Peter

Resisting The Roaring Lion (1 Peter 5:8-11)

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Most importantly, be sober (disciplined) and vigilant (stay on guard). Your enemy the devil is prowling around outside like a roaring lion, just waiting and hoping for the chanceto devour someone. Resist him and be strong in your faith, knowing that your brothers and sisters throughout the world are fellow sufferers with you. After you have suffered for a little while, the God of grace who has called you [to His everlasting presence] through Jesus the Anointed will restore you, support you, strengthen you, and ground you.  For all power belongs to God, now and forever. Amen. (1 Peter 5:8-11) D.L. Moody once said, “I believe Satan exists for two reasons: first, the Bible says so, and second, I've done business with him.” Peter’s finale to his letter to the church ends with a warning about the devil, so let’s talk about the devil. There are two dangers in doing this.

First, that we talk about the Devil too much.Second, that we talk about the Devil too little.

Too much,and we are distracted from God and maybe even scared or overwhelmed by the reality of supernatural evil. Too little,and we forget there is a very real spiritual side to the world. We wrestle with “principalities and powers, with the rulers of the darkness of this world, with spiritual wickedness in high places” (Ephesians 6:12).

So let’s talk about the Devil, but no more than the devil deserves. We do this “so that we may not be outwitted by Satan, for we are not ignorant of his designs.”  (2 Corinthians 2:11)

"Devil" is from “diablos”, and it means accuser, slanderer or even destroyer.  The Bible refers to the devil as "the enemy" (Mt 13:39), "a murderer from the beginning" (John 8:44).

'Satan' is derived from a Hebrew word “Satanas” meaning 'act as an adversary'; literally, an opponent in a court.  Generally, Satan is a title (“the Satan”) rather than a personal name. In the Old Testament, it is used to describe people as well as divine beings.[1]Perhaps that’s why Jesus can call Peter (the writer of this letter) Satan. He wasn’t saying Peter was a demonic being. Peter was the adversary in that moment, perhaps even representing the voice of the Ultimate Adversary.

The Bible does not give us a lot of backstory or description, but it does tell us a lot about Satan’s intent and plans. I think that’s purposeful.  It would be easy to become really consumed with what Satan and demons are like when the most important thing is to know what Satan does.

BACKSTORY

  • The two main passages from which we pull a lot of our understanding of Satan’s backstory are intertwined with the description of actual kings (Ezekiel 28 is about the King of Tyre; Isaiah 14 is about the King of Babylon). The kings are like Satan; Satan is like the kings. The line that separates where and what to apply to whom is not always clear. It’s enough to know they all embody evil in two different dimensions of reality.
  • When John wrote in Revelation 12 that a dragon was hurled out of heaven, that appears to be a symbolic reference to future events, not past events, but….it’s apocalyptic literature, which is pretty hard to understand anyway, so maybe it is looking back. Or maybe it’s about Rome. Maybe it’s divinely inspired to refer to all three. Commentators differ a LOT on what to do with Revelation 12.
  • When Jesus says, “I saw Satan fall from heaven like lightning” after his disciples reported casting out demons, the implication is that Satan was being dethroned spiritually as the exorcisms were taking place. Jesus does not appear to be referencing a past event where Satan was cast out of heaven - though he could have been. (Luke 10:18)

I don’t think the lack of a really precise Satan template is a mistake in revelation JI don’t think God intended for us to get too fascinated by Satan. It is enough to know that:

  • Satan is real
  • evil people are his ambassadors
  • Satan and his servants are at war with God and His servants
  • Satan’s strength and plans are crushed by the power of God.

[embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mAsv6j7cs4o[/embed]

Physical description

Our idea of what Satan (or demons, or hell) is like is largely shaped by Dante’s Inferno and Hollywood. Think of Jesus being tempted in the wilderness in Matthew 4. There is no physical description of the devil at all. The devil is simply called The Tempter. I have the devil from The Passion Of The Christ in mind. That’s not biblical; that’s Mel Gibson. The Bible describes Satan through titles and various images that are used to explain the nature, intent, and plans of Satan. There are three key images used.

The first two are 1) a snake/serpent (Genesis) and 2) as an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:14-15)

Both of these have to do with the subtle nature of deception: the serpent is crafty, the angel is falsely beautiful.

In the Ancient Near East, the serpent was viewed by almost all cultures as the bringer of wisdom (the Greeks loved the serpent); the writer of Genesis shows what happens when lies masquerade as truth. Sometimes that which appears to be wisdom is not wisdom at all. Proper authority is questioned (“Did God really say…?”); error looks good (“you will be like a god”).

Paul warns that, since there is an Angel of Light, “it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness” (2 Corinthians 11:15). Satan is an infiltrator of the church, and his servants bring harm to the people of God.

  • False servants of righteousness lead us from foundational, doctrinal truth (to “shipwreck our faith” – 1 Timothy 1:19). There is a reason there were councils and creeds in church history: there is strength and truth in looking to the historical church community for a solid foundation for biblical interpretation. #becarefulwithnewideas
  • False servants of righteousness claim to love holiness, but becomes a legalistic, pharisaical accuser to bring shame (as opposed to speaking truth in love that leads to a godly sorrow, which brings repentance – 2 Corinthians 7:10)
  • False servants of righteousness tempt us to compromise our integrity through sin, often by living in a way that models and thus invites personal or corporate compromise (gossip; lust; greed, etc)

As a roaring lion

A roaring lion is terrifying and overwhelming (think also of the “great dragon”, not the subtle serpent, in Revelation 12). There are times when Satan’s attack is meant to terrify us. Peter is probably referring here to the persecution the church was experiencing. I think this could refer to any time we are overwhelmed by the trials, pressures or persecutions. A lion’s roar is stunning; instead of “fight or flight,” “freeze or flight” kicks in immediately. It’s the time we are overwhelmed or scared of the spiritual battles in which we are engaged.

It strikes me that these two images of Satan highlight two questions that can undermine our faith, and two responses that can build it.

  • Did God really say….? Is this really the truth about God, me, and life?
  • Can God really do…..?  Is God really big enough for this?

[embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XHqfb7mJ5qM[/embed]

But Peter gives us the path of resistance; that is, God’s design for resisting the Devil in all his manifestations.

 Be sober

This has to do with sobriety of temperament. We are not to be bland or unconcerned, but measured and steady in the midst of the storm. The Bible uses the imagery of God as an anchor in the midst of storms; we, his people; are to serve as anchors in the midst of a stormy world. We are cautioned not to be "blown about by every wind of doctrine" (Ephesians 4:14); I thinks it's fair to say we ought not be blown about by anything. We claim to build our foundation on the rock. We should live like it.

Be vigilant

The Greeks used the word “gregoreuo” to describe people crossing a river by stepping on slippery stones.  Jesus usedthisin the Garden of Gethsemane: "My soul is deeply grieved, to the point of death; remain here and be vigilant(gregoreuo) with Me." (Mt 26:38). Which they didn’t (26:40). So what does vigilance look like for us today?

  • Obedience (James 4:7) This is ‘dying daily” (1 Corinthians 15:31) and “making our body our slave” (1 Corinthians 9:27). There is sweat equity we invest in the Kingdom not so that we can enter it, but so we flourish in the fullness of what God offers to us on the path of life.
  • Scripture(Jesus in the wilderness temptation – Matthew 4). Jesus countered Satan with the truth of Scripture. It’s meant to be a model for us. We don’t have to be Ph.D. theologians, but we must invest time in reading and studying the Bible.
  • Prayer (like, everywhere in Scripture). Over and over – pray.
  • [2]We are not meant to walk alone. We are rooted in Christ, we are fed by His Word, but we are planted in soil. That soil, ideally, is a holy church community. Sometimes God uses people in our lives to help us resist the devil. It’s called accountability. #embraceit

Spiritual warfare is often limited to exciting prayer battles and miraculous events, as if we resist the devil with exorcisms and contests like Moses had with Pharaoh’s magicians. Now, if you are a Christian, you know the Bible records the reality of that kind of spiritual battle. In countries where voodoo or the occult is strong, we hear plenty of accounts of how these kinds of battles are a necessary part of establishing the power of God in a ‘language’ that everyone understands. Take the right weapons to the battle.

But note how Peter tells people to resist: in the very ordinary, every day process of doing life together as faithful disciples of Christ. You want to fight the devil? Praying, absorbing our Bibles, and submitting our life to God and others is also spiritual warfare. Nobody writes glamorous stories about this, and it won’t make it to the big screen, but it’s wrestling against principalities and powers also.

The result? God will...

  • Restore and Support  Make you firm; blend with others; create mutual support – it’s the one body (1 Corinthians 12), one building metaphor (1 Peter 2).
  • Strengthen  Tighten up the interconnectedness of every part, so that there is no falling apart.
  • Ground   Create a firm foundation in Christ, the house built on the rock (Matthew 7)

[embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=US1-R-R9lYQ[/embed]

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[1]In 1 Sam. 29:4 : 'He must not go with us into battle, or he will turn against us during the fighting', i.e. 'become an adversary [Satan] to us'.

[2]https://overviewbible.com/one-another-infographic/

 

Money, Power, And Church Elders (1 Peter 5:1-5)

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  A guy named Lord Acton is credited with saying, “Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”  It’s part of a longer claim (and here’s the actual quote): “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men, even when they exercise influence and not authority…”

Some recent brain research has given a window into why Acton may have been on to something.  From “Power Causes Brain Damage”:[1]

  • Subjects under the influence of power suffered noticeable changes in the areas of the brain that controlled impulsivity, risk-awareness, and, crucially, and the ability to see things from other people’s point of view.
  • They were worse at identifying what someone in a picture is feeling, or guessing how a colleague might interpret a remark.
  • They stopped mimicking or “mirroring” others, an action which builds empathy by triggering the same feelings those others are experiencing. There is an “empathy deficit.”
  • They increasingly view everything 1stperson (George Bush famously held a flag backwards to an audience because it looked right to him).

 I want to talk today about power. We all have it – we all have influence and impact – but some of us are in positions where the influence and impact expands. As Christians, it’s crucial we recognize the dangers of it, but also the solutions that allow us to use the power God has given us in a way that honors God and builds the Kingdom of His church.

When Peter writes to the church about leadership, he focuses on this issue. That will be our starting text for today. 

To the elders (church leaders) among you, I appeal as a fellow elder, a witness of Christ’s sufferings and one who also will share in the glory to be revealed: Be shepherdsof God’s flock that is under your care, serving as overseers—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherdappears, you will receive the crown of glory[2]that will never fade away. Those who are younger, in the same way be submissive to those who are elder (church leaders or simply ‘older’). All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” 1 Peter 5:1–5

 

In the New Testament there are three terms used to describe the same office:

  • Elder focuses on the character qualities; he must be a mature man of God (See 1 Timothy 3:1-7and Titus 1:5-9)
  • Overseer (or bishop) is used interchangeably with elder (Acts 20:17, 28; Titus 1:5, 7) and has to do more with church governance.
  • Pastor (shepherd) builds on the shepherd metaphor: care, ‘feeding’, and protection of the ‘flock’

The apostle Paul gives quite a list of qualifications for being an elder (see 1 Timothy 3), but Peter is more focused. Other than mentioning that nobody should be forced to lead (good advice in a time when leadership might mean death), his advice revolves around character: specifically, how leaders are to handle money and power.

Not Greedy For Money

An elder dare not have money and riches – “filthy lucre” as the KJV would say - as a purpose or goal of being in church leadership. If leaders ever turn the church into a personal money-making enterprise, we are in trouble.

Frankly, I think church elders are under a higher obligation to consider what is an appropriate wage from the church. I don’t mean they shouldn’t get a decent or good wage – Paul tells Timothy not to “muzzle the ox” because the laborer is worthy of his hire. But Paul told Timothy that elders were not to be covetous of riches – that is, in love with money, serving it rather than Christ.[3] I think Proverbs gives the reason:

Two things I ask, O God. Sometime before I die, grant these humble requests: Eliminate any hint of worthless and deceitful words from my lips. Do not make me poor or rich, but give me each day what I need; For if I have too much, I might forget You are the One who provides, saying, “Who is the Eternal One?” Or if I do not have enough, I might become hungry and turn to stealing and thus dishonor the good name of my God. (Proverbs 30:7-9)

[embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=coHKdhAZ9hU[/embed]

Not lording over others.[4]

 2,000 years ago, Jesus warned Peter that His Kingdom was not of this world. Both Peter and Paul, by the many ways in which they put structure around those who lead in the church, were warning us about the problems that can accompany power, even in the midst of God’s people.

Leaders in the church cannot become lords. 2,000 years of history has proven the practical wisdom in this.  Whenever the church has become intertwined with national power, the church has become either oppressive without and compromised within.[5]

Constantine legalized Christianity in the early 300s for selfish political reasons, and that combined with his reputation for violence hurt the reputation of the church even as Christianity spread.[6]The Anabaptists claimed the fall of the church began during Constantine’s reign. “By recognizing Christianity as a legal religion (including making Sunday a legal holiday), he slowly strangled what was once a vibrant, close-knit, committed fellowship of persecuted believers, and turned it into a religion that would become, by law, at the end of that century, the official state religion of the Holy Roman Empire (HRE).”[7]Within less than 80 years from Constantine’s legalization, the “Christian government for the first time executed Christians that deviated from the government-endorsed orthodoxy.” [8]

Thousands were killed by the Church’s Inquisitional courts[9]in the Middle Ages.

In early America, Christians who fled here to escape persecution by the powerful suddenly had power - and did the same things:

  • Puritans banished people for not being Puritan
  • Protestants denied Catholics property, voting rights and even holding public office – but then again, in the 1500s the Spanish Catholics had slaughtered hundreds of French Huguenots in the New World.
  • Then there was the coerced conversion of Native Americans; the Salem Witch Trials; the hanging of four Quakers in Boston in the mid-1600s for being Quaker. In the mid-1800s there were Bible Riots in Philadelphia, where two Catholic churches were destroyed, houses were burnt, and 20 people killed.[10]

Unfortunately, the problem of power we see in the big picture or national politics occurs in individual churches and church leaders as well. As a leader in a church, this concerns me deeply. I want to talk about what I’ve been reading from Christian leaders concerning ways to make sure power does not corrupt, and also talk about how this plays out in our church.

Surround yourself with “toeholders.” “Power Physically Damages the Brain, New Research Reveals”[11] gave some examples of "a toeholder" who tugs you back towards reality whenever you threaten to float away on your inflated ego.

  • Winston Churchill’s wife, Clementine, once wrote to him, “My Darling Winston. I must confess that I have noticed a deterioration in your manner; & you are not as kind as you used to be.” He had been acting “so contemptuous” toward subordinates in meetings that “no ideas, good or bad, will be forthcoming.” This was written on the day Hitler entered Paris.

If a church leader is surrounded by "yes men", it's a problem. There have to be people who have no problem confronting, challenging, grabbing them and pulling them back when they begin to stray in orthodoxy (right doctrine) or orthopraxy (right actions).

Be transparent and accountable.Some Christian leaders I intensely admire have been falling from the pedestals on which I (wrongly) put them. They have lied about qualifications, misused money, and contributed to the #metoo movement by harassing, using and even abusing women. Beth Moore wrote a heart-wrenching open letter a week or two ago about how men in power in church circles have treated her for decades. [12] How did they get there? I suspect it was in large part due to a lack of transparency and accountability.

Welcome feedback from everyone. Everyone. It does not mean everyone is right, but it’s possible for anyone to have valuable insight. It's up to leasers to take that feedback and present it to the rest of the leadership (see the next point), as well as and to those who are close to them. This group filter helps leadership to process feedback in a healthy way and respond appropriately.

Serve in plurality of leadership.[13] In both the Old and New Testament, there is always a plurality of elders. Plurality brings a variety of gifts: finances, organization, relational wisdom, hospitality, teaching, preaching. Itprevents burnout; it brings accountability (in life and doctrine); it increases the reach of the ‘shepherds’ and increases wise decision-making.

Practice empathy and 3rdperson thinking. LISTEN!! Spend time talking with people in order to genuinely understand and love them. Practice “walking a mile in another’s shoes.” Learn what it’s like to hold up a flag so it makes sense to other people. I personally have found fictional books, movies and TV shows to be very helpful in broadening my understanding. Not every story is a good story - obviously - but as authors, directors, and writers create stories that can't help but reveal their experience of the world, we can put on the lense of a biblical worldview filter and grow in our understanding and empathy as we pray for wisdom on how to effectively reach everyone with the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

 Follow in some area of your life and leadership. Don’t lead everything. Look for ways to divest of power appropriately. Don't micromanage every aspect of the church. It's a good idea to answer to others in our organization about something - maybe even many things.

Get over yourself.It’s God’s gig, not yours. All good things are His. If the church genuinely flourishes, it's to God's glory, not the glory of leadership.

[embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kcVdq5Q-Paw[/embed]

But Peter speaks to the church here also.

“Those who are younger, in the same way be submissive to those who are elder(s).”

In other words, be respectful and considerate, and seek to serve the leadership even as the leadership seeks to serve you.

