I Peter 1

Vs. 3, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.”  The Lord Jesus told Peter to feed His sheep (John 21), and so this is exactly what Peter was doing.  The hope of a new birth was found in our Savior and this important reminder should never be forgotten.  Each believer who received this message was to remember that they were God’s chosen (vs. 1-2).  With these truths in mind, Peter goes on to exhort the worried Christians how to respond in light of the persecutions of the church (vs. 6-9).  I appreciate how Peter acknowledges that there is trials and grief going on.  Some leaders may try to minimize such things.  Peter gives us insight that such trials reveal the genuineness of our faith (vs. 7).  Certainly, the end goal in all of this is the salvation that is offered to those who believe (vs. 10-12).  Question: With salvation now given, what then is our end goal?  We are to live holy lives (vs. 13-25).

Regarding application…Be Holy.  Vs. 15, “But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do.”  For many Christians, the understanding of what is means to be holy has been a bit skewed.  There seems to be a tendency of guilt surrounded around this idea of holiness.  In our weekly Bible study this past Wednesday, we discussed Paul’s exhortation in Romans 12:2 to be transformed by the renewing of our mind.  To live holy lives we must ensure our minds are being filled with Godly things.  “Garbage in, garbage out.”  Certainly what we put into our minds can corrupt our very life.  May our hearts respond with resounding joy in the midst of our trials!  Let the joy of Christmas shine in our faces!

Hebrews 6

Vs. 1, “Therefore let us move beyond the elementary teachings about Christ and be taken forward to maturity, not laying again the foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death, and of faith in God.”  In yesterday’s passage, we were reminded how some are spiritually immature and still drinking milk instead of solid food.  It’s notable that we are now reminded and even pushed forward to stop living as children (regarding growing in knowledge).  Imagine going to elementary school all your life instead of junior high, high school, college and graduate school.  It would be absurd, and so likewise, we should not stay in spiritually infant form.  Moving forward in Hebrews 6, we come to quite a controversial topic in Hebrews regarding salvation (vs. 4-12).  Question: Can you lose your salvation?  Proponents who adhere to the possibility of losing salvation will point to this passage (vs. 4-6).  In one of my seminary classes, the professor shed some sage advice in understanding the couple of passages that seem to point to losing ones salvation.  While there are a few that have some interpretive challenges, there are many more passages that give us a clear understanding of eternal security in our salvation (John 5:24, Johan 10:26-30, Romans 8:28-39, to name just a few).  In fact, the issue of losing salvation to many biblical scholars doesn’t even apply to this passage.  It’s more of falling back into the OT system of doing good works.  In the end, as a teaching pastor, I would exhort all of you to find complete security in the salvation that is given by the blood of Christ!  If we could determine our own salvation by what we did or did not do, than that would nullify the cross.

Regarding application…Secure Hope.  Vs. 19, “We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain.”  If there were any doubt for the reader, the “context” gives us the ultimate answer.  The latter half of this chapter gives us the amazing understanding of God’s promise of secure hope.  Don’t misunderstand the word “hope.”  The biblical understanding of hope in the Bible is not a wishing thinking.  It is a secure knowledge of deliverance!  When we have such hope surrounding our lives, it gives us the freedom to live as God intended us to!  What freedom and love our God gives us!

I Thessalonians 1

Vs. 3, “We remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.”  Paul along with Silas and Timothy write this letter to encourage the new Christians in Thessalonica.  Paul is thankful for them and he does a great job in ensuring they are encouraged by this.  Even in our highlighted verse, Paul mentioned three main things: faith, hope and love.  These three items are essentials of our faith expressed in Paul’s other letters too.  I really appreciate Paul’s style of authority and conviction (vs. 2-10), yet his blends it with warmth and love.  They were the first-generation believers and trailblazing a path of faith which inevitably would have brought much suffering (vs. 6, 9) from their previous ways.  It seems that that the Macedonians (Philippians & Thessalonians) continued to make incredible strides of growth and set the example for others throughout the regions (vs. 8).  Certainly this brought much peace to Paul and validated God’s call to go to Macedonia in the first place.

