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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: 2018-02-14T17:07:41.245-06:00


A Living Testimony


“Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness' sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God's will, than for doing evil.”(1 Peter 3:13-17 ESV)Generally speaking, if it’s our desire to do good, people will think well of us. If it’s our desire to do good, people will treat us well. However, there is an exception to every rule. And, at times, people will seek us harm because we desire good.People may want to silence our testimony. They may desire to discredit us before others. Or they may seek to drag us into the mud, that we might wallow there with them.Peter encourages us in the fact that, if we do suffer for righteousness, we will be blessed. And, for this reason, we should have no fear of those who seek us harm. We must simply remain faithful to the Lord. We must continue to honor Christ as holy.However, not only are we to continue living for the Lord. We are to be always prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks about the hope we possess. In other words, we are to be prepared at all times to share both our hope and the reason for it.One of the mistakes we tend to make is that we become aggressive in making this defense. We become hostile and argumentative. But Peter encourages us to make this defense with gentleness and respect. We are to do so, maintaining a good conscience.We are to do so that, even if we are slandered, our good behavior will shame those who revile us. Our good behavior will make it evident to everyone that the slanderous accusations, being made about us, are untrue. Our good behavior will offer convincing proof of our innocence.He concludes by telling us that it is better to suffer for doing good than for doing evil. If we are to suffer, it is better to suffer unjustly than to suffer justly. It’s better to suffer, having done the right thing, rather than succumbing to evil.It should be our desire, as believers, to live for the Lord at all times. It should be our desire that both our words and our actions will point people to Christ. It should be our desire that we might testify regarding our hope, and live in this hope before the eyes of others.[...]

Blessing the Undeserving


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

(1 Peter 3:8-12 ESV)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Apart from Love


“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.”(1 Corinthians 13:1-3 ESV)Although we recognize that God has given to each of us gifts and talents, we often fail to use them in his service. We sit back and receive the service of others, who use their God-given gifts to bless us. But we are unwilling to serve and bless others with the gifts entrusted to us.Yet, even when we do use them, our motives are often wrong. And, because they are wrong, we end up serving with a wrong spirit. Our service is motivated by our sinful nature.We often serve God and one another out of a sense of guilt. We often serve God and one another out of a sense of duty. We sometimes serve God and one other in an effort to make a name for ourselves. And we sometimes serve in an effort to curry the favor of God and man.However, as Paul tells us in the above passage, our gifts mean nothing and accomplish nothing if they are not used in a spirit of love. And, as is characteristic in Scripture, the love to which we are called in an unconditional love. The love to which we are called is a sacrificial love.If our gifts are used apart from this love, we are only making noise. If our gifts give us great abilities, and we are without this love, we are nothing. And if we sacrifice ourselves completely, but do so without this love, we gain nothing.God has certainly granted us these abilities and called on us to use them. But the underlying motive in their use must be love. We must serve out of our love for God, and out of love for our neighbor. We must unconditionally and sacrificially give of ourselves that we might accomplish God’s purpose and that we might be a blessing to those around us.Because we are sinful creatures, we will naturally struggle with selfishness and impure motives. This is an ongoing battle. And, for this reason, we must always search our heart to evaluate our motives. We must always ask God to search us and reveal to us any impurity that’s directing our actions.When it’s found that we are acting out of anything other than love, we must repent. We must look to Christ, in faith, seeking God’s mercy. And we must ask him to fill our heart with his love, that it might overflow into the lives of others.  After all, this love is a gift of his grace. We must ask him to fill us with love so that, in our service, we might seek only to glorify him and bless those in our path.[...]

Peter's Word to Husbands


“Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered.” (1 Peter 3:7 ESV)In our last devotion, we looked at Peter’s instruction for wives. We saw that they can win their husband, without a word, by their conduct. And, for this reason, he instructs them to be subject to their husbands and to adorn themselves with a quiet and gentle spirit.In the above passage, we see Peter’s instruction for husbands. He calls on them, first of all, to live with their wives in an understanding way. He then says something that many women find offensive. He calls on men to show honor to the woman as the weaker vessel.This phrase is not intended to convey disrespect. It reflects the simple reality that women are typically smaller in size and weaker in strength when compared to men. It reflects a simple reality that leaves her vulnerable.It’s this reality that leads to the abuse of women in other systems of belief. Her rights are reduced and her status is lowered. And the tendency is for her to be exploited.Men naturally operate by the “might makes right” principle. They live in a world where the strong rule over the weak. And their sinful nature drives them to exercise dominion by sheer force.            However, because she is the weaker vessel, Peter calls on Christian men to do something that runs counter to this inclination. He calls on them to show honor to their wives. They are not to use their strength to dominate. Instead, they are to treat their wives considerately and use their position to bless them.Men are to do so, recognizing that their wives are joint heirs with them of the grace of life. They are to recognize that their wives are recipients of the very same blessing. They are to recognize that, by faith, their wives will also receive the salvation of God.  Finally, men are to behave in this way that their prayers may not be hindered. This implies that, failing to do so, may keep their prayers from being answered. As they live in unrepentance, refusing the calling with which God has entrusted them, their prayers are impeded. Once again, this may seem old-fashioned. In a day and age where we’re told that a woman can do anything that a man can do, it seems quaint. Yet, when we look at what Peter is saying, we understand that it does not lead to oppression for women. We find that it leads to an increased freedom and to greater opportunity. [...]

