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Wednesday, August 21, 2019

1 Peter, Day 19: 1 Peter 4:3-5 - How Should We Respond to Peer Pressure?

How Should We Respond to Peer Pressure?
1 Peter, Day 19

For the time that is past suffices for doing what the Gentiles want to do, living in sensuality, passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and lawless idolatry. With respect to this they are surprised when you do not join them in the same flood of debauchery, and they malign you; but they will give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead.
- 1 Peter 4:3-5, ESV

Hacksaw Ridge tells the true story of Desmond Doss, a devout Seventh-Day Adventist and committed pacifist who wants to serve his country in the army in World War 2. He is eager to do his part and serve, but he refuses to carry a weapon. He is assigned a role as a combat medic, and for a long time he is harassed and ridiculed by his fellow soldiers. They are convinced that his refusal to carry a weapon puts their lives in danger, and so they relentlessly bully him, hoping he'll quit. When they finally get into combat, they see Doss's incredible courage, which leads to him being awarded the Medal of Honor.

Peter has been urging Christians to live lives that honor the Lord, transformed lives of Spirit-empowered holiness and obedience. One of the big obstacles all believers face in living lives of holy obedience is peer pressure. We sometimes act like peer pressure is only something kids deal with, especially in middle and high school, but that's not true. The culture is constantly exerting its pressure on us. It's nothing new. 1 Peter tells us this problem is at least 2,000 years old.

Why does the world pressure Christians to act like it? Because it wants approval and acceptance of what it knows is wrong behavior. People who live "in sensuality, passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and lawless idolatry" know they're doing wrong. They live with guilty consciences they are desperate to silence. One way they can silence their feelings of guilt is to have lots of people join them in their immorality.

The worst thing, when you're doing something you know is wrong, is to have to live with people who are doing right. It's infuriating, because it inflames your feelings of guilt. And nothing feels better than getting someone who was once abstaining from the immorality to compromise their morality and join you in your sin. Misery loves company, and the misery of a guilty conscience is more tolerable if you know someone else is dealing with a even more guilty conscience: Not only are they drunk and engaging in sexual immorality, but they're also a hypocrite for breaking their religious moral code.

So, that's why the world pressures and antagonizes Christians. How should we respond? Peter gives us three things to keep in mind:

1. Remember the sufferings of Christ. (v. 1)
2. Remember your own coming death, which will put an end to all your sinning. (v. 2)
3. Remember, Judgment Day is coming. (v. 5)

When the world wants to drag us into the muck with it, we need to fix our eyes on Jesus. He suffered and died to free us from the tyranny of sin. If we love Him, we should walk in the freedom of holiness that He secured for us.

We should also always keep in mind that life is short, eternity is forever, and all sin and evil will be judged and obliterated when Jesus comes again. Things that last forever matter more. Things God has created us to enjoy forever are the very best things to enjoy.

We all face peer pressure. The siren song of the world is never silent. Only walking closely with Jesus and keeping an eternal perspective can equip us to turn a deaf ear to the world's insane immoral invitation. 

Sunday, August 18, 2019

1 Peter, Day 18: 1 Peter 4:1-2 - Does Physical Suffering End Sinning?

Does Physical Suffering End Sinning?
1 Peter, Day 18

Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God.
- 1 Peter 4:1-2, ESV

My family sometimes enjoys playing The Game of Life. One of the things you face in The Game of Life are options, choices with consequences. At the beginning, you can choose to go to college or start working right out of high school. Later, you can make the choice to go back to school and get more education. You get to choose which house to buy, whether to focus on family or career, etc. Some choices are not in the game. You can't just choose to be a rock star or a professional athlete in you career-selection choice. You can't choose to develop superpowers either. 

When we come to a really difficult Bible verse, like 1 Peter 4:1-2, you have to decide what it most likely means, and you have options. Last time, we looked at the difficult passage at the end of 1 Peter 3, and we talked about some methods we need to use to interpret challenging texts in the Bible. Today, we're digging a little deeper into the same approach as we turn from the end of chapter 3 to the beginning of chapter 4. Why? Because if the end of 1 Peter 3 is tricky to interpret, I think the opening of chapter 4 is even more difficult. 

In terms of understanding the meaning of the passage, the New Testament doesn't get much trickier than the end of 1 Peter 3 and the beginning of 1 Peter 4. So it seems wise to discuss further how we handle difficult passages, especially since (unlike the end of 1 Peter 3), I'm not really sure what 1 Peter 4:1-2 really means. 

Why am I not sure? Because sometimes you can follow all of the guidelines for correct interpretation and still have several possible alternatives left for the meaning of a passage. So, to follow our rules from last time, we need to consider the context and begin with what's clear. Here's what we can see clearly in 1 Peter 4:1-2, especially given the context of the letter and the surrounding verses:

1. We're being instructed in how to be strong in the face of suffering. 
2. We're being directed to follow the example of Christ, who remained strong and faithful to God when He was called to suffer. 
3. From what follows in verses 3-4, it's clear that Peter wants to encourage us to resist temptation and worldliness. 
4. It's also clear that remaining strong and resisting temptation and worldliness while we're suffering involves the right kind of thinking, since we are to arm ourselves with the same way of thinking that Christ had. 

So, then, what does Peter mean when he says, "for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God."

Following our established guidelines, Peter can't mean something which violates established biblical teaching or contradicts the rest of Scripture. So, we need to eliminate the impossible: Physical suffering doesn't free you from ever sinning again. Even physical suffering that comes to us as persecution for the name of Christ doesn't free us from ever committing sin. 

