From The Pastor's Desk
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by Paul Lundgren | October 29, 2017
1. Takes sin seriously
Grace is not simply a sentiment or attitude in God. It is God's concrete response to human sin. This means a proper understanding of grace depends on a prior, proper understanding of sin and the human predicament.
If we attend church to feel good about ourselves or to learn some tips on how to live better, we are missing the point. Such attitudes indicate that we see the human problem as one of human psychology or a lack of real knowledge. We fail to see where the real issue lies. Until we see sin as the problem, we won't understand the nature of God's prescribed solution. No grace-filled church will be unclear about the problem grace is meant to address.
2. Takes Christ seriously
If sin is the problem, grace is not simply God's benevolent decision to ignore it and pretend the fall never happened. Grace in the Bible, and among the greatest exponents of grace in the history of theology, is embodied in the Lord Jesus Christ. Grace is God's action to deal with sin, in Christ and in the application of Christ to the individual by the Holy Spirit.
A grace-alone church will not just talk about grace; she will talk about Christ. If we speak of grace without speaking the name of Christ, we are not speaking biblically of grace. In the Bible, grace is so intimately connected to Christ that Christless talk is graceless talk.
3. Takes corporate worship seriously
For the Reformers - as for the early church and medieval fathers - the gathering of the visible church was important. In fact, we can say it was the most important thing for them. Certainly, it was so important for the medievals largely because of their high sacramentalism, something the Reformers rejected. But even so, the Reformers believed that the church is God's creation, and that it is the place where grace is found through the proclamation of God's Word and the administration of the sacraments.
We live in an age in which church is often regarded as an optional add-on to the Christian faith, or as a place we go to learn the Bible, to make some good friends - a context for social interaction. A church that takes grace alone seriously knows that while all those things may be true, the primary reason we go to church is to receive God's grace through the Word and sacraments. It is with the gathering of saints on the Lord's Day that we receive what we need, strengthening us to go about our daily callings for the rest of the week.
by Paul Lundgren | October 9, 2017
For many years, it was believed that there was a stiff separation between the sacred and the seclar. Priests, monks, and nuns could serve the Lord by doing "Spiritual work," but the average, everyday person was thought to be doing merely "temporal work," while those who did lay jobs were doing worldly work.
It's not hard to see which is more valuable.
But Luther turned all of this on its head. He read verses like 1 Peter 2:5, which says, "You yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ." From this he taught that each Christian, whether he or she is a Pope or a painter, is a holy priest. Luther wrote, "There is no true, basic difference between laymen and priests, princes and bishops, between religious and secular, exept for the sake of office and work, but not for the sake of status. They are all of the spiritual estate, all are truly priests have the same work to do."
The takeaway is simple: everyone can and must serve the Lord in whatever their vocation. You don't have to preach sermons or go to seminary. Everything, from writing computer code to pounding nails, can and should be done "to the glory of God alone."
God is simply honored when work is done well. Colossians 3:23-24 says, "Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ." All work can be done for God and his glory.
One man who serves as an example to us all is Johann Sebastian Bach. Bach was a strong Lutheran born 167 years after the reformation. It was customary for a composer to initial the bottom of each composition. But instead of the J.S.B. you would expect, Bach would sign each composition, "S.D.G." Soli Deo Gloria! Everything done to the glory of God alone!
May everything we do in our work be stamped "S.D.G." Every diaper changed, every order delivered, every email sent is done for God's glory.
Lord give us eyes to see our work in this way!
by Laura Lundgren | October 2, 2017
I enjoyed cooking for about one month of my life. I was a young wife, confident that marriage would suddenly transform me into someone who enjoyed baking homemade bread and roasting chickens. But once I started my first teaching job--a demanding course load at a school that was over an hour away from our apartment in Eau Claire--my enthusiasm faded fast.
