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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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?

There is Hope

HopeCheck out the podcast here.

Last week we learned that it’s better if our kids listened to us. Having good, compliant, respectful kids makes parenting look easy. We shouldn’t judge a book by its cover though because looks can be deceiving. Just because you’re wealthy by the world’s standards means nothing. Money has nothing to do with wealth in God’s economy, but it is better to work hard to obtain what you do have than it is to be handed it. This morning, we’ll see some principles you probably have heard of, but maybe didn’t know came from God.

I encourage you to read Pro. 13:12-19 so we understand where Solomon is coming from.

Solomon opens up with something you probably have experienced. “Hope deferred makes the heart sick.” Everyone has hopes and dreams. Society often dictates these hopes and dreams. Get an education, get married, have kids, have a great job that fulfills you, build that dream home or what is now being called the forever home. Even in the church, we have fallen into the marks of success of defined by society. When those hopes and dreams go unrealized, sometimes we’re defined as failures or at the very least, we feel like failures. To put it into something we can readily understand, think about the promotion you feel was deserved that you didn’t get. Think about the test that you studied so hard for and came up short. Think about the mortgage you applied for that you didn’t get. Think about the ungodly decisions that have come at the hands of our elected leadership.

Solomon is talking about something far more important. The Bible goes beyond those ever changing marks of achievement where you were taught to work hard to achieve what you want. We’ve already learned that this is a good virtue to have, but there is something even more important that leads to this work ethic. As we move through this passage, we’ll see that it has to do with something Solomon has hammered on and that’s character. It’s far more important to develop virtuous character which is borne out of diligent examination of the Scriptures, seeking and listening to wise counsel, and engaging in a lifestyle of Christian community. The biblical outcome of that life long process is a maturing, growing, loving, kind, Christ like individual that lives each day passionately and zealously pursuing Christ in authenticity. Notice I said lifelong process. I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating. There are too many people in the church that give up or give in. Some folks are unwilling to stick it out. They’ve prayed for weeks and God hasn’t answered. They’ve been serving God for months and don’t see the fruit of their labor. Our fast paced society filled with “I want it now” people are unwilling to persevere for the long haul. Over the years here at C4, we’ve seen many people come and go. Folks have transferred or moved away, but that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about people that are gifted or talented to serve in particular ways, but don’t want to get involved to build something for God. People want to get in on what’s exciting and happening and growing, but it seems like they don’t want to do the work necessary to make it so. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise, real ministry is hard work. When our hopes are in things of the world, they can easily be crushed to smithereens. “But desire fulfilled is a tree of life.” We’ll see this conclusion is solidified later in v. 19. Think of those desires that are fulfilled and the feeling that you have. Joy, gratitude, peace, confidence, trust, and of course, hope. This comes from knowing who God is and His unchanging character.

In the next verse, Solomon says you don’t have to like it. “The one who despises the word will be in debt to it.” I think of people that ignore good, solid biblical guidance. This is not so much a perception issue as it is a defining issue. We are experiencing this in ways that are quite shocking. Anytime we quote the Bible in reference to almost any type of behavior we are labeled hate mongers, intolerant, judgmental, unloving, and unkind. Solomon is talking about a willingness to place yourself under the authority of the written Word of God. Just because someone doesn’t like the Bible, understand it, believe it, or follow it, doesn’t mean it’s not applicable. You can despise the law, but you still have to follow it. You can really hate stopping completely at a stop sign, but when you violate the law and get caught, you will be in debt to it. That’s the reality for lost people. People can disagree and hate the Bible, but it doesn’t make it less applicable to them. Even if they don’t know everything in it, they’re still accountable to it and so are we as believers. For us, “The one who fears the commandment will be rewarded.” This isn’t a terrified type of deal. This is reverence, respect, a willingness to trust that God knows what is going on, that He knows the best way for us to live, that He knows what’s what. Do you find it hard to do that?

