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Let's Take The Next Step With God

Imagine you lived a few thousand years ago, hundreds of miles away from someone, and the only way to communicate with them was to sit down and write a letter, and then find someone to hand deliver it to them by walking or riding on the back of a beast for many days through rough terrain.

How many letters would you send? The odds are, few, if any.

For someone as busy as Peter, to sit down and write a letter to then have it delivered would indicate that the people he was writing to had a deep need that only his wise counsel could most help. The fact that such letters were written by the apostles, and delivered by trusted members of their ministry teams, reveals the great love they had for people with great need.

The churches and Christians who received Peter’s letter would have been tremendously honored and encouraged at the willingness of such a noteworthy Christian leader to take the time, although he had never even met them, to speak into their life with practical pastoral affection. Imagine, for example, finding an old letter to your local church hand-written by Billy Graham revealing in great detail his knowledge and love for the people. Also, the fact that Peter took the time to pen not one, but two letters, indicates that there were serious concerns that had escalated to the point of urgency.

The original audience of 1 Peter was a suffering audience. Before the widespread governmental persecution of Christians arose, there was a growing undercurrent of disdain for Christians that paved the way for persecution. Those are the underlying reasons that 1-2 Peter were written.

Like all of us, they had trials, troubles, and temptations that threatened to exhaust them until they defeated them. What was the nature of this suffering? Jobes writes, “Virtually all commentators understand the persecutions referred to in 1 Peter to be sporadic, personal, and unorganized social ostracism of Christians with varying intensity, probably reinforced at the local level by the increasing suspicions of Roman officials at all levels.” (1) This explains Peter’s references to such things as “trials”, “tested by fire”, “sojourners and exiles”, “sorrow”, “suffering”, “beaten”, “harm”, “slander”, “revile”, “fiery trial”, “insulted”, “anxieties”, etc.

Bible commentator Paul Achtemeier agrees that the persecution in 1 Peter is, “due more to unofficial harassment than to official policy, more local than regional, and more at the initiation of the general populace as the result of a reaction against the lifestyle of the Christians than at the initiation of Roman officials because of some general policy of seeking out and punishing Christians. That does not rule out the possibility that persecutions occurred over large areas of the empire; they surely did, but they were spasmodic and broke out at different times in different places, the result of the flare up of local hatreds rather than because Roman officials were engaged in the regular discharge of official policy.” (2)

(1) Karen H. Jobes, 1 Peter (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2005), 9.

(2) Peter Achtemeier, 1 Peter (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1996), 35–36.

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Christianity has never really been cool. The unpopularity of Christians in Peter’s day was due to the fact that their devotion to Jesus above everyone and everything else caused them to be viewed as subversives overturning long-held familial and cultural norms. Simply, once people became Christians, their lifestyle changed and they stopped worshiping the gods of their empire, city, trade guild, or family. This can feel like rejection to former friends and family, and repudiation of deeply held cultural expectations. Jesus freaks are always the oddballs and outcasts no matter where they live.

This explains why Peter refers to Christians in the world in terms such as “exiles”, “ransomed from the futile ways”, who are “rejected” by the world yet “God’s people” and “sojourners”, declared to be “evildoers” by the culture, the people who endure “sorrows while suffering unjustly” along with “evil” and “reviling” while experiencing “harm” as “they malign you”, which feels like a “fiery trial” that includes being “insulted” and causes “anxieties”.

In that day, paying religious homage to the gods and goddesses of the nation was akin to waving a flag or saying the pledge of allegiance in our cultural context. So, when the Christians refused to participate in any religious homage, worship, or devotion to the state gods, they were seen as unpatriotic. Why? Once they pledged allegiance to King Jesus, all other former loyalties were severed.

Cities had their own gods and goddesses who were honored in various city-wide events as a unifying way of bringing diverse people together. When Christians refused to be involved in any city-wide events that included honoring gods and goddesses other than Jesus Christ, they were seen as judgmentally too-serious bad neighbors. Today, this would be the equivalent of not getting drunk on New Year’s Eve, not trading beads for britches on Mardi Gras, and not getting drunk and cursing out grandmothers from the other team while tailgating on game day when, up to this point, these things comprised every photo on your social media page.

Various professions were also held together by trade guilds, akin to our unions, that included meetings with religious rites and ceremonies dedicated to various gods and goddesses. When Christians refused to participate in the religious aspects of their trade guild, they were considered unprofessional. They were even demoted or terminated from their jobs, suffering financial loss for their unyielding devotion to Jesus Christ. It may seem shocking to us that unless you worship a demon the union can fire you. Just try working at Planned Parenthood after you stop worshipping the Old Testament God of child sacrifice named Molech, start worshipping Jesus as God, and see how long you keep your job. Jobs change, and labor unions change, but demons working through them stay the same.

