October 20, 2008

Monday Morning Message - The Strength of Hope

In my former days as a minister to students I had the privilege of working with two outstanding young men; one was built like a dump truck the other like a toy truck. They were an entertaining pair to observe as the smaller of the two was always pestering the larger. I vividly remember one particular day when the dump truck had endured more than any patient person should have been asked to endure and he simply grabbed the toy truck by his ever so slight shoulders, effortlessly picked him up and sat him down with the instructions not to move. Never a raised voice. Nary a show of anger. Nothing to outwardly indicate the inward boil that had peaked. He simply, gently, and directly dealt with the issue confronting him. It stands out as a picture of strength under control.

We, as believers, are called to exhibit this kind of strength as we communicate the message of hope to a desperate world. There is no need for shrill shouting matches or angered protests over the compelling issue of the day. I believe there is a clear and hope filled road map for us to follow in difficult days like these. Take a look at it with me as we continue this brief journey through 1 Peter.

Read 1 Peter 3:8-17

Notice first that this hope is a generous hope. It is a hope that gives. It is a hope that stands in contrast to the ways of the world. In verse 9 Peter gets specific as he speaks of the appropriate response of the believer to being "reviled." Rather than give as good as we get, believers are called to a higher standard. We are to give better than we receive. If spoken evil of we are to bless. If trashed in the media we should speak well of them. If despised we should return admiration. Granted, this strategy probably won't lead immediately to the top of the heap but it is the very strategy God employed in bringing hope to this world through Jesus.

This generous hope offers blessing to a blessing starved world. It offers living water to a people parched by the dessicated wilderness of sin. It is a hope we didn't earn in the first place and therefore, we are able to freely offer to others. Perhaps the greatest problem the church of God faces is our holding too tightly His blessings. God never intended for us to keep them for ourselves but to share them freely with others. We are blessed to be a blessing.

This hope is also a genuine hope. It is the real deal. It is not built on some lofty cloud that will burn off in the heat of the noonday sun. It is not a fantastical notion without any foundation in reality. Indeed, it is a reasonable hope which we communicate to this world. Many will ask how faith in Christ as Lord can be a reasonable proposition. I say, ask those who saw Jesus after his resurrection if it is reasonable to believe. Certainly they are dead and gone but we have their eyewitness accounts marvelously (dare I say miraculously?) preserved for us in the pages of the New Testament.

Some will, no doubt, raise questions about the reliability of the New Testament. Can it be trusted as a document? Note the following facts about this most remarkable ancient document.

  • There are 5300 known Greek manuscripts of the New Testament
  • There are an additional 10,000 copies of the Latin Vulgate (the Latin translation of the Greek)
  • There are 9300 other early versions
  • This give us roughly 24,000 copies of the New Testament
  • The earliest of these dates to within 50 years of the writing of the originals.
Compare this to other ancient documents considered "authoritative"....
  • The 2nd place finisher is Homer's Iliad with 643 copies available. It's earliest copy dates to +/- 500 years from the writing of the original.
  • The 3rd place finisher is Ceasar's Gallic Wars with 10 copies available. Likewise it's earliest manuscript dates to +/- 500 years after the original.
Which of these documents, all considered authoritative by scholars, has the best textual evidence to insure that the document we have is as close as is possible to the original? Kind of a no-brainer don't you think? (For more see this paper.)

When Peter says "be prepared to make a defense...for a reason for the hope that is in you. (v.15)" he is talking about the logical, defensible nature of faith placed in Christ Jesus.

Furthermore, this hope is a grounded hope. It is built upon the solid, immovable, unchanging cornerstone of Jesus Christ. But this is not simply an affirmation of propositions about Jesus it is, first and last, a relationship with Jesus. Note what A.W. Tozer said about this.

"Tens of thousands of believers who pride themselves in their understanding of Romans and Ephesians cannot conceal the sharp spiritual contradiction that exists between their hearts and the heart of Paul.

That difference may be stated this way: Paul was a seeker and a finder and a seeker still. They seek and find and seek no more. After 'accepting' Christ they tend to substitute logic for life and doctrine for experience.