I made meals rather grudgingly for many years, until my imagination was stirred by The Supper of the Lamb, an unusual theological cookbook by an Anglican priest. Robert Farrar Capon caught me by surprise with his enthusiasm for food. He spent an entire chapter of the book contemplating an onion, describing how the paper-thin layers of dry and brittle onion-skin do not prepare you for the unavoidable assault on your senses that occurs when you discover the watery juices inside. He saw every food as a reflection of God’s delight in creation and his generosity towards us. Capon taught me how to appreciate an onion, and indirectly, how to reconsider all the common ingredients I was getting tired of storing, preparing, consuming, and replacing.
Then I followed that book by reading Tim Chester’s A Meal With Jesus. Chester taught me to look at the Bible again and recognize how central food and eating were to the story God unfolds. The Bible, I realized, begins in a garden and ends with a marriage feast, and in between there is food all over: manna from heaven and a passover lamb and miraculous surpluses of fish and loaves (not to mention the Last Supper.)
Chester celebrates how important food was to Jesus’ ministry--how he multiplied bread to show his power over creation and how he broke bread to demonstrate his willingness to fellowship with tax collectors and prostitutes. I was transformed by Chester’s call to see food as “gift, generosity, grace.” Jesus reclining at the table of friends is such a shocking picture of grace. God, the gracious host of our planet, receiving hospitality as a guest. Jesus, the righteous and eternal one, with feet that need washing and a belly that needs filling. The Son of God at the table with the least of these. What a surprising way to envision our Lord and Savior.
I’m probably still better at writing about food than I am at cooking it. But I get excited when I remember that we can have so many of our physical and spiritual needs met at a dinner table.
All that to say, I hope you’ll take advantage of our Three for Three fellowships this fall. We long to see everyone at Gateway grow in grace through fellowship, and often times the best friendships begin over a shared meal. Something powerful happens when we come to the table with gratitude and generosity.
I can imagine all the reasons you might use to excuse yourself from signing up: the time and energy and expense it takes to prepare a meal worthy of guests is intimidating, and the effort it takes to align schedules can be daunting. But I hope you’ll lay aside all of the excuses when you consider how much there is to gain from our time together in fellowship. (If you do feel there’s something that would truly prevent you from participating, let us know as we can almost always find ways to accommodate!) We all have much to learn both by giving and receiving hospitality, and much to gain from time spent in the company of brothers and sisters in Christ.
by Paul Lundgren | September 26, 2017
In today’s sermon we’re going to hear a bit about the testimony of Nabeel Qureshi, a man who converted from Islam to become a follower of Christ. The process was long and painful, but as he persistently studied the evidence for each belief, he came to the conclusion that Jesus was indeed the Son of God who died and rose again. As you would expect, this completely changed his life, but it also forever changed how he saw others. Listen to the moment when he first saw someone in a new light; perhaps it will help us to see people the same way. He said:
Then I saw something that I had seen countless times before; a man walking down the sidewalk toward the medical school.
But that was not all I saw. Though I had no idea who this man was, I knew he had a dramatic story, replete with personal struggles, broken relationships, and splintered self-worth. Taught by the world that he was an outcome of blind evolution, he subconsciously valued himself as exactly that: a byproduct of random chance, with no purpose, no hope, no meaning except what pleasure he could extract out of the day. Chasing these pleasures resulted in guilt and pain, which caused him to chase more pleasure, which led to more guilt and more pain. Burying it all just beneath the surface, he went about his day with no clue how to break the cycle, hoe to find true hope.
What I saw was a man who needed to know that God could rescue him, that God had rescued him. This man needed to know about God and His power.
Did he know? Did he know that God loved him from the foundation of the earth? With a power far exceeding the immensity of the cosmos, He turned all His attention to creating that man and declared, “You are My child. I love you.”
Did he know that God made him exactly how He wanted, knowing each hair on his head and each second of his life? God knew full well that the hands He gave to this man would be used to sin against Him, that the feet He gave to this man would be used to walk away from Him. Yet, instead of withholding these gifts, He gave him the most precious gift of all: His own Son.