Peter's Word to Wives


“Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives, when they see your respectful and pure conduct. Do not let your adorning be external-- the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear-- but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God's sight is very precious. For this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their own husbands, as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. And you are her children, if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening.” (1 Peter 3:1-6 ESV)In our last devotion, as we continued our walk through 1 Peter, we looked at a pretty unpopular subject: submission. This theme continues into the third chapter of this epistle.  But this passage is unpopular not only because it again addresses submission.  It also addresses it to wives.Many women today, even Christian women, think of this as an old-fashioned attitude. They think of it as demeaning to women. And, for this reason, they try to dismiss this teaching and explain it away.Yet, we see clearly in Scripture that God has set up an order for the home. And it in no way implies that women are inferior to men. It’s an order that reflects our position in Christ (see Ephesians 5:22-33).However, in this passage, there’s another reason for the submission that’s commanded. Wives are to submit that their husbands might be encouraged in faith. Even if they don’t obey the Word, even if they aren’t believers, wives are called to submit that they might be won for the Lord, that they might be drawn to faith in Christ.The simple truth is this: When a woman lives out her faith before her husband, it can make a great impression on him. It can make a greater impression on him than anyone else. It can do so because he sees her life like no one else.When she is respectful toward him, and when he observes her pure conduct, it reveals the genuine nature of her faith. And not only is this true. When she is respectful to her husband, although he clearly doesn’t deserve it, she is manifesting the grace of God. She is expressing the grace of God which is lavished upon undeserving sinners.Women put a great deal of effort into their appearance, desiring to appear beautiful. They adorn themselves with beautiful clothes and jewelry. They adorn themselves with lovely hairstyles and make-up. But Peter calls on them to adorn themselves in a different way. He calls on them to adorn themselves with internal qualities. He calls on them to adorn themselves with a quiet and gentle spirit.We’ll address the men in our next devotion. However, may all of you ladies reflect Christ in your marriage. May your faith, and may the expression of your faith, draw your husband to the Lord rather than hinder him.[...]

Gracious Submission


“Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust. For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.”(1 Peter 2:18-25 ESV)I think it’s safe to say that most of us want nothing to do with submission. When we’re called in Scripture to submit, the hair on our neck stands on end. We don’t want anyone telling us what to do. And we don’t want to be under anyone’s authority but our own. Perhaps our American mindset, of absolute freedom, plays into this. We’re constantly being reminded of our freedoms and liberties. However, our problem with submission ultimately flows from our sinful nature. It flows from our desire to be lord of our own life.Our reaction against submission is even more severe when we deem our authorities unjust. If we feel that we’re being treated unfairly, our instinct is to rebel. Our instinct is to push back.However, as we see in the above passage, we are called to submit to our authorities. And we’re called to do so not only when we’re being treated justly. We’re called to submit even when we’re being treated unfairly.We’re called upon, in this passage, to suffer graciously. We’re told that it’s a credit to us when we endure injustice. We are called upon to follow the example of Christ.We’re reminded that what Jesus suffered was far from just. However, as he suffered, he did not react against his persecutors. He, instead, entrusted himself into the care of God.He did this for us. He did this for our blessing. He did this that he might bear the punishment of our sin.He did this that we might die to our sinful nature. He did this that we might not continue living for sin. He did this that we might, instead, live for the glory of God.When we’re treated unjustly by our authorities, we are to graciously submit.  We are to do so for the blessing of those around us. We’re to do so even for the blessing of those who dole out our suffering.We’re to do so, entrusting ourselves to the care of God. We’re to entrust ourselves to him knowing that, even if we don’t receive justice in this life, we will in the end. We can be confident that those who act to harm us will ultimately answer to him.[...]

Why Resolutions Fail


“Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God's kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?”Romans 2:4 ESVWith the change of year, many of us make resolutions. We see things in our life that we want to change, and we resolve to do better. Maybe we want to eat better and lose weight. Perhaps we want to better handle our finances. Or maybe we want to take control of our speech.  But, whatever the case may be, we look at the new year as an opportunity to start with a clean slate.Sadly, few of us make it even a month before abandoning our efforts. We quickly tire of battling old habits and desires, and go back to our prior way of life. And, in the end, we are no different than we were the previous year.The same is often true in our life of faith. As we look to God’s Word, our sin is evident. And we want to do better. We want to leave these sins behind.Once again, we strive to do better. But, we quickly tire of these efforts. And before long, we return to the sin we desired to leave behind.We will never be free of sin this side of eternity. But, as we seek to do better, as we seek to turn from sin, we have the wrong motive. Our reason for making a change is insufficient.We often try to change for our own sake, to make ourselves a better person. We try to change because we want to feel better about ourselves. We try to change in an effort to make ourselves worthy of God and his blessings. We try to change in an effort to improve our image and our standing in this life.With motives like these, we will never make a permanent change. Once the battle gets hard, we’ll decide it’s no longer worth it. We’ll conclude that our efforts are futile and that true change is elusive.However, when we truly recognize the kindness of God, true change, true repentance, is possible. Recognizing that God has provided salvation in spite of our unworthiness, recognizing that he loved us when we were unlovable, this repentance flows naturally. In response to his love, we want nothing more than to love this God in return. As we see above, God’s kindness leads us to repentance.At this point, change that couldn’t be attained by our own willpower, that we were powerless to effect in our life, suddenly becomes possible.  And it’s the gospel that makes it possible. The message of God’s grace, and the reception of that grace, results in a sincere repentance and the power of God at work in our heart.Our focus, then, must not be on the things we can do to change. Our focus must be upon Christ and what he has done for us. We must sincerely trust in the gospel knowing that, as we do so, he will be at work within us and that change will happen.[...]