  • “Respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and esteem them very highly in love because of their work.” (1 Thessalonians 5:12-13)
  • “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.” (Hebrews 13:17)

Respect does not mean you are timid in speaking truth. Respect is not avoidance of confrontation or criticism. I’ve heard some leaders use the phrase, “Don’t touch God’s anointed”[14]as a means of bullying people into silence. That’s silly. That was specifically, “Don’t kill my prophets because you don’t like what they say.” The Bible itself tells you how to confront someone in leadership who is in sin (Matthew 18; 1 Timothy 5). Respect has to so with approach and attitude.

Submission does not mean you follow and obey anyone blindly especially me. We are all to be Bereans[15]when it comes to examining Scriptures for ourselves. You are not lemmings; we are all priests and kings (Revelations 1:6).

“Being subject” is primarily an attitude of respect and cooperation with the elders as they do their best to follow what they believe is the Lord’s will for the church (Heb. 13:17).

Everyone: Be clothed with humility

To the Greeks, what you wore outwardly signaled what you were inwardly. If you were a slave, you wore slave garb. If you were noble, you wore the clothing of nobility. To be clothed with humility was not a false cover up. It was identifying who you were.

2 Cor. 3:5: “Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God.”

 Don’t let selfishness and prideful agendas take over. Embrace true humility, and lift your heads to extend love to others. Get beyond yourselves and protecting your own interests; be sincere, and secure your neighbors’ interests first.”(Philippians 2:3-4)

“I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, that I also may be cheered when I receive news about you. I have no one else like him, who takes a genuine interest in your welfare. For everyone looks out for his own interests, not those of Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 2:19-21.

Humility is not feeling stupid; that’s shame. Humility is not underplaying our strengths; that's disrespectful to the God who gave us those gifts. Humility is not devaluing yourself; we are all bearers of the image of God, and if we have given our lives to following Jesus, we are now His spiritual children. Humility is a commitment to having an attitude that says, “I do not have more value or worth than you do. I offer whatever I am about to do or say because I think God has something for me to offer in this situation for your good and God’s glory.”

If we can all do this together, we will be flourishing in God’s model for the church.

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[1]https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2017/07/power-causes-brain-damage/528711/

[2]An Olympic reference. Winners of the Greek games received a garland that would shrivel and die; this crown for “running the race” (to use another Pauline reference) would last through eternity.

[3]Paul says that “the elders who rule well [should] be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching” (1 Tim. 5:17). “Honor” (in Greek) meant both “respect” and “price.” As 1 Timothy 5:18makes clear, elders who labor at preaching and teaching should not only be respected, they also should be paid.  http://biblehub.com/commentaries/1_timothy/5-17.htm

[4]  “Lording it over” the flock (5:3) recalls the silly debates the twelve had about who was the greatest, and the Lord’s teaching about the greatest being the servant of all. “Be clothed with humility” recalls Jesus taking a towel and girding Himself as He washed the disciples’ feet (John 13:1-17). The word about Satan (5:8) recalls Jesus’ warning that Satan would “sift” Peter like wheat (Luke 22:31). The verb, “to perfect” (5:10) is the same word translated “mending their nets” (Matt. 4:21) when the Lord called Peter to follow Him. http://biblehub.com/commentaries/1_timothy/5-17.htm

[5]“The historian Paul Johnson concludes, “Attempts to perfect Christian societies in this world, whether conducted by popes or revolutionaries, have tended to degenerate into red terrors.” ― Philip YanceyChristians and Politics Uneasy Partners

[6]To quote John Wesley from 1791: 'After the empire became Christian, a general corruption both of faith and morals infected the Christian Church; which by that revolution, as St. Jerome says, "lost as much of her virtue as it had gained of wealth and power.’"–

[7]https://simplychurch.com/2005/12/28/313-ad-the-death-of-christianity-and-the-birth-of-the-christian-religion-2/

[8]Read more at this sobering article: “How Christianity Became Aligned With Politics Under Constantine.” http://butnotlost.blogspot.com/2011/03/how-christianity-became-aligned-with.html

[9]http://www.themichigancatholic.org/2016/11/inquisition-50-68-million-killed-church/

[10]https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/americas-true-history-of-religious-tolerance-61312684/

[11]https://www.inc.com/jessica-stillman/power-physically-damages-the-brain-new-research-reveals.html

[12]https://blog.lproof.org/2018/05/a-letter-to-my-brothers.html

[13]"In the New Testament, there is always a plurality of elders (overseers, pastors) over the church in a given location. Acts 14:23 reports how Paul and Barnabas appointed elders (plural) in every church (singular). Acts 20:17tells how Paul called to him “the elders of the church” in Ephesus. In Titus 1:5, Paul reminds Titus how he left him to appoint elders (plural) in every city. In the New Testament, the church in a city was viewed as a unit. Thus you have the church in Jerusalem, Ephesus, Antioch, etc. Each church may have been broken down into house churches that met all over the city on any given Lord’s Day. But over each church there was a plurality of elders or pastors." (I don't know where I got this, but it's not my original words).

[14]Psalm 105:15; 1 Chronicles 16:22

[15]Acts 17:11

It is The Will Of God That You Suffer (1 Peter 3:17-4:6)

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[embed]https://www.facebook.com/clgtc/videos/10155545321700829/[/embed]  

After some great opening chapters about how we can move deeper into the holiness God has given us by living lives of honor and integrity, and how that movement can silence critics and point people toward Christ, Peter follows up with another important truth about life in the Kingdom:

17 “For if it is the will of God that you suffer, then it is better to suffer for doing what is right than for doing what is wrong.” 

In other words, living with integrity does not promise people will like you. It will just not justify their dislike of you. Now comes the theological explanation of why this will happen: it’s the pattern Jesus demonstrated.

18 The Anointed One suffered for sins once for all time—the righteous suffering for the unrighteous—so that He might bring us to God. Though He died in the flesh, He was made alive again through the Spirit. 19 And in the Spirit, He went and preached to those spirits held captive. 20 It was these who long ago lived in disobedience while God waited patiently as Noah was building the ark. At that time, only a tiny band—eight people—was spared from the flood.[1]

 21 The water through which the ark safely passed symbolizes now the ceremonial washing through baptism that initiates you into salvation. You are saved not because it cleanses your body of filth but because of your appeal to God from a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus the Anointed, our Liberating King. 22 Now He has entered heaven and sits at the right hand of God as heavenly messengers and authorities and powers[2]submit to His supremacy.

I could probably spend an entire morning talking about that passage, but for our purpose, note that the main point is that the Jesus suffered to free those who are unrighteous, captive to sin, and doomed. Now, back to the narrative.

 (4:1) Since the Anointed suffered in the flesh, prepare yourselves to do the same—anyone who has suffered in the flesh for the Lord is no longer in the grip of sin—2 so that you may live the rest of your life on earth controlled not by earthly desires but by the will of God.

What does it mean that ‘if we suffer in the flesh for the Lord we are no longer in the grip of sin’?

There seem to be two main ideas about how to understand this:

  1. It implies that if we take a stand and do not deny Jesus in the midst of persecution, it is a sign that our allegiance to God is a far greater power in our lives than the ‘grip of sin’ that would cause us to reject God to escape pain.
  2. If we resist the strong urge of temptation, it will be clear that the sins that once enslaved us no longer do.

I suspect Peter was referring to our struggle against temptation, since he follows with a specific contrast of their former life of sin and their current life in Christ. However, that is a form of ‘not denying Jesus’ as well, so I think it’s safe to say that what Peter wrote covers all the ways in which we pay a price for taking a stand for Jesus. Back to the text:

You have had enough in the past of the evil things that godless people enjoy--their immorality and lust, their feasting and drunkenness and wild parties, and their terrible worship of idols.4 Because of this, they consider it strange of you not to plunge with them into the same flood of reckless indiscretion, and they heap abuse on you. Someday they will have to give an account of themselves to the One who judges the living (those alive in Christ) and the dead (those dead in their sin).[3] This is why the good news had to be brought to those who are now (spiritually) dead so that although they are currently judged by their life in the flesh, they have the opportunity, because of Christ, to live in the spirit in the way that pleases God.[4]

We will talk about this in a bit, but I want to back up first.

“…prepare yourself to suffer in the flesh for the Lord…that you may live the rest of your life on earth controlled not by earthly desires but by the will of God.”

Why would we be willing to suffer? Because the will of God for our lives is amazing. It’s for our good and His glory, and it serves as a witness to those far from Christ that God’s design for life is beautiful and holy, and thus the God who designed it is as well. We see this become clear as we look what Peter highlights from the sinful pasts of those in his audience. Peter is not doing this to shame, but to contrast.

They walked in immorality and lust (strong appetites of all kinds).They were controlled by their urges. They were addicted to sin. One of the things the #metoo movement has brought to light is the reality of so many people who cannot seem to control their sexual urges. There is no filter, no self-control. They cannot seem to stop themselves. That’s a biblical notion, by the way. God sometimes gives people up in the lusts of their hearts. (Romans 1:24)

That’s what it means to be a slave to sin. We can reach a point where we so give ourselves over to our habits and lusts that God gives us over to them. This is not life. This is death.

If you have ever been there, you know the haunting despair this brings. You are never satisfied; you are always on the prowl, always on edge.  You always know you are going to go to porn again no matter how long you fight temptation. You are always covering up, always wondering how long you can maintain this. Maybe it was worse: you stopped worrying, because you didn’t care. This is death, not life.

Feasting, drunkenness, and wild parties.Literally, they were inflamed continually by what they brought into their bodies and then expressed theirinternalchaos with external chaos. Loud, chaotic, empty, angry, meaningless parties, followed by a bitter fruit of excessive drinking and drunken hookups.

The terrible worship of idols.In Peter’s context, this was typically temple orgies. It was not just a rejection of God; it was a debasement of people, the ruin of personal lives on the way to toppling an empire (just read the history of how Rome fell from within)[5]. Ultimately, people worshiped at the idol of ME, and the idol of “ME” will dominate and destroy everything around me.

  • Who suffers most:The one who indulges as Peter described, or the one who, with God’s help, resists this, ‘suffering’ by denying themselves for the sake of Christ? Who has “abundant life”?
  • Who suffers most:those who live around the self-indulgent and destructive worshiper, or the one who lives around those surrendered to the will of God and the path of life?[6]

God’s design for our good reflects reality– it should, because God created and designed it all, so he knows how it’s meant to work. I’m thrilled that the message of Christianity is entirely counter-cultural on these issues.

  • God’s commands, not earthly pleasures, revive our souls. (Psalm 19)
  • Life is found not when we indulge, but when we take up a cross. (Luke 9:23)
  • Life is found not in selfishness, but in laying down our lives for others. (John 15:13; Eph. 5:25)
  • Self-control, not indulgence, is a fruit of the Holy Spirit in our lives. (Galatians 5:22-23)
  • Life is found not in lawlessness but in the boundary of good moral laws. God’s commands are a ‘school master’ to guide us in the path of life, not keep us from the good stuff. (Galatians 3:24)
  • It's when we reject the life of the world that we find eternal life. (John 12:25)
  • It’s in service, not power, that we find an honorable life. (John 12:26)

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So, ’suffering’ by resisting sin - even at the cost of being mocked or persecuted -  is a small price to pay in exchange for living in the goodness that God has offered to us. Christ offers life; the Kingdom of God is meant to be a place where humanity flourishes as they are saved by Christ, filled with His Holy Spirit, guided by His word, and connected with His people.

“Would that men might come at last to see that it is quite impossible to reach the thicket of the riches and wisdom of God except by first entering the thicket of much suffering, in such a way that the soul finds there its consolation and desire. The soul that longs for divine wisdom chooses first, and in truth, to enter the thicket of the cross.”  - St. John of the Cross

  • We ‘suffe'r by resisting the desire to gossip, but the fruit is friendship. Our suffering is redemptive rather than destructive.
  • We ‘suffer’ by confronting our addictions, but the fruit is all kinds of health.
  • We ‘suffer’ by forgiving those who are hard to love, but the fruit is internal peace rather than anger and bitterness.
  • We ‘suffer’ by being generous with money we want to keep, but the fruit is that we will worship God, not money.
  • We ‘suffer’ by biting our tongue when we want to lash out, but the benefit is not burning bridges and wounding others.
  • We ‘suffer’ by humbly repenting of our failures, sins and stupidity, but the fruit is maturity.
  • We ‘suffer’ by aligning our sex lives with God’s design, but the fruit is honor and purity.
  • We ‘suffer’ by taking a stand for our faith in the midst of criticism and mockery and even persecution, but the fruit is that we “live the rest of your life on earth controllednot by earthly desires but by the will of God.”

But it’s not just about us. Peter has been making the argument for several chapters that our lives open the door for our words. He’s been saying this for the entire letter, and I think he closes this section in the way he does to remind us that this isn’t just for our good and God’s glory, it’s part of our fulfillment of the Great Commission. Our lives open the door for us to bring the good news of salvation so others, too, can live in the in will of God through the blood of Jesus and the power of his Holy Spirit.

Someday they will have to give an account of themselves to the One who judges the living (those alive in Christ) and the dead (those dead in their sin).[7] This is why the good news had to be brought to those who are now (spiritually) dead so that although they are currently judged by their life in the flesh, they have the opportunity, because of Christ, to live in the spirit in the way that pleases God.

We have the opportunity to preach the good news of the Gospel, a gospel which will lead to a righteous, healthy and holy life lived in the power of the Spirit now and in the glorious presence of Jesus

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[1]3:19 “The three most common views on this passage are: (1) Between Jesus’ death and resurrection, he preached to the dead in Hades, the realm of the dead (the view of many church fathers, citing 4:6)… (2) Christ preached through Noah to people in Noah’s day (the view of many Reformers). (3) Before or (more likely) after his resurrection, Jesus proclaimed triumph over the fallen angels (the view of most scholars today, citing v. 22) Early Christians nearly always used “spirits” for angelic or demonic spirits rather than human ones, except when explicitly stating the latter. The Spirit raised Jesus; by the Spirit (and thus, in this context, presumably after his resurrection) Jesus “made proclamation”; in v. 22, his exaltation declared his triumph over fallen angels. Most ancient Jewish readers believed that Ge 6:1 – 3 refers to angels who fell in Noah’s day (v. 20); after the flood, they were said to be imprisoned (so also 2Pe 2:4Jude 6).”  (NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible)

[2]“Angels and authorities and powers - That is, all creatures and beings… are put under subjection to Jesus Christ…He alone can save; and he alone can destroy…. Well may his enemies tremble, while his friends exult and sing…If angels and authorities and powers be subject to him, then he can do what he will, and employ whom he will... We can conceive nothing too difficult for Omnipotence. This same omnipotent Being is the friend of man. Why then do we not come to himwith confidence, and expect the utmost salvation of which our souls and bodies are capable?”  (Adam Clarke Commentary)

[3]“There are four main interpretations of the "dead" in this passage (cf. comment on 3:18-22). (1) Christ, while in his three-day death, went and preached salvation to all the dead, offering salvation to those who lived in pre-Christian times. (2) Christ, while in his three-day death, went and preached salvation to the just of OT times. (3) The apostles and others on this earth preached the Gospel to those who were spiritually dead. (4) The dead are Christians, who had the Gospel preached to them and who then died (or were put to death). (Expositor's Bible Commentary (Abridged Edition): New Testament) I am partial to #3, because it makes sense in light of the next verse, which is best translated as, “the good news had to be brought to those who are now dead…”

[4]Three possible translations of this confusing verse:

  • "For this indeed was the effect of the preaching of the Gospel to the dead, (the unconverted Gentiles), that some will be punished as carnal men; but others, (those converted to Christianity), lead a spiritual life unto God." - Wakefield.
  • "For this purpose hath the Gospel been preached even to the dead, (i.e. the Gentiles), that although they might be condemned, indeed, by men in the flesh, (their persecutors), yet they might live eternally by God in the Spirit." - Macknight.
  • "For this cause was the Gospel preached to them that were dead; that they who live according to men in the flesh, may be condemned; but that they who live according to God in the Spirit, may live." - Knatchbull.

My rendering seeks to do justice to all the ideas bouncing around :)

[5]"Edward Gibbon (1737-1794) in his Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, said that the following five attributes marked Rome at its end: first, a mounting love of show and luxury (that is, affluence); second, a widening gap between the very rich and the very poor (this could be among countries in the family of nations as well as in a single nation); third, an obsession with sex; fourth, freakishness in the arts, masquerading as originality, and enthusiasms pretending to be creativity; fifth, an increased desire to live off the state. It all sounds so familiar."Francis Schaeffer- How Should We Then Live

[6]Living a lifestyle of sin is notthe good life. We don’t even need to read the Bible to see this. I could talk about a lot of things, but I will just point out the things Peter specifically calls out to demonstrate that when the Bible talks about life, the Bible tells you the truth about life.Even those outside of the church see what the Bible revealed long ago.

