September 28, 2014

Don't Judge Me! - Sep 28, 2014

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Our society is made up of many, many people. Within our society individuals hold differing opinions about a vast array of topics and ideas. But one idea that society seems to agree upon is that we shouldn’t judge people.

“Don’t judge me,” has become a catchphrase that gets thrown around quite a bit in our day and age. But sometimes it’s hard to determine exactly what a person means.

It helps to have a little context to determine exactly what a person is saying about not being judged. For example, an anonymous writer once wrote…

“Don’t judge me by my past, I don’t live there anymore.”

I think we can all agree that judging a person because of things they’ve said or done in the past is a mistake. People make mistakes. And people change. None of us would like to be defined by the stupid things we’ve said, or the foolish things we’ve done.

Jesus himself warned his disciples about judging people with this sort of shallow and unforgiving judgment. He said,

“…Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you” (Matthew 7:1-2 NIV).
But sometimes when our society says we shouldn’t judge people, they really mean is that it’s wrong to tell someone that what they’re doing is bad. Who are YOU to tell ME that I’m a bad person? Stop judging me by YOUR morals.

This way of thinking would be correct if we were just imposing our own personal standards on the actions of others. But when we apply GOD’S standards on the actions of others, the whole conversation changes.

We DON’T have the right to insist that other people do things our way, or use the words WE deem appropriate. But God does. God is the Creator of all things: galaxies and planets; earth, sea, and sky; plants, animals, and every human being. As the Creator of all things, God has EVERY right to tell us how to live our lives.
In America we cherish our freedom. For the most part, we can do and say whatever we want. If we want to be self centered and rude, we can do that. If we want to say whatever comes to mind, regardless of what damage our mouths may cause, we can. If we want to live lives dedicated to doing whatever feels good at the moment, we can. And for the most part, our government says we have to let others do the same.

But that doesn’t make it right in God’s eyes. And just because WE CAN, doesn’t mean there won’t be consequences in the end. The sinner who stands before God on the day of Final Judgment and screams, “Who are YOU to judge ME?!”, will find that God’s judgment is final and all the human opinion in the world doesn’t change what is truly right and good.
As followers of the true God, you and I are obligated to use our voices to tell the world what is right and wrong. God commands us to do this because he loves the human race, and wants us all to see how messed up and sinful we really are. He wants us to see how sinful we are so that we can see how gracious He was when he sent His Son to take our sins away through his suffering and death.

Don’t let society cloud your mind when it comes to “judging others.” When we say what God says, we’re not haters. We’re not judging people unfairly. When we really speak the truth in love, we’re doing what our Creator and Savior has called us to do.
As Christians we know that when Jesus suffered on the cross he was suffering God’s judgment for each and every sin ever committed by human hands. We know that through faith in Jesus we get credit for his sinless life. We know that each and every time we bring our sins to God, his response is the same. He says, “Be at peace, in Christ your sin is forgiven.”

But if we begin to see our sins as “okay” and stop bringing them to Christ for forgiveness, then our sins will remain on us, and our faith will die.

This is exactly what God doesn’t want to happen to his people. And so in our Bible reading for today, Jesus teaches us how to respond to sins committed by our fellow Christians.

May the Holy Spirit bless our hearts and minds through our Savior’s teaching. Amen.

Matthew 18:15-20 (NASB)

15       “If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother.
16       “But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed.
17       “If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.
18       “Truly I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.
19       “Again I say to you, that if two of you agree on earth about anything that they may ask, it shall be done for them by My Father who is in heaven.
20       “For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst.”
To begin with, it’s good to remember that Jesus spoke these words to his followers. This was how Jesus wanted his people to respond to sins among them. The American idea of living your own way and letting everyone else live theirs doesn’t apply in God’s family. It is our responsibility to hold each other accountable, for the safety of our own souls, and the safety of those around us.

Jesus says that when I see one of his sheep starting to wander, I need to do something about it.

First of all, I’m to go and confront that person privately. I know most of us aren’t fans of confrontation, but there’s really no other word for it. Even when we use the most carefully chosen words, in the most compassionate tone, if we’re saying “Hey, what you’re doing here is SIN” we’re confronting a person. There’s just no way around it.

But Jesus says this confrontation doesn’t have to be public. Not at the start. In fact, it shouldn’t be public at the start. It should be one concerned Christian to another.

And in so many cases, this is all that it will take. The sheep know the voice of their shepherd, right? It just takes one of us to be God’s voice.
But sometimes sin has taken a deeper hold. Sometimes sin has muffled the ears of the sheep, and it takes a small chorus of voices to make God’s voice heard.

Jesus says that if the first effort fails, I should take one or two other people and try again.

In a court of law you can call a single witness to the stand, and that will mean SOMETHING to the jury. But if you call multiple witnesses to the stand and they all say the SAME THING, that carries more weight.

Maybe you’ve experienced this in your own life. The voice of one person can easily be dismissed, but when a number of people who you know care about you are saying the same thing, that sinks in a little deeper.

