Wednesday, December 27, 2017

The Sacred Nature of Life

“Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, declares the Lord GOD, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live?”

(Ezekiel 18:23 ESV)

January is a month that has been recognized as Sanctity of Life Month. The 21st of January will be Sanctity of Life Sunday.  It’s a time to remember that, because it was created by God, all human life is sacred.

Our focus, during this time of year, is typically on abortion. And it’s needless to say that this practice is a terrible evil. However, the scope of this remembrance goes much further. It speaks to issues such as euthanasia, physician assisted suicide, in vitro fertilization, living wills, contraception, and more.

One of the primary things we must remember, when it comes to life issues, is that God is the giver of life. Life flows from him. And life has value because of him.

We remember from the creation account that God formed man and breathed into him the breath of life. We’re told also, in John 1, that life is in the Word, that it’s in Jesus. And we find in Scripture that not only did God provide for us life in this world. He’s also provided for us eternal life. Through Jesus he’s enabled us to live not only for eighty, ninety, or even one hundred years. He’s enabled us to live forever.

Even though he is just, even though he issued the punishment of death upon man in response to our sin, and even though he’s decreed the punishment of hell for those who do not receive salvation, he doesn’t take pleasure in this. He is not a sadistic God who celebrates as the wicked receive their due. As we see in the above passage, it’s his desire that the wicked should turn from his way and live.

It’s God’s desire that all should live.  It’s his desire that all should live forever.  And, for this reason, he’s made eternal life available for everyone.  Jesus’ death served as the atoning sacrifice for the lives of not only a few, but for all.

This great blessing is available to all people through faith in him.  By trusting in Jesus, by trusting in his sacrifice, we’re enabled to receive salvation.  And we are called to take this message to the world around us.

Seeing that God desires life for all, we should share this desire. We should desire that people would gratefully receive the blessing of life in this world, and that it would not be denied them.  And we should also desire that all people will receive the blessing of eternal life. It should be our desire that, through faith in Jesus, they will receive salvation from sin and death.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

The Proper Use of Freedom

“Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God.  Honor everyone.  Love the brotherhood.  Fear God.  Honor the emperor.”

(1 Peter 2:16-17)

As Christians, we tend to err in one of two ways. Some of us fall into legalism. We depend upon the law to attain for us salvation and the blessing of God. And, on the other side of the spectrum, some of us fall into antinomianism. We believe that, because we’re saved by grace, it doesn’t matter what we do. We feel that we can do as we please because God freely forgives us.

Both of these mindsets are a misunderstanding of the gospel. Scripture tells us that the Law does not save us. In fact, it cannot do so. And it also tells us that the Christian life is one of repentance. It’s a life of turning from sin and living for the Lord.

In the above verses, Peter tells us to live as people who are free. And we should do just that.  We should do so because, again, we are not saved by our obedience to the law, but by the grace of God. We have also been freed from the requirements of the ceremonial law.

This truth takes a great weight off of our shoulders. No longer must we be consumed by efforts to earn our salvation. And no longer are we burdened by unrealistic requirements that have nothing to do with our redemption.

However, that being said, we are not to use this freedom as an excuse for our sin. We cannot live as we please, doing as we choose, believing that our sinful actions will be overlooked by God. We must not live in unrepentance, believing that it doesn’t matter.

We must bear in mind that, since we’re now free from this bondage, we are servants of God.  We must not forget that our life belongs to him. And we must not forget that we’ve been called to willingly and gladly honor him in all that we do.

In this spirit, we’re to honor everyone. We’re to love the brotherhood, meaning the people of the church. We’re to fear God. And we’re also to honor those who rule over us.  In all of these ways, we act as servants of God.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Above Reproach

“Be subject for the Lord's sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people.”

 (1 Peter 2:13-15 ESV)

As we live in this world, Christians are often accused. Some of these accusations are made in an effort to discredit us, while others are made in an effort to shame us. This is done with the goal of silencing us and discrediting our ministry.

These accusations often have the intended effect. We cringe when, as believers in Jesus, we’re referred to as a “goody-two-shoes” or as a “do-gooder.” These comments are intended as insults, and this is the way that we take them.  And, for this reason, we seem determined to prove that we can sin with the best of them.

We are, of course, sinners. It’s not my intention to imply otherwise.  However, our desire to fit in with the world around us opens us to sins we otherwise might not commit.

We seem to think that we can only reach out to the world if we identify with them.  And, by identify with them, I mean taking part with them in their sin. We think that we must talk like them and behave like them if they’re to listen to us.

We’re also, at times, dismissive of “small” sins that we commit. Even though we do our best to keep from falling into the "big" sins, we pay little attention to others. We intentionally drive above the speed limit. We cheat on our taxes. We park illegally. We refuse to submit to the authorities in these ways because, in our mind, it’s no big deal.

However, as we see in the above passage, our actions serve as a testimony to the world around us. It reveals to them, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that we are different. It reveals to them that we have, indeed, been set apart from the world around us. It reveals to them that we have been transformed by the gospel.

As they accuse us, as they seek to find fault with us, our life silences them. When they see the good that we do, they can only conclude that we are, in fact, living out our faith. And, in this way, all of their efforts to discredit us come to nothing.

This is God’s will for us, according to Peter. It’s his desire that we will live life in such a way that our accusers have nothing left to say.  It’s his will that we live our life in such a way that their ignorance is made clear. It’s his will that, as people look at our lives, there is no question that these accusations are baseless.

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

Because of His Great Mercy

“For we do not present our pleas before you because of our righteousness, but because of your great mercy.”

(Dan 9:18 ESV)

Prayer is something in which we regularly engage. As we go through our day to day life, and as we encounter various trials and struggles, we end up with a laundry list of requests for the Lord. We then go to the Lord, asking him to help us with these trials and to remove from us our struggles.

