Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Making Sense of Senseless Tragedy

No words can truly capture what people feel after watching 20 young children and 7 adults senselessly murdered in Newtown, CT, on Friday, December 14, 2012.  As a father of four boys ranging in age from 3 to 12 years-old, and one child in heaven, whom we lost through a miscarriage, I can’t fathom the loss that those parents and the community of Newtown are feeling right now.  My heart breaks for them.  I’m sure yours does too. 

So how does one make sense of something so tragic and senseless?  There are no easy answers.  Some will ask, “How could a loving God allow little children to be murdered?”  That view suggests that God acts as a puppet master in heaven with strings attached to everyone controlling their every move.  That’s not how God operates.  The reality is that God made people to have the ability to make choices.  Unfortunately, sinful people make sinful choices.

God is not to be blamed for evil in this world.  Satan and sin are to be blamed for the evil in this world.  It was Satan who caused our first two parents, Adam and Eve, to fall into sin (Genesis 3).  As a result, we’ve been dealing with tragedy ever since.  Imagine how Adam and Eve felt as they buried their son, Abel, who was murdered by their son, Cain (Genesis 4).  Because we live in a world that is fallen in sin, we live in a world filled with people who are fallen in sin…including you and me.

As investigators continue to look for the reason why the shooter took the lives of 27 people, we already know the ultimate reason – Satan and sin.  But Satan and sin will not have the last laugh.  Jesus put it this way to His disciples, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace.  In this world you will have trouble.  But take heart!  I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).  Notice that Jesus doesn’t deny the awfulness of trouble in this world.  But He offers peace and hope.  He offers the wonderful truth that trouble and tragedy will not win.

That’s because the next day Jesus suffered the awfulness of tragedy at the hands of evil men who crucified Him.  But He did not die in vain.  His death meant forgiveness for you and me.  Just like we demand justice when someone commits atrocities, so also God demanded justice for our sins.  Jesus had to die so that in God’s court room you and I are declared not guilty.  Jesus died to make sin’s tragedy die.  And three days later when He rose again from the dead, He lives to make the tragedy of death itself die.  Jesus wins.  Hope wins.  Life wins.

Actually, that’s what Christmas is all about.  The reason why we celebrate Christmas isn’t because it’s just a cute story of a little baby named Jesus who was born and placed in a manger.  We celebrate Christmas because that little baby named Jesus was for centuries prophesied to be the One who would go from cradle to cross.  We celebrate Christmas because that little baby was born to die that we might live.  He was born to give peace, comfort, hope and healing to people like those of Newtown, CT who are face to face with tragedy. 

That’s what makes our faith in Jesus so important.  He promises that by faith in Him tragedy never wins even though we will experience it this side of heaven.  Those who believe in Jesus will live even though they die (John 11). Because of Jesus, tragedy will never win.  Life does.

So as the people of Newtown, and others who have dealt with tragedies in their life, seek comfort and peace, let’s pray for them.  For those who believe in Jesus they will see their little children again in the endless joy of heaven, never again to be separated by tragedy.  Let’s pray for those families that they find comfort and peace in the only One who is the answer to life’s senseless tragedies, who makes life from death and who promises that one day all the wrong will be made right.

For those of you who are parents, you may be wondering how to talk about tragedy with your children.  That’s a good question.  Here is a link to an excellent resource for this.

-Pastor Chris Johnson, Outreach and Young Adult Pastor

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Train a Child

I was so angry. Furious, I screamed and I cried. I stomped on the floor. I ripped my sheets off the bed. I kicked a ball across my room. Then for a moment I stopped and heard a “click” down the hall. I ran to the door and found it locked. “You can’t do this! I’ll get out!” I pounded on the door and all I heard was one sentence, “You can come out when you’ve calmed down.” I gave the door a kick and sat down. I don’t even remember what I was upset about but to this day my moms words still stick to me, “I hope someday you have a child like you.” What if someday I have a child like me? Will I be level headed enough to train a child even in the middle of their tantrum?

