Dear Church Family,
[Dear “Strangers” Listening In,
Welcome! The church where I am a pastor is currently finishing a twelve-week series called Doctrine for Strangers through the biblical book of 1 Peter, which is a letter written by Jesus’ disciple Peter in the early 60’s A.D. to a smattering of churches in Asia Minor. In it, Peter addresses his readers as “sojourners and exiles.” In short, the idea is this: Christians are “strangers” on earth because they are citizens of heaven. If you just scoffed at how ridiculous that sounds then, well, that’s the point. Christians adrift in the outskirts of the most powerful empire in the world (Rome) were being “insulted,” “maligned,” “reviled,” and “slandered” for not joining in the festivities of the culture around them. Pastor Peter penned this letter to encourage his “beloved” not to be surprised by such resistance, to respond in grace, and to remember their unshakable identity as “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation,” a people called out of darkness to praise the One who called them (1 Peter 2:9). My intention with this letter is to do something similar for my own church family by helping Peter’s words bear on our precarious position in the culture in light the public’s reaction to the Supreme Court’s recent decision regarding gay marriage. I realize that there are many thoughtful Christians that support gay marriage for varying political and theological reasons (some of them are members of our church). My goal here is not to argue either side of the issue, as there are a multitude of far better articles out there doing that, but to encourage my beloved brothers and sisters as Peter did. I hope you can respect that. Thanks for reading in. P.S. You can watch the iNVERSION sermon series here.]
I’ll be honest with you: all of this SCOTUS stuff has been a bit surreal. I was 12 years old on 9/11, and I remember being shocked that there were people in the world, albeit far away in the Middle East, that actually hated me and viewed me as their enemy. Since I was far too naïve then to even begin to grasp the theological, economical, and sociological factors at work, the news was a bit like living in the Shire and finding out that there were orcs far away in the East under the Shadow of Mordor.
The White House lighting up with rainbow colors is a categorically different matter, but somehow more existentially distressing. The enmity is so much closer to home. In 2001, a foreign threat united the country in unprecedented ways. In 2015, a U.S. court ruling is fragmenting the country in unprecedented ways. We are a house divided on something so basic: what a household should look like. My social media feeds (which, by God’s grace, did not exist in 2001) are filled with friends and family that have not hesitated to equate Christians like me with segregationists. It is a bit like receiving a big, rainbow-colored notification that I am now the “other.” None of this is the least bit surprising by now, but I knew something had changed when upon arriving at church on Sunday, several older members placed their hands tenderly on my shoulders and told me that they were sorry, that they couldn’t imagine what I may be facing with the prospect of forty more years of faithful ministry in this country. In this country. In America. I won’t lie, it felt a bit ironic announcing the 4th of July BBQ our church is hosting this Saturday.
This isn’t to throw myself a pity party; this is simply to tell you, my beloved family, that I’m sorry, too. I know how strange it is to feel like a stranger on American soil. I know how hurtful it is to see #LoveWins everywhere as if we (who profess that God is love!) wanted “hate” to win. I know it is excruciating to be deeply misunderstood by neighbors and then misrepresented by those spewing vitriol online about losing “our” country. To those of us sojourning with all the saints toward “a better country, a heavenly one,” I simply want you to know that I’m walking with you (Hebrews 11:16). Your pastors love you.
Though these are somewhat uncharted waters (America is a very different brand of “Babylon” than Rome was), our Captain is still on board, and he still goes before us as the Heavenly Stranger. He is still our crucified, risen and ascended Lord, and true freedom is still found in sacrificial obedience to His Good News.We have so much to learn. For the past twelve weeks, in God’s providential timing, we have been studying the book of 1 Peter, which is replete with wisdom and encouragement for our current situation. With an attitude of humble repentance and courageous resolve, let us hear our Lord’s Word to us through His servant Peter.
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. Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul…(1 Peter 2:9-12)
Peter gives us three important lessons here: We are not better than anyone else, America is not our ultimate home, and we are not at war with those whose convictions differ from our own. Rather, because of God’s gracious promises, we are at war with sin, primarily our own. When we read “passions of the flesh,” our brains often register sex, which is partially correct, but we too often forget about things like “fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, [and] divisions” (Gal. 5:20). A spirit of unbridled anger, chastising of other believers, and envious hatred of those who hate us is not becoming of those who have had grace lavished upon them and promised eternal life. Christians are a people who have received radical mercy in Christ and therefore extend radical mercy to others in the name of Christ.
Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. (1 Peter 2:13-14)
One might think Peter was writing this in Medieval Europe with its Popes and Christian Monarchs. On the contrary, he was writing under Emperor Nero, one of the most egocentric and maniacal rulers that the world has ever known. The nutshell truth here: no marginalization or historical circumstance exempts normal Christians from humble service of others with an attitude of love and respect. How did God change the heart of the egocentric and maniacal ruler that sits on the throne of our hearts, better known as “the self?” By serving and loving us unto death.