We’re also confronted with our sin on a daily basis. And, as we recognize our wrongdoing, we again go to the Lord in prayer. We go to him asking that he might forgive us.

Typically, when we bring our requests to the Lord, we approach him arguing that we are deserving of the blessing we seek. We make our request, reminding him of our faithfulness. We make our request, reminding him of our love for him. We make our request, reminding him of our goodness and of our obedience to him.

We’ll also, at times, make our request promising something in return. We tell God that, if he grants to us the blessing we seek, we’ll do something for him. We’ll perform some duty that, up to this point, we’ve been hesitant to perform. We’ll surrender an area of our life that, up to this point, we’ve held back.

We fail to realize, as we pray in this way, that we are not depending on the grace of God for his blessing. We are, instead, engaging in works righteousness. We’re trying to earn God’s blessings by our efforts. We are seeking his blessing because of our imagined sense of inherent righteousness.

We fail to realize that we’re a sinful people and that, because of our sin, we deserve nothing from God. In fact, the only thing we deserve from him is judgment. We cannot rightly approach him for any blessing based upon our own merit.

We must, instead, follow the example of Daniel, in the above passage. As he asked for God’s mercy for himself and his people, and as he requested God’s blessing, he didn’t base it upon their goodness. He did not approach God believing that they were deserving of this blessing. He approached God, asking for his grace.

He tells God that he approaches him, not because of the righteousness of his people. He approaches God because of his mercy. He approaches God not because of their character, but because of his.

As we approach God, we must do the same. We must do so recognizing our unworthiness. We must do so recognizing that only by of his grace can we receive his blessing. We must approach him based not upon who we are, but upon who he is.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Salvation Has Come

“In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.’”

(Matthew 3:1-2 ESV)

The coming of Jesus meant the coming of salvation, which is why we celebrate his birth each year. And it was for this reason that, as John the Baptist began his ministry, it was with a sense of urgency. He proclaimed to the people that they were to repent because the kingdom of heaven was at hand.

Jesus began his ministry with the very same message. We see in Matthew 4 that, after his baptism, and after his temptation in the wilderness, he too urged the people to repent. He urged them to do so because the kingdom of heaven was at hand.

The NIV translates the last phrase of this passage “the kingdom of heaven has come near.” And this helps us to understand the message of both John and Jesus. The phrase written by Matthew means that the kingdom of heaven has come near, it has drawn near, or that it’s approaching.

God’s salvation was not something in the distant future. It wasn’t far off. It wasn’t out of reach or unavailable to the people. The Savior himself was in the world. And, for this reason, it was time for the people to repent. It was time for them to turn from their sin and to receive the salvation that was in their midst.

This is also the message that we are bringing to the world today. And it carries with it the same sense of urgency. It does so because God’s salvation is at hand. It does so because, through faith in the Messiah, salvation from sin and death is available to us.

It isn’t something that’s far off or out of reach. It’s not something that’s merely a possibility. God’s salvation is here, it’s available to us, right now.

It also carries a sense of urgency because we know that, one day soon, the Lord will return. Although we don’t know the timing of this event, we are assured in Scripture that it will be soon. And, when he does so, the day of grace will come to an end.

As we rejoice in the salvation of God this season, may we also share this sense of urgency. Knowing that the kingdom of heaven has been opened to us, knowing that salvation is available here and now, may we earnestly proclaim this truth to all. May we proclaim it to the people of our own community and nation. But may we also continue in our efforts to carry it to the ends of the earth.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Would Christmas Be Christmas?

“For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”

(Luke 2:11 ESV)


Christmas, in the United States, tends to be quite elaborate. There is a way that we celebrate the day. Although we put our own little twists on it, depending on our family, most of it is largely the same.

In contrast, the very first Christmas was quite ordinary, by all regards. The shepherds were out doing their job, taking care of their sheep. But, suddenly, they received good news. A host of angels appeared proclaiming to them that the Christ had been born.

After I was ordained, I immediately moved out to San Diego as I began serving my first congregation. And that first Christmas, the Christmas of 1998, was strange. Everything that was familiar about the holiday was suddenly gone

The most notable difference was that, for the first time in my life, I would not be spending Christmas with my family. I now lived hundreds of miles away from them. And, even though that distance can be covered very quickly by plane, my position required that I be there for Christmas services. I was also single, at the time, meaning I had no family whatsoever with whom to share the holiday.  It was also the first Christmas I’d ever felt lonely.

There were other differences as well. Being alone, I did very little decorating. It was the first Christmas I’d spent without many of the traditional embellishments. I only put up a small tree in my home.

It was odd seeing Christmas lights in palm trees, rather than pine trees, as I drove through the city. It was the first Christmas I’d spent in the warmth, with no winter weather at all. In fact, I spent part of Christmas Eve at the home of the senior pastor, with whom I served, sitting by his pool. It was too cool to swim, but it was lovely on the patio. 

Yet, in spite of the differences, and in spite of the simplicity, it was still Christmas. The message of the season and the hope brought by it were the same. I found that, even though our traditions are nice, they are not what define the day.

You could have the trees and the snow, you could have the family gatherings and presents, but without the gospel, without the message of Jesus’ birth, it would not be Christmas. The other aspects of the day may be fun, but they are not what make it Christmas. It’s Jesus that makes the day what it is.

This is something that we should each consider: Would Christmas be Christmas without a beautiful tree? Would Christmas be Christmas without snow? Would Christmas be Christmas without a big family dinner and time with our loved ones? Would Christmas be Christmas without the weeks of shopping and gift exchanges? Would Christmas be Christmas if all you had was the simple message of the day and the time to glorify God for his salvation?

