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Week 29 Devotional Blog (July 15-21)

Day 1

Haggai 1

So, the setting of Haggai is this... the first waves of Israelites has returned to Jesualem from exile in Babylon. They began to rebuild the temple as a first priority but then gave up and stopped the work. Instead, they rebuilt homes for themselves... these are the "paneled houses" referred to in v. 4. So, Israel is re-establishing their life in Jerusalem, getting comfortable again, while the temple lies in ruins. What this is represents is Israel's willingness to rebuild their lives and reroot themselves with their worship of God as an afterthought. They feel the pinch of getting themselves in order, and they presume to do so without having hte hearts and their worship rightly ordered. And into that space Haggai is speaking.

And v. 5 and 7 give this exhortation to them, and I believe, to us. "Consider your ways," says the Lord. The first admonition is followed by a description of the futility of life without God at the center. This is such a pertinent word for us in the 21st-Century American church.

All of our hard work and dogged determination and economic investment and advancement; all of our fun and entertainment, our indulgence, opulence and satisfying of earthly appetites; all our dieting and exercise and obsession with health and insulate ourselves from exposure to hardship; all of our saving and accumulating of wealth; and yet we're depressed, anxious, lonely, fragmented and joyless. And into that space Haggai still speaks the word of the Lord, "CONSIDER YOUR WAYS."

God will not honor a people bearing his name but ignoring his glory. He will not bless a people openly identified with him who are not truly worshipping him. God declared then what remains true now... that he will not give himself to fleshly efforts to engineer earthly pleasures for the sake of personal gratification. This is so convicting as a Christian, and particularly as a pastor, that we can go about the Lord's work, as Israel was in some sense, returning to reclaim and resettle Jerusalem and rebuild the temple on their non-urgent time table. God does not smile on that.

We tend to think in the binary categories of doing the Lord's work and doing the work of the enemy... but Scripture breaks the first category into 2 categories... doing the Lord's work in an earthly or fleshly way, or doing the Lord's work in the Lord's way... and doing the Lord's work in a fleshly way is really a counterfeit version of the Lord's work... and what it really is, is a well masked way of doing the enemy's work. And that's why God calls them and us to "CONSIDER OUR WAYS."

It's dsitinctly possible to do the Lord's work in a way that dishonors him. We must do the Lord's work in the Lord's way. And the scariest thing in the world is that their are churches, and we could all fall into this at any point in the life of our church... but the scariest thing is that we could become a church that does what appears to be the Lord's work, with all the appearances of success and blessing from the Lord, and yet actually be leading people toward a sub-Christian, anti-Christian way of life that is wholly dependent on human effort and human wisdom and human strategies and human production. Beloved, we can build churches that Jesus wants no affiliation with whatsoever and which he will withhold himself from decidedly.

That's what Israel was facing in the late 6th century B.C. But praise God, the prophetic word of Haggai provoke Zerubbabel and Joshua, the governer and the priest, and through their leadership, the people were stirred in their hearts and returned to the Lord, and to His work in His way. They trusted the Lord and became consumed with obedience to Him and they enjoyed, v. 13 tells us, the power and peace that comes with the presence of God. This is the stuff of revival that we should all long for in our own generation... where the word of God is preached accurately, boldly, courageously, and then that word is responded to with conviction, repentance, faith, obedience and urgency, on a large scale. That's revival. When the Spirit of God brings a people low, and moves them out in radical obedience and submission and humility to do whatever the Lord calls them to with all their hearts.

Oh that he might do this in our generation... and perhaps even among us at Generations.

Day 2

Haggai 2

I love how the Lord's presence with Zerubbabel and Joshua and all the people doesn't free them from having to work... his presence and power compels them to work and energizes them for the work. Our efforts will always be insufficient to accomplish God's work. But God's work doesn't advance apart from our efforts. His work generates and sustains our efforts. God didn't just heap the stones back on themselves and reconstruct the temple magically. He supernaturally motivated, galvanized and made effective the work of the people to see the job through with urgency. And it was God's work, in them and through them.
And while they may have been aiming at a rebuild of an old building, God was imagining and moving them toward something greater, something new that surpassed the former temple. God was doing a new work in Israel even as he is always seeking to do a new work in our own hearts and lives. The glory of the new temple would go far beyond the glory of the former temple. And this is true in the physical sense, but also in the messianic sense. Haggai is pointing not just to physical place of worship and the beauty which it would display, but he's also pointing beyond the temple, to Jesus, who would be revealed as and who remains the focal point of all true worship. It's the beauty and glory of Christ to which the beauty and glory of the temple was pointing.

