DashHouse.com

The Blog of Darryl Dash

This blog is about how Jesus changes everything. He changes:

Our relationship with God

Our relationship with others

Our vocations - how we live and work in this world

Our ministries

This blog exists to explore some of the ways that Jesus changes everything. It provides resources and articles that will help you think about the ways that Jesus can change every part of your life.

The Lord himself invites you to a conference concerning your immediate and endless happiness, and He would not have done this if He did not mean well toward you. Do not refuse the Lord Jesus who knocks at your door; for He knocks with a hand which was nailed to the tree for such as you are. Since His only and sole object is your good, incline your ear and come to Him. Hearken diligently, and let the good word sink into your soul. (C.H. Spurgeon, All of Grace)

The Congregational Code (1 Peter 5:1-11)

I want to read you a couple of profiles that describe a person, and see which one you like better.

The first description has words like these: considerate, good-natured, team-player, thoughtful, dependable, good listener. Do you like the sound of this person? Good. I don't want to brag, but this comes from a personality profile done on me.

Contrast this with this second description: stubborn, inflexible, hesitant, detached. How do you like the sound of this person? You may be surprised to know that this is from the same personality profile, actually from the same page, and it's also me, except under pressure, tension, stress, or fatigue. It's like I have these two sides: considerate, good-natured, thoughtful - but on the other hand stubborn, inflexible, detached. Same person, but different circumstances. And it makes all the difference in the world.

We all have this. We have our best selves - the people that we aspire to be, and maybe we succeed most of the time. Then we have the other side. I heard a young girl talking about her father one day. Evidently he gets a little grumpy at times. The word that she used for her father to describe wasn't grumpy, but stressed. We are different people when we are under pressure, tension, stress, or fatigue.

Maybe the same is true when it comes to churches.

I would like Richview to be known by words like these: biblical, loving, evangelistic, Christ-centered, people-focused. In our best moments we are these things. But churches face stresses too, and under stress it's possible for us to become like other words: grumpy, unloving, inward, program-focused. It's almost like two different churches, but it's not. It's Richview at our best and Richview under stress.

A couple of years after I arrived here, I started to discover the rhythms of our church's life. I began to discover that there are times that we shut down and that life is pretty relaxed around here. I also began to discover that there are other times - usually characterized by a budget crunch, busyness, or some stressful situation that we were facing - that we aren't who we aspire to be.

We're not the first people to face this problem. The passage that we're looking at this morning was written to churches under incredible stress. The stress came from the fact that the people around them were intolerant of their faith in Christ, and this put pressure on them at work and in their marriages and with their friends. They also faced the danger of having this stress affect the way that they functioned as they came together to be the church. Peter writes about this problem, and he sandwiches his instructions in between two passages on suffering. That's no accident. How we relate to each other is going to be affected by the situation we face.

So how should we respond when we're a stressed-out church?

It's interesting that Peter doesn't say to not be stressed. He doesn't say to light a candle or get a back massage or do aromatherapy to de-stress as a church. No matter what they did, they were going to continue to face stress, because their outside environment wasn't going to change.

I imagine there are times that we can look each other and say - in love - "Let's take a deep breath here." But there are going to be other times that we can't do anything about the fact that our church is under stress. Sometimes that is the reality that we face, and there won't be much we can do about the stress itself.

But there is something that we can do about how we respond in a time of stress. 1 Peter 5 gives us a congregational code, and it's all about our responsibilities to each other within the church, especially in a time of stress.

What is a congregational code? In Peter's day, they had something called a household code. In the Greek and Roman worlds, household codes outlined the way that the house should run. Instructions were usually given to the head of the house, the father, to rule over the household wisely. His wife, children and slaves were subject to him until his death.

Peter takes this household code and does something that the Greeks and the Romans didn't do. He applies it to the congregation, as if we are not just a collection of individuals but an actual household, connected by family ties despite all of our differences. This was unheard of. And Peter doesn't just write to the head of the churches saying that they have to rule over the church-households with a firm hand. Instead, he writes to the whole church and outlines responsibilities for all. He touches on areas that are especially appropriate when a church is under stress.