The Sacred Nature of Life


“Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, declares the Lord GOD, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live?” (Ezekiel 18:23 ESV)January is a month that has been recognized as Sanctity of Life Month. The 21st of January will be Sanctity of Life Sunday.  It’s a time to remember that, because it was created by God, all human life is sacred.Our focus, during this time of year, is typically on abortion. And it’s needless to say that this practice is a terrible evil. However, the scope of this remembrance goes much further. It speaks to issues such as euthanasia, physician assisted suicide, in vitro fertilization, living wills, contraception, and more.One of the primary things we must remember, when it comes to life issues, is that God is the giver of life. Life flows from him. And life has value because of him.We remember from the creation account that God formed man and breathed into him the breath of life. We’re told also, in John 1, that life is in the Word, that it’s in Jesus. And we find in Scripture that not only did God provide for us life in this world. He’s also provided for us eternal life. Through Jesus he’s enabled us to live not only for eighty, ninety, or even one hundred years. He’s enabled us to live forever.Even though he is just, even though he issued the punishment of death upon man in response to our sin, and even though he’s decreed the punishment of hell for those who do not receive salvation, he doesn’t take pleasure in this. He is not a sadistic God who celebrates as the wicked receive their due. As we see in the above passage, it’s his desire that the wicked should turn from his way and live. It’s God’s desire that all should live.  It’s his desire that all should live forever.  And, for this reason, he’s made eternal life available for everyone.  Jesus’ death served as the atoning sacrifice for the lives of not only a few, but for all.This great blessing is available to all people through faith in him.  By trusting in Jesus, by trusting in his sacrifice, we’re enabled to receive salvation.  And we are called to take this message to the world around us.Seeing that God desires life for all, we should share this desire. We should desire that people would gratefully receive the blessing of life in this world, and that it would not be denied them.  And we should also desire that all people will receive the blessing of eternal life. It should be our desire that, through faith in Jesus, they will receive salvation from sin and death.[...]

The Proper Use of Freedom


“Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God.  Honor everyone.  Love the brotherhood.  Fear God.  Honor the emperor.”

(1 Peter 2:16-17)

As Christians, we tend to err in one of two ways. Some of us fall into legalism. We depend upon the law to attain for us salvation and the blessing of God. And, on the other side of the spectrum, some of us fall into antinomianism. We believe that, because we’re saved by grace, it doesn’t matter what we do. We feel that we can do as we please because God freely forgives us.

Both of these mindsets are a misunderstanding of the gospel. Scripture tells us that the Law does not save us. In fact, it cannot do so. And it also tells us that the Christian life is one of repentance. It’s a life of turning from sin and living for the Lord.

In the above verses, Peter tells us to live as people who are free. And we should do just that.  We should do so because, again, we are not saved by our obedience to the law, but by the grace of God. We have also been freed from the requirements of the ceremonial law.

This truth takes a great weight off of our shoulders. No longer must we be consumed by efforts to earn our salvation. And no longer are we burdened by unrealistic requirements that have nothing to do with our redemption.

However, that being said, we are not to use this freedom as an excuse for our sin. We cannot live as we please, doing as we choose, believing that our sinful actions will be overlooked by God. We must not live in unrepentance, believing that it doesn’t matter.

We must bear in mind that, since we’re now free from this bondage, we are servants of God.  We must not forget that our life belongs to him. And we must not forget that we’ve been called to willingly and gladly honor him in all that we do.

In this spirit, we’re to honor everyone. We’re to love the brotherhood, meaning the people of the church. We’re to fear God. And we’re also to honor those who rule over us.  In all of these ways, we act as servants of God.

Above Reproach


“Be subject for the Lord's sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people.” (1 Peter 2:13-15 ESV)As we live in this world, Christians are often accused. Some of these accusations are made in an effort to discredit us, while others are made in an effort to shame us. This is done with the goal of silencing us and discrediting our ministry.These accusations often have the intended effect. We cringe when, as believers in Jesus, we’re referred to as a “goody-two-shoes” or as a “do-gooder.” These comments are intended as insults, and this is the way that we take them.  And, for this reason, we seem determined to prove that we can sin with the best of them.We are, of course, sinners. It’s not my intention to imply otherwise.  However, our desire to fit in with the world around us opens us to sins we otherwise might not commit.We seem to think that we can only reach out to the world if we identify with them.  And, by identify with them, I mean taking part with them in their sin. We think that we must talk like them and behave like them if they’re to listen to us.We’re also, at times, dismissive of “small” sins that we commit. Even though we do our best to keep from falling into the "big" sins, we pay little attention to others. We intentionally drive above the speed limit. We cheat on our taxes. We park illegally. We refuse to submit to the authorities in these ways because, in our mind, it’s no big deal.However, as we see in the above passage, our actions serve as a testimony to the world around us. It reveals to them, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that we are different. It reveals to them that we have, indeed, been set apart from the world around us. It reveals to them that we have been transformed by the gospel.As they accuse us, as they seek to find fault with us, our life silences them. When they see the good that we do, they can only conclude that we are, in fact, living out our faith. And, in this way, all of their efforts to discredit us come to nothing.This is God’s will for us, according to Peter. It’s his desire that we will live life in such a way that our accusers have nothing left to say.  It’s his will that we live our life in such a way that their ignorance is made clear. It’s his will that, as people look at our lives, there is no question that these accusations are baseless.[...]

