Practical Proverbial, from 1 Peter, 7 July 2020

After being made alive, he went and made proclamation to the imprisoned spirits—to those who were disobedient long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. 1 Peter 3:19-20 (NIV).

These two verses are deeply mysterious.   In the end, we don’t really know specifically what Peter was saying.  He’s talking about Jesus, of course, yet that’s where the understanding stops.  Even Martin Luther, learned man he was, said (of these verses), “A wonderous text is this, and a more obscure passage perhaps than any other in the New Testament, so that I do not know for a certainty just what Peter means.” 

It could be talking about what the pre-risen Christ did between His death on Good Friday and His resurrection on Easter Sunday.  He may have gone to the under-world, to the souls of those who died before His time here.   He may have gone to proclaim His coming resurrection to all who never knew Him in His earthly form.   We don’t know.

Or Peter might be talking about those who were still alive on the earth, people who, since the time of Noah, had seen and heard God’s proclamations about Himself yet refused to believe it in full.   Again, we don’t know.

Or he might be talking about Christ preaching to the angels, though that doesn’t make much sense in terms of salvation, for Christ didn’t die and live for the angels’ salvation.   Yet, once again, we don’t really know.

But one message is understandable:  Christ, being made alive, is for us to believe in.   People saw Him, touched Him, communicated with Him, lived with Him after Easter Sunday.   For at least 40 days after, in fact.   And yet still many people – most people, in fact – didn’t believe Christ was real.   They were like us (or we are like them).   We’re both like the people of the anti-deluvian world, during the days of Noah.   It took Noah and his family over one hundred years to build the giant ark.   And while it’s likely that people questioned Noah of what he was doing, it’s also likely that he answered them, imploring them to repent and turn to God who had promised the end of humanity.

How many listened?   None.   Only Noah, his wife, and their sons and their wives rode on the ark to safety.   Everyone else died; untold millions, maybe even billions.   We don’t exactly know how many people were on the earth back then; we can only guess.   But that guess doesn’t mean much because it’s certain they all died.   They died because they refused to believe they needed to be saved.

Maybe that’s the mystery lesson Peter was trying to teach us, too.

For further reading:  Genesis 6:3, Romans 2:4, Hebrews 11:7, 1 Peter 3:21

Lord Jesus, I believe in You.   Thank You.   And thank You for this strange lesson.

Practical Proverbial, from 1 Peter, 29 June 2020

But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened.”  1 Peter 3:14 (NIV).

Fear God, not people.   That’s Isaiah’s declaration.   Respect the Lord, not the people of the world because the Lord is holy and people aren’t.

Did you see the video of the couple in St. Louis who guarded their home with weapons?   Protesters with unknown intentions entered a private, gated community and two homeowners went outside, armed, to drive them off their property.  Social media is abuzz with the video today and, no matter what one thinks about guns, the rights of the protesters, or the rights of the homeowners, one conclusion can be drawn that’s universal to everyone.  Those who don’t fear aren’t easily frightened.  That couple wasn’t afraid.   They subdued their fears and resisted a potential threat.

Do you realize that you and I are in the same position?   God has given us His Son to show us His love and mercy.   He has forgiven all our sins and saved us from all eternal punishment for our willful rebellion.   He sent us His Spirit to give us community and perseverance.   Apart from Him we can do nothing.   When we realize we are in Him, we cannot fail.  He arms us.

Ephesians 6 talks about wearing the full armor of God.   The Spiritual gifts and protections that He gives to us – or uses on our behalf – make us invincible to the enemy.  Indirectly, though Ephesians 6 was written by Paul, this is part of the blessing that Peter is talking about.  The enemy may attack, hurt, even kill us, yet we will live on because of Jesus.   The enemy only attacks us to try to hurt Jesus but he doesn’t realize he’s already been defeated.   We have nothing to fear from the devil when we realize we are armed and protected divinely.

We can fear, respect, love, and honor God because He has fights for us, loves for us, proves Himself over and over to us.

