2 Peter

Tuesday Devotional: 2 Peter 1

bibleRead 2 Peter 1:3-11

Projects usually have an estimated time of completion, and ultimately are completed.  A destination has an estimated time of arrival, and can ultimately be reached.   The transformation of an individual from sinful indifference toward Jesus Christ to a life forgiven and overcome by his spirit is neither a job that we work to complete nor a destination at which we arrive in this lifetime.  The process of spiritual transformation that occurs in a person through the work of the Holy Spirit is ongoing.  It never ends as long as life remains.  It is not gained by striving, and we do not enjoy the completed work in this life.  We are often unaware of the process of this work, although we continue to participate in throughout our lives.  The complexity of taking a sinful heart of man and recreating the holy heart of Jesus Christ in a person takes persistence, trust and time.  While there is nothing that we can offer God in the actual rewiring of our heart into one compatible with his, we are not absent or excluded from the process.  On the contrary, we are essential in this radical transformation.

Our role is not to produce the change.  Our role is to present the opportunity for change.  Our role is to give the Holy Spirit every opportunity to work out our salvation and rework the tendencies and desires of our heart.  In this role we cannot afford to be complacent or inattentive.  We must never assume that the work has been done.  We must never lose the heightened awareness of potential opportunities for change.  We must never assume that the destination has been reached.  If we ever find ourselves believing these lies we can be sure that we have effectively brought our transformation to a complete stop.  As we change and grow into the life of Jesus Christ we must not waste time trying to calculate the progress made or the progress to be made.  As we are transformed we must be aware of only one thing: that our work is not done and we are not there yet.

So, until then, until we breathe our last, our goal each and every day is to seek out opportunities for the Holy Spirit to reveal more of the spirit of Christ in us.  This search for opportunity will contradict our opinions, our plans and our preferences.  It will press us in ways that we are not used to being pressed.  However, in these moments where our heart and character are pushed into discomfort, the spirit of Christ will be able to reveal itself and prove the promises of Christ that we all can change, and we will all be made like him.  A disciple’s heart is never satisfied, content with ground already travelled.  A disciple’s heart is daily hungry for more. More intimacy with the life of Christ. More transformation in his image.  To a disciple, the challenges of this world prove the transformation of our hearts in the way we hunger for everything other than what the world has to offer us.  As we race to close the distance between us and the life and spirit of Jesus Christ, we will become completely unaware of our surroundings and our progress.  We will forget the course.  We will forget the race.  We will forget the clock.  We will run further than we thought we could and longer than we had planned to run. We will arrive without realizing that we have.  The race will be a fading memory to, at the end, being with him forever without ever having to run again.

Tossing in the Tide: Motivation and Jesus

It is an unfortunate thing that, in a world so diseased with self-centeredness, we tend to suspect charity or assistance.  Upon discovering that someone has gone out of his or her way to help us we ask ourselves, “why?”  “Why has this person so inconvenienced himself or herself for someone like me?”  “Why would they take time out of their schedule for me?”  “Why would they waste their money on me?”: a constant spring of doubts and suspicions that never run dry.  The question to these questions is, “why?”

In leading Bible studies the past few years, I’ve found that the most convenient places to meet are coffee shops.  A beautiful habit that arose through our Bible studies was that the duty of paying for the coffee each time passed through the hands of each member quite naturally.  No one was keeping records of who owed who, nor was there a situation where someone without money would end up coffee-less.  When coming to a Bible study we could expect three things to happen.  We would encounter the Word in its uncompromising truth, we would enjoy our fellowship together, and the coffees would be paid for.

Often we are blessed with new attendees to the Bible studies and they too fall into this system of group accountability in regards to the coffee bill.  It’s interesting to see the reaction of some people who, already approaching Bible study with hesitation and suspicion, when they find that their coffee is paid for.  The question that went unspoken but clearly read on their expression was, “Why did you do that?”  This person might then be asking, “What was the motivation to do such a thing?”  Or, in other words, “What do you want from me now?”

