Stories That Don’t Trend

by Dan Behrens on October 19, 2021 | Evergreen Foursquare Church

The following scriptures are not exactly trend-worthy. Perhaps no scriptures are trend-worthy. But these here, for instance, include the kind of scene that would hardly (even at best) nudge our interest. And there is offered nothing near our regular fill of cynicism, skepticism, scandal, spite, malice, sordid gain, or that insatiable lust for back-biting. We are hard to please.

What we do find is a revolutionary response of early church believers to persecution. Less than a year after Jesus of Nazareth has been crucified and rumors of resurrection from the dead float about, there’s been a wrongful incarceration, interrogation, and intimidation of apostles Peter and John at the hands of the Jewish elites. Peter and John have been taken into custody on allegations of speaking about the crucified Jesus of Nazareth and proclaiming a resurrection from the dead for anyone who believes in Him. The charges are true. The response is real — “Many who heard their message believed, repented, and were baptized”(Acts 2:38; 4:4). To be clear, this newly formed society of Jesus followers overwhelms us with praise unto God, repentance from sins, solumn committments to the Christ life, and a self-incriminating faith that leads only to ostrosization from family and friends. More than mere response; this is a revolt!

Acts 4:23-31
23Upon their release, Peter and John returned to their own people and reported everything that the chief priests and elders had said. 24When the believers heard this, they lifted up their voices to God in one accord, saying "Sovereign Lord, You have made the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything in them. 25You have spoken by the Holy Spirit through the mouth of Your servant, our father David:
      'Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain?
      26The kings of the earth take their stand
      and the rulers gather together against the Lord
      and against His Anointed One.'
27In fact, in this very city Herod and Pontius Pilate conspired with the Gentiles and the people of Israel against Your holy servant Jesus, whom You anointed. 28They carried out what Your hand and will had decided beforehand should happen. 29Now, Lord, consider their threats, and enable Your servants to speak Your word with complete boldness, 30as You stretch out Your hand to heal and perform signs and wonders through the name of Your holy servant Jesus." 31After they had prayed, their meeting place was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.

For us in our day (the grandchildren of this suspect society of Jesus followers) the very same witness is at our mouth at any given moment. Our very lives are miracle. And miracle, on any grounds, only underscores our tremendous value to God. We are loved like infants, commanded like soildiers, tested and proved like seasoned adults, that whether hill or valley, joy or sorrow, saftey or sacrifice, this Jesus of Nazareth “God has made both Lord and Christ”(Acts 2:36) over us. Either this is true or it is not. And no amount of trending can ease the burden of belief upon our own free will. This is our great revolt.

Overwhelmed by such blessed assurance, are we really to plod on with merely our own cares and concerns at heart? Is there not much more at stake than simply our own moral development? No and Yes. The truth in either case is that we are not our own. We are witness evidence of the Divine. God is alive! He has made His home inside us. You and me both have all of God within (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit). The last thing you would ever want for yourself or for anyone you truly love is to hide this truth under cover. The world around you is dark and pain-weary, and you yourself hold light in your hand. Let it shine. Be one who will not stop talking about all that God has done in your life this year, this week, this day. Be one who lifts up his/her voice for something that will never fade away.

Why All the Tears?

by Dan Behrens on August 27, 2021 | Evergreen Foursquare Church

Why all the tears? Well, for me (and so many others) this has been a season of losses and a season of gains. A season of weeping and laughing. Of disappointments and miracles. Nights of anxiety. Mornings of joy. The ebb and flow of it all has been prolonged and tiresome. Personally, I can only really describe these pandemic months as a season of loves and losses.

There were times when Jesus positioned himself among those who felt lost and knew they felt lost. The tired. The poor. The sick. The hopeless skeptics. Descendants of all the collateral damage scattered across Palestine’s turbulent history. It was among these that Jesus revealed mysteries, parabolic tales of persuant love, that ancient longing to go out and look for and openly receive that which was lost, to see that which was dead and gone.

Luke 15 - Lost Sheep. Lost Coin. Lost Son.
 
At that time, several tax-collectors and other sinners were drawing near to Jesus to listen to him teach.  Seeing this, Pharisees and Scribes began talking among themselves and grumbling ‘This man welcomes sinners and even eats with them.’
 
Knowing in his heart what these teachers of the law were saying, Jesus told them these parables:
 
‘Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing just one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine others in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost?’
 
‘Or what woman, having ten silver coins and losing even one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it?’
 
‘Or in the case of a righteous father to his eldest son, we had to celebrate and rejoice over this brother of yours, because he was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.’

