to experience the joy of intimacy the way God intended because we are overly focused on our personal feelings or the feelings of others. Now don’t misinterpret that. I know we are to be sensitive and concerned about the feelings of others, but I think within the body of Christ we have exaggerated that concern to the point of sin. Let me explain.

Ephesians 4:25-27  “Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are all members of one body. “In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.” 

When Paul wrote these words he did not state two distinct issues separated by a verse marking. I believe the issue of speaking truthfully to one another and the issue of unresolved anger are intricately connected. The devil has a foothold in our lives and in our churches because we don’t see that connection. Let me explain it.

First, silence can be falsehood. Not speaking the truth is lying, whether it is the actual verbal expression of untruth or the withholding of truth by silence. We sin against the other members of the body of Christ when we fail to speak the truth to them. Of course, the presentation of that truth is critical – it must be done in love.

A few years ago, I played my last softball game of my life with our church team. I was so excited to be a part of the team, and to have all the young, athletic, macho guys accept me as one of them, even though the age and physical conditioning differences are obvious. Prior to the game, I spent some time on the grass stretching my leg muscles. Ouch! They were so out of shape. Each time I would stretch they would scream at my brain and tell them they were hurting. My brain told the other parts of my body to slow down a little and be considerate of those muscles until they reached the flexibility level that was desired. My hamstring rejoiced that his voice had been heard, and that the other members of the body had rallied to his assistance. In the end, the whole body was able to function to the best of its current ability.

There would have been a different outcome if my brain had not heard the voice of my hamstring and continued to command running hard. I would have been hurt for a long time and the body would not have been able to function in a competitive manner. But what if my hamstring, not wanting to offend the other muscles that were ready to play, had kept silent about his need or his pain? That lie would have had the same result of disabling my body. The first time I rounded first base and dug for second on a hit I would have probably pulled up as I grabbed the back of my thigh and screamed in pain. Silencing hurts is falsehood. In the body of Christ, all hurts, all pains, all offenses are to be openly communicated and dealt with in love. It’s what makes for true intimacy. It’s what keeps the body of Christ healthy.

The second point is this – when we keep silent about our hurts, it causes anger to develop into bitterness. Anger is the emotional response to hurt and pain. Anger itself is not sin. Most people, when asked to explain how anger becomes sin, respond with something like, “when it leads us to do something sinful.” They usually mean that the anger leads us to acts of vengeance, spite, gossip, or other form of redirected pain toward others. However, in the context of these verses, the sin Paul is referring to is the sin of silence. We sin against each other when we live under the pretense that all is well, while inside we are seething with anger. We sin against our own spirit and its relationship with the Holy Spirit when we bury our true feelings and deny their expression within the context of the loving, caring, and forgiving body of Christ. We give Satan a foothold in our lives and in our church by planting the seed of bitterness when we don’t deal with issues of hurt feelings and anger before the sun goes down on them. We justify that course of action by claiming that we don’t want the rest of the body to be hurt, when in fact we are hurting it more deeply than by speaking the truth.

The Body of Christ is to be the most fulfilling form of relationship with others. Silence does not enhance relationships. Some issues may be insignificant and need to simply be overlooked. That’s what Paul meant when he said we are to “bear with one another in love.” When our silence is bearing with one another in love, then our spirit will not be angry. We can’t have it both ways. If what happened makes us angry, then we must deal with it in a loving way. Every stretch of the muscles brings greater health to the whole body and prepares us all for running the race with greater efficiency.

Pastor John

HOW BAD IS IT?

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Thursday, March 10, 2022

How bad is it? People jump at the chance to answer that question. It seems that everyone has an opinion on how bad things are compared to what they used to be. But a quick look at history reveals that sin has always abounded in humanity and its effects have always ravaged society. Sure, things are bad right now, but are they really any worse than they were in the days of Noah when God destroyed the whole population of the world because of their sin except for eight faithful people? Are things really worse now than they were for Sodom and Gomorrah when homosexuality was so rampant that the men of the city wanted to have sex with God’s angels? Are things really any more corrupt now than they were in the days of the Persian Empire when anyone who defied the King was run through with a pole from their bottom through their head and put on display in the city streets? Are Christians in parts of the world any less safe than they were in the days of the Roman Empire?

