Killing Words

Four words are haunting me: “And their voices prevailed” (Luke 23:23). With these four words Luke described the irreversible wave of fury that crashed on Jesus.

The multitudes had a choice. The crowd could have opted for Barabbas—the convicted insurrectionist and murderer. But instead they chose Jesus of Nazareth. Pilate’s feeble attempts could not persuade the mob otherwise:

But they all cried out together, “Away with this man, and release to us Barabbas”—a man who had been thrown into prison for an insurrection started in the city and for murder. Pilate addressed them once more, desiring to release Jesus, but they kept shouting, “Crucify, crucify him!” A third time he said to them, “Why, what evil has he done? I have found in him no guilt deserving death. I will therefore punish and release him.” But they were urgent, demanding with loud cries that he should be crucified. And their voices prevailed. So Pilate decided that their demand should be granted (Luke 23:18-24).

It is easy for us to sit in judgment on those that cried out, “Crucify, crucify him!” We would like to think if we were there we would have acted differently. But honesty compels us to admit we would have done the same—by actively yelling or passively standing by and watching it happen. Either way we are complicit in the crucifixion of Jesus.

But the crucifixion of Jesus is not the whole story. We look through this awful event to the hope of the resurrection. We gaze through the cross to the resurrection and see that even as the voices of the multitude prevailed, God was prevailing.

The Apostle Paul declares the victory accomplished at the cross:

And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him (Colossians 2:13-15). 

What looked like utter defeat was actually God’s cosmic victory over sin, death, and the devil. At the cross sin was atoned for and God’s holy law fulfilled—all in the person of Jesus Christ.

This victory finds its apex in the resurrection (and ascension) of Christ. Good Friday, thank God, gives way to Sunday. Because of the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead the Christian can sing with the apostle: “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” It’s gone because, “Death is swallowed up in victory!” (see, 1 Corinthians 15:54-57). Praying this song is yours today.

[Illustration: "Give Us Barabbas" from volume 9 of The Bible and its Story Taught by One Thousand Picture Lessons, edited by Charles F. Horne and Julius A. Bewer, published in 1910. See Wikipedia.]

Posted in Gospel, Jesus Christ | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Pilgrim Song

The Christian life this side of heaven.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Faith and the Holiness of God: A Lesson From the Life of Moses

That very day the LORD spoke to Moses, “Go up this mountain of the Abarim, Mount Nebo, which is in the land of Moab, opposite Jericho, and view the land of Canaan, which I am giving to the people of Israel for a possession. And die on the mountain which you go up, and be gathered to your people, as Aaron your brother died in Mount Hor and was gathered to his people, because you broke faith with me in the midst of the people of Israel at the waters of Meribah-kadesh, in the wilderness of Zin, and because you did not treat me as holy in the midst of the people of Israel. For you shall see the land before you, but you shall not go there, into the land that I am giving to the people of Israel.”  -Deuteronomy 32:48-52



Moses was prone to frustration and anger. And I can see why. The people he was called to shepherd constantly tested him. It is fitting that several times in Scripture God refers to the people of Israel as a “stiff-necked people” (Cf., Ex. 32:9; 33:3, 5; 34:9). Of course, we are all-too-like ancient Israel, trusting God at moments only to find ourselves soon after grumbling before Him for want of something.

But Moses was not justified in his anger simply because the people were a burden. The standard for Moses’s leadership had everything to do with God, not the people’s attitudes, whether good or bad.

God says to Moses: “Go up this mountain of the Abarim, Mount Nebo, which is in the land of Moab, opposite Jericho, and view the land of Canaan, which I am giving to the people of Israel for a possession. And die on the mountain which you go up . . . .” (32:49-50a). This declaration is startling given how hard Moses has labored to bring the people into the land of Canaan. To be sure, through many dangers, toils, and snares Moses had already come. He had stared down Pharaoh, weathered mutinies, administered justice, entertained countless grumblings, and stood before God in the clouds and thunder on the mountain top. For all of this, he would not enter the land, but die what feels like a premature death.

