Pastor's Blog

New Blog Feed

posted Sep 22, 2014, 6:52 PM by Jeff Gravens

Hey Folks,

A new blog is here.  Check out jeffgravens.com.

If you receive updates from this blog through a RSS feed please make the change.  The new blog will be posted here on September 26, 2014.

Sin and "The Fault In Our Stars"

posted Jul 30, 2014, 12:26 PM by Jeff Gravens   [ updated Jul 30, 2014, 12:26 PM ]

“The Fault In Our Stars” is a young adult book written by John Green.  The books popularity has led to a major motion big picture.  I just checked the New York Times bestseller list – the book is #1 in its genre and has been on the list for 84 weeks.  The movie is still in theaters and at this point has grossed $237 million on a budget of a meager $12 million.  I’d say the story is a tremendous success.

The book is written from the perspective of a teenage girl who is fighting cancer.  She meets a boy.  She falls in love.  I won’t let out any spoilers.  The book will not go down in history as the work of a literary genius.  Yet, it’s a gripping story.  A story that teenagers (especially teenage girls) apparently love.

I don’t normally read young adults books.  In fact, this is the first young adult book I’ve read since I was a young adult.   I don’t even read works of fiction very often.  Yet, I picked the book up on the recommendation of a friend – “you need to read it.” 

I admit that the book entertained me.  I was breezing through the pages thinking, “This is a good but forgettable book.”  Then I came across a line that forced me to straighten up and pull out a pen.  The storyline led the main characters to Amsterdam seeking answers to a few questions (no spoilers) when a local tells them,

“Some tourists think Amsterdam is a city of sin, but in truth it is a city of freedom.  And in freedom, most people find sin.” 

Wow! On page 157 of a young adult work of fiction comes a poignant statement about sin.  That is a message for all of us – young and old alike.  We have freedom.  We can use that freedom to seek sin.  Or we can use that freedom to seek the things of God.  I pray that you seek the latter. 

Please know that I pray for you often.  If I can do anything to help – please let me know.

(Note: The book contains language and content that I don’t find suitable for young adults.  I have not viewed the movie and cannot speak to its language or content.  The movie is rated PG-13.)

Grace and peace,

Jeff Gravens   

Mistaken Identity

posted Jun 24, 2014, 2:10 PM by Jeff Gravens

There is a story that the old timers around Princeton, New Jersey love to tell.  It’s about a day in the early 1940’s when a well-to-do woman drove to the Princeton Inn in her touring car.  She stepped out of the car, reached into her purse, and pulled out a quarter.  She pressed the quarter into the hand of the scrawny, wild-haired man next to the curb and said, “Take my luggage to my room immediately” as she strolled into the lobby.  The man next the curb, who happened to be Albert Einstein, looked quizzically at the quarter.  After a few moments, he shrugged his shoulders and took the bags into the lobby.

It was a case of mistaken identity, misjudged appearance.  She took one look at the wild-haired man and assumed he was the bellhop rather than the world’s greatest scientist.

In the context of the church, I find we often fall victim to  mistaken identity or misjudged appearance.  Yet, with much greater consequences.  I have frequent conversations with people who speak of God but with a case of mistaken identity or misjudged appearance. They are speaking of God but they have identified him improperly or have judged him inaccurately.  And I’m talking about church people!

Here are three reasons why I believe we have a tendency to lean towards mistaking the identity of God:

        Relying on hearsay.  Many have an improper view of God because the statements of others have formed their image of God.  Their understanding of God has been built by hearsay, second-hand information, or gossip.  They repeat things they’ve heard rather than things they know. 

         Keeping toes in the kiddy pool.   Many have an improper view of God because they’ve only encountered him on a superficial level.  They pray – but not often or passionately.  They read the Bible – but not often or passionately.  How well would you know your spouse if you communicated infrequently and your relationship lacked passion?

        Watching from the sidelines.  Many people have an improper view of God because they never got their hands dirty in the things of God but have merely watched from the sidelines.  They know they should love their neighbor -  but they have never develop a relationship with their neighbor and found ways to love them.  They know about the need to be on mission – but have never been on mission. 

There is a cure for a case of mistaken identity: seek first-hand information, dive into the deep end, and get involved in the action.  If I can help in any way – please let me know.

Grace and peace,

Pastor Jeff Gravens

Here's A Question

posted Mar 13, 2014, 2:36 PM by Jeff Gravens

I was recently challenged by a conversation with a good friend.  In a casual conversation he asked a very serious question: Is what you are doing forming you into the image of Christ? I have wrestled with this question for a few weeks and I now pass the question onto you.  Is what you are doing forming you into the image of Christ?  If the answer is “yes,” keep digging deep.  If the answer is “no,” things need to change. 

If things need to change, here are a few things that I hope you find helpful.

