Pastor's Blog

Don't judge me!

“Don’t judge me! Don’t you know that the Bible says, ‘Judge not lest ye be judged!’?” How often isn’t this the response you get when you tell someone that something they are doing is wrong? People try to point out that Jesus tells us not to judge, but is that really the case?

Did Jesus say “do not judge”? The answer is yes, and no! Yes, Jesus spoke those words in Matthew 7:1. But no, Jesus was not telling us not to judge. When you are reading, don’t just stop with verse 1, but read the entire context of those words. Jesus said, “Do not judge, so that you won’t be judged. For with the judgment you use, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye but don’t notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ and look, there’s a log in your eye? Hypocrite! First take the log out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye” (Matthew 7:1-5).

Jesus’ point here was not to tell us never to make a judgment about the way someone is living, but rather to tell us to first judge our own hearts and lives and then we can be ready to judge another.

How do we do that? What is the way that God wants us to judge? Listen to Jesus’ words in John 7:24, “Stop judging according to outward appearances; rather judge according to righteous judgment.” Our judgments are not to be made because of what we like or what we prefer; rather our judgments are to be made based on righteous judgment. What is the only way we can have righteous judgment? Our judgments need to be based on the Word of God.

In the biblical use of the word, to judge is to take someone’s words and/or actions, line them up with God’s Word, and reach a conclusion, a judgment: Has sin taken place or not?

Jesus’ encouragement here is to first line up your own words and actions with the Word of God, see where you have sinned, then (and only then) are you ready to line up the words and/or actions of another so that you can make a proper judgment.

Why should we do this? Why should we judge ourselves and others? In Luke 17:3-4, Jesus says, “Be on your guard. If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him. And if he sins against you seven times in a day, and comes back to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.”

The purpose of judging each other is not to make one another feel bad. No, the purpose of judging should always be so that we can point out sins, lead each other to repentance, and then announce God’s forgiveness. For as the Apostle Paul reminds us, that is the reason that Jesus came to this world: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (1 Timothy 1:15).



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More than an Emotion

Love is emotional, yet love is not merely an emotion. However, if you took a survey asking people to define love, I would guess that the majority of the responses would focus on emotions. When people think about love and try to describe it, they often focus on how love makes them feel. Our world tends to focus on the emotional side of love. Love is something that people fall into. Love is often described as the butterflies a person feels deep inside when they are around that special someone they care so much about. Yet, love is much more than emotions.

Thinking about that, would the survey answers change if the survey respondents were asked to specifically define love not using the example of a husband and wife, but rather to define love using the example of a parent and a child? Have you ever heard a mother say to her child, “I will always love you! But that doesn’t mean that I have to like you right now!”?

Love and emotions are not identical to each other. We often equate love with positive emotions. Yet, love doesn’t always feel emotionally positive. Human emotions are often like a rollercoaster; they go up and down. One day you might be feeling quite high; the next day you might be feeling quite low. Yet, no matter how you feel, love is still there.

How can that be? Love is more than an emotion. Yes, there is an emotional aspect to love, yet true love is much more than that. Think about what we are told in 1 John 4:10, “Love consists in this: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.”

Do you think that God felt good about the fact that his people, whom he created, chose to sin by disobeying him? Absolutely not! Why would he? Yet, God still loved the world. Love was not a feeling but a choice. God chose to love the world. His love showed itself in action. God sent his Son to pay the price for the sins of the world. God’s love was most fully displayed as Jesus willingly went to the cross to die.

It’s because of the love that God had for us that we can love. A few verses later in John’s letter we read, “We love because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19).

How do we display that love? Not in our emotions, but in our actions. Most Christians think of 1 Corinthians 13 when they think of how love is described in the Bible. If you would take time to go and read that chapter, notice how love is described there. The descriptions of love in 1 Corinthians 13 are not focused on emotion, but rather on action. “Love is patient, love is kind. Love does not envy, is not boatful, is not conceited, does not act improperly, is not selfish, is not provoked, and does not keep a record of wrongs. Love finds no joy in unrighteousness but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Corinthians 13:4-7).

