To the Person Who Tried to Steal Jesus

On Saturday, December 18th, as my wife and I tidied up a few things for the next day’s worship, my kids came running into the church sanctuary: “Baby Jesus was stolen!”

“Really? One week before Christmas?” Sure enough, it was even worse than we thought. We know it was not bad wind or a curious dog because not only is the baby Jesus missing out of the large Nativity scene on our church’s front lawn, but also the manger, a lamb, and one of the two signs advertising our Christmas Eve Service.

We believe that the Bible’s message about Jesus is true, so he is alive in heaven today and will return again. He is our king and we bow our hearts before the real Jesus just as the wise men and shepherds bowed down to him when he first came. So you can steal a figure, but you can’t steal the real Jesus.

As we shared about the loss on our church’s Facebook page, hoping somebody might find the figures thrown somewhere in town, it became obvious that this was a discouragement to more than our church family. The Nativity scene was a labor of love from a team of people from our church, attempting to share with our community the humble story of God coming down to live with us and redeem us.

So I want to say a few things to the person who tried to steal Jesus from us:

You can’t steal Jesus. We know that the figure was only a representation of what happened that first Christmas night. The Bible tells us that the real Jesus was not only born, God become flesh, but that he grew up and became a man who lived a perfect life, then died on the cross as a sacrifice for our sins and later rose from the dead. We believe that the Bible’s message about Jesus is true, so he is alive in heaven today and will return again. He is our king and we bow our hearts before the real Jesus just as the wise men and shepherds bowed down to him when he first came. So you can steal a figure, but you can’t steal the real Jesus.

You can’t steal our joy. It made my children and others sad to think of the figure of Jesus being the one stolen. But sadness can mingle with true joy, and this doesn’t take away our joy. Our joy is not dependent on traditions or circumstances. The manger scene can sit empty or we can look around at the difficulty in our country right now or even grieve losses like death or divorce and still have joy because our joy is dependent on knowing God through his son, Jesus Christ. The night before Jesus went to the cross he taught his scared disciples a truth we continue to hold onto: “You have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.” (John 16:22) The sorrow of the crucifixion was eclipsed by the joy of the resurrection. The sorrow of disease and sin in our world will one day be eclipsed by the joy of heaven. Giving invincible joy is one reason Jesus came.

You can’t take away the meaning of the Christmas story. The sign taken had the word “HOPE” in large letters above a representation of a nativity scene. The reason we believe that the coming of Christ brings us hope today is because of what the angel told Joseph, the fulfillment of an ancient prophecy: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel (which means, God with us).” (Matthew 1:23) Many today wonder where God is as they look at the sin in the world around them and the effects of sin on a world God had originally made perfect. But God isn’t aloof. He actually entered our world and wasn’t born in a palace, but found his first cradle in a feeding trough, a manger. This brings us hope today–that God cares, that God has come, that he is active today, that he loves us today, and that his promises in the Bible are true. The meaning of the original Christmas story is that God came to earth as a human. He didn’t come as we would have expected. His first worshipers were a poor young couple, foreign kings, and stinky shepherds. But he came in a way that shows his care for those who are discouraged and marginalized and down-and-out. This gives us a hope that can’t be stolen.

You are loved. Whether or not you return the figures or even can at this point, I want to tell you that you are loved. We have been praying for you, and not with hatred. We have been praying that a heart that would hate Jesus this much or not be aware of what the Christmas story represents would be a heart that would be broken in order to be healed with the unconditional love of the Jesus you tried to steal. Jesus interacted with thieves. There was one on either side of him on the cross. One mocked him, but the other believed in him. And Jesus told him, “Today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:43) He has that kind of power, to forgive sins and give eternal life. Jesus didn’t come for people who had it all put together, but for people who realize they are sinners and need God himself to enter our world to rescue us. That is how deep his love is, a love we can receive if we will come to him.

You can’t steal the real Jesus. But through this, we are praying that he might steal your heart.

A Thrill of Hope, the Weary World Rejoices!