Did he know that God entered into this world, to suffer in his stead? Received with slaps and fits by the very people He came to save, He was scourged until His skin fell off in ribbons, only to be pierced through both arms and feet, nailed naked on wood for all to ridicule? He scraped His skinless back on splintered wood with each rasping breath, His last breath finishing the task of rescuing us, securing our eternity with Him.
Did he know? Of course not. We have to tell him.
While I was wallowing in self-pity, focused on myself, there was a whole world with literally billions of people who had no idea who God is, how amazing He is, and the wonders He has done for us. They are the ones who are really suffering. They don’t know His hope, His peace, and His love that transcends all understanding. They don’t know the message of the gospel.
After loving us with the most humble life and the most horrific death, Jesus told us, “As I have loved you, go and love one another. “How could I consider myself a follower of Jesus if I was not willing to live as He lived. To die as He die? To love the unloved and give hope to the hopeless?
This is not about me. It is about Him and His love for His children.
Now I knew what it meant to follow God. It meant walking boldly by His Spirit of grace and love, in the firm confidence of everlasting life given through the Son, with the eternal purpose of proclaiming and glorifying the Father.
Now I had found Jesus.
by Paul Lundgren | July 11, 2017
Some of you understand this all too well. You can’t enjoy a good thing because you’re worried it’s not the best thing. You’re trying to be overly righteous. If this is you, let me submit to you a five-step plan to help you enjoy life.
- Glory in the grace of God that is yours through faith in Christ. When we attempt to be “overly righteous” we unwittingly show that our faith in God’s grace is underdeveloped. We might sing songs in church proclaiming that we are forgiven and we might talk in Bible studies about how Jesus washes us clean of sin, but our obsession with perfection reveals that we are still trying to earn the love of God, others, and ourselves. But rather than destroy ourselves with guilt we are to glory in the gift of grace that God extended to us “apart from works (Ephesians 2:9) and “while we were still sinners” (Romans 5:8). Sing hymns, memorize Bible verses, do anything and everything that will remind you to celebrate that God simply loves you because he loves you. It’s not for what you do or how well you do it. It’s grace.
- Pray for the power to enjoy the gifts God has given you. As we saw a couple weeks ago, Solomon says the worst thing imaginable is to have gifts from God but no power to enjoy them (6:2). God wants you to enjoy the gifts he’s given you. He doesn’t want you to worship them or put too much stock in them, but he does want you to enjoy them. So pray for his power to enjoy what you have. Pray that he will make you content.
- Give yourself permission to enjoy yourself. Even if it might not be the best possible use of your time, prepare yourself to enjoy good things for what they are, and don’t overthink life. Everything needs to be done in moderation of course; however, more often than not, give yourself permission to enjoy yourself. If you don’t you will probably destroy yourself with anxiety, guilt, and inadequacy.
- Enjoy yourself. Laugh, eat, dance, sing, run, create, talk…enjoy the activities and work that God has given you. As Solomon said in Ecclesiastes 5:19, “Everyone also to whom God has given wealth and possessions and power to enjoy them, and to accept his lot and rejoice in his toil—this is the gift of God.” If we were to make this an equation it would say good things + contentment + good work = enjoyment of life. Enjoy the good things for what they are: gifts from God.
- Thank God for your enjoyment. When you’re done enjoying it, thank God for it. James 1:17 says, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above.” Every good thing you have, even the everyday gifts—which may not maximize your righteousness—are a gift from above. So thank him for giving you the gift and for giving you the power to enjoy that gift.
So for those of you who are recovering perfectionists, I hope this helps you enjoy life a little more.
by Paul Lundgren | June 12, 2017
You often say money is a “revealer of the heart” and “entry into the heart.” How so?
I like to use the analogy of a window and a door here. When I say money is a revealer of the heart, I mean it acts as a window that we can look through to see the deepest desires of our hearts. Likewise, when I say money is an entry into the heart, I mean it acts as a door that, when opened, releases our hearts to find freedom, contentment, and joy in our finances….
I often tell people that if you show me your checkbook, I can show you your priorities. This is the window. If we take the next step and allow God’s Word to shape our priorities and enter our hearts, we can actually move our hearts to treasure new things. Changing the flow of our money will change the attention and loves of our hearts.