The followers of Jesus Christ have succumbed to the false notion that somehow things are so bad that there’s nothing we can do. We are convinced that we are powerless to affect change. We seem to almost gloat in the false reality that we are living in the worst of times. The effect of such thinking is to empower evil and minimize the power of God. Such thinking has become so prevalent that the church of Jesus Christ has allowed the infiltration of evil into its doors, and the followers of Jesus are unconcerned about the presence of sin in their lives. We have convinced ourselves that it’s just the reality of the times in which we live. Sin abounds around us, so it’s not that a big deal if it abounds in us.

But since Adam sin has always abounded, yet that is never a justification for its presence in the life of a Christian. There is a new life born in us that rejects the presence of sin and evil – the life of the sinless Jesus Christ. In Him we are a new creation. All the old has passed away and all things are made new. His life will change our thinking about sin, giving us a totally new attitude. His life will lead us to true righteousness and holiness. His life will not tolerate shared space with sin.

Ephesians 4:22-24  “You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.

Our complacency to sin is a sad commentary on the compromised condition of our conscience. Our compliance with sin is completely contrary to Christ’s life in us. Our lifestyle identification with the world reveals the true love of our hearts. Love for self has overwhelmed love for Christ. Choices are motivated by personal fulfillment. The old self still sits securely on the throne of our lives. But the Bible tells us that it doesn’t have to. It is there by our choice. There is an alternative. We can choose to put it off and put on its place the new life of Christ. In fact, for all those who truly love Jesus, this will be the reality. Maybe you were never taught that. I’m sorry for the misinformation you were given about what salvation is. When Jesus saves you from your sin, He saves you from your sin. It is not salvation if there is not deliverance. You have been delivered from your sin by the power of the resurrected Christ, who conquered all sin and its consequence of death. It is false thinking to believe that we can have the life of Christ and continue to live a life of sin. Those who are in Christ have crucified the old self, and daily put to death all of its desires so that their lives reflect the true love of their hearts, which is their Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. (Please read Romans chapter 6)

So how bad is it? It’s bad. Always has been. Always will be. But what makes it worse is that those who know Jesus are living as slaves of sin. Instead, we should live as Paul says in Romans 6:17-18. “But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you wholeheartedly obeyed the form of teaching to which you were entrusted. You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.” It’s time to start living our faith!

Pastor John

HELP FOR THE CONFUSED

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Wednesday, March 9, 2022

People are lost. They are hopeless. They are crying out for meaning. Here is a story that will stimulate your determination to share the hope of Jesus Christ with others.

During a time of incredible pain and suffering, one dad I know was an incredible example of faith. He modeled a peace that passes all understanding. He and I talked many times about the reason God took him on that journey. We were convinced that God would bring unsaved people to the point of salvation as they saw his faith. God used his struggle to help the hopelessly confused.

One day my friend received this email.

I have been praying for your family for so long now, following your triumphs, and have been truly touched by your faith and love. I hope this does not strange but for such a long time I have been searching for my place – my connection – my way to find meaning. Through following your story, I am so motivated to develop my relationship with God. What you share makes sense to me – if you do not mind directing to where I can find fellowship like you have described. I feel silly asking and sorry for bothering you. Thank you and bless you all!

Here’s what my friend wrote back…

What a joy to receive your email this morning. When I read it, I just smiled and thought to myself…”Lord, this is why we are going through this, to inspire people like this”. I’m so excited to hear that you are wanting to press forward in your relationship with God. Let me ask you something…Have you personally asked Jesus Christ into your life? Have you admitted before Him that you are a sinner and that you need Jesus, and the blood that He shed on Calvary, to cleanse you from your sin? If you have done that, now you just grow in that truth. If you haven’t done that, and you have questions about that, we can work through that too.”

“So, I go to Calvary Baptist Church in Eau Claire and ABSOLUTELY LOVE IT!!! Our pastor preaches from the Bible every week. Everyone is so accepting and loving. We stress prayer and the power that is found in it. We focus on Christ and His redeeming grace. We don’t stray from the word of God, and we don’t compromise it either. If you want to grow in your relationship with Jesus and meet people who will love you for who you are….Calvary Baptist is the spot.