Regarding application…Faith Revealed. Vs. 8, “The Lord’s message rang out from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia—your faith in God has become known everywhere.”  Question: Is your faith known by others?  The young Thessalonians have much to remind us about when it comes to not taking the power of the Gospel for granted (vs. 4).  The challenge for many Christians today is that we have had generations of believers before us pave the way for our faith.  There is this thought process in the church that states, “Making my faith my own.”  It comes from having the faith passed on to us.  Yet, I think the more underlying issue is just challenging ourselves to live out our faith.  It is not about our own personal faith, but the faith that comes in Christ Jesus.  As we live our daily lives, remember that our faith should be known by others!

Zephaniah 3

Vs. 7, “Of Jerusalem I thought, ‘Surely you will fear me and accept correction!’ Then her place of refuge would not be destroyed, nor all my punishments come upon her. But they were still eager to act corruptly in all they did.”  Sadly, though the surrounding nations would receive their due punishment, Jerusalem/Judah would not be without their own consequences (vs. 1-8).  They did not obey (vs. 2), they were corrupt and treacherous, and ultimately had no fear of God (vs. 7).  Question: What would the LORD do?  He will bring His consuming fire to judge the nations and His people (vs. 8).  Yet, this consuming fire of God also has another purpose.  This fire will purify the remnant of those who call upon the name of the Lord (vs. 9).  Years later after the Babylonian captivity, God’s people (a remnant) would return to the land.  As we continue on in this last chapter, we see the LORD speaking to His people, but now makes it personal and we see a first-person approach (vs. 14-20).  Zephaniah’s last chapter really speaks of much of what Jesus fulfilled as we are reminded of a mighty warrior (vs. 17) who saves and that the LORD God is with His people.

Regarding application…The Hope of Home.  Vs. 20, “At that time I will gather you; at that time I will bring you home.”  I’m reminded of Dorothy’s words as she declared, “There’s no place like home,” in the Wizard of Oz.  Our lives on earth are but a temporary dwelling place.  Like Zephaniah’s time, we live in a world of corruption and increasing sin.  Question: How do we deal with all of this?  Remember the promises of God in His Word.  When Jesus came, He only continued to build upon these prophecies of the Old Testament about keeping our perspective.  As Jesus was preparing to go home to be with the Father, He promised us that He is preparing our new home (John 14)!  My family and I are now looking for a new home closer to our church.  It’s going to be a lot of work packing and moving.  But, what a great feeling it will be to be in our new home that will be much closer to church.  How much more than will this feeling be when we are finally at our true home?  There is much hope brothers and sisters!

II Corinthians 3

Vs. 1, “Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Or do we need, like some people, letters of recommendation to you or from you?”  Remember, there was a group of people in Corinth that were causing division and questioning Paul’s ministry (vs. 1-6).  Paul doesn’t back down and reminds everyone in Corinth that they are his living recommendation (vs. 2).  In fact, it wasn’t Paul, but Jesus working in Paul to transform the Corinthians (vs. 3) and put the very recommendation written on their hearts.  In light of Paul contrasting stone tablets vs. tablets of the heart, we now see Paul delve deeper into comparing the Old Testament Covenant (Promise) to the New Testament Covenant (vs. 7-18).  As the early church was growing, there was always a contingency of Jews who were trying to hold onto the old covenant ways.  The Law is from God and was good for it reflected God’s glory, but it brought light (condemnation) to the darkness of our sins (vs. 9).  But now we have this new ministry of the Spirit (vs. 8-9) that does not come with condemnation, but righteousness.  The Law had its purpose, but now we must hold on to the new glory (vs. 11).  We all recall the veil that Moses had to put on after his encounter with Yahweh (Exodus 34), but this glory that was reflected upon his face was a fading glory.  Paul gives us insight that the veil was worn so that they would not see the fading (vs. 13).  This type of veil was still over the hearts of many (vs. 14-16), but it is Jesus who can help us take this veil off for His glory never fades!

Regarding application…Unveiled Faces.  Vs. 18, “And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.”  The very idea of unveiled faces gives us this very important reminder that we are now free (vs. 17).  As we turn to the Lord each and everyday, we see the glory of God and that glory is now shown in our faces and in our lives!  We don’t have to worry about trying to hide a righteousness that is fading.  Many of us will look into the mirror and not like what we see; Our ears are too big, nose is too small, eye lashes too short, mouth too small, etc.  But, as we fix our eyes upon Christ, our faces no longer reflect our disappointments or even vanity.  Yesterday, we were reminded we are the aroma of Christ and today that we are the reflection of Christ!  What a great way to start our day!  Let’s reach out to this world that needs this hope that gives us boldness!

