Understand God’s Purpose

This is lesson five of six in the God’s Not Dead series:

  1. Some people draw nearer to God in times of persecution, crisis, and tragedy, while others blame God for not stopping the hurt, or is not loving enough to intervene. Think about the unreliability of a world where we get a little tickle every time we do something good and a shock every time we do something bad.
  2. I remember Stephen out playing and occasionally he would crash and burn, scraping his knees, and not once did he run to me and say, “It was a bit casual of you to sit back and let me fall, I can tell you are not a father of love by letting me get hurt.” or “What good is a father who can’t or won’t prevent me from getting hurt?” No, he would let me come to him, hold him, remind him that it is going to be OK, and fix his wounds.

Then there is the case of the hot radiator, “Don’t touch it, that is hot and will burn you.” This is what we can call experiential learning.

  1. Do we really have an eternal perspective on life in this fallen world. What would you consider the best of all possible worlds? It comes down to a world that has free will and all people choose not to sin. We might call that heaven, but not all people are this way. THIS world allows free will to self-select those who reject God and his principles that bring life, happiness, and wholeness… so THIS world is the BEST WAY to the best of all possible worlds.

We saw the final classroom scene where Josh and Professor Radisson go head to head about evil and suffering in the world. It’s pretty intense.

Slide4

We cannot deny the existence of pain and suffering. Think about wars, the Holocaust, human trafficking, terrorism, but that is not God’s original intention.

Norman Geisler define evil this way: Some have said that evil is a substance that grabs hold of certain things and makes them bad (like a virus infecting an animal) or that evil is a rival force in the universe (like the dark side of Luke Skywalker’s Force). Think about LOVE (a good thing turned bad becomes lust), SEX (becomes pornography or fornication), ALCOHOL (becomes alcoholism and drunk driving), PLEASURE (becomes hedonism).

Refer to the Geisler information on EVIL. [ Go ]

As mankind grew in number, the evil of mankind has grown. God has given mankind the ability to choose to become evil or not. Many ignore God’s guidelines and act selfishly, unkindly, and unwisely.

Skeptic have claimed that theists have caused as much evil as those without faith, but this fact does not discredit God or Christianity. Jesus himself said that many would call themselves his disciples but will not obey his commends. The crusades and the inquisition were led by lost kings and popes, not the people of faith.

Just because we have police and there is a speed limit, does not mean that I guarantee I’ll keep that law, So, evil does not point to the absence of God from the world, but the absence of God from our lives.

Slide5But we must realize that real standards for morality do exist (look at the atrocities down through history). While people may claim that Christianity has caused more pain and suffering through the ages, that is just not true (think about Stalin and Lenin in the Russian revolution, Hitler and Nazi Germany, Pohl Pot and the Khmer Rouge). This is the embodiment of Darwinian evolution that also teaches survival of the fittest, or natural selection.

Skeptics like Richard Dawkins would say that we can rise above our evolutionary instincts but they have no standard to make such a claim. Author C.S. Lewis writes, “How would I know the line is crooked if I didn’t know what a straight line is?”

Imagine finding a rock on the beach. Since it doesn’t come with an instruction manual; without guidelines, you could only guess about its purpose. On the other hand, if you find a car, you know it was designed by an engineer who has a manual on how to operate the car to its greatest capacity. People can follow the manual or create their own guidelines, but violating the designer’s guidelines will lead to a breakdown and it won’t operate effectively.

Imagine an owner of a watch with no guidelines on how to use it. One might use it to stir your coffee of hammer a nail. Obviously the watch would not by used to its full capacity.

If we don’t understand out purpose, we will spend our lives on meaningless distractions, or make idols out of relationships, our career, or some other temporary item.

Slide6So, the evidence points to the reality of a supreme moral law-giver.

Skeptics who argue that that there can not be any objective moral standards expect others to treat them justly and fairly (human rights, equality for women, equal rights for minorities) but from where do these morals come?

Skeptics say they can still act ethically without religion or belief in God, but they ignore the fact that mankind is created in the image of God. We share his common set of moral standards, regardless of culture of context. Professor Radisson stated, “Does a people need God to be good?” Think about it, if we are just animals with no ultimate purpose, then on what basis do we make moral judgments?

Behaviors like kindness, mercy, equality, and forgiveness are true and good because we were brought up in a culture shaped by Christian values. Civilizations that reject a higher power than themselves inevitably degenerate into authoritarian states with little concern for human rights (think Communists and Nazis).

Slide7They want God to stop the evil in the world but don’t stop the evil in me.

There is a way to stop all the evil in the world… God could kill every person on the planet. Then evil would stop.

God has a plan to remove evil by changing the heart of every person, that way God can extract evil without destroying the person. This removes evil one person at a time. Let’s start with each person sitting here today.

