To Marvel & Mend this Christmas

To Marvel & Mend this Christmas
December 2017
Samantha Krieger
 
The shepherds’ desire to see this sign was no Sunday stroll in the park. I can just imagine them running as fast as they could, sweating, hearts racing, maybe even stumbling through the fields because it was night.
I can imagine their hearts pumping through their chests as they reach their destination and look Mary, Joseph, and Jesus in the eye for the first time. I doubt many words were uttered on their part but just sheer amazement. And this amazement could only lead them to make known what they had just seen.
The glory of God had just come down from heaven- a shining light in the midst of evil and darkness. Love had come down to save them and set them free from their sins. God had chosen them- lowly shepherds- to be the first to see this humble King lying in a manger.
 
They couldn’t help but spread the news that Peace was here. They shared the news to everyone and it spread far and wide.
“And all those who heard it marveled at those things which were told them by the shepherds.” (Luke 2:18)
But not only that, all the hearers of this good news marveled too.
And it’s this word “marvel” that jumps out at me today. It’s a word that I can’t skip over when I’m reading Luke’s account of Christ’s words and works.
Do I marvel at the gift of God sending his son Jesus down to this earth to save us? Has this good news so impacted my life that others see it and believe it as well?
Have I taken the time in these days leading up to Christmas to sit, reflect, be still and marvel at the mighty, mysterious works of God?
 
Because truthfully, I know there is a marveling that needs to be done in my own heart that has yet to happen. And there is a mending of brokenness needing to be done too. Both of which require God’s hand to awaken and heal.
And then I am reminded again of why Jesus came…
“The Spirit of the Lord God is upon Me, Because the Lord has anointed Me To preach good tidings to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to the captives, And the opening of the prison to those who are bound; To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord, And the day of vengeance of our God; To comfort all who mourn, To console those who mourn in Zion, To give them beauty for ashes, The oil of joy for mourning, The garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; That they may be called trees of righteousness, The planting of the Lord, that He may be glorified.” (Isaiah 61:1-3)
I want to see Jesus for who He is. To know him more. To put him first. To share his love to everyone he puts in my path. But I have to understand that this can’t be accomplished in my own strength. It has to be his mighty work through me for his glory.
Like the shepherds, when we see Jesus for who he really is, we are changed forever. Light pierces through our darkness. Our lives are radically different. And we can’t help but desire to see that change in other people too.
May you experience His light in a way you never have before this Christmas.
Samantha Krieger


U-Turn: A Signpost for the Spiritual Journey

U-Turn: A Signpost for the Spiritual Journey
November 2017
Jeremiah Krieger
 
God’s love for His people is unlike any other love that I have ever witnessed in my life. Throughout the message of the prophets, we can see God practically begging His people to return to Him- not in a desperate sort of way, but in a way that demonstrates deep concern and yearning for their well being. God’s love for His people is truly remarkable.
 
In Zechariah 1:3, the Lord said to His people, “Turn to me.” God wanted his people to return to Him with their whole heart. As I read this, echoes of God’s covenant with Israel ring throughout my ears. In Deuteronomy 30:1-3, the Lord promises Israel that when His people are taken into captivity in far away lands because of their disobedience, if they turn to the Lord and obey him with their entire heart, mind and being, then He will have pity on His people and reverse their captivity! In other words, God said that if His people were ever found lost and lead to captivity in distant lands, then the only way back was to do a spiritual U-turn.
 
When Zechariah prophesied, his purpose was to challenge returned exiles to return to the Lord so that they can be cleansed of their sins and once again enjoy the Covenant blessings. His message was, “return to me.”
 
Repentance is the U-turn for the heart that is lost in captivity from sin. Even believers today can get caught up in sin and cause immense pain in their life. We have all had that even after professing Christ as our Savior.
Today when believers fall into sin, the way that sin is dealt with is different than how it was dealt with in the Old Testament, but God’s appeal to us still remains. Hebrews 4:16 says, “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”
 
Today a believer enjoys relationship with God through Jesus Christ.
Christ’s blood covers his sins past, present and future. His standing before God is eternally secure in the New Covenant. However, sometimes we make decisions that hurt ourselves and others. There can be a time when sin takes us farther than we want to go, keep us longer than we want to stay, and cost us more than we want to pay. It is in these moments when we can be assured of two certainties: 1) God loves us and his blood covers over all our sin 2) God wants us to return to him with all our heart.
Therefore, no matter how far removed from God we might find ourselves, not only do we have the opportunity to be reconciled back to right relationship with God, but that is exactly what God wants us to do. God’s promise always remains for any remnant of people who trust in Him. If you have found your heart distant from God, what are you waiting for? Return back to Him!
 
