Tuesday, April 25, 2017

When Happy Isn't Happening, Choose Joy (James 1:2-4)

James 1:2-4 says to "Consider it all joy when you encounter various trials...." "Consider" means to actively take your thoughts captive and turn them in a proper direction. "All joy" speaks to the peace that we can have knowing that God is in control and that no matter how bad things get He is faithful to not let go of us. Joy does not equal happy. Happy is a feeling. Joy is a choice. "Encounter" means that we most likely did not go looking for the situation, but that it came to us. God knows our every step. He knows our every thought and our every word before there is ever one of them. He scrutinizes our path and knows when we rise up and sit down. He is with us in the heights of our emotion and in the depths of them as well. He encloses us before and behind and has His hand on our shoulder. There is no encounter that He is not with us and concerned about. "Various trials" covers the gamut of all of our trials. There is no trial of any size or nature that is excluded from these various ones. James continues, "knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance...." Okay then, so it is included in the way that God works in our trials that we not escape those trials, but rather learn to endure them in the strength that comes from Him. Endurance does not come without exercise and what is exercised is our "faith." Faith is our trusting God in all things which includes every single one of these various trials. It is looking to the size of our God over the size of our trials and realizing that not one of these trials has come to us outside of His sovereign and loving hands. It is through these trials that we see God prove Himself in us and we grow in our ability to trust even more. The interesting thing about this is that sometimes we have to learn the same lessons over and over again, and the amazing thing is that God knows this and He is patient with us in the process. James then writes, "And let endurance have is perfect result that you might be mature and complete lacking in nothing." God grows us in the trials He brings our way. He grows us to a level that points to our full maturity in Christ. We will never be more saved, but we definitely will become more mature. Latest on a quickly growing list of chose to trust opportunities is that the water pressure at the house has been dropping and the pressure tank on the well is empty. Going to the pump house I discovered that the well pressure is well below the level where it should kick in. I am hoping that we can limp through till tomorrow and that I can trouble shoot the problem. The control box and the pressure switch were replaced in 2009, but I am hoping that one of these is again the problem because it is probably the cheapest answer. My prayer is that we will have water until then, that I will be able to figure out the solution, fix it, and that I will indeed strongly consider even this joy when my heart and mind want to crawl into a hole.

How are you doing in this area?

Friday, April 21, 2017

Compassionate Love in Pressing Times (1 Peter 4:7-9)

“The end of all things is near; therefore, be of sound judgment and sober spirit for the purpose of prayer. Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins. Be hospitable to one another without complaint.” (1 Peter 4:7–9, NASB95)

Solomon wrote in Ecclesiastes, “There is an appointed time for everything. And there is a time for every event under heaven— A time to give birth and a time to die; A time to plant and a time to uproot what is planted.” (Ecclesiastes 3:1–2, NASB95) It is strange to read the words of Peter nearly two thousand years later that “[t]he end of all things is near.” But what was true then is still true today. The end is near. Maybe it is not near according to our timeline in light of the struggles that we face, but from an eternal perspective it truly is, as Paul said, “momentary.” For all of Peter’s readers their end was going to come by physical death. Their time to die would come, and they would step out of their mortal bodies into the presence of our Lord. It was true for them, and it is true for all who have died since as with those who died previous. Every single person who has lived has had his or her own time to be born and subsequent time to die. And, for everyone who has trusted in Christ for salvation there has also been a time to be born again and a time to step from their mortal bodies into His eternal presence.

Whatever struggle we encounter has a time limit to it, and regardless of its intensity or its earthly duration it is going to be followed by a release into eternity. In this Peter’s readers were encouraged both to have hope and to keep their focus. They were not to grow weary, but to keep their eyes on God and remain connected to Him in prayer.

There was no need to panic. God had not lost control. So, they were to stay sound in their judgment. They were to think about things rightly, keeping them in perspective of God’s sovereignty or infinite rule. They were to think properly about all things in light of who they were in Christ and not fearful of the issues or the people before them. They were to, as God told Joshua, “be strong and courageous.” This meant that they were to not only to pray individually but to with good courage pray with and for one another.

When we read “one another” in the New Testament it generally refers to believers sharing a common bond in Christ and united in proximity. It is used in conjunction with the various ways that we are to be with each other, and it reinforces God’s plan that we be and function as one in Christ. This is what Christ commanded. “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.” (John 13:34, NASB95) This is the starting place. It is the highest standard. It is our priority toward each other as believers. But love is not to be separated from truth. It is because of our love that we help one another when we stray from truth. It is in truth that we have learned from Christ how to love such that we are long-suffering, patient, and gracious. It is because of the truth of God’s great mercy shown to us that we are merciful to others when they stumble. We are all going to bump up against each other and create friction with each other. Love is the grease that smooths things out and reinforces our spiritual oneness. Love helps to trim off the sharp corners and round out the rough edges as we encourage maturity and not enhance shame. It is from God’s Word that we learn how about love, and it is in love that we help one another in times of trial, struggle, and hurt. Love builds up. Love comforts. Love encourages.

