Let Him Loose!

We have all experienced the consequences and yucky feeling that comes with knowing we have sinned. It might be a feeling of shame, a deep pit in the stomach, or an overwhelming lack of energy or life. In James 1:14-15 it says, “But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin, when it is fully grown, brings forth death.” Sin produces death.

Yet praise be to God for offering the solution through Jesus Christ! Eternal death is not our destiny as Paul declared in Romans 8:1-2, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.” Not only are we no longer condemned, but we are set free! The bondage that once held us captive has been loosed, and we are pronounced alive in Christ.

John 11:42-44, in the Message, says, “Jesus raised his eyes to heaven and prayed, “Father, I’m grateful that you have listened to me. I know you always do listen, but on account of this crowd standing here I’ve spoken so that they might believe that you sent me.” Then he shouted, “Lazarus, come out!” And he came out, a cadaver, wrapped from head to toe with a kerchief over his face. Jesus told them, “Unwrap him and let him loose.”

Scripture proclaims over and over again that we are captives set free by the work of Jesus, and yet, we tend to walk out of our sin as a cadaver, wrapped from head to toe. We know the truth, and we know that we have been set free, but until the community that surrounds us responds by “unwrapping and letting us loose”, we continue to live as captives. We are called to live as children of God, free from condemnation, but often we are still burdened down by the scorn, scrutiny, and shame of others. We know the truth, but we don’t know how to live as free.

What role then should the community of believers play in “letting others loose”? What good do we serve by reminding others of their sin? Is that even our job? What good does it do to kick our brother when he is down? What kind of community could we live within instead, if only we genuinely believed that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, turned to our neighbors, loosened their chains, and declared them righteous?

Who do you know that has struggled, turned to God for their hope, and now longs to live in the freedom that comes only from Christ Jesus? What is your response? Do you point your finger and gossip? Or are you actively loosening their bindings and reminding them of their righteousness through the grace of Christ Jesus? Are you a conduit of condemnation, or of hope and forgiveness? May we all be the sweet aroma of Jesus, loving our neighbors, proclaiming truth, and reminding captives the chains have been loosed and they have been set free!

Lynette Fuson
Director of Care & Counseling

He Said it, but He Didn’t Get it!

At the end of John chapter 11, the Jewish High Priest prophesied about the Messiah and the Nation of Israel. He says, “You do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish” (John 11:50). Sadly, Caiaphas the High Priest, didn’t understand what he was really saying. In fact, if someone would have explained to him he had just prophesied that Jesus was the Messiah whose death would cover the sins of the people, Caiaphas probably would have struck out in anger at that person the way he and the other ruling officials did in Matthew 26. Caiaphas believed he was justified in plotting to kill Jesus. He believed killing Jesus would be good for the Jews, not to cover their sins and make a way for salvation, but only so the Romans would not see Jesus as a threat. The context of his prophecy is recorded in the passage below, at a meeting of the Jewish leaders following the news Jesus had prayed over and spoke the dead man Lazarus awake from the grave.
John 11:47-53:

“What are we accomplishing?” they asked. “Here is this man performing many signs.  If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our temple and our nation.”

Then one of them, named Caiaphas, who was a high priest that year, spoke up, “You know nothing at all!  You do not realize that it is better for you that one man dies for the people than that the whole nation perish.”

He did not say this on his own, but as high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the Jewish nation,  and not only for that nation but also for the scattered children of God, to bring them together and make them one.  So from that day on they plotted to take his life.

A sad sad story. The High Priest spoke the truth, spoke what would be recorded as God’s Word contained in the Word of God, and yet, he did not know what he was saying. If you are ever feeling strongly against someone if you ever find yourself despising or conspiring against another person, watch out! You may be following the devil’s plans and not the Lord’s way of love.

John Riley
Jr. High Pastor

Resurrecting Glory

In the history of good deals, the offer of eternal life ranks as the very best! Life in its total abundance for all of time! What could be better?

