Thursday, November 7, 2019

2 Peter, Day 15: 2 Peter 3:15-18 - How Should We Respond to Those Who Twist the Scriptures?

How Should We Respond to Those Who Twist the Scriptures?
2 Peter, Day 15

And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures. You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, take care that you are not carried away with the error of lawless people and lose your own stability. But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.
- 2 Peter 3:15-18, ESV

2 Peter ends with one of the most remarkable verses in the New Testament. In 2 Peter 3:16, Peter refers to the letters of Paul as Scripture, on the same level with "the other Scriptures," most likely a reference to the Old Testament Scriptures, but possibly also including the Gospels. It is remarkable for one living Apostle to refer to the letters of another living Apostle - his contemporary - as Scripture. It is a strong affirmation of the truth that the books of the Scripture were almost immediately recognized by the church as the Word of God.

What we really glean from this final passage of 2 Peter, though, is not just an affirmation that the letters of Paul were recognized as Scripture. We can see how Peter handles those who twist the Scripture and how we should respond to them ourselves. Sadly, people have always been eager to twist the Scriptures to their own destruction.

As I write this final devotional in 2 Peter, recent news reported fundraising appeals by Paula White in which she claims "apostolic and prophetic authority" to ask people to give $3,600 to her ministry. To support her appeal, she refers to Old Testament animal sacrifices. For her to claim to be an apostle or a prophet or to use these Old Testament texts to support her high-pressure fundraising tactics is just wrong. It is twisted and self-serving and ugly. But things like this are done all the time by professing Christians all around the world. [More about Paula White]

So, how should we respond to such people? Simply by doing two things:

1. Expose them for what they are. Peter calls them "ignorant and unstable."
2. Have nothing whatsoever to do with them. As Peter says, "take care that you are not carried away with the error of lawless people and lose your own stability."

Instead of following after these kinds of people, we are called to "grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ." We are to focus on Christ, on His word, and on His Gospel, for He and He alone is our salvation. 

That's the wonderfully refreshing truth woven throughout 2 Peter. Do you remember how Peter had begun this letter? "Simeon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ: May grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord." (1:1-2)

Notice how Peter is relentlessly Christ-centered and how his focus is strongly on the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus. That's what we all need to focus on, instead of the nonsense of Scripture-twisting false teachers. We need the grace of Jesus to grow in our knowledge of Jesus. 

Monday, November 4, 2019

2 Peter, Day 14: 2 Peter 3:11-14 - How Should We Live as We Wait for Jesus?

How Should We Live as We Wait for Jesus?
2 Peter, Day 14 

Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.

Therefore, beloved, since you are waiting for these, be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace.
- 2 Peter 3:11-14, ESV

So, now what? We know Jesus is coming again. We know He is patiently waiting for all His beloved chosen ones to enter His kingdom. We know that when He comes all passing pleasures and temporary things of this world will come to an end, and all things will be made new. So, how should we live until then?

To put it simply: We need to live as beloved chosen ones who do not belong to this fallen and doomed age but who do belong to the glorious age to come and to the King whose coming will usher in that age. We need to live as God's holy people, set apart by Him and for Him. We should seek to advance His kingdom and not our own, and we should be looking forward to His glory and not our own.

What does that mean? Well, we live in a world where everyone is taught to look out for Number One - and, of course, we're all taught to think of ourselves as Number One. We should look out for Number One. That just makes sense. The craziness in our world is the tendency to think of ourselves as Number One, when we're not. Only King Jesus is Number One.

In the world's way of functioning, you can only really desire three things: the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life (1 John 2:15-17) Those three basic items are the only things on the menu: satisfy your appetites (food, sex, rest, recreation, adrenaline rushes, etc.), acquire possessions and power, or achieve greatness in some way. You can pick one, two, or three of those things, but that's all. Even those who seem very committed to doing good and making the world a better place are most often motivated by pride. 

But why would we want to live to satisfy appetites that are never satisfied and that will pass away? Why would we want to work hard to accumulate a bunch of stuff that's going to burn up? Why would we want to seek to make our name great when it's His name that is the name above all names? 

One of my struggles on Thanksgiving Day is waiting for the main meal and not spoiling it by eating a bunch of junk all day. If we belong to Jesus, we have a feast coming which nothing in this world can touch. We have a new heavens and earth to enjoy forever which will put everything in this passing world to shame. Let's not ruin our appetite for the world to come by over-valuing and over-indulging in this temporary one. 

Friday, November 1, 2019

2 Peter, Day 13: 2 Peter 3:10-11 - What Will It Be Like When Jesus Comes Again?

What Will It Be Like When Jesus Comes Again?
2 Peter, Day 13

But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.

Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness.
- 2 Peter 3:10-11, ESV

When I was growing up, I loved taking family road trips, just like my own kids love taking them now. I remember eagerly wanting to know three things: where we were going, how long it would take to get there, and what it would be like once we got there.

All creation is headed for a destination on our journey through time and space. This destination is the Day of the Lord, the ushering in of the new creation, the new heavens and the new earth. This new creation was inaugurated by the resurrection of Jesus, the firstborn from the dead, the first-fruits of the new creation. The full arrival of the new creation - our ultimate destination - will come when Jesus comes again. 

We have learned that Jesus is coming again and that He is waiting to return until the full number of His elect exiles are redeemed into His kingdom. But what will it be like when Jesus returns?

First of all, His coming will be completely unexpected: "the day of the Lord will come like a thief." Many people over the years have made bold and confident and completely incorrect predictions about when Jesus would come again. When He comes, He will take the whole world by surprise.

The day of the Lord will also bring destruction and exposure. This present world is passing away. Like our mortal bodies, which perish and die, so this present world is a mortal world, which will perish and die. This should teach us not to put our hopes in the temporary, passing pleasures of this world. 

The day of the Lord will expose the true spiritual character of everyone and everything. The enemies of God will have their evil natures exposed. The redeemed children of God will have their glorious new natures in Christ revealed, too. All of our works will be tested by fire and burned up, the worldly and rebellious destroyed and the God-honoring refined and made to shine. 

A chunk of gold or silver dug up from the earth may not look much different from an ordinary rock, but the trial by fire makes the one more glorious and destroys the other. That's exactly what Peter teaches us to expect when Jesus returns. Shouldn't this motivate us to seek to have more gold and less garbage in our lives? 

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

2 Peter, Day 12: 2 Peter 3:8-10 - Why Has Jesus Waited So Long to Return?

Why Has Jesus Waited So Long to Return?
2 Peter, Day 12

But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.
- 2 Peter 3:8-10, ESV

My wife, Beth, and I met during her freshman year of college. Our first date was on her 18th birthday. It didn't take too long for us to realize two things: We wanted to get married, and we would have to wait until after she graduated to do so. Waiting is hard, and for us to wait three-and-a-half years to become husband and wife felt like an eternity at times. Looking back, after more than 21 years of marriage, it's easy to see it was worth the wait. 

