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For My Stuck Friends: You’re About to Be Eaten Alive

September 15, 2011 Leave a comment

Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. – 1 Peter 5:8-9

I don’t know why I feel like I have to persistently and consistently say this about what Peter says, but I’ll say it again. This is not pretend. This passage isn’t some metaphorical description describing the bad part of us that fights the good part of us. It’s far more substantial than an angel on one shoulder and a devil on the other. The passage is about our inner struggle, sure, but it’s about how a real, free, sentient, devious, and powerful spiritual being wants to devour us and our inner life.

Peter tells us to be watchful of the devil at the end of his letter. He tells as at the end not as an afterthought but as an explanation of much of what Peter says in the preceding portion of the letter. Why does Peter spend so much time exhorting obedience, clarifying truth of being God’s people, and encouraging perseverance? Because the devil is trying to lead into disobedience, distort truth, and discourage enduring. He is a promoter of suffering and sin in the lives of believers in Messiah Jesus.

I don’t know why, but people, including myself, sometimes like to dismiss this. It usually goes something like this, “Yeah, Satan is a bad being who is trying to hurt me, but it is my sinfulness that is the real problem.” I like that line of thinking because it fosters personal responsibility for one’s actions. And let’s do that. Let’s acknowledge our guilt and accountability for our choices. But we should probably heed Peter’s warning too. Let’s not ignore the lion about to devour us.

If we were in the jungle and knew there was a lion hiding in the brush waiting for any moment we look away so he can to pounce on us and devour us, we would be watchful. And in the spiritual realm, that is what is true.  That’s how watchful we need to be, not of sin in us, but of the devil outside of us. Really, this warning of St. Peter is nothing new. And it shouldn’t be anything surprising. The serpent been trying to destroy God’s people since Genesis 3 and he has been roaring and prowling ever since.

Peter also tells us that God has dominion forever and ever, meaning that God is the reigning king and the devil is not. Jesus has already won and defeated Satan in a death blow that has sealed his fate. But just because Jesus wins doesn’t mean that you can’t lose. God doesn’t infringe upon our freedom to lose the battle. But victory is assured if we simply do what Peter tells us, be watchful, resist, and stand firm in faith.

Why is this relevant for me and my stuck friends? Part of the reason that we are stuck or sometimes get stuck is because we are ignoring the lion. We live as if the problems of our sins and addictions are found solely within us, completely ignorant of the inimical deceiver and devourer we are told to be watchful of. Sometimes the problem is on the outside of us, and the only way to deal with a temptation is to deal directly with the external source itself. Unawareness is foolish.

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For My Stuck Friends: The World Is Watching

September 13, 2011 Leave a comment

Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation. 1 Peter 2:11-12

As we learned previously, we have been made into a holy priesthood of believers whose job it is to proclaim God’s goodness to the world. This wonderful and marvelous task of ours makes the way we live all the more important. Just as God is holy, we are to be holy. Just as Jesus is good, we are to be good. As God is worthy of all honor and glory, we are to live honorably. Our lives need to reflect the message that we are preaching, because the world is watching.

If we are grossly misrepresenting Jesus to those who do not yet know him, then how can we expect them to see him? We can’t. Out of love for those around us we need to abstain from the passions of the flesh. We have to live honorably among those that haven’t met the risen Messiah yet. The world doesn’t respond well to those who claim Jesus’ power and live under the power of sin. What good is one that saves from sin if those who claim to be saved still insist on being stuck in it? The world that doesn’t know Jesus would say not much good at all. And they would be right.

I’ve heard people say things about being a Christian like, “I’m not less sinful than anyone else, just forgiven.” Part of the point of that is that Christians should be humble and honest in their interactions with the ones that don’t know Jesus, and that point is well made. But part of it is just bologna. Forgiveness is only part of the message of Jesus. It’s only a small portion of what he offers. Other important parts are salvation from sin, entrance into his holy priesthood, and ransom payment that our captivity would cease. These parts involve true freedom from sin and real transformation of character. It is through this sort of goodness with which Jesus Messiah blesses us so that the world will “glorify God on the day of visitation.” The world isn’t going to glorify God because we’re forgiven and they’re not.

Now, as with all of my difficult words (which are more directed at myself than anyone), do not be discouraged! Don’t get down about your lack of transformation, but rather, embrace your forgiveness through the blood of Jesus. And thank God for it! Then, embrace your calling to be priests, letting the past suffice for doing what is of the world and living a life of meaning in all circumstances because you have been ransomed by his precious blood.* Do not let words exhorting transformation to drive you to shame, but rather to joy in forgiveness and to live in the breathtaking calling we have received. Be transformed because the world around you needs to be transformed too. When you live freed, they will want the freedom you have to offer through Messiah Jesus.

