How Much Faith?


Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, “Why could we not cast it out?”  He said to them, “Because of your little faith. For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.”  Matthew 17:19-20

There is a lot of theology out there that says, “If you have enough faith, you will get everything that you desire.” 

This is a dangerous belief and you will be disappointed.  Why?  Because it makes it all about you.  It places the results or lack of results on how much faith you have.  If you get results, you must have a lot of faith.  If you don’t get the results, your faith must be too small.

But wasn’t Jesus emphasizing the size of one’s faith?  In essence, wasn’t Jesus talking about the quantity of your faith?

Commentator S.K. Weber wrote: Attempting to quantify faith can be misleading. There is a common misperception today that “faith” in itself is the source of power, when true faith is actually an admission of powerlessness and a dependence on God’s power.  True faith admits that we are indeed powerless. 

Let that one sink in.  True faith admits that we are powerless.   This idea seems counterintuitive.  Wasn’t it by faith that all of the people in the Bible did marvelous deeds?  If you read Hebrews 11 you’ll find example after example of people who lived and did great things because of their faith.  But was it their faith in how much faith they had that gave them the power to overcome, or was it their faith in God who has the power to do the miraculous deeds?  How you answer this question is very important.  One answers put you front and center, the other answer puts God front and center. 

Many people misinterpret and abuse the promise, “nothing will be impossible for you” and similar statements such as John 14:13-14  Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.

This are not a blanket promise that say God will give us anything we desire as long as we trust in Him.  We cannot ask for murder, adultery, stealing, gambling, gossip, or anything else thing because it is not the will or nature of Jesus.  Look at what it says in John:  if you ask me anything in my name.  What does it mean to ask in the name of Jesus?   It is to ask of his very nature.  His name speaks of holiness, grace, truth, love, purity, power, majesty, and glory. His is a name that speaks of sacrifice and submission.  It means that he died for us and declared us righteous though we are sinners.  To ask in his name is to ask of those things of his nature.  

Biblical faith assumes not only a belief in God’s power, but also a heart after God’s own heart.  A heart which desires and asks for the things of God.

Biblical faith makes my will submit to God’s will.  It asks of God’s will and power and authority to move mountains so that his glory is revealed. Faith means that if God calls a person to do something, it will be accomplished through His power and the person’s trust in His power.

What is your will?  What is your desire?  Do you desire to love Jesus more than your spouse, your sons or daughters?    Do you desire to forgive your enemies?  Do you desire to love your enemies?  Do you desire to pick up your cross and follow Jesus? Do you desire to go and make disciples of all nations?

Perhaps the greatest mountain to be moved is not your circumstances but your heart.



Faith in Who?



I’ve talked to a number of people throughout the years who have left the Christian faith because of a pastor or priest who said or did things that were wrong.  Some of the wrongs were egregious in nature and some of the wrongs were more of the pastor’s or priest’s personality.  Some of the wrongs happened when they were young and some when they were much older.

Generally, by the time I talk with them, they are not only disillusioned but most are bitter.  I do not discount the hurt that these people felt and still feel.  I am saddened by what they have gone through.  At the same time, I am also saddened that they have misplaced their faith.

Your Christian faith should never rest on a pastor or priest. If it does, you are in a dangerous place.

Your Christian faith should never rest on a pastor or priest.  If it does, you are in a dangerous place.   While a pastor or priest are held to a higher standard (James 3:1, 1 Timothy 3), each pastor or priest, as godly as they might be, are fallen in sin and saved by grace just like the rest of Christians. You will be let down at some time or another and therefore your faith will crumble.  You must place your faith God and His Word.

Martin Luther, in his sermon, “The Gospel for the Early Christmas Service (Luke 2:15-20)” wrote,

“Those who believe the message on account of the one preaching it aren’t believing the Word. Neither do they believe in God through the Word. Instead, they believe in the preacher. As a result, their faith doesn’t endure.

Those who believe the Word overlook the one who is preaching it. They don’t honor the Word because of the person. On the contrary, they honor the person because of the Word. They never place the person higher than the Word. If the preacher is ruined, falls from faith, or begins preaching a different message, the believers would rather let go of the preacher than give up the Word. They would stick with the Word regardless of the person involved or the situation.

