Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Treasure for Treasure

Comfort for Comfort

2 Samuel 12:3 uses our word for “special possession” of a pet, a little lamb, bought and nourished. We can relate, can’t we, nuts about pets as we are. There’s just something about the way a pet conforms to the shape of your lap, adjusting itself to you. And that’s how we are to be with God, adjusting our shape to Him.

But some of your pets are not quite that way. They are demanding, and they master you. You quickly find that you are the one adjusting to them, rather than the other way around. And that’s what we often do with God, in our minds at least, adjusting Him for our comfort.

For instance, some aspects of the being of God are uncomfortable for us. We struggle with His sovereignty, since it rubs hard against ours. We can fix that, right? Just adjust (g)od to what your sense of (g)od should be, and the pet is happy, even though the house is in ruins.

Good for Good

Malachi 3:17 refers to the son who is joined to the father’s inheritance by virtue of relationship. The son is his pride and possession. And the son seeks the good of the father. Sure, the son realizes that, since everything that the father has will one day be his, when he serves the father, he is serving his own interests as well. But the interests of the father come first.

So the son does not ask, “what is good for me?” Rather, he asks, “what is good for the father?” He is not focusing on feathering his nest, but on serving the interests of the father.

We sometimes leave a church service and ask, “was it good for me?” “Do I feel better?” “Was I entertained?” We ask these questions in dozens of life situations. But shouldn’t the question be, “was it good for God?” Isn’t He the Father to be served, even as we realize that the path to an experience of indescribable goodness leads first through “seeking first His kingdom and His righteousness (Matt 6:33).

And the father, says Malachi, has compassion on the son who serves him. God delights to shower love upon His children as they serve the interests of their Father.

Treasure for Treasure

Matthew 13:44-45 speaks of men, one finding buried treasure, the other finding a pearl of great value. One goes and buys the field in order to have the treasure. The other sells all he has in order to obtain the pearl.

We are God’s treasure. That’s what our verse, 1 Peter 2:9, and our phrase, “a people for His own possession,” indicates. And He has “bought the field” and “sold all he had” for us. And we are to reach out to him like two-year-olds when daddy comes home, and treasure Him.

Our world is full of so many lonely people who do not have the experience of being treasured by God. They may have many comfortable, good treasures. But they are still empty. Why in the world would we trade this blessing of being God’s treasured people for mere bubbles?

Monday, February 19, 2007

Priests with a Royal Bearing; People with a Holy Calling

The Spirit guided Peter to write “royal priests” in 1 Peter 2:9 (adjective followed by verb), quoting from Exodus 19:6, the LXX (Greek), not the Hebrew. In Revelation 1:6, John quotes the same verse, but evidently from the Hebrew, which shows two nouns, “a kingdom and priests.”

Why? I think it fits with Peter’s point, which is that we are priests with a royal bearing, rather than kings with some added priestly duties. After all, Peter has made clear right at the beginning that we are outsiders, sojourners, and he will do so again in 2:12. We are related to the King, but we do not live life here as kings. We are servants, priests.

A priestly people is a little strange. From the Old Testament, we are used to have a priestly class within the people. Isn’t that what pastors are supposed to do today? Peter doesn’t think so. We all are priests.

Priests are blood-spattered. In New Covenant terms, this certainly does not involved animal sacrifice. But it certainly does involve Christ’s sacrifice. We show our blood-sprinkled (1:2) condition when we do two things: when we think often of our sin; and when we think often of our Savior.

When we emphasize how good we are, either trying to convince ourselves or others, we are not functionging as priests, or as Christians. One of the key differences between non-believers and believers is that the former often work hard at justifying self, while the believer finds his/her justification in Christ. The one covers and excuses sin and sins; the other confesses sin(s) and hates that which caused the death of Christ. If you are unaware of any struggle with sin, then I wonder if you even have a Savior.

Priests also are teachers of the ways of God. They take the hand of God with one hand, and the hand of man with the other, and seek to see them reconciled in Christ. If I let go of God and embrace man alone, I am no longer functioning as a priest. And if I forget about men and isolate myself in God, I also am no priest. Priests are continually concerned with a right relationship with God, for themselves, and for others.

Remember, we are priests, with a card in our wallet or a truth in our hearts that we belong to the King. We are not kings who practice religion on the side.

The other term under consideration is “holy nation.” The Greek word transliterates to a kind of “ethnicity,” leading me to think that this is about a distinctive group of people (as in the first term, “chosen race,) in whom an appreciation and hunger for holiness is evident and obvious.