Let's look at the congregational code, or how to be function as members of God's family within the church when we're under stress. He addresses three groups of people: leaders, followers, and then everybody.

First: leaders are to serve.

Peter writes to "elders" in verse 1 as a "fellow elder", and in verse 2 he uses the word "shepherd" which is where we get the word pastor, and he talks about them "watching over" the church in verse 2.. Churches back then were based on similar leadership patterns based as Jewish synagogues and local ruling councils and in city government in the Greco-Roman world. So he's talking to the leaders of the churches.

To be a church leader in those days was a courageous act. They lived in perilous times, and serving as a leader meant that you were risking your position in society, even becoming vulnerable to the same fate as Jesus.

Remember that the codes in those days usually told the people in charge to take control and rule over the household. You can imagine that especially in a time of stress and pressure, leaders would have faced the temptation to become authoritarian and controlling.

But Peter says a couple of important things to the church leaders.

He first tells them what kind of leaders they are supposed to be:

  • not reluctant, but willing leaders
  • not greedy, but eager to serve
  • not domineering, but a role model

In other words, leaders aren't to serve reluctantly as if they're doing everybody a favor. They shouldn't be motivated by a desire to get, but an eagerness to give. And they shouldn't see themselves as bosses but as examples. They're not kings; they're to be servants, even - especially - when the church is under stress.

Gilbert Bilezikian writes, "Leadership is a servant ministry." Although the pecking order is "an inescapable reality of daily life" in which people take their rank based on "birth, race, gender, fortune, and influence," the church is different. To be a leader in the church isn't "about the pride of who comes first," but "the humility of the one who comes in last." In the place of imperial leadership, we have the image of servanthood. We not only have the image, we actually have the example of Jesus, who took a basin and towel and washed his disciple's feet as a symbol of what he was about to do in dying for us. It's about a completely different attitude on the part of those who lead the church.

What could this look like? One pastor writes this:

I am pastored by my congregation. My struggles are often out in the open for everyone to see. I can be honest about my failures...I don't feel the pressure to "perform" for two reasons. First, "success" and "failure" are common property. We all share a responsibility for what happens...Second, ministry is not an event that occurs on a Sunday. It is a lifestyle of word-centered activity. Success is not judged by a sermon or service. It is judged in terms of growing Christians and gospel opportunities. (Total Church)

He goes on to say that this type of leadership feels scary, but "we should embrace this fragility because it forces us to trust God's sovereign grace."

And, if they serve this way, Peter says, then "when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away" (1 Peter 5:4). Their victory is assured. It depends not on their own efforts, but on the appearing of Christ. This is what leadership in the church is all about.

In a few weeks, we have the opportunity as members to choose those who will lead the church. You've already chosen me, and it goes without saying that I need your prayers to be this kind of leader.

As we select new leaders next month, we are looking for people who will lead in this way. That's probably why the Bible puts so much emphasis on their lives and doctrine. Leaders are to serve. As we select leaders, I'm going to ask you to evaluate them based on their ability to provide spiritual leadership for our church, not because they have reached the top of the pecking order, but because they are people of character who have servant's hearts.

Leaders are to serve.

Secondly, Peter says, everyone else is to submit.

Here's where it gets even harder. Verse 5 says: "In the same way, you who are younger [in other words, those of you who aren't elders], submit yourselves to your elders."

You'll notice that this section is a lot briefer compared to the previous section, but it's just as hard. It doesn't mean being a doormat. It's essentially a call to respect your leaders. On one level, this should be obvious. It may be obvious, but it's not easy. It may be even harder than it was back then. We live in a day in which the prevailing attitude is that leaders can't be trusted with power, and that nobody is going to tell me what to do. That attitude can easily carry over to the church as well.

