Friday, December 14, 2018

Devotional: Jesus the New Israel, Matthew 2:13-23

Outline of Matthew 2.12-23

Matthew concludes the account of Jesus’ birth and childhood with the story of how God preserved his life from Herod’s attempt to murder him and how that resulted in Jesus growing up in Nazareth of Galilee. Matthew is telling the story in a way that reveals Jesus as the embodiment of the nation of Israel who will accomplish what Israel was supposed to do and thus, will “fulfill” what God had planned to do through Israel. It is likely that the main background for this is the servant songs in Isaiah in which the Servant-Messiah brings in the kingdom of the age to come through his message, substitutionary death and exaltation (Isaiah 53). This was a common theme in the Hebrew scriptures and Matthew will cite Jeremiah, Hosea, and allude to many other passages to make his point. Jesus will not only bring in the peaceful worldwide kingdom promised to David and Abraham, but he will also recapitulate the slavery, suffering and exile of Israel. But, unlike the nation, he will live without sin, perfectly fulfill the covenant and accomplish Israel’s mission to bring blessing to the whole world. .

The Magi are the first of many Gentiles who will come, worship and follow Jesus. Herod, on the other hand reminds us that opposition to Jesus’ mission and rule is deep within the human heart and, wherever Jesus message goes out, there will also be persecution of the messengers.(2:13-15) The irony here is that pagans are honoring God's Messiah, while the religious leaders of the Jews, who know enough to know where Messiah will be born, are not willing to go out of their way even to go find him. Herod typifies the oppressor of God's people. He reminds one of pharaoh. And like the Israelites in Egypt (Hosea 11:1), Jesus's family become refugees fleeing Herod, but are miraculously preserved by God. Matthew reminds us of Israel's history to encourage us that when we follow God’s call he will also preserve us through suffering and persecution because Jesus leads us in a new exodus into God’s kingdom.

The journey to the new exodus is not easy. The worship of the Magi leads to the murder of the infants in Bethlehem.(2:16-18)  As throughout history, the desire to preserve the earthly power of leaders leads to the suffering of their people. Matthew likens the suffering of the people of Bethlehem to that of the people in the slaughter of the Babylonian invasion and exile of Israel when their children were slaughtered before their eyes (Jeremiah 31:15). But with this reminder of the “normal” intense suffering life in this evil world brings, Jeremiah 31 is also a reminder that, when suffering leads to a turning to God, there is restoration, a new covenant, and hope for  a new world. This is what Jesus came to earth to bring to us.

But tyrants die and God’s plan to bless the world goes on. The angel who has been guiding Joseph announces the good news of Herod’s death and tells Joseph to return to Israel. (2:19-23) But this time the angel directs him to settle in Nazareth of Galilee. The angel speaks to Joseph four times in this short section to direct him and save his life. Joseph’s attentiveness to God’s direction and quick obedient response is an example for how we should navigate difficult and chaotic times.

Matthew ends the story of Jesus’ birth and childhood with the note that he would be called a “Nazarene” “so that what was spoken by the prophets might be fulfilled.” (2:23) This is a puzzling statement because Matthew cites no specific prophecy. It is likely that Matthew is thinking about Isaiah 9:1 which predicts that the “great light” will come from “the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations.” The word “Nazarene” is also a puzzle. It is possible that Matthew is making a word play off of the Hebrew word for “branch” (נצר natsar). This word is used in several places (Isaiah 11:1 for one) to describe the coming king as a son of David who will bring God’s final kingdom. Matthew’s point is that, like David, even though Jesus came from an insignificant town and a lowly background, he is the king of Israel and will fulfill the career predicted by the prophets.

The bottom line is that we can be sure that, despite opposition, suffering, and anything else this evil world can throw at us, Jesus has lived through it, has overcome it and will preserve us through it. We follow the path of the new exodus into blessing as we are attentive to the voice of the Spirit and as we trust and follow Jesus.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Devotional: The Birth of the King, Matthew 1:18-2:12

Outline of Matthew 1.18-2.12

The theme of Matthew’s Gospel is that the kingdom of God (heaven) has come to earth in the person of the king, Jesus Christ. In one sense, with Jesus walking on the earth the kingdom of God, as prophesied by the prophets was already present. But in another sense the full manifestation was yet to come. Jesus’ crucifixion, resurrection and ascension would bring in a New Covenant (26:17-30) that would extend the blessings of God’s presence to all the nations of the world (the “already” blessing we live in now). God’s kingdom plan would then be completed at the return of the Son of Man (24-25) (the “not yet” completion of the kingdom when heaven and earth are renewed and joined). In telling the birth story of Jesus, Matthew looks back at how the history of God’s plan in the story of Israel pointed to Jesus and looks forward to how Jesus would accomplish God’s future plan to accomplish his purpose on earth to disciple the nations and to fully realize God’s presence and rule on earth.

The birth story is framed by two visions in which an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph to give him instruction about what his role was to be in God’s plan to bring his Son into the world. The first dream informed Joseph that Mary’s pregnancy was a supernatural work of the Holy Spirit and that he should not divorce her (1:18-25). Instead, he was to name the child Jesus as a sign that Jesus “will save his people from their sins.” (1:21) In the birth story of Jesus, while Luke emphasizes Mary’s story, Matthew emphasizes the righteousness of Joseph. Joseph chooses to obey what God tells him in a dream rather than cling to his honor which would have allowed him to divorce Mary. Joseph provides the example of what our devotion to Jesus should look like as he chooses obedience over cultural norms and the honor of his peers.

Matthew points out that Jesus is the “fulfillment” of the Immanuel prophecy of Isaiah 7-9 (1:22-23). Just as Isaiah’s children were a sign to the nation 700 years before that God was present with them to bring blessing and deliverance to those who trusted and acted on God’s promises in the Assyrian crisis, so Jesus was a sign that God was acting decisively in the world again. Isaiah had predicted that a greater Immanuel was coming who would bring God’s rule, rest, and peace to the entire world. (Isaiah 9:6-7) This greater Immanuel would bring God’s presence into the world in an even more concrete way. God himself would take on a human body and come into the world through a miraculous virgin birth. God himself was coming to free all people, not just from tyrants like Assyria and Rome, but from the dark spiritual forces behind them, from sin, death, and all its consequences. Like in Israel of old, our response to the sign child Jesus determines whether we receive the Immanuel of blessing or the Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz (Isaiah 8) of judgment. Joseph models the proper response as he obeys completely.

In the next section (2:1-12) Matthew records the visit and worship of the Gentile Magi from Persia. The story of the Magi is another of the indications that Matthew is concerned for the mission to the Gentiles. It would have reminded Jewish readers of the many prophecies that, in God’s kingdom, people from all over the world would come and worship God and his king. This is the context of the prophecy in Micah 5:2 that the Jewish priests use to confirm that Messiah will be born in Bethlehem of Judea. This same prophecy (Micah 4:1-5) predicts that people from all nations will come to God’s king and worship. The Magi would be the first in a long line of Gentiles who would worship Jesus.

The worship of the Magi is a model for how we are to worship King Jesus. As they brought gold so should we worship by using our possessions and resources to serve Jesus’ mission and Jesus’ people. As they brought frankincense, the incense that went up to God in the temple symbolizing the prayers of the people, so we should privately and publicly lift up our prayers and praise to the throne room of God because we know he hears them. As they brought myrrh, burial perfume, so we should remember the cross of Jesus and what it accomplished and take up our own cross and follow him.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Devotional: The Family of the King, Matthew 1:1-17

Outline of Matthew 1.1-17

In each Gospel the writer lays out his purpose in his introduction. Mark identifies Jesus as Son of God, Messiah and Savior and then proceeds to prove it inductively. Luke declares his intention to provide an orderly account of Jesus’ life. John begins before creation and identifies Jesus as God come in the flesh, the Logos, the ordering principle of the universe, come to live with us in a human body. Matthew begins with a genealogy. It seems odd to us, but Matthew’s purpose can be seen quite clearly. He begins with a genealogy to show basic truths about Jesus' mission: He came as the culmination of God's plan for Israel to bless the entire world. The genealogy shows that Jesus is the fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham to bless all the world through his family and the fulfillment of the Davidic covenant which promises that God would bring a ruler from the family of David who would usher in a new covenant which will result in the defeat of evil and death and produce a new earth fully joined to heaven and in alignment with God’s purpose to bring peace and blessing to the world. It is a kingdom which includes all nations but presents Jesus as the embodiment of Israel  who fulfills everything God planned to accomplish through them. Matthew presents Jesus as the coming king of Israel who brings the kingdom of heaven to earth and invites everyone, men and women, Jew and Gentile, “bad and good,” to join him, worship him, and live according to the values of his kingdom and be part of his family.

