The Battle for Hope

1 Peter 5:5-8
And all of you must clothe yourselves with humility in your dealings with one another, for “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, so that he may exalt you in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you. Discipline yourselves, keep alert. Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour.

In his final address in this letter, Peter tells us three important things to avoid: pride (v.6), anxiety (v.7) and the devil (v.8). Is it possible that Peter is changing subjects every sentence? No. In fact, Peter doing exactly what Paul does in Ephesians 4 when he says, “Don’t let the sun go down on your anger. Don’t let the devil have that kind of foothold.”

In other words, there is a battle for our hope. There is an enemy. A personal, supernatural force for evil called the devil. 

In his introduction to The Screwtape Letters, CS Lewis argues there are two equal and opposite mistakes people fall into when it comes to the devil: over-belief or under-belief.

It’s either an unhealthy, superstitious fear where people see the Devil behind everything. Or else they just laugh the idea of a devil off as part of a premodern, unscientific, ignorant view of the world. We’re either deathly afraid of the devil, or laugh him off as fiction.

But you never see the Bible really dealing with the devil in that way. Scripture teaches that the devil is not the primary thing you need to be concerned with, however the devil is wrapped up in almost everything wrong with you and the world.

The Bible says the devil has a foothold in our lives through sin. Satan and your sin are bound up together. Therefore, the way to deal with the devil is to deal with your sin. 

There is always more to your sin and your problems than meets the eye. Paul says, “We battle not only with flesh and blood but with powers and principalities” (Eph 6). There is always a demonological dimension to our problems. However, the primary way you deal with the devil is not through exorcisms, prayer rituals or formulas, but by getting rid of his footholds. 

Scripture says, deal with your pride, anxiety and resentment and that’s how you resist the devil.

Peter says in order to hold onto your hope and resist the forces of darkness in your life you must clothe yourself with humility (v.5) and cast all your cares onto God (v.7). In other words pride and anxiety make us vulnerable to the enemy. 

First of all, pride. Peter says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (v.5). Peter is defining pride as resistance to the grace of God. Pride, by its nature, is anti-grace. Pride thinks it is above the grace of God and therefore grace can not flow to the proud because pride blocks it.

The antidote is to clothe yourself with humility. Clothing yourself means you actively put it on. You don’t just wait around and say, “Man, I just hope I’ll be a good enough Christian that I’ll become humble someday.” You regularly remind yourself of the grace of Christ and act in accordance with it. 

A truly humble person is so satisfied with the grace of Christ and their identity in Christ that they are not thinking about themselves. They are not always so wrapped up in their own worries or their own problems and therefore they are free to think of others. To love others and serve others. Not looking for anything in return.

Clothe yourself with humility. It’s a daily discipline.

Secondly Peter says, “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you” (v.7). Anxiety is a refusal to see how much God loves and cares for you. Worry always stems from an overconfidence in your own opinion. You think you know how things in your life should be going. Therefore it is impossible for you to trust God when things aren’t turning out the way you think they should. 

That’s the reason why, the antidote to anxiety, is also humility. You learn to say, “God, I don’t know why this is happening, but I know you care for me and I know you are working all things together for good.” You learn to humble yourself under his mighty hand.

Hope is a battle and there is an adversary prowling around, looking for someone to devour. Resist him; resist fear and pride and resentment; resist his footholds; and he will flee from you. (James 4:7).

A Reason for Hope

Click here for this week's Sermon Discussion Guide.

Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect. - 1 Peter 3:15-16

Peter is writing to a group of churches who are suffering as a result of their faith. The question these Christians face is how to hold on to the promise of God’s blessing and at the same time act appropriately toward those who are hostile to the faith. How do we remain faithful in a hostile, unbelieving world?

We are called to be holy and pure. How do we do that in a world so filled with seduction and temptation?

We are called to simplicity. How do we do that in a culture infected with consumerism and materialism and greed?

We are called to humility. How do we do that in a world that only rewards fame and celebrity?

We are called to evangelize, to share our faith. How do we do that in a world where that is not only politically incorrect, but can be considered intolerant, or bigoted? How do we respond when we are mocked or ridiculed for our faith? When we are disregarded or ignored by the cultural elites? When we are misunderstood by friends or family members?

Peter’s answer is, it won’t be easy.

We are called to be set-apart and distinctive from the world and at the same time visible and engaged within the world.

That is not an easy balance. There will be tension. Pain. Rejection. Just as Christ suffered, those who follow him will suffer. 

So Peter’s purpose in writing this letter is to talk about how the dynamic of Christ’s life can be reenacted in ours. It is a call to “keep the faith” in the midst of persecution. It is a call to non-retaliation in the face of evil. It is a call to endure suffering rather than to return it in kind. This is radical stuff, but Peter says we can do all of this because of our hope.

