Think God can’t use you? Think again.

“And Moses said, ‘Who me, Lord? I’ve not been to seminary. I didn’t even finish college. The other preachers won’t respect me. Pulpit committees won’t have anything to do with me. There’s a bounty on me back in Egypt. I stutter a lot, and tend to freeze up in front of groups. You’ve clearly dialed a wrong number, Lord.”

“And God said, ‘Shut up and listen.'” (My rather free version of Exodus 3-4.)

“The Lord can’t use a nothing nobody like me.”

Ever heard that? Ever said it?

Repent, sinner.  You underestimate God! (And you might be overestimating your own importance in the equation.)

The Lord delights in taking nobodies and doing great things with them.

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What False Prophets Do (II Peter 2)

Does this guy ever show up in your church?

He constantly complains about the state of the present-day church, he carps on the worldliness of Christians today, and he is dead-sure that modern preachers just aren’t as dedicated as they used to be. Recognize him?

One of his favorite lines goes like this: “What we need are a few New Testament churches!”

There is an answer to his hunger for a New Testament church. The fact is we have them all over the place.

The New Testament church was beset by inner struggles, doctrinal divisions, leaders on their own personal ego trips, preachers who were in it for the money, and false prophets.

Solomon was right. There is nothing new under the sun.

The troubles afflicting today’s church are not new. They’ve been a constant thorn in the flesh of God’s people from the beginning.

The second chapter of II Peter is not the only New Testament passage dealing with false prophets, but it’s about as explicit as any of them.

But there were also false prophets among the people, even as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Lord who bought them, and bring on themselves swift destruction.(II Peter 2:1)

In the old days, the Apostle Peter says, they had false prophets. Jeremiah 23 talks about them at length.

And in these recent days, he says, we have them too.

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It’s All About Jesus (II Peter 1:1-4)

No one comes into the Kingdom of God with it all figured out. Most of us learn by trying and falling, picking ourselves up, and trying again. If we are blessed, we’ll have big brothers and sisters in the faith standing nearby, making sure we don’t hurt ourselves or others in the process.

Early on, as a new believer, we’re prone to be so excited about the Christian life that we run on spiritual adrenalin. Eventually, as it always does, that divine-chemical-in-our-bloodstream subsides, and we are left to try to figure how we’re going to continue to live this Christian life.

That’s when we either make shipwreck on the shoals of temptation or discouragement or we learn the importance of daily time in God’s word and earnest, honest prayer to Him throughout every day. As we do this, we start learning the great lessons God has reserved for the faithful.

The Gnostics of olden times used to hold that God has special knowledge reserved for the spiritual elites. I am not saying that or anything close to it. But I do say that only those who stay with the Lord through thick and thin, good weather and foul, emotional peaks and spiritual valleys, only they learn the great lessons of the Christian life. All the others settle down in the Plains of Boredom where we profess one thing and live something almost entirely different.

Here’s one of life’s greatest lessons regarding the Christian life: It’s all about Jesus.

John the Baptist surely knew almost nothing of what you and I call “the Christian life,” but He absolutely had the secret of intimacy with God nailed down. He must increase; I must decrease. (John 3:30)

Here’s how the Apostle Peter felt on the subject. And keep in mind from all we know of this dear brother from the four gospels, he learned every lesson the Lord had for him in the hardest way possible.

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Escape the Corruption (II Peter 1:4ff)

For by these He has given to us His precious and magnificent promises, in order that by them you might become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust.

Blame it on lust.

James the half-brother of Jesus agreed with that. “What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you? Is not the source your pleasures that wage war in your members? You lust and do not have, so you commit murder” (James 4:1-2).

Lust: uncontrolled desires of any kind. We can lust for food, power, money, sex, pleasures, friendship, and our neighbor’s lawn mower. A desire that was not necessarily bad in itself has now broken loose and sits in the driver’s seat calling the shots.

Lives are run and ruined by unrestrained passions.

A few years ago, Pope John Paul II created a minor furor in saying that lust has no place in marriage. All the johnny-one-notes in the world who refuse to think beyond the surface of anything jumped all over that. You would have thought he’d said that a man and woman must not have sexual appetites for each other.

Lust is a killer. It drove Hitler, Stalin, Mussolini, Saddam, Idi Amin, and a thousand others of their ilk. Lust drove Elvis, Errol Flynn, an uncle or two of mine, and probably someone you know.

