Monday, December 30, 2019

Called by God's Grace

The desire of God’s heart is the salvation of the lost. We learn in Scripture that God desires for all to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth (1 Timothy 2:4). And this desire is most clearly seen in Jesus, who is the propitiation for the sins of the whole world (1 John 2:2).

This desire is reflected also in the call God has given us. And what a great call this is. After receiving his grace and mercy through faith in Jesus, he calls us to carry the message of the gospel to others. He calls us to make disciples of all nations. He calls us to preach the gospel to the whole creation.

This is an intimidating thought to most of us. We don’t feel worthy of such a calling.  We think that a call like this is better suited for those who surpass us.

What we fail to understand is that, just as we are saved by the grace of God, so too are we called by God.  We see this in the words of Paul, spoken to his young colleague Timothy: “…share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God, who saved us an called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace…(2 Timothy 1:8-9 ESV).

Just as our goodness and efforts play no part in the salvation of God, neither does it play a role in the call of God. His call is not something that’s given to those who are deserving. It’s given to us because of his grace.

If it were given only to the deserving, if it were given only to the qualified, none of us would be worthy of God’s call. None of us would be worthy because, as Scripture tells us, none of us are good. We have all sinned and fallen short of God’s glory.

The call of God is an undeserved gift, an unmerited blessing, that he offers us. We bring absolutely nothing to the table. We neither deserve it, nor are we qualified for it. Yet, for his own purpose, he has chosen us to carry out this great task.

What, then, should our response be to the call that God has placed upon our life? Instead of rejecting it on the basis of our unworthiness, we should receive it as a gift and a blessing of God.  Instead of rejecting it because it seems to be a burden, we should receive it for the benevolence that it is.

Monday, December 23, 2019

Not Man’s Gospel

“For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man's gospel. For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ. For you have heard of my former life in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it. And I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people, so extremely zealous was I for the traditions of my fathers. But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with anyone; nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me, but I went away into Arabia, and returned again to Damascus. Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and remained with him fifteen days. But I saw none of the other apostles except James the Lord's brother. (In what I am writing to you, before God, I do not lie!) Then I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia. And I was still unknown in person to the churches of Judea that are in Christ. They only were hearing it said, "He who used to persecute us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy." And they glorified God because of me.”
‭‭Galatians‬ ‭1:11-24‬ ‭ESV‬‬

Many, today, think of the gospel as the teaching of man. They think of the Bible as the teaching of man. They believe it was authored because of the desire and intention of man.

For this reason, they believe the Bible to be flawed. The men who wrote the Bible, after all, were sinners like the rest of us. And it stands to reason that, just as we can’t do anything perfectly, just as we can’t do anything without our sin becoming apparent, neither could they.

For this reason, it’s also believed that it was a sinful motivation that led to the preaching of the gospel. They believe that it was a desire for power and control that led to its proclamation. They believe that a desire to overturn the regime of the day led to its proclamation. They believe that a desire for personal gain led to its proclamation.

However, as Paul makes clear above, the gospel he proclaimed was not his own. It wasn’t his own message. Nor was it the message of any other man.

He tells us that he didn’t receive this message from any man. It wasn’t taught to him by man. And, as he set out to proclaim this message, he didn’t consult with anyone.

Paul had received this message by a revelation of Jesus Christ. In other words, this message was given to him by Christ himself. He proclaimed only the message that Christ himself had shared with him.

Knowing that this message was given by Christ, sin is removed from the equation.  As Christ is perfect, so too is his Word. There are no mistakes or flaws to be found within it.

Paul also makes it clear that he had no sinful motives in proclaiming this message. He had, in fact, opposed this message at the outset. He was very zealous for the Jewish faith and for the traditions of his people. And, for this reason, he’d rapidly advanced among them.

He also mentions how he’d violently persecuted the church of God. He’d sought to destroy it. But, then, Jesus graciously revealed himself to Paul.

This tells us, unequivocally, that he had nothing to gain by the proclamation of the gospel. In fact, he’d surrendered everything that could benefit him. He renounced everything that could lead to his personal advancement.

Paul’s point, in this passage, is that the gospel is trustworthy. It’s completely reliable. It’s detached in every way from the sin and wicked intentions of man.

For this reason, we can hear this message with confidence. And, for this reason, we can proclaim this message with confidence. We can hear and proclaim it for what it truly is: the Word and Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Monday, December 16, 2019

Warts and All?

Most of us recognize our sinfulness. We recognize our imperfection. We realize that, no matter how hard we try, no matter how hard we strive to do better, we always fall short. And this is good.

It’s important that we recognize our sinfulness. It’s important that we recognize our inability to change ourselves. Without this recognition, we would never understand our need for salvation or look to Jesus in faith.

We would, instead, continue to look to ourselves. We would continue to trust in ourselves. And, in this way, we would miss out on this great blessing of God.

The problem is that we often resign ourselves to the sin with which we struggle. We tell ourselves that this is just the way we are. We tell ourselves that there is no changing. And for this reason, we believe that we, as well as others, have to accept ourselves warts and all.

In addition to recognizing our sin and our weakness, we must also realize that, in Jesus, we have hope. We must realize that he’s able to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves. We must realize that he can change us for the better.

In 1 Thessalonians 3, starting in verse 12, Paul says: “…and may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you, so that he may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.”

