Day 357: 2 Peter 1-3; Trouble from Within

The second letter that is attributed to the Apostle Peter also contains encouragement to resist persecution, yet this time the main focus of his letter is about the trouble that is coming to the Church from within.  At the time of its writing, there were a great many false teachers and false teachings that had arisen from within the church, people that, as Peter says, had taken the writings of Paul and the Scriptures (which at that time would have been the Old Testament and possibly some of the Gospel writings) and twisted them.  These teachings were  fraught with teaching that only leads to their personal gain.  Peter writes:

But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed.  And in their greed they will exploit you with false words. Their condemnation from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep.

These two themes, persecution from outside the church and false teachings from within, have been something that comes up time and time again in the writings of the New Testament.  It is no secret that the spread of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the forgiveness of sins by grace is something that the devil wants nothing to do with.  He works to thwart every advance of the Kingdom of God in every way that he possibly can.  This may sound a bit alarmist to many people, especially now days, but like Peter, I must insist that this is not only something that was going on in the days of the early church, it is something that has been plaguing the church since its beginning and continues to do so now.  Arguably, the church is facing more and more threats of false teaching from within its own walls in the 20th and 21st centuries than it ever has before.  Especially in North America, and in the United States where the freedom of speech that we all cherish protects and even allows people to speak false doctrine at will.  Please hear me on this, I wouldn’t trade the freedom of speech that we have for anything, but what I am saying is that the Church needs to wake up and see that this is happening and continues to happen!

This is now the second letter that I am writing to you, beloved. In both of them I am stirring up your sincere mind by way of reminder, that you should remember the predictions of the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior through your apostles, knowing this first of all, that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing,following their own sinful desires.  They will say, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.”  For they deliberately overlook this fact, that the heavens existed long ago, and the earth was formed out of water and through water by the word of God, and that by means of these the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished.  But by the same word the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly.

The Church has done a poor job in recent years of silencing the heretics and false teachers that claim to be ministers of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  Protestant and Catholic denominations have each seen their fair share of groups breaking away from the teachings of the church because of “new revelations” or “a new understanding of the Bible.”  We are familiar with some like Jehovah’s Witness, Seventh Day Adventists, and Mormonism.  Some new teachings that we have begun to encounter are those of the prosperity gospel, people like Joel Osteen who trade the message of the gospel of a “feel good message” through which he makes tons of money.  There have also been other developments within the religious spheres.  Scientology, the Atheist Church, and other like them have sprung up, proclaiming a way to better humanity without any need for God, Jesus, or the Gospel.

These are waterless springs and mists driven by a storm. For them the gloom of utter darkness has been reserved.  For, speaking loud boasts of folly, they entice by sensual passions of the flesh those who are barely escaping from those who live in error.  They promise them freedom, but they themselves are slaves of corruption. For whatever overcomes a person, to that he is enslaved.

While an assault on the moral character of these individuals is not warranted by me, they are certainly sinners in need of grace just as I am, it is important to understand that there is false teaching and heresy that is still very much present among us.  Certainly their rights to say whatever they want to say are protected by the American Constitution, and for that we should be thankful.  This country affords us the ability to worship freely without fear of retribution or persecution from authorities and protects us (or at least it should) from persecution from others as well.  However, though the Bill of Rights doesn’t say this, it should also encourage us to be awake and alert to what we are hearing from the pulpit on any given Sunday.  There is NO Gospel apart from Jesus Christ.  There is NO Salvation apart from the grace of Jesus Christ that we receive through faith.  No amount of money, work, good deeds, or ‘spiritual’ experience can bring us back into right relationship with God.  We are all sinful, we will all continue to sin.  May we understand this and go forth, awake and alert, so that we may not be led astray.



Day 328: Romans 8-10; New Life in the Spirit

Keeping in mind all that we have talked about over the last two days in the intro to Romans and our talk on faith yesterday,  today’s reading is quite simply the next step along this “Romans Road” that we have been walking.  Paul’s writing in the book of Romans is meant to lay out the whole story of redemptive history in a way that is both logical and systematic.  We have walked with him from the death of our old lives without Christ, when we did not know God and did not have faith, into a new life of faith in Christ Jesus in which we are Justified and made Righteous in Him!  All of this happens because of the faith that God gives us through the working of the Holy Spirit on our hearts.  Yes, even faith is a gift of God.  We often like to think of faith as being something that we produce in ourselves… we want to take some active part in our own salvation.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard people say that it is difficult for people to accept that they can’t do anything to better themselves.  In some ways this is a particularly North American issue.  In the United States especially, we have this notion of “pulling yourself up by your own boot straps” and “working to better your own life.”  Our culture of individualism and “win at all costs” mentality has made it difficult for us to accept salvation as something that we take no active role in.  If we could only work up our own faith and discover for ourselves the way of salvation, then we would “save ourselves.”  But this is not reality.  God has searched us out, the Holy Spirit who has been at work in our hearts since the beginning, drawing us to God and bringing us to faith.  It is also through the Holy Spirit that we are united to Christ when we come to faith!  Our Triune God is at work throughout the salvation process.

