Wednesday, June 28, 2017

A Grant that Changes Lives (2 Peter 1:3)

“seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence.” (2 Peter 1:3, NASB95)

I have several friends that are school teachers, and as I have observed them I noticed that they receive great joy in having grants on which they worked being finally approved for the benefit of their children. The award ceremony is usually some kind of a big deal as the donor of the grant gets some notoriety, and the organization gets some benefit, with the one who did the work standing between the two with a huge paper check getting some recognition. Apart from the donor, the organization would have either done without or had to come up with some other means to meet their need. Without to donor, the person seeking the assistance on behalf of the organization would have no one to appeal. It doesn’t matter how much someone might desire assistance, without the donor the grant simply would not exist.

Peter continues his introduction to this second letter by reminding his readers that all that they had pertaining to life and godliness or all that really mattered was given to them or granted to them by the power of God in Christ Jesus. God holds all the resources in His hands. There is no beneficial resource that exists apart from Him. And, we as mankind are helpless to avail ourselves of it apart from Him being willing to let it loose. God has graciously done this in so many ways for all of mankind. We are His creation and every resource that we have to conduct life exists because of Him. He breathed life into us, and He gave us this perfectly placed and designed planet and all there is to sustain that life on it. But He did so much more than just bring us to a terrarium and place in it. He continues to involve Himself in our lives, and He is the One who determined how He would bring us back into a relationship with Him after we severed that relationship by our sin. We all deserve death in a dying terrarium, but God continues to inject life, and He is the One responsible for giving us life that will never fade and that will be ultimately realized in a new home without any defect whatsoever.

Peter was not pointing to God in a general humanity way, but in the more specific way that He works in the lives of those who are of that “faith of the same kind” as his. Everyone benefits in so many ways, but ultimately this general blessing will pass away into judgment. This is true, except for those who know the faith of which Peter referred in the first verse. It is us who have salvation in Christ who know so much more of what God truly grants. He has given us the ability to live as His called, forgiven, life-endowed, and greatly blessed children.

Peter wrote of God’s divine power. He is the ultimate authority. All authority that exists, exists because of Him and is subject to Him. He is powerful over the entirety of His creation, and He has placed every aspect of it into the hands of His Son. This is what Paul tells un in Colossians, chapter 1. “He [Jesus Christ] is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything. For it was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him, and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross; through Him, I say, whether things on earth or things in heaven.” (Colossians 1:15–20, NASB95)

As the Son of God, being One with the Father, Jesus Christ has been given all authority. It is in accordance with that authority that He has granted, or chosen to intentionally give, to us all that we need and everything that pertains to life and godliness. I love this term “all that pertains.” It means all that is related to it. There is nothing held back. We have been given it freely and fully by the Son of God who has been invested with all authority to in turn share with us. This is an amazing truth. Our God who is manifest in three persons—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit has invested in us and given to us all that we need for life and godliness. He isn’t stingy toward us. He isn’t holding back. There is nothing we have to go out and earn in order to get more credits or more of His gift in regard to these things.

This does not mean that we fully understand it or live in accordance with it. The reality is that we all struggle in this regard. But the issue isn’t that God has held something back, but rather that we need to continue to walk with Him and grow in our knowledge and understanding of just what He has done. We are no less a Christian, but we may (and certainly do) have a ways to grow in how we live the godly lives which Christ has invested in us to do.

Peter’s letter is written to help in that regard, and he has set the foundation by telling us of our great inheritance from God in Jesus Christ. It is for that reason that coupled with the grant is our growing in knowledge of the Grantor who has specifically and individually chosen and called each of us. This word knowledge is a key word in this second letter of Peter’s. It is used several times in this first chapter, and then again later. It is the Greek word epignosis, and means more than just knowing. It means really knowing such that you understand. It is a personal or intimate knowledge, and this is the kind of knowledge that we are to have of Him. It is we grow in our intimate knowledge of His glory and excellence that we in turn live lives of responsive worship and obedient reflection. The world knows the basic stuff to varying degrees, and it scoffs at Him. We have the privilege of growing in our knowledge of Him in a very deep and personal way as our Savior who because of His great love delivered us from sin and seated us in heavenly places with Him.