The genealogy is arranged in three blocks of fourteen, leaving out several generations, to make his point. 14 doubles seven, the number of completion. At the beginning of each set of 14 is a key figure who represents a major step in God’s plan to redeem and renew the world. Abraham received God’s covenant that promised blessing to the world through his family. God would make him into a great nation that would be the vehicle of God’s revelation of himself to the world..The second group of 14 begins with David through whom God narrowed the promise to an individual, a Messiah/King who would unite the kingdoms of heaven and earth into one. God’s temple would be with people. The second section ends and the third section begins with the exile which highlights the nation’s failure to do this. The final section of the genealogy ends with Jesus who fulfills God’s purpose through Israel to reveal God to the world and bring his blessing to all nations. He fulfills God’s purpose through David to build a “temple” where God can dwell with his people. Jesus is the temple made “without hands” to provide the way for holy God to dwell bodily within his creation. Jesus has the both the pedigree and the resume of a king we should all want to follow.

One oddity in the genealogy is the inclusion of four Gentile women and some unsavory characters. The Bible does not hide the fact that Jesus’ family has some “skeletons in the closet.” Right up front Matthew is telling us that Jesus’ kingdom is universal and open to all genders and nationalities. Jesus’ kingdom is not a kingdom “of this world” that operates by exclusion or coercion. He breaks down the barriers our sinful cultures have erected to keep us apart from God and from each other. Jesus connects with sinners and transforms them into citizens of the kingdom of heaven. He then calls his followers to go out and “make disciples” in the same way.

Thus, the Gospel of Matthew provides us a with a promise and a challenge. The promise is that all of us can now experience the “shekinah” the light and fire of the presence of God which indwelt the tabernacle and indwells each believer through the Holy Spirit. This demands a response from us of full commitment to him, despite the fact that in this present age we will experience similar rejection and persecution that he suffered. But we do this knowing that the full expression of his kingdom is coming and that Jesus promises “I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Devotional: How To Defend the Faith, Jude 17-25

Outline Jude 17-25

Jude ends his brief. dark letter with a hopeful note. The opposition and persecution we face from false teachers and fake believers should be expected. Jesus and the writers of the New Testament expected it to happen and have already given us the method to combat it. First we must remember that God is in control of the situation and will use even the opposition and persecution to bring about his plan for his people, locally and worldwide. He calls us to take preemptive action to protect the church from false teaching by purposeful discipleship that includes teaching, corporate prayer and reminding people to keep a “kingdom perspective.” We are working for Jesus and he is coming back to evaluate and reward our efforts. We can do this boldly and hopefully because God is the one who will ultimately preserve the truth, grow believers into maturity and keep believers safe in judgment. Thus, we can confidently fulfill our responsibility to preserve the truth of the Word and pass it on to the next generation.

First Jude reminds us that Jesus and the apostles warned us to expect opposition and persecution. But they also predicted the even more dangerous opposition of false teachers who “have crept in unnoticed” (4) and cleverly lay error alongside truth to deceive and manipulate believers. (17-19)  Jude calls us to be discerning to recognize these dangerous people. We cannot look inside them to see that they are “devoid of the Spirit,” but we can recognize them by their teaching that does not conform to the scriptures, their immoral and selfish lifestyles, and their divisiveness. The best way to avoid deception is to know the truth well.

Jude counsels us to take preemptive action to keep ourselves in the faith. First, we are responsible to “build ourselves up.” This means that we make ourselves available to be mentored by faithful Christian leaders and, as we grow to mentor others. As we teach, train, encourage, and serve together we grow in knowledge and in the depth of our love relationship with God and with each other. This also involves “praying in the Holy Spirit.” In corporate and individual prayer we keep close accounts with God, pray for one another’s needs and listen for his leading in our daily lives. Finally we hold each other accountable to Jesus and encourage one another as we remind ourselves of the blessing coming when he returns. 

We are called to do this in a way that shows God’s mercy to the deceived and moves toward the goal of saving the person rather than condemning them. We must be honest and frank about false doctrine and practice (“hating even the garment stained by the flesh” 23) but merciful in our desire to restore. Sometimes it may take a “tough love” (“snatching them out of the fire”) that may even remove false teachers from the fellowship but, again, should have a goal of restoration if possible. Church should be a place where we defend the basics of the faith; freely, mercifully and openly discuss the more difficult unclear issues; gently and honestly deal with words and actions; and do this all in a context of seeking God together in his word and in prayer.

It is our responsibility to rely on the Spirit to lead us into creatively applying the truth to our present situation, It is also our responsibility to preserve the unchanging truths of God’s word and pass them on to the next generation. We know that it will happen because God will never let the truth disappear, he will complete his task of growing believers into the image of Jesus and he will bring us safely through judgment. We will win the fight..

Monday, December 10, 2018

Devotional: Defending The Faith, Jude 1-16

Outline Jude 1-16

The Letter of Jude is very similar to 2nd Peter (who knows which one came first and influenced the other) and deal with a very similar issue. Jude writes passionately to urge believers to see the urgency of opposing false teaching and to fight against apostasy to preserve the content of the witness of the apostles to the gospel contained in the New Testament. We need to recognize that, in every church, there are people who, some out of ignorance and others out of intentional rebellion, who are being used by the forces of evil to destroy the church’s witness to the gospel, pervert its witness and oppose God’s kingdom. Jude wants us to prepare ourselves to know and preserve the truth and rescue the church from false teachers in God’s strength.

Jude hints at the basic problem with the false teachers in the greeting of the letter (1-2). True leaders, “slaves of Jesus Christ,” who recognize their dependence on God who has called them into the faith, loves them and keeps them in the faith. One of the key characteristics of the false teachers is a self-reliance that breaks God’s boundaries and abuses the responsibility of authority.

The main job of Christian teachers is to accurately explain the special revelation of God contained in scripture and apply it to daily life. (3-4) This requires diligent study in the scriptures to properly understand it and continuing dependence on the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Jude sees the false teaching focusing on two issues. First, false teachers “deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.” That is they compromise the deity and authority of Christ, often by deemphasizing or redefining the Trinity and the nature of Jesus as the God-Man. Second they “pervert the grace of our God into sensuality” by twisting the idea “that God loves as we are” into “God is ok with leaving you just as you are,” in order to excuse their own immorality. The grace of God is always extended to everyone where they are but is always working to change those who believe into the likeness of Christ. Good teaching must keep this balance, God has entrusted us with this counter-intuitive special revelation and Jude wants us to avoid the condemnation that we bring on ourselves when we change or compromise it.

The main body of the letter presents examples of apostasy from the past as warnings of the danger of rejecting the truth. These rebels from the past lack submission to God and practice overreaching, abusive authority. Their rebellion and unbelief is recognized by their grumbling, complaining, immorality and greed. They are seductive, unreliable dangers that do not deliver what they promise. Eventually their prideful words and deeds will lead to devastating consequences in the near future and judgment when Jesus returns. Thus, Christians need to be able to recognize false teachers so that they can oppose them and avoid their judgment.

We would be missing Jude’s point if we only pointed his warning at others. All of us, especially Christian leaders, are prone to a self-reliance that forgets our dependence on God and fails to be accountable to God and one another as a “slave of Jesus Christ.” We can fail to keep the balance of the gospel and change grace to “sensuality” or spiritual discipline to human rules. We need to watch in ourselves the tendency to impose standards on others and then give ourselves a pass. As we fight for the faith, let’s make sure we are staying on the right side.