Find the Jesus of Scripture.

Jesus took people by surprise from the very beginning.  He said shocking things.  He hung out with shocking people.  He performed shocking miracles.  Jesus blew the preconceived notions of a Messiah out of the water.  This is the Jesus we must find. The problem is … we often create Jesus in our own image.  We picture a Jesus that likes the things we like and hates the things we hate.  Yet, the last thing we need is more of us.  We need most is more of Jesus.  

We must follow the Jesus of Scripture.

What good is finding the Jesus of Scripture if we don’t follow him?  It’s like being offered the world finest steak but opting to eat McDonalds.  It doesn’t make sense.  I love the scene found in John 6:60-71.  A number of people had listened to Jesus teaching and remarked,  “This is hard teaching.  Who can accept it?”  With this question they quickly packed their bags and headed home.  They found the Jesus of Scripture and decided not to follow him.  Jesus, upon seeing their departure, looked at the twelve disciples and asked, “You do not want to leave too, do you?”  Peter responded correctly, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” 

We must be faithful to the Jesus of Scripture.

You can’t be a part time disciple.  You can’t come face to face with the Savior of the world and decide to follow him part time.   Jesus’ words in Luke 9:23 put it succinctly, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” 

I pray for you often,

Pastor Jeff Gravens

God Above Our Heads

posted Dec 21, 2013, 7:20 AM by Jeff Gravens   [ updated Dec 21, 2013, 7:21 AM ]

In the previous weeks of Advent we have looked at God in our brokenness and God in our disappointment.  Today we look at God above our heads.  While God is with us – even in our brokenness and disappointment – He is still above our heads. Let’s continue that journey by looking at [Matthew 2:1-12].

God above our heads.  I take that from the star that guided the Magi to Jesus.  Yet, what I mean is that we have a God worthy of worship.  A God bigger than us.  A God wiser than us.  A God worthy of worship.

Herod claimed a desire to worship.

The Magi claimed a desire to worship. 

The difference?  Herod claimed but never worship.  The Magi claimed and followed through with actual worship. This passage is one of contrast.  Herod is close by.  The Magi are far away.  Herod perceived Jesus as a threat.  The Magi perceived Jesus as King.  Both Herod and the Magi claimed a desire to worship.  Only the Magi actually worshiped.

When we think of worship we usually reduce it to simply music.  Yet, worship is much, much more. Worship is not music but rather attributing ultimate value.  If you give ultimate value to your job, money, family, social status, appearance than you worship your job, money, family, social status, or appearance,

Why give ultimate value to Jesus? As we have already seen in the Gospel of Matthew: Jesus is the one spoken of by the prophets from long ago.  Jesus saves people from sin.  Jesus is God with us. 

Herod claimed a desire to worship.  The Magi claimed a desire to worship. The difference?  Herod claimed but never worship.  The Magi claimed and followed through with actual worship.  I assume by your reading of this post that you are claiming a desire to worship.  The question is – will you actually worship?

God in our Disappointments

posted Dec 18, 2013, 2:10 PM by Jeff Gravens

Last week we looked at God in our brokenness.  This week we look at God in our disappointment.  Boy, is life full of disappointments.  At the end of your life you will have enough disappointment to write a novel depicting each one of them.  Things often turn out in a way that fails to meet our expectations.  We are left dejected, deflated, and dispirited.  Yet, our disappoint often provides God fertile ground to bring about Kingdom purposes.

Matthew 1:18-25 provides a textbook case of God in our disappointment.

The opening line in this passage sets the stage for the drama: “Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph.”  Now - we need to take a few moments to erase the modern notion of engagement from our brains.  This situation is nothing like modern day engagement.

First century “pledge”

  • Legal contract (included witnesses)
  • Broken by written divorce
  • If “husband” died during pledge the “wife” would be considered a widow
  • Marriage typically took place one year after pledge

Mary and Joseph were two young kids – yes kids.  Typically, first century marriage consisted of a 13-year-old bride and a 18-year-old groom.  They had their whole life in front of them.  They had dreams of spending a life together.  They had dreams of children, a family home.  The stage was set for disappointment.

The passage continues: “But before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit.” Hearing that line for our modern ears make it hard a pill to shallow.  With child through the Holy Spirit! Come on! Yet, just imagine poor Joseph!  Disappointment just knocked on the door and let itself inside.  The vision of a beautiful family, a dog and a house with a picket fence just came crashing to reality.   He quickly moved from grand visions of the future to plans of what to do now.  His answer was simple: divorce.  Because he was a righteous man he would do it quietly - he had no plans to make a big fuss about it.  On top of being a righteous man, most people like to keep disappointment private.  We don’t like t broadcast it to the community.