And in many cases, this is all that it takes. A small chorus echoing the words of our God and Savior reminds the wandering Christian what his Savior’s voice sounds like.
But sometimes it takes the whole choir.

Jesus says that if a Christian refuses to hear some of the congregation, the whole congregation needs to get involved.

Remember, this isn’t about ganging up on a person to publicly humiliate them. Jesus is talking about tearing a person away from the grip of sin and hell and restoring them to peace and forgiveness in the family of God. This is the unified voice of a person’s fellowship telling them, “Hey, watch out! You’re heading down a soul killing path! Turn around!”

Sadly, when it gets to this point it’s often too late. A person mired in a sinful way of life sees hands reached out to help as the hands of enemies, and not the hands of friends. All sorts of things get in the way of repentance at this point. Pride and embarrassment serve to drive a person deeper into the hole they’ve fallen into. And that’s why as a congregation we need to proceed with the utmost care to make sure people can see that Christ’s love is the driving force behind what we’re doing.

Even at this point, the Holy Spirit has the power to change hearts. The power to scoop up a sinner from the brink of unbelief and place them safely back in the arms of our Savior.

And this is what Jesus had in mind when he laid out this template for his disciples to follow. Jesus once told a parable about sheep. He said,

What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance” (Luke 15:4-7 ESV).
But sadly, despite our efforts, sheep still slip away.

It’s at this point that the fellowship is forced to change how they think. If a sinner remains hardened against God’s correction, Jesus says that the fellowship is no longer to receive that person as a follower of Christ.

In verse 18  Jesus says,

“Truly I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven” (Matthew 18:18 NASB).

In other words, when a congregation says that an individual is now excluded from the fellowship, and severed from Christ’s salvation, it’s not the congregation that is shutting the door to heaven. Rather, God has already done that as a result of the sinner’s refusal to be corrected and restored by faith in Christ’s atoning sacrifice.

On the other hand, when a sinner repents, it is not the congregation that is opening the door of heaven. Rather, God has already done that by moving the sinner to repent of their sin and trust in Christ for forgiveness. The congregation is merely announcing what has already taken place.
Now, if as a congregation we take our Savior’s words to heart, and take action to safeguard each other from the faith destroying effects of sin—we’re gonna get called “haters.” We’re gonna get labeled as people who judge others.

But what would you want your fellow Christians to do if YOU were the sinner? If YOU were being lulled to sleep by Satan’s lies? What would you want your fellow Christians to do if YOU were the wandering sheep edging closer and closer to that lurking, black shape on the edge of the forest?

You’d want them to call you back! You’d want them to do everything they could to pull you back to safety! So dear Christians, for goodness sake, do to others what you would want them to do for you! Speak up in love! Don’t let indecision and fear cause you to drag your feet until it’s too late.

Reach out! Be God’s hands. Be God’s voice. Speak the law. Speak the Gospel. And let the Savior who has made his home in your heart shepherd his lambs!
When sheep wander, it’s our responsibility to go after them and try to bring them back safely to foot of Christ’s cross. May Christ Jesus help us to fulfill this responsibility out of love for our fellow sheep. And may Jesus help us to do it the way our Savior directs.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, your words aren’t hard to understand. But they can be hard for us to follow. Our spirits are willing, but our flesh is weak. Empower us with your love, and by your Holy Spirit so that we hold our fellow Christians dear. Empower us with your forgiveness, that we might also forgive them, and reach out to restore them to repentance and faith. And when we stumble, and are in need of correction Lord, help us to hear your voice clearly. Lead us to turn away from sin, and back to you in faith. Amen.

The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will keep your hearts, and your minds, in Christ Jesus.

September 21, 2014

I Won't Let You Go - Sep 21, 2014

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Today we take up our last meditation on Peter’s first letter. As we’ve noted from the beginning, and seen through Peter’s words, the apostle wrote this letter to encourage Christians who were facing persecution because of their faith.

There are many reasons why Peter was particularly qualified to encourage suffering  Christians. One of the reasons was that Peter himself had endured persecution. He knew what it was like to suffer in Christ’s name, for the message of forgiveness.
Peter was among the first of the apostles to be arrested in Jerusalem. He and John were going to the Temple for worship one day, when they met a crippled beggar. Peter had no silver or gold to offer him, but in the name of Christ he restored the cripple and made him walk again.

For this miraculous act of kindness, and the preaching of the Gospel which followed, Peter and John were arrested and dragged before the Jewish council to explain themselves.
Not long after that, all twelve apostles were arrested and thrown in jail for preaching Christ’s message to the people. But in the middle of the night the Lord sent an angel to open the doors of the prison. The apostles were then directed by this angel to go and preach Christ’s message of forgiveness right in the Temple courts.

And so, in the morning Peter and the apostles were again arrested and dragged before the council. This time they didn’t get off so easy. They were commanded not to preach in Jesus’ name anymore, and were beaten before being released. Instead of being frustrated, Peter and the apostles considered this an honor to suffer in the name of their Savior.
But then their trials grew hotter.

Stephen was stoned to death by a mob for his preaching.

