The Blog of Pastor Josh Jennings

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A Startling Revelation

Some weeks ago I was teaching in a Wednesday morning Bible study from Matthew chapter nine. ImageAs the group discussed verses 32-34 the Lord revealed something to me that has weighed heavy on my heart since that time. The verses state, And as they were going out, behold, a dumb man, demon-possessed, was brought to Him. And after the demon was cast out, the dumb man spoke; and the multitudes marveled, saying, “Nothing like this was ever seen in Israel.” But the Pharisees were saying, “He casts out the demons by the ruler of the demons.”

Now if you’re a Christian you probably have read and/or heard sermons on this passage that deal with the power of Christ to heal physical infirmities and cast out demons; or possibly the marvel of seeing something that had never been seen before; and maybe even the bitterness of the Pharisees in making false and unfounded allegations. You may have read these verses and wished that you could have lived in those days to see Jesus’ miracles during His earthly ministry. You probably have thought to yourself if you had lived back then you certainly would not have had the bitter and blind attitude of the Pharisees toward Jesus. Admittedly these are the things that I have heard and thought over the years growing up in the church culture. I will even take it a step further and mention that as a pastor I have challenged the church many times to see itself in the character of the Pharisees seeking to shed light on much of the legalism and loveless religion of our day. I suppose all of this is acceptable as far as it goes, but the Lord laid the weight of verse 34 on my heart in a fresh way that day, and it has spurred much self-reflection in my life.

As I read those words again, But the Pharisees were saying, “He casts out the demons by the ruler of the demons.”, after who knows how many times before, I immediately asked – how could they say this? Then in an overlapping thought I also asked – do I act like this? And at that moment the startling revelation came to me as I realized with a clarity that was almost too vivid to endure, I am a recovering Pharisee. Now, I still have not worked out all the implications of this statement, but I plan to flesh them out here on my blog as I continue to pursue the path of righteousness.

For now I encourage you to read Matthew 9:34 and ask – do I act like that?

New Opportunities Accentuate Old Challenges

On Sunday evening our congregation voted by a narrow margin to begin offering two distinct worship services on Sunday mornings. There is really nothing unusual about this new model for worship as there are many churches who now offer multiple worship services ranging from “seeker-sensitive” to “ancient” with every form of contemporary, blended, and traditional option between. It is however, unusual for this congregation, as well as this pastor. First, while this congregation has experienced multiple Sunday morning services before, they have never experienced offering two distinct services. Moreover, this pastor grew up in strongly traditional churches, and has pastored churches of the like. Nevertheless, realizing that personal comfort is not what builds the kingdom, and taking my lead from the Lord with the pseudo-approval of the congregation, we all will move forward for the glory of the Lord.

Now on the one hand this is a very exciting venture. Our location is affording us the opportunity to be the first church in our immediate area to offer this not-so-unique model for worship. The whole effort is going to provide more opportunities for more folks to use their gifts for the Lord in the ministry of the church. Moreover, folks who are most edified in one or the other of the contemporary or traditional modes of worship will have opportunity to attend that specific type of service. On the surface one is tempted to think that such a move will in fact finally make everyone happy. The truth is that as we led up to the vote of affirmation a number of folks asked me how anyone could be displeased with such a scenario when everyone is able to get what they want. However, if you’re reading this blog I feel confident that you know that all such thinking and reasoning is really little more than a day dream.

Actually, rather than completely solving the challenges we faced with disgruntled worshipers, I believe this new model has accentuated some of the old challenges we have dealt with for years. For example, like most churches we never seem to have too many nursery workers, children’s church teachers, greeters, ushers, and choir members. Yet now we will need twice as many nursery workers, children’s church teachers, greeters, and ushers. Moreover, we will have a smaller pool from which to find recruits for the choir. Wow, when I see all this in print yet again I am tempted to wonder myself why I would seek to lead a congregation down such a road. Then I remember the positive side of the coin.

Aside from offering more folks more opportunities to lead, and generating a context that dissolves barriers for those inside and outside the church to draw near to Christ in worship, we are also accentuating some of the old challenges we have struggled with for years. Areas of service that are too often neglected or taken for granted will now be magnified as more workers are needed. Moreover, as we rally around the effort of these new opportunities there will be, at least for a little while, a new excitement to serve the Lord in His church. So while we dare not start something new simply for the sake of doing something different, we do hope that there will be positive residual effects as new opportunities accentuate old challenges.

For His Glory…

Cussin’ the Devil

I was recently asked if it was okay to tell the devil to “go to hell.” It seems that someone of influence has said that the phrase is acceptable if spoken to the devil. While I am not certain of the context of this comment I offer the following food for thought.

First, no doubt some will say that the statement is acceptable because it is merely stating a fact; namely that the devil is in hell. However, this is not true. Though the devil will certainly end up in hell, the eternal lake of fire is not his current residence. Matthew 25:41 reports that at the end of time Jesus will say to the goats (unbelievers) Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels. The lake of fire (hell) will only be experienced after the final judgment. The account of this sentence on the devil can be seen in Revelation 20:10. In addition, Ephesians two speaks of the devil as the prince of the power of the air who is at work even now on earth – not ruling from hell (2:2; see also 1 Peter 5:8).