So where does Paul go from here?  “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.  For the Law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.”  This is great news for us!  More than this though, we are not only set free, we are adopted as sons and daughters of God and made to be fellow heirs to the Kingdom of God.  Moreover, we are future heirs of the resurrection and the glory that will be revealed in Christ Jesus, and now in us because we are united to Him.  It is here that we begin to move from the topic of what God has done in us and the grace that we have received toward what it is that we are to do with this new life that we have found ourselves in.  Paul talks a great deal about perseverance here, without actually naming it, and how we need to rest in the love of God that is in Christ Jesus.  While life may be difficult, there is nothing at all in this world that can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?  As it is written,

“For your sake we are being killed all the day long;
    we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.  For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

We will talk more about turning this corner tomorrow, but for now Paul goes back into another discussion about election (which is a topic that will come up again and again, so once again we will forego a deeper discussion on election until a later time) and then faith vs. works.  It is clear that he is in anguish of his Jewish brothers and sisters who have really gotten the law wrong.  He points out to us once again that it is by faith that we receive salvation and that it was faith that was the ultimate goal of the Law as well.  Paul echoes the words of the Shema here as well, talking about having the Word of God “in your mouth and in your heart.”  Sadly many of the people of Israel didn’t pick up on this.

This is something that we need to always have before us as we live out our lives of faith.  It isn’t about actions, not about doing all the right things in the right order.  In fact, living for Christ isn’t about that at all.  As we will see tomorrow, we are called to live lives of gratitude for all that we have received in Christ Jesus, but never thinking that what we do somehow makes us more or less saved.  Once we are saved, we are saved forever.  I wonder if that was what C.S. Lewis was getting at when he wrote “Once a King or Queen in Narnia, always a King or Queen in Narnia.”



Day 234: Jeremiah 49; Messages against the Nations (Part 2)

Today we read the messages against Ammon, Edom, Damascus, Kedar and Hazor, and Elam.  This chapter has a similar ring to the last couple chapters and the next few as well.  My first thought about today’s reading was that we should just read it for what it is, the judgment against many nations for the sins they had committed.  I didn’t think that there was much else to say about it.  But as we read this, and yesterday’s reading as well, there are very specific traits that each of these cities and nations are being punished for, and each city and nation has a particular history with God and the nation of Israel.

The Ammonites worshiped other gods and sacrificed children to them.  Edom, the decendants of Esau, boasted in its wisdom and the strength of its city in Petra. They rejoiced at the fall of Jerusalem, only to see its own boarders fall only years later.  Aram, Kedar, Hazor, and Elam all were pagan cultures, likely worshiping a pantheon of gods and relying on their own strength and wealth rather than placing their trust in God alone.

I see bits and pieces of our culture in the United States here as I read this chapter.  We think we are wise and cunning at times, full of street smarts and crafty.  We often look to other things, leaders, or even money as that which can bring about our salvation, our strength, and our prosperity.  Yet none of this really amounts to a hill of beans before the Lord.  There is nothing in this world that is more powerful than God.  We may have the strongest military, the best technology, the greatest wealth, and even the smartest people, and yet all of that crumbles before the Lord, the God of the Universe.  We must keep in mind that it is God that has placed us where we are today, it is God who has empowered our nation, and it is in God whom we need to be placing our trust.  Before the Lord nations rise and fall, they are but a speck, a blip on the timeline of history.  Only by placing our hope and trust in the Lord can we find forgiveness and salvation.



Day 225: Jeremiah 22-23; The Burden of Leadership

Though it is a small section in our reading for today, there is a very important message that Jeremiah delivers in chapter 23.  It is a short section about the “righteous branch” and Jeremiah has two main points: Leaders are responsible for the direction that their people are going, and there is one coming who will lead in righteousness and justice.  This of course is referring to the coming of Jesus and the ushering in of the Kingdom of God.  This is one of the first times in the book of Jeremiah that a message of hope is delivered to the people of Judah.  So far it has been fairly negative, talking about destruction and judgment, but here we see a glimmer of hope in this prophecy of the coming Messiah.

Today’s reading raised an interesting question for me though about leadership.  As a Church leader, I understand that I am responsible for leading a group of people, in my case the praise team, and should be doing the best that I can to be a faithful, Christ-like leader for them.  What was most troubling for me here is the notion that I am responsible, as a leader, for their growth… or lack thereof.  Jeremiah is point out that the burden of leadership is great and the people that are leaders have a great responsibility to those that they lead.  It made me stop and think… am I doing a good job of leading?  I certainly would like to think that I am, but I guess I’m not the judge of that.

This also made me think about other leaders of the Church, of local, state, and national governments, their burden seems so much greater than mine.  I wonder how much of the moral decline in a country like the United States actually falls on the responsibility of the leadership?  If we are looking to our leaders to lead and all we see is squabbling, deceit, greed, and infidelity, does that lead us to think that it is more acceptable now to do such things?  Perhaps the greatest threat to the moral fabric of America is the mere fact that things like this are becoming common place in the news… Sports stars use drugs and kill people, Government officials text inappropriate pictures of themselves, movie stars cheat and divorce at an alarming rate… if the past is any indicator (and it usually is) and the Bible is at all true (which it definitely is) these people that we have set up as leaders will indeed lead us somewhere, unfortunately it seems as though they aren’t pointing us in the right direction at all.  Which brings up another very important point: the need to pray for our leaders.  We need to be in prayer for our bosses, pastors, elected officials, sports stars, movie stars, and the like.  These are the people that the American people seem to be looking to (sad as that may be), these are the people that will lead us, and we need to be in prayer that it would be God that is leading them.