October 1

The 1st Essential in an Election Year

Driving around in my car I like to listen to talk radio for a couple of reasons.  One, most radio hosts are very knowledgeable and effective at what they do and keep their audiences informed about the major issues of the day, whether one agrees with the hosts or not.  Two, the call-in conversations give an idea of what the average person in America is thinking at least from the conservative side and how they are wrestling with the issues that are confronting our country.


One thing I notice is that many in the “conservative movement” have slipped into the same mindset that I used to see among “liberal progressives.”  That mindset is that personal character does not count as long as someone agrees with basic conservative policies.  One of the most popular so-called conservative radio hosts has been married four times.  I have often thought to myself, “What person do I know who has been married four times who I would take advice from?”  None that I know of.  A person with that marital history would be considered morally and ethically challenged and unfit to advise others how to conduct their lives.  Yet this host has millions of listeners who apparently do not see the contradiction or dismiss it as irrelevant if they do.  The host articulates the policies they believe in despite his lack of personal character.


All of this brings me to a very arresting statement in James 3:17, “But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere.”  James is known as the “Apostle of Practical Christianity.”  Here he lays down the principle that heavenly wisdom which leads to effective living in any community is first pure.  “First” is not used here numerically as the first in a list, but rather it means “the main quality; the overarching attribute, the key to all the rest.”  All the other qualities of wise living that James lists, flow from this very first one, “purity.”  Pastor John MacArthur says “this refers to spiritual integrity and moral sincerity.”  So this is foundational, and without it none of the rest can be developed or sustained.  Look at them.  Can you imagine a culture existing very long that is not peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere?  That is what we are flirting with when we separate pure character from any attempt to live wisely.


A girl in Sunday School had read the Beatitudes in Matthew and was asked which of the things mentioned there she would most like to have.  She said, “A pure heart.”  When asked why she preferred that, she said, “If my heart were pure, I believe I would have all the other virtues mentioned in this chapter.”  “And she was right,” wrote Spiros Zodhiates.  “That is what James is driving at.”  (Faith, love & hope:  An exposition of the epistle of James)


I do not know how you have resolved the issue of who you will vote for this November; nor is it my place to tell you how to vote.  My own personal belief is that our major candidates reflect who we have become as a nation.  They are a symptom of a people who no longer believe that “the wisdom from above is first pure.”  That doesn’t mean that this election is without consequence and that one candidate may be the lesser of two evils.  But it does mean that the healing of our nation goes much deeper to who we are as a people.  At a pastors meeting Billy Graham was asked how people could pray for him.  He replied, “Pray that I will be holy; have a pure heart; and live a clean life.”  That is the only hope for America to bring lasting renewal.


Your friend, seeking heavenly wisdom with you, Pastor Brian (:-}).

September 1

The Question of the Need for Church Membership, part 2

When I pastored in West Michigan we had Christians from Reformed or Christian Reformed backgrounds attending our church.  Inevitably this created a problem for them because they had been sprinkled as infants but we required baptism by immersion for church membership.  One solution would have been to attend the church without becoming members.  The ones who decided our church was the one for them, instead chose to be immersed and became members.  Membership was so important to them that it was inconceivable that they would attend a church where they were not members.  They wrestled through the biblical issues of being immersed rather than not being members.  Let’s wrestle through in this article three Scriptural benefits of church membership every Christian needs to consider.


Community.  Romans 12:5 says that “we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another.”  Because we are united to Christ and He lives within us, we also are united to each other in a spiritual relationship.  In 1 Corinthians 12:25 Paul says “that the members may have the same care for one another.”  Peter says in 1 Peter 1:22 we are to treat each other with the loving care that exists in a family as brothers and sisters.  The apostles are describing the community that exists between believers in a local church.  The word “community” is from “common” meaning “sharing common duties.” The word common also means “belonging to all.” (http://www.dictionary.com/browse/common That’s what Christian community is, belonging to all in shared relationship, privileges and duties.  Surely membership says in a very strong way “I am in relationship,” “I belong,” “I share the common duties of this local church.” 