[7]“The interpretation of this verse is often linked to 3:19, but the vocabulary of the text and its context differ. There are four main interpretations of the "dead" in this passage (cf. comment on 3:18-22). (1) Christ, while in his three-day death, went and preached salvation to all the dead, offering salvation to those who lived in pre-Christian times. (2) Christ, while in his three-day death, went and preached salvation to the just of OT times. (3) The apostles and others on this earth preached the Gospel to those who were spiritually dead. (4) The dead are Christians, who had the Gospel preached to them and who then died (or were put to death). (Expositor's Bible Commentary (Abridged Edition): New Testament) I am partial to #3, because it makes sense in light of the next verse, which is best translated as, “the good news had to be brought to those who are now dead…”

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To This You Were Called (1 Peter 3:8–3:16)

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I have often heard people ask, “What has God called me to do?” It’s a great question. We want to know if we were made for something; if there is something we can do that really, really matters to God and can have an impact on the world. When I was teaching high school, this was a common dilemma of seniors, but it can apply to any of us who wonder if we are really being the person God intends for us to be. So, I have good news: I am going to tell you this morning what your calling is. But let’s back up first.

The latest section we have been covering began this way:

“Live honorably among the outsiders so that, even when some may be inclined to call you criminals, when they see your good works, they might give glory to God when He returns in judgment.”(1 Peter 2:12)

Then Peter highlighted three groups of people to honor:

  1. Rulers
  2. Masters
  3. Spouse

 

In 1 Peter 3:8, we get to the “finally” - the last admonition in this section on how to live honorably so that our good works will glorify God in the midst of a hostile world. This “finally” is now addressed to “all of you.”[1]

Finally, all of you, be like-minded and show sympathy, love, compassion, and a humble mind to and for each other— not paying back evil with evil or insult with insult, but repaying the bad with a blessing. It was this you were called to do, so that you might inherit a blessing. It is written in the psalms: “If you love life and want to live a good, long time, then be careful what you say. Don’t tell lies or spread gossip or talk about improper things. Walk away from the evil things in the world—just leave them behind, and do what is right, and always seek peace and pursue it. For the Lord watches over the righteous, and His ears are attuned to their prayers. But His face is set against His enemies; He will punish evildoers.”

Maybe not what you were expecting, but there is your calling:

“Be like-minded and show sympathy, love, compassion, and a humble mind to and for each other— not paying back evil with evil or insult with insult, but repaying the bad with a blessing.

This letter has been relentlessly reminding us that God’s transformation of our hearts must result in a transformation of our lives. Specifically, it is molding us into the kind of people who will (or at least should) model righteous relationships: honest, faithful, loving, and sacrificial.

Sometimes when I am prepping I think, “We are going to talk about how to move deeper into the holiness which God gave us yet again? And we are going to focus on how this impacts how crucial our relationships are as an expression of this?” Yep. And we are going to keep covering it until Peter moves on.

[2]Be ye all of one mind (divinely inspired harmony) -  It’s about inner outlook that manifests in outward behavior. Having the heart and mind of Christ changes how we live with each other. It coordinates us. We are in sync with Christ and each other for our good and God’s glory. This does not mean we agree on every secondary issue. This means we unite around the nature of Jesus and the salvation He brings, and then lock arms and work together as a testimony to how the Holy Spirit’s divine inspiration unites in a way that defies human explanation. We can argue, disagree, even wound each other – and then we kneel together at the foot of the cross, repent to God and each other, and extend the forgiveness to others that Jesus gave to us.

  • Politics does not separate us. Even obnoxious people who talk obnoxiously about politics do not separate us, because Jesus is bigger than politics.
  • Social class or IQ or Personality Types don’t separate us, because Jesus is stronger than these differences. We should be able to say, “Wow, we are so different - but Christ is enough.”
  • There are good social issues that we think ought to be prioritized in a Christian’s life – abortion, immigrants and refugees, sex trafficking. There are good ‘in house’ issues that we think are important: singing vs. preaching on a Sunday, where and how and how often to do missions, prioritizing evangelism vs. discipleship. How we prioritize these issues ought not destroy our unity, because if we have the heart and mind of Christ, we are already united in the idea that these issues are important, even if the where we place them on a scale of importance differs.
  • Anger at those who let us down in some way or wound us should not separate us. Now, if it’s actual physical, emotional or spiritual abuse, safe boundaries are necessary, and that includes physical, emotional and spiritual space. But in relationships that have unavoidable and appropriate conflict, anger or frustration at someone else should unite us even more because we walk into it, which means we walk toward the people who are part of the problem and not away from them. (Ideally, there is reconciliation and healing in ALL the scenarios).

Have compassion -  This is being tender-hearted; the biblical language carries the idea of letting our bowels yearn over the distressed and afflicted.

I spent a while being really annoyed at people saying I had “white privilege.” I have never thought of myself as living with privilege. My parents lived below the poverty line from the time I was 10. But I must “let my bowels yearn over the distressed and afflicted.” So I spent time reading and listening to what people who are not white had to say.

It took a while, but eventually the frustration and pain that I had not previously understood began to make sense to me. As a result, a more tender heart formed. I might not have fully understood, but I was certainly better equipped to understand, to feel compassion, to want to draw close rather than distance myself and offer dismissal and judgment.

My calling, as a Christian, is to be tender-hearted in these moments. If people around me are distressed, if they are afflicted, if they are being harmed or dishonored or dismissed – my calling is to have the heart and mind of Christ for them. Purposeful investment (listening, reading) can builc compassion – a tenderness that helped me long for wrongs to be made right.

Now, that doesn’t necessarily mean I will agree with the validity of everything someone else says or feels. But even if I don’t, I have still taken the time to honor them by investing in their lives.

People in pain don’t have to be right or justified in order for me to care.

My calling is to know and seek to understand them, because they are people created in the image of God, and whatever I do to anyone, it’s as if I did it unto Jesus. So I genuinely enter into their world to honor them and bring the transformative truth and grace of Jesus.

Love -  this is philadelphos; brotherly love. Agape love has to do with purposeful sacrifice for the good of the other. It’s a term of commitment and priority. This word is more emotional. Be ‘affectionate friends’ of your brothers and sisters in Christ as if they were beloved family members. If you have been in a family where you have had a good relationship with at least one family member, you know it’s simultaneously beautiful and really difficult. Not every day (or week or month) is a good one, but they are family. You know at the end of the day you are not letting go of each other, and so you figure it out. And on the other side of ‘figuring it out’ you (ideally) know and understand each other better. There is unity.

Humble-minded -   acquire and cultivate a friendly disposition. It’s from a word that means God-reliant rather than self-reliant, and so it never self-exalts. I use to go to a gym with a guy who would say, “Did the room just get smaller?” every time he would walk in (he was joking, btw).

This is so important. If the room gets relationally smaller when we walk in, if we go into conversations or relationships thinking we are all that, it’s not going to go well. If we constantly think, “I’ve got this. I am the smartest person in the room right now,” odds are really good we don’t got this, and we are not.

And in situations like this, walls go up in the people around us. They know when we are so full of ourselves there is no room for anyone else. Even God resists the proud – but He gives grace to the humble. (James 4:6)

Not paying back evil for evil/insult for insult - Purposing, saying, doing nothing but good; and invariably returning good for evil. There’s a movie with a scene where a bouncer is training a group of other bouncers how to de-escalate and resolve tense situations. His advice: “Be nice.” If someone calls you an idiot? Be nice. If someone suggests your mom participates in the world’s oldest profession? Be nice. “When can we stop being nice?” I’ll tell you, he says.

Now, nice isn’t really a biblical word, but kindness - “actions which are eternally and ultimately beneficial for others - is. Here’s what the Bible tells us: be kind. Do not pay back evil and insults with evil and insults. Never stop doing that which is eternally and ultimately beneficial for others, and this can include a boldness and bluntness that we don't think of as ‘nice’.

But it will always be done out of and with love, humility and compassion, and never out of anger, frustration, pride or revenge. It will never overcome evil with evil, but with good.

It was this you were called to do

“This is your calling - your business in life, to do good, and to do good for evil, and to implore God's blessing even on your worst enemies. And this is not only your duty, but your interest; for in so doing you shall obtain God's blessing, even life for evermore.” Adam Clarke

Peter wraps up this section with the following conclusion:

13 Why would anyone harm you if you eagerly do good? 14 Even if you should suffer for doing what is right, you will receive a blessing.[3] Don’t let them frighten you.[4] Don’t be intimidated, 15-16 but exalt Him as Lord in your heart.[5] Always be ready to offer a defense, humbly and respectfully, when someone asks why you live in hope. Keep your conscience clear so that those who ridicule your good conduct in the Anointed and say bad things about you will be put to shame.”

“When someone asks you why you live in hope.” In context, this question apparently comes from people who are astonished at our behavior.

  • Why don’t you take the bait?
  • They started it, why don’t you give them what they’ve got coming?
  • Why didn’t you move in for the sarcastic ‘kill’?
  • How do you absorb all those verbal and emotional punches without lashing out?
  • How is it that you stay so calm when people come at you?
  • How do you stay so gentle with such obnoxious people?
  • I’m pretty sure you love everyone. How is that possible?
  • How is it that you live with such honor for everyone? How is it possible that you do not repay evil for evil?

 

Be ready to talk about Jesus :)

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[1] As you read, note what Paul wrote in Romans 12:9-21:“Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; 10 love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. 11 Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. 12 Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. 13 Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 16 Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. 17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. 18 If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” 20 No, “if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

[2] My definitions and explanations for these are heavily indebted to Adam Clarke’s commentary and the definitions at biblehub.com.

[3] “This seems to refer to  Matthew 5:10, etc. Blessed or happy, are ye when men persecute you, etc. It is a happiness to suffer for Christ; and it is a happiness, because if a man were not holy and righteous the world would not persecute him, so he is happy in the very cause of his sufferings.” - Adam Clarke

[4] “The exhortation may mean, ‘Fear not their gods, they can do you no hurt; and supposing that they curse you by them, yet be not troubled; "He who fears God need have no other fear.’" – Adam Clarke

[5] But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts -  “Entertain just notions of God; of his nature, power, will, justice, goodness, and truth… separate him in your hearts from every thing earthly, human, fickle, rigidly severe, or capriciously merciful… Do not confine him in your conceptions to place, space… heaven, or earth; endeavor to think worthily of the immensity and eternity of his nature, of his omniscience, omnipresence, and omnipotence… conceive of him as infinitely free to act or not act, as he pleases. Consider the goodness of his nature; for goodness, in every possible state of perfection and infinitude, belongs to him. Ascribe no malevolence to him; nor any work, purpose, or decree that implies it… Do not suppose that he can do evil, or that he can destroy when he might save; that he ever did… pass them by without affording them the means of salvation. Thus endeavor to conceive of him; and, by so doing, you separate him from all that is imperfect, human, evil, capricious, changeable, and unkind. Ever remember that he has wisdom without error, power without limits, truth without falsity, love without hatred, holiness without evil, and justice without severity on the one hand or capricious tenderness on the other. In a word, that he neither can be, say, purpose, or do, any thing that is not infinitely just, holy, wise, true, and gracious; that he… has so loved the world, the whole human race, as to give his only-begotten Son to die for them, that they might not perish, but have everlasting life. Thus sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and you will ever be ready to give a reason of the hope that is in you to every serious and candid inquirer after truth.” – Adam Clarke’s Commentary

 

Living With Honor: Part Two (1 Peter 2:12–3:7)

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13 For the Lord’s sake, accept the decrees and laws of all the various human institutions, whether they come from the highest human ruler 14 or agents he sends to punish those who do wrong and to reward those who do well. 15 You see, it is God’s will that by doing what is right and good you should hush the gabbing ignorance of the foolish. 16 Live as those who are free and not as those who use their freedom as a pretext for evil, but live as God’s servants. 17 Respect everyone. Love the community of believers. Reverence God. Honor your ruler. 18 If you are a slave, submit yourself to the master who has authority over you, whether he is kind and gentle or harsh as he deals with you. 19 For grace is clearly at work when a person accepts undeserved pain and suffering and does so because he is mindful of God. 20 For what credit is there in enduring punishment you deserve? But if you do what is right and yet are punished and endure it patiently, God will be pleased with you... The Anointed One suffered for us and left us His example so that we could follow in His steps. [he goes on to describe this more]

3 1-2 In the same way, wives, you should patiently accept the authority of your husbands. This is so that even if they don’t obey God’s word, as they observe your pure respectful behavior, they may be persuaded without a word by the way you live. 3 Don’t focus on decorating your exterior by doing your hair or putting on fancy jewelry or wearing fashionable clothes; let your adornment be what’s inside—the real you, the lasting beauty of a gracious and quiet spirit, in which God delights….

In the same way, husbands, as you live with your wives, understand the situations women face as the weaker vessel. Each of you should respect your wife and value her as an equal heir in the gracious gift of life. Do this so that nothing will get in the way of your prayers.

 

We talked last week about how honoring others for the sake of Christ accomplishes at least four important things:

  • “hushing the gabbing ignorance of the foolish” by doing what is right and good
  • displaying God’s grace
  • “persuading [toward Christ] by the way we live
  • supporting, not undermining, our prayers

Today, we are going to move further into this call to holiness.

 We talk in the United States about a government this is of the people, by the people and for the people. The church is of Christ, to the glory of God, by the power of the Holy Spirit…. and still for the people (the world…think the Great Commission).

The biblical language that explains our presence in the world is that we are to be salt and light. Salt preserves and protects; light shines into the darkness. We are here as Christians to preserve and protect truth, purity, love, peace, and hope to the glory of God and through the power of the Holy Spirit. We are here to shine the glory of Jesus and truth of God’s Word into even the darkest places and hearts in our culture. We are here to be of service to others on God’s behalf.

Honor was our focus last week. This week I want to look at how Peter gave some specific instructions on how to do this that I believe are meant to be applied to us all for the sake of our witness for Christ.

The advice to servants is advice to us all: display the grace God has given to us in the grace we give to others.

There is a parable of servant who is forgiven a debt he could never pay, who then promptly turns around and demands a petty debt his servant owes him (Matthew 18:21-35). His experience of unfathomable grace did nothing in him to bring out a desire to pass that grace on to others. Luke records Jesus teaching about how we are to pass on what God has given to us:

27 “But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. 29 If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. 30 Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. 31 Do to others as you would have them do to you. 32 “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. 33 If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. 34 If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again. 35 But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. 36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. (Luke 6)

It’s easy to love those who love us. Anybody can do that. But what about genuinely loving those who don’t love us? When we do that, we are salt and light: we step into a world that is all about “I will get what is owed to me!” and model grace (undeserved mercy). In the darkness of revenge and hate we shine the light of mercy, grace, and forgiveness.

The advice to wives is advice to us all: develop a gracious and quiet spirit. Biblehub.com defines the Greek used for these terms (2272  hēsýxios) in this way:

  • quiet, still, steady (settled) due to a divinely-inspired inner calmness.
  • "appropriately tranquil" by not misusing (or overusing) words that would stir up needless friction

It’s a God-inspired, Holy Spirit-empowered calm in our attitudes, words, and actions. This is a challenging one, because it has a lot to do with our inner life and the expression of emotions. If the other ones in my list were purposeful actions, this is purposing to have ‘appropriately tranquil’ reactions.

  • Your boss chews you out for something you didn’t do (or did do?)
  • Your kids tell you what a terrible parent you are
  • Your spouse breaks your heart with a poorly chosen word (or perhaps a carefully chosen one)
  • Your parents push your buttons once again
  • Someone publicly shames you on Facebook

How do we respond? Do we have a Holy Spirit-empowered calm in our attitudes, words, and actions? To have a quiet and gracious spirit, we must actively surrender to the work of God within us, and surrender our pride, our anger, our demand for fairness, our need to look good or be right in the eyes of others. “This is so that even if they don’t obey God’s word, as they observe your pure respectful behavior, they may be persuaded without a word by the way you live.”

The advice to husbands is advice to us all: Protect and defend those who are ‘weaker’ than we are. The context of 1 Peter likely had to do with social clout or physical strength (the gymnasiums were for men; women rarely had any kind of significant public voice). I am going to broaden the principle.

If we have areas in which we are stronger than others, that is not an excuse to dominate or bully. It’s the opportunity to serve.

Everyone in this room is strong in some way, in the sense that we all impact someone else’s life. One of the definitions of power is this: “the capacity or ability to direct or influence the behavior of others or the course of events.” That’s all of us. Our very presence directs or influences the behavior of others or the course of events.

We can be strong or have power in a lot of ways that are more specific than just our presence.

  • Have we thought about the power of our eyes? A look of contempt vs. a look of love. A guarded look vs. an open look. Dismissive vs. engaged. Honoring vs. dishonoring.
  • Our posture is powerful. Body language speaks volumes. We can lean in or lean away from people. Even things like wearing headphones or isolating ourselves on a phone can send a very clear message to people.
  • Our clothes are powerful. According to an analysis of “over 30,000 articles on fashion published throughout 2017… ‘power’ is the word that appeared the most frequently.” [1] We can steer someone’s view of us or invite someone’s gaze with a carefully chosen outfit. If I wear a suit vs. my “drug rug” (apparently that’s what my fun new sweater is called by the kids these days), I can change the impression people have of me or encourage them to view me a certain way just by what I wear. A T-shirt with a slogan will invite or direct people’s eyes to the wearer’s chest; so will a skin-tight T-shirt. That’s power. In Chicago and Costa Rica, we are told how our clothes will invite certain responses or send certain messages. There is power involve just in choosing what to wear.

Then there is personality, money, words, prayer, listening, muscles, reputation, intelligence, empathy, spiritual gifts… These are all ways we “direct or influence the behavior of others or the course of events.”

