Why Me, Lord?

My Sunday School class has just finished the book of First Peter, which has a lot of great teaching. While the major theme of the book is suffering (which I’ll get to in a moment), here is a sample of many significant verses:

  1. A definite reference to the trinity (1 Peter 1:2)
  2. Suffering is proof of your faith (1 Peter 1:6-7, 9, 4:12)
  3. The prophets predicted the suffering of Christ (1 Peter 1:11)
  4. We are called to be holy, fear God and love others (1 Peter 1:15, 17, 22, 4:8)
  5. The Word of God abides forever (1 Peter 1:24-25)
  6. We are to be hungry to understand God’s Word (1 Peter 2:2)
  7. We are to be living stones (1 Peter 2:5)
  8. Live with integrity while passing through this life (1 Peter 2:11)
  9. We are to submit to the authorities (1 Peter 2:13-14, 18)
  10. We find favor with God when we suffer for doing what is right (1 Peter 2:20, 3:14, 17, 4:14, 16, 19, 5:10)
  11. Jesus is our example, we are to follow in His steps (1 Peter 2:21)
  12. Lifestyle evangelism really is in the Bible (1 Peter 3:1)
  13. God doesn’t hear your prayers if you don’t treat your wife right (1 Peter 3:7)
  14. Always be ready to tell others why you are a believer (1 Peter 3:15)
  15. Jesus preached to the spirits now in prison (1 Peter 3:19)
  16. Just where is Jesus right now? (1 Peter 3:22)
  17. Live for God, not the pleasures of today (1 Peter 4:2)
  18. Exercise your spiritual gift (1 Peter 4:10)
  19. Judgment begins with the household of God (1 Peter 4:17)
  20. Pastors are to shepherd the flock of God (1 Peter 5:2)
  21. Younger men need older mentors (1 Peter 5:5)
  22. We are to humble ourselves before God does it for us (1 Peter 5:6)
  23. We have a spiritual enemy ready to devour us (1 Peter 5:8)
  24. We are told to greet each other with a kiss of love (1 Peter 5:14)

Back to the topic for today:

When we suffer in our lives, we often will think that we did something wrong to deserve the suffering, as if it were some sort of punishment; sort of a cause and effect relationship. While the law of sowing and reaping is very true (Galatians 6:7-8, 2 Corinthians 9:6) and God will at time discipline those whom He loves (Hebrews 12:6), the universe would be quite an unreliable place if God shot us a lightning bolt for every evil deed and triggered some pleasure sensor for doing good. Let’s consider the story of the man born blind in John 9:

“Rabbi,” his disciples asked him, “why was this man born blind? Was it because of his own sins or his parents’ sins?” “It was not because of his sins or his parents’ sins,” Jesus answered. “This happened so the power of God could be seen in him.” (John 9:2-3)

A common belief in Jewish culture was that bad happenings or suffering was the result of some great sin, but Jesus used this man’s suffering to teach about faith and the glory of God. We live in a fallen world where good behavior is not always rewarded and bad behavior is not always punished. Therefore, innocent people sometimes suffer. Jesus said the rain falls on the just and the unjust alike (Matthew 5:45).

On a larger scale, think about the reason that people follow God. Do they believe and follow God because of what they get out of it, or because He deserves our devotion and it’s the right thing to do? Think it over. Do you follow Christ because He promised heaven at the end of this life? Would you still follow Him even if you knew hell was your final destination? If God took suffering away whenever we asked, we would follow him for comfort and convenience, not out of love and devotion. Regardless of the reasons for our suffering, Jesus has the power to help us deal with it. We don’t go through this life alone.

So, when you suffer from a disease, tragedy, or disability, try not to ask, “Why did this happen to me?” or “What did I do wrong?” Instead, ask God to give you strength for the trial and a clearer perspective on what is happening. First Peter tells us that you will be blessed and rewarded.

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Christianity and Conflict

The Jews were by law separatists. You are likely familiar with many passages of Scripture where Jews had no dealings with Samaritans (John 4:9) or were forbidden to enter the house of a Gentile (Matthew 8:8, John 18:28) so these events in the life of Peter are best understood when we understand the culture of Peter’s day. There was sometimes a volatile religious mix that required strong leaders like Peter and Paul to break down barriers. God blessed them with strength, faith, revelation, and lots of grace–because sorting out the truth among so many competing beliefs would usually lead to some mistakes and misjudgments. Peter, well familiar with all sorts of social missteps, would play a key role.