Monday, November 20, 2017

They Are Watching You

“Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.”

(1Peter 2:12 ESV)

When someone who is different comes among us, we take notice. We take notice because they stand out. We’re curious to see who they are and what makes them distinct from ourselves.

If we see someone who is dressed noticeably different, we observe them. If we notice someone speaking a different language, our ears perk up and we pay attention. If we see someone who is clearly from another culture, we instinctive watch them.

I’ve caught myself doing this here in the US. However, I’ve also been on the receiving end of this behavior. As I’ve travelled to other nations around the world, and as I’ve been the one who stands out, I’ve noticed people watching me.

We often fail to realize that, as Christians, as people of faith, we are distinct from the world around us. And for this reason, we will naturally stand out. People will be watching us and observing our lives. They will do so in an effort to figure us out.

For this reason, in the above verse, Peter encourages us to keep our conduct honorable among unbelievers. Our actions, our decisions, and the way that we speak should stand out. They should glorify the God that we represent.

This may lead some of them to take our message seriously. It may create within them a curiosity and a willingness to listen to our message. But it may not. They may notice the difference between us and them and scoff at us. They may remain critical of us and continue to accuse us.

Either way, when they see our good deeds, when they see the way that we live our life, they will notice. And, even if they refuse to do so now, they will glorify God on the day of visitation. On the day when Jesus returns, on the day that God reveals himself to the world, they’ll be able to do nothing else.

The question for us is this: Are we living a life that glorifies God? Are we living a life that stands as a testimony to the world around us? Are we living a life that’s consistent with the gospel we proclaim?

Because of our sinful nature, we all fall short.  And, when we do so, we must confess our sin and turn from it. We must seek, with the strength God provides, to live a life that is consistent with our message. We must seek to live a life that’s glorifying to him.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Minimizing the Threat

“Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul.”
‭‭1 Peter‬ ‭2:11‬ ‭ESV‬‬

Theologians have noted that there are three enemies which war against our soul: the devil, the world, and our sinful nature. And I believe that we understand the threat posed by the first two. However, I don’t think we grasp the danger of the third.

We understand that the devil opposes Christ and those who are his. He would like nothing more than to have us condemned to hell for all eternity. And, knowing this, we understand the importance of resisting him.

We also understand the danger of the world. We know that the world naturally opposes Christ. Because it is under the bondage of sin, it resists him at every turn. And it seeks to lure away from Christ those who trust in him.

Yet, when it comes to our flesh, when it comes to our sinful nature, we seem to minimize the danger. Although we acknowledge that we are sinners, and although we confess that we’re far from perfect, we seem to think the danger is minuscule.

Believing our intentions to be good, and not questioning our motives, we believe that our flesh is somewhat trustworthy. We scoff at those who’ve practiced extreme asceticism in an effort to put down the power of the flesh. And we instead choose to toy with it in our day to day life.

Peter is clear about the danger the flesh poses in the above verse. He urges us to abstain from the passions of the flesh. And he urges us to do so because they wage war against our soul.

The passions of our flesh are quite literally fighting against us. They seek to lure us from God. They seek ultimately our eternal destruction.

Coming to terms with this truth means taking more seriously the passions of the flesh. It means that, knowing their danger, we fight them as never before. We do so that our flesh might not find itself victorious, achieving the demise of our eternal soul.

We do this not by our own strength. We do so by looking to the Lord for strength. Confessing our sin, living in daily repentance, and standing firm in our faith, we resist it. We count our eternal blessedness of more value than the fleeting pleasures these passions provide.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Whose Glory Do We Seek?

“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. Once you were not a people, but now you are God's people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.”

(1 Peter 2:9-10 ESV)

We’ve seen already that, as believers in Jesus, God has made us a kingdom of priests. And, in the above passage, we see this truth once again. However, we also see the purpose of our priesthood.

We are a chosen race, we are a royal priesthood, we are a holy nation, we are a people for his own possession, that we might proclaim the excellencies of the one who saved us. We are his that we might declare his praises. In other words, we are his that we might testify of him and what he’s done for us. 

We have been sent out into the world that others might hear of him and place their faith in him. This truth is nothing new. Most of us are familiar with the Great Commission, and we understand this calling that God has placed on our life.

However, our tendency is to proclaim our own excellencies. Our tendency is to sing our own praises. We desire to make a name for ourselves and to earn the admiration of the masses.

We want to be thought of as wonderful parents. We want to be thought of as the best spouse. When it comes to our career, we want to be recognized as the best in our field. We want to be thought of as intelligent, caring, and hard-working. We then set out to prove these things to the world around us.

This is even true of us as we seek to serve God. We serve him, but there’s often an underlying motive in our service. We want the credit for the things that we do. We want others to think highly of us. We desire recognition not only from God, but also from man.

We want to be looked up to as an example of faith. We long to be admired for the things we do in the church. We may even seek the offices and titles which we believe will lead to this recognition. 

However, as priests of God, we are a people who have been called to serve God alone. As his priests, as his people, our focus is not to be upon ourselves. Our focus is not to be upon the honor we can gain for ourselves. We are called to point people to Christ and to the things he’s done for us.

Monday, November 06, 2017

Not An Entitlement, But An Honor

“For it stands in Scripture: "Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious, and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame." So the honor is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe, "The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone," and "A stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense." They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.”

(1Peter 2:6-8 ESV)

In our society, today, we have an attitude of entitlement. When bad things happen to us, we don’t think we deserve them. However, we do believe that we deserve every good thing. We believe that we’re deserving of every blessing God has to offer.

We must bear in mind that God’s blessing is not granted to us because of any inherent goodness in ourselves. Nor is it granted to us because of anything that we do. It’s given to us through faith.

