Fearing What They Fear (I Peter 3:14)

No one wants to be known by his fears.

“Fear hath torment,” says I John 4:18 and it’s exactly right.

We naturally resist our fears. Some dedicate their lives to eradicating all evidences of fear. An apparel company made a fortune from a line of clothing with the logo “No Fear.” The fact is no one but the most foolhardy is without a certain amount of fear, because it can be a good thing. The fear of injury and death motivates most motorists on the interstate to take few risks. The driver with no fear is usually “under the influence,” as we say.

“Do not fear what they fear,” reads the NIV on I Peter 3:14. The NASB, the standard in my preaching (as well as among my teachers) for most of my lifetime, makes that “Do not fear their intimidation.” And yet the footnote says “intimidation” is literally “fear,” which would make it read “Do not fear their fear.”

So, there’s a little interpretation involved in this. Scholars clearly aren’t in agreement whether the Apostle Peter is urging believers to resist the fearmongering tactics of their persecutors or to live by standards different from those around them.

Both are true, of course. Each is a truth of the Kingdom.

But in this context and for our purposes today, I’m opting for the NIV’s approach. “Do not fear what they fear.” (Hey, it’s my blog. I get to decide.)

In our culture, people are far more likely to be known for what they love and enjoy than for what they fear and hate and dislike.

Take the city where I live. New Orleans has devotees around the world, people who love visiting here and miss it intensely when they leave. Ask them what they treasure about this place and you will be inundated by a litany of their loves: the food: certain restaurants or cuisines, po-boys or etoufee or boiled crawfish; the music: this hall or that club, this band or that orchestra or a certain singer; the parks: Woldenberg on the river or City Park or Audubon; the neighborhoods: Uptown or the Garden District or the Quarter; the history: the quaint streets of the Quarter, the treasures of the Cabildo; the museums: the Museum of Art or the World War II Museum; the street cars, the sounds, the accents, the list is endless. And the Saints–how could I leave them out?

It’s all about loves, not fears. All who love a city are usually bonded by what they enjoy most.

And yet, when it comes to matters of faith and eternity, there are two kinds of people in the world today.

Only two kinds of people? Yep.

You will know them by their fears.

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Real Beauty (I Peter 3:1-7)

I have the strangest thing to tell you.

Yesterday, as I write, I spent four hours sketching employees for an accounting firm at which a good friend is a partner. I’m a cartoonist and enjoy doing quick sketches of people. So my friend Larry asks me to come out each year on April 15–D-Day for his profession–and to draw their office force. It’s a little thank-you for their hard work during the tax season and a celebration for its end.

I’m not sure how many people I drew, but let’s say seventy-five. Most were women, probably one out of five was a man. They ranged in age from the early 20s into middle-age. And every one was great looking.

I’m tempted to say each one was beautiful. And in a way, that’s true. But it’s probably closer to the mark to say that there was a beauty about each person.

The person plops down in the chair opposite you, looks you square in the eye and flashes a great smile. I say, “Okay. Now, hold that for one minute!” Some do it more effortlessly than others. But no matter who they are, when they turn loose with that great smile, you see how really attractive they are. It’s at that moment I send up a prayer, “Lord, help me to capture some of what I’m seeing in them.”

I’d love them to see how they really look, to know something of the beauty they possess. So few do. They look in mirrors and see what their minds tell them they’re seeing. Often it’s not close to reality. They compare themselves with airbrushed-celebrities and surgically-enhanced beauties and give themselves failing grades.

It’s enough to make a Creator groan.

Do preachers know anything about beauty? Are we entitled to our thoughts on this subject?

The Apostle Peter thought so. His message in our text is as clear as anything you will find anywhere on the subject of real beauty.

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When Caught In a Maelstrom (I Peter 2:21-25) (Part II)

Have you ever seen a firestorm? The flames are shooting skyward to unbelievable heights. As the air heats and rushes upward, cool air rushes in at the lower level to fill the vacuum created. Now, you have winds blowing toward the fire and winds inside the inferno shooting upward.

Get out of its way.

The word “maelstrom” comes to mind here. It’s a Dutch word that literally means a “grinding stream.” (I keep wanting the “strom” to mean “storm,” but Webster says it’s “stream.”) Think of a whirlpool that is sucking everything into its vortex.

Think: church fight.

Ever been in one? If you have, you’ll never want to be in another. Once is enough forever.

There is only one who enjoys a knock-down drag-out among the people of God and he is the original fallen angel himself, the great dragon, the accuser of the brethren, Lucifer, the father of lies and the sire of everything unholy.

