incentive to godliness: leaving the past behind

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.

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.

1 Peter 4:1-11

Peter wrote to Christians who had once lived what scripture calls fleshly, sinful lives. The list he gives is obvious, and today is no different. Pornography for example is a huge market, and many it has taken down. Of course there are other sins maybe more acceptable to society at large, but nevertheless destructive as well. Usually especially to relationships, and also simply to one’s well being.

Peter’s words alluding to Christ’s suffering, and then saying we should arm ourselves with the same, in a kind of bodily way, so it impacts how we live seems I suppose Catholic to many of us. So be it. Peter points back to their wild, reckless past as an incentive to live differently in the present. And in the face of ridicule for doing so. In so doing, they will be following Christ, living out that following. And to do so, Peter is suggesting, again, that they’re to arm themselves with a mindset which embraces suffering in the body. Actually what might be spoken of here is the refusal to do what one is tempted to do in the body. We realize that the rest of the letter speaks of suffering in terms of persecution for their faith.

This incentive to live godly lives because of past ungodliness might be especially helpful to younger Christians. But it should provide incentive to us all. It actually puts us in a sphere of life and experience where we live bodily for something else entirely. Not to indulge ourselves, but to deny ourselves. Not really to deny our humanity, either. The New International Version adds “evil” to “human desires” to make that clear (click link above to compare with Greek, and other translations). But in doing so, it maybe to some extent loses a certain sense of what this scripture is saying. Yes, strictly speaking Peter is not telling those Christians that they can’t eat and drink and marry, etc. But what the passage does seem to be saying is that a Christian should live not for the fulfillment of legitimate human desires, but rather for the will of God. That such an attitude is a necessary fortification to not drift into what actually is evil. And important even, in us fulfilling God’s will in our lives.

I include what is the second paragraph in the translation above, because Peter puts that together with the call to live differently. It is to be done so in Christian love with acts of service.

Our lives are lived bodily. What we do and don’t do are important. We live bent on doing God’s will. When we fail, of course there’s always confession and repentance, and if need be for a serious enough offense, restoration. This passage indeed points to reformation, to a changed life, completely different than the world not only accepts, but often celebrates. We seek to follow Christ in a different way. Finding our fulfillment, including as humans, in that. In and through Jesus.

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the real world: Christians and the state/politics

The idea of “the real world” can be as different as night and day in what Christians mean, and from that, how they act. John Stackhouse, a Baptist theologian, believes something like a kind of realism which accepts the good and bad, along with the limitations in government, and makes the most of it, of course trying to arrive to what’s best, but realizing there will inevitably be shortfalls and issues and new problems will arise. Then there’s the meaning of “the real world” which might come from what’s called a Christian anarchist position, here summarized well by Greg Boyd. It basically takes the position that what happens in worldly government is rather beside the point for the follower of Christ. They should be living with one world in mind, God’s kingdom present in Jesus. So for them, that’s the real world. The rest is a charade, or worse. Destined for God’s judgment.

I see something of both perspectives when I look at scripture. The realism advocated which says Christians can and even should get their hands dirty by getting involved in civil societies, of course doing so with integrity and Christian truth, we can see clearly enough in Daniel, and to some extent, arguably, in the New Testament itself. The other position is clearly seen in the gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. What Jesus calls his disciples to, God’s kingdom present in him, certainly political itself in that it is a way of life under his rule.

What might be a determining factor is to read what follows in what unfolds after Christ’s resurrection and ascension and the outpouring of the Spirit. It does seem to emphasize what our witness in the world is to be as the church and as believers. It really doesn’t say anything about Christians serving in government, but rather how Christians are to respond to government. There are instances of people in the New Testament who have faith and serve in government positions.

So at this point I think like life, it’s complex. It is easy to simply withdraw. But it seems to me more Jesus-like to remain in society, but with a different message. After all, if we don’t have a different answer, then what is distinctive about us as Christians? Isn’t what we’re called to live, and if necessary die for, the gospel, the good news of God in Jesus? Regardless of just how we come down on the question of Christians and the state, there should be no question that this is what distinguishes us from the world.

And that will require a different track and wisdom, I think, then what we see from either the Christian left or Christian right in the United States. Both fail in compromising by not holding to the gospel as paramount in every consideration. Miserably. I take neither one of them seriously at all, myself. Both fail because in one way or another, their witness to Christ and the gospel is compromised. That ought to be our first and foremost concern: how will what we do or not do in the world impact our witness to Christ?

