March 3, 2015

In these two short parables, Jesus provides us with information about the "kingdom of heaven."  In the first parable He says, "The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field." This man, seemingly by accident discovers this treasure in a field.  In the second parable, Jesus states, "Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls."


These two parables have certain common features. First, there is the idea of finding something of tremendous value - a treasure and a fine pearl.  Second, we note that both of the men sell everything to acquire this valuable item. But there is also a dissimilar feature in the two parables. What is it? It is this, it appears that the first man, more or less, stumbled upon the treasure; while the second man, a merchant, made a business of searching for fine pearls.


And what is the application or insight for us in relation to the kingdom? It is that some people seem to meet the Lord by accident, if you will.  They aren't looking for him, but when they hear the good news about what Jesus did for them on the cross and how through him they can have eternal life and a place in his kingdom, they repent and turn to him in faith and joy. They realize that everything this world has to offer, pales in comparison to the value of knowing Christ. Others are searching and when they find Christ they, too, repent and give all for Christ, for He is worth everything. What type of person are you? Matthew 16:26 says, "What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?" Trust Christ today.

February 3, 2015

In this passage, a man named Nicodemus came one night to visit Jesus.  Nicodemus was both a Pharisee and a member of the Jewish ruling council.  This meant that he belonged to the Sanhedrin, the council of seventy men  charged with overseeing the religious affairs of the Jewish people.  Nicodemus recognized Jesus as a teacher, a Rabbi, and as One who performed miraculous signs.


For his part, Jesus saw that even with all of his religious credentials, Nicodemus did not know God.  And so Jesus said to him, "Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again."  Understanding the meaning and usages of the adverb "again," anothen provides us with a window into the meaning of Jesus' words.  First, anothen can mean "a second time."  This was Nicodemus's understanding.  Second, anothen speaks of something "radically new" or "a new beginning."  Third, anothen can mean "from above."


In combining these ideas, we find that the new birth is both radically new and that it comes down from above.  In what follows, Jesus makes it clear that the new birth originates with the Spirit.  Without the Spirit, there is no new birth.


John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement was once asked, "Why do you preach so often on 'you must be born again?'"  He replied, "Because--you must be born again!"  Have you been born again?




December 30, 2014

Luke 2:25: "Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout.  He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was on him."


For most people, waiting seems like a waste of time.  We wait at stoplights; we wait in lines; we wait at restaurants--wait, wait, wait!  However, there is one place where we do well to wait.  Like Simeon, we are wise to wait on God and his timing.  Simeon waited for "the consolation of Israel" and he held on to God's promise that he would not die before he saw the Lord's Messiah.


Then, on that special day, there at the temple, Simeon's waiting was over as he held the Lord's Messiah in his arms and praised God!  What promise of God are you waiting to see fulfilled?  Don't give up.  Follow Simeon's example! 

September 24, 2014

Procrastination - it was a problem for the golah, the Jews who had returned from Babylon, and it continues to be a problem for God's people today.  After completing the foundation of the temple, we read, "Then the peoples around them set out to discourage the people of Judah and make tham afraid to go on building.  They bribed officials to work against them and frustrate their plans during the entire reign of Cyrus king of Persia and down to the reign of Darius king of Persia" (Ezra 4:4-5).


The people became discouraged and this discouragement led to procrastination.  For some 16 years all work stopped.  Then the Lord spoke: "This is what the Lord Almighty says: 'These people say, "The time has not yet come to rebuild the Lord's house"'" (Haggai 1:2).  Note, they didn't say that the work was unimportant, but rather that it wasn't the "right time" to do it.  They procrastinated.  Instead, they found other things to do, like work on their own houses.


Today people say things like, "As soon as we get the yard in, then we'll get back to church."  Or, "After the kids graduate, then we'll make it to Bible study."  This all sounds reasonable, but how does the Lord respond?  He says, "Give careful thought to your ways.  You have planted much, but harvested little.  You eat, but never have enough.  You drink, but never have your fill.  You put on clothes, but are not warm.  You earn wages, only to put them in a purse with holes in it" (Haggai 1:5b-6).


