Wednesday, October 31, 2018

The Letters Of A Changed Man: A Study Of 1st And 2nd Peter. Day 13, Be On Alert

Peter, a man who once fell asleep when Jesus told him to watch and pray, warns us today to always be on the alert. He knows now what Jesus meant when He said, "The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak." (Matthew 26:41) At one time Peter trusted in his own strength to stand tough against temptation and trials, but he let himself and others down. It was a hard lesson to learn, but he won't forget it and he doesn't want us to forget it either. We can get into trouble very quickly if we aren't relying on the Lord and if we aren't on guard against the things the world will throw at us.

"Therefore, since Christ suffered in His body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because whoever suffers in the body is done with sin." (1 Peter 4:1) Over the past few days Peter has been talking about the persecution that may come for doing good in the name of Christ. Christ Himself suffered for doing good. If the perfect Son of God endured persecution, we can hardly expect to escape it. But just as Christ came to do the will of the Father, we must commit ourselves to doing the will of the Father. We will avoid many of the pitfalls of sin if we are fully committed to the Lord, even though in doing so we suffer the various forms of persecution the world brings against us.

"As a result, they do not live the rest of their earthly lives for human desires, but rather for the will of God. For you have spent enough time in the past doing what pagans choose to do---living in debauchery, lust, drunkenness, orgies, carousing and detestable idolatry." (1 Peter 4:2-3) The Christian life is a full and exciting life. We don't have to wallow in sin in order to have fun. Satan would have us believe that the Christian life is following a set of difficult rules and that it's a real drag, But nothing could be further from the truth. The Christian life is a continually growing relationship with our Lord, better relationships with those around us, and one adventure after the other.

Sometimes those around us have the same attitude as the devil, saying, "I feel sorry for my friends who have become Christians. They don't come to our wild parties anymore. They don't go with us to the clubs. They used to go out with a new person every week and now they believe in marriage and fidelity. They used to be up for anything at any time and now they want to be home spending time with their kids. How boring! What a dull life! I don't want anything to do with it." Peter knows people will say these things about us in ignorance, not realizing that we are actually the ones experiencing a thrilling and satisfying life. "They are surprised that you do not join them in their reckless, wild living, and they heap abuse on you. But they will have to give account to Him who is ready to judge the living and the dead. For this is the reason the gospel was preached even to those who are now dead, so that they might be judged according to human standards in regard to the body, but live according to God in regard to the spirit." (1 Peter 4:4-6) When Peter speaks of "the dead", I don't know whether he means those who are spiritually dead or those who are physically dead. At one time we were all dead in our sins until we accepted the gospel that brings life, so he may be speaking of those in Christ who have already passed on. The gospel was preached to them while they lived, they accepted it, and now they are alive in the spirit even though their bodies are in the ground. They will be shown grace in the judgment for the sake of Christ. But those who have rejected the gospel and are still dead in their sins when judgment day comes will be judged as lawbreakers and will have no defender to plead their case.

"The end of all things is near. Therefore be alert and of sober mind so that you may pray." (1 Peter 4:7) I believe when Peter says this he's thinking about his own inability to be on the alert during Jesus' hour of crisis in the dark Garden of Gethsemane. I think in his mind he's hearing these words of the Lord: "'Couldn't you men keep watch with Me one hour?' He asked Peter." (Matthew 26:40) Peter doesn't know whether the Lord will return for His people in the next hour or in the next hundred years or in several thousand years, but he knows we are living in the end times. We must live as though Christ is returning at any moment. We must be on the alert, keeping watch. This will keep us safe from many harmful temptations. Because of his failure to watch and pray, Peter first resorted to violence and tried to cut the head off a servant of the high priest, then he fled the garden and deserted Jesus, then during the trial of Jesus before the Sanhedrin he denied three times that he even knew Him. If we are faithful to watch and pray, we won't deny our Lord by the way we live.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

The Letters Of A Changed Man: A Study Of 1st And 2nd Peter. Day 12, Always Be Prepared/Who Are The Spirits In Prison?

Peter tells us today to always be prepared to give our testimony of the gospel to those who ask. We are also going to take a brief look at the possible identity of the mysterious "imprisoned spirits" that Peter says Christ preached to between His burial and resurrection.

"But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord." (1 Peter 3:15a) In yesterday's passage the apostle told us we don't have to fear anyone but God, so as long as we revere Christ as Lord in our hearts, we won't be shaken by anything this fallen world throws at us. We can endure the temporary trials of life knowing eternal life with Christ is ahead of us.

The world is going to notice how we deal with life's struggles. Some people will ask us how we manage to maintain a positive attitude in the face of adversity. Peter instructs us to be ready to answer them. "Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander." (1 Peter 3:15b-16) When giving our testimony about what Christ has done for us, we are not to say things like, "If you'd only make Him the Lord of your life, you could have victory over all the sin you're in. You need to get right with Him and stop living the way you're living!" We probably won't get very far with anyone if we speak to them harshly and with disrespect. Peter says to be gentle and respectful when explaining why we are able to live each day with hope. If we talk down to people, they will think their criticism of us is justified. But if we give our testimony in a humble spirit, they won't be able to find fault with our attitude and they may even take our words to heart.

But even if they dismiss our words and write us off as fools and fanatics, Peter says that's ok. It's better to be ridiculed for living right than for living wrong. "For it is better, if it is God's will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil." (1 Peter 3:17)

Christ also suffered for doing good. He warned us that there would be those who hate us because they hate Him. (John 15:18) No matter how gently we share the gospel, there will be those who reject it, just as they rejected the words of Christ Himself. "For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit." (1 Peter 3:18) Christ was sinless but He suffered anyway. He suffered for our sins so He could make us whole. Surely we can stand a little ridicule and rejection while sharing the gospel that made us whole. There might be at least one soul that comes to Christ because of what we say and how we behave.

Now Peter says something mysterious, something even the best Bible scholars can't agree on. "After being made alive, He went and made proclamation to the imprisoned spirits---to those who were disobedient long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built." (1 Peter 3:19-20a) Who are these imprisoned spirits? Why did Christ go and show Himself to them? Some scholars believe these disobedient spirits are the fallen angels who interacted with humans in the time before the flood. You will recall from the book of Genesis that the "sons of God" mated with human women and produced the giants and mighty men of old. (See Genesis 6.) There is some basis for believing these disobedient angels are the spirits mentioned in today's passage, for both Peter and Jude say that they have been held in prison in chains until judgment day. (2 Peter 2:4, Jude 1:6) If so, why did Jesus visit them during the time period between His death and physical resurrection? I don't know, but I like to think maybe it was to tell them their scheme to eternally separate man from God had failed. Maybe Christ appeared to them as He would later appear to the disciples, showing them the scars in His hands and feet, and proclaiming that God's plan of salvation had been accomplished. Nothing hell has thrown at this world has been able to derail God's plan for the creatures He created in His own image.

Another theory is that these souls represent the people who were on earth while Noah built the ark and preached to them to repent. We know that no one repented and that only Noah and his own family were saved. People lived for centuries in Noah's day, and it took him around 120 years to build the ark, so the people living at that time can never use the excuse that they weren't given enough time and opportunity to heed the word of God. The idea that the spirits mentioned today may be the souls of these people can be backed up by Peter's next words as he says of the ark, "In it, only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water, and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also---not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a clear conscience toward God." (1 Peter 3:20b-21a) If the spirits in prison are the people of Noah's day, why did Christ appear to them? It could have been to say, "If only you had listened to Noah and believed, you could have been saved from the flood and saved from your sins. You could have had the baptism that comes after repentance. You could have had a clear conscience and been made right with the living God."

Personally, I prefer the opinion that the spirits are the fallen angels. The reason I feel this way is because if the spirits represent lost souls, why would they be only the lost souls of Noah's day? There were many others between Noah and Christ who rejected God. Wouldn't they also be included in the group? I can't say for sure what the answer is, since those who know far more than I do can't come to any conclusion. This will be one of the mysteries that is solved when we go to be with the Lord.

Peter likens the saving of Noah and his family by the ark to baptism. Their lives were saved because they believed God, otherwise they would not have gotten into the ark. In the same way baptism itself doesn't save us; it's an outward display of what has happened to us on the inside. It is a testimony to the world that we believe Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and that He died for our sins, and that He rose from the dead, and that He sits in the place of honor at the right hand of God making intercession for us. He saved us by His death and resurrection, and He keeps us saved by performing the office of High Priest for us before God. It is because we believe these things that we are saved and baptized, a fact with which how Peter concludes today's passage, "It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at God's right hand---with angels, authorities and powers in submission to Him." (1 Peter 3:21b-22)

Monday, October 29, 2018

The Letters Of A Changed Man: A Study Of 1st And 2nd Peter. Day 11, Fear God And Not Man

The apostle speaks today about not being afraid of those who hate us for our faith. We tend to think if we do right we will come to no harm, and to a certain extent this is true. But there are those who hate the Lord so much that they would love nothing more than to see His people gone from the earth. Peter knew a lot about persecution already. He knew more was coming. In our own day there are places in the world where claiming the name of Christ can get you killed. I feel that persecution will come to our own country someday, and I don't know what form it will take, but Peter encourages us to keep on doing right even if everyone around us is doing wrong. If we fear God, we don't need to fear man.

"Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good?" (1 Peter 3:13) Bad things happen to good people in this world, so Peter isn't promising us we will live lives of ease as long as we do right. But we are less likely to draw unpleasant attention from the authorities if we are doing good works and living law-abiding lives.

Peter knows there are those who hate Christ and who hate Christians. He isn't going to lie to anyone about the possibility of being persecuted for doing good works in the name of Jesus. "But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed." (1 Peter 3:14a) Suffering is inevitable in this fallen world. If we are going to suffer, it's better it should be from standing up for what is right instead of from sinking down into evil.

He now quotes the prophet Isaiah, "'Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened.'" (Isaiah 8:12) In context, the words of the prophet go like this, "This is what the Lord says to me with His strong hand upon me, warning me not to follow the way of this people: 'Do not call conspiracy everything this people calls a conspiracy; do not fear what they fear, and do not dread it. The Lord Almighty is the one you are to regard as holy, He is the one you are to fear, He is the one you are to dread.'" (Isaiah 8:11-13) In a time when it seemed like everything was falling apart, the Lord said to Isaiah, "If you fear Me you won't have to fear anyone else. Don't be afraid of the things the godless heathens are afraid of. They always think the sky is falling and the world is about to end. Don't be paranoid about this or that political plot or rumor of war. You belong to Me and you don't have to fear what the world fears."

King David is believed to have written the words of Psalm 118, and he says from his own experience, "The Lord is with me; I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?" (Psalm 118:8) The Lord saved David from every plot and conspiracy that ever came against him. David died in his own bed, not on the battlefield or as the result of a murderous scheme.

But what of those who have died or will die for their faith? Can it be said that the Lord did not defend them or that they should have feared man instead of God? No, because Jesus said, "Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell." (Matthew 10:28) Those who have lost their lives for the faith are in the presence of the Lord. After killing their bodies, there was nothing more their enemies could do. Though they lost their physical lives, their souls will never die and no one can take away their eternal security in the Lord. The Lord has been faithful even to those who have been martyred for His sake. He has kept His promise to bring them safely home to Him. He will also keep His promise to avenge them.

Right now in our country persecution against Christians has not yet reached a violent state. We may be disliked, ridiculed, excluded, or passed over because of our faith, but so far no one is dragging us out of our homes and churches to beat or imprison or execute us. But if we can't stand up to the type of passive persecution we face today, how will we stand up to aggressive persecution if it comes? We need to concentrate on pleasing the Lord, not on pleasing man. We don't need to fear what unbelievers fear: not being part of the "in crowd", not being liked by everyone, not being included in everything, not being invited or promoted or approved of. God's approval is what matters, and we are number one in His eyes. He proved His love like this: "For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life." (John 3:16)

Sunday, October 28, 2018

The Letters Of A Changed Man: A Study Of 1st And 2nd Peter. Day 10, Repay Evil With Blessing And Not With Evil

The subject matter in Peter's letter today reminds me of the words of Dr. Martin Luther King: "Hate cannot drive out hate. Only love can do that." I was just thinking about the terrible shooting that took place in a synagogue this weekend. Obviously the person who did this must be living in an awful pit of spiritual darkness, perhaps coupled with metal delusions. There is a lot of hate in this world and at one time or another we are all going to be hated by someone. We might not be gunned down in a synagogue or church because of our religion, but we will all come face to face with someone's intense dislike. They may hate us because of something we have that they don't, or they may hate us for our religious or political beliefs, or they may hate us for reasons they can't even define---they just know there's something about us they can't stand. Peter is going to tell us not to repay evil with evil. It is difficult to resist paying back those who have hurt us, but Peter reminds us we have a higher calling. We are called to be like Christ and not like the world.

This advice is coming from a man who used to react first and think later. He was a rough and tough fisherman who was more comfortable resolving conflicts with his fists than with soft words. He even tried to cut the head off one of the men who came to arrest Jesus in the garden. Until Peter became a changed man after the resurrection of Christ, he was not one to turn the other cheek. Until he became a minister of the gospel, he was outspoken, impulsive, prone to outburst of anger, and even bold enough to try to advise the Lord Jesus what to do. But he's a changed man now through Christ, and he tells us to be changed men and women through Christ.

"Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble. Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing." (2 Peter 3:8-9) If anyone had been looking for a disciple with all these qualities, Peter would not have fit the bill a few years back. But Jesus knew that with His help Peter could have all these qualities, and so can you and I.

I can think of two others who made statements similar to that which Peter makes in verses 8 and 9. When King David fled Jerusalem upon learning of his son Absalom's plot to take the throne, a man named Shimei who was related to the late King Saul stood on a hillside above David and his men and threw rocks at them and cursed David. David's men were ready to kill Shimei, but David advised them to leave him alone, saying that perhaps the Lord would reward him with blessings for showing mercy to Shimei. (2 Samuel 16:5-14) David endured the humiliation of being yelled at and pelted with stones and dirt. He understood the principle of not repaying evil with evil. Though his mercy toward Shimei never changed Shimei's heart, David received the mercy he hoped for from the Lord.

The Lord Jesus is the other man who said something similar to what Peter is saying. He said, "Bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you." (Matthew 5:44, Luke 6:28) Cursing and attacking those who dislike us isn't going to change their hearts. It's very hard to pray for someone who mistreats us. Sometimes I manage to pray with a sincere heart for someone who's been cruel to me and sometimes I feel like I'm just going through the motions. I can't say for sure how much the Lord honors a prayer that I don't really feel in my heart, but maybe over time He can help me to mean it. Maybe He will bless us when we pray for someone even when it's a struggle to get the words out. We have to keep in mind that if we pray for those who are wicked, and they repent and convert, they will no longer mistreat us. So it's to our advantage and theirs if we practice this principle.

Not everyone is going to convert when we treat them as Jesus would treat them. But the Lord will reward our obedience to Him and that's what really matters, because the approval of our fellow man is temporary but the Lord's approval brings us abundant and eternal blessings. "For, 'Whoever would love life and see good days must keep their tongue from evil and their lips from deceitful speech. They must turn from evil and do good; they must seek peace and pursue it. For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and His ears are attentive to their prayer, but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.'" (1 Peter 3:10-12) Peter quotes David who wrote these words in Psalm 34 after the Lord rescued him from one of the many dangers he faced during his life. David wasn't speaking pretty platitudes; he was speaking from experience. He had tested and tried the Lord's principles and had found them to be true. He had learned that the Lord is faithful to those who are faithful to Him. He knew the Lord blesses those who obey Him.

Saturday, October 27, 2018

The Letters Of A Changed Man: A Study Of 1st And 2nd Peter. Day 9, Obedience In The Home/Tips For Winning An Unbelieving Spouse To The Lord

Peter talks today about obedience in the home, and we need to remember as we study this that ultimately he is speaking about the obedience of both husband and wife to the Lord. He will tell us that the wife is to obey the Lord and respect her husband, but he will also tell us the husband is to obey the Lord and love his wife. While it is Biblically true that God has made the husband the head of the home and has told the wife to respect the office her husband holds, God has told the husband to respect the office He holds. A man who obeys the Lord will treat his wife as he should, and the wife who obeys the Lord will treat her husband as she should. In this way Peter tells us that the believing spouse may be able to convert the spouse who is not yet a Christian.

When Paul taught on marriage he was primarily speaking of maintaining order in the home, so he talked about the husband's God-given authority in the home. Paul was teaching the obedience of the Christian wife to the Christian husband, so we had to keep in mind that he was not telling the wife to submit to any type of abuse or immorality. He said the husband was to love the wife as Christ loves the church; in other words, sacrificially. Paul was not a married man so he spoke on the authority of God regarding marriage. Peter was a married man so he is able to speak on the authority of God and on the authority of experience. Let's keep in mind that when Peter speaks today of the submission of the Christian wife to the non-Christian husband, he isn't ordering any woman to remain where she is in danger. He is telling the woman how to win her husband to Christ through her behavior. He has a word for the husband as well, explaining to the husband how to behave in order to win his wife to Christ. I think Peter had experience, at least for a time, in being the only believing partner in his own marriage. He met Jesus before his wife met Him, so he probably believed Jesus was Lord before his wife believed this. We don't know whether she was converted before or after the resurrection, but we can be certain Peter's love for her went a long way in influencing her in the faith.

First we will look at what the wife is supposed to do. "Wives, in the same way submit yourselves to your own husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives, when they see the purity and reverence of your lives." (1 Peter 3:1-2) The apostle is saying to women who have become Christians but whose husbands are still unsaved, "Behave as women of God and treat your husbands with respect. Remember how I said to show respect for your nation's leaders and for your employers even when their character is not what it should be? The Lord has commanded us all to treat those in authority with respect. Wives are to view the office of the husband with respect, even if these husbands are not believers."

Here is a lesson that was hard for me to learn, but it is a priceless lesson: wives have more influence on husbands through behavior than through words. Some men may give in and go to church only because their wives have nagged them into going, but what good will it do if they are sitting on the pew feeling bored or resentful? Another thing that probably won't work is tacking up a Bible verse (another form of using words) somewhere in the house. Back in the days when my husband didn't go to church and when he wasn't living according to the word of God, I would sometimes tape up a Bible verse that was dear to my heart either on the bathroom mirror or on the refrigerator. Did I hope the sight of this verse would cause my husband to fall to his knees in repentance as he reached inside the fridge for some milk? Probably so. But it never happened. Does pointing out ungodly behavior to our husbands work? Usually not. They are going to feel disrespected and they are going to feel unappreciated for the things they are doing right.

