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. 

Pastor’s Corner – Pastor John

16  Thus says the LORD, “Stand by the ways and see and ask for the ancient paths, Where the good way is, and walk in it; And you will find rest for your souls. But they said, ‘We will not walk in it.’ 17  “And I set watchmen over you, saying, ‘Listen to the sound of the trumpet!’ But they said, ‘We will not listen.’ 18  “Therefore hear, O nations, And know, O congregation, what is among them. 19  “Hear, O earth: behold, I am bringing disaster on this people, The fruit of their plans, Because they have not listened to My words, And as for My law, they have rejected it also. Jeremiah 6:16-19

The old path behind our place will take you to a great meadow, after passing beside a dank green swamp and some hardwood stands. It then arcs back, and leads you home through a quiet, thin forest.

Some novice had come through with a brush cutter, and started a new path away from the old one. I was curious enough to follow it, for I know this section of land well. After much meandering and zig-zagging about, the new path came to an abrupt halt in a dense thicket on the north side of the swamp. A dead-end. This path led to nowhere but muck and briars.

I thought of that walk recently, while reading through Jeremiah and reaching these verses in chapter six. There are a lot of ways (:16) available for us as well. Many “new pathways” revel in their novelty. “We’re not the ‘old’ (read: ‘antiquated’) way!” It occurs to me that everything new is not necessarily improved. It’s true with tools, furniture, cultural trends, foods, entertainments, and yes, even religion. Much that is new supplants the better with a cheaper, watered-down substitute.

This “new pathway” has come for the church, where today I would question the label of “church” for some groups. What do you have when there is no authority of the Scriptures, no fear of the Lord, and no upholding of the foundational truths of the Gospel of Christ? When worship turns to self-worship, and trends and styles of the culture are slavishly adopted as the “new” way? These new paths of feeling good and being relevant are already deeply rutted by the proselytes marching in heady quick-step. The groups should be called other than “church,” but that too is telling of the deception of the new pathways. After all, church is church, right?

Meanwhile the (:16) ancient path of obedience, fear of the Lord, reverence and holiness is becoming obscured by weeds as fewer travel it.

Jeremiah shares God’s invitation; (:16) walk in the ancient, good way. God promises rest to those who walk His path. But many refuse His instruction. Am I the only one who notices the restlessness, agitation and continual rage among those walking their strange new pathways? Little wonder, since their path meanders and is constantly being redirected, from one dead-end to another!

The Lord then states (:17) that we should listen to the ones upholding His Word. But again, God is scorned and the people choose other heralds with new “truth.” What happens when people start following guides of the “new pathways?” I am reminded of the ill-fated Donner party, who trusted a guide and his guidebook for a new path that would lead them West. It led them to disaster—for that guide had never traveled that path by wagon. His motive was to sell his path, and achieve notoriety.  Hmmm… “fastest growing new path group in _________, Michigan.” Sound familiar?

The Lord then pronounces His verdict (:18) and as you would surmise, it is not good for the ones who reject Him. The Lord also tells His “congregation” to observe and learn from what befalls the scoffers. The sentence is for disaster to come. There will be a harvest of bitter fruit. Their path is a path that leads to destruction. Even the godly will suffer as judgment falls. Do not veer from the ancient path. It will lead to your deliverance.

The Lord Jesus in Matt. 7:13-14 speaks strikingly similar words. No wonder since the Word become flesh will speak only the Word of God.

13  “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. 14  “For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it.” Matthew 7:13-14 

Who could ever think it would be better for us, to leave the ancient path and venture down the new, wide way? The narrow ancient path is not a popular way—does that surprise or offend us?

I’m sure we’ll “miss out” on lots of thrills. Big good times. Maybe even a lot of shiny, new stuff. But the end of that wide path holds only bitter destruction. Some may escape it, but most will find it impossible to extract themselves, once the mud starts pulling them down.

Think on these things. If I have brought an unsound word, you have every freedom to seek a new path. For myself, I do not intend to leave the ancient path, at this juncture of my journey home.