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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: 2017-08-19T12:53:31.203-05:00


Out of Darkness


“I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you as a servant and witness to the things in which you have seen me and to those in which I will appear to you, delivering you from your people and from the Gentiles-- to whom I am sending you to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.”Acts 22:16The words of the above verse were spoken by Jesus, as he called Paul into his service. Most of us are familiar with the call of Paul, and we know what he was called to do. He was called by Christ as an apostle to the Gentiles. He was called by Christ to carry the gospel to the Gentiles.What stands out to me, in this passage, is his reason for doing this. Jesus sends Paul to the Gentiles that their eyes might be opened. He sends Paul to the Gentiles that they might turn from darkness to light. He sends Paul to the Gentiles that they might be turned from the power of Satan to God.As we think about those who don’t know the Lord, as we think about those who are not yet believers, this is not a description we’d typically use. It’s not even a description we’d typically consider. Even if they aren’t saved, we continue to believe that most people are good people. We tend to believe that, even if they are misguided in their beliefs and their understanding, they’re not all that bad.We don’t consider the fact that they are in darkness. We don’t consider the fact that they are under the power of Satan. These phrases are strong, and even offensive. And, for this reason, they’re certainly not words we’d use when speaking to those outside of the church.They’re also not truths we want to believe about ourselves. We don’t want to believe that, at one time, this too was our condition. However, Paul used similar words when sharing with the Ephesians their position before they came to faith in Christ.  Starting in verse 1 of the second chapter of that epistle, he says: “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience--among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.”No matter what we’d like to believe about ourselves, before we came to faith, we were dead in our sins. Before we came to faith, we followed the world and even Satan himself. Before we came to faith, we were children of wrath.It’s from this that God has saved us. And it’s from this that he desires to save those who have yet to trust in Christ. If we better understood this, I think our outreach efforts would be much more urgent. I don’t think we could sit back and allow our fellow man to remain in darkness following Satan. I believe we’d do whatever it took to ensure that the gospel goes forth, and that those who have yet to hear and believe receive the opportunity to do so.[...]

Reflections on Asia, Part 4


The nation in Asia that we visited is closing to the gospel. The government doesn’t want anything promoted in the country other than Hinduism. Their new president made the comment that Christians and Muslims are deserving of no help.In addition, the missionaries sent by the AFLC were forced to leave after only a short stay in the country. The only way they could remain is if they signed a document declaring that they would participate in no religious activities.  And there is no longer a missionary visa available for anyone.This restriction was even felt by our team, for a short time, as we entered the country. Two of us were pulled aside and questioned. We were asked multiple questions as they tried to determine our purpose in visiting their nation. And at least one of the other team members was also questioned as they tried to enter through immigration.Compassion International, a Christian ministry that supports poor children around the world, had their funds seized by the government and were forced to discontinue their ministry there. All of this reveals a nation that does not desire the good news of Jesus proclaimed within their borders (at least not by those from the outside) and that doesn’t want Christian assistance for those who are in need.Although national believers retain the right to share the gospel, as it is protected by their constitution, there is reason to believe that their rights could soon be restricted. As the government makes every effort to ensure that Hinduism remains the official religion of their nation, they may soon seek to silence the church. So what are we to do?We must, first of all, pray for our brothers and sisters in that nation. We must pray that they will remain firm in faith no matter the obstacles they face. And we must pray that they will faithfully share the gospel, come what may. I believe that Christians in that nation are best equipped to reach their countrymen for the Lord.However, we must continue to do whatever we can to reach these people for Christ. As long as we are able to offer support to the church in that nation, we must continue to do so. As long as we are able to safely get individuals and teams into that nation to train the church leadership and to preach the gospel, we must continue to do so. We must bear in mind our call to obey God rather than men. We must not willingly allow an entire nation to be kept from the good news of Jesus.We still enjoy our freedoms in America. Yet, as our nation continues to turn further away from the Lord, we could one day face similar restrictions here. We must recognize this possibility and, in the same way, we must ask God for the strength to remain faithful. We must ask him for the strength to share the gospel even in the face of opposition. And we must ask him to change our heart so that our primary concern is not our own safety and well-being, but the eternal welfare of those around us.[...]