Of course, as I read this email I started to cry, because the Gospel was being shared with an unbeliever. What a thrill for any of us to have the opportunity to present the simple message of God’s love to someone who is lost in their sin. But the confusion and delusion of sin is not easily overcome.

Ephesians 4:17  “With the Lord’s authority let me say this: Live no longer as the ungodly do, for they are hopelessly confused.” 

Here is what the person wrote back to my friend.

“I am so sorry I have not gotten back to you. I just didn’t know what to do next. I did receive your email and was so happy to hear from you then as well.  You and your family were brought into my life for a reason, but I have to be totally honest with you I feel kind of lost in this whole process. I was raised as a holiday Catholic and do not have very much familiarity with the Bible. I consider myself an intellectual person, but  I
wonder at times if I have missed the boat in how to have a solid relationship with God.  I want to have this beautiful love and peace that you have but don’t know how to do that. Don’t get me wrong, I live my life believing in God and doing good and being as good of a person as I know how to be.  But I just feel like I have had this void and I don’t really know how to go about filling it. I mean really do I just start reading the Bible front to back? Do I just pick a section?

I have to admit that I am a person that gets nervous in meeting and dealing with new people – in situations that I am not too familiar with.  Worried that I won’t fit a certain mold that people expect.  Please don’t take it as I am some basket case – I am just being completely open with you. You actually met a very good friend of mine with her daughters at the play place at the mall one day – and we both have just been so inspired by you and your family.  We are both seeking to find the right paths in our lives.  I looked your church up on the net and it seems to have some exciting things going on but all I think is where would I fit in? How?….”

“At times I wonder if maybe I am just not one of those people that find that peace, that have that relationship, I am not perfect person but I want to find that faith and joy that you have…I just don’t know how to do it. Where to start…”

“So…now that I have dumped that load on your shoulders. I just want to thank you! You have so much going on in your life and yet you make time to think of and check on me…if I am overwhelming you, I am sorry. But I just feel like I have been lost for awhile now and may need some help in finding my way.”

This person and her friend are a microcosm of our culture and should motivate us to be intentionally sharing the Gospel with as many people as possible. People need Jesus to overcome the deception of living a good life to earn salvation. People need to experience the unconditional love of Jesus that accepts them. You have the opportunity to touch someone else’s life with how you live out your faith in Jesus Christ every day.

Pastor John

STICK TO THE TRUTH

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Tuesday, March 8, 2022

I am a Boomer. Some of you are Builders, while others are Busters. Some of you belong to Generation X. Some are called Post-Moderns. We all carry a generational label that attempts to define the characteristics of our era. Each generation is a response and/or reaction to the previous one. Most generations rebel in some way against the standards of the previous one. Every generation appears to be identified by what it is seeking to change.

The characteristics of each generation also get carried over into the context of Christianity. One recent trend was for the post-modern thought of those born since 1980 to seek to transform the church. Those who advocated such change adopted the overall name of “The Emerging Church.” It has now evolved into what is called Progressive Christianity.” While some of the points they make seem valid and the changes they suggest appear valuable, the underlying theology of the movement is troubling. They teach that truth is based on experience not on proposition. Theology is open to debate. The goal of Christians is to live out their faith in such a way that culture is transformed, and we are to bring the kingdom of God to earth. The redemption of society is our highest call rather than redemption from sin. And probably the most disturbing to me of all their beliefs is this – there should be no line of distinction between those who are “in” and those who are “out. In other words, there is no reason to proclaim a “Gospel”, because who are we to judge whether someone else’s beliefs are valid or not. 

Ephesians 4:14  Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. 

Scot McKnight, author and theologian, wrote an article entitled, Five Streams of the Emerging Church in Christianity Today, He states, “This emerging ambivalence about who is in and who is out creates a serious problem for evangelism. The emerging movement is not known for it, but I wish it were. Unless you proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ, there is no good news at all—and if there is no Good News, then there is no Christianity, emerging or evangelical.”