So what is the believing wife to do? Peter says to display lives of purity and reverence. Husbands are going to notice if their wives strive to honor the Lord in everything they do and say. Even non-Christian men admire good women. I used to joke about this when I was young and single, but it's true: even "bad boys" are attracted to "good girls". Before I was married there were as many non-Christian single men who wanted to date me as Christian single men, and this is because no man wants to marry a woman who will be unfaithful or embarrass him. Men want to be able to admire their wives' character and they want others to admire their wives' character. This is why Peter says for wives to behave in ways that will make their husbands proud. Even if the husband doesn't honor the Lord, it's going to be hard for him to find fault with a woman who is moral and faithful and whose character is praised by others.

Next Peter tells wives that if they are holding onto their husbands only with sex appeal, they are in trouble. "Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of jewelry and fine clothes. Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God's sight. For this is the way the holy women of the past who put their hope in God used to adorn themselves. They submitted themselves to their own husbands, like Sarah, who obeyed Abraham and called him her lord. You are her daughters if you do what is right and do not give way to fear." (1 Peter 3:3-6)

Peter isn't saying we shouldn't look our best. Husbands appreciate it when wives put in the effort to look nice. Peter just wants us to understand that that we can attract a man by being beautiful or provocative, but we can't keep a man through sex appeal. There are always going to be women who are more beautiful than us, or women who are younger than us, or women who are more sexually alluring than us. Outer beauty may attract a man initially, but it is inner beauty that keeps a man interested. There has to be something of substance to us, and the best way to be a woman of substance is to be a woman of God. Women of God are continually growing in faith and knowledge and character. Women of God are always fresh and new because God's word is always fresh and new. Women of God are exciting to be around because the Christian life is exciting. Men who are married to Christian women are married to women who are growing and changing for the better, so that these men never know what great thing is going to happen next. This doesn't affair-proof our marriages, because some men are never going to come to the faith and they may walk away, but if we attracted our husbands by beauty and not by character we are in trouble because the world is full of beautiful women. The more we work on our inner beauty, the more beautiful we become in every way.

Now we move on to what the husband is supposed to do. "Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers." (1 Peter 3:7) How do husbands show love to their wives? By being considerate of their wives' feelings and opinions. A wife who feels loved is a happy wife, and a happy wife is more likely to be influenced by her husband's faith and end up coming to Christ. A man who treats his wife with disrespect and who dismisses her opinions is not in a position to influence her for Christ. How can he tell her about the love of Christ when he isn't displaying love to his wife?

God made women smaller in stature than men, so men who take advantage of this are in stark disobedience to the Lord's instructions. A husband who bullies his wife mentally, emotionally, or physically is sinning against the Lord and against his wife and against his own flesh, according to the Scriptures, because when God joins a husband and wife together they become one flesh. A godly man will protect his wife and want the best for her. Even if she is an unbeliever, what woman doesn't admire a man who will fight for her and who would even give his life to save hers? What woman, good or bad, doesn't want a hero? Why would a Christian woman look outside her marriage when a man who truly loves and protects her is already in the home? This kind of man can even influence an unbelieving wife to come to the faith. He is not guaranteed that his non-Christian wife won't walk away, but he stands a better chance of bringing her to the Lord and keeping his marriage intact if he is treating her as the Lord commands.

Peter adds a word of warning to the husband who does not treat his wife properly: his prayers will be hindered. The Lord does not have to answer the prayers of a man who isn't fulfilling all the duties of his office as husband. So if any Christian man feels like his prayers are bouncing off the ceiling, he should spend some time reflecting on whether he is obeying the Lord in his attitude toward his wife. This warning is only given to the husband because he bears the most responsibility for representing Christ in the home. If he isn't loving his wife sacrificially as Christ loves the church, he isn't fulfilling the duties the Lord assigned to him, and the Lord has the right to turn a deaf ear to his prayers.

Do we want strong and happy marriages? I don't think anyone gets married hoping it isn't going to last. We will have a better chance at a long and happy marriage if we follow the instructions in our portion of Scripture today. Each person is given free will, and we can't control what our spouses may do, but if we ourselves live in obedience to the Lord, we are more likely to influences our spouses and we are more likely to have happy homes.

Friday, October 26, 2018

The Letters Of A Changed Man: A Study Of 1st And 2nd Peter. Day 8, Obedience To Employers For The Lord's Sake

In yesterday's study Peter talked about obedience to the government. Today he talks about being obedient to employers. In his day a person's employer was often his master, for in the Roman Empire slavery was widespread. (We have to remember that Peter isn't condoning slavery; it was simply a fact of life in those times.) Rome allowed slaves to own their own property and to make their own money when they weren't busy performing work for their masters. This is how many slaves were able to buy their freedom. (For an example, see Acts 22:28.) Some masters were good and honorable men, but some were hateful and cruel. This is why Peter's advice today is so relevant to us in our own times. Some employers are good and honorable and they treat their employees fairly, while others are difficult to please and unreasonable. Peter tells us to use the Lord as an example of how to behave even when we are treated unfairly and with disrespect.

"Slaves, in reverent fear of God submit yourselves to your masters, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh." (1 Peter 2:18) Going to work each day can be a pleasure when we like our employers. But what about when we don't like them? Peter says to respect the position they hold over us anyway, even if there is nothing in the character of our employer to respect.

Some scholars speculate that perhaps the Romans discriminated against slaves in their employ who had converted to Christianity. I think this is quite likely. You and I may be discriminated against at some point in our careers for being Christians. Peter tells his readers to behave in a way that honors the Lord even if they are being treated unfairly or persecuted, "For it is commendable if someone bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because they are conscious of God. But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God." (1 Peter 2:19-20) We have to keep in mind that Peter is not saying it's alright for anyone to beat their slaves. Such things did go on in some households, and both Peter and his readers are aware of it.

I don't think most of us are in danger of being physically assaulted by our employers, but we might find ourselves the victims of discrimination for our faith. Or we might have an employer who is just a mean and nasty person who isn't ever going to be pleased with us. We might have to endure the situation for a while, either because we can't find another job or because it's the Lord's will for us to be in that particular job at this time. Slaves in Peter's day didn't have any choice but to put up with whatever treatment their masters wanted to dish out. We are free people and we don't have to allow anyone to physically abuse us, but we may have no choice but to put up with a boss who is very stressful to work for. Peter says to bear up under such things through a consciousness of God. If we conduct ourselves as the children of God, who knows what effect this might have on our employers and our co-workers? Maybe they will come to the faith through our example.

In case we need some encouragement to keep on keeping on, Peter has it for us. He reminds us that the Lord Jesus never did anything wrong, and yet He was falsely accused and persecuted. "To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in His steps. 'He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in His mouth.' When they hurled insults at Him, He made no threats. Instead, He trusted Himself to Him who judges justly." (1 Peter 2:21-23)

His quote is from Isaiah 53, the chapter that describes the suffering of the Messiah in detail. Jesus bore up under the strain knowing that God would vindicate Him. When we are in a difficult job situation and there is presently no way out of it, we are free to do as Christ did and entrust the situation to the Lord. The Lord sees any discrimination or unfairness that is brought against us, and He will not let it go unpunished forever. I'm reminded of another passage from the book of Isaiah, "'No weapon that is formed against you will prevail, and you will refute every tongue that accuses you. This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord, and this is their vindication from Me,' says the Lord.'" (Isaiah 54;17) The Lord vindicated Christ by raising Him from the dead, proving to the world that He was the sinless Son of God. The Lord will also vindicate us against anyone who has falsely accused us or treated us unfairly. One way He does this is by giving us the strength to keep on behaving honorably when those around us are behaving dishonorably. Christ faced things you and I will never have to face, and yet He kept on behaving honorably. He is able to help us to maintain our dignity when those around us have lost theirs.

"'He Himself bore our sins' in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; 'by His wounds you have been healed.' For 'you were like sheep going astray,' but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls." (1 Peter 2:24-25) The suffering of Jesus had a purpose: the healing and redemption of our souls. Doesn't our own suffering have a purpose? Peter is telling us that it does. If God has placed us in a difficult work situation for a period of time, it is because He intends to accomplish something for us and perhaps also for those we work with. What can we learn from our difficult situation? How can we grow closer to God through it? How can we grow in our faith because of it? How can we influence others through it?

