Biblical Teaching on Leadership

The following principles of leadership emerge from biblical teaching:

1. Christian leaders should be certain that their goal is to serve God and others, not to receive the title or honor that comes with leadership.

2. Leaders should not use their position for their own advantage or comfort. No task should be “beneath” them—although some tasks may be delegated. They should not ask others to do what they are unwilling to do themselves..

3. Leaders will seek to distinguish their own preferences from the will and welfare of the group as a whole.

4. Normally the position should seek the leader. There may be some situations in which persons may apply or volunteer. Nevertheless, when someone strongly desires a particular responsibility, his or her motivation should be carefully examined.

5. We must learn to see each other as valuable to the Lord and basically equal in his sight.

Building a Personality

Leadership is not magnetic personality. That can just as well be a glib tongue.  It is not making friends and influencing people; that is flattery. Leadership is lifting a person’s vision to higher sights, the raising of a person’s performance to higher standards, the building of a personality beyond its normal limitations.

Corporate Managers

A study was recently completed on corporate managers. In it they were asked if they voiced positions that (1) focused on the good of the company, rather than personal benefit and (2) jeopardized their own careers.

Emerging from this study were the four leader-types which are found in all organizations.

Type #1—courageous. These people expressed ideas to help the company improve, in spite of personal risk or opposition.

Type #2—confronting. These people spoke up, but only because of a personal vendetta against the company.

Type #3—calloused. These people didn’t know, or care, whether they could do anything for the ompany; they felt helpless and hopeless, so they kept quiet.

Type #4—conforming. These people also remained quiet, but only because they loathed confrontation and loved approval.

The researchers discovered that the courageous managers accomplished the most, reported the highest job satisfaction, and eventually were commended by superiors. Their commitment had certainly improved the quality of their lives.

Courage: You Can Stand Strong in the Face of Fear, Jon Johnston, 1990, SP Publications, pp. 138-139

Definitions of Leadership

Leadership is influence, the ability of one person to influence others. One man can lead others only to the extent that he can influence them. This fact is supported by definitions of leadership by men who have themselves wielded great influence.

 Lord Montgomery defines it in these terms: “Leadership is the capacity and will to rally men and women to a common purpose, and the character which inspires confidence.”

 Dr. John R. Mott, a world leader in student circles, gave as his definition: “A leader is a man who knows the road, who can keep ahead, and who can pull others after him.”

 President Truman’s definition is: “A leader is a person who has the ability to get others to do what they don’t want to do, and like it.”…

 Lord Montgomery enunciated seven ingredients necessary in a leader in war, each of which is appropriate to the spiritual warfare:

(1) He should be able to sit back and avoid getting immersed in detail.
(2) He must not be petty.
(3) He must not be pompous.
(4) He must be a good picker of men.
(5) He should trust those under him, and let them get on with their job without interference.
(6) He must have the power of clear decision.
(7) He should inspire confidence.

 Dr. John R. Mott moved in student circles and his tests covered different territory:

(1) Does he do little things well?
(2) Has he learned the meaning of priorities?
(3) How does he use his leisure?
(4) Has he intensity?
(5) Has he learned to take advantage of momentum?
(6) Has he the power of growth?
(7) What is his attitude to discouragements?
(8) How does he face impossible situations?
(9) What are his weakest points?

J. O. Sanders in Spiritual Leadership, pp. 19-24


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Posted by on December 13, 2018 in Church


Questions Jesus Asked – What Is Your Name? Mark 5:1-20

By any standard, the value Jesus places on each one of us cannot be measured. He did not hesitate to present his own life in exchange for our salvation. The story about the herd of pigs dramatically contrasts the purposes of God and the purposes of Satan for people. To Jesus, the crazed man was worth saving. To Satan, he was a soul targeted for destruction. Upon entering the pigs, the demons immediately revealed the destructive objective of their master. They accomplished in the pigs what they had been doing in the man.

5:1 They came to the other side of the sea, to the country of the Gerasenes.NRSV As Jesus had planned, he and the disciples arrived on the other side of the Sea of Galilee. These ten cities with independent governments were largely inhabited by Gentiles, which would explain the herd of pigs (5:11). The Jews did not raise pigs because, according to Jewish law, pigs were unclean and thus unfit to eat.

Whatever the exact location of their landing, the point is that Jesus had planned to go there. This was Gentile territory, revealing a new direction for his ministry.

5:2 When Jesus got out of the boat, a man with an evil spirit came from the tombs to meet him.NIV After they landed and Jesus got out of the boat, they saw a horrible sight. A man with an evil spirit came from the tombs. Most people have difficulty picturing the awful sight of this man, with an evil spirit, bloody (5:5), out of control, and apparently strong and frightening (5:4). The disciples, having just been through a terrifying storm at sea (4:37), were certainly terrified again by the sight of this man.

We have encountered demon possession before. Mark stressed the man’s pitiful and hopeless condition, as detailed in the eyewitness description given in the following verses.

This man cut himself with stones (5:5) and lived in the tombs. In those days it was common for cemeteries to have many tombs carved into the hillside, making cavelike mausoleums. Thus, there was enough room for a person to actually live in such tombs.

According to Jewish ceremonial laws, the man whom Jesus encountered was unclean in three ways: He was a Gentile (non-Jew), he was demon possessed, and he lived in “the tombs.” But Jesus helped him anyway.

The demon-possessed man came . . . to meet Jesus. The man may have rushed out to see who was coming ashore, or perhaps even to apply for mercy. We simply do not know. Mark stresses the confrontation between the demons and Jesus, and in 5:6-7 portrays the defensive nature of the demons’ behavior.

5:3 He lived among the tombs; and no one could restrain him any more, even with a chain.NRSV This demon-possessed man’s condition was clearly hopeless without Christ. He no longer had contact with society, but lived among the tombs. This could refer to a type of graveyard—an area in the low hills that surrounded the Sea of Galilee with caves hewn into the rock. The caves served as tombs for the dead. Such graveyards were often in remote areas. People with hopeless conditions, such as this man, could find shelter in the caves.

The man had also been through the basic “treatment” given to people considered to be insane or demon possessed. People had tried to restrain his violent acts by chaining him up, but the evil power of the demons within gave him almost superhuman strength. Mark brought out the severity of the man’s situation. No one could restrain him or stop him, not even with iron chains (5:4). No one was strong enough.

5:4 For he had often been chained hand and foot, but he tore the chains apart and broke the irons on his feet. No one was strong enough to subdue him.NIV To protect him from hurting himself and others, the man had been chained hand and foot. The verb indicates a job completed and done well. He had been thoroughly chained, with chains around his wrists and irons (fetters) on his ankles. But he tore the chains apart and broke the irons, indicating power not his own, but derived from the demons that held him. In fact, this man was so strong that no one could subdue (or overpower) him. The word for “subdue” (damazo) is used for taming a wild animal. This man probably seemed more like an animal than a human being. The fact that no one was strong enough to restrain him sets the scene for Jesus, the one who had God’s power and authority.

5:5 And always, night and day, he was in the mountains and in the tombs, crying out and cutting himself with stones.NKJV Sent away from civilization off in the mountains and in the tombs, the man’s violence turned in on himself. His crying out was more of a shrieking scream—the voices of the demons (see also 1:26). The cutting of his skin with sharp stones refers to gashing and hacking at his body, leaving him bloody and covered with scars. This may have been either an attempt at suicide or a primitive form of demon worship common in ancient times (see 1 Kings 18:28). These horrible actions occurred always, night and day without stop. He was indeed a frightening creature.

l Satan’s hatred of us. When sent to the pigs, the demons destroyed the entire herd. Satan’s purpose is to destroy. He would love to destroy each of us.
l Satan’s power. The man was possessed with many powerful demons. When we ignore the power of Christ, Satan has free rein.
l Satan’s cruelty. Satan didn’t bring the man greater power and sophistication so he could live a wilder lifestyle as is so often portrayed. Instead, he caused the man to try to kill himself.