Blessings and Happy Thanksgiving,
 
Pastor Jeremiah


Simple Faith

Simple Faith
October 2017
Jeremiah Krieger
Do you ever find yourself confused trying to figure out just what God wants from you when you decide to follow Jesus? Have you ever felt overwhelmed or exhausted with Church life? Do you ever feel guilty because you don’t feel like you’re doing enough, even when you’re doing so much for Jesus?
If you answered “yes” to these questions, then chances are you might be making your walk with Jesus more complicated than it needs to be. When Jesus bids us to come to Him, he is not asking for an open ended commitment to leading and building church programs. He is asking us for something far greater: to be fully devoted to Him.
Being a fully devoted follower of Christ doesn’t require us doing more for Jesus. It requires Jesus doing more for us through the sanctification process of the Holy Spirit. 1 Corinthians 6:11 reminds us how the Holy Spirit is the agent who works on us so that Jesus can work through us: “But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” The longer we follow Jesus, the more available we will become to Him, and the more He will continue to work through us.
Yet, if we gathered every believer from our church together in a room and asked a question, “What does it mean to be fully devoted to Jesus,” we would likely find out that everybody has a slightly different answer. We would discover that we have made the faith more confusing than it needs to be. Some of us are spending too much time doing too much work and getting burned out because we want to please God. Others are doing too little and are spectators rather than players in the game…
If we are going to be fully devoted to Christ, we might want to rethink our spiritual habits and to what we are devoted. We each have 168 hours per week. We each have natural gifts and talents. We each have resources that we are called to steward for the glory of God. How can we maximize our stewardship for God’s greatest glory and our greatest good?
There are 3 hours of our life that we should consider devoting completely to Christ— no if’s, and’s, or but’s. I believe that if we are willing to devote these three hours to Christ and to defend them at any cost, not allowing anything else to dislodge their use, then we would see a remarkable transformation in ourselves and an awakening in our church and community.
The first hour that we should unequivocally devote to Christ for His glory and our good is in God’s grace through corporate worship. Meeting together regularly is normative for disciples of Jesus.
When we follow Jesus, we become part of a body. We become part of something much greater than ourselves. Being part of the Church is not optional in the faith. You can’t say “I love Christ,” but hate the bride. You can’t say, “I’m devoted to Jesus,” but not be devoted to his people. Over and over throughout the New Testament we see how we are grafted in to Christ and are used to serve others. Being part of the Church is also how Christ grows us.
If your devotion to Christ is measured by your devotion to the Church, how are you doing? Corporate worship on Sunday mornings is an opportunity to be reminded of Christ’s faithfulness and to remind others of the same. It is an opportunity to express gratitude to God through songs, tithing, and service— all of which evangelize and declare to unbelievers that we truly believe that life is found in Jesus Christ.
Second, we should unequivocally devote an hour to Christ by growing with each other. Too often people come as spectators rather than players. Have you ever watched the Broncos score a touchdown and then turned to your spouse or friend and gave each other a high five or slap on the bottom like it was you who scored?
 
There is a remarkable difference between a spectator and a player. Both perform the same actions (high five and a slap and cheer) when their team scores. But only the player is engaged in the game. Only the player will get the reward. The same is true with the disciple. Scripture calls us to be devoted to each other. Romans 12:10 says, “Be devoted to one another in love.” In John 13:34, Jesus told his disciples, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
 
If your devotion to Christ is measured by your devotion to each other, how are you doing? Showing up on Sunday morning, singing a song, paying tithe, and listening to a sermon are all part of following Jesus. However, when we are called to Christ, we are called to abiding relationships with each other. If we don’t intentionally meet together for the purpose of edification and practicing the “one anothers” of Scripture then you are playing more the spectator than the player.
 
In the Epistles we will find the words “one another” joined together 45 times when speaking of our devotion to other believers for the purpose of deliberately building up their lives. Practicing discipleship through small groups is instrumental in spiritual growth. It is instrumental in finding freedom from sin. It is instrumental in aiding believers in their full devotion to Christ. It is the practice field where the team is built up and prepared for the game.
 
Third, if everyone in our church devoted one hour of service per week to Jesus by serving in a church ministry, it would result in personal growth and the corporate growth of our church. This past spring we did a series from 1 Corinthians 12 called, “Gifted.”
We have all been given unique gifts, aptitudes and abilities that only we can do, and nobody else. We all have something to offer the body of Christ. If we do not serve the Church, we are hurting both ourselves and the Church.
 
If your devotion to Christ is measured by your devotion to serving the Church, how are you doing? Devoting time to serve with the Church is normative behavior in the life of the Christian. In fact, in 1 Corinthians 12:1-2, Paul goes as far as to say that he doesn’t want us to be uniformed about our spiritual gifts. The implication is that those who do not use their gifts to serve the Church are those who are using their gifts to serve mute idols. Jesus said we cannot serve both God and money. He is calling us to singular devotion to him.
 