Commitment.  In 1 Corinthians 12:21-22 Paul says that “The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you,’ nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’  On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable.”  Here Paul is clearly laying down that the church is interdependent and all believers are indispensable to one another.  The metaphors of the church that we love so much are clearly corporate images:  the people of God, 1 Pet. 2:10; the household of God, 1 Tim. 3:15; living stones, 1 Pet. 2:5; the body of Christ, Eph. 4:12.  The church as “the household of God” clearly applies to the local church because Paul lays down instructions for Timothy about “how one ought to behave in the household of God.”  It is clear that we not only need each other in the local church but we are to be committed to one another.  Membership is part of that process that says that I am committed to my local church.  I need it and it needs me.  I am not partially in, but all in bearing the duties of belonging.


Accountability.  Hebrews 13:17 says, “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account.  Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.”  One of the important parts of membership is being accountable to one another and church leadership.  It means we are willing to place ourselves under the authority of God-ordained leadership and stand corrected when it is necessary.  Even the pastor himself is under the authority of the Elders who are in turn under the authority of the corporate members of the church who are under the authority of Jesus Christ.  Apart from commitment to this authority structure in church membership, any attempt at corrective church discipline breaks down.  A local church only has authority legally to discipline its members, not its non-members.  If we believe we need accountability, then we need membership.


Your friend, in membership with you, Pastor Brian (:-}).

August 1

The Question of the Need for Church Membership

When I lived in Texas during the 1980s I attended for a while a church that did not have official church membership.  The thinking was that formal church membership is not found in the New Testament, therefore it is a manmade practice.  Over the years I have encountered others who make the same point as to why they don’t join a church or have an official church roll of members.  Years ago Dr. Edward T. Hiscox wrote a well-known guide for church polity and order.  He wrote, “It is sometimes said that a church is a voluntary society…But it is not merely optional whether or not a believer identifies himself with the household of faith.  He is under moral obligation to do that.”  (The Hiscox Guide for Baptist Churches)  I believe there are good reasons found in the Bible to support the importance of church membership as Hiscox believed.


Before we mention several Scriptural benefits of membership, let’s just consider how Paul uses the word “member” in connection with the Church as the body of Christ.  The literal meaning of “member” is a part of a physical body.  Paul uses this word metaphorically very effectively in Romans 12, 15; 1 Corinthians 12 & Ephesians 2, 3, 4 & 5 to compare the parts of the human body to the members in the body of Christ.  New Testament word specialist W. E. Vine points out that Ephesians 4:25 means “the members of the whole Church as the mystical body of Christ.”  Clearly the universal Church cannot have a worldwide membership roll.  But Vine writes of 1 Corinthians 12:27 (“Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.”), that this means “the members of a local church as a body.”  (Vines Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words)


Other Bible students have pointed out that 1 Corinthians 12 is emphasizing the local church body in Corinth.  “As a local congregation they were Christ’s body in miniature, a representation of Jesus Christ to all of Corinth.”  (The MacArthur New Testament Commentary:  1 Corinthians)  Clearly the local church at Corinth knew who their members were because baptism was the initiatory rite that welcomed believers into the local church of the worldwide body of Christ, 1 Corinthians 1:13.  “Baptism is and always was the church’s initiation-rite.”  (Jeff Reed, Becoming a Disciple)  So there was a formal commitment procedure into the membership of a local church:  baptism.  It identified believers as members.  They had made a public commitment to that church.  (Note:  The identification with the community of believers signified by baptism is often obscured today by emphasizing only the vertical relationship with the Lord that baptism symbolizes.  American individualism is likely one of the root causes for this.  But baptism also symbolizes our membership in a new family, the church.)


Since in our more mobile society where people are not baptized into the church in which they are currently attending, it makes sense to have a formal membership procedure to demonstrate the same commitment that baptism symbolizes.  In fact, three Scriptural benefits of membership include:  1) community (“the members may have the same care for one another,” (1 Corinthians 12:25), 2) commitment (“the eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you,’” (1 Corinthians 12:21), 3) accountability (“Obey your leaders and submit to them,” Hebrews 13:17).  We will explore these benefits more fully later.  But, for now, membership encourages all three.  And that is important.


Your friend, in membership with you, Pastor Brian (:-}).