Human faith is always attached to the person. It believes, trusts, and honors the Word because of the one who speaks it. On the other hand, genuine faith clings to the Word, which is God himself.

This is the true difference between genuine and human faith. Human faith is always attached to the person. It believes, trusts, and honors the Word because of the one who speaks it. On the other hand, genuine faith clings to the Word, which is God himself. Genuine faith believes, trusts, and honors the Word because of what it is, not who said it. Faith so strongly senses that the Word is true that no one can tear it away – not even the same preacher who first brought it.”

Where does your faith rest?

Is Jesus Your Last Resort?


There is play in football called, “The Hail Mary.”  It’s a play of a last resort, one of desperation when there seems to be very little chance of winning the game.  It goes all the way back to a 1922 game between Notre Dame and Georgia Tech in which Notre Dame would say a Hail Mary prayer between each play.   Later, in 1935, with 32 seconds left in the so-called “Game of the Century” between Ohio State and Notre Dame, there was a pass that scored the game-winning touchdown.  Notre Dame head coach Elmer Layden afterwards called it a “Hail Mary” play.  The phrase has worked its way into our language and, I believe, describes much of our faith in Jesus.

We go about living our lives, trying our best because we have it in our minds that “God helps those who help themselves.”  We think, “I need to do all of this work first; I need to put all of my force into this project first and when it starts to fail, when I can’t go anymore, then I will turn to Jesus.”  We strain, we grunt, and we groan.  And then, then we cry out to Jesus. “Why oh why is this not working!”

We end up using Jesus as a last resort.

But Jesus doesn’t ever desire to be your last resort. He desires you to hold him as first above all else.  He desires for you to come to him before you begin.  He desires you to come to him during and after.   There is nothing outside of him.

For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him.  And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. Colossians 1:16-17 

Oh that we would bring all of cares and all of our worries to Jesus in the first place not the last place.

Baptism in the Age of Selfies

Log Flume


A couple of weeks ago, I saw a post on one of my Facebook groups.  The question was something like this:

“Is it okay to use a GoPro camera on a person during baptism?  Too much?”

My initial response was, “I’m appalled at even the suggestion.  Baptism is not and was never meant to be a form of entertainment.”

Apparently, I was in the minority in this group.  Although it’s a church related group, it’s not a theology-focused group. I ended up receiving a number of negative responses, eye-roll GIFs, etc.  One person said, “We’ve been videotaping baptisms, funerals, and weddings for a long time.  What difference does it make how close the camera is?”

It took the question to be a legitimate question, not a trolling or argumentative question. Here, in part, was my response.


Hi, thanks for your question.  While I understand that this is not a theological forum or group and there are many, many differing views, I would like to offer my thoughts because I think it is ultimately a matter of theology.  And because this isn’t necessarily the forum for in-depth conversations, I’ll try to be brief.

The theological question is:  Does the church and its rites (Baptism, the Lord’s Supper) become a theology of self-glory (what I do and what I get) or a theology of the cross (what Christ has done)?

My concern with a GoPro camera either in the water or on a person’s head makes the focus about them. The emphasis becomes “Look at what I have done.”

I would assert that we live in a culture that is steeped a theology of self-glory.  The fact that we have so many “selfies” and reality shows are but two small evidences of this.  My concern with a GoPro camera either in the water or on a person’s head makes the focus about them.  The emphasis becomes “Look at what I have done.”  It would seem that we’re treating baptism the same as taking pictures at a log flume ride at the amusement park.  I don’t see any glory to God in this.  I may very well be wrong, but I cannot see it.

I personally have no problem with a video camera at the back of the church taping the events.  In this case, the video camera becomes a quiet observer of the event.  However, when the camera becomes much more of an active participant, I believe it the line is crossed and the rite becomes a theology of self-glory.  It becomes a version of a selfie and reality TV combined.  This is why I personally don’t allow cameras on the chancel/altar (or stage as some may say) during baptisms, weddings or funerals.  I also ask that no flashes be used during this time throughout the church because I believe these rites to be holy moments in which God is glorified.