What exactly is wrong?  The Lord is describing a life devoid of blessing.  Whenever we put our priorities above God's priorities, we cut ourselves off from God's blessing.  Add procrastination and you have a recipe for years without blessing.  So what is the solution?  Repentance.  "Lord, forgive me.  I have been living for myself and not for your kingdom."  Stop procrastinating and begin to apply Matthew 6:33 and you will find the joy and blessing that departed from your life.  Our God is a God of joy and blessing.  Experience it today!

July 7, 2014

What does God want most from you?  That may sound like a difficult or even a trick question, but it really isn't that difficult.  The answer is found in II Corinthians 12:14 where the apostle Paul, speaking under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, says, "Now I am ready to visit you for the third time, and I will not be a burden to you, because what I want is not your possessions but you.  After all, children should not have to save up for their parents, but parents for their children."


At the heart of this verse, Paul and the Lord say to the Corinthians and to us, "What I want is not your possessions [and not your service, etc.] but you."  Many believers live with a distorted view of the Christian life.  They believe that following Jesus is all about service and sacrifice, but here Paul is saying that being a Christ follower is about surrender.  It is about the will.


One of the greatest challenges for any us is learning to trust God.  I am convinced that it is a process and some folks seem to make faster progress than the rest of us.  But take heart and keep moving forward; you will make it!


June 23, 2014

Our culture has gone to the extreme where safety is concerned.  Safety labels are everywhere.  Here are just a few of the warnings that can be found: 

  1. A label on a baby stroller warns: "Remove child before folding."

  2. A brass fishing lure with a three-pronged hook on the end warns: "Harmful if swallowed."

  3. A popular manufactured fireplace log warns: "Caution--risk of fire."

  4. A set of shin pads warns: "Pads cannot protect any part of the body they do not cover."


And yet in Mark 8:34-36, Jesus said: "Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.  For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it.  What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?"  In II Corinthians 11:23b-27, the apostle Paul describes his experience as a disciple of Jesus Christ.  Paul's life cannot be described as "safety first," but rather "Christ first."

May 9, 2014

Many of you probably saw Kevin Durant's emotional tribute to his mother as he received the 2013-14 MVP award for the NBA.  If you didn't, it is worth watching.  His mother, Wanda Pratt, received a standing ovation when he identified her as "the real MVP."  


Kevin recognized the impact that his mother and several other individuals, both family, friends and coaches, have had on his life.  Additionally, he gave praise and thanks to God for all that He has done in Kevin's life.  His entire speech resonated as both genuine and sincere.


In listening to basketball's MVP, I thought of Paul's words to Timothy.  Paul said, "I am reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also" (II Tim 1:5). Through Timothy's family ran a legacy of faith.  Paul described it as a "sincere" faith.


According to Paul, Timothy's sincere faith began in infancy as he was taught the Holy Scriptures (see II Tim 3:15).  This faith was established on the Word of God and developed over time.  And what was the result?  To the church at Philippi, Paul wrote, "I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, that I also may be cheered when I receive news about you.  I have no one else like him, who will show genuine concern for your welfare.  For everyone looks out for their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ" (Phil 2:19-21).


On this Mother's Day weekend, may all of us make a renewed commitment to develop and live out a sincere and genuine faith before a lost and needy world.

April 26, 2014

Joseph of Arimathea enters the biblical narrative in an unexpected way.  He performs an important deed, and then as suddenly as he appears, he disappears, not to be heard from again in Scripture.


All four gospels tell us about this Joseph.  We learn that he was wealthy, well-respected, part of the elite Jerusalem Council (the 71 member Sanhedrin), that he had access to Pilate, and that he had become a disciple of Jesus.


