Monday, April 27, 2015

Yesterday, we looked at Psalm 23 and considered The Wondrous Provision of God.  We saw that, because the Lord is our shepherd, we shall not want.  He will take care of our every need.  To stream this message, click on the link.  You can also subscribe to our podcast on itunes.
“And as they were speaking to the people, the priests and the captain of the temple and the Sadducees came upon them, greatly annoyed because they were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead.”
(Act 4:1-2 ESV)

          I’ve been thinking about evangelism a great deal this past month.  I’ve preached on it a couple of times, and I’ve written blog posts on this topic.  We also recently heard from Colonel John Eidsmoe, who shared with us on the topics of God and government, along with matters of faith and the Constitution.  So all of this has been rolling around in my mind as I read the above text.
            Peter and John were, initially, going to the temple to pray.  And, while entering, the Lord used them to heal a man who’d been lame from birth.  This, for obvious reasons, caused a stir among the people and provided Peter with the opportunity to preach to them.
            However, as they were speaking, the priests, the captain of the temple, and the Sadducees came upon them.  They were annoyed because Peter and John were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection of the dead.  So they arrested them and put them in custody until the next day.  And as they were questioned by the rulers and the elders the next morning, Peter used this opportunity to share the gospel also with them. 
            Because of the miracle they had performed, the rulers and elders could say nothing against them.  But they wanted to stop Peter and John from teaching in the name of Jesus.  So they charged them to speak no longer in the name of Jesus.  But Peter replied to this charge, saying: "Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard."
            I don’t think that any of us have been arrested for proclaiming the gospel at this point.  However, we do see that many in our society are annoyed by our teaching in the name of Jesus.  Like the rulers and elders of the Jews, they want nothing more than to silence us.
            They do this in many ways.  They do this by applying social pressure.  They do this by filing lawsuits, trying to remove the expression of the Christian faith from the public square.  They enact laws, trying to define the truth of God as hate speech or as discrimination. 
            The question we must ask ourselves, as we face this pressure, is this: How will we respond to the charge of our society?  Will we be silenced?  Will we cease our proclamation of the Word of God?  Or, like the apostles, will we remain faithful to the Lord’s calling?
            As Peter expressed to the rulers, we must listen to the Lord rather than men.  Even though men can make life miserable for us, we must remain faithful to God and continue in our proclamation of the gospel. 
            More than that, proclaiming Jesus and his gospel should be something that we cannot cease.  As Peter stated, we shouldn’t be able to help speaking of what we’ve seen and heard.  Caving into the pressures of our society shouldn’t even be an option for us.
            The apostle Paul expressed a similar sentiment in 1 Corinthians 9:16, where he said: For if I preach the gospel, that gives me no ground for boasting. For necessity is laid upon me. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!”
For Paul, there was no other option.  Proclaiming the gospel was something he had to do.  And the same should be the case for us as well.
            As we face pressure from society to cease our proclamation of Jesus, let’s ask the Lord to give us the spirit of the apostles.  Let’s ask him for a heart that cannot but preach the gospel.  Let’s ask him for the boldness to carry out his call regardless of the commands of men.


Monday, April 20, 2015

When People Refuse Jesus

            As I’ve been thinking about evangelism the past couple of weeks, a passage from Luke 9 came to mind.  Starting in verse 51, we see that Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem as the time of his death approached.  And he sent messengers ahead of him, into a village of the Samaritans, to make preparations for him.
            We see several times in Scripture the mutual dislike harbored by the Samaritans and the Jews.  And we see here that, because he was going to Jerusalem, the Samaritans did not receive him.  Because of his destination, they would not welcome him into their village.
            When James and John saw this, they were obviously upset.  They said, “Lord, do you want us to tell fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” Remembering the judgment of God that had fallen upon Sodom and Gomorrah, they thought that this was an acceptable punishment for their refusal of Jesus.
            In one sense, they were right.  It’s quite clear in Scripture that refusing Jesus can only lead to one outcome.  It leads only to hell.  As we read in John 3:18, Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.”
            However, when Jesus heard this, he rebuked them.  This makes it clear to us that he didn’t feel the same way.  He didn’t feel that their refusal of him merited their judgment, at least not yet.
            The text in most of our Bibles doesn’t explain his reasoning for this.  However, some of the variant manuscripts do provide an explanation.  In addition to Jesus’ rebuke, they also include him saying: “You do not know what manner of spirit you are of; for the Son of Man came not to destroy people’s lives but to save them.”
            Even though this variant doesn’t have enough manuscript evidence to be included in the text, it is consistent with another statement of Jesus.  In John 3:17, he says: “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”
            As we saw from verse 18, which I cited above, this isn’t denying that there will be a judgment for those who refuse Jesus.  However, when Jesus was sent by God into the world, his purpose was salvation rather than judgment.  And this is what he was seeking during his ministry: the salvation of souls.
            Jesus’ response to the rejection of this Samaritan village was to simply move on to another village.  He moved on to another place where the people would receive him.
            In considering this passage, when people today refuse Jesus, we often respond in a way similar to the disciples.  We quickly become upset when they refuse the gospel.  And our immediate response is one of judgment.
            Obviously, their refusal of Jesus is not a good thing.  And if they persist in their refusal, they will receive the judgment of God.  However, in the meantime, the Lord continues to both desire and to seek their salvation.
            As his people, this should be our heart as well.  Even though it’s only natural for us to be saddened by those who refuse Jesus, we must bear in mind that it is still the day of grace.  And, until they stand before the Lord, we must continue to desire and to seek their salvation.

