One Good Reason (1 Peter 2:18-25)

Well, I want to tell you about a situation that I'm sure nobody here has experienced. I want to take two imaginary kids who are ordinarily well behaved. Keep in mind that these are two completely hypothetical kids who don't exist in reality. They don't believe it's right to hit, but one day you catch one of these kids hitting the other one. You say, "Why did you just hit your sister? Don't you know it's wrong to hit?"

Can you guess the answer you're going to get? "Well, he did..." and you can fill in the blank. In other words, "Yes, it's wrong to hit, but..."

Has anyone experienced this? "Yes, it's wrong to do [blank], but because of this, I had no choice." In fact, I want you to take a minute and chat with someone around you and come up with a couple of situations in which someone might agree that doing something is wrong, but because of the circumstances it's right. Let me give you a couple of examples, and then give you a minute to come up with your own.

"It's wrong to cheat, but because the tax law is unfair, I have a right to pay cash and avoid paying taxes."

"It's wrong to gossip, but because my boss doesn't listen to me, I have a right to tell others what I think of him."

Try coming up with a few of your own examples.

[discussion]

The bottom line is that there are a lot of things that we believe are wrong. When push comes to shove, though, we sometimes feel like there's no choice, and that we have every right to do what's wrong because the other person is wrong. You know what I'm talking about?

If you were here last week, I think that you may have experienced one of those moments with me. Last week we looked at a passage of Scripture that said to obey authority, even when the authority is undeserving of our respect. So, if you have a bad boss, then the way to deal with that bad boss is to submit to them. If you, or your child, as a bad teacher or principal, then the way to respond as long as that person is in a position of authority is to submit to that authority.

This is an incredibly hard teaching, and I sensed last week that we all felt the tension. We all have questions about if this goes too far, and what if we become doormats. I'll tell you what was going through my mind, though, as I wrestled through this passage in 1 Peter: I don't want to submit to bad people. If someone asked me, "Is it right to submit to authority?" my answer would be yes. But, when push comes to shove, I would say, "It's wrong to not submit to authority, but because that authority is bad or incompetent or dishonest or whatever, I have every right not to submit."

In other words, I'm not so sure I want to do what the Bible says at this point.

Anyone with me? Am I alone here? There are some parts of the Bible that we wish we could obey. This is one of those parts we're not so sure we want to obey. We don't like what it says and we're not too excited about applying it.

What if I were to tell you that you aren't alone if you feel that way? In fact, what if I told you that the very person who wrote these words didn't always agree with them? What I want to do for a minute is to paint a picture of the author of the command to submit to bad authorities, and to show how his view changed. Then I want to ask you: what changed Peter's mind? And is it possible for whatever changed Peter's mind to change our minds as well? Is it possible that whatever made Peter want to obey the tough parts might make us want to obey the tough parts too? I want what Peter experienced. I want to be transformed so that I have a desire to obey the parts I like, as well as the parts I don't like.

So let me tell you a little bit about Peter. His name used to be Simon Peter. When you read the Gospels, he comes across as someone who didn't mind a little scrap. You could say that he had a tendency to attack when attacked. When they came to arrest Jesus, Peter is the one who was quick to draw the sword and attack a servant of the high priest. Peter's own experience was one that was full of rebellion and revolution and disrespect for those who were in authority.

So what changed Peter from a fighter to the writer of the words, "Submit yourselves for the Lord's sake to every human authority" (1 Peter 2:13)? We're not talking a minor change here.

What would make a slugger change and say that slaves should submit to abusive masters? We read the passage last week. This is hard stuff for us to swallow. We don't like it. We're not sure we want to do what Peter says. And Peter isn't a spineless wimp who avoids fights either. You get the sense that Peter would enjoy a good altercation.

So what changes this man's character so deeply? And is it possible for us to experience a similar change ourselves? Can people really undergo radical transformation so that rebels become peacemakers, and revolutionaries lay down the sword for the sake of Christ?

