Be Prepared To Answer…

1 Peter 3:15 (NIV)

But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect…

Our Verse of the Day is one of the most succinct instructions we can find in the Bible regarding evangelism in its “simplest” form.  We do not have to pass out “religious tracts” in the mall or door-to-door in order to be evangelists; although there might be occasions for us to use that method of sharing the Gospel. We do not have to stand on street corners with signs, banners, and megaphones heralding Scriptures to passersby; although if the Spirit directs you to do so … you should obey Him. But if you think about it, when most of us were “confronted” by the Gospel message, the context was probably somewhat different.  Your exposure to the message about Jesus Christ probably came through someone with whom you had a relationship. It could have been a parent, a sibling, a family member, a friend, a co-worker, or simply an acquaintance. Maybe someone did hand you a Gospel tract, or a religious billboard caught your eye and planted a seed of spiritual introspection. But most likely it was seeing “something different” in the life of another believer or hearing the personal, spiritual experience of someone you trusted that inspired or encouraged you to have a “real” relationship with God….

As I read this verse, I connected with its instruction on “how” to be an effective witness of the Gospel. First of all, Peter indicates that we must have a deep relationship with Jesus ourselves.  In our hearts we are to “revere Christ as Lord”.  This means we have humbled ourselves and wholly surrendered our lives to His authority. This means we esteem Him worthy of all praise, honor, and worship.  This means we have experienced His life-changing grace in our own hearts and desire our lives to reflect the holiness for which He saved us.  As the writer of Hebrews admonishes us: “Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord.” (Cf. Hebrews 12:14) Yes, if we revere Christ as Lord in our hearts, we will pursue a life that is sanctified in order to live godly and worthy lives before Him.

If we are living a life that demonstrates a genuine, intimate relationship with our Lord Jesus, then I’m fairly certain others will see it.  And sometimes your life in Christ will produce curiosity in someone who is seeking to have “more” of that “something different” you have in your life.  It will be attractive to them because you display the way, the truth, and the life of Jesus. In this context, Peter instructs us: “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” Note the extreme language: ALWAYS. To be prepared means we have “practiced” in order to be ready.  We have “refined” our thoughts about our own personal encounter with Jesus.  We have “reflected” on our own experience of repentance, redemption, and reconciliation in our lives. As a result, sharing the Gospel … well it simply becomes a matter of sharing our own story!

But do this with gentleness and respect,” Peter advises. His approach sounds very similar to what Paul counseled, “Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” (Cf. Colossians 4:5-6) Indeed, this is why I think we need to reflect on how to best communicate and share the good news of Christ Jesus. The manner and the circumstances in which we shared the Truth with someone will determine our effectiveness in reaching that person for God.  If we appear pious or act superior in our tone, we will not reflect what Jesus taught: “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.” (Cf. Mark 9:35) So the question to ask is whether you and I are “prepared” to answer anyone about our faith and hope in Christ?  Or perhaps a more pertinent question to ask might be: “Is our love for others evident in our lifestyle and walk of faith – so much so that it would be a conversation starter for a stranger or an unbeliever?”

My friends, for unbelievers to respond to the Gospel, they need to see an “authentic” Gospel impact within us.  They need to see a genuine outcome of the power of God in order to believe such power exists and that it does produce change. We live in a generation and a culture that increasingly dismisses or rejects the existence of God; and more specifically, the wonderful message of Jesus. And I believe some of this intellectual skepticism might stem from inadequate “evidence” of the work and power of God in the lives of those who profess faith in Him. If our manner of life looks no different than the culture or the world, how can we have any impact on those seeking to come out of it?

John 3:5-8 (NIV)

Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the Kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again. The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So, it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”

I love the metaphor that Jesus used when He conversed with Nicodemus. We cannot see the wind, yet we can observe its movement and impact.  Likewise, we cannot see the Spirit of God, yet a person should be able to discern His manifestation in the life of a believer! If our lives do not authentically reflect the transforming power of Christ, then how is there evidence for an unbeliever to move from skepticism to the truth they are desperate to find? I believe when the presence of God is seen because His impact is observable, a seed of faith can be planted. And so, I pray that each of us will be introspective and consider if the “wind” of our lives is sufficient to “stir the leaves” of doubt in the heart of an unbeliever.  If it is, I would venture to say that someone is going to ask about the difference they see in you … your life of faith in Jesus Christ. And if they do, be prepared to tell them your story. I know it will be a great one to share!

So Now You Know…

Have a Blessed Day!

