Wednesday, October 30, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, October 28, 2019

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

Will Jesus Really Come Back?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, October 24, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, October 21, 2019

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

What's More Important, Truth or Niceness? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

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

Does Anyone Believe in the Wrath of God Anymore?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, October 14, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, October 11, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, October 7, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, October 4, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

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

How Precious and Great are God's Promises?

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

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

- 2 Peter 1:2-4, ESV

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

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

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

Simeon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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