Saturday, December 24, 2016

The List

Rather than having made a list and checked it twice before heading out on an annual adventure to bless children around the world, on this day (as we celebrate the historical record) a young couple neared the end on their journey in which they were to be placed upon a list. It was the time of the census, and Joseph had to return to his ancestral home to be registered. He had brought with him his young wife with whom he still had not had relations but who herself was ready to deliver the most special baby in all of history--the One that would hold a list of not who was naughty or nice, but of who was once naughty and made nice by His own blood

Nearly two thousand years ago this young couple arrived in Bethlehem where their Son who was to be King of kings was to be born that night in a place reserved for animals. It is not because He couldn't have had better, but because our God determined that His own Son who humbled Himself to take on the form of man would be born of a virgin in the most lowly of ways with the least of things, only later to lay down His precious life to pay for our sins and then to take it back up again and rejoin the Father from whom He came to reign as Lord forever.

As we head into this last day before Christmas, and we are pressed to think of what we might have forgotten let us remember that our God did not forget us. He loves us so much that He sent His Son that whoever believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.

This is the real story of Christmas and its most humble beginning nearly two thousand years ago.

Monday, December 5, 2016

God’s Plan Hasn’t Changed (1 Peter 1:10-12)

“As to this salvation, the prophets who prophesied of the grace that would come to you made careful searches and inquiries, (11) seeking to know what person or time the Spirit of Christ within them was indicating as He predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories to follow. (12) It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves, but you, in these things which now have been announced to you through those who preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven—things into which angels long to look.” (1 Peter 1:10–12, NASB95)

What an amazing thing it is to know that Jesus Christ in the person of the Holy Spirit moved in the prophets to prophesy (or speak) the words given to them for times to come, and that even these prophets searched those words themselves for their own understanding. There was much that they penned in faith, not knowing what it meant for the future. God called them to trust Him for things that He has assured them would come to pass, though they didn’t have a clear picture of how it would come to pass or what it will look like when it did.

We read that what was shown to these prophets is that which was revealed to them through the Spirit. What they recorded was not for them to clearly see and know, but for those who would later come and understand. What was incumbent on them was to trust God for what they did know, and believe that He would make all the rest clear in His right time and proper way. Though they did not know about Christ, they knew that their salvation came from God and that He was faithful to save them. He indeed was going to send a Savior for not only His people Israel, but also that in Him all the nations would be blessed. They understood the sacrificial system, but they did not fully grasp the reality of a once and for all perfect sacrifice accomplished by the very Son of God. They knew that the One coming would have to suffer to accomplish this, though they did not yet know the nature or extent of that suffering.

By faith they listened and they wrote, knowing that one day we all would be blessed to hear and understand, and that the glory shown then would be incredible. This was the role of the prophets as they continually called the people back to God and were regularly rejected in the process. What an amazing thing it is to know that God used these men over hundreds of years to record His incredible plan which was revealed in person of His Son. Then, at the right time, when Jesus spoke to the Pharisees and those who listened He repeatedly pointing back to the prophets as He affirmed their words and unfolded Himself in fulfilling what they were moved to write.

““Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps My word he will never see death.” The Jews said to Him, “Now we know that You have a demon. Abraham died, and the prophets also; and You say, ‘If anyone keeps My word, he will never taste of death.’ “Surely You are not greater than our father Abraham, who died? The prophets died too; whom do You make Yourself out to be?” Jesus answered, “If I glorify Myself, My glory is nothing; it is My Father who glorifies Me, of whom you say, ‘He is our God’; and you have not come to know Him, but I know Him; and if I say that I do not know Him, I will be a liar like you, but I do know Him and keep His word. “Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad.”” (John 8:51–56, NASB95)

“Then He [Jesus] took the twelve aside and said to them, “Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and all things which are written through the prophets about the Son of Man will be accomplished. “For He will be handed over to the Gentiles, and will be mocked and mistreated and spit upon, and after they have scourged Him, they will kill Him; and the third day He will rise again.” But the disciples understood none of these things, and the meaning of this statement was hidden from them, and they did not comprehend the things that were said.” (Luke 18:31–34, NASB95)

Peter wrote of the inspiration of the entirety of the Word of God saying, “So we have the prophetic word made more sure, to which you do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star arises in your hearts. But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.” (2 Peter 1:19–21, NASB95)

Peter’s audience heard these truths and responded, and now we have them recorded for us in God’s Word so the we might likewise respond. We have the incredible privilege of seeing much of God’s plan from the historical vantage point of what has already happened. Sure, there is much we look forward to which remains a mystery, as it did for the prophets, but we know the truthful track record of our God. The Savior has been sent in the Son and the message of our salvation has been revealed. Now, we are privileged to know it as true. The reason we have come to know this truth is because just as God had spoken to His prophets through the power of the Spirit, so the Spirit works today in the lives of men to bring that same good news to people such as us, so that even we by the power of that same Spirit might hear, understand, believe, and be saved. This is the progression of the great gift of salvation given to us, as it was faithfully recorded, accurately fulfilled, and continually shared. Paul wrote, “How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher? How will they preach unless they are sent? Just as it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news of good things!” However, they did not all heed the good news; for Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed our report?” So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.” (Romans 10:14–17, NASB95)

The foundation has been laid and us who are saved are now part of the continued building as the good news of salvation in Christ is spread to those who so desperately need to know of God’s great love for them. “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit.” (Ephesians 2:19–22, NASB95)

It is because our God is trustworthy that we can in full confidence abide in Him and trust Him to bring our salvation to its ultimate fulfillment as we step into His presence to His glory forever.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Joy in the Present (1 Peter 1:8-9)

“and though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, obtaining as the outcome of your faith the salvation of your souls.” (1 Peter 1:8–9, NASB95)

In Wikipedia, concerning the phrase “Seeing is believing,” we read that it “is an idiom first recorded in this form in 1639 that means "only physical or concrete evidence is convincing". It is the essence of St. Thomas's claim to Jesus Christ, to which the latter responded that there were those who had not seen but believed. It leads to a sophistry [wisdom or rhetorical teaching] that "seen evidence" can be easily and correctly interpreted, when in fact, interpretation may be difficult.” The reality is that there are also many other phrases that point to just how obscure seeing might really be when you cannot see what lies below the surface or around the corner. But the fact remains that we all tend to believe things more readily that we can see, touch, smell, taste or hear. We believe when our senses confirm for us that something is real.

This tension is in part what is at the heart of our inability at times to trust or believe. It speaks to those moments when we have might have “a crisis of faith,” such as when there is a real problem rushing in and we see no way to escape. We grab onto the idea that it truly is the end. And, oh how the Roadrunner has proven this one wrong so many times as the Coyote often suffered the consequences of his own actions. How can we enjoy a cartoon when it flies in the face of what we know to have real consequences? The reason is that we hope for another outcome. We trust that we will endure and that “this trial too shall pass.” We learn to hope in what we know to be true as opposed to what the world might accuse Christians of—a form of escapism from problems, a refuge for the weak, an opiate for the masses.