This article will be featured in the December 25, 2020 edition of The Manchester Journal, our local paper.

You don’t need me to tell you that 2020 has been a year that has made us weary. Whether your weariness is social, economic, physical, relational, job-related, screen-related, or a combination of all of these and other reasons, “wearisome” is probably an apt description of your 2020. Experts talk about “pandemic fatigue,” but we might not even read their articles because we are fatigued of thinking about fatigue. While I was writing this article, a news notification popped up, “Can you get coronavirus from Christmas cards?” Mercifully, the basic answer is no, but one year ago who would have ever thought we would have this kind of low-grade stress constantly in the back of our minds? However you are celebrating Christmas this year, you and I are bringing all of that into this holiday season. In the midst of this weariness, however, there is one Christmas carol line that keeps coming back to my mind: “A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices!”

This line from O Holy Night is talking about a hope that is just as true and vibrant today as it was the night that Christ was born. The Bible tells us that two of the reasons that Christ came were to bring hope through personal peace today, and forever peace in heaven. We get wearied by our lack of personal peace. We wonder if there is a God who cares. We wonder if anything that happened in Bible times has anything to do with us today. Christmas reminds us that God cares, and God acts for us—today. The Gospel of Matthew explains the relevance of an ancient prophecy, written 700 years before Jesus in the book of Isaiah: “‘Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel’ (which means, God with us).”

The reason that Christians celebrate Christ’s birth is because we believe what the Bible teaches, that it marks the entrance of God into the world in human flesh. Jesus entered into our suffering world, and after living a perfect life of love, died on the cross at the time the Passover lambs were being sacrificed, as “The lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” (John 1:29) The Bible explains in Romans 5:1 why this matters today, after talking about Jesus’s death and resurrection:  “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” This is the gift of God to all who will receive it: our sins are paid for and we are accepted by God as our father. Because of Jesus we can live life knowing that God is for us and with us no matter what kind of suffering or what kind of year we are walking through.

But the message of Christmas doesn’t end with an earth that is so susceptible to viruses and suffering and sin. The thrill of hope isn’t just for now. The weary world rejoices because one day it will be made new. We celebrate Jesus’s first advent, his first coming, now, but the Bible promises that one day, he will come to earth again—his second advent. He will make all things new and create a new heaven and new earth where we will be safe from sin, and suffering, and death. This is God’s Christmas gift to us, encapsulated in the memorable words of John 3:16: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”

On Christmas Eve in 1871, during the Franco-Prussian War, an unarmed French soldier jumped out of the trenches, walked onto the battlefield, and sang the first line from O Holy Night in French. After he sang all three verses, a German soldier emerged and sang a popular German carol, “From Heaven Above to Earth I Come.” The story says that both sides then joined together in singing an Austrian carol. The battle stopped for the next 24 hours in honor of Christmas Day. Temporary peace was initiated by O Holy Night.

Wouldn’t it seem too good to be true if peace were initiated not just for 24 hours but for today and for eternity? The gospel always sounds like the best news you’ve ever heard once you understand it. That is the truth Christians celebrate at Christmas, that Jesus came to bring personal peace today, and forever peace in heaven. That is the best reason for a thrill of hope, and for a weary world to rejoice. In the weariness of 2020, may you find peace in Christ this Christmas.

The Engine That Drives a Good Marriage

This piece first appeared on The Gospel Coalition site.

“I do.” With those two words, my life was forever changed. It was a cold but sunny December afternoon. About 200 family members and friends smiled as the pastor who’d mentored me asked me if I would take Melanie as my lawfully wedded wife.

I still remember standing there in my suit, more excited than I’d ever been in my life, and experiencing something rare: a calm nervousness. I was calm because I was looking into my bride’s radiant eyes. But I was nervous because I knew I was stepping into something bigger than me. I knew my life would never be the same. My calm nervousness welled up into thrilled joy when she looked at me with a huge grin and exclaimed those two words as well.

We were married.

