Tag Archives: abuse

When you start to change and your friends don’t like it

30 Aug

Photo by Adi Goldstein on Unsplash

Have you ever gone through a life change, and that change affected your friendships?

You know who your real friends are when you start changing.

Perhaps you believe new things, or maybe you have shed a long-held belief, and your friends are pushing back.  It could be that you have stopped doing something that you and your friends regularly enjoyed, and they are disappointed, even angry with you.

As Peter continues teaching in 1 Peter 4:1-6, he describes how the people he is writing to started following the way of Jesus, and as they moved away from the self-destructive patterns of their old friends, those old friends were not happy.  In fact, Peter says in verse 4, “they heap abuse you.”

“Abuse” is actually the word “blaspheme”, which means “to speak against someone in such a way as to harm or injure his or her reputation.” (Louw & Nida)

What Peter is describing could be the persecution those early Christians were facing.

So Peter goes on in verses 5-6 saying that those old friends will have to give account to God for their behavior. Then Peter makes a most interesting statement.  He says this is why the gospel was preached even to those who are now dead.  Wait?  What?  The gospel is preached to dead people?

No.  Not at all.

Let’s examine this a bit further.

Peter uses the specific words, “preach the gospel.”  What is this gospel?  Gospel is simply a word that means “good news.” What good news?  Last week we looked at how Peter described the good news in 3:18 when he said that Jesus died for our sin, to bring us to God.  That is some good news, that people who are separated from God can now be with him.

But that is not the only good news in The Good News.  God’s good news is that he is doing a work of rectification, which is a big fancy word that means “making things right.”  God wants to set things right in the world.

As Peter has been teaching in this passage, God wants things to be right in our lives.  God wants us to move away from self-destructive sinful desires, and pursue his new way.

God’s Good News is not just a transformation of individual people.  God also wants to set the world right.  And so his good news is good news for all people, all creation.  Where there is injustice of all kinds, God wants to set things right.

That good news is what Peter says, “was preached to those who are now dead.”  “Was preached” is something that happened in the past.  Peter is talking about a preaching that occurred in the past.  Not present preaching, not future preaching.  Also, the word “now” is not in the Greek.  That has been added to help us understand the intent of Peter’s flow of thought.  He is talking about preaching that happened in the past, and some of the people who heard that preaching have now passed away.  They were alive when they heard the preaching.  They are dead now.  More than likely they had become Christians while they were still living, after they heard the preaching.

What does this all mean for those Christians reading this letter who are still alive and facing abuse from their friends?  While they faced criticism when they stopped their wild living and chose to follow the way of Christ, they can take great comfort that they are now living according to God’s way.

It is precisely at this juncture that some Christians have misunderstood what it means to live according to God’s way in our lives now.

I will never forget my visit to the Ephrata Cloister.  They wanted to remove themselves from the world, so they could not be negatively impacted by it.  It seemed like they wanted to live God’s way.  Except that Jesus specifically prayed in John 17 that God would not remove his followers from the world, but that God would keep them safe in the midst of it.

God doesn’t want us to escape from the world.  We can obey God while still living in the world.  The issue is not so much about figuring out what God’s will is for the myriad choices of living in the world.  Such as, can followers of Jesus watch movies or TV shows or play video games with certain ratings?  Can followers of Jesus wear certain kinds of swimwear?

Instead Peter is saying, start from a place where you stop indulging in evil human desires, and start following God’s desires for your life!

Certainly there are times when a follower of Jesus needs to stop or decrease a friendship because that friendship is a negative influence that the follower of Jesus cannot handle.  But in most cases, we followers of Jesus can stop indulging in evil human desires while at the same time maintaining genuine friendships with people who are not following Jesus.

So as we think about what Peter has talked about in 1 Peter 4:1-6, how about you?  Do you love God?

Are you living according to human desires, or according to God’s desires?

Have you armed yourself with the same attitude as Jesus, that no matter what goes on in your life, you are committed to do the will of God!

If you are like most of us, you have some of both.  You want to obey God, but you also find yourself giving in to evil human desires sometimes as well.

What patterns or habits do you need to change in order to live a life that is line with the way of God?

I encourage you to do what has often been called “soul-searching”.  Today is the day, Peter is saying, for us to stop or to begin to learn to stop following evil human desires, and today is the day to start growing our love for God that we might follow his desires for our lives.  He wants to change us into people that are different, and that might be hard for some of our friends and family to accept.  But God wants to change us into people that obey his desires for our lives, and that is the best way to live.

Was God being manipulative when he said, “If you obey me, you will live”?

18 Sep

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Is God being manipulative when he says, “If you obey me, you will live”?

Is he being threatening?  Why in the world would God say that?  If you remove the Christian filter from your mind, you can read God as sounding an awful lot like an abusive boyfriend.

