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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: 2017-06-21T21:42:11.359-05:00


Two Outreach Mistakes


“…always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect…”
(1Pe 3:15 ESV)

As a church, and as believers, we understand our mission.  We’re called to make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:18-20).  But, as we look at the above passage, we can identify two mistakes that we often make when it comes to this task.

The first mistake is simply that we fail to share our faith.  When we have opportunities to share the gospel or to teach a younger believer, we often fail to make use of that opportunity.  Even when the chance to reach out falls into our lap, our tendency is to drop the ball.

We often do so out of fear.  We assume that others will react negatively to what we have to share.  And, for this reason, we keep our mouth shut.

Peter encourages us to always be prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks us for a reason for the hope that is in us. In other words, when people ask us about our faith, when they ask us why be believe the way we do, when they ask us why we live as we do, we should be prepared to share with them.

The word “defense” doesn’t imply that we’re to be defensive.  It carries the sense of apologetics.  It means that we’re to provide a positive testimony to the truth of the gospel.

So, again, we’re to make use of the opportunities that present themselves.  We’re to be prepared to share with others as they see that we’re different and ask about it.  We must not let these occasions pass us by.

The second mistake that we make when it comes to carrying out this call is that we come off as rude.  Perhaps we are defensive or simply come off too strong.  But the second principle for us is this: Don’t be a jerk.

Peter tells us make our defense or our testimony with gentleness and respect.  And this is something we rarely see today.  I often cringe, especially on social media, when believers are attempting to share their faith.

We often come across as argumentative.  We come across as mean-spirited.  We come across as insulting to those who believe differently than we do.  And this only reinforces what much of society believes about us already, that we’re hateful and intolerant.  The ones we’re trying to reach, then, shut down and no longer listen to us.

We’re often afraid that, if we’re too gentle or respectful, people will think we’re affirming their beliefs.  While it’s true that we don’t want to encourage people to remain in their current belief system, we must realize that beating them up won’t make our faith seem all that appealing.  We must simply present it as lovingly as possible and allow God’s Word and Spirit to work in their heart.

As the people of God, let us strive to carry out this calling he’s entrusted to us.  But let’s also evaluate our methods and search our heart.  Let’s ensure that, as we faithfully share the gospel, we don’t allow ourselves to get in the way.

Finding Our Identity


“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.”(1Peter 2:9 ESV)            If I go back fifteen or twenty years, I had an interest in genealogy.  Even though I had a pretty good idea about my heritage, I wanted to learn more about my family and where I’d come from. And, for this reason, I spent a fair amount of time tracing my family history.            I did so until I hit a couple of roadblocks.  At the time, I was frustrated by them.  However, in recent years, my attitude has changed.            Although I don’t want to forget my family history, I no longer find my identity in it as I once did.  I find my identity somewhere else.  I find it somewhere more important.            I find my identity in the Lord.  And I do so for a couple of reasons.  I do so because, no matter our heritage and no matter our race, we find our origin in one place.  All of our family trees go back to the same starting point.            Our ancestry goes back to one man.  It goes back to one couple.  It goes back to the first man created by God in the Garden of Eden.  It goes back to the woman that God created from that man.            I also find my identity in the Lord because of what we read in the above verse.  We see in these words that God has made us to be his own.  We’re told that we are a chosen race.  And, in saying this, he isn’t talking about a certain culture or skin color.              As we read in John 1:12-13, we’re made his children by faith in Christ.  We’re told that all who received Jesus and who believed in his name were given the right to become God’s children.  And this is not a matter of ancestry or bloodline.  It’s not something that we do for ourselves, nor is it something that others do for us.  We are made to be the children of God by God alone.As we see above, we are a royal priesthood.  We’re a people set apart for his service.  We’re a people set apart to share his Word and promises with the world around us.  We’re a people sent to bring the message of salvation to all mankind.  We’re a people sent to declare his excellencies.We are a holy nation.  We are a people that have been set apart from all other peoples on earth.  We’ve been set apart to belong to God.God calls on us to honor our father and our mother.  And we must not fail to do so.  However, we must also bear in mind that the church is our family.  We must bear in mind that the faithful, all around our world, are our brothers and sisters.  No matter their background, if they trust in Christ, if they trust in his death and resurrection for salvation and the forgiveness of sins, if they hold to his Word and promises, they are our family.My identity, then, is in Christ alone.  And the same is true for you.  In him we find our beginning, and in him we find our eternity.[...]

Hating Evil


“Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good.”
Romans 12:9

We know that, as Christians, we’re to follow Jesus.  It means believing both the promises and the truth he’s given to us.  It means living in daily repentance, turning from our sin, and looking to him for mercy.

However, that being said, too many of us in the church are enamored with the world around us.  We try to emulate what the world identifies as cool, in-style, smooth, hip, or whatever slang term you choose to insert. We desire Jesus’ forgiveness, we desire his blessings, and we want to follow him.  But, at the same time, we try to remain current and in-touch with the world around us.

This leads us to make compromises.  It leads us to begin accepting behaviors and attitudes that God calls sinful.  It leads us to see how close we can walk to the world without abandoning Christ.

Most years, as I teach young people in confirmation, I receive questions like this: How far is too far?  They want to know how far they can go with a person of the opposite sex before it’s considered sinful.  Is it kissing?  Is it touching in areas that are generally considered out of bounds?  Or does it simply mean “going all the way?”

We tend to do the same in other areas of life as well.   We want to live like the world around us, but we want to know how far is too far.  We want to know the line of no-return.

I’ve seen this, even in churches, that desire to remain “relevant.” There are churches where the pastor curses and swears during the sermon in an effort to appeal to the unchurched.  There are churches and pastors who hold gatherings at a bar and around pitchers of beer in an effort to seem approachable to those who may otherwise never set foot in a church.  And, as we know, there are churches who have turned from the truth of Scripture and adopted societal norms in an effort to be more appealing.

As we see in the verse above, we are called upon to abhor what is evil and hold fast to what is good.  In other words, those things that are sinful, those things that are identified by God as evil, should be detested and despised by us, as his followers.  We should not try to see how close to them we can get, but rather how far away from them we can place ourselves.

When we become a believer, and when the Spirit of God fills our heart, our desires and passions become like those of God.  Not perfectly, of course, because we’re still a sinful people.  But we naturally find ourselves loving the things that God loves and hating the things that God hates.

We begin to turn away from sin, not because we have to, but because we want to.  When confronted with temptation, we choose to obey the Lord, not because we have to, but because we want to.  And when we fall, when we sin, we immediately confess our failure to the Lord and seek his mercy, wanting to be free from our sinful behaviors and attitudes.