A Course Correction: Acts 10:1-11:18 (Primarily Acts 10:1-19, 44-48)
Peter will later be known as the apostle to the Jews, while Paul will become famous as the apostle to the Gentiles (Galatians 2:7). But it’s through Peter that God first chooses to swing open the door of salvation to the Gentiles. This vision on a rooftop is a radical departure for the early church and gives it a straight path to reaching Greeks and Romans with the gospel.

Cornelius was a man of considerable means, power, and authority. As a centurion, he was in charge of a fighting force of one hundred Roman soldiers. He was also what the Jews call a God-fearer, a Gentile who had accepted the Jewish God and faith but stopped short of adopting the practices, like circumcision and dietary laws, necessary to become an authentic Jew.

God gave Cornelius and Peter complementary visions. He told Cornelius to send men to bring Peter to his house, and he showed Peter that keeping one’s distance from Gentiles for dietary and other reasons is no longer necessary. Salvation is for the Gentiles too, and the church will generate a few gatherings where Jews and Gentiles fellowship together, work alongside each other, and eat together. They can’t do this while thinking a fellow believer is unclean. No walls should separate Jews and Gentiles, slave or free, male or female. The body of Christ should be a united whole.

At Cornelius’s house, Peter explained the gospel, and as he was speaking, the Spirit fell on everyone there. I see this as evidence that God is making no distinction between Jew and Gentile, and the only reasonable response is praise.

  1. How would you respond if God told you to do something that would violate one of your long-held personal values?
  2. If the Spirit dramatically manifested himself among people who had never been to church or read the Bible, would you be more likely to feel jealous or praise God? Why?

A Council Convened: Acts 15:1-35 (Primarily Acts 15:4-21)
Some Pharisees who had become Christians were finding the Gentile mission very difficult to accept. It was clear in the Law that circumcision was to be a sign God’s people (Exodus 12:48-49; Leviticus 12:3). Actually, all of the laws of God were to be a sign that set his people apart from the rest of the world. It isn’t possible for the Spirit to contradict himself, so, Gentiles who accept the Jewish Messiah should be circumcised and observe the Law of Moses.

But salvation is by grace through faith alone, and neither circumcision nor any other work is a prerequisite of God’s grace, which was hard for the Jews to understand. So a council of church leaders convened in Jerusalem to settle the issue. Jew and Gentile believers, apostles, and elders offered their views. And then after much discussion, Peter stood up and laid out his simple, evidence-based argument: “God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us. He made no distinction between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith” (Acts 15:8-9). In other words, if the Spirit isn’t keeping his distance from uncircumcised Gentiles, why should we?

In the end, James, the leader of the Jerusalem church, spoke up declaring new believers need not become Jewish before they come to Christ. He then added that the council strongly urges Gentiles to reject the rituals of paganism, like eating meat sacrificed to idols and rites of sexual immorality (Acts 15:29). Basically, the Holy Spirit will conform Gentile believers into the image of Christ and the character of God. This new freedom is not a license to sin, but the liberty to believe, worship and be filled with the Holy Spirit apart from Jewish rites becomes official church policy.

  1. How difficult do you think it was for Peter to advocate for Gentiles among his Jewish brothers?
  2. How difficult do you think it might have been for him to endorse the ministry of Paul, who was once an enemy of the disciples?
  3. How well do you think Christians today affirm ministries that employ unfamiliar methods? Why?

A Confrontation Commences: Galatians 2:1-21 (Primarily Galatians 2:11-21)
Peter’s conviction on the issue of accepting Gentile believers had wavered since the Jerusalem council. He had been accepting invitations to dine with Greek friends in Antioch, but when some disciples of James come to visit, he began to distance himself from the Gentile believers in order to appease the Jewish believers (Galatians 2:12).

The change in Peter’s behavior was noticeable; he had suddenly allowed the pressure of Jewish guests to intimidate him. Even Barnabas, Paul’s companion, joined in this “hypocrisy” (Galatians 2:13). Since it had become a public issue, Paul confronted Peter publicly. There is no evidence in the New Testament that Peter ever rejected the criticism. I suppose in his maturity, he had become correctable.

  1. How do we know where to draw the line between the absolutes of our faith and the freedom we’re given in Christ?
  2. When is it right to confront others who may be abusing their freedom in Christ?
  3. Paul was adamant that Peter shouldn’t avoid eating with Gentiles just to appease Jewish believers. However, he also taught that we shouldn’t use our freedom to offend others (Romans 14:19-20; 1 Corinthians 10:31-33). Why do you think Paul was less concerned about offending strict Jewish Christians in this particular case?

