Our Pandemic Easter

Worship

“And behold, Jesus met them and said, ‘Greetings!’ And they came up and took hold of his feet and worshiped him(Matthew 28:9 ESV).

I’ll bet they did because that’s what wonder does; it leads us to worship. Now we can’t physically see Jesus, and for some people today, this makes this all very suspect. Yet we can see him with eyes of faith—in a way, like I see Abraham Lincoln or Winston Churchill—I see them through the accounts of their lives. I’ve never met them, but that doesn’t mean that the Gettysburg Address or London Blitz didn’t happen.

We see through the eyewitness accounts. We see through their objective re-telling with the eyes of faith. Like Mary Magdalene and Peter and even the Centurion, we believe Jesus was who he claimed to be, the Son of God and the Savior of the world.

We would never worship a dead Savior. Anyone could make that claim. But a risen-from-the-dead Savior, I’ll bow at his feet.

How do we worship him? It begins with acknowledging that we are morally bankrupt. When I see myself as a sinner, I see my need for a Savior. That’s not a hard step for most people. If you’re like me, I don’t need someone to tell me I’m a sinner; I’m just tired of being one. Where do I turn for help?

The religions of the world all encourage you to do something to earn it. All of them but one. Christianity says, stop trying to earn it; you can’t. Jesus did what you could never do with his death on the cross. Receive his salvation by faith.

“But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12).

What is there to receive by faith? The person and work of Jesus. His love for you. Trusting in who he was as the Son of God and what he did dying on the cross for our sins. To those who believe in His name. When we believe, God meets our moral and spiritual need by forgiving our sins and declaring us righteous before God forever.

If you have not received this salvation through Christ, what better day than pandemic Easter to put your faith and trust in Christ for salvation?

Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

© 2020 by Steve DeWitt. You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that: (1) you credit the author, (2) any modifications are clearly marked, (3) you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, (4) you include Bethel’s website address (www.bethelweb.org) on the copied resource.

To hear the message of this excerpt in its entirety, click here

The King We Need

The Purpose

“And when he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred up, saying, ‘Who is this?’ And the crowds said, ‘This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth of Galilee.’” (Matthew 21:10-11 ESV)

The whole city was stirred. The Greek word for stirred is the root of our word “seismic.” The city was shaking. Rocking and rolling. This didn’t happen quietly or just for Jesus’ followers. That Sunday exploded with emotion and fervor so much so that the city was seismic. Clearly, this was intentional and planned by Jesus. Why?

“But the ride on a colt, because it was planned, could only be an acted parable, a deliberate act of symbolic self-disclosure for those with eyes to see or, after the Resurrection, with memories by which to remember and integrate the events of the preceding weeks and years. Secrecy was being lifted.”[1] (D.A. Carson)

What do you think of when you see Air Force One? President of the United States. The ride tells you who it is. 500 years prior, a prophet gave a sign. Here is how you will know that the great King has arrived. He will come to you riding on a donkey. It was a sign. Just like the angels said, you’ll know it’s him if you find him lying in a manger. Nobody puts babies in a manger and great kings don’t ride donkeys.

Did the people get it? Not really. Yes, there was excitement, but listen to their answer when someone asks, who is this? “And the crowds said, ‘This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth of Galilee.’” (Matthew 21:11)

What’s the problem with that answer? Was his name Jesus? Yes. Was he from Nazareth? Yes. Was he a prophet? Yes. All true. What’s missing? What they missed that day is the same thing many people in hell someday will testify, I knew Jesus was great, but I didn’t realize he was that great!

Jesus a prophet? Yes, but no. He is so much more than a prophet. A great teacher? Yes, but so much more than a great teacher. A miracle worker? Yes, but so much more than a miracle worker. He is the King of all kings. He didn’t ride the donkey to announce he was a prophet; he rode the donkey to announce he was the king AND to show the nature of his kingdom as he comes to his people in humility. A servant. A messiah. A Savior.

For all their excitement, the crowds missed it. Why? They realized he was their prophet but not that he was their king. Just days later, very near to this same spot outside the city, many of these same people would see him crucified and die. The ultimate act of love and humility only hinted at by riding into Jerusalem on a baby donkey. The triumphal entry was Jesus’ final and very public statement to the whole nation right there in the capital on the biggest stage possible: I am the King.