The church has been waiting for the return of her Lord and Savior for almost 2,000 years. We saw last time that He is indeed coming again, but why has it taken so long? 

Even in the first century, when Peter wrote this letter, Christians felt like they had been waiting for Jesus' return for a long time. They wanted to know when He was coming back for them and why He was being so slow in keeping His promises. After all, Jesus had said all along that He would come back soon. 

The first thing Peter tells us is to remember that God's concept of time is different from ours: "with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day." God is not bound by time as we are; He is eternal. So, of course, His perspective on time is different from ours. As Aslan said in Narnia, "I call all times 'soon'." 

Then, Peter reminds us of the reason for the delay of Christ's return: God is being patient so that all of His people will be saved. Some take 2 Peter 3:9 as a statement that God intends to save everyone in the world, but Peter says God "is patient toward you." Who is the "you"? If we go back to the beginning of the letter, we'll see it is God's elect exiles, God's chosen ones living in this fallen world. 

Every believer alive today should be so thankful that God is so patient and that Jesus has waited so long to return. Just think what would have happened if Jesus had come back in the first century. None of us would exist, and so we would not be saved and be with the Lord forever. We would never have been born, much less born again! So, speaking personally, I am thankful for the patience of the Lord and the "slowness" of His coming.

God is going to wait until all of His chosen ones have been born into this world and then born again into His eternal kingdom. Once the number of the redeemed is complete, then Jesus will come again. When will that be? Only God knows, and He says it will be soon!   

Monday, October 28, 2019

2 Peter, Day 11: 2 Peter 3:1-7 - Will Jesus Really Come Back?

Will Jesus Really Come Back?

This is now the second letter that I am writing to you, beloved. In both of them I am stirring up your sincere mind by way of reminder, that you should remember the predictions of the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior through your apostles, knowing this first of all, that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires. They will say, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.” For they deliberately overlook this fact, that the heavens existed long ago, and the earth was formed out of water and through water by the word of God, and that by means of these the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished. But by the same word the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly.
- 2 Peter 3:1-7, ESV

Let's face it: Much of what we believe as Christians is totally nonsensical to the world around us. This forces us to decide, on a nearly daily basis, who we will believe, our God or the world that rejects Him and His truth. One of the areas where this dividing line between God and the world is very clear is the doctrine of the Second Coming of Christ. If you tell certain people that you believe Jesus is coming again to judge the world and usher in the new heavens and the new earth, they're liable to look at you like you're talking about little green men from Mars coming to earth to destroy us. In fact, in their mind, they might think a Martian invasion to be the more likely scenario. 

So, is Jesus really coming again? Peter encourages us - he stirs us up by way of reminder - to remember the predictions of the holy prophets and the words of our Lord Jesus Himself, passed on through His apostles: Yes, Jesus is definitely coming again! The prophets of old foretold both Jesus' first coming and His second coming. Some of the most beautiful and powerful pictures of the Second Coming of Jesus are in the psalms, including Psalms 2, 24, 72, and 98. These psalms celebrate the worldwide reign of King Jesus over the nations, His glory covering all the earth.

When Jesus was here, He Himself was even more clear about His Second Coming. Some of the longest and clearest teachings of Jesus about His Second Coming are in Matthew 24:3-25:46, Mark 13:24-37Luke 12:35-48. Altogether, we could turn to dozens of passages of Scripture that either explicitly or implicitly teach that Jesus is indeed coming again to judge and to reign forever. 

The clarity of Scripture does not keep people from scoffing and ridiculing Christians for their hope, however. Peter says that, when they do so, they are deliberately forgetting that God created everything by His powerful word and that He certainly has the power and right to bring all of His creation into judgment. God never breaks His promise, and His word is powerful indeed. 

It's a helpful reminder to us that whenever people ridicule some aspect of the Christian faith, it's not really just that particular truth they find ridiculous. No, they deliberately reject and deny just about everything God has revealed. Their problem is much greater than a few teachings they think are far-fetched. They deny God the Creator and His powerful, unfailing word. 

Of course, people have good reason for wanting to deny, forget, or suppress the truth about God. Knowing God is real, that He has created everything, and that He will judge everyone is something unbelievers desperately want to believe is not and cannot be true. After all, the day of Jesus' coming is "the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly." But for us who long for His Coming, this day will be the fulfillment of all of our hopes and our full and final salvation. 

Thursday, October 24, 2019

2 Peter, Day 10: 2 Peter 2:17-22 - What's the Danger of False Teachers?

What's the Danger of False Teachers?
2 Peter, Day 10

These are waterless springs and mists driven by a storm. For them the gloom of utter darkness has been reserved. For, speaking loud boasts of folly, they entice by sensual passions of the flesh those who are barely escaping from those who live in error. They promise them freedom, but they themselves are slaves of corruption. For whatever overcomes a person, to that he is enslaved. For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world through the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first. For it would have been better for them never to have known the way of righteousness than after knowing it to turn back from the holy commandment delivered to them. What the true proverb says has happened to them: “The dog returns to its own vomit, and the sow, after washing herself, returns to wallow in the mire.”
- 2 Peter 2:17-22, ESV

We had an old beagle for a short period of time before he died. He was the sweetest dog, but having him in our home gave us opportunity to witness first-hand the proverb quoted in verse 22: "The dog returns to its own vomit." It's a very vivid proverb, and Peter here is applying it to false teachers who teach believers to live sinful, sensual, foolish lives. 

What exactly does Peter mean by using this proverb to refer to these false teachers? Peter has been strongly condemning these false teachers throughout this chapter. Earlier, in verse 10, he had told us that they "indulge in the lust of defiling passion."  Our modern American culture is not the first to be obsessed with sexual immorality. The ancient Roman Empire was awash in sexual debauchery, much of it associated with the worship of goddesses, whose temples were really houses of prostitution.

God had redeemed His people out of this lifestyle of sexual immorality and idolatry. Now, false teachers coming into the church were threatening to enslave God's people once again, as Peter said: "They promise them freedom, but they themselves are slaves of corruption."

For a Christian to be freed from bondage to sin and death and then to willfully return to that bondage is like a dog returning to its vomit or the sow, after washing, returning to wallow in the muck and the mire. It is like a slave being set free from the chains of his bondage then choosing to willingly strap the shackles on his feet again. 

