Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Why We Give Gifts at Christmas

I love watching my kids light up as they open their gifts on Christmas Eve!  What’s even better is watching them beam with joy as they give the little gifts they purchased for each other from the Dollar Store.  They give so thoughtfully!

Before we give our gifts though, we open the first gift of Christmas.  After we come home from church we gather everyone around our Nativity Scene.  Then we open a little gift box that contains the baby Jesus figurine which we place into the Nativity Scene.  Then we have the older boys read from Luke chapter 2 the account of the birth of Jesus.  It’s such a simple yet wonderful way to remember why we give gifts at Christmas.  

It’s easy to forget.  I must confess, sometimes, I fall into the stress of this time of the year.  Get a gift for this person.  Try to get a list from that person.  Fit in time to get to a store.  Wade through crowds.  Spend too much money.  It gets pretty crazy at times.

I don’t think that’s quite what God had in mind when He sent the first and greatest gift of Christmas, His Son, Jesus Christ.  This is what God had in mind, “But when the time had fully come, God sent His Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons” (Galatians 4:4-5).  God the Father had in mind to give up His Son to make us His.  From cradle to cross, Jesus had in mind to give us peace, love and forgiveness.  Can you think of a better gift?

I’d love to hear from you how you keep your family centered on the greatest gift of Christmas.  What’s your family tradition?  No matter what your family tradition is this Christmas, my prayer for you is that you remember why you give gifts.  It’s all because God gave us His greatest gift.  He gave us Jesus.  He gave us love.  He gave us peace.  Take time to enjoy it not just at Christmas time, but all year long.  The gift of Jesus never gets old.    Merry Christmas from my family to yours!

-Chris Johnson, Outreach and Young Adult Pastor

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Jesus at Home with Your Children – Let’s Do Some Myth-Busting

Over the last three years we've been in the process at our church of transitioning from in-class lecture based confirmation to an in-home, parent directed confirmation class. For such an emotional and traditional ministry like confirmation change has been a mixed bag of tears and triumph with plenty of adjustments being made along the way. (Especially in our area where confirmation is considered a Sacrament by the Catholic church. The Lutheran church has used Confirmation to affirm agreement to the faith that babies were first brought into at Baptism. We do not consider confirmation a Sacrament but it comes with a lot of tradition.) We desire the change to see if we can change something that is leading youth to fall away in high school, change something that is adding to the disconnect between parents and youth, change something that has added to the consumer mentality affecting many church members, and empower people to use God’s truth’s outside the church doors and in the real world. I thought it would fun to speak to some of the resistance and myths that we've come up with so far. 

These are some of the things I’ve heard through the last couple years from parents and others.

“Teach Confirmation at home? Isn’t that what the Pastor/Teachers get paid for? He’s the expert that God called to do this. What is Pastor going to be doing if the parents are taking over teaching?”
In Ephesians 4:11-13 God tells us through the pen of Paul that God gives leaders to his church in order to bring God’s people to maturity through the use of His Word. A Pastor’s call is to perform certain tasks that the typical Christian, because of their other duties (working at Wal-Mart, the local business, etc.), is unable to do. We preach, teach, write blogs, etc… We have dedicated our lives to study and sharing God’s Word with the goal that we would share it with people who then in turn will share with others. It is our job to train parents and students. We dare not take over for parents. Because God has given parents the calling to not just take care of a child’s food, clothes, and physical care but also nourishment with God’s Word. Deuteronomy 6:4-9 and Ephesians 6:4 are pretty clear that the responsibility to share God’s truth is primarily with the parents and specifically fathers. It is my prayer that our adjustments to class allow parents to walk alongside of their children’s biblical studies and further apply God’s truths in the everyday issues that pop-up. We will give them resources in paper, online, and in person. We will hold them accountable for the training of their children through large group, small group, quiz’s, tests, papers, volunteer opportunities, and one on one’s.

“I don’t know enough. I will mess up my child and their soul is too important for that.”
 (“There are some parents that really should not be teaching…” ~Some Pastor friends of mine)
There are some new Christians or weak Christians who have been given children. They feel overwhelmed because they don’t think they could do a good enough job covering material. I think they feel this way because they are pressuring themselves to know it all. The truths that you share and read and research with your children in the Bible especially for Confirmation homeschooling are meant to be the basics to grow off of. Just because you don’t feel you know everything is no reason to give up. It is actually the reason why you should be actively involved in the Biblical training of your child. You learn a whole lot more when you teach than when you are the student. (Philippians 3:12-16 – When we dig into God’s Word we are not alone. The Spirit does guide his people. Pastors are still available when you don’t know something. They may not know either – it is okay to say you don’t know something.)

"If my children are not in class they will not develop a relationship with the Pastor."
I’d rather have them develop a relationship with Jesus. I may get a call somewhere else, they may leave for school/work/marriage someday, and I might die before them. If they’ve honestly studied alongside of their parents then they’ve fostered a relationship (with Jesus and with parents) that will most likely be around a lot longer than any Pastor. There are plenty of other opportunities to get to know a Pastor than class. Check out youth group, mission trips, come early to church, stay late at church, volunteer at church, come on a hospital visit, or come to one of our intergenerational studies.

"I don’t have time."
I can understand that parents are extremely busy. The work force demands a ton of time from fathers and mothers and single parents. Add to this sports, special events, and school activities. I’m a parent and although my children are young yet I know how hectic life can be. In Luke 10:38-42 Jesus reminds Martha about priorities and invites us to take time to sit at his feet and let some other seemingly important things be left undone. I’d ask families to take a normal week and categorize what all goes on. Where is the time going? What percentage is in glory to God and what is for the glory of our self? What can be cut out as a fragrant sacrifice to God? I wish I could say I’ve mastered this but I have plenty of room for improvement too. Is there ever a time that we’re too busy too share some bible truth with our children? It is a privilege to have a Savior who loves us enough to die and rise for us. He made us a priority so that we can make him a priority. 

