April 17

July 2007

How Much Does God Know and Why Does It Matter?

 Last Sunday a youth group from Glory Baptist Church, a sister church of ours in Aitkin, MN, worshiped with us on their way to a mission’s trip.  As they left church the youth pastor’s wife gave me a prayer request slip for three of their teens.  It turns out that they come from homes ravaged by one of the very issues mentioned in the Sunday message.   The youth pastor and his wife seemed appreciative that this had been addressed from the pulpit.  I am sure they were hoping it would reinforce their efforts to show these teens that God offers them a better life free from the destruction of sin.

As I reflected on all of this, I thought how interesting that the very Sunday this youth group would be in our church this issue would be dealt with from the pulpit.  How interesting that three teens living the reality of this at home would travel across three states and hear that God offers them the hope of freedom from the very thing they have suffered under their whole lives.  Accidental?  I think not.  I think God arranged it so their trip would coincide with the preaching schedule so these kids would hear the very message that would offer them direction.

Incidents like this confirm to me that God exhaustively knows the future including what humans will do before they’ve even decided to do it.  That’s why I think the teaching of Open Theism is a dangerous error that undermines our trust in God’s sufficiency.  Open Theism is the teaching that because our future human decisions have not occurred yet they do not exist.  Therefore they cannot be known.  Since even God cannot know what does not exist (so it goes), part of the future is open and humans have the freedom to determine the future, even a future that surprises God.  Proponents of this view argue that this let’s God off the hook for allowing certain tragedies to occur.  If God knew, for example, that Hitler would murder six million Jews and many multitudes more, why did God simply not create Hitler or at least interfere with his path to power after he was born.  One pastor I know said that God didn’t know that 9-11 was going to happen.  This seems to make God look more compassionate and we have an answer to give people for all the suffering in the world.  God just doesn’t know what free people will do.  He’s as surprised as we are.  The problem is that it diminishes God and a diminished God is less deserving of our wonder and our trust.

Where does the Bible fall on this?  Well, consider one passage—Jesus’ prediction of Peter’s denial inMark 14:30.  It is impossible to read this passage and not conclude that Jesus knew in advance exactly what Peter was going to do.  Jesus knew what Peter would do in the future—deny me.  Jesus knew how many times Peter would do it—three times.  Jesus knew when it would occur—before the rooster crows twice.  Such precise detail would be impossible to predict if Jesus did not know all the possible decisions Peter could have made to change the outcome.  Only because Jesus exhaustively knew the future could He make this prediction.

We serve a big God Who knows and can orchestrate the tiniest details.  Because He knows the beginning from the end He can work all things together, even tragedies, for our ultimate good.  Because nothing surprises Him, He can accomplish all His good purposes for us.  Such a God is worthy of our worship and trust.

Your friend, Pastor Brian (:-})

April 17

June 2007

Dear Beloved Friend(s),

Yesterday my family and I had the privilege of entertaining one of my cousins and her husband on the evening of their 20th wedding anniversary.  They came to Mackinac Island for their anniversary and on their way home to Minnesota wanted to spend some time with us.  We had not seen each other for over a decade.  They met Joy and Jay for the first time.  I was touched that on the very day of their anniversary they would take the time to spend part of it with us.

As Mark and Linda left I thought how good it was to reconnect with family.  We’ve not been able to be close due to distance and busy lives.  Yet there was a yearning in our hearts to connect with each other.  Something inside said, We are Obergs and we shouldn’t let that relationship slip away.  That relationship is worth working at and giving time to.  Frankly, I felt so loved last night by my cousin and her husband that I opened up and enjoyed myself in a way that just felt good.  I guess I experienced the power of love in a tangible way because they took the time to care and reach out to us.

All of this has caused me to reexamine my own love toward others.  If it felt this good to be loved by family I haven’t seen in a long time, what about the people I see everyday?  Am I showing them the kind of love that will bless them and bring me fulfillment and joy in return?  And what is that kind of love?

