Good News for 2017

2017Check out the audio version here.

Take a look at our passage for today found in Rom. 10:11-15.

Notice the words in v.15, “Good news of good things.”

I looked at what the Associated Press said were their top stories of 2016.  There were some items that people will consider good news while most people will consider it all bad. Here are the top news stories of 2016 according to AP.

  1. US ELECTION: This year’s top story traces back to June 2015, when Donald Trump descended an escalator in Trump Tower, his bastion in New York City, to announce he would run for president. Widely viewed as a long shot, with an unconventional campaign featuring raucous rallies and pugnacious tweets, he outlasted 16 Republican rivals. Among the Democrats, Hillary Clinton beat back an unexpectedly strong challenge from Bernie Sanders, and won the popular vote over Trump. But he won key Rust Belt states to get the most electoral votes, and will enter the White House with Republicans maintaining control of both houses of Congress.
  2. BREXIT: Confounding pollsters and odds makers, Britons voted in June to leave the European Union, triggering financial and political upheaval. David Cameron resigned as prime minister soon after the vote, leaving the task of negotiating an exit to a reshaped Conservative government led by Theresa May. Under a tentative timetable, final details of the withdrawal might not be known until the spring of 2019.
  3. BLACK MEN KILLED BY POLICE: One day apart, police in Baton Rouge, LA, fatally shot Alton Sterling after pinning him to the ground, and a white police officer shot and killed Philando Castile during a traffic stop in a suburb of Minneapolis. Coming after several similar cases in recent years, the killings rekindled debate over policing practices and the Black Lives Matter movement.
  4. PULSE NIGHTCLUB MASSACRE: The worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history unfolded on Latin Night at the Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando. The gunman, Omar Mateen, killed 49 people over the course of three hours before dying in a shootout with SWAT team members. During the standoff, he pledged allegiance to the Islamic State.
  5. WORLDWIDE TERROR ATTACKS: Across the globe, extremist attacks flared at a relentless pace throughout the year. Among the many high-profile attacks were those that targeted airports in Brussels and Istanbul, a park teeming with families and children in Pakistan, and the seafront boulevard in Nice, France, where 86 people were killed when a truck plowed through a Bastille Day celebration. In Iraq alone, many hundreds of civilians were killed in repeated bombings.
  6. ATTACKS ON POLICE: Ambushes and targeted attacks on police officers in the U.S. claimed at least 20 lives. The victims included five officers in Dallas working to keep the peace at a protest over the fatal police shootings of black men in MN and LA. Ten days after that attack, a man killed three officers in Baton Rouge, LA. In Iowa, two policemen were fatally shot in separate ambush-style attacks while sitting in their patrol cars.
  7. DEMOCRATIC PARTY EMAIL LEAKS: Hacked emails, disclosed by WikiLeaks, revealed at-times embarrassing details from Democratic Party operatives in run-up to Election Day, leading to the resignation of Democratic National Committee chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz and other DNC officials. The CIA later concluded that Russia was behind the DNC hacking in a bid to boost Donald Trump’s chances of beating Hillary Clinton.
  8. SYRIA: Repeated cease-fire negotiations failed to halt relentless warfare among multiple factions. With Russia’s help, the government forces of President Bashar Assad finally seized rebel-held portions of the city of Aleppo, at a huge cost in terms of deaths and destruction.
  9. SUPREME COURT: After Justice Antonin Scalia’s death in February, President Obama nominated Merrick Garland, chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, to fill the vacancy. However, majority Republicans in the Senate refused to consider the nomination, opting to leave the seat vacant so it could be filled by the winner of the presidential election. Donald Trump has promised to appoint a conservative in the mold of Scalia.
  10. HILLARY CLINTON’S EMAILS: Amid the presidential campaign, the FBI conducted an investigation into Clinton’s use of a private computer server to handle emails she sent and received as secretary of state. FBI Director James Comey criticized Clinton for carelessness but said the bureau would not recommend criminal charges.

Those are just the top stories and you might argue there was one piece of good news, but the rest are clearly what we would call bad news. We typically focus only on bad news.

As Christ followers, we have the privilege to share the good news that is always good. The good news we have is called the Gospel. We just celebrated Christmas which tells the story of how Jesus was conceived of a virgin and born into this world. We must go further and tell people that He lived a sinless life as He walked the road to Calvary where He willingly gave up His life so that we could be reconciled with God. Jesus died on that cross, but three days later, He rose again defeating death. He was seen walking about by the multitudes and He gave people hope. Jesus ascended to heaven where He sits at the right hand of the Father making intercession for us. That’s all exceedingly good news. Jesus said, “Because I live, you shall live also.”

As we move into the New Year, there’s going to be crises, challenges, and problems. Let’s focus on living for Christ in spite of our circumstances. Let’s adjust our attitudes and focus on the positive.

As I look forward to the coming year, there are a few things I would like to see happen:

I’d like to see people truly commit their life to Christ. It’s clear that this is what God wants: 1 Tim. 2:4 says, “Who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” Somewhere along the way, we decided that sin is relative. There is no standard of conduct, but the Bible is very clear that we have a sin problem. Rom. 3:23 says, “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” Is. 64:6 says, “For all of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment; And all of us wither like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.” But I have more good news: God has given up on us. God draws us to Him through the power of the Spirit. Jo. 6:44 says, “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day.” God made a way through Christ. 2 Cor. 5:21 says, “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” We have been justified in Christ: we are declared righteous based on the merits of Jesus. We have been sanctified: Christ’s righteousness is applied to each of us every single day. It’s our responsibility to make sure that everyone knows they’re welcome at the foot of the cross. Jo. 6:37 says, “All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out.” Peter said it this way:“The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.”  (2 Pet. 3:9) “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.”  (Jo. 3:16) You don’t have to be a certain way to get Christ, come as you are.

