The Hardest Thing
November 25, 2018, 4:44 am
Filed under: Searching for our Savior in His book

When It Isn’t Easy Following God

Becoming a Christian is really a Jesus-thing because He did the hard stuff.  Peter reminds us in his first epistle of the sacrifice of Christ with these words found at the end of the second chapter from verses twenty-one to twenty-five: “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.  He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth.  When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.  He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness.  By his wounds, you have been healed.  For you were straying like sheep but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.”

While reading what Peter wrote, I was struck by what memories Peter may have experienced was he wrote.  Although thirty or so years had passed since the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus had taken place, I am sure the memory was still fresh in Peter’s mind.  But it is the last words in the passage that is most striking to me.  “For you were straying like sheep but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls” most likely were written with tears in his eyes.  Peter knew about straying like sheep.  Not only had he betrayed Jesus three times, but he also left the ministry to which Jesus had called him as he returned to the safe life of fishing.  The conversation that Jesus had with Peter after a wasted night of fishing resulted in the straying fisherman returning to his Shepherd.  But not just his Shepherd but the Overseer of his soul!  So powerful was this moment in Peter’s life, he was relentless in taking the Great News about Jesus to others.  This faithful “feeding of the sheep” had taken Peter to Rome as he was imprisoned as an enemy of the Roman Empire. 

So, considering Peter’s memories and past experiences is it any wonder that God placed these words under Peter’s care to share.  Let’s review what Peter told the saints.  First, Peter reminded them that they were in the Roman Empire as well as in the world, but their citizenship was in Heaven.  That made them resident aliens living in exile.  Their battle with temptation was to live according to God’s standards instead of the passions of their old natures that declared war on their souls.  You might ask “what were these evil desires?”  While everything that we struggle with is on the table, don’t see the words “sensual lusts” and think sexual things.  Sensual desires are often our desire to be in control of our life and circumstances.  Instead of facing life from God’s perspective, we decide to live according to how we see life and the circumstances in which we live.  Notice that Peter challenges these persecuted Christians not to take the attitude that they need to fight back against those who are attacking them.  In the United States, we often fight against those who attack us or who live in opposition to the standards found in the Bible.  Imagine your church if certain “types” came in to worship.  Would we struggle to accept them, or would they be asked to leave?  One important thing to see in this passage is the command to us, the followers of Jesus, to live honorable among unbelievers so that even though they lie about us, they will see our good works and eventually glorify God.  Maybe a way to see this in our lives is for us to live in a way that when they need someone to pray for them, they come to you.  The church doesn’t need to be defined by what we are against but by what identifies us as a follower of Jesus.  As Peter shared these words, don’t you think he rejoiced in the fact that while he once fought to be the greatest among the disciples and even corrected Jesus at times, he was now encouraging struggling saints to show their love for God by acts of kindness and concern for others rather than loud boasts that often were empty words. 

The second thing that Peter told these precious suffering saints dealt with the tough issue of how to respond to the very leaders who lead the persecution against them.  Peter, the man who drew a sword to fight against the ones arresting Jesus, tells the “sheep” to be submissive to those with authority.   By this act, Peter explains that they will put to silence the lies that bring acts of violence upon them.  Remember, most likely the Roman Emperor at this time was Nero, a horrible leader who is thought to have wanted new buildings to be his monument, that he set fire to existing buildings and almost destroyed Rome by the fire.  As the resentful Romans turned against him, Nero lied and blamed the Christians of the Roman Empire as the culprits behind the destructive blaze.  As a result, Nero imprisoned and slaughtered Christians to appease the Romans.  Throughout the Empire, Christians faced persecution because of a horrible and evil leader’s lies.  In addition, many in the Roman Empire were slaves.  Often a person would become a slave to survive, placing himself under a master.  Some would serve for a limited time, and some would serve for a lifetime.  Some had kind masters, but with the persecution of Christians the “politically correct” and socially accepted conduct in the Roman Empire, the mistreatment of slaves became commonplace.  Peter called them to an extraordinary conduct when mistreated- be gracious and patiently endure that unfair and unjust mistreatment.  Just like Jesus did for you.  By doing this, God is pleased and honored.  Peter tells the saints, “this is what you were called to do!”  As Peter wrote these words, He was imprisoned and would be crucified.  He saw himself unworthy to be crucified as Jesus was, so he intentionally asked for a more painful crucifixion, one in which he was placed upside down on the cross. 