Did he know those people singing and shouting still wouldn’t get it? Of course. Then why did he do it?

I believe Jesus did it for the millions who weren’t there that day. For the people who would investigate his life and claims to be Messiah and Savior. Looking back, even his disciples would connect the dots and realize that he was a descendant of David. Born in Bethlehem. Rode into Jerusalem on a donkey. Jesus puts into his story a hard-to-miss, prophetically fulfilling clue to his real identity.

Palm Sunday. Is it about the donkey? Is it about palm branches? Is it about the shouting and singing? The size of the crowds? No. It is about him. Jesus intentionally fulfills the prophecy to say unmistakably to Israel and to us, This is who I am. I am the King whose reign shall stretch from shore to shore forever.

What do you believe about Jesus? Who is he in your estimation? A great man? Great teacher? Even maybe a prophet of God? The crowd believed all that. They didn’t realize he was more than a Galilean. More than a Nazarene. More than a prophet. More than a miracle worker. He was and is and forever will be the King of kings and the Lord of lords. Is he your king?

Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

© 2020 by Steve DeWitt. You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that: (1) you credit the author, (2) any modifications are clearly marked, (3) you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, (4) you include Bethel’s website address (www.bethelweb.org) on the copied resource.

[1] D.A. Carson, Matthew, Vol. 2 (Ch. 13-28), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, p. 437.

To hear the message of this excerpt in its entirety, click here

God, Our Shepherd

God sustains us

“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” (Psalm 23:4 ESV)

You know, when you think about Psalm 23 and this pandemic that we’re in today, I wonder if perhaps these are the most comforting words that Psalm 23 has for us. David imagines the worst moments we can have and describes them vividly as the valley of the shadow of death. Now, there aren’t a lot of valleys in Indiana. The terrain here is very flat. But in Israel, to shepherd in Israel is to lead sheep up and down hills. I have personally walked some of this terrain, and you can’t go far without going through ravines, gorges, and valleys; those deep places where the sun doesn’t break through.

Does that sound like the life you’re living right now? You’re walking through a kind of valley where you don’t see any light of truth or light of hope? Is your life a valley today?

While I’m sure this applies to those dark moments at the end of life, the language is more applicable to those dark nights of the soul during life. Valleys like we’re in now. The valleys of life where everything seems dark, mysterious, uncertain, and fearful. This is such a vivid description of human emotional pain. Anybody in that valley today?

Need a little light? See that it says I walk through the valley. When we are hurting we can give in to despair and think the valley is a canyon; a pit. I’ll never get out. It’ll always be this way! I’ll always feel this way. I’ll always have this pain. I’ll never get over this experience! I’m stuck and I can’t get out.

Not if God is your shepherd.

If God is my shepherd, then I’m walking through this valley of darkness. We are walking, as a church, through this valley of this coronavirus. We are walking through this valley of not being able to gather together. We’re walking through this valley of fear in our community. We are walking through this valley of uncertainty. This is not a canyon. This is not the end of the road. This is a valley that God, our Shepherd, is walking through with us. Please don’t forget that.

Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

© 2020 by Steve DeWitt. You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that: (1) you credit the author, (2) any modifications are clearly marked, (3) you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, (4) you include Bethel’s website address (www.bethelweb.org) on the copied resource.

To hear the message of this excerpt in its entirety, click here

Washing our Hearts of Worry

The Prayer that Kills Worry

“…but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” (Philippians 4:6 ESV)

Anxious for nothing. Prayer in everything. Never worry. Always pray. There are three words used for prayer here: prayers, petitions, and requests.

  • Prayers – general word for talking to God.
  • Petitions (supplication) – this word is more specific and means entreaty. This is a word of urgency and need. It’s the difference between conversation and a cry for help.
  • Requests – asking for things. When are we do this? In everything!

Paul also adds that these prayers are to be done in a spirit of thanksgiving. This is critical as thanksgiving acknowledges God’s right to do what he wants. When I am thankful to God, I am submissive to his will. When I am thankful in prayer, I am acknowledging his goodness.