I’d like to see God’s people passionate about their personal faith and ministry. 2 Cor. 5:17 says, “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.” Nowhere in Scripture is this more evident than in the life of the Apostle Paul. Acts 9 records his conversion experience. The same Holy Spirit that transformed that murderer into an apostle lives in us so why do we have such low expectations from Christians today? Saul was lost. He finally recognized where he was without Christ and made a decision to follow Him and immediately began preaching. The people of the day were confused at this miraculous transformation, but that didn’t deter Saul from telling others what had happened. Acts 9:22says, “But Saul kept increasing in strength and confounding the Jews who lived at Damascus by proving that this Jesus is the Christ.” We need a renewed passion for Christ.

These days, a general commitment to Christ substitutes for repentance. We’re satisfied with mediocrity; we’re satisfied being halfway committed to Christ and His bride. Committed means to be wholeheartedly dedicated. I often say I wish people would be half as committed to their walk of faith as they are their favorite sports team. Faithfulness has been replaced by casualness. We spend a lot of time and energy engaged in things that don’t really matter when you consider eternity. We have a tendency to take things for granted. We think God will always be there and we’ll start really serving Him when we’re ready or when we have time. Remember Saul persecuted the church and then met God and his life was never the same. Today we have people meet this same God and their lives are no different. What’s really disturbing about that is many people in the church are okay with it.

In 2017, I’d love to see people get passionate about God. I’d like to see people take Bible study with us. In 2016, we had over 200 people take Bible study with us in person and online and studied the books of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, and now we’re studying God’s covenants. What I have observed over the last 17 years I’ve been in ministry is that people who consistently study and apply the Bible to their lives grow stronger in their faith. When the challenges of life occur, you’re better equipped to handle it. Other people will see this and ask you how you did it. You use that as a springboard to tell people about the power of God that is available to them. It would be really nice if that power you speak of is evident in your own life. More often than not, we treat God as the genie in the bottle. We reach for Him when we want something and then we put Him back on the shelf for another day. That is not how you worship the God of the universe. We’ve got it backwards: we look for God to serve us rather than for us to serve Him.

I think we have a tendency be complacent. Matt. 6:24 says, “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.” To put anything above the Lord is foolish, but we do it all the time. I think few people would admit that, but our actions speak louder than our words. I’d like to see people get more involved in the opportunities we have here. I think we’ve gotten lazy in our faith. Fewer and fewer people are willing to work hard. Fewer and fewer people make themselves available to do the hard, stressful, and emotionally draining work of the ministry. Fewer and fewer people are willing to persevere. More and more people say no to serving in the church What have you said yes to? I’d like to see people really make connections with others. There are people very casual about participation in the things of the church. We have people that miss one, two, three, four weeks and no one seems to notice and if they do notice, nothing comes of it. I’d like to see people participate in intentional ministry.

I’d like God’s people resist Satan. James says, “Submit yourselves therefore to God.  Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.”  (Ja. 4:7) We cannot resist the devil in our own strength. We must first submit ourselves to God.  Then we can stand against Satan in the strength and might of the Lord Himself. Resist his destructive plans. Satan is a destroyer. He will try to destroy your home, your church relationship, your testimony, etc. Once you say yes to Satan, it becomes easier the next time, and easier. Satan’s way is never good, but unfortunately, even Christians are too ignorant to recognize this. Stay far from sin. Don’t see how close you can get.

I’d like to see Jesus come back in 2017. Phil. 3:20 says, “For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.” Jesus promised in John 14:3, “If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also.” We’re too attached to this temporary home. We work to have things that will pass away. We spend the majority of our time on things that have no bearing on eternity.

What do you want to hear and see by the end of next year? How many will you share Christ with? How will you serve the Lord by serving others? Will you live the life of holiness God has called you to live? How authentic will you be?

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Sweet Success

HoneyYou can check out the podcast here.

Last time we were in Proverbs, we learned that trusting people can be a difficult thing to do, but God is not asking you to trust Him without good reason. When you get to know the God of the Bible, you’ll see He is exactly who He says He is and you really can trust Him. When you trust Him, you’ll be blessed – you’ll find favor with God. When you gain knowledge of God through the Bible, you’ll also gain understanding which leads to wisdom. That wisdom is easily recognized by people around you and provides them a limitless refreshing fountain of life if they’ll only listen to the godly wisdom that is contained within you. Fools don’t have that persuasiveness of speech; they just have nonsense. When it comes to eternity, don’t be a fool. This morning, we’ll see some sweet success.

Pro. 16:24-25 says, “Pleasant words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones. There is a way which seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death.”

I like this first verse. Solomon rephrases something he’s already talked about when he says, “Pleasant words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.” Even though we’ve seen words to this effect in Proverbs, I wanted to spend some time here because I think the word picture is so beautiful. A honeycomb is the storage place for honey and that’s the word Solomon intends. Honey is an incredible substance. On their trip to see the second in command in Egypt, Jacob (Israel) told his boys to, “Take some of the best products of the land in your bags, and carry down to the man as a present, a little balm and a little honey, aromatic gum and myrrh, pistachio nuts and almonds.” (Gen. 43:11) The Promised Land was a land flowing with milk and honey. Samson killed a lion with his bare hands and then later returned to find the lion full on honey which he scooped out and ate as he walked. (Jud. 14:8) Jonathan’s eyes were brightened after eating honey in 1 Sam. 14:27. Honey was a regular part of John the Baptizer’s diet. (Matt. 3:4) Honey’s health benefits are widely publicized and it never goes bad. We use the word honey as a term of endearment.