For them truth becomes a veil to hide the face of God: for Paul it was a door into His very presence...Many today stand by Paul's doctrine who will not follow him in his passionate yearning for divine reality."

It is a grounded hope that is based on much more than empty facts. It is built upon the very presence of Christ in the life of the believer.

This leads to an understanding of the strength of hope. Peter makes a most unusual statement in verse 16. He instructs his hearers to express this reason for the hope that is in them with "gentleness and respect." This hope is a gentle hope. But be careful not to confuse gentle with weak. It is a gentle hope born of the great strength of God Himself. Much like the exhibition of strength under control that I witnessed in the lives of those two young men this hope is to be communicated with gentleness and respect.

This should be revisited by many of our Christian brothers and sisters today. Far too many are trying to communicate this marvelous hope in less than marvelous ways. Let us follow the example of the one we claim to follow, divesting ourselves of all claims and rights. Let us simply serve and communicate the message of hope to a world in desperate need of hope.

October 15, 2008

Blessed Are the Poor in Spirit

Funny that I intended all along to post about the poverty of the spirit and upon attempting to compose my thoughts on this needful topic I discovered that I am one who is spiritually impoverished. I intended to wag my finger at the busyness that distracts us from truly living. I was prepared to bring to light the shallow substitutes which fail to satisfy. I had decided to comment on the obvious growing hunger for matters of the spirit in our day and age. All this and more but I found the writing too difficult and too personal for I am guilty of busyness, and hunger, and shallow substitutes. Rather than offer my observations I find that I must proffer my confessions.

I am a busy man. I have found myself in recent weeks wondering where the time to spend with my family has gone. But another committee meeting beckons, another visit to the hospital must be made, the sermon must be prepared, the bills paid, the grass cut, the dog washed, and the dryer vent repaired.

I remember these feelings from my days in suburban hell.
The guilt of simply standing still for a few moments.
The paralysis of overwhelming demands.
The feeling of falling ever further behind.

I have filled my belly with the junk food all to readily available in our culture rather than the satisfying spiritual food I know to feed upon.

Looking for the latest scrap of election news until I am sick of hearing about it. Please don't let another automated call come through my phone line! (I have promised dire consequences should my bride EVER make another political contribution! It will be years before we are out of those systems, if ever.)

It's the economy stupid! Watching the roller coaster that has become the Dow Jones Index has become something of a hobby of late.

Sports binges are all the rage right now. All day Saturday football. ALCS and NLCS (and I'm not even a baseball fan!). Collegiate basketball just around the corner. I even accepted the "Free 8 week trial offer" of Sports Illustrated. I already hate to see the thing in my mailbox.

I know the growing hunger for spiritual food to sustain me. I know it because I need it. I know the heart cry of the Psalmist who says, "My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with Him?" (Psalm 42:2). I understand the wonder on the faces of those who heard Jesus say, "If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink" (John 7:37). I feel the thrill of the woman at the well when she was told she would never thirst again if she would but drink (John 4:13-15).

I am thirsty.

I am also blessed for I know that my thirst is not imposed upon me by a vindictive God. No, my thirst is of my own making.

To drink I simply return.

Once again I am surprised by the wonder of grace.

On Poverty

"Our frustration is greater when we have much and want more than when we have nothing and want some. We are less dissatisfied when we lack many things than when we seem to lack but one thing." Eric Hoffer, The True Believer

October 13, 2008

Monday Morning Message - The Stones of Hope

A too full plate requires a seriously stripped down version of the message (I'm gonna' have to re-title this thing the Monday Afternoon Message...) Here's the bare bones outline - you flesh it out.

Scripture - 1 Peter 1:22-2:12

Let me remind you this little letter was written to believers. This is critical to the understanding of this letter. (If you are not a believer this message is ultimately not for you. It can be and I pray that it will be.) Peter wrote this to believers that were living in the midst of a culture that severely persecuted them and was openly hostile to their way of life. They, like us, needed to be reminded of hope.