Peter told us previously that, as believers, we are being built into a spiritual house. He now carries this picture into the above passage. And we see that Jesus is the cornerstone of this house.

In other words, the entire house is dependent upon him. It is built on him. He is the foundation upon which the rest of the building takes shape.

For this reason, according to Peter, the one who believes in Jesus will not be put to shame. Being incorporated into this house is an honor that God has given to those who believe. It’s a privilege that he gives to those who trust in him.

Those without faith in Christ, those who do not believe in him, will not share in this honor. They will not share in this blessing. Instead, Jesus will be for them a stone of stumbling. He will be the cause of their downfall.

In this way, Peter makes it clear that everything is dependent upon Jesus. We receive the blessings of God through faith in him alone. And, if we reject him, if we fail to trust in him, we can receive no blessing. In that case, we will receive only the consequences of our sin.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

The Priesthood of All Believers

“As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”

(1Peter 2:4-5 ESV)

As we think, today, of the Reformation, this passage stands out.  In Luther’s Day, priests were viewed as holier than the people around them. Their work was viewed as greater in the eyes of God than that of others. However, he understood a simple truth from Scripture.  He understood that all believers are priests.

This is a truth Peter brings out in the above passage. He points out that, as we come to Christ, we are being built up into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices to God. In this way, he tells us that all believers are priests set apart to serve God.

Even though most of us do not belong to the Catholic Church nor subscribe to Catholic doctrine, we tend to hold a similar mindset. We would never think of ourselves as a priest. We don’t think of ourselves as good enough to serve in this way.

We also think of their work as more significant than our own. We think that they serve God on a daily basis, while we do not. We think of our work as common and their work as spiritual.

We are wrong on both counts. We are good enough to be priests, not because of anything in ourselves, but because of Jesus. By his sacrifice, we have been made holy, and set apart for his service.

We also serve God on a daily basis. We serve him in our vocations. We serve him as a husband, wife, father, or mother. We serve him as a son or daughter. We serve him in our career. We serve him as we seek to be responsible citizens of our community and nation. And we use the gifts that he has given us for the edification of the church. We do everything for his glory and for the blessing of our fellow man.

Through Christ, we are all priests. Through Christ, we are all servants of God. And, through Christ, we all offer sacrifices to God. However, the sacrifices we offer are spiritual in nature. We don’t cut the throats of sheep or bulls. There is no need because Christ, by his death, has paid the penalty of our sin once and for all. We, instead, offer to him the sacrifices of prayer, praise, and thanksgiving. We offer to him the sacrifice of our service, for his glory.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Because You Are Saved

“So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander. Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation-- if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.”

(1Peter 2:1-3 ESV)

As Christians, we often get things backwards.  We tend to think that, before we can be forgiven, we must clean up our lives. We think that we must become obedient and, only then, will God save us. And, as our failures mount, we often lose hope and doubt that we could ever be saved.

We also express this false gospel with the world around us. We tell them to clean up their lives before we share with them the true gospel. We believe that they must get rid of the sin in their lives and, only then, will God save them.

We see the proper order of things in the words of Peter, above. The “so” that begins this passage ties it back to the previous one. In other words, it’s because of the truth contained at the end of chapter 1 that we’re able to do what he commands in chapter 2.

Because we’ve been born again through the living and abiding Word of God, we’re to put away all malice and deceit. Because we’ve been born again, we’re to put away hypocrisy and slander. Because we’ve been born again, we’re to long for the pure spiritual milk. It's for this reason that we’re to long for the Word of God.

We do these things, as he tells us in verse 3, because we’ve tasted that the Lord is good. We do this because we know his goodness for ourselves. We do so because we’ve experienced his goodness in our life.

As we live in the gospel, as we live in God’s salvation, we continually turn from our sin. We do so by living in repentance and faith. Turning from sin and trusting in Jesus is not simply a one-time thing,  but a constant state in which we live as believers.

It’s true that we must understand our sin before we can receive the gospel. However, apart from the grace of God, we’re not able to change our behavior. It’s only because we are saved from sin, it’s only by his strength, that we’re able to put these things out of our lives.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Born Through the Word

“Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God; for "All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls, but the word of the Lord remains forever." And this word is the good news that was preached to you.”

 (1Peter 1:22-25 ESV)

As believers in Jesus, we have been born again. This means that we’ve been given new life by God. While we once lived in the bondage of sin and death, we have been born from above. We’ve been born of God that we might be his people.

This is a wonderful truth.  But how does this happen? How are we born again? Peter tells us, in the above passage, that we are born again through the living and abiding word of God. 

We have a tendency to underestimate the power of the Word of God. We think of the Bible as a book that merely gives us information about God. We think of it as a history book, relaying to us how God has interacted with mankind throughout history. We think of it only as a book that gives us instruction on how to live.

While the Bible does all of these things, we often fail to realize that it’s a means of grace. We fail to realize that, through the Word, we receive the grace of God. As we hear God’s Word, or as we read it, and as we trust in him, we receive God’s grace.

This is a truth that Paul brings out to us in Romans 10. He tells us that we can’t call on the name of the Lord unless we first believe in him.  He goes on to say that we can’t believe in him unless we’ve first heard of him. In other words, as we hear the Word of God, we’re enabled to trust in Christ and to receive his salvation.

We also tend to think that the Bible is a book that is limited by time. We think that, if the authors of Scripture knew what we know now, they would not have said the things that they did. We think that the message of Scripture was true for the people of Biblical times, but not for us today. We tend to think of the Bible as a book that was written by mere men and, for this reason, we think it’s as limited as men.

