Category Archives: The Gospel

The Palms of His Hands

I tend to be a bit forgetful at times. I’ll walk upstairs to get something but forget what it was when I arrive. I’m only 37 but I swear my short-term memory is fading!  The obvious solution for this affliction is to write things down, make lists, or plug it into my iPhone calendar.

Before iCalendars, I went through the post-it note phase. A sea of yellow notes covered my work desk, laptop cover, car dash, kitchen counter and refrigerator. I even flirted briefly with the idea of using different colored notes to organize my life.

Yet, far pre-dating post-it notes is the equally “handy” method: jotting reminders on the inside of the palm of your hand! Ever done this? I know you have.

Don’t be embarrassed. Even God Himself isn’t above this timeless tactic. But what do you think could possibly be so important that even the Creator himself writes it on his hand as a constant reminder? Continue reading The Palms of His Hands

Cabin 21: Sweat it Out

rustic-log-cabin-design-stunning-interiors-13-2Jesus led me out of the Fishing Room, down a corridor, deeper into the mysterious Fish House. The walls and ceiling were all of warm, sweet smelling cedar planking. Lanterns lined the walls giving the place a cozy cabin feel. Under my feet, the ice was replaced by granite tile covered by a long, Persian runner of crimson hues. The soft rug was a warm and welcoming treat for my cold wet feet.

You would never have guessed we were still inside that little fishing shack on the ice. With each step, the temperature in the room increased. My nostrils were tickled by all the soothing, warming aromas of a luxury arctic spa — eucalyptus and lavender the most potent. The cold, drafty environs of the icy fishing room were replaced with the steamy warmth of the Father’s Sauna.

We reached the end of the long hallway, and stepped inside  a changing room next to two doors that looked like a sauna and steam room. I was already beginning to sweat, even though I was still wearing just my shorts and t-shirt only partially dried by the fishing stove. The curved shape of the walls and ceiling reminded me of the inner cabin of a boat.

Jesus told me to get undressed and go sit inside the sauna. He would give me further instructions once inside. As I shed my last layer of clothes, I noticed a verse on the wall over the sauna door:

STRIP OFF EVERYTHING THAT HINDERS AND THE SIN THAT SO EASILY ENTANGLES.

-HEBREWS 12:1

Continue reading Cabin 21: Sweat it Out

Nic @ Night 5: Nicodemus at the Car Shop

Reposted from 2012.

I brought in the car for a $25 oil change this week, and came home with a laundry list of significant repairs estimating over $3,550. The car has 200,000 miles on it — so we knew this day was coming. Nicodemus probably came to Jesus hoping for a simple religious tune-up — a new teaching to consider or an old teaching with a new spin. Like me at the car shop, Nicodemus found out he had a bigger problem to address.

Recently I had a serious steering alignment problem. My alignment was so bad that if I let my hand off the wheel for a split second my car would veer sharply to the right into the ditch. Instead of getting it fixed, I decided to just fight it for months by gripping the wheel tighter. Eventually my wrists began to ache from holding the steering wheel straight.

The Bible describes a world completely out of alignment with God’s will and purposes. Human sin and rebellion have jerked everything out of whack. If we simply leave things, people, nature, government, etc. to do what comes naturally, we’re all veering into ditches, colliding head on and driving off cliffs.

Religion steps in at this point and provides some guard rails to help keep us on the road and out of the ditch. God gave us his Law to show us the righteous path, the holy road, that if followed will keep us from self-desctructive twists and turns, reckless off-roading adventures.  But unlike my car’s steering, the misalignment of the human will caused by sin has no quick and easy fix. Continue reading Nic @ Night 5: Nicodemus at the Car Shop

Nic @ Night 4: Talking about “New Birth”

This Sunday I have the honor of preaching a message on one of the most significant truths and experiences in all the universe: God’s supernatural work of New Birth in the human heart. “No one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again/from above” (John 3:3).

How do you talk about something that is necessary to experience firsthand?  It’s like describing a Mozart piece instead of listening to it.  It’s like talking about a Rembrandt painting rather than looking at it. It’s like trying to describe love to someone who’s never been in love.

These sermons drive a preacher to his knees, and bring him to the end of himself. I can only invite people to follow Nicodemus into that face-t0-face, personal encounter with Jesus, and pray that the Holy Spirit will come among us and open people’s eyes and transform hearts.  Come Holy Spirit!

Here’s a good quote from Gary Burge’s commentary on The Gospel of John:

“Religion is not necessarily a matter of personal knowledge or ethical behavior. Nor is it fidelity to religious traditions, no matter how virtuously they evoke higher ethical, religious behavior among us. Jesus is claiming that true spirituality is not discovering some latent capacity within the human soul and fanning it to flame. It is not uncovering a moral consciousness that is hidden by sedimentary layers of civilization’s corruptions. It is not a “horizontal” experience that takes up the materials available around us in the world.

Rather, Jesus claims, true religion is “vertical.” It has to do not with the human spirit, but with God’s Spirit. It is a foreign invasion, sabotage of the first order. True religion unites humanity with God’s powerful Spirit, who overwhelms, transforms, and converts (in the full meaning of the word) its subject. Our role in this transformation is belief(3:16,18), and yet is is a belief that is aided by God’s work within us since we live in the darkness and have our spiritual capacities handicapped with sin” (Gary Burge, Gospel of John: New Application Commentary, 126).

Come Holy Spirit!  Invade our presence, and sabotage our hearts! Blow mightily among us at MainStreet this Sunday and every day!

Nic @ Night 3: Religion vs. Gospel

Nicodemus was very religious. And this was a major obstacle preventing him from receiving the teaching and understanding the message of Jesus.

Here’s a wonderful contrast between RELIGION and THE GOSPEL by Tim Keller:

RELIGION: I obey, therefore I’m accepted.