Because of His Great Mercy


“For we do not present our pleas before you because of our righteousness, but because of your great mercy.”(Dan 9:18 ESV)Prayer is something in which we regularly engage. As we go through our day to day life, and as we encounter various trials and struggles, we end up with a laundry list of requests for the Lord. We then go to the Lord, asking him to help us with these trials and to remove from us our struggles.We’re also confronted with our sin on a daily basis. And, as we recognize our wrongdoing, we again go to the Lord in prayer. We go to him asking that he might forgive us.Typically, when we bring our requests to the Lord, we approach him arguing that we are deserving of the blessing we seek. We make our request, reminding him of our faithfulness. We make our request, reminding him of our love for him. We make our request, reminding him of our goodness and of our obedience to him.We’ll also, at times, make our request promising something in return. We tell God that, if he grants to us the blessing we seek, we’ll do something for him. We’ll perform some duty that, up to this point, we’ve been hesitant to perform. We’ll surrender an area of our life that, up to this point, we’ve held back.We fail to realize, as we pray in this way, that we are not depending on the grace of God for his blessing. We are, instead, engaging in works righteousness. We’re trying to earn God’s blessings by our efforts. We are seeking his blessing because of our imagined sense of inherent righteousness.We fail to realize that we’re a sinful people and that, because of our sin, we deserve nothing from God. In fact, the only thing we deserve from him is judgment. We cannot rightly approach him for any blessing based upon our own merit.We must, instead, follow the example of Daniel, in the above passage. As he asked for God’s mercy for himself and his people, and as he requested God’s blessing, he didn’t base it upon their goodness. He did not approach God believing that they were deserving of this blessing. He approached God, asking for his grace.He tells God that he approaches him, not because of the righteousness of his people. He approaches God because of his mercy. He approaches God not because of their character, but because of his.As we approach God, we must do the same. We must do so recognizing our unworthiness. We must do so recognizing that only by of his grace can we receive his blessing. We must approach him based not upon who we are, but upon who he is.[...]

Salvation Has Come


“In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.’”(Matthew 3:1-2 ESV)The coming of Jesus meant the coming of salvation, which is why we celebrate his birth each year. And it was for this reason that, as John the Baptist began his ministry, it was with a sense of urgency. He proclaimed to the people that they were to repent because the kingdom of heaven was at hand.Jesus began his ministry with the very same message. We see in Matthew 4 that, after his baptism, and after his temptation in the wilderness, he too urged the people to repent. He urged them to do so because the kingdom of heaven was at hand.The NIV translates the last phrase of this passage “the kingdom of heaven has come near.” And this helps us to understand the message of both John and Jesus. The phrase written by Matthew means that the kingdom of heaven has come near, it has drawn near, or that it’s approaching.God’s salvation was not something in the distant future. It wasn’t far off. It wasn’t out of reach or unavailable to the people. The Savior himself was in the world. And, for this reason, it was time for the people to repent. It was time for them to turn from their sin and to receive the salvation that was in their midst.This is also the message that we are bringing to the world today. And it carries with it the same sense of urgency. It does so because God’s salvation is at hand. It does so because, through faith in the Messiah, salvation from sin and death is available to us.It isn’t something that’s far off or out of reach. It’s not something that’s merely a possibility. God’s salvation is here, it’s available to us, right now.It also carries a sense of urgency because we know that, one day soon, the Lord will return. Although we don’t know the timing of this event, we are assured in Scripture that it will be soon. And, when he does so, the day of grace will come to an end. As we rejoice in the salvation of God this season, may we also share this sense of urgency. Knowing that the kingdom of heaven has been opened to us, knowing that salvation is available here and now, may we earnestly proclaim this truth to all. May we proclaim it to the people of our own community and nation. But may we also continue in our efforts to carry it to the ends of the earth.[...]

Would Christmas Be Christmas?