Understanding what Christ is calling us to is essential to the faith. It is essential to know what Christ is actually calling us to if we are going to actually follow Him— either as an individual or as the Church. Following Jesus wasn’t intended to be confusing. When Jesus saw Simon and Andrew casing their nets at the sea, he said, “Follow me.” Andrew and Simon got up and followed Jesus. That’s what all the disciples did. They left what they were doing and followed Jesus.
 
In Matthew 28:18-20, Jesus calls us to make disciples. Disciples are made, not born. In the discipleship process we need to make it clear what it looks like to follow Christ. It doesn’t have to be that hard. We all have 168 hours in the week. We are all called to follow Christ. It doesn’t have to be that complicated. If we want to follow Jesus, we should definitely start first by devoting an hour each week for corporate worship together, an hour each week for growing together in abiding friendships that spur each other on to follow Christ more, and to devote one hour per week of serving alongside each other with the Church.
 
Devote that time to Christ and watch him change your life. Devote that time to Christ and watch him transform this church and our community. It really is that simple.
 
God bless you,
 
Pastor Jeremiah


Anchored in Christ

“And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.”- Hebrews 11:6

 

Nearly 12 years ago, Samantha and I said, “I do,” and raced off to our honeymoon on the beautiful beaches of Hawaii. Since we believed that this could be a once in a lifetime experience for both of us, we decided to do every excursion and tourist attraction that we could possibly afford.

 

After experiencing a luau, helicopter ride, beautiful beaches, and much more, we decided to try out a catamaran tour we read about in the pamphlet we found in our hotel room. We looked forward to our journey on the north side of the island where we could see dolphins and whales up close in the ocean. Soon enough, we found ourselves living the dream.

 

It was beautiful. We saw dolphins jump in and out of the water. We were able to see the spray of a whale out off in the distance. But it wasn’t long before the choppy waves on the north shore caught up to us. Samantha and I turned 50 shades of green and we desperately needed something to anchor us in place. We really wanted solid ground.

 

An anchor is a person or thing that provides stability or confidence in an otherwise uncertain situation. The tossing of the boat made us sick that day several years ago. Today, we all experience things in life that can get us even more stirred up. Whether it is uncertainty in your finances, difficulty in a relationship, or changes in your life in the home, at work or at church, it doesn’t take much for an upset to occur. Is there a person or thing that can provide stability or confidence in our otherwise uncertain situations that we might face this day, week, month or year?

 

The answer to that question is, “yes!” There is an anchor for the soul to give us peace in the turbulence of life, and that is the person Jesus Christ (Heb. 6:19). At the heart of the Christian life is trusting the love of God that is demonstrated through the redemptive work of Jesus Christ.

 

Jesus Christ is the preeminent expression of God’s love to us. We must accept the love of God by receiving the blood of Jesus as our sacrifice and payment for sin. It also means that we find our acceptance and worth in life in the place of God’s love. Trusting God’s love is the highest priority in the Christian life.

 

In other words, we must have faith. Without faith, it is impossible to please God. Faith, this abiding trust in God, is the essential and non-negotiable requirement to having favor with God. At the heart of faith is believing that God wants to bestow favor on you despite your sin and brokenness. That can be hard to swallow when we carry such an enormous amount of guilt and shame before Him, but that is exactly what faith means for our life. Faith is the act of going to God because we are certain that we have been set free from sin by the blood of Jesus, and we are no longer captive to sin.

 

Faith is motivated by the promise of reward. Our greatest reward is Christ, but He promises us that he will supply all our needs according to His riches in glory (Philippians 4:19). In fact, one of the emotional and intellectual obstacles that must be overcome in our hearts before we are ever willing to detach the anchors of our souls from idols and onto Christ is that His reward and promise is much greater than what we are offered by our idols. The motive to anchoring on to Christ is the promise of His rewards.

 

That might not sound right, but that is what His word teaches us in Hebrews 11:6. Not only is this theologically true, but it is also true when applied to life. The only way that we will overcome our addictions and idols in life is when we believe that the promise of what Christ offers has a much greater reward than what the promises of pornography, alcohol, destructive anger, legalism, materialism and idol after idol offers.

 

Part of the vision statement of our church states, “…in Christ, we pursue a better way to live.” In other words, our vision is to be a gathering of believers who increasingly detach our soul ships from anchors of idols that don’t keep us stable and to attach ourselves to the anchor of Christ.

 

If your life is being rocked back and forth by troubles in this world and changes that are happening around you that are not within your control or approval, then I would encourage you to examine yourself. Test yourself and see whether you are in the faith (2 Cor. 13:5). See what you are trying to be anchored with.

 

For some of us, our anchor might be the comfort of a relationship that looks the way that we wish for it to look. It might be for church and the worship experience to be something different. It might be more money in the bank. It might be to have our job turn out a certain way. But what happens if these circumstances don’t turn out to our favor? They will disappoint and we will be like a catamaran drifting in choppy waters.