But why? What is the reason God gives for this judgement on Moses?

We see the answer in v. 52: “because you broke faith with me in the midst of the people of Israel at the waters of Meribah-kadesh, in the wilderness of Zin, and because you did not treat me as holy in the midst of the people of Israel.” The answer is radically God-centered. The reason Moses would die on the mountain is because he “broke faith with [God],” which is to say, Moses “did not treat [God] as holy.” That having faith in God and treating Him as holy are one and the same thing is confirmed in the passage alluded to here, namely, Numbers 20:11-12. Notice how faith in God is treating Him as holy, the very thing Moses did not do when he struck the rock in anger:

And Moses lifted up his hand and struck the rock with his staff twice, and water came out abundantly, and the congregation drank, and their livestock. And the LORD said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not believe in me, to uphold me as holy in the eyes of the people of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land that I have given them.”

This is hugely convicting to me. To believe in God is to treat Him as holy. Anything less is not faithful. Furthermore, this narrative puts my obedience before God on a standard that does not change. Why? Because God is never not worthy of my believing reverence.

“God, help me to believe in you this day such that I treat You as holy before the people. In the strength of Christ I pray. Amen.”

Posted in Bible, God, Pastorate | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Annual Meeting 2014 and the State of the Church

Dear Immanuel Bible Church,

By God’s grace the state of Immanuel Bible Church is strong and getting stronger. Indeed, at the dawn of a new year I am encouraged to see a community of saints growing “strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might” (Eph. 6:10).

Annual meetings are a time to reflect on God’s past faithfulness even as we look with hope to the future. In 2013 God’s faithfulness was on display in countless ways including baptisms, welcoming new members, growing Bible studies and Sunday school classes, hymn sings, service projects, mission trips, retreats, new staff members, weddings, births, and funerals when dearly loved brothers and sisters in Christ went home to be with the Lord. These activities and events help make up our life together as we strive to “live . . . worthy of the gospel of Christ” (Phil. 1:27). And so in the New Year we “press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:14).

What does our faithful God have in store for us in 2014?

While the specifics are yet to be revealed, this much I know: “for those who love God all things work together for good” (Rom. 8:28). All good, all the time. This is what God promises those who are in Christ Jesus. And because this promise was purchased with the very blood of God’s Son, it is sure and certain. “This cup that is poured out for you,” Jesus says, “is the new covenant in My blood” (Luke 22:20). Because of the cross we can sing with David “surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life” (Ps. 23:6). This, of course, does not mean a year absent trials. Suffering will come. But we know when we find ourselves in the valley of the shadow of death our faithful Lord will be with us, guiding our every step toward green pastures.

With this bedrock conviction we also know that God calls the church to make disciples. Our mission is set out clearly in our Lord’s parting words before His ascension: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:18-20). What this means for Immanuel Bible Church is that all of our programs and activities should be feeding discipleship. Think of it this way: discipleship is the ocean that the river of our activities must be flowing toward.

The elders are prayerfully working hard to ensure that we as a church are being faithful to this ultimate end of becoming more whole-hearted followers of Jesus Christ. And we are excited to add to our leadership teams in the New Year so we can do the work of discipleship still better. In His kind providence, the Lord has been steadily bringing new families to Immanuel. It is a great joy to see all the children scamper down the aisles for children’s church, and to hear of the growing Sunday School and Awana attendance. And I trust the swelling attendance for Sunday morning worship is evidence of true spiritual growth at Immanuel. We long to be good stewards of the people God is entrusting us with in the faith. My prayer is that what was said by the Apostle Paul of the Thessalonian church would be true of us: “For not only has the word of the Lord sounded forth from you in Macedonia and Achaia, but your faith in God has gone forth everywhere, so that we need not say anything” (1 Thess. 1:8).

In the New Year we would do well to ask, “What does discipleship look like in a local church? In other words, what are the marks of a growing, maturing body of believers?” Let me suggest at least these five things:

1. A growing church longs to know Jesus Christ.

  • John 17:3 “And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.”
  • John 6:68 Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life”
  • Jesus is the treasure hidden in a field and the pearl of great price that the parables speak of in Matt. 13. A growing church sings from the heart, “Hallelujah! All I have is Christ. Hallelujah! Jesus is my life.”
  • Therefore, let us resolve to know Him more in 2014.

