God gives grace to the humble…

“Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.'”
(1 Peter 5:5)

As I prepare for this Sunday’s message from 1 Peter 5:1-5, I realize that there’s just not enough time to go into full detail on everything that is touched upon in this passage.  The final point that Peter makes, urging all to humility in their relationships with one another, is a vital aspect of our life together as the body of Christ.  In all honesty, this one verse could occupy an entire series of sermons on what it means to be humble, how and why God opposes the proud and gives grace to the humble, and how humility is demonstrated in the life of faith.  That series isn’t in the works, yet, but perhaps it should be.

In the midst of study on this passage, I read again a prayer from the Valley of Vision, a collection of Puritan Prayers and Devotions.  I’ve shared prayers from this collection before. I’ve even read them in worship on occasion.  The prayer I read today is called “Humility in Service.”  It’s written primarily for the Elder in service of the church, but could be applied to everyone who aspires to serve the Lord in faithfulness.

The prayer, as with most of the Puritan Prayers, is devastating in its candor and vulnerability, and is absolutely Christ-centered in its hope.  I offer it to your for prayer and reflection today.

Humility in Service *

Mighty God,

I humble myself for faculties misused,
opportunities neglected, words ill-advised,

I repent of my folly and inconsiderate ways,
my broken resolutions, untrue service,
my backsliding steps, my vain thoughts.

O bury my sins in the ocean of Jesus’ blood
and let no evil result from my fretful temper,
unseemly behavior, provoking bitterness.

If by unkindness I have wounded or hurt another,
do thou pour in the balm of heavenly consolation;

If I have turned cold from need, misery, grief,
do not in just anger forsake me;

If I have withheld relief because of my poverty and pain,
do not withhold thy gracious bounty from me;

If I have shunned those who have offended me,
keep open the door of thy heart to my need.

Fill me with an over-flowing ocean of compassion,
the reign of love my motive, the law of love my rule.

O thou God of all grace, make me more thankful, more humble;

Inspire me with a deep sense of my unworthiness
arising from the depravity of my nature,
my omitted duties, my unimproved advantages,
thy commands violated by me.

With all my calls to gratitude and joy
may I remember that I have reason for sorrow and humiliation;

O give me repentance unto life;

Cement my oneness with my blessed Lord,
that faith may adhere to him more immovably,
that love may entwine itself round him more tightly,
that his Spirit may pervade every fibre of my being.

Then send me out to make him known to my fellow-men.


* Bennet, Arthur. The Valley of Vision (The Banner of Truth Trust, Carlisle, PA, 2009) Pg. 178.

Our Common Salvation

“Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.”
(Jude 3)

I was re-reading the letter of Jude yesterday, you know, that little one just before you get to the Revelation according to John.  It’s only 25 verses long, but it is loaded with an incredibly deep and timely message.  It takes little time to read, but a lifetime to exhaust the richness and depth of its teaching.  (If anyone’s interested, I’ve got recordings of Dr. John Gerstner teaching through the letter of Jude, in a mere 12 lessons.)

Jude starts his letter telling us that he was eager to write about our common salvation, but instead found it necessary to write an appeal to contend for the faith which was under attack.  The rest of the letter has Jude revealing the destructive influence of the false teaching of those who had crept into the church, and a call to persevere for the faith that is demonstrated in love, prayer, and holiness.

This reminds me of something I heard a while back about Pastoral Ministry: It is the ministry of interruptions.  A pastor plans his day and works to meet the goals he’s set before himself, but often finds the real ministry comes in answering the unexpected phone call or visit.  Most real ministry happens in the interruptions.  I think Jude’s letter is a good example of this. 

As I was reading, however, my mind wandered, as it often does.  I kept thinking, “I wonder what Jude’s original letter would have been like?”  We’ll never know, but I think it is helpful to stop and consider what is meant by his phrase, “our common salvation?”

The word here for common is “koinos.”  When you study Biblical Greek, you are studying koine Greek, the common Greek that was spoken in the marketplace of all the nations conquered by Alexander the Great.  So “common” suggests the ordinary, everyday stuff of life – things that are shared or common among all people.

So what is our “common salvation”?  There is nothing common or everyday about our salvation.  It is the glorious gospel of God’s redeeming work for His beloved in Jesus Christ (Eph 1:7-10).  Paul talks about the height and breadth and depth of God’s love for us (Eph 3:18), the mystery of the gospel of Salvation – surely no common stuff!

