Monday, January 14, 2019

Take Care!

“You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, take care that you are not carried away with the error of lawless people and lose your own stability. But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.”
(2 Peter 3:17-18 ESV)

Many of us, in the church today, are oblivious to what’s going on around us. We live in our own little bubble, paying little attention to the happenings of the world. We live in our own little world, remaining ignorant of the events and trends in the Christian Church as a whole.

This was true of me in my younger days. I grew up in a conservative Lutheran church. I grew up with a Bible-believing pastor. And, because this was all I knew, I assumed every other Lutheran church was the same.  I was surprised to find out, as the ELCA merger was preparing to take place, that this wasn’t the case.

I was surprised to learn there are churches who do not believe that the Bible is inerrant and infallible. I was surprised to learn there are churches who approve of things that the Bible defines as sin. And I was even more surprised to learn that there are many people who have accepted the false teaching being fed to them.

In the prior verses, Peter stated that the ignorant and unstable twisted the Scriptures to their own destruction. And this is what he’s referring to as he makes the above statement. Knowing this, knowing that some twist the Scriptures, we must take care.

We must take care that we aren’t carried away with error of lawless people. If we aren’t aware of the false teaching that’s being proclaimed, we may very well get sucked into believing it. If we aren’t aware of what’s going on, we may end up accepting the twisted doctrine of the ignorant and unstable.

According to Peter, we must know this, we must be aware of this, to ensure that we don’t lose our own stability. If we get sucked into the twisted doctrine being proclaimed, if we come to accept it, we’ll receive the fate of those who proclaimed it to us. Just as those who proclaim it do so to their own destruction, so will we receive it.

As believers, we cannot stick our head in the sand. We cannot remain ignorant of what is going on within the wider church. We must be aware that we might stand firm in the face of false teaching.

Along with being aware of the false doctrine being proclaimed, we must also continue to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord. We must continue to be fed by the Word of God that our faith might flourish.  We must do so that we might receive each blessing he's prepared for us.

Monday, January 07, 2019

Expectations in Ministry


“And he said, "The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground. He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how. The earth produces by itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. But when the grain is ripe, at once he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come."”

(Mark 4:26-29 ESV)



As we engage in ministry, whether it be as pastors, missionaries, or lay people, we find ourselves falling short of the expectations others have for us. Why aren’t more people joining the church? Why aren’t more people coming to faith in Christ? Why aren’t more churches being planted in the United States?  Why aren’t more churches being planted around the world?



We often find ourselves on the receiving end of the blame.  These things aren’t happening, we’re told, because we’re not doing our job well enough.  Perhaps if we worked harder, things would be different.  Perhaps if we were replaced, the next person would do a better job and accomplish more.



We have the same tendency as those pointing their finger at us.  We place the blame upon ourselves as well. We tell ourselves that, if only we were better preachers, things would change.  We tell ourselves that, if only we were more cool, hip, rad (insert your own description here), things would be different.  We tell ourselves that, if only we worked harder, things would be different.



One of the hardest, yet most refreshing truths of ministry is that we can only scatter the seed.  We can do nothing more.  We cannot cause the seed to sprout or to grow.  We cannot cause it to turn into a full grain in the ear.



It’s the hardest truth of ministry because we want to think that we can do something. If fact, we want to have a role to play in the results of our ministry.  We want to be able to take credit for good things that are taking place.  And we have to get over ourselves.  We have to acknowledge that, although we scatter the seed, it’s not we who produce the growth.



However, it’s also refreshing.  And it’s refreshing because we can simply scatter the seed without feelings of guilt or blame.  We can scatter the seed, as we’ve been called, entrusting the results to God.




Monday, December 31, 2018

Avoiding Speculation


“As I urged you when I was going to Macedonia, remain at Ephesus so that you may charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine, nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies, which promote speculations rather than the stewardship from God that is by faith.”

 (1 Timothy 1:3-4 ESV)



Although we confess the gospel of Christ, and although we claim that our task is to spread this message, we often get side-tracked. We get caught up in things that do nothing to instill God’s Word within us or others.  If anything, they distract us from the Lord.



