From The Pastor's Desk
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by Paul Lundgren | May 29, 2018
One of the most famous quotes in history is “Qu’ils mangent de la brioche.” (I don’t know French, so hopefully I have it right) which is typically translated as “Let them eat cake.” This phrase was largely attributed to Marie-Antoinette around the year 1789 when the people of France were starving for lack of bread. When she learned they had no bread, she allegedly said, “Let them eat cake.”
Most historians today don’t believe that Marie-Antoinette actually said this phrase. (In case you’re interested, if someone said anything like this it was most likely the Spanish princess, Marie-Therese, who married the French King, Louis XVI, in 1660. She was rumored to have said the French poor should eat “the crust of the pâté.”) But even though she likely didn’t say it, this didn’t stop her from losing her head during the French Revolution. As always, perception is reality.
But even though she probably didn’t say it, the reason the phrase is so infamous is because it displays a total lack of awareness or worry for the struggles of the people. Either she didn’t understand or she didn’t care. If it’s the former, then it means she has so much money and food that she doesn’t have a clue what her people were going through due to poverty. “No bread? No problem. Whenever the bread runs out at my castle the servants always bring out cake.” If it’s the latter and she just doesn’t care, then it’s a flippant remark meant to laugh at the struggles of starving people. Neither of these options casts Marie-Antoinette in a very flattering light.
Throughout the years many have accused God of these same things. There are hurting people in this world. There’s unbearable circumstances and pain. Humans doing things that are unspeakably evil. How can God allow this? It’s hard to comprehend. Thus many have concluded that God, if he exists at all, must either not care or not understand.
Of course answers however, the Christian answer to this must start with Jesus. We know God cares about our pain because he sent Jesus to rescue us from it. Jesus died on the cross so we could live with him where there will be no pain--not physical, emotional, or spiritual (Rev. 21:3-4). The lengths he went to show that he absolutely cares.
He also understands our pain. As someone who walked the earth he experienced illness, hunger, the loss of loved ones, unmet desires, and even death. He understands our weakness, even sympathizes with it, because he lived it. The Great High Priest who ascended to heaven gets us. And he cares. Hebrews 4:14-16 says, “Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”
We can be confident that when we draw near to God in prayer or even in death that he will respond with mercy and grace because our High Priest cared enough to understand our weaknesses and die in our place.
by Paul Lundgren | March 12, 2018
One point that Stott drives home is the centrality of the cross to our faith. If Jesus hadn’t died as our substitute, he would have been just another admirable person amongst many admirable people throughout history. But the cross is the place where God died for our sins. Without the cross we would have nothing but death to look forward to. Through the cross we have been given life eternal.
When you read Scripture, you see that the cross is central not just to the Gospels, the four books chronicling Jesus’ life and death, but to all of Scripture. All of the Old Testament is crying out for a Savior. Israel needed a sacrifice that could truly atone for sins. A descendant from Abraham who would bless the nations, and a descendant of David who rule in justice and love. One who would put an end to the evil that had ruled humankind’s hearts since Adam and Eve. The entire Old Testament is a looking forward, a hungering for this Savior.
On the other hand, the New Testament that follows the Gospels is constantly looking back to the cross. Not in a way that keeps them stuck in the past, but the cross was the motivation for everything the church was doing in the present and future. Because Jesus served us on the cross, we serve one another (Phil. 2:3-8). Because Jesus forgave our sins through the cross, we forgive others when they sin against us (Matt. 18:21-35). Because of what Jesus did on the cross, we have hope even when suffering (1 Peter 1:10-13). Every decision in the Christian life today is made in light of The Event some 2,000 years ago.
In The Cross of Christ, Stott quotes an Anglican Bishop named Stephen Neill. He says, “In the Christian theology of history, the death of Christ is the central point of history; here all roads of the past converge; hence all the roads of the future diverge.”
Everything in the Old Testament was resolved in the cross and everything in the New originated from the cross. The cross is the center of history. And so this Lenten season we remember that the cross that is at the center of history is at the center of our lives.
by Paul Lundgren | February 5, 2018
I recently read a short biography by Warren Wiersbe about an amazing woman named Fanny Crosby. You may know of her as the writer of some of your favorite hymns such as Blessed Assurance, He Hideth My Soul, and All the Way, My Savior Leads Me. But there are a few other things you should know about her that will help you grow in appreciation for her.
1. She was blind from the age of six months. As a baby, Fanny Crosby developed inflammation around her eyes. Due to carelessness by the doctor, who could never forgive himself, she was left blind after treatment. However, as she got older, she never grew disheartened by her disability. In fact, she saw it as a gift from God that would help her to serve him. Essentially, because she was blind, she could see things other people couldn’t. At just eight years old she wrote her first hymn saying,
Oh, what a happy child I am,
Although I cannot see!
I am resolved that in this world
Contented I will be.
How many blessings I enjoy
That other people don’t!
So weep or sigh because I’m blind,
I cannot, or I won’t!
Further, she had no ill-will toward the doctor who blinded her. In fact she said later in life, “If I could meet him now, I would say ‘Thank you, thank you’—over and over again—for making me blind.” For “I could not have written thousands of hymns if I had been hindered by the distractions of seeing all the interesting and beautiful objects that would have been presented to my notice.”
