Jesus Knows

The following is my newest article for the Buffalo Center Tribune. To God be the glory!

Occasionally, I get inspired to write poetry. Sometimes it comes in bunches and at other times it is just one here and there. And sometimes they happen very suddenly and with little warning. The poem I have shared below is one such poem. I was preparing a sermon for Sunday, May 1 on John 21:15-19, a post-resurrection account of Jesus questioning Peter three times, “Do you love me”. The point of their interaction was that even though Jesus knew Peter was going to deny him three times; even though he knew the disciples would desert him, Jesus loves them, forgives them, and restores them. Jesus knew and still died on the cross for them, and for you and me. Jesus knows. That thought is just amazing. So, one day as I was traveling to Cabin Coffee in Forest City to sermon write, God spoke. He spoke the first stanza of the following poem. It was so captivating that I had to stop along the road in Thompson to write it down. I did not want to forget. As that stanza continued its swim in my heart, the other stanzas eventually fell into place. And so, to the glory of God, I share with you, “Jesus Knows”:


Jesus knows your joys
and sorrows.
He knows all your needs
and your tomorrows.
Jesus knows.


Jesus knows, and loves
to bestow
his grace and mercy.
You he won’t forgo.
Jesus loves.


Jesus loves, and heals
your hurting;
he restores your soul.
This I’m asserting.
Jesus heals.


Jesus heals, and reigns.
Reigns on high,
and now death is gone
with no more goodbye.
Jesus reigns.


When God speaks, sometimes you just need to stop what you are doing and listen. And if necessary, write it down. Amen.

Dead Things

The following is my article for the Buffalo Center Tribune that was published yesterday. To God be the glory.


Why do you seek the living among the dead?” (Luke 24:5)


The women, in the post-resurrection verse above, were looking for a dead body, Jesus. They were there to perform an act of love by anointing his body per Jewish custom, but their hearts were breaking. Their Lord, teacher, friend was dead. All hope was lost, even though they should have expected the scene they found. But as it is, they are looking for a corpse as they were mourning. For you see, they were looking for hope and thought they found him. They were looking for life and thought Jesus was it. He was supposed to establish his kingdom, but now he’s dead, nothing more than a rotting shell. What a seemingly tragic end on that “bad” Friday. And now, they are at a tomb looking for his dead body. This was not how it was supposed to be. But it is not the end. Jesus had told them, three times, that he was going to die and then rise on the third day. And so, the angles blow them out of the water with their rhetorical question – Why do you seek the living among the dead? Remember how he told all of this, that he was going to die and then rise? And then it began to click. You see, this is not admonishment. The angles are not condemning the women for their unbelief, but rather proclaiming good news, THE Good News. They were proclaiming the “It is finished” that Jesus uttered before he died. He is not dead. Jesus is alive.


I think about this scene, and also see it as a commentary on our own lives. Whether we admit it or not we are looking for the living among dead things. In the act of sinning, we are looking for that which makes us feel alive, happy, satisfied, and fulfilled. And when we do not find what we are looking for or when the good feelings fade, you keep on sinning; keep on looking; and keep on finding “dead things”.


No life. No happiness. No fulfillment. The seeking continues.


But in Jesus there is life. In Jesus there is joy. In Jesus there is a future. In Jesus there is hope, for through his death and resurrection your sins are forgiven. And so…
In what “dead things” are you looking for life?
In what “dead things” are you looking for happiness?
In what “dead things” are you looking for fulfillment?


Look to Jesus and see your life unfold. Seek him in scripture. Seek him in prayer. Seek him in worship. Seek him with your whole life. But as you seek, know that you seek not because Jesus is hiding but you seek him as a way of turning away from the “dead things” of this world that can only promise death. When you seek Jesus, you will find him. Seek Jesus for he is the Way, the Truth and the Life. He is the very one for whom you are looking. Seek THE Living One. Jesus. To God be all glory, honor, praise and worship, in Jesus’ name, Amen.

You’re Being Watched

Here is my newest article for the Buffalo Center Tribune that was published today. To God be the glory!


Have you ever gone through your day thinking that someone is watching you? Do you ever look over your shoulder to see if someone is following you? Unnerving thoughts to say the least, but that is reality. For you see, your enemy, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8). But many people (maybe even you) don’t even give this a second thought. But the fact remains, Satan is prowling around waiting for an opportune time to attack. And then, when you least expect it, he pounces on his prey.


