The Weekly Epistle 3/6/24

Hi Church,

Hymns- the way we would sing them if we were honest. 
“I Surrender Some.”
“I love to talk about telling the story.”
“Take my life and let me be.”
“When peace like a trickle.”
“Spirit of the Living God, fall somewhere near me.”
“Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like you.
“Pillow of Ages, Fluffed for me.” 

Ok, enough of that. A.W. Tozer was known for saying, “Christians don’t tell lies, they just go to church and sing them.” Now that sounds a bit harsh. Some people assume that Tozer was speaking to bad theology found in hymns and worship songs. But if I understand Tozer correctly here, he was really getting at the issue of singing songs that don’t line up with our actual spiritual state. 

When we sing, “I will put my trust in you alone,” is that true? All the time? Or “I stand amazed in the presence of Jesus the Nazarene.” Are we amazed each time we sing that? 

How about when we sing these words: “All of You is more than enough for all of me. For ev’ry thirst and ev’ry need. You satisfy me with Your love. And all I have in You is more than enough.” 

Do you ever struggle with feeling like you are lying to God when you say things like this? Is it hypocritical to sing them knowing that they are not a true reflection of your heart at that moment? 

One of my favorite Psalms is one written by Asaph. In Psalm 73, Asaph says, “Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you.” Yet this is the same guy who said earlier, “But as for me, my feet had almost slipped; I had nearly lost my foothold. For I envied the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.” He then goes on to describe how much easier the wicked seem to have it in life. That those who have no relationship with God have no cares or worries or struggles. 

I find that when I praise God and express to Him my commitment and my desire for Him whether I am feeling it at that moment or not help to strengthen my love for the Lord. It reminds me of my need for Him. It helps me to remember that nothing can satisfy me like the Lord Himself. Singing these songs of desire are really requests for God’s grace to fulfill them. 

There is great benefit to expressing our desires to the Lord even when it is not a complete reflection of the heart for it helps to align our hearts with who God is and what God is doing. Of course, if we are singing words of commitment while engaging in unrepentant sin, looking to impress others, it should be cause for concern. 

But let’s sing with profound gratefulness and amazement for we have not fully arrived yet. We are a work in progress, expressing to Him the needed growth for Him to be “more than enough,” each and every day! 

To Him be all glory and praise, Pastor Brian

The Weekly Epistle 2/28/24

Hi Church Family,

Someone joked that a jury is, “Twelve people chosen to decide who has the best lawyer.”
Twice now I have been summoned to serve on jury duty. The most recent was this past January in which I was excused due to my responsibilities as minister. The first time I had been summoned was when I was serving as pastor in upstate NY. On that occasion, being a minister had no bearing on whether I would be selected or not. 

During the selection process, one man during the questioning process said, “My philosophy is everyone is guilty until proven innocent.” The judge replied, “You mean, innocent until proven guilty.” And the man answered, “No, I mean guilty until proven innocent.” As you would imagine that man was immediately dismissed. 

Guilty until proven innocent! Is that how we view other people? Do we assume a person is guilty until he or she proves otherwise? Do we make a certain judgment then look for evidence to support our case? 

Guilty until proven innocent. Let’s think about this as it relates to the criticism or accusations from others. Our first reaction to someone’s criticism can be one of defensiveness. We will then feel the need to prove to others that they are wrong. I am not addressing the need we may have at times to defend our integrity or when we need to provide truth to fill in the gaps of wrong information. 

But what difference does it make that God has declared us not guilty because of Jesus’ work on the cross? Does it matter that in Christ we are free from condemnation? Isn’t there really only one judgment that matters? And it isn’t in the courtroom of others’ opinions. Of course, there can be abuses to the line, “I only have to answer to God.” This thinking has led to a lot of crazy immoral behaviors and bullies in the ministry who dangerously and wrongly removed themselves from accountability. 

