Keeping It Simple… The Gospel isn’t complicated

The Gospel isn’t complicated. It’s easy to understand. Children can grasp it. Still, the good news that God shares with us in the Bible will be rejected by more people than those who will accept it.

People like to complicate

Left to their own devices, many people will complicate any topic. The Israelites took 10 commandments from God and created 613 rules and regulations. Every aspect of life came under the Law of Moses. The prophets came along and added to the mix. Religion was born.

Now there is nothing wrong with having religion. Certainly not. But religion and the Gospel are two different things. Religion dictates what man must do to be acceptable to God. The Gospel is what God did to make man acceptable to Him.

Those 613 laws were boiled down to one statement–

For God so loved the world that he gave His only begotten son that whosoever believes in him shall not parish but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16)

Jesus offered a clarifying statement when he said,

I have not come to abolish the law and the prophets, but to fulfill them.” (Matthew 5:17)

He told the people that all of the law was still very much in force, but He was the one who would fulfill all of the righteous requirements of the law, so people who put their trust and faith in Him would be forever accepted into God’s family.

When I was a small child, I received a vaccination for polio. My parents didn’t know anything about the years that went into the development of the vaccine, or the science behind it, but they trusted that it would prevent the dreaded disease.

The law is impossible to follow. Every living human being has broken a commandment. The trouble is, Jesus said if you break one, you’ve broken them all. Breaking a commandment is sin, and the Apostle Paul wrote that

the wages of sin is death.” (Romans 3:23)

So what’s the point? The point is simple– the law, the 10 Commandments, points us to Christ. Jesus did not sin. He paid the full price. That is an amazing statement. He fulfilled all of the requirements so that anyone who believes in Him will be guaranteed heaven. We can’t, He can.

It’s simple, straight forward and easy, at least on the surface. Paul said “all have sinned,” which can be a sticking point for some, who do not believe in sin and do not believe they have committed any transgression worthy of an eternal punishment. But he adds,

the GIFT of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 6:23).

Those who acknowledge their sinfulness, big or small, and accept the gift of life through faith in Jesus, are welcomed with open arms, no strings attached. Jesus said,

I am the way the truth and the life. Nobody goes to the Father except by me.” ( John 14:6 )

In other words, there is no back door into heaven and no other way to satisfy God. It’s simple enough, yet so many choke on the idea that they have sinned. Call it pride, or maybe they just don’t understand, I have known some that seem incapable of understanding the simplest things of God. They scoff, they mock and completely dismiss the entire message of the Bible.

The Gospel offers salvation by grace and faith

There are many religions, but only one offers salvation by grace through faith. Christianity stands alone, completely alone. Judaism is the closest, and many Jewish people have accepted Jeshua (Jesus) as the Messiah, much to the chagrin of the Jewish leadership. It was the same during the time of Christ.

Sometimes it’s hard to believe in the simple things. If you make up a religion and make it complicated, you just may find some followers. But God and the Gospel offer you a simple, straight forward invitation. Believe in My Son. Jesus gave Himself so you could live. He paid your debt in full… Simple.

Advent December 3: God’s All Time Christmas Gift!

By Reverend Nancy Carmichael Stoner with Reverend Craig Carmichael Stoner

  1. If our greatest need had been information,
  2. God would have sent an educator.
  3. If our greatest need had been technology,
  4. God would have sent a scientist.
  5. If our greatest need had been money,
  6. God would have sent an economist.
  7. If our greatest need had been pleasure,
  8. God would have sent an entertainer.
  9. But our greatest need was forgiveness,
  10. so God sent us a Savior!

Advent, a time of preparation. Can you make room for it this year? A time to remember and ponder the birth of Christ which leads to Jesus’ death and ultimately the Glorious return of Christ? Will you join me in in this reflection?

This first week of advent our word is Grace. Take a minute to think about the word Grace and try to define it.

Grace is used many ways

The word Grace has many uses, a term for our table prayer, grace as in “give me some grace”. It is also used to define graceful movement. However, God’s Grace is so much more. The root of the word grace is to stoop.

God stoops down to meet our need! In Philippians 2:5-8 Jesus stoops … He leaves heaven and becomes a man in a Supreme act of Grace just because He loves you and me! I like to define God’s Grace as something God does to us or for us, just because he loves us! No works, no pleading, nothing deserved … nothing.

The apostle Paul wrote: in 2 Cor. 5:21

He made Him who knew no sin to be sin in our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” 2Corinthians 5:21

This verse defines what the Reformation called the Great Exchange. God gives us the Righteousness of Christ in exchange for our sin when we accept Jesus as our Savior!

We did nothing to receive it because it is by Grace that we are set free. See? Grace is God doing it all, unmerited, undeserved. Realizing that, Grace should cause us to be full of joy, praise, and thanksgiving.

Jesus is the beginning of a new era

John 1:17, For the Law was given through Moses; grace and truth [a]were realized through Jesus Christ.’ Christmas is remembering the birth of a baby, but so much more, it is the beginning of a new era, one of Grace.

Jesus came to show us Grace and tell us the truth of Who God is and what He is like, can I say loving and giving and full of Grace? Are you able to list a few acts of grace that the Father or the Son has shown you?

Try to list 5 ways to show “grace” others this season? Ways which they will know you are Christians by your love.

Amazing Grace

Finally, this Is Amazing Grace by Phil Wickham. It is a beautiful summary of “Grace”.