Well, we don't have to guess what changed Peter. Peter tells us. Let's look at Peter's explanation for the change in his character. It's found in 1 Peter 2. In verses 18 to 20 he gives us the command. Let's read it, but as we do so, please keep in mind how out of character this response would be for Peter. This is not Peter's natural way of responding to an abusive master.

Slaves, in reverent fear of God submit yourselves to your masters, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh. For it is commendable if you bear up under the pain of unjust suffering because you are conscious of God. But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God.

Picture a slave getting this who works for a difficult master. He gets this letter telling him that he's to submit to his master, even though his master is harsh. It's God's will that he endures unjust suffering; if he endures it, it pleases God. You can almost hear this slave saying, "Give me one good reason." Peter obliges. He gives us one good reason in verse 21. It's a reason that calls us to undergo the same type of change in our lives.

So give me one good reason why I should obey even when I don't feel like it? Peter gives that reason in verse 21: "To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps."

Let that sink in for a minute. "To this you were called." To what? What he mentioned in the preceding verse: suffering for doing good, and enduring it. Think about that. I don't know if I've ever heard anyone preach on this. I've heard people say that they were called into the ministry or to be a missionary, but I don't think I've ever heard anyone say, "The Lord called me to a life of suffering for doing good. My calling in life is to endure it, even though it's unfair." But that is exactly what Peter is saying here. It reminds me of what the apostle Paul wrote in a different place: "For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for him" (Philippians 1:29).

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. put it this way: "I still believe that standing up for the truth of God is the greatest thing in the world. This is the end of life. The end of life is not to be happy. The end of life is not to achieve pleasure and avoid pain. The end of life is to do the will of God, come what may." Can I read that again? " The end of life is not to be happy. The end of life is not to achieve pleasure and avoid pain. The end of life is to do the will of God, come what may." Or, as someone else (J.I. Packer) has put it, "It needs to be said loud and clear that in the kingdom of God there ain't no comfort zone and never will be."

So that's the reason why we should submit to authority, even when the authority is unjust. It's because God has called us to a life of endurance, even when we face suffering that is unjust. God didn't just call us. He also gave us an example to follow. He doesn't ask us to do anything that he didn't already do. Peter says, "To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps."

So here we're getting to the heart of why Peter changed. Peter was a rebel. But he was a witness to the arrest of Jesus Christ, and to at least part of the trial. Peter became an eyewitness to the sufferings of Jesus Christ. The example of Jesus is the ultimate example of someone who endured under suffering while doing good. Seeing Jesus suffer in this way changed Peter's entire perspective, just as it has for others. He is the supreme example of bearing up under suffering for doing good.

During World War I, a British commander was preparing to lead his soldiers back to battle. They'd been on furlough, and it was a cold, rainy, muddy day. Their shoulders sagged because they knew what lay ahead of them: mud, blood, possible death. Nobody talked, nobody sang. It was a heavy time.

As they marched along, the commander looked into a bombed-out church. Back in the church he saw the figure of Christ on the cross. At that moment, something happened to the commander. He remembered the One who suffered, died, and rose again. There was victory, and there was triumph.

As the troops marched along, he shouted out, "Eyes right, march!" Every eye turned to the right, and as the soldiers marched by, they saw Christ on the cross. Something happened to that company of men. Suddenly they saw triumph after suffering, and they took courage. With shoulders straightened, they began to smile as they went. You see, anything worthwhile in life will be a risk that demands courage.

The example of Jesus, Peter writes, is exactly what can give hope to a slave who is suffering for doing good at the hands of a harsh master. We don't exactly suffer for our faith in the same way, but the example of Jesus is what can sustain us when we are given a command we don't feel like obeying. Jesus endured to death; we can put up with a grumpy boss at work without blowing it. Anyone can fight back; it takes the example and power of Jesus to submit to God and obey him when it costs.

Peter says, "Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example." The word example here means pattern. It was used, for example, of when a teacher would write the letters of the alphabet, and the children would learn these letters by tracing them with their own pens. We are called to copy the characters of Jesus' life, tracing over the lines that he left us. Someone (Bishop Stephen Neill) said, "We all have some dying to do. Jesus showed us how it should be done." Jesus has given us the pattern for how to endure when suffering unjustly.

