Monday, June 19, 2017

Two Outreach Mistakes

“…always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect…”
(1Pe 3:15 ESV)

As a church, and as believers, we understand our mission.  We’re called to make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:18-20).  But, as we look at the above passage, we can identify two mistakes that we often make when it comes to this task.

The first mistake is simply that we fail to share our faith.  When we have opportunities to share the gospel or to teach a younger believer, we often fail to make use of that opportunity.  Even when the chance to reach out falls into our lap, our tendency is to drop the ball.

We often do so out of fear.  We assume that others will react negatively to what we have to share.  And, for this reason, we keep our mouth shut.

Peter encourages us to always be prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks us for a reason for the hope that is in us. In other words, when people ask us about our faith, when they ask us why be believe the way we do, when they ask us why we live as we do, we should be prepared to share with them.

The word “defense” doesn’t imply that we’re to be defensive.  It carries the sense of apologetics.  It means that we’re to provide a positive testimony to the truth of the gospel.

So, again, we’re to make use of the opportunities that present themselves.  We’re to be prepared to share with others as they see that we’re different and ask about it.  We must not let these occasions pass us by.

The second mistake that we make when it comes to carrying out this call is that we come off as rude.  Perhaps we are defensive or simply come off too strong.  But the second principle for us is this: Don’t be a jerk.

Peter tells us make our defense or our testimony with gentleness and respect.  And this is something we rarely see today.  I often cringe, especially on social media, when believers are attempting to share their faith.

We often come across as argumentative.  We come across as mean-spirited.  We come across as insulting to those who believe differently than we do.  And this only reinforces what much of society believes about us already, that we’re hateful and intolerant.  The ones we’re trying to reach, then, shut down and no longer listen to us.

We’re often afraid that, if we’re too gentle or respectful, people will think we’re affirming their beliefs.  While it’s true that we don’t want to encourage people to remain in their current belief system, we must realize that beating them up won’t make our faith seem all that appealing.  We must simply present it as lovingly as possible and allow God’s Word and Spirit to work in their heart.

As the people of God, let us strive to carry out this calling he’s entrusted to us.  But let’s also evaluate our methods and search our heart.  Let’s ensure that, as we faithfully share the gospel, we don’t allow ourselves to get in the way.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Finding Our Identity

“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.”

(1Peter 2:9 ESV)

            If I go back fifteen or twenty years, I had an interest in genealogy.  Even though I had a pretty good idea about my heritage, I wanted to learn more about my family and where I’d come from. And, for this reason, I spent a fair amount of time tracing my family history.

            I did so until I hit a couple of roadblocks.  At the time, I was frustrated by them.  However, in recent years, my attitude has changed.

            Although I don’t want to forget my family history, I no longer find my identity in it as I once did.  I find my identity somewhere else.  I find it somewhere more important.

            I find my identity in the Lord.  And I do so for a couple of reasons.  I do so because, no matter our heritage and no matter our race, we find our origin in one place.  All of our family trees go back to the same starting point.

            Our ancestry goes back to one man.  It goes back to one couple.  It goes back to the first man created by God in the Garden of Eden.  It goes back to the woman that God created from that man.

            I also find my identity in the Lord because of what we read in the above verse.  We see in these words that God has made us to be his own.  We’re told that we are a chosen race.  And, in saying this, he isn’t talking about a certain culture or skin color. 

            As we read in John 1:12-13, we’re made his children by faith in Christ.  We’re told that all who received Jesus and who believed in his name were given the right to become God’s children.  And this is not a matter of ancestry or bloodline.  It’s not something that we do for ourselves, nor is it something that others do for us.  We are made to be the children of God by God alone.

As we see above, we are a royal priesthood.  We’re a people set apart for his service.  We’re a people set apart to share his Word and promises with the world around us.  We’re a people sent to bring the message of salvation to all mankind.  We’re a people sent to declare his excellencies.

We are a holy nation.  We are a people that have been set apart from all other peoples on earth.  We’ve been set apart to belong to God.

