April 17, 2019

Dear Corps of 24,

Considering the evening (even though it is already very late as I write), I would like to present what might be considered a rather cheap character contrast: Simon Peter and the Lord Jesus Himself. The time is the night the Lord is betrayed, and the setting is the Garden of Gethsemane.

The lead up to this situation is clear to us: Jesus’ repeated predictions that He would suffer, the announcement that one of the Twelve would betray Him, and His sad declaration that all of His disciples would abandon Him. In other words, His task was clear to Him, including the many painful obstacles and letdowns that would mark His way.

Heading into Gethsemane, Peter’s path forward was also fairly clear. Jesus warned him that he would deny Jesus thrice before the rooster crowed, a prediction that Peter balked at (in his defense, he wasn’t alone: the rest of the disciples talked that way, too).

Here’s how things unfolded:

Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to his disciples, “Sit here, while I go over there and pray.” 37 And taking with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, he began to be sorrowful and troubled. 38 Then he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.” 39 And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” 40 And he came to the disciples and found them sleeping. And he said to Peter, “So, could you not watch with me one hour? 41 Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” 42 Again, for the second time, he went away and prayed, “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.” 43 And again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy. 44 So, leaving them again, he went away and prayed for the third time, saying the same words again. 45 Then he came to the disciples and said to them, “Sleep and take your rest later on. See, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. 46 Rise, let us be going; see, my betrayer is at hand.” ~ Matthew 26:36–46 (ESV)

The skinny is that Jesus—flawless, sinless Son of God—prayed fervently and repeatedly regarding the trial He knew was coming. He didn’t lean on His status with the Father, His past performance, or His righteousness. In short, Jesus presumed nothing as He appealed to the Father in gut-wrenching spiritual agony.

Peter slept. That sounds harsh, but it’s the truth. (Again, he wasn’t alone in his negligence, but there it is.)

Now, what are the consequences, the end result of these actions?

Jesus:

And the high priest said to him, “I adjure you by the living God, tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.” 64 Jesus said to him, “You have said so. But I tell you, from now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven.” ~ Matthew 26:63–64 (ESV)

Peter:

Now Peter was sitting outside in the courtyard. And a servant girl came up to him and said, “You also were with Jesus the Galilean.” 70 But he denied it before them all, saying, “I do not know what you mean.” 71 And when he went out to the entrance, another servant girl saw him, and she said to the bystanders, “This man was with Jesus of Nazareth.” 72 And again he denied it with an oath: “I do not know the man.” 73 After a little while the bystanders came up and said to Peter, “Certainly you too are one of them, for your accent betrays you.” 74 Then he began to invoke a curse on himself and to swear, “I do not know the man.” And immediately the rooster crowed. 75 And Peter remembered the saying of Jesus, “Before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.” And he went out and wept bitterly. ~ Matthew 26:69–75 (ESV)

Jesus and Peter both knew what was coming their way—there weren’t any curve balls in this game. The pitches were right over the plate. Both were asked questions, quite literally yards from each other and essentially simultaneously. The difference is that Jesus faced the high priest in his rage who had the power to put Jesus to death, while Peter faced a slave girl—someone of low social station and no power at all.

What’s the difference? Jesus prayed through, while Peter didn’t pray at all. It is easy for us to shrug and say, “Well, Jesus was the Son of God, of course He was tough as nails.” That statement is not untrue, but it’s truer that most people who say it realize, and in different ways. Jesus was sinless indeed, but that purity of soul gave Him the wisdom to know He needed to call on His Father for strength. There was no presumption in Jesus. Peter, in contrast, thought that his zeal and love for the Lord would be enough to carry him through, and he was proved terribly wrong. The sad truth is that Peter did love Jesus, and did have genuine zeal for Him. But love and zeal and good intentions—to say nothing of strong words and promises—aren’t enough.

All of us face spiritual mountains. Often we know they are coming at us as we move through life. Let’s take a lesson from Jesus and Peter: those mountains have to be moved before we reach actually them. Presuming nothing, taking no chances, putting no confidence in the flesh, we pray, pray, pray and we allow God to achieve the victory in us first, so that the battle is won before we step onto the battlefield. Agonize now in prayer and reap God’s peace later, or sleep now and agonize later at a price you cannot afford. Jesus was cool as ice facing the Sanhedrin because (in the Spirit) He’d already bashed in the Serpent’s head in the Garden. Peter failed to deal with a squeaky little girl because he hadn’t done what he needed to with the window of opportunity he’d been given.

