Clothed with Humility (1 Peter 5:5-7)

2016-Week 34I have never been one to go with the current or popular fashion trends. I do not pay too much attention to the latest news in clothing. I do, however, like the style of bowties and fadoras. When it comes down to it, whether or not we favor a particular style, we wear something. We clothe ourselves. This analogy works in our inner lives as well. After exhorting his fellow elders to shepherd the people of God in the midst of suffering, the Apostle Peter turns his face toward those younger. In a general sense, too, what he is about to say applies to all who are under the leadership God has entrusted the church with. The command we see to those younger in the faith and in life is they are to submit to the leadership of the church. In an autonomous and individualized culture, the word submission is an ugly word. The church, though, is called to be counter-cultural. A great example of this is my friend Katelyn. Recently, she made the comment her pastor preaches both biblically and boldly. He preaches with biblical conviction and Christlike compassion. Her response to his leadership was and is willing submission. Why? Because when the pastors of the church are shepherding in accordance with the Word of God, then to submit to their godly leadership is a beautiful thing. Still, as those who struggle with sin, we do not like to always submit. That is why humility is required. In order to submit to those in authority, we must be humble. In our salvation, we need to be humbled, resulting in repentance of our sins and trust in Christ for salvation because we cannot save ourselves. This humility is not something that we need to have every so often but, rather, something we need every day of our lives. That is why Peter puts it in the terms of verse 5, “Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another”. The permanent fashion style and trend for the Christian is humility. Humility is seen in a person who is willing to submit to godly leadership and is a reflection of those who have been given the grace of God. Not only is humility made known in submitting to church leadership; humility is made known in casting sufferings and anxieties on God. We cannot handle life on our own. We are not self-sufficient. When we face hardships and sufferings in this life, we can be overwhelmed. Instead of trying to deal with it in our own power, which is pride, we need to humble ourselves and depend on the power and character of God. He is the One who is mighty and He is One who cares for us. Therefore, we humble ourselves by depending on Him. We humble ourselves by submitting to godly leadership. That is how we clothe ourselves in humility.

Reflection Questions:

  • How can you clothe yourself in humility this week by submitting to godly leadership?
  • How can you clothe yourself in humility this week by casting your anxieties and worries on the mighty and powerful God who cares for you?

Wealth and Faith (Luke 18:18-30)

2016-Week 33The rich young ruler. Most of us are familiar with this story, but I think we can all benefit from a fresh look at the passage. Right when this man came to Jesus, he exposed his wrong mindset. He said, “Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” (Luke 18:18). He doesn’t ask, “What must be done for me to be saved?” In other words, he thinks it is by his own power that he can save himself. When Jesus tells him to obey the commandments, he furthers his pride in saying, “all these things I have kept from my youth.” The Bible says even thinking hateful thoughts towards another is murder, and even thinking of those sins is committing them. So Jesus tells him to sell everything he has and follow Him. Seeing that he cannot save himself, the rich young ruler gives up and goes away sad. That is not the end of the lesson, however. Before the young ruler leaves, Jesus says to him,” How hard it is for those who are wealthy to enter the kingdom of God!” How hard! Loving our possessions and the pleasures of this world will only lead away from God. This man loved the things that he had more than he loved anything. More than his family, and even more than he loved heaven. Jesus told him that he would not go to heaven if he did not forsake his greed and follow the Light. Still he walked away knowing that he was forsaking heaven for his possessions.

Next in the passage comes the most familiar part. Jesus goes on to say,” For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” Wealth can be used to greatly further the kingdom of God, but more often greed warps our goals to lead away from God’s calling. I believe a rich man in this context is someone who hoards what they have and withholds it from God.  A man who earns one million dollars a year could use that wealth to build entire orphanages and feed villages, or he could buy a bigger house, a nicer car. Those who earn much must be aware of how they spend it, lest they find themselves withholding from God’s purposes.

Jesus continues on after bystanders ask, “ Then who can be saved?” They realized that wealth meant not only the rich but those who do not lack what they need. Jesus says,” The things that are impossible with people are possible with God.” The passage goes on to convey that all those who have left things or people behind to further the kingdom of God will not go unrewarded either in this life or in eternity afterwards. Although our rewards may come in forms other than what we expect, reward may be found in serving our Savior. So, though lacking no material thing is not a bad thing, let us not let our life become based around it; and remember that intent and mindset can powerfully change a situation, for better or for worse.

Reflection Questions:

  • How does your mindset affect the way you think about your well-being and salvation?
  • Do you trust God more than you trust your wealth?