Reflections on Asia, Part 3


The third observation I made while in Asia is one where the church in neither country has it right. And in both, the attitude of the church reflects that of larger society.  The pendulum in Asia has found itself at one extreme and, in America, it’s at another.The matter to which I’m referring is that of respect and honor.  Asian society (please remember that I am referring to a specific nation), operates largely on the honor system. And much of the honor that’s given is based upon the caste system.  Honor is given to certain individuals because of the caste or the place into which they’ve been born.Some of this makes sense in terms of their culture.  Yet, at the same time, it really bothered me.  For example, on a trip to the beach with the children and staff, I was one of the last to get on the bus. There were seats and there were handholds.  Being American, and being a man, I tend to stand and allow the women and children to sit in a situation like this one. However, upon entering the bus, some of the staff began telling certain women and children to stand so I could sit. And it was very difficult for me to sit there. I did so only because I didn’t want to disrespect my hosts.Other parts of this system, although a part of the culture, reveals that the church has not come to terms with Biblical teaching.  Whenever we conducted a prayer service in a village and shared the gospel, almost everyone came forward for prayer.  And my immediate response to this is how wonderful and refreshing it is. I long for a similar response in America. But it was explained to me that many come forward for prayer with improper motives.  They believe that, because I am white, and because I belong to the highest caste, God is more likely to hear my prayers than their own.In the U.S., however, we have the opposite problem.  We have also allowed our cultural mindset to invade the church.  And what we see here is a complete lack of respect.It’s taught in our nation that everyone is equal.  And I believe this to be true.  However, along with this belief, we’ve adopted the mindset that no one should have more authority than another.  We feel that, if someone has more authority than another, we are no longer equal.We see this reflected in many ways.  We have children who refuse to honor their parents.  We have wives who refuse to respect their husbands.  We have husbands who refuse to give honor to their wife as the weaker vessel (1 Peter 3:7). We have citizens who refuse to honor their governing officials.  We have church members who refuse to honor those who are over them in the Lord. The list could go on and on.We often fail to honor others saying that they do not deserve it.  And, when we say this, we are right.  No one deserves honor. We are all sinners deserving only of judgment.  But we are called to give honor as an act of grace. We are called to give honor because God has placed certain individuals in a certain position, as part of the order he has established. We honor these individuals realizing that, as we do so, we are honoring God himself.The proper place for the pendulum, I believe, is between these two cultural approaches.  Our lack of honor is sinful on our part.  But the misuse of honor, to give one person more value than another, is sinful on their part.We must give honor to whom it is due.  But, at the same time, we must realize that we are all equal in Christ.  We are loved the same, we are valued the same, and we have all been provided with the same salvation. [...]