As we continue our study through Deuteronomy, we come to a passage where God says that.  Jesus says it too.  Let’s take a look.  What are we to make of this?

In Deuteronomy chapter 4, verse 1, and we read the word “Hear”.  “Hear” is the Hebrew word “Shema,” and Moses uses it many times in the next few chapters, the most famous occurrence is in chapter 6:4-9, “Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One.”  That Shema is known as THE Shema, a kind of credal statement uttered by the people of Israel regularly still to this day.  For them it is like the Apostles Creed or the Lord’s Prayer.

Shema means, “Hear, Listen, understand.”  Moses is saying, “Pay attention, people! Important information is about to arrive. Listen up! You don’t want to miss this.”

And what is the important info Moses has for them?  Well, there is a lot.  Look at what he says in verses 1-5.  They absolutely must get this because their lives literally depend on it.  They need to hear the Law, and then follow and obey the law, he says, to live.  To live!

And why?  Because of verse 3.  Moses basically says to the people, “You remember that situation at Baal Peor, right?”  You can read all about what happened at Baal Peor in Numbers 25.  It was a fairly recent event in the life of the nation, so Moses doesn’t need to retell it here in Deuteronomy 4.  He just has to say, “You saw with your own eyes what the Lord did at Baal Peor.”  What they saw would have been hard to forget.

The place was called Baal Peor because an idol to the Canaanite god Baal was there.  Some of the people of Israel were enticed to worship it, probably because there was temple prostitution there.  Some of the men indulged, which was bad enough, but they also participated in worship rituals, which included bowing down to the idol of Baal.  Imagine God watching them.  It was like a one-two punch to him.  First punch in the gut when they participated in sinful things, second punch right across the face when they bowed down to Baal.  How would you feel if you were God?

Betrayed.  Angry.  Jealous.   Maybe all that, maybe more.  God is a relational, emotional God, and Israel had really hurt him.  We learn that thousands of the Israelites died that day as a result of their severe disobedience.  Fast-forward to Deuteronomy 4, and the people Moses was talking to remembered that day.  The lesson God taught on that horrible day in the life of their nation was one they wouldn’t forget anytime soon.  Follow God’s Law and live.  Disobey and die.  It couldn’t have been more clear to them.

Moses also connects the obedience of the people to their ability to remain in the land. If the people obey, not only will they live, but they will also live in the Land.  In chapters 1-3 we learned that some of the tribes, 2 ½ of them, had just received their allotment of land on the east side of the Jordan River.  The rest had yet to cross the Jordan where they would receive their land.

They had come all this way from Egypt. Did they want to live in the Land?  Yes, they absolutely did.  So Moses reminds them that the promise of life and land was conditional.  God’s love for them was unconditional, meaning it would never change.  But life in the land was conditional; they could lose it.  If they followed God’s law, and held fast to them, they had nothing to worry about.

This is an instructive word for us too.  Jesus once said in John 14:15, “if you love me, obey my commands.”  In our modern sensibilities, we bristle at the suggestion that we are to obey another person.  It sounds demeaning or authoritarian.  Parental.  And to tie it to the idea of love sounds really manipulative.  “If you love, you’ll do what I say.”  If our friend was in a relationship with a person who said that, we’d tell them to break it off.  So why does God say this to the Israelites, and why does Jesus say it to his followers?  Are they manipulative?  Are they being demanding?

Maybe. Some people sure think so. But I don’t.  Instead, I believe God had the Israelites’ best interest in mind.  Just like Jesus does for his followers.  They know the best possible way to live.  They are not just trying to twist people’s arms into praising them and following them.  Instead they love us and want what the true good life for us.  That good life is found in obeying them.

God’s call for obedience from his people is a wonderful balance of what is best for them, and what he desires most.  Obey and live, rather than turning out to be manipulative, is actually life-giving, not just in the eternal sense, but in a well-rounded human way.  Paul would go on to talk about the Fruit of the Spirit, and I believe that teaching is an example of why it is so important and amazing to follow the way of Jesus.  Paul said in Galatians 5 that we walk in step with God’s Spirit, following his way, what will flow out of our lives are the best qualities of life: “love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.”

Jesus often talked about how following his way leads to eternal life, but it also leads to a new kind of life in the here and now.  Israel could access that life, God said, if they obeyed him.  We can access that life, if we learn to follow the way of Jesus.  What is that way?  Read the stories of Jesus in four accounts of his life, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.  What do you see?

If you want to learn to be his follower, comment below.  I’d love to talk with you further. Take a look at what Paul says about following Jesus in the teaching right after the Fruit of the Spirit: “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.”  Let’s talk about how to do that!  Let’s talk about how to really live.

How to love and be loved when you are facing hardship

23 May

 

Are you going through a hard time?  How are you handling it?