Let me give you some perspective. You’re sick and go to the doctor and you trust that doctor to provide you with the medical care necessary to make you feel better. Your car breaks down and you go to the mechanic and trust him to correctly identify the problem and fix it. You trust the school teachers to adequately prepare your children to gain and understand the principles necessary to be productive members of society. You trust the bank to take care of the money you put there on deposit. So it’s not really a matter of trust because I just established that we are pretty free with our trust. Sure you might get a second opinion or you might send your child to a different school, but the bottom line is you’re still trusting. The one who may not understand the whys or the hows or the details of the Bible, but trusts in the unseen power of the One and only true God, well he will be rewarded. Don’t look for a check in the mail or anything you might actually put your hands on though. That may not be how God chooses to reward you. The for sure thing is eternity. What I’d recommend is that you put at least the same trust in the Creator of all things as you do your family practitioner, your kid’s teacher, or the bank that holds your money. Always default to God loves and cares more for you than any other living creature on this planet.

I encourage you to commit Jer. 29:11 to memory: “‘For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope.” Paul brings it home by saying, and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” (Rom. 5:5)

Back in Proverbs, “The teaching of the wise is a fountain of life.” Fountain is also translated spring which gives us the idea of a never ending source and that’s what Solomon is saying here. You’ll never be able to reach the bottom of the wisdom found in God’s Word. The water continues to flow and never runs out. Through God’s Word, we know Him more intimately. We can better understand His character and His purposes for us. We understand how to deal with the obstacles and challenges of life. His Word provides the road map, “To turn aside from the snares of death.” When you are diligent to study God’s Word, when you are diligent to walk with Christ, when you are diligent to worship God in spirit and in truth, when you are diligent to engage in Christian community, when you are diligent in your walk with Christ, you’re able to recognize the traps being set for us by Satan. Some common traps we’re faced with. I’m too far gone for God to forgive me. God will not use me. Nobody likes me or cares about me. It’s my life and my body. What I do in private is no one’s business. No one will know. I’m as good as the next guy. Solomon says, “Good understanding produces favor.” All those traps are recognized when we are engaged in the fundamental principles of the faith. You may think you’re too far gone, but 1 Jo. 1:9 reminds that, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”  You may think God won’t use you, but be like Isaiah when he said, “Here am I, send me.” We may conclude that people don’t care about us, but we go back to the truth in 1 Pet. 5:7 that tells us to cast, “All your anxiety on Him because He cares for you.” The common thread in most of the traps Satan sets is he gets us to focus on ourselves. When we have the understanding that Solomon encourages, we can recognize and address the issues. Good understanding is built on the foundation of God’s Word and in the context with which it is written.

The opposite way is just that. “The way of the treacherous is hard.” This is another understatement. He’s not talking about difficulty here as in hard to do or understand. He’s talking about overall pain and suffering involved in the way of the treacherous. Sin is slavery. Slavery is awful. And he does not necessarily mean right now. We need to think eternally rather than in the here and now. “Every prudent man acts with knowledge.” He’s cautious, not reckless. He does not get involved in things he does not know about or in things that are not his concern. “A fool displays folly.” Again, opposite of the person that acts with wisdom. The next verse is a reference to the olden days, but has a very modern application. “A wicked messenger falls into adversity, but a faithful envoy brings healing.”

We need to remind ourselves that we haven’t always had the conveniences we enjoy today. We have people alive today that have always had the internet, have always had instantaneous communication, have always had the ability to get information right now. You talk to someone that has lived four decades and they didn’t always have cable TV, cell phones, or computers. You talk to someone five decades old and they didn’t always have color TV and their telephone was attached to a wall and their number had letters in it. You talk to someone six decades old and they were only beginning to watch coast to coast live news. Messengers were sent on foot or horseback to hand carry the news back in Solomon’s day. So let’s bring this verse to 2015. If we only shared the judgment of God, or the bad news, we’re doing everyone a disservice. This also applies to half truths, scriptural misrepresentation, gossip, and just plain old lies. I saw this humorously depicted when one of my Facebook friends posted a quote. “The trouble with quotes on the internet is you never know if they are genuine.” (Abraham Lincoln) Solomon closes in vs. 18-19.

There is hope. If you receive instruction from Scripture, you will be better off. If you don’t pay attention to those people around you that are wiser, older, and more experienced, you’ll find yourself on the impoverished side of life. Solomon is not necessarily talking about poverty, but that may happen too. He’s more concerned with how we live our lives; with how we behave, with how we interact with others so that they may know the hope we have in Christ.