What I couldn’t articulate at the time, but what I’ve experienced day by day since, is that I needed the gospel to be a picture for my marriage but also the reality that supports my marriage. I wanted our marriage to point others to the gospel, but I also knew we’d need a power outside ourselves to sustain us over the long haul of covenant love.

What I needed, what I continue to need, what you need, is the gospel as a picture for marriage, resulting in marriage as a picture of the gospel, all sustained by God’s omnipotent strength.

Gospel Contemplation

God has created an incredible dynamic between the gospel and marriage. The gospel is for us to look at and emulate, but as we look at this incredible painting, an amazing thing happens. Our marriages begin to become a picture themselves that point others to the gospel.

This back and forth between the gospel and marriage is one reason that, in Ephesians 5:22–33, the apostle Paul seems to go back and forth between talking about marriage and the gospel. The two are intertwined by design.

You have to begin by looking to Jesus—to how God loves you in covenant relationship—before you can share this kind of love with your spouse. Because one aspect of the gospel is this incredible picture of the marriage relationship, we can grow in our marriages when we look to the love of Jesus for his bride.

I like to call this gospel contemplation, since basking in the rays of what Jesus has done for you and beholding the gospel in all its intricacies is helping you to better understand true covenant love. Every married person should think about questions like: How—specifically—does Jesus love the church? What is unique about the way he loves her?

Gospel Reflection

But you also need to see how your marriage is a picture of the gospel. I call this gospel reflection. A reflection in a mirror isn’t the reality, but it’s a good likeness of it. The mirror might be bright and clear, or smudged and dirty. But the reflection points to the reality just as our marriages point to the covenant relationship of God with his people. So we need to evaluate periodically what kind of picture of Jesus we are portraying in our marriages.

There is a problem I have every autumn. We live in Vermont, and I will see a mountain bursting with gold and orange and red, and try to get a photo with my iPhone 7. Invariably, it doesn’t even come close to capturing the jaw-dropping display of colored foliage. I need an upgrade to a real camera. I can see the beauty, but my equipment doesn’t have the power to reflect it.

You may feel the way I do about my smartphone camera when you think about trying to reflect the gospel in your marriage. You see its beauty, but you lack the equipment to accurately reflect it. So the problem, and the solution, is plain: you need Jesus in order to point to Jesus.

Trying to reflect God’s design for marriage without leaning into Christ is like trying to drive 75 miles an hour with your radio blaring and wipers going, but not stopping to put gas into your tank. Try loving your spouse like Jesus loves the church without returning to the source of gospel power, and your marriage will soon run out of gas. In fact, it’s like trying to drive your car without an engine at all.

I’ve noticed almost a direct parallel between my walk with Jesus and how I treat my wife. When I’m in the Word daily and talking to Christ in prayer, I tend to reflect more clearly his love for my wife. But when I’m surviving on spiritual fumes, it’s so easy for me to grow impatient, selfish, and rude.

The gospel is the engine for your marriage. So look to Jesus, and as much as possible, look to him together.

Absolute Certainty About Jesus AND…

This article was featured on the Baptist Convention of New England blog.

To be a Christian in today’s cultural context takes courage and commitment. When we are talking with friends, relatives, and neighbors about something as personal as what will happen to them after they die, it can sound strange and offensive to them that Jesus is the only way to Heaven.

But it will help us hold firm to our convictions if we remember that they and us trust that other people in our lives have absolute certainty about life or death situations all of the time.

  • A pharmacist better have absolute certainty about the pills that he or she is dispensing. I have a severe penicillin allergy, and a pharmacist giving me the wrong medicine could not only hospitalize me, it could cost me my life.
  • An engineer must have absolute certainty about every centimeter of a bridge that he or she is planning. A bridge on an interstate over a large river near where we used to live collapsed due to an engineering error. Two cars plunged into the river, cars piled up as they slammed on their brakes to avoid going in the water, and several people almost died.
  • A surgeon must have absolute certainty of what they are doing, especially before he or she operates on a vital organ like your heart! Can you imagine going ahead with surgery if your doctor explained, “I think that I know how to do this heart surgery. It just feels right–to me, anyway.”
  • An explosives expert in the army who is deployed in the Middle East must have absolute certainty about which wires to cut!

