Monday, February 26, 2018

The Purpose of Prayer

"And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”

(Matthew 6:5-6 ESV)

Our natural desire is to be seen.  Our natural desire is to be recognized.  And this desire expresses itself in many ways.

When we serve, we want to be noticed.  When we give, we want to be seen.  We want others to give us the pat on the back of which we feel deserving.

The desire to be appreciated is perfectly normal.  No one wants to be taken for granted.  But the attitude I’m discussing goes beyond this.  It’s the need to be well thought of.  It’s the desire to stand out from the crowd.  It’s the longing to be applauded for our efforts.

This desire even finds its way into our prayer life. When we pray, our concern is not so much what we’re saying to God.  Our concern is that we be heard.  Our concern is how our prayer sounds to others.  Our desire is that others come away believing that we are super-spiritual and a person of great faith.

Jesus, in the above passage, warns us against this.  In fact, he refers to this attitude as hypocritical.  And that’s exactly what it is.  It’s a performance being delivered.  It’s a mask being worn to present something other than the truth.

If we desire to be seen, that will be our reward.  If we desire to be seen, people will see us.  They will see us and, perhaps, give us an at-a-boy.  But this is all we’ll receive.

Our focus, as we pray, is to be upon the Lord.  We should long only to be heard by him.  This is why Jesus encourages us to pray in secret.  We’re to do so knowing that God, who hears in secret, will reward us.

This statement of Jesus does not forbid public prayer or group prayer.  This practice is both demonstrated and encouraged throughout Scripture. It’s an attitude of the heart that’s being addressed.  We must not waste our time seeking the applause of men.  We must, instead, use it to seek God.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Baptism - A Means of Grace

“For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, because they formerly did not obey, when God's patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water. Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him.”

(1 Peter 3:18-22 ESV)

Just as we are encouraged to suffer for the sake of righteousness, we’re reminded that this is also what Christ has done. Although he is righteous, he suffered on behalf of the unrighteous. And he did so that we might be brought to God.

This salvation, Peter says, is received through baptism. Baptism, he says, now saves you. Just as Noah and his family were saved through the water, so too are we.

Baptism, he tells us, isn’t a washing in the outward sense. It’s not about the removal of dirt from the body. It’s an appeal to God for a good conscience. What he means, by this, is that we are forgiven and made holy because of Christ. And these blessings are applied to us in baptism.

Many, today, think of baptism as nothing more than a ceremony. However, we see in this passage that it’s so much more. It’s a means of grace. It’s a vehicle that God uses to bestow his grace upon us.

We must not make the mistake of thinking of baptism as a work by which we become deserving of salvation. Baptism is not something that we do for God. It’s something that he does for us.


The appeal for a good conscience is made through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. It’s because of what he’s done, it’s because he stands victorious over sin and death, that this salvation is available to us. It has nothing to do with our goodness or efforts.

This also does not mean that, because someone has been baptized, they are saved apart from faith. The promise of God, the promise of baptism, must be received in faith. It must be received by faith because, as we see in Hebrews 11:6, without faith it’s impossible to please God.

That being said, may we never fail to appreciate the wonderful blessing of baptism. And may we receive it for what it is, a means of God’s grace. As we present ourselves or our children in baptism, and as we witness the baptism of others, may we rejoice in the salvation God is extending to us.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

A Living Testimony

“Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness' sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God's will, than for doing evil.”

(1 Peter 3:13-17 ESV)

Generally speaking, if it’s our desire to do good, people will think well of us. If it’s our desire to do good, people will treat us well. However, there is an exception to every rule. And, at times, people will seek us harm because we desire good.

People may want to silence our testimony. They may desire to discredit us before others. Or they may seek to drag us into the mud, that we might wallow there with them.

Peter encourages us in the fact that, if we do suffer for righteousness, we will be blessed. And, for this reason, we should have no fear of those who seek us harm. We must simply remain faithful to the Lord. We must continue to honor Christ as holy.

However, not only are we to continue living for the Lord. We are to be always prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks about the hope we possess. In other words, we are to be prepared at all times to share both our hope and the reason for it.

One of the mistakes we tend to make is that we become aggressive in making this defense. We become hostile and argumentative. But Peter encourages us to make this defense with gentleness and respect. We are to do so, maintaining a good conscience.