Yet perhaps the bigger blessing that Peter is talking about is how suffering for God, even being persecuted for God, is a blessing.   It’s a chance to stand up for God in ways that He rewards eternally.   A million angels praising Him for your action; an eternity to ponder the satisfaction of doing the right thing in a meaningful way.  When we are persecuted for following Jesus, we serve as an example of courage to others, and as an inspiration for others in the same situation. 

Fear God, not people.   It’s common sense.   It’s becoming more and more inevitable, and will be more so the closer our world approaches it’s end.  It’s our privilege.   And it’s blessed by God in ways we may not even understand.

For further reading:   Isaiah 8:12, Ephesians 6:11, Peter 3:15

Lord Jesus, You are my armor in this world.   You protect me and I’m thankful for You.

Practical Proverbial, from 1 Peter, 24 June 2020

For, “Whoever would love life and see good days must keep their tongue from evil and their lips from deceitful speech.  They must turn from evil and do good; they must seek peace and pursue it.  For 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 3:10-12 (NIV).

Did you know that Carlos Santana believes his music is God speaking through him?   Santana, who has been playing soulful music from the heart since before Woodstock (where he performed), believes very strongly that music has supernatural powers to reach people at a fundamental level.   He believes music is healing, that it speaks to us in a common language that sooths hatred and helps to build divinely-inspired understanding.

Right on, right on.

Carlos Santana might know a bit about the Apostle Peter.   In today’s verses, Peter paraphrases Psalm 34, which was written by David while he was on the run from King Saul.  David was being hunted because God had forsaken Saul as king, and had chosen David instead.   Driven by hatred and jealousy, Saul had pursued God’s anointed new king, so David took refuge in the home of his enemies, the Philistines.

And while living in jeopardy for his life, David penned the words of this psalm.   In them, he sang how the face of the Lord is against anyone who does evil (like Saul).  A thousand years later, Peter echoed those words, reminding his friends, whose lives were also in jeopardy, to put their trust in God, who would speak to them as He would.

Or like us, today, two thousand more years on.   Think rioters.   Think oppressive government.   Think anarchists and political operatives and those who would do harm to others, especially during a time when the entire world seems upside-down.  Anyone who does evil does so against the Lord, who sets His holy face against them.   We could use more Santana and less rioting in the cities.

The way to stay in God’s good graces?   Sing that spiritual song with Santana (and Peter and King David) and keep our tongues from evil.  Receive God’s healing through God’s word, through the peace that only He can give to a weary and worried heart.   He watches over us even when we seem blinded.   He speaks to us still, even when we don’t think we can hear Him.   Turn from our evil ways and seek His ways of good and love and peace.   Even in the quiet times, even in the days of anxiousness, He’s still speaking.

Or maybe He’s singing.   Maybe He is speaking through that music.   Maybe turn up the radio a little.   Maybe tune over to find Carlos Santana and his supernatural guitar.   Then join in the song.

For further reading:   Psalm 34:12-16 Peter 3:13

Lord Jesus, do not set Your holy face against me.   Refresh me today with Your word, Your peace, Your truth.

Practical Proverbial, from 1 Peter, 22 June 2020

Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble.  1 Peter 3:8 (NIV).

Like Paul, Peter implores his friends (and us) to exhibit some Godly behavior.   Couldn’t we use some of that now!

Actually, I’m betting you’ll find we could use that in any generation.   Our world is living through some awful times; things not seen in a century, or ever.   Yet in most of our world, things are much worse than they are in the West.  In most of the world, there is crushing poverty, economic desolation, rampant disease (much worse than Covid-19), and no hope.   Most of our world doesn’t know Jesus.   Out of 7.5 billion people currently alive, a little less than 2.3 billion are Christian (or know of Christianity or Jesus).  You do the math:   twice as many people alive today don’t know about Jesus as do.   Translation:  there’s a ripe field for mission.

More importantly, there’s a constant opportunity for us to exhibit Christian behaviors that demonstrate God’s Spirit:  being like-minded, sympathetic, loving, compassionate, humble.  We have the opportunity, the God-given chance, to show Christ-like behavior to people who haven’t heard about Christ.  We have the mission (and Jesus’ permission) to act in ways that He would to strangers in hopes that they will see this and want to know more about Him.