God calls on us to honor our father and our mother.  And we must not fail to do so.  However, we must also bear in mind that the church is our family.  We must bear in mind that the faithful, all around our world, are our brothers and sisters.  No matter their background, if they trust in Christ, if they trust in his death and resurrection for salvation and the forgiveness of sins, if they hold to his Word and promises, they are our family.

My identity, then, is in Christ alone.  And the same is true for you.  In him we find our beginning, and in him we find our eternity.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Hating Evil

“Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good.”
Romans 12:9

We know that, as Christians, we’re to follow Jesus.  It means believing both the promises and the truth he’s given to us.  It means living in daily repentance, turning from our sin, and looking to him for mercy.

However, that being said, too many of us in the church are enamored with the world around us.  We try to emulate what the world identifies as cool, in-style, smooth, hip, or whatever slang term you choose to insert. We desire Jesus’ forgiveness, we desire his blessings, and we want to follow him.  But, at the same time, we try to remain current and in-touch with the world around us.

This leads us to make compromises.  It leads us to begin accepting behaviors and attitudes that God calls sinful.  It leads us to see how close we can walk to the world without abandoning Christ.

Most years, as I teach young people in confirmation, I receive questions like this: How far is too far?  They want to know how far they can go with a person of the opposite sex before it’s considered sinful.  Is it kissing?  Is it touching in areas that are generally considered out of bounds?  Or does it simply mean “going all the way?”

We tend to do the same in other areas of life as well.   We want to live like the world around us, but we want to know how far is too far.  We want to know the line of no-return.

I’ve seen this, even in churches, that desire to remain “relevant.” There are churches where the pastor curses and swears during the sermon in an effort to appeal to the unchurched.  There are churches and pastors who hold gatherings at a bar and around pitchers of beer in an effort to seem approachable to those who may otherwise never set foot in a church.  And, as we know, there are churches who have turned from the truth of Scripture and adopted societal norms in an effort to be more appealing.

As we see in the verse above, we are called upon to abhor what is evil and hold fast to what is good.  In other words, those things that are sinful, those things that are identified by God as evil, should be detested and despised by us, as his followers.  We should not try to see how close to them we can get, but rather how far away from them we can place ourselves.

When we become a believer, and when the Spirit of God fills our heart, our desires and passions become like those of God.  Not perfectly, of course, because we’re still a sinful people.  But we naturally find ourselves loving the things that God loves and hating the things that God hates.

We begin to turn away from sin, not because we have to, but because we want to.  When confronted with temptation, we choose to obey the Lord, not because we have to, but because we want to.  And when we fall, when we sin, we immediately confess our failure to the Lord and seek his mercy, wanting to be free from our sinful behaviors and attitudes.

If you have been walking closely with the world, if you find yourself wondering how far is too far, I encourage you to repent.  Ask the Lord to forgive you and to fill your heart.  Ask him to make your desires like his own.   We must do this because, as we read in James 4:4, “You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.”

Thursday, May 04, 2017

None of Your Business

“If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!”

(John 21:22 ESV)

            Peter is a great example of the redemption of Jesus.  Here is a man who was called by Jesus to follow him.  And he was so devoted that he declared his willingness to die for Jesus.  However, when the rubber hit the road, he fell far short of his expectations. When Jesus was arrested, Peter publicly denied him three times. 

            However, after the resurrection, Jesus restored Peter.  He asked Peter three times: “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” And, each time this question was asked, Peter affirmed his love for Jesus.

            Jesus then tells Peter that he would, indeed, give his life for him.  Peter would die for his faith in Christ and his service of him.  He then, once again, calls Peter to follow him.

            This is interesting.  We know that we’re to follow Jesus no matter what it means for us.  We know it’s possible that we might end up giving our life for the Lord.  However, in our mind, that likelihood is small.  In all honesty, it doesn’t even concern us.

            But how hard would it be to follow Jesus, knowing that we would die for our faith?  Would we willingly follow him, knowing this was our fate?  I think we have to admire Peter for doing so.

            However, hearing this call, Peter makes a mistake that’s common to us all.  Seeing John, he asks Jesus if this would be his fate as well.  He wants to know if John’s call, if his future, would be as difficult as his own.

