Real Christian Life . . . and the Government (Part 2)

1 Peter 2 (13-17)What do you think of your political leaders? To be honest, many Christians would have to admit they don’t think much of politicians!

What do you think of the government? What do you think about the institutions, the agencies and bureaucracies at the local, state and federal level? Many people wish some of them would go away. In the recent election, “drain the swamp!” was one of now-President Trump’s rallying cries.

The concept is timeless; the political class is corrupt, underhanded and looking out for itself. There is an implicit assumption that all bureaucrats, at all levels of government, are inept and incompetent at best, and nefarious at worst. Even in the Apostle Peter’s day, one pagan writer referred to Rome as the city “where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world meet and become popular.”[1]

It’s almost expected that we should despise politicians, government and those who work for “the state.” In America, we need only look to this recent political season to see the hateful rhetoric and vitriol we often show to politicians from “the other side.” Too often, Christians let their secular political passions get the best of them, and join in on this feeding frenzy of scorn and ridicule. That is wrong.

The Apostle Peter wrote his first letter in a very different context. Christians were under pressure from a pagan society to conform, or at least round some of the “rough edges” off their faith. Former pagans had been ostracized from their communities, cut off from all the support structure they had. Former Jews, who believed Jesus was the fulfillment of their Scriptures, likely had it even worse. The storm clouds of persecution had not yet broken open upon the Christians, but they were about to.

In Jerusalem, James the Just had recently been killed by a Jewish mob, thrown from the top of a building in the temple complex, stoned as he lay injured and crippled, then his head had been beaten in by a club [2]. In Rome, the Emperor Nero would soon conveniently blame Christians for starting a massive fire which had destroyed a good portion of the city. He would use this marginalized “Jewish sect” as a scapegoat, and kill many believers in awful ways. [3]

When Peter commanded Christians to “submit yourselves to every human authority because of the Lord,” he didn’t have our quaint American context in mind. He wrote for a darker time, for a more serious context. In the West, we are blessed beyond all imagination. When we Christians consider “persecution” here, we talk about losing our 501(c)(3) status and cry about bakers being forced to make cakes. In Peter’s day, people died horribly for their faith.

Yet, Peter still wrote those words, and God wanted him to write them. You see, God isn’t concerned with our comfort in the here and now; this is what Peter warned us about elsewhere (1 Peter 1:1-6; 4:12-19). The early Christians rejoiced in persecution, because they knew they were a testimony for Christ (see Acts 4; especially 4:23-31). Instead, we’re commanded to make our entire way of life holy, so we might have opportunity to help draw people to Christ by our own example in the midst of terrible trials. One of those contexts was in dealing with the government.

So to return to modern politics, it’s clear there’s a lot for Christians to disagree with. But, the Apostle Peter tells us we should always submit ourselves to every human authority, anyway. Of course, the Bible qualifies this blanket statement elsewhere (see, for example Acts 4-5).  But, in general terms, we should respect human authority “because of the Lord.”

But, we often don’t do that, do we? This isn’t the way our culture operates today; our culture encourages people to act petulant, childish, angry and crazed when they do not like a politician or agree with his politics or policies.

Last week, we spent some time in Sunday School talking about this. How we speak and think about government institutions and officials, at all levels (local, state and federal) is important. The Christian message is offensive enough; we shouldn’t compound this by crazed activism, un-Christlike rhetoric or insurrection.

Take a listen to the audio (below), and let’s see what Peter has to say about all this. It will take us several weeks to discuss this passage, and some of its implications. The teaching notes for the passage are here. All audio and teaching notes for the 1 & 2 Peter series so far are here. Feel free to contact me with any questions, or to comment below.

Notes

[1] From Tacitus, “Annals 15.44.2-8.” This excerpt is from J. Stevenson (ed.), A New Eusebius, revised by. W.H.C. Frend (London, UK: SPCK, 1987), 2-3.

[2] I follow Eusebius’ account, who quotes from a near-contemporary source (Ecclesiastical History, 2.23). Josephus makes no mention of James being clubbed to death (Antiquities, 20.9.1).

[3] From Tacitus, “Annals 15.44.2-8.” This excerpt is from J. Stevenson (ed.), A New Eusebius, revised by. W.H.C. Frend (London, UK: SPCK, 1987), 2-3.