We have hope because the Lord can make us to increase and abound in love. He is able to establish our hearts blameless in holiness before God. Although we are naturally selfish and self-centered, the Lord is able to work within us.  He is able to transform us.

I’m not suggesting that we can be perfect on this side of eternity. Our sinful nature will remain a part of us until the end. However, we must not resign ourselves to the sins with which we struggle.

We must, of course, bring our sin to him in a spirit of confession. We must acknowledge to him our guilt, asking for his forgiveness. But we can also ask God to help us with our sinful desires and tendencies. We can ask him for strength that we might love one another as he’s called us.

As we do so, we can trust that God can and will produce growth in our lives. We can trust that he will produce in us the fruit of faith.  We can have hope that, by his grace, things can change for the better.

Monday, December 09, 2019

Struggling with Self

The Christian life can, at times, be discouraging.  It can be discouraging because, no matter how badly we long to live for the Lord, we continue to struggle with sin.  It can be discouraging because, no matter how greatly we detest our sin, we fall into it again and again.

Sometimes, by the grace of God, we are enabled to overcome a particular struggle.  Addicts, for example, are sometimes empowered by God to overcome their desire for alcohol or drugs.  And those who struggle with pornography or a tendency to swear are sometimes empowered by God to overcome those vices.

However, the struggle with sin continues for each and every one of us.  Not only do we fall short in the eyes of God.  We also fall far short of the expectations we’ve set for ourselves.  

We tend to think that, because of our faith in the Lord, and because of our love for him, it should be easy for us to live a godly life.  We think that, because of our faith and our love for the Lord, we should easily be able to resist any and every temptation.  We think that, because of our faith and our love for the Lord, we should be able to break free from our sinful habits.

We, then, become discouraged.  We beat ourselves up.  We sometimes even question if our repentance is genuine.

This is where the gospel offers to us a tremendous comfort.  This comfort comes to us in the words of Paul in 1 Timothy 1.  In verse 15, of that chapter, he writes: The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.”

Christ did not come for a people who were able to obey the law of God.  He didn’t come for a people that were able to resist their sinful desires.  Nor did he come for people who had overcome their sinful tendencies.

Jesus came into the world to save sinners.  He came into the world to save someone like Paul, who described himself as the foremost of sinners.  He came into the world to save sinners like you and me.

This, of course, doesn’t justify our sin.  It doesn’t free us to indulge our ungodly desires.  And it doesn’t free us to thumb our nose at God when his Word challenges our lifestyle.

It does, however, give us peace in the face of our sin.  It reminds us that our struggle with sin doesn’t not exclude us from salvation.  It reassures us that our failures do not remove from us God’s forgiveness.

Jesus came into this world to save sinners.  He came because we are incapable of living up to the standards of God.  He came because there is nothing we can do to save ourselves.  He came because only he could free us from sin and its consequences, enabling us to live eternally in the kingdom of God.

Wednesday, December 04, 2019

People Pleasers

“For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.”

(Galatians 1:10 ESV)

In modern times, the church has become a group of people pleasers. Our goal is to keep everyone happy all of the time. And, for this reason, we give in to every whim, to every emotion and response, of man.

We do so for multiple reasons. We do so because we dislike criticism. We’re afraid that, if we say or do the wrong thing, people will think badly of us. We’re afraid that, if we say or do the wrong thing, people will speak badly of us. We fear how it might affect our reputation or our standing in the community.


We do so because we fear persecution. We’re afraid that, if others disapprove of something we say or do, we’ll suffer as a result. Perhaps we’ll lose our job. Perhaps we’ll be shunned by the community. Or perhaps we’ll face physical attacks or threats.

We do so as a means of self-preservation. We’re afraid that, if we say or do something that others find offensive, they’ll stop coming to our church. We’re afraid that they might stop giving to our church. And we’re afraid that this might mean the end of our congregation.

When it comes to matters of personal preference, when there is no right and wrong of the matter, we can and should value the opinions of those around us. We can respect others and use deference when it comes to these matters. When it comes to things like music preference, worship style, carpet color, or church d├ęcor, the opinions of others can and should matter.

However, when it comes to the gospel, when it comes to matters of truth, we are not to be people pleasers. Our primary concern, as we engage in ministry, is not to be the negative response we may face. We see this as we look at the words of Paul, above.

As we’ve seen, Paul was bringing the gospel to the people of Galatia. And there were some who did not like it. There were some who were trying to impart a different teaching, a different gospel, within the church.

However, in the face of this, he recognized who it was that he should be trying to please. He recognized that, by pleasing the world, he’d be displeasing God. And he recognized that, by pleasing God, he would displease the world.

The same is true for us today.  So, the question we have to face is very simple: Which matters more, the will of man or that of God? And the answer to this question is obvious. No matter the response of the world, we should seek to please the Lord first and foremost.

Paul says that, if he were trying to please man, he would not be a servant of Christ. He would not be a servant of Christ because the desires of God and those of the world are at odds with one another. If his primary focus was the opinion of others, he would then be a servant of man rather than a servant of God.

The same remains true for us. We must seek to please God, first and foremost. We must seek to serve God, first and foremost. When it comes to the gospel, when it comes to matters of truth, the opinion of man must not enter into the equation.

Once again, this doesn’t give us permission to be a jerk. It doesn’t give us permission to be intentionally abrasive to those around us. We’re to always act in a spirit of love. However, we must recognize who is to be the focus of our devotion.

