Day 334: Peter’s final words

Psalm 120-122; 2 Peter 1
(Psalm 123 was read on Day 229)

This is Peter’s last known correspondence before his execution. He wrote 2 Peter while he was imprisoned in Rome – awaiting death.

It’s fascinating to me to read a man’s thoughts as he is preparing to die. What truths did he want to convey? If you were facing death, what instructions would you leave behind for others to follow? I imagine your final words would reveal the most important pursuits of your life. What did Peter consider important as he wrote this final letter?

His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises (2 Peter 1:3-4).

Peter begins his letter with a fullness that could only be obtained through Jesus. Peter is facing death – yet he writes about “life & godliness.” His tone is hopeful – hopeful – as he awaits his execution!

His thoughts are other-centered. He is not concerned for his future. No! He is concerned for the church. He instructs the church to “make every effort” and to “be diligent” to pursue qualities (vs. 5-9) that lead to “life and godliness.”

He then gives the church tools to combat doubt and false teaching. He reminds them of his eye-witness authority – his apostolic authority (vs. 16). He tells, again, the account of the Transfiguration, assuring the church that Jesus was no myth – but real and true and full of majesty (vs. 17-18). But most importantly, Peter points to Scripture itself – that no prophecy is man-made, but is inspired and faithfully fulfilled by God (vs. 19-21)!

What an amazing testimony from a man facing imminent death! He has walked with Jesus, touched him, eaten with him, seen the Glory of the Transfiguration, denied him, been restored by him, helped by him, empowered by him. And now he is waiting to be reunited with him.

Oh the depths of the love of God for us, His children. We would do well to heed Peter’s words and make every effort to walk in a manner worthy of our Lord Jesus Christ.

I lift up my eyes to the hills.
From where does my help come?
My help comes from the Lord,
who made heaven and earth.

The Lord is your keeper;
the Lord is your shade on your right hand (Psalm 121:1-2; 5).

Day 333: The Trustworthiness of God’s Word

Psalm 119:105-176; 1 Peter 5

And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you (1 Peter 5:10).

Consider the magnitude of this promise…

God will restore you.

God will confirm you.

God will strengthen you.

God will establish you.

These are huge promises. God always keeps his promises. These things will happen. When will they happen? After we have suffered a little while and God has called us to eternal glory. Delayed gratification…this is the life of faith!

But as we’ve studied God’s word every day for almost a year, one thing is clear. God is trustworthy. His word is trustworthy. His prophesies are true. His word is true. Our job is to trust and wait and obey!

Your word is a lamp to my feet
and a light to my path.
I have sworn an oath and confirmed it,
to keep your righteous rules.
I incline my heart to perform your statutes
forever, to the end (Psalm 119:105-106; 112).

Day 332: The Comfort of God’s Word

Psalm 119:49-104; 1 Peter 4

Remember your word to your servant,
in which you have made me hope.
This is my comfort in my affliction,
that your promise gives me life (Psalm 119:49-50).

We are so blessed to have God’s full written word! As Psalm 119 so beautifully says, God’s word is our comfort and shield in times of suffering and affliction. The early church would have leaned heavily on the Psalms for comfort in the onslaught of persecution – but we also have the New Testament writings to encourage us.

1 Peter reminds us that the church is called to pattern its life after the Savior’s, so trials should be expected in this life (1 Peter 4:12-13)! He then gives instructions for how to live in the midst of persecution and trials…

Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good (1 Peter 4:19).

This is the main emphasis of 1 Peter… First, we will suffer because Christ suffered. But we should not be discouraged but be encouraged that we are walking in the path of Christ under the rule of our Sovereign Lord who is faithful and trustworthy. We should be willing to surrender our lives to God just as Jesus did. We show our trust in Him by doing good in the midst of hardship!

Lord, help us to trust in your Sovereignty and Goodness when we endure trials. Give us the grace to persevere and do good in the midst of difficult circumstances. Thank you for the comfort of your Word and for Jesus… who died for us, who gives us a purpose for our pain and who provides an eternal hope beyond this life! Amen.

Day 331: The Goodness of God’s Word

Psalm 119:1-48; 1 Peter 3

Psalm 119…the longest chapter in the Bible, longer than some books! It is a highly structured acrostic poem containing 22 eight-lined stanzas (one for each letter of the Hebrew alphabet). All eight lines within a stanza begin with the same Hebrew letter. The theme of this Psalm is the love of God’s word. In fact, only 7 verses out of 176 do not mention God’s word directly!

It is a bit ironic that we begin Psalm 119 on the same day as 1 Peter 3 – which contains both controversial and difficult to understand “words” of God!

First Peter 3 begins as an extension of Chapter 2. Peter applies the principle of submission to authority to several contexts…citizens submit to governments, slaves submit to masters and at the beginning of Chapter 3, he teaches that wives should submit to their husbands. This isn’t a gender issue – this is a marriage issue. Women are not commanded to submit to men. Wives are commanded to submit to husbands. There is a big difference!

