Tuesday, May 23, 2017

When Bad Stuff Happens

Fire Fighter Wearing Black and Yellow Uniform Pointing for Something

I've been reading through A Little Book on the Christian Life by John Calvin recently I think he has some excellent words for us to consider. His words below:

We are continually harassed by one illness or another: the plague advances; we are cruelly vexed by the calamities of war; frost and hail render the land barren and leave us with little, devouring our expectation for the year's crop. Wife, parents, children, and close relatives are snatched away by death: homes are consumed by fire. These are events which make men curse their lives, despise the day they were born, hold in contempt heaven and its light, rage against God, and being fluent in blapshmeies, accuse God of unfariness and cruelty.

But the believer must in these same circumstances consider the mercy and the fatherly kindness of God. If the believer, then, should see his house made lonely by the loss of those nearest to him, even then he must not stop praising the Lord. Rather, he must turn himself to this thought: "The Lord's grace continues to dwell in my home and will not leave it desolate." If the believer should see his crop consumed by drought, disease, or frost, or trampled down by hail and famine threaten him, even then he must not despair within his soul, nor should he become angry toward God. Rather, he must persist with confidence in this truth: "But we your people, the sheep of your pasture, will give thanks to you forever" (Ps. 79:13).

God, then, will provide for us, however barren the land. If the believer should be afflicted by illness, he must not be so stung by the severity of his hardship that he erupts in impatience and demands from God an explanation. Rather, he must, considering the justice and gentleness of God's discipline, recall himself to patience.

Indeed, the believer should accept whatever comes with a gentle and thankful heart, because he knows that it is ordained by the Lord. Moreover, he must not stubbornly resist the rule of God into whose power he has placed himself and all his affairs. So let the Christian make it his priority to drive from his breast that foolish and unfortunate comfort of pagans, who, in order to bolster their spirits against all adverse events, credit those events to fortune. They think it's silly to be angry at fortune, since she is reckless, aimless, and blind - inflicting her wounds equally on the deserving and the undesdrving. In contrast, the rule of godliness is to recognize that God's hand is the sole judge and governor of every fortune, and because His hand is not recklessly driven to fury, it distributes to us both good and ill according to His orderly righteousness.

Monday, May 22, 2017

New Fish, New Bait?

Brown Black Fishlure on Rod Selective Focus Photography

I wanted to post a quick response to a blog I read today (here) on Catching a New Kind of Fish.

I'm hesitant on posting because #1, we live in a society where any sort of push back is seen as judgmental. That's not my goal. I don't want to be contentious. I want to help. This isn't a bashing post. It is a desire to help us think through this from all sides. And 2ndly, I'm running short on time this afternoon, so I know this won't be as long as would do it justice.

So, read the first post, and then see the reply below:

Let me start by saying I am thankful for Arkansas Baptist church planters! I am thankful for their zeal for the lost and their desire to see the kingdom of God grow. If you are a church planter, I want to tell you thank you! To the brother who wrote the original post, thank you for your heart of wanting to see sinners come to Christ. Thank you for the time and effort you put into seeing people experience the life-changing encounter with the gospel. This post is not an attack on you. However, there are some things I'd like for all of us to think through from a different perspective.

Let me specifically respond to this paragraph:

So what do we do to get people through the door? Well, to catch a new kind of fish, we need a new kind of bait!I would say New Faith has moved away from a lot of traditions. We don’t have a pulpit where the preachers sit up front on the stage. We don’t ask people to turn around and look at the congregation after they’ve made a decision.On the fourth Sunday of the month, we wear jeans and t-shirts on Sunday morning! 
What if the new bait is simply the old bait packaged differently?

You see, we've been on a kick the last couple of decades of doing away with 'traditional' and all we've really done is create the same problem on the other side of the pendulum so to speak. Moving away from traditional doesn't actually move away from traditions - it only creates new traditions that someone else will try to 'move away from' in 50 years (or less).

In other words, when we make 'church' about 'traditional' or 'anti-traditional' we have the same problem. The paradigm of ministry is not as much the issue in our day as is the substance. Not to be too cliché here but the answer really is the gospel. The pure, unadulterated, life-changing gospel of Jesus Christ is our only hope. We must put all the effort we can into preaching this gospel to the masses, into helping churches keep their focus on Christ as their greatest joy and treasure, and into showing others what the power of the gospel really can do in the local church. 

What I mean is, do we want churches where people say "I go here because they don't have a pulpit"? Or "I go here because they sing heavenly highway hymns"? Or "I go here because they have deer heads on the wall", or "we can wear cowboy boots"? Is not the bait for winning souls to Christ the free and full forgiveness offered in the completed work of Christ? Nay, it's not the bait! It's the true food! 

So, it is my plea to have us eschew any attractional methods we are tempted to employ and simply proclaim Christ and Him crucified. May He be the center! May He be the draw! 

Brother pastors, and brother church planters, please do not have something other than Christ and your commitment to Him and His Word as the 'draw' for uniting with your local body. I maintain that if we truly want to catch new fish, we have to listen to the chief Fisherman. Let us be less concerned about creating the right 'atmosphere of worship' and more concerned about being faithful to what the Head of the Church would have us do. 

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

We Did Not Seek Him According to the Rule

It may be surprising to many but God is not only concerned that we seek Him, but also how we seek Him. You are probably familiar with the story of Uzzah from the Old Testament but just in case you're not, let's do a quick review:

After David became King he desired to move the Ark of the Lord to Jerusalem. While they were moving the Ark there was a great celebration of joy and praises to God for the victories He had given David and the very fact that His presence, symbolized by the Ark, was among His people. But during the midst of this celebration something awful happened. Perhaps it was at the very crescendo of one of the praise choruses that the Lord struck down Uzzah. God killed someone during a worship service.

Our initial response may be like that of David. Absolute disbelief and even anger that God would behave in such a manner. After all, isn't God obligated to be pleased that we seek Him regardless of the 'how'? Shouldn't the Almighty be giddy by the fact that of all the things we could be doing we are setting aside time to come to Him, even if it's on our terms?

David needed to snap out of such man centered thinking and so do we.