The stage is set once again for more drama.  An angel appears to Joseph and sets the record straight.  There is no need for divorce.  God is at work.  God is at work in this disappointment.  In fact, God is bringing to fulfillment an ancient prophecy.  God is using Joseph’s disappointment to bring Isaiah 7:14 into reality. 

The stage is set once again.  What will Joseph do ...

  • Continue with his plans for divorce?
  • Follow in obedience?

The passage tells us … Joseph did what was commanded. 

God brought about something God-sized through Joseph’s disappointment.  That is the God we worship during Advent.  A God who brings about things which we could never imagine.

God in our Brokenness

posted Dec 2, 2013, 2:01 PM by Jeff Gravens

We don’t like waiting.  We avoid lines at the grocery store.  We avoid traffic on the way to work.  If someone is telling a story and boring you with details, you might tell them “Get to the good part.”  Waiting is the wasteland between where we are and where we want to be.  Yet, Advent is all about waiting.  We wait in anticipation of Christmas morning.  We wait for the arrival of a Savior.

A Savior who “became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood” as Eugene Peterson puts it in his translation of John 1:14. 

It begins in Matthew 1:1-17.  A record of the genealogy of Jesus Christ the son of David, the son of Abraham: Abraham was the father of Isaac, Isaac the father of Jacob, Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers …

I know: “Get to the good part.”  The truth is … this is the good part.  We simply need ears to hear it. 

This passage begins “a record of the genealogy of Jesus Christ.”  It is important to remember that “Christ” is not a last name.  Rather, it is a title.  “Christ” is the New Testament word for the Old Testament word “Messiah.”  Jesus, the promised Savior spoken about by the prophets.  The Gospel of Matthew announces from the very start: The one we’ve waited for is here! The wait is over!  And then the wasteland of waiting is outlined.  Jesus’ ancestry is given to us in great detail.  One by one.  From Abraham all the way down to Jesus.  Yet, some surprises are to be found along the way.

In this long list of names readers find four women prior to Mary: Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and Bathsheba (listed as Uriah’s wife).  To list women in the genealogy is surprising enough for a Jewish audience.  Yet, if the names ring a bell the surprise is even greater.

In Genesis 38 we find Tamar’s story in which she gives birth to twins through sinful incest.  In Joshua 2 Rahab is clearly identified as a prostitute.  Ruth (as depicted in the book that bears her name) is poor, a widow, and a Moabite. The Moabites had a reputation among the Israelites for sexual immorality.  Finally, Bathsheba is brought into the family tree through adultery and murder.  Read the fascinating story in 2 Samuel 11.  

Not the kind of names a good Jewish person would boast of at the beginning of a story!  All of this in the genealogy of the promised Savior.  What’s the big deal?  Why does this genealogy matter?   It is a big deal.  It does matter. It gives us a front row seat to the character of God.  You might ask, “Will God show up here? In my life? In this mess?”   We can answer that with “absolutely.

Will God show up in my marriage?

Will God show up in my workplace?

Will God show up in my depression?

Will God show up in my addiction?

Will God show up in my frustration?

Will God show up in my failure?

Will God show up in my struggle?

Will God show up in my ordinary day?

Will God show up in my ordinary life? 

Absolutely.  God shows up in our brokenness.  He has done it before and he will do it again.

Blessings, 

Pastor Jeff Gravens

Do this in remembrance of me ...

posted Nov 29, 2013, 9:03 PM by Jeff Gravens

In the month of November we are celebrating the Lord’s Supper in our worship services.  We are signing familiar hymns like “The Old Rugged Cross” and “At Calvary.”  We are sharing the bread and the cup.  We do all of this in remembrance of our Lord and Savior.

If you’re like me – you need a little help remembering things.  I keep a calendar on my phone.  I still keep a paper calendar on my desk.  I set alarms on my phone.  I make to-do lists.  I put up post-it notes.  I place items by the door to make sure that I don’t leave them behind.  Some things are important enough to remember.

We are approaching the holiday seasons.  Thanksgiving and Christmas are upon us.  As these holidays approach at lightening speed, the list of things to remember seems to grow longer.  We have family gatherings and office parties.  We have meals to prepare and gifts to buy.  More things to get done and more things to remember.

In the midst of the hustle and bustle of life we still manage to sit and down and eat.  Whether it’s going through a drive-thru window on the way to a ballgame or sitting down at the table with the family.  Whether it’s paper plates and plastic forks or the family’s finest china.  We manage to find ourselves with food and drink.  Enter the beauty of the Lord’s Supper.

No matter how busy we get we still have daily opportunities to remember our Lord and Savior.  Jesus, with the bread and the cup in his hands, said, “Do this in remembrance of me.”  The Apostle Paul added “For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.”    Allow me to place and emphasis on the word “whenever.”  Whenever you find yourself sitting down for meal – remember our Lord and Savior.  Whether it’s going through a drive-thru window on the way to a ballgame or sitting down at the table with the family.  Whether it’s paper plates and plastic forks or the family’s finest china.  Some things are important enough to remember. 

