Back to 3:16 – Your reason for hope (1 Peter)

sunrise for hope1 Peter 3:14-16 (NIV)
14 But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened.” 15 But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. 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, 16 keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.  

Greetings fellow bloggers,

It is nearly three years since I stalled in my exploration of the Three Sixteens, but today is the day to jump back in. With only four more of these 3:16 verses to go, perhaps I will make it to Revelation by Christmas! (If you missed all the earlier posts, on Matthew 3:16 through to James 3:16, then I’d encourage you to go back to the start and check them out.)

It is truly astounding the way such rich theology is anchored at this point in nearly every New Testament book. Admittedly, the more memorable verse sometimes does fall at 3:15 or 3:17, but this one starts in 15 and carries on.

Firstly, some context. In Chapter 3, Peter has been writing about submission to Christ and to each other, about our witness, and suffering in doing good. Verse 14 says, if we are doing what is right and suffering for it it, we should not fear the threats and slander of mere humans. These should be of no consequence to us (which is much easier said than done, right?). In fact, Peter says we are blessed/rewarded for the suffering we must endure, as we seek to live a holy life. This right behaviour ‘in Christ‘ (done in his strength and for his sake) is further described in verse 16. Other people are going to speak maliciously against us, but Peter says that when we act in good conscience, the slanderers who criticise our good behaviour will ultimately be put to shame. That’s tough for them, but good for us. (However, you certainly wouldn’t want to be doing ‘good things’ with that motivation in your heart – to shame others!)

So, what is the heart of the matter in this 3:16?

As I said before, verse 16 begins in 15, and it starts with a big BUTBut in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. In the midst of suffering and slander, revere Christ. This is Peter’s solution.

The presence of the BUT tells me that our natural inclination is to do just the opposite. Our natural reaction is NOT to revere Christ as Lord. Instead, we hold the opinions and power of mere humans as being more important than that of Christ. We are naturally afraid of living in a way that brings suffering for following Christ (verse 14). That is the precisely the way the World lives –  fearing one another, and the power that others’ have over us, yet constantly seeking the approval of those very people.

That’s why Peter has to say, “But . . “ do this instead! Honour Christ. Fear Christ.

Rather than fearing Man, we Christ-followers are to revere Christ as Lord, to recognise that He is the Lord of this universe and He holds ultimate power. Because He will Judge each of us, He is the right person to fear. And when we fear the right thing, everything else falls into place. When we fear the Lord, the suffering that brings blessing for us also brings hope and peace!

This is what Peter alludes to in verse 14, which is a reference to Isaiah 8:12-15:
12 “Do not call conspiracy all that this people calls conspiracy, and do not fear what they fear, nor be in dread. 13 But the Lord of hosts, him you shall honor as holy. Let him be your fear, and let him be your dread. 14 And he will become a sanctuary and a stone of offense and a rock of stumbling to both houses of Israel, a trap and a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem. 15 And many shall stumble on it. They shall fall and be broken; they shall be snared and taken.” (NLT)

In the fear of the Lord there is refuge and sanctuary. In fearing the Lord we find peace and confidence (we are not frightened), because we revere the true power! Isn’t that astounding?

Perhaps it is only when we patiently suffer for Christ that we find the strength and opportunity to express the HOPE that is in us.

What an encouraging bunch of verses we have here, which remind us that our strength comes from Christ! The meat in the sandwich (verse 15) is honouring or revering Christ, which brings us hope and a readiness to share the hope. This hope allows us to cope with the suffering wrapped around our hope, as we live for Christ in a world that despises him, and us.

Ultimately Peter’s message is this:
As you live for Christ, you will suffer – but you will be blessed and strengthened in your hope as you honour Christ as Lord of your life.  

That sounds like a pretty significant message to take away.
Thanks for another great 3:16, Peter!

(Note: If you have ever wondered how we got chapters and verses in the bible, you can read about it here.)

When God shuts the door

I’ve been procrastinating about finishing this blog post for over a year now. Why the delay? Partly, it is the strange irony of a church song/worship leader who can no longer sing, who is also the author of a blog about church music and grace. Shouldn’t God just be giving more grace, and healing, so that I continue in this role which has been so much a part of my identity for 26 years?

My reluctance is also partly down to the enormity of the struggle in my head; having to explain it to you means I have to think about it, and try to reason with it, and accept it to some degree.

Let me fill in some of the background.

