Worst Thing Ever

We are living in an overly hyperbolic society. We show with our every day vocabulary that we are out of touch with the needs and daily struggles of 99% of the world. We say things like, “I’m starving,” when what we really mean is “I’m not full anymore.” We say “I’m so stressed out!” when what we really mean is “I don’t have all the conveniences I normally do.” We say, “That’s the worst thing ever!” when we really have been temporarily set back.

We really don’t know what these things really mean and stand for, but I wish we did. I wish we really knew what it was like to be on the verge of starving, so that we would appreciate every meal. We would really mean it when we prayed a thanks over our food. I wish we knew what real stress was, like constantly being threatened by an oppressive government or marauding soldiers, so that when we had a moment of peace we would be truly grateful for it. We’d spend less time complaining, less time annoyed, and less time on our smart phones.

One of my best friends died recently, and I’ve watched the shockwaves of it affect the entire community, especially his family. It has really given new meaning to the phrase “worst thing ever,” because I now know what that looks like. I’m less flippant about life now. I’m less concerned about minor annoyances. I’m realizing how little of what we hold in high regard is of much import.

When we finally see “the worst thing ever,” which is what most of the world faces on a daily basis, we understand that most of us haven’t faced our own “worst thing ever” yet. What will you do what that day comes? To whom will you turn? How will you respond and cope? Will you fall apart, cloister yourself, and descend into darkness? Will your entire personality change, so that you become angry, bitter, and resenting? Or in your darkest hour, will you “lift up your eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh your help?” (Psalm 121:1) Will you rest in the sweet arms of your Heavenly Father, who is “thy refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms?” (Deut 33:27) Will you cry out to Jesus, who will hold as firm as an anchor in life’s trials?

The promise of help in the “worst thing ever” is only to those who know and love Jesus as personal Saviour. Jesus’ “worst thing ever” He faced with “joy” (Hebrews 12:2) so that He could provide His love, assurance, peace, and comfort during ours.


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Scary Stuff

Today is Halloween, and we see little costumed people parade around the city asking for candy in cute little voices: “Trick or Treat!” These little ones aren’t going to play tricks, so we happily oblige the “Treat” and give them enough sugar to keep Mr. Hershey and Mr. Mars in business for another year, as well as our local dentists! Some keep Halloween innocent enough, but others really like to emphasize the scary aspect of Halloween. They decorate houses with skulls, cemeteries, and corpses. Thus, on October 31, we do think about the thing we usually don’t think about: death.

Death is a scary thing, and when we are faced with it in another scenario (say, a car accident or doctor’s report, instead of a haunted house) we take it seriously. But God has made a way we don’t need to fear death. He sent Jesus Christ to die for our sins, and to take God’s punishment of eternal death away. Hebrews 2:9 says that Jesus “by the grace of God should taste death for every man.” Because of our sin, we deserve death, eternal death in the place the Bible calls Hell. Hell is not a laughing matter. It’s scarier than any haunted house you’ll ever visit. Yet Christ tasted that death for us. He took God’s wrath for us.

If you will believe that Christ died for you, and place your faith in Him alone, you can avoid the scary Lake of Fire and be reunited with God the Father. You can have new life which Satan can never take away. If you have been given new life, you need not fear death. 1 Corinthians 15:55 asks for the Christian: “O death, where is thy sting?” Christians who have been born again by the Spirit of God need not fear death.

For us, it’s not scary stuff.

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Labour Not to Be Rich


The rich want it, the poor want it, and everyone needs it. There’s nothing wrong with having money, of course, but the Bible warns about loving and desiring money. In fact, 1 Timothy 6:10 says: “For the love of money is the root of all evil.” He goes on to say in that verse that when some Christians go hard after money, they have “erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.” The Bible talks about money quite a bit. It tells us what our perspective on it should be. Today let’s look at Proverbs 23:3-5: “Be not desirous of his dainties: for they are deceitful meat. Labour not to be rich: cease from thine own wisdom. Wilt thou set thine eyes upon that which is not? for riches certainly make themselves wings; they fly away as an eagle toward heaven.”