Proverbs 13:24 tells us love carefully disciplines. “He who spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is careful to discipline him.” At first glance that may seem pretty harsh. No rod means you hate them – love means you discipline them. Keep in mind that it says love CAREFULLY disciplines! Discipline is fair, fitting, and upholds the child’s dignity. It is not unfair, extreme, and degrading. Discipline used in the correct way leads to respect for parents, teachers, pastors, and even God. Training and discipline go hand in hand and they need to be adjusted according to each child’s need. My children are a lot like me. There are times I get to model level headed patient discipline by removing them when they are flailing on the floor. There are also times I remember sins of my youth and sins as a dad and confess “daddy didn’t handle that correctly.” I think both are extremely important for my children to witness because both give me opportunities to talk about God’s relationship to us, and our sins and His forgiveness. Jesus didn’t come to save perfect people but he came for us.

I’m curious to hear what other parents are doing to “carefully discipline” and “patiently parent”. What do you do? Any good stories? What part of discipline is challenging for you?

-Pastor Eric Hansen, Discipleship Pastor

Monday, July 2, 2012

"I Am Second" Testimony From Iraq War Veteran, Chris Plekenpol

Take seven minutes out of your day to watch this testimony from Chris Plekenpol and then read my commentary below.

What Chris Plekenpol said is so true.  Jesus' love goes deeper than we could ever imagine.  The apostle Paul, inspired by the Holy Spirit, put it this way in Romans 5:6-8, "You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.  Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die.  But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us."  It's historical fact that Jesus died for the ungodly, which, by the way, means all of us.  It's also a fact that very rarely wil anyone die for a righteous man.  Righteous means a person of exceptional character.  Good means someone who not only has exceptional character but is a person who is always looking out for other people's best interests.  Very rarely will anyone die even for really, really good people...much less for enemies.

Ungodly sinners.  That was what we were.  Definitely not righteous.  Definitely not good.  Definitely not friends of God.  But God loves us anyway, a love that is deeper than we could ever imagine.  God demonstrated his love by sacrificing his Son for everyone...enemies included.  Do you know what means for you?  Are you ungodly?  Nope.  Forgiven!  Sinner?  Nope.  Saved!  No other god will do that for you.  That's why Jesus is first in my life.  Do you agree?

On this Fourth of July week as we celebrate our independence, thank God for our military, thank God for His love and thank God for His sacrifice for our forgiveness.

-Pastor Chris Johnson, Outreach and Young Adult Pastor

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Is Jesus the Only Way?

I'm sure that I'm not the only one who gets asked this question: Is Jesus really the only way to get to heaven?

That question is asked by Christians and non-Christians alike.  It is a question that is worth our while thinking about because we live in a culture where the idea that there is only one right way will land us with a label of "arrogant jerk".  We live in a culture where people believe that truth is relative to our experience.  

So what is true?  Is Jesus really the only way to get to heaven?  The answer is: Yes.  Jesus himself said in John 14:6, "I am the way and the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me."  Jesus makes it very clear in many other areas of the New Testament that He is the only One who saves and He teaches that truth because He loves everyone!

If I view Jesus as only one way to get to God then I'm calling Jesus a liar.  Moreover, what is the purpose of my faith?  If I believe that there are other ways to be saved, why not follow them?  The September 27, 2010 issue of Newsweek cited that 80% of Americans believe people of other religions can get to heaven.

So how do we respond?  People tend to make two mistakes in responding to this question.  1) Some will try to argue someone else into believing it.  (Non-Christians who have experienced these type of arguments would probably label such a person as an "arrogant jerk".)  Just remember, you're never going to argue someone into heaven.  2) Others will retreat and try to surround themselves with Christians and never talk to non-Christians about this issue.  That isn't being what Jesus wants us to be!  He's called us to be His ambassadors to our world.

