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Preview: Preaching the Word

Preaching the Word

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

Updated: 2017-04-27T08:06:08.554-05:00


No Better Than Pilate


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

Speaking Openly


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

Eternal Life


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

...As Jesus Loved


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

The Proper Use of Authority


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

Whose Glory Do We Seek?


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

Our Easter Hope


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

A Willingness to Sacrifice


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

A Judgmental Jesus?


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

Casting Stones


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

That Which Satisfies


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

A Christ-Centered Ministry


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

Whatever He Says


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

Come and See


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

Is God a Liar?


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hope in the Midst of Discouragement


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

Maintaining Pure Thoughts


“Do not rebuke an older man but encourage him as you would a father, younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, younger women as sisters, in all purity.”(1Timothy 5:1-2 ESV)            As we focused on the Sixth Commandment yesterday, we noted the adulterous attitudes and intentions found within our heart.  We heard the words of Jesus in Matthew 5, where he says that, by looking lustfully at someone, we’ve already committed adultery in our heart.  So we break the Commandment by not only having an illicit sexual relationship, but also by the desires of our heart.            This makes the Sixth Commandment seem like an impossible standard.  And, indeed, it is.  We learn from this Commandment that we are all guilty and deserving of the wrath of God.  We learn that we’d be lost forever were it not for Jesus, who was born into the world that he might atone for our sin.            However, as Christians, this can be a real struggle.  After all, we desire to live for the Lord.  And, for this reason, we may do a good job of remaining outwardly pure.  But the desires of the heart can continue to plague us even as we refrain from extramarital sexual activity.            It’s easy for us to look at others inappropriately.  It’s easy for us to entertain impure thoughts about others.  And it can be exceedingly difficult for us to keep a handle on these desires.            In the above passage, the apostle Paul says something that can help us maintain not only outward purity, but also purity of the heart.  He tells us how we’re to regard others.  He tells us that we’re to look at one another as family.            As a young boy, if someone found my sister attractive, I would’ve responded with one word: “Yuck!” I’m not saying that I found her ugly.  But she’s my sister.  And, because she’s my sister, I could never look at her in that way.  I could never think of her in that way.            This is the thought behind Paul’s words as he tells us how to interact with one another.  We’re to treat older men as though they were our father.  We’re to treat younger men as brothers.  We’re to treat older women as mothers.  And we’re to regard younger women as sisters.  He then adds: “…in all purity.”            If we, as men, regarded women as mothers and sisters, we would think of them in a way that’s pure. We would not continually look at them in a sexual way.  In fact, we’d do all that we could to guard their purity.  And the same thing is true in reverse.  If women looked at men as fathers and brothers, they too would have an easier time maintaining pure thoughts.            As you read this, some of you may wonder: If we do this, if we think in this way, then how are people to become attracted to one another, pursue one another, and enter into a healthy marital relationship?  Attraction is a vital part of this process.  If our thoughts about others were purely platonic, we’d have no marriages or children.       [...]

Guilty of Murder?


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

Honoring Those in Authority


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

Resting in God's Salvation


“You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the LORD your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day.” (Deuteronomy 5:15 ESV)            During the season of Lent, we’ve been focusing on the Ten Commandments at Prince of Peace.  This last week, we looked at the Third Commandment.  However, there’s another aspect of this command that I did not bring out.            We see the Commandments listed for us a second time in Deuteronomy 5.  And the above passage is connected to this Commandment.  We’re told in this passage that the Sabbath reminds us of our redemption.            As he commands the people of Israel to remember the Sabbath and to rest on this day, he reminds them of their bondage in Egypt.  It's taught by many that this explained to them the reason for allowing rest even to their servants on the Sabbath.  However, although this is true, I believe it's for something more.            He goes on to remind them that God brought them out of captivity by his power.  The people, themselves, had played no role whatsoever in their salvation.  And, for this reason, he says, they’re to remember the Sabbath.            This day of rest, then, did something more than simply provide for them a day of physical refreshment.  It reminded them that their redemption from Egypt was an act of grace on the part of God.  He had done everything necessary to free them from their bondage.  They had done nothing to accomplish this great blessing.            The Sabbath also gives the same reminder to us.  We weren’t saved from bondage in Egypt, like the Israelites.  However, we were freed from the bondage of sin and death.            And, just like the Israelites, we played no role in this great work.  God accomplished it all.  He alone did everything necessary that we might have the forgiveness of sins and everlasting life.            It was God who sent Jesus into the world to save us.  It was Jesus who died on the cross, paying the penalty of our sin.  And it was Jesus who rose from the dead, defeating the power of death.            We receive this great blessing through faith in Jesus.  Yet, even faith is not something that we do by our own power.  We are brought to faith, faith is created in our heart, by the work of the Holy Spirit.            For this reason, as we take a day of rest each week, we’re reminded of this important truth.  We’re reminded that God did the work of redeeming us from our sin.  We’re reminded that, if we’re to be saved, we must simply rest in him.            This truth is brought out also in Hebrews 4:10, which says: “…for whoever has entered God's rest has also rested from his works as God did from his.” As people who have received the redemptio[...]