We have the example of Peter himself to prove this: Peter had been imprisoned and beaten for preaching Christ in the Temple. Yet, later, at Antioch, Paul had to confront Peter publicly to his face for his hypocrisy, according to Galatians 2:11-14. Peter had physically suffered for Christ and yet still sinned. Paul also had suffered for Christ repeatedly, and yet in 1 Timothy 1:15, he could still refer to himself as the chief of sinners. 

So, what does Peter mean? I see four possible options:

1. He could be referring to Christ's suffering in the flesh on the cross, and encouraging us to remember that Christ has ceased to have anything to do with sin. That seems unlikely, because Jesus never sinned, and this seems to be talking about a sinner who ceases from sin.

2. He could be talking about someone who dies, for when believers die we cease from sin, but that seems unlikely because he then talks about how such a person lives the rest of his time in the flesh, not for human passions but for the will of God.  

3. He could mean that, if we consider the fact that once we die, we will cease from sin, that will encourage us while we are still living to live for God's will (which is of eternal value) and not for human passions (which are temporary and fleeting). It just requires reading the word translated "for" as really meaning "that." - "arm yourselves with the same way of thinking, [that] whoever has suffered in the flesh [died] has ceased from sin, so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God."

4. "Ceased from sin" doesn't mean completely stop sinning but just "cease living for sin, like the world." So, Peter is talking about a fundamental shift in how we live, but not a complete absence of sin from the life of a believer.

Options 3 and 4 are both possibilities. Option 3 seems more likely to me, but it does require reading one word slightly differently, as "that" instead of "for." In the end, both of those options are biblical, true things to know and believe, so it's not 100% critical that we make a decision between the two. Perhaps the ambiguity is helpful, so we keep both of those truths in mind. 

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

1 Peter, Day 17: 1 Peter 3:18-22 - How Do We Handle Confusing Bible Passages?

How Do We Handle Confusing Bible Passages?
1 Peter, Day 17

For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, because they formerly did not obey, when God's patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water. Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him.
- 1 Peter 3:18-22, ESV

If you're going to head south on I-95 for a long road trip, you know Washington, DC is coming. Likewise, when I began our series in 1 Peter, I knew today's passage was coming. Few passages in the New Testament have caused as much confusion or given rise to as many false teachings as these few verses at the end of 1 Peter 3. From this one small section of 1 Peter, people have gotten these false ideas:

1. That Jesus was only spiritually resurrected, because Peter says He was "put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit." 
2. That people get a second chance at salvation after death, because Jesus "went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison" who "formerly did not obey." 
3. That baptism saves people (baptismal regeneration) because Peter says, "Baptism . . . now saves you." 

Some of these ideas seem to be clearly taught here, at least at first glance, on a superficial reading of the passage. So, how do we handle difficult passages like this one? 

Let me offer a few guidelines and then apply those to today's passage:

1. The Bible almost never teaches a truth in only one place. The Biblical principle of "Let everything be established by two or three witnesses" seems to apply to the truths taught by Scripture, too.
2. While the Bible is progressive in the nature of its revelation (not everything is revealed all at once), the Bible does not contradict itself. 
3. We need to read both the text and the context carefully.
4. We need to allow clearer passages to inform and enlighten our understanding of less clear passages.
5. If a verse or passage has multiple possible interpretations, we should go with the interpretation that best harmonizes with the rest of Scripture. 

Now, to apply these principles to this passage:

1. Jesus was not "spiritually" resurrected; He was bodily resurrected. This is clearly attested to multiple times in the Gospels, in Acts, and in the Epistles. 
2. The Bible is also clear in multiple places that people don't get a second chance at salvation after they die.   
3. Regarding baptism, the Bible clearly teaches that we are saved by God's grace through faith alone in Christ alone, not by works that we do. 

So, what do these verses mean?

We don't have space here to explore all of the possible interpretations, so I'll just focus on what I think the passage teaches: In the days of Noah, Jesus was preaching through Noah, by the Holy Spirit, as Noah was making his appeal to people to flee from the judgment to come and to seek salvation in the ark. Eight people were saved from God's judgment on the Ark, because they trusted God's promises. 

Baptism is a picture of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. We know it is not the physical act of baptism which saves, for Peter says, "not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ." In other words, baptism is the physical representation of an appeal to God for cleansing of our consciences from sin through Jesus Christ, who has conquered sin and death. 

If we understand this passage properly, we see that nothing new is being taught here. Peter's language may be a bit unusual, but the truths he is teaching are clear, biblical truths recorded for us elsewhere in God's word. 

In the context of 1 Peter 3-4, this passage is intended to encourage believers suffering persecution to remember the example of Noah and to persevere in the face of ridicule or persecution. Just as Noah's faith in God was vindicated when he was saved from God's wrath by the ark, so we will be saved from the judgment to come by Jesus, our Ark of Refuge, as God keeps the promises made in baptism and fulfilled in Christ. 

Sunday, August 11, 2019

1 Peter, Day 16: 1 Peter 3:13-17 - What if We Are Hated for Doing Good?

What if We Are Hated for Doing Good? 
1 Peter, Day 16

Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness' sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God's will, than for doing evil.
- 1 Peter 3:13-17, ESV

Some Christians act as if all the hatred the world spews at Christians and the church is deserved, and if we were better Christians and nicer to people, the world would like us. Now, I do sometimes think Christians bring a good bit of disdain on themselves when we are obnoxious, hypocritical, mean-spirited, or overly political. We should have a reputation in the world for being "zealous for what is good" and not being self-seeking or two-faced. 

