1 Peter 4 – Surprise?

Read 1 Peter 4

Peter is writing in a time of great persecution, but even in this, he tells his readers to “not be surprised” at the suffering that they are facing.  In fact, other parts of Scripture tell us that, because we are following Christ, we can expect persecution and suffering.  However, Peter wants to make a qualification here, clarifying the both why we suffer persecution as Christians and for what reason.

Part of suffering and persecution as Christians is participating in Christ’s sufferings.  Jesus said that the world would hate His followers because it hated Him first.  That said, Peter also wants the reader to make sure and understand that our sufferings, the persecution that we face, perhaps even the backlash from the world that we face, is happening to us because of the fact that we are Christ followers… not for other reasons.

This, I think, is an important distinction to make.  Christians today are often seen complaining about this and that, things that are going on in the government and in our culture that are counter to what we believe to be morally right or Scripturally sound.  Yet, when it comes down to it, not a lot of those things really “oppress” or “persecute” us.

What Peter is referring to here is the physical attacks that were happening to the Christian community during that time.  The government and many other people were working to limit the spread of the Gospel through the persecution of the church.  Peter makes sure to point out that it is for the Gospel that we should be suffering, not other reasons in our lives.

Nowadays, there is a number of ideological, cultural, and even personal things that we can stand up for and for which we could receive backlash.  All of those, however, pale in comparison to the “honor” and “joy” we have to suffer for the Gospel.

Do you think that the church in North America “suffers” for the Gospel?  Does society see the Gospel message as such a threat to us that they try to put us down and keep us under wraps?  Or are they just going about their business, tuning out our complaints, not worried that we’re really going to make that much of a difference?

James 3 – Deadly Tongues

Read James 3

In Matthew 15, Jesus talks very specifically about the power of the tongue and what comes out of us.  He shows a contrast between the teachings of the Pharisees, who talk about unclean food as being that which makes us dirty and defiled and that which comes out of our mouth.  The things we say, Jesus points out, are the things that come from our heart and it is what which is in our heart that causes us to sin.

James picks up on this teaching as he continues to lay out a practical theology of living out our faith through what we do.  The tongue, he says, is one of the most powerful elements of our bodies and it can be what steers us into trouble or our of it as well.  He also points out the dichotomy (a contrast between two things that are completely opposite) in having a tongue that both speaks the praises of God and also curses the things around him or her.  These things shouldn’t exist together, but far too often they do.

Language is the very essence of civilization.  Nothing that humankind has already achieved would be possible without it.  How we speak, though, is not often taken into account when we talk about the direction of cultures and people.  Yet James points out that something as seemingly simple as this could change the course of a much greater group.  The ship is steered by the rutter, the forest burns because of one small spark.

Could it be that culture, ideology, even governments could change because of an intentional change in how we speak to each other?  The negative impacts of speech are certainly evident in our culture today, especially in this current election cycle.  I wonder what the world would be like if we chose not to engage in hateful, divisive rhetoric (true of all political parties and their adherents).  I wonder how our relationships with those that don’t think, feel, look, or believe like we do would change if we chose our words and actions carefully?

2 Timothy 4 – Inconvenient Truth

Read 2 Timothy 4

Once again Paul makes a number of remarks that have come to pass in a number of concrete ways once again in the present time.  In a culture which celebrates truth as being “relative” to each individual, people are becoming less and less open to hearing the teachings of Scripture, the message of the Gospel, and the call of God to live a transformed life.  People are happy enough to simply be “good” people, even “spiritual” people, but all without the commitment of faith and religion.

And why not?  Christianity, as well as all of the other major religions, has its dark marks throughout history.  We are imperfect people, seeking to follow the will of God, and messing it up far too often.

Through it all, however, the message of the Gospel has not changed, and the call of God to live in response to grace has also not changed.  Scripture tells that we are to flee from sin in all its various forms.  It also outlines what sin is.  Unfortunately, as we “progress” in society, those boundaries seem to mean less and less.