Some of you have seen The Passion of the Christ which vividly portrays the Roman flogging of Jesus just before they crucified him.  I remember watching that when it first came out in the theater, my stomach churning, tears flowing.  It is awful.

During his flogging Jesus doesn’t talk back, but he communicates very loudly and clearly because this was an amazing act of love.  Though the Gospel writers don’t say much about it, a Roman flogging was enough to kill some people.

But look at how Jesus handles it. Jesus is an example for us at how to handle stress, pain, anxiety, and trials.  We can complain, fuss, or get angry during the troubles and trials we face.  And here is Jesus under self-control. Taking it.

Does this mean that we should be a doormat, and just let trial and trouble bulldoze and steamroll us?

What is the balance here? Jesus allowed himself to be beaten.  Should we?

There is a major difference between Jesus’ situation and ours, and that is that Jesus’ mission was direct mission from God was to give his life.  When we are abused, it is NOT our mission from God to be abused.  Abuse is wrong.  And we must not put up with that.  We must get safe, get away from the abuse.

But what about when face the regular difficulties of life?  For example, what if we lose our job justly, perhaps because of poor performance?  Then it IS our mission to handle that in a way that is honorable to the Lord.  Another situation that many of us face might be a car accident that was our fault.  Again, it is our mission then to handle that difficult with grace.

But what about turning the other cheek?   What about pacifism?  What about Romans 13 and the God-ordained use of government to restrain evil?  These are very difficult questions that would require another blog post or ten! Staying with Jesus’ trial and flogging, we see that our Lord was on a mission from God to give his life, and he turns the other cheek.  He does not retaliate, though he could.  He could instantly eradicate all the Romans by his mighty power.  He does not.

He had to go to the cross.  No matter what the people would do to him to take him there, he was not going to reverse it.  That is another way I see the difference between what happened to Jesus and to the times when we must turn the other cheek.  Turning the other cheek is almost certainly not going to lead to our death.  Following the way of Christ might lead to death.  In many places around the world, Christians, in order to maintain faith in Christ, are put to death.

So there is Jesus, beaten, broken, shamed, rejected, falsely accused, and loving us all the way.

He did this for us.

Go back three years, to Jesus’ temptation.  Satan offered him an easy way out of his mission.  Just worship Satan, just bow down, and Satan would give him all the kingdoms of the world.  No battle needed.  No war.  Just a simple bowing down.  The temptation was great.  Satan is giving him the opportunity to be king without pain.  Jesus said “No”.

Now fast-forward back to Jesus’ trial, and we see Jesus taking the full weight of that mission upon him.  He is in the midst of the pain.

He has just a few hours before this prayed “if there is some other way, Lord, please take this cup of suffering from me.”  Now the full cup of suffering is being poured out on him.  It was not taken away from him.

Jesus endured.  He said “not my will, but yours be done,” and he took the pain because he was committed to the Lord.

That’s how much he loves us.  He was focused on the Lord’s will, on loving us.

Many years ago at Faith Church a guest teacher asked a student to walk a pathway around the classroom floor.  Easy, right?  Except that he had placed boards on the floor.  And there were nails sticking out of the boards.  And worst of all, the student was blindfolded.  Furthermore she could only walk around by following the guest teacher’s voice, while everyone in the class simultaneously, out loud, gave her competing directions. She was very brave to even attempt this!  She had to trust hard in the teacher, and listen closely for his directions.  She said that she had to really try to filter out all the other voices, and that the hardest voice to put out of her mind was her husband’s.

Jesus was laser-focused on God’s will, though the clamor from the crowd was loud and the pain in his body was screaming at him to stop.  He could have easily avoided the pain, the shame, and the loneliness by exercising some miraculous power that day.  Easy!  Call down 10,000 angels ready for war.  But he didn’t because he was focused on one thing.  The mission of God.

Let us come away from this story with a renewed appreciation for God’s love for us, for the sacrifice Jesus gave to us, so that we can remain focused on his voice. As Paul says in Romans 8:38-39:

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Remember the Duke Lacrosse team?  In March 2006, three of the players on the team were falsely accused of raping a girl at a party.  An investigation leading up to their trial surfaced a staggering amount of blatant prosecutorial misconduct.  Durham District Attorney Mike Nifong handled his case so egregiously that it led to his disbarment and a brief jail sentence.

How did the players handle it?  They got revenge.  They sued.  But did it help?  To mark its tenth anniversary just a few months ago news media revisited the case.  Journalists interviewed those falsely accused, and found that though a decade has passed, the accusation still stings.  Getting retribution money didn’t solve all their problems.

When you are falsely accused, look to Jesus as your example. Seek justice, and with grace and mercy, focus on God’s amazing love for you.  When we remember God’s love for us, how deeply he loves us no matter the situation, it can transform our pain and help us to respond to the pain with love, just as Jesus did.