God has shown us His great love and we are to be fervent in our love for one another. Paul wrote in Galatians 6:9-10, “Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary. So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith.” (Galatians 6:9–10, NASB95) For any of us who have spent any time with others we know that loving others is sometimes a difficult task, just as I know it is for those around me to love me. It is a constant choice that we make, and when things look to most hopeless in the progress we are to be strengthened in Christ to not lose heat and continue in doing with is right and good. God will take care of the end result. It is in His hands. What is for us is to keep our eyes on Him and to do what He calls us to do, and in doing this even understand more and more how “love covers a multitude of sins.”

Then in verse 9, Peter wrote, “Be hospitable to one another without complaint.” I don’t know exactly why the instruction to “be hospitable to one another without complaint” is placed here. But I am going to make a presumption, and hope that in doing so that it is a proper handling of the passage. Going back to 1 Peter 1:1 we read, “Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who reside as aliens, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, who are chosen….” (1 Peter 1:1, NASB95) I think it safe to say that Peter's audience included those who had resided in the land for the entirety of their lives and others who had only recently arrived. From the letter, we read that believers had experienced persecution and were suffering as a result. What we don’t know is how these people were moved around and what the real estate market looked like when they arrived. We don’t know who might have easily found housing and who might have been in desperate need.

From this, it is a reasonable to assume that some believers would be called upon to house others who had fled their homes in being scattered and were in need of shelter. And, it doesn’t take much of a look at history to recognize that homes generally were not the sprawling estates that we see today, but were considerably more modest. In line with this, the resources of these homes were considerably more limited. So, taking others in to help them, whether short or long term, could easily put a stress on all involved. Yet, Peter wrote to them to be hospitable to one another without complaint.

Hardships happen and people need help. People can be very inconvenient, and when put in close proximity it is easy for sparks to fly. Hospitality here is the Greek word “philoxenoi” (Strong’s G3582 from philos (friend or friendly toward) and xenos (stranger, foreigner, alien)), and it has the meaning of being friendly toward a stranger or foreigner or someone outside your home. It has the meaning of taking in someone for some period of time, whether briefly or longer term, welcoming them and tending to their needs. Recognizing that times were tough, these believers were encouraged to show the kindness of Christ to one another as they paid special attention to those most in need of help, and doing so without complaint.

Putting it all together, these believers in the days ahead were going to need each other. They were going to need to encourage each other, to keep each other focused on the hope within them, to pray for each other and even to go the extra mile in helping and caring for each other. Just a few verses later, in verse 12, Peter would write to them, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.”

Today our world is in turmoil. Christians are being persecuted and we are challenged in how to respond as brothers and sisters in Christ. Hopefully Peter’s words will be a help to each of us as we walk before Him and with each other in love with compassionate care.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Eternal Lives in Fragile Vessels (1 Peter 4:6)

“For the gospel has for this purpose been preached even to those who are dead, that though they are judged in the flesh as men, they may live in the spirit according to the will of God.” (1 Peter 4:6, NASB95)

People judge us. They base their evaluations upon their own standards, and we rise and fall according to how we align with those standards. What we do in the flesh before them is how we are judged by them. When we walk in step with them we are accepted, and when we don’t we incur their wrath. But as those who have trusted in Christ we are to continually be reminded that they are not our judge. They may be able to harm our flesh, but they have no control over our spirit and our eternal hope.

In this light verse 6 is a reasonable continuation of the verses immediately preceding it, and it is for this reason that in most translations that break passages into paragraphs they include verse 6 with the first five verses of chapter 4. It is the capstone of hope.

“Therefore, since Christ has suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same purpose, because he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for the lusts of men, but for the will of God. For the time already past is sufficient for you to have carried out the desire of the Gentiles, having pursued a course of sensuality, lusts, drunkenness, carousing, drinking parties and abominable idolatries. In all this, they are surprised that you do not run with them into the same excesses of dissipation, and they malign you; but they will give account to Him who is ready to judge the living and the dead. For the gospel has for this purpose been preached even to those who are dead, that though they are judged in the flesh as men, they may live in the spirit according to the will of God.” (1 Peter 4:1–6, NASB95)

By the time of Peter’s writing of this letter, which was most likely thirty plus years after Christ’s crucifixion, persecution of Christians had become commonplace. While we know of historical events that made this persecution more focused and even legal, Peter does not point here to any specific action. Rather, he points to their persecution as a generally present and even widespread evil. The reality is that there were those who had heard the gospel, responded in faith for salvation, and who subsequently were put to death because of it. This did not speak to the entirety of those who had died, but it did speak to some with whom they could relate.

