"So," they say, "nobody's perfect!"
But the Vinedresser won't buy that.
Given the opportunity, He will trim the unproductive suckers and shape the branches so each one will bask in Sonlight.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Good Day, Y'all

That's the final message the apostle Peter sends the scattered church in chapter three of the letter we call First Peter. Yet, it's not a blanket blessing his audience could redeem at will; there are conditions. Let's look at the whole passage:
Finally, all of you, live in harmony with one another; be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble. Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing. For, 'Whoever would love life and see good days must keep his tongue from evil and his lips from deceitful speech. He must turn from evil and do good; he must seek peace and pursue it. 1 Peter 3:8-11 NIV
What could be more innocuous than telling people to live in harmony? To be sympathetic? To live as brothers? Or to be compassionate and humble? Many of today's preachers voice directives such as these from their pulpits regularly, so we know today's church has heard them. Why, then, does so much of today's church ignore them?         The first conditions seem straight forward enough: Harmonious living simply requires our living in agreement with one another. Or if we can't agree, disagreeing civilly. Recently a brother and I found ourselves discussing a Bible teaching that has caused considerable division within the historical Christian church. While the discussion was lively, we ended it still friends, agreeing to disagree. Human pride demands we wrangle a concession from our opponents, regardless the relationship's closeness. We find it almost impossible to resolve arguments because our competitive minds tell us that we can't quit arguing until the opponent caves in and admits we're right. Nothing is quiet as satisfying to our carnality as a hard-earned, "I told ya so." While this behavior rankles our tempers, we learn to expect it from some of our friends and brethren; just one small fox allowed to spoil the vine(Song of Solomon 2:15)         Sympathy seems easy enough, maybe even accompanied by a gentle pat on the back. Tack on the next condition, however, and we find a call to action; loving as brothers means doing something to help alleviate our brother's misfortune(James 2:16). Yes, I'm afraid such love might cost us something, whether it be money, time or care. Yet, living the authentic Christian life requires such sacrifice.         Compassion and humility seem unrelated at first. Too bad the arrogant perspective defined as "Big I, little you" so often finds itself countered by the false compassion of "Poor you, blessed me." Compassion without humility begets prideful elitism, too often resulting in the giver lording it over the recipient. Such false-benevolence in Christ's name serves only to blaspheme our loving Lord.         Repaying evil for evil or insult for insult seems justified in this eye-for-an-eye world, but God's command to us through the apostle Peter is, "Don't!" If we've been called to follow Christ, a huge part of that calling is to bless in the face of curses and minister in the face of arrogance. To refuse that calling is to refuse Christ's perfect blood-sacrifice and to continue the living death of sin.         The church knows of these conditions, and many others found in Scripture that are directly related. Why, then, do we who are the church seem ignorant of them? At best, such preaching elicits confessions of our disobedience, maybe even a trip down the sawdust trail to the old fashioned alter of prayer. Though tears are shed and resolutions made, our lives continue essentially the same. Instead of turning the world upside down as our spiritual forbears began to do in the early church, we continue in a status quo that not only fails to glorify our God, but blasphemes his Holy Spirit by refusing to obey while we blame our Savior for our religion.         As politicians love to claim, it's time for change. But only one kind of change will bless our future, or our eternity: Obedience.

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