And it's in their obedience to turn their focus toward the temple, and to set their shared lives on the only firm foundation of God's promises and God's presence which the temple represented, that they receive forgiveness and healing and a new beginning. So it is with us... that it's in turning to Jesus, the one who brought God's presence near and fulfilled God's promises completely, that we find our new beginning. God's grace is pleased to wash over and remake and rebuild all those who give themselves to his word and his ways, with a humble heart.

Going back to yesterday... CONSIDER YOUR WAYS... this is the Christian life in a very short summary phrase... it's the willingness to continually lay our lives before the Lord and consider our ways before him, surrendered to what he shows us by his word, that we might walk in the obedience of repentance and faith an urgent pursuit of the newness of life that he leads us into.

Day 3

Zechariah 1

Zechariah was a contemporary of Haggai. In the introduction we see that his initial prophecy takes place in the midst of God's people rebuilding the temple. Haggai was really focused on the rebuilding of the temple as the place of worship for the Jews, while Zechariah is more focused on the their worship itself, and their return to the Lord. The first half of the book has a series of prophetic dreams or visions which Zechariah receives from the Lord, with some sort of bizarre images that may not seem important for us today, in the application sense. But there is some structure to them as we'll see along the way, and the book as a whole, is instructive for us even today.

v. 1-6 are just an introduction to the book which are a warning to the Jewish exiles who have returned to Jerusalem and are rebuilding the temple. The thrust of this warning is not to fall back into the pattern and cycle of behavior which their fathers did. God faithfully sent prophets to every generation of Israel and Judah, but their fathers would not listen and they hardened their hearts. So Zechariah is pleading with them not to follow in those footsteps, but to listen to the word of the Lord and obey, understanding that the exile from which they had returned was the result of past disobedience.

Then there are the first 2 visions which Zechariah receives...

First, there are these four horses, one of them with an angelic rider who speaks with Zechariah. And these horses represent God's watchfulness over the nations as they are said to have been patrolling the earth on God's behalf. And they are declaring that the earth is at rest, and the angel when the Lord will have mercy on Jerusalem... and the Lord responds that the 70 years of exile, which had been prophecied by Jeremiah, was coming ot an end. God reassured the angel of his love and zeal for Jerusalem, and that he was coming again in mercy to his people. While he was angry with Israel over her injustice, his anger with the Babylon exceeded his anger with Israel because their oppression exceeded hers. God is raising up Persia to deal with Babylon and God promises that Jerusalem will again prosper and enjoy the favor of the Lord.

The second vision is about 4 horns which represent the nations that had scattered Israel... namely Assyria and Babylon. But then these horns are themselves scattered by four craftsman, or blacksmiths, which represent Persia.

These visions and this chapter do not resolve anything. What they do however is serve as a reminder that God does not forsake his people or forget his promises. He deals justly with his people but he also remembers his covenant. God is giving Zechariah these little windows into what's coming, reassuring him and Israel that he is still in control, and his promises of a new kingdom and a messianic king remain intact. Despite the 70 years of exile and the helplessness Israel feels, God is overseeing the events of history and governing over the nations of the earth and the affairs of men to make sure that his plans and promises do not fail.

We are being reminded in Zechariah that God is never distant or far off. He did not create the world and then step back to watch things unfold. Neither does God occasionally get involved in the affairs of men to move things in a certain direction or to supernaturally intervene. God is always near, always watching and always active, moving around us and among us to advance his purposes. The biblical view of the world, and one which Zechariah reinforces clearly, is that there is an invisible reality running parallel to the visible reality we perceive. It's not that God sometimes gets involved in visible ways, it's that God is always involved and sometimes that becomes more visible.

The ultimate reality is the invisible one which we too often ignore or dismiss, but God is sovereignly engaged with the world and the events of our lives, both at the personal level as well as the national and international and even global level. Zechariah, if we'll let him, is enlarging our understanding of our God and helping us to more accurately see the world and our lives... let's pay attention.

Day 4

Zechariah 2

The third vision of Zechariah is of a man measuring the city of Jerusalem. God presents this image to picture the rebuilding of the city and gathering his scattered people back to himself where the Lord himself will dwell among them and give them peace. The vision includes the many nations over the face of the earth also joining themselves to the Lord and to His people.

God is communicating to and through Zechariah his unwavering commitment to his promises to guard his people and to gather the nations to himself... to bless Israel and through them to bless all the nations of the earth. God is telling his people that his plans and intentions are unchanged. He will see the work of salvation through to it's completion. He will not let their enemies or even their own sin and rebellion undermine his plans or overrun his promises.