5:6 When he saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and fell on his knees in front of him.NIV The man ran to Jesus from a distance, displaying the range of the demons’ power. The man did not run to escape Jesus, but ran to confront Jesus and scare him away as he would do to anyone else who ventured into his territory.

When he came close to Jesus, the man fell on his knees, not in worship, but in grudging submission to Jesus’ superior power. The demons immediately recognized Jesus and his authority. They knew who Jesus was and what his great power could do.

5:7 He shouted at the top of his voice, “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? Swear to God that you won’t torture me!”NIV These words of the demon were in response to Jesus’ demand that the demons depart.

The demon’s first question, “What do you want with me?” is a request that Jesus leave them alone. A more literal translation would be, “What to you and to me?” or “What do we have in common?” In other words, the demon asked Jesus to leave them alone, for they had nothing to do with each other.

Such a question and statement show the demons’ ultimate rebellion. Jesus and the demons were as far separated as anything could be. Jesus’ purpose was to heal and give life; the demons’, to kill and destroy. But Jesus would not leave this man in such a condition.

Then the demon had the audacity to ask for Jesus’ mercy! The statement “Swear to God” comes from the verb meaning to put under oath. Ironically, the demon appealed to God as it requested that Jesus promise not to torture it. The word for “torture” is graphic and correct.

The characteristics of demons other than the ones given in the outline above are said to be as follows:

  1. They are spirits (Matthew 12:43-45).
  2. They are Satan’s emissaries (Matthew 12:26-27).
  3. They know their fate is to be eternal doom (Matthew 8:29; Luke 8:31).
  4. They affect man’s health (Matthew 12:22; Matthew 17:15-18; Luke 13:16). Apparently, demon-possession is to be distinguished from mental illness.
  5. They seduce men to a false religion of asceticism (1 Tim. 4:1-3).
  6. They seduce men to depart from the faith (1 Tim. 4:1).
  7. They are cast out of people (exorcism) in the name of Jesus Christ (Acts 16:18).

First, we see what Satan can do to people.

Satan is a thief whose ultimate purpose is to destroy (John 10:10; and see Rev. 9:11). We are not told how the demons entered these men and took control.

Because of Satan, the thief, these two men lost everything! They lost their homes and the fellowship of their families and friends. They lost their decency as they ran around in the tombs naked. They lost their self-control and lived like wild animals, screaming, cutting themselves, and frightening the citizens. They lost their peace and their purpose for living, and they would have remained in that plight had Jesus not come through a storm to rescue them.

The second force at work on these men was society, but society was not able to accomplish very much.

The man was cut off from society. He did not live among the living; he lived among the dead. He represents the living dead; that is, all men without Christ are “dead in their sins” and are cut off from the society of God.

  • We know what it’s like to rebel against God. We know what it’s like to feel unclean, unworthy of association with good people, to feel as if our life contaminates others.
  • We know what it’s like to be isolated, to try to have relationships with other people and have them retreat from us.
  • We know what it’s like to be out of control, to have habits and pressures and thoughts that make us want to do what we hate doing, and whatever chains we use to use to stop ourselves prove inadequate.
  • We know what it’s like to be tormented and self-destructive. The Gerasene demoniac experienced in the extreme what all of us experience in some degree.

5:8 For Jesus had said to him, “Come out of this man, you evil spirit!”NIV Jesus’ first command was to one evil spirit. When that one did not obey, Jesus commanded the demon to give him its name. The demon’s answer revealed that there were many demons.

5:9 Then He asked him, “What is your name?”NKJV The demons attempted but failed in using Jesus’ name in 5:7. Jesus gained mastery over the demon by finding out its name. The demon’s self-disclosure meant it had to submit to Jesus.

And he answered, saying, “My name is Legion; for we are many.”NKJV A legion was the largest unit of the Roman army; it consisted of three thousand to six thousand soldiers. This man was possessed by not one, but many demons. There may have been a legion of demons, or this name may be a reference to the telos, a force numbering 2,048 men (thus accounting for the loss of two thousand swine, see 5:13).

5:10 And he begged Jesus again and again not to send them out of the area.NIV Mark often highlighted the supernatural struggle between Jesus and Satan. The demons’ goal was to control the humans they inhabited; Jesus’ goal was to give people freedom from sin and Satan’s control. Mark was pointing out that the demons wanted to be with people (in the area) and begged not to be sent into lonely exile where they could not torment people.

5:11 A large herd of pigs was feeding on the nearby hillside.NIV According to Old Testament law (Leviticus 11:7), pigs were “unclean” animals. This meant that they could not be eaten or even touched by a Jew. This incident took place southeast of the Sea of Galilee in the region of the Gerasenes (5:1), a Gentile area. Pigs were used by Romans for the sacrifices their religions required. Romans also ate pigs. A normal herd of pigs would be 150 to 300 head.

5:12 So all the demons begged Him, saying, “Send us to the swine, that we may enter them.”NKJV One demon had spoken for all the demons in 5:10; here all the demons chimed in, begging Jesus not to send them away, but to send them to the swine.

5:13 He gave them permission.NIV “Gave them permission” has theological thrust. Satan has no final authority but can do only what God “permits” for the short time he is allowed to be “god of this world” (2 Corinthians 4:4 nrsv).

Jesus stopped their destructive work in people, and particularly the man they had possessed.

And the evil spirits came out and went into the pigs. The herd, about two thousand in number, rushed down the steep bank into the lake and were drowned.NIV The sight must have been amazing. A rather peaceful herd of pigs feeding on the hillside suddenly became a stampeding horde that ran straight to its own destruction. One after another, the pigs kept running into the lake and drowning.

The demons’ action proves their destructive intent—if they could not destroy the men, they would destroy the pigs. Jesus’ action, in contrast to the demons’, shows the value he places on each human life. Some people might have difficulty with the fact that all the pigs died, but Jesus considered the man to be more important than the pigs.

5:14 Those tending the pigs ran off and reported this in the town and countryside, and the people went out to see what had happened.NIV When Jesus performed this miracle, he again gained immediate publicity. Those tending the pigs, astonished at what had happened, ran off and told the amazing story.

5:15 Then they came to Jesus, and saw the one who had been demon-possessed and had the legion, sitting and clothed and in his right mind. And they were afraid.NKJV

The people might have responded in several ways. They may have been overjoyed to see Jesus on their own shore—many people hunted Jesus down and longed to be with him. This popular preacher and miracle worker was available to them. They also may have responded with joy that the demon-possessed man had been healed and would no longer bother them. They may have just been thrilled to have seen a healing of such magnitude with their own eyes. However, Mark used one word for the people’s response: afraid.

What were they afraid of? Perhaps such supernatural power as Jesus had displayed frightened them. Perhaps they thought Jesus would be bad for their economy (losing two thousand pigs in one day certainly cost someone).

 5:16 Those who had seen it told the people what had happened to the demon-possessed man—and told about the pigs as well.NIV Mark emphasized the eyewitness nature of those telling the story to confirm its reliability.

 5:17 Then they began to plead with Him to depart from their region.NKJV Why did the people ask Jesus to leave? They would rather give up Jesus than lose their source of income and security. Unfortunately for them, Jesus did as they asked. And there is no biblical record that he ever returned.

