Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Approaching God Rightly

“Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you…”

(1 Peter 5:6 ESV)

Most of us would say that we approach God in a humble manner. He is God, after all. He is the all-knowing, all-powerful God of the universe. He’s the creator and sustainer of all things. He is our source of life both in this world and in the world to come.

We would also say that we approach God in a humble manner because of who we are. We are the creation. We’re limited in power and knowledge. We’re capable of doing only what God has empowered us to accomplish.

We are also a sinful people. Our heart and mind are corrupt. And, as a result of our sin, we’re subject to suffering and death.

However, even though we may sincerely believe this to be true, reality is far different. We rarely approach God in a humble manner. More often than not, we approach him arrogantly. In fact, we often approach him in a condescending manner.

We approach him believing that we know better than him. We look at the way he handles the affairs of our world and we disapprove. We think to ourselves how we would do things differently. We think to ourselves how we would do things better.

We offer our prayers to him, instructing him how he can best answer them. We often give him step by step instructions so that he can better meet our needs and fulfill our desires. And we become frustrated with him when he works in a different manner.

We look to his Word, and we find issues that we disagree with. We don’t like the way he’s ordered the home and society, because it seems sexist. We don’t like his instructions for marriage and divorce because it seems too restrictive. We don’t like what he says regarding issues like homosexuality and gay marriage because it seems old-fashioned and oppressive. And, because of this, we rewrite it. We reinterpret it so that it better fits our desired understanding.

How arrogant! How prideful! How dare we!

We must repent of the many ways we approach God in an arrogant manner. We must confess our sin, seeking his mercy. And we must humble ourselves before him.

Peter then gives to us a wonderful promise. He gives us a promise that echoes the teaching of Jesus. He tells us to humble ourselves so that, at the proper time, God may exalt us.

Jesus says, in Matthew 23:12, that whoever exalts himself will be humbled and that whoever humbles himself will be exalted. In other words, God will bring low those who raise themselves up. But the one who lowers himself, the one who views himself modestly, will be raised up by God.

Friday, May 25, 2018

Showing God’s Grace to Others

“Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.”
(Colossians 3:12-13 ESV)

As believers, as people of the church, we sometimes find ourselves living a contradiction. And there’s one such contradiction that often affects our relationships.  It affects our relationship with our spouse, children, friends, neighbors, coworkers, and fellow church members.

We understand the teaching of Scripture. We understand the message of the gospel. We believe and confess that we are a sinful people. We believe and confess that we are in no way deserving of salvation. We believe and confess there’s no way we can earn salvation. And we believe and confess that, in spite of our condition, God has graciously provided for us the forgiveness of our sins and the gift of everlasting life.

However, when it comes to our relationships here in this world, it seems that we forget these truths. Even though we believe that all people are sinful, we seem to think that they should never sin against us. Even though we believe that there’s no way we could ever become deserving of God’s love and forgiveness, we seem to think that others must become deserving of our own.  And even though we believe that God’s love is given to us as a free gift, we demand to be paid back for our own.

I’m certainly not trying to excuse the harm others have done to us. I’m also not denying the fact that, when others harm us, they’re to confess their sin and repent of it. However, we are clearly holding people to standards they could never attain. We are holding them to standards to which we could never measure up.

This is harmful to any relationship. It’s setting our relationships up for failure. Just as God is gracious with us, so must we be gracious with one another.

This is exactly what Paul is telling us in the above passage. As believers, we’re to be compassionate with one another. We’re to be kind to one another. We’re to approach one another in a spirit of humility and meekness. We are to be patient, and bear with one another. And, if we have a complaint against one another, we’re to forgive.

He tells us that we’re to forgive one another just as Christ has forgiven us. As Jesus forgives us freely, we must freely forgive one another. As he forgives, demanding nothing in return, we must forgive others demanding nothing in return. As he forgives us again and again, so must we forgive one another again and again. As he forgives our continual failure without giving up on us, we forgive the continual failure of others without giving up on them. As he bestows his grace upon us, so must we extend grace to one another.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Regarding our Fellow Believers Rightly

“…Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for "God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble."