That starts with living out Peter’s charge for ALL of us to start out being like-minded.   That doesn’t mean having all the same opinions or acting like minions or drones.   It means agreeing on the basics of our faith and being ready to share it:   that Jesus died for the forgiveness of sins and that He lives to offer us life forever.   We are to be sympathetic, looking at a fallen world and realizing these are our brothers and sisters for whom Jesus provides the same as He does for us.   We must love one another, starting with our circles of family and friends, then extending it out to share with wider populations.   We are to be compassionate, offering tender mercy and help wherever we can.   And we are to do all this  humbly, with the attitude of a servant.

Like Jesus would.

That’s a tall order these days.   “Tear down that statue!”   “Black lives matter!”  “All lives matter!” “Racists!”  “Shoot the looters!” “Shoot the cops!”  We’re all hearing, or saying, these things.

Definitely not like Jesus would.

So, Peter’s words are refreshing today, on a Monday when another week of political division gets underway.   When another day starts in which 2/3 of the world doesn’t know about the God who both made and saved them.   When our words aren’t helping or healing.   On another Monday, we sure could use some Godly guidance now.   Thank you, Peter.

For further reading:   Romans 15:5, Ephesians 4:2, Philippians 5:1 Peter 3:9

Lord Jesus, forgive my sins.   And forgive the sins of those who oppose You, or me.   Help me to show Your kind of behavior to everyone around me.

Practical Proverbial, from 1 Peter, 18 June 2020

Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers.  1 Peter 3:7 (NIV).

We’re modern, right?   I mean, feminism happened decades ago, and we’re supposed to be enlightened, here in the West, about how the two sexes treat each other.   Men and women are indeed equals in our society, even though some see it differently (and some have good reason).  These verses are not applicable to us anymore, right?

No, not right.

Have you considered that Peter, Christ’s Earthly right-hand-man, considered women as partners and heirs of Christ’s eternal life?   Where, in the verses immediately preceding this one, Peter had been speaking to women, so now he speaks to men.   He’s counseling men to not lord their position as God’s chosen vessels for family leadership over women in that family.   He’s telling men to be mindful of the women who are their partners, their co-heirs in life, marriage, ministry, and eternity.  

After all, in our own lifetimes, some of the most fearless people on earth have been women.   Rosa Parks, Indira Ghandi, Golda Meir, Sandra Day O’Connor, Phyllis Schlafly, Coretta Scott King, Elizabeth II:  you couldn’t find stronger people in a thousand years.   They’re the courageous heirs of Esther, Sarah, Ruth, Priscilla, and any number of Mary’s:  women of Bible times whose examples of enduring faith have encouraged millions of people ever since.

Hardly seems like a “weaker sex” to me.   In fact, “weaker” is a word that wraps us around its axle.  We get hung up on it, reading inferred insults into it when none were ever intended.  And “hindering our prayers” isn’t just advice on how to pray.   It’s a command on facing down the idolatry of distraction. 

That’s what Peter was saying, you see.   Men, treat the women in your life with dignity, honor, and deference as the partner in your life working a different role.  Men, remember this always so that you can worship our Lord Jesus with clear heads and hearts so that your words and actions won’t come between your relationship with God.

THAT is actually modern.  It isn’t weak and doesn’t hinder.

Peter might not feel too comfortable in this supposedly modern world, but I do feel confident in saying he wouldn’t be surprised by it.   Maybe by technology, or abundant food, or so many people in so many places.   But how people interact?  How men and women interact?   No, I doubt Peter (or the other apostles) would be very surprised at all.  The lessons he taught two thousand years ago are just as necessary to us today as they were to people of Peter’s day.   In this, he was more modern than we are.

For further reading:  Ephesians 5:25-33, Colossians 3:9, 1 Peter 3:8

Lord Jesus, let me treat men and women with deference to You.