July 1

Calvin, Spurgeon, Bonhoeffer & Lessons in Suffering

The day before Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer was executed by his Nazi captors in WWII, he had led a worship service among the prisoners.  Almost the moment he finished his final prayer the guards entered, led him out, and the next day he was hanged.  Less than one week later the Allies arrived and liberated the prisoners.  Bonhoeffer missed release from death by just a few days.


The natural question is why did God let that happen?  Surely he could’ve enabled the Allied forces to arrive a few days sooner.  The only reasonable answer from our limited viewpoint is that the impact of Bonhoeffer’s legacy was more important than his longevity.  Had he survived would his impact today as a martyr who stood against the Nazi regime be as great as if he had lived and continued his normal pastoral duties?  Probably not.  It was the quality of his life rather than the length of it that was most important to God.  Clearly Bonhoeffer was okay with that as he had surrendered his life to the sovereign will of God.


In the opening verses of James 1:1-4, the half-brother of Jesus gets right to the issue of trials and the will of God.  Many lessons emerge, three of which are illustrated by great saints of the past similar to Bonhoeffer.  One, trials are in God’s plan – accept them.  John Calvin suffered greatly throughout his life.  He was often so sick he lectured while lying in bed.  He wrote,


No one has rightly denied himself unless he has wholly resigned himself to the Lord and is willing to leave every detail to His good pleasure.  If we put ourselves in such a frame of mind, then, whatever may happen to us, we shall never feel miserable or accuse God falsely because of our lot.  (Golden Booklet of the True Christian Life, p. 44)


Two, trials have God’s purpose – spiritual maturity.  Charles Spurgeon agonized with painful Gout starting at age 35, suffered with Bright’s kidney disease, and was so prone to depression he hoped all in his flock would be spared the depths to which he went in despair.  He wrote,


I am afraid that all the grace that I have got out of my comfortable and easy times and happy hours, might almost lie on a penny.  But the good that I have received from my sorrows, and pains, and griefs, is altogether incalculable….Affliction is the best bit of furniture in my house.  It is the best book in a minister’s library.  (God’s People Melted & Tried, sermon)


Three, trials lead to God’s outcome – Is that okay with me?  It was apparently okay with Bonhoeffer as he went calmly to his death confident in the will of God.  It was also okay with Spurgeon who said about the criticism he bore that “the pain it has cost me none can measure.”

But he also wrote,


As long as I trace my pain to accident, my bereavement to mistake, my loss to another’s wrong, my discomfort to an enemy, and so on, I am of the earth, earthy, and shall break my teeth with gravel stones; but when I rise to my God and see his hand at work, I grow calm, I have not a word of repining.  (1873 sermon)


Your friend, in the Master’s schoolhouse, Pastor Brian (:-}).

May 1

Revisiting Jesus’ High Priestly Prayer for True Christian Unity

Many years ago a young couple came to me after service one Sunday and asked what I thought about Ecumenism.  The Ecumenical Movement, from the Greek for “inhabited world,” refers to the effort to bring unity to the worldwide professing churches of Christendom.  It is based on Jesus’ prayer in John 17 “May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”  Ecumenism teaches that the divisions in the professing Church negate Jesus’ prayer and harm His effectiveness in the world.  If we could come back together as one world Church we could accomplish great good for Christ.


The last Sunday of April (2016) we examined Jesus’ prayer for unity in John 17.  I found it striking that the Ecumenical Movement has wrenched Jesus’ call for unity in v. 23 out of its context ignoring the kind of unity Jesus prayed for us to have.  Just as “peace at any price” is a false peace, so “unity at any price” is a false unity.  As with “false peace,” “false unity” promises much but actually does more harm than good to the cause of Christ because it dishonors all that He promotes.  True unity is wonderful and brings about great good in the local church and among local churches.  What is the true unity that Christ prayed for us to have?


It is unity in the truth.  Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth, v. 17.  Several times in Jesus’ prayer He mentions that He has given us His Word, v. 8.  The Word of God contains the truth that we are to proclaim to the world for its salvation.  It is unity in the proclamation of this truth that is true unity.  Since Satan is the father of all lies and falsehood it is clear that he loves to minimize the truth to lead people into error and away from God.  Note that the “evil one” was a cause of concern in Jesus’ prayer, v. 15.  Healthy unity will always prioritize the Word.