Last week we discovered the stamp of hope has a plan (in place from before the foundation of the world - 1 Peter 1:20), a pattern (it is a living hope - 1 Peter 1:7) and it is transferred to our lives by pressures (1 Peter 1:9). God is still working this hope filled plan into our lives and the lives of those we encounter.

Notice first it is a holy hope. (1 Peter 1:22-2:1) This is not a hope the world has. It is a hope set apart for those who are in Christ. It affects our lives and the way in which we live them. If we are not accurately reflecting the character of God to a watching world we need to examine the quality of the hope that is in us.

This hope is also a wholesome hope ( 1 Peter 2:2-3) Peter talks of the pure spiritual milk. How can we know the truth in spiritual matters? Peter gives the answer in verse 3, "taste and see". If you've ever had spoiled milk you know it doesn't take long to figure out it's not good for you. Much the same with bogus spirituality, both of the "Christian" and "non-Christian" varieties. A little experience with toxic spirituality is enough to convince one of it's deleterious effect. Conversely, a little experience with the truth always leads to a desire for more truth.

This hope has a firm foundation (1 Peter 2:4-8). It is founded upon Christ the cornerstone. Once the cornerstone of a building was set everything else about that building was determined; the angle of the walls, the level of the succeeding courses of stone, etc. God sets the agenda for His people.

This hope is also a functional hope (1 Peter 2:5-12). Worship is the central calling of the church. This is not limited to the hour on Sunday morning. Indeed, every action of the believer is an action of worship performed before a watching world. Church is not just a religious association formed by saved individuals to give united expression to their faith. It is to be a living, breathing body responding to God's direction in our day to day lives.

In Number 6:22-27 God instructs the priests concerning the blessing they were to give. In 1 Peter we are given the astounding news that we are now the priests! We are part of God's plan to bring hope to the world.

October 8, 2008

Centenarian Still Preaching!

W.L. Baker is a man after my own heart! I sometimes get asked the "retirement" question which goes something like this, "So, how long do you think you'll be preaching?" My answer is I can't imagine not having the opportunity to stand and proclaim the marvelous truth of God's word on a regular basis. I get itchy after a couple of weeks out of the pulpit!

W.L. Baker recently had the opportunity to stand before almost 500 who had gathered to hear him deliver a sermon on Deuteronomy 34. The wonderful serendipity of this event was that this particular Sunday just happened to fall on his 100th birthday! You can read the rest of this story here. I wonder how many in attendance pondered the remarkable event in which they were participating?

On a few occasions in my life I have enjoyed the teaching of a sainted senior citizen and have marveled at the depth of their faith. They possess a wisdom and confidence arising from years of consistent reliance on God's presence in their lives which is heard not only in their words but in their lives. I pray that I will finish well and be one of those people. But, until then, I say, "Congratulations W.L.! Thank you for making level paths and straight roads on which we can follow. Here's to your 101st year of service!"

October 6, 2008

Monday Morning Message - The Stamp of Hope

"Two things I ask of you;
deny them not to me before I die;
Remove far from me falsehood and lying;
give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that is needful for me,
lest I be full and deny you and say, "Who is the LORD?"
or lest I be poor and steal
and profane the name of my God."
Proverbs 30:7-9

The headlines are full of hopeless news. I imagine some of you are losing sleep over the economic crisis facing our nation. I am sure some of you are processing bad news from the Doctor. I know with certainty that many are wrestling with children that have wandered. There is a need for a fresh dose of hope. But not just any hope will do. We need a hope that is certain and secure in these trouble filled days. Where are we to turn? Surely it's not to the government (their mishandling of crisis is well documented.) Surely it's not to the so called "Master's of the Universe" who once proudly prowled Wall Street but seem anything but masterful now.

The apostle Peter penned his first letter to the scattered believers in a time of great difficulty and he writes to them a singularly hope filled letter. I believe we can rediscover the reason those who are in Christ can and should hope even in the most trying of times.

Take a moment to read 1 Peter 1:1-9. Take note of the character of hope Peter describes.