He goes on and states, “So I offer here a warning to the emerging movement: Any movement that is not evangelistic is failing the Lord. We may be humble about what we believe, and we may be careful to make the gospel and its commitments clear, but we must always keep the proper goal in mind: summoning everyone to follow Jesus Christ and to discover the redemptive work of God in Christ through the Spirit of God.”

I can’t and won’t claim to know the motivation for these generational church movements, but I can offer some observations. If the primary purpose for any change in church ministry or philosophy is not to win more people to Jesus, then not only is the change wrong but the heart of the initiator of the change is also wrong. And if the fundamental theological truths of Scripture are not proclaimed as non-negotiable, absolute truth, then the movement is not valid, no matter how much cultural relevance or social impact it has.

It is clear in Ephesians 4 that there is only one body – the body of Christ – made up of those who are born again by one Spirit. There is only one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God, the Father of all. In Christ we are called to grow up in Him until we reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God, becoming mature. We are not called to live as infants, subject to every wind of teaching that comes along and appeals to our itching ears. We are not called to allow for alternative experiences of faith that satisfy the flesh. We are not brought to unity by debate. We are not made one by adopting a purpose to transform society. We do not redefine redemption so that it applies to transforming culture. We are one in Christ, and in Christ alone. We are not mature because we are tolerant and accepting of untruth. We are mature when we stand firmly in the one truth of Jesus Christ and His redemptive work on the cross that must be experienced individually before any social transformation can take place.

I’m sure there are well-meaning people in the new generation of churches who have a deep heart-felt desire to know God and serve Him. However, there is a cunning deception going on that undermines the essential of absolute truth. I urge you to be careful. Be cautious. Be spiritually discerning. Any movement that puts the proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ in a secondary role to anything else, no matter how morally right or socially beneficial, is wrong. Let us be infants no longer. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. (Ephesians 4:15)

Pastor John

GOD GAVE US GARDENERS

LifeLink Devotions (Click here for podcast)

Monday, March 7, 2022

Soon the garden shops will be bursting with plants for the upcoming gardening season. People will be anxious for the last of the snow to melt so they can begin preparing ground for the planting of all their fruits and vegetables. There’s a lot of work to be done to prepare to produce a harvest.

I remember the year we changed a portion of our back yard into a garden. First, we skimmed off the grass and weeds that were growing in the spot where we wanted the garden located. Then, landscape timbers were dug into place and stacked two or three high so the garden would be slightly elevated. Then black dirt was hauled in and spread inside the box. Fence posts were installed so the garden could be enclosed to protect it from all the rabbits we have in our woods. Final soil preparations and fertilization were done, and then we were able to plant. It was great feeling to watch all of the work begin to grow and develop into something that bore fruit. It took great patience and constant nurturing, but the harvest was worth it.

Ephesians 4:11-13  “It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

Being a gardener and being a pastor are similar. The church is the ground in God’s yard that needs landscaping. Jesus Christ has appointed some master gardeners to oversee the work. Their job is a long and difficult one that requires much patience, but the harvest is worth the effort. One thing that makes the process easier is when the ground cooperates. We are the ground of the Holy Spirit, and He is working to produce fruit in our lives. We need to cooperate with Him and His gardeners.

First, He has to skim off all the grass and weeds that are growing in our lives where the fruit needs to grow. When God speaks to us through our gardeners, and when they bring in the skid steer to slice off all the growth that doesn’t belong there, let them work. Listen to the truth they speak. Follow the advice they give. Submit to their admonitions and the rebuke of sin. Grass and weeds are like sin, and they don’t produce much of a harvest that benefits us. Let them help you take it away.

Let the gardeners help you elevate your life above the rest of the environment. That means they will have to put boundaries in place. Every life needs boundaries. There is the greatest freedom within the framework of God’s will. The gardeners want you to rise above the rest of the world around you.

Be thankful for the rich soil of God’s Word the gardeners bring to your life. Let it become the topsoil of your life. Keep it fertilized with prayer and personal Bible study. Don’t add anything to it that would diminish its richness. Keep it soft through constant cultivation. Weed it often. Water it regularly. Take care of the soil and there will be a bountiful harvest.

