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.

Isaiah 41:14-20 – For Such a Worm as I

Do not fear, you worm Jacob,
    you insect Israel!
I will help you, says the Lord;
    your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel.
Now, I will make of you a threshing sledge,
    sharp, new, and having teeth;
you shall thresh the mountains and crush them,
    and you shall make the hills like chaff.
You shall winnow them and the wind shall carry them away,
    and the tempest shall scatter them.
Then you shall rejoice in the Lord;
    in the Holy One of Israel you shall glory.

When the poor and needy seek water,
    and there is none,
    and their tongue is parched with thirst,
I the Lord will answer them,
    I the God of Israel will not forsake them.
I will open rivers on the bare heights,
    and fountains in the midst of the valleys;
I will make the wilderness a pool of water,
    and the dry land springs of water.
I will put in the wilderness the cedar,
    the acacia, the myrtle, and the olive;
I will set in the desert the cypress,
    the plane and the pine together,
so that all may see and know,
    all may consider and understand,
that the hand of the Lord has done this,
    the Holy One of Israel has created it. (NRSV)

Each morning I rise and read God’s Holy Word. It is a discipline I have been doing for over forty years. In the past few years, I have begun reading more slowly and with greater contemplation – because the goal is not to check off having read some verses on a Bible reading plan. The aim is to connect meaningfully with God. The desired result is to hear the voice of the Lord, and to let the Scriptures do their incredible work in our hearts.

One of the ways I connect with Scripture, after having read the verses for the day several times, is to write it in my own words…

“My dear servant, there is no need whatsoever to worry yourself,

though others say about you,

            ‘That guy is nothing, only a wormy maggot!’

I am your holy God,

            who saves and protects you.

I’ll let you be like a big ol’ log

            covered with sharp spikes.

You will grind and crush

every mountain and hill in front of you

            until they turn to dust.

A strong wind will scatter the dust of unholy jerks

            in all directions.

Then you will celebrate

and praise me, your Lord,

            the holy God who watches your life.

When your financial budget no longer budges

and your bank accounts lie empty

            and you have no idea where to turn,

I, your Lord, and your God

will come to your rescue.

            I will not forget you.

I will make rivers of abundance flow

            on the desolate mountain peaks of your life.

I will send streams of life

to fill your empty valley of life’s tribulations.

Dry and barren places in your life

will flow with springs

            and become a lake of grace and goodness.

I will fill the parched desert areas of your needy life

            with all kinds of fruitful trees –

apple trees, olive trees, fig trees,

oak and walnut, elm and maple, fir, and pine,

like in the original garden,

all your needs will be met in and through me, your God.

Everyone will see this

            and know that I,

the holy Yahweh God whom you love and serve,

            created every bit of it.”

Whichever way we choose to view ourselves, as worm and insect, or as majestic person in the image of God, the spiritual reality continually before us is that the Lord will provide, bless, and care for us. We are the recipients of God’s gracious salvation. Although many modern hymnals do not include Isaac Watt’s, At the Cross, and if they do, the original words have been changed – it matters little. Because the action of deliverance belongs to God, and neither to you nor me. And even though we seem but lowly worms next to God, the Lord chooses to treat us with deference, accommodation, and care. Any low view of self is quickly eradicated in the face of such divine love.

Stanza 1:

Alas! and did my Savior bleed?

And did my Sov’reign die?

Would He devote that sacred head

For such a worm as I? 

Chorus:

At the cross, at the cross,

Where I first saw the light,

And the burden of my heart rolled away –

It was there by faith I received my sight,

And now I am happy all the day. 

By Isaac Watts (1674-1748) and published in 1707.

Hebrews 2:5-9 – For Everyone

Holy Hill Jesus
Jesus carrying his cross, from the Stations of the Cross at Holy Hill in Hubertus, Wisconsin.

It is not to angels that he [God] has subjected the world to come, about which we are speaking. But there is a place where someone has testified:

“What is mankind that you are mindful of them,
a son of man that you care for him?
 You made them a little lower than the angels;
you crowned them with glory and honor
     and put everything under their feet.”

