Tag Archives: persecution

Reflections on perseverance in difficult times

1 Jun

This week, I’ve been reflecting on suffering and salvation from 1 Peter 1:6-12.

In verses 10-12 Peter takes a moment to talk about this salvation.  He says that prophets in past spoke of this salvation.  The Spirit of God, he said, was at work in these prophets.  In verse 11 the Spirit of Christ in them, and in verse 12 the Spirit at Pentecost.  He says that through the Spirit, the prophets predicted the Messiah, Jesus.  These prophets looked forward to the day that the Christians receiving this letter were getting to experience.  Peter is again trying to encourage the people.

He is saying, “Though you are going through hard times, you have the benefit of salvation brought to you by Jesus the Messiah.  And the prophets never had that.  They looked forward that!”

And then he says something that is shocking.  Not only do the Christians get to experience the salvation of Christ that the prophets look forward to, Peter says, even angels long to look into these things.

Get that?  The Christians have something that the prophets of old, and the angels don’t have.  Salvation through Jesus the Messiah!  Peter wants these persecuted Christians to know how special they are.

Salvation in Christ is such a compelling narrative that angels long to experience it!

I get it that there is much speculation about angels.  If we could pull back the curtain and see the spiritual realm, we would be astounded.  There are numerous places in the Bible that describe that curtain being pulled back, and people are shocked to see what is going on in the spiritual realm.

Because Peter differentiates between Christians and angels, it is clear he means us to understand that we will not become angels when we go to heaven. Clearly what we have is far better than what angels could offer.

McKnight:  “Salvation in Christ…is so great that even the angels are looking down to gain a view, like wedding attendees attempting to steal a glance at the bride before her appearance. The angels are brought in here, not to invite us to speculate about their activities, but to press on our minds the privileges of salvation; neither the prophets nor the angels experience what the church assumes and enjoys.”[1]

Therefore, Peter is saying to the Christians in his day, and he is saying to us: Press on in the faith!

Though you may be going through persecution for your faith, continue to love Jesus.

But what if we are not being persecuted for our faith?  Does this passage not apply?  I think it still does.

  1. It could be that so few Christians are persecuted because we are so private about our faith. That is a tragedy.
  2. Are you faced with choices at work or at home that cause you to pursue actions that are not in line with the Kingdom of God? What about at school? Keep the faith.  Choose the way of Jesus, even if it means life will be harder for you!
  3. Do the people in your life have any idea that you are a Christian? And what kind of Christian are you?  Judgmental?  Angry?  Or Gracious and loving and kind? If people stop talking to you because you are judgmental or angry, then you are not being persecuted for Christ.  You are being pushed aside for being unkind.  The way we present Jesus matters.
  4. What will it look like for you and I to be courageous and loving and gracious and bold about our faith? What will it look like for us to rejoice with great joy?  What could be more attractive to that?  Christians who rejoice in the Lord, not in an arrogant way, but with humility and grace and fun?

And, what will it look like for us to take on the challenges of the day with joy?  Not necessarily happiness – but, inner joy – knowing we have hope in Christ.  And, all suffering will come to an end.

[1] McKnight, Scot. 1 Peter. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1996. Print. The NIV Application Commentary.

Satan did not break my lawn mower

29 May

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Are any of you suffering?  Any of you going through a hard time?

How does it feel?  Lonely, right?  Maybe you feel people just don’t understand.  Or your suffering might be ongoing, and you feel you are a burden to the people around you.  You worry about that, and your worry only compounds the suffering.

Have you ever wondered if you’ll ever be done suffering?

What can be so hard for us Christians is that we know we are to cling to Jesus in the midst of our suffering, but it can seem like he is not there.  That’s scary, right?  Suffering can lead to a crisis of faith?  Why is Jesus allowing me to go through this?  Does he really care about me?  Does he know what I am going through?  Of course he knows.  So why he is letting this suffering drag on so long?  What does my relationship with Jesus matter during the hard times?  Am I just supposed to get through this on my own?  I don’t know that I can do that.