Peter was encouraging his readers with the same truth that had sustained those who had gone before them into eternity. Regardless of their cause of death, physical death is the most that man can bring on other men. No man can destroy that which God has made alive. One of my favorite passages in this regard is found in 2 Corinthians 4:7-18 where we read,

“But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves; we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body. For we who live are constantly being delivered over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death works in us, but life in you. But having the same spirit of faith, according to what is written, “I believed, therefore I spoke,” we also believe, therefore we also speak, knowing that He who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and will present us with you. For all things are for your sakes, so that the grace which is spreading to more and more people may cause the giving of thanks to abound to the glory of God. Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:7–18, NASB95)

Paul referred to the powerful treasure given to us by God as being contained in earthen vessels. God did not choose to make us impenetrable in the face of persecution, but to make us fragile so that in our fragility His power might be demonstrated. It doesn’t matter what man does, we have Christ in us, and when we are persecuted for His sake it is His power that is seen in our human frailty. Paul went on to encourage his readers to not lose heart knowing that as these bodies in which we are housed fall apart, that what lives for eternity—our inner man—is continually renewed every day. Paul went so far as to call the worst of what man can do to us “momentary, light affliction.” It may in reality be very intense and seemingly unbearable, but what lies beyond is beyond all comparison. Everything we see and everything that others can touch is temporal or limited in time and space, but that which we cannot see and in which we hope is eternal.

Peter’s words point to this same truth and unite his readers currently undergoing persecution with those who had gone before them. Their vessels may have been broken, but what was released in the process is the glory of God so that they would all live according to the will of God. Even for us today this truth is still the same. We live with the same hope and we can be encouraged with the same knowledge that just as God was faithful to bring to Himself those who have gone before us, so is He faithful to bring us as well.

“For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit;” (1 Peter 3:18, NASB95)

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Putting the Flesh Behind (1 Peter 4:3-5)

“For the time already past is sufficient for you to have carried out the desire of the Gentiles, having pursued a course of sensuality, lusts, drunkenness, carousing, drinking parties and abominable idolatries. In all this, they are surprised that you do not run with them into the same excesses of dissipation, and they malign you; but they will give account to Him who is ready to judge the living and the dead.” (1 Peter 4:3–5, NASB95)

“I love Peter’s words, “the time already past is sufficient.” By this he means that there is to be no more back in the day even if you didn’t do it back in the day. Peter writes that for those who are in Christ their time has passed for doing the things that people who do not know Christ do. There may have been some carry over in you doing these things after becoming a Christian, but for those who are in Christ now is the time to stop it once and for ever. It is not proper for those who bear the image of Christ to live in the way of the world or of the Gentiles or those who do not know God. People who live in the flesh do the things of the flesh, but those who are in Christ they are to do those things which are consistent with their new identity in Christ.

Sure, desires are strong, but we are to take those desires captive and correct them as we are mindful of who God is and what He has called us to do. Back in 1 Peter 2:19-21 we read in the English Standard Version (ESV translation), “For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps.” (1 Peter 2:19–21, ESV) While the passage may primarily be focused on suffering unjustly, the response speaks to the entirety of our lives. We read that it is a gracious thing to “be mindful of God.” In this we are to refocus our attention from what seems most pressing toward our God who gives us victory in oppression. This is true if that oppressing event is a person or a passion. We continue to read in these verses that we have the example of Christ set for us. Jesus’s example even includes temptation to do what is opposed to His purpose for coming as we saw at the beginning of His ministry when He was led into the wilderness and did not sin (Luke 4:1-13).

In Hebrews we read of Him, “For since He Himself was tempted in that which He has suffered, He is able to come to the aid of those who are tempted.” (Hebrews 2:18, NASB95) And we see how He comes to our aid in passages such as 2 Corinthians 10:4-5, “for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses. We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ…” (2 Corinthians 10:4–5, NASB95) We are to take every thought captive and submit it to the obedience of Christ. Jesus Christ is the filter through whom our actions are to be guided. When we are tempted to act, Scripture tells us that we are to pause to analyze our actions and alter them to be consistent to the ways of Christ. What may be presented to us as a physical temptation really is fought first and primarily in our thoughts. James wrote concerning this, “Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone. But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death. Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren. 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 1:13–17, NASB95)

So, what are the specific things that Peter set aside as areas of abstinence or rejection?  We could look at this listed as specific items or the painting of a grand picture of a loose and self-gratifying life. I think it is both. It is important for us to understand that root of this life is the same, and that often the activities are greatly intermingled. It is also important to understand that how wrong it is that just because you don’t do most of these that somehow doing one might be acceptable. Peter says that the whole dump truck of this former way of life is unacceptable for those who are in Christ. We are to put them all away as we have our minds renewed by the Word of God, and put on those things which are consistent with obedience to Him.

