Must I Hate My Family to Follow Jesus?

Jesus spoke many beautiful and wonderful truths during his earthly ministry. But he also said some disturbing things.  Perhaps one of the most disturbing statements Jesus made is found in Luke 14:25-27, where he declares that anyone who wants to be his disciple must hate his parents, spouse, children, brothers and sisters.  Not only are these words shocking, they are also uncharacteristic of the many other words Jesus spoke about the importance of loving others.  So, what is going on here?  Are we supposed to start hating our family members in order to prove our commitment to Jesus?  Of course not.  In speaking these words, Jesus is not intending for us to take him literally, but he does want us to take him seriously.

Jesus is employing the language of a first century Jewish Rabbi.  Traveling Jewish Rabbis in the first century were teachers who invited students to “follow” them as they traveled in order to learn.  Rabbis would often remind those who wanted to follow, that the work would be difficult and you need to be willing to make sacrifices.  Rabbis would often use “hyperbole” (making exaggerated statements in order to force people to contemplate).   So here, Jesus is explaining to people that following him would require sacrifice and commitment.

We live in a culture today that almost worships comfort and convenience.  And sometimes we Christians begin to drift into an attitude that allows comfort and convenience to become the values we build our lives upon.  If a commitment becomes too uncomfortable and too inconvenient, we just quit and declare that “it just isn’t worth it.” 

But Jesus wants us to know that a commitment to him will sometimes make us uncomfortable and it will often be inconvenient.  We should not be surprised by this, because the two greatest dangers to the human soul are laziness and selfishness.  Nothing feeds and breeds laziness and selfishness more than a focus on comfort and convenience.   So Jesus calls us to make a deep commitment to him, and to make sacrifices that might be inconvenient.   We don’t have to hate our family to do that, but we do need to understand that there is a cost to being a true disciple of Jesus.  It won’t be easy, but it will be worth it.

Pastor Mark Miller

Can Rich People Get Into Heaven?

I appreciate the creativity of the Tricuna Tribe of Brazil.  These indigenous people who live in the Brazilian rain forest, capture monkeys in a very clever way. They put a small hole in a hollowed-out gourd and then the fill the gourd with a piece of fruit.  Then they attach the gourd to a tree.  When a monkey comes along and smells the sweet fruit inside the gourd, he reaches his hand down inside to get the fruit.  But once he makes a fist to hold onto the fruit, his hand is too large and he is unable to get it out of the hole.  He could let go of the fruit and easily remove his hand, but he won’t let go. He is now trapped because he has a grip on his prize and won’t release his grip.  (Watch how this is done.)

We might be tempted chuckle at the monkey’s foolishness, unwilling to let go of a piece of fruit in order to set himself free. Silly monkey!  And yet, I wonder sometimes if we might find ourselves trapped in a similar way: in unhealthy patterns of thought, in bad attitudes, in resentment and bitterness, in toxic relationships, and poor habits.  Perhaps we should learn to let go and set ourselves free.

Jesus once encountered a man who was trapped by his unhealthy attachment to wealth.  He had accumulated a lot of it over the years, storing up his earthly treasures.  When Jesus invited him to let it go and set himself free, he wouldn’t do it and walked away a sad man trapped in his self-imposed prison (Mark 10:17-27).  

Is Jesus saying that it is impossible for rich people to be accepted by God?  The good news is that Jesus does not teach that wealth is evil or awful or that rich people are evil or awful just because they have achieved some level of financial success in this life.  Having money, being wealthy does not put eternal life out of reach.   Jesus is not offering a blanket condemnation of wealth, but He is telling us something very important that we need to remember.  So having clarified what Jesus is not saying, let’s look at what Jesus is saying. 

What we find here is a warning to heed, a practice to engage in, and a promise we can count on:

First, the warning.  Wealth can be dangerous to our soul. Wealth can exert a corrupting influence on our heart, our soul, our character.  I chuckle at the tee shirt I once saw that said, “Lord, let me prove to you that winning the lottery won’t spoil me.”  Truth is, winning the lottery actually ruins a lot of people.  If the main goal of our lives is to grow a healthy God-honoring soul, then money can become a danger to that goal if we aren’t careful.

Now here is the practice.  Be consistently generous.  Put together a plan for regularly and consistently giving away portions of your wealth. Generosity is a character quality that must be intentionally cultivated, and it only gets cultivated through regular and consistent practice.   This requires discipline.  Discipline is the ability to make yourself do what you know you should do whether you feel like it or not.  Jesus tells the rich man to give it all away.  There are instances in our lives when that might be the best approach.  But when you read through the Bible, you don’t find any other instance where Jesus insisted that someone sell everything and get rid of all material possessions in order to experience eternal life.  But let’s make it very clear that there will be times in our lives when Jesus will call us to be very generous in our giving, more generous that what we would be comfortable with.  Maybe not giving away 100%, but giving a lot more than we want to give.  We do need to let some of it go, regularly, consistently, generously.  