So let me ask you this morning: what are you going through? What suffering are you enduring? What jerk of a boss is making your life miserable, so that you have a hard time submitting? What person in your life is acting so badly that you are tempted to compromise everything that you believe so that you can take your revenge?

In all of this, would a look at the example of Jesus give you any good reasons for holding up and staying faithful even when it costs? What look at Jesus do you need today so you can live faithfully even when its tough?

Do you need to look again at who Jesus is? Peter says in verse 22, "He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth." Jesus was the sinless Son of God. Unlike us, he never sinned against God. Even when he was tempted to retaliate, the perfect Son of God held up and he stayed faithful. Peter invites us to look at the sinless Son of God who obeyed on our behalf when anyone else would have given in.

Do you need to look at what Jesus did? Jesus left his life on God's hands and trusted God for the results. Verse 23 says, "When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly." Jesus left himself in God's hands. Imagine how hard it must have been to trust God with the results as Jesus was arrested and tried. He knew what lay ahead, but he trusted God to judge.

When I am mistreated, everything within me wants to take the matter into my own hands. I know that God will judge and make everything right one day. No matter. I don't want to wait for God to take care of it one day; I want to take care of things right here and now. When this happens, I can look at the example of Jesus. He entrusted himself into God's hands even when it led to death.

I can look at what else Peter says that Jesus did. Verse 24 says, "'He himself bore our sins' in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; 'by his wounds you have been healed.'" Jesus took our sins on the cross. But his death didn't just lead to forgiveness. By means of Christ's death on the cross, whoever comes to him ends his old life and begins a new one devoted to righteousness. Like the hymn says,

When I survey the wondrous cross
On which the Prince of glory died,
My richest gain I count but loss,
And pour contempt on all my pride.

These slaves say, "Give me one good reason why I should patiently endure suffering for doing good." Peter says, "Let me give you one good reason. Look at what Jesus did for you on the cross."

Do you need to look at why Jesus did it? Peter gives us the reason why Jesus endured what he did on the cross. Verse 25 says, "For 'you were like sheep going astray,' but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls." The suffering of Jesus was not purposeless. The death of Jesus is applied to the lives of slaves who are being mistreated, and to people like us. We, who were wandering far away, are now brought back to God, and he watches over us as we go through our lives. We do not suffer alone.

Why should we obey? Peter gives us one good reason: the example of Jesus. Let's look to the cross this morning.

[When I Survey/O the Wonderful Cross]

Warren Wiersbe writes:

Here, then, is the wonderful truth Peter wanted to share: as we live godly lives and submit in times of suffering, we are following Christ's example and becoming more like Him. We submit and obey, not only for the sake of lost souls and for the Lord's sake, but also for our own sake, that we might grow spiritually and become more like Christ.

The unsaved world is watching us, but the Shepherd in heaven is also watching over us; so we have nothing to fear. We can submit to Him and know that He will work everything together for our good and His glory.

My prayer for you is that you would live godly lives, submitting to God and others in times of suffering, patiently enduring even hardship. And as you do so, I pray that you would look to Christ and realize that you are called to follow in his footsteps. He came as our pattern, so we could "know that it could be done, and also know how to do it, step-by-step" (The Message).

I pray that in doing so, you will become more like him, knowing that you have a Shepherd watching over you so you have nothing to fear, one who works everything together for our good and his glory.

When You Don't Like Who's in Charge (1 Peter 2:13-17)

Well, you know the type. We all have at least one of them in our lives. They are people who drive us crazy, who bring out the absolute worst in us. It may be a hostile neighbor, a former friend, a coworker, a parent, a brother or sister, a former spouse. The list is endless. It might even be somebody within the church.

For example, has anyone here ever worked for an impossible boss? According to Psychology Today, "Surveys show that up to half of all workers have a shaky, if not downright miserable, relationship with their supervisors." Which means that a lot of us here would say that we work for someone who is not a great boss; in fact, they could be worse than bad. And it causes us stress. Studies show that a worker's relationship with the boss was almost equal to his relationship with his spouse when it comes to the impact on his well-being. You know the toll that it takes.