I think we all can agree that these deeply layered narratives arise in our own lives as we inevitably intersect deep love with sudden loss. Loss is part of the natural pattern of this earth. Our response to it is not of this earth. Our response to loss is much more like that of heaven in agony–a deafening silence in the midst of paradise. The single greatest indication of our love for someone or something is our response to losing it. Confusion. Anger. Silence. Rage. Disorientation. Grief. Love.

If the mysteries of Jesus reveal anything, they reveal to us the literal, tangible, practical weight of compassion standing alongside our immeasurable grief. Even now you feel Him, don’t you? The gravitational tug of His presence among our losses and gains, our weeping and laughing, the disappointments and miracles, the anxiety, the joy. We are at loss. But we are not alone. There are multitudes out looking, searching the cliffs and crags, sweeping the rooms of the house, running down the tree-lined lanes. Don’t dissuade them. Join them. Weep with them. Then celebrate with them when at last they find.

What We Think We Know, We Don’t Know. We Are Not All Doctors.

by Dan Behrens on July 28, 2021 | Evergreen Foursquare Church

All of us are doctors. All of us give our diagnoses. All of us recommend effective treatment. And all of us are right. Let’s be honest, as well-intentioned Christians, aren’t we pretty much experts in our field? –knowing with utmost certainty everyone else’s sin, suffering, and pain, any precursing causes, accompanying symptoms, what scans or tests should be ordered, what environmental or experiential factors can be ruled out, and where persons ought to begin educating themselves for the rough road of recovery? Yes. Here’s the point where we’re most practiced–so and so’s suffering from this; here’s what they should do. We even weigh in on the most complicated cases from time to time. And on this point, I tell you I’m far from being extreme.

Only a day ago, perhaps even today, perhaps everyday, you and I share with someone a complicated instance or intimate experience that weighs heavy on our heart–a struggling marriage, an estranged child, a sick friend, a tensious interaction, a hidden sin, a buried distrust of God and his goodness. We are no more than a few words or a few tears into our confession and someone is already dialing up a wholistic remedy that will surely take away our pain and mitigate any lasting effects. The feeling is emptying. We can hardly escape. And now I can hardly escape this paragraph without committing the very offense I aim to expose. I am (perhaps we both are) just as easily either party in my example. I have been worked over by friends, family, and well-intentioned Christians without having been truly heard, understood, accepted and loved. In turn, I have done the same–sought answers, considered solutions, offered counsel, and maintained confidence, all without engaging any sense of bedside manner.

In fact, we do not have license to practice spiritual medicine. Not on others. Not on ourselves. For one thing, whether pastor, leader, prayer warrior, or long time Christian, we are not so good as we suppose at identifying underlying issues. Christ Jesus, who sees his patients not under a microscope of judgment but through a lens of compassion, has adequately dealt with what really ails us. And besides, so much of our heavenly Father’s care plan for this world is intimately tethered to time, patience, rest, surrender, and perhaps eventually, a few feeble steps with the aid of crutches. The immediacy of Jesus’ miraculous wonders here on earth were not a prescription for how healing occurs but that healing does occur. This is what we truly fail to see.

So we’re not doctors after all. Our situational and relational diagnoses are nearly bankrupt. We’re not always right about those around us. Even less so about ourselves. Still, in light of these realities and the even more severe realities of sin, sickness, hurt and pain, we are not rendered helpless or hopeless. We are the body of Christ the bible says. We are the hands and feet, the head and heart of Him who heals all wounds. For whoever has any measure of faith, we know the Great Physician will be along shortly. In the meantime, we have tremendous charge to attend the long-term care of those whose lives are dropping out from under them. What an underestimated privilege it is to intently listen, to truly hear unbelief, to remain vigilante without seeing notable progress, to confidently hope when no real change is detected, to rest assuredly when awkward silence is deafening, to enduringly endure when the Healer himself is seemingly delayed. As I said previous, we can hardly escape. And we are not as good as we suppose at seeing what God sees, including how incredibly grieved He is over those harsh, misguided judgments we rail, above all else, against ourselves. For we are not dumb sheep. We are beloved lambs. Oh what the Son of God has left behind to come find us.

“Come to Me” Jesus says, “all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” Matthew 11.

Easter Sunday Meditation

by Dan Behrens on April, 4, 2021 | Evergreen Foursquare Church

Jesus Christ is Risen! Praise God! Today is Easter Sunday, and all over the world Christians are celebrating our resurrected Lord and King, Jesus Christ, and his victory over sin and death.

