In the Place of Life (1 Peter 4:1-6)

Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because whoever suffers in the body is done with sin. As a result, they do not live the rest of their earthly lives for evil human desires, but rather for the will of God. For you have spent enough time in the past doing what pagans choose to do—living in debauchery, lust, drunkenness, orgies, carousing and detestable idolatry. They are surprised that you do not join them in their reckless, wild living, and they heap abuse on you. But they will have to give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead. For this is the reason the gospel was preached even to those who are now dead, so that they might be judged according to human standards in regard to the body, but live according to God in regard to the spirit. (New International Version)

I haven’t been a confessing Christian my entire life. And so, I can relate to Peter’s exhortation. I still remember what it feels like to live my life without any thought to God or spiritual matters. I also have many memories of giving my life to Christ and, for years, having people puzzled as to why I didn’t want to join them in activities which would clearly diminish my spirit and suck the soul out of me.

The thing about partying and immorality is that it’s a life filled with constant movement. Slowing down only makes one come face-to-face with what is truly inside the soul. And if someone has an empty vacuous soul, or a damaged spirit, or a broken heart, then attempting to drink or work away the inner pain makes sense when there’s no regard for God. 

The last thing I ever wanted to do was suffer, yet before my own spiritual awakening, it seemed I could never outrun the hurt no matter how hard I tried, even with all the constant locomotion.

But I found in a committed Christianity the slow and quiet place I so desperately needed. I discovered in ancient Christian practices of solitude, silence, and stillness the opportunity of finding my true self.

There are times in our lives when we need to explore the place between our hurting hearts and the hunting for joy. It’s actually a quiet place sandwiched between the ignominy of the cross and the celebration of resurrection. 

Within the geography of the soul, this is something of a lost country for many folks. Some people have never had the thought that such a place even exists. Yet, this is the very place which gives meaning and focus to a disjointed and frenetic lifestyle.

To be even more specific and focused, there cannot be a better life, a new life without a death to the old life and dying to self. There must be suffering before there can be glory.

I’m a heady sort of guy. Most things, for me, have to go through my brain. Although I have come to appreciate and value my heart and my gut, I still find myself sometimes gravitating toward my intellect as the answer for my stress. Yet, there are many times (maybe even most times) when I really need to get out of my head, connect to my gut, and wrap my heart around whatever problem or challenge is before me. 

I have been a devoted follower of Jesus for many decades now. Yet, I still encounter a sizable chunk of Christians who devalue the place between the real suffering on Good Friday, along with the very real death of Holy Saturday. In the tomb, there is no movement. All is silent and still. 

Jesus was in the solitude of a dark tomb. So, there’s no getting around it. If we want a Resurrection Day with all its celebration and glory, then we cannot circumvent the place of darkness and stillness.

To be a Christian means a readiness to follow Jesus and suffer as he did. It involves a willingness to stop our striving, manifested through constant movement, and embrace the disciplines of solitude, silence, and stillness with its contemplation and radical acceptance of what is – and not just what we want something to be. 

This requires the sense enough to pray and please a higher power than fair weather friends. It demands a Christian counter-cultural shift to face the ridicule of friends so that we might take some much-needed time to be with Jesus in his life, ministry, suffering, death, resurrection, and ascension.

Put plainly and bluntly: If you and I want to live with Jesus, we must die with Jesus.

I could give you ten steps to having a better life, but this would ultimately mean nothing apart from the willingness to spend some time and sit in the place of suffering and death.

And, ironically, in doing so, we find the life that is truly life, and discover a way of existence which is far greater and better than we could have ever dreamed.

Merciful and almighty God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, we submit ourselves to you, knowing that our lives are in the hands of a gracious and sovereign Being who cares deeply for all creation and every creature. May our longings for transcendence result in the deep and good desires of our hearts to be met fully in Christ, who with you and the Holy Spirit are one God, now and forever. Amen.

1 Peter 1:17-2:1 – Real Love Is…

Since you call on a Father who judges each person’s work impartially, live out your time as foreigners here in reverent fear. For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. He was chosen before the creation of the world but was revealed in these last times for your sake. Through him you believe in God, who raised him from the dead and glorified him, and so your faith and hope are in God.

Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for each other, love one another deeply, from the heart. For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God. For,

“All people are like grass,
    and all their glory is like the flowers of the field;
the grass withers and the flowers fall,
    but the word of the Lord endures forever.”

And this is the word that was preached to you.

Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind. (New International Version)

Love makes the world go round. The cycle of life brings an end to all things. Yet, the permanence of love has always existed, and will never cease to exist. (1 Corinthians 13:8-13)

Biblical godly love comes not because we first loved God, but because God first loved us and gave his Son, Jesus Christ, as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. (1 John 4:7-12)

So, the Christian’s faith and hope are completely grounded in the person and finished work of Jesus. People are so valuable to God that we were purchased from the slavery auction block with the costliest price ever: the precious blood of Jesus. 

