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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: 2017-11-22T22:18:58.831-06:00


Would Christmas Be Christmas?


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

They Are Watching You


“Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.”

(1Peter 2:12 ESV)

When someone who is different comes among us, we take notice. We take notice because they stand out. We’re curious to see who they are and what makes them distinct from ourselves.

If we see someone who is dressed noticeably different, we observe them. If we notice someone speaking a different language, our ears perk up and we pay attention. If we see someone who is clearly from another culture, we instinctive watch them.

I’ve caught myself doing this here in the US. However, I’ve also been on the receiving end of this behavior. As I’ve travelled to other nations around the world, and as I’ve been the one who stands out, I’ve noticed people watching me.

We often fail to realize that, as Christians, as people of faith, we are distinct from the world around us. And for this reason, we will naturally stand out. People will be watching us and observing our lives. They will do so in an effort to figure us out.

For this reason, in the above verse, Peter encourages us to keep our conduct honorable among unbelievers. Our actions, our decisions, and the way that we speak should stand out. They should glorify the God that we represent.

This may lead some of them to take our message seriously. It may create within them a curiosity and a willingness to listen to our message. But it may not. They may notice the difference between us and them and scoff at us. They may remain critical of us and continue to accuse us.

Either way, when they see our good deeds, when they see the way that we live our life, they will notice. And, even if they refuse to do so now, they will glorify God on the day of visitation. On the day when Jesus returns, on the day that God reveals himself to the world, they’ll be able to do nothing else.

The question for us is this: Are we living a life that glorifies God? Are we living a life that stands as a testimony to the world around us? Are we living a life that’s consistent with the gospel we proclaim?

Because of our sinful nature, we all fall short.  And, when we do so, we must confess our sin and turn from it. We must seek, with the strength God provides, to live a life that is consistent with our message. We must seek to live a life that’s glorifying to him.

Minimizing the Threat


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Whose Glory Do We Seek?


“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God's people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.”

(1 Peter 2:9-10 ESV)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not An Entitlement, But An Honor


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

(1Peter 2:6-8 ESV)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Priesthood of All Believers


“As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”

(1Peter 2:4-5 ESV)

As we think, today, of the Reformation, this passage stands out.  In Luther’s Day, priests were viewed as holier than the people around them. Their work was viewed as greater in the eyes of God than that of others. However, he understood a simple truth from Scripture.  He understood that all believers are priests.

This is a truth Peter brings out in the above passage. He points out that, as we come to Christ, we are being built up into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices to God. In this way, he tells us that all believers are priests set apart to serve God.

Even though most of us do not belong to the Catholic Church nor subscribe to Catholic doctrine, we tend to hold a similar mindset. We would never think of ourselves as a priest. We don’t think of ourselves as good enough to serve in this way.

We also think of their work as more significant than our own. We think that they serve God on a daily basis, while we do not. We think of our work as common and their work as spiritual.

We are wrong on both counts. We are good enough to be priests, not because of anything in ourselves, but because of Jesus. By his sacrifice, we have been made holy, and set apart for his service.

We also serve God on a daily basis. We serve him in our vocations. We serve him as a husband, wife, father, or mother. We serve him as a son or daughter. We serve him in our career. We serve him as we seek to be responsible citizens of our community and nation. And we use the gifts that he has given us for the edification of the church. We do everything for his glory and for the blessing of our fellow man.

Through Christ, we are all priests. Through Christ, we are all servants of God. And, through Christ, we all offer sacrifices to God. However, the sacrifices we offer are spiritual in nature. We don’t cut the throats of sheep or bulls. There is no need because Christ, by his death, has paid the penalty of our sin once and for all. We, instead, offer to him the sacrifices of prayer, praise, and thanksgiving. We offer to him the sacrifice of our service, for his glory.

Because You Are Saved


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

Born Through the Word


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

Because You’ve Been Born Again


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Taking the Grace of God for Granted


“And if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one's deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile, knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.”(1 Peter 1:17-19)As a people who have heard the gospel time and again, our tendency is to take it lightly. We begin to take the grace of God for granted. We begin thinking that our way of life does not matter because God loves us and will forgive us no matter what we do. We go through our day to day life assuming that God’s grace will be present in our life even though we completely disregard him.We’re reminded of a few truths in the above passage that should cause us to think twice. They cause us to rethink our flippant attitude when it comes to God. They create within us an attitude of repentance. And they cause us to value his grace above the sin to which we desperately cling.We’re reminded, first of all, that God judges impartially according to each one’s deeds. In other words, God doesn’t show favoritism. He’s not going to hold us to a different standard than he will others because we were raised in the church or in a Christian home. His judgment is based on his holiness and righteousness, a standard up to which none of us can live.We’re, then, called upon to conduct ourselves with fear throughout the time of our exile, or the time of our life here in this world. We’re reminded, in these words, that this world is not our home. We are citizens of God’s kingdom, and must live as such. We must live as his representatives, as his ambassadors, until the day he calls us home.This also means that we must live reverent lives. We must realize our place before God. And, for this reason, we must defer to the Lord in all that we do. We must seek to honor and glorify him in all things.We are to do this knowing that our salvation came at a great price. Our sin was not something that God was able to simply overlook. It required the life of his Son. Jesus had to give his life on the cross for us, that we might be forgiven. He had to give his life, even though he knew no sin and was in no way deserving of this fate. When we consider these truths, we realize that we cannot take God’s forgiveness and mercy for granted. We can’t count on them while we’re embracing sin and rejecting his deliverance. His grace is more valuable than anything else we could possess, and we’ll treat it as such. [...]