By chapter 15 of 1 Chronicles David understands his error and tells the Levites:

"You are the heads of the fathers' houses of the Levites. Consecrate yourselves, you and your brothers, so that you may bring up the ark of the LORD, the God of Israel, to the place that I have prepared for it. Because you did not carry it the first time, the LORD our God broke out against us, because we did not seek him according to the rule." - 1 Chronicles 15:12-13

God had given specific instructions on how to carry the Ark and He had made it explicit in His Word that touching the Ark would result in death (Numbers 4:15). As R.C. Sproul has quipped "Uzzah thought the mud was dirtier than his hands."

Because we are sinners we have to come to terms with the holiness of God. And coming to terms with the holiness of God means that we must understand that God will not be approached in anyway but only in His way.

There are many worship services that occur every Sunday across our Nation and even the World that deserve God's death sentence. Many gather each week expecting God to be impressed by the fact that they've gotten out of bed and showed up to corporate worship. There are a myriad of songs sang that have no place on an elevator playlist let alone a worship gathering for the Lord of hosts. There are other practices performed by churches each week that aren't found in the Word. In fact, I think that in some places (many?) the Lord has left a long time ago leaving the people to carry out their abandonment of His Word. Many people leave these gatherings feeling the 'spirit'; the only problem is it's not the Spirit of the Lord.

Here is the point: God is to be sought according to His rules. This isn't legalistic. It's biblical. God is not impressed with our ingenuity. We must hold to what the Word says. And we must see that the Word actually does prescribe not only that God should be worshiped but also how He should be worshiped! God deals with us according to His terms, not ours. Here are a few application points:

1. All worship must be gospel focused

Hebrews 4:16 says "Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace..." Confidence yes, but in context this is grounded in the finished priestly work of Christ. In other words, all approaching of God must come through the veil of Jesus. If I approach God based on who I am and what I've done, I am not seeking Him in His way. We must have the mindset of the hymn writer: Nothing in my hands I bring, simply to the cross I cling!

In fact, this has application for how a sinner comes to God in the first place. We don't demand for God to compromise His holiness for us. We see our filth and we repent and cling to Christ in faith. The only worshippers God accepts are those who come to Him through Jesus.

2. All worship must be Word driven

If Uzzah had listened to the Word, he wouldn't have been killed. Instead, he invented his own way of doing things. Churches must take heed here! We would do well to examine all we are doing on Sundays periodically to make sure it aligns with Scripture.

Furthermore, I wonder if your service highlights the same things the Bible does? Here are some things that must be part of our services:

1. Preaching the Word (2 Tim. 4:1-2) The preaching of God’s Word is essential. It should be central and priority to all other things happening on Sunday morning. Perhaps you do all the rest on this list on Sundays, but if you leave out this one out you’ve missed the “main ingredient” to God’s intent for our gatherings. 
2. Singing the Word (Colossians 3:16) This doesn’t mean you have to find a chapter in the Bible and sing it exactly word for word (although that can work at times!). But it does mean that you should actually be singing portions of Scripture in your songs, and songs that are not portions of Scripture should be able to be easily “proved” to be implied by portions of Scripture. 
3. Reading and Praying the Word (Acts 2:42, 1 Timothy 2:1, 4:13) Yes, this element is included in the Sermon, but it should not just be during the sermon that the church is reading and praying the Word. There should be other times during the service that the Word of God is read publicly and that the prayers of the Saints are prayed according to the Word. 
4. Living the Word– This is the local body living out the Word during corporate gatherings (not just “go act like a Christian when the services are over”). What I mean is that there are other elements that God says to include in our services that I am classifying here as “living the Word.” So, these elements include:

  • Financial Giving (2 Corinthians 9:6-8) Giving to the church is not just a “good idea” but it’s the duty of Believers! This doesn’t mean you have to “pass the plates” during a service, but it does mean there should be at least a designated area (offering box, etc.) Where the Body can give financially in worship and obedience to Christ.
  • The Lord’s Supper and Baptism (Matthew 28:19, 1 Cor. 11:17-34) These may not actually happen every Sunday but for a healthy church they should be happening on a regular basis.
  • Fellowship (Hebrews 3:12-14, and many others!) This does not mean merely eating (although, I’m down for lunch any time) True fellowship is sharing the truths of Christ with one another. We must constantly be willing to ask how one’s walk with Christ is going and to share what Christ is doing currently in your life.

3. All worship must be God-centered

If we our worship is gospel focused and Word driven we can be sure that this one will more readily fall into place. However, some things still need to be noted here.

There can be a tendency even in gospel focused, word driven services to make things about us. We can too easily drift into making our preferences the priority over God. That might be 'style', dress code, or even preferred length of sermon. 

God is not like us (Psalm 50:21). He is the Triune God of the universe! May we be in awe of Him. Not what we can bring or do in a worship gathering.

4. All worship doesn't merely have vertical aspects but also horizontal

Part of worship is not only glorifying God but also actually serving our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. Singing robustly, praying before and during service for one another, and listening attentively to the exposition of the Word are all important aspects of worship not only because they are gospel focused, word driven, and God centered, but also because they help serve one another. Again, look at Colossians 3:16. 

I might also mention here that the gifts of the Spirit are to be used to serve one another (1 Cor. 12). Any use of the gifts that seek to magnify self and not serve the Body are gifts of the wrong spirit. Consider also Hebrews 10:24-26.

5. We can please God in our worship

Ephesians 5:10 says "and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord." When we worship God we don't have to wonder if He is pleased if we are gospel focused, Word driven, God centered, and serving others. God has not left it to us to figure out how to worship Him. He's laid down His desires in Scripture! Will we labor to discern what is pleasing to Him? We don't find this out by what 'feels' right but what the Word says.

So, let us be in the Book. Let us search His Word so that we will have worship that pleases God. It is possible, and sadly too often the case, to have a worship gathering that pleases man, but not God. Let us strive to seek Him according to His rule! And we will find any worship that please God will always be satisfying to the souls of true Believers.

Monday, May 15, 2017

"Are we going the right way!?"

It may not sound all that fancy but we took a Mother's Day drive with our family of 7 in our now maxed out 9 year old dodge minivan on some back roads here in Perry County. It was a fun time of singing, enjoying each other's company, and seeing some of the beautiful scenery that we have almost literally in our backyard. 

Apparently, my kids aren't overly confident in my navigational abilities because several times during our little excursion they asked "Dad, are we lost!?" Hey now! C'mon. Give the old man a little credit. This is where I grew up! I can still get us around. Just enjoy the ride and trust me.

And for the record, no, we didn't get lost one time!