First, the Bible says to be careful of your desires. When you are content with what you have, money is not a great temptation. When you are happy with your car, you don’t carve money to buy a new one. When you are able to make ends meet because you are living within your means, you don’t feel that you need to find creative ways to make money. But the person who is not content is the same person who will compromise himself and his morals in order to get more money. Verse 3 says that when you sit with a rich person, take care that your desires don’t change because of the things you might be able to have.

Second, the Bible says to “Labour not to be rich.” Labor is good, of course, and a person should expect to receive wages for good work. It’s not saying “don’t labor to get money,” but the admonition is not to put all your energy into the getting of money. Some work harder to get rich quickly than they do at an honest job. The Bible chides us not to put everything we have into becoming wealthy.

Third, the Bible says to put wealth in its proper perspective. It’s true that money can aid you and help you. You can serve God with money, and you can serve yourself with money. Money is a wonderful servant and a lousy master. Solomon said: “Wilt thou set thine eyes upon that which is not? for riches certainly make themselves wings; they fly away as an eagle toward heaven.” We obtain money so we can exchange it for what we need. Therefore, money itself is really nothing: we get it so we can get rid of it. The admonition of Jesus is to “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.” (Matt. 6:33). If you will set your eyes on Christ and His kingdom first, He will add to you the money and possession to serve Him.

Money. The rich want it, the poor want it, everyone needs it, but Christians have something better.

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A Healthy Body

Last Tuesday, I dropped the kids off at school for their first day. As I waved them inside, I had a sudden pain on the left side of my chest. I gasped for air and tried to compose myself, but it was very difficult to breathe or speak. I immediately made sure my kids were where they needed to be, then rushed to Essentia Clinic to be checked out. After several tests, the doctor informed me that I probably had a case of pleurisy, which is an inflammation of the lungs. I rested for most of the rest of the day.

Although the problem was in my lungs, the rest of my body was affected by it. I was hunched over in pain when I went into the school to talk to the principal, and I couldn’t walk very well. One might wonder why a problem in the lungs would affect the rest of my body, but the answer is that that our body parts are connected in some fantastic ways. Our bodies have 45 miles of nerves go from our heads to our toes. We have 60,000 miles of blood vessels rushing needed blood to and away from our hearts. God has designed our body parts to be connected to the other body parts, so that the Body might function in a healthy way.

God talks about the church being the body of Jesus Christ. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 12:27: “Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular.” He says in verse 14: “For the body is not one member, but many.” What does that mean? It means that the church is more than a social club, more than a duty, and more than a place to worship God. It means that just as each of your body parts has an important function, each member of Christ’s body has an important function.

It also means that if you aren’t a healthy member of your body, you aren’t helping; you’re hurting. It’s just like when I had my lung problem. 1 Corinthians 12:25-26 goes on to say:  “There should be no schism in the body; but that the members should have the same care one for another. And whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honoured, all the members rejoice with it.” Do you feel this way in the Body? Do you hurt with others, or rejoice with others? Are you doing your part to make the Body more productive, healthy, and useful? Are you doing what God put you on this earth to do?

Be a healthy part of the Body you are in. Not a part of a Body of believers? We’d love to include you in ours!

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It’s not a theory!

Recently, I was a part of a conversation that had to do with the importance of church. The conversation quickly deteriorated as the people involved stopped talking about the importance of church and started talking about the importance of Jesus Christ. Some were people who had grown up in church, but had totally rejected the teachings of the Bible. Some, however, were perfectly comfortable with their church and spirituality, but admitted that they didn’t want much to do with Jesus. One person said something to the effect that they never liked the atonement theory. Of all the mean-spirited empty-headed, glib things said in the conversation, the phrase “atonement theory” has bothered me the most. Like a mosquito bite that itches a week later, I thought it would go away, but it has been a few months now and I am still frustrated when I think about the phrase “atonement theory.”

