Friday, October 23, 2020

John 1

(I am grateful to Bro John Raines for picking today and yesterday up so Colleen and I could take a 3 day “weekend”)

Key Verse: John 1:14

Big Idea: The sign of God’s character is His Son.

Have you ever noticed how your view of something changes perspective once you have been able to experience it up close? Many people have seen Niagara Falls on television or in the movies. You may have even read about the dare devils who attempted to “ride” the falls in a barrel, only to lose their life. However, there is no way to truly experience the reality of the sound and the power of Niagara except in person. But, up close and in person you can feel the power of the roar of the falls and are overcome by the magnitude and power of the water falling over the falls every second.

When I read verse 14 about the Word becoming flesh and dwelling among the disciples, the beholding of the glory and that He was full of grace and truth, it helps me to realize that short of God becoming flesh, temporarily experiencing the limited finiteness of His creation, that we (His creation) may have never truly understood the character of God in regard to His grace. It is through Christ, God in the flesh, that we can see the embodiment of God’s grace. The ultimate sacrifice given for us on our account, due to our sin, on the cruel cross of Calvary. 

God in the flesh, Christ, demonstrating the character of God toward us in a visible, tangible example of grace and truth through His sacrifice. This demonstration of grace should help us to fully appreciate the price paid, not only for our sin, but for the sin of the world.

Discussion idea: What are some things you have experienced up close that changed the perception you had from a distance? What are some other examples from scripture that demonstrate the character of God through Christ?

Prayer focus: God help me to desire to draw closer to You in order to experience the reality of Your character demonstrated through Christ.

Thursday, October 22, 2020

2 Peter 3

 Key Verse: 2 Peter 3:9

Big Idea: Jesus’ promise to return is true, even if it seems delayed.

When I was a little boy, my dad delivered propane (Bro. John here). This meant many early mornings and late nights, especially during the winter since most homes depended on propane for heating and cooking. In addition, there were many Christmas morning when my dad would have to leave early in the morning because folks would call our home needing a delivery of propane. As a child, I struggled with trying to wait for my dad to get home for us to open our Christmas presents. He desperately wanted to be there with us, so my mom would do her best to have us wait, but it always seemed like it took forever for him to get home.

What I failed to completely grasp as an inpatient little boy, that although it seemed like an unnecessary delay, my dad was doing what was necessary to take care of people in need. My concept of time was limited to my own desires because I was unable to see the needs of others. In many respects, the same is true of believers today. We look at all the things happening in our world and wonder why Jesus delays His return. In our limited view, we believe the time is right, but we fail to see things from our Heavenly Father’s view. People are in need; there are many lost that our Father is trying to reach. He does not desire for any to perish but wants all to come to repentance.

So, while we may think that the return of Christ is delayed, the truth is Christ will return when the time is right. If we can only see the need that God sees, our perspective of delay may just be altered to see the lost in need of salvation. 

Discussion idea: Do you feel that our limited view affects our thoughts on the physical world? How about the spiritual world? What ways can we seek to see the world through God’s eyes, instead of being limited to our own wants and desires?

Prayer focus: Ask God to help us see the need of Salvation for the lost in respect to the return of Christ.

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

2 Peter 2

 Key verse:  2 Peter 2:19

Big idea: The difference in true and false teachers is seen in their fruit. 

This spring, I lost track of some of the seeds in my garden. I did not know what kind of plants the various seedlings were, and was left with only one option: wait. When some plants started bearing okra, some tomatoes and some cucumbers, I found out what kind of plants I had. A plant’s nature is inevitably revealed by its fruit. This is not always true in our ordinary life; some of the best coaches in any sport were mediocre players. Or someone might be a good professor of medicine and a poor doctor. It is possible to know about something and not be able to do it well. 

But biblical knowledge is different. Head knowledge and obedience are not neatly separable things, because the proclamation of the Christian message is not just about information but transformation. That transformation requires the blessing of God and the presence of His Holy Spirit, so a true teacher will be marked by the lives which they live. Someone who claims to bring some new insight, yet who is in bondage to sin in their own lives, reveals their nature. Indeed, Peter warns us that these false prophets offer freedom to their audience - freedom to do what they want, when they want, how they want - while the liar's own life shows that they are just peddling another kind of slavery. Like a dog returning to its vomit or a washed pig to the mud, these false teacher's superficial change reveals that they were never transformed in the first place.

We should be cautious in today's world of internet, TV, and radio pastors of buying into whoever has the slickest presentation or who says what we most want to hear. The personal life of a Christian authenticates and verifies their message, which is why the local church is so important. 

Discussion idea: What are some messages that offer freedom and deliver slavery? 

Prayer focus: Lord, help me to live worthy of the calling you have given me, to proclaim your message with word and works alike.

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

2 Peter 1

 Key verse: 2 Peter 1:10

Big idea: A truly changed heart produces a changed life.

Imagine that you are walking through Walmart and a slightly crazed man walks up to you. "Hello, friend. I am Dr. Zerubbabel Locoman. I have developed a transformation ray, capable of turning a person into a bird!" He pulls out what looks eerily like a water gun and squirts you with something that feels suspiciously like water. You are slightly worried at his wild laughter and cries of "Fly, my little friend, fly!" Yet, when you reach around and touch your shoulders, you do not find any wings. You still have skin of your usual shade instead of feathers, and the thought of eating worms is still several ranks below a slice of cheesecake. What conclusion would you draw? Probably that you have not been changed into a bird, and are the same person you were before you made Dr. Locoman's acquaintance. You, brilliant scientist that you are, have discerned that something that has truly been changed will be different. 