May God lead us to see his love shown to us at the cross, and thus respond with love to one another that shows itself, not merely in our emotions, but rather in our actions.



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The 12 Days of Christmas

As a child I often had a countdown to Christmas. Every year I would make a paper chain. Each chain link symbolized one day. And every morning I would cut off one link from the chain. As the chain got shorter, I knew Christmas Day was getting closer.

Many people believe that the 12 days of Christmas are like that chain. But that’s not true. The 12 days of Christmas are not a countdown to Christmas Day, but rather, they begin on Christmas Day. In the Christian Church, Christmas is not just a day, but a season that lasts for 12 days. It begins on Christmas Day and ends on January 5th. The next day (January 6th) begins the season of Epiphany.

There is a song that reminds us that Christmas lasts for 12 days. The song “the Twelve Days of Christmas” by most accounts is a secular song. However, some have suggested that it really was a religious song. The story is told that it was written during a time of religious persecution. Therefore, to teach the truths of Scripture, they hid the scriptural meanings in a song that they could teach to their children. The suggested hidden meanings are as follows:

  • 12 Drummers Drumming (the 12 essential truths in the Creed that keep Christians moving forward steadily in the faith)
  • 11 Pipers piping (the 11 apostles [not including Judas] proclaiming the Gospel to the world)
  • 10 Lords a-leaping (The 10 Commandments – Exodus 20)
  • 9 Ladies dancing (The 9-fold “fruit of the Spirit” –  Galatians 5:22-23)
  • 8 Maids a-milking (The 8 Beatitudes – Matthew 5:3-10)
  • 7 Swans a-swimming (The 7 gifts of the Holy Spirit – Romans 12:6-8)
  • 6 Geese a-laying (The 6 days of Creation – Genesis 1)
  • 5 Five golden rings (The 5 books of Moses)
  • 4 Calling birds (The 4 Gospels of Scripture)
  • 3 French hens (The 3 precious virtues: Faith, Hope, and Love; or the three gifts of the Magi)
  • 2 Turtle doves (The Old and New Testaments)
  • And a Partridge in a pear tree (Jesus enduring our pain on the cross)

By most accounts that I have read, it appears that this was probably not the original intended meaning of the song. However, it does serve as an interesting way to remind ourselves of Christian truths. But most of all, may this song remind us that Christmas is not just a day, but it is a 12 day season where we recall the birth of Jesus who would one day die on the cross to win for us forgiveness and salvation.



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The Advent Wreath

During the holiday season, most families observe some type of tradition. Some traditions are unique to an individual’s family. Other traditions are more universally celebrated. Yet, in both cases, the origin of those traditions is often in doubt. Why? Because most traditions don’t begin overnight; rather, they come about over the course of several years. And so, by the time something has become a tradition, the story of its beginning can be lost.

Such is the case with one of the traditions of Advent. The season of Advent begins four Sundays prior to Christmas Day. Advent is a time that we focus on the coming of our Savior; since the word “advent” comes from a Latin word that means “coming.”

One of the most common traditions of Advent is the Advent Wreath. Yet, like many traditions, the exact origin of the Advent Wreath is lost to history. However, that hasn’t stopped people from suggesting possible ways that this tradition came to be. The best theory I have heard suggested that “Advent wreaths originated in the colder climates of Northern Europe. Men would remove the wheels of horse-drawn carriages just before winter set in, when snow and muddy conditions would make such travel difficult. The wheels were brought inside, and possibly placed up in the rafters of houses. Eventually the muddy wheels were decorated with evergreen boughs, then candles, and voila—the origins of the Advent wreath at the time of the year just before Christmas.”[1]

Today Advent wreaths typically have five candles. Four candles are placed around the outer part of the wreath and one is placed in the middle. Throughout the season of Advent, the outer candles are lit. One candle is lit the first week. Each successive week another candle is lit so that as we draw closer to Christmas, the Advent wreath gives off more light.

As each week passes, the light grows brighter as we anticipate the coming of Jesus. How does light help us think about Jesus? Consider what Jesus said about himself in John 8:12, “I am the light of the world. Anyone who follows Me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.”