We are more powerful than we know.

Here’s the key biblical principle: The purpose of strength isn’t to be strong. That’s just what strength is. We might say, “I want to be strong or have power,” but then the obvious next question is, “Why?” As a Christian, I can’t just say, “So I can be strong.” Biblically, there is a purpose to our strength. I know this because there is a purpose to God’s strength.

  • Psalm 18:1-2 “The LORD is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer; my God, my strength, in whom I will trust...”
  • Psalm 22:19 “…O LORD, do not be far from Me; O My Strength, hasten to help Me!”
  • Psalm 28:7-8 “The LORD is my strength and my shield; my heart trusted in Him, and I am helped… the LORD is their strength, and He is the saving refuge of His anointed.”
  • 2 Samuel 22:3 “The God of my strength, in whom I will trust; my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold and my refuge…”
  • 2 Thessalonians 3:3 “But the Lord is faithful, who will establish you and guard you from the evil one.”
  • Ephesians 6:10 “Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power.”
  • 2 Corinthians 12:9 “My grace is sufficient for you, because my power is strongest when you are weak.”

God uses His mighty power for our good. He did not design power for us to use to separate us from others or so we can dominate, exploit or use them, or so we can isolate ourselves. The power and strength God gives us is a tool to accomplish His purposes by helping those weaker than us to the glory of the God who has made us strong.

As Christians, we can’t just say…

  • “I want to be rich.” Why? For what purpose? Whom will you protect and build with your money?
  • “I want to be smart.” Why? For what purpose? Whom will you protect and build with the knowledge you gain? How does what you now know express itself in loving care of others?
  • “I want to be a powerful communicator.” That’s not enough. Powerful communicators can learn very quickly how to bully or seduce others with their words. I’ve said before how I had to come to grips with the reality that I can overwhelm people with my words. I have to keep this question in front of me: How am I using my words to protect and build those around me? (By the way, that means speaking truth with grace and humility. The solution is not to stop communicating. It’s to use the power of words in a godly manner)
  • “I want to own my own business.” Why? So nobody can tell you what to do? That’s not an option. God has things for you to do. If you are a Christian, your life is God’s. Everything you have belongs to Him, and that includes your time. I suspect God wants you to use the power over your schedule for the good of those around you, especially those who have some degree of powerlessness in your life. Maybe you have time to volunteer more. Maybe you have time to fill in for your employees occasionally and give them a surprise break.
  • “I want influence. I want to be known.” It can’t be just for the sake of being known. How will you use your influence to protect and defend?
  • “I want my kids to immediately respond to me.” Why? Is this for your sake or theirs? Why do you want that power? Is it to make your life easier, or is this actually part of a very purposeful plan for their good, to protect them from…what?
  • “I want the power to prophecy, or speak in tongues, or heal.” Why? Who do you plan to serve with that gift? Paul is clear in his letter to Corinth that these are gifts of service, not gifts meant to cement authority or build one’s own reputation.

Do you remember why Peter told husbands to honor their wives? “So nothing would hinder their prayers.” If I am understanding this correctly, Peter means a husband will undermine what he is praying for if he misuses his strength. He can pray all he wants that God is glorified, but it will be hypocritical and grating if he is living in a way that makes it so that Christ is not.

This is the ultimate purpose of all of our power: to point people to Christ, to use our power to serve in order to point toward Jesus, God in the flesh, who served us at such great cost.

From “All The Poor And Powerless,” by David Mathis: [2]  You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich. (2 Cor. 8:9)

 Christianity is not for the self-sufficient. It’s not a religion for the rich and the strong. Jesus didn’t come to comfort the well-to-do and rally those who have their lives all in order. He didn’t come to gather the good, but the bad. Jesus came not to call the righteous, but sinners (Mark 2:17). This is one of the great paradoxes of the gospel.

 It’s the poor he makes rich, the weak he makes strong, the foolish he makes wise, the guilty he makes righteous, the dirty he makes clean, the lonely he loves, the worthless he values, the lost he finds, the have-nots who become haves. Not mainly in this age, but in the new creation to come. It is not the emotionally endowed that he blesses, but the poor in spirit (Matt. 5:3). It’s not the buoyant and boisterous he comforts, but those who mourn (Matt. 5:4). Not the prideful, but the meek (Matt. 5:5).

 He prophesies in Hosea 2:23, “I will have mercy on No Mercy, and I will say to Not My People, ‘You are my people.’” God loves to show himself strong by being the strength of the weak, by showing mercy to those who otherwise receive no mercy. To take people that typically would hear “not my people,” and make them his people…

There is a great beauty to our God being the strength of the weak, and the riches of the poor. This is truly good news to those who of us who will acknowledge how needy we really are, how weak are hearts can be, how poor we really are in spirit. What good news that we have a God like this: who takes the foolish, the weak, and the lowly—like us—and makes us into trophies of his grace, for our joy and for his glory. ___________________________________________________

[1] https://www.wmagazine.com/story/fashion-word-of-2017-was-power-woke

[2] https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/all-the-poor-and-powerless/

 

Living With Honor (1 Peter 2:12–3:7)

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WATCH THE FACEBOOK LIVE STREAM HERE LISTEN TO THE PODCAST HERE

 

I spent three summers in Kentucky at a Mennonite bible camp. One of the great parts of this was getting to experience Appalachian life, which was very different from my life in a farm community in Ohio. There are lots of stereotypes, but actually being there and meeting people gave me the opportunity to see for myself what the lifestyle and the people were like.

I was an outsider, right? I was not from there. Some of the language did not make immediate sense to me (what’s a tarpin?); some of the leisure activities were knew (catching crawdads for a meal); even going and playing pick up basketball was different, because on-the-court rules were different

But as I got to know people, I loved them and I loved it there. Now, whenever I see a movie or read a book set in Appalachia (like Justified Hillbilly Elegy), I have a context, a measure. How those around me lived set my mind toward them in a particular way. The people I got to know there represented where and who they were in a way that was compelling to me as an outsider.

Being ‘outsiders’ is a universal experience in that we all go places and are put in situations where we not comfortable because it’s not our place or not our people. It’s as simple as shopping or eating out somewhere new; vacationing somewhere new; working for new company; going to a new school. And in all these situation, you will likely have some preconceived ideas of what the experience or the people will be like (or should be like), and in every situation, your experience will confirm or change what you thought to be true. And when you leave, you will tell others what you learned.

After Peter talks about our holiness as followers of Jesus for a chapter and a half, he reminds us that we are in this challenging situation of being ‘resident aliens’ in this world, but rather than discourage us, that should encourage us to embrace a fantastic opportunity 

12” Live honorably among the outsiders so that, even when some may be inclined to call you criminals, when they see your good works, they might give glory to God when He returns in judgment.”

Note: These are good works designed not to earn salvation or get brownie points in church circles. This is about bringing glory to God by living with honor. This is life as a witness: displaying the redeemed life that Jesus offers to a broken world in such a way that God’s glory at work in us is clearly seen. By doing this, they can break stereotypes and change the way the Greeks and Romans thought of followers of Jesus, which meant they would change the way they thought about the Jesus they were following.

I want to talk about what this looked like for the early church, and then how it applies to our lives today. So history first for a context, then the application.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * ** * * * * * *

The ‘crimes’ of the early church involved the potential disruption of social hierarchy of authority in Greek and Roman culture: rulers above citizens, free above slaves, husbands above wives. The Romans thought it mirrored the life of the gods, and that the gods would bless Rome to the degree that the people mirrored their life.

As far back as the fourth century BC, there is record that the Greeks viewed the household to be a miniature and crucial version of the order found in the realm of the gods. Aristotle even identified the three key relationships within the household that mattered: “The smallest and primary parts of the household are master and slave, husband and wife, father and children.”  These developed into “household codes”.

Aristotle believed free men were by nature intended to rule over their wives, children, and slaves because they were created by the gods to be better. His writing is pretty clear on this point, noting that “the one gender is far superior to the other in just about every sphere,” and that “the slave has not deliberative faculty at all; the woman has, but it is without authority, and the child has, but it is immature.” 

An upper class Greek or Roman husband was the head of the family (like Augustus was the head of Rome, and Zeus was the head of the gods). His word was law. His wife, kids, and slaves were all possessions. He could kill his children or divorce his wife on a whim. If a wife did not meet the needs of her husband in any way, she could be beaten.

The reason for marriage was primarily for wives to bear legitimate children and to keep the family line going. Athenaeus explained the set up: “Is not a ‘companion’ more kindly than a wedded wife? Yes, far more, and with very good reason.  For the wife, protected by law, stays at home in proud contempt, whereas the harlot knows that a man must be bought by her fascinations or she must go out and find another.”

The double standard for women is remarkable. In the face of this behavior for men, “Good Roman wives demonstrate their character by respecting and honoring their husbands, by working faithfully to manage the domestic affairs of the household.”[1] Piety, chastity and modesty were so important for women that the words were often given abbreviations on the tombstones of women.

Upwards to 2/3 of those living in Roman society were slaves of some sort. The word for ‘slave’ that Peter uses is more specifically a house servant, of which many were probably in the church. (When Paul wrote the letter to the Ephesians, almost everyone he addressed specifically ‘were of the household’ of someone.[2] Slaves loved the church, because it offered honor that was unheard of before. Read the link at footnote #2)

They could own property, achieve social advancement, and even be released or purchase their freedom. They were often highly educated: doctors, professors, teachers, administrators, public servants and even policemen. They often earned their freedom by the age of 30 or after an average of 10 years of work.[3]

Still, a master owned a slave like property and was free to be kind or cruel. The freed people scorned anyone who did not have freedom. Aristotle said slaves were “living tools,“ slaves by nature, almost like animals.  The Romans had a saying translated as “a slave has no persona,” no personality.

Christians were already finding themselves butting heads with both the culture and the law as they came to grips with what it meant to follow Christ. They were now part of a “new humanity” in which the divisions so crucial to the Greeks and Romans were meant to dissolve in mutual love toward Christ and each other. For example, Jew and Gentile, slave and free, men and women, were now sharing common meals together in their meetings (1 Corinthians 11). This was unheard of. Meals separated the free men from everybody else. While the Romans passed laws forcing widows to get remarried, the early church helped the widows (1 Timothy 5:3-16) without insisting they get remarried.

This was not sitting well with Rome. The early Christians were called “haters of humanity” because they challenged the structures that the Greeks and Romans believe brought stability to the nation and honor to the gods. So when the husband/father became a follower of Christ, his conversion brought him and his household shame and suspicion in the eyes of the Romans and Greeks. They were pretty sure this man and his family were on the verge of being traitors to their country, the gods and the order of the universe.  

So Peter has his work cut out. The early Christians needed to show ‘outsiders’ who they really were. They had to show the worth of Christ in the integrity of their lives. In the portion of the letter we are reading today, Peter is going to offer a way for believers to enter into the structures of a hostile culture and apply a gospel of love and servanthood that reflected the heart of Christ.

 

RULERS

13 For the Lord’s sake, accept the decrees and laws of all the various human institutions, whether they come from the highest human ruler 14 or agents he sends to punish those who do wrong and to reward those who do well. 15 You see, it is God’s will that by doing what is right and good you should hush the gabbing ignorance of the foolish. 16 Live as those who are free and not as those who use their freedom as a pretext for evil, but live as God’s servants. 17 Respect everyone. Love the community of believers. Reverence God. Honor your ruler.

 MASTERS

18 If you are a slave, submit yourself to the master who has authority over you, whether he is kind and gentle or harsh as he deals with you. 19 For grace is clearly at work when a person accepts undeserved pain and suffering and does so because he is mindful of God. 20 For what credit is there in enduring punishment you deserve? But if you do what is right and yet are punished and endure it patiently, God will be pleased with you. 21-22 For you were called to this kind of life, as Isaiah said, He did no wrong deed, and no evil word came from His mouth. The Anointed One suffered for us and left us His example so that we could follow in His steps. [he goes on to describe this more][4]

 SPOUSES

3 1-2 In the same way, wives, you should patiently accept the authority of your husbands. This is so that even if they don’t obey God’s word, as they observe your pure respectful behavior, they may be persuaded without a word by the way you live. 3 Don’t focus on decorating your exterior by doing your hair or putting on fancy jewelry or wearing fashionable clothes; let your adornment be what’s inside—the real you, the lasting beauty of a gracious and quiet spirit, in which God delights….In the same way, husbands, as you live with your wives, understand the situations women face as the weaker vessel.[5] Each of you should respect your wife and value her as an equal heir in the gracious gift of life. Do this so that nothing will get in the way of your prayers.

 

Paul is telling the church how to live so their perceived criminality or wrong-doing will not get them arrested and will not be a stumbling block to those who are far from Christ. In fact, if they do this right, God will be glorified.

  • They will obey the rulers to “hush the gabbing ignorance of the foolish.” But they will do more than that: they will use their freedom to live as God’s servants and even honor those who dishonor them.
  • Servants will patiently obey their masters to display God’s grace, always doing right and enduring wrong, trusting in God to make things right when He judges.[6]
  • Wives, “demonstrate your character…respect and honor your husband” (the Greek/Roman ideal) so unbelieving husbands are “persuaded [toward Christ] without a word by the way you live.”
  • Husbands, treat your wives with gentleness and respect so your prayers will not be hindered (possibly the prayers for their conversion, or to avoid being hypocritical. I tend to think it has to do with the genuine conversion of a wife who would have ‘converted’ if her husband did, since that is consistent with the overall topic being emphasized in this section.)

In Christ, there is no slave or free, Gentile or Jew, male or female – but in Rome, there is. So while the NT writers value how the radical nature of the Kingdom of God erases hierarchies of value and worth, here Peter is telling people in a particular time and place how to live as effective witnesses in a world that holds remarkably different values.[7]

  • Everybody - honor rulers, don’t just obey them.
  • Servants – honor your masters by serving your masters in a way that your patient suffering and grace models the patient suffering and grace of Jesus.
  • Wives - be modest, respectful and honoring of your husband to delight God, and to win him over if he is an unbeliever.
  • Husbands, your honoring of your wife removes a stumbling block that could be at odds with your prayers for your wife’s genuine conversion.[8]

This is all about living honorably as a witness. This is all about honoring God by honoring others, living in a way that gains the respect of your culture while simultaneously pointing toward God to reveal the power of His salvation and love to the world.

So that has me thinking. How do we witness to our culture today? By honoring everyone properly in order to:

  • “hush the gabbing ignorance of the foolish” by doing what is right and good
  • display God’s grace
  • “persuaded [toward Christ] without a word by the way you live”
  • support, not undermine, our prayers for the salvation of the lost

I’d like this to be the focus of our thoughts and prayer this week. Online, at work, in our homes, at church, in every conversation we have: Did we bring honor to God by honoring others? And then, add the prayer of the surrendered and desperate: “Oh, dear God, help me to honor you by properly honoring others.”

__________________________________________________________________________

[1]Russ Dudrey, “SUBMIT YOURSELVES TO ONE ANOTHER" A SOCIO-HISTORICAL LOOK AT THE HOUSEHOLD CODE OF EPHESIANS 5:15-6:9.”

http://studyres.com/doc/14271524/-submit-yourselves-to-one-another---a-socio\

[2] “Slavery And Early Christianity.” earlychristians.org. http://www.earlychristians.org/index.php/texts/studies-and-documentations/item/1802-slavery-and-the-early-christianity/1802-slavery-and-the-early-christianity

[3] For more insight on slavery, particularly how Paul addresses it in his letter to Philemon, see “The Best Way To Change A Culture” (https://clgonline.org/best-way-change-culture-insights-philemon/). Also, “Runners and Rulers” (https://clgonline.org/runners-rulers-insights-philemon/) and “A Place To Call Home” (https://clgonline.org/place-call-home-insights-philemon/)

[4] Paul gives the same reason why slaves should be obedient: for the sake of God’s reputation (1 Timothy 6:1; Titus 2:9-10) Read more at http://www.earlychristians.org/index.php/texts/studies-and-documentations/item/1802-slavery-and-the-early-christianity/1802-slavery-and-the-early-christianity

[5] Much has been made of the ‘weaker vessel’ comment. Roman, Greek and even Jewish men were pretty sure women were inferior by nature. Not so, says Peter. They may have less strength (physically or in social status/power at the time), but they are not a lesser or inferior person by nature or in the eyes of God.

[6] Other places Christian masters are challenged about their new responsibility as Christians, but that’s a different sermon.

[7] See the following sermons for more information:

[8] “Where there was no reciprocated respect, each recognizing the high vocation of the other, there could be no union of heart and soul in prayer.” (Cambridge Bible For Schools and Colleges)

Aliens And Exiles (Part 2)

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YOU CAN WATCH THE FACEBOOK LIVE STREAM HERE “Beloved, remember you don’t belong in this world. You are resident aliens living in exile, so resist those desires of the flesh that battle against the soul.” (1 Peter 2:11)

Last week, I rolled out the idea that there are at least three things we should do as a result of being aliens and strangers. 