Since the end of 2015, I have been struggling with the effects of a hiatus hernia (where the top of your stomach bulges up through your diaphragm, at the place where stomach meets the end of oesophagus, and this allows acid to flow upward. Gruesome isn’t it?). The result is reflux, oesophagitis and coughing, particularly when singing – or when playing any number of wind instruments, which is something I’ve also done for almost four decades. The medication I take for this situation is reasonably effective, but not when I have to sing or project my voice. So, for the last year, I’ve contributed to church music only from behind the keyboard.

Few people know the enormous sense of loss I feel not being able to stand out the front and do what I can (do well, apparently) to lead people in enthusiastic praise of our great God. Worse still, I can’t even sing as part of the congregation, unless I want to pay for it with a tight throat, cough and stinging tongue for the rest of the day. My participation is thus reduced to lip syncing and whispers.

Now I know that some people would be quite content with this amount of involvement in congregational singing. For them, my loss would seem pretty minor. Not so for me.

And there’s more.

Moving beyond what I was originally going to describe (in that difficult blog post I’d been avoiding), I now must share another loss: the end of high school teaching.

About five weeks ago, I realised that my throat/hernia could no longer cope with the demands of the classroom. Despite six weeks symptom-free in the Christmas school holidays, I came back to Term 1 and things soon got pretty bad, brought on by full days of enthusiastic English teaching. With worsening symptoms, I made the difficult decision to leave at the end of term.

Today is the last day of term. Tough day, made more difficult by the flood emergency in Brisbane which kept students away from school for two days. I didn’t really get to say goodbye.

But I will cherish the moment with my Year 12 students a few weeks ago. When I told them of my impending departure their reaction was priceless: they stood around me in a circle, holding hands, and prayed through tears for healing and blessings for my future.

As you may imagine, I now feel like I’m in the middle of a ‘Job’ experience (you know, the guy from the Old Testament who lost everything, as a test in a spiritual battle). I feel like much of who I am is being stripped away, taken away, and I’m wondering what is left. Sure, I have a degree in journalism, so I still have a useful skill to offer. But is this really God’s perfect plan for me? Is it some test I have to endure? Is this punishment? And what is left of me when all that is gone? What happens now that the teaching and the music fades away?

I could easily choose to give in to despair at this point. In some moments, that is exactly how I feel. I’m sad for lost relationships with students, and lost opportunities to challenge them and bring out their best writing. I also grieve the many good friendships I had at work, friendships which will never quite be the same again. A Christian school is such a unique community, and across three different schools I’ve seen such a consistent witness to the grace of God which transforms lives. I’ve been blessed to see the power of Christ working in people from such diverse backgrounds, yet with a common outcome – we become more like Christ.

As I reflect on all this, I must choose my attitude, and in Christ’s strength fight the despair, and focus on the fact that our sovereign God does all things for a reason. In fact, as things are stripped away (that I have relied on to validate my existence) I more clearly see that only one thing of value remains –  Jesus Christ, Lord of my life, Ruler of my heart. He gives and takes away. Blessed be His Name!

For whatever reason, God has shut the door on this season of my life. But no matter what happens, my continuing purpose is to give him praise. Please pray for me that I will do just that. 

“God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.” (John Piper)

Blessings, 

Ros.

(I wrote this on March 31, but I accidentally have an older publishing date. It’s just one of those enigmatic things about the internet!)

Perseverance

Just a little of my daughter’s graphic work at university this year. The best reminder!

Suffering. . . A transforming grace?

“God, who has made us, knows what we are and that our happiness lies in Him. Yet we will not seek it in Him as long as He leaves us any other resort where it can even plausibly be looked for. While what we call “our own life” remains agreeable we will not surrender it to Him. What then can God do in our interests but make “our own life” less agreeable to us, and take away the plausible sources of false happiness?”

(The Problem of Pain, C.S. Lewis, p.96–97)

http://www.desiringgod.org/messages/c-s-lewis-on-heaven-and-the-new-earth-god-s-eternal-remedy-to-the-problem-of-evil-and-suffering

Four little girls, suffering and God’s perfect peace

4girlsspaffords1You’ve probably heard of Horatio Spafford. You may realise he is the author of the hymn “It Is Well” (When Peace Like a River) and that he suffered the tragic loss of his four daughters before penning those now famous words. But here is a little more background you may not be aware of, along with an interesting question from Tim Keller:

“Horatio Spafford was an American lawyer who lost everything he had in the Chicago fire of 1871. Only two years later, he sent his wife, Anna, and their four daughters on a ship across the Atlantic Ocean to England. The ship hit another ship and began to sink. As it was sinking, Anna got the four little girls together and prayed. The ship went under the water, and they all were scattered into the waves, and all four little girls drowned. Anna was found floating unconscious in the water by a rescue ship. They took her to England, and she cabled Horatio Spafford just two words: “saved alone.”

spaffordWhen Spafford was on the ship on his way to England to bring his wife home, he began to write a hymn – “It is well with my soul… When peace, like a river…” Those are the words he wrote.

