Friday, July 8, 2016

Waiting for Jesus' Return

We are called to live our lives with expectancy. The early believers inspire us by their outlook; they expected Jesus Christ to return in their lifetime.  Here are ways they expressed their faith that Jesus Christ could come at any moment:


Romans 13:12 (NIV) The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light.


1 John 2:18 (NIV) Dear children, this is the last hour; and as you have heard that the antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come. This is how we know it is the last hour.


The fact that Jesus did not return in the first century does not invalidate God’s promise. Jesus never promised to come within a certain window of time. From the Creator’s perspective, a thousand years is only a day. Regardless of when we think Jesus will return or how we view prophecy, we know that one day we will stand before God. We have to be ready to meet him. Expectancy must categorize our lives!


I’m sure that expectant believers don’t sit around in prophecy Bible studies and wring their hands about all that is wrong in the world. Likewise, God is not pleased when we lapse into laziness and live as if Jesus Christ will not return. What does an expectant believer look like? How does a person live in such a way that he or she is ready for the return of Jesus Christ? Peter gives us the insight we need to live as expectant believers.


In this little summary, Peter gave what has been called the “ten commandments” of 1 Peter. He offered these commands to us to keep us prepared for the return of Jesus Christ.


1 Peter 4:7-11 (NIV) The end of all things is near. Therefore be alert and of sober mind so that you may pray. Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. 10 Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. 11 If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen. 12 Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. 13 But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. 14 If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. 15 If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler. 16 However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name. 17 For it is time for judgment to begin with God’s household; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God? 18 And, “If it is hard for the righteous to be saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?” 19 So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.


The “Ten Commandments” for Waiting on Jesus Christ’s Return


1. Be alert! (v. 7)


The Bible reminds us that we are to “be sober” and “alert.” Being alert means that we are to keep our mind steady and our thoughts clear. Stay calm! We cannot get frenzied and get off onto tangents—becoming impulsive and purposeless.


I play trumpet, not as well as I once did. When I played in the school band and later in brass ensembles, I enjoyed playing classical pieces of music. In those pieces, you aren’t playing the entire time. The composer writes “rests” in the music. For many measures, you may not play a single note. Often, I would sit during the rest and get caught up in hearing the other instruments play and miss my cue. Undoubtedly, this frustrated the conductor.  I think many of us can be lulled into a trance by the routines of life. We miss our opportunity to be an influence for Jesus. We have to be alert so that we do not miss our cue.


We must not be swayed by emotionalism, worry, or despair. God’s Word anchors our minds. Trust in God stabilizes our spirits. We don’t get off balance because we lose our focus on Jesus Christ. When we think with biblical wisdom, using the mind of Christ, we avoid impulsiveness.


2.  Pray! (v. 7)


If you want to make the best use of your time while waiting for the return of Christ, do so by praying! You will find the phrase “watch and pray” often in the Bible.  Watching and praying means that we  should approach life with our eyes open to the activity of God and spend our time seeking him in all things. We cannot let our prayer life fall into a rut. Our prayers have to reflect that we are on guard and watchful. We are expecting God to do something!


The most important thing about the return of Jesus Christ is not creating a timeline of events related to the end times. The most important aspect of Jesus’ return is thinking, praying, and serving in a way which prepares us to meet him. Our right thinking and praying will lead to right living.


The older I get, the more important prayer becomes in my life. I think I am learning more and more each year how much I need to depend upon God. When I started out in adulthood, I moved out at seventeen and went off to college. At that time I strung together several jobs. I was proud of myself. I thought my hard work and relentless approach to life was the key. However, the more I experienced in life, I found that my mind, health, and opportunities were gifts from God. Prayer is a way we can acknowledge God in all things.


3. Love deeply. (v. 8)


Peter reminds us here that our love for each other must be fervent. Love for others in the faith is necessary. Peter puts it above all things. Why is love so crucial? Love is the litmus test for our faith before the watching world. In times of trouble, love lets others know that we are united in mission and heart.


The word “deeply” is used here. The original word gives the mental picture of an athlete striving to reach the goal. Christian love is intense. It doesn’t always come easy. You have to work at it like a runner has to build up endurance on the track. This kind of effort makes it possible to love people that we don’t even like!


A key obstacle to love is brought up in this Scripture. “Love covers a multitude of sins.” In this phrase, God’s Word reminds us that sins will come between believers from time to time. Love can cover those sins. When love covers sin it doesn’t mean that God doesn’t see our sin; only Jesus can atone for our sin. So, love doesn’t condone sin, but it can cover sin and not allow it to come between people.  In other words, love forgives.