Today, where the Church meets the non-Church daily, there tend to be more occurrences where Christian charity is questioned and judged rather than accepted.  Some years ago, Tim Tebow swept the media off its feet due to his unusually explosive and unique style of play that almost took him and his Denver Broncos to the Super Bowl.  But the aspect of Tebow’s character that dominated the media spotlight was his openness as a Christian athlete and his love for Jesus Christ.  In one of the many stories about Tebow that dominated the media frenzy surrounding him was his charity work in various third world countries and through charitable organizations in the United States.  The astonishing thing was not that he participated in charity work, but that these instances of charity were met with an aggressive backlash of judgment and suspicion regarding his motivation, as a Christian, to do such things.

Unfortunately, there are many cases where we Christians have not helped our situation. Often, ulterior motives break the trust in selfless charity.  This is why it’s always important for a Christian to not only repent for sins committed against God but also to repent for the righteous things we presume to do for God.  We must never forget the words of Jesus when he said that, “no one is good, except God alone.”  Christians must never claim absolute possession of that which Jesus claimed to be the sole possessor.

When Christians seek spiritual leadership, we need to be aware of “motivation.”  As a young and growing Christian, or someone merely interested in Jesus, there is an ever-present awareness that more of the Bible has been unread than read, and that more questions exist than answers.  As infants in the faith, we are at our most helpless, needy and vulnerable state.  It is in this position that we most desperately and most likely seek or receive spiritual guidance.

When receiving spiritual guidance from someone, regardless if it comes from a friend, family member, pastor, mentor or stranger, we must always be aware of his or her motivation in helping us.  What drives them to help us? Why do they take such an interest in providing said assistance?  We must ask these questions, because there are many dangerous spiritual leaders in our world that are more aware of the helpless and vulnerable Christian “infants” than we are of them.  Jesus described these individuals, called “false teachers” in Scripture, in detail: “they are wolves in sheep’s clothing.”  A wolf is always on the hunt and clever in the way that it pursues its prey.  False teachers know all too well that Christian infants are trusting of and reliant on their own kind and the best way to get close is to appear close.

The apostle Peter had much to say about false prophets in the Church.  In my experience, I have found that the presence of “prophets” gets a lot of churches and Christians excited.  From time to time I hear of a church that has long been described to me as dull and boring suddenly resurrected in the presence of a guest speaker/”prophet.”  The guest is accompanied by an influx of excitement in the church. The congregation hangs on each and every word as if Jesus were actually in their presence.  Matthew 25 comes to mind when I hear about things like this:

31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left…

41 “Then [the King] will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’

44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’

45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’

46 “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

I wonder how many homeless, hungry and destitute people we Christians have judged or walked by and not welcomed into the Sunday service while providing the royal treatment to self-proclaimed prophets of God.  In response to this, Jesus might tell the “Christians,” “I never knew you.”  In these stories there seems to be unquestioned belief in the prophet and each prophecy, but few people stop the show, so to speak, to ask the question, “Why?”  “Why am I excited about this person?”  “Why do I instantaneously put so much trust in them?”

Whether in the case of a self-proclaimed prophet or a friend, we always have to ask ourselves what the motivation for the assistance is.  If the motivation is to increase the profile of the teacher, we know that the assistance is misguided and dangerous.  If the motivation is to increase the awareness of a church or congregation, we know that the assistance may be misguided or dangerous.  If the motivation is to strengthen the relationship between the helper and the helpless, the assistance may be misguided and dangerous. We learn from the scriptures that at the heart of sin is a self-centered idea of one’s relation to the world and to God.  At the heart of sin is an idea that we can be King, and ought to be served as such.  Therefore, as we tread the often rocky and tumultuous path of spiritual guidance, we must always identify the motivation of the individual providing the guidance in terms of sin and self-centeredness.