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Saturday, December 08, 2018

Ready To Hit The Road Again

20181203_133106

20181203_133531This is the view through the windshield of our van as we headed back home to El Dorado after a weekend of ministry at Gateway Bible Church in Scotts Valley. We enjoyed fellowshipping at the church on Sunday morning. We saw many old friends and met some new people. We were able to share what God has been doing in our lives and some of our plans (still somewhat tentative) at the Gateway DCL (Devoted to Changing Lives) dessert meeting on Sunday night. It was an encouraging time for us to be prayed for at the meeting and see how God is working in my old home town. We will back at Gateway on Sunday morning December 30th to share my “Vow of Praise” sermon about how God healed me from cancer in the morning services. We then drove back to El Dorado on Monday. Notice a new first: I shared the driving for the last half of the trip I am praising God for my continued recovery from the stem cell transplant. Getting a little better each day. I am enjoying being a little more active, but trying not to do too much. I will be preaching tomorrow (9th) at Camino Community Church in their 10:15 AM service. I am looking forward to that.

Joyce and I are looking forward to doing more ministry in 2019. We would like to spend some time with all our supporting churches as soon as we can,, We are also available for Bible studies. missions meetings, preaching or to just hang out and talk about stuff. We would love to see you.

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Message of the Letter of Jude

Message Jude

Friday, December 07, 2018

Devotional: Be Ready for the Day of the Lord, 2nd Peter 3:1-18

Outline 2 Peter 3.1-18

In chapter 3,  Peter deals with one of the false teachings that was prevalent in the church of his day and one we still face today: that the “Day of the LORD” will never come. The “Day of the LORD” is a prominent theme in the Old Testament and refers to a time when God steps into history to judge the sin of his people and the world, to set things right and to set in motion the next phase of his plan. In the Old Testament it referred to Noah’s flood, the Assyrian invasion, the Babylonian captivity and other pivotal events in the nation’s history. At Jesus’ 1st coming he predicted a “Day of the LORD” that would come for Israel when Jerusalem would be wiped out, the temple destroyed and the new covenant age of the church would begin. As Peter wrote this letter, this prophecy was on the horizon and would be fulfilled in less than ten years. All these “days of the LORD” were merely precursors to the final one that is coming when Jesus will return bodily, all the dead will be raised, final judgment will commence, and heaven and earth will be renewed. It was this final “Day of the LORD” that was being denied by the false teachers. Peter reminds his readers that just as God kept his promise of the previous “Days of the LORD” he would be faithful to complete what he promised in the end. Jesus will come back and Peter’s last words are here to prepare us for that event.

Again Peter points to the evidence for this in the Old and New Testaments (3:1-7). This promise has been repeated over and over again from Genesis to Revelation. The false teachers shortsightedly point out that things have been going on as always for a long time. The long delay in the return of Jesus must mean that God has forgotten his promise. Peter responds with a reminder of the history of God’s promises. God formed his creation out of the chaotic watery mass and, in the judgment of the flood, returned the world to that chaotic state. As Noah preached the coming of judgment for 120 years, the people of his day made the mistake of thinking that delay meant God had forgotten his promise. Just as the flood judgment came on those who were not ready, so the final judgment will bring a refining fire that will purify and prepare a new heavens and earth and remove “the ungodly.”

Peter explains the reason for the delay in keeping his promise in 3:8-13. God delays because he wants to allow the repentance of as many as possible. The Bible is clear that God is very patient and does not want anyone to experience condemnation, but eventually judgment will come. God will remove evil and cleanse the universe of all its effects. To create a universe where “righteousness dwells” God must remove anything that does not conform to his character and standards of beauty and order. Thus, Peter’s point is that we must live godly lives now to be prepared to live in the new order of the heavens and earth.

What does that look like? (3:14-18) We prepare for Jesus’ return by responding to the grace of the Gospel with faith and by working hard to cooperate with the Holy Spirit to grow into the image of Christ (14). We work hard to live out the gospel. This means that, like God, we are patient  with ourselves and others as we grow together (15). We work hard to understand scripture and apply it to our daily lives (16). We work hard to know and guard the truth by being alert for false teaching and living according to who we are in Christ (17). Finally we work hard to grow by learning to appreciate and use the resources God has provided and to deepen our relationship with Jesus and with his people (18). Because judgment is coming, believers must live for God now, focused on His Word and on the eternal; not on the temporary things of life. The way to be ready is to work hard now to grow to be like Christ and to do the work he has called his people to do.

Thursday, December 06, 2018

Devotional: Beware! False Teachers! 2 Peter 2:1-22

Outline 2 Peter 2.1-22

After testifying to the importance, truth and reliability of the apostolic witness to Jesus (New Testament) and the ancient scriptures (Old Testament), Peter now warns the church about the danger of false teachers. The issue is not whether or not they will come. They will come and believers need to work hard to know the truth so that they will be able to recognize them when they come. Jesus (and Paul) warned of “wolves” who appear to be Christian leaders but are actually dangerous, immoral fakes. They can be recognized by their departure from the apostles’ teaching (this is why you need to know the truth well!), their disregard for the moral boundaries God set up in creation and their disrespect for legitimate authorities ordained by God. Separation from them now is important because we do not want to get caught up in the judgment that is certainly coming for them. False teachers promise freedom and fulfilment but all they deliver is enslavement, degradation and death.

Peter warns us to expect false teachers. (2:1-3). Just as there were false prophets in the Old Testament who led many people into destructive beliefs and lifestyles there will be false teachers doing the same thing today. They are not easy to recognize and their message can be appealing. The danger is that they will lead their followers into the same judgment they will receive. History is littered with “movements” that led their followers to disaster and away from real faith. All Christians should be able to recognize false teachers and expose their false teachings so that they can avoid their judgment.

The point of the next section (2:4-10) is that God knows how to discern between the false and true, the good and evil, and will bring the former to judgment and the latter to reward. Peter gives two examples. The first is the spiritual beings who had sexual relations with human women (Genesis 6:1-4), corrupted humanity and brought on the flood. God confined them for all eternity in an underworld prison. The ancient world viewed these supernatural beings as gods who brought knowledge and technology but God’s judgment showed what was true and right. The second example was God’s judgment on Sodom and Gomorrah for failing to heed God’s sexual boundaries. In both cases God eventually sets things right by removing the wicked and rescuing the godly. Believers must make sure they are on the right side in every situation.

Peter then describes the character of the false teachers in 2:11-16. First, they do not recognize legitimate authorities set up by God. They make light of spiritual authorities they do not understand. Instead of submitting to God they try to manipulate the dark principalities and powers which brings terrible destruction. Not all spiritual power or signs and wonders are from God. They tend to be self indulgent and remove the normal restraints that the scriptures place on human desires. Finally they are greedy. Watch out for teachers, preachers and ministers who only minister when they get paid. Especially watch out for those who indulge themselves to live a more lavish lifestyle than their followers.

Finally Peter describes the judgment of false teachers in 2:17-22. They become enslaved in the consequences of their sin. They promise freedom to their followers but become more deeply entangled in their own sins. Sadly, the scandals that have destroyed prominent “ministries” continues to bear witness to this truth. In addition, these false teachers will face a much stricter judgment when they stand before God.

All Christians should be able to recognize false teachers and expose their false teachings so that we can avoid their judgment. False teachers can be recognized by a departure from the central doctrines of the faith, by their advocation of "freedom" from the "restraints" of biblical morality and indulging of selfish desires. Be very wary of any Christian teachers that use the gospel bring attention to themselves or to live a lavish lifestyle.

Wednesday, December 05, 2018

Devotional: Apply God’s Word to Grow, 2nd Peter 1:12-21

Outline 2 Peter 1.12-21

Peter’s goal in this letter is to give the church one last reminder of the of the truthfulness and reliability of the ancient scriptures and his witness to the new revelation of the Son of God, Jesus Christ. He knows that only this will provide a sure basis for our personal faith and for the stability of the church. It is only when we see the message and acts of Jesus in the context of the holy and inspired words of the prophets (this is why the old Testament is important) and in the context of the apostolic witness and instructions to the church (this is why the New Testament is important) that we can see what God is doing in our lives and wants to do in our world. This is why it is so critical for us to work hard to read, study and understand what the Bible says, in its own context. This is why we need to listen and learn from spiritually gifted teachers, preachers and scholars as the Holy Spirit uses them to handle the ancient words accurately and apply them to our current needs and situation. But it is not enough to just know the testimony of the Bible in our heads. We must submit to its teaching, pay close attention to its message, and listen to the Holy Spirit as he applies it to us from outside (teaching) and inside, his inner voice and leading. Then the Spirit will take the word and use it to produce Christ in us.