God has patterned marriage to mirror the trinity… The Father, Son and Holy Spirit are equal in divine essence, but each has a separate role. Peter acknowledges that women and men are “[both] heirs [in] the grace of life” (3:7) – but similar to the trinity, husbands and wives have different roles in the relationship.

Submission (in any context) is offensive to our modern culture. But Christ’s submission to the Father resulted in him laying down his life! Are we above Christ that we are exempt from submission in our relationships? I don’t think so.

Peter then switches gears slightly to address suffering – which the church was already undergoing. It is in this context that we find the very confusing passage describing Jesus preaching the gospel to imprisoned spirits from Noah’s day (1 Peter 3:18-21). What in the world is Peter talking about?? Well, I don’t think Peter meant for these verses to cause such a conundrum. His point was that if Jesus was righteous and still suffered at the hands of the unrighteous, then the church shouldn’t be surprised if they suffer in the same way (1 Peter 3:13-18).

There are varying interpretations of these verses. Some believe that Jesus spoke through Noah to the evil generation in Noah’s day. Others believe that Jesus went to hell after he died and spoke to all the evil spirits – including the unrighteous of Noah’s day. However you understand these verses, Peter is illustrating that Jesus suffered for doing right – just as the church is called to suffer for doing right.

Then Peter links the flood waters to baptism (vs. 21) and concludes by describing the result of Jesus’ suffering… “[He] has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him” (1 Peter 3:22).

So to summarize, Peter begins this section by commanding us to submit to different authorities. He then holds up the suffering Christ as the ultimate example of submission, and he ends with the truth that now all angels, authorities and power are subjected to Him.

Wow! What an amazing teaching!! God’s Word is deep and wide and living and active. His precepts are tantalizingly good!

In the way of your testimonies I delight
as much as in all riches.
I will meditate on your precepts
and fix my eyes on your ways.
I will delight in your statutes;
I will not forget your word (Psalm 119:14-16).

Day 330: Light for the Gentiles

Psalms 114-115, 117; 1 Peter 2
(Psalms 116 & 118 were read on Day 271)

Praise the Lord, all nations!
Extol him, all peoples!
For great is his steadfast love toward us,
and the faithfulness of the Lord endures forever.
Praise the Lord! (Psalm 117)

This hymn was sung by Israel as a reminder that their position and purpose was to be a light for the Gentiles…that one day all the nations would praise the Lord!

What a privilege to live to see the initial fulfillment of this Psalm – as people from all nations know and sing of his steadfast love. Together we form the worldwide church, a people gathered for the praise of His glory!

How beautiful that Peter, the Jewish fisherman who initially balked at entering a Gentile’s home, is writing to Gentile Christians and ascribing to the church all that was intended for Israel…

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. (1 Peter 2:8-10).

This is God’s mystery revealed in the last days – that the death of one righteous man has brought life to many! For this is the way of the Kingdom – suffering leads to life. If Christ learned obedience from the things he suffered, how much more will we??!!

For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. […] He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls (1 Peter 2:21; 24-25).

If you are suffering, you are walking in the footsteps of Christ! God is using our trials to refine us into the image of His Son. Take comfort that He is the Overseer of your soul!

Day 329: An Imperishable Story

Psalms 111-113; 1 Peter 1

Psalms 111 & 112 are both acrostic poems that are meant to be read together. Psalm 111 presents the overarching “big story” of God’s character and salvation plan. While Psalm 112 presents the effects of God’s saving power on the individual – resulting in a “little story” that brings glory and honor to Him.

This is the same pattern that Peter uses in his opening chapter of his letter to the dispersed Gentile Christians.

Peter uses beautiful, graphic language to paint the glorious big picture of salvation for the believer…

According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time (1 Peter 1:3-5).

With the larger story in mind, Peter then encourages these suffering Christians to live out a “smaller story” in a manner that will bring glory to God!

Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct (1 Peter 1:13-15).

Likewise, we are to keep the sweeping  big story of redemption – from creation to our heavenly future – always before us as we struggle as spiritual exiles in this dark and difficult world. This eternal perspective enables us to live our individual stories with passion and zeal for our Savior!

Day 328: The effectiveness of prayer

Psalms 108-110; James 4
(Psalm 107 was read on Day 271)

I’m going to depart from my usual big picture approach and share a personal story which highlights only one verse from today’s reading… And that one verse is not from Psalm 110 (one of the most amazing Messianic Psalms – one in which Jesus, himself, uses to prove his divinity). Rather, I’ve chosen a verse buried in the plethora of wisdom sayings in James. So here goes…

I and my three children were involved in a horrific vehicular accident in which my middle daughter was critically injured. She was life-flighted from the scene. Upon arriving at the hospital, they immediately performed a CT scan of her body. The CT scan showed massive bleeding and swelling in her brain. Her eyes were fixed and dilated.