Disinfecting Fear

Disinfecting Fear

These are probably the two most common activities in our world today. Everybody’s disinfecting. And most people are afraid. Where has that got us? To a Sunday like a today. What a crazy week! Just this week all travel from Europe was cancelled. The stock market lost trillions of dollars in value. The President declared a national emergency on COVID-19. The governor of Indiana mandated no gatherings of 250 or more. Bethel Church is forgoing our normal eight worship services for a morning of livestream. And tomorrow, who knows? There is a lot of disinfecting and there is a lot of fear. It’s much easier to wash your hands than to wash your heart, wash your fear. Let’s talk about how to disinfect fear.

On Humility and Unity

Finding My Significance in Christ and My Purpose in the Church

Notice how Paul sees a healthy self-assessment: “For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.” (Romans 12:4 ESV)

What does a healthy self-assessment do? It moves us away from the morbid introspection and personal navel gazing that leads to isolation. In a sense, it takes our thoughts off ourselves entirely and places them on the opportunities to serve other people, especially brothers and sisters in Christ.

The analogy Paul uses is very familiar but don’t let the familiarity keep you from hearing what he’s saying. He compares a healthy self-identity to a part of the human body. He calls them “members.” We don’t refer to our hand or foot as a member; think body part. Our bodies have an incredible assortment of parts and organs, all of which fulfill a dizzying array of functions, the vast majority of which we are completely unaware. The heart is pumping and the kidney is filtering, and the immune system is protecting and the intestines are conveying and the optical nerve is transmitting, etc. The human body is a masterpiece of interlocking parts functioning in complete harmony from the cellular to the pulmonary to the electrical. It is a perfect illustration of diversity of function and complete unity of purpose and objective.

What happens if just one body part ceases to see its role as important and goes rogue? Begins to think it’s really not that important or is jealous that it’s not a different body part? This is the point of a parallel passage in 1 Corinthians 12 where he envisions the eye saying to the hand, I don’t need you or the head saying to the feet, I don’t need you! All of a sudden, the eye realizes how important the hand is and the head how important the foot is. We have all pulled some muscle or had some unknown body part stop working properly and all of a sudden we realize how important it is! His point? “So we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.” (Romans 12:5)

He transitions from the illustration to the reality. The illustration of the human body’s parts shows how each of us are to find our place and significance in the context of belonging and serving in the spiritual body of Christ that is the church. It is the church universal and the church local. Your local church is the body of Christ, but then so is every other gospel-preaching church in your region and around the world.

How are we united? “So we, though many, are one body in Christ.” (Romans 12:5) The tremendous diversity is brought into unity in Christ. We have learned in Romans that “in Christ” is theological shorthand for union with Christ; this great doctrine of salvation whereby God through faith unites us with the saving works of Jesus in his death (for our sin), burial, and resurrection. Our union with Jesus is an ongoing reality. It means many things, but one big one is that not only am I united with Jesus, I am also united with everyone else that’s united with Jesus.

Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

© 2020 by Steve DeWitt. You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that: (1) you credit the author, (2) any modifications are clearly marked, (3) you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, (4) you include Bethel’s website address (www.bethelweb.org) on the copied resource.

To hear the message of this excerpt in its entirety, click here

How to Know God’s Will

“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Romans 12:2 ESV)

Wisdom on the Street Level of Life

Wisdom. What is wisdom? Wisdom is the ability to discern the best choice for the best outcome. C.S. Lewis called this “sanctified common sense.” There are entire books of the Bible called wisdom literature, Proverbs most notably. Practical Christian living. Christian wisdom has different outcomes in view than worldly wisdom. In the world, decisions are made by what will make me the most money, most famous, most powerful, most whatever. For the Christian, the wisest way to live is in the way that pleases God the most and brings him glory.

God has so ordered the world that all human beings live in the midst of three circles of God’s will (see diagram below):

The largest circle represents God’s eternal or sovereign will, the next largest circle represents God’s revealed will, and the innermost circle represents God’s wisdom.

Why is this important? Because often people say, I want to know God’s will for my life. Great! Read the Bible. No, I mean, I have a decision to make and I’m not sure what God’s will is. Which will do you mean? Certainly not his secret will; you will never know that. Do you mean his revealed will? Maybe.