Assist the gardeners in putting up fences around your life that will protect your crop of righteousness from the enemies who would destroy it. Let the fence be large enough and strong enough to stop a lion, for there is one who is stalking you and seeking to devour you. Let the fence be tight enough to stop the small pests who don’t take big bites, but who through consistence persistence will ravage your plants and limit your harvest. Guard your garden from any and all enemies that will destroy it.

After all this has been done, and the gardener plants the seeds in your soil, nurture every plant in your garden so that it grows to full maturity and produces a harvest. The gardener will still be working to keep the garden free from weeds, and to provide water and fertilizer, but you are responsible for the growth of the seed and for the harvest it produces. You decide how the soil, water, fertilizer, light, and seed all combine to produce a crop of righteousness. You choose what kind of work your harvest will accomplish. You decide whether or not you will cooperate with the gardener in becoming prepared for works of service. You decide if you will become mature and attain the whole measure of the fullness of Christ, producing a bumper crop of righteousness and good works.

The gardener can only do so much. He is working hard to prepare you and equip you. What kind of harvest will you produce? 

Pastor John

GET IN THE GAME

LifeLink Devotions (Click here for podcast)

Friday, March 4, 2022

I am a fan of team sports. I think they’re a great analogy of the church. I have a favorite baseball and football team, and while I don’t have a specific favorite hockey team, I love watching the Stanley Cup playoffs. I also love basketball, although I am not a fan of how the NBA has ruined the game. But of all the team sports, football is unique, and for me makes for the best comparison to the body of Christ. For example, in baseball, hockey, and basketball, while there are specific positions and skills required, everyone on the team has the chance to touch the ball and score. They all have to share certain skills in common that are required to put points on the board. Not so in football. I have a deep admiration for the members of the offensive line. These five guys – almost 50% of the team – except for the center who has to hike it to the quarterback, are not allowed to touch the ball unless there’s been a fumble. By rule they are not allowed to be the first ones to touch a pass if it is thrown. They have one role – block the players of the defense so someone else can pass, catch, or run with the ball.

Soon the National Football League will hold their annual draft of college players. Some people might think that the guys who pass, catch, or run with the ball would be the first ones chosen. It would seem that their skills would be most important to the team. However, in a recent draft, the very first player taken was an offensive lineman. Of the top 31 players chosen, 23 were NOT quarterbacks, running backs, or receivers. That’s why I love football – everyone’s skills and position on the team is equally valued. The press and the fans may choose to overemphasize one position’s importance over another, but not the owners, scouts, and coaches. They know the importance of the guys in the trenches.

Ephesians 4:7 “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.

That’s how it is to be in the Body of Christ. We do not all get to score touchdowns or hit home runs or score goals. We do, however, all get to play, and every player’s skills are essential to victory. Our Coach, Jesus Christ, has chosen us for His team because of the specific skills we have. Then, after selecting us, He gave us additional spiritual skills that are not learnable in the flesh. Those gifts complement and enhance our natural abilities, and make us perfectly fit for the position we are to play on the team. We tend to overemphasize the importance of certain positions, like pastors, elders, and teachers.  We believe that unless we have those skills and gifts we are not really needed or important. How wrong that thinking is! That’s exactly how Satan keeps the church from becoming the powerful force of change in our culture. That’s exactly why the church isn’t being recognized as a contender for the championship of life.

The Apostle Paul tells us in today’s Scripture verse that Jesus Christ, the Head Coach of the team, has given each member of the team a specific skill and gift set in the exact proportion He wanted to fit each one for a specific task that is necessary to the complete success of the team. You are one of those team members. You are essential to the team’s success. No one has the privilege of considering themselves more important than anyone else, and no one has the right to consider themselves insignificant and unimportant. It is Jesus Christ who determines our value, and that value has nothing to do with the position you play on the team. It has everything to do with the person you are in Christ. You are chosen. You are gifted. You are exactly what Jesus made you to be, whether that’s a ball carrier or a blocker.

So come on, get in the game. There are places for you to serve. There are games to be won. We need you to play so we can all be champions.

Pastor John