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Jan 12 18

Other Centered Resolutions

by Joe Pursch
Most of our resolutions for the new year revolve around getting our lives to work better for our own benefit, whether it’s losing weight or managing stress. I’m impressed with how many of Jonathan Edwards’ 70 Resolutions were so clearly focused on improving his concern for others. Here’s one example:
70. Let there be something of benevolence, in all that I speak.
Dec 16 17

My New Testament Notebook (John 1:1-18 The Incarnation)

by Joe Pursch



My English Text Notes on John 1:1-18, Written in Preparation for Preaching my Series Entitled Christmas Everlasting :

The first 18 verses of this first chapter are all about Revelation. Communication. Illumination. Even the title given to Jesus, Word, expresses the theme. It also expresses the role that Jesus filled in his appearing: he expressed, communicated, illuminated the person of God, the invisible.

Another theme is beholding. The idea of light shining, is prevalent throughout, as is the idea of the witness, that compels belief or rejection. Another key word is light. There is also the theme of rejecting and receiving.

In verse 14, the great theme is specified and tightened with the idea that this Word, this expression of God… became flesh. He not only became flesh, but he dwelt among us, implying a long period of time. It also implies relationship, fellowship, involvement, immersion, community, sameness. The astounding idea that the eternal visitor would come from the glories of heaven and dwell among people like us in a world like ours is evident in the text. He, the Glorious One, left glory to come to this world and to dwell among us in our humiliation, and the text says that we as a result have seen his glory. John’s mind was going back to the Transfiguration moment, what he may have more fully realized that he was in the presence of

God veiled all along. John made no equivocation about the fact that the glory that he saw on the mountaintop that day had to be the glory of the only Son of God given to him from the only Father. It was a visible glory in that account, but somehow John says it was also a glory that was full of grace and truth. I’m not sure what this all means.

Right after our verse is the curious construction of verse 15, which appears to be in parentheses. I don’t know why this is. This verse seems to amplify the terminology of the Word, emphasizing his deity and the eternal distance that he covered getting to us. John the Baptist being quoted by John the Apostle demonstrates that even though Jesus was chronologically younger than he was by birthdate, in reality, Jesus was far older, in fact eternally older than John. This proves his deity because of his eternal reality.

John goes on in his narrative after verse 14 to talk about how from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. I don’t know who the “all “is referring to; does it refer to all those that would come to believe, as John had,and in this the hope that his readers would?

And what is this fullness that we received from? Is it the literal glory, the shining presence of God? I don’t think so, because we’ve not received that from Him (yet). It must be the fullness of who he is in us, in which he pours out grace upon grace as needs arise, as our knowledge grows, and as our sanctification increases. In fact the mark of the Christian is that he demonstrates the presence of the grace of God, and the fullness of the personality and the knowledge of Christ in his life.

John brings another distinction about the arrival of this word in verse 17: he speaks about a change in dispensations, and that the law was given through Moses but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. He seems to mark a different way of knowing God; the era of law under performance leading to failure and desperation to the era of grace powered by truth accomplished by the cross-work of Christ leading to a full and secure knowledge of God.

Verse 18 seems to finalize this long-running stanza from verse one about God revealing himself to the world through Christ. John seems to state that we were in an impossible state before the arrival of Jesus in the flesh, because no one has ever seen God. The only hope we would ever have of knowing God is if he took an action to help us know him, if he took the step of revelation, of a self-revelation, to us. This is exactly what he did through the arrival of his Son. God the Father sent God the Son from his own side to make who he is known enough to us that we might come to know him in salvation and eternity.

Dec 7 17

Test But Verify

by Joe Pursch

In Mark 8, Jesus demonstrates a discipleship principle that we often forget in our “content driven” Christian culture. The crowds have been with them for three long days, listening to His teaching for hours at a time, enraptured. At one point in the chapter, Jesus appears ready to close that season of teaching and send them home, and He comes to His disciples with a challenge: these people need to be fed before they go on the long journey home.

Of course, the challenge was based on their previous experience of the feeding of the 5000 sometime earlier. Jesus presents them with an opportunity to demonstrate what they had learned from that experience. He gives them a humanly unsurmountable problem, namely the feeding of thousands of people out of thin air, but He presents them with the opportunity to go back in their mind’s eye to what He had done the first time. The response Jesus was looking for was a statement from His disciples along these lines: “Lord, it is humanly impossible to feed all these people, but we’ve seen You do it once, and we are confident that You can do it again. Lord, please be the power to answer your own request… once again miraculously feed these people. We’re even ready to carry the loaves for You.”

