In Luke 24:13-35, two disciples meet the resurrected Jesus on the road to Emmaus. The story and its structure point to one transformative truth: Jesus is alive! How can we share this living Jesus with others by wondering with them about their spiritual journeys? Listen to Pastor David’s sermon:

The six levels of the chiastic structure found in this Bible story:


February 22 was “Freedom Sunday,” a day in which churches from many different denominations joined forces to learn, pray, study, think, and act about the problem of human trafficking in today’s world. The evils of this industry make us wonder if God is aware or capable of doing anything about it. But Psalm 10 speaks a louder truth: God is King of the universe and will bring about justice for the oppressed. Listen in to Pastor David’s message on this special day!

Listen now!

Last week at VBS, our children came up with a list of questions that they wanted to ask God. They wrote these down on large, red cardboard question marks, and then the question marks were placed side by side to create large, red hearts. This was to remind the children of that day’s Bible theme: even when you don’t understand, Jesus loves you!

Today, I read through those questions and found some of them to be very profound. In this space, I will do my best to answer a few questions from my perspective. What do you think? Can these questions spark conversations around your dinner table, church pew, or Sunday school classroom?

How did God make himself?

God was never created; God has always existed, from before the beginning of time. Jesus Christ is “the image of the invisible God,” and “by him all things were created” (Colossians 1:15-16). The Spirit of God was present before the universe began (Genesis 1:2). It’s hard to understand, but God simply is. There never was a time when God was not around!

What happens to animals when they die?

I wonder this myself. Tara and I had a dog named Lindy who died a year ago, and we miss her very much. Where is Lindy now? Sometimes we say that people who believe in Jesus go straight to heaven when they die. Maybe this happens with animals, too. (But remember, the Bible teaches that Jesus will return to earth at the end of time, and then all Christians will be raised from the dead to live with him forever (1 Corinthians 15).) Will our pets be waiting for us in heaven? I sure hope so!

Why do people get in car accidents?

This is a very powerful question, and I don’t have a good answer for it. I do not believe that car accidents are “supposed” to happen, as if they are somehow in God’s plan – especially when someone dies in the accident. Tragedies happen to all different kinds of people, and often without reason. While I do not know why accidents happen, I do know that God provides comfort to all who are suffering (2 Corinthians 1:1-11). And maybe that’s enough.

Do you [God] like naptime?

Absolutely, God loves to rest! After God created the universe, he took a whole day off (Genesis 2:1-3). Sometimes it’s not fun for a kid to take a nap, but trust me, napping is an acquired taste. But rest assured: God never falls asleep on the job of being our God and watching out for our needs (Psalm 121).

Why does my dad need to work on the house?

(I wish I knew more about this question, because it almost seems to come from a painful or lonely place.) Dads need to work on houses because they love their children. One of a parent’s many jobs is to make sure his or her children are safe, warm, and protected from bad weather. When your dad works on the house, you can remember that God the Father is watching over you as well (Psalm 127:1).

Why do people smoke?

Smoking releases very addictive chemicals into the brain. People who smoke usually know that smoking is very bad for you, because it leads to deadly forms of cancer. But people who smoke have a very hard time quitting, because of those addictive chemicals. The Bible does not address smoking directly, but it does teach that we should honor God with how we use our bodies (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).

Why do teenagers sometimes get mad at grown-ups?

It is hard to be a teenager! During your teenage years, you change in many ways. Your body, mind, and emotions develop very rapidly – but not always at the same rate. Sometimes, teenagers feel grown up but still have to listen to their parents. Sometimes, they feel mad about something at school or involving their friends, and that anger carries over into relationships with adults. Sometimes, teenagers don’t understand what they are feeling at all. But trust me, eventually those feelings of anger will go away as the teenagers become grown-ups themselves.

Why does my brother pick on me?

Brothers (and sisters) pick on their siblings for many reasons. Maybe they want to feel better about themselves, or maybe they are upset because others picked on them. They may not realize how much it hurts you when they pick on you. My advice is to follow the Golden Rule, and to remind your brother (gently) of the Golden Rule: “Do to others what you would have them do to you” (Matthew 7:12 NIV).

Will the Cleveland Indians win the World Series again in Pastor David’s lifetime?

Yes, they will! (Hebrews 11:1)

…I hope.

What do you want?

We have been spending a lot of time in John’s gospel during our Sunday morning services lately.  At the beginning of that gospel, when Jesus had attracted his first two disciples, this startling question is recorded:

Turning around, Jesus saw them following and asked, “What do you want?” (John 1:38a NIV)

A pastor friend of mine recently told the story of a research student who polled random people in a certain city.  This student asked each individual the same three questions, and all three questions were exactly the same:

What do you want?

photo by zubrow
photo by zubrow

How would you respond to that question?  What do you want?  Perhaps there is a pressing need in your life; perhaps a loved one is ill, or you have outstanding bills that need to be paid.  Maybe you feel pressed for time in your everyday life, and you would like a real vacation – or more hours in the day!  Maybe what you want relates to your work, your home, or your family.  For me, I certainly could use more hours in the day, or perhaps a clone of myself to get twice as much done!

But now think about the question on a deeper level:  What do you want?  What is really most satisfying in your life?  Where do you find the most meaning?  What drives you?  What motivates you?  The things that motivate us reveal what is really important to us.  There are only so many priorities that we can have, and certain events or circumstances just won’t get us to behave, feel, or believe differently.  But other priorities are higher in importance for us.  Personally, one of the (lighter) things in this category is interacting with my dog Jake.  Sometimes, such as just now, I will look over from my desk, see him looking at me, and watch him start to wag his tail as we stare at each other.  Then after a few seconds he stands up slowly – his back hips are getting rusty – and comes over to be petted.  Call me crazy, but this helps me remember something about live and love and family and relationships.