But it is common in that this salvation is shared by all who are in Christ Jesus through faith.  Salvation is the free gift of God’s grace to all who are in Christ (Rom 3:22-24) regardless of race, status, gender… regardless of the depth of sinfulness before Christ, those who are in Christ are saved from their sin and the wrath of God’s judgment upon them.

I read somewhere once, “The harlot, the liar, the murderer, are all short of [the glory of God]; but so are you. Perhaps they stand at the bottom of a mine, and you on the crest of an Alp; but you are as little able to touch the stars as they.” There is a common sinfulness – and there is a salvation that is shared by all who are in Christ.  Everyone falls short, but everyone can be justified freely by His grace.

Matthew Henry once wrote, “The gospel salvation is a common salvation, that is, in a most sincere offer and tender of it to all mankind to whom the notice of it reaches… Whoever will may come and drink of the water of life freely, Rev. 22:17. The application of it is made to all believers, and only to such; it is made to the weak as well as to the strong.”

We share a common salvation for the redeemed have “one body and one spirit – just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call – one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (Eph 4:4-7).

Jude could not write at length about this because he had to address a false gospel that had crept into the church, threatening the very heart of that common salvation. It is pure speculation what he might have said, but we can see from other letters what he might have included.

Philippians 4:4–7 “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

Romans 12:9–13 “Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.”

Romans 15:7 “Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.”

Hebrews 10:23–25 “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”

Ephesians 5:1–2, 21 “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God… submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.”

Colossians 3:12–17 “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”

James 5:16 “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.”

Those are just a few that came to mind.

Jude could not write the letter, but praise the Lord others could, and that God’s Word still speaks to us of our common salvation, and of the uncommon life we are called to share.


Remembering the Call

And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said, “Here I am! Send me.”
Isaiah 6:8

A week from now I will have been in Haiti for one full day.
As I prepare this week to go on this mission trip, my mind turns back to the first mission trip I ever participated in.
I almost didn’t go that year. Our youth group was going on a mission to Monterey, Mexico to work in the poverty stricken barrios, leading the children in bible lessons, but mostly just showing them the love of God through our work and play. I was an alternate for the trip that year, and when I got the call that I was going – we had to scramble to get me there. I had to expedite my passport. We had to drive to Topeka, KS to get an authorized copy of my birth certificate. I had to come up with the money, fast. It almost didn’t happen, but when my passport came the day before we left, the way was clear and I was gone.
I had never seen anything quite like what I saw that summer in Monterey. I had up to that point thought my family was poor, when compared to the people we met, I was embarrassingly rich. I thought I had faced challenges and trials in life at 15, but I met 8 year old who were living on the streets, scavenging for their meals, and usually looking out for their younger brothers and sisters.
My eyes were opened, my heart was broken; I would not go home the same.
Then the hurricane hit.
Growing up in Kansas, I had seen my share of Tornadoes. We were the kind to go out on the front porch and watch them blow by – we were Kansas tough. The thing about Tornadoes is, they come up quick, blow things around a bit, tear a lot of stuff up, but then there gone just as quick as they came.
Not a Hurricane. Before those hit there’s the rain, the flooding; then the wind comes, but the rain and the flood doesn’t stop. And it it can last for days.
Fortunately, this one only lasted for the better part of an afternoon and evening. As the storm approached, all the youth were gathered into the chapel to ride out the storm. We prayed, we sang, we read Scripture. Windows were broken, the girls screamed, I prayed even harder.
That’s when I knew. I was praying just that the Lord would deliver me through the storm, this was too much for a Kansas kid. But in that time of scripture and prayer, I heard the call to ministry. It wasn’t really an audible voice, I wasn’t hearing things, but there was a call nonetheless. In my heart I knew, “This is where you are supposed to be.”
It took a long time to figure out what that would look like. At first I thought I was called to youth ministry – I never wanted to be a stuffy old preacher. I pursued that, did that, but in the process, and through the support and direction of some great mentors, I discerned the calling to pastoral ministry – and I still reject the idea that I am a stuffy old preacher (though the old is coming despite my best efforts).
“This is where you are supposed to be.” This is where I belong. This is what God has called me to do. The mission I had in Mexico that summer is the same mission I have in Iowa these past 7 years: to proclaim the gospel boldly with love and compassion, living for the glory of God in the fullness of joy.
I am what I am today because of mission. It is my prayer that the same sovereign grace that laid claim to my life that summer will transform the lives of our mission team and our church even still.

