Some thoughts on Follow Me, David & Goliath, Parents, and How much God is for you.

Dan Behrens, Co Pastor EFC

Peter once said to Jesus, “What becomes of us, Lord? We have left everything to follow you.” Shortly thereafter, Jesus tells Peter a story: “A mob of field workers forms in front of the payroll table, intolerably impatient for the day’s wage. Somewhere among their ranks a rumor starts that late-comers receive equal pay. Unhinged even at the notion, a spokesman for the morning crew lets out: ‘you dare spite us when we have bore the burden of your field in the scorching heat. You are not only crazy, you are unjust.’ Here the landowner himself steps in. ‘I do you no injustice sir; didn’t we agree to the wage of a dollar a day? Am I not free to do what I want with what is my own? Or are you envious because I’m gracious? Take your pay and go, but know that in my kingdom many who are first shall be last, and last first.’

When we last see Peter and Jesus together, they’re on the shore of the sea, revisiting this very issue. “Follow me” Jesus says, “and feed my lambs.” “But what about him (John)” Peter asks. “What about him?” Jesus replies. “If he is to remain until I return, what is that to you? You follow me.”

Even after everything we’ve been taught since we were kids, we still compare ourselves to others. We still judge others against ourselves. We hastily draw up conclusions about the posture, position, and workload of everyone else around us. And on both sides we are left wanting. We may even be angry with God, envious of his manifold grace toward everyone—the burden-bearers and the late-comers. Here is one of those rare occasions where Jesus goes in for our individual need over that of the group: “never you mind all those others” he says, “you follow me!”

You remember that David and Goliath story from church when you were a kid? The one you heard every year as part of a packaged “kids-church” curriculum? Conversely, its hardly a children’s story. The whole account includes a high level of brutality. The head of a giant is removed. An enemy empire is hunted down and slaughtered. As adults, the David meets Goliath construct is familiar to almost everyone almost everyday, the mighty favorite over the puny underdog. Yet even a casual re-read makes the whole thing fresh. For I am weak. I am forgetful. I need reminders. I need ancient histories to constantly assure me that somewhere under heaven giants do fall. Giants do fall. They fall with a violent crash. We all need to know this and cling to it tightly. The challenges of this life and the chaos of this world will come to a head, and that head will be removed. That is what our scriptures tell us. So hang in there. The Lord is your defender!

Just so we all know, parents don’t know everything. Parents make mistakes. Parents do their best, most often with very little time to think, training to rely on, experience to draw from, or reciprocation to expect. Equally, parents may be faithful Christians, have wonderful supports in place, feel confident in the leading of the Lord, and still get it wrong. I tell you, with the speed at which our culture bombards, parents are most often shooting from the hip. I do not judge them. For I am one of them. Shooting from the hip is not an enduring recipe, but callus ridicule and dismissive indifference is no recipe either. If you are a parent or you know a parent… extend much much grace.

On occasion I take this risk. I write something direct to you. I do so because I believe it’s how I can genuinely express a certain kindness. I want you to know that God is for you today. He is. God is for you. And he intends for your life his peace, his comfort, his favor, his hope. I really do believe this. It motivates my day. If, for whatever reason, you are not so sure about this. If you are not all that convinced of God’s favor and comfort. If you are emphatically opposed to any such notion, that’s okay. I do not wish to challenge you on this point or try to convince of something else. Nor do I wish to dismiss how you might feel differently; I don’t think that helps either one of us. Instead, you get to be you. I get to be me. Perhaps the two of us could unite around this one thing: that a certain kindness will not hurt us. In fact, it might keep us talking and learning and loving differently, loving better. There are enough daily difficulties to wear out our wits and deplete us of all hope. I certainly don’t want to add to that list. I come in peace. God comes in peace. He is for you today. So am I.

The scriptures are a living testimony of persons who saw things and heard things and believed things when they didn’t see or hear anything. Their experience was paired with language that only the Spirit of God could carry through the ages. When we open ourselves up to the scriptures, we are hearing echoes of songs sung in sadness, joys celebrated in victory, prayers offered in gratitude, and praises lifted in agony. If we really listen, we can almost hear ourselves in there somewhere amidst the rushing stream of faith. Even more, in working the scriptures through, we find that our collective story—ours and those before ours—together put before the world, not a science about God presiding over man, but a portrait of God present with real people.



