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Thursday, June 13, 2019

1 Peter, Day 3: 1 Peter 1:6-9 - What is Faith and How is it Tried?

What is Faith and How is it Tried?
1 Peter, Day 3


In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.
- 1 Peter 1:6-9, ESV

If we have such great benefits in our salvation, such reason to rejoice and be glad, then why is life still so difficult? Last time, we saw that we are chosen for salvation, which includes sanctification by the Holy Spirit, obedience to Jesus Christ, cleansing from sin and guilt by the blood of Jesus, grace and peace, a living and undying hope, an imperishable inheritance, and protection through faith in Christ. Peter says, "in this you rejoice," and that certainly is a list of wonderful reasons to deeply rejoice. 

Still, life is really hard, isn't it? We don't always feel sanctified and cleansed, we don't always obey, we struggle with feeling really alive and hopeful, and we sometimes don't experience the grace and peace of the Gospel. Peter says it's happening because our priceless precious faith is being tested. So, what exactly is faith and how is it tested? 

Faith is not a subjective emotional experience; it is trust. Faith trusts God and His promises more than our eyes can see. Faith is what unites us to Christ and all His benefits. It is crucial, for it is how we law hold on the goodness of God offered to us in the Gospel. 

But lots of things can look like faith and not be faith. Easy belief is not faith. Quick assent in an emotional moment is not faith. Feeling close to God at a concert or on a retreat is not faith. Faith is trust, and trust is strengthened when it is exercised under duress. Like a precious metal purified by fire, faith only shows its real value as it is tested again and again. Such testing is not easy, and sometimes our faith wavers, as dross is burned away and we learn to cling to the Lord more closely. 

What helps us rejoice in the midst of the fire is looking up to Jesus and looking ahead to His coming again. When we look up from our circumstances, we realize He is enthroned in glory as the anchor of our souls and nothing can shake Him. When we look ahead, we realize He is indeed coming again, and every eye will see Him. On that day, our faith will be sight and it will be glorious beyond our wildest imaginations. 

So, when you find yourself in the fire, your faith being tested by affliction, remember the greatness of your salvation and what benefits you receive from Christ in the Gospel. Look to Jesus, who is seated at the Father's right hand, far above all power and authority. And look forward by faith to that day when we will see Him and rejoice in Him together! 

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

1 Peter, Day 2: 1 Peter 1:1-5 - What are the Elect Chosen For?


What are the Elect Chosen For?

1 Peter, Day 2


Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ,

To those who are elect exiles of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia,  according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood:

May grace and peace be multiplied to you.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God's power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.
- 1 Peter 1:1-5, ESV

Somehow, the NFL has managed to turn its player draft into a national entertainment spectacle. Cities now compete to host the draft like they're hosting the Super Bowl. It's kind of crazy, but it raises a good question for us as we're considering Peter's opening to his brilliant first epistle: Why do NFL teams draft players? We can look at this on two levels - what they like about a player and what they hope a player can do for their team. They may like a player's speed or size of toughness or football IQ, but they are also hoping a player can do something specific for their team: protect the quarterback, stop the run, catch long passes, stop the other teams from completing long passes, etc.

What does this have to do with 1 Peter? Well, last time, we saw that Peter tells us we are elect exiles. In other words, we are chosen by God, even as we live in a world that's not our home. We also saw why God chooses us: Because He loved us before He made us. That's foreknowledge. But what was God's purpose in choosing us? What are we chosen for?

Peter unpacks the purpose for our election in verses 2-5. The short answer is found toward the end of verse 5: "for salvation." But what exactly is salvation? What does it involve? Here. Peter names seven vital things included in our salvation:

1. The Sanctification of the Spirit: The Holy Spirit has set us apart from being ordinary people, mere flesh and blood, sinful and under condemnation, and has made us holy, made us His special people.

2. Obedience to Jesus Christ: By God's grace, our hearts are changed and we are now willing and able to obey Jesus Christ as our Lord.

3. Sprinkling with His Blood: We are forgiven by the cleansing of Jesus' blood, shed for us. We are washed clean, given a clean conscience and pure record in the eyes of God. 

4. Grace and Peace: These are really two things, but they very commonly occur together in Scripture and they go together. God gives us His undeserved favor and kindness, including peace with Him, with one another in the body of Christ, and within ourselves.

