Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Suffering for Doing Good!

These verses contain one of the most often quoted verses by Christians. 1 Peter says, "But In your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give you a reason for the hope you have. But do this with gentleness and respect."

Though this verse is usually associated with teaching people how to share their faith in an evangelistic way. It's primary context is when a Christian is suffering for doing good. In fact, this verse is shared to prepare those who are being threatened for their belief in Christ. Instead of returning evil for evil, they are to return evil with good. And when they do this, there may be some who will continue to harass them. But he says it is better to suffer for doing good than doing evil.

But there also be a time, when you return evil with good, that it will open a door for the gospel. Why? Because the world is not used to that behavior. The world is used to getting even, and getting what you paid for. In in some cases Peter says some may ask you for the reason for the hope you have in you. After all, who would suffer for doing good, unless they had some hope beyond the immediate situation. Note is says "when you are asked". Sometimes we assume people want to hear about our faith, or we force the Gospel in situations where the timing is not right. But when we are asked there is a curiosity there. There is a seeking of why you are different. There is an openness to the gospel. Then and there, we have a chance to give the reason for the hope we have been given.

And the reason for the hope we have is a simple explanation of what Jesus has done for us. How we were lost and then found. We were slaves that have been set free. Children who have been adopted by the Father through the Son. We were once in darkness and have found the light. Now we wouldn't use all those metaphors at once. But as we look at our faith story, we could briefly explain how Jesus' love for us has become real for us. And how what he did on the cross has given us new life. And in the end our answer or testimony is not what saves someone, but the Holy Spirit uses it to convict the person of their need for a Savior.

Jesus tells us that as we live our our faith in real ways, we might suffer for doing good. But in that moment as we stay faithful and reliant in God, it just might be an open door for someone else to come to faith in Christ.

1 Peter 3:8-18
Suffering for Doing Good
8 Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble. 9 Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing. 10 For,

“Whoever would love life
and see good days
must keep their tongue from evil
and their lips from deceitful speech.
11 They must turn from evil and do good;
they must seek peace and pursue it.
12 For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous
and his ears are attentive to their prayer,
but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.”[a]
13 Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? 14 But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear their threats[b]; do not be frightened.”[c] 15 But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, 16 keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. 17 For it is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil. 18 For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit.

Monday, February 23, 2015

From Death to LIfe!

Paul describes the process of going from being dead in our old ways, to now being alive in Christ. All of us in different ways lived our lives on our own terms. Basically saying, "I am going to do want I want, when I want to do it, and you can't stop me." Some of us even ran from God saying, "One day I will return to you, but for now I am having my fun!" While we think we are just living the good life and living according to the cravings of our desires, Paul says we are really being influenced by something else. He calls it the "ruler of the kingdom of the air". He is also called "Satan", the "Anti-Christ", or the "evil one". We are responsible for our individual sin actions for sure. But once we turned our nose up at God, we became subject to the spirit who is at work in all those who are disobedient. And part of this work is to distort the truth. The evil one, tells us we deserve whatever we want, and are entitled to live by our desires. After all, that is how God made us.

And in this state we were deserving of God's wrath? Why? Most people don't want to think of God's wrathful. But when you realize God's nature is holy and just, he can't just "wink" at sin. He can't just push our disobedience under the carpet. God wouldn't be a very good judge, if he just said, "don't worry about it, all is good!" So when we sin against God and completely disregard His law for our lives, we deserve God's wrath. But here comes the Good News. Though we deserve wrath by our actions, God by his very nature is merciful. Mercy is getting what you don't deserve. So God because of His great love for us gives us mercy through the grace that is in Christ, who died for our sins on the cross. The wrath we deserved Jesus took on because of His great love for us.

So then what? It says we are seated with Christ in the heavenly realms. Meaning as we by faith, which is God's gift to us as well, trust in faith in the riches in Christ, we are positionally in Christ. Just like one can move up on the corporate ladder when they perform well. Or, someone moves up on the org chart if they get promoted, we go to the very top. We are seated with Christ at the right hand of God. We are saved which is a completed action, meaning it is finished. But it is also a present action tense, meaning we experience both now and will in the future.