And yet, here we see despite the Good News Jesus brings – indeed, the Good News that Jesus is (John 11:25) – there are some either disappointed, offended or even angered by it!

Why is this the case? We can gather some clues from this passage.

Mary and Martha both reasonably complain: “Lord, if you had been here our brother would not have died!” (John 11:21, 32). Notice how their lack of faith isn’t whether Jesus has the power of resurrection, rather it’s whether he even cares! The Jews echo this: “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?” (John 11:37)

Through his tears, Jesus proves that they’re wrong about him. He does care. For they, after seeing him weeping, proclaim: “See how he loved him!” (John 11:36)

And yet, there is a nub of truth to their complaint: contrary to their expectations, God’s plan is not first and foremost about comforting Mary or Martha, nor is it about preventing them from experiencing the pain and loss of mourning their brother. Rather, Jesus declares in verse 4: “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.”

The Good News is not primarily about you and me. It is not about what is easiest, nor most carefree, nor most free of pain for us. Rather, it is first and foremost about God’s glory and He will allow any death to occur if it means his resurrection glory is to be revealed in and through us.

Perhaps we can begin to understand why some don’t readily receive the Gospel as Good News.

We see this with the response of the chief priests and the Pharisees. When they hear about what Jesus has done, they worry for themselves, their place of power and privilege. For resurrection requires certain things to die – most especially our expectations, our list of demands, our non-negotiables, and all those things that get in the way of God’s most glorious demonstration: life from death.

What do you need to let die in order for God’s resurrection power to be displayed in and through you?

Ryan Lunde
Young Adults Pastor

He Knows You By Name

When Jesus went to the cemetery and raised Lazarus from the dead, He called him by name. “Lazarus, come out.” God loves us enough to get personal with us. He knows us by name. That’s so amazing but also kind of scary, isn’t it? If He gets personal, shouldn’t we get personal? Shouldn’t we want to know him and others on a more personal level? In this vast and enormous universe filled with millions of people, I matter to Him because He knows my name

We are programmed these days not to get personal – with our co-workers, friends, or even family. Let them live their lives, make their own decisions, and don’t ask any probing questions they may not want to answer (or we might not want to hear). We text, chat and use social media to communicate with friends, co-workers, and loved ones, instead of spending time talking face to face, or at least just talking. Jesus loved Lazarus just as He loves us, and called Him by name out of the grave. Isaiah 43:1 says, “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine.”

What does this mean for us? It means that the voice of God is calling us (by name) away from whatever imprisons us, even though we don’t always hear that call. What did Lazarus hear? He heard a familiar, loving voice calling his name, like sheep who know the voice of their shepherd. He heard the voice of reassurance, God’s voice is a calming presence, a “still, small, voice” that comforts and gives us hope. The voice of Jesus that comforted Mary and Martha, was the same voice that enabled Lazarus to be free of the grave and can set us free. His voice calls us from our old habits and invites us to try new ones. It calls us from apathy and indifference to caring, from despair to hope, from darkness to light. The voice of Jesus calls us from loneliness to community and from captivity to freedom.

Deb Hill
Executive Assistant

I Am Resurrection

You have to know the scene for the statement to have the correct weightiness. Lazarus died four days earlier. His sisters, Mary and Martha, sent word to Jesus hoping he would come and heal him, but Jesus waited and arrived “late.” I think we can relate to Martha. She’s frustrated and disappointed. She had faith Jesus could have done something about her brother’s illness, but she was frustrated he didn’t. So Martha ran out to meet Jesus on the road.

Listen to what Marth said to Jesus:
“Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.” 23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” (John 11:21-23)

You have to put yourself in Martha’s shoes. She had just lost her brother. She was probably there when he passed away - maybe even held his hand as he took his last breath… and Jesus’ response is, “he’ll rise again.” That could be read as almost dismissive or even cold. With that in mind, Martha’s response seems fitting,

Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” (John 11:24)

It’s almost as though Martha is downplaying the resurrection. She’s saying, “yeah, I know he’ll be resurrected someday, but that doesn’t help me TODAY.”