God is at work in the mess of their lives and in the chaos and confusion they find themselves in. He has not forgotten them nor has he forgotten his promises. And though no timeline is given, a reason to hope and hold fast is given... because God is ruling over the earth, and moving history toward it's climax and conclusion. Neither the earthly forces that threaten Israel and us, nor the internal forces which cause unrest in us, are strong enough to stand against God's resolve to bring salvation and renewal by the predetermined means he established.

Again, Zechariah and prophets are enlarging our view of God and giving us a more opened and accurate awareness of God's active involvement in the world and in our lives and the scale of God's sovereignty over all things. We need to see our lives as a small but significant reality, embedded in the larger reality of God's redemptive narrative unfolding in seen as well as unseen ways. We must nurture a mindfulness that God is powerfully at work in the global events of our time as well as personally involved even in the seemingly trivial things of our lives. And he's moving all those things and everything in between toward the grand end of his glory and grace made visible.

Day 5

Zechariah 3

This 4th vision is a little easier to understand and interpret than some of the earlier ones. Joshua the High Priest is set before Zechariah wearing filthy garments while Satan himself accused him before God. The High Priest was a representative of the people of Israel. In this vision, his filthy priestly garments represent the guilt of Israel which Satan is prosecuting before the Lord.

Their sin and guilt are real. The enemies accusations are completely legitimate. But nonetheless, God rebukes and silences Satan, and raffirms that he has chosen Israel for himself, and that he would take away her guilt, and replace her filthy clothes with pure garments. Though they stood unworthy in God's presence, hew ould make them worthy.

And then the angel of the Lord tells Joshua that if he will keep his heart and ways pure before the Lord, God would make him and the priests of his day a sort of symbol of the coming messianic King. And pointing toward that messianic King, the angel anticipates a future day, when God's servant will come and remove the stain of sin on his people in a single day, and bring them forever under his protection.

The gospel is being preached here to and through Zechariah... Jesus, is the Branch, and he is the one who will remove the guilt of God's people in a single day, and bring them under us covering... he will give us shade from the heat bring refreshing to our souls. Zechariah is inviting Israel into something of that future reality in his own day. God was going to do among them something beautiful, restorative, and salvific, that would imperfectly but visibly reassure them of their coming redemption. And it's that redemption that we live in the midst of because of Christ's finished work...

Our union with Christ is what takes away our guilt and shame and gives us the refreshing that our suffocating and depleted souls need and long for. By hiding ourselves in him and under his branch, our wearied and withered hearts find shade and are reinvogorated and replenished.

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Week 28 Devotional Blog (July 8-14)

Day 1

Well, through a blunder of mine in planning, I had the same texts on our devotional plan this week as last week, which works out okay because I didn't blog last week. God is Sovereign even over our stupidity. Hope that hasn't thrown anyone off. Here we go...

1 Peter 5:6-14

This passage shows Peter's keen awareness of the multiple dimensions but single reality we find ourselves in. He gives this call to a conscious and intentional pursuit of humility that's reinforced by warnings of our eratic emotions, confused thoughts and mindsets, and the unseen attacks of an enemy whose bent on our destruction. With our own weaknesses and personal vulnerabilities, there is no room for arrogance.

In v. 9, Peter tells us to, "Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world..." he doubles down in v. 10, saying "And after you have suffered a little while..."

The realities of our own sin and weakness, as well as the enemy of our souls and the worldly systems that are anchored in the flesh and feed the flesh leads to an unavoidable reality that Peter is explicitly clear about... we are going to suffer. Life with Jesus and lived for Jesus will entail suffering. It will hurt. It will be painful. We follow a Savior who was crucified and killed. How could following Him be otherwise? How could our pursuit of Christ, the man of sorrows who was acquainted with grief, be expected to be so sorrowless or painless?

Peter is unequivocating here... suffering is part of the deal. It's absolutely worth pointing out that suffering is part of the deal for the non-Christian too, by the way. It's not like you choose between suffering for Jesus and living the dream without Jesus. We get suffering with Jesus or suffering without Jesus. Those are the options. The idea that Jesus is a ticket to life above the fray or a life immune to fallen and war-time realities is fanciful and fictional. Life is hard. There is no fixing that. But life isn't pointless, and neither does our pain have to be pointless. We can make it count.

