Category Archives: Jesus

The Day Between the Days

“Joseph of Arimathea, a prominent member of the Sanhedrin who was himself looking forward to the kingdom of God, came and boldly went to Pilate and asked for Jesus’s body.”
Mark 15:43

It was a toiling day and a grueling night. The Savior had died, confirmed by the Roman centurion. Jesus’ followers, distraught and scattered, had no plan, no focus, no unity, and little hope.

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Yet one unlikely man would be bold enough to lead out. Joseph of Arimathea, a man who Mark called “a prominent member of the Sanhedrin,” courageously asked for the body of Jesus for His burial. Pilate granted his request.

The place where Jesus was buried, a tomb cut in a rock, had never been used before. The clothing, linen freshly bought and carefully wrapped around Jesus, was His attire. Roman soldiers sealed the entrance and then guarded it against intruders. There was no doubt that Jesus was dead and there in the tomb He was buried.

This was the day between the days. It was a day of silence, a day of waiting between the first and the third days. For the disciples, it was likely the longest day of their lives as they waited and wondered about what was to come next in their lives. But God was still in control, His power ready to be miraculously displayed the next day. As we now know, the best was yet to come!

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Fire From Heaven

“When the disciples James and John saw this, they said, ‘Lord, do you want us to call down fire from heaven to consume them?’ Luke 9:54 CSB

What would cause these followers of Jesus to want to call down fire from heaven? Was it anger? Hatred? Pride? Yes, to all of the above. Add in the fleshly, prideful racism that existed at the time, and such a request was certainly possible, even likely.

They probably thought that those Samaritans, those “half breed” “semi-Jews,” well, they had no right to refuse to give a place to Jesus in their town. This ultimate insult, a violation of the courtesies of the day, was the worst possible slap in the face. Someone had to learn that this was unthinkable! Someone had to be taught a lesson!

Photo by Marcus Löfvenberg on Unsplash

Yet while the Sons of Thunder (that is, James and John) wanted fire from heaven to burn the Samaritans into submission, Jesus did something even more unthinkable: He turned the other cheek! He was not worried about the squabbles over protocol and custom, the blow to the ego, or the mean spiritedness of clueless people. No way! Jesus was more concerned about the work He was doing for the Father. He came to serve, after all, not to be served. And yes, to give a ransom for many, including those “pesky” Samaritans.

Today, let me encourage you to imitate Jesus in this way. Forget those petty, ego crushing words of poison from others or a perceived lack of respect from a person without a clue. After all, does all that REALLY matter in the big picture??

How Dare He?

“They laughed at him, because they knew she was dead. So he took her by the hand and called out, ‘Child, get up!’” Luke 8:53‭-‬54 CSB

This child was dead. They knew dead. They were well aware that the 12 year old girl in front of Jesus had passed away. So when Jesus proclaimed that she was only asleep, they laughed in mockery. How dare He say such a ridiculous thing?

Yet as they were chuckling and talking among themselves, Jesus focused on the girl. “Get up!” Jesus commanded. What came next was, well, miraculous: this girl, this dead girl in which all had been mourning over, this cold, ashen faced girl arose from the dead!

Luke, a doctor, knew full well that this type of work did not happen naturally. Dead is dead. Yet Jesus has the power over life and death, sickness and health, heaven and hell. He is God, and His power overcomes anything we see as an obstacle. We are not, and we need to trust Him for everything, from the seemingly impossible to the tiny things we think we can handle ourselves. It all belongs to Him!

How are you trusting Jesus with all things in your life? What do you hold back on?

Relief is coming

This morning, I continued my reading through Nehemiah and one thing that stuck out to me was his complete dependence on prayer. When he dared to approach the king of Persia, he prayed. When people tried to discourage him, he sent up a short prayer. When he saw injustices by the nobles towards the people of Jerusalem, he prayed a simple prayer that he is righteous with God and not self righteous. And when he called the people out on their sinfulness, he prayed a long prayer of confession and repentance. Nehemiah was one of the most successful leaders of his time and his prayers to the Lord are consistently recorded. The prayers were often nothing fancy, but they were usually simple, direct, and meaningful to his situation on a daily basis.