To know this love of God in Christ, to be thoroughly captured and enraptured by it, results in a profound and deep love for others. And I’m not just referring to a nice touchy-feely love, but also a steadfast love which is committed to love regardless of what another person says or does.

Love is wonderful. But that doesn’t mean its easy. Being on the receiving end of love is a beautiful thing. Giving love, however, can sometimes get dicey.

You see, although we Christians really do believe that everything in life and ministry centers around the grace and love of God in Christ, our boots-on-the-ground loving sometimes seems compromised and conditional. That’s because it’s easy to love those who love us back. Yet, what if our love is not reciprocated or requited?

This situation brings us face-to-face with our own selves. The painful reality is that we all discover that our love is sometimes, maybe oftentimes, dependent on an assurance that we will be loved in return.

There is perhaps no more transcendent and glorious thing than mutual love. However, what happens when only one of the persons is able to give love? What do we do when grace is our only option, when we must choose to love, knowing that love won’t have a response?

Christians everywhere must come to the point of giving the same kind of love that God shows to us in Christ. We need to decide that grace is going to be our lifestyle. It comes down to this: It simply doesn’t matter what condition the other person is in. It doesn’t matter what another is going to say, or not say. Nothing on the other party’s side doesn’t matter. It…just… doesn’t… matter.

What really matters is our own loving another person deeply from the heart, regardless and in spite of everything else. That, my friends, is real Christian love.

“Love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the supple moves of prayer, for then you are working out of your true selves, your God-created selves. This is what God does. He gives his best—the sun to warm and the rain to nourish—to everyone, regardless: the good and bad, the nice and nasty. If all you do is love the lovable, do you expect a bonus? Anybody can do that. If you simply say hello to those who greet you, do you expect a medal? Any run-of-the-mill sinner does that.”

Jesus (Matthew 5:43-47, MSG)

Since we are redeemed people; since we have acknowledged the truth of Christ’s redemptive events of crucifixion and resurrection; since we are recipients of God’s great love to us in Jesus; we all must make the decision to live our lives full of grace and love, no matter what.  As God’s redeemed people, purchased by the precious blood of Christ, we will love one another unconditionally.

Unfortunately, over time, many Christians slowly become disconnected from this fountain of grace and love. It is likely that, at some past point, they were deeply touched by a gracious encounter with Jesus Christ. They found peace, love, and joy. Minds were swept up in the awe and wonder of God. Hearts were deeply moved for a few hours, days, or weeks. 

But then, there was a return to the routine grind of daily existence. Gradually, the demands of work and family took over. Jesus began to be treated like some old friend from another town whom we dearly loved in years past but have just lost track of. 

Of course, it was unintentional.  We simply allowed circumstances to drift us apart. We became preoccupied with something else. Now, we find ourselves with a low level irritation, frustrated with others and unable to love as we ought. We become what the late author Brennan Manning called “Christian agnostics” – people who do not deny Jesus, but just ignore him.

If your days are trivial and hectic…

If the clock determines what you do…

If you are numb to the news and headlines around you…

If you are all jangled and jittered by life’s circumstances…

If phones and computers and gadgets rule your day…

If there is little room for responding to humanity humanely…

If you have settled into a comfortable piety and a well-fed virtue…

If you have grown complacent and lead a practical life…

Then you need to be touched again by the grace and love of God in Christ by treating Jesus as if he were your very best friend as well as the awesome Son of God.

We are all still here walking on this earth because none of our failures and lack of faith have proved terminal.  We are here today because of God’s radical grace. 

The forgiveness of God is a gratuitous liberation from guilt and regret. It is an extreme amnesty. Through looking in the mirror, and seeing personal sinfulness, we amazingly end up encountering the merciful love of the redeeming God. 

The grace of God says to us, “Hush, child, I don’t need to know where you’ve been or what you’ve been up to; just let me love you.” 

When we have experienced that kind of love, we are then finally able to love one another deeply from the heart.  It is a new life of love, the kind of love that comes from God – an unconditional love that is permanent and will never go away – it is imperishable.

Therefore, as Christians loved by Christ and belonging to God:

  • We will not just show love when we are assured that we will be loved in return.
  • We will not just wait for others to show love to us first.
  • We will not expect to reach some higher level of knowledge or spirituality in order to be gracious and loving.
  • We will simply love with the love given to us by Jesus.
  • We will love with a gracious, sacrificial, vulnerable, and desperate kind of love. 

It is the kind of love that is like the waiting room in a hospital burn unit. Many years ago, I spent some time with a person in such a waiting room after her brother had been severely burned in a farm accident. In the waiting room we were all strangers. Yet, there was a loving vulnerability to our being together. I sat watching and waiting with anguished people, listening to their urgent questions: Will my husband make it? Will my child walk again even she survives? How do you live without your companion of thirty years? 