Pleasant words are a honeycomb; they are comforting and soothing. There are many things I find pleasant, but may have no impact on eternity. I don’t think it’s any coincidence that Solomon compares pleasant words to something that tastes good. The quickest way for a restaurant to fail is to have lousy food. A good, dark, strong cup of coffee brings me intense delight and comfort. And I’m sure you’ve heard the term comfort food. This type of food is supposed to transport you back to childhood where all your dreams were reality and you had no responsibility, no demands, no pressure, and no stress. Pleasant words are supposed to have an even bigger effect than that. Pleasant words can have a healing effect like a balm. I wonder if Solomon is thinking about the words penned by his father David in Ps. 19:7-11. The Law of God and the Word of God are eternally important for us. “For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” (Heb. 4:12) That’s why Solomon says pleasant words are, “Sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.”

Does this next verse sound familiar? Verse 25 is exactly the same as 14:12, “There is a way which seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death.” Why would the Holy Spirit inspire Solomon to say the same thing again? We’ve had a number of verses so far that convey the same overall meaning. Do you take it for granted? This is a caution against doing things on your own and it needs to be said again. When I tell you a cross reference for this verse is found in Pro. 12:15 it’ll all make sense, “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man is he who listens to counsel.” Solomon is always contrasting wisdom and folly or righteous and unrighteous. When you consider your own ways and do not take the input of others, the end result is not generally good. There seems to be a right way to do things, but when you rely on yourself, it’s typically not good. It might turn out okay occasionally because even a blind squirrel finds a nut once in a while.

Solomon is trying to get us to realize that we need other people in our lives. We don’t see loners in the Bible. The most vibrant, engaged Christians are those that are actively engaged in community. The followers that are growing the most are those that are engaged in fellowship with others that help them grow. The most authentic believers are those that are willing to place themselves under the authority of others; they don’t just do their own thing. If the way you’re going seems right to you but you’re alone, how will your course be corrected? If you just follow your heart, where will you be led? The Bible says, “The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jer. 17:9) Sometimes it seems like we’re that three-year-old trying to tie his shoes saying, “I can do it myself.” It seems like we’re so desperate to do things on our own and we not only ignore godly guidance, we have a tendency to be offended if offered advice from someone older or more experienced. At the risk of tiring out this example, we have these mentors or guides in every aspect of life. The coach tells you what play to run or if you don’t come to practice, you can’t play. The teacher tells you to use a #2 pencil. The IRS tells you that your return must be postmarked no later than April 15th. The military tells you exactly how to wear your uniform. IKEA tells you how to put together their furniture.

We have little to no issue with this. After all, we want to play and we want to win. We want the computer to see our answers so we can pass the test. We don’t want to get a monetary penalty for filing late. We want our cool IKEA furniture to look right. When we transfer these same instructional ideas to the church, what happens? The music leader tells you your solo is cut or you’re singing flat. Someone offers some marriage advice or parenting guidance and all of a sudden, it’s none of your business. We have some misguided notion in the church that the only people that can offer advice are perfect people. Of course my marriage isn’t perfect, but how about learn from what I’ve messed up on and from what works for us. My kids aren’t perfect and I’ll tell you where I messed up so you won’t make the same mistakes I did. All of us tend to learn more from our mistakes and the mistakes of others, so why is it we’re so hard pressed against spiritual advice? “There is a way which seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death.”

The most vibrant, effective ministries are the ones where there is a spirit of unity, a spirit of mutual love and respect where Jesus is elevated to His appropriate place above all other things. It’s a place where the focus is on the main thing. It is entirely unrealistic to think we will have success in every single thing we do. Thomas Edison figured out 2000 ways the light bulb didn’t work before finding one that did. Our first year going to Romania was not what we would define as a success, but the lessons learned were invaluable in refining the goals for how we do mission work in Romania. Every trip we learned something that didn’t work and that forced us to self-examine what we were doing. Each year at C4, we learn things. I don’t want us to get so routine and stagnant, that we just continue on regardless of how ineffective we might be. Just because we’ve always done it, doesn’t mean we’ll continue. The church is a living, breathing organism. We are made up of people that are learning and growing Do you want to be more effective in life? In ministry? In Eternity? Surround yourself with people who want the same thing. Don’t be satisfied with the status quo. There is no room in your life for people who will tell you what you what you want to hear, who will lie to you, who won’t hold you accountable. That’s not love. That’s foolish. “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man is he who listens to counsel.” Fools think they’re right and don’t bother getting the guidance of others.

Wise people seek out wiser people to check themselves. Wise people seek course corrections from other people. When you have people in your life that will tell you the truth in love, you’re going to grow. Don’t automatically ignore good counsel from others because you think you know it already. That’s a really dangerous place to be in. If you follow this guidance, I guarantee you’ll have sweet success.

When Worlds Collide

Worlds CollideI live in a small town, brought here by the Navy in 1994. I’ve been active in church and the faith community from the day we moved here. For the first time in nearly four years, two worlds I live in collided in a manner that I had not anticipated. Maybe you don’t know this, but I serve as a full time pastor and as well as a part-time police officer in my community. It’s not unusual for pastors to have a part-time job. Even when I was active duty in the Navy, I had a part-time job. I’ve had a side business since 1998 that specializes in handyman services and remodeling. I’ve worked in and on lots of houses here. I’ve re-sided and re-roofed houses, hung blinds in houses, fixed plumbing and electrical issues, installed cabinets, and can for the most part remember houses I’ve worked on as I drive through neighborhoods. I know pastors that work in offices, retail, restaurants, and a variety of non-ministry vocations to help pay the bills. 