At times, I have made choices in my life that were selfish and immature. I reflect back on some of those choices and the people who dealt with the consequences. Many of those people were kind enough to overlook my stupidity. They graced me with forgiveness. Some of them gave me the benefit of the doubt that I meant well. A few of them tried to make me pay for my failures and mistakes. I have decided that I want to forgive and try to give grace to people. Life is too short to hold grudges.


4. Offer hospitality. (v. 9)


Hospitality is commanded in the Bible. The hospitality of the ancient Middle East is renown. One of the most condemnable acts in biblical time was to be inhospitable. In New Testament times, families could house travelers for two or three days with no expectation of being paid. This kind of hospitality demanded personal sacrifice. Believers were to do this cheerfully without complaining.


Many hospitable people have blessed me throughout the years. I have stayed in dozens of homes when traveling to churches for various reasons. In doing so, I have been able to share life and friendship on a deeper level. Before Carol and I had children, we had three different college students live in our home over extended periods of time while they were away from their parents. What a joy and a challenge hospitality are!


Some of the most hospitable people in our church are those who have hosted community groups and church events. I know that these incredible people have made new friends and have been blessed.


5. Use your gift to serve others. (vv. 10-11)


God gives every believer gifts to use through the church. Both speaking and serving gifts are important to the church. Not everyone can or should be front and center. Not everyone is a teacher or preacher. However, God has given everyone a gift to use. If God has given you a gift, he will provide opportunities to use your gift. When you take advantage of those opportunities, make sure that you give God the glory!


Many years ago, my pastor asked me to play guitar in church and to give a brief presentation to a Bible study group each week. Being invited to volunteer was a beginning point for my calling in life. I met up with a group of guys at a local music store, and we started a band. God opened a lot of doors for me to use my gifts and talents.


I think many people want a title. They want recognition. I understand this. I know that at moments in my life, I have sought to be acknowledged for something I felt was significant. During the first decades years of life, we want success. We hit a certain point when we realize that what we achieved was, in part, due to circumstances and the grace of God. I am suggesting that we strive for eternal significance by pleasing God and not worry so much about winning in the eyes of other people.


“Preach the Gospel, die, and be forgotten.”― Count Zinzendorf


6. Don’t be surprised by opposition. (v. 12)


Peter said, “Don’t be surprised by suffering.” It is possible that some of the believers of that day were shocked that they had to suffer. The Greek word “fiery trial” was a term used in purifying metal. For Christians, suffering is a process that allows one’s true character and nature to remain after the dross of sin is removed.


Persecution or suffering is something that we should expect. If we evaluated history beginning with the time of Jesus, we would see that many incredible Christians suffered for their faith. Christians approach life and go through difficulty differently than unbelievers. A believer in Jesus is to face life with humility, integrity, and a desire to honor Jesus Christ.


7. Rejoice. (v. 13)


We are to rejoice, according to verse thirteen. Our rejoicing is to be continual. In verses thirteen and fourteen, God’s Word reminds us to rejoice four times. Our joy, even in the trials, is something that those who do not believe cannot understand. When the Apostles were arrested for preaching about Jesus, they rejoiced in their suffering.


Acts 5:41 The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name.


8. Do not be ashamed of your faith. (vv. 15-16)


In verses fifteen and sixteen, we discover that we are not to be ashamed of our faith, even when we suffer as believers. At times, being a Christian has been punishable by death or other penalties. Many have been killed for admitted to following Jesus. Think about this:


Jesus is not ashamed of us.


Hebrews 2:11 Both the one who makes people holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters.


God the Father is not ashamed of us.


Hebrews 11:16  Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.


We are not to be ashamed of the name of Jesus.


Romans 1:16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile.


9. Glorify God. (vv. 16-18)


Instead of being ashamed of God, we are called to glorify him. We bring God glory with our lives regardless of the cost! Remember, God doesn’t give us too much. He is faithful.


1 Corinthians 10:13 No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.


10. Commit yourself to God. (v. 19)


Have you committed yourself to the will of God? The word “commit” is a financial term in the original language. The word means to place a deposit for safekeeping. Paul put it this way:


2 Timothy 1:12 That is why I am suffering as I am. Yet this is no cause for shame, because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him until that day.


We are of value to God. He created us. Jesus redeemed us. The Holy Spirit lives in us to guard us and encourage us. Whatever we invest in the stock market can lose value. However, when we deposit our lives with Jesus Christ, we never lose value. He will keep us.