Jesus, wanting to give Martha hope said, “I am the resurrection and the life.” (John 11:25)

Jesus gently corrected Martha’s thinking about that future event of the resurrection. See, many of the Jewish people had hope of resurrection. They believed one day God would put the world to rights. But, Martha was missing a main piece of the puzzle… Jesus. The resurrection the Jewish people had been waiting for and putting hope in, only happens in and through Jesus. To say it another way, there is NO resurrection apart from Jesus. When Jesus walked out of the tomb, he brought us with him.

However, when Jesus claimed to be the resurrection, he was not only stating resurrection happens because of him, he was also claiming resurrection life is about intimacy with him. The only time Jesus ever defined eternal life he said,

And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. (John 17:3)

Jesus is not only the path to resurrection, relationship with him is the point of resurrection. That is the hope Jesus is speaking into Martha’s hurt, and it’s the hope he wants to speak into your hurt today.

I think Jesus would want us to spend some time considering that truth today. He is the point of resurrection. So as you continue to celebrate Easter and the empty grave, spend some time today thinking about the fact that Jesus died and rose so that you could have a relationship with him that would last into eternity.

Ryan Paulson
Lead Pastor

Good? Friday

One of the things I admire most about my father is his willingness to work hard. An early riser all his life, he has done roofing, painting, commercial fishing, and built grain barns. In his professional life as a professor he has spent hours long into the night grading papers, writing books, and obsessing over all sorts of theological conundrums.

None of the things my father has set himself to do have been easy. But they have been good. Out of his fatherly love for his family, his students, and the church, he has done many good things. God’s Fatherhood likewise compelled Him to do and allow much of the same on this hardest of days.

As we consider today means Christ died on the cross for us, let’s consider this from the Father’s angle. Certainly, this day was foreknown by Him from eternity past (Ephesians 1:4; Revelation 13:8), it was in His plan (John 6:38), might even be said to have “pleased” Him (Isaiah 53:10), was the means by which He reconciled all things to himself (Colossians 1:20), and on this day He defeated sin and death (Colossians 2:15).

But does all this mean today was not hard for the Father? That it was easy? That despite knowing today would bring victory from defeat, it was nonetheless at tremendous cost to the sovereign, Triune God?

According to Matthew and Mark, Jesus cried out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” suggesting in the final moments the Father was far from His Son. (Matthew 27:46) According to Luke, he cried, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” (Luke 23:46) suggesting the Father was near and intimately involved in His Son’s suffering. (A side note: John’s scene in 19:30 is very different where Jesus proclaims, almost triumphantly, “It is finished.”)

When combining the two scenes together for a full picture it is as if the Father is torn between removing His presence from the object of sin that His Son has become and remaining on hand to comfort the Son the moment His task is completed.

How else would we expect the Father who is utterly righteous and loving to respond to His one and only begotten and beloved made accursed and stricken? Would we not expect Him to, in fact, be torn, as His own Son was torn, for the suffering He was made to endure?

In prayerfully considering what today means, may we consider our Father who knows loss intimately well, and who was torn by the very same punishment that his own Son endured.

It was not easy. But it was good.

Pastor Ryan Lunde
Young Adult Pastor

Jesus Wept and We Should Too!

Last Sunday, as I was waiting in line to get a hamburger during our Sunday Funday at church, I had a conversation with three people from our Spanish speaking congregation. As we were talking, one by one they began to share difficult challenges they were facing. One has been dealing with severe back pain for weeks, another fell the day before and her whole body was bruised and sore, and the other shared that his son was in the hospital because he was attacked and horribly bitten in the arm by a pitbull. After listening to their stories I ended up feeling emotionally overwhelmed and right there I asked them to allow me to pray for them and their situations. While we were praying, all of a sudden my eyes got watery and soon tears were rolling down my face. I kept praying, but if I’m honest, in my mind I was concerned about crying in public and I began to feel ashamed. You see, in my culture “los hombres no lloran (men don’t cry)”, as if we don’t have permission to feel. But praise God that Jesus is not Mexican like me.