The End is Near

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Peter has given us instructions to arm ourselves with the mind of Christ. He has told us that living the Christian life is hard but our actions reveal whom we truly belong to. Peter has spent a lot of time discussing how to act in the face of adversity and he continues this line of thought, but he adds another element that we are to be concerned about.

Take a good look at 1 Peter 4:7-11.

Peter tells us the end is near. Remember Chicken Little? The little chicken of the fairy tale is concerned because she gets hit in the head with an acorn and thinks the sky is falling. There are several versions to the fairly tale, some with not so nice endings that include all of the characters (Henny Penny, Cocky Locky, Ducky Lucky, etc.) getting eaten by Foxy Loxy. In the happy ending version, the moral of the story is to have courage. When Peter says the end is near, I believe he is telling us to have courage. He says, “Be of sound judgment and sober spirit for the purpose of prayer.”  Because the end is near. When some people hear that statement, they think of a guy with a sign walking the streets.  They believe he has lost his mind or is some kind of religious fanatic. The end is near so we need to “be of sound judgment and sober spirit.” This is the opposite of how we were, this is how we are to be. Sound judgment comes from the word that means in your right mind or having a clear mind. It is the same word to describe the man that Jesus healed of demon possession in Luke 8:35, “They came to Jesus, and found the man from whom the demons had gone out, sitting down at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind.”

We are also to have a “sober spirit.” Three times in this letter Peter uses the word sober. In light of the context of this letter, you can certainly apply it to not being drunk.  Remember, that is how we used to be. Sober also provides us with the idea that we are to be self-controlled. We are to, “Be of sound judgment and sober spirit for the purpose of prayer.”  As we study Peter’s letter, we have to keep in mind what is going on in the world. Christians are facing all kinds of trials, afflictions, persecutions, and suffering. The end is near and we need to pray. I wonder how many people pray only when they think the end is near? I wonder how many people begin to pray when that loved one gets sick. I wonder how many people begin to pray after that child wanders. A clear mind and a spirit of self control equip us to pray.

Peter reminds us that the end is near, and now he moves to a manifestation of love. In 1:22 Peter said, “Fervently love one another from the heart.” Now Peter says in v. 8, “Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins.” Jesus taught that love was of utmost importance.  In Matt. 22:35-40 Jesus said, “One of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, ‘Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?’ And He said to him, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND.’ This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.’ On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.” In 1 Cor. 13, Paul uses the word love 9 times in 13 verses. Love is a fruit of the Spirit according to Gal. 5:22. Peter says, “Keep fervent in your love.” Fervent means constant. It describes a word that means stretched out or extended. Our love for one another keeps stretching both in endurance and in depth. Paul told us in Eph. 3:17-19, “so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God.” We are able to love because Christ first loved us.  (1 Jo. 4:19) What does love do? Love covers a multitude of sins. We aren’t loving when we delight in revealing the sins of others. Cover in this verse has the idea of a veil. Love means that we are kind to others’ imperfections. When we truly love someone, we don’t see his or her shortcomings. A picture of this covering is founding Genesis. Noah had planted a vineyard and had drank wine from the vineyard and got drunk and removed his clothing. “Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father, and told his two brothers outside.  But Shem and Japheth took a garment and laid it upon both their shoulders and walked backward and covered the nakedness of their father; and their faces were turned away, so that they did not see their father’s nakedness.”  (Gen. 9:22-23) Love covers a multitude of sin. Peter is not saying that you can do anything you want and justify it by quoting this verse. When we love one another, it makes it easier to forgive one another.

Not only does love cover a multitude of sin, but love causes us to, “Be hospitable, one to another without complaint.” In our culture today, we don’t employ this much anymore, but in Peter’s day, it was extremely important. The inns of Peter’s day were few and far between. Those that were around were often unsavory in reputation. Opening up your home to a traveling evangelist or teacher was how they were able to do ministry. The expansion of the church was connected with the hospitality of the people in the church. In the didache, a first century Christian writing, hospitality is defined like this, “But concerning the apostles and prophets, so do ye according to the ordinance of the Gospel.  Let every apostle, when he cometh to you, be received as the Lord; but he shall not abide more than a single day, or if there be need, a second likewise; but if he abide three days, he is a false prophet.  And when he departeth let the apostle receive nothing save bread, until he findeth shelter; but if he ask money, he is a false prophet.” We shouldn’t view hospitality in the same legalistic dogmatic way, but this gives you an idea of the importance of opening up your home to another Christian. In Rom. 12:13 Paul encourages us to, “Contribute to the needs of the saints, practice hospitality.” This instruction is directed at Christians. Don’t complain about it either. Complain in this verse is the same word as murmur. Hospitality means we are to give a cordial and generous reception to our guests.