And so, as the light grows brighter, we prepare ourselves to celebrate the coming of our Savior through his birth in Bethlehem. On Christmas Eve, when we gather to remember our Savior’s birth, all the Advent candles are lit, including the center candle, known as the Christ candle, reminding us that Christ (the Light of the World) has come. Just as the Prophet Isaiah predicted 700 years before Jesus’ birth, “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; a light has dawned on those living in the land of darkness…For a child will be born for us, a son will be given to us, and the government will be on His shoulders. He will be named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:2,6).



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Follow the recipe

I used to tease my wife about the fact that she never follows a recipe. She often finds a recipe, sets it out on the counter, and immediately starts to substitute ingredients. Sometimes it is because we don’t have all the ingredients the recipe calls for. Other times it is because she doesn’t like some of the ingredients. Still other times it is just to try something different.

Although I used to think this was silly (why have a recipe if you’re not going to follow it?), guess what I also now do when I cook? The exact same thing. I have learned how to substitute ingredients. Therefore, I don’t always follow the recipe either.

Why do I share this? Because this is how people often view the Bible. You could say that the Bible is a recipe book for salvation. There are many people in our world who believe that we can treat the Bible just like any other recipe book: use what you want, leave out what you don’t like, substitute something else.

Twelve years ago I was helping out a church in St. Petersburg, Florida. While there I met a woman who viewed the Bible that way. She told me that “there is a golden thread of truth running throughout the Bible, you just have to peel back the layers to find it.” She accepted some things from the Bible, but rejected many others. Although I didn’t think to ask her at the time, I wonder how people who pick and choose what to believe from the Bible can ever be certain that they have chosen the right things? How can you be sure that what you believe from the Bible is true if you reject other parts of the Bible?

The simple answer is that you can’t. Treating the Bible like any other recipe book is a recipe for disaster. God makes clear how he wants us to treat this book that he has given us. He said in Deuteronomy 4:2, “You must not add anything to what I command you or take anything away from it, so that you may keep the commands of the Lord your God I am giving you.”

God wants us to follow the recipe for salvation exactly as he has given it to us. Listen to it as it is recorded in 2 Timothy 1:9-10, “He saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace, which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began. This has now been made evident through the appearing of our Savior Jesus Christ, who has abolished death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.”

As we consider our salvation, let us follow the recipe that God has given. We are saved by Jesus and what he has done by his perfect life, by his death on the cross, and by his resurrection from the dead. May we never try to add our own works, but trust that Jesus has done it all for us. Notice again the first words from 2 Timothy above: “He saved us”! Salvation is God’s doing. He not only gave us the recipe, but he is the one who put it all together for us. Therefore, let us follow the recipe: “Believe on the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31).



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Different Names...Same God?

While attending the Seminary, I participated in the jail ministry program at the Ozaukee County Jail. As part of that program I regularly led chapel services at the jail. I also had the opportunity to lead a month long Bible Study with ten inmates.

I can’t remember what topic we studied, but I do remember the final discussion. The final day, after we had finished our study, we were waiting for the jailer to come and return the men to their cells. One of the inmates, who was very new to the Christian faith, asked a question. I don’t remember his question. But I do remember the discussion that followed. Muhammed (one of the other participants) responded before I could. Muhammed answered this man’s question by telling him, “We all believe in the same God. You might call him ‘God,’ I call him ‘Allah,’ but no matter what name you use, we worship the same God.”

Is that true? Many people think so. But, knowing that the Bible disagrees with that statement, I responded to Muhammed and asked him, “What do you believe about Jesus?” Muhammed responded that Jesus was a great teacher and a great preacher. He set a great example to follow.

I then asked Muhammed, “Do you believe that Jesus is the Son of God and the Savior of the world?” When he said, “No,” I had to tell him that we don’t worship the same God. Consider what Jesus tells us about himself. He said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6).

Although it sounds nice to say that, even though we use different names, we all worship the same God, it’s not true. Anyone who rejects Jesus as the Son of God and Savior of the world is worshipping a different god. Jesus also said, “Whoever listens to you listens to Me. Whoever rejects you rejects Me. And whoever rejects Me rejects the One who sent Me” (Luke 10:16).

