Monday, September 12, 2011

The Apostle Peter Converses with American Christianity: PART I

My plan for this next couple of posts is to address ideas within American Christianity by taking upon the persona of the Apostle Peter according to the First and Second Epistles of Peter in a sort of Ecclesiastes fashion (if you’re not clear on what that means, Ecclesiastes is likely a monologue that takes upon the persona of Solomon in order to show the absurdity and futility of his life if used as a desirable model of the “good” life). Here, I wish to become Peter in a dialogue and to have a couple conversations with two types of American Christianity: Modern Evangelicals, who have adopted all sorts of ideas about what it means to be blessed by God, and their children, the Postmodern Emergings, who have turned Christianity from an outward to an inward focus (or from vertical to horizontal in focus). My suggestion is that you read through First Peter before you read the first post and then Second Peter before you read the second. So here it goes.

The Apostle Peter sits down with a Modern Evangelical (ME from here on out—get it) and begins to have a conversation with him about what it means to be blessed by God.

Peter: Praise God for blessing us, my brother.

ME: Praise God indeed. He has blessed us greatly with so much.

Peter: He has indeed. What specifically did you have in mind?

ME: What hasn’t He? Let me see. Good health, abundant finances, a nice home, a great marriage, many friends, respect in the community . . . You name it. He lavishes His riches on us. 

Peter: I’m confused. I asked you about blessing. Why did you give me a list of temporal enticements you’ve been given?

ME: What do you mean by temporal enticements? They’re blessings from God.

Peter: Blessing works toward your eternal preservation and life. You named a bunch of things that serve to take your mind away from blessings to focus on this world as your home. But He has blessed us by causing us to be born again so that we hope for an inheritance that is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you. The things you mentioned just exist to sustain your life temporally in order for you to complete your service to God during your very brief stay here, and if you confuse them as blessing, the devil has a great opportunity to use them as temptations to take your mind off of the true blessing you have been given in Christ.

ME: Well, yeah, of course, I believe that I get to go to heaven too. I just get all of this other stuff along the way. I’m blessed now and for all eternity, only now I’m blessed with stuff and a relationship with Christ. I can have both in my life as blessings.

Peter: But the blessings of being in Christ and being born a new creature in this world makes you an alien to this place. That means that it’s going to bring about persecution from others, which of course will produce suffering in your life. You’re likely to lose all of that stuff you think is God’s blessing upon your life. Aren’t you going to become embittered toward God if all of that happens, precisely, because you think that God is cursing you by taking away His blessings?

ME: I don’t believe God is going to take away my blessings. The gifts of God are irrevocable. I just think positively and have faith, and if God challenges me, it will only to be to give me even more on the other side of it. I’ll be a better me than before and maybe have an even bigger house, better marriage, a bigger pocket book, more friends, and more respect than I had before.

Peter: Well, God does put faith to the test to make sure that its focused on the right things. He stresses us with various trials for the purpose of redirecting our focus toward the praise of His honor and glory. So it is His normal practice to destroy the things you named as blessings in order to show us that our true blessing is what He has given us in Christ that is ready to be revealed when He returns.

ME: Well, I don’t think that way. I choose to think positively rather than be a Negative Nelly about losing all of the stuff He has given to me. My life is going great because I’m positive toward the bright future with which He has blessed me in this life and in the next.

Peter: So what positive thoughts will you be thinking when you’re cast into the arena and the lion is tearing your legs off? What bright future will you be imagining when your family has been enslaved for the rest of their lives and you have been sent separately to prison and sentenced to death? What faith will you have when no one will hire you or sell you food or clothing and the government comes to take away your house?

ME: That’s just stuff that happens in your time. Our culture doesn’t do that stuff anymore. God has truly blessed us in this time.

Peter: Well, God doesn’t change, so even if you’re not undergoing persecution and trials, others in the world are.

ME: Yes, people who are less blessed.

Peter: No, people who are actually blessed with a genuine blessing that will preserve their lives forever. Your “blessings” end as soon as you die. You don’t think you’re going to “faith” your way out of dying, do you?

ME: Who knows? It’s going pretty good so far. I’m in great health—another blessing from God.