 

I pray that you and I will increasingly stay anchored to Christ, especially during uncertain times in life. Our idols offer a promise of comfort, security and hope. But they always disappoint. Jesus also offers comfort, security and hope, yet his promises never disappoint (Matt. 6:25; Josh. 1:5; Ps. 37:25; 2 Cor. 4:9). Which anchor will you trust? One that has abandoned you over and over again, or Christ who has demonstrated His love to you by laying down his life for you, even when you were still a sinner (Rom. 5:8)? As for me, I choose Christ. How about you?



Tradition

Acts 26:22, And so, having obtained help from God, I stand to this day testifying both to small and great, stating nothing but what the Prophets and Moses said was going to take place.

When I was young, my family had several traditions. On thanksgiving, we would have a big turkey dinner with extended family. On Christmas Eve we would always get to open one gift, and it usually ended up being pajamas. On Easter we dressed up to go to church, and when we could afford it we would go out to eat. I loved these kinds of traditions.

In Christianity there are also traditions. Different churches have different traditions. Here at FBC, we have a rich tradition of celebrating Easter and Christmas with special songs and decorations. The order of our service and the celebration of the Lord’s Table carries on a tradition in this church. In more practical areas, the saints of this church have a legacy of generosity and service. Traditions like these are often beautiful ways to convey the Gospel and a special reminder of God’s goodness in our life.

But something else to think about is that the Faith itself is traditional- not because of church activity (I.e. what kind of music is sung on Sunday morning or how people dress) but because of beliefs. True faith is rooted in tradition. When Paul argued his defense before his accusers, he argued that what he proclaimed was nothing more than tradition of the faith. The testimony of Jesus Christ was rooted in the Prophets and Moses.

It is not a new rabbit that Paul pulled out of a hat. It was historical tradition. Today, if a church does not carry tradition in this way, it is not a church. Core doctrines are fundamental traditions of the church, worth dying for. The Apostle’s Creed is a sum of historical traditional truth that should be present in every church:
 

I believe in God, the Father almighty,

creator of heaven and earth.

I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,

who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,

born of the Virgin Mary,

suffered under Pontius Pilate,

was crucified, died, and was buried;

he descended to the dead.

On the third day he rose again;

he ascended into heaven,

he is seated at the right hand of the Father,

and he will come to judge the living and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit,

the holy catholic Church,

the communion of saints,

the forgiveness of sins,

the resurrection of the body,

and the life everlasting.

Amen.

 

Christianity has a rich tradition of being outwardly focused and self sacrificial, pursuing others with the love of Christ and for the sake of the Gospel. May God help us to live for the tradition of the Faith and not the traditions of our preferences.

When we uphold our tradition in order to communicate and celebrate the Gospel, we should consider the outcome. If in the pursuit of our traditions we neglect to show love to others, or if it becomes unhelpful in accomplishing the mission and vision that God has given to our church, then we might pray about changing and starting a new tradition that will help us to accomplish the work that we have been given.

I enjoyed our different traditions growing up. They were fun moments we enjoyed together as a family. In some ways they defined us. In the same way the foundational beliefs of the Church are a tradition that define the Church. Every true Church by definition is traditional. They carry on the beliefs and practices of Christianity in various forms.

Take a moment and reflect on some of your favorite traditions growing up and some of your favorite traditions of this church. Give God thanks for the many good memories and experiences you’ve shared with others through the traditions you have celebrated. Ask God to help you to continue in traditions that are helpful and to show you if there are new traditions that you might start as a celebration of His faithfulness. 

 

Blessings,

Pastor Jeremiah



The Link Between Our Faith and Our Works

            Last month, I wrote about what God really wants from us: a transformed heart. I also wrote that God will reject those who claim the name of Jesus but do not do what is right. On the surface, this implies that we are saved by our works, but that is absolutely not true. Saving faith, being declared legally righteous in God’s sight and finding acceptance by him comes alone through trusting Jesus (Romans 5:1). So, how then is “doing right” related to our salvation?

            First, we need to realize that we cannot muster up the strength to just “do right.” The kind of heart transformation that we need is only accomplished by God when we trust Jesus. God continually demonstrates His works before us so that we will come to fully trust Him. In John 6, Jesus told the crowd that the work of God they witnessed (the miracles Jesus performed), was so that they would believe in Jesus as Savior.

            This is not to say that the only work from us that God wants is that we believe in Jesus, but that the work of God for us (his continued demonstration of his miraculous power and faithful love in our life) is for the purpose of wooing us to trust His love for us in Jesus. In other words, we come to believe Jesus in all that He declares about Himself and who He is and what He has accomplished on the cross and will accomplish in our future. Or to state it another way, we are freed to worship God with our wills and our lives. We are freed from our slavery to dead objects and dead pursuits to serve our new master, the living God. What a great privilege and high honor!