Reflections on Asia, Part 2


The second observation about Asia struck me on both my first visit and on this one as well.  This was also something I noticed while in Uganda, when I visited that country a few years back.  What struck me was the importance of relationships.Life in these two countries, and in much of the world,  is not governed as much by the clock.  And part of the reason for this is that relationships take priority.  You honor people, you show that you care for them, by spending time with them.Each morning, it seemed, people would arrive to talk to Pastor Luther.  And, although I couldn’t understand their conversation,  I would observe them discussing the matter at hand over a cup of chai.  As we gathered for a house blessing for a couple who was soon to be married, all of the guests were served a meal. They counted it an honor to have guests and to serve them rather than a burden.Spending time with people, whether they were adults or children, was something we made a priority while we were there.  We taught Bible classes for the kids, and we participated in their youth night.  But there was more to it than the structured class.  There was the visiting before and after each event.  There were the thumb wrestling matches, the arm wrestling matches, and the high-fives.  There were game nights, where all we did was play.  The girls on our team also had sleep-overs with the girls who lived in the orphanage.As we visited the various congregations, we were hosted for a meal.  And we spent time visiting with the pastors and their families.  We took the time to not only preach the gospel, but to love the people.Perhaps this doesn’t sound like a very big deal.  But, for me, it’s an area where I struggle.  It’s an area where I’ve always struggled. I’ve always tended to be a very task oriented person. I know what I have to get done, and I don’t feel accomplished until it’s finished.This is why, in pastoral ministry, I always have to refocus myself.  When I encounter the unscheduled interruptions (when someone stops into my office to talk, or even when I bump into someone around town), I have a tendency to get frustrated.  Although I enjoy the interactions, I start to think about the time I’ve lost and the things that could’ve been accomplished.  This then causes my stress level to rise.  So I always have to remind myself that I am here for these interruptions.  I have to remind myself that these interruptions are, in fact, ministry.  I have to remind myself that, as people see my love for them, they are more open to the teaching and counsel that I bring to them.I think this is an area where most of us in the U.S. tend to struggle.  In the past few generations, I believe, we’ve become less and less relational. Front porches have given way to the privacy of the back yard. Visits from friends and family have given way to Facebook and Twitter. Movie theaters have given way to Netflix. Pastoral visitation has become more rare as younger generations view it as more of an intrusion. And this has only harmed us as a people.  We’ve gradually become more and more withdrawn.  We’ve gradually become less and less trusting of one another.  And we’ve gradually become more and more self-reliant (in the negative sense of the term).  In the church, especially, we must realize the importance of relationships.  We must realize that the best way to reach people is not through programs, but by loving them.  We must learn to govern ourselves less by the clock and more by relationships.[...]

Reflections on Asia, Part 1


The mission team from Prince of Peace arrived home late Friday night.  We were able to share briefly with the congregation during yesterday’s worship service.  However, I thought it might be good to share some additional thoughts about the trip here.If any of you are wondering why I seem vague when it comes to the location of our visit, it is due to security concerns.  The country we visited is closing to the gospel.  They do not allow people to enter the country with the intent of sharing the Christian faith.  And for this reason, even though we are home safely, we want to protect our ministries there. That being said, if you know the location of our visit, please do not post it in the comments or on social media.I had the privilege of visiting this ministry in 2014. This meant that the sights and sounds were all familiar to me.  I also knew some of the people from my previous visit.  However, for most of the team, it was all brand new.The first thing that stands out is that Christians represent only a small portion of the population. Hinduism is the dominant religion.  Hindu temples and idols are seen everywhere.  And, although they too are a in the minority, the Muslim call to prayer rings out from the mosques on a regular basis.  Entering this society as a believer, knowing  Christ’s call to make disciples of all nations, you can’t help seeing the great need for Jesus that exists in this nation. The people are stuck in the futility of a belief system that requires them to earn their way into a higher caste or existence.  And, for this reason, we wanted nothing more than to share the hope of the gospel with the people.We, of course, had the privilege of proclaiming the gospel in this setting.  We were able to share with the children at the orphanage and the school through Bible classes, youth nights, and classroom instruction.  We were also able to share in various communities as we visited several congregations, taking part in prayer meetings. We shared devotions, messages, and were asked to pray individually for those who came forward (which was just about everyone).I can’t help noticing that this is something we take for granted here in the United States.  We don’t seem to grasp that the need for Jesus is just as pressing here in our nation.  We don’t seem to grasp the fact that the people of our nation are equally lost.  And although we know we are called to share the gospel right where God has placed us, it doesn’t seem as pressing. Everyday life seems to take priority over the eternal welfare of those who surround us.Even if you weren’t able to go with us on this trip, I pray that this takeaway would ring true in your heart.  I pray that each one of us will understand the need that surrounds us on a daily basis. And I pray that we will not ignore it. I pray that we will make use of every opportunity that presents itself to share the good news of Jesus with those who do not know him.  I pray that we’ll make use of every opportunity that presents itself to build up our fellow believers. I pray that the Lord will place in our heart the love he possesses for each man, woman, and child within his creation.[...]