Given that we have no problem understanding that people need to have certainty in these life or death situations, we should not be surprised that Jesus says that He is THE way, THE truth, and THE life, and no one comes to the Father but through him (John 14:6). Since Jesus claims to be the God-man come from Heaven to bring us eternal life, it makes sense that he is certain about who he is and clear that he is the only way to Heaven.

If you can trust your heart surgeon, you can have absolute certainty in the Son of God.

As Christians, we need to be clear that we have absolute certainty about who Jesus is and what he claims to have done for us if we will trust him. Of course we still love our friends and family if they reject Jesus for themselves, but may they at least always be able to say that they know we have absolute certainty about Jesus being the only Savior. It’s the very least we can do for them.

The examples I gave that everybody in our society accepts as people who need to be certain about their jobs are not even as clear of a parallel as our certainty about Jesus because we know that pharmacists, engineers, surgeons, and explosive experts do sometimes make mistakes. They are only human. But Jesus is not only human.

We can have absolute confidence in him both for our eternal salvation and as the only hope for our yet unbelieving family and friends. As John the Apostle explained, “And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true; and we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life.” (1 John 5:20)

White As Snow, Though My Sins Were as Scarlet!

This post was originally published at The Cripplegate and later at For The Church.
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Have you ever looked at a blanket of freshly fallen snow and thought, “That looks good enough to eat?” Ask any kid, and they will tell you that it is. Ask any Vermonter, and they will give you a recipe. The ingredients are simple: freshly fallen snow, and pure Vermont maple syrup. It even has a name: “Sugar on snow.” As a Vermont pastor, I can tell you that we don’t scoop up snow like Ben and Jerry’s with every snowfall. Sugar on snow is especially popular during sugaring, when there is fresh maple syrup from the trees and snow still on the ground. This unique treat proves that snow can not only look good enough to eat, it can also be clean enough to eat!

Vermont is famous for its snowscapes, but when most people think of the land of Israel, snow does not come to mind. While not an every year occurrence in Jerusalem, snow is common enough in Israel that it is mentioned 24 times by the biblical writers. But there is one breath-taking word picture involving snow that comes from the lips of Yahweh himself.   Continue reading “White As Snow, Though My Sins Were as Scarlet!”

Autumn and the Beauty of Death for the Christian

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(Photo by Jeremy Thomas on Unsplash)

This post appeared on The Cripplegate.

I am a pastor in New England, and let me tell you–there is a reason people come from all over the country to see the Fall foliage. Here in New England, we call them “leaf peepers.” During peak leaf season, our sleepy tourist town of 5,000 goes into traffic-jam mode on the weekends. And with good reason. In our part of Vermont, we are surrounded by the Green Mountains on either side of the large valley we live in. When Fall really hits, there are a couple of weeks when the Green Mountains become the Orange, Red, and Gold Mountains.

We are currently easing into leaf season. There are bright bursts of brilliant crimson and orange on certain trees, but there is still plenty of green foliage that will have the chlorophyll leaving soon. Many leaves, however, are already floating to the ground. When a leaf falls to the ground, it is dead. The beauty of Fall foliage is death.

The Beauty of Christian Death
As I have watched the breathtaking hues begin to appear this Fall, I keep thinking about the fact that sometimes death is beautiful. In fact, for those who belong to Jesus, for those who are “in Christ,” death is always beautiful. “Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints” (Psalm 116:15). If the LORD calls the death of those he has saved “precious in his sight,” then it is beautiful.

