Thursday, March 30, 2017

That Which Satisfies

“My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work.”

(John 4:34 ESV)

            As Jesus headed for Galilee, he entered a Samaritan town.  Tired from the journey, he sat down by a well as his disciples went off to find food.  And, as he sat there, he interacted with a woman who’d come to draw water, revealing to her his identity.

            His disciples returned during this interaction, surprised that Jesus was talking with a woman.  As she left to tell the rest of the town about Jesus, that they too might come to him, his followers urged Jesus to eat. But Jesus replied, telling them that he had food to eat that they knew nothing about. 

He then explained himself with the words we see above.  He said that his food is to do the will of God.  He said that his food is to carry out the work entrusted to him.

            His disciples wanted Jesus to eat, knowing that it’s essential for his physical well-being.  They knew that he needed to eat that he might keep up his strength.  However, Jesus pointed out that fulfilling God’s will and accomplishing his work is equally necessary.  He then went on to minister to the townspeople who came to him.

            We may wonder how this can be true.  After all, even though we may recognize that our service of God is important, we don’t generally believe that it sustains us like food.  We don’t consider it necessary for life.  We tend to think of food as a necessity while service is more of an option.

            Jesus, however, was on earth for one purpose.  His purpose was to accomplish the will of God.  His purpose was to bring salvation to those lost in sin.  And, because this was his purpose, following through with it was absolutely essential.  Accomplishing the work, given to him by God, sustained him.

            We too are here for a reason.  We also have a purpose, assigned to us by God.  And that purpose is to make disciples of all nations.  That purpose is to proclaim the gospel to the whole creation.

            Because of this, we should consider our service of God to be essential to life.  We should recognize that it sustains us.  Just as we pursue things like food, knowing them to be necessary, so too should we pursue the work of God.

            Jesus points out to them that the fields are white for harvest.  In other words, now is the time to engage in this work.  Now is the appointed time to fulfill their calling.  And the same is true for us. 

            We, then, must seek to carry out God’s will and calling, just as we pursue food.  We must consider it essential to our life, just like food.  Let us not consider our service of God as merely an option, but something that is both necessary and satisfying.



Wednesday, March 29, 2017

A Christ-Centered Ministry

“He must increase, but I must decrease.”

(John 3:30 ESV)

            We see in John 3 that, as Jesus began his ministry, he was baptizing those who came to him.  John the Baptist also continued to baptize those who came to him.  However, John’s disciples noted that, while the people once came to him, they were now going to Jesus for baptism.

            These feelings are understandable.  Having followed John, and being devoted to him, it seemed that he was being displaced.  John had born witness to Jesus’ identity, and now his ministry was being sidelined.  And this set up a competitive spirit among John’s followers.

            John, however, was unconcerned.  He responded to his followers saying that a person can receive nothing unless it is given him by God.  And he reminded them of his testimony.  He knew that Jesus was the Christ, and that he was not.  For this reason, he rejoiced at the coming of Jesus.  He understood that Jesus had to increase while he, and his ministry, had to decrease.

            His focus was not on himself, but on Jesus.  He understood that Jesus was the fulfillment of God’s promises.  He understood that, for this reason, Jesus was to be at center stage.

            We must all come around to this mindset as well.  As we carry out God’s calling, it’s easy for us to become focused on ourselves.  It’s easy for us to adopt a competitive attitude.  And, in this way, we push Jesus to the side.  We push him to the side even though salvation is found only in him.

            Churches will, at times, become competitive with one another.  They want to have the biggest congregation.  They want to have the best ministry.  Their focus is not on making disciples for Jesus.  Their focus is on building their own kingdom.

            Pastors and church leaders can also fall into this mentality.  They can become focused on worldly success.  They want to be esteemed by the people of their congregation, and also the community.  And they become more focused on building their own following than they are on proclaiming the good news of Christ.

            It’s even possible for your average congregation member to fall into this mindset.  They continue to take on roles and responsibilities in the church not because they desire to serve.  They do so because they want to build their own reputation.  They want to be noticed and applauded by others.

            However, like John the Baptist, we must understand that Christ alone is central to our ministry.  Our focus is not to be upon ourselves or even our own congregation.  Our focus is to be on Christ.  And, as we minister to others around us, our goal is simply to direct people to Jesus.