If you have been walking closely with the world, if you find yourself wondering how far is too far, I encourage you to repent.  Ask the Lord to forgive you and to fill your heart.  Ask him to make your desires like his own.   We must do this because, as we read in James 4:4, “You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.”

None of Your Business


“If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!”(John 21:22 ESV)            Peter is a great example of the redemption of Jesus.  Here is a man who was called by Jesus to follow him.  And he was so devoted that he declared his willingness to die for Jesus.  However, when the rubber hit the road, he fell far short of his expectations. When Jesus was arrested, Peter publicly denied him three times.              However, after the resurrection, Jesus restored Peter.  He asked Peter three times: “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” And, each time this question was asked, Peter affirmed his love for Jesus.            Jesus then tells Peter that he would, indeed, give his life for him.  Peter would die for his faith in Christ and his service of him.  He then, once again, calls Peter to follow him.            This is interesting.  We know that we’re to follow Jesus no matter what it means for us.  We know it’s possible that we might end up giving our life for the Lord.  However, in our mind, that likelihood is small.  In all honesty, it doesn’t even concern us.            But how hard would it be to follow Jesus, knowing that we would die for our faith?  Would we willingly follow him, knowing this was our fate?  I think we have to admire Peter for doing so.            However, hearing this call, Peter makes a mistake that’s common to us all.  Seeing John, he asks Jesus if this would be his fate as well.  He wants to know if John’s call, if his future, would be as difficult as his own.            We often do the same thing.  We compare our life and our call with that of other believers.  We wonder if others will suffer as we’ve suffered.  We wonder if we’ll have it as well as another believer.  We seem to think that our life of faith should be fair.  We seem to think that our life of faith should be comparable to that of others.            Jesus answers Peter, telling him that it’s none of his business.  What he had in store for John was not Peter’s concern. Peter was simply to follow him.            We must take this statement to heart.  What the Lord has in store for other believers is not our concern. We must not compare the call of God placed on our life with that of others. We must concern ourselves only with the Lord’s will for our life.  We must concern ourselves with following the Lord, wherever he might lead us.[...]

A Shared Faith


“And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.”(Acts 2:46-47 ESV)            We often assume, incorrectly, that the early church was the perfect example for us to follow.  As we read through Scripture, we find that they had their flaws, just as we do today.  We find that they often failed, as we do today.            That being said, there is something I admire about the early church.  What I’m referring to is the fact that they lived out their faith together.  They lived it out as a community.            This is something that’s reflected in the above passage.  We see that every day they attended the temple together and broke bread in their homes.  They gathered each day for prayer and for fellowship.            This is something that’s lacking in the church in our day.  It’s especially lacking in the American Church.  We tend to think that our faith is a private matter.  We tend to think that all we need is “Jesus and Me.” But nothing is further from the truth.            We see the corporate nature of the Christian faith throughout the New Testament.  For example, in Hebrews 10:24-25, we read: “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 in this passage that we’re called to gather together on a regular basis.  And, in this way, we’re to be an encouragement to one another.  We’re able to bless one another.            In James 5:16, we read this: “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.”             James calls on us to do something that probably feels strange in this day and age.  He calls on us to confess our sins to one another.  He calls on us to pray for one another.  And he calls on us to do this that we might be healed, that we might be restored.            In 1 Corinthians 12, starting in verse 4, Paul says: “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.”            He points out that God has gifted each of us in different ways.  But he goes on to say that these gifts are given for the common good.  What he means by this is that our gifts aren’t given that we might keep them to ourselves.  God gives them that we might bless one another.            It’s clear as we read passages such as these that the Christian faith is to be lived in fellowship with the Church.  In this way, we’re able to be blessed and encouraged by our fellow believers.  And, in the same way, we’re able to be a blessing to our brothers and sisters in Christ.            My encouragement to each of you is to stop [...]

Me, a Confessor?


“If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”(John 20:23 ESV)            We’ve discussed the subject of accountability twice in recent days at Prince of Peace.  The first was at our men’s study.  And the second was at our Spiritual Life Meetings, where we focused on battling our temptations.            We were encouraged to confess our sins to one another, as commanded in the epistle of James (5:16).  We were also encouraged to find an accountability partner: someone to whom we can confess our sins, but also someone who will help us to avoid sin by confronting us with the hard questions.  We then, in turn, do the same for them.            Many of us are uncomfortable with this practice because confession seems too Catholic.  When we think of confession, we think of going to the priest, kneeling in the confessional, and acknowledging our wrongdoing.  And, because we disagree with several points of Catholic doctrine, we want nothing to do with it.Another reason we’re uncomfortable with this practice is because we like to hide our sin.  We like to put on a show of righteousness while, privately, we continue in our sinful behaviors.  In fact, we have no desire to turn from our sin.  And not only do refuse to acknowledge our sin and our guilt.  We also like to deny that our sin is truly sin.  We seek to justify our sinful behaviors.  We like to pretend that they are good, which takes confession out of the equation.            However, and this is where I want to focus my attention now, another reason we’re uncomfortable with this practice is because we don’t feel worthy or capable of performing the work of a confessor.  We don’t feel worthy to announce to someone the forgiveness of their sins.  We don’t feel that we possess the authority to do so.            However, in the above passage, we see our authority.  This authority has been given to us by Christ.  And this authority is empowered by the Spirit of God.            Christ has authorized us to announce the forgiveness of sins.  And, even though this thought makes us even more uncomfortable, he’s also given us the authority to withhold the forgiveness of sins.            If we sought to perform this work on our own, we would be unworthy.  If we sought to perform it on our own, we would be incapable.  After all, we’re all sinners deserving of God’s judgment.  And, in ourselves, we have no authority to forgive sins or to withhold forgiveness. It’s only by the call of Christ and by the power of the Holy Spirit that we do so.            This doesn’t mean that we can arbitrarily decide whom we will and won’t forgive.  We are acting under Christ’s authority, and by the power of the Holy Spirit.  This means that the basis for doing this is the gospel.  The basis of this is the Word and promise of God.            We know that those who confess their sins, who repent of their sin, and who trust in Christ are promised forgiveness.  If, then, someone comes to us in this spirit, we announce to them the forgiveness of their sins.  And if someone comes without this spirit, we announce to them that they are not forgiven.              This is an important ministry that even dedicated Chr[...]