*It’s all wonderfully connected…

For My Stuck Friends: The Worst Circumstances Can Have Meaning

September 4, 2011 Leave a comment

Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. – 1 Peter 4:13

That really doesn’t sound like fantastic advice at first glance. Or even at second glance. Rejoice when you hurt like Jesus hurt. You know what? I’d rather just not hurt like that. Or I’d rather you tell me how much nicer it is to suffer when you are in Christ because God pretty much takes it all away. Or God makes you really happy even in your pain. Or, at the least, the pain is at least alleviated when you follow Jesus. Peter doesn’t really have happy promises from God about suffering.

However, he does have good news about suffering. The good news is that through Christ, our suffering can have deep meaning. If we suffer while doing what is good and right and in line with who Jesus is, then our suffering will be for our good. It is a credit to us. There can be joy in it. We get to share in what Jesus did, finding comfort in his leadership in the toughest of circumstances and further understanding of his love. We get to connect ourselves with the Messiah and his same way of thinking to, through suffering in the body, cease from sin (1 P. 4:1).

We are also warned frequently in 1 Peter about the absolute pointlessness of suffering for doing evil. Suffering like Jesus brings meaning, but suffering apart from him, in relationship and in action, has no meaning. You just hurt. And there’s no more to it. It’s not full of joy. There’s no character building because you’re suffering without persevering. There’s not the sense of intimacy with Christ by experiencing with Him some of the suffering He experienced. There isn’t the closeness of spirit. It’s just pain. Empty pain. And when the pain is over, you have nothing to show for it.

I have suffered both ways. Not that there is a dichotomy between them, but if there is a spectrum where suffering for and while doing good is at one end and suffering for doing evil is at the other, then I have suffered on both ends of the spectrum. Both started the same, with pain and difficulty and deep overwhelming suffering that I had no control over. But they did not end the same. When I suffered well, my character was built, my pride was lessened, my heart softened, my resolve stiffened, my love overflowed, my faith grew, my hope was strong, and my joy lost its limits. It was one of the best seasons of my life. When I let my suffering drive me to evil, well, the opposite happened. And it sucked. I don’t even want to talk about how much it sucked. It was the worst season of my life.

So… why do I feel like this concept can help us get unstuck? Because man (and woman), there is a life of incredible meaning out there that transcends circumstances. There is rejoicing in sorrows available. There is more intimacy in all of our relationships available to us. But we won’t experience it unless we live according to God’s will and put away the passions of the flesh. Everything in life, no matter how terrible, can have substantive meaning and build the kingdom of God or everything in life can be pointless and destructive. I guess that’s the crux of it for me. Maybe it has some weight for you too.

For My Stuck Friends: Holiness Fits You

August 30, 2011 Leave a comment

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. – 1 Peter 2:9-10

St. Peter wants us to make sure we know who we are. He presents who we are through Jesus in a manner that highlights a theme that is weaved in the fabric of this letter. It’s a theme about the contrast that demarcates the past from the present. In our first message from Peter, he talked about how the time of the past was sufficient for living in sin and now it was time for a life of obedience. The second message was about how Jesus has freed us from the futile ways of the past and we are now freed to live a life of meaning. This message is about who we were once and who we are now.

There was this time when we were in the darkness. There was a time where my life was just life. I was just living my way. I was a functional part of society that looked for ways to benefit myself within my context, regardless of how it affected others. I existed. But there was no substance to it. There was no light. I barely scratched the surface of intimacy with others. My strongest sense of belonging came from being in a club. I lived in sin. I was an object of wrath.

But now! Now I have received mercy. Now I am an intimate part of God’s family. I am a part of His people. The Judge and Mercy-Giver, Love Himself, brought me out of the darkness of my past and has brought me into His marvelous light as part of his holy nation. More than that, I am a royal priest who He has hand-picked to proclaim how incredible He is to the world. God’s radical transformation of who I am is truly wonderful.

For those who are in Christ, this is who we are. Again, it’s not a pretend thing. It’s our reality. It is easy to think that because you sometimes go back into the captivity of sin that you are the same disjointed person you used to be. That you’re still in the darkness. But you don’t have the final word on the matter. God does. You’re a part of a royal priesthood.

In acknowledgment of this beautiful truth, live according to who you are. It no longer makes sense to indulge in in the same futile sinful ways of the past because we are different people. You are God’s people. God is holy. It befits you to be holy. Those ways we used to live in are incongruent with who we are now. Who you are, the light you live in, and the people you are a part of are worth living in. You know who you are. Be that person

For My Stuck Friends: Your Freedom Is Paid For

August 25, 2011 3 comments

Another beautiful and simple message from insightful Peter.