Who breaks the power of sin and darkness
Whose love is mighty and so much stronger
The of Glory the King above all kings

Who shakes the whole earth with holy thunder
Who leaves us breathless in awe and wonder
The King of Glory the King above all King kings

This is amazing grace
This is unfailing love
That You would take my place
That You would bear my cross
You laid down Your life
That I would be set free
Oh Jesus I sing for all that You’ve done for me

Opening poem (unknown) and some thoughts are found in The Grace Awakening by Charles Swindoll

Truth Versus Misinformation

Truth Versus Misinformation: If you want to start a rumor, and make it a good one, it needs to have a ring of truth to it. That means it just has to sound true. Truth has nothing to do with it, just the illusion of truth.

That is why conspiracy theories often flourish. They sound plausible even though they are complete distortions of the truth. Conspiracy theories appeal to what people want to hear.

They don’t want truth. They want something they agree with. Misinformation and self-interest have destroyed the art of politics and for centuries they have also eroded Christian truth.

John’s Gospel Explains Jesus as God

The Gospel according to John goes right after misinformation and a form of conspiracy theory of its time.

John’s Gospel stands alone in it’s purpose. It centers mostly on what Jesus did in Jerusalem, while the other three center on his ministry in Galilee.

Matthew shows Jesus’ heritage and lays out a case for Him being the Messiah. Mark tells us that Jesus was from Nazareth and came as a servant. Luke points to Jesus being descendant from Adam and was the perfect man.

John demonstrates that Jesus came from heaven and is, therefore, God.

Gnostics: Truth Versus Misinformation

But there have always been people who want to ignore the truth in favor of an alternative reality. As John was doing his writings, his Gospel, his letters and Revelation, he was attacking an alternative reality, Gnosticism that was prevalent at his time .

Gnostics believed in a radial dualism, simply described as that which is spirit is good and that which is flesh is evil. Therefore, the idea of God with us was absurd. They did not believe the Messiah could be fully man and fully God.

John Explains Jesus As God and Man

Observe the first 14 verses of John’s Gospel.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.

In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.

There came a man who was sent from God; his name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all men might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.

The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.

Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:1-14)

Jesus Can Be Both God and Man

He clearly takes aim at the Gnostic position. The Greek word logos is translated Word in English, but interestingly it fits perfectly because God created the universe just by speaking it into existence.

Logos, or reason, implies order and God clearly had a plan in mind when He created Man. Some might call this “intelligent design,” but God’s word clearly illustrates a per-meditated, well thought-out and loving intentionality.

God created us, and when we turned away from Him and sinned against Him, He had from the very beginning a plan of salvation. He would send His Son to pay the price.

Gnostics Would Not Accept This Truth

Gnostics cringe at this truth. In Romans 7, the Apostle Paul talks about the sin within himself and not doing what he wants, but what he hates.

Paul is grateful to God for the Lord Jesus, who did what Paul and all of us could not do—meet the righteous requirements of the Law. God with us, Emanuel, did that.

Knowledge Cannot Replace Grace

There was no secret knowledge. There was the truth of the Lord Jesus Christ. No amount of knowledge could replace the grace of God. No self-respecting Gnostic would ever accept that God would stoop to the level of a servant in order to accomplish His ends.

John’s Gospel is a love letter to man. It is not intended to be a journalistic effort, but it does paint a beautiful, theological portrait of Christ. Jesus is undeniably God.

Martin Luther Stirred the Pot

Martin Luther Stirred the Pot! Any body ever stir the pot in your life? Maybe it was a bully at school, or that annoying person at work. Or maybe you have experienced a disturbance in your inner self. It’s something that’s bothering you, but you don’t know exactly what it is.

That’s what was going on with Martin Luther. You probably remember him as the one who started the protestant reformation, the founder of the Lutheran movement. I think of him as a very troubled Roman Catholic priest, who came face-to-face with the grace of God.

Martin Luther nearly struck by lightening

In 1505 he was nearly struck by lightning during a thunderstorm, and believe me, it got his attention. He told his father he was terrified by death and divine judgment, so he decided to become a monk and joined up with the Augustinian friars. His dad was furious because he wanted Martin to be a lawyer… but God had other plans.

Martin Luther was ordained a priest in 1507, earned bachelors in theology 1508 and a doctorate in 1512. However, despite his excellent education, he suffered spiritual distress.

Luther wanted to please God, but got no sense that God was even paying attention to him. He was trying to please an angry God. That was his view, as he firmly believed that he had to do something to gain favor, or at least work his way into acceptance.

But he learned that nothing he was doing, or would ever do, would be enough. He was missing the mark completely. His superior, Johan Von Staupitz, decided that Luther should teach. That would give him a service avenue to pursue and perhaps offer Luther some relief from the torment.

Martin Luther starts to read the Bible

To teach a religious class he had to prepare. To prepare, he had to read the Bible. He read Paul‘s letter to the Galatians. Luther could not get around God’s Word. He came face-to-face with God’s grace. That opened up doors of understanding. Here we go… The Bible didn’t agree with the teachings of the Pope or the Catholic Church?

That letter to the Galatians had a profound impact on Luther and it has as much impact today when we choose to read it. Here was Paul, talking NOT ONLY to believers in the first century, but to all in Luther’s time as well. Fifteen hundred years later, Paul’s words were as true then as they were when they were first penned. And they are true today.

The Galatian church had swayed from their faith in Christ, to a works-based belief system. Paul went right after them, and it was as though he were speaking only to Luther.

Paul admonishes the Galatians for works-based beliefs

You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified. I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law, or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish?

