Real Advice for a Messy Life

messyLife is messy. The Apostle Peter understood that. And, because he wrote what God wanted him to write, that means God understands it, too.

In theory, a Christian shouldn’t marry a non-Christian. Doesn’t always work out that way. Never mind why it doesn’t – we can all agree that, sometimes, it doesn’t happen that way. What if one person becomes a Christian when she’s already married? Should she pack up and hit the road? Not at all.

These are the gritty questions of real life. Life is messy. Life is hard. Life isn’t neat and tidy. As I said, Peter understands that. He has some practical advice for us on that score (1 Peter 3:1-6; from my own translation):

In the same way, you wives must submit yourselves to your own husbands, so that even if some are being disobedient to the word, they might be won over without a word by your way of life when they see your holy conduct, along with your respect towards God.

Don’t let your beauty be simply external, like the braiding of hair and wearing of gold, or putting on [fancy] clothes. Instead, let your beauty be [from] the inner person, from the heart, through the immortal [character] of a gentle and peaceful spirit, which is very precious in God’s eyes. Because this is also how the holy women from the past who hoped in God made themselves beautiful – by submitting themselves to their own husbands. That’s what Sarah did; she obeyed Abraham by calling him, “Sir.”

You’ve now become her daughters! So, do what’s right and don’t fear any husband who is intimidating.

Why does Peter call the Christian spouse to stay in the relationship? So that the believer might win the unbeliever to Christ. He tells the Christian not to lord it over the spouse, not to be filled with self-righteousness. He tells the believer to be patient and, if necessary, not say anything at all – to let her Christ-like way of life and holy conduct speak for itself.

There’s much more to be said. I’ll get there in Sunday School . . . in about two months or so!

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)

On “Vision Casting” and Other Stupid Clichés

visionThere are certain phrases, buzzwords and slogans that make the rounds every now and then. I remember, long ago in a galaxy far, far away, when “the bomb” was a common way to express how interesting or amazing something was. Of course, nobody in his right mind would use that term now. Its too passé . . .

No one is immune to these fads. We’re prisoners of our culture and social context. Christians are no different. There are certain phrases that percolate in the pastoral sub-culture, each more mindless and idiotic than the next. One is “vision casting.”

Theoretically, this is a process whereby a dynamic and really spiritual “leader” conceives a vision, a path forward, a roadmap to bring his congregation from where it is, to where it simply must go. Eager and enthusiastic, this hip pastor “casts the vision” to the congregation. Of course, they see it, get it, and sign on for this “vision.”

If you’re a young pastor, you gotta “vision cast.” It’s, like, the cool thing to do.

Pardon me while I retch. In the real world, this is otherwise known as leadership. But, I understand. Leadership doesn’t sound cool. It lacks that sense of deliberate ambiguity, of abstract mushiness, that “vision casting” has.

There is no need to “vision cast,” because the Bible already gave us our mission. We just need to follow it. In this teaching lesson from 1 Peter 2:4-10 (our second one from this passage), the apostle tells us what congregations ought to be focused on. He tells you what you ought to be focused on.

  1. What is a church’s purpose? Its mission?
  2. If you’re a Christian, what is your most basic purpose in life? Why did God save you?
  3. If you’re a Christian, what role do you play in your church’s mission? Where do you fit in?
  4. What are the implications for you? For your work? For all the relationships and circumstances which comprise “your life?”

You see, there’s no need to “vision cast.” Pastors don’t need to catch visions, or cast them to church members. Peter tells us all about our mission, and its clear as day. What are the answers to these questions? How do you find your place and purpose in life, as God intended it to be?

Read 1 Peter 1:1 – 2:10, and think for a little while. Or, do that and listen in as we talk about all this. Drop me a line, or leave a comment if you’d like to chat.

The PDF notes for this week’s lesson are here. As always, all audio and PDF notes from the entire 1 & 2 Peter teaching series are here.

 

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)