Later on, as the Apostle Peter continued to witness about Jesus, he said, “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to people, and we must be saved by it” (Acts 4:12). The only way to heaven is through faith in Jesus as the Son of God and Savior of the world. May God grant us such a faith!



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Stealing from God

Have you ever stolen from God? That may seem like a strange question to ask. We know that God gave the commandment: “You shall not steal.” Yet, when we consider that commandment, we normally think about stealing from people around us. We probably don’t often consider how we might be stealing from God.

Recently, I came across the following quote in a book entitled, “Grace Abounds: The Splendor of Christian Doctrine.” As this book was talking about the way we come to faith in Jesus as our Savior, it stated the following: “As we have noted so often before and need to note yet again, those who are converted have only God to thank for it and those who are not have only themselves to blame for it. That the miracle takes place in some is God’s grace; that it does not take place in others is their own fault. The Bible does not attempt to address the problem that our reason has with this answer. It does, however, make it very clear that any other answer robs Christ of his glory as Savior, is contrary to the clear Word of God, and deprives the Christian of needed comfort by driving him either in the direction of self-righteousness or of despair. We will therefore rest content with God’s Word!” (p.392).

How is it that we come to faith in Jesus as our Savior? It is purely by God working in our hearts through his Word. The Apostle Paul reminds us, “So faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes through the message about Christ” (Romans 10:17).  In his letter to the Ephesians Paul wrote, “But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love that He had for us, made us alive with the Messiah even though we were dead in trespasses. You are saved by grace!” (Eph. 2:4-5). Later in that same chapter Paul continued, “For you are saved by grace through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift—not from works, so that no one can boast” (Eph. 2:8-9).

Paul makes clear that our faith and our salvation are not based on anything we do, but purely based on God’s grace. They are based entirely on what God has done for us in Christ Jesus. Jesus himself made that point when he said, “You did not choose Me, but I chose you” (John 15:16).

Going back to the initial question, “have you ever stolen from God?” Each time we try to take credit for our faith or any part of our salvation, we are stealing from God. We are stealing the glory and honor that should go to him alone for our faith. Also, each time we try to take credit for our faith we are placing ourselves in danger of either self-righteousness or despair. We may be led to put trust in ourselves rather than in Christ alone. Or we may be led to despair by questioning whether or not we truly believe or have a strong enough faith.

In either case, the answer is Christ. Christ Jesus died for the sins of the world! That includes yours and mine. Thank God for his grace! He doesn’t leave our salvation up to us. He not only sent Jesus to be our Savior, but he has also worked faith in our hearts to believe in Jesus.



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Apostle or Disciple? What's the difference?

Sometimes the Bible calls them the 12 Disciples. Other times it says that they are the 12 Apostles. So which is it: Disciple or Apostle? What’s the difference anyway?

The word “disciple” simply means “student” or “follower.” Therefore, a disciple of Jesus is anyone who follows him and what he says.

The word “apostle” is a bit more complicated. The basic meaning of the word “apostle” is “messenger” or “ambassador.” Therefore, an apostle, by definition, is someone who carries the message of another. Yet, as the Bible uses the word “apostle” there seems to be more qualifications added than simply just carrying a message.

The Bible uses the title “apostle” for people who were specifically chosen and sent out by Jesus. In Luke 6:13 we read, “When daylight came, [Jesus] summoned His disciples, and He chose 12 of them—He also named them apostles.”

When Judas Iscariot, one of the 12 Apostles, had to be replaced, how was his replacement chosen? To be listed as an apostle, a person had to not only be chosen by Jesus, but they also had to have been there as a witness to his ministry and most important they had to have been a witness of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead (Acts 1:21-22). So, the church found two men who fit this qualification and they cast lots, asking God to choose between the two (Acts 1:23-26). In this way Matthias was chosen to replace Judas.

The Apostle Paul calls himself an apostle “abnormally born” (1 Corinthians 15:8) because of the way in which he was called to faith (Acts 9) and to ministry (Acts 26:12-18).

