Tuesday, September 29, 2015

True Love

“Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.” 
(Ephesians 5:25-27 ESV)

            One of the things I’ve noticed, as a pastor, is that the true definition of love has been lost. It’s been replaced with something far inferior to the love described in Scripture. It’s a far cry from the love we’re called to possess for our spouse and to give them.
            We understand love to be the emotion that we feel for our spouse. We understand it to be the butterflies in the tummy and the nervousness we feel in their presence.  And this is why so many couples split up, citing the fact that they’ve fallen out of love.
            We all know that, after we’re together for a time, the butterflies and the nervousness go away.  We realize that, once we’re comfortable with one another, our annoying and sinful habits become visible.   And what we once thought cute or endearing now grates on our last nerve.
We also realize that our feelings sometimes waver.  We might feel more love for our spouse at one time and less at another.  We may feel more loved by our spouse at one time and less at another.  And sometimes, we become so angry or frustrated that we feel no love at all.
            We must realize that, because of our sinful nature, our feelings can deceive us.  We cannot trust our feelings to determine if love is present in our relationship.  We must instead seek to give love to our spouse as God has commanded.
            I think it’s safe to say that we all want to feel love in our marriage.  However, the love to which we’re called is so much more.  We can see this in the love husbands are called to give to their wives in the above passage.
            The standard of our love is none other than Christ himself.  Men, we’re called to love our wife as Christ loved church.  We’re called to love her like Jesus, who gave up his life for our sanctification.  We’re called upon to sacrifice ourselves for our wife’s blessing.
            Like Christ, we must seek first and foremost to present our spouse to the Lord without spot or blemish.  What this means is that we must seek our spouse’s eternal blessing above all else.  We must love them in such a way that we encourage them in their faith, and that we encourage them to grow in their faith.
            One of the mistakes we often make is to withhold our love.  We give love only if we feel it’s something of which they’re deserving.  But we must realize that our spouse will never be deserving of our love.  Because they’re sinful, they’ll continually fall short.  And just as Christ gives to us his love as an act of grace, we must do the same with our spouse.
            This definition of love is repeated throughout Scripture.  For example, we’re called in John 13 to love one another as Christ has loved us.  Again, this is a sacrificial love.  And we know this because Christ loved us by giving his life for us.
            It’s for this reason that this word is translated in the King James Version as “charity.” It’s not primarily an emotion, but a gift of grace.  It’s providing for the needs of another even when they have nothing to give in return.
            Recognizing this truth, it’s not possible for us to fall out of love with our spouse.  We may stop loving them.  And, if this is true, we must repent. We must ask God for his mercy. And we must ask him to implant his love in our heart.  We must ask him for the strength and the ability to love our spouse as he’s commanded.


Monday, September 28, 2015

As believers, we continue to struggle with sin.  And this struggle often makes us feel like failures in the life of faith.  So how do we deal with sin?  How can we resist the temptations that plague us?  To hear this message, click on the following link:

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Made to Stand Out

"You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house.”
(Matthew 5:14-15 ESV)

            I’ve never had a desire to stand out.  I’ve never desired to be the focus of attention.  I prefer, instead, to blend in.  I desire to go unnoticed.  And this desire has reflected itself in many ways. 
            It’s reflected in the way that I dress.  I’ve never cared for bright colors.  I’ve never cared for flashy clothing or accessories.  I don’t like wearing things that will make me stand out or draw attention to myself.
            Even though I’m a pastor, I tend to be more quiet and soft-spoken.  I don’t like to speak loudly, drawing attention to myself.  And I certainly don’t like to shout.  I tend to speak few words and, when I do speak, to say them in a normal tone of voice.
            Even though my position requires me to be up front in the church, this isn’t the position I normally choose.  If attending a worship service that I’m not leading, or when attending a conference, I tend to sit somewhere in the middle.  I prefer to simply blend in with the crowd. 
            And even though I do what I can to fulfill my calling, I have no desire to be a well-known figure.  I have no desire for fame.  I prefer to live the quiet life. 
            I’m not alone in this preference to go unnoticed.  Many people feel the same way.  And, so often, this mindset finds its way into our life of faith.
            We know that Jesus has called us to be his witnesses.  We know that he’s called us to proclaim the gospel to the whole creation.  And, quite frankly, we’re hesitant to do this.  We’re hesitant because we don’t want to be the focus of everyone’s attention.  We prefer, instead, to keep our mouth shut and blend in with the world around us.
            In the past, this is something that’s hindered my witness.  It’s kept me from reaching out to those around me.  My desire to blend in caused me to shove any concern for the lost to the back of my mind as a desire for conformity took hold.
            However, as we see in the above passage, we’re called to stand out.  We are the light of the world.  And a light is not something that is hidden.
            As the people of God, we’re distinct from the world around us.  But we’re distinct not to draw attention to ourselves. We shine forth to draw the world’s attention to Christ.
We’re called to be distinct as a testimony to those in our midst.  We’re called to let our light shine that God might be glorified.  We’re called to be his witnesses that others might receive the salvation Jesus provided for all men.
            This doesn’t mean we have to be a loud mouth.  It doesn’t mean that we must be obnoxious.  But we must not hide our light in order to fit in.  Doing so means abandoning a lost world to sin and eternal condemnation.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Graceful Speech

“Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.”

