Whatever It Takes

He wanted to see who Jesus was, but because he was short he could not see over the crowd. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way. (Luke 19:3-4, NIV)

When I was a kid, I used to love climbing trees, and although it seemed at the time that I was climbing high enough to touch the clouds, I probably never actually climbed much higher than the roof of a one-story house.  In 2012, I went on a mission trip to Brazil to build a church building in a jungle village on the Amazon River.  The kids in the village put my tree-climbing skills to shame, easily climbing 30-40 ft or higher in some of the trees!

Climbing trees is not something you typically see an adult do, yet this is exactly what Zacchaeus did so he could see Jesus.  No doubt some onlookers thought Zacchaeus was acting foolish or that he was being childish.  But Zacchaeus didn’t care.  He was willing to do whatever it took to see Jesus.  He wasn’t worried about how others would judge him or what they might say about him later.  His focus was on seeing Jesus, and that’s just what happened.

Sometimes I wonder how willing I am to do whatever it takes to encounter the Lord.  Am I willing to have a childlike faith?  To act foolish (in the eyes of the world)?  Would I climb a tree to see Jesus (yes, like Zacchaeus, I’d probably have trouble seeing over the crowd and need to climb a tree)?  Would I read my Bible in the break room, even though my co-workers can see what I’m reading?  Would I be willing to talk to my neighbor about Jesus, even though they might think I’m a Bible thumper?  Would I pray for a meal at a restaurant?

We can find Jesus everywhere if we are willing to look for Him and climb the occasional tree to get a glimpse of the Lord.  My prayer for us this week is that we will be less concerned about what others think and be willing to look for the Lord even if it means stepping out of our comfort zones.

In Christ,
Pastor Andy


Give Her Something To Eat!

They laughed at him, knowing that she was dead.  But he took her by the hand and said, “My child, get up!”  Her spirit returned, and at once she stood up. Then Jesus told them to give her something to eat (Luke 8:53-55, NIV).

I love this story of how Jesus was interrupted by a woman who’d been sick for 12 years while on His way to heal a very sick little 12-year-old girl (I’ve always thought it interesting that the girl’s age was the same amount of time the woman had been sick–12 years, but it’s probably just a coincidence).  The interruption delayed Jesus long enough that the little girl actually died.  Undeterred, Jesus went and raised her from the dead.

Wait… He did what?!?  Yes, He raised her from the dead!  Wow!  What an amazing miracle!  And then after performing one of the most incredible, miraculous acts in human history… He told them to fix her supper.  Jesus is so practical!  If I’d just seen my own child raised from the dead, supper would be the last thing I’d be thinking about!  But no doubt this little girl was hungry, and Jesus doesn’t just look after supernatural needs, but everyday ones, too.

This brought to my mind the question of how well do I look after my own everyday needs, like, say, sleep!  Or rest, or relaxation, or eating healthier, or… exercise (yes, I used the “e-word”).  If Jesus cares about me eating supper, maybe I should, too!  And if Jesus is concerned for the practical needs of others, so should we be.  Sometimes people don’t need a miraculous intervention, they just need a cup of coffee with a friend who will pray for them.  My prayer for us this week is that we will remember to eat, sleep, and wrestle with our kids, do the everyday, practical things that Jesus cares about, and have a very normal, “mundane” conversation with someone who just needs a friend.

In Christ,
Pastor Andy

Jesus’s Upside-Down Kingdom

This is the second message in a series through the Gospel of Mark. In this scene from Mark’s Gospel, Jesus encounters an untouchable–a man with leprosy comes and begs Jesus to make him clean.  Jesus’s reaction to this unclean leper turns the world’s kingdom upside down and reveals that Jesus makes the unclean clean, and the unholy holy.

Sermon delivered at LakeView Church on 10/8/2017.

Who Is This Man?

