Monday, March 31, 2014

Keep On

1 Peter 4:12-19

Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ's sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler. Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name. For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God? And
“If the righteous is scarcely saved,
    what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?”
Therefore let those who suffer according to God's will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.

This seems to me one of the biggest things the Southern American church struggles with and part of the reason that the modern "health and wealth" teaching is so very flawed. We are afraid of the cost of discipleship and would rather be "safe". How much joy do we miss out on for being safe? Rejoice in as much as you participate in the sufferings of Christ. The few small whispers of moments where I have participated in that suffering gave me understanding and perspective on life that I would never choose to give up. But somehow when faced with these decisions again I shy away from them. I, too, prefer my comfort.  


The passage goes on to talk about judgement. God usually begins by judging his own people. But if we need correction, how much more those who are on the path to Hell? What will they end up facing in the end? Won't it be much worse? Our troubles will be over soon. We get to entrust our souls to the one who made us. It ties back into verse 12--the "fiery trial" for us is often here on earth. The "fiery trial" for those that are lost will be in eternal fire. It's both depressing and a comfort.  



Saturday, March 22, 2014

What to do when the end of all things is near...

1 Peter 4:7-11
The end of all things is near. Therefore be alert and of sober mind so that you may pray. Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.
The end of all things is near. This statement is assumed, stated as fact. This is the premise on which he bases the statement after saying "therefore".  Some think this refers to the destruction of Jerusalem, others the increasing persecution, whatever the case, the instructions are clear. Be alert and sober minded so that you can pray. I am reminded of the disciples falling asleep in the garden. For them the end of all things was near. They were asked to keep watch, be alert, and pray. But they could not. So often I turn to things that numb my mind instead of staying alert. This is foolishness and disobedience. 

Above all, love. Love covers a multitude of sins. Love covers. God's love has covered our sin, not in some willful blindness but with grace and his blood. Love invites people over and serves them (hospitality) without grumbling, without complaining about how you have to clean your house, without bringing up grudges. Love serves dinner to and washes the feet of the man who will betray you. 

It logically follows that we are to use our gifts to serve others. I've been reading Richard Fosters "Celebration of Discipline" again. I'm not sure I've ever really finished it; I find myself re-reading sections over and over. Service is one of them. God has been good to me. I have many gifts. And I know the consequences of pouring them out on others. Sometimes they are received with joy; other times they are thrown back in your face. But you cannot fill yourself up again either way. But the truth of it is here. These things we have are gifts. I didn't give them to myself, they are not an outpouring of myself. Rather they are what I've been given by God, his outpouring into me is my pleasure and joy to be able to pour out to others. In imitation of Christ who didn't hoard his great wealth in himself in heaven, but came to earth to pour himself out, to pull out a towel and wash his disciples' feet, even those of Judas. Thus our words, our service, is God's. The strength to continue in it is his also. And in the end, the glory is his as well. It is my prayer that both I and you will be filled with God's strength to do his will, to use his gifts as faithful stewards in the service of others. 

What did Jesus do when the end of all things was near? He was alert and praying. He was loving even his betrayer. He was hospitable and serving.  

"Voluntary servitude is a great joy." -Richard Foster



Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Difficult

1 Peter 4:1-6
Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God. For the time that is past suffices for doing what the Gentiles want to do, living in sensuality, passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and lawless idolatry. With respect to this they are surprised when you do not join them in the same flood of debauchery, and they malign you; but they will give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead. For this is why the gospel was preached even to those who are dead, that though judged in the flesh the way people are, they might live in the spirit the way God does.
Sometimes various pastors I know talk about going through Scripture so that you can't escape dealing with portions that are difficult. It sounds nice when they say it, sort of like you know they can't get away with a lot of nonsense. When it comes around to yourself, though, things are a little more difficult. Verse one of chapter four makes no sense to me. I don't understand how Christ's suffering in the flesh is a way of thinking or living in the flesh having ceased from sin. I know there are people who believe in some sort of instantaneous sanctification that happens after we're saved, but I haven't found that view supported throughout Scripture or even in the lives of people who profess that view. It could be interpreted in the same way as the other verses about "living in sin" and that makes sense although I haven't looked up the Greek. Maybe I should. Ok.  "Has made an end to fault or failure." No progressives or such in the grammar, but translation is a tricky work and my Greek isn't nearly good enough to be authoritative. I'm going to let this sit and keep going to see if context helps.