Please pray for Easter at NorthLake, for a move of the Holy Spirit, for a blessing, for God to draw people in. Praying for you.

Pastor Dave

April 16, 2019

Dear Corps of 24,

Today is Holy Tuesday. By my reckoning it would have been the day that Jesus, leaving Jerusalem for the day as was His custom to lodge at Bethany, delivered His famous “Olivet Discourse” (Matthew 24-25, and parallels in Mark and Luke) from the summit of the Mount of Olives, looking over Jerusalem as the sun went down; it would be His last time to so behold the Holy City at sunset before He suffered. This is one of Jesus’ longest sermons, comparable to His Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7, with another version in Luke 6ff), and His Last Supper Discourse (John 13-17).

There’s no way all He says could even begin to be summarized here. A brief overview would be that Jesus’ disciples ask Him about the “end of the age” and the “sign of His coming,” which rather remarkably He answers with a thoroughness I can only guess surprised even them. Jesus knew His hour was near, and it was time for full disclosure. Matthew’s version is divided into two sections: chapter 24 predicts the events in prophetic fashion (complete with assurances, startling warnings, and ambiguities), while chapter 25 illustrates and drives those points home by means of three parables now famous to many but often taken out of their context and (therefore) sadly stripped of a great deal of their meaning (these are The Wise and the Foolish Virgins, The Parable of the Talents, and The Sheep and the Goats).

I would like to focus on just a couple of Jesus’ statements and responses:

First, the conversation that began it all. While still in the city with His disciples, Jesus responds to His disciples’ glowing remarks about the Temple with a brief and harsh statement recorded in all three Synoptics: Do you see all this? Not one stone will be left upon another. Note that Jesus did not take issue with His disciples’ admiration. The Jewish Mishnah, a codification of Jewish law written centuries later, stated, “He who has not seen Herod’s temple has not seen beauty.” In other words, by all accounts the Temple was every bit worthy of the praise it received. Even today, the Western Wall—a retaining wall and all that remains of the huge platform upon with the Temple rested—is magnificent. But can you imagine what would happen if a church member praised God for the beauty of a newly finished church building project (and the Temple wasn’t even fully completed until years later, so it was new, too), and the pastor said, “Yeah, it’s all going to burn…”? Let Jesus’ words hit you as they hit those men.

The Temple was leveled in AD 70, and all its rubble shoved by the Romans off the western side of the platform; those who pray at the Wailing Wall today stand on 50-60 feet of holy rubble. Jesus wasn’t kidding, and He wasn’t exaggerating.

God is not interested in monuments, relics, or museums. He is not interested in His holy house being turned into testimonies to human resourcefulness, wealth, culture, or ingenuity. Where He lives in heaven—where He has promises us a home—makes anything we do on earth seem truly humble by comparison. I believe we ought to glorify God with our place of worship. We shouldn’t have glorious homes but a cast-off church building. The Prophet Haggai has plenty to say about that. But the truth remains: a pretty building is no substitute for a heart on fire for Christ.

In Matthew 24:12 Jesus delivers a warning that makes His words about the Temple seem mild, to me anyway: “And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold.” (ESV) The NASB and NIV interpret this passage to mean that the love of most will grow cold, making the verse even scarier.

These days, many are weeping over the disaster at the Cathedral of Notre Dame, Paris. Hundreds of millions of dollars have been pledged for her restoration. Truly, it is the story of our day. Well and good; I hope she can be rebuilt.

But what about our hearts?

Jesus gives warning because He expects us to take warning. Let us seek God fervently, ask for a second wind, plead that He reveals to us where we are so that He can rectify us. Because at the end of the day, sooner or later, every last work lifted by human hands will fall, and all that will remain will be what we’ve offered to Him. We are His house, or we have nothing at all.

When the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth? Lord have mercy, and let the answer be “yes” in each of us.

Pastor Dave

April 15, 2019

Dear Corps of 24,

Today I’d like to take a look at a powerful (long) passage from Mark, which follows on the heels of the Triumphal Entry. I’ve color-coded it for a reason I will explain below.