            The Bible teaches that once we are saved, we are not free to continue to walk in sin (Rom. 6:1-2). In fact, we are actually obligated to be good. In John 14:15, Jesus says, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.” Also, 1 John 2:3 says, “And by this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments.” If we know Jesus as our King, and we respect His position and authority and believe his promises, we will both be right (because the shed blood of Jesus has cleansed us) and do right (because we are compelled to serve our King). This behavior change is the result of the Holy Spirit accomplishing what God promised us in Deuteronomy 30:6: “And the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live.”

            So the reason it is important to pay attention to our works is because there is a link between what we do and what we believe. Our beliefs are the foundation of our works. Faith is the seed from which our works grow. That’s why Jesus taught the crowd in the sermon on the mount that saving faith is recognized by its fruit (Matthew 7:15-20). This is both a quantity of life issue (true salvation that leads to eternal life) and a quality of life issue (finding freedom from hurts, habits and hang-ups that hurt us).

            Regarding the quantity of life, true saving faith has eternal benefits. True believers will enjoy eternal years of blessing in God’s eternal Kingdom where we will forever worship and serve Him, and also to be able to enjoy the fruit of our labor. Eternal life with our eternal King will be filled will endless blessing and joy that is unparalleled to what we know in this short life (Romans 8:18-24). That promise is guaranteed to those who believe in Jesus as their savior, and it can never ever be taken away or lost (Romans 8:31-39).

            Regarding the quality of life, people who have true saving faith will experience a better way of life that offers benefits which transcend even the most extreme suffering and pain this world brings. However, for those who have experienced saving faith but continue to walk in sin, that quality of life will eventually greatly diminish— even when it seems as though people who walk in sin sometimes appear to be successful. The Psalmist lamented this problem in Psalm 73. People who experience true saving faith but continue in sin and fail to serve God will experience the Lord’s discipline. This is what the writer assures us in Hebrews 12, and the Psalmist finds peace about it in Psalm 119:75, and where the sage finds hope in Proverbs 3:12.

            Additionally, when we have saving faith, over time we learn to trust the love of Jesus more and more. As we do this, we should increasingly give up vices that we once turned to during times of stress, difficulty, or boredom and find satisfaction and freedom in Jesus. This process of maturing in the faith (or you can say, “Increasing in trust”) is called sanctification. In sanctification we grow to devote our time, talents and treasures to Jesus. In sanctification, we come to increasingly find satisfaction and contentment from a relationship with God. An increase of this kind of faith will produce fruit that is revealed in our character (Galatians 5), in our countenance (John 4), and in how we use our resources (time, talent & treasure: Matthew 25).

            Living life with an unchanged heart is dangerous because the Lord rejects the worship of the one who claims His name but has a hardened heart. Not only that, but sometimes some of the most scathing discipline can come in the form of when the Lord lets us walk in our sinful desires. Consequences to our choices can be the unbearable pain that the Lord might use to turn us back to Him (1 Corinthians 5:1-5). Our desperation in pain can be the solemn assurance of the Lord’s discipline and thus our salvation (Hebrews 12:3-8). God loves his children too much to continue to let them stay in sin.

            When we have continual hypocrisy (the practice of claiming to have moral standards or beliefs to which one’s own behavior does not conform) in our life, we can be assured of one of two things. Either we know God and are not walking in a way that brings blessing, and consequently will experience the Lord’s discipline. Or, if we habitually live without bearing true fruits of saving faith in our life, we may be proving that we never really knew God. The seeds of saving faith will increasingly yield the fruit of that faith. God will prune us to make us more fruitful. He is interested in receiving the fruit of our worship. The seeds of unbelief will produce fruits of the flesh that God rejects (Galatians 5:19-21). That is why Paul exhorts the church at Corinth, “Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you–unless, of course, you fail the test? (2 Corinthians 13:5).”

            So, if you have struggled in sin (or habitually producing the fruits of sin) like I have before, you might want to ask, “Am I really saved?” That is, have I ever come to trust in Jesus as my personal Savior? If the answer to that is “no,” then begin to trust Him with your will and life now. Take a moment to confess your sin and ask for forgiveness and accept his grace. If the answer to that question is “yes,” then you should believe that Jesus’ blood covers your sin and trust in the salvation that God has provided. You should look for the root of your sin and ask Jesus, “where am I not trusting your love or where are there idols in my life?” When he shows you these, turn away from those idols and find your love, value, and acceptance in Jesus.

            Thank you for taking the time to read this letter that is longer than normal. The relationship between faith and works is something that has created great confusion in the Church for generations, but it is something we need to get right because it is a matter of eternity and a matter of our welfare here on earth and potential as a Church. Let’s get it right and keep God first in our life as a result of so great a salvation!

 

Blessings,
 
Pastor Jeremiah


Why your Praise Matters

“…Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise.”  James 5:16 

Authenticity is central. Authenticity is essential. Whether it is knowing what you have discovered or purchased is real gold, or you wonder if you have genuine tickets to the Broncos game, or whether the cash you pulled out of the bank is genuine, there are endless pursuits in our life that are established on the promise of authenticity.