            We often do the same thing.  We compare our life and our call with that of other believers.  We wonder if others will suffer as we’ve suffered.  We wonder if we’ll have it as well as another believer.  We seem to think that our life of faith should be fair.  We seem to think that our life of faith should be comparable to that of others.

            Jesus answers Peter, telling him that it’s none of his business.  What he had in store for John was not Peter’s concern. Peter was simply to follow him.

            We must take this statement to heart.  What the Lord has in store for other believers is not our concern. We must not compare the call of God placed on our life with that of others. We must concern ourselves only with the Lord’s will for our life.  We must concern ourselves with following the Lord, wherever he might lead us.

Monday, May 01, 2017

A Shared Faith

“And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.”

(Acts 2:46-47 ESV)

            We often assume, incorrectly, that the early church was the perfect example for us to follow.  As we read through Scripture, we find that they had their flaws, just as we do today.  We find that they often failed, as we do today.

            That being said, there is something I admire about the early church.  What I’m referring to is the fact that they lived out their faith together.  They lived it out as a community.

            This is something that’s reflected in the above passage.  We see that every day they attended the temple together and broke bread in their homes.  They gathered each day for prayer and for fellowship.

            This is something that’s lacking in the church in our day.  It’s especially lacking in the American Church.  We tend to think that our faith is a private matter.  We tend to think that all we need is “Jesus and Me.” But nothing is further from the truth.

            We see the corporate nature of the Christian faith throughout the New Testament.  For example, in Hebrews 10:24-25, we read: “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”

            We see in this passage that we’re called to gather together on a regular basis.  And, in this way, we’re to be an encouragement to one another.  We’re able to bless one another.

            In James 5:16, we read this: “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.”

            James calls on us to do something that probably feels strange in this day and age.  He calls on us to confess our sins to one another.  He calls on us to pray for one another.  And he calls on us to do this that we might be healed, that we might be restored.

            In 1 Corinthians 12, starting in verse 4, Paul says: “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.”

            He points out that God has gifted each of us in different ways.  But he goes on to say that these gifts are given for the common good.  What he means by this is that our gifts aren’t given that we might keep them to ourselves.  God gives them that we might bless one another.

            It’s clear as we read passages such as these that the Christian faith is to be lived in fellowship with the Church.  In this way, we’re able to be blessed and encouraged by our fellow believers.  And, in the same way, we’re able to be a blessing to our brothers and sisters in Christ.

            My encouragement to each of you is to stop trying to live the Christian life on your own.  Live it as God intends for it to be lived.  Let’s live out the Christian life together.  And, in this way, let’s seek to be a blessing to one another, and to work together in reaching our world for Christ.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Me, a Confessor?

“If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”

(John 20:23 ESV)

            We’ve discussed the subject of accountability twice in recent days at Prince of Peace.  The first was at our men’s study.  And the second was at our Spiritual Life Meetings, where we focused on battling our temptations.

            We were encouraged to confess our sins to one another, as commanded in the epistle of James (5:16).  We were also encouraged to find an accountability partner: someone to whom we can confess our sins, but also someone who will help us to avoid sin by confronting us with the hard questions.  We then, in turn, do the same for them.

            Many of us are uncomfortable with this practice because confession seems too Catholic.  When we think of confession, we think of going to the priest, kneeling in the confessional, and acknowledging our wrongdoing.  And, because we disagree with several points of Catholic doctrine, we want nothing to do with it.

Another reason we’re uncomfortable with this practice is because we like to hide our sin.  We like to put on a show of righteousness while, privately, we continue in our sinful behaviors.  In fact, we have no desire to turn from our sin. 

And not only do refuse to acknowledge our sin and our guilt.  We also like to deny that our sin is truly sin.  We seek to justify our sinful behaviors.  We like to pretend that they are good, which takes confession out of the equation.

            However, and this is where I want to focus my attention now, another reason we’re uncomfortable with this practice is because we don’t feel worthy or capable of performing the work of a confessor.  We don’t feel worthy to announce to someone the forgiveness of their sins.  We don’t feel that we possess the authority to do so.

            However, in the above passage, we see our authority.  This authority has been given to us by Christ.  And this authority is empowered by the Spirit of God.