A man named Saul began to hunt Christians down, having them jailed, and even executed for their faith that Jesus was the Messiah.

King Herod got in on the action by seizing James, Peter’s long time fishing partner, friend, and cousin. Herod had James beheaded.

And when Herod saw that this pleased many in Jerusalem, he had Peter taken into custody as well. It was the time of the Passover, and it looked like Peter was destined to face the same thing his Savior did—death at the hands of the religious authorities.

But again, our Lord sent an angel to release Peter from jail, that he might continue to proclaim forgiveness of sins in the name of Christ Jesus.
Yes indeed, Peter was qualified to encourage suffering Christians. He was one of their number. His sins had been washed away through what Christ endured on the cross. He too had been promised eternal life at the end of his earthly pilgrimage. But Peter had learned from experience that the road to eternal glory passed through the valley of earthly suffering. And though the Holy Spirit would go with his people on that road, it would still be a hard one.

Like the apostle Paul later testified after being stoned and left for dead,

“…We must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God” (Acs 14:22 NKJV).

But in all that Peter suffered, he had the promise of Christ to steady his soul. Peter knew that the same Jesus who had suffered and died to take away his sins would not leave him alone in life. His dearest Jesus would not let him go.

And so in his final words to the suffering Christians of Asia Minor, Peter encourages them to stand firm in the faith, for he knew that the Lord would not abandon them either.

1 Peter 5:6-14 (NASB)

6Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time, 7casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you.
8Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. 9But resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same experiences of suffering are being accomplished by your brethren who are in the world.
10After you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish you. 11To Him be dominion forever and ever. Amen.
12Through Silvanus, our faithful brother (for so I regard him), I have written to you briefly, exhorting and testifying that this is the true grace of God. Stand firm in it!
13She who is in Babylon, chosen together with you, sends you greetings, and so does my son, Mark. 14Greet one another with a kiss of love. Peace be to you all who are in Christ.
When you go on a journey, you usually pack a bag. In this bag you put things that you’ll want to have on the way. If you’re hiking across the barren wilderness, you might pack some food, a bottle of water, and a change of socks.

With his final words here, Peter offers the suffering Christians of Asia Minor a bag of things they’ll want to take with them for the hard journey through life.

In this bag we find Peter has packed a picture of the Almighty God, a satellite phone, and a bag of some good strong coffee
The picture of the Almighty God is the first thing the Christians of Asia Minor were to consider. Peter says,

6Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time,” (1 Peter 5:6 NASB).

The picture of God that Peter puts in their bag is a strong image. It depicts God as the Creator of the world, and the ruler over all authorities. It is a picture of a God who cannot be opposed. A God whose hand can, and will crush all opposition to his good and gracious will.

And Peter says, “Don’t stand up against this God, but rather, nestle yourself under his powerful hand. “ For against the Almighty, none can stand, but in his safe keeping, none can be lost.

To be humble, is to be lowly. To accept what God gives without complaint. Without rebellion. But with faith that God is good, knows what he is doing.

To be humble toward God is to hear his promise of complete forgiveness in the cross of Christ’s , and believe it. To be humble toward God is to hear his promise of final deliverance, and trust that promise. To be humble toward God is to hear him, and do what he says.

The opposite would be to reject God’s Word for our own thoughts and desires. Arrogance is to say to God, “I know better. I can steer my life in a better way than you can. I’ve got a better idea.”

But like Peter has already said, “GOD IS OPPOSED TO THE PROUD, BUT GIVES GRACE TO THE HUMBLE” (1 Peter 5:5b NASB).

If you’re going to find your way through the wilderness of life all the way to God’s side, you have to listen to the guide! When we humble ourselves before God, throwing our own sinful thoughts and desires out the window, then his strong and gracious hands will carry us safely along this journey. In due time, God will deliver us from the problems we find ourselves in, and he will lift us up far higher than we could imagine possible.

Keep this picture of the Almighty God in your bag. Let it remind you of who has bought you back from sin and hell. Let it remind you of the powerful God that has promised you forgiveness and eternal life through the blood of his Son.
A satellite phone is the second thing the Christians of Asia Minor were to pull out of their bag. Peter says,

7casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:7 NASB).

When life presses in and worries surround us, one of the gretest blessings that we have is being able to share our worries with other people. But sometimes that doesn’t help. Our closest friends and confidants may not have the answers. Or their advice may fail. Sometimes they’re just not there to listen. That’s why Peter doesn’t just throw in a cell-phone. Instead he counsels the Christians of Asia Minor to use a phone that reaches right out of this world—to God himself.

Jesus knew that people worry. And he didn’t want them to. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus commanded his followers three different times not to worry (see Matthew 6:25-34).

Peter directs the Christians of Asia Minor to pray their worries to God instead—“Cast all your anxiety ON HIM.”

The Greek word that Peter uses here for “casting” is the same one that is used to describe how Judas threw the silver coins back into the temple after he realized what was going to happen to Jesus. That’s what we’re supposed to do with our worries. We’re too throw them away from ourselves, and into the capable hands of the God who has already saved us from ourselves.