Peter: Well, if God’s blessings make you a citizen of His eternal kingdom and an alien in this world, a world that belongs to the devil as his hunting ground, and you’re not undergoing the loss of temporal benefits, maybe your blessings have been given to you by the devil in order to keep your mind and spirit bound to this realm that is passing away. In other words, maybe you’re cursed rather than blessed with what you’ve been given.

ME: How is the hardship you’re describing anymore of a blessing than living the good life?

Peter: Because it causes you to look to Christ and what true blessing really is, and true blessing is the salvation of your soul. Instead of giving us stuff because we’ve been good or had good thoughts (i.e., enough faith to receive them), we live a holy life because we realize that we have already been given an inheritance in heaven. Our salvation is our pursuit in life. Our true citizenship in God’s holy kingdom is who we have been born again to be, and as a result, it is that we seek to preserve, as that is who we truly are and forever shall be.

ME: But I thought only people who are bad get bad things in life.

Peter: Bad people do suffer in this life by nature of the destructive practices that erode life; but Christians are to suffer for doing what is right, and they will suffer for it.

ME: But I can’t see the blessings you’re talking about. I can see my stuff. How do I know I’ve received these blessings? Isn’t the fact that I can see the great life that God has given me a better indicator of blessing?

Peter: No, it’s not. As I said, what you see will end when you die, and likely before that, so it only serves to destroy your faith if you confuse it with your true blessings that are eternal in nature. And we know we have received them because the abiding Word of God has promised it to us. It’s through the Word of God that we have been made new creatures, and that promise is eternal and abides forever, unlike the grass that withers and the flower that falls off. Hence, its testimony is a better indicator of blessing in your life. And it is clear that if you love Jesus Christ the Lord, even though you don’t see Him, you have God’s eternal blessing of salvation.

ME: I just think that those who are really blessed get all of it, both here and there, now in this world and then in that one.

Peter: So are you saying that the Lord Jesus wasn’t as blessed as you are?

ME: What do you mean?

Peter: I mean that He was the stone the builders rejected. He 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. He was not only living a good life, but the best of lives. Yet, He was dishonored among the community, became poor, His friends deserted Him, and His life was taken from Him. According to you, He was less blessed than you are because of this.
ME: Well, He did that for our salvation.

Peter: Exactly. He endured the loss of earthly securities, counting them as curses because a love for these things as blessings became obstacles in the way of the salvation that was before Him. And we are to follow in His footsteps, and all of that starts by seeing blessing correctly. If we do not, the devil prowls around waiting for someone’s mind and heart he can consume in earthly, temporal pursuits. But if Christ endured the loss of these things, even the loss of His life, in view of the true blessing of salvation and heavenly citizenship, then we can endure any loss as well, whether inflicted by a governing authority, community, or situation in this life. But if we see those things you mentioned as blessings to hold onto, then we will try to protect them and be embittered toward God and other for taking them away. Instead, we who know what true blessings we have been given through the Word of God do not need to fight back, revile, or be embittered when they are taken away, but instead can rejoice with a joy inexpressible because God has given mercy to us who had no mercy, and has saved our lives.

ME: But I feel like I’m missing out on something if I don’t scoop up as much in this life as I can. I want to have and experience it all.

Peter: And that is precisely why you will not experience the greatest of all there is to experience. Those who realize what God’s blessing truly is in their lives have no need of scooping up as much stuff, or living as long as they can, or having as many thrills as they can in this life, because they have come to understand that it is all incomparable to the riches we have in Christ. We realize now that we have had plenty of time already to experience the pathetic pursuits of the world that are passing away. We can now pursue only that which matters most: God’s blessing us with salvation. We, therefore, seek to live now as citizens of the great city, and it is so much a blessing indeed to be made a citizen of heaven that we seek to wear the holiness of that place like a badge on our arms.

ME: Thank you so much, Peter. My mind was in the wrong place. The blessings that we have in eternity through Christ make everything else look like a bunch of dried up grass and dead flowers indeed. God bless you for setting me straight.

Peter: Thank you for listening, and praise God that you have now understood that the sign of God's blessing of salvation and caring presence in our lives is loss rather than gain in this world. And please know that after you have suffered for this little while, the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish you. May you give to Him (not to temporal pursuits) dominion in your life forever and ever. Amen.

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