In putting everything under them, God left nothing that is not subject to them. Yet at present we do not see everything subject to them. But we do see Jesus, who was made lower than the angels for a little while, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone. (NIV)

By Christmas eve of 1914, World War I had come to the point of trench warfare. On one point along the miles of trenches, there were the allied troops of French and Scots, and on the other side, the Germans. That night one Frenchman began singing Nuit Silencieuse (Silent Night). Eventually his comrades joined in. Much to their surprise, the Germans on the other side of the trench, recognizing the familiar tune, began singing in their native tongue, Stille Nacht, along with them. The Scots then joined in with their bagpipes. After the song, heads began to stick out from the trenches as both sides realized they had a common celebration in song.  This led to the white flags going up on both sides, and then the unthinkable happened. Both trenches, allied and axis powers, enemies of one another, left their holes in the ground and met in the middle, exchanging pictures, and communicating with each other.  The evening was capped off with the Scottish chaplain leading all the men together in a celebration of communion. The 2006 movie, Joyeux Noel, recounts the actual events.

Whenever we come together, expressed most highly for the Christian through the sacrament of communion, it puts our differences in their proper perspective – we all come together as one, not seeing each other as rich or poor, black or white, American or Asian, or anything else. The events of that Christmas eve in 1914, however, did not have a happy ending. The two sides found that, once the holiday had passed, they did not have the will to fight their new brothers. The top brass on each side were very upset and sent the Germans to the Russian front (and certain death); and, the Scottish chaplain was defrocked for his actions and sent home never to pastor again, letting us see in dramatic fashion that unity has a price.

Joyeux Noel
Scene from Joyeux Noel, 2006. A Scot, German, and Frenchman together on Christmas Eve on the western front of World War I.

The book of Hebrews was originally written (or preached) to encourage and exhort struggling Jewish Christians. The way the author of Hebrews did that was to point them squarely at Jesus. They were in danger of forgetting what the pioneer and champion of their salvation had done for them, and, what is more, they were in danger of reneging on their commitment to Christ. So, the entire book is dedicated to demonstrating and reminding discouraged believers that Jesus Christ is superior to everything, both in heaven and on earth.  Because of that truth, Jesus is worthy of our eternal devotion and remembrance.

Jesus is qualified to be our Savior and Lord. Every day and each minute of our lives are an opportunity for a fresh commitment to Jesus. The regular practice of Christian communion and consistent spiritual practices are meant to lead us into celebrating our Savior’s work. The worldwide communion of saints is celebrating with us in remembering and committing ourselves afresh to the lordship of Jesus Christ. A great victory has been won, not just in the trenches of human wars, but on the cross of Christ. This singular death on our behalf qualified Jesus to be our Savior from sin, once and for all.

Christ’s suffering qualified him to be our Savior.

Jesus suffered an inglorious and ignominious death. Yet, paradoxically, glory came through suffering. Jesus did not only suffer at his crucifixion; he experienced the full range of human suffering throughout his life.  He knew what it was like to face adversity and hardship. It is Christ’s suffering that helps us make sense of our own suffering. We can only truly be free from all that binds us by embracing that which makes us suffer. And because we live in a fallen world, we all personally suffer in some way. In addition, entire groups of people suffer – whether it is religious persecution, racial profiling, class warfare, or government oppression. This suffering is very much real, damaging, and dehumanizing which results in terrible living conditions and even death.

Maybe because of this reality, some tend to minimize their own suffering. After all, what is a harshly worded e-mail, trying to lose a few extra pounds, or an unexpected car repair compared to families devastated by COVID-19 and entire black neighborhoods in deathly peril?  It is all suffering none-the-less. It is good to keep our life situations in proper perspective; and, we must be careful to not tell God what he should and shouldn’t care about in this world.  If the only things that matter and qualify as hardship and difficulty is human trafficking, the terrors of war, or grinding poverty, then you will soon find yourself plastering a smile on your face and nodding over-enthusiastically whenever someone asks you how you are doing. Happy with-it Christians are insufferable, (pun intended).

Christ Carrying the Cross
Christ Carrying the Cross by Elijah Pierce, 1892-1984.

It is our task to find commonality and solidarity with Jesus in our own personal and corporate suffering. An admission of weakness, trouble, hardship, or suffering is neither a lack of faith nor the unpardonable sin. We know there must be a Good Friday before there is an Easter. Identifying with the adversity of our brothers and sisters in Christ throughout this nation and the world can be transformed into suffering that has meaning and significance. Our temporary sufferings now will someday result in the glory of being with Christ forever.

Christ’s suffering qualified him to be our compassionate helper.

