Category Archives: Jesus

Taste and See

October 18, 2015

As I have been thinking about I John 1:1 (I’ll talk more about that in my sermon today), I was reminded of Psalm 34:8, “Taste and see that the LORD is good; blessed is the man who takes refuge in him.” In both places the writers invite us to know for ourselves, to experience in our own lives the reality and existence of Jesus and of God. It is an invitation that I want to extend to you too.

John tells us in his letter that he and the other apostles proclaim what they have experienced personally. In other words, they know what they are talking about. That is the reason he is writing this letter we call 1 John. He is telling us what he experienced so that we can experience its reality too.

The writer of Psalm 34 extends a similar challenge to us, taste and see for ourselves. He knows that the Lord is good and he wants us to know it too. In both cases the message begins with a personal experience. It starts with ME before it can be spread to others. What has been YOUR personal experience with God? In John’s words, have you reached out to touch Jesus?

For some of us, we need to think back to times when we have indeed tasted God’s goodness to us. He answered prayer. He brought us through hardship and trouble. He guided our steps with almost miraculous timing and intricacy. He gave us wonderful gifts that we did not deserve and did not appreciate until we looked back later in life. How long has it been since you have looked back on your life and noticed God’s hand in it? If it has been too long, take time this week, maybe in private, to savor again the taste of God’s goodness, to feel again His touch.

For some of us, we have no experience upon which to look. We have not tasted of God’s goodness, we have not touched His presence.   If that is true of you, then I would issue this challenge… ask God to touch your life, ask Him to show you His goodness.

But I need to give you a warning too. When you ask, ask with humility and with sincerity. Ask, not because you deserve such a taste. Ask not because you dare Him to touch you. He is the creator of the universe. You cannot order Him around like some kind of spiritual servant. He knows your heart. He sees your motives. If you will humble yourself, if you will sincerely desire Him to work in your life, then open your heart and ask for His work. Ask that you, like the writer of Psalm 34, might taste for yourself His goodness.

After you ask, open your spiritual eyes and be ready. I do not know what the Lord will do, but I suspect He will surprise you. In fact, you may never be the same.

Feeding the Poor

October 11, 2015

Feeding the poor is something that has been on God’s heart since the beginning of Israel. When God delivered the descendents of Abraham from slavery in Egypt, He gave them laws upon which to build their nation. Among those laws were provisions for the poor to collect food from the fields alongside those who owned and worked the fields. (Remember the story of the book of Ruth?) As the nation matured, giving financial help to the poor and disabled was an important part of their life of faith.

Among the first generation of Christian believers, remembering the poor was an important part of living out their trust in Jesus (see Galatians 2:10). In fact, Paul’s final missionary journey among the churches he helped to establish was in part to collect an offering for the believers in Jerusalem who were poor (see Acts 24:17). This journey to bring money to the poor ended up in Paul’s arrest and eventual trip as a prisoner to Rome. Helping those who are poor has been important in God’s economy from the very beginning.

There could be lots of other biblical references that underline this principle, but if we assume its truth, there is still a vexing question. How do we do it?

At first glance, it might seem that we just hand over some of our money (or food or other resources) to those who do not have enough. Is not that what Paul did, took up an offering and then delivered it to the people in Jerusalem who needed it? I am not so sure.

While it might seem to be a nice gesture, just handing someone some extra money is not as helpful as it might look like. Like many things in life, really helping people is not so simple. Even God’s gracious forgiveness is not just handed out, it was purchased by Jesus on the cross. Forgiveness was costly. Its cost helps us to understand its great value. We do not take our forgiveness for granted when we think of the cost.

In fact, if we look a bit deeper, we see that even Paul’s collection for the poor in Jerusalem was not just handed out, it was delivered to the church leaders. Paul put the gifts from Christians all across Asia, Macedonia, and Achaia into the hands of church leaders. They were the ones who knew best how to use it to help the poor.

We can do that too. Our Global Hunger Relief funds will be used by missionaries and other church leaders all around the world to help the poor. While I am not wise enough to go to Southeast Asia or Africa and distribute financial help to relieve hunger, we have missionaries and churches who can. They are on the scene. They know what to do. They see the need first hand. This money goes 100% into the hands of church leaders who are in place to serve. It is our chance to equip them to meet those needs.