My love of law enforcement goes way back to childhood. Adam-12, Cannon, Dragnet, Hawaii Five-O, The Streets of San Francisco, and Starsky and Hutch were regular programs I loved to watch. One of our neighbors growing up was Jack Whetstone, a Des Plaines police officer and very dear friend. He was patient, kind, and thrilled to talk with us kids as we swarmed him when he got home in his police car. When he became a motorcycle cop, well, we were over the moon. And that was before CHiPs. In 2012 I had an opportunity to go to the police academy. I spoke with our church elders and received permission from the church to go and graduated a few months later. At 49 years old, I was the second oldest in the two classes in the academy at the time. I’ve been serving with our local police department ever since. People have asked, how can you be a pastor and a cop? Isn’t that a conflict of interest? I guess it’s no more a conflict of interest than serving on a nuclear submarine capable of delivering more destruction with one missile than mankind has ever seen, or my ministry buddies that work at restaurants, or Best Buy, or Home Depot. Doesn’t everyone need to see a real life, in the flesh, authentic, passionate follower of Christ?  Doesn’t everyone deserve to hear the life changing power of the Gospel? I mean, there are sinners everywhere. Many pastors I know love working in the community because it affords them the opportunity to get out of the office, to mix and mingle, to grip and grin with people that might not visit their church. I can say I love working as a police officer. I can use the problem solving skills God gave me to help people in a real way. Some days it’s way easier than being in ministry.

In the church, I counsel lots of people I would consider to be “in crisis” that simply ignore good, biblical guidance and continue to do what ever they want to do. It can be very discouraging. If I see someone acting in a way that would bring reproach on them, their family, or more importantly, the Lord, I talk to them, challenge them, beseech them, pray for them and try all the other biblical things we’re supposed to do to help them be like Jesus, but they still have the choice to ignore the loving guidance and the biblical warnings. I hope people to that for me, too.

It’s different in the police world. I see someone breaking a traffic law, I can stop them and issue a citation. They’ll have to answer for that which they have been accused of. If they break the law, I can arrest them and take them to jail where once again, they will have to answer for their charges. If found guilty, there will be a monetary penalty and could spend some time in jail. I have the opportunity to start the wheels of justice in motion. That can be quite refreshing coming from a world where justice may not be served in the here and now. I have the discretion to exercise grace and mercy. I am a child of the King before all other things. No matter the situation I’m in, that reality is extraordinarily close to my heart and governs what I do.

Here comes the collision. As part of my personal community outreach, I volunteer as a Chaplain at our hospital. The Chaplain program at our hospital is more like a crisis ministry. I serve one week every couple of months as the on-call Chaplain. If an issue arises where a patient needs some spiritual help or guidance, the Chaplain on the roster gets the call to respond. I’ve been called a number of times and it’s rarely good. Most of the calls are generated from the emergency room and come after some sort of tragedy or life altering event.

This call was different. I got called to a patient’s room that wanted me to pray for her so I went. I knocked on the door and went into the hospital room and to my surprise, there were a number of people there keeping the patient company. When I’m called, it’s not normally like this. Often the Chaplain is called because there is little or no family support. As I knelt down next to the bed, I surveyed the people in the room and made eye contact with someone I knew. I’ve met people through church, through local events, through my time in the Navy, through my counseling ministry, through my business, as well as through police work. When they’re familiar to me, but I just can’t place them, I’ll normally ask, “Did we serve in the Navy together?” Or, “Have you visited our church?” I’m aware that I know the person, but sometimes I just can’t remember how I know the person. This person was different. I knew immediately. Without a doubt. Two days earlier, I secured an arrest warrant for this person. If you ever served in the Navy, there are words you never want to hear: COLLISION IMMINENT! Two worlds were getting ready to collide. Ministry world and police world on a collision course that just might turn out pretty ugly if I failed to exercise godly wisdom.

Thoughts began to race through my head about how best to fulfill my responsibility to God, the hospital and uphold my oath as a police officer. Here I was in a hospital room with a patient needing me as a servant of God while there was also a wanted fugitive in the room needing to be captured and held accountable for the crimes to which they are accused.

Is there a dilemma?

Not really. It was a pretty easy decision. I dove across the patient’s bed and tackled the fugitive. Ok, I didn’t do that and at my age, I likely would have ended up in the room next door.

When I looked at the individual, I said, “I know you, your name is ________.” The individual said, “No it’s not.” A woman in the room I later learned was the fugitive’s grandmother said, “Don’t lie to the preacher!” At this point, my fugitive got up and quickly left the room. I didn’t. I stayed with the patient that needed me.

Could I have done anything different? How many situations have you been in where you could have done something different to improve the outcome? Even in situations I’ve dealt with in ministry and law enforcement that ended well could have been handled better. There’s always room for improvement. I’m continuously critiquing myself to grow more like Christ. He’s continually convicting and transforming my heart to become like His. It’s a process that I am engaged in daily.

Are you wondering about the fugitive? I am too.

Good News for 2016

2016You can listen to the podcast here.

Rom. 10:13-15 says, “for “Whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved.” How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher? How will they preach unless they are sent? Just as it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news of good things!”

Notice the words in v.15, “Good news of good things.” I looked at what the Associated Press said were their top stories of 2015.  There were some items that people will consider good news while most people will consider it all bad. Here are the top news stories of 2015 according to AP.