Finally, the Apostle Paul notes that one of the signs of an apostle is that God granted them the ability to perform miracles (2 Corinthians 12:12).

So what is the difference between a disciple and an apostle? A disciple is simply a student or a follower, whereas to be an apostle one has to fit other requirements. Every apostle began as a disciple. When they became apostles they did not cease to be disciples. That’s why the Bible is able to use the terms interchangeably when talking about the Twelve.

In the end, you can say that every apostle is also a disciple, but not every disciple is an apostle. As you look at the qualifications for being an apostle, no one today would fit those qualifications. However, everyone who listens to and believes Jesus’ words recorded in the Bible can rightly be called a disciple of Jesus. Therefore, let us all be disciples of Jesus; let us be students of his Word.



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Amazing Grace

Have you ever noticed how challenging the English language can sometimes be? English is a language that is full of exceptions. Take for example this spelling rhyme: “'I' before 'e', except after 'c', or when sounded as 'a', as in neighbor and weigh.”

The English language can be difficult, not only in regard to spelling, but also in understanding what a word means. There are many English words that can have different meanings depending on how they are used (i.e. their context). The word “grace” is one of those words.

“She danced across the floor with effortless grace.” “Let’s say grace.” “For you are saved by grace through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift—not from works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). 

The word “grace” is often used by people to refer to simple elegance or beauty. Sometimes people use the word “grace” as a substitute for the word prayer. How does the Bible use the word “grace”? Probably the simplest definition for the word “grace” is “undeserved love.” When the Bible talks about the grace of God, it is referring to the undeserved love of God.

Where is that grace, that undeserved love of God, seen most clearly? God’s grace is most clearly evident on the cross. There we see Jesus willingly die to win forgiveness and salvation for undeserving sinners such as you and me.

With that in mind, to help us remember what the word “grace” means, I believe it is helpful to use the word “grace” as an acronym. (An acronym is when you use each letter in a word to stand for the first letter in each word of a phrase.) Therefore, the word “grace” can be used to stand for the phrase: “God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense.”  We receive the riches of God (forgiveness, life, salvation) because Christ Jesus paid the price for our sins as he died on the cross.

With that definition of grace in mind, think about the words of this familiar hymn: “Amazing grace! How sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me! I once was lost, but now am found; was blind, but now I see…Through many dangers, toils and snares, I have already come; ’Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far, and grace will lead me home.” Yes, it is God’s Amazing Grace found in Christ Jesus that will lead us home to heaven. As the passage mentioned earlier says, “For you are saved by grace through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift—not from works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9).



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No Greater Love

With just seconds to react, the soldier throws his body on top of the live grenade. He dies, but by his death, he saves the lives of his friends.

While everyone else is running out, the firefighter runs into the burning building to save the lives of those who are trapped inside. Yet not every firefighter who runs in comes back out alive.

There are many men and women in our nation’s armed forces, and in the public service sector of our nation, who put their lives on the line each and every day to protect our freedoms and to keep the peace and order in our society. Some have paid the ultimate price for our freedom.

Each time I think of that, these words of Jesus come to mind, “This is My command: Love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, that someone would lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:12-13).

The soldier, who threw his body on the grenade, died protecting the lives of his friends. Yet he died protecting not only those men and women of his unit, he died fighting to protect many who he did not know and who would never know him.

When Jesus spoke these words, it was the night before he died. Jesus knew what was coming. He knew that the very next day he would lay down his life on the cross. As Jesus gave up his life, he died not just for his friends, but he died also for his enemies. He died for those who knew him and those who did not. He died not just for one nation, but for every nation. He died to save the world from sin. He gave his life because he “wants everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4). “For God loved the world in this way: He gave His One and Only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

Each year as we celebrate Memorial Day, let us give thanks to God for those who died to protect our freedoms. Let it also be another reminder of the One who paid the ultimate sacrifice, not only for our peace and freedom now, but eternally. Jesus loved us so much that he gave his life to pay the price for our sins. There is no greater love than this. Let Jesus’ love for you guide the way you show love to one another.



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Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. ~ 1 Timothy 1:15