Before moving to the words of hope in verses 8 and 9, Peter first laid out the certainty of the hope we have which undergird them. We have the promises of God who created all things and who has proven Himself to us through not only His creation and how it works, but though His Son who He sent on our behalf. Jesus Christ took on the form of man and lived historically as a man. His death, burial, and resurrection are historical and real. His Word is testable and true. And, His work in the lives of those who believe are undeniable.

We have been made children of God because of His incredible love for us, and the world does not get it. “See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called children of God; and such we are. For this reason the world does not know us, because it did not know Him.” (1 John 3:1, NASB95) And, just as we have come to know His love, there is hope to those who don’t because we are His living proofs as we read in verses like John 13:34-35. “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34–35, NASB95) We have been shown the love of God and we are being enabled to love with that same love, and so declare His love for others.

Peter had seen Jesus. He was the first recorded disciple chosen by Jesus, and He was given a specifically recorded charge by Jesus to take care of His sheep. He spent years with Jesus. He was there at His crucifixion. He spent time with Him after His resurrection, and He was there at His ascension as He left to return to the right hand of the Father. Then even Peter did not see Him any longer. As He wrote this letter Peter addressed those who had not seen Him and had probably never seen him, but who believed because of what they had heard of Him and believed it to be true. They did not have to see to believe as the famous encounter with Thomas who insisted that he would not believe until he physically touched the marks on Jesus’ resurrected body. Even then Jesus told Him, “Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed.” (John 20:29, NASB95) Just a few verses later John added, “Therefore many other signs Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name.” (John 20:30–31, NASB95)

Peter’s audience was living between the resurrection and ascension of Christ and His return. They were living with the assurance that He had come and that He would come again, which is exactly where we are still living today. We love Him because of His love shown to us even though we have not seen His face or felt His physical hand. God has enabled us to know His great love and to respond to that love by loving Him and others. It is just one of those incredible proofs of His presence. And, we are enabled to rejoice in the hope of His certain return or our personal joining with Him through death before that return. We rejoice in the victory we have over death, and the promise of life given to each one of us. We rejoice in knowing that we have been brought into a vital relationship with the living God. He is on our side and there is no one that can separate us from Him. This is the truth, and it is our incredible hope. All the trials we face in life are fully within the scope of His care and His ability to handle, and we know that one day the salvation we have been given will be fully realized in His eternal presence. This is the outcome of our faith. One day we will see Him face to face and what a day of rejoicing that will be.

The incredible thing is that his readers “greatly rejoice[d] with joy inexpressible and full of glory” in the present because they knew their hope for the future. What an encouragement for us to do likewise as we live immersed in the love of our God.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Bought Better than Gold (1 Peter 1:7)

“so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ;” (1 Peter 1:7, NASB95)

We may not know why any particular trial comes our way. We may not know why this person dies of cancer and another does not. We may not know why one loses a job and another doesn’t. There is so much that we don’t know and may not come to know. But what we do know is that God is not evil and He does not promote evil. We also know that He is sovereign and in total control with His strong hand on every single one of us. And, we know that for this season we live in fallen bodies in a fallen world where Satan and his cohorts are allowed by God to reign. But even in this we know that God even holds the reigns over the evil one and those who belong to him. These are some hard things to reconcile, and we may not really be able to fully do so other than to recognize the greater truth that God created everything very good, and that man and Satan rebelled bringing in death and destruction. God reached into this death and destruction with His perfect plan to send His only Son to give Himself as a living sacrifice for our sins and to restore us to life in Him. We know that for a season sin is prevalent and that it will get worse before His Son comes again. But one day God will put an end to it all. Sin will be abolished. The devil and his cohorts will be cast away forever along with all who have rejected God and His salvation, and those whose names are found in the Lamb’s Book of Life will live eternally in His presence.

Sure, the Bible gives us more detail than this, and there is much more we can learn about the nature of evil and the character of our God as we study His Word. But the big picture reality is pretty simple. God is perfect and He demands perfection. We are not perfect and are incapable of perfection. Only in His Son are we made perfectly righteous because He personally credits His righteousness to us at the moment of our salvation and the Spirit cooperates with us as we grow in righteousness until such time that we step into His perfect presence, perfectly perfected in all ways for all of eternity.

And, what is the proof that keeps us going? It is that God’s Spirit is indeed working in us through faith to make us more and more like Christ every day. The proof that we belong to God is the work of God in us. We change because we have been changed. We grow because we have been made alive. This is what a plant does. The seed is germinated and then it grows. The big difference is that unlike the flower that fades, we are made to never fade.

The picture we have here is of the refining process. Robin and I have been married over thirty-six years. We gave each other rings on the day we were married. My wedding ring was lost in the Northridge earthquake, and several years later we replaced it. But as I look at even the replacement gold ring on my finger right now, it still shines. It is recognizable as gold, unlike many pennies or dimes that I’ve seen that have become so tarnished that I had difficulty distinguishing between the two and their subsequent worth. My wedding ring was made of refined gold and it has a level of purity to it that allows it to keep its value and recognized status. At one point in time raw gold and other minerals were removed from the ground and the gold was separated from them. It was further heated to remove additional impurities, and then when it was made to the right degree of purity it was put through the process of turning it into a marker on my finger of a covenant made year ago.

God’s work in our lives is that marker on our lives that reminds us of the certainty of the promise made to us, and unlike my first ring God’s promise will never be lost or forgotten. It is not up to me to keep it on my finger at all times. It is up to Him. In Christ I have been sealed and made inseparable. But at the same time, God does expect me to live according to who I am. Wearing a wedding ring is not all there is to being married, and being sealed in Christ is not all there is to being a Christian. We are called to live lives by faith, seeking after God, growing in our knowledge of His Word as we hide it in our lives, and living in obedience to what we learn and according to how we are led in response to those truths. The incredible thing is that this is not an effort we do on our own, but it is one that His Spirit enables us to do and it is through that very enablement that God proves just how saved we are.

We were told in verse 6 to rejoice knowing distress. Here we are told that the entirety of our lives is proof of His love and faithfulness ant that it is to result even greater praise and glory when we see our Lord. I love the ending verses of chapter 13 of 1 Corinthians where we read, “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known. But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love.” (1 Corinthians 13:12–13, NASB95)

For the time being we get the opportunity to taste and see just how good our God is, but we still have to trust because we have not yet reached the end and seen in full. Now we have to hope having promises shown to us through our lives, but the fullness of those promises is yet to be disclosed. And now we get to know the love of God poured out on us amidst the sorrow of the world, but one day we will get to know the fullness of God’s love with great rejoicing and praise as the glory of God is revealed face to face. We read that now abide faith, hope, and love; but the greatest of these is love. Think of it, when we are there, there will be no more reason to trust because faith will be proven in His presence. When we are there, there will be no more reason to hope because we will see hope fully realized. And, what we know of love now, imagine how much more we will realize the extent of His love and that of His Son—our Lord Jesus Christ when we meet them once and fully forever.