When we come to Christ, the Holy Spirit work on reshaping our hearts; driving motivations shift from primarily serving ourselves to serving others. It’s not natural, it is supernatural. Crime could disappear, mercy ministries would flourish, we would treat people with kindness and respect… could this be a revival?

Slide8This should produce a sense of fear of the Lord… People often talk about a good kind of fear, like awe and respect, but Jesus addressed downright FEAR, “But I will warn you whom to fear: fear the One who, after He has killed, has authority to cast into hell; yes, I tell you, fear Him!” (Luke 12:5). When it comes to judgment, “by the fear of the Lord one keeps away from evil.” (Proverbs 16:6).

It is the knowledge that we will give an account of our finances that we file our 1040 form; we will give an account to police for our evil actions. Judgment is not contrary to God’s character of mercy and love and compassion. He would be unjust if he allowed evil to go unpunished. Acts 17:31 says that, “… He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead.”

The good news is that he has provided a way of forgiveness. In God’s patience, he delays judgment to people may turn to him. Understanding the nature of judgment helps us understand the work of Jesus on the cross. Judgment is not something like a scale (one’s good deeds compared to one’s evil deeds). In the new creation, there cannot be ANY evil or the corruption cycle begins all over again. So, Jesus died to pay the penalty for sin and defeat its power in our lives. We submit to him in faith and then God’s power begins a transformational process making us like him, sanctification.

The last question in the video clip, Josh says, “How can you hate someone if they don’t exist?”

Skeptics use the existence of evil and suffering as an attack on Christianity, but denying God does not take away the pain. It just takes away their hope. Only the Christian faith offers a true explanation for the cause of suffering in the world. It provides the resources to defeat it personally and socially. It provides hope that God will ultimately remove it.

The existence of evil does not demonstrate God’s absence from the world, but God’s absence from our hearts. God is the one who defines evil and he tells it like it is.

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Lacking in Christ’s Afflications

Have you ever thought about BIBLICAL ILLITERACY in our day? People just don’t seem to know their Bible, even people who attend church. There are 98% of people who claim to be Christian, but…

  • 80% believe people are basically good and can become good enough to keep the Law on their own
  • 59% believe that faith in Jesus is not necessary for salvation
  • 40% cannot identify what new birth means on a multiple-choice test (half thought it meant reincarnation)
  • 33% did not affirm the trinity or the deity of Christ
  • 23% do not know that Christianity affirms the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ

Here is why sound doctrine doctrine is important: If you don’t stand for something, you will fall for anything. Check out this passage in Colossians 1:24:

Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I do my share on behalf of His body, which is the church, in filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions.

What do you think Paul means here? Could it be that the sufferings of Jesus were not sufficient to reconcile believers to God? Is there something lacking in that which Christ has done for us? That is exactly what false teachers today will proclaim, and often the founder of that group/cult has the divine answer, or is the fulfillment of the mission of Christ (basically Jesus failed in his mission and they are here to set the record straight).

Paul was likely pointing out that Jesus’ sufferings on the cross do not accomplish the salvation of sinners UNLESS they hear and believe the gospel (Colossians 1:25). Paul’s faithfulness to his mission, including his willingness to suffer on his missionary journeys, had to be ADDED to the sufferings of Jesus in order to bring salvation to the Gentiles throughout the Roman Empire.

Jesus’ suffering on the cross was all that was necessary for their salvation, but Paul’s sufferings were necessary to proclaim the message of salvation to the lost world.

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Suffering and Glory

These are notes from my reading John R. W. Stott’s classic book, The Cross of Christ.

According to the Bible, suffering is an alien intrusion into God’s good world, and it will have no part in his new universe.

  1. Suffering is often caused due to sin, or the sin of others: children suffer with unloving or irresponsible parents, poor and hungry people suffer from economic injustice, refugees suffer from cruelties of war, people suffer in road casualties cause by alcohol.
  2. Suffering can be a reckless use of our freedom. There is cause and effect but it is much different than Hindu karma. Think about how unreliable the universe would be receiving pain for every wrong step and pleasure for every good step.
  3. Suffering is due to the human sensitivity to pain: but pain is a valuable warning sign that something is wrong (Dr. Paul Brand, leprosy, and feeling pain).
  4. Suffering is due to the kind of environment God has placed us: laws of nature are in effect when the hurricane devastates a coastal town.

Stoics believed that suffering is meaningless, but Jesus spoke of it as revealing God’s glory. What then is the relationship between Christ’s suffering and ours? How does the cross speak to our pain?

Patient Endurance: while suffering is to be recognized as evil therefore resisted, there comes a time when it must be realistically accepted. It is no credit to us if we are beaten for doing wrong, but if we suffer for doing good and endure it, this would be pleasing to God (1 Peter 2:18-23, Hebrews 12:1-3).