We get caught up in works of fiction, penned by believers, which we believe illustrate the truth of God’s Word. In fact, we get more excited about them than we do the gospel.  We get caught up in speculation about politics, world events, and the end times.  We invent theories about how things will play out.  And these become the things into which we invest our time and energy. 



Books are written to promote these theories. “Bible studies” are taught, which focus on this speculation rather than Scripture. Classes are taught that attempt to force these ideas onto the Bible.



This is the very thing Paul was warning Timothy about in the above passage. Timothy was to allow no other doctrine to be taught, other than the one Paul had proclaimed to them. He was to ensure that the Word of God was rightly taught.  And he was to command that the people not devote themselves to myths and speculation.



We can’t be exactly sure what Paul is referring to.  It seems, however, that they may have been looking at the genealogies in Scripture and speculating about them. Perhaps they were even inventing allegorical tales that were replacing the gospel in the minds of some.



Whatever the case, Paul was telling them that, instead of investing into these things, they were to invest their time and energy into the proclamation of the gospel. They were to invest their time and energy into the teaching of sound doctrine.  They were to ensure that nothing else became the focus of their instruction.



May this also be the case with us.  Let’s not get caught up with every fad that takes over the Church.  Let’s not get swept away by the speculation offered by some.  Let’s keep our focus where it belongs.  Let’s keep our focus on the Word of God.  Let’s keep our focus upon Christ.  

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Rightly Regarding God's Word

“And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures.”
(2 Peter 3:15-16 ESV)

Although they confess that the Bible is the Word of God, and although they tell us that it’s the standard for our faith and life, many people feel free to twist and distort it. They do so that they might place upon it the meaning they desire. Instead of allowing God’s Word to speak to them and direct their life, they alter it to fit their desires.

This can’t be done with all of Scripture. Much of the Bible is very clear. As we read it, it’s easy to understand. It’s so clear, in fact, that there’s no disputing its meaning.

However, not all of Scripture is so easy. At times, we run into passages that are difficult. And, instead of interpreting Scripture with Scripture, instead of using the more clear passages to understand the more difficult, these are the passages of which people will take advantage.

According to Peter, it’s the ignorant and unstable who do so.  It’s those who are untaught and weak who do so. They fail to regard God’s Word as they ought.

They don’t truly regard God’s Word as holy. They don’t truly regard the Scriptures as sacred. They see them, instead, as a means to their own end. And this, he points out, is no small matter.

They do so, Peter says, to their own destruction. In other words, as they do so, they make themselves deserving of judgment. They are not able to twist the Word of God and get away with it.

We, of course, must avoid such people. We must not subject ourselves to their teaching. We must, instead, sit under those who are knowledgeable and who have themselves been instructed in God’s Word.

However, we must also take care that we don’t fall into the same practice. We must take care that we don’t begin to twist or distort God’s Word in any way. We must take care that we are allowing God’s Word to teach us and lead us rather than using it to our own ends.

We must regard the Word of God as holy. We must regard the Scriptures as sacred. We must do nothing that would tarnish them in any way. We must do nothing that would lead ourselves and even others into judgment.

Monday, December 17, 2018

The Blessing of God's Patience


“And count the patience of the Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him…”

(2 Peter 3:15)



The fact that Christ has not yet returned is often used in an effort to discredit him. We tell ourselves that this is a promise he’s failed to keep. The fact that we remain in this world, full of evil and sin, is our justification for unbelief.



Peter, in the above passage, says something very different. He tells us to count that patience of the Lord as salvation. In other words, the fact that Christ has not yet returned is a display of his grace.



God is patient with us. And this is a tremendous blessing. If he were not patient, we would have suffered his judgment long ago. If he were not patient, mankind would have been destroyed in centuries past.



If God were not patient, he would’ve destroyed Adam and Eve when they first sinned. If  he were not patient, he would not have spared the world through Noah at the time of the flood. If he were not patient, he would have destroyed Israel when they first grumbled against him in the desert. If he were not patient, he never would've sent Jesus into the world to save us from our sin. If he were not patient, he would have given up on us before we had the opportunity to repent and to receive his promise in faith.