And Peter says that when we live for Jesus and walk with Jesus and surrender to Jesus and suffer like Jesus, for doing good, for walking in humility, and standing firm against the enemy... well, then there is a really bright future for us and a solid place for our souls to land. I love the promise and hope of v. 10... that if we'll suffer for the short while our earthly lives are unfolding, then "the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you."

If you will enter into these realities with ultimate reality in full view, then that ultimate reality will be confirmed and made obvious soon enough, and you will enter into the peace and rest and comfort of the Father that is far more real and all-encompassing then the pain we endure now. As much as our sufferings consume us here and now, there is coming a time when we will be utterly caught up in and swallowed up by the life and love we were created.

Day 2

2 Peter 1:1-11

Peter lays out some lofty ideas in his opening here, which are summed up in this assertion, that "we are partakers of the divine nature." That is not to say that we are God, but that God has embedded something of his godness in us. Like a biological son of his earthly father, we are not our Father, but because of our union with Jesus, the Son of God, we bear the marks of His glory, and resemble something of His likeness. As those who are sealed with the Spirit of God, we have taken on some of the characteristics, mannerisms and traits of God... certainly not perfectly or completely, but identifiably and visibly. That's almost scary to think about.

We have not had our human nature and sinful flesh fully eradicated at this point, but now alongside that old nature, we have a new nature that is empowering us to live a new life... we are not bound to sin, or controlled by sin, or ruled by sin any longer. We have a new nature that is godly in all it's impulses and reflexes. That new nature is now warring within us against the old nature to lead us into the life God wants for us and which we crave ourselves. A real Christian won't be sinless because of our retained weakness, but we should feel the tension always of desires for holiness and fruitfulness which are asserting themselves against the old man that desires to indulge the flesh and live for self.

A Christian doesn't stop sinning completely, but a Christian can no longer sin peacefully. Instead, God's Spirit in us, gives a new instinct and appetite. And as we lean into that and follow that, it will something like v. 5-7 which is essentially a description of taking on the character of Christ. It doesn't just happen to us. God's Spirit is giving us a new impulse yes, but we must "make every effort" to comply with that impulse and live into that impulse. The Christian life requires effort... and no small amount of effort... but every effort.

Peter is saying that we will give ourselves to something in life and expend effort in some direction or some activity developing habits and character... you may as well apply all that effort toward that which is truly satisfying and beatuiful. So effort is an essential thing.

But it's not the only thing. What will largely determine the direction of our efforts, Peter indicates, is where are thoughts take us. He says that when these qualities are yours and growing, it is at some level because of your conscious awareness of what is true and real in Christ. And if you are not, it's because you have forgotten the truth and reality of the gospel. What we believe will drive where we place our efforts. And how deeply we believe those things will determine the strength of those efforts.

I wonder if people can look at my life or your life, and clearly determine what we believe and know to be true, by the efforts they see and the character displayed. I wonder what you claim to believe about Jesus is obvious by watching you and observing how you use your time, energy and resources as well as how you approach your relationships and work and interactions. That's something to think about...

And where you're falling short, even woefully short, don't be condemned by that old man inside you... be reminded of what you are prone to forget... that you have been cleansed from your sin and you are now a partaker of the divine nature... that is Christ in you, the hope of Glory.

Day 3

2 Peter 1:12-21

Peter gives us some insight into two essentials for Christianity:

1) Reminder

Peter already made clear that our lack of progress in following and becoming more like Jesus is the direct result of our forgetfulness about what’s in Jesus. We simply get distracted by and fixated on the visible circumstances surrounding us, the powerful emotions and natural thoughts within us, the reflexive behaviors which dominate our lives, and the relational dynamics which seem to swallow us up. These things, and others, shape our experience of reality more than the Truth of Jesus, and his grace to guilty sinners and the newness of life available to us through our union with him. We forget all that.

So Peter says he intends always to stir his readers up by way of reminder… he isn’t trying to come up with new ideas, or to create new truths, or to invent a new system, or come up with a new way to motivate them, or to generate new information. He is totally convinced of the power of the gospel and the centrality of the gospel for all of life and he isn’t intending to divert from it.

This is what gospel ministry is… it’s reminding people of what is Real and True in the ultimate sense; refreshing them with the encouragement of God’s nearness to them and approval of them; re-embedding them and their lives in the story of redemptive and purposes of God; reassuring them of the love and grace of Jesus, the significance of their lives and the hope of their future.

This is how we move forward in our discipleship… we stay anchored to the unchanging gospel, continue grounding one another in the gospel and surround ourselves with other people who rooting themselves and us in the gospel. Christianity is always tethered to and advanced by the Spirit’s work of making the gospel real and personal.