Friday, November 29, 2019

No Other Gospel

“But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.” 
(Galatians 1:8-9 ESV)

Here, in the United States, we live in a very diverse society. Although most of us have a Christian heritage, many other religions and belief systems are held to and practiced. People hold widely varying views and worship a multitude of gods.

And we are called by society to accept those who believe differently than we do. We are called by society to acknowledge their beliefs and practices as equal to our own. We are called to acknowledge their scriptures to be just as holy as our own. We are called to acknowledge that our faith is no more true than that of others.

We’re told, today, that we’re to live our truth and let other people live their truth. We’re told that we’re to do what works for us and that we’re to allow others to do the same. We’re told that we’re to respect the beliefs and practices of others, even when they contradict our own.

In an age of tolerance, in an age of pluralism, and in an age of relative truth, the words of Paul sound harsh. They sound judgmental and unloving. They sound arrogant and condemning.

He is clear that there is only one gospel. He is clear that there is only one means of salvation. And, for this reason, if we follow the philosophy of the world, we stand condemned. For this reason, if we follow the philosophy of the world, we’re siting passively by as people are led into hell.

We are not to receive any other gospel. We are not to accept any other gospel. And we are not to proclaim any other gospel.

Anyone who brings another gospel is accursed. Even if it’s an angel who brings to us another gospel, he is accursed. And if we bring another gospel, we ourselves are accursed.

We are to believe and proclaim only one gospel. We are to believe and proclaim only the gospel brought to us in God’s Word. It is the only truth and the only source of salvation.

To do so is not unloving. In fact, it’s the ultimate expression of love. It’s the ultimate expression of love because it’s through this gospel alone that we’re saved.

Please don’t misunderstand what I’m trying to say. This isn’t a license for us to be a jerk as we hold to our faith and proclaim it. We must love our neighbor as we share with him the message that will save his soul.

Monday, November 11, 2019

To Which Gospel Do We Cling?

“I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel--not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ.”

(Galatians 1:6-7 ESV)

The term “gospel” means “good news.” However, it’s also more specific than this. It refers to the good news of Jesus Christ.

The term “gospel” refers to the salvation that God sent into the world. It refers to Jesus, the Son of God, who suffered and died on the cross, bearing the punishment of our sin. It refers to his resurrection from the grave, by which he defeated the power of death. It refers to the grace that is received through faith in him.

This may seem very basic. It may seem elementary. But I never cease to be amazed at how many people in our society, and even within the church, don’t get it.

Most people in our society believe in heaven. They believe in salvation. But their understanding, when it comes to how this is received, is way off.

Most people believe that heaven, that salvation, is attained by us. They believe that we simply have to be “good” people. They believe that we must do our best to keep the commands of God. And they believe that we must do our best to love other people.

This is true not only in society, but also in the church. Even in the body of Christ, where people confess the Scriptural and the historic Christian faith, they are depending not upon Jesus but themselves. They are trusting in their efforts rather than the accomplished work of Christ.

This is nothing new. This is also what was going on among the Galatians. This group, who had initially received the gospel, brought to them by Paul, was now looking to themselves. They were trusting a message, a false gospel, brought to them by others.

Paul was astonished at how quickly they’d turned away from the gospel. He was amazed that they would turn from the message of grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone to something that depended on their efforts. He was astonished that they would abandon a message that provided the assurance of salvation for one of uncertainty.

He explained to them that there is no other gospel. He told them that all other versions of the gospel were mere distortions. They were falsehoods, they were misrepresentations, of the good news of Jesus brought to them by those who wished to trouble them.

As we face these distortions, today, we must recognize them for what they really are. We must recognize them as false versions of the gospel. And we must reject them. We must reject them in favor of the true gospel, the message of forgiveness and salvation that’s found only in Jesus.

Monday, November 04, 2019

The Means of Deliverance

“Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.”
(Galatians 1:3-5 ESV)

There is no question that we are living in an evil age. We watch the news and hear continual reports of war and violence. Throughout the course of our life, we experience hardship and suffering in its various forms. And sooner or later we all experience disease and death.

This is our reality because we live in a world that is corrupted by sin. We are a sinful people living among a sinful people.  And, as a result, we live in a world that suffers the consequences of sin.

It’s safe to say that we all long to be freed from the evil of this age. We long to be set free from the consequences of our wrongdoing. And we have various ideas about how this can happen.

For many of us, this falls into the realm of politics. If we can only find the right formula, if we can only satisfy the needs of the masses, we believe that the effects of sin will go away. If only we can eliminate poverty, give equal access to health care, and provide access to a quality education, there will be no more need for sin or violence.

For others among us, it’s a matter of self-help. If people will only read the right books and pull themselves up by their own bootstraps, things will be better. If only they work hard enough, if only they would restrain themselves, the evils of this world would be a thing of the past.

And, while I’m not denying the reality of mental illness, some of us go to the extreme that every act of sin and violence results from a mental health issue. We believe that those who commit mass shootings must be mentally ill. We believe that those who abuse their spouse or children must be mentally ill. We believe that those who steal, who lie, and who are resistant to authority must be mentally ill. And if we can only help these people, the evils of this world will be no more.

Most of our ideas, when it comes to escaping the evils of this present age, have to do with creating a utopia. They have to do with our creation of a heaven on earth. They have to do with our creation of circumstances where acts of evil are prevented and no longer seem necessary.