  1. ISLAMIC STATE: A multinational coalition intensified ground and air attacks against Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria, including expanded roles for Western European countries worried about IS-backed terrorism. For its part, IS sought to demonstrate an expansive reach by its operatives and supporters, claiming to have carried out or inspired the bombing of a Russian airliner, attacks in Beirut and Paris, and the deadly shooting in San Bernardino, California.
  2. GAY MARRIAGE: Fifteen years after Vermont pioneered civil unions for same-sex couples, the Supreme Court issued a ruling in June enabling them to marry in all 50 states. Gay-rights activists heralded it as their movement’s biggest breakthrough, but there were flashes of disapproval. A county clerk in Kentucky, Kim Davis, spent a few days in jail after refusing to issue marriage licenses to gay couples in her jurisdiction.
  3. PARIS ATTACKS: The first attack came just a week into the New Year. Two brothers who called themselves members of al-Qaida barged into the offices of the satiric newspaper Charlie Hebdo, and later attacked a Jewish market, gunning down 17 people in all. Nov. 13 brought a far deadlier onslaught: Eight Islamic State militants killed 130 people in coordinated assaults around Paris. Targets included restaurants, bars and an indoor rock concert.
  4. MASS SHOOTINGS: Throughout the year, mass shootings brought grief to communities across the U.S. and deepened frustration over the failure to curtail them. There were 14 victims in San Bernardino. Nine blacks were killed by a white gunman at a Charleston, SC, church; a professor and eight students died at an Oregon community college. In Chattanooga, four Marines and a sailor were killed by a Kuwaiti-born engineer; three people, including a policeman, were shot dead at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado.
  5. BLACK DEATHS IN ENCOUNTERS WITH POLICE: In Baltimore, riots broke out after the death of Freddie Gray, a black man loaded into a van by police officers. In Chicago, Tulsa and North Charleston, SC, fatal police shootings of black men prompted resignations and criminal charges. The incidents gave fuel to the Black Lives Matter campaign, and prompted several investigations of policing practices.
  6. TERRORISM WORRIES: Fears about terrorism in the U.S. surged after a married couple in California – described by investigators as radicalized Muslims – carried out the attack in San Bernardino that killed 14 people. The rampage inflamed an already intense debate over whether to accommodate refugees from Syria, and prompted Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump to call for a ban on Muslims coming to the U.S.
  7. US ELECTION CAMPAIGN: A large and varied field of Republicans launched bids for the presidency, with billionaire Donald Trump moving out to an early lead in the polls and remaining there despite a series of polarizing statements. He helped attract record audiences for the GOP’s televised debates. In the Democratic race, Bernie Sanders surprised many with a strong challenge of Hillary Clinton, but she remained the solid front-runner.
  8. CLIMATE CHANGE: Negotiators from nearly 200 countries reached a first-of-its kind agreement in Paris on curbing greenhouse gas emissions. Many questions remain over enforcement and implementation of the accord. But elated supporters hailed it as a critical step toward averting the grim scenario of unchecked global warming.
  9. CHARLESTON CHURCH SHOOTING: A Bible study session at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, SC, suddenly turned into carnage when a white gunman opened fire, killing nine blacks, including the pastor. The alleged killer’s affinity for the Confederate flag sparked debate over the role of Civil War symbols in today’s South. In less than a month, the flag was removed from the SC State House grounds.
  10. EUROPE’S MIGRANT CRISIS: Fleeing war and hardship, more than 1 million migrants and refugees flooded into Europe during the year, overwhelming national border guards and reception facilities. Hundreds are believed to have drowned; 71 others were found dead in an abandoned truck in Austria. The 28-nation European Union struggled to come up with an effective, unified response.

Those are just the top stories and maybe there’s one item that might be considered neutral. We typically focus only on bad news. I guess that’s all that’s fit to be printed or broadcast. When I get a phone call, there’s generally a crisis on the other end.

As Christians, we can always share the good news of who Jesus is. The good news we have is called the Gospel. We just celebrated Christmas which tells the story of how Jesus was conceived of a virgin and born into this world. We must go further and tell people that He lived a sinless life as He walked the road to Calvary where He willingly gave up His life that we could be reconciled with God. Jesus died on that cross, but three days later, He rose again defeating death. He was seen walking about by the multitudes. He appeared and gave the disciples hope. Jesus ascended to heaven where He sits at the right hand of the Father making intercession for us. That’s all exceedingly good news. Jesus said, “Because I live, you shall live also.”

As we move into the New Year, there’s going to be crises, challenges, and problems. Let’s focus on living for Christ in spite of our circumstances. Let’s adjust our attitudes and focus on the positive. As I look forward to the coming year, there are a few things I would like to have take place:

I’d like to see people truly commit their life to Christ. It’s clear that this is what God wants: 1 Tim. 2:4 says God, “Desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” In America, we have decided that sin is relative. There is no standard of conduct, but the Bible if very clear that we have a sin problem. Rom. 3:23 says, “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” Is. 64:6 says, “For all of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment; And all of us wither like a leaf, And our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.” But that doesn’t mean God has given up on us. God draws us to Him through the power of the Spirit. Jo. 6:44 says, “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day.” God made a way through Christ. 2 Cor. 5:21 says, “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” We have been justified in Christ: we are declared righteous based on the merits of Jesus. We have been sanctified: Christ’s righteousness is applied to each of us every single day.  It’s our responsibility to make sure that everyone knows they’re welcome at the foot of the cross. Jo. 6:37 says, “All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out.” “The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.”  (2 Pet. 3:9) “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.”  (Jo. 3:16) You don’t have to be a certain way to get to Christ, you can have a conversation with Him right now.

I’d like to see God’s people passionate about ministry. Is. 44:22 says, “I have wiped out your transgressions like a thick cloud and your sins like a heavy mist. Return to Me, for I have redeemed you.” We need to turn back to the Lord. Why? We have a tendency to take things for granted. The things of God become common place so we look for what is new, what is flashy. We’re looking to be entertained. I saw something on Facebook just yesterday from Jeff Foxworthy that said, “If your preacher needs smoke bombs, rock bands, theater lights, dramatic skits, and circus acts to keep people interested, you need a new preacher.” All the responsibility for our Christian walk falls on the pastor or preacher. Some people would have you believe that man does not exist for God’s benefit, but that God exists for man’s benefit. God becomes this genie in a bottle that is there when you need Him rather than the One who is worthy of our continuous worship. We are looking for God to serve us rather than for us to serve Him. A general commitment to Christ substitutes for repentance. Emotional feelings replace true worship.

