Monday, September 25, 2017

The Source of Our Hope

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God's power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.”

(1Peter 1:3-5 ESV)

Hope is essential in this life.  As we live in a world of sin, as we live in a world suffering the consequences of sin, we need hope. Without it, life suddenly feels futile. We swiftly begin feeling discouraged and desperate.

As we live our life in this world, we place our hope in various places. We place our hope in wealth and possessions. We place our hope in man, whether it be a loved one, a physician, or a political leader.  We place our hope in various religions and philosophical systems.

However, all of these sources of hope are only temporary.  They are fleeting and futile. Even if they sustain us in the short-term, they end up disappointing us. They disappoint us because none of them can deliver us from sin. None of them can deliver us from suffering and death.  None of them can truly save us.

This is where the gospel steps in.  Peter, in the above passage, tells us that God has caused us to be born again to a living hope. In other words, it’s not simply a passing wish. It’s not merely a temporary source of confidence. It’s something that is true and enduring. And he’s done this through the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. 

His resurrection fills us with hope because it assures us that the penalty of our sin has truly been paid. It fills us with hope because it assures us that the power death has been defeated.  And, in this way, it enables us to confidently trust in the promises of God.

It fills us with the hope of an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading. In other words, it’s eternal, and it isn’t stained or corrupted by sin. It’s the hope of a never-ending existence in the presence of God. It’s the hope of an existence free from death or mourning or crying or pain (Revelation 21:4).

It’s also secure.  It’s not something that can be taken from us.  It cannot be taken from us by man, or by the enemy of our souls. It cannot be taken because, as Peter tells us, it’s kept in heaven for us. It’s kept in heaven for we who are guarded by faith for salvation, which will be revealed in the last time.

The question that we must ask ourselves, as we’re continually confronted with sin and the suffering that flows from it, is this: What is the source of our hope? Are we continuing to place our hope in the temporary and the powerless?  Or are we placing our hope in the only true source of salvation?

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Repeating the Mistakes of the Past

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”

(Ephesians 2:8-9 ESV)

October 31st of this year marks the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. It was 500 years ago, on this day, that Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the castle church in Wittenberg, Germany. He did so to open up debate on some abuses that were taking place within the Catholic Church.

One of the main abuses he protested was the selling of indulgences. It was taught that, because of the faithfulness of the apostles and the saints, there was a storehouse of grace available to the people. And they were able to access this grace through the purchase of an indulgence.

The people paid money to receive an indulgence for themselves or for a loved one. And, in this way, it was taught that their time in purgatory would be lessened. A particular phrase, circulating at the time, provoked Luther. It said: “When the coin in the coffer rings, the soul from purgatory springs.”

As we read this today, it sounds like an interesting tidbit from history. However, it hardly seems applicable to us today. After all, most of us realize that the concept of purgatory is not found in the Bible. We’re also very familiar with the teaching of Scripture, seen above, which assures us that salvation is a free gift, a gift of grace, given to us by God.

We are not saved by the things that we do. And this is true not only of us. It’s true also of the apostles. This tells us that there is no storehouse of grace earned by them or by anyone that is available to us.

It also tells us that grace cannot be purchased. The only grace that is available to us is that which is received through faith in Christ. It is a gift of God, given to us. And, for this reason, we have no cause to boast in ourselves.

However, even though most of us possess this knowledge, we are often guilty of the same abuse protested by Luther. Even if we can explain the gospel accurately, we continue to think that we’ll be saved by our own actions. We tend to think that God’s grace is available to us by the things we do.

We sometimes think that we’ll be saved by the actions of others. Perhaps we realize that our actions are not enough. But we look to our parents, who were godly examples and who did all that they could to raise us in faith. We look to our grandmother, who’s prayed for us from the day we were born. And we think that, because of their faith, because of their efforts to pass the faith on to us, we’ll be saved.

We must understand, from the Word of God, that no one is good. We must understand that no one will be saved because of the things they have done. And, in the same way, we must understand that the efforts of others are unable to accomplish our salvation.

Salvation is found in Christ alone. We receive his salvation through grace alone. And we receive his grace through faith alone. 

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Get Into the Word

“But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed.” 
(2 Peter 2:1-2 ESV)

Here we are, at the beginning of another school year.  All of our church activities are also starting up. And, even though I know it means more work for me, it’s something that I greatly enjoy.

I enjoy it because teaching and preaching God’s Word is my favorite thing to do.  I love teaching Sunday School.  I love leading Bible study.  I love teaching confirmation and leading our men’s study.  I love preaching the Word of God each Sunday morning.  I love it because, as I do so, God speaks to me and ministers to me.  And I love it because I know that he does the same for each one who attends.

I know that, for many in the church, these activities seem like one more thing to do.  They seem like another drain on our time and energy.  And we don’t seem to grasp the importance of our time in God’s Word.

In the above verses, we see a very important reason to take part in these activities.  Peter tells us that false prophets arose in the past and that, in the same way, they’ll arise among us as well.  He tells us that they’ll bring in destructive heresies.  They’ll introduce false teaching that will lead others not to saving faith in Christ, but away from it. He tells us that they will even deny Christ himself.