Why is it hard for Christians to think of financial stewardship as an aspect of discipleship?
Many Christians want to separate any discussion of money from their spiritual lives…. But this mentality arises from a failure to understand that all that we have is God’s, including our money. Psalm 24:1 says, “The earth is the LORD’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein.” If everything we have is God’s, then we are stewards of his money (not ours) and we’ll have to give an account to him of how we used it.
How can Christians save for the future while also trying to increase their giving?
Priorities. The only way to increase giving and to save for the future is by establishing priorities. To set priorities, we must understand there are really only four ways we can spend our money. I call them: “Live, Give, Owe, Grow.” Most people begin by allocating their money to the “Owe” category by paying off debt and taxes, then they move to the “Live” category and spend on their lifestyle. Finally, if there’s anything left over, they look at “Give” and “Grow” (giving and saving). On the other hand, the Bible tells us that the most productive uses of our money are “Give” and “Grow,” the required uses of money are the debt and taxes of “Owe,” and only after these are taken care of should the “Live” category be considered.
There’s no financial silver bullet. The only silver bullet around is creating and then maintaining a financial habit or discipline, motivated by financial goals and priorities. Begin by prayerfully asking the question, “Lord, what would you have me do in my financial life?”
What’s the most important thing pastors should teach their churches about finances?
Teach them what Paul said in the greatest support letter ever written: “I seek not what is yours but you” (2 Cor. 12:14). Teach them that the reason they need to know what the Bible says about money isn’t merely to meet the needs of the local church, but to become free from the hold money has on their hearts and lives.
Money is a cruel master. The Bible has much to say about it—more than 2,300 verses are about money, and 16 of Jesus’s 38 parables deal with it. Additionally, much of what is written about money warns of its dangers. Ecclesiastes 5:10 says, “He who loves money will not be satisfied with money, nor he who loves wealth with his income.” Yet despite all of the verses and warnings, most of us tend to believe that if one person can handle the trappings of wealth, it’s us. Well, we can’t.
The only way I’ve seen people avoid the trappings of wealth is to hold their money with an unflinching open hand. These people are radically generous with their wealth; they know if they’re not, it’ll end up mastering them.
Churches must teach that the only way to experience true freedom and contentment in finances is to become extravagantly generous just like our Father: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son.” Talk about extravagant giving! Churches should talk about money not because they need it, but because people need freedom from its dangers.
by Paul Lundgren | June 1, 2017
I really appreciated this article called “How to Show Your Life to a Younger Believer” by Kim Ransleben. In it she reminds us how important it is to model our faith to new believers. She writes,
The first time an older woman invited me to meet with her, I was so grateful. She helped me learn about life as a new Christian. A couple years later she asked if I’d be willing to lead a Bible study for her—I wept that she thought I could. Coming alongside her as she modeled teaching and leading women taught me so much. But what taught me the most was walking with her through the death of her son. As the biblical truths she’d been passing on to me shined through her life, I saw firsthand what it means to walk by faith and not by sight.
Many are familiar with the list of men and women in Hebrews 11, who long ago lived by faith in a God they couldn’t see. They conquered lands and shut the mouths of lions. Some were saved from the sword, and others—by that same, strong faith—died by the sword. Frankly, it’s not a group we’d always want to join. Their failures and struggles are recorded for all to read. But they also give us hope by showing a loving God who perseveres with weak sinners. Mostly, I viewed the heroes of Hebrews 11 from a distance—until the day I encountered Hebrews 13:7: “Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God.”
Show Your Life: I realized the author is talking about regular people like you and me, who lead and teach others. Perhaps you’re the one leading Bible studies and discipling young believers. Or, maybe you’re at the Little League game next to someone who opens up to you about her marital struggles. Younger believers look to older believers and Hebrews 13:7 provides an important reminder: “Consider the outcome of their life and imitate their faith.”