We tend to be foolish. Matt. 6:24 says, “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.” To put anything above the Lord is foolish, but we do it all the time. I think few people would admit that, but our actions speak louder than our words. I’d like to see people get more involved in the opportunities we have here. We tend to be impatient which further separates us from God. Fewer and fewer people are willing to work hard. Fewer and fewer people make themselves available to do the hard, stressful, and emotionally draining work of the ministry. Fewer and fewer people are willing to persevere. More and more people say no to serving in the church. What have you or what are you saying yes to? I’d like to see people really make connections with others. There are people very casual about participation in the things of the church. We have people that miss one, two, three, four weeks and no one seems to notice and if they do notice, nothing comes of it. I’d like to see people participate in intentional ministry.

I’d like God’s people resist Satan. James says, “Submit yourselves therefore to God.  Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.”  (Ja. 4:7) We cannot resist the devil in our own strength. We must first submit ourselves to God. Then we can stand against Satan in the strength and might of the Lord Himself. Resist his destructive plans. Satan is a destroyer. He will try to destroy your home, your church relationship, your testimony, etc. Once you say yes to Satan, it becomes easier the next time, and easier. Satan’s way is never good, but unfortunately, even Christians are too ignorant to recognize this.

I’d like to see Jesus come back in 2016. Phil. 3:20 says, “For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.” Jesus promised in John 14:3, “If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also.” We’re too attached to this temporary home. We work to have things that will pass away. We spend the majority of our time on things that have no bearing on eternity.

What do you want to hear and see by the end of next year? How many will you share Christ with? How will you serve the Lord by serving others? Will you live the life of holiness God has called you to live? How authentic will you be?

Judgment is Just

Justice ScalesYou can hear the podcast here.

Last time we were together we saw why God spared Noah and his family from the universal judgment by the flood. Lot was also spared from the judgment that was sent by God on Sodom and Gomorrah. God always provides a path of deliverance for His children, but that doesn’t mean life is just peachy all the time. While judgment is coming, it is not necessarily immediate with the hope that people will recognize their wickedness and turn to God. This morning, in an age where many people are screaming about fairness, we’re going to see why God’s judgment is appropriate.

2 Pet. 2:10-11 says, “And especially those who indulge the flesh in its corrupt desires and despise authority. Daring, self-willed, they do not tremble when they revile angelic majesties, whereas angels who are greater in might and power do not bring a reviling judgment against them before the Lord.”

We have somewhat of an awkward transition. Peter spoke of the preservation of the righteous and returns to the ungodly. He provides two reasons that God’s judgment is right. Both are in v. 10. Those that deserve judgment are those that indulge in the flesh and those that despise authority. Peter weaves this together with what he talked about earlier. Indulging the flesh typically has sexual overtones associated with it. Rom. 8:13, “For if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” Notice Paul uses the present tense. This is a life-long battle against our sin. These sexual overtones included sexual deviation and were present with the angels and with Sodom and Gomorrah. Peter says Lot was oppressed by their sensual conduct.

Remember Peter started off this section talking about the false prophets and false teachers. Because of them – the false teachers – many Christians will be led astray. The way of truth will be maligned. Peter is refuting these false teachers that dismissed the second coming of Christ and dismissed the possibility of future judgment. Because of that position, these false teachers chose to live in a manner that is inconsistent with the biblical expectations to live a life of godliness. They led many Christians to do the same. George Orwell wrote, “The further a society drifts from the truth, the more it will hate those that speak it.” When you speak the truth, you may not be very popular.

Peter’s second reason God’s judgment is right is not only do they indulge their flesh they, “despise authority.” It would be easy to say this means government or  church officials, employer, supervisor, or parents, but that’s not what Peter is talking about. Authority here is singular and most likely refers to Jesus Christ. Peter’s already said that the false teachers deny who He is so they don’t submit to His teaching or His expectations to live in a godly manner. If you’re not willing to submit to the authority of Christ, you’ll likely not submit to anyone.

Look at how Peter describes the false teachers in the second part of v. 10. He says they are daring and self willed. Bold and arrogant. Boldness is not necessarily bad, but when you combine it with arrogance, you get a fairly offensive result. They had a feeling that they were better and more important than others. They are very impressed with themselves. What did this feeling of self worth do? “They do not tremble when they revile angelic majesties.” They’re not afraid of the angelic majesties. Like other verses we’ve looked at, this is a tough verse. Given what Peter says in v. 11, it seems likely that he is talking about bad angels. These false teachers are so arrogant, they aren’t’ afraid of demons. Revile comes from the same word that we get blaspheme from. False teachers were not scared by demonic activity. Maybe it was because they denied their existence. It would stand to reason since they denied the second coming of Christ.

The contrast from v. 11 is set off by the word whereas. “Whereas angels who are greater in might do not bring a reviling judgment against them before the Lord.” The word these refer to angels that did adhere to the boundaries established by God. They are stronger and more able than the demonic angels. These good angels do not declare judgment against the demons. 1 Cor. 6:3 tells us, “Do you not know that we will judge angels? How much more matters of this life?” Angels do not participate in judgment. Their fate rests with the Lord.

In vs. 1-3 of this chapter, Peter has told us the sins of the false teachers. In vs. 4-10a, he said these sins will be judged and the justification for doing so. Now he is elaborating on what these false teachers are doing. As we’ll see in the coming verses, these false teachers are bad news. Peter describes them in the harshest of terms totally eliminating the idea, “Can’t we all just get along.”

The Warning

Maybe you want to listen to the podcast.

