Thursday, April 19, 2018

Why We Serve, part 1

“So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you…”

(1 Peter 5:1-2 ESV)

Often, as we serve in ministry, as we use the gifts entrusted to us by God, our motives are less than pure. They’re selfish. They’re egotistical. They’re narcissistic.

The above passage is addressed to pastors. The word “elder” in Scripture is synonymous with “pastor.” However, even though this is true, it has an application for all of us who serve in ministry, whether we’re on paid staff or we’re volunteers.

Peter exhorts us to shepherd the flock of God that is among us. This means that we’re to lead his people. This means that we’re to care for God’s people. It means that we’re to feed his people.

However, he then gets into the underlying motive of our doing so. In fact, he addresses three different motivations we might have for doing so. But, today, we’ll look at only one.

He tells us that we’re to do so, not under compulsion. In other words, we’re to do so not because we feel pressured into it.  We’re to do so not because we feel we’re being forced into it. And we’re not to do so because we’re being coerced.

If we’re honest, this is often the reason that we serve. Our service is not heart-felt in the least. It’s not a personal desire that we possess. Instead, we feel that we have to do it.

The reasons we feel this way can be many. Some may serve in a small church and, because there’s no one to fill a certain role, we feel that we must. Some of us serve because people keep hounding us to do so. And we give in, just to get them off our back. We may serve because we feel the call of God. However, even though we feel his call, we don’t want to obey him. Yet, we feel that we can’t say no to God. We feel that, because he’s offering us salvation, we have no choice in the matter.

We have to acknowledge that these things do happen. And we must take care that we don’t pressure others to serve. We must take care that we’re not trying to twist-arms to get certain roles filled within the church. As we see above, God doesn’t want us to serve under compulsion.

It’s God’s desire that we should serve willingly. It’s his desire that we would serve freely and eagerly. It’s his desire that we would answer his call not because we have to, but because we want to.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Faithful in the Face of Suffering

“For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God? And "If the righteous is scarcely saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?" Therefore let those who suffer according to God's will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.”
(1 Peter 4:17-19 ESV)

“Judgment” is a scary word for us. It carries with it negative connotations. It speaks to us of punishment.

It brings to mind the image of a parent, issuing a consequence for disobedience. It brings to mind the sentence of a judge for a crime that’s been committed. It brings to mind the reprimand of an employer for a failure on the job. It brings to mind the condemnation of God because of our sin.

This makes the above passage concerning. It catches our eye as it tells us that judgment begins with the household of God. And this tells us that, as believers in Jesus, we’ll be judged first.

Many of us have a false picture of what this means. As we envision judgment, as we envision standing before the judgment seat of Christ, we envision all of ours sins being manifest. We envision ourselves being fully exposed before God and all creation. And, understandably, we find this idea frightening.

However, the gospel tells us that, because Jesus died in our place, because he bore the punishment of our sin, we have the forgiveness of God. It tells us that our sins have been washed away. It tells us that we are no longer subject to death and hell. And, for this reason, when we stand before God in judgment, our sin will not be manifest. It’s the righteousness of Christ that will be seen. Instead of our guilt being exposed, we’ll be declared “not guilty.”

This, then, leaves us confused when Peter speaks of judgment.  It doesn’t seem to fit with the message of the gospel. And, if we’re to understand what he is saying, we must look at the context of these words.

Peter has been talking about persecution. He’s said that we should not be surprised at the trial when it comes upon us. He tells us that, if we suffer for the name of Christ, we are blessed. And he tells us that, if we suffer as a Christian, we need not be ashamed.

This, you see, is the key to what he’s saying. Judgment will indeed begin with us.  But the basis of our judgment is not our sin. It’s not what we’ve done. It’s, instead, the merit of Christ.

The point being made is that, as we suffer persecution, we must remain faithful to him. As we suffer persecution, we must not be ashamed. If we fall away in the face of suffering, it’s this that will lead to condemnation.

For this reason, as we suffer, we must entrust ourselves to care of God. And we must do so because he is faithful. We must commend ourselves into his care as we continue to serve him.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

No Surprise

“Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ's sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler. Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name.”

(1 Peter 4:12-16 ESV)

Many of us have an unhealthy tendency. We have a tendency to believe that the Christian life should be easy. We have a tendency to believe that, if we trust in Christ, no evil should befall us. And when it does, we have a tendency to believe that we’re outside of God’s blessing.

This mindset completely contradicts Scripture. The Bible tells us, in fact, that the Christian life will be hard. It tells us that we will face problems and difficulties. It’s not merely a possibility, it’s a certainty.

