Prepare Your Minds for Action!

If you’re a Christian, are you serious about your faith and your great God and Savior, Jesus Christ?

  • Do you try to begin each day (after a few cups of coffee!) by dedicating yourself to serve the Lord?
  • Have you prepared your mind for action?
  • Are you sober-minded about the realities of real Christian life, in the real world? We all know how to “pretend” when we gather to worship on Sundays – what about the other six and a half days?
  • What is your hope completely set on? Is it money? Career? Education? Your own self-righteousness? Your reputation? Your spouse? Sex? The Apostle Peter said your hope ought to be fully set on the grace that will be brought to you when Christ returns.

Of course, nobody is perfect. We all lose focus. We each have good days, and bad days. I understand. So does the Apostle Peter. So does the Lord. This is why the Apostle Paul characterized the Christian life as a race, an endurance event (cf. 1 Cor 9:24-27). It isn’t a sprint. It’s a marathon – a long marathon. If you’re a Christian, you’ve already been given every single need you need for life and godliness (see especially 2 Pet 1:3-15). You have it. All of it. You’re not lacking anything. We just need to be reminded sometimes where our focus should be.

That’s what the Apostle Peter does, beginning in 1 Peter 1:13. This is where he takes all the wonderful things God has done for His children, and tells us all what that should mean for our lives:

“Therefore,” he writes, “in light of all this, you must prepare your minds for action! Ne serious! Be sober-minded! Put your hope completely in the grace and deliverance Christ will bring you when He returns. Keep your eye on the prize!”

Well, what does it look like to be “sober-minded?” How do we “prepare our minds for action?” What does this actually look like? Peter tells us all about that in the following verses . . . next week!

For this week, listen and follow along as Peter tells us how to become sober-minded, how to prepare our minds for action. I pray that the Apostle’s words comfort and encourage you:

PDF notes

1 pet 1(13)

Whistling in the Dark

green
Former nominee for Secretary of the Army, Mark Green

President Trump’s latest candidate for Secretary of the Army, Mark Green, has withdrawn his nomination. The Washington Post reported an excerpt from a statement Green made on his withdrawal:

“Tragically, my life of public service and my Christian beliefs have been mischaracterized and attacked by a few on the other side of the aisle for political gain,” Green said. “While these false attacks have no bearing on the needs of the Army or my qualifications to serve, I believe it is critical to give the President the ability to move forward with his vision to restore our military to its rightful place in the world.”

As you read this article (and others) about Green’s nomination and later withdrawal from consideration, it has become increasingly clear there is a now an implicit litmus test to serve in a high-profile public office. This litmus test is not based on anything concrete and objective, but on the shifting and subjective mores of an increasingly unhinged and hysterical culture that is drifting – no, running – from Biblical values at breakneck speed. If you wish to serve in a public capacity, any public capacity, you must be willing to bow your knee to the totalitarians.

This should be deeply disturbing to anyone with integrity and the capacity to reason – no matter what your theological or political perspective is. Unfortunately, virtues like “integrity” and “capacity to reason” are becoming increasingly scarce in the public square.

These events shouldn’t surprise any Christian. The Scriptures paint a clear picture of sin being, at root, a desire for autonomy from God, His laws, His authority and His jurisdiction (cf. Psalm 2:1-4). Every single person is born corrupted by sin, wanting to break away from God and His rule. We want to rule ourselves. We don’t want God.

When we grow up, this rebellion takes a more sinister turn into darker sin and wickedness. When we have an entire society seeking to collectively “unshackle” itself from the ties which bind us all to His jurisdiction, then you have a society which actively and consciously hates God. This is where we are. And, just like the Psalmist said, God sits in the heavens and laughs in derision (Psalm 2:4). Those who hate God are whistling in the dark like scared kids, deluding themselves, thinking they’re gonna get away. They’re not gonna get away (Psalm 2:4-6; cf. Psalm 110):

He who sits in the heavens laughs;
    the Lord has them in derision.
Then he will speak to them in his wrath,
    and terrify them in his fury, saying,
“I have set my king
    on Zion, my holy hill.”

This debacle with Mark Green is but the latest example of this phenomenon. Watch as our society continues it’s mad rush to shed even the most superficial of Christian glosses. It will not get better.

Christians certainly shouldn’t look to “The Donald” to solve their problems. Christians look for that perfect King and perfect Ruler, who will return and establish peace, justice and righteousness on earth for all who are His (cf. Isaiah 11:1-16). If you haven’t yet repented and believed in Christ, you should. No, you must.

Dead Right, But Dead Wrong

rightSometimes, you can be right about something, and yet still be completely wrong.