Mature Holiness (Hebrews 2:10, 5:8-9, 7:28, James 1:2-4): Jesus was made perfect through suffering, and he was never disobedient. Here are biblical images of suffering and discipline:

  1. A father disciplines his children: this is an expression of love. No discipline means no love.
  2. God as a refiner of gold: heat to purify and remove the dross.
  3. Jesus mentions his allegory of the vine: pruning to bear fruit.

God intends suffering to be a means of grace; it develops humility and deepens insight.

Suffering Service (John 12:23-26, 32-33): death is more than the way to life; it is the secret of fruitfulness. Unless it falls into the ground and dies, it remains a single seed. Paul found meaning in his suffering; the greatest secret of evangelism or missionary effectiveness is the willingness to suffer and die for the sake of others:

  1. For the sake of the Gentiles (Ephesians 3:1, 13)
  2. For the sake of the body (Colossians 1:24)
  3. For the sake of the elect (2 Timothy 2:8-10)

The Hope of Glory (Hebrews 12:2): suffering should be expected; don’t be surprised by it (Matthew 5:10-12, John 15:18-21, Philippians 1:30, 1 Thessalonians 3:3, 1 Peter 2:21, 4:12, 2 Timothy 3:12). It is the hope of glory than makes suffering bearable. What happens to us down here cannot compare to the next life. Suffering is God’s appointed path toward sanctification (mature holiness), multiplication (fruitful service), and glorification (our final destiny).

The Ground of a Reasonable Faith: Job had the attitude of self-pity and self-assertion, while his friends’ attitude may be described as self-accusation. The goal is self-surrender, which Job realizes at the end of the book.

The Pain of God: the cross of Christ is proof of God’s love, that it is personal, loving solidarity with us in our pain. Philip Yancey wrote a book called, “Where is God When it Hurts?” and asked an interesting question, “If God is truly in charge, somehow connected to all the world’s suffering, why is he so capricious, unfair?” Similar to Job 9:23, like God mocking the despair of the innocent. But God is not on a deck chair watching us, he was on the cross, and continues to suffer with us today.

Outside of Lazarus’ tomb, Jesus wept with those who grieved and snorted with indignation. He wept over Jerusalem, lamenting over their blindness and obstinacy.

Nobel Peace Prize winner (1986) Elie Wiesel wrote about his time in the death camps of Auschwitz, Buna and Buchenwald and came to this conclusion: he heard over and over the question about “Where is God? Where is he?” and as they were force to watch hangings at the gallows, he heard it again, “Where is God now?” He heard a voice within him answer, “Here he is…he is hanging here on this gallows.” God in Christ suffers with his people still.

Seven Affirmations in the Letter to the Galatians:

  1. The Cross and Salvation (Galatians 1:3-5): an introductory statement that is theologically balance and indicates what the letter is going to be about.
    1. The death of Jesus was voluntary and determined.
    2. The death of Jesus was for our sins.
    3. The purpose of Jesus’ death was to rescue us.
    4. The present result of Jesus’ death is grace and peace.
    5. The eternal result of Jesus’ death is that God will be glorified forever.
  2. The Cross and Experience (Galatians 2:19-21): in context Paul writes about justification, how a righteous God can declare sinful humans as righteous. Several times he repeats it is not by the law. The death of Jesus on the cross satisfied the demands of the law.
  3. The Cross and Preaching (Galatians 3:1-3): once you have begun in faith in Christ, why continue in their own achievement?
    1. Gospel-preaching proclaims the cross visually (prographo).
    2. Gospel-preaching proclaims the cross visually as a present reality (to accept or reject).
    3. Gospel-preaching proclaims the cross as a visual, present and permanent reality (perfect tense indicates a permanent benefit of the historical action).
    4. Gospel-preaching proclaims the cross also as an object of personal faith (we continue in faith and grace, not personal efforts).
  4. The Cross and Substitution (Galatians 3:10-14): here is the meaning and consequence of the faith. Here is Paul’s logic:
    1. All who rely upon the law are under a curse (Galatians 2:16, 3:10, 11, 12, Deuteronomy 27:26, Habakkuk 2:4).
    2. Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us (plain statement of substitution, Galatians 3:13).
    3. Christ did this in order that in him the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, by faith (Galatians 3:14).
  5. The Cross and Persecution (Galatians 5:11, 6:12)
    1. Preaching circumcision is to preach salvation by the law.
    2. Preaching the cross is to preach salvation by God’s grace alone.
  6. The Cross and Holiness (Galatians 5:24): there are acts of the flesh and acts/fruit of the Spirit).
  7. The Cross and Boasting (Galatians 6:14): false teachers where obsessed with the numbers of their converts.
    1. To glory or boast in the cross is to see it as the way of acceptance with God.
    2. To glory or boast in the cross is to see it as the pattern of our self-denial.

