1 Peter 4: “Reaching a Learned Helpless World”

Chapter 4 1 Peter is for sure not a warm and fuzzy chapter to read. But let’s not forget the context of Peter’s writing and who he’s writing too.

We know that Peter is writing from Rome around A.D. 64, just 3 years before he would be crucified upside down by the ruthless Caesar Nero. So he writes this letter to new believers who heard him speak at Pentecost and went back to start churches in their towns (which were all located in Asia Minor, present day Turkey).

Think about this: It would be like going to a Billy Graham Crusade, being changed by the message, and going home to start pastoring a church! Oh and by the way, you don’t know it yet, but this new faith you signed up for will likely cause you and your family to be tortured and ultimately killed. Any takers? But this is the power of God’s transformational story in the world. It is worth dying for! It always has, and always will!

1 Peter 4:7-9 (NLT) 7 The end of the world is coming soon. Therefore, be earnest and disciplined in your prayers. 8 Most important of all, continue to show deep love for each other, for love covers a multitude of sins. 9 Cheerfully share your home with those who need a meal or a place to stay. 

So far, here’s the call to action:

  • Be earnest and disciplined… in your prayers.
  • Show deep love for each other… for love covers a multitude of sins.
  • Cheerfully share your home (the NIV adds, “without grumbling”)

1 Peter 4:10-11 (NIV) 10 Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. 11 If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.

This is good news! Number one, God has gifted each of us in our own unique way, and we are to use those gifts as stewards, or managers, of His grace, which by the way can take many forms.

Look at the rhythm of Paul’s writing here:

  •  If anyone… they should…
  • If anyone… they should…
  • So that…
  • To Him…

Now let’s put some meat on this now:

  • If anyone speaks… they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God.
  • If anyone serves… they should do so with the strength God provides
  • So that… in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ.
  • To Him… be the glory and power for ever and ever

Learned Helplessness

In the 1960’s psychologists Martin Seligman and Steven Maier stumbled upon what later would be defined as “Learned Helplessness.” Learned helplessness was observed in dogs that were classically conditioned to expect a low voltage electric shock after hearing a tone. Later the dogs were placed in a shuttle box that contained two chambers separated by a low barrier. The floor on one side was electrified, but the floor on the other side was not. It would have taken little effort for the dog to cross over to the safety of the other side.

The dogs who were previously subjected to “classical conditioning” made no attempt to escape, even when the opportunity was so easy and obvious. They were so helpless they just laid on the floor receiving shock after shock. But there is hope. Later in the experiment a second dog was introduced who had never been conditioned to expect a shock after hearing a tone.

The Result:

The two dogs were on same side, the tone is played and the shock administered to the floor of the box. The conditioned dogs sits there while the other dog takes off, probably thinking to themselves, “I’m outta here.” What do you think the conditioned dog did? The conditioned dog saw the other dog run for safety and followed after him.

The dog who for so long had learned helplessness was now safe because of the actions of another dog. All the conditioned dog needed was for someone to show them the way.

The Challenge

1 Peter 4 is filled with the challenge to do something with what God gave you! Sometimes I hear people say, “I’m not sure why God gave me this gift, it feels like a curse…” The best thing to realize about God’s gifts is that he didn’t give them to you, He gave them for you.  

“Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others…”

 

Romans 10: “It’s Worth Sharing”

I LOVE sharing good news, don’t you? Think about a time most recently when you were able to proclaim good news to a group of people or a person.

“He went to Jarod’s,” “She said, ‘yes,'” “It’s a boy!,”are just a couple examples of the really good news we get to share with people. For me, I can remember the moment with both of my children when I got to declare to everyone that they were born. It’s funny, I can remember working at a hospital and being able to spot the new dads out of crowd. They were the ones with grins from ear-to-ear and would stop a total stranger in their tracks to share their good news. Shoot, I didn’t have any trouble walking up to a total stranger in the hospital and declaring, “It’s a girl!,” or “It’s a boy!” Most people would receive your news with almost equal joy just because they were excited for you.

Beautiful Feet

Have you ever met someone who recently became a Christian and just couldn’t contain themselves? They were so excited for this new found freedom that they had to share with everyone around them. I love that, but I have a feeling secretly that grizzled  veterans in the church world think to themselves, “their excitement won’t last.” Isn’t this a shame? Who ever said that the “honeymoon” had to end? Truth be told, here in Chapter 10 Paul is proclaiming that we need to do something with the good news. He even goes back and quotes from Isaiah 52:7 (NLT)

How beautiful on the mountains
    are the feet of the messenger who brings good news,
the good news of peace and salvation,
    the news that the God of Israel reigns! 