Global Hunger Relief is important. Let’s do it!

A Unique Friendship

October 4, 2015

Many of you know that a dear childhood friend of mine has recently been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Unless the Lord touches his life, Wes has only a few months to live. In fact, he is already spending most of his day in bed. Although I have experienced the death of many good friends and family, I was not prepared for the emotional impact that Wes’ cancer has had on me. I can hardly think about it without tears and sometimes I cannot speak because of the emotional grip on my vocal cords.

As I thought about it, I realized that Wes as been a very close friend of mine for all of my life. We first met in the Nursery Sunday School class in the church we both grew up attending. We were youth together in that church, including participating in many church activities and ministries. We went to high school together (although Wes was a year younger than me). We attended college together, carpooling the daily drive for most of those years. I worked on the family farm of Wes’ family and we even worked the same part time job together, cleaning the shop floor of an Oldsmobile dealer.

Wes and I were both married about the same time in life and both felt called to be pastors. We both attended seminary (although we went to different schools) and our kids are about the same ages.

About two years after I was called to pastor in Devils Lake, ND, Wes was called to pastor in North Dakota too (an Evangelical Free Church in Wilton). Then, when I came here to be the pastor, it was not long before Wes moved his family to a rural church near St. Cloud. Wes was the pastor there for 24 years before resigning about a year ago.

In all those years, Wes and I shared many phone calls, visits, letters, emails, sermons, and most of all the common challenges of pastoring similarly sized churches. It is no exaggeration to say that Wes and I have shared life for 60 years. We have shared life more closely than most brothers ever have a chance to share life. When I thought about it this past week, I realized how truly amazing that gift from God was for me.

I went to see Wes on Friday. Our 2½ hour visit flew by. We talked about the life we have shared. We talked about heaven and the amazing life that heaven promises to us. I read to him at his request and as he grew tired, I read to Wes from the Bible, II Corinthians 4 and 5. “Now we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands… so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life…God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” As I finished that last verse, Wes said AMEN. You see, that is the Good News, Jesus took our sin, so that we might receive His righteousness and the hope of an eternal home in Heaven. What a hope! Amen, thank you, Jesus!

God the Forgiver

July 26, 2015

There are some verses in the Bible that we simply MUST know. The truth they convey is so important and so practical, that without them, we would surely wander down the wrong road of life.

Some of those MUST KNOW verses are personal. That is to say they are different for each person. Our personalities, our unique experiences, and our specific needs are addressed in the Bible and once we discover what God has to say to those personal needs and challenges, we hold onto those words for LIFE. They are our personal MUST KNOW verses. What are some of your personal MUST KNOW verses? How have those verses helped you?

But, there are some verses that are MUST KNOW verses for everyone. They address needs we ALL have. They speak to a universal condition. These MUST KNOW verses keep us from wrong turns and faulty logic.

One of those MUST KNOW verses for everyone is I John 1:9. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”

This is a MUST KNOW verse because all of us need God’s forgiveness. John said it this way, “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.” (1:8) I must face reality. I am a sinner. In finding forgiveness my part is to CONFESS. Admit I am a sinner. No excuses. No explanations. No blame. I will never find the forgiveness I need if I do not confess my sins.

Confession is humiliating. It usually comes out of brokenness and failure. It is always personal and often specific. I must call my actions SINS, when God has called them sins. But, confession is also freeing, releasing and welcome. When I confess, there is a fresh openness in my life and in my heart. Confession is good for the soul because it sets us up for God’s forgiveness.

God says IF we confess, then HE forgives.   His forgiveness is faithful, we can depend on it. He will forgive without any strings attached. I can count on God’s forgiveness, my part is confession, His part is forgiveness.

God’s forgiveness is also just. My sins have been punished, their debt is paid. It was paid by Jesus on the cross. He died the death my sins deserved. So, when God forgives me, that forgiveness is righteous because the debt of sin is covered by the death of Jesus on the cross.

Finally, when God forgives, He also purifies. He makes us clean. He works in my life to make forgiveness active and effective. It makes a difference.

Can you see why this is a MUST KNOW verse? Have you experienced God’s forgiveness? If not, there is no better day than today. Confess and receive His forgiveness.

