I started writing this months ago - December I think - but here it is.
I was reading in 1 Peter 1 a couple of days ago. It’s become quite a familiar passage and book for me. We spent some time on it in the cell group I lead a few months ago and I spoke in church a couple weeks ago from 1 Peter 2, so I’m starting to remember some of the phrases even though I haven’t intentionally memorized it - which would be worth doing. But I made some new connections this time.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. (1 Peter 1:3-5 ESV)
Peter is completely confident that believers will receive their inheritance which is being kept for them, and he’s completely confident that God is keeping those believers - that by his power he is guarding them through faith until he comes to collect his own people. I was thinking about the idea of being “guarded through faith” and I guess I started to think about how Peter came to know all of what he says here. Surely he’s not making it up, so how did he come to know this truth and to be able to talk with such certainty and joy about what God is doing and will do?
Suddenly I made a connection between what Peter went through and what he’s teaching. Luke 22:31-34 records a staggering, otherworldly conversation between Jesus and Peter. Imagine your best friend telling you that within a few hours you’re going to deny even knowing them. How would Peter have felt hearing that? But in the middle of a devastating prophecy Jesus said something that I’m sure played a significant role in crystalizing the particular truth that Peter has in view in chapter 1 vs 5 of his first letter.
"… I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers." (Luke 22:32) Jesus prayed for him! Jesus knew what was coming and entrusted Peter to his Father. Jesus prayed that even in the face of and the aftermath of his denial, Peter’s faith would survive.
Peter experienced being guarded through faith through his own denial of Jesus. To his horror and pain, Peter did exactly what Jesus said. Surely his fulfillment of the first part of the prophecy gave a remorseful Peter the strengthen and grace to repent, and by so doing fulfill the second part of the prophecy. Jesus already knew that he would betray him this way. But he had already protected Peter’s faith through prayer and promised his restoration. He did turn again, and he strengthened the other disciples. What Peter is rejoicing in stands firmly on Jesus’ promises in passages like John 6: 37-40, but surely he must also be rejoicing in his own experience of God’s promise coming to pass.
1 Peter 1: 3-5 has implications for those of us who wonder if we’ll make it in this Christian life. It also has implications for those who haven’t responded to the gospel because they don’t think they could succeed at being a Christian. But there are also implications for those believers who have never once given failure a thought. Peter says what those of us who are prone to lofty thoughts of ourselves might easily say. “Never! I’d die for you!” Our security is not found in the strength of our faith or in our self-confidence. These are not mind-games. Repeating “I think I can! I think I can!” to yourself doesn’t change how fickle and sinful you are. Our security is found in the strength of the God who guards us through faith (the “through faith” part deserves further exploration but this post is already long enough). We can fail. We will fail. He cannot fail. He will not fail.
Wonderful thoughts from J. Gresham Machem, via John Piper, via Erik Raymond. I’ve been planning to get my hands on “Think”, Piper’s book that Raymond is referencing. I’m grateful in the meantime though that Raymond is reading and quoted Piper and that Piper read and quoted Machem, so I can reference Raymond referencing Piper referencing Machem. Funnily enough, I told someone today that someday I’ll probably preach a sermon that teaches why Christians should read more.
Yesterday I read a bumper sticker and it reminded me how much and why I dislike brevity in attempts to state the truth. It not just my aversion to some, like “Jesus is my co-pilot”, which completely mangle the point of the gospel. In general I find that brief statements are rarely able to convey truth effectively because they lack the context that gives them their weight and significance. So often they end up coming across like tag-lines which might seem cool and might be memorable, but are devoid of their real substance and power.
I realize of course, that in saying that I am indicting myself. If you browse through this blog you’ll see a great number of quotations which are brief. And in fact some of the quotations I’ve posted have been misunderstood and have occasionally been a source of contention. To be fair to myself, I mostly post quotations that express ideas that are a part of on-going “conversations” that I’m involved in, so my attraction to them is that they capture aspects of ideas that I’ve been exploring in depth. So in the first place I post such quotations because they are meaningful to me. I am aware (and admittedly moreso since dealing with disagreements and misunderstandings) that some of the things I post are not clear or meaningful to some of the people who may come across them, but I post them anyway because frankly, this blog is for me as much as it is for anyone else. I save things here that I will need for the future. Plus, controversy isn’t all bad. Sometimes it generates useful questions and gets people thinking.
My dislike for this sort of brevity extends to how we use the Bible. There are very common quotations which exemplify the inevitable sterility, like Jesus’ statement in John 8:32 - “and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” That verse is entirely meaningless when quoted without an understanding of the context in which it is said, yet it is widely loved even by many who don’t love Jesus. This morning I came across another “bumper sticker verse” - not that I’ve ever seen in on a bumper sticker but it’s a very well known and often quoted verse - Lamentations 3:22-23:
The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases;
his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
In reading the whole of Lamentations those words take on a completely different meaning than the one that I tend to keep in my head when I sing them or think of them. Lamentations is a heavy book, even if you’re not using your imagination. The poetry doesn’t conceal the pain and suffering in the destruction of Jerusalem and Judah and it’s not trying to. Sandwiched by descriptions of people being carried off into captivity (1:18), starving children and dead bodies in the streets (2:19, 21), women eating their children (4:10) and being raped (5:11), are these verses which declare the faithfulness of God. How lightly we sing them and think of them! And how that is facilitated by the brief quotations we have become accustomed to, and the fact that we forget or don’t even know the context in which they were said!