I have never personally been a warrior in a church fight. However, I know far more than I would like about them. As pastor I have a) observed neighboring churches waging war among themselves, b) dealt with the aftermath of fights in churches I pastored, and c) heard countless horror stories from the walking wounded who had come through the religious wars.

Before dealing with the scriptural instructions on what our response should be to these battles of the faithful, let me issue the one overwhelming principle which should guide all of us:

Walk away from it.

No issue is worth tearing up a church.

Even if truth is at stake–and it always is, if we are to believe the parties involved–and even if the eternal destinies of people hang in the balance, the way to resolve a conflict is not by tearing a church asunder.

A famous line from the Vietnam War era, uttered by those who wanted to stop that no-win conflict and pull our soldiers out, asked, “What if they gave a war and no one came?”

If no one will fight, there’s no battle.

It’s a great idea.

You will want to drop back and read I Peter 2:21-25 (we included it in the previous article). Now, ask yourself one question: “Can anyone looking at how Jesus endured the cross think for a moment that He wants us to take up arms against our brother or sister in the congregation?”

But, pastor, you don’t understand! We’re in the right here. The other side has done wrong. They’re unbiblical, ungodly, immature, headstrong, stiff-necked, and on top of that, they’re taunting us. We can’t let this go unaddressed.

You are a fool if you believe that.

All the right is on one side and all the offenses on the other. Give me a break. It’s not true of your marriage, not true in the Second World War, not true in our present struggle against radical Islamic terrorism, and not true in your church fight.

That is not to say–let me rush to make this clear or some will read no further!–that each side has as much claim to right and truth and justice as the other.

Rather, no one in a church fight ever thinks of himself or herself as the aggressor, but always the aggrieved.

So, in a church conflict–and that’s our subject here–do not buy the lie that your side has all truth and the others are a bunch of evil-doers who want only to run roughshod over the lovers of all that is good and holy.

If you forget for a moment that you are a sinner saved by grace and deserve to spend eternity in hell, you are a goner. You get pulled into the maelstrom and caught up in the firestorm that is consuming your church’s peace, destroying its unity and killing its missionary heart.

According to Scripture, here is what we should do….

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Christianity’s Achilles’ Heel? (I Peter 2:21-25)

If you like your religious faith shallow and thought-out for you without you being required to use your brain for any aspect–in other words, you require a manmade religion–you’re not going to hang around in church long.

The Christian faith is a lot of things, but shallow and neatly systematic it is not. Rather, it’s historical and complex and true. It is true-to-life. And it has been revealed to us in such a way that we are required to put our thinking caps on and engage the brain in order to appreciate what we have been given and how it all fits together.

Take suffering, for example.

A recent critic of the Christian faith–these Christopher Hitchens and Bishop James Pikes have always been with us, so don’t let the latest “smarter than God” genius upset you–says the fatal flaw to our theology is suffering. We’re told that the Bible does not adequately answer the question of suffering and pain in the world.

You read that and shake your head. Scores of books from Christian writers pour off the press every year dealing with just that subject, particularly after disasters like hurricanes and earthquakes and tsunamis.

But even if we ignore those books, we’re faced by the fact that the Bible deals with suffering from one end to the other. It’s almost correct to say that human suffering is “the” constant theme of the Bible, it’s so prevalent throughout.

The history of Jews is a story of suffering. The Book of Job is devoted entirely to this subject. The sermons of Jesus are saturated with examples and instructions concerning suffering. His very life and death illustrate the subject better than any textbook. That’s why, when comforting the Lord’s harassed people, Peter thought of just that.

The Apostle Peter writes to suffering believers,

“For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps,

“Who committed no sin, nor was any deceit found in His mouth,

“And while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously;

“And He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you have been healed;

“For you were continually straying like sheep, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Guardian of your souls.” (I Peter 2:21-25)

If we had nothing else in the Bible on the subject of suffering than this single passage, we could conclude several things:

–suffering is the lot of God’s Best in this world

–there is a right way and a wrong way to bear up in suffering

–we are to emulate Jesus. One of the many reasons Jesus was allowed to suffer in this world was to provide us with a pattern, an example. Here’s how it’s done.

–God always has His purposes for the suffering of His beloved.

–Our task when suffering is to commit ourselves to Him, trusting that He will “judge righteously.”

C. S. Lewis called it “pain.” The Scripture generally calls it “suffering” or “tribulation.” We experience it as “conflict.”

It’s no fun, I’ll tell you that.