As we continue to study Peter’s first letter, we find that he has a word for people who are suffering.  But not just any sufferers. Before going any further in the post, please stop and read 1 Peter 1:6-12.

First of all, what are the trials that Peter was referring to?  Remember that Peter was the leader of the church in Rome, and he was writing to Christians around the Roman Empire that had been dealing with some persecution.

I know this is not fun to talk about.  Persecution.  But we need to have at least a basic grasp of what Peter and the Christians in that day were facing before we can apply this passage to us.  Especially because there have been Christians facing persecution for hundreds of years in many places around the globe, and there still are many Christians being persecuted today.

If we don’t have a good sense of the trials that Peter is talking about, we could very easily apply Peter’s words to every situation that we find difficult.  Getting a bad parking space at the mall.  Having your dryer make funny noises, like ours was this week.  Well, actually, the first comment was “Dad, there is a bat trapped in the dryer…we need to get it out of there.”  Over the course of a few days, the sound went from trapped bat, to full-on shrieking.

You can think about the difficulties and griefs that you’ve had this week.  Are they in any way related to the trials that Peter is talking about?  My concern is that we can trivialize what Peter is talking about.  Missing an important family event.  A sports team losing a big game.  A dryer breaking.

These situations are nothing like what Peter is talking about.

Scot McKnight says it this way: “Peter was addressing the impact salvation had on one’s life and how a person’s changed life (and status) ran counter to the culture in which these Christians lived.”[1]

In other words, the people in Peter’s day, and Peter himself, were suffering specifically because they were Christians.  Their suffering was completely and totally connected to the fact that they had decided to live their lives according the way of Jesus.  Peter is not talking about bad things happening to people who happen to be Christians.  They are suffering because they are Christians.

As I said, my dryer broke last week, and thanks to YouTube it was easy to fix, but also my mower broke…in the same week. Equipment breaking has nothing to do with me being a Christian, or being a pastor.  Now some may say, “What about the spiritual realm?  Couldn’t that be an attack from Satan meant to discourage you?”  I will admit that I don’t know for sure, but I highly, highly doubt it.  That, to me, sounds more like a plot line in a Christian fiction novel than it sounds like how Satan really works.  We need to be careful to avoid spiritualizing things.

Here’s what actually happened.  It was anything but spiritual.

A couple weeks ago, my mower stopped working.  You would pull the cord, the engine would fire up and immediately stop. So Daniel, a teenager in my church, fixed it for me. Daniel is learning small engine repair in an internship, and he did great! I mowed my whole yard, and the mower worked like a charm.  Then a few more days went by, days filled with rain and warmer temps, and the grass was growing out of control.  But there was no end in sight to the rain.  So Friday a week ago, we had a break in the rain, and even though the grass was wet, I had the kids start mowing.  They did their portions, and then I was going to finish up.

I didn’t get far, and the mower died.  Same thing as before.  Pull, start, die.  Pull, start, die.  Pull, start, die.  Ugh.  I thought, how dumb of me to mow wet grass.  And tall grass to boot!  Totally my fault.  Probably got the carburetor clogged again.  So the next day I took it to Daniel again.  I was hoping he could teach me what he did before. But this time there was no fixing it. Same thing: pull, start, die.

He said he would take it to his internship and look at it.

Well the streak of rain and warm temps continued. The grass grew like crazy.  On Wednesday I asked my neighbor if I could borrow her riding mower, and she said I could.  I got it out of her shed, it started, and I drove it maybe 20 yards, and it died.  I couldn’t start it. So I checked and it was out of gas.  Whew.  I filled it up, and I still couldn’t start it.  It would turn over a little, but never really start.  So I pushed it back into her shed.  When she got home, she was able to start it.  It looked like I didn’t have the throttle in the right place.

So I walked over to get started using it, and when I tried, it wouldn’t work.  I thought I must be the lawn-mower anti-Midas.  Whatever I touch breaks.  Then she got on it, and this time, even she couldn’t start it.  She said she had just had it serviced a few months ago, and wasn’t having any problems, so she would call her mechanic.