2) Revelation

Peter then goes on to explain why it is that this gospel is so reliable, powerful and transformational. It’s because it is not a human invention, but it is divine revelation. This is a First Concern of Christianity. If Scripture is only human ideas, than we remain the authority of our own lives and what’s true, and because we can just pick and choose the parts we find helpful or worthy of our acceptance. Scripture’s claim about itself is that it is God’s revelation of Himself, and his purposes and of us and ultimate reality. Either that’s true, or the Bible is like any other book that’s ever been written or compiled.

And Peter isn’t suggesting that God literally wrote things down through robotic human agency. Rather, the Bible is written by human authorship and human personalities with human language and style, but God is the source for the material written. These are not their ideas or their thoughts or their truths… it’s God’s revelation. Voddie Baucham offers a helpful and succinct summary of this passage when he explains why he believes the Bible. He says that it is "a reliable collection of historical documents, written by eyewitnesses during the lifetime of other eyewitnesses. They report supernatural events that took place in fulfillment of specific prophecies, and they claim to be divine rather than human in origin.”

If this isn’t true than the Bible is as most, worthy of our consideration, just like any other book. But if this is true, than we have to pay closer attention, and engage more seriously and personally they we have. If this is human wisdom than take it or leave it. If this is God’s wisdom than why are se cavalier with it?

Brothers and sisters, the wisdom of our age attacks the credibility of Scripture, undermines the authority of Scripture and even resents blames many evils on Scripture. We have to decide what we believe about Scripture. If you aren’t convinced of it’s reliability, authority, necessity and sufficiency, then the world and your own pride will convince you of it’s illegitimacy. If you are convinced of those things, then be prepared for criticism, rejection, dismissal, mocking, accusation and increasing persecution in our cultural climate because you will be considered a fool and a freak and on the “wrong side of history.”

But if Peter is right, then you will experience the peace of God and settledness of heart in the midst of such opposition; you will be on the right side, not just of history, but of eternity; and you will continue to find the revelation of God i his word to be a sufficient help and guide through the insanity and chaos of this world.

A Prayer for Understanding:

Father, I confess I waver in my own heart and mind regarding your Word. I want to believe it and engage it and understand it, but I often detach from it and ignore it. Give me a persuaded heart and mind regarding the authority, reliability, necessity and sufficiency of your Word, and give me an voracious appetite to read and study it, that I might receive understanding and insight. I don’t want to read or engage at an intellectual level only. I want to be changed by it. As the Psalmist wrote, “give me life, according to your Word.” Let me love Scripture, lean in to Scripture and live out of what is revealed there. Human wisdom has had it’s day… our ideas have had their opportunity. I submit myself under your Word and to your Truth… Holy Spirit, enhance my understanding, illuminate my reading, so that I might know Jesus more deeply and personally and transformationally. Amen.

Day 4

2 Peter 2

Day 5

2 Peter 3

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Week 25 Devotional Blog (June 17-23)

Day 1

As we dive into Peter's letter, it's important to note that he is writing to Christians and churches scattered by and suffering under persecution for their faith. They are facing very real cultural opposition and oppression which is intensifying, and Peter is writing to anchor them in the hope of the gospel. He is writing with a biblical realism about life in a very dark world, and the very specific spheres that darkness invades and the ways that darkness disorients and threatens us... and yet he is drawing their attention toward the light of the gospel breaking into that darkness, and into those different spheres. This letter is really important for us today as it addresses in a poignant way so much of what Christianity and Christians are facing in our cultural moment.

1 Peter 1:1-12

v. 1-2 - The words "elect exiles" and "according to the foreknowledge of God" are really astonishing and thought provoking. The situation that Peter's readers find themselves in is scary and uncertain. They are facing real hardship and enduring real suffering, but Peter starts the letter by saying that the situation they find themselves in is by God's design... they are not under the thumb of a corrupt government or being controlled by militaristic forces... behind those earthly powers, God's people have been divinely positioned for divine purposes. God is still at work underneath it all and in the midst of it all to advance his agenda through their lives and witness and even through their sufferings. Peter is reassuring them, and us, that wherever we find ourselves, we are seen, known, loved and positioned by God.