No Better Than Pilate


“From then on Pilate sought to release him…”(John 19:12 ESV)            Pilate is one of the most vilified men in Scripture.  After all, it was he who turned Jesus over to be crucified.  It was under his authority that Jesus was put to death. And, for this reason, we remember this each time we confess our faith in the words of the Apostles’ Creed.  We remember that Jesus “suffered under Pontius Pilate.”            However, what we find in the account of Jesus’ trial and crucifixion makes things a bit more complicated.  We find that perhaps he wasn’t as evil as he often seems to us.  In fact, we discover that we’re a lot like him.            We see that, as Jesus was brought to him, Pilate found no guilt in him.  It did not seem fitting to Pilate that Jesus should be put to death.  And when the Jews told him that Jesus made himself to be the Son of God, he was afraid.            So what convinced Pilate to crucify Jesus?  Two things stand out.  In John 19 we see that the Jews accused him.  They told him that, if he released Jesus, he was no friend of Caesar. They said that everyone who makes himself a king opposes Caesar.            The people were saying that, if Pilate released Jesus, he was a traitor.  Pilate likely feared that the people would bring these charges against him.  And, for this reason, he sought his own safety.  He sought to preserve his position in the Empire, which was done by having Jesus put to death.            We find in Matthew 27 that Pilate only gave in to the crowd, he only gave the order that Jesus was to be crucified, when he saw that he was gaining nothing and that a riot was beginning.  By releasing Jesus, he feared that there would be much more blood spilt.  And, even though he had the Roman army at his disposal, he may have feared a more widespread rebellion.            As you read this, you may insist that these facts do not make Pilate seem less evil.  He is a man who sought his own welfare rather than justice.  You may insist that he should have done the right thing regardless of what it meant for himself.            If these are your thoughts, you are right in your assessment.  He should not have ordered Jesus’ death.  We do see, in this action, his self-interest and his corrupt nature. Yet, if this is our assessment of Pilate, we must also see the same qualities in ourselves.            Even if we are Christian, even if we have faith in Christ, how many of us have denied Jesus out of our own self-interest?  How many of us have tried to hide our faith seeking to preserve our reputation among unbelievers?  How many of us have given in to sin because we didn’t want to appear self-righteous before others?            I’m willing to guess that all of us have done this at one time or another.  I know that it’s something I’ve done at various times in life.  And this makes us just as guilty as Pilate.            As believers, we’re called to follow Christ no matter the cost.  We’re called to testify about Christ, not fearing what man might do.  We’re to carry out this calling knowing that no one can take from us the salvation that God has granted us through faith in Jesus. &nb[...]

Speaking Openly


“…I have spoken openly to the world.  I have always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where all Jews come together.  I have said nothing in secret.  Why do you ask me?  Ask those who have heard what I said to them; they know what I said.”(John 18:20-21 ESV)            These words were spoken by Jesus as he was questioned by the high priest, following his arrest.  He was asked about his disciples and his teaching.  And the thing that stands out in his response is that his teaching was common knowledge.            Jesus told the high priest that there was no reason to question him regarding his teaching.  He was very open as he taught.  He had hidden nothing.  And, for this reason, everyone knew what he’d said.            As I read these words, I asked myself if I could make the same statement.  If I were arrested and questioned regarding my teaching, could I also claim that it’s common knowledge? Do I refrain from hiding any of it from certain people?            I believe this is a legitimate question to ask ourselves.  I believe this because we have a desire to be liked by those around us.  We have a desire to appeal to others.  We have the desire to have the biggest church with the biggest attendance.  These desires flow from our sinful nature, but they are a part of us nonetheless.            For this reason, it’s easy for us to be less than open about our beliefs and practices.  This is common among some TV evangelists and teachers.  They avoid issues that might be considered touchy or controversial. They avoid talking about those things that might affect their popularity or their ratings.            We know that some of the statements of Scripture make people uncomfortable.  They make us uncomfortable.  And, for this reason, we find it best to avoid these subjects.  We believe that we’ll be more successful in leading people to faith if we keep some of these things to ourselves.            However, if we are truly seeking to make disciples of Jesus, we must hide nothing.  We must make disciples, teaching them to observe all that Christ commanded us (Matthew 28:19-20). Even though it may cause some to hate us, even though it may lead to our rejection by some, we must not fear for ourselves.  We must be more interested in the eternal welfare of the lost than in our own comfort.                        [...]

Eternal Life


“And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.”(John 17:3 ESV)I realize that, technically, we’re done with our journey through the gospel of John.  It ended Easter Sunday.  However, I thought I’d share yet another passage that struck me as I read it.  And, believe me, there are many more thoughts I could share.            The passage I’m referring to is the one you see above. And this is an interesting one.  It defines for us something that everyone thinks they understand.            This verse is spoken in the context of Jesus’ prayer to God the Father.  Jesus says that God has given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all that have been given him.  He then defines for us eternal life.            Most people think they understand the concept of eternal life.  And, if you ask them, most people in our society believe they’ll go to heaven when they die.  They believe this because they think themselves to be a good person.  They believe that, over all, they’ve done more good than bad.  For this reason, they think it would be unjust of God to deny them a place in heaven.            Most in our society tend to believe the same thing about one another as well.  They believe that most people are basically good and deserving of a place in heaven.  And this is true regardless of their faith.  They believe that good Jews, good Muslims, good Buddhists, and even good atheists deserve to possess eternal life in heaven.            However, we see in this passage that eternal life is defined by faith.  It’s defined not by possessing faith in general, but by a specific faith.  Jesus defines eternal life as knowing the only true God and Jesus Christ.             Eternal life doesn’t refer merely the fact that we’ll exist forever.  In this sense of the term, everyone will have eternal life.  Some will exist eternally in the presence of God while some will exist eternally in hell.  True life, in the sense used in Scripture, is life with God.  It’s life with the blessings he bestows upon us.            This tells us, as we see all throughout Scripture, that eternal life is not given based upon our goodness.  In fact, Scripture assures us that we’re all rotten.  The only thing we deserve is death and hell.            This also tells us that people of other faiths will not be saved.  It’s not as though faith is a magical power by which we attain salvation.  Salvation is a gift, given by God, that is received through faith in Jesus.  If we don’t have faith in Jesus, if we don’t have faith in the salvation he’s provided and in his promise to us, we will not be saved.            May we, then, trust in Christ and in him alone for eternal life.  Realizing that faith in him is eternal life, may we depend only upon him for this gift.  And may we do so realizing that there is no other way.[...]