I have a friend who pastors a congregation composed of a lot of people who belong to a generation that is not known for submitting to leadership. I asked him how that works at his church. He replied and said that he tends to see it as a fear that has come from the abuse of leadership. It's a fear of getting hurt. Our whole democratic system is built on checks and balances so that leaders can't lead without having safeguards in place.

But he keeps reminding his people that Scripture does not make concession for it, rather it calls us back to the gospel - to forgive when hurt, to repent when you hurt someone, and reconcile as brothers and sisters knowing leaders will give an account to God, so they submit to him.

"Our people need to trust God," he said, "who is placing leaders over the church. That is why character is the main thing in scripture about leaders. They are trustworthy men and women who lead. It can be abused of course but it is a good thing to submit."

Twenty years ago somebody wrote:

It seems rather strange that very few books on leadership have chapters on followership. As a matter of fact, followership is not even in the abridged dictionary. There seems to be a curious assumption that while leaders need special instruction for exercising their role, followers need no such instruction. (C. Peter Wagner, Leading Your Church to Growth)

1 Thessalonians 5:13 tells us to "Hold [leaders] in the highest regard in love because of their work." I know this is far from easy, and it goes against every cultural trend. But we're not called to follow cultural trends of distrust. We're to be an alternate community in which leaders serve and followers respect.

I know that this will get challenged almost every week especially when the church is under stress. Leaders serve, not rule. Everybody else submits, instead of distrusting.

Peter has one more instruction:

Third, everyone - leaders and followers together - be humble and faithful.

We get to the heart of the passage now. Peter says in verse 5, "All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another." And then in verse 6, "Humble yourselves, therefore, under God's mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time." And then in verse 8, "Be alert and of sober mind." In other words, don't let the stresses that your church is under stop you from really humbling yourselves before each other and staying firm no matter what is going on out there.

Why? A few reasons. Because if we humble ourselves, then God himself will exalt us. If we don't humble ourselves and instead waver in our faith, then Satan just may find the opportunity he's been looking for to devour us. Because when we suffer, we're in solidarity with all God's people who have suffered. And finally, because despite the stresses, God is completing his work in us. Verse 10 says, "And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast." We know how it will turn out in the end.

This all reminds me of a story that's been in the news lately. Last year, insurgents in Afghanistan opened fire on a Canadian base around 2:00 early one morning. A siren sounded, and small arms fire was heard throughout the camp. Soldiers were woken and went out on patrol to rout the attackers - all soldiers, except for one.

Corporal Paul Billard, a stretcher-bearer, stayed in bed. Other soldiers tried to coax him from his covers, but Corporal Billard wouldn't budge. He refused to put on his helmet and flak jacket, and only got out of bed once to go to the washroom with a pistol. When his fellow soldiers banged on a locker to try to get him out of bed, Billard replied, "I'm immune to that. I'm going to sleep."

Corporal Billard has been sentenced to twenty-one nights. The military judge said to him, "You displayed a total lack of discipline and lack of respect by refusing to report to your assigned duty. I find your conduct reprehensible. You let your comrades down in a time of danger."

If we really understand that there's a battle going on out there, and if we really understand what Christ has done for us - not only in setting an example for us as a servant who washed his disciple's feet, but who paid the ultimate price so that we could be part of a community that is transformed by what he did at the cross - then we'll stay wide awake. We'll never doze off into leadership that isn't about service, followership that isn't about submission, and church that isn't about humility. Stay humble and faithful despite the stress, Peter says, and God will take care of the rest.

Living Faithfully When It Costs (1 Peter 4:1-11)

Last week, those of us who were here looked at the ways that Christians usually interact with culture. Some Christians withdraw from culture. They keep their noses clean and think that the real problem is that certain Christians allow themselves to get too involved with the world. They isolate themselves from anyone and anything that isn't Christian.

On the other hand, some accommodate themselves to culture. They live a lifestyle that's not all that different, and nobody even realizes that they're Christian.