What are your thoughts about bringing Bible training into your home?

-Pastor Eric

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Giving Thanks

“Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it.” 
– William Arthur Ward

Allow me to share a Thanksgiving list which several housewives recently compiled.  They were especially thankful for: 1) "Automatic dishwashers because they make it possible for us to get out of the kitchen before the family comes back in for their after dinner snacks.  2) For husbands who attack small repair jobs around the house because they usually make them big enough to call in the professionals.  3) For children who put away their things and clean up after themselves.  4) For teenagers because they give parents an opportunity to learn a second language.  And finally 5) For smoke alarms because they let you know when the turkey is done.

Now our list might not be the same as theirs, but I’m convinced that if we began to make a list, we would find that we have much more for which to be thankful than just our material possessions.  Wouldn’t you agree?  Granted, God has richly blessed us with many material blessings.  In fact, a couple of years ago I had the chance to attend a hunger banquet at St. Norbert College to raise awareness of world hunger.  I was blown away by just how many people have NOTHING compared to us.  Do you realize 85% of the world makes less than $13,000 dollars a year?  And yet many of those individuals are some of the most thankful people around!  Why is that?  Because most of them realize that the most important things in life aren’t things!

Listen to how the apostle Paul put it in Philippians 1:3-6, “I thank my God every time I remember you.  In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”  

God doesn’t mind when we give thanks to Him for the stuff we have.  After all, it’s given by Him to us for our pleasure.  But this Thanksgiving, don’t forget to thank God for the people He’s placed in your life.  Friends, family and fellow Christians are all a blessing from Him.  It’s through these special people that God gives us a taste of what it’s like to hang out with Him.  Do you want to know what I’m thankful for?  I thank God for you!  Don’t forget to thank God for those closest to you!

-Pastor Chris Johnson, Outreach and Young Adult Pastor

Wednesday, November 6, 2013


I've been asked, "So when you text/say omg is that a sin?"

OMG is typically a shortening of "O, My God". When you use God's name like this it is taking something special and holy and treating like it is just another generic word to express excitement. It's like taking mom's china on a picnic. This is an example of taking the Lord's name in vain. (2nd Commandment - Ex. 20:3-8 - Jesus' summary in Matt. 22:37-38) Yes, this is sin. 

As is the case with this sin and others Jesus paid for it on the cross. You are forgiven. Your guilt is removed. You have the freedom to reserve Jesus' name or God's name for special moments of prayer, singing, praise, Bible reading, sharing Him with a friend, etc.  

2 Corinthians 5:14-15
For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. 15 And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again. 

-Eric Hansen, Discipleship Pastor

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Integrity Is...

You probably heard about him in the news a few weeks ago.  His name is Matt LaBrum.  He made quite a stir in a town in Utah when he suspended all 80 of his players from his football team.  He suspended them not because of their performance on the field.  Rather, he suspended them because of their performance off the field.  

He said in his letter to them, “The lack of character we are showing off the field is outshining what we are achieving on the field.  It is a privilege to play this wonderful game!  We must earn the opportunity to have the honor to put on our high school jerseys each Thursday and Friday night!” 

It is my opinion that Coach LaBrum taught them a thing or two about integrity.  By its definition the word integrity means: “the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles; moral uprightness.”  He taught them that they cannot live up to their calling with excellence on the field and then turn around and contradict that excellence off the field.  He taught them that being men of integrity means that they lead a life of honesty and morality at all times, not just once in a while.

For a Christian, integrity is critical!  Here is what God has to say about integrity: “The man of integrity walks securely, but he who takes crooked paths will be found out.(Proverbs 10:9).  When your family and friends observe your “walk” in life, what do they see?  Do they see someone who is walking with integrity or do they see someone with crooked paths?  Is there an area in your life where you are lacking integrity?  It may be hidden for now, but it comes out eventually.  Why not confess it to Jesus now?  Why not trust that you’re forgiven because of Jesus’ nail-scarred hands and empty tomb which proved His integrity on your behalf?  Why not choose a path of integrity now?  Why not make a difference in the lives of others, like Matt LaBrum did, by setting an example of integrity?

If you’re still breathing, and I assume that you are because you’re reading this blog post, then now is the time to recommit to living with integrity not to try to earn our way back on to Jesus’ team, but because we already are on His team.  Thank God for Jesus!  Let’s show Jesus that we mean what we say.  That’s integrity!

-Chris Johnson, Outreach and Young Adult Pastor

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Ghost Stories

Are ghosts real or not?

Ghosts, sometimes called poltergeists, are said to be spirit apparitions through which the souls of dead persons manifest themselves. All of us have heard fictional "ghost stories" from the time we were children. Didn't we all have a ghost in our closet or under the bed? 

While we dismiss such stories now as figments of fertile juvenile imaginations, we cannot altogether dismiss the idea of genuine spirit phenomena popularly associated with ghosts.

Ghostly appearances

Thousands of sophisticated, intelligent people around the world are convinced that ghosts not only exist, but that they can and do communicate with the living. Do "ghosts" speak from the shadows of a candle-lit room? Are there actually supernatural spirit phenomena associated with those creaks and knocking sounds in the abandoned house on the corner? And if so, are they adequately explained as the spirits of the deceased?