5:18 As Jesus was getting into the boat, the man who had been demon-possessed begged to go with him.NIV The people asked Jesus to leave their region, so Jesus and the disciples got back into the boat. The miracle of healing was lost on the crowd; instead, they saw only the destruction of the pigs. The only one who truly understood what had transpired was the formerly possessed man himself. Having been freed, he begged to go with Jesus. Jesus had other plans for him.

 5:19 Jesus did not let him, but said, “Go home to your family and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.”NIV

Often Jesus asked those he healed to be quiet about the healing (1:43-45; 5:43), but he urged this man to go . . . and tell what the Lord had done for him. Why the difference? This man was returning to his home in a Gentile region. Jesus knew the man would be an effective witness to those who remembered his previous condition and could attest to the miraculous healing. Through him, Jesus could expand his ministry into this Gentile area.

This is the beginning of the “universal mission” theme in Mark’s Gospel. Here Jesus prepared the way for the movement of the gospel to the Gentiles after Pentecost. This is illustrated in 5:20 where “all the people [meaning the Gentiles] were amazed” at Jesus’ power.

Mark 5:20 (ESV)  And he went away and began to proclaim in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him, and everyone marveled.

The man knew that “the Lord” had shown great mercy to him (5:19), that Jesus had freed him from the demons, and that the Lord and Jesus were one and the same. Though not versed in Scripture or trained in preaching and teaching, the man realized that he had looked into the face of the one true God and had received divine mercy. His heartfelt response was to go and tell others about Jesus.  These sentences spoken together are the doctrine of hell. To have such clear knowledge of the person and status of Jesus, yet believe he’s a torturer-one come to hurt and condemn-is the worst condition of all.

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Posted by on December 6, 2018 in Mark


Four Types of Parents…Lessons We Can Learn

Family Constellation

Recent studies have revealed that the position of a child in the family has tremendous impact on their development.

Each child has a unique position in the family unit and perceives matters from their own position, not from others.

The place of children in the family can generally be described by the following characteristics:

1. The first-born is, for a while, an only child. He received much attention, but suddenly is dethroned when another arrives. He still wants to be first and strives to maintain that place. When supremacy is not maintained through positive behavior, he may seek to gain it in other ways, even with negative behavior.

2. The second-born is confronted with someone who is always ahead. He may feel inadequate because he has to keep up with someone older. He may try to become more than what the older child is – aggressive, passive, dependent, social, etc.

3. The middle-child frequently feels squeezed out, that life is terribly unfair or may decide to overcome the “disadvantaged position.” This child is concerned about fairness and sticking to the rules.

4. The youngest child, as the baby of the family, may appear to be at a disadvantage, but can become a tyrant. He is inclined to take advantage of this position – the cutest, pleasant, weakest, etc. The youngest may seek to become the clown or to rebel.

5. The only child lives the formative years among older and more capable people. Only children tend to develop a distinctive style which ensures them a place with adults; they may be very verbal, charming, intelligent, or – if it suits their need – shy and helpless.

Note these positions only influence the individual’s personality development; they do not directly determine it. Each individual makes his/her own decisions. Thus an “only child” does not have to act like a spoiled brat, the middle child does not have to rebel, etc.

Magazine articles have been published for years describing the four basic types of parents. Two of these types tend to cause their children to resent authority; two tend to produce positive-acting children. We need to find ourselves in these four types and see the natural consequences of our actions.

The Dominant Parent







This parent tends to produce the most expensive qualities in children. They have very high standards, are seldom warm and caring in support and give very few explanations for their rigid rules. They tend to be unbending and demanding. But because the children do not understand the reasons why the activities are wrong, they may participate in them.

Some serious conclusions have  been observed from dominant parenting: high aggression in younger children is evident; many, due to early aggression, lead to a future life of violence; aggression is evident in all associations the child has in life.

Here are some typical statements and actions of dominant parents:

  • Rules are rules. You’re late – to bed with no supper.
  • I won’t stand for your back talk. Just do what I say.
  • You don’t need reasons when I tell you to do something.

There are possible reactions by children who have dominant parents:

  • They rank low in self-esteem. They have little ability to conform to rules.
  • The rigid harshness of the parents breaks the spirit of the child and results in resistance –silence or rebellion.
  • The child usually does not want anything to do with the parent’s rules or values – he rejects them.
  • The child may be attracted to other children who rebel against parental and society’s rules. They often use drugs or become involved in illegal actions.
  • The child may be loud in demanding his rights.
  • In classes he may be disruptive to gain attention.

The Neglectful Parent







The neglectful parents tend to lack both loving support and control over children. They show an uncaring and immature attitude, lashing out at the children when irritated. These tend to isolate by excessive use of babysitters and to indulge in their own selfish activities.

Children are seen as a bother – parents can be neglectful even when they are at home. In this environment children are robbed of the greatest factor a parent can give: emotional involvement and attachment.

Studies reveal four reasons for this kind of parenting: the high divorce rate, an increase of mothers in the work force, excessive television watching, and an increasing mobile society. Here are some typical actions and statements made by neglectful parents:

  • Work it out for yourself…can’t you see I am busy?
  • No! I’m expected somewhere else…get your mother to help!
  • No, you can’t stay up…you wanted to stay up late last night…stay out of my way!
  • That’s your problem…I have to go to work!
  • Good grief! Can’t you be more careful
  • So you think  I’m stupid! That’s your problem…just get lost!

Here are some typical effects on children of neglectful parents:

  • The harshness and neglect tend to wound the child’s spirit causing rebellion
  • Neglect teaches the child that they are not worth spending time with them
  • The child develops insecurity because parents are never predictable
  • The child may not develop a healthy self-esteem because he is not respected and has not learned self-control
  • Broken promises break the child’s spirit and lowers self-worth
  • The child tends to do poorly in school because he has little motivation

The Permissive Parent







 Permissive parents tend to be warm, supportive people but weak in establishing and enforcing rules and limits for their children. They usually give in to their child’s demands. Even when the child is in trouble, they tend not to discipline, which affects in a negative way.

Permissive parents are great supporters: giving, understanding, and very comforting. But this type of parenting is responsible for allowing a “brat” to develop. The following are typical of permissive parents:

  • Well, OK, you can stay up late this time. I know how much you like this program
  • You’re tired aren’t you? A paper route is a tough job. Sure, I will take you around again.
  • I hate to see you under so much school  pressure. Why not rest tomorrow…I will say you were sick
  • You didn’t hear me call you to supper? Well, that’s all right. I must not have called loud enough. Sit down. I don’t want you eating a cold dinner
  • Don’t get angry at me…you’re making a scene
  • Please try to hurry … Mommy will be late again if we don’t start soon

These are possible reactions by children with permissive parents:

  • A child senses that he/she is in the driver’s seat and can play the parent accordingly
  • A child develops insecurity, like  leaning against a wall that appears to be firm, but falls over
  • A child may have little self-esteem because he has not learned to control himself and master personal disciplines
  • A child learns that because standards are not firm, he can manipulate around all rules

The Loving and Firm Parent




Loving   and Firm



Loving and firm parents usually have well defined rules, limits and standards. They take the time to train and explain them to their children so they understand these limits. But they also give support and affection to the child (physically spending time with them, etc.). They are flexible, willing to listen to all the facts if a limit has been violated. The loving and firm parent is a healthy and balanced combination of the dominant and permissive parent. There is firmness, but affection.