God’s holiness speaks of His “otherness.” He is, so to speak, “out of this world.” That is, this world cannot contain Him, nor even describe Him, because He stands apart in key ways from anything that is known in the world or by the world. For God’s people to know God, they have, in a sense, their “head in the clouds,” not in the sense of being aloof, but rather, they can see or sense horizons that are beyond what we see and experience in this physical world. His holiness is not to be profaned, that is, made common or coarse. He is not ordinary. We should not treat Him, or His name, as such.

Of course, holiness also includes a concern of moral purity. It is the desire to see reflected in human terms what it means to be pure. We are not animals, and we are not to live like animals. The image of the holy God has been impressed upon us, though far from distinct as it once was.

In the OT, we were acquainted with the idea of holy “territory.” The burning bush, Mt. Sinai, the Tabernacle, the Temple, the Holy of Holies – had borders and boundaries. This seems to no longer be the case. The “holy nation” scatters with itself the holiness of God throughout the world. Our own “otherness” and striving for purity; our appreciation of the eternal dimension sets us apart, for God.

We are accustomed to driving past small towns or driving into large cities and seeing the spires of churches, pointing to heaven, reminding us that there is a God. This may be an excellent architectural feature, but it is not what God designed as testimony to His holiness. Rather, he is forming a people with a high calling, a holy nation, to point the world to a God that they do not know.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Gene Selection

(1 Peter 2:9, “a chosen race”)

Racism is a highly charged subject in our society. We struggle with properly admitting that there are different “kinds” of people, and then with ensuring that all “kinds” of people are treated equitably.

The Bible also speaks of “kinds.” It is the prerogative of God to establish kinds of plants (Genesis 1:11-12), and kinds of people (Gen 11). In the Bible, a “race” of people seems to designate a line of descendants from a particular father. Part of the reason for this may be because God delights in variety.

So when God chooses to designate “a chosen race,” He does so by selecting out Abraham to be the father of a new people (Gen 12). A major reason that God chooses is that He desires to accomplish His wider purposes (blessing all the families of the earth) through His particular choices (Abraham, Isaac, Jacob). Over time, this people is redeemed by God from slavery in Egypt, and formed into a covenant people at Mt. Sinai (Exodus 19-24). They are to be characterized, as was their father, Abraham, by a strong attachment to and dependence upon God (Deuteronomy 10:12-22). This distinctiveness of people, if not strong attachment and dependence, continue even into the captivity, where the apocryphal addition to Esther speaks again of the distinctiveness of God’s chosen race: “For Almighty God hath turned to joy unto them the day, wherein the chosen people should have perished.” (Esther 16:21 KJVA)

Again, “race” in the Bible speaks of a distinctive “kind” of people, descendants of a common father. Peter seems to show this in advance of 1 Pet 2:9 with his comment in 1:17, “and if you call on Him as Father, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile.” We are a chosen race if we have in common this heavenly Father.

Let me make three points of application with illustration:

1. Until we fully embrace our identity as a part of God’s chosen race as obedient children, we will never make sense of the Christian life. We continue to be painfully aware of racial differences as determined sociologically, but painfully unaware of the kind of distinctiveness that ought to be honored and preserved as God’s people. We show this in our marriage patterns, where more consternation arises from the joining of people with different skin color than does the joining of two people whose spiritual fathers are antithetically opposed to one another.

2. Until we accept our God-given place as God-redeemed outsiders, elect exiles (1 Pet 1:1), we will never adequately proclaim His praises. When Muslims become our next-door neighbors, we wonder what “they” are doing “here.” But Peter’s truth expressed several times is that they are not the outsiders; we are. We are the aliens, the strangers, the sojourners who are seeking to share our way of life with the insiders of this world. We are not to resist the infiltration of “different” people into our cocoons. We are, by race, the infiltrators.

3. Until we understand that we are no more “children of men,” but rather “children of the Heavenly Father,” we will not experience our greatest comfort. Others have no Father like ours. By comparison, it is as though all the world is orphaned, going to bed at night untucked with no story told and no prayers prayed. But we have a Father who never leaves us alone. What a blessed comfort to be a chosen race that can rightfully claim to be “children of the heavenly Father.”

Friday, February 02, 2007

Faith’s Friends

The subject of faith can be difficult. What does it mean to “have faith?” Perhaps we can learn from faith’s friends.

Faith and Grace are not equal partners. God shows gracious initiative in setting the table for us and in providing the meal. Faith’s role is to simply “taste” the Lord’s goodness (1 Pet 2:3) in his person and in his provision for us. Faith savors what God provides. Faith is not even responsible for the digesting of divine delicacy and its conversion to spiritual energies. God’s sanctifying grace accomplishes that as well. Faith simply savors (Eph 2:8,9).

