Subscribe: Preaching the Word
Added By: Feedage Forager Feedage Grade A rated
Language: English
Rate this Feed
Rate this feedRate this feedRate this feedRate this feedRate this feed
Rate this feed 1 starRate this feed 2 starRate this feed 3 starRate this feed 4 starRate this feed 5 star

Comments (0)

Feed Details and Statistics Feed Statistics
Preview: Preaching the Word

Preaching the Word

Preaching the Word of God to Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Beulah, North Dakota and to all who will hear.

Updated: 2016-12-04T07:36:34.561-06:00


The Fullness of Time


“But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.”(Galatians 4:4-5 ESV)            It seems unreal to be writing about Christmas.  It seems unreal because this year has just flown by.  And, perhaps, it also seems unreal because of the exceptionally nice fall we’ve had here in North Dakota.            However, here we are at that time of year when we celebrate the birth of Jesus into the world.  And what a fitting event it is to celebrate.  It’s fitting because, in the birth of Jesus, salvation was provided for mankind.  The salvation, promised by God since the fall of Adam and Eve, was now at hand.            This happened, we’re told, when the fullness of time had come.  This means that the time was right.  The time, determined by God for the birth of the Savior, had arrived.            What made that moment the right one is known and understood only by God.  However, it was at this point that God sent his Son into the world.  It was at this point that he sent his Son to redeem us.            We needed this redemption because we were under the law.  Man was not only living under the law, obligated to carry out God’s commands.  He was also under the condemnation of the law.  Because of his sin, because he’d violated the law of God, he deserved the punishment prescribed by the law.  Mankind, as a whole, was deserving of both death and hell.            It’s from this that Jesus came to redeem us.  It’s from this that he came to buy us back.  He was born into the world that he might pay the necessary price that we might once again belong to him.              The price that he paid was his very life.  Jesus, after living a perfect life, was put to death on the cross.  He offered himself on our behalf.  And, in this way, he secured for us salvation from the penalty of the law.            This is a familiar story.  It’s one that we’ve heard many times before.  Yet its meaning is often forgotten.  Although we celebrate Jesus’ birth, we often forget the primary purpose of his coming.  We, along with the rest of the world, tend to think that Jesus came for some other purpose.  We think that he came primarily to teach. We think that he came only as an example for us to follow.  And, for this reason, his sacrifice becomes more of an afterthought.Others, in the liberal or “progressive” churches, go to a much greater extreme.  They tell us that God would never have sent Jesus to die.  They tell us that, if this were true, it’s a case of divine child abuse.However, Scripture is clear regarding Jesus’ purpose in coming.  As we see in the above passage, he came to redeem us.  And we see clearly throughout Scripture that he did so by giving his life on the cross.We see this, for example, in 1 Peter 1:18-19 which says: “…you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.”As we enter into this special time of year, let’s remember what truly makes it special.  Let’s remember this gospel hope that we’ve been given.  And let’s celebrate the coming of our Savior who was born that he might die, who was born that he might offer himself as the atoning sacrifice for our sin.[...]

A Unique Opportunity


"I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ. And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear."
(Philippians 1:12-14 ESV)

There's fear among believers in our nation today. They fear that our freedom of religion will be taken from us. They fear that our freedom of religion is being taken from us. And I believe that this is, in fact, happening.

There's concern about how this will affect our life here in the United States. There's concern about how this will affect our ministry as Christian believers and congregations. It's felt that the restrictions being placed upon us will hinder our ability to reach out with the gospel. It's felt that they will hinder our ability to carry out the call God has given us.

I certainly don't want my freedoms to be restricted or taken away. I thank God for the freedoms we've enjoyed up to this point. However, I've become convinced that, even if these fears are realized, it will present a unique opportunity to the church.

We see, in the above passage, that this was the case with Paul. As he wrote to the church at Philippi, he was in jail. And it seems to us that this loss of freedom would severely restrict his ministry.

No longer was Paul able to move among the people. No longer was he able to teach and to preach as he once had. And no longer was he able to move from town to town. In this way, it seems that he'd lost his ability to carry out his calling.

However, his imprisonment presented him with a unique opportunity. He says that it served to advance the gospel. He said that it was known to the whole imperial guard, along with all the rest, that he'd been imprisoned for Christ. And what a witness this was.

He also said that, because of his imprisonment, most of the brothers had grown more confident. He says that they'd been emboldened to speak the Word without fear. So, instead of one man fearlessly proclaiming God’s Word, there were now many.

None of us want to see our freedoms removed. None of us want to be jailed, or worse, for our proclamation of the gospel. But we can be assured that, even if it comes to this, God’s work will continue. It will bring to us unique opportunities that we wouldn't otherwise possess.

So don't lose heart, no matter what happens to our freedoms. Whether they remain intact or are stripped away from us, the Word of God will go forth. No matter our circumstances, God will provide us with opportunities to serve him and to bless others.

Thank Who?


“Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever!” (Psalm 107:1 ESV)            As we come to November, Thanksgiving is what instantly comes to my mind.  I think this is true for most of us.  We anticipate this day, when we’ll stop and offer thanks for all of the blessings we enjoy.            As Thanksgiving gets closer, we’ll be reminded to give thanks by many.  We’ll see these reminders on TV.  We’ll hear them on the radio.  It will be shared by those who surround us on a daily basis.  However, as we begin our anticipation of this holiday, we must first ask ourselves this: To whom are we thankful? To whom do we offer our thanks for each of our blessings?            The answer to this question should be obvious.  But, unfortunately, it’s not understood by most in our society.   Everybody in our nation, believer and unbeliever alike, celebrates this day.  Yet, even though so many take part in this celebration, and even though we’re reminded by so many to offer our thanks, it’s often directed to no one in particular.  We’re simply giving thanks for the sake of giving thanks. It’s as though we’re thankful to no one for the blessings we enjoy.            However, when we rightly offer thanks, we’re expressing our gratitude for a kindness given to us by someone.  It’s our recognition of their generosity and their gracious spirit.  And, as we look to Scripture, we find that God is the source of every blessing we possess.            God is the source of life.  He created us in the beginning, and he sustains that life from day to day.  He provides for us the resources we need in life, such as food, clothing, and shelter.  He provides for us our family, with whom we share life and the responsibilities that come with it.  And, of course, he provides for us eternal life.            This is the point in the verse quoted above.  And this refrain is repeated throughout the entire psalm.  We’re reminded to give thanks to the Lord, for his love endures forever.  And his love is seen in the blessings he bestows upon us.            So, as we celebrate Thanksgiving, let’s make sure that we’re properly giving thanks.  Let’s make sure that we’re directing that thanks to the one who has provided each and every one of our blessings.  And let us also share with others what God has done for us, that they too might come to know him, to recognize his blessings, and to trust in him for all that they need.[...]