Paul says that a time will come when people will no longer listen to sound doctrine, but instead will seek to hear only what they want to hear.  We have seen this happen in the church far too much in recent history.  In one sense, this is the reason that we have so many denominations of Christianity in the Church today.  It is also the reason why we continue to fight and argue about peripheral things rather than focusing on the unity that Scripture calls us to as the Body of Christ and the message that we are called to proclaim together.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ is Good News for everyone, but good news doesn’t necessarily mean that it doesn’t challenge or ways of life.  Grace abounds through all things, but God calls us to not conform to this world but be transformed by the Holy Spirit’s work in renewing us each day.

Acts 20 – Encouraging Departure

Read Acts 20

There is a strong Biblical precedent set by leaders of God’s people to offer words of encouragement and warning at their final departure.  Moses offers this at the end of Deuteronomy, David at the end of 2 Samuel and the beginning of 1 Kings, and even Jesus at the end each Gospel and the beginning of Acts.  Paul’s words here follow this tradition and clearly come from a deep love and rich relationship he has with the church in Ephesus.

Paul’s words here are not just a warning for the church in Ephesus, but one that we can (and should) take to heart each day.  His concern for the church doesn’t come from a perception weak faith, but from a knowledge that the enemy is on the prowl and is merciless.

Essentially he is encouraging them to “hold on to what they have learned,” to “hold fast to the Word of God,” and to “be vigilant for those who would distort the Gospel Truth.”  Paul has seen and knows full well the power of the enemy and the desire to corrupt that Satan has.  Even from within the midst of the body he will exploit, confuse, pollute, and destroy if he has the chance.  We have seen this in our contemporary context, have we not?

Yet even Paul understands that, to hold fast in this fight, the strength of the Church does not rest on its own knowledge, its ability to remain relevant, her great teachers, or sound doctrine.  The strength of God’s people lies in their trust and faith in God.  Paul commits the Ephesian elders “to God and to the word of His grace.”  This too is where our faith and hope must lie if the Church is to weather the storms and attacks that come our way.

Day 23: Exodus 21-23; Provisions for the Journey (Part 2)

I didn’t really know what to call this post at first.  There is a lot here, but I think that it still falls under the title “Provisions for the Journey” as what is talked about from Chapter 20-23 is really all about the life that the people of Israel are to live on their walk with God.  Yesterday we talked about how God provided for their physical needs and even their judicial needs.  Now, God is laying out His commands for the people of Israel, reaffirming the covenant and giving stipulations on how they are to keep their half of the covenant, namely the “you shall be my people” part.

The 10 Commandments are likely some of the most familiar Scripture texts in the whole Bible.  In many ways these commands, as all the follow which really just expand upon them, are the basis for life and law in the land of Israel, and also for us today.  They were to be the way in which God’s people were set apart from the rest of the world.  Cultures at that time would have bought and sold people at will, amongst other things  and sought to make as much for themselves by whatever means necessary.  Sounds a bit like our culture eh?  God was prescribing a different lifestyle, one that would be both honoring to Him first and foremost, but also be of benefit to the whole of the community of Israel.  Cultures don’t thrive when morals are low and everyone is in it for themselves.  We see this today as well.  The rich get richer on the backs of the poor.  Who does this benefit?  Certainly not everyone.  God is laying out the foundation for a community in which everyone is cared for and watched over.

Of course there are things in this that are quite removed from our culture.  We don’t have slaves anymore, but many of us have people that work under us, with us, or for us.  How do we treat them?  We don’t call people aliens anymore, but there are certainly people from other countries living among us.  How do we treat them?  Immigration is a hot topic right now.  I read this and I don’t see anything that says we treat people a certain way based on their citizenship or whether they are a legal or illegal immigrant.  Correct me if I’m wrong, but Exodus 22:21-23 says, ““You shall not wrong a sojourner or oppress him, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt.  You shall not mistreat any widow or fatherless child.  If you do mistreat them, and they cry out to me, I will surely hear their cry.”

As I read these, I see a lot of things that we don’t pay any attention to anymore as well… there are some interesting ones too… I’m certainly not advocating for them to become commonplace… but the thought of what would happen to people in our culture today if these were Enforced is… interesting…

>Whoever strikes his father or his mother shall be put to death.

>Whoever steals a man and sells him, and anyone found in possession of him, shall be put to death.

>Whoever curses his father or his mother shall be put to death.

>You shall not permit a sorceress to live.

>Whoever lies with an animal shall be put to death.

What about you?  Do you have a favorite?  One you think interesting?  Share it with me please!