However, even though the grass and flowers may perish, God’s Word abides forever. It will always remain.  Again, it is the living and abiding Word of God.

As we read Scripture, and as we hear it taught, may we look to it in this way. May we look to it as God’s timeless, eternal Word. And may we look to it as a means of his grace. May we realize that, each time we encounter God’s Word, he’s giving to us the opportunity to receive life.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Because You’ve Been Born Again

“Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God…”
‭‭1 Peter‬ ‭1:22-23‬ ‭ESV

The message that we’re to love one another is nothing new. We see it time and again in Scripture. And, in the above passage, Peter calls on us to love one another earnestly.

We all fail, when it comes to this command. We fail to love each other as God calls us. And even though this is a problem, the bigger problem is the way we excuse this failure.

We excuse our failure to love by pointing to our sinful nature.  We’re sinners, we say. We say that nobody’s perfect. And, although this is true, we use this truth in a way it’s not intended to be used.

We use this to excuse our ongoing behavior. We use it to dismiss the clear and obvious sin in our life. We use this truth to explain why we’ve acted so unloving, and why this behavior will continue in the future. We use it to say that we do not intend to turn from our sin and to walk in love as God has called us.

Peter approaches this differently. We are to love one another earnestly, he says, because we’ve been born again of imperishable seed. In other words, we’re to love one another earnestly because we’ve been born of God and have received the blessing of everlasting life.

Even though it’s true that our sinful nature will remain a part of us until we meet the Lord face to face, it’s not to dictate our actions. It’s the salvation of God that’s to do so. We are to love one another earnestly because Christ has saved us from sin and death.

Because we’ve been saved from sin, we’re to love one another earnestly. Because we are the children of God, we’re to love one another earnestly. This is the identity in which we’re to live.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Taking the Grace of God for Granted

“And if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one's deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile, knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.”

(1 Peter 1:17-19)

As a people who have heard the gospel time and again, our tendency is to take it lightly. We begin to take the grace of God for granted. We begin thinking that our way of life does not matter because God loves us and will forgive us no matter what we do. We go through our day to day life assuming that God’s grace will be present in our life even though we completely disregard him.

We’re reminded of a few truths in the above passage that should cause us to think twice. They cause us to rethink our flippant attitude when it comes to God. They create within us an attitude of repentance. And they cause us to value his grace above the sin to which we desperately cling.

We’re reminded, first of all, that God judges impartially according to each one’s deeds. In other words, God doesn’t show favoritism. He’s not going to hold us to a different standard than he will others because we were raised in the church or in a Christian home. His judgment is based on his holiness and righteousness, a standard up to which none of us can live.

We’re, then, called upon to conduct ourselves with fear throughout the time of our exile, or the time of our life here in this world. We’re reminded, in these words, that this world is not our home. We are citizens of God’s kingdom, and must live as such. We must live as his representatives, as his ambassadors, until the day he calls us home.

This also means that we must live reverent lives. We must realize our place before God. And, for this reason, we must defer to the Lord in all that we do. We must seek to honor and glorify him in all things.

We are to do this knowing that our salvation came at a great price. Our sin was not something that God was able to simply overlook. It required the life of his Son. Jesus had to give his life on the cross for us, that we might be forgiven. He had to give his life, even though he knew no sin and was in no way deserving of this fate.

When we consider these truths, we realize that we cannot take God’s forgiveness and mercy for granted. We can’t count on them while we’re embracing sin and rejecting his deliverance. His grace is more valuable than anything else we could possess, and we’ll treat it as such.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

The Transforming Power of the Gospel

“Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, "You shall be holy, for I am holy."

(1Peter 1:13-16 ESV)

As a people who have been saved, the course of our life has been forever changed. Now that we’ve been freed from sin and death, and now that we are receiving the salvation of our souls, we are released to a life of service to God. And we prepare ourselves for this service, we remain sober-minded, by setting our hope on the grace of God.

It’s not our will-power, but the gospel, that motivates this service, or this action. It’s a response to the salvation God has promised us, and it’s also empowered by the gospel. Knowing that, at the return of Christ, we’ll be welcomed into the kingdom of God, knowing that we’ll be released from this carnal existence, we are both motivated and enabled to live a new life.

As a people who’ve been saved, as a people who’ve been made to be the children of God, we’re not to be conformed to the sinful desires of our past. We’re not to allow ourselves to be enslaved once again to these passions. We’re, instead, to reflect the nature of the God who saved us.  As he’s holy, we’re called to be holy.

Many of us, who profess faith in Christ, fail to realize the freedom we’ve been given. We fail to set our hope on the grace of God. Even after confessing faith in Christ, we continue our efforts to satisfy our sinful desires. We do not repent. We do not turn from the sin from which God has saved us.

However, by setting our hope on the grace of God, this will change. Instead of the pursuit of worldly pleasure, the glories of God’s kingdom will be our heart’s longing. We’ll yearn for something that’s far greater than the pleasures of this life. And, in this way, we’ll begin to desire the things that he desires.

We won’t be perfect on this side of eternity. We won’t perfectly reflect the holiness of God until we’re transformed on the last day. However, the desire of our heart will be to please him. We’ll desire only to live in the freedom he’s granted us. And, for this reason, we’ll turn our back on the sinful desires that have tormented and enslaved us.

Monday, October 09, 2017

The Sole Focus of Scripture

“Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories. It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look.”

(1Peter 1:10-12 ESV)

There’s a mistake we tend to make when it comes to the Bible. Even though we believe that the God of the Old Testament is also the God of the New Testament, we tend to think that these two parts of the Bible have a different focus. We tend to think that the focus of the Old Testament is law and that of the New Testament is gospel.