This promise is truly more precious than gold. Gold may buy us a lot now, but Jesus bought us eternity and He is working in us right now proving just how real His purchase really is.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Promise-Freed and Rejoicing (1 Peter 1:6)

“In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials,” (1 Peter 1:6, NASB95)

Robin and I moved with our kids to Oregon on October 1, 1994 following nine months of trying to endure in the San Fernando Valley after the Northridge earthquake. It was a difficult season leading up to our move, but after a great deal of searching and waiting we agreed together to do so. I contacted a large nationally known mortgage company and made arrangements to come up and work with them. Leaving our home church was difficult, but they sent us with a wonderful letter of transfer. After a bit I was asked by our new home church if I would like to help teach the adult Sunday School class. At first I resisted, but then agreed to do so. Next came the question of what to teach. I looked through what I had taught previously, and was led to something that I had not. I decided to teach through the book of James.

On the first Sunday of June in 1995 I taught the first verse and gave a brief overview. Then I began the work of preparing to teach the next three verses. During that week, we were notified that there was a mandatory Thursday office meeting at the mortgage company. At the meeting, we were told that their small market offices were being closed as of the end of work that day. The verses I was working on were James 1:2-4 which read, “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” (James 1:2–4, NASB)

The tough season was going to continue, and not only had I read that I was to actively consider this ongoing season of trial joy, but that I was also expected to teach it to others. To this day, with some who are close to me, we speak of these times as James moments. But James was not alone in associating trials with joy. Here Peter wrote saying, “In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials,” What a combination of words we find in this passage! In the same verse, we read “rejoice” and “distressed.” These two emotions in normal terms could not be further apart from each other. We are accustomed to rejoicing in that which gives us joy and becoming distressed over that which gives us sorrow. Joy and sorrow are seemingly incompatible. How do we reconcile the two into one situation, and especially to the level described here where we “greatly rejoice”?

Rejoice here is the Greek word “agallio,” and it means to be exceedingly glad or to leap for joy. The roots of the word literally mean much leaping or springing up. It has the meaning of responding to trial reflexively with joy. Our response to trials is to bounce to joy. Sure, it may not be automatic, but it can be as we grow in our understanding of our reason for joy which is our certain hope because of the unfailing promises of our unlimited and infinitely faithful God.

We are not immune to trials because we have a God who separates us from trials. Rather, we have a God who brings us through those trials. The Lion King movie may have planted into our minds the words, “Hakuna Matata! What a wonderful phrase. Hakuna Matata! Ain't no passing craze. It means no worries for the rest of your days. It's our problem-free philosophy. Hakuna Matata!” It’s a great song, but how true are its words? What is meant by its words? Have you really thought about them? Is there any such thing as a care-free existence? The Bible seems to say otherwise. We read that we are not as much to be care-free as we are to be joy-filled. We are not to be problem-free but to have hope in our problems, including those that might cause us to become greatly distressed.

Distress is something that may come upon us unsuspected like a wave on the beach. Our response to that wave determines how we stand as it crashes in. To become overwhelmed and panic is to see the wave as that which is most fully in control. To quickly recognize that we have a God who enables us to stand firm enables us to see that wave in perspective and to find our great hope in our God who even holds that wave in His hands and limits its power and even its duration.

What might seem like an enduringly long period of time to us, we are reminded in this verse, is momentary in the eternal scheme of things. Peter, in talking about rejoicing, in distress tells us that whatever it is, it is only going to push in on us “now for a little while.” It will come and then it will be gone, but the faithfulness of our God will never fade. This is the truth of Scripture, and it is because of these truths—these things we know of Him, His promises to us, and that powerful hand of His Spirit on our lives that we are sealed for the great hope that awaits us on the other side whether that other side is later today or in His eternal presence. Whatever it is, it will pass and God is firmly in control. We are to rejoice in the certainty of His hand on us and His sovereign power at work on our behalf.

James tells us that it is through these very trials that we see the faithfulness of God demonstrated and that we grow in our faith and our ability to endure the next ones. What seems like big potatoes now, may seem like small potatoes later as we are prepared to experience possibly even bigger ones in the future or maybe even to help others through their trails because of how God has helped us.

I wish the Northridge earthquake was the biggest trial we would have ever had to experience. At the time, it was big enough. But the reality is that we have experienced others since, and we are even experiencing them now. Sometimes I do not respond as well as I do at others. Sometimes my faith is weak as I look to the size or the pressing nature of the problem, and in them I feel the meaning of what it is to be distressed. It is then that I am looking at the situation without the great hope I have in Christ and getting things outside of their proper perspective. But when I step back, turn my eyes to God, and I take times even as right now to focus on His truth and let them soak into my heart and mind, I find that His Spirit does that incredible work of quieting the storm and increasing my joy. What makes the difference from my side of things is not that the problems go away, but that I make a purposeful choice to look to God and rejoice in who He is, what He has promised, and trust even for the moment in His promise to bring me through to the other side.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Protected by the All-Powerful Protector (1 Peter 1:5)

“who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.” (1 Peter 1:5, NASB95)

As I was sitting in an empty room at our home church thinking about 1 Peter and a brief devotion I was to prepare to give Thursday night at Trail Life USA meeting, my eyes were drawn up to a poster on the wall concerning the attributes of God. Each of the fifteen attributes listed came with a very brief description intended to help the children grasp each of them. Among the attributes were eternal, immutable, omnipotent, omniscient, sovereign, and wise. And with them were the descriptions….

Eternal – Always was and always will be.
Immutable – Will never change.
Omnipotent – All powerful to do whatever He wants.
Omniscient – Knows everything—past, present, future.
Sovereign – In complete control of everything; does all that He pleases.
Wise – Does everything perfectly without mistakes.

In 1 Peter 1:5 we read that we are protected to receive our eternal inheritance by the power of God. I am so thankful that it is not my power or the power of anyone else that does this. Every created human being is born and then dies. We are not eternal, and therefore any power that we have cannot extend beyond the length of time that we have to wield it. We are not immutable. We are born infants and grow to maturity. We learn, and then we even forget. We are in a constant state of change. We are not all powerful. Our strength and ability to do the things we desire to do is severely limited. I don’t’ think we have to dig too deep to figure this one out. We don’t know everything. Though we may continue to grow in knowledge and understanding, we again are limited in our ability to know. And, we are definitely limited in our ability to see into that which we do know, leading only to cloudy speculation. We are not sovereign. We are not in complete control. We cannot do everything that we please, regardless of any intense desire or compulsion. We simply are not in charge in the big “in charge” sense of things. And, we are not all-wise. We don’t do everything perfectly. We make mistakes, and that’s just the way it is. We are not God.