5. Born Again to a Living Hope: God's great mercy has caused us to be made spiritually alive, to be born again, or born from above. To be spiritually alive is to have a strong, living hope, for to be made spiritually alive by God's mercy is to never die again!

6. An Imperishable Inheritance: Not only will we live forever, but we will also inherit that which cannot perish, in God's eternal kingdom. Our inheritance in Christ and His kingdom is kept for us by the power of God where no one can ever disturb it.

7. Guarded through Faith: Not only is our inheritance guarded by God, but so are we. We are kept through faith - that is, as we keep trusting in Christ, we are kept in our salvation. God gives and keeps our faith, so we are secure in His hands.   

What a salvation! All of this salvation is received by faith now and is to be revealed openly on the Last Day, the great Day of the Lord, when Jesus returns. Until that time, we keep believing, hoping, waiting, and obeying!

Sunday, June 9, 2019

1 Peter, Day 1: 1 Peter 1:1-2 - Who Are We in This World?

Who Are We in This World? 

1 Peter, Day 1



Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ,

To those who are elect exiles of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood:

May grace and peace be multiplied to you.
- 1 Peter 1:1-2, ESV

U.S. Senator Tim Scott from South Carolina is the only black Republican serving in the U.S. Senate. In his first five years in the Senate, he was stopped and questioned at least three times, his identity as a senator challenged. He was essentially asked, "Who do you think you are?" Racial profiling is ugly, but it's still an ongoing reality some people face. 

For Christians living in this world, we can often be on the receiving end of scorn and contempt. The world often looks at Christians and essentially asks, "Who do you think you are?" The world may label us as hypocrites, because we are religious and yet sinners. The world may call us intolerant haters, because we cannot approve of the things the world approves. 

What should matter to believers is not what the world says we are but what God says we are in this world. In the opening verse of 1 Peter, God calls us "elect exiles of the Dispersion." What's interesting about this title is that it's very Jewish, but it's being assigned to a mostly non-Jewish group of Christian believers. As Peter will make very clear later in his letter, this is very intentional, as believers in Jesus are the heirs of all the covenant promises and identity the Jewish people of God had under the old covenant. 

But what is this identity? "Elect" means chosen by God. If we believe in Jesus Christ, it is because God has chosen us to be His own. "Exiles" means people living in a land that is not their home. This world is just the site of our pilgrimage; our true home is with the Lord. "Of the Dispersion" means we are scattered as a people among the peoples of the earth. Rather than having a particular nation-state on earth that is ours, we are a scattered people, spread among the peoples of the world.    

How did we become this special people, the "elect exiles of the Dispersion"?  It was "according to the foreknowledge of God the Father." Foreknowledge is not fore-sight, as in God looking ahead and seeing what is going to happen. It refers instead to God loving us in advance, before we were even born. It's a powerful word that tells when we were elect (before the creation of the world) and why were were elect (because God loved us). 

That's a pretty wonderful identity: Loved by God before the world began and chosen by Him in love, yet for a time living in a world that's not our home and scattered among people who are not really our people. Learning to see ourselves as we really are in the eyes of God is key to living faithfully in this crazy, fallen world. Let's not let the world define us, but let's walk in the truth of who God has made us by His grace! 

Sunday, June 2, 2019

James, Day 26: James 5:19-20 - How Should We Handle Wayward Believers?

How Should We Handle Wayward Believers?
James, Day 26


My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins. - James 5:19-20, ESV

If you live long enough as a believer, you will certainly see a number of professing Christians wander away from the truth. Within the past several years, we have seen Pastor Rob Bell deny the doctrine of hell and then wander completely away from real Christianity, the late Rachel Held Evans deny core doctrines of the Christian faith, and several Christian musicians who have denied their faith and embraced the world over Christ. Beyond these celebrity Christian apostates, we probably all know people personally who have either wandered away from Christianity entirely or have denied core doctrines of the faith.

So, what should we do?

It would be easy to say it's none of our responsibility, none of our concern. It's easy to embrace the American ideology of "live and let live" and "to each his own," but that's clearly not a biblical approach.

Instead, James 5:19-20 makes it clear that we have an obligation to do what we can to restore a wandering brother or sister to the truth. How? Well, we need to pray and seek wisdom for how to best engage them. What is needed is face-to-face, life-on-life persuasion, truly speaking the truth in love.