Why Do the Good Suffer?


"None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one." 
(Romans 3:10-12 ESV)

There’s a common way that many of us struggle with our faith.  There is a difficulty that many believers encounter. And this struggle comes in to play as we see much of the suffering in our world.

We often witness friends and acquaintances suffer in terrible ways.  Perhaps it’s an illness, or a series of setbacks in their career.  Maybe it’s family problems.  Maybe it’s an unexpected death.  And we tell ourselves that it’s just not fair.  We tell ourselves that they don’t deserve this.

We think the same way when it comes to suffering in our own life.  As we experience hardships, we tell ourselves that we don’t deserve this.  We tell ourselves that it’s not just of God to allow a good person like us to suffer.

The same mindset also strikes us when it comes to the gospel.  We understand that we’re saved through faith in Jesus.  But, then, we begin to wonder: What about those who have never heard the gospel?  What about those who haven’t had the opportunity to believe?

We once again tell ourselves that this isn’t fair.  It isn’t fair that they should be condemned when they live in culture in which the gospel is absent.  And we ask why God would condemn all of these good people to hell.

One of the first things we must remember, and it’s also one of the primary things we remember during the season of Lent, is that we are not good people.  This is made very clear to us in the above passage.  And these truths, stated by Paul, are actually drawn out of the Old Testament.

In other words, this was not a new discovery that Paul was relating to the people.  It was not a new revelation.  It had been one of the foundational truths, given by God to man, for centuries.

For this reason, whenever I begin to think that someone doesn’t deserve the pain they’re enduring, whenever I begin to think that their suffering is unjust, and whenever I begin to think of someone as a good person (even if that person is myself), I’m drawn back to this truth: No one is good.  No one is righteous.  And we do, in fact, deserve all of the suffering we face in life.  In fact, we deserve so much more.

If God gave us what we deserved, none of us would be here today.  If he gave us what we deserved, we’d all be in hell at this very moment.  We’d all be facing an eternity of torment, separated from God and his blessings.  And there would be no possibility of forgiveness or salvation.

It’s only by God’s grace that I’m alive today.  It’s only by his grace that I possess the things that I need.  It’s only by his grace that I’ve received the forgiveness of sins and everlasting life.

For this reason, instead of accusing God for every last bit of suffering we experience, or for that experienced by others, we should praise him for his love and goodness.  We should thank him for the unmerited favor he has lavished upon us.  And we should seek to make the good news known to others that they too might escape the suffering and the punishment they so clearly deserve.