Finally, it says we were created in advance to good works. You are God's handiwork. God doesn't make junk. As you are saved, you are saved to serve and do good things by the way God made you. This is not to be saved, but because you are saved. Our salvation produces works because we are now "In Christ" and he lives through us, as if we were him.

How do these truths affect your life? What if every day you got up and said, I am God's handiwork created in advance for good works? How might it affect you to know you are already saved and already seated with Christ. You are just living out your life in anticipation of that day when you will be in heaven forever.

Jesus thank you for loving us, dying for us, and showing us God's grace. Thank you for the gift of faith which allows us to be seated with you in the heavenly realms while we live our lives doing the good works you have always had for us to do. Amen.

Ephesians 2:1-10
Made Alive in Christ

2 As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, 2 in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. 3 All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh[a] and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. 4 But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5 made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. 6 And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, 7 in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. 8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

The Great Cover Up!

One of the things I love about the psalms is the honesty of the writers. They bare their hearts and do not hide anything that is really going on in their lives. Today we have King David, who is pretty well known for his psalms of confession. And when you read of his life, he had a few things to confess. And who doesn't have a lot to confess if you are human.

But today he gives the antidote for being caught in sin. But before that we see his condition when he held back his true condition from God. He says, "When I kept silent, my bones wasted way through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy on me; my strength was sapped from me as in the heat of summer." Before David turned from his sin and turned to God he was miserable. Then he says something very significant. He says, "then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my deceit." David already knew all he had to do was acknowledge what was already true. God already knew so trying to cover up was of no use. You can only cover up for so long on the outside, until what is true on the inside is revealed.

But the Good News is that when he was honest with God, God covered his transgression. When David uncovered what was really going on with him, God covered him. Just like He covered Adam and Eve in the garden with animal skins when they realized they were naked and ashamed after their sin was revealed. And David starts out by saying, Blessed is the one whose transgressions are covered and whose sin does not count against them."

So we see two things, how merciful and forgiving our God is, even when we don't deserve it. And how our tendency is to hide out and cover up our sin. But when we turn to God and turn from what we know is wrong we are blessed. Blessedness is different than happiness. It is a joy that only can come from God through Jesus.

What are you covering up in your life? Who are you when no one is looking? Your Heavenly Father loves you and wants you to come clean with Him, so He can extend His great mercy and love to you.

Father, as we come before you we confess those things we are doing in our lives which we know are wrong. Instead of hiding from you we now turn to you. Thank you for sending Jesus to show how you love us and went to whatever length it took to restore our relationship with you. Amen.

Psalm 32
Of David. A maskil.[a]

1 Blessed is the one
whose transgressions are forgiven,
whose sins are covered.
2 Blessed is the one
whose sin the Lord does not count against them
and in whose spirit is no deceit.
3 When I kept silent,
my bones wasted away
through my groaning all day long.
4 For day and night
your hand was heavy on me;
my strength was sapped
as in the heat of summer.[b]
5 Then I acknowledged my sin to you
and did not cover up my iniquity.
I said, “I will confess
my transgressions to the Lord.”
And you forgave
the guilt of my sin.
6 Therefore let all the faithful pray to you
while you may be found;
surely the rising of the mighty waters
will not reach them.
7 You are my hiding place;
you will protect me from trouble
and surround me with songs of deliverance.
8 I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go;
I will counsel you with my loving eye on you.
9 Do not be like the horse or the mule,
which have no understanding
but must be controlled by bit and bridle
or they will not come to you.
10 Many are the woes of the wicked,
but the Lord’s unfailing love
surrounds the one who trusts in him.
11 Rejoice in the Lord and be glad, you righteous;
sing, all you who are upright in heart!

Friday, February 20, 2015

How Should We Really Pray?