The Christian hope is not just doctrine or an abstract idea, it is a life-transforming, life-shaping, living hope. If you understand and receive this hope it enables you to face things that you wouldn’t otherwise be able to face.

Hope not only explains how the early Christians endured persecution
Hope also explains the reason why they were persecuted.

Our vision for the future is rooted in the New Heavens & New Earth. A radical reordering of power and resources and relationships A restoration of peace, wholeness, shalom. But when one looks forward to a new day it implies that the present is not as rosy as some would have us think. And the powers that be don’t like that.

Our hope for tomorrow is also the radical questioning of today.

It is no coincidence that immediately after Constantine's conversion, there were many who felt the book of Revelation should not be included in the canon. Not only did it speak of Rome as the harlot sitting on seven hills, drunk with the blood of martyrs, it also spoke of a completely “new order of things” coming down from heaven to earth (Rev. 21). Which, of course, implies that the “benevolent” reign of the Roman emperor was far distant from the rule and reign of God.

Christians were the targets of persecution because they refused to worship the Roman gods or to acknowledge the emperor as divine. In the Roman empire, refusing to sacrifice to the emperor or the empire’s gods was tantamount to refusing to swear an oath of allegiance to one's country.

As a result hey had their homes taken away and plundered. They were sent into the arenas to be torn to pieces by wild beasts as the crowds cheered. They were impaled on stakes, covered with kerosene and used as human torches for the emperors garden parties. They were crucified by the dozens along the highways in and out of Rome.

In the face of all of that Peter says remember your hope. Hold on to your faith. Christ has died, Christ is Risen, and Christ will come again!

“The blood of martyrs is the seed of the Church.” - Tertullian, 2nd century church father

The most astounding thing is that it worked. The early Christians endured their suffering with such poise and peace they were known to sing hymns as the beasts were tearing them apart. They forgave the people that were killing them. They responded to persecution and suffering with such gentleness and peace that the more the Romans killed them, the more the church grew.

Their hope not only helped them to endure.
Their hope showed them how to endure.

Because when people saw them endure this kind of treatment with such peace, such gentleness they knew they had something. They were fearless but gentle, courageous yet humble, confident in their faith, but not cocky about it. It was their hope that gave them this gentle, fearlessness.

The promise of Christ’s second coming gives us strength to endure.
The pattern of Christ’s cross shows us how to endure.

Our hope is not only derived from the future, but from the past. At the cross we discover a God who would rather die than kill his enemies. 

At the cross the forces of darkness assail him with all of their violence. Religious forces, political forces and spiritual forces all conspire to have Christ tortured and crucified. But they cannot change his compassion into hatred. 

The work of the cross is about God’s power disarming and dethroning the cruel, illegitimate, power of Satan with genuine, self-sacrificial love.

Having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross. - Colossians 2v15

Christ’s death is the victory of suffering love. The victory of love over hatred. The victory of compassion over vengeance.

Jesus said, now is the time for judgment on the world. Now is when I disarm the powers and authorities once and for all. Because the greatest force in the universe is not hate, not violence, not fear and retribution. No. The greatest force in the universe is love. God is love.

In the end, the power of God is shown, not so much in the power of His creation or his miracles, but rather in his love and gentleness. On the cross He “emptied himself”, poured himself out in generous, self-sacrificial love and it was that display of power that completely disarmed the principalities and the authorities of this world once and for all.

“At some thoughts a man stands perplexed, above all at the sight of human sin, and he wonders whether to combat it by force or by humble love... Always decide: “I will combat it by humble love.” If you resolve that once for all, you can conquer the whole world. Loving humility is a terrible force: it is the strongest of all things, and there is nothing else like it.” -  Fyodor Dostoevsky “The Brothers Karamazov”

People of Hope II (1 Peter 2:11-17)

Sermon Discussion

This weekend we explored how the gospel reorients our hopes and desires, transforms our culture and sets us free to love and serve our world. Click here to download the pdf.

  • Have you ever tried to abstain from something you crave for a significant amount of time? (fasting from food, coffee, alcohol, social media, etc.). How was that experience? What helped you succeed or what caused you to fail?

“True spiritual formation flows from the belief that we are born with souls in perfect form. As time goes on, we are subject to powers of deformation, from within as well as without, that twist us into shapes alien to the shape of the soul. But the soul never loses its original form and never stops calling us back to our birthright integrity.” - Richard Rohr

  • Read 1 Peter 2:11. How does desire wage war against our soul? What happens to the soul as a result?
     
  • What if Jesus didn’t come just to solve our sin problem, but to reunite us with our birthright integrity and to reveal the very heart and image of God buried within us?

According to Bernard of Clairvaux (AD 1090-1153) the highest degree of love is simply that we love ourselves the way God loves us; in the same degree, in the same manner, and with the very same love. Discipleship, then, is learning to love our true self, the essential image and likeness of God within us. To call our inner child out of hiding and into His wonderful light.