Now, maybe you’re thinking, “My faith is strong”; “I read my Bible”; “I pray every day”; “I go to worship”; “I attend Bible study”; “I hang out with Christian friends”. Basically, “What do I have to worry about?” Well, let me tell you, that is the opportune time for which Satan is waiting. A mentor of mine once told me that Satan likes to attack us where we are the strongest, where we feel the most comfortable. He likes to pounce on our strengths in order to tempt us to misuse them. If you are a strong orator, then the temptation will be to use your words to your own advantage through a distortion of the truth. If you are charismatic, then the temptation will be to use your personality to lead people astray. If you are good with numbers, then the temptation might be to embezzle. And you get the point. But the weak are not safe from the lion. They are just easier prey.


So, what is the hope? How do we stay strong? How to we withstand Satan’s attacks? Well, first you must admit that you are the problem; sin living in you. You were conceived in sin, born in sin and now live in sin. You cannot pass the buck here, “The Devil made me do it”. But there is Good News. The father of lies, Satan, has been defeated through the cross of Jesus. Jesus rose from the dead for the forgiveness of your sins. You have been redeemed from the power of sin and death. You have been set free from the taskmaster, Satan. Yes, you are still a sinner, and yes, Satan still stalks his prey. But God has won the battle. Look to him, not just in weakness but also in strength.


And so, I invite you to attend Holy Week services this week. There is a community Maundy Thursday service at Bethlehem Lutheran Church (also live streamed on our YouTube channel) and a community Good Friday service at the United Methodist Church. Both services are at 7 PM. And then on Sunday, attend Easter worship at the church of your choice. Here at Bethlehem we have a 7:00 AM Sunrise and 9:30 AM Festival service. Both are also live streamed on our YouTube channel.

Hear the Good news of Jesus’ death and resurrection and give thanks and praise for the salvation He freely gives to sinners. All is not lost, but rather, everything has been gained for you. Seek Jesus. Know Jesus. Praise Jesus. To God be all glory, forever and ever, Amen.

Speak Life

The following is my newest article for the Buffalo Center Tribune. To God be the glory!


As I write this article, it is Wednesday, March 23. The reason I mention that is because it is the two-year anniversary of the first “shelter in place” order that was issued in the state of Washington (where we were living at the time). I remember that first day well, driving to my church office. It was a 20-minute commute, and the roadways were eerily quiet. I almost felt like a fugitive sneaking around and wondering if the police would stop and question me and then take me to pandemic jail. That never happened, of course, but the feeling remained for a long time as life changed in a big hurry. Masks became common apparel, and some became accessories to match with outfits. Hand sanitizer and toilet paper flew off the shelves, and panic ensued when neither could be found. YouTube worship services, Zoom and video calls became the way we stayed connected with people. Remote/virtual school started to challenge family schedules. Working from home became the norm. And as time went on, and the curve did not flatten, other changes began to happen. Political discourse became more feisty as lines were drawn in the sand. Mask vs no-mask groups squared off and did battle. Protests began as people resisted “emergency powers”. And then the Church got more involved and vocal, which lead to more division. The world changed in drastic ways, some for better and some for worse.


Today, many would say that this pandemic is over and that the “all clear” needs to be officially sounded. But no matter where you fall on that issue, for many it is not “all clear”. I have a dear friend who has many health challenges and because of this virus, I have not seen her in-person for over 2 years. Hopefully that will change soon. Now, I do not want to get into a political discourse over this, but I bring this up for the very reason that I marked March 23 on my calendar. Whatever the reasons (I am not judging, and I hope you will not either), many have not returned to in-person worship and/or in-person social life. And whether you agree with how this pandemic has been managed there are real people involved and they need you. Sometimes I forget as I rarely see masks or hear about this virus every other second on the news. But my calendar reminded me today that there is much work and ministry to be done.


Instead of drawing lines in the sand, we need to wash those lines away and come together. We need to remember people and accept the fact that life will never be the same as it was in early 2020. And so, do not forget about those for whom it is not “all clear”. Reach out to them and offer your hand of friendship. Let people know that they are not alone. Let’s stand in the sand together without any lines drawn and share the love of Christ. This pandemic has divided too many people and caused too much damage. Let’s not be willing parties to its destructive work. Let’s speak life, in the name of Jesus. Amen.

Stiff Necked People

Below is my article for the Buffalo Center Tribune. This article is based on our daily Bible reading in a Bible reading Facebook Group that I lead. We have so far read through the Gospel of Mark and Hebrews. Currently we are working through Acts. So I present this to the glory of God.