When [Jesus] was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. (1 Peter 2:23)
Where do Christians get the power for such humble service in the face of insults and slander? By looking to Jesus. Whether you feel anxious and afraid because the Supreme Court made what appears to be an arbitrary and ill-informed judgment, or you feel resentful and defensive because you are being judged unfairly by others, I’d invite you to look with me to Jesus. You see, because He trusted in His Father’s judgment, He could withstand the judgment of others without anxiety or self-defense. He was silent as He was led to unjust slaughter. What about us? Who are we to be worried about being on the “wrong” side of history? Isn’t it God that determines right and wrong? Is not our Suffering Savior on the throne of grace? Is not our rejoicing in suffering evidence of His power at work in us? Ironically, if Christianity is true, we are actually the ultimate “progressives” because our God owns the future. Jesus showed us that pride and it’s children: anxiety, defensiveness, and resentment, are crucified by simple trust in a Supreme Judge.
Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you…
Ask yourself: in your heart of hearts, are you more concerned about the honor of Christ, the honor of the flag, or your own honor? Have you set apart Christ as holy or is it your political ideals that are untouchable? Furthermore, can you articulate your position with understanding, nuance and (this is crucial) without someone having to be a Christian to accept it? If the extent of your position is “God created Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve!” or “The Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it!” then I would gently ask that you consider stepping slowly away from the “share” button. Most importantly, friend, meditate with me for a moment on that word hope. Are you living and speaking as though Christ is still Captain, or as if the ship is now sinking? When is the last time someone asked you for a reason for the hope that is in you?
…yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. (1 Peter 3:13-17)
God wants His children to shame others with their actions, not with their words. We have often gotten this entirely backwards. We are not to be known as “meddlers,” sticking our nose in everyone else’s business to cast stones of judgment (4:15). When put to the test, we are to defend our hope (not ourselves) “with gentleness and respect” and then expect to be slandered. Slander is unbearably crushing to many because their life is their own, standing or falling with their own reputation. Though we may be grieved by false representations, we can still rejoice because our lives are not our own, they are hidden with Christ in God (1 Corinthians 6:19; Colossians 3:3). We ultimately stand and fall on the reputation of Christ, who was fully and finally vindicated when He rose from death (1 Timothy 3:16). Beloved, we have nothing to prove and nothing to gain. We have all things in Christ.
For the time that is past suffices for doing what the Gentiles want to do, living in sensuality, passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and lawless idolatry. With respect to this they are surprised when you do not join them in the same flood of debauchery, and they malign you; but they will give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead… Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler. Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name. For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God? (1 Peter 4:3-5, 12-17)
Yes, this is surreal. But we must shake off the dizziness and carry on. The Gospel bears heavily on the realm of politics and so we must continue to engage, but let us not be named among those who expect to usher in the fullness of the Kingdom through legislation. As C.S. Lewis put it, “You cannot make men good by law: and without good men you cannot have good society.” It did not work in Israel, and it will not work in America: the law must be written on our hearts by the Spirit through the proclamation of the Good News of God’s redemptive rule in the person and work of Jesus Christ. He has by His death turned everything upside down: “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great…” (Matthew 5:11-12). Peter is simply echoing his Master: Little flock, you are the light of the world, the salt of the earth, you are blessed.
Judgment begins with us. Sometimes, our purity will invite persecution (see the very unpopular promise of 2 Timothy 3:12). Other times, God will send persecution to purify us. Could our country turning against us be exactly what the church in America needs? Perhaps persecution is the only way that we become a place of refuge rather than of judgment for those bullied for same-sex attraction. Perhaps it is the only way that we realize that we are married to Christ, not a political party. Perhaps this needed to happen for us to see how we failed to be a light by our hypocritical pornography usage, our marginalizing of single people in the church, and our contribution to the divorce rates. Perhaps this might finally open our eyes to how trite our generational worship wars and constant infighting on every conceivable issue really is. Maybe, just maybe, this will finally put to death the neutered gospel of self-actualization preached from so many American pulpits that has paved the way for our teenagers to cave so easily on this issue. If this is the case, fear not: not a hair can fall from your head apart from the will of your Heavenly Father who loves you (Matthew 10:29). Yes, God’s discipline is painful and not pleasant, but it is for our good, that we might share in His holiness and radiate His love (Hebrews 12:10-11). You see, God’s true Son was crucified so that our old, bigoted, selfish, blind, privileged selves might be crucified with Him and that we illegitimate children might become sons of God. Praise God that Jesus faced the full furnace of God’s judgment on Calvary, that He was abandoned by the Father, so that we might always find Him by our side as we carry our cross.
Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. (1 Peter 5:6-7)
Beloved church family, let us be humble and repent. In the safety of His care for us, let us name our pride, our bigotry, our entitlement, divisiveness, our compromise, our cowardice, and our anxiety. And let us cast ourselves at the feet of the throne of grace, that we might receive mercy and find grace to help in this hour of need. We need mercy so we can show mercy to those who misunderstand and malign us. What an amazing opportunity lies before God’s church in America. Though others will hate you even as you show grace with gentleness and respect, do not be surprised and do not be afraid. We know how our story ends because we know how His story ends. #LoveWins
May grace and peace be multiplied to you,
Join the discussion One Comment
Dane, thoughtful words to think about for the “other side of the coin” issues with the SCOTUS desicion. I’m waiting to see when, not if, persecution comes to us who wish to maintain, in a loving way, that the LGBT lifestyle is not consistent with Biblical teachings.
Mark Maki, (Kerrin Maki-Edmonds’ father)