Or to use another picture, think of the office. You’ve been given a project that just puzzles you. No matter how many hours you spend working on it, no progress ever seems to come. And so you pick up the folder and take it across the room to your boss. You explain how you can’t seem to make heads or tails of the situation, and you need some help. You plop the thick folder down on your boss’s desk—and you walk away.

Sure, the project isn’t finished, but now it’s in the right hands.

This is what Peter counsels his fellow Christians to do with their anxieties. Bring them to the One who has all the answers. Leave them with the One who wrote the master plan. For unlike many a work boss, this One cares.

“casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7 NASB).
The bag of strong coffee is the third thing the Christians of Asia Minor find in their travel bag. Peter says,

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

Our journey through this life isn’t just a journey across a perilous landscape of deep ravines and slippery slopes. In life we have a formidable enemy who wants to eat us. The oldest of God’s enemies, the devil, is loose in this world. And he wants, very much, to tear us limb from limb, away from the God we’ve come to know and trust.

To face this enemy, Peter says we have to stay sober and alert. It would be nice if the devil were just a hungry lion we could see with our eyes and keep away from. But unlike the bad guys in the movies, Satan operates more subtly—behind the scenes.

Satan comes to us in both good fortune, and in tragedy. He comes to find the weakness in our faith and exploit it. He comes to drive a wedge of sin between us and God, to pry us apart, and kill our faith in God’s goodness, and our faith in God’s Son.

On the Christians of Asia Minor, the devil was using open persecution. He wanted them to feel stupid, and ridiculed for their faith in an invisible God. He wanted them to feel real pain and suffering for trusting in Jesus as the Messiah. And he wanted them to question God. Why isn’t God doing something? Why doesn’t God come to my rescue NOW!? Satan wanted them to question whether it was really true that Jesus was God’s Son, sent to redeem them from sin and hell. And he wanted them to feel alone in the world. 

Ultimately Satan wanted them to decide it wasn’t worthy it. That they could just forget about the Gospel, and avoid all this suffering.

To this, Peter says, stay awake! And watch out! If you’re not in the middle of a crisis of faith right now, beware! The devil has one waiting for you. And don’t think you’re the only one facing these things. You’re NOT alone. Peter says,

“…resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same experiences of suffering are being accomplished by your brethren who are in the world.
10After you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish you. 11To Him be dominion forever and ever. Amen” (1 Peter 5:9-10 NASB).

Satan likes to make us think that whatever trial of faith we’re going through right now, is going to last forever. But it’s not true. The trials we face in life are temporary, not eternal. The promise of eternal glory in Christ, that is what is eternal! And God refuses to let go of those he has called through the Gospel of Christ. He didn’t pay for our sins by the blood of his sinless Son just to leave us now! He’s not going to let us go!

In good time God promises that he will make us whole again. He will support our wobbly steps. He will give us his strength. And he will plant our feet firmly on the ground. The one thing he’s NOT going to do is just let us go. He’s to good for that. Too faithful.
Peter knew this from experience. The things that Peter put in the bag for the Christians of Asia Minor—humility, prayer, and sober alertness—those were things that Jesus had already given to him.

Peter wasn’t humble before he met Christ. He was an arrogant braggard. He once told Jesus that he had no business going tot he cross. Peter didn’t cast all his worries on Jesus in the beginning either. Instead, he told Jesus to go away—that he was too dirty a sinner to have Christ hanging around him. And Peter certainly didn’t have a sober and alert spirit. He was the disciple who lasted out with his sword in the Garden of Gethsemane, violently cutting off the ear of another man. He was the disciple who ran away from Jesus when the soldiers came. He was the disciple who later followed right into the courtyard of the high Priest, ignoring Jesus’ warning that he would deny Jesus three times. Ignoring the fact that Satan himself had asked permission to sift Peter like wheat, and find all his impurities. And find them he did when Peter swore on oath that he didn’t know this Jesus.

In the face of persecution, Peter had failed miserably. Satan had won.

But Peter’s Savior wouldn’t let him go. After having suffered and died for Peter’s sins, Jesus found Peter again. And on a small strand of beach on the Sea of Galilee, Jesus reassured Peter that his sins, great though they were, had all been atone for. Jesus made Peter whole again. Jesus confirmed him, strengthened him, and established him as a shepherd under Christ. A redeemed sinner, tasked with tending God’s flock.

Peter knew that Jesus doesn’t abandon his people. And this is why Peter tells the suffering Christians of Asia Minor to, “Stand firm in the faith!” You have been chosen. Stand firm in Christ! He will not let you go. After the pain of this life comes the glory of Christ, and the peace that will never end.
And so in closing our study of Peter’s first letter, I encourage us all to take these words to heart. Many have come before us. The parade of souls saved by God’s love is long. Many have endured persecution and trial, and come through it by God’s power. So keep on trusting in the Christ you have come to know through the Gospel. The God of love and forgiveness. He’s holding you. And he won’t let you go.
Peace be to you all who are in Christ.