Watch Your Mouth


“Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.”(Colossians 4:5-6 ESV)            As we talked about the Second Commandment on Sunday, we noted that language, in our culture, has grown increasingly vulgar and irreverent.  Cursing and insults have become a part of our everyday speech.  Vulgar jokes have become the norm.  And, as this practice has become more common in society, it’s also become more common among us as Christians.            We think that we must talk in this way as a demonstration of strength.  We believe it reveals to others that we’re not to be trifled with.  We will not be a doormat.  We will not allow ourselves to be trampled upon.            Yet, in the above passage, God calls us to something different.  He tells us to walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of our time.  He then goes on to say that we’re to let our speech be gracious at all times.              What does this mean?  Grace, as we know, is unmerited favor.  This tells us that we’re to speak to people not according to what they deserve.  We are to speak favorably to them, no matter how they are behaving toward us.            I don’t mean by this that we can never say no to anyone.  I mean that we’re to speak lovingly, even when their speech is unloving.  We’re not to hold their wrongs against them, but speak to them in a way that demonstrates mercy and compassion.   Our speech is to reflect the love and the grace that God has demonstrated toward us and all mankind.            This does not make us weak.  It, instead, points people to Christ.  It reveals to them the love of God which has been given to us and which he offers to them.            Our natural tendency is also to blend in with the world around us.  Our tendency is to speak as they speak.  And we do this so that we’re not made to feel different.  We do this that we might not be excluded.However, we’re told in this passage that our speech is to be seasoned with salt.  In other words, it’s to be distinct from that of everyone else around us.  It’s to stand out from the rest of society.  And, again, this is done as a testimony.  It reveals to others that there’s something different about us.This, then, guides us in our response to others.  We are to speak to them as God would speak to them.  We are to share his heart for those around us, desiring their blessing and salvation.I realize that this is easier said than done.  After all, we’re not Jesus.  We’re not perfect.  We continue to possess a sinful nature.  And that sinful nature often spills out of our mouth.It’s for this reason that we seek the mercy of God.  It’s for this reason that we ask him to work in our heart.  And it’s for this reason that we ask him to speak through us, as we interact with the world around us.  [...]

The Sins of the Father?


“…for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.”(Exodus 20:5-6 ESV)            The verses above come at the tail end of the First Commandment.  God tells us that we’re to have no other gods before him, and that we aren’t to make for ourselves an image and bow down to it.  He then informs us that he’s a jealous God, that he will not share us with another.            We all understand this command.  But, at this point, he says something that causes many of us to struggle.  He says that he visits the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generation of those who hate him. As we read this, we begin to wonder what this means and why he would do this. It initially sounds to us like God is promising to punish children for the sins of their fathers.  It sounds as though they will be condemned for the sins of their father.  However, God tells us elsewhere in Scripture that this is not the case. In Ezekiel 18, starting in verse 19, we read:  "Yet you say, 'Why should not the son suffer for the iniquity of the father?' When the son has done what is just and right, and has been careful to observe all my statutes, he shall surely live. The soul who sins shall die. The son shall not suffer for the iniquity of the father, nor the father suffer for the iniquity of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself.”            God tells us clearly in this passage that we aren’t punished for the sins of our father.  We are punished for our own sins.  So what is this whole business of generational sin talked about in the Ten Commandments?            It reminds us, first of all, that children will often bear the worldly consequences for the sins of their father.  For example, if dad has a gambling problem, it may leave his children in poverty for years to come.  And if one spouse chooses to break up the family, it can have a lasting impact upon their children.              We, then, must consider how our actions will impact our children.  We must consider how our sins might influence the generations to come.  Might our sins cause a lasting impact to fall upon those we love?            However, it also brings us to a place where we must search our heart.  We must recognize the fact that our sins are often inherited.  I don’t mean they’re inherited in the sense that they’re genetic.  They’re inherited in the sense that they’re learned behavior.  The sins of our father are normal for us.  And, in the same way, our sins become normal to our children.  And, because it’s normal, because it’s what they know, they tend to act out in the same way.  This is why we see that children of alcoholics have a greater tendency to become alcoholics themselves.  This is why we see that those who grow up in an abusive ho[...]