Our faith is truly a living faith because it has been given to us by our resurrected and living Lord. As we get to know Him and what He has done and continues to do on our behalf, our lives will be changed.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Of the Same Faith (2 Peter 1:1-2)

“Simon Peter, a bond-servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who have received a faith of the same kind as ours, by the righteousness of our God and Savior, Jesus Christ: Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord;” (2 Peter 1:1–2, NASB95)

Finishing 1 Peter and taking some time to work on a sermon for a church where I was privileged to fill the pulpit for a week as their pastor was on vacation, I spent time considering where to go next in my own studies and in this blogging process. Having looked at a variety of possibilities and enjoying some time in them, I was left with no real sense other than to continue with the writing of Peter into what we have as 2 Peter. In this I am trusting God to continue to work in my life as I grow in my admiration and knowledge of Him and as I share some of that with you. Together, it is my prayer that we would all be encouraged in Christ and find further direction in our steps.

This is an interesting introduction. What did Peter mean by “a faith of the same kind as ours?” As we move into this letter we will quickly find that false teachers had begun to rise up and they were leading many people away into strange doctrine of faith. Peter’s letter starts right off at the get go by letting his readers know that they shared something special.

Simon-Peter, who was the first disciple chosen by Jesus and who was the one specifically charged by Jesus to take care of His sheep and who became the leader among the apostles, stated that this letter was from him. In human terms, there could be no higher credential. But he also made it clear that this was nothing of his own doing but the work of Jesus Christ. It was Jesus who found him as a fisherman and chose him to become a fisher of men. It was Jesus who made him one of His chosen twelve, given to Him by the Father, and it was Jesus to whom He owed everything being called as His bond-servant. Peter did not write to them boasting, but as one given authority by Christ to do the work given to him which was to take care of His sheep. And, as false teachers had made their way into the church, it was Peter’s job to expose them and to instruct the sheep to stay far, far away. It is this same role which is given to pastors and elders since then as they are called and set apart by God to tend to His sheep even today.

The faith his readers has was to be nothing different that the faith of the apostles. They were all called in the same way and they (and us) were all made righteous by the act of the Righteous One on our behalf. Jesus Christ came to seek and to save the lost, this we know from God’s Word. But, what we also know is that the only way people are saved is through faith in Jesus, the Son of God, who died for our sins and was raised again on the third day. There is no other salvation. There is no other saving faith or faith by which we are to live. Peter’s readers shared this with him, and he was writing to encourage them beginning with this certain common foundation. Because He lives, we live and His righteousness is credited to us. This is the bottom line truth.

And because of the salvation we have been given not by anything we have done, but totally because of the incredible grace of our God we can live at peace before Him and in the midst of the world’s turmoil. We have no reason to doubt because God’s promises are true, and the most fundamental one of our salvation and eternal life was not only proven in the words of the prophets coming to pass exactly as they had foretold, but in the powerful proof of the resurrection of our Lord. Our accounts of sin have been settled. We have been declared righteous, and we can live in peace free from the burden of sin. There is no extra work required to seal the deal. Christ did it all for us according to the perfect plan of the Father, and we are now sealed by His Spirit. And, we are not to let anyone tell us anything different.

Peter concludes verse 2 with the foundation upon which we know, which is the knowledge that we have of our God and Savior, the Father and the Son. We have been given His Word for that very purpose, and it was for that purpose that Peter even penned the words which we have begun to look at here. Everything that he wrote after this is built upon that sure foundation which comes from His as one chosen by God for this very purpose, one to whom Jesus Himself said the Spirit would give Him exactly what He needs.

Jesus on the night in which He was betrayed said to His disciples, “These things I have spoken to you while abiding with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you. Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful. You heard that I said to you, ‘I go away, and I will come to you.’ If you loved Me, you would have rejoiced because I go to the Father, for the Father is greater than I. Now I have told you before it happens, so that when it happens, you may believe. I will not speak much more with you, for the ruler of the world is coming, and he has nothing in Me; but so that the world may know that I love the Father, I do exactly as the Father commanded Me. Get up, let us go from here.” (John 14:25–31, NASB95)

Peter encouraged us in the same peace that Christ encouraged him. Jesus is alive and He is coming again. Don’t fear the world because He has overcome it for us. So, Peter got up and did exactly what He was told to do, and we are blessed even today because of it.

Friday, June 2, 2017

Family Time (1 Peter 5:12-14)

“Through Silvanus, our faithful brother (for so I regard him), I have written to you briefly, exhorting and testifying that this is the true grace of God. Stand firm in it! She who is in Babylon, chosen together with you, sends you greetings, and so does my son, Mark. Greet one another with a kiss of love. Peace be to you all who are in Christ.” (1 Peter 5:12–14, NASB95)

I learned a long time ago not to skip the names. Often in them are important truths to hang on to and timely encouragements for us. Embedded here in the names are things that Peter shares with us both about them and how his readers are to respond because of them.