I've been at my current job for twenty-one years. There are some very distinct advantages in remaining there. I have four weeks of paid vacation, free health insurance, every Wednesday afternoon off, most holidays off, a five-minute commute, and several other perks. At the same time, if you looked up "burned out" in the dictionary you'd probably find my picture there. I'm at a point in life where I'm praying for the Lord to show me whether He intends for me to keep on doing what I'm doing or whether He intends for me to do something else for the nineteen years I have to work before I can even consider retirement. On the one hand the thought of putting in nineteen more years in my current career makes me feel dead inside, as the saying goes. On the other hand I don't want to make a mistake and get out of the Lord's will. So unless and until He tells me to move, I'm staying put and praying for guidance. If it's His will for me to stay where I am, He is more than able to give me a fresh outlook and renewed energy. If it's His will for me to do something else, I'm waiting for Him to tell me what that "something else is". In the meantime I am going to try to exhibit a better attitude and not be so stressed and depressed. A bad attitude isn't going to accomplish anything, so today's passage has been a timely reminder for me to behave more like Christ.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

The Letters Of A Changed Man: A Study Of 1st And 2nd Peter. Day 7, Obedience To Political Authority

Peter is going to speak on the subject of obedience to those God has placed in authority. Peter's fellow countrymen despised being under Roman rule, though most of them had to submit to it whether they wanted to or not. A political group known as the Zealots had formed in Judea which refused to acknowledge the authority of the Roman Empire and which declared allegiance to Rome and paying taxes to Rome to be the same as blasphemy against God. The Zealots made up just a fraction of the populace in Judea, but it is believed that Judas Iscariot may have been among their number and we know that at least one disciple, Simon the Zealot, was of this political affiliation. It made sense that men of the Zealot party were attracted to the enormous and miraculous ministry of Jesus, thinking He might be just the man to gather enough support to have Himself declared king and to lead a successful uprising against Rome. But now that Jesus has been crucified, those rebels who didn't come to the faith are looking for another way out from under the iron boot of Rome. They stir up the people by urging them to rebel against authority, but Peter will point out today that the one who rebels against those God has placed in authority are rebelling against God Himself.

The believing Gentiles, to whom Peter is writing, may have found themselves confused about how to deal with being under the authority of an emperor who blasphemously called himself God. They may not have known what to do about living in such an immoral empire now that they belong to Christ. They are aware that some of Peter's own countrymen are refusing to submit to Rome, so they may have asked themselves, "Do we owe the emperor and the authorities our obedience or not? They are ungodly men. Do we still follow the laws of the land or are we a law unto ourselves now?" Peter is going to put an end to their confusion in our passage today.

The prophet Daniel, who was taken against his will as a captive to Babylon, recognized the right of God to set rulers in place according to His own will and purposes, saying, "He deposes kings and raises up others." (Daniel 2:21) Daniel submitted to the authority of the Babylonian Empire when it conquered Judah and, when Babylon was conquered by the Medo-Persian Empire, he submitted to the Medo-Persian Empire. The only matter in which he disobeyed the government was when he was ordered to stop praying to God and to pray to the king (as a god) instead. In some cases God's law is going to be in conflict with man's law, but this is the only type of circumstance in which we would be within God's will in rebelling against authority. And even in that case we don't find Daniel stirring up a public rebellion; he merely prays privately at home as usual.

There is a lot of dissension in our own country right now regarding politics. There is so much disagreement that a scary type of hatred has risen up among some of the opposing political parties, and violence has even broken out here and there at demonstrations and rallies. I don't know which party you voted for or whether you are unhappy with the current leader of our nation or with our senators or congressmen, but I do know what the word of God says about how we should deal with unhappiness with our government. The Bible tells us to respect the offices these people hold and to be obedient to the laws of the land. The Bible gives us examples of people who successfully did this even though they were unhappy with the political climate. And the Bible tells us to pray for those in authority. (1 Timothy 2:1-4) Are you unhappy with this nation's leaders? The Lord says to pray for them. Maybe their hearts will be changed. Are you happy with this nation's leaders? The Lord says to pray for them. This will strengthen them to keep on doing good.

"Submit yourselves for the Lord's sake to every human authority: whether to the emperor, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right." (1 Peter 2:13-14) Peter says something like, "Yes, I know the emperor is an unrighteous man. I know he wants to be worshiped as God. But God has placed him in authority during this point in history for a reason. We are to obey the laws. We are to show respect to the governors. We don't have the right to rebel simply because we don't like who is in charge. Remember it is for the Lord's sake that you behave yourselves as Christians should. It is not seemly for the Christian to stir up trouble or to shout angrily in the streets or to encourage lawlessness."

If anyone in the United States wants to show up at a peaceful demonstration and hold a sign, this is a right we are granted in our country. But after the last presidential election there were a lot of people doing a lot of unseemly things at demonstrations and protests. Vandalism and looting occurred. Anger and bitterness arose. Some pushing and shoving took place. Some cursing and yelling went on. I can think of at least one very vulgar slogan that was popular among a faction within the female protestors. Some of these demonstrators were Christians and some were not, but you know what I think would have been a better use of the Christians' time? Praying for the new leader of the country. Thousands of people all across the nation joined together in prayer will accomplish far more than marching in a protest or carrying a sign. If you want to join a demonstration, I'm not saying it's sinful to do so. Just make sure that the demonstration is going to be conducted in a way that doesn't dishonor the Lord.

It matters how we behave when politics don't go our way. The world is going to notice if we behave like children having a temper tantrum. People who know us and who know we are Christians are going to notice if we harbor hatred for followers of the opposing political party or if we hurl insults and curse words at demonstrations. Peter says behaving properly and continuing to do good will give enemies of Christ nothing to accuse us of, "For it is God's will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish people. Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God's slaves." (1 Peter 2:15-16)

We are not to say, "I belong to Christ and therefore I don't have to submit to anyone else. He is the sole authority over me." Did Jesus ever stir people up against the government? Did He ever say anything against the sinful Roman empire or against its ungodly emperor? Jesus never addressed any of these things and we can be certain He obeyed the laws Rome put in place. His enemies actually had to make up false charges against Him to try and compel Pontius Pilate to sentence Him to crucifixion, claiming He was stirring the people up and telling them not to pay taxes, when instead He actually said on the matter of taxation, "Give back to Caesar what is Caesar's." (Mark 12:17) Jesus looked at the coin which had the image of Caesar on it and an inscription which blasphemously proclaimed Caesar to be divine and said in essence, "Pay your taxes. You live under Caesar's rule. His government maintains the roads, the infrastructure, and law and order here. For these things you owe your taxes."

We belong to the living God, but we must still obey the laws of our land. The only exception would be when our laws command us to do something that is in conflict with God's laws, but even then we are not to incite riots and lead rebellions. Even then we aren't to engage in unseemly or lawless protests, or stand on the street and scream curses down on the nation's leadership, or say sinful things like we wish someone would kill our nation's leader. Would Jesus behave like that. Did He ever behave like that? Isaiah predicted that the Messiah would behave like this, "He will not shout or cry out, or raise His voice in the streets." (Isaiah 42:2) Jesus frequently withdrew from situations where political issues were being stirred up, and Matthew says this fulfills what Isaiah said about Him. (Matthew 12:14-21) What did He do when He withdrew in this way? He was either in prayer with the Father, fellowshipping with His disciples and followers, or doing good works. Peter says this is how we should busy ourselves as well, "Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honor the emperor." (1 Peter 2:17) In other words, "Obey the laws, love others, obey and love the Lord, give the leader of the country the respect that the position deserves."

We are currently in an election season and it would behoove us to take all our issues and concerns to the Lord in prayer. Let's vote according to our morals and our consciences as best we can. Let's respect the opinions of others and show them the love of Christ whether or not their opinions differ from ours. And no matter who wins the positions available within our government, let's respect the office they hold and pray for them that they would lead the country according to the will of God.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

The Letters Of A Changed Man: A Study Of 1st And 2nd Peter. Day 6, Living Holy Lives In Front Of Unbelievers

It's good to be back in the word of God with you today now that I finally have a new keyboard. I apologize for the two days I was without one.

The Apostle Peter begins today by assuring his Gentile readers that, in Christ, they are a chosen people. At one time they lived in useless idolatry witout any knowlede of the one true God, but now they are part of the royal family of the King. As a part of God's family, Peter will caution them to live as the children of God should live. That way even unbelievers will be impressed with the change Christ has made in their lives.

"But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's special possession, that you may declare the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy." (1 Peter 2:8-10) Formerly these things could only have been said about the nation of Israel, but now these same wonderful things can be said of the Gentile believers. The Apostle Paul says a similar thing to his Gentile readers that Peter says to his: "But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ." (Ephesians 2:13)

So what does this mean for the Gentiles? Well, for one thing, it means they must obey the same command given to Israel about not conforming to the ways of the world. Though living in the world, Israel was to be set apart and sanctified for the Lord. The same is expected of Christians. We live in the world and we associate with the world, but we don't belong to the world and we shouldn't look like the world. As children of the living God, we should look like our Father. If we do not look anything like our Father, it's questionable whether or not we are His. Peter reminds the Gentile Christians that they are to live such holy and moral lives that even unbelievers may be impressed by the change Christ has made in them. "Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day He visits us." (1 Peter 2:13-17)

The pagans likely accused the Christians of many untrue and bizarre things. The pagans wanted to find something wrong with the Christians, and if they couldn't find anything wrong they just made it up. Peter says, "Don't let any of these accusations be true! Unbelievers are always going to want to find something wrong with you so they can dismiss Christianity---and Christ---altogether. But there's a difference between making an unfounded accusation and having evidence that the accusation is true. Don't live in such a way that the unbelievers can say, 'Aha! I knew it! These Christians are putting on a front of holiness while trying to hide their immoral living. They are still committing fornication and adultery. They are still cheating people in business. Several of them have been caught in the very act of doing wrong things. I knew they couldn't really be as upright and moral as they pretended to be!'"

The world intently scrutinizes Christians to see if we are the real deal or not. I don't think most unbelievers expect us to be perfect because they know no one is perfect. But they do expect us to live by higher standards than those who don't know the Lord. When we mess up they expect us to quickly realize it and repent, not live in ongoing bondage to sin. I think unbelievers are most disillusioned by Christians when they find out that a Christian has been conducting a long term affair or has been embezzling funds from work for a long time or has had a secret drinking problem for many years, and so on. It's the idea that a Christian can be comfortable living this way that I think disturbs unbelievers the most. They can understand and even forgive a huge one-time mistake that a person made and sincerely repented of, but it's much harder for them to understand and forgive a sin that has become a way of life for a Christian.

