All Are Welcome – by Pastor Greg

We all want to be accepted. We all desire to be welcomed. No one likes to be rejected or told we don’t measure up. But does the message of inclusion that is often presented today contradict what Scripture says, or is it in line with the heart of God?

Many of us have stories or know of others who have shared how and when they came to Christ. In the depths of despair and sin we cried out to a God who is there and who hears. We heard the message of grace and responded. No, we didn’t have to “clean up” our lives, to somehow make ourselves acceptable to God. No new suit and tie or new lifestyle, we simply came as we were and surrendered.

One story I recall is from a friend of mine who has had a profound impact on my life. He is a teacher, shepherd and missionary. Yet when he encountered the Savior, he was in the midst of the 70’s drug culture. He was high in a hotel room and spent a night reading the Bible. When I say he was reading the Bible, I mean he read the entire Bible (a couple of times through!) He knew that things were not right in his life and that the direction he was heading was a dead end (see previous article by Pastor John). That night he read how God sent His only Son to live as a man and go to a cross to die in our place. He understood that this gift was his to receive if he only believed what he was reading was true. That night this man, a sinner, was forgiven and made right with God and his life has never been the same. How is that different from the message we often hear today? Today it is often stated that God loves everyone and accepts us as we are, that we are good enough. Is that true and why if it is not?

The real question is does God exclude anyone? The short answer is yes, the Gospel message is very exclusive. Jesus was eating with tax collectors and other so-called sinners. There were some religious leaders who saw this and questioned His disciples as to why Jesus would do such a thing. Jesus overhears their questions and replies, “It is not those who are healthy who need a physician but those who are sick; I did not come to call the righteous but sinners” (Mark 2:17). At first glance it seems that Jesus was very welcoming and accepting of those “sinners”, and He was, but look at how he describes them. They are sick and need a physician and they are sinners, not righteous. He knew they were not right, that they were lost, that they needed a savior and that He was that Savior. He says at another time that He is the way, the truth and the life and that no one comes to the Father but through Him. So the good news of Christ is only for those who are in need, for the sick and sinners. Those who don’t need a savior, are those who are righteous. These people can stand on their own merit before a Holy God. They are good and can enjoy unhindered fellowship with their Creator. Well… there is a problem: “There is none righteous, not even one; there is none who understands, there is none who seeks for God; all have turned aside, together they have become useless; there is none who does good there is not even one” (Rom 3:11-12) and “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom 3:23). The Bible is clear, all of us are sick and are sinners in need of a savior. God doesn’t accept us as we are and leave us there, He saves us as we are and changes us to something completely new. That brings us to the second point.

We can only be made right with the Father through Jesus Christ. By surrendering and trusting in His work on our behalf will we become “born again”. There is no other way. God will not accept us “as we are” because “as we are” is not good enough. When our message is that God accepts us as we are, we become the ones who make the rules and standards. We negate the need of the cross, we present another way to God and make Christ a liar. That is a hard message to hear but it is a needful message.

So when we water down the message of the Cross in order to become more accepting (as the world defines it), we are actually putting road blocks in the way of those who need this truth. We are not acting in love. We as a church must be open to all who may come, and we must remove any hindrances. We must be kind and loving. We must be open to all, because the ground at the foot of the cross is indeed level. But the message must be clear: we are sick sinners in need of a Savior and that Jesus is THE way, THE truth and THE life, and that no one comes to the Father but through Him. Let this message be available for all to hear.

Pastor John

Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led around by the Spirit in the wilderness for forty days, being tempted by the devil. And He ate nothing during those days, and when they had ended, He became hungry.  Luke 4:1-2

We saw a lot of beautiful lonely places on our recent vacation through Michigan’s upper peninsula and Wisconsin. Now granted, because I am married to a woman, there were several non-rugged spots along the way. B&B’s, afternoon tea, carriage rides, and things men generally defer from mentioning, especially using first person language, or while smiling.

I’ve had many solo wilderness moments in my lifetime, but this trip simply touched the fringe on that real estate. What I might consider “great” by myself, would not have held up as a wonderful experience for us. We enjoyed our vacation because it covered a lot of our shared interests: Scenery, quiet, walks, picnics, solid lodging, and being together. I can go tromp in the woods and get stinky at other times of the year. She doesn’t want to see that. Actually, nobody wants to see that.

What I wanted to talk about, however, is this “wilderness” passage from Luke that I’ve included above. I’ve been preaching through this gospel, and as anyone who teaches the Word will tell you, you can’t exhaustively share in one message everything you have learned and pondered from a passage. So I’ll share here another thought I’ve been mulling over from those verses that introduce Jesus’ testing.