The Cross in Galatians:

  1. The grounds for our justification (Galatians 1:4, 3:13)
  2. The means of our sanctification (Galatians 2:20, 5:24, 6:14)
  3. The subject of our witness (Galatians 3:1, 5:11, 6:12)
  4. The object of our boasting (Galatians 6:14, 17, Philippians 3:18)

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When Life is Unscripted

Paul was steadfast in his goal; he was going to Jerusalem (Acts 21:13) and when he arrived, he met with mixed reviews.

First they met acceptance (Acts 21:17): the brothers welcomed Paul and his companions warmly. Don’t miss Luke’s terminology, he said when “we” arrived. We might not have faulted his friends if they did not go to Jerusalem with Paul.  He was intent on going to Jerusalem, but his companions could have told him to go on ahead if you want to, but we’re not going! You can throw a rock at that hornets’ nest but I’m not going to stand around here while you do it. But they went with him. It’s almost like Thomas when he said, “Let us go on to Jerusalem that we may die with him” (John 11:16). They knew trouble awaited Jesus and they went anyway, same here with Paul.

When he got there, they might have talked a long time since Paul reported in detail all that God had done (Acts 21:19). Their reaction was to praise God, notice they did not praise Paul (Acts 21:20). Have you been warmed and rejuvenated with passion after hearing stories from the mission field?

Next, they met apprehension; they had a little good news, bad news scenario. First the good news, many Jews had believed (Acts 21:20). The bad news was that they were zealous for the Law and believed that Paul taught people they should not live according to Jewish customs (Acts 21:21). So in this situation, they’re saved, but they’re also mad. James must have been in a tough spot caught in the middle. How many times have you been stuck in the middle with believers you love on both sides of an issue?

In this situation, what they were saying was not even true. If people wanted circumcision, they could practice it, but Paul said it had nothing to do with salvation. We might expect unbelievers to misunderstand our theology, but believers can also be fairly cruel. Remember things like the inquisition? Like Paul, we must also seek common ground between differing parties, and we need to remove any barriers or obstacles to people finding faith in Christ. Let’s build witnessing relationships but still maintain our biblical standards.

Paul also met accusation (Acts 21:27) when the troublemaker Jews from Ephesus arrived; remember the guys who started the riot (Acts 19:8-9)? The entire city is in an uproar and they wanted to beat him to death (Acts 21:30, 31). What’s interesting, is that God used Roman unbelievers to rescue people, and they saved his life!

Application: Life can often send things our way that are not on the scheduled itinerary; I call this life unscripted. It just might come down to faith in the One who holds us in the palm of his hand. We want things to go smoothly with no pain, suffering or hardship, but that is not what is promised. God promises to go through life with us, not necessarily to deliver us from the suffering. Paul even prayed that he would not only know Christ, but to also share in the fellowship in his sufferings (Philippians 3:10). Are you at the point where you can accept whatever life or the world throws at you? Can you praise God in the midst of suffering? Can you praise him in the storm? Are you willing to worship God because it is the right thing to do and he deserve it, or do you follow him because of what you get out of it (primarily heaven at the end of this life)? Are there people in your life who will stand by you in the midst of suffering and pain rather than run from it in self-preservation?

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Life Can Be Hard

After Paul had his near death experience (the stoning at Lystra – Acts 14:8, 19), the group packed up and headed to Derbe (Acts 14:20). They preached the gospel faithfully and then went back through the previous cities to strengthen the believers by telling them that “we must suffer many hardships to enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:21, 22). The converts needed to be reminded to stay true to the faith.

What did Paul mean using the word, “must?” He meant that it was inevitable in the nature of things. Hardship has a place in the life of a believer, check out 2 Corinthians 4:17, mentioning “our light and momentary troubles achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweigh them all.” Perspective helps us to see that what happens on earth is temporary but our eternity is worth it. Our struggle is not against fresh and blood but against spiritual forces that would have us fail (Ephesians 6:12). A great reminder comes from 1 John 4:4, that God is greater than our common enemy who wants us to fall.

At first we may not think a message of unavoidable troubles very appealing, but check this out:

Recognizing inevitable hardships can motivate us to redirect our energies; fear of the trial can consume more energy than just facing the trial. In redirection, we change our focus from fear to faith. I’m not talking about a prosperity gospel that says if one has enough faith these hardships won’t defeat us, but to stand on what Peter says that hardships will prove that our faith is genuine (1 Peter 1:7).

Believing a heretical prosperity gospel can leave us disappointed, broken, wounded and discouraged. A friend once told me “the only people who believe such a gospel are baby Christians in America.” I tend to agree. I have seen great faith of believers in Africa, who regularly suffer greatly. I see their faith to be genuine, not a result of what they get out of a relationship with God. It is such an insult to their faith to say that if they only had enough faith they would not have children die of worms or malaria, or they would have plenty of food on the table.

We also know unbelievers who may suffer as terribly as believers, but the difference is that our suffering is never in vain; Paul says that we will enter the kingdom of God (Acts 14:22).