However, even if we were more faithful in following and imitating the humility and love of Jesus, this would be no guarantee that the world would stand and applaud. After all, what did they do to Jesus? 

Peter makes it clear that, even if we faithfully honor the Lord and love our neighbors, we may be called on to suffer for righteousness' sake. We may be slandered and despised because we love what the world hates. So, if that happens, what do we do?

For Peter, this was not a purely hypothetical possibility. By the time he wrote this letter, he had already been arrested, beaten, and imprisoned by the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem multiple times. Later, his testimony of the resurrection of Jesus would cost him his life in Rome, when Nero would execute him. 

For most of us, any persecution or harassment we face is likely to be minor - teasing by classmates or co-workers, perhaps shunning by family members. Still, how do we respond? Peter says we need to honor Christ in our hearts as holy. In other words, we need to honor Christ above all, remembering who He is and what He suffered for us. Then, we also need to be ready to explain the reasons we have for our hope.

So many Christians, when faced with this low-level social harassment for their faith either cower away or get angry and defensive. When we do this, we either deny Christ or we dishonor Him by getting angry and disrespectful in His name. Instead, Peter counsels us to be ready to give an explanation, a soundly reasoned defense of our faith, and to do so with gentleness and respect. 

This calls for some basic training in what is called apologetics, the reasoned defense of the Christian faith. You don't have to become some philosopher or deep scholar, but you do need to use your mind to understand what you believe and why you believe it, so you can give an answer to others - not running and hiding but not attacking either. 

If you act like Christ, who always answered His critics with wisdom and gentleness, then the world may continue to attack you for your faith, but it will become increasingly clear how foolish and wrong-headed they are for doing so. So, if the world hates you for loving Jesus, tell them calmly and respectfully why you love Jesus, who He is, and what He has done for you. This may not change their minds, but it will honor Christ - and that's the most important thing we can do. 

Thursday, August 8, 2019

1 Peter, Day 15: 1 Peter 3:8-12 - How Should We All Treat Everyone?

How Should We All Treat Everyone?
1 Peter, Day 15

Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing. For

“Whoever desires to love life
    and see good days,
let him keep his tongue from evil
    and his lips from speaking deceit;
let him turn away from evil and do good;
    let him seek peace and pursue it.
For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous,
    and his ears are open to their prayer.
But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.”
- 1 Peter 3:8-12, ESV

I was an expert on good parenting . . . until I became a parent myself. It was easy for me to listen to and understand sound biblical parenting advice, until I had my own children. Then it wasn't so easy. It's always easy to listen to good advice for other people, isn't it? 

When we go through a teaching directed towards husbands and wives, a very common thing happens: The husbands listen very closely to the advice on how their wives should treat them. And then the wives listen very closely to the advice on how their husbands should treat them. And so, both husbands and wives walk away fully aware of the respect and love they should be receiving from their spouses.

This is nothing new. It's human nature, and I think the transition Peter makes in verse 8 of chapter 3 shows us very clearly that he understood this aspect of human nature very well. After he gives his sound advice for wives and then for husbands, he says, "Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind."  In other words, here's something you can't just listen to as good advice for someone else. Here's something all of us - husbands, wives, single people, adults, children, teens - need to hear and do. 

All of us are to treat everyone with love and respect. We are to be sympathetic, loving, tender-hearted and humble toward others. Okay, but what if we're being mistreated by someone else? What if someone is just being mean to us, does that give us grounds for being mean back to them? No. Peter says, "Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing." 

So, we even have to be kind and loving and humble toward mean people, people who revile us and curse us. Yes. Why? Because we are children of God, and the way we treat others should be shaped by how God has treated us and how we wish God to treat us, not by how others have treated us. We were called by God to obtain a blessing, and we don't obtain the blessing of God by being spiteful and vengeful, but by seeking peace and pursuing it. 

Peter quotes from Psalm 34 to support his point. The children of God are those who have been called by God and blessed by God. As God calls us and blesses us, He also calls us to bless others. He calls us to imitate Him, and He blessed us and loved us when we were still His enemies. 

We actually find great freedom in being called to imitate God in blessing others. No longer do we live captive to our expectations of how others should treat us or bitter at those who mistreat us. Rather, we're constantly reminded of how good God has been to us, and we're freed and empowered to show the same goodness to others. And that is a blessed life!  

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

1 Peter, Day 14: 1 Peter 3:7 - How Should Husbands Treat Their Wives?

How Should Husbands Treat Their Wives?
1 Peter, Day 14

Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered.

- 1 Peter 3:7, ESV

Sometimes, perspective is everything - understanding how things look from our own perspective and how different they look from someone else's. When we read the passages about husbands and wives in the New Testament, what stands out to us as unusual is the teaching that wives should submit to and respect their husbands. That strikes us as odd in our cultural context. For the original audience in the ancient world, the opposite would have been true.

In the ancient world, it was universally accepted that wives should submit to and respect their husbands. What was not widely taught was that husbands had obligations to love their wives and treat them with honor. In the ancient world "showing honor to the woman (or wife)" would have been much more shocking and counter-cultural than "wives, be subject to your own husbands." And while women today may balk at the phrase "the weaker vessel," 2,000 years ago, many men were shocked to be told that wives were fellow heirs with them of the grace of life. 