v. 3-9 - Peter grounds the living hope of which CHristians have in the midst of the darkest circusmtances in the fact that they were dead and given new life through nothing of themselves. He reminds us that our salvation and standing with God have been granted to us through God's mercy not our own merit. And because he saves in his mercy, we can rest in the midst of uncertainty knowing that he will sustain through his mercy. Life with God is always grounded in the mercy of God, which is ultiamtely about the character of God not our character or our circumstances. This means that our hope is always derived from looking at the character and heart of God, not at our own ability, effort or the circumstances surrounding us. We consider God's mercy, clearly revealed through history and indisputably confirmed in Christ, as the greatest factor to be considered in any given situation we find ourselves. When his mercy is as real as anything we're facing, our hope is alive and well founded.

v. 10-12 - Our faith in the finished work of Jesus is both joined to the faith and the result of the faithfulness of those to whom the promise of Christ was revealed, so that in the dawning of Christ we might see Him as the promise fulfilled. It's another place where the apostolic witness tells us that the OT is to be read and understand as centered on Christ and pointing to Christ. All Scripture is about Jesus and the gospel and should be read, understood and applied with His finished work in full view.

Day 2

1 Peter 1:13-25

These NT letters are so loaded with insight that it's difficult for me to cover even 10-15 verses in a devotional time... there's so much jumping out at me. So, I'll try to be brief here by focusing in on just one aspect of this passage... There is this unequivocating call to "be holy, for I am holy." But that call in v. 15 is anchored in the call to be sober-minded in v. 13, and to no longer conform to our former ignorance in v. 14. In other words, we're called to a right living before the Lord, but as the fruit of right thinking about the Lord. Yes our lives matter, but our thoughts and meditations and understanding will determine the direction of our lives. Peter is telling us something very important and widely disregarded in our day and age, and it's this... theological clarity and doctrinal soundness are of enormous importance to the Christian life and to Christian witness.

We love this thoguht of just getting along and loving each other. One of the most popular pastors and speakers in the country, just a few weeks ago at a major leadership conference emphasized the importance of Christian unity over and against theological correctness. Theological correctness was framed as this over-emphasized, needless, and divisive thing... a barrier to people coming to faith, as though faith in Christ is atheological. And this emphasis by this speaker was celebrated broadly in the Christian community.

But Peter is telling us that our thoughts and understanding of the gospel, of Jesus, of ourselves and of reality are not unimportant in producing Christian character... those things in fact control and determine the quality of our lives and character.

Anti-Christian, Non-Christian, sub-Christian, or semi-Christian thinking, according to Peter, all lead to impaired judgment, distorted perspective, foggy understanding, and they cripple our ability to live rightly before God. Anything less than a distinctly Christian mindset, and a decidedly gospel shaped worldview leads to a less-than life. So In short, Peter is saying that your doctrine matters... and not just a little. We want to embody, in the Western Church today, a compelling Christian unity without needing to define Christian theology, and this is an impossible task.

By the way, the effort to get us there with a dismissiveness or downplaying of theological importance, is itself theological. It suggests that God cares more about appearing unified by our beliefs than that we are actually unified by our beliefs. Jesus prayed for our unity in John 17 as so many people love to point out... but he also prayed that we would be sanctified together in the truth... Jesus' prayer and heart isn't for the unity of professing Christians at all costs... it's for the unity of real Christians deeply rooted in their faith in what's true...

Theological correctness is not unimportant to personal progress in maturity and holiness. It is essential to our personal progress. Neither is theological correctness the enemy of Christian unity. Tt is in fact the only legitimate grounds for Christian unity.

To make personal progress and to develop unity, we both individually as Christians, and corporately as the Church, must get the essentials of the Christian faith right. We must be clear about the supremacy of Christ, the authority of Scripture, the centrality of the gospel, the necessity of the Holy Spirit, and for repentance of sin and faith in the real Jesus as the only viable means of salvation and sanctification.

Day 3

1 Peter 2:1-12

"Like newborn infants long for the pure spiritual milk that by it you may grow up…"

The gospel is pure spiritual milk… it’s the simplest and most straight forward source of spiritual nourishment and Peter says we should nurture an appetite for the gospel, maintain a steady diet of the gospel, and keep drinking deeply from endless supply of nutrients for our souls which are embedded in gospel. Our spiritual development and maturity is tethered to our engagement with and internalization of the gospel.

Just as the glory and supremacy of Christ was not in anyway undermined by his suffering and rejection, neither is the reliability of the gospel or the power of the gospel in any way threatened by the struggles we face, either internally or externally. His finished work is not undone by any of our unfinished-ness. We are works in progress, being embedded within and formed into something worthy of his infinite perfections. If we have genuinely been born again by grace through faith in the real Jesus, than we hope and reassurance and confidence in who we are and whose we are is well founded.