Although we long for the return of Christ, and although we know the blessing this will mean for us, we also gratefully welcome his patience. We recognize that, without it, we would not have received his grace. We recognize that, without it, we would be forever lost.



Knowing the great blessing his patience has been in our life, we also welcome it for others. We are gladdened because others have a continued opportunity to receive the grace of God. We are content to await his return, rejoicing in the fact that others are still afforded the prospect of his salvation.



Yes, the patience of God means that we must continue to live in this world of sin and death. It means facing the ongoing suffering of this life. However, in light of the blessing the patience of God means for us and others, we welcome it gladly.

Friday, December 07, 2018

Soon and Very Soon

“He who testifies to these things says, "Surely I am coming soon." Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!” 
(Revelation 22:20 ESV)

The season of Advent is now upon us.  And, as most of you know, it’s a season of anticipation, as we look forward to our celebration of Christ’s birth.  But, at the same time, it’s a season of expectation as we await his return.

Throughout the Old Testament, God had spoken to his people of the coming Savior.  And these promises caused them to live in anticipation.  They lived from day to day, watching and hoping for the Savior’s arrival.

We see this with the ministry of John the Baptist, and also as the ministry of Jesus took shape.  We see that the people were questioning if this was it.  They wondered, initially, if John was the Christ (something that he dismissed).  They also wondered, rightfully so, if Jesus was the promised Savior.

For us, the coming of the Savior is something that happened in the past.  It’s this that we celebrate at Christmas.  We remember the Son of God, conceived in the womb of the Virgin Mary, who was born into the world.

We remember that he was born into this world that he might save us from our sin.  He came that he might give his life on the cross on our behalf.  He came that, through faith in him, we might receive the blessing of life everlasting.

And here’s where our season of anticipation comes in.  Although Jesus has come, we know that he’s coming again.  We see this in the above verse.  So, like the Israelites of the past, we live lives of watchful anticipation, longing for his arrival.

We long for his arrival because, even though the end will be a dreadful time, it means deliverance from this world of sin and death. It means the final judgment, when the people of God will be separated from those who are condemned.  And it means that we’ll be transformed so that sin and its consequences become a thing of the past.

Even though most of us like our lives in this world, for the most part, and are reluctant to leave them behind, this is something worth anticipating. It’s worth our hopeful expectation.  As the old spiritual declares: “Soon and very soon, we are going to see the King!”

Tuesday, December 04, 2018

An Expression of Hope


“Therefore, beloved, since you are waiting for these, be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace.”

(2 Peter 3:14 ESV)



When it comes to our salvation, our tendency is to place our hope in ourselves. We tend to place our hope in our own performance. We tend to think that, if we live a good enough life, we just might make it into heaven. We focus our efforts that we might have a chance to be saved.



The problem with this mindset is that we never know if we’ve done enough. We never know if we’ve been good enough. Even if we believe we have a shot at gaining salvation, we know there’s also a chance that we may not.



An even greater problem with this mindset is that nothing we do could ever merit salvation. Even if we could perfectly keep the law of God from this point on, it would not be enough. The simple fact of the matter is that we are sinners. And, because we’re sinners, we deserve only judgment.



Peter has been sharing with us about our great hope, as believers in Jesus. He’s been discussing the return of Christ and the end of this present age. And his encouragement, in this passage, flows from this hope.



Because we are waiting for these great blessings, he says, we’re to be diligent, we’re to make every effort, to be found by him without spot or blemish. We live for the Lord not that we might have hope. We live for him because we have hope.



Our lives are to reflect the hope that we have in Christ. Because we’ve been saved by him from sin, death, and the devil, we are to live in that freedom. We are to live for the Lord because of his salvation.



When we live this way, we recognize that our salvation is found only in him. And by living for him, we are expressing this faith. We are rejecting our sinful desires and tendencies, we are abandoning all efforts to save ourselves, and surrendering ourselves to him.



We are also called, by Peter, to be found at peace. And this is where that peace is found. We are able to be found at peace because of what Christ has done for us. We are able to live with confidence in the fact that we are saved. And this puts all of the questions and doubts, when it comes to our eternal destiny, to rest.