1 Peter 1:22 is one of the greatest descriptions of Christian love in the Bible.  It says, Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for your brothers, love one another deeply from the heart.  This is how Christians are to love one another.  Note the expressions of real love.  We are to love each other with à à à

A spiritual love that is fulfilling (love for your brothers).  “Love for your brothers” comes from the one word philadelphia which means affectionate love for the family of God.  It refers to a spiritual relationship on a deep level that satisfies the need for closeness.  So showing this kind of love is very rewarding because it touches our deepest longings for relationship.

A sacrificial love that is demanding (love one another).  “Love one another” comes from the word agape that refers to sacrificial love.  It forces us out of our comfort zones and requires us to think about what is best for the other person.  That is very tough because we have to act on the basis of what others need not how we feel about them.  So it requires choosing on the basis of mature thinking and refusing to let our emotions rule (or overrule) our actions.

A sincere love that is demonstrating (sincere love).  “Sincere love . . . from the heart” means love in actions not just superficial words.  Peter would agree that love is a verb not a noun.  While love certainly includes what we say to others, it cannot stop there.  Our actions must back up our words showing that the one we say we love is valued by how we treat them.

A steady love that is continuing (deeply from the heart).  “Deeply” means constantly or continuously, not relaxing or tiring.  People will disappoint us.  But the beauty of Christian love is that we can keep on loving since Christian love never fails because it comes from God.

Your friend, in His love, Pastor Brian (:-}).

April 17

May 2007

Dear Beloved Friend(s),

Bible prophecy is a fascinating subject to study.  It is amazing to see how the prophetic portions of Scripture fit together to give us a panoramic view of the end times.  But if we are not careful we can get so caught up in figuring out a timeline of events that we lose the purpose of prophecy.  Prophecy was never given just to satisfy our curiosity or make us experts who’ve got it all mapped out, but to prepare us to be watchful, godly and busy in the King’s business until He returns.  A case in point is the amazing dream given to Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel 2 that reveals the broad outline of world events that leads right up to the 2nd Coming of Jesus Christ and the establishment of His worldwide kingdom.  Generally our focus in this chapter is on the image that Nebuchadnezzar dreamed about and how Daniel’s interpretation details the successive world empires depicted by each section of the statue.  All has been fulfilled ‘til the final episode.  PTL!

But the opening part of this chapter actually focuses on something else.  Vv. 1-14 demonstrate the total inability of the most powerful and educated nation on earth to be able to discern the course of world history.  Three things are highlighted:  1) Babylon’s best and brightest could not tell the king his dream.  2) Babylon’s gods were not revealing gods who disclosed their plans to people (v. 11).  3) Arioch, the commander of the king’s guard who was to kill all the wise men including Daniel (v. 14), meansuncertain, an apt description of the total confusion of human wisdom in spiritual matters.

Vv. 14-23 are a complete contrast to this.  Here Daniel and his three friends pray and God reveals the dream and its meaning to Daniel that night.  Daniel immediately gives God all the glory by composing a praise psalm extolling Him (vv. 20-23).  This psalm highlights Babylon’s utter weakness and inability with God’s power and ability.  Notice the contrast in this chart:

  Babylon (vv. 1-14)  The Lord God (vv. 20-23)
Without wisdom He gives wisdom & knowledge (v. 21c)
Helpless Power is His [to stop the planned execution] (v. 20b)
Confused about  history Controls history (the times and seasonsallotted to kings and nations, v. 21a, b)
In the dark  Light dwells with Him so He can reveal (v. 22)
No gods who could answer prayer Answered Daniel’s prayer and revealed themeaning of the dream (v. 23)

Doesn’t all of this beg a very practical question? On which side of the ledger do we live? Do we approach our problems and difficulties from the left side or the right side? The God Daniel worshiped and believed in is the same God we worship and serve. He can give us wisdom to know what we should do and He can extend His mighty hand to help us in any situation. So, do our problems cause us to live like the Babylonians—confused, helpless, despairing and frustrated? Or do our problems help us to return to Daniel’s praise psalm and rehearse what God is like for us—wise, powerful, in control, revealing truth, and answering prayer? It’s our birthright to live on the right side. When we drift to the left side as we often do let’s say, I’m not a Babylonian but a child of God. I’m going back to the right side where I belong with my God.

