Monday, December 31, 2007

Wildcard of Compatibility

1To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder, a witness of Christ's sufferings and one who also will share in the glory to be revealed: 2Be shepherds of God's flock that is under your care, serving as overseers—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve; 3not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. 4And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away.

1 Peter 5:1-4

Peter presents the fundamental posture of the Christian preacher. He commands the people to do something by telling them they should want to do it. He commands them to be willing to do something. And so we see from the get go the central assumption of the gospel in this passage. Every command in scripture is a plea to look to the cross that the heart may change, resulting in willful obedience. The command is to serve.

Christian leadership is hallmarked with service. Internet dating is hallmarked with compatibility. We are consumed with finding that person with whom we are most compatible. I am recently engaged to a woman with whom I have many wonderful compatibilities. Such compatibilities, I am sure, will account for much ease in our relationship. But making compatibility the number one criterion is to start things off on a self-centered footing. To seek compatibility is to look for someone who likes things the way you do (or likes doing those necessary things that you don't like doing!). The wonderful freedom of the Christian servant is that they are no longer bound by such restrictions. Like the improvisational artist who writes his melody on the fly--adapting to the surrounding music--so the servant, no longer imprisoned by the rigidness of his own desires, is free to write his own life and write in harmony with whoever he encounters. Servanthood is the wildcard of compatibility.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

The Misguidedness of Theodicy

12Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. 13But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. 14If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. 15If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler. 16However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name. 17For it is time for judgment to begin with the family of God; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God? 18And,
"If it is hard for the righteous to be saved,
what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?"
19So then, those who suffer according to God's will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.

-1 Peter 4:12-19

The Problem of Pain by C.S. Lewis grapples with the age-old question of theodicy. Why do bad things happen to good people? This question is probably the biggest and most frequent question people have of the Christian faith. If God is all-powerful and all-loving, then why does he let these things happen? Because evil and God's omnipotence and omnibenevolence seem incompatible, we doubt. But as our passage subtly suggests, the theodicy question itself is the problem. There is something this question assumes prematurely. It assumes that there is a such thing as a "good" person. V. 18 says, "It is hard for the righteous to be saved." Really, the word righteous should be in quotes. Because this verse is hinting at what Romans 3:10 says explicitly, "There is no one righteous, not even one." Every single one of us deserves nothing short of eternal destruction. I don't like this. It is what Calvin called "the horrible decree." I don't really understand it. But just as I find unfathomable and incomprehensible the vastness and beauty of our universe--where billions of stars and galaxies a billion times bigger than ours spread out at distances unimaginable having existed for lengths of time that only crude analogies can help me to understand--so also is the holiness of the God who created such a universe equally unfathomable. And subsequently so is my own depravity. The heart and soul of the Gospel plants its feet firmly on the assumption of our uttermost unworthiness. And we must humbly accept this unfathomable truth if we are ever to find the freedom the Gospel offers.

Our passage takes us in the complete opposite direction of where the theodicy questions want to go. Suffering, it seems, isn't even simply something that God allows. The theodicy problem is much bigger. Because as our passage indicates, God is in fact behind suffering. "For it is time for judgment to begin with the family of God." What do we want out of life? Do we really want to become like God? Do we really want to be holy?

Friday, December 28, 2007

The End Is Near

7The end of all things is near. Therefore be clear minded and self-controlled so that you can pray. 8Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. 9Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. 10Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God's grace in its various forms. 11If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God. If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.
--1 Peter 4:7-11

My grandpa came to live with me yesterday. He's 93 years old. He's too weak to spend much time outside. His eyesight is too weak for him to read and he's not sure he'd have the strength to concentrate long enough to handle a book anyway. So he spends most of his time sitting on the couch either listening to the radio, sleeping, or thinking. He spends a lot of time sitting and thinking. I asked him what he thinks about. "At my age you think about God and death," he replied. Because the end is near.

We see in this passage a beautiful deduction of the great commandments- love God and to love your neighbor. We are to love deeply--offer hospitality without grumbling (unconditionally). We are to use our gifts to serve others. Service is nothing more than the extension of God's grace. It is God's grace that brings about peace (shalom)--the way things are supposed to be. So grace comes in various forms. It comes through the proclamation of the Truth of God (for those who speak), and it comes in the form of acts of service. Jesus charges his followers to proclaim the coming of the Kingdom of God (grace in the form of proclamation) and to heal the sick (grace in the form of service) (Luke 10). And the reason we do this is "so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ." Living as if the end is near is the great orienter. It gives life necessary alignment. It gives proper perspective. A person with a "the end is near" perspective is not a crazy dude with sign and a bullhorn. He's someone who understands and acts on what's important in life--God and neighbor.