The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts, and your minds, in Christ Jesus.

September 14, 2014

The Shepherds and the Flock - Sep 14, 2014

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When I was a kid we used to visit my grandparents in Faulkton, South Dakota. Out in back of the house my uncle Mike had a couple of dogs that he took care of.

These weren’t show dogs. They were what you’d call “mutts”. And they were a bit of a rescue effort. Whoever had owned these dogs previously had treated them harshly, and it showed.

I can’t remember the names of the dogs, but I do remember that one of them was missing an eye. You had to be careful when you approached him. His hearing wasn’t so good, so if you came up on his blindside you were likely to startle the little beast and get yourself bitten. And even if you approached from the right side, more often than not the dog would slink away from your touch.

That’s not the way it’s supposed to be. Dog is supposed to be man’s best friend, greeting its owner with excitement and energy, not slinking away in fear. Clearly, there is a right way to treat animals, and a wrong way.
And the same is true when it comes to the people of God’s Church. There’s a right way for us to treat one another which leads to peace, harmony, and spiritual growth. And there’s a wrong way to treat each another which leads to friction, fear, and spiritual stagnation.

In our sermon reading for today, the Apostle Peter teaches the right way to be a leader in God’s Church, and also how the flock should interact with their shepherds, and one another.

1 Peter 5:1-5 (NASB)

1Therefore, I exhort the elders among you, as your fellow elder and witness of the sufferings of Christ, and a partaker also of the glory that is to be revealed, 2shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God; and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness; 3nor yet as lording it over those allotted to your charge, but proving to be examples to the flock. 4And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.
5You younger men, likewise, be subject to your elders; and all of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, for God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble.
When Jesus described the Church of God, he didn’t use the analogy of a dog and his master. Instead, he used the analogy of a shepherd and his flock of sheep. In our text Peter uses the same comparison.

As our Savior from sin, Jesus is our caring shepherd. He leads us, he feeds us, he protects our souls from danger by continually revealing our sins to us and bringing us back to the Gospel of forgiveness.

As the Good Shepherd of many sheep, Jesus also assigns under-shepherds to watch over us. It is these under-shepherd of Christ that Peter addresses first in our text. Peter knows that leaders in the church need guidance and encouragement in their work. And Peter is well qualified to offer this.

First of all, Peter was himself an elder in the church. He knew what it was like to watch over his fellow believers. He had served as a leader in the church in Jerusalem before persecution drove the apostles out into the larger world. And there is reason to believe that Peter was writing this particular letter from the city of Rome, where we believe he served as an elder shortly before he was martyred for the faith.

Peter was also particularly suited to counsel shepherds because he had witnessed the suffering  and death of the Good Shepherd. He had been taught by Jesus himself, both before Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection, and after. He knew the importance of Christ’s cross, that it was the only way sinners could stand before God in the final judgment. And so, Peter was well qualified to teach pastors how to shepherd the flock of God, while keeping them focused on the most important message.

Peter was also qualified to counsel the leaders of God’s people because, like them, he was part of the flock also. He too looked forward to sharing in the glory of heaven when Christ returned to round up his flock on the Last Day.

It’s notable that before telling the elders of the churches how to shepherd the people, Peter reminds them of two important events: the suffering of Christ, by which their sins were atoned for, and the glory to come, which was the sure hope of everyone who looked to Christ as their Savior. This made up the prime substance of their shepherding work. Remind the people of the forgiveness they had because of Christ’s suffering in their place, and remind the people of the glory that was to come to those who held on to Christ by faith.
From these pillars of the Christian faith, Peter then moved on to address the “hows” of shepherding God’s flock.

First of all, elders in the church were to have the right attitude. They weren’t to serve as elders in the church because they were forced to. Rather, elders in the church were to serve because they chose to. They wanted to. Sure, they were elected to serve as elders by the congregation, but they were to recognize that this wasn’t just an assignment forced on them by others, this was an assignment graciously given to them by God. And if it was God’s will for them to serve as elders, then they should gladly do the will of God.

This is the right attitude when it comes to service in God’s church. And I think we all understand why attitude is important. The worker who does something because it’s “his job”, often does shoddy work, just good enough to be passable. But the worker who does something because it’s his PASSION, that’s the kind of worker you want.
Secondly, the elders of the church were to serve with the right emotion.

We’re not told which shepherds got paid, and how they got paid, and how much, or with what. But we are told that some leaders in the church were paid so that as they devoted their time to serving their fellow Christians, they would have what was needed for daily life.

But elders weren’t supposed to serve in the church for the PURPOSE of getting paid. And they weren’t supposed to use their position as a way to get stuff for themselves. Greed wasn’t to motivate their service in any way.

But all the same, they were to serve with enthusiasm. It’s sad how money can wield so much power over the way we do things. A common way of thinking is that if you’re getting paid for it, you better do a good job! But if you’re not, well, then do whatever you feel like doing.

This wasn’t the way leaders in the church were to act. Money, or no money. Appreciation, or no appreciation. Either way, the leaders in God’s church were to serve with enthusiasm, knowing that it was God whom they were ultimately working for.