After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort? Have you suffered so much for nothing — if it really was for nothing? Does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you because you observe the law, or because you believe what you heard? (Galatians 3:1-5)

Luther realized that we are saved by grace

It’s always been man’s foolishness, bucking the authority of God. From Old Testament days to Luther’s time, to the present, man has always tried to fashion God in his own image. The creation has always tried to take credit away from the Creator.

Though grace is shown to the wicked, they do not learn righteousness; even in a land of uprightness they go on doing evil and regard not the majesty of the LORD. (Isaiah 26:10)

95 issues nailed to the church door

In 1517, Luther wrote down 95 subjects he wanted to discuss with the church. He nailed those topics to the door of the church. Luther did not expect a local to copy it down, and give it to a printer for publication.

Luther wanted a discussion, a debate, not an uprising. But the Thesis really stirred the pot. Among so many points of disagreement, Luther determined that man’s salvation was dependent on grace alone, faith alone and Scripture alone.

That is—the grace of God, faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and the inerrant and authority of the Bible. Church teaching was meaningless. The Pope, highly exalted by the church, was not the final authority.

Luther’s conclusions to his study were completely rejected. Long story short, by 1521, the Catholic church and Pope Leo X had heard enough. Luther was excommunicated. Paul’s words to the Galatians were ignored by the church.

Paul’s response

I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ.(Galatians 1:6-7)

What? No indulgences? No buying your way out of purgatory?

Luther translated the Bible into German

Luther translated the Bible from Latin into German, so people could actually read it for themselves and not have to rely only on what the priest told them. It’s amazing what happens next! When people read the Bible, pray about it, ask questions and share with other believers.

Bible began to be translated into many different languages

Over the next century, scholars would translate from the original Hebrew, Greek and Aramaic, as the translation from the Latin was not enough.

There was backlash against the Roman Catholic Church that caused unintended consequences. Luther did not want this. There was social upheaval, priests were murdered, increased violence that was completely against Luther’s desires.

But God used this for His purposes. His GRACE, like a limitless powerful magnet, would draw people to FAITH.

Grace draws us to God

What is grace? Unmerited favor? That’s a good Sunday School explanation. Or is grace a powerful, liberating force that draws people to God?

We cannot fathom the power and majesty of God. He is perfect…He is holy…how do you get close to that? In the ultimate show of grace, God sent His Son to us.

The Christ came to offer Himself as a ransom for may, giving up His life on the cross for our sins. It is by faith that we claim His gift. We are saved by God’s. The church at the time argued against this. In Paul’s time, it was the Jewish authorities.

Jews argued against being saved by faith

If, while we seek to be justified in Christ, it becomes evident that we ourselves are sinners, does that mean that Christ promotes sin? Absolutely not!

If I rebuild what I destroyed, I prove that I am a lawbreaker. For through the law I died to the law so that I might live for God.

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!” (Galatians 2: 17-21)

Many still stray from the truth

The church back then, and the church in too many cases now, strays from the truth of the Gospel. Men and women put their own ideas ahead of God’s, although they will say that they do things in the name of God.

Grace is liberating. I’m not saying to go against your church, but I do encourage you to read the Bible for yourself and search for answers.

Christ sets us free and we live in freedom

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.

Mark my words! I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all. Again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law.

You who are trying to be justified by law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace. But by faith we eagerly await through the Spirit the righteousness for which we hope.

For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love. (Galatians 5:1-6)

God reaches out to us with His love and grace

Luther discovered God’s grace. Today, God reaches out to us, an act of grace, to bring us to Him. His grace and His peace be with you all.

Why did God become man?

Why did God become man?: Advent, the time of year when many churches anticipate the celebration of the birth of Christ, is drawing near.

We will turn our attention to the “Christmas Story” and the birth of Jesus. Luke’s Gospel is a favorite for telling that story, but it is the Gospel of John that give us the why behind the birth of Jesus.

Jesus is God… Why did God become man?

Unlike the other gospels, John’s gospel begins with a dramatic salvo of fact…all designed to establish one, essential, undeniable truth…Jesus is God.

Matthew begins with the linage from Abraham to Joseph. Mark makes a brief reference to Jesus being the Son of God… Luke in journalistic fashion, tells the story with a linage going from Abraham to Mary.

But it is John who goes to great lengths to prove that Jesus is God. While the other three record details of the life of Christ, sort of like taking a snap shot of events… John creates a theological oil painting of the Messiah. It’s a love letter, but it is also an factual response to some of the false prevailing thoughts of the day.

John refutes Gnosticism

It is a direct assault on Gnostic thought. Gnostics held to a radical dualism… that is what was flesh was bad and only what was spirit is good… John attacks that.

They believed that because flesh was bad and spirit was good, Jesus could not have been God and man at the same time. However, that is just what Jesus was—God and man. John begins his gospel making that argument in the opening 14 verses.

John’s opening versus

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of men.

The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it. There came a man who was sent from God; his name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all men might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.

The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:1-14)

Jesus was always with God

The beginning of John’s gospel establishes one, primary and essential fact– Jesus is God. He firmly establishes that Jesus was always with God, a major force in creation and most importantly, the very meaning of grace and truth. The incarnation, God becoming man, is vital to the understanding of grace and God’s plan for redeeming mankind.

In Genesis we see that sin entered into the world because of the fall of Adam and Eve. Man let sin in, and so man must eradicate sin. But man, flawed as he is, cannot do that. Only God can do that and so, God had to take on human form and complete the task.