Here are some typical statements and actions by loving and firm parents:

  • You’re late again for dinner? How can we work this thing out?
  • I wish I could let you stay up late, but we agreed upon this time. Remember what you’ll be like tomorrow if you lose your sleep?
  • When we both cool off, we will talk about what needs to be done
  • You’re really stuck, aren’t you? I’ll help you this time, but let’s work out how you can get it done by yourself next time
  • You say all the others will be there. I want more information first

Typical characteristics of children who have loving and firm parents:

  • The warm support and clearly defined limits builds self-respect
  • A child is more content when he has learned to control himself
  • He is more secure when he realizes that some limits are unbending and he understands why
  • Lines of communication are open with parents – there is less chance of the “rebellious teen years”

Children from loving and firm parents rank highest in self-respect, capacity to conform to authority, greater interest in parent’s faith in God and have a greater tendency not to join a rebellious group.

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Posted by on November 30, 2018 in Family


Beliefs Matter: It Really Does Matter What We Believe About: One God — Exodus 3:13-15

A mother asked her son to tell her what he learned in Sunday School.  The boy said, “We learned how Moses and all the people of Israel built a huge expansion bridge across the Red Sea, then crossed to the other side, set explosives on the bridge, and when the Egyptians started to cross, they blew it up! 

The mother was shocked and asked, “Is that really what your teacher said?”  “Well, no Mom,” her son replied, “But if I told you what really happened, you’d never believe it!” 

It’s true that God has done some absolutely remarkable things. And it’s also true that a lot of people in this county and state don’t believe most of it.

It’s our task today to learn a more about our amazing, awesome God!

Psalms 19:1: The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. (let some nature slides proceed)

About 1400 years ago, the pope was Gregory the 1st. Later he came to be referred to as Gregory the Great, a title I’m not sure he would have accepted personally, based on something he said about God: “Almost everything said of God is unworthy for the very reason that it is capable of being said.”

That’s a little bit extreme, yet it underscores the awesome challenge of seeing what God is like. This one is the most challenging. We’re wrapping up this study Beliefs Matter…we’re come to the final of the seven ones.

 (Deuteronomy 4:35 NIV)  You were shown these things so that you might know that the LORD is God; besides him there is no other.

(Deuteronomy 6:4 NIV)  Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.

 (Isaiah 46:9 NIV)  Remember the former things, those of long ago; I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me.

God is over all. He is supreme, high above all material and sinful things. God says, “I dwell in the high and holy place” (Isaiah 57:15).

God is through all. He is so omnipotent and powerful that He can do all things. No barriers limit His power.

God is in all. His power energizes the atom of all creation. He dwells not only in the high and holy place, but also with him that is of a contrite and humble spirit:

(Isaiah 57:15 NIV)  For this is what the high and lofty One says– he who lives forever, whose name is holy: “I live in a high and holy place, but also with him who is contrite and lowly in spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite.

Ways We Can Know God – Avenues we can pursue later.

  1. That challenge is underscored by God’s very name, his name is one way we can know him. Often called God or Lord (Master), but also has a name LORD. It’s not Jehovah as translated in (Exodus 3:13-15 NIV) Moses said to God, “Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ Then what shall I tell them?” {14} God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I AM has sent me to you.'” {15} God also said to Moses, “Say to the Israelites, ‘The LORD, the God of your fathers–the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob–has sent me to you.’ This is my name forever, the name by which I am to be remembered from generation to generation..

Take a minute and look at the words closely.

Hebrew Word for God: ‏אֱלֹהִים‎  Transliteration: elōhîm

Hebrew Word for LORD (His Name): ‏יהוה‎  Transliteration: yhwh

Hebrew Word for I AM: ‏הָיָה‎   Transliteration: hāyâ 

Strong’s Talking Greek & Hebrew Dictionary

Footnote in your study Bible at vs. 14: I AM WHO I AM is another way of saying: “I will be what I will be.”

Footnote in your study Bible at vs. 15: The Hebrew word for Lord sounds like and may be derived from the Hebrew for I Am in verse 14.

God is telling us that “You can’t put me in a box.”

I will do & be in surprising things. Let your mind go back to the Exodus; I don’t think anyone could have guessed that. Think of the creativity, the awesome power, the marvel of God in leading His  people out of Egypt.

His remarkable deeds in the past show us something of what He is, but at the same time they don’t limit Him. He will be what he will be. What an appropriate name for God!

One way you tell if we believe in the one God is by whether we try to put him in a box.


JEHOVAH-MACCADDESHEM…….Exodus 31:13 meaning “The Lord thy sanctifier”

JEHOVAH-ROHI……Psalm 23:1  meaning “The Lord my shepherd”

JEHOVAH-SHAMMAH…….Ezekiel 48:35  meaning “The Lord who is present”

JEHOVAH-RAPHA………Exodus 15:26  meaning “The Lord our healer“

JEHOVAH-TSIDKENU……Jeremiah 23:6  meaning “The Lord our righteousness”

JEHOVAH-JIREH………Genesis 22:13-14  meaning “The Lord will provide”

JEHOVAH-NISSI………Exodus 17:15 meaning “The Lord our banner”

JEHOVAH-SHALOM……..Judges 6:24  meaning “The Lord is peace”

JEHOVAH-SABBAOTH……Isaiah 6:1-3  meaning “The Lord of Hosts”

EL-ELYON…………..Genesis 14:17-20,Isaiah 14:13-14  meaning “The most high God”

EL-ROI…………….Genesis 16:13  meaning “The strong one who sees”

EL-SHADDAI…………Genesis 17:1, Psalm 91:1  meaning “The God of the mountains or God Almighty”

EL-OLAM……………Isaiah 40:28-31  meaning “The everlasting God”

2. Another way we can know him is by his avatar (computer user’s representation of himself). What does God say about Himself? How does He represent Himself?

(Exodus 34:6-7 NIV)  And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, {7} maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation.”

God is both merciful & just. I can’t tell you when or for how long he will be merciful or just, He will be what He will be, but I can tell you he will be both merciful and just. One way we can tell whether we believe in the one God is whether we strike a balance between justice and mercy.

Justice: we’ll take sin seriously! Mercy: we’ll take forgiveness seriously!

3.Another way we know him is by words others use to describe him.

(Isaiah 6:1-5 NIV)  In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple. {2} Above him were seraphs, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. {3} And they were calling to one another: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.” {4} At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke. {5} “Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty.”

When we see God, we are amazed, humbled, and we are made aware of our own sin. It changes us!

I am skeptical of those who speak of “God appearing to them” for a lot of reasons, but first of all they don’t talk about being flat on their face…they tend not to be humbled, but rather ‘puffed up’ in pride…they aren’t aware of their sins.

4. Another is refuge our place of safety & comfort.

 (Psalms 62:5-8 NIV)  Find rest, O my soul, in God alone; my hope comes from him. {6} He alone is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will not be shaken. {7} My salvation and my honor depend on God ; he is my mighty rock, my refuge. {8} Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your hearts to him, for God is our refuge. Selah

I believe God will take care of us, not always when or how we think He should—He will be what he will be—but He will take care of us.

Does your first choice when in need of refuge reflect your belief in the One God? More ways we can tell whether we believe in the one God are whether we worship him in his holiness and whether we find security & comfort in him as our refuge.

5.Another way we know him is by his commandments. He insists on our total devotion.

(Exodus 20:2-3 NIV)  “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. {3} “You shall have no other gods before me.

Based on this act, He gives commandments.

(Colossians 3:5 NIV)  Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry.

We might not literally bow down in worship before these items, but when we put them first by our actions and thoughts, they seek to replace the “One God.”