This passage may seem like a nice passage to support the value of sharing the good news of Jesus Christ, but it’s actually far more than that. When you understand the context behind Paul’s usage, this passage takes on a whole new meaning. Isaiah 52:7 is the point where the herald (messenger) is delivering good news to Judah about the end of their exile in Babylon and return to their home land. Don’t forget that the Israelites were in captivity for 70 years! Can you imagine getting to be the one who would share this message with the Jewish remnant in Babylon? No wonder the feet of the messenger was beautiful. Fast forward to Rome.

Confess and Believe

Although the Jews were not in physical captivity, Paul would argue that they were experiencing a form of spiritual captivity due to their reliance on the law. Again, as we seen now in many parts of his letter, Paul is striving to show the difference between faith and the law. Paul argues that it’s faith that he’s been preaching the whole time. His heart, and it should be our heart as well, is that people will “hear” (v. 17) the good news and do two things: confess and believe.

Confession has played a major role since the beginning of Jesus’ gospel. Here Paul makes it plane to understand. Romans 10:9-10 (NLT) If you openly declare (confess) that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.10 For it is by believing in your heart that you are made right with God, and it is by openly declaring your faith that you are saved.

The NIV reads, “If you confess with you mouth, Jesus is Lord.” The word “confess” (homologeo) means to “give verbal affirmation.” It’s one thing for people to believe in the secret place of their heart, it’s another when you say it out loud. But as we will see, the heart is still involved here.

(v. 9) “…and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” Remember Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 15:17 (NLT) 17 And if Christ has not been raised, then your faith is useless and you are still guilty of your sins. So it’s here that Paul connects the importance between our salvation and Christ’s Resurrection. 

Conclussion

(v. 13) “For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” This isn’t just worth noting, this is worth sharing. So not it’s time to stop reading and start sharing! Because just like we’ve already read, (v. 14) “How can they hear about him unless someone tells them?”

Galatians 1: “Introduction”

Here we go again…

Paul during his first missionary journey was able to start and support several churches in the region of Galatia. This was a huge region found in modern day Turkey and was an important location for the growth the church east. Although Paul was able to establish these primarily gentile churches, soon after he left a group of false teachers came behind him trying to convince these newly converted Gentile believers that they were’t really Christian unless they were circumcised. Paul’s letter to the Christians in Iconium, Derbe, Lystra, and Antioch, is an, “awe… heck no” to these Judaizers. Paul basically says, “you think you need a snip-snip? Well you must have lost your grip-grip! Faith in Jesus alone is the only way to salvation”…basically…he said that.

We might be inclined to think the only thing on the line was circumcision or no circumcision, but there was so much more to consider. The gospel (Good News) that Paul preached to the Gentiles itself is at stake! Remember the words of Jesus, “First to the Jews, then to the Gentiles. Jesus included the law-free Gentiles into his salvific work on the cross. If the Galatians cave in to circumcision, everything God has done in Jesus Christ and is doing by the Spirit to include Gentiles in the people of God will have come to nothing (2:21). God’s story itself is on the line.


Galatians 1:6-7 (NLT) I am shocked that you are turning away so soon from God, who called you to himself through the loving mercy of Christ. You are following a different way that pretends to be the Good News but is not the Good News at all. You are being fooled by those who deliberately twist the truth concerning Christ.


Paul wants to be very clear with the Galatians, you’re following a gospel, but it’s not the gospel of Christ. The gospel you’re falling for is like the Diet Coke of Gospels…just one calorie.  Continuing to talk about the gospel message he preached, Paul continues in verse 11 (NLT):


 11 Dear brothers and sisters, I want you to understand that the gospel message I preach is not based on mere human reasoning. 12 I received my message from no human source, and no one taught me. Instead, I received it by direct revelation from Jesus Christ.

When look at this verse a little closer we realize that Paul is not only defending his authority, but the authority of the gospel itself. From the beginning of this letter, Paul wants to be very clear about where he did and didn’t receive the gospel message. It wasn’t based on something man dreamed up, or was passed around as a story, but rather it was God’s effort to reach down and communicate with man. What’s unique about Paul’s declaration is specific to the way he did receive the gospel.

Most everyone hears the gospel from someone else; this is God’s “normal” way of communicating the gospel (Romans 10:14-15).  But Paul was not “normal” in this respect.  He received the gospel in a dramatic, direct revelation when He encountered Jesus on the road to Damascus.

Buckle Up

Although Paul’s letter to the Galatians is one of his shorter letters, it is jam packed with thought provoking ideas and challenging realities. As we read, lets read with an open mind and even more importantly, an open heart.

 

 

Acts 25: “Turn Every Moment into the Gospel”

Martin Niemoller

John MacAuthur shared an interesting story about Martin Niemoller:


“Martin Niemoller was a Christian, a German Christian who was captured by the Nazis and spent nine years in prison, and endured horrors, just horrible things. At end of World War II, when he was released, he came to America, and of course, there was very much interest in his coming. And he traveled around America and spoke. And he spoke out of the context of nine years, of the horrors of a Nazi prison.