Real Christian Life . . . and the Government (Part 1)

It’s easy to lose your perspective. We live in a very self-absorbed, historically ignorant culture. We know, intellectually at least, that we can learn from people who have come before us. We get it. But, functionally, we don’t get it. We often act as though what’s happening right now is momentous, unprecedented, and unparalleled. That’s often not the case at all.

We live in a very politically charged atmosphere. Old mores are being toppled, the “shackles” of a Puritan-esque Christian ethic (though, to be sure, our society left Puritanism behind a long time ago, but never mind the facts) and are being cast off with glee. Our society has formerly transformed from a false “Christian Americana,” to outright secularism. To be sure, America has been secular for quite a while, but now she feels free to revel in it, without the rusty, embarrassing remnants of a Christian ethical compass to hold her back.

The historian George Marsden wrote about this bygone age in American culture, which he believes was at its height in the later quarter of the 19th century. He described it well; very well. Those who grew up in the old “Bible Belt” will understand exactly what Marsden was getting at. He wrote:

A veneer of evangelical Sunday-school piety covered almost everything in the culture, but no longer did the rhetoric of idealism and virtue seem to touch the core of the materialism of the political and business interests. It was a dime store millennium.[1]

This dimestore millennium endured for a while. I believe we saw its last gasp this past decade. Now, it’s gone. Russell Moore, a Southern Baptist leader and minister a generation older than me, wrote this about his Boy Scout troop and the cultural Christianity of his childhood in the South:

The “God and Country” badge wasn’t really about conforming us to the gospel, or to the Bible, to any confessional Christian tradition, or even, for that matter, to the “mere Christianity” of the ancient creeds and councils. This project didn’t want to immerse us (or even sprinkle us) into the strange world of the Bible, with its fiery spirits and burning bushes and empty tombs. We were here for the right kind of Christianity, the sort that was a means to an end. We were to have enough Christianity to fight the Communists and save the Republic, as long as we didn’t take it all too seriously.[2]

That version of America is gone, and it’ll never come back.

So, Christians in America are in a quandary. How should we live, work and minister in a culture which is so adamantly pagan and secular? The Apostle Peter tells us how. And (to return to my point about perspective), Peter is a guy who wrote and ministered in a much more secular time than we live in today, in the West.

Not long after Peter died for his faith (likely on the orders of the Roman Emperor, Nero), Christians were periodically ordered to declare their allegiance to the Emperor by offering incense to him, and worshipping him. Now, that’s a quandary. Do you think our political climate is unprecedented? Peter faced Nero. You face MSNBC. Children, please . . .

Our text for next few week is very practical; it speaks to real life, in the real world, and how Christians should think about and deal with the government (really, all people in authority).

1 Peter 2 (13-17)

  • Who are you supposed to submit yourself to?
  • What does it mean to “submit yourself?”
  • How should this inform how you interact with government officials, or refer to them in private conversations, public conversations, and your posts on social media?

Take a listen to the audio (below), and let’s see what Peter has to say about all this. It will take us several weeks to discuss this passage, and some of its implications. The teaching notes for the passage are here. All audio and teaching notes for the 1 & 2 Peter series so far are here. Feel free to contact me with any questions, or to comment below.

Notes

[1] George Marsden, Understanding Fundamentalism and Evangelicalism (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1991), 10.

[2]  Russell D. Moore, Onward: Engaging the Culture without Losing the Gospel (Nashville, TN: B&H, 2015), 11-12.

Fleeing from the Lurking Evil

shadow
The Shadow knows . . .

Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows . . .are here

Well, he’s not the only one. God knows. And, you know it, too – because you know yourself. That’s why the Bible tells Christians to flee from the worldly lusts that war against your souls.

Why?

Because we’re good at lying to ourselves. We’re good at making up stupid, idiotic and ridiculous excuses for our own actions. We know we have a problem, but we do nothing about it. We content ourselves with some impotent, feeble prayer for “strength,” but we’re not serious. How do we know this? Because we don’t take any concrete action that proves we’re serious. We’re often all talk.

If we were honest with ourselves, we’d identify sins we struggle with, and take steps to protect ourselves . . . from ourselves. We’d flee from the worldly lusts that are battling against our very souls. If you’re a Christian, you know what your problems are, and I bet you have some good ideas about some defensive measures you can take to protect yourself from temptation.

You know it. The Shadow knows it. God knows it. The Apostle Peter knows it.

The Apostle Peter wanted Christians to live holy lives. He begged them to do it, in the letter he wrote (1 Peter 2:11-12). He told them to always keep far away from worldly lusts. He said these lusts are warring against our souls. He said we had to do this because we’re foreigners and temporary residents here.

