Monday, October 26, 2015

Set Apart

“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.”

(1 Peter 2:9 ESV)

            One of the struggles faced by Christians in America is the desire to fit in with those around us.  As we look at the teaching of God’s Word, and as we strive to live out our faith in this world, we can’t help seeing that we’re different.  And, because we don’t like to feel different, because we don’t like to stand out, we do all that we can to fit in.

            This means that, instead of carrying out the call Christ has placed on our life, we keep our mouth shut.  It often means compromising in areas of right and wrong, and following the world down a sinful path.  It often means struggling with guilt as we desire to live for the Lord but are unwilling to lay aside this desire for worldly approval.

            However, what we see in Scripture is that, as Christians, we’re supposed to stand out.  So the reason we feel different is because we are different.  We are different because God has made us distinct from other people.

            In the above verse, Peter says that those who believe are a chosen race.  They are a people chosen by God.  He says that they are a royal priesthood.  They are a people who offer spiritual sacrifices that are acceptable to God, who live a life devoted to the service of the Lord.  They are a holy nation.  They are a people who’ve been set apart by God to do his will.  They are a people for his own possession.  They are a people set apart by God to be his own.

They’re set apart by God for a very important purpose.  They’ve been set apart by God that they might declare the excellencies of the one who saved them.  They’ve been set apart to share with others the wonders of the God who delivered them from darkness.  He’s set them apart from the world that they might reach out to the world.

            Most of us are familiar with the call Jesus has placed upon his followers.  He’s called us to proclaim the gospel to the whole creation.  He’s called us to make disciples of all nations.  And we’re able to do this only as we accept the distinction God has placed upon us.

            Because this is true, our striving to fit in with the world hinders our ability to reach the world for Christ.  When we try to fit in with darkness, we’re unable to testify of the light.  The fact that we’re distinct is a testimony to those around us that we’ve been saved from sin and death. 

            So, as believers in Jesus, let us not seek to fit in with the world.  Let us, instead, live as the people we were made to be.  Let us live as a chosen people, a royal priesthood, and a holy nation.  And may we testify of the goodness of God that others might also be delivered from darkness into the light of the Lord.


Thursday, October 22, 2015

Give Thanks in Everything

“…give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”

(1Thessalonians 5:18 ESV)

            As October comes to a close and November begins, thoughts of Thanksgiving enter the mind.  This is a holiday that we all enjoy and that that most of us find very meaningful.  We enjoy the time with family and friends.  Without question, we enjoy the food.  And we recognize the importance of offering thanks to God, who has given us all that we have.

            It’s often frustrating to look at our society and to see the sense of entitlement that fills the hearts of many.  They feel that they’re deserving of the blessings they’ve received and those they desire.  So, instead of giving thanks, they’re continually looking for more.  Instead of expressing gratefulness for the provision of God, they grumble and complain about the things they lack.

            This is an attitude with which we all struggle to some degree.  We find it hard to give thanks in all circumstances, as directed by Paul.  We find it hard to give thanks in all circumstances, even if it is the will of God.  We find this difficult because not all of our circumstances are pleasant.

            When confronted with situations that are challenging, when confronted with hardship, our first reaction is to ask God why he would allow such a thing in our life.  In the moment, we don’t see a reason to be grateful.  In fact, we often find in it cause to accuse God.

            We accuse God of being unloving.  We accuse him of injustice.  We accuse him because we don’t think ourselves worthy of such experiences.

            We fail to remember that we’re not deserving of any of the blessings God has bestowed upon us or those that he has to offer.  Because of our sin, the only thing of which we’re deserving is death and condemnation.  Yet, in spite of this, God has done everything necessary to provide for us the forgiveness of sins and eternity in a place where the evils of this life are no more.

            We also fail to realize that, even in our bad experiences, God is working for our blessing.  In Romans 8:28 Paul says: “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” It doesn’t say that everything that happens to us is good.  But, in all things, God is able to work for our good.

            Sometimes, in hindsight, we may come to understand how God was using a hardship for our blessing.  In other cases, we may never fully understand.  But, as believers, we have this confidence and hope.