At the writing of this article, the Facebook Bible reading group that I lead is reflecting on Acts chapter seven. It is the account of Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit. He has been serving the people and performing great signs and wonders. Opponents eventually rise up to confront Stephen and debate him, “but they could not withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with which he was speaking.” (Acts 6:10). They then concoct some trumped up charges and the religious leaders seize him and bring Stephen before the council. Finally, in Acts 7:1, the high priest questions Stephen, “Are these things so?” Stephen then launches into sermon through what we call the Old Testament. Starting with Abraham and going through Solomon, Stephen recounts God’s work among his people. I read through Stephen’s sermon, and it took me about seven minutes to complete it. For seven minutes or so, the council listened without objection. They had no problem with what he was saying. There was no heresy, nothing offensive, and definitely nothing divisive. It wasn’t until verse fifty-one that Stephen got into trouble when he said, “You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you…” When Stephen applied the text and spoke the truth to them; the truth that they are sinners, the council became enraged.

And whether you like it or not, what Stephen said to that council that day also applies to you: You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. Please do not stone me like what they did to Stephen. Hopefully you can handle the truth. And besides, it is not me declaring this truth but rather God. But even so, many resist proclaiming this truth out of fear of being stoned by others. But as I like to say, you cannot truly hear the Good News of Easter until you have gone through Good Friday.

And so, I invite you to embrace this Lenten season. Reflect on your sinfulness and confess your sins. Remember that from dust you came and to dust you shall return. Remember that without God, death will embrace you forever. Remember and acknowledge your stiff-neckness (yes, I know that is not a word). Remember all of this but also know that there is a Savior, Jesus Christ. He is the Good News. He is the Way, the Truth and the Life. Jesus is the Resurrection, the Good Shepherd, the Bread of Life and the Light of the world. Jesus is the only Gate to God’s pastures, the Narrow Way.

And so, You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, do not resist the Holy Spirit. Embrace this Good News and praise Him, always and forever, Amen.

Anchor

The following is my article for the Buffalo Center Tribune. To God be the glory!


In reading Hebrews chapter 6 in our Facebook Bible reading group, I stumbled upon and stopped in this phrase nestled into verse 19, “We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul…”. The “this” being referred to is the hope that is set before us, a hope guaranteed by God through an oath. But what specifically is the hope and why does it need to be guaranteed by an oath made by God? Those are excellent questions. I am so glad you asked. Allow me to continue with an illustration:


Let’s assume that you are in search of a candy bar because you really, really like candy bars. And then one day I approached you on main street and said, “I am going to give you a candy bar tomorrow.” Now let’s assume that the candy bar in question is your absolute favorite and I am the only one who has any. Let’s also assume you are not weirded out by my offer. Now, would you need me to guarantee my statement with, let’s say, an “oath signed in blood”? Probably not because we are only talking about a candy bar, your favorite or not. If I did not follow through, you might be a little disappointed, but you would probably get over it quickly, and go one looking for a different candy bar.


Okay Pastor how does this relate to those nicely nestled words in Hebrews 6?
Just hang on, I am getting there.


Now, let us consider this scenario. You are dying and are desperate for a cure. You find that cure, but the price is too steep. Somebody must pay and you know that you cannot. Now, this person who has the cure says to you, “I will give you the cure tomorrow. No strings attached, a free gift. You just need to trust me” This is definitely no candy bar so would you need more than just this statement? Remember, you are dying, and this cure is your only hope and you do not know when you will die. I think I would need a guarantee.


Here’s the real situation, YOU are the person who is dying and the cure is Jesus. The sure and steadfast anchor for your soul, an oath signed with blood, is Jesus’ death on the cross and the fact that he rose from the dead – FOR YOU. This resurrection means that your sins have been forgiven and thus you will no longer die. You just need to trust him. Yes, you will die one day, but that is only the doorway to God’s mansion where death has been obliterated.


You do not need to look for another cure for what ails you in this life. And, you do not need to wait until tomorrow. The cure is yours NOW. Many will offer you options, but only God guarantees His cure and signs His oath in blood, the blood of Jesus. Forget the candy bars of this world. Stop your searching. Trust Jesus. It is all about Jesus, Amen.

Jonah

Below is my newest article for the Buffalo Center Tribune. I am now on a new schedule. Instead of the 2nd and 4th weeks of the month, I will be publishing an article every other week. Not a huge change but it will mean the opportunity to write more often over the course of the year 🙂 To God be the glory!