Think About It:
Suppose you grew up in a very conservative Christian area that discouraged all forms of interaction with the secular world except the most unavoidable. But new people within your community had recently begun preaching a new interpretation of the group’s principles, saying that the only way to impact the world is to mix and mingle with it (to get involved in secular organizations and to try to understand secular culture, including its media and entertainment and ideologies). Needless to say, there’s quite a conflict between the traditional faction and the contemporary one. Your concept of holiness is being stretched beyond your comfort level.

  1. Why is change, especially in matters of faith, so controversial and contested?
  2. How is it possible to know when a new direction is initiated by God and when it isn’t?
  3. How do we balance our faithfulness to long-held values with our willingness to be moved by God’s Spirit?
  4. What was Paul’s answer to this tension between old and new perspectives? What was Peter’s?

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Inspiration, Faith & Integrity

My Sunday morning Bible study is taking a fresh look at Peter and how his life often mirrors our own at various times in life. This week we are looking at the power of God that filled Peter’s life, and how that made a difference.

Pilate’s wife warned him not to mess with Jesus (Matthew 27:19). The guards who stood at the tomb didn’t really know what happened that night (Matthew 28:11-15) but were paid to give false testimony. Right at seven weeks after these amazing events, the next Jewish feast had arrived. We find the disciples gathered in an upper room praying. They saw Jesus ascend to heaven but had not yet received what Jesus had promised, the Spirit, power, and they did not even know what to look for. Would they even recognize it when it came?

Inspired Words: Acts 2:1-40 (primarily Acts 2:1-14)
On the streets below the room where the believers are gathered, Jerusalem is busy. Jewish pilgrims from all over the world have come to Jerusalem for the Feast of Pentecost. The believers have been in prayer (Acts 1:14), as instructed by Jesus, and waiting to see what he promised (Acts 1:8). Suddenly, a roaring wind fills the house and tongues of fire fall on each person. The visitation is unmistakable, and the promised power has arrived.

Peter is filled with words to explain the amazing event. A miracle occurs as visitors in town for the feast hear the good news about Jesus in their native tongue (Acts 2:11). They are touched by the message and confused by the messengers (Acts 2:12-13). Then Peter takes the lead. He stands up and preaches the world’s first post-ascension sermon (Acts 2:14). He steps into the role he will fill for the rest of his life: a vocal leader of the Jesus movement.

  1. Peter’s regrets and failures are nowhere evident in Acts 2. It’s as though they never happened. He has “moved on” and gotten busy doing what God called him to do. Is anything from your past hindering your ability to be completely available to God?
  2. If so, how do you think God would want you to deal with it? Why is it so hard sometimes to move on?

Daring Faith: Acts 3:1-26 (primarily Acts 3:1-10)
Peter and John encounter a familiar scene on their way to the temple to pray. A crippled man is being carried to the gate so he can beg for alms from people (Acts 3:2). Today is different than most other days; the disciples are now filled with boldness in their faith, like they never experienced while Jesus walked in the flesh. They look the man in the eyes and offer him something far better than silver or gold. Peter grabs his hand, pulls him to his feet before seeing any evidence of healing, and tells him to walk (Acts 3:7). Only then do the man’s ankles and legs grow strong. He walks, jumps, and praises God vocally and visibly.

It’s a very public miracle. People who have know this man for years are amazed at the sight. They are filled with wonder and awe, and Peter sees another opportunity. Again, he begins to preach.

  1. People all around you are hurting physically, emotionally, and/or spiritually. How much of your reputation or your dignity would you be willing to risk to help them?
  2. How much faith do you have that your intervention can change their lives?
  3. Peter seized an opportunity to display the glory of Jesus. How diligently do you look for those kinds of opportunities?
  4. What is one act of faith you can do this week to help someone who’s hurting?

Courageous Leadership: Acts 5:1-10
Many believers are selling their possessions, pooling their resources, and sharing with each other so that no one would have any needs. It’s a remarkable reflection of the love of Christ in their lives. Though the generosity isn’t required of anyone, it’s a natural response to the Spirit’s presence.

But there are always those who try to see how little they can get by with. In this case, it’s a married couple named Ananias and Sapphira who boast greater generosity than they actually have. They secretly keep a portion of a land sale for themselves (Acts 5:1-2).