Evangelism: The Product of Faith


“Since we have the same spirit of faith according to what has been written, "I believed, and so I spoke," we also believe, and so we also speak, knowing that he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into his presence.”(2 Corinthians 4:13-14 ESV)            We live in a society, today, where we’re encouraged to keep our faith to ourselves.  Evangelism is discouraged and is characterized as intolerance and hate speech.  It’s branded in this way because our intention is that people would turn from their current belief to a faith in Jesus. Our intent is that people might turn from their current practices that they might follow Christ.            Many who profess the name of Christ have bowed to the pressure.  They seek to practice their faith on their own, and don’t speak of it outside of church or their home.  They’ve bought into the lie that we’re to be accepting of other people.  And, because of this, they allow others to continue along the path to destruction.            Paul, in the above passage, paints a different picture.  He paints a picture that is very convicting and challenging.  He tells us that his proclamation of the gospel results from his faith.            His hope in Christ, his hope of the resurrection, caused him to speak out.  It caused him to proclaim this hope to those around him.  It caused him to speak out regardless of the circumstances that he faced (he references this in verses 7-12).            I find this convicting because it forces me to ask this question of myself: Does may faith do the same?  Does my hope in Christ cause me to share the gospel with those around me?  And if not, why is this true?            Our faith will naturally lead us to share the gospel with those around us.  Realizing our sin, realizing the suffering that we deserve, and knowing the sacrifice that Jesus made on our behalf, how can we not speak out?  This hope implants within us the desire that others might receive the same blessing as us.  It implants within us the desire that others might receive the forgiveness and salvation that Christ has provided for them.            This, after all, is God’s desire.  We’re told in Scripture that God does not delight in the death of the wicked (Ezekiel 33:11).  He desires for all to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth (1 Timothy 2:4).            This is also the calling that Christ has entrusted to us.  He's called us to make disciples of all nations.  He's called us to proclaim the gospel to all creation.            Our hope in Christ will cause us to speak out even if it means suffering on our part.  It grants to us a willingness to suffer for the sake of others.  We know that, even if our very life is demanded of us, no one can take away the salvation that has been provided for us by the Lord.            If our faith in Christ does not lead us to speak, if it does not lead us to share the gospel, what does this suggest?  What does it tell us about our faith?  If we fail to share God’s heart for the lost, if we are unwilling to carry out the calling he’s entrusted to us, and if we are not willing to suffer for the sake of those who are perishing, what does this suggest about our hope?            We must pray, then, that t[...]

Why Should I Go to Church?


            Every so often, I hear someone say something to the effect of this: “Why should I go to church?  You don’t have to go to church to be a Christian.”            Now, in one sense they’re right.  We aren’t saved because we go to church.  It isn’t a work by which we gain the mercy of God.  We’re saved only by the grace of God. And this grace is received only through faith in Jesus.  However, that being said, someone who truly believes in Jesus will want to go to church.  We see several reasons for this in Scripture.            We see a couple of reasons in Hebrews 10:24-25, which says: “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”            We see, first of all, that we’re called to gather together.  We’re told that we’re not to neglect to meet together, as is the habit of some.  And we’re told that we’re to do so all the more as we see the day, the day of Christ’s return, approaching.  If God desires that we should meet together, why would we refuse him?  As people of faith, we naturally desire to live life according to his will.              Yet there’s more to it than this.  We find that there are blessings God intends for us to receive through the church.  We see in this passage, for example, that we’re to go to church that we might encourage one another.  The Christian life is not designed to be lived alone.  It’s designed to be lived in community.  And by gathering together, we’re able to stir up one another to love and good works, and to encourage one another in the faith.            We see another reason for going to church in 1 Corinthians 12.  In verses 4-7, we read: “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” And in verse 12, we’re told: “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.”            We see in these verses that the Spirit of God gives gifts to his people.  And he gives them not for our own good, but for the common good. In other words, the gifts that he gives to us are given for the benefit of the church as a whole.  For this reason, when we gather with our fellow believers, we’re able to bless them with the gifts God has given us.  And, in the same way, we’re able to be blessed by the gifts he’s given to others.            In this chapter, Paul uses the human body to illustrate his point.  The body is made up of many parts with many functions.  Yet each of these parts, along with their functions, serve the good of the body.  And the same is true of the church.  We each have a function, we each have a role to play, for the good of the church.            We see another vital reason to attend church in Romans 10:17, where Paul says: “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” We are drawn to faith through the hearing of the Word.  And, although we can read the Word at home, although we can listen to preachers on th[...]

Before It's Too Late


“Working together with him, then, we appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain. For he says, "In a favorable time I listened to you, and in a day of salvation I have helped you." Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.”(2 Corinthians 6:1-2 ESV)            It’s so easy to take for granted the many blessings we enjoy every day.  It’s easy for us to take our freedom for granted.  It’s easy for us to take our family for granted.  It’s easy for us to take our job, our home, and our wealth for granted.            We do this because these blessings have always been there for us.  We’ve never been without them.  And, because of this, we seem to think that they always will.            We often do the same thing when it comes to God.  More specifically, we do the same thing when it comes to his salvation.  We understand the love he has for us.  We know the sacrifice he’s made for us.  We know his desire for our salvation.  And, for this reason, we take it for granted.  We just assume that his salvation will always be available to us.            Many people approach life thinking that they can turn to God later on.  They want to enjoy themselves now.  They want to satisfy their sinful desires.  And they think that they have plenty of time to confess to God and receive his mercy.            Many people simply believe that, because God is loving, and because he desires their salvation, it doesn’t matter what they do.  No matter the life that they live, they believe that God will forgive them.  No matter how great their rebellion, they believe that God will save them.            However, as we see in the above text, salvation is not something we can take for granted.  In this passage, Paul urged that the Corinthians would not receive God’s grace in vain.  He didn’t want them to receive it in an empty or meaningless way.  He didn’t want them to take it lightly.              He also makes it clear that God’s salvation will not be available forever.  He tells us that now is the favorable time.  He tells us that now is the day of salvation.            We all realize that, as far as our life in this world is concerned, tomorrow isn’t promised to us. A sudden accident could take our life.  We could suffer a heart attack or go into cardiac arrest.  We could be unexpectedly diagnosed with a serious illness that brings our life in this world to an end.            We also know from Scripture that Jesus will soon return.  We don’t know when that day will come.  But it could come at any moment.  And, for this reason, we must be prepared.            We must make sure that we are not treating God’s grace lightly.  We must make sure that we receive his mercy while we still can.  We must make sure that we receive God’s mercy through faith in Christ before the day of grace comes to an end.            This passage also speaks to us in another way.  As we share in God’s call to make disciples of all nations, like Paul, we are ambassadors for Christ.  And this passage reminds us of the urgency of that mission.            We often allow[...]