On the following day, when they came from Bethany, he was hungry. 13 And seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to see if he could find anything on it. When he came to it, he found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs. 14 And he said to it, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And his disciples heard it. 15 And they came to Jerusalem. And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who sold and those who bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. 16 And he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple. 17 And he was teaching them and saying to them, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’? But you have made it a den of robbers.” 18 And the chief priests and the scribes heard it and were seeking a way to destroy him, for they feared him, because all the crowd was astonished at his teaching. 19 And when evening came they went out of the city. 20 As they passed by in the morning, they saw the fig tree withered away to its roots. 21 And Peter remembered and said to him, “Rabbi, look! The fig tree that you cursed has withered.” 22 And Jesus answered them, “Have faith in God. 23 Truly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will come to pass, it will be done for him. 24 Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. 25 And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.” ~ Mark 11:12–25 (ESV)

The setting for this passage is Mark 11:11, which clarifies an important detail about Jesus’ famous actions upon arriving in Jerusalem that week: after the Triumphal Entry, Jesus simply surveys the Temple courts; He doesn’t carry out His famous “cleansing” until the following day (what we would call Monday morning).

But Mark presents Jesus’ actions in the Temple courts in a very special fashion that helps us understand what He is up to. As Jesus goes to the Temple, He sees a fig tree. Finding it fruitless, He curses the tree. Mark then tells the story of Jesus overturning the tables and driving the vendors from His father’s house. Why? Because the Temple is supposed to be a house of prayer. But after telling this story, Mark goes back to the condition of the fig tree—now withered from the roots. Upon seeing the tree, Peter remarks about its demise. Jesus responds…with a lesson about faith and prayer.

Scholars call this kind of literary structure an inclusio, and I’ve colored-coded it so that it is easier to perceive. The opening episode about the fig tree—an incomplete story—couples with the concluding episode to frame a feature story found in between the two of them. The opening (in green) and the closing (also in green) serves as literary “arrows,” pointing the what is found in the middle (purple). Together, the opening, the centerpiece story, and the close form a unified whole that communicates something. Mark, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, is offering us an invaluable lesson. What is he saying?

1) Spiritual fruitlessness is brought on by treating the holy things of God casually and as if they were meant for our personal benefit rather than for His greater purposes.

2) God will fiercely defend His interests, even if the short term result of that defense is any number of overturned tables and upset pigeon salesmen inside His house.

3) Those who yield to God’s discipline receive life; those who refuse are rendered forever fruitless, just like the fig tree.

4) Fruitfulness has to do with faith and prayer.

My takeaway from all of this is that God is not interested in mere activity in His name. The moneychangers and animal sellers, in cahoots with the priesthood, were all very active in God’s house. But the problem is they didn’t have any faith, and they weren’t doing what God had called them to do—indeed, God’s whole purpose for even having a Temple: communion with Him. They were active about their own business, not God’s. More specifically, His people’s distraction was muting His witness to the nations, so that His salvific purposes were being utterly distorted.

Jesus uses the fig tree as an illustrated sermon. Peter is amazed by the miracle itself, but true to form, Jesus focuses on the point: Have faith. Believe God. Pray. Seek God. In a divine irony, Jesus reveals that His demonstration of faith in cursing and killing the fig tree was more fruitful that the empty tree itself—that fruitless fig being a symbol of the fruitless spiritual leadership in Jerusalem that He was challenging.

Here’s what I want to do: I want to clear my own Temple courts before Jesus has to do it Himself. Just like He was then, Jesus is hungry to see fruit today. I want to be fruitful when He comes looking. I want to imitate His faith, I want to submit to His teaching, I want my life to be a house of prayer, empty of profiteering and self-interest. This is Holy Week, this is the time.

Jesus, reveal to us our own hearts, and have mercy. Help me lift these heavy tables I’ve set up here; help me clear out all the junk I’ve allowed to accumulate. And don’t stop until the courts of my heart are clean by Your standards and not just what I have thought is “good enough.” Amen.

Pastor Dave

April 14, 2019

Dear Corps of 24,

Note: Early morning prayer every Tuesday at 6 AM at NorthLake.

Today is Palm Sunday, and I’ve already preached on the passage that tells the story of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. Here in this post, however, I’d like to focus on Luke 19:30-31 (the gist of which is also found in Mark 11:3 and Matthew 21:3)

“Go into the village in front of you, where on entering you will find a colt tied, on which no one has ever yet sat. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ you shall say this: ‘The Lord has need of it.’