A very telling way we determine whether we believe in the one God is by whether there are other gods in our lives. We are monotheists: we only worship one God.

6.One of the very best ways we know him is through Jesus.

(John 1:1 NIV)  In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

(John 1:14 NIV)  The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

(Colossians 1:15 NIV)  He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.

(Hebrews 1:1-3 NIV)  In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, {2} but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe. {3} The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.

If you want to know what God is like, study Jesus closely. As you read the way he interacts with people, put yourself in the account & you’ll see how he feels toward you.

For the last several weeks, I’ve been saying that belief matters. Though we may not all agree on everything, there are some matters that are really important. Eph 4 tells us what some of those matters are.

I say again today what I’ve said enough in this series that you may be tired of hearing it: we don’t determine whether we really believe these things by inquiring whether we agree with them but rather by the way we live our lives.

For today’s message, we find out whether we believe in the One God by:

  • whether we try to control him & say what he will and won’t do or let him be what he will be
  • whether we take sin seriously & also take forgiveness seriously
  • whether we worship him and him alone
  • whether we make him our refuge
  • whether we have other gods in our lives

Faith is a journey, so if our lives indicate we don’t really believe all these things, that’s not surprising. But we do need to continue on the journey.

Because these seven beliefs mentioned in Eph. 4 really matter: One body, Spirit, hope, Lord, faith, baptism, & God. These hold us together as God’s people.

  • May we always be known as a church that believes something & is not afraid to say so.
  • May we always believe that these seven Ones matter.
  • And may we also be a church whose beliefs are apparent by the way we live our lives.
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Posted by on November 22, 2018 in God


Questions Jesus Asked (From the gospel of Mark) – What is Easiest To Say?

Which is easier: to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, take your mat and walk’?

When Adam and Eve had fallen into sin and were hiding from the Lord God among the trees of the garden, he came seeking them not with a rebuke but with a question: “Where are you?” (Genesis 3:9.)

Obviously, divine questions are never asked to get information. God knew where they were, they didn’t hide so well that he couldn’t find them. So the question “Where are you?” was meant to be answered on a deeper level. He asked the question because he wanted Adam and Eve to discover things that they were hiding from themselves.

Answering God’s questions teaches us truths about ourselves that we would otherwise not know. The penetrating questions of God prepare us to hear the rest of what he will say, the words of comfort, challenge, warning, correction, promise, prophecy, salvation, and hope.

Mark 2:1-12 (ESV) 1  And when he returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home.
2  And many were gathered together, so that there was no more room, not even at the door. And he was preaching the word to them.
    With amazing speed the news spread that a miracle-working Teacher had come to Capernaum; and wherever our Lord went, great crowds gathered. They wanted to see Him heal the sick and cast out demons.

Jesus had already attracted the crowds.  Because of that he had attracted the notice of the official leaders of the Jews.  The Sanhedrin was their supreme court.  One of its great functions was to be the guardian of orthodoxy.  For instance, it was the Sanhedrin’s duty to deal with any man who was a false prophet.  It seems that it had sent out a kind of scouting party to check up on Jesus; and they were there in Capernaum. 

3  And they came, bringing to him a paralytic carried by four men.
4  And when they could not get near him because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him, and when they had made an opening, they let down the bed on which the paralytic lay.



Verse 4 tells us that these four companions dug through the roof to lower their paralyzed friend to Jesus, bringing us to the questions of the physical circumstances in which this event took place. Capernaum is not an easy place in which to maneuver if you are disabled. The roads are not paved smoothly, stairs and vertical rises make it difficult to get around, and you must rely on your friends to help you travel there if you’re not ambulatory.

The homes were small. The crowd filling this home might have numbered fifty, at most one hundred, and we know they were spilling out into the street. The walls were made of stone, but the roofs had beams across them, between which straw and thatch were packed together with clay.

Most homes had stairways leading to the rooftops so people could ascend on hot evenings and enjoy the breeze, using the roof as a sort of porch. Apparently what these men did was climb up the exterior stairway to the roof, dig out the clay and the thatch from between the beams to open a hole in the roof, and lower their friend down to Jesus.

Let’s consider why Jesus concluded that he was seeing faith as this man descended before him from the hole in the roof. These men were audacious enough to believe him! They were boldly saying, “If you say so, we are going to trust that you care more about people than buildings, and we are going to tear a hole in your roof and put before you one of the very kinds of people you said you have come to help.”

They believed the things that he had said about himself and they acted on their belief. They were willing to go to lengths that other people would question.

They were deeply concerned about their friend and wanted to see him helped. They had the faith to believe that Jesus could and would meet his need. They did not simply “pray about it,” but they put some feet to their prayers; and they did not permit the difficult circumstances to discourage them. They worked together and dared to do something different, and Jesus rewarded their efforts. How easy it would have been for them to say, “Well, there is no sense trying to get to Jesus today! Maybe we can come back tomorrow.”

There comes a time in every relationship when a decision must be made that will change everything. And when God himself draws near and we hear his voice, postponement can lead to a hard heart.

5  And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”
6  Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts,
7  “Why does this man speak like that? He is blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?”
8  And immediately Jesus, perceiving in his spirit that they thus questioned within themselves, said to them, “Why do you question these things in your hearts?
   When they heard Jesus say to the man that his sins were forgiven it came as a shattering shock.  It was an essential of the Jewish faith that only God could forgive sins.  For any man to claim to do so was to insult God; that was blasphemy and the penalty for blasphemy was death by stoning (Leviticus 24:16). 

At the moment they were not ready to launch their attack in public, but it was not difficult for Jesus to see how their minds were working.  So he determined to fling down a challenge and to meet them on their own ground.

It was their own firm belief that sin and sickness were indissolubly linked together.  A sick man was a man who had sinned.  So Jesus asked them:  “Whether it is easier to say to this man, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’?”  Any charlatan could say, “Your sins are forgiven.” There was no possibility of ever demonstrating whether his words were effective or not; such a statement was completely uncheckable. 

But to say, “Get up and walk” was to say something whose effectiveness would either be proved or disproved there and then.  So Jesus said in effect:  “You say that I have no right to forgive sins?  You hold as a matter of belief that if this man is ill he is a sinner and he cannot be cured till he is forgiven?  Very well, then, watch this!”  So Jesus spoke the word and the man was cured.

The experts in the law were caught in a dilemma: on their own stated beliefs the man could not be cured, unless he was forgiven.  He was cured, therefore he was forgiven.  Therefore, Jesus’ claim to forgive sin must be true. 

Jesus must have left a completely baffled set of legal experts; and, worse, he must have left them in a baffled rage.  Here was something that must be dealt with; if this went on, all orthodox religion would be shattered and destroyed.  In this incident Jesus signed his own death warrant-and he knew it.

The first part of Jesus’ two-part question in this passage is “Why are you thinking these things?” The second part is “Which is easier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’?”

As illustrated earlier by God’s question to Adam and Eve when they were hiding in the Garden, Jesus didn’t ask the teachers of the law, “Why are you thinking these things?” because he didn’t know. Rather, he wanted them to answer the question, to consider why it was that what they believed about God led them to anger and rejection of the possibility of forgiveness of sins rather than hope.

9  Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise, take up your bed and walk’?


The second part of Jesus’ question is more logic-based. He asked them to draw a conclusion, and then he acted to prove the point: “If I can do the apparently more difficult, visible, thing, then doesn’t it seem that I can also do the invisible thing?”

10  But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he said to the paralytic—
11  “I say to you, rise, pick up your bed, and go home.”
12  And he rose and immediately picked up his bed and went out before them all, so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, “We never saw anything like this!”