Milbourne Christopher, once known as America's foremost magician, was also a psychic researcher. Christopher, like many researchers today, was convinced that accounts of ghosts and haunted houses could be explained on a natural level. He offers the following example of a so-called haunted house that was found to have a natural explanation:

There are sounds in old houses that are not made by human hands or human voices. They are heard during storms or at certain seasons of the year or in some cases on specific days and at specific times. When the sounds persist, rumors spread that houses are haunted, and they are difficult to sell or rent (ESP, Seers and Psychics, p. 167).

The shrieks and groans of another "haunted house" were discovered to be the work of an adventurous young child. Apparently the child had lodged a toy whistle in the knothole of a tree directly opposite a broken pane of glass. When the wind blew hard, it caused a draft and the wild shrieks that tenants had mistaken for the groans of the walking dead.

Scriptural explanations

Examining such cases of "ghostly" apparitions, we as Christians can use scriptural principles to define our response to such phenomena. Remember, much of what is reported as "ghostly" phenomena is fraudulent. It is either deliberately manufactured "evidence," or a natural explanation for the phenomena is more reasonable and probable than a supernatural explanation. We are not concerned here with such natural phenomena, but only with what defies natural explanation.

Scripture clearly teaches that "man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment," and after death occurs "the dust returns to the ground it came from, and the spirit returns to God who gave it" (Hebrews 9:27, Ecclesiastes 12:7). There is no soul sleep or "wandering" period for the departed soul. Jesus said, "Today, you will be with me in paradise" (Luke 23:43). Those who die in faith immediately live with the faithful in eternal peace and joy. Those who die apart from Christ remain so eternally.

A common denominator in the most convincing ghost stories is that the ghosts don't have peace. They are in torment, usually bound in some way to the place or building where they died. As we have already seen, the soul of a Christian would go immediately to be with Jesus Christ. Because he would have peace, he would not have to wander in torment. 

Another common denominator is the compulsion of the departed spirit to see his murder avenged. He cannot rest, it is said, until the crime is punished. This desire for personal vengeance, exemplified by such "hauntings," is denied to one who desires to follow the Lord. "Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written, 'It is mine to avenge I will repay,' says the Lord" (Romans 12:19).

There is no need for a Christian's spirit to return to "haunt" this world. Jesus conquered death and rose from the dead to prove the good news of God's love and grace extended to mankind. It is highly unlikely that these visitors are members of the kingdom triumphant. 

Furthermore, Scripture never indicates that a spirit of an unbeliever is permitted to leave its place of torment in hell.

Demonic deceptions

Therefore, it is a fair assumption that the vast majority of "ghost" experiences that defy natural explanation are demonic in origin. Hebrews 2:14 notes Satan's preoccupation with death. It would be fitting for his legions to pretend to be the spirits of the departed. The Bible even tells of a demon-possessed man who had a compulsion to roam a graveyard (Matthew 8:28, Mark 5:2-5).

The account of Samuel and the witch at Endor in 1 Samuel 28 has been a source of fruitless debate among Bible-believing Christians. Many, like Martin Luther, said that it was an evil spirit that imitated Samuel in appearance and dress. One argument set forth by such people is that God would not permit one of his saints to be summoned back to earth. 

Nowhere is this taught in the Bible. In fact, it would appear to be contradicted to some extent by the appearance of Moses and Elijah at the transfiguration. If God in his wise providence saw fit to send back a saint for a message of confirmation, could he not also send one back for a message of judgment? We dare not limit God's power and plan by placing him in the "box" of our own limitations.

A closer look at this account also reveals that nowhere is this spirit called evil, but it is simply called Samuel. The language certainly sounds like the message of the departed prophet and, in fact, the prophecy is perfectly fulfilled. Fullfillment is always characteristic of a prediction that comes from God (Deuteronomy 18:22).

Let's not forget, however, that the devil is a clever deceiver who often tells the truth for his own purposes. He is the adversary who takes old lies and skillfully rewraps them. Paul reminds us that Satan even appears as "an angel of light" (2 Corinthians 11:14). It is not necessary for us to debate such open questions. As one Lutheran theologian said, "That it was a sinful act on Saul's part to attempt to gain hidden knowledge in this way and that it brought him nothing but grief is made crystal clear in the text."

Sound advice

It is imperative to remember that any effort to seek knowledge about the future through the dark arts is a violation of God's Word. Christians not only sin when they seek to communicate with the beyond but they place their souls in grave danger. The devil plays for keeps. Christians are content to trust the words of the one who holds our future in his hand. Surely his Word is of more value than that of a disembodied spirit!

-Dr. John Parlow, Lead Pastor

**For more on this and related topics, please join us for a new sermon series, "Wizards That Peep," beginning October 13th. 

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

The Miley Cyrus Question

So tell me, did you see Miley Cyrus at the MTV VMAs?  Shocked?  Saddened?  Did you wonder the same thing I did: Where did Hannah Montana go?  As I’ve read reviews and tweets and reactions to Miley’s “performance” I’m interested in hearing where you stand on how we as parents are to react to this.

One article I read said, “After Miley raunched up MTV's Video Music Awards, Billy Ray offered similar support: "She's still my little girl and I'm still her dad regardless how this circus we call show business plays out. I love her unconditionally and that will never change.

That’s nice, Billy Ray, I’m glad to see that you love your daughter.  I hope that never changes, but what happened to sharing with your daughter what’s right and wrong.  That’s real love!  It’s a privilege and a responsibility for us as parents to help our children figure out how to make good choices.  What happened to teaching your daughter about modesty?  That’s real love!  What happened to teaching your daughter that she is valuable not because of how she looks but because of how God made her?  That’s real love!

Pop culture and celebrities are always pushing the envelope of what is considered culturally acceptable.  And whether we like it or not, our children are exposed to it.  We may not have it on in our homes.  But guaranteed our children talk about it at school and elsewhere.  Do we remain silent?  If not, then how do we talk to our kids about this?