Peter's advice to us today is to live in such a way that unbelievers can find no evidence to back up their accusations against Christians. This doesn't mean we have liberty to sin if we are able to hide it well enough. It means our lives are an open book. If someone were to come along and investigate our lives, they shouldn't find anything that they could point to and say, "I knew these Christians couldn't really be as good as they pretend to be! They claim Christ has transformed them, yet look how many of them are gossipers and backbiters. Look how many of them have been caught having affairs. Look how many conduct their businesses in dishonest ways. If Christ hasn't done any more for them than that, why should I have any interest in Him?"

But if we live in a way that honors our Lord, Peter says that many who are unbelievers now may stand before God someday and give glory to Him. This is because they repented and came to Christ when they observed how much Christ changed the lives of those around them. They knew Christians who were the real deal and so they were persuaded that Christ was the real deal. Unbelievers are drawn to the faith just as much (or even more) by how we live than by what we say. The best testimony any of us can offer to the world is a life lived by the Lord's standards.

Monday, October 22, 2018

Spilled Coffee On Laptop, Some Letters Wont Work Now, Must Wait To See If Better Dried Out

Sorry for no post so far today!!! Maybe if keyboard dries it will work later. Many letters and punctuation marks wont work now.

Sunday, October 21, 2018

The Letters Of A Changed Man: A Study Of 1st And 2nd Peter. Day 5, A Stone Laid In Zion

In today's passage Peter presents Christ as the "stone" mentioned in the books of Isaiah and Psalms.

Peter begins with a paragraph that is a bridge between Chapter 1 and Chapter 2. In Chapter 1 he reminded us who we are in Christ and how we are to live in Christ, so he says, "Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind. Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good." (1 Peter 2:1-3) Peter uses the Greek word "apothesthai" which is translated in the NIV as "rid yourselves" and in other versions as "laying aside" or "putting off". This is the same word a Greek-speaking person of Peter's day might use when talking about taking garments off. If we had nothing but a filthy and ragged set of old clothes, and someone came along and gave us a brand new set of clothes, wouldn't we gratefully take off the old clothes and put on the new clothes? This is what Peter says we who are in Christ must do. It would be foolish to keep on wearing old stained garments after being given a brand new outfit; it would be even more foolish to keep living like the world after being transformed into new creatures by Christ.

He uses another fitting example. We have been born again into a new life, so just as babies need milk in order to grow and thrive, we need the milk of the word of God in order to grow and thrive. Do you know Christians who genuinely came to faith in Christ but seem to have little desire for the word of God? Have you ever been in that shape yourself? I have, from time to time, and I can assure you I did not grow and thrive in the faith when I wasn't regularly in the word of God. When we came to the faith we tasted that the Lord was good. It is natural that we should crave more and more of Him. The Lord's word is alive and active (Hebrews 4:12); without it we will not grow spiritually and we will not learn more about Christ the living Stone, the solid Rock and foundation of our faith.

"As you come to Him, the living Stone---rejected by humans but chosen by God and precious to Him---you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For in Scripture it says: 'See, I lay a stone in Zion, a chosen and precious cornerstone, and the one who trusts in Him will never be put to shame.'" (1 Peter 2:4-6) Peter quotes Isaiah 28:16. He is telling his readers that Christ is the cornerstone of the Christian faith and that we who are believers are the additional stones that make up the spiritual house of God. We are the temple now that the Holy Spirit resides within us. Before Christ came, the Gentiles to whom Peter is speaking were left out in the cold. They were not a chosen people. They had no holy priesthood. They had no access to the temple of God. But we must keep in mind that God never requested that King David, King Solomon, or anyone else build a temple for Him; His true desire was to live within the hearts of the human beings He created. Now He can do this in a new way, for since Christ ascended to heaven the Holy Spirit has come to indwell believers.

"Now to you who believe, this stone is precious. But to those who do not believe, 'The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone,' and, 'A stone that causes people to stumble and a rock that makes them fall.' They stumble because they disobey the message---which is also what they were destined for." (1 Peter 2:7-8) The first quotation is from Psalm 118, generally believed to have been penned by David. Jesus applied this verse to Himself in Matthew 21:42 during one of the parables He taught in the temple after riding into Jerusalem on a donkey, presenting Himself as the king foretold in Zechariah 9:9. He was criticizing the self-righteous Pharisees and comparing them to unrighteous tenants of a vineyard, saying, "Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit. Anyone who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; anyone on whom it falls will be crushed." (Matthew 21:43-44) This is why Peter also applies a quote from Isaiah 8:14 to Christ and why Christ applied this same quote to Himself in Luke 20:18. There are only two things we can do with Christ: we can either fall on Him as Lord and Savior and trust Him for our salvation, or we can stumble over Him and not accept that He is who He says He is.

The apostle is not saying that God caused anyone to stumble when he says some are "destined" to stumble. He's telling us that we create our own destinies. There are individuals who have never had any heart for God and never will. God didn't force them to be that way. They simply love the things of the world more than they love the things of God. An example we could use for this is that in Israel there were always people faithful to God and there were always some who weren't, which is why Paul said, "Not all who are descended from Israel are Israel." (Romans 9:6b) It is the same in the world today; there are those who genuinely want to know God and there are those who have no interest in Him whatsoever. King David took note of such people, saying, "Even from birth the wicked go astray; from the womb they are wayward, spreading lies." (Psalm 58:3) We know that we all have a fallen nature, but there seem to be those who wish to remain fallen and who even take pleasure in wickedness, so David's remark means something like this, "It seems like some people have never wanted to do good. They were born into a fallen world with a fallen nature (as we all were) but they have no desire for a new nature. They have no interest in God's grace and mercy. They don't want to know Him and don't want Him involved in their lives." Those who wish to remain fallen are destined to fall over the Stone which is Christ, is what Peter is telling us in verse 8. Nothing in them desired to know the Lord in the first place, so they will automatically reject Christ and receive the penalty for it.

Just as it seems foolish to go through life wearing a filthy set of ragged garments, Peter says it's foolish to go through life stained with sin and smelling of the filth of the world. Christ offers us a new set of garments, a new nature, and a new beginning. We don't have to be those who destine ourselves to stumble and fall into perdition. We can have a fresh start.

We will close with this lovely worship song.
Two Coats

Saturday, October 20, 2018

The Letters Of A Changed Man: A Study Of 1st And 2nd Peter. Day 4, Redeemed By The Blood Of Christ

Today's beautiful passage has to do with living holy lives by keeping in mind that we were redeemed by the blood of the holy Son of God. Peter is saying, "Remember who you are. You don't have to live in bondage to sin and bad habits. You don't have to be mired down in regrets and defeat. Christ paid the ultimate price to set you free." Or, in other words, "You're too good to live that way! A child of the Most High God doesn't belong in a pit of sin or in an attitude of defeat or despair."

"Therefore, with minds that are alert and fully sober, set your hope on the grace to be brought to you when Jesus Christ is revealed at His coming. As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as He who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written, 'Be holy, because I am holy.'" (1 Peter 1:13-16) It could be said that at one time the Gentiles committed sins in ignorance. They did not have the laws and commandments. They didn't know the one true God or His standards for living. They no longer have this excuse, and they can no longer blend in with the world and do the things the world does. In Christ the believing Gentiles are sanctified and set apart from the world; they must conduct themselves as the sons and daughters of God.

"Since you call on a Father who judges each person's work impartially, live out your time as foreigners here in reverent fear." (1 Peter 1:17) He cautions his readers, "Always keep in mind that you will have to give an account of your lives before God. It doesn't matter what status you hold in this world, since God doesn't show partiality to the wealthy or the famous or the gifted. Remember that since you are in Christ you are no longer of the world; you are foreigners here. You must live according to the customs of your homeland which is heaven."

"For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake. Through Him you believe in God, who raised Him from the dead and glorified Him, and so your faith and hope are in God." (1 Peter 1:18-21) Here we find Peter comparing Jesus with the Passover lamb. This lamb was to be carefully chosen four days before it was going to be sacrificed. It could not have any spots or blemishes, and it had to remain in the close care of the family for four days so that if it did have any afflictions they would become apparent during that time. The lamb had to be the best of the best. So when God chose a Lamb who would be perfect enough to save us all from sin, He chose the best of the best: His Son. God chose Him before the world was ever created, before man ever fell from grace. No spot or blemish or defect was ever present in in Son, not while He was in heaven with the Father and not while He walked the earth.

Peter says, "Keep in mind what redeemed you. You weren't bought from the slavery of sin with money which will perish with the world. You were bought from the slavery of sin with the precious blood of the Lamb. Live in a way that reflects this." We redeemed by the best of the best. Let's not disrespect our Redeemer by living in our old ways and in our old habits.

"Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for each other, love one another deeply, from the heart. For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God. For, 'All people are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of the Lord endures forever.' And this is the word that was preached to you." (1 Peter 1:22-25) Peter quotes from Isaiah 40, a chapter which proclaims the coming of the Messiah and the good news of the gospel. God kept His word concerning the promised Messiah, and now Peter and the other apostles are obeying God's word by proclaiming the good news. The Gentiles to whom this letter is addressed have heard the good news and have believed the word of God. They are now purified by it, because through it they came to faith in the One who redeems them by His own blood, by the One who is literally the "word" of God. (See John 1:1-14) 

I'm going to close with this example and then with a link to a song about the precious blood of our Redeemer. Peter tells us to remember who we are and to live like those who are the children of God. My late father was a well-respected man in the community. He was a very talented brick mason, block mason, and carpenter who had a reputation for his honesty and for exceptional craftsmanship. To tell someone I was the daughter of Carson Tipton was to be treated with instant respect. There were things that the daughter of Carson Tipton was not expected to ever do because the community knew I had been raised to behave like a lady. I was brought up to respect myself and to live in a way that wouldn't shame my family. I didn't always obey my father perfectly, but there was a sense of guilt and shame when I didn't, even when he didn't know I'd done wrong. I knew that better things were expected of me. This is what Peter is saying to us as the sons and daughters of the living God. The world may not always grant us instant respect for our relationship to the Lord, but we ought to think of ourselves with respect. There are things that the sons and daughters of God should not do, for we know better. We know what our Father expects of us. Let's not shame our Father by living in ways that don't honor Him. Let's not sink down to the level of a world that doesn't know Him. 

Below is a song link for today. Many of you know it is one of my favorites. It has gotten me through some tough times by reminding me what my Redeemer sacrificed for me. If He was willing to give His life for me, He's certainly willing to help me make it through this life here on earth.

Friday, October 19, 2018

The Letters Of A Changed Man: A Study Of 1st And 2nd Peter. Day 3, The Predictions Of The Prophets

Peter reminds his readers that they are living in a blessed age, an age the prophets longed to see come to pass. A means of salvation has been promised since the beginning, a Deliverer has been expected, and both His suffering and His glory have been foretold by the prophets. The people of Peter's day (and our day) are living in a time when these things have been fulfilled.

"Concerning this salvation, the prophets, who spoke of the grace that was to come to you, searched intently and with the greatest care, trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing when He predicted the sufferings of the Messiah and the glories that would follow." (1 Peter 1:10-11) The prophets longed to see the days of the Messiah. They dearly wanted to know when He was coming. They puzzled over the information given to them by God about a Messiah who would be a suffering servant and a conquering king. In their day they could not put the whole puzzle together because they didn't have all the pieces, but Peter says to his readers, "You know the outcome of all the things the prophets longed to understand. You have all the pieces of the puzzle. You understand how the Messiah can be both a suffering servant and a conquering king. At His first advent He came into the world in human weakness so He could offer Himself for our sins. At His second advent He will come in power to claim His rightful place on the throne of David and will rule the whole earth as King of kings and Lord of lords. Oh, the prophets would have given anything to know what you know and to have seen what you have seen!"

Time doesn't permit us to take a look at the hundreds of prophecies regarding the Messiah, His suffering, and His kingdom. But a great deal of the prophets' own messages must have puzzled them greatly, such as the Messiah being born of a virgin (Isaiah 7:14), Him being born in Judah's smallest town of Bethlehem and not in a king's palace (Micah 5:2), Him living outside of Israel in Egypt for a time (Hosea 11:1), that His ministry would begin in Galilee (Isaiah 9:1-2), that He would perform great miracles of healing (Isaiah 35:5-6), that He would be rejected (Isaiah 53:3), that He would feel forsaken by God (Psalm 22:1), that He would be mocked and insulted (Psalm 22:6-8), that His bones would be pulled out of joint and that He would be thirsty while He is surrounded by enemies (Psalm 22:12-17), that He would be given vinegar to drink (Psalm 69:21a), that the soldiers would cast lots for His garments (Psalm 22:18), that He would be beaten and His hands and feet would be pierced (Isaiah 53:5) (Psalm 22:18), that He would die with transgressors and be buried with the wealthy (Isaiah 53:5), and that He would rise from the dead (Isaiah 53:11).

No wonder Peter says the prophets studied intently and with the greatest of care to try and figure out just how and when these things were going to take place. But Peter's listeners already know what the prophets did not know. They know that Jesus of Nazareth was born of a virgin, that He was born in Bethlehem, that He had to be hidden from Herod in Egypt for a time, that He began His ministry in Galilee, that He performed great miracles, that He was rejected by the chief priests and elders, that His hands and feet were pierced by crucifixion, that He quoted the words of David as He hung on the cross, that He was mocked as He hung there, that He was given vinegar to drink, that the soldiers gambled for His cloak, that His hands and feet were pierced, that He was crucified with transgressors, that He was buried in a rich man's tomb, and that He rose from the dead.

The prophets longed to see the days of the Messiah, but they knew in their spirits that the time was not yet. "It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves but you, when they spoke of the things that have now been told you by those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven." (1 Peter 1:12a) The prophet Baalam said of the Messiah's time, which seemed far off to him: "I see Him, but not now; I behold Him, but not near. A star will come out of Jacob; a scepter will rise out of Israel." (Numbers 24:17a)

The prophets of old could not picture exactly how all these prophecies would come together. They couldn't have predicted the census that led Joseph and Mary down to Bethlehem just at the time Jesus was about to be born. They knew nothing of a wicked and paranoid king named Herod who would want all the baby boys of Bethlehem slaughtered so that he would have no rival to the throne. They would not have known what to make of the Messiah, also called God's Son, being called out of the land of Egypt. Crucifixion had not even been invented when some of the prophecies describing the suffering of the cross were written down. And who could make sense of the Lord's anointed one suffering with transgressors, or for transgressors?

The angels themselves were fascinated with knowing exactly how God intended to work out His plan of salvation. "Even angels long to look into these things." (1 Peter 1:12b) In the Greek this passage could be translated as: "Even the angels stoop down to watch intently as God carries out His plans on the earth."

How must it have felt when the angels got an even closer glimpse of Christ's suffering than the prophets received? Did they weep as their King suffered? Or did they maintain an awestruck silence as the Creator of all things took His last breath on the cross? When He cried out, "It is finished!" were they both thrilled and heartbroken---thrilled because He perfectly accomplished His purpose, heartbroken because it took His blood to save mankind? If the angels and the prophets intently studied the purpose and plans of God, how much  more should we study our Bibles and be awestruck by what our Savior sacrificed for us?

Our study today reminds me of a particular worship song, so in closing I'm going to post the link to it below. It speaks of the mourning of all creation as the Savior hung on the cross.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

The Letters Of A Changed Man: A Study Of 1st And 2nd Peter. Day 2, Our Great Inheritance

In our study this morning Peter speaks of our new birth in Christ and the inheritance we are going to receive as children of the living God.

"Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In His great mercy He has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade." (1 Peter 1:3-4a) There is so much deep theological truth in this one statement that we could spend many days picking apart every element of it and discussing it in detail. But we will try and paraphrase Peter's beautiful proclamation like this: "Bless God! He who is the Father of the Lord Jesus has become our Father through our faith in Christ. We have been born again spiritually---born into the family of God. We are now His children and the brothers and sisters of the Lord Jesus. Because we are the children of God and the brothers and sisters of the Lord Jesus, we are going to receive a great inheritance. We are actually going to share in the same inheritance Jesus is going to receive from the Father! God is protecting this inheritance for us; no one can take it away."

The Apostle Paul says similar words in his letter to the Hebrews, "Both the One who makes people holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters." (Hebrews 2:11), and in his letter to the Romans, "Now if we are children, then we are heirs---heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ." (Romans 8:17a)

"This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God's power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time." (1 Peter 1:4b-5) Again we find Paul in agreement, for he says, "Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, set His seal of ownership on us, and put His spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come." (2 Corinthians 1:21-22) Paul also told the Ephesians that by the Holy Spirit believers are "sealed for the day of redemption". (Ephesians 4:30b) Peter and Paul aren't saying that Christians aren't already saved on the day that they believe, but that the full rights and privileges that come with being the children of God will not be revealed until the end. Until that day the Lord who saved us is keeping us saved by the Holy Spirit. Do you recall having to conjugate verbs in high school English class? If we were going to conjugate the verb "to save" as it is used in the Bible, it would go something like this, "Jesus has saved me, Jesus is saving me, Jesus will keep on saving me". It is an active and ongoing process in the past, present, and future. In other words, I was just as saved yesterday as I am today. I am just as saved today as I will be tomorrow. I will be just as saved on the day after tomorrow and on every day after that.

"In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith---of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire---may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen Him, you love Him; and even though you do not see Him now, you believe in Him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls." (1 Peter 1:6-9) Because of their faith the believers are able to endure anything the world throws at them because they know a glorious inheritance is ahead of them. The trials of this life are refining their faith and proving to them that they are strong in Christ. Their hope is a living hope, as Peter says in verse 3. It's not just hope for the afterlife but hope for this life. It is because they know that the full rights and privileges of the children of God will be granted to them in the end that they are able to live victoriously in the here and now.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

The Letters Of A Changed Man: A Study Of 1st And 2nd Peter. Day 1, Those Who Are Chosen

We begin our study this morning of the letters written by the Apostle Peter. He was once a rough and tough fisherman of the Sea of Galilee, then he became an outspoken and impulsive disciple of Jesus, then in a moment of terror he denied he'd ever met Jesus. But since he has seen the risen Savior face to face, Peter has become a powerful evangelist and a leader of the Christian church. His life is a perfect example of how a relationship with Christ changes a person from the inside out.