D_CThis week’s devotional was written by Darrel Current. Darrel is a strong believer in Christ, striving to live in God’s will in every part of his life. He is homeschooled and enjoys running, music, and spending time outdoors.

Shepherding in the Midst of Suffering (1 Peter 5:1-4)

2016-Week 32Throughout the book of 1 Peter, we have observed what it looks like for Christians to suffer for their faith. We have seen we should follow the example of Christ (2:18-25). We have been told when we respond biblically to suffering for righteousness’ sake, we will bless and be blessed. We have been called to suffer so that we may share in Christ’s sufferings and to suffer according to the will of God. Yet, if we limit ourselves to this understanding, we have an insufficient view. Why? Because in our suffering as Christians, we ultimately do not suffer alone. Just as the Christian life is not a lone ranger life, our suffering is not a walk by ourselves. God has given us the church, the gathering of His people, to build one another up and to be a witness collectively, especially during times of suffering. This understanding and application of the church in times of suffering must begin with the leadership. Therefore, the Apostle Peter begins there. Peter directs his exhortation to these men God has called to lead, teach, and oversee the church. He says these fellow elders are “a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed” (5:1). These elders know the sufferings Christ went through and now, as a result, they can partake of the glory Christ has by suffering for the faith. But, in the midst of suffering, what are these elders to do? These pastors are to live out their calling and they are to “shepherd the clock of God that is among you” (5:2). In the midst of suffering, God commands church leaders to shepherd. Shepherd do not merely preach. They most certainly do that, feeding the sheep of God’s fold. The role of a shepherd, however, includes feeding as well as watching and caring. The shepherd is the one who feeds the people God’s Word and who oversees their souls, watching over them and caring enough to confront when there is sin and to comfort when there are hardships. This is what God has called to those who are in leadership of His church to be. He has also directed in His Word how these men are to go about their shepherding. They are to shepherd God’s flock humbly and honestly. They do not do this under obligation, but willingly. They do not serve in this manner for dishonest and shameful gain, but eagerly in response to the work of God in their life. They do not dominate over their congregation, acting as a dictator and a sole power. Rather, the shepherds of God’s church are to be examples to the flock, their congregations. In the midst of suffering, pastors in their leadership are to exude humility and honesty. They live in this way because they realize they are not the ultimate authority. The one who is is the One who is coming again. That is why Peter continues, “And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory” (5:4). Elders and pastors are but stewards in watching over their congregations. There is but one chief Shepherd and that is Jesus Christ. If human church leadership is faithful to the task they have been given and to the people they have been entrusted with, then they will receive their reward when the chief Shepherd returns to gather all His people. Until then, may church leaders, particularly elders, be faithful to shepherd God’s people in their congregations humbly and honestly and may church members keep their church leaders in prayer over this responsibility of shepherding in the midst of suffering.

Reflection Questions:

  • Why is it important to remember as Christians we live, and suffer, as the body of Christ and not merely as individuals?
  • For elders in the church, how can you be more intentional in leading and serving humbly and honestly? For church members, how can you be praying for your pastor as he shepherds the people God has entrusted him with to oversee?

Entrusting in Suffering (1 Peter 4:12-19)

2016-Week 31“Why?” It is a question we ask not when things are going well but when things are not working in our favor. We ask the question when we feel we are dealing with something we do not deserve. One example of this is the trials of life. When people face hardships, the immediate response is not usually positive. What about when somebody faces suffering for unjust reasons, specifically because they are a Christian? They may find themselves questioning why they are receiving this distress. They may be surprised by it. However, as followers of Jesus Christ, we are not. The Apostle Peter echoes the words of his Master when he says, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you” (4:12). In other words, Christians should expect suffering and they should expect suffering as a Christian (4:16). Not only should Christians expect suffering, they should rejoice in the midst of their suffering. Such rejoicing does not mean we rejoice for suffering’s sake. Rather, we rejoice because this type of suffering will give us the opportunity to share in Christ’s sufferings (4:13). We will grow in our Christlikeness, will draw closer in our fellowship with Christ, and God will be glorified. As ones who rejoice in suffering for the cause of Christ, we are blessed when we are insulted for the name of Christ (4:14). We preach the message of God’s grace and the hope of the gospel but not everybody wants to hear that. So, they will insult and ridicule. The response of the Christian is not to speak words of condemnation back nor to seek revenge. The response of the Christian is to glorify God and to entrust themselves to Him (4:16, 19). God is the One who is sovereign and He will work all things out for His purposes (4:17-18). With that knowledge of God, the Christian can trust in the Lord. They can suffer as “those who suffer according to God’s will”. How do they suffer according to God’s will? By entrusting their souls to a faithful Creator and God while they themselves go about doing good. They entrust themselves to God because they realize God has entrusted them with their very lives. Christians understand they are stewards of what God has entrusted to them. That is why they entrust themselves to God in suffering. That is why they do good in the midst of suffering. Instead of staying in the posture of asking questions, may we pay attention to Peter’s words and remember that Jesus Christ died for our sins so that we may have life in Christ. When we repent of our sins and believe in Jesus, we realize we are not our own. We realize God owns us, grows us, and shows us how to be Christlike. This happens supremely through suffering (2:18-25). So rejoice in the fact suffering allows you to share in Christ’s suffering, understanding you will be blessed if you are insulted for the name of Christ, all as you entrust your life to God in the midst of suffering.