But God, He is all of these and so much more without any limit. He is them infinitely, and when His Word tells us that we are kept by His power it means that we are kept by a power that cannot be corrupted, eroded, or changed. God made a decision to call us with perfect knowledge and according to His infinitely wise plan. He will not change His mind, and we are securely His, if….

The big “if” is, if we have been saved. We go on to read that our response to God choosing us is to by faith believe that He will do exactly what He said He would do. Faith is more than believing that a chair will hold you when you sit in it. You may have thoroughly examined it, but until you plop your fanny on it, the chair it will not hold you. Faith is a response of trust based upon belief. And the belief we have is in the promises of the Word of our God who cannot lie Who told us that if we believe in the Lord Jesus Christ we will be saved (Acts 16:31). And, the incredible thing is that even this ability to believe or to have faith is itself a gift from God as we read in passages like Ephesians 2:8-9. “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Ephesians 2:8–9, NASB95)

We have been saved from the just penalty of our sin, which is death, and we have been saved to life, which is eternally held for us by God. Every day that we live in between that moment of salvation and the moment we step into His eternal presence is continued proof of His ability to keep us according to His power. Sure, we will continue to sin and we may rebel at times, but we are to remember that we are kept not by our power to hold onto Him, but by His power to keep us firmly in the center of His hand. As we walk, seeking Him and growing in Him according to the power of His Spirit in us we are living proofs of His work—His infinitely powerful and awesome work. We are even blessed to have those moments where we get a glimpse into the glory that is to be revealed to us in the last day as we see Him work in our lives and the lives of those around us. We live with a certain hope because our God has made His certain promise, and it is not in His character to change His mind or in His ability to lose His grip. When Scripture says that we are kept, we can believe that we are truly kept because we belong to Him based upon the salvation we received as we responded to His choice and call on us by believing by faith.

The past few weeks have been very difficult, and I know of many others who might echo this. Aside from the current political climate and signs of social unrest, we all have things in our lives that can push us to the brink and even give rise to thoughts of hopelessness. But we need to remember in these tough times that God is faithful and He is in control. Knowing this makes all the difference. He will bring us through on the other side, and He will do it in such a way that He is glorified in the process.

Later in this letter Peter wrote, “After you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish you.” (1 Peter 5:10, NASB95) And, the apostle Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians, “For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison,” (2 Corinthians 4:17, NASB95) Our God is our refuge and our strength in troubled times, and He is our hope for the future and all that He has in between.

Friday, November 11, 2016

With Un-Cancellable Reservations (1 Peter 1:4)

“…born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you,” (1 Peter 1:3–4, NASB95)

We have an inheritance which is imperishable, undefiled, unfading, and reserved. Robin and I were watching one of those countless Hallmark Christmas movies the other night, in which a young wife had called to cancel the reservation at a hotel for her mother-in-law who they had determined would stay with them. What she did not know was that the rest of the family’s reservations were intricately linked together and cancelling one was cancelling them all. As you can imagine, they had to roll with this and wound up all staying together for Christmas in the one home, as all the other details of the plot played themselves out. I think we all might have some form of experience with arriving somewhere to find that what we had planned or hoped was not as we had planned or hoped and maybe even not happening at all. This is the kind is disappointment that we all have known in life. It is the disappointment of things hoped for not happening.

God’s word assures us that out inheritance is reserved in heaven by Jesus Himself. We have a place our Heavenly Father’s house according to His Own will, and specially prepared for us by His Son who was sent to bring us to Him. Think of the words of Jesus as He was preparing to leave His disciples, where we read, “Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me. “In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also.” (John 14:1–3, NASB95) Then on the next day as Jesus hung on the cross between two felons we read His words to one of them who believed, “And He said to him, “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.”” (Luke 23:43, NASB95) Jesus assured His disciples that He was telling them the truth. They had a home being prepared for them, and He would come and get them to take them there. Their reservations were made and they would not be revoked. On the cross He assured the criminal on the cross that He would check in very soon as a sure thing.

The apostle Paul wrote to encourage the Corinthian believers concerning death, saying, “For we know that if the earthly tent which is our house is torn down, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For indeed in this house we groan, longing to be clothed with our dwelling from heaven, inasmuch as we, having put it on, will not be found naked. For indeed while we are in this tent, we groan, being burdened, because we do not want to be unclothed but to be clothed, so that what is mortal will be swallowed up by life. Now He who prepared us for this very purpose is God, who gave to us the Spirit as a pledge.” (2 Corinthians 5:1–5, NASB95)  We read here not only of the promise of a future home, but we also read of the present pledge or promise being assured by the Spirit dwelling in us from the moment of our salvation to the moment we step into His presence.

Clearly we have a promise from God that we have a home and an inheritance. The reservations are made for all who believe and call upon the name of Jesus for salvation. And, as we read the words of Jesus no one is able to cancel them, even by mistake. “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.”” (John 10:27–30, NASB95)

Knowing that our eternal life rests in the work of our Lord Jesus Christ who rose from the dead and is sitting at the right hand of the Father truly does give us a real living hope in being born again. It will never perish. It will never become contaminated. It will never fade away in the slightest way. It is reserved for us in heaven where He awaits our entrance. It is a package deal for which He paid the price and He holds our ticket. Oh, what incredible hope we have!!

“in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing.” (2 Timothy 4:8, NASB95)

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Our Never Fading Hope and Assurance (1 Peter 1:4)

“…born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you,” (1 Peter 1:3–4, NASB95)

In addition to reading that we have an inheritance that is imperishable or incorruptible, we also read that it is “undefiled.” This means that it is perfect. It is not tarnished by sin. It is unpolluted. It doesn’t just look good on the surface. It is good all the way to its core. It is not a mixed bag. What God has for us as our inheritance is perfectly good from our perfectly good God. Even what He gives us now, that we do see comes from His good and perfect hands. Our God gives good gifts and He has good stored up for us. “Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.” (James 1:17, NASB95)

In the beginning, we read that everything God created was not only good, but that it was very good. It was perfectly good and undefiled by any sin, mark, or blemish. This was how God made it as He created man and placed him and woman (Adam and Eve) in the garden to enjoy Him and His good gifts. But we know that man did not obey God and sin entered the world, and with that sin so did death and separation. We read throughout the Old Testament that God reached out to man. He chose for Himself a people from among man in the midst of man’s evil, and He established a covenant relationship with that people though whom He said all of the nations would be blessed. He also told this people that they were to seek after Him and have no other gods before Him. But, we also know that this people rebelled and suffered greatly His judgment because of that. And still, God spoke to them and offered them a way. But, man (with exceptions) did not seek Him or follow His way, and sin continued to prevail. The amazing thing is that not one bit of this was a surprise to God. As defiled as man was, God knew from before time that the only path man had to becoming undefiled is for Him to step in and to cleanse man Himself.