What is required is love with caution, compassion with conviction. Very often, people either make the mistake of being too harsh and pushing the other person away or of being too soft and potentially being pulled into the lies of the person you're trying to reach in love. You need to listen and seek to understand, but so that you can counter with the truth of Scripture and the conviction of the Holy Spirit.

Sadly, too often, even the best efforts are unfruitful in restoring a wandering loved one. When this happens, we need to keep praying and looking for opportunities to speak the truth, but understand that it's not always possible to restore someone who is wandering away. We can only do what is within our power to do; we must leave the rest to the Lord. But very often, God will use the words we speak and the prayers we pray to reach the wandering ones we love in His own time. So, keep praying and keep speaking the truth in love. 

Thursday, May 30, 2019

James, Day 25: James 5:13-18 - Does Prayer Really Make a Difference?

Does Prayer Really Make a Difference?

Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise. Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit. - James 5:13-18, ESV

If God already knows what we're going to ask before we ask, why ask? Or, if God has already decreed everything and is sovereign over all things absolutely, why pray? In light of a perfectly sovereign God who knows all and rules over all, does prayer make any difference at all? Isn't God going to do what He 's going to do, whether we pray or not?

These questions some people ask about prayer could be asked about other things, too. If election is true, why evangelize? Why share the Gospel if God has already determined from eternity past who He is going to save? Or, to take it to an extreme, if the days of our lives are all numbered and written in God's book before we're born, why bother with medical care or healthy living? Why not just eat what we want and never go see a doctor? Jesus said we cannot add an hour to our lives by worrying, so what difference does it make?

One simple answer to these kinds of questions is that we should never use one truth from God's word as a battering ram to knock down other truths from God's word. The same God who declares His own sovereignty very clearly in Scripture also calls us to pray, promising to answer our prayers according to His wisdom and love. The same God who proclaims the truth of election throughout Scripture also tells us to preach the Gospel, for "faith comes by hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ." (Rom. 10:17) We must believe all that God reveals about Himself, not picking what we like and using it to nullify what we don't.

Digging a little deeper into the issue, we see that the same God who ordains the ends also ordains the means toward those ends. In other words, God not only tells us what He's going to do but also how He's going to do it. God could accomplish His purposes apart from our prayers and our evangelism, but He has declared that He will not. So, does prayer make a difference? Absolutely! Why? Because God has decreed that it does.

When we pray in faith, we can pray in hope and in confidence. Our prayers aren't going to convince God to do something wrong or foolish or unloving. Yet our prayers do make a difference. They are heard and answered by a loving God who is our Heavenly Father and who delights to hear and answer the prayers of His children. It's all part of His plan, and His sovereignty should encourage, rather than discourage, our prayers.   

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

James, Day 24: James 5:12 - Are Christians Allowed to Take Oaths?

Are Christians Allowed to Take Oaths?

"But above all, my brothers, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or by any other oath, but let your “yes” be yes and your “no” be no, so that you may not fall under condemnation." - James 5:12, ESV

One of the nasty side-effects of the internet and social media has been a breakdown in understanding and empathy between opposing groups, increasingly bitter polarization, and even the fragmentation of society. It's rare for people with opposing views online to truly listen to each other and seek to understand each other. Instead, we are quick to speak at each other, rather than to each other, and to vilify anyone who disagrees with us.

A quick way to check yourself on this issue is to pick some position you don't hold and ask yourself, "Do I understand why people hold this view?" You don't have to agree with someone to be able to understand what they believe and why they believe it. So, if you think, "I can't understand why anyone would believe ______________," I would encourage you to find out why, so you can better love your neighbor as yourself.

I'll give you an example: Someone recently asked a friend of mine if he really believed that God was sovereign, and my friend said, "Yes, I do." The other person replied, "Well, then, you believe God is the author of evil, don't you?" My friend quickly replied, "No, I don't." Later in the conversation, this person said, "Well, I just believe that whosoever will may come," to which my Calvinist friend replied, "Well, so do I. We agree on that, you know." If you don't know how a Calvinist can believe that God is sovereign over all things, including salvation, and yet not believe that God is the author and evil and believe wholeheartedly that whosoever will may come and drink freely from the waters of life (Rev. 22), then you haven't understood biblical Calvinism at all.