We looked at 1 Peter, who suggests a third way. Don't isolate yourself from culture. Go to parties, make friends with those who aren't Christians, coach soccer, join the local community board, and integrate your life into that of the community. But live distinctively within culture. As you're in contact, allow people to see the hope that you have in Christ, and be prepared to talk about it. We talked about the fact that this is the hardest way to live - neither isolated from culture nor accommodating to what's wrong with culture, but it's the way we're called to live.

The Problem

But there's a problem with living this way, isn't there? Peter talks about the problem in 1 Peter 4. Read with me what he says in verses 3-4:

For you have spent enough time in the past doing what pagans choose to do—living in debauchery, lust, drunkenness, orgies, carousing and detestable idolatry. They are surprised that you do not join them in their reckless, wild living, and they heap abuse on you.

Here's the problem. The people that Peter writes too didn't used to be followers of Christ. Some of them evidently walked on the wild side. Peter talks about their former way of life in pretty stark terms. They lived without restraints and did as they pleased, including drunken partying and sexual debauchery.

Peter says at the beginning of verse 3, "You have spent enough time in the past" living this way. If you have the lifestyle that Peter describes in your past, you know that it may sound exciting, but it's not really something that you need more of in your life. They've already spent more than enough time living that way, and now they're called to a new way of living.

The problem is that some of the people who remember the way they used to live are now astonished that they no longer live this way. Verse 4 says, "They are surprised." They're taken back. And they're not that understanding about it either. They can't understand why you don't do the things you used to do, and frankly they find you to be a bit of a killjoy, and "they heap abuse on you."

Some of you know exactly what Peter is talking about here. You're different, and they're pretty sure that they don't like it.

We live in a day just like Peter's in which it is offensive to follow Christ. People don't mind a lot of things. They like some things about Christianity. Almost anything goes today as a valid lifestyle choice - but people draw the line when it comes to taking the exclusive claims of Christ seriously. Say that you believe that Jesus is the only way to God, or that sex outside of marriage is wrong, and see what happens. Mention that you believe in hell and you may clear the room.

If you follow Christ, you will live and believe in a way that is out of step with the prevailing values of culture, and it will cause you some grief.

So this is the problem. We will be out of step, and we will feel the heat. If we live faithfully, it will mean that we reject the path of least resistance and suffer criticism and even condemnation. What then should we do? How do we endure and live faithfully when people are criticizing us for following Christ?

Peter says to do two things: to look forward and to look back.

Looking Forward

Peter says that we need to look forward. In verses 5 and 6 he writes:

But they will have to give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead. For this is the reason the gospel was preached even to those who are now dead, so that they might be judged according to human standards in regard to the body, but live according to God in regard to the spirit.

Peter says that it's true that you are being judged - but Peter says that we should look forward, way forward. We may be hauled before judges, but one day they will be hauled before the Judge. God will judge everyone, and that means that today - right here, right now - his judgment counts for more than the judgment of those around us. We can handle being out of step with culture today because the scorecard that really matters is what God thinks, not what the people around us think.

So verse 5 says, "They will have to give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead." Today most people believe that nobody can make a statement about faith that applies to everyone. People think that a Muslim can make a statement about Muslim faith but that it only applies to Muslims, and a Christian can say something about Christianity but it has nothing to do with those who aren't Christians. Here, Peter says that God's grace and God's judgment are universal truths that will apply to every single person whether they are Christians or not. We don't have to accommodate how we live to the views of other people because those people will answer one day to the same God that we answer to. Everyone is answerable to God, not just those of us who are Christians.

Then Peter says something a little hard to understand in verse 6 about the gospel being preached to people who are now dead. Don't get too confused. He's talking about those who are now dead who accepted the gospel when they were still alive. His point is that the gospel is effective even for those who have died. We have a hope that outlasts death.