Reflection Questions:

  • How does understanding the purpose of our suffering (to glorify God and share in Christ’s sufferings) help us rejoice in such difficult circumstances?
  • How do you typically respond when you are insulted for your Christian faith? How does Scripture say we should respond?
  • How can you be entrusting yourself to God with hardships you are facing right now?

Preparing for the End (1 Peter 4:7-11)

2016-Week 30July 29, 2016 marks yet another prediction of the end of the world. This time End Times Prophecies declared that the world would come to an end on July 29 because of a chain of events caused by a “polar flip” phenomenon. This is not the first, and will certainly will not be the last, time such a prediction has been made. The Bible is clear that no one knows when the world will end and when Christ will return (Matthew 24:36). For those who affirm this biblical truth, they still can lose the biblical perspective. When it comes to speaking about the end times, Christians can tend to ensue a debate and pastors can get bogged down in the details, focusing their teaching on the order of events. The return of Christ is not meant to fire up debates on various views and it is not meant for us to figure out every single detail. Our role as Christians as we await the return of Jesus Christ is anticipation and expectation. In other words, we must be ready. We live in the midst of a fallen and sinful world. We see and face ridicule and suffering for our faith in and commitment to Jesus Christ. Why the context in which we live in the call to be ready? Because it is the context of facing suffering in a fallen world that Apostle Peter calls for how believers prepare for the end, because “the end of all things is at hand” (4:7a). Instead of  entering into debates and dissecting the details, Peter tells us to “be self-controlled and sober-minded” (4:7b). The end is not a time for us to lose our control or lose perspective. Because we have the Holy Spirit as we are in Christ, we are to live differently. We are to be self-controlled because we know God is in control. We can be sober-minded because the Bible tells us where our hope in the future lies. Preparing for the end means thinking biblically, but it also means living biblically. When we hear about the end, our response should not be for our own survival. Our response should be toward others. We should continue to live out the call of a disciple, to love one another (4:8). We should be hospitable, opening up our lives to be a witness even in the context of suffering (3:15; 4:9). We live this way with the end in mind because we realize our life is not our own. We are stewards of what God has entrusted us. He has given gifts to the body of Christ. The purpose of those gifts is not to hoard them but to share them through service. Therefore, we are exhorted, “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace” (4:10). If someone is gifted in teaching, then may they use that for the good of their church and for the glory of God. For the person who serves, may the serve with the reminder they can do so because of the strength God has given them. We do not prepare for the end by arguing or by making prediction. We prepare for the end by living in a manner that is God-glorifying and others-oriented. We live as stewards.

Reflection Questions:

  • Why is it important to understand the application of eschatology (‘the study of the end’)? How should that affect our conversations with others?
  • How can you be a good and faithful steward of God’s grace in your life and ministry?

Victory over Suffering (1 Peter 3:18-4:6)