Application: Do you ever feel that God is against you when your life seems to be falling apart? Take courage in the fact that you and the apostles and early believers are in good company. They did not escape the hardships of life, so why should we be immune to them? See life from God’s perspective, he walks through life with us. We may not experience his deliverance as we would like, but we always have His presence. Paul encouraged Timothy that all who desire to live a godly life will be persecuted (2 Timothy 3:12, John 15:20). Sounds like a certainty to me. Keep the faith.

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How to Keep from Stumbling

By the time we get to Acts chapter 11, Paul (Saul at the time) is reintroduced into the story. It was really a turning point in his ministry because after the Jews sought to kill him, Paul headed back to his hometown of Tarsus (Acts 9:29-30). We know that he went to Syria and Cilicia (Galatians 1:21) but it was five years from the time he left for Tarsus and we pick up in Acts 11. Some scholars call this the missing years of Paul. Let’s consider what might have happened during this time.

God told Ananias that He would show Saul how much he must suffer for His sake (Acts 9:16), and God began to bring this into focus right away. Paul writes about his life of hardships (2 Corinthians 11:23-27); prison, floggings, five times he received 40 lashes, beatings, a stoning, lost at sea, constantly on the move, danger in the city, the country, at sea and from false brothers, gone without sleep, been hungry, thirsty, cold and naked. God wasn’t kidding about the suffering. A lot of the persecution is not recorded in the book of Acts so perhaps these sufferings took place during these missing years.

Persecution scattered the early believers and those in Antioch were faithful, so much so that many people came to faith in Christ (Acts 11:21). When God desires to do a new thing (Isaiah 43:19), He generally seeks out a remnant of righteous followers who usually don’t conform to what others might expect. These types don’t really care about popularity or tradition. The news from Antioch eventually reached the leaders in Jerusalem (Acts 11:22) and when they came to see for themselves, they saw evidence of God’s grace (Acts 11:23).

One of my favorite characters in the New Testament, Barnabas, encouraged the believers to remain true to the Lord (Acts 11:23); to basically plan in advance to remain faithful to Christ. It is a practical reality that the most effective time to resolve to be obedient to Christ is in advance of the persecution or difficulty. It’s hard to make up your mind to be faithful in times of trouble or temptation at the time you’re going through it. A conviction ahead of time settles the issue and allows us to remain strong when the world around us tells us to compromise.

Application: People may not be trying to kill you, beat you or otherwise harm you, but it would make many people happy to see someone who claims to be a follower of Christ stumble and fall to a moral failure, or compromise in some area that required integrity, or give in to some vice or habit that is left over from the old way of life. How will you stand when those around you fall? We stand tall when we are on our knees (in prayer).

As we seek God and strive to follow His direction in life, we can determine ahead of time how we will respond to temptations, how to flee from the trap set by the enemy (1 Peter 5:8). That’s what conviction is all about. After I was able to develop a settled faith, no one has been able to sway me into compromise or to consider that Christ is not the ultimate reality in my life. It’s not that I am immune to personal failure (I’m only human and I know the darkness that lurks within), but I have certain convictions of right and wrong that do not cause me confusion in the midst of these temptations. Heeding the encouragement of Barnabas, I have resolved to be obedient to Christ in advance of the persecution, difficulty or temptation. By God’s grace I am able to trust that He will provide a way of escape (1 Corinthians 10:13). How about you? Do you need someone to whom you will be accountable to remain pure? It’s imperative that you enter into relationships with godly men who will hold you accountable and encourage you when you are ready to give in or give up.

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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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Christians Loving People

Here are the questions we can expect on Sunday for the lesson on First Peter 3:8-22. I will follow up on July 11 with a lesson on “Suffering for Doing Good.”

REFLECTION
Describe a time when someone demonstrated Christ’s love to you in a practical way.

BIBLE READING: Read 1 Peter 3:8–22.
(1 Peter 3:8-12 – To live a holy life requires Christian unity. The unity of believers results from right attitudes, indicated in 1 Peter 3:8. Peter then quotes from Psalm 34:12-16 to remind the readers that God favors right conduct).

DISCOVERY

  1. How should we treat each other? (1 Peter 3:8-9 – about eight characteristics are listed, notice the parallel with the words of Jesus in Luke 6:27-28)
  2. When is it most difficult to demonstrate a loving attitude toward others? (There could be many angles to this discussion: when you have been hurt, when the person is difficult, when you are sick, when the person is an enemy, when you are bitter, etc. You may want to continue the discussion until you have covered as many angles as possible).
  3. Describe the kind of person who enjoys life and pleases God. (If this question makes you think of someone you’ve known, you may want to open the discussion by telling about that person or telling about an incident you experienced with them).
  4. Why is it better to suffer for doing good than for doing wrong? (we should expect to suffer if we do wrong, but those who suffer for righteousness or doing good, they are blessed by God, 1 Peter 3:14, 17).
  5. What difference does Christ’s resurrection make in how we treat others? (Remember all he had gone through for our sake, so why is our momentary suffering anything in comparison? We can stand tall in suffering knowing we will be raised at the right time).