Let’s say a woman is considering marrying a guy. I’ve had this conversation many times. Pastor Steve, I’m in love. OK. Tell me about him. Well, he likes cats and he’s great with kids. We like so many of the same movies and we can talk for hours. Nothing you have said so far is important. Susie, is he a growing Christian? I don’t know. We haven’t talked about that. Really? Now I’m concerned about your priorities AND his. Why? It’s never God’s will for a Christian to marry a non-Christian. The Bible makes that clear. If he is a Christian, now this becomes a wisdom decision. Bill may love cats but hasn’t held a job in 10 years. He may love cats, but he despises your sister. Or your family despises him. Or worse, maybe he’s a Packer fan…. There are lots of deal-breakers out there. Within God’s revealed will and parameters, who you marry is a wisdom decision. Once you marry them, you have fulfilled God’s sovereign will.

Pastor Steve, so there isn’t one soulmate out there for me? My one true love? Nope. There are hundreds of thousands of potential spouses who are within God’s will. Do they love Jesus and want to be a biblical husband or wife? If yes, now it’s a question of which one you want to marry. For this, we need God’s wisdom. Did you know God encourages us to ask for it?

“If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him” (James 1:5). That is a great prayer when making decisions, God I lack wisdom here. Would you please give it to me? Incline my heart toward what would be most pleasing to you.

How do I find God’s will? Ask, does God’s Word give definitive direction in this? If yes, case closed. You don’t have to think about it. Does God’s Word give direction in principle? While it may not be clearly yes or no, the application of a biblical truth can be helpful. This is what Paul does in much of 1 Corinthians. The Corinthian Church was confused about many things including whether to take a fellow Christian to court or if Christians could eat meat offered to idols. Paul takes a truth like love your fellow brother and applies it to whether Christians can sue each other. In cases where God’s Word is not entirely clear, we must objectively apply the clear truths to the less-than-clear situations.

But what if there is no clear biblical teaching that either prohibits or requires something or principled application that gives direction for God’s will? Within that freedom we can make some really stupid decisions. I know; I have made them. So just because God’s revealed will allows it, doesn’t mean it’s best. Immature Christians struggle with that distinction. They want to ask, “Can I?” The right question is, “Should I?”

Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

© 2020 by Steve DeWitt. You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that: (1) you credit the author, (2) any modifications are clearly marked, (3) you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, (4) you include Bethel’s website address (www.bethelweb.org) on the copied resource.

To hear the message of this excerpt in its entirety, click here

Be Constant in Prayer

“Be constant in prayer” (Romans 12:12 ESV).

In

When you bring up prayer or suggest prayer, there’s lots of talk about prayer. People will talk about prayer, perhaps brag about their prayers, but not actually be IN prayer. An observation about many prayer gatherings is that there is way more sharing of prayer requests than there is praying about prayer requests. Oh, look at the time, we’d better pray….

Every Day is Sunday

Living Sacrifice

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice.” (Romans 12:1 ESV, emphasis added)

“Living” is what stands out here. Why? Because there were hundreds of thousands of Old Testament sacrifices. What was true of all of them? They were all dead. To be a sacrifice required that you die. This is why in the history of sacrifices—all the lambs and all the goats and all the cattle—there was only one sacrifice that was made willingly: Jesus.

Life in Harmony

“And the Lord said, ‘You pity the plant, for which you did not labor, nor did you make it grow, which came into being in a night and perished in a night. And should not I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also much cattle?’” (Jonah 4:10–11 ESV)

Two Difficult Truths as Seen in the Book of Jonah

God often delights to save people we dislike and disagree with

Apparently, Jonah was a pretty good theologian. What can we say about the Assyrians? Their religion was pure paganism. We would expect a revival like this to happen in Jerusalem, where the Torah was taught and known. Theologically, there could be no more different people on the planet from Jonah than the Assyrians. Yet God delighted to bring revival to Nineveh.

If you are a Republican, how would you feel about a massive revival at the Democratic National Convention this summer? Or if you are a Democrat, what if God chose to work in a powerful revival at the Republican National Convention? If you are a Bears fan, what if revival broke out at Lambeau field? Now pastor, we draw the line there! Here’s what’s true:

God often delights to save people different from us