I am a pastor. I am not naively saying that the death of those who are in Christ is without sorrow, or always happens painlessly in our sleep. Just this week I visited a member in a hospice home, suffering under the ravages of Alzheimer’s. I have sat and cried with spouses and children moments after their loved one has departed this earth, sometimes after a terrible battle with death. I have visited church members in the hospital who are in excruciating pain days before their death. Accidents happen to saints and sinners alike. Cancer can visit us all. The Apostle Paul calls death the “last enemy” (1 Corinthians 15:26).

No, I am not talking about Christian death being beautiful because it is somehow less physically painful or less final on this side of eternity than non-Christian death. I am talking about Christian death being beautiful because the gospel gives us God’s perspective on even our final enemy, death.

Going Home–The Joy of Jesus’ Presence
Last night in Prayer Meeting we sang, “When Christ shall come, with shout of acclamation, and take me home, what joy shall fill my heart.” Great gospel truths like this one from “How Great Thou Art” can become white noise to us if we don’t stop and think about the wonder of death being the door through which we are usually “taken home.” In 2 Corinthians 5:8 Paul reminds us of the joy of Jesus’ presence that awaits us by exclaiming, “Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord.” Death for the Christian is beautiful because it brings us to the place we were made for. We are only pilgrims now. We will finally be home with the Lord either when Jesus returns, or on the day that we die. This is why there is beauty in Christian death.

But there’s more. Four verses earlier in 2 Corinthians 5 we are told why the day of our death is the day of our greatest joy: “…so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life” (2 Corinthians 5:4). We think that we are really living life here and that one day we will die, but one reason that the death of the LORD’s saints is precious in his sight is because he knows that our death day is the day that we pass from mortality to life. The beauty in Christian death is that it is when we begin to really live, with the One we were made to live with, our Savior–not to mention saved family and friends who will meet us there. In Jesus, it is not death to die. This is why King David can sing, “in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16:11). It’s like arriving home to the family you love after a long trip–only a billion times better.

The Beauty of Fall and The Hope of Resurrection
Every time that I officiate a Memorial Service for a believer in Jesus, I feed my soul on 1 Corinthians 15 in the days leading up to the service. We need to weep as Jesus wept. We need to feel that death is so final on this side of eternity. But we need to remember that for the Christian, their death day was the most beautiful day they ever experienced.

And there is coming a day when Jesus will reveal that beauty to all of us. For on the day that he returns, the resurrection body given to each believer will be imperishable, glorious, and powerful (1 Corinthians 15:42-43)! “We shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2).

The beauty in Christian death is hard to see sometimes. Winter can be long and bleak. After the leaves fall, our trees will be barren here for over 6 months.

But lift your heads, brothers and sisters, because Spring follows Winter. It may be Fall now, but Spring time–and Resurrection Morning–is coming.

Only God Can Write a Story that Starts Out Perfect and Ends Better

Note from Pastor Tim: for privacy reasons, the names have been changed.

Words of Comfort from God’s Word at a Memorial Service in our Community

This afternoon, as I have the opportunity to bring you a message of hope from God’s Word, I want us to think about the basic message of the entire Bible in less than 10 minutes as we look at 4 movements in the Bible, just like a symphony has different parts or movements. Immediately as humans when we are faced with a tragedy like this, when it is forced on us that someone who we saw at the park a few days ago took his own life 2 days later, we want answers. I have heard many try to figure out answers over the last few days. What we do know though is that we will never have a final answer, except to accept that this is a choice that Sam made, and to not take responsibility ourselves. The immediate thought is, “If I had only known ______________.  Or if I had only done __________________.”

But the Bible gives answers for how things like this can happen. The Bible, as a message from God, faces reality. It does not gloss over the fact that we live in a broken world.

But this brokenness is not how it all began. The Bible begins with God, and God making a perfect creation. God created man and woman, and He created Adam and Eve in His own image. God set humankind apart because He simply spoke when He created everything else…but when He created man and woman, God touched them. He formed them with His own hands out of dust and the Bible says in Genesis that God breathed into them to give them their breath. This means that humans are different than any other part of God’s creation. We are made in God’s image. This means that every one of us in this room, whether elderly or disabled or healthy or in our 20s or in our 70s has meaning and a purpose in life. And that purpose, that identity is given to you by God Himself when you come to know God as your Savior through Jesus Christ.