Next comes the argument that the phrase “go to hell” directed at the devil is simply proclaiming his certain destiny. Consider though the New Testament account of his demise in Revelation 19-20. In these chapters Christ is set forth as ruler over all and ultimate judge of everyone. This includes the devil as Revelation 20:10 claims, And the devil who deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are also; and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever. Such a proclamation of the devil’s destiny is actually blasphemous as Jesus Christ is the only one worthy to pass judgment – especially final judgment (Rom 12:19; Rev 20:11-15).

Third, it is illegitimate for believers to converse with the devil in the first place. James 4:7 urges believers to submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Did you see the first phrase of that verse? Everywhere we are told to seek Christ, draw near to Him, and commune with Him. Never are we told to face-off with the devil, and James in fact tells us to do the very opposite. Being willing to talk with the devil, even to tell him to “go to hell,” expecting him to leave you alone would be much like trying to run a cat off your property in the afternoon only to put more food out for the hungry feline in the morning. The devil is a great deceiver and if he can engage you in any way he knows he is likely to get you.

Finally, the Bible is very clear on the importance of our choosing words carefully. Jesus says in Matthew 12:36, But I tell you that every careless word that people speak, they shall give an accounting for it in the day of judgment. Paul urges the Colossians to let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person. In addition James is replete with references to watch and tame our tongue warning that to not do so is to show ourselves out of control.

So while it may seem cool to tell the devil to “go to hell,” I urge you to remember that this is not your responsibility. Moreover, to claim that it is acceptable to cuss the devil is to possibly cause young believers to stumble at best and to experience a great fall at worse. Let us all choose our words carefully so as to reflect the glory of the Lord rather than the angst of this world.

In Christ,

Pastor Josh

Whose Chains Do You Wear?

Sunday a week ago a young man with whom I have developed a great friendship came up to me after the early morning worship service. He had recently celebrated a birthday, and was in the middle of his football season. As always I offered him a fist bump for a greeting and began to ask how he was doing. I asked all about his birthday and what he had be given for that special day. I also asked him how the football season was going and if he was enjoying himself in the sport. After all this frivolous chit-chat he looked at me and said, “Pastor Josh, you know how much I love Jesus?” I naturally responded with, “how much?” He then told me something that I will never forget; he said, “I love Jesus so much I will be His slave.” WOW! What do we say to this kind of commitment to Christ?

As much as I hate to admit it I think this young man may have an understanding of what it means to be one of God’s children that even the most revered church members do not possess. Sure we have church statesmen that are trusted leaders. We also can claim that we have “godly” teachers who know the Bible and explain it so eloquently. But we rarely hear someone claim that they will be a slave to Christ. Such a commitment means that we give up all rights to our own life handing them over permanently to the Lord. We no longer merely aspire to be successful in our own endeavors in a civilized way, but we only pursue the endeavors that the Lord lays before us. We can no longer be satisfied with knowing what the Bible says and being able to explain it clearly, but must obey it out of a sense of duty to our master and His glory (yes I said duty). We are compelled to lose our very identity as others begin to see Christ in us.

I have to agree with the old saying that we are all a slave to something. I wonder today whose chains do you wear? Are you bound by the shackles of this world seeking to advance yourself in your career, build a large retirement nest egg, and be known by many for great success? Do you wear the chains of some other person (known or unknown to him/her) who you envy or long to obtain approval? Or are you irresistibly enslaved to Christ who loved you enough to suffer and die for your forgiveness; who rescued you from the domain of darkness that you might be made a child of the King; who offers you an easy yoke and an light load?

May we all as God’s children have the insight of that second-grader and be willing to daily deny ourselves, pick up our crosses, and live as slaves whose master is the King of kings.

In Christ,

Pastor Josh

I’ll Have What He’s Having!

I suppose I am like most folks when it comes to the fact that I like what I like and I want what I want. Moreover, I will be honest enough to admit that the way I know a lot of what I like and a great deal of what I want is by seeing what other people have. I may like to have a new truck when a friend pulls into the driveway to show me his new purchase. I could sense a desire for a new television when I visit friends and see the massive screen hanging on their living room wall. I have even been known to want certain food as I casually walk through a restaurant scanning the plates of complete strangers on my way to my own table. I am sure that I am not the only one who has this experience as I hear many people describe the desires of their hearts by explaining what someone else has.

The Lord obviously knew this about us also, and He addresses the issue in His word. Psalm 37:4 states, Delight yourself in the Lord; and He will give you the desires of your heart. Now this psalm of David deals specifically with those who wonder why the wicked seem to get all the benefits while God’s people are always pleading for justice (note v. 1 where he urges not to fret over or envy the wicked). However, I believe v. 4 could have a wide range of application for us moderns. What I love about the verse is that it forces me to check the motivation for the desires of my heart. In a cursory glance it may seem that the Lord simply stands ready to give me whatever I like (Lord, I deeply desire a red corvette, a huge television, and the latest game system). Yet there is a condition put upon this promise of the Lord granting our hearts desires – it comes in the beginning of the verse: Delight yourself in the Lord. You see when we seek the Lord through reading His word, spending time in prayer, enjoying fellowship with His people, and the like, our desires then become less about the material things that we see others possessing. Instead our desires begin to be more about the spiritual things the Lord wants for us. So rather than trying to manipulate the Lord into giving us what we want selfishly, our Lord bends our will to match His own and gives us the things that we most desperately need to be faithful to Him.

