Why Church? Part 2

Pastor Clayton's Blog Rounded cropped

Ok, quick!  When I say, “church” what comes to mind?  Did you picture a building?  I would guess that 90% of you pictured a building.  Or perhaps you pictured yourself inside the building singing or listening to a sermon. For the vast majority church is a place you go to on Sunday.  We equate church with a building, a place to go for worship.

However, that was never the design of church.  In the New Testament, the word for church is ekklēsia and it means the body or gathering of believers.  When Paul wrote his letter to the church in Ephesus, it wasn’t addressed to 301 North 5th Street, Ephesus, Asia Minor  00065 AD   It was always addressed to the people, the gathering of believers; the saints.

The wonderful thing about church being a gathering of believers is that other people comfort, encourage and build each other up.  Of course, they also annoy, irritate and anger us.  In fact, that’s why a lot of people stop going.

You might have heard it said that:

  • Business would be easy if it weren’t for the customers.
  • Managing would be easy if it weren’t for the employees.
  • Working would be easy if it weren’t for managers.

Let’s add another.  Church would be easy if it weren’t for the people.

A number of people I’ve spoken to this past year are bitter because of people from their church.  They have an idealized expectation that church should be full of good people who always do good things.  People with this expectation might think of Acts 2:42-44

And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.  And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles.  And all who believed were together and had all things in common.

Sound idyllic, doesn’t it?  In a sense it was because of the great outpouring the God’s grace through the Holy Spirit.  Yet, when we take in the whole of the New Testament, we see a fuller picture.  Here are three quick examples:

  • The apostles, James and John, tried to wheedle for the best position in heaven. (Mark 10:35-3)
  • Paul accused Peter of being a hypocrite when dealing with the gentiles. (Galatian 2:11-21)
  • The Corinthian church was full of problems such as, incest, idols, arguing over the “best” spiritual gifts, drunkenness, lawsuits, etc. (1st Corinthians)

The list can go on and on.  It turns out that the church is made up of very flawed and imperfect people.  Church is for the flawed and broken which, as far as I can tell is everyone.

As followers of Jesus we are called to a higher standard of life but that does not mean that once you join a church that you are somehow perfect.  In fact, as you hear and study God’s word, you are confronted with the holiness and majesty of Jesus so that in his light our flaws become ever more apparent.  When you see more clearly the depths of your own sin, you begin to understand the depth and necessity of grace.  When you understand the necessity of grace and let it sink into your very soul, you start to see that others are also in need of this same grace.  Humility replaces your pride as you realize that you are as broken as those who annoy, irritate and anger you.

Through Jesus and His church, we learn to love even when love is not returned. Through His word and His sacrifice we learn to forgive.  Through Him and His church, we are conformed into His image.

When you stop thinking of church as a building and start to think of church as a body of believers who are being sanctified in Christ Jesus through the working of the Holy Spirit you will understand why you need church.

Why Church? Part 1

Pastor Clayton's Blog Rounded cropped

“Oh, I don’t go to church.  I just worship God by going outside in nature.”

I hear that on a regular basis when talking to people about faith.  Perhaps you’ve said it yourself.  After all, as long as you believe in God that’s all that matters, right?

There are many people who lull themselves into a false sense of comfort with such beliefs.   Can nature declare God’s majesty?  Yes, to a degree.  We look at the mountains, the forests, waterfalls, meadows, beautiful sunsets and starry nights and we marvel at the power and wonder of God.

Paul in his letter to the Romans wrote, “For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made.”  Romans 1:20

Yet, for those who say that they only need nature, they are missing the greatest aspect of God’s nature – his love for us in Jesus.

When you look at the mountains, do you they declare Jesus to you?  When you hear the breeze over the meadow does it whisper to you that you are a sinner in need of a savior?  When you look at the trees do you see the wood which was used for a cross upon which he died for us?  When you touch the ground do you touch his blood that was shed for you so that you might be forgiven?  When you see the sunrise, does it declare to you a risen Jesus who sits at the right hand of the Father, who is the King of kings and Lord of lords who will come again to judge the living and the dead?

My guess is that very few people come to understand God’s greatest act of love when being in nature.  That’s why God gave us His word in Scripture.  In Scripture, we find God’s nature revealed.  In it we see that God loves us though we are dead in sin.   In it we find the message of forgiveness and reconciliation, of overflowing grace and mercy.  In it we hear Jesus proclaim that he alone is the resurrection and the life.