Here is what I want you to think about: why would a man dealing with his grief, seeking the peace of God – the peace like a river – spend the entire hymn on Jesus and His work of salvation? And why would he bring up the subject of his own sin at such a time? He wrote:

My sin, oh, though the bliss of this glorious thought!
My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more.
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul.

What has that got to do with his four little girls who are dead? Everything!
Do you know why? When things go wrong, one of the ways you lose your peace is that you think maybe you are being punished. But look at the cross! All the punishment fell on Jesus. Another thing you may think is that maybe God doesn’t care. But look at the cross! The Bible gives you a God that says, “I have lost a child too; but not involuntarily – voluntarily, on the cross, for your sake. So that I could bring you into my family.”

In that hymn you can watch a man thinking, thanking and loving himself into the peace of God. It worked for him under those circumstances. It worked for Paul under his circumstances (Phil 4:6-13). It will work for you.

– Timothy Keller, “Walking With God Through Pain and Suffering”, p.311-312

You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you. (Isaiah 26:3)

You can listen to a new arrangement of IT IS WELL by Todd Fields. Find it here on Spotify (our church songlist for 2014).

Remembering grace – specifically!

prayer2No matter who we are or what circumstances and concerns we have, all of us have to deal with trouble in our lives. This post comes from Paul David Tripp with some great advice for turning our troubles into a time when we can be thankful, when we can remember God’s grace to us in a very specific way – quite a challenge!

“When trouble comes, it’s vital that you talk to yourself. . . no one is more influential in your life than you are because no one talks to you as much as you do. What you say to you in moments of trouble will impact the way you respond.

David was a man well acquainted with trouble. Poor David; if you read the Psalms, he always seems to be in trouble! But in these moments, David was always talking to himself. We saw this in Psalm 27 – “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?” (Psalm 27:1)

There’s something else David did in times of trouble that’s very helpful; it’s found in Psalm 4 – “Answer me when I call, O God of my righteousness! You have given me relief when I was in distress. Be gracious to me and hear my prayer!” (Psalm 4:1, ESV, emphasis mine). In the midst of trouble, David remembered the acts of God. Notice how the above phrase is in the past tense – “you have given me relief when I was in distress.” He’s not thanking the Lord for currently relieving his distressing circumstances.

What can we learn from David? In times of trouble, it’s helpful to remember with specificity the past acts of God’s relieving mercy and grace. You and I have such a short-term memory. Because of sin, we’re all about the gratification and pleasure of today. When trouble comes knocking, we get absorbed in the immediate, forgetting what God has delivered us from in the past and what he’s transforming us into for the future.

David speaks gospel sense to his soul: “Remember, this is not new. I’ve experienced trouble in the past and God was good to me then. He remains good to me today, and what I’m facing is not out of his loving and wise rule.”

I would guess that David learned this theological skill from his ancestors. In the Old Testament, God stops the rushing waters of the Jordan River so the nation of Israel can cross on dry land. The Lord tells Joshua to set out 12 memorial stones. Why? “So that all the peoples of the earth may know that the hand of the Lord is mighty.” (Joshua 4:24)

I would encourage you to take notes from Joshua and David. Remember, with specificity, the good things God has done for you. Journal, take a picture, or do whatever else can help you, so when trouble comes knocking, you can say like David, “You have given me relief when I was I distress.”

REFLECTION QUESTIONS:

1. How often do you talk to yourself?
2. Reflect on some of the things you’ve said to yourself in the past week. What were you saying to you?
3. What, or who, are some influences that can shape what you say to you?
4. What are some examples from your life when God has given you relief from distress?
5. How can you create “memorial stones” to remind yourself that the hand of the Lord is mighty?