These letters are written to Gentile believers but are written from a Jewish perspective, as Peter often quotes Scripture from the Old Testament. But he does something no Jewish teacher would ever have thought of doing prior to the advent of Jesus Christ: he applies the promises and prophecies of the Old Testament to the Gentiles. What brings the Gentiles into the family of God and makes them just as much a chosen people as the nation of Israel? Their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Now the beautiful promises of God apply to nations that have, up til now, been on the outside looking in. In our study of Peter's letters and of the Scriptures he chooses to prove his point, we are going to understand that it was always God's intention to make a chosen people out of those who formerly walked in darkness and wasted their energy serving gods that did not exist.

Peter was one of the first advocates for the Gentile believers, insisting they be treated as equals, and I can just imagine him nodding his head and shouting "amen" to these words the Apostle Paul wrote to the Gentiles: "Remember were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For He Himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility...Consequently you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God's people and also members of His household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus Himself as the chief cornerstone." (Ephesians 2:12-14, 19-20)

Though Israel always was and still is and always will be a chosen people in the sight of God, God never intended to permanently exclude the Gentiles from His family. This is made evident by His promise to Abraham in Genesis 22:18 when He said, "Through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed." God was not speaking specifically of Abraham's immediate offspring (his son Isaac) but of the Messiah who would come from Abraham's family line. God made it clear from the beginning that the nation of Israel was a chosen people, and at the same time He made it clear that He intended to call a chosen people from the Gentile nations too.

Peter begins his first letter with this salutation, "Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to God's elect, exiles scattered throughout the provinces of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia, who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, to be obedient to Jesus Christ and sprinkled with His blood: Grace and peace be yours in abundance." (1 Peter 1:1-2) It is believed by many scholars that Peter was writing this letter from Rome because the cities are named in the order in which a person carrying the letter would reach them if he set out from Rome at the port of the Black Sea.

In his salutation Peter assures his readers that they were chosen and foreknown by God long before they were ever born. On the day God made His awesome promise to Abraham, He foresaw these believers. Though they did not yet exist, He had already chosen them. God didn't promise to make Abraham a father of only one nation; He promised to make Abraham a father of "many nations". (Genesis 17:4-5) God fulfilled the promise of making Abraham a father when He gave him his son Isaac. God began fulfilling His promise of making Abraham a father of many nations when His own Son, the Lord Jesus Christ of the line of Abraham, was born and accomplished His purpose on earth and was crucified and was raised from the dead. Now that this promise is coming true, the Gentiles who were once on the outside looking in are invited to sit around the Lord's table as His children. They are as welcome there as the nation of Israel. The beautiful promises of the Scriptures are now theirs, for they who once were lost and without God in the world have become His children.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Paul's Second Letter To The Church At Corinth. Day 33, Conclusion: Hope For Full Restoration

We are concluding our study of Paul's second letter to the church at Corinth. Although I do intend for us to go through the whole New Testament together, we are going to mix it up a bit by first checking back in with the Apostle Peter before going on to the next letter written by Paul. This is taking the books of the New Testament out of order, but I feel very much compelled and excited to look next at the two letters written by Peter. We've been reading about Paul for quite some time now, so we are going to switch gears a little bit.

Today Paul concludes his letter with words of both warning and encouragement. "This will be my third visit to you. 'Every matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.' I already gave you a warning when I was with you the second time. I now repeat it while absent: On my return I will not spare those who sinned earlier or any of the others, since you are demanding proof that Christ is speaking through me. He is not weak in dealing with you, but is powerful among you." (2 Corinthians 13:1-3) Paul quotes Deuteronomy 19:15, "One witness is not enough to convict anyone accused of any crime or offense they may have committed. A matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses." He is going to be fair when he judges the situation at Corinth upon his return. He will listen to the reports of those who are concerned about sins they have witnessed in the church. When Paul gives his opinion it's going to be based on the facts.

Some of the apostle's detractors have been saying he won't return or, if he does, he won't speak powerfully in person the way he does in his letters. The false teachers have even accused Paul of seducing people into the faith through magic tricks instead of through the powerful works of the Holy Spirit. If necessary Paul will prove to the people of Corinth quite clearly that he is an apostle chosen by Christ. I am not sure what form this proof might take, but if you recall from our study of the book of Acts, Paul temporarily struck a man blind for trying to stir up trouble while he was preaching the gospel to a proconsul of Paphos. (Acts 13:6-12) Witnessing this wonder caused the proconsul to accept the gospel, for he knew such power had to come from the one true God. It could be that Paul will have to use his spiritual gifts as an apostle to make his point.

Paul first preached the gospel at Corinth in an attitude of meekness and humility, but as their father in the faith he has now been given responsibility for them and authority over them. They were born again into the family of God when they believed the gospel he preached, so when Paul returns he won't be trying to persuade them to believe but will be disciplining them for disobedience. The people of Corinth found him very plain and weak and unimpressive in appearance. But Christ is doing and will continue to do powerful things through him. "For to be sure, He was crucified in weakness, yet He lives by God's power. Likewise, we are weak in Him, yet by God's power we will live with Him in our dealing with you." (2 Corinthians 13:4)

"Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you---unless, of course, you fail the test?" (2 Corinthians 13:5) He asks, "Are all of you certain that you are in the faith? Do you really love the Lord Jesus? Or do you love the world more than you love Him? Are you living in obedience to Him? Are you willing to let Him have control of your life? Do you have the fruits of the Spirit or are you still in slavery to your carnal mind and carnal flesh? Examine your hearts and see whether you belong to Christ or not."

It's typical of us to examine the lives and behaviors of others instead of examining ourselves, but Paul cautions the church members to look at their own hearts first and then to examine him and the other apostles. "And I trust that you will discover that we have not failed the test." (2 Corinthians 13:6)

"Now we pray to God that you will not do anything wrong---not so that people will see that we have stood the test but so that you will do what is right even though we may seem to have failed." (2 Corinthians 13:6) He says, "It's not for our sake that we want you to be successful in Christian living. It's for your own sake that we want you to grow and prosper in the faith." That's exactly what a loving parent would say. Those of you who are parents, you want the best for your children for the sake of your children, not so people can pat you on the back and say, "You did a great job raising these kids!"

"For we cannot do anything against the truth, but only for the truth." (2 Corinthians 13:8) The apostles never enjoyed chastising believers. They owed believers the truth, and sometimes the truth included telling church members they had messed up. It would be nice if Paul could visit Corinth again and have nothing but praise for everything happening there. But he won't lie to anyone. Sin is sin and wrong is wrong. It's doing the church at Corinth no favors if Paul isn't honest.

"We are glad whenever we are weak but you are strong; and our prayer is that you may be fully restored. This is why I write these things when I am absent, that when I come I may not have to be harsh in my use of authority---the authority the Lord gave me for building you up, not for tearing you down." (2 Corinthians 13:9-10) Good parents want their children to be stronger, healthier, smarter, and more successful than they themselves are. Paul and the apostles want this for the church. The apostles do without a lot of life's basic comforts in order to supply the needs of others, just as a parent does without things in order to supply the needs of their children. Also, parents would prefer to have their children stop being disobedient at the first rebuke, not after having been punished. This is what Paul wants. He hopes and prays that his letters will be enough to convince those who are doing wrong to stop doing wrong. He doesn't want to have to get tough with them.

Paul closes the letter with this benediction: "Finally, brothers and sisters, rejoice! Strive for full restoration, encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you. Greet one another with a holy kiss. All God's people here send their greetings. May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all." (2 Corinthians 13:11-14)

Monday, October 15, 2018

Paul's Second Letter To The Church At Corinth. Day 32, Paul's Love For The Corinthians

You will recall how many times Paul has called boasting foolishness, yet he considers boasting about the Lord to be profitable for everyone, so he boasted about the Lord's strength in his weakness. He boasted about the things the Lord had helped him to endure for the sake of the gospel. He picks up there today and speaks of the love in his heart for the Corinthian church.

"I have made a fool of myself, but you drove me to it. I ought to have been commended by you, for I am not in the least inferior to the 'super apostles', even though I am nothing. I persevered in demonstrating among you the marks of a true apostle, including signs, wonders and miracles. How were you inferior to the other churches, except that I was never a burden to you? Forgive me this wrong!" (2 Corinthians 12:11-13) Of course Paul did not wrong the church for refusing to accept support from them. He is being sarcastic because the Corinthians have gladly given their support to the false apostles who have been teaching only for monetary gain. Those who call themselves 'super apostles' will not give a sermon unless they are paid to appear, yet Paul worked with his own hands and accepted donations from churches he had already founded while he taught the gospel in Corinth. He does not want his name connected with those who exploit people for financial gain. He wants the gospel to be available free of charge to anyone who wishes to hear it. It is his habit to accept nothing when he is first bringing the gospel to a new region. He does at times receive support from well-established churches who want to help him to spread the gospel on missionary journeys.

"Now I am ready to visit you for the third time, and I will not be a burden to you, because what I want is not your possessions but you. After all, children should not have to save up for their parents, but parents for their children." (2 Corinthians 12:14) Paul is coming to Corinth to collect the offering that is being gathered for the suffering saints of Judea, but none of that money will go into his own pocket. He is not asking or expecting the people of Corinth to support him. His only concern is that they continue to grow in the faith, not that they present him with lavish gifts. It's possible to give regularly to good works and not have a true heart for God. Taking up an offering for Paul would not prove that the hearts of the Corinthians are right with the Lord.