And the way you know if you have been born again is if you are continuing to root your life in the gospel, continuing to place your hope in the real Jesus, putting your confidence in his grace and finding your assurance in his finished work. If that’s the orientation of your heart and it’s exerting a claim on your life than we need not fear our lack of progress or the slowness of our progress, we should rejoice in the direction of our progress and certainty of our endgame.

v. 9-12 are some of my favorite verses in all of Scripture because it’s Peter giving gospel order to our lives… he reminds us of our identity in Christ… what it is that gives us value, worth and significance. Our life and identity is not driven by or derived from anything we do for Jesus, but from what Jesus has done for us. Our life derives it’s sense of value, meaning and purpose from the mercies of God which have landed on us very personally, and which have united us to something much bigger than us… We’ve been grafted in, and joined to a family that we now belong to… a family which we both need, and which needs us.

And our personal identity in Christ, and social identity as a member of God's family that empowers us for meaningful engagement in a foreign land, for bold witness to a hostile culture, and for humble representation of Jesus with a settled disposition in the midst of real opposition. We need a deeper and broader understanding of the Gospel, and more personal and pervasive appropriation of God’s grace to the nooks and crannies of our hearts to live as God’s people, saved by God’s power for God’s purposes.

Day 4

1 Peter 2:13-25

In the context of our culture today, this passage may contain some of the most unpopular teaching in all the Bible. The 21st-century American ethos of individual freedom has take us to this radically autonomous place where submission to virtually any authority is viewed as oppression. The legitimate authority in the minds of our progressive moment seems to be that which affirms your authority over your own life.

And, into that dysfunction and insanity, Peter says, not only should you submit to authority in general, but you must submit to corrupt, oppressive, immoral, and unjust authority. I know we want the balance of what God's word requires of those in authority, but this passage makes no mention of that. This text speaks to us about submission to authority, particularly to governing authorities and to masters or employers. This is a gospel issue for Peter.

And you can put away all of your, "Well, Peter doesn't know about my boss or the greed of corporate American, or "if knew about our President, or the ruling class of our day, he would clarify some things." Peter's political situation was far worse than anything we have ever faced. And the people's work and slave situations are far worse than anything we will ever face. Peter is telling these early Christians, who are living under real and intensifying persecution under the Roman empire to submit to Nero and his appointed officials. He's telling people who are mistreated and taken advantage of and who are suffering economical injustice and systemic marginalization, to endure their suffering as a conscious identification with Christ, who suffered the ultimate injustice in the place of we, who deserved the ultimate punishment.

Everything in me wants to give caveats and exceptions to this right now. I want to make sure we know there is a time and place and manner to protest. I want to defend the rights we have to stand against injustice. ANd there is a place for all these things. But I feel like Peter is having us just sit in this... submit to authority. We're so quick to rush to all the reasons and occasions where we should not do that, so as to posture ourselves always against authority. It's as if we've decided that because there are occasions to stand against corrupt authority, that every degree and form of corruption must be stood against, no matter how small.

I think we need to consider that rebellion, resistance, and hard heartedness are the default posture of our hearts. Resentment toward authority is the air we breathe today. Cynicism, dismissiveness, criticism of and rejection of authority is so deeply ingrained in us, that we're just reflexively at odds with anyone who is in authority of any kind.

Ultimately, our refusal to live under earthly authority figures and structures is representative of our refusal to live under God's authority. We acknowledge God and his word as something maybe worthy of our consideration, but we are free to determine what we will and won't follow, or what does and does not apply to us today. This is nothing more than allowing God to be on an advisory board over which we have ultimate authority... and it's the norm within Christian circles in our day.

If you're uncomfortable with the idea of submitting to authority the way Peter talks about in this passage, good. His original readers would have been moreso and with better reasons than you and I. Let's resist the need to defend why we shouldn't obey God's authority or governing authorities or workplace authorities. Let's deal with this reality... you hate authority. I hate authority. And yet, God has created us to live under his authority and under sinful human authorities. Let's deal with the fact of our sinful hearts, rebellious attitudes, arrogant postures, and stubborn self-will.

Let's strive after submission. Let's nurture a heart of obedience. Let's pursue something of agreeableness. Let's relinquish and renounce any claim we have made to rightfully govern our own lives or assume authority over our own lives. Let's be people who are under authority at the heart level and as a way of life... under the authority of God and serious about being submitted to His Word.