But I am getting ahead of myself. The 1st movement in the Bible is Creation, and when God finished His work of creation He looked at it and said that it was, “Very good.”

The 2nd movement in the Bible is the Fall, and this is where sin and evil and suffering and brokenness enters God’s perfect creation. When Satan came to tempt Adam and Eve they had a choice to either obey God and to be His representatives on earth as they were made in His image, or to try to be King themselves and do things their own way. This rebellion against their Creator is when separation from God and suffering first began to happen, and it is the reason that we live in a world in which there is so much pain and hurt and tears.

From the moment that Adam and Eve sinned, the Bible explains how they no longer had a close relationship with a holy God and death even entered the world. Their own son Cain even killed his own brother Abel, and Adam now had to work hard to put food on the table and Eve now had pain in childbirth. Creation began to unravel. The rest of the Bible, from the moment of the Fall or sin entering the world in Genesis 3 to Matthew chapter 1 when Jesus comes on the scene, is a picture of what happens when people try to be King rather than letting God be King.

Then we have the 3rd movement of the Bible. First we saw Creation, then the Fall which answers why there is so much pain in the world today, then the 3rd movement is the Cross. Mark 1:1 explains it like this, “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” Do you know what “gospel” means? It is good news! It is not just any good news, it is an announcement of something that has been done for you.

Religion tells you that you have to do “x” “y” and “z” to be able to work your way back to God, but the gospel—the good news of Jesus Christ—tells you that Jesus has already done “x” “y” and “z” for you. The diagnosis for you and I is worse than we ever imagined. We are more wicked and evil than we ever imagined, but the good news is that we are more loved and important than we ever imagined. Jesus came to give us life, to give us forgiveness, to bring us to God. So Jesus lived for 33 years exactly like you would expect a man who is also fully God to live—healing, loving, caring for and teaching those who were the most rejected by the rest of society like the lepers and the sick as we read in the Gospels—doing miracles because He was fully God and the wind and the waves knew His voice. And then Jesus died on a cross to pay the punishment for your sins, the punishment you could never pay, and then He rose from the dead, to show that the price for your sins had been paid in full—and so that all who trust in Him alone for their salvation can become children of God.

Jesus brings us back to God! Jesus explained how He came to reverse the work of the devil in John 10:10, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” You see, we saw the Fall earlier. Satan comes to destroy, but Jesus comes to give life!

But it doesn’t end there. This is where the 4th movement of the Bible comes in, the New Creation. The Bible started out in a Garden, and at the end of the Bible there is a Garden in the capital city of Heaven, the New Jerusalem. Only God can write a story that starts out perfect and ends better.

Here is God’s promise for all who will trust in Jesus alone for their salvation, and accept that the good news of the gospel is that the work has already been done by Jesus: we just have to accept salvation and confess that we have sinned, and that we want Jesus to be our King and Savior, and ask Him to save us and help us to follow Him.

Here is what God promises for all who will do that, in Revelation 21: “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth…And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will be with them, and they will be His people, and God Himself will be with them as their God.” Do you notice how at the beginning of the Bible humans were made to be with God, but then sin separated us from God, Jesus came to bring us back to God, and then in the end we can be with God if we have trusted in Jesus?

God goes on in Revelation 21: “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.  And He who was seated on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new.’”  God will make everything sad come untrue.

Today, we wipe away our tears with Kleenex, but on that day God Himself will wipe our tears away. Will you be there? Have you asked Jesus to save you? It’s ok to shed those tears now. When Jesus was faced with his friend Lazarus’ death, Jesus wept even though He would raise him from the dead just a few minutes later.