Having said this, let’s take a few minutes to expand on the words chosen to paint the picture. The first one is “sensuality.” Having just gone through Easter, I watched once again the classic Ten Commandments movie which includes a fictionalized portrayal of Moses going up on the mountain and the people turning to a wild sexual party. As I listened to the narrator, one of the words I remember hearing to describe their actions was “licentiousness.” Pointing back to this event, Jude compared them to some who had crept into the church. “For certain persons have crept in unnoticed, those who were long beforehand marked out for this condemnation, ungodly persons who turn the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ. Now I desire to remind you, though you know all things once for all, that the Lord, after saving a people out of the land of Egypt, subsequently destroyed those who did not believe. And angels who did not keep their own domain, but abandoned their proper abode, He has kept in eternal bonds under darkness for the judgment of the great day, just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the cities around them, since they in the same way as these indulged in gross immorality and went after strange flesh, are exhibited as an example in undergoing the punishment of eternal fire.” (Jude 4–7, NASB95)

Sensuality or licentiousness [Greek: aselgeia] is described in the Strong’s Enhanced Lexicon as “unbridled lust, excess, licentiousness, lasciviousness, wantonness, outrageousness, shamelessness, insolence.” The Dictionary of Biblical Languages describes is as being “unrestrained in moral attitudes and behaviors.” It is the epitome of the phrase, “If it feels good, do it.” It is acting opposed to God without any restraint to do whatever pleases the individual. It is unrestraint pleasure seeking, without regard to cost or rule. It is setting one’s own desires over any thought of what might be right or how others might be affected. It’s self-focused pleasing, and it is likely the overriding umbrella for all that follows. Once the door is torn down there is no barrier to what goes through it. Desire rules and the results leave a wide path of destruction with an end of undesired consequence.

The next on the list is “lusts.” Lust [Greek: epithumia] is really nothing more than a strong craving or desire for something, whether that desire is for something right or wrong. In a proper perspective, Paul wrote, “But if I am to live on in the flesh, this will mean fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which to choose. But I am hard-pressed from both directions, having the desire [epithumia] to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better; yet to remain on in the flesh is more necessary for your sake.” (Philippians 1:22–24, NASB95) Here Paul’s strong desire is to be with the Lord, but he understands that God has something else in mind and he is good with that. But most of the time this word is used negatively, and it is these negative desires that we are to put to death as we read in Colossians 3:5, “Therefore consider the members of your earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amounts to idolatry.” (Colossians 3:5, NASB95)

The reality is that we can lust over almost anything, and the plural form indicated in many translations of 1 Peter is indicative of this. Those given to pleasing strong desires tend to do it again and again with an ever-broadening scope. It is a multiple and multiplying pattern, often leading to thoughts and actions that are further and further removed from what one might perceive as a right standard. When one’s desires rule, right is pushed to the side and often justified in various ways. This is the downward spiral written about by James in the passage cited earlier in this post as people then act on their lusts and engage in sin and destruction. This destruction won’t invalidate our salvation, but it surely will affect our relationship with God and with those around us. It may even lead to a shorter life.

When we violate what is right we alienate those who we love. This is particularly true today of pornography, where men, primarily but not exclusively, turn from their spouses and toward satisfying their sensual pleasure in someone else. Some would contend that seeing is not doing, but the Bible disagrees. Jesus said, ““You have heard that it was said, ‘YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT ADULTERY’; but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. “If your right eye makes you stumble, tear it out and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.” (Matthew 5:27–29, NASB95) Maybe we shouldn’t dig out our eyes, but we definitely should throw out the garbage that captures our eyes or do away with the pathways through which it comes. Thinking of this, I am mindful even of the movie Fireproof where the husband having realized the destructive nature of pornography took his computer into the front yard and in front of his neighbors broke it to smithereens.

The next several actions on the list are more obviously outward, “drunkenness, carousing, drinking parties and abominable idolatries.” At this point thoughts have turned to action. It’s gone beyond a drink to being drunk and not just drunk once but a life pattern of such. It is the attitude of being controlled by liquor and not the Lord in blatant contrast to the Word of God as we read in Ephesians 5:18, “And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation [waste or abandoning what it right and good], but be filled with the Spirit,” (Ephesians 5:18, NASB95) We have been made new in Christ and we are to live with His Spirit in control of our lives and not a bottle, glass, or can. But realize, that this pattern of life did not just happen all at once, it came from a series of steps in that direction. The harsh reality is that it may only take one time of being drunk to bring about great destruction. Beyond this, it is also true that if you got away with it once it doesn’t mean that the next time will end as well.

From drunkenness, we also read that we are not to be given to carousing and drinking parties. In the cults present at the time of the writing of this instruction we see it described as, “a nocturnal and riotous procession of half drunken and frolicsome fellows who after supper parade through the streets with torches and music in [honor] of Bacchus or some other deity, and sing and play before houses of male and female friends; hence used generally of feasts and drinking parties that are protracted till late at night and indulge in revelry. (Strong, J. (1995). Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon. Woodside Bible Fellowship.) Taking this to today, we might ask if, apart from the worship of some deity, things really are any different. Today there doesn’t have to be a cause or an excuse other than the worship of self. Regardless of what Peter’s original readers might have engaged in in the past, things had changed and they were not to do them any longer. They were to set them aside and live according to their new identity just as we are called to do today.

I apologize for the length of today’s post, but the content of these verses points to a very real battle that we are engaged in today. This is a battle where many don’t see the danger, especially concerning the first couple of points. But we are not to be deceived. We have an enemy who holds nothing back, and he is more than willing to use all that God created as good and turn it to evil. We need to be realistic in our evaluations and diligent in our actions, recognizing that many will look upon us and shake their heads.