The recognition of Jesus as Lord and his being raised to life by the Spirit of God is imperative to our salvation and witness of righteousness. It is an outright confession (both verbal and behavioral) of obedient faith in the free gift of God’s perfect love in the sacrifice of his son. The scriptures themselves say it this way: “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God 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. For whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame” (Romans 10:6-11).

As we did on Palm Sunday, we’ve included here a list of scriptures as a kind of meditation devotional – a celebration of the life-giving hope found in God’s word. These scriptures are only a hint of the “priceless inheritance found in Jesus, kept pure and undefiled in heaven, ready to be revealed in the last day” (1 Peter 3:4-5). I encourage you to read these passages with open eyes and ears, open minds and hearts. For God is alive and present, and He will speak.

Matthew 28:5-7 5 Then the angel answered and said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know you seek Jesus who was crucified. 6 He is not here; for He is risen as He said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay. 7 Now go quickly and tell His disciples that Jesus of Nazareth is risen from the dead, and indeed He is going before you into Galilee; there you will see Him.

Luke 24:1-9 1 On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, they came to the tomb bringing spices which they had prepared. 2 There they found the stone rolled away from the tomb. 3 But when they went in they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. 4 And it happened, as they were greatly perplexed by these things, suddenly two men stood in front of them in shining garments. 5 Just then, as they were afraid and bowed their faces to the earth, one of them said to them, “Why do you seek the living among the dead? 6 He is not here but is risen! Remember how He spoke to you when He was in Galilee, 7 saying, ‘The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again.’” 8 And they remembered His words.

John 11:23-27 23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” 24 But Martha said to Him, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.” 25 Yet Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, yet shall he live. 26 And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?” 27 Martha said to Him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that You are the Christ, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.”

Acts 3:13-15 13 The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified his servant Jesus, whom you delivered over and disowned in the presence of Pilate, when he had decided to release him. 14 You denied the Holy and Righteous One and asked for a murderer be granted you instead. 15 You killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To all this we are witnesses.

Romans 10:5-11 5 Now Moses writes about the righteousness which is of the law, saying “The man who does these things shall live by the law.” 6 But the righteousness of faith speaks in this way, saying “The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith which we preach) saying 9 if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth one confesses unto salvation. 11 For the Scriptures say, “Whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame.”

1 Peter 3:3-5 3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead; 4 and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, 5 who are being protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.

1 Corinthians 15:3-4, 12-13, 17-18, 20-26, 54-57 3 For I delivered to you first of all that which I received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, 12 Now if Christ is preached that He has been raised from the dead, how is it that so many among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ is not risen. 17 And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins! 18 And those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. 20 But as it is, Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 23 And each one in his own order: first Christ, then those who belong to Christ at His coming. 24 Then comes the end, when Christ delivers the kingdom to God the Father, putting an end to all rule and all authority and power. 25 For He must reign till He has put all enemies under His feet. 26 The last enemy to be destroyed is death itself. 54 Then the saying that is written will take place: Death has been swallowed up in victory. 55 Oh death, where is your victory? Oh death, where is your sting? 56 For the sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!

Christ alone is our victory. Christ alone is our hope. And like I said before, these few scriptures are only a hint of all that is offered concerning the victory and hope we have in Christ. Yet to that point, the bible also tells us “the victory that overcomes the world is our faith” (1 John 5:5a). For the aging apostle John, who himself is nearing the end of life, victory is inseparably tethered to belief and vitally important in bringing our hope into proper focus. For in saying “the one who overcomes the world is one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God” (1 John 5:5b), it follows that resurrection victory is held only in the eyes of faith.

Now over a year into global pandemic, I should think we all can agree on two things. First, these present days have, at least to some degree, tested our overall faith in the goodness of God. And second, so much in the world right now aims to steal our joy, deflate our hope, and destroy our resolve. Still, if Easter is to remind us of anything, it ought to remind us that we are seeing only in part while in this life. God is still perfecting us into the likeness of his Son that we might one day see clearly as he does. Was it not Christ alone who endured the horrors of this life for a joy no one else could see except he be born of God? Here we are again with belief.

On Easter Sunday we confess with our lips that Jesus Christ is risen. But we only know this miracle to be fully realized when we allow Jesus Christ to arise in our hearts everyday we live in breathe. This is the miracle of the resurrection. Let us make room for this miracle.

Palm Sunday Meditation

by Dan Behrens on March, 28, 2021 | Evergreen Foursquare Church

Today is Palm Sunday, the day Christians all over the world celebrate the Triumphal Entry of Jesus into the city of Jerusalem on the eve of Passover week (what would be Jesus’ final Passover before death, burial and resurrection).

