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Contentment: Deprivation as Grace

May 24, 2020

It’s amazing how much more tolerant some people are today. Tolerant of limited store hours. Tolerant of limited inventory in the stores. Tolerant of limited, if any, services available at various kinds of service establishments, from health care to auto care to personal care. Tolerant of limited everything, it seems.
Many people are reluctantly learning to adjust to a “new normal,” which is much less convenient, less instant, less accommodating than in the recent past.
Not everyone has become reluctantly accepting of the new circumstances. But many are.
Why are some people more tolerant? The answer is obvious. They have no choice. So they might as well accept the new reality.
I’m reminded of the Kubler Ross stages of grief theory. Denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. In the context of the current virus pandemic, a reluctant acceptance of fewer options, a reluctant acceptance of fewer conveniences, and and a reluctant acceptance of new – and often silly – limitations on just about everything.
In short, many people have gone from being entitled consumers who demand and expect instant gratification, to being folks who are, in many cases, seemingly glad enought to be alive to be at least somewhat grateful for those comforts that are available as they become available.
For followers of Christ, it might be appropriate to add to the Kubler Ross list. Not all might apply. But maybe after reluctant acceptance, might be gracious acceptance. Then gratitude, and maybe even contentment.
In 1 Peter 2, Peter is alluding to this when he directs us to not only be subject to, but also honor, our government officials. And to not only respect our employers and those with authority over us, but also to do so graciously.
This lesson considers the state of mind – and state of heart – that followers of Chirst are commanded to have, and draws in part from New and Old Testament ideas about contentment.

You’re a Priest Now

May 3, 2020

I spent the first two years of high school in a boarding school. A prep school. In particular, in a seminary for boys planning to eventually become Catholic priests.
At St. Joseph Seminary in Grand Rapids, Michigan, we lived on campus. Slept in dormitories, attended class, spent time studying in the study hall, and went to chapel.
We had prayer seven or eight times a day, including daily Mass, daily devotional time, and prayer before – and often after – every activity.
For me, the best prayer time was when I visited the chapel alone. I spent time praying, and considering how important it would be – and what a privilege it would be – to serve as a connection between people and God. I could not imagine a higher calling in life.
In 1 Peter 2, we read about being built up to be a “holy priesthood” (v.5), and about being a chosen race, a “royal priesthood” (v.9). Remember that Peter’s letter is written to the elect exiles in Asia Minor, not to a particular group or class of clergy or church leaders. It is from these passages, as well as from the overall message of Ephesians 4:1-16 and similar passages, that we can understand the doctrine known as the “priesthood of all believers.”
In this lesson, we take a look at what it means to be built up to be a “holy priesthood” and what it means to be “a chosen race, a royal priesthood.”

Peter’s Perspective: Zoom out, Zoom in

April 26, 2020

At the end of the day, family is what really matters.
My closest friend, for most of my adult life, was like a brother to me. He and his family were very close to me and my family. Our families even vacationed together a few times.
When my friend was nearing death in the hospital, I offered to come to his bedside to join his wife and sons. His oldest son was very kind to me on the phone, but told me no, they just wanted family there.
At the end of the day, family is what matters most. I get it.
We’ve seen this during the current pandemic. Siblings reaching out to siblings. Family members who had all but lost touch with each other, are once again talking, sharing, reminiscing.
When we “zoom out” and look at the big picture – when we consider what is really important in life – family emerges as a priority.
In his first letter, Peter calls upon us to have a “sincere brotherly love” and to “love one another earnestly from a pure heart.” (1 Peter 1:22) There needs to be something special, something akin to family, in the way that we relate to each other. In fact, something even more intimate than biological family, as Jesus observed early in His ministry on earth (Mark 3:33-35).
Jesus command us to love each other (that is, to love our fellow disciples) as He loved us… as part of our witness to the world (John 13:34-35). Paul calls upon us to prefer those who are of the household of faith (Galatians 6:10). And John observed that our love for each other within the church is actually a sign of our having been saved (1 John 3:14-15).
Sometimes it seems like we need to work on our love for each other within the church. What can we do to nurture this kind of brotherly love?
This lesson is an opportunity to consider what it means to obey Jesus’ command that we love one another as He love us.

You were Ransomed. Act like it.