So how do we respond to this question?  

First of all, love those who challenge our faith.  Jesus does.  He wants them to know the truth and when people challenge our faith that's a chance to share the facts about Jesus.  

Second, know what the truth is.  You can't share what you don't know.  Read your Bible.  Spend time talking to fellow Christians about this issue.  Pray about it.  Read what other people think.  Be informed.  We tend to shy away from this question when we're not sure about it ourselves.  We need to remember the key truths of the Bible that we are all lost in sin by nature.  That we all have a deep need for a Savior.  That Jesus is that Savior by His perfect life, death and resurrection from the dead.

Third, share that truth lovingly.  Build relationships.  Listen to those who ask you this question.  Gain understanding so that you can share the truth in a loving way.

May God bless you as you seek to witness His love when you are asked: Is Jesus really the only way?

-Pastor Chris Johnson, Outreach and Young Adult Pastor

Thursday, January 26, 2012

"Like" Jesus?

"My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.  Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.  You are my friends if you do what I command" (John 15:12-14).  

Let me ask you a pointed question.  Do you like Jesus or love Jesus?  I think it's safe to say that most people in our world probably like Jesus.  Most people probably would actually have Jesus as a "friend" on Facebook too!  But do they love Him?  Do I love Him?  Do you?

The only way to properly answer that question is to reflect on what Jesus says here as well as elsewhere in the Bible (which by the way is His love letter to us).  His command is to love each other.  He says love your enemies.  He says love your spouse even when he/she is difficult.  He says love your kids even when they are driving you up the wall, that never happens in my household...ok, yeah it does...  He says love your co-worker and your boss even when you're being treated unfairly.  He says love your extended family members even when they are treating you poorly.

And notice what kind of love Jesus described?  Not just the I'll treat you well if you treat me well kind of love, because that's not love!  It's the "I'll lay my life down for you" kind of love!  That's Jesus love!  Jesus laid His life down for you!  For me!  And for every single person we can't get along with!  Jesus laid His life down for everyone!  Jesus did so that we could have a better relationship with Him, so that we could have our fear of judgment removed, because Jesus removed our sins!

Jesus isn't an angry judge, He's our Savior and our Friend!  His love is the motivator to think differently, speak differently and act differently!  He says, "You are my friends if you do what I command."  Liking Jesus isn't an option.  Lots of people "like" Jesus but won't do what He commands.  We really "like" Jesus when we love Him.  We really love Jesus when we do what He commands willingly, not because we have to.  We really love Jesus when we get it that He loves us no matter what, that He forgives us no matter what, that because of His sacrifice and His victory over death by His resurrection, we are saved forever!  That makes Jesus worth loving, doesn't it?  So tell me, do you like Him or love Him?

-Pastor Chris Johnson, Outreach and Young Adult Pastor

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Pray Persistently!

"This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.  And if we know that he hears us - whatever we ask - we know that we have what we asked of him" (1 John 5:14-15). 

It's amazing how many times a day my children can come to me or my wife and ask us for something.  "Dad, can you fix my toy?"  "Mom, can you help me tie my shoes?"  "Mom, do you want to play outside?"  They confidently come to us anytime, anywhere with any circumstance, knowing that we will listen to them.

If only we could be that way with our heavenly Father.  I must confess that too often I fail in my prayer life.  God is always listening.  He always wants to help.  He always wants to bring more blessings into our lives than we can possibly imagine.  But we also need to understand that sometimes when He says "No" to our prayers, it's not because He doesn't care or because He wants to make us suffer.  It's because He loves us.

When this passage says that we have confidence in approaching God by asking according to His will, we need to realize that His will is best for us.  His will is that we stay safe in our faith in Him.  His will is that we live lives that have a profound eternal impact on those around us.  His will is that everyone comes to faith in Him and is saved.  So tell me, what does God want you to persistently pray for today?

-Pastor Chris Johnson, Outreach and Young Adult Pastor