When I was a criminal investigator with the Military Police, I had a case involving a Sailor who might have faked his promotion and been receiving extra pay for the past three years. That’s a lot of money. Add to it that your cost of living allowances change depending on your rank, and you’re looking at even more money. This was a good case.

Everything pointed to the conclusion that he had forged paperwork, and somehow gotten it past Personnel. We interviewed the Personnel Officer for several hours, wondering how it could have been done. We had the admin guys calculate a dollar figure. We briefed the Staff Judge Advocate, who began salivating with glee and plotting a general courts-martial. We were just missing the one thing. We needed confirmation from a training school back in Texas that they did not promote the guy.

The school told us, “No, definitely not. But, let us dig around in some file cabinets.”

We waited. We waited some more. The Staff Judge Advocate kept drooling. We interviewed the suspect. He denied everything. Liar, we thought. I told him his lies wouldn’t look good when Texas called back.

This is your only chance for leniency, I warned him. Confess now, and show at least an ounce of integrity. He refused. We cackled to each other, waiting for the death blow, for the phone call from Texas.

It finally came. They had promoted him. Some clerk made an admin error, way back when. They said they were sorry. No case. No courts-martial. Over.

I was right about a lot of things, but I was still wrong. That’s what happened to Job’s friends.

Do We Suffer Because of Our Sin?

Job’s friends assumed he was being punished because he had sinned. They thought:

  1. God is good. He punishes the wicked, and rewards the righteous.
  2. God is punishing Job. Just look at the poor guy!
  3. Therefore, Job must be a bad guy. A real sleazebag. A loser.
  4. Therefore, Job is a really wicked guy; he’s just been good at hiding it all this time.
  5. Therefore, if Job would just repent, God would square everything away and stop his misery.

Is their logic really that far off? Isn’t it true, sometimes? Listen to what one of his friends said (Job 22:2-5):

“Can a man be profitable to God?
    Surely he who is wise is profitable to himself.
Is it any pleasure to the Almighty if you are righteous,
    or is it gain to him if you make your ways blameless?
Is it for your fear of him that he reproves you,
    and enters into judgment with you?
Is not your wickedness great?
    There is no end to your iniquities.

This seems like rock-solid logic. Does God reprove you because you fear Him? Of course not! Therefore, Job, you must be a very, very wicked man.

His friend continued (Job 22:21-30):

21 “Agree with God, and be at peace;
    thereby good will come to you.
22 Receive instruction from his mouth,
    and lay up his words in your heart.
23 If you return to the Almighty and humble yourself,
    if you remove unrighteousness far from your tents,
24 if you lay gold in the dust,
    and gold of Ophir among the stones of the torrent bed,
25 and if the Almighty is your gold,
    and your precious silver;
26 then you will delight yourself in the Almighty,
    and lift up your face to God.
27 You will make your prayer to him, and he will hear you;
    and you will pay your vows.
28 You will decide on a matter, and it will be established for you,
    and light will shine on your ways.
29 For God abases the proud,
    but he saves the lowly.
30 He delivers the innocent man;
    you will be delivered through the cleanness of your hands.”

There is some good stuff here. Important stuff. Some wise principles. That bit about “return to the Almighty and humble yourself” is pure gold. That’s the idea of repentance. But, here’s the thing – Job’s friend was right, but yet he was also wrong.

Why They Were Right

He was right – God does punish and chastise His disobedient children. Solomon knew this (Prov 3:11-12):

11 My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline
    or be weary of his reproof,
12 for the Lord reproves him whom he loves,
    as a father the son in whom he delights.

The writer of Hebrews jotted this down (Heb 12:5b-6), and added some commentary of his own. God disciplines His covenant children for their own good (Heb 12:7-11). After all:

God is treating you as sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons (Heb 12:7b-8).

If God didn’t discipline His children, it would prove He didn’t love them. But, He does love His children, so He does discipline them. Simple. Got it.

But, what if God has other reasons for making things happen to His children? This is where Job’s friends were wrong.

Why They Were Wrong

You see, Job hadn’t done anything wrong. He kept telling his friends that. They called him a liar. They called him prideful. They invented wicked deeds, and accused him of harboring some dark, sinister sin. They told him God wouldn’t do this without a reason. They told him (Job 4:7-8):

“Think now, who that was innocent ever perished?
    Or where were the upright cut off?
As I have seen, those who plow iniquity
    and sow trouble reap the same.

 Just confess, they told Job. Stop lying!

They were wrong. Job was “blameless and upright, one who feared God, and turned away from evil,” (Job 1:1). He hadn’t committed some great sin. There were no skeletons in his closet, no secret bank accounts in the Cayman Islands, no illicit text messages on his smartphone and no incriminating internet browser history. He was just a normal, Godly man.