The neurosurgeon on call performed an emergency craniectomy in which he removed a portion of her skull and inserted an intraventricular drain – both of which were done to relieve the pressure in her brain. Once the pressure began to decrease, my daughter’s eyes became responsive to light.

She survived the surgery, barely. The surgeon informed my husband that she might not make it through the night.

That night, as my husband was lying beside her hospital bed, he awoke to see a friend, standing and praying over our daughter. It was 2am and dark in the ICU room – but there he stood, praying.

He wasn’t alone. Countless others prayed for our little girl. The church held special prayer meetings for her. They called the congregation to fast. People in our community, school and neighborhood prayed and prayed and prayed.

She made it through that first night. Then the doctor informed us that things would get worse before they got better. So many came to see her in the ICU – and each one prayed for her life.

The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective (James 5:16, NIV).

By God’s grace, our little girl survived. Did the prayers of God’s people affect the outcome? According to James, yes, because prayer is effective. Will God always answer our prayers so quickly and affirmatively as he did for my daughter? No.

Prayer is a mystery. It’s hard to reconcile the effectiveness of prayer and God’s sovereignty. Personally, I get frustrated when my prayers seem to be ineffective as I watch marriages dissolve, children abandon the faith and loved ones die. But regardless of my limited understanding, while Jesus was on earth, He commanded us to pray. And he not only commanded us to do it, he also stressed the importance of persevering in it.

My daughter survived, but she lives with a severe traumatic brain injury. I feel like I ask God over and over again to help my daughter recover. Will God answer all of my prayers this side of heaven? No, probably not. But Jesus told us to pray, so we pray.

I think He knew that in the face of seemingly unanswered prayer, we would need that extra encouragement to persevere. I believe perseverance is key. So regardless of how I feel about the effectiveness of my prayers, I ask God to help me persevere in prayer. Because somehow – in the spiritual realm – in a way that I can’t comprehend… prayer works.

Day 327: A humble response to a gracious God

Psalms 105-106; James 4

Psalms 105 & 106 are historical Psalms. Psalm 105 focuses on God’s faithfulness while Psalm 106 highlights Israel’s faithlessness. Overarching both historical accounts is the fulfillment of God’s Covenant promises to Israel (105:7-11; 106:44-45).

These two Psalms paint a beautiful picture of God’s sovereignty and grace. Listen to the psalmist’s description of God’s dealings with the patriarchs…

When they were few in number,
of little account, and sojourners in it,
wandering from nation to nation,
from one kingdom to another people,
he allowed no one to oppress them;
he rebuked kings on their account,
saying, “Touch not my anointed ones,
do my prophets no harm!” (Psalm 105:12-15)

This is a God worthy of our praise…especially considering the sinfulness of humanity – so aptly described in Psalm 106 and James 4…

What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? (James 1:1-4)

Who is this God that stoops to have a relationship with sinners? Why would the creator of the universe desire to have a relationship with usThe answer is mysterious and should evoke a humble gratitude – a heart willing to submit to One so powerful AND so good!

But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you (James 4:6-8).

Day 326: The power of the tongue

Psalms 103-104; James 3
(Psalm 102 was read on Day 228)

James warns us in Chapter 3 of the destructive power of the tongue…while today’s Psalms display the redemptive power of the tongue! These Psalms should be spoken aloud. The power of poetic praise is like a balm of truth for the poor in spirit.

Use your voice to speak the steadfast love of the Lord!

The Lord is merciful and gracious,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
He will not always chide,
nor will he keep his anger forever.
He does not deal with us according to our sins,
nor repay us according to our iniquities.
For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him;
as far as the east is from the west,
so far does he remove our transgressions from us.
As a father shows compassion to his children,
so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him.
For he knows our frame;
he remembers that we are dust (Psalm 103:8-14).

Day 325: Faith and Works

Psalms 98-101; James 2

Some believe that James’ emphasis on works contradicts Paul’s teaching of justification by faith, alone (James 2:24). But when James speaks that faith without works is dead, he is speaking of a flimsy belief that even the demons share (James 2:19). Both Paul and James teach that works are an outward evidence of an inward saving faith.

If someone claims to believe in Christ, but their life shows no evidence of this belief, then there is no evidence of a saving faith. In this sense, James’ claim that “faith without works is dead” makes sense. James uses the example of Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice Isaac. This act revealed or “justified” the existence of Abraham’s faith as described in Hebrews 11:17-19. Without the outward act to prove his faith, Abraham’s faith was as good as dead (James 2:17).

Bottomline, our actions reveal our beliefs. To use James’ example in the beginning of Chapter 2, if we treat rich people with more kindness than the poor, we believe we have the power to judge others. If we judge others instead of showing mercy, we believe we are not in need of mercy ourselves. For better or worse, our outward actions reveal the inward state of our hearts.

What works do others see in your life? Do others see acts of mercy & compassion? I shudder to think of what others might see in me! I pray for God’s strength to not just be a hearer of his word but a “doer” as well!

Know that the Lord, he is God!
It is he who made us, and we are his;
we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture (Psalm 100:2).