According to Bible commentator James Montgomery Boice there are four reasons why the incarnation is so significant.

1. Jesus Was Able to Die

The Christ being made man meant that He was able to die. God the Son is eternal, never ending, but when God took human form, that meant He was subject to all the limitations of human existence. In order to meet all of the requirements of the Law, a perfect, sinless sacrifice had to be made to cover the sins of humanity, past, present and future.

Isaiah 53: 1-10

Who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed? 2 He grew up before him like a tender shoot,and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.

3 He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. 4 Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted.

5 But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. 6 We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.

7 He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth;he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth. 8 By oppression and judgment he was taken away. And who can speak of his descendants? For he was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people he was stricken.

9 He was assigned a grave with the wicked,and with the rich in his death,though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth. 10 Yet it was the LORD’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the LORD makes his life a guilt offering, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the LORD will prosper in his hand.

11 After the suffering of his soul,he will see the light [of life] and be satisfied; by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities.

12 Therefore I will give him a portion among the great, and he will divide the spoils with the strong, because he poured out his life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors. For he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.

2. Jesus Was Able to Understand Us

Because Jesus came to us as a man, and because He experienced all that we experience, He fully understands what we are going through. Who better to guide us?

Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess.

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are — yet was without sin.

Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. (Hebrews 4:14-16)

Jesus is the great high priest. He was there with us. He was in the trenches and He knows what it means to go through temptation, or suffer loss, or even experience the common cold.

3. Jesus Is Our Example

Jesus was the perfect model. He showed us what, according to Boice, life fully pleasing to the Father is like. This example is for our relationships with each other, with the church and of course, with God.

7 Therefore Jesus said again, “I tell you the truth, I am the gate for the sheep. 8 All who ever came before me were thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them.

9 I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. He will come in and go out, and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. (John 10:7-10)

For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps:

“Who committed no sin, Nor was deceit found in His mouth”; who, when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously (1 Peter 2:21-23)

4. Jesus Proves The Value of Life

Through the incarnation of Christ, God sanctified the value of human life. All human life is important to God, but before Jesus, life was cheap. The precious life of God was given to us as payment for sin.

Only God could irradiate sin and only God can determine the value of our lives. God paid the price. Therefore, because God came to earth, lived a sinless life, and offered His life on the cross, the value of human life is enormous, beyond measure. We are God’s prized creation.

For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have everlasting life. John 3:16

God became man, lived a sinless life and paid the price for the sins of all mankind, past, present and future. The Gnostics were wrong. Knowledge is meaningless without faith.

Because of the grace of God, we are invited into relationship with Him. Jesus made it all possible, because He and His Father are one—God.

Do you believe Christ?

Do you believe Christ?: Ask a lot of people if they believe in Jesus and you’ll likely get a positive response. They may not believe He is the Son of God, or the Messiah (Christ). But they believe there might have been a person called Jesus back then, a prophet of some kind.

Christian followers might boldly proclaim their belief in Jesus, but as my friend Rev. Nancy Carmichael-Stoner put it, “They might believe in Christ but do they BELIEVE Christ?”

I believe in His teachings

My father used to say “Well, I believe in the teachings of Christ.” I suppose in a way it was a strategy to avoid the questions from a young man.

Okay, love your neighbor, do unto others, yada yada yada. It’s shallow and does not reflect the truth. Dad was never one for explaining himself, although he was probably one of the most Christ-like men I ever knew in many respects.

It really wasn’t until shortly before his death that he came close to proclaiming Christ as Savior, but given his strict Methodist upbringing, I am sure he understood from his parents who and what Christ is. People are funny about religious expression. They avoid it.

Do you believe Christ, is He the way the truth and the life?

Believe in or believe is an important distinction. It’s one thing to believe in Jesus, but it quite another to BELIEVE Jesus. Jesus said He was the way, the truth and the life, but do we believe Him. And if we express belief, how has that changed our lives?

Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do. 19 You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that — and shudder. (James 2:18-19)

Where is evidence of Christ in their lives?

People go through the motions when it comes to matters of faith. They go to church, maybe serve on committees and outwardly look to be right in line.

But do they really believe Jesus and follow Him. They talk a good game, but where is the evidence of Christ in their lives? Examine what it means to be “in Christ” or what is means to have “Christ in me.”

It is an active relationship that tells the story. Prior to coming to faith in Christ, we were spiritually dead. He has given us new life.

The woman at the well

I am reminded of the scene in “The Chosen” when Jesus meets the woman at the well. She is at first very skeptical, but when she comes to understand who Jesus is, she gets excited. “I’ll going to tell everybody.” Jesus counters, “I was counting on that.”

She became a different person because she was in Christ and she believed Christ. An ounce of faith led to a ton of action.

I’m a pastor and I care about Monday morning

Over the years I have explained to people that my relationship to the church was difficult. As a pastor, I did not care much about Sunday morning, although it was important. I led music, did sermons and baptisms.

But I care more about Monday morning and what people were doing. I visited homes, places of business, farms and places around town, just to see how they were getting along.

Are they living out their faith?

Was the church making a difference in their lives and were they “in Christ” when not around the members of the church? Christ changes lives and there has to be evidence of the conversion.

From what I saw, this was very much the case. It was encouraging. But then the infighting at the church began. They’d get mad at the pastors, argue about the budget, and in the process loose their connection to the one who gave them life.