...As Jesus Loved


“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.  Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.”(John 15:12-13)            Jesus’ point in these verses is clear.  He is calling on us to love one another.  And, although this may seem obvious to us, it’s not as apparent as it seems.            I say this because we are naturally selfish.  Our tendency is to look out, first and foremost, for ourselves.  We are typically unwilling to give of ourselves, we’re typically unwilling to sacrifice, for the sake of others.            It seems that we are only willing to give if there is something to be gained by it.  We’ll give if it curries favor with others, if it means that they will help us down the road.  We’ll give if it gains for us respect and honor.  We’ll give if there’s some sort of material reward for our labor.  But to give with no thought of return is an oddity.            Jesus calls us to love one another. And, more than that, he gives us a standard of love.  He calls on us to love one another as he’s loved us.He goes on to say that the greatest love is a giving of the self.  The greatest love is sacrificial in nature.  The greatest love is to lay down your life for your friends.  Once again, these words of Jesus tie right in with our Easter celebration.  As Jesus issues this command, our minds are turned to him and to his sacrifice.  We’re reminded of the great love he’s shown us.We’re reminded that he loved us so much, he was willing to die for us.  We’re reminded that he died for us although we had nothing to offer in return.  We’re reminded that he died for us while we were yet sinners, while we were yet his enemies.            As we read this, we may be thinking that it’s an impossible standard.  And it’s true that, for sinful people like us, it is.  We will never be able to love as Christ has loved on this side of eternity.            However, this command is a continual call to repentance.  It’s a constant check on our sinful nature.  It drives us to the cross that we might receive God’s forgiveness for the lack of love that we show.            It also moves us to seek God’s work in our heart.  It moves us to pray that he’ll work in us and through us.  And we can be assured that, as we turn from our sin, and as the Holy Spirit works within, God will use us to demonstrate his love to others.  He’ll move us to lay down our life for others.[...]

The Proper Use of Authority


“…Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from Supper.  He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist.  Then he poured water into the basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him.”(John 13:3-5 ESV)            As I read them, I find these verses to be mind-boggling.  They don’t seem to fit our typical way of thinking.  In fact, they’re the complete opposite of the way we tend to both think and behave.            We see that Jesus knew who he was.  He knew that he’d come from God and that he was returning to God.  He also knew his authority, that all things had been given into his hands.   Yet, even with this knowledge, he engaged in one of the lowliest acts of service.  He knelt down and washed the feet of his disciples.            In our human way of thinking, possessing great authority means being served.  It means that menial activities are now beneath us.  It means enjoying, and even demanding, the respect and honor of others.            We don’t expect that the president of the United States will do the dishes.  We don’t expect that the Queen of the United Kingdom will clean the bathroom.  We don’t expect those who run large corporations, like Bill Gates, to do the laundry.  Because of their position, they have servants who do these things for them.            This is especially true when we think of the person of Jesus.  After all, he’s God.  He’s the maker of all things.  He’s the giver of life.  He’s the King of kings and Lord of lords.  And for this reason, he certainly deserves to be served.    He deserves the honor of man.            This is one reason why many of us crave power and wealth.  We know that, with this status, comes luxury.  We know that, with this status, comes the service of others.            But Jesus turns this thought process on its head.  And he does so not only with his teaching.  He does so by his example.            And his service goes way beyond the washing of his disciples’ feet.  He gave his very life for us.  He died on the cross that we might receive what we do not deserve, the forgiveness of sins and everlasting life.            He then calls on us to love as he’s loved.  He calls on us to serve as he’s served.  He calls on us to humble ourselves and give ourselves for others as he’s given himself for us.            The question for us, then, is if we’ll do this.  Having received his service, will we follow the example of our Lord and Master?  Will we act not only in our own interests, but in those of others?[...]

Whose Glory Do We Seek?


“Nevertheless, many even of the authorities believed in him, but for fear of the Pharisees they did not confess it, so that they would not be put out of the synagogue; for they loved the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God.”(John 12:42-43 ESV)            For those of you following our journey through John, this Lenten season, you’ll notice that chapter 12 was our reading from a few days ago.  However, something stood out to me that I’d like to share.            As we read through this chapter, one thing that is highlighted is the unbelief of the people.  We’re told that, even though they’d seen so many signs, they still did not believe.  And we’re told that this had been prophesied by Isaiah.            Yet, even though the people would not believe, we’re told that many of the authorities believed in Jesus.  However, because they feared the Pharisees, they were unwilling to publicly confess it.  And John explains their unwillingness, telling us that they loved the glory that came from man more than that which comes from God.            As we read this, it may seem like a harsh statement.  It seems harsh because we can identify with the fear of these authorities.  Even though we believe in Jesus, we also fear man.  We fear the reaction of those around us.  And, like these authorities, we seek to keep our faith private.              But even though this is true, we take issue with the explanation of John.  We would deny that we love the glory of man more than that which comes from God.  We would insist that we do, in fact, place a priority on God’s glory.            We might go on to offer several justifications for our actions.  We insist that, if we suffered for our faith, it might keep us from serving God in other ways.  If we were arrested, it would keep us from ministering to our family.  If our reputation were destroyed, it would hinder even our more secretive attempts to share Christ with others.              However, the simple fact remains that, by keeping our faith secretive, we’re trying to please man.  We’re ignoring the fact that we’ve been called by Christ to proclaim the gospel to the whole creation.  We’ve been called by him to make disciples of all nations.  And we can’t fulfill this calling by keeping our mouth shut.            What we’re doing, in reality, is looking out for ourselves.  We’re seeking only to protect our life and reputation among unbelievers.  And we’re seeking to do so at the expense of the call of God.            As believers in Jesus, we should be much more concerned about what God thinks of us rather than what man thinks of us.  We should be more concerned about pleasing God than man.  While man might harm us, and while he might even take our life in this world, God has authority over our eternal fate (Matthew 10:28).  He has authority to grant life and to take it away.            It’s true that we might be rejected by men, but so too was Christ.  It’s true that we might suffer at the hands of men, but so did Jesus.  He suffered in this way that we might[...]

Our Easter Hope


"I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.  “(John 11:25-26 ESV)            This is one of my favorite passages in all of Scripture.  In it, we find the hope of Easter.  Jesus speaks to us, in this passage, about our hope of eternal life.            Jesus’ friend, Lazarus, had died.  And when Jesus came, his sisters approached Jesus with a comment that often causes us to struggle.  They told him that, had he been there, their brother would not have died.            These women knew Jesus’ power to heal.  And they had summoned Jesus in hope that he might come and heal him.  However, because Jesus delayed in coming, Lazarus had died.            However, Jesus assured them that death was not the end for Lazarus.  He told them that he is the resurrection.  In other words, he is the source of the resurrection.  He has power over life and death.              He went on to tell them that, if we believe in him, we will live even though we die.  He said that everyone who lives and believes in him will never die.  Through faith in him, we receive life eternal.            Once again, this is the hope of Easter.  We know that, unless we’re here when the Lord returns, we’ll all taste death.  We’ve each watched friends and loved ones who’ve grown old and passed, or those of any age who have fallen ill and passed.  And what hope it offers to know that this does not mark the end.              Their death does not mean that God has failed them.  It doesn’t mean that he’s failed us.  We know this because, through Christ, we have life eternal.            For this reason, we need not fear death.  Few of us look forward to death.  Few of us long to suffer.  However, even in the face of this, we know that there is something more.  We know that something greater awaits us.            We know this because of Jesus.  He revealed it to Lazarus’ sisters by raising him from the dead.  And he’s revealed it to us through his own death and resurrection.  We see from this his power over death.  We see his power to grant life.              We know that, when we die, we’ll depart to be with the Lord.  But, more than that, we know that, one day, we’ll also rise from the grave.  We know that, at the return of Christ, our bodies will rise that they might dwell in his presence for all eternity.            Believing this, death no longer leaves us in despair.  When our time comes, we can pass away in confidence.  And when our believing loved ones pass, we have assurance that their life continues on.            May this truth encourage each of us in times of mourning.  May it encourage us in times of suffering.  May be confidently trust that, even if we die, we will live.  May we trust that, through faith in Christ, we will never die.[...]