Today the prophet Daniel again intercedes for himself and his people. The people have walked away from God and God allows another nation to come in and take over the city of Jerusalem. The people are scattered and their place of worship is no longer open. Daniel pleads with God for mercy. This is called "intercession". Later in the New Testament we will see Jesus intercedes before God for us.

Daniel reasons with God, that even though the people deserve God's judgement because of their acts of rebellion, they have become the laughing stock to the people around them. He pleads with God for mercy because the house that bears His name is in shambles. He is so bold to pray, "Lord listen! Lord, forgive! Lord, hear and act! For your sake, my God do not delay!" Notice he is not just praying only for himself but the people who bear God's name.

Then, we see something quite amazing. Gabriel, an angel of God, hears his prayer and comes literally flying in to give Daniel a message. The messenger of God says further, as soon as you prayed the word went out, and I have come to give you understanding for you are highly esteemed. Wow! Talk about answered prayer. Gabriel then gives Daniel a vision of when God will forgive the people and send His anointed One to restore the people of God. He tells Daniel that the time will be "seventy times seven". There is much debate over the amount of time this represents. Some say it means seventy time seven years, which is 490 years. Since this is around 586 B.C.E. (Before common era) we see some basis for the correlation. But in reality, I do think it is worth arguing about. The bottom line is that after an appropriate amount of time, God will restore the people through a Messiah, who bears His name and will rule over the new Israel.

So what might this mean for us? Do we pray like this? Can prayer change God's mind? We see Moses' prayer did earlier! What would it mean for your prayer life to realize that as you soon to pray a word goes out to God and His angels? For me it convicts me that my prayer life is often weak, especially when I do not see immediate answers to my petitions. Sometimes I really don't think my prayers will make a difference, because God will do what He wants anyways. But if this is true, why would God want us to pray if it makes no difference in real life. What would you pray for today, if you knew God hears your prayer as soon as it goes out. Though we may not see immediate results, God promises H hears our prayer and will answer in His way and His time. Amen.

Daniel 9:15-25
15 “Now, Lord our God, who brought your people out of Egypt with a mighty hand and who made for yourself a name that endures to this day, we have sinned, we have done wrong. 16 Lord, in keeping with all your righteous acts, turn away your anger and your wrath from Jerusalem, your city, your holy hill. Our sins and the iniquities of our ancestors have made Jerusalem and your people an object of scorn to all those around us.

17 “Now, our God, hear the prayers and petitions of your servant. For your sake, Lord, look with favor on your desolate sanctuary. 18 Give ear, our God, and hear; open your eyes and see the desolation of the city that bears your Name. We do not make requests of you because we are righteous, but because of your great mercy. 19 Lord, listen! Lord, forgive! Lord, hear and act! For your sake, my God, do not delay, because your city and your people bear your Name.”

The Seventy “Sevens”
20 While I was speaking and praying, confessing my sin and the sin of my people Israel and making my request to the Lord my God for his holy hill— 21 while I was still in prayer, Gabriel, the man I had seen in the earlier vision, came to me in swift flight about the time of the evening sacrifice. 22 He instructed me and said to me, “Daniel, I have now come to give you insight and understanding. 23 As soon as you began to pray, a word went out, which I have come to tell you, for you are highly esteemed. Therefore, consider the word and understand the vision:

24 “Seventy ‘sevens’[a] are decreed for your people and your holy city to finish[b] transgression, to put an end to sin, to atone for wickedness, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy and to anoint the Most Holy Place.[c]

25 “Know and understand this: From the time the word goes out to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until the Anointed One,[d] the ruler, comes, there will be seven ‘sevens,’ and sixty-two ‘sevens.’ It will be rebuilt with streets and a trench, but in times of trouble.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

What Is Confession?

The season of Lent, which started last night with Ash Wednesday, is a time to reflect on your life and be honest with God about how things are really going. We can't fool God so to try and act like things are well when they aren't, doesn't work with God. When we realize the ways in which we have drifted away from God and done things we know are wrong, we confess our shortcomings. The bible calls it sin, but often we don't really understand what this means so it is not always helpful.