“Unsaved people have a present that is controlled by their past, but Christians have a present that is controlled by the future.” Warren Wiersbe


Focusing on the future is how we live in light of the return of Jesus Christ. Jesus is coming again! While we wait on him, we have our instructions.

Friday, July 1, 2016

Ready to Give a Defense

For the past two weeks, we have been watching the news about the tragic deaths in Orlando. A gunman walked into a nightclub and gunned down people without discrimination. The attacker took the time to call 911 and express his allegiance to a terrorist organization. The senselessness and evil of this kind of event and the probability that something like this will happen again evokes in many a sense of despair and hopelessness. 


Life hurts. Trouble comes. Yes, God can heal cancer. God can stop a car speeding off of the highway. For whatever reason, God doesn’t always intervene when we ask. We know that difficulties come, and we do not have the answers. However, believers in Jesus Christ always have hope because of the cross.


Our message is not that Christians don’t suffer. To the contrary, unjust suffering is within the providence of God and can be used for good and for God’s glory. Our message is that we don’t see suffering as the period at the end of the sentence—the end of the story. The grave will not be our final resting place, and the pain of living in this world will not have the last word.


As followers of Jesus Christ, we are called to be bold and effective in talking about the hope we have in Jesus Christ while living in a troubled world. We must be bold in our living and speech. Our purpose is to give people the information they need to understand how to follow Jesus; the information that they need is that there is hope in Christ. Effective witnesses back that information up with their lifestyle and personal experience.


Do you know how to articulate your faith? If someone asked you to tell them why you believe in Jesus, could you?


Let’s think about what Peter wrote:


1 Peter 3:13-17 Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? 14 But even if you should suffer for righteousness' sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, 15 but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, 16 having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. 17 For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God's will, than for doing evil.


Today, we focus on verse fifteen. As we examine this verse, I want  to give you three reminders for sharing the hope of Jesus Christ in this troubled world.


Three Reminders for Sharing the Hope of Jesus in Our Troubled World


1. Our focus: Honor Christ.


In our hearts, Peter wrote, we honor Christ the Lord as holy. As believers face a complicated, troubled world, we honor him. The powerful truth is that Jesus understands our suffering. He died on the cross. Jesus on a cross is the universal way people think of Jesus; pain and trouble marked his time on this earth. Because of Jesus’ suffering, we honor him as the one who suffered for us and before us. Jesus not only takes our suffering and weaves it into the purpose of God. Jesus knows how we feel.


It is impossible to support people with the hope of Christ when we are not honoring Christ. When we do not honor Christ the Lord as holy by living for him, we are Christian in name only. When we face our crises in life and give in to our fears without honoring Christ, we have nothing to offer a troubled world. If we make wrong decisions and dishonor Jesus, we compromise away any possibility we have of giving a credible word of encouragement to those who are in trouble.


Everyone who is a believer shares a transforming word of hope when Jesus Christ is Lord of the heart! When Jesus Christ is honored, opportunities open up to partner with God and advance his Kingdom! Paul talked about these God-sized opportunities.


2 Corinthians 1:3-4 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.


God takes our tragedies and crises and transforms them into opportunities to give support, hope, and comfort to those who suffer around us.


2. Our task: Be prepared to make a defense.


If you look at the next phrase in verse fifteen, you will be struck by the reality that we are expected to give a defense for our faith in Jesus. Peter wrote that we are to “always be ready to make a defense to those who ask you for a reason for the hope” that is in us. The Greek word for defense is apologia. This is where we get our English word “apology.” The technical term for this kind of argument is “apologetics.”


Peter was not saying that we should tell people that we are sorry for being a Christian. He was saying we must give a defense as in a court case. Every single Christian must be able to give a word of hope in hopeless situations. When believers respond with hope and faith, others take notice!


Are you ready to make a defense as to why you have hope in Jesus Christ as your Savior and Lord?


Here are some basic questions you should be prepared to give some answer in your own words:

·         Why do you believe there is a God?

·         Did Jesus claim to be God?

·         Did Jesus rise from the dead?

·         Why do you believe the Bible is God's Word?

·         Do science and the Bible contradict?

·         What is  different about Christianity when compared to other religions?

·         Why doesn’t God end all suffering?

Know Why You Believe by Paul E. Little is a great classic book to help you answer these questions.