Last week we looked at Peter’s admonition to the young men to submit to the authority of the elders. We saw that humility is an essential factor in unleashing God’s grace on us. God really does care for us and we can throw all the cares of this world on Him and He will cover us with His mighty hand. This morning, Peter gives us a very stern warning.

1 Peter 5:8 says, “Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.”

Get ready. Peter says, “Be of sober spirit.” This is a reminder of what he has said earlier in this letter. In 1:13, he said, “Keep sober in spirit.” In 4:7 he said, “Be of sound judgment and sober spirit.” In each of Peter’s warnings to be sober, he conveys the idea of being calm, being self-controlled, and temperate. He means for us to have a cool head. “Be on the alert.” Be on guard, be watchful, be careful, be vigilant. The second general order of a sentry in the Navy is to, “Walk my post in a military manner, keeping always on the alert, and observing everything that takes place within sight or hearing. The eleventh general order is, “To be especially watchful at night, and, during the time for challenging, to challenge all persons on or near my post and to allow no one to pass without proper authority.” That’s the idea Peter is conveying in this passage. Pay attention to what’s going on around you. Don’t let anything catch you by surprise. Keep your eyes and ears open. Don’t let your guard down, don’t be complacent. Remain alert and watchful.

What’s the reason for the warning? We are to be sober and be on the alert because, “Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” The Bible is filled with word pictures and beautiful imagery to help us understand what it’s talking about and what it means. I believe this is an accurate, real world representation of what the devil is doing to Christians. What’s more disturbing than that though is that many Christians fail to realize it. The devil is your adversary. Adversary has a legal connotation. It means an opponent in a lawsuit. It also means enemy. It reflects the O.T. picture of Satan as the accuser of the brethren. In the book of Job, Satan is pictured as sort of a legal prosecutor of Heaven bringing accusations before the throne of judgment. Job 1:6-7 says, “Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan also came among them. The LORD said to Satan, “From where do you come?” Then Satan answered the LORD and said, “From roaming about on the earth and walking around on it.’” It looks like Satan was roaming the earth collecting evidence. Satan is not pursuing justice; he attempts to discredit God, His Word, and His works. In Zechariah’s vision, the Lord showed him, “. . . Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the LORD, and Satan standing at his right hand to accuse him.”  (Zech. 3:1)

Now we come to a great example of Satan’s subtlety. I hope you’ll take the time to look up Matt. 4:1-11. In this passage we see just how crafty Satan is. He attacks Jesus’ deity, attacks everything that Jesus stands for. Satan’s subtly is evident in the way he quotes Scripture to Jesus. Satan is opposed to everything good and right and pure and holy that exists. He is against anything we do that is in obedience to God and His word.   Jesus handled Satan’s attacks over and over. In Jo. 12:31-32 as the cross of Calvary loomed ahead, Jesus said, “Now judgment is upon this world; now the ruler of this world will be cast out.  And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Myself.” In Lu. 10:18, Jesus told His disciples, “I was watching Satan fall from heaven like lightning.” Why is Satan so angry? Rev. 12:12 says, “For this reason, rejoice, O heavens and you who dwell in them. Woe to the earth and the sea, because the devil has come down to you, having great wrath, knowing that he has only a short time.” That’s why Satan is so formidable as an enemy. He knows his time is short and he doesn’t know when it will end. His anger against the Lord and those who love the Lord grows with each passing day. Sometimes Satan attacks the church from within by disguising himself as an angel of light. Jude told us, “For certain persons have crept in unnoticed, those who were long beforehand marked out for this condemnation, ungodly persons who turn the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.”  (Jude 4) According to Rom. 16:20 we know the, “The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet.”

In Ja. 4:7 we are reminded to, “Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.” It’s not that we don’t have weapons to fight Satan, the danger is that we won’t resist the devil, that we won’t watch and pray, the danger is that we won’t heed the warnings of Scripture. The danger is that we won’t put on the whole armor of God and take up the sword of the Spirit. The danger is that too many Christians don’t think that Satan is real. A 2011 Barna study revealed that 56% of American Christians don’t believe Satan is real. If Satan is to be resisted, if we are going to stand against the devil, we have got to watch and pray; we have got to be vigilant.

“Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” There are some key things in this verse that you need to get a hold of. First, the devil prowls around. Prowl carries the idea of secrecy or moving about in darkness. It has the idea of moving about in a predatory manner usually in an unlawful manner. Second, the devil is like a roaring lion. The lion is a very cool animal. He is the king of the jungle, but there are some things you may not know about the lion that we can draw some very close comparisons to Satan. The lion is not a very fast animal – about 35 mph. His favorite meals are wildebeests and gazelles which can run about 50 mph. So how do lions catch dinner? Stealth. Lions are very good at hiding; they blend in well with their surroundings. They stalk their prey to get as close as possible and then run at them with a burst of speed. The lion surprises his food, catches them, and devours them. Satan roars like a lion to scare you, but he is tied to a chain held by Christ. Satan can tempt you, but “No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.”  (1 Cor. 10:13) Satan may be the prince of the power of the air and the lion may be the king of the jungle, but Jesus is the lion of the tribe of Judah, Jesus is the King of kings. Fourth, the devil is seeking whom he may devour. He is on a mission.  He wants to destroy you. Devour gives us the idea of completely eating up. Satan wants to totally consume you. Don’t be lulled into a false sense of security.

Peter has warned us and given the reason for the warning. Satan wants to defeat you, discredit you, and destroy you. Be aware of this and don’t be caught off guard.

An Introduction to 1 Peter (Part 1)

You can listen to the podcast for this message here.

We kick off a new series today that I’m really excited about. We dive into 1 Peter. So much is known about this man. Many Christians have heard of him and may even know some things about him. Who did Peter write to in his first letter, and why? What is going on? In this study we will answer those questions and many more.