The need this man had was for his sins to be forgiven. The paralysis was not the main point, and the hole in the roof was not something that concerned Jesus, because people were more important to him than buildings. Jesus’ focus, then and now, is on what is important, not on the curiosities of the moment.


Finally, let’s return to the two questions that Jesus asked the teachers of the law. He had forgiven the paralytic’s sins and given him relief from his desperation over all the things he had done to drive a wedge between himself and God. The man was free of his urgent spiritual burden. The knocking of a hole in the roof was of no consequence to Jesus.

Knowing all of that, Jesus still asked them the question, “Why?” I believe what he was truly asking was, “What kind of God do you serve?”

It is the kind of problem religious people always have: The more knowledge we gain, and the more we are involved in churches and Bible studies and Christian groups and so on, the more we learn to hide sin rather than see it forgiven.

The simple point is, Do we serve a God who is passionate about forgiving sins, who loves to remove burdens from people, who is generous with grace and mercy, who characteristically does good for us rather than raising his eyebrow at us and remaining distant? Of course. Of course his Son will speak of mercy and love, the removal of burdens, and the giving of life. That is God’s nature.

I believe the problem these teachers of the law had was the problem that folks like us have, so it is worth asking, “Why do we have so much trouble forgiving ourselves? Why do we have so much trouble welcoming hardened sinners or difficult people and sharing with them a word of forgiveness? Why would we rather live with cover-up than with forgiveness?”


Jesus’ other question is one of logic: “If I can do the more difficult, external, visible thing, isn’t it likely that I can also do the invisible thing?” This addresses the question of whether Jesus Christ has the authority to declare, “Your sins are forgiven. The struggle is over. You and God are in perfect relationship again. There is nothing from your past that clings to you any longer.”

Jesus said, “Child, your sins are forgiven.” This is his message to people like us-people who are aware of our failure, who know there are things about us that we would be ashamed if anyone else ever knew, who long for some relief from the struggle, who want to believe that God will be for us, not against us, who want to start today’s battle with a sense that God is on our side, not removed from us by some distance or barrier, who need the hope that goes along with forgiveness.

1 John 1:5-10 (ESV)
5  This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.
6  If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth.
7  But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.
8  If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.
10  If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.

9  If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

   To “confess our sins” means to agree with God that an act or thought was wrong, to acknowledge this to God, to seek forgiveness, and to make a commitment to not let it happen again. Augustine observed that confession of sin is a sign that truth, which is itself light, has already begun to illuminate people’s sin-darkened lives.
     But I don’t feel forgiven? 1. Believe God. 2. See yourself as God sees you (cleansed by the blood of Christ).

Jesus has the authority to forgive sins. Let us shake off paralysis, pick up our mats, and walk.

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Posted by on November 19, 2018 in Sermon


Questions Jesus Asked (From the gospel of Mark) – Why Are You So Afraid?

He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”

That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side.” Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him. A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?”

He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.

He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”

They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!”


The question Jesus asked is preceded by one that was asked of him, and it too is a provocative question. The disciples on the boat woke the Lord and asked him, “Don’t you care if we drown?

This story not only describes an incident that happened in history on the Sea of Galilee with Jesus and his disciples over 2,000+ years ago, but it also illustrates conditions of life that resonate with most of us. There are times when life is overwhelming and treacherous for us, when there are anxious and threatening circumstances.

We petition God, we seek out friends, we read the Bible, we fast and pray, hoping to penetrate to heaven. And it seems as if our Savior and Lord is asleep. The thing we’re most aware of is the hardship, and the thing we’re least sure of is his love.

Human beings live storm-tossed lives. The most difficult question that non-Christian skeptics ask is the question of suffering. How can God be all-powerful and all-loving and allow his people to live in fear and anguish?

The place Jesus ended in this story is the place that everybody who believes has to come to in theology and experience. He asked the disciples, “Do you still have no faith?” In the long run, the problem of human suffering is the problem of faith. It requires that we be persuaded by One whose presence mitigates the need to have our questions answered.


Let’s observe the details of the story. Verse 35 starts out, “…When evening came….” A long day of demanding public ministry preceded this account. Jesus was exhausted. “…He said to his disciples, ‘Let us go over to the other side’….”

They set out across the northern tip of the Sea of Galilee, leaving the region of Galilee where Jews predominated and going to a region that was mostly Gentile, the Decapolis area. “Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him.” The words “just as he was” remind us of how tired he was, and indicate why he quickly fell asleep.

It’s helpful to see Jesus unable to keep his eyes open. Have you ever felt that way? We struggle with our weakness and weariness. We wish we could be better parents late in the day, and often we’re too tired to be. Weary husbands and wives have little to offer each other. Making it through the day becomes a major accomplishment.

But it’s encouraging to see Christ in that very same condition, because the words of Hebrews 4:15 come back: “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are-yet was without sin.”

He knows what it’s like to be human. He’s been in every human place, been pressured by every human pressure, even such a simple thing as weariness from a day’s hard work. The next time you feel that way, remember you have a high priest who will minister to you with sympathy and understanding.

Another observation that’s worth making from this scene is that after a day of teaching, the Lord decided to leave, precisely because the day of teaching was over. It was useful to those he had taught for him to leave. To hear Jesus speak for an entire day, to fill a notebook full of the themes of the kingdom of God, to be given instruction in the truth in wonderful and creative and picturesque ways, and then for him to leave, suggests to us that there comes a point when learning should lead to obedience.

Rather than allowing these people to spend the next day in another seminar, and the next, as if more information were the key to everything, Jesus realized, “I’ve taught them more than they can handle. And it is thinking harder about what they have already been told, deepening their experience with the truth they already have, that this group in Galilee needs. So I’m going elsewhere for a time.” Similarly, the majority of us in this church have more information than we have experience with the truth, we know more than we believe, we’ve been told more than we act on.


Moving farther into the story, we ought to consider the nature of the storm. Mark records this, probably from Peter’s telling of it, as a “furious squall,” as the New International Version translates it. On the Sea of Galilee, which is roughly the size of Lake Tahoe, there are seasons when gusts of wind blow down off the Golan Heights. It’s set in a valley between hills that form a corridor for the winds. This was not a supernatural event; it was a storm of the type that still happens on the Sea of Galilee. It was a very serious storm. It was at night, which made it even more dangerous. The text is very clear that the disciples faced a treacherous set of circumstances.

But the question that we might ask is whether this was the zenith of testing that these disciples thought it was. Were they in the most extreme of conditions? Were they at their wit’s end, completely overcome, with nowhere to turn? Is that what the passage is telling us? Or was this a storm like storms they had seen before? After all, these were fishermen who had spent their life on this lake. I believe the disciples were overreacting, and we can learn why as we hear Jesus’ question to them.

Jesus was never worried about the storm. When he was awakened, he wasn’t shaken by an awful storm-wracked sea. He rebuked the storm the way you would rebuke an overzealous puppy: “Quiet, stop! Calm down!” One translator renders it, “Pipe down!” And he stopped the storm not because he felt lives were threatened, but so he could have a conversation. He was calming noise and confusion. Jesus treated the storm as a difficult test, a demanding set of circumstances, a hard lesson, but not as if all were about to be lost at any moment.

Many of us conclude at times that we are in emergency situations when we are not. Many of us feel overwhelmed by pressures and demands and stresses. We give ourselves permission to throw up our hands and tear our clothes and wail and feel sorry for ourselves and expect others to coming rushing in to help. We declare ourselves to be at the end of our rope and rail at the unfairness of it all. That is essentially a declaration of immaturity.