Because Peter knew his time was short, he thought it urgent to remind believers of the truth about Jesus by putting it into written form. (1:12-15)  Previously, the message was shared verbally, but now the first generation of Christians, who were eyewitnesses of Jesus’ resurrection and life, was passing off the scene. This letter, and probably the Gospel of Mark, would be Peter’s lasting testimony to what he saw and heard when he was with Jesus. How blessed we are to have access to the words of someone who was an eyewitness of Jesus’ first coming. Peter would expect you to make just as much effort to study these words as he did (1:15) to live them and write them down.

Peter insists that this written testimony is from an eyewitness of what Jesus did (1:16-17). What he describes is not in “mythic” form but happened in space-time history. He, along with John and James, were on the mountain of transfiguration and saw Jesus in his “Majestic Glory.” He actually heard the heard the voice of the Father from heaven proclaiming the identity of Jesus as the Son of God. He saw and heard the resurrected Christ and watched his ascension. Like the prophets of old (1:18-21) this was not just a private ecstatic experience. He had been called into God’s council, heard God’s plans and been enabled by the Holy Spirit to share these words and experiences with us.

The Bible is one of the most important of the resources that we must “make every effort” to apply to our lives. Like Peter, we need to “pay attention” to the “voice from heaven” that Peter’s, and the other apostles’ written testimony, provides for us. We live in a world in which there has never been more access to the Bible and resources to understand it. The proper response of the believer is to pay close attention to the Word, submit to it and let the Holy Spirit use it to change you.

Tuesday, December 04, 2018

Devotional: You Have What You Need, 2 Peter 1:1-11

Outline 2 Peter 1.1-11

2 Peter was written right before Peter’s death to pass on the apostolic doctrine to the next generation. Peter reassures his readers that the gospel (Jesus' teachings and actions) rests on accurate eye-witness testimony and its truth is the only way to become like God and share in his coming kingdom. In a way, it is Peter’s final instruction to succeeding generations of the church which he helped to found. Peter wants us to know that the good news of the gospel is that God the Father, through Jesus Christ, has given us all the resources we need to become what he wants us to be and to do what he wants us to do. Faith is believing that what God has said about this is true and then proves itself by working hard to apply these resources to our attitudes, words and actions. When we believe and do this the Holy Spirit works supernaturally in our lives make us grow, help us avoid sin and gives eternal reward. Peter calls us to work hard to grow.

Peter begins the letter with a remarkable statement. He says that the recipients of this letter “have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours.” (2 Peter 1:1). Our faith is seen by God with same standing as that of Peter. There is no difference because both rest on “the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ.”  Who we are as Christians is entirely determined by who Jesus is and what he has done and this never changes. His divine power lives within us so that God works on us from the inside and the outside so that we are able to become progressively more like God and actually share in the “divine nature” within the perfect fellowship of the Trinity. As we grow and respond to the God within us we become more like him, know him better and thus escape our corrupt habits and sinful desires.  

In the next section (1:5-8), Peter calls us to apply the resources God has provided to our daily lives. Because of what God has provided this is not self-help but flows out of our life as we expose ourselves to God’s grace and power and allow what he has promised to become active in our  lives. This is not easy. We must “make very effort” to cooperate with God’s grace and build on the character of Christ that he produces in us. God supplies all the resources but graciously calls us into a cooperative project. This transformation begins with faith and its goal is love for God and for those around us. As we work hard the Holy Spirit will will work from within to strengthen, encourage, and comfort and, as he works in others believers, he will use them to work on us from the outside. The result is a church that is growing together into the character of Christ.

God will always meet and love you where you are but he will never leave you there. (1:9-11) Peter is prodding us to a far-sighted perspective, to God’s calling to be like Christ and enjoy the intimacy within the Trinity that we are destined for. God has given us all the resources we need to do this. Let’s work hard, sacrifice, spend time and effort on what is really important, and do it together.

Message of Second Peter

Message 2nd Peter

Friday, November 30, 2018

Devotional: How to Live Together in This World, 1 Peter 5:1-14

Outline 1 Peter 5.1-14

Peter closes his letter with some practical application about how believers should live together in a way that will reflect God’s grace in this world of suffering and trials. In this chapter he gives two basic commands about church relationships. Church leaders are to shepherd the church. That is, they are to sacrificially serve and protect the church by being living examples of a gracious lifestyle and submission to the needs of their people. The command to all the church is that all their relationships be characterized by a humility that entrusts all of life to God’s care, controls oneself to avoid self-indulgence and stays faithful despite suffering. The promised outcome of this lifestyle is eternal, unfading glory. All of us are called to faithfully live out God’s grace in the power he provides.

Peter calls leaders to serve their people as “under-shepherds” of Jesus. (5:1-4) Their people are to be regarded as belonging to Jesus and placed under the leaders’ care by Jesus. The task of the leader is to train and serve the people as Jesus did. Thus, pastoring (shepherding) can only be done in close relationship with people. Just as Jesus modeled the behavior he was teaching, a pastor/leader must be closely connected with the people so he can know and meet their needs. The pastor should be willing to share the sufferings and trials of the those being ministered to. Church leadership must be a calling to serve, model, teach and lead, not just a profession. A church leader must be Jesus to the church even if that means that one must give their life for the people.

The attitude driving all relationships must be humility. (5:4-11) Humility should permeate every aspect of our behavior. In our relationship with God it means that we give up control completely and trust his care for us. Instead of worrying about what we cannot control we pray in a way that hands over all these problems to our faithful Creator. Instead of giving Satan an opening by indulging our selfishness, we watch ourselves and remind ourselves of the truth of who we are and what is really important. Instead of self-pity in trials, we join in service and prayer with our fellow-believers who are also suffering. We keep the proper perspective that trials are short-term and God promises that whatever was lost will be restored, that what seems in doubt now will be confirmed, what is weak now will be strengthened, and that all these troubles will end with us being established in eternal glory.

It is only with this perspective (5:12-14) that we can live out God’s grace in the power he provides and experience the peace that comes from being in Christ.

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Devotional: Expect and Welcome Suffering, 1 Peter 4:1-19

Outline 1 Peter 4.1-19

Peter continues discussing suffering in chapter 4. His main point is that, as Christians, we should expect and welcome trials and suffering because they work out God’s will for our ultimate salvation. In a way, trials and persecution function as God’s judgment, not to condemn the Christian, but to remove and conquer our propensity to sin and accept the inferior benefits of the world. Persecution focuses us on God and his superior blessings. Thus, Peter urges that we should respond to trials and suffering with acts of grace and love enabled by God’s power. When we do this God promises deeper fellowship with Christ, glory, and the blessing of the experience of the Spirit, which will bring praise to God, purging of sin and completion of God‘s work of grace in our lives.

In 4:1 Peter again points to the example of Jesus. Just as he suffered in the body in order to defeat death and sin for all of creation, we need bodily suffering to overcome sin in our own lives. Suffering has a way of making spiritual things a higher priority and taking our minds off of fulfilling selfish desires and passions. It highlights our dependence on God and helps us see the meaninglessness of things that our flesh values. Those that have never experienced the comfort of the Spirit in suffering will never understand this. Suffering can appear to be a negative judgment on a person but Peter assures us that it will result in a positive outcome as the Spirit’s work of transformation prepares us for glory.

Thus, Peter urges believers to respond to trials and persecution with daily practical acts of love and grace. (4:7-11)Suffering often is the means God uses to enable the believer to make more use of the power and gifts God has given them. Suffering focuses us on the things that are important which energizes our prayers.  Suffering provides a perspective that enables us to give all our resources (hospitality) to serve without grumbling. A proper response to suffering energizes our spiritual gifts and increases our ability to serve effectively. Just as Jesus showed God’s glory through suffering, so we show his glory better as we experience times of suffering.