There’s a lot here, and it has nothing to do with the fake cultural “Christianity” that’s so common today. It has to do with real life, and your mission in that life every single day – if you’re a Christian.

There are a whole bunch of questions that spring to mind:

  1. Why does Peter beg them to do this?
  2. How should you “keep far away” from these lusts in your life, whatever they are?
  3. What has changed in your life after salvation with regards to sin’s power and hold over you? What can you do now, that you couldn’t do before you became a follower of Christ?
  4. What does Peter mean when he writes that these worldly lusts are “warring against your souls?” What impact could these lusts have on your individual mission, as a holy priest for God?
  5. What does being a “foreigner and temporary resident” have to do with anything?

This past Sunday, we covered some of this and had a good discussion. The audio is below. The teaching notes for the passage are here. All audio and teaching notes for the 1 & 2 Peter series so far are here. Feel free to contact me with any questions, or to comment below.

Protecting Yourself from . . . Yourself?

Peter is a practical guy. He isn’t content to dwell on abstractions. Do you know what abstractions are? It’s stuff that’s theoretical, not practical. It’s stuff that’s up in the clouds, and doesn’t actually reflect reality. It’s ideas that are good ideas, but they’ll never be tested and tried by real people, in real situations.

That’s not Peter.

In 1 Peter 2:4-10, the apostle gave us some more doctrinal foundations. He did it so the real practical stuff he’s about to cover won’t make us run for the hills. He did this once before, in 1:1-12. Now, he does it again.

If you’re a Christian, you should act like one. That’s not exactly news, I know; but Peter has a larger point:

  • If God took you out of Satan’s family and adopted you into His family
  • If God made you alive, and made you an individual building block in the spiritual house that is His church
  • If God made you a holy priest, to represent and show Him and His Son’s Good News to the people He put you around
  • If He gave you this honor, and you should never, ever be ashamed of it
  • If he did all this so you’d show the wonderful things God did, who called you out of the darkness and into His amazing light
  • If God made you His chosen people, a royal priesthood and a holy nation – His own people

. . . then how can you not want to live Godly lives? If you don’t, then you’re failing in your mission! So, that’s the background to his command in this passage (1 Peter 2:11-12).

How do you start to “always keep far away from worldly lusts which are battling against your souls?” Well, take a listen (below) and find out how to start!

The audio is below. The teaching notes for the passage are here. All audio and teaching notes for the 1 & 2 Peter series so far are here. Feel free to contact me with any questions, or to comment below.

1 pet 2 (11-12)

Your Mission . . .

It’s always good to know what you’re doing. Have you ever worked for somebody who had no idea what he was doing? Was it fun? No, I didn’t think so.

I’ve been in these situations before. It’s like watching a train wreck in slow motion. You’re horrified at what’s coming, but you’re too amazed to look away. Like a spectator at a grisly accident scene, you can’t not look. . .

What is your mission, as a Christian? What is the collect mission of your congregation? If you don’t know what you’re doing, then you won’t accomplish much. If your church doesn’t know what it’s supposed to be doing, then it won’t accomplish much, either.

  • What’s your individual identity? To use a horrible, contemporary term, how should a Christian “self-identify?”
  • If you’re a Christian, why did God save you from yourself and give you eternal life?
  • What implications does this have for your congregation and its mission?

Thankfully, the Bible tells us what a congregation ought to be doing. It also tells you what you need to be doing. And if you’re a Christian, unlike Ethan Hunt, you have no choice but to accept this mission . . .

This past Sunday, we wrapped up our discussion on this passage (1 Peter 2:4-10) with the last two verses (vv.9-10). The audio is below. The teaching notes for the passage are here. All audio and teaching notes for the 1 & 2 Peter series so far are here. Feel free to contact me with any questions, or to comment below.

1 pet 2 (9-10)

Living Stones in God’s House

Peter has a lot of practical advice for Christians. His original audience were believers who faced “unofficial” hostility from society. The storm cloud of official, state-sanctioned persecution had not yet broken, but it didn’t a meteorology degree to see it was coming soon. These new Christians faced all sorts of pressures from evil-intentioned and well meaning people, alike.

Some were Jews who embraced Jesus as the long-promised Messiah, and had been abandoned by their family, their synagogue, their community – effectively, they were non-persons. Cast adrift, they had no family and no social support structure besides other members of their Christian congregation.