God’s command to parents is clear: “Train a child in the way he should go and when he is old he will not turn from it” (Proverbs 22:6).  “Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4).  I don’t know about you, but I’m tired of hearing about 14 year-old girls starving themselves to try to fit an image that our culture projects as acceptable.  I’m tired of hearing about young men treating young women like pieces of meat.  I’m tired of our culture influencing our children to be what they’re not supposed to be!  

It’s time for us as parents to step up!  It’s time to share with our kids that our value is found in Jesus, not how we look or how well we perform.  It’s time to share with our kids that for the times we do screw it up, like Miley did, that we are forgiven and loved children of our heavenly Father.  It’s time to share with our kids that even though we’re forgiven, our sinful choices do have consequences.  It’s time to share with our kids that God wants us live for Jesus, because He first lived and died and rose again for us (2 Corinthians 5:14-15).  So when the Miley Cyrus question comes up, what do we say to our kids?  I would like your feedback.  We can’t be silent.

-Chris Johnson, Outreach and Young Adult Pastor

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Speaking Truth in Love... It's Not Always Easy

An email was passed to me the other day that dealt with a rather sensitive issue: gay marriage.  In this article it shared how a cake maker refused to make a cake for a gay marriage and finally had to close their doors.  It appears from other news linked to this article that this isn’t the first such incident – there have been other cake makers and photographers as well. 

One side of the issue says, if I make a cake or take a photo job for a gay couple that wants to be married I’m condoning their action and participating in what God through-out the Bible says is wrong.  On the other side some say, if you refuse a service to someone because of their lifestyle it is the same as refusing a service because of nationality or race.  This is pretty heated and very emotional on both sides.

As a Christian, I’m torn.  I know my sins are no better or worse than someone living in a gay relationship.  Homosexuality is a sin (Romans 1:21-28) that is just as wrong in God’s eyes as gluttony, tax evasion, or a wondering covetous thought.  God says, “All sin is lawlessness.” (1 John 3:4) Christ paid for all sins (Romans 3:23-24) and that includes my sins and the LBGT down the road.  This gift of God is the only thing that will change hearts.  Legislature, refusal of services, or a mean look can not change a person’s lifestyle or heart. 

Does this mean we do or say nothing -- or -- should we simply say ‘Jesus loves you’ to anyone and everyone without talking about sin?  I don’t think this is biblically honest either.  On the one hand Jesus showed a lot of grace to a woman caught in a sin that could have been stoned for her activities (John 8ff).  On the other hand Jesus did call out her sin for what it was.  Hebrews 10:26ff shares the danger of knowing something is a sin and continuing in it anyway.  We must call sin for sin.  Not because we feel we’re better or to hurt or punish another individual but just because of honest love for the individual.  This may look different depending on the situation.  There is a time to be blunt and straight forward and there is a time to listen, empathize and speak gently. 

Pray for wisdom because as has happened in other places in our country will soon be coming to your city.  We will be faced with how we will handle this issue on a very personal level.  When we are, we will do well to “not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21) and “speak the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15).

I’d appreciate your feedback on this sensitive issue. 

-Eric Hansen, Discipleship Pastor

Articles referenced:

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Jesus Wants Authentic Christians

60% of young Christians, ages 16 to 29 are leaving church.  60%!  Why are young people leaving churches today more quickly than ever before?  What do you think?  I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts at the end of this blog.  Please leave a comment.  

Maybe some of you came up with people being too busy.  Maybe others guessed changes in life situations.  Maybe still others guessed hypocrisy.  Truth be told, it’s all of the above.  But there’s an underlying reason for that.  Look at the reasons people give: too busy, life change, hypocrisy.  Do you see the common denominator?  The church no longer is important to them. 

Sadly, the perception of churches in our world today is that churches are irrelevant.  Can we blame those who feel this way?  Too many times the people who are on the outside of a church see people on the inside living inconsistent lives.  We put on a good show, but don’t live what we believe.  A couple of years ago, I even had a young woman come to church and after the second time she visited she said to me, “Pastor, I just don’t feel like I belong here.”  When I asked her why, she said, “I’m too messed up to be here.  When I look around it just seems as if everybody’s life is put together but mine.”  That deeply troubled me that she felt that way.  

Then I began to evaluate the atmosphere of our church.  But you know what, that was a mistake.  I shouldn’t have started with the church.  I needed to evaluate the atmosphere of MY heart.  Do I give the impression that everything is going great in my life?  Am I willing to reach out to those who I can sense are troubled?  Do I enter other people’s worlds and offer them the godly advice they need to hear?  Or am I afraid to engage?  Those are great questions, aren’t they?  Seriously, what if we became more intentional about truly sharing our burdens and celebrating our joys?  What if we became more intentional about making this place a “hospital for the broken”?  What if we became more authentic Christians?  Brothers and sisters in Christ – that is what Jesus wants!  Jesus wants authentic Christians.

Look at Luke chapter 14, starting with verse 1, “One Sabbath, when Jesus went to eat in the house of a prominent Pharisee, he was being carefully watched.”  The Pharisees were what we would call “church-going people.”  They went to the synagogue weekly and so did Jesus.  They were hard workers.  They were very moral people.  Guys with daughters, they were the kind of people you would allow to date your daughter!