There is a clear analog in spiritual life: If we have truly been changed by placing our faith in Jesus, that faith will grow and bear fruit. Peter describes it as a process of adding new graces to those we already have, showing that our transformation is not immediate, but is gradual. If we suppress our natural growth, we will lose sight of where we have been and what God has done in our lives, robbing us of assurance and joy. But if we diligently work out the salvation which God had begun within us, we will walk forward with confidence. When we have been truly changed on the inside, it is only natural that we will be changed on the outside.

Discussion idea: What are some dangers of expecting everyone to grow on the same schedule? How does a late bloomer differ from someone who never has any fruit at all?

Prayer focus: Go through the list at the beginning of the chapter. Where are you weak? What comes immediately before that? Ask God to help you see opportunities to strengthen in that area, and to give you the assurance that your weakness does not nullify His faithfulness. 

Monday, October 19, 2020

1 Peter 5

 Key verse: 1 Peter 5:10

Big idea: Our exile is temporary.

Driving to Laneville to church camp, you can usually make it from Alvin to Pearland before the first kid asks: "Are we there yet?" Maybe the first one is joking, but there always seem to be a few kids who think of 610 as the edge of the known universe. It is hard to explain to an 8 or 9-year-old kid how long four hours is. Is it 8 episodes of their favorite TV show? The length from breakfast to lunch? 64 times through "Let It Go"? You might put it a number of different ways to try and help them connect the time to something they understand. However you go about it, the point is simply to convince them that they will not be strapped into a vehicle watching cows go by forever. There will be an end, and the week at camp will be worth the relatively brief trip. 

Right now, we live in a world of exile. We are in hostile territory, and we have to be alert! But being vigilant is exhausting. Are we destined to live in a constant struggle against the world, the flesh, and the devil forever? Peter says no, this trip is short compared to the time we will spend at the destination. We, like all of God's family, suffer for "a while" "in the world." But that suffering is replaced by "eternal glory," where He receives "glory and dominion for ever and ever." In comparison to eternity, our suffering is just a bus ride. So buckle up.

Discussion idea: One of the challenges for talking to kids about lengths of time is finding a comparable reference frame. Does that connect with our struggles in comparing our temporary suffering with the eternal hope before us?

Prayer focus: Ask God to help you to stand firm for a little while, knowing that His rest is ahead.

Friday, October 16, 2020

1 Peter 4

Key verse: 1 Peter 4:1
Big idea: Suffering reminds us of our exile.

As a mother eagle knows that her eaglets are growing closer to the time where they will need to live on their own, he gradually begins to make the nest less comfortable for them. Removing some feathers here, making things a little rougher there. Slowly, her child becomes less and less at home in the place which they will not be able to stay. She allows them to go through discomfort not because she does not love them, but because she does. This mother eagle does not design for her babies to remain children forever, but for them to grow, fly, and do the things for which they were designed.

Similarly. In our Christian lives sometimes if things go too easily (if we experience too much material comfort or if things are consistently going our way), we get complacent. When get comfortable in the warm cozy nest of our life and we forget to look outside! We lose sight of where God has called us to go. And so like an eagle, ee are made uncomfortable by God. First Peter 4 describes this by explaining that the one who has suffered in the flesh is through with sin. Once we have seen the outcome of the sins of the flesh, that bait loses its appeal for us. 

When we have truly known that all sin can lead to is death, the bait loses its charm. When we see that our death has already been overcome by the suffering of Christ, we have discovered the power for a new kind of life. Sometimes, though, the suffering which God allows us to endure is often not corrective, as if he is punishing us for something that we've done wrong already. Instead, some suffering is formative, where God uses the discipline in our life to make us into the people he would have us to be. It may be that there is no way for a free human to be conformed to the image of Christ without suffering. Certainly, Jesus Himself did not complete his course without much suffering; we should be surprised if we are treated differently than our master.
Discussion idea: A fairly new song asks what if "the aching of this life is the revealing of a greater thirst this world can't satisfy?" Do you think that has been true in your own life?
Prayer focus: Ask God to teach you to rejoice in suffering because it points to Him.

Thursday, October 15, 2020

1 Peter 3

Key verse: 1 Peter 3:14

Big idea: Our exile may mean temporary suffering but eternal reward. 

Sometimes I get ads for various stock tip websites. They called Netflix or Amazon when they were cheap and now, for a low monthly fee, they will give you their next big tip. The obvious question is if they are so good at picking stocks, why do they need to make money selling their picks? Shouldn't they have all the money they could possibly want from their expert trading? But after you push past that question, you can't help but notice the disclaimer: "Past results are no guarantee of future performance." That is a good life principle. How many one-hit wonders, washed up actors, and has-been politicians have never returned to their old heights? How many people are stuck reliving their glory days? Past success does not predict the future. 

The Bible frequently features reversals, where someone's beginning and end do not align. Lazarus and the rich man is a well known one, where comfort in life becomes suffering in death, and suffering in death becomes the seat of honor beside Abraham in death. It is not the only one by far. Jesus made it a general principle that whoever seeks to save his life will lose it while whoever loses his life for His sake will find it. In that sense, we should not be surprised if living in this world, as exiles waiting for the return of the King, we suffer. Inevitably, sometimes the new life God has given us in the old wineskin of the world system causes leaks. 

We should not bring about our suffering for sin - we are not looking for trouble. But if we suffer for doing the right thing, and suffer with integrity, then our suffering can point people to Jesus. Then our suffering now leads to rewards for eternity. Our past pain is no guarantee of future pleasure. Indeed, it is a hint that we are not made for this world, but a better one where our hearts will be satisfied in the satisfier. 

Discussion idea: Have you ever known someone whose pain pointed people to Jesus? How? What can you learn from them?

Prayer focus: Ask God to help you see your suffering in light of eternity.