This was a hard storm, but the disciples’ sense that their lives were momentarily to be forfeit was an overreaction.

Rather than grab Jesus and accuse him of lovelessness in this out-of-control way, they had the opportunity to face the storm with faith, bail out the boat, and work together with the sailors in the other boats in case someone fell overboard. They had the opportunity to trust God and strengthen each other in very trying conditions.

Young Christians often have the mistaken notion that coming to the Lord means the end of life’s troubles. Did you ever think that? And for many, in the earliest months of Christian life there is wonderful provision. Doors open at just the right moment, the sun comes out just when the clouds seem to be gathering, and wonderful possibilities abound. Then the storm strikes. Maturity comes from trusting God when there is no evidence of his presence. Storms are the school in which we learn faith. Emotional overreaction to demanding circumstances is one indicator of how much we have left to learn.

It was, of course, completely legitimate for the disciples to awaken Jesus. A faithful response in waking him up would be to say, “Here’s a bucket-you need to start bailing,” or, “What do you think we ought to do?” or, “These kinds of storms are nothing to trifle with, and we need all hands on deck.” The problem with their response was that they had concluded that Jesus had stopped loving them, and they had given way to panic.


Let’s consider the struggle that elicited their question and Jesus’ question in response. They grabbed him and said, “Don’t you care? How could anyone who loves us treat us the way you’re treating us?” The sleeping Savior, who had performed miracles for others, was unresponsive to their plight.

Job wrestled with some of the same issues: a God who didn’t respond to the suffering of his loved one. What we usually say to God when we’re hurting is this: “I need you to wake up and change the circumstances. If you really care for me, you’ll do something to get me out of the mess I’m in. But at a minimum, if you don’t change the circumstances, at least explain them.” The Lord could act if he chose to. We know his power is great enough, but the fact that we are still struggling, anxious, uncertain, confused, and weighed down is evidence that he doesn’t care.

It is not physical danger or even the prospect of death that we fear the most. The deepest fears are about eternity and the character of God.

The disciples had placed ultimate hope in Christ. They had seen him release sufferers from the power of demons. They had heard him tell them truths that no one else had ever spoken before. They had heard him pray as only he could pray, with a Spirit-given intimacy with God in his prayers that they had no experience with. They had seen him challenge fleshly religion and declare the love of God. They believed that he was a source of hope, that he could be trusted, that life would make sense with him at the center. But now he was asleep in their hour of need, and they were beginning to say to themselves not, “I fear I am going to die,” but, “I fear he is not who he claims to be.”

I have trusted my life to Jesus of Nazareth who lived as no other has and died as no other has and is now seated at God’s right hand. I would be shaken to the core if these things proved to be a hoax. The disciples on the lake were not most afraid of physical death (by drowning). They were deeply shaken by the possibility that Jesus would put them in extreme circumstances and then ignore their plight-that he was not who he claimed to be. “Do you not care…?”

“The boat won’t sink, and the storm won’t last forever.” The gospel won’t “sink”; it will bear all the weight you put on it. The hope of the gospel doesn’t dim over time or fail under pressure. The Lord will supply our needs for every day of this life and for eternity.

But the second phrase is important, too: “The storm won’t last forever.” It is not true that being a Christian is to be assigned to suffer forever and ever. The end of the story is not more suffering. The end of the story is joy, glory, the approval of God, being made like Christ, fellowship with other people who believe, the end of evil.


This account has a great ending. “They were terrified and asked each other, ‘Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!'” A moment earlier they had been terrified by the storm; now they were more terrified! They saw the one who, with a word, banished wind and waves.

That’s what it means to have faith: to be more impressed with Christ than we are with the problems, to have a fear of God in the proper sense. This is no one to be trifled with, and when he engages our enemies, they will fall. However we evaluate our circumstances, whatever our feelings tell us-and very often they are negative and hurtful, with no reason for hope-against all these is the word of Christ. We ought to be more impressed with him than we are with our analysis of our circumstances.

Moses preached a wonderful sermon in the book of Deuteronomy. He stood before the children of Israel at the end of their wilderness wanderings. He was at the end of his life, he knew, and he would not be with them much longer. He preached of law and covenant, of the past and future, of blessings and curses. At the end of the sermon, this great patriarch, this great man of faith, the friend of God, used one of my favorite metaphors for thinking about God’s love.

Deuteronomy 33:26-27: “There is no one like the God of Jeshurun, who rides on the heavens to help you and on the clouds in his majesty.The eternal God is your refuge,and underneath are the everlasting arms.”

Always underneath everything is the embrace of God, the one who holds on to us. His arms are everlasting; they will not fail. Storms, problems, pressures, failures, inadequacies, anxieties, confusions-underneath them all are the everlasting arms of God. He will embrace us and hold us up.

“There is no one like the God of Jeshurun….” That’s what Jesus helped these men in the boat see. Faith that believes that underneath everything are the everlasting arms of God will give us the courage we need, whatever the circumstances.

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Posted by on November 15, 2018 in Mark


Ministry to missing members: How to respond when people are in danger of ‘dropping out of church.’

The Apathetic and Bored Church Member

John S. Savage wrote a doctoral dissertation several years ago on inactive members and the steps they go through to become ‘permanently’ inactive. I believe it will be advantageous for all of us to be aware of these steps and be ready to assist our brothers and sisters if a need arises.

1. The first step is an anxiety-provoking event.

An incident which produces some type of anxiety or uncomfortable feeling in the active member (1) Conflict with the minister; (2) Conflict with another family member; (3) Conflict with another church member.

2 Peter 1:21 (48 kb)We found 95 percent of the people had experienced what we now call an “anxiety-provoking event”-an ape. Subsequent research showed these events usually come in clusters, several apes compounding within six months to a year.

Anxiety is the emotional alarm system triggered by disequilibrium, hurt, or anticipated hurt. The inactive members we visited revealed high levels of anxiety, which drove them from church membership because they were never resolved. Their anxiety fell into four categories.

  • Reality anxiety. This anxiety is based on some real, historical event; you could have videotaped what caused it. Normally the event is a snub or an utter lack of church care when a member needed it.  A family from the church had their home burn to the ground, and their 2- and 4-year-old children died in the fire. How many people went to visit him and his wife? Maybe the minister, but probably not many parishioners. Most would confess, “I wouldn’t know what to say,” as if they had to say something.  That event causes reality anxiety. A family experiencing this kind of tragedy would have a hard time returning to a church they felt let them down when they needed them.
  • Moral anxiety. Moral anxiety arises when people experience in themselves or others behaviors they believe aren’t right.  Immoral sexual activity causes many people to eventually leave the church.
  • Neurotic anxiety. Neurotic anxiety is pain caused by the imagination. Someone may claim, “I don’t go to church because the minister doesn’t like me.” The feeling might be based on reality, but the chances are it’s neurotic. It’s only in the person’s head.  A man goes into the hospital, doesn’t let you know he’s there, but expects you to visit. Then he gets angry when you don’t. Months later when you do call, you may trace his problem to that hospital stay. The man is convinced you don’t care about him. That’s neurotic anxiety.  We can inadvertently foster neurotic anxiety. For example, a minister regularly calls on a couple who are potential members. He spends time with them and makes them feel important. All the time they’re thinking, Look at all the personal attention you get from the minister around here! Then they join the church, and the attention they receive drops almost to zero. They wonder what happened. The minister has accidentally encouraged unrealistic expectations, which give rise to neurotic anxiety.
  • Existential anxiety. Existential anxiety is the feeling brought about by the thought that some day you may not exist, or that even if you do, your life may be meaningless. We hear the refrains, “The church has lost its meaning for me,” “The sermons don’t mean anything anymore, Minister,” “My kids are bored stiff in Sunday school.”