Without trying to be rude at all, I’d like to give a little thought experiment to see where the line might be for you or others.  At a funeral, would it be okay to put a GoPro camera on the deceased’s head so that when people come to give their last respects you can capture it on camera?  Or if not on their head, why not on the casket?  Again, I’m not trying to be rude.  I’m simply trying to see what would be the reasoning you or others would give if you see this example as crossing the line.


It’s hard to be a follower of Jesus in a selfie culture.  We keep trying to make us the center of it all. 

It’s hard to be a follower of Jesus in a selfie  culture.  We keep trying to make us the center of it all.

Should we celebrate and have joy in our lives?  Yes!  Most definitely!  We should be joyous. Not because of what we have done, but because of what God has done for us.

What are your thoughts about church in the age of selfies?

God is on the Move

God is on the Move

I have never prayed for nor asked for international ministry.  I’ve always thought that my local area is the mission field to which I’ve been called.  Always.  Yet, I have been confounded a number of times this past year at God’s reach.  Now, I know that God’s reach is boundless and I’m not surprised at all of His work throughout the world.   In fact, I pray for and am glad at His reach.  I am glad that men and women are spreading the gospel message throughout the world.

But I am confounded and almost bewildered in the way that God is using my church’s ministry at an international level.   We’re a small church in a small town in the middle of Minnesota.  But as the song says, “God is on the move.”  Here’s what’s been happening.

We’ve been posting the Sunday messages on YouTube for a little over a year.  Generally speaking, we don’t get many “hits” or views on the messages.  Really, if any of the views go past 20 I consider it to have gone viral! Remember, we’re a small church in a small town in the middle of Minnesota.  (Quick, if you’re reading this outside of central Minnesota, raise your hand if you can pinpoint Upsala, MN on the map!  For those who raised your hand, good job!  You can now lower your hand.  By the way, this is nothing at all about Upsala.  It’s a great place with good people.  It’s just not on the tip of tongue for many people.  Okay, now back to the videos.)

I was doing some analytics on our videos for the past 30 days and here is the list of top countries in order of viewing time that we’ve reached:

  1. United States
  2. South Korea
  3. India
  4. Philippines
  5. Bahrain
  6. Kitts & Nevis
  7. Hong Kong
  8. Canada
  9. New Zealand
  10. Pakistan
  11. Cameroon

Is that list anything close to what you would’ve imagined?  It wasn’t for me.  I admit that I didn’t even know where two of the countries were.  I’m guess that you might not as well so I’ve included some maps of Bahrain and St. Kitts and Nevis.

But what blew me away was that South Korea was second in terms of viewing.   Apparently there is one message that seems to have been helpful.   It’s about discipleship.  If you want to see it, click here  The Commitment of Discipleship

Do I know the impact the messages are having?  No.  But what I do know is that people don’t view whole messages unless it somehow resonates with them.  By the way, I’m not trying to toot my own horn.  Not at all.  In fact, if you could see my face right now, you’d see the confused dog look – you know, furrowed eyebrows, head titled to the side.  Apparently, God is on the move.

Also, through Facebook, I’ve received some friend invitations.  One was from a man in Kenya who became a Christian during the course of our message conversations.  Because there was no church around him, he started going door to door to invite others to meet, pray, and read the Bible.  Wow, to “see” the birth of a new body of believers.  Wow.  Then more recently, a pastor from a Word of Life church in Pakistan reached out to me because our church is Word of Life.  Through our conversations, he asked me if I would give a message to his congregation.  They meet not only on Sundays but Wednesdays as well.  So, on a recent Wednesday morning (7:00 am my time, 6:00pm their time), we connected via Skype.  I was able to participate in their worship from beginning to end and to give a message.

Again, I’m not trying to toot my own horn at all.  Far from it.  Like I said, I’m a bit bewildered at it all.  The only thing I’ve done is said, “Yes, Lord.”

After all, God is on the move.