Can everyone think of someone who drives them crazy, someone towards whom it is very difficult to maintain a good attitude? I want you to freeze that person in your mind, because I want to ask you a question.

I especially want you to think of someone who might have authority in your life or in the life of somebody close to you: a boss, a teacher, your kid's teacher, the president of the board you sit on. It could be the landlord or landlady. It could be someone here at the church that you report to: a ministry head, a deacon, or even a pastor.

Can we all agree that there are people who are in positions of authority over us or over members of our families who are hard to respect? Maybe that's a little tactful. Can we agree that there are some people who are in positions of authority who are absolutely nuts? They may be your boss or your teacher, or your kid's teacher, but every time you deal with them it drives you crazy. We all have someone like this, and if you don't right now then it's only a matter of time before you will again.

I once had a boss who was like this. To make it worse, he was a Christian. He would blow up at his employees and would act erratically. He would go storming off and would treat us like dirt. Employees never seemed to last very long because the pay wasn't that good. I remember coming home and thinking, "I have to quit. I can find another job. This just isn't worth it." This is one of the ways we usually deal with someone who is in authority over us who doesn't deserve our respect: we run away from the situation. This is the flight response. We decide we're not going to put up with it anymore.

Some of us are wired a bit differently. I know a local firefighter who always seems to be getting into trouble, and he has a unique way of fighting back. He tells me of going to his supervisor's office, sneaking to the very door of the office, and then bursting with so much commotion that it almost gives his boss a heart attack. Every time he gets into trouble, he devises ways of making his boss pay for calling him in. Some of you can relate: you are fighters. You don't let anyone treat you like a doormat. If someone wants to take you on, then you are more than ready for the fight, and you are not going to be on the losing end of the battle.

We don't put up with abuse. We believe that we need to take care of ourselves, because we are important and need to stick up for our rights. When we encounter a boss, a landlord, a pastor, or a teacher who gives us a hard time or that we just don't like, we either find a way to get them out of our lives, or we fight back so that they learn not to treat us badly. This is normal for us, and we don't even think twice about us. The bottom line is that we won't submit to anyone in authority over us unless we decide that they are worthy of our respect.

After all, we have options. If your boss is a jerk, you can file a grievance or use employment laws to your favor, or you can always find another job. If your kid's teacher is incompetent, you can talk amongst the other parents and get something going and make her life uncomfortable. If you don't like this church, you can find a hundred others. You don't need to put up with a pastor you don't like. If your kid's hockey coach is a pain, you can yell from the stands and put him in a place and register a complaint with the league. Nobody wants to be a doormat, and because we have choices, we don't have to be. We can always find a way to assert our freedom.

The question I want to ask, though, is this: What is the Christian response to those who are in positions of authority over us, who don't deserve our respect? Sure, we have freedom, but what does Christ want us to do? How is a Christian supposed to respond when he or she has a bad boss, a bad pastor, a bad teacher, landlord, or coach? Run away, fight back, or is there a different response?

Hundreds of years ago, a group of Christians faced a similar situation. They had all kinds of people around them who were not worthy of their respect. As we're going to see in a minute, they had every reason to disrespect those who were in positions of authority over them.

Like us, this group had freedom. The problem for them is that their faith in Christ had revolutionized their understanding of who they are. I say that's a problem, because for the first time in their lives they had choices. They understood how God saw them, and belonged to a church community in which they were valued and recognized to have worth. They had a newfound freedom in Christ, and this new understanding made it hard to accept being treated like dirt as they had accepted before.

These Christians, though, faced some challenges. The government of the day was completely unworthy of respect. The emperor at that time was Nero. Nero had his good points, but overall he was a difficult man to respect. He supposedly participated in drunken revelry and violence while more mundane matters of politics were neglected. He killed his own mother in his quest for power, as well as some of his other relatives. He eventually lit Christians as human torches for entertainment. The Christians had a choice to unite together and fight back, since rebellion was common, or to withdraw and hide out away from society. But what is the Christian response to an incompetent and unjust political ruler?