What’s the Point?

The point is that, sometimes, God makes things happen to people for His own reasons. They’re good and holy reasons, because He’s a good and holy God. He works all things for good for those who love Him, who have been called according to His purposes (Rom 8:28). We are clay, and He is the Potter. He can do with us whatever He wants.

You’re right, it was Satan who afflicted Job so much.

You’re right, God allowed Satan to do this. But, is that really all there is to it? Look at what the book says (Job 42:11):

Then came to him all his brothers and sisters and all who had known him before, and ate bread with him in his house; and they showed him sympathy and comforted him for all the evil that the Lord had brought upon him; and each of them gave him a piece of money and a ring of gold.

When all the layers are stripped away, God brought that upon Job. He had a reason. I can’t solve the “problem of evil” in this short article, but I can at least nudge you towards a deeper understanding of God’s providence. People make free, intelligent and willing decisions – but behind it all, God is working all things according to the council of His good and holy will.

Consider this:

  • The U.S. Navy recently launched 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles at a Syrian air base.
  • On a superficial level, a firecontrolman sitting in the destroyer’s Combat Information Center is the one who launched the strike. He pushed the button. The missiles launched. Boom.
  • Yet, he really isn’t ultimately the one who made it happen. President Trump did.

There are all sorts of caveats I could add, but the point is that God is in control, and sometimes He brings hard times upon His children through no fault of their own, and it’s always for a good and holy reason.

Here are some wise words from the Belgic Confession (1618) about God’s providence (Article 13):

We believe that this good God, after he created all things, did not abandon them to chance or fortune but leads and governs them according to his holy will, in such a way that nothing happens in this world without his orderly arrangement.

Yet God is not the author of, nor can he be charged with, the sin that occurs. For his power and goodness are so great and incomprehensible that he arranges and does his work very well and justly even when the devils and wicked men act unjustly.

We do not wish to inquire with undue curiosity into what he does that surpasses human understanding and is beyond our ability to comprehend. But in all humility and reverence we adore the just judgments of God, which are hidden from us, being content to be Christ’s disciples, so as to learn only what he shows us in his Word, without going beyond those limits.

This doctrine gives us unspeakable comfort since it teaches us that nothing can happen to us by chance but only by the arrangement of our gracious heavenly Father. He watches over us with fatherly care, keeping all creatures under his control, so that not one of the hairs on our heads (for they are all numbered) nor even a little bird can fall to the ground without the will of our Father.

In this thought we rest, knowing that he holds in check the devils and all our enemies, who cannot hurt us without his permission and will.

God is in charge. If you’ve repented and believed the Good News of Jesus Christ, then rest assured – nothing happens to you without God’s permission and will. He’s a good Father. He’s the best Father. He has a reason. Don’t think He’s abandoned you. He never will. Thank God!

Questions for 1 Peter 1:1-2

I’m preparing to work through 1 Peter 1:1-2 this coming Sunday, for Bible study. The best way to teach through a book is to outline the entire thing to understand the flow of the argument, and then teach those units of thought individually. In my own outline, I kept 1 Peter 1:1-2 separate from vv. 3-9. Here are some good questions to ponder from this passage:

1 pet 1 (1-2)

  1. What is the overall point of 1 Peter 1:1-9? Why do you think Peter spends so much time emphasizing God’s grace in salvation? Is he trying to teach systematic doctrine, or does he have another point?
  2. What does Peter mean by “chosen?” How does this tie into his main point in the next section (1 Peter 1:3-9)? What difference does this make for your life?
  3. What does Peter mean by “resident foreigners . . . the diaspora” How does this tie into his main point in the next section (1 Peter 1:3-9)? What difference does this make for your life?
  4. Why does Peter emphasize Christians are “chosen according to God the Father’s plan?” Is he specifically trying to teach doctrine, or does he have another reason?
  5. How does God actually carry out His plan of choosing? Who is the agent who gets this done?
  6. What does Peter mean when he wrote that you are chosen “by the Spirit’s sanctification?” What is sanctification? How does this tie into his main point in the next section (1 Peter 1:3-9)? What difference does this make for your life?
  7. What are the two purposes, or results, of God’s choosing His people? That is, once the Spirit sanctifies a person, what happens next?
  8. What obedience is Peter talking about? How does this tie into his main point in the next section (1 Peter 1:3-9)? What difference does this make for your life?
  9. What “sprinkling” is Peter talking about? What does he mean? How does this tie into his main point in the next section (1 Peter 1:3-9)? What difference does this make for your life?

The translation above is mine; here are the detailed notes. No matter which Bible translation you use, you’ll still be able to answer these questions!