  • CULTIVATE IT – SO WE ARE ALWAYS AWARE WE ARE ‘SET APART’
  • OWN IT – TO AVOID COMPROMISING OUR LIFE AND OUR ALLEGIANCE
  • USE IT - TO MOTIVATE US TOWARD LOVING ENGAGEMENT

 We talked last week about cultivating it: being aware of how the values and standards of the world are not the values and standards of our true home. I want to talk this week about why it is important that we own it, and how we can use it for our good and God’s glory.

OWN IT – TO AVOID COMPROMISING OUR LIFE AND OUR WITNESS

What I mean by this is that we walk into that strangeness rather than try to avoid it. If we don’t keep it in front of us as a very present reality, I think there are two potential dangers.

First, we will begin to compromise the Christian integrity of our lives. We become comfortable in a world that is not our home, and eventually we will live by the standards of the world. If it doesn’t feel strange and uncomfortable, why would we avoid it?

  1. We hear message after message about how money and things are our RIGHT and they will lead to the good life, and how dare anyone do anything to take what's ours – and if that feels comfortable, it will become comfortable, and we will begin to live in that world - a world that is remarkably at odds with every biblical principle[1] about how to use and view wealth and things.[2]
  2. We hear over and over that we should follow our heart or be true to ourselves, when biblically speaking those are both terrible ideas.[3] We are to make sure our heart follows God’s heart; we are supposed to be true to Christ. Now, as God works in us, our hearts become more reliable and our true selves become more Christ-like. But no matter where we are in our spiritual maturity, we should follow and be true to Christ, not ourselves.
  3. We are told that we are free to do anything we want and nobody should tell us what to do, but those are not biblical notions. Biblical freedom is freedom from the enslavement of sin and into the freedom to follow Jesus. God absolutely tells us what to do and who to be, and we are embedded in a community of God’s people who are supposed to speak into our lives not just to encourage us, but to reprimand us in line with God’s Word. I am guided toward what I ought to do all the time by the Bible, the Holy Spirit, and the counsel of people around me who care about me. It’s life in the Kingdom of God. [4]
  4. We are told all the time what rights we have, when the Bible talks constantly about what responsibilities we have toward others because we are God’s ambassadors to people created in God’s image.
  • My culture tells me it’s my right to say virtually anything I want to say; the Bible tells me the tongue is a fire, and my words have the power of life and death, and that I dare not have bitter words come out of my mouth. [5]
  • My culture tells me privacy is a right; the Bible does not. If anything, it talks all the time about hidden things being revealed, and the importance of accountability and confession. Keelan Cook wrote: "Sin loves secrecy. It is precisely in these dark, hidden corners of our lives that sin makes its home. It lurks in the shadows of our lives, and when we discover it is there, it is all the harder to reveal those secret places to anyone, especially people in the church. Sin’s love of darkness continually pushes us away from real community. It seeks to isolate us from that vital source of growth.The church is a wellspring of life to the Christian, and as soon as we isolate ourselves from transparent, real fellowship, our spiritual self begins to shrivel. But if we submit to an open, honest life in the light of this Christian community, it will make all the difference.First, that light will reveal all of our evils and force us to confront them head on in the power of the Holy Spirit. That community will then be our helper, our fighter, our support in the battle against our own self and the grip of sin in our lives. Finally, with nothing to hide, we will come together as an actual community and taste the blessings of true fellowship.[6]
  • My culture tells me I have the right to pursue happiness; the Bible tells me I have the responsibility to pursue holiness, which may or may not lead to happiness. Some of the most holy people in history suffered intensely for their faith. They may have experienced a peace that passes understanding and even found the ability to rejoice in the midst of it, but that is a very different thing indeed from our culture’s shallow definition of happiness. [7]
  • My cultural values tell me I have the right to be in a relationship where I am independent and strong, and where my wife completes me and makes me happy. I saw a motto recently: “Fall in love with someone who doesn’t make you think love is hard.” Really? Love is always hard. It will cost you your life. The Bible tells me that I must love my wife to point of giving my life for her, because that’s what Jesus did. Love is hard. My wife and I to submit to, serve, honor and respect each other, not because its easy, or we complete each other, but because Jesus demands it. [8]

So, if we aren’t careful, we can compromise our personal integrity as followers of Jesus.

[embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Uc9gfNW5otE[/embed]

"With love in your eyes, you confront the lies, the double standards, and the party ties, My one affiliation is with your name; to share your kingdom and to share your shame." - Rez Band, "Alienated"

 

Second, we can begin to compromise the purity of our allegiance to Christ. I have to talk politics here. Stick with me. I don’t really want to talk about this, but I think as your pastor I have to. This won’t be about President Trump or Hillary. This is about the reality of living as strangers no matter who you voted for.

Here’s what our political parties have in common: they are parties of Empire, even if there are Christians in them, and that ought to make us uneasy. We ought to feel like strangers at some point. Not always, of course. It's not like they can’t or don’t align themselves with biblical stances that feel a bit like home to us.

But the parties are not church denominations; as has been said often in the past year, we don’t elect pastors at any level. If nothing feels strange and foreign to you in your party or your candidate, you aren’t looking closely enough. We have to be honest about this, or we run the danger of giving a whole-hearted allegiance to something or someone that does not deserve it.

No party has a platform on the economy, immigration, education, social services, the military, patriotism, health care, free speech, gun control or the conflict in the Middle East that should make Christians completely comfortable.

Our political parties are not the church, even if Christians are a part of them. They use fundamental principles and ideals that are not formed or informed by Christianity. At best, it is a mix of Christian values brought by Christian politicians and non-Christian values brought by those who are not. It ought to feel strange to some degree and to varying degrees (depending no what a party stands for in different areas).[9]

There is only one place I can without reservation give my allegiance; only one man in whom I can without reservation put my trust.; only one person who is above any criticism I have to offer. That is Jesus Christ.

If I am not known as a man whose first allegiance is to Jesus and the principles and values of His Kingdom, I am failing to be the ambassador God has called me to be. We must own our strangeness, or we will compromise our personal integrity and our public witness.

 USE IT: TO MOTIVATE US TOWARD LOVING ENGAGEMENT

So what do we do as aliens and strangers? Peter is clear: "Live honorably among the outsiders so that, even when some may be inclined to call you criminals, when they see your good works, they might give glory to God when He returns in judgment."

So this awareness is not meant to make us disengage; if anything, it should motivate us to live as faithful ambassadors in a world in desperate need of the gospel. Here was the direction the prophets gave to the Jews in Babylonian exile:

“Build houses—make homes for your families... Plant gardens, and eat the food you grow there. Marry and have children; find wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, so that they can have children. During these years of captivity, let your families grow and not die out. Pursue the peace and welfare of the city where I sent you into exile. Pray to Me, the Eternal, for Babylon because if it has peace, you will live in peace.” (Jeremiah 29:5-11)

That’s a very specific order for the Israelites, so let’s consider how this command has played out over church history in other situation. In the early church, Christians were very good at redeeming things within their cultures, moving in and bringing with them the peace of God.

Modern Christianity has done this as well.

  • Christmas, Easter and Halloween and Earth Day have a mixed history, but the church has always found ways to take cultural celebrations and direct them toward God.
  • We move into entertainment, entering into popular music and popular forms of storytelling and using that vehicle for the glory of God.
  • We enter into the flow of art and fashion and make things that reflect biblical values.
  • We are politicians (we have the freedom to support legislation the reflects Kingdom principles in our country); we are businessmen, students, teachers, lawyers, laborers…
  • We use the platforms we have to be a faithful presence. To go back to the abortion issue, I can post videos of ultrasounds (I did last week, in fact). The Senate might not protect a 20-week-old unborn child, but I can show a video of a 20-week-old unborn child. I can make my FB wall feel like home, at least for a little bit.
  • We can get involved in our communities. I can support Pregnancy Care Center and Single MOMMs ministry to help make it easier for a mother to decide to keep her baby. I can volunteer with Goodwill Inn or Safe Harbor or Thomas Judd to be involved in helping those in need. I can support ministries that show love to the world because they help to implement one of the most important values of home.

Christians have always moved into a world that was not their home and brought the redemptive presence of Jesus with them. In showing how one particular, practical thing could be redeemed and used for the glory of God, they pointed toward the reason Jesus came: so that we could be redeemed and used for the glory of God. A faithful presence that brought about social change wasn’t the end goal; preaching salvation to a lost world is the highest calling we have. But the faithful, holy presence knocked down barriers and opened doors to the Gospel.

That’s why we don’t retreat from our culture. We embed ourselves in it. The first Christians didn’t move out of the neighborhood once they became disciples of Christ. They were just aware, in ways they weren’t before, that all around them was a broken and dying world that in some ways was terribly at odds with their new citizenship – and it broke their hearts.

There is a popular phrase in exorcisms (at least in the movies): “The Power of Christ compels you!” In this case, the love of Christ compelled them to be deeply engaged in spreading the goodness of life in the Kingdom of Heaven, not just in good deeds that will cause other to give glory to God, but using that influence to spread the heart of the gospel: the message of salvation from sins and peace with God. [10]

So our heart should be broken so that we live faithful, prayerful, engaged lives embedded where we live, and pursue the good of the city for the glory of God.

[embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BY6VAy9y_iQ[/embed]

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[1] Mark 4:19 “…but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful.”

Proverbs 23:4-5” Do not wear yourself out to get rich;  do not trust your own cleverness. Cast but a glance at riches, and they are gone, for they will surely sprout wings and fly off to the sky like an eagle.”

Proverbs 11:28 “He who trusts in his riches will fall, but the righteous shall flourish as the green leaf.”

Luke 8:14 “The seed that fell among thorns stands for those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by life’s worries, riches and pleasures, and they do not mature.”

Ecclesiastes 5:10 “Whoever loves money never has enough;    whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with their income. This too is meaningless.”

Read more at https://www.biblemoneymatters.com/bible-verses-about-money-what-does-the-bible-have-to-say-about-our-financial-lives/

 

[2] One example of how we take economic ideas for granted: did you know the concept of retirement is only about 100 years old? Yet now we order our lives around it. I’m not saying that makes it wrong; it's just a concept we take for granted that Christians for 2,000 years did not. https://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2014/10/how-retirement-was-invented/381802/

 

[3] Jeremiah 17:9  The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?”

Proverbs 3:5-7 “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord, and turn away from evil.”

Matthew 15:19  “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander.”

Proverbs 28:26  “Whoever trusts in his own mind is a fool, but he who walks in wisdom will be delivered.”

See also https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/don-t-follow-your-heart

 

[4] Galatians 5:1For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.”

Galatians 5:13  “For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. “

1 Peter 2:16  “Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God.”

Romans 8:1-4  “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.”

See also https://clgonline.org/freedom-slavery-john-8/

 

[5] https://www.biblestudytools.com/topical-verses/bible-verses-about-the-tongue/

[6] http://blog.keelancook.com/2012/08/a-right-to-secrecy.html#more-736

[7] https://www.exploregod.com/happy-or-holy

[8] https://www.theknot.com/content/bible-verses-about-marriage

[9] Practical example: The Republican Party has generally stood for the pro-life values I hold, and often introduces legislation designed to protect the unborn. In that sense, they have built a platform that in this particular area has reminded me of my true home. But this past week, a Republican-controlled House, Senate, and Presidency fully funded Planned Parenthood after insisting they would divert the money to Community Health Centers. A Republican-controlled Senate failed to pass a ban on abortions after 20 weeks even though they had the numbers and the President said he would sign it. A Supreme Court that leans conservative right now keeps knocking down pro-life legal arguments, [9] so even if the Senate has passed the ban, I doubt it would have held up. Though the Republican Party’s official platform on this issue still feels much, much closer to home than any other party’s, I was reminded that I am a stranger in the strange land of Washington, DC.

[10] Look at Joseph, at Daniel and his friends. They stayed engaged, they got involved - but they lived holy lives in the midst of an unholy culture. What did Paul do? Moved even deeper into Gentile culture to spread the gospel. He studied their philosophers and entertainers; he went to their cultural centers. Then he used that to make connections with his audience to talk about Jesus (Acts 17).

Aliens in Exile (Part 1)

2-11-Sermon.jpg

LISTEN TO THE SERMON HERE WATCH THE FACEBOOK LIVE STREAM HERE

But you are a chosen people, set aside to be a royal order of priests, a holy nation, God’s own; so that you may proclaim the wondrous acts of the One who called you out of inky darkness into shimmering 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 it. Beloved, remember you don’t belong in this world. You are resident aliens living in exile,[i] so resist those desires of the flesh that battle against the soul. Live honorably among the outsiders so that, even when some may be inclined to call you criminals, when they see your good works, they might give glory to God when He returns in judgment. (1 Peter 2:9-12)

I like this translation of verse 11:

Divinely loved ones [loved by God], I beg of you, please, as aliens and those who have settled down alongside of pagan [unsaved] people should, be constantly holding yourselves back from the passionate cravings which are fleshly by nature [fleshly in that they come from the totally depraved nature], cravings of such a nature that, like an army carrying on a military campaign, they are waging war, hurling themselves down upon your soul…” (Wuest)

 

Strangeness.

I’ve heard people say before that when people outside the church look at us oddly or think we are weird, that’s cool, because we are strange. That’s….not what this means J It means we ought to feel like strangers in the sense that we don’t belong here. This world and this country is not home. We can feel it. We know it. I’ve sensed it in a practical sense before (Hazard County, KY and Costa Rica – two places I love but make me aware that I grew up in a different environment); I’ve felt it strongly in a spiritual sense too (New Orleans).

 I have also had revelatory moments over the years when God made it clear to me that I was living my life in a way that reflected a great deal of comfort with the values and ideals of my culture. I was living as if I was very much at home in the world rather than an alien and stranger.

  • Stuff (my comfort vs. contentedness and generosity)
  • Life priorities (our kids, for example)
  • Hollywood romance (love is always a honeymoon)
  • Projects over people (build reputation or build relationships?)
  • Working vs. surrendering (I can do it vs. God must do it)
  • Fighting vs. loving (“Put away your sword, Peter…”)
  • Here’s what you owe me (rights) vs. here’s what I owe you (responsibilities)

So God has given me plenty of opportunities to see the war that is being waged for my soul. When it comes to embracing our alien presence, I think we need to do three things to move more deeply into the holiness God has given us:

  • CULTIVATE IT – SO WE ARE ALWAYS AWARE WE ARE ‘SET APART’
  • OWN IT – TO AVOID COMPROMISING OUR LIFE AND OUR ALLEGIANCE
  • USE IT - TO MOTIVATE US TOWARD LOVING ENGAGEMENT

Next week, we will talk about owning it and using it. Today, let's talk about cultivating it.

[embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BhPVOyzZBqk[/embed]

 

CULTIVATE ITSO WE ARE ALWAYS AWARE WE ARE ‘SET APART’

Believers "must cultivate the mindset of exiles. What this does mainly is sober us up and wake us up so that we don't drift with the world and take for granted that the way the world thinks and acts is the best way. We don't assume that what is on TV is helpful to the soul; we don't assume that the priorities of advertisers is helpful to the soul; we don't assume that the strategies and values of business and industry are helpful to the soul. We don't assume that any of this glorifies God. We stop and we think and we consult the Wisdom of our own country, heaven, and we don't assume that the conventional wisdom of this age is God's wisdom. We get our bearings from God in his word.

 When you see yourself as an alien and an exile with your citizenship in heaven, and God as your only Sovereign, you stop drifting with the current of the day. You ponder what is good for the soul and what honors God in everything: food, cars, videos, bathing suits, birth control, driving speeds, bed times, financial savings, education for the children, unreached peoples, famine, refugee camps, sports, death, and everything else. Aliens get their cue from God and not the world." (The War Against the Soul and the Glory of God :: Desiring God)

Cultivating the mindset of exiles.

May I tell a story about all of us?

Our alarm goes off. We check our messages and catch up on last night’s scores. We watch the news and hear about the latest shooting, the latest memo, the latest #metoo moment as carefully chosen and edited leading stories direct our thoughts about our world. We head out to a job to make money and maybe get a raise or a promotion and make more money so we can get all the things we need – and quite a few of the things we just want.

 We turn on the radio on the way, and song after song tells us that money, sex and power are the secret to the good life – and most importantly, we need to do it OUR WAY. We pass billboard after billboard on our way to spend money on things we have been convinced we need because it’s important we buy and sell stuff if we want a healthy economy – and if we want to be happy. 

We go to schools that teach us truth is what we want it to be, and that birth control make sex safe, that tolerance is more important than truth, that science is the only source of truth, and that the only sin is thinking you are right and others are wrong.

We tune in to talk shows and news programs that insist we make decisions about all kinds of issues - immigration, taxes, trade, Wall Street, housing, public assistance – based on what’s good for me.

 We read or listen to what Oprah and Drs Phil and Oz say about how to parent our kids. We stop by for coffee with friends to get some advice about our troubled marriages or jobs or friendships, and they assure us that the most important thing is that we be happy, and that we are perfect just the way we are.

 We check our messages on the way home because Facebook and Google have masterfully engineered a product that relentlessly demands our attention, so we sit at the stop light and see how many people liked our last post so that dopamine hit will reward us one more time. We walk into the house doing the same. Our kids are so used to it they don't come to meet us anymore because they know our priorities.

That night, we plan our 401K yet again. We need X amount of dollars to retire well – and we are determined to retire in comfort and do whatever we want. We turn on the TV and watch a show about broken homes and sinful people played off for laughs. We follow it up with a movie in which we bond with the superspy who leaves a trail of dishonored women and dead men in his wake.