The end is near, we should manifest Christ’s love, and we should use the gifts God gave you. Peter says, in vs. 10-11, “As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. Whoever speaks, is to do so as one who is speaking the utterances of God; whoever serves is to do so as one who is serving by the strength which God supplies; so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belongs the glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.” Peter divides gifts into two broad categories: speaking and serving. You need to really get a couple of things. First, everyone has received a gift. This refers to every gift God has given you. It includes those special talents that come from God, but it particularly includes those gifts that come from the Holy Spirit. What’s the difference you might ask? All of us have natural abilities, strengths and weaknesses. We have folks that can decorate cakes, that are very artistic, that can make a boring floor come alive with tile, and make beautiful clothing. These are God given abilities. Second, you are to, “Employ it in serving one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.” “Employ it in serving” comes from the word where we get deacon which means to serve. Whatever we do, whatever gifts God has given us, we are to serve one another. We are stewards of our gifts. A steward is responsible for the use of something and will be required to give an account of the way that gift was used.

Peter gives two broad categories of these gifts: speaking and serving. On the serving side, Peter seems to give a high priority to hospitality since he mentions it by name. Gifts of the Spirit are to focus on serving God by serving others. This seems to be lost today as people seek to “find their gift.” Some would believe they are entitled to be used by the church in the area they have been gifted. It gives them a sense of identity and turns those gifts into commodities. The idea that these gifts have been given for the service of the Lord have been lost. Why are we to use our gifts to serve Christ? “So that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belongs the glory and dominion forever and ever.” In all we do, we should glorify the Lord. The gifts God has given us are to be used in serving others for the glory of God.

The end is near so we should be manifesting Christ’s love by using the gifts God gave us. Are you doing that? Do you know where God has gifted you? Are you serving Him or are you neglecting the gifts God has entrusted you?

Two Buts

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Peter provided some significant and challenging instructions in vs. 8-12. This is the type of personal behavior that we should demonstrate as a manifestation of Christ’s life changing power that resides within us. Peter now shifts to practical application.

1 Peter 3:13-15 says, “Who is there to harm you if you prove zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are blessed. AND DO NOT FEAR THEIR INTIMIDATION, AND DO NOT BE TROUBLED, but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence.”

Just a quick recap from last week. Peter told us to keep our tongue from evil and lips from speaking deceit, turn away from evil and do good; we are to seek peace and pursue it. We are not to participate in any form of evil and the idea is that the Lord is our protector and we are doing good in service to Him. Obviously Peter knows what is going on in the world and he says, “But even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are blessed.” Blessed to suffer. Wow, that’s an oxymoron, but Peter is speaking from personal experience. Remember after Jesus established the church, the apostles were performing many signs and wonders. The Jewish big wigs didn’t like what they were doing. They were thrown in jail, but were released by the Holy Spirit and were found preaching in the market place. So the Sanhedrin, the Sadducees, the Pharisees, the whole senate, and the Jewish elders got together and decided what to with them. It was decided to simply beat them and they were told in Acts 5:40, “Not to speak in the name of Jesus.” Acts 5:41: “So they went on their way from the presence of the Council, rejoicing that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for His name.” Suffering and hardship did not deter them. I think it made them even more determined to do the work of the Lord. It sure isn’t like that anymore. People look for an excuse not to come to church, look for reasons why they can’t serve. Perhaps the fire of the Lord has gone out, but that’s not possible is it? Acts 5:42 goes on to say, “And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they kept right on teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ.” They were being the church that Jesus intended it to be.

