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Peace

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Image source: LumoProject

Today’s Bible reading includes a familiar passage where a woman is brought to Jesus who was caught in the act of adultery. (John 8:4) Jesus tells the Jewish leaders to go ahead and stone her, with the condition that the first one to throw the first rock must be completely innocent. The accusers walk away, and Jesus tells her that He doesn’t condemn her. End of story. Right?

There are several things I need to highlight here. Yes, the Jewish Law prescribed death by stoning for those guilty of adultery. (Leviticus 20:10) Note that the death penalty was for both of the partners committing adultery. Where was her partner? Did they let the man go? And what were these Jewish leaders doing when the act was being committed? Where were they? How did they know?

Second, her accusers left her alone with Jesus Who tells her that He didn’t condemn her. But He didn’t just leave it there. He says, “Neither do I condemn you. Go, and from now on do not sin anymore.” John 8:11 (CSB)

In telling her He doesn’t condemn her and letting her go, Jesus never condones the woman’s sin. Never. Instead, He uses the situation as a teachable moment for the woman. And for us. Instead of sentencing the woman to death and participating in her execution (as He was obligated to do under the Law), Jesus extends grace and mercy, demonstrating that there is more to dealing with sin than serving as judge, jury, and executioner. God offers a clean slate and an opportunity to start over.

Application

None of us is the judge, jury, and executioner. As Believers and representers of Jesus Christ, we are to help bring about restoration to the brokenhearted. Restoration and rehabilitation is a big deal in the Kingdom of God. But a big problem with bringing restoration and rehabilitation is that as long as the person hasn’t dealt with their sin, there can be no restoration. There can be no rehabilitation.

Look at how Jesus dealt with the self-righteous religious leaders. Look at how Paul dealt with self-righteousness individuals in the early chapters of Romans. Neither Jesus nor Paul swept sin under the rug. Both men dealt with sin head-on. And when the people recognized their sin, both men were there with an extended hand to help the repentant sinner to “go and sin no more.”

All of us are guilty of sin. I don’t know what sins you are guilty of. The reason we sin is because we’re sinners. But have you dealt with your sin condition? Have you taken the First Step (admit that you have a problem)?

God offers peace with Himself, forgiveness, and restoration as we deal with our sin, and not a moment sooner. That’s the very purpose of the Law: to expose our sin and our hopeless condition. But we don’t get to experience the Good News until we’ve dealt with the Bad News.

Don’t cheapen grace! Deal with sin as soon as God reveals it to you. Then, repent of your sin and trust Him to empower you to “go and sin no more.”

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Nero
Image source: Wikimedia

Peter continues addressing his persecuted, exiled readers (1 Peter 2:11) in today’s Bible reading. Last month, I commented on the historical context around the middle of the First Century. I mentioned Nero was the Roman Emporer at the time. Under Nero’s reign, Christians were persecuted far beyond what many of us can imagine today. “Pure evil” is the only way I can describe it without going into the ugly details.

And yet… Peter tells his readers to submit to every human authority. And lest there be any confusion, Peter says clearly that his command includes the “emperor [Nero] as the supreme authority or to governors as those sent out by him to punish those who do what is evil and to praise those who do what is good.” (1 Peter 2:13–14 CSB)

So what does “submit” mean? Submit was a Greek military term meaning “to arrange [troop divisions] in a military fashion under the command of a leader”. In non-military use, it was “a voluntary attitude of giving in, cooperating, assuming responsibility, and carrying a burden”.[1]

Submission is not a bad word. In fact, no military unit can properly function without it. No marriage can properly function without it. No church can properly function without it. And no country can properly function without it. There has to be a chain of command. The pastor who married Amy and me said, “Anything with more than one head is a monster.”

Peter gives his rationale for his command in verses 12 and 15. “Conduct yourselves honorably among the Gentiles, so that when they slander you as evildoers, they will observe your good works and will glorify God on the day he visits. For it is God’s will that you silence the ignorance of foolish people by doing good.” 1 Peter 2:12, 15 (CSB)

Did you catch that? Peter says the reason Believers should submit even to the evil Emperor Nero was so that God would be glorified. He adds that silencing foolish ignorance by doing good is God’s will. Well, you can’t argue with that!

Application

Most of my readers live in the United States and do not have first-hand knowledge of real religious persecution. However, readers in countries ruled by authoritarian regimes may know people who have experienced persecution. They may have even had to alter their way of doing life — especially church life — in order to coexist in a restrictive environment. I have friends who live in one of those restrictive countries and they have to be very careful in the way they communicate prayer needs back to churches in the US. In fact, they don’t even use the words “pray”, “church”, or “Jesus Christ” in their email correspondence.

But regardless of where you live, Peter’s instructions are clear: Submit to every human authority. Every human authority. You may or may not like your President. You may or may not like your Chancellor. You may or may not like your Prime Minister. But regardless of how you feel about your leaders, if you are a Believer, you are obligated to submit to those authorities (1 Peter 2:13-14) and to pray for them. (1 Timothy 2:1-2)

[1] Strong, James. Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon 1995 : n. pag. Print.

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source: Moody Publishers / FreeBibleimages.org

With today’s Bible reading, we begin reading Peter’s First Letter. Peter wrote his letter to Believers who were being persecuted for their faith. Like most other letters from the Apostles to the churches, Peter begins his with the standard greeting, “Grace to you”. But he does it a little differently than every other Apostle writes his greetings.

“Grace to you” was a typical greeting you would receive from a Greek friend in the First Century, regardless of whether or not your friend was a fellow Believer. It would sound like a “Howdy!” you’d hear on a Texas ranch today. But for Peter, grace was more than a “Howdy”. It was so much more!