However, as we look at Paul’s words in the above passage, we find that the solution to the evil of this age has nothing to do with us. We find that it is not we who will provide the escape that we desire. This is found only in Jesus.

Jesus gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age. In saying this, Paul is referring to Jesus’ death on the cross, by which he paid the penalty of our sin, and by which he defeated the power of sin. He’s referring to the fact that Jesus willingly laid down his life that we might be saved.

He did this according to the will of God the Father. In other words, Jesus didn’t do this of his own accord. He did this because he, along with God the Father, desire our salvation.

Although this deliverance was secured by Jesus’ sacrifice, it’s something that we anticipate. It’s not something that we can experience in this world or age. It’s something that we’ll enjoy in the life to come. It’s something we’ll enjoy when Jesus returns, the dead are raised, and the new creation is brought forth.

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Thank Who?

“And she did not know that it was I who gave her the grain, the wine, and the oil, and who lavished on her silver and gold, which they used for Baal.”

(Hosea 2:8 ESV)

Although it’s hard to believe, Thanksgiving is almost upon us. And even though Thanksgiving is almost lost to us today, even though it’s looked upon as nothing more than the beginning of the Christmas season, it is a very important holiday.  It’s very important because of the truth of which it reminds us.

Thanksgiving is a day of thanks.  And being thankful implies that someone has helped us, that someone has blessed us, in some say.  So, this thanksgiving is directed toward someone.  It’s directed toward someone who is the source of our blessing. 

Most of us understand, in our society, that as we celebrate Thanksgiving, we are offering our thanks to God. We're acknowledging that he is the source of our blessing. We're acknowledging that we would have nothing apart from him.

As simple as this truth may seem, it’s very important. It’s very important because, if we fail to understand this, we will not continue to trust in the Lord. If we fail to understand this, we will place our trust in someone or something else that we view as the source of our blessing.

Our Wednesday night Bible study at Prince of Peace recently began our look at Hosea. Hosea was sent to tell the people of Israel that they’d been faithless to God. They had been an adulterous people. And, for this reason, God’s punishment was coming upon them.

They were chasing after other gods, believing that these deities were the source of their blessing. They credited these false gods with the provisions they enjoyed. They failed to understand, as we see in the above verse, that it was the Lord who had provided these blessings.

Even though the practice of idolatry seems archaic to us, in many ways, we have the same tendency. We have all of these wonderful blessings that have been lavished upon us by God. However, we chase after other gods, giving them the credit for the blessings we enjoy.

It could be a false religion or a false god. It could be nature, or the earth itself. It could be science or technology. It could even be ourselves, and our sense of hard work. But, whatever the case may be, we see this person or thing as the source of our blessing. And, for this reason, we pursue it and trust in it rather than God.

God planned to remove this delusion from the Israelites by withdrawing his hand of blessing. He would no longer grant to them his provision. And, in this way, they would come to see that these false gods had done nothing for them. They would come to see that these false gods could do nothing for them.

Although it seems harsh, this punishment was meant to accomplish something good. It was meant to draw them back to God himself. As they once again recognized the Lord as the source of their blessings, they would worship him and trust in him alone.

My prayer is that we would never come to this point. My prayer is that God would never have to withdraw his hand of blessing from us. My prayer is that we would continue to acknowledge him as the source of our blessing, that we would continue to trust in him, and that we’d give him the glory for the marvelous grace he bestows upon us.

However, as we see the ways in which we’re guilty of this sin, we must seek the Lord’s forgiveness. We must confess to him our sin, asking for his mercy, trusting in the atonement provided by Jesus. We must look to him not only for provision of our worldly needs, but also for his provision of forgiveness and mercy, which is promised to all who trust in him.

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Called by Man or by God?

“Paul, an apostle--not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead-- and all the brothers who are with me, To the churches of Galatia:”

(Galatians 1:1-2 ESV)

It’s often debated, as I’ve seen it debated a lot in recent days, whether God’s call for ministry comes from him directly (an immediate call) or through the church (a mediated call). Some insist that the call for ministry can come only by a direct revelation from the Lord. Others, however, insist that it can come only through the body of Christ.

As we consider this question, we must acknowledge that some, who feel an inner sense of call to ministry, are not truly called by God. I’ve encountered several people like this over the course of the years. Although they felt called to a certain type of ministry, it was clear that they were not gifted for this ministry. And as a result, even though they completed the required training, they were not called or elected by a congregation.

There are also those who claim the call of God upon their life, who sense the call of God upon their life, but do not meet the Biblical qualifications for such a role. They are not willing to submit to the standards given to us by God. And many within the church are willing to accept such claims.

However, we must also acknowledge that, without an inner sense of call, with only the call of the congregation, most people would refuse to serve in a ministry capacity. After all, ministry is an overwhelming job. It’s a role that few would dare to assume by choice. So, without that leading of the Lord, most would offer a humble “no” to such a call.

Finally, we must acknowledge that many churches, in a desperate search for those who will serve, look not for those who are gifted, nor for those who might be a good match for the church. They look only for a warm body. They want someone who will simply fill the role. As long as the individual possesses the required degree or training, or as long as they possess a willingness to serve, this is all that matters to them.

So, which is it? Does the call come from the Lord? Or does it come from the congregation? And to this question, I offer the answer of “yes.” The call comes from the Lord, but also through congregation. In fact, I would venture to say, it must come from both.

As we see in the above passage, Paul’s call as an apostle came not from man nor through man. His call came through Jesus Christ and God the Father. In other words, his call came directly from God.