What is helpful is not hiding from God and coming into the light, which we call confession. In the Old Testament today we see Daniel, confessing the sins of the nation of Israel. He pleads with God in sackcloth and ashes on behalf of the people. Last night we placed ashes on each person's forehead reminding all of us, "Remember we are dust and to dust we shall return." Daniel basically says, we have turned against you God and rebelled against the covenant you made with us. We have not obeyed the commands you have given us. Daniel basically is saying God is righteous and they deserve all of the consequences they are experiencing. Later he will prophesy about a time coming when God turns from judgment to restoration. He says according to Jeremiah's prophecy this will be seventy years.

Then in 1 John we see similar words:

"5 This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. 6 If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. 7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin. 8 If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us."

John the apostle is saying essentially the same thing. God is light by his very being and essence. So if we walk in darkness, we will be separated from God. Light and darkness have nothing in common, they are the opposite. Darkness is the absence of light. But in light there is no darkness. What does this mean? When we walk away from God, we walk away from the light. We walk away from fellowship/friendship with God. It says we also we have fellowship with others. When we walk away from the light, we walk away from other believers and the community we enjoy in the body of Christ.

But the Good News is if we confess our sins, or admit where we have walked away from the light, God is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and cleanse from all unrighteousness. Do you hear the Good News? Though we can be unfaithful, if we confess our sins, God is faithful to forgive us and bring us back into the light and fellowship with Him. John's desire is that the people would understand this so that, "our joy may be complete".

Fellowship with God and others brings joy and peace. When we walk away from God we don't experience this. It is refreshing for me to know I can be honest with God. I don't have to cower around him, trying to cover up my shame like Adam and Eve. God sees us as we are, and wants to have fellowship us. So what are we waiting for? Let us confess our sins to God, who is faithful and just.

Thanks God for being faithful even when we are not. Thanks for sending Jesus who forgives of our sin by His love for us, when He willingly went to the cross. I come to you in my sin and shame to be honest before you. You have called me to walk in the light and enjoy a fellowship with you that begins here and will last forever. Amen.

Daniel’s Prayer
9 In the first year of Darius son of Xerxes[a] (a Mede by descent), who was made ruler over the Babylonian[b] kingdom— 2 in the first year of his reign, I, Daniel, understood from the Scriptures, according to the word of the Lord given to Jeremiah the prophet, that the desolation of Jerusalem would last seventy years. 3 So I turned to the Lord God and pleaded with him in prayer and petition, in fasting, and in sackcloth and ashes.

4 I prayed to the Lord my God and confessed:

“Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with those who love him and keep his commandments, 5 we have sinned and done wrong. We have been wicked and have rebelled; we have turned away from your commands and laws. 6 We have not listened to your servants the prophets, who spoke in your name to our kings, our princes and our ancestors, and to all the people of the land.

7 “Lord, you are righteous, but this day we are covered with shame—the people of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem and all Israel, both near and far, in all the countries where you have scattered us because of our unfaithfulness to you. 8 We and our kings, our princes and our ancestors are covered with shame, Lord, because we have sinned against you. 9 The Lord our God is merciful and forgiving, even though we have rebelled against him; 10 we have not obeyed the Lord our God or kept the laws he gave us through his servants the prophets. 11 All Israel has transgressed your law and turned away, refusing to obey you.

“Therefore the curses and sworn judgments written in the Law of Moses, the servant of God, have been poured out on us, because we have sinned against you. 12 You have fulfilled the words spoken against us and against our rulers by bringing on us great disaster. Under the whole heaven nothing has ever been done like what has been done to Jerusalem. 13 Just as it is written in the Law of Moses, all this disaster has come on us, yet we have not sought the favor of the Lord our God by turning from our sins and giving attention to your truth. 14 The Lord did not hesitate to bring the disaster on us, for the Lord our God is righteous in everything he does; yet we have not obeyed him.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

What is Ash Wednesday?