The writer of Lamentations knew that Israel was suffering this way because God was pouring out his just punishment on them for their sins (1:18, 2:17). Yet still he cries out to God and expects mercy for those who look to God (3:25-26, 31-32). He has confidence in the nature of God and the promises of God. He calls his people to repentance (3:41-42).
There’s a lot to learn from Lamentations. It has a lot to teach us about the “problem of evil”. This morning God started to use it to expose how fickle my faith can be. Will clear and eloquent statements about God’s faithfulness come out of me when I’m going through great suffering by God’s hand? Our does my faith speak it’s loudest in fair weather?
We will feel the weight of the faith we’ve been called more clearly and more consistently if we read the Bible in larger chunks rather than small bites. We see ourselves more clearly and see how casual our faith can be. Let’s not just rejoice in sound bites. Let’s dig into truth.
Clearly I’m making up for a lack of substantive blogging for the last several weeks :-)
Thabiti lays out his position and his reasons. What say you?
True faith takes its character and quality from its object and not from itself. Faith gets a man out of himself and into Christ. Its strength therefore depends on the character of Christ. Even those of us who have weak faith have the same strong Christ as others!
Sinclair Ferguson, The Christian Life, page 67 (via derekthornton)
This was timely based on a discussion last night. “Earn” is such a bad word when it comes to describing what we do in faith. “Fight” is a good word.
Next week Monday, God-willing, I fly to Chicago for the Gospel Coalition’s 2011 conference. And I’m like a kid who’s been told they’re going to Disneyworld! I’m so looking forward to spending 3 days immersed in Biblical teaching and around people who love the Bible and long for Jesus.
I haven’t boarded a flight yet and it’s been quite a journey already. I heard about the conference about a month ago and thought I’d really like to go but immediately dismissed the possibility because we’re broke and we have two small children and all the reasons why I didn’t see it working. I kept thinking about it though. The theme is “They Testify About Me: Preaching Jesus and the Gospel from the Old Testament”. It’s an area I have a growing interest in, especially having spent so much time in the Old Testament over the last few months. And it kept coming back to me. Finally about a week and a half ago, I was thinking about it and talking to God and he pointed out that I had unilaterally decided that I could go since I had no money and I hadn’t even asked him. It was a bit of a slap in the face, especially since I had been encouraging a friend about having faith without realizing my failure to apply what I was saying. So I realized that I had to try to go - to try in faith.
To shorten a long story, I spoke with Sam about it and she was supportive and enthusiastic and I asked a bunch of people to pray with me. I wrote my Elders and started the ball rolling asking people for support. Asking for money is something I’m pretty horrible at, even when I earned it, so it’s been a humbling experience, but I hope I’m growing through it. God has been good and he’s given me favour with people. I’ve had to realize that I’m asking people to support me in growing so that I can continue to pour out for others in my community - in my cell group, in church, etc. That’s helped a bit. It is not a selfish request. I don’t feel like I’m asking for money to go on holiday or something.
So most systems are go and I’m trusting God to provide the rest of the money I need and I’m looking forward to the whole experience. It’s going to be weird, hard and lonely (I anticipate) being away from Sam, Maia and Dominic but it’s definitely a worthwhile investment. I’m going to try to blog as much as I can from there.
One of the ideas I’ve been learning, teaching, preaching and fighting for is that an eternal perspective is indispensable for the Christian. We won’t survive without it. I was thinking about hope in this regard and a couple of verses came to mind. I’m convinced that we need to learn to hope “smarter” - to hope Biblically. So often we hope for all kinds of things to that God is not promise us (like an easy life) and we hope not to have all kinds of things that he did promise us (like trouble). As we read the Bible one of the things that God wants to reshape is how we hope. Here are the ideas from a couple of verses that collided for me this morning - and they’re many more but since time is short I’ll keep it brief.
Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God. Ps 42:5-6a
If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied. 1 Corinthians 15:19
To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. Colossians 1:27
What’s clear to me is that the Bible is calling us to expect and long for our greatest good, our ultimate consolation, and unfathomable joy when Jesus comes for us. When I’m downcast I must call myself to hope in God, but that’s not simply or mainly an immediate hope for comfort in my situation, or some religious crutch to help me limp along. I must call myself to hope in God’s promises of all that’s coming for those who long for his appearing, and at the center of that is the fact that we will be with him. I need to fight not to allow my experience of discomfort in life to make me short-sighted in hope.