Even more, we can see how much he depended on God’s leading through his time in prayer. Praying for him was like breathing. As he prayed, God led, and as God led, he followed in prayerful obedience. As others attacked verbally and politically, he stayed focused and firm on the calling God had burdened on his heart. His principled leadership was only going to move in a different direction IF God moved him. Nothing more, nothing less. Either way, he knew that as he followed God, relief was coming to him in some way, shape, or form.

photo-1448550603489-a7e43b0da4d2Today, we have church leaders all over who are facing attacks. Some attacks have come from persecution and through threats. Others have come from some of the supposed sheep of the flocks they shepherd. I too have experienced this sort of man-centered garbage, yet I know that any response less than biblical is amounting to repaying evil with evil. Pastor, leader, deacon, friend, don’t respond with evil, respond to evil with good. Relief is coming, and it’s coming through the workings of the Lord.

You have a calling that God has burdened on your heart. Stay focused, stay firm, and stay prayerful constantly. The greatest tool you have is not your own words of wisdom or cunning man-centered politics, but your dependence on the One who fights your battles for you. Relief is coming, relief to continue your calling as you fight the battle for the souls of men. Stay encouraged, my friend!

Fran

Want to be Close to God?

Let me start by saying that we have rebellious hearts that make closeness with the Creator of the Universe just flat out hard to do. Oh sure, I know that we are saved by grace through faith in Christ, that we’re not coming to the Father except through the Son. Our prayers mean nothing until we know Him. I get that, and if you don’t know Christ in a personal relationship, you need to.

The closeness I am wanting to discuss is the way that a Christian interacts with the Father on a constant basis. I mean, is your intimacy with God a consistent, growing walk, or is it at an arms length, cold almost as, say a Facebook friend or work acquaintance? God did not intend for you to say “yes” to Him yet wave at Him from afar. To use some biblical metaphors, God wants the seedling faith He gave you to grow to be a tree planted by the water, with roots deep in the ground and fruit being produced.

And this happens through an intentional, intimate relationship with Him. So how? How can this be done?

To start, get close to Him through His Word and prayer. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy. In fact, you can stop what you are doing (like reading this) and take a moment and pray. It’s okay, this blog post will still be here. 🙂

Let me also mention this: Prayer is to be based on the Truth, the knowledge of Christ. We cannot have intimacy with the Father if we are not in His Word. Our prayers would be based on ignorant ramblings of a sinful, fallen heart rather than focused petitions of the Spirit. Therefore, start reading the Bible. Again, nothing fancy- read a Psalm a day as a start, then work up to a chapter or two of a gospel, or a reading plan available online. Start small, work to more intake and prayer.

Let me encourage you: Know Him, love Him, talk to Him, and interact with Him. Fruit will come of that. Your mind, heart, and spirit will be changed in Him daily and the wisdom of God will convict and change you. I am with Paul in the encouragement that you are strengthened in Him:

Now to him who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the proclamation about Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery kept silent for long ages but now revealed and made known through the prophetic Scriptures, according to the command of the eternal God to advance the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles —  to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ — to him be the glory forever! Amen. Rom 16:25‭-‬27 CSB

Even not knowing who would read this, I prayed for you before I posted this. My prayer was simply that you will be closer to God today than you were yesterday. Let’s start there and see what He can do. To God be the glory!

Fran

The Harvest

“The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field” (Luke 10:2, NIV).

harvestJesus saw what we are now seeing- that the fields are ripe for harvest. Millions of people are coming to faith in Christ annually and the mission fields of places like central Africa are now fully reached with the gospel. In fact, estimates show that almost half of all Christians will live in sub-Saharan Africa by the year 2060. Needless to say, the gospel is exploding around the world!

What does this mean for you? First, you can see your life differently. What you are doing can be a part of the Kingdom work! Whether you are a shoemaker or a carpenter or a doctor or a manager of a sales team, it doesn’t matter. What matters is your willingness to claim it for the gospel.

Second, get involved through your local church. Your Kingdom work should be done through the Bride of Christ. Pray for your pastor and for more workers. Be active in your church, serve others, and look to do things not for your own benefit, but for the benefit of His gospel.

My friend, you can be a part of the harvest. You are a part of the work of Christ. Now, take ownership of that and use whatever you do, for the glory of God.

Fran

What God Loves…

I’ve been in ministry for over 23 years now, and I can say that I have never been more encouraged to see God’s work than ever before. I have seen first hand several churches explode in worship attendance, in their disciple-making, and in ministry to the world around them. And there is a clear pattern: regardless of style, flavor, or culture, the churches which have a high view of the Word, challenge one another to holiness, and focus on discipling others in the Word are the ones that are healthy, stable, and growing. It’s amazing that I see very few exceptions to this rule. Yet these thriving churches exist all around as the light of Christ to the Midwest. This is so encouraging because it is clearly what God loves!