Peter was addressing one form of false teaching, those who "entice by sensual passions of the flesh those who are barely escaping from those who live in error." But other false teachers follow a similar pattern of returning God's people to the conditions they were in before God rescued them:

Before we were saved by Christ, we were held in the bondage of materialism, foolishly believing that our lives consisted in the abundance of our possessions. "He who dies with the most toys, wins." Christ redeemed us from that and set us free to live for His kingdom and glory instead. Yet Prosperity Gospel preachers would put God's people back into the chains of materialism, this time with a spiritual twist: The abundance of your possessions not only is the measure of your life, but it is also the measure of the strength of your faith.    

Christ also redeemed us from the curse of the law, setting us free from a legalistic system of morality that would have us believe that we needed to earn God's favor by keeping His Law, or that we could justify ourselves by our own obedience. Most non-Christians and many nominal Christians believe they will get to heaven because they are "good people," people who generally do the right thing. Christ frees us from the trap of this kind of foolish thinking. Yet legalistic false teachers would have people believe they must measure up and be good enough for God, teaching that God will bless us only as we obey Him and curse us whenever we disobey.

Of course, we should obey God. Wanton sinfulness and open rebellion against God's moral law has no place in the life of a believer. But we obey because we've been saved by grace and richly blessed by God. God's grace empowers us to be able to obey; it is not a reward we receive for our obedience.

False teachers who seek to return God's people to the bondage of sexual immorality or materialism or legalism have plagued the church from the very beginning. Yet they should beware. Peter says, "For them the gloom of utter darkness has been reserved." These are serious words of warning from the apostle, and we would all do well to heed them. 

Monday, October 21, 2019

2 Peter, Day 9: 2 Peter 2:10-16 - What's More Important, Truth or Niceness?

What's More Important, Truth or Niceness? 

"especially those who indulge in the lust of defiling passion and despise authority.

Bold and willful, they do not tremble as they blaspheme the glorious ones, whereas angels, though greater in might and power, do not pronounce a blasphemous judgment against them before the Lord. But these, like irrational animals, creatures of instinct, born to be caught and destroyed, blaspheming about matters of which they are ignorant, will also be destroyed in their destruction, suffering wrong as the wage for their wrongdoing. They count it pleasure to revel in the daytime. They are blots and blemishes, reveling in their deceptions, while they feast with you. They have eyes full of adultery, insatiable for sin. They entice unsteady souls. They have hearts trained in greed. Accursed children! Forsaking the right way, they have gone astray. They have followed the way of Balaam, the son of Beor, who loved gain from wrongdoing, but was rebuked for his own transgression; a speechless donkey spoke with human voice and restrained the prophet's madness."
- 2 Peter 2:10-16, ESV

Last time, we considered how the wrath of God has fallen out of fashion in the church, and what a shame this is, because this is such an important doctrine. Doctrine has an impact on life, and Paul told Timothy, "Keep a close watch on yourself [or, "your life"] and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers." (1 Timothy 4:16, ESV) Paul knew these two issues - our lifestyle and our doctrine - are intertwined. 

As the wrath of God has fallen out of fashion in the contemporary church, a shift has happened in our values, too. We have de-emphasized the importance of truthfulness and plain honesty and have instead emphasized the importance of being nice. So, instead of telling people plainly what we believe and why, we tend to dance around the issue, trying to be as nice as possible and not offend the other person. 

I'm convinced that both of these changes - in doctrine and in life - have been made because of mounting anti-Christian cultural pressure. Our culture has been calling us narrow-minded, hateful, intolerant bigots in an effort to silence our proclamation of the moral law of God and our witness to the truth of the Gospel. And we have largely caved to the pressure. Now, we think the Christian way to treat anyone with whom we disagree is with loving acceptance and niceness.

Have we forgotten that our Lord Jesus Christ turned over the tables of the money-changers and drove the animal sellers out of the Temple with a whip? Have we forgotten that He called the scribes and Pharisees "white-washed tombs" and "children of the devil"? 

Because we have exalted niceness to the highest place of honor among the Christian virtues, passages like 2 Peter 2 make us very uncomfortable. We honestly wish these harsh words weren't in the Bible. Couldn't Peter have been nicer to these men with whom he disagreed? No, he couldn't. And why not? Because he didn't view these false teachers as people with whom he had a sincere disagreement. No, he saw them for what they were: a grave spiritual threat to the people of God.    

These false teachers were those who "indulge in the lust of defiling passion and despise authority." They were bold blasphemers. They had "eyes full of adultery, insatiable for sin" and "hearts trained in greed." To be clear: This was not some in-house debate between sincere Christians of good will over issues like baptism and spiritual gifts and varying models of church government. No, these false teachers looked at the church as a ripe field for sexual immorality and financial exploitation. They were after sex and money, not the glory of God and the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Some people certainly do run to the opposite extreme and attack everyone who disagrees with them with equal intensity. Knowing when to be kind and gentle and when to sound the alarm is a matter of knowing the difference between a friendly family debate and an attack by the enemy on Christ's church. 

If I'm debating a Baptist about the mode and subjects of baptism, I need to be kind and respectful and gentle, for I am dealing with a sincere brother who loves the Lord. But if people come around teaching the Prosperity Gospel and also pushing ideas like "free love," then I need to be bold and clear and urgent in warning the church against them. Similarly on doctrinal issues: If you think the church should have bishops and archbishops who sit above local elders, we can have an energetic and yet friendly debate, but if you deny the deity or humanity of Christ, you stand condemned, and I must warn all Christians not to pay attention to your teaching, for it violates the essence of the Gospel. 

Some people might respond to all of this by saying, "I thought the most important thing was just to love God and love others."  And of course, that's right. But loving God means loving all of His truth, and loving others means loving them enough to tell them the truth clearly. May God grant us true love for Him, His truth, His church, and our neighbors. 

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

2 Peter, Day 8: 2 Peter 2:4-10 - Does Anyone Believe in the Wrath of God Anymore?

Does Anyone Believe in the Wrath of God Anymore?

For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to chains of gloomy darkness to be kept until the judgment; if he did not spare the ancient world, but preserved Noah, a herald of righteousness, with seven others, when he brought a flood upon the world of the ungodly; if by turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to ashes he condemned them to extinction, making them an example of what is going to happen to the ungodly; and if he rescued righteous Lot, greatly distressed by the sensual conduct of the wicked (for as that righteous man lived among them day after day, he was tormenting his righteous soul over their lawless deeds that he saw and heard); then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment until the day of judgment, and especially those who indulge in the lust of defiling passion and despise authority.
- 2 Peter 2:4-10, ESV

In the 1970's, fashion took a turn in a strange direction. I know because my elementary school pictures feature me dressed in polyester shirts with flower prints and huge, pointy collars. Bell bottoms, platform shoes, polyester leisure suits and more all went out of fashion - thankfully - when the 1980's rolled around. In fashion, trends come and go, but when it comes to what we believe, the truths of God's word do not change.