Christianity laid the groundwork for the equal dignity and worth of men and women through these kinds of teachings, even while the Bible maintains that men and women are different from each other. So, men are told to live with their wives in an understanding way, which involves treating them as equals while also acknowledging differences. 

Men need to be gentle and kind toward their wives, because woman are physically weaker than men. So husbands shouldn't treat their wives roughly. As a father of a daughter, I am concerned by our culture's insistence that women are just as physically tough and rugged as men. I don't think this does our daughters any favors in how they're likely to be treated by men. 

Yet men should not treat their wives as inferiors. They are fellow heirs of the grace of life. They are worthy of honor. Peter is so serious about this point that he tells his readers their prayers will be hindered if they treat their wives roughly and unfairly. 

God cares deeply about how husbands and wives treat each other. Our marriages are to be a testimony of the power of the Gospel to transform hearts and lives. People should see the way Christian men treat their wives and see honor, respect, gentleness and true love. Ultimately, we do this because this is how Christ treats His church as His bride.     

Monday, August 5, 2019

1 Peter, Day 13: 1 Peter 3:1-6 - How Should Wives Treat their Husbands?

How Should Wives Treat their Husbands? 
1 Peter, Day 13

Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives, when they see your respectful and pure conduct. Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear— but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God's sight is very precious. For this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their own husbands, as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. And you are her children, if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening.
- 1 Peter 3:1-6, ESV

Okay, let's be honest for a minute: When you read 1 Peter 3:1-6, do you think, "Is Peter serious? Really?" Or do you think, "Is this really the Word of God?" Peter's words are so far removed from our culture's standards and expectations, they can be hard for us to really hear and process. So, what do we do?

I would suggest that we need a two-way cultural attitude adjustment before we can really hear and respond to Peter's words:

  • First, we need to realize that Peter's words are framed by his own cultural context.
  • Second, we need to be willing to question and challenge our own cultural context.

Yes, Peter's words are framed by his own culture, and that's a reality we need to grasp. Notice that chapter 3 begins with the word "likewise," tying this message to Peter's message to slaves, which begins in 2:18. When we read Peter's advice for slaves (or similar advice from Paul), we understand that we no longer live in a culture with slavery, and we know that Paul and Peter are not advocating for slavery. They're giving sound Gospel advice in a culture where slavery was a living reality for many of God's people. We need to see the principles and be able to apply them to ourselves, even though we are not slaves or masters. Their words still have sound wisdom for us to apply to how we do our work and how we treat others.

Likewise, the New Testament was written in a culture where women had very few rights. Women were practically sub-human in the ancient world. Paul and Peter are not advocating for such treatment of women, but they're giving solid Gospel application advice to women living in that culture. My wife is a very godly woman, and we've been happily married for 21 years. She has never called me, "Lord" or "Master," and if she ever did, it would clearly be as a joke.

Now, we also need to challenge our own culture's values. Our culture tells women that their only hope for a fulfilling life is to grasp and assert power, and they can do so through rugged individualism and through capitalizing on their sex appeal. In other words, even once we look past the cultural context to the true message of this passage, it is at odds with our culture, and we need to faithfully acknowledge that it is our culture that is defective and in error.

Peter is telling women to treat their husbands with respect and to cultivate their inner beauty. Peter tells women what he has already told all of us - that Christ-like humility and gentleness are more a more powerful force for godliness than self-assertion and bold rebellion. This is something our culture cannot understand and does not support, and our culture is wrong, in ways that hurt the very women our culture thinks it is protecting and promoting.

All of us need to realize the Christ-like formula that teaches us that we are strongest when we are meek, gentle, and dependent on Him. We are most powerful when we are most loving others like Jesus. This is the key to living for all Christians, including how wives should treat their husbands.

Friday, August 2, 2019

1 Peter, Day 12: 1 Peter 2:22-25 - How and Why Did Christ Suffer and Die?

How and Why Did Christ Suffer and Die?

He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.
- 1 Peter 2:22-25, ESV

When you hear that someone accomplished something really amazing, you usually have two questions about it: How did he do it and why? 

On my flight to Uganda for a mission trip last month, I watched the documentary Free Solo, about Alex Honnold's free solo climb of El Capitan in Yosemite. Alex's feat was one of the most amazing, scary, incredible things I've ever seen anyone do. It was incredible to see how he did it, methodically and quickly. It was also fascinating to try to understand why he would do it, what would drive him to risk his life for such feats. 

Well, the greatest thing anyone has ever done in the history of the world, far greater than Alex's free solo of El Capitan, was the death of the Jesus Christ on a cross outside the walls of Jerusalem almost 2,000 years ago. Alex's climb may have inspired many people to rethink what human beings are capable of doing, but Jesus' death on the cross changed the world forever, including the lives of millions and millions of people. 

Jesus did not have to die. He chose to. Knowing how He chose to die and why He did it deepens our understanding of God, of ourselves, and our lives in the world and in eternity. 

Jesus died humbly, gently, willingly and sinlessly. "He committed no sin." That's a statement that could not be made about anyone else in the history of the world. Everyone sins, all the time. Not Jesus. He never sinned, not even once. And yet He quietly and willingly submitted Himself to death on a cross, a death He did not deserve.