A Willingness to Sacrifice


“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.” (John 10:11-13 ESV)            In these words, Jesus sums up the heart of the gospel.  He compares himself, as the Good Shepherd, to the hired hand.  And the difference between the two is found in his willingness to lay down his life for the sheep in his care.            The hired hand does not own the sheep.  They do not belong to him.  And, as a result, he doesn’t care about them.  He values his own life more than that of the sheep.  So, when the wolf comes, he flees.  He runs that he might preserve his life.            The sheep, however, belong to the shepherd.  He cares for them and values their life above his own.  So, when the wolf comes, he is willing to protect them.  He’s willing to lay down his life for the sheep.            Most of us can see this truth not only in Jesus’ words, but also in his actions.  These words are more than just a parable.  They reflect reality.  They point us to the sacrifice Jesus was to make on our behalf.            We remember that, even though he in no way deserved to die, Jesus willingly laid down his life for us.  He did so that, through faith in him, we could be free from sin and death.  He was willing to face down the enemy and bear the suffering that was coming to us that we might have life.            Not only does this fill us with gratitude.  Not only does it cause us to overflow with thankfulness for everything he’s done for us.  It’s also the reason we follow him.  He truly is the Good Shepherd.  He’s not out to gain anything from us.  His sole concern is us.In this sense, it also forces us to search our heart.  It forces us to ask if we behave more like the Good Shepherd or the hired hand.  I’m not suggesting that we could ever measure up to Jesus.  I’m not suggesting that we could ever do for others what he’s done for us.  But we are called to reach out with the gospel.  We are called to be a blessing to those around us.            We can relate to Jesus’ willingness to suffer in some ways.  Most of us, if an intruder entered our home, would do all that we could to protect our family.  We would put ourselves between the enemy and our family that they might live.            However, in most cases, we’re more like the hired hand.  We take a “me first” approach to life.  We’re willing to serve, we’re willing to help people, if it’s not an inconvenience.  But we’re not all that willing to sacrifice.  We’re not willing to lay down our life.            Yet we’re called to lay down our lives for others.  We’re called to value others more than ourselves.  We’re called to love as Christ has loved us.               May we, then, repent of our selfish attitu[...]

A Judgmental Jesus?


“For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind.”(John 9:39 ESV)            On the surface, this statement of Jesus may cause us to struggle.  It may do so because, in John 3:17, Jesus said that he did not come to condemn the world.  In John 12:47 Jesus says that he did not come to judge the world, but to save it.  So this statement sounds quite contradictory.  It doesn’t seem to reflect the nature of Christ.            As we read Scripture, we clearly see the desire of God.  He desires that all might be saved.  He does not want anyone to perish, but all to reach repentance.  And, in Jesus, he has provided salvation for all.  He’s the atoning sacrifice for our sin and for that of the entire world.  So the primary purpose of Jesus’ coming was not to judge, but to provide salvation.            However, because so many refuse Christ, because so many will not receive his salvation, it also leads to judgment.  It causes those who refuse him to receive the eternal wrath of God.  So, although judgment is not the purpose of his coming, it does result from it.  It leads to a division of those who are saved and those who are not.            Jesus explains how this plays out in the above passage.  He came so that those who do not see may see.  In other words, he came so that those who were without spiritual insight, who were without the knowledge of God, and who didn’t even seek for him, might receive these blessings.  He came that they might receive salvation.            However, he also came that those who see may become blind.  Now, Jesus isn’t saying here that he has determined some for damnation and that he’s the cause of this.  He also isn’t saying that these people possess true insight or a true knowledge of God.  He’s saying that those who believe themselves to see, those who believe themselves to possess such knowledge, are blinded.  Because of their prideful assertion, they fail to recognize their need for him and they reject the gift of salvation that Jesus brings to them.  And, as a consequence, they receive judgment.            We see this attitude expressed by the Jews in John 8.  As Jesus preached to them, they claimed to be children of Abraham.  They claimed that God was their Father.  However, Jesus told them, in no uncertain terms, that their true father was the devil.  Because they rejected him, because they were seeking to kill him, they were not what they believed themselves to be.            The same reality is found in our society today.  Almost everyone believes themselves to be a child of God.  They are confident in their goodness and salvation.  And, for this reason, they are closed off to the gospel.  They will not admit to their sin, nor do they understand their need for salvation.  And, for this reason, they will not trust in Jesus nor his sacrifice.  For this reason, they remain in the wrath of God.            May we, then, humbly receive the message of the gospel.  May we understand our sin and the punishment we deserve.  And may we, for this reas[...]

Casting Stones


“Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.”(John 8:7 ESV)            In our journey through the gospel of John, we now come to the 8th chapter.  In it, we find the verse above.  However, although it is an important verse, it's also one of the most misused verses of Scripture today.              We see in this passage that the scribes and the Pharisees brought to Jesus a woman caught in the act of adultery.  They did so to test him.  They were looking for an accusation that they could make against him.            They brought her to Jesus, pointing out the teaching of the Law.  According to the Law, those caught in adultery were to be stoned. And they wanted to know what Jesus would say about this.  Would he agree that she should be stoned?  Or would he disregard the Law?            Jesus made this statement to prick the consciences of those who were using this woman.  And this statement would do so in a couple of ways.            First of all, each of those who were accusing this woman were also guilty of sin.  And, like this woman, each of them were deserving of death.  By condemning this woman, they also condemned themselves.            Not only were they sinners in general.  Not only were they generally deserving of death.  They were also guilty in this instance.  By bringing this woman to Jesus, they were sinning against the Lord, making themselves deserving of judgment.            You see, the Law didn’t only prescribe death for women caught in adultery, but also for men.  And if this woman was caught in the act, where was the man?  Why were they letting him off the hook while they condemned her?  In this way, they were guilty of injustice.  They were guilty of partiality.  They were guilty of perverting judgment.            They were also guilty because of their motives.  Their motives were to entrap Jesus.  They sought to accuse him so they might put him to death.  They were seeking to unjustly take the life of Jesus.            Recognizing their guilt, and recognizing the penalty they deserved, her accusers then went away one by one.  And, finally, no one was left.  As Jesus pointed out to the woman, no one was left to accuse her.            However, Jesus didn’t simply dismiss her sin.  He didn’t let her off the hook.  He never offered a word of forgiveness.  He, instead, told her that she was to leave her life of sin.  He called her to repent.            This is where this passage is often twisted today.  People cite it, telling us that we’re to leave them alone.  They tell us that we’re wrong to address their sin.  They tell us that we're to mind our own business.             Now, as we reach out to others, it’s true that we must recognize our own sin.  We must recognize the punishment we deserve.  We must first repent [...]