The next day I was amused that my 3 year old's confidence was still (unfairly!) waning as en route to our newborn's checkup she asked several times "Are we going the right way!?" Yes honey, we are going the right way. Daddy knows what he's doing.

Ok, I did make ONE wrong turn this time because I didn't realize we the pediatrician's office had moved!

I do have a point in all of this. When our children are young they may be perceptive enough to ask if parents are leading them in the right physical direction. Are we lost? Are we going the right way? Are you sure dad? But when it comes to spiritual matters they seem to have a lot of confidence in us! They don't often ask us if we are doing the thing or going the right way. They just follow our lead. They assume we know what we are doing. And boy, are they watching us closely.

  • Dad says it's ok to miss church for sports, or hunting, or fishing. I'll follow him. 
  • Mom says this tv show is ok for me to consume. I'll follow her. 
  • My parents don't open the Bible except on Sundays. That works for me too. 
  • The gospel has no real impact on my parent's marriage, or friendships, or lifestyle in general. It must just be some secondary aspect of life. 
Are we going the right way?

The privilege of parenting is a gracious gift isn't it? But along with that comes the high expectation and responsibility the Bible puts on parents. We are to:
  • Teach our children diligently (Deut. 6:7)
  • Raise them in the nurture and admonition of the Lord (Eph. 6:4) 
  • Train them (Prov. 22:6)
  • Explain spiritual matters to them (Exodus 12:26)
  • Aqquaint them with the Scriptures at a young age (2 Timothy 1:5, 3:14-15)

And these are just a few biblical examples! To what destination does this journey that you're leading your family on lead? Your children are watching you. They are learning from you. What you say and don't say are showing them a picture of who God is. The priorities you put forth for your family are teaching them where your faith really lies. And the road you travel is the same one they will most likely venture down as well. Is it the right way? 

Can your children entrust their souls to your navigational ability? 

What place does the Bible have in your home? Is it the well respected relic that sits on the coffee table but is never used? Or is it the centerpiece of the home that is well read? Is it treasured? Do you treasure it? Your children notice. And more than likely they know the real answer to that question. 

The stakes are high. And in a sense we should feel the weight of the consequences of making a wrong turn every day. But at the same time, don't be so overwhelmed that you're frozen in inaction. When God called you to be a parent, He also equipped you with everything you need to get the job done. No, He really did! He's given you His Word. He's given you His local church. This local body should have a pastor who can help you in this. It should have brothers and sisters to encourage you in this and to hold you accoutable. Furthermore, God has given you the church universal in which many faithful brother and sisters throughout church history have written helpful resources that we can put to use. And most importantly, He's given us His own Son to be crucified for our sin, including the sin of neglecting intentionality in raising our children in the Lord. This doesn't excuse our sin, but it does compel us that we can rest it in Christ! And because of Jesus we can (and must!) repent of it and strive to now be faithful in this area. 

Dads, lead. Moms, if dad is out of the picture or won't step up in this, you lead. Here's an example of family worship here. And here's an excellent sermon from a pastor friend on family worship here. And if you'd like more information or more resources don't hesitate to contact me! May God be glorified in the way we raise our children. Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are the children of one's youth (Ps. 127:4)! Use those arrows wisely. May be weapons that the Lord uses to push back the domain of darkness and bring many sons to glory. 

Are you going the right way?

The Rare Jewel of Biblical Observation

Today's post is from my friend Adam Willett. Adam is a husband and father who loves Christ and has a desire to see the gospel advance in our state (Arkansas) and the nation. I am blessed to call Adam a close friend and I know you will be edified by what he has to say. Read and heed! His words below: 

One of the biggest benefits I’ve ever experienced in my Christian life is that of biblical repetition. What I mean is simply reading the Bible over and over again, specifically reading the same passage over and over again. I once heard John MacArthur tell his church of the importance of staying in a specific text and reading it repeatedly. He suggested taking a group of about 5 chapters and reading those everyday for a month. For instance, read the book of Galatians every day for the entire month of May. I was immediately drawn to the idea because of the simplicity of it. I am no biblical scholar and I am certainly no Greek or Hebrew scholar, so I need every help I can get. I started in the book of First John. I read the same five chapters every day for a month. Honestly, I was more engaged with the text that month than I ever had been. The way the Spirit worked through the word was incredible. I continually learned the text and continually found myself asking questions and wanting to know more. There were days when light would shine bright on a text, and I would see things on day 17 that I had not in the previous 16. Repetition helps my weak mind remember and pay attention to the word.
Since I started reading the Bible this way, the Lord has been gracious to reveal more and more of who He is in His word. I’ve since modified how I read the text. Instead of simply reading through a set of chapters daily, now I read through a set of chapters and every day pick one of those chapters to pray through. So, if I were reading through Galatians every day, on Monday I would read all five chapters and then pray chapter 1. On Tuesday I would read all five chapters then pray through chapter 2, and so on. Reading the Bible in this way has been a huge encouragement and has yielded much fruit for meAt one time I would drudge through a passage just trying to get to the end. My goal was quantity and not quality. There is a certain emptiness and despair in reading the Bible that way. It leaves me clinging to self-righteousness – that I had accomplished something by reading the Bible – but left me spiritually wanting more. Reading through the Bible in a year and other ventures of the sort aren’t necessarily bad suggestions, I just believe that repetition is a better, more fruitful way for the Christian who longs to glean from the Holy Scriptures. In fact, I would suggest doing both, but it may take you longer than a year to read the Bible in a year.
This is really not some revolutionary new way to read the Bible. It couldn’t be sold as a new “how to guide.” All it really comes down to is observation. All it really comes down to is spending time in the Word of God and letting the Holy Spirit lead and guide. It is certainly pragmatic. I genuinely believe that a Christian must grow by reading the Bible this way. He has no choice. The Bible is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, right?
     Again, this is not a Bible study program meant to make us scholars. This is simply reading the text and the Spirit showing us things we may normally glance over. I’ve found as I read through several chapters repeatedly, I notice the context of the passage and how each idea fits together. It’s not that I'm looking for context. I haven’t sat down with medical instruments ready to dissect the text. I am just reading and the context shows itself. After several days, the theme of the author is made apparent. I start to understand why Paul said what he said in Galatians 4 and how it relates to his opening chapter. I start seeing his concerns and how the Holy Spirit moved him to use those specific words. I start noticing the same words used often, that tell me of the authors concern and focus. 
     One of the most incredible insights I have gained is seeing the love and concern the author has for the readers. I spent a few months reading through the Thessalonians. After several weeks, it became glaringly obvious that Paul had a deep and caring love for the people of Thessalonica. His words were dripping with love. It wasn’t just one verse that I could pinpoint either, it was chapters and the book as a whole that lead to that conclusion. I don’t think I would have ever really understood that without reading it over and over.  Such knowledge was and is invaluable to me.
     We are not called to be like the teenage pupil in 8am biology class, dozing as the instructor reads through the book. We are called to be paying attention. We are called to see, hear, and obey what is in the text. Read through and notice the imperatives. See how the author focuses on one theme throughout a passage. Don’t just focus on the core verses, like the John 3:16’s, but also read the verses in between. We often scan through passages looking for the verses that would look nice highlighted, but remember that the rest of the text is inspired too. The letters in black are just as inspired and important as those in red. Read both with a thirst for knowing Christ and knowing the God of the Bible.
     And I haven’t even mentioned the benefit of praying through the word. That’s for another article but it is imperative we know and believe that the Holy Spirit of God works through his word. He works both by the reading of His word and by praying through it. 
     Ultimately, if we cherish God's Word, we will want to read it like we would a love letter from our beloved. We would read it over and over and focus on each little word. We would notice how the letters are rounded off a specific way or how they dot their I’s. We would notice the smell and the paper on which it was written. We would fawn over those words like they were more valuable than any precious stone. Well, the scriptures are much more than any love letter and they are more precious that jewels. They tell you of the holy and righteous King of the universe, God Almighty. Dive into those words.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Mutants and their Immutable God