In Colossians it is written…

23 Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, 24 knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ” (Colossians 3:23-24 ESV).
Thirdly, in shepherding  God’s flock, the elders of the church were to use the right method.

The rulers of secular government might rule with an iron fist, but that wasn’t the way Christ’s representatives were to govern the church. Instead of making rule after rule and imposing harsh punishments for those who didn’t get things right, the leaders of God’s flock were to serve the people in a way that was a good example for the people to follow.

Mahatma Ghandi once said, “Be the change you want to see in the world” (Mahatma Ghandi). This was the method that Christ’s under-shepherds were to employ.  Sure, they would teach God’s Word verbally. Sure, they would rebuke bad behavior. Yes, they would gently correct their fellow Christians when appropriate. But the way they went about every aspect of their ministry was to be a good example for others to see and emulate.

This is a high calling, and when leaders in God’s church meditate on how God has called them to carry out their ministry, we can’t help but feel inadequate. For who can say they have always served as a good example for their fellow Christians. Sins stain our thoughts, our choices, our words, the way we deal with situations, and even the counsel we give.

And yet, even in connection with our sins we can serve as good examples to the flock. We can openly admit our faults and failings. We can apologize, and ask to be forgiven. We can bring our sins to Jesus through prayer, trusting that in Him we will find everlasting forgiveness. Perhaps this is why Christ set sinful human beings as leaders in his Church instead of holy angels. For when we bring our sins, and the sins of others to Christ for forgiveness, what better example can be set for those whose hope rests in Christ Jesus?
Voluntary service, eager service, and service by example—this was how the leaders in God’s church were to serve. And while seeking to serve in this way, the elders of the churches were to remember that THIS FLOCKDIDN’T BELONG TO THEM, and IT DIDN’T BELONG TO THE PEOPLE EITHER—it was GOD’S FLOCK. The congregation was made up of people bought by the precious blood of God’s own Son.

And since this was God’s flock, the elders were also to remember that they weren’t the CHIEF SHEPHERD. That was Jesus. And that was a good thing. For one day the Chief Shepherd would appear. And Peter says that with him he will bring an unfading crown of glory for his shepherds, and all his flock.

Crowns symbolize different things. In the Olympic games of ancient Greece, a crown of laurel leaves was given to the winner of each event. It symbolized victory. This is the crown Jesus will give each one of us on the last day. A crown that says, “In Christ I have triumphed. In Christ I stand forgiven.”

It was this crown that Peter encouraged the elders to think about as they went about serving their fellow Christians.
But what about the flock? So far we’re heard a lot about how the leaders of the flock are to act. But what about the flock itself?

In the final words of our reading for today Peter addresses the congregation in general. He says…

5You younger men, likewise, be subject to your elders; and all of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, for God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (1 Peter 5:5 NASB).

For the younger men in the congregation, those who weren’t elders yet, Peter says, “Know your place. Order yourselves under the leaders that God has put over you for your blessing.”

And to everyone in the congregation, Peter says, “Be humble. Put each other first.”

The analogy of a flock of sheep helps us to visualize what Peter is teaching. Imagine the scene. A shepherd walks through a narrow gate, leading his flock. If the flock is panicky, they cram into the doorway, wedging against each other, slowing the progress of the flock, and injuring the weak. But if the sheep fall in line calmly, things move smoothly, and the slower, weaker sheep don’t get hurt, or left behind.

5You younger men, likewise, be subject to your elders; and all of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, for God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (1 Peter 5:5 NASB).
On the night before his crucifixion, Jesus told his disciples…

34 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. 35 By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35 ESV).

There is a connection between the love which Jesus spoke of, and the humility that Peter encourages in our text. You could say that humility is a manifestation of love. Godly humility is love in action.

When you love someone, you want what is good for them. You’re willing to put your own needs on hold, for them. When our interaction with fellow Christians is marked by humility, we are showing love. And as Jesus said, love is one of the things that marks Christ’s followers as his own redeemed people.

And you know, the versatile thing about humility, is that it can be practiced in almost every situation. Whether you’re serving as a pastor or a teacher, an elder or a deacon, a builder or a cleaner, a musician or a singer, a leader or a helper—in all these roles we can clothe ourselves with humility, and thus show the love we have received and learned from Christ.
When it comes to animals, there is a right way to treat them, and to train them. And in the flock of God, there’s a right way too. A right way for leaders to lead. A right way for the flock to follow. May the Holy Spirit bless the portion of God’s flock that gathers here at Redemption Church so that our elders lead according to God’s instruction, and we all show ourselves to be Christ’s people by exhibiting the love and humility that mark us as His own.


The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts, and your minds, in Christ Jesus.

September 7, 2014

A Test of Faith - Sep 7, 2014

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When the first atomic bomb was detonated  it produced an intense flash of light that was seen by observers in a bunker more than six miles away. The fireball produced by the explosion traveled 600 yards in less than two seconds at a speed of 1,227 miles per hour. The mushroom cloud produced from the blast soared over seven miles into the sky above the blast zone. Forty seconds later a rush of air reached the observers in the bunker, accompanied by a deafening and unearthly roar.