One would think that Jesus would have admired their version of holiness, but he didn’t.  He was not impressed by their external morality.  He considered it to be self-righteousness rather than Godly righteousness.  Yet, that didn’t keep him from reaching out to them.  On this particular Sabbath, Jesus had been invited by a Pharisee to come and eat with him.  It was customary in those days to invite the visiting rabbi, or teacher, to their house after the worship in the synagogue.  
Luke however tells the real reason they invited Jesus.  “He was being carefully watched.”  That’s because just weeks earlier, Jesus had offended the Pharisees with His scathing indictment against their hollow religion recorded in Luke chapter 11, starting with verse 37.  I’d encourage you to read that section of Scripture at home.  After that, they tried to catch him in something he might say (Luke 11:54).

When invited to their homes for a meal, a formal affair with many rules of etiquette, Jesus went anyway.  Knowing that he was being set up to be scrutinized and criticized, even trapped into being labeled a “heretic.”  He went anyway.  Why?  Jesus ate with his enemies because he loved them.  Now, stop and think about that for a moment.  They hated him.  He loved them.  He was unwilling to give up on them.  Because He knew that deep down inside they just couldn’t believe that they were loved without earning that love.  That’s why they tried so hard to please God.  And here’s the deception: they honestly believed that they could make themselves lovable by what they did.
Can you identify with that?  I can.  Truth be told: all of us have a very unlovable side to us.  All of us have a very selfish, loveless side.  It’s ugly.  It’s ugly in God’s sight.  And it’s down right damnable!  We are a lot like an iceberg.  There’s about 10% of us that we let everyone see.  That’s the really good stuff.  But there’s 90% beneath the surface that, if we’re honest with ourselves, makes us feel ashamed.  And it makes us feel like we have to prove our worth to God.  Can you identify with that?  I can.

Do you realize that Jesus sees all 100% of you?  He sees all the ugliness.  And He loves us anyway!  We are loved.  In fact, we are adopted by God into His family by faith in Jesus Christ.  That doesn’t just make God our heavenly Father.  That makes us His adopted sons and daughters.  And did you realize that in Jewish culture, a father could actually disown his blood children?  But if a father adopted a child, he could not disown that child, no matter what.  We are loved.

Obviously, no where do we see that more clearly than on the cross.  The whole reason why Jesus died isn’t because of our sins.  That’s only part of it.  The whole reason is because of His love.  Maybe you’ve heard this statement before: It was our sins that put Jesus on the cross.  But it was His love that kept Him there.  Do you believe that?  My friends, that’s the first step to authenticity.  When we begin to believe and realize that in spite of our brokenness and ugliness, we’re loved, then we can begin to actually share and care for one another like Jesus did.  Jesus wants authentic Christians who believe that we are loved.
But there’s more.  Look at verse 2, “There in front of him was a man suffering from dropsy.”  It was no coincidence.  The Pharisees had brought this man in so that they could trap Jesus.  This man’s condition was very serious.  Today we would call dropsy – edema – which would also be a symptom of a more serious condition called congestive heart failure.  He was not only suffering.  He was dying.
So Jesus poses a question, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath or not?” (vs. 3) You might not realize this, but the Pharisees’ sect was made up of people who came from the two most prominent schools of rabbinic teaching, the School of Shammai and the School of Hillel. The reason Jesus asked this question was because these two schools of rabbinic teaching vastly differed on how to answer that question.  That would explain verse 4, “But they remained silent.”

Jesus didn’t care what they would say about him afterward.  He showed that loving people trumps what others think.  “So taking hold of the man, he healed him and sent him away.  Then he asked them, ‘If one of you has a son or an ox that falls into a well on the Sabbath day, will you not immediately pull him out?’  And they had nothing to say.” (vv. 4b-6)  Again, they had nothing to say because they differed in how to answer his question.  But the real problem was what was in their hearts.  They honestly cared very little for this man’s welfare.  They were too busy trying to earn God’s love that they couldn’t possibly love this man properly!  You see, you can’t give what you don’t have!  We can’t possibly love others, if we don’t have love ourselves.

Jesus loved authentically!  He had compassion on this man.  He healed this man, not only of his broken body, but also his broken heart.  That’s what turned people’s heads.  That’s what made people notice Jesus, because He actually cared.  He actually loved and changed people’s lives.
Jesus wants authentic Christians who are known by His love.  Jesus put it this way on a number of occasions, “A new command I give you: Love one another.  As I have loved you, so you must love one another.  By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:34-35).  Are we known by Jesus’ love?  

So tell me, do you have a co-worker whose marriage is falling apart?  Do you have a teenager who is struggling with acceptance?  Do you have a friend who’s addicted?  Love them.  Get messy.  Be bold.  Ask them the searching questions about why they are struggling.  Don’t be judgmental.  Show them authentic love.  Don’t just tell them, “I’m praying for you” and then walk away.  Pray for them, but invest in them.  Talk to them, but listen to them.  That’s what Jesus did.  That’s what will make this place a “hospital for the broken,” where we are willing to share our burdens and share Jesus’ healing love.  That’s authentic Christianity!  That attracts people to Jesus!  That’s what will bring people back!  So, tell me, who are you going to invest in this week and bring to church next weekend?  It’s time to get messy. 

-Chris Johnson, Outreach and Young Adult Pastor

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

A Response to John MacArthur’s video “Is Infant Baptism Biblical?”

John MacArthur has a sermon on YouTube that seems to prove that baptism of infants is not biblical and should not be done. Having listened to the sermon I feel he accurately shares the reasons why some non-denominational and Baptist churches have chosen not to baptize babies. There is more history here than a post on a blog can handle. I think a Biblical response to John MacArthur’s 5 points is necessary, because after my time in Scripture I’m convinced that a person of any age can and should be baptized. 