2. A growing church craves the Word of God.

  • Psalm 19:10 “More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb.”
  • Matt. 4:4 But he answered, “It is written, “‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”
  • Our love for the Word of God will show itself by being the obvious foundation for all we do in our preaching, teaching, singing, praying, meetings, fellowship events, etc.
  • Therefore, let us resolve to crave the Word of God in 2014.

3. A growing church loves people here and abroad.

  • John 13:34-35 “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
  • But our love does not stop at the doors of our church. It must be so strong that our walls cannot contain it. Our love for each other must have an outward impulse expressed in love for the peoples of the world. If God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, how can we not lay down our lives for the good of people whether in Whatcom County or Papua New Guinea or Kenya or Turkey or Thailand or Peru?
  • Therefore, let us resolve to love people here and abroad in 2014.

4. A growing church diligently seeks unity.

  • Eph. 4:1-3 “I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”
  • Biblical unity does not mean uniformity. We are different in Christ—each of us is fearfully and wonderfully made. And we may not always agree. But we are unified in the most important way possible: we are all one in Christ. We stand together at the foot of the cross and have covenanted together to live a life worthy of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
  • Therefore, let us resolve to diligently seek unity in 2014.

5. A growing church strives to do everything for the glory of God.

  • 1 Cor. 10:31 “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”
  • Our lives exist to promote the glory, the honor, the supreme worth of the triune God. This is what the Apostle Paul means when he says in 2 Cor. 5:9, “So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him.”
  • Therefore, let us resolve to live not for self, but for the glory of God in 2014.

By God’s grace this year will be a year when we, individually and as a church, grow in discipleship. But it won’t “just happen.” God is calling us to apply ourselves with a holy determination to this glorious “work of faith and labor of love” (1 Thess. 1:3). In the strength that God provides, will you join me?

With you in the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ,


Posted in Church, Living | Leave a comment

Christians and Book Writing

Beale_NT_Theology_CoverA distinctly Christian commendation and motivation for writing a book:

Above all, I am grateful to God for enabling me to conceive the idea for this book, building on the shoulders of others before me, and for giving me the energy and discipline to write it. It is my prayer that through this book God’s glory in some way will be more greatly manifested.

From the preface of G.K. Beale’s New Testament Biblical Theology: the Unfolding of the Old Testament in the New (Baker, 2011).

Posted in Books | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Welcome Russ Hawkins!

hawkins-familyWe are thrilled to welcome Russ Hawkins onto the teaching team at Immanuel Bible Church! Russ, with Darrel Amundsen’s joyful approval, is taking over our Sunday School class on the Gospel of John.

Last year Russ, JaLynn, and their four wonderful children moved to Bellingham from Louisville, Kentucky where Russ earned a Master of Divinity in Biblical Studies from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Now, as members of Immanuel, Russ and JaLynn are excited about this new season of ministry. To help you get to know Russ and his family a bit more (and to entice you to attend his class on Sunday mornings), I invited Russ to participate in an email “interview.” Below you will find his answers to important questions related to his family, teaching the Bible, and the Seahawks. I hope you enjoy reading his words as much as I did and consider coming to his class on Sunday mornings. I know it will be a feast for your soul!


Mike: What do you most enjoy about teaching?

Russ: The entire process and effort is enjoyable to me, but what I love the most is witnessing how God uses his Word to influence, change, and otherwise impact his children. It’s a truly remarkable experience for the believer, and quite unlike anything the world can offer.

Of course, I greatly enjoy both the preparation and teaching time, but as means to an end, and not the end itself.

Mike: Do you have a favorite book of the Bible? What is it about this book that you particularly appreciate?