Today we live in a morally misguided world. We see our Vice President ridiculed when he puts in place standards with other women which he will not violate in order to honor his wife and his commitment to walking right before God. Reading on in our passage today, “In all this, they are surprised that you do not run with them into the same excesses of dissipation, and they malign you; but they will give account to Him who is ready to judge the living and the dead.” The truth is that the world doesn’t get it, and the reality is that we should not be surprised that they don’t. But the world is no longer to be our guide. We have been given the light in Christ, and it is in His light and the light of His Word according to His Spirit in us that we are to walk.

“Then Jesus again spoke to them, saying, “I am the Light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life.”” (John 8:12, NASB95)

“Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” (Psalm 119:105, NASB95)

“So then, brethren, we are under obligation, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh— for if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him.” (Romans 8:12–17, NASB95)

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Suffering One in Purpose (1 Peter 4:1-2)

“Therefore, since Christ has suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same purpose, because he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for the lusts of men, but for the will of God.” (1 Peter 4:1–2, NASB95)

Today is known by a lot of names by people of faith around the world. One of them is Maundy Thursday. It is on this day nearly 2000 years ago that Jesus met with His disciples for that last Passover meal, the one in which He would wash His disciples’ feet and speak to them about the example He set for them of the servant Master. He would speak to them of His betrayal and Judas would leave the group to accomplish just that. He would share with them the bread and the wine for the last time and speak of its significance. He would speak to them of His leaving, and then He would pray that incredible prayer recorded for us between Himself and the Father. After all of this, He would then lead His disciples toward the garden where a few of them would be asked to watch and pray while He went in by Himself to ultimately face His betrayer, be arrested, and taken away for the reviling, beatings, trials, and even His being nailed to a cross for us.

In all, what began last Sunday (Palm Sunday) as we commemorated His coming into Jerusalem to the praise of the crowd, and we look to next as Good Friday and the commemoration of His death, Easter and the commemoration of His resurrection, really begins in earnest on this day in history when the culmination of God’s plan for our salvation neared its completion.

Jesus had been ridiculed for quite a while. There were those who were seeking after Him, and desiring His death. Yet, they were unable to touch Him until this time that the Father had set in place according to His preordained plan. This was God’s time for the Son to suffer for us in the flesh, to be ridiculed or reviled and not revile back, to face trumped up charges and admit that He indeed is just who they said He was.

“Therefore Pilate entered again into the Praetorium, and summoned Jesus and said to Him, “Are You the King of the Jews?” Jesus answered, “Are you saying this on your own initiative, or did others tell you about Me?” Pilate answered, “I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests delivered You to me; what have You done?” Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, then My servants would be fighting so that I would not be handed over to the Jews; but as it is, My kingdom is not of this realm.” Therefore Pilate said to Him, “So You are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say correctly that I am a king. For this I have been born, and for this I have come into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.”” (John 18:33–37, NASB95)

Jesus said, “You say correctly that I am a king. For this I have been born, and for this I have come into the world, to testify to the truth.” Pilate nailed it, and Pilate in the next verse even went on to express that He found no guilt in Jesus. But this would not quiet the crowds. They were out for His blood, and they wouldn’t settle for anything else. The amazing thing is that this was the plan of the Father. He sent His Son to shed His blood for the forgiveness of sins. Jesus knew why He was there. He knew what He must endure. And, He did it all because God loves us. Jesus was all in; suffering, death and all because He knew what good it would accomplish.

Here in today’s verses Peter writes to those who were enduring trials to encourage them in their trials to remember not only the example of Christ but the power that He gave to them to live victoriously over sin, to endure hardship in the process, and to prove day by day the faithfulness of God. This is what we saw at the very beginning of Peter’s letter where He wrote,

“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, to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, 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; 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 1:3–9, NASB95)

When things get tough we are to remember Christ and to arm ourselves with the same purpose, which is living according to the will of God. Arming ourselves implies that there really is a battle that we are to be ready for. I think we all have known this battle in varying ways and in varying intensities. It is a real thing. There are spiritual forces out there who are relentless and who are strongly opposed to God and those who stand with Him. They deny His truth and seek to squelch anyone who stands in favor of it. We see this even in Pilate’s next words to Jesus in John chapter 18, where he said in verse 38, “What is truth?”

Recognizing that the world does not live for God nor according to the ways of God, we are called to live differently. We are called to live according to the truth that we have learned from Him, and knowing this we are to do so realizing that we will suffer in various ways as a result. The world will not accept that to which it is opposed, and not knowing God or accepting His ways we should not be surprised when it rejects us for living in worship of Him and doing as He calls us to do.

We are to put off the way of the flesh and to continually put on who we are in Christ. God has called us to live differently. As we hide His Word in our hearts and submit to the working of His Spirit in us we are continually strengthened to live just that way. Our goal is to live according to His will, seeking after Him with our whole hearts, and in this He is greatly pleased. He will strengthen us to endure the rest.