So, what do we learn?  Three things live for God; submit to all human authorities and follow Christ’s example.  How do we apply this?  Make sure that people know how much we love God by how much we demonstrate that we love them.  Teresa and I talked to our children and grandchildren about this very thing.  We are so blessed and so are our kids.  They can give their kids so many material things.  So, Teresa and I asked if we could give a gift to Samaritan Purse in their name.  We have them pick out special things to provide and we spend the money on a gift on behalf of our grandkids.  One of my grandsons, Nate, was so excited that he was going to give a family 12 chicks.  I think there is another way that involves our leaders.  I have a political viewpoint that I strongly hold.  Often this view places me in opposition with some leaders.  As an American, I can express my opposition by voting and through speech.  As a Christian, which is more important, I can express my obedience to God’s commands through Peter by praying for my leaders and by living according to laws.  There may come a time when I am persecuted for being a Christian.  I pray I follow my Savior’s example.  But for today I can follow my Savior’s example by loving other Christians, by showing respect to all, by fearing (respecting) God, and by honoring our leaders.  These are my duties and God is my strength to do them.  (Based on I Peter 2:11-25)


Hope in Despair
November 18, 2018, 8:07 pm
Filed under: Searching for our Savior in His book

Hope in Despair (1st Peter 1:3-9)

When studying the book of First Peter among the most important things to know is information about the writing of the book. So here are a few things to know. First, it was written by Peter, the apostle. Most agree with this view, but a question arises because of what we imagine Peter to be. He was a poor, uneducated fisherman. Sometimes we might picture Peter as the guy with a fishing pole, standing on the seashore, pulling in a few fish each day and barely making ends meet. We can see that the invitation to follow Jesus might have been a career move up and not much of a sacrifice. The reality maybe was different. Most likely Peter was part-owner in a successful fishing business. While not as wealthy as the Jewish religious leaders or corrupt government workers, he most likely made a good living. His business may have continued during his absence because he most likely had a wife to support. He must have had intelligence to successfully run a business, so the reference to him be “unlearned” or “ignorant” was a charge made by Jewish religious leaders who felt intimidated by the authority with which he spoke, as he shared the Good News about the Resurrection of Jesus Christ and the gift of salvation is provided. Often when a logical argument to prove our point isn’t possible, our second line of defense is to attack with slander. Peter is the human leader used by God to take the Gospel to Jews and Samaritans as well as opening the door to Gentiles. Because of his involvement in sharing the Gospel, Peter is arrested and taken to Rome around the time that Nero burnt Rome and then blamed it on the Christians. The Roman government and many Roman citizens began persecuted the new believers in Christ, something they didn’t expect. It is into this world that Peter writes to encourage these “baby Christians” to focus on the great mercy of God and His eternal goodness while living in a world in crisis.

As we begin our study, notice Peter initially focuses the early church on celebrating God. Peter tells these early Christians to fill their worship with praise for God. So, let me stop and ask you, what about God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, do you want to celebrate right now? What three people just want to celebrate God right now?

With what aspects of God did Peter focus their celebration upon?

First, I see Peter direct our attention to God’s mercy. Remember that mercy is God withholding something bad from us that we deserve. So, simply put, Peter is telling us to celebrate God’s decision to save us instead of allowing us to remain eternally separated from Him. But take notice that Peter, who has experienced first-hand this mercy. Do you see what Peter calls this mercy? Many of you note the adjective “great” in front of mercy. But to help you understand how he views this, and more importantly, how God sees this, consider these words- extravagant mercy, a fountain of mercy, abundant and boundless mercy. Peter may be thinking back to the time after his failure of three times denying Jesus, Jesus showed this incredible and unbelievable kindness of not only forgiving him but also telling him that he was going to be used of God in amazing ways to take care of the early church. Stop for a moment and think in your life of the times you have broken God’s heart and commands with your sin. We are so unworthy and yet He saved us and wants to use us. Notice the meaning of the words Peter writes- “God has caused us to be born from above, spiritually transformed, renewed, and set apart for His purpose to a hope and confident assurance that is LIVING through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.”

But there is also a second reason we are to praise God. We have an eternal inheritance. This perfect inheritance is special because it can never perish, never be defiled, and never be diminished. We have God’s promise that this inheritance is ours and that He will personally preserve this inheritance for us in heaven. To the original readers, Peter encouraged their hearts with this personal inheritance and reminded them that though they had lost much of their material blessings, they had something better that they would never lose. Paul describes these as “every spiritual blessing” and both assure us that this special inheritance is protected and assured by God Himself. Today, the important things aren’t ours to lose. We can’t lose them because they are kept by God and not us. Notice how Peter describes this treasure of an inheritance. It is imperishable, undefiled, unfading, and kept in heaven for us.