That Which Satisfies


“My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work.”(John 4:34 ESV)            As Jesus headed for Galilee, he entered a Samaritan town.  Tired from the journey, he sat down by a well as his disciples went off to find food.  And, as he sat there, he interacted with a woman who’d come to draw water, revealing to her his identity.            His disciples returned during this interaction, surprised that Jesus was talking with a woman.  As she left to tell the rest of the town about Jesus, that they too might come to him, his followers urged Jesus to eat. But Jesus replied, telling them that he had food to eat that they knew nothing about.  He then explained himself with the words we see above.  He said that his food is to do the will of God.  He said that his food is to carry out the work entrusted to him.            His disciples wanted Jesus to eat, knowing that it’s essential for his physical well-being.  They knew that he needed to eat that he might keep up his strength.  However, Jesus pointed out that fulfilling God’s will and accomplishing his work is equally necessary.  He then went on to minister to the townspeople who came to him.            We may wonder how this can be true.  After all, even though we may recognize that our service of God is important, we don’t generally believe that it sustains us like food.  We don’t consider it necessary for life.  We tend to think of food as a necessity while service is more of an option.            Jesus, however, was on earth for one purpose.  His purpose was to accomplish the will of God.  His purpose was to bring salvation to those lost in sin.  And, because this was his purpose, following through with it was absolutely essential.  Accomplishing the work, given to him by God, sustained him.            We too are here for a reason.  We also have a purpose, assigned to us by God.  And that purpose is to make disciples of all nations.  That purpose is to proclaim the gospel to the whole creation.            Because of this, we should consider our service of God to be essential to life.  We should recognize that it sustains us.  Just as we pursue things like food, knowing them to be necessary, so too should we pursue the work of God.            Jesus points out to them that the fields are white for harvest.  In other words, now is the time to engage in this work.  Now is the appointed time to fulfill their calling.  And the same is true for us.              We, then, must seek to carry out God’s will and calling, just as we pursue food.  We must consider it essential to our life, just like food.  Let us not consider our service of God as merely an option, but something that is both necessary and satisfying.                        [...]

A Christ-Centered Ministry


“He must increase, but I must decrease.”(John 3:30 ESV)            We see in John 3 that, as Jesus began his ministry, he was baptizing those who came to him.  John the Baptist also continued to baptize those who came to him.  However, John’s disciples noted that, while the people once came to him, they were now going to Jesus for baptism.            These feelings are understandable.  Having followed John, and being devoted to him, it seemed that he was being displaced.  John had born witness to Jesus’ identity, and now his ministry was being sidelined.  And this set up a competitive spirit among John’s followers.            John, however, was unconcerned.  He responded to his followers saying that a person can receive nothing unless it is given him by God.  And he reminded them of his testimony.  He knew that Jesus was the Christ, and that he was not.  For this reason, he rejoiced at the coming of Jesus.  He understood that Jesus had to increase while he, and his ministry, had to decrease.            His focus was not on himself, but on Jesus.  He understood that Jesus was the fulfillment of God’s promises.  He understood that, for this reason, Jesus was to be at center stage.             We must all come around to this mindset as well.  As we carry out God’s calling, it’s easy for us to become focused on ourselves.  It’s easy for us to adopt a competitive attitude.  And, in this way, we push Jesus to the side.  We push him to the side even though salvation is found only in him.            Churches will, at times, become competitive with one another.  They want to have the biggest congregation.  They want to have the best ministry.  Their focus is not on making disciples for Jesus.  Their focus is on building their own kingdom.            Pastors and church leaders can also fall into this mentality.  They can become focused on worldly success.  They want to be esteemed by the people of their congregation, and also the community.  And they become more focused on building their own following than they are on proclaiming the good news of Christ.            It’s even possible for your average congregation member to fall into this mindset.  They continue to take on roles and responsibilities in the church not because they desire to serve.  They do so because they want to build their own reputation.  They want to be noticed and applauded by others.            However, like John the Baptist, we must understand that Christ alone is central to our ministry.  Our focus is not to be upon ourselves or even our own congregation.  Our focus is to be on Christ.  And, as we minister to others around us, our goal is simply to direct people to Jesus.            We are not seeking to make disciples for ourselves, but disciples of Jesus.  And, because of this, we must, like John, approach ministry with the attitude that Jesus must increase while we must decrease.  We must[...]

Whatever He Says


“His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.””(John 2:5 ESV)            In the second chapter of John, Jesus attended a wedding along with his disciples.  Mary, his mother, was also there.  And she brought a problem to Jesus’ attention.            She pointed out that there was no more wine.  While we might wonder why this was such a big deal, it amounted to a major disgrace in their culture. As hosts, it was expected that you would provide enough food and wine for your guests for the duration of the celebration.  She brought this concern to Jesus, knowing who he was and that he could certainly do something about it.  However, as she does so, he appears hesitant to help.  He points out to her that it wasn’t an issue that concerned him.  He told her that his hour had not yet come.            Yet, even with this response, Mary told the servants to do whatever Jesus instructed them to do.  If he did decide to help, she wanted to be sure that his instructions were followed. She wanted to make sure that the need for wine was satisfied.            It isn’t fully explained to us, but Jesus does take action.  Perhaps he did so in order to honor his mother.  There were six stone water jars, each holding twenty to thirty gallons.  These were there for the Jewish rites of purification.  And Jesus instructed the servants to fill the jars with water.            As we read this, we might wonder what good this would do.  It wasn’t water that was needed, but wine.  And I suspect that this thought went through the minds of the servants as well.            Jesus then told them to draw some out and take it to the master of the feast.  Knowing that they’d just filled the jars with water, this would seem just as illogical.  And this may have made them reluctant to follow through.            However, as we read on in the text, we see that the water had become wine.  In fact, it had become a very good wine.  Even though they seemed like nonsense, as the servants followed Jesus’ instructions, he provided for their need.            This is something we must bear in mind as well.  Quite often, as we read Scripture, it doesn’t seem that his instructions, that his Word, will provide for our need.  Given the situation in which we find ourselves, his Word doesn’t seem to fit.  And, for this reason, we completely disregard it. But knowing who Jesus is, and knowing what he is capable of, we must follow Mary’s instructions as well.  We must do whatever he tells us to do.  Even if it doesn’t make sense to us, Jesus is working to provide for our needs and for the needs of those around us.                        [...]