Those who follow our lead need more than tips and techniques. They are watching our lives. They want to see if we’ve ever faced what’s causing them frustration, or if we too got lost in the chaos of choices for our kids. They struggle with past shame and future fears. And though they have God’s Word as a testimony of those who’ve gone before, they’re wondering if they can believe it for themselves today.
This is where we come into their story. We bridge the gap between long ago and just a few years back. We show them God strengthens his people today just as he did in ancient times. We share specific ways we’ve seen him work in the past. But we also do something more.
Show Your Struggles: We must allow younger believers to see our current struggles, too. This means acknowledging the sinful desires that still wage war against our soul, as well as the fears that threaten to overwhelm us as dreams for tomorrow fade. When we shed tears of grief over loved ones’ choices—yet with a glimmer of hope in our eyes—we demonstrate that walking by faith is a daily reality, not a final destination.
It’d be a lot less risky to show others only the cleaned-up version of our families, to let them think we’ve found the magic formula for successful marriages and ministries to people who never cause us pain. But to do so would prevent them from obeying that simple command: imitate their faith. To do that, they have to see the places where faith is all we have.
Show Your Savior: Ultimately, our lives of faith help the next generation to see that “Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday and today and forever” (Heb. 13:8). The God of Moses still uses broken people and stuttering mouths to reveal his character. Faith is still the substance of things hoped for, and will sustain the church long after we’re gone. The hope for every generation will always be: Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday and today and forever.
So open up your lives, older men and women. Show the younger generation that by faith, there’s nothing to fear. Show them how to crawl out of the boat to walk where it would seem foolish, or how to lie down by the Savior’s side and simply ride out the storm. Let them see your todays as well as your yesterdays, so they might trust him through whom all our tomorrows come.
by Paul Lundgren | April 24, 2017
When I was in Indianapolis for the Gospel Coalition conference a few weeks ago, we sang a new song that I wanted to introduce to the church. So on Palm and Easter Sundays, we sang the song “Come Behold the Wondrous Mystery” written by Matt Boswell, Michael Bleeker, and Matt Papa. Just in case you didn’t catch the richness of the words as we sang together, I wanted to share the lyrics with you once more. These are words about our Lord and Savior that are certainly worth reflecting on in these days after Easter!
Come behold the wondrous mystery
In the dawning of the King
He the theme of heaven’s praises
Robed in frail humanity
In our longing, in our darkness
Now the light of life has come
Look to Christ, who condescended
Took on flesh to ransom us
Come behold the wondrous mystery
He the perfect Son of Man
In His living, in His suffering
Never trace nor stain of sin
See the true and better Adam
Come to save the hell-bound man
Christ the great and sure fulfillment
Of the law; in Him we stand
Come behold the wondrous mystery
Christ the Lord upon the tree
In the stead of ruined sinners
Hangs the Lamb in victory
See the price of our redemption
See the Father’s plan unfold
Bringing many sons to glory
Grace unmeasured, love untold
Come behold the wondrous mystery
Slain by death the God of life
But no grave could e’er restrain Him
Praise the Lord; He is alive!
What a foretaste of deliverance
How unwavering our hope
Christ in power resurrected
As we will be when he comes
by Paul Lundgren | April 4, 2017
The elders and I are excited to think that a high percentage of Gateway members will be reading, more importantly applying, the book Contagious Christianity. If our whole church is both equipped and energized to share our faith with others, I can only imagine what God will do. Here's a sample of what we'll learn from the book. In this section, the authors are looking at three parables found in Luke 15. Regarding these parables it says:
The shepherd retrieved the sheep and threw a party. The woman found the coin and threw another party. The son came home and the father threw the biggest party of all. And in Luke 5:10 Jesus says, "In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents."
When I read that text for the first time, I thought of my own life. I was a cocky, rebellious, self-willed seventeen year old who thought I knew how to get to heaven by impressing God with my religiosity. But then, through the influence of the Bible and caring Christian friends, it became clear to me that I could never string together enough righteousness to impress a Holy God. What I needed was to admit my sins, turn away from them, and trust Christ to be my forgiver, friend, and leader.