And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made His light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ. ~ 2 Corinthians 4:3-6

My Thoughts Are Higher…

Isaiah 55:8-9 (NIV)

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

Our Verse of the Day reminds me that life is more mysterious than understood. But I believe that is perfectly fine. We do not have to understand everything. In fact, it is probably best that we do not understand everything…. I’m not saying that ignorance is bliss, but I am saying that sometimes the unknown can be best for us. The unexpected can actually be a source of great joy … especially when we look back and connect the dots and see the tapestry God has woven in our lives. Not “knowing” puts us in the strategic position of exercising our faith. The unknown requires us to trust God; and I believe that faith is the desired outcome of every context we are given in life. Indeed, we are instructed that faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. (Cf. Hebrews 11:1) And, without faith, it is impossible to please Him; for whoever would draw near to God must believe the He exists and that He rewards those who seek Him. (Cf. Hebrews 11:6)

With this perspective in mind, I have come to the realization that God is ultimately beyond our comprehension. He is the mystery that every human soul wrestles to comprehend. As King Solomon wrote: “He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.” (Cf. Ecclesiastes 3:11) We do not know all the hidden things of God – the mysteries of His wisdom and counsel; nor will we be able to comprehend all of His knowledge. It is simply too great for human minds! As Moses wrote: “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law. (Cf. Deuteronomy 29:29) In His grace, God has revealed many things to us – mysteries as Paul described them; but He appoints the times and circumstances of His revelations. Scripture is clear that God determines what He will reveal to us, but I believe God has revealed “enough” of Himself to us in order for us to know Him, to fear Him, and to keep His commandments.

So why this commentary on the matter of faith? Well, I think it has an intimate connection with our verse. What we think and understand is based on our limited, finite human knowledge. Yet, the thoughts of God are higher than our thoughts. How God operates is not determined by how we believe He should operate. I think of Job – when God questioned him:

Job 42:1-6 (NKJV)

Then Job answered the Lord and said: “I know that You can do everything, and that no purpose of Yours can be withheld from You. You asked, ‘Who is this who hides counsel without knowledge?’ Therefore, I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. Listen, please, and let me speak; You said, ‘I will question you, and you shall answer Me.” “I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees You.

Therefore, I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes.”

We simply do not know the beginning to the end. As King Solomon in his wisdom observed:

Ecclesiastes 3:9-15 (NIV)

What profit has the worker from that in which he labors? I have seen the God-given task with which the sons of men are to be occupied. He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also He has put eternity in their hearts, except that no one can find out the work that God does from beginning to end. I know that nothing is better for them than to rejoice, and to do good in their lives, and also that every man should eat and drink and enjoy the good of all his labor—it is the gift of God. I know that whatever God does, it shall be forever. Nothing can be added to it, and nothing taken from it. God does it, that men should fear before Him. That which is has already been, and what is to be has already been; and God requires an account of what is past.

In Ephesians 3:1-14, Paul unfolds how the mystery of Christ – though written in the Old Testament Scriptures – had not been revealed (unveiled) until Jesus actually appeared on the earth to fulfill all that had been written and prophesied about Him.  Even though Jesus came to His own people, they rejected Him. As the Apostle John wrote: “He was in the world, and though the world was made through Him, the world did not recognize Him. He came to His own people, but His own people did not receive Him. Yet to all who as did receive Him, to those who believe in His name, He gave the right (authority) to become children of God.” (Cf. John 1:10-12) To me, the incarnation is a perfect illustration of how people can fail to connect with the thoughts and ways of God. The Messiah did not come as the Jewish authorities had expected nor did they believe what God had declared through His Prophets. From the beginning, God has always purposed for everyone who believes in Him to receive salvation!

God declared, “My thoughts are not your thoughts and neither are your ways my ways.” And yet, I see through the Scriptures that God HAS intentionally revealed Himself through His Word and through His Son! What they could not apprehend; or perhaps, refused to comprehend, was not due to the absence of revelation or light made available them. My point is that when we come to a place that we just do not understand what God is doing or how He is doing it or why He is doing it, we need to just trust what we do know … trust what He has already revealed to us in His Word.  When we do not understand the affliction of a chronic disease in our bodies … we do know that God loves us with an everlasting love.  I know that seems incompatible – suffering and love – but God permitted both human experiences in His Son. And we know that suffering has a role in teaching us obedience … which God, in His love, uses to refine our faith. (Cf. Psalm 66:10; Isaiah 48:10; Jeremiah 9:7; Zechariah 13:9; Malachi 3:3) God knows the ultimate end … the ultimate goal … and He is determined to get us there for His own glory. My friends, we can rest assured that His purpose is always for the good of those who love Him … for those who are called according to His purpose. Even when we cannot see it, God the Father is conforming us to the image of His Son. (Cf. Romans 8:28-29)