The Real Miracle of the Resurrection

Dan Behrens, Co Pastor EFC

The real miracle of the resurrection

“Indeed, Christ has been raised from the dead, the first of those who have fallen asleep. Since death itself came through a man, the resurrection of the dead also comes through a man; and that man is Jesus Christ. In Adam all men die, so in Christ all men will be made alive. And each in turn: first Christ; then when he comes, those who belong to him. After which, the end will come when he hands over to God his kingdom after he has destroyed all dominion, authority, and power. For he must reign until he has put all enemies under his feet—the last being death itself.” (1 Corinthians 15:20-26)

The real miracle of the resurrection of Jesus is the release of the church into the world. The church—the bride of Christ, who he himself loves as one loves his own body—is released into the world, bearing a most peculiar story. But more than a story. More than mere history. A real miracle. Jesus’ closest friends really had witnessed something the world had never known. They had seen a man who claimed to be God executed by torture at the demand of religious Jews under the governorship of Rome’s Pontius Pilate. They had seen this man buried in the ground (like all men are buried in the ground), then suddenly come to life again and walk among them as a real conqueror over death, a just champion over sin. The church witnessed this, and thus continues to defend (for over 2000 years now) against every anti-God spirit that Jesus Christ is LORD of all Lords. Such defense was and still is rooted in an unshakable confidence that only by confessing this name Jesus is there salvation from sin and justification for righteousness. There was and still is a peculiar power in bearing witness of this Jesus. The name Jesus is our witness.

The name Jesus is our witness

“Let this be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God has raised from the dead—by him this man is standing here before you well. There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we can be saved.” (Acts 4:10-12)

The name Jesus is our witness. The power of this witness is what the church immediately sees and hears in her new life of spirit-born allegiance. It is what the world around her sees and hears as this spirit-born allegiance leads to daily radical obedience in the face of injustice. The name Jesus is much more than mere story or testimony or history. It is the only real miracle of our life. And in that sense, is beyond natural; it is supernatural, born of God. For his is the name we have taken as our own, the only name for which we are pledged. The church belongs to Jesus; he belongs us. We are one in him as a bride and groom are one in marriage. We are one in him as the whole of a man’s body is one being. Wherever we are we witness Jesus, seeing in everything else his miraculous provision, yet bearing in ourselves his living presence. “Thus it is written that you might believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing in Him you might have life in his name.” “And with that he breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit'”(Jn 20).

The witness of Jesus are the acts of the Holy Spirit

“God has raised this Jesus to life, and we all are witnesses of it. Even now, exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear.” (Acts 2:32-33)

The witness of Jesus are the acts of the Holy Spirit. The visible actions and vibrant activity of the Spirit pulsing through the people of God testify that this Jesus who was crucified is very much alive. For Jesus is the restoration, regeneration, and renewal of all things; in whom all things are brought forth and hold together. We see this in his birth—Jesus is Spirit-formed in the womb of Mary. We see this in his ministry—Jesus is Spirit-led among the people of Palestine. We certainly see this in Jesus’ death—one wholly surrendered to the Spirit of obedience. Our earliest accounts of the new testament church describe miracles and wonders at the hands of the apostles, the defining testimony of the resurrection of Jesus and the fulfillment of the scriptures. Repentance and forgiveness preached; present healing and enduring hope offered; the witness of Jesus thrust forward through Spirit-filled martyrs readied for heaven. Yet again these things are not so much a history of the acts of the apostles as they are a witness of Christ through the acts of Spirit. The Spirit of God comes alive in us as he came alive through the obedience of our Christian ancestors, as he once came to life in Christ himself who surrendered all unto death. “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you” Paul says, “then he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you”(Rom 8).