Is it time that you said, “Yes, Lord”

When Love Came Down



Think of all of the things you’ve been doing to get ready for Christmas this year. Think of all the preparations, the planning, the lights, and everything that goes into it – what one word would you use to describe your experience of Christmas? Family, food, presents, busy, full, exhausting, festive, celebration, lights, singing, church, baby Jesus. I’m curious – does the word love comes to mind.
There is a very famous passage from 1 Corinthians 13. It’s called the Love chapter. Recently I came across a version in which someone applied it to Christmas.
If I decorate my house perfectly with plaid bows, strands of twinkling lights, and shiny balls; but do not have love, I’m just another decorator.
If I slave away in the kitchen, baking dozens of Christmas cookies, preparing gourmet meals, and arranging a beautifully adorned table at mealtime; but do not have love, I’m just another cook.
If I work at a soup kitchen, carol in the nursing home, and give all that I have to charity; but do not have love, it profits me nothing.
If I trim the tree with shimmering angels, and crocheted snowflakes, attend a myriad of holiday parties, and sing in the choir; but do not focus on Christ, I have missed the point.
Love stops the cooking to hug the child. Love sets aside the decorating to kiss the spouse. Love is kind, though harried and tired. Love does not envy another’s home that has coordinated Christmas china and table linens. 
Love does not yell at the kids to get out of the way, but is thankful they are there to be in the way.
Love does not give only to those who are able to give in return, but rejoices in giving to those who cannot. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things. Love never fails.
Toys will break, necklaces will be lost, golf clubs will rust; but giving the gift of love will endure.
Christmas without Christ and his love is simply another holiday or break or time off from work. You see, Christmas is a time when love came down.
One  day over 2000 years ago, the God of the universe left the glory and the splendor of heaven, a place where there was no pain, no sickness, no accidents, no hurt, and no death. He came to the place where there is hurt, loneliness, pain, tears and death.
Yet, he came because of love. But it was not a soft, warm fuzzy love that came down that night. This was a heart-wrenching, full bore agape love.
As it says in the song, What Wondrous Love is This: Christ laid aside His crown for my soul, for my soul, Christ laid aside His crown for my soul.  
In coming down, Jesus didn’t simply bring the good news of God.  Rather, he IS the good news. And the good news is this: That through Jesus you are forgiven. FOR unto us a son is GIVEN. FORGIVEN. Through his life and then his death on the cross, EVERYONE who puts their faith in him and him alone, are forgiven.
This is the love that came down for us. For you.
And if you let that sink in, but really sink in, you will have the greatest warmth of gratitude and joy of any Christmas you’ve ever had.
So if someone every asks you to explain Christmas in phrase you can say, “It was a day when love came down.”

Advent Assurance


We were driving to our best friends’ house late one evening a long time ago.  They recently had moved several hours away due to a job.  Even though they had given us directions with key landmarks to guide us (this was before GPS or cellphones with apps) I felt very uneasy.  It was dark, snowing and we were in an unfamiliar area of the state.  I could feel my stomach start to tighten – not much but I could feel it.

I asked my wife for the fourth or fifth time, “Honey, are you sure you’re reading the directions right?  Maybe you should take a look one more time at the map.  I think that we should’ve taken a left instead of a right at that last turn.”

She calmly said for the fourth or fifth time, “Quit second guessing yourself.  They gave us the right directions and the map shows that we are on track.  Besides, it always feels like it’s taking longer than it should especially when it’s dark out.  Have some faith.”

Just as I was about the say something I saw our friends’ house around the bend.  We had made it. The lights were on and you could see the whole family inside sitting at the table laughing together.  It was a picture of love.  I let out my breath that I had unconsciously been holding in.

Everything was as it should be.


Life often feels like an unchartered course and we need assurance from time to time that we are on the right path.  This is the same when it comes to our faith.  We, too, need assurance from time to time.  Our assurance comes from the very word of God who laid out the road map for us.

The birth of Jesus fulfilled multiple prophecies:

From the line of Abraham. (1900–1800 B.C.)

Genesis 22:18  “and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice.”  The genealogy of Jesus is told in the book of Matthew, which refers to him as “the son of David, the son of Abraham.”

From the line of David  (1010–970 B.C.)

2 Samuel 7:12-13  When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom.  He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.  In Luke 1:32 the angel Gabriel tells Mary, “He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David,”

Born in Bethlehem.  (750–700 B.C)

Micah 5:2  But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days.

Born of a virgin. (740–700 B.C.)

Isaiah 7:14 Isa 7:14  Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.