Come and See


“Philip found Nathanael and said to him, "We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph." Nathanael said to him, "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?" Philip said to him, "Come and see."” (John 1:45-46 ESV)            As a congregation, and along with other churches in our community, Prince of Peace is being encouraged to read through the gospel of John between today and Easter Sunday.  This means reading one chapter each day.  I hope you’ll join us in this endeavor.  And I thought I might share with you some thoughts along the way.            The first chapter of John contains many wonderful insights.  If I were to preach on this chapter, I could do so for weeks on end.  However, I’ll share just one with you today.            After being called by Jesus, Philip finds Nathanael, telling him that they’d found the one about whom Moses and the prophets wrote.  He then specifically identifies the Messiah as Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.            Nathanael is skeptical when he hears this news.  He responds, flippantly, asking if anything good can come out of Nazareth.  He likely responded in this way knowing that Nazareth was an insignificant little town.              Philip didn’t try to convince Nathanael.  He didn’t become defensive, as his statement is dismissed. He simply encourages Nathanael to come and see.            I think that we can learn a great deal from Philip.  As we reach out to others, we often receive the same response.  Our words are dismissed.  They are disregarded.  They are ridiculed.            When this happens, we often respond in one of two ways. One of these ways is to simply shut down.  We say no more and we discontinue our efforts to reach them.            Our other response is to try to convince them.  We try to persuade them that the message we’re bringing to them is reasonable.  We do everything we can to defend our message, not wanting it to be maligned.              I’m not suggesting that apologetics is bad.  I’m not saying that our desire to see God’s Word honored is misplaced.  However, I believe we would do better if we simply responded like Philip.            We would do better to simply invite them to see for themselves.  We would do better to say, like Philip, “Come and see.” In this way, our effort at outreach doesn’t turn into an argument.  But, at the same time, we are not backing away from our message.  Knowing it’s truthfulness, we are simply asking them to look into it further.            We will never argue anyone into faith.  Faith is not something that we can impart.  It’s something that God creates through his Word and Spirit.  They can certainly resist.  However, as we share with them the Word of God, it’s his role to create faith.    [...]

Is God a Liar?


“If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.”
 (1 John 1:10 ESV)

Throughout the season of Lent, we’ve been hearing two series of sermons.  On Sunday mornings, we’ve been working our way through the Ten Commandments.  We’ve been looking at what these commands mean and the various ways we break them.  On Wednesday evenings, we’ve been hearing a series titled The Searching Questions of Lent.  We’ve been looking at some questions, drawn out of the Passion account, and what they suggest to us about our own heart.

If we’ve been truly listening, and if we’ve been sincerely searching our heart, we can come away from these messages with only one conclusion: We are guilty.  It’s clear to us that we have sinned against the Lord in many ways.  And it’s clear to us that we deserve his judgment.

The intent of this is that it might reveal to us our need for a Savior.  The intent is that, realizing the depths of our depravity and the wrath that we deserve, we’ll look to Jesus.  The intent is that we’ll trust in him, and in his sacrifice, for the forgiveness of sins.

However, our tendency in this society today is very different.  As we’re confronted with our sin, our tendency is to justify ourselves.  We attempt to explain away our sinful actions.  We try to deny the sinfulness of our sin.

Another response, which has become common today, is to deny the truth of Scripture.  We tell ourselves: “My God would never say something like that.” We try to tell ourselves that, if the authors of Scripture knew what we know today, they would have never said the things that they did.

When we do this, when we fail to accept the fact that we are sinful, we are doing something quite blasphemous.  According to the apostle John, in the above passage, we make God a liar.  We are declaring that God had delivered to us false statements or untruths.

Most of us would be reluctant to make such an accusation outright.  We wouldn’t dare look God in the eye and call him a liar.  But, when we declare ourselves innocent, when we deny the truths his Word brings to us, this is what we’re doing.

We’re telling God that, although he has told us we’re sinners, this is not true.  We’re telling God that, although he’s declared us to be deserving of judgment, this is not true.  We’re telling God that, although he’s stated we’re in need of a Savior, this is not true.

When we respond to God in this way, his Word is not in us.  We are not trusting in him or the truth he’s revealed to us.  We’re trusting, instead, in ourselves.  We’re relying only on our wisdom and understanding.

When we respond to God in this way, we reveal ourselves to be outside of his salvation.  Since we don’t acknowledge our sin, we don’t believe ourselves to be in need of a Savior.  We believe ourselves to be good and deserving of salvation.  And, for this reason, we won’t receive the sacrifice Jesus made on our behalf.  We won’t look to him for mercy.

May we never accuse God of being deceptive.  May each one of us recognize our sin, confess it to the Lord, and ask him for his forgiveness.  And may we trust in Christ, and in him alone, for the salvation we so desperately need.

Hope in the Midst of Discouragement


The following was written as a devotional for AFLC World Missions."But the Lord said to him, "Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.""(Act 9:15 ESV)As we’ve heard reports from our mission fields this past year, it’s clear that things have been turbulent.  Some of of our missionaries have faced the possibility, and even the reality, of being forced out of their field.  And we don’t know what this next year will hold.  All we know is that we are often called to suffer for the name of Christ.The words above were spoken to Ananias, as he was called to go and to lay his hands on a man named Saul.  He was reluctant to do so, knowing Saul’s reputation.  But God told him to go, because Saul was a chosen vessel.Even though it’s clear that Saul would be used by God to do great things, there’s a challenging word attached to it.  He would carry the Lord’s name before the Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel.  However, he would also be shown how much he must suffer for the sake of the Lord’s name.As we read through the book of Acts, we see how all of this played out.  God did use Saul, whose name was changed to Paul, to carry the gospel to Jew and Gentile alike.  God used him to bring the gospel to kings.  Souls were saved and churches were planted as he carried out his calling.However, in the midst of this work, he experienced great hardship.  He often lacked the resources he needed.  He was slandered by those who rejected his message, as well as by those who received it.  He also suffered physical abuse by those who wished to silence him.  And he was arrested for nothing more than carrying out his ministry.The same will often be true in the work of missions today.  Although our missionaries will be used by God to accomplish great things on his behalf, they will also suffer.  They will face opposition as they bring the message of salvation to those who are perishing.This is true not only of missions, but also of ministry here in the United States.  Pastors and congregation members minister, today, in a culture that is increasingly hostile to our message.  We too will face opposition as we carry out our calling.This can be discouraging.  It’s discouraging to us as we hear reports from the mission field, of the challenges our missionaries are facing.  It’s discouraging to see doors closing to ministry.  It’s discouraging to hear about and to experience opposition here at home.  But, in the face of this, we must bear in mind what the Lord is doing.This opposition is being experienced because the gospel is being carried into dark places.  It’s being experienced because of our faithfulness to God’s call.  If we were remaining idle, if we were forsaking the call of God, there would be no opposition.And we know that, as the Word of the Lord goes forth, he is at work in the hearts of men.  As his Word goes forth, he is calling to repentance those who were bound.  He is providing the promise of salvation to those who were without hope.Recognizing this, we are not discouraged.  We continue to press on in spite of the opposition we face.  We carry out our call trusting that the Lord who sent us is working in ways that we can see, as well is in ways we could never fat[...]