On Sunday, we kicked off a new series through the Gospel of Mark, Who Is This Man?  Jesus never wrote a book, but more books have been written about him than anyone else in the world.  He never wrote a song, but more songs have been written about him than any other person in human history.  He never traveled more than 200 miles outside his hometown, but he left his footprint on the whole earth.  Who is this man whose life has changed the course of human history and inspired billions of people over thousands of years to follow him?  Your answer to that question will change your life… forever.

Tie Up A Strong Man

“In fact, no one can enter a strong man’s house without first tying him up. Then he can plunder the strong man’s house” (Mark 3:27, NIV).

Jesus speaks these words in response to an accusation from the teachers of the law that he was using the power of Satan to drive out demons.  But Jesus points out that the power of evil cannot be used for good.  A house divided against itself cannot stand.  Jesus is casting out demons and bringing freedom from oppression, not by the power of Satan, but by the power of God that has overcome the evil one.  Jesus has come into the “strong man’s” house to plunder it.  He has invaded the kingdom of Satan and is setting the captives free, healing the sick, caring for the poor and hurting, and generally wreaking havoc in Satan’s plans for evil.

These words called me to reflect on my own life.  Am I a house divided?  Do I ask God for redemption, but hold back areas I don’t want him to touch?  Do I have “strong men” protecting things in my life I don’t want Christ to plunder?  If I truly desire freedom and victory, I may need to deal with a “strong man” in my own life.  My prayer for us this week is that we will tie up a “strong man” and allow the Lord to plunder our hearts, to invade our lives, and to wreak havoc in our sin.  Because the thing about Jesus is, after he breaks up our sin and drives it out, he puts us back together and makes us new.

In Christ,
Pastor Andy

The Return of the King

One of my favorite books is The Return of the King, book three of The Lord of the Rings trilogy by J. R. R. Tolkien.  The book tells the story of Aragorn, son of Arathorn, heir of Isildur, who was Elendil’s son.  Elendil was the mighty king of a great kingdom called Gondor, but fell in battle against the Dark Lord, Sauron, at the end of the Second Age of Middle-earth.  With Isildur’s death, the line of Elendil began to falter, and eventually disappeared from all knowledge, leaving Gondor under the rule of the stewards for centuries.

At the time of the events chronicled in The Return of the King, Aragorn, heir to the throne of Gondor, has arisen out of the shadows to challenge the Dark Lord and claim his rightful place as the king.  It’s a classic storyline masterfully told by the greatest fantasy author of all time (in my opinion).  And, it’s quite moving. The people have awaited the return of their king for centuries, and he finally comes–just in the knick of time to turn the tide of war and bring a final end to the Dark Lord.  With Aragorn’s victory, he reunites the fractured Kingdom of Gondor and establishes peace throughout the land that endures for many generations to come.

Like many good tales, the themes woven into The Return of the King find their roots in real historical events.  About 2,000 years ago, the Kingdom of Israel was a fractured mess, with Jews scattered throughout the known world.  Israel had at one time been ruled by a mighty king named David, who had passed the crown on to his son, Solomon.  After Solomon’s death, the line of David began to fail, and eventually fell into obscurity as Israel was conquered and dispersed.  For centuries, Israel languished.  But, the remnant of Jews still living in Israel under the iron fist of the Roman Empire remembered a prophecy given by the prophet Zechariah 500 years earlier.

“Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey” (Zechariah 9:9).

They knew that one day their king would return and set all things right.  They believed he would break the power of Rome, raise an army in Israel, and conquer the world, reclaiming his rightful place on the throne as the Son of David.  In some ways, they were right.  That’s why the events recorded in the Gospel of Matthew 21:1-11 are so important in the history of the human race.