Peter gets grace. He understands it intimately and wants everybody to get in on the grace that Jesus offers. In fact, he uses the word ten times in this letter, three of which appear in this first chapter!

Remember, Peter promised Jesus he would never deny Jesus (Matthew 26:35), yet in just a few hours, he denied knowing Jesus three times. He even called down curses on himself in his denial of knowing Jesus. A modern rendering of Matthew 26:74 might be, “I swear to God I don’t know the man.” Immediately, Peter heard a rooster’s crow, signaling a new day had begun.

Several days later, after Jesus’ Resurrection, when Peter saw Jesus for the first time, Jesus asked him three times if Peter loved Him. Three times: one “Do you love me?” question for each time he had denied knowing Jesus. (John 21:15–17)

Peter begins both of his letters the same way, and very differently than do Paul and James. It isn’t just “Grace to you!”, “Howdy!” It’s, “May grace and peace be multiplied to you” (1 Peter 1:2, 2 Peter 1:2)

It’s significant that Peter would begin his letters writing to persecuted believers who were “living as exiles”. (1 Peter 1:1 CSB) Peter’s “May grace and peace be multiplied to you.” is very similar to the greeting King Nebuchadnezzar used in his proclamation (Daniel 4:1) after witnessing God’s miraculous protection of three devout Babylonian exiles. Just before Nebuchadnezzar’s proclamation, he says, “I issue a decree that anyone of any people, nation, or language who says anything offensive against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego will be torn limb from limb and his house made a garbage dump. For there is no other god who is able to deliver like this. (Daniel 3:29)

The Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar witnessed first-hand that God protects His people in their persecution. He observed not only the three young exiles in the “fiery furnace”, but a fourth who looked “like a son of the gods”. (Daniel 3:25)

Application

Peter subtly reminds his persecuted readers of another time — several hundred years earlier — when other persecuted Believers were dramatically and miraculously protected and delivered in their persecution.

Peter’s obvious implication is that, if God can deliver Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego from a blazing furnace, He can do that and even more for his readers. Those young men didn’t know if God would deliver the way they expected (Daniel 3:16–18), but they knew that God is enough.

And the obvious application for you is that regardless of your situation, whether it’s religious persecution or just hard times, God is enough. God will deliver you. Not just God can deliver you, but God will deliver you.

God may not deliver you the way you expect, but just like with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, God is in control.

Whatever grace you need,
whatever peace you need,
may God’s grace and peace be multiplied to you.

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Hatred

In today’s Bible reading, John offers the comforting words that haters are going to hate Believers. Gee, thanks John! You sound just like Job’s encouraging friends!

But hould we really expect anything else from lost people? Lost people are going to act like lost people! Besides, if they hated Jesus, why would they feel different about His followers? (Matthew 10:22–25) They won’t.

Application

If haters are going to hate, why should Believers even deal with the fear of man? If they’re going to hate you, why try to please them? Why try to curry their favor?

Now, I’m not saying that we should return hate for hate. Quite the opposite. The New Testament consistently teaches that Believers are to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute you. (Matthew 5:44)

Peter tells the persecuted church not to pay back evil for evil or insult for insult but, on the contrary, giving a blessing, since you were called for this, so that you may inherit a blessing. (1 Peter 3:9)

And Paul reminds the Romans, “If possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” (Romans 12:18 CSB)

There’s nothing you can do to stop them from hating you and your Lord. But do everything you can to live in peace with everyone and pray for your haters. Because haters are going to hate.

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account reconciliation

Again, I’ll highlight what I have said before, that when you see a word or phrase repeated in close proximity in the Bible, it’s a signal of its importance. In today’s Bible reading, Paul uses reconcile five times in only three verses. (2 Corinthians 5:18-20)

The word reconcile is used in accounting. You may have reconciled your checkbook to make sure that your income and expenses come into agreement. Hmmm…. come into agreement. That’s what it means to be reconciled!

One of my Greek lexicons (a fancy word for dictionary) says this about reconciliation:

to reestablish proper friendly interpersonal relations after these have been disrupted or broken (the componential features of this series of meanings involve (1) disruption of friendly relations because of (2) presumed or real provocation, (3) overt behavior designed to remove hostility, and (4) restoration of original friendly relations)—‘to reconcile, to make things right with one another, reconciliation.’[1]

The fact that God reconciles people to Himself (2 Corinthians 5:18) demonstrates that the relationship was broken in the first place. And the relationship was broken by Adam and all of his descendants. Otherwise, Paul could speak of us reconciling ourselves with God.

But God is the one Who takes the initiative because we, as fallen creatures cannot. In fact, even if we could take the initiative, we would not. Yes, we are that fallen! We are that broken!

Until we can understand the gravity of our sinful condition, we can’t grasp the incredible goodness, grace, and mercy of God to reconcile us to Himself. Because God has reconciled His children to Himself through Jesus Christ, we can have peace with God and peace with each other! “Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!” 2 Corinthians 9:15, (CSB)

And we get to be a part of God’s ministry of reconciliation! He has made us His ambassadors to plead with our family, friends, and acquaintances, “Be reconciled to God!” What an amazing priviledge!

And what an amazing responsibility!

Application

Have you been reconciled to God? Have you recognized your infinite debt to God due to your own sin? He has done all that is necessary to restore you to Himself, if you will only accept His offer! Be reconciled to God!

If you have been reconciled to God, have you told your family, friends, and acquaintances about this glorious God Who has extended His grace to you, and to them?

Who can you tell today?

[1] Louw, Johannes P., and Eugene Albert Nida. Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament: based on semantic domains 1996 : 501. Print.

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