True Freedom

July 5, 2015

For many years (more than 40 years) one of my guiding verses comes from John 8:31-32. “To the Jew who had believed in him, Jesus said, ‘if you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples.   Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.’”

Those who heard Jesus make this statement were affronted. “We are Abraham’s descendents and have never been slaves of anyone,” they challenged. We who live in the United States might reply in similar words, “We are Americans, we are already free.”

In response, Jesus made it clear that he was talking about a different kind of freedom, freedom from slavery to sin. Jesus claims that He can set us free from bondage to sin. AND, He can give us a permanent place in God’s family, the family of our Heavenly Father.

In John 8 Jesus’ discussion turned into an argument (at least a one sided argument) with the Jews who heard Jesus’ words, calling him demon-possessed and picking up stones to kill Him.

As I reflect on this story from the gospel of John, I see a lot of parallels to our time. God has given us His Word (including the things Jesus taught) and if we will live in the way His Word says, we too will be freed from slavery to sin. That freedom comes from Jesus’ forgiveness, but it also comes from making choices/decisions based on the truth in God’s Word (“All scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness” II Tim 3:16).   When we live our lives according to God’s Word, we can live freed from bondage to sin.

However in today’s American culture, we think freedom is to opportunity to do whatever we want, without consequences. We also think that we can take away many unpleasant consequences to our choices by simply changing laws and forcing silence on those who disagree with us. We think we can make our own freedom from sin, by simply denying that such sin exists.

While it might feel like freedom for a short time, in the end we will discover that calling slavery to sin “freedom” does not make it any less slavery. To find real freedom, we need to listen to Jesus’ teaching, seek His forgiveness, and then learn how to live in the true freedom of God’s family.

We do no one a favor by ignoring the reality of sin, nor by labeling sinful behavior as OK. But we also do no one a favor by condemning their sinfulness with indignation. Instead, we need to live and speak the GOOD NEWS. All have sinned and come short of God’s glory. But, our sins can be forgiven, we can become part of God’s eternal family. In that family, our feet can walk a new kind of life. A life that follows Jesus’ teaching and discovers true FREEDOM. Oh, may that be our message – true freedom.

Were You There?

April 5, 2015

A popular Easter song is the old Negro spiritual, “Were You There?” Have you ever wondered about its meaning?

Were you there when they crucified my Lord?

Were you there when they nailed Him to the tree?

Were you there when they laid Him in the tomb?

Were you there when He rose up from the grave?

In answer to that question, one could say, “It all happened a long time ago, how could I have been there?” But, there is good – biblical – logic in saying, “Yes, I was there.”

First we were all there, because the reason for Jesus’ death was our sin. Not just the sins of the “world” (some unknown quantity of unknown people), but MY SINS. MY SINS put Jesus on the cross. MY SINS caused His suffering. MY SINS required a payment – a propitiation – before God. The death of Jesus was all about MY SIN. Yes, I was there.

Secondly, we should say we were there because we have eye witness accounts of the events. In the Bible we can read exactly what happened and know what took place. In fact, because we have them recorded in God’s Word, we know more about Jesus’ death and resurrection than those living in Jerusalem during those days. Out of the tens of thousands of people in Jerusalem during that Passover, only a small number actually saw what happened with their own eyes. Only a few took part. Most people were totally oblivious to Jesus’ death even though it occurred just a few miles away. Today, we have a better and more complete picture of those events than even the disciples with Jesus (after all, they were hiding away in fear). Yes, we were there, God’s Word takes us there and gives us a front row seat to all that happened.

Were you there? The biblical answer is “YES.” You were there, but you can choose not to believe it. You can turn your back on what Jesus did and pretend it is all fiction. But, if you do that, you will miss out on life’s greatest gift and the reason for His suffering will be lost in your unbelief.

These last four Sundays I have challenged us to take a “front row seat” to the Easter events. We would feel the disciples intimidation and danger. We would watch the religious leaders try to hold on to their power and their nation (even though they eventually lost it all). We would see Pilot discover that the Father is actually the One in control and because of that Jesus lays down His life. Yes, we were there. Easter is not just about the past, it is about us today! Let it change our lives just like it changed the lives of those first witnesses.

Is Jesus Really King?