We also make the mistake of thinking that, although we are saved by the grace of God through faith, believers of Old Testament times were saved by their obedience. We don’t seem to grasp the fact that, just as we’re unable to keep God’s law, just as we’re unable to save ourselves, the same was also true of them. We don’t seem to grasp the fact that they too were saved by grace through faith.

The focus of Scripture from beginning to end is one. This is what Peter is pointing out to us in the above passage. He’s telling us that the prophets who spoke in the Old Testament were testifying about Jesus. God gave to them his promises of the coming Savior.

This is why Jesus was able to point back to the Old Testament as he explained his purpose.  We see an example of this in Luke 24, as Jesus appeared to two of his followers on the road to Emmaus after his resurrection. They were trying to make sense of everything that had taken place.  Then, in verse 27, we read: “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.”

This doesn’t mean that the prophets or the people of Old Testament times had a complete understanding of Jesus. This is why, we’re told, they inquired carefully what person or time was being indicated. God was revealing to them about the salvation that was to come, and they wanted to know more. They longed to understand the details of his coming.

In this sense, the Old Testament prophets were serving us. By their message, they were revealing to us the Savior who’s been born into the world. They were pointing us to Jesus, who came into the world that he might provide for us salvation.

For this reason, my challenge to you is this: As you read the Bible, from beginning to end, look for Jesus. He is the sole focus of Scripture. From Genesis to Revelation, God is revealing to us his Son, who came into the world to save us from sin and death.

Wednesday, October 04, 2017

The Outcome of Faith

“Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”

(1Peter 1:8-9 ESV)

Peter was called by Christ early on in his ministry, and he faithfully followed Jesus throughout his time on earth. And not only was he one of the twelve disciples, he was also part of the inner-circle. Along with James and John, he was closer to Jesus than any of the others.

As we read the gospels, we see that Peter was an eyewitness to the things Jesus said and did. He heard the teaching of Jesus first-hand. And, with his own eyes, he witnessed the many miracles Jesus performed, including his resurrection from the dead.

Considering this, we often tend to think that Peter had a leg up on us. We think that he was more blessed than you or I. However, we must bear in mind the words of Jesus, spoken to Thomas, in John 20:29, where he says: “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed."

This, I believe, is what Peter is getting at in the above verses. He tells us that, although we haven’t seen Jesus, we love him. And even though we can’t see him now, we believe in him and rejoice in him. This is the very definition of faith. As we read in Hebrews 11:1, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”

He then goes on to say that we are obtaining the outcome of our faith, the salvation of our souls. In these words, we are reminded of the fact that we are saved by faith. We are saved as we believe, as we trust, in Jesus.

This is the central truth of the Reformation, which began 500 years ago. Even though works flow naturally from faith, it is not they that save us. Nor is salvation a commodity that can be bought. It’s a free gift of God, given to us through faith in Jesus.

May we, then, continue to love Jesus. May we continue to believe and to rejoice in him. May we continue to do so in spite of the fact that we have not seen him. And may we live in the confidence that, through faith, we are receiving the salvation of our souls.

Monday, October 02, 2017

The Necessity of Hardship

“In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith-- more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire-- may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”

(1Peter 1:6-7 ESV)

We tend to believe, mistakenly, that life should be easy. We tend to believe, mistakenly, that, because we’re saved, God will spare us from all trials. And for this reason, we’re constantly disappointed, we’re constantly frustrated, with the continuing difficulties we face.

We fail to recognize that, although we have a great hope, we have not been promised an easy life in this world. We rejoice in the hope of the gospel, although we continue to be grieved by various trials. But, as Peter points out, these trials are not meaningless.

These trials vary from person to person. Yet, there is a purpose in the various trials we face. There’s a purpose in these trials, which are allowed by God.  Peter refers to them as necessary.

The purpose of these trials is to test the genuineness of our faith. Faith, you see, remains constant in the face of hardships. In fact, our trials will cause us to look to the Lord all the more. In this way, it proves our faith. In this way, it demonstrates our faith. And as our faith is proven, time and again, it results in praise, glory, and honor for the Lord.


Because of this, as we face various trials, we should not respond with complaint and disappointment. We should realize that, through these trials, God is at work in our life. We should recognize that, by testing our faith, he is proving our faith. And we should recognize that, as he does so, he is bringing praise and glory to himself.

Knowing this, as we’re confronted with trials and hardships, we should ask God to build us in faith. We should trust that he is not working for our harm, but for our good. We must recognize that his purpose is not to upend our faith, but to confirm it. And, in all things, we should continue to rejoice in the hope of the salvation he has promised us.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

A Better Hope

“It is better to take refuge in the LORD than to trust in man. It is better to take refuge in the LORD than to trust in princes.”

(Psalm 118:8-9 ESV)

In my last post, we looked at the beginning of 1 Peter, and were reminded about the true source of hope for the believer in Jesus. We found that, through the Lord, we have been born again to a living hope. And this hope is not only for the moment. It’s one the endures for eternity.

This is a great comfort. And the reminder found in the above verses ties right in with this. It’s better to trust in the Lord than in man. It’s better to take refuge in him than in princes.

This is a sin to which we are all prone. As we face difficulties in this world, we tend to place our hope in man. As we’re faced with domestic and international threats, it could be a particular leader or politician in whom we place our trust. We might place our trust in the military. As we’re faced with health struggles, it could be a doctor in whom we place our trust. As we face existential crises, we might put our trust in a particular teacher or religious leader. The examples are endless.

In the current political climate here in the United States, I think we are prone to putting our faith in a particular leader. As a friend and a fellow AFLC pastor, Jason Gudim, recently published: “Our nation’s obsession with political saviors and antichrists is doing much more harm than any single political figure – male or female – has done in America…We are now prone to placing our hopes on a specific and personal political messiah instead of taking the initiative to finding and contributing to a solution.