"So I will very gladly spend for you everything I have and expend myself as well. If I love you more, will you love me less? Be that as it may, I have not been a burden to you. Yet, crafty fellow that I am, I caught you by trickery! Did I exploit you through any of the men I sent to you? I urged Titus to go to you and I sent our brother with him. Titus did not exploit you, did he? Did we not walk in the same footsteps by the same Spirit?" (2 Corinthians 12:15-18) Again we find him being sarcastic in repeating the accusation that has been made against him by the false apostles. They say he persuaded the Corinthians to believe the gospel by trickery. Are the false apostles teaching the same basic facts of the gospel as Paul? Perhaps so, perhaps not. I can't imagine their teaching having any power in it to save souls, since they themselves are not right with the Lord. But whatever they are teaching, they are teaching it for monetary gain, and they want to keep on teaching for monetary gain. It is to their benefit to discredit the Apostle Paul who teaches the gospel for free, otherwise the people will all flock to Paul because he won't ask them to dip into their pockets. These teachers claim Paul performed signs and wonders among the people, not through the Holy Spirit, but through mere magic tricks.

"Have you been thinking all along that we have been defending ourselves to you? We have been speaking in the sight of God as those in Christ; and everything we do, dear friends, is for your strengthening." (2 Corinthians 12:19) He's saying, "We don't need to defend ourselves against any accusations. Everything we've done, we've done openly. We have nothing to hide."

"For I am afraid that when I come I may not find you as I want you to be, and you may not find me as you want me to be. I fear that there may be discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, slander, gossip, arrogance and disorder." (2 Corinthians 12:20) These are the very attitudes and sins he scolded them for in his first letter. When Titus met Paul in Macedonia he told him of the repentance of the Corinthians, but Paul is still concerned about the false teachers and about the Corinthians' willingness to listen to them. He's worried that when he sees them again they will have fallen back into the same old behaviors.

"I am afraid that when I come again my God will humble me before you, and I will be grieved over many who have sinned earlier and have not repented of the impurity, sexual sin and debauchery in which they have indulged." (2 Corinthians 12:21) He doesn't want to be disappointed in either the Corinthians or in the work he has done with them. It would be humbling indeed to revisit these people and not be able to tell any difference between how they look now and how they looked when he first met them. They were pagan Gentiles when he first met them, just like the Ephesians who were "without hope and without God in the world". (Ephesians 2:12) But when he taught them the gospel they accepted it gladly and their lifestyle should bear witness to their conversion. He doesn't want to walk back into Corinth and not be able to tell the redeemed people of God from the pagan sinners.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Paul's Second Letter To The Church At Corinth. Day 31, What Was Paul's Thorn In The Flesh?

For the past two days we've been studying the near death experience that Paul had fourteen years before he wrote his second letter to the church at Corinth. He says he was taken into heaven where he heard things that no human being is allowed to hear. Today we learn that in order to keep Paul from thinking too much of himself due to this awesome experience, God has given him a thorn in the flesh.

"Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me." (2 Corinthians 12:7b) Paul doesn't specify what this problem is. The majority of scholars seem to think it was a chronic illness or perhaps just very poor eyesight. There is some evidence Paul had terrible eyesight because he once picked up a snake thinking it was a dead tree limb,because when not dictating his writings to a scribe he had to write with very large letters, and because he makes mention that the people of Galatia once loved him so much that they would have given their own eyes to him. (Acts 28:3, Galatians 4:15, Galatians 6:11) We don't know, however, when the problem with Paul's sight began. Such severe nearsightedness could have been a lifelong problem, and he may already have been dealing with it before he ever had his near death experience.

Some scholars think he had chronic recurrent malaria, an illness he contracted while ministering in the lowlands. It seems that he moved into the mountains and stayed in Galatia for some time to try to recover from whatever was ailing him, since he told the Galatians that it was because he was stricken with illness that he was in their area and able to preach the gospel to them. (Galatians 4:13-14) The fact that Luke traveled with Paul as not only a friend and scribe but also as a personal physician backs up the idea that Paul may have been in need of frequent medical care.

Yet other scholars speculate that the messenger of Satan troubled Paul in his mind instead of in his body. He may have suffered with depression or anxiety. If so he would be in good company, for many well-known theologians and scholars and ministers have had the same problems. Men like Martin Luther, John Wesley, Charles Spurgeon, and C.S. Lewis all admitted to how painfully they struggled against the dark depression that often beset them. Off the top of our heads, we can think of several Bible characters who dealt with anxiety and depression too: Moses, David, Elijah, Job, Jonah, and even the Lord Jesus who said, "My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death." (Matthew 26:38, Mark 14:34)

It's a crying shame that for a very long time there was a stigma in the church about members who are dealing with mental issues. As someone who has struggled with depression, anxiety, and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder since childhood, I have firsthand experience that there used to be a great deal of resistance in the church to the idea that a Christian can even have these problems, much less that a Christian should seek treatment for them. I'm thankful that the stigma against seeking treatment for mental problems appears to be going away, but I can't help wondering how many lives have been harmed by this attitude. The truth is that being a Christian doesn't exempt anyone from mental issues anymore than it exempts anyone from physical issues. We know now that most things like depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and many others have a physical cause due to brain chemistry, heredity, or a combination of the two.

Some have speculated that Paul's thorn had nothing to do with his physical or mental state, but that it had to do with assaults from the outside, such as persecution or temptation. Whatever his thorn was, Paul didn't feel it was necessary to let the Corinthian believers in on it. God didn't feel it was necessary to let us in on it. I'm glad He didn't, because we can fill in that blank with whatever our own personal thorns may be. We each struggle with different things, and that may be the reason we are not told the nature of Paul's problem, so we can say, "If the Apostle Paul could persevere through his problem, so can I. If the Apostle Paul could do great things for the Lord in spite of his problem, so can I."

It's not that Paul didn't want the problem removed from his life. On the contrary, he says, "Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me." (2 Corinthians 12:8) The Greek word Paul uses means "to beg, to plead, to beseech, to entreat". Paul didn't just sit down to pray over his dinner three days in a row and say, "Oh, by the way, please take this problem out of my life. In Jesus' name, amen." No, he begged with all his might for the Lord to remove it. He may even have been fasting during the long days when he was down on his knees in tears pleading with God to take this particular struggle away. Think back on the times when you were really sick or when there was a major problem in your life. You didn't say, "Lord, make this go away. In Jesus' name, amen." No, you said, "Please, God, please! I'm begging You to make this go away. I know You have the power to fix it. There's nothing too hard for You. If You are willing, I can be made whole. If You are willing, this problem can be solved. Lord, I'll do anything if You'll just say yes!"

But the Lord said no to Paul, just as He sometimes has to say no to us, and just as He had to say no to Christ when He pleaded with tears, "Let this cup pass away from Me!" (Matthew 26:39) The Lord knew Paul would be a more effective minister if He left the struggle in his life. Sometimes that's the reason He leaves a struggle in our lives. Not all of our suffering in this world is due to sin; some of it is used to make us better at our calling and to make us more like Christ. The Lord told Paul no like this: "But He said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.'" (2 Corinthians 12:9a) If Paul had been a man who appeared mighty in strength and without a care in the world, I wonder how effective his ministry would have been. People could have scoffed at his words and said, "It's easy for him to talk about being strong in the faith! What has he ever had to endure? What does he know about suffering? How can he prove to us God's grace is sufficient when he has never had to rely on God's grace?"

After the Lord made it clear He intended to leave the struggle in Paul's life, Paul decided to look at it from a positive angle. "Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then am I strong." (2 Corinthians 12:9b-10) Why was Paul stronger when he was weak? Because the power of the Lord enabled him to do what he could not do alone. The power of the Lord is so much stronger than the power of weak human flesh. This means the Lord received the glory due Him for anything Paul accomplished in this life. People could look at Paul and say, "He's short and bald and unimpressive-looking and untrained in public speaking and shabby in his dress and troubled by a chronic problem, but look what the Lord is doing through him! See how great his love is for the Lord! See how great his faith is! If the Lord can take a man like him and do wonderful things, surely the Lord can do something with me!"

I believe in keeping it real, so I don't mind admitting to you that lately depression has been lying on me day and night like a heavy black cloak. Some of it is situational, but some of it is due to the hereditary anxiety and depression that is so prevalent in my family. I can't brag and say, "I got out of bed this morning in spite of my depression because I'm just really tough. I'm able to pull myself up by my bootstraps and go on no matter what." No, I got out of bed this morning because the Lord enabled me to get up. I keep putting one foot in front of the other not because it's necessarily what I feel like doing, but because the Lord is my strength and my hope. Because He exists and because He loves me, I don't feel like giving up.

Our situations and circumstances may be grim, and we may feel unwell in body or in mind, but we are never without hope. Christ is our living hope. (1 Peter 1:3) Christ is our hope both in this life and in the life to come. He didn't suffer only to give us victory over death; He also suffered so we could have victory over life. Because He came and gave His life to redeem us from our sins, and because He rose from the dead to prove that His sacrifice on our behalf was acceptable to a holy God, and because He forever lives to make intercession for us...we are never hopeless! We are never without strength! Our own minds may tell us there's no hope. Our own physical strength may not be enough to get us through the day. But the Lord is able to give us what we lack, so we can say as Paul says, "When I am weak, then am I strong!"