“For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:11 ESV)            Christmas, in the United States, tends to be quite elaborate. There is a way that we celebrate the day. Although we put our own little twists on it, depending on our family, most of it is largely the same.In contrast, the very first Christmas was quite ordinary, by all regards. The shepherds were out doing their job, taking care of their sheep. But, suddenly, they received good news. A host of angels appeared proclaiming to them that the Christ had been born. After I was ordained, I immediately moved out to San Diego as I began serving my first congregation. And that first Christmas, the Christmas of 1998, was strange. Everything that was familiar about the holiday was suddenly gone The most notable difference was that, for the first time in my life, I would not be spending Christmas with my family. I now lived hundreds of miles away from them. And, even though that distance can be covered very quickly by plane, my position required that I be there for Christmas services. I was also single, at the time, meaning I had no family whatsoever with whom to share the holiday.  It was also the first Christmas I’d ever felt lonely.There were other differences as well. Being alone, I did very little decorating. It was the first Christmas I’d spent without many of the traditional embellishments. I only put up a small tree in my home.It was odd seeing Christmas lights in palm trees, rather than pine trees, as I drove through the city. It was the first Christmas I’d spent in the warmth, with no winter weather at all. In fact, I spent part of Christmas Eve at the home of the senior pastor, with whom I served, sitting by his pool. It was too cool to swim, but it was lovely on the patio.  Yet, in spite of the differences, and in spite of the simplicity, it was still Christmas. The message of the season and the hope brought by it were the same. I found that, even though our traditions are nice, they are not what define the day. You could have the trees and the snow, you could have the family gatherings and presents, but without the gospel, without the message of Jesus’ birth, it would not be Christmas. The other aspects of the day may be fun, but they are not what make it Christmas. It’s Jesus that makes the day what it is. This is something that we should each consider: Would Christmas be Christmas without a beautiful tree? Would Christmas be Christmas without snow? Would Christmas be Christmas without a big family dinner and time with our loved ones? Would Christmas be Christmas without the weeks of shopping and gift exchanges? Would Christmas be Christmas if all you had was the simple message of the day and the time to glorify God for his salvation? [...]

They Are Watching You


“Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.”(1Peter 2:12 ESV)When someone who is different comes among us, we take notice. We take notice because they stand out. We’re curious to see who they are and what makes them distinct from ourselves.If we see someone who is dressed noticeably different, we observe them. If we notice someone speaking a different language, our ears perk up and we pay attention. If we see someone who is clearly from another culture, we instinctive watch them.I’ve caught myself doing this here in the US. However, I’ve also been on the receiving end of this behavior. As I’ve travelled to other nations around the world, and as I’ve been the one who stands out, I’ve noticed people watching me.We often fail to realize that, as Christians, as people of faith, we are distinct from the world around us. And for this reason, we will naturally stand out. People will be watching us and observing our lives. They will do so in an effort to figure us out.For this reason, in the above verse, Peter encourages us to keep our conduct honorable among unbelievers. Our actions, our decisions, and the way that we speak should stand out. They should glorify the God that we represent.This may lead some of them to take our message seriously. It may create within them a curiosity and a willingness to listen to our message. But it may not. They may notice the difference between us and them and scoff at us. They may remain critical of us and continue to accuse us.Either way, when they see our good deeds, when they see the way that we live our life, they will notice. And, even if they refuse to do so now, they will glorify God on the day of visitation. On the day when Jesus returns, on the day that God reveals himself to the world, they’ll be able to do nothing else.The question for us is this: Are we living a life that glorifies God? Are we living a life that stands as a testimony to the world around us? Are we living a life that’s consistent with the gospel we proclaim?Because of our sinful nature, we all fall short.  And, when we do so, we must confess our sin and turn from it. We must seek, with the strength God provides, to live a life that is consistent with our message. We must seek to live a life that’s glorifying to him.[...]

Minimizing the Threat


“Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul.”
‭‭1 Peter‬ ‭2:11‬ ‭ESV‬‬

Theologians have noted that there are three enemies which war against our soul: the devil, the world, and our sinful nature. And I believe that we understand the threat posed by the first two. However, I don’t think we grasp the danger of the third.

We understand that the devil opposes Christ and those who are his. He would like nothing more than to have us condemned to hell for all eternity. And, knowing this, we understand the importance of resisting him.

We also understand the danger of the world. We know that the world naturally opposes Christ. Because it is under the bondage of sin, it resists him at every turn. And it seeks to lure away from Christ those who trust in him.

Yet, when it comes to our flesh, when it comes to our sinful nature, we seem to minimize the danger. Although we acknowledge that we are sinners, and although we confess that we’re far from perfect, we seem to think the danger is minuscule.

Believing our intentions to be good, and not questioning our motives, we believe that our flesh is somewhat trustworthy. We scoff at those who’ve practiced extreme asceticism in an effort to put down the power of the flesh. And we instead choose to toy with it in our day to day life.

Peter is clear about the danger the flesh poses in the above verse. He urges us to abstain from the passions of the flesh. And he urges us to do so because they wage war against our soul.

The passions of our flesh are quite literally fighting against us. They seek to lure us from God. They seek ultimately our eternal destruction.

Coming to terms with this truth means taking more seriously the passions of the flesh. It means that, knowing their danger, we fight them as never before. We do so that our flesh might not find itself victorious, achieving the demise of our eternal soul.

We do this not by our own strength. We do so by looking to the Lord for strength. Confessing our sin, living in daily repentance, and standing firm in our faith, we resist it. We count our eternal blessedness of more value than the fleeting pleasures these passions provide.

Whose Glory Do We Seek?


“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. Once you were not a people, but now you are God's people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.”

(1 Peter 2:9-10 ESV)

We’ve seen already that, as believers in Jesus, God has made us a kingdom of priests. And, in the above passage, we see this truth once again. However, we also see the purpose of our priesthood.

We are a chosen race, we are a royal priesthood, we are a holy nation, we are a people for his own possession, that we might proclaim the excellencies of the one who saved us. We are his that we might declare his praises. In other words, we are his that we might testify of him and what he’s done for us. 