Through the death of Jesus on the cross we have victory over Satan and all his wicked spirits. I have heard more than one motivational speaker say: “If you could do one thing in your life and not be able to fail, what would it be?” The truth is, because of Christ’s atoning sacrifice, we have victory and can live our lives in confidence and commitment to Jesus. What is more, we know that temporary failures and failings are not the end of the story. We possess a union with Christ because of the cross. Jesus is our champion. He stands with us in our suffering and temptations.

Christian speaker, author, and professor emeritus, Tony Campolo, told a story about observing communion when he was a child: “Sitting with my parents at a Communion service when I was very young, perhaps six or seven years old, I became aware of a young woman in the pew in front of us who was sobbing and shaking. The minister had just finished reading the passage of Scripture written by Paul that says, ‘Whosoever shall eat the bread and drink the cup of the Lord unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord’ (1 Corinthians 11:27). As the Communion plate with its small pieces of bread was passed to the crying woman before me, she waved it away and then lowered her head in despair. It was then that my Sicilian father leaned over her shoulder and, in his broken English, said sternly, ‘Take it, girl! It was meant for you. Do you hear me?’ She raised her head and nodded—and then she took the bread and ate it. I knew that at that moment a heavy burden was lifted from her heart and mind. Since then, I have always known that a church that could offer communion to hurting people was a special gift from God.”

In solidarity with all who suffer, along with your brothers and sisters who agonize throughout the world, we have the blessed opportunity of bringing our troubles to a gracious God – thus finding forgiveness and hope.  May your burdens be lifted, and may you know Christ, and him crucified, died, buried, risen, ascended, and coming again. For, precious one, he knows you because he tasted death for you – for everyone.

Merciful Lord help me to remember in these troubled times the cross you carried for my sake so that I may better carry mine and help others do the same. Since you tasted death that I might taste life, I forever belong to you and offer up all that I am and all I hope to be to the glory of Jesus Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Reformation Sunday

 
 
We all may be familiar with the fact that Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses on the door of the Wittenberg castle church which sparked the Protestant Reformation, but we are probably less familiar with the theological meat of Luther’s reforming spirit, his Heidelberg Disputation of 1518, written the year following the 95 Theses.
 
            In his Disputation, Luther contrasted two opposing ways of approaching Christianity.  He called these two ways the theology of the cross and the theology of glory.  The cross, as expressed by Luther, is God’s attack on human sin.  It is the death of Christ that is central to Christianity, and one must embrace the cross and rely completely and totally upon Christ’s finished work on the cross to handle human sin.  It is through being crucified with Christ that we find the way to human flourishing and life.  In other words, righteousness is gained only by grace through faith in Christ.
 
            The theology of glory is the opposing way of the cross.  For Luther, the wicked person, and the vilest offender of God is not the person who has done all kinds of outward sinning that we readily see.  You perhaps have an idea in your head of what the worst of sinners is like.  My guess is that it probably has something to do with an actual sinful lifestyle or particular evil acts. 
 
            Luther, however, insisted that the worst of sinners are those people who do good works, who pursue a theology of glory.  More specifically, the wicked person is the one who has clean living and does all kinds of nice things, but does them disconnected from God by wanting others to see their good actions.  Another way of putting it is that the wicked person is one who seeks to gain glory for him/herself, rather than giving glory to God.
 
            Our good works, Luther insisted, are the greatest hindrance to being a truly righteous person and living in the way of the cross.  It is far too easy to place faith in our good works done apart from God, rather than having a naked trust in Christ alone.  It is far too easy to do good things for the primary purpose of having others observe our goodness, rather than do them out of the good soil of being planted in God’s Word.  The only remedy for sin is the cross, and the sinner is one who lives life apart from that cross, trusting in him/herself so that people can recognize them and give them their due respect and praise.
 
            Here is what Luther had to say in a nutshell concerning his thoughts:  “It is impossible for a person not to be puffed by his good works unless he has first been deflated and destroyed by suffering and evil until he knows that he is worthless and that his works are not his but God’s.”
 
            So, then, the answer to this problem of doing good works out of our intention of gaining glory for ourselves is not to avoid good works, but to do them from the good soil of being planted in the law of God and being connected to the vine of Christ. 
 

 

            Reformation Sunday is a time to remember, and a time to repent.  We remember that we are saved by grace alone through faith alone in Jesus Christ.  We also take the time to repent of our works done apart from Christ and acted for the accolades of others.  Perhaps what we need today is another Reformation, that is, a reformation of spiritual habits that truly connect us to the vine of Christ – practices that shape our lives around the person and work of Jesus, and not around the idols of our hearts that make us look good and impress others.  What will you choose on this day?