This was an advantage to him because his primary motivation was not to please man, but God. His ministry was something that could not be stripped away by man. And he would not give up on his ministry because of the rejection of man, which is something he often faced.

That being said, in time, his ministry was recognized and approved by men (Galatians 2:7-10). Not only was it recognized and approved by those who heard the gospel he proclaimed. He was also given the right hand of fellowship by James, Peter, and John. They acknowledged that he’d been called by God to the ministry of the gospel among the uncircumcised.

Some might insist that, because this was Paul, his circumstances were different than our own. However, there is no real basis for such a claim. Regardless of our vocation within the church, it seems clear that the same principles apply.

This is certainly true of me. Without the inner sense of call, I would never have pursued ministry. And without the inner sense of call, I would have quit ministry many times over. It was the knowledge that this was a task to which I’ve been called by God that kept me going.

In the same spirit, without the call of the congregation, the ministry, entrusted to me by God, would be dead in the water. After all, you cannot preach to people if they don’t show up to listen. You cannot teach them if they refuse it listen. You cannot serve those who will not receive your service. It’s as they recognize your giftings and God’s call upon your life that they become willing to receive what you’re offering them.

So, as we carry out the ministry entrusted to us by God, no matter what role that may be, the same should be true of us. We must recognize the call placed upon our life by God himself. However, that call should also be acknowledged by the church, which recognizes our gifts and calls us into service.

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Rescue the Perishing

“My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.”
(James 5:19-20 ESV)

Many of you have probably known someone who has wandered from the truth. Despite the fact he’d once confessed faith in Christ, and despite the fact that the fruit of his faith was clearly seen, things are now different. He’s turned from the faith to which he once clung.

Perhaps he’s strayed from correct doctrine. Even if he continues to profess faith in Christ, his faith is very different than it once was. He’s turned from the essential tenets of the Christian faith to a false gospel.

Or, perhaps, he’s fallen into unrepentant sin. Not only did he make a mistake. Not only did he violate God’s commands. He now lives in this sin. It controls his life, and he’s unwilling to acknowledge it as sin or to turn from it.

This person is now in a precarious position. By turning from a saving faith in Jesus, or by his fall into unrepentant sin, his salvation is in jeopardy. Perhaps things have gone so far as to separate him from the grace of God.

Too often, when this happens, our response is to remove him from our life. Our relationship with him is completely severed. Due to the change in his life, we no longer pursue friendship as we once did. Due to the change in his life, we no longer concern ourselves with his spiritual state.

However, according to James, we’re to respond very differently to a case like this. If someone brings back a sinner from his wandering, he tells us, they will have saved his soul from death and covered over a multitude of sins. In other words, they will have rescued him from the judgment of God and brought him to a place of mercy.

Although we don’t like to involve ourselves in the lives of others, this, you see, is a matter of life and death. It’s a matter of salvation or damnation. It’s not simply a minor issue that we can brush off.

When someone wanders from the truth, we are to be concerned with his eternal welfare. It should concern us that someone, who was once a brother or sister in the faith, is outside of the grace of God. It should concern us that they might miss out on the blessings of God that are received by faith.

And, out of this concern, we should reach out to him. We should seek his salvation. We must lovingly call him from false doctrine, we must lovingly call him from sin, to the truth and comfort of the gospel.

This reflects the heart of God, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. It reflects the heart of God, who wants no one to perish. It reflects the heart of God, who has called us to proclaim the gospel to the whole creation, and to make disciples of all nations.

Monday, October 07, 2019

Lean On Me

“Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise. Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit.”

(Jam 5:13-18 ESV)

Overall, my personal prayer life is pretty good. I regularly offer up to the Lord prayers of praise and thanksgiving. I regularly bring to him my own needs and concerns. And I regularly bring to him my intercessions.

However, that being said, I’m not very good at asking for prayer. This likely ties in with my reluctance to ask others for help. Although I’m more than willing to pray for others, and although I’m more than willing to help others, I’m terrible at leaning upon others.

I’m terrible at it even though I know many who will help, if at all possible. I’m terrible at it although I realize that many are willing to minister to me in my need. It’s a flaw that I both recognize, and with which struggle, all at the same time.

From what I’ve seen, as a pastor, I’m not alone in this. This is true of many of us within the church. I’ve, at times, wanted to shake some of my parishioners who, when they have something major going on, fail to let me know.

In the above passage, James calls us to task for this. We’re encouraged to offer up our personal prayers. We’re called to bring our suffering before the Lord. We’re called also to bring to him our praises. But he doesn’t stop there.

James tells us that, when we’re sick, when we’re unwell, we’re to call upon the elders of the church for prayer. However, although our Bibles translate this word as “sick,” it means much more. It refers to our weakness. It refers to those times when we are feeble. It refers to those times when we are powerless.

What I’m saying is that we’re certainly to request prayer when we’re ill. But this call can refer to other circumstances as well. It can refer to mental illness. It can refer to spiritual weakness.

This is suggested also when he says that, if we’ve committed sins, we’ll be forgiven. It’s suggested by his admonition to confess our sins to one another. It’s suggested when he says that, as we do so, we’ll be healed.

The point is that we’re to call upon the elders, in our need, for prayer. And we’re to do so in faith. We're to do so realizing that the prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.