The Transforming Power of the Gospel


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

The Sole Focus of Scripture


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

The Outcome of Faith


“Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”

(1Peter 1:8-9 ESV)

Peter was called by Christ early on in his ministry, and he faithfully followed Jesus throughout his time on earth. And not only was he one of the twelve disciples, he was also part of the inner-circle. Along with James and John, he was closer to Jesus than any of the others.

As we read the gospels, we see that Peter was an eyewitness to the things Jesus said and did. He heard the teaching of Jesus first-hand. And, with his own eyes, he witnessed the many miracles Jesus performed, including his resurrection from the dead.

Considering this, we often tend to think that Peter had a leg up on us. We think that he was more blessed than you or I. However, we must bear in mind the words of Jesus, spoken to Thomas, in John 20:29, where he says: “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed."

This, I believe, is what Peter is getting at in the above verses. He tells us that, although we haven’t seen Jesus, we love him. And even though we can’t see him now, we believe in him and rejoice in him. This is the very definition of faith. As we read in Hebrews 11:1, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”

He then goes on to say that we are obtaining the outcome of our faith, the salvation of our souls. In these words, we are reminded of the fact that we are saved by faith. We are saved as we believe, as we trust, in Jesus.

This is the central truth of the Reformation, which began 500 years ago. Even though works flow naturally from faith, it is not they that save us. Nor is salvation a commodity that can be bought. It’s a free gift of God, given to us through faith in Jesus.

May we, then, continue to love Jesus. May we continue to believe and to rejoice in him. May we continue to do so in spite of the fact that we have not seen him. And may we live in the confidence that, through faith, we are receiving the salvation of our souls.

The Necessity of Hardship


“In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith-- more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire-- may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” (1Peter 1:6-7 ESV)We tend to believe, mistakenly, that life should be easy. We tend to believe, mistakenly, that, because we’re saved, God will spare us from all trials. And for this reason, we’re constantly disappointed, we’re constantly frustrated, with the continuing difficulties we face.We fail to recognize that, although we have a great hope, we have not been promised an easy life in this world. We rejoice in the hope of the gospel, although we continue to be grieved by various trials. But, as Peter points out, these trials are not meaningless.These trials vary from person to person. Yet, there is a purpose in the various trials we face. There’s a purpose in these trials, which are allowed by God.  Peter refers to them as necessary. The purpose of these trials is to test the genuineness of our faith. Faith, you see, remains constant in the face of hardships. In fact, our trials will cause us to look to the Lord all the more. In this way, it proves our faith. In this way, it demonstrates our faith. And as our faith is proven, time and again, it results in praise, glory, and honor for the Lord.                                                     Because of this, as we face various trials, we should not respond with complaint and disappointment. We should realize that, through these trials, God is at work in our life. We should recognize that, by testing our faith, he is proving our faith. And we should recognize that, as he does so, he is bringing praise and glory to himself.Knowing this, as we’re confronted with trials and hardships, we should ask God to build us in faith. We should trust that he is not working for our harm, but for our good. We must recognize that his purpose is not to upend our faith, but to confirm it. And, in all things, we should continue to rejoice in the hope of the salvation he has promised us.[...]