That would’ve been the response of faith, from instructed hearts in the power of Christ. But the disciples answer him and this challenge in the same way they answered the first one: looking only at human options and seeing none, they said that it couldn’t be done.

I see two things here about how Jesus discipled people. The first is that He tested them in order to put into action the truth about Him that He had wanted them to learn from previous encounters. He purposely set the disciples into a testing place regarding the feeding of the people a second time. In the same way, we need to realize that we need to set our own disciples into a process where we test them over what they’ve learned. After all, we don’t want people to be victorious once; we want them to be victorious in a growing pattern in their lives. So did Jesus.

The second thing I see is that in the face of the failure of His disciples to demonstrate growth, Jesus did not criticize them. The text says that He simply took over, fed the 4000 in the same way he had fed the 5000, and then He simply entered into the ship and sailed to another region to continue his ministry. At least in Mark’s account, there is no record of a rebuke or any sign of exasperation from the Lord.  (The only people that the Gospel records tell us Jesus became exasperated with were the blind but relentless Pharisees and the faithless crowds themselves at certain points) I find this to be helpful in my own relationships with people as I seek to help them grow in Christ. Too often I am tempted to give people one chance to obey Jesus in a certain factor in their life, and then, if they don’t show obedience, I label them as immature and unreliable. I may also lessen my intensity of devotion to their growth because they haven’t demonstrated obedience or visible growth after a certain period of time that I myself have set. In short, I sometimes don’t demonstrate the patience of Jesus with the growth of the soul. I have much to learn as a pastor and disciple-maker from the methods of the Master. How about you?

Aug 21 17

Why Some People Equate “Expository” With “Irrelevant”, And What To Do About It…

by Joe Pursch

I’ve been thinking lately about changing out the phrase “expository preaching” for a different one when I describe my ministry to people.

No, not really … but I do get tempted at times. Here’s why.

The problem isn’t that I’m not a practitioner of the expository method in my teaching because I very much am. The challenge is that there are a lot of well-meaning communicators out there who are aiming to be expositors but delivering messages that stay trapped in the mechanics of the Bible text. They deliver great scholarship but then can never find their way out to a point of meaningful application in the lives of their New Millennium Listeners. As a result, a lot of folks that have listened to that kind of preaching (or in the words of some, endured that kind of preaching!) end up walking away with the permanent impression that if it’s expository, it’s boring. What a tragedy!

I think expository preaching only seems irrelevant when we deliver the scholarship, but then never do the equally hard work of building a bridge of application from the Biblical passage into modern life. It’s sort of like choosing all the best cuts of wood from a lumberyard and laying them in a pile, but then failing to line them up, brace them firmly, and nail them as planks into a bridge across the river. The river, in this illustration, is the river of time between the Biblical Writing and the present experience of our listeners. It takes a lot of creative effort to build this bridge, but it’s part of the preacher’s task.

In my early days as a pastor, I spent most of my preparation time on the scholarship dimension of my preaching. Today, however, I spend nearly equal amounts of time in the exegetical portion of my work (discerning the meaning of the text) and the homiletical portion of my work (delivering that meaning in an outline that makes sense, with illustrations that stir the heart and focus the mind). It’s demanding and creative work, but feeding the flock well demands nothing less. It’s also a weekly reminder to me that preaching is as much an art as it is a science. And that’s what we need to remember.

I caught an interesting article today by an older pastor on the challenge of delivering expository preaching with an eye toward compelling application. You can check out Dr. Iain Murray’s article by clicking here.

Aug 19 17

Event Horizon Part One

by Joe Pursch

Aug 19 17

The Best Legacy to Leave

by Joe Pursch



The best legacy to leave is not written or spoken or counted (a balance sheet) or built (an organization or a ministry or business or building). Instead, it is lived. The best legacy to leave is a godly life. A real and growing reflection of Christ in your life that others can see and draw from… and will remember. I’ve known more than a few people who did great things but did not live great lives. Godly lives. People who wrote, or built, or taught or led or even preached… but who did not win the battles of personal holiness, either in gathered areas of their lives or in disastrous moments of sudden temptation. I don’t want to be one of those people.

I’ve known others, by contrast, who left no remarkable body of work or set of accomplishments but who did live godly, obedient, spiritual lives and are fondly remembered for that. When I have sat in quiet living rooms with their surviving children as a pastor, planning funeral songs and memorial remarks, it is the character and the sacrifice of these people that is most remembered by their children… not how long they were on the job, how big the company grew or what was left in the bank accounts.I would desire to finish like those people have.