So here’s the third and final question:  What do you want?  What is this all about?  Why do you believe in Jesus (if you do)?  How would you respond to Jesus’s question in John 1:38?  What are we really about?  Why does our church exist?  Why does the church exist?  My answers to this … well, my answers hopefully come through each sermon you hear at Mt. Haley.

This sequence of questions invites us to think more deeply about our lives, our church, and the meaning of everything we do.  The answers we give are probably the most important thoughts we have.

The disciples responded to Jesus by saying,

“Rabbi” (which means Teacher), “where are you staying?” (John 1:38b NIV)

My pastor friend commented that when we truly listen to our deepest desires, our answers to the ultimate questions, then we will hear God’s voice leading us forward.  Let us all listen carefully for the voice of the Good Shepherd and find out where he is staying, so that we might stay there with him and learn from him.

–Pastor David

Perfect Power

The other night, Tara and I were flipping channels on the TV, and we came across the show “Ask the Pastor” on TCT.  Have you ever watched that show?  It features a panel of pastors who field questions about the Bible and Christian faith that viewers send in by phone or email.  Sometimes I like watching a few minutes to see what kinds of questions people are asking.

One question really caught my attention.  The show’s host read an email, which asked, “Where is the third heaven located?”  One pastor then spoke up and said that “the third heaven” refers to the place where God lives, the place of God’s full presence.  He went on to explain that the third heaven is higher than the air we breathe and the stratosphere of the earth, which presumably are the first two heavens.

Friends, here is the truth:  Above our planet’s atmosphere is a whole lot of outer space.

The only biblical passage this question could be referencing is 2 Corinthians 12:1-10, in which Paul describes his own spiritual experience of being “caught up to the third heaven” fourteen years before writing this letter.  During that time, he was in the presence of God in paradise – surely an amazing experience!

But why does he even mention that experience?  Take a few moments to read chapter 11 and this first part of chapter 12.  The whole point is not to emphasize the greatness of Paul’s spiritual experience, but to reveal how Paul had to deal with his “thorn in the flesh” in order to keep him humble.  Three times Paul asked the Lord to remove this malady (perhaps poor eyesight, malaria, migraines, insomnia – nobody knows).  And God’s response to Paul?

My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. (2 Corinthians 12:9a, NIV)

Brothers and sisters, God’s glory is amazing, to be sure.  On this side of eternity, though, our lives are sometimes full of hardship and suffering.  No matter what happens, remember that Jesus Christ loves you and that his power is made complete by guiding us through our difficult times so that we might become more like him.  Let us praise God for how he is Lord of our lives in tangible ways; try not to get hung up on questions such as “Where is the third heaven?”

But remember also that I’m always open to discussing any questions you have about life, faith, the Bible, math, or anything else – and remember that I am praying for you!

–Pastor David

Finding Answers

Lately, I’ve been asking a lot of questions.  Our current sermon series asks a number of questions that have proven to be obstacles to faith for many people.  The past couple of website articles (like this one) have posed questions, as well – sometimes introspective, sometimes relating to our world.  And I’ve even invited folks at church to ask questions of God and to let me know what those questions are.  Thanks to those of you who have taken up that challenge – it’s been quite illuminating for me to hear from you!

With all of these questions, you might start to wonder if and when we’ll find any answers.  So today I’d like to take a few moments to describe where I find answers to big questions of faith, and perhaps this can be useful for you, too.

Scripture.  As disciples of Christ, our first and most important source of answers is the God-inspired book which introduces us to Christ.  Whenever any issue arises, whether it involves relationships at home, management of time and resources, the meaning of life, or anything else, our first course of action is to look to the Bible to glean from its harvest of wisdom.  This does not mean, however, that we simply find one or two verses to support the position we already feel is true.  On the contrary, we read scripture holistically, from cover to cover, so that we can discover God’s real intention for our lives and his real answers to our questions.

Tradition.  In the two thousand years since the New Testament was written – and more since the Old Testament was written – many, many people of faith have lived, died, and struggled with real-life issues in between.  We do ourselves a great disservice when we imagine that we’re the first people to struggle with specific questions of faith.  Are we struggling to make ends meet and afraid that our resources will soon run out?  Let’s see what St. Francis of Assisi believed about material possessions.  Are we concerned about the existence of evil in the world?  Let’s read recent authors such as C.S. Lewis and Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and let’s read ancient writers like St. Augustine and Thomas Aquinas.  We have much to learn from how those who came before us handled the issues we face today.

Reason.  The answers to our deepest questions must, in the end, make sense to us.  One complaint I’ve heard from people outside the faith is that in order to be a good Christian, you have to “check your brain at the door.”  To some extent, I see what they mean:  it’s awfully difficult to believe in a God who is one and yet three, to believe that Jesus is fully human and fully divine, to believe that one man’s public execution 2,000 years ago has any bearing whatsoever on our eternal destiny.  Yet these and all other issues of faith must be filtered through the brains God gave us.  Our questions must find answers that involve our abilities to reason and make sense of the world around us.

Experience.  As we search for answers to our deepest questions, we do so as people who have already experienced God’s grace in our lives on many occasions.  Are you wondering if God really loves you right now?  Think back, if you can, to a moment when you were sure that he did love you.  Are you struggling through a difficult situation and unsure how it will be resolved?  Think back, if you can, to another difficult period in your life, and remember how God helped to bring you through it.  Our experiences can be rich resources for realizing how involved in our lives the Lord truly is.  Our experiences can confirm the truths and answers we find in scripture.

May the Lord continue to bless us as we continue to wrestle with questions of faith.  Rest assured that there are answers, that God determines those answers, and that he has given us plenty of tools to discover those answers – even though they may take a lifetime to find.

–Pastor David