Luke 23:50-51 says, "Now there was a man named Jospeh, a member of the Council, a good and upright man, who had not consented to their decision and action.  He came from the Judean town of Arimathea [the home town of Samuel], and he himself was waiting for the kingdom of God."  Joseph did not consent to the decision to crucify Jesus.  When the Council convened to sentence Jesus to death, there was at least one dissenting vote.  Imagine the raised eyebrows and the dirty looks in that room!


More information is found about Joseph in John 19:38-42: "Later, Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate for the body of Jesus.  Now Joseph was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly because he feared the Jewish leaders.  With Pilate's permission, he came and took the body away.  He was accompanied by Nicodemus, the man who earlier had visited Jesus at night.  Nicodemus brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds. Taking Jesus' body, the two of them wrapped it, with the spices, in strips of linen.  This was in accordance with Jewish burial customs.  At the place where Jesus was crucified, there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb, in which no one had ever been laid. Because it was the Jewish day of Preparation and since the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there."


At this critical point, Joseph and Nicodemus stood out as followers of Jesus.  They had been secret believers and had not spoken up on Jesus' behalf in the past.  But this time they did.  I find encouragement here knowing that our God is the God of the second or even third chance.  Think of the excitement that must have filled their hearts as Joseph hurried off to see Pilate and Nicodemus rushed home to get the burial spices and linens.  To fulfill a God-ordained, God-given, God-inspired prophecy (see Isa.53:9), God used two leaders of the Jewish community, Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, to accomplish His purposes.  Will you allow Him to use you?

April 11, 2014

Following Jesus' arrest, we read in Matthew 26:58, "But Peter followed him at a distance, right up to the courtyard of the high priest.  He entered and sat down with the guards to see the outcome."  John's gospel provides additional detail: "Simon Peter and another disciple were following Jesus.  Because this disciple was known to the high priest, he went with Jesus into the high priest's courtyard, but Peter had to wait outside at the door.  The other disciple, who was known to the high priest, came back, spoke to the servant girl on duty there and brought Peter in" (John 18:15-16). 


We don't know what happened to the other disciple (presumably John).  Sensing the tension in the air, this other disciple may have quietly slipped away.  However, Peter stayed and soon found himself surrounded by temple police, just a room away from where Jesus was on trial.


What elements led to Peter's downfall, i.e. his denial of his Lord?  I suggest five downward steps.  First, it began with proud self-confidence.  He told Jesus, "Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will" (Matt.26:33).  Second, there was insubordination, telling Jesus that He was wrong: "Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you" (v.35).  Third, there was prayerlessness in the garden: "Then [Jesus] returned to his disciples and found them sleeping" (v.40).  Fourth, there was Peter's independent spirit: "Then Simon Peter, who had a sword, drew it and struck the high priest's servant, cutting off his right ear" (John18:10).  Fifth, there was compromise: "Then [Peter] began to call down curses, and he swore to them, 'I don't know the man!'" (Matt. 26:74).


Peter's attitude and action provides us with a warning.  In the words of the Apostle Paul, "So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don't fall!" (I Cor. 10:12).

March 25, 2014

John 6:48-58

With his words, Jesus caused quite a stir in the synagogue at Capernaum.  Jesus said, "Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.  Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day. For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink.  Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them," (John 6:53-56).


In hearing this, those listening understood Jesus' words uniquely in their literal sense.  They knew the food laws of Leviticus 11 & 17.  They weren't cannibals and they didn't drink blood.


So how are we to understand Jesus' words?  We find help in verse 35 where Jesus said, "I am the bread of life.  Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty."  Jesus is the bread of heaven.  Heaven's bread is a Person.


We are called to believe and remain in him.  A continuing theme in John's gospel is remaining or abiding in Christ.  The application for our lives is in learning to abide each day in Christ.  In the words of Ray Stedman, "This sharing of life with Jesus will, later on in the gospel, become the theme for the Upper Room Discourse.  I do not think you can find any theme more exalted, more remarkable, more mysterious tham this--sharing of life between us: 'You in me, and I in you,' (John 14:20).  That is the way Jesus put it."


Pastor Paul Bergquam

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