On the night in which He was betrayed Jesus said to His disciples, “These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33, NASB95) 

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Only Christ Can Save and Cleanse (1 Peter 3:21-22)

"(21) Corresponding to that, baptism now saves you—not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience—through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, (22) who is at the right hand of God, having gone into heaven, after angels and authorities and powers had been subjected to Him.” (1 Peter 3:21–22, NASB95)

In Noah, it might be said that God has given us physical example of a spiritual truth. The events of the flood are historical truth. It really did happen, and Noah and his family (all eight of them) were safely brought through to dry land on the other end while the rest of mankind died. Because of their great sin, God brought physical death to all of the inhabitants of the world except for these eight who He preserved.

“These are the records of the generations of Noah. Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his time; Noah walked with God. Noah became the father of three sons: Shem, Ham, and Japheth. Now the earth was corrupt in the sight of God, and the earth was filled with violence. God looked on the earth, and behold, it was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted their way upon the earth. Then God said to Noah, “The end of all flesh has come before Me; for the earth is filled with violence because of them; and behold, I am about to destroy them with the earth.” (Genesis 6:9–13, NASB95) … ““Behold, I, even I am bringing the flood of water upon the earth, to destroy all flesh in which is the breath of life, from under heaven; everything that is on the earth shall perish. “But I will establish My covenant with you; and you shall enter the ark—you and your sons and your wife, and your sons’ wives with you. “And of every living thing of all flesh, you shall bring two of every kind into the ark, to keep them alive with you; they shall be male and female. “Of the birds after their kind, and of the animals after their kind, of every creeping thing of the ground after its kind, two of every kind will come to you to keep them alive. “As for you, take for yourself some of all food which is edible, and gather it to yourself; and it shall be for food for you and for them.” Thus Noah did; according to all that God had commanded him, so he did.” (Genesis 6:17–22, NASB95)

And, of course, reading through the rest of the flood account in Genesis we know that God did exactly what He told Noah He would do. God safely delivered Noah and his family, delivering them on dry ground along with all of the inhabitants (animals) of the ark.

Looking to Jesus, every single one of us was up to one point lost in sin. We were like all of those who died in the flood and who are now awaiting final judgment. There is not one person who was/is immune except for what Jesus did for us. Because He laid down His life, was buried, and then took it back up again through His resurrection we receive His forgiveness and are granted eternal life. Just as with Noah, if he and his family had not had been delivered safely through the flood, so would it be with us if Christ had not risen from the dead. His resurrection is that important. In 1 Corinthians we read,

“Now if Christ is preached, that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain. Moreover we are even found to be false witnesses of God, because we testified against God that He raised Christ, whom He did not raise, if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied.” (1 Corinthians 15:12–19, NASB95)

We can never clean ourselves of our sins. We can’t scrub them off and we can’t do penance. There is no physical act we can do that can bring us salvation. All of those who died in the flood died physically and are awaiting judgment. What brought Noah through was his trusting God to place himself in the ark. For us to go under water physically through baptism the reality is that unless we come back up we will die physically as well. Apart from salvation in Christ, baptism is nothing more than a quick dunk in the water. Water baptism does not save anyone. Who saves us is Christ as we respond in belief and trust Him Who gave Himself for us. These bodies we have will all pass away. We are saved when we place our trust in the Jesus Christ who gives us life. It is in Him that we are completely forgiven and made alive with God.

“He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior,” (Titus 3:5–6, NASB95)

The resurrection of Christ in the same way that the ark being brought to dry ground is physical proof that God has the power to do exactly what He said He would do. Because He lives, we live also. Because He made Himself known to men after the resurrection we have the physical evidence that He indeed did rise. Both stand as historical proofs of God’s power to deliver—one physical and the other eternal. It is our risen Lord who sits as the Son at the right hand of the Father. He has been given all rule and authority (Colossians 2:10), and He is our constant intercessor and advocate. He will bring us safely home.

“who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us. Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? Just as it is written, “For Your sake we are being put to death all day long; We were considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:34–39, NASB95)

And today, when we do go under water in baptism it serves as a both a reminder and a testimony as to what Christ has done for us. Water baptism is the outward sign of an inward reality that we have indeed be regenerated or made spiritually alive in Christ. We have been made new creations in Him. And going under the physical water symbolizes that the old has passed away and that we have become new. We were once dead in our trespasses and sins and are now made alive in Christ. Everything has changed because He has safely brought us through by His death, burial and resurrection.

Knowing this we then face the realities of everyday and the trails in them knowing that just as God kept Noah safe so will He do for us.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Safely Through (1 Peter 3:19-20)

“in which also He went and made proclamation to the spirits now in prison, who once were disobedient, when the patience of God kept waiting in the days of Noah, during the construction of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through the water.” (1 Peter 3:19–20, NASB95)

Verses 18-22 have proven to present some challenges to those attempting to properly exegete or interpret the text, arriving at a variety of possible meanings with some being excluded because they contradict other passages of Scripture and others being left as preferential understandings that are held loosely because of a lack of clarity. Clearly there are some things in Scripture that remain mysteries to some degree. In these we must always walk carefully, always seeking to make sure that our thinking aligns with the entirety of Scripture and that our theology is not twisted as a result. This is the case with these verses, where for most believers we read it, don’t clearly understand it, and entrust the ultimate meaning to God. There are some, however, who have used them to build divergent theologies which are not clearly supportable.