 

Romans 5

Vs. 8 “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”  What a powerful and sobering reminder on Good Friday.  Jesus died for us: the ungodly and sinner.  This death on the cross certainly holds a purpose; to bring salvation.  Paul mentions words like peace, joy, and hope in our chapter today (vs. 1-11).  This first half of our chapter today begins something very important that Paul would later expound on in the end of chapter 8, which is the understanding of assurance of our salvation.  I’ll develop upon this later and in chapter 8 when we get there.  It was the blood that justified us to now be in a right relationship with our Father in heaven (vs. 9).  In the second half of our chapter (vs. 12-21), Paul takes some time to explain some deeper theology to understanding sin (vs. 12).  The sin of Adam is compared to the life in Christ in this section.  It took one man’s trespass to bring death and another man’s death to bring life (vs. 18).

Regarding application…What is Hope?  Vs. 2, “through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.”  The worldly dictionaries have it all wrong.  Merriam-Webster defines hope: to cherish a desire with anticipation.  As Christians, hoping is not just cherishing a desire.  Hope is far more than that.  The Greek word for hope: ἐλπίς which gives us the true definition: joyful and confident expectation of eternal salvation (Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon).  In other words: Hope for Christians is assurance!  When Paul talks about hope, it is not something that he is really wishing for to transpire.  When my wife and I got married in June in Oregon, she was really hoping (wishing) that it wouldn’t rain on our wedding day.  But when we use hope in the context of our Christian faith, it is not something that we wish would happen.  Hope is certain!  This Good Friday, gives us a hope of arriving to our eternal destination!  Now, let’s take this real definition of Christian hope and share it to the world this Easter weekend!

Joel 3

Vs. 1-2a, “In those days and at that time, when I restore the fortunes of Judah and Jerusalem, I will gather all nations and bring them down to the Valley of Jehoshaphat...”  Question: When will this be?  Joel is certainly pointing to a future time.  Many biblical scholars point out the Valley of Jehoshaphat is most likely Kidron Valley (A deep ravine near Jerusalem), although we are not given the exact details.  The main point is to know there will be a place of judgment.  Jehoshaphat means “Yahweh Judged”, so it is an appropriate name for this prophecy, Jehoshaphat was also a King of Judah (I Kings 15).  God is going to judge the nations and will bring retribution against those who have mistreated His people (vs. 4-16).  The sickle (vs. 13) is symbolic of judgment (Revelations 14) and in this valley, decisions will be made and judgments will be dispensed.  Fortunately, there is a very wonderful ending and blessing for those who endure (vs. 16-21).  For those who adhere to premillennialism (Jesus’ 1000 year reign on earth), this is the time that Joel is pointing towards.

Regarding application…Persevere in Faith!  Vs. 16, “The Lord will roar from Zion and thunder from Jerusalem; the earth and the sky will tremble. But the Lord will be a refuge for his people, a stronghold for the people of Israel.”  It’s not going to get easier folks for the foreseeable future.  Yet, despite our current struggles, the prophet Joel and many others in the Bible give us a hope.  This hope is not something that we wish would happen.  Example…when we hope for a sunny day when the forecast says 70% chance of rain.  This hope is an assured hope!  When we have faith, this develops perseverance (James 1:2).  Like children who put their heads down low out of despair, our Father in heaven is giving us a promise in the tough times of life.  He is in control, He is able, and He is bigger than all circumstances!  Find blessings and hope in these days God has given you!

Hosea 7

Vs. 1, “whenever I would heal Israel, the sins of Ephraim are exposed and the crimes of Samaria revealed. They practice deceit, thieves break into houses, bandits rob in the streets.”  Question: What is the problem?  The sins of Israel’s leaders have brought sorrow upon the whole nation.  The whole political and religious system was corrupt and Israel’s priests were even involved in murder (Hosea 6:9).  Sadly, the Northern Kingdom did not have one good King.  And to make matters worse, they were making alliances with pagan nations (vs. 11).  This is a sad chapter because we see the sadness of what sin can do to a people who do not desire to turn to God (vs. 13-16).