            When people refuse the gospel that we’re commissioned to bring, we must simply move on.  We must continue in our calling.  We must continually proclaim the message of salvation to those who are in need of his grace.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

The Importance of Truth in Evangelism

            This past week, at Prince of Peace, we talked about evangelism.  This is an important topic because Christ has called us to proclaim the gospel to the whole creation.  He’s called us to make disciples of all nations.  And, as the people of God, we should share his heart for the lost.
            However, that being said, there’s a mistake that’s being replicated in church after church across this nation.  We often begin to think of evangelism and outreach as a numbers game. We count the number of conversions that have taken place in our church.  We count the new members.  We count the attendance.  We count the giving.  And we do anything we can to ensure that the numbers are continually going up.  As I was once told, “It’s about butts in the pews.”
            My response to this is yes and no.  It’s yes because, of course, we want to see people coming into the church.  We want them coming into the church because we want them to hear the Word of God.  We want people to receive the gospel and to look to Christ in faith.  We want them to join with us in the ministry he’s entrusted to us.  Again, as the people of God, we want to see the lost coming to faith.  We want to see the growth of God’s kingdom.
            However, my response to this is also no.  It’s not all about butts in the pews.  In order to achieve this, churches have made great sacrifices.  They’ve made sacrifices that ought not be made. 
            In order to get butts in the pews, many churches have softened their stance on the truth.  They either avoid the difficult issues, so that they won’t offend anyone or drive them away, or they compromise.  They will do just about anything to keep their membership heading in the right direction.
            We must never sacrifice truth for butts in the pews.  Consider with me the words of Paul in 1 Timothy 1.  Starting in verse 3, he says: 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. The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. Certain persons, by swerving from these, have wandered away into vain discussion, desiring to be teachers of the law, without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make confident assertions.”
            In Paul’s instructions to Timothy, we see that it’s essential for us to proclaim right doctrine.  We must be concerned that no other doctrine be taught than the one given to us in God’s Word.  We must make sure that what’s being taught is not speculation and opinion, but truth.
            He says that the aim of this charge is love.  We teach right doctrine and insist on it because of the love we have for others.  We ensure that only right doctrine is taught so that people might receive the grace of God that’s in Christ.
            This goes against the way that many of us tend to think.  We think that it’s more loving to compromise the truth for the sake of people.  We think that it’s more loving to give them what they want so that they’ll join with us in our congregation.
However, I want you to think about this for a minute: If we compromise the truth that we might get butts in the pews, are we truly making disciples?  If we’re altering our doctrine, if we’re compromising truth, that we might grow the church, are we truly reaching people for Christ? If people are coming because they’ve placed their faith in a compromised version of the gospel, are we truly meeting their spiritual need?  Absolutely not. 
By doing this, we’re seeking only to build our own kingdom rather than the Lord’s. We’re showing more concern for our church than we are for the souls of men.  And this is not what Jesus means when he calls us to make disciples of all nations.

To faithfully carry out the call Christ has given us, we must reach out to those around us.  We should desire to see more and more people coming to church and placing their faith in him.  But we do this properly as we proclaim the truth and live in the truth. We do this rightly when we care enough to see not simply their butt in the pew on Sunday morning, but their soul in the hands of the Savior.

Monday, April 13, 2015

This week, at Prince of Peace, we talked about Spirit Empowered Evangelism.  We were reminded of the calling that Jesus gave to us as his followers, and of our reluctance to carry it out.  We often fail to reach out to those around us because we feel incapable.  However, God doesn't call us to fulfill this calling with our own strength, wisdom, or abilities.  He gives to us everything we need that we might carry out this mission.  Our evangelism is empowered by the Spirit of God.  To hear this message, click on the link.

