Pastor John

Philippians 4:4-9 

4  Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice! 5  Let your gentle spirit be known to all men. The Lord is near. 6  Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7  And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. 8  Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things. 9  The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.

Anxiety is in the air, blowing hard and steady. And this even among the believers. The mood and views common in the unsaved, are oddly mirrored in those who should be experiencing the peace of God, through the God of peace.  Why would this be so?

Yes, the news packaged for us is resoundingly bad. Unrest and division run deep. The drumbeat of revived tribalism grows louder. Violence in our communities begs identity as demonic. Nations overrun nations; murky alliances destabilize every point on the globe. I’ll leave off pandemics, social engineering, and why the Tigers can’t be pennant contenders. Even the weather is presented to push us to prepping: every snowfall is now categorized by a documentary-worthy title (“Winter Storm Festus.”) Natural disasters stream real-time through our devices, fascinating and terrifying, interspersed with feigned concern and the hawking of freeze-dried meal buckets, “secure” gold, or apocalypse-worthy shotguns.

The solutions for this unrest, flowing down from our elected or appointed voices, are of their own accord contradictory and baffling.  I fail to see wisdom and understanding, for they speak of their own things, and not of the One who is Wisdom and Understanding.

To state the obvious, the unsaved world will naturally run to would-be saviors, get disappointed, and then turn to the next ones. Some choose to simply check out: stuff down the devastations and fleeting vain years, and buy more surgeries, trinkets and experiences. It’s a classic world-view: “When it’s over, it’s over.”  Undoubtedly the pinnacle of reasoning, apart from God. Ask Solomon.

We are invited to join in with these summations and solutions from an unregenerate mankind. Do you see any followers of Christ who are leaving off faith, and lapsing (in attitude, or expressly) into this world-view? I might summarize some prevailing heart-attitudes I am encountering:

“It’s not like God to keep me so disappointed with my world.”

“It’s baffling that God isn’t mowing over the enemies.”

“It’s frustrating that God isn’t conforming everyone in my land to godly standards.”

“It’s unconscionable that churches dismiss God’s Word, yet increase in popularity and sway.”

“It’s uncomfortable that I am no longer comfortable.”

“Where is God in this mess?”

I would wax incredibly popular if I turned now to pen a snappy “3 easy steps to peace” article. How “relevant,” if it could actually be the last word—the true, quick-fix formula—we could all employ for instant and lasting results! If only I could chart out how to do “God by method.” It would probably sell a bunch of copies… maybe launch an e-book, or an Etsy site for themed merch.

Wildest dreams and profits aside, what I want to offer by application is very simple, extremely accessible, and completely contained in the Word of God. The Word that was declared to us, by which we learned the truth about God, our sin, and salvation through faith in Christ alone. I ask you to meditate on these questions, noting the verses of the Philippians passage at left:

:4 Rejoicing in the Lord cannot be sporadic, isolated, or dependent on your mood. What’s your corporate worship quotient? Too busy? Private, God-in-the-everyday evidence? Rejoicing is not for a happy occasion- it is the ongoing theme of the life focused on the great, unchanging Truth of Christ.

:5 Would “gentle spirit” be a description given of you by your mourners one day? Or are you known as “that guy” or “that gal” that couldn’t put up with us mere mortals?

:6 Are you praying without ceasing, or quite frankly, have ceased to pray? What is taking the reins producing in your life? How’s it going for the passengers stuck in your buggy?

:7 How do you experience the peace of God? How do you describe it? Is this a foreign concept to even consider? Are you trying to manufacture your own peace? How is that working out?

:8 Reading this list of worthy things to dwell on, what is your top 10 “dwell list?” News? Politics? The market? Security? Entertainment? Pornography? “Likes” on social tripe? Rest assured your top 10 is showing. It is coming out in speech, conduct, attitude, priorities, demeanor… The bucket draws up what the well contains.

:9 Pay attention to whom you follow. There are multitudes of egos that want you to “follow” them and emulate their poor choices. Their obsessions. Their sensuality. Their godless lives. If you live for their experiences, you will miss out on experiencing the God of Peace. You will enter eternity as a believer, watching your wood, hay and stubble burn. A forfeit of great opportunity for what could have been yours in the new heaven and earth that comes; all for handfuls of tripe in this world.

This is a call for return. For revival. It’s a fallen world. You cannot navigate your way to true peace, if you’ve left out the God of peace. Try it without Him, and see if I am a liar. Or maybe you’re trying it now, and getting the resultant anxiety and fear. Where have you gone? How is that working out for you? Have you found another path, another savior, another source of peace?

68  Simon Peter answered Him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have words of eternal life. John 6:68 

The peace is presented. It does not have to be pled for, earned, or discovered. It needs to be appropriated. Walk in the Truth you have received. The God of Peace is within, and by walking by His Spirit, you will walk in the Peace of God.

27  “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful. John 14:27 

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).