Whatever the previous verses mean, it is clear that we are to behave differently. The past carries all sorts of sin, but for now we are not to join in with them. This reminds me of some of my friends in the Special Forces. Drinking parties were the norm. When we didn't join in, they moderated their own drinking, but they thought we were weird. They didn't malign us, though. We all must give an account. 

And then another odd verse. The gospel was preached to the dead. Jesus did it in those three days he was dead. That they too might live in the spirit. That always seems to be such a victorious part of the story. All those who died before Christ who believed in his coming got to be rescued! 

Back to the beginning. We are not to continue to live in sin, certainly. But what more does this mean? That after we die (is that the suffering mentioned?) we get to cease from sin? Or that through Christ's death an end to sin has been made? Is it that through Christ's suffering and death we are set free from sin and given the Holy Spirit (God's will) to live by? Perhaps. Perhaps there is more that I'll discover in another ten years. That's the cool thing about Scripture. There's always more to learn. 


Friday, February 21, 2014

Jonah Days

The black bell tolls the death knell
It rings in formless tones the fatal word
Of power and fear and helpless drowning
It gives me its ominous name "Overwhelmed".

The white page is vast with empty hope
Uncertainty of life and dreams that press pale
Like a giant whale about to swallow me whole
Though I am not yet running... to or fro.

But I want to run. To hide myself away alone, my fear
Of alone, to block out both the black and white
Not to risk the taming and giving of the wild things
Not to risk the tears and grief and failure.

They will come. They always do. I  know
I bleed red when cut by life's sharp shards
My legs buckle against my will and I fall
And on the way down I wait for the pain.

But then, there I am carpet-faced and crying,
and from there I can see, and seeing, I have hope.
The gong is not for me, the page is not a void.
I can see the palace, and I am not alone.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Answers

1 Peter 3:13-22
     Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness' sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God's will, than for doing evil.     For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, because they formerly did not obey, when God's patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water. Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him.
This passage I have always found confusing. Having read the stories of the martyrs and even the suffering that Paul experienced, how could her write this question: now who is there to harm you? There are plenty to do harm. It does remind me of the passage  that talks about not fearing those who can hurt the body only. 

The next phrases I really like. We are to always be prepared to give the reason for the hope that is in us. We don't need all the answers to every question. We aren't required to be prepared for every weird detail that may be thrown at us. But if we are believers we must have hope and we had better know why we have that hope. And we had better be able to give the reason for that hope without getting all testy about it. 

Our model for this, as usual, is Christ. HE SUFFERED for doing good, and even his suffering was turned into something good. This brings me back to the first question. Who is there to harm you? Well, Jesus did good and he was harmed. I'm still thinking I must be missing something. 

Noah was saved, baptism... saves? If it is an appeal to God. How does this fit with the Presbyterian view of baptizing children? Can babies make an appeal to God? Or are their parents making an appeal to God? Does someone else's appeal "work"? Isn't it God's work? I have more questions of this part than answers, it seems. 

I wonder if this is why people ask questions at baptisms. They show that they are prepared to give an answer for their hope. 

But we do resolve with the resurrection of Jesus Christ who is our advocate at the right hand of God in heaven. He's in charge. So those questions can sit for now. I have the only answer I need. 


Monday, January 20, 2014

Traffic

1 Peter 3:8-12
Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing. For
“Whoever desires to love life    and see good days,let him keep his tongue from evil    and his lips from speaking deceit; let him turn away from evil and do good;    let him seek peace and pursue it. For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous,    and his ears are open to their prayer.But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.” 
It is amazing how foolish these words sound to the world. Sometimes I just want people to get what they gave me, or "get what they deserve" as if  I am some sort of impartial judge who knows what each crime should receive. And yet, this is not how Christ treated me. Here he calls me to become as he is and was... blessing and forgiving those who were trying to destroy him.

