“Beloved, I urge you as aliens and exiles to abstain from the desires of the flesh that wage war against the soul.” –1 Peter 2:11
It will get better. God promises it will. It will not always be this way. If you and I will not surrender to our desires to get even, fight back, cajole, manipulate, intimidate, talk under our breath to others, and live like the natives – and if you and I continue to do good in both speech and action – then, by God’s grace, we will together bring honor to Jesus Christ on the day he comes again.
You might think I’m talking about all the worldly people out there who assault the faith. Yes, they are in the back of my mind. But, to be honest, I’m thinking primarily about the culture within many (not all or even most) churches today. Maybe you can relate to these kinds of scenarios:
· Suzy sits in the back of church, all by herself. Everyone else seems to have it all together. But today she is hurting, lonely, and scared. Suzy wants to live for Jesus, to learn more about him, but no one seems to share her deep passion for this. She quietly cries, the tears streaming down her face. She cries alone with no one willing to sit and cry with her.
· Bill really enjoyed the sermon. It was as if the pastor were speaking directly to him with solid biblical truth applied with wisdom to his heart. In the narthex afterward, Bill tries to engage others in discussing what they all just heard. He only gets blank stares and uncomfortable looks. The weather, sports, and a dose of how politicians aren’t getting it right are the topics of conversation. No one will talk with Bill about Jesus.
· Jim has lots of great relationships with people outside of church. He enjoys talking with them about his faith because its just a natural point of conversation for him. Jim loves Jesus, and he wants others to know him, too. Inside the church, Jim feels like others look at him like he’s weird. No one seems to share his passion to share Jesus with others.
These, and many more real examples just like them, can be found every Sunday. Suzy, Bill, and Jim all feel like aliens and strangers in the foreign land of church. Its tempting to either get angry, or depressed, or just quietly leave, never to return to the awkward place that feels more like a country club for insiders than a church full of broken people in need of the grace and healing ministry of Jesus in their lives.
The Apostle Peter, writing all those centuries ago, did not tell his readers and listeners that it will all be okay. On the contrary, he promised them that suffering is a reality. The point for Peter is whether we suffer as Christians, or as like any garden variety worldly person who doesn’t know Jesus. It’s one thing to suffer for you own bad decisions, and its another thing to suffer for being a Christian.
The good news is that Jesus knows what you are going through. He suffered here on earth. Now you must be ready to suffer as he did because suffering shows that you belong to him (1 Peter 4:1-2). Don’t be surprised at how indifferent and even calloused people in the pews can be. Take heart from this in God’s Word:
“Dear friends, don’t be surprised or shocked that you are going through testing that is like walking through fire. Be glad for the chance to suffer as Christ suffered. It will prepare you for even greater happiness when he makes his glorious return. Count it a blessing when you suffer for being a Christian. This shows that God’s glorious Spirit is with you. But you deserve to suffer if you are a murderer, a thief, a crook, or a busybody. Don’t be ashamed to suffer for being a Christian. Praise God that you belong to him.” (1 Peter 4:12-16, CEV)
I can’t even begin to tell you, my dear friends, how many hurting people I’ve dealt with who have left the church; and, the many folks currently within churches who feel lonely, isolated, and don’t know what to do because they have a sincere passion for Jesus, an ardent desire to know God’s Word, and want to fellowship with others around these longings… but have found a cool reception.
Now, here is the punch line, and why I’ve been speaking with you about the condition of so many congregations today and the hurting people who love Jesus within them:
“God has already begun judging his own people. And if his judgment begins with us, imagine how terrible it will be for those who refuse to obey his message.” (1 Peter 4:17)
I want you to know that you are not alone. God has chosen and reserved a great number of passionate believers. You are not Elijah, all by yourself in the cave. You are not Stephen, the singular saint who stood in front of his own people and was stoned. You are, however, a precious stone in the building which God is erecting with Christ as the cornerstone. (1 Peter 2:4-8)
I’m not here to tell you what to do in or with your church. I am here to communicate grace, mercy, and peace to you in your sincere desire to honor and please Jesus in everything you say and do. Peter is one of the great witnesses watching over you and cheering you on.
Blessings to you, and may God fulfill every good desire in your heart through Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.