Friday, November 21, 2008

1 Peter 3

I always struggle with the verses about slaves obeying masters and wives being weaker vessels and submitting. I know some of the material is cultural and I understand that "submission implies volition". I also understand that for their era Paul and Jesus and even Peter were world changers in the way they included women in their ministries and inner circles - but I still struggle.

Verse 8 finally offers me a place of equal footing where I can nod my head and feel more comfortable, "Finally, all of you, have unity of spirit, sympathy, love for one another, a tender heart, and a humble mind." 1 Peter 3:8. I could spend the rest of my life living in to verse 8.

My daughter and I had an interesting discussion last night that led us to this verse, "Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you; 16 yet do it with gentleness and reverence. Keep your conscience clear, so that, when you are maligned, those who abuse you for your good conduct in Christ may be put to shame." 1 Peter 3 :15b-16 NRSV. My daughter was concerned about some of her friends and the sin they were living in. She wondered how to go about pointing out their errors without turning the away. i suggested that she love them. I know the temptation and the desire to argue people into the Kingdom. I have never found this to be effective. I compared it to trying to fish with a frying pan. not very good bait! But the unconditional love of God, now that is what I am after! I wish the church that represents Jesus would turn to his life of love and live into that model.

Chapter 3 ends with some interesting ideas to chase down. "For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God. He was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit, in which also he went and made a proclamation to the spirits in prison, who in former times did not obey, when God waited patiently in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water. And baptism, which this prefigured, now saves you--not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers made subject to him." 1 Peter 3:18-22 NRSV. It is interesting to me that Christ went and proclaimed the gospel to those in "prison" that had been disobedient! Grace beyond the grave is a fascinating concept, don't you think! Peter shows the limitless power of Jesus and his love expressed through grace to all people here.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

1 Peter 2

It seems to be grumpy season in the church I pastor. People that usually would not say an unkind word are striking out verbally at others - the normal gossip and struggles also continue. i find it interesting that Peter felt it necessary to address these things in his day as well. His call is helpful to our congregations today i think, "Rid yourselves, therefore, of all malice, and all guile, insincerity, envy, and all slander." 1 Peter 2:1 NRSV. Nothing good comes of the backbiting and slander that is common in many people groups. I pray that God will keep our folks from hurting each other in these hard times.

This chapter of 1 Peter is one of my very favorite chapters in the Bible. (I know, I know...). I love the words of Peter as he describes our position and condition here, "But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God's people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy." 1 Peter 2:9-10 NRSV. I wonder if we will ever understand who we really are in Christ? and if we can't imagine our own new position, how will we realize the precious position others have in Christ? I think if we could grasp this, it might change everything.

I believe the rest of the call in this chapter is impossible unless we understand the initial premise - that we are a chosen race, a royal priesthood...

I also marvel at these verses, "When he was abused, he did not return abuse; when he suffered, he did not threaten; but he entrusted himself to the one who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that, free from sins, we might live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed. For you were going astray like sheep, but now you have returned to the shepherd and guardian of your souls." 1 Peter 2:23-25 NRSV. I will meditate on these verses today and I pray that God will use them to change my heart and make me more like Jesus!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

1 Peter 1

It is interesting to read an epistle or letter from someone other than Paul. Peter, one of my favorites, has a markedly different style and approach from Paul. Their lives traveled significantly different paths to Jesus and I enjoy the variety!

Peter starts off with a humble introduction, simply calling himself an apostle of Jesus Christ. And then speaks words of encouragement to the saints who had been scattered from their homes. He reminds them that they are chosen and loved by God, "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you," 1 Peter 1:3-4 NRSV. When I read Peter's words I see him as a good coach, reminding the troops of who and whose we are. It is VERY helpful and encouraging to me!

Hi coaching and encouragement continues with a call to readiness when he says, "Therefore prepare your minds for action; discipline yourselves; set all your hope on the grace that Jesus Christ will bring you when he is revealed. Like obedient children, do not be conformed to the desires that you formerly had in ignorance. Instead, as he who called you is holy, be holy yourselves in all your conduct;" 1 Peter 1 :13-15 NRSV. What a great reminder and a simple call - be holy!

I have found the scripture here that I will meditate on today - maybe for a few days. "Through him you have come to trust in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are set on God." 1 Peter 1:2 NRSV. It reminds me to set my faith and hope on God and God alone. I sometimes place my trust and faith in wrong things, and then I wonder why they break my heart. Lord, help me today to set my heart and faith on you alone!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Titus 3

As Paul wraps up this letter to Titus he reminds him, and us, to have the following traits in our ministries and in our lives, "Remind them to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show every courtesy to everyone." Titus 3:1-2 NRSV.

I remember when I was preparing to marry my wife 25 years ago, my father encouraged me to be kind to her. I remember clearly smiling and nodding my head at that advice, but secretly I thought, "What is he talking about? Isn't there better advice than that for a terrified young groom?" Now, years later, I wish I had taken that advice to heart. I regret the times I was unkind to my wife. Don't get me wrong, I was never horrible, but I wish I had been kinder. This memory causes me to take another look at this seemingly simplistic council from Paul. "Remind them to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show every courtesy to everyone." Titus 3:1-2 NRSV.