Many on the left looked to President Obama as their political Messiah. In the same way, many on the right now look to President Trump as the one who will set all things right. In many ways, we’ve become more focused on politics, we’ve placed our hope more in man, than the Lord.

Many have become fearful of a nuclear North Korea. And we must admit that this is a very real threat. One way in which I am guilty is that I’ve placed my trust in our military. I know that we have a military more powerful than any on earth. I know that we have technology that is far more advanced than that of this enemy. And, for this reason, I’ve felt comforted. I’ve believed that we are generally safe from the attacks of this enemy. I’ve done so rather than simply trusting in the Lord as my help and my salvation.

The Lord is the only one in whom we should trust. He alone is to be our refuge. Although he can use princes, and although he can use military might, it’s he alone who can provide for us salvation.

The question each of us must ponder is this: In what ways have we trusted in man rather than the Lord? In what ways have we trusted in princes rather than the Lord? We must then repent, ask the Lord to forgive us for Christ’s sake, and ask him to turn our hearts toward him and him alone.

Monday, September 25, 2017

The Source of Our Hope

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God's power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.”

(1Peter 1:3-5 ESV)

Hope is essential in this life.  As we live in a world of sin, as we live in a world suffering the consequences of sin, we need hope. Without it, life suddenly feels futile. We swiftly begin feeling discouraged and desperate.

As we live our life in this world, we place our hope in various places. We place our hope in wealth and possessions. We place our hope in man, whether it be a loved one, a physician, or a political leader.  We place our hope in various religions and philosophical systems.

However, all of these sources of hope are only temporary.  They are fleeting and futile. Even if they sustain us in the short-term, they end up disappointing us. They disappoint us because none of them can deliver us from sin. None of them can deliver us from suffering and death.  None of them can truly save us.

This is where the gospel steps in.  Peter, in the above passage, tells us that God has caused us to be born again to a living hope. In other words, it’s not simply a passing wish. It’s not merely a temporary source of confidence. It’s something that is true and enduring. And he’s done this through the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. 

His resurrection fills us with hope because it assures us that the penalty of our sin has truly been paid. It fills us with hope because it assures us that the power death has been defeated.  And, in this way, it enables us to confidently trust in the promises of God.

It fills us with the hope of an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading. In other words, it’s eternal, and it isn’t stained or corrupted by sin. It’s the hope of a never-ending existence in the presence of God. It’s the hope of an existence free from death or mourning or crying or pain (Revelation 21:4).

It’s also secure.  It’s not something that can be taken from us.  It cannot be taken from us by man, or by the enemy of our souls. It cannot be taken because, as Peter tells us, it’s kept in heaven for us. It’s kept in heaven for we who are guarded by faith for salvation, which will be revealed in the last time.

The question that we must ask ourselves, as we’re continually confronted with sin and the suffering that flows from it, is this: What is the source of our hope? Are we continuing to place our hope in the temporary and the powerless?  Or are we placing our hope in the only true source of salvation?

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Repeating the Mistakes of the Past

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”

(Ephesians 2:8-9 ESV)

October 31st of this year marks the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. It was 500 years ago, on this day, that Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the castle church in Wittenberg, Germany. He did so to open up debate on some abuses that were taking place within the Catholic Church.

One of the main abuses he protested was the selling of indulgences. It was taught that, because of the faithfulness of the apostles and the saints, there was a storehouse of grace available to the people. And they were able to access this grace through the purchase of an indulgence.

The people paid money to receive an indulgence for themselves or for a loved one. And, in this way, it was taught that their time in purgatory would be lessened. A particular phrase, circulating at the time, provoked Luther. It said: “When the coin in the coffer rings, the soul from purgatory springs.”

As we read this today, it sounds like an interesting tidbit from history. However, it hardly seems applicable to us today. After all, most of us realize that the concept of purgatory is not found in the Bible. We’re also very familiar with the teaching of Scripture, seen above, which assures us that salvation is a free gift, a gift of grace, given to us by God.

We are not saved by the things that we do. And this is true not only of us. It’s true also of the apostles. This tells us that there is no storehouse of grace earned by them or by anyone that is available to us.

It also tells us that grace cannot be purchased. The only grace that is available to us is that which is received through faith in Christ. It is a gift of God, given to us. And, for this reason, we have no cause to boast in ourselves.

However, even though most of us possess this knowledge, we are often guilty of the same abuse protested by Luther. Even if we can explain the gospel accurately, we continue to think that we’ll be saved by our own actions. We tend to think that God’s grace is available to us by the things we do.

We sometimes think that we’ll be saved by the actions of others. Perhaps we realize that our actions are not enough. But we look to our parents, who were godly examples and who did all that they could to raise us in faith. We look to our grandmother, who’s prayed for us from the day we were born. And we think that, because of their faith, because of their efforts to pass the faith on to us, we’ll be saved.

We must understand, from the Word of God, that no one is good. We must understand that no one will be saved because of the things they have done. And, in the same way, we must understand that the efforts of others are unable to accomplish our salvation.

Salvation is found in Christ alone. We receive his salvation through grace alone. And we receive his grace through faith alone. 

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Get Into the Word

“But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed.” 
(2 Peter 2:1-2 ESV)

Here we are, at the beginning of another school year.  All of our church activities are also starting up. And, even though I know it means more work for me, it’s something that I greatly enjoy.

I enjoy it because teaching and preaching God’s Word is my favorite thing to do.  I love teaching Sunday School.  I love leading Bible study.  I love teaching confirmation and leading our men’s study.  I love preaching the Word of God each Sunday morning.  I love it because, as I do so, God speaks to me and ministers to me.  And I love it because I know that he does the same for each one who attends.