I realize that we have just finished Christmas, but I am going to say that “L” word anyway: Lent. There, I wrote it. I feel better now, like a huge weight off my chest (sorry, that sounds like I am laying it on thick). Anyway, Lent is coming soon with Ash Wednesday on March 2. Why in the world is this guy talking about Lent in January? Well, the reason I am mentioning Lent is that I am excitedly working on my midweek preaching series through the book of Jonah. You mean the guy who got swallowed by a whale? Actually, the Bible says a “big fish”, but that is just splitting hairs, back to my point.


I have always liked Jonah because he is more like us than we sometimes care to admit. He is a prophet; someone who claims that he fears God (at least that is what he told the sailors on that stormy sea). But yet, Jonah repents (runs away) from God when God commanded him to preach a message to a people that he (Jonah) did not like. Most God-fearing people repent from sin, not God. But admit it, you have run away from God’s call more that you care to admit. You do not have to answer that right now – back to Jonah. Jonah finally goes to “those people” after being vomited up on a beach following a three-day stint in the belly of a big fish. Jonah preaches the message of judgment but is fearful that God will be merciful if “those people” repent. “Those people” do repent and God is merciful, and Jonah is angry. “SMITE THEM, O GOD. THEY DO NOT DESERVE MERCY.” And the story continues, but I will save the rest for Lent.


Sorry to leave you hanging, but my point here is not to advertise Lent (which I am kind of doing) but rather to draw your attention to an important truth: Living in the belly of a fish is smelly and miserable. Well duh, I don’t need a pastor to tell me that. Actually, you kind of do, because if you are running away from God, life does not smell like roses, despite what you may say. Life is miserable and stinky because running away from God never turns out well for the runner, just ask Jonah.


And so, instead of running away from God, run to God – not stopping to smell the roses but smelling them along the way. This does not mean life will be easy. This does not mean that you will always enjoy everything God commands you. What this means is that you will be part of God’s perfect and sovereign plan – a beautiful painting yet to be revealed, even if you do not understand it. But when you see that painting someday, through Jesus Christ, it will all make sense and thus God will be glorified. Do not try to create your own painting; your own story but be part of God’s story; God’s painting. Get out of that fish’s belly you are in and trust God. I promise you; you will not be disappointed. Amen.

The 12 Gospel Days of Christmas

The following is my article for the Buffalo Center Tribune for this week. It is a poem I published here last year but thought it was worthy to share again. To God be the glory


The following is a poem that I wrote for the end of the twelve days of Christmas last year, 2020. I share it with you now – before Christmas – to prepare your hearts for the Good News of Jesus. For you see, Jesus is more than the “stuff” of Christmas. Jesus is God incarnate; love made manifest; forgiveness; salvation; mercy and Life. Jesus was born in a stable FOR YOU and FOR ME. Christmas, not just twelve days but every day, is about Jesus. And so, to the glory of God, I present you this poem:
My true Love doesn’t give me things like partridges or turtle doves, French hens or pipers piping, dancing ladies or egg-laying geese. My true Love does not give me silly things like these. My true Love, Jesus, gave to me…
(1) Instead of a partridge in a pear tree, I have a Savior who died for me.
(2) Instead of two turtle doves, I have His love that came down from above.
(3) Instead of three French hens, I have the faith to boldly pray my amens.
(4) Instead of four calling birds, I have His inspired, infallible, inerrant holy Word.
(5) Instead of five golden rings, I have a Spirit-renewed heart that sings.
(6) Instead of six geese a-laying, I have confidence that with Him I will be staying.
(7) Instead of seven swans a-swimming, I have a joy that is more than brimming.
(8) Instead of eight maids a-milking, I have His promises fulfilled that He’s not bilking (yes, that’s a word – and used correctly).
(9) Instead of nine ladies dancing, I have a place in His holy court, at whom I won’t be just glancing.
(10) Instead of ten lords a-leaping, I have security in His hands in which I have safekeeping.
(11) Instead of eleven pipers piping, I have the sure and certain hope that my tears He will be wiping.
(12) Instead of twelve drummers drumming, I have excitement that my Lord Jesus will soon be coming.

My true Love gave me everything I need, for all that I need is Him. And all that YOU need is him as well. Merry Christmas and Amen.

Samuel

The following is my article for the Buffalo Center Tribune that was published this week. I hope you enjoy it. To God be the glory.