Today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent, the 40 days leading up to Good Friday and the Resurrection of Jesus on Easter. If you belong to a more traditional church, there is usually a worship service at night, with an imposition of ashes from the minister with the words, "Remember you are to dust, and to dust you shall return." Genesis 3:19

This may seem a little morbid, but sometimes it is good to ponder the limitations of our humanity, and put our lives in perspective. It is also good to set aside a good chunk of time to focus on what Jesus, the Son of God, did for us on the cross. Holy Week is a re-enactment of Jesus' last days on earth. On Maundy Thursday, we remember Jesus' last supper with his disciples. On Good Friday, we remember Jesus' last words on the cross when he was crucified by men, despite doing nothing wrong. And on Easter morning we proclaim, "Christ is Risen, He is Risen Indeed,"

And many times during Lent people will take on a spiritual discipline, like "fasting". Fasting is abstaining from something in your life to have a greater focus on God and your relationship with Him. You can give up certain food or drinks, or spend more time reading the bible or praying. One discipline Jesus talks about today in His Sermon on the Mount, is the discipline of "secrecy". This is doing a good deed for someone else, but not telling anyone about it. Sometimes we do good things to get a "pat on the back", or for approval from others. Jesus says when we give don't let your left hand know what your right hand is doing. Meaning keep it to yourself, and realize God sees your acts of kindness. And when we pray find a quiet and secret place, so as not to do it to receive attention for it.

These are good things to remember during the season of Lent, as we spend time contemplating what Jesus has done for us and responding in faith and good works. I especially am interested in the discipline of "secrecy" so you might try this one. It is a way of crucifying the flesh, which always wants to be noticed. It is a good way to be motivated to do something for God alone. Pray about what God might want for you. God bless you during this special time of the Church year.

God, may these 40 days be a time to remember all you have done for us. As we enter into a time of discipline may it lead to a greater awareness of what you have done for us, and what you are doing in our lives. We look forward to the end of this time when we celebrate Jesus' resurrection and proclaim, "He is Risen, He is Risen Indeed!" Amen.

Matthew 6:1-6
Giving to the Needy

6 “Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.

2 “So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 3 But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.


5 “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 6 But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.
Matthew 6:16-21

16 “When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 17 But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, 18 so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.
Treasures in Heaven

19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

The Beauty of the Church!

Paul continues to instruct Timothy on how to be a good, young pastor shepherding the flock God has entrusted to his care. Paul is not suggesting that we should have a bunch of rules in the church, but remember what the Church really is, the household of God. We all take care of our own household, and as much as possible if we have kids, we try to help them understand that they represent the family wherever they go. And if we give this much emphasis to our own household, how much more the household of God. Paul makes it more clear by saying it is the "church of the living God".

Although our churches are buildings that need maintenance like any other building. There is also a spiritual reality about the church of the living God. It is the Church of Christ from whom the power to lead a good life comes from. Paul says the only way those in the Church can represent the living God is to connect with God through the living Christ. When Paul says that church is the household of God, he envisions a family living out God's plan in God's way with the power of Christ, our risen Lord in the center.

Are you a part of a local church? Do you see it as the principal place where God dwells through the people who make up the body of Christ in its locality. We are part of this household and have different roles to play in strengthening and building up the Church to make disciples of all nations. Pray for the unity of the Church, God's instrument for preaching the Good News to the world, while also being the household of the living God.

Jesus you built the church and said the gates of Hades would not overcome it. Continue to build your church through your people who believe in Your name. We know one day you will return in great and promised glory to take your church home. Amen.

1 Timothy 3:14-16
Reasons for Paul’s Instructions
14 Although I hope to come to you soon, I am writing you these instructions so that, 15 if I am delayed, you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth. 16 Beyond all question, the mystery from which true godliness springs is great:

He appeared in the flesh,
was vindicated by the Spirit,
was seen by angels,
was preached among the nations,
was believed on in the world,
was taken up in glory.