But when done right, our suffering/pain/conflict can produce marvelous results. “Fixing our eyes on Jesus….who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame….” (Hebrews 12:2) See that? There was joy on the other side of the cross. To get there, He “endured.”

I’ve made a little list of what believers may expect regarding pain and suffering and conflict in this life. See what you think.

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“Behavior Matters” — (I Peter 2:12)

“Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may on account of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation.” (I Peter 2:12)

Be a fly on the wall. Sit in on religious discussions (okay, hostile debates and knock-down, drag-out arguments over doctrine) and you will come away burdened by one huge conclusion: for a large number of people who call themselves followers of Jesus, doctrine counts far more than behavior.

They didn’t get it from Jesus, I’ll tell you that. And they sure didn’t get it from Scripture.

Start at page one of the New Testament. You’re not out of the opening chapter before you see that the sexual activities of the Lord’s people is a matter of major concern. It shows up in the genealogy of Jesus, with a number of people listed having been guilty or accused of inappropriate activities of a sexual nature. Still in that chapter, Joseph hears that his beloved Mary is with child and decides to call off the engagement. It took heavenly intervention for him to change his mind.

And that’s just in the first chapter of Matthew.

Skip over to chapters 5-7, what we call “The Sermon on the Mount.” There’s doctrine there–Scripture never slights the subject–but behavior before the Gentile world by God’s people is a major consideration. Oath-taking, brotherly treatment, sexual purity, relations with one’s enemies–and we’re still in chapter 5.

Sprinkled throughout that fifth chapter of Matthew are reminders that God’s people are to live by a higher standard than the Gentiles in order to bear a faithful witness to them.

“You are the salt of the earth…. You are the light of the world…. Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in Heaven…. Except your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and the Pharisees, you shall not enter the kingdom of Heaven…. If you greet your brothers only…do not even the Gentiles do the same?”

God expects a higher standard out of us. He gives two primary reasons:

1) We are God’s children and He expects us to act like it.

2) The outside world needs to see we are different. If they see the same selfish behavior–or even worse!–in us, we can forget about having any influence with them.

Christian, behave yourself. They’re watching.

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“Therefore, My Beloved” (I Peter 1:13 and 2:1)

I had been preaching for 10 years the first time I heard a Bible teacher say, “When you come to a ‘therefore’ in Scripture, stop and ask what it’s ‘there for.'” I thought, “Great. Why didn’t I think of that?”

Wonder why I’d never heard it.

They say there are two parts to every sermon: what and so what?

The “what” is the doctrinal and “so what” the practical.

There’s a little storefront church in Metairie, one of those “Unity” kinds, that bills itself as dealing with “practical Christianity.” Like there’s any other kind. If it’s not practical, pertaining to normal people living their everyday lives, it’s not the authentic, biblical variety.

You often find the “so what” in Scripture with the “therefore” passages. On the basis of what has gone before, here is how we are to live.

The Bible is filled with them. First, we’ll take the ones in I Peter, then some of our favorites from the rest of the New Testament.

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Precious Blood (I Peter 1:18-19)

“…knowing you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ.”

Unless you belong to a conservative or even fundamental Christian church, you’ve probably not heard much about the blood of Christ lately. I’m not sure why. I do know that a quick scan of my bookshelves turned up not a single sermon on “the blood.”

I heard of one Baptist church where it’s actual church policy that no hymn celebrating the blood of Jesus will be used in a service. What they do with all the Scriptural texts on that subject beats me. I’m guessing that some leader has let the mania for political correctness drive his common sense from the room.

Jesus said the new covenant was “in my blood” (I Corinthians 11:25).

The writer of Hebrews said, “Without shedding of blood there is no forgiveness” (Heb. 9:22).

The Apostle John wrote, “The blood of Jesus Christ…cleanses us from all sin” (I John 1:7).

“Who are these clothed in white robes, praising the Lamb of Heaven? And where did they come from?” an elder asked. The Apostle John, in the midst of his vision, uttered, “You know who they are.” The elder said, “These…have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” (Revelation 7:13-14)

Paul told the elders of Ephesus, “Shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood” (Acts 20:28).

You can preach a lot of sermons and ignore the subject of the blood of Jesus, but you’ll have to pull a Thomas Jefferson to do it. (You will recall he took scissors and cut everything out of the New Testament which did not conform to his concept of God. He was more honest than many today who do the same thing, although without the shears.)

To the best of my knowledge no one has done with the doctrine of redemption through the blood of the Lamb what J. Sidlow Baxter did in “The Master Theme of the Bible.” The first chapter of that book presents a broad summary of the entire message of Scripture on this subject.