Sadly, even though the truths of God's word don't change, the changing winds of cultural pressure often cause the church to soften its stance on certain core doctrines or simply to ignore aspects of our faith. One aspect of the Christian faith that has been badly neglected by the church lately is the doctrine of the wrath of God and the coming day of judgment.

You might respond: "Well, of course! Who wants to spend time pondering the wrath of God? It's scary and offensive and drives people away from the church." But the wrath of God and the coming day of judgment is clearly taught repeatedly in Scripture, including in today's passage, and it should be a source of great comfort for believers, especially in times of distress.

Without coming wrath and judgment, how can we believe in a God of perfect divine justice? Life in this world doesn't make sense and doesn't appear just. It looks like the wicked get away with their wickedness and the righteous suffer for their faith in God.

In Romans 12, we're told that one of the keys that allows Christians to live peaceably with their neighbors and not seek out revenge is a confidence in the coming wrath of God: "If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” (Romans 12:18-19, ESV)

So, the doctrine of Judgment Day helps believers trust in God's justice and suffer with patience and forbearance.  It also warns those who would exploit and manipulate Christianity for their own selfish gain. Thousands of people all around the world prey on professing Christians for personal gain, often either financial profit or sexual pleasure. It is sickening and distressing whenever we learn about these cases, but many of them go undetected and unpunished in this life. Yet God always sees and He will repay.

The Bible is not an easy or simplistic book. It doesn't pretend we live in a cushy world. It's relentlessly realistic and powerfully hopeful. Central to the realism and hope is that God takes note of the wicked oppression and exploitation of His people, and He will repay. We don't need to hide from this truth. We need to rejoice in it! Our God is truly good, and His justice and wrath are central to His goodness and His love for His own!  

Monday, October 14, 2019

2 Peter, Day 7: 2 Peter 2:1-3 - What About Preachers Who Tell You What You Want to Hear?

What About Preachers Who Tell You What You Want to Hear?

But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed. And in their greed they will exploit you with false words. Their condemnation from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep.
- 2 Peter 2:1-3, ESV

Promises. Promises. Promises. When I was in college waiting tables, I used to get home really late sometimes, when it seemed the only thing on TV was infomercials. I know no one under the age of 30 understands what I'm talking about, but if you're over 40, I know you've had the same experience I used to have, and you probably know how interesting those infomercials used to be at 2:00 in the morning when you couldn't sleep. They would make astounding promises of wonderful benefits to be had for just $14.99, plus shipping and handling. Were they true? I don't know. I can honestly say I never ordered anything from a late-night infomercial. I was tempted several times, but I lived with my parents and I knew my dad would be really mad at me. 

Infomercial pitchmen aren't the only ones who specialize in making incredible-sounding promises. In the Gospel, God makes astounding but true promises, promising us what we really need - redemption, forgiveness, adoption, eternal life, and more. But even though these are the things we really need, they're not always the things we most feel we want or need. Our "felt needs" could be for greater self-esteem, more money, a happier marriage, more successful children, or miraculous healing from some disease or disability. Sadly, too many religious peddlers will promise the things we want or think we need, even if God has not promised them to us.

How should we respond to preachers who seem to be telling us that, if we just believe strongly enough or do the right things or give enough money, God will answer all of our prayers and we'll be healthy and wealthy and completely happy? Or what do we do about other preachers who proclaim that God accepts everyone just the way they are - no faith or repentance are required - and that everyone will get into heaven in the end? 

Peter calls these men and women "false teachers" who "secretly bring in destructive heresies." These people are so often motivated by greed, and in their greed they seek to exploit the people of God with false words. God foresaw such people's rise in the church and proclaimed condemnation and destruction for them. 

So, far from seeing such teachers as harmless or as basically good people who mean well and are doing the best they can, Peter openly and strongly condemns false teachers and warns us against them. They are heading for a really rude awakening, for destruction and condemnation. Would we want to risk falling under their charm and following them into such a future? Of course not! 

So, what do we do? We must study the Scriptures and test everything by the clear light of God's word. We must discern carefully and at times we must warn those who teach falsely of the error of their message and the consequences of their actions. We should pray for their repentance and for the protection of the church. And we should make sure we are helping to teach and spread the truth of the biblical Gospel, for the glory of God! 

Friday, October 11, 2019

2 Peter, Day 6: 2 Peter 1:20-21 - How Did We Get the Bible?

How Did We Get the Bible?
2 Peter, Day 6

. . . knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone's own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.
- 2 Peter 1:20-21, ESV

Did Moses write Genesis or did God? Are the Psalms of David the creative work of David the Shepherd-King of Israel or the written word of God? Let me ask a different question: Is light a particle or a wave? What does light have to do with the inspiration of Scripture? I believe it is an excellent analogy.

Light is a particle and a wave. These two seem like a contradiction, but light is both. Albert Einstein believed that light was a particle that moved like a wave. But the photon particles of light actually become waves. Jesus is the word of God made flesh. He was always God and He became and remains human. Scripture is the word of God, given through men in such a way that it is also the words of men.  

2 Peter says that Scripture does not originate with people. Scripture comes neither from the interpretation of men nor from the will of men. It is the word of God, coming from God by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. And yet "men spoke." The words of Psalm 23 were sung by David. The words of Isaiah 53 were spoken by the prophet Isaiah. 

When Jesus quoted from the Scriptures we now call the Old Testament, He sometimes referred to them as the words of God and at other times referred to them as being the words of their human authors, namely Moses and David (Matthew 8:4 & 22:43-45). 

We don't believe in a dictation theory of Scripture inspiration, because if God dictated His word in such a way that the prophets were mere pens in His hands, Jesus would not have used the phrases "Moses commanded" and "David said." These are authentically the words of these men. Many of David's psalms, for example, reflect his own feelings and experiences.

Yet Jesus also said that every word of Scripture was the word of God (Matthew 5:18 & 15:3). As Peter says, "men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit."  Is it a mystery to understand how a written word can be both the word of God and the words of a man? Yes, just like it is a mystery how light can be both a particle and a wave and how Jesus can be both true God and true man. Yet just because a truth is mysterious doesn't make it untrue; in fact, if the things of God weren't mysterious to us, beyond our full comprehension, we might wonder if they really came from God.  

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

2 Peter, Day 5: 2 Peter 1:16-21 - How Confident Can We Be in the Gospel?

How Confident Can We Be in the Gospel?
2 Peter, Day 5

"For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,” we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain. And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone's own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit."
- 2 Peter 1:16-21, ESV

What would you do if you got onto a plane, readying for takeoff, and the pilot came on the intercom and said, "Welcome aboard! We're flying a somewhat reliable aircraft today that's been basically maintained okay. We anticipate a few problems and errors along the way but hopefully nothing too serious." I don't know about you, but I would immediately be on my feet, heading to the nearest exit. 