And we all want to know what God is calling us to. Here we have one clear answer: He is calling us to bless when we are cursed and to bless when we are reviled. No snappy retorts or witty comebacks. "Keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking lies." Do good to those who persecute you and do all sorts of evil against you. This means everyone from the friend who cheats at a card game even up to the heinous crime of cutting you off in traffic. This means do good to the person who is trying to get you fired at work and the person who could be the next suicide bomber and the person who gets you put in jail for your good works. All of these things are real; I'm not making them up.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Gold

1 Peter 3:1-7

Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives, when they see your respectful and pure conduct. Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear— but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God's sight is very precious. For this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their own husbands, as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. And you are her children, if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening.
Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered.
I find this passage a bit intimidating to write about. The same standards apply as always. Is it true? Will I
obey it? Of course it's true and I hope to obey it someday. Much of it applies to me whether married or not. Do I define myself by my appearance, by gold (or maybe cheaper stuff) or my clothes or even my weight? Yes. Do I sometimes spend more time on those things than on what is going on in my heart? Yes. Is my spirit quiet and gentle? Do I have to answer this online? Ouch. This is how holy women who hope in God adorn themselves. Do I hope it God? Husband or not, this is an intimidating and convicting passage. People usually get caught up in their reactions to the subject to husbands part and miss the fact that the rest of it is far harder. And the men don't get off easy either. They can get their prayers hindered by how they treat their wives. That's scary too.

Thursday, January 09, 2014

Shattered

1 Peter 2:18-24
Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust. For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.
Betrayal is one of the most painful things.
Believe me; I know. Hopes, dreams, trust, it all shatters in your hands all of a sudden and the shards leave you bleeding in a million places. When you've done good, that which is universally seen as good and then... Well, it's not easy. But how small has my suffering been compared to what my God has gone through for me? He chose his betrayer to be in his close circle. He knew he would betray. He ate with him the very night that the kiss was given. These are the steps we are to follow in. Jesus was faultless, doing only good. And yet God called him to face this. And he faced it by entrusting himself to the one who judges justly. He entrusted himself and his own will to the Father and to the Father's plan. Why? We were lost. And the shepherd bore betrayal, bore a thousand thousand tiny cuts all for us. All to heal us.

Wednesday, January 08, 2014

Honor

1 Peter 2:13-17
Be subject for the Lord's sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.
As Americans we hate authority. We think freedom means having no authority, which is wrong. People get worked up especially with regards to government. But this passage, and others like it, seem pretty clear that you are to honor governmental authority. But here in the US most of us have very few run-ins with the government, as much bad-mouthing might go on. So how about we get practical.

"Honor everyone." That's pretty all inclusive. What about the husband and wife who make porn in their basement? How about the gay couple that wants to adopt? How about the sullen goth teenager or the haughty businessman or the annoying neighbor? What about your sinning parents, siblings, spouses, children? That practical enough for you? Do we even need to move on to: Love the brotherhood, Fear God, Honor the emperor (president)?

I was taught to ask two questions of scripture: Is it true? Will I obey it?

Sometimes I find myself getting so caught up in the confusing parts of scripture that I forget the clear parts. There are more than enough clear parts to spend a lifetime learning to obey. What about this? Honor everyone.

Tuesday, January 07, 2014

Light

1 Peter 2:9-12
But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God's people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.
 It's a rather strong contrast here from the stumbling disobedience of the previous verses. We are not that anymore. Rather a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God's possession. But none of this is without purpose. This is all so that we may proclaim God's excellencies, his glory for what he has done for us. And what has he done? Called us out of darkness into light, made us his people, given us mercy. These are grand things. 

Next, rules. What? Why rules now? Because the passions of the flesh wage war against my soul. It is for my own good. Also, good conduct is one of the ways I can proclaim what God has done and thus fulfill part of my purpose. When I am spoken against as an evildoer the people will see my good deeds and glorify God. It isn't for my own glory. It's for God's glory. This is why I am set apart, for this work, for God's glory.