We are witness of these things

[Paraphrased] This Jesus, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, even now sits at the right hand of the Father as both LORD and God, having poured out the Holy Spirit on the church. We all are witnesses of these things and so is the Holy Spirit. Acts 1:8, 2:32, 3:15, 4:20, 5:32, 10:39-41, 13:31

[Paraphrased] But the righteousness of faith says this: the word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart (that is, the word of faith that was preached to you), that if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth one confesses unto salvation. And there is no distinction between Jew and Greek, for the same Lord is LORD over all and gracious to all who call upon Him. For whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved. Romans 10:6-13

We are witness of these things. The church is witness of something the world has never known—a real resurrection, a miracle of life over death. That which was truly dead is now alive, and we along with him. By way of faith (that is, by way of belief substantiated by confession) we are the visible, viable testimony that Jesus is risen, is Lord of all, and is able to reconcile us to God. But here comes a snag. The resurrection of Jesus is only made real if Christ has indeed risen in our hearts. If he has not, than Jesus coming up from the grave is only one more fantastic story in a world plagued by fantasy. So then, is Christ alive in you? Has Jesus arisen in your heart? Do you bear in yourself his peculiar witness in the world? Every sane person is looking for honest testimony, reliable evidence, unalterable facts. Your neighbor, your boss, your landlord, your in-law, these all are looking for something much deeper than peace-of-mind; they are looking for real life, true life. Do you have life? What you yourself have freely received, freely give. Your witness will make all difference in the world.



Important Scriptures for You the Church

Dan Behrens, Co Pastor EFC

I share these important scriptures that I believe are for the church this week. And when I say the church, I mean you specifically. I printed these scriptures out on paper for myself early this week and have been reading them a couple times a day. They are inspiring and encouraging, and in every way practical and helpful. May the Lord bless you richly as his word comforts your heart.   —Pastor Dan
Isaiah 41:10  So then do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will hold you up with my righteous right hand.

Proverbs 3:5-6  Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will direct your paths.

Romans 15:13  May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

1 Timothy 4:12  Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for all believers by your speech and in your conduct through love, faith and purity.

Deuteronomy 31:6  Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.

Matthew 11:28  Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.

Jeremiah 29:11  For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.

Philippians 4:6  Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving in your heart, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

1 Corinthians 4:13  No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. Yet God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will provide a way out so that you can endure.

Zephaniah 3:17  The LORD God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He takes great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing.

2 Corinthians 4:16-18  Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, inwardly we are being renewed each day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs our trouble. Now fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

1 John 4:8-10  Beloved, let us love one another, because love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God’s love was revealed among us: God sent His one and only Son into the world, so that we might live through Him. And love consists in this: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.

Jude 1: 20-21 But you, beloved, by building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God as you await the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you eternal life.

Psalm 55:22  Cast your cares on the LORD and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous be shaken.

1 Peter 5:5-7 All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, so that in due time He may exalt you. Cast all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you.

Our Astonishing Reluctance of Jesus’ Authority

Dan Behrens, Co Pastor EFC

In the final verse of Matthew’s account of the Sermon on the Mount, the gospel writer asserts that those who heard these words of Jesus were “astonished”. It seems they found him not merely different but abundantly more than they had known—“he taught them as one having authority” (Mt 7:29).

What I have found to be true is that a great deal of those (both then and now) who initially regard Jesus as “astonishing” or “amazing”, “transformative” or “fresh” turn out to be a crowd of a different sort. Somewhere along the line they are exposed (and often times we are too) for being a skeptical following utterly offended at his healings, righteously appalled at his dinning with sinners, and completely outraged by his claim to be the Messiah of God. Whether it’s the practical implication of Jesus’ words or the intimate weight of Jesus’ presence, sooner or later a certain reluctance arises in our soul—“the kingdom of heaven has come near” (Mt 7:17). His authority is what we marvel over. His authority over us is what we ultimately resist.

What I have also found to be true is that miraculous wonders and passionate sermons can not overcome a person’s will. The sovereignty of God does have its limits; Jesus can’t do everything. Even with “all authority in heaven and on earth” (Mt 28:18) the most our Lord can do is invite us to follow him and weep for us when we don’t. The full admission of this is found not in Jesus’ ministry efforts that follow this beloved Sermon on the Mount, but in the sermon itself. It is made clear for us in the parable of two different kinds of builder: one who builds on rock and one who builds on sand; one who is waked by solidarity and roused to action and one who remains cynically unmovable in the path of gathering rain—“everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them, may be compared to a wise man” (Mt 7:24).