Sincerely, your friend, Pastor Brian (:-}).

April 17

April 2007

Dear Beloved Friend(s),

The last time we went to Muskegon we stayed with my father.  While there we got to talking about the old, wooden fruit bowl that has sat on my parent’s kitchen counter since as long as I can remember.  We had always been told that it was made by my Grandpa Bergman when he was in a sanitarium for Tuberculosis.  Dad reminded me that the sanitarium was in Marquette.  A few more details also emerged.  My Grandma Bergman moved to Rapid River to stay with relatives so she could be closer to make visits.  And Grandpa was there being treated for about a whole year which was much longer than I had realized.

All of this piqued my interest as to where the old sanitarium in Marquette was and whether there were any buildings left on the sight.  We discovered through some Bethel friends that the facility was called Morgan Heights and that it was located on CR 492.  We drove less than ten minutes from our home to where a sign still locates the property and followed the dirt road back to a picturesque area surrounded by high, rocky cliffs where some of the original buildings still stand, albeit boarded up.  A former member of Bethel told me the building that housed the patients is no longer standing, but some of the buildings still left look large enough to contain power tools for a wood working shop.  I wonder if it might’ve been in one of those buildings that Grandpa made the fruit bowl that still holds oranges, apples and bananas on my father’s counter.  I almost wanted to ask Dad if I could take the bowl back to its home in Marquette, but then where would he keep his fruit?!  I just couldn’t do it to him!

One other detail was just revealed to me yesterday that has a Bethel connection to Morgan Heights.  The Bethel youth group used to go out and hold gospel services for the patients.  I am not sure what decade Grandpa was at Morgan Heights, but it is intriguing to wonder if a Bethel youth group ever went out and shared the gospel while he was there.  If so, his grandson has a reason to be eternally grateful to the faithful ministry of Bethel.  For another seed would’ve been planted in Grandpa’s life that ultimately bore fruit for eternal salvation.

You see, Grandpa Bergman was a tough, old lumberjack who ran his own lumber camp down in Gulliver, MI.  He didn’t get to church all the time but heard enough of the gospel to know that he needed a Savior.  He lived with us the last few years of his life dying in 1964 when I was six years old.  Perhaps my most precious memory before he died was one day when our pastor came over to visit with him in the last year or two of his life.  Grandpa had regrets from time to time about his life and must’ve also lacked assurance of his salvation.  That day, as a curious little grandson peeked around the hallway corner, I watched as my pastor and grandfather, with tear filled eyes, knelt down at the living room couch and prayed together.  The tears and kneeling told me that the prayer was about something very soul searching, certainly Grandpa’s salvation.

I learn several things from this personal story.  Gospel seeds were planted in Grandpa’s heart over many years from many different sources.  Was the Bethel youth group one of those sources out at Morgan Heights?  I may never know ‘til heaven.  But those seeds ultimately bore fruit in an old man under conviction seeking the assurance of eternal life.  We never know how a word we have shared will be part of a chain that brings someone into God’s kingdom.  God is faithful and His Word never returns void.  Let’s keep sharing it.

Your friend, Pastor Brian (:-}).

April 17

March 2007

Dear Beloved Friend(s),

If you are like me you still can’t quite get over last Sunday’s kick-off to our Capital Expansion Campaign.  The practicality of the new structure, the sense of unity among our people, and the commitment of our leadership are all causes for great rejoicing.  The last one in particular is such an encouraging sign.  That fourteen families among the leadership of our dear church would commit $163,000.00 dollars shows a depth of dedication, ownership of the vision, and belief that God is leading us that is simply inspiring.  I spoke by phone later in the week with a visitor who was present on Sunday.  He mentioned that he felt he and his family were visiting by divine appointment.  He said that the presentation gave him the impression that Bethel’s leadership is Spirit-led in how they are operating.  That is certainly what we desire to be.

As I ponder all of this, I have been thinking of the first building project in the Bible in Exodus when the Israelites funded the Tabernacle in the wilderness.  A number of guiding principles can encourage us as we move forward.