I’m going to lay out the outline he uses, then add a word or two at the end which I hope readers will not skip.

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Who We Are in Christ (I Peter 2:1-10)

Everyone knows how the Scriptures, both Old and New Testaments, beggar human language telling us who God is. Synonyms pile up until we walk away with a list of “names of God” numbering in the hundreds.

“I love you, O Lord my strength. The Lord is rock, my fortress, and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge. He is my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.” (Psalm 18:1-2)

Scripture is filled with similar texts.

But, what is not as commonly known or considered, is that the Bible does the same thing in announcing who the people of the Lord are. We come away awed at the realization that in Christ, we are far more than anyone ever expected.

Take the first 10 verses of I Peter chapter 2, for instance.

vs. 2 — newborn babes

vs. 5 — living stones, a spiritual house, a holy priesthood

vs. 9 — a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God

vs. 10 — the people of God

Let’s do two things here. Let’s comment on what each of these mean, then walk through the entire epistle of I Peter and identify every similar expression of who we are in Christ.

NEWBORN BABES. We’ve been born again, we have become as little children, and we are to have the kind of ravenous appetite for “the pure milk of the Word” as a baby has for its mother’s milk.

LIVING STONES. Each of us is a brick in the building of this house. Remove any one stone and it affects everything around it. Each is essential. In this case, Peter stresses that we are not inanimate objects without life or feeling. We are “living stones.” .

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The Bible Speaks on the Bible (I Peter 1:22-2:3)

It’s not that we think the Apostle Peter sat down one day and said, “I believe I will write something for the Bible.”

He most definitely did not say, “I believe I will write the Word of God.”

In fact, most likely he did not even decide, “I shall now write something of lasting benefit for the church.”

All the epistles seem to have addressed particular situations being faced by certain Christians at the time of the writing. The apostles were telling how to deal with opposition, temptation, inner conflict, false teachers, and such. The counsel they ended up delivering was so solid that over the years God’s people elevated them to the status of scripture.

How they came to be part of the Bible itself is a subject for another day. Today, the issue is what the Apostle Peter said about God’s Word in the portion of Scripture which we also call “God’s Word.”

One more word about that.

To call something “God’s Word” does not mean we believe God dropped it out of Heaven full-grown with no human instrumentation any more than calling a preacher “God’s Man” means we think he was immaculately conceived in some celestial vacuum somewhere.

God uses people to get His message to others.

In the passage before us are four great uses of the Word of God, as revealed in that Word.

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The Worst Command? (I Peter 1:14-16)

If there is a command in Scripture guaranteed to offend the “modern mind of man” and set off a stubborn inner resistance that is determined to hold its ground and cede nothing, it’s this: Be holy.

“As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance.

“But just as He who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do,

“For it is written, ‘Be holy, because I am holy.'” (I Peter 1:14-16)

The apostle is clearly quoting Scripture. Somewhere in the Old Testament, God tells us to be holy .

He does, in many places, actually. Leviticus chapter 11, for example.

“I am the Lord your God. Consecrate yourselves and be holy, because I am holy.” (11:44)

“I am the Lord who brought you up out of Egypt to be your God; therefore, be holy for I am holy.” (11:45)

What is the most important principle of Bible interpretation, class? Right. “Establish the context.”

The context makes it clear that the Lord has in mind His people shall be “a cut above” the surrounding population. They are to be “otherwise,” “the great exception,” what the KJV calls “a peculiar people.” Different from the rest. Standing out from the clutter.

Verses that surround Leviticus 11:44-45 make this clear. The Lord’s people were not to eat certain animals. “Do not make yourselves unclean by any of them or be made unclean by them.” (11:43)

We are to be clean.

Yesterday, I walked into the ICU at Tulane Medical Center to see a friend who had had a stroke this weekend. I would not have been surprised to see him sedated and with tubes everywhere. Instead, he was sitting up in the bed and on the phone. He greeted me heartily and said, “What are you doing here?”

I said, “That’s my line. You’re clearly not sick.” He said, “The only thing wrong with me right now is I need a bath.” He had been 4 days without one.

The small blood clot that had attacked his brain, shutting down the use of the left side of his body, had dissolved, he said. The medical staff planned to release him later in the day.

Before we prayed, I asked, “What can I get for you–other than a bath?”

Not everyone misses cleanliness. In ignoring their unwashed state, they reveal a great deal about themselves.

Here’s a paragraph from John Steinbeck’s “Once There Was a War,” a collection of his war correspondent dispatches.

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