We have been sent out into the world that others might hear of him and place their faith in him. This truth is nothing new. Most of us are familiar with the Great Commission, and we understand this calling that God has placed on our life.

However, our tendency is to proclaim our own excellencies. Our tendency is to sing our own praises. We desire to make a name for ourselves and to earn the admiration of the masses.

We want to be thought of as wonderful parents. We want to be thought of as the best spouse. When it comes to our career, we want to be recognized as the best in our field. We want to be thought of as intelligent, caring, and hard-working. We then set out to prove these things to the world around us.

This is even true of us as we seek to serve God. We serve him, but there’s often an underlying motive in our service. We want the credit for the things that we do. We want others to think highly of us. We desire recognition not only from God, but also from man.

We want to be looked up to as an example of faith. We long to be admired for the things we do in the church. We may even seek the offices and titles which we believe will lead to this recognition. 

However, as priests of God, we are a people who have been called to serve God alone. As his priests, as his people, our focus is not to be upon ourselves. Our focus is not to be upon the honor we can gain for ourselves. We are called to point people to Christ and to the things he’s done for us.

Not An Entitlement, But An Honor


“For it stands in Scripture: "Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious, and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame." So the honor is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe, "The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone," and "A stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense." They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.”

(1Peter 2:6-8 ESV)

In our society, today, we have an attitude of entitlement. When bad things happen to us, we don’t think we deserve them. However, we do believe that we deserve every good thing. We believe that we’re deserving of every blessing God has to offer.

We must bear in mind that God’s blessing is not granted to us because of any inherent goodness in ourselves. Nor is it granted to us because of anything that we do. It’s given to us through faith.

Peter told us previously that, as believers, we are being built into a spiritual house. He now carries this picture into the above passage. And we see that Jesus is the cornerstone of this house.

In other words, the entire house is dependent upon him. It is built on him. He is the foundation upon which the rest of the building takes shape.

For this reason, according to Peter, the one who believes in Jesus will not be put to shame. Being incorporated into this house is an honor that God has given to those who believe. It’s a privilege that he gives to those who trust in him.

Those without faith in Christ, those who do not believe in him, will not share in this honor. They will not share in this blessing. Instead, Jesus will be for them a stone of stumbling. He will be the cause of their downfall.

In this way, Peter makes it clear that everything is dependent upon Jesus. We receive the blessings of God through faith in him alone. And, if we reject him, if we fail to trust in him, we can receive no blessing. In that case, we will receive only the consequences of our sin.

The Priesthood of All Believers


“As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” (1Peter 2:4-5 ESV)As we think, today, of the Reformation, this passage stands out.  In Luther’s Day, priests were viewed as holier than the people around them. Their work was viewed as greater in the eyes of God than that of others. However, he understood a simple truth from Scripture.  He understood that all believers are priests.This is a truth Peter brings out in the above passage. He points out that, as we come to Christ, we are being built up into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices to God. In this way, he tells us that all believers are priests set apart to serve God.Even though most of us do not belong to the Catholic Church nor subscribe to Catholic doctrine, we tend to hold a similar mindset. We would never think of ourselves as a priest. We don’t think of ourselves as good enough to serve in this way.We also think of their work as more significant than our own. We think that they serve God on a daily basis, while we do not. We think of our work as common and their work as spiritual.We are wrong on both counts. We are good enough to be priests, not because of anything in ourselves, but because of Jesus. By his sacrifice, we have been made holy, and set apart for his service.We also serve God on a daily basis. We serve him in our vocations. We serve him as a husband, wife, father, or mother. We serve him as a son or daughter. We serve him in our career. We serve him as we seek to be responsible citizens of our community and nation. And we use the gifts that he has given us for the edification of the church. We do everything for his glory and for the blessing of our fellow man.Through Christ, we are all priests. Through Christ, we are all servants of God. And, through Christ, we all offer sacrifices to God. However, the sacrifices we offer are spiritual in nature. We don’t cut the throats of sheep or bulls. There is no need because Christ, by his death, has paid the penalty of our sin once and for all. We, instead, offer to him the sacrifices of prayer, praise, and thanksgiving. We offer to him the sacrifice of our service, for his glory.[...]

Because You Are Saved


“So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander. Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation-- if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.” (1Peter 2:1-3 ESV)As Christians, we often get things backwards.  We tend to think that, before we can be forgiven, we must clean up our lives. We think that we must become obedient and, only then, will God save us. And, as our failures mount, we often lose hope and doubt that we could ever be saved.We also express this false gospel with the world around us. We tell them to clean up their lives before we share with them the true gospel. We believe that they must get rid of the sin in their lives and, only then, will God save them.We see the proper order of things in the words of Peter, above. The “so” that begins this passage ties it back to the previous one. In other words, it’s because of the truth contained at the end of chapter 1 that we’re able to do what he commands in chapter 2.Because we’ve been born again through the living and abiding Word of God, we’re to put away all malice and deceit. Because we’ve been born again, we’re to put away hypocrisy and slander. Because we’ve been born again, we’re to long for the pure spiritual milk. It's for this reason that we’re to long for the Word of God.We do these things, as he tells us in verse 3, because we’ve tasted that the Lord is good. We do this because we know his goodness for ourselves. We do so because we’ve experienced his goodness in our life.As we live in the gospel, as we live in God’s salvation, we continually turn from our sin. We do so by living in repentance and faith. Turning from sin and trusting in Jesus is not simply a one-time thing,  but a constant state in which we live as believers.It’s true that we must understand our sin before we can receive the gospel. However, apart from the grace of God, we’re not able to change our behavior. It’s only because we are saved from sin, it’s only by his strength, that we’re able to put these things out of our lives.[...]