(Ephesians 4:29 ESV)

            When my wife and I were married, we received a large embroidery as a wedding gift from an older member of my church.  This embroidery consisted of the words of the above verse.   And when we received it, it was framed and ready to hang on the wall.

            I don’t know if I realized it at the time, but what a fitting gift this is for marriage.  It’s fitting because it’s easy for us to be critical of our spouse.  It’s easy for us to speak words that are destructive to their soul.  And even though logic seems to indicate that we’d save our kindest words for those we love most, the opposite is typically the case.

            We’re often more harsh with our spouse than anyone else.  Those who are closest to us often bear the brunt of our negativity.  We often speak to them in a way that we wouldn’t speak to anyone else.  We’re often rude and insulting.  We often speak to them in a way that is ill-mannered and condescending.

            This verse serves as a reminder that, by our words, we’re to seek the building up of one another.   We’re to seek, with our words, to bless one another.  And we’re to use every opportunity for this purpose.

            Now, this verse isn’t speaking directly to marriage.  It speaks to all of life, which includes marriage and so much more.  It speaks to every relationship in which we find ourselves.

            We’re to refrain from corrupting talk.  The word translated “corrupting” means decayed or unusable.  It refers to talk that is evil and unwholesome.  In essence, we’re being told to refrain from talk that isn’t beneficial to others. 

            On the positive end, we’re to speak words that lead to the building up of others.  We’re to speak words that encourage, instruct, and bless others.  And I realize this is easier said than done.

            I say this because we often feel that others aren’t deserving of kind words.  And this leads us to speak to them in a way that is hurtful.  At the very least, it leads us to say nothing to them at all.

            We must bear in mind that Paul tells us to speak words that give grace to those who hear.  And you may remember that grace is an undeserved gift.  This tells us that we shouldn’t speak kind and encouraging words only to those who are deserving.  That doesn’t fit the definition of grace.  We’re to speak in this way to those who are undeserving.

            So, no matter how others may be treating us, and no matter how they may speak to us, we’re to refrain from tearing them down.  We’re to refrain from unwholesome talk.  Even if we feel they’re undeserving, we’re to speak to them in a way that will bless them.

            This is an area in which we all struggle.  Even though I fail regularly, it’s an area that I’ve made an effort to keep in the forefront of my mind.  I’ve tried to remain conscious of what I say and how I say it.

            It’s also an area that I’ve asked God to keep under control.  Because I’m unable to do so on my own, I need his love to take control of both my heart and my tongue.  And, by his grace, I pray that I’ll grow in this area.

            Let us all offer to God our mouth.  Let us offer to him our speech.  Let us ask him to forgive us for our failure.  And let’s ask him to use our words in a way that will be a blessing to all of those around us, to all of those who hear the words that we speak.
This week at Prince of Peace, we talked about sins of the tongue in a message titled: Sticks and Stones. We saw that, even though these are sins that we consider minor when compared to others, they're something that the Lord takes very seriously.  To hear this message, click on the link.

Tuesday, September 08, 2015

This week at Prince of Peace, we talked about the fact that we often view Scripture as An Evolving Document.  We believe that the Bible is out of date and irrelevant to our time.  However, we're warned repeatedly in Scripture against adding to or taking from God's Word.  And we see that this is something God doesn't take lightly.  We must, therefore, receive God's Word as given, without seeking to change it in any way. To hear this message, click on the link.

Monday, September 07, 2015

Will We Endure?