I was really frustrated, and my grass was super tall.

Then I got a text from Daniel.  “Your mower is fixed.  There was two-stroke gas in the engine.”

What???  Where in the world did I get two-stroke gas?  I have no two-stroke engine equipment like a chain saw.  I never bought two-stroke gas.  What was going on?

Then I had a scary thought!  I had filled up my neighbor’s riding mower with the same gas!  I ran over to her house hoping she was still home.  And she was.  She graciously allowed me to empty her gas tank of the two-stroke gas.  But neither she nor I had regular gas.  As I write this, days later, her mower still isn’t working.

Daniel dropped off my mower, and it works great.

But where did this two-stroke gas come from?  I realized that my father-in-law had been at our house a few weeks ago using his chainsaw to cut some of our wood.  That gas can must have been his, but it looks incredibly similar to our extra gas can, and it had no markings on it!  You know, like a label that would say “two stroke gas”  or something?

There was no demon.  It was the wrong gas.  We need to be super cautious about spiritualizing difficult situations in life and blaming them on Satan.  So many times difficulties come as a result of our own actions and choices.  When we blame the consequences of our poor behavior on the devil, we are trvilializing the actual suffering that people are going through around the world, specifically because they are Jesus-followers.

This week in my prayer app, Prayer Mate, which I have mentioned before, it pulled in a prayer request for Sabina in Tajikistan who became a follower of Jesus. Several members of Sabina’s own family, including her father, beat her when they found out. That didn’t stop her from giving a Bible to her friend Madina, who is now a follower of Jesus.  Sabina and Medina are following Jesus at the risk of their lives.

McKnight told the following story, “I recently spent some time with a young athlete who had some rough experiences at his local high school with his “former” friends. As a senior he had a track record of drinking and drugs but was converted to Christ. His conversion made a sudden and immediate impact on his life, so much that he found himself on an island. After games, he was no longer invited to the parties; during games, he was no longer given the same opportunities to shoot the basketball; and in the hallways at school, he was no longer a “hit” with either the girls or his friends. He came to me for consolation. I explained that at least part of this was suffering and that he needed to guard against retaliatory speech and bitter attitudes. He began to see, in a painful way, that commitment to Christ can involve suffering.”[2]

That is who Peter is talking to.  Peter is writing to people who started living life in a very differing way because they began to believe in Jesus and learn from him how to learn. As a result, other people in their communities starting mistreating them.  As we start looking into this passage this week, it will be very helpful for us to have a proper perspective on the kind of suffering we’re facing.

Tomorrow, check back in, as we look at how Christians have a distinctly different response to suffering.

[1] McKnight, Scot. 1 Peter. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1996. Print. The NIV Application Commentary.

[2] Ibid.

We really need grace

17 May

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Do you or anyone you know go by a nickname?  I love the band U2, and both the lead singer Bono and lead guitarist, The Edge, go by the nicknames.  Bono has said on numerous occasions that even The Edge’s mom calls him “The Edge”.

But I wonder how many people with a nickname refer to themselves by their nickname?

As we learned last week, Saint Peter, whose first letter we are studying at Faith Church, had a nickname,   The Rock. Check our 1st Peter 1:1, and look how Peter starts the letter.  With his nickname!  The Rock.  Fair warning…you won’t see the words “The Rock.”  You’ll see the name “Peter”, but in Greek that name means “Rock.”  Peter’s actual name was “Simon”.  Does anyone else find it interesting that Peter used his nickname rather than his actual name?

Sometimes nicknames stick!  After 30 years of Peter being the leader of the church, he was The Rock.

Peter also calls himself an Apostle of Jesus Christ.

So far I have called Peter a disciple of Jesus.  What is this word “apostle”?  It refers to someone who is carrying a special message.  Generally, the 12 disciples became known as the 12 apostles.  These guys who followed Jesus became special messengers of Jesus.  The word we would more commonly use in English for an apostle is ____________.  Can you guess it?  Missionary.  That’s what Peter was. You can read about his mission trips in the book of the Bible called Acts.  Peter was a missionary, a special messenger, an apostle of Jesus Christ.