Is that the way you think about the Bible? Is that what you think about the reliability of  the Gospel of Jesus Christ? If you wouldn't trust such a plane to fly you from one city to another, why would you trust a "somewhat reliable" and "basically okay" Gospel to get you eternal life? You wouldn't, and you shouldn't. 

Thankfully, we have a very reliable Gospel from an absolutely trustworthy God given through faithful eyewitnesses. Peter is emphasizing the reliability of the Gospel message through two main pieces of evidence: eyewitness testimony and fulfilled prophecy. The Bible says that by two or three witnesses, a matter is established. Jesus had more than two or three eyewitnesses to so much of what He said and did. 

Peter highlights the Mount of Transfiguration, where he and James and John were three eyewitnesses to the glorification of Jesus and the affirming testimony of not only Moses and Elijah, who appeared on the mountain with Jesus, but the very voice of God the Father Himself, speaking from heaven. Thus, we have three eyewitnesses to an event that itself had three witnesses. 

Think of the number of people who saw Jesus feed the 5,000 or raise Lazarus from the dead. Over 512 people saw Jesus Himself resurrected. We have a number of reliable eyewitness accounts, which have come to us in the four Gospels and in the New Testament epistles. 

And yet, we have been given still more, to strengthen our confidence still further. Peter says "we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed." The words of the prophets have all been fully confirmed in the person and work of Jesus. Micah told us He would be born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2). Samuel told us He would be the Son of David (2 Samuel 7:12-13). Isaiah told us He would minister in Galilee (Isaiah 9:1-2) and that he would be rejected and would die for the sins of His people (Isaiah 53). David described in detail how He would be crucified (Psalm 22:14-18). Both Isaiah and David foretold His glorious resurrection (Psalm 22:21-28 & Isaiah 53:10-12). 

The eyewitness testimony of so many confirms the fulfillment of so much detailed prophecy. Together, they give us an absolutely solid confidence that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God and Savior of sinners who trust in Him.

Monday, October 7, 2019

2 Peter, Day 4: 2 Peter 1:11-15 - Do We Have Our Priorities Right?

Do We Have Our Priorities Right?
For in this way there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Therefore I intend always to remind you of these qualities, though you know them and are established in the truth that you have. I think it right, as long as I am in this body, to stir you up by way of reminder, since I know that the putting off of my body will be soon, as our Lord Jesus Christ made clear to me. And I will make every effort so that after my departure you may be able at any time to recall these things.
- 2 Peter 1:11-15, ESV

I've been thinking a lot about college entrance lately. I've known a lot about the college admissions process for years, because I used to be a high school teacher and then a school administrator before I became a pastor. But now, it's personal, because I have a 15-year-old high school sophomore. I find myself often urging him to "make every effort" at school and in life, and I have college admissions in the back of my mind.

Peter has been urging Christians to "make every effort" to cultivate godly character: virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness, brotherly affection, and love. He also has an important entrance in mind, but it's far more important than college admissions. He has told us that, as we cultivate godly character by God's grace, we will be fruitful and effective and we will confirm our calling and election. 

With our calling and election confirmed, we will never fall. Instead, we will be richly provided "an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ." That beats any college entrance, for sure! Now, we need to be careful and read Peter accurately. Salvation is entirely a gift of God's free grace through Jesus Christ from first to last. We do not earn entrance into Christ's eternal, glorious kingdom by cultivating godly character. Rather, cultivating godly character serves to confirm that we have been called and chosen to receive this kingdom entrance. 

The sad truth is that many people make professions of faith in Jesus Christ and then fall away. Many people shipwreck their faith on the rocks of sin, doubt, worldliness, and apostasy. They fail to confirm their calling and election, instead showing they remain blind to the light of the Gospel, ignorant of the truth, and lost in their sin. I don't know about you, but I don't want to be one of those shipwrecks. But I dare not trust in myself to keep myself; instead, I need to look always and only to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ. 

That's where Peter was looking as his life was drawing to a close. He says, "I know that the putting off of my body will be soon, as our Lord Jesus Christ made clear to me." He has trusted in Jesus and walked with Jesus for a many years by this time, and now he knows Jesus is going to bring him home.

But before Peter leaves this life, he writes this final letter, to ensure that his testimony, his instructions, and his priorities will be clear for the church for the ages to come. Here we sit 2,000 years later reading it. 

Peter made every effort to keep his priorities right, not in his own strength, but in reliance on his faithful Savior. Do we have our priorities right? Are we looking to Jesus, with one eye on His coming heavenly kingdom and the other on His people and how we might bless them during our time here in this body? We have the most glorious entrance imaginable - no, beyond imagining - waiting for us. Is it our highest priority to confirm our calling and election to enter and our next highest priority to help others to gain entrance, too?

Friday, October 4, 2019

2 Peter, Day 3: 2 Peter 1:5-10 - How Should We Respond to God's Amazing Gifts?

How Should We Respond to God's Amazing Gifts?
2 Peter, Day 3

"For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins. Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall."
- 2 Peter 1:5-10, ESV

Larry Bird was not the most athletically gifted basketball player of his generation, but he is remembered today as one of the greatest players to ever play the game because no one would ever out-work him. Many of the most extraordinarily gifted athletes on the planet never made it to the pros, because they waste their gifts by not working hard to develop what they had been given. 

God has given us amazing gifts through the Gospel. We have been given an equal standing before God with the apostles. "His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness." His precious and very great promises have made us partakers of the divine nature, as we share in the life and righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ. These gifts are astonishing! 

So, what do we do now? Do we just sit back and enjoy the ride to heaven, paid for by Jesus? No! Peter tells us that because God has given us such amazing gifts, we should "make every effort" - in other words, because God has been so good to us, we should respond by working hard to make the most of what we've been given. If you've been gifted, use the gifts you've been given.

What are we to make every effort to do?  Peter tells us "to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love." We are to cultivate the godly character God has given us the ability to cultivate by His grace. Remember, it is His divine power that has granted us all things that pertain to life and godliness. So, these godly character qualities are not things we produce ourselves. Rather, we work to develop in our lives what God has already given us!

Why do we need to make every effort to develop these qualities? Peter tells us "if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ." We don't want to be ineffective and unfruitful, do we? We want to be productive and effective for God's kingdom and glory, right?

Then, Peter gives us some negative motivation in the form of a warning: "whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins." So, not only do we want to be effective and fruitful, but we most certainly don't want to be blind and forgetful.

Growing in godly character is not an option add-on to the life a believer has in Christ. It is the necessary outworking of that life in Christ. As we cultivate the character of Christ, we "confirm [our] calling and election" and we're strengthened with another great promise: "If you practice these qualities you will never fall." So, by the grace of God, with the gifts His divine power has given us, let's make every effort to grow in virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness, brotherly affection, and love! 