Dr. John Constable wrote the following concerning these verses in his Notes on 1 Peter (http://www.soniclight.com/constable/notes.htm),

“Verses 18-22 contain some very difficult exegetical problems. Who are the "spirits" who received a "proclamation" (v. 19)? When did Jesus make this proclamation? What was its content? Why did Peter mention "Noah"? In what sense does "baptism" save us?
“One group of interpreters believes Jesus went to the realm of the dead and preached to Noah's contemporaries between His crucifixion and His resurrection. Some of these say He extended an offer of salvation to them. Others feel He announced condemnation to the unbelievers. Still others hold that He announced good news to the saved among them.
“A second group believes Jesus preached to Noah's sinful generation while Noah was living on the earth. They see Him doing so through Noah.
“A third group holds that Jesus proclaimed His victory on the cross to fallen angels. Some advocates of this view say this took place in hell between His crucifixion and His resurrection. Others believe it happened during His ascension to heaven.” (p.55)

He then proceeded in his notes to break these passages down and discuss his understanding in detail. I will not focus on his entire notes here, but only on those concerning verses 19-20, and the identity of “the spirits now in prison.” Dr. Constable’s basis for approaching these next verses arises from his best understanding of the verse that came before. Of verse 18 he wrote, “A fourth view sees "flesh" as describing Jesus' pre-resurrection condition (following the Incarnation), and "spirit" as referring to His post-resurrection condition. Peter used the same terminology in 4:6, where he referred to Christians who had died but were now alive. I prefer this view.” From this He moved forward to evaluate the next verses as that which Jesus did in His post-resurrection condition. Again, after considering a variety of understandings and how problematic they might be in relation to the rest of Scripture, Dr. Constable presented one that He believed to be most preferred. I really appreciate how Dr. Constable again introduced the understanding he felt most reasonable.

“A more probable explanation is that these "spirits" were the unbelievers who disobeyed God in Noah's day by rejecting his preaching. They are now "spirits," since they died long ago and their bodies have not yet experienced resurrection. He said the "spirits" of these unbelievers are "in prison" now (i.e., Sheol), awaiting resurrection and judgment by God (cf. Rev. 20:11-15). One could say that Jesus proclaimed a message to Noah's unbelieving contemporaries in His spirit (i.e., His spiritual state of life before the Incarnation) through Noah. (p. 58)”

Moving forward from this, he then wrote, “Noah was preaching a message that God had given him, and in this sense Jesus Christ spoke through him (cf. 2 Cor. 5:20). In the same sense, Jesus Christ was speaking through Peter's readers to their unbelieving persecutors, as they bore witness for Him in a hostile world. Noah faced the same type of opposition, in his day, that Peter's original readers did in theirs, and we do in ours. (p. 59)” Notice the same message of encouragement which has been consistent from Peter throughout this letter. Peter took his readers back to Noah and pointed to how even Noah kept his focus on the task before him and the message given him by Christ as he pleaded with those around him who rejected him and are now awaiting final judgment. Dr. Constable added, “God would bring Peter's readers safely through their trials, just as He had brought Noah safely through his trials into a whole new world. God had done this for Noah, even though he and his family were a small minority in their day. Furthermore, as God judged the mockers in Noah's day, so will He judge those who persecuted Peter's readers. … God is so patient that he waited for 120 years before sending the Flood in Noah's day (Gen. 6:3). Today He also waits, so patiently that some people conclude that He will never judge (cf. 2 Pet. 3:3-4). Relatively few will escape God's coming judgment, just as only eight escaped His former judgment. The rest will die. (p. 59)” (For Dr. Constable’s complete notes please visit the link provided above.)

The study of God’s Word will present challenges, but the challenges are never to be a reason for not spending the time. When the tough questions come, we are blessed to have those around us or who have gone before us who have dug deeper and who can help to explain. This is what pastors do for us every week as they spend considerable time in sermon preparation so that they might accurately present to us the Word of God. It is for this reason that I paused when I came to this passage. I asked my pastor of twenty-three years his understanding. He in turn expressed his lack of clarity having not studied it in some time, and then he referred me to someone he respected where I read these notes of Dr. Constable.

God’s Word is not something that is to be left only to these deep thinkers and trained theologians. It is given to all of us so that we might be able to hide it in our hearts and use it to direct our steps. Sure, there might be times where we might hold loosely a passage because of a lack of clarity. Studying His Word, we continue to grow in our love for God, our understanding of Him and His direction for us.

Our God is the same yesterday, today and forever. He does not change. His truth stands forever. Just as Noah knew His faithfulness, he also knew the severity of rejection. Peter wrote to his readers encouraging them in the face of severity as well, and today as we face challenges to our faith we can know that our God will never let loose. He holds us firmly in His hands and He will surely judge those who reject Him. Our task is to keep our eyes on Him while we seek to be His light in a dark and desperate needy world.

God brought those eight safely through the water. He brought those in the early church safely through, and He will bring us as well.