So, why did He do it? 1 Peter 2:24 tells us in simple, clear language: "He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness." Even though Jesus had never sinned against God, we know that we have all sinned. Our sins stand against us as a clear record of our wrongdoing that deserves just punishment. But we cannot bear that punishment, for it would bring us eternal death, separation from God forever. So, Jesus took our sins upon Himself.

If Jesus had been a mere man - even a sinless man - He could not have borne all of our sins in His body. It would have been too much for anyone to bear. The fact that He could bear all of the sins of all of God's people for all time shows that He is the Son of God. 

What was Jesus accomplishing by taking our sins upon Himself? It wasn't just to take our punishment, though that was a large part of it. He also died to set us free from the tyranny of sin over us. He died to break the power of sin as a curse hanging around the necks of His people. He died that we might die to sin and live to righteousness.

Finally, Jesus died to bring us back to God. He died to reconcile us to our estranged Heavenly Father and bring us back into the fold of God's sheep. His death is so powerful because it removes the punishment of sin, breaks the enslaving power of sin, and brings wayward sheep back to God. Nothing short of the death of the Son of God could have accomplished this for us. Knowing He was willing to do this for us should overwhelm us with the power of the love of God and cause us to hate sin and love Jesus more deeply day-by-day as we walk with Him and worship Him.  

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

1 Peter, Day 11: 1 Peter 2:16-21 - How Should Christians Respond to Unjust Authorities?

How Should Christians Respond to Unjust Authorities?

Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.

Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust. For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps.
- 1 Peter 2:16-21, ESV

Have you ever had to work for someone you just didn't like or respect, maybe someone who wasn't a believer and who actually lived a very immoral life? Or, have you ever had a president you had a hard time respecting morally? (Almost everyone would probably say yes to that second question.) So, what do we do?

Sadly, I can tell you what I have seen countless Christians do, and which I have done at times myself: Slander, back-bite, complain, disrespect. Is that what we're supposed to do?

Peter told believers to "honor the emperor" at a time when the emperor was Nero, an immoral madman who would later crucify Peter. Yet, God had made Nero the emperor, and Christians were to honor him as such. What they could not do was honor him as Lord, which is what he demanded. Proper honor, in its proper place, was something they could offer and must offer. 

And then, after telling believers to honor an immoral emperor for his God-given position as emperor, Peter tells the Christians who are slaves to honor and obey their earthly masters. This is hard enough when your earthly master is a decent, kind, fair man, but Peter tells them to be subject with all respect "not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust."   

How in the world could Peter expect Christian slaves to be respectfully obedient to unjust masters? Well, he tells them that it "is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly." Here we see that motives are everything in the Christian life. If the Christian slave is respectfully obedient only because he wants to avoid getting beaten or is hoping for some kind of reward, then his behavior is just self-serving and not particularly commendable. If he is obedient because he fears his master and thinks of him as some kind of earthly god, then such subservience is definitely not God-honoring. But if he is "mindful of God" - consciously thinking of his service to his cruel master as obedience to God, whose providence has placed him under this man - then his obedience to his earthly master can be obedience to God, and that kind of service is gracious indeed. 

Then Peter gives instruction which is helpful to all Christians living in every kind of situation: "If when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps." 

Christ suffered injustice at the hands of cruel men. The Sanhedrin, the Roman guards, and Pontius Pilate were all guilty of treating the Lord with cruel injustice. And yet He graciously submitted to their cruel mistreatment. He could have escaped. He could have struck them down and called down fire from heaven on the whole lot of them. But He submitted. Why? Because He loved His Heavenly Father, and this is what His Father had assigned to Him as His suffering. 

When we accept the unjust suffering we experience in faith - whether that's being slandered or attacked or discriminated against or whatever - we are honoring God. We are accepting what He has sent our way, trusting that He has a good reason for sending it. In this way, we are walking in the footsteps of Christ. 

I should say that submitting to injustice is not always the righteous thing to do. If you are in an abusive relationship with someone who is hurting you, it is most loving to get help and force them to get help, too. Peter is not telling wives to stay with abusive husbands. But in other areas - dealing with an immoral president, an unfair boss, slanderous co-workers, etc. - we can honor God by accepting mistreatment and graciously treating with love and respect those who mistreat us. 

Monday, July 29, 2019

1 Peter, Day 10: 1 Peter 2:11-17 - How Should We Live in This World?

How Should We Live in This World?
1 Peter, Day 10

Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.

Be subject for the Lord's sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.
- 1 Peter 2:11-17, ESV

Have you ever seen someone driving really aggressively, weaving in and out of traffic and tailgating dangerously, and thought to yourself, "Who does that person think he is?" Why is it that we see poor behavior, and the question which comes to mind is one of self-identity? It's simple, really: How you behave in the world should be grounded in who you are. In other words, identity should drive behavior. So, when we see out-of-control behavior, we think there must be a core out-of-control self-identity.

Peter has been unfolding our identity as believers in 1 Peter. He opened by reminding us that we are elect exiles. We are loved and chosen by God, but we do not belong in this world. He then unpacked some of what this involves for us:
  • We are born again to a living hope.
  • We have been given an imperishable inheritance.   
  • We are kept by the power of God.
  • We rejoice, with a joy inexpressible, as we think ahead to the hope of glory.
  • We are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation.
  • We have received mercy from God. 

If we have been following along with Peter as he's been laying this foundation of our identity in Christ, we're ready now for the next step: How do we live out our identity in this world? Or, to put it a different way, to go back to the opening identity of elect exiles, if we know now what it means to be elected by God, chosen in love by Him, what does it mean to live as exiles? How should we live in a world we know is not our final home? 