They also faced the problem of unjust masters. Some - or, as it seems, many - of these Christians were slaves. Slaves at that time had few rights. They were not seen as fully human. Some slaves were treated well by their masters, but others weren't. If you were a master, you could beat your slave for no good reason. That was your right. This seemed to be the situation that some of these Christian slaves were facing. They had a choice to somehow fight back, or else to run away. What is the Christian response to a master who can beat you senseless for no good reason?

Then there were husbands. We live in an egalitarian age in which men and women are seen as equals. We forget how revolutionary this view would have seemed throughout much of history. Women in Peter's day were not seen as men's equals. Within the church, though, women were given new status as equal heirs of grace, fully made in God's image, and sisters within the church body. But some of them were married to husbands who didn't get it, and didn't like being married to Christian women. Do you stick up for your rights at home, or get a divorce? How do you respond to mistreatment at home?

Maybe some of these Christians were facing all three challenges at once: a bad government, a master who beats them, and a husband who made life miserable at home. The temptation to fight back or to run away would have been unbearable.

Let's bring it back to today. Nobody here is facing the challenges that these Christians did. But we may have people in authority over us who are problems, big problems: bad bosses, incompetent teachers, pastors who don't deserve our respect, bad referees at hockey, and crooked politicians. We can run away or fight, but what is a Christian response to those who are in authority over us, but are unworthy of our respect?

Here's how the apostle Peter answered this question, and you're not going to like it. Look with me at what Peter writes to this group in 1 Peter 3:13-17:

Submit yourselves for the Lord's sake to every human authority: whether to the emperor, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. For it is God's will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of the foolish. Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God's slaves. Show proper respect to everyone, love your fellow believers, fear God, honor the emperor.

So here's what Peter says to these Christians who were being mistreated. It's a word that we're going to choke on, but there's no getting around what he says: Submit. Imagine the reaction. Some of these slaves are going to work tomorrow and being beaten for no good reason, and Peter says, "This is how you should respond to your master: submit." The emperor Nero is, around this time, lighting Christians as human torches for sport, and Peter says, "This is the way you respond to Nero: submit." "This is how you respond to your husband who's giving you a hard time: submit."

I need to be honest and say that for most of us, this command goes against everything within us. We live in an age in which it's hard to submit to anyone. Yesterday I was part of a group that was told to chant, "The most important person is me. The most important person is me." We have been raised, many of us, to stand up for ourselves and to refuse to give in to anyone else. The result is that it's common today for people to think they don't have to submit to anyone, that no-one - not even good people - have a right to tell them what to do. A lot of people today would walk from a job if the boss ever tries to boss them. So it's hard for us to submit to anyone.

Even among those who don't have this attitude, you'd have to admit that we find it pretty hard to submit to someone who mistreats us. We may submit to a good boss, but we would never put up for long with a boss who treats us badly. We may cooperate with a spouse who loves us, but just watch out if our husband or wife treats us the wrong way. We may have a good attitude when we like a church, but we have no problem leaving or making our feelings known when things aren't too our liking. It's pretty hard to swallow Peter's command to submit to authority, especially when we don't respect those who are in positions of authority.

We may even look for a pass. Sometimes we look at authorities and think, "I don't need to submit to them. Their authority is only man-made." Peter won't allow us off the hook, though. He calls them "human authorities" in verse 13, or "ordinances" or "human institutions." Peter acknowledges that these structures are human, but we're going to see in a minute that to Peter, this doesn't change how he says we should respond.

Peter recognizes that Christians may even have a harder time in submitting to these human authorities, because we have freedom that others don't. He says in verse 16, "Live as free people." The freedom that Peter is talking about is freedom from bondage to sin, Satan, and selfish desires. We have a freedom in Christ that is incomprehensible. But Peter says that this freedom that we enjoy is not a freedom to do as we please. The freedom we enjoy, he says in verse 16, is freedom to become the slaves of God. We are released from bondage to sin, the law, and the world, not to live independently however we wish. We are given freedom so we can enter God's service.