The 18.6 kiloton blast produced by that first test was four times larger than expected. To put it in perspective, it would have taken 74,400,000 sticks of dynamite to produce the same explosion. I don’t think even Wile E Coyote has that much TNT.

And it all started by splitting an atom, something so small that it is hopelessly invisible to the naked eye.
Some of the most powerful forces in nature, are completely invisible. But they can be revealed, by a test.

Electricity is usually unseen, but stick your finger in a light socket, and you’ll know it’s there.

Gravity is invisible, but all you have to do is drop something, and you’ll see its power.

Faith in Jesus Christ as your Savior from sin is also invisible. But in our reading for today we’ll see that it too can be revealed, by a test.

1 Peter 4:12-19 (NASB)

12Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you: 13but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exultation. 14If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. 15Make sure that none of you suffers as a murderer, or thief, or evildoer, or a troublesome meddler; 16but if anyone suffers as a Christian, he is not to be ashamed, but is to glorify God in this name. 17For it is time for judgment to begin with the household of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God?
18And if it is with difficulty that the righteous is saved, what will become of the godless man and the sinner?
19Therefore, those also who suffer according to the will of God shall entrust their souls to a faithful Creator in doing what is right.
A while back I saw a rock climber out in the Cascades. He was climbing up one side of a huge jutting rock that kinda looked like the horn of a rhinoceros. The rope attached to his harness went up to the top, through a carabiner, and down to his climbing partner. At a particularly sketchy part of the route, the climber lost his grip on the wall and fell. Because the carabiner was attached high up on the horn of the route, when the climber fell, he swung out away from the wall in a huge arch which pendulum-ed about three stories over the path below.

 As he started to fall he let out a cry, but to my surprise, as he pendulum-ed the cry turned into a whoop of excited joy. He hadn’t intended to fall, but he had known two things. One, a fall was possible. And two, he was safe. He trusted his climbing partner not to let go of the rope.

It would be silly for a climber to go out never expecting to fall. In the same way, Peter says that Christians shouldn’t be surprised when they face persecution for their faith in Christ. It is to be expected. Jesus warned his disciples, 

“…If they persecuted me, they will persecute you” (John 15:20 ESV).

But like that climber who wasn’t afraid of falling, when we experience persecution for our faith, we don’t have to fear. We know that God won’t let go of us.

Peter says that when we suffer because of faith in Christ we should “keep on rejoicing”. A “faith” that only trusts when the going is good isn’t much of a faith. Our God is much bigger than that.

Peter says that we should keep on rejoicing in the middle of the storm, because we know what Jesus suffered for us, and we know what came after his trial. His suffering and death was followed by Easter. His fiery ordeal was followed by resurrection and glory, and if we cling to Christ, our trials will end with resurrection and glory too.

Think about the glory to come. If we can praise God when times are hard here on earth, how much louder will our praise be when Christ returns and takes us into his arms? Peter says,

“…keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exultation” (1 Peter 4:13 NASB).
In verse 14 Peter mentions another reason why Christians can rejoice in the middle of persecution. If a person is really suffering BECAUSE OF THEIR FAITH IN CHRIST, that means that the Holy Spirit is with them. It’s only through the Holy Spirit’s revealing power that sinners come to trust in Jesus. So, if we’re talking about our Savior, or living our lives to Christ, and suffering persecution because of it, that means that the Holy Spirit is with us.   

Think about that. The same Holy Spirit who existed with the Father and Son in eternity. The same timeless, limitless, divine person who brooded over the waters in the beginning is living and moving in the Christian who endures religious persecution.

In this way, persecution for our faith is a blessing. It reminds us that the Holy Spirit is active in our lives. That God, whom the world opposes , is truly with us.
Now, these things that Peter is saying only apply to those who are suffering BECAUSE OF THEIR FAITH IN CHRIST. These things don’t apply when Christians have to suffer something because of foolish or sinful behaviors of their own. In verse 15 Peter writes…

15Make sure that none of you suffers as a murderer, or thief, or evildoer, or a troublesome meddler; 16but if anyone suffers as a Christian, he is not to be ashamed, but is to glorify God in this name” (1 Peter 4:15-16 NASB).

We shouldn’t look at all suffering as proof of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Only suffering that arises because of trusting Christ’s promises serves as a litmus test of the Spirit’s presence.

It’s a dangerous idea to consider all opposition as proof that you’re doing the Lord’s work. I think you understand what I’m talking about. You know, “Everyone is telling me I’m wrong, that must mean that the Holy Spirit is leading me in this path.” Well, no. That might mean that you’re going down the wrong path.
But if you’re truly suffering as a Christian, for what Christ teaches, Peter says what you’re enduring is nothing  to be ashamed of. If you’re suffering for Christ, that brings glory to God.
Think about it like this. Professional athletes work extremely hard to do what they do. They put hours and hours into physical conditioning. They run stairs that we would gasp to walk up. They spend hours and hours in the gym each day. They watch film to improve their technique, and to find weaknesses in their opponent.