We see an example of this in the above passage. Peter tells us that we’re not to be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes to test us. We are not to think, when this happens, that something strange is happening to us. 

This occurrence is not unusual. It’s common. It’s something we should both expect and anticipate.

He then tells us to do something that’s completely contrary to our natural tendencies. He tells us to rejoice. We’re to rejoice that we share in Christ’s sufferings. We’re to rejoice because the Spirit of God rests upon us.

He’s clearly not talking about suffering we bring upon ourselves by our sinful actions. He’s not talking about the suffering we bring upon ourselves by our own stupidity. In fact, he tells us that we’re not to suffer as a murderer, a thief, or a meddler.

However, if we suffer as a Christian, if we suffer for our faith and for our expression of that faith, we are not to be ashamed. We’re not to be embarrassed or humiliated by it. In that case, we’re to glorify God. We are to rejoice because the gospel is evident in both our life and our witness.

Monday, April 09, 2018

Our Motive in Serving

“As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God's varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies-- in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.”

(1 Peter 4:10-11 ESV)

Have you ever given a gift, only to find that it was wasted? Have you ever given a gift, only to find that it was used for a purpose other than the one you intended? I think you'd agree that this is frustrating. It makes you regret giving the gift in the first place.

As believers, we have each been gifted by God. We’ve been given a particular grace that we might serve him and bless one another. This tells us that these gifts are not something that we possess in ourselves. It tells us that they are not inherent abilities.

For this reason, we’re called to be good stewards of this grace. Because these abilities have been entrusted to us by God, we’re to make use of them.  And, more than that, we’re to use them for their intended purpose.

We’re to use them in the way he intends for them to be used. We’re to use them in the manner desired by God.  They are not to be neglected or used in a selfish way.

If we speak, we are to speak as one sharing God’s Word.  If we serve, we are to do so with his strength. We are to use our gifts recognizing that he is their source, seeking to accomplish his purpose.

We are to do so that, in everything, God may be glorified. Our goal in serving, our goal in using our gifts, is for the glory of God. If we’re to be a good steward of God’s gifts, they’re to be used that he might be honored.

This is convicting because, instead of using our gifts for the glory of God, we often use them for our own. We serve for the accolades it brings to us. We serve for the attention we gain from it.

Each person to whom we proclaim the gospel becomes a notch on our belt.  We bake each pan of bars hoping that people will think well of us. We serve on the council for the title it provides. We sing in the church for the applause that it brings.

Even if we are well-intentioned, this can be the underlying motive of our heart. As we serve, it’s not God’s glory we’re seeking, but our own. And, for this, we must repent. We must seek God’s forgiveness and the humility to serve for his glory alone.

Tuesday, April 03, 2018

Christ Has Risen. So What?

“While they were going, behold, some of the guard went into the city and told the chief priests all that had taken place. And when they had assembled with the elders and taken counsel, they gave a sufficient sum of money to the soldiers and said, "Tell people, 'His disciples came by night and stole him away while we were asleep.' And if this comes to the governor's ears, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble."

(Matthew 28:11-14 ESV)

We know the significance of the resurrection for the disciples. We see that it was the focus of the message they proclaimed. As they carried out their calling, they wanted the people to know that Jesus had risen.

However, as I read the accounts of Holy Week and Easter in the Gospels this year, something else struck me. It’s clear that even Jesus’ enemies understood the significance of this event. And, for this reason, they tried to both prevent the perception that he’d risen and to keep it quiet once he had.

We see that, after his crucifixion, the chief priests and Pharisees gathered before Pontius Pilate. They came to him, requesting that a guard be placed at the tomb. They remembered Jesus’ statement, that he would rise on the third day. And they wanted to make sure that his body was not taken. They wanted to make sure that the message of Jesus’ resurrection could not be falsely proclaimed.

Yet, in spite of their efforts, Jesus did rise. And we see, in the above passage, their efforts to keep this truth from spreading. They paid off the soldiers who had guarded the tomb, instructing them to report a failure of duty. They were to tell people that they'd fallen  asleep on the job, allowing the disciples to steal Jesus’ body.

By doing so, they would be confessing to a capital offense. A failure of duty, like this, was typically punished by death. And, for this reason, the chief priests and Pharisees also offered to pay off the governor if this report reached his ears.

More than anything, they didn’t want the people believing that Jesus had risen. They didn’t want them believing this because of what it meant. Jesus’ resurrection proved, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that he is the Savior, sent by God into the world. It proved, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that he is the fulfillment of Scripture. It proved, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that the penalty of sin had been paid and that eternal life was available through faith in him.

It seems crazy that they would want to deny this blessing to the people. It seems crazy that they would reject it for themselves. However, receiving Jesus as the Savior meant drastic changes.