On the Sunday before he was crucified, Jesus came riding into Jerusalem on the colt of a donkey.  In so doing, he was making the bold and audacious claim that he, Jesus of Nazareth, was the lawful heir to the throne of Israel, the Son of David, and the fulfillment of Zechariah’s 500-year old prophecy!  Throughout his ministry, Jesus had already begun to set things right.  He taught people about the Kingdom of God, and how life in the Kingdom should be lived.  He demonstrated his own authority and power over sickness, over evil spirits, over Nature, and even over death, as he healed the sick, cast out demons, calmed the storms, walked on water, and brought the dead back to life.  Jesus was truly a man of great power… a king if ever there was one!

That’s why, when the Jews saw Jesus coming into Jerusalem on a donkey, they clogged the streets in a great crowd.  They shouted, “Hosanna to the Son of David!  Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!  Hosanna in the highest” (Matthew 21:9)!  They spread their cloaks out on the road in front of Jesus, providing a “red carpet” of sorts for him to enter the city.  They cut palm branches from nearby trees, waving them in praise and laying them along the path of Jesus.  Finally, after centuries, their king had returned!  Indeed, Jesus was (and is) the fulfillment of Zechariah’s prophecy.  He rode into Jerusalem that day, 2,000 years ago, with righteousness and salvation.  But, not as the Jews expected.

Jesus didn’t raise an army and lead a military campaign against Rome.  Instead, he offered himself as a sacrifice to pay the penalty for our sin–the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, as John the Baptizer said.  Instead of casting down his enemies, Jesus was arrested, tortured, and murdered in a gruesome public spectacle.  Now, if that was all we knew of the story, we might assume that Jesus wasn’t who he claimed to be when he rode in on the donkey’s colt.  We might think he was just another rebel leader executed by the Roman government.  But we’d be wrong.

Jesus was crucified and buried, but in a borrowed tomb.  On Easter Sunday, one week after his triumphal entry into Jerusalem, Jesus was resurrected.  He had dealt a death blow to Death, Hell, sin, and the grave! He had taken our sins upon himself, and paid for them with his own blood.  He stepped into the ring with Satan, and walked out victorious.  He defeated darkness and evil and made a public spectacle of them on the cross.  He had reunited us with the Father, making it possible for our broken relationship with God to be fully restored.  Jesus freed us from the power and the penalty of sin, giving us righteousness and salvation–just like Zechariah foretold!

And then, he left.  He ascended into Heaven, sending the Holy Spirit back to dwell with and in those of us who belong to his Kingdom, who acknowledge that Jesus is our King and our God.  And now we, like the Jews 2,000 years ago, await the return of our King.  When Jesus comes again, he won’t be a humble Jewish construction worker riding on a donkey.  According to Revelation 19:11-21, when Jesus returns he will be riding on a white war horse, with a crown on his head and eyes blazing like fire.  He will be wearing a robe dipped in blood and leading the armies of Heaven.  He will bring justice and the final defeat of our great enemy, once and for all freeing us from the presence of sin.  He will establish an eternal Kingdom, and all those who have believed in him and received him as their Lord and Savior will live with him forever (we will never die) in a place that goes beyond our wildest dreams.

This Palm Sunday, as we remember Jesus’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem and the Jews celebrating the return of their king, we also look forward to Jesus’s awesome second coming, and await the return of our King!  Amen.  Come, Lord Jesus!

The graphic attached to this post came from https://i.ytimg.com/vi/SoujG6h7UGI/maxresdefault.jpg.

Why Does God Allow Natural Disasters?

The tornado that ripped through Pontiac this week wreaked havoc, injured at least one family, and left thousands without power.  Thankfully, it didn’t claim any lives.  But, this isn’t always the case.  Other natural disasters in recent years have claimed hundreds of thousands of human lives and cost hundreds of billions of dollars in damage to homes, cities, businesses, and the like.  Given that those of us who live in central Illinois, especially Livingston County, just had a near brush with a destructive and deadly natural disaster, we might be asking the question, “Why?”  Why does God allow natural disasters?