            We are not seeking to make disciples for ourselves, but disciples of Jesus.  And, because of this, we must, like John, approach ministry with the attitude that Jesus must increase while we must decrease.  We must rejoice not in the fact that people are coming to us.  We must rejoice in the fact that people are turning to him and following him.  And we must simply thank God for whatever blessings, for whatever responsibilities, he assigns to us.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Whatever He Says

“His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.””

(John 2:5 ESV)

            In the second chapter of John, Jesus attended a wedding along with his disciples.  Mary, his mother, was also there.  And she brought a problem to Jesus’ attention.

            She pointed out that there was no more wine.  While we might wonder why this was such a big deal, it amounted to a major disgrace in their culture. As hosts, it was expected that you would provide enough food and wine for your guests for the duration of the celebration. 

She brought this concern to Jesus, knowing who he was and that he could certainly do something about it.  However, as she does so, he appears hesitant to help.  He points out to her that it wasn’t an issue that concerned him.  He told her that his hour had not yet come.

            Yet, even with this response, Mary told the servants to do whatever Jesus instructed them to do.  If he did decide to help, she wanted to be sure that his instructions were followed. She wanted to make sure that the need for wine was satisfied.

            It isn’t fully explained to us, but Jesus does take action.  Perhaps he did so in order to honor his mother.  There were six stone water jars, each holding twenty to thirty gallons.  These were there for the Jewish rites of purification.  And Jesus instructed the servants to fill the jars with water.

            As we read this, we might wonder what good this would do.  It wasn’t water that was needed, but wine.  And I suspect that this thought went through the minds of the servants as well.

            Jesus then told them to draw some out and take it to the master of the feast.  Knowing that they’d just filled the jars with water, this would seem just as illogical.  And this may have made them reluctant to follow through.

            However, as we read on in the text, we see that the water had become wine.  In fact, it had become a very good wine.  Even though they seemed like nonsense, as the servants followed Jesus’ instructions, he provided for their need.

            This is something we must bear in mind as well.  Quite often, as we read Scripture, it doesn’t seem that his instructions, that his Word, will provide for our need.  Given the situation in which we find ourselves, his Word doesn’t seem to fit.  And, for this reason, we completely disregard it. But knowing who Jesus is, and knowing what he is capable of, we must follow Mary’s instructions as well.  We must do whatever he tells us to do.  Even if it doesn’t make sense to us, Jesus is working to provide for our needs and for the needs of those around us.



Monday, March 27, 2017

Come and See

“Philip found Nathanael and said to him, "We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph." Nathanael said to him, "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?" Philip said to him, "Come and see."”

(John 1:45-46 ESV)

            As a congregation, and along with other churches in our community, Prince of Peace is being encouraged to read through the gospel of John between today and Easter Sunday.  This means reading one chapter each day.  I hope you’ll join us in this endeavor.  And I thought I might share with you some thoughts along the way.

            The first chapter of John contains many wonderful insights.  If I were to preach on this chapter, I could do so for weeks on end.  However, I’ll share just one with you today.

            After being called by Jesus, Philip finds Nathanael, telling him that they’d found the one about whom Moses and the prophets wrote.  He then specifically identifies the Messiah as Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.

            Nathanael is skeptical when he hears this news.  He responds, flippantly, asking if anything good can come out of Nazareth.  He likely responded in this way knowing that Nazareth was an insignificant little town. 

            Philip didn’t try to convince Nathanael.  He didn’t become defensive, as his statement is dismissed. He simply encourages Nathanael to come and see.

            I think that we can learn a great deal from Philip.  As we reach out to others, we often receive the same response.  Our words are dismissed.  They are disregarded.  They are ridiculed.

            When this happens, we often respond in one of two ways. One of these ways is to simply shut down.  We say no more and we discontinue our efforts to reach them.

            Our other response is to try to convince them.  We try to persuade them that the message we’re bringing to them is reasonable.  We do everything we can to defend our message, not wanting it to be maligned. 

            I’m not suggesting that apologetics is bad.  I’m not saying that our desire to see God’s Word honored is misplaced.  However, I believe we would do better if we simply responded like Philip.

            We would do better to simply invite them to see for themselves.  We would do better to say, like Philip, “Come and see.” In this way, our effort at outreach doesn’t turn into an argument.  But, at the same time, we are not backing away from our message.  Knowing it’s truthfulness, we are simply asking them to look into it further.

            We will never argue anyone into faith.  Faith is not something that we can impart.  It’s something that God creates through his Word and Spirit.  They can certainly resist.  However, as we share with them the Word of God, it’s his role to create faith.