I am convinced that God provides us with all we need to uphold and sustain us … even when we do not understand what He is doing in the moment. As King David affirmed: “For the Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord bestows favor and honor. No good thing does He withhold from those who walk uprightly. O Lord of Hosts, blessed is the one who trusts in you! (Cf. Psalm 84:11-12) Yes, God knows how to provide us with the knowledge and wisdom that we need for life.  God knows how to bless us with every spiritual blessing. He knows what is best for each of us and He does not withhold it. Even spiritual discipline exercised through physical distress can test our hearts in ways we could not imagine for our good. Indeed, there is an ongoing work of God in our individual hearts and lives that draws us to Him … that brings us to repentance and faith … that tests the genuineness of our faith … that brings us into an abiding, intimate relationship with Him. Yes, I believe the work of God within us can be known and understood through faith. We just need to trust Him!

So Now You Know…

Have a Blessed Day!

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen Him, you love Him; and even though you do not see Him now, you believe in Him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls. 1 Peter 1:3-9

Love In Action…

1 John 3:18 (NIV)

Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.

As we examine our Verse of the Day, we see that love must move from the abstract to reality … it must move from a thought to an action. The concept of love is a noun … but the demonstration of love is a verb. Love is something you DO! No matter how much we profess to love God or to love one another, the evidence of love is in the actions taken to demonstrate it.  God not only tells us that He loves us, but God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Cf. Romans 5:8). And here, John reminds us that actions speak louder than words. Even Jesus requires action on our part to show or demonstrate our love for Him: “If you love Me, keep my commandments.” (Cf. John 14:15 and 1 John 5:3) Indeed, love is a verb! Love is service oriented. Love is something we DO! 

As we have studied, the Apostle John exhorted in 1 John 3:16-18: “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down His life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.” Thus, love must be genuine. It must be authentic. It cannot be mere lip service; rather, it must be tangible … intentional … and outcome oriented!

Paul, likewise asserted, “Love must be sincere.” (Cf. Romans 12:9) And Paul will go on to explain how sincere love will manifest itself in real action:

Romans 12:10-18 (NIV)

Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people willing to do menial work. Do not be conceited. Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.

On a similar note, I am reminded that the Apostle James frankly addresses a similar point with regard to our faith.  Faith is not merely profession alone either.  No matter how much we “believe,” the evidence of faith is in the actions to demonstrate it as well.  Here, James distinguishes between faith as a concept and faith as a reality:

James 2:14-17 (NIV)

What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

We also find the Apostle Peter addresses the same issues in his epistle:

1 Peter 3:8-14 (NIV)

Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble. Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing. For, “Whoever would love life and see good days must keep their tongue from evil and their lips from deceitful speech. They must turn from evil and do good;they must seek peace and pursue it. For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and His ears are attentive to their prayer, but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.” (Peter quotes Psalm 34:12-16) Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed.

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. Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. 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.

My point is that the apostles emphasized the importance of love in action … love that is operational and effectual. And I surmise it was because the apostles observed the greatest demonstration of love in action when they walked and talked with our Lord Jesus. They were eye witnesses of His compassion and came to understand the personal, sacrificial nature of love in its highest form. The personal example of Jesus speaks volumes with regard the application of love. To me, it is in this context that we must consider what Jesus said, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (Cf. John 13:34-35)

So, I pray that as we begin our day … and each new day … that we will commit ourselves to love one another in action and in truth. I pray that we will be sincere and sacrificial. I pray that the love we have and share with others will be a true reflection of what lies within our hearts. My friends, let us not love with words only, but let our actions demonstrate love in truth.  Indeed, that is how love moves from a thought to an outcome! Amen.

So Now You Know…

Have a Blessed Day!

We love because He first loved us. Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. And He has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister. ~ 1 John 4:19-21

Set Your Hope on Jesus…

1 Peter 1:13 (NIV)

Therefore, with minds that are alert and fully sober, set your hope on the grace to be brought to you when Jesus Christ is revealed at His coming.