April 19, 2020

The full title of this lesson should be: “You were ransomed and adopted as a child of the sovereign Creator and King of the universe. Act like it.”
It is by God’s amazing grace that we are invited (by the Gospel) and brought (read, bought) into the kingdom of God. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God. (Ephesians 2:4).
When w begin to talk about holiness, as Peter does in 1 Peter 1:14-21, we tend to focus on behavior. Conduct. Outward actions.
And we should. Peter reminds us that we are to “be holy in all your conduct.” (1 Peter 1:15)
But conduct is only a symptom. It telegraphs what is in the heart.
Inconsistent conduct, unholy conduct mixed with more holy conduct, signals a divided heart. It signals a struggle between a new creation (no longer a slave to sin, Romans 6:6) and the residual habits of someone who contniues to rely upon the Gospel: My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. (1 John 2:1)
Meanwhile, what’s the problem? Why do we continue to struggle with sin? Peter points us to two root causes: mind and motivation. But they both point to the mind, which includes the intentionality and willfulness of the heart.
When we sin, our mind is not set on things above, so we drift back into conformity with the passions of our former (pre-salvation) ignorance. It’s all about the mind.
And when we sin, we reflect mixed motivations. There it is: double-mindedness.

Get Girt

April 12, 2020

The epistle 1 Peter is a letter that moves back and forth between the idea of hope, and the idea of holiness. Hope is the theme of the first twelve verses. In those verses, Peter reminds us how amazing “amazing grace” really is.
By God’s grace, sinners are saved by faith through great mercy (1 Peter 1:3; Eph. 2:4) to a new birth (1 Peter 1:3; Eph. 2:5) with a living hope (1 Peter 1:3; 1 John 2:17). Followers of Christ are blessed with an undefiled inheritance (1 Peter 1:4; Rom 8:17) that is eternally secure (1 Peter 1;4; John 10:28-29) and well guarded (1 Peter 1:5; John 10:27–29).
Trials are sometimes deemed necessary by our sovereign God, but they are temporary (1 Peter1:6; 2 Colossians 4:17-18). Meanwhile, as we attend to our love for Christ and our faith, we find ourselves experiencing inexpressible (even unspeakable) joy (1 Peter 1:8-9). And if that isn’t enough, when we consider how much clarity and understanding of the Gospel we have today (as compared to the prophets of old and even the angels), we don’t always realize how good we have it (1 Peter 1:10-12).
Hope. So much hope. And so much grace.
Verse 13 of 1 Peter is a transition point. Peter begins to pivot, in verse 13, from an emphasis on hope, to an emphasis on holiness. And the center of the pivot point is the phrase, “prepare your mind for action.”
What action? The action of experiencing, and living out, holiness.
And this action will take just about all of the spiritual, emotional, intellectual and even physical energy and focus that we can engage in our lives.
In other words, the Big Idea of holiness, is a big deal.
So in verse 13 of 1 Peter, we are challenged to prepare our minds for action. In the King James version, you (and I) are commanded to “gird up thy loins.” Not an expression we use today in everyday conversation, but a poignant and compelling phrase nonetheless.
So, in 1 Peter 1:13, we are called upon to get girt.

How Good We’ve Got it!

April 5, 2020

One of the reasons I am praying for international travel to open back up after this season of COVID19 is so that short-term mission trips can resume.
Typically, folks who go on these trips — to majority-world places in Asia (e.g., India or Nepal), Africa, Latin America and elsewhere — are exposed to extreme poverty. Shanty towns, refugee camps, barrios, and squatter camps are seen all around the world. And after North Americans visit these places — and the people who live there — they often return with humility and gratitude for the blessings we experience in North America. They often say to those at home, “You don’t know how good you’ve got it!”
Knowing how good you’ve got it, is different than counting your blessings. When you count your blessings, you do so from the perspective of your own experiences, expectations and culture.
But when you remove yourself completely from your circumstances — your home, your access to food, your mobility, your freedoms of speech and of religion — those blessings seem to grow and multiply.
In the first nine verses of 1 Peter, we learn to count our blessings. We see God’s great mercy. We see new birth and a living hope. We see an undefiled inheritance, protection over salvation, and eternal security. Counting, counting, counting.
But in verses 9 through 12, Peter invites us to step out of 21st century mindset and consider how blessed we are to have even more revelation than did the prophets of old, or the angels. He asks us to consider how good we’ve got it.
And so these few verses are not poetic. They do not elicit an emotional response. They are historical. Almost academic.
But when understood in terms of coming to know how good we’ve got it from a historical view, they become the climax of the first twelve verses of 1 Peter. They are the 1812 Overture — complete with metaphical cannons and cathedral bells — of the first chapter of this letter.