This is a common question after a storm like the one we had this week.  Churches in our area may experience higher attendance this Sunday, as people’s close encounter with the power of Nature gave them pause to consider the frailty and mortality of human life.  This leads some to seek the answer in a church, while others shake their fist at God and curse Him for allowing a tragedy.  Personally, I find it troubling that natural disasters are often labeled “acts of God,” and yet little or no credit is attributed to God for the many good things that we experience daily.  When was the last time we stopped to thank God for a sunny day at the park, or the perfect morning fishing trip?  When was the last time we gave credit to God for the little breeze that cools us on a hot Summer day, or the beauty found in the colors of the Fall leaves?  We often take these little blessings for granted, and then respond with anger at God when our basement floods, or, worse, when a tornado rips through our town and hurts people we love.

Looking at natural disasters from a biblical perspective, we may discover a few things.  First, Genesis 1 teaches that God is all-powerful, the Maker and Master of the entire Universe–including the planet Earth and our own lives.  Indeed, Psalm 24:1 says, “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it; the world, and all who live in it.”  This means God has power over the weather.  And yet, science has shown us that God created the Universe to function according to certain natural laws, and there are natural cycles and weather patterns that are simply part of the natural world in which we live.

Second, even though the Universe operates according to the natural laws God defined for it, sometimes God intervenes.  In Deuteronomy 11:16-17, God warned the nation of Israel that if they turned away from him to worship the false gods of the other nations, he would “shut up the heavens so that it will not rain.”  This warning was fulfilled in 1 Kings 17, under the prophet Elijah.  Yet, just as every instance of good weather is not directly caused by God’s intervention, every instance of bad weather is not directly caused by God either.  Sometimes a storm is simply the normal result of the natural laws by which our world functions.

Third, it is wrong to say that every natural disaster is caused by God to punish sinful people.  The Bible teaches that we live in a world that is twisted by sin.  In Romans 1:18-32, we learn that sometimes God’s judgment on sinful people is to allow them to continue in their sin.  This is the worst kind of judgment because sin takes us further away from the love and blessing and protection of God, while at the same time wreaking devastation, pain, suffering, depression, addiction, and ultimately death in our lives.  Sin destroys everything and everyone it touches–and it doesn’t just affect you.  Sin will systematically track down and destroy everyone you love.

Yet, God allows us the freedom to choose to sin, and that sin is reflected in humanity at large–just look at ISIS if you don’t believe me.  In the same way that sin is reflected generally in humanity, Romans 8:19-21 teaches that sin is reflected generally in the Universe as well.  This often expresses itself in the form of natural disasters.  Our world is twisted by sin, and that means sometimes the laws of nature spin out of control and create tornados, hurricanes, tsunamis, and the like.  The Bible doesn’t hide this reality, or shrink away from it.  We live in a world wracked by evil, suffering, and death.

Fourth, even though the world is full of evil, ultimately good will triumph.  Evil is not the victor.  Sin will not prevail.  Death is not the end.  Light overcomes darkness–every time.  Jesus paid the penalty for our sin by his death on the cross, and then triumphed over the power of sin through his resurrection on the first Easter Sunday.  All of humanity, and the entire Universe, is longing for the curse of sin to be broken.  In Jesus Christ, we find the strength to break the power of sin in our own lives, and to work together to overcome the effects of sin in the world around us.  And one day, as Revelation 21:1-8 teaches, God will wipe every tear from our eyes and make all things new.  In that day, we will not only be free from the penalty and the power of sin, but we will also be free from the presence of sin in our lives and in this world!

Ultimately, we may not ever truly know why God allows natural disasters to occur.  We do know, however, that God is good, and he is wise, and he knows what is best for this world.  And in the midst of the struggle that is this life, God offers hope: a ray of sunshine in the darkness.  That light is the Light who gives life to all who will believe in Jesus Christ and receive him as their great God and Savior.  Then, we will have the power to work together, help those in need, respond to disasters, and overcome the sin in the world around us.