A Better Hope


“It is better to take refuge in the LORD than to trust in man. It is better to take refuge in the LORD than to trust in princes.” (Psalm 118:8-9 ESV)In my last post, we looked at the beginning of 1 Peter, and were reminded about the true source of hope for the believer in Jesus. We found that, through the Lord, we have been born again to a living hope. And this hope is not only for the moment. It’s one the endures for eternity.This is a great comfort. And the reminder found in the above verses ties right in with this. It’s better to trust in the Lord than in man. It’s better to take refuge in him than in princes.This is a sin to which we are all prone. As we face difficulties in this world, we tend to place our hope in man. As we’re faced with domestic and international threats, it could be a particular leader or politician in whom we place our trust. We might place our trust in the military. As we’re faced with health struggles, it could be a doctor in whom we place our trust. As we face existential crises, we might put our trust in a particular teacher or religious leader. The examples are endless.In the current political climate here in the United States, I think we are prone to putting our faith in a particular leader. As a friend and a fellow AFLC pastor, Jason Gudim, recently published: “Our nation’s obsession with political saviors and antichrists is doing much more harm than any single political figure – male or female – has done in America…We are now prone to placing our hopes on a specific and personal political messiah instead of taking the initiative to finding and contributing to a solution.”Many on the left looked to President Obama as their political Messiah. In the same way, many on the right now look to President Trump as the one who will set all things right. In many ways, we’ve become more focused on politics, we’ve placed our hope more in man, than the Lord.Many have become fearful of a nuclear North Korea. And we must admit that this is a very real threat. One way in which I am guilty is that I’ve placed my trust in our military. I know that we have a military more powerful than any on earth. I know that we have technology that is far more advanced than that of this enemy. And, for this reason, I’ve felt comforted. I’ve believed that we are generally safe from the attacks of this enemy. I’ve done so rather than simply trusting in the Lord as my help and my salvation.The Lord is the only one in whom we should trust. He alone is to be our refuge. Although he can use princes, and although he can use military might, it’s he alone who can provide for us salvation.The question each of us must ponder is this: In what ways have we trusted in man rather than the Lord? In what ways have we trusted in princes rather than the Lord? We must then repent, ask the Lord to forgive us for Christ’s sake, and ask him to turn our hearts toward him and him alone.[...]

The Source of Our Hope


“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God's power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.” (1Peter 1:3-5 ESV)Hope is essential in this life.  As we live in a world of sin, as we live in a world suffering the consequences of sin, we need hope. Without it, life suddenly feels futile. We swiftly begin feeling discouraged and desperate.As we live our life in this world, we place our hope in various places. We place our hope in wealth and possessions. We place our hope in man, whether it be a loved one, a physician, or a political leader.  We place our hope in various religions and philosophical systems.However, all of these sources of hope are only temporary.  They are fleeting and futile. Even if they sustain us in the short-term, they end up disappointing us. They disappoint us because none of them can deliver us from sin. None of them can deliver us from suffering and death.  None of them can truly save us.This is where the gospel steps in.  Peter, in the above passage, tells us that God has caused us to be born again to a living hope. In other words, it’s not simply a passing wish. It’s not merely a temporary source of confidence. It’s something that is true and enduring. And he’s done this through the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. His resurrection fills us with hope because it assures us that the penalty of our sin has truly been paid. It fills us with hope because it assures us that the power death has been defeated.  And, in this way, it enables us to confidently trust in the promises of God.It fills us with the hope of an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading. In other words, it’s eternal, and it isn’t stained or corrupted by sin. It’s the hope of a never-ending existence in the presence of God. It’s the hope of an existence free from death or mourning or crying or pain (Revelation 21:4). It’s also secure.  It’s not something that can be taken from us.  It cannot be taken from us by man, or by the enemy of our souls. It cannot be taken because, as Peter tells us, it’s kept in heaven for us. It’s kept in heaven for we who are guarded by faith for salvation, which will be revealed in the last time.The question that we must ask ourselves, as we’re continually confronted with sin and the suffering that flows from it, is this: What is the source of our hope? Are we continuing to place our hope in the temporary and the powerless?  Or are we placing our hope in the only true source of salvation? [...]

Repeating the Mistakes of the Past


“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”(Ephesians 2:8-9 ESV)October 31st of this year marks the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. It was 500 years ago, on this day, that Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the castle church in Wittenberg, Germany. He did so to open up debate on some abuses that were taking place within the Catholic Church. One of the main abuses he protested was the selling of indulgences. It was taught that, because of the faithfulness of the apostles and the saints, there was a storehouse of grace available to the people. And they were able to access this grace through the purchase of an indulgence.The people paid money to receive an indulgence for themselves or for a loved one. And, in this way, it was taught that their time in purgatory would be lessened. A particular phrase, circulating at the time, provoked Luther. It said: “When the coin in the coffer rings, the soul from purgatory springs.”As we read this today, it sounds like an interesting tidbit from history. However, it hardly seems applicable to us today. After all, most of us realize that the concept of purgatory is not found in the Bible. We’re also very familiar with the teaching of Scripture, seen above, which assures us that salvation is a free gift, a gift of grace, given to us by God.We are not saved by the things that we do. And this is true not only of us. It’s true also of the apostles. This tells us that there is no storehouse of grace earned by them or by anyone that is available to us.It also tells us that grace cannot be purchased. The only grace that is available to us is that which is received through faith in Christ. It is a gift of God, given to us. And, for this reason, we have no cause to boast in ourselves.However, even though most of us possess this knowledge, we are often guilty of the same abuse protested by Luther. Even if we can explain the gospel accurately, we continue to think that we’ll be saved by our own actions. We tend to think that God’s grace is available to us by the things we do.We sometimes think that we’ll be saved by the actions of others. Perhaps we realize that our actions are not enough. But we look to our parents, who were godly examples and who did all that they could to raise us in faith. We look to our grandmother, who’s prayed for us from the day we were born. And we think that, because of their faith, because of their efforts to pass the faith on to us, we’ll be saved.We must understand, from the Word of God, that no one is good. We must understand that no one will be saved because of the things they have done. And, in the same way, we must understand that the efforts of others are unable to accomplish our salvation.Salvation is found in Christ alone. We receive his salvation through grace alone. And we receive his grace through faith alone.  [...]