We see in Peter’s salutation a commendation for faithfulness. “Through Silvanus, our faithful brother (for so I regard him),” Silvanus is the same person as Silas, who traveled with Paul and who was mentioned repeated alongside Timothy as a faithful servant. Silas was one of those selected by the apostles to go along with Paul and Barnabas to Antioch to instruct Gentile believers in how to walk with their Jewish brothers and sisters in Christ. These men were the official word being sent out, and Silas was one of those chosen to attest to its veracity, thus speaking to his standing. (We see the link between Silas and Silvanus as likely being the same person in several of Paul’s letters: 2 Corinthians 1:19; and 1 & 2 Thessalonians 1:1) And, Peter in sending this letter, apparently chose Silvanus to pen the words and most likely deliver it as well. Silvanus had proven himself faithful and this is exactly how Peter said that he regarded him.

We see also an attestation of truth. Peter went on to add, “I have written to you briefly, exhorting and testifying that this is the true grace of God.” There were a lot of cults around at that time making all kinds of promises just as there are today. There were even false teachers. Peter warned of them as did other New Testament writers. Peter added these words to assure his readers that these words brought to them indeed are the truth about the grace of God, and he encouraged them to listen to these issues of truth as they were encouraged by them and exhorted to apply them to their lives. These words were indeed sent to them by an apostle personally chosen and sent by Christ. As such they were to heed them fully.

Next is the command. Stand firm in it! Because the words are trustworthy they were to stand firm in them. This is not sent to them as an instruction to give or take as they choose. It is a command given to them to heed, and that command is to stand firm in the truth. They were not to be shaken by their trials no matter how pressing they might seem. They were not to be dissuaded by other arguments no matter how authoritatively they might be given. These words were given to them as the truth and they were to stand on them as an absolute and unshakable foundation. Times were tough and we know from history that they got tougher. But God is able. They were to trust Him to see them through.

They were also told that they were not in this alone. He wrote, “She who is in Babylon, chosen together with you, sends you greetings, and so does my son, Mark.” This letter was not written from Babylon, but most likely from a non-specified church in Rome. Other believers stood with Peter in encouraging them. They sent their best. It is as if every single one of them signed the card with a personal note at the end. They were not alone both as a body of believers, nor as individual believers. We read that even Peter’s spiritual son, Mark, sent his greetings. This is the Mark that Peter brought under his wing and who penned the gospel, and it is also the Mark over who when Paul and Barnabas were sent to leave Antioch that there was such division over. These believers were not alone. They were part of Christ’s church and a much bigger body than they could locally see. For all of us, knowing that what we see in front of us is not all there is can often be a huge encouragement. This is especially true if we ourselves are struggling. Knowing that others are with us, encouraging us, and praying for us is a big deal.

Knowing that, a part of the letter pointed even to things going on possibly inside their churches, as Peter added, “Greet one another with a kiss of love.” Working in a retail store at present I see many people whom my wife and I have known from various places, and frequently I will be asked to tell Robin “hi” or even to give her a hug on behalf of one of them. I know when we are on the phone with our kids it usually ends with the request to give their spouse or their children hugs and kisses. These shows of affection are a sign of a union that runs very deep. These believers were united in Christ, and it didn’t matter their background or what they were facing, the love which God had for them is something that they were encouraged to communicate to others. It was so then and it is so even now. Whatever else might be going on, remember who you are, one in Christ, and demonstrate His love for you by your acts of love for them. Don’t let the stuff get in the way. That is how they were to be with each other as they shared Peter’s paper kiss by giving a personal kiss on his behalf.

And lastly, Peter wrote, “Peace be to you all who are in Christ.” With that his letter ended. But what did not end was the hands of the person who brought it and the fellowship that they shared with one another in Christ. Because we are at peace with God we can know the peace of God and live in peace with those who are joined with us in Christ.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Just a Little Longer (1 Peter 5:10-11)

"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. To Him be dominion forever and ever. Amen.” (1 Peter 5:10–11, NASB95)

There are some statements in the Bible that, while hard to hear, are used to help reframe our perspective. Suffering never seems short. It does not matter how long it lasts, it always seems like so much more. I remember the Northridge earthquake on Martin Luke King Day, January 17, 1994. It seemed like it went on forever. But Caltech reports otherwise: The actual rupture of the fault only lasted about 8 seconds, but because of amplification and reverberation of the seismic waves through the complex of faults, sediment, and mountains, most people felt shaking for 20 to 30 seconds. (Source: The actual shaking really wasn’t that long, but the strength of it was immense and the effects were far reaching and long lasting. For many their lives were changed in those few seconds in dramatic ways.