This cleansing is exactly what God did as He sent His Son as the perfect, undefiled Lamb to sacrifice Himself on our behalf to cleanse us from our sins and bring us back into a relationship with Him. This is exactly what Jesus did when He took on the form of man to be born and to know the suffering of man as He suffered the ultimate penalty for the sin of man. Jesus, who knew no sin, became sin for us so that we might be made righteous with the righteousness of God. This is what 2 Corinthians 5:21 tells us that God the Father did for us. “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” (2 Corinthians 5:21, NASB95) This is what we read in a previous post from Hebrews 9:14 when “the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God….” (Hebrews 9:14, NASB95)

Because our access to God has been gifted to us by the unblemished Son of God, who gave Himself for us and imputed to us His own unblemished righteousness, we have been promised an inheritance that itself is unblemished or undefiled. It is perfectly spotless. There is nothing in it that would grow and fester and lead to its decay and its perishing. It is perfectly imperishable and undefiled. It is 100% clean and being made ready for us in Christ.

These are the first two things that Peter says about our inheritance. Next he goes on to add that it “will not fade away.” Throughout my life I have had many dreams and desires. Some of them have come to pass, and others have not. Some I looked forward to in varying degrees for longer seasons of time, and in not realizing them they became less and less a reality or item of focus. Over time they seemed to fade away in the light of the present and the circumstances of life. Along with that, there were others that I did not have in my sight which completely came and caught me by surprise. This is how it was with Robin. I was set up, and boy am I glad that I was. I wasn’t looking, and she was found. She has been the greatest gift to me, and all that we have shared together is beyond anything that I would have imagined. But there are others, and even some hopes now that continue to be on my heart and for which I wait. One of them is where God would have us serve Him next in pastoral ministry. This is a passion I have from Him, and one that I must continue to trust Him for even when I can’t see how or where it will come to pass. It is one I must trust Him for even when doors are closed along the way. But even in this, I know that should He choose differently concerning this that He will continue to surprise and direct us into that which He does have in store. My vision is so limited. I can hope because my hope is in God, and when that hope seems to fade I can still hope because God does not fade, faint, or fail.

In eternal terms, I know that the inheritance He has for me is just as certain as the plans He has for me now. Even though I don’t see them clearly, He does and He will not let loose of them such that they fade into oblivion. In the simplest of terms, our unfading hope will never pass away. Unlike the roses in my front yard, which come in every year with bright blooms and then wilt over time, the inheritance God has for us will be just as full and fragrant in day eternity as it is in day one. It will not wither and waste away.

Regardless of the energy I have now, what God has in store will be provided for and energized by Him. Our eternal inheritance does not rest upon our energy, but upon His faithfulness as He receives us and rewards us from His mercy and degreed upon in some way our faithfulness to do those works which He prepared and equips us beforehand to do (Ephesians 2:10; Matthew 6:4; 25:23; Luke 6:23). Our inheritance will never grow old. Peter writes to elders later in this letter saying, “And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.” (1 Peter 5:4, NASB95)

As for those desires now that we have and for which we must walk trusting, we hope knowing the words of the psalmist, “Delight yourself in the Lord; and He will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the Lord, Trust also in Him, and He will do it.” (Psalm 37:4–5, NASB95) And, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.” (Proverbs 3:5–6, NASB95) God’s vision is perfect and it will never fade. As such, our inheritance that He has for us will not fade either.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Our Indestructible, Incorruptible, Imperishable Inheritance (1 Peter 1:4)

“…born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you,” (1 Peter 1:3–4, NASB95)

Verse 3 speaks of the first of several blessings we have from God, with the greatest being that we are born again. And, this being born again means that we have a future which is our living hope because Jesus Himself conquered death by His resurrection from the dead. His life means that our life is an absolute certainty. We are not fools because we have believed in a foolish dream. We are blessed by God because He has sent for us our certain Savior and the life which He gives. We have a hope that will not pass, but prove itself more and more sure every day until it is fully realized in His presence. This was the first cause for praising God or blessing Him that we find in verse 3.

As we move into verse 4 we find another cause for praise, and that is an inheritance that He has set aside for us. My dad spent a lot of time studying genealogy, and in that study, he came across many fascinating truths about my ancestors—or those who came before me. He found many good people who did notable good things. He found others that lived hard and honorable lives. And, he found some who might be spoken of as that dark one that we would like to keep in a closet. I think this is true for most of us. Our history is a mixed bag. But then again, the same is true of every single one of our lives. From our human perspective, we all have done some measurable good and some measurable harm. None of us are perfect. And, from God’s perspective this is absolutely true. The Bible tells us in very straightforward terms in verses like Romans 3:10, “There is none righteous, not even one;” (Romans 3:10, NASB95)

Among the stories (as vague as it is in my mind) is one of a relative who was married, and rather than getting divorced he left his wife and married another. When word of his death spread, both wives came forward to lay claim to his estate. I’m told that the battle with the attorneys was so intense that by the time a settlement was reached, debts were paid, and his vast holdings were divided, there was little left for those he left behind. What had seemed like a nice inheritance was lost. It went right through their fingers, and was gone before they ever could lay hold of it. Stories of inheritances lost or squandered are widespread. Bumper stickers on RV’s joke of parents spending their children’s inheritance while for others the hope for generational prosperity has dwindled in an ever changing and challenging economy and struggle to provide for the present. What we have here in the way of possessions is temporal. Thet may or may not endure our death to be passed on to our children, and I think we all realize that an earthly inheritance is an unreliable hope.

But God tells us the inheritance that He has for us is not subject to any of these things. We are told that we have our hope to obtain an inheritance that “is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, [which is] reserved in heaven for you [us]….” There are four things we are told here about this inheritance. First, we read that it is “imperishable.” It is absolutely incorruptible. It is not subject to decay. It is permanent and will never become any less than what it is. Jesus said in Matthew 6:19-21, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:19–21, NASB95) He compared the things we set aside and treasure here as that which is subject to decay or theft.

I have many things from my parents. Among them are a couple of my dad’s Navy uniforms with all of their insignia. These are two uniforms that my dad wore while he served our country. They signify a time of dedicated service. But they are sitting in a bin. They will not be worn again, and for all intent and purpose they have no purpose other than remembrance. As I look at them now I can see the signs of age. I can see the little holes that came from moths getting at them. I can see the yellowing of the white fabric as it has become tarnished over time. And, I wrestle with what to do with them, as I do with many of their things of memory that hold little value to anyone outside my family.