A Reminder to a Politically Charged Era


“Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help and rely on horses, who trust in chariots because they are many and in horsemen because they are very strong,  but do not look to the Holy One of Israel or consult the Lord! And yet he is wise and brings disaster; he does not call back his words, but will arise against the house of the evildoers and against the helpers of those who work iniquity. The Egyptians are man, and not God, and their horses are flesh, and not spirit. When the Lord stretches out his hand, the helper will stumble, and he who is helped will fall, and they will all perish together.”Isaiah 31:1-3As I’ve been reading the news, and as I’ve been surfing social media, just about everything is politically focused.  I honestly thought that, once the election was over, this would die down.  But apparently I was wrong...very wrong.Frankly, it's driving me nuts.  I believe that people on both sides of the political aisle have been making a serious mistake. I'm guessing that they don't even realize it. And this is true of people in the church as well.The mistake they've made is that they're placing their trust, not in God, but in man. They trust in political leaders to keep them safe and to preserve their rights. They look to alliances for security. They look to the government to ensure that their needs are provided for.Although I realize that our government has a huge impact on world affairs, and although I realize that our political leaders have enormous influence on our nation as a whole, we fail to recognize the sovereignty of God.  We fail to realize that he is ultimately in control of everything that happens in the world around us.  And, for this reason, we must trust in him, and in him alone.This is something about which the Lord warned the people of Judah.  They were facing the threat of the Assyrian Empire.  And, for this reason, they sought safety in an alliance with Egypt.  God warned those who went down to Egypt for help.  He warned those who relied on horses and trusted in chariots.  He warned those who did this rather than looking to the Lord.He reminds them that the Egyptians were mere men.  He reminds them that horses are mere flesh. They are not God.  They were not deserving of the people’s trust.He then gives a threatening statement.  He says that, when he stretches out his hand, when he acts in judgment, both the helper and the helped would fall.  They would perish together.This is a warning that we must heed today as well.  Those placing all of their hope in the Republican or the Democratic party, those placing their hope in NATO or in the United Nations, must recognize this truth.  Those in whom we are placing our trust are mere men.  Their armies are mere flesh. And trusting in them will lead to our downfall.We must trust in the Lord, and in the Lord alone.  He alone can provide for us.  And he alone can ensure our safety.I understand that we want those in leadership who best reflect our values.  I understand that it’s desirable to have those in office who we believe will lead our nation down the right path.  And I would encourage all citizens to vote.  But, at the same time, we must bear in mind who they are.  We must bear in mind that even the best of them are fallen sinners.  And no matter how good their intentions, no matter how wonderful th[...]

The Mark of a Disciple


“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another." (John 13:34 ESV) We live in a time where love is defined primarily by emotion.  Our sense of love is based purely on feelings or on our emotional attachment to another.  This is true of friendships as well as marriage. However, as we see in the above text, Jesus gives us a different standard of love.  He tells us that we’re to love one another as he’s loved us.  And there are a couple of things to consider as we think about Jesus’ love. First of all, we must recognize that Jesus loves us even when we’re not all that lovable.  We tend to think that we’re good people, deserving of his love.  But the opposite is actually true.  We’re not good people.  We aren’t deserving of his love.  He loves us in spite of our continual sin and rebellion against him. If we measure our love by this standard, we fail miserably.  When people are unlovable, our sense of love for them all but disappears.  When they hurt us, whether it be intentional or not, it often creates within us an unwillingness to love them.  We love others only when we feel they’re deserving of it.  We’re unwilling to give to others the grace that God has given us. The second thing we must recognize, when it comes to the love of Christ, is the sacrificial nature of this love.  His love is a giving of himself to us.  And we all know the great length he went to in showing his love.  He sacrificed his very life for us.            And we see that his love is not conditional in any way.  It’s not something that wavers depending on the love he’s receiving in return.  In fact, according to Scripture, while we were still sinners, while we were still his enemies, he gave himself for us. Once again, our love pales in comparison.  We are often willing to give of ourselves for those we love.  But it’s very conditional.  We’ll love, we’ll give of ourselves, if we’re receiving love in return.  And if we’re not receiving, we often cease to give. When it comes to those who hate us, when it comes to those who possess no love for us, we are typically unwilling to love them.  We tend to hate those who hate us.  At best, we’re willing to ignore them or tolerate them. Here’s where it gets really challenging.  Jesus tells us that people will know we’re his disciples if we have love for one another.  What, then, does our life demonstrate?  What does our love demonstrate? When people look at us, when they look at the love we have for one another, is it clear to them that we are followers of Christ?  Is our love so much like that of his that they can conclude nothing else?  I think that, if we’re honest with ourselves, the answer to this is a resounding “no.” What must we do then?  The first thing we must do is recognize our failure.  We must recognize our sin and confess it to the Lord, seeking his forgiveness.  And we must ask him to work in our heart.  We must ask that he’ll instill in us the same love for others that he has for us.  This isn’t something we’ll attain on our own, or [...]