We’re also told that many will follow them.  And not only will they be led astray, they will also make the Christian faith seem unattractive to those outside of the church.  Because of them, Peter says, the way of truth will be blasphemed.

We may not be able to stop false teachers from arising.  However, by engaging with God’s Word on a regular basis, we are strengthened against them.  We are better able to recognize false truths as they’re being proclaimed, and we’re better equipped to stand against them.

We’re also equipped to provide a faithful testimony of the gospel to those around us.  We’re better able to share the truth of God with those who don’t understand.  And we’re better able to correct false teaching as we encounter it within the church.

I understand that you may not be able to take part in every opportunity the church offers.  I understand that you only have so much time available to you.  But I encourage you to take part in at least one of the opportunities that are offered, besides Sunday morning. Take part knowing that, as you do so, your own faith will be strengthened.  And do so knowing that, in this way, you will be better equipped to bless those around you.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Willing to Serve?

“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…”

(1Peter 5:1-2 ESV)

The work of the church involves many different people. Some of them are staff. Some of them are paid for their service. Here at Prince of Peace, we have the pastor, the youth pastor, the secretary, and the custodians. But the vast majority are volunteers.

Some of the volunteers are appointed by the church to a position of leadership.  Perhaps they are an officer, a deacon, or a trustee. Perhaps they serve on the Christian Ed board or hold office in the women’s ministry.  But others simply serve. They teach Sunday School. They serve meals at funerals. They run the sound booth during Sunday worship.

Regardless of where we might fall on this continuum, we can have many motivations for our service. And, to be perfectly straight forward, most of them are not good. Many of the motivations we possess for our service are less than upright.

There are those who serve for personal gain. This might mean the money they make for their service. But it can also mean other things as well.

We might serve for the honor and the prestige it gives to us. We might serve simply that others will think highly of us. Instead of seeking to glorify God, we’re seeking the approval of man.

In a similar way, we might serve in an effort to erase a bad reputation. Perhaps we’ve made some serious mistakes and have earned a bad name. And now that we realize what we’ve done, now that we understand the shame we’ve brought upon ourselves, we’re seeking to correct it.

We sometimes serve in our effort to earn God’s blessings. We fall into the false gospel of works righteousness. We think that, if we do enough good, if we put forth enough effort, God will overlook our mistakes and grant to us his salvation.

Quite often, we serve out of guilt. We know that we’ve been called to serve God. We know that we’re to use our gifts to serve both the Lord and the church. But our heart isn’t in it.  We really don’t want to do it. Yet we do so out of this sense of responsibility.

In the above passage, Peter shares with us the proper attitude for service. It’s directed primarily to pastors (elders). However, it’s a principle that applies more broadly. It’s a truth that applies to us regardless of our area of service.

We’re to carry out our calling not under compulsion. We are to do so willingly. We are to gladly give of ourselves to carry out the task God has assigned to us.

If our service is not freely given, we must search our heart. We must recognize that, perhaps, we’re holding to a false gospel. And we must ask God to forgive us, looking to Jesus in faith.

We must also ask God to change our heart. We must ask the Lord to turn our heart toward him. We must ask him to help us to love as he loves. 

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Out of Darkness

“I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you as a servant and witness to the things in which you have seen me and to those in which I will appear to you, delivering you from your people and from the Gentiles-- to whom I am sending you to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.”
Acts 22:16

The words of the above verse were spoken by Jesus, as he called Paul into his service. Most of us are familiar with the call of Paul, and we know what he was called to do. He was called by Christ as an apostle to the Gentiles. He was called by Christ to carry the gospel to the Gentiles.

What stands out to me, in this passage, is his reason for doing this. Jesus sends Paul to the Gentiles that their eyes might be opened. He sends Paul to the Gentiles that they might turn from darkness to light. He sends Paul to the Gentiles that they might be turned from the power of Satan to God.

As we think about those who don’t know the Lord, as we think about those who are not yet believers, this is not a description we’d typically use. It’s not even a description we’d typically consider. Even if they aren’t saved, we continue to believe that most people are good people. We tend to believe that, even if they are misguided in their beliefs and their understanding, they’re not all that bad.

We don’t consider the fact that they are in darkness. We don’t consider the fact that they are under the power of Satan. These phrases are strong, and even offensive. And, for this reason, they’re certainly not words we’d use when speaking to those outside of the church.

They’re also not truths we want to believe about ourselves. We don’t want to believe that, at one time, this too was our condition. However, Paul used similar words when sharing with the Ephesians their position before they came to faith in Christ.  

Starting in verse 1 of the second chapter of that epistle, he says: “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience--among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.”

No matter what we’d like to believe about ourselves, before we came to faith, we were dead in our sins. Before we came to faith, we followed the world and even Satan himself. Before we came to faith, we were children of wrath.

