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!