Maybe the best position is to leave the answer a bit nebulous, uncertain, but major on what we do know is our calling: to be faithful to Christ and the gospel. We must avoid any position that mixes the cross and the flag together. However we think our responsibilities to the state are to be played out, like paying taxes, and honoring those in authority, we must make it clear to all that Christ’s kingdom is different, not from this world, though down to earth, but in a completely different way. We certainly do good works to help people in need, and solve problems.

Something for our consideration, or at least what I’ve been considering lately. As we ponder what it means as Christians and the church to be a faithful witness in the world. In and through Jesus.

Jesus’s call to follow

As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” he told him, and Matthew got up and followed him.

While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”

On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’[a] For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

Matthew 9:9-13

Jesus calling Matthew, the tax collector is quite interesting on a number of levels. Tax collectors were despised, and especially those who as Jews worked for what was considered by many to be the enemy, the Roman government. They collected taxes which could be costly, especially to a poor family. And often added extra money, not required by the Romans, for themselves.

But Jesus, as he was prone to do, is willing to upset the apple cart, so often challenging the norms of Jewish religious life, actually by just doing what he did, while maintaining other customs such as teaching in the synagogues. Jesus walks right up to Matthew sitting at his tax collector’s booth, and tells Matthew to follow him.

It is a call, and Matthew answers the call by literally getting up, and following Jesus. Such a call was based on the premise that the one calling was a rabbi. A rabbi, or we often translate that, teacher, is actually more than a teacher, say in a classroom setting as we’re accustomed to today. They certainly taught, but their students were more than just students, just like they were more than teachers. Their students were to be followers, to follow their example and emulate or imitate their life.

The story that unfolds here is instructive in itself, the Jewish religious leaders reaction, and Jesus’s response to them, pointing them to scripture, and their failure to understand, much less practice what it says.

Matthew goes on to write the gospel account that bears his name, part of which is quoted above. He answered Christ’s call, and left all to follow. Tradition tells us he was among the early Christian martyrs.

To be a follower means to follow someone, and to the Jews in rabbinic tradition, that meant to do what they did, to become like them (see Lois Tverberg’s books and writings, which are most helpful along this line).

By the Spirit through the gospel that call continues today. We answer the call in the affirmative like Matthew did, or we fail to heed the call at all. A call to leave all behind and follow the one not only in what we do and don’t do, but in who we are, what we are becoming, our very mindset, heart, and life. To become like Jesus, in and through him.

regaining our focus away from politics or what not

Jesus and his disciples went on to the villages around Caesarea Philippi. On the way he asked them, “Who do people say I am?”

They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.”

“But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”

Peter answered, “You are the Messiah.”

Jesus warned them not to tell anyone about him.

He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.

But when Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter. “Get behind me, Satan!” he said. “You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”

Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.”

Mark 8:27-38

John Dickson’s chapter entitled “Christ” in his helpful book, A Doubter’s Guide to Jesus underscores the fact that Jewish anticipation of God’s promise of the Messiah from scripture, and Jesus’s fulfillment of such did not match. They wanted someone who would bring military victory against their enemies, and through that, implement a peace, meaning, shalom, which would cover the entire earth. Jesus’s fulfillment was completely unanticipated, and in fact, an affront to their understanding. All crucified Messiahs were proven impostors, and after all, didn’t scripture say that all who were hung on a tree were under God’s curse? And yes, that was true of Jesus, but in a remarkably different way than they surmised. Under God’s curse so as to remove that curse through his death to bring salvation and blessing to the world. But it was the way of the cross, never of the power of worldly kingdoms and government. Read the gospels, Matthew through John, to verify this along with the rest of the New Testament.

We are at a fever pitch right now in the United States over politics, quite divided to say the least, and it seems like we’ve fallen into the fray as badly as the rest. We believe in political power. But in so doing, aren’t we doing what Jesus was actually getting at: forfeiting our souls, even as Satan tempted Jesus to do when he showed Jesus all the kingdoms and their splendor, offered to Jesus if he would only worship Satan.  Of course Jesus dispelled that immediately, interestingly on the basis of scripture, quoting the passage where it tells Israel (and us) that we’re to worship the Lord our God, and serve him only. But also implicit in that is the reality that God’s kingdom in Jesus is not of this world, and in fact, though down to earth, is from another place, of a higher, heavenly realm, just as Jesus said elsewhere.

We need to get a grip in realizing that no matter what happens in American politics, or elsewhere, our life and good depends on God’s promise in Jesus and the gospel. Not just for us, but for the world, we bearing witness to that. That can take a tremendous weight off our hearts. We live for Christ and the gospel, and if need be die for that. And we depend on that. Nothing else.