When it looks like we're missing out, that we're missing out on a lot of parties and we're going to die just like everyone else, then Peter says, "Yes, it's true. We all die. But you have a hope that goes beyond the grave." As Paul puts it, "I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us" (Romans 8:18).

Then he says in verse 7, "The end of all things is near." We now live in the last stage of God's redemptive plan. The unfolding plan that we read about in Scripture is coming into its last stages. Therefore, Peter says, live in light of that reality. Think rightly so you can pray. Persist in loving one another, he says. Be hospitable. Serve one another with the gifts he's given you.

In other words, live backwards. Live from the reality of the consummation of God's eternal plan, and the eternal judgment, so that you can live properly today. That's what we're going to do in a minute as we celebrate the Lord's Supper. The Apostle Paul wrote, "For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes" (1 Corinthians 11:26).

One of the best examples I've seen of this is the story of a man named Hugh MacHale. In December 1666, Hugh MacHale, a very young servant of Christ was brought to his trial for his faith in Edinburgh, Scotland. He was given just four days to live and then marched back to the prison. In the crowd on the streets, many were weeping. But there were no tears in the eyes of this brave soldier of the cross. "Trust in God!" he cried to the crowd as he marched past.

And then suddenly he saw a friend of his standing on the edge of the crowd, and he shouted to him, "Good news; wonderful good news! I am within four days of enjoying the sight of Jesus, my Savior!"

This man saw the future so powerfully that it was more real to him than death. When we look to the future we have in Christ it will allow us to live faithfully for Christ today, even if it costs us.

Looking Backwards

But, Peter says, we also have to look backwards. That's what we're doing today as we come to the Lord's Supper. Peter writes in verses 1 and 2:

Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because those who have suffered in their bodies are done with sin. As a result, they do not live the rest of their earthly lives for evil human desires, but rather for the will of God.

The "therefore" in verse 1 refers to what he's said in the previous chapter. Specifically, Peter wrote in 1 Peter 3:18, "For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit." You have been baptized, which means that you have been united with Christ in his death and resurrection. Therefore, Peter says, look back to what Christ has done for you, and realize that when we're united with Christ in this way, we're done with sin.

It's not enough to believe this. Peter says that we have to arm ourselves with the attitude that Christ had. He's not saying that everyone who suffers is free from sin - we all know people who have suffered who are anything but free from sin. You can become bitter and resentful as a result of suffering instead of more godly.

What Peter's saying is that when we really see how Christ willingly embraced suffering for our sakes, and when we understand that we were united with Christ in his death and have the same attitude and the same resolve, then we'll be through with sin because we'd rather suffer than sin. We are both sinners and saints, but the more we grasp what Christ has done for us at the cross, the more we'll experience freedom from sin.

But one of the keys is to look back and think about what Jesus did for you at the cross. Somebody's written:

What this means is that the death of Jesus Christ, when understood, comforts me profoundly when I have fallen, but it can never never never lead me to temptation. To the one who is considering disobedience, Jesus cries out from the cross, "I did all this and completely so you would die to sins and live to righteousness. How then can you do this sin? Will you put your own hands around my throat? Have I not been struck enough by those who broke my skin open with fists and said, 'Prophesy! Who hit you?' Will you hit me one more time?"

"Will you account what I have done of so little value that you will do this to me? Will you design to frustrate and disappoint the goal and aim of all my suffering for you?"

The love and grace that we've received has been bought at an incredible cost. When we see what Christ has done for us, and what it cost him, it will change us.

John Owen said that when we take our sins to Mount Sinai - to the Law of God - and try to do better motivated by fear, we can expect the sinful desire to get worse. We never get rid of sin because of self-effort or fear. If we try to deal with the power of sin by beating ourselves up or by being afraid that God will beat us up, then sin will get stronger.

But if we want to be done with sin so that it has no power over us, then we take it not to Mount Sinai but to the cross. Remember how much he loved us.

Father, we come to the Table today. We live in the middle of a world that is not completely our home. You have called us to a completely different way of living, and if we are faithful it will cost us.