INSPIRATION
Here is an uplifting thought from The Inspirational Study Bible.

In our house we call 5:00 p.m. the piranha hour. That’s the time of day when everyone wants a piece of Mom. Sara, the baby, is hungry. Andrea wants Mom to read her a book. Jenna wants help with her homework. And I—the ever-loving, ever-sensitive husband—want Denalyn to drop everything and talk to me about my day.

When is your piranha hour? When do people in your world demand much and offer little?

Every boss has had a day in which the requests outnumber the results. There’s not a businessperson alive who hasn’t groaned as an armada of assignments docks at his or her desk. For the teacher, the piranha hour often begins when the first student enters and ends when the last student leaves.

Piranha hours: parents have them, bosses endure them, secretaries dread them, teachers are besieged by them, and Jesus taught us how to live through them successfully.

When hands extended and voices demanded, Jesus responded with love. He did so because the code within him disarmed the alarm. The code is worth noting: “People are precious.”

(From In the Eye of the Storm by Max Lucado)

RESPONSE

  1. When is your “piranha hour”? (You may want to also include in this discussion what it feels like when everyone wants a piece of you. What are some typical stress reactions for your group members?)
  2. How can we find the strength to love people, even when they have nothing to give in return? Consider what angle 1 John 4:19 puts on this discussion (we love because he first loved us), or 1 John 3:16 (we know love by this, that he laid down his life for us, we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren).
  3. In what way can you remind yourself of Christ’s example the next time you feel overwhelmed by the demands of others? (Scripture memory, visualization of the cross, remember your own sinfulness and the fact of Christ’s suffering…).

ADDITIONAL QUESTIONS

  1. What kinds of issues create tension and conflict between believers?
  2. What practical steps can we take to promote harmony in the Body of Christ?
  3. What does it mean to work for peace?

For more Bible passages on loving people, see Matthew 5:43–48; 22:38–40; John 13:34–35; Romans 12:9–10; 1 Corinthians 13:1–13; Galatians 5:13–14; Colossians 3:14; 1 Thessalonians 4:9–10; Hebrews 10:24; 1 Peter 1:22; 1 John 3:11, 16–18; 4:7–21; 2 John 5–6.

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In His Steps

We are called to follow the example that Jesus set for us. I remember the classic book by Charles Sheldon called, “In His Steps” which describes how the Reverend Henry Maxwell and his congregation were forced to consider the question, “What would Jesus do?” and its consequences. No one in town was left untouched by this brief and probing question. These people learn the answer is to walk in In His Steps.

Opening Questions:

  1. Growing up, who was the authority figure in your family?
  2. How was disobedience handled?
  3. In this section, we will see that the saints have various duties toward the government, their work and suffering.
  4. What does Peter say in 1 Peter 2:11-12 that helps to set the stage for this passage?

Reflecting Questions:

  1. Think of a fellow believer whom you greatly admire. In what ways would you like to model your life after that person’s example?
  2. Why didn’t Jesus feel any need to seek revenge? You may want to read an additional passage about Christ’s willingness to suffer (Isaiah 53:1-12).
  3. Why is it important for us to lead good lives?
  4. Why should we yield to authorities?
  5. What happens when believers endure suffering for doing good? Additional passages to explore include Matthew 5:11-12, Romans 5:1-5, James 5:10-11.
  6. What can we learn from Jesus about responding to unfair treatment? You may want to review some times when Jesus was unfairly treated in life as well as death – He healed a man, but was criticized because it was on the Sabbath (John 5:7–18); several times the Pharisees set out to trick him (Matthew 22:15–21; John 8:2–8).
  7. How do we tend to react when others hurt us?
  8. In what way does Christ’s example affect the way you view your problems and pain?
  9. How can our emotional wounds interfere with our spiritual growth? How do emotional wounds affect our ability to trust? to love? to obey? to hope?
  10. In what circumstances is it tempting to retaliate?
  11. When has God helped you forgive someone who hurt you deeply?
  12. How can you fight the urge to get back at people who mistreat you?

For more Bible passages on following Jesus’ example, see John 8:12; 12:26; 13:15; 1 Corinthians 11:1; Ephesians 5:1–2; 1 Thessalonians 1:6.