            And by backing off completely, we allow them to dismiss us.  We allow them to believe that their objection is valid.  They see our lack of initiative as further evidence that our message is untrue.

            As we’ve been called to share the gospel, I encourage you to continue in these efforts.  Point people to Jesus, who is the Savior.  And, if they disregard us, simply invite them to come and see.

            Invite them to church or to a Bible study.  If that’s too much, invite them to read and study Scripture with you.  Perhaps you can even invite them to join us in this journey through the gospel of John.  Don’t seek to convince them by your own wisdom and knowledge.  Simply trust that, as we’re given the opportunity to share further, God’s Word and Spirit will do their work.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Is God a Liar?

“If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.”
 (1 John 1:10 ESV)

Throughout the season of Lent, we’ve been hearing two series of sermons.  On Sunday mornings, we’ve been working our way through the Ten Commandments.  We’ve been looking at what these commands mean and the various ways we break them.  On Wednesday evenings, we’ve been hearing a series titled The Searching Questions of Lent.  We’ve been looking at some questions, drawn out of the Passion account, and what they suggest to us about our own heart.

If we’ve been truly listening, and if we’ve been sincerely searching our heart, we can come away from these messages with only one conclusion: We are guilty.  It’s clear to us that we have sinned against the Lord in many ways.  And it’s clear to us that we deserve his judgment.

The intent of this is that it might reveal to us our need for a Savior.  The intent is that, realizing the depths of our depravity and the wrath that we deserve, we’ll look to Jesus.  The intent is that we’ll trust in him, and in his sacrifice, for the forgiveness of sins.

However, our tendency in this society today is very different.  As we’re confronted with our sin, our tendency is to justify ourselves.  We attempt to explain away our sinful actions.  We try to deny the sinfulness of our sin.

Another response, which has become common today, is to deny the truth of Scripture.  We tell ourselves: “My God would never say something like that.” We try to tell ourselves that, if the authors of Scripture knew what we know today, they would have never said the things that they did.

When we do this, when we fail to accept the fact that we are sinful, we are doing something quite blasphemous.  According to the apostle John, in the above passage, we make God a liar.  We are declaring that God had delivered to us false statements or untruths.

Most of us would be reluctant to make such an accusation outright.  We wouldn’t dare look God in the eye and call him a liar.  But, when we declare ourselves innocent, when we deny the truths his Word brings to us, this is what we’re doing.

We’re telling God that, although he has told us we’re sinners, this is not true.  We’re telling God that, although he’s declared us to be deserving of judgment, this is not true.  We’re telling God that, although he’s stated we’re in need of a Savior, this is not true.

When we respond to God in this way, his Word is not in us.  We are not trusting in him or the truth he’s revealed to us.  We’re trusting, instead, in ourselves.  We’re relying only on our wisdom and understanding.

When we respond to God in this way, we reveal ourselves to be outside of his salvation.  Since we don’t acknowledge our sin, we don’t believe ourselves to be in need of a Savior.  We believe ourselves to be good and deserving of salvation.  And, for this reason, we won’t receive the sacrifice Jesus made on our behalf.  We won’t look to him for mercy.

May we never accuse God of being deceptive.  May each one of us recognize our sin, confess it to the Lord, and ask him for his forgiveness.  And may we trust in Christ, and in him alone, for the salvation we so desperately need.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Hope in the Midst of Discouragement

The following was written as a devotional for AFLC World Missions.

"But the Lord said to him, "Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.""
(Act 9:15 ESV)

As we’ve heard reports from our mission fields this past year, it’s clear that things have been turbulent.  Some of of our missionaries have faced the possibility, and even the reality, of being forced out of their field.  And we don’t know what this next year will hold.  All we know is that we are often called to suffer for the name of Christ.

The words above were spoken to Ananias, as he was called to go and to lay his hands on a man named Saul.  He was reluctant to do so, knowing Saul’s reputation.  But God told him to go, because Saul was a chosen vessel.

Even though it’s clear that Saul would be used by God to do great things, there’s a challenging word attached to it.  He would carry the Lord’s name before the Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel.  However, he would also be shown how much he must suffer for the sake of the Lord’s name.

As we read through the book of Acts, we see how all of this played out.  God did use Saul, whose name was changed to Paul, to carry the gospel to Jew and Gentile alike.  God used him to bring the gospel to kings.  Souls were saved and churches were planted as he carried out his calling.