Help us today to arm ourselves with the same attitude as Jesus. When we're tempted to take the path of least resistance, help us see the future clearly so that we know that it's your judgment that matters, and that you will have the final word. And when we are tempted to sin, take us back to the cross where you dealt with our sins, and let that knowledge transform us. In Christ's name, Amen.

Engaging Culture (1 Peter 3:8-22)

We've been looking at the book of 1 Peter, which is a book written to small churches scattered throughout part of the Roman empire a couple of thousand years ago. They were massively outnumbered and were facing hostility because they believed in Christ. The question we have to ask is this: How does a persecuted minority end up eventually growing and transforming the entire Roman Empire of that time? How does a new religion on one end of the Mediterranean Sea spread to the whole of the Roman world in as little as 300 years? Rodney Stark's written a book called The Rise of Christianity with the subtitle How the Obscure, Marginal Jesus Movement Became the Dominant Religious Force in the Western World in a Few Centuries.

This is an important question for us because we in the church today are in a new position of becoming an obscure and marginal Jesus movement in a society that is becoming increasingly hostile to Christianity. It used to be that people were somewhat friendly toward the place of Christianity in society. We're living in a new day in the number one and two books on the Globe and Mail bestseller lists are God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything and The God Delusion. This isn't news to any of us. We realize that culture's becoming increasingly hostile to faith and at least wants Christians to keep their faith private. How do we not only live within a hostile culture, but actually think about transforming it?

Well, there are two ways that Christians typically think about living in a hostile culture. One is to withdraw from it. They believe that culture is so bad, so corrupt, that we have to be vigilant against it, be careful about being polluted by it. They think that the main problem with Christians today is that they've been too influenced by the world.

On the other hand, you have the opposite approach. Some call this the accommodation approach: to accommodate or to assimilate into culture. They believe that churches have become too isolated from culture, out of tune and disengaged.

When you live in a hostile world, how do you respond? Do you withdraw from it, or do you stay involved? So one of your non-Christian friends has invited you out to a bar tomorrow night for drinks with some of his friends. You know that the conversation is probably not going to be G-rated. Some of you may think, "The problem today is that too many Christians are comfortable going to bars who should really know better." Or some of you may think, "The problem with Christians today is that too many of them are sticks in the mud and they need to get out a little."

I hope you can see that both approaches have real problems. If we withdraw from culture, we'll never have any influence. We'll live in our little bubbles and nobody will really care. On the other hand, if we are too afraid of being different, we'll fit in and nobody will think we're different at all. So what would you do? What do you do?

Well, the Apostle Peter tackles this question. This morning I want to briefly look at the answers to three questions: how we're supposed to respond, what it will cost, and why we should be willing to pay that cost.

First, how should we respond? How do we interact with a world that's hostile to Christianity?

Do you notice what he says throughout this passage? Verse 9 says, "Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing." Verse 15 says, "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."

Remember what's happening here. Peter is writing to people who are facing some heat because of their faith in Christ. Frankly, it would have been easier if Peter had told them and us that we could withdraw from the world or be assimilated into it. Instead, he tells them not to withdraw from the world. At the same time, he tells them not to be assimilated by the world either. Even when it gives them grief and causes them problems, he tells them to be out there engaged and in relationship, and yet to be distinct by virtue of their faith.

Let's read verse 9 again. "Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing." Peter says, "To this you were called." To what have we been called? What is Peter trying to say here?

We have been called to return a blessing when we are insulted by people who don't understand our faith. When they ridicule us or poke fun at our faith, we are called to respond by blessing them.

So, for instance, a Christian soldier did this. He lived in barracks with his unit. Every evening he would read his Bible and pray before going to sleep. The soldier across the aisle would always make fun of him and insult him. One night a pair of muddy combat boots came flying at the Christian. The next morning, the soldier who threw the boots found his boots at the foot of his bead, cleaned and polished and ready for inspection. This Christian returned blessing for insult, and as a result several soldiers in this company became Christians as a result of this one man's action.

