Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Examples of God's Grace

“The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life.”
1Timothy 1:15 ESV

            I’ve always found this statement, made by the apostle Paul, to be fascinating.  I’ve found it fascinating because, in our minds, the statement being made and the identity of the one making it seem like a complete contradiction.  It doesn’t seem that these words should be coming from his mouth.
             We think this way because, after all, Paul is a saint.  We read through the book of Acts and we see the great work he did for the Lord.  We see how he carried the gospel throughout the Roman Empire, starting churches wherever he went.  We see how he endured the persecution that resulted from his ministry.  And history tells us that he went to his death, that he was beheaded, as a result of his service.
            We also see that Paul wrote a huge portion of the New Testament.  So his ministry impacted not only the early church, but the church of today.  His teaching makes it clear to us what God has done for us and how we’re saved.
            Because of this, we tend to think that the apostle Paul is much greater than the rest of us.  We tend to think that he was a far better person.  But, in the above passage, we see that this is not how he thought of himself.
            Paul thought of himself as the foremost of sinners.  In other words, he thought that he was more sinful than everyone else.  And, while we might think he’s saying this to come off humble, this is far from the case.
            In verses 12 and 13 of this chapter, Paul points out that, before he was saved, he was a blasphemer, persecutor, and an insolent opponent.  In 1 Corinthians 15:9 he says that he is the least of the apostles, and doesn’t even deserve to be called an apostle, because he persecuted the church of God.  And in Romans 7, we see that his struggle with sin was not something that existed only prior to his conversion.  We see that, even after he was saved, he wrestled with his sinful nature each and every day.
            Paul genuinely thought of himself as the greatest of sinners.  And he believed that God showed him mercy as an example to those who were to believe in the Lord.  He believed that he was an example of the patience of God.
            In other words, if God could save someone like Paul, the foremost of sinners, then people could know that he’d save them as well.  If God could display patience to someone like Paul, then people could know that God would also be patient with them.
            This is something we often forget when it comes to our life and ministry.  We often think that, if we’re to be used by God, if we’re to successfully share our faith, we have to appear holy.  The problem with this is that, despite our best efforts, we continue to fail in great ways.  So we make up for this by putting on a fa├žade.  We pretend to be better than we really are.
            However, I believe we should take the mindset of Paul to heart.  Although we should seek to serve the Lord faithfully, and although we should ask him to work in our heart that we might live obediently, we shouldn’t deny our failure.  Instead, we should understand that, because of our failure, the grace of God is seen more clearly.  We too should proclaim to the world that, if God could save a people like us, he can save them as well.
            It isn’t hypocrisy to proclaim the gospel while we struggle with sin.  After all, if we had no sin, there would be no purpose for the gospel.  In the gospel we hear that Christ came into the world to save sinners.  He came into the world to save a people like you and me.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

As Christians, we often become weary.  As we look around at the world around us, and as we try to reach out to unbelievers, we feel that the situation is hopeless.  We forget that The Power to Save rests not in man, but in God.  We are simply called to proclaim the gospel, leaving the rest up to him. To hear this message, click on the link.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Hindrances in Ministry

            In Acts 16 we see how, as Paul was in Philippi, things seemed to go terribly wrong.  Paul cast a spirit out of a girl who’d been following him.  She had been crying out that these men were servants of God proclaiming the way of salvation.  And even though it seems that this might validate their ministry, it annoyed Paul.  It annoyed him because it happened for days on end.
            This upset this girl’s owner.  She was a slave, and the spirit was one of divination.  And she made a great deal of money for her owner by fortune telling.  So he started an uproar in the city, which led to the arrest of Paul and Silas.  They were put in the inner prison and their feet fastened in the stocks. 
            Outwardly, I’m sure it seemed to Paul and Silas that their ministry was being hindered.  After all, it’s hard to tell people about Jesus when you’re in jail.  However, we then see the power of God at work.
            As they prayed and sang hymns, a great earthquake shook the prison.  The doors were opened and everyone’s bonds were unfastened.  And when the jailer saw what had happened, supposing that the prisoners had escaped, he drew his sword to kill himself.
Paul called out to him telling him not to harm himself.  He assured the jailer that no one had left.  Trembling, the jailer asked Paul what he must do to be saved.  Paul was then able to share the gospel with this man’s house and to baptize them.
            This is a passage of Scripture that I find extremely comforting.  I find it comforting because, often in ministry, things don’t happen as we expect.  In fact, it often seems that our ministry is being hindered in some way.
            Yet, no matter how things may seem, we’re reminded that God is not hindered.  He’s at work in ways that we can’t always see or understand in the moment.  And he can use those hindrances as an opportunity for ministry.
            These hindrances can take many forms.  Perhaps our missionaries are being hindered by an individual on the field.  Perhaps government regulations are proving to be a hindrance.  Perhaps conflict in the church seems to be holding back its ministry.  Maybe a personal struggle seems to be keeping us from the ministry to which we’re called.
            Whatever the case may be, the Lord can work in and through these circumstances.  He can work in ways that we cannot even fathom.  He can use the circumstances themselves as an opportunity for us to share the gospel and to minister to people with whom we may otherwise have no contact.