Two Reporters commented on Niemoller and his speech, in one city, and this was their comment. “Imagine,” said one Reporter, disgustedly, “nine years in a Nazi prison and all he can talk about is Jesus Christ.”


“Imagine…” Starting in 1937, Martin Niemoller would spend 14 month in solitary confinement and a total of 9 years in prison on charges the German officials called, “treasonable statements.”

Instead of coming out of prison a hardened man, full of bitterness and resentment towards God, Niemoller became president of the Hessen-Nassau Lutheran Church and began a world tour preaching collective guilt for Nazi persecution and crimes against humanity. Niemoller took every moment and turned it into the gospel.

Connection to Paul

Acts 25 and 26 rightfully should be discussed together, but because of the NIVS (Numeric Interrupter Device’s): Chapters and verses; we have to stick with Chapter 25 today and 26 tomorrow.

Paul just got done a two year prison sentence under Governor Felix, don’t worry, it wasn’t all that bad for him, but now there’s a new Governor in town, Festus; and Festus will need to get caught up on Paul’s case. Here’s something interesting about Paul’s two years in prison: It’s the only time in Paul’s ministry that he doesn’t preach, teach, or write any letters. Some scholars believe this was a sabbatical rest time for Paul who up to this point hadn’t stopped long enough to brush his teeth! But like Niemoller, Paul had the ability to take every moment and turn it into the gospel.

It’s like what Paul communicated to Timothy in 2 Timothy 4:


2 Timothy 4:2,5 (NLT) 2 Preach the word of God. Be prepared, whether the time is favorable or not. Patiently correct, rebuke, and encourage your people with good teaching.

5 But you should keep a clear mind in every situation. Don’t be afraid of suffering for the Lord. Work at telling others the Good News, and fully carry out the ministry God has given you.


Paul’s instructions to Timothy aren’t coming from a textbook, but rather from his own life experience. You may be getting tired of hearing that Paul preached the word of God no matter the circumstance, but the whole last half of Acts for Paul… is nothing but circumstance! Even when you read Acts 25 you have to admit that Paul, “kept a clear mind in every situation.” He and Jesus had this in common.

Connection to Jesus

Jesus was the master of making the most of every opportunity. Take for instance these examples:

  • The woman at the well needs water: Jesus says, “I am the everlasting water.”
  • Feeding of the four and five thousand: Jesus says, “I am the bread of life.”
  • A Menorah sits in the Temple: Jesus says, “I am the light of the world.”
  • High Priest pours out the water at the Feast of Tabernacle: Jesus says, “I am the water of life”

 

 

Both Jesus and Paul were masters at taking every moment and turning it into the gospel.

Back to Paul and Closing

In closing I want us to realize the gravity and connection between all these examples. Whether it was Niemoller overcoming persecution, Paul living out the testimony of the gospel, or Jesus using everything around him as a sermon illustration; not one moment was missed for the gospel.

You have the opportunity today to take your circumstance, your life, your situation, and magnify Jesus in it and through it. You may ask, “how do I do that?” The first thing you need to do is be ready! Don’t read from a script, let you life be the script. Instead of memorizing the four spiritual laws (which is not a bad idea), live the four spiritual laws!

Paul was stuck in a Caesarean prison for two years and with the first opportunity he had, what did he talk about? Jesus! Paul took every moment and turned it into the gospel. Now it’s your turn!

Acts 24: “Don’t Sugarcoat the Gospel”

In the next three chapters of Acts (Acts 24,25,26), Paul will find himself on trial before three different Roman politicians: Felix, Festus, and Agrippa. He will also find himself with a prime opportunity to share the message of Christ to these high ranking Gentiles.

As I was reading and studying I couldn’t help but think of Jesus’ prophecy in Matthew 10:


Matthew 10:16-20 (NLT) 16 “Look, I am sending you out as sheep among wolves. So be as shrewd as snakes and harmless as doves. 17 But beware! For you will be handed over to the courts and will be flogged with whips in the synagogues. 18 You will stand trial before governors and kings because you are my followers. But this will be your opportunity to tell the rulers and other unbelievers about me. 19 When you are arrested, don’t worry about how to respond or what to say. God will give you the right words at the right time. 20 For it is not you who will be speaking—it will be the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.


The amazing reality of this prophecy is that Paul would find himself not only being the one who would flog the disciples, but would later stand trial as an apostle.

So here we find Paul in Acts 24:

  • (v. 16) Sheep among wolves
  • (v. 17) Handed over to the courts
  • (v.18) Standing trial before governors
  • (v. 18) Using the opportunity to tell about Jesus
  • (v. 19) Not worrying about how to respond or what to say

Continue reading Acts 24: “Don’t Sugarcoat the Gospel”