But who is he writing to?  Look at verse 1 and 2. He uses numerous phrases to describe the recipients of the letter:

To God’s elect, Strangers in the world, Scattered throughout Asia, Chosen according to the foreknowledge of God, Through the sanctifying work of the Spirit for obedience to Jesus Christ and sprinkling by his blood.

In that short description of these people, Peter packs a lot in.  Did you feel you just jumped into the deep end of the theological pool?  Geesh.

Remember how last week the religious establishment guys in Jerusalem looked down on Peter calling him an unschooled man?  Now listen to Peter.  He is starts off his letter laying on some thick theology.

And what’s more, Peter gets into one of the most divisive theological issues of our time.  Do we choose God or does God choose us?

For Peter that question is easy to answer.  God chooses.  “Chosen according to the foreknowledge of God.”  That’s pretty clear.  “God’s elect” means God elects them.  God chooses them.  What is not so easy to understand is what Peter meant by all this talk of choosing and electing.  There are two main ways that Christians through the ages have used to help us understand.

One is the deterministic way.  God determines everything and we don’t.  We might think we are choosing him, but determinists say that our feeling of choice is basically a mirage.  God gives faith to some and not to others.  That is the deterministic view.

The other way is the free will view.  God gives us free will to either choose him or not.  We think we are choosing him, free will says, because we actually are.

Each method has its difficulties.  Take the deterministic view.  If God chooses us, then how can he punish those he didn’t choose?  Doesn’t seem fair, right?  And it also really doesn’t seem like my act of choosing is a mirage.  I feel like I am making my own free choices.  I see very little evidence of God controlling everything.

The free will view seems to answer those problems nicely.  If God gives free will, it makes a lot more sense for him to punish sin, right?  Because the sinner doesn’t have to sin.  The sinner can choose God.  Also, free will seems to fit our common experience of life, right?  We feel like we are doing the choosing.  But free will has a problem too.  Peter just said God chooses, God elects.  Peter did not say God gave us free will so we could choose.  And Peter is not the only writer of Scripture to teach this.  The problem free will has is that it seems like the Biblical writers teach God as doing the choosing, not us.

So what do we do?  Do we choose God or does he choose us?

I am going to give you the wonderfully satisfying answer of: “I don’t know.”  That’s just a horrible answer, isn’t it?  You want to me to take a side, right?  At least give my opinion, right?

Well, okay, if you say so.

I think Peter is teaching both actually.  I think the other writers of Scripture are teaching both.  What I mean is this.  God gives us free will and he chooses us. That seem impossible?  A logical fallacy?

Here’s what I believe is the best way to make sense of this:

God chooses corporately, not individually.  Usually the determinists, those who hold to God as chooser, God as elector, believe that God is choosing individuals.  God chooses one person to be saved and go to heaven.  And he decides not to choose the next person, so that person will go to hell.

My denomination, the EC Church comes from a wing of the Christian Church that views God, not as choosing individuals, but God as choosing corporately.  In the Old Testament, God chose a whole people group, the nation of Israel, to be his chosen people.  People from outside Israel could choose to become part of Israel.  In fact, from the very beginning, in his covenant with Abraham, the grandfather of the nation of Israel, God said to Abraham, “I have a mission for your family.  I want you to be a blessing to the whole world.”  God envisioned Abraham’s family, part of which would become the nation of Israel, to be a missionary nation, a nation that actively sought out the rest of the world to join Israel in following God.  Sadly, Israel would go on to do an incredibly poor job of fulfilling that mission.

God gave Israel many, many chances to do better, and after eventually God decided to create a new covenant with a new group of people.  But the mission stayed the same for the new group: reach the whole world with the message of God’s good news.