That little phrase, “The Lord has need of it,” as natural as it seems in the context as an appropriate answer for why the disciples were absconding with a stranger’s donkey, is actually a matter of significant debate. A little bit of thought leads to the (rather deep) question, “Does God really need anything for human beings?”

Consider these passages…

…Every beast of the forest is mine, the cattle on a thousand hills. 11 I know all the birds of the hills, and all that moves in the field is mine. 12 “If I were hungry, I would not tell you, for the world and its fullness are mine. 13 Do I eat the flesh of bulls or drink the blood of goats? ~ Psalm 50:10–13 (ESV)

Who has measured the Spirit of the LORD, or what man shows him his counsel? 14 Whom did he consult, and who made him understand? Who taught him the path of justice, and taught him knowledge, and showed him the way of understanding? ~ Isaiah 40:13–14 (ESV)

Both of these passages tell us in no uncertain terms that God Almighty doesn’t need mortal man for anything, whether materially or spiritually. And a quick glance at the Lord’s words starting in Job 38 confirms this truth. In the grand scope of things, God doesn’t need us. He makes pretty clear that He wants us (incredibly)—but He doesn’t need us.

Or does He? Here is this troublesome passage about Jesus needing a little donkey. The Son of God is about the enter Jerusalem and fulfill the Destiny of the Ages, the redemption of all humanity hangs in the balance, and He has to bum a ride off a stranger. What gives?

Of course, we can appeal to what is known as kenosis, the “emptying” of divine glory Jesus experienced just by becoming fully human, described in Philippians 2:5-11. But that doesn’t explain passages like this, which we’ve touched on before:

I sought for a man among them who should build up the wall and stand in the breach before me for the land, that I should not destroy it, but I found none. 31 Therefore I have poured out my indignation upon them. I have consumed them with the fire of my wrath. I have returned their way upon their heads, declares the Lord GOD.” ~ Ezekiel 22:30–31 (ESV)

This passage, while not explicitly saying God needed a person, states that God looked for someone to carry out His purposes—and found no one. This is remarkably similar to the passage about Jesus needing a donkey. How?

Well, Jesus didn’t need that donkey any more than God needed an intercessor. That is to say, the need being expressed by God in these passages is not the kind of fundamental need that we experience—need for food, or healing, or even love. Our needs are absolute, or to be more lofty in our language, they are existential needs: if they aren’t met, we’re done. In the big picture, God doesn’t suffer existential needs. God-made-man in Jesus certainly did, because He was fully human so He could redeem us, a great wonder and mystery in itself. But glorified, He is beyond those existential needs now. So the divide between our needs and God’s “needs” remains stark.

But that isn’t the whole story. Because of God’s love for us, His care for us, and His purposes for us, He has bound Himself into a covenant relationship with humanity. This covenant, which by His Almighty power He has formed, limits the exercise of that selfsame Almighty power. In other words, God’s commitment to us, His desire to be in relationship with us, causes Him to need us—not in the sense that we need Him, but nevertheless in a very real way. The nature of that covenant is that in order for God to redeem, He must involve His people. So to exist, God doesn’t need us like we need Him for us to exist. But on the other hand, for Him to execute His plan of salvation, He chooses to need us—He needs us to pray, He needs us to give, He needs us to bear witness and share His love and His Word.

The Lord needs your donkey. Let Him use it. By the time it gets back to you, that donkey’s going to have a boast that will last forever.

Praying for you,

Pastor Dave

April 13, 2019

Dear Corps of 24,

Prayer with the Pastor, tonight at 6 PM!

After the healing of Blind Bartimaeus, Jesus continued into Jericho. And there is where His famous encounter with Zacchaeus occurred…

He entered Jericho and was passing through. 2 And behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus. He was a chief tax collector and was rich. 3 And he was seeking to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was small in stature. 4 So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see him, for he was about to pass that way. 5 And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today.” 6 So he hurried and came down and received him joyfully. 7 And when they saw it, they all grumbled, “He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.” 8 And Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.” 9 And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” ~ Luke 19:1–10 (ESV)

This is a very colorful story for a number of reasons, comical, really. A short, wealthy man with a bad reputation climbs a tree to see a penniless but celebrated holy man, then wins an evening with the guy.