2. She received a timely lesson of humility. As a teenager, Fanny became known and praised in both her school for the blind and community for her poetry. Worried that the praise would go to her head, the superintendent of the school called her into his office and “gently warned her to beware of pride.” He encouraged her to use her gift to glorify God rather than herself.
Many of us would be insulted or discouraged by this kind of frank counsel, but she later admitted, “His words were bombshells, but they did me an immense amount of good.” If only we were all as open to advise and critique as Fanny Crosby was at such a young age!
3. She wrote about seeing Christ. Many of Crosby’s over 8,000 hymns include references to seeing her Savior. Warren Wiersbe notes that the best know reference appears in the chorus of her hymn Saved by Grace, which says,
And I shall see Him face to face,
And tell the story—Saved by grace.
by Paul Lundgren | December 11, 2017
Harvey Weinstein, Louis C.K., Kevin Spacey, George H.W. Bush, Charlie Rose, Matt Lauer, and now even Garrison Keilor. These are just a few of the high-profile men who have been accused of sexual impropriety (to put it lightly in some cases) by women in the past few weeks. Some of these men we probably never viewed as bastions of morality, but others are genuinely shocking.
What are we to think in the midst of this national epidemic? What should we keep in mind when the next cascade of celebrities fall? I’m going to highlight some things we need to know about this issue as Christians.
1. This is more common that we know. Perhaps the only thing more disturbing that what we’re hearing about sexual assault and harassment today is the things we’re not hearing. In the general public, studies by the Department of Justice have found that 20 million out of 112 million women have been raped during their lifetime. Of these, only 16% of rapes are reported. (Statistics from the DOJ via Joe Carter on tgc.org.) If these are the shocking numbers for rape, you can just imagine what the numbers must be for the more common crimes of sexual assault or harassment! For women aged 18-24 alone, there are nearly 100,000 sexual assaults each year. And for every 1,000 sexual assaults, only 344 are reported. All of this is to say for every story we have heard there are many, many more that remain unspoken for reasons of embarrassment, fear, or pressure from the perpetrator.
2. The root problem is even more common. At the heart of this problem, I believe, is not the abuse of power—though this is still an incredibly important discussion we’ll write about next week—but rather the objectification of women. And this is a problem, not just in Hollywood, but in most homes in the United States, and it starts long before someone does those things we’ve heard about recently on the news.
Looking just at men, 97% of men have viewed pornography at some point I their lives. Over two out of three men (between ages 18-49) report that they view pornography at least once a month. The number only goes down to 50% for men between the ages of 50-68. Sadly, the number does not go down much, if at all, for Christian men. All of these numbers show that for all the progress women have made, the objectification of women is easier and more common than ever.
And this, as I’ve said, is at the heart of the problem. Imagine a man who has taken solace in the fact that although he views pornography sometimes, he hasn’t done anything like Harvey Weinstein or Matt Lauer. But of course the question is what would he do if he had more power? What if instead of looking at that actress on his computer he controlled her employment? What if he had some leverage over these women that he could use to his advantage? Considering he already sees these women as objects for gratification on his computer, would it really surprise anyone if he saw them as objects in person?
Until we stop seeing women (or men in some cases) as objects and start seeing them as people made in the image of God and died for by Jesus Christ, we will always have more “Harvey Weinsteins” in the world. As Christians, let us remember that each and every person is loved by God and should not ever be objectified. To do so is to reduce God’s wonderful, cherished creation to a disposable thing.
3. We hunger for justice. Just a decade or two ago Christians were up in arms about postmodernism. At the heart of postmodernism is the idea that absolute truth doesn’t exist. This, of course, undercut morals and the idea that something could be truly wrong or evil. Those categories go out the window.
As we see the public reaction to these crimes and transgressions, we see the end of postmodernism. People hear these stories and say without hesitation that something wrong has been done. And people believe this so strongly that they want justice. They want people to lose their jobs and go to jail.
Many people today have found the concept of a Judgment Day offensive. Considering the stats we saw last week about how many of these crimes go unreported, it is clear we need it. We need someone who not only knows and punishes what gets reported, but someone who knows all the things that don’t come out to the light and deals with them (eternally) according to perfect knowledge and justice.
4. Maybe a little repression isn’t so bad. For a long time people worried about the dangers of repressing sexual desires. The idea was that you shouldn’t hold them in. If you did it would lead to all kinds of frustration and even violent behavior.
Sadly there are many women who wish these men had repressed their desires. Oftentimes we and the people around us are greatly blessed by a little repression. Whether it’s anger, pleasure, or the impulse to yell “fire” in a crowded theater, we need to rule over our desires rather than be ruled by them.
This means telling ourselves the one word we usually don’t want to hear, especially if we’re rich and powerful… “No.” Not all the time, but when we need to hear it.
Of course, God tells us in his word the appropriate ways to express our desires. He establishes the boundaries, and they are good.
Actually, they would have really come in handy for some men who found themselves in the news recently.
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.
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