Hell No?


“But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him!” (Luke 12:5 ESV)            Lately, I’ve run across several blog posts from “progressive” Christians.  And, in these posts, they’ve challenged the traditional Christian doctrine of hell.  They don’t believe in hell.  They don’t believe that God would send anyone to hell.            The only way they can make this challenge is by dismissing certain passages of the Bible.  After all, hell is a theme that runs all throughout Scripture.  They have to, essentially, cherry pick the Bible that they might hold to this view.            They use their reason and emotion to justify their belief.  They tell us that a righteous God, that a loving God, could not condemn people to an eternity of suffering in hell.  And they defend this by pointing to passages of the Bible, like 1 John 4:8, which tells us that God is love.            We must remember, first of all, that we can’t use our reason or emotion to make a determination of truth.  Both our mind and our heart have been corrupted by sin.  As we read in Jeremiah 17:9, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick…”             In the same way, we read in Romans 1 that God has given man over to a debased mind.  We see, in Colossians 1, that we were alienated and hostile in mind before coming to faith in Christ.  And we see in 1 Corinthians 1 that the wisdom of God is foolishness to those who are perishing.            The simple fact of the matter is that we cannot trust our human mind or emotions to guide us into a true understanding of God.  They will lead us only away from him.  They will lead us only to sin and judgment.            For this reason, we must look to the Word of God to discover what is true.  We must not make ourselves to be the judge of God and his Word.  We must, instead, submit ourselves to God and his Word.            We see, from the very beginning of the Bible, that suffering and death are the consequence of sin.  And the only way we’re able to escape this fate is through Jesus.  Through faith in him, through faith in his promise, we’re able to receive the blessings of forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life.            If we fail to look to Jesus in faith, we remain under the consequence of our sin.  And this is essentially what hell is.  It’s the place where we suffer the consequence of our sin in eternity.            Does the reality of hell reflect a lack of righteousness on God’s part?  Does it reflect a lack of love on his part?  Absolutely not.            After all, because of our sin, we deserve God’s wrath.  We in no way deserve God’s forgiveness or salvation.  Those who do stand condemned are receiving only what they are due.And not only is this true.  We find also that God has done everything necessary to provide salvation to all mankind.   He sent Jesus, who gave his life on the cross, providing atonement for the sin of all people (1 John 2:2). They need only to receive it by faith.            Telling people that there is no hell,[...]

Thank you, Prince of Peace!


“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.” (John 13:34 ESV)As a pastor, I’m expected to be there for people during difficult seasons of their life.  This is part of my calling.  And I love the fact that I can be a support and an encouragement for them.  However, I want to publicly thank my congregation, Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Beulah, North Dakota, for the support they’ve recently shown to me.            So often, pastors are not given the level of support I’ve received.  Unrealistic expectations are frequently placed upon them as they labor among their flock.  It seems that congregation members don’t realize that, although we’re called to serve God and his people full-time, we too are human.  We too experience hardships.  We too get tired.  We too are burdened.  And this often ends in pastors becoming burned out.            As my mom was suffering from terminal cancer, and as she passed away, the people of Prince of Peace were incredibly gracious.  I was told at the outset of her illness that I should take as much time as I needed to be with her, and that this would in no way be counted as vacation.  And these were no idle words.            Having a big family, summer is really our only opportunity to travel.  And, on top of personal vacation, I also had two ministry related trips scheduled.  This made it seem that my time at the church was extremely limited.              Yet, in addition to a week with my parents in late May, I was able to schedule two trips to see my mom as her condition worsened.  And the church had no hesitation when, on the Friday before her death, I made a last minute decision to jump on a plane to be with her and the rest of my family.            Her funeral required that I be gone yet another Sunday.  And, once again, the people of Prince of Peace were so supportive.  Our youth pastor jumped in to cover for me, as he always does.  And I was told repeatedly that I was not to worry about anything at the church.            I so greatly appreciate the time that was given me to both be with mom and also to mourn.  It’s been an extremely stressful time, and the flexibility given to me made it so much easier.  I did have some feelings of guilt, being away so much.  But these were the result of my own sense of responsibility, and were in no way placed upon me by the church.            I also appreciate the cards that were sent, the prayers that were raised on behalf of my mom and my family, and the condolences that were expressed.  I appreciate the congregational leadership who stopped by to simply check up on me and to reassure me that all would be taken care of.   And I appreciate the beautiful flowers that were sent to her funeral.              I am truly blessed to labor among you.  I am blessed by a congregational leadership that recognizes my needs.  And I’m blessed by a supportive staff, who gladly adjust and take on additional responsibility at a moment’s notice.            Now that I am home and once again engaged in ministry, I continue to grieve.  I’m still a bit drained emotionally and physically.  But I am eager to be a blessing to the people who have been such a[...]

Better By Far


Mom was a great lady, and she’ll be missed by all of us.  She was a great mother to Kristy and I.  As kids, she was so patient with us.  And, when she did lose it, it was short lived.  In fact, even when she gave us some much needed discipline, she would end up feeling bad about it.She was also a tremendous grandmother.  All of the kids love her.  And she always enjoyed being around her grandbabies.Most importantly, she was a woman of faith.  She wasn’t a theologian.  But she enjoyed going to church and attending Bible studies.  She also enjoyed reading her Bible at home.As most of you know, mom’s diagnosis was very unexpected.  She wasn’t very old. And, outwardly, she seemed pretty healthy.Like most of us, she worked to keep her weight down.  She made a habit of walking most days.  She liked to get in her 10,000 steps every day. In fact, she was wearing her fitbit all the way until the end. It all started when she woke up with back pain.  And after visiting the chiropractor, who advised her to seek medical help, her real problem was soon discovered.Mom was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer. She was told from the outset that there would be no cure, from a medical standpoint anyway. Her treatments would serve only to minimize her pain and to provide her with a better quality of life.She could be cured by God, of course. He has the power to do anything. And, if he so desired, he could have simply spoken the word, as he often did in the gospels. And that's the rub, you see. It's the place where we often get hung up when it comes to our faith. If God has the power to heal, why didn't he do it? If he's as loving as Scripture proclaims him to be, why would he do nothing?This is explained to us in Philippians 1, which is our epistle lesson for this morning.  When he wrote this passage, Paul was facing the prospect of death. Not in the same sense as mom. But he was facing the possibility of death in a very real way.He had been arrested because of his faith and his ministry activities. He was now awaiting his trial, the verdict of which could be life. But it also could be death.And look at the words Paul penned when faced with this prospect. Starting in verse 18, he says: “Yes, and I will rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance, as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith, so that in me you may have ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus, because of my coming to you again.”He says, first of all, that to live is Christ and to die is gain. If God spared him from the power of his earthly rulers, he would be able to live for the Lord. He would be able to continue in his ministry of directing the lost to the salvation found in Christ. To die, however, was to gain a blessing not possible this side of eternity.Paul goes on to say that, if the choice were his, it would be a difficult one. He desired to continue in his service and ministry. But to be with Christ, he says, is better by far.This is what we must bear in mind in a loss like this. Yes, had God healed mom, that would've been a great blessing. She would have loved to live among us for a while longer.  I know that she desired to watch[...]