Get Into the Word


“But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed.” 
(2 Peter 2:1-2 ESV)

Here we are, at the beginning of another school year.  All of our church activities are also starting up. And, even though I know it means more work for me, it’s something that I greatly enjoy.

I enjoy it because teaching and preaching God’s Word is my favorite thing to do.  I love teaching Sunday School.  I love leading Bible study.  I love teaching confirmation and leading our men’s study.  I love preaching the Word of God each Sunday morning.  I love it because, as I do so, God speaks to me and ministers to me.  And I love it because I know that he does the same for each one who attends.

I know that, for many in the church, these activities seem like one more thing to do.  They seem like another drain on our time and energy.  And we don’t seem to grasp the importance of our time in God’s Word.

In the above verses, we see a very important reason to take part in these activities.  Peter tells us that false prophets arose in the past and that, in the same way, they’ll arise among us as well.  He tells us that they’ll bring in destructive heresies.  They’ll introduce false teaching that will lead others not to saving faith in Christ, but away from it. He tells us that they will even deny Christ himself.

We’re also told that many will follow them.  And not only will they be led astray, they will also make the Christian faith seem unattractive to those outside of the church.  Because of them, Peter says, the way of truth will be blasphemed.

We may not be able to stop false teachers from arising.  However, by engaging with God’s Word on a regular basis, we are strengthened against them.  We are better able to recognize false truths as they’re being proclaimed, and we’re better equipped to stand against them.

We’re also equipped to provide a faithful testimony of the gospel to those around us.  We’re better able to share the truth of God with those who don’t understand.  And we’re better able to correct false teaching as we encounter it within the church.

I understand that you may not be able to take part in every opportunity the church offers.  I understand that you only have so much time available to you.  But I encourage you to take part in at least one of the opportunities that are offered, besides Sunday morning. Take part knowing that, as you do so, your own faith will be strengthened.  And do so knowing that, in this way, you will be better equipped to bless those around you.

Willing to Serve?


“So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you…”(1Peter 5:1-2 ESV)The work of the church involves many different people. Some of them are staff. Some of them are paid for their service. Here at Prince of Peace, we have the pastor, the youth pastor, the secretary, and the custodians. But the vast majority are volunteers.Some of the volunteers are appointed by the church to a position of leadership.  Perhaps they are an officer, a deacon, or a trustee. Perhaps they serve on the Christian Ed board or hold office in the women’s ministry.  But others simply serve. They teach Sunday School. They serve meals at funerals. They run the sound booth during Sunday worship.Regardless of where we might fall on this continuum, we can have many motivations for our service. And, to be perfectly straight forward, most of them are not good. Many of the motivations we possess for our service are less than upright.There are those who serve for personal gain. This might mean the money they make for their service. But it can also mean other things as well.We might serve for the honor and the prestige it gives to us. We might serve simply that others will think highly of us. Instead of seeking to glorify God, we’re seeking the approval of man. In a similar way, we might serve in an effort to erase a bad reputation. Perhaps we’ve made some serious mistakes and have earned a bad name. And now that we realize what we’ve done, now that we understand the shame we’ve brought upon ourselves, we’re seeking to correct it. We sometimes serve in our effort to earn God’s blessings. We fall into the false gospel of works righteousness. We think that, if we do enough good, if we put forth enough effort, God will overlook our mistakes and grant to us his salvation.Quite often, we serve out of guilt. We know that we’ve been called to serve God. We know that we’re to use our gifts to serve both the Lord and the church. But our heart isn’t in it.  We really don’t want to do it. Yet we do so out of this sense of responsibility.In the above passage, Peter shares with us the proper attitude for service. It’s directed primarily to pastors (elders). However, it’s a principle that applies more broadly. It’s a truth that applies to us regardless of our area of service.We’re to carry out our calling not under compulsion. We are to do so willingly. We are to gladly give of ourselves to carry out the task God has assigned to us.If our service is not freely given, we must search our heart. We must recognize that, perhaps, we’re holding to a false gospel. And we must ask God to forgive us, looking to Jesus in faith.We must also ask God to change our heart. We must ask the Lord to turn our heart toward him. We must ask him to help us to love as he loves.  [...]

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 [...]

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[...]

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.