We wrap up the day by reading up on the voter’s guide for one of our nation’s parties, and if polls are correct, here’s the top priority of evangelicals in the United States: the economy (30%). Abortion was the least likely topic to be picked as the top priority (1%). When evangelicals (as a group) enter the voting booth, our money matters more to us than anything else.

Christians in the early church were aliens (passing through) and strangers (not at home) in their Roman empire. This has remained true of every Christian in every empire, including us in ours. Our empire, in spite of all the good things in its history, has values that are not the values of our true home. I googled “American Values” this week and found a very consistent core identified by colleges and organizations prepping foreign students, visitors, or immigrants for acclimation to American culture.

It’s different than if you read a list of the ideals on which America was founded, but I think it’s a better representation of how we actually live as a culture, because colleges and immigration groups aren’t trying to prep students for what America hoped to be. It’s prepping them for how America is, because for most foreigners, even Western ones, there is a real culture shock as they experience a clash of values. Here’s what kept showing up over and over and over.[1] [2]

  • Personal Control Over Our Destiny (we can do whatever we put our mind to do)
  • Freedom (we control our lives)[3]
  • Change (the new is valued over tradition)
  • Time And Its Control (Schedules Over Relationships)
  • Equality and Informality (vs. deference to rank, position or authority)
  • Individuality and Privacy (self over group)
  • Self-help/self-reliance (‘the self-made man or woman’)
  • Competition and Free Enterprise (competition valued more the cooperation)
  • Future Orientation/Progress (‘devalue the past and unconscious of the present’)
  • Action/Work oriented (doing vs. being)
  • Directness (no concern about allowing others to “save face’)
  • Materialism (getting things is more important that building relationship)

So here’s the reality of every day living in the United States:

  • I enter a work world that is influenced by empire ideals…
  • I watch the news on a TV influenced by empire ideals…
  • I turn on a radio influenced by empire ideals…
  • I enter an economy influenced by empire ideals….
  • I teach a class at a school influenced by empire ideals….
  • I hear a discussion of current events influenced by empire ideals….
  • I parent my kids influenced by empire ideals…
  • I relate to my wife influenced by empire ideals…
  • I use social media influence by empire ideals…
  • I think about my money under the influence of empire ideals…
  • I watch a TV show influenced by empire ideals….
  • I support political parties that are parties of the empire…

We ought to feel like aliens and strangers everywhere we go. Our problem is that it feels like home to us.

Gallup and Barna: “evangelical Christians are as likely to embrace lifestyles every bit as hedonistic, materialistic, self-centered, and sexually immoral as the world in general. Every day, the church is becoming more like the world it allegedly seeks to change…" African Christian and famous missions scholar Professor Lamin Sanneh told Christianity Today recently that "the cultural captivity of Christianity in the West is nearly complete.”[2]

We have to cultivate our sense of being strangers.

  • Every time we go through the checkout line at Meijers and see the magazines that objectify women and thrive on vicious gossip, we should feel like strangers. If we don’t, we have to think about it: “Women are not objects to display; real men don’t objectify and use women; gossip is a sin; a mansion in Malibu is not what my heart should treasure.”
  • When we drive past billboards that use sex to sell products, we should feel like strangers in a strange land. If it feels normal, we should be praying: “God, break my heart for the things that break yours.”
  • When we turn on the radio or TV and listen to or watch the celebration of sin, that should make us feel like strangers. When Ed Sheeran starts a song with, “The club isn't the best place to find a lover, so the bar is where I go,” that should feel strange. When yet another song associates money with the good life or praises how good revenge feels when you key an ex-boyfriends car, we should feel like we are listening to the music of an alien culture.
  • When we hear language that is casually vulgar and demeaning, that kind of conversation should feel strange.
  • When we see commercials that insist things will bring us happiness....

When I was watching the halftime show of the Superbowl, Justin Timberlake started out his set beneath the stadium. And while this was the most modest show in years, by the time he made it into the stadium he had posed with multiple women in seductive poses. One person with us kept muttering to Justin, “Not your wife…not your wife.”

There was a person in the room reminding us we are exiles and strangers.

[embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9AWTPkdLRTA[/embed]

What ought to feel like home to us are the values of the kingdom of God. Because the Bible doesn’t give a handy list, I looked some up.[4] I am going to focus on one list in particular from the Evangelical Alliance, a HUGE outfit in the UK that also helped to found the World Evangelical Alliance that represents 600 million Christians. This is from “Eight Core Christian Values”, (ethos.org.au):[5]

  • Grace – giving people more than they deserve irrespective of the cause of their need and without regard to national, cultural or religious boundaries… Because grace is, by definition, an undeserved gift offered to someone who is in need. The gospels present Jesus as one who brought good news to all who would listen (the crowds) but especially to those who lived on the periphery of society: lepers, slaves, the demon-possessed, a paralytic, a tax collector, a young girl, and the blind. A life of grace means a life lived with those usually ignored or rejected by others.
  • Hope – Hope is the conviction that God… will always be with present with his people. Hope is an encouragement not to overlook the many good and positive aspects of life and to be prepared to take risks, not presumptuously, but in humility and prayer, confident that God is still at work.
  • Faith - Faith is an attitude of trust in someone you can rely on which mirrors the commitment that God has for his people. It involves commitment, fidelity and trust and thus stands in contrast to many common attitudes to relationships as short-term, conditional and uncommitted.
  • Love – Its most fundamental characteristic is that it seeks the good of the other. It is contrary to all selfish, self-centered attitudes. Love… involves choosing to love the unlovable, including one’s enemy. The opposite of the love is not hate but fear… Love exists most particularly where it is offered towards those for whom one feels least, such as one’s enemies, or where it is reaching out to one who does not, or is not able, to love in return.
  • Justice – Biblical justice… refers to very practical, down-to-earth actions which ensure that the weak, the poor and the socially disadvantaged are cared for, whether they ‘deserve’ it or not… Biblical justice… ensure[s] that the weak are protected from abuse, that the poor have what they need, that the stranger in the land is shown hospitality and that the socially disadvantaged are cared for. Even when this means giving them what they do not ‘deserve’… Justice is often interpreted in terms of seeking rights for oneself or one’s own group (‘we demand justice’) when biblically it is really an action on behalf of others… ‘Justice’ is not for ‘just me’. This means that Christians will be more keen to protect others than themselves.
  • Joy – Joy also comes from participating in God’s ministry in the world and from seeing lives being positively changed and relationships enhanced. Although it will never be the subject of legislation, joy is an essential social value. Society should celebrate that which enhances its corporate life but not when this is at the expense of other groups or nations.
  • Service – The call to serve one another in love stands in start contrast to the normal human desire for position and preference and all notions of ‘freedom’ where that is understood as the ability to do what suits me, or my family or group best. The notion of service calls individuals to lay these things aside for the needs of others… It shows that meaning is found in service rather than in self-centeredness.
  • Peace– The peace which Jesus gives is nothing less than his own presence in our lives. Consequently, his peace can permeate our lives, and he calls his people not to worry or be concerned about material things, for God knows our needs… True peace requires justice, and so no Christian can live complacently with injustice… Reconciliation between groups who have not been at peace is an essential dimension of peace-making.

I think this mindset requires cultivation. But God will be faithful: He will transform us by the renewing of our mind (Romans 12:2).

We have to commit, with God’s help, to learning to see the world through the lenses of the holy. We pray for God to help us; we practice actively thinking through what we see and hear; we read the Bible to continually remind us what the Kingdom of God looks like, and what should feel like home.

My challenge: use this list this week to think through your day. Did you approach your day from this mindset of Kingdom values?

  • When did I feel like a stranger in exile today?
  • Did the news encourage me to think with Kingdom values?
  • What valued did that show/movie/song/book portray? Did I laugh and grieve appropriately?
  • Did I learn Kingdom or empire values at school or work?
  • Did our family interaction/expectations confuse cultural and kingdom values?
  • Has my presence in CLG’s church community brought the values of my temporary home or my true home?
  • Did my use of time and money reflect empire or kingdom?

Journal; talk with a friend or a spouse. Take a week to purposefully live as a stranger and alien. Next week we will talk about how to OWN IT (how it can move us deeper into holiness) and how to USE IT for engagement with our culture to the glory of God.

FOR THOSE OF YOU WHO ARE INTERESTED, HERE IS ONE OF THE BOLD PREACHERS I MENTIONED!

[embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_-7M7keoSsU[/embed]

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[1] The first three sites I found are the following. Everything I found after that added nothing new. The Six Basic American Cultural Values (vintageamericanways.com); “U.S. Values,” (Andrews.edu); ‘The Values Americans Live By,” by L. Robert Kohls, a primer for foreigners coming ot the US (The Washington International Center)

[2] Also “Key American Values” (International Student and Scholar Services, University of Missouri-St. Louis.

[3] Look just at one no the list that looks good – the idea of freedom. The Bible says we are freed from sin into the ‘perfect law of liberty’ so we can be who God says we ought to be in Christ; American freedom is freedom from any constraints to be what we want to be. Even a discussion of freedom – a case where the language of a biblical value and a cultural value overlap - ought to create a sharp feeling of strangeness in us because we mean very different things.

[4] (“What Does the Bible Say About Christian Values and Christian Life?” christianbiblereference.org)

[5] Also “Christian Values” at stahopebarrington.durham.sch.uk.

[i] John 15:18-19 "If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you.”

John 17:16 "They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.”

Philippians 3:20 “For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.”

Hebrews 11:13-16 “All these died in faith, without receiving the promises, but having seen them and having welcomed them from a distance, and having confessed that they were strangers and exiles on the earth.”

1 Peter 2:12 “Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.”

Ephesians 2:19 “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God.”

 

Hungry (1 Peter 2:1-10)

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1 So get rid of hatefulness and deception, of insincerity and jealousy and slander. 2 Be like newborn babies, crying out for spiritual milk that will help you grow into salvation 3 if you have tasted and found the Lord to be good. Come to Him—the living stone—who was rejected by people but accepted by God as chosen and precious. 5 Like living stones, let yourselves be assembled into a spiritual house, a holy order of priests who offer up spiritual sacrifices that will be acceptable to God through Jesus the Anointed. 6 For it says in the words of the prophet Isaiah, See here—I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone, chosen and precious; Whoever depends upon Him will never be disgraced. To you who believe and depend on Him, He is precious; but to you who don’t, remember the words of the psalmist: The stone that the builders rejected has been laid as the cornerstone—the very stone that holds together the entire foundation,8 and of Isaiah: A stone that blocks their way, a rock that trips them. They stumble because they don’t follow the word of God, as they were destined to do. But you are a chosen people, set aside to be a royal order of priests, a holy nation, God’s own; so that you may proclaim the wondrous acts of the One who called you out of inky darkness into shimmering light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received it. (1 Peter 2:1-10) Have you heard the phrase, “You are what you eat?” I’m not sure that’s entirely true, as I am not more bacon and fried chicken than I am, but the idea behind it is that you become the thing you consume. Maybe better, that which fills you forms you. That’s a principle that suddenly encompasses all of life.

  • Your family fills you.
  • Your friends fill you.
  • Your job fills you.
  • Your TV and books fill you.
  • The way in which you organize or direct your thoughts and loves fills you.

That’s why we guard our heart, because it creates a well out of which flows our life (Proverbs 4:23). Whatever fills us, forms us and forms in us, and then flows out of us. So I want to talk today about being hungry, with the urgent demand of a newborn child, for the food of God’s Word.

* * * * *

My initial thought was to preach about all the things we hunger for: Money, sex and power, which is another way of saying we long for things, for pleasure, for love, for agency and control in our lives. Or maybe to talk about how we fill ourselves with spiritual junk food. There’s all kinds of great food analogies, and as a life long fan of food, I could talk about this for a long time.

But I’ve been thinking about something different this week, and that is a different problem: we are not hungry enough. Or maybe: we have so many ways to fill ourselves we can ignore how hungry we are, or we can forget what it is like to be hungry, and why God has made us hungry people.

In my perfect world, I am never too hungry. There is always something within my grasp. So when lunch or supper rolls around, I am definitely interested in food, but I’m not hungry as much as I am intrigued by the smells and looking for to the pleasure of the experience.

But when I diet, I get hungry. That growling and gnawing and sense that I am being nibbled away from the inside is really disconcerting to someone who has been able to avoid that quite successfully. Now, when it’s time for a meal, I am a little more invested. I am conscious that there is a biological void that needs to be filled.

If I stick it out, I discover in a week - or ten - that I start to like that hunger. Rather than making me angry it reminds me that I am more purposeful, more self-controlled. I’m probably feeling better overall by this point; I can see the payoff. There are other kinds of health that go with this (assuming I am making healthy food choices).

But I also get more appreciative of food. What I once took for granted because it was so easily accessible I now value more. I realize my need for it rather than just my want for it. I need to be choosy in my diet because I can’t just have everything like I used to. Something has to be taken off my previously expansive menu. And the more I ‘taste and see’ not just the food but the value of the food my hunger has led me too, the more I appreciate the source of my satisfaction.

* * * * *

I think one of the problems we Western Christians face is that we live in a culture that makes it very easy to avoid or be easily distracted from our spiritual hunger. Whenever something nibbles or gnaws inside - anxiety, loneliness, depression, lust, greed, jealousy, anger – we can feed ourselves with something: a phone, a TV show, music, books, shopping, food (again!), hobbies, a good workout, a pill, the news, even friends.

It’s not that we aren’t hungry. We are. We are people with deep, strong appetites of all kinds. We long for meaning, purpose, identity, love, intimacy, connection, pleasure, power, fame, money, things. Oh, we are hungry people. We are all like babies who crave.

This is not a bad thing in itself. We are made to crave.[i] “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst - for righteousness.” The problem is that we live in a setting where we can graze on all kinds of things at the first twinge of our spiritual or emotional hunger.

I saw this week that Alice Cooper is still touring in his 70’s. He once said,It doesn't matter how many drugs I take, I'm not fulfilled. This isn't satisfying. There's a spiritual hunger going on. Everybody feels it. If you don't feel it now, you will. Trust me. You will...

He felt it, but he fed it with drugs. It doesn’t have to be that obvious. We can become grazers in all kinds of ways, never feeling too hungry because we are always shoving stuff into our minds and hearts that distract us and temporarily satisfy us.

And then we pull up to The Table of God’s Word during devotions or on a Sunday morning, and we are kind of interested, but we aren’t that hungry – or at least we don’t feel that hungry. “I think I’m good. I should probably only have a small serving – I’m still full from my spiritual chocolate-covered bacon.” If I get hungry later, I can always snack.

“If you don't feel strong desires for the manifestation of the glory of God, it is not because you have drunk deeply and are satisfied. It is because you have nibbled so long at the table of the world. Your soul is stuffed with small things, and there is no room for the great... The greatest enemy of hunger for God is not poison but apple pie. It is not the banquet of the wicked that dulls our appetite for heaven, but endless nibbling at the table of the world.”  John PiperA Hunger For God

I don’t think we let ourselves get hungry enough. I don’t mean we should be trying to self-generate hunger. We don’t have to. We are wired to be hungry. I mean we spend so much time covering up our hungers that we fill ourselves with junk and never begin to crave the spiritual food we really need.

  • We don’t set down our phones when it begins to sink in how lonely we are.
  • We don’t turn off the TV or put down the book when we realize how hungry we are for a relationship with someone.
  • We avoid confronting and surrendering our envy or greed by volunteering, or working or staying busy – anything to not be alone with our thoughts.
  • We don’t talk with a friend instead of turn on Netflix when we begin to wrestle with serious questions about our faith.
  • We don’t pray about our unresolved anger instead of cooking all evening.
  • We don’t soak up God’s word instead of binge watch when our self-worth or self-image is shattered.

We don’t let ourselves feel our spiritual hunger enough - and that’s what all of these are. The immediate feeling is loneliness, or doubt, or anger, or self-loathing, or lust, greed, envy…. But if you peel back the layers, eventually you find the God-shaped hole from which all of these hungers can be traced.

That hunger is God’s reminder that there is something in you that needs to be filled, and that reminder is meant to point you toward the One who can fill it. God gives us a hunger for Him. We can’t manufacture that ourselves. This is not a sermon about how to get hungry. This is about embracing our hungers, surrendering them to Christ, and finding our satisfaction in God and His word.

I considered trying to address a whole list of things, but I think I want to just focus on one example of how I think this works.

I spent years of my life with my idea of who I was as a man wrapped up largely in three things: sexual desirability, athletic ability, and professional achievement. You might say I was hungry to matter, for my life to have meaning, to be affirmed and loved and respected.

So Sheila had a lot of pressure to convey to me that I was sexually desirable; I had a lot of pressure on myself to find the right gym and play in the right leagues; I spent years not knowing how to rest because there was always something I could be doing to further my career or build my achievements. I was hungry.

And when the hunger began to really gnaw, I grazed. I sought out my wife’s attention more; I worked out harder; I did more stuff. This was a full life in that I had plenty to do to make sure that the minute my spiritual stomach began to remind me that I was not full, something was nearby.