Who is the new group of people that God chose?  The new group is all those who are in Christ. I believe that is what Peter is talking about here.  God chooses not individuals, but instead he gives us free will to choose to be in Christ.  We cannot choose to be outside of Christ and still expect to be in God’s family.  Why?  Because God chooses only those who are in Christ.  One way to put it is that God does not choose individuals, instead he chooses the method by which individuals of their own free will choose him.  And that method is in Christ alone.

Here’s where Peter’s greeting and conclusion are really powerful.  Just because we have free will to choose Christ, it doesn’t mean that God is totally standoffish, wondering what we will do.

Peter talks about another key factor at work helping us to understand this.  Grace.  Look at verse 3, and Peter’s first message in his letter is this: Grace and Peace.  Keep your finger in 1 Peter 1, and flip a few pages to the end of the book, to 1 Peter 5:12, and notice some of his final words of the letter: “stand fast in God’s grace.”  Peter bookends his letter by referring to God’s grace.  Why?  Because God’s grace is at work in the world and in our lives.

The official word for this is Prevenient Grace.  Prevenient simply means “that which comes before.”  Use it as an adjective to explain grace, and Prevenient Grace means “grace that comes before.”  But what in the world is “grace that comes before?”

The United Methodist Church summarizes well when it says that our evangelical forefather John Wesley, “understood grace as God’s active presence in our lives. This presence is not dependent on human actions or human response. It is a gift — a gift that is always available, but a gift that can be refused. God’s grace stirs up within us a desire to know God and empowers us to respond to God’s invitation to be in relationship with God. God’s grace enables us to discern differences between good and evil and makes it possible for us to choose the good. God takes the initiative in relating to humanity. We do not have to beg and plead for God’s love and grace. God actively seeks us!”

So we don’t have a standoffish God.  We have a God that seeks us, that woos us, that desires to be in relationship with us.  That is grace.  Grace is undeserved favor.  We don’t deserve a God who so actively chases after we who turn away from him.  And yet, Peter says, look at what God did in Jesus!  Jesus gave his life so that the sin that made it impossible for us to be in relationship with God could be dealt with.  God made things right, out of his gracious desire to be with us.  That is amazing.

We can bank on that, Peter says. More on that in just a minute.  Because I have skipped over something important.

Who is Peter writing to?

Look at verse 1, he calls them strangers, scattered people from many places.  With this opening description, Peter begins a theme that will be very important for him.  Christians need to see themselves as strangers who were scattered.  Peter wrote this letter not to one person or one church, but to Christians at the time who had been scattered around the world.  They were Christians living their lives as strangers in foreign countries, scattered away from their homeland.  Many were refugees.

Why? Because it was a difficult time for the church.

As we will see throughout our study, Peter addresses the fact that the Christians are being persecuted.

Peter is their leader. He lives in Rome. The Roman Emperor Nero lives in Rome.  The historians tell us that Nero, at the end of his life, persecuted Christians.  It is likely that both Peter and the apostle Paul died at Nero’s bidding.  But what we don’t see in the time period Peter is writing is Empire-wide state-sponsored persecution of Christians.  Our best guess is that Nero did not try to wipe out Christianity.  So the persecution that Peter refers to throughout his letter is more likely happening to Christians in the localities where they are scattered. The persecution is not in every town and city.  And it is not like they are all being burned at the stake. The persecution varies.  But it is still persecution.  Many Christians have been disenfranchised or displaced.

You can bet Peter hears the talk wafting through the Christian community.  Christianity is only 30 years old at this point.  That’s not a lot of time to develop a rock solid foundation.  If the persecution continues or gets worse, people could easily turn away.  Peter knows he needs to write the Christians who might be feeling like this Christianity thing is no longer worth it.  And that leads to the letter we are reading now.

Peter is not writing to people who are citizens of one national country or city. Peter wants to give them a higher vision.  He says they are strangers in a strange land.  Why?  Strangers?  They are citizens in heaven, and they should live for a purpose, which he describes in verse 2.  Their purpose is “for obedience to Jesus Christ” no matter what is going on.