Hope requires a plan. Here is good news! God has a plan! It is not a knee-jerk reaction to the headlines of the day. Rather it is a plan which God has been patiently working out from before the foundation of the earth. Peter speaks of God's foreknowledge and choice in verses 1 and 2. I am not going to enter into a lengthy discussion of the issue of foreknowledge and predestination here. I feel as John Calvin about such matters, that they should not be looked at for too long or with too much intensity as they are matters akin to looking into the sun. Suffice it to say here that God is aware and not taken by surprise by any of the events that have so possessed our minds recently. Peter speaks of Jesus as being known from before the foundations of the world in verse 20. What a profound and moving notion! Dr. Edmund Clowney, of the Westminster Seminary in Philadelphia, states, "Foreknowledge means that...His [God's] people were the objects of God's loving concern from all eternity."

Hope requires a plan and God has one. It is not a plan just recently developed. It is a plan in place from all eternity. But hope also requires a pattern. What does this hope look like? Not just any hope will do. It can't be some over generalized characterization without any specifics. It must have a particular shape and character for it to be believable. Peter vividly describes this hope.

1. It is a living hope! (v. 3) This hope is firmly based on the empirical and historic event of the resurrection. Because Jesus rose from the grave we have reason to hope right now! There are some who will quickly ask, "But what if it's not true? What if Christ did not rise?" Some would say that living a "Christian" way of life is it's own reward. The apostle Paul would strongly disagree. He states in 1 Corinthians 15:19 that if Christ is not risen from the grave we are to be pitied above all men. In other words, the simple fact of the bodily resurrection of Jesus is the hinge upon which all our hope swings.

2. It is an inherited hope. (v. 4) I know a bit about inheritance. I have a set of commentaries on my bookshelf that belonged to my grandfather. I did not buy them but they most certainly belong to me. Likewise our hope is not something we can earn because it has been bought and paid for by another, namely Jesus. This hope is an inherited hope!

3. It is an imperishable hope. (v. 4) Unlike the treasures in which we tend to place undue confidence, the hope that is ours in Christ Jesus is one that will not fade, spoil, or be ruined. We are all too familiar with the passing value of the stuff we collect. If you purchase a new car you are sure to get a ding in the door panel. If you put a new roof on the house you can almost count on a hail storm to damage it. If you purchase some new white tennis shoes someone will most surely step on them. Unlike all the "treasures" of this world, the treasure of the hope offered to us in Christ Jesus does not fade.

4. It is a guarded hope. (v. 4-5) Peter says this hope is kept for us. Marvelous word there. 'Kept' is a military term in the Greek carrying the notion of a sentinel, one who watches. This hope is being watched for us. The obvious question is, "Who's doing the watching?" and "Can we trust them to watch it well?" The answer provided in scripture is, "He who keeps you will not slumber. He who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep. The LORD is your keeper." It's good to know that God is watching over the hope that is ours.

5. It is a blessed hope. (v. 7-9). That word 'blessed' indicates 'happy.' Mind you this is not some naive pasty smile that is oblivious to the challenges being faced in our lives. Rather it is a deep abiding joy that is able to bring a spring to our step and smile to our face even in the most difficult of days. It is a joy that arises from the confidence we have in the one who plans and patterns our hope.

Finally hope not only needs a plan and a pattern, it also requires pressure. My father-in-law was a printer by trade. We have in our possession numerous drawers of type face that he would use to print the weekly paper. I watched time and again with fascination as he would carefully plan and pattern the print for the paper but it was the final step that brought the result. He would pass a sheet of paper through the press causing the image to be transferred. It required a great amount of pressure as his nine fingered hand grimly attested. Likewise this hope planned and patterned for us by God requires a pressure to be transferred to our lives.

In verses 6 & 7, Peter speaks of "trials" and "testing" of our faith. Peter understood that God's people in his day, and in our day also, faced pressure. This was no ordinary pressure. It was a pressure that brought about the result of God's sure hope being indelibly stamped into the very fabric of our lives.

Our hope is anchored in the past: Jesus rose!
Our hope remains in the present: Jesus lives!
Our hope will be completed in the future: Jesus is coming! To which I say, "Amen! Come Lord Jesus!"