Now here is the promise. Eternal life is available to all people no matter what their socio-economic status.  You aren’t so poor that you can’t have it and you aren’t so rich that you don’t need it.   Jesus doesn’t hate rich people.  In fact, today’s scripture lesson tells us that Jesus loved this rich man.  Remember, when Jesus warns us about wealth, he does it out of love for us. And he offers us this promise: That nothing is impossible with God.  No matter who you are, no matter where you find yourself on the socioeconomic ladder, you have an eternal soul and you matter to God. But we can’t save ourselves.  We need God’s grace and mercy.  That’s why Jesus came into the world.  That’s why he died on the cross and rose from the dead.  Eternal life is possible, the promise of Heaven is real and it is available.  And you’re not so poor that you can’t have it and you’re not so rich you don’t need it.

I wonder, are you “trapped” in any area of your life right now?

Are you ready and willing to do whatever must be done in order to be set free? 

Perhaps you need to let go of something in order to receive what Jesus wants to give you. 

Think about it, pray about it, and then ask Jesus to help you release your grip on the things that hold you back. Listen to the sermon, “Can Rich People Get Into Heaven?”

Pastor Mark Miller

​4 Truths About God’s Wisdom

When I was younger, I got in trouble for taking apart my parents’ cable box. I’m still not exactly sure how I broke it, but I know that somewhere between my taking it apart and putting it back together the cable box was no longer working. It sat lopsided on top of the TV, the clock was blinking zeroes and I still had about eight screws leftover. See, I was in the third grade, and we had just learned about electricity. Amidst my typical afternoon of a bowl of Cap’n Crunch and a Captain Planet cartoon, my curiosity took me captive, and I had to know how the electricity in that cable box worked. 

I learned that afternoon that it only takes a certain amount of knowledge to take things apart. But putting them back together, fixing them when they’re broken, building them up from nothing? That requires skill, it requires discipline, and it requires wisdom.

The Letter of James says that our wisdom, like our faith, will be put to the test (James 3:13-18). James tests our wisdom with a question: “Who is wise and understanding among you?” Raise your hand, James says, if you believe you are wise and understanding. If you truly are, you know we’re going to put that claim to the test. And if you’re not? The test will definitely show it.

If we’re truly honest with ourselves, though, none of us are as wise as we would like to be. We can all grow in wisdom and understanding, even the 75 percent of us who would rank ourselves as “above average.” Many in the church are above average when it comes to biblical knowledge. Some Christians can quote Scripture extensively, and that’s good and important. But many who have a great deal of biblical knowledge are lacking in God’s wisdom. In other words, we know how to take things apart but are unable to put them back together, to fix them when they’re broken, to build them up. Knowledge of scripture can take apart someone’s argument, but the wisdom of God knows when it’s kinder to understand where they’re coming from when you disagree.

James says that when we mistake the wisdom of the world, the flesh and the devil for God’s wisdom, the result is “bitter envy and selfish ambition.” So as we examine our words and actions, we have to consider whether they reveal or conceal the love of God. The problem with the world’s wisdom is that we don’t know what we don’t know. We’re limited, but we don’t know our limits. Biblical wisdom takes into account its own ignorance. Biblical wisdom is not so concerned with memorizing scripture as it is speaking a loving word from God in every situation. 

Below are 4 truths for discerning God’s wisdom:

  1.  God’s wisdom is never the source or the cause of confusion, of wrong living, of trouble or of chaos. Remember that God spoke into chaos and brought forth light and life. God spoke a word into darkness and created the heavens and the earth. God is still speaking into the darkness and the chaos of our lives and remaking us into something beautiful.
  2. God’s wisdom is available through prayer. James says, “If any of you is lacking in wisdom, ask God, who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and it will be given you.” We need to ask for God’s wisdom, because we can’t reason our way to God. Wisdom for the Christian is like water for the plant. We can’t produce it for ourselves, but we need it in order to thrive and grow.
  3. God’s wisdom is fruitful. Here is the ultimate difference between man-made results and God-given fruit. Fruit has seeds that produce more fruit. The life that we live enables the Lord to bring righteousness and peace into the lives of others. So the work that you do as a student of God’s wisdom doesn’t just improve your life but the lives of others. Because I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but there’s a world full of people who need God’s wisdom like they need air in their lungs. And many of them don’t even know they need it! Our task is to speak and act wisely and well, so that all would know our Savior in our lives. When our words and actions reflect God’s wisdom and understanding, they’re as welcome as a breath of fresh air on a stifling summer day.
  4. Finally, God’s wisdom is centered on knowing Christ. Receiving Jesus as your Lord and Savior is the key to unlocking biblical wisdom. Because our knowledge of scripture cannot produce fruit if we are not firmly rooted in God’s love. Knowing Christ doesn’t require the right words, just the prayer of a willing spirit.