Russ: Isaiah is my favorite book, followed closely by John and Ecclesiastes. I particularly appreciate the authority with which Isaiah speaks: power, beauty, and sovereignty extending from the throne of God, infusing human history, realized in salvation, and anticipating the re-creation of the world. God is revealed to us as holy, yet with us, just, yet providing a way of salvation, righteous, yet merciful.

I believe the proper theological term for this is “mind-blowing,” and I return to this masterpiece time after time.

Mike: Tell us a bit about your family and work at Logos. How has your transition to Bellingham gone?

Russ: JaLynn and I were late high-school sweethearts, and on February 26th, will have been married for 20 years. Although we can be quite different in personality, we are practically indistinguishable in thought, practice, and expectations – we’ve grown up together.

Our four children are Brooke (who loves art), Gabe (who loves animals), Nate (who is clever), and Chase (who resembles his name).

I work as a software developer for Logos, where I happily (and still with some amazement) get the opportunity to write code in the service of a company that produces unique and truly impactful products.

All things considered, the transition has gone very well. This region is one of the most beautiful in which we have had the privilege to live, and the number of things to see and do within a short drive continually surprises us. We very much enjoy living in a smaller community and enjoying what the Northwest has to offer.

Mike: Rumor has it you’re a big Broncos fan. Some are seeing a Seahawks v. Broncos Super Bowl. Any prediction?

Russ: Denver 45, Seattle 21.

Seriously though, I have vivid and painful memories of when Denver lost to the Giants, were crushed by the Redskins, and humiliated by the 49ers. So, Seahawks fans, feel free to call me in February if you need a (blue and orange) shoulder to cry on. I’ve felt your pain.

Mike: What are some of the things you’ve particularly come to appreciate over the years about the local church? What are your hopes for us in the New Year?

Russ: With every passing year, I understand better, and appreciate more, how the local church is our family and home; the center of activity, relationships, and responsibility. Though homes change, jobs change, and nearly every other human reality experiences change, the truth of God’s people connected as the body and joined to Christ does not.

My hope for the New Year is that true and abiding fellowship would continue to increase at Immanuel, that service, prayer, and sacrifice are practiced by all, while love, care, and the sharing of burdens are felt by all. Can we really be anything else and yet still called a church?

Posted in Church | Tagged | 1 Comment

Holding Fellowship With the Sufferings of Christ

01v/11/arve/G2582/020From John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion , Book 3, Chapter 8: On Bearing the Cross–One Branch of Self Denial.


THE pious mind must ascend still higher, namely, whither Christ calls his disciples when he says, that every one of them must “take up his cross,” (Matt. xvi. 24.) Those whom the Lord has chosen and honoured with his intercourse must prepare for a hard, laborious, troubled life, a life full of many and various kinds of evils; it being the will of our heavenly Father to exercise his people in this way while putting them to the proof. Having begun this course with Christ the first-born, he continues it towards all his children. For though that Son was dear to him above others, the Son in whom he was “well pleased,” yet we see, that far from being treated gently and indulgently, we may say, that not only was he subjected to a perpetual cross while he dwelt on earth, but his whole life was nothing else than a kind of perpetual cross. The Apostle assigns the reason, “Though he was a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered,” (Heb. v. 8.) Why then should we exempt ourselves from that condition to which Christ our Head behoved to submit; especially since he submitted on our account, that he might in his own person exhibit a model of patience? Wherefore, the Apostle declares, that all the children of God are destined to be conformed to him. Hence it affords us great consolation in hard and difficult circumstances, which men deem evil and adverse, to think that we are holding fellowship with the sufferings of Christ; that as he passed to celestial glory through a labyrinth of many woes, so we too are conducted thither through various tribulations. For, in another passage, Paul himself thus speaks, “we must through much tribulation enter the kingdom of God,” (Acts xiv. 22;) and again, “that I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death,” (Rom viii. 29.) How powerfully should it soften the bitterness of the cross, to think that the more we are afflicted with adversity, the surer we are made of our fellowship with Christ; by communion with whom our sufferings are not only blessed to us, but tend greatly to the furtherance of our salvation.

Posted in Church History, Living, Suffering | Tagged , | 1 Comment