I understand that some have struggled to understand how the atonement should be properly understood. Was there a ransom paid to Satan? Was it a vivid picture of the triumph of good over evil? But to say that the cross could mean something other than atonement is what has me bothered. What the Bible makes clear is that Jesus’ death on the cross satisfied the righteous demand of God’s Law, based in His holiness, a demand that required punishment and wrath for sins. My sins will be punished by God either in Hell forever, or on Calvary. Therefore, Jesus, as an atonement, went to the cross as a substitute for me. I glory in this understanding.

Not everyone likes this. I get it. Not everyone believes this. I get that, too. That’s why I “do the work of an evangelist” (2 Tim. 4:5). But some want to keep religion and believe that the atonement of Jesus is a “theory.” This bothers me, and it bothers me for these reasons:

  1. It rejects the clear meaning of Scripture. I understand that today, everything seems relative. Our culture hates to put concrete meaning into almost anything. I also understand that Scripture is not always easy to understand. But when the Bible says that Jesus died in our place, it seems like something else is going on when we reject that. Here are some verses. Read them, and try to tell me there is another meaning in them. “For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God.” 1 Peter 3:18. 2 Corinthians 5:21 “For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.” How is that not clear?
  2. It puts God in human terms He was never meant to be in. The Bible often puts God in human terms. He obviously doesn’t have literal hands, feet, or eyes, yet the Bible describes him as such. That is, God describes Himself as such so that we might understand Him better. The problem is that some have taken God’s divinity and lowered it too much so that God’s actions are explained by human standards. Calvary is an example of God’s love, yet some look at it and say, “I don’t like the picture there, of a Father punishing His Son for the sins of others. J. Denny Weaver has called the Cross “divine child abuse.” Yet God is not to be understood as forcing a little boy to be tortured. Not when Jesus says in John 10:17-18: “Therefore doth my Father love me, because I lay down my life, that I might take it again. No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This commandment have I received of my Father.” It was the divine Plan of a Trinitarian God to judge sin in this manner.
  3. It dismisses the real point of Christianity. It just won’t do to say that you love Christianity and all of its good teachings, yet that you don’t believe that Jesus’ death on the cross had any spiritual power or meaning. If Jesus’ death was a simple example or inspiration, I am wasting my time, not just being a pastor, but being alive. It is the death of Jesus Christ and His resurrection that gives my life any meaning at all, and if I believed that Jesus was no more than a moral teacher, I wouldn’t worship or read about Him. The death of Christ has real, significant meaning, and to jettison it is to jettison God Himself. Paul details in 1 Corinthians 15 the message of the Gospel, which must be accepted in its entirety or is utterly rejected.

The Atonement is no Theory. It is no conjecture of man, but it is the declaration of God that He has made a way for sinful, wicked man to be justified. If we will, by faith, take God’s promise of life because of His death on the cross, we can have the forgiveness and life that awaits after death.

It’s no theory.

Hallelujah for that.

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Walking on Water

I was in a kayak the other day on beautiful Straight Lake. I stopped paddling for just a second and put my hand out over the water. My hand came down and gently touched just the surface of the water, just enough to feel it. In that moment, I imagined that my hand was a foot, and that I was Peter, getting out of the boat at the bidding of Jesus, and walking on top of the water.

I wonder what it was like. Peter, a fisherman, was used to the water. His occupation was in the water. We know from John 21 that Peter knew how to swim, but he had never before walked on top of the water; he’d only swam in it. The sea was a treacherous place, but here was Peter as master over the sea. I have to think his foot still got wet, but that he stayed right on top of the surface.

The problem is that the lake I was on was quite different than the sea that Peter was on. When I was in the kayak on Straight, it was a perfect evening, with little wind. When Peter was on the Sea of Galilee, it was storming. I can’t really blame Peter for what happened next, because I would have been scared out of my mind had a violent storm come up on Straight right then.

Peter looked around at those waves, instead of looking at the Saviour. I put my hand under water a little to know what it felt like when Peter’s foot dipped below the surface.

Peter looked at the wind whipping the boat and the water all around him. I put my forearm in the water to know what it felt like for Peter’s calf to be in the water.