Here is an uplifting thought from Max Lucado:
The disciples are annoyed. As Jesus sits in silence, they grow more smug. “Send her away,” they demand. The spotlight is put on Jesus. He looks at the disciples, then looks at the woman. And what follows is one of the most intriguing dialogues in the New Testament.
“I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel,” he says.
“Lord, help me!”
“It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to their dogs,” he answers.
“But even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ tables,” she responds.
Is Jesus being rude? Is he worn-out? Is he frustrated? Is he calling this woman a dog? How do we explain this dialogue?…
Could it be that Jesus’ tongue is poking his cheek? Could it be that he and the woman are engaging in satirical banter? Is it wry exchange in which God’s unlimited grace is being highlighted? Could Jesus be so delighted to have found one who is not bartering with a religious system or proud of a heritage that he can’t resist a bit of satire?
He knows he can heal her daughter. He knows he isn’t bound by a plan. He knows her heart is good. So he decides to engage in a humorous moment with a faithful woman. In essence, here’s what they said:
“Now, you know that God only cares about Jews,” he says smiling.
And when she catches on, she volleys back, “But your bread is so precious, I’ll be happy to eat the crumbs.”
In a spirit of exuberance, he bursts out, “Never have I seen such faith! Your daughter is healed.”
This story does not portray a contemptuous God. It portrays a willing One who delights in a sincere seeker.
Aren’t you glad he does?

(From In the Eye of the Storm by Max Lucado)

Bible Study Questions:

  1. Find several examples of submission in this passage. What is difficult about each?
  2. How are Christians to act toward governmental authority? Why are they to treat governing leaders with respect (1 Peter 2:13-15)?
  3. When the word “submit” is used in the New Testament, it is voluntary in nature. How is this different from other interpretations of the word today?
  4. How could the teachings of 1 Peter 2:16-17 keep you from being a “muddy doormat” to the government?
  5. What connection does the text point out between Christ’s suffering and a Christian’s submission in the situation of slavery (1 Peter 2:18-21)?
  6. What is Peter’s response to one whose master is not a Christian or is just a difficult person (1 Peter 2:18)?
  7. What are the effects of Christ’s suffering (1 Peter 2:22-25)?
  8. Jesus “entrusted himself to him who judges justly” (1 Peter 2:23). How might a similar trust in God help you to submit to the necessary suffering that has come into your life?
  9. Slowly read the words of 1 Peter 2:24, substituting your name for the appropriate pronouns. In what specific ways have you seen Christ’s work here played out in your own experience?
  10. How does Christ’s death result in both an ending and a beginning in our lives (1 Peter 2:24)?
  11. In Peter’s day, persecution and slavery made submission to authority difficult. What conditions today make it difficult?
  12. How can Jesus’ example help you face hardships you can’t change?
  13. What should people do whose rights are being violated by authority gone bad (accept, suffer, insist on justice, sue, confront the authority)? (see also Mark 11:15-16, 15:1-15, Acts 16:35-37).

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Called to be Different

Purpose of this lesson is to lead us to respond to God’s gift of salvation with holy imitation of Jesus.

Being a Christian shapes us, often in surprising ways. We discover God-given strengths and use them in ways we never imagined. But we also discover our flaws and learn the painful effort of overcoming those sins. God calls his people to be different: different from what they would be if they did not believe in Jesus and different from the unbelievers around them.

  1. How did you get ready for exams in school? (Kept up, Cram, Good night sleep).
  2. Who was your best coach? How did this person help prepare you and help you excel?
  3. What surprising strengths (or weaknesses) have you discovered in yourself as part of your Christian growth?
  4. Think of a Christian (living or dead) you admire. In what ways has that person practiced holy living? Pray, thanking God for his or her influence in your life.

Peter opens this section of his letter with the warning to “prepare your minds for action.” Go ahead and read 1 Peter 1:13-25.

1. What mental and physical actions should a follower of Christ pursue?

2. Peter lists several ways that followers of Jesus ought to respond to his gift of salvation. Define each of these responses more fully (1 Peter 1:13, 14, 15, 16). Can you spot the five commands?
Gird your ___________________________. Girding or preparing: meaning the ancient practice of gathering up one’s robes when needing to move in a hurry; here, it is metaphorically applied to one’s thought process. The meaning is to pull in all the loose ends of one’s thinking, by rejecting the hindrances of the world and focusing on the future grace of God (Ephesians 6:14; Colossians 3:2).
Keep ____________________ in spirit. Spiritual sober-mindedness includes the ideas of steadfastness, self-control, clarity of mind, and moral decisiveness. The sober Christian is correctly in charge of his priorities and not intoxicated with the various allurements of the world.
Fix your ___________________________ on future grace. In light of their great salvation, Christians, especially those undergoing suffering, should passionately live for the future, anticipating the consummation of their salvation at the second coming of Christ (see 1 Peter 1:7, Colossians 3:2-4). Christ’s future ministry of glorifying Christians and giving them eternal life in His presence will be the final culmination of the grace initiated at salvation (Ephesians 2:7).
Do not be ___________________________ to the former lusts. This is very similar to the Pauline command of not conforming to this world (Romans 12:2).
Be _________________ in all your behavior. What does it mean to be holy? Holiness essentially defines the Christian’s new nature and conduct in contrast with his pre-salvation lifestyle. The reason for practicing a holy manner of living is that Christians are associated with the holy God and must treat Him and His Word with respect and reverence. We therefore glorify Him best by being like Him (1 Peter 1:16, 17; Matthew 5:48; Ephesians 5:1; Leviticus 11:44, 45; 18:30; 19:2; 20:7; 21:6-8).

