Day 356: 1 Peter 1-5; Courage in the Midst of Suffering

As we continue in our reading, we come to the books of first and second Peter.  Tradition holds that it was the Apostle Peter that wrote these two books, probably while he was in Rome.  Whether or not this is true, I guess, is besides the point.  Reading today you’ve probably picked up on a common theme that has been prominent, especially in the latter letters of Paul and these general letters that have gone out to the whole church.  As the Church continued to grow and spread out throughout the Roman Empire, it continued to face a great deal of persecution and struggle.  The Roman government acknowledged the Church as a sect of Judaism, something that was not necessarily beneficial to Christians.  The Jews has often been hostile to Roman rule, which caused many believers to be persecuted on behalf of the Jews.  More than that, the Jews themselves obviously didn’t accept the Christians as well, thus causing more persecution.  Many believers lost all that they had, their homes, businesses and any sort of ability to sustain a living for themselves and their families, all because they professed faith in Christ.  The further on we go in the first century, the more this becomes prevalent.

Peter, or the writer of First Peter, knew this and was writing into this very issue.  The Church had been scattered throughout the Roman Empire; this letter is addressed to the churches throughout what is no known as Turkey.  Peter also addresses this letter “To those who are elect exiles of the Dispersion.”  He could mean a number of things here.  Returning once again to Dr. Robert VanVoorst’s book Reading the New Testament Today, VanVoorst writes that Peter could be referring to “spiritual exiles” in that all believers are spiritually exiled from the fully realized kingdom of God and reign of Jesus Christ here on earth.  Another reason could be an implication that the writer was looking to target a Jewish audience as well, using words like “exile” and “dispersion” which show up in the Old Testament a great deal.  In any case, it is clear that Peter is writing to many churches during a time of increased persecution.

One of the main points that Peter is making in this letter actually speaks directly into this time of trial and struggle and in many ways echoes the book of James.  Peter is imploring the believing community that they are called to live lives of faith and to testify to Christ Jesus, even if it brings them troubles in this life.  From the very beginning, Peter talks about the salvation that we receive in Christ Jesus, and continues by saying “Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.  As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy.’

It may be easier in life to acknowledge faith in church and even in our speech with other Christians, yet hiding it from the rest of the world so as to not face persecution.  However, this is not the way that we as disciples of Christ are called to live.  In my discipleship class this year we have talked at great length about what it means to be a disciple of Christ and what that looks like in our lives and in the lives of the church.  Ultimately this is lived out in the calling that we have had since the beginning, To Love God and To Love Neighbor.  This is the greatest commandment that Jesus testifies to and that even Israel was called to.  This calling has two aspects, an inward action to love God and to love neighbor, and an outward action to show the love of God in our lives and to do that towards our neighbor.  Faith and Christian discipleship are not something to be lived out only in the Church building on Sunday mornings, they are things that are to be lived out EVERYDAY, they are the out flowing of what happens on Sunday morning.

What does this look like?  Peter addresses this by saying that it looks, first and foremost, like having Christ as the cornerstone of our  lives.  It also shows up in our submission to authority and respect of it in the world (whether we agree with it or not).  It shows up in how we love and treat our family, with love and respect.  It shows up in our vocations, even if it leads to suffering or persecution (a word I use in the lightest of senses because Christians in North America do not truly know what it means to be persecuted to the point of imprisonment and death).  It also shows up in our we interact with other Christians as well, which brings us back around to the notion of discipleship.  Peter exhorts the “elders” among them to be good shepherds of the flock, something that we often loose in our churches today.  Older folks do not feel that they can relate to the younger generations, or that the young have any desire to listen to them, but they do and the church is in desperate need of people that are solid in their faith to come alongside the young and immature so that they can be built up into Christ.

So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock.  And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.  Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”

Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.  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.  And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.  To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen.

Day 115: 1 Chronicles 3-5; The Family Tree

Have you ever spent time going through your family tree?  Have you ever gone deeper than just your grandparents?  I think it is always interesting to hear about the ancestors and all the people that came before me.  We often ask questions about how people survived in those days without the technology that we have and marvel in amazement at people’s ingenuity when it comes to working in a world without phones, computers, cars, tractors… etc. etc.

Yet I wonder, if you’ve ever looking back in your family tree and marveled at God’s faithfulness and his providence in all of that.  We read in Scripture that God knew us before He even formed the world and that He called us before the foundations of the earth were laid.  Before there was even matter, God knew who we were and He has worked throughout the  millenniums to bring our existence about.  Not only has He been working for us, but He has also been working through each and every person that has come before us!

For some people, this seems, perhaps, somewhat boring.  Your family has always been a family of believers who hasn’t really encountered anything too crazy you think.  I urge you to look into your history… go back a few generations.  Did someone in your family fight the plague?  Did anyone fight in any of the major wars of the past 500 years?  Was anyone involved in some religious change during the reformation?  If you answered yes to even one of those three questions (and there are thousands upon thousands of things that threaten a person’s existence in their lifetime) then you can see how God has worked to bring you into being!

What about those of you who aren’t believers but have come to know God through some means?  Your family has been around for generations and generations and now, for some reason, for such a time as this, God has called YOU to Himself.  You may be trying to convince your parents, your siblings, your aunts and uncles, yet for some reason at this time, God has brought you to Himself, and has done so by acting throughout history to bring you to this point.  Amazing!

This is what the first section of 1 Chronicles is alluding to.  It may be awful reading these genealogies, but what the writer is trying to point to is the work of God throughout history.  God has been at work in the world, throughout all generations, from age to age, God reigns… God rules… and God works.

The following is an excerpt from the book: Biblical Hebrew, An Oral Approach by Professor Travis West.

“There is a blessing in the Hebrew tradition for almost everything.  There is one blessing, that dates back roughly 2,000 years.  It is recited at the beginning of special occasions, of every major Jewish Holiday (Passover, Shavuot, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, Simchat, Torah, Hannukah, etc.).  It is also used to celebrate new or unusual occasions, such as seeing a friend whom you haven’t seen in a long time.  The blessings speaks of God’s soveriegn care over each and every life.  It affirms even as it summarizes the fundamental claims of Scripture regarding God’s relationship to the earth and its inhabitants.  Namely, that it is God who not only created all life, but also sustains all life, and ‘directs all our steps.’  (Proverbs 16:9)”

Blessed are you O Lord our God, King of the Universe
Who gives us life, sustains us, and has brought us to (caused us to touch) this moment.