Over time I’ve also had things that I treasured that have been taken away. When our oldest went away to college he went with a new bike to get around campus and a new guitar as a graduation gift. And, sure enough a day came when he came home for the weekend and someone broke in and stole them both along with many other things. Both items we replaced, and wouldn’t you know it, the bike was stolen again. Things are stolen from us all the time, and we have come to accept this as part of living in this world. We suffer the cost and we move on.

But God tells us the inheritance He has for us in imperishable or incorruptible. It cannot be stolen and it cannot be tarnished. It is perfectly held for us by Him, and we can trust Him for that which we hope and are yet to see because we know Him to be perfectly able to do so.

Oops. I just looked at how long this post was already as I was preparing to move on to the second of the four things in this verse of the nature of our inheritance. So, let’s wrap it up here with some words from God’s word reminding us of the great imperishable hope we have.

“So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown a perishable body, it is raised an imperishable body; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power;” (1 Corinthians 15:42–43, NASB95)

“Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win. Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable.” (1 Corinthians 9:24–25, NASB95) 

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Our Living Hope (1 Peter 1:3)

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,” (1 Peter 1:3, NASB95)

Today is election day in our country, and it is likely one of the most pivotal ones in our history. The results of it will likely determine the direction of our courts and impact heavily our religious freedoms. There is much reason for concern, but as I sit here writing I know that there is nothing I can do about the outcome. Regardless of who wins, things will be changing and likely changing dramatically over the next few years. This election cycle and the events leading up to it have seen a dramatic rise in civil unrest and aggressive protest. There even seems to be a panic among a great number of our population, including those who claim to trust in God as their hope.

Peter was writing to a people who were dispersed over a large area, and many of them either had been or were soon to be subject to persecution for their faith. The political environment was not favorable to those following Christ, and one of the themes Peter would develop would be that of living rightly with hope so that when suffering comes they might have no cause for being justly persecuted. Things then were going to get nasty, and they were going to be instructed in not living nasty in response.

Verse 3 begins this letter of encouragement and instruction with the strong reminder of who it is that gives us hope—our great God. ““Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ….” Peter said “blessed be.” The Greek word (eulogetos, Strong #2128) used here has the meaning of speaking well of or praising. It is different from another common word used which is also frequently translated into English “blessed” as well (makiros, Strong #3107), which has more to do with happiness. While I would no way want to separate joy from praise, but by looking first to the One in praise who gives us reason for joy we set our perspective for the hope that we have. Certainly the lack of joy or happiness can give us reason to step back and wonder as to the cause. But, remembering that we are deeply loved and strongly held onto by God who is our Father because of our union through His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, we are drawn again to the sing His praise for His incredible mercy shown to us.

We are to bless Him, to voice our praises to Him, and to speak well of Him because of who He is and what He has done. We have countless reasons because our God is infinitely good, loving, powerful, and merciful. We are to bless His name because He has shown His incredible blessing to us. Knowing the depth of our sin and our inability to do anything about it, He mercifully sent His Son to pay the price for our sin and to redeem us as His people. He took that which was lost and left on the back shelf of a pawn shop as undesirable and desired to have a relationship with us. He paid our ransom. He restored us to Himself. We couldn’t do it, but He did it for us, and He has given us incredible hope.

We will never be cast aside again as unwanted or unworthy. We have been made worthy in Christ, and we have a certain future in His presence for all of eternity. Regardless of what may go on around us, regardless of how dark the world may seem, regardless of how desperate people might become, we have no reason to worry. We have no reason to lose hope or to feel that all has been lost. We are children of the living God, and He has promised to be our constant help. The world could not keep His Son in the grave, and the world cannot separate us from the life which we have from Him.

Sure, things may not be easy. We may not be happy about the direction or even the outcomes, but we have a joy that surpasses all that the world can ever pretend to offer. Our joy is found in knowing that we are His and that He will do in us exactly as He plans—as He has good and perfectly planned. Regardless of who wins the presidential election, our God is King and He will reign forever and ever.

“The LORD is King forever and ever; nations have perished from His land. O LORD, You have heard the desire of the humble; You will strengthen their heart, You will incline Your ear to vindicate the orphan and the oppressed, so that man who is of the earth will no longer cause terror.” (Psalm 10:16–18, NASB95)

““Yours, O Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, indeed everything that is in the heavens and the earth; Yours is the dominion, O Lord, and You exalt Yourself as head over all.” (1 Chronicles 29:11, NASB95)

“Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.” (1 Timothy 1:17, NASB95) 

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Secured in the Son—Jesus Christ (James 1:2c)

“…chosen according…by the sanctifying … to obey Jesus Christ and be sprinkled with His blood: May grace and peace be yours in the fullest measure.” (1 Peter 1:2c, NASB95)

Coming to the end of verse 2 we find the third person of the Trinity, and that is the Son, Jesus Christ. Believers are chosen according to the infinitely complete knowledge of God the Father from before creation just as He intends or ordains. Our eyes are opened to Him by His Spirit and we are indwelt, enabled, and grown by the same Spirit who seals us until we enter His presence forever. Then, in these concluding words of verse two we see both the work of the Son who brought us back into a relationship with God and His promise to preserve us.

We read that we are to obey Jesus Christ and be sprinkled with His blood. The obvious implication here is that Peter’s audience is those who are the elect or called out ones who have believed and trusted in Christ for their salvation. Being in that position, this verse is a reminder of the secure state in which we rest and the response which we are to make. Peter reminds his readers that they are to obey Jesus Christ, who Himself was obedient to the Father to the point of death, even death on a cross (Philippians 2:8).

“For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:10, NASB95) Paul adds in Ephesians that these works are in accordance with the will of the Father. He has an intent, and His intent is being carried out through us obeying. In 1 Thessalonians chapter 1 Paul commends his readers, reminding them of the power by which they were saved and of their Lord who they imitate. He wrote of them being an example to other believers as they saw the faith demonstrated by the way they lived growing from the hope they had.

"(4) knowing, brethren beloved by God, His choice of you; (5) for our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction; just as you know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake. (6) You also became imitators of us and of the Lord, having received the word in much tribulation with the joy of the Holy Spirit, (7) so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. (8) For the word of the Lord has sounded forth from you, not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place your faith toward God has gone forth, so that we have no need to say anything. (9) For they themselves report about us what kind of a reception we had with you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve a living and true God, (10) and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, that is Jesus, who rescues us from the wrath to come.” (1 Thessalonians 1:4–10, NASB95)

It doesn’t take much of a read of Scripture to find that we are to obey God. This was His intent from the beginning even when He gave instructions to Adam in the garden. God continually spoke to  and directed His people as we see demonstrated in the commandments He gave through Moses. Through Moses He spoke to His people Israel and gave them a promise which was conditioned on their obedience. ““Behold, I am going to send an angel before you to guard you along the way and to bring you into the place which I have prepared. “Be on your guard before him and obey his voice; do not be rebellious toward him, for he will not pardon your transgression, since My name is in him. “But if you truly obey his voice and do all that I say, then I will be an enemy to your enemies and an adversary to your adversaries.”” (Exodus 23:20–22, NASB95) God promised to clear a land for them as His people, but He expected them to do just as He was instructing them.