Faith and Repentance are never-failing friends. If faith is an open-handed acceptance of the gifts that God graciously provides, then repentance is the emptying of the hands in preparation for the reception of the gift. To go back to the earlier illustration, to come to God’s table already made full by the junk food shoved down our throats by the world and greedily gobbled up by our own lusts is to preclude the experience of tasting God’s goodness and grace. There is no hunger for God without repentance. We are more apt to pass out into a sated stupor, or to be sick. Faith’s friend, repentance, is our turning from what is cheap to what is priceless, the forerunner of faith in our lives (Acts 20:21).

Faith and Love are never strangers. When Paul looks for evidence of faith in the lives of believers, he looks for love – love for God, and also love for others (1 Thes 3:6). For a self-centered and preoccupied person to claim faith is to make a statement that can be supported by no evidence. Faith in our lives, the savoring of the goodness and grace of God, becomes a dynamic force, through the operation of the grace of God, that will most definitely result in loving activity.

Faith and Works? We often think of these as enemies, since faith is not a work, and we can work to earn our salvation (Rom 4:5). But, having faith, we must expect that faith will work – because it is not a static force, but a dynamic element in our lives – as Paul says, faith working in love (Gal 6:5).

No Faith? Then you are missing out on faith’s friends as well. The absence of faith reveals a want of grace. The diminishing of faith’s vibrancy points to a desertion of the hard by happy work of repentance. Faith without love is mere marketing, and faith without works, as James reminds us (Jas 2:26), is dead.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Why Do People Stumble Over Jesus?

“A stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense” (1Peter 2:8 ESV)

We stumble over things that we do not see. People stumble over Jesus because they do not see him. People stumble because they do not see the beauty of Jesus.

Some people do not see him because they are distracted. In chapter 2, Peter quotes Isaiah 28, describing the northern kingdom, distracted by their prosperity. People today, prosperous as we are, find themselves generally distracted. In fact, the busier we are, the more healthy lives we think we are living.

Our lives are filled with beautiful and attractive things. They attract our attention to the degree that we cannot see the most beautiful thing ever presented to humanity, Jesus. If only we could stop and think, and answer the penetrating question – what is really important? What will last for eternity?

We need to learn to ask people questions that stop them in their tracks. What do you think God is like? Really? What do you think God thinks of you? Could you take the time to find out what He is really like, and what He really thinks?

Some people do not see him because they are misdirected. They are looking for something else. And so they miss Jesus. Two stories can help us with this.

Saul/Paul held a vision of religion that was pleasing to God that excluded Jesus. Keeping the Law was central, and faith in Christ was leading many Jews away from the “beauty” of Judaism. He hated Christians and their way of life. But on that road to Damascus, Jesus appeared to Saul, and all of a sudden, God caused Paul to see the beauty of Christ (Acts 9). And his life was changed. He no longer stumbled over Jesus. He embraced him.

For years, even centuries, the Temple was the place where God’s people, Israel, could meet with their God. Never mind that Temple-worship was compromised by Roman government, Herod’s crooked benevolence, and priestly political compromise. The Temple was central. But the apostles, confronted by the risen Lord, realized the significance of Jesus’ words, that the Temple would be destroyed, and that they would be build around him, the Living Stone (1 Pet 2:4) as living stones (2:5).

Stories can help people see a reality that has been invisible to them to this point. The Bible is one, grand, dramatic story filled with many smaller stories. Jesus told stories, parables to help people see his beauty.

We need to listen to the stories of the Bible to have our own view of reality shaped and re-shaped. We need to be able to relate stories to people stumbling over Jesus, that they might see him for the first time.

Some people do not see him because they are disobedient. The testimony of the prophets, from whom Peter draws (Isaiah 8) is that God’s people consistently rejected light. It seems to be one of the ways of God that, when we choose our own way, he allows us to have what we say we want. Romans 1 shows this three times (24,26,28), that when man rejected God’s way, He “hands them over” to the consequences of their actions.

So if people reject the light of God’s beauty, why should God favor them with the beauty of Christ? If people prefer darkness, why not allow them to stay where they want to be?

And so, if the light of the beauty of Christ has become evident to you, do not be so wicked as to turn your back on him? And do not presume that, if that light is available to you today, that it will be tomorrow.

As we talk with people who are stumbling over Jesus out of disobedience, we must warn, and confront. God issues a summons through His witnesses: “Repent, and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ.” And for believers, we also must pay full attention to the warnings. Do not allow sin to cloud the beauty of Christ in your life.