What follows below is a guest post by Eddie Ragsdale, Pastor of First Baptist Church in Marshall, AR. I've known Eddie only 4 years but he has become a dear friend and brother in Christ. I appreciate his pastoral heart and theological insights. Hope you are blessed today from his writing:

Last evening I was watching a science show about genetic modification. In the course of this show there were several interesting topics being discussed such as bioethics and just how expansive an impact these new technologies might be. However, what seemed to stir my thinking the most was an off handed comment about how that we are all 'mutants' and the very important role the ability to mutate is for us to adapt and survive. Now I would of course take a different view of history and origin issues than those on this program. They would clearly have an evolutionary worldview whereas I would have a biblical young earth creationist worldview. But still the fact that there have been mutations in all of our genomes is clear and observable scientific information.

What seemed to be so intriguing to me is the fact that we are mutable. We change! As a matter of fact we are always changing. You are not the same person you used to be. Have you ever had the experience of reconnecting with an old friend that you haven't communicated with in years? Now I know the sappy stories of people picking up where the left off and bonds lasting even through time and separation blah blah blah. But my personal experience has been that even close friends I once had are almost strangers after years of separation because we have both changed so much. As a matter of fact I think that's healthy. I mean if you can pick right up with someone from twenty years ago with out any problem, what have you been doing for twenty years? Personal growth and life experiences should change us. I'm not even sure if I could relate very well to myself from twenty years ago. The fact is all this change can be both exciting and terrifying.

So what's the point, why am I writing all of this? Well, I was drawn into thinking about this whole subject of our mutability because that word 'mutable' made me also think about the word 'immutable'. Now it would be a tragedy if we were immutable because we need to grow and develop. A child that didn't grow and develop would quickly be found deficient for the next stage of life. The fact is we need to change because we as imperfect beings need to get better; we need to improve. Our current state simply isn't good enough. So immutability would be a bad thing for us.

However, there is One who is immutable! The Bible says that God does not change. "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever" (Hebrews 13:8). Now while it would be a bad thing for fallen imperfect beings like us to be immutable, it is an altogether great thing for a holy, righteous and perfect triune God to be immutable. Actually, in a universe filled with so much expansion and change the only reason that we can know anything is because God who has made and continues to hold all things together is unchanging. If our God could change or did change then everything we think we know could change. All of our understanding of matter and science is built on the idea that there are absolute laws that must exist in the universe. These laws depend on God and if He changed then they could change. However, even more important than any of these physical things is the reality that if God changed then we would have no confident hope in His promises. We can trust God's promises and His amazing work of redemption because He does not change! So much more could be discussed here: the immutability of His word or of His will or of His ways. But for the moment let us marvel at His glorious immutability. I might add also let us as sinners take full advantage of our mutability by repenting of our sins and putting our settled trust in the Lord Jesus Christ!

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Was Acts 2 the first Altar Call?

Peter's Sermon in Acts 2

In my discussion on Altar Calls, I had some interaction with a brother on Facebook who disagreed with my take. He said this:

"I fail to see how an altar call is in itself substantially different than what happened at Pentecost."

Well, then. Was Acts 2 an Altar Call? I don't think one can really build such a case. Here are some very important differences:

1. No one was told to come forward in Acts -

They weren't invited up front. They weren't asked to close their eyes and lift their hands. They were commanded to repent and believe the gospel. 

2. No music was played

Often music is employed as a way of setting the 'mood'. There was not 'invitation hymn' in Acts 2.

3. v.37 - The Holy Spirit moved upon the hearers, not Peter's manipulation

The hearers are actually the ones who initiate the response to the sermon, not Peter! They cry out "What must we do!?" I'm telling you, that would be simultaneously startling and amazing if someone stood up during a sermon I preached and cried out "What must I do to be saved!?"

4. No one was told to pray a prayer or led in a prayer or to recite a prayer -

This is the end game of altar calls. Get the sinner to recite a prayer and then tell them that if they really meant it, they are saved. That's not anywhere close to Acts 2 methodology. Peter commands his hearers to repent and believe the gospel. 

Furthermore, he testifies to God's prerogative and sovereignty in salvation saying that "promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.

5. The gospel was preached, they were told what to do, and it was left to them and God what would happen

Peter simultaneously calls the hearers to repent while letting them know that God must be calling them. Again, as I said in a previous post, we can't close the deal. That's the Lord's work in the sinner.

6. There was no concept of 'this prayer is the beginning of a relationship with God'  

That's problematic theologically on a few levels. We have to see that the initiating work of salvation is not our response but what God has already done in Christ and His application of that in real time by the Holy Spirit when He draws us. The point here being that one's calling on Christ is not what prompts God to begin a saving relationship. 