 

“The dark before the morning” – our suffering and the weight of glory

Dawn_-_swifts_creek“So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18)

JOHN PIPER: “Paul claims in these verses to have found the secret of an experience that virtually everyone in the world wants to have. This is an amazing claim. . . And I am referring to the experience of not losing heart, but being renewed day by day. . . There are suicidal people in the world who want life to be over. But that’s because they have tried and tried, and they don’t think there is such a secret, or at least think it’s not for them. They have lost heart. They don’t think there is anyway to be renewed in hope and strength and joy. It’s too late. If you came here like that tonight, I am praying for you, that God would free you from that lie. The devil is a liar. But I pray that you will know the truth and be set free. Paul has found this secret. He is not a liar. There is a way not to lose heart. There is a way to be renewed day by day.” (Read more and listen to John Piper’s talk THE GLORY OF GOD IN THE SIGHT OF ETERNITY here: http://www.desiringgod.org/conference-messages/do-not-lose-heart)

This is the same claim explored in a beautiful song by Josh Wilson “Before the morning” – that in our sufferings we still have a reason to sing, that joy is coming, the pain we feel is just the “dark before the morning”. Listen/read the lyrics below and be encouraged! Dare to believe!

BEFORE THE MORNING (Josh Wilson & Ben Glover)
Do you wonder why you have to,
Feel the things that hurt you,
If there’s a God who loves you,
Where is He now?

Maybe, there are things you can’t see
And all those things are happening
To bring a better ending
Some day, some how, you’ll see, you’ll see

Would dare you, would you dare, to believe,
That you still have a reason to sing,
’cause the pain you’ve been feeling,
Can’t compare to the joy that’s coming
So hold on, you got to wait for the light

Press on, just fight the good fight
Because the pain you’ve been feeling,
It’s just the dark before the morning

My friend, you know how this all ends
And you know where you’re going,
You just don’t know how you get there
So just say a prayer.
And hold on, cause there’s good who love God,
Life is not a snapshot, it might take a little time,
But you’ll see the bigger picture

Once you feel the weight of glory,
All your pain will fade to memory
Once you feel the weight of glory,
All your pain will fade to memory
Memory, memory, yeah

He knows how to make your PIECES fit

worth it allI’m really enjoying WORTH IT ALL, an album from Meredith Andrews (2013). This song (and the clip that goes with it) shows how God uses all the imperfect pieces of our life, our wounds, our brokenness, to fit together perfectly as His child, called to live for his glory. We can rest in him. He knows how to make our pieces fit!

“Pieces”

It’s a complex puzzle you call your life
It’s an uphill climb, it’s a constant fight
And it wears you down
Feeling like you’re alone, like you don’t belong
And you won’t be loved if you don’t measure up
And you wear your scars
Like they’re who you are
Give Him your wounds, your bruised and broken pieces
All your questions, all your secrets
You don’t have to hide who you are
You belong to someone greater
Than all your past mistakes and failures
Rested who He is
He knows how to make your pieces fit
He’s the light on the road when you’re lost in the dark
And He won’t run away if you show your heart
Wants you to believe it
You can taste that freedom
When you give Him your wounds, your bruised and broken pieces
All your questions, all your secrets
You don’t have to hide who you are
You belong to someone greater
Than all your past mistakes and failures
Rested who He is
He knows how to make your pieces fit
You are completely known
You are completely loved
This is where you belong
If you’d like to hear more from Meredith, there is an hour-long special here:
An Evening with Meredith Andrews

Music for Revelation and a fresh vision of the Risen Lord

Luke 3:16In the first week of January this year I spent 6 days leading music at a missions conference on top of a mountain in southeast Queensland. The conference was the CMS (Church Missionary Society) Summer School, an annual event for the mission organisation with various guest speakers and missionaries, and about 600 supporters, many of whom are advancing in years (though the younger age brackets are also well represented). The conference theme was ‘Keep Calm for Christ has Won’ with keynote bible talks from Revelation. In fact we covered the whole book in this time! Peter Rodgers, head of CMS Australia, taught us well, showing how Revelation really is a book for us, not written to confuse us but to encourage us, to comfort, strengthen and make us bold for the risen Christ who stands as Victor in the spiritual realm…now! This is the realm revealed in Revelation, the realm of things that must remain unseen until our current heaven and earth are ‘rolled back like a scroll’. Revelation looks behind that heavy backdrop curtain which is the present physical world. It reveals a giant canvas of spiritual realities, of the victory Christ has already won. Far from being a timetable for world history yet to come, the book of Revelation is largely a picture of what has taken place already. (Well, through the teaching we received it made much sense to understand that this is what John has revealed). His letter describes the giant canvas of Christ’s victory. As John takes in this visual revelation his focus zooms in on one area at a time, explaining each different aspect of the battle and the victory. Though people will no doubt continue to discuss and debate the sequence of events, and how many have already occured, we should take comfort in this revelation of the big picture spiritual reality, and not be frightened off by the endless debate which surrounds the book.Christ has won Christ has won the victory, at the Cross. No matter what the spiritual reality behind the scenes looked like at this point in world history, the outcome remains the same.