However, in the midst of this work, he experienced great hardship.  He often lacked the resources he needed.  He was slandered by those who rejected his message, as well as by those who received it.  He also suffered physical abuse by those who wished to silence him.  And he was arrested for nothing more than carrying out his ministry.

The same will often be true in the work of missions today.  Although our missionaries will be used by God to accomplish great things on his behalf, they will also suffer.  They will face opposition as they bring the message of salvation to those who are perishing.

This is true not only of missions, but also of ministry here in the United States.  Pastors and congregation members minister, today, in a culture that is increasingly hostile to our message.  We too will face opposition as we carry out our calling.

This can be discouraging.  It’s discouraging to us as we hear reports from the mission field, of the challenges our missionaries are facing.  It’s discouraging to see doors closing to ministry.  It’s discouraging to hear about and to experience opposition here at home.  But, in the face of this, we must bear in mind what the Lord is doing.

This opposition is being experienced because the gospel is being carried into dark places.  It’s being experienced because of our faithfulness to God’s call.  If we were remaining idle, if we were forsaking the call of God, there would be no opposition.

And we know that, as the Word of the Lord goes forth, he is at work in the hearts of men.  As his Word goes forth, he is calling to repentance those who were bound.  He is providing the promise of salvation to those who were without hope.

Recognizing this, we are not discouraged.  We continue to press on in spite of the opposition we face.  We carry out our call trusting that the Lord who sent us is working in ways that we can see, as well is in ways we could never fathom.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Maintaining Pure Thoughts

“Do not rebuke an older man but encourage him as you would a father, younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, younger women as sisters, in all purity.”

(1Timothy 5:1-2 ESV)

            As we focused on the Sixth Commandment yesterday, we noted the adulterous attitudes and intentions found within our heart.  We heard the words of Jesus in Matthew 5, where he says that, by looking lustfully at someone, we’ve already committed adultery in our heart.  So we break the Commandment by not only having an illicit sexual relationship, but also by the desires of our heart.

            This makes the Sixth Commandment seem like an impossible standard.  And, indeed, it is.  We learn from this Commandment that we are all guilty and deserving of the wrath of God.  We learn that we’d be lost forever were it not for Jesus, who was born into the world that he might atone for our sin.

            However, as Christians, this can be a real struggle.  After all, we desire to live for the Lord.  And, for this reason, we may do a good job of remaining outwardly pure.  But the desires of the heart can continue to plague us even as we refrain from extramarital sexual activity.

            It’s easy for us to look at others inappropriately.  It’s easy for us to entertain impure thoughts about others.  And it can be exceedingly difficult for us to keep a handle on these desires.

            In the above passage, the apostle Paul says something that can help us maintain not only outward purity, but also purity of the heart.  He tells us how we’re to regard others.  He tells us that we’re to look at one another as family.

            As a young boy, if someone found my sister attractive, I would’ve responded with one word: “Yuck!” I’m not saying that I found her ugly.  But she’s my sister.  And, because she’s my sister, I could never look at her in that way.  I could never think of her in that way.

            This is the thought behind Paul’s words as he tells us how to interact with one another.  We’re to treat older men as though they were our father.  We’re to treat younger men as brothers.  We’re to treat older women as mothers.  And we’re to regard younger women as sisters.  He then adds: “…in all purity.”

            If we, as men, regarded women as mothers and sisters, we would think of them in a way that’s pure. We would not continually look at them in a sexual way.  In fact, we’d do all that we could to guard their purity.  And the same thing is true in reverse.  If women looked at men as fathers and brothers, they too would have an easier time maintaining pure thoughts.

            As you read this, some of you may wonder: If we do this, if we think in this way, then how are people to become attracted to one another, pursue one another, and enter into a healthy marital relationship?  Attraction is a vital part of this process.  If our thoughts about others were purely platonic, we’d have no marriages or children.

            I’m not suggesting it’s wrong to notice that someone is attractive.  However, even as we date, and even as we pursue marriage, we should look upon each other in a respectful way.  We must recognize that sexual thoughts and intentions are appropriate only to marriage.           

Our desire for one another, whether we are single and dating or married, should be for the other person’s relationship with God.  We should do nothing that might hinder that relationship.  And we must do all we can to encourage it.