But shouldn’t “no condemnation” in Christ reshape our response to accusations? Shouldn’t followers of Jesus be the least defensive people on the planet? Our identity in Christ anchors us. That place of security in Jesus Christ can protect us from getting all bent out shape in the face of being questioned. It can actually lead us to that place of spiritual growth as we humble ourselves before God, allowing Him to show us what it is we need to see about ourselves and even about the accuser. 

A posture of no condemnation frees me from having to prove myself or worse to perform in such a way that proves your wrong. I am not guilty until proven innocent. I have already been declared not guilty. That doesn’t make us innocent of charges or accusations against us, but nothing ever brought against us can remove anything bought for us in Jesus Christ. 

One writer summed it up this way, “No one- not your friend, not your dad, not even Satan himself- can damn you with information, however right they may be.” 

In Christ, Pastor Brian

The Weekly Epistle 2/21/24

The Why of Discipleship
Week Five: Why Going Might Look Like Staying
 
Living Hope, 
 
What comes to mind when you hear the words “The Great Commission?” 
 
For many of us, these words evoke images of the great missionaries of the past two centuries. Missionaries like David Livingston, who ventured into the “Dark Continent,” carrying the light of the Gospel. Or Hudson Taylor, who preached to the East and played a key role in establishing the church in China. There’s also Jim Elliot, whose ministry met a tragic end at the tip of a spear, and Elizabeth Elliot, whose ministry began at the same fateful point. These names rightly come to mind when contemplating the Great Commission. However, the Great Commission is not solely intended for those who embark on journeys to the ends of the earth. It is equally a commission for those of us who remain on the home front. 
 
For the last two centuries, we’ve placed a strong emphasis on the word “go,” all the while assuming that going was a call exclusively reserved for those daring enough to enter the mission field. However, the emphasis of the commission is not on the going but on the making. The going is just the means to an end, and the end is discipleship.
 
So then, what if going looked more like staying?
 
What if we went unto the uttermost parts of the children’s ministry hall? What if we entered each room wondering which little girl may grow into the next Elisabeth Elliot or what little boy may lead an entire country to radical faith in Jesus? What if we crossed the parking lot in search of the teen who will one day pastor our church? 
 
The Church in America has been on the decline for decades, and the problem is only getting worse. Christian thought leaders like Carey Nieuwhof of the Art of Leadership Network and Dr. Kara Powell of the Fuller Youth Institute suggest the decline is largely due to the evangelical church’s failure to disciple its own children. 
 
When we view “go” strictly as an imperative for global missions, we may lose sight of the discipleship opportunities playing at our feet.
 
The Lord has blessed this old church with a lot of young families. Living Hope Kids and Momentum Student Ministries are busting out of the seams with kids. Each kid is a wonderful opportunity. Will we be faithful to the call to make disciples? The American church may be in decline, but this need not be the case here. If we are faithful to stay put and disciple those the Lord has entrusted to us, then I am sure he will be faithful to raise up little pastors and missionaries all around us. 
 
We started out this series with a simple question. Why do we make disciples? As we have seen, we make disciples because Jesus modeled discipleship for us. His public ministry began with the command “follow me,” and it ended with the command “go.” Hopefully, you have heard his call to follow. Hopefully, you will be faithful to obey his call to go—even if going looks like staying.
 
Blessings, 
 
Pastor Dan

The Weekly Epistle 2/14/24

Living Hope Family, 
 
Two concerns were raised with the epistle I authored this week, which require me to make an affirmation and correction. Before I address those two areas, it’s important to note the epistle was not published in its entirety. Due to an editorial error, two paragraphs were not included in the published text. That said, the absence of these paragraphs does not negate the reason for this follow-up message, though their exclusion did serve to add to the confusion my epistle may have caused.
 
AFFIRMATION: 
 
While it’s safe to assume I have the benefit of your doubt, I still think it is necessary for me to state that I, 1000%, affirm the deity of Jesus Christ. In my epistle, I stated, “…at the incarnation, Jesus laid aside many of his divine attributes.” This was a poor choice of words on my part, and it is totally understandable why some of you may have been confused. I offer this correction: During the course of his earthly ministry, Jesus chose not to exercise some of his divine attributes. As one might choose not to flex a physical muscle, Jesus, at times, chose not to flex his divine muscles. He was still intrinsically divine; he still possessed the muscles; he just didn’t always use them. 
 