Friday, December 21, 2007


5But they will have to give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead. 6For this is the reason the gospel was preached even to those who are now dead, so that they might be judged according to men in regard to the body, but live according to God in regard to the spirit.
--1 Peter 4:5-6

Judgement is not our favorite word. In fact religion and judgement is a word pair that turns people off as if you were cussing in their face. But judgement is a cold reality. "Judgement" has a finality about it. Capital "J" "Judgement" basically just means that there is a point in time when consequences will be measured out. In this sense everyone believes in Judgement because death is an ever-present reality. Though our world hates the idea of Judgement and acts as though only silly religious people would believe in something so archaic, in fact the opposite is true. Christians, in fact, can face the idea of Judgement boldly because we believe that in reality it doesn't apply to us. We are excused from it. We all tend to live with this fear that someday life is all going to come crashing down on us--that's nothing more than a practical concession to the reality of judgement. But living by the Spirit enables us to believe firmly that everything really is going to be ok.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Too Enticing

3For you have spent enough time in the past doing what pagans choose to do—living in debauchery, lust, drunkenness, orgies, carousing and detestable idolatry. 4They think it strange that you do not plunge with them into the same flood of dissipation, and they heap abuse on you.
--1 Peter 4:3-4

We are just plain weird. There's no doubt about it. Why we would intentionally restrain ourselves from indulging every desire is bewildering. If you can get it, get it--this is our world's mantra. Dear God help us to see it for what it is. Romans 1 sums up the problem. We either worship creation or worship the creator. You have given us so many beautiful things--food, sex, toys, beer, to name just a few. But Lord, we worship these things--we disadvantage and disrespect our neighbor to acquire them. And we would rather have them than you who made them. If only you'd made them more dull. Then maybe we could resist them. Your greatness and the greatness of your creation are what make us stumble. The things you've created are so enticing--indeed too enticing. They either direct us to the throne of glory or into a flood of dissipation.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Path To Life

1Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because he who has suffered in his body is done with sin. 2As a result, he does not live the rest of his earthly life for evil human desires, but rather for the will of God.
--1 Peter 4:1-2

A genuine test of selflessness is sacrifice. If it doesn't cost you anything it isn't true selflessness. The selfless person has done away with sin because the root of sin is selfishness. The one who asks how it can be that selflessness leads to the good life is one whose theology ends on Good Friday. As the previous chapter highlights, Jesus was the ultimate sufferer. The cost of his selflessness is immeasurable. Why would anyone wish to imitate a life that ends in such a fashion? But though the penalty of sin may be dealt with on the cross, salvation is ultimately delivered through the resurrection. We die to ourselves each day precisely because it is the necessary path to life. The suffering of Jesus cannot be overstated nor can the pronouncement that he now lives in glory.

Friday, December 14, 2007


19through whom also he went and preached to the spirits in prison 20who disobeyed long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water, 21and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also--not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a good conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22who has gone into heaven and is at God's right hand--with angels, authorities and powers in submission to him.
-1 Peter 3:19-22

There is nothing more freeing than a clear conscience before God. Of course to have a clear conscience towards God you have to have a conscience towards God to begin with. Preaching the message of forgiveness--the path to a clear conscience-- will mean nothing to those who don't think they need it. Why make peace with God, I didn't know we were at war? How do you tell someone that they are at war with God and expect them to meet you for coffee again the next week? We can, I think, only point them to what a difference making peace with God has done for us. If they see the way it should be, maybe they will start to see it isn't that way for them. For statements like, "you are saved by the resurrection of Jesus Christ" to be anything more than religious sentiment requires a major paradigm shift for the modern mind. It is difficult, I think, for it to make much sense apart from living in a community where the outworking of such salvation is evident at every turn.

