Sunday, January 30, 2011

A Poem: "Pressure to Please"

A convicting poem that Lord gave to me during my solitude with him January 25th.

"Pressure to Please"

I rise today to please mere men,
to be loved by hundreds or ten.
But in this pressure I am tied,
Caught in the shackles of dark pride.

I stew on failing to impress,
My prison of eerie distress.
Freedom I seek, but where to turn?
Restless for a Savior, I yearn.

And then I find of one who died,
One who honored God and satisfied,
Where I failed and brought corruption,
One who reverses sin's destruction.

He who performed perfectly for God,
He alone could take my rod.
Free now I am allowed to please,
Him who silenced flesh and brought ease.

Hope this blesses you: All glory to my Savior Jesus Christ (Romans 3:21-31).

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Matthew 12:46-50 - "Blood is Thicker than Water"

The tag line to Cornerstone Church is that we are "a place where faith and family grow." It's good; I like it. And yet, it is passages like Matthew 12:46-50 that tell me we need to be careful to understand "family" as Jesus understood family or we just may become an unbiblical church.

In this passage, Jesus' mother and brothers (younger siblings of Jesus born to Mary and Joseph) are trying to get into an overcrowded house where Jesus is located. When someone informs Jesus of the presence of his "mother and brothers" outside, He asks, "Who is my mother, and who are my brothers." Like you, the people in the room kept quiet because they knew Jesus wasn't going to give the answer everyone was thinking in their heads. Then he says, "Here[that is, those inside the house] is my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother."

Rather than suggest applications, I would like to throw out a few implications:
   1) The spiritual family takes precedent over the physical family.
   2) Obedience to God supersedes obedience to family.
   3) Pursuing God will often create a divide with our physical family.
   4) Most people won't get it.

How this shakes down for our church or your church is important. But it's important that we wrestle with these implications and ask God to help us love each other and bear with each other, even if we have different ideas on what is the best application for our own local fellowship. In the end, remember, Jesus left His heavenly Father and the glory of heaven so that He could die alone, forsaken, on a cross for the sins of the whole world. Through this amazing act, He has reconstituted a family of brothers and sisters in Him (the church) to worship Him and serve Him. Our physical parents sacrificed for us in immeasurable ways and we need to honor them and love them. And yet, our Savior Jesus Christ gave up so much more that we might be His . . . that we might be His (1 Cor. 6:19-20)!

Blood is thicker than water, but Christ's blood is an even more powerful substance to create a family of believers of all tribes, nations, people and tongues. Hallelujah!

Matthew 12:38-45 - "Jesus, I WANT PROOF!"

On occasion when I've tried to convince people to submit their lives to Jesus Christ and trust Him alone for salvation, I have heard, "I want more proof." I used to feel defeated by this request because I couldn't conjure up a miracle to convince them. Today, however, I take solace that Jesus Christ, himself, received demands for more proof (Matthew 12:38).

Jesus condemns the 1st century doubters and offers three shocking reasons why:

1) The sign of Jonah should be sufficient (Mt. 12:39-41): Like Jonah's three day, death-like jaunt in the belly of a great fish followed by a second chance for life (see Jonah 1-3), Jesus would spent 3 days dead in the belly of the earth and resurrect victorious over sin, death, and hell. This is the one sure sign that Jesus is the Christ and that all doubting should be stopped, all mouths hushed (Isa. 52:15).

2) The presence of one greater than Solomon should be sufficient (Mt. 12:42): But if that's not enough, these doubters should be shamed that a pagan queen (the Queen of Sheba) at least recognized God's presence and blessing during the life of King Solomon. If a pagan queen can recognize when God is at work, shouldn't the supposed children of God see that God is even more fundamentally at work in the person and work of Jesus?

3) A sign performed for the half-hearted will only make matters worse (Mt. 12:43-45): Finally, Jesus says that a sign done on behalf of a half-hearted believer is like a demon exorcism on someone not really ready to let the demon go. Eventually the person will be overpowered again by evil, and the consequences far worse.

The conclusion Jesus is trying to draw is simply this: Neutrality with regard to Jesus is not possible (see DA Carson's Expositors commentary). There is no option for people to give him half-hearted commitments. We either trust fully that Jesus is the Son of God who came to die for the sins of the world or we trust in other things. We either accept the revelation that Jesus came and conquered death or we suffer the consequences for demanding more. Allegiance to Jesus is non-negotiable.