First of all, sojourners and exiles should not indulge too deeply in the passing pleasures of a fallen world. We need to not attach our hearts and desires to a world in rebellion against God and a flesh that craves the things of this world. So, we need to abstain as those who know they're in a war, a war with lasting consequences.

Secondly, we need to live honorably. While we don't give into the cravings and live for the pleasures of the world, we also don't live as grumpy, angry, militant, self-righteous people. We need to treat others the way we'd want to be treated. We need to be honorable and respectful. 

Unbelievers in the world should be able to look at us as believers and see good deeds, respect for authority, and love for our neighbors. They should see us walking in freedom in Christ, but not a freedom that is self-indulgent or self-righteous, but a freedom that serves others in humility and love. In other words, they should be able to catch a glimpse of Jesus in us. 

How is the world realistically going to see Jesus in us? Only as we're abiding in Him, living in His love, walking in His light, loving Him deeply and drinking from the fountain of the Holy Spirit as dearly loved children of God. The stronger and deeper our dependence on Christ, the stronger and clearer our witness to a watching world will be.   

Sunday, July 7, 2019

1 Peter, Day 9: 1 Peter 2:4-10 - Who are You Made to be in Christ?

Who are You Made to be in Christ? 
1 Peter, Day 9

As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For it stands in Scripture:

“Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone,
    a cornerstone chosen and precious,
and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.”

So the honor is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe,

“The stone that the builders rejected
    has become the cornerstone,”


“A stone of stumbling,
    and a rock of offense.”

They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God's people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

- 1 Peter 2:4-10, ESV

"Who do you think you are, anyway?" 

You might hear these words from someone if they think you're being a bit too opinionated or pushy with your point-of-view. But this is a good question for us think about. Who do we think we are? The standard Christian answer to this question is usually, "I'm a sinner." That may sound humble and biblical, but it's a very limited and distorted understanding of who we are in Christ, and it actually threatens to undermine our faith in the power of the Gospel. 

When we began looking at 1 Peter, we saw that we are "elect exiles," chosen by God and not at home in this world. Here in 1 Peter 2, Peter unpacks our identity in Christ more richly. He combines several different central images from the Old Testament to weave a powerful portrait of Christ and His people.

The image begins with the Temple, the centrally important place of worship for God's people for hundreds of years before Peter wrote this epistle. Jesus is the living stone rejected by men but chosen by God and precious. Quoting from Psalm 118, Peter says Christ is “The stone that the builders rejected, [which] has become the cornerstone,”    

So, even as Christ was rejected by the Jewish religious leaders (the builders) and was nailed to a cross by the Romans, He was - on that same cross - being made by God into the chief cornerstone of a new, living Temple. Jesus' death and resurrection, which won salvation for all of God's people, made Him the foundation stone of a new place where God is glorified - a living Temple we call "the church." 

As we come to Christ by faith, we are made into living stones - just like He is - that form the new, living Temple of God. We are joined to Christ and to one another as a new place for the display of God's glory. So, you are more than a sinner; you are a living stone in the new Temple of God.

Yet Peter says even more: Not only are we living stones, but we are also "a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession." We are chosen by God, made heirs of God and priests, who together form a new holy nation, the people for God's own possession. 

What is God's purpose for us in this new identity? It is "that [we] may proclaim the excellencies of him who called [us] out of darkness into his marvelous light." 

If you believe in Jesus Christ, you are so much more than just a sinner. You have been called from the darkness of sin into the marvelous light of God's love and favor. You have been called to proclaim His excellencies, to worship Him as a priest, to glorify Him as a living Temple stone. That's a pretty amazing identity and a glorious purpose - so let's live it!  

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

1 Peter, Day 8: 1 Peter 2:1-3 - Do You Long for the Word of God?

Do You Long for the Word of God?
1 Peter, Day 8

So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander. Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation— if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.
- 1 Peter 2:1-3, ESV

"Betcha can't eat just one!" Remember that slogan from Lay's potato chips? It's effective because it's true. It's really hard to eat just one good chip. If a chip is no good, and you get a bad taste from it, you're not really tempted to take another. You might be able to force yourself to, if you have to. But you don't really long to have another, do you?

Psalm 34:8 says, "Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good!" Peter picks up this verse here in 1 Peter 2, and he expands the thought in this way: If you have tasted and seen that the Lord is good, then you should long for the pure spiritual milk of the Word of God.

This is one of the key marks of being a born-again Christian. If you have been born again by the Holy Spirit, then you have tasted and seen that the Lord is good. If you are spiritually alive, you will long for the pure spiritual milk of the Word of God just as surely as a newborn infant longs for the pure nourishment of his mother's milk.

Sometimes newborn babies have trouble nursing, and they may need some coaching and encouraging. But for the most part, the instincts God has given them take over and lead them to nurse well.

New Christians may not always understand everything they read in the Bible. Not everything in the Bible is milk for newborns; some if it is meat for more mature believers. However, the appetite to know God through His word should be strong in every born again believer. If you have no real desire to know God better, to grow in your knowledge of Him through His word, you may have real cause to question whether or not you are truly born again. If the only time you open your Bible is when someone convinced you to do so, then have you really tasted and seen that the Lord is good? 