For other great resources on this topic, visit:


The Other Side

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.  For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

Ephesians 2:8-10

These words are, without a doubt, one of the most clear and concise descriptions of the gospel found in the NT.  Perhaps that’s one reason why the first couple sentences in this text are among the most well-known, well-loved, and oft-quoted by evangelical Christians.  But notice what I said?  The first two sentences… basically that’s vv. 8-9.  I almost never hear Christians quote v. 10.  But v. 10 is just as much a part of the gospel as are vv. 8-9, and our over-emphasis on vv. 8-9 has resulted in the preaching of an anemic gospel that has little if any impact in many who accept it and “convert.”  Let me explain.

Americans are extremely individualistic.  We believe in ourselves, our rights, our freedoms, our happiness, our pleasure, our own ability to make our own path by our own sweat, our own authority over our own lives, etc.  This rugged individualism has waylaid American Christianity so that it has become an individualized, personalized, privatized religion that often only preaches, understands, and accepts half the gospel.

In many American churches, we limit the gospel to individual, personal forgiveness of sins.  We tell people that they are justified when they believe in Jesus and accept him as their “personal Lord and Savior.”  Now, this is true and I believe it.  But this is not the whole gospel.  The bulk of Jesus’ teaching and preaching was not about personal forgiveness of sins (although he did talk about that).  Rather, what Jesus spent the majority of his time proclaiming was the Kingdom of God.  The gospel Jesus preached was a gospel of the Kingdom (see Mark 1:15).  But, the “gospel” we often limit our preaching to is a “gospel” of individual, personal forgiveness of sins… less the Kingdom part.

In other words, we love to talk about what we’re saved from.  But it’s not as popular to talk about what we’re saved to.  And when we do talk about that, we often narrow it once again to individual, personal morality.  The gospel is not only that you are saved from your sin; it is also that you are saved to good works–and those good works do not only include personal morality; they also include using your life to create glimpses of the Kingdom of Heaven here and now.

Yes, personal forgiveness of sin is central to the message of the gospel.  It’s through accepting the forgiveness of Christ and surrendering your life to him that you enter into his Kingdom.  But when God saves you, he means for you to live as a citizen of that Kingdom.  Following Christ means living like he lived, and if Jesus did anything, he used his life to create a foretaste, a glimpse, of Heaven on Earth.  At the beginning of his ministry, Jesus spoke these words from the prophet Isaiah:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

Luke 4:18-19

Jesus literally brought the Kingdom of God into human history.  And when he saves us, he calls us to a life of creating Kingdom glimpses, just like he did.  But so many American Christians have never heard anything beyond, “Jesus died to save you from your sins.”  They’ve never heard that the other side of the gospel is living your life as a citizen of the Kingdom.  The other side of the gospel is bringing a foretaste of Heaven into the world around you.  The other side of the gospel is living like Jesus, giving your life to feed the hungry, care for the hurting, love the unlovely, encourage the discouraged, comfort the sick, and stand for those who have no other advocate.  The other side of the gospel is fighting for the rights of the oppressed.  It is using that raise you just got to help the poor.  It is using that spare time you have to volunteer at a local shelter.  It is going toe-to-toe with injustice.  It is not being okay with the fact that millions of children will die this year because they don’t have clean water.

“What?!?” you say.  “That’s not what I signed up for when I prayed that little prayer!”

You only heard and accepted half the gospel?  Join the club.  But I challenge you to read through Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John and see what Jesus spends most of his time doing and talking about.  I think you’ll discover there’s another side to the gospel.  And once you do, what are you going to do about it?

Two Witnesses, One Word

On December 21, I got to preach from the Gospel of John.  Both John the Apostle and John the Baptizer testified that Jesus, the Word who became flesh, was the Son of God, God himself who had become a human being.  This rather audacious claim that Jesus is God has to be addressed – it cannot be ignored!  Jesus will either be received or rejected; there is no middle ground.  What will you decide?