  • They were responding to God’s vision for them (Exodus 25:8).  We aren’t hearing a voice from Mt. Sinai giving detailed instructions about our building, but we feel just as certain that our Lord is leading us.  That’s the most important thing.  This has to be His vision.
  • The purpose of the building was worship and education (Exodus 25:8-9).  God said He would dwell among His people in the Tabernacle and that they were to make it exactly according to the pattern He gave them.  The details were so key because each of the pieces of furniture would teach vital truth about God and ultimately point to their fulfillment in Jesus Christ (see Hebrews 9:9-11).  That of course is the purpose of our building—to be a place of education and worship of the Lord Jesus Christ.
  • The Lord blessed His people with all the wealth they needed to fund the project (Exodus 12:35-36).  The Lord gave poor slaves who had nothing such favor in the eyes of the Egyptians that they gave them all the material wealth the Israelites asked for when they left Egypt.  God was blessing them materially so they might be able to give when the time was right.  God will do the same for us.  If He is leading, He will give His people the wealth they need so that when the time is right they will be able to give it to His cause.
  • The offering was given willingly (Exodus 25:2).  The interesting thing is that giving to the Tabernacle was a matter of personal choice (freewill offerings, see 36:3).  Only those whose hearts moved them to give were asked to give.  God is always more interested in the heart than in the gift. And so He asks us to give willingly, cheerfully from a heart that is in love with Him.
  • The offerings were so generous that Moses told them to stop giving (Exodus 36:4-7).  What an exciting experience!  They were so inspired by God’s vision that they gave more generously than anyone could have expected.  What a sense of joy, unity and purpose they all must have felt.  Maybe that’s the most exciting thing of all—to know we are partners together in something God is doing that will help create lasting results in people’s lives for eternity.  Amen!

Your friend, Pastor Brian (:-}).

April 17

February 2007

Dear Beloved Friend(s),

I was struck recently by the analysis of H. B. London from Focus On The Family who said pastors fall into sin for three main reasons:  unresolved conflict at home, lack of accountability, and lack of intimacy with God.  As I have examined my own life in these areas and asked for God’s help, I realized that these three areas deal with our major relationships—our relationships at home, our relationships with other believers, and our relationship with God.  Satan knows that if he can tempt us to be inauthentic, superficial, or neglectful in any of these three areas we will grow weak and vulnerable to the seduction of sin.  Let’s consider lack of accountability.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, Sin demands to have a man by himself.  It withdraws him from the community.  The more isolated a person is, the more destructive the power of sin over him, and the more disastrous is this isolation.  My own observation is that serious compromise in a believer is often preceded or hastened by isolation from other believers.  Consider the counsel of these well-know verses.

Proverbs 27:17 counsels, As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.  To be sharpened here refers to the development and molding of personal character – what we would call spiritual growth.  Just as an iron tool cannot remain sharp and useful unless it comes into effective contact with an iron file so we can’t grow and be useful in isolation.  My own observation bears this out.  I have never seen a professing Christian in isolation that was a useful Christian or remained a useful Christian for long. 

 James 5:16 say, Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.  The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.  The context here is clearly talking about physical healing and indicating that sometimes, though certainly not always, sickness can result from sin.  In such cases open and honest confession of sin is necessary for prayer to bring healing.  Such honesty also forces us to face the destructive power of sin and turn from it so we are healed spiritually. A broader application of this text is that God expects us to be honest about our struggles with one another and pray for one another.  With such honesty and prayer there is great power and effectiveness to bring God’s strength into a life.

I wonder about us.  Are we less connected to the body of Christ than we used to be?  Have we justified our isolation with “good” reasons or just drifted without much thought?  Are there temptations we are struggling with all alone that we have not confided to a mature believer that we trust who will pray, encourage, and direct us?  Are we being inauthentic skimming over inconsistencies in our Christian walk that need to be confronted and corrected before they grow more serious?  What believer in the body is close to us and knows us well enough that they can speak to us about concerns without us taking offence?  We need to ask these questions don’t we?