“(9) How can a young man keep his way pure? By keeping it according to Your word.” … “(11) Your word I have treasured in my heart, that I may not sin against You.” … “(105) Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” (Psalm 119:9,11,105, NASB95)

“(129) Your testimonies are wonderful; therefore my soul observes them. (130) The unfolding of Your words gives light; it gives understanding to the simple. (131) I opened my mouth wide and panted, for I longed for Your commandments. (132) Turn to me and be gracious to me, after Your manner with those who love Your name. (133) Establish my footsteps in Your word, and do not let any iniquity have dominion over me. (134) Redeem me from the oppression of man, that I may keep Your precepts. (135) Make Your face shine upon Your servant, and teach me Your statutes. (136) My eyes shed streams of water, because they do not keep Your law. (137) Righteous are You, O Lord, and upright are Your judgments.” (Psalm 119:129–137, NASB95) 

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Because He Lives (1 Peter 3:18)

“For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit;” (1 Peter 3:18, NASB95)

Easter is in all the stores. Rows of candy and bags of colored fake grass are being brought home to await the day when all of the gathered goodies will be placed in bright baskets and shared with children. Eggs will soon either be boiled and colored or opened and stuffed in anticipation of a quick search around the yard for these annual surprises. For many people this is what Easter is about, and while I enjoy all of this I also know that Easter is about something much, much more.

Easter is about the truth behind the message of 1 Peter 3:18 and other similar passages from the Bible. It is about the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and Him completing exactly what He came to do which is to save man from his sins. While Christmas, and its pointing for many to the birth of Jesus, seems to be a bigger holiday here in the U.S., it is Easter that points to the real reason from His coming being fulfilled in His death, burial and resurrection. It is for this reason that some even avoid the word Easter, and speak of this day of memorialization as Resurrection Sunday, the day that caps off a whole series of days with the resurrection of Christ as the climax.

Peter wrote, “For Christ also died for sins once for all….” These words were written to people who were suffering in a variety of ways. They were being challenged in their faith, and these words were an encouragement in how to walk through those difficult situations whether it was at the hands of the government, a hostile master, or a difficult spouse. In all of these Peter encouraged his readers to consider the example of Christ and the extent to which He went to glorify the Father in accomplishing the purpose for which He was sent. Each person is to keep their eyes on Christ and to live according to His example such that the world may be silenced in its accusation, some would see and believe, the individual would be blessed, and the Father glorified. Jesus understood the most intense of situations they would encounter. In fact, He died for them in the most excruciating of ways as the “just for the unjust.” There was no injustice that they would suffer that He did not more greatly suffer.

Jesus committed no sin, yet He died for the sins of all. In the Old Testament and under the Old Covenant, the Jewish people would bring their offerings before the priests who would offer up sacrifices on their behalf. They did this over and over again, year after year in order to make atonement for their sin. But this atoning action was never complete. There was nothing they could do to alleviate once and for all the burden placed on them by their sins. They were never going to be made perfectly righteous by their sacrifices. It was only God who would perfectly and completely credit righteousness to them because of faith in His Son.

Jesus Christ is God’s deliverance. Being God Himself, He willingly took on the form of man to be born of a virgin for the express purpose of bringing man back into a relationship with God through the forgiveness of sins and the restoration of life—eternal life. Jesus was born without sin and He lived without sinning. He was the perfect once and for all sacrifice that never needed to be offered again. His shed blood was totally adequate for the forgiveness of all. With His death, burial and resurrection God’s plan was perfectly competed. It was for this reason that Jesus could accurately say on the cross the incredible words, “It is finished” (John 19:30).

He knew what He came to do, and He was faithful to complete it. Peter continued, “so that He might bring us to God.” Jesus could do this because the grave could not hold Him. He was not a once lived and then dead martyr. He is our risen Lord who is our way of salvation. He does not merely show a way. He is the one and only way. He said that no man could come to the Father but by Him (John 14;6), and this is exactly what He provided for us as He gives us life and a relationship with the God the Father.

And how did He do this? He laid down the physical body, which He willingly took on, in the most violent of ways so that it would be put to death on our behalf to be the perfect sacrifice for our sins so that we might receive His own righteousness and live just as He lives, alive in spirit. His body may have laid in the grave for three days before even it was resurrected, but Jesus’ spirit never died. And we read in Scripture that the same will happen to us when our own bodies are ultimately laid down.

“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. Therefore, being always of good courage, and knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord— for we walk by faith, not by sight— we are of good courage, I say, and prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord. Therefore we also have as our ambition, whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to Him.” (2 Corinthians 5:1–9, NASB95)

“Now I say this, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Behold, I tell you a mystery; we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality. But when this perishable will have put on the imperishable, and this mortal will have put on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, “Death is swallowed up in victory.” (1 Corinthians 15:50–54, NASB95)

The grave could not hold Him. Jesus was and always will be more than skin and bones. Jesus assured His disciples on that last night with these words, “…because I live, you will live also.” (John 14:19, NASB95) This is the great joy of Easter. This is the real reason for incredible celebration.