It’s a cruel task-master.

A fellow gets a little taste of power over people and suddenly the appetite for control over the masses explodes within him.

She buys a few antiques to brighten up her home. Within days, the lust to own every beautiful chair and table she sees is all-consuming.

He drops in on a men’s club in the French Quarter. Until that day, he had lived without such bawdy entertainment in perfect contentment. Now, the desire for more sex in more exotic varieties eats away at his soul.

He takes a drink. She smokes a special cigarette. They pop a few pills. And they are gone. “Gotta have more.”

Lust is the culprit.

Corruption is the result.

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What We Know for Sure about Satan (I Peter 5:8-9)

No one enjoys a good joke about the devil more than Satan himself.

He loves it when you tell one to make him out a buffoon or the warden of hell who welcomes in various evil-doers and sends them to their infernal rewards. He really gets a high when you make him out to be so outlandish that no one in his right mind would believe in such a goon.

The devil honestly does not care whether you believe in him or not. There is not a word in Scripture that says one has to believe in the devil in order for him to do his dastardly worst in them or through them.

Millions of people today scoff at the idea of Satan, then turn around and do his dirty work for him.

The people who believe most in Satan are God’s choice servants. They who do combat with him on a daily basis have no trouble acknowledging his reality. That’s why the Apostle Peter felt he should give this reminder to those who take seriously their discipleship:

Be of sober spirit. Be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls about like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.

But resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same experiences of suffering are being accomplished by your brethren who are in the world.

He’s out there. Watch out.

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Wake-Up Call to God’s People (I Peter 4:17)

For the time has come for judgment to begin with the household of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God?

There is a misunderstanding loose in the congregations of many of our churches. Too many of the Lord’s people have gotten the idea that since our sins are forgiven and forgotten (Hebrews 10:17), since there is “therefore now no condemnation” (Romans 8:1), and since we have the Lord’s word that nothing can take us from the Savior’s hands (John 10:28-29), we are not accountable for anything.

Bad wrong. There is a judgment awaiting the children of God, too.

And I say to you that every careless (“idle” KJV) word that men shall speak, they shall render account for in the day of judgment. (Matthew 12:36)

For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of God. (Romans 14:10)

The promise of Scripture is not that believers will not face a judgment, only that they will not be condemned.

There is a comeuppance awaiting a lot of us. That’s what I Peter 4:17 is saying. (Among other things.)

I’m thinking of three people who have a rude awakening coming when they meet this Great Appointment that has been red-lettered in on God’s calendar:

Ruffin, the honcho who has torn up more churches than my friend Freddie Arnold ever started. Throwing his weight around, insisting on getting his way (otherwise, he’s taking his money somewhere else!), and running off preachers, Ruffin is not going to like what he hears when he comes face to face with Sheer Righteousness.

Loisetta, the sister who brutalized half the membership of her church with her antics. Sometimes it was slander against good people when she had found she could not control them. At other times she organized opposition to the pastor for introducing some new program. If it was good enough for her grandparents, it was sacred and should not be tampered with. Loisetta is about to meet up with the True Owner of the Church.

Fishence, who found ways to get rich from his church affiliation. He wormed his way onto the membership of boards and agencies, then insisted the executives throw business to his company if they wanted to keep their jobs. He asked contractors for donations to his church which he then diverted for his own use. Fishence is about to have his own books audited by the Great Accountant.

Just because you’re saved–if you are–you do not receive a pass-judgment-and-go-on-to-Park-Place free card.

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The Surprise Element (I Peter 4:4,12)

I can’t think of surprises without hearing Gomer Pyle’s voice in my head: “Surprise, Surprise, Surprise!”

“In all this, they are surprised that you do not run with them into the same excess of dissipation, and they malign you.” (I Peter 4:4)

“Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you.” (I Peter 4:12)

Buddy Mathis, a friend of years back, sent me “The Word,” a Bible in 26 translations which his company has published. (Mathis Publishers, Inc., POB 6685, Gulfport, MS 39506 I recommend this as the most unusual gift for a pastor!)

So, let’s read this “surprising” business and see how other translations put it regarding I Peter 4:4.

–Most translations make it, “Do not think it strange.” The root of the Greek word translated there is “xenos,” stranger or alien. So, this sounds right.

–The Phillips New Testament has it: “Indeed your former companions may think it very queer that you will no longer join with them….”