A wise man is not seeking wisdom; he is looking for the Spirit of God to show him who is and how he ought to live. A wise man understands he’s in over his head and comes right out with it. He confesses sin. Jesus says, “I am here to help you. I am the way you should live. I am the truth of the whole matter” (Jn 14:6). We all know that to take Jesus at his word means willful repentance and obedient faith. It has to be. Jesus did not come into the world to astonish us with good advice, but to pull us up out of sinking sand. It is the immense depth of his love that presently allows us to choose his rescue or not, to grab his outstretched arm or remain flounderingly indifferent. This is all he can do; for he is righteousness and justice, the foundation of the world.

Witness and the Wonders of God

Dan Behrens, Co Pastor EFC

ACTS 2:1-15 — Declaring the wonders of God
There is perhaps no other passage in the New Testament that receives as much attention as Acts 2:1-15. And rightfully so; these verses describe the pouring out of the Holy Spirit on Jesus’ disciples on the day of Pentecost—“And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them” (Acts 2:4). Jesus predicted the pouring out of the Holy Spirit on the church, describing it as both the “promise of my Father” and “the gift of my Father (Luke 24:49, Acts 1:4). In the power of this promised gift, Jesus’ followers (Christians) would live, abide, and minister in the world until his return. And while there is much more to say concerning the empowerment of the Spirit and Spirit-filled/led living, the focus of this piece is to look at one of the most amazing observations of this Acts 2 passage which seems so readily overlooked—“we hear them declaring the wonders of God” (Acts 2:11).

ACTS 2:1-15 — Scripture Passage
v1) When the day of Pentecost came, the believers were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like a mighty rushing wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw tongues like flames of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them. v5) Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. And when this sound rang out, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard them speaking his own language. Astounded and amazed, they asked, “Are not all these men who are speaking Galileans? How is it then that each of us hears them in our own native language? Parthians, Medes, and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome, both Jews and converts to Judaism; Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongue!” v11) Astounded and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?” Still, others mocked them and said, “These men are drunk!” But then Peter stood up with the eleven, lifted up his voice, and addressed the crowd: Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen carefully to my words. These men are not drunk as you suppose. It is only the third hour of the day! No, what you see and hear (what you are witnessing) is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:

Quick Recap — What leads up to Acts 2.
1. What Jesus began to do. The author of Acts (the gospel writer Luke) first acknowledges “all that Jesus began to do and teach until the day he was taken up into heaven” (Acts 1:1). And what is important to note, right out of the gate, is the subtle directive of Jesus to his church that we will continue to minister as he did while he was still in the world. The gospels describe how Jesus began to minister the work and will of his Father in and around Palestine. Acts describes how from Jerusalem in Judea to the ends of the earth, the church (the body of Christ) will now continue that ministry—to witness God in the world.
2. But wait! Before we do anything in Jesus’ name, we must wait. Before we continue the ministry Jesus began while he was here in the flesh, we must first “wait for the gift of the Father… for you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you” (Acts 1:4, 1:8). What is equally important to note, right out of the gate, is the emphatic reminder that we do not minister the witness of Christ apart from the Holy Spirit. Jesus ministered the kingdom in the favor of his Father and in the power of the Holy Spirit. As followers of Jesus (Christians), we too minister in the favor of the Father and in the power of the Holy Spirit.
3. Now what? Now we witness Jesus. We witness Jesus in that we image him. We witness Jesus in that we reflect him. We witness Jesus in that we testify of our experience of him. “You are witnesses of these things” Jesus says, “and you will be My witnesses” (Luke 24:48, Acts 1:8). What this looks like at Pentecost the moment the Holy Spirit is poured out is often overlooked, buried under a tangle of debate about manifestation. Manifestations of the Spirit’s work among the church deserves careful study and good discussion, but perhaps not before we seriously undertake Jesus’ initial identifier: you are witness of me. We witness Jesus! We expose him so-to-speak. We image Jesus by our conduct. We reflect Jesus in our character. We testify of Jesus as our hope of life because He indeed lives! We declare his wonders on the earth.