            In Romans 5, Paul tells us that we can rejoice in our sufferings.  We can do so knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope.  God works through our sufferings to strengthen us.  He works through our sufferings to transform us.  He uses suffering to build within us a confident expectation that everything he’s promised will come to pass.

            So as we approach Thanksgiving, and as we celebrate this meaningful holiday, let us give thanks in all circumstances.  Let us give thanks knowing the great blessing that God has in store for us.  Let us give thanks knowing that, no matter how things may seem, he’s working for our good.  And let us give thanks knowing that God will use even our struggles to draw us closer to himself.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Sunday, at Prince of Peace, we talked about Biblical Marriage. We saw, from a Biblical perspective, that marriage was created by God to be the union of a man and a woman. To listen to this message, click on the link.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Good Grief

“For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death.”

(2Corinthians 7:10 ESV)

            One of the statements I’ve heard repeated by church attenders over the years is that they don’t want to be made to feel guilty.  What they’re saying is that they get uncomfortable when God’s Word steps on their toes, and they don’t like this feeling.  They want to leave church each week feeling good about themselves.

            However, one of the things we learn in Scripture is that the Law of God convicts.  Paul tells us in Romans 3:20 that through the law comes the knowledge of sin.  In other words, as we encounter God’s law, it reveals to us the ways in which we’ve fallen short.

            Unless a pastor or a church avoids God’s Law, unless they avoid addressing issues that might make people uncomfortable, it’s only natural that we’ll at times feel guilty.  We’ll encounter a passage of Scripture that addresses a struggle we’re experiencing.  We’ll encounter a passage that addresses a pet sin from which we don’t want to turn. 

            This is true for all of us.  As a pastor, God’s Word strikes my heart first and foremost as I prepare my messages and Bible studies.  It convicts me before I even bring the message to the church.  And it should be this way, I believe.  It should be this way because, if God hasn’t spoken to me through a passage of Scripture, it’s impossible for me to share it with my congregation.

            It’s also a good thing that we, at times, feel guilty.  It’s good because, unless we understand our sin and realize our guilt, we’ll never see our need for a Savior.  We’ll never place our faith in him, and we’ll never receive his salvation.

            The question, then, becomes this: What do we do with our guilt when we experience it?  What do we do when we’re confronted with our sin and we’re made to feel guilty?  Does our sorrow produce in us the effect intended by God?

As we see in the above passage, everything depends on the type of sorrow we’re experiencing.  Paul is speaking, in this passage, about the first letter he’d written to the Corinthians.  In this letter, he’d corrected them in several areas.  He’d spoken to them very directly as he addressed the sin in their church.  And he’d done this in hope that they might change course.

He acknowledges that, in his letter, he’d caused them to grieve.  But even though he'd caused them to grieve, it had accomplished its intended purpose.  This caused him to rejoice. 
He rejoiced not because he’d grieved them, but because they were grieved into repenting.  He rejoiced because the feelings they experienced led them to turn to the Lord and away from their sinful practices.

            Here’s where he brings out the different types of grief we can experience and the effect they have on us.  He says that godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation.  What he means by this is that, if we receive correction in a godly way, it leads us to turn from our sin and to receive the forgiveness and salvation God has provided for us.

            Worldly grief, on the other hand, produces death.  It leaves us feeling hopeless, and fills us with despair.  So, instead of turning from our sin, we give up.  We resign ourselves to our fate.  In many cases, it leads us to turn away from the Lord.  And, because of this, we miss out on the salvation he’s provided.

            We must understand that God doesn’t point out our sin because he enjoys making us squirm.  He points out our sin because he desires our salvation.  He brings our sin to our attention that we might understand our guilt and our need of a Savior.  He helps us to recognize our wrongdoing that we might receive the salvation provided by Jesus and offered to all who look to him in faith.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Selfless Service

“Do all things without grumbling or questioning, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation…”

(Philippians 2:14-15 ESV)

            Paul talks to us in this chapter about possessing the mind of Christ.  He calls us to look not only to our own interests, but to those of others.  He calls us to count others as more significant than ourselves.  And he uses Jesus and his sacrifice, he uses the fact that Jesus laid down his life for our benefit, as our example.