It’s from this that God has saved us. And it’s from this that he desires to save those who have yet to trust in Christ. If we better understood this, I think our outreach efforts would be much more urgent. I don’t think we could sit back and allow our fellow man to remain in darkness following Satan. I believe we’d do whatever it took to ensure that the gospel goes forth, and that those who have yet to hear and believe receive the opportunity to do so.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Reflections on Asia, Part 4

The nation in Asia that we visited is closing to the gospel. The government doesn’t want anything promoted in the country other than Hinduism. Their new president made the comment that Christians and Muslims are deserving of no help.

In addition, the missionaries sent by the AFLC were forced to leave after only a short stay in the country. The only way they could remain is if they signed a document declaring that they would participate in no religious activities.  And there is no longer a missionary visa available for anyone.

This restriction was even felt by our team, for a short time, as we entered the country. Two of us were pulled aside and questioned. We were asked multiple questions as they tried to determine our purpose in visiting their nation. And at least one of the other team members was also questioned as they tried to enter through immigration.

Compassion International, a Christian ministry that supports poor children around the world, had their funds seized by the government and were forced to discontinue their ministry there. All of this reveals a nation that does not desire the good news of Jesus proclaimed within their borders (at least not by those from the outside) and that doesn’t want Christian assistance for those who are in need.

Although national believers retain the right to share the gospel, as it is protected by their constitution, there is reason to believe that their rights could soon be restricted. As the government makes every effort to ensure that Hinduism remains the official religion of their nation, they may soon seek to silence the church. So what are we to do?

We must, first of all, pray for our brothers and sisters in that nation. We must pray that they will remain firm in faith no matter the obstacles they face. And we must pray that they will faithfully share the gospel, come what may. I believe that Christians in that nation are best equipped to reach their countrymen for the Lord.

However, we must continue to do whatever we can to reach these people for Christ. As long as we are able to offer support to the church in that nation, we must continue to do so. As long as we are able to safely get individuals and teams into that nation to train the church leadership and to preach the gospel, we must continue to do so. We must bear in mind our call to obey God rather than men. We must not willingly allow an entire nation to be kept from the good news of Jesus.

We still enjoy our freedoms in America. Yet, as our nation continues to turn further away from the Lord, we could one day face similar restrictions here. We must recognize this possibility and, in the same way, we must ask God for the strength to remain faithful. We must ask him for the strength to share the gospel even in the face of opposition. And we must ask him to change our heart so that our primary concern is not our own safety and well-being, but the eternal welfare of those around us.

Wednesday, August 09, 2017

Reflections on Asia, Part 3

The third observation I made while in Asia is one where the church in neither country has it right. And in both, the attitude of the church reflects that of larger society.  The pendulum in Asia has found itself at one extreme and, in America, it’s at another.

The matter to which I’m referring is that of respect and honor.  Asian society (please remember that I am referring to a specific nation), operates largely on the honor system. And much of the honor that’s given is based upon the caste system.  Honor is given to certain individuals because of the caste or the place into which they’ve been born.

Some of this makes sense in terms of their culture.  Yet, at the same time, it really bothered me.  For example, on a trip to the beach with the children and staff, I was one of the last to get on the bus. There were seats and there were handholds.  Being American, and being a man, I tend to stand and allow the women and children to sit in a situation like this one. However, upon entering the bus, some of the staff began telling certain women and children to stand so I could sit. And it was very difficult for me to sit there. I did so only because I didn’t want to disrespect my hosts.

Other parts of this system, although a part of the culture, reveals that the church has not come to terms with Biblical teaching.  Whenever we conducted a prayer service in a village and shared the gospel, almost everyone came forward for prayer.  And my immediate response to this is how wonderful and refreshing it is. I long for a similar response in America. But it was explained to me that many come forward for prayer with improper motives.  They believe that, because I am white, and because I belong to the highest caste, God is more likely to hear my prayers than their own.

In the U.S., however, we have the opposite problem.  We have also allowed our cultural mindset to invade the church.  And what we see here is a complete lack of respect.

It’s taught in our nation that everyone is equal.  And I believe this to be true.  However, along with this belief, we’ve adopted the mindset that no one should have more authority than another.  We feel that, if someone has more authority than another, we are no longer equal.

We see this reflected in many ways.  We have children who refuse to honor their parents.  We have wives who refuse to respect their husbands.  We have husbands who refuse to give honor to their wife as the weaker vessel (1 Peter 3:7). We have citizens who refuse to honor their governing officials.  We have church members who refuse to honor those who are over them in the Lord. The list could go on and on.

We often fail to honor others saying that they do not deserve it.  And, when we say this, we are right.  No one deserves honor. We are all sinners deserving only of judgment.  

But we are called to give honor as an act of grace. We are called to give honor because God has placed certain individuals in a certain position, as part of the order he has established. We honor these individuals realizing that, as we do so, we are honoring God himself.

The proper place for the pendulum, I believe, is between these two cultural approaches.  Our lack of honor is sinful on our part.  But the misuse of honor, to give one person more value than another, is sinful on their part.

We must give honor to whom it is due.  But, at the same time, we must realize that we are all equal in Christ.  We are loved the same, we are valued the same, and we have all been provided with the same salvation.