2016-Week 29Last week we looked at how we can honor Christ in our suffering. We can be a witness by responding to suffering in a way unlike the world. The problem, however, is we typically follow the line of the world. When dealing with suffering, our response is not usually, “I can use this hardship in my life to point someone toward my hope in Christ.” Rather, our response goes something like this: “Why is this happening to me? God, why would you send this trouble my way?” It is not that Scripture does not speak to the realities of the Christian life. In this very book, 1 Peter, time and time again the subject of suffering has been brought up. I believe part of the reason we respond as the world does is because we have lost sight of the hope we have as Christians. A trial comes our way and we feel defeated. Yet, the gospel reminds us our hope is not a false hope. Our hope is a living hope. This is all because of Jesus Christ because He “suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit” (3:18). We can have victory over our suffering because Christ had victory over death. In order to have this victory, we must respond accordingly. Those in Noah’s day heard the proclamation of Christ through Noah but they refused to obey and only Noah’s family, who trusted the Lord, were saved (3:19–20). So it is with baptism. Those who respond in repenting of their sins and placing their faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior will be saved and will be baptized as an act of obedience that represents an inward change. The basis on such an act is the resurrection of Jesus Christ (3:21). Now, as those who have confessed their sins and trusted in Christ, the call is to respond in a distinct way. They do not live in sin as they once did nor do they live for their human passions. Instead, they live for the will of God (4:2). If believers live out their suffering this way, unbelievers will take notice and be surprised you are not giving in to the sin they are enjoying (4:3-4). By no means does this mean they will praise you for it. No, they may very well mock you. In such an instance, take heed the words of Jesus, “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28). Everyone will have to give account to God of their lives. Those who mock you and reject God will face the eternal wrath of God for their rebellion and sin. Those who heard the gospel preached and died without trusting in Christ face this judgment and death while believers who have died physically will live in the spirit and spend eternity with Christ. Simply put, the only victory over suffering one can have is through Jesus Christ. He is the one who lived a sinless life, died on the cross as a substitute for sinners, the righteous dying for the unrighteous, and rising again to give us the hope of salvation. Without Christ, there is no hope in suffering and no victory over suffering. With Christ, there is hope and honor in suffering because Christ has given victory over suffering. The question remains: Will you trust in Christ, who rose victorious over suffering for our sins, before it is too late?

Reflection Questions:

  • How does understanding the sacrifice of Christ, the righteous, for us sinners, the unrighteous, alter our typical response to suffering?
  • What is the importance and cost of responding to God according to His Word, namely by repentance of sins and faith in Christ?

The Kingdom of Grace (Matthew 20:1-16)

2016-Week 28Some of my favorite childhood memories include spending time with my grandparents. I can recall one particular instance where my younger sister and I were told by my grandmother that if we participated in some chore, we would be given one dollar. First up was my sister. She was given the duty of laundry and she completed her chore well. She received her payment. Now, I was up. To my surprise, the labor I was assigned was to simply eat the food my grandmother had cooked. As one who loved to eat, I made no squabble about it. I did my “chore” and received my dollar. Of course when my sister found out what I received compensation for, she was not too thrilled. She had done work to receive her dollar while all I did was stuff my face. In all reality, the compensation we received from our chores was not based on our works, or merit. It was based on the grace of my grandmother. How else could I have received a dollar for merely eating? It was not based on my work. My grandmother operated on a different system. And so it is with the kingdom of God. After telling the disciples what they will receive since they have left everything to follow Jesus (19:27–29), Jesus gives them a principle (19:30) followed by a parable (20:1–16). The parable in Matthew 20 is meant to illustrate the truth of the principle in 19:30. So what is the principle? “But many who are first will be last, and the last first” (19:30). To explain what He means by this statement, Jesus offers the disciples a parable of laborers in a vineyard to show what the kingdom of heaven is like. It is clear throughout the parable that Jesus is saying the kingdom of God is characterized by the grace of God. We see that because it is only by grace do the laborers enter the vineyard of the master or landowner, who represents God. He is the one who goes looking for them. Interestingly enough, the parable tells us the master goes not once but multiple times throughout the day to look for workers. The first are promised a denarius, a day’s wage, while the later workers are told “whatever is right I will give you” (20:4). After the final workers are hired an hour before the day is done, the master prepares to compensate those as He said He would. The time comes and those who came latest line up first. They receive a denarius. Once they make their way through the line, those who have been working all day are hopeful. Why? Because if those who have worked less received a denarius, surely they will receive more. However, they are disappointed when they are given the same amount. As someone who has worked all day and compared to someone who has worked one hour, the natural response would be to grumble and gripe. And that is what these workers did. The master wisely responds, “Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what belongs to you and go. I choose to give to this last worker as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belong to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?” (20:13–15). The system the workers were basing their labor on was merit. Not so with the master of the vineyard. He compensated them with the terms He had laid out. Ultimately, he was basing it off of His own generosity and grace. The landowner could choose what he wanted to do because it was his; he owned it all. The system of God’s kingdom operates on God’s terms. We do not get to say how God gives and whom He should give to. In our sin, we find the only payment we truly deserve is death (Romans 6:23a). However, God in His grace sent Jesus Christ to live a sinless life, to die the death we deserve, and to rise again so that we could find eternal life in Christ Jesus (Romans 6:23b). We cannot save ourselves and our works cannot get us into heaven. Only by repenting of our sins and trusting in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior can we have eternal life. It is not by our merit but only by God’s grace.

Reflection Questions:

  • How does understanding the concept that the kingdom of heaven operates on a system of grace inform the statement, “the last will be first, and the first last”?
  • If the kingdom of God is characterized by the grace of God, how can you be a reflection of that this week in your relationships?