James uses the example of Elijah to make his point. Although he was a man, like us, and although he too was beset with weakness, his prayers were a demonstration of this power. He prayed that it would not rain, and this prayer was answered.  For three years and six months, there was no rain upon the land. And when he later prayed for rain, it was also answered.

Yes, God has promised to hear our prayers. And, more than that, he’s promised to answer our prayers. But we are called to receive prayer also from others within the church. We are called to bring our needs to the elders, to the spiritual leadership of the church, that we might also receive their prayers. And we’re assured that, as we do so, we’ll receive healing.

Tuesday, October 01, 2019

Congregations - The Assembly of Believers

“This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you…”

(Titus 1:5 ESV)

When I was in college at the University of Northern Iowa, I participated with Campus Crusade for Christ. As most of us know, Campus Crusade focuses on evangelism. The purpose of this organization is to reach students with the good news of Jesus.

However, one of the things that most impressed me about this ministry was not their focus on evangelism. What impressed me was their understanding of their identity. They constantly emphasized the fact that they were not a church. They emphasized the fact that they are a parachurch organization.

Although they sought to proclaim the gospel and to see students brought to faith in Christ, and although they had a focus on discipling those students, their goal was not to hang onto them. They encouraged these students to become part of a Christian congregation. They didn’t promote one church or denomination. But they encouraged the students to become an active part of a Bible-believing Christian Church.

I think that we, as Christians, can learn a lesson from their example. Most of us, as we think of the work of the church, focus on the Great Commission. We emphasize the call of Christ, to go and make disciples of all nations by baptizing and teaching. And there’s no denying that this is our mission. However, there’s another aspect of our work that’s often forgotten, an aspect that’s equally important to our outreach.

Once we carry out the Great Commission, once we proclaim the gospel and make disciples, what comes next? We then incorporate them into an existing congregation, or we encourage them to form new congregations. We encourage them to assemble together with their brothers and sisters in Christ for their mutual upbuilding, and that they might work together to carry out the Great Commission.

Although we don’t see it mentioned in Acts, it appears that Paul and Titus made a missionary visit to Crete. It appears that, as they proclaimed the gospel, people were brought to faith in Christ. And we get this impression from the above verse.

We see also that, as Paul was moving on, he left Titus behind. And he left Titus behind for a very important purpose. Titus was to put what remained into order and to appoint elders in every town.

What Titus was doing was assembling these new believers into congregations. He was organizing them into congregations. He was establishing congregations in each town.

This is also the focus of our mission work in the AFLC. Our Home Missions is focused upon establishing free and living Lutheran congregations here in the United States. And the focus of our World Missions is to establish free and living Lutheran congregations around the world.

We do so that believers might mutually edify one another. We do so that they might cooperate in carrying out the Great Commission. We do so that, operating as the body of Christ, Jesus’ purpose might be accomplished both in and through us.

Monday, September 30, 2019

Forgiving Others

“For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”

(Matthew 6:14-15 ESV)

Immediately prior to the words spoken above, Jesus had taught to his disciples the prayer we know as the Lord’s Prayer. In this prayer, he told them to pray: “…forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” Then, after concluding the prayer, he further explained this petition.

As it’s the only petition he went on to explain in greater detail, this tells us how important it is. As believers, as a people who’ve been forgiven, we are called upon to forgive others. In fact, we are required to do so.

We have to be careful with this statement, that we are required to do so. Forgiving others is not a work by which we merit salvation. However, the fruit of our own forgiveness, the necessary result of the forgiveness granted us by God, is our forgiveness of others.

In fact, if we fail to forgive others, we will not be forgiven. If we don’t extend to others the forgiveness that God has given us, we will not be forgiven. So this, you see, is a matter of grave consequence.

This is also an area where many of us tend to struggle. Although we long desperately for the grace and mercy of God, we are not willing to extend that grace to others. We feel that, instead of granting them forgiveness as an act of grace, they have to become deserving of our forgiveness.

We rationalize this behavior by saying we will not allow others to walk all over us. We rationalize this behavior by saying we have too much self-respect to allow others to treat us poorly. We tell ourselves that, when people wrong us repeatedly, forgiveness is no longer required.

This reveals that we don’t truly understand the gospel. It reveals to us that we don’t truly understand the magnitude of our sin. Understanding the gospel, and believing the gospel, will naturally cause us to extend forgiveness as an act of grace.

The gospel tells us that, because of our sin, we are completely undeserving of God’s blessings. The gospel tells us that God has granted us forgiveness even though we don’t deserve it. The gospel tells us that he’s granted us forgiveness even though we can in no way make it up to him. The gospel tells us that, because of Jesus’ sacrifice, God looks upon us as if we haven’t sinned.

It’s this grace that we’re called upon to extend to others. As we’ve been forgiven, we are to forgive. We are called to give grace to those who are undeserving, and to those who have wronged us repeatedly. We are to look upon those who have wronged us as if they haven’t done so.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

I Swear...

“But above all, my brothers, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or by any other oath, but let your "yes" be yes and your "no" be no, so that you may not fall under condemnation.”

 (James 5:12 ESV)

Years ago, I had gotten into a strange habit when speaking to others. I would often begin my answer to a question with the phrase “to be honest.” I think it was my dad who caught me on this. Half joking, he once said to me: “So the rest of the time you’re not honest?”

His point was plain. I do tend to be a very honest person. I won’t claim perfection, but generally this is the case. And, because this is true, why would I need to utter such a phrase? I should simply speak honestly all of the time, and people will know what to expect from me.