The pure milk of the Word is as necessary for young believers' growth as milk is for babies. It is the way we "grow up into salvation." Peter doesn't mean by this that we earn salvation by growing in our knowledge of the Bible. No, we are given life as a gift, but we grow up into the life we've been given by spending time in the Word. It is the Word which reveals more of Christ to us and helps us to grow in Him. Just as we were born again by the living and active word, so we grow in the Lord as we grow in His Word. 

So, taste and see that the Lord is good, and then grow up in Him through time each day in His word!

Sunday, June 30, 2019

1 Peter, Day 7: 1 Peter 1:22-25 - How Are We Born Again?

How Are We Born Again?
1 Peter, Day 7

Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God; for

“All flesh is like grass
    and all its glory like the flower of grass.
The grass withers,
    and the flower falls,
but the word of the Lord remains forever.”

And this word is the good news that was preached to you.
- 1 Peter 1:22-25, ESV

"How did you do that?" I find myself saying that a lot lately. I have a former student of mine who is an incredibly gifted and trained artist. He shares his latest artwork on Facebook, and I comment, "Wow! How did you do that?" Then, a young man in our church is learning how to do card tricks, and he's gotten really good at some of them. So, he hears from me regularly, "How did you do that?"

But, do you know what's much, much more impressive than photo-realistic paintings or mind-blowing card tricks? A dead sinner being brought to eternal spiritual life. This is THE great miracle, the greatest and most important thing that can ever be accomplished in anyone's life, and yet God does this miraculous work every day, thousands of times, all around the world. How?

1 Peter 1 gives us a key part of the answer, when Peter says, "you have been born again . . . through the living and abiding word of God." To clarify, so we know what word he means, he says it is "the word of the Lord" and then says, "this word is the good news that was preached to you." The preaching of the Gospel, the good news found in the Word of God, is the living and abiding word by which dead sinners are made alive.

This is in keeping with what Paul says about the Gospel in Romans 1:16, "For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes." And then later, in Romans 10:17, Paul writes, "So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ." So, we see that the preaching of the Gospel is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, and that faith comes from hearing the word of Christ.   

How does God make people born again? By the preaching of the Gospel! And yet, not everyone who hears the Gospel is born again, so what else makes the difference? Well, in John 3, Jesus tells us that we must be born of the Spirit:

"That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” - John 3:6-8, ESV

It is not the word alone nor the Spirit alone which causes people to be born again, but the word and the Spirit, working together, the Spirit giving life through the word. In fact, the work of the Holy Spirit is what makes the word of God "living and abiding." Apart from the work of the Spirit, the Bible remains a closed book and the word of God a dead letter. Yet as the Spirit breathes life into the word, and breathes life into us through the word, we who hear the word are born again. Praise God for this work that He alone can do and chooses to do in us!

Friday, June 28, 2019

1 Peter, Day 6: 1 Peter 1:13-23 - How Can We Struggle Fruitfully?

How Can We Struggle Fruitfully? 

Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” And if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one's deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile, knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you who through him are believers in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.

Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God.
 - 1 Peter 1:13-23, ESV

Last time, we talked about the importance of a long-term perspective in investing. While a long-term perspective is important, it's not enough by itself to secure a successful investment strategy. If you had bought Kodak stock in the 1990's and committed to holding it long-term, your investment would not be worth anything today, because Kodak- along with Toys R Us and other great American companies- could not adjust to changing realities in the world and went out of business. 

In our spiritual lives, if we want to be fruitful, what do we need besides a long-term perspective? Knowing that the grace of perfection we long for will be ours when Jesus brings it to us at His glorious coming is certainly vital. The long-term perspective protects us from worldliness and false perfectionism, but we need more for an effective strategy for fruitfulness in our struggle. Thankfully, Peter tells us much of what we need:

1. Preparing mentally with the truth. Peter speaks of preparing our minds for action, of being sober-minded, and then later of not being conformed to our former ignorance. These are all terms which speak of a need to be mentally equipped for battle with a solid understanding of the truth. Believers need to be in the word, studying and understanding what God has revealed about Himself and His ways in His word. Sound doctrine and right thinking are key to fruitful Christian living.

2. Pursing the right passions. Knowing the truth should lead us to loving God and having a passion for holiness, more than a passion for the imprisoning pleasures of this world. In so many ways, our passions shape our lives even more deeply than our thoughts, for they drive what we love and what we value. We must love holiness and fear the Lord, deeply and passionately.

3. Knowing who we are and whose we are. Central to having right thoughts and right passions is constantly remembering who we are and whose we are. We are the redeemed children of God, bought by the precious blood of Jesus and belonging to Him forever. 

4. Remembering and rejoicing in how wonderful Jesus is. He is the precious Lamb of God without spot or blemish. He is our wonderful Savior and great Redeemer. We need to focus on Him.    

5. Loving one another. We are not called to live the Christian life alone, and a solo Christian life is always a frustratingly fruitless Christian life. As we strive to obey the Lord, we must love one another and be firmly committed to living life together as brothers and sisters fighting side-by-side in the struggle for fruitfulness. When God made us His own, born again by His living word, He made us part of His family. We can't honor Him without loving each other. 

These five keys - our thinking, our passions, our identity, our worship, and our community as a spiritual family - are the five essential pillars to fruitful Christian living. God has equipped us with the truth of His word and the indwelling of His Holy Spirit so we can pursue Him in these five key ways, pursuing fruitfulness for His glory together as His people. 