Born Through the Word


“Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God; for "All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls, but the word of the Lord remains forever." And this word is the good news that was preached to you.” (1Peter 1:22-25 ESV)As believers in Jesus, we have been born again. This means that we’ve been given new life by God. While we once lived in the bondage of sin and death, we have been born from above. We’ve been born of God that we might be his people.This is a wonderful truth.  But how does this happen? How are we born again? Peter tells us, in the above passage, that we are born again through the living and abiding word of God.  We have a tendency to underestimate the power of the Word of God. We think of the Bible as a book that merely gives us information about God. We think of it as a history book, relaying to us how God has interacted with mankind throughout history. We think of it only as a book that gives us instruction on how to live.While the Bible does all of these things, we often fail to realize that it’s a means of grace. We fail to realize that, through the Word, we receive the grace of God. As we hear God’s Word, or as we read it, and as we trust in him, we receive God’s grace.This is a truth that Paul brings out to us in Romans 10. He tells us that we can’t call on the name of the Lord unless we first believe in him.  He goes on to say that we can’t believe in him unless we’ve first heard of him. In other words, as we hear the Word of God, we’re enabled to trust in Christ and to receive his salvation.We also tend to think that the Bible is a book that is limited by time. We think that, if the authors of Scripture knew what we know now, they would not have said the things that they did. We think that the message of Scripture was true for the people of Biblical times, but not for us today. We tend to think of the Bible as a book that was written by mere men and, for this reason, we think it’s as limited as men.However, even though the grass and flowers may perish, God’s Word abides forever. It will always remain.  Again, it is the living and abiding Word of God.As we read Scripture, and as we hear it taught, may we look to it in this way. May we look to it as God’s timeless, eternal Word. And may we look to it as a means of his grace. May we realize that, each time we encounter God’s Word, he’s giving to us the opportunity to receive life.[...]

Because You’ve Been Born Again


“Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God…”
‭‭1 Peter‬ ‭1:22-23‬ ‭ESV

The message that we’re to love one another is nothing new. We see it time and again in Scripture. And, in the above passage, Peter calls on us to love one another earnestly.

We all fail, when it comes to this command. We fail to love each other as God calls us. And even though this is a problem, the bigger problem is the way we excuse this failure.

We excuse our failure to love by pointing to our sinful nature.  We’re sinners, we say. We say that nobody’s perfect. And, although this is true, we use this truth in a way it’s not intended to be used.

We use this to excuse our ongoing behavior. We use it to dismiss the clear and obvious sin in our life. We use this truth to explain why we’ve acted so unloving, and why this behavior will continue in the future. We use it to say that we do not intend to turn from our sin and to walk in love as God has called us.

Peter approaches this differently. We are to love one another earnestly, he says, because we’ve been born again of imperishable seed. In other words, we’re to love one another earnestly because we’ve been born of God and have received the blessing of everlasting life.

Even though it’s true that our sinful nature will remain a part of us until we meet the Lord face to face, it’s not to dictate our actions. It’s the salvation of God that’s to do so. We are to love one another earnestly because Christ has saved us from sin and death.

Because we’ve been saved from sin, we’re to love one another earnestly. Because we are the children of God, we’re to love one another earnestly. This is the identity in which we’re to live.

Taking the Grace of God for Granted


“And if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one's deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile, knowing that 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.”(1 Peter 1:17-19)As a people who have heard the gospel time and again, our tendency is to take it lightly. We begin to take the grace of God for granted. We begin thinking that our way of life does not matter because God loves us and will forgive us no matter what we do. We go through our day to day life assuming that God’s grace will be present in our life even though we completely disregard him.We’re reminded of a few truths in the above passage that should cause us to think twice. They cause us to rethink our flippant attitude when it comes to God. They create within us an attitude of repentance. And they cause us to value his grace above the sin to which we desperately cling.We’re reminded, first of all, that God judges impartially according to each one’s deeds. In other words, God doesn’t show favoritism. He’s not going to hold us to a different standard than he will others because we were raised in the church or in a Christian home. His judgment is based on his holiness and righteousness, a standard up to which none of us can live.We’re, then, called upon to conduct ourselves with fear throughout the time of our exile, or the time of our life here in this world. We’re reminded, in these words, that this world is not our home. We are citizens of God’s kingdom, and must live as such. We must live as his representatives, as his ambassadors, until the day he calls us home.This also means that we must live reverent lives. We must realize our place before God. And, for this reason, we must defer to the Lord in all that we do. We must seek to honor and glorify him in all things.We are to do this knowing that our salvation came at a great price. Our sin was not something that God was able to simply overlook. It required the life of his Son. Jesus had to give his life on the cross for us, that we might be forgiven. He had to give his life, even though he knew no sin and was in no way deserving of this fate. When we consider these truths, we realize that we cannot take God’s forgiveness and mercy for granted. We can’t count on them while we’re embracing sin and rejecting his deliverance. His grace is more valuable than anything else we could possess, and we’ll treat it as such. [...]