The same thing is true when it comes to taking oaths. Many of us are in the habit of swearing. We’ll say things such as: “I swear to God,” or simply, “I swear.”

Now, there are times when taking oaths is acceptable and even good. When we are serving as a witness at court, we are sworn in. Public officials will take an oath of office. Service members are required to take an oath. And we should not hesitate to do so in a circumstance such as this.

However, when it comes to our daily conversation, and when it comes to our day to day commitments, oaths are not necessary. There is nothing to be gained by making them. We should make every effort to lead an honest life, we should make every effort to honor our word, rendering them unnecessary.

As James says it above, we should let our yes be yes and our no be no. We should mean what we say and honor the commitments we’ve made. And, being truthful people, these oaths will be unnecessary. Knowing that we are trustworthy, people will take us at our word.

There will be times, of course, where we forget a commitment we’ve made. There will be times when, for good reason, we change our mind. But these should be the exception rather than the norm. And we should be willing to apologize and give reason for this change when it does occur.

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Living in Hope

“Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains. You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand. Do not grumble against one another, brothers, so that you may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing at the door. As an example of suffering and patience, brothers, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast. You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful.”

(James 5:7-11 ESV)

The Lord has given to us a tremendous hope. He’s assured us that, one day, Jesus will return. He’s assured us that, when Jesus returns, the dead will be raised imperishable and that those who are alive in Christ will be transformed. He’s assured us of a new heaven and earth. And he’s assured us that we’ll live forever in this new creation, where there is no more suffering, death, or mourning.

As we endure the trials of this life, we can’t help looking forward to the fulfillment of these promises. In fact, we would prefer that Jesus come back now. We would prefer that the hardships of this life would come to an end that we might enjoy the blessings of which Scripture has spoken.

We, however, do not know when this day will come. It may come soon, or it may be generations away. And, for this reason, we are called to patience.

James compares the patience being required of us to that of a farmer, waiting for the fruit of the earth. He has to wait while the crops receive the early and the late rains. He has to wait until the time of harvest is at hand.

He points us also to the patience of the prophets as they proclaimed the Word of God. He points us to Job, who remained steadfast in the face of many trials. Their example is one we can emulate as we look forward in hope.

He then reminds us of the Lord’s purpose. He does so because, as we wait, it’s easy for us to call this into question. As we endure the trials of life, we can begin to question his motives. And God’s purpose, James assures us, is compassionate and merciful.

God’s desire is for our salvation. But it’s not for our salvation alone. He desires the salvation of all mankind. And, as we await Jesus’ return, he’s working for the salvation of the lost.

In the meantime, we’re not to grumble against one another. We’re to avoid this complaining, realizing that it can lead to judgment. It reflects not the patience to which we are called, but our momentary displeasure.

May we, then, look for the Lord’s coming in hope. May we patiently await his return, knowing that God is faithful to his promise. And may we remain steadfast, living in light of this hope, without wavering.

Thursday, September 05, 2019

Taking Advantage of the Needy

“Come now, you rich, weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon you. Your riches have rotted and your garments are moth-eaten. Your gold and silver have corroded, and their corrosion will be evidence against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You have laid up treasure in the last days. Behold, the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, are crying out against you, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. You have lived on the earth in luxury and in self-indulgence. You have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter. You have condemned and murdered the righteous person. He does not resist you.” 
(James 5:1-6 ESV)

No matter how we compare to others in our nation, the fact of the matter is that we are rich. As Americans, we are among the wealthiest people in the world. Even those considered “low income” in our nation have far more than most people in the rest of the world today. 

As those who are rich, we have to take the above passage seriously. Even though we may believe ourselves to be innocent, even though we may believe that we haven’t or don’t take advantage of others, we have to evaluate ourselves when it comes to those who have less. We have to do so because it’s the natural tendency of our sinful nature.

The rich have a tendency to be discontent with their wealth. They have a tendency to always want more. And they have a tendency to do whatever is necessary to make that possible, even if it means harming or taking advantage of others.

As I say this, I’m reminded of Martin Luther’s explanation of the Seventh Commandment in his Small Catechism.  He says: “We should fear and love God so that we do not rob our neighbor of his money or property, nor bring them into our possession by unfair dealing or fraud, but help him to improve and protect his property and living.”

Even if we believe that we haven’t robbed our neighbor of his money or property, we may have stolen in other ways. We may have taken advantage of his misfortune to acquire something unjustly. Or we may have taken advantage of his misfortune to improve our own.

For example, imagine your neighbor has an awesome sports car. You’d like one for yourself, but they cost too much money. Your neighbor, then, loses his job and has to sell his car in order to provide for his family. And you come in with a low-ball offer because you know he’s desperate. You pay him far less than the car’s value, knowing that he’ll accept it in his time of need.

Or perhaps someone is desperate for a job, and you hire him. However, knowing he is desperate, you fail to pay him a fair wage. You take advantage of him, in his hardship, for your own personal gain.

These are the situations to which James is referring. We live in luxury while taking from those who have little. And, if we are guilty of this, his warning must be taken seriously.  We must repent of our sin, look to Jesus for the forgiveness of our sin, and make things right with our neighbor.

As God’s people, we are called to love our neighbor. We’re called to serve our neighbor. We’re called to seek his blessing, rather than his harm.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Planning for the Future

“Come now, you who say, "Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit"-- yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, "If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that." As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.”