Pride and personal interested replaced “love your neighbor” and Kingdom work was set aside in favor of the new church building. It was all Christ all the time.

Merely believing in Christ in not sufficient

The point is merely believing in Christ is just a watered-down approach to the faith. Being “in Christ” is having life in its fullness. It is the purpose of the relationship that Jesus paid for on the cross.

It is sadly an important point that many churches miss, because the focus is on the church instead of its founder.

A recent poll showed that only about nine percent of Christians actually believe the Bible is essential. Believe in Christ or believing Christ is a point of debate that needs to be engaged. It’s time to get back to the basics.

Throwing the first stone

Throwing the first stone: One of the more familiar sayings in the Bible, known even to those who do not read or believe the Bible, is “If any of you who is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” It is the story of the woman caught in adultery in John 8. Read the passage below

But Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. At dawn he appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them. The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery.

They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him.

But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.

At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. 10 Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”

“No one, sir,” she said.

“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.” (John 8:1-11)

Aggressive Grace

Pastor and author Max Lucado described this as “aggressive grace.” It is the overwhelming, overpowering grace of God in action over sin. The law said the woman had to die. The teachers of the law and the Pharisees were ready and wanting to carry out her execution. She was helpless.

She had been caught in adultery and had no rights. Women were often in poverty. If the woman was caught in adultery, what about the man she was with? Is he not equally if not more responsible? The answer is, of course, he was guilty just as she.

Women had no rights, which makes the grace of our Lord Jesus all the more powerful. It did not appear that the man was being held responsible and perhaps he thought he was getting away with his action. It was the woman who received the grace of God, the forgiveness and the cleansing.

Having been blessed in such away, she most likely obeyed His command and changed her ways. The guy received nothing. The simple question spoken by the Messiah stopped them in their tracks. The grace of God supersedes the law.

Jesus was the final arbiter of her fate. The law was necessary, as Christ himself proclaimed. He came to fulfill the law not to abolish it.

The law was added so that the trespass might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more, so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. (Romans 5:20-21)

Law makes us aware of right and wrong

The law had its purpose– to make us aware of sin and the point us to Jesus. God did not intend for us to use the law to commit more sin, nor did He intend for us to continue sinning just because He forgave us.

If we choose to ignore the warning, or choose to reject God’s gift of salvation, He will leave us alone and allow us to sin to our heart’s content. But it doesn’t change anything. Our sin leads to eternal separation from God, an unimaginable death.

Jesus comes meets on our level

There’s another important aspect to the story in John. Jesus made himself the lowest person in the scene. He stooped to the level of the woman, probably below her, to save her and make His point.

He came down to her level. There’s a great Gaither Vocal Band song that says it perfectly. “He came down to my level, because I couldn’t get to up to His…”

Jesus, the creator God of the Universe, came down from heaven, was born in the lowest of circumstances and grew up to be a servant.

Think about that. He left the glory of heaven to offer Himself on the cross for us. He stooped to our level. It does take two to tango. God stoops down to reach us and offer salvation. We just need to accept it.

The Gospels

The first four books of the New Testament are known as the Gospels. Gospel means “Good News” and each offers its own unique perspective on the earthly life of Yeshua Jesus.

Matthew, Mark and Luke are known as the “Synoptic” Gospels, as they agree more on the events covered and the timetable of those events, although the timetables are not strictly followed. It’s like a friend telling you what happened. The conversation may bounce around a little, but you get the idea.

Gospel of John is unique

The Gospel of John, however, is quite different. It is best described as a love letter and the writer makes no attempt to put events in order. A good way of describing the differences is that the first three Gospels are like a collection photographs, snapshots if you will of significant happenings.

John’s Gospel is more like an oil painting. It is accurate and shows the truth, but there is an “artistic” touch to it that separates it from the other three.

Matthew traces Joseph’s linage and Luke traces Mary

Even though Matthew and Luke may be similar, there is an interesting and very important difference in the two writings. Both men offer a genealogy leading from King David to Yeshua Jesus. However, Matthew’s genealogy traces the linage of David to Joseph, who was married to Mary, the mother of Jesus.

Luke’s linage goes from David to Mary, so that is the bloodline. Matthew’s account includes the name of Jeremiah, who as King sinned against God. God said that because of that sin, the King of Israel would not come through his linage.

Because that is the case, Joseph can not have been the father of the Messiah, the eternal King of Israel, King of Kings and Lord of Lords. The immaculate conception of Jesus means that God is the biological father of Jesus, not Joseph.

Matthew: The Tax Collector and Social Outcast

No people were more hated in Jewish society than tax collectors. Here was Matthew, a young Jewish man with ambition and a keen business sense. He was educated, but sadly lacked in social skills. But working for the Romans, Matthew would have enjoyed an ample income and a comfortable lifestyle.

This, of course, was disgusting in the eyes of the citizens, who were living hand-to-mouth and were harshly burdened by their occupying forces. Matthew is writing to Jews and is very mindful of Jewish beliefs and sensitivities.

Matthew is often characterized as being rather odd, most likely a high-functioning autistic man, whose intellectual abilities were both a blessing and an encumbrance. He had the ability to collect taxes and keep the books, but he did not grasp simple human things like love and fellowship, things we all assume everybody understands and appreciates.

The Gospel of Matthew examines Jesus as the Messiah

Matthew’s main theme is Jesus as Messiah. He is writing to Jews, who do not accept Jesus as the Son of God and the Christ. Matthew relies heavily on Old Testament references, again in an effort to make the connection between the Hebrew writings and Yeshua Jesus. He takes lengths to appeal to Jewish sensitivities.