So we shouldn't withdraw. Instead, we should bless. But we also shouldn't just blend in. In verses 15 and 16 he says:

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, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.

Peter says two things about living in a world that's hostile to Christianity. First, he says, don't be afraid of the opposition. Second, remain faithful to Christ. Revere Christ as Lord.

There's a saying supposedly attributed to St. Frances: "Preach the Gospel always and if necessary use words." Well, Peter says, it's not going to be enough for you to live differently and to preach the Gospel only through your actions. You had better be prepared to use words as well. If you're really living differently and you're not withdrawing from society, then you will likely be asked what's up, and you'll need to be prepared to verbalize why you live differently. We're to be engaged in the world - no closing the door to relationships. We're to live our lives for Christ openly in the middle of an unbelieving world, ready to explain the reasons why we live differently.

Hundreds of years earlier, when God's people were carted off into exile in Babylon, there were some who wanted to live outside the city of Babylon because Babylon was so evil, and because they hoped to go back to their own land soon. They had a point, because the whole purpose of carting them to Babylon was so they would be assimilated into culture. A false prophet even stood up and said they'd be back home within two years, so go ahead and stay separate.

But Jeremiah contradicted this and gave this advice to the people:

Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper. (Jeremiah 29:5-7)

In other words, don't withdraw like the false prophet wants you to. Move right in and live among the Babylonians and seek what's best for the city of Babylon, even though you're only exiles there. On the other hand, don't be assimilated into the culture like the Babylonians would like you to be. Stay distinct, and yet live among them, and be a blessing to them. This is much harder than withdrawing or being assimilated. It's what God has called us to.

The same goes for us today. Don't withdraw from our world. Make friends with those who aren't Christians. Go to parties. Hang out with people after work. Coach soccer. Join the condo corporation or the student council. Don't live in a Christian bubble. At the same time, be distinct. Live so that your devotion to the Lord is evident to everyone, and be ready to talk about it when it comes up. This is the hardest of all the options, but it's exactly what we've been called to. The best way to engage culture isn't to accommodate it or withdraw from it, but to bless it.

But second, Peter tells us the cost of doing this.

You know, if you're going to withdraw or assimilate, it's probably not going to cost you very much. You can go about your regular business and nobody will bother you. But if you don't withdraw but live out your faith, it will likely cost you. Peter implies that Christians will face insults. He says in verse 14 that we may "suffer for what is right." We may be threatened. He says in verse 16 that there may be "those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ." So there is a definite cost to doing this.

So you have an estimated 70 million people who have lost their lives as a result of their faith in Christ in the past two thousand years. 45 million of these are people who died in the twentieth century. Talk about a cost - 45 million people killed for their faith in the last century. It's estimated that more people have been martyred for Christ in the past 50 years than in the church's first 300 years.

Some 200 million Christians are suffering for their faith right now. Part of our responsibility here is to pray for them. Hebrews 13:3 says, "Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering."

Here, closer to home, we're not likely to face open persecution. But if we stay engaged - no withdrawal - and live out our hope in Christ, we're likely to get the occasional raised eyebrow, or be ridiculed. People love some parts of our faith. People generally think highly of Jesus and like his teachings about forgiveness and going the extra mile. But they may not appreciate a Christian view of sexual ethics, or they may not like if you believe that Christ offers a hope that can't be found through anywhere else. They may be okay with you having a faith as long as you keep it private.

You see, there's a cost to being engaged with culture and living distinctively. You may have seen the HBO series Band of Brothers about paratroopers in the Second World War. There's a scene in which Lieutenant Richard Winters is about to lead his troops into the most celebrated feat of the war, the Battle of the Bulge. A soldier pulls Lieutenant Winters aside and says ominously, "Looks like you guys are going to be surrounded."

Without hesitation Winters replies, "We're paratroopers, Lieutenant. We're supposed to be surrounded."