The Church as Family


"My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it."(Luke 8:21 ESV)            All of us, I think, would say that our family is of the utmost importance to us.  We would say that we value our family over everything else this world has to offer.  And most of us have a fierce loyalty when it comes to our family.  Who hasn’t heard the expression: “Blood is thicker than water.”            This is why we’re shocked when we read the words of Jesus, seen above.  We see in Luke 8 that, as Jesus was teaching, his mother and brothers came to him.  However, they couldn’t reach him because of the crowd. Word was then brought to him that they were outside, desiring to see him.            It’s in this context that Jesus utters these words.  And, for this reason, they almost come off as disrespectful.  It sounds to us like he’s devaluing his earthly family.  We wonder why he wouldn’t prioritize his family over the crowd who was listening to him.  We wonder why he didn’t stop and immediately go to his family.            Jesus, however, would never disrespect or devalue his family.  He is God, after all.  And he perfectly kept all of God’s commands, one of which is to honor your mother.            Yet, he does make an important point.  He makes the point that the people of faith are his family.  He makes the point that it’s faith which binds us together.            This is something that we, as Christians, tend to overlook.  We continue to place a heavy emphasis on our earthly relatives, as we should.  But, at the same time, we disregard our place in the church.  We fail to understand our relation to our brothers and sisters in Christ.            We view our fellow believers as friends and acquaintances.  And we’re happy to visit with them on Sunday morning.  We may even enjoy seeing them.  But rarely do we view them as family.              We don’t prioritize our fellow believers as family.  We don’t truly love them like family.  They are, honestly, more of an afterthought as we tend to more pressing responsibilities.            Although we desire that each of our earthly family will be saved, there are no guarantees of this.  We can share the gospel with them and pray for them.  But it’s only by faith that they’ll be saved.            However, because of their faith in Jesus, our fellow believers will be with us in eternity.  Our relationship to them will endure forever.  So it only makes sense that this is something we should greatly cherish and value.            In this spirit, my prayer is that each of us would consider our fellow believers at Prince of Peace to be family.  My prayer is that we would all love each other as family.  My prayer is that we will gladly build these relationships and seek to minister to one another out of this love.            [...]

Faith = Opinion?


“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.”Galatians 1:11-12    In today’s culture, faith is often equated with opinion. People often tell us, when we express our faith, that it's merely what we believe. They assert that your faith may be true for you, but that this doesn't make it true for everyone else.     For this reason, missions is discouraged. In fact, it's often viewed as racist, intolerant, and bigoted. It's believed to imply that our opinion and practices are superior to those of everyone else.     As those who are called to proclaim the Good News of Christ, we must understand that this isn't the case. Our faith is not merely an opinion.  It isn't merely man’s gospel, nor did it come from man. It's the revelation of God that's come through Jesus.     This is the very point Paul was communicating to the Galatians. Although other teachers had come among them, and although a different “gospel” was being promoted, there was something fundamentally different between the two. Paul’s gospel had come from God himself.     We remember, of course, how Paul was brought to faith. Jesus himself appeared to Paul as he was traveling on the road to Damascus. He went on to explain that, after being called by Christ to proclaim the gospel, he didn't consult anyone. He went into the desert of Arabia, and returned to Damascus. It was only after three years that he went to Jerusalem to meet Peter.     His point is that his message came from none other than God himself. And, in the same way, he was not commissioned by man, but by God. It's this mindset that we also must maintain as we go to the nations.     If our message were simply the teaching of man, we'd have reason for reservation. If our commissioning had come only from man, we'd have reason to question its authenticity. But, like Paul, we have a message that has come from the mouth of God and that was revealed in Jesus. And, in the same way, we have been commissioned by Christ himself, who has called us to proclaim the gospel to all nations.     We must, therefore, faithfully go. We must faithfully proclaim this message. We must do so knowing that it's by this faith, and by this faith alone, that man can escape the power of sin and death.[...]

My Pastor


“We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work”1 Thessalonians 5:12-13         Among those who are in ministry, we typically refer to each other by our first names.  We do so because we all share the same title.  And we do so because we are all colleagues. However, there is one man that I’ve always called “pastor.” I could never bring myself to address him by his first name.  The man I’m referring to is the pastor under whom I grew up, Pastor William Richard Graves.          I had a unique experience while I was visiting my parents this past week.  I was able to attend the funeral of this man who was so influential in my life.  I was also asked to read Scripture during the service, which I counted a great honor.     As a pastor, I’ve conducted many, many funerals over the years.  And I’ve attended and taken part in many more, outside of ministry responsibilities.  However, this one was different.          It was different because this was the man who baptized me, when I was nine years old.  This was the man who confirmed me.  This was the man to whom I went when I was being called by God into ministry.  This is the man who encouraged me in this calling, giving me opportunity after opportunity to learn and grow.  This is also one of the men who laid hands on me during my ordination, right after I graduated from seminary.           God definitely used this man in my life, to both influence me and to prepare me for the calling I received.  And since I’ve been in ministry, he was always a source of encouragement.  Every time I saw him he would remind me that he was praying for me. In a conversation, during the visitation, someone who knew me long ago said, “I don’t know where you are, as a pastor...” I could only reply to him, saying: “If you knew Pastor Graves, then you know where I’m at.”  I can only hope and pray that God will use me in this way.  I can only hope and pray that God will use me to lead people to faith, to strengthen them in faith, and to prepare them for service.  I can only hope and pray that others might be able to say the same of me, when my time in this world comes to an end.So thank you, Lord, for Pastor Graves.  Thank you for the great blessing he was in my life, and in the lives of so many others.  Thank you for his willingness to be used by you.  And thank you, also, for your continued work in my own life.[...]

Back from Alaska!