Being sent into the wilderness was the immediate order that followed Jesus’ public presentation and confirmation. Think of it: Jesus, sent to do the Father’s will, is directed by the Father into a firestorm of testing. At first glance, we might find this odd. Shouldn’t a dedicated Jesus, or any other believer in Christ, get special treatment and smooth paths for choosing to honor God? Obviously, that is not the case. Without much effort we can discover that this “wilderness walk” is not an unique event in God’s Word. Many times, individuals called of God are thrust into their own wilderness tests.

Why would this be?

Perhaps for some, it was to temper pride. Surely Jesus did not possess that deadly sin. For others, it may have squelched independence; a lesson that compelled them to lean upon the Father. Yet Jesus was resolute to do only the Father’s will. But in every case, it had to reveal the truth that the enemy was real, was active, and was bent on turning the wilderness student from the path God had prepared for them to walk. And again, in every case, the test was to be a rebuff of Satan, giving further evidence that he cannot possibly sway every human, detour God’s plan, nor find a foothold to overcome the One True God. The endurance in the wilderness brings Glory to God alone, and a scathing indictment of the enemy of our souls.

I find that truth most satisfying in my walk, and I trust you might take solace and strength from it as well. We will all face numerous wilderness tests, just as Jesus would continue to face (read 4:13 to confirm this.) This is not an “if” but a “when” truth.  But tests are not permitted simply to destroy us. The wilderness becomes our opportunity to glorify God, to walk even closer by His leading, and to grow in our wisdom and discernment. We need these trying and painful experiences, for how would we learn to deflect the enemy’s frontal or subtle attacks, if life were just a carriage ride and a tea room?

Learn from the wilderness. There is a beauty in it. Be willing to obediently follow the Lord, even into the lonely places (Psalm 37:23-26).

Good – by Pastor Greg

“And Jesus said to him, ‘why do you call me good? no one is good except God alone.’” Mark  10:18

We use this word a lot. We say things like, “that was a good meal” or “we are looking forward to some good weather.” We know what we mean but do we know what we are saying? The good meal was satisfying, it was flavorful, it was pleasing to my senses and there was enough of it! All that in one word, good. We say the weather is good when it is the right temperature, the sun is shining and the wind was not too strong or absent. Now where I grew up in Northern New England, when you wanted to step up the meaning a bit you would say, “that meal was wicked good!”  Meaning it wasn’t just the run-of-the-mill good, but rather the Red Sox just won the world series good! There are many things we would say are good, but where does all this goodness come from?

God is good.  We say it often and we mean it.  He is good and He IS good ALL the time. But what does it mean that God is good? Goodness is an attribute, a characteristic, an aspect of God’s essence. “Good” is that which is morally honorable, pleasing to God and beneficial. God is the source of all that is good in both the moral and the material. Since goodness is an aspect of the character of God, it is constant and stable, not wavering or shifting. 

We see the outward manifestation of God’s goodness in the very beginning. Genesis 1:31 states, “God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.” What God had made, God saw was agreeable, pleasant, excellent and rich. In other words, it was all that it should be, having come from the Creator God who is good. 

As reborn image-bearers of God we too can display the goodness of God. There is a quote that states this well: “Blessedness does not lie so much in receiving good from and in You (God), but in holding forth Your glory and virtue; that it is an amazing thing to see Deity in a creature, speaking, acting, filling, shining through it; that nothing is good but You, that I am near good when I am near You, that to be like You is a glorious thing: This is my magnet, my attraction.” – Valley of Vision. For Christians, we are exhorted to prove God’s will or put His will to the test.  Since He is good, His will is also good. We are to put His will to the test even when it goes against my will. My mind doesn’t always think the way God thinks. I must have it renewed and thus be transformed into His image more and more. When I do that, I then see more clearly how good His will really is. 

We are also told to “cling to what is good” (Rom. 12:9b),  to do it (Gal. 6:10), to follow after it (1 Thess. 5:15), to be zealous of it (1 Peter 3:13), to imitate it (3 John 1:11), and to overcome evil with it (Rom. 12:21). It is more than just doing good things but being changed by spending time with the One who is the source of all goodness.

Jesus had an encounter with a young man who was quite wealthy. This man called Jesus a “good teacher”, which is a true statement. But Jesus wanted to get to the heart of why this man had come to Him with his question. Jesus states in Mark 10:18 that only God is good. In other words, only God is the true source of all that is good and that it is He whom this young man was addressing. Jesus wanted this young man to see that living eternal life was more than simply doing good things. It is giving oneself to the fountain of all good and surrendering my will to His. 

God is good and He desires to share that goodness with me, and then through me to others.