Even though the authorities in our life are there by human design, and even though we have freedom, Peter tells us that it is God's will that we submit to every instance of humanly appointed authority in our lives: government, police, teachers, bosses, and so on. And he gives us two reasons.

The first reason is that when you submit to the boss or teacher or whatever in your life, you are actually submitting to God. The choice isn't really whether or not you will submit to your boss or whoever. The real choice you face is whether or not you will submit to God, because submission to God will mean that you submit to all that he's placed in authority over your life. On the flip side, every time you refuse to submit to someone in authority in your life, you are actually refusing to submit to God. That's why Peter says in verse 13, "Submit yourselves for the Lord's sake." You're not submitting for your boss's sake or your teacher's sake. You're submitting for the Lord's sake.

You say, "Fine, I'll submit for the Lord's sake, but only when the person I'm submitting to is worthy of my submission." Don't forget the context Peter is addressing. The people Peter says to submit to are anything but worthy of submission. Nero was not worthy. The abusive masters were not worthy. It has nothing to do with whether the person we're submitting to is worthy. Because submitting to them means that we are submitting to God, it is all about God's worthiness. Because God is worthy of our submission, we are therefore required to submit to all human authorities, not for their sake but for the Lord's sake.

Tired of struggling with her strong-willed 3-year-old son, Thomas, his mother looked him in the eye and asked a question she felt sure would bring him in line: "Thomas, who is in charge here?" Not missing a beat, her Sunday-school-born-and-bred toddler replied, "Jesus is." Whenever we think our unjust boss or teacher or pastor is in charge, it will be easy to rebel against their authority. But when we understand that Jesus is in charge, submitting to Jesus will mean submitting to human authority for the Lord's sake.

The second reason is that when you submit to the boss or teacher or whatever in your life, you make a case for God. Verse 15 says, "For it is God's will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of the foolish." When we submit, we silence those who have bad things to say about Christians. Back then, the charge against Christians was that they were against the emperor and were disrupting the good order of society. Therefore, Peter says, Christians have to go out of their way to show that they will submit to the emperor whenever possible, and every other human authority. You'll disprove those who say that Christians are against the common good.

Today, the charge against Christians probably isn't insubordination. Maybe it's that we're judgmental or hypocrites. Our challenge - and we face it in spades - is to demonstrate that we aren't judgmental and that we aren't hypocritical. When the person who's in charge is unworthy, we have the chance to silence people's talk about the way that Christians act.

Charlene once worked at a company for a guy who was pretty hard to respect. To make it worse, he claimed to be a Christian. The way that he conducted his business gave Christianity a very bad name in that office. But people also knew that Charlene is a Christian. They weren't just watching her boss; they were watching her to see how she would respond to the boss. The way we submit, especially to a bad boss or teacher, will make or break a case for our faith.

You may be wondering, "Aren't there limits to my submission? Do I have to put up with anything?" The answer is yes, there are limits. There are times when we need to remove ourselves from a bad situation, or fight against injustice. But a lot of times, we go to the other extreme. We miss the chance to submit to the Lord, and make a case for our faith, because we are too quick to rebel. By submitting in all but exceptional cases, we honor the Lord and pass the sniff test in a world that is hostile to our faith. As Peter says in verse 17, fear God and love other believers, but still show proper respect and honor to everyone else.

Warren Wiersbe says:

Submission is not subjugation. Subjugation turns a person into a thing, destroys individuality, and removes all liberty. Submission makes a person become more of what God wants him to be; it brings out individuality; it gives him the freedom to accomplish all that God has for his life and ministry. Subjugation is weakness; it is the refuge of those who are afraid of maturity. Submission is strength; it is the first step toward true maturity and ministry.

Let me read that last sentence again: "Submission is strength; it is the first step toward true maturity and ministry."

In a world that rebels against submission, who do you need to submit to? To whom is God calling you to change your attitude and behavior? You'll never be able to submit on your own, but with God's help, as you submit, you will be submitting to the Lord, and you will be making faith in Jesus Christ an attractive thing in the eyes of a hostile world.