Then in the next chapter we read, "(3) Then Moses came and recounted to the people all the words of the LORD and all the ordinances; and all the people answered with one voice and said, “All the words which the LORD has spoken we will do!” (4) Moses wrote down all the words of the LORD. Then he arose early in the morning, and built an altar at the foot of the mountain with twelve pillars for the twelve tribes of Israel. (5) He sent young men of the sons of Israel, and they offered burnt offerings and sacrificed young bulls as peace offerings to the LORD. (6) Moses took half of the blood and put it in basins, and the other half of the blood he sprinkled on the altar. (7) Then he took the book of the covenant and read it in the hearing of the people; and they said, “All that the LORD has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient!” (8) So Moses took the blood and sprinkled it on the people, and said, “Behold the blood of the covenant, which the LORD has made with you in accordance with all these words.”” (Exodus 24:3–8, NASB95)

God had made a promise and He sealed it with the blood of animals. The people would inherit the promise if they obeyed the ordinances of God. The people responded in unison saying, “All the words which the LORD has spoken we will do!” And then they had half of the blood of an offering sprinkled on the altar and the other on them with the words, “Behold the blood of the covenant, which the LORD has made with you in accordance with all these words.”

Speaking of this first covenant, in Hebrews we read, "(18) Therefore even the first covenant was not inaugurated without blood. (19) For when every commandment had been spoken by Moses to all the people according to the Law, he took the blood of the calves and the goats, with water and scarlet wool and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book itself and all the people, (20) saying, “This is the blood of the covenant which God commanded you.” (21) And in the same way he sprinkled both the tabernacle and all the vessels of the ministry with the blood. (22) And according to the Law, one may almost say, all things are cleansed with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.” (Hebrews 9:18–22, NASB95) This was how the people came before God before Christ to confess their sin and seek His forgiveness. But we know that this sacrifice and the accompanying sprinkling was not perfect, but pointed to the Perfect One who would come and make the once and forever sacrifice for sin.

This is what we read earlier in Hebrews chapter 9. "(11) But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things to come, He entered through the greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this creation; (12) and not through the blood of goats and calves, but through His own blood, He entered the holy place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption. (13) For if the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling those who have been defiled sanctify for the cleansing of the flesh, (14) how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? (15) For this reason He is the mediator of a new covenant, so that, since a death has taken place for the redemption of the transgressions that were committed under the first covenant, those who have been called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance.” (Hebrews 9:11–15, NASB95) "… (26) But as it is, He has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself.” (Hebrews 9:26, ESV)

The Jews of Peter’s audience would have known the significance of the sprinkling of blood, but the truth of that sprinkling was not limited to them. It applied to all who are saved. Unlike the animals who were brought unwittingly to be sacrificed, the Son of God with full knowledge gave Himself for us, shedding His blood to cover our sins and to being full and permanent forgiveness and life. We are not sealed by the blood of an animal, but by the blood of the Son of God. What man could offer back in the way of animal sacrifice pointed to what God did for us perfectly. We have been forever cleansed and called to obedience in response. It is not the other way around. There is nothing we could have ever done to earn God’s forgiveness. It is a gift to us from Him at a very high cost. But the great news is that as our high priest Jesus also lives and sits at the right hand of the Father as the head of His church providing direction for our lives and interceding on our behalf. This is the promise of God, and He will not break it.

Establishing the foundation of these truths, Peter went on to say, “May grace and peace be multiplied to you.” (1 Peter 1:2d, ESV) Peter began both of his letters with these words, “may grace and peace be multiplied….” The 1995 New American Standard translation quoted at the beginning of the post doesn’t read the same, as it rewords the original Greek while preserving its meaning. Most modern translations, such as the English Standard Version, the New King James (and old), and the older New American Standard treat both 1 and 2 Peter 1:2 the same when it comes to these words. Grace and peace were a common salutation. We see the apostle Paul use this as well, where he frequently would have near the beginning of his letters “grace to you and peace from….” The idea is that they would experience the fullness of God’s grace extended to them and that they might be able to walk at peace with the peace that they received from God the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ. “to all who are beloved of God in Rome, called as saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” (Romans 1:7, NASB95) Intricately linked together is the gift and the result of living in the assurance of that gift. The two are inseparable, and they are each founded in the truth that God has chosen us according to His perfect eternal plan through the power of the Spirit by the work of His Son.

Grace is a gift, and living according to that grace brings peace.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Changed by the Spirit (1 Peter 1:2b)

“…chosen…according…by the sanctifying work of the Spirit….” (1 Peter 1:2, NASB95)

“To be sanctified means you are now set apart. You are special, because your life is reserved for God and His glory.” (Tony Evans, Theology You Can Count On, p. 240) As we read through the Bible we find the words “sanctify,” “sanctified,” “sanctifying,” and “sanctification.” Looking at them we get the initial idea that there is a process going on. “Sanctified” gives this the idea that something has already happened. It is a past tense already done thing. “Sanctify” gives us the idea that something needs to be done, and “sanctifying” points to the idea that it is being done. And then, “sanctification” steps back again to give us the idea of this whole thing with an end in mind or that the goal will be achieved. In this we see three tenses to the word—past, present, and future.

The Greek word translated “sanctify” is “hagiazo” and it means, as one dictionary put it, to separate from the profane and dedicate to God. It has the idea of changing purpose and establishing a new usage. It is the ultimate form of repurposing. God takes that which was lost in sin and without hope, and cleanses it, giving it new hope and purpose. The process He uses to do this is sanctification (hagiasmos) and the ones that He does this to are His chosen or “set apart” ones—His “hagios,” or holy ones. This is what the word “saint” means. It is not about achieving a special mark in life, but rather about having trusted in the Son of God who was marked, crucified, and resurrected for us. By faith in Christ we are saved and made according to His righteousness to be called saints.