            Because we’re selfish, because we tend to look primarily to our own interests, it’s hard for us to do this.  It’s hard for us to lay aside our interests for those of others.  It’s hard for us to humble ourselves and to count others as more important than ourselves.

            The above verses make this even more challenging.  They’re more challenging because they address not only our actions, but our attitude.  We’re called to do all things without grumbling or questioning.

If you’re like me, you find this to be very convicting.  It’s convicting because, even when we know the right thing to do, we tend to grumble and complain.  Even if we do the right thing, it’s often done with moans and objections under our breath.

How often does our spouse ask for help and, even though we respond to their request, we grumble and complain as we do so.  How often does a friend ask for help and yet, even though we don’t deny their request, we look for any and every excuse to say no.  We question whether we’re truly obligated to serve them.

This attitude is a reflection of our heart.  It reveals our sinful and selfish tendencies.  It reveals the lack of love and humility found within us.  And it leaves us guilty, it makes us liable, before God.

Even though this may seem minor in our eyes, it’s a sin that we must confess.  We must ask God to change the attitude of our heart that it might better reflect that of Christ.  And, with his help, we must resist this desire to complain when we’re presented with opportunities to serve.

And not only are we called to display an attitude that’s contrary to our natural tendencies.  We’re called to display an attitude that’s in stark contrast to that of the world around us.   We’re called to shine as lights in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation.

The world around us exhibits the same traits that we find within.  It promotes a self-serving attitude and a glorification of the self.  It displays a perverse and a warped approach to life.

Because we’re reflecting the mind of Christ, our selflessness will then shine forth as a testimony to the world around us.  It will be clear to the world that there’s something different about us.  It will point them to Christ who made the ultimate sacrifice on our behalf.  And it may very well give us the opportunity to share the hope that we have within.

May we, then, live as the children of God we were created to be.  May we display a love that leaves us blameless.  And may we seek Christ for the strength we need to do just that. 

Tuesday, October 06, 2015

The Love Passage

“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.” 
(1 Corinthians 13:4-8 ESV)

            The above passage is very well known, and is frequently read at wedding ceremonies.  The reason for this is clear. It describes for us the love to which God has called us.
            That being said, the context of this passage speaks to the church.  We’re told that we should desire the spiritual gifts that God gives to us. However, if we have the greatest gifts imaginable, but not love, they amount to nothing.
            As we consider the description of love given to us in these verses, there are two things for us to consider.  There are two ways that we can make use of this teaching.  And both of these uses will enable us to grow in our walk of faith and to bless others.
A mentor of mine once said that this passage can easily be used as a confessional.  It can be used in this way because, as we read its words, it becomes clear that we’ve fallen short of it in every way possible.  Even though we believe ourselves to be loving, these words force us to face the fact that our love in no way measures up to God’s standard.  And this is a thought that really struck me.
            We can look at this passage and confess that we are not patient and that we are not kind.  We can look at it and confess that we are often envious and boastful, that we are frequently arrogant and rude.  You get the idea.  And as we confess our shortcomings, we can then ask God to forgive us for the many ways we’ve fallen short.
            We can also look at this passage and aspire to love in the way it’s described.  Recognizing our inability to do so, we can ask God to create within us the love for others we read about in these words.  Seeing our selfishness, we can make a conscious effort to resist those impulses, to lay aside the emotions that often hinder our love, and to sacrificially give ourselves to those around us. 
We can seek to love others in a way that is not selfish in any way.  We can seek to love in a way that seeks not our own welfare, but that of others.  And we can do this in our marriage, in the church, and among those who have not yet placed their faith in Jesus. We can seek to use the gifts given to us by God not for our own benefit, but for the blessing of others.

We’ll never master this love on this side of eternity.  But, as we seek God’s forgiveness, and as we seek to love others with the compassion he places in our heart, we will grow in this love day by day.  We’ll grow in our ability to lay aside our self-love and to serve one another.