Practical Proverbial, from 1 Peter, 11 June 2020

For “you were like sheep going astray,” but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.  1 Peter 2:25 (NIV).

Don’t lose sight of the place where this verse is said.   It comes at the end of a section where Jesus’ innocence is proclaimed; where Peter echoes Isaiah in reminding us of how Jesus did no wrong yet took our wrongs on Himself.   Before that, Peter had exhorted his friends to submit to both God and men out of respect for Christ.  And now Peter says this. 

Because we’re sheep going astray.   Sheep lose their way.   Sheep wander off and get lost.   Sheep are bright enough to know the voice of their shepherd but not bright enough to always stay in ear-shot of it.  Sound familiar?  We are poor little lambs who have lost our way…baa baa baa.   Say, is that coat of yours Angora?

Thank God the Shepherd was looking for us.   Thank God we were the one and not the ninety-nine.   Thank God He didn’t give up.   Thank God for Jesus because, thank God, Jesus is merciful.

Jesus sees past my pettiness.   Jesus sees past your grudges.   Jesus sees past the rioters’ vicious hatred and the bigotry of low expectations from our society.   Jesus sees when the lies become like truths.  Jesus sees us as we are:   smelly, dumb, weed-eating, tangled-fur sheep, wandering off when we should be staying close.

Instead of letting us be attacked by wolves, Jesus protects our hearts.   Instead of letting us die alone, Jesus makes us His friends, His siblings.   Instead of giving us the smack on the head that we deserve, Jesus brings us His justice and His forgiveness.  Instead of shearing us before the slaughter, Jesus cleans up our hearts and takes our place in the executioner’s dock.

Don’t lose sight of the fact that Jesus, who was innocent, who did no wrong, who took our infirmities on Himself, still watches over us even when we walk away looking for greener pastures.

Because Jesus understands we’re like sheep.  Because He’s been there.   Because He’s a sheep too, following His Father’s lead, following as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.   Because He was the true Passover lamb, sacrificed for our deliverance so that death would pass us by.

You get the picture.   Baa baa baa.

For further reading:  1 Peter 2:26

Lord Jesus, I’m like a sheep.   In fact, sheep are better than me in many ways.   But thank You for chasing after me, for saving me, for watching over me, for loving me.

Practical Proverbial, from 1 Peter, 9 June 2020

When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. 1 Peter 2:23 (NIV).

I needed to read this today.   All too often, I let my emotions get the best of me and I react.   Perhaps Peter would understand.   He was impulsive, too.  Yet, as you can read, Peter wouldn’t settle for that, either.   He’d call it out for the shameful dodge that it is, and he would demand that me, we, and he, do better.   Peter would invoke Isaiah, who prophesied that the Messiah would be led like a lamb to slaughter and that He would not respond when He was tortured and killed.   Peter would invoke Jesus, whom he had known and had seen fulfill Isaiah’s prophecy.   And he might just use his own example, when he denied Christ on the day He was murdered, and how so many times before, he had exhibited ignorance and unruly emotion when Jesus was trying to teach.

So this verse convicts me.   No amount of self-justifying can excuse the times when I lash out at people who attack me; when I refuse to let go of an argument; when I debate and I react with a snarky or insulting comment; when I say something to demean ‘the other guy’ and win instead of refuting points to reach understanding.   This isn’t a call to be a wimp, or to surrender to error or what is wrong.   Instead, this is a call to actually be bigger, to further understanding by refusing to mire myself in the rhetorical mud.

Or maybe even get in the actual mud, if that’s what the journey in Jesus requires.   It’s not just the insignificant arguments online:   it’s standing up for Jesus with quiet dignity and resolve and going wherever that leads.   It may lead to a mountaintop or adulation.   Or it may lead to being humiliated, and chains, and the gallows.   Displaying faith in Jesus to educate a wandering sister or brother may lead me (or you) to “take it;” to take the insults and spears and bullets so as to not disgrace Christ and, thus, educate those who don’t know Him or who are weak.

Living in the days of protest, this is a good lesson to remember.