We live in a society that treasures authenticity. Former child actor and leadership expert Lance Secretan says, “Authenticity is the alignment of head, mouth, heart, and feet — thinking, saying, feeling, and doing the same thing — consistently.” Whether it is buying groceries at the store, clothes for our body, or parts for our car, we want to know that the brand on the package is going to match the product that we purchase. The same is true when we call ourselves Christians or gather as a church.

Your praise matters because it is one of the hallmarks of someone who has been radically transformed by Jesus Christ. Recently, Thom Rainer (Current president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources) noted that millennials are seeking 3 things in their worship experience when the church gathers: meaningful words, quality worship service (things done well), and authenticity. Rainer notes that, “millennials can sense when congregants and worship leaders are going through the motions. And they will reject such perfunctory attitudes altogether.”

Personally, in my experience growing up in a multi-generational church and through experiences at every church I have attended, I believe that the traits of millennials are not unique to that generation. I imagine that everyone craves authenticity in worship. Authenticity in worship can only come when what comes out of our mouth (what we proclaim about God in song) matches what is happening in our life (a heart that has been truly redeemed by God).

When we declare praises to God and before others about his qualities and works, it must come from personal experience of cheerfulness brought about by God’s attributes and works at work in our own life— especially in a small town where everyone has the privilege of seeing the dirt in our lives. When we do not experience cheerfulness that is available by the hope of Christ— even through difficult times of grief, if we sing praises, then what is coming out of our mouth does not match what is going on in our life. And it is glaringly obvious to those around us.

This matters because praise is not only to God, but it is also before others. Praise before others also reveals that we are cheerful because of Him. Our praise literally points others to God. So if what we sing is not authentic to what is in our life, it is impossible to hide. What is in our head, mouth, heart and feet, if one of them is out of alignment, then we would say it is inauthentic. Or to state it another way, when someone sings from a heart that is not truly changed, they are lying to God and others. God always knows. The people around us usually do too.

Being inauthentic is one of the fastest ways to kill our faith and our church. When we pull cash out of the bank, and look at our $20 bill and do not see the hallmark signs of an authentic bill, we will not keep that bill. We will turn it back in and report it to the authorities because a crime has been committed. In the church, when hallmark signs of genuine faith are not observed (see Gal. 5:13-25), people will not come back. They see a crime that is committed: people trying to sell faith that is not genuine. Genuine faith results in praise to God and before people. That too is impossible to hide. You know it when you see it. You know it when you experience it in your life.

If you are having a hard time genuinely being cheerful, then take some time regularly to pause and reflect on the Gospel. You once were in trouble because of your sin. You had no way to make it right. But God rescued you through the blood of Jesus, and now you regularly and continually experience the perfect love of God who has promised us eternal life. Regularly reflect and give thanks for all that God has given to you. If we have life and breath today, that is more than we deserve, and that is more than enough to be cheerful. Let us sing praise.



Seeing Through the Smokescreens in our Hearts

Seeing Through The Smokescreens In Our Heart
 
1 Sam. 8:7- The LORD said to Samuel, “Do everything the people request of you. For it is not
 
you that they have rejected, but it is me that they have rejected as their king.”
 
A smoke screen is a cloud of smoke created to conceal military operations. They have proven to
 
be a reliable means of protection to mask the movement or location of military units such as
 
infantry, tanks, aircraft or ships. In the spiritual life, God’s people have also used smoke screens
 
in less honorable ways.
 
In 1 Samuel chapter 8, we read about how Israel complained about Samuel's sons who ruled as
 
judges over them. The complaint was legitimate since Samuel's sons were not living according
 
to the Covenant. They were ripping people off by unjustly accepting bribes instead of protecting
 
the freedom and welfare of God's people. This was a terrible situation for God’s people to be in.
 
The problem was not their complaint but the true pursuit of their heart. The elders of Israel used
 
the current problem as a smokescreen to hide the true intention of their heart. What they really
 
wanted was to be like the other nations. They weren't so concerned about justice and honoring
 
Yahweh and his Covenant. Israel reject God as her King. So God gave them what they thought
 
they wanted and in the long term it did not work out so well. They pursued idols instead of
 
God— the one true God who would not let them down.
 
As I think about that story, I cannot help but ask about how we function during times of need.
 
How about you and me? What is in our hearts? When we face obstacles do we hide the true
 
intentions of our heart? In other words, are we trying to manipulate God by presenting our
 
current problem to him so that we can get something else that we really want?
 
Discerning the intention of the heart is one of the most difficult tasks in the spiritual life. Often we
 
like to try and discern the hearts of others, but what about our own? Many times we might just
 
assume that our intentions are pure. But we might be surprised when we reflect more deeply
 
into the motives of our heart.
 