Wednesday, April 08, 2015

Confession

            This week, at Prince of Peace, we’ll be looking at John 20:19-23.  And one of the things that stand out in this passage is the call that Jesus places on his followers.  He tells them that, as the Father has sent him, so is he sending them.  He then says, in verse 23: If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”
            This is what, in the Lutheran Church, we refer to as the Office of the Keys, which is drawn from a similar statement that Jesus makes in Mathew 16.  It’s a troubling statement for many of us because we don’t believe that man has any power to forgive sins.  And we really struggle with the thought that we have the authority to retain the sins of another.
            However, Jesus isn’t saying that we can arbitrarily forgive or retain the sins of men.  It’s not a decision we can make by our own authority.  This is something we do according to his Word and under his authority. 
We cannot forgive the sins of anyone that Jesus would not forgive.  Nor can we retain the sins of one whom Jesus has forgiven.  Jesus uses us to proclaim his gospel. He uses us to announce the forgiveness of those who repent and trust in him.  And he uses us to warn those who are unrepentant and who fail to believe in him.
            This ties in with a practice that has been largely lost in the church today.  The practice to which I’m referring is confession.  And the reason it’s been gradually lost is because of the abuses associated with it.
            The practice of confession in the Catholic Church is often tied together with acts of penance.  This has been shied away from because it promotes the belief that we can do something to earn the forgiveness of our sin.  And we know from Scripture that God’s grace is a free gift received by faith.
            However, even though there have certainly been abuses of confession over the years, this doesn’t mean that we should throw out the baby with the bath water.  Confession, in itself, is a good thing.  It’s even a Scriptural thing.
We can see this, for example, in James 5: 14-16: “Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. 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.”
In the context of prayer, James calls on us to confess our sins to one another.  He then reassures us that, if we have committed sins, we will be forgiven.  And, in addition to this, he encourages us to pray for one another that we might be healed.
This is a struggle for most of us.  It’s a struggle because we don’t want to admit our sins to others. We’ll make a general confession of our sin during worship.  We’ll admit to the fact that we are indeed a sinner.  But we don’t like to get specific.  Instead, we like to put on a fa├žade.  We try to convince people that we’re good and that we have no struggles.
We fear that, if we reveal our weakness, others will look down on us. We fear that, if our brothers and sisters in the church know our sin, they’ll reject us.  They’ll look down their nose at us because we’re not as godly as they seem to be.
We fail to realize that this mindset actually undermines the gospel.  After all, the Church isn’t for those who are perfect.  If this were the case, none of us would belong.  It’s a place for sinners.  It’s a place for those who recognize their sin and their need for the grace of God. Remember the words of Jesus, in Luke 5:31-32: "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance."
I don’t know about you, but I’m in need of a physician.  I am not well. I need Jesus.  This is why I’m a part of the church.

For this reason, we can feel free to confess our sins to one another.  We don’t need to share them from the microphone.  But we can feel free to sit down with our brother and share with him our failures.  Knowing that we’ve come in faith, and knowing that we’re seeking mercy, he can then offer us the reassurance of the gospel.  He can announce to us that our sins have indeed been forgiven.

Monday, April 06, 2015

This week, I've been getting settled into my new congregation.  And, being Holy Week, we had several services.  On Maundy Thursday, I shared a message titled "As Jesus Loved." We reflected on the command that he gave to his followers as they gathered for the Passover, to love one another as he'd loved them.

On Good Friday, we reflected on the death of Christ.  We talked about why this day can be considered good, when it's a remembrance of Jesus' sufferings in a message titled: "A Required Sacrifice."

On Easter Sunday, we talked about the significance of the resurrection in a message titled "Why the Resurrection?"

To listen to any of these messages, click on the link, which will take you to the right place.

Friday, April 03, 2015

The Accomplishment of Jesus' Death

“For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God's righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.” Romans 3:22b-26

            This week, as I’m beginning to serve a new congregation, and as I prepare for Holy Week, I’ve been thinking about the sufferings of Christ.  And, as I’ve done so, the above passage came to mind.  It clearly presents what God has done for us in Jesus.
            We’re, first of all, reminded of why Jesus came.  He came into this world because we’re a sinful people.  He came to redeem us from sin and death by his sacrifice on the cross.  And, because of his sacrifice, we are justified through faith in Jesus.
            His death, then, accomplished two things.  We see at the end of this passage that he is both just as well as the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.
            In sending Jesus to give his life for us, God demonstrates his justice.  We find in Scripture that the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23).  This tells us that, because of our sin, we deserve to die.  By our sin, we have earned the consequence of death.  And, because of God’s just nature, that consequence must be satisfied.
By sending Jesus to give his life on our behalf, his justice and righteous nature are satisfied.  As we read in Hebrews 9:22, “Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.” Without Jesus’ death, without the shedding of blood, we could not be forgiven.
            The death of Jesus satisfied God’s just nature for the sins of not only a select few, but all mankind. It satisfied the just nature of God for even those who’ve gone before us. As we read in 1 John 2:2, “He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.”

            However, in addition to this, he’s also the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.  So, yes, by Jesus’ death God’s justice is satisfied.  But, in this way, we’re also justified by him as a free gift.  It’s he who sent Jesus into the world for this very purpose.  It’s Jesus who gave his life on the cross.  So, even though we are undeserving of this blessing, God has mercifully provided it for us.  Knowing this, I pray that your Holy Week, and especially your Easter celebration, will be rich and meaningful.