7. Because of the culture we've been raised in, I think we actually see people in Acts 2 "coming forward". 

I've heard men preach on Acts 2 who actually seem to think that's how it went down. This is a misunderstanding of not only the situation of Peter's preaching but also the point of the text as well.

The point being in all of this that Acts 2 is most assuredly not a proof text for altar calls. However, it is an amazingly beautiful encouragement of the power of God in the gospel and His willingness to save sinners! So, let us rest in that. Let's proclaim the gospel from the rooftops and compel all men without distinction to come to Christ in repentance and faith. Let us extol the mercies of God in Christ and share them the glories of the gospel and the reality of the wrath that remains upon them if they refuse to bow the knee to King Jesus. Trust in the work of God in the hearts of sinners, not in our ability to extend an Altar Call.

Keep laboring brothers. 

A few thoughts on the Sinner's Prayer

Woman in Black and White Stripe T Shirt With a Book on Her Lap Sitting on Sand during Daytime

I had quite a few readers of yesterday's blog (for me anyway, which isn't too many actually!), and so I wanted to follow up a little bit today.

Many people have recited a 'sinner's prayer' in their life as part of their conversion experience. If someone has said the sinner's prayer it doesn't mean they are or are not a Christian, it's just the reality of the culture we live in that many people have probably said the prayer sometime before in their life.

I just want to say a few things about that prayer in today's post:

1. It's nowhere in the bible -

Not in one place in Scripture does the 'sinner's prayer' appear. When anyone wants to become a Christian in Scripture they are never told to recite a canned prayer.

2. It is an evangelical 'sacrament' -

We rightly reject Roman Catholicism's system of justification by faith and works. And yet, we often use the sinner's prayer as a means of making God save us.

3. It stems from a desire to 'close the deal' - 

We all want to see results. I get that. There is no greater joy besides our own salvation than seeing someone else come to Christ! What a blessing! But we can't close the deal. We have to let the Spirit work and the sinner truly understand.

4. It is a misunderstanding of conversion -

Sinners are saved by grace through faith. No one is saved without repentance from sin and faith in Christ. A sinner's prayer should be the expression of that faith to Christ for what he or she already believes. In other words, you don't conjure up faith via prayer. Instead, the sinner calling on God for salvation should express what he or she wants.

Yeah, but what if they can't express it? Then maybe they don't understand it.

When counseling with people I've let them voice a prayer to God and sometimes they've prayed for their sick grandmother and thanked God for blessings. But there was nothing about repentance, needing Christ, or anything like that! So, it's clear they didn't understand the gospel. If I would have led them in prayer they would have repeated after me and thought they were saved when in reality they had no clue what was going on!

So, let's stop leading people in a repeat after me prayer to come to Christ. Instead, let's share the gospel and call them to repentance and faith. If we feel they understand the message then it's perfectly fine to suggest some things they might pray, but don't have them repeat after you. (But I will also say this: It can also be best to clearly explain the gospel, call them to repentance and faith, and then let people alone with God).

And, don't convince them that 'because they prayed that prayer' they are now a Christian no matter what. No. If they never exhibit the fruit of faith, they are not a believer. What needs to take place for a person to be a Christian is to be born again. Sadly, many have said the sinner's prayer but have never been regenerated by the Holy Spirit.

What if you've said that prayer? I've probably said the prayer about 1,000 times growing up! But what we need to understand is that it's not the prayer that saves. It's faith in Christ. If you are holding on to a prayer even though your life is not in pursuit of Christ, you need to repent and believe the gospel. It's not whether or not you said the prayer 'sincerely' but whether or not you trust Christ as your only suitable and all-sufficient Savior.

Hope this is helpful. To God be the glory.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

The Alter Call: The Key to Removing a Major Hindrance to Missions and Evangelism

arrow, communication, direction

Last summer I moved my family back to our hometown. This is the place both my wife and I grew up, came to Christ, and graduated high school. It has been a real joy serving this community, rekindling old friendships, making new ones, and seeing the Lord work. I am humbled even as I write this!

Over 10 years ago I had served in this area as a Youth Pastor. I was much younger in the faith obviously and one of the mistakes I made during that time was believing that I could bring people to Christ through means of an altar call and sinner's prayer. I reaped some of this fruit last fall when I met with a young man who had been in my youth group over a decade ago and invited him to the church I pastor. His response was something along the line of "I know I'm ok with the Lord. I remember when you saved me when I was in your youth group." Talk about a punch in the gut.

By God's grace, over the last 6 months or so we have seen 5 conversions. Thankfully, one of those was the young man to which I referred to above. But his testimony is not unique. Out of the 5 conversions we've seen, all 5 have been in a place at one point or another where they thought they had been converted because of some sort of altar call, whether at a church service, or a youth retreat, or one even at a VBS.

By 'altar call' I mean a call issued by a pastor or evangelist for people to 'come up front' to receive Jesus as their personal Lord and Savior. Something along the lines of "If you want to be saved come up and pray this prayer" or "If you'd like to be saved repeat this prayer after me" issued to the congregation at large.

From my observation, this practice has been a major hindrance to Missions and Evangelism in our churches. It seems like for the last 20 years or more the Southern Baptist Convention (my denomination) has been fighting over this. And every year I hear a sermon or two from leaders in our denomination about how doing away with altar calls will stifle our evangelistic impact. But I think quite the opposite! And I think the Bible, history, and the current fruit of the altar call system backs me up. Therefore, I contend we must alter the call. We must return to the true public invitations that we see in Scripture. We must publicly invite sinners to repent and believe this gospel! We see this type of preaching by Jesus and His Apostles throughout the New Testament. Furthermore, we see this carried out by faithful men throughout the history of the church.

But what we do not see in the Bible or in the history of the church until the 19th century are invitations to have people come up and repeat a prayer.

Why is the practice of having people come forward to recite a prayer such a hindrance to evangelism and missions?

1. It confuses repentance -

At a church I served in 2011 there were some people who equated 'repentance' with voicing sorrow for sin. Now, surely repentance entails sorrow for sin! But that is most certainly not all repentance is. When we think repentance is merely 'going forward' or 'saying sorry' then this causes a misunderstanding of the essential call of the gospel: To repent and believe (Mark 1:15).

Isn't this at least one reason we see so many 'rededications' at evangelistic events? People feel compelled to 'rededicate' their lives because their initial 'act' of repentance didn't stick.