Paul Little made an excellent observation in his book. He said, “The question is often asked, ‘If Christianity is rational and true, why is it that most educated people don’t believe it?’ The answer is simple. They don’t believe it for the very same reason that most uneducated people don’t believe it. They don’t want to believe it. It’s not a matter of brain power, for there are outstanding Christians in every field of the arts and sciences. It is primarily a matter of the will.”[1]


The reality is that we live in a world that is ruined by sin. On many occasions, I have been asked why God allows death, pain, or injustice. Why do innocent people die in war or famine? Why are children born with intellectual or physical challenges? For some, atheism is an expression of their personal pain or an evolution of their anger toward God. People blame God for evil and suffering. I believe the issues of grief, suffering, and death are the key reasons for people turning against faith in God.


We cannot give a pat answer to the problem of evil. However, we cannot forget that God created humans perfect in the beginning. By Adam’s choice, he forfeited an unending life of joy and fellowship with God. Death and sin passed down to us all.


Romans 5:12 Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned.


God did do something about the problem of evil. He did the most dramatic, thorough, complete, and costly thing to end evil once and for all. He sent Jesus, his only Son, to die for evil people. The ultimate answer to evil is found in the death of Jesus Christ. Even when it comes to the matter of Hell, God sends no one there. People send themselves. God has done all that is necessary for people to experience forgiveness, redemption, and cleansing. Through what Jesus has done, God is working out the redemption of creation to himself.


Romans 8:32 He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?


The response to the question of where one finds hope is always the Gospel. Granted, you may have to talk about other issues to set the stage, but the Cross should always be center stage. One theologian pointed out that fabric viewed through a magnifying glass is clear in the middle and blurry around the edges. We know that the edges are clear because we see the middle. Life, like the fabric, has many edges which are blurred. Events and circumstances have no clear purpose. However, they should be interpreted by the clarity we see in the center—the cross of Jesus. We don’t have to guess about the goodness of God. We know that God is good because he has revealed himself on the center stage of human history—the Cross.


3. Our approach: Be gentle and respectful.


Peter cautions Christians to be considerate and respectful in their responses. Our goal is not to embarrass another person, but to win their ear. Peter would not have instructed Christians to hold up signs promising eternal damnation at funerals. He would never have suggested that believers laugh at or make fun of others. No! The purpose is not to win an argument but to win lost souls by the power of the Gospel!


None of us should want others to suffer. Even those who do evil, we want them to repent and turn to Jesus Christ for salvation so that they will not spend an eternity apart from God in Hell. Our greatest aim in life as believers must be to glorify God. We glorify God when we give a defense for the hope we have in Jesus Christ. The imperfect and immoral people of this world need the hope of Jesus Christ more than anyone else.


Jesus said it this way:


Mark 2:17 And when Jesus heard it, he said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”


In this diseased, sick world, you have the antidote. The antidote is the hope of the Gospel. We offer this medicine to those around us with gentleness and respect. In other words, we have a bedside manner.


Once, I sat with a family waiting for a man to come out of a complicated surgery. The situation was tense. The operation was very dangerous. Finally, after several hours, the surgeon came out to report to the family. I was shocked at how rude and disrespectful he was to the family. Granted, he was tired and had done an incredible job of performing the surgery. However, the doctor had a horrible bedside manner. I discovered that the surgeon was notorious for his lack of compassion.


Christians who have been called by God to give the antidote of hope to those who are in despair are commanded to do so with gentleness. If we fail in our approach, we make Satan’s job easy as he convinces the hopeless person that God doesn’t care. We must treat other people in such a way that even our enemies will have no evidence to speak against us. Rather, our enemies should be ashamed that they won’t listen to us because of our kindness.


I have suffered some ridiculous criticisms and hostile words because of my faith. I’ve been called an “idiot” and worse. Although I have been threatened a few times, I have not been assaulted physically for my faith. The longer I live, the more I believe that remaining calm and encouraging to those who are hostile to the faith is the most effective response. I’m still working on this area of my life.


I believe that God reminded us of our need for gentleness and respect because the truth can be used as a weapon at times. James Dobson once said, “I’ve observed that Christians are often in greater danger when they are ‘right’ in a conflict than when they are clearly wrong. In other words, a person is more likely to become bitter and deeply hostile when someone has cheated him or taken advantage of him than is the offender himself.”[2] Maybe this is why Jesus reminded us to “turn the other cheek” and “go the second mile.”


Remember, people go through things, and when they do, they look for hope. Perhaps you won’t be received today. When a crisis happens in their life, they will remember the hope in your eyes. Someone has said that the same sun melts butter and hardens clay. That person who is not yet a believer may see how Jesus made you stronger, even in your suffering.




[1]Paul E. Little, Know Why You Believe (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1974), 4.
[2]James Dobson, Emotions (Ventura, CA: Regal Books, 1980), 92.