There are over 300 prophecies that Jesus fulfilled regarding his birth, death, resurrection and reign.  The map is well laid out, the directions are clear.  Because of God’s enduring word, we find comfort and assurance.

In Jesus we find a picture of great love.  In him we are home.

Everything is as it was declared to be.

Click here to listen to the message: Advent Assurance

Advent Joy


Our daughter was aghast.  Her face was ashen white.  Her eyes wide open in horror.

“How could you?!” she loudly whispered.  Of course, everyone could hear her.

“How could I what?” I laughed.

“How could you dance in the middle of the street?!  Everyone is looking!!” Then with a face that said she was ready to die and with a voice that only a teenage daughter could have she said,  “YOU ARE EMBARRASSING ME!!”

I told her, “Listen my dear.  There are times in our lives when you hear such good news that you can’t keep it to yourself.  You have to sing as if no one is listening and dance as if no one is looking.  With the good news that I got today, I  just have to rejoice!”


Advent is a season of rejoicing.  We rejoice that our Lord and Savior Jesus has come into our lives.  For those who have received Jesus and put their faith in him, we rejoice that the judgement against us is no more.  We are freed from a debt that we cannot pay.   As it says in Zephaniah 3:14-15

Sing aloud, O daughter of Zion; shout, O Israel! Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter of Jerusalem!  The LORD has taken away the judgments against you

Therefore, no matter our circumstance, no matter the aches and pains that we have in life, we still rejoice because of what God has done for us.

Click here to listen to the accompanying message.


Advent Preparation

Joseph and Mary's Journey

The clock ticked louder than I had ever heard before.  tick.   TICK.  TICK.   I asked my wife, “Did you turn up the volume on the clock?”  I got a very funny look in reply.  I stood up and paced the floor.  Five steps one way; five steps back.  I kept this up until I noticed my spouse’s eyes squinting at me in annoyance. 

Finally, with a loving sigh my wife said, “Don’t worry.  He’ll be here.  Everything is set and we’re as prepared as we can be.  The house is clean, there’s plenty of food in the fridge and clean sheets on the bed. The only thing left to do is to prepare yourself. It’ll be fine.”

“I know,” I said with a lump in my throat.  “It’s just that I love him so and we’ve waited so long for him to come back home.”


The word Advent means “coming” or “arrival.” The focus of the entire season is preparation to celebrate the birth of Jesus the Christ in his First Advent, and the anticipation of the return of Christ the King in his Second Advent.

In Isaiah 40:3 it says

A voice cries: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. 

In that spirit we prepare our ourselves to receive our Lord.  We take our time to prepare ourselves for Christ because although the birth of Jesus took place almost 2,000 years ago,  Advent is far more than simply marking an old historical event. It is celebrating a truth about God, the revelation of God in Christ whereby all of creation might be reconciled to God.

Click here to listen to the message Advent Preparation






Advent Hope

Message for MaryI looked up at the night sky.  I was alone in a strange country without friends and without a place to call home.  I was hungry and tired but more than anything I was empty.  I felt abandoned by everyone including God.  My life seemed to be without hope. The coldness of the night made me shiver and I clutched my coat around me.  In my pocket I felt the small Bible I carried with me.  It was worn and tattered, kind of like my life right now.  My fingers wrapped around the Bible and then I remembered.  I remembered what God had promised so long ago.

The promise was from Isaiah 9:2  The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone.

I remembered that God has promised to deliver me from a time darkness.  In the midst of darkness God has me promised light.  He has promised me a hope that is an everlasting hope.


Advent is marked by a spirit of expectation, anticipation, preparation and longing. There is a yearning for deliverance from the evils of the world, first expressed by Israelite slaves in Egypt as they cried out from their bitter oppression. It is the cry of those who have experienced the tyranny of injustice in a world under the curse of sin, and yet who have hope of deliverance by a God who has heard the cries of oppressed slaves and brought deliverance!

It is that hope, however faint at times, and that God, however distant He sometimes seems, which brings to the world the anticipation of a King who will rule with truth and justice and righteousness over His people and in His creation. It is that hope that once anticipated, and now anticipates anew, the reign of an Anointed One, a Messiah, who will bring peace and justice and righteousness to the world.

Click here to listen to the message: Advent Hope