With that said, I don’t know if it was normal or not for Jewish men to cry in public in Jesus’ days, but what I do know is Jesus wept (John 11:35). This truth is extremely significant because it reminds us we worship a God who feels. I don’t know about you, but I’m encouraged to know the second Person of the Triune God, our Lord Jesus Christ, empathizes with us when we experience pain. John 11:35 is certainly the shortest verse from the Bible, yet it highlights the humanity of our Savior. When Lazarus died, Jesus wept in the company of his sisters Martha and Mary. Jesus was not indifferent to what they were going through. Instead, in a very sincere and vulnerable way Jesus felt the pain of these two sisters, and He grieved the effect of mankind’s sin: death (Rom. 6:23). By doing this, Jesus purposely displayed the glory of His Father, the glory of a compassionate and loving God, and a glory available to us. In Jesus we have a Savior who sympathizes with our weaknesses (Heb. 4:15) and a God who feels our pain.

Lazarus' story didn’t end there. After Jesus wept, He did something for Lazarus that no one else has the power to do, but that’s a topic for a different day. Today, I would like us to focus on the fact that Jesus wept when He saw the suffering of His friends, as well as to consider imitating His empathy without being ashamed. The Bible says in Romans 12:15, “weep with those who weep”. In other words, it is expected of us to give permission to ourselves to feel the pain of others. After all, we might not have the power to raise people from the dead, but we can definitely display the glory of God by being compassionate to those going through pain. Have a blessed day.

Pastor Esteban Tapia
En Español Pastor

A Snort of Indignation

Jesus gets mad at our pain, hurts, and losses. “When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled” (John 11:33). The phrase “he was deeply moved” is a challenging phrase to translate. It comes from the Greek word ἐνεβριμήσατο; in English spelled enebrimēsato. This word only appears in this passage, but its counterparts are translated deeply moved, sternly warned, strictly instructed, groaning, murmured, or grumbled at. Some translations change "deeply moved" to very upset, a terribly upset, angry, or deep anger welled up within him. Here is a list of the English translations of that verse.

Strong’s Concordance claims the word enebrimesato comes from two root words, the beginning en or ene for “engaged in'' and root brimaomai for “to snort.” It also suggests this is “to snort like an angry horse” or “to snort or roar with rage.” A rage that is indignant and intends to sternly admonish.

We can relate to these feelings if we think of a family weeping and mourning for a loved one killed by a drunk driver, an invading army, or terminal cancer in one's youth. We see their pain and it riles up frustration and anger inside. Jesus, like us, is deeply moved. He sees the pain of sin and death and he is mad. Sin and death taint God’s good creation, and Jesus hates the fracturing of Shalom. He hates sin and death so much he went to and endured the cross. He defeated death and sin for the Father’s glory and our rescue.

Pastor John Riley
Jr. High Ministry

El Roi, The God Who Sees You

“When Jesus saw her weeping…” (John 11:33a)

Have you been in a season of struggle or found yourself wondering whether God really knows all you are facing today? Are you wrestling with the disconnect between what you know to be true of God and what you are experiencing in the here and now? Are you tempted to question whether he really knows or to slip into thinking you are alone in your pain and sorrows? I know I struggle in all of these ways. This week has been a tough one. As we dwell on those thoughts, we are robbed of our peace and our hope in the goodness of God.

The account of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead reveals to us his power to overcome death, but it also gives us a beautiful picture of God's attentive, watchful heart towards his children. He knew Lazarus would die, and he grieved along with Mary and Martha and their community. He was not aloof or detached. He was not uncaring or distant. He knew where Lazarus was laid, yet he asked, “Where have you laid him?”