Regarding application…Reality of Sin.  Vs. 2, “but they do not realize that I remember all their evil deeds. Their sins engulf them; they are always before me.”  Part of the problem we have here is that people don’t want to be reminded and told they are sinners.  Seriously…who wants to be accused and called a sinner.  This is the sad reality of it all is that so many rebel from the truth (John 14:6).  Salvation cannot come to anyone unless they admit they are a sinner.   Dearest brothers and sisters in Christ, oh how I wish we were now in Heaven.  How I wish this journey of life never had a river to cross, an obstacle to hurdle, and that is prowling like a lion.   I’m reminded of the scene from Lord of the Rings when Frodo helplessly states, “I wish the ring had never come to me.” Question: Isn’t that so true with our own lives?  How we wish tough times and sin never had it’s affect upon us.  Gandalf replies, “So do all who to live see such times, but that is not for them to decide.  All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.”  Our life is a vapor in the wind, here today and gone tomorrow.  Brothers and sisters…don’t give up.  Don’t let sin entangle and seep out the hope that we have.  Remember the bigger picture of life and that is to be a light to this world.  We are called to remain steadfast in our faith and share Christ wherever He sends us.  Let that be your reminder and encouragement.  The Lord Jesus loves you more than you can imagine, so let your heart rest in Him.

Hosea 6

Vs. 3, “Let us acknowledge the LORD; let us press on to acknowledge him.  As surely as the sun rises, he will appear; he will come to us like the winter rains, like the spring rains that water the earth.”  Yesterday, we were reminded that God allows us to be broken down.  But in the Word today, we are given hope!  God calls His people to return to him.  This is an astounding show of love.  Just as Hosea called Gomer to come back to him (Hosea 3), God is now calling Israel to Him.  Remember that Hosea is a prophet, so this also has a future meaning to it.

Regarding application…What God Desires.  Vs. 6, “For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings.”  On the outside, Israel could bring all her proper sacrifices to Yahweh but it didn’t cut to the heart of the matter.  There’s a contemporary Christian song that talks about “Going through the motions”.  This is what God did not want.  The people thought they were acknowledging God by reverting back to the do’s and don’ts.  But, their hearts were still not completely there.  When we cut through it all, it’s about a relationship.  God desires a rich and loving relationship with us.  Question: Will you turn to our merciful and loving God today?

Daniel 2

Vs. 1,In the second year of his reign, Nebuchadnezzar had dreams; his mind was troubled and he could not sleep.”  Don’t forget that the book of Daniel is a book of prophecy.  If you understand Daniel then you are well on your way to understanding a bit more the book of Revelation.  Like any ruler of a nation, Nebuchadnezzar was a man who worried about his kingdom and how long he would rule.  Our God would bring quite a dream and image to the king of Babylon (vs. 31-35).  The storyline gets very compelling as Nebuchadnezzar is savvy enough to know that if he tells the interpreter’s his dream, they could fabricate their own views (vs. 5-11).  Nebuchadnezzar with all his riches is a lesson to us that nothing in this life can satisfy except God.  Fortunately, Daniel is wise enough to lobby for a little time and goes to Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah (vs. 17).  Question: What do they do?  They pray (vs. 18).  God would honor their prayers and help Daniel indeed interpret Nebuchadnezzar’s dream.  This large statue would represent nations.  The head of the statue which was gold represented Nebuchadnezzar’s empire the Babylonians.  The chest and arms of the statue would represent the Medo-Persian Empire that would dethrone Babylon.  The belly and thighs that were made of bronze represented Greece (Alexander the Great).  And lastly, the legs and feet of iron represented the Roman Empire.  Many scholars believe we are still living in this period, for the Roman empire never was really taken over by another great nation.  The clay (vs. 41-43) is believed to be a mixture of nations that exist during the End Times.  The rock represents none other than Jesus!  So powerful and convincing was Daniel’s interpretation that all Nebuchadnezzar could do was to fall prostate before him (vs. 46).

Regarding application…Future Hope.  Vs. 45b, “The great God has shown the king what will take place in the future. The dream is true and the interpretation is trustworthy.”  Put yourself in Daniel’s spot for a moment.  Here we have a teenager deported and taken away from his family.  All that he had known was taken from him.  And now he and his only friends were now ordered to die!  Needless to say, there didn’t seem to be much hope.  But God miraculously gives Daniel the ability to accurately  tell Nebuchadnezzar the exact dream he had and the meaning behind it!  Can you imagine the hope that Daniel must have felt?  God spoke to Him and gave him a vision of Jesus conquering over all nations!  In a time of desperate hope, we must remember that God will ultimately triumph in the end!  Question: What sort of fears do you have?  Are you depending on things of this world like Nebuchadnezzar?  Open your heart to the Lord today and trust in Him as you journey down this road called life.