Furthermore, families were held together in large part by religious traditions that included holiday parties and meals dedicated to various gods and goddesses who were honored by the family at both home and temple events. When Christians refused to participate in these kinds of holiday events, they were considered disrespectful to their families. Today, examples would include new Christians from Japanese homes who refuse to worship their ancestors, converts from Native American spirituality who refuse to join their family in worshipping demonic spirits in animals and nature, and anyone who comes from a family that worships alcohol, the family business, a political party, or a sports team with religious zeal and simply loses interest in those things because Jesus is enough for them.

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Peter’s underlying concern was about what we today call tolerance, diversity, and religious pluralism that discriminates against Christianity in a way that is intolerant, not diverse, and religious persecution. Subsequently, 1-2 Peter, although a few thousand years old, are incredibly timely to our current culture in which Christians are welcome to love Jesus so long as they agree that other religions and spiritualities are equally valid, do nothing to discourage others from patronizing their spiritualities and religions by speaking against them or evangelizing people, and are willing to actively participate as requested with practitioners of other religions and spiritualities so as to be loving, tolerant, and non-judgmental in the eyes of the world. The struggle is real, but not really new.

Christianity spread to the region where Peter’s letter was originally sent as those converted to Jesus at the Pentecost holiday sermon preached by Peter (Acts 2:9) after returning to their hometowns. Following regeneration by God the Holy Spirit, their minds, desires, and actions changed, which made them unpopular with mainstream culture. If you meet Jesus later in life, as I did in college, you quickly find that most everything the average person does for fun on a weekend is breaking the 10 Commandments. So, you’ve got a choice to make if you want to stick with Team Jesus with the jeers or join Team Judas with the cheers.

The Christians writing to Peter would have looked to him as something of a spiritual father. Born again under his preaching, they look to Peter like a young kid does a good dad, seeking advice on how to live life.

The unpopularity of Christians was in large part due to the fact that their moral conduct had changed. A hypocrite Christian is a hero, but a holy Christian is a zero. The Christians were no longer willing to eat too much, drink too much, party sinfully, or engage in sex outside of marriage (1 Peter 4:1–4). Those who had previously known them and enjoyed sinning with them prior to their conversion considered their life change negatively. The drinking buddies who lost their wingmen and the boyfriends who got dumped by their live-in girlfriends who walked away to walk with Jesus were not pleased with the influence Christianity was having on their friends. Jesus is a real buzzkill to weekend plans for dating, relating, drinking, and fornicating. This explains Peter’s references to such things as “trials”, “tested by fire”, “sojourners and exiles”, “sorrow”, “suffering”, “beaten”, “harm”, “slander”, “revile”, “fiery trial”, “insulted”, “anxieties”, etc. If this sounds like the treatment of Christians in our day in everything from the media to social media it’s just because, though the names and faces change, the demonic spirit at work behind the world remains as our “adversary the devil prowls around” (1 Peter 5:8).

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While it is easy to think that the Bible is old and outdated, the truth is that since God doesn’t change, and people don’t change, the Bible is timeless and therefore timely for everyone everywhere.

In Peter’s day, like our own, the average person’s commitment to their version of spirituality was very shallow and nowhere near the deep end of the pool. Their spiritual beliefs, like ours, were simply part of the cultural tradition to keep up social status and little more. Christians, however, challenged these assumptions with deep devotion to Jesus and were thought to be too serious about their Jesus. Some modern-day examples might help illuminate the spirt of why Peter wrote his letters.

One woman was raised in a family that celebrated Halloween as a major holiday, complete with her parents’ home being decorated up with witches, skeletons, spider webs, zombies, demons, and more. The entire family would gather at the home dressed up as witches, warlocks, and the like to hand out candy to the neighborhood children. They also set up a false graveyard and a small haunted house in which they showed fake murders and other things intended to frighten children. Upon her conversion, the woman (who was by this time a mother with her own young children) refused to dress up like a witch, dress her daughter up like a demon ghost, and participate with her extended family in their annual Halloween celebration. As a result, her family regularly criticized her, exerting pressure on her to coexist with the rest of the family by violating her Christian conscience.

