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.