Finally,Peter says that we should not be surprised when we suffer or are persecuted and insulted. Instead we should “rejoice and be glad” that we have been chosen to “share Christ’s suffering.” The rejoicing is not in the pain and suffering itself, that would be crazy, but like Jesus we look through the suffering to the blessing, salvation and glory that will result from it. Everyone will experience God’s judgment. Better to let God perform his work of purifying us in the fire of suffering now than stand before him with a wasted life later. We can be sure that our “faithful Creator” (4:17) is going to set things right for us and for those who cause the suffering. Thus, our best question in the midst of suffering should not be “why?” but can always be, “how can I do good in this situation?”

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Devotional: Suffering Leads to Victory, 1 Peter 3:13-22

Outline 1 Peter 3.13-22

In 3:13 Peter begins the next major section of the letter. Normally we would expect that living lives of humble service and doing right would be welcomed by our neighbors and often it is. But now, Peter points out that living for Jesus often brings trials and persecution from an unbelieving world. Nevertheless, Peter urges us to welcome suffering with joy and by returning good (acts of grace) for evil done to us. This seems odd but it works because our trials and suffering are the way God will bring about his perfect plan for the world and the way that the forces of evil, both physical and spiritual, will be defeated. In addition, this is how God strengthens our faith and builds our character and brings blessing to us now and ultimate blessing in the future. Peter’s encouragements to believers to stand joyfully and graciously in suffering (3:13-17, 4:7-19) frame the example of Jesus (3:18-4:6) whose suffering and death led to resurrection, ascension to the right hand of the Father and the defeat of all the powerful supernatural forces of evil.

Peter begins by reminding us that if we “suffer for righteousness’ sake” (3:14) we will be blessed. If fact, he says it is better for us to suffer for doing good than for doing wrong. If we “set apart Christ as holy,” that is, we recognize him as the ultimate authority and build our lives around him, this will challenge societal norms and sometimes put us at odds with our neighbors and the governmental authorities. However, Peter cautions us to make sure that our “defense” of Christ’s standards is done with gentleness and respect and that our best argument is our good behavior and service to our neighbors. There is great blessing in suffering for Jesus. There is no blessing in suffering because you are acting like an arrogant jerk.

The example of Jesus provides the ultimate expression of how this works. His death, in the body, led to his resurrection and reward; and also provided, not only salvation to the world, but defeated the supernatural forces of evil that had dominated human society for thousands of years. When Jesus died it appeared that the spiritual forces of darkness, Paul’s “principalities and powers,” had defeated God’s plan to save and redeem the world. But, as Jesus’ body lay in the grave, he preached to the supernatural beings who had been imprisoned in the days of Noah. Jesus announced his victory over them and then proved it by rising from the dead. Just as Noah’s family were saved through the destruction of the flood, so we will be saved through the chaos of this life. Jesus “has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him.” (3:22). As we have renounced these powers through our baptism they are also subjected to us now and, in the future we will join Jesus at the right hand of the Father.

So when suffering comes we can respond as Jesus did, with acts and words of grace and truth. We don’t need to fear because God has won the victory over death and evil and anything the powers of this world do to us will result in our blessing. 

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Devotional: Gospel Relationships at Home, 1 Peter 3:1-12

Outline 1 Peter 3.1-12

Peter continues to apply the message and mission of the gospel to personal relationships in the first half of chapter 3. Jesus’ example of humility and dedication to pointing others to God with his words and actions, no matter what the cost, continues to drive Peter’s teaching on relationships within the home. In 3:1-7 Peter focuses on the marriage relationship, especially those in which a believing wife is married to an unbelieving husband. Peter’s basic point is that the marriage relationship is one of mutual submission to the specific and different needs of one another and respect for each other as partners in the grace of the gospel. In 3:8-12 he summarizes the section with a call to “unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind” supported by a promise from Psalm 34 that God will protect, hear the prayer and bless the one that lives this way. In all our relationships we are called to live out the grace of the gospel whether we are in a position of power or weakness.

In 3:1-7 the Christian wife receives the longer exhortation because she would have been the one more likely to be struggling in a relationship with an unbelieving husband who may have been against her Christian beliefs. It may also be that the church was being criticized that its raising of the status of women was causing strife in marriages. Like Paul, Peter urges the wife to submit to her husband (as was expected in the culture) and use her freedom in Christ, not to serve herself, but to serve him and meet his needs. Instead of prolonging the battle of the sexes, in which the husband uses his standing in society and generally greater physical strength to control his wife and she counters with seduction and manipulation, each one should imitate Jesus by submitting to, loving and serving one another as partners in salvation and ministry. But also like Paul, Peter goes against culture by telling the husband, “likewise,” to submit to the needs of his wife by especially being considerate of her unique needs as a female and her equal status as a gospel partner. Ultimately the goal is not to protect traditional social order or to “liberate” the wife from being a woman, but to remake both marriage roles as they should be in God’s kingdom and produce marriages that create homes that live out the gospel.

Finally, Peter closes the section with a summary of what gospel behavior looks like. The gospel message is especially seen in our closest relationships as they are transformed by the gospel. We must live compassionately, humbly and in harmony with one another, even in a hostile society, We can trust God to take care of our personal interests because God’s protection and provision are guaranteed to those who live submissive lives. Homes where husbands and wives serve and love one another are powerful witnesses to the power of the gospel. Relationships at work, with our unbelieving neighbors and with the authorities that display compassion, integrity and return good for evil demonstrate God’s rule and draw people toward him. Giving up our own agendas and desires seems dangerous but the ruler of the universe promises to bring blessing and peace as a result. This is the message,  mission and promise of the gospel.

Monday, November 26, 2018

Devotional: Gospel Relationships With Unbelievers, 1 Peter 2:11-25

Outline 1 Peter 2.11-25

So far  Peter has shown us that offering ourselves to Jesus means living out the gospel as Jesus did and growing into what Jesus has saved us to be. Now in 2:11-3:12 he will show us what this means for our relationships with the people around us. The bottom line in all of our relationships is that we should live in a way that draws others to Christ. (2:11-12) The supreme example of this is Jesus, who submitted himself to suffering and persecution without retaliation in order to secure our salvation. In 2:11-25 Peter explains how this affects our relationship with unbelievers and in 3:1-12 he explains how it should affect relationships in the church and in our homes. The key word governing all these relationships is “submission.” This means that we live compassionately, humbly, and in harmony with one another, trusting God’s care, protection and provision to take care of our personal interests. Our lives should always be lived in a way that draws people to Christ no matter how they treat us.

The central section (2:21-25) points to Jesus as the primary example of how to live in relationships and is bracketed by a section on our relationships with secular authorities (2:13-20) and by a section on relationships with believers (3:1-9). The ultimate example of an exemplary life that draws people to God is Jesus. He responded to persecution, insults, and suffering without retaliation. In doing so he defeated the forces of evil and opened the way of salvation and entrance to God. This is how God works. He does not work through violence or revolution which merely replaces one oppressor with another, but calls us to live peaceful, productive lives of service in the face of mistreatment and persecution. Just as God defeated the powers of evil by Jesus giving himself over to death, he will give us victory as we repay evil with love.

Peter gives two examples of how we respond to tyranny and persecution in verses 13-20. He urges Christians to respond to Roman authorities and slave masters with proper honor, obedience and submission. Here he is dealing with terrible situations in which there seems to be no solution. His point is that, even in these situations, God will work within this kind of suffering to save the world as he did through the suffering of Jesus. (2:24) This is the way the kingdom of God changes the kingdoms of this world. We can be sure that when we are in this type of situation that God will use our peaceful, loving responses to our persecutors in the same way he used Jesus’ response. And it does work. This is how the Roman empire was “Christianized” in less than 300 years.

So, if you are in a difficult situation from which there seems to be no escape, take courage and respond with love. God is able to protect you and, even if the worst happens, to take your good behavior and use it to change the world. He might even use it to save the one who is persecuting you.