This is how it started, but we all know that this is not the end. All believers live with the certain hope that they will one day enter the presence of God and be fully complete. In the meantime we each live with the tension of sin being present while being challenged to separate ourselves daily from it and dedicate ourselves fully to Him. “Salvation is progressive. You were saved when you put your faith in Christ. You are being saved today and every day as you walk with Him and grow in grace, and someday you will be saved when you step into God’s presence. Sanctification is the term the Bible uses for this progression that encompasses what it means to be totally saved.” (Evans, p. 782) Or, “”I was sanctified the moment I was saved, I am being sanctified today, and one day I will be fully sanctified.” I say that because sanctification refers to the three tenses of salvation: past, present, and future. It deals with the progress that God wants us to make in our Christian lives from the moment we trust Christ until we are with Him in heaven.” (Evans, p. 781)

We have been set apart, and we are to daily set ourselves apart from that which seeks to draw us and our attention away from God until such time that He brings us to Him and removes us permanently from all that is unholy. This is an impossible task for us apart from the work of the Spirit in us. We did not come to Christ on our own. Neither will we will break our own way into heaven, and in between we are not walk before Him that way either. Our hearts were softened and our eyes opened by the Spirit so that we could hear and believe, and the Spirit continues to work powerfully in us as we walk in that belief. “For God, who said, “Light shall shine out of darkness,” is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.” (2 Corinthians 4:6, NASB95)

We will return to this subject numerous times in looking at 1 Peter, and looking at it extensively is not the goal for today. Instead, our focus is to be on the agent of this work who is the Spirit of God. We read in 2 Corinthians 3:18, “But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.” (2 Corinthians 3:18, NASB95) When we trusted in Christ for our salvation we were instantaneously set apart and sealed by the Holy Spirit. But more than that, we became indwelt by the Spirit as temples on our living God. “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body.” (1 Corinthians 6:19–20, NASB95)

“By this will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” … “For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified.” (Hebrews 10:10, 14, NASB95)

“I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.” (Galatians 2:20, NASB95)

Being a Christian is a cooperative process of God’s Spirit working in us to enable us to live victoriously over sin and serve Him and our choosing daily to comply with God’s plan by setting aside that which is not of Him and doing that which He has chosen for us to do. We have been bought with a price and we are set apart to glorify God in our bodies. God gives us the ability to do this, but we are expected to take the active steps to do what He makes us able to do. “The Christian life is a walk, not a piggyback ride.” (Evans, p. 788)

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

His Perfect Prognosis (1 Peter 1:2a)

“[who are chosen] according to the foreknowledge of God the Father….” (1 Peter 1:2a, NASB95)

In this and the next verse we will see one of the many pictures of the fullness of our one God manifest in three persons—Father, Son, and Spirit. First, we read of God the Father having chosen those who are His elect or His saved ones according to His own foreknowledge. The Greek word here for foreknowledge is “prognosis” and it most simply has the meaning of before (pro) knowing (ginosko). The Bible is full of passages referring to His full and intimate knowledge not only of every single one of us, but of every detail of absolutely everything.

We have an English word that comes from this Greek word and it is one upon which many people are often found anxiously awaiting an answer. This is what doctors are expected to give every day when they give their prognosis concerning a disease or ailment. It is what economists do when the give their forecast for the future, whether it be immediate or long term. It is what weather persons do when they give us the nightly weather outlook for the next week. We all live based upon educated guesses based upon past patterns or presenting conditions.  For us today, a prognosis is simply nothing more than a forecast of the likely outcome of a situation. Sometimes that prognosis is more difficult to make than others, and sometimes it is completely wrong in its outcome. What makes it wrong is not the outcome, but the lack of full knowledge leading to the prediction and even the integrity or motives of the one making that forecast.

In 1 Peter (and elsewhere) we read that we are chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father. Therefore, it seems logical to look to look to what we can know about His knowing, and what we can be assured of His telling us the truth about what He knows. First let’s look to His integrity, and in doing this we will quickly look to a couple of things. The first is the Son of God, Jesus Christ. He staked His life on the truthfulness of the Father. As the Son, He humbled Himself to take on the form of man to go to a cross and lay down His life for us so that we might be given forgiveness and life in His. Repeatedly in the gospels we read of His own words saying that He came to do the will of the Father and that He and the Father were one. He put His life on the line before us to evidence this truth. And the historical result was that He rose from the dead on the third day just as the Scriptures had said.

Just as the Scripture had said is the second aspect of this that we will quickly look at. Scripture is full of prophecies of the coming of a Savior and many other things, and except for those we are still waiting to see fulfilled every single one of them has been fulfilled without fail. Everything God has said that He would do He has done. He has proven Himself infinitely trustworthy. His prognosis on everything has been absolutely perfect, and not one bit of this has been because He is just a good guesser based upon past experience or observed trends.

God made an active decision to choose us before we were ever conceived. This was not a matter of Him looking down the road of time and observing those who would turn to Him. Of the prophet Jeremiah we read, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I have appointed you a prophet to the nations.” (Jeremiah 1:5, NASB95) Jeremiah was God’s choice to be this special prophet to the nations. He formed Jeremiah in his mother’s womb. He was set apart for this work before he was born, and he was appointed by God. God’s hand was powerfully at work in every aspect of Jeremiah being who He called Jeremiah to be. Upon hearing this form God, Jeremiah responded, ““Alas, Lord God! Behold, I do not know how to speak, because I am a youth.” But the Lord said to me [Jeremiah], “Do not say, ‘I am a youth,’ Because everywhere I send you, you shall go, and all that I command you, you shall speak. “Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you,” declares the Lord.” (Jeremiah 1:6–8, NASB95) Jeremiah would have a difficult task being God’s prophet, but in this Jeremiah was able to stand, not because He was doing good for God but because God was doing what He intended in him.

David wrote in Psalm 139, “For You formed my inward parts; You wove me in my mother’s womb. I will give thanks to You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Wonderful are Your works, and my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from You, when I was made in secret, and skillfully wrought in the depths of the earth; Your eyes have seen my unformed substance; and in Your book were all written The days that were ordained for me, when as yet there was not one of them.” (Psalm 139:13–16, NASB95)

Clearly these Old Testament men knew that God not only had knowledge of what was going to happen, but that we had worked with purpose in that happening. He was in full control of His intent and His outcomes. And yes, He knew without failing every single sin we would commit or failing that we might have and He still made His choice. David said earlier in the same Psalm, “O Lord, You have searched me and known me. You know when I sit down and when I rise up; You understand my thought from afar. You scrutinize my path and my lying down, and are intimately acquainted with all my ways. Even before there is a word on my tongue, Behold, O Lord, You know it all. You have enclosed me behind and before, and laid Your hand upon me.” (Psalm 139:1–5, NASB95) And his response to this in verse 6 is, “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is too high, I cannot attain to it.” (Psalm 139:6, NASB95)

God’s foreknowledge is before deciding based upon infinite knowledge and all wisdom, and it is for that reason that many translations will use synonymously the word “foreordain.” God from before makes a choice to choose and to set apart a people for Himself. There was no educated guessing going on. It is all about His perfect act shown to us through His perfect Son who, as we read in 1 Peter 1:20 was foreknown before the foundation of the world to bring salvation to us. The incredible freedom in this is knowing that God does not make mistakes, and this means us.

“For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren;” (Romans 8:29, NASB95)