ACTS 2:11 — Witness and the wonders of God
As I said previous, the focus here is to look at one of the most amazing observations of the Acts 2 passage and briefly examine how it speaks so clearly to the issue of Christian witness. Quite simply, the scripture says: “we hear them declaring the wonders of God” (Acts 2:11). These words are not only clear but emphatic. They are stated clearly because they were so clearly witnessed. Something happened. Those who gathered saw something. Those who gathered heard something.
A sign that we belong to Christ is that we declare the wonders of God. A sign that the righteousness of Christ has been established in our life, that the Spirit of God dwells in us, is we proclaim the wonders of God. The evidence of a baptism in the Holy Spirit or Spirit-filled/led life is that we testify to the wonders of God. Of anything else we know of Luke as author, historian, co-laborer of Paul, is that he is a meticulous note-taker. He seems to be showing us that of anything else that happened on the day of Pentecost, worship, praise, thanksgiving, declaration is an immediate response to the Spirit being poured out, an immediate response to our yielding to the Spirit’s lead.
If this is true, then it follows that Christians will talk less and less about what’s wrong with the world and more and more about reconciling power of the resurrected Jesus. It follows that Christians will talk less and less about the difficulties of life and more and more about wonderful, mighty, enduring works of God! A sign of our Christian witness is we declare the wonders of God.

ACTS 2:11 — Tongues and so much displaced emphasis
When I say there is perhaps no other passage in the New Testament that receives as much attention as Acts 2:1-15, I am here referring to endless debates over the baptism or infilling of the Holy Spirit in the life of a believer—“And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them” (Acts 2:4). I am not here implying that such debate is senseless or fruitless; these scriptures are rich and provide a basis for doctrinal position. But I do suggest there is much displaced emphasis on disciples of Jesus speaking in tongues (vs) the message their tongue brings to bear. That is to say, the method of delivery over the content of their witness.
Here is where we get lost in the weeds. Opposing schools of thought over-emphasize exactly how speaking in tongues was and is expressed. Differing camps over-emphasize what exactly the gift of tongues means for the Church’s ability to witness Christ effectively. Sadly, faith-filled churches and even whole denominations over-emphasize who aligns with who on what side of this issue.
On the contrary, the real emphasis here is the content of our witness. What is the content of our witness? Is it the resurrected Christ? Is it the fruit of the Spirit? Is it our testimony of the greatness of God? Speaking in tongues is certainly a gift. A miraculous gift in fact. I can only imagine the sign and the wonder it was for those gathered around our Lord’s apostles on the day of Pentecost. But gifts and miracles, signs and wonders do not transform human hearts. The Spirit of God does. Only He can. That is the point.

ACTS 2:11 — Your testimony of the wonders of God
The content of our witness is key! What is the content of our witness? Is it the resurrected Christ? Is it the fruit of the Spirit? Is it our testimony of the greatness of God, the wonders of God, the mighty works of God? Is there worship in our conduct, praise on our lips, thanksgiving in our hearts? What are we witnesses of in this ministry Jesus began so long ago?
The term witness (martyra, gk.) used by Luke over and over again in the book of Acts directly implies first-hand testimony in the legal sense, the kind of implication applied by someone investigating a significant incident. Whatever did happen regarding the historical Jesus, surely someone must’ve seen or heard something. Over and over again, Luke calls to the figurative witness stand eye-witness testimony of the greatest miracle in all the earth: “that the Christ would suffer and be killed, and then rise from the dead on the third day, that in His name repentance and forgiveness of sins will be proclaimed to all nations” (Luke 24:47).
For those who declared this wonder of God throughout the first-century world, something really had happened. They had seen it. They had heard it. What they had seen and heard was nothing short of all they had ever hoped. Every one of them hoped to the very end, declaring the wonders of God in their own tongue.
We too are witnesses! We image God on earth. We reflect Christ in relationship. We reveal life in the Spirit through genuine love and enduring hope. Each one of us has a story to tell, a first-hand account of the goodness of God. Do not hide your light under a bush. Declare the wonders of God with your testimony. Something’s happened in you; give it away and see what happens!

*[for martyra, gk. see also Luke 24:46, Acts 1:21, Acts 2:31, Acts 3:13, Acts 5:29, Acts 13:29]

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