Paul seems to have a better balance of works and grace here as Titus closes, "so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. The saying is sure. I desire that you insist on these things, so that those who have come to believe in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works; these things are excellent and profitable to everyone." Titus 3:7-8 NRSV.

Paul's closing counsel and personal notes give us a glimpse into the personal side of his ministry. I love how he takes care to order the life of the church - to provide for relief workers to free Titus up, to make sure Apollos and Zenas are well provided for. When I was younger, the administrative side of the church, the "order" was a nuisance and the last thing I cared to do. As I have grown older and my ministry has grown, I see the blessing of good administration and find it pleasurable to do. Who would ever have thought I'd have said and meant those words!

Monday, November 17, 2008

Titus 2

In the second chapter, Paul continues to give Titus instructions to share with the different people groups in the church in Crete. His advice, taken as a whole, is good counsel for all of us today. The cultural differences between men and women has changed, but the need to encourage people to be "temperate, serious, prudent, and sound in faith, in love, and in endurance," "reverent in behavior, not to be slanderers or slaves to drink; they are to teach what is good," "love their husbands, to love their children, to be self-controlled, chaste, good managers of the household, kind,". Titus 2 selected verses NRSV, has not changed.

Paul encourages slaves to be submissive and hard workers acting in this way as "ornaments to the doctrine of God our savior". I understand the call Paul makes as centered in his view of eschatology and grace, but I do not like it. I can not imagine encouraging a person to "be a good slave". Perhaps I need to focus on Paul calling people to be a good witness in whatever various conditions they find themselves in.

Paul's only focus is the soon coming Kingdom of God. All else, including his own safety and comfort are of little concern to Paul. I am far too concerned with comfort and justice I suppose and preoccupied with carnal things. Lord, help me to have a heart and eye for your Kingdom and your designs and not simply my own comfort.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Titus 1

Paul’s introduction of himself in Titus is a bit unusual and worth noting. Paul begins by saying, “Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, for the sake of the faith of God's elect and the knowledge of the truth that is in accordance with godliness, in the hope of eternal life that God, who never lies, promised before the ages began-- in due time he revealed his word through the proclamation with which I have been entrusted by the command of God our Savior,” Titus 1:1-3 NRSV. Paul, a servant, an apostle for the sake of faith and knowledge of truth and godliness as entrusted by the command of God. WOW.

This epistle is written to another on of Paul’s children in the faith - Titus. Titus was left behind in Crete by Paul, “that you should put in order what remained to be done, and should appoint elders in every town, as I directed you:” Titus 1:5b.

An Elder was an over seer that had specific duties and qualifications. They are as follows, “someone who is blameless, married only once, whose children are believers, not accused of debauchery and not rebellious. For a bishop, as God's steward, must be blameless; he must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or addicted to wine or violent or greedy for gain; but he must be hospitable, a lover of goodness, prudent, upright, devout, and self-controlled. He must have a firm grasp of the word that is trustworthy in accordance with the teaching, so that he may be able both to preach with sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict it." Titus 1:6-9 NRSV. Quite a list of requirements for a job that will lead to poverty and persecution, don’t you think?

Paul speaks very harshly about those from Crete or the Cretans as he calls them. Paul quotes a Philosopher from Crete named Epimenides when he says, "Cretans are always liars, vicious brutes, lazy gluttons." Titus 1:12b. I do not believe this blanket statement to be true, but it shows the heart of Paul when he coaches Titus to impose harsh discipline in the church to make sure the lesser nature of the people was straightened out.

From this first chapter it seems Titus is caught in a tough ministry field, surrounded by Cretans and opposed by Judaisers. Makes me glad I am in Boonville surrounded by the folks I call my neighbors!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

2 Thessalonians 3

As Paul closes his last letter to the Thessalonians he asks them to pray for him, “so that the word of the Lord may spread rapidly and be glorified everywhere, just as it is among you, 2 and that we may be rescued from wicked and evil people; for not all have faith.” 2 Thessalonians 3:1a-2 NRSV. There was a time a few years ago when I had an excellent prayer team surrounding me and upholding me in prayer. I miss that spiritual cover, and I can understand why Paul asks for prayer. I have noticed that as these days seem to get harder for people, many of us also seem to get meaner! Please pray for all leaders and all of the saints that God would protect us and keep us in peace.

Paul warns against idleness and again refers to the fact that he received no salary - even though he had the right to receive one - from the Thessalonians. This model of ministry is very, very appealing to me. Perhaps my next appointment I will plant a church as a bi-vocational minister. This not only frees up the resources of the congregation, it also increases the responsibility of every member to be in ministry. Sounds like fun from this vantage point!

After a closing call for peace for all of the saints, Paul points out the signature in his own hand, thus verifying the authenticity of the letter.