I remember exactly where I was standing when I took that critical step. I was at Christian camp in southern Wisconsin, and I just broke down and repented. According to Luke 15:10, do you know what happened next? All of heaven erupted in a magnificent cosmic celebration. There was an enormous party with the honoree's name on the banner - and it was mine! When that dawned on me I remember thinking, "I must really matter to God!" It was almost overwhelming to me!
If you're a genuine Christ-follower, the same thing happened when you acknowledged your sin and trusted in Him. Whether last week or forty years ago, all of heaven erupted in a party, and your name was on the banner. Do you see how much you are treasured by God?
And if you think you know what joy is now, just wait until you're a primary planner in the process that leads one of your friends to Christ. You're going to almost explode with joy when you take part in that person's celestial celebration. That's only natural, especially when you realize that you actually helped get their name on the banner!
Does that pique your interest? There's nothing like the adventure of being used by God to spread His love, truth, and life to other people - people who matter deeply to Him. So let's get on with it!
by Paul Lundgren | April 1, 2017
Last week, I introduced a brief pastor’s desk “series” on William Paul Young’s book/movie The Shack. On the recommendation of some from church, I decided to go see the movie to refresh my memory after reading the book almost a decade ago. Last week, I wrote about what is good in the story. What we can hold on to. (See the “Pastor’s Blog” section of our church website if you didn’t get a chance to read it.) But as promised, I also want to address a couple of key things I would change about the story if I could. (Turns out I can’t fit two or three carefully-worded critiques in one pastor’s desk, so I will have to spread them out over two Sundays.)
It’s important to remember that this story is not like other fiction books. Young’s aim is not just to tell a good story but to teach a theology about God and how he acts in the world. Because of this, those of us who are Christians need to compare the ideas in The Shack to the truth of the Bible. The Bible is the “measuring stick” by which we measure all other ideas. I have no desire to merely assert my preferences, nor do I want to “heresy hunt.” I merely want to compare the God we see in the book/movie to the God we see in Scripture
So let’s look at the first thing I would change about The Shack if I could:
The Shack’s god is too tame. Let’s start with a rather obvious issue. In the book and movie, Young has “Papa” (who represents God the Father) telling the main character, Mack, that she does not judge or have wrath. “Sin is it’s own punishment,” she says. While it’s true that sin is a punishment in itself (read Romans 1 to see God give people over to sin as a form of punishment), it is by no means the only punishment for sin that we see in Scripture. First of all, death is the main result of the fall. “The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). This gets glossed over.
But also, The Shack does not take into account the “too many to list” Bible passages that teach that God, in his perfect justice, will punish sin with righteous wrath. This includes God getting downright angry about sin. Sin is not only destroying people he loves, but it is downright offensive to him as it runs counter to who he is as a righteous and holy God. In fact, his holiness is deadly to us sinners. Throughout the movie and book, Mack just waltzes right up to God. But in the Bible, we know that we can’t see God and live (Ex. 33:20). When Isaiah was brought before God, he saw God through the smoke surrounding his throne and said, “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips. For my eyes have seen the King!” When the apostle John saw Jesus in all his glory, he said, “When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead.” We may like that the god of The Shack is relatable and approachable, but we would do well to remember that—outside of prayer—our Holy God is only approachable once we are glorified and set free from the ever-present sin of this world.
But the main issue is by eliminating the righteous wrath and supreme holiness of God, you get a very incomplete picture of God. As Tim Keller says, “Half a God is no God at all.” Ironically, one of the main messages of The Shack is that we must trust that God is good even when we don’t understand. And yet, Young seems unwilling to trust that God is good even in his wrath. He would cut wrath out of the picture. He would have done better to represent God as C.S. Lewis does in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. When asked if Aslan (the God-figure) is a tame lion, the answer was an unequivocal “no.” When asked if he is “safe,” it was said, “Safe?...Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the king I tell you.” This gets more at the God we know and love from Scripture. He’s not safe like the ever-smiling god of The Shack, but he is unspeakably good.
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