Following Not Our Heart, But Jesus


"If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?” 
(Matthew 16:24-26 ESV)

In American society, as well as in much of the world today, we believe that life is about our happiness.  We encourage people to follow their heart.  We encourage them to do whatever makes them happy.  And that’s how we live our life as well.

Our happiness has become the basis for the decisions we make and for the actions we take. “What’s wrong with that?” you may ask.  We fail to take into consideration how our decisions and actions affect others.  And, even more important, we fail to consider if our decisions and actions are in line with the will of God.

We forget that our heart is sinful.  We forget that it desires those things that oppose God’s will.  So, if we follow our heart, if we do what makes us happy, we will almost certainly violate God’s Word and his will for our lives.

Jesus reminds us in the above passage that following him means denying ourselves.  It means denying our desires.  It means surrendering our wants.  It means giving our life into his hands even if it leads to our demise.

While, on the surface, that sounds crazy to us, it actually makes a lot of sense.  After all, life is found in him.  Eternal life is received from him.  We cannot willfully separate ourselves from him and expect to receive these blessings.

This is what Jesus points out in the second half of the above passage.  It profits us nothing if we gain the whole world, if we have everything our heart desires, and lose our own soul.  It means nothing if we thoroughly enjoy 80 years in this life and enter into eternal judgment.

While denying ourselves may seem like a sacrifice, it’s actually a great blessing.  We deny ourselves only of that which harms us.  And this is nothing like passing up the cupcake to keep our waistline in check.  It’s not the same because, while this may help us in the short term, denying our sinful nature and following Jesus preserves our life for eternity.

And, as we follow Jesus, something else takes place.  Those things that once made us happy no longer do so.  Instead, following Christ fills us with joy.  We want nothing to do with the sins of our past, and we want nothing more than to live for Christ.

True Greatness


“…whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”(Matthew 20:26-28 ESV)            In my latest sermon at Prince of Peace, I talked about the lust for power.  I noted that, even though we may not aspire to a position of great authority, we often demonstrate a lust for power by our refusal to submit to those who are in authority over us.  If you’d like to listen to this message, you can click on this link:            I believe this is true. However, as we consider the lust for power, we must also bear in mind Jesus’ definition of greatness.  He reminds his followers that greatness in the kingdom of God is not the same as the world’s idea of greatness.            When we aspire for greatness, we seek the benefits it will bring to us.  We like the idea of people submitting to us.  We like the idea of people serving us.  We want others to place our preferences and desires ahead of their own.However, according to Jesus, being great does not mean being served.  It means serving others.  Being first does not mean that others attend to us, it means being a slave.  In other words, authority is given not for the benefit of the person in authority, but for those under his authority.The words used by Jesus do not typically appeal to us. We don’t like the thought of being a servant.  And that word “slave” really grates us.  They don’t appeal to us for the very reason I just mentioned. They tell us that the focus of our attention and energy is not to be our own needs and desires, but those of others.A king is not to use his authority to seek his own benefit, but that of his subjects.  A pastor or church leader uses his authority not for his own benefit, but for that of his congregation. A husband and father uses his authority not for his own benefit, but for that of his wife and children.  An employer uses his authority not for his benefit, but for that of his employees and clients (or customers).We must recognize that this does not always mean succumbing to the mood of those in our care.  Those that we serve are sinners. And leadership often means holding that sin in check. It may mean that we give to them not what they want, but what they need. It may mean withholding from them an earthly benefit they desire in favor of submission to the will of God.Jesus then uses himself as the ultimate example of this truth.  He tells us that even he came into this world not to be served. He came to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.If anyone deserves to be served, it’s Jesus.  Yet, even though he is deserving of all honor and glory, he used his authority for our blessing.  He came that the penalty of our sin might be paid and that we might spend eternity in his presence.We, of course, can never live up to his example.  Our sinful nature always focuses our attention upon ourselves.  But, as we see our struggle in this area, we can confess our sin to the Lord seeking his mercy.  We can also seek from him the strength to lead according to his calling and institution.[...]