These are John MacArthur’s 5 main arguments

  1. Infant baptism is not in Scripture – not advocated or an incident recorded and therefore it is not biblical. 
  2. Baptism is always used to denote a full immersion. It is a symbol of the union of a believer to the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. (Romans 6, Gal 2, 3, Col 2) Baptism is something that needs to be done as an act of obedience to the holy command of God.  
  3. Infant baptism is a replacement of circumcision, it is not in Scripture.  
  4. Infant baptism confounds the nature of the church and destroys the idea of who is a Christian. The world is full of those who are baptized yet are not in the true church.
  5. Not consistent with reformation soteriology. We are saved by grace through faith and baptism is an act of obedience. How could children have faith? Faith based on the parents or god-parents, surrogate faith. Infant baptism is nothing, has no saving efficacy, delivers no grace, confers no faith, is a symbol of nothing, it is absolutely and totally pointless.  It leads to ritualism, confusion, and false security.

Simply because something is not directly addressed in Scripture does not mean that it is forbidden. One example is the Trinity, a word that even though it is not in Scripture its idea is testified to as God reveals himself in the Bible. We can draw a reasonable conclusion or application from what God tell us. Such is the case for infant baptism. 

“In baptism God (not the parents, or pastor, or priest, or the water) offers and gives…” (Check out the list of passages on the bottom of this page to complete this sentence) Although baptism involves someone standing or being held and someone else saying, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” a person is not doing some sort of good work that earns the blessings given in those passages.  Just like we can not take credit for sitting and listening to a friend tell us the Gospel for the first time and then claim that it was earned by my act of listening. It is the Holy Spirit working together with God’s promise (ie. his Word) that gives baptism its power to create faith. baptism is in line with being saved by grace through faith. Through baptism God gives to us the same forgiveness Jesus won on the cross and faith that is grown and encouraged throughout a person’s life as God grows them through the Scripture. (Romans 10:17 – faith comes by hearing… or Luke 8 – the parable of the sower)

Babies are in deep need of the salvation their Savior won for them. Ephesians 2:4-5 explains, “God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.” All people are spiritually dead in sin because they are the offspring of a sinful mom and a sinful dad. Dead people don’t choose to do anything, spiritually dead people don’t do anything good either, especially believe. No one comes to faith by their power, choice, cognitive ability, etc. Our spiritual deadness is referenced in Psalm 51:5 – “sinful from conception” and Romans 3:23 – “all have sinned and fallen short”. Romans 6:23 also says “the wages of sin is death”. As tragic as it is, babies do sometimes die. According to Romans 6:23 what does their death tell us about their spiritual state? Babies are sinful and in deep need of a Savior, just like the rest of us.

Jesus died for babies too. The Holy Spirit can work faith in their heart in baptism too - faith that trusts God their Savior. Jesus said, “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded.”  (Matt. 28:19, 20) “Nations” is an all inclusive word. It includes all races, both genders, and any age.  If you believe “nations” doesn’t refer to babies then you would also have to say it doesn’t apply to women either. God doesn’t limit baptism to only adults and neither should we.

It seems that John MacArthur found support for his understanding against infant baptism by looking at the examples of whole households being baptized in Acts and 1 Corinthians. What he did is change descriptive passages into prescriptive passages. This change of interpretation requires us to do what the people of the Bible did even though God did not command it. (Ex. Jesus wore sandals therefore we should wear sandals. OR I only see examples of adults being baptized so God only wants adults baptized.) The problem is that if we wanted to be baptized entirely as it was described in the circumstances of those in Acts and 1 Corinthians, then we would have to go and be baptized in the same rivers for it to be true obedience. But of course John MacArthur and others are selective in which part of the descriptive passage they want to follow. Because the Bible does not exactly describe the manner in which baptism was performed, it is not even possible to do it exactly the way they did it. (Ex. Should we immerse, dip, do I let you go under on your own, do I hold your hand, what temperature should the water be, etc…) 

It is amazing to me how much ink has been spilled to convince everyone they must be immersed for a baptism to be biblical. The word for baptism in the Greek is used in contexts beyond immersion such as that of ceremonial washing of cups, pitchers, and tables (Mark 7:4). The effectiveness of baptism does not rely on our ability to duplicate the original circumstances. The picture of Jesus death and resurrection can be shared regardless of how much water is used. If immersion was the only way to baptize I think the Lord would have told us clear as day, “you must immerse everyone for baptism to be effective.” To baptize you need water and God’s Word. Period.  

MacArthur stated that examples of baptism throughout Acts and 1 Corinthians show that people hear the Word, believe, and then are baptized and babies can’t do that and therefore babies shouldn't be baptized. In reality small children could have been in those families described and because of Matthew 18:5-6 babies could have been among those who believed and were baptized. 

In Matthew 18:5-6 we hear Jesus say, “If anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin...” The Greek word for “little ones” is micros, which denotes an extremely small child or an infant. Even these little ones can believe because the work of faith in our heart is an act of God and doesn’t depend on our ability to reason. (Eph 2:8, 9 - The case for infants or severely disabled believing) If anyone, including babies, has faith it is because of the Work of God making them alive.

MacArthur says that those who baptize babies make a case for baptism as a New Testament replacement for circumcision. But I don’t see Scripture making that connection of baptism as a replacement of circumcision.

MacArthur’s highlights the sad state of physical churches and that many who were baptized as infants are no longer believers as evidenced by their life. Sadly this is the case. It does not mean that infant baptism is ineffective but rather that the faith which began at baptism was not nourished as they grew up. They abandoned the faith given them. As in the parable of the farmer scattering seed, some people will come to faith and remain followers of Christ all their life. Unfortunately we have the awful freedom to reject Christ even after having been brought to faith. (Luke 8). We do not stop preaching simply because people fall away. We do not stop baptizing simply because people fall away. Instead we encourage parents to continue to bring their children up in the Word of God, as they are commanded by God. 