There is a beautiful parallel to this account in the story of Hagar in Genesis 16. Sarah grew impatient for God to keep his promise to grant Abram a son. So she decided to give her servant Hagar to Abraham to bear a son through her.

As the story unfolded, Hagar became pregnant and was mistreated by her mistress, Sarai, who now felt threatened.  So she ran away. She felt totally alone. Until “the angel of the LORD found Hagar near a spring in the desert; it was the spring that is beside the road to Shur. And he said, “Hagar, servant of Sarai, where have you come from, and where are you going?” (16:7-8) Since she isn’t sure where she’s going, she simply responds that she’s running away from her mistress. He tells her to return and promises to bless her son, Ishmael, giving him descendants too numerous to count. (16:9-10)

Hearing this, “she gave this name to the LORD who spoke to her: “You are the God who sees me,” for she said, “I have now seen the One who sees me.” (16:13)

The same was true for Mary, and the same is true for us. He is still the God who sees us. He is still the One who knows our weaknesses and hears our cries. He knows our entire story, from beginning to end. And his heart is tender toward us. Praise God that we can draw near to him with confidence, finding mercy and grace to help us in our time of need. (Hebrews 4:16)

He sees you. He hears your cry. And he knows you by name. Wait for him. Hope in him.

Nicole Jiles
Director of Children’s Ministry

Processing Pain

Seventeen years ago my dad took his last breath on earth and entered the glorious presence of his Creator. It seems like yesterday that he was coaching my twin's baseball team and driving his ‘68 Charger down Cruisin’ Grand. We still miss him dearly.

I can vividly remember his memorial service. It was a celebration of a life lived wholeheartedly for Jesus. We rejoiced in his life and the fact that he was fully complete with his Savior and Lord. But the time that followed revealed the depths of the pain of loss. Following the service, dozens of family members and friends brought food over to my parent's home, and the time of sharing continued. My mom loved being surrounded by people and found comfort in the company of many. Meanwhile, another close family member retreated to the bedroom in despair, bothered by the dozens of guests, and longing to grieve in quiet and solitude. I remember being somewhat baffled by both responses and probably just overwhelmed with caring for four kids under the age of 8.

This illustration makes me think of the differences between Mary and Martha as they grieved their brother Lazarus. Luke 11:20 says, “So when Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, but Mary remained seated in the house.” Martha ran to Jesus and pleaded with him for Lazarus’ life. Mary sat alone, weeping over her brother. Throughout history, these two women have received more scrutiny than most Hollywood actresses! Was one wrong? Was one, right? Could it be that both were perfectly demonstrating who God had created them to be? This passage does not communicate judgment regarding a right or wrong way to grieve. Death is not part of God’s design. It’s sad, it’s painful, and it reminds us of our humanity. But death does happen in our broken world and grief is the natural response. What grief looks like though is unique to the one doing the grieving. Mary and Martha both felt free to grieve as they were naturally inclined, with the assurance that Jesus, their Rabbi, would love them just as they were.

Fourteen years later my mom joined my dad in glory. It was then that I realized that both my mom and the other family members were the healthier ones; embracing grief in their own personal ways. Losing a second parent often triggers repressed emotions that may have existed with the loss of the first one. It was in losing my mom that I found space to fully grieve my dad. I finally allowed myself the freedom of grieving both parents whom I dearly loved and desperately missed.

Pastor Chip Whitman used to say, “grief will wait”. I have seen this to be true for myself and for many others. Sometimes our souls are in so much agony that we just don’t know how to approach grief. Jesus says in Matthew 5:4, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” God longs to bring comfort to those who are grieving no matter where they are in the process. He feels our sorrows and he weeps with us.

Are you grieving a loss today? Do you feel like you can approach your Abba with honesty no matter how ugly it may feel? Are you willing to receive his comfort? If you are feeling stuck in your grief, please reach out to the Care & Counseling Department. We would love to walk with you in your journey of grief. Most importantly, call out to your God. He longs to bring you comfort and peace.

Lynette Fuson 
Director of Care & Counseling