Devotional: Grow Into Who You Are, 1 Peter 2:1-10

Outline 1 Peter 2.1-10

Peter continues to explain who you are as a Christian and what you need to do to apply these truths to your life in the first half of chapter 2. He calls believers to leave behind the selfish goals, methods and perspectives that drove their lives before they met Christ and instead intensely desire to nourish the new goals, perspectives and methods of the gospel that has saved them. This is done as God's people offer themselves to Jesus because He is the only sure basis for life and what he has done for us obligates us to set aside our lives to serve Him. The old ways of getting what we want, “malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander,” break relationships and do not satisfy. Instead, we are called to crave the gospel, the word about who Jesus is and what he has done for us. and apply it as we follow him. When we daily offer ourselves to serve Jesus, the Holy Spirit will “grow us into our salvation” so that we resemble Jesus more and more each day. He will then join us together with other believers into the the temple (a “spiritual house”) that displays Christ to the world.

What Jesus did for us when we first came to him should drive us to seek more of him and grow into what he made us to be. We should desire this like an infant desires milk. The natural response to what Jesus has done for us should be a regular approach to Jesus, through the Spirit, in commitment, prayer and study of the gospel testimony contained in the Bible. This happens in the context of the church body as the Holy Spirit takes the diverse gifts of individual believers and builds us into one “spiritual house” offering ourselves as “spiritual sacrifices” to God. This is how God will build his new “temple” spreading out all over the world to offer the benefits of salvation and following Jesus to everyone.

Peter emphasizes that Jesus has made us into a “holy priesthood.” We are now created to be his special people, a “chosen race” set aside to serve him, represent him and distribute the amazing blessings he has given us to whoever we come into contact with. We offer ourselves to Jesus because he is the only sure basis for life. The longer we serve him the more we realize this. So let’s “crave the unadulterated milk of the word” by daily commitment to Jesus and serving him, meeting with other believers so that we are built into his spiritual house, and connecting those around us to the Jesus who saved us and loves us.

Devotional: Become What You Really Are, 1 Peter 1:13-25

Outline 1 Peter 1.13-25

In the second half of chapter 1 Peter applies the truth of our glorious eternal inheritance to how we are to live now. He states the basic command in verses 15-16. The God who calls us is holy so our conduct must be holy. Or, as the book of Leviticus states several times, “you are holy, because I am holy.” To say God is holy is to say “God is God,” and so what Peter is telling us is that we need to live what God has called us to be (1:15), what Christ has already transformed us to be (1:19) and what the Spirit continually enables us to be (1:2): the image of God/Jesus Christ lived out in the world. The Spirit takes the Word of God (Jesus) and the word of God (the biblical testimony about him) and applies them to produce the character and acts of God within his people. Because of the “blood of Christ” which has been applied to you, you are radically different than you were before. You have been set free from sin and are already on the winning side in the battle against evil.

Therefore, Peter calls us to apply the resources of the Spirit, the hope of our inheritance and the knowledge of who we are in Christ to our daily conduct by:

  1. Setting our minds daily on the resources God’s grace has provided for us to live as God’s image and resist the bad habits of our former lives. We should wake up every morning with a prayer that recognizes what God has provided and a commitment to living in a way that shows God to the world. We will fail at times, but our daily hope is set “fully on the grace” that Jesus will complete at his return. (13-14)
  2. Living reverent, worshipful lives before God that recognize that our conduct matters and will be judged by God based on what Christ has done for us and how we have lived out the grace and forgiveness that we have received. Received grace is not a license to sin. That attitude betrays that we have not understood or really received grace. Receiving grace obligates us to living graciously before God and his people. We should be willing to pay the same price that Jesus paid for us because we know that the same glorious inheritance waits for us. (15-21)
  3. Loving God’s people. God is not looking for adherence to an endless list of “do’s and don’ts” in our conduct but a life that is patterned after Jesus himself and reflects the self-giving way he related to others. As we walk together with fellow-believers toward Christ our hearts grow to reflect increasingly the love he has for others. As this happens we understand better God’s revelation in Christ and in the apostolic testimony about Christ contained in the Bible. This all works together to produce continual growth in resemblance to God in our words and actions. Love and truth come together. (22-25)

Peter is not calling us to become something were are not. He is calling us to become what God has already made us to be. We have the grace to live as Christ lived. Set your mind on that, commit to him and watch him produce Jesus’ character and actions in your daily life.

Saturday, November 24, 2018

Family Thanksgiving

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20181120_164130This Thanksgiving was a pretty “interesting” one. For many years we have been away from our family for Thanksgiving. Last year I was in the hospital for Thanksgiving. This year the plan was to have and enjoy time with our parents and the rest of the family. Thursday the plan went well. We had Thanksgiving dinner with Joyce’s mom and dad at their house. We then proceeded over to my sister Jayne’s house to enjoy the evening with her family and my parents. (see pictures above and below) There were a few people missing but we had a good evening together. We were supposed to have another get-together at my parents’ house on Friday. My brother and his family were coming up to join us. They did join us but we met at the hospital instead of our planned venue. We had to take dad into the ER in the morning. Turns out he has pneumonia and will be in the hospital for a few days. We’d appreciate prayers for him. We did finally eat supper together later in the evening with everyone. With all the changed plans we didn’t take any pictures. Nevertheless, Happy Thanksgiving. Despite our changes in plans God is Good, all the time.

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Devotional: Our Living Hope, 1 Peter 1:1-12

Outline 1 Peter 1.1-12

1 Peter is a letter that calls believers scattered throughout this present chaotic, ungracious, and often evil, world to live the gracious life of the age to come. This only makes sense because God's promises guarantee that God will bring glory from the present oppression and persecution his people face. Peter gets right to the point of the letter in the greeting (1:1-2). God's people have a guaranteed inheritance (4) because he has chosen them for holiness and glory Thus, they can joyfully serve God, despite trials, as the prophets did. This is guaranteed by the Trinity: the Father’s choice, the Son’s blood and the Spirit’s work, and all are sure because of God's power. This future inheritance is the outcome of our salvation: the sharing of the glory of Christ in God’s future kingdom. This kingdom awaits the return of Jesus (6-9). In the meantime we are called to live out God's grace now and the message of the gospel now, just as Jesus did. The standard for this is the Word/gospel written and preached that grows us into the image of Christ. The proper response to this gospel is a desire to be like Christ, resist evil and love others deeply, despite trials and persecution. The promise of God and Jesus’ resurrection guarantees the ultimate success of his plan.

First, Peter is written to a church undergoing great persecution. (1:1-2) But Peter calls us to take great comfort in the fact that the whole Trinity is working within us and within the world to bring about this kingdom plan. Though we seem to be “exiles” in this world, we are actually the front line of the kingdom bringing its blessings (grace and peace) to those who receive us. This is our mission and God guarantees its ultimate success.

Peter then thanks and praises God for the living hope (1:3) of the glorious eternity which is the “outcome of your salvation.”(1:9) God’s new world has actually already begun in the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus, and his distribution of the Holy Spirit. Our lives are renewed and transformed so that we are able, in the Spirit, to live the life of the future age now. We Christians are set apart and enabled to be walking, talking outposts of God’s kingdom wherever we go. Like Jesus, we will face opposition, but also, like Jesus, as we trust and connect to the Father, we become his agents to change the world. It’s a scary task but God does it through us.

Finally, all of this was what the Old Testament prophets were pointing to (1:10-12). The message of the gospel, Christ’s incarnation, suffering, overcoming of death and evil and “subsequent glories” is the climax of God’s revelation to humanity. We have in our possession now what the prophets, and even angels, were waiting for hundreds of years. Our response should be “inexpressible joy,” and “tested, genuine faith” as we move to a future “filled with glory.” 

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Devotional: Summary of the Gospel of Mark

Mark Message Statement

Mark has taken us on a journey with Jesus to discover who he is the way the disciples did: by observing him in his everyday life and ministry. Mark (and probably Peter, the apostle behind the writing of this Gospel) is giving testimony as to why he is following this man, Jesus, who made some pretty outlandish claims.  Mark’s testimony is that Jesus’ words and actions have shown that he is the Messiah, Son of God and Savior. He is the ultimate servant who is able and willing to meet every human need including the greatest one; forgiveness of sin and victory over its effects. Jesus is the “stronger one” who has brought in the kingdom of God, empowers his people with the Holy Spirit and works through his people to extend that kingdom worldwide. Mark’s goal is that you believe these claims, give your allegiance to Jesus, and follow his example of selfless, sacrificial servanthood.