This is why, in part, Jesus gave us his church.  We gather together because we go to hear God’s word; we go to hear Jesus; we go to be reminded of God’s love for us through Jesus. We go to be renewed in the forgiveness that only he can give.

Are You A Disciple? Part 2

Pastor Clayton's Blog Rounded croppedIt sounds like a trick question but it’s not:  Are you a disciple of Jesus?   (If you’re curious, skip to bottom of this post and see how fully you can answer three questions.  Then come back and read the rest.)

Ultimately, our work is to be disciples and then to make disciples.  That is our primary task.  This is the pattern set forth by Jesus; this is what the apostles did and this is what the early church did.  Be disciples and make disciples.

Unfortunately and with disastrous results, we have divorced the idea of being a disciple from being a Christian.  We focus on the name, Christian, and forget what being a Christian actually means.

To be a Christian is to be a follower of Jesus.  To be a follower of Jesus is to be a disciple.  A disciple is a student, one who diligently studies at the foot of his master, who learns from Jesus and his word throughout their lifetime.

Sit at the foot of a master?  What does that mean?  It sounds pretty vague because we’ve lost the cultural context and meaning of discipleship.  Perhaps the best analogy we have today is apprenticeship – those who learn a craft or trade from someone with more experience, a master craftsman.

Luke 6  a

Jesus being God himself is the supreme master, and he taught his disciples day-in and day-out for three years.  They listened, observed, talked, shared and tried to practice what Jesus taught.  Along the way Jesus both commended and corrected them as needed.  They learned from him as well they could and then they spent the rest of their lives growing and maturing into his image.

While we can’t go back in time and walk with Jesus as they walked, we do have his word given to us in Scripture.  Therefore, we can learn to be better disciples by asking three fundamental questions when studying his word.  The questions on their face are simple but they are not simplistic.  Each question has a depth to it that will last you a lifetime.

The Three Questions

  1. Who is Jesus?
  2. What did he teach?
  3. How does that apply to me?

If you skip or ignore any of the questions, you miss the mark when it comes to being a disciple.

  • If you miss the first one and don’t understand who Jesus is all of the other answers are off.  Period.
    • You need to determine if Jesus is God and understand why he had to die for our sin.  For those who wish to have some help in understanding who Jesus is, Lee Strobel has written a very good book, “The Case for Christ.” 
  • If you skip the second question you are left with simply making things up out of thin air.
    • You’ll hear people say, “Oh, it doesn’t matter what he taught as long as I believe in him.”
    • If you cherry pick the parts of Scripture that you like and disregard the rest, you are creating Jesus out of your own image.
  • If you ignore the last question it means that you might be full of knowledge but it is ultimately dead knowledge.
    • Dead knowledge is knowledge that does not affect your heart, your head, your hands, your eyes, your mouth, your interaction with God and with others.

Well, how are you doing with these question?  Are you willing to learn from Jesus and walk in his footsteps?  Are you willing to be his disciple?

Are You a Disciple? Part 1

Pastor Clayton's Blog Rounded cropped

Want to stump your friends?  Ask them, “Are you a disciple of Jesus?”

It’s a question that we rarely hear or ponder.  My guess is that you probably don’t know how to answer it.  It might even give you a deer-in-the-headlight look (just like your friend when you asked them).

Some might say, “Weren’t the disciples the ones who were with Jesus?  So, how can I be a disciple?”  Others might say that they are Christian, or they go to church or that they are Lutheran, Catholic, Baptist, etc.

Here’s what a disciple is not:

  • A disciple is not a convert to a church.  There have been many people who are converted to a church or an organization but not to Christ.  And when the church crumbles so does their faith.  I have talked to many wounded people who have left the church and their faith because of what the church did.
  • A disciple is not one who converts to a pastor.  There are those whose whole spiritual life is wrapped up in following their pastor or priest.  They base their faith on that person.  If that pastor should stumble and fall so does their faith.  I have talked to many angry and bitter people who have left their faith because of the fallenness of a pastor or priest.

Ultimately, a disciple is one who confesses Jesus as Lord and Savior and follows him.

  • A disciple believes that Jesus is who He said He is: the divine Son of God who came to save us from our sin.
  • A disciple is one who diligently studies at the foot of his master, who learns from His Word throughout their lifetime.

Unfortunately and to our great detriment we have divorced the idea of being a Christian from being a disciple.  Did you know that Jesus never referred to his followers as Christians?  They were always called his disciples.  It wasn’t until later on that followers were known as Christians.