Of course, I also see the opposite, and yes, when I see this, I do grieve. Obviously, God doesn’t want unhealthy and declining churches. And unfortunately, just like I see a pattern in healthy, growing churches, I also see a pattern for unhealthy ones. In these churches, there are misguided people who focus not on the Word but on procedures, legalism, and even politicking. They place unceasing attention to the crisis of the day. They draw attention to the negatives and create divisions. They stir up trouble in the shadows of the hallways. And disciple making is reduced to an afterthought. The Gospel is secondary. The Word becomes a manipulative tool to attack others versus a revelation from God to live by.

And as we see in this text from Proverbs, God despises this practice:

“The Lord hates six things; in fact, seven are detestable to him: arrogant eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that plots wicked schemes, feet eager to run to evil, a lying witness who gives false testimony, and one who stirs up trouble among brothers.” Proverbs 6:16‭-‬19 CSB

These are tough words,yet this is a truth we need to be sober about: God doesn’t want discord or strife from within. He doesn’t want His Bride disgraced, destroyed, and disgusted. He doesn’t want the Family of God to be distracted, from the Great Commission and the work of making disciples. He doesn’t want hateful strife and stressful hate. He wants none of that. For those in the church that practice this, it’s kind of hard to differentiate them from those outside the church. And this certainly grieves God the Holy Spirit as it should grieve His godly saints. And if it isn’t grieving you right now, then, well then that’s just messed up. Sorry, but that’s true.

The good news is that there’s always a better way, a much better way. That way is a way of grace, truth, and love. Since the Bride of Christ is not to be a place that is focused on power, a focus should be on Christ, because, after all, power should be completely in the hands of the Lord who we worship.

And we as members of one another should do what is opposite of our fleshly inclination: a practice of full and complete submission in love. This means to follow the biblical pattern to lift up one another, to love one another, to believe the best in one another, and to build up one another. That is a way of grace. That is the way of Christ.

Want to see others come to Christ, grow in Christ, serve Christ, and share Christ in a way like never before? Then repent, get out of His way, submit to His leading, live for Him and help others to do the same as an act of worship. Love, and love some more. And then love again. Yes, even those who are hard to love. No ands, ifs, or buts.

Because that, my friend, is what God loves.

Fran

Pastor, Are You Chasing the Wind?

“Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind…” Ecclesiastes 2:11 NIV

I get to travel quite a bit to talk with church leaders across the Upper Midwest. I’ve spent time in all sizes of churches, from the smallest of urban or rural churches to the upscale megachurch with multiple sites and services. Although there’s been some great research done on growing churches, I can tell you for my own observation that there’s a difference between leaders who are growing on a foundation of Christ and those who are just “chasing the wind” through their own efforts. In fact, I have seen a few commonalities in healthy, growing churches regardless of the context or size. Let me give you a quick list with no order of importance:
  1. A commitment to expository preaching. I’ve seen some really good expository preaching in which the pastor will take a passage and allow the structure of the passage to be the basis of the message. He takes time to explain the passage and the context, both at the time that it was written and the application for today. This is sorely needed in our culture today.
  2. A clear path for discipleship. I am amazed at how many church leaders have no real idea on how to disciple believers on an ongoing, systematic basis. The healthy churches that I have seen know exactly how to take a new believer in Christ through a process of growth to become more like Jesus. Find a process and work it.
  3. An authentic love. One of my favorite pastors does not buy into the CEO mentality as he ministers to his congregation. He spends time with his people, he fervently prays for them, and he also takes time to study so that he can pour into them in his pulpit ministry. He has boundaries, but his people know that he loves them. By the way, he ministers to about 1,500 people in his congregation each week.
  4. A priority on missions and evangelism. Church members focused on going and telling usually don’t major on the minors in the inner workings of the church. They know that their leaders are Godly, praying, loving men of the word and they trust them. They are much less likely to micromanage day-to-day affairs in the church. They also see their leaders right next to them as they do some of the grunt work, as they go out on mission trips and as they share the gospel.

That’s what I’ve noticed. Note that I never talked about hype, worship style, or any “cool factors” related to ministry. That’s because these are secondary issues that usually don’t matter over the long run. In other words, I’ve seen healthy, growing traditional churches in the middle of a cornfield as well as healthy, growing, super contemporary, polished churches in a suburb. The point is that the church will change the method but not at a price.