You know, we're meant to be surrounded. We're meant to be right in the middle of things, engaged with people and life, and yet living with hearts that revere Christ as Lord. That means we're going to be surrounded. Sometimes, as Jesus says, people will "see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven" (Matthew 5:16). But other times, as Jesus said, they will "persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me" (Matthew 5:11). When we don't accommodate culture or withdraw from it, but instead live within it distinctly, we will pay a price.

By the way, that's why it's so important that we become a community of faith characterized by the qualities that Peter mentions in verse 8: "Be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble." To really live this way, the church stops being a place we attend. It becomes a community of support in which we're free from the insults and hostility that come from those outside the church. It's absolutely critical if we're going to live in culture and yet be distinct.

So here's the last question. Why would we be willing to pay this cost?

I mean, if it's going to cost us, why not just go underground or assimilate into culture so that nobody knows the difference? Why would we be willing to pay the cost? It's a very real question because the cost is very real.

Peter answers this question in two ways, both of which are pretty obscure. In verses 10 to 12 he quotes Psalm 34. The interesting thing about Psalm 34 is that it seems to have been written by David when he had to flee for his life from Saul to enemy territory. David was scared because he could be killed as the enemy, so he pretended to be insane. It worked, and David came back safely and wrote this psalm praising God for delivering him as he lived in the middle of enemy territory. Peter picks up on this and says that as we live in a sense in enemy territory, "The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous" (1 Peter 3:12). God will watch over us just as he watched over David.

The other reason Peter gives us is found in verses 18-22. If you scratched your head as you read these verses, you're not alone. It talks about Christ "making proclamation to the imprisoned spirits" and about Noah. Martin Luther said, "This is a strange text and certainly a more obscure passage than any other passage in the New Testament. I still do not know for sure what the apostle meant." So we're not going to clear it all up in just a few minutes, but let me at least give you the bottom line no matter what interpretation you take.

Both Jesus and Noah lived the way that Peter talks about. They were both living engaged with the people around them, and yet they lived distinct lives because of their faith and suffered because of it. Both suffered, but both were ultimately vindicated by God. There's more that we won't untangle this morning, but this is the bottom line: we are united with Christ, and our commitment to him means that we will likewise suffer, but that we will one day be vindicated just as he was, because he now "has gone into heaven and is at God's right hand - with angels, authorities and powers in submission to him" (1 Peter 3:22).

That's why Peter says in verses 14 and 15, "But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. 'Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened.' But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord." We're blessed when we're persecuted because we're just like Jesus, and we'll be vindicated one day just as he was. And we don't have to be afraid because we revere Christ as Lord much more than we revere the opinions of those who put us down.

Missionary Oswald Chambers said:

It is the most natural thing in the world to be scared, and the clearest evidence that God's grace is at work in our hearts is when we do not get into panics. The remarkable thing about fearing God is that when you fear God you fear nothing else, whereas if you do not fear God you fear everything else.

There is one who has gone ahead of us, and who did not accommodate culture or withdraw from it. Instead, he lived in the world. He had relationships with all kinds of people. He was criticized and ultimately he was killed. But he has been made alive, and his victory has been proclaimed and one day will be known to everyone. He is at work in your life, and his victory is also your victory. The more that we keep our eyes on him, and see what he has done for us, and revere him as our Lord, the more we'll be able to engage our culture - not by withdrawing from it, not from accommodating it, but by living smack dab in the middle of it as we revere Christ as Lord.

Let's pray.

Father, help us see this morning whether our response is to withdraw from culture or to accommodate it. And whatever our normal response is, we pray that you would transform it. Give us hearts that want to bless our friends and neighbors. Help us to seek the peace and prosperity of the city and to be the best citizens of our city.

Help us see Jesus, who suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring us to God. We have been saved by his resurrection, and his victory is our victory. May we revere him in our hearts and Lord, and may this transform the way we live. We pray in Christ's name. Amen.