Matthew 12:22-37 "Willful Carelessness"

Like Satan in John Milton's Paradise Lost we sometimes cry out, "Darkness, be thou my light" (from Michael Green's Message of Matthew commentary). We know a better way, but we take the other way deliberately, with eyes wide open. In chapter 12 of Matthew's Gospel some of Jesus' opponents seem to be making the same mistake:

12:22-29: Careless Conclusions - Upon Jesus casting out a demon, two reactions spring from the crowd. One group of people are astonished and wonder if this is the long-awaited Messiah, the Son of David (see 2 Sam. 7). Another group, the Pharisees, conclude that Jesus must be in league with evil powers. Jesus brushes off their accusations, noting (as Michael Green writes), "Satan is very much in business and he does not self-destruct." Hence, if Satan's kingdom looks to be under attack, just maybe a greater kingdom (the Kingdom of God, see Isa. 9:6-7) has come to overthrow evil and set Satan's captives free (us).

12:30-32: Careless Contempt - While Jesus is still talking to the willful Pharisees, he notes the danger the Pharisees are putting themselves in for refusing to acknowledge God's presence and power among them. It's one thing to miss the basic facts of Jesus (the Son of Man, see v. 32); it's a totally different thing to reject God in full awareness. Only the Spirit of God could have done these miracles and to reject such power leaves these belligerent Pharisees under God's judgment.
    A Word of Caution: There have been people who think they have committed "Blasphemy of the Holy Spirit" at some point in their life and thus have no opportunity or second chance to repent and find salvation through Jesus Christ. Blasphemy of the Holy Spirit is a willful, deliberate, and ongoing rejection of Jesus Christ, the Gospel, and the Spirit's work in one's life. Any person who still has an ounce of remorse, regret, hope, and desire to know God is probably not guilty of blaspheming the Holy Spirit. Even those who have done something as gross as this:
See also:

12:33-37: Careless Words - Jesus' final rebuke of the Pharisees is a nice summary of the entire debate. Their condemnation is not so much based on this one conversation but on the permanent, ongoing state of their heart. Out of a person's heart, humans speak and reveal their true character. Thus, the Pharisees are a "brood of vipers" and evil to the core, based on their own blasphemous words and behavior, despite seeing God at work among them. We may think the words that flow from our lips mean nothing, but they just maybe the litmus test of our true heart condition and of our future destiny in heaven or hell.

Our response:
  1) Watch your words. Think back over the past few days. What do the words coming from your lips tell you about yourself? Are you condemning others? Are you speaking words that glorify God or disparage His character or His church?
  2) Then, seek change at the roots. What comes out of your mouth is only a symptom of a more polluted source. Proverbs 4:23 tells us to guard our hearts above all other things for out of it flow the springs of life (or death). We need real, deep change. This requires that we submit our hearts over to Jesus Christ. We cannot clean up our hearts; we can only clean up the exterior facades of our lives. Hebrews 3:12 tells us to "See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns from the living God." So today, believe in Christ. Give your sinful heart over to Him. As you think on the glorious cross of Calvary, joyfully end your rebellion and submit every facet of your life over to Jesus Christ.

Monday, January 24, 2011

An illustration of mercy

Here's the sermon illustration I butchered by doing it from memory in my recent sermon in the Gospel of Matthew:

In The Grace of Giving,  Stephen Olford tells of a Baptist pastor during the American Revolution, Peter Miller, who lived in Ephrata, Pennsylvania, and enjoyed the friendship of George Washington. In Ephrata also lived Michael Wittman, an evil-minded sort who did all he could to oppose and humiliate the pastor. One day Michael Wittman was arrested for treason and sentenced to die. Peter Miller traveled seventy miles on foot to Philadelphia to plead for the life of the traitor.
"No, Peter," General Washington said. "I cannot grant you the life of your friend."
"My friend!" exclaimed the old preacher. "He's the bitterest enemy I have."
"What?" cried Washington. "You've walked seventy miles to save the life of an enemy? That puts the matter in different light. I'll grant your pardon." And he did.
Peter Miller took Michael Wittman back home to Ephrata--no longer an enemy but a friend. (From Lynn Jost, posted on

Here's the link to the full sermon too:

Another mistake I made is that "corn" is not a native crop in 1st Century Palestine (it's native to North America). The grain was probably barley. (Thanks Jeff for helping me get this straight.)