To be a Christian is to be a follower of Jesus.  To be a follower of Jesus is to be a disciple.

So, are you a disciple?

In Part 2 we’ll explore more of how to answer that question.

Are You a Good Person? Part 2

Pastor Clayton's Blog Rounded cropped

You’ve committed a crime and you’re before the judge. Today is the day of sentencing.  Even though every fiber of your being wants to deny it, you know that you are guilty.  Yet, you cry out, “But I tried hard!  I did good things!  Don’t they count for something?!”

The judge explains that what you did is serious.  He says that in order to be a just judge he must give a judgment appropriate to your crime.   With finality, the gavel comes down and the pronouncement is made.  Death.

Before God we all deserve the penalty even though we cry out, “But I tried hard!”   None of us deserve heaven.

Now, imagine that God is the judge and the sentence has been pronounced.  But then something amazing happens!  Jesus who been by the judge’s side, comes down from the bench, walks over to you, puts a hand gently on your shoulder and says, “As a just judge, God must give the penalty and for your offense it must be death.  But, God loves you so much and doesn’t desire you to die.  Therefore, I will take your place.  I will die so that you might live.”

You’re stunned.  Would he really do that?  How could he do that?

You see, when you place our trust (faith) in Jesus and call him Lord and Savior, at that very moment you are pardoned.  You are set free.  In that moment you receive God’s mercy and grace.

  • Mercy is not getting the punishment you deserve. (Eternal damnation)
  • Grace is getting the favor you don’t deserve.  (Eternal life in heaven)

While we can never be “good enough” to deserve salvation, we can receive it as a gift from Jesus.  It’s summed up in this verse:

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast (from the New Testament, Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, Chapter 2 verses 8-9)

When Jesus died on the cross, he bore all of our sins.  He bore the sin of your pettiness, your envy and greed, your pride and your boastfulness, your anger and hate, your self-centeredness and disobedience.  Any sin that you could think including the secret sins that you believe are unforgivable, he bore them all and he bore them for you.

Jesus, the only Son of God, came from heaven to stand by you and say, “I love you so much that I will take your place.  I will die so that you may live.”

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.  (from the Gospel of John, Chapter 3 verse 16)

No matter how severe your sin might be, God’s grace and God’s forgiveness is always greater.  If God can forgive Paul who persecuted and killed Christians then He can forgive anyone including you. You are not outside the reach of God’s forgiveness.

If you have never accepted Jesus as Lord and Savior, today is the day to do it.  Do not wait.  Receive his mercy and grace.  Receive his forgiveness.

Then when someone asks you, “Why do you think you’ll go to heaven?” you don’t have to wonder or have false hope.  You can confidently respond, “Yes!  Because my faith is in Jesus and by his grace I am saved!”


Are You a Good Person? Part 1

Pastor Clayton's Blog Rounded cropped

How would you answer this question, “If you would die today do you believe that you would go to heaven?” Would you answer:  “Yes,” “No,” or “I’m not sure but I hope so.”

The majority of people who believe in an afterlife say that they’re going to heaven.  After all, that’s where we all want to be isn’t it?  But why do you think you’ll go to heaven?  In other words, why would God let you into heaven?

I’ve talked to a lot of people and the majority of them respond with a variation of, “Because I try to be a good person. I try hard and I try to help others out.”  In all honesty, I said something like that for many years.  I thought I was a good person, but then I came across the Good Person Quiz.  It’s not long and there aren’t any trick questions.  I’ve never passed the quiz but maybe you will.

  1. Have you ever told a lie?  Don’t hedge.  Even a “white” lie is a lie
    • What do you call someone who tells a lie?  A liar.
  2. Have you ever taken anything that’s not yours?  Again, no hedging.  For example: How about downloading music?  Taking something from your sibling?
    • What do you call someone who takes something that isn’t theirs?  A thief.
  3. Have you ever used God’s name as a curse word?   By the way, this also includes using OMG! in a text message.
    • That’s called blasphemy.  It’s taking the Almighty and Holy God’s name as a curse word.
  4. Have you ever disobeyed your parents?
    • This one is a no-brainer.  We’ve all disobeyed our parents.  That’s called rebellion.

How are you doing so far?  If you failed all four questions you not just a liar, you are a thieving liar who is blasphemous and rebellious at heart.  There are six more questions in the quiz, but I’m pretty sure we can stop at four.