We begin in 1 Peter 1:1-2a that says, “Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to those who reside as aliens, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, who are chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, by the sanctifying work of the Spirit.”

First things first. Let’s look at Peter’s background. He was originally named Simon and he was the son of Jonah according to John 1:42. He had a brother named Andrew. He was married, but Scripture does not mention her name. Jesus healed his mother-in-law of a high fever as recorded in Luke 4:39. He was a fisherman that made that life changing decision to follow Christ while entertaining Jesus on his boat in the Sea of Galilee. In Acts 4:13, the elders in Jerusalem called Peter, “uneducated and untrained.” Peter was part of the inner circle of Jesus and is always listed first in Scripture when talking about Peter, James, and John. He is generally considered the leader of the apostles and most certainly is the first to speak. When he had questions, he asked. In Matt. 15:15 Peter admitted his ignorance at Jesus’ teaching; in Luke 5:8 he confessed his sinfulness. Peter was with James and John at the transfiguration and also heard the voice of God on what he called the holy mount in his second letter. Peter didn’t quite understand the resurrection that Jesus taught. We see Peter’s faith waver as he walks on the water. We see his frailty in the garden when he fell asleep after Jesus asked him to watch and pray. Everyone recalls that Peter denied Jesus three times. It was Peter that cut the ear off of Malchus that Jesus subsequently fixed. When told of the empty tomb, Peter ran and looked, but failed to understand its significance. Seeing Jesus on the shore after His resurrection, Peter dives into the water and swims to shore. Too often we focus on the negative aspects of Peter, but Peter was a great man for God; a great man of God. It was Peter that was recognized as the leader of the disciples. He was an apostle of Christ, a messenger of Christ. It was Peter who first recognized Jesus as Messiah in Matt. 16. It was Peter that preached at Pentecost quoting Old Testament scriptures in Joel and Psalms that resulted in over 3000 Jews being saved. At the gate Beautiful, it was Peter who saw the lame man begging for money and said, I do not possess silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you: In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene – walk.”  (Acts 3:6) It was Peter that first preached to the Gentiles and understood that God does not show partiality. (Acts 10:34) When the Pharisees wanted to make the Gentiles keep the Law by being circumcised, it was Peter that stood up and reminded them they were saved by grace and asked them, Now therefore why do you put God to the test by placing upon the neck of the disciples a yoke which neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear?”  (Acts 15:10) It was Peter that raised Dorcas from the dead.  (Acts 9:40) This gives you some understanding into who Peter really was. Peter was a great man for God.

So who is Peter writing to? Aliens or strangers that are residing in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia. These places are in modern day Turkey. We cannot be certain whether these people were Jews or Gentiles, but it seems most likely that they were predominantly Gentile. We do know for certain that they were living in places where they were not from. It will become more apparent why this makes a difference later as we study. Notice what Peter says about these aliens. They were elect or chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father. This does not mean some can get saved and some can’t. Foreknowledge comes from the Greek word prognosis which simply means knowing ahead of time. Doctors will often give you a prognosis when you are sick. This is their best prediction about your illness. The difference in a doctor and God is that God literally sees what the outcome will be. God has chosen all men to come into a personal relationship with Him through the blood of Jesus Christ. This election is available to all that will call on the name of Jesus, but not all will call on that Name.

They are elected by the sanctification of the Spirit. Sanctification is something God does through the working of the Holy Spirit. Sanctification, or being set apart for a divine purpose, works from the inside out and comes to every believer because they are saved. As sanctified saints, we are holy.  Not because of anything we did, but because of what Christ did. Our holiness is positional; we are holy because Christ is holy. Sanctification is a process. Don’t expect to live a perfect life after you have been saved. As long as we live in this body, we will battle sin. Jo. 1:8 says, If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us.” Listen to how Paul described this, “For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please.”  (Gal. 5:17) The only way to achieve any true progress toward sanctification or holiness is through spiritual growth. This spiritual growth is based upon accepting, believing and applying the truth of Scripture. In Jo. 17:17, Jesus said, “Sanctify them in the truth, Your word is truth.” Here’s how it works: you receive biblical truth from the Bible and Bible teaching; you believe it and trust it; and you apply it to your life. As you continue this process on a regular and consistent basis, you will grow spiritually, and your behavior will change. When you are convicted by the Holy Spirit or Scripture that you are doing something that you should not, or something you should, the more spiritually mature you become, the more authentic, effective, and long lasting the changes will be. This isn’t some sort of behavior modification process; it is God working in you. You begin to look at things from a biblical perspective rather than a worldly perspective. “Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from these things, he will be a vessel for honor, sanctified, useful to the Master, prepared for every good work.” (2 Tim. 2:21)

So how do we sanctify ourselves? Pray. When we are suffering or facing temptation we are weak.  Satan knows this and tries to take advantage of it. When we pray, we allow the power of God to guide us and direct us and give us His power to overcome the situation. Read, study, and meditate on the Bible.  You have to get into it and know it. When in the wilderness being tempted of the devil, Jesus quoted Scripture. Heb. 4:12 says, For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” The Word will show us where we need work. Allow the Holy Spirit to guide us. “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh.”  (Gal. 5:16)

Sanctification is the key to spiritual growth.  It is both a matter of position and progression. We are sanctified because Jesus Christ has saved us, but sanctification continues to work within to transform us into the likeness of Christ. Sanctification is the responsibility of every believer in Christ. We must choose to pursue sanctification in our life. The pursuit of it involves the surrender of the body and the will to the leading of the Holy Spirit. It takes time and is a work in progress that cannot be hurried. You cannot skip steps. Paul says it like this, Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Thes. 5:23)