Of course, that didn’t work. My identity is meant to be grounded in the reality that I am a child of God, and all that matters is who I am in the eyes of God, and the fact that He loves me as a perfect Father perfectly loves His child.

So, God in his mercy made me hungrier.

Sheila and I went through some seasons in our marriage where sex had to be put on the back burner because we had some serious relational things to work through, and suddenly the identity hunger I had masked settled in. My health took some hits: knee surgeries, plantar fasciitis, shoulder surgery, the heart attack. The hunger I soothed with weights began to gnaw. And the more I worked hard in my different jobs to make a name for myself the more I realized how many people did the same things so much better than I do…

Now, I’m hungry. Now I can feel it. Now I know that whatever bread I was feeding myself with was not the bread of life. I hungered and thirsted but I always hungered and thirsted again.

And I had to cry out for spiritual milk with a desperation I had not had before – once again, not because I hadn’t been hungry before, but because I had been able to avoid feeling the depth and the implications of my hunger. That, I think, is when you begin to taste and see that the Lord is good. And to those who believe and depend on Him, He is precious.”

God will fill the hungry because He Himself has stirred up the hunger. As in the case of prayer, when God prepares the heart to pray, He prepares His ear to hear (Ps. 10:17). So in the case of spiritual hunger, when God prepares the heart to hunger, He will prepare His hand to fill.

Thomas Watson

Back to Alice Cooper. I didn’t give the whole quote.It doesn't matter how many drugs I take, I'm not fulfilled. This isn't satisfying. There's a spiritual hunger going on. Everybody feels it. If you don't feel it now, you will. Trust me. You will... Drinking beer is easy. Trashing your hotel room is easy. But being a Christian, that's a tough call. That's the real rebellion.

He said in an interview with CNS News:

“When you get out there and realize you’ve had every car, every house, and all that, you realize that that’s not the answer, there’s a big nothing out there at the end of that… A lot of people say that there’s a big God-sized hole in your heart. And when that’s filled, you’re really satisfied, and that’s where I am right now.”

That’s the real fulfillment. It’s a rebellion against the gluttony of the world and trading it for the satisfaction of Jesus.

When I felt the unsatisfied hunger of my own pursuit of my identity. I was forced to reckon with “what makes a man”: is it strength and capability or holiness? When my spiritual snacks were locked in the cupboard and I couldn’t avoid my hunger in that way, I had to fill myself with what I should have been filling myself with all along: the truth in God’s word about what makes a man a man: my identity in Christ. I found this in the Bible, in the observations of other Christians, in prayer, in writing…. I had to walk into my hunger with my eyes focused on the only One who can satisfy.

Peter say that we are made to “proclaim the wondrous acts of the One who called you out of inky darkness into shimmering light..” This is the glorious testimony of the hungry people who find our satisfaction in a God who fills us beyond what we can ask or think.

So don’t be afraid to be hungry. Don’t be afraid to feel it. God is using it to point you toward Him – for your good, and for the praise of His glorious grace.

_________________________________________________________________________________________

[i] See this website for a bunch of verses. https://bible.knowing-jesus.com/topics/Spiritual-Hunger

 

Love From A Pure Heart (1 Peter 1:22-25)

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YOU CAN LISTEN TO AUDIO HERE  

God declared Israel ‘holy’ to reveal Himself to the world through them.

  • Jeremiah 2:3 "Israel was holy to the LORD.…’
  • Exodus 22:31 "You shall be holy men to Me…”
  • Deuteronomy 7:6 "For you are a holy people to the LORD your God; the LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for His own possession out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth.
  • Exodus 19:6 “And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.'

To use last week’s language, He set them apart for His divine purpose so the nations would know what Yahweh was like. The prophet Isaiah said that the nations would flock to Israel if they lived in God’s design for their holiness:

  • "…I shall submit you as a light unto the nations, to be My salvation until the end of the earth' Isaiah 49:6.
  • "I the LORD have called unto you in righteousness, and have taken hold of your hand, and submitted you as the people's covenant, as a light unto the nations." Isaiah 42:6.
  • "And unto your light, nations shall walk, and kings unto the brightness of your rising" Isaiah 60:3.

Paul, in Galatians 6:16, refers to followers of Jesus as the “Israel of God.” The idea is that you don’t have to be born Jewish to be one of God’s holy, chosen people. You can be “grafted in” through the acceptance of the divinity and lordship of Christ and your surrender to Him and His will.

Followers of Jesus are ‘peculiar people’ (1 Peter 2:9) who are set apart to be the way in which God reveals Himself to the world. We are called to live in God’s design for our holiness to reveal His holiness.

After last week’s message about being set apart, I was thinking there needed to be a follow-up sermon on what characterizes this holiness. It’s one thing to say, “As a child of God, you are holy and set apart; now live as those holy and set apart.” It’s another thing to put skin on those bones. What does that even mean?

  • Do I dress like the Amish?
  • Do I live in a monastery?
  • Does that mean if the culture does it, I can’t do it?
  • Does this mean we create a Christian sub-culture in everything?
  • Should there be a holy glow about me that convicts or shames everyone around me?

I started jotting down some notes, and I quickly realized it was all leading me back to one thing: love. And it turns out that’s the next thing Peter wrote, so that worked out pretty well.

 22 Now that you have taken care to purify your souls through your submission to the truth (“obedience to God, which the knowledge of the truth demands”), you can experience real love for each other. So love each other deeply[1] (earnestly – at full stretch)[2] from a pure heart. 23 You have been reborn—not from seed that eventually dies but from seed that is eternal—through the word of God that lives and endures forever. 24For as Isaiah said, ‘All life is like the grass, and its glory like a flower; The grass will wither and die and the flower falls, 25 But the word of the Lord will endure forever.’  This is the word that has been preached to you.[3] (1 Peter 1:22-25)

So if we are going to talk about living holy lives that fulfill God’s purpose of revealing himself to the world through us, we are going to need to talk about living loving lives. Specifically, how do we get this kind of holy love, and what does it look like when it is displayed in our lives?

* * * * *

The first one is easy. A holy love – a love set apart from any other kind of love – has to come from a holy God.

This love happens after God purifies our hearts, and He does it through our surrender, our obedience to His Word. Peter says that’s the process God uses, and on the other side of it we emerge as holy lovers of truth and of others.[4]

We often talk about how the world needs more love. I agree. But in order for that to happen, we must first surrender ourselves so that our hearts are pure. If our hearts were pure through our surrender to the truth of God’s Word and resulting work God does in our life, we could love each other deeply from a pure heart.

This is a daunting conclusion for me, but I can’t get away from it. I want it to be the other person’s fault that I can’t love them well. That lets me off the hook. But it’s when we surrender to God - we repent, we pray for his mercy and forgiveness and heart transformation – then we love like more and more like God loves. And God’s love does not waver based on the likableness or the worthiness of the person He loves. Think of how 1 Corinthians 13 describes love:

“Love is patient, kind, does not envy, does not boast, is not proud, does not dishonor others, is not self-seeking, not easily angered, keeps no record of wrong. It does not delight in evil but rejoices in the truth. It always protects, always, trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” (1 Corinthians 13:4-7)

Can you image what it would look like if we did this from hearts that were pure? There is nothing that would stop us from loving.

Later Peter writes that we are to love each other fervently, because “love covers a multitude of sins.” (1 Peter 4:8). All but one commentary I read noted that the primary message is about the ability of the fervent lover to let love cover or forgive the sinfulness in others.

  • This is not the same as ‘like.’
  • It’s doesn’t mean we have to ignore the ripple effect of consequences that sin has on us.
  • It doesn’t mean we must pretend like nothing happened.
  • It doesn’t mean we ignore safe boundaries and ongoing care as God turns our wounds to scars. I don’t mean to ignore the fact that other people can do things that make them really hard to love. I think we all know the reality of that.

But today’s passage isn’t about them. It’s about us. Our heart is the heart of the issue. If we enter into the purification process by surrendering ourselves to God and the truth of His word, God works in that process to change our hearts so that we can love with His love and display the glory of his love to the world.

Parents, do you know why it’s hard to love our kids well? Yes, they are hard to love at times, but our hearts are not pure, not surrendered in obedience to the Word of God. Better love starts with our personal surrender to Christ.

Do you know why it’s hard to love our spouses? Our parents? Some of our Extra Grace Required friends? That obnoxious person online who always says stupid stuff? That Buckeye fan? That politial enemy you have? Your neighbor or co-worker whose lifestyle choices make you cringe?

They may be dauntingly hard to love – and they may have earned that feeling honestly - but the solution to our mutual spiritual and relational health is Christ in both of us, purifying us, and the solution to my problem of loving them in spite of them is Christ in me purifying my heart.

It would be nice if others people were easier to love, but I can’t make them that way. I can pray for God to do work in them because that’s never a bad thing for them, but my primary prayer is for God to do work in me.

God works in our surrendered lives to purify our hearts so that we can love even the most unlovable around us, because now it is God’s love pouring from us. And God is really, really good at loving the unlovable. We should know.

So how does this make us light in the midst of a dark world?

I’m going to take us back to the first followers of Christ. One thing that stands out in the historical record is their reputation for love. Some people hated them, but even they noted how the love of those following Jesus was unparalleled – and costly. [5]

Clement, Bishop of Rome from 88 to 99:

“He [the Christian] impoverishes himself out of love, so that he is certain he may never overlook a brother in need, especially if he knows he can bear poverty better than his brother. He likewise considers the pain of another as his own pain. And if he suffers any hardship because of having given out of his own poverty, he does not complain.”

http://earlychurch.com/unconditional-love.php

The Epistle to Diognetes, c. AD 130

“They marry, as do all others; they beget children; but they do not destroy their offspring. They have a common table, but not a common bed. They are in the flesh, but they do not live after the flesh. They pass their days on earth, but they are citizens of heaven. They obey the prescribed laws, and at the same time surpass the laws by their lives. They love all men and are persecuted by all... They are poor yet make many rich; they are in lack of all things and yet abound in all; they are dishonored and yet in their very dishonor are glorified.They are evil spoken of and yet are justified; they are reviled and bless; they are insulted and repay the insult with honor; they do good yet are punished as evildoers. When punished, they rejoice as if quickened into life…those who hate them are unable to assign any reason for their hatred. To sum it all up in one word -- what the soul is to the body, that are Christians in the world.

From the Apology of Tertullian, AD 197

We are a body knit together as such by a common religious profession, by unity of discipline, and by the bond of a common hope….We pray, too, for the emperors, for their ministers and for all in authority, for the welfare of the world, for the prevalence of peace, for the delay of [Christ’s return]. We assemble to read our sacred writings . . . and with the sacred words we nourish our faith, we animate our hope, we make our confidence more steadfast... On the monthly day, if he likes, each puts in a small donation; but only if it be his pleasure, and only if he be able: for there is no compulsion; all is voluntary. These gifts are . . . to support and bury poor people, to supply the wants of boys and girls destitute of means and parents, and of old persons confined now to the house; such, too, as have suffered shipwreck; and if there happen to be any in the mines or banished to the islands or shut up in the prisons, for nothing but their [faithfulness] to the cause of God's Church… But it is mainly the deeds of a love so noble that lead many to put a brand upon us. See, they say, how they love one another, for they themselves are animated by mutual hatred. See, they say about us, how they are ready even to die for one another, for they themselves would sooner kill."

A General Historical Observation

In Rome, the Christians buried not just their own, but pagans who had died without funds for a proper burial. They also supplied food for 1,500 poor on a daily basis. In Antioch in Syria, the number… reached 3,000. Church funds were used in special cases to buy the emancipation of Christian slaves.

During the Plague in Alexandria when nearly everyone else fled, the early Christians risked their lives for one another by simple deeds of washing the sick, offering water and food, and consoling the dying. Their care was so extensive that Julian eventually tried to copy the church’s welfare system. It failed, however, because for the Christians it was love, not duty, that motivated them.

https://www.plough.com/en/topics/faith/discipleship/pandemic-love

* * *

This is what I’ve pondering this week: In the early church, the surrounding pagan culture, no matter how hostile, could not help but note, “See how they love one another.” Christians were radically different because Christ’s love in them was of a radically different nature.

When is the last time we have heard anyone from our culture say this about the American church? What are we known for? One thing that is supposed to set apart a holy people is the ability to love as Jesus loves, because the love of Jesus transforms us and flows out of us. Our love bears witness to our Savior. Do we love well?

  • Do we embrace ‘the other’? Put Jews, Gentiles and Samaritans together with rich and poor, slave and free, male and female, educated and uneducated, soldiers and civilians, in the same church and there is going to be issues. Race, class, politics, religious background: it was a perfect storm. How committed are we to showing the kind of love that comes at the cost of our emotional or personal comfort?
  • Do we sacrifice for the needs of the church? You didn’t go to the early church to look good. You got broken and poured out for the church and the city. There was no room for pride, greed, or jealousy. Literally, you put your life on the line because that’s what Jesus did for you. How deep and radical is out commitment to showing the kind of love that comes at the cost of our financial or physical comfort?
  • Do we live in Traverse City like a people set apart: caring, sacrificing, building up, nurturing, loving in ways that can only come from a purified heart surrendered to Jesus? If a local were asked what group of people do they think of as loving everyone even at great cost, would they say, “Oh, the church!” Would it even come to mind?
  • Even closer to home: What am I known for? If someone asks anyone who knows me, “Who do you think of when you hear the phrase, ‘See how they love one another?” would I make that list? Would my kids name me? My wife? My friends? You?

This has been unsettling me all week, and it’s bringing me to my knees. I know myself; I know I don’t have it in me to love like this. No matter how hard I try, no matter what list I make of things to do. I’m just not good at that kind of love.

But God is. He will equip us for the things to which He calls us. May this call to love as a witness draw us in prayer to the foot of the cross where we kneel with others, surrender our hearts and lives in repentance for his purification, and pray for a loving, merciful, powerful God to help us love well for our good and His glory.

______________________________________________________________________________________

[1] The comparative form of the closely related adjective  ektenes (ektenesteron) is used to describe the intensity of our Lord's prayer in Gethsemane. And being in agony He was praying very fervently (ektenesteron); and His sweat became like drops of blood, falling down upon the ground. (Wuest's Word Studies from the Greek New Testament: Eerdmans)

[2] Fervently (1619) (ektenos [word study] from ek = out + teíno = to stretch; English = tension, etc) literally pictures one "stretching out" to love others! It pictures "an intense strain" and unceasing activity which normally involving a degree of intensity and/or perseverance. Stretched out and extended to the limit is the idea. Jowett suggests the picture of the tension and energy of a stringed instrument, "as when the string of a violin has been stretched to a tighter pitch that it might yield a little higher note." Cranfield suggests the figure of "the taut muscle of strenuous and sustained effort, as of an athlete." (Lange’s Commentary)

[3] “God does not tell us anything that we may [simply] know. He tells us in order that, knowing, we may be and do. And right actions, or rather a character which produces such, is the aim of all… moral and religious truth… And if[people] think that they have done enough when… they can say, ‘All this I steadfastly believe,’ they need to remember that religious truth which does not mould and transform character and conduct is a king dethroned; and for dethroned kings there is a short step between the throne from which they have descended and the scaffold on which they die.” (MacLaren’s Expositions

[4] “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:35)

"The whole law comes down to this one instruction: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Galatians 5:14)

[5] Sociologist Rodney Stark: ". . . Christianity served as a revitalization movement that arose in response to the misery, chaos, fear, and brutality of life in the urban Greco-Roman world. Christianity revitalized life in Greco-Roman cities by providing new norms and new kinds of social relationships able to cope with many urgent problems. To cities filled with the homeless and impoverished, Christianity offered charity as well as hope. To cities filled with newcomers and strangers, Christianity offered an immediate basis for attachment. To cities filled with orphans and widows, Christianity provided a new and expanded sense of family. To cities torn by violent ethnic strife, Christianity offered a new basis for social solidarity. And to cities faced with epidemics, fire, and earthquakes, Christianity offered effective nursing services. . . . Rodney Stark, The Rise of Christianity

https://www.christianity.com/church/church-history/timeline/1-300/what-were-early-christians-like-11629560.html

 

Be Who You Are - In Christ (1 Peter 1:13-21)

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So get yourselves ready, prepare your minds to act (‘gird up your minds)’, control yourselves, and look forward in hope [on heaven] as you focus on the grace that comes when Jesus the Anointed returns and is completely revealed to you. 14 Be like obedient children as you put aside the desires you used to pursue when you didn’t know better. 

15 Since the One who called you is holy, be holy in all you do. 16 For the Scripture says, “You are to be holy, for I am holy.” 17 If you call on the Father who judges everyone without partiality according to their actions, then you should live in reverence and awe while you live out the days of your exile.

18 You know that a price was paid to redeem you from following the empty ways handed on to you by your ancestors; it was not paid with things that perish (like silver and gold), 19 but with the precious blood of the Anointed, who was like a perfect and unblemished sacrificial lamb.

 20 God determined to send Him before the world began, but He came into the world in these last days for your sake. 21 Through Him, you’ve been brought to trust in God, who raised Him from the dead and glorified Him for the very reason that your faith and hope are in Him.

There are times in life when we have to be reminded who or what we are. 