One thing that strikes me is something I know about a theme that runs through Luke—his emphasis on the socially marginalized of his day. These include women, children, the poor, and the ceremonially unclean like lepers and foreigners. But just before Jesus suffers, we have this inclusion of a rich tax collector who doesn’t seem to fit any of those categories. What makes him fit is that he is despised and marginalized in another way; he is seen as beyond redemption. Zacchaeus helps us understand that God is not a social activist, He is a redeemer.

It is important to follow the sequence of the story, else we will misinterpret the last three verses. In those verses we see Zacchaeus declaring his penance—financial reparations for those he has harmed and alms for the poor; this declaration is followed by Jesus’ pronouncement of salvation. Do Zacchaeus’ “good works” result in his salvation?

The answer is no. The salvation was already happening when Zacchaeus wanted to see Jesus—when he stirred spiritual desire in himself for something other than wealth. A wealthy man up in a tree? Not very dignified. But he counted knowing Jesus as something more valuable than his dignity. But Jesus did the real saving when He invited Himself into the tax collector’s home. Zacchaeus had to say yes, of course, but we take for granted that Jesus also humbled Himself, also made Himself the target of scorn for associating with this dirty little man.

Jesus came to seek and save that which is lost. “Jesus” means salvation—it is the DNA of the Lord’s name. But we are Christians, and we are supposed to imitate Jesus in all things. We, too, should seek and save that which is lost. Sometimes we have to go a distance to find the lost; sometimes the lost are closer than we dare to admit.

My desire and vision for NorthLake Church is that we would focus fiercely on three things: Scripture, prayer, and soul-winning. These three are bound together in a functioning unity by love—love for God and love for each other. If we can do these things, we will be His disciples. Let’s pray and think this way as we head into Passion Week.

Praying for you,

Pastor Dave

April 12, 2019

Dear Corps of 24,

Prayer with the Pastor 6 PM Saturday at NorthLake!

We return to Jesus’ approach to Jerusalem, just before Passion Week…

And they came to Jericho. And as he was leaving Jericho with his disciples and a great crowd, Bartimaeus, a blind beggar, the son of Timaeus, was sitting by the roadside. 47 And when he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” 48 And many rebuked him, telling him to be silent. But he cried out all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” 49 And Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.” And they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart. Get up; he is calling you.” 50 And throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. 51 And Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” And the blind man said to him, “Rabbi, let me recover my sight.” 52 And Jesus said to him, “Go your way; your faith has made you well.” And immediately he recovered his sight and followed him on the way. ~ Mark 10:46–52 (ESV)

This is a beautiful, well-known story. It is one of three stories (not counting parallel accounts) in which Jesus heals a blind person—each time a man. The first is the healing of the man at Bethsaida in Galilee, when He spits on the man’s eyes (Mark 8:22-26), the second is the healing of the man born blind, where He makes mud and sends the man to the Pool of Siloam to wash (John 9), and then there is this one, the healing of Blind Bartimaeus outside of Jericho and on His way to Jerusalem to suffer for us.

As I’ve noted in several teachings, many in Jesus’ day considered it the definitive sign of the Messiah that He should heal the blind (based upon the Greek translation of Isaiah 61). If you look at each of these stories, it is pretty clear that the Gospel writers concur: the story in Mark 8 is followed by Jesus asking “Who do men say that I am?” and Peter’s famous response that Jesus is the Christ; the story of John 9 is shot through with messianic implications and is followed (and topped) by Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead. The same is true here: this healing of Bartimaeus is a drum roll and cymbal crash ahead of all that happens in Jerusalem in the following days, cementing Jesus as Messiah for all time.

But what I want to point out here is the faith of the blind man himself. He was not merely asking for a healing, like so many others. By asking he was confessing that he believed Jesus was the Messiah. He was asking what would have been impossible for anyone but the Messiah to do. It was a startling confession of faith. To confirm this powerful truth, he calls Jesus “Son of David”—the Messiah’s title by right.

Well, you might say, talk is cheap. He was taking a chance. What did he have to lose? He was already blind and couldn’t end up any worse if Jesus failed him. Ah, but that’s where we’d miss it. Look at verse 50: “And throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus.”