(1 Peter 5:5 ESV)

Most of us like to think of ourselves as humble. We would never admit that we believe ourselves to be greater or more important than others. We would never admit that our tendency is to put ourselves first.

In fact, we would say that we despise the proud. We would say that the attitude of the prideful is a complete turn-off for us. We would say that we want nothing to do with these people.

However, this humility that we profess tends to be a false humility. In reality, we do believe ourselves to be greater and more important than others. In reality, we believe ourselves to be smarter than most.  And, in reality, we do put ourselves first.

We constantly question those who are in authority over us. We question their decisions and the actions they take. In fact, we look down on them and tend to think that we could do better.

We tend to think that people should listen to us. We tend to think that they should heed our instruction. It should be clear to them, we think, that they have a thing or two to learn from us.

We tend to believe that we’re entitled to the help that others have to offer. We tend to think that they should gladly be there for us. We tend to think this way even though we’re too busy to help others.

We tend to think that our needs should be addressed, first and foremost. Although there are countless others who need help, and although there are many with greater needs than our own, we think that our needs should be the priority. We think that everyone else should cater to us.

There are many more examples we could cite, but you get the point. Although we claim a spirit of humility, we are a proud people. Although we claim to detest pride, we display it unceasingly.

This is why we need Peter’s admonition, seen above. He calls upon us to clothe ourselves with humility toward one another. He calls on us to possess a modest opinion of ourselves when it comes to others.

He goes on to say that God opposes the proud. He tells us that God is against the proud. And this stands as a warning for us.

We cannot live in a spirit of arrogance and rightly expect God’s blessing. We cannot live in a spirit of conceit and expect to be in his favor. This attitude makes us deserving of his disapproval. It makes us deserving of his resistance.

However, Peter says, God gives grace to the humble. God gives his grace to those who recognize how little they deserve. He gives his blessing to the one who understands his lowliness in relation to God and others.

May we, then, recognize the pride in our heart and confess it to the Lord. May we recognize our arrogance and repent. May we ask God to transform our heart so that we gladly lay aside our desires and interests for the sake of others.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Regarding Pastors Rightly

“Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders.”

(1 Peter 5:5a ESV)

I remember, as a youth, how much I looked up to my pastor. I both respected and admired him. And, because he invested in my life, I’ve always thought of him as much more than a pastor. I’ve always thought of him as a spiritual father.

Now that I’m a pastor, I hope that I can be as great of a blessing to others as he was to me. I hope and pray that God will use me in my calling to direct people to himself. I hope and pray that I can live up to the responsibility he’s entrusted to me.

That being said, even after twenty years of full time ministry, I’m still not fully comfortable with the respect people give to me. I’m not fully comfortable with it because I know my sin and my shortcomings. I realize that I’m not deserving of the role God has assigned to me.

No pastor is perfect. No pastor is deserving of the role into which he’s been placed. Yet, as we see in the above passage, those who are younger are called to be subject to the elders. They are called to be subject to their pastor and spiritual leaders.

This doesn’t mean that those who are older are free to disrespect him. Age isn’t the primary issue in this passage. Spiritual maturity is the matter at stake. Peter is telling us that those who are young in faith, he’s saying that those who aren’t as spiritually mature, are to be subject to the leaders God has placed over them.

This is something that’s missing in many places today. Often, pastors are treated as hired hands. Their voice is regarded as only one in the crowd. They are bullied and pushed around. And we must repent of this and give to them the esteem they deserve.

However, pastors must also ensure that this doesn’t go too far. They must ensure that they aren't treated like a god. And they must ensure that they don’t take it too far. As we saw in the first several verses of this chapter, they are not to become dictators. Putting this all in perspective, the people are to respect their pastors and spiritual leaders as they humbly carry out the calling given to them.