Mark: An associate of Peter and Paul

Mark, also known as a John Mark, was not one of the 12 Disciples, but was a close associate of the Apostle Paul and the Apostle Peter. It is through these two associations that Mark gained knowledge and insight into the ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Much of his writing is a direct reporting on the public preaching of Peter. He traveled with Paul, but fell out of favor when he left Paul and Barnabas during Paul’s first missionary journey. Mark returned to Jerusalem.

When Barnabas wanted Mark to go on the second journey, Paul refused and that caused a slit between the two men. However, Mark would later be fully restored in relationship with Paul. Perhaps it was God’s way of preparing Mark for his writing, to have time with both Peter and Paul. Mark would also develop a close relationship with Matthew

Luke: Physician and Journalist

Like John Mark, Luke was not one of the original Disciples. He was also not a Jew. Luke was gentile from Greece. He did not know Jesus, but he traveled with Paul and, in journalistic fashion, recorded Paul’s experiences.

Luke’s Gospel can be viewed as “The Acts of the Holy Spirit Through the Lord Jesus Christ.” His follow-up is the Book of Acts, which is “The Acts of the Holy Spirit through the Apostles.”

John: The one Jesus Loved

John’s accounts are a theological love letter to any who desire fellowship with God. John also takes on gnosticism head-on. Gnostics believed that the spirit was good but the body was bad. This radical dualism suggested that Jesus could not be both man and God. John wastes little time in going after that idea.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning.

Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 4 In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.

He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:1-5, 10-14)

Each of the Gospels have a purpose

Four different Gospels, with different styles, yet the same story. In the cases of Matthew and John, these were first-hand accounts. In the cases of Mark and Luke, they were reliable accounts from reliable witnesses. Together they teach us the essentials of Jesus and God’s plan to redeem man to Himself.

A House Divided

God is love

Abraham Lincoln once warned the Illinois legislature that a house divided could not stand. We see it American politics now, as the divide between Republicans and Democrats is wider than it has ever been.

The same is true for the Christian church. Although the church was established by the Lord Jesus Christ, it has become a social institution, deeply divided in theological positions. The task of bringing people to faith in Christ and making disciples suffers in the chaos of personal ambition.

We need to support the church

I am all for the church. so don’t think this is an attack or a call for readers not to attend services. We are encouraged to come together. as believers. to worship. grow in the faith and form a like-minded community. But sometimes men and women get in the way of that.

Some churches define their own criteria for who is and who is not a believer. Some focus on gathering new believers, while others focus on missions, or social issues. All this is good. but the main purpose of the church can be lost as people jockey for position within the church body. It becomes a political, self-serving activity.

No church is exempt. Denominations that come from European liturgical Christianity, as well as evangelical churches. This is especially true for the non-denominational congregations that have flourished in the last 60 years. They have drifted from traditional norms. Social issues take over. They get sidetracked. Elders are too often chosen by social standing, profession or personal wealth.

Other issues take over a house divided

Issues such as abortion, LGBTQ rights and even political party affiliation, cloud the most urgent picture of a world in turmoil and people being in need of a savior. While we are busy finding ways we differ and reasons for hating each other, we get in the way of God’s plan.

God will complete His plan with or without us, but He invited us to be a part of it, not the reason for people to reject Him. Sadly, the church I grew up in was cold, stiff and devoid of the grace of God. As a teenager I turned away from the church because I was convinced God hated me anyway, so why bother? Even churches where I served as an associate pastor had the same issues.

Many ways to serve God

There are many ways to serve God. People can certainly serve in the church by teaching Sunday School, helping with set-up, singing in the choir or praise band, being a member of the prayer team or just inviting their friends to attend. But the key is serving.

Churches set up ministries, but sometimes they have no particular interest in the ministry actually being a ministry. It looks good on the web site, but is anybody really doing the heavy lifting? I was once involved with a project a pastor asked us to set up.

He did not have the authority to actually make that order. He held meetings, but nothing moved forward. While he had his meetings, an individual was making sure nothing would ever happen. The young pastor did not see what was going on and when informed, he rejected the information. How to kill a ministry 101. It was sad.

What are your spiritual gifts?

God gives these spiritual gifts to he followers. If God calls you to service, he will make the situation available. He will equip you to do the task. God told Moses at the burning bush to just go out and do it and that He would be right there with him.

Christ came to our world to serve.

…the Son of Man did not come to be served . but to serve. and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:45)

He did not come to separate us, but to unite us in Him. We should desire to be unifiers

Jesus is a peacemaker

Jesus said “Blessed are the peacemakers.” (Matthew 5:9)

Peacemakers bring people together

Peacemakers bring people together. They are not passive. They don’t just walk away and take pride in not getting into the fight. Our freedom in this country did not come without a fight.

In the case of the church, we’re talking about a spiritual fight, in the sense that we need to keep Christ first. It is His church and it is His ministry. It is predicated on His word.

Individual aspirations are all too often counter to God’s will. The desires of our hearts should be the desires to have what the Lord wants for us. It’s not a power play for positions of status or recognition. Churches, to use an old Navy phrase, need “all hands on deck.”

We are encouraged to meet together and serve together. Churches are flawed, but necessary. Churches can be difficult, but they belong to God. People get in the way of God’s plan, but God will see those plans through. We are invited to partner with Him. That’s the heart of the church.