(James 4:13-17 ESV)

In our society, we like to plan. In fact, we encourage people to plan for just about everything. We encourage them to decide what they would like to do and to discover how they can accomplish their goal.

We’re always asking high school students what they would like to do as a career, and how they plan to accomplish their goal. We ask young couples about their plans when it comes to starting a family. And we encourage people to prepare for retirement by putting a savings plan into place. The examples are endless.

In the above passage, however, James challenges this way of thinking. I say that he challenges it because he calls us to consider the implications of our planning. And he calls us to look at life differently.

Although we tend to think that our method of planning is wise, James tells us that it’s arrogant. It’s arrogant because we act as if we have something to say when it comes to our future. It’s arrogant because we act as if we know what tomorrow will hold.

He reminds us that, in ourselves, we are nothing. He reminds us that our life is a mist. We’re here for a short time, and then we’re gone without a trace. And, for this reason, we're to consider God’s will for our life.

We ought to say, he tells us: If it’s God’s will, we’ll do this or that. While we can utter these words as we discuss our future, this isn’t as much of a formula as it is an attitude. We must approach life with a spirit of humility, recognizing that God holds our future in his hands. And we must approach life recognizing that God blesses us with everything we need that we might accomplish his purpose.

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Occupying the Place of God

“Do not speak evil against one another, brothers. The one who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks evil against the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. There is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor?”

(James 4:11-12 ESV)

We’re continually told, today, that we’re not to judge. What is meant by this is that we’re not to speak against the behavior of others, sinful or not. What is meant by this is that we are not to share God’s truth. And it may be easily assumed that this is what James is saying above.

He tells us, however, that we’re not to speak evil of one another. This can also be translated as: speaking against our brother, or slandering our brother. It’s a general term that can describe many forms of harmful speech such as questioning legitimate authority, defamation, or bringing wrongful accusations against another. In other words, we are not to make it seem that our brother is guilty when the reality is different or even unknown.

As believers, then, we are not to run one another down. We’re not to assume the worst about one another. This is something that we see in Luther’s explanation of the Eighth Commandment in his Small Catechism. Luther says: “We should fear and love God so that we do not deceitfully lie about, betray, backbite, nor slander our neighbor but defend him, speak well of him, and put the most charitable construction on all that he does.”

Sadly, this is something that happens all the time in the church. We see or hear something about another that raises a question or doubt in our mind. And we naturally assume the worst about him.

We judge him. We determine that he’s living in unrepentant sin. We determine that he’s wrongly occupying a position of authority. We believe that his faith is in question. And not only do we harbor these thoughts, but we share them with others.

In this way, we run down our brother. In this way, we destroy his reputation. In this way, we speak against him.

This is something we must not do. In this case, we’re assuming a position that belongs not to us, but to God. James tells us that, by doing so, not only are we wrongfully judging our brother. We’re standing in judgment of the law. We’re acting as though we are the author of the law. We’re acting as though we are God himself.

This, we’re reminded, is not our position. God alone is the author of the law. God alone renders judgment. God alone is able to save and to destroy.

This doesn’t forbid us from the proclamation of God’s Word. It doesn’t forbid the preaching of the law. And it doesn’t forbid us from holding one another accountable.  However, while we are called upon to voice God’s law and his judgement, we are not called to share our own. While we are called upon to proclaim the Word of God, we are not called to share our own. We are not to speak against our brother, sharing our baseless judgment of him.

Monday, August 12, 2019

Humble Submission

“Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.”

(James 4:7-10 ESV)

Most of us think that we understand the difference between pride and humility. Pride, we believe, is thinking too much of ourselves. And humility, in contrast, is thinking too little of ourselves. While there is some truth to this understanding, what we fail to grasp is the connection of pride to unrepentance, and humility to repentance.

This is brought out to us in the above passage. James had been addressing the connection that the believers possessed with the world. He’d told them that, by befriending the world, they became enemies of God. It was an act of adultery, an act of unfaithfulness, to the God who’d made them his own.

As we see above, he goes on to call the people to repentance. If things were to change, if they were to be rescued from this state of enmity with God, they had to turn from their sin and to the Lord. And this repentance would take the form of submission and humility.

Neither of these words are considered desirable by mankind today. Submission, after all, implies that we are not free to make our own decisions. It implies that we’re not in charge of our own life. And humility implies an attitude of weakness and lowliness.

We don’t aspire to either of these qualities. In fact, we tend to look down upon those who possess them. And we, instead, encourage the opposite. We encourage people to think highly of themselves and to take charge of their own life.

Repentance, however, takes the form of submission and humility because we are brought to the realization of our true standing. We are brought to an understanding of our position in the universe. And this removes any sense of pride or self-worth we may feel.

We are brought to the realization of our sinfulness. We are brought to the realization that we are not good people. We are brought to the realization that we are undeserving of God’s love and blessing. We are brought to the understanding that the only thing we deserve is his wrath.

We are also brought to the realization that God is our Lord. We are brought to the realization that Jesus is our Lord. And we, in turn, are his people. We are the people that he both created and redeemed.

While this may lower our view of ourselves, it’s a blessed thing. It’s a blessed thing because of the great assurance we receive from the Lord. As James points out to us, when we resist the devil, he will flee from us. When we draw near to God, he will draw near to us. And when we humble ourselves, God himself will exalt us.