The Transforming Power of the Gospel


“Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, "You shall be holy, for I am holy." (1Peter 1:13-16 ESV)As a people who have been saved, the course of our life has been forever changed. Now that we’ve been freed from sin and death, and now that we are receiving the salvation of our souls, we are released to a life of service to God. And we prepare ourselves for this service, we remain sober-minded, by setting our hope on the grace of God.It’s not our will-power, but the gospel, that motivates this service, or this action. It’s a response to the salvation God has promised us, and it’s also empowered by the gospel. Knowing that, at the return of Christ, we’ll be welcomed into the kingdom of God, knowing that we’ll be released from this carnal existence, we are both motivated and enabled to live a new life.As a people who’ve been saved, as a people who’ve been made to be the children of God, we’re not to be conformed to the sinful desires of our past. We’re not to allow ourselves to be enslaved once again to these passions. We’re, instead, to reflect the nature of the God who saved us.  As he’s holy, we’re called to be holy.Many of us, who profess faith in Christ, fail to realize the freedom we’ve been given. We fail to set our hope on the grace of God. Even after confessing faith in Christ, we continue our efforts to satisfy our sinful desires. We do not repent. We do not turn from the sin from which God has saved us.However, by setting our hope on the grace of God, this will change. Instead of the pursuit of worldly pleasure, the glories of God’s kingdom will be our heart’s longing. We’ll yearn for something that’s far greater than the pleasures of this life. And, in this way, we’ll begin to desire the things that he desires. We won’t be perfect on this side of eternity. We won’t perfectly reflect the holiness of God until we’re transformed on the last day. However, the desire of our heart will be to please him. We’ll desire only to live in the freedom he’s granted us. And, for this reason, we’ll turn our back on the sinful desires that have tormented and enslaved us.[...]

The Sole Focus of Scripture


“Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories. It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look.”(1Peter 1:10-12 ESV)There’s a mistake we tend to make when it comes to the Bible. Even though we believe that the God of the Old Testament is also the God of the New Testament, we tend to think that these two parts of the Bible have a different focus. We tend to think that the focus of the Old Testament is law and that of the New Testament is gospel.We also make the mistake of thinking that, although we are saved by the grace of God through faith, believers of Old Testament times were saved by their obedience. We don’t seem to grasp the fact that, just as we’re unable to keep God’s law, just as we’re unable to save ourselves, the same was also true of them. We don’t seem to grasp the fact that they too were saved by grace through faith.The focus of Scripture from beginning to end is one. This is what Peter is pointing out to us in the above passage. He’s telling us that the prophets who spoke in the Old Testament were testifying about Jesus. God gave to them his promises of the coming Savior.This is why Jesus was able to point back to the Old Testament as he explained his purpose.  We see an example of this in Luke 24, as Jesus appeared to two of his followers on the road to Emmaus after his resurrection. They were trying to make sense of everything that had taken place.  Then, in verse 27, we read: “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.”This doesn’t mean that the prophets or the people of Old Testament times had a complete understanding of Jesus. This is why, we’re told, they inquired carefully what person or time was being indicated. God was revealing to them about the salvation that was to come, and they wanted to know more. They longed to understand the details of his coming.In this sense, the Old Testament prophets were serving us. By their message, they were revealing to us the Savior who’s been born into the world. They were pointing us to Jesus, who came into the world that he might provide for us salvation.For this reason, my challenge to you is this: As you read the Bible, from beginning to end, look for Jesus. He is the sole focus of Scripture. From Genesis to Revelation, God is revealing to us his Son, who came into the world to save us from sin and death.[...]

The Outcome of Faith


“Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”(1Peter 1:8-9 ESV)Peter was called by Christ early on in his ministry, and he faithfully followed Jesus throughout his time on earth. And not only was he one of the twelve disciples, he was also part of the inner-circle. Along with James and John, he was closer to Jesus than any of the others. As we read the gospels, we see that Peter was an eyewitness to the things Jesus said and did. He heard the teaching of Jesus first-hand. And, with his own eyes, he witnessed the many miracles Jesus performed, including his resurrection from the dead.Considering this, we often tend to think that Peter had a leg up on us. We think that he was more blessed than you or I. However, we must bear in mind the words of Jesus, spoken to Thomas, in John 20:29, where he says: “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed."This, I believe, is what Peter is getting at in the above verses. He tells us that, although we haven’t seen Jesus, we love him. And even though we can’t see him now, we believe in him and rejoice in him. This is the very definition of faith. As we read in Hebrews 11:1, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”He then goes on to say that we are obtaining the outcome of our faith, the salvation of our souls. In these words, we are reminded of the fact that we are saved by faith. We are saved as we believe, as we trust, in Jesus.This is the central truth of the Reformation, which began 500 years ago. Even though works flow naturally from faith, it is not they that save us. Nor is salvation a commodity that can be bought. It’s a free gift of God, given to us through faith in Jesus.May we, then, continue to love Jesus. May we continue to believe and to rejoice in him. May we continue to do so in spite of the fact that we have not seen him. And may we live in the confidence that, through faith, we are receiving the salvation of our souls.[...]