A man who was baptized as an infant in a very dead church grew up as a non-Christian whose family virtually never entered church other than for weddings and funerals. Later in life, he met Jesus and grew quickly as a Bible-believing Christian. He married a godly woman and God blessed them with a healthy, beautiful baby boy. His non-Christian parents pressured him to have the baby baptized in the church they never attended as a sort of superstitious rite; they wrongly believed that by baptizing the baby in that building he would automatically go to heaven if he died as an infant. The man lovingly tried to explain to his parents that he would do no such thing because it was not his church and he did not share their beliefs. Eventually, the entire extended family formed something of an alliance against him, as each of them had had their own children baptized in the parents’ church even though none of them was living as a Christian. He lovingly and graciously held his ground but was in many ways ostracized by his entire family and his deeply hurt parents even threatened to cut him out of his inheritance for dishonoring them.

The threat that Peter responds to is one that we face in our own day – that Christians will fold under trial. Peter understood this well as he was a bit of an evanjellyfish with no spiritual vertebrae, until God repeatedly put some steel in his spine. As 2 Timothy 3:12 promises, “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” Sometimes persecution is life-threatening, or even life-taking. This degree of persecution broke out a few years after Peter penned his letters, when the madman Emperor Nero burned Christians alive as torches for his parties, threw them into the arena to be killed by gladiators and eaten by lions, and killed their pastors including Paul and Peter. In this way, Peter’s reference to “fiery trials” may in fact have been a very literal prophetic warning of impending persecution. Still, the kind of persecution faced by Christians is more frequently the kind that 1 and 2 Peter address.

In a word, the Christians were marginalized as weirdos. They were weirdos who loved Jesus so much that they lived their lives and viewed their faith in a way that made them holy, or different, than other people. What God calls holy the world calls weird. What God calls good the world calls odd. Because they would not get drunk, sleep around, or practice other religions and spiritualities—or even endorse such things by their approval—they were viewed by everyone else as basically just plain weird, odd, and way too serious Jesus Freaks.

Subsequently, the Christians suffered shame, family rejection, discrimination, mockery, half-truths, lies, vicious rumors, slander, harassment, abuse, economic persecution, rejection, and mob violence on occasion, although such persecution was likely not yet state-sponsored. Basically, Christians stepped out to live with, for, like, and to Jesus. In response, the world pushed back and tried to get them to go back in the closet with a private faith that did not affect their external life or allow them to make any cultural changes. Thus, and this point is vital to a correct understanding of Peter’s letters, they were suffering not because of their sin but rather because of their faithful devotion to Jesus. One lesson we learn from Jesus is that not everyone who gets in trouble did something bad. This is why Peter commends Christians for their “trials”, “tested by fire”, still not giving in to culture but living as “sojourners and exiles” despite ongoing “sorrow” and “suffering”, also being “beaten”, suffering “harm”, enduring “slander” and “revile”, in a “fiery trial” that included being “insulted” resulting in people struggling with very real “anxieties”.

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Lakeview Devotions

God's blessings outweighs the world's burdens

1 Peter 1:3-7 – 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. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials,  so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. 

Life is heavy, especially lately. The burdens we get from our frail, flawed, fallen planet are incredibly heavy. From political conflicts, to cultural decay, economic uncertainty to personal pains, problems, and perils, life can easily drag you down and get you down.

For the Christian, we do not have to deny or diminish the pain of reality. We can fully admit what Peter calls “various trials”. Counselors refer to something called “complex grief” which means that life is like an avalanche and you are overwhelmed by one thing after another, unable to shovel out from one thing before you get hit with the next.

The good news is that, for the Christian, we are promised that the blessings from God outweigh the burdens of this world. Think of life like a teeter-totter. When I was a kid, I remember one day sitting on the teeter-totter with my little brother on the other end. Because I was heavier, I was stuck in the down position. Eventually, our other brother joined us, and sat on the other end of the teeter-totter opposite of me. As soon as they outweighed me, I was lifted.

Life is like that. The burdens of this life weigh us down until God provides blessings that outweigh our burdens and lift us up. These blessings include God’s great mercy for us – the fact that a Christian is born again as a new person in Jesus Christ, with a living hope that outlasts this life, to a resurrection and imperishable inheritance in heaven which is a perfect world ruled and guarded by God’s power so that we are safe from harm, our struggles end, and our Savior wins! The result will be rejoicing that starts today and only gets louder and more enthusiastic throughout eternity. When the Bible uses the word “glory” it means “heavy” to remind us that God’s glorious blessings outweigh the world’s burdens.

What things can you rejoice in right now to help lift your burdens by remembering God’s blessings?

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