There are many wonderful opportunities to grow deeper in accountability here at Bethel.  Our Adult Bible Fellowships, small groups, and church ministries offer great chances for relationship building.  Added to that, are many mature believers who have room for an honest seeker in their circle of friends.  Remember, to keep your iron sharp you need accountability.

Your friend, Pastor Brian (:-}).

April 17

January 2007

Dear Beloved Friend(s),

If you have ever wondered what heaven is like, Revelation 7:9-17 is for you.  Here the veil between us and heaven is lifted as we see the martyrs of the coming Tribulation period and their activities.  Let’s begin 2007 by glimpsing what heaven will be like.

  •    Heaven is a place of great celebration (vv. 9, 10a).  The saints in heaven were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands.  And they cried out in a loud voice: . . .  The images here are emblematic of celebrants who have experienced a great victory and are jubilant with their good fortune.  So even though these believers suffered greatly (v. 16, starvation, exposure and cruel death), they are now celebrating the victory won for them because they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the lamb (v. 14).  This reminds us that the celebration of heaven is the celebration of complete victory over sin—our own personal sin and the sins committed against us.  What will the joy be like in a place where evil is forever defeated and banished?
  •   Heaven is a place of worship (vv. 10-12).  The theme of heaven’s worship is salvation and the character of the God who provided it through the Lamb.  It is interesting that seven qualities of God are listed in v. 12 emphasizing the perfection of the God who is worthy of our worship.  Who God is and the great salvation He has accomplished are the center of all true worship.
  •   Heaven is a place of service (v. 15a).  The saints in heaven are before the throne of God and serve him day and night in his temple.  Far from being a place of idleness we will be busy serving God.  John Walvoord wrote, Those who have served well on earth will have a ministry in heaven.  And without the limitations we experience here!
  •  Heaven is a place of safety (vv. 15b-16).  Verse 15 says that he who sits on the throne will spread his tent over them.  This oriental image suggested protection from one’s enemies by a benefactor who would give hiding and security to one fleeing from enemies.  So in heaven all the fears that beset us now about our health, wellbeing, and safety will forever be removed as we dwell secure under the protection of the King on His throne.
  •   Heaven is a place of satisfaction (v. 17a).  The Lamb . . . will be their shepherd; he will lead them to springs of living water.  What could be more satisfying than well-fed sheep lying down near springs of refreshing water free from the threat of harm?  This pastoral scene suggests contentedness, soul-satisfaction, and the enjoyment of life to its fullest.  It is the promise of Jesus fully realized:  I came that they might have life and have it more abundantly.
  •   Heaven is a place of no more sorrow (v. 17b).  With all of the painful memories we will have, one wonders how it will be possible to enjoy heaven.  But God will wipe every tear from their eyes. Somehow God in His goodness will remove all the painful memories so we will remember them no more.  What a welcome condition!

For those who say we don’t know what heaven will be like, I can only reply, What we do know makes me glad I am going there!

Your friend, Pastor Brian (:-}).

April 17

December 2006

Dear Beloved Friend(s),

This week at our Tuesday Men’s Bible Study we examined Revelation 7 which describes the witness of the 144,000 on earth during the Tribulation and the worship of the martyrs of that future period in heaven.  Though these future believers will live in far different circumstances than we are in, what could be more profitable for us than witness and worship?  Let’s draw some lessons this month from the 144,000 and then next month from the Tribulation martyrs.

  • In the midst of wrath, God remembers mercy.

Revelation 16:17 says For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?  In other words, will anyone be able to survive the judgment to come without being swept away by the seal, trumpet and bowl judgments?  The answer to that question is Revelation 7.  This chapter is a pause in the action so to speak that reminds us that the same God who judges also offers grace to those who will receive it.  Though He must judge sin God still loves sinners.  Amen!

  •  God never forgets His promises though He may delay long over us for His purposes.