The guidance that one can trust acknowledges the one and true King.  Guidance we can trust comes from a motivation to strengthen the bond between the “lost sheep” and the “good shepherd” and no one else.  Christian fellowship and leadership primarily seeks to glorify the Father, and the Church does this simply because at the heart of helping one another is Jesus, the reason we help and the only one that has truly helped us.  Living on this foundation reveals a selflessness born of the Spirit that can truly guide and strengthen others with a genuine and natural motivation to serve.

with a genuine and natural motivation to serve

Thursday Reflection Series: Tossing in the Tide

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I have always admired people who are good at swimming. I admire how they control themselves in the water as if walking on dry ground. Mostly I admire their confidence in the water. A good swimmer appears totally comfortable in the water, seemingly without even a thought toward the ever-present risk of danger. So, to all the good swimmers out there, I admire you.

The reason I admire good swimmers so much is that unlike them I am not comfortable in the water. Although I took swimming lessons at school, the frequency of these lessons and my lack of extra practice left my skills underdeveloped. Thus, as an adult I am admittedly a very poor swimmer. My performance in the open water starkly contrasts with an experienced swimmer’s. The experienced swimmer appears relaxed, I feel panicked. The experienced swimmer seems confident, I am completely unsure. The experienced swimmer feels safe, whereas I feel the constant looming prospect of a life-threatening emergency. Swimming for the experienced swimmer is enjoyable; for me, it is rather something I try to avoid. As we will see through this reflection, being a Christian can at times resemble a person’s relationship to water depending on their experience and ability in the water.

For those curious about Christianity, for new Christians, or for those who have claimed Christianity for years, there are always times when we need people to help us along the way. As Christians we accept that there is no higher power than God to help us in our need, however, Jesus himself reinforced the concept of fellowship and the strength of his disciples together. Christians need each other, we exist for God as well as for the encouragement and support of other Christians. But when we are in need, whom shall we approach for fellowship? How should we approach them for “good advice?” Perhaps one seeks or receives council in a church, perhaps in a Christian friend or mentor. Regardless of the source of assistance, it is important for a Christian to be wise and thoughtful in this process so as not to be misled. That can be very difficult to do, as anyone who has needed wise counsel but not known where to find it can confirm. It is this helpless feeling that best highlights this idea of swimming without confidence, completely at the mercy of the great body of water. James commented on this state of Christian life when he said:

James 1: 5-6

If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.

Before I had fully given my life to the Lord or learned anything about him, I heard Christians say certain things that used to make my judgmental eyes roll. One idea that I often heard but never believed was that, “the Bible has the answers to everything.” However, it must be confessed that this snap-judgment of mine was made without any inquiry into the Bible itself. While the Bible does not answer every question literally (for example you will not find how long you need to preheat the oven when cooking a turkey), the Bible reveals the source of every challenge that stands in the way of our progress as human beings and a collective community. But in regards to the issue of spiritual counsel and whom we should seek and avoid for said counsel, the Bible actually answers this question rather specifically.

While Jesus did himself address the problem of false teachers or advisers, let’s look at what the apostle Peter had to say about it:

2 Peter 2: 1, 3, 12-14, 17-19

1But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them —bringing swift destruction on themselves…

In their greed these teachers will exploit you with fabricated stories…

12 But these people blaspheme in matters they do not understand. 13 They will be paid back with harm for the harm they have done. Their idea of pleasure is to carouse in broad daylight. They are blots and blemishes, reveling in their pleasures while they feast with you. 14 With eyes full of adultery, they never stop sinning; they seduce the unstable; they are experts in greed —an accursed brood!

17 These people are springs without water and mists driven by a storm. Blackest darkness is reserved for them. 18 For they mouth empty, boastful words and, by appealing to the lustful desires of the flesh, they entice people who are just escaping from those who live in error. 19 They promise them freedom, while they themselves are slaves of depravity—for “people are slaves to whatever has mastered them.”

For the next few weeks, our Thursday reflections will lead us in examining these hallmarks of the false teacher. These passages in Peter’s epistles teach us of certain qualities that false teachers or dangerous spiritual leaders possess. A dangerous spiritual leader can be identified mainly by looking at the relationship of their teaching to Jesus. We can deduce that a spiritual leader is dangerous by examining their:

 Motivation and Jesus

Power and Jesus

Purpose and Jesus

 We hope that as this series helps illuminate the dangers of false teachers, it also reminds us of our need for true spiritual leadership, and the certainty of finding it in Jesus Christ.