It is unity in holiness.  For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified, v. 19.  The word sanctify means “to be made holy.”  Earlier Jesus calls God “Holy Father,” v. 11 (an expression by the way that should be used of no human being because it belongs to God alone.).  Since God is holy His purpose in salvation is for us to be holy.  Since Satan promotes unholiness he loves unity that downplays separation from sin and ignores purity.  Wherever that occurs, lives are destroyed and the testimony of Christ is diminished.  True unity then calls people to a high and holy standard for their good and the good of their witness.


It is unity in the Godhead of Father, Son & Holy Spirit.  Jesus clearly places Himself on equal par with the Father when He speaks of “the glory I had with you before the world began,” v. 5.  Elsewhere Jesus puts the Holy Spirit on the same equal footing, John 16:13.  True unity then is a Trinitarian unity for only when all three members of the triune God are given their due is God truly glorified.  One note of caution.  The Holy Spirit, Jesus declared, will bring glory to Me, John 16:14.  True unity is always Christ-centered making His Person and work central.


It is unity in love.  Jesus prays that the love you have for me may be in them, v. 26.  Note that only after Jesus has mentioned unity in truth, holiness and the Godhead, does He mention unity in love.  How do we love as Jesus loved?  In truth, holiness and submission to the Three in One.  That’s true unity and the closest thing to heaven on earth.  May God grant that to us.


Your friend, in unity, Pastor Brian (:-})

April 1

Encouragement in Prayer from Jesus’ Prayer Life

One of the great encouragements for our prayer life is learning from the prayer life of Jesus.  In John 17:1-5 Jesus prayed for Himself in a way that connects with Philippians 2:5-11.  That important passage is known as the Kenosis Passage because the word “emptied” in v. 7 comes from the Greek word “kenosis.”  The entire passage expands on what Jesus meant when He prayed in John 17:4-5 that He had accomplished the work that God gave Him to do, v. 4, and that He prayed for the Father to glorify me…with the glory that I had with you before the world existed, v. 5.


The first part of the Kenosis Passage tells us what “the work” was that Jesus said He “accomplished.”  It involved 3 Steps Down according to Philippians 2:6-8:  1) He gave up His right to glory in heaven, vv. 6-7a (Note:  He emptied Himself of His glory, not His deity), 2) He took the form of a man, a creature, vv. 7-8a, 3) He, a sinless man, voluntarily died the death of a cursed man, v. 8.  This three-step process is how Jesus emptied and humiliated Himself and accomplished the work God gave Him.


The second part of the Kenosis Passage tells us that because of this God gave Jesus back the “glory” He prayed to receive that He “had with” the Father “before the world existed.”  That consisted in 3 Steps Up in Philippians 2:9-11:  1-2) Resurrected and Ascended, v. 9 (highly exalted), 3) Receiving universal sovereignty, vv. 9-11a (bestowed on him the name that is above every name).


What is fascinating is that these 3 Steps Down followed by 3 Steps Up concluded “to the glory of God the Father,” v. 11b.  That is exactly what Jesus prayed for in John 17:1 that the “Father” would “glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you.”  The Kenosis Passage makes it clear that Jesus’ prayer in John 17 was answered.  Now all of this is very instructive for our prayer life.


Jesus gave us the same privilege of answered prayer that He had.  Jesus said earlier in John 16:26-27 “that you will ask in my name…for the Father himself loves you.”  Because we are in Christ and Christ is in us, the Father has the very same love for His children that He has for His Son.  So the intimacy in prayer with the Father that Jesus enjoyed is given to us as well.


Our prayers should be patterned after the way Jesus prayed.  Several things become clear about how Jesus prayed.  First, Jesus one request in John 17:1-5, repeated twice, was that He would glorify God.  Therefore, the overarching request of all of our prayers should be that God is glorified by the way He answers.  If we are in tune with the heart of Jesus, the Father’s glory should be our main priority.