That is our purpose.  Are we ready for obedience to Christ?  To get ready, we need to see ourselves not as citizens of a country on earth, but as strangers here.  We need to see our citizenship in heaven.  Our citizenship in heaven is the true citizenship, and we are actually strangers in a nation here on earth.  That can be a very hard reality for Christians to grasp.  We are strangers here.

As strangers here, though we aren’t facing persecution like the people Peter was writing to, we need to be ready.  Jesus talked a lot about this.  Be ready for his return.  Persecution may never arrive.  I hope it never does.  But Jesus taught, and the book of Revelation reminds us, that Jesus’ return could be preceded by persecution.  I know many teachers teach that there will be a rapture, meaning that all Christians will be removed from the earth and escape persecution.  Maybe.  But maybe not. Scholars are VERY divided in how to interpret that.  Persecution could come.  And we need to be ready.  We are called to follow Jesus no matter if life is going really well or if life is terrible.

I also encourage you to remember that there are many Christians being persecuted NOW.  The church is being persecuted around the world. And we need to remember that, pray.

In our church fellowship hall, we have copies of Persecuted magazine.  They send five copies every month.  I encourage you to pick it up and read it.

In my prayer time, I use an app called Prayer Mate, and one of its features you can choose is to bring in a new prayer request each day for someone around the world who is being persecuted for their faith.  I love that.  Imagine thousands of Prayer Mate users praying for the person.  How that must feel to be that person?  I hope and pray they can feel God at work answering the prayer of his people, encouraging that person by his Holy Spirit.

And we return to what Peter’s first message is 1:2 “Grace and peace to you.”  And then we look at how he repeats that message in 5:12-14 when he says “Stand fast in the grace of God…[and]…Peace to all of you who are in Christ.”

Grace and peace.

God’s prevenient grace is at work in the world, wooing us to find peace in him.  We can’t control God’s grace, and we don’t want to!  It is his loving choice to shower grace on us, that we might find peace in him.

And what Peter says is that our response is to obey and stand firm in that grace.  Peter, The Rock, knows who the real firm foundation is.  Not him.  He surely knew that.  Peter, the Rock, found a firm foundation in God’s grace.

If you feel like life is anything but firm, I get it.  I talked about my own struggles with anxiety a few weeks ago.  When anxiety hits, when stress rises, when life gets complicated and difficult, it feels like our lives are built on quicksand.

We all seek a firm foundation in life. If our core relationships are not solid, we can be so tempted to betray those core relationships and find other ones that are rock solid.  If we feel an unsettledness, a dissatisfaction, a struggle, with work, with our homes, with our finances, we often go looking for other things in life that we feel rock solid.

Peter, The Rock, says we have a rock solid firm foundation in the grace of God.  The pursuing, loving Grace of God.

This past week I had an anxiety day on Thursday, and as I walked back the hallway of the church, I saw one of the signs the kids made.  I have walked by that sign hundreds of times.  Never struck me before. You know what it says?  Be still and know that I am God.  Psalm 46:10.  I hadn’t been still.  The previous few days were filled and busy and I hadn’t spent time with God, basking in his grace, knowing that his grace is the solid foundation.  I needed that reminder.

Choose to rest in his grace.  That means actually opening up space and time in your life to be with God.  To rest in him.  To be quiet before him.  It might take practice.  To be silent before God is super hard, especially when it feels like life is falling apart all around you.  In those moments the last thing we want to do is stop and be quiet and listen for God.

Standing firm in God’s grace, no doubt about it, is an act of faith in God, right smack in the moment of our struggle, when it seems like God is not there.  Standing firm in God’s grace in that moment means believing that God is who he says he is, and then choosing an action, or more likely a persistent ongoing series of actions, that show we are placing our faith in him.  That is the obedience that Paul is talking about in verse 2.

What will it look like for to stand firm in God’s grace today?  This week?  I encourage you to have someone like Peter, The Rock, in your life.  Someone who has seen firsthand through the years that they can build their life on Jesus.  Sure, Peter was nicknamed The Rock.  But he knew that Jesus was the real  rock of his life.  Who will that be for you?  Who will help you build your life on The Rock of Jesus?