2. It conveys false assurance -

My friend who recently came to Christ, and the other 4 we've seen do so recently, all lived in a state whereby they thought they were right with God. If they had died in such a state they would have stood before King Jesus who would have said "Depart from me, I never knew you" (Mt. 7:21-23). It is tragic how many are deceived because they have walked an aisle and prayed a prayer! Some of those people are off living for the world and in heinous sin. Others though are right there in the pew every Sunday, and when they hear a call to repent and believe the gospel they think "I've done did that. I'm ok," not knowing that if nothing changes, they will spend an eternity in Hell.

I do not mean to suggest that if you did this that you are 'lost'. That might be true, but it's not necessarily true! But I do say this: If you came forward and prayed a prayer, that's not what saved you, It was your repentance and faith initiated by the grace of God through the work of the Holy Spirit.

3. It ruins church membership -

Many churches in the SBC have wildly inflammatory membership rolls. Say something like 500 on the rolls with 150 present on a Sunday morning. This ratio fluctuates depending on the size of the church but in my estimation, it is generally 3:1 of roll to attendance. This is something that we need to labor to change. I hope for an SBC president one day to lead in this. But that's not something we can wait around on. Pastors must get this conviction and seek to be faithful to the Church's Head in having a regenerate church membership that actually attends.

There is nothing more stifling to evangelism and missions than unhealthy churches. And when we don't practice regenerate church membership rightly, we see unhealthy churches. I mean, surely we can see the negative practical ramifications of lost people serving in our churches?

4. It stifles personal evangelism -

The idea is to 'get someone saved' I just need to bring them to church and get them to walk the aisle. Hey, I'll even walk down the aisle with you if you'll go! I'm sure many Pastors would not support such an idea but it is certainly at least implicitly communicated by the crescendo of the altar call at the end of the service.

There is more that could be said but suffice it to say that the result of an Altar Call atmosphere has created a culture that has actually hindered missions and evangelism. When churches struggle because of unconverted members, or we have unconverted teachers, pastors, or missionaries on the field, or we are proclaiming a confused or truncated gospel, then surely we can see that these things not only aren't advancing the cause of Christ, but actually being a hindrance to it. When everyone in the Bible Belt is 'already saved' because of the Altar Call, but there is little true love for Christ, little holiness, paltry concern for God's glory, no hatred of sin, then we must face the grim reality that the numbers of people who 'came forward' so boasted about at the evangelism rally (or youth camp, or VBS, etc) 50 years ago, and then again 30 years ago, and then again 10 years ago, and then again last year, didn't actually hold true.

So where do we go from here? My suggestion is the alter call. Instead of calling sinners to come forward and say a prayer, let us call them to repent and close with Christ. But, actually when we think of it in terms of Scriptural evidence and historical precedent, the reality is that the 'Altar Call' is the alter call! The call of repentance and faith has always been the true call of response after gospel proclamation. I'm not the one advocating anything new, but going back to the Book.

What will this look like? Here are a few thoughts:

1. Be Clear on What Sinners Must Do -

I've heard the argument that the Altar Call is really just about helping people understand what they must do to be saved. I've heard pastors say that they invite people forward and to repeat a prayer so that they can know what they are doing. Why can this not be communicated in the sermon? Was Jesus not clear in Mark 1:15? Was Paul not clear in Acts 16:31?

Is prayer involved in our salvation? Of course! We must call on the Lord to be saved. But if we need someone to articulate for us what that means via a prayer to be repeated, have we really understood the gospel? The best illustration I've heard is this: Suppose a man wants to repent to his wife for sinning against her. His idea is to call the preacher and have him come over. The preacher says "Ok son, just repeat after me" "Dear honey" "Dear honey" "I'm really sorry" "I'm really sorry".... So, surely you can see how that definitely is NOT going to be seen as true repentance from the wife!

And in fact, I think the 'sinner's prayer' actually adds requirements. Remember the publican? He simply said 'be merciful to me a sinner.' The heart that is pricked by the Spirit will express itself well enough. In fact, it's God who knows the heart isn't it?

2. Make Counseling a Priority -

Great men of the past have set aside significant time to counsel with people about their salvation. Instead of trying to squeeze in a conversation about the gospel during a 5 minute time of invitation, invite people to talk with you at a later time. During counseling, we can see whether or not there is a clear head knowledge and heart knowledge of the gospel.

3. Trust the Lord's Work and Timing -

God saves sinners. There is nothing you or I can do to move them across the threshold so to speak. We can't move them from darkness to light. That's the work of the Holy Spirit. We live in a results based society. We want to see results now. But as Tom Nettles has said, "Conversion is certainly instantaneous, but not all instantaneous response is true conversion; sometimes the evidence of true conversion is slow (Luke 8:11-15)." Not every immediate responder to the gospel is converted. Instead of laboring for results, let us labor to make the gospel clear and to show clearly what it means to repent, trust Chist as Savior, and follow Him as Lord.

4. It's Ok to Sing a Hymn at the End of the Sermon -

We sing a hymn at the conclusion of our sermons. We even have an opportunity for people to pray with the pastor or publicly unite with the church (after previous counsel of course!). I'm not saying preach the sermon and walk out the doors. Singing a hymn can give people sufficient time to reflect on what's been said. They can praise God! They can pray to God! But don't make this the crescendo of your service whereby you play 17 verses of Just As I Am and plead with people to come forward. Let the pleading to close with Christ happen in the public proclamation of the Word. There doesn't need to be an 'after sermon' after the sermon. One is sufficient.

5. Remember that Sunday Mornings Aren't Primarily Evangelistic -

The church is made up of Believers. The primary exhortations during the sermon should be directed to the church. Yes, call unbelievers to repentance. But the whole sermon shouldn't be geared toward the lost, at least not in the vast majority of the 52 Sundays every year. The beautiful thing about preaching the gospel though is that Christians need it to. So, the exhortation to Believers to continue to trust the gospel, and repent of sin, and rest themselves in the finished work of Jesus is also a call to unbelievers that they need to do the same thing.

When we understand the truth that Sunday mornings are for the church, this will greatly aid us in a right view of what we should be doing and not doing in our services. We don't tailor services for the lost! Rather, we submit to Scripture's authority and trust its sufficiency for how we do Sundays. Evangelism is taking the gospel to the streets. We must equip our people to share the gospel in the home, at their work, with their neighbors. And their goal isn't just to get people in their life to 'come to church' but to repent of their sin and trust Jesus alone as their only suitable and all sufficient Savior.