All of this costs them something. They don’t get to spend as much time with friends and family. Some foods are off limits. Their bodies are constantly sore and recovering.

If we would ask them WHY they were putting themselves through such agony they’d reply, “Because it’s worth it.” To them, whatever goal they’re pursuing, whether it’s running a hundred miles straight, summing Mt. Everest, or winning the Lombardi Trophy, it’s worth it to them. That’s what they’re saying with each minute spent in training. 

When Christians endure the pain of persecution for their faith, whether that be mental anguish, or physical abuse, they’re saying, “God, you’re worth it. You are my Creator, my Savior from sin, and the only King worthy of sitting on the throne of my heart.” And when we say that by enduring persecution with grace, that’s nothing to be ashamed of, THAT brings glory to God’s name.

And it might even lead others to wonder, what is it about this God that they follow that is so valuable? That makes them endure such things for him? And we might even get the chance to tell them.
In verse 17 Peter writes…

17For it is time for judgment to begin with the household of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God?
18And if it is with difficulty that the righteous is saved, what will become of the godless man and the sinner?” (1 Peter 4:17-18 NASB).

The word “judgment” often carries a bad connotation. As in, “If you sin, you will be judged by God.” But “to judge” just means to pronounce a verdict. That verdict could be good or bad.

In this verse Peter is saying that it’s time for a verdict to be pronounced. After the test comes the results. Did you pass? Or did you fail.

But the verdict for the household of God is always a good one, because the household of God rests secure under the sin-cleansing sacrifice of God’s own Son.

If you search the Bible for other times the phrase “household of God” is used, you’ll find that it’s always used in reference to those who trust in Jesus Christ as their Savior from sin. And we know that all who trust in Jesus will not be condemned. Because of Christ, and only because of what he did on the cross, we are declared “not guilty.” As Jesus himself said…

24 ‘Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life’” (John 5:24 NKJV).
But the verdict pronounced on those who do not trust in the gospel of God is not a good verdict. By refusing the sacrifice Christ made in their place, they reject the only thing that can cover their sins.

The Christian who suffers persecution for trusting in Jesus shows their faith by their words and actions. And since that faith connects the Christian to Christ—the verdict is “not guilty.”

But the godless person, and the sin-loving person, that person shows their unbelief by their words and actions. And the verdict is “guilty as charged.”

Peter asks a question that every sinner needs to ponder.


Our salvation was difficult. Just ask Jesus. But apart from Jesus any hope of salvation becomes an impossibility. What will you say when you stand before God in the end? What excuse will you offer to the almighty for the sinful choices that stain your life’s record? That is the question that every sinner needs to ask of themselves.

And in Christ we have the only valid answer. He says, “There is no excuse for your sin. But I have redeemed you. Be at peace.”
Back in Jesus’ time they didn’t pass the collection plate to collect offerings. There was a lock-box of sorts in the Temple. People could come at any time and drop off their offering.

Jesus once sat beside this collection box and watched the people who came there. He saw wealthy people drop in large amounts. And he also saw one widow woman bring hers. What she put in the box wasn’t much. But what her offering revealed about her faith wasn’t missed by Jesus.

Jesus called his disciples to his side and pointed out the widow to them. He said…

…Assuredly, I say to you that this poor widow has put in more than all those who have given to the treasury; 44 for they all put in out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all that she had, her whole livelihood” (Mark 12:43-44 NKJV).

Her offering was impressive to Jesus because of what was unseen. It was all she had, and it wasn’t much. But her offering was sanctified by her faith. She trusted in the Lord to provide for her, and gladly deposited those coins into his keeping. Her faith was invisible, but it was shown by her actions.

Peter calls his fellow Christians to the same attitude of faith in the final verse of our reading today. He writes…

19Therefore, those also who suffer according to the will of God shall entrust their souls to a faithful Creator in doing what is right” (1 Peter 4:19 NASB).

When we suffer according to a test of faith that God has laid on us, we can trust that the same God who created us, and everything else, will not abandon us. Our souls are safe in Christ. And with this fact in mind, we can rejoice in the storm, and do what is right, even when we’re suffering.
In the book of James it says,

“…Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works” (James 2:18 ESV).

And in 2 Corinthians says,

“…we walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7 ESV).

Let’s do this, Christians. Let’s walk with our eyes on Christ.
When the first atomic bomb was detonated, it revealed that an immense power resided in something that was invisible to man. But that bomb only resulted in destruction.

In Christ there is a power that is far greater than the atom bomb. And this power in Christ doesn’t obliterate and destroy, rather it washes our sins away and heals our souls.

This faith is invisible. It resides in the inner chamber of our hearts. But from time to time it has the opportunity to show itself outwardly. When that time comes, dear Christians, whether it be in the sunshine, or in the storm, rejoice in Christ your Savior, and trust in your ever faithful Creator.


The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts, and your minds, in Christ Jesus.