I affirm the theology of the hypostatic union (the theology that affirms that Jesus was 100% man and 100% God—He was 200%). At the same time, I acknowledge that the mystery of the hypostatic union, as with the mystery of the Trinity, is beyond our comprehension. What a wondrous thing that we can know our Lord intimately yet never fully understand his nature. We have indeed been welcomed into a wonderous mystery. 
 
CORRECTION:
 
After the publication of the epistle John 6:63-64 was brought to my attention, which states,
 
“It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are Spirit and life. But there are some of you who do not believe.” (For Jesus knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray him.)”
 
Clearly, my exegetical work was left wanting in this instance. I assure you I am a diligent student of God’s Word. My error in representing the text accurately was an honest error of ignorance. 
 
With that said, I do stand by the heart of this week’s epistle, specifically the points of application contained within. When we identify disciples, we’re not looking for the wise, the astute, the gifted, the competent, or even the most faithful. Remember, “God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are, so that no man may boast before God (1 Corinthians 1:29). 
 
I hope you can see past the confusion and error to see how Jesus modeled discipleship.
 
A full copy of the text in its original form is below. 
 
Blessings, Church. 
 
Pastor Dan
The Why of Discipleship
Week Four: Why We Trust People Who May Prove To Be Untrustworthy
            
Peter has always been my favorite disciple. He is famous for speaking before he thought, leaping before he looked, and otherwise throwing himself headlong into a mirid of difficult scenarios with nothing more than his unbridled passion to guide him. I don’t know about you, but I can relate to Peter. Maybe you can relate better to Thomas. You love the Lord, and you’re dedicated to Jesus, but your doubts creep in from time to time and keep you from following hard after him. Maybe you can relate to James and John. You’re zealous for the Lord, but sometimes your hotheaded temperament gets the better of you, and you overstep when admonishing a fellow believer. The Gospels are wonderful because, in them, we see a relatable God—in the person of Jesus—relating to people who we can relate to. 
 
We can learn much about discipleship when we examine the lives of the eleven disciples. But what about that pesky twelfth disciple, the “son of perdition,” the treacherous Judas? What could we possibly learn about discipleship from him? Maybe there’s not much we can learn from his example. Still, if we look closely at the sad story of Judas, maybe we can learn something about Jesus’ approach to discipleship and, in particular, why he chose to trust someone who ultimately proved untrustworthy. Here are two observations for your consideration.
 
First, Jesus didn’t know what he didn’t know. 
 
It’s a bit of a theological rabbit hole, but scholars generally agree that at the incarnation, Jesus laid aside many of his divine attributes, including omniscience. It can be objectively stated that Jesus didn’t know everything (Mark 13:32). 
 
The Gospels are clear: Jesus chose Judas, appointed him an apostle, and endowed him with authority to minister in his name (Mark 3:13-19). Did Jesus know that Judas would prove to be untrustworthy? That seems doubtful. Who would knowingly pick a backstabber to be one of their closest companions? It seems far more likely that something about Judas compelled Jesus to seek him out. Perhaps he was friendly. Maybe he was good with money and had an inherent interest in caring for the poor. We don’t know. All we know is Jesus took him at face value and chose him to follow after him. 
 
Likewise, we don’t know what we don’t know. Therefore, we must always look for the best in others and extend to them opportunities to walk alongside us as fellow disciples of Jesus Christ. 
 
Second, Jesus knew his Heavenly Father had a sovereign plan.
 
I have often wondered how Jesus processed his relationship with Judas in hindsight. Songwriter Michael Card mused on this very thought in his classic song, “Why?”
 
 
“Why did it have to be a friend
Who chose to betray the Lord
Why did he use a kiss to show them
That’s not what a kiss is for
 
Only a friend can betray a friend
A stranger has nothing to gain
And only a friend comes close enough
To ever cause so much pain.”
 