“We love because he first loved us.” (1John 4:19 ESV)Our group of 12 is safely home from Alaska.  And I think a good experience was had by all.  I believe that we were a blessing to the mission in Alaska, to the missionaries, as well as to the people served by the mission.            The women in our team served primarily at “The Net.” This is a place where residents, cannery workers, and fishermen can stop in for a free cup of coffee, a cookie, and to use the internet.  Our volunteers are also able to interact with the visitors and to share with them the hope we have in Christ.            The men engaged in several work projects.  Much of our work took place at the South Naknek church where two entryways were insulated and finished.  Damaged drywall and a ceiling that was falling in were repaired.  And the entire interior of the church was painted.  The parsonage deck in South Naknek was also repaired, scraped, power-washed, and mostly painted (we were rained out and unable to complete the last bit of this work).  We also replaced two doors at the radio station and installed a vent which will help to cool the transmitter room.  In addition, I was able to give a break to the pastor by preaching at two services. And several of our men and women also gave the Net a good cleaning, shampooing the carpets and the couch.             However, I believe that the greater blessing on a trip such as this is received by the team itself.  It often serves to encourage us and wake us up when it comes to outreach and serving.  And this is then brought back to the sending church.            What I mean is this: When we go on a mission trip, we pay to work.  Normally, when we work, we expect to get paid for our efforts.  But, on a mission trip, we pay our way or raise support that we might freely give of ourselves.            Because of this, we make the most of our time.  We want to complete as many projects as possible for those we’re serving.  We want to touch as many lives as possible with the message of the gospel.  After all, that’s what we came to do.            We’re reminded, then, that this is also what we’re to be doing at home.  We’re called to serve the body of Christ.  We’re called to love those who are perishing.  We’re called to reach out with the message of the gospel.  And we’re to do this freely, expecting nothing in return.  We’re to love because Christ first loved us.            I firmly believe that each member of our team has returned with this blessing.  And I pray that it will be an encouragement to us to serve in the same way at home.  I pray that our service will be given not out of obligation or a desire for return, but because of our faith in Christ and our love for those around us.[...]

Off to Alaska


"Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.” (Mark 16:15-16 ESV) When I arrived in Beulah to serve as their pastor, the deacons immediately raised a question.  They heard that I’d taken a group from my previous congregation up to the AFLC mission work in Naknek, Alaska.  And so, with drool practically dripping from their mouths, they asked: “Can we go too?” That question sparked the trip on which we’ll be embarking early Monday morning.  A group of twelve from Prince of Peace will be heading to the mission.  And I pray that, not only will we be able to serve the missionaries and the community of Naknek, but that it will also be a life transforming experience for all who go. Even though I feel called to serve as a pastor here in the United States, missions is a great interest of mine.  It’s heavy on my heart.  I’ve always enjoyed praying for our missionaries and hearing from them when they’ve returned on furlough.  But I’d never been able to take part in a trip until I first went to Alaska.A year later, I was elected to the World Mission Committee of the AFLC.  I was immediately invited to go to our mission fields in Uganda and India.  And what a blessing it was to not only hear about these ministries and to pray for them, but to see them first hand.  What a blessing it was to be given the opportunity to serve.It’s for this reason that, as our current Alaska trip was being planned, I decided to bring along my oldest son.  I want him to see what the Lord is doing outside of our own community and culture.  I want him to experience the blessing of coming alongside our missionaries to serve them.  I want him to experience the blessing of being a blessing to the community served by the mission.With that, I want to thank all of those who’ve contributed to this trip.  You are a greater blessing than you even realize.  I ask also that you’ll pray for us as we go.  Pray for our safety and that the Lord will use us.  Pray that the Lord will work in us as we ask him to work through us.Consider also what you might do to proclaim the gospel to the whole creation.  If you can go on a mission trip, I encourage you to go.  But, by all means, share the gospel right where you are.  Support the work of your local congregation and also the missionaries who serve around the world with your gifts and prayers.  Use the gifts that God has given to you to point people to Christ and to simply be a blessing.  But, by all means, go.[...]

Making Disciples


“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age."(Matthew28:19-20 ESV)            This is a passage with which most of us are very familiar.  In fact, I would dare to say that a good number of us have it memorized.  However, even though we know it so well, are we actually living it out? Are we actively making disciples?            If I were to make an educated guess, I would venture to say that most of us are not obeying Jesus’ call.  Most of us view this passage as a call to missions (which it is).  And, for this reason, we think the only way it can be lived out is by moving to a foreign country and making it our full-time endeavor to tell people about Jesus.            So, when we think of this passage, we think of our missionaries in Brazil.  We think of our missionaries in Uganda.  We think of our missionaries in India, Ecuador, and Mexico.  We don’t see how we fit into the picture.            This call, however, is something that’s been given to each one of us.  And, while some are called to move overseas, it’s something that can also be fulfilled right where we currently find ourselves.  We can make disciples in our own community, while working our regular job.            Fulfilling this command of Christ simply requires us to invest in the lives of unbelievers.  It means that we share with them the good news of Jesus.  It means that we share with them his Word.              All it takes is for us to befriend an unbeliever.  All it takes is for us to show interest in them and to spend a small amount of time with them.  We can get together with them for a cup of coffee once a week.  We can visit with them while our kids play at the pool.  And, as we do so, we can share with them the hope that we have in Jesus.            If they place their faith in the Lord, we can continue to invest in them.  We can take the time to teach them, perhaps by going through a Bible study together.  We can help them to find answers to their questions.  We can pray with them and for them.  We can invite them to church and introduce them to the body of Christ.            I realize that we’re all busy.  I realize that we have enough to do between our job and our family.  We don’t need one more responsibility thrust upon us.  However, when I say that we’re to invest in the lives of unbelievers, I’m not saying that we have to minister to a great multitude.  We can make a huge difference by working with only one at a time.            As I think back on my life of faith, I can point to several people who took an interest in me.  I can point to those who invested in me and discipled me.  Through regular interaction with them, I grew in my faith.  Perhaps the same is true of you as well.  And you can be that person for someone else.              I realize that most of us fee[...]

An Imperfect Record?