THE GOSPEL: I’m accepted, therefore I obey.

RELIGION: Motivation is based on fear and insecurity.

THE GOSPEL: Motivation is based on grateful joy.

RELIGION: I obey God in order to get things from God.

THE GOSPEL: I obey God to get to God, to delight and resemble him.

RELIGION: When circumstances in my life go wrong, I am angry at God or myself, since I believe, like Job’s friends that anyone who is good deserves a comfortable life.

THE GOSPEL: When circumstances in my life go wrong, I struggle but I know all my punishment fell on Jesus and that while he may allow this for my training, he will exercise his fatherly love within my trial.

RELIGION: When I am criticized, I am furious or devastated because it is critical that I think of myself as a “good person.” Threats to that self-image must be destroyed at all costs.

THE GOSPEL: When I am criticized, I can take it. I struggle, but it is not critical for me to think of myself as a “good person.” My identity is not built on my record or my performance, but on God’s love for me in Christ.

RELIGION: My prayer life consists largely of petition and only heats up when I am in a time of need. My main purpose in prayer is control of my environment.

THE GOSPEL: My prayer life consists of generous stretches of praise and adoration. My main purpose is fellowship with God.

RELIGION: My self-view swings between two poles: If and when I am living up to my standards, I feel confident, but then I am prone to be proud and unsympathetic to failing people. If and when I am not living up to standards, I feel insecure, inadequate, and not confident. I feel like a failure.

THE GOSPEL: My self-view is not based on a view of myself as a moral achiever. In Christ I am “simul iustus et peccator”—simultaneously sinful and yet accepted in Christ. I am so bad he had to die for me and I am so loved he was glad to die for me. This leads me to deeper and deeper humility and confidence at the same time, neither swaggering nor sniveling.

RELIGION: My identity and self-worth are based mainly on how hard I work or how moral I am, and so I must look down on those I perceive as lazy or immoral. I disdain and feel superior to “the other.”

THE GOSPEL: My identity and self-worth are centered on the one who died for his enemies and who was excluded from the city for me. I am saved by sheer grace, so I can’t look down on those who believe or practice something different from me. It is only by grace that I am what I am. I have no inner need to win arguments.

RELIGION: Since I look to my own pedigree or performance for my spiritual acceptability, my heart manufactures idols. It may be my talents, my moral record, my personal discipline, my social status, etc. I absolutely have to have them so they serve as my main hope, meaning, happiness, security, and significance, regardless of what I say I believe about God.

THE GOSPEL: I have many good things in my life: family, work, spiritual disciplines, etc. But none of these good things is an ultimate end for me. None of them is something I absolutely have to have, so there is a limit to how much anxiety, bitterness, and despondency such things can inflict on me when they are threatened and lost.

Mourning Story

I want to share an incredibly powerful and innovative new ministry vision. Meet my friend and former colleague, Mike Lotzer, and his thoughtful new ministry venture Mourning Story.

I encourage especially pastors who are ministering to people nearing the end of life to consider this powerful way to share the gospel at your next funeral. Can you imagine the potential impact?

Watch this video and let Mike explain Mourning Story:

Why Fear a God of Love? (1 Peter 1:17-19)

Join us as we continue our journey through 1 Peter verse by verse!

Last post we explored 1:13-16 where Peter helps us set our hopes not on any earthly hope but on the salvation realities found in Christ. In a world driven about by knee-jerk emotionalism and untamed desires, we are called to be driven instead by minds that are actively engaging the truths of God and not intoxicated by fuzzy ideas or common deceptions. We are surrounded by people every day who are, according to Peter, “conformed to the passions” based on “ignorance.” Here’s the passage again:

13 Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. 14 As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance….

We are called to be different, set apart, odd and strange in this world as we conform our thinking and behaving to the Way of God revealed in Jesus:  15 but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct,16 since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.”

Now, before we get haughty and begin looking down our noses at others who are still “ignorant” of God’s Ways (Peter’s words, not mine), we are warned that we are all individually accountable to God and he will not play favorites and cut us slack because we’re on the “inside.” The God we are privileged to call Father is also a holy judge.

17 And if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one’s deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile…

The same God who Jesus taught us to address intimately as Abba, or “daddy”, is also the holy God to whom every knee shall bow and every tongue confess as Lord. We are to live securely in his grace, knowing he is merciful and loving; but also live with an appropriate measure of “fear” during our time on earth. Paul likewise urges: “Work out your salvation with fear and trembling…” (Phil 2:12).

What does it mean to fear a God of love?

Continue reading Why Fear a God of Love? (1 Peter 1:17-19)

EPHESIANS 11: A Truth Too Rich to Swallow

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ephesians“But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved….” (Eph. 2:4-5). 

I have trouble finishing an entire piece of french silk or pecan pie. Not because I don’t like it enough. Strangely, its because its too rich in flavor to handle, too good to take in fully. If I ever finish an entire piece, its after a long time and with many sips of milk in between bites. Can you relate?

The verses above are a lot like that — almost too good to stomach, too rich to fathom! We must take it in small bites and wash it down slowly with much contemplation. In the previous passage Dr. Paul has given us the terminal diagnosis of the human condition and we were left feeling hopeless in the waiting room. Then we are hit with the biggest BUT in all of Scripture.

“You were dead in the trespasses and sins…BUT GOD!”

The 2-words “But God” change everything. I was mentoring a college student a few years ago, and he came back from a Christian conference where a well-known preacher gave a message on those two words that rocked this student’s world. Years later he’s still telling everyone about the significance of living a “But God” life. :)  Think about how every faith testimony you’ve ever heard and they all have a “But God” moment in it.

Continue reading EPHESIANS 11: A Truth Too Rich to Swallow