Friday, November 13, 2009

I Peter, part 4

I Peter 1:13-19

Peter is beginning to move from his opening discourse, rich in theology and elevating the salvation of God in Christ, to getting into the "nitty-gritty" of the Christian life. Like other authors the Holy Spirit inspired to write Scripture, he will mix theology with practical implications, but here it's more on the implication side - basically answering the question, "so what?" What difference does this living hope through the resurrection make in my behavior, motivation, thinking, and so on?

Verse 13 begins with "therefore". Whenever you see that word, always ask this question: What is the therefore, there for? It's a little play on words that helps me remember everything is connected. One danger of blogging about chunks of Scripture is my tendency to isolate it and treat it like its own entity, when that is entirely wrong because Peter is writing a letter, possibly all in one sitting, that is a unified whole. Peter's appeal here is that, because of all the prophets prophesied about and because this has been fulfilled in Christ, we need to be sober minded and ready for action, living for Jesus. Our hope is to be set on something interesting, namely the grace that will come to us at the revelation of Jesus. This is speaking of a future grace that we have not yet received. That is not to say we haven't already received grace, because we most certainly do every day, but Peter is reminding us the God is not done dispensing grace and when Christ comes fully revealed as King of all creation, his children will receive even greater grace. Beautiful.

Something comes up in this passage a couple of times that I think is worth focusing on. Peter talks about our "former ignorance" in verse 14 and then refers to the "futile ways inherited from your forefathers" in verse 18. The call is to not live like you once lived, before you knew God, before you knew what Christ had done for you, before you had received grace and been filled with a living hope. Notice though that Peter does not deny the pull of the former passions, but simply call us not to be conformed to them any longer. Christianity does not deny the existence of evil nor does it pretend that all Christians have some experience of immediately being released from addiction, temptation, or past sins. Some of those sins are simply ignorant people not knowing how to live, and some of them are the sins of our forefathers (dad, mom, grandparents... anyone influential in our lives in my opinion). We all have these things - ways that we see ourselves being just like what we hated in our parents, former passions and addictions that still haunt us and that we still pursue. But Peter does not simply say that being a Christian means gritting it out and becoming moralistic in order to stop these things, he gives us hope once again based on the character of God and the work of Christ.

Peter calls Christians to avoid these former ways of life based on God's character. He refers to God in verse 17 as both Father and Judge. We are his children (verse 14) and he is our true Father. We have inherited sins, addictions, and so much more from our parents but God becomes our Father through Jesus Christ his Son. We are adopted into this family of God, born again to a new Father, thus being able to leave behind passions and sins of our fathers. This is not an excuse to distance ourselves from our parents, but it is an encouragement to know that you once belonged to a lineage that was carnal and ignorant, but now have come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ and your identity at its core has been altered to now belong to God as Father. But God is also Judge - he will judge the living and the dead and we are included in that. Now is not the time to get into all the judgment stuff (nor am I adequate yet at explaining it), but Christians will be judged by God their Father, albeit in a different way than non-Christians. Just think of it! Your Father is your Judge! Does that not take some of the edge off of this whole "I'll be judged" thing? You step up to the judgment seat, and who is judging you but your Heavenly Father who sent his Son to die so that you might live, who has already forgiven you and who is there to talk about your life with Him... not your life previously without him. Amazing.

Lastly, the great news is that you and I are ransomed from the futile ways of our forefathers, which I see as another way of describing our passions of former ignorance as well. We were ignorant of God's ways, blinded to His goodness and maybe even denying his existence - certainly denying his authority! Yet we were ransomed, which is an illustration of being released from slavery. Perhaps one of the most dangerous and deadly things about sin is that we don't realize we are slaves to it. We get so comfortable in it at times that we forget, or perhaps never knew, that we are enslaved to passions of our own and passions/sins of our family lineage as well. Yet Christ gave his life, like the lamb of the old covenant, in our place and for our sins. He is the Lamb of God, perfect and without sin, who paid the price (thus ransoming us from slavery to sin) so that we might be free to know and love Him. What a wonderful Savior. So the call is not to "try real had not to sin anymore like your daddy did" but it is to "live in the new life with your Heavenly Father who ransomed you through the blood of his Son to live with a living hope, set on the grace of God". This is our motivation for obedience as children, because we have a Father in Heaven who has accomplished all that we couldn't so we could belong to Him.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Disney's "A Christmas Carol" Review

Last Friday night my wife and I joined some friends for opening night of the "new" movie from Disney, "A Christmas Carol". It is the classic tale from Charles Dickens, done who knows how many times already in movie form. While the big push from the entertainment industry is to see movies in 3-D, we decided not to pay the extra money and saw it in regular fashion. The following are a few thoughts about the movie.

First of all, the movie is very well done when it comes to the animated side of things. It seriously amazes me just how advanced it all is getting. Gone are the days of Toy Story when animated movies were always cute, fun, and with some moral lesson usually built into them. These days animated movies seek to get as real as possibly and actually draw out truly suspenseful scenes. A Christmas Carol has some of the most tense/dramatic scenes I've seen from a animated movie yet.