“But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.”(John 14:26 ESV)            One of the primary objections people raise, when it comes to Scripture, is that it was written by men.  Men are imperfect, they tell us.  Men make mistakes.  And, for this reason, we cannot trust every word of Scripture.  We cannot rely on it completely.            They then begin to dissect the Bible.  They look at it, using their own wisdom and understanding, to determine whether its statements are true or false.  And when they find something that challenges them, when they encounter something they don’t want to believe, they declare that God would never say such a thing.            They are right when they say that men are imperfect.  They are absolutely correct when they say that men make mistakes.  However, they fail to understand the blessing given to the apostles, enabling them to accurately and precisely record the words of Jesus, the things that took place, and to correctly teach the church.            Before Jesus died on the cross, he made a great promise to his followers.  He promised them the gift of the Holy Spirit.  And, in the above verse, we see how the Spirit of God would help them to correctly communicate the Word of God to the people of their day, as well as to our own.            According to Jesus, the Spirit of God would enable them to remember all that he’d said to them.  For this reason, they weren’t dependent upon their faulty memory when teaching the people of their day or when writing the gospel accounts.  They remembered everything just as Jesus had said it.            Jesus also said that the Spirit would teach them all things.  So, as they taught the church, and as they penned the epistles, they communicated right doctrine.  They did not have to deal with flawed reasoning or a false understanding.  Everything they wrote to the people of their day, everything that we have in our Bible today, is right and true.            If in writing the gospels and the epistles, the apostles were dependent solely upon their human memory and understanding, there would absolutely be flaws.  There would be places where a memory lapse clouded the account.  There would be places where a flawed understanding caused them to impart wrong doctrine.  However, as we’ve seen, they were blessed with a supernatural ability to remember and to understand.            For this reason, as we read the words of Scripture, let us not critically pick them apart.  Let us not judge them by our own wisdom and understanding.  Let us, instead, rely on them to judge us.  Let us rely on them to correct our natural way of thinking and believing.[...]

What Is the Church?


“And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”  (Hebrews 10:24-25 ESV)            When we think of the word “church”, a certain image comes to mind.  For most of us, the image is that of a building.  Perhaps it’s the image of a sanctuary.            However, the word “church” literally means “assembly.” The church is, essentially, the people of God.  It’s the gathering together of his faithful.            In our day and age, church has little to do with the gathering together of the body of believers.  For most of us, it’s simply the one hour each week that come for worship.  We come to sing the songs, to pray the prayers, and to hear the message.  But we don’t truly desire to interact with one another.   As soon as the service is over, we’re out the door.            Most of us, today, think of the Christian faith as “Jesus and me.” We don’t think that our faith has anything to do with the church, the people of God.  And this contributes to the low priority we place on gathering together.            In one sense, this thinking is correct.  Scripture tells us that we’re saved by the grace of God through faith in Jesus.  We aren’t saved by the faith of anyone else.  However, that being said, we have been called to make disciples.  We’ve been called to edify the body of Christ.  We’ve even been called to receive ministry from the church.  And these are not things we can do by isolating ourselves.The Christian faith was never meant to be lived alone.  As we see in the above passage, we’re not to neglect meeting together.  We’re, instead, to consider how we might stir up one another to love and good works.  We’re to encourage one another.  And we’re to do so more and more as we see the Day, as we see the return of Christ, drawing near.            We’re to seek ways that we might build up one another in faith.  We’re to encourage one another in the expression of our faith.  And this isn’t merely a one-time thing.  It’s ongoing.  It’s something we’re to do continually.  It’s something we’re to do more and more.            When understood properly, gathering together with the church should be a priority for us.  It shouldn’t be done only when we have the time.  It should be something so important that we wouldn’t miss it.[...]

Honoring Moms Without Dishonoring God


“Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there! If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me.”(Psalms 139:7 ESV)            Mother’s Day, as all of us know, reminds us to honor our mothers.  This, of course, is something we should do every day and not simply once a year.  But the holiday is a good reminder to us, because we’re often short-sighted.            We also know the command of God, that we’re to honor our father and our mother.  So not only is this a good practice.  It is a command of God.  It falls in line with the will of God.  And, for this reason, by honoring our mothers, we are honoring God.            However, in the course of doing this, we must not dishonor God.  There’s an example of this on a church sign in our town.  It reads: “Because God could not be everywhere, he created mothers.”            I pass by this sign fairly often, and I’ve been gritting my teeth each time I do so.  I like to give people the benefit of the doubt.  So my hope is that this sign is simply a failed attempt to honor mothers.  My hope is that the person who posted it didn’t consider what it was saying about God, but merely what it was saying about mothers.            I think all of us know and believe that our mothers are a gift from God.  After all, God used them to bring us into this world.  It was within the womb of our mother that we were knit together.  And mothers play a crucial role in bringing up their children.  They play a crucial role in raising their children in faith.            Yet, in our effort to honor them, we must not diminish the honor that we give to the Lord.  We must always consider carefully what we are saying about God.  This, after all, is a very public statement.  And it’s telling people that God is limited.  It’s telling them that he’s not everywhere present.            This is a denial of the very essence of God.  It denies the teaching of Scripture when it comes to the person of God.  And, for this reason, it has potential to give people the wrong idea about him.  It has the potential to lead people to a false understanding of God.            As we see in the above passage, God certainly can be present everywhere.  And he is everywhere present. There is nowhere that we can flee from the presence of God.            God didn’t raise up mothers because there was a task he was unable to perform.  He raised up mothers because he desired to use them in his work.  He is working through godly mothers to raise up godly offspring.            We must be careful to present to mankind a right understanding of God.  When we do, this will in no way take away from the honor we give to our mothers, to our fathers, and to others in authority over us.&nbs[...]

Self-Denial, Not Self-Preservation


“So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 10:32-33 ESV)            We live in a time, and in a society, where we’re encouraged to keep our faith to ourselves.  This is emphasized because we live in a pluralistic society, made up of people from many different belief systems and walks of life.  And we’re told that it’s respectful to allow others to believe what they believe and to live how they want to live.            This resonates with us because, after all, we want the freedom to live out our faith.  We want the freedom to hold to our faith without interference from anyone.  However, we often fail to realize that this mindset is in direct opposition to the faith we confess.            As believers, we’ve been called to proclaim the gospel to the whole creation.  We’ve been called to make disciples of all nations.  And this isn’t something we can do if we keep our mouth shut and our faith to ourselves.            Worse yet, keeping our faith to ourselves means leaving people in their sin.  It means leaving them to the consequences of their sin.  It means that we desire to receive salvation while leaving them in their condemnation.            Carrying out this call of God requires us to speak up.  It necessitates that we share our faith with others, even though they believe differently than us.  It requires us to buck the morals of our society in favor of this mission God has entrusted to us.            When we look at a passage, like the one above, it’s greatly convicting.  I would even say that it’s scary.  It’s convicting and scary because, so often, we’ve failed to acknowledge Jesus.  When given an opportunity to share the gospel, we’ve kept quiet.  And, when facing rejection by men, we’ve often denied our Lord.            I know this is true of me.   Even knowing that I was called by God into the pastoral ministry, I struggled greatly with this in my younger years.  I didn’t want to come off as too religious because I was afraid of rejection.            Even now, there are occasions when I fail to share my faith as I should.  I’ve had encounters with unbelievers where I’ve had the chance to speak of Jesus, and I’ve failed to do so.  I’ve grown so much in this aspect of my life, yet there is so much more room for growth.As we face this struggle, we must realize that the temptation to keep our mouth shut will only grow as time goes on.  It will only grow because, as society turns further and further away from the Lord, the consequences of our outreach will become more and more intense.  And, in response, our tendency toward self-preservation will grow stronger and stronger.The question we must keep in mind is this: Would we rather be received by God and rejected by the world?  Or would we rather be received by the world and rejected by God?  The Christian life is one of self-denial, not self-prese[...]