The Way, the Truth and the Life

Even though the 12 disciples were traveling with Jesus and learning from Jesus every day, there were still burning questions on their mind. They heard the teachings. The disciples saw the miracles. They had a front row seat to the opening of the Kingdom gates, but the doubts and fears persisted.

The disciple Thomas asked Jesus about how they will know where He is going and how will they know the way. Here is His reply:

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6)

Jesus clearly states that the way to God the Father is through Him. The question just begs explanation and illumination. Jesus knew that He would go home to His Father.

Now it might sound rather narrow and arrogant to claim that He was the only way to the Father, except, of course, if it were true, in which case it becomes a declaration of an exclusive opportunity for those who believe.

The Way

The early followers of Jesus followed their master from Galilee to Samaria, to Jerusalem. They listened to His teachings. They put His wisdom into practice. It was a well-worn path. “The Way” became a family name of sorts, referring to those who followed the Messiah.

People of “the way” were moving towards God, not away from Him. When Jesus said “I am the way” He was offing an exclusive pathway to the arms of God.

No one is excluded

“I am the way” presents some problems, however. The thought of it being the only way to God creates conflict and there are so many competing points of view on who God is and how to draw near to Him.

As much as Jesus offered an exclusive way to God, He never excluded anyone. It is anything but exclusionary. All were welcome to come, regardless of nationality, ethnicity, race or any other factor. In John 3:16, Jesus tells Nicodemus, “whosoever believes in Him shall not parish but have everlasting life.”

The Truth

Jesus was not just providing information when He said “I am the truth.” Beyond information this is a dividing line between His life and death. It is about the reliability and faithfulness of God. It transcends right and wrong, or our sense of what is and what isn’t.

There is human truth, which all to often in these modern times is no truth at all, or some kind of watered-down version of what we think is truth. Christ offers us an absolute truth, that which is true in all times and in all cases and never changes.

Many people don’t believe in absolute truth. They say “what’s true for you may not be true for me.” Consider this exchange between Pontius Pilate and Jesus during His trial.

Pilate then went back inside the palace, summoned Jesus and asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?”

“Is that your own idea,” Jesus asked, “or did others talk to you about me?”

“Am I a Jew?” Pilate replied. “It was your people and your chief priests who handed you over to me. What is it you have done?”

Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place.”

“You are a king, then!” said Pilate.

Jesus answered, “You are right in saying I am a king. In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”

“What is truth ?” Pilate asked. With this he went out again to the Jews and said, “I find no basis for a charge against him. But it is your custom for me to release to you one prisoner at the time of the Passover. Do you want me to release ‘the king of the Jews’?” (John 18:33-39)

According to the Jews, Jesus was not a king, but a heretic. The Jewish authorities wanted Him to die, because in a very real sense, the truth of Jesus was an absolute threat to their power and control over the people. Jesus did say He was a king. The absolute truth is, He is King of Kings.

The Life

The Messiah’s focus was not necessarily limited to the here and now. He was always talking about the Kingdom of God, the eternal kingdom.

“…I am the resurrection and the life . He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die…” (John 11:25-26)

Shortly after telling this to His friends Mary and Martha, Jesus brought their brother Lazarus out of the grave, even though he died days earlier.

Jesus is the way the truth and the life

The fact that Jesus would rise on the third day and walk out of His tomb, just as He commanded Lazarus to do, is proof that He is the life. If there was no resurrection, everything Jesus said would be a lie. It might be nice to hear, or harmless on the surface, but a lie just the same. But Jesus is the truth and the life. The way to truth and the life and to God, is through Jesus.

The abundant grace of God is poured out to us in Christ Jesus. Jesus is the way to God, the truth of God and the life of God.

Managing Stress in Everyday Life

By Rev. Ralph Modjeska

Managing Stress: My dear friend, Rev. Ralph Modjeska, is the chaplain to the Waukesha County (WI) Fire Chiefs Association and Flight for Life. He routinely does debriefing sessions for fire fighters, paramedics and EMTs. In the aftermath of the Waukesha , WI parade tragedy, he conducted sessions for every department in the county, as well as for families of victims.

This is a piece he wrote and uses routinely in his ministry. It is long, but it contains information that might help you or someone you know, so we chose to post it in its entirety.

Managing stress starts with understanding our response

Stress– Commonly known as anxiety, is most often NOT determined by what happens TO us, but by how we RESPOND to a situation. Stress can come in many forms and can affect our families, our workplace and ourselves.

Stress/anxiety can come from:

  1. trying to balance our personal life from our work,
  2. family conflicts or concerns,
  3. child or elder care issues,
  4. alcohol or drug problems,
  5. financial difficulties,
  6. workplace issues or conflicts/concerns about employment, etc.

Everyone experiences stress. It is a natural part of life. Every change in our lives is accompanied by stress. That includes both joyful moments as well as the sorrowful ones.

ACUTE ANXIETY would be a level of stress relieved immediately after the situation is resolved.

CHRONIC ANXIETY would be unrelieved stress experienced over a long period of time, which can lead to illness and depression.

Learning to respond to stress

Clearly life will go much better for us if we can learn to recognize and respond appropriately to stress that comes our way. We need to understand that our body’s natural reaction to stress is either FIGHT or FLIGHT. Both are outdated.

Today, many of our stress-inducing require a more complex response than putting up our “dukes,” (FIGHT) or fleeing from the scene (FLIGHT). For example, have you ever found yourself in a long line at a store and the checkout person is talking incessantly to another customer, ignoring the line of customers? Do you feel like going up and strangling the clerk? That’s FIGHT.