Second, Jesus glorified God by accomplishing the work He was given to do.  That tells us that answered prayer primarily has to do with enabling us to fulfill God’s mission for our lives to serve Him.  Praying for a job, for example, is not so that we can live independently of God and have our needs met.  We pray for a job so we can have the resources we need to live for the Lord and serve Him effectively.  Without that, prayer is little more than an exercise in using God instead of serving Him.


Third, Jesus prayed for strength to endure the trial that came with His cross, not that He would escape it.  Ultimately, in the garden, He prayed for the Lord’s will to be done which meant enduring the trial.  We may pray for a trial to be removed, but only when we are surrendered to God’s will first.  Prayer is not an escape mechanism, but a means for being strengthened for whatever God has willed.


Your friend, learning to pray, Pastor Brian (:-}).

March 1

Participating in the Ongoing Story of the Book of Acts Today

One of the great joys of studying the Bible with others is seeing connections in Scripture you had not realized previously.  The Tuesday Morning Men’s Bible Study at Perkins Restaurant just began the Acts of the Apostles.  The author Luke mentions that the Gospels teach us about all that Jesus began to do and teach, 1:1.  The Book of Acts then is the continuation of Jesus’ ministry from heaven thru the work of the Holy Spirit on earth.  The Holy Spirit is introduced immediately by Luke in verse 2 in fulfillment of Jesus’ repeated promise in the Gospels.  Many have said that the book might more aptly be renamed the Acts of the Holy Spirit because it is His ministry that guides and enables the early church.


In response to Peter’s great confession that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God, Jesus said in the Gospels, I will build my church, Matthew 16:18.  When we reach verse 8 of Acts 1 it becomes clear that the Book of Acts is the story of Jesus fulfilling that promise.  Acts 1:8 reads:  But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in Judea and all Samaria, and to the end of the earth.  This verse not only gives us the theme of Acts but also the outline of the whole book.


Theme of Acts:  The empowerment of believers by the Holy Spirit to establish and expand the Church just as Jesus promised.  Outline of Acts:  The witness of the Church by the power of the Holy Spirit in 1) Jerusalem (chapters 1-7), 2) in Judea and all Samaria (chapters 8-12), and 3) to the end of the earth (chapters 13-28).  What lessons can we learn for our ministry today from this brief introduction to Acts?


The building of the Church is the most significant work God is doing in the world today.  The disciples wanted to know about future events in Acts 1:6.  Jesus immediately said the times (length of history) and seasons (events yet to come) are known only by the Father, verse 7.  God will bring future events to pass according to His plan as revealed in Scripture.  In the meantime, the establishment and expansion of His church is His number one priority in this age.  Someone has well said that Plan A is the Church and there is no Plan B.


We are wasting our lives if we are not involved in the establishment and expansion of the Church.  If every Christian is a member of Christ’s body, and if this is God’s main work in the world today, then our lives find their great purpose in participating in the work of the Church.  We all have our calling in the world to represent Christ in our various walks of life as He has appointed.  But even there our purpose is to so represent Christ that people will be drawn to Him and want to be part of His Church.  And then within His Church we have a part to contribute so the work of God on earth is done.


This gives meaning, purpose, excitement and perseverance to our daily lives and church ministries.  A friend of mine who works as a pharmacist in Lower Michigan used to say to me that the only two things that will last into eternity are the souls of people and the Word of God.  Everything else will perish.  Bringing the souls of people into connection with the Word of God is the most lasting work anyone can do.  That is what we get the chance to do as we represent Christ well in everyday life and then participate in the life of the Church.  That means every day is filled with meaning and purpose because we are involved in that great work.  It helps us persevere because we know that no matter what happens otherwise our labor is not in vain in the Lord, 1 Corinthians 15:58.


Your friend, part of the great story of Acts with you, Pastor Brian (:-})

February 1

Jesus’ Teaching on the Issue of Fruit and No Fruit

One of Jesus’ most difficult sayings to interpret is John 15:2a, 6 where He says “Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he [my Father] takes away…If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.”  There are three views of this important passage and the relationship of fruit to salvation for believers.