The burn unit waiting room is different from any other place in the world. And the people who wait are different. They can’t do enough for each other. No one is rude. The distinctions of race and class melt away. Each person pulls for everyone else. Vanity and pretense vanish. No one is embarrassed about crying or asking tough questions. In that moment their whole world is focused on the doctor’s next report. If only it will show improvement.

Everyone intuitively knows that loving someone else is what life is all about. 

By God’s amazing grace we will all learn to live like that without having to learn it the hard way in a place of intense anxiety and suffering.

Christ’s resurrection is not some flash-in-a-pan – it has staying power – it is real and permanent. Christ is the Christian’s hope of living a new life of gracious unconditional love. 

Jesus actually expects more failure from you than you expect from yourself. And he gives grace. So, all of our failures to love as we ought can be laid before Jesus because there is grace that covers it all – a deep love that forgives, redeems, and makes new.

Hallelujah. Thank you, Jesus.

1 Peter 3:8-18 – How to Live in a Messed-Up World

Stations of the Cross at Holy Hill, Hubertus, Wisconsin

Finally, all of you be of one mind, sympathetic, lovers of your fellow believers, compassionate, and modest in your opinion of yourselves. Do not pay back evil for evil or insult for insult. Instead, give blessing in return. You were called to do this so that you might inherit a blessing.

For those who want to love life
    and see good days
should keep their tongue from evil speaking
    and their lips from speaking lies.
They should shun evil and do good;
    seek peace and chase after it.
The Lord’s eyes are on the righteous
    and his ears are open to their prayers.
But the Lord cannot tolerate those who do evil.

Who will harm you if you are zealous for good? But happy are you, even if you suffer because of righteousness! Do not be terrified or upset by them. Instead, regard Christ the Lord as holy in your hearts. Whenever anyone asks you to speak of your hope, be ready to defend it. Yet do this with respectful humility, maintaining a good conscience. Act in this way so that those who malign your good lifestyle in Christ may be ashamed when they slander you. It is better to suffer for doing good (if this could possibly be God’s will) than for doing evil.

Christ himself suffered on account of sins, once for all, the righteous one on behalf of the unrighteous. He did this to bring you into the presence of God. Christ was put to death as a human but made alive by the Spirit. (CEB)

If there were a sign-up sheet for suffering, I am confident no one put their name to it. We like to avoid suffering. After all, it hurts! I would make a terrible masochist. I am not a high tolerance for pain kind of guy. I have no problem taking a Tylenol at the first sign of discomfort. Yet, I know there will be times when I am going to have to experience pain – physical, emotional, and spiritual – and there is no way around it. To live in this broken world is to experience suffering. To suffer as a Christian, however, is different because we are following the way of our Lord Jesus Christ.

The stark reality of the New Testament is that there must be suffering before glory. Just as Christ suffered, we ought to expect we will suffer as his followers. As Christians walk with Jesus during the season of Lent, they journey through the desert full of temptation and hard circumstances. At the end of the journey will be the glory of Easter, a celebration of the resurrection. Christian theology confidently practices hope based on the redemptive events of Christ’s cross and resurrection, suffering and glory.

Stations of the Cross at Holy Hill, Hubertus, Wisconsin

We are not above our Master. We, too, will suffer. The real question is whether we will suffer because of our own foolishness and selfishness, or because of our devotion to Christ in being kind, humble, and gracious.  When insults come our way, we avoid responding with insults of our own. Verbal cruelty is not the way of Christ. Anger, slander, gossip, lies, manipulative words, and belligerent bullying have absolutely no place in the kingdom of God for any reason. God takes a zero-tolerance policy toward hate speech.

Christians are to us their tongues exclusively for blessing, not cursing; for love, not hate; for truth, not lies; for building-up, not tearing-down; for proclaiming good news, not shame-laced bad news. If we suffer for being Christians in solidarity with our Lord, we shall receive blessing from God. But if we suffer for giving-in to retaliation and our base desires for revenge, then we will suffer the consequences of our own stupidity.

God has called us to bless the world, not condemn it. Christians are to be on the frontlines of the mobilizing others for mercy, leading the charge of spreading respect, civility, kindness, and the gospel. Jesus said that it is no problem to show love and respect to people we like. However, it is a whole other ballgame to do the same for those who treat us with disrespect and hate. Yet, God watches over all who obey him, and he listens to their prayers. God will handle the hate-filled person; judgment is for neither you nor me to dish out. Our task is to have a deep concern for humanity, both the ones we like and the ones we do not.

I encourage you to take some time today or in the next few days to read the epistle of 1 Peter slowly and carefully in one sitting. It is a short book. Pay attention to how the adversity of living in this fallen world gives Christians the opportunity, hope, and encouragement to live well. 

May it be so, to the glory of God.

Loving Lord Jesus, you suffered and died on my behalf.  It is a small thing for me to follow you and walk in the way of suffering. I know and have the confident expectation that blessing awaits. Keep me true to following you through all the adversity I must face in this fallen broken world. Even so, come Lord Jesus. Amen.