Monday, July 17, 2017

True Greatness

“…whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

(Matthew 20:26-28 ESV)

            In my latest sermon at Prince of Peace, I talked about the lust for power.  I noted that, even though we may not aspire to a position of great authority, we often demonstrate a lust for power by our refusal to submit to those who are in authority over us.  If you’d like to listen to this message, you can click on this link:

            I believe this is true. However, as we consider the lust for power, we must also bear in mind Jesus’ definition of greatness.  He reminds his followers that greatness in the kingdom of God is not the same as the world’s idea of greatness.

            When we aspire for greatness, we seek the benefits it will bring to us.  We like the idea of people submitting to us.  We like the idea of people serving us.  We want others to place our preferences and desires ahead of their own.

However, according to Jesus, being great does not mean being served.  It means serving others.  Being first does not mean that others attend to us, it means being a slave.  In other words, authority is given not for the benefit of the person in authority, but for those under his authority.

The words used by Jesus do not typically appeal to us. We don’t like the thought of being a servant.  And that word “slave” really grates us.  They don’t appeal to us for the very reason I just mentioned. They tell us that the focus of our attention and energy is not to be our own needs and desires, but those of others.

A king is not to use his authority to seek his own benefit, but that of his subjects.  A pastor or church leader uses his authority not for his own benefit, but for that of his congregation. A husband and father uses his authority not for his own benefit, but for that of his wife and children.  An employer uses his authority not for his benefit, but for that of his employees and clients (or customers).

We must recognize that this does not always mean succumbing to the mood of those in our care.  Those that we serve are sinners. And leadership often means holding that sin in check. It may mean that we give to them not what they want, but what they need. It may mean withholding from them an earthly benefit they desire in favor of submission to the will of God.

Jesus then uses himself as the ultimate example of this truth.  He tells us that even he came into this world not to be served. He came to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.

If anyone deserves to be served, it’s Jesus.  Yet, even though he is deserving of all honor and glory, he used his authority for our blessing.  He came that the penalty of our sin might be paid and that we might spend eternity in his presence.

We, of course, can never live up to his example.  Our sinful nature always focuses our attention upon ourselves.  But, as we see our struggle in this area, we can confess our sin to the Lord seeking his mercy.  We can also seek from him the strength to lead according to his calling and institution.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Loving the Hateful

“But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.”
Luke 6:27-28

The words of Jesus, seen above, are extremely challenging.  How hard it is to love those who hate us.  Our natural inclination, and the feelings within us, tell us to hate them in return.

Our sinful nature wants payback.  It wants revenge.  It wants to give to these people what they deserve.  It wants to give to them exactly what they’ve given to us.

If we realize the sinfulness of these thoughts and feelings, we still understand how hard it is to love people like this.  At the very least, we pursue an attitude of indifference toward them.  Even if we don’t seek their harm, we certainly don’t seek their benefit.

For this reason, these words of Christ seem like an impossible standard.  We’re to love our enemies and do good to those who hate us.  We’re to bless those who curse us and pray for our abusers.  As we read on in the text we’re told to offer our cheek to the one who strikes us on the other.  He says that we’re not to withhold our possessions from the one who steals from us. We’re to give to everyone who begs from us.  And we’re not to demand the return of  our possessions which were taken by another.

We read these words and our reaction is this: “Jesus wants us to be a doormat?” It seems that, according to this statement, we’re to let others walk all over us.  We don’t understand the reason for these commands that run so counter to our nature.

But then, in verse 32, we begin to see his reasoning.  We see that, in these actions, we display the character of God.  In performing these actions, we display the nature of God. He tells us that, if we love those who love us, if we do good to those who do good to us, if we lend to those from whom we expect to receive, it’s no benefit to us.  In doing these things, we’re no different than sinners, for they behave in this way.

However, if we live out the call of Christ, our reward will be great.  We’ll be sons of the Most High. This is true because it’s how he behaves toward us.  It’s true because he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil.  We are called to be merciful just as our Father is merciful.

As we reflect on the gospel, we understand how this plays out in our own lives.  God loves us even when we’re ungrateful.  He loves us even when we’re wicked.  As Paul tells us in Romans 5: “...but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” He goes on to say that while we were his enemies, we were reconciled to God.

You see, Jesus didn’t come into the world for a people who recognized their sin and pleaded for mercy.  He came into the world for a people who hated him and who wanted nothing to do with him.  He gave his life for them that they might be reconciled to God.  It’s only after his sacrifice, and it’s only because of his sacrifice, that we love him in return.

We, then, are called to display to others the same mercy God has displayed toward us. Despite their sin and their hate, we’re to love them. Despite their wickedness, we’re to seek their blessing. And, above all, we’re to seek their salvation. We're to do so because this is the desire of our Father.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Encounter With the Ark

For the past few years, my wife and I have wanted to visit the Creation Museum. With the opening of the Ark Encounter about a year ago, this desire only grew. So, as part of our vacation this past month, we finally decided to make the trip.

Both the museum and the Ark were enjoyable and informative. Having studied the work of creationists for years, most of the presentation was not new to me. However, I still enjoyed the layout and the opportunity to review it. It was especially good for our older kids who have not had the same level of exposure, and provided ample opportunity for my wife and I to discuss God’s Word and work with all of our children.

The Ark was enjoyable primarily because it helped me to better envision the size of the original, described for us in the Bible. I'm not able to envision something like this based on dimensions. It also doesn't help me to do so when materials from Answers in Genesis describe it by volume (it can hold a certain number of train cars or semi trailers). But walking into it, and back and forth across each floor, helped me to grasp its immensity in a very real way.

The thing that impressed me the most was the stated purpose of these facilities. Even though it may seem that the sole focus is on creation, Noah, and the flood, this is far from the case. The focus is the gospel. Answers in Genesis wants people to understand these truths that we might be directed to Jesus and his saving work on the cross.

If you are able to visit these sites, I would encourage you to do so. It is well worth the time and money (the cost, by the way, is pretty reasonable). If you have yet to look into the work of Christian scientists, you will learn a great deal and come away better informed about how science supports Scripture. You will also be able to better envision this boat on which God saved Noah, his family, and the animals. And all of this will serve to both strengthen and encourage your faith.

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.