Friday, January 21, 2011

Hallelujah: Carrie's brother (James Odegaard) brings the house down

Hallelujah means: Praise or Sing to Yahweh (the LORD of Israel)

Check out Happiness' (Cedar Rapids Kennedy Show Choir) rendition of Rufus Wainwright's "Hallelujah."

Carrie's brother James is the final soloist. The whole performance is powerful, but we are uber proud of James' finale.

Mother Teresa 1979 Nobel Peace Prize Acceptance Speech

Today, I had the privilege of reading Mother Teresa's Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech. This was a powerful paragraph:

As soon as [Jesus] came in [Mary's] life — immediately she went in haste to give that good news, and as she came into the house of her cousin, the child — the unborn child — the child in the womb of Elizabeth, leapt with joy. He was that little unborn child, was the first messenger of peace. He recognised the Prince of Peace, he recognised that Christ has come to bring the good news for you and for me. And as if that was not enough — it was not enough to become a man — he died on the cross to show that greater love, and he died for you and for me and for that leper and for that man dying of hunger and that naked person lying in the street not only of Calcutta, but of Africa, and New York, and London, and Oslo — and insisted that we love one another as he loves each one of us. And we read that in the Gospel very clearly — love as I have loved you — as I love you — as the Father has loved me, I love you — and the harder the Father loved him, he gave him to us, and how much we love one another, we, too, must give each other until it hurts. It is not enough for us to say: I love God, but I do not love my neighbour. St. John says you are a liar if you say you love God and you don't love your neighbour. How can you love God whom you do not see, if you do not love your neighbour whom you see, whom you touch, with whom you live. And so this is very important for us to realise that love, to be true, has to hurt. It hurt Jesus to love us, it hurt him. And to make sure we remember his great love he made himself the bread of life to satisfy our hunger for his love. Our hunger for God, because we have been created for that love. We have been created in his image. We have been created to love and be loved, and then he has become man to make it possible for us to love as he loved us. He makes himself the hungry one — the naked one — the homeless one — the sick one — the one in prison — the lonely one — the unwanted one — and he says: You did it to me. Hungry for our love, and this is the hunger of our poor people. This is the hunger that you and I must find, it may be in our own home.

Click here to read the whole thing:

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Matthew 11:1-15 - The Doubting and Divisive Baptist

As we continue in our sermon series in Matthew, I have decided to not preach from chapter 11, verses 1-15. Instead, I have posted a short commentary on these verses below. Blessings to you in Christ Jesus . . .

Matthew 11:1-15

Baptists have had a long history of getting bad press. Not surprisingly there namesake, John the Baptist did not fair much better. The Gospel of Matthew tells us that John the Baptist was arrested for his message of repentance from sin and preparation for God's impending judgment (cf. Malachi 3:1; 4:6; Matthew 3:1-12; 4:12). John also preached that this judgment was going to be mediated by God's Messiah (Hebrew for "anointed one"), that is the Christ (Greek for "anointed one").

1) The Baptist oscillates:  
    A. The judgment deferred: In prison, however, he began to have his doubts about his cousin Jesus (Mt. 11:2). He had been told by God that it was Jesus of Nazareth who was to be God's Son, the Messiah (the one to bring judgment on the nations, cf. Psalm 2). But a few years into Jesus' ministry, John had not heard much about judgment. In fact, Jesus' ministry up to this point was still on the fringes of Israel, in a state of obscurity, filled with acts of love instead of judgment (healing, casting out demons, etc.). In order to confirm his earlier beliefs, John sent out some of his disciples to ask Jesus whether or not if he really was the long-awaited Christ (v. 3). Jesus' reply should have eased John's concerns. For Jesus explained that he was the one who was fulfilling the promises of the Old Testament (cf. Isaiah 35:4-6; 61:1), promises that would confirm to any Jew longing for the Messiah, that their Messiah had come (Mt. 11:4-5).
    B. The judgment transferred: It's not surprising that John the Baptist had his doubts. It is true that with the Messiah, God was bringing down judgment. But the greatest judgment that came during the Messiah's ministry was not judgment on the people but judgment on the Messiah. For God took the sins and iniquities and condemnation of the wayward people and put them on His Son, the Messiah (see Isaiah 53:3-6). Jesus lived the life we should have and died the death we should have died (2 Cor. 5:21). Now everyone who believes in Christ as the Son of God has eternal life (cf. John 5:24; 1 John 5:11-13). Judgment on the disobedient and faithless awaits Jesus' second coming (1 Thessalonians 1:5-10).