And if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one’s deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile, knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. – 1 Peter 1:17-19

You did inherit futile ways from your forefathers: from your dad, from your grandpa, and most importantly, from Adam. Their ways became your ways. This inheritance was not something you had power over that you could reject, but, like a genetic inheritance, one that comes without your consent and controls you. This inheritance owns you. This inheritance holds you captive to futile ways. You cannot escape.
But there is a price that can be paid to free you. Your true Father has paid off your captors and set you free. You were trapped. You were controlled by your inheritance of sin. You were incarcerated in a dark room with no light and no visible way out. And your Dad paid your imprisoner so that you could be free. The cost for your freedom from your inheritance was beyond all riches, and Dad sent a Messiah to pay for your freedom with His own perfect blood. A sacrifice of infinite value in exchange for freedom of an infinite cost. And now, you are ransomed from those who stole you from your Father, free to run into His arms.

This passage is not a guilt trip. It’s not saying, “Look what Jesus did for you. You better live holy or else!” It’s not a passage trying to guilt you into living well. The point of the passage is to communicate how beautiful and powerful and loving the act of God was that freed you. The point is not that you would be sad about how sinful you are despite Jesus’ ransoming act of redemption. Quit making it about you. It’s about God and His Love and His Sacrifice and His Power and His Glory.

Sometimes I think we have grown so accustomed to these ideas of being freed from the slavery of sin, of being redeemed, and of being ransomed from the sin passed from generation to generation that the idea loses its impact on us. We have gotten so used to living in captivity while acknowledging that we are free that reading about the freedom of Jesus does nothing for us. The thing is people, these aren’t just ideas. Peter isn’t just giving us a nice mental image of God saving us through Jesus. It’s a metaphorical description, sure, but it’s a description of what actually happened.

The reality is that your captivity is a thing of the past. The time of being imprisoned by the futile ways of your inheritance is actually over. I know you spent a long time kidnapped, kept in the darkness, trapped and unable to escape. I know you don’t really know life outside of your cell, but it’s still available. I know that you still feel like you are in captivity to your inheritance, but that’s not the reality. The ransom has been paid. The door to your cell has been opened. You can choose to continue to sit in the dark cell, but you are now free to leave.

Do you really want to sit in the futile ways of your forefathers? Haven’t you had enough? You can enter freedom if you would choose to do so. The sin which once overpowered you now has no power over you. You’re free. Conduct yourselves as free people under God’s reign. Live in the kingdom of God. Leave your cage. Stop pretending you’re still in chains. The Messiah has come and you have been ransomed.

For My Stuck Friends: The Past Suffices

August 19, 2011 Leave a comment

As of late, St. Peter has reminded me of a few lessons that I’d like to share. I want us to be reminded together by some of the insight our brother has for those on the verge of transformation. I hope these messages become a hopeful, encouraging, exhortative, freeing, and empowering for those of us who have been about to reach the crest of the hill for a long time, but can’t quite seem to get there. May these simple insights by a fellow struggler and fellow follower aid you as you journey toward transformation into the character of Christ.

Peter tells us: “live for the rest of time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God. For the time that is past suffices for doing what the Gentiles want to do, living in sensuality, passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and lawless idolatry.” (1 Peter 4:2-3)

That’s the message I have for you. The time that has already gone by, that which is behind us, that time was enough time to engage in sinful behavior that those of the world want to engage in. That’s enough time living as ungodly sinners. You’ve had enough of sin. You’ve had your fill of these sorts of behaviors in the time past when that was what you did. You have drunk deeply enough of ungodly passions and devilish desires. The past suffices for that behavior. The sin of your past is adequate.

To those who have ears to hear, you already know this truth. You already know where your sin has gotten you. Your pastime of sin has given you enough experience of it. You know its adrenaline rush. You know its promises of fulfillment. You know its draw of independence. You know the pull of the wondrous unknown of completely shameless and self-centered living. And you know the letdown. And you know it empties rather than fills. And you know that sort of independent freedom is a form of brutal slavery. And you know that shameless self-centeredness leaves you in a very small world that you can only escape by feeling shame and focusing on the forgiveness of your Savior. The past is sufficient. The sin of your past is sufficient. The time in the past that you have spent living in the way of destruction and godlessness is enough time. The past is enough, and you don’t have to live in it any longer.

“Live for the rest of time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God.” This is the beautiful alternative. No longer stuck in this small world of twisted human desire, the world of our past, we can live in this ginormous beautiful world of the will of God. For those who have eyes to see, you can visualize an approximation of this illustrious kingdom and you see that this is the world you want to live in. This is the way you want to live in. This is the world you want to help create. This is the transformation of character you want, one that is fitting for this kingdom. And you want to be a man or woman exemplifying this sort of kingdom character from now until the end of time.

So back to our simple message. The sin of our past is enough. The way we used to live in is enough. And this way is not consistent with this new kingdom. You know this. The way of our past will keep us from reaching the summit of the hill on our journey toward transformation. I know you’ve had enough of sin’s empty, deceptive promises. You know you’ve had enough of that bullshit. Let the sin of the past suffice. Leave it where it belongs, back there in the past, that for the rest of time you might live for the will of God.

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