Our Verse of the Day comes from quite an interesting passage. Let’s put it in the context:

1 Peter 1:3-16 (NIV)

3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In His great mercy He has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, 5 who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. 6 In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. 7 These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. 8 Though you have not seen Him, you love Him; and even though you do not see Him now, you believe in Him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, 9 for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls. 10 Concerning this salvation, the prophets, who spoke of the grace that was to come to you, searched intently and with the greatest care, 11 trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing when He predicted the sufferings of the Messiah and the glories that would follow. 12 It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves but you, when they spoke of the things that have now been told you by those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. Even angels long to look into these things. 13 Therefore, with minds that are alert and fully sober, set your hope on the grace to be brought to you when Jesus Christ is revealed at His coming. 14 As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. 15 But just as He who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; 16 for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.” (Citing Leviticus 11:44-45; 19:2)

What a profound statement of theology that Peter has presented here. I see several key points in this passage; and I think the best approach is to simply outline those points for us to consider:

1.         First of all, praise is to be given to God the Father! Indeed, we should always come before the Father in reverence and honor and adoration – to worship Him in Spirit and in Truth! (Cf. John 4:24)

2.         His mercy has afforded us a new birth. (Cf. John 3:3)

3.         The result of this new birth is a living hope … brought into existence through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. (Cf. 1 Timothy 4:9-10)

4.         This new birth provides us access to an inheritance that is everlasting and reserved in heaven for believers. (Cf. Ephesians 1:13-14, 18-19)

5.         Our faith in Jesus Christ is protected by the power of God until that salvation is ultimately revealed. (Cf. Colossians 1:11-12; Ephesians 4:30)

6.         This is cause for great rejoicing even though we are afflicted with the trials and tribulations of the world. (Cf. James 1:2-3)

7.         But God allows challenges and hardships to shape us … to prove the authenticity of our faith toward Him. (Cf. James 1:12; Hebrews 10:22-23)

8.         Your genuine faith will be rewarded at the time of His revelation. (Cf. Hebrews 10:35)

9.         Though we have not physically seen Jesus, the Son of Man, we are convinced of His Being and presence in the Spirit. (Cf. John 16:28)

10.       This “knowing” Jesus through faith … abiding in His Presence … fills us with a joy unspeakable that is filled by His glory. (Cf. John 16:19-22; John 17:13)

11.       You experience this joy because faith in Jesus Christ will be rewarded with the salvation of your soul. (Cf. Isaiah 25:9; 61:10)

12.       This salvation through the Messiah was prophesied by holy men of old … prophets who foretold the sufferings of the Messiah and His resurrection. (Cf. Hebrews 1:1; 2 Peter 1:21)

13.       They prophesied by the Spirit of God for the benefit of those who would live after them.

14.       The prophesies were fulfilled in Jesus Christ … of which the Apostles (anointed by the Holy Spirit) have fully preached to us. (Cf. Acts 8:40; Acts 14:6-7, 20-21; Acts 26:19-20; Romans 15:19-20; 2 Timothy 4:17)

15.       In this context, we are admonished to pay attention to the Word of God … to respond to it … and to set our hope on it. (Cf. Colossians 1:3-6)

16.       Therefore, faith in Jesus Christ will give birth to a new creation. The old has gone, the new is here. (Cf. 2 Corinthians 5:17)

17.       The new creation … the new being … will no longer continue in the evil desires and old behaviors of a sinful person. (Cf. Romans 6:12; Colossians 3:5; 2 Timothy 2:22; 2 Peter 1:4)

18.       And such were all of us at one point in our lives. For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. (Cf. Romans 3:23; 1 Corinthians 6:11: Ephesians 4:24)

19.       Since we have been created in Christ Jesus (Cf. Ephesians 2:10), we are called to be holy people … set apart for the work of God.

20.       Holiness, or sanctification by the Spirit, is a process … that will lead us into greater intimacy with Christ. (Cf. John 15:1-12)

Well, I hope this little breakdown of the passage will help you think through all that Peter is sharing with us. His theology and admonition are wonderful; and his message is corroborated by the writings of other apostles as the references (links) were provided to show. In light of the prayer and fasting we have undertaken to focus on and exercise self-discipline, I think this call to holiness is quite timely. I pray that each of us will seek greater intimacy with Christ with minds that are prepared for action and exercise self-control; setting our hope fully on the gracious salvation we will receive when Christ Jesus is revealed at His Coming. Amen.

So Now You Know…

Have a Blessed Day!

As for you, the anointing you received from Him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you. But as His anointing teaches you about all things and as that anointing is real, not counterfeit—just as it has taught you, remain in Him. And now, dear children, continue in Him, so that when He appears we may be confident and unashamed before Him at His coming. ~ 1 John 2:27-28