The view of those in the Arminian wing of the church is that this refers to genuine Christians who bear no Christian fruit and lose their salvation.  They were in the vine and vitally connected to Jesus but stopped following Him and had their salvation taken away.  The problem with this is that it clearly conflicts with other passages in John where Jesus says true Christians can never perish.  John 6:39 says, “And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day.”  On the principle that God’s Word is consistent and non-contradictory we must reject this view of the non-fruit-bearing branches.


Another view, popular with some Evangelicals, but more recent in the history of the church, is that the non-fruit-bearing branches are true Christians who have their works burned up and receive little or no rewards.  These are Christians who live like the world but have no fruit to offer to God at the judgment seat of Christ.  These fulfill 1 Corinthians 3:15 which says, “If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.”  The problem with this is that it is the branch itself that Jesus says is burned, not the unfruitful works of the branch.  Also, when Jesus spoke about fruit elsewhere he made it clear that the tree is known by its fruit and that bad fruit is characteristic of an evil heart, Luke 6:43-45.  Clearly Jesus taught that Christian fruit is the mark of a relationship with Him, Matthew 7:16-23.  View two is inconsistent with Jesus’ teaching elsewhere.


The final view, and one widely held in Christian history, is that the no-fruit-branches represent false believers who appear to be believers but only have an outward attachment to Jesus and have never really been born again.  Since Judas had just recently departed the upper room before Jesus spoke the words about no fruit in John 2, many Bible students believe he illustrates the kind of person Jesus was talking about.  He looked so much like the other eleven that they thought he was one of them.  But he bore no lasting fruit and Jesus said it was better that he had never been born, Mark 14:21.  He was never vitally connected with Jesus and showed no fruit of a changed life.  He was not the good soil that Jesus said represents true believers who all bear fruit but just not in the same amounts, Luke 8:15.  If this is the correct view, what do we learn from Jesus?


One thing we learn is that a relationship with Jesus is clearly life-transforming.  Not all mature to the extent they should and every believer has remaining vestiges of sin, but new life will manifest itself in new fruit.  Another thing we learn is that it is possible to attach oneself to the Christian church and even think one belongs to Jesus, and yet be self-deceived because of the absence of new life.  Such people hear in the end the Master’s words “I never knew you,” Matthew 7:21-23.  Finally, we learn that presumption is not the same as eternal security.  All true believers can and should be secure in their salvation knowing that they will never perish and their sins are eternally forgiven, John 10:28-29.  But such believers are not presumptuous believing that they can live sinfully and carelessly and still claim to be saved.  True believers heed Paul’s words, “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith.  Test yourselves.  Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you fail to meet the test!”  Happy is the believer who passes the faith and the fruit test.


Your friend, wanting to bear fruit, Pastor Brian (:-}).

January 1

Affirming Certainties in a World of Fading Dreams

Recently the pastor of Mars Hill Church, one of Michigan’s largest megachurches, announced he will be stepping down from the pastorate.  The previous and founding pastor of the church made national news for his resignation for blatant apostasy.  The current pastor said that “being a pastor is not really who I am.” 


There is no problem with that if someone feels his gifts and calling are elsewhere.  Better to make a change than to stay in a place not of God’s choosing.  But what is troubling are other comments this pastor has made, saying he is “not drawn to the Orthodox,” and that he doesn’t know “what we mean by God anymore?” (http://www.christianpost.com/news/rob-bell-pastor-kent-dobson-steps-down-mars-hill-being-pastor-not-who-i-am-151102/.)


The word orthodox simply means “right opinion” or “right belief.”  It refers to an established standard of truth that Christians affirm as being what the Bible actually teaches, “the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints,” Jude 3.  This pastor’s father and grandfather were pastors and his father was known as a very influential preacher of the orthodox faith of the Bible, even having a study center at Grand Rapids Seminary named in his honor.  Now some of the language that his son is using as he departs from the ministry is sounding eerily similar to the founding pastor who has abandoned biblical Christianity altogether.  Surely he knows the phrases he uses raise big questions about where he is heading biblically and theologically in light of where the first pastor ended up.


I can only guess at what has caused all of this doubt.  Many have said it is harder today to be a pastor than ever before because of all the changes in American society.  I remember a professor once saying that “many of the things that used to be nailed down have now come loose.”  Some Christians, in an attempt to deal with the new realities, lose their confidence that the orthodox interpretation of the Bible really has it right.  Maybe that is what is going on with this pastor; I don’t know.