6. Trust God's Grace for Past Failures -

As I said above, I failed in this before too. I shudder when I think about some of the people I led in a Sinner's Prayer who are not in church and by all evidences afforded to me, not true Beleivers. But there is grace for this too. I'm not saying it's not a serious error! I'm just saying the Savior's blood speaks a better word. So, if you've failed in this, trust God's grace, repent, and change.

7. Understand the Difficulty of Change -

I have had personal experience of trying to teach on this where it was rejected. So, commit this issue to prayer. Be willing to talk with people. Be humble. Be patient. But be serious in your conviction to please the Lord. Love the church and lost people enough that you are willing to adapt your methods to line up with Scripture. But also realize that change is difficult. Especially something that has been engrained in our culture for so long.

I've never shared this publicly before but while I was serving at a previous church, I actually had a denominational leader tell a pastor friend of mine that I had 'stopped doing invitations'. This was not true! But it was something a church member had communicated to this person and so this person communicated it to someone else and it got back to me. As an aside, I sure could have used the help instead of the gossip! The point is, you need to understand change in this area won't be easy. But it's ok. It's worth it!

This has been on my heart for a number of years now. But there is something about seeing the bad fruit of Altar Calls personally time and again over the last several months that has prompted me to write this post. I truly believe that if we want to see the work of God furthered and not hindered in our area and across the globe, we must eschew the foolhardy methods of Altar Calls and Repeat After Me Prayers for salvation.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Peter's Unwasted Life

We recently began a new series through the 1st Epistle of Peter. Expository sermons through books of the Bible is the mainstay of our preaching (Why?) at Perryville Second Baptist.

This is from our introductory sermon on the Epistle.

This letter was written by the Apostle Peter probably in the 60s AD. So Peter is older in life and it has been nearly 3 decades since the death, burial, crucifixion, and ascension of Jesus. Peter is someone we have a lot to learn from. But even more importantly, we know that as he pens this letter that the Holy Spirit has worked in and through Him in such a way that we don’t merely have Peter’s words but God’s. However, it is still helpful for us to understand the human author. And so today, I want us to see 8 things about Peter’s life and hope to show you that even though he died a gruesome death, his life was not wasted. Chiefly for one reason: He loved and lived for Jesus!
But, we’ve got to start from the beginning. So, point 1:

I.                    Peter the Person – Who was the Apostle Peter?

He was born as ‘Simon’ in the city of Bethsaida in Galilee. Bethsaida sits on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee, and so it’s not hard to imagine that he became a fisherman. That was the family business. Simon the fisherman was first introduced to Jesus by his brother:
One of the two who heard John speak and followed Jesus was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. He first found his own brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which means Christ). 42 He brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon the son of John. You shall be called Cephas” (which means Peter). (John 1:40-42)

Here is a fitting illustration of how when you meet Jesus, you get a new identity, don’t you? Jesus changed Simon's name. Sort of how Peter says:

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. (1 Pt. 2:9-10)

I don’t mean to suggest that Peter was ‘saved’ at his first encounter with Jesus but just that immediately when he met Jesus, Jesus changed his name. When we meet Jesus he doesn’t just change our name, but everything about us.

II.                  Peter the Professor

Now, Andrew was a disciple of John the Baptist. After this first meeting w/ Jesus some time elapsed until Jesus saw Andrew and Peter again and officially called them to follow Him:

While walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon (who is called Peter) and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Immediately they left their nets and followed him. (Mt. 4:19-20)

And Peter wasn’t just a measly fisherman. There’s evidence that he was doing well. James and John were partners with him:

But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” For he and all who were with him were astonished at the catch of fish that they had taken, and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. And Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.” And when they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed him. (Luke 5:8-11)

Peter left everything and followed Jesus. Furthermore, we can be even surer that as he pens this epistle that he understands even greater the radical call of following Jesus and that the only way to not waste your life, is to give up everything and follow Christ! How fitting that we see in Peter that when he met Jesus not only did he get a new name, but also a new profession – from fisherman to fisher of men.

You probably remember that Peter’s personality was such that he became sort of the unofficial spokesperson for the disciples a lot didn’t he? He wasn’t always right mind you. But sometimes he was:

Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. (Mt. 16:13-18)

Peter, by grace, professed Jesus as God’s Messiah.

III.                Peter the Presumptuous

Peter also had some negative traits, didn’t he? Just a few verses down from Peter being right, we read:

From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” (Matthew 16:21-23)

(Just as an aside, it’s never a good thing to rebuke Jesus.)

Peter had some pride issues and if he’d gone to the doctor he’d have been diagnosed with foot in mouth disease. Two other examples:

And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. 30 But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” (Matthew 14:28-31)

And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light. And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. And Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” He was still speaking when, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” When the disciples heard this, they fell on their faces and were terrified. 7 But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Rise, and have no fear.” And when they lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only. (Matthew 17:1-8)

Along with James and John, Peter was in Jesus’ ‘inner 3’. He would later be used mightily of God, but that didn’t happen overnight did it? His presumption and pride got him into a lot of trouble. That leads us to our next point:

IV.                Peter the Pretender

Peter says he writes about the ‘true grace of God’ (1 Peter 5:12). The best people to explain grace, are those who’ve experienced it. Let’s take a look at the darkest time in Peter’s life:

“Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.” Peter said to him, “Lord, I am ready to go with you both to prison and to death.” Jesus said, “I tell you, Peter, the rooster will not crow this day, until you deny three times that you know me.”…Then they seized him and led him away, bringing him into the high priest’s house, and Peter was following at a distance. And when they had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and sat down together, Peter sat down among them. Then a servant girl, seeing him as he sat in the light and looking closely at him, said, “This man also was with him.” But he denied it, saying, “Woman, I do not know him.” And a little later someone else saw him and said, “You also are one of them.” But Peter said, “Man, I am not.” And after an interval of about an hour still another insisted, saying, “Certainly this man also was with him, for he too is a Galilean.” But Peter said, “Man, I do not know what you are talking about.” And immediately, while he was still speaking, the rooster crowed. And the Lord turned and looked at Peter. And Peter remembered the saying of the Lord, how he had said to him, “Before the rooster crows today, you will deny me three times.” And he went out and wept bitterly. (Luke 22:31-34, 54-62)

I think a lot of people miss a point in the gospel stories. And that point is this: Both Judas and Peter denied Jesus in His most crucial hour. And yet, Judas killed himself, but Peter was brought back. But think of Peter! A pretender! A hypocrite! A coward! He talked a big talk but cowered at the interrogation of a servant girl! So why is Peter prayed for by Jesus and later restored? Grace.