“But the one who endures to the end will be saved.”
(Matthew 10:22 ESV)

            In Matthew 10, Jesus speaks of the persecution of his faithful.  He tells us that we will be delivered over to the courts.  He tells us that we will be flogged.  He tells us that we will be dragged before kings and governors.  He tells us that we will be delivered over to death by those we love most.  And he tells us that we will be hated by all for his name’s sake.
            But then, he adds the statement we read above.  He tells us that the one who endures until the end will be saved.  This tells us that we must not waver in the face of this suffering.  It tells us that we must stand strong.  And it tells us that, when we do so, we will receive the salvation he’s provided for us.
            Although we’ve had the freedom to live our faith in this nation for many years, we’ve seen this type of persecution happening to believers around the world.  They’ve suffered in terrible ways for their faith in Jesus.  Their faith is something that has cost them dearly.
            Up to this point, our faith has not cost us much.  We’ve been able to live out our faith and enjoy the affluence of our society.  We’ve been able to express our faith freely and maintain our reputation and safety.  But now things are beginning to change.
            We’re now being told by government leaders and the courts that we cannot live out our faith.  We are told that we cannot express our faith in our place of business, and that we cannot express our faith in government office.  We’re told that we must abide by the morals and values they’ve placed upon us.
            The worst part is that, already, we hear voices telling us to succumb to these pressures.  And these voices are coming not only from those outside of the church, but from within.  There are some, who profess faith in Jesus, who are telling us to do our job and keep our faith out of it.  They are telling us to abide by the standards laid down for us by the courts.  They tell us to do this even though it would mean violating the direct command of the Lord.
            They would have us forsake the Lord who saved us.  They would have us abandon the call that he’s placed on our life.  They would have us safeguard our life in this world at the expense of the eternal judgment of those who will not hear the gospel message.
            We must not listen to these voices.  We must instead listen to the voice of Christ.  We must heed his call to endure.
            As the church of Christ in America, we are entering into an age never seen in the history of our nation.  We’re entering into an age when our constitutionally afforded freedom of religion will be revoked.  We are entering into an age when we will have to either turn from the faith to which we’ve held or pay the price.

            What will we do?  What matters most to us?  This is the question we are left to ponder.  Will we endure and receive the salvation of Christ?  Or will we sacrifice eternity for the blessing of those among whom we live?

Tuesday, September 01, 2015

Our Primary Allegiance

“But Peter and the apostles answered, "We must obey God rather than men.””
(Acts 5:29 ESV)

            After Jesus ascended into heaven, and after the Holy Spirit empowered the apostles, they faithfully proclaimed the gospel.  But, just as the ministry of Jesus brought the ire of Jewish leadership, so too did their ministry.  The activity of the apostles was seen as something to be stopped.
            After Peter and John healed the lame beggar in Acts 3, and after Peter preached to the crowd that assembled, they were arrested.  We’re told that 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 of the dead. 
            The next day, they stood before the high priest along with the rulers, scribes, and the elders.  Fearing that word of this miracle, and the message of the apostles, would spread among the people, they commanded the apostles to no longer speak or teach in the name of Jesus.  Peter and John replied to them, saying (Acts:19-20) : “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.”
            In Acts 5, we see that the apostles were once again arrested.  And they were reminded of the order that had been given them.  The high priest said to them (Acts 5:28): “We strictly charged you not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching, and you intend to bring this man's blood upon us.” Peter and the apostles then answered him, as we see in the above verse, by saying they must obey God rather than men.
            For many years in this nation, the church has had freedom.  When it came to obedience to the Lord and the state, the two have not been mutually exclusive.  Obeying the Lord did not mean disobeying men.  It did not mean acting in disobedience to our government leaders.  And obeying the government did not mean violating the will of God. But it seems this is now changing. 
            The freedom experienced by congregations hasn’t changed…yet. However, we are seeing changes when it comes to individual believers.  We are told that we must lay aside our faith and act according to the conscience and the morals of American society.
            Christian bakers have been told that they must bake cakes for homosexual weddings.  One such couple was forced to close their business after being fined $135,000 and issued a gag order when it came to speaking about their views regarding gay marriage.  A similar case is also taking place in Colorado.
            We’ve also seen Christian business owners being required to provide abortion services and birth control in their health insurance even when it violates their faith.  We’re being told that the freedom of religion doesn’t apply to individuals in our nation, but only to churches.
            I expect that we’ll see more and more of this as time goes on.  The American people no longer seem able to stomach Biblical teaching and values.  And it seems that our government and courts will stop at nothing to force Christians to adopt their judgments and values.
            Like the apostles, we may be forced to make a choice.  We may have to choose whether we’ll obey the government and disobey God, or to obey God and disobey the government.  And, like the apostles, I pray we’ll make the right choice. 

            That being said, if it comes to this, we must be prepared to face the consequences of our disobedience.  We may face harassment by our neighbors.  We may face fines. We may face the loss of our businesses and homes.  We may face arrest and imprisonment.  But these things in no way compare with the blessing God has in store for his faithful.  And what an opportunity it provides for the people of God to share Jesus and the hope we have in him.