What encourages me to remain true to the Bible despite disappointment is the perspective of Evangelist Billy Graham.  Interviewed by Diane Sawyer, she recounted his accomplishments through 50 years of preaching to over 120 million people face to face around the world. She then asked the world-renowned evangelist if he was pleased with his “success.” His answer startled her and surprised the vast TV audience.  He replied, “I don’t think of myself as successful at all.  I feel like a failure.” Sawyer sought clarity so she asked, “Did you think you could change the world?” Dr. Graham softly responded, “I thought maybe, after a lifetime of preaching.  But the world is worse today than when I began my ministry.”


That interview with Dr. Graham was 20 years ago.  Now approaching 100-yrs-old he has just released a new book about heaven and his certain expectation of going there according to the Bible.  His world of fading dreams has not lessened His conviction that God’s Word remains true and reliable and will not fail.  Reflecting on Sawyer’s interview with Graham 20 years later, Pastor Raymond McHenry counsels us, “Ministry for all Christians, regardless of their calling, is quite challenging and often discouraging.  Nonetheless, we must obediently persevere, as did Billy Graham, and follow his example of expectant faith.”  In the New Year some may capitulate to cultural pressures; how much better to reaffirm the certainties that we believe and encourage others by our steadfast faith that God and His Word are still worthy of our trust.


Your friend, seeking to remain true, Pastor Brian (:-}).

December 1

The Self-emptying of Jesus to Come for Us at Christmas

The Sunday after Thanksgiving I had the opportunity to preach twice in the Marquette Branch Prison.  Back in the 1990s the Pope made national news when he visited one of the worst prisons in Rome. It was the first time in ninety years that a pope had gone to a prison, and in greeting the prisoners he said, “You could not come to me, so I have come to you.”


That little incident illustrates the heart of the gospel—that we were desperate prisoners, condemned and locked up for crimes we have committed, who could not go to God and never had the hope of Him coming to us.  But in the person of His Son God did what we could not expect.  He came to us.  And He did more than just visit us; He ransomed us by the payment of His own blood for our crimes against Him.  What did it take for this to happen?


Philippians 2:5-8 answers that question with a very intriguing word.  The passage says that Christ Jesus emptied Himself.  Verse 7 reads, Who made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.  The phrase “made himself nothing” comes from one Greek word—kenosis.  This passage is called “The Kenosis Passage” from this word.  And the question is “What did Christ empty Himself of in order to come to us as a man?”  Several answers can be given.


He never emptied Himself of His deity.  Verse 6 says that Christ was “in very nature God” in eternity past before the incarnation.  God can never become less than God or else He’s not God.  So the Son of God did not give up or empty Himself of any of His divine attributes.  The incarnation was not a giving up of His divine nature but the addition of a human nature.  Jesus was always fully God and fully man.


He left His exalted position in glory to take a lowly position on earth.  The hymn writer Francis Havergal captured it just right when she penned these words about Christ:  My Father’s house of light, My glory-circled throne, I left, for earthly night, For wand’ rings sad and lone; I left, I left it all for thee, Hast thou left aught for Me? (I Gave My Life for Thee, verse 2)


He subjected Himself to human weakness.  The only time Jesus used His divine powers was in subjection to the Father’s plan.  So He gave up the self-use of His attributes and subjected Himself to our human limitations.  So on one occasion He asked for a drink.  The Creator of the oceans was thirsty.  He was so weak after His beating that He fell under the crossbeam.  The One who made the elephant had no strength.  On another occasion He was so exhausted from work that He fell asleep in a boat.  The One who never sleeps or slumbers slept form exhaustion.  That’s how little He became.  Though he retained all the powers of the Father, He never exercised them for His personal use but lived with our limitations.


What is so astounding about this incomparable condescension is that Christ Jesus’ example is set before us to follow.  We are told in v. 5, “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus.”   While Christmas is a time to celebrate the self-emptying of Christ for us, it is also a time to long to be more like Him—giving up our rights, humbling ourselves, serving others.  Hast thou left aught for Me?


Merry Christmas, Pastor Brian (:-}).