From a rational point of view, baptism doesn’t make any sense. It is effective only because God has commanded it and stands behind it. The power in baptism does not lie with the person doing the baptism (any Christian can baptize) or the place where the baptism is performed (it doesn’t have to be in a church) or special “blessed” water (normal tap water or river water is fine). It lies in God’s promise that through this sacrament he will create and strengthen faith.

When the children of Israel, on their way from Egypt to Canaan, were bitten by poisonous snakes as punishment for their rebellious grumbling, they turned to God for help.  Through Moses, God told them to erect a bronze snake on a pole. All who looked at it would be healed. Such a command made no logical sense. Yet it worked. The power was not in the bronze serpent, but in the promise that God made in connection with it. So it is with baptism. It is God’s promise to work faith and forgiveness through this sacrament that makes baptism the wonderful gift that it is.

-Pastor Eric Hansen, Discipleship Pastor

Additional Scriptures:
Acts 2:38  Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.

Acts 22:16  Be baptized and wash your sins away.

Ephesians 5:25,26  Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word.

Titus 3:5  He saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit.

John 3:3,5  In reply Jesus declared, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again…..I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit.”

Mark 16:16   [Jesus said,] “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved.

1 Peter 3:20,21  In it [Noah’s ark] only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water, and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also.

Romans 6:3,5  Don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?… If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection.

Galatians 3:26,27  You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who
were baptized into Christ have been clothed with Christ.

Ephesians 4:4,5  There is one body and one Spirit – just as you were called to one hope when you were called – one Lord, one faith, one baptism.

Colossians 2:11,12  In him you were also circumcised, in the putting off of the sinful nature, not with a circumcision done by the hands of men but with the circumcision done by Christ, having been buried with him in baptism and raised with him through your faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead.

Acts 8:12 But when they believed Philip as he preached the good news of the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women.

Acts 16:15  When she [Lydia] and the members of her household were baptized…..

Acts 16:33  …then immediately he [the jailer] and all his family were baptized.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Why Should I Baptize My Child?

The subject of baptism has been an unhappy division in the Christian Church.  Something which Jesus never intended, but sadly, because we are sinful human beings, is a result of our misunderstanding of baptism.  We need to search the Scriptures to make sure that we clearly understand what Jesus meant regarding baptism.

When seeking understanding of baptism, I believe it is important to begin with what Jesus said in Matthew 28:19-20.  “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”  A close look in the original Greek language, in which the New Testament was written, indicates a number of very important factors we need to keep in mind.  First, Jesus’ command for His disciples was not to “go”.  No, it was to “make disciples.”  Everywhere we go we are to make disciples.  Jesus then indicates the means by which He wants us to carry out that command, baptize and teach.

Second, when Jesus said, “baptizing them,” we have to ask the question, who is the “them”?  Some may think that it refers back to disciples, but it doesn’t.  “Make disciples” is one word, a verb.  A pronoun like “them” cannot refer back to a verb.  It must refer back to another noun.  The pronoun “them” refers back to all “nations”.  Clearly, since Jesus’ command is to make disciples of all nations, one of the ways that disciples of all nations are made is through baptism.  The other way is through hearing the message of Jesus.  Romans 10:17 says, “Faith comes from hearing the message and the message is heard through the word of Christ.”  So in other words, the Holy Spirit works through two different means to bring people to faith.  One is the Word of God.   The other is through baptism, which, lest we forget, also has the Word of God empowering it.  

The question we have to ask is: Are infants a part of “all nations”?  Clearly, the answer is “yes.”  So did Jesus command us to make disciples of infants?  Yes.  How?  Through baptism and teaching.  Children who are baptized are meant to receive the same benefits of faith as adults.  That’s why the apostle Peter in his Pentecost sermon said, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.  And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.  The promise is for you and your children…” (Acts 2:38-39).  Faith receives forgiveness which Jesus earned.  Faith receives power to live differently which Jesus promises in connection with baptism (Romans 6:1-14).  Faith receives salvation which is promised through baptism in Titus 3:5, “He saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy.  He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit” as well as 1 Peter 3:20-21, “In it, only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water, and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also – not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a good conscience toward God.  It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ…”

Clearly, there is no age restriction based on what God teaches us in these Scriptures.  Do little children need the blessings of baptism?  Yes.  Little children are born sinful.  Psalm 51:5 teaches, “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.”  Therefore, even little children need forgiveness.  (There is more on this subject of little children and sin in the next paragraph.)  Little children need to be brought into God’s family.  Baptism makes that happen.  Galatians 3:26 teaches, “You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.”  Little children need faith to receive the benefit of what Jesus did through his perfect life, death and resurrection from the dead.  Little children can believe.  Jesus taught that in Matthew 18:6, “But if anyone causes one of these little ones (i.e. baby) who believe in me…”

Some will argue that little children don’t need baptism because little children are not held accountable.  Those who teach an "age of accountability" do not really derive it exegetically from Scripture.  But in order to defend it, yes, they will often use Isaiah 7:15-16.

It's important to notice what this passage says and doesn't say. Isaiah's words assume that there is an age below which a child doesn't understand the moral implications of his or her actions--something that every parent knows and our criminal justice system reflects. "Age of discretion" would be a good term for this concept.

"Age of accountability" advocates, however, reason that a child who is unaware of moral implications can therefore not be held responsible or declared sinful by God. That logical step is missing from Isaiah 7:15-16, and Scripture's doctrine of original sin clearly teaches otherwise.