Give to God (Mark 12:16-17)

I'm going to do something today that I've never done before. We're going to take up another offering. The only difference is that this is going to be a reverse offering. We are not asking you to give us anything; instead, we are going to give you something. When last have you ever taken anything out of the offering basket? But that's what we're going to do today. I feel a little like Oprah, except we're not giving you cars. So let's invite the ushers forward, and when they come around, please take one envelope out of the basket. Don't open the envelope when you get it; just hold on to it for a minute.

Okay, so today's text for the next few minutes is found in Mark 12:16-17:

They brought the coin, and he asked them, "Whose image is this? And whose inscription?"

"Caesar's," they replied.

Then Jesus said to them, "Give back to Caesar what is Caesar's and to God what is God's."

And they were amazed at him.

Many of you know the background of this story. The Pharisees and Herodians come with a plan to trap Jesus by asking him whether or not it's right to pay the imperial tax to Caesar. It's a trap. If Jesus pays the tax, then he's giving legitimacy to Rome's right to rule over Israel. If he doesn't pay the tax, then he's rebelling against Rome. This is a no-win situation for Jesus. He's being forced to take sides with the Zealots, who refused to pay taxes, or with the Herodians, who paid the taxes. But Jesus is smarter than all of them, and he says "Give Rome what belongs to Rome, but also give God what is God's."

If you look at our currency, this is what you'll see: a picture of the Queen. Somehow she's not looking to happy. It looks like someone has annoyed her. But we all generally recognize that the government of Canada, which is the government of the Queen, has the right to collect taxes in order to run the government. We don't always agree with how they spend the money, but we understand that some of this stuff that is in our wallets will rightfully go toward taxes, because it bears the image of the Queen.

But today you hold in your hands, maybe for the first time, money that bears the image of God. Look at the envelope. It has one word on it: love. Today, you're holding in your hands money that bears the image of God, because love is God's currency. I want to tell you the story behind what you're holding in your hands.

There's this church in Philadelphia called The Simple Way. They try to live differently in how they treat the money and possessions they have, and they have made redistributing wealth a big agenda item in their lives. Some people call them crazy.

One person there, Shane, came into $20,000 as a one-time gift plus a settlement from a lawsuit. Ask yourself: what would you do if you suddenly came into $20,000? A vacation? Plasma TV?

Let me tell you what they did. He began to imagine: what would it be like to have a little jubilee celebration? Jubilee is the celebration described in Leviticus 25. Every seven years, all debts would be forgiven - a financial fresh start for those in greatest need.

So here's what Shane did. Let me read from a description of the event from Rick McKinley's book This Beautiful Mess:

Working with a coalition of adventurous co-conspirators, Shane took the money and headed for the Stock Exchange on New York's Wall Street. Their strategic opportunity: the opening bell at the Exchange.

The group hid two dollar bills all over lower Manhattan, lugged in over thirty thousand coins in briefcases and backpacks, and climbed to balconies above the crowd carrying thousands of dollars in ones. Word spread through the alleys and projects that something was up, and hundreds gathered.

At 8:20, as the buyers and sellers inside started killing each other to make a buck, Shane and Sister Margaret, a 70-year-old nun stepped up to proclaim the jubilee. Their declaration read in part:

"We are a broken people who need each other and God, for we have come to recognize the mess that we have created of our world and how deeply we suffer from that mess. Now we are working together to give birth to a new society within the shell of the old. Another world is possible. Another world is necessary. Another world is already here."

Then, in keeping with Jewish tradition, Sister Margaret blew the ram's horn, and Shane announced, "Let the celebration begin."

Cash started falling from of the sky. On the steps, Kingdom conspirators dressed as business people, tourists, homeless persons, and passers by started emptying their bags and pockets of change. "The streets turned silver," Shane recalls. Those who needed money picked it up. Those who didn't put it down. The police looked on in confusion, but the joy was contagious, even for the Wall Street traders. And New York was shocked and disarmed to see the evidence of another Kingdom breaking in.