In fact, living a life dedicated to personal achievement and satisfaction really represents very little moral achievement. It is, in the end, really nothing more than something just sensibly selfish. And if you stain that legacy with the failure of an ungodly life, that mark lives on, at least in the eyes of people with integrity. I wouldn’t want that at all. Jesus told His Father toward the end of His earthly life that He had glorified Him and thus accomplished the work that He had been given to do (John 17:4). That work was the living of a perfectly obedient and godly life that He could take to the cross, to serve as a perfect sacrifice for the eternal rescue of others. His was a life filled with sorrows, wreathed in poverty and ended in suffering… branded in the eyes of almost all who knew Him as a life and a legacy of failure. But John 17:5 tells us that Christ’s earthly legacy was celebrated in the one place where it would be valued: heaven’s throne room. May ours be commended there too.

Mar 13 17

The Prayers of the Passion Part Six

by Joe Pursch

Valley Fourth Church February 5, 2017 from Valley Fourth Church on Vimeo.

Mar 13 17

The Prayers of the Passion Part Four

by Joe Pursch

Valley Fourth Church January 8, 2017 from Valley Fourth Church on Vimeo.

May 13 16

Missed Opportunity

by Joe Pursch

steps in sand

“It is eleven days’ journey from Horeb by the way of Mount Seir to Kadesh-barnea.In the fortieth year, on the first day of the eleventh month, Moses spoke to the people of Israel according to all that the LORD had given him in commandment to them.” Deuteronomy 1:2-3

It’s both ominous and illuminating that Moses began his final words to the gathered tribes of Israel on the edge of Canaan with a geography lesson. As he spoke to the new generation of Israelites who had literally watched all their parents age and then die in the forty year wilderness wanderings as a punishment from God for their unbelief, Moses reminded them of how little it had taken to get to the edge of the Promised Land but how much their parents lost when they didn’t take it. Eleven days, Moses said, was all it took to travel the distance from Horeb to Kadesh. From offer to opportunity, from promise to prosperity was just an eleven day trip. That was it. But there Moses stood, reminding them of this in the fortieth year since their parents had received the promise and reneged on entering into it. The inference of the text is that the entire generation of unbelieving Israel spent forty years wandering the same real estate it took only eleven days to cover in any other “ordinary” time. And of course they all died on the journey.

What a contrast between life lived in obedience to God and life lived under the chastisement of God. The days lived under the discipline of God are long and confusing and repetitive and fruitless and directionless and, finally, futile. And they end only when the purpose of His discipline is finally achieved and the condition that brought it all on is eliminated. In their case, the “what” that needed to be eliminated was actually a “who”… an entire generation of people characterized by one attitude, nationwide: unbelief.

An Ominous Word

An ominous warning it was, to maybe the first nation on earth ever made up entirely of adult orphans, made parentless by God because of the worthless nature of their parent’s spiritual hearts. Moses may have recited the geography as an illuminating statistic that powerfully illustrated the needless frustration and loss that happens when a people decide wholesale not to believe God. The losses could literally be measured in the sands of time and in the wind blown footprints of their long gone mothers and fathers. Sin is serious. Unbelief in the face of clear proofs of God’s faithfulness has consequences.

Generation Next?

Illuminating it was, but it really formed an ominous warning too. It was an implied warning to this next generation not to make the same mistake as they themselves now stood on the edge of the land. The consequences could have been repeated, I suppose, if they too had stood in unbelief just like their parents had done. God could have slain yet another generation in the wilderness and offered the land again forty more years later to the then grandchildren of the original generation. After all, time and history are nothing to Him.Forty more years and another few million Israelites would have been little for Him to wait through.But this generation did heed the warning, and hoisted their banners into battle. True, they faltered in faith as they went, and didn’t take the full land even though they could have as their courage failed over time and their corrupt hearts settled into compromise and corruption with a remnant of the nations they should have finished casting out. More payback for that would be forthcoming. But, in whole terms, the chastening of God upon their parents in the wilderness worked, and a wiser generation believed and progressed.

I reflect from their experience on how many journeys in my own life have been prolonged due to my unbelief. I will probably never know how many things in my spiritual life were actually harder in the long run than they needed to be because of my own quavering fear before the giants in my life. But I don’t want to multiply this lesson if I don’t have to. I’m trying to make my learning curves steeper but shorter. Wilderness wanderings too often carry a sting in the journey.

Aug 9 15

Rediscovering God: The All Powerful Lord

by Joe Pursch

Valley Fourth Church August 2, 2015 from Valley Fourth Church on Vimeo.