Peter looked at the gigantic waves towering over his head, threatening to crash down upon him, and started to sink further. I imagined the terrified look on his face as he realized that his knees were now wet, and that he was so far from the boat. He did the only thing he could. He cried out: “Lord, save me!” Instantly, Jesus was there to pull him out of the water, but not without a slight word of rebuke for his disciple: “O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt?” Peter and Jesus walked through the storm to the little boat and the dropped jaws of the disciples and climbed in. The Bible says that the storm instantly stopped.

I’d like to think that eventually on the row back to shore, someone laughed. The whole scene must have been very funny to see, and though none of the other disciples even tried to get out of the boat, Peter had started to sink. I wonder if Peter wanted another chance. This time, he tells himself, I won’t take my eyes off of Jesus. I wonder if Peter, years from that day, when he was fishing, ever put his hand over the side of the boat and gently touched just the surface of the water, just enough to feel it, and remembered what it was like to walk on water to the Saviour.

Lessons from a kayak.

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A Day for Fools

This morning I am sitting at my desk, wearing a burgundy shirt and a bright purple tie. The only reason my wife let me leave the house looking like this this morning is that it is April Fools Day. Our school had decided to celebrate by letting the students dress in “foolish” clothing, and clashing red and purple is as “foolish” as it gets for me.

“Fool” is not a label that someone would want for themselves. If someone called you a fool, you would be likely to get angry and assume the person didn’t like you. Jesus even said in Matthew 5:22 “whosoever shall say, ‘Thou fool’, shall be in danger of hell fire.” The book of Proverbs talks about the fool and his actions, yet there is an aspect where being a fool is what Christians are called to embrace.

Paul put it this way in 1 Corinthians 4:10: “We are fools for Christ’s sake.” Paul contrasts the way that world thinks versus the way that God acts and thinks, and says that to the world, Christians are fools. Yet to God, the world is foolish. Paul says earlier in 1 Corinthians: “For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God.”

To someone who has never tasted of God’s goodness, the idea of the Cross is foolish. It is foolish to believe that men are sinners, when everyone says that man is basically good. It is foolish to believe that God loved sinners enough to extend us mercy. It is foolish to believe that God would send Jesus Christ to the earth, and that He was born of a virgin. It is foolish to believe that Jesus is God Himself in human flesh, and He did what we could not do in living a perfect life. It is foolish to believe that He died on the cross as a substitute for our sins, and that if we will trust in Him for our eternity, we can have our sins removed from us. It is foolish to believe that Jesus laid in the grave for three days and rose again victoriously. It is foolish to believe that Jesus is coming back again someday. All this is foolishness to the world.

Yet to those who are saved, it is not foolishness, but the power of God unto salvation. It is the means by which God saved us, and made us His children. John 1:12 says: “But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name.” Jesus’s death on the cross made Him look like a fool, but it was the only way that our sins could be punished so that God could extend His love to us. It was the only way that we could get Christ’s perfect righteousness, while He took our sinfulness. All we need to do is believe that Jesus died for us and accept His gift.

This April Fools Day could be the day that you go from being the world’s fool to Christ’s fool.

Will you become His fool?

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New Year Resolution- Time Management

Chances are that as you look back at 2014, you will say, “I was able to accomplish so much, but I wish I would have…” A New Year is a time where we get reflective about where our lives are headed. How are we doing? Is what we are doing working? Are we using our resources in the best way possible? It’s possible that at the beginning of 2014 you had goals or resolutions that you made about this year now gone. What hindered you from doing all the things you had hoped to do? If you are like me, then you would admit that one reason we don’t always live up to our goals is time management.

The Bible is clear that everything we have is a gift from God. This includes time. Time is the great equalizer. We are all different from one another when it comes to looks, intelligence, abilities, strength, and background, but we are all equal in the fact that we get 168 hours a week to spend however we see fit. A great majority of our time is spent working or sleeping, but what about the rest of the time? God wants us to realize that our time is a gift from God that should be used wisely.