One of the things that I will miss most about Sam is seeing him at the park. My family loves going to the Manchester Rec Park and in fact that is the last time that I saw Sam just over a week ago—we waved and smiled at each other. About 1 year ago, I was with my 2 youngest who loved seeing “Mr. Keene” at the park, and Sam stopped me and said, “Pastor Tim—I need to show you some things on my phone. Why do I keep seeing crosses everywhere?” And he showed me picture after picture of shadows of a cross that he would see in nature or somewhere. I told Sam that day what I beg you to believe today so that you can be part of this New Creation that God will create for those who believe in Jesus, “Sam, the cross reminds us of God’s love for us. Romans 5:8 explains, “…but God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.’”

Do you know God’s love? God wants to comfort you today, but you need to come to Him and trust in Jesus only.

Why We Actively Support a Local “Crisis Pregnancy Center”

Each Spring since my family and I arrived in Bellingham for me to be the Pastor of Family Ministries at Immanuel Bible Church, we have joyfully participated in the Whatcom County Pregnancy Center Walk for Life. There are many reasons to share about why we do this, but let me explain a few:

1) God cares about every life.   “For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb…Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.” (Psalm 139:13-14) Every time that God talks about the unborn or children in the Bible, it is positive. God is actively and personally involved in the unborn’s life—and the LORD calls them babies even before they are born (Luke 1:43-44, Jer. 1:5, Job 31:15, Is. 44:2, Job 10:8-12).

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The 2013 Walk for Life–with a few friends from our church!

2) Doing the Walk for Life is good for my kids. Our children are too young to understand abortion, but when we go to the Walk for Life and explain that we are there to help mommies be able to help their babies live, they understand that it is important. They also understand that our faith should not just be something we talk about, but something we try to act on as much as we can. We pray together before and after for the babies and their parents, and that they would find the hope of Jesus.

3) My kids being present at the Walk for Life is good for others. Whether they are people on the street that see us walking, or the single elderly man in our church who comes out to support the WCPC every year, having kids present at the Walk for Life is a reminder of why we are doing it. These are kids who were not aborted. There are children who should be in our community who are not because of abortion. In fact, the equivalent of this year’s graduating classes at both Bellingham High School and Sehome High School are surgically aborted every year just in our county—415 who would have graduated in the year 2033.

My wife Melanie and I actively support the work of WCPC because we care about what God cares about. After almost a decade serving in Youth and Family Ministry, we have known teenagers who lived with the regret of abortion and needed to understand God’s grace, and others who needed to understand God’s truth and grace as they were pregnant and needing encouragement to have their baby. The WCPC is a place where teens and women in our community that we would never have contact with on our own can go and hear both truth and grace.

Roe v. Wade happened six years before I was born. As Christians, we cannot let abortion become “white noise” to us simply because it has “always” been there. It is always the time to stand together for life. If a woman hears the Gospel for the first time in her moment of crisis and also decides to not abort because we raised pledges and arrived before 9am on a Saturday with our children in tow, then praise God! What a small sacrifice for a life and eternity-changing ministry.

As citizens of only four countries in the world that allow abortion for any reason after viability (North Korea, China, Canada and the U.S.), and as Christians, we must do something. In addition to the Walk for Life, Melanie has helped with a Baby Shower that our church hosted, attended the WCPC Annual Dinner, and I recently brought our High School Ministry to pray in front of Planned Parenthood and then pray in front of WCPC after a Bible study on what God thinks about the unborn. At this stage in our lives, we can’t personally be there to be the hands and feet of Jesus to the women and men who come into those doors scared and looking for answers. But we can support those who are the hands and feet of Christ there on a daily basis! And sometimes that is as simple as going for a walk.

*This article will appear in the WCPC April 2015 Newsletter.

Jesus Wept with Gospel Hope

The last ten days have found me thinking about mourning more than I ever have. Just last week a dear young wife and mother in our church family, the fathers of two different church members, and a young jungle pastor many in our church know all passed from this earth into Glory.  The grief was palpable in our church last Sunday, even as we worshiped and rejoiced.  There were many tears and there will be tears in the weeks to come.