The abrupt ending of Mark has left the resolution of the situation open. The announcement of Jesus’ resurrection forces you, like the women, disciples and Mark’s original audience, to make a decision:

Will you believe? The women and disciples are confronted by an idea that is beyond their comprehension. Could a dead man be alive? They will not believe it until they see it and they do see it. They should have believed. They had seen Jesus do everything from healing the sick, providing a feast for 5000 from a child’s lunch, controlling the wind and sea, and casting out demons to raising the dead. Resurrection was exactly what he had predicted. They did believe, but only after Jesus bodily appeared to them. Now Mark asks you to believe their testimony.

Will you trust his faithfulness? Ultimately, real Christianity is not about what we do for God, but about what he has done for us in Jesus Christ. Mark has shown that Jesus has all the qualifications to provide everything we need for life and godliness. The “good news” is that Jesus has already won the battle and now “baptizes” us with the “fire” of the Spirit so that we can participate daily in that victory.

Will you follow? Jesus came to be a servant and ransom to free everyone to be what God made us to be. He now calls you and me to “take up that cross” and follow his example of sacrifice and service. He calls us to see everything we are and do in the light of that mission and every moment as an opportunity to love and serve God by serving his people. It will be hard, but the good news is that the outcome of all of it depends on him, not us.

Will you serve? Mark has shown that Jesus is the Messiah-king who brings in God’s great and wonderful age to come. He is the Son of God, YHWH in the flesh come to be with us and, yes, to serve us. He is the one that has overcome evil and will give us the ability overcome it daily in our lives. We are enabled to live and serve as he did. Now what will you do with this information? 

Monday, November 19, 2018

Devotional: A Lot Can Change in 3 Days, Mark 15.42-16:8

Mark 16.1-8 outline

Mark has arranged his conclusion to his Gospel, as he often does, in a very tight chiastic (sandwich) structure in which each element in 16:1-8 balances each element in 15:42-47. He does this to contrast the situation between the Friday death scene with that of resurrection Sunday morning. Here is the outline:

Time: Evening before the Sabbath

  • Joseph dares to ask for the body of Jesus
    • Pilate Marvels that Jesus is already dead, confirms his death and gives the body to Joseph
      • Joseph wraps the body, puts it in a tomb and rolls a rock in front of the door
        • The two Mary’s observe where Jesus is laid

Time: Morning on the first day of the week

        • The two Mary's go to the tomb
      • They bring spices to anoint the body and wonder how they will roll away the stone
    • The women marvel that the stone is rolled away and a young man informs them that Jesus is risen
  • The women do not dare to relay the angel’s instructions to the disciples  (Adapted from the NIV Application Commentary: Mark by David E. Garland, 611)

The point is that from Friday to Sunday a lot can change. No one, in their right mind expects a dead body to be gone from the grave three days after burial. But Mark, in a very concise and succinct way, testifies that Jesus’ body was gone and that an angel confirmed that the reason the body was not there was that he had risen from the dead..Mark assumes that the reader will know that, even though the angel’s instruction to the women was disobeyed, Jesus did meet with them and confirm that he was alive. This was the truth that changed these female disciples from fearful doubters into bold witnesses. It was the truth that would change the world.

On Friday Jesus was dead The centurion, who was quite experienced at knowing when people were dead, confirmed it. On Sunday, they were confronted with the truth that Jesus was alive. This was confirmed by the angel’s testimony and then from the well-known resurrection appearances of Jesus. It is the only explanation that explains the change in Jesus’ fearful followers and their boldness in founding the church at the cost of persecution and martyrdom.

It was unexpected. Even though Jesus told them he would rise from the dead they neither understood nor believed it. The women went to the tomb expecting to find a dead body. They left “trembling and astonished” at an outcome that went far beyond their ability to comprehend it. Only Jesus’ appearances to them and his assurances would allow them to make sense out of what had happened.

The final piece in Mark’s revelation of Jesus’ identity has been put into place. Jesus is the Messiah, the king of the Jews who fulfills the promises of God’s covenants in the Old Testament. Jesus is the Son of Man who will set the world right and judge and rule at the right hand of the Father. Jesus is the Son of God, come in human flesh to defeat death and sin and provide the way for every person to have access to intimate relationship with God. The resurrection is the unique event that confirms this. A lot can change when we see the risen Jesus, overcome our fear and doubt and follow him.

Friday, November 16, 2018

Today is the One-Year Anniversary of My Stem Cell Transplant

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                     November 16, 2017                     November 16, 2018

Today is a momentous day for me. I am celebrating the one year old birthday of my new immune system. This also means that I have been cancer free for a year. Of course, I need to wait until the PET scan in January to confirm that but we are thanking God for this healing miracle.

Here is what I wrote last year….

My main prayer request is that this would work and I would come out the process “Cancer-free” six months from now. Also please pray for Joyce and I as we grit it out through the process. Knowing that people are praying is a huge factor in keeping us positive and moving forward. Thank you for your prayers and support

As you can see that prayer was answered doubly. It is still true that we need prayer and that your prayers are a great encouragement. We are almost to the point where we can start making plans for the future and would appreciate your prayers for that. In the meantime we have our Christmas plates and cups out already and we plan to really enjoy our celebration of the incarnation. I missed the last two because I was so sick and it will be great to enjoy a Christmas that I can actually remember. To say God is good seems almost not enough. We have a lot to be thankful for this thanksgiving and we plan to celebrate that. Thank you for your prayers and support!

Devotional: The Vindication of the Cross, Mark 15:16-41

Mark 15.21-47 outline

With the decision of Pilate to give in to the crowd and sentence Jesus to death by crucifixion, he is given over to the soldiers for mocking and torture. Abandoned by his friends and mocked by his enemies, Jesus surrenders himself to the cruel authority and violence of the “beast” empire. He willingly takes the worst this evil world can give out. But, Jesus had also given himself over to His Father’s will and, in submitting to a demeaning death, would face it and defeat it. God used the darkest moment to give the clearest revelation of who Jesus is. The mocking soldiers who thought that Jesus was the appropriate pathetic example of a king for the Jews, who they despised and disdained, turned out to be more right than they knew when Jesus defeated death by rising from it. The Jews who mocked Jesus for being a man who could save others, but not himself, were being unintentionally prophetic when God saved the world through his death and resurrection. Even when it appeared that God had abandoned him, Jesus was revealed as the ultimate righteous sufferer (Psalm 22) who the Father was vindicating through the whole process. What people intended to humiliate and discredit Jesus, the Father turned into the revelation of Jesus as, not only the king of the Jews, but the Son of God and Savior. This, also is how God works when we “take up our cross” and trust God for our well-being, meaning and purpose.

The scourging, torture, and humiliation of Jesus were designed to break down resistance and assert the will of the rulers. The mocking soldiers and the public nature of the execution was designed to show who was in charge and deter the pretensions of serving any king but Caesar. Instead, Jesus’ quiet dignity in his suffering, faithful resolve, and refusal to retaliate moved a Roman centurion, who had likely been one of the mockers hours before, to proclaim, “Truly this man was the Son of God!” (15:39).

Mark also emphasizes Jesus’ cry from Psalm 22 as he pictures the crucifixion with reference to the entire psalm, emphasizing that Jesus was the "righteous sufferer" who felt and seemed abandoned by God but was never abandoned and would be vindicated. At the cross Jesus took on all the results and consequences of sin, including the feelings of estrangement and abandonment by God we have all experienced. But Jesus’ anguished cry came from a faithful heart that had known deep intimacy with God and assures us that God never abandons his people. As Jesus suffered all the pain and anguish of thousands of years of human history the Father was working to set things right. Within the darkness that gathered around the cross God was judging sin and evil and using Jesus’ faithfulness to defeat it.