The question for all of us in these times of suffering is how are we going to respond. For us, it led after many months of struggle to our moving away from Northridge to Oregon and me eventually having the opportunity to go to seminary and enter vocational ministry as a pastor. There were others, though, who in an instant lost their lives while others still suffered only minor inconveniences that were of short duration. And there were large numbers whose lives were dramatically changed for a long time afterward. But from an eternal perspective every single person who was affected by the earthquake only suffered “for a little while.”

Recognizing this and looking to what God did in the months and years after the earthquake we have chosen in our family to celebrate every Martin Luther King Day also as “Earthquake Day.” No, this is not a new national, state or regional holiday. It is our family’s day of remembrance and thankfulness when we celebrate together as we eat fractured tacos and broken glass cake while we speak of the faithfulness of our God. Since that time we have even brought two children who weren’t born at the time into the event.

Several months after moving to Oregon I was given the opportunity to teach an adult Sunday School class, and after much deliberation I selected a New Testament letter that I had not taught before. On the first Sunday of June in 1995 I taught James 1:1 as an introduction to this letter from the half-brother of Jesus. In the midst of preparing for week two I was called into a mandatory office meeting by the mortgage company I was with. We were told that as of that afternoon our office and many of their small market offices were being closed. The passage I was preparing for week two is James 1:2-4 where we 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, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” (James 1:2–4, NASB95)

In our last look at 1 Peter we read that we were to be sober because we have a very real enemy. Here in James we are told that we are to consider it all joy or to actively think about joy as we encounter trials of all sorts. This is not because trials are joyful. Many of them are quite sorrowful. But in the midst of the sorrow and the other aspects of the trial we know that we are firmly held in the hand of our loving God. He will never let go of us, and He will even use the very events of the trial for His glory and our growth. We read that it is through those trials that we grow in our faith and in our ability to trust Him even more. As we walk through difficult days we see that our God gives us the ability to endure. As faith is put to the test we see that our God is immensely faithful. We continue to read that the fruit of this endurance is our perfection and completion. We can never become any more saved, but we definitely can grow in faith as we learn to love and walk with our God who encloses us before and behind and who keeps His hand on our shoulder (Psalm 139). In Him we are made compete to do all that He has called us to do and to endure all of the other stuff that comes along the way.

As Peter pens these last words of his letter he tells his readers (and us) a similar message. After we have suffered for a little while God will perfect us. He has called us as His beloved children and given us a great eternal inheritance. We are heaven bound with no chance of the train jumping track. He called us. His Son paid the price for our ticket, and He is the conductor who will being us safely in. There is no other track to travel. It is only by Christ that we are saved. He is the narrow path to salvation and full entrance into the glory of God.

What remains is the bumpy path that includes our being perfected or being conformed more and more each day and through each trial to the image of His beloved Son. We are as righteous as we will ever be because Jesus Christ is our righteousness. But the more He grows us the more we resemble just who we are in Christ.

He will confirm us. I imagine that most of us have had those moments when we doubt. We might not doubt our salvation, but we might doubt the certainty of God’s promises. The amazing thing about God continuing to work in and through us is that He demonstrates over and over again that He is real and that He will do exactly what He promised to do. We become a living confirmation of the truth of Christ.

And as we see His faithfulness demonstrated time and time again we are strengthened to trust and do even more. This is what James said as we endure trails our endurance grows, and endurance grows we become more and more complete and equipped for what He have given us to do.

The result is that we become firmly established, able to stand strong against the evil one. “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 15:58, NASB95)

Peter ended this with, “To Him be dominion forever and ever. Amen.” (1 Peter 5:10–11, NASB95) Our God is absolute in all ways. He created and He is the authority over all that He created. He kingdom is forever, and we are told that to it there is absolutely no end. Jesus said at the end of Revelation “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.” (Revelation 22:13, NASB95)

It’s not easy at times. God knows that. But we also know that He is the One who makes all things bearable knowing even this that after a short while we will see Him. “He who testifies to these things says, “Yes, I am coming quickly.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus. The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all. Amen.” (Revelation 22:20–21, NASB95)

“Amen” is such a wonderful word. Beyond it being the word that has been and is used to close our prayers, its meaning speaks to the truth of those words, “this is a trustworthy statement” or in the case of our prayers, ‘God make it so because surely you are the One who is trustworthy.’