There is little doubt that the man’s cloak was his choicest and most important possession. A cloak not only served as warmth from the cold and shelter from the wind and the heat, it was essentially a poor man’s bed. The Law of Moses (Exodus 22:26-27) had strict rules about taking a poor man’s cloak from him, and there are writings found in ancient Israel proving this very thing (i.e., a poor man appealing to a magistrate because a powerful man had taken his cloak in pledge and had not returned it).

The question is this: when a poor, blind man flings away his cloak and leaves it behind, how does he expect to recover it unless he fully expects to be able to turn around and see it? Bartimaeus not only believed Jesus was the Messiah and therefore could heal him, he believed He would heal him. And he demonstrated that faith by his actions. He had no Plan B, no safety net.

We are to walk in faith. We want to see the results only faith can bring. But very often we build so many safety nets into our actions that by the time we get through there’s little need for faith. The irony is, such an approach is actually a form of spiritual blindness—it is failing to see Jesus for who is actually is.

Let’s believe God for great things. Let’s toss our cloaks aside, cry out to the Son of David, and wait for Him to call our names.

Praying for you.

Pastor Dave

April 11, 2019

Dear Corps of 24,

Note: 6 PM Prayer with the Pastor at NorthLake this Saturday evening!

It’s Day 101 of our challenge, and I’d like to ride for one more post something I referred to yesterday, and certainly wrote about at the outset of our time in January: Abiding in Christ.

Perhaps it is a bit gratuitous at this point to say what I am about to, but the more I think on it the more necessary I think it is. It has to do with daily prayer and Scripture reading; this includes that practice that the wisdom literature in the Bible calls “meditating” on the Word—that kind of prayerful thoughtfulness in passages of Scripture that the Holy Spirit quickens to us.

What I mean to say is that I do not believe there is any way to be a Christian in any meaningful and effective sense without these disciplines in our lives. As I’ve said, discipline as an end in itself becomes dead religion and even idolatry; discipline as a helpful, divine gift applied to empower our drawing closer to God in Christ Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit is life and peace. To spurn the stark and repeated commands and counsel of Scripture to pray and stay in God’s Word continually is to walk away from the very means of appropriation God has given us. Promises are ours in abundance, but we must position ourselves to receive their fulfillment.

When I first came to the Lord, I made lots of mistakes. But of all the teachings I fumbled, one of them took: you must have a “quiet time”; you must set a space aside in your schedule for daily prayer and Scripture reading. I was choppy at this when I was in high school, but the fire and solitude of college brought me to my knees, and it became unthinkable to me to miss my daily time with Jesus. When I began, this time was perhaps 15-20 minutes. But it grew so that by the time I graduated and went into ministry, I was spending several hours of day with God. This discipline changed my life.

As I stepped into the larger world of ministry, I was surprised and even shocked to learn that many Christians just didn’t see things that way. Church once or twice a week was not only enough, it was a badge of honor to them. But I also noticed that such folk seemed to go from crisis to crisis, and leaned heavily upon the faith of others to get through hard times. They were (to quote what I said in a recent service) “thermometer” Christians rather than “thermostat” Christians; they were low-fruit followers rather than fruitful leaders.

I find it especially ironic and even tragic that now, decades later, even fewer people consider it fundamental for the Christian walk—for all Christians, not just “ministers”—to pray and read large chunks of Scripture on a regular basis. Today’s culture is darker, the spiritual perils more frightening, the threat to our families greater than ever. Yet we are consumed by entertainment and social media, yet we are too busy to pray at length and experience the deep, dredging cleansing that we desperately need. We are confused, but we don’t read more than but a few verses at a time, and so our faith remains tepid and feeble in the face of increasingly strong challenges from the enemy.

The devil is not letting up. But then again, neither is Jesus. Where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more. It is ours to be had. But we must avail ourselves of it.

This passage from Hosea has been such a blessing to me, a promise, I believe, for all of the NorthLake family.

“Come, let us return to the LORD; for he has torn us, that he may heal us; he has struck us down, and he will bind us up. 2 After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will raise us up, that we may live before him. 3 Let us know; let us press on to know the LORD; his going out is sure as the dawn; he will come to us as the showers, as the spring rains that water the earth.” ~ Hosea 6:1–3 (ESV)

Much blessing awaits us, but we must press in to take hold of it. I encourage you to begin to prepare yourself with hard questions about what your life will look like after the challenge is officially over.