Day 5

1 Peter 3:1-7

Just seven verses today... but boy are they tough. These verses address marriage in some uncofmortable ways for us. I preached through 1 Peter a few years ago and I want to link to this message related to Peter's instruction for wives, and this message about Peter's admonition to husbands. If you are married, about to get married, want to be married, considering one day being married, or have no interest in being married but know lots of people who are married, I would love for you to go listen to those messages... They go much deeper than I can go here, and I think they could be very helpful.

I actually am officiating a wedding this weekend so I'm in that mode of thinking about marriage a lot this week. I think first, I want to point out that both wives and husbands are called by God, in marriage, to some impossibly difficult things... and I think that's the point. You and I can't approach marriage in an earthly way and get anywhere close to what God has in mind with marriage because he designed it to represent and embody heavenly realities. But it really helps if, men, we can acknowledge that for a woman to submit to a man and be led by a man, as selfish and foolish as men have proven to be in general, and you too in your personal ways... well, that's a big ask and a scary way to live.

At the same time, ladies, for men to have to take ultimate responsibility no matter what for the state of your marriage and family, and for us to lay our lives down to enhance yours; for us to labor, not just to hear you but to understand the deepest things about you, including the ocnflicting things within you, when you don't always understand the complicated matrix of things going on beneath the surface yourselves... that's a pretty tall order which we have little natural ability to do.

So, let's agree that both men and women are called to things which are altogether unnatural and completely impossible. And let's appreciate the difficulty of that assignment on both ends.

Wives, I'll boil it all down to this phrase of Peter's... "a gentle and quiet spirit." Nothing in your own heart or in our society will reinforce this strategy. But God is addressing you as wives, specifically joined to husbands who don't believe the gospel or who are out of step with the gospel. This is the scenario you are most inclined personally, and most encouraged by others to become for assertive and forceful and probably manipulative and controlling. But Peter says quite directly and plainly that God's strategy is that you would nurture in your own heart a gentle and quiet disposition toward him.

This means that criticism, demand, sarcasm, clamor, insults, and the like are terrible strategies... and they grieve the heart of God. They won't get you what you want. Every impulse in a woman's heart is to get louder and more controlling when things get scary or their husbands aren't leading them or loving them well. That's normal and natural. But Peter is warning against following that instinct. What's unnatural... indeed what is supernatural, is to go to the Lord, to receive from him the love and affirmation you crave, the certainty and safety you long for, and then to quietly love and serve your husband when he's in that place. To care for him and his needs, and to orient your heart in a way that's open to him.

Again, like yesterday, I know we start thinking through all the scenarios of abuse and cruelty that men have perpetrated against "weak" women thorughout history. And that's a real thing to consider. We should never encourage women to be physically brutalized in the name of submission. But also like yesterday, let's not be so quick to run to the extreme situations or the exceptions to the rule. Let's instead seriously consider the rule... the posture of heart and orientation of life that Christian wives should at the very least aspire to. Most women don't walk this way primarily because they don't desire to walk this way or embrace this picture as beautiful and legitimate. They fear this way of life. And that's why Peter affirms women who don't fear that which is frightening...

In other words, he knows it's really scary and vulnerable to love a man this way who is out of step with the gospel. It's incredibly frightening. Peter isn't downplaying that... he's taking that seriously and saying that if you will take those fears to the Lord and live surrendered to him, and not give in to the understandable fears you have, but instead follow Christ wholeheartedly into your marital challenge, than you will be living under the smile of God and the loving protection of your Savior.

For husbands, Peter gives this simple, but again, impossible advice. He says to live with your wife in an understanding way. Good luck!

Okay, seriously... this requires moment by moment dying to self-interests and self-preoccupation to give your fullest consideration of and attention to your wife's needs, longings, vulnerabilities, aspirations, fears, joys, etc. She is being driven by all sorts of internal emotions and thoughts, as well as by external factors, and historical experiences that have shaped her expectations, and other complicated influences... and it's our calling and privilege and responsibility to labor with all our hearts to understand her. She needs to be drawn out and heard. And as we put her ahead of ourselves in our own thoughts, we will inevitably be less self-centered and therefore more loving.

Men, we have the power to create a safe environment for our wives to be known, cherished, loved, accepted, validated, and valued... this is the climate we get nurture in our marriages. And it's counter to every instinct in you which wants to make everything about you. In marriage, 2 become 1 and part of what that means is that everything you do impacts this other person now because they are a part of you. So, husbands, we called to understand how we are impacting her in everything. And how we discern that impact should legitimately reorient our attitudes and actions so as to breathe life into her, rather than deplete life from her.

There's a lot more here, but that's where I'll leave off today.

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