I pray for you often.

Pastor Jeff Gravens

God Is In The Neighborhood

posted Oct 23, 2013, 11:35 AM by Jeff Gravens   [ updated Oct 23, 2013, 11:36 AM ]

Dear Family of Faith, 

“The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood.” – John 1:14 (The Message)

Jesus knew a thing or two about community.  He willing departed the glory of heaven to walk among people.   To begin his public ministry Jesus walked up to a dozen men and offered the invitation, “Follow me.”  They took him up on the offer.  These disciples witnessed the Sermon on the Mount, the calming of a storm, the healing of man born blind, the resurrection, and much more.

Jesus knew a thing or two about community.  In fact, he was convinced that for faith to thrive it must be done in community.  People who have never even picked up the Bible know the famous passage referred to as the Lord’s Prayer.  Read this prayer closely and you will notice that it is filled with community language: our, us, we.  Even when Jesus taught on prayer he taught about community.

Enter First Baptist Church. 

We gather as a group of people committed to following Jesus.  Along the way we see some amazing things  - restoration, redemption, forgiveness, and more.  We don’t do it alone.  Jesus never intended for us to do it alone.  In fact, I don’t believe we can be obedient to Jesus and do it alone.  Remember, Jesus’ ministry was done in community.

So what do we do with this?  Allow me to offer a few suggestions:

  • Participate: Fully engage in worship and Bible study. Come to worship and Bible study ready to sing, pray, provided input, encourage, ask a question, welcome a visitor. If following Jesus is to be done in community – our experience is lacking when you don’t participate. On the flip side – our experience is richer when you do participate. 
  • Deep Relationships: True community can’t happen in a large group setting for an hour or two a week. For true community to take place there needs to be something deeper. Have someone over for dinner. Call a member of your Sunday school class. Move from idle chitchat at a ball game to something deeper. Superficial relationships don’t build community. 
  • Start At Home: Your home is a great place to begin deep spiritual relationships. Do you talk to your spouse, children, loved ones about spiritual things? Do you share prayer concerns? Do you seek God together? If it doesn’t happen at home it mostly likely won’t happen elsewhere.

If I can be of any help – please let me know.  I pray for you often. 

Blessings,

Pastor Jeff

God is Not like Major League Baseball

posted Sep 4, 2013, 6:13 AM by Jeff Gravens

I had been waiting for weeks to hear the ruling.  Will it happen?  How bad will it be?  Around lunchtime I looked at my phone and read the headline: “Nelson Cruz Suspended.”

Texas Rangers slugger Nelson Cruz accepted a 50-game suspension from Major League Baseball and admitted that he made an "error in judgment." Cruz was among 13 players disciplined on August 5 for their relationship to Biogenesis of America, a clinic in Florida accused of distributing banned performance-enhancing drugs to professional athletes.

Cruz, and others, made errors in judgment.  They broke the rules.  They cheated.  They lied.  They got caught.  And now they must pay the penalty for their mistakes.  As a fan of the Texas Rangers, it pains me to see Cruz not suited up and ready to play in right field.  Yet, he must pay the penalty.  For 50 games he will not receive a paycheck.  He will not suit up.  He will not arrive early to the ballpark for batting practice. He will not run onto the field to the cheers of fans.  Nor should he.

I was reading the Scriptures this morning and thought to myself: I’m sure glad God is not like Major League Baseball.  MLB commissioner Bud Selig caught 13 players cheating and ruled that they must sit out.  They can’t participate.  They can’t be part of the team.  You know what?  I have never been anywhere near a steroid clinic – but I’ve broken the rules.  In fact, we all have.  The Scriptures tells us, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).  Yet, God still lets me participate.  God still lets me be part of the team.

 

We are in the midst of a sermon series titled “It’s time.”  The main message of the series is that we must put away the excuses and reasons for procrastination.  It’s time to live out the things to which God has called you.  It’s time.  Right now.  No excuses.  No procrastination. Yes, you have made mistakes.  Yes, you have fallen short.  But it’s time. The MLB commissioner hands out suspensions.  God hands out grace.  While we were still sinners, Christ died for us (See Romans 5:8).  Christ took the punishment in our place.   

God does not call you to sit on the sidelines.  He calls you to something much greater.  I’m blessed to be able to see our congregation come to grips with this reality.  I’m blessed to see congregation members grow in faith. I’m blessed to see the fruit that our congregation produces.  

If I can ever be any help to you please let know.  I pray for you often.


Blessings, 

Pastor Jeff Gravens

1-10 of 87

Comments