Thursday, December 13, 2007


17It is better, if it is God's will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil. 18For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit,
--1 Peter 3:17-18

I second-guess everything. Every big decision I've ever made I've second-guessed. I over-analyze. We often live with an unceasing internal angst. There is a feeling of incompleteness that nags us. It drives us to constantly be evaluating where we are, what we are doing, and what needs to happen if we are ever going to be ok. It is comforting to me how misguided all of this is. It operates under the assumption that our primary need is to make things right with our surroundings--make things right with our world. If we can make things right--good relationships, good job, good etc., then we can rest. But as this passage reminds us, our fundamental problem isn't with our spouse, or co-workers, etc. Our problem is with God. Ephesians speaks of being reconciled to one another, but this is the result of being reconciled with God. If we get right with God (embracing Christ's rightness), everything else will take care of itself. (cf. Mt. 6:33) Embracing the righteousness of Christ is more than mere intellectual assent. It is a day-in and day-out appropriation to every area of our lives.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Authenticity--Ultimate Apologetic

16keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.
-1 Peter 3:16

This verse does not mean that we should be nervous about our every move--making sure that we don't slip up and give those watching us an excuse to dismiss what we stand for. Sometimes, with best intentions, we live this way. We are so caught up in setting a good example that we are unable to enjoy the freedom of living under grace (cf. Gal. 5:13). But this verse doesn't say we must be perfect, it says to keep a clear conscience. And this means, as much as anything else, admitting fault. Though the Christian should growingly be marked by a life that more perfectly models Christ's example--a life of good deeds--the ultimate mark of the Christian is that she openly recognizes that she falls short, and is constantly in need of grace and forgiveness. Our world demands authenticity, not perfection. And hypocrisy, the greatest turn-off to our faith, is a failure to live the former, not the latter.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Taking Medicine

15But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect,
--1 Peter 3:15

Gentleness is being careful not to apply too much pressure. Some people can down their medicine in one gulp. Others need to take it in sips. Sometimes we try to force the Truth down people's throats thinking that any other way is to fail to speak boldly. But communicating truth in a five-minute bombshell might send someone recoiling for years, maybe forever, whereas taking several months to say the same thing will soften a heart rather than rip it in two. Respect means seeking to understand where the other is coming from rather than putting everyone in a box for which we have neatly prepared answers.

Monday, December 10, 2007


15But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect
--1 Peter 3:15

We have an obligation to understand and be able to articulate our faith in terms to which our world can relate. It is not enough to say that "it makes sense to me" and that is enough. Moreover, thinking through the compatibility of our faith with our world brings a coherence and consistency to a faith that otherwise can be quite disjointed. We can have a sort of religious schizophrenia where our two worlds-- religious and secular--are miles apart. But just as clinical schizophrenia hinders peace of mind so religious schizophrenia leaves us disjointed. At every corner of our worldly existence we find something that challenges and rubs our faith convictions the wrong way. (Do chimpanzees really have better memory than we do?) To fail to address these incongruencies leaves us unsettled.

The greek word translated as "reason" here is "apologia" from which we get apologetics--that branch of theology dedicated to defending the integrity of the faith. Apologetics must be handled very carefully, and in fact a misappropration of this verse can undermind the very authority we claim it has. To look for a reason for our faith can be miscontrued as meaning that we must turn to a higher court of appeal than either our experience or scripture in order to defend or justify our faith. In academic apologetics this has a tendency to manifiest itself in too strong a hold on philosophy and empiricism.

We see then two tendencies--one overemphasizes special revelation and leaves no room for general revelation to both inform our worldview and aid in the interpretation of special revelation. The other overemphasizes general revelation thus refusing the place of primacy that special revelation demands.

What we need is a sort of checks and balances understanding of the relationship between the two which operates under the assumption that an accurate understaing of them will yield congruence. Though scripture may be inerrant and God's world perfectly ordered, our ability to interpret either is not.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Fear the Dragon

13Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? 14But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. "Do not fear what they fear; do not be frightened."
- 1 Peter 3:13-14