It meant the end of a system that they had led for so long. It meant an end of their authority. It meant eating crow, and accepting Jesus as the Savior after they’d resisted him so adamantly.

Even as we celebrate Easter, we often fail to recognize the significance of the resurrection. We fail to recognize what it demonstrates. We fail to recognize that the resurrection proves Jesus to be the Christ, the Son of the living God. We fail to recognize that it proves him to be the resurrection and the life. We fail to recognize that, by the resurrection, it’s made clear that the penalty of sin has been paid and that the power of death has been broken.

Understanding this, may we carry the message of the resurrected Christ to the world around us. Like the disciples, may we proclaim this truth, perceiving its significance. May we proclaim to the world Jesus, who both died and rose again.

Friday, March 23, 2018

A Lost Art

“Show hospitality to one another without grumbling.”

(1 Peter 4:9 ESV)

In our present age, it seems that hospitality has become a lost art. Perhaps this isn’t true of all cultures. But I believe it’s largely true here in the United States.

I remember the stories, told by older generations, of their visits to neighbors and family. These visits were often unannounced. Yet guests were always welcomed warmly. They’ve also told me of their preparations for company. Knowing that someone might stop by for a visit, they always made sure they had something ready to share.

This doesn’t happen anymore. We do welcome guests from time to time. But it’s more of a rarity these days.

Guests, today, are seen as an intrusion. They’re seen as an inconvenience. Unless we’re out and about, we prefer to remain in the privacy of our home.

This is especially true in the case of unannounced guests. We consider it rude of people to show up without making prior arrangements. It’s looked upon not as a blessing, but as an interruption.

As a pastor, I’ve been welcomed into many homes and people have been very gracious to me. And I’ve enjoyed these visits. However, I’ve experienced a level of hospitality that I find convicting as I’ve traveled overseas.

I’ve been welcomed by people who are very poor and who had little to share. Yet, despite their poverty, they’ve shared their best with me. And it wasn’t done in a grudging manner. It was sincere on their part. They felt honored to have a guest in their home.

I confess that I struggle in this area. I’m not as hospitable as I ought to be. I don’t often welcome people into my home. And when I have hosted people in my home, even if I put on a good display, I’m not as gracious as I should be. I sometimes grumble about the inconvenience. For this I need the Lord’s forgiveness.

Let us prayerfully consider how we can display hospitality to one another. Let us prayerfully consider how we can experience this fellowship with one another. As we see in the above passage, this is something we are called to do.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Love is Blind

“Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.”

(1 Peter 4:8 ESV)

We’ve all heard the adage: “Love is blind.” What’s meant by this is that, when people are in love, they don’t see one another’s faults. It’s as if they’re blind to them.

People who’ve been married for some time often use this phrase as a form of ridicule. We laugh at those who’ve recently fallen into love believing them to be na├»ve. We laugh at young love knowing that both people in the relationship are overlooking the flaws in the object of their affection. We laugh knowing that, one day, those flaws will become apparent. We laugh knowing that they aren’t entering into the relationship logically.

We assume that, if they saw the flaws in their partner, they would likely rethink the relationship. We assume that, if they saw these flaws, they may even break off the relationship. We believe that, if they understood what they were getting into, they would end the relationship before it even began.

We’ll never find the perfect person with whom to enter into a relationship. Everyone with whom we fall in love is flawed. I’ve often told couples that, if they end their current relationship in favor of another, they will only trade ten problems for ten new problems. We’re all sinners, after all.

Yet, as much as we scoff at young love because it is blind, this is what Peter is calling us to in the above verse. He’s not addressing romantic love, in this passage, although his words can apply to it. He’s primarily addressing our relationships with one another.

He encourages us, as believers, to love one another earnestly. Our love for one another is to be sincere. It’s to be zealous. And we’re to love one another in this way because love covers over a multitude of sins.

Peter is saying that, if we love one another in this way, their sins will be hidden from our sight. We’ll be blind to them. If we love others, we won’t be intently searching out their flaws. If we love others, we’ll assume the best about them. And if we love others, rather than exposing their sin, we’ll do what we can to help them deal with it.

Hate does the exact opposite. It intentionally seeks out the sin in others. It assumes the worst about them. And it does so that it might make public their shortcomings.

As faithful as we believe ourselves to be, this is how we often live with each other. We live not in a spirit of love, but hate. We seek only to hide our sin while, at the same time, we expose the trespasses of others.

May we repent of this attitude. And may we live as Peter calls us. May we love one another earnestly. And may we do so knowing that, in this way, we’re covering over a host of sins.