–Moffatt puts it: “It astonishes pagans that you will not plunge with them….”

And regarding I Peter 4:12, we find:

–The New English Bible: “Do not be bewildered….”

–Phillips: “I beg you not to be unduly alarmed….”

–TCNT: “Do not be astonished….”

The point of this, then, becomes: “Once you start following Jesus, your old friends will be stunned at the change. They might even become hostile toward you, for whatever reason. But don’t you be surprised and caught unaware by all of that, or by the real persecution that may be headed your way. Expect it. After all, you’re following a Lord who was crucified for nothing but serving God, loving people and speaking Truth.”

Let’s camp out on these two verses for a few minutes. They have much to say about those of us who are serious in our discipleship.

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What To Do Toward the End (I Peter 4:7-11)

One of the most reliable principles of scripture interpretation you’ll ever come across is this one: “It’s not what you think it is.”

Case in point. As the Apostle Peter begins reminding church leaders across his section of the world of the last days, he speaks specifically of three activities to which they should devote themselves. But they’re not what we might expect.

Tell the typical church member today that the Lord could come back at any time and he will automatically begin reflecting on aspects of the end we’ve all heard talk about: armageddon, the Antichrist, one world governments, date-setting, sign-studying, Israel, the rebuilding of the Temple, and the like.

None of that. In fact, there is not one word in Scripture that I know of which encourages the Lord’s people to spend their time and energy speculating on the meaning of these things. To the contrary, we are cautioned not to waste time on pointless speculation, haggling over philosophies and arguing over subjects that have no answer.

The three activities the Apostle Peter calls for are surprising in their simplicity but fundamental in the role they play in God’s work in our world.

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The Bible’s Hard Parts (I Peter 3:18-22)

It’s all right to admit that we don’t know what something means.

In fact, the people who are sentenced to listen to us week after week, year after year, might appreciate that kind of intellectual honesty.

Case in point. I Peter 3:18-22….

“For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, in order that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit; in which also He went and made proclamation to the spirits now in prison,

Who once were disobedient, when the patience of God kept waiting in the days of Noah, during the construction of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through the water.

And corresponding to that, baptism now saves you–not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience–through the resurrection of Jesus Christ,

Who is at the right hand of God, having gone away into heaven, after angels and authorities and powers had been subjected to Him.”

Now, the brackets surrounding this passage give me no trouble–the first part about Jesus dying for our sins, the just for the unjust, and the last line about His ascension and glorification in Heaven. It’s those in-between parts that leave us gasping for air.

Furthermore, I’m not alone. I seriously doubt if there is a single passage in the Bible that has put gray hairs in more heads than this from the Apostle Peter.

What’s funny about it is that at the end of II Peter, the apostle gently takes Paul to task for saying “some things hard to understand,” insights which good people differ on and which “the untaught and unstable distort.” This comes from a man who has topped even the Apostle Paul in that obfuscating art!

So! What is a pastor or teacher is to do when faced with such a passage?

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What ‘Conservative’ Means (I Peter 3:8-17)

I know church members who would rather be called ‘conservative’ than Christian.

For some, their conservative stance in politics and religion is the very essence of who they are. Even to imply that they might be a liberal is to provoke their wrath and invite their hostility.

This is for those of us who count ourselves the conservatives in American life. Specifically, religious (Christian) conservatives.

Many of us have lost our way. We do not hold to Jesus-Christ principles so much as “someone-else-principles.” By “someone else,” I refer to the spokesmen for whatever brand of conservatism many among us are following with our hearts and souls. In politics, a few years back, it was Newt Gringrich and Rush Limbaugh. These days it’s Tea Party stuff. It’s Glenn Beck. It’s anti-Obama. Let him brush his teeth and some conservative pops up to harangue him about it. The disastrous oil flow in the Gulf is his fault. Whatever did we do for a whipping boy before he came along!

It’s an attitude. And it’s mainly ‘anti.’ It feeds off negativism and has a hard time when its own people are in the White House (or in the seats of power within the denomination). The fact is it’s much easier to criticize and harass and march in the streets than to govern. When you are protesting, the issues are clear and you have one task: oppose. But the one governing has to balance all his constituencies, listen to all sides, and seek a consensus.

Well, this is not about politics. It’s about bringing our conservatism into the church. And it’s about reminding ourselves what it means to be a Jesus-follwer.

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