I know that, for many in the church, these activities seem like one more thing to do.  They seem like another drain on our time and energy.  And we don’t seem to grasp the importance of our time in God’s Word.

In the above verses, we see a very important reason to take part in these activities.  Peter tells us that false prophets arose in the past and that, in the same way, they’ll arise among us as well.  He tells us that they’ll bring in destructive heresies.  They’ll introduce false teaching that will lead others not to saving faith in Christ, but away from it. He tells us that they will even deny Christ himself.

We’re also told that many will follow them.  And not only will they be led astray, they will also make the Christian faith seem unattractive to those outside of the church.  Because of them, Peter says, the way of truth will be blasphemed.

We may not be able to stop false teachers from arising.  However, by engaging with God’s Word on a regular basis, we are strengthened against them.  We are better able to recognize false truths as they’re being proclaimed, and we’re better equipped to stand against them.

We’re also equipped to provide a faithful testimony of the gospel to those around us.  We’re better able to share the truth of God with those who don’t understand.  And we’re better able to correct false teaching as we encounter it within the church.

I understand that you may not be able to take part in every opportunity the church offers.  I understand that you only have so much time available to you.  But I encourage you to take part in at least one of the opportunities that are offered, besides Sunday morning. Take part knowing that, as you do so, your own faith will be strengthened.  And do so knowing that, in this way, you will be better equipped to bless those around you.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Willing to Serve?

“So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you…”

(1Peter 5:1-2 ESV)

The work of the church involves many different people. Some of them are staff. Some of them are paid for their service. Here at Prince of Peace, we have the pastor, the youth pastor, the secretary, and the custodians. But the vast majority are volunteers.

Some of the volunteers are appointed by the church to a position of leadership.  Perhaps they are an officer, a deacon, or a trustee. Perhaps they serve on the Christian Ed board or hold office in the women’s ministry.  But others simply serve. They teach Sunday School. They serve meals at funerals. They run the sound booth during Sunday worship.

Regardless of where we might fall on this continuum, we can have many motivations for our service. And, to be perfectly straight forward, most of them are not good. Many of the motivations we possess for our service are less than upright.

There are those who serve for personal gain. This might mean the money they make for their service. But it can also mean other things as well.

We might serve for the honor and the prestige it gives to us. We might serve simply that others will think highly of us. Instead of seeking to glorify God, we’re seeking the approval of man.

In a similar way, we might serve in an effort to erase a bad reputation. Perhaps we’ve made some serious mistakes and have earned a bad name. And now that we realize what we’ve done, now that we understand the shame we’ve brought upon ourselves, we’re seeking to correct it.

We sometimes serve in our effort to earn God’s blessings. We fall into the false gospel of works righteousness. We think that, if we do enough good, if we put forth enough effort, God will overlook our mistakes and grant to us his salvation.

Quite often, we serve out of guilt. We know that we’ve been called to serve God. We know that we’re to use our gifts to serve both the Lord and the church. But our heart isn’t in it.  We really don’t want to do it. Yet we do so out of this sense of responsibility.

In the above passage, Peter shares with us the proper attitude for service. It’s directed primarily to pastors (elders). However, it’s a principle that applies more broadly. It’s a truth that applies to us regardless of our area of service.

We’re to carry out our calling not under compulsion. We are to do so willingly. We are to gladly give of ourselves to carry out the task God has assigned to us.

If our service is not freely given, we must search our heart. We must recognize that, perhaps, we’re holding to a false gospel. And we must ask God to forgive us, looking to Jesus in faith.

We must also ask God to change our heart. We must ask the Lord to turn our heart toward him. We must ask him to help us to love as he loves. 

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Out of Darkness

“I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you as a servant and witness to the things in which you have seen me and to those in which I will appear to you, delivering you from your people and from the Gentiles-- to whom I am sending you to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.”
Acts 22:16

The words of the above verse were spoken by Jesus, as he called Paul into his service. Most of us are familiar with the call of Paul, and we know what he was called to do. He was called by Christ as an apostle to the Gentiles. He was called by Christ to carry the gospel to the Gentiles.

What stands out to me, in this passage, is his reason for doing this. Jesus sends Paul to the Gentiles that their eyes might be opened. He sends Paul to the Gentiles that they might turn from darkness to light. He sends Paul to the Gentiles that they might be turned from the power of Satan to God.

As we think about those who don’t know the Lord, as we think about those who are not yet believers, this is not a description we’d typically use. It’s not even a description we’d typically consider. Even if they aren’t saved, we continue to believe that most people are good people. We tend to believe that, even if they are misguided in their beliefs and their understanding, they’re not all that bad.

We don’t consider the fact that they are in darkness. We don’t consider the fact that they are under the power of Satan. These phrases are strong, and even offensive. And, for this reason, they’re certainly not words we’d use when speaking to those outside of the church.

They’re also not truths we want to believe about ourselves. We don’t want to believe that, at one time, this too was our condition. However, Paul used similar words when sharing with the Ephesians their position before they came to faith in Christ.  

Starting in verse 1 of the second chapter of that epistle, he says: “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience--among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.”

No matter what we’d like to believe about ourselves, before we came to faith, we were dead in our sins. Before we came to faith, we followed the world and even Satan himself. Before we came to faith, we were children of wrath.

It’s from this that God has saved us. And it’s from this that he desires to save those who have yet to trust in Christ. If we better understood this, I think our outreach efforts would be much more urgent. I don’t think we could sit back and allow our fellow man to remain in darkness following Satan. I believe we’d do whatever it took to ensure that the gospel goes forth, and that those who have yet to hear and believe receive the opportunity to do so.