March 29, 2015

Through the years I have preached many Palm Sunday sermons. One that I remember quite well was my first Palm Sunday message. I titled it, “Is Jesus Really King?” (I remember it because it was the first message I preached at First Baptist Church in Devils Lake, ND.) Since that time, I have taken that theme many times because I think it captures much of the emotion of Jesus’ Triumphal entry into Jerusalem on the Sunday before His crucifixion. In fact, I think Jesus’ disciples were asking that very question as they watched the Palm Sunday events unfold.

The short answer to my homiletic question is, YES, Jesus really is King! The crowd used those words, “King of Israel,” “Son of David.” They shouted and waved their hands in joy and praise. They also put their cloaks, branches and Palm leaves on the ground for Jesus to walk on.

Jesus also accepted their praise and encouraged it. He rode a colt through the crowd for all to see (much like a famous person would ride in a limacine today).   When some criticized His acceptance of this praise, Jesus declared that if the crowd was quiet, “the rocks would cry out” (Luke 19:40). Many times in Jesus’ ministry and miracles, He told people to be quiet about what they saw. This time, He encouraged and promoted the praise.

YES, Jesus really is King! There is no clearer message in what happened on Palm Sunday.

BUT, the rest of the story seems to call Jesus’ royalty into question. He is betrayed, arrested, falsely accused and then condemned to execution, all with His complete knowledge and acceptance. Just days after His “coronation,” He hangs on a cross, executed because He accepted the recognition as King. Yes, Jesus really is King, BUT He is King of a different Kingdom (just as He told Pilate in John 18:36).

It is still very easy to misunderstand Jesus’ Kingship. Just like the Jews, our problem begins when we assume we know what kind of King Jesus should be. We make up our minds that Jesus should fill a certain role and then we ignore the things He does that do not fit the role we imagine for Him. The Jews did it in the 1st century and we still do it today. Jesus was NOT always nice. Jesus turned people away. Jesus confronted the most religious people He met. Jesus did not coddle His disciples but put them into difficult situations.

This week, the week leading up to Easter, will you lay down your image of Jesus and ask Him to reveal Himself to you in fresh ways? Will you read His story from the gospels and let yourself see things that you have ignored before? Will you give Him authority in your life to shape and mold you into something that is HIS image, not yours? Ask yourself this week, is Jesus really King?

First Things First

January 25, 2015

We have all heard the expression, “first things first.” I think it is a good guide about many matters in life. Like many good modern proverbs, it is short, sweet and its turn of the phrase makes it easy to remember. Had Paul lived in our time and culture, he probably would have said this in I Cor 15:3. It might have come out something like this, “Friends, as I close my letter, let me remind you to keep first things first in your faith.”

Our Christian faith speaks to many important issues in life. This might be a surprise to some because Christianity is about 2,000 years old. [In fact its roots in Judaism go back at least another 2,000 years.] Christianity has had a major role in shaping our lives today. Many of the things we take for granted in modern life are rooted in Christianity. Scientific discoveries, public and higher education, modern democracy, the abolishment of slavery, fair labor practices, and many other social and political principles are born out of a Christian world view and the values upon which that is founded.

I am proud to be a Christian and to know that the faith I value so highly is honorable and praiseworthy. BUT, if we are not careful, our Christian faith will become a reason and a guide for doing good and we can forget to put first things first.

What is the first thing about Christian faith? Paul tells us, “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared (to many alive).” (I Cor 15:3-4) Our Christian faith is about many good things, but FIRST of all, it is about Jesus Christ’s death on the cross for our sins. His death atoned for our sins, paying our debt before God so that we could be forgiven and brought back into a right relationship with God. AND, that Jesus did not stay dead, He rose from the dead, alive again and promising that one day we too will share in His resurrection.

We must never let many good things overshadow that most important thing, Jesus’ death and resurrection. Without this foundation, Christianity is just another religion or philosophy. It is this foundation that gives each of us personal hope. It is this foundation that declares death is NOT the end. It is this foundation that promises whatever we do for our Lord Jesus, will never be forgotten. It is this foundation that has given believers the strength to stand against tyranny, persecution, and evil knowing that in the end, the Lord Jesus will reign.

These are wise words, “put first things first.” But like many wise words, they are easy to say, but difficult to do. I need to ask, what are my most important things? Is my faith about doing good things, or about what Jesus has done for me?

Your pastor,

Dude Garrett