3. Select one of these responses above. If you were to put that response on the front burner of your priorities, what changes would you have to make in your life?

4. 1 Peter 1:15 says, “Be holy in all you do.” How might an honest attempt to be holy by God’s standards improve your relationships with people close to you? In what situations might it make you more like a stranger (1 Peter 1:17)?

5. Why does Peter tell us that we ought to live in “reverent fear” (1 Peter 1:17)? Why would Peter tell these persecuted believers that God is their judge and they should live in fear? Holy living is motivated by a God-fearing faith that does not presume upon the redemption that was purchased at so great a cost (1 Peter 1:18, 19).

6. What events from the past would help the recipients of Peter’s letter to appreciate God’s concern for them (1 Peter 1:18-21)? Examine the following past events noted:
“You were redeemed” (1 Peter 1:18) – meaning to buy back someone from bondage by the payment of a price; to set free by paying a ransom. “Redemption” was a technical term for money paid to buy back a prisoner of war. Here it is used of the price paid to buy the freedom of one in the bondage of sin and under the curse of the law (eternal death, Galatians 3:13). The price paid to a holy God was the shed blood of His own Son (Exodus 12:1-13; 15:13; Psalm 78:35; Acts 20:28; Romans 3:24; Galatians 4:4, 5; Ephesians 1:7; Colossians 1:14; Titus 2:14; Hebrews 9:11-17).
“The empty way of life [was] handed down to you” (1 Peter 1:18) – Meaning the old Law system was empty; also we recognize that the old life we used to live was empty.
“He was chosen before the creation of the world” (1 Peter 1:20) – Meaning in eternity past, before Adam and Eve sinned, God planned the redemption of sinners through Jesus Christ (Acts 2:23; 4:27, 28; 2 Timothy 1:9).
He “was revealed” (1 Peter 1:20) – Meaning at the end of the law, He appeared from heaven to rescue us from our former way of life. Peter wants to impress us even more deeply with the importance of making a clean break with the world system from which Christ died to deliver us. We are in the world but not of it. We must not isolate ourselves from unbelievers, but rather carry the gospel to them. Yet in our dealings and relationships with them, we must never share in or condone their sins. We are to show by our lives that we are children of God. The moment we become like the world, our testimony is weakened. There is no incentive for lost people to be converted if they cannot see a difference, a change for the better in our lives.
“You became believers in God” (1 Peter 1:21) – Meaning, as W. T. P. Wolston said: “It is not by creation nor providence nor law that man knows God, but by Christ.”
“God … raised him from the dead and glorified him” (1 Peter 1:21) – Meaning God, through the ascension, returned Christ to the glory that He had with Him before the world began (Luke 24:51-53; John 17:4, 5; Acts 1:9-11; Philippians 2:9-11; Hebrews 1:1-3; 2:9).
Each of these events from the past had a bearing on the current condition of those who received Peter’s letter.

7. What is a good test to see if one really has a change of heart (1 Peter 1:22)? How could the conditions that Peter describes in 1 Peter 1:21-25 promote sincere love among Christians?
O_________________ to the truth.
P_________________ of the soul.
S____________ and F_____________ love for one another.
B_________________, imperishable.

8. In speaking of a Christian’s relationships, Peter drew a contrast between “love for your brothers” and being “strangers in the world” (1 Peter 1:1, 17, 22). How is loving deeply and actively possible? When have you felt sheltered by a family kind of love among believers?

9. What contrasts do you see in 1 Peter 1:21-25 between what is temporary and what is enduring?
Temporary                                           Enduring
all people (1 Peter 1:24)                     new birth (1 Peter 1:23)
flowers (1 Peter 1:24)                         Word of God (1 Peter 1:23, 25)
grass (1 Peter 1:24)
glory of men (1 Peter 1:24)

10. Peter links the Word of God with salvation and new birth (Compare 1 Peter 1:10, 12, 23, 25). What do you think Peter means when he says that this Word is “enduring” and “stands forever?”
Try to understand the flow of Peter’s reasoning. These verses trace God’s redeeming work from the age of the prophets who searched for information about Christ’s coming (but did not themselves experience it). They “served” the believers of Peter’s era with their preparation. It was part of the “imperishable seed” presented to the new Christian church (the “word” that Peter preached).

11. The readers of Peter’s letter learned of God’s gift of salvation because it was preached to them. How have you learned about it?

12. If you were trying to convey to someone else the value of new birth in your life, what would you want that person to know?

13. Are you more like a pilgrim, an explorer or a land owner on this earth?

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