It won’t be easy; it’ll require me getting over myself.   It’ll require bending my will, or ours, to His.   It’ll require changing how I and we behave.   Yet these are small things, first-world problems, and matters of little consequence.   What does matter is standing for Jesus the way He stood:   with my mouth shut wherever possible.

For further reading:  Psalm 9:4, Isaiah 53:7, Luke 23:46, Hebrews 12:3, 1 Peter 2:24

Lord Jesus, may Your Spirit teach me again and again to help me help my stupid self.   Help me to change how I behave.

Practical Proverbial, from 1 Peter, 3 June 2020

For it is commendable if someone bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because they are conscious of God. 1 Peter 2:19 (NIV).

Are you familiar with Dietrich Bonhoeffer?  The ten second biography of him is that he was a Lutheran pastor in Nazi Germany who consistently, publicly denounced the Nazis.  From the early 1930s on, Bonhoeffer widely denounced the party and Hitler as idolatrous and murderous.   He joined an underground organization dedicated to opposing the Nazis.  He used his pulpit to denounce Hitler.  Bonhoeffer was arrested in 1943 and interrogated/tortured by the Gestapo for a year and a half.   During that time, his name was falsely attached to the July Plot to assassinate Hitler.   In 1945, just days before Nazi Germany collapsed, Hitler personally ordered Bonhoeffer and other ‘conspirators’ hanged.

Bonhoeffer’s most strident, enthusiastic denunciations of the hard-left Nazis came as he called them out for their policies of euthanizing the infirm and mentally disabled, and eventually for arresting and murdering Jews.   He did this because he was conscious of God.   He was more concerned about his relationship with God and how God would judge him than he was about his opposition to the most powerful dictator in Europe.   Bonhoeffer understood that being conscious of God (and what, through His Word, God asked of people) meant he couldn’t go along with what his government was saying and doing.   He understood that this would cause him persecution, maybe cost him his life.   Bonhoeffer did it anyway, and became a modern-day martyr for Christ.

75 years later, we look at what Dietrich Bonhoeffer did as heroic.   He did what we all think we could or would do under similar oppression.   Bonhoeffer was always conscious of Christ in his life.  When the Nazis executed him, they stripped him completely naked; a personal humiliation and insult designed to send a cruel message.   It didn’t faze him at all.   It is said Dietrich Bonhoeffer walked calmly, nakedly, boldly to the gallows and didn’t complain at all.  He knew a moment of unfamiliar fear would usher him into the arms of Jesus forever.   And it did.

I’m familiar with Bonhoeffer’s story but I’ll confess this:   I don’t know if I could hold up as long as he did.   I don’t believe I’d renounce my faith; I just couldn’t.   But I don’t know if I could be as bold as he was, especially against the hard-left systemic murder that was the Nazi Party.  I’d only know how much I could bear when it all actually happened; I’ll hope it never does.  Yet Bonhoeffer channeled the Apostle Peter, who first wrote today’s verse.   Peter was persecuted; Peter was eventually martyred (and painfully so).   Yet he, too, was always conscious of Jesus abiding with him, strengthening him.

In this 75th year since his martyrdom, consider reading one of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s books and learning more about this courageous man’s life.

For further reading:  1 Peter 2:20

Lord Jesus, thank You for those who died as martyrs for You.

Practical Proverbial, from 1 Peter, 2 June 2020

Slaves, in reverent fear of God submit yourselves to your masters, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh. 1 Peter 2:18 (NIV).

Here’s another bitter pill to swallow.  Don’t just submit to the government:   like it.   More than that, if you’re enslaved, submit fully.   Pray for your slave masters.   Do it as if you’re praying for the person you love most.  Seriously?

Seriously.

Who are we enslaved to now?   Are the rioters enslaving innocent business owners?   Is the government enslaving the rioters?   Are you or I enslaved by our employers?   Are children enslaved to their parents?   Here in the West, who enslaves us?