Original sin (also known as "inherited sin") is defined as the guilt and corruption which all people have from conception and birth (thus having to do with our "origin"). As one of our theologians has phrased it: "The sin of our first parents [Adam and Eve] was of disastrous consequence not only to them personally, but also to all their offspring, inasmuch as the guilt of their first transgression is imputed, and the corruption of their nature is transmitted, to all their children. The first is called hereditary guilt, the other hereditary depravity."

Among the various Bible sections that speak of this universal malady, the following are representative: Romans 5:12-15,18-19; Genesis 5:3, 6:5, 8:21; Psalm 51:5; John 3:6; Ephesians 2:1-4. Every child born is born sinful and spiritually lost.

As emphasized throughout Scripture, let us give thanks that Christ's righteousness is also imputed to us sinners (See the Romans 5 section listed above). The remedy has been supplied by our gracious God. "Where sin increased, grace increased all the more" (Romans 5:20).  So when it comes to children -- "Age of discretion"--yes. "Age of accountability"--no.

Some will argue that because there are no clear examples of infants being baptized in Scripture that we should not baptize them.  I firmly believe that because Jesus commands us to baptize all nations, infants, who are sinful and in need of forgiveness, are included in that command.  Even though there are no clear examples of infants being baptized there are specifically stated examples of “households” being baptized.  A “household” or “family” to an ancient Jew, Greek or Roman included the children and infants.  Among the Romans, a family was defined as all those under the authority of the head of the household.  This included children (whether by birth or adoption), unnamed daughters, and the sons’ families.  The Roman household even included the “slaves” and their children as well.

The Greek word “oikos” that was in use at the time the New Testament Scriptures was written included children and infants.  The Hebrew word for “household” also included infants and children.  By using “oikos” without any further qualification, the inspired writers show that infants were also to be baptized as members of a household.  Whether or not the households actually had infants in them or not is beside the point.  That “oikos” is used to describe the events shows that the full household was to be baptized.  That would include infants.  The language and terms used to describe these events in the Scriptures when households were baptized demands the inclusion of infants in Jesus’ command to baptize all nations.

-Pastor Chris Johnson, Outreach and Young Adult Pastor

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

A Christian Nation - It's Quite the Reputation!

"I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands; one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."

During the height of the cold war of 1954 between Communist Russia and this country President Eisenhower attended a sermon that changed the pledge of allegiance forever. The Pastor speaking about the pledge of allegiance said, "Apart from the mention of the phrase 'the United States of America,' it could be the pledge of any republic. In fact, I could hear little Muscovites repeat a similar pledge to their hammer-and-sickle flag in Moscow." This preacher urged the inclusion of "under God" in the pledge to denote what he felt was special about the United States. (Especially compared to communist Russia which had no God) President Eisenhower agreed. In 1954 “under God” was added to the pledge of allegiance. As Eisenhower signed it into law he said, “This day forward, the millions of our schoolchildren will daily proclaim, in every city and town, every village and rural schoolhouse, the dedication of our nation and our people to the Almighty.” [1] Even though the word “God” or “the Almighty” could mean just about anything depending upon who is speaking at the time it was a given that the US was a Christian nation. Most surveys today will still tell you that the United States is by percentage (79%) a Christian nation. [2] 

If in fact statisticians are accurate and this nation is Christian, what are we showing the world about Christ? Because honestly, when people see a CHRISTian they see Christ. What kind of reputation has he received through us?

You can look to the religious opposition to get one view of CHRISTians. In Sam Harris’ book “Letter to a Christian Nation” he gives his atheistic view of Christians. He says, “Thousands of people have written to tell me that I am wrong not to believe in God. The most hostile of these communications have come from Christians… The truth is that many who claim to be transformed by Christ’s love are deeply, even murderously, intolerant of criticism.” This is one mans response to his interactions with Christians. It hits close to home.

The worldview from other religions is even worse. Consider a Muslim view of Christians. Joseph Mattera, a leader of a church in Brooklyn, New York, regularly interacts with Muslim families and had this to say about what they see in Christians.

“Since most Muslims view Western Europe and the United States as Christian, they equate the moral decadence of these nations with the morality of the average Christian. With the preponderance of pornography, scantily-clad women, abortion, homosexuality, the use of foul language on television, and the overall corruption of society, they believe it a reflection on Christian ethos.” [3]

I’m not sure if you’ve heard this Christian reputation before but for me it opens my eyes pretty wide. There are so many supposed Christians preaching thousands of sermons with their actions that are misrepresenting Christ. Those people out there drag Jesus’ name through the mud.

I’m glad I’m not like that. Or, do I contribute to the reputation being formed by the masses. When someone looks at me do they get an honest representation of what Christianity should be? When they look at me do they see someone that exudes love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control?  We can’t pass the blame solely to those radicals out there when Christianity’s reputation starts with us. Try as we might in our own little ways we’ve added to the reputation of fakeness, empty actions, religious and biblical ignorance, and the hypocritical reputation of Christianity. It makes me wonder if it is all that bad of an idea to hide our CHRISTian affiliation as a nation.

Of course there is a better solution to foster a positive Christian reputation.  It starts with the basic rhythm of your life. With the cross in full view every day, I know that I am forgiven and empowered to live and interact differently. My sin is not my defining characteristic before God.

9 But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. (1 Peter 2:9-10)

Over this next week as you celebrate our nations independence live such a good life that you make Christianity look good to your neighbors. Even if they don’t get your God yet, you do. You know what he has done for you. Remember: Chosen, priest, holy nation, possession of God. When you own that there is no way people will mistake a life of honesty, hard work, respect for others, and love for one’s family for being anything but Christian. It’s the people living in a nation that make a nation what it is. CHRISTianity’s reputation starts with you.

-Pastor Eric Hansen, Discipleship Pastor