Today's verse raises another somewhat controversial issue: Can Christian take oaths? I was selected for jury duty earlier this week. While I didn't end up serving, it reminded me that some Christians believe it is wrong to solemnly swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing bur the truth. They prefer to simply affirm that their testimony will be true and reliable. What's the difference? Does it really matter?

Today's verse is one of a coupe of verses (along with Matthew 5:34-35) which seem to forbid taking oaths. Christians disagree on what these verses actually require. Some take them at face value and say that Christians should never take oaths but should just be honest and straightforward at all times. Others say that, while Christians should always be honest, the verses don't really forbid taking oaths at all, but rather taking oaths in a deceptive way.

In the days of Jesus and James, many religious people would take high-sounding oaths as a way of appearing sincere, but in truth their oaths had loopholes which allowed them to lie without consequence. Jesus condemns this hypocritical and legalistic code of oath-taking in Matthew 23:16-22.

Christians should be known as people of integrity, people whose word is reliable and trustworthy. We should love the truth because we love the Lord who is truth. Any attempt to use an oath to cover a lie (like saying "I swear on my mother's grave" when your mother is still alive) is absolutely unacceptable for a child of God. Some people believe these verses also require Christians to never take oaths at all. I can understand why they believe that. I think it's possible to uphold the spirit of what is being taught here, even if you're called on to take an oath. Whether taking an oath or not, always " let your “yes” be yes and your “no” be no, so that you may not fall under condemnation."

And while we're striving to keep our word with integrity, let's give room for understanding those whose convictions won't allow them to take an oath, as well as for those who believe they can, as long as they do so with integrity. Let's respect one another's conscience of conviction on these secondary matters, as long as we agree on the essentials.

Friday, May 24, 2019

James, Day 23: James 5:7-11 - Why and How Can We Be Patient?

Why and How Can We Be Patient? 

Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains. You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand. Do not grumble against one another, brothers, so that you may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing at the door. As an example of suffering and patience, brothers, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast. You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful.
- James 5:7-11, ESV

I have to admit that patience is one of my least favorite words. It's also probably the fruit of the Spirit I struggle most to consistently display. (Ask my kids, they'll tell you. Actually, don't ask them; just take my word for it.) So, when I come to a Bible verse that says, "Be patient," I confess my immediate reaction is to feels ashamed and inadequate and then to start making mental excuses for my lack of patience. 

One of the reasons why impatient me finds James 5:7 helpful is that it tells me right up front that patience has a point and an end. It's easier to wait if you know why you're waiting and you know you won't have to wait forever. In this case, what we're waiting for will bring with it an end to all need for waiting: the coming of the Lord.

In this life, too often, waiting is just followed by more waiting. The old military motto of "Hurry up and wait" applies to many areas of life, and sometimes it feels like "Wait for a while, and then wait some more. After that, it'll be time for more waiting." But when the Lord comes, we will receive everything we've been waiting for and all need for waiting will come to a glorious end in the consummation of the all things in the glory of Jesus Christ. 

The more we understand it, the coming of the Lord becomes both the goal and the fuel of our waiting. Because we know what we're waiting for and we trust who we're waiting for, it makes waiting with steadfast patience and faithfulness easier. James uses the analogy of a farmer: A farmer knows what seed he's put in the ground and what crop it will produce, and this helps him to be patient as he waits for the seasonal rains. 

Similarly, we know that the Lord Jesus is the firstborn from the dead, the first-fruits of the resurrection, and when He returns and we see Him face-to-face, we know we will be like Him in perfect holiness and righteousness forever. As if seeing Him were not enough, knowing we will be like Him is even more powerful incentive to wait patiently. 

We don't know when the Lord will return, and it may not be in our lifetimes, and so James points us to the example of the prophets of the Old Testament, who had to wait beyond their lifetimes for the coming of the Promised One. And while we're waiting, we often have to endure suffering, so James points us to Job, who had to suffer more than any of us can imagine and yet trusted in the Lord. So, whether our waiting is long or hard or both, we have good examples in His word that God can apply to our hearts by His Holy Spirit. 

As much as I lack patience, I don't mind waiting as much if I know what I'm waiting for is worth the wait. So, really, could anything be more worth waiting for than seeing our Lord and Savior face-to-face and being fully and finally transformed into His perfect likeness?