And this brings me to the possibly convicting news. I’ve noticed plenty of unhealthy disasters where the leadership has tried to “chase the hype,” even going as far as compromising the message (intentionally or not) in order to somehow try to stay relevant with the culture. This includes turning to shallow material that a member can pop into their living room like a Netflix movie and call it discipleship. Or making major cultural changes in the church arbitrarily and without communication. Or discarding the basic foundations of teaching for children and replacing it with moralistic, hypercool content with a verse of scripture slapped on it) that focuses on fun instead of the Gospel. Fun is, well, fun, but let’s not abandon the treasure of the Gospel just to entertain people.

My message to you: stop chasing the hype. You’re not going to grow disciples by trying to be cool. Look at what you’re doing and allowing to be taught by word and by deed. Spiritual growth is a slow, steady, ongoing and patient process, so take your time with others just as God worked in you to make you more like Jesus. Yes, you can have content to help you in the process of growing disciples while still being relevant to the culture of your community. Yes, you can do some awesome and creative things outside of the box to reach people where they are. But don’t forget the fundamentals, okay? Remember, when the leadership is focused on the word, discipleship, love, and missions, God will use His Spirit to produce a great deal of fruit.

Otherwise, you’re chasing after the wind.

Fran

Your Struggle Is Worth It

Are you having a tough time as of late? Join the club! Scripture is pretty clear that we have to struggle in life. And it doesn’t help when someone says something like, “Oh, God is trying to teach you something!” It’s almost like, “God, please teach me less then!” I get it, life can hurt and hurt a whole lot on this side of glory.

But let’s look at the benefits of the struggle. Like a butterfly flapping rapidly to pump blood into its new but shriveled wings once it exits the cocoon, growth can be tough, tiring, and even terrifying. Yet good things can come of it! Even more, when we are in God’s Word and applying God’s Word to our lives, allaof a sudden, our struggles make a bit more sense. It’s a process that God the Holy Spirit uses: We struggle, we pray, we read, we apply, we repent, we worship, we grow.

Here’s another example, the growth of Moses through the time line of the Scripture: Moses was a bumbling, stumbling fool, given to impulsiveness and stupidity which affected him for years. He killed a man and was forced to leave Egypt. He saw a burning bush and went up to see it (and was this a good idea?). When God first gave him the command to save His people, Moses balked and made excuses. But as he matured in the Lord, he went from being a man of “slow lips” (and needing Aaron to speak) to becoming a man who would speak out to Israel with his own God-empowered lips. It was a slow, steady growth in his discipleship, so much that when Aaron performed his own acts of stupidity, Moses was able to rebuke him, too.

And he was humble, so much that he was called the most humble man that ever was. This Moses, this proud, impulsive, even possibly arrogant Moses, became a man that God could use, a man who loved God’s people and rescued them from their enslavement. He struggled, yet God took him through it and did incredible things that glorified God and prepared the way for the Promised Land.

How about you? Are you struggling? I know it’s hard to hear, but God really might be teaching you something. He wants you to be wise in Him, to glorify His Son, and to serve Him to make His name known to all the earth. Get in His Word, worship Him in a community of believers, and let God work His will in you. ☺️

We struggle, we pray, we read, we apply, we repent, we worship, we grow.

Fran

The Gospel According to Jacob

This morning as I continued to read through scripture, I found a little gem in the midst of all of the goings-on between Joseph and his brothers. It is the blessings and curses that Jacob gave to his sons. This is more than a dying man’s words, these words are the words of life. Here’s what he said:

“The scepter will not depart from Judah or the staff from between his feet until he whose right it is comes and the obedience of the peoples belongs to him. He ties his donkey to a vine, and the colt of his donkey to the choice vine. He washes his clothes in wine and his robes in the blood of grapes” (Genesis 49:10‭-‬11 CSB).

These words are clearly a prediction of the Christ! Look at it again: the scepter will not depart from Jesus, there’s a prophecy of the donkey and the colt. Even more, we have the sacrifice of Christ as seen by the washing of his clothes in wine, language that suggests the coming atonement. What a blessing to see that this prediction would be fulfilled almost 2000 years later and still applies to us today!

What’s the point? We can remember that God is the same yesterday today and tomorrow. His promises of yesterday are true today, and they are true for your future.

This is the gospel according to Jacob, a gospel more fully revealed as we get closer to the cross. Most of all, however, this is the gospel of Jesus Christ that can change your life.

Thank you, Lord, for your wisdom in Your one big story of the Bible. ☺️

Pastor Fran