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

2 Peter, Day 2: 2 Peter 1:2-4 - How Precious and Great are God's Promises?

How Precious and Great are God's Promises?

May grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.

His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.

- 2 Peter 1:2-4, ESV

Growing up, I used to love watching The Price is Right, especially on days when I was home sick from school. My favorite part of The Price is Right was the Showcase Showdown. I especially loved the really big showcases where they kept revealing more and more items, usually capped off by a new car or some incredible trip somewhere. Later in life, when I was waiting tables, I would sometimes wind down by watching late-night infomercials, which would always add more to the deal they were offering by saying, "But wait, there's more!"

Not to be irreverent and compare God's word to a late-night infomercial or a game show, but sometimes, when I think about the Gospel, it hits me that it's the ultimate prize package: Just when we think we've heard it all - forgiveness of our sins, eternal life, no condemnation - God seems to say, "But wait, there's more!"

Last time, we looked at the incredible reality that we stand on the same ground before God as the Apostles, because we are all standing on the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ. Today, we read on in 2 Peter 1 and discover still more wonderful Gospel treasure:

First, we find out that God multiplies grace and mercy to us in the knowledge of God and of Christ Jesus. This means that God continually pours out His undeserved favor and kindness, His patience and love, as we grow in the knowledge of Him. We don't just receive grace and mercy one time at the moment of coming to faith in Jesus, but grace and mercy multiply to us throughout our lives.

Second, we learn that God's "divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness." This means that God has already given us everything we need for real eternal life and a life of true godliness. We already have all we need! 

And third, we see that "He has granted to us His precious and very great promises, so that through them [we] may become partakers of the divine nature." The purpose of God's precious and very great promises are that we may partake of His very nature. This is almost too good to be true - God has not only allowed us to stand before Him on the perfect righteousness of Christ and multiplied His grace and mercy to us, and He has not only granted us everything we need for life and godliness, but He has done this by promising us that we will be partakers of the divine nature. 

In other words, through faith in Jesus Christ, not only are we forgiven, cleansed and accepted by God, but God gives Himself to us, so that we can partake of His very life, His eternal life. The eternal life we're given is the very life of God. The perfect righteousness we're given is the very righteousness of God. This is a grace so amazing that we won't even begin to grasp the depth of the riches of it in this life. 

So often, when you watch a TV game show or a late-night infomercial, you find out that the deal promised isn't really as good as it seems. After all, the game show is just after high ratings, and the infomercial is just trying to sell a product. But God is no salesman, and the Gospel is no gimmick. The promises God makes, He keeps to the full. And that makes His promises precious and very great indeed!    

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

2 Peter, Day 1: 2 Peter 1:1 - How Does Our Standing Before God Compare with the Apostles?

How Does Our Standing Before God Compare with the Apostles?
2 Peter, Day 1

Simeon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ,

To those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ.
- 2 Peter 1:1, ESV

Have you ever met someone truly great? I grew up in an Air Force family. I remember in 1987, at age 13, meeting the 4-star general who commanded the United States Air Forces in Europe (USAFE). I shook his hand and said how I was never going to wash my hand because I had shaken the hand of a 4-star general! 

Well, I'm much more mature now, of course, but I still have my list of spiritual heroes, people I can't wait to meet in heaven: John Calvin, John Knox, Augustine, Matthew Henry, Jeremiah Burroughs, and several others. And of course, the apostles are amazing heroes of the faith! Imagine sitting down for breakfast with Peter and Paul. 

Thinking like this really makes the opening verse of 2 Peter splash us in the face with some amazing grace-filled reality. Peter writes to a group of ordinary, unnamed Christians (really, it's addressed as a letter to all Christians), and while he clearly identifies himself as an apostle, he also tells these ordinary Christians that they "have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours." 

Our faith is of equal standing with the faith of the apostles! What Peter is saying is that we stand on the same ground before God as the apostles themselves. While they were called by Jesus personally to serve in a special role, we are full equals in our spiritual standing before God.

How is this possible? How can ordinary Christians have "a faith of equal standing" with the twelve apostles? Well, Peter tells us how. It is because both we and the apostles have our standing before God "by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ." 

No one can stand before God on his own merit. No one can access God any other way but through Jesus Christ. Here's what we so often miss: The righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ is absolutely perfect and complete. Nothing can be added to it and nothing can be taken away from it. So, if we stand before God by His righteousness, our standing before God is perfect and complete. 

Our faith is of equal standing because our faith is in Jesus Christ, whose righteousness is perfect. Whatever sins we have committed, His blood covers and cleanses. Whatever shortcomings we may have, His righteousness has none whatsoever. This is why our standing is equal, secure and perfect, and our access to God is with confidence and assurance - not because of us, but always and only because of HIM! 

Saturday, September 21, 2019

1 Peter, Day 29: 1 Peter 5:12-14 - How Can We Bless One Another in the Lord?

How Can We Bless One Another in the Lord?
1 Peter, Day 29

By Silvanus, a faithful brother as I regard him, I have written briefly to you, exhorting and declaring that this is the true grace of God. Stand firm in it. She who is at Babylon, who is likewise chosen, sends you greetings, and so does Mark, my son. Greet one another with the kiss of love.

Peace to all of you who are in Christ.
- 1 Peter 5:12-14, ESV

I've always had a hard time knowing what to get my dad for Christmas. Most of the time, he says he doesn't want anything, but I still feel like I should get him something. It's frustrating to be in a position where you want to bless someone but you're not sure how. 

As believers, we want to be a blessing to our brothers and sisters in Christ, don't we? But we don't always know how, do we? Here in the closing few verses of 1 Peter, Peter gives us a great example of a variety of ways we can bless each other in the Lord:

1. By using our gifts to help each other. Silvanus helped Peter write this letter, as he had helped Paul write some of his letters. (Silvanus is also known as Silas.) He apparently had a great gift for writing, and he used it to help the apostles and the churches. 

2. By thanking and recognizing one another for our service. Peter thanks Silvanus for using his gifts to serve him and the church.

3. By exhorting one another and declaring the true grace of God to one another. Peter's letter is a beautiful combination of rich Gospel truth and loving exhortation to live out the grace of God in the Gospel. We should be reminding each other of the grace of God in Jesus Christ and of our call to live according to that grace. "Stand firm in it."

4. By demonstrating concern and affection for one another. God calls us to love each other. Among other things, that means we should be concerned for each other's well being and we should demonstrate affection toward one another in culturally appropriate ways. 

5. Speaking words of blessing to each other. "Peace to all of you who are in Christ."  We should speak words of blessing - "May the Lord bless you." "May the Lord give you His peace." 