Praying for you,

Pastor Dave

April 10, 2019

Dear Corps of 24,

I’d like to bring something out that we find in John chapter 14. It begins with the famous verse often quoted regarding “mansions” in heaven:

In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.~ John 14:2 (KJV)

Of course, nearly any modern English Bible will render the word the King James translates as “mansions” very differently…

In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? ~ John 14:2 (ESV)

The Greek word in question is monē, which is best understood as a “abiding place,” “dwelling,” or “habitation.” In this context it implies a cozy and secure home within the Father’s heavenly house. It turns out that in 1611 when the King James Version was first published, “mansion” was a legitimate rendering for this concept, but over the course of centuries “mansion” came to mean a grandiose and opulent dwelling. In other words, the English language shifted in respect to the semantic meaning of the word “mansion,” but, the King James remained the same, as did (of course) the underlying Greek concept in the word monē. So folks unwittingly began to think in terms of a “mansion” in heaven—a big material reward—rather than what Jesus clearly means here, which is an eternal relationship.

The incredible thing that both confirms and develops this is that monē only occurs one other time in the entire New Testament—twenty-one verses later in John 14:23…

Jesus answered him, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home [monē] with him.” ~ John 14:23 (ESV)

These two occurrences of the word monē within the same discourse are obviously connected and are meant to be understood in relation to each other. Simply put, the heavenly promise of John 14:2 is contingent upon how we live out our earthly life in respect to John 14:23. If we live in such a way as to make our life a cozy home, an abiding place, a “mansion” for the Father and the Lord Jesus, then they will come and take up residence with us. We do this by loving God and keeping His word. Living this way prepares the way for a heavenly dwelling to await us in the hereafter.
I say these are the only times this noun occurs in the New Testament, and that is true. But related words abound. For instance, from the opening verses of the next chapter…

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. 2 Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. 3 Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. 4 Abide [meno] in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides [meno] in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide [meno] in me.” ~ John 15:1–4 (ESV)

Here we find another angle on the same truth: If monē means “abiding place,” the verb meno means “to abide.” If we spend our lives abiding in Christ, He will also be with us through our lives by abiding in us.

Let’s abide in the Lord. Today, April 10, is the 100th day of the Corps of 24 challenge. Let’s press in, and determine that abiding will be a way of life for us and not just something we will do for a season and then let go. Let’s conform our lives the Jesus’ words. Let’s be Christians.

Praying for you and proud to be your pastor,

Pastor Dave

April 9, 2019

Dear Corps of 24,

And they were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them. And they were amazed, and those who followed were afraid. And taking the twelve again, he began to tell them what was to happen to him, 33 saying, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles. 34 And they will mock him and spit on him, and flog him and kill him. And after three days he will rise.” ~ Mark 10:32–34 (ESV)

Approaching Holy Week, I’d like to focus in on the passages of the Gospels that directly address the events that unfolded then, leading up to Jesus’ suffering and resurrection. Something we need to understand about the Gospels is that from the earliest days, people understood from the witness of the Apostles that many of the events the Gospels record were not presented in chronological order. When Mark (or Matthew or Luke, who largely follow Mark) says “then” at the outset of a particular episode, early readers took that to mean, “and then there was the time that…” Most scholars today understand that the arrangement of these stories is meant to build our faith in Christ by presenting themes and truths one after the other and were never intended to present a complete and chronologically precise history.

For the most part, that shifts in Mark chapter 11 (and parallels in Matthew and Luke), because it is at that point that the chain of events begins to unfold that leads to the culmination of the book. We see that in the passage I posted above. Here we read that Jesus, even after repeated threats from His enemies, begins to head resolutely to Jerusalem. Those around Him react variously, their emotions ranging from fear to amazement. To punctuate it, and remove all doubt from the minds of any who might think this was all overreaction, Jesus takes the Twelve aside and lays it out for them: He predicts—now for the third time (see Mark 8:31ff, 9:30ff)—that He will be taken by the chief priests, handed over to the Gentiles, cruelly mocked and killed, but then rise of the third day.

The disciples don’t get it, and I think we still don’t get it, we who are children of the resurrection.