We are to do so that, even if we are slandered, our good behavior will shame those who revile us. Our good behavior will make it evident to everyone that the slanderous accusations, being made about us, are untrue. Our good behavior will offer convincing proof of our innocence.

He concludes by telling us that it is better to suffer for doing good than for doing evil. If we are to suffer, it is better to suffer unjustly than to suffer justly. It’s better to suffer, having done the right thing, rather than succumbing to evil.

It should be our desire, as believers, to live for the Lord at all times. It should be our desire that both our words and our actions will point people to Christ. It should be our desire that we might testify regarding our hope, and live in this hope before the eyes of others.

Monday, February 05, 2018

Blessing the Undeserving

“Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing. For "Whoever desires to love life and see good days, let him keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit; let him turn away from evil and do good; let him seek peace and pursue it. For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are open to their prayer. But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil."”

(1 Peter 3:8-12 ESV)

Our first instinct, when we are wronged, is to pay the other person back. Our first instinct is to treat them as they have treated us. And we instantly begin thinking of ways that we can do so.

Our mind starts thinking of a quick retort. Thoughts and plans of revenge quickly fill our mind. In fact, our mind is often consumed by these thoughts. And, quite often we act on them.

We act on them thinking that, in this way, we are standing up for ourselves. We act on them thinking that, in this way, we’re teaching them a lesson. We act on them thinking that, in this way, we are demonstrating that we will not be a doormat for anyone.

Peter, however, calls us to a different reaction. He reminds us that we have been called to bless. And, for this reason, we are to strive for a unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a tender mind.

Most of us realize that we are called to be a blessing. However, we only apply this understanding in situations where kindness is being displayed toward us. We seek to bless only those who are blessing us. We fail to apply it when we are on the receiving end of evil.

But, even then, we are called to be a blessing. We are to turn from our evil desires and pursue peace. We are to do so realizing that our actions are known by God.

We must recognize that it’s not possible for us, at the same time, to pursue evil and righteousness. We must recognize that it’s not possible for us, at the same time, to pursue the Lord and wickedness. Pursuing the Lord means turning from our sinful desires. It means leaving those desires behind.

Christ himself sought the blessing of those who abused him and put him to death. He prayed that they would be forgiven. May we, then, demonstrate the same love and grace. May we seek to be a blessing even to those who are undeserving.

Thursday, February 01, 2018

Apart from Love

“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.”

(1 Corinthians 13:1-3 ESV)

Although we recognize that God has given to each of us gifts and talents, we often fail to use them in his service. We sit back and receive the service of others, who use their God-given gifts to bless us. But we are unwilling to serve and bless others with the gifts entrusted to us.

Yet, even when we do use them, our motives are often wrong. And, because they are wrong, we end up serving with a wrong spirit. Our service is motivated by our sinful nature.

We often serve God and one another out of a sense of guilt. We often serve God and one another out of a sense of duty. We sometimes serve God and one other in an effort to make a name for ourselves. And we sometimes serve in an effort to curry the favor of God and man.

However, as Paul tells us in the above passage, our gifts mean nothing and accomplish nothing if they are not used in a spirit of love. And, as is characteristic in Scripture, the love to which we are called in an unconditional love. The love to which we are called is a sacrificial love.

If our gifts are used apart from this love, we are only making noise. If our gifts give us great abilities, and we are without this love, we are nothing. And if we sacrifice ourselves completely, but do so without this love, we gain nothing.

God has certainly granted us these abilities and called on us to use them. But the underlying motive in their use must be love. We must serve out of our love for God, and out of love for our neighbor. We must unconditionally and sacrificially give of ourselves that we might accomplish God’s purpose and that we might be a blessing to those around us.

Because we are sinful creatures, we will naturally struggle with selfishness and impure motives. This is an ongoing battle. And, for this reason, we must always search our heart to evaluate our motives. We must always ask God to search us and reveal to us any impurity that’s directing our actions.

When it’s found that we are acting out of anything other than love, we must repent. We must look to Christ, in faith, seeking God’s mercy. And we must ask him to fill our heart with his love, that it might overflow into the lives of others.  After all, this love is a gift of his grace. We must ask him to fill us with love so that, in our service, we might seek only to glorify him and bless those in our path.