Probably the most striking vision of the Risen Christ we were confronted with comes in the very first chapter, at which John falls down as though dead!
“I turned around to see the voice that was speaking to me. And when I turned I saw seven golden lampstands, and among the lampstands was someone like a son of man, dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest. The hair on his head was white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, and coming out of his mouth was a sharp, double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance. When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.”
Revelation 1:12-18 NIV

This is no defeated carpenter who suffered and died and was forgotten. This is no meek and mild moral teacher. This is the blazing Lion-Lamb who lives and reigns now! He suffered as a sacrifice and conquered over the power of sin and death, once and for all. Now he lives forever. His voice and feet and mouth are more brilliant than the sun, and full of power. This is the risen Lord Jesus, Son of God, Son of Man who would receive the Kingdom and restore people to God.
Why then should we fear if we belong to him and are united with Him by faith, united in His death and resurrection? This is the vision of Christ we must hold on to in our present struggles – struggles much like those the early Christians suffered as they held onto their faith amidst persecution and ridicule. This letter was written (this vision was revealed) as much for their encouragement as ours. Let’s explore it without fear!

There’s so much more I could write about all that I learned from Revelation at the conference, but this vision of the Mighty Risen Saviour stands out most clearly. Here are some of the songs we used at the conference which have strong references to the concepts and words of John’s Revelation. (You might find them useful if you are preaching or singing through a series on the book.)

Come Hear the Angels Sing (Michael Morrow)
We belong to the Day (Michael Morrow)
See Him Coming (Mark Peterson)
Crown Him with Many Crowns (hymn)
See the Man (Trevor Hodge)
It is well (Todd Fields version of this hymn with new chorus: “God has won! Christ prevailed!”)
Let Your Kingdom Come (Sovereign Grace)
Majesty of Heaven (Chris Tomlin)
No other name (Trevor Hodge)
The Power of the Cross (Keith Getty)

CMS2014
Here we are at CMS Conference 2014. Music brings such encouragement!

Ps. If you have been praying for my dad Martin, thanks! Please continue to pray that he will be able to keep absorbing the food he is now eating and gain in strength. We praise God for his recovery so far! Blessings,

Ros

Free Indeed!

After posting the clip about the prison ministry of Timothy’s Gift my mind turned to this song from Steven Curtis Chapman, “Free”. Listen below or check out the lyrics. I think the most beautiful lyric comes in the last chorus: “God’s grace has broken every chain and given us these wings.” If the Son has set you free you will be free indeed!

“Free” by Steven Curtis Chapman

The sun was beating down inside the walls of stone and razor wire
As we made our way across the prison yard
I felt my heart begin to race as we drew nearer to the place
Where they say that death is waiting in the dark
The slamming doors of iron echoed through the halls
Where despair holds life within its cruel claws
But then I met a man whose face seemed so strangely out of place
A blinding light of hope was shining in his eyes
And with repentance in his voice he told me of his tragic choice
That led him to this place where he must pay the price
But then his voice grew strong as he began to tell
About the One he said had rescued him from hell, he said . . .

I’m free, yeah, oh, I have been forgiven
God’s love has taken off my chains and given me these wings
And I’m free, yeah, yeah, and the freedom I’ve been given
Is something that not even death can take away from me
Because I’m free, Jesus set me free

We said a prayer and said goodbye and tears began to fill my eyes
As I stepped back out into the blinding sun
And even as I drove away I found that I could not escape
The way he spoke of what the grace of God had done
I thought about how sin had sentenced us to die
And how God gave His only Son so you and I could say . . .

And if the Son has set you free,
Oh, if the Son has set you free
Then you are free indeed,
Oh, you are really free
If the Son has set you free,
Oh, if the Son has set you free
Then you are free, really, really, free

Oh, we’re free, yeah, oh, we have been forgiven
God’s grace has broken every chain and given us these wings
And we’re free, yeah, yeah, and the freedom we’ve been given
Is something that not even death can take from you and me
Because we’re free, yeah, the freedom we’ve been given
Is something that not even death can take from you and me
Because we’re free, oh, we’re free
We are free, we are free
The Son has set us free

If the Son has set you free
You are free indeed

You may also enjoy:
Wake Up and see the Glory
steven-curtis-chapman-declaration-lyrics-4a1c