Peter says, “Do not fear their intimidation, and do not be troubled.” The Apostles weren’t the first ones that had the idea that serving God was what Christians ought to do. How about the three Hebrew children? In Dan. 3:17-18 Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego said, “If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire; and He will deliver us out of your hand, O king.  But even if He does not, let it be known to you, O king, that we are not going to serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.” They had standards. They weren’t going to let a little thing like being burnt to death deter them from serving the Lord. Paul told Timothy, “For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline.”  (2 Tim. 1:7) The idea is that we should be motivated by God’s power rather than focus on our weaknesses. God is able to work through us if we’ll only allow Him. The whole idea Peter is expressing is don’t let the man get you down or keep you down. You do what is right regardless of the consequences.

Peter answers his rhetorical question by telling us what not to do, now he tells us to do be ready. V. 15 says, “But sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence.” There’s that great “but” word again. “Sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts.” Sanctify comes from the word that means to separate from profane things and dedicate to God. Set your heart on God. Peter ties this verse to the previous verse by saying but. This is the contrast. When you set your heart on God, when you focus on Him, any fears you may have, any apprehension that may come, any doubt about what you are doing will all be dissuaded or put to rest, God will put your mind at rest and keep you calm even as you face trials. Pro. 18:10 says “The name of the LORD is a strong tower; the righteous runs into it and is safe.” Set your heart on God and be ready. When your heart and your entire being is focused on God, you will be noticed. When you’re noticed, you need to be ready to explain why you are the way you are. Notice that we are not to get ready, we aren’t to call someone, we aren’t to read a book or go to a conference, we are to, “always be[ing] ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you.” Defense comes from the Greek word apologia where we get our English word apology. It is the ability to make a reasoned statement or argument. Always. That means always. No special time to prepare a defense, no study time, no delays. Notice the verse says, “to everyone who asks you.” Anyone has the right to ask another on what grounds he regards his religion as true. The real meaning behind this verse is that we are to always be ready, willing, and able to give strong reasons why we decided to follow Christ. This is not just how we got saved. It is how and why we got saved. What caused us to embrace the fact that Jesus is the Christ and what caused us to make the decision to follow Him? It is not an intrusion into our personal lives.

When asked this question, some will say, “Religion is a private matter.” “It’s personal.” “I don’t discuss religion.” “That’s not what I believe.” Maybe you’ve heard those very things. We are to, “give an account for the hope that is with us with gentleness and reverence.” People will approach you about religion in many ways. Some want to ridicule you for believing. Some want to criticize you. Some want to harass you. We are to respond gently and recognize the importance of the subject. Pro. 15:1 reminds us that, “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.”

So the question for us today is, are you ready? Are you willing?

Being a Servant

butlerIf I said the word servant, what comes to mind? Do you think, “Man, having a servant sure would be nice.” Do you think of the TV shows like Hazel, The Brady Bunch, Family Affair, The Jetsons, or the Fresh Prince of Bel Air? Each of these series had maids or butlers – what we would call a servant. Is that what a servant is?

What does is mean to be a real servant? Jesus had some radical teaching regarding servants. He said things like, if you want to be great, you’ve got t be a good servant. (Matthew 20:26) He said the greatest people among you will be your servants. (Matthew 23:11) In Mark 9:35 Jesus said, “If anyone wants to be first, he shall be last of all and servant of all.” Jesus had a different way of looking at servants. The word for servant in the New Testament is the Greek word diakonos which you may be familiar with. It is translated as servant, deacon, and minister.

Now you get to the heart of what a servant really is. A true servant is one that wants to serve his master. The application is widespread. It can be applied to the marriage relationship, the parent child relationship, the employee employer relationship, and it can be applied in the church. A servant doesn’t question the master. The servant serves at the pleasure of the master. And that’s the rub isn’t it? I believe many people want to serve, but they want to serve under their own terms. That’s not being a servant. Do you want to make your husband be the best he can be? Do you want your wife to be the very best she can be? What about your children. Do you want them to be the best they can be? Do you want to make your boss look great? All of these questions can be answered in the light of servanthood.

Remember it was Jesus that said He came to serve. Even in the Garden of Gethsemane when things were looking really bad for the Son of God, He determined that it was better to serve the will of the Master. That’s real servanthood.

What about you. Are you willing to serve at the pleasure of your spouse, your employer, your pastor? Or are you willing to serve as long as it is on your terms?

We’re all servants in one way or another. Let’s serve like Jesus.