But there are no secrets with the Holy Spirit, and there is no room for a lack of integrity. The couple has lied to God, to Peter and the other leaders, and to the fellowship of believers (Acts 5:4). Unlike many later church leaders who would ignore the deception as a personal issue, Peter confronts the couple. When he bluntly exposes Ananias’ lie, the deceiver falls down dead (Acts 5:5). Later, his wife does the same when she is confronted (Acts 5:10). In these first days of the new church, integrity seems to be a vital issue both to the Spirit and to Peter.

  1. To what degree do you think the church today is known for its integrity?
  2. Do you think the Spirit does (or will) have as harsh a response to deception as he did with Ananias and Sapphira? Why or why not?
  3. How meticulous are you about your own integrity?
  4. Do you present yourself as more generous, loving, or honest than you really are? If so, why?

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Do You Love God Enough?

My Sunday morning Bible study is taking a fresh look at Peter and how his life often mirrors our own at various times in life. This week we are looking at the denials during of Peter on that dreadful Good Friday, and the restoration that took place after the resurrection.

BTW, have you ever considered why that day is called “Good Friday,” knowing what happened to Jesus, the crucifixion and all? Long ago I saw a B.C. cartoon that put is perfectly. BC and Grog were pondering the meaning of the term: “Why do you call Good Friday, “good” — a term oft misunderstood. You who were saved by the blood of his cross — you can call Good Friday good.”

There are important times in our lives when we either stand up for what we believe or cave in to the pressure around us. Peter saw himself as the kind of man who stands firm, but he overestimated his commitment on at least one occasion where he denied even knowing Jesus.

Though there is often a heavy price to pay for being uncompromising about our faith, the price of caving in is heavier. The good news is that even when we fail, God doesn’t give up on us. In fact, those who fail are exactly the kind of people Jesus came to redeem and restore.

Pledge: Matthew 26:17-35
The disciples were as human as anyone, and one night they got proud and jealous. When Peter declared that he would never deny Jesus, even if everyone else in the room did, he probably didn’t cultivate many warm, fuzzy feelings among the disciples. In fact, the text implies he was saying he was more faithful than the other disciples, which was likely quite offensive.

Peter could have simply said, “I will never forsake you,” but he didn’t. He compared himself with all the others and affirmed that he would be the strongest and most faithful of the disciples. As Proverbs 16:18 says, “Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.” And Peter would soon land hard.

In 1 Peter 5:5, Peter quotes an Old Testament passage about God opposing the proud but giving grace to the humble (Proverbs 3:34). He then urges his readers to humble themselves under God’s hand in order that they might be lifted up at the proper time (1 Peter 5:6).

  1. In what ways did Peter experience the realities of this passage? In what ways have you?
  2. How have you seen spiritual pride manifested in Christianity in general? In our church? In your life?

Denial: Luke 22:54-62
In a time of trouble and fear, Simon the Rock denies ever knowing Jesus, three times. Fear of people’s opinions or their swords tend to do that. It diminishes God’s power and messes with our perspective, and then makes us unwise.

Luke records an interesting detail of Peter’s three denials. When the rooster crowed, “the Lord turned and looked straight at Peter” (Luke 22:61). Remember the first time Jesus gazed at Peter was when they first met (John 1:42) when followers were gathering around this Messiah. Jesus saw Peter’s potential underneath his rough exterior and called him a rock. Now, on a cold night years later, as disciples are scattering and abandoning this Messiah, Jesus again gazes into Peter’s soul. And Peter leaves and weeps bitterly (Luke 22:62).

  1. If Jesus stood before you right now and gazed into your eyes, what do you think he would see?
  2. Knowing that your heart is laid completely bare before him, how would you feel about being in his presence? Why?

Restoration: Mark 16:7; 1 Corinthians 15:5; John 21:15-17
Peter’s denial of Jesus was dramatic and devastating. Perhaps more than any other disciple besides Judas, he failed. Not only did he abandon Jesus in a crisis moment, he vocally disowned him. His confidence in his complete faithfulness had proven unfounded.

In at least three instances, Scripture provides a glimpse of God’s mercy toward Peter after his failure.

First, there is a small but important mention of Peter in Mark 16:7. When three women arrive at the tomb to anoint Jesus’ body, an angel tells them Jesus has risen and then gives them instruction: “Go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’” Clearly, God had plans.

Next, Peter is apparently the first disciple to see Jesus after the resurrection, alone. Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 15:5 that Jesus first met with Peter before meeting with the rest of the disciples, as though the two of them had an important matter to discuss apart from the group.

Finally, toward the end of John’s gospel, Jesus appears to the disciples on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. Three times (John 21:15, 16, 17), perhaps once for each denial, he asks Peter if he loves him. Peter takes advantage of the opportunity to counter each of his denials with a confession of love and loyalty. He is not only forgiven but fully restored.