But before we lean too far into these events, we are first confronted with the Triumphal Entry. And in so doing we are confronted with the over-arching notion that Christ really is Lord and King. The scriptures listed below are a direct and determinative invitation for us to acknowledge this confession and to remain actively present with it. Sadly (even mistakenly), we’re so easily and eagerly willing to move on. The point of this meditation is to not move on, but to slow down, settle, and receive what is presently being spoken by the word of the Lord.

Psalm 9 1 I will praise You, O Lord, with my whole heart; I will tell of all Your marvelous works. 2 I will be glad and rejoice in You; I will sing praise to Your name, O Most High. 3 When my enemies turn back, they shall fall and perish at Your presence. 4 For You have maintained my right and my cause; You sit on a throne judging in righteousness. 5 You have rebuked the nations, You have destroyed the wicked; You have blotted out their name forever and ever. 9 The Lord will be a refuge for the oppressed, a refuge in times of trouble. 10 And those who know Your name will put their trust in You; for You, O Lord, have not forsaken those who seek You. 11 Sing praises to the Lord, who dwells in Zion! Declare His deeds among the people. 12 When He avenges blood, He remembers them; He does not forget the cry of the humble. 13 Have mercy on me, O Lord! Consider my trouble from those who hate me, You who lift me up from the gates of death, 14 That I may tell of all Your glory in the gates of the daughter of Zion. I will rejoice in Your salvation.

Psalm 24 1 The earth is the Lord’s, and all its fullness, the world and those who dwell therein. 2 For He has founded it upon the seas, and established it upon the waters. 7 Lift up your heads, O you gates! Be lifted up, you everlasting doors! And the King of glory shall come in. 8 Who is this King of glory? The Lord strong and mighty, The Lord mighty in battle. 9 Lift up your heads, O you gates! Lift up, you everlasting doors! And the King of glory shall come in. 10 Who is this King of glory? The Lord of hosts. He is the King of glory.

Psalm 118 1 Oh, give thanks to the Lord, for He is good! His mercy endures forever. 2 Let Israel say, “His mercy endures forever.” 3 Let the house of Aaron say, “His mercy endures forever.” 4 Let those who fear the Lord say, “His mercy endures forever.” 15 The voice of rejoicing and salvation is in the tents of the righteous; The right hand of the Lord does valiantly. 16 The right hand of the Lord is exalted; The right hand of the Lord does valiantly. 17 I shall not die, but live; and declare the works of the Lord. 18 The Lord has chastened me severely, but He has not given me over to death. 19 Open to me the gates of righteousness; I will go through them, And I will praise the Lord. 20 This is the gate of the Lord, through which the righteous shall enter. 21 I will praise You, for You have answered me and have become my salvation. 22 The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone. 23 This was the Lord’s doing; It is marvelous in our eyes. 24 This is the day the Lord has made; We will rejoice and be glad in it.

John 12 12 The next day a great multitude that had come for the Passover, when they heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem, 13 took branches of palm trees and went out to meet Him on the way; and they cried out: “Hosanna! ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!’ The King of Israel!”

For us who know the scriptures well know also that those who shouted “Hosanna! Hosanna! The King of Israel” only days later shouted all the louder “Crucify him. Crucify him.” We know this because we know the whole of the story. We have, so-to-speak, the inside scoop. Or do we? What we can appreciate from all the well-meaning crowds that followed Jesus from his baptism at the Jordan to the house of Lazarus on the eve of Passover is that all seem genuinely engaged in Jesus. Whether complete adoration, confounding unbelief, or absolute hatred, Jesus is the supreme focus. Palm Sunday reminds us He alone is worthy of such focus and ought to be met with heartfelt praise.

For us who are so eager to move on, is there a chorus of praise on our lips? Do we (in the midst of our annual familiarity) acknowledge that Jesus triumphantly descends in pursuit of every human ever created? Nowhere else does this ring more true than in my own personal testimony. I have always known (to the best of my knowledge anyway) that I am not right before God and desperately need a savior. I have not always known (or at least not always been honest) about my desperate need for a lord and king. Lord and king implies that we are subjects, that we must come under certain authority, that we must humble ourselves and shed all of our self-interest. Christianity is a hard school, and it is no use putting off this lesson any longer.

“Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord” John writes. Even more, John accounts for how this Jesus from Nazareth humbled himself to the point of incarceration, severe beating, absolute humiliation, and finally execution by torture - all a glaring indication of how far we’ve fallen, how high we’ve been raised. And indeed we have been raised; the one big secret not worth keeping.