Or another example is when you’re in a hurry but you’re stuck in traffic…increased adrenaline, feelings of anxiety, increased heart rate. That’s FLIGHT.

In small doses, the fight or flight rush of adrenaline is not harmful to us. However, if experienced for an extended period, it can begin to harm both body and soul. This can lead to CHRONIC STRESS, which over time can erode our coping mechanisms. We need to develop new strategies for reducing our stress and we need to train our bodies to relax rather than react.

Life balance is critical to managing stress

New strategies include seeking more balance in our lives, using our creativity on a daily basis, reframing our situation with an optimistic outlook, adopting good habits of self-care and tending to our spiritual life.

Also, include healthy doses of exercise, humor, hugs and rest. A very good defense against harmful stress is to savor and enjoy life rather than experience life as a source of danger or a threat.

The ultimate stress therapy is to remember the deeper truth– we are loved. When stress and its effects begin to overwhelm us, turn to the Word of God!

Come to me all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28 NLT)

Stress can be a good teacher

Stress can be a teacher and an inner guide. It tells is when something is amiss—the threats are not always external. If we pay attention to our emotional and physical reactions, keeping track of our stress can provide clues to what is happening around us.

For example, have you ever been unable to sleep or been edgy with your family? It’s important to determine what is going on that needs your attention. It may be that you’re taking on too much at work, concerned about finances, or have a belief system that projects negative thoughts.

Stress is a symptom

Stress is simply a symptom, a clue that something needs to be addressed in your life. Becoming attuned to our stress is a healthy proactive. We cannot remedy that of which we are not aware.

Many people find the “Serenity Prayer” offers a great formula for dealing with stress. Seeking serenity to accept the things we cannot change, courage to change the things we can and the wisdom to know the difference.

Try to avoid unrealistic expectations

You cannot always change the situation, but you can make healthy decisions. That includes protecting yourself from unrealistic expectations placed on you by others, or by yourself. It is always wise to learn when to say “NO.”

According to Dr. Julian B. Reichmond, even of the ten leading causes of illness in the United States could be easily reduced if the following lifestyle habits were modified: drug and alcohol abuse, lack of exercise, poor diet, smoking AND unhealthy responses to stress.

Add to that not having a faith in something greater than ourselves. We cannot be our own GOD!

Consider your reaction to a major stress

To understand your reaction to major stress, compare the situation you have been involved in to the splash when a stone is thrown into a a still body of water.

Your reactions are like ripples, which continue after the stone hits the water’s surface. Here are some examples of physical reactions:

  1. restlessness,
  2. tenseness,
  3. headaches,
  4. tremors,
  5. nausea,
  6. change in appetite/eating problems,
  7. sexual problems,
  8. fatigue,
  9. nightmares/flashbacks,
  10. sleep disturbances.

Trauma often caused by our emotional reactions

Most trauma is frequently flowed by one or more of the following emotional reactions:

  1. Becoming withdrawn,
  2. Having trouble remembering or concentrating,
  3. Having intrusive thoughts which are repeated memories of the situation,
  4. Feeling generally anxious,
  5. Feeling survival guilt, which is feeling guilty for surviving when others have not, or feeling guilty over actions needed to survive,
  6. Experiencing increased reactions when situations or activities remind you of an original event,
  7. Becoming hyper-vigilant, the state of being constantly “on guard” or “on alert,”
  8. Being moody, irritable or having angry outbursts for little or no reason,
  9. Becoming emotionally numb to avoid the pain of the trauma.

Denial is common response to stress

HELPING YOURSELF: Often individuals try to protect themselves from troublesome reactions through denial by refusing to acknowledge personal reactions related to the event. Avoid compulsive decisions, such as resigning from your job, until you have worked through the situation.

Self-medicating with drugs and alcohol serves only to feed the denial and cause additional problems. Although you wish to be alone, now is the time to turn to someone else for support.

Finally, recognize while the feelings you are experiencing may not be comfortable, they are typical for one who has been through a major trauma—abnormal reaction to an abnormal event.

HELPFUL TIPS: 1. Express feelings and concerns with caring friends and loved ones, 2. Maintain as normal a schedule as possible, 3. Eat well-balanced meals and try to avoid too much caffeine and sugar, 4. Try to exercise, even with just a brisk 20-30 minute walk, 5. Seek professional assistance if problems persist and begin to interfere with your normal activities, 6. Take deep breaths with stress or tensions strike.

Seek the help you need

Learn to seek and accept the help you need. For many, especially during times of stress, it is hard to acknowledge that we might benefit from getting the help of a counselor, advisor, spiritual director or a wise friend.

A great deal of research and writing over the past two decades attests to the link between spirituality and health. Does spirituality make a difference? YES, it clearly does!

Debriefing is often a useful tool for managing stress

Another way to seek help is through what is called “debriefing.” This is simply a technique used for preventing a a more serious reaction to a major, stressful event. It is usually informal and can be facilitated one-on-one (friend-to-friend or a counselor), or in a group. Those who go through debriefing typically have less stress.

Use this easy four step approach to begin managing stress

Take heart, here’s a four step approach for taking action on stress that you can easily use. STOP, BREATHE, REFLECT and CHOOSE.

Stop and realize that you have a choice in how to respond.

Breathe deeply and release physical tension.

Reflect on your situation.

Choose a strategy for dealing with your stress that will lead to relaxation and well-being.

If you adopt these steps, you can make a major difference in the quality of your life