Almighty and eternal God, so draw our hearts to thee, so guide our minds, so fill our imaginations, so control our wills, that we may be wholly thine, utterly dedicated unto thee, and then use us, we pray thee, as thou wilt, and always to thy glory and the welfare of thy people; through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

From The Book of Common Prayer (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2007), 832-833.

Praying for God’s Vengeance?

Is it all right for a Christian to pray God would destroy his enemies? Read what the prophet Jeremiah wrote (Jer 17:14-18):

14 Heal me, O Lord, and I shall be healed;
    save me, and I shall be saved;
    for thou art my praise.
15 Behold, they say to me,
    “Where is the word of the Lord?
    Let it come!”
16 I have not pressed thee to send evil,
    nor have I desired the day of disaster,
    thou knowest;
that which came out of my lips
    was before thy face.
17 Be not a terror to me;
    thou art my refuge in the day of evil.
18 Let those be put to shame who persecute me,
    but let me not be put to shame;
let them be dismayed,
    but let me not be dismayed;
bring upon them the day of evil;
    destroy them with double destruction!

Jeremiah asked God to destroy his enemies “with double destruction.” This is a lot of destruction! Is it ever ok for a Christian to do this? There are dozens of imprecatory prayers throughout the Bible. This one is hardly unique. Here are some brief thoughts to help us understand the context before we start praying for people to die:

Jeremiah was specifically, directly and unmistakably appointed by God to command the Israelites to repent and return to covenant faithfulness. You have not been.

The Israelites who opposed Jeremiah and sought to discredit and kill him were enemies of God. Those who oppose you may not be:

And when you tell this people all these words, and they say to you, ‘Why has the Lord pronounced all this great evil against us? What is our iniquity? What is the sin that we have committed against the Lord our God?’ then you shall say to them: ‘Because your fathers have forsaken me, says the Lord, and have gone after other gods and have served and worshiped them, and have forsaken me and have not kept my law (Jeremiah 16:10-11) 

Jeremiah was not upset because these people opposed him per se. He was upset because, by opposing him, they were rebelling against God in the face of clear commands to repent and be faithful to their covenant (cf. Ex 19:8ff). In short, he was filled with truly righteous indignation for holy reasons:

O Lord, thou knowest; remember me and visit me, and take vengeance for me on my persecutors. In thy forbearance take me not away; know that for thy sake I bear reproach. Thy words were found, and I ate them, and thy words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart; for I am called by thy name, O Lord, God of hosts (Jeremiah 15:15-16).

You, on the other hand, may simply be upset because you are being persecuted. Jeremiah is upset because, by rejecting him, they are rejecting God who commissioned and sent him (cf. Jer 1:1-12). By rejecting Jeremiah, they reject God. The Lord is dishonored and disgraced by His own people.

Last, I will simply say there is a time and place to be brutally honest with our Heavenly Father and express what we’re feeling. This honesty must always be expressed with a humble and pleading spirit; never in a spiteful and angry manner. We get confused. We get upset. We get sad. We often don’t understand. Are we supposed to put on a mask of stoicism and fraudulent piety and come boldly to the throne of grace, pretending we understand what the Lord is doing in our lives? Do we actually believe God doesn’t know how torn up we are inside?

There is a place for honesty with God, even if we know what we pray or ask isn’t always the “right” thing to say. Like confused, simple and often spoiled children, sometimes we must come before God and ask “why?” You cannot read any of the imprecatory prayers or psalms without confronting this reality. To be more blunt, you cannot be a human being and not understand that.

And now, I’ll let Jeremiah wrap this up. Note what he asks God to do, and why he asks it (Jer 18:18-23):

18 Then they said, “Come, let us make plots against Jeremiah, for the law shall not perish from the priest, nor counsel from the wise, nor the word from the prophet. Come, let us smite him with the tongue, and let us not heed any of his words.”

19 Give heed to me, O Lord,
    and hearken to my plea.
20 Is evil a recompense for good?
    Yet they have dug a pit for my life.
Remember how I stood before thee
    to speak good for them,
    to turn away thy wrath from them.
21 Therefore deliver up their children to famine;
    give them over to the power of the sword,
let their wives become childless and widowed.
    May their men meet death by pestilence,
    their youths be slain by the sword in battle.
22 May a cry be heard from their houses,
    when thou bringest the marauder suddenly upon them!
For they have dug a pit to take me,
    and laid snares for my feet.
23 Yet, thou, O Lord, knowest
    all their plotting to slay me.
Forgive not their iniquity,
    nor blot out their sin from thy sight.
Let them be overthrown before thee;
    deal with them in the time of thine anger.