Maintaining Pure Thoughts


“Do not rebuke an older man but encourage him as you would a father, younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, younger women as sisters, in all purity.”(1Timothy 5:1-2 ESV)            As we focused on the Sixth Commandment yesterday, we noted the adulterous attitudes and intentions found within our heart.  We heard the words of Jesus in Matthew 5, where he says that, by looking lustfully at someone, we’ve already committed adultery in our heart.  So we break the Commandment by not only having an illicit sexual relationship, but also by the desires of our heart.            This makes the Sixth Commandment seem like an impossible standard.  And, indeed, it is.  We learn from this Commandment that we are all guilty and deserving of the wrath of God.  We learn that we’d be lost forever were it not for Jesus, who was born into the world that he might atone for our sin.            However, as Christians, this can be a real struggle.  After all, we desire to live for the Lord.  And, for this reason, we may do a good job of remaining outwardly pure.  But the desires of the heart can continue to plague us even as we refrain from extramarital sexual activity.            It’s easy for us to look at others inappropriately.  It’s easy for us to entertain impure thoughts about others.  And it can be exceedingly difficult for us to keep a handle on these desires.            In the above passage, the apostle Paul says something that can help us maintain not only outward purity, but also purity of the heart.  He tells us how we’re to regard others.  He tells us that we’re to look at one another as family.            As a young boy, if someone found my sister attractive, I would’ve responded with one word: “Yuck!” I’m not saying that I found her ugly.  But she’s my sister.  And, because she’s my sister, I could never look at her in that way.  I could never think of her in that way.            This is the thought behind Paul’s words as he tells us how to interact with one another.  We’re to treat older men as though they were our father.  We’re to treat younger men as brothers.  We’re to treat older women as mothers.  And we’re to regard younger women as sisters.  He then adds: “…in all purity.”            If we, as men, regarded women as mothers and sisters, we would think of them in a way that’s pure. We would not continually look at them in a sexual way.  In fact, we’d do all that we could to guard their purity.  And the same thing is true in reverse.  If women looked at men as fathers and brothers, they too would have an easier time maintaining pure thoughts.            As you read this, some of you may wonder: If we do this, if we think in this way, then how are people to become attracted to one another, pursue one another, and enter into a healthy marital relationship?  Attraction is a[...]

Guilty of Murder?


“Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.” (1John 3:15 ESV)            When we think about the Fifth Commandment, our thoughts naturally turn to the taking of life.  We think of all of the physical ways in which we might take the life of another.  We think of the ways in which we might fail to save the life of another.            We might also consider and debate the many questions that tie in with this command: Is the death penalty a violation of this command?  Is war a violation of this command? Is it sinful for us to use lethal force to defend ourselves, our family, and even our home?            All of these are important topics.  And they do directly relate to the command prohibiting murder.  However, there’s a way we violate this command each and every day of our lives that we often overlook.            According to the apostle John, we commit murder by simply hating our brother.  This really hits home because we all have people that we detest.  We can’t stand them and, quite frankly, we want nothing to do with them.  We feel no love for them, nor do we want to demonstrate love for them.John expands on this truth, which convicts us further.  He tells us that whoever does not abide in love abides in death.  He tells us that, if we see someone in need and we close our heart against him, God’s love does not abide in us.            Most of us are willing to help others who are in desperate circumstances.  But it’s also common for us to be quite selfish.  We’re often unwilling to help fearing that we might not have enough down the road.            He goes on to point us to Jesus as the perfect expression of love.  He tells us that Jesus laid down his life for us.  And, in the same way, we’re to lay down our life for our brother.            We must, therefore, confess the lack of love we possess for others.  We must confess our unwillingness to help those in need, and our hatred for others.  We must seek his forgiveness, knowing that this makes us guilty of murder.  And we must ask him to work in our heart, we must seek his strength, that we might selflessly love and serve one another as he's called us.[...]

Honoring Those in Authority


“Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.”(Romans 13:1-2 ESV)            This past Sunday, at Prince of Peace, we discussed the Fourth Commandment.  And we heard that we’ve been called to honor our father and our mother.  However, in his explanation of this Commandment, Martin Luther expands it beyond our parents.  In his explanation, he writes: “We should fear and love God, and so we should not despise our parents and superiors, nor provoke them to anger, but honor, serve, obey, love, and esteem them.”                        Luther tells us that this command applies not only to parents, but also to our superiors.  This, then, might involve people such as government leaders, judges, teachers, employers, and church leadership.            Your initial reaction, as you read this, may be that it’s not Biblical.  You may think this because the command itself addresses only parents.  However, in other passages of Scripture, such as the one above, we see that we’re called to honor other authorities that have been placed over us as well.            We are called, in this passage, to be subject to our governing authorities.  And we’re told that these authorities have been set in place by God.  For this reason, if we resist these authorities, we are sinning against God.            This is something with which many of us struggle.  We struggle with it because we don’t support or governing authorities.  We find ourselves on the other side of the political aisle.  And we don’t even believe their views to be Biblical.            The interesting thing is that, when Paul wrote these words, he was under the authority of the Roman government.  And the Roman government was anything but Christian.  The Emperor at that time was likely Nero, who was a very wicked man, and who was responsible for a great persecution of Christians.             It was under this type of leadership that Paul wrote these words.  And no matter what you think of our current political leaders, they don’t in any way compare to Nero.              This doesn’t mean that God supported Nero.  It doesn’t mean that God endorsed his policies.  It doesn’t mean that God desired for Christians to be persecuted.  We find in Scripture that God does, at times, allow the wicked to rule.  We find that he uses the wicked to accomplish his purposes.            It also doesn't mean that we must obey our leaders if we're asked to do something that's sinful.  Our first obligation is to the Lord.  Yet, they are in a position of leadership because they we[...]