Loving the Hateful


“But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.”Luke 6:27-28The words of Jesus, seen above, are extremely challenging.  How hard it is to love those who hate us.  Our natural inclination, and the feelings within us, tell us to hate them in return.Our sinful nature wants payback.  It wants revenge.  It wants to give to these people what they deserve.  It wants to give to them exactly what they’ve given to us.If we realize the sinfulness of these thoughts and feelings, we still understand how hard it is to love people like this.  At the very least, we pursue an attitude of indifference toward them.  Even if we don’t seek their harm, we certainly don’t seek their benefit.For this reason, these words of Christ seem like an impossible standard.  We’re to love our enemies and do good to those who hate us.  We’re to bless those who curse us and pray for our abusers.  As we read on in the text we’re told to offer our cheek to the one who strikes us on the other.  He says that we’re not to withhold our possessions from the one who steals from us. We’re to give to everyone who begs from us.  And we’re not to demand the return of  our possessions which were taken by another.We read these words and our reaction is this: “Jesus wants us to be a doormat?” It seems that, according to this statement, we’re to let others walk all over us.  We don’t understand the reason for these commands that run so counter to our nature.But then, in verse 32, we begin to see his reasoning.  We see that, in these actions, we display the character of God.  In performing these actions, we display the nature of God. He tells us that, if we love those who love us, if we do good to those who do good to us, if we lend to those from whom we expect to receive, it’s no benefit to us.  In doing these things, we’re no different than sinners, for they behave in this way.However, if we live out the call of Christ, our reward will be great.  We’ll be sons of the Most High. This is true because it’s how he behaves toward us.  It’s true because he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil.  We are called to be merciful just as our Father is merciful.As we reflect on the gospel, we understand how this plays out in our own lives.  God loves us even when we’re ungrateful.  He loves us even when we’re wicked.  As Paul tells us in Romans 5: “...but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” He goes on to say that while we were his enemies, we were reconciled to God.You see, Jesus didn’t come into the world for a people who recognized their sin and pleaded for mercy.  He came into the world for a people who hated him and who wanted nothing to do with him.  He gave his life for them that they might be reconciled to God.  It’s only after his sacrifice, and it’s only because of his sacrifice, that we love him in return.We, then, are called to display to others the same mercy God has displayed toward us. Despite their sin and their hate, we’re to love them. Despite their wickedness, we’re to seek their blessing. And, above all, we’re to seek their salvation. We're to do so because this is the desire of our Father.[...]

Encounter With the Ark


For the past few years, my wife and I have wanted to visit the Creation Museum. With the opening of the Ark Encounter about a year ago, this desire only grew. So, as part of our vacation this past month, we finally decided to make the trip.

Both the museum and the Ark were enjoyable and informative. Having studied the work of creationists for years, most of the presentation was not new to me. However, I still enjoyed the layout and the opportunity to review it. It was especially good for our older kids who have not had the same level of exposure, and provided ample opportunity for my wife and I to discuss God’s Word and work with all of our children.

The Ark was enjoyable primarily because it helped me to better envision the size of the original, described for us in the Bible. I'm not able to envision something like this based on dimensions. It also doesn't help me to do so when materials from Answers in Genesis describe it by volume (it can hold a certain number of train cars or semi trailers). But walking into it, and back and forth across each floor, helped me to grasp its immensity in a very real way.

The thing that impressed me the most was the stated purpose of these facilities. Even though it may seem that the sole focus is on creation, Noah, and the flood, this is far from the case. The focus is the gospel. Answers in Genesis wants people to understand these truths that we might be directed to Jesus and his saving work on the cross.

If you are able to visit these sites, I would encourage you to do so. It is well worth the time and money (the cost, by the way, is pretty reasonable). If you have yet to look into the work of Christian scientists, you will learn a great deal and come away better informed about how science supports Scripture. You will also be able to better envision this boat on which God saved Noah, his family, and the animals. And all of this will serve to both strengthen and encourage your faith.

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 a[...]

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 for[...]

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 Chris[...]

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.  [...]

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 o[...]

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 live[...]

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, the[...]

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 ou[...]