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

1 Peter, Day 5: 1 Peter 1:13-19 - What Are the Benefits of a Long-Term Perspective?

What Are the Benefits of a Long-Term Perspective?

Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” And if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one's deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile, knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.
- 1 Peter 1:13-19, ESV

If you listen to decent investment advisers, they will always tell you to keep a long-term perspective through the short-term ups-and-downs of the market. Whenever the stock market drops, it's easy to panic and think you've lost everything. 

On September 29, 2008, the Dow Jones fell by more than 777 points in a single day. But that's just part of the story: From October of 2007 to March of 2009, the stock market lost half of its value, with the Dow Jones falling from over 14,000 to around 6,500. People panicked. Yet today, the Dow Jones sits above 26,500, far above the level it was at before the Great Crash that began the Great Recession. Keeping a long-term perspective kept wise investors from selling off and losing.  

Of course, a long-term perspective in stock-market investing may be wise, but it's no certain guarantee of success. For Christians, we have an even better and absolutely certain long-term perspective. Jesus has guaranteed our future resurrection by His own bodily resurrection. He has promised that He is preparing a place for us in His Father's house in the New Heavens and the New Earth, and, unlike politicians and financial forecasters, He never breaks His promise.  

Peter urges us believers to "set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ." To set your hope fully on one thing is to refuse to set it at all on anything else. In this case, Peter says that our hope should rest fully and exclusively on the grace that Jesus Himself will bring to us when He is revealed fully at His glorious return. 

Peter's charge is an antidote to two poisonous pills that have harmed many believers: worldliness and perfectionism. If we set our hope fully on the grace that will be brought to us at the revelation of Jesus Christ, that means we cannot set our hope on the passing pleasures and meaningless materialism of this present age. Worldliness is a false promise, and it cannot satisfy anyone, much less a child of God. 

But Peter's words also warn us against forms of Christian perfectionism, the idea that someone we can attain sinless perfection or complete sanctification in this life. One Christian group expresses this idea this way: "We believe that entire sanctification is that act of God, subsequent to regeneration, by which believers are made free from original sin, or depravity, and brought into a state of entire devotement to God, and the holy obedience of love made perfect." Besides the fact that "devotement" isn't even a real word, this concept is not a biblical concept. It is a false hope and one that leads Christians who embrace this false doctrine either to despair because they know they haven't received such grace from God or to arrogance because they think they have received it.  

Peter paints a different picture for believers: a life of struggle against sin and the passions of the flesh, a life of striving after holiness by the grace of God. In this lifelong fight, a long-term perspective is of immense value, because we know we will receive the grace of perfection when Jesus returns, and not before then. So we struggle and we live in holy fear, hating the deeds of the flesh, and looking forward in confident hope to that day when we will finally receive the grace we long for. 

When you set your hope fully on Christ, you are never disappointed, as long as you understand what He has given you now - forgiveness, adoption, security - and what He has promised to give you when He comes again - the glorious grace of sinless perfection. 

Monday, June 24, 2019

1 Peter, Day 4: 1 Peter 1:10-12 - How Are We Better Off than Angels or Prophets?

How Are We Better Off than Angels or Prophets?
1 Peter, Day 4 

Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories. It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look.
- 1 Peter 1:10-12, ESV

Do you sometimes get jealous of other people? Honestly, don't we all sometimes? For a pastor who knows the truth and teaches the truth, I can sometimes be very petty and materialistic. I can covet my neighbor's Corvette or Durango SRT in a heartbeat. I can also find myself wishing I were more talented, a better singer or a better artist. And then, I have times when I see other people's kids behaving perfectly or being really respectful and polite, and I can be jealous of that, too.

The "bitter root of jealousy" is so bitter partly because it blinds us to how truly blessed we are. We can miss our tremendous blessings when we're focused on what we wish we had that we see others enjoying.

Today's passage in 1 Peter gives us some great perspective: The prophets of God who wrote most of the Old Testament and then angels of God, who have such incredible power, would love to be as blessed as we are. Did you ever realize you were more blessed than angels and prophets?

The Old Testament prophets heard from God directly. They had supernatural dreams and visions and received oracles from God. Yet they knew that all of the redemptive promises in their prophecies were pointing ahead to one glorious figure, the Messiah, the Christ, God's Anointed One. And they longed to know when Christ was going to come and fulfill God's redemption for His people. They were told they were not going to see the Promised One.

Hebrews 11:39-40 puts it this way: "And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect." (ESV) "God provided something better for us." Or, as 1 Peter 1:12 puts it, "they were serving not themselves but you." Think about the privileges we enjoy: We know the Lord's Christ is Jesus of Nazareth, and we have received the blessings of all of the promises He came to fulfill. This is our salvation - the forgiveness of our sins, adoption as children of God, a new heart, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, a secure inheritance in heaven, an unshakable kingdom with King Jesus as King of kings and Lord of lords.

This salvation we have received is so great that, not only did the Old Testament prophets long to see it, but the very angels of God long to look into it. The angels are the powerful warrior-messengers of God. They have power to defeat the most powerful armies in the world and were present and played key roles in every stage of God's redemption story. Yet they themselves don't receive the benefits of redemption. Angels are not forgiven; they are either fallen or unfallen. Angels are not adopted as children of God; they are only servants of God. The Gospel is good news for human beings, not for angels.

So, the next time you have a foolish bout of jealousy strike you, pull back and get some perspective: We have been so blessed that angels and prophets desire what we have received. Now, instead of being jealous, let's give thanks!   

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.