If the Good Person Quiz questions sound familiar it’s because they are from the Ten Commandments.  When we measure ourselves against God’s standards, we’re not “good” at all and that conclusion makes us very, very uncomfortable.

Some people try to squirm out of that conclusion by saying, “Well, I’ve never killed anyone!”  The fact is that most people haven’t physically killed someone.  But how does that make you good?  It makes you average at best.  You see, we rationalize and justify our behavior and create our own standards of being good or at least good enough.  We grade ourselves on a curve and believe that God grades that way as well.  Besides, Jesus is all about love, right?  He wouldn’t judge us, would he?  Well, here’s what Jesus said regarding murder:

“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire. Matthew 5:21-22 

Coming face to face with God’s standards makes us squirm as well it should.  We are all guilty of breaking His laws.  None of us are good enough to deserve being with Him in heaven.

If we can’t be good enough no matter how hard we try and none of us deserve heaven, is there any hope?

In Part 2, we’ll cover what God has provided so that we can all say with assurance, “Yes, I’ll be in heaven.”

What would you say?


The other night I was asked by a man what I thought about Islam. He wasn’t leading me on, but was genuinely curious.

I said “Let me answer it this way, Christianity and other religions have contradictory claims. What I mean by that is Christianity says Jesus is God and our salvation is only through Him. Other religions deny that Jesus is God and claim that there are different paths to salvation.  Those claims contradict each other. They can’t both be true at the same time. Either Jesus is God or he isn’t. Right?”

He agreed with me, “They can’t all be true at the same time.”

I continued “If Christianity is true, then religions like Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism and others are false. But if Christianity is false, then other religions might be true. Or maybe we have it all wrong and all religions are false. That’s a possibility, too, right?”

Again he agreed. I said, “I have no animosity toward other religions. They just can’t all be true at the same time.  Ultimately, you have decide.”

He nodded, so I continued “So, now you’ve got to ask yourself the question:  Is it true? Is Jesus really God and the only way to salvation? I told him I’ve done my homework on other religions and, based upon my studies, I believe Jesus really meant it when he said ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’ I believe Jesus really is God and is the only Son of God.”

The conversation with this man got me thinking.

I’ve found that it’s easy to go around and around discussing the merits of different religions, but I think there’s one question that really gets to the heart of the matter. It’s a simple, but profound, question that Jesus asked His disciples: “Who do you say that I am?” That single question cuts through everything else.

Ultimately, we must make a choice. Is Jesus God or isn’t He?  If Jesus is God, it is of the utmost importance to come to that knowledge. If He is not God, it is of no importance. What it cannot be is somewhat important. There is no middle ground.

What about you?  Who do you say Jesus is?


Could you answer this question?


There have been many polls in the last few decades showing the increase of biblical illiteracy.  Fewer and fewer people read the Bible, and fewer and fewer people know the stories of the Bible.  Yet, it seems that as great as biblical illiteracy is, there is even a greater issue:  gospel illiteracy.  I’ve asked a number of people throughout the years, “What is the gospel?” or “What is the good news of Jesus?  Does it mean anything to you?”  Roughly 90% of the people whom I’ve asked are unable to provide an answer.  It didn’t matter if they were a believer or an unbeliever; it didn’t matter if they had attended church for years, nor did it matter their denomination.  They simply could not answer that question.  

How about you?  How would you answer the question?

Some people reference Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John because these are the gospels that are often read in church.  If someone even mentions, “salvation,” they are automatically in the top five percent.  Even fewer go beyond that. 

The gospel, or the good news, is the central element of the Christian faith.  In simple, “non-churchy” terms it is this:  

  1. God, who is holy and perfect, created everything, including us and He created us to be in relationship with Him.  However, we have rebelled against God. This rebellion is called sin.
    • Our sin creates a broken relationship with God. When a relationship is broken, it creates a gap.
    • There is a gap between God and us and there is nothing we can do to bridge that gap. No matter how good we try to be, we are still sinners.
  2. But, God loves us and wants to be in relationship with us so much that He sent His only son, Jesus.
    • Through His death on the cross and through His resurrection, His cross bridges the gap between God and us.
  3. When we turn away from our sin (repent of our sins) and put our faith in Jesus, we cross the bridge.

The Bridge

That’s the good news – that’s the gospel.  It’s simple, but not at all simplistic.  For a fuller explanation, with pictures, please go to Word of Life’s website.

This might be new to you, or you might have heard it before.  The question you need to ask yourself is “Is this true?”