            So as we endure frustrations in ministry, let us simply entrust ourselves and our work to the hands of God.  Let us acknowledge that we don’t always understand what the Lord is doing.  And let us trust that, no matter how things may seem, he can and will use us for his glory.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

This week, at Prince of Peace, we talked about the confidence that we have in the promise of God. Yet, even though this is true, many of us struggle to trust the Lord. Many people, even among those who profess faith in Christ, have no assurance of salvation.  However, as we see in 1 John 5, as believers, we can know we're saved Beyond the Shadow of a Doubt. To hear this message, click on the link.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Keeping Faith in the Forefront

            A concern that’s been expressed repeatedly in the Church in recent years is the fact that our young people are leaving in droves.  This is true, especially, as our kids leave for college.  When they’re no longer under the daily guidance of their parents, they feel the freedom to leave this aspect of life behind. 
However, this is also true of younger children.  In many of our families, our children are leaving after confirmation.  We’re allowing our young people to make a choice concerning church involvement.
            This is a very real concern.  As Christian parents, we want to make sure that faith is a part of our children’s lives.  We share God’s desire for the salvation of all.  But, particularly, we want our own children to receive the grace of God.
            What’s the problem?  Where is the breakdown?  For many of us, I wonder if the problem is that faith isn’t a part of our home life.  It’s something we do on Sunday, and maybe even on Wednesday.  But once we’re home, faith becomes a non-issue.  It’s rarely, if ever, discussed.
            I believe we need to take the words of Deuteronomy 6 into consideration.  Starting in verse 4, we read: "Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”
            Keeping it very simple, we see that God wants his Word to be a constant topic of conversation in the family.  He wants us to talk about it when we get up in the morning and when we’re going to bed at night.  He wants us to talk about it when we’re sitting at home or when we’re going somewhere.  He wants his Word to guide our thoughts and our actions inside of the home and out.
            How might this help our children?  First of all, they have the benefit of constant exposure to his Word.  And we know that God works through his Word (Romans 10:13-17, Isaiah 55:11). 
            Second, they see that faith isn’t simply one aspect of life.  They see that faith is life.  They see that the Word of God is something that speaks to us in every aspect of life.  It comforts, it convicts, and it directs.

            My question, then, is simply this: Are we making the Word of God a constant part of the conversation?  If the answer is yes, then we need to keep it up.  Perhaps we can find even more ways to incorporate it into our life.  If the answer is no, then it’s something we should seriously consider.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Yesterday at Prince of Peace, as we honored our mothers, we considered the crucial role that moms play in the lives of their children.  More than the practical roles they fill, they also have great influence when it comes to raising their children in faith.  We saw this in the case of Timothy, whose father was an unbeliever.  His mother and grandmother imparted God's Word in his life and passed on the faith to him.  To hear this message, click on the link.

Tuesday, May 05, 2015

Our Jealous God

            In Exodus 34, we see that Moses went back up Mount Sinai after the people of Israel had sinned by making the golden calf.  While he was there, God renewed his covenant with the people and once again wrote his commands onto stone tablets.  And God promised to drive out the peoples before them, giving to them the land of Canaan.
            However, God also warned them that they were not to make a covenant with the peoples of the land.  He told them to tear down the altars and the pillars used by the people of Canaan to worship their gods.  And they were to do this because they were to worship no other god.
            What’s interesting is that, as he gave these commands, the Lord described himself as a jealous God.  In fact, he said that his name is Jealous.  In this way, he’s telling us that jealousy is part of his character.
            This is confusing to many of us because we think of jealousy as a bad thing.  We think of it as sinful.  And in most cases it is.  However, we fail to realize that there’s a form of jealousy that is good and even healthy.
            Think of it in these terms: I’m married, and have been for almost 14 years.  And I can honestly say that I’m jealous for my wife.  I’m as jealous for her now as I was when we first began dating.  What I mean by this is that I love her and that I want her for myself alone. 
            I don’t mean by this that I forbid her from having friends.  Nor do I try to keep her from interacting with others.  However, I’m unwilling to share her with another man.  I want her affection for myself alone. If I found her giving her affection to another man, or if I saw a man trying to gain her affection, I would be insanely jealous and angry.    
            Even though this is a form of jealousy, it’s good because this is how God designed marriage to work.  He intended marriage for one man and one woman.  We’re commanded in various ways throughout Scripture to remain faithful to our spouse.  So it’s only fitting that this jealousy is a part of the marital relationship.
            The same thing is true when it comes to our relationship with the Lord.  His intent, as he states it throughout Scripture, is that he should be our God and that we should be his people.  He created us that we might be his people, and he redeemed us for the same reason.  And, because of this, he’s jealous for us.  He’s unwilling to share us with anything or anyone else.  He wants our affection for himself alone.
            When we think of it in these terms, the first commandment is more than a law for us to follow.  It’s a beautiful thing. It’s pure gospel. What it tells us is that the Lord loves us so much that he’s unwilling to share us.  It demonstrates his great affection for us.
            If your spouse was willing to share you with someone else, or if they desired to share you with someone else, it would cause you to feel unloved.  You would feel less than cherished.  And, once again, this relates to God’s jealousy for us.

            The fact that he is jealous demonstrates not selfishness.  It shows us how much he values us.  It reveals that we’re cherished.  It reveals that we are prized and precious in his sight.

Monday, May 04, 2015

Yesterday, as five of our young people confirmed their faith, we heard a message titled: Choose This Day.  We looked at the end of Joshua's life, and his charge of the people of Israel.  He told them that, because God had saved them, they were to serve him.  Yet, even though this was true, they still had a choice.  They could reject the Lord and worship other gods. To hear this message, click on the link.