Bring the Wet Blanket

You are the salt of the earth…
(Matthew 5:13 (ESV))

I don’t wear a collar; I rarely even wear a tie.  I do have a “Clergy” sticker on the back of my car, but that’s only so I can park in the clergy parking space at the big city hospital.  Otherwise, I don’t think that I have any outwardly distinguishable features: no halo, no angel chorus as I enter a room, no supernatural powers (like the ability to turn baked chicken into peanut butter and jellynwhich my three year old son frequently asks me to do).

Still, most people know that I am a pastor.  I’ve been serving this particular church for 6 years now, I’ve been active in the community, so most people know who I am.  And I guess, because of that, I do have one super-ordination-power: I can kill a party.

My wife and I have noticed this on more than one occasion.  When invited to parties (which we do get invited to them) my wife and I will approach our friend’s home, the sounds of jocular festivities spilling out into the street, only to be greeted with an instant quieting.  It’s as if everyone stops and says, “Great, the pastor’s here, now we’ve got to talk ‘churchy.’”

Recently we attended a wedding dinner for a couple whose marriage ceremony I had just officiated.  There were many people were at the dinner who had not been at the church, so they had no idea who I was.  My wife and I sat with some friends and were having a wonderful evening.  Just to the right of me, however, were some people I had never met.  They sat next to me, adult beverages in hand (and I was having one, too) and began to regale one another with wild stories about the past weekend and lurid gossip about everyone else assembled at the dinner.

Then came time for the prayer before the meal.  I went forward to the table where the bridal party was gathered, prayed for the couple and for the meal, then returned to my seat.  My new companions were obviously troubled.  Immediately their conversation changed.  They told me how they appreciated my prayer, told me how hard it is for them to get to church, gave a history of which church they used to attend and why they left, and even suggested I was too young to be a minister (whatever that means).

I know what they were thinking, “I better be careful, the minister’s right here.”  But friends, let me tell you, I am not God’s spy.

I don’t mind people being careful about what they say when I’m around, as a matter of fact, I’m glad people do change the way they talk when they know I’m a pastor.  Truth be told, I’d rather not hear the vulgarities you were about to pour forth.  I’d rather not be privy to the idle gossip that you feel necessary to share with everyone in range of hearing.  It’s amazing; You can ban a man from smoking in a public place and polluting the air, but you cannot touch the anger and profanity in his heart and mind that pollutes the hearts of those around him.  Only prayer and grace can defeat those demons.

Actually, the change that comes when people know I’m a pastor is something I consider an essential part of every Christian’s influence in the world.  Jesus said, “You are the salt of the earth…”  One of the beneficial qualities of salt is that it is a preservative.  It fights off the spoiling and destructive corruption of decay.  In the same way, the presence of the Christian in the world should have a preservative effect, fighting off the spoiling and destructive corruption of sin.  So every Christian should have a healing quality to conversations.  People should speak differently when they are around you.  It is a good thing.

This doesn’t mean that Christians cannot have a good time, cannot be the life of the party, should not be enjoyable company.  In fact, when you have Christ, you have the one true source of joy, and that joy is contagious, infectious, and it lasts.  A Christian can have a good time with friends, never worrying about impressing others, because he has already been validated and received by his heavenly Father.  The Christian doesn’t have to sing hymns to fend off the corrupting influence of Gaga.  But because he has already sung the hymns, he knows the true source of joy, love, and peace and is strengthened against temptation.

The fact is, though, God doesn’t need me to give him a report of your conversation; he’s watching and listening, even when I’m not there.  God knows your every thought and intention, even before you do.

God doesn’t ask me to spy on you; He calls me to pray for you.  When I meet someone new, without knowing anything about them, I give God thanks for the opportunity to meet them, I listen for ways that I can be praying for them, but ultimately, I pray that God would show them the same grace and mercy and love that He has so abundantly shown to me.  I don’t cast out judgment, I offer up prayer.

Does that put a damper on your festivities?  Consider this; if you’re partying things up just to hide the insecurity and doubts from that nagging sense that your life is falling apart at the seams and will quickly end up as a flaming ruin, which would you prefer: a wet blanket or a lampshade?