•    When I was coaching: “You are Sabre – and you are a Christian. Remember who you are and what you represent.” •    You often hear something along the lines of,  “You are a (fill in the family name). Act like one!” I don’t even know what that means – what does a Weber do that nobody else does? – but you get the idea. •    To children: “You’re 10 now. You aren’t a baby!” •     “You are an adult; act like an adult.”  •    “You are a dad/mom. Be a parent!” 

The Bible tells us who or what we are when we commit our lives to following and serving Jesus Christ. 

•    We are children of God (John 1:12; Ephesians 1:5; 1 John 3:1-2; Romans 8:17) •    We are chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation (1 Peter 2:9) •    We are temples of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19-20) •    We are God’s workmanship (Ephesians 2:10) •    We are branches attached to the Vine (John 15:5) •    We are citizens of Heaven (Philippians 3:20) •    We are the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:27) •    We are a light and salt in the world (Matthew 5) •    We are ambassadors of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:20) •    We are like living stones building a spiritual house (1 Peter 2:5)

This is what we are when we believe Jesus is who he says he is and have committed our lives to following Him. All of this is describing what the Bible means when it tells us we are holy. 

The Hebrew is “qodesh” and means “apartness, set-apartness, separateness, sacredness.”   The Greek is “hagios,” which means set apart, reverend, sacred, and worthy of veneration.”   It carries the idea of being pure or unmixed in allegiance and life.  In Old Testament times, what was holy belonged to the gods in an absolute way.  

If you do a google image search of ‘hagios’, you will find a lot of pictures of temples. Temples were called hagios because they were different from other buildings in their purpose. They were set apart. Now look what Paul – who knew something about temples – writes to the Christians in Corinth:

"Do you not know that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?  If any man destroys the temple of God, God will destroy him, for the temple of God is holy, and that is what you are."  (1 Corinthians 3:16-17)

So holiness is a status conferred by God to those who have given their lives to Jesus. We are not just called to be holy; we are holy the minute we are set apart for God’s divine purpose in an absolute way. 

[embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l9vn5UvsHvM[/embed]

And yet there is also language of becoming holy in the Bible. I Peter 1:3 tells us to “become holy in all we do” and cites Leviticus.  We read in Hebrews 12:4, “Pursue peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord.” Dr. Bob Utely says this verse in 1 Peter is best translated, “You must prove to be holy.”  You must show that you are holy. 

To use grammar terms (which everybody loves), when the Bible talks about holiness it uses verbs that are both indicative and imperative: in other words, it indicates or identifies what you are and also commands you to strive to be that thing which you already are.  It’s holiness as a standing vs. holiness as a lifestyle. We are holy because of our relationship to Jesus, but we are called to act out our holiness.  

Think of a person who goes on a diet to become more healthy. The minute they change their eating habits, their diet is different, and they are set apart from the average eater, but the longer they stick with it the healthier they become. Or a person who was not a gym member becomes a gym member. They have a new identity, but they still need to work to flourish in that identity. 

Though we have been set apart and been made holy, we have to learn how to live with integrity and consistency in our holiness. There is a process of discipleship or maturity in which we increasingly become what we are. 

There are lots of ideas about how we grow in this way, but I want to go to a classic biblical image that will give us some broad principles for growing in holiness.  Peter wrote about ‘girding up our minds’. It’s brings to mind the girding Paul talks about in Ephesians 6. Living in holiness is hard, but God equips us for that to which He calls us.

10 Finally, brothers and sisters, draw your strength and might from God. 11 Put on the full armor of God to protect yourselves from the devil and his evil schemes...Truth banded around your waist (‘girded with truth’), righteousness as your chest plate, 15 and feet protected in preparation to proclaim the good news of peace. 16 Don’t forget to raise the shield of faith above all else, so you will be able to extinguish flaming spears hurled at you from the wicked one. 17 Take also the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

Paul is referencing a common sight: Roman soldiers. People knew how armor and warfare worked.

•    The belt of truth holds our outfit together. 

The Bible speaks truth.  It takes some work to properly understand everything, but it speaks truth. God inspired the writers to make sure of this. It doesn't address everything in the world, but what it does address, it address truthfully. We must be people of truth, and we must practice the honoring of truth in everything.  We are people of truth. Are we set apart by living what we are?

•    The breastplate of righteousness (right living) guards our heart. 

It does not save you; it guards you and it guards God’s reputation.  It guards your eyes, thoughts, friends, influences, and actions. We are made righteous in Christ. Are we set apart by our commitment to living what we are? 

•    The gospel of peace (with God through Jesus) is what should prepare us as we walk to the world. 

Is our goal to bring peace as we go into all the world and preach the gospel, or is our goal to win culture wars? Are we praying about how to embody the reconciling love of God? As we will see in a bit, the sword of the Bible will do its own kind of confrontation of sin, but Jesus did not come to condemn the world, but to save it (John 3:17). One day, he will return as a Judge because there is plenty to condemn, but that day is not today (with apologies to Aragorn).  We are people who are at peace with God through Jesus. Do we stand out as being set apart as ambassadors for peace with God through Jesus?

•    The shield of faith quenches the fiery darts of the evil one. 

It is a wall of a shield, not a little one on the arm. When you look at the context of the word here, this is a reference to the faith that has to do with patience and endurance.  This isn’t a reference to the moment of salvation; it’s a reference to ongoing trust.

•    “Fear Not, Abraham, I am thy shield.” (Genesis 15:1) •    “The Lord is a shield to all who put their trust in him.” (Proverbs 30:5) •    “The Lord God is a sun and shield.” (Psalm 84:11) 

We are people with a shield: God himself. Do we live as shielded people in the midst of spiritual attacks because we keep our trust God, who fights for us?

•    Helmet of salvation/our Savior (the hope of salvation/our Savior)

This verse is not about the initial act of salvation, but a focus on the hope that salvation brings: a life with Christ now and fully experienced in eternity. It is the hope of victory. Jesus wins in the end, and we who are being delivered from the power of sin now will one day be freed from the very presence of sin.  I think the idea here is that our mind is guided and protected so that we never forget the reason for the hope that lies within us: Jesus came to save sinners, and He has saved me. We are people of hope; do we live with hope that we have?

•    Sword of the Spirit (the sword which the Holy Spirit furnishes, which is the Word of God)

It’s the one offensive weapon. We will have to wield it, but we are not the sword that the Holy Spirit furnishes. The Word of God does its own work.  We don’t make it our goal to cut others.  The Bible does the cutting. We just bring it to the fight boldly but carefully.  We are people who have been given the Word to fight for us; do we live as people who are confident that the Word will do its work?  

We are declared holy when God sets us aside for his divine purpose, and then we begin the journey into that holiness, a journey which will only find its end in heaven.  So what difference should this make in my life?

My life is set apart for God now.  The church is the face of holiness on earth for better or worse, and that church includes me – and you.  “What do you want me to do today, Lord?” “I have set you apart in all you do for my divine purpose. I want you to live as the child of God that you are. ”

•    When I drive my boys to school, I am a man set apart for God’s divine purposes in this moment…. •    When I get to work, I am a man set apart… •    When I hang out with my friends… •    When I discipline my kids… •    When I post something online… •    When I turn on entertainment… •    When I tell a joke… •    When I argue or go on a date with or ignore or sleep with my wife… •    When I play a family game… •    When I drive… •    When I eat… •    When I….

What difference would it make if I got up every morning with this reality in front of me? 

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The Hope Of Salvation (1 Peter 1:1-9)

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Peter, an emissary of Jesus the Anointed One, to God’s chosen people living as aliens scattered among the unbelievers in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia. I am sending this letter to those who have been elected by God the Father and made holy by God the Spirit that you may be obedient to Jesus the Anointed and purified by the sprinkling of His blood. May grace and peace beyond all reckoning be yours.

Blessed is God, the Father of our Lord Jesus, the Anointed One! Because He has raised Jesus the Anointed from death, through His great mercy we have been reborn into a living hope— reborn for an eternal inheritance, held in reserve in heaven, that is incorruptible, undefiled and unfading. Through faith, God’s power is standing watch (like a fortress around you), protecting you for a salvation that you will see completely at the end of things.

You should greatly rejoice in what is waiting for you, even if now for a little while you have to suffer various trials. Suffering tests your faith which is more valuable than gold (remember that gold, although it is perishable, is tested by fire) so that if it is found genuine, you can receive praise, honor, and glory when Jesus the Anointed, our Liberating King, is revealed at last.

Although you haven’t seen Jesus, you still love Him. Although you don’t yet see Him, you do believe in Him and celebrate with a joy that is glorious and beyond words. You are receiving the salvation of your souls as the result of your faith.

(1 Peter 1:1-9, The Voice)

I want to focus on a particular section this morning: “Because He has raised Jesus the Anointed from death, through His great mercy we have been reborn into a living hope— reborn for an eternal inheritance, held in reserve in heaven, that is incorruptible, undefiled and unfading…  a salvation that you will see completely at the end of things.”

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When we went on 11-day vacation to see our family, it was meaningful, but not everything about it was great. 

•    We basically drove 4 1/2 days out of 11 •    It was rainy and cloudy for 3 of those days, and snowy and COLD for the last one. •    The van made funny noises whenever we hit a bump. •    It seemed like everybody around us was sick at some point. •    Fast food got old. Stomachs got tender. Tempers got short. •    There were accidents and re-routes and crowded roads. •    In other words, there were a lot of 1st world problems ☺ 

But we knew where we would end up. Home. And we are blessed that when we think of home, it has good associations for us. We know what awaits us: rest, remotes we know how to work, nerf guns, our own bed and pillows, puzzles of my choosing, our garden, our fire pit, my one and only Ohio State shirt… AJ was waiting for us. On trips when just I am gone, my family is waiting for me. Then there is this church, and the boys’ school, and our friends, and jobs we find meaningful, and a section of the world that is just stunningly beautiful.

The thought crossed my mind on our last day driving home, as I was driving 30 mph on the interstate in a blizzard, that if the conditions got bad enough maybe we should stay in a hotel one more night. But…no. 

We wanted to be home. 

Peter is writing about home to an audience for whom the journey was hard. Peter understood hardship – a lot of it was self-inflicted; see Scott’s sermon last week – but a lot of it wasn’t, and by the time he was martyred he would know pain and suffering even better. The early church lived in a time when their lives were on the line for the sake of the gospel. Peter leads with “you are aliens” – which they knew full well – and then prays for “grace and peace beyond all reckoning” – which they had to have to sustain them. 

Then he talks about home, the place where there true citizenship lies.  As opposed to my story, it’s a place they have not yet seen. It’s better than anything they can possible imagine. This “inheritance” is defined three ways in this passage:

•  Incorruptible – Even my home, as much as I love it, has problems: I would love to have trim around my doors that cats have not scratched to death, or a shower/tub unit that I had installed properly, or rooms that that never got messy. Corruption – the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics – is at work. Everything runs down, moving from order to chaos. In heaven, there will be no corruption. There will be no potholes and broken-down vehicles and stomach bug and family tensions and reality TV shows and Ohio State getting overlooked for the college football Final Four. 

There will be no need more sickness and death; no natural disasters or mass shootings; no broken or abusive relationships; no despair, or addictions, or loneliness. No more regret or grief or longing for what’s been lost because nothing pure will be impure. Nothing good will be missing, and nothing good will ever again be lost. I joke about trivial things, but now we are talking about relationships, love, joy, peace, truth, righteousness. God is preparing a place for us where these things will never lack or fade. 

•  Undefiled – When we were in New Orleans there were lots of cool things to see in a city with that kind of history, but it was a city defiled in many ways not just by floods but by self-indulgence and sin.  Our house had been under 5 feet of water after Hurricane Katrina; not quite everything was level. A neat shop with Cajun memorabilia also had T-shirts of nude torsos. The restaurant with a Zydeco band and shrimp grits was next to a store that sold brands of food plastered with the F word. 

In heaven, there will be no impurity; no contamination. Joy and beauty and goodness and truth and love will not only never fade, they will be unmarred.  In this life, we put our guard up all the time: “Guard your heart” (Proverbs 4:23); “Test all things” (1 Thessalonians 5:21). In New Orleans, you have to remember the advice from the book of Job to make a covenant with your eyes. In heaven, we won’t have to have our guard up because there will be no need – God’s power is the fortress around us and our existence that keeps everything safe. 

•  Unfading – There is often a sense in this life that the good things we have are fading. Time is ticking away, right? We left our visits with family thinking we just needed one more day. I kept turning around for one more glimpse of Lake Pontchartrain. We watch the healthy become sick; we see innocence die; all of the strong grow weak eventually. Our memories fade. We drove past my dad’s grave in Alabama, and it was a reminder that the near poignancy of his memory has faded over time. 

In heaven there will be no withering; everything will be as it should be and will not lose ground. We won’t have to cling to the moment or hold on to some fleeting glory because nothing good will diminish. With apologies to Bruce Springsteen, glory days will not pass us by. Sheila and I talk during and after vacation about how to stay connected because we can get so distracted by our business we lose track of each other. We have to do purposeful work not to lose ground relationally even in the best of experiences. Our true home will not be characterized by that kind of worry. No ground will be lost, because Jesus holds it, and His home is now ours.   

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There is a story told of a missionary named Henry Morrison who worked forty very hard years in Africa. When he became sick and had to return home to America, his boat was also carrying President Teddy Roosevelt, who received a grand reception after being on an African safari. Henry Morrison was bit resentful: "I have come back home after all this time and service to the church and there is no one, not even one person here to welcome me home." Then, as the story goes, a small voice came to Morrison reminding him, "You're not home yet."  (quoted from commentary at Precept Austin. http://www.preceptaustin.org/2_timothy_26)

"Through His great mercy we have been reborn into a living hope— reborn for an eternal inheritance, held in reserve in heaven, that is incorruptible, undefiled, unfading."

John records a vision of heaven in Revelation (21:10 – 22:17). Keep in mind it’s a vision; it’s going to use the best human language and imagery possible for John’s audience to understand a glory that Paul wouldn’t even talk about. The whole book is full of symbols and objects and numbers that are loaded with meaning, but even without knowing all the details, we can gain a sense of the majesty, goodness, and glory revealed as John writes about the hope of heaven at the end of all things.

He took me away in the Spirit and set me on top of a great, high mountain… he showed me the holy city, Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God. It gleamed and shined with the glory of God; its radiance was like the most precious of jewels, like jasper, and it was as clear as crystal. It was surrounded with a wall, great and high. There were twelve gates. Assigned to each gate was a messenger… And the city wall sat perfectly on twelve foundation stones, and on them were inscribed the names of the twelve emissaries of the Lamb.

The walls were made of jasper, while the city itself was made of pure gold, yet it was as clear as glass. The foundation stones of the wall of the city were decorated with every kind of jewel... The twelve gates were twelve pearls, each gate expertly crafted from a single beautiful pearl. And the city street was pure gold, yet it was as transparent as glass.

And in the city, I found no temple because the Lord God, the All Powerful, and the Lamb are the temple. And in the city, there is no need for the sun to light the day or moon the night because the resplendent glory of the Lord provides the city with warm, beautiful light and the Lamb illumines every corner of the new Jerusalem. And all peoples of all the nations will walk by its unfailing light, and the rulers of the earth will stream into the city bringing with them the symbols of their grandeur and power.

During the day, its gates will not be closed; the darkness of night will never settle in. The glory and grandeur of the nations will be on display there, carried to the holy city by people from every corner of the world. Nothing that defiles or is defiled can enter into its glorious gates. Those who practice sacrilege or deception will never walk its streets. Only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life can enter.

My heavenly guide brought me to the river of pure living waters, shimmering as brilliantly as crystal. It flowed out from the throne of God and of the Lamb, flowing down the middle and dividing the street of the holy city. On each bank of the river stood the tree of life, firmly planted, bearing twelve kinds of fruit and producing its sweet crop every month throughout the year. And the soothing leaves that grew on the tree of life provided precious healing for the nations.

No one or nothing will labor under any curse any longer. And the throne of God and of the Lamb will sit prominently in the city. God’s servants will continually serve and worship Him. They will be able to look upon His face, and His name will be written on their foreheads. Darkness will never again fall on this city. They will not require the light of a lamp or of the sun because the Lord God will be their illumination. By His light, they will reign throughout the ages.These words are faithful and true….

And the Anointed One, Jesus, said:  Look now, I am coming soon... I am the Alpha and Omega, the First One and the Last One, the beginning and the end.”

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SONGS ABOUT HEAVEN:

New Gaither Vocal Band  “Alpha And Omega”  “I Bowed On My Knees”   Matthew West “Heaven Is The Hope” Kathy Tricolli  “Goodbye For Now” Jeremy Camp “There Will Be A Day” Mercy Me “I Can Only Imagine”   “When I Finally Make It Home”   “Homesick” CeCe Winans  “Comforter” Michael English, “Heaven” Steven Curtis Chapman “With Hope” Jonny Lang “We’ll Meet At The River” Christ Tomlin “Home”  “I Will Rise” Julie Miller and/or Selah “All My Tears” Switchfoot “Where I Belong” Josh Garrells “Zion And Babylon” Phil Wickham  “Heaven Song”

Lots of versions of the following:  “O Victory In Jesus” “What A Day That Will Be” “I’ll Meet You In The Morning”

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