Main conflict areas
All anxiety arises from some problem. The most common is intra-family conflict. Husband and wife square off on some issue; parents and kids squabble. This kind of conflict is the most consistent characteristic of people who have left the church.

Conflict with ministers is the second most common problem. When ministers avoid dealing with people’s anxiety, the people simply avoid the ministers and their churches.

Family against family, inter-family conflict, is the third arena. It’s the Hatfields against the McCoys; people don’t get along with one another.

Overwork, or at least the feeling of it, presents a fourth problem area. With volunteer church service, too much too soon or too long, with no reward, will drive people from the church.

Suppose you discover a family is having troubles at home, seems to be avoiding you, is feeling disappointed about the way other church members have treated them, and thinks they’re overworked and unrewarded. You will usually find they are experiencing reality, moral, neurotic, or existential anxiety-often simultaneously. Then you can predict the next stage: they cry for help.

2. The second step is the blinking red light.  The member is hurting inside and wants/needs to talk.

3. Anger is the third step. When anxiety reaches the stage of acute discomfort, the anxiety is transformed to anger.

The cry
If we learn to hear and respond to people’s cries for help, we can usually prevent their dropping out. Those still crying will respond to our efforts to reach them. But cries don’t last forever. Some cry longer than others, depending on their bond to the congregation, but when the cry goes unanswered, eventually members leave. Then the damage is much greater and more difficult to repair.

A verbal cry for help may sound like this: “I don’t know if I want to continue coming to this church. If there is one thing I can’t stand, it’s hypocrites!”

Or it could be more subtle: “You know, all the men but me in our Sunday school class have had promotions at work.”

I worked with a woman in Christian education for two years and never once heard a complaint. Then one day in the midst of a long paragraph she let slip just one sentence: “I’m not sure I can do this job much longer.”

I didn’t say anything right then, but when I saw her the next Sunday morning in the hallway, I said, “Sally, I have a feeling you might be upset about some things in church, particularly in the Christian education area.”

“Can I talk with you this week?” she said.

She came in the following Thursday with all her teaching materials-and unmistakable body language. Even before she sat down, she said, “You’re not going to like what I’m about to tell you, but I’m going to resign.” I listened to her story for an hour and a half, and I heard from her the classic phrase of one who is thinking of leaving: “I don’t want to leave the church. I love the church, but I’m tired.” She was overworked-reality anxiety-so we renegotiated her workload, and she stayed. The key is hearing the story first.

Ministers can respond to cries in one of three ways:

First, they can listen and respond to the pain the cry represents. That can be amazingly beneficial.

Second, they can ignore the cry, not realizing how serious it is, until the cry moves into anger. The person gets more agitated and says, “Hey, what do I have to do to get you to hear me? Somebody help me. Can’t you see I’m about to leave the church?”

Third, they can shoot the person with the gospel gun: “What’s the matter with you? Are you losing your faith or something?” That’s a mistake of confusing the symptom for the disease, the behavior for the cause.

But surprisingly, even if we react to the immediate anger rather than the anxiety behind it, we’ll still recover about 80 percent of the people. Even hesitating steps in the right direction can help.

If we miss the verbal cries for help, we at least have a whole string of nonverbal cries to alert us to the problem. The cries for help become behavioral. The person either leaves or begins the process of leaving.

4. Behavioral change. The member either becomes more aggressive or withdrawn. If the problem is not resolved at this point, they move further away from active membership. They drop out of committees. They give up their Sunday or Wednesday classes, if teaching. Usually, at this point, they stop attending except on Sunday morning. They stop attending special meetings and their contributions are either cut down or cut out altogether.

The first behavior change is the leaving of worship.

Second, people leave major committees and boards. They either don’t show up or they begin to show up sporadically. Both of these indicators can be seen on an attendance graph. The one who was always there four Sundays a month drops to three to two to only rare appearances. Or the board member makes one or two meetings a year after nearly perfect attendance in past years.

Third, people begin to leave Sunday school. Most adults have their closest friends in their Sunday school classes. Backing away from friends is a major change.

Fourth, the kids are pulled out of Sunday school. The parents decide they don’t even want to bring them, let alone come themselves.

Fifth comes the letter of resignation, and finally, interestingly enough, the pledge is dropped. That’s the final gasp for help, the last commitment to be given up in most denominations.

The sad thing is, these dropouts are hurting. They’ve not only experienced a cluster of anxiety-provoking events, but also are grieving the loss of their church.

Skunks and turtles
In my experience, a third of the inactive people we called on had tears running down their cheeks once we dug out the original cluster of pain. Uncovering that hurt caused them to cry before perfect strangers.

But people respond to their pain in different ways. Some begin to blame something external – the church, the elders, the members, the minister. We’ve nicknamed them skunks. When you call on these people, you get sprayed on. It’s what happened to me when the woman slammed the paper into her lap and lashed out at me.

When these people drop out, they wait six to eight weeks and then psychologically seal off the pain and anxiety produced by the original cluster. They back away and by all appearances become apathetic. But the pain of the cluster remains and acts as the block to returning to church. In order to get the person to come back, we must deal with that pain.

After they seal off the pain, people reinvest their time, energy, and money in other pursuits. Half reinvest themselves in the family; they buy tents, trailers, and snowmobiles and go away on the weekend. You visit them and hear, “Our family is just as close to God fishing on the lake as we were back at church with that bunch of snobs.”

The other 50 percent reinvest themselves in other institutions: hospitals, PTA, Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, Rotary. So if we call on them, they’ll point their finger at us and say, “I’ve gotten involved with that volunteer ambulance crew. I’m a dispatcher on Sunday mornings. You know, we really help people now.” That’s a skunk speaking.

Another set of dropouts experiences a different emotion: hopelessness. It’s the antithesis of helplessness. It’s the sense of being incapable of generating any inner motivation. As a result, these people withdraw and become inactive. We call them turtles.

Turtles have incredible power to hook other people’s guilt. A turtle’s cry for help might sound like this: “I’m sure you could get Mrs. Green to teach the class. She would do a much better job than I could.” The turtle drops out, waits six to eight weeks, and seals off the pain, much like the skunk. But turtles point the blame internally, toward themselves.

Whether it’s the skunks’ spray or the turtles’ timidity, the various cries for help can be addressed.

Pain – listening
So what do we do for these people? We need to teach ourselves and our lay people to hear the pain of inactive people. It helps, too, if we learn how to intervene in the stages leading to inactivity, before the people disappear.

When we call on an inactive family, or one heading that direction, chances are strong we’re going to have to deal with anger. The turtles’ anger will make us feel guilty, and the skunks’ anger will make us mad. Since calling on an inactive member is often painful, it’s easy to enter a cycle: People leave because they’re angry; I’m angry because they left; I punish them by letting them sit in their pain; they punish me by not coming back.

5. Holding Pattern.

This lasts from six to eight weeks. During this time, they are breaking emotional ties with the folks at the church. They are waiting to see if anyone from the church will call on them. If no one comes during the holding period, then they begin to reinvest their time and energy in other organizations and clubs. Camping, or other family outings, especially on weekends, seems to become a favorite pastime of the inactive member.

6. Out the back door.

The active member has now made the journey out of the church and no longer attends or takes interest in the congregation to which he/she once gave much time and effort.

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Posted by on November 12, 2018 in Church, Encouragement

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