Therefore, next time you think to yourself “I’ll have what he’s having,” check your desires by making sure that you are wanting what the Lord wants.

In Christ,

Pastor Josh

The Context of Covenant

The other day I was reading in George Guthrie’s wonderful commentary on Hebrews when I ran across a sentence that I have found most helpful. In explaining how we cannot treat God’s grace as frivolous Guthrie states, “[God’s] grace must be received and enjoyed in the context of covenant.” I want to put everyone’s mind at ease by saying that this is not a new theological revelation for me. I have always believed the truth of this statement. However, these words have given me a summation helpful to share with others as I talk with them about the nature of grace, the life of faith, and the Lord’s expectations of us as His people.

Consider if you will someone comes to you and begins to share what a mess his life is. He shares how he has become addicted to gambling and spends all of his family’s income trying to get the big win. He shares how this has put stress on his marriage and he and his wife rarely speak, let alone communicate, anymore. He goes on to tell how he never sees his children as he is always away from home gambling their livelihood away. Finally he mentions almost nonchalantly how he has begun to take pills to help him function since he rarely sleeps anymore. Now think of all this coming from someone who grew up in going to church, has completed all the church programs, and claims to be a born-again Christian.

It can be difficult to convince this man, or even one who is not a professing Christian, that his profession of faith in Christ seems to have been false. He has been told for a lifetime that his willingness to repeat a prayer and acknowledge Christ as God’s Son and Savior of the world is enough to save him. He has heard over and over that you do not have to DO anything to be saved as salvation is a free gift, and moreover that the Lord will receive anyone who will come to Him. He notes how he is looking for answers to real problems and all you want to discuss is how his eternity is insecure because he is not DOING good things. Yet this is the problem of cheapening God’s grace.

This man needs to see that God’s grace, while free, must be obtained on His terms rather than our own. To receive God’s grace we must enter into covenant with Him. What does this mean? Well think of the covenants that you know about: a marriage covenant, God’s covenant with Noah, His covenant with Abram, and the list could go on of contracts that we and others enter into with one another or with the Lord. The point is that to be in covenant with someone we must have a relationship with that one. Moreover, within that relationship there are expectations of faithfulness rather than betrayal. The same is true with our covenant of salvation with the Lord. His grace is free as we come with nothing to offer but disobedience and rebellion. Yet when the Lord forgives us, washing us clean by the blood of His Son Jesus Christ, He expects us to be faithful to Him.  Therefore, “[God’s] grace must be received and enjoyed in the context of covenant,” or relationship with Him. When we turn our back on this relationship with Him, or covenant, then we turn our back on His grace and ultimately our salvation is proved to be a farce.

Are you living in the context of covenant today?

In Christ,

Pastor Josh

Do Not Touch

Last week our congregational Bible study passage was 1 Chronicles 13. This is a fairly familiar Old Testament story though many are uncertain of the truths to be gleaned from it.  The main event of the chapter is found in verses 9-10 where Uzza reaches up to steady the ark of God as it seems in danger of toppling off the ox-drawn cart. As soon as his hand touches the ark God strikes him dead. This most tragic scene interrupts a context of great joy and celebration.  The text notes that David and the others had placed the ark of God on a new cart, likely in hopes of not having “car trouble” as it were.  As they transported the ark the text notes that David and the others worshiped with all their might, evidently with music, singing, and dancing.  It is not hard to understand how the Uzza incident could effect David in a negative way.  In fact, if we are honest most of us would react like David with anger toward and fear of God. After all, how could God do such a thing to someone who was merely looking out for the well being of that which represented God’s presence with His people?  Surely Uzza’s act was not so scandalous that it mandated his death – or was it?

The truth is that the whole effort is couched in disobedience. The ark of God was never meant to be put on a cart of any kind. Rather it was made to have poles inserted into rings along the side and then to be carried by the priests in whose charge it was placed (see Exodus 25:10-15). Had the people been obedient to transport the ark according to God’s command there would have been not scandal or disruption in the joyous occasion.  Keep in mind that the return of the ark of God was a great blessing, not intended by Him to be draped in scandal. However, when the excitement of God’s blessing overwhelmed David, and others, to the point that they did not follow the Lord’s instructions disaster followed. We must be careful that we receive and enjoy God’s blessings as He intends them lest in our excitement we sin against the Lord our God, make light of His instructions and expectations and reap terrible consequences. I challenge you to consider how you have misused or mishandled the Lord’s blessings in your life. What are the potential consequences?

In Christ,

Pastor Josh