Finally, God vindicated Jesus on the cross by tearing the veil in the temple from top to bottom at the moment of his death. Jesus, by choosing not to save himself and giving himself over to the Father, opened the way for access to the Father for all humanity. Jesus would save others as he ministered, by being a “servant and ransom” for all. Real power and real victory are experienced when we deny ourselves and use power to serve and save others, rather than saving and serving ourselves. It’s counter-intuitive, but the only way save your life is to give it away.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

On the Road for Preaching in Oregon

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20181111_123332This past weekend Joyce and I headed up to Ashland Oregon to minister at Ashland Bible Church. This was a monumental weekend for us in many ways. I have not preached in a regular church service in almost two years while I was being treated for lymphoma. 2345So it was a real privilege and blessing for me to be back “in the pulpit” again. Ashland Bible Church has been one of our faithful supporting churches since we went out to Guam in 1993 so it was quite appropriate to begin this new phase of ministry there. We enjoyed staying in the home of our long time friends Garland and Roberta Shinn (left). Joyce led the Sunday School time by sharing about our history of ministry with Liebenzell Mission USA at Pacific Islands University. Then I preached from Psalms 31, and 116 about God’s deliverance and healing from my cancer (11 months cancer free now) and my experiences of God’s presence and care through all of that. When I was first diagnosed with cancer I made a “vow of praise” to God that I would publicly recount the story of his healing presence in my life wherever I go and it was wonderful to be able to begin that there in Ashland. It was a great weekend and I thank God for it. The people there ministered to us and I know that they were touched and encouraged to hear what God has done in our lives, We look forward to doing this more.

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The trip was a long smoky drive up to Oregon (left) and back to California (right) on interstate 5. On the way up we could see the flames of the Camp Fire east of the freeway. On the way back the smoke was still so thick it lowered the temperature 12 degrees. It is sobering to realize how fast circumstances beyond our control can change our lives. This was the main point of my message. Any thought we have that we are in control of our own lives is illusory. We are thankful that we serve the One who has defeated the chaos of death, sin, cancer, and disaster.

Devotional: The Inadequacy of Religion and Politics, Mark 15:1-15

Mark 15.1-15 outline

Chapter 15 moves the account of Jesus’ trials from the high priest’s courtyard to the headquarters of the Roman governor Pontius Pilate. The Jewish religious leaders and the authorities of the Roman government thought that they were bringing this ragged Jewish prophet to trial, but in reality the God of the universe was bringing them under his judgment. What would they do with the one that God had already  identified as the Son of God, Son of Man and Messiah? Jesus was there offering relationship with God and a place in his kingdom. The religious leaders, the crowd and the Roman governor all missed it and suffered God’s judgment.

The religious leaders missed Jesus because of “envy.” (15:10) Theirs was a religion dominated by legalism and ritual. They had lost the Old Testament’s emphasis on God’s covenant grace and the great command to love God and others. Their years of compromise with the Roman power to survive in the short term had moved them away from the living faith of their forefathers. They were willing to sacrifice the Messiah to maintain the short-lived status, wealth and power that their religious system provided.

The crowd was more comfortable to live with a murderer who met their personal, nationalistic hopes of overthrowing the Romans. Barabbas may have been the “action hero” or “Robin Hood” of his day dispatching the hated Romans with his sharp knife and clever plans for liberation and revenge on the oppressor. This kind of a political “savior” tends to be much more popular than one whose revolution requires you to “deny yourself, take up your cross and follow me.” (Mark 9:34)

Pilate just didn’t care about the morals or eternal ramifications of the situation. All he cared about was keeping the peace, order and maintaining his province in a way that would please his superiors. It didn’t matter to him if justice was served or how many had to die to make sure that happened. Only his political position was important. Thus, he dismissed Jesus as irrelevant.

Religion without relationship with God and politics apart from the kingdom of God do not meet human needs and will be judged by God. The incarnate God was standing in front of them but they killed him.and missed their chance for true liberation and life.

Religion sacrifices people for short term goals

Politics ignores the suffering for temporal expediency

Jesus cares for others long term benefit

Religion ignores God’s laws to please the political powers

Politics ignores injustice to maintain the status quo

Jesus pursues God’s will to inaugurate eternal life

Religion uses people to maintain status and wealth

Politics manipulates people to maintain power

Jesus serves people to meet needs

Religion accuses people to maintain false piety

Politics brutalizes people to maintain control

Jesus sacrifices himself to bring people into God’s kingdom

Religion trusts its ability to compromise with the world

Politics trusts the sword, club and whip

Jesus trusts in the Father who raises the dead

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Overview and Message of Exodus

Exodus Chart

Message of the Book of Exodus

God is the Sovereign Ruler who saves and liberates people who respond to His gracious provision of redemption and instruction, so that they can be in His presence, and serve, worship and obey Him.

  1. God is the sovereign ruler of all creation. He is the ultimate authority and has all power.
  2. God provides salvation (blessing, freedom, instruction) to humanity but it must received by faith.
  3. Exodus shows how God reveals Himself to people to bring them into relationship with Him (salvation).

Monday, November 12, 2018

Devotional: Facing Our Own Inadequacy: Mark 14:53-72

Mark 14.53-72 outline

The rest of chapter 14 looks at Jesus’ trial before the Jewish Sanhedrin. Mark frames the trial within an account of Peter’s “trial” before the servants of the high priest to contrast Jesus’ faithful response to Peter’s denial and cursing of Jesus. Jesus is seen to be much more (Son of God, Messiah, the Son of Man who shares power with YHWH) than anyone expected, while Peter and the Jewish leaders have their inadequacies, blasphemies and evil exposed. Peter’s pledges of fidelity to Jesus are revealed as empty boasts and the Jewish leadership is exposed as self-righteous, selfish power-seekers. The only difference between Peter and those that punched and insulted Jesus is that Peter, when he came face to face with his own inadequacy, recognized what he had done and broke down in tears.

The big issue in Jesus trial is his identity. The Sanhedrin cannot get their false witnesses to agree on the charges they they want to bring, temple destruction, so they focus in on Jesus’ claims to be the Messiah. Ironically, God will allow the temple to be destroyed because these very leaders failed to recognize who Jesus was. At the trial, for the first time, Jesus publicly reveals himself as the Messiah, but he expands that idea far beyond what they were expecting. He knew here that their wrong, shortsighted views of what a Messiah should do would lead to the cross and accomplish God’s real plan to save the world.

This highlights the issue we all face when we are confronted with the claims of Jesus: Who is He? The Jewish leaders inadequate view of Jesus led them to oppose him, which destroyed the nation. Peter’s inadequate view of Jesus led him to rely on his own strength and deny Jesus. The other disciples were no different as they dispersed and abandoned Jesus. It is easy to understand why they saw Jesus this way. Jesus’ claim to be equal with YHWH is a big claim and went way beyond what everyone expected the Messiah to be. Perhaps the disciples should have seen it after three years living with Jesus, but God had a bigger evidence in store for them. Jesus had predicted that his claim would be verified when he rose from the dead. It was only when the disciples saw Jesus for who he really was that they would be able to see accurately their own needs and find them met in Jesus.

The main reason that we fail to see ourselves accurately is that we fail to see Jesus accurately. We are not adequate to be what we are created to be without that intimate contact and relationship with God. Jesus is the one who provides that. He is the temple, built without hands, where we meet God. Peter came face to face with his own inability at that trial in the courtyard and walked away broken and hopeless. Thankfully, Jesus is more than Peter thought. The risen Jesus would restore Peter and make him part of the apostolic foundation of the church. Like him, Jesus forces us to admit our own inadequacy. But, also like with Peter, Jesus still lives to forgive, even the one that cursed him, and enables a life that goes beyond what is humanly possible. We can’t. But he always can.

Friday, November 09, 2018

On the Road: Our Upcoming Speaking Schedule

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Joyce and I are on the road again. We are thankful that this time we are not on the road to see the doctor. This weekend we are headed to Ashland Oregon to speak this Sunday morning at Ashland Bible Church. This will be the first time I have preached in a church service since I was diagnosed with cancer in 2016. It’s a big step for us and we are excited to be doing this again. Below is our upcoming speaking schedule. We would love to speak, share or teach in your church, Bible study, missions meeting etc. You can email me at dowen@piu.edu to set up a time.

  1. November 11: Ashland Bible Church, Ashland Oregon; AM Service
  2. December 2: Gateway Bible Church, Scotts Valley California, DCL Meeting
  3. December 9 Camino Bible Church, Camino California, AM Service
  4. December 30 Gateway Bible Church, Scotts Valley California, AM Service