V.                  Peter the Pardoned –

Consider what the gospel of Mark tells us after the resurrection of Jesus:

And he said to them, “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.” (Mark 16:6-7)

Now we are getting glimpses of grace. Why do you think Peter was singled out here? Tell the disciples AND peter…? Peter had absolutely blown it. He had denied Jesus. He had deserted Jesus. He had turned His back on the One whom he’d said he’d die for. Peter needed to understand grace.
Grace isn’t necessarily ‘easy’ is it? Grace probed Peter’s heart. In John 19 Jesus got at the root of Peter’s pride and denial so that Peter could understand that he was forgiven and that his commission was to love Christ above all else, to follow Christ above all else, and to teach Christ’s people.
Peter deserved to die abandoned and alone just like Judas. But instead Jesus sought Him, and dealt with Him in love and grace showing that the blood of Christ was enough to cleanse Peter of his sin.

VI.                Peter the Proclaimer –

In 1 Peter 1:1, Peter identifies himself as an Apostle of Christ. Spurgeon says of this text “It must have been very pleasant to his heart to write those words. Not “Peter, who denied his Master”; not “Peter, full of imperfections and infirmities, the impetuous and changeable one of the twelve.” “Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ,” as truly sent of God as any of the other apostles, and with as much of the Spirit of his Master resting upon him.”

Now Peter’s life is forever changed. He’s not perfect mind you. But he is changed. Consider his boldness in Acts! (See for example - Acts 2:22-24, Acts 4:4-13 Acts 5:27-31) From Simon the fisherman, to the unrefined prideful disciple of Jesus, to the unfaithful and disloyal traitor, to a bold proclaimer of the gospel!

This is the power of God and the effect of the grace of the gospel! Peter passionately preached that there is salvation in no one else but Jesus! Right in the face of those who he’d once feared. Jesus was right: Peter was a ROCK. And on this ROCK – the truth of Christ’s ministry, and the confession of it by Peter and others - Jesus builds His church. Peter unashamedly proclaimed the forgiveness of sins through the substitutionary work of Jesus Christ on the cross. We see it in this letter too:
He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. (1 Pt. 2:24)

VII.              Peter the Pastor –

Peter says he is a fellow ‘elder’ (1 Peter 5:1). This is synonymous with the term ‘pastor.’ The reason I bring up that Peter was a pastor is b/c this letter is extremely pastoral. There are 3 major themes found in 1 Peter. He wants his readers (who are members of mainly gentile churches scattered throughout modern day Turkey) to:

1.       Understand the Glorious Gospel of Grace and its implications – 1 Pt. 3:18
2.       Live Holy Lives – 1 Pt. 1:14-16
3.       Know the Reality of and Hope in Suffering while living as strangers in this world – 1 Pt. 4:12
The letter of 1 Peter is extremely pastoral, practical, and a needed word for us in 2017. It is worthy of your reading it and rereading it. Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection produces a holy people. And our hope isn’t in this life or the fame or fortune or accolades we can receive from it (1 Peter 1:3-5)/
Peter is a man in love with Jesus and in love with the church and this pours out of every page of this letter…

VIII.            Peter the Persecuted -

The Bible tells us that Peter would die a martyr (John 21:18-19). But it doesn’t tell us exactly how he did end up dying. Tradition however, says he died in Rome at the hands of Emperor Nero sometime in the mid to late 60s after he had written 1-2 Peter.Tradition also says that he was to be crucified but did not consider himself worthy to be crucified like Jesus so he requested to be crucified upside down.

I bring up Peter’s death for two reasons:

1.       When Peter writes about suffering, he wasn’t just saying ‘do as I say’

He was writing with conviction and calling the church to be faithful in suffering and his own death proves that he was living that out too. Read Acts and see Peter’s suffering. He was beaten and imprisoned because of his love for Christ. Peter understood suffering.

2.       He did not waste his life

See, you might be reading this today and think that any person who gave up their family business, and some even close relationships with friends and family, in order to be beaten, ridiculed, persecuted, and eventually martyred for their faith in Christ, would be a wasted life. Oh, but I assure you today, Peter did not waste his life. And you might think “Well, I wish I could ask him” but we already KNOW what he thought because we have his letter! His life was oriented to proclaiming the excellences of the person and work of Jesus! (1 Pt 2:9)

Peter lived an unwasted life b/c he followed Jesus:

·         He didn’t live for this world but the one that is to come at Jesus’ return
·         His hope was so set on what Jesus had done, was doing, and has still yet to do, that he resolved to live holy in the midst of a twisted culture
·         He was willing to love, and to share the hope of Jesus with others.
·         And he was willing to suffer for his faith to the glory of God.

It has been my endeavor to set before us the man who wrote this letter so that we might understand the background of his writing. But, even more importantly, I hope that we have seen the Man whom Peter would want to be set before us: Namely, the God-Man Jesus Christ. A life that loves, submits to, follows, and obeys King Jesus is never a wasted life. Whether we are known in 100 years by this world or not.

Who cares? Jesus knows us! Jesus knows me, this I love!

·         Jesus became a curse that I might receive the blessing.
·         Jesus tasted death that I might have life.
·         Jesus was forsaken that I might never be abandoned.
·         Justice was paid on the cross that I might receive grace.

And by faith in this gospel, we go free. Free to live in holiness. Free to live in joy and delight in Christ. Free to suffer in hope. Free to eagerly await the return of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Free to grow until he returns (2 Peter 3:18).

I implore you today: Do not live a wasted life. Do not buy into cultural expectations for what matters.

Christian: See Jesus as infinitely better than any worldly achievement or the applause of men. See your life, and your children’s lives, as more valuable than the paltry goals the world has for you. Live for Christ! Rest in His finished work daily and let the world know who you really are by your holy lives and by the spoken gospel.

Unbeliever: Do not waste your life. Oh you may think the cost is too great. But I assure you: The cost of a wasted life is much greater. Surrender now to Jesus as your only suitable and all-sufficient Savior. Can you receive pardon? Oh yes! Yes you can! Just ask Peter! But you must come to Christ in faith alone…

Don’t waste your life.

(You can hear this sermon preached by clicking here)