2) The un-oscillating Baptist:
    Despite all of John's doubts, Jesus remarks in Matthew 11:7-15 that John was the greatest prophet under the Old Covenant (v. 11). John was not an oscillating, power-hungry, conniving huckster televangelist (vv. 7-8). He was the prophet in the line of Elijah who would prepare for God's arrival (cf. Malachi 3:1, John prepared the way for the incarnated Son of God). Anyone during Jesus' time or now 2,000 years later willing to recognize rightly that John the Baptist was the forerunner of God in the flesh, will be blessed if they put their trust in Christ (vv. 6, 15).

1) Heed the warnings of John the Baptist and trust in Jesus as the Christ.
2) Though judgment fell on the Messiah in the 1st century, John's warnings of judgment on the enemies of God are still to come. Let that sobering truth lead you to repentance and then let the joy of repentance lead you to an obedience filled with gratitude for God's grace.
3) If you still remain in doubt, do not give way to apathy. Study the Bible and ask questions of those who are walking with Christ. The consequences for (possibly) being wrong are significant enough to encourage all people to at least consider the claims of John and Jesus.

The Bible says there is great woe for those who do not respond to God's messengers (Mt. 11:16-24) . . . and the curse is even worse for those who have been exposed to Jesus Christ's ministry and words and yet do not repent. I invite you to attend Cornerstone Church on Sunday January 16th to hear more about the justice of God as recorded in Matthew 11:16-30 against those who refuse to believe in His Messiah. If you miss it, the audio will be available at

See also, DA Carson's reflections on God's Judgment in vv. 20-24:

Tim Keller on good news

"The real gospel gives us a God more holy than a moralist can bear (since your morality is only a filthy rag before him) and far more loving than a relativist can imagine (since his love cost him dearly)." - Tim Keller

Religious people are trying to get to heaven by obeying a set of rules; unfortunately, no one can obey all the rules and thus only condemnation remains (both in this life and the next).

Irreligious people are trying to experience heaven now by not obeying any rules; unfortunately, this brings hell on earth and a certain hell beyond the grave.

Gospel people quit trying and trust that Jesus left the glories of heaven, entered earth and obeyed all the rules, and then was killed as an innocent victim for all the guilty who can now be set free.

Monday, January 03, 2011

Merry Christmas...and some other stuff too

So here are some recent pics from the Proctor family.  Mom and Sam on Christmas Eve; Caleb rocking his new Iowa State chair while Grandpa Steve rocks the Christmas suspenders; Caleb's favorite new toy, the storage tub; Samuel and Caleb looking super cute in their new jammies from Aunt Lacey; Sam giving us a cheesy smile while he tries out his new drum; and finally, Sam decorating some Christmas cookies.

Caleb is getting lots of new teeth these days - at least 8 have broken through with more on the way.  He is talking more, usually only food-related words as food seems to be one of his biggest motivating factors in life. :)  (Clearly articulated "MORE" and "NANA" - for banana - today!)  His scar is healing up nicely and he is constantly on the move (which makes Mom suspect that won't be our last trip to the ER with him...)

Samuel is talking all the time - asking questions multiple times, wanting to know why.  He asked why our Christmas tree died about 8 times while we were taking it down.  After answering him 8 times, I finally got right down on his level and said, "Listen, Sam.  The Christmas tree died because we cut it out of the ground.  Do you understand?"  A few minutes later I caught him, right in Caleb's face and with plenty of hand gestures, saying, "Caleb, the Christmas tree died because we cut it out of the ground.  You understand?"  They keep us laughing! :)

Merry Christmas to you all, and a blessed New Year.