This is something that I have struggled with on occasion. As I reflect back on my past before I
 
entered vocational ministry, there were many times when I wanted to quit my job and thrust
 
myself into full time vocational ministry. I could tell God, “Nursing stresses me out. I don’t like
 
seeing people sick all the time. I makes me afraid.” I could also tell God, “I should be in ministry.
 
That’s where my gifts are. There are churches that need pastors. I can fill that need.” However,
 
at the time when I struggled with those feelings, it would have been premature to manipulate my
 
circumstance in order to get what I really wanted. I could have justified it over and over in my
 
mind instead of waiting on the Lord to provide the right season and place.
 
Or, there was another time when I was searching for a vehicle. I needed a vehicle for work.
 
There were plenty of opportunities to buy something that wasn't practical for me or my family.
 
While the need for a vehicle was real, it would have been easy to overspend for something that
 
we couldn’t truly afford.
 
In moments like these, when we tell God that, "I need this….[fill in the blank],” it is difficult to
 
discern the true intention of the heart.
 
If we want to live authentic spiritual lives before Christ, then we need to be honest before God
 
about our intentions. God knows if we are seeking to do what is right or if our hearts are turned
 
away from him. Often times, the most spiritual thing is to endure suffering in the midst of
 
adversity and to wait for God to provide. When we try to take actions into our own hands, we
 
can make our suffering worse in the long run.
 
However, if we wait on the Lord, he will provide for us. In my desire to enter full time ministry, I
 
waited on the Lord for the right time and place. I chose to do this, and he was faithful and
 
brought our family to Holyoke. He provided in the right time. With my vehicle that I reflected
 
back on, I remember how I prayed, and after looking at hundreds and hundreds of vehicles
 
online, and test driving several, I finally found a great vehicle at a super low price that was in
 
excellent condition. And I didn't have to take out a loan. It was paid in cash, and I had money
 
left over. God provided!
 
Where are you struggling to trust God's provision? Will you wait patiently instead of trying to
 
manipulate your circumstances? God knows the "smokescreens" of our heart. Let’s be patient
 
and wait on God during our times of need.
 
Blessings to you,
 
Pastor Jeremiah


Reconciling God’s Love and Wrath

A few days ago I shared the following verse on Facebook:

Exodus 34:6-7, “He passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, ‘The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion, and sin.'”

I shared that verse because one of the things I have run into quite frequently among friends, family and church members alike is that God is perceived to be two different people in the Old Testament and the New Testament. Often times, God is perceived as being a hot-headed, angry old man who lives up in the clouds ready to zap us when we fail.

Have you ever caught yourself saying or thinking, “The God in the Old Testament was angry and legalistic, but the God in the New Testament is gracious and loving?” If so, that is a common misperception and misrepresentation of God.

Sometimes when we discuss God’s holiness and righteous judgment, it is easy to lose track of His love for His people. There are many verses that demonstrate God’s loving kindness and faithful love for humanity all throughout the Old Testament. There are also verses that describe God as slow to wrath.

In the Old Testament, when we read of Israel’s army implementing the Law of the Ban, where they were instructed to destroy

everything,

including men, women and children, we have to keep that in context of the bigger story in order to reconcile God’s wrath with his love.  

Consider how long the descendants of Noah lived throughout the centuries in rebellion against God. They pursued worthless idols for centuries before God brought judgment and they were destroyed under the Law of the Ban when Israel entered Palestine.

In Scripture, God is always presented as a gracious God but he is always equally passionate about His holiness. Passages about God’s judgment are often cited in religion 101 classes in college, but before we drink the theological soup, we need to realize there is more to the story than the agenda that is put on us in our schools and institutions.

Consider God’s instructions to Israel before they entered Palestine. Deuteronomy 9:5 says, “Not because of your righteousness or the uprightness of your heart are you going in to possess their land, but because of the wickedness of these nations the LORD your God is driving them out from before you, and that he may confirm the word that the LORD swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.” If Scripture is true, then what we witness in the Old Testament will be nothing compared to the horror that is coming after he gathers up his people and completely and finally executes his wrath against all sin.

Hell, fire and brimstone doesn’t preach well these days, but if Scripture is true, then we must realize that God has given you and I ample time to respond to His grace. God is all loving. But he is also holy and just.

Passages like these aren’t an indictment against God. Rather, they are an indictment against sinful humanity that is in need of a Savior. If you read the Story of Scripture, you will indeed find a story of a gracious God who loves you and pursues you your entire life.

Ezekiel 18:23 says that God takes no delight in the death of the wicked. But he is also just. And in what Kingdom in this world are you able to rebel against your leaders without suffering consequences? It doesn’t happen. Why would it be different with God, and even more so because of the nature of our offenses against him and the greatness of His glory?

Even so, in our guilt, Scripture says that while we were yet sinners that Christ died for us. He didn’t wait for us to clean ourselves up. He died for you and me because we are prideful pagan people who war against him. Before we reject His love, we must consider the cross. And as we consider the cross, we need to take a deep look into the resurrection of Jesus Christ. We will not be disappointed.