I would like to introduce you to someone. His name is Samuel. Samuel has been visiting our home for about four years now. He shows up every year starting December 1 and returns home after Christmas. Each morning when my kids wake up, Samuel is hiding someplace different, so the fun is searching for him. This morning (December 1) he was sitting on top of our grandfather clock because, well, it is time (see what I did there?).


I know what you are probably thinking: Well, isn’t this cute. He’s talking about his Elf on a Shelf. And you would be wrong. Samuel is not an elf; he is our Shepherd on the Search. The search for what (or whom)? Samuel is on the search for Jesus. Each morning when the kids get up, they are searching, not just for, but with Samuel. You see, Samuel does not report back to Jesus on whether they have been naughty or nice, but rather, reminds us that because we are naughty, Jesus was born for us. He was born to die on the cross and rise from the grave for the forgiveness of our naughtiness. And that is what Christmas is all about. Now, I could easily say, “Amen” and end this article right here with that statement, but I am not done.


What are you searching for this Christmas? Are you searching for some normalcy after a pandemic-stricken year seemingly stole Christmas last year? Are you searching for that perfect gift? What is the object of your searching? What is getting your focus? The world has seemingly hijacked Christmas with its materialistic ad campaigns filled with stuff that you simply “must have”. And thus, the world tries to define the object of your searching. But really, can you honestly remember what you got for Christmas 10 years ago? Five years ago? Last year? I cannot remember, but I do remember what God gave me 2000 years ago. God gave me Himself in Jesus Christ, and let me tell you, that is the gift that keeps on giving. It keeps on giving because I keep on being naughty. No, I am not unique in that sense for you/we are all naughty, all sinners in need of a Savior. And the searching is not because Jesus is playing some cosmic game of hide and seek. The searching is our reminder that Christmas is more than we think. It is not about worrying that some elf or shepherd will report back to Jesus with a list of your naughtiness. No, rather Jesus is full of grace and mercy. That is Christmas. It is all about Jesus FOR YOU.


So may your Christmas searching shine the light of hope that through faith in Jesus, you have everlasting life. Keep your eyes firmly fixed on the baby in the manger and see a love like none other, for God IS love. Amen and happy searching.

Nothing Like It

The following is my article for the Buffalo Center Tribune. It was inspired by 1 John 3:1 – the text I preached on All Saints Sunday, November 7. To God be ALL glory!


I enjoy a good cup of coffee. Wait, that’s not a strong enough statement so let’s try this again: I REALLY enjoy a good POT of coffee, or two. There, that sounds better. You see, I am writing this article at 9:30 AM and I have already finished my first pot and now thinking about my next cup, which will come soon. But also, those who know me well know that I am a first-class coffee snob. I have a local roaster that I buy from, and I do not mind paying a little extra for good coffee. I am not rude, though. I will drink what my host puts in front of me, but I am very picky about what adorns my coffee bar at home.

And this coffee snobbery is on display in my office. One sign reads, “Coffee gets me started, God keeps me going”. Yes, there is a humorous truth here but theologically, many holes can be punched through this. Then there is the sign that reads, “C.O.F.F.E.E. – Christ Offers Forgiveness For Everyone Everywhere”. I like this because this has Gospel (and coffee) written all over it. But there is one more sign – one that I almost feel guilty about having, as it is borderline sacrilegious: “Coffee – Liquid that smells like fresh ground heaven”. Once again, there is a certain humor to this but truthfully, there is nothing that can be compared to heaven – not even coffee (yes, I actually wrote that).

You see, as good as coffee is, or anything of this world, nothing can be compared to our awesome God. 1 John 3:1 says this, “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are…” The phrase “what kind of love” has the sense in the Greek of “from what country are you from”. John writes this because there is nothing that can be compared to God’s love. There is nothing that can be used in this phrase: “[blank] is like God’s love.” When someone encounters God’s love, it is a love that is so different, so foreign that it should lead someone to say, “Wow, you are not from around these parts”. And that is what John is saying here. God’s love is not like the world, yet, we try to show love to one another using worldly ways and then saying that is God’s love. God’s love is shown and known only through Jesus and him crucified for your sins and raised for you. God’s love is perfect and complete. God’s love is pure and holy. God’s love is like nothing the world has ever seen for God’s love makes YOU His children. No other kind of love can do that.

Yes, there are many fantastically awesome beautiful things of this world (coffee), but nothing that comes close to God – who made all those fantastically awesome beautiful things (coffee). From what country are you from? Through Jesus you’re from the Kingdom of God. And that is a fantastically awesome beautiful truth. To God be all glory, always and forever, Amen.