Fact is, there actually are people who enslave us.   Real slavery is still occurring, even in America, when people are trafficked.   It happens in every major city and hundreds of smaller ones.   Be on the lookout because it may even be happening in your neighborhood.   What’s worse, in many places, legal authorities are in on the trafficking.  The victims who are trafficked sexually, even vocationally, aren’t free.  They are used and abused, and when their captor master is finished with them, most often they’re killed.   We who learn of these things must dedicate ourselves to combatting this evil where we can, ending it where we can, freeing the enslaved.

Until this happens, are these modern slaves supposed to submit?   The hard but true answer is “yes.”   Yet even in this, submission is also submission to God, trusting that He will provide what they need, including an exit.  Pray for endurance; pray for peace and healing; pray for your captors that they might be changed or disposed to help you; pray for help; be ready when it comes.

Yet don’t forget, too, that Peter reminds us to be slaves to God, and that Paul encourages us (in Romans) to be slaves to righteousness.   We should fully, willingly submit ourselves to God and all He asks for.   Our lives should be lived honor-bound to Him who redeemed us.   We must look at ourselves as having only the freedom that God gives us through His love because, when we do, we find we are truly free indeed.

I suppose that I live in a Pollyanna-type of life here in the north Dallas suburbs.   Bad things happen in the world and I seem sheltered from them, blithely sailing along from one bland moment to another.  Yet all around me are people who live their lives as slaves to God, and they’re leading lives of rich meaning.   And all around me are others who suffer, people who are mistreated.   What can I do to help them?   Whatever it is, it starts with submitting to God.   Seriously.

For further reading:  Romans 6:18, Peter 2:19

Lord Jesus, I’m Your slave.  Use me for Your work today.   And, Lord, help those who are victims of real earthly slavery.   Protect them, heal them, and show me ways I can help stop this evil.

Practical Proverbial, from 1 Peter, 28 May 2020

Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God’s slaves. 1 Peter 2:16 (NIV).

In the Lord, freedom is slavery.   Huh?

We’ve seen rioters on in our country this week; riots over the death of a man at the hands of a policeman.   Rioting isn’t freedom and living under police isn’t slavery.  Yet those police can’t be free to kill people and we of society can’t tolerate it when they do.   To do so would be to be enslaved by the police.

I’ve also been watching a documentary on U.S. Grant.   Grant was the most successful general in the Civil War, and one of the more upright, moral, and effective presidents in spite of the corruption by officials in his administration.  He opposed actual slavery, fought against the government instituted specifically to preserve it, and fought to end the persecution of former slaves.

In Peter’s time, slavery was still a real and accepted norm.  Peter’s people, the Jews, had been slaves in Egypt a thousand years before, and they were enslaved to the Romans in Judea “now.”   Then as now, slavery was seen as a moral evil.   Yet it was accepted that those who were conquered were enslaved.  Their rights were taken away.   They became forced labor, property, unequal.  

And yet Peter tells us to live as God’s slaves; to openly, enthusiastically live as free people because the truth of Jesus’ salvation has set us free.   Indeed, there is no freedom, secular or not, without the saving grace of Christ.  Yet in the very same sentence, Christ’s right-hand-man implores us to live as slaves to Jesus.

Huh?

In the verses immediately prior to this one, Peter tells us to submit ourselves to all authorities, even the police, even the corrupt government that wants to physically enslave us.   Even slave owners.  Peter isn’t telling us to live in favor of slavery, but he’s telling us that God is at work through slavery.   It is we people who tolerate slavery, but it is God who works His will through even our toleration of this and other evils. 

So, Peter tells us to take the example of being enslaved to an evil concept – human chattel – and use it as our example for following Christ.   To be owned by Christ.   To submit everything, body and soul, to Christ.   To give up all freedom, even the freedom He gives us, to Him.   To understand that even when we are abused, we allow this to happen out of submission to Him.

May God today move our hearts to remember this as we try to respond to things happening in our world.   Men like Grant fought against slavery.   And there are those in our world today who are still being wronged, even killed.   We need to stand for them, but peacefully, in slavery to Christ, as He would.  As He does.

For further reading:  Romans 6:22, Peter 2:17

Lord Jesus, I’m Your slave.   Work peace in us today.