So again, as we interact with people, we must strive to look upon them as family.  If our thoughts stray in an inappropriate way, we should remind ourselves that this person is our brother or sister.  And, believing this to be the case, we should treat them as such.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Guilty of Murder?

“Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.”

 (1John 3:15 ESV)

            When we think about the Fifth Commandment, our thoughts naturally turn to the taking of life.  We think of all of the physical ways in which we might take the life of another.  We think of the ways in which we might fail to save the life of another.

            We might also consider and debate the many questions that tie in with this command: Is the death penalty a violation of this command?  Is war a violation of this command? Is it sinful for us to use lethal force to defend ourselves, our family, and even our home?

            All of these are important topics.  And they do directly relate to the command prohibiting murder.  However, there’s a way we violate this command each and every day of our lives that we often overlook.

            According to the apostle John, we commit murder by simply hating our brother.  This really hits home because we all have people that we detest.  We can’t stand them and, quite frankly, we want nothing to do with them.  We feel no love for them, nor do we want to demonstrate love for them.

John expands on this truth, which convicts us further.  He tells us that whoever does not abide in love abides in death.  He tells us that, if we see someone in need and we close our heart against him, God’s love does not abide in us.

            Most of us are willing to help others who are in desperate circumstances.  But it’s also common for us to be quite selfish.  We’re often unwilling to help fearing that we might not have enough down the road.

            He goes on to point us to Jesus as the perfect expression of love.  He tells us that Jesus laid down his life for us.  And, in the same way, we’re to lay down our life for our brother.

            We must, therefore, confess the lack of love we possess for others.  We must confess our unwillingness to help those in need, and our hatred for others.  We must seek his forgiveness, knowing that this makes us guilty of murder.  And we must ask him to work in our heart, we must seek his strength, that we might selflessly love and serve one another as he's called us.

Monday, March 06, 2017

Honoring Those in Authority

“Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.”

(Romans 13:1-2 ESV)

            This past Sunday, at Prince of Peace, we discussed the Fourth Commandment.  And we heard that we’ve been called to honor our father and our mother.  However, in his explanation of this Commandment, Martin Luther expands it beyond our parents.  In his explanation, he writes: “We should fear and love God, and so we should not despise our parents and superiors, nor provoke them to anger, but honor, serve, obey, love, and esteem them.”           

            Luther tells us that this command applies not only to parents, but also to our superiors.  This, then, might involve people such as government leaders, judges, teachers, employers, and church leadership.

            Your initial reaction, as you read this, may be that it’s not Biblical.  You may think this because the command itself addresses only parents.  However, in other passages of Scripture, such as the one above, we see that we’re called to honor other authorities that have been placed over us as well.

            We are called, in this passage, to be subject to our governing authorities.  And we’re told that these authorities have been set in place by God.  For this reason, if we resist these authorities, we are sinning against God.

            This is something with which many of us struggle.  We struggle with it because we don’t support or governing authorities.  We find ourselves on the other side of the political aisle.  And we don’t even believe their views to be Biblical.

            The interesting thing is that, when Paul wrote these words, he was under the authority of the Roman government.  And the Roman government was anything but Christian.  The Emperor at that time was likely Nero, who was a very wicked man, and who was responsible for a great persecution of Christians.

             It was under this type of leadership that Paul wrote these words.  And no matter what you think of our current political leaders, they don’t in any way compare to Nero. 

            This doesn’t mean that God supported Nero.  It doesn’t mean that God endorsed his policies.  It doesn’t mean that God desired for Christians to be persecuted.  We find in Scripture that God does, at times, allow the wicked to rule.  We find that he uses the wicked to accomplish his purposes.

            It also doesn't mean that we must obey our leaders if we're asked to do something that's sinful.  Our first obligation is to the Lord.  Yet, they are in a position of leadership because they were placed there by God.

            Thinking of this in connection with the Fourth Commandment, we are called to honor our leaders, even if we don’t agree with them.  We are to give to them the respect and the honor they are due because of the position they are in.  As Paul adds in verse 7: Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.”

            The same is true of other authorities God has established.  God has called upon wives to respect their husband (Ephesians 5:22-24).  He calls on us, as believers, to honor those who teach us and who are over us in the Lord (1 Thessalonians 5:12-13). And, even though we believe slavery to be wrong, God called upon slaves to be subject to their masters (Ephesians 6:5-8).  Even if we don’t feel they’re deserving of this honor, we must do so recognizing that God has placed them in the position they’re in.