"Do not be frightened." Really? Is it just me or does this seem ridiculous? Life, I find, is filled with never ending vicissitudes, paralyzing uncertainties, and unexplainable tragedies. I attended two funerals yesterday. One person's death was expected and somewhat of a relief to the family. The other death was mind-bogglingly shocking. Decisions as grand as who to marry and as petty as whether to take a drive can have life-altering ramifications. And yet Peter tells us that to fear this is not for us. Somehow, apparently, there is a way to rise above these fears. These fears that keep us up at night, drive us to action, and saturate every decision-making process do not have to master us. If this is really true, which I think any sober-minded individual must approach with a healthy dose of skepticism, there must be freedom unimaginable on the other side. The answer, this passage subtly suggests, is not to do away with fear altogether. Rather, it is to exchange one kind of fear for another. Peter is quoting a passage in Isaiah which in the very next line says "The Lord Almighty is the one you are to regard as holy, he is the one you are to fear, he is the one you are to dread." As if we don't have enough fears already, there's one more biggy we failed to consider--fear God. But this fear isn't one you just add to the list. It's a fear that puts all others in perspective. It's like living in the wild, always looking over your shoulder, always keeping the fire going for light, always sleeping with one eye open never knowing when the next wild beast or creepy crawly might make its way through your camp. And then you come across a fire-breathing dragon. And now, you notice nothing else. A lion pounces through and steals your dinner. A snake plays footsie with you. A spider looks for a home in your shirt. And you're completely oblivious. All you notice is that there's a 15-ton fire-breathing dragon looking down at you. But if he's on your side. . . you have nothing to fear. And so Isaiah says in the next verse that if you fear the Lord, "he will be a sanctuary." And the writer of Oh Little Town of Bethlehem proclaims, "The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight." This Christmas, fear the dragon.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Back of His Head

12For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous
and his ears are attentive to their prayer,
but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil."
--1 Peter 3:12

There is nothing more disheartening than feeling as though God is not paying any attention to your situation--especially at times when you really need guidance. But God faces only one direction--in the direction of what is true, good, holy and points towards the fulfillment of the coming of His kingdom. When I don't hear from God I know it's probably because I'm talking to the back of his head. It's probably because something in my life is not in line with God's clear desire for me (Job notwithstanding). God does turn his face away but really because we've already done the same. And so when we don't hear from God, the answer isn't always to simply keep asking and waiting, though it may involve that too. The answer is to get right with God. The answer is not to diligently seek answers for specific prayers but to seek God. " And all these things will be added unto you." (Matt 6:33) When we get right with God we will start to hear from Him, because we will be talking to his face.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Fight for Peace

11He must turn from evil and do good;
he must seek peace and pursue it.
--1 Peter 3:11

Peace is not as easy as it sounds. We often think of making peace as stopping fighting. It sounds almost passive. But here we see that peace is something that must be pursued. We have to fight for peace. We have to fight for peace in our relationships--it won't just happen, but every day we must struggle to protect peace. We have to fight for peace in our hearts. Paul writes of the peace of God that transcends all understanding which comes when we offer up our concerns to God. (Phil 4:6-8) This is a daily routine. And as Paul reflects in the subsequent verse, we must fill our minds with what is true, noble, right, pure, etc. if we are to find peace. My mind is always under attack with thoughts that bring worry and discontent. It is a daily fight to pursue the peace which transcends all understanding and guards our hearts and minds.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Loaded Gun

"Whoever would love life
and see good days
must keep his tongue from evil
and his lips from deceitful speech.
-1 Peter 3:10

I have a rule that I'm not very good at following. But when I do, I find that good days follow me. The rule is this. If I'm angry, I'm not allowed to speak. It's that simple. If I'm angry, I'm not allowed to speak. Even if I know I'm right. Even if I know the other person needs to hear what I'm about to say, Even if I know they've got it coming, I'm still not allowed to speak. Because anger blinds the mind from clear thinking, and even if your thinking is correct, anger always taints the way we speak, and words of healing become daggers. James 1:19 says we should be "quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry." When you feel offended there is nothing more unnatural than to be quick to listen and slow to speak to the offender. In the moment it always seems clear and justified to lash out, but every single time I act that way I find in retrospect that I've gone wrong. A situation where I was clearly in the right becomes my moment of shame. James 3 says the tongue can destroy your life like a fire. Isn't this true? It is amazing how with just a few words you can cause damage that can never be restored. There are things one can say in a moment that can never be taken back. The tongue is like fire--or like a loaded gun. Imagine how you would act if you were walking around all day with a loaded gun. You would always be conscious of it. You would be constantly making sure that the safety was on and that it wasn't pointed at someone. Because with one small move you could do irreparable damage. The same is true with the tongue. But taming the tongue will, as Peter says, bring good days.