Revelation 7:4-8 describes 144,000 from all the tribes of Israel including a list of 12 tribes.  Are these literal Jews or some symbolic description of future believers?  In Scripture the 12 tribes of Israel are listed often (29 times by some accounts).  Every other time they are listed they refer to literal Jews.  No hint suggests otherwise here.  Why Jews?  The Bible describes a great turning to the Lord on the part of the Jewish people just before the return of Jesus and the Battle of Armageddon.  Paul says that when the Deliverer comes all Israel will be saved (Romans 11:25-27).  These 144,000 are a firstfruits of a greater number of Jews who will turn to their Messiah in the Tribulation.  God will be fulfilling His promises to His ancient people.  God’s delays in time have a purpose and His plans for us for eternity will never fail.  PTL!

  • God seals and protects His servants to empower their mission.

Revelation 7:3-4 says of the 144,000 that a seal is put on the foreheads of the servants of our God. Revelation 9:4 says that this seal means protection from death during the Tribulation.  So these special servants are sovereignly protected by the power of God so they can accomplish their mission of evangelizing the world.  They are so effective that a great multitude from all over the world is saved in the Tribulation (see vv. 9, 14).  What this reminds me of is that the safest place to be is in the center of God’s will.  Chaos may be unfolding all around you, yet if you are firmly committed to His will you are safe under His sovereign care.  In fact, you cannot die until His mission through you is completed.  What an empowerment this gives us!

  •       God uses people to reach people.

In Revelation 7:1-2 the angels are ready to begin the worldwide catastrophic trumpet judgments.  God stays their hand until He seals the 144,000 for their mission.  Isn’t that grand?  The angels administer the wrath of God, but people—God’s people—proclaim the grace of God.  God may use angels to judge but He uses you and me to save.  We have no greater calling.

Your friend in the mission, Pastor Brian (:-}).

April 17

November 2006

Dear Beloved Friend(s),

Derek Prime, mentor to radio preacher Alistair Begg of Truth for Life, wrote that before stepping into the pulpit to preach God’s Word he prays, Help me, Lord, to speak as in Your sight, and to be prepared to fall into the ground and die so that I may bear much fruit (p. 79).  That grabbed me in light of last month’s article that Dying is the key to serving.

Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.  Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.  (Jesus in John 12:24-25)

But just what does dying to self really involve?  Jesus is talking about a sacrificial life.  In the Old Testament the requirement of animal sacrifices was to teach this very thing.  We learn:

  •   Israel sacrificed the first.  We must die to selfishness.

 God required Israel to sacrifice the firstfruits of their grain, wine, and animals (Proverbs 3:9).  Firstfruits means that we must give God first place in our lives – first place with our time, our money, and our gifts in service.  Some believers on payday write their first check for their tithes and offerings before they pay any bills or go shopping.  It is their simple way to remind them that God must come first in everything.  In order for that to happen we must die to selfishness.

  •   Israel sacrificed the best.  We must die to half-hearted mediocrity.

God required that the animals sacrificed to Him be unblemished and spotless without defect (Malachi 1:8, 14).  Cain just discharged a duty but Abel sacrificed his very best.  So dying to self means whatever we do for the Lord we do to our very best.  Doing that means dying to half-hearted mediocrity.  Dr. Paul Dixon once said, Anything connected with Jesus ought to have excellence written all over it. Excellence means we die to laziness, shoddiness, and minimal effort.  We do our best for Jesus.

  •  Israel sacrificed from authentic lives.  We must die to hypocrisy.

 In Micah 6:6-8 God convicted His people of their deep sins.  So they asked what they should do.  Offer sacrifices?  God said no.  The purpose of sacrifices was to teach believers to live a sacrificial life.  God said that this was what He required:  to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.  It is easy to run over people and mistreat them even in Christian service.  So do justly.  It is easy to be harsh with people when they fail.  So love mercy.  It is easy to be hard, unbroken and indifferent when we sin.  So walk humbly.  Dying to self is dying to hypocrisy and being authentic in loving God and loving people.

Here, then, is a sacrificial life:  it gives the first by dying to selfishness, it gives the best by dying to mediocrity, and it does it from an authentic life by dying to hypocrisy. 

Remember, dying is the key to serving.  Your friend, Pastor Brian (:-}).