For, it is at the cross where God’s mercy and justice meet. God fully poured out his wrath and executed justice for the sake of His glory and holiness. Through the death of Jesus, at the cross God offers the opportunity for you and I to find him there and to bend our knees and confess with our lips that Jesus Christ is Lord!

Don’t let the illusion that the love of God and the wrath of God “don’t mix” and cause you to put God on trial. God’s love and justice met at the cross for you and for me. Let that stir our hearts towards praise at the mystery and the magnificence of the Gospel.

May we find great joy and peace as we marvel at God’s love for us,

Pastor Jeremiah


New Year, New You

            As the New Year starts, this is the time of year when many of us are thinking about setting new goals. Reflecting back on the previous year might bring us a sense of gratitude for all that the Lord has accomplished in us. Or it might make us feel indifferent as we are uncertain of how meaningful life seemed to be. Maybe we did not lose that 10 lbs. we were hoping for. Maybe we didn’t quite meet our goals at work. Or maybe spiritually, we didn’t seem to measure up when we compare our personal life to the biblical life. But no matter where we landed in our goals last year, we need to leave behind the past and look toward the future.

            The Apostle Paul wrote in Philippians 3, “…

But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us who are mature think this way…” The past failures, whether they are from 2015 or from the years before can be a burdensome weight if we dwell on them. One thing that we cannot change is our past. And one thing that God forgives us of is our past. And if God is so kind to forgive us of how we fall short, then will you also forgive yourself of the times when you were not all you

intended to be?

            If you want to have a better 2016, it will not happen by magic or coincidence or by spiritual laziness. If we continue to maintain the same patterns of behavior, why would we expect to have different results? As your pastor, I want to encourage you to take time with your spouse, family, close friends or community group and probe a little deeper into the areas of your life that you know you are not experiencing fullness of life. Are there areas, where you are undisciplined or disobedient? If so, share these shortcomings with those who would be willing to encourage you. You might be surprised to find out how many others have experienced the same struggles as you. Prov. 28:13 says, “Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy.”

            As a participant in the body of First Baptist Church of Holyoke, our vitality is directly connected to every individual’s faithfulness to abide in Jesus. When you and I are people who take seriously God’s commands and directions for our life, and when we experience the fullness and joy of life because we are abiding in Christ regularly, our congregation will become one that makes Jesus famous among our families, friends and community. And that is what my heartbeat is for this church. We do not need a body of ‘regular attenders’ who come to church because that is what we do, but rather, we need a body of

faithful participators who commit to being the church

because we have been internally changed by Christ.
            As you pray about how God would change you this 2016, pray about whether you are being a

regular attender or a faithful participant

in our body. Regulars check off a box on Sunday morning to gratify religious duty. Faithful participants come to get equipped so that they can engage in the mission and vision of our body. Regular attenders drink fully of teaching without allowing it to impact their living. Faithful participants receive God’s word so that they can better live God’s word. Regular attenders take. Faithful participants give.

            There may be times in life when we need to receive because we are weak. And if that is you, then I want to encourage you to swim in God’s grace so that you can become strong and participate in the action and excitement of being on mission with God. Jesus came to heal the sick. But as we become strong in Christ, let us also begin to serve faithfully in the mission he has called us. The difference in our lives between this year and last will be our willingness to allow God’s Spirit to transform us so that we can better serve him. Our faithfulness will result in fruitfulness.

            So, as you consider how you can be different this year, consider these things:

  1. Is your life being regularly transformed by the power of the Gospel? Do you demonstrate a continual yielding of your ways to God’s ways? When we are transformed by the Gospel, our life should exhibit joy in Jesus through freedom from the bondage to idols.
  2. Do you practice forgiveness regularly? Do you forgive others when they wrong you? Have you forgiven yourself when you fall short? Jesus does. He expects the same from you.
  3. Do you confess to God and to others when you fall short? When we confess to God, we come to agreement with the exact nature of our sin, and he forgives us. When we confess to others, we admit that we are falling short and relinquish self-righteousness before others. Confessing to others is an opportunity to experience healing through encouragement and accountability of our brothers and sisters in Christ.
  4. Are you investing regularly in the body of Christ and Kingdom of God? Jesus says that where our heart is there our treasure will also be. Do we demonstrate a love for Jesus and His Bride by how we invest our time, talents, and treasures? Are you meeting regularly in community to encourage and to be encouraged by others?These are just a few items to work through as you ask the Lord to make this year one of your best years. This is a New Year. Let’s ask God to help make a “New You.” Transformation is not a one time event but a lifetime process where God conforms us to His will. It is an exciting journey, though sometimes painful. But it is worth it. Blessings to you as you seek Him and serve this body. 

 

Pastor Jeremiah
 
“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.”