Ephesians 5:16 puts it this way: “Redeeming the time, because the days are evil.” The word “redeem” means to “buy back.” We see the word “redeem” on our coupons, and it simply means that that little piece of paper will be purchased back by the manufacturer. When we speak of salvation, our redemption means that Jesus Christ paid the price for our sins on the cross. But in this verse “redeeming the time” means seeing the value in every day, hour, and minute, and using it for the glory of God. It means not wasting precious minutes that can be used to further Christ’s kingdom and influence.

In a country that is good at wasting time, Christians are called on to “redeem” the time, and the reason given is that there is not much time left: “because the days are evil.” When we have an excess of something, we tend to waste it. But when we realize that time is precious and fleeting, it should drive us to want to do everything we can to use that time to do something purposeful and worthwhile. This New Year, make using your time efficiently and effectively a resolution.

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Nativity at the Tree Lighting

Last night, my family and I went to the Tree Lighting Ceremony in downtown Park Rapids. Though it was very cold, the Tree Lighting has become one of my favorite traditions all year. I love to see people I don’t see on a regular basis. Everyone is happy as they move through the street, and all the shops are full of smiling faces, festive decorations, and delicious food! It is really great to see the community effort to make the beginning of the Christmas season memorable.

However, the part that I loved the most about the evening was seeing the real reason for Christmas: the Live Nativity. Complete with donkeys, a stable, and hay, the nativity highlighted the Reason for the Season. In the midst of the holiday cheer, songs about Santa Claus, and decorations, I loved to hear songs about Christ the Newborn King, and see a depiction of the Incarnation of our Saviour.

I appreciate the support of the Chamber for the use of the trailer, and for the fact that we live in a town small and faith-based enough to not offend anyone by emphasizing Jesus, since He is the real Reason for all of the other things we love about Christmas.

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Praying for others

Have you ever had someone say to you: “I’ll pray for you!” What were your thoughts when they said that? When I have offered to pray for a person, sometimes I will get a sigh of relief and appreciation, glad that I would do them the favor of praying for them. Sometimes I’ve gotten a look of horror, as if I’d just offered to baptize them in theFishHookRiver. This reaction comes from a person who thinks of prayer, either as a long, drawn out sermon or as an indication that there is a deficiency that needs to be addressed. The former need not be, although I have heard long prayers in my lifetime, but the latter is definitely true for everyone. We are all in need of prayer, as the old spiritual goes: “It’s me, O Lord, standing in the need of prayer!”

Prayer is asking God for things that are needed. SinceJames1:19says that every good thing comes from God the Father, we should understand that if we are going to have the things we need, we must ask the Father for them. I have found that the closer we get to the Lord, the more we understand how many needs we actually have. This is not only true for ourselves, but especially true for those around us. Many times in the Bible we see examples of people praying for others. This is called “intercessory prayer”: praying for the needs, spiritual and physical of other people. Let me share a few things intercessory prayer I’ve learned out of John 17.

First, intercessory prayer is a sense of responsibility. Jesus said inJohn 17:9: “I pray for them… which thou hast given me.” Jesus prayed for His disciples because He felt a distinct responsibility for them. When God puts another person in a Christian’s life, He does so that the Christian might be there to help. A Christian should then pray for others, because they have been given the responsibility to do so.

Second, intercessory prayer is a request for well-being. Notice Jesus prayed for His disciples that God would keep them (11,15) and sanctify them (17), that they would be unified (20-21), and that they would be with Jesus when they left this life (24). Jesus was interested in their well-being, and one of the best ways you can care for someone is to pray for them. Often we pray for physical needs, but we need to also pray for spiritual needs.

Third, intercessory prayer is a relationship with the giver. Notice how many times Jesus prays for His disciples to be as He is with God- to share in the same relationship. This is the very best thing for which we can pray for others- that they would know and come to know God in a better way. God sends many opportunities to know Him, such as cancer, heartache, and financial troubles. These opportunities are often wasted in bitterness and self-focus, instead of being Christ-centered. When we understand that God is always seeking a relationship with us, we can pray for others, that they would know Him in whatever circumstances they face.

Intercessory prayer is not one taken lightly. It is spiritual warfare, and an important part of what it means to be a Christian, as light and salt, as the hands and feet of Jesus Christ.

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