Perhaps you feel like you’ve got all the answers. Perhaps you’ve been searching for a teacher and find yourself curious. Perhaps you feel lost and confused, barely treading water. Wherever you find yourself at this moment, Jesus will meet you there, and he is the very wisdom of God. Falling apart? Jesus can put you back together. Feeling broken? Jesus can heal you. Lost? Jesus can find you, build you up from nothing and fill you with a wisdom and faith that can pass any test.

Pastor Matt Potter

Bowling for HOPE

Bowling for HOPE

Many thanks to everyone who came out and supported our fundraiser for HOPE Missions Ethiopia! The more than $11,000 that you raised will fund mission trips to rural villages like Sebeta and Woliso. These funds are more than just dollars; they are answered prayers that mean improved health and well-being for countless families. They also provide an opportunity for members of our congregation to share the love of Christ for the transformation of the world as they install water filters and interact with the children at Hope for Korah. But this mission’s impact isn’t just felt in Ethiopia. Your generous donations also enabled several local families, as well as our homeless neighbors, to enjoy an afternoon of free bowling! We are grateful to Pinboy’s at the Beach for their hospitality and to our corporate sponsors for their generosity. And in case you’re wondering, it’s never too late for you to support HOPE Missions Ethiopia. All it takes is $80 to provide an Ethiopian family and their neighbors with clean, healthy water for the next 30 years. Please prayerfully consider giving today.

“I participated in Bowling for HOPE because I thought it was a fun way to support the good work we are doing in Africa and enjoy some time with friends. It was pleasure with a purpose.” -Pastor Mark Miller.

“I am a volunteer for the Potter’s House and this is the first time I have participated in Bowling for HOPE. I wanted to support HOPE Missions Ethiopia to help raise funds for the water filters. I had fun and it was also nice to see some families that normally wouldn’t have been able to afford to bowl having a great time! I am excited to participate in future missions opportunities.” –Lucinda Wroblewski.

“I always enjoy attending the Bowling fundraiser. What a great fun way to support others! Every year we sell raffle tickets to the HOPE bowlers at the bowling alley. This year, a family celebrating a birthday came up to us and asked what the tickets were for. They were so impressed that they purchased some tickets and didn’t even wait for the raffle! I even won something this year, which was very exciting!” – Judy Clement

Why Did God Not Answer My Prayer?

A couple of years ago I came across a televised “healing crusade” featuring a man who claimed to have the power of faith healing.  After preaching to a packed stadium full of people, he began to call out certain illnesses and ailments, declaring that people in attendance were being healed of these various health issues.  Then he invited those who had been healed to come forward.  Large numbers of people began streaming to the front of the platform, declaring that they had been healed through the ministry of this faith healer.

I will admit I was skeptical.  But I want to believe that God can and does perform miracles and sometimes even heal people through prayers prayed in faith.  This is what James tells us (James 5:13-16).  I have heard stories of miraculous healings that have taken place through prayers of faith and I believe that God answers prayers for healing.  But I have also experienced other occasions where, in spite of faithful prayers, an individual did not experience a miracle.  People die every day of various diseases and ailments. Many of them prayed for healing and believed that God could and would heal them. 

Here are 3 ways to reconcile the frequent promises of the Bible that God answers prayers for healing, with our recollection of times when healing did not seem to occur:

  1. We must accept the fact that not every prayer for healing is answered the way we would like.  This was true of ancient saints like the Apostle Paul, it is also true of modern saints as well.  For reasons we cannot understand in this life, God doesn’t always choose to grant every prayer for healing.
  2. We can come to appreciate the fact that physical death is a form of healing.  For the Christian, death is the ultimate healing.  When someone who has been very sick and is suffering from terminal illness is released from their body of sickness, this is an eternal form of healing.  We should not pursue suicide, we should not engage in euthanasia, but we can appreciate that when God receives someone into eternal glory, it is a form of healing and prayers for healing were actually answered.
  3. We should appreciate how God works through modern medicine to help heal people.  It is not a sign that we lack faith when we seek medical care for our illnesses, it is a way of trusting that God works in and through medical care to bring about healing.  Some would try to claim that if we really have faith, we won’t seek medical care, we should just pray and have faith that God will heal.  Let the “Great Physician” be your only physician.  But that is a false dichotomy. It should not be God versus modern medicine.  It should be “God working through modern medicine.” 

I must confess that the entire subject of healing prayer is a bit of a mystery for me.  But I pray for people to be healed, I have faith in a God who still does miracles, and I encourage people to seek medical care when they are struggling with illness.  And I trust that through it all, God is at work and I leave the outcome to His wisdom and goodness.   That probably won’t pack a stadium with people, but it helps me trust where I don’t fully understand.

Pastor Mark Miller