That doesn’t mean that none of us can serve in political places of this world. Daniel did. But like Daniel, they will likely face opposition and trouble as they live for and with God’s kingdom in view. Not an easy road to take, either. Complete commitment to Christ and the gospel must accompany that.

We pray for those in positions of governing authority, and hope for the good of our nation, and all other nations. And living in a democratic republic or nation like the United States, we participate in the political process as we feel led. But we remember that whatever happens anywhere in the world, while it may bear great and even grave consequences, to be sure, we in Jesus live by and for one thing: God’s word, the message of God’s good news in Jesus for us and for the world. Anything else we’re involved in only in light of and in submission to that. In and through Jesus.

 

taking our eyes off the Lord

“Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.”

“Come,” he said.

Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!”

Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?”

Matthew 14:28-31

If there’s one thing I’m probably good at, it’s getting focused on, and honed in to a problem, and spiraling down, when the problem can’t easily be resolved. It’s not like we’re supposed to ignore reality, or pretend problems don’t exist. We do carry plenty of responsibility in this life, and we’re to endeavor to stay on top of things insofar as we possibly can.

Why our Lord would walk on the water is an interesting question. Some might say to display his Deity, others, only to demonstrate the difference faith can make. Peter, as did the other disciples, saw himself as a follower of Jesus in the sense of following a Rabbi (Teacher), which meant he was to imitate, or do whatever the Teacher did. So it would be natural for him to assume that if Jesus could walk on the water, than he could too. Certainly bold, as well. And yes, that’s precisely what he did, Jesus responding to his request in the affirmative.

This reminds me of how the Lord has helped me in not ignoring a problem, but bringing it to him, entrusting it into his hands, and then proceeding in peace. Addressing the problem in a more sane, relaxed manner, and moving to, as well as settling in what seems to be the Lord’s leading, and remaining there.

But it’s all too easy, either ourselves, or maybe especially when someone else in our lives, points to the problem in near panic, to follow suit, cave in, and then lose out. Just what Peter did. He saw the waves whipped up by the wind, immediately became afraid, and began to sink. In faith he cried out to the Lord to save him, and Jesus certainly did. Yet Jesus rebuked him, I’m sure gently, for his lack of faith.

This so much reminds me of myself. Just how easily I can get my eyes off Jesus onto the problem, and then inevitably what faith I had is gone, and I’m left on my own to deal with it. God somehow wants us to deal with issues of this life with the help of what will be common place and completely natural in the next life, completely at peace in God, even in sync with God so-to-speak. That is neither an easy lesson for most of us to learn or hold on to, since we’re so used to taking matters in our own hands apart from God, and used to bad things happening if we don’t.

We don’t pretend the issue doesn’t exist, but we endeavor to commit it to God, and either God will help us work through it or let it go, trusting in his direction that it’s alright. The Lord calls us, so to speak, to walk on the water with him in this life. That what would ordinarily sink us doesn’t; we keep on walking, because our eyes are fixed on him. Always in and through Jesus.

 

building our lives on Jesus’s teaching: Matthew 7:24-27

“Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”

Matthew 7:24-27

living for God’s will, period

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.

1 Peter 4:1-6

The call to follow Christ does not exclude human desires. We should enjoy God’s gifts, certainly including our humanity. The problem is that we are fallen, broken, and twisted in everything. Although I would prefer that the NIV wouldn’t have added “evil” to “human desires”, in the context that’s understandable, so maybe the addition is debatable. Human desires per se is not the issue so much in the context. Yet on the face of it, it does seem God is calling Christians to a different orientation: away from human desire to do the will of God. But God’s will does not negate our humanity. We might say it regulates it according to God’s standards as opposed to merely human standards; what God thinks, not what man thinks.

So our passion in life should be to live for God’s will, not for human desires. In the context, Peter refers to suffering in the body, being willing, even arming ourselves with the attitude of accepting such suffering, since Christ also suffered in his body. Such suffering seems to bring a sanctifying, purifying effect on us. So that we no longer live for what we want, but for what God wants. No longer living as the world does, but as Christ did.

I guess being Christian does somewhat marginalize us in the United States, but it’s actually an acceptable part of our culture, even to this day. To think that the culture of the US was ever Christian through and through is mistaken, although certain Christian standards were once nearly universally accepted, whereas now, such is not the case. Peter’s list here of the acts of pagans are universal, and often those raised in the church have participated to some extent in them. There’s a call here to reject all such, which for those following Christ is a given. But no longer living for human desires as a Christian means living for and in God’s will. That should be our passion, what we want, what we choose to do day after day as we seek to follow our Lord. In and through him.