I have not read the original book but have heard from several sources that this movie is the most true-to-the-book that has been made. The characters that are supposed to be scary are actually scary, to the point where your heart is racing a bit and you are sort of jumpy in some scenes. Since the animated movies I've seen are the likes of Shrek, Over the Hedge, and Ice Age, this was a surprise to me. Honestly, I'm not sure you want your 8 year old seeing the movie just yet... in my opinion, it really is that intense in some parts. However if it is true to the story then it does a great job brining out what Dickens likely wanted to be brought out.

There are several parts of the movie that Noelle and I chatted about on our way home. I don't know Dickens' spiritual state, whether or not he professed Christ or not. But the movie certainly had a spiritual element to it. the "ghost of Christmas present" was a jolly fellow, one you saw and just had to think "Jesus" when you saw him. He didn't necessarily say he was Jesus in the movie but did make reference to not being associated with certain "men of the cloth". The context, if I remember correctly, was the Scrooge was getting outraged as he saw the abuse of power from certain clergy in the visions he was shown (each ghost shows Scrooge scenes of either past, present, or future events that affect Scrooge's outlook on life). Also, the spiritual realm was closely associated with people being chained down in some form of punishment for not using their lives well. It was not a direct reference to Hell per se, but it was very intriguing to see some form of after-life punishment for people portrayed in the film.

Overall, I'm glad I went to see the movie. It ends with a good message (don't all Disney movies do that?), but takes you through the classic tale in phenomenal animated quality. I would suggest keeping an eye out for these spiritual parts of the movie because they are very intriguing. In th end, the Gospel message of Christ is not proclaimed in the slightest; in fact, Jesus Christ is not mentioned once so far as I can remember... and it is a Christmas movie! The message is a pretty moralistic one I suppose (do good and you will be blessed, don't do good and your spirit will suffer after you die), which sadly passes as a Christian message in many people's minds. The Gospel message of Jesus needs to be secured deep in our hearts - that we are sinners saved by grace, through faith, and this is a gift of God. We remember our Savior's coming at Christmas, remember his sacrifice and his resurrection, and can rejoice in the fact that we do not need to fear the afterlife, for the One who controls this life and the next lives in us and has secured eternity with himself.

Monday, November 9, 2009

I Peter, part 3

I Peter 1:10-12

We have here some of the most revealing words written about God's plan for the ages. Peter masterfully sums up what God was doing through the prophets and prophecies, and who the prophets were serving in their ministry.

Peter begins v. 10 with "concerning this salvation" - the salvation he has been explaining in the opening 9 verses. This is the salvation about the wonderful mercy of God, the resurrection of Christ, the living hope that we have as believers because we believe in a living Savior, and even the various trials we need to persevere in so that we may have a faith more precious than gold. Peter informs us that it is this salvation that the prophets had prophesied about so long ago. He does not name any one prophet but lumps them all together, as if to say "Remember all those prophets? Well every one of them were being informed in bits and pieces of the glorious grace that was to come through Someone." Though they did not name Christ as such they knew he was coming, they knew he would suffer and die for our sins, would rise again, and would fulfill many other specific prophecies as well.

Verse 11 tells us that the prophets eagerly inquired (of the Lord, I would imagine) what person this would be and when these things would take place. What anticipation they must have had! O to be one of those fortunate and faithful men, who even though many suffered and died in the service of the Lord were able to get a foretaste of things to come. Here the Holy Spirit is called the Spirit of Christ, which is a wonderful reminder that the Holy Spirit is not some rogue part of the Trinity swooping down at Pentecost in Acts 2 and taking over. He is part of the eternal Triune Godhead, involved in every part of the creation and new creation process. He does not operate on his own, but points us to Christ and is thus the very Spirit of Christ. He is the one who witnessed to the prophets, who inspired every word in the entire Book.

Verse 12 is a verse that everyone needs to memorize... and if not memorize word for word, at least become intimately familiar with the key ideas. The prophets were told that they, who lived thousands of years ago, were not serving themselves but US! Now of course, Peter is writing to a group of people here. However he is writing to a scattered and general group of people, and this is most certainly still true today. The "you" in the text is not so much specific people, but A Specific People, if you will, the people of God. The prophets were aware that they were involved in something much greater than themselves, something that would not come to pass in their lifetime even, and yet they gladly pressed in to the Holy Spirit and shared what they received from Him. So, how did they serve us? They served us by foretelling what would come to pass in Christ, namely the "things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven." We see here that the news continues to spread through word of mouth, through preaching.

Preaching is under suspicion in many circles today, and partially for good reason. Many preachers have abused their positions of authority, manipulated and maligned the word of God, and had self-serving goals in the pulpit. However, the perversion of some preachers does not mean that the concept of preaching is to blame! Preaching is simply proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ, the news that He is the Savior of the world, the One who came from Heaven, died for our sins, rose for our new life, and the One who will return to judge the living and the dead. Preaching happens when we instruct, from God's Word, others to follow Jesus Christ - his example, his teachings, his heart. Preaching is still a primary tool God uses to bring people to a saving knowledge of him. Many preachers do not preach in the biblical sense, but have made it a time for counseling sessions, nice anecdotes and self-exaltation. They will be judged harshly for this, but let us not think God does not still use preaching in mighty ways today.