A Reason to Love


“Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.”1 Corinthians 15:58            When I was in college, I was encouraged by a friend to take a class on Christianity.  Being a public university, what was being taught in that class was anything but Christian.  Eternal life was not understood to be our living forever in the presence of God.  It was understood as preserving this present world.  The aim of Christianity was described as not the forgiveness of sin, but the love of others.  Salvation had nothing to do with our deliverance from sin, death, and the devil, but justice being brought to all mankind.            The professor was open enough that he allowed me to speak.  I shared with him that, if this is all there is, man has no real motivation to love others.  If the only hope we have is to fertilize the grass and feed the worms when we die, man will simply live for the day.  He will do what he can to enjoy his short life before he dies and is forgotten.            You see, if there is no eternal life, then all of our efforts are in vain.  Even if they are good and well-intentioned, they are meaningless.  Ultimately, it makes no difference if we ever lived.  It makes no difference if anyone ever lived.  It makes no difference if we have a good life, or if we suffer.  It makes no difference if people experience justice or injustice.  It makes no difference if we destroy the earth in one hundred years, or if the earth continues on for a thousand.  In that case, we all face the same destiny, which is nothingness.            This is the point Paul was making in the above verse.  In chapter 15 of 1 Corinthians, he talks at length about the resurrection.  And he tells us that if Christ didn’t rise from the dead, our faith is futile and we’re still in our sins.            He goes on to describe our own resurrection.  He talks about our resurrection bodies, and how they’ll be transformed.  They’ll be changed from weak bodies that are subject to death and decay into bodies that are no longer subject to the consequences of sin.            This is our hope.  This is our motivation.  Because of the resurrection, we know that our labors in the Lord are not in vain.            Because our death doesn’t mark the end of our existence, we know that our labors for the Lord make a real difference.  And they make a difference not only in this world, but in eternity.  As we love and serve mankind, we’re seeking not only their blessing in the here and now.  We’re seeking their eternal blessing.  We’re seeking that they too will forever enjoy the blessings of God.            And not only is this true.  Because death doesn’t mark the end of our existence, we can remain steadfast and immovable.  We need not waver as we face the opposition of the world and even the enemy.  We know that, whatever harm they may do to us in this life, they can[...]

Putting Up with Falsehood


“…I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ. For if someone comes and proclaims another Jesus than the one we proclaimed, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or if you accept a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it readily enough.” (2Corinthians 11:3 ESV)            Paul expresses to the church at Corinth that he feels a divine jealousy for them.  What he meant by this is that he’s jealous for God.  He desired that the people would belong to Christ, and to Christ alone.  And, for this reason, he says that he betrothed them to one husband…to Christ.            He feared for the people that they would be led astray from a sincere devotion to Christ. Just as Eve was deceived by the serpent, Paul feared that they too would be deceived.  And, when we see what was going on, his fear was not unfounded.            He tells them that, if someone proclaimed to them another Jesus, if they received or accepted a different spirit or gospel, they put up with it.  So we find that, even though Paul had brought to them the message of Jesus, even though he’d brought to them the true gospel, the people were open to other teachings to which they were introduced.  Even if they contradicted the truth, the people received it without question.            This is a danger that’s clearly seen in the American Church today.  We have the Word of God readily available to us.  Yet, even if we profess faith in Jesus, and even if we are regular at worship, we are open to other teachings.  We are open to messages that directly contradict the message of Christ.            We encounter the stories of those who’ve had a near-death experience.  They tell us of seeing God and talking with him.  However, the message is one that contradicts Scripture.  They present to us a message of universalism.  They tell us that all people, regardless of their faith, will be saved.            When this happens, so many of us are quick to jump on the bandwagon.  Our excitement about something that seems to confirm the reality of heaven trumps the fact that the message is wrong.  And, in this way, we open ourselves to false teaching.            Many of us latch onto the thoughts of prominent personalities, simply because they profess a faith in God.  We listen to people like Oprah, who speaks so passionately on these matters.  We listen to the Dalai Lama, because he seems to spiritual.  And, again, even though their message contradicts Scripture, we accept it.  We accept it because it appeals to us emotionally.            Many of us love to listen to television evangelists.  And, because they talk of Christ, because they talk of the gospel, we blindly accept everything they say.  However, we never seem to notice that the message brought by some of them is very different from the one we find in the Word of God.    &nbs[...]

A Distorted Gospel


“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…”(Galatians 1:6-7 ESV)            The gospel had been proclaimed to the Galatians, and they had placed their faith in Jesus.  But, now, something was different. There were people who troubled them and who wanted to distort the gospel of Christ.            Based on the words of Paul, it seems that many in the Galatian church were turning from the true gospel.  They were, instead, turning to the other gospel being promoted among them. And this is a change that took place relatively quickly.            Paul makes it clear that this other gospel was not truly a gospel at all.  “Gospel” means “good news.” So this new teaching being promoted among them was not something that would comfort them or fill them with hope.            As we read on in Galatians, we find that this other “gospel” was nothing more than a system of works.  It taught the people to trust not in Christ, but themselves.  It taught them to trust in their adherence to a system of rules and regulations.            We have the same thing happening in the church today.  Instead of trusting in Jesus and his saving work, many have begun to trust in themselves.  Even though they profess faith in Christ, and even though they claim the name of “Christian,” they are holding to a distortion of the gospel.            For some, Christianity means holding to the Law.  They base their confidence on how well they perform.  They base it on their level of goodness, measured by the Law.            Although the Law does reveal to us how God desires for us to live, it cannot save us.  And it in no way reveals our goodness.  In fact, the only thing it reveals is our sin.            For some, the gospel isn’t even about salvation from sin and death.  It’s about loving people in this life.  It’s about transforming this present world into something better.            Yes, God desires for us to love people in this life.  He desires that we stand against injustice.  However, it’s impossible to bring about heaven and earth as long as there is sin in this world.              There are many distortions of the gospel in our world for today.  But one thing is true of all of them: They are unable to save.  They are unable to deliver us from sin and its consequences.            For this reason, Paul was not tolerant of those who were distorting the gospel.  In fact, he called for their judgment.  In verse 8, he says: “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.”             This other gospel would not lea[...]