In these five ways - serving one another, thanking each other, exhorting and reminding one another, demonstrating concern and affection for each other, and speaking words of blessing to one another - we become vessels of God's blessing and we truly bless one another. It may seem awkward or uncomfortable at first, but we see this pattern throughout the epistles of the New Testament and in the life of the early church. If we follow this pattern, we will be blessed and we will be a blessing to each other, to the glory of God and the strengthening of His church.   

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

1 Peter, Day 28: 1 Peter 5:10-11 - What Can We Look Forward To?

What Can We Look Forward To?
1 Peter, Day 28

And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen.
- 1 Peter 5:10-11, ESV

I remember when I was a kid, I really looked forward to Christmas. My mom loved to over-do Christmas, and while my dad wasn't always super-excited about it, I know I was! As I got older, I began to look forward to going off to college, moving out of the house and into a dorm. Then, I looked forward to getting married. When we found out my wife was pregnant, we looked forward to becoming parents. 

At some point, and I'm not sure when, I think I stopped looking forward to the next thing to come in this life. My oldest son is less than three years away from college, but I can't really say I'm looking forward to that, or to his driving, which will come even sooner, I think. So, what can I look forward to?

Part of the benefit of stopping always looking forward in this life is that it allows you to enjoy and be thankful for the now, for God's present blessings. But the now often involves real struggle, conflict, temptation, and even persecution. So, what can we look forward to? 

Well, in a word: everything! As believers in Jesus Christ, we have everything to look forward to! Peter tells us that "the God of all grace . . . will Himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you." In this life we suffer "a little while," but the glorious day is coming when everything we have lost will be restored with much more added, everything we have been questioned in believing will be confirmed, our weakness will be strengthened perfectly, and our wavering hope will be established firmly. 

When can we expect this glorious restoration, confirmation, strengthening, and establishing? God does bring these blessings in seasons in this life, but the fullness and permanence of these gifts will be ours in eternal glory. When Jesus comes again, and He defeats every enemy, and His reign is established forever, then we will be established with Him forever. 

And this reality brings us to the most amazing and exciting thing we have to look forward to: God has called us to His eternal glory in Christ. We will be fully restored, confirmed, strengthened, and established when we are enjoying God's eternal glory forever in Christ. Imagine enjoying the glory of God forever! That's beyond our wildest imagination! 

I don't know about you, but I am most definitely looking forward to that glorious day! 

Monday, September 16, 2019

1 Peter, Day 27: 1 Peter 5:6-9 - How Can We Resist the Devil?

How Can We Resist the Devil?
1 Peter, Day 27

Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world.
- 1 Peter 5:6-9, ESV

"You will be assimilated. Resistance is futile." With these words, the Borg on Star Trek would subdue their enemies and assimilate them into the collective. At times, living as Christian in a fallen and rebellious world, our hearts can begin to believe that resistance to the world, our flesh, and the devil is perhaps even more futile than resistance to the Borg. 

That can't be true, though, can it? Not if we believe the Bible and trust in Christ. So, how can we resist the devil effectively? How can our resistance be more than futile? 

Step one is humble submission to God. Too often we don't see the connection between verse nine's call to resist the devil and verse six's call to humble ourselves under the mighty hand of God. But here's the truth: Only God's hand is mighty enough to give us the strength to resist the devil.

However, some Christians have mistaken humble submission to God with complete passivity. "Let go and let God" might sound nice and pious, but it's unbiblical and unhelpful advice. When we humble ourselves before the Lord and He strengthens us by His grace, He calls us to action. We are to be sober-minded and watchful. This means we are to be in a constant state of prayer and alertness.

Only when we watch and pray will we be strengthened against entering into temptation (Matt 26:41). We don't just need to humbly submit to God's mighty hand, but we also need to actively depend on God for wisdom to discern righteousness and strength to obey Him. 

When we are watching and praying, we need to take our enemy seriously, knowing he is actively seeking to harm, disarm, sideline, or destroy us. However, we do not need to be paralyzed by fear. We need to be walking in the freedom and confidence that comes from walking closely with the Lord and in His strength, not our own. We are told that if we are walking with the Lord, we can resist the devil and he will flee from us (James 4:7). So, be watchful and prayerful, but not anxious and fearful. How? Only by God's grace! 

Finally, we need to resist our enemy knowing we are not alone. We find great strength in solidarity, knowing that we stand with our brothers and sisters around the world engaged in the same battle. Don't give into the thinking that you are standing alone or that no one understands what you face. You are not alone. We are all in this together. One of the best ways to stand strong is to be actively praying for one another. 

So, resistance is not futile. In fact, resistance is a key to being fruitful as a Christian. Resist the devil, the world and your flesh - by humbling yourself before God, being watchful and prayerful in His strength, resisting the lies and enticements of our enemy, and praying for your brothers and sisters who suffer and resist with you.  

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

1 Peter, Day 26: 1 Peter 5:5-7 - What is the Chief Christian Virtue?

What is the Chief Christian Virtue?
1 Peter, Day 26

Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”

Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.
- 1 Peter 5:5-7, ESV

What is the chief or root sin? We might think of sins like lust or anger as flashy and dangerous, and they are. But throughout the ages, Christians have understood that pride is the root sin, the core of our sinfulness and the fountainhead of our sinful activity. 

In Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis put it this way: 

"According to Christian teachers, the essential vice, the utmost evil, is Pride. Un-chastity, anger, greed, drunkenness, and all that, are mere flea bites in comparison: it was through Pride that the devil became the devil: Pride leads to every other vice: it is the complete anti-God state of mind . . . it is Pride which has been the chief cause of misery in every nation and every family since the world began."

Well, if that's true, and I believe it is, then what is the chief Christian virtue? Is it heroic faith? No, it is quiet, simple and strong humility. Humility is the virtue that cuts at the very root of pride. But what is humility, and what does it look like, and why is it so important? We have misconceptions about what humility looks like, and here C.S. Lewis is helpful again:

"Do not imagine that if you meet a really humble man he will be what most people call ‘humble’ nowadays: he will not be a sort of greasy, smarmy person, who is always telling you that, of course, he is nobody. Probably all you will think about him is that he seemed a cheerful, intelligent chap who took a real interest in what you said to him. If you do dislike him it will be because you feel a little envious of anyone who seems to enjoy life so easily. He will not be thinking about humility: he will not be thinking about himself at all."

1 Peter 5 helps us see why humility is so important: Humility changes the way we treat one another and the way we approach God in the most fundamental way. Peter tells us to clothe ourselves with humility toward one another. Humility treats others with respect, consideration, and genuine loving interest.

Humility also deeply shapes how we approach God. We humble ourselves under His mighty hand. We lovingly acknowledge that He alone is God and we are not, and we cast our cares and concerns on Him. We approach Him in loving fear and humble adoration.