Other believers were former pagans, who had renounced everything their society and culture stood for. They found themselves to be an unexpected minority, likewise cut off from a world they used to move quite easily and freely in.

Whether Jew or Gentile, the temptation to soften the shaper edges of the Christian message were the same. If they could only see their way clear to reinterpret some of the more “objectionable” things (like, say Jesus’ deity, His miraculous resurrection, His exclusive claim to be the only conduit for salvation and eternal life), then perhaps life would be easier.

One of the reasons Peter wrote his letter was to tell them to not give in to this self-delusion. Over and over again, he emphasized that Christians have been called to suffer for Christ’s sake. He stressed the idea of Christians in community with one another; fellow exiles trying to make our way in this wicked world together, serving the Lord and waiting for Him to return to fix everything.

This passage today, 1 Peter 2:4-10, is all about mission and purpose. What on earth are Christians here to do? What is our mission? Peter tells us all about that today.

  • How should you think of a church? What is its mission?
  • How should you visualize the people who make up a church?
  • If you’re a Christian, why did God save you? For what purpose?
  • What does God think of you as?
  • What implications does all this have for your life, for your job, for the way you should view yourself?
  • What implications does this have for the way you should think about your position or station in life?

All this, and more, is what Peter’s message here is all about. Take a listen, and consider what all this means for your congregation, and your personal and unique role in the life of your church. More than that, consider what it means for who you are, and why God made you the person you are today.

The PDF notes for today’s lesson are here. As always, all audio files and PDF notes for all lessons are here. Unless I note otherwise, you can assume the translation from 1 Peter is mine.

Generic Parchment Reference (ES)

Jealousy, Slander and the Christian Life

fighting smileyHave you ever been a member of a church where all people did was fight and hate each other? Have you ever seen two factions wage ecclesiastical war against each other, while peacemakers in the middle hunker down, eager to avoid stray rounds and just escape with their lives?

No? Good for you.

The reality is, this is what some churches are like. Things usually get this bad for two reasons:

First, Christians often don’t really love each other.

This means they don’t confront one another when someone goes off the reservation into spiteful wickedness, cunning trickery, hypocrisy, jealousy or slander.

If they loved each other, they’d look out for each other. This is a symptom of a cheap, commitment-free view of covenant church membership. See, for example, this wonderful parody of the consumer approach to church membership which plagues the Western world.

Second, church leaders are sometimes not leaders at all.

Sometimes, they’re timid, afraid of conflict, cowardly and desperately hopeful that “things will just work out.” They often spiritualize their cowardice and timidity with a pious gloss of meaningless Christian-ese (e.g. “we’ll leave this to God to sort out;” “we’ll give the Spirit time to work,” “we can’t judge”). This attitude betrays not only their own immaturity as spiritual leaders (or, worse, their absolute unfitness for pastoral ministry), but their own confusion on what forgiveness actually is. Hint – it isn’t “forgive and forget. (I wrote about this in more detail in my article “Forgive and Forget? No!”).

Robert Gates, a former Secretary of Defense under both President Bush and President Obama, recently wrote a book on leadership. He cautioned, “If you don’t have the guts as the leader to make tough and timely decisions, for God’s sake, don’t take the job,” (pg. 94).

Yes, indeed. To pastors and aspiring pastors – if you don’t have the guts to make tough decisions, do something else. Anything else. For God’s sake; literally. Your indecisiveness and weakness may destroy your church. It will likely harm some of the people within your church.

Today, in Sunday School, we finished our look at 1 Peter 1:22 – 2:3. We looked at the sins of jealousy and slander, and talked about what we ought to be craving instead – Christ Himself! Rather than gorge ourselves on internal strife and malicious pettiness, we ought to be always craving the genuine, pure milk that is the eternal Son of God. He’ll grow us until He returns to deliver us. Have you actually tasted that the Lord is good (1 Peter 2:3; cf. Psalm 34:8)? Then you should want to examine your own life, and be ridding yourself of these wicked sins.

This is a powerful passage, with far-reaching implications for how to love God, how to love each other, and what a congregation is supposed to be marked by. I took four sessions to cover this passage, and particularly enjoyed the discussion this morning. I hope you’re blessed by it, too.

The complete PDF notes for this passage (1 Peter 1:22 – 2:3) are here. As always, all PDF notes and audio for the entire 1 & 2 Peter teaching series are here.