Jesus’ words in front of Lazarus’ tomb, found in John 11, are one way to describe why we are sorrowful yet rejoicing (2 Cor. 6:10).  I often turn to John 11 when I think about death, partly because of Jesus’ riveting proclamation: “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” (Jn 11:25-26)

Rather than comforting words, you could see Jesus’ words to Martha as a riddle, spoken in her time of grief.  Why would he talk in what seems like a paradox?  What does he mean in one breath that those believers who die yet live, but in the next breath that those who believe will never die?  Wasn’t Lazarus already in the tomb?

Jesus so often amazes me.  We should expect to be amazed by God in the flesh, but sometimes we are surprised by His words of life.  Only One who can call Himself “Resurrection” and “Life” can talk this way.

Jesus lovingly acknowledged the fact that people–like Lazarus–die.  There is a finality felt by those who lose a loved one.  While we know that our believing friends and relatives who have died are experiencing nothing but gain (Phil. 1:21), we know that we are experiencing loss.  Do you hear His words?  “Whoever believes in me, though he die…”  Christians die.  And Jesus wept as He stood in front of that tomb with Lazarus’ grieving friends and relatives.  Jesus didn’t tell them to stop the funeral and have a celebration of life service; He entered into their suffering.

We cry.  Jesus cried.  But oh, how we love and cling to Jesus’ next words:  “…yet shall he live…”  Christians never die.  This is the “gospel paradox.”  Death is real, yet eternal life is oh so real.  Christians die, yet Christians never die.  Jesus said both truths in the same sentence.

It’s ok to call it a funeral (Ecc. 7:2).  It’s ok to say that death is an enemy (1 Cor. 15:26).  It is Christ-like to weep (Jn 11:35).

Raising_of_Lazarus.

But our weeping is temporary, just as Jesus’ weeping was.  Because we know that for those who are in Christ, “death is swallowed up in victory” (1 Cor. 15:54).  We know that for the Christian, what is mortal is “swallowed up by life” (2 Cor. 5:4).  We know that the same Lord who wept is the same Lord who will wipe away every tear (Rev. 21:4).  And we know that the same Lord who commanded Lazarus to come forth from the dead will joyfully command the dead in Christ to rise first (1 Thess. 4:16).  It is true–praise God that it is true–that because of Jesus, “it is not death to die.”

A Wonderful Tension: The Importance of Fathers and the Supremacy of Christ

As I think about Father’s Day approaching, I can easily think of areas in my parenting that I need refocus in.  Voddie Baucham Jr. helped me put my fatherhood in perspective this morning:

The role of men in their families is so important that God picture21honored it by conferring upon us his own title, Father.  We’re the governors and guides of our families, and the way we lead has far-reaching implications…I’ve watched families crumble under the weight of paternal neglect…I’ve watched households transform quickly as fathers take the helm and begin to lead and disciple their wives and children.  I’ve seen marriages healed as husbands begin to take seriously their duty to love their wives as Christ loved the church (Eph. 5:25) and to raise their children in the discipline and instruction of the Lord (Eph. 6:4).

The role of fathers in the family can hardly be overstated.  However, the supremacy of Christ is our fuel, our goal, and our comfort in this great duty.  Because of the power of the gospel and the past and present work of Christ, we can have strength to lead our families today, the vision for where we need to be leading our families, and the reality of forgiveness and help for where we have failed and when we will fail.  I need Jesus.  My family needs Jesus.  Baucham continues:

…The family is not the gospel; nor is the family as important as the gospel.  The family is a delivery mechanism for the gospel.

In Ephesians 5 and 6 the role of fathers loving their wives and discipling their children, the responsibility of wives to submit to their husbands, and the duties of parents to their children are all couched in terms that are unmistakable in their gospel-centeredness.  This is all about “Christ and the church” (5:32)…

…In the end, I want you to see Jesus.  I want you to see him in a way that drives you to pursue him personally and to keep him before your wife and children in a way that causes them to seek him as well.  In short, I want you to shepherd your family in the direction of the Good Shepherd.
(From Family Shepherds, pp. 11-14)

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