At some point, the Father revealed to his Son, the backstabbing scheme of his close friend. Jesus must have been heartbroken. Yet in his anguish, he never lost sight of his Father’s sovereignty. Through tearful eyes, Jesus could still see that Judas’ betrayal served a providential purpose (John 17:12). 
 
If Jesus had to keep his Father’s sovereignty in mind, how much more must we? God brings people into our sphere of influence and entrusts them to us. Sometimes, our effort to make a disciple goes sideways and the person we spent so much time building into proves to be untrustworthy. Does that mean that we should have never made the investment? No. Jesus invested with no guarantee of a favorable return. Likewise, we must continually pour into others and leave the outcome to the Lord.
 
The reality is all of Jesus’ disciples proved to be untrustworthy (Mark 14:50). Fortunately, through the cross, Jesus extended grace and mercy, and all but one of his friends took him up on the offer. We must be willing to extend the same grace and mercy we have found. We must be willing to build into others with no guarantee of return. And we must come alongside them when they prove to be untrustworthy. Why? Because that’s the philosophy of discipleship that Jesus modeled for us. 
 
Blessings, 
 
Pastor Dan

The Weekly Epistle 2/7/24

The Why of Discipleship
Week Three: Why We Leave Room for Failure

 
Living Hope, 
 
For many of us, the word disciple invokes images of icons venerated in gold gilding. The mighty apostles of Christ—men of faith and renown. Countless architectural wonders have been erected in their honor and for their namesake. Cities and even whole islands bear their names as well. Yet, if the only historical record we had to go on was the Gospel of Mark, we might not think so well of them. 
 
Of all the Gospels, Mark places significant emphasis on the many failures of Jesus chosen.
 

  • The disciples failed to understand Jesus’ teaching (4:13; 7:18).
  • The disciples failed to recognize Jesus’ authoritative power (6:37, 52; 8:4). 
  • The disciples failed to comprehend the true nature of Jesus’ messiahship (8:32; 9:32).
  • The disciples failed to act with humility and were often motivated by their own self-interest (9:38; 10:13, 37, 41).*

 
The gilded icons venerated in our imaginations tarnish under the pen of Mark. 
 
As we can clearly see, Jesus left significant room for failure. Moreover, Jesus was constantly putting the disciples in over their heads—quite literally in the case of Peter (see Matt 14:30)! Of course, this begs the question, why? Why would Jesus choose these men and place a special anointing on their lives only to put them into situations in which they would repeatedly fail? 
 
The answer is quite simple. The manifold failures of the disciples were rooted in one chief failure: the failure of faith (4:13, 40; 7:18; 9:19). Jesus had a special mission in mind for his disciples, and he knew he needed to develop in them a faith that would match that mission. Moreover, to develop their faith, Jesus knew he had to put his disciples in situations that would expose their faithlessness. 
 
Of course, to our modern sensibilities, Jesus’ methodology seems counterintuitive. Indeed, most modern ministry models and philosophies seem preoccupied with mitigating failure at all costs. But what if failure is part of God’s plan? What if failure is the means by which Jesus will foster faith in us?
 
In the nearly nine years that I have ministered alongside Pastor Brian, I have come to appreciate one of his qualities above all the rest. Pastor Brian is an extremely patient man. Frankly, I didn’t always appreciate his patience. I would often grow increasingly frustrated when difficult situations and people issues seemed to drag out. However, in the passing years, my perspective has changed. More often than not, I have witnessed his patience yield abundant fruit in our humble little flock. Perhaps my perspective has shifted most dramatically because, on more than one occasion, I have been the beneficiary of his patience.
 
Eleven of Jesus’ twelve failures eventually turned the world upside down. Through his patience their many failures were converted into victory. Why do we leave room for failure at Living Hope? We leave room for failure because Jesus left room for failure—plain and simple.
 
Blessings, 
 
Pastor Dan
 
*Listed adapted from Four Portraits, One Jesus: A Survey of Jesus and the Gospels, by Mark L. Strauss (197).