There are many layers of truth here, as Christ’s passion is unfathomable. But I see one right on the surface here. Wherever we land emotionally in respect to Jesus’ iron will to give Himself for our sake, that emotional reaction falls short of the glory of God revealed in Him. “Perception is reality” is a commonly used phrase in our age of social media, Yelp ratings, and online reviews. Everyone has an opinion, and in our consumer-driven society (even for churches!), the favor of the buyer is constantly curried. Perception can indeed become reality for the business owner—if everyone that bothers to post a review says that his roast beef sandwiches are awful (even though they are really delicious), then his business can really suffer for it. The problem with all of this (aside from the distress of a very good roast beef sandwich vendor) is that is goes to our heads: we really believe that perception is reality.

But the phrase is just a figure of speech to make a point about dealing with a crowd. Perception really isn’t actually reality, it’s just perception. And given our fallenness and God’s transcendence, that perception is inevitably flawed—either far short of the mark, or downright skewed. Jesus’ redemptive works, every word He speaks and every decision He makes in the final hours of His earthly ministry, are above our likes and dislikes, are above our feelings, are beyond our comprehension. We see but slowly, we grasp bit by bit. Our fear is not fearful enough; our amazement falls far short of the awe that God has coming to Him. In truth, there is no emotion within the range available to us that is capable of responding properly to what Jesus has done for us. How we feel does not somehow define Jesus’ death and resurrection. The Christian life is a journey of conforming our lives to that which is presently beyond us, not settling for a powerless form of religion that we have created after our own thoughts, senses, and image.

So how do we move forward? The Scriptures are not written to discourage us or to paralyze us. They are written to take our breath away, to fill us with awe and bring us to our knees. May I suggest worship? Yes, let’s focus on worship as we draw near to the cross. Jesus is enthroned on our praises, and in the light that comes with a submitted, worship heart, we can begin to see Jesus (again to quote C.S. Lewis), not as we have imagined Him, but as He knows Himself to be.

Praying for you,

Pastor Dave

April 8, 2019

Dear Corps of 24,

The time leading up to Easter—known in longstanding Christian tradition as Lent—is supposed to be a time of spiritual preparation and austerity. It is a time to look deep inside, reflect, and make things right with God in anticipation of the glory of the Resurrection. Now is the time to take care of difficult business so that the power of Easter dawns upon us all the brighter.

In view of this, I’d like to mention what I consider one of the most powerful forms of poetry in the Bible: the lament.

A lament is a cry for help, a spiritual complaint to God about our situation, but from a sincere heart rather than a grumbling one. The psalms are full of laments (Psalms 22 and 88 immediately come to mind, but there are many others), but we also find them sprinkled throughout the prophets, and an entire book of the Bible, written by Jeremiah, is titled “Lamentations.”

The laments are a bit of a paradox for us today, because they cut across the grain of what most people consider faith talk, or edifying speech, even by the Bible’s own standards. How can “lamenting” our circumstances do us any good? But that perspective is seriously flawed, because the Bible’s laments are anointed of the Holy Spirit. Their writers expressed themselves in the pleasure of God, even in their complaints. The result is a work that has a powerful comforting effect. After all, if David, or Jeremiah, or Habakkuk felt this way, and it’s in God’s Word, it means that God understands me, too.

Some of the most powerful encounters I’ve had with Scripture have been through the laments. When I’m on top of the world, it’s easy to read a psalm of praise. But when I am crushed in spirit, a different kind of reading is in order. Knowing that God inspired those laments touches me deeply because as my spirit responds to them I know that God hears and sees me, too. Knowing that God sees us in our troubles and knows us in the midst of our situation is often the only thing we need to make it through.

Remember my affliction and my wanderings, the wormwood and the gall! 20 My soul continually remembers it and is bowed down within me. 21 But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: 22 The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; 23 they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. 24 “The LORD is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.” 25 The LORD is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him. 26 It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the LORD. 27 It is good for a man that he bear the yoke in his youth. 28 Let him sit alone in silence when it is laid on him; 29 let him put his mouth in the dust— there may yet be hope; 30 let him give his cheek to the one who strikes, and let him be filled with insults. 31 For the Lord will not cast off forever, 32 but, though he cause grief, he will have compassion according to the abundance of his steadfast love; 33 for he does not afflict from his heart or grieve the children of men. ~ Lamentations 3:19–33 (ESV)

May God comfort you today.

Pastor Dave