  • What conditions might be necessary for the soul to feel safe enough to come out of hiding?
     
  • What do you think Peter means when he refers to Christians as “aliens and exiles”? 
     
  • Discuss some of the characteristic desires of the American culture. In what ways do these align with the desires of God’s kingdom? In what ways are they out of alignment?

"The church exists to set up in the world a new sign which is radically dissimilar to the world's own manner and yet which contradicts it in a way that is full of promise.” - Karl Barth

  • How can we as church live in the tension of exilic living here in Des Moines?

Prayer of St. Francis

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace, 
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy;
O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; 
to be understood as to understand; 
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive; 
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; 
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
Amen.

A People of Hope I (1 Peter 2:4-10)

Sermon Discussion

What we know about exile from the ancient Israelites is that one of the most painful things about it was the destruction of and the separation from the Temple. The Temple was not only the place of sacrifice; it was believed to be the unique dwelling of God on earth; the place where heaven and earth meet.

Click here to download this week's sermon discussion guide.

The Untamed Wilderness

CS Lewis once wrote, "You'll never tame the lion's of your life until you let God be the untamed lion in your life."

So many times we think, "my soul is unhappy, so I will eat, drink, smoke, have sex, sleep, exercise, work, watch tv, surf the internet... etc." When what we should be doing is stopping all activity. Sitting in solitude, out in the woods, listening for the untamed Spirit of God. Waiting for him to come out and guide us.

We know not where he will lead. In order to follow we must to give up our need for control and our addiction to certainty. We will have no say in the destination. But we know that in the end it is where we need to be. 

Of course, the scary truth is we never really had control to begin with. We started drinking to take the edge off our stress from work. We started eating fast food to give us a little boost when we were feeling down. We started shopping to feel like we look pretty. But in the end all of these things end up controlling us. They lure us astray. Away from God. Away from the image of God within us; our true selves. 

"The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full." - John 10:10

Meanwhile, God roams silently in the woods, wild and free. We are cut off from his energy, his vitality, his life. The only way to recover is to stop following all of the voices clamoring for our attention. To step off of the well-worn path of consumerism, materialism and greed, and into the untamed wilderness of the divine. 

- Pastor Paul

Writing (and Living) With Gusto

“Great stories happen to those who can tell them” - Ira Glass

During my sabbatical I picked up Zen and the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury. Ray is a legendary science fiction writer (although I have never read any of his books). However, this book is as much about living as it is about writing. 

Ray argues that writing is essential to life. We write to remind ourselves that we are alive and that it is a gift and a privilege, not a right. For Ray, writing is survival. It can not save us from wars, envy, greed, or old age, but it can revitalize us amidst it all. Ray says, “You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you.”

Writing is really about living with intentionality. Taking time each day to stop and take inventory of your life. To recognize what is going on in your soul. It is a time each day to slow down, to reflect, and to be honest with yourself. An opportunity to stop listening to all of the voices around you telling you what you ought to think, or believe, or feel. To listen instead for the voice of the Holy Spirit speaking through your own unique soul. 

The form really shouldn't matter. A handwritten journal, a letter to yourself or to God, a blogpost, or even a sketchbook would be fine. It is more about recognizing the story arc of our own lives, with all of its strange characters, abrupt plot twists, and painful endings. 

  • Where did I come from? 
  • Who am I now?
  • Which direction is my story headed?

Ray says, “It is in the totality of life experience reckoned with, filed and forgotten, that each man is truly different from all others in the world.” Our story is what makes us truly unique, but only if we take the time to actually read it, ponder it, and share it with the world. 

"If you are writing without zest, without gusto, without love, without fun, you are only half a writer. It means you are so busy keeping one eye on the commercial market, or one ear peeled for the avant-garde coterie, that you are not being yourself. You don’t even know yourself. For the first thing a writer should be is—excited. He should be a thing of fevers and enthusiasms. Without such vigor, he might as well be out picking peaches or digging ditches; God knows it’d be better for his health." - Ray Bradbury

To write half-heartedly is to live half-heartedly, and vice versa. Let’s stop with the generic, surface level prayers and religious platitudes. Let’s be honest with ourselves and with our God. This kind of living/writing takes real commitment and courage, but the alternative is a story with no real meaning or purpose.

Here are some suggestions to help you get started: 

  • What are the best things and the worst things in your life, and when are you going to get around to whispering or shouting them?
  • What do you love?
  • What do you hate?
  • What do you want more than anything else in the world?
  • For what are you most grateful? 
  • What makes you come alive?
  • When are you cooperating most fully with God’s action in your life? 
  • When are you resisting? 
  • What habits and life patterns do you notice from the past day? 

"The opposite of a spiritual person is not a person who rejects the idea of God and lives as a pagan. The opposite of being spiritual is to have no energy, to have lost all zest for living - lying on a couch, watching football or sitcoms, taking beer intravenously!" - Ronald Rolheiser