I wonder if Jesus is asking Peter if he loves him enough. I suppose it is one thing to love Jesus enough to believe in him, but it is a whole new level of commitment to love Jesus and do something about it. Jesus asked Peter, “Do you love me?” and the response is affirmative, but if loving him is true, a command follows, “Then tend my lambs, shepherd my sheep and tend my sheep.”

  1. What’s the difference between forgiveness and restoration?
  2. Have any of your failures caused you to doubt God’s willingness to restore you? Why or why not?
  3. Under what conditions do you normally forgive someone? Is there any failure too great for you to forgive?
  4. Do you love God enough? I mean enough to risk getting out of your comfort zone and do something great for his kingdom?
  5. What might Jesus be asking you to do to demonstrate your love for him?

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Passionate About God?

My Sunday morning Bible study is taking a fresh look at Peter and how his life often mirrors our own at various times in life. Many Christians are sports nuts, real fanatics when it comes to their favorite team. There is excitement, confidence, discussions, and even boasting about the greatest team ever. Take this same sports fans and follow him to his local church, and what might we find? Rather than a game face he puts on his hymn face, he’s looking at his watch rather than the game clock. He might be more familiar with the team’s program and statistics than with God’s playbook, the Bible. Peter’s zeal for God put him in a few interesting situations:

Walking on Water (Matthew 14:22-23)

His zeal brought out a bold attempt at the impossible, to walk on the water. Jesus is not with them; He sends them into the boat while he dismisses the crowd (Matthew 14:22) and then he goes to the mountain to pray (Matthew 14:23). The boat is fighting with the waves while the wind was against them (Matthew 14:24). Jesus comes to them walking on the water (Matthew 14:25) and the disciples become afraid (Matthew 14:26). Peter makes an amazing statement, “Lord, if it’s you, command me to come to you on the water” (Matthew 14:28). He does not necessarily ask to walk on the water; he asks that Jesus command him.

Jesus gives one command, “Come” (Matthew 14:29). There is no assurance that everything will be alright, that he would be safe, even that he would be able to walk on the water. Peter knew nothing except his Lord gave him a command and in obedience he steps over the rail and starts walking toward Jesus. From our perspective we see eleven frightened men sitting in the boat, and one guy stepping into the unknown for no other reason than, out on the water is where Jesus is. Jesus is not in the boat, he’s out on the water, so that’s where Peter wants to be. Jesus invites him to come.

After a moment, Peter sees the wind and waves, perhaps realizing where he is, and that water walking is impossible, so he sinks (Matthew 14:30). So, where are we in this story? Imagine what God can do through you if you would only keep your eyes on Jesus. When Jesus calls you to step out of the boat and attempt something great for the kingdom, on what do you typically focus your attention?

Witnessing the Transfiguration (Mark 9:2-8, Matthew 17:1-8)

Only a week after some extended teaching time with his disciples, Jesus takes the inner circle (Peter, James and John) to a high mountain (Mark 9:2). Scholars tell us this was probably Mt. Hermon or Mt. Tabor, but location is not as significant as what happened there, Jesus was transformed before their eyes (Mark 9:2-3). They had a vision of Jesus in all his glory. After the vision came the visitors, Moses and Elijah, appearing and talking with Jesus (Mark 9: 4). Moses represented the Law of God and Elijah represented the prince of prophets. Impulsive Peter then speaks up and interrupts their conversation, something about it’s good for them to be there and three shelters (or tabernacles) should be built (Mark 9:5). Fear also surrounds them, not knowing what to say (Mark 9:6).

Catch this. Matthew 17:5 adds an interesting comment, “While he was still speaking.” God interrupts Peter to tell him that “This is My beloved Son, listen to Him.” Scholars tell us that the word for “beloved” is actually “unique” or “priceless.” Peter had Jesus in a box called, “Great Men of History” and did not see the uniqueness of Jesus. Notice he recommended three tabernacles be built, rather than only one (Matthew 17:4); because only one person deserved to be honored. Stop speaking, stop planning, and just listen to Jesus. After we encounter God, the proper response should be the same as the inner circle, fear (Matthew 17:6). When we finally “get it” and realize the awesomeness of God, we should fear. Max Lucado says, “Fear of the Lord is the deeply sane recognition that we are not God.”

So, Peter was passionate about God, even though he did not have all of his theology in order. How can we develop a similar passion? How can we get out of our comfort zones?

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