For just a moment, let us look at how God keeps this inheritance for us. In verse 5 we read about this inheritance being protected and shielded by the power of God until it will be revealed to us. The idea that is the reason for praise is that God constantly guards US and our inheritance until the full effect of SALVATION is ready to be revealed. The words for “kept” or guards” comes from a military term which means “fort” or “an army stationed to defend a city”. According to this verse, we are constantly being watched or guarded and protected by the mighty power of God. The third result of our new relationship with God through Jesus Christ is that we will one day see “FULL salvation”. Today, have you experienced peace that passes all understanding? What about the presence of the Holy Spirit, helping you when you thought you would fail. Every once in a while, we experience the results of walking in obedience with God. As we grow in Him, hopefully, these experiences are more frequent and describe life as we know it. But, there are those times when “I” get in the way. My sinful nature pops up and I want to live my way and do things on my own and make what I want the goal of my life. Peter knew about life lived that way and he wanted us to know, that one day, we will see what life, lived God’s way, all the time, is like. When we do, Peter promised us that we would be amazed.

And then Peter throws the curve. Okay, you knew this was coming. Time for a sports story. Today, let’s suppose you have a child and he or she wants to play baseball. You sign them up for a team. But most likely, though you call it “baseball” it is “tee-ball”. Tee-ball is play time with a stick and a ball. You place the ball on a holder and then start whacking it with the stick. Once you put the ball in play, it’s off to the races. You begin running near things that are called bases. Sometimes you may hit the ball to a group of players who decide to change the game to hide and seek, capture the flag (ball), or let’s be pirates and bury the ball treasure. From “tee ball” you move to coach pitch or machine pitch and someone or something throws you easy pitches to hit, tossing them over the plate so you can crush the ball. The game then takes a vicious turn as an opponent throws to you. Now the game gets harder because no longer is your success and positive self-image important. You now see if you can hit. Many leave the game here. But for those who remain, the testing is not over. Harder pitches, better defense, and greater competition make the game more difficult and the success sweeter. You think you have mastered the game and then- the pitchers learn to throw the curveball. This is the time when baseball players are born. Up to this time, you have played a game but when the curve is introduced, the game becomes an object lesson for life. As a new Christian, our hearts are tender toward God and He guides us. Many times, He has a person who encourages us and helps us grow. The ground has been plowed, the seed planted, and weeds removed. Water is brought in and animals are kept out by the farmer, who according to John 15, is God. We are growing, battles are being won, and life is good. Then comes the curve.

Peter describes this curve in verses 6 and 7. This curve is different kinds of trouble. These troubles are better described as trials or tests. For the people who read this letter first, their tests included being forced to leave everything as you run from persecution. Families were destroyed as a result of our obedience to Christ. Being identified with Him caused many to stand as misfits within the society in which they lived. Some of these readers had been beaten, some had been imprisoned, and some had seen loved ones die before their eyes. To be honest, they struggled with knowing why God allowed them to suffer when they were following Him. Here is what Peter tells them about the “curve”.

We suffer these trials to prove that our faith is pure and authentic. Here is what is very important about my last statement. God doesn’t need to see if you are real and it is not important that others see it. It is important that you do. God allows this testing to encourage you. Major league players struggle with hitting curves. And to be honest, a good curveball gives many hitters trouble. Great curve balls are unhittable and most batters never make contact on those. Some even look ridiculous. But at this point in their lives, these hitters know they can hit the curve. They keep swinging and if a pitcher makes a mistake, the ball is often hit out of the park. You and I will miss the curves of life many times. Sometimes we will take a swing and look ridiculous. But we keep swinging because we are real. We lose battles, we get discouraged, we feel like failures. But we realize our limitations and failures and start trusting God more and more and relying on our abilities less and less. We place our full faith in God. Peter also reminds us that these tests last for a “short time”. Just remember, our life is a vapor, a blink when compared to eternity. Also, remember that our testing begins to filter out the impurities that mar our Christ-likeness. Just like gold is refined through fire, so our lives are made pure in the process of trials and tests. We find out that we are the real deal. Peter steps up and challenges these men and women to remain faithful to Jesus, who also suffered for not conforming to this world. I am not in step with this world. We need to reach the world with the transforming message of the Gospel, but we should never conform to the world to do it. If you are weird, just make sure it is because you walk following God and not because you are weird. Rejoice in trials because they are changing you. When you see Jesus face to face, your authentic, testing by the “curveball” faith will result in even more praise, more glory, and more honor when He is revealed. Today, we Peter challenges us to focus on God. Getting our heads and hearts right will result in our loving Him with a passion although we see only with the eyes of faith. But our experience will be filled with overflowing joy because we are hopelessly devoted to Him. Right now, we can reap the full harvest of our faith, the salvation of our souls. Right now, we are saved and if we get a grip of that, we are free to live in the joy of the Lord right now. We already have the treasure of our salvation- a relationship with God through Jesus. Celebrate, today.

So don’t let the news steal your joy. Don’t let your problems steal your joy. Don’t let your failures steal your joy.

Put your life in Him and start living with Hope in Despair