Finally, this news, this GOOD NEWS about Jesus Christ which the prophets of old had some knowledge of and we now have a fuller picture of on this side of the cross, this is something into which "angels long to look". This blows my mind! Angelic creatures who serve God faithfully, who worship him constantly, are floored at the concept of God rescuing sinners. Think about it though: there are many fallen angels which we call demons, who denied God's authority and sought their own. They have been judged by God already and will be finally judged forever with Satan on the last day. However, us humans, who also deny God's authority and even his very existence (which, James tells us, even demons don't do!), God has pursued, died for, and saved?!?! This is truly magnificent, altogether mysterious and head-scratching to angels looking into it. The Gospel of Jesus Christ needs to be dwelt upon more frequently, more deeply, and it needs to cause us to be in awe of God, as the angels are. We so frequently and so foolishly believe we have it all down, and perhaps this is in part because we have so simplified it that it fits onto small brochures we can pass out to people. But angels are still longing to look into the Gospel, still awe-struck at the God of the universe for doing this. We too need hearts full of wonder at God's merciful dealings with us.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

I Peter, part 2

I Peter 1:6-9

We pick up with Peter's flow of thought from v. 3-10. He tells his readers in v. 6, "in this you rejoice..." They rejoice in God's mercy (v. 3) expressed through Jesus Christ and the living hope they have because Jesus is alive. In short, Peter is confident they are rejoicing in God. It makes me think, what am I most joyful for? What do I rejoice IN? The answer is easily found when trials come your way. In fact this is Peter's next thought in v. 6-7, what happens in trials. The thing I most rejoice in is revealed when trials come. Joy is robbed if your have been rejoicing (taking the greatest joy) in anything but God. Because everything else people hope for outside of God can die, break, betray you, hurt you, and so on - thus stealing our joy. Peter's readers rejoice not in themselves, their talents, their money, their spouse, children, job, hobbies, none of that. They are rejoicing in what God has done for them through Christ, because of His great mercy.

Peter introduces an idea common in the Bible in v. 7: trials are good for us as Christians. This is completely antithetical to the notion that many of us have about trials, whether we are Christians or not. We think in terms of what's "fair" or "unfair" and we base that, really, on a very Karmic idea of the world. We hope that if we do more good than bad, then more good should come back to us. And we think (even if we wouldn't admit it) that if something bad happens to us, then we are being punished - either by God himself or just by karma for something bad we must have done. What a horrible, satanic, dreadful way to live! Though God has instituted some level of cause and effect in the universe, it is not the ultimate reason for everything that happens to us. God allows, dare I say brings about, some difficulties into our lives to test the genuineness of our faith and grow us in maturity. Here testing of faith is equated to the heat that even gold can be destroyed in. But the only thing heat will do to true faith is make it more pure. It is not the heat that makes the faith, but it's the heat (trials, difficulties, suffering of many kinds) that shows our faith and purifies it.

The result of these necessary trials in our lives? "Praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ." Is your faith honorable? Is mine? This is a difficult question for me to face for I fear the answer is "no, actually, it's not". My faith wanes quickly. I want a deeper knowledge of God and deeper faith in Him. I want my faith to be honorable and praiseworthy when Christ returns and restores all things. But that's why God has given me TODAY - to take one step closer to Him, to choose Him over everything else that is vying for my attention, that clamors and claws its way into my heart. Oh Lord, may my heart grow deeper in faith!

Verse 8 is seriously an incredible verse. Remember who is writing this. We are reading a letter from Peter... the same Peter that denied Christ three times, the same Peter Jesus asked three times "do you love me" and the same Peter who was there when Jesus said "Blessed are those who have not seen and who have believed" to doubting Thomas (John 20:29). So, now read v. 8 again - Though you have not seen him, you love him! Peter saw him and Jesus wanted to make sure he loved him. I sense Peter applauding the faith of his readers, who have believed and love Jesus without seeing him (they're probably one generation after Jesus, in contact with people like Peter who DID see him). Not only that, but they rejoice in Christ with a joy that is "inexpressible and full of glory". The idea of a joy filled with glory is mind boggling to me. I'm not sure if I get it, and I definitely don't sense that this is my kind of joy... not yet at least. Christians alone can have a glory-filled joy - a weighty, beautiful, meaningful, full-of-truth kind of joy that nothing else in the universe produces outside of God himself. A joy that cannot be stolen, that is inexpressible - words cannot fully convey the glory of knowing the glorious One who made you and saved you.

What is the result of all this? Of this faith and love? Of these trials that are necessary for our good? Of this great mercy of God and this living hope? The salvation of our souls, that's what. Our belief, or faith (they seem interchangeable here), results in salvation. It results in the forgiveness of sin, the payment Christ made on the cross being credited to you as if you had paid it, and in receiving His righteousness as if you earned it. But you didn't. You (hopefully) simply believed the great news of Jesus Christ. You received as truth that could save your souls the news of who He is, what He did, and that He lives today and will one day complete everything that has been begun. What a glorious Savior. As we'll see next in v. 10-12, this was God's plan all along.