            Christ has authorized us to announce the forgiveness of sins.  And, even though this thought makes us even more uncomfortable, he’s also given us the authority to withhold the forgiveness of sins.

            If we sought to perform this work on our own, we would be unworthy.  If we sought to perform it on our own, we would be incapable.  After all, we’re all sinners deserving of God’s judgment.  And, in ourselves, we have no authority to forgive sins or to withhold forgiveness. It’s only by the call of Christ and by the power of the Holy Spirit that we do so.

            This doesn’t mean that we can arbitrarily decide whom we will and won’t forgive.  We are acting under Christ’s authority, and by the power of the Holy Spirit.  This means that the basis for doing this is the gospel.  The basis of this is the Word and promise of God.

            We know that those who confess their sins, who repent of their sin, and who trust in Christ are promised forgiveness.  If, then, someone comes to us in this spirit, we announce to them the forgiveness of their sins.  And if someone comes without this spirit, we announce to them that they are not forgiven. 

            This is an important ministry that even dedicated Christians have gotten away from.  And, for this reason, it’s a practice that I’d like to encourage once again.  It’s not merely a tradition flowing from an ancient branch of the Christian faith.  It’s a practice that is commanded and encouraged by God himself.


Monday, April 24, 2017

No Better Than Pilate

“From then on Pilate sought to release him…”

(John 19:12 ESV)

            Pilate is one of the most vilified men in Scripture.  After all, it was he who turned Jesus over to be crucified.  It was under his authority that Jesus was put to death. And, for this reason, we remember this each time we confess our faith in the words of the Apostles’ Creed.  We remember that Jesus “suffered under Pontius Pilate.”

            However, what we find in the account of Jesus’ trial and crucifixion makes things a bit more complicated.  We find that perhaps he wasn’t as evil as he often seems to us.  In fact, we discover that we’re a lot like him.

            We see that, as Jesus was brought to him, Pilate found no guilt in him.  It did not seem fitting to Pilate that Jesus should be put to death.  And when the Jews told him that Jesus made himself to be the Son of God, he was afraid.

            So what convinced Pilate to crucify Jesus?  Two things stand out.  In John 19 we see that the Jews accused him.  They told him that, if he released Jesus, he was no friend of Caesar. They said that everyone who makes himself a king opposes Caesar.

            The people were saying that, if Pilate released Jesus, he was a traitor.  Pilate likely feared that the people would bring these charges against him.  And, for this reason, he sought his own safety.  He sought to preserve his position in the Empire, which was done by having Jesus put to death.

            We find in Matthew 27 that Pilate only gave in to the crowd, he only gave the order that Jesus was to be crucified, when he saw that he was gaining nothing and that a riot was beginning.  By releasing Jesus, he feared that there would be much more blood spilt.  And, even though he had the Roman army at his disposal, he may have feared a more widespread rebellion.

            As you read this, you may insist that these facts do not make Pilate seem less evil.  He is a man who sought his own welfare rather than justice.  You may insist that he should have done the right thing regardless of what it meant for himself.

            If these are your thoughts, you are right in your assessment.  He should not have ordered Jesus’ death.  We do see, in this action, his self-interest and his corrupt nature. Yet, if this is our assessment of Pilate, we must also see the same qualities in ourselves.

            Even if we are Christian, even if we have faith in Christ, how many of us have denied Jesus out of our own self-interest?  How many of us have tried to hide our faith seeking to preserve our reputation among unbelievers?  How many of us have given in to sin because we didn’t want to appear self-righteous before others?

            I’m willing to guess that all of us have done this at one time or another.  I know that it’s something I’ve done at various times in life.  And this makes us just as guilty as Pilate.

            As believers, we’re called to follow Christ no matter the cost.  We’re called to testify about Christ, not fearing what man might do.  We’re to carry out this calling knowing that no one can take from us the salvation that God has granted us through faith in Jesus.

            This, you see, is cause for us to repent.  We must confess our failure to God seeking his mercy, and we must turn from this sin.  We must ask God for his strength that we might remain faithful, and that we might boldly proclaim the gospel.