Deserving of Reward?


“So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, 'We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.'"(Luke 17:10 ESV)            It’s nice to be acknowledged for the things that we do.  It makes us feel good when people honor us for our achievements.  However, in our society today, this is taken to an extreme.  We seem to feel that we deserve acknowledgement and honor for everything that we do.            Children feel that they should be rewarded for getting good grades in school.  They feel that they should be honored for good attendance.  They fail to understand that the opportunity to receive a good education is a blessing.  And, in response to this blessing, good attendance and good grades are a duty.In the same way, they feel that they should receive a trophy for participating in sports.   They fail to understand that it’s a blessing to be on the team.  And, in response to this blessing, a determined effort to help the team succeed is an obligation.            The same mindset follows us into adulthood.  If we do well in college, we feel that we’re deserving of a good job.  If we perform well on the job, we feel that we deserve a grand title, a pay raise, or a promotion.  We fail to understand that having a good job is a blessing.  And it’s our duty to give our greatest effort in response to this blessing.            We also tend to think this way in our life of faith.  We think that we should be commended by God for every act of service we perform.  Because of our service, we feel entitled to his blessing.  And we think that we should be honored by those we serve.            Our feelings about this are so strong that, if acknowledgement isn’t given, we feel slighted.  We feel that our efforts have been in vain.  We feel devalued and disregarded.  And we tend to give up and cease in our efforts.            Jesus addresses this mindset in Luke 17.  He uses the picture of a man and his servant to make his point.  He points out that, when the servant comes in after a hard day’s work, he isn’t invited to sit down to enjoy a meal.  It’s expected that he will prepare supper, dress properly, and serve his master.  And only after his duties are completed is he able to eat and drink.            Jesus also points out that the servant is not thanked for what he has done.  He is not thanked because he’s merely done his job.  He’s done nothing more than his duty.            In the same way, he tells us, we shouldn’t expect commendation for the things we’ve done.  Instead, we’re to acknowledge that we’re unworthy servants.  We’re to acknowledge that we’ve done only our duty.             This is very true.  We must always bear in mind that the only thing we deserve is death and hell.  We must bear in mind that, because of what he’s done for us, [...]

A Life of No Value


“But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.”(Acts 20:24 ESV)            Paul was on his way to Jerusalem.  And it had been made clear to him, by the Spirit of God, what was to happen to him there.  He knew that afflictions and imprisonment awaited him.            However, in spite of this, Paul made the statement we see above.  He says that he does not account his life of any value.  He doesn’t count it as precious to himself.  His only desire is that he might finish his course and the ministry entrusted to him by the Lord.            Paul, you remember, had been called by Jesus to take the gospel primarily to the Gentiles.  And it’s clear that he was determined to carry out his call no matter what it meant for him personally.  He was willing to endure all things if only he might faithfully share Christ with the lost.            He had already done so on several occasions.  He’d endured beatings.  He’d been jailed.  Yet, no matter what he faced, he pressed on.            When I look at Paul’s words, it forces me to look at my own heart.  It causes me to ask if the same is true of me.  Am I willing to endure suffering and imprisonment if only I may finish the course, if only I may fulfill the calling, God has given me?            No matter how faithful we are in our ministry, the fact remains that we have a natural tendency to look out for our well-being.  We have an ingrained desire to preserve our life in this world.  And, more often than not, we will do anything we can to do just that.            If preserving our life means compromising our values, we do it.  If preserving our life means putting on a façade, we do it.  Even if we’re uncomfortable making these choices, we count our life too valuable to discard.            This is true when it comes to our faith and our ministry as well.  We know what Christ has done for us.  And we know that we’ve been called to share this truth with all mankind.  Yet, if this means putting ourselves at risk, we’re often unwilling to take that step.            We’re often unwilling to take that step even if our life isn’t physically threatened in any way.  We’re often unwilling to fulfill our calling if it means our reputation among men might be tarnished.  We’re unwilling to fulfill our calling if it means that others might think us foolish.            This is an area where I’ve struggled as long as I can remember.  Growth has come, but it has come slowly.  Even though I preach and teach the Word of God regularly in the church, I’m not as quick to do so on the outside.          [...]

The Measure of Maturity


“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.” (1Timothy 1:15 ESV)            What does it mean to be a “good Christian?” What does it mean to be a “mature Christian?” We tend to think that such a person has it all together.  We tend to think that he’s overcome his struggle with temptation and sin.For this reason, when you ask this question, the response tends to focus around our actions. People might answer that a good Christian reads his Bible every day.  A good Christian prays before he eats. A good Christian is at church every week.   A good Christian serves as much as he’s able.  A good Christian lives according to the Ten Commandments.  A good Christian doesn’t cuss or drink.  A good Christian is always happy, and is always friendly and hospitable.  A good Christian shares his faith on a regular basis.            We also tend to judge ourselves by these standards.  We judge how “good” of a Christian we are based on our success at measurements such as these.  And we judge our maturity in the faith by this basis as well.  So, when we fail, it seems clear that we haven’t yet attained that status.            Let’s be honest with ourselves: Judging ourselves by these standards, we all fail miserably.  Judging ourselves by these standards, none of us will ever be “good” or “mature” believers.  And the reason for this is that we’re sinners.  We face an ongoing struggle with the world, the devil, and our own flesh.            When we look to Scripture, we find that this type of thinking is contrary to the very gospel we confess.   We aren’t saved by what we do.  We’re saved by trusting in Jesus, and in the sacrifice that he made on our behalf.            A mature Christian, then, is one who sees his sin.  He’s one who acknowledges that he deserves nothing other than judgment.  However, he trusts in the promise of God.  He sincerely believes that, in Jesus, we find grace.  And he does so in spite of his ongoing struggle with the sinful nature.            Paul is an excellent example of this.  We tend to think of Paul as one of the greatest Christians of all time.  And we think of him in this way because of what he did.  However, when we look at his words, we find that this is not how he thought of himself.            In the above verse, he refers to himself as the foremost of sinners.  He thought of himself in this way because, previously, he was a blasphemer, a persecutor, and an insolent opponent.  However, he thought of himself in this way not only because of his earlier life.            Paul doesn’t say that he was the foremost of sinners.  He doesn’t give any indication that this status had changed in any way.  He says that he is the foremost of sinners.  In oth[...]