Humility is so key, and the key to beginning to cultivate more humility is to recognize and confess our pride. We are not God, but too often we act like we are. We need to confess that dark reality and ask God to forgive us and change us. Only then can we begin to walk in the freedom and joy of true humility.

Monday, September 9, 2019

1 Peter, Day 25: 1 Peter 5:1-4 - How Should Churches Be Led?

How Should Churches Be Led? 

So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.
 - 1 Peter 5:1-4, ESV

Sadly, the history of the church has been littered with bad leadership - selfish, greedy, immoral pastors, priests, elders and bishops who have lied, stolen, and abused the church for their own wicked ends. In fact, you don't even have to look into history to see numerous examples of wayward shepherds leading sheep astray to their own destruction. 

Thankfully, God still has some faithful shepherds in His flock. Of course, no human shepherds are perfect; only Jesus the Good Shepherd never fails us. But still, God does have some elders in His church who sincerely desire to serve well and lead well, encouraging and equipping the flock. 

Peter addresses the elders of the church in chapter 5 as a fellow elder. Even though he is an Apostle, Peter is also an elder, a shepherd, restored lovingly to this position by Jesus in John 21. He exhorts the elders; he does not command them. He urges them lovingly to shepherd the flock, even as Jesus  had commanded him to do - to feed the sheep and tend the lambs of the precious flock of God purchased by the blood of the Good Shepherd. 

A key part of shepherding is exercising oversight - watching over the flock, caring for their health and well being and tending to them if and when they begin to go astray, helping them to walk in the right paths. But this oversight is not to be domineering, not commanding and controlling, but as good examples and faithfully patient encouraging guides. 

How does an elder shepherd the flock like this? By praying for the sheep, feeding the sheep with the Word of God, pointing the sheep to Jesus and to a closer walk with the Good Shepherd, and speaking correction to the sheep when they go astray. 

Consistently shepherding the flock is tiring, sometimes discouraging, and often thankless - not always of course, but often. At these times, elders need to remember that their Good Shepherd, the Chief Shepherd, is watching over them. He supplies our every need whenever we are weak or prone to wander. And He is coming again, to judge the living and the dead, and to reward or judge the shepherds for their service. 

If you're an elder, look to Jesus for the grace to shepherd well. If you're not an elder, pray for your elders to have the grace to shepherd well - that God may be glorified, His kingdom advanced, and His people blessed. 

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

1 Peter, Day 24: 1 Peter 4:15-19 - How Can We Trust God in our Suffering?

How Can We Trust God in our Suffering?
1 Peter, Day 24

But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler. Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name. For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God? And

“If the righteous is scarcely saved,
    what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?”

Therefore let those who suffer according to God's will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.
- 1 Peter 4:15-19, ESV

My son, Jeremiah, is running cross-country this year. I'm proud of him, because he doesn't really like running. But he has determination, and determination is at the heart of cross-country running. My older son, Andrew, is playing football. After his last game, his right arm and shoulder were covered in scratches and bruises. In other words, he looked like a football player. 

If you're going to run cross-country, you need determination. If you're going to play football, you need to accept scratches and bruises. And if you're going to honor God as a Christian, you need to trust God. Faith is the essence of the Christian life. As Hebrews 11 says, "Without faith, it is impossible to please God." (Heb. 11:6) 

So, in our suffering as believers, the primary way we bring glory to God is by entrusting our souls to Him. But how can we trust God, knowing that our suffering is both undeserved and comes to us according to God's will? 

Well, we can glorify God by trusting Him by remembering three key things:

1. God has given us His name.
2. God will one day judge all, and our suffering is, in some ways, just the beginning of judgment.
3. God is faithful. He never breaks any of His promises. 

So, we begin with he glorious truth that God has placed His name on us. He has adopted us into His family. He has made us His own. We don't deserve this, and while it does bring suffering, it also brings a permanent place in God's family as His dearly loved children forever.

Then, as we think on the promises of God, we consider that He has promised to judge the nations one day. Everyone will be judged. If we think the suffering we endure now for the name of Jesus is terrible, imagine what is coming on Judgment Day for the enemies of God. Then, consider that we deserve that same judgment, but we have been spared by God's grace.

Finally, we need to see that God never breaks His promises, that He is faithful. He has actually promised us suffering. But He has also promised us glory with Him after our time of suffering ends. 

These three truths can fuel our faith in God in the midst of suffering, and it is only by faith in Him that we will persevere in doing good, according to His will, even as we continue to suffer, also according to His will.  

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

1 Peter, Day 23: 1 Peter 4:12-14 - How Can We Honor God in our Suffering?

How Can We Honor God in our Suffering?
1 Peter, Day 23

Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ's sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.
- 1 Peter 4:12-14, ESV

Honestly, I don't like suffering of any kind. Physical pain is not something I enjoy, and emotional or social trauma are even less pleasant to me. So, when I hear the words "fiery trial," I don't think of something I want to experience. 

Peter says we should not be surprised by fiery trials, and that we should rejoice when they come to us for being Christians. This is not something most of us can naturally embrace. We need help. 

We get help is two ways when we read the Gospels: We see that Jesus suffered for us long before we were ever born or potentially called to suffer for His name. Also, we hear the words of Jesus telling us to expect suffering, telling us this is part of following Him:

"If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you." - John 15:18-19, ESV

"If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it." - Luke 9:23-24, ESV

While we may not enjoy suffering, we can honor God in our suffering in two key ways: by accepting it as His good will for us and by making sure that we're actually suffering for the right reasons. Suffering for the name of Christ takes many forms; here Peter highlights being insulted for His sake. Many people in the world have very little respect for followers of Jesus. As our American culture becomes more post-Christian and anti-Christian, being insulted for Jesus' sake is becoming a fairly common experience for Christians. 

Peter says we should consider it an honor to be so insulted, for two reasons: It's an indication that the Spirit of God rests on us. In other words, it shows that we really belong to Jesus. It also is an indication that we will be blessed by His glory when He is revealed at His second coming.  

And yet, we need to make sure we're really being insulted for being Christians and not for some other reason. Someone I know well used to work in the HR department of a major company in our area. Some Christians who worked for this company would come in late, leave early, not show up, do poor quality work, and then act like they were being persecuted when they were written up for poor job performance. That's not what Peter is talking about here in 1 Peter 4. We can't suffer for being irresponsible, obnoxious, or even for being overly political and think that's suffering insults for the name of Jesus. It's not. 

I know some people who are New England Patriots fans, and they get teased for it by other football fans who don't like the Patriots. It's easy enough for them to take that teasing because their team has six championship trophies. They can smile and hold their heads up high, knowing their team is hated for good reason: They're the best. How much better is the Lord Jesus? How much greater is His kingdom than any sports dynasty? We should smile and hold our heads high when the world insults us for bearing His name. He is worth it!