Wednesday, May 09, 2018

Why We Serve, Part 4

“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…And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.”

(1 Peter 5:1-2,4 ESV)

As we’ve looked through Peter’s encouragement to elders, one thing is clear. Our ministry can easily become self-serving. We can serve to relieve guilt or to fulfill the expectations of others. We can serve for personal gain. And we can serve in order to control.

Throughout history, and even today, it’s clear how the office of ministry is used for self-serving purposes. And we must never believe that we’re immune to this sin. We must never believe ourselves to be so strong that we’d never fall into it.

The simple fact of the matter is that, even as pastors (elders) or lay leaders in the church, we are a sinful people. We are subject to temptation. We are vulnerable to the seduction of the world, the devil, and our own sinful nature.

This is what makes the above passage so timely. As we come to the end of this admonition, we’re reminded of a very simple truth: Jesus is the chief shepherd. Although we have been called to shepherd the flock of God that’s among us, we must bear in mind that it’s his flock. We must bear in mind that Jesus is the chief shepherd while we are under-shepherds.

As we carry out our ministry, we are to serve him. As we carry out our ministry, we’re to do so under his authority. We must continually remind ourselves that he is our Lord and that we are his servants.

When we serve with impure motives, we also fail to recognize the source of our blessing. We act as though we must provide for ourselves the blessings we need or desire. However, Peter reminds us that the Lord is the source of our blessing.

If we use the office of ministry for personal gain, the only thing this will bring about is worldly gain. It brings to us something temporal. However, if we serve faithfully, we’ll receive something greater.

At the return of Christ, Peter says, we’ll receive the unfading crown of glory. We’ll be honored by the Lord himself. We’ll receive the blessing of everlasting life and be clothed in the righteousness of Christ.

Wednesday, May 02, 2018

Moralism is not Christianity

I’ve recently been reading a book titled: Broken. The subtitle of this book is: 7 “Christian” Rules That Every Christian Ought to Break as Often as Possible. It was written by Jonathan Fisk and published by Concordia Publishing House.

The second chapter of this book deals with the issue of moralism. This resonated with me because I’ve become convinced, in recent years, that a majority of our teaching in the church is nothing more than that. It’s become nothing more than a system of laws, a system of right and wrong.

As a result, our faith has become a system of making good people. It’s become a system of doing good things. And, in this way, the message of the gospel becomes lost.

Moralism is defined as the belief that access to God can be achieved through our own personal efforts or attempts to improve ourselves. And, as Fisk rightly points out, moralism is nothing more than the worship of our own works. It’s a dependence upon ourselves and our own efforts to attain salvation.

Please don’t misunderstand me. We do have to deal with issues of morality in the church.  God has given to us his Law that we might see our sin and our need for a Savior.  And, if we fail to understand our sin, we’ll never understand our need for Jesus or receive the grace offered to us by God.  He’s also given to us his Law that we might know how he desires for us to live as his people.

However, we have to realize that our faith is more than just a system of good morals.  We must realize this because we are a sinful people, incapable of living up to God’s standards.  And we must not begin to think that, if we only try harder, or if we can only fix ourselves, we’ll be acceptable to God.

When this becomes our version of Christianity, we’re lost.  As Paul tells us in Galatians 3:10, “For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse…” If we are trusting in the Law for salvation, if we’re trusting in our efforts to attain the forgiveness of sins, we stand condemned.

We must take to heart the message of the gospel. We must trust in the message of Christ, and what he’s done for us. We must believe that the Son of God became man, that he might give his life on our behalf. We must know that he died on the cross, paying the penalty of our sin.  We must understand that, through faith in him, we can receive the forgiveness of sins and everlasting life.  And we must proclaim this message to one another, as well as to the world around us.

Yes, as Christians, it’ll be our desire to serve God. We’ll want nothing more than to turn from our sin and live the life to which he’s called us.  Yet we must always realize that our salvation is found not in what we do, but in what Christ has done for us. As we’re told in 1 John 2:2, He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.”