But that wasn't all.

Shane and other members of his group sent one hundred dollar bills to 1,000 communities around the world that, in their opinion, incarnate the spirit of Jubilee. In the envelope with the money, Shane quoted the verse we just read from Acts about laying money at the apostles' feet.

One of the pastors to receive a hundred dollar bill from Shane was me. Across the bill he'd written the word "Love."

On the day I received it, I put it in my pocket. Now what? I wondered. Sure it was mine now, but I'd received it from one of the poorest guys I know. I knew I had to use it well, but I held on to it for a while.

Every now and then, I'd take my wallet out and see it again. The bill didn't look ordinary to me; it felt different, not really mine. It had the stamp of empire on it. I'm holding a sacred 100 dollar bill, I'd think to myself. I don't know if I've ever held one before.

One day I ended up in a store with no cash, so I pulled out the 100 to tide me over. But it said "Love" all across it, and that's not why I was in the store. Nothing in that particular store had anything to do with love. I put the bill back in my pocket.

By the time Jeanne and I had passed the money on to a single mom we know, we had received a visceral lesson in Kingdom economics. Money is to be treasured—but differently.

Because not all treasures are created equal.

And because every bill is marked.

You have $1 in your hands. On the envelope it says "Love," the mark of the empire, the Kingdom of God. I want you to take it home with you. Don't spend it. Put it in your wallet or your purse and use it well. Here's the challenge I want to give you.

Hold on to it for a month. Over the next month, ask God what he wants you to do with it. Don't give it to a ministry or put it in the offering - that's too easy. Begin to dream about what God wants you to do with it.

You say, "What can I do with a dollar?" The answer is" not much. But God can do a lot with a dollar. Mother Teresa said, "In this life we cannot do great things. We can only do small things with great love." You can join your dollar with someone else's and combine your resources. You can add from your own money to this dollar.

But even if all you use is this dollar, you can probably do far more with a dollar than you think. A dollar is enough to buy a small child a toy from the dollar store. It's enough to stand by shopping carts and to pay the deposit for the first four people that you see. It's enough to buy a stamp and mail a note of appreciation for someone that could use the encouragement. It can pay for four phone calls. It can buy a donut for a friend or a can of Coke for a teenager after school. A dollar can do a lot if you really think about it.

But I don't really want you just to spend one dollar. I want you to dream of what God can do with small things. I want to you to dream about where God is calling you to serve, whom God is calling you to bless.

So take this dollar. Don't spend it yet. And begin to pray about what God wants you to do with it. It bears the mark of the empire. It's the year of jubilee. So let's pray a prayer of blessing over these before we give to God what is God's.

Passing the Sniff Test (1 Peter 2:11-12)

I'm sure that many of us know this, but it's worth stating: the church has a bit of a PR problem, especially with those who are younger. Researcher George Barna studied 2,660 twenty-somethings and found that those "in their twenties are significantly less likely than any other age group to attend church services, to donate to churches, to be absolutely committed to Christianity, to read the Bible, or to serve as a volunteer or lay leader in churches."

Another author (Colleen Carroll in The New Faithful) writes:

Many churches, parachurch organizations, and religious orders struggle to attract young adults who seem hopelessly unresponsive. The attempts of these organizations to appeal to the next generation by diluting their message or softening their demands seem to backfire, leading many religious leaders to conclude that today's young adults can not commit to Christian communities of any stripe.

The sociological sketch of this generation suggests exactly the opposite. Today's young adults are clamoring for community—but they are repulsed by its counterfeits. Weaned on Madison Avenue marketing, this audience knows when it is being pandered to, and it resists such manipulation violently.

"They have a very high nose for BS," said Christian author Os Guinness, who said young adults are searching for substance. "They want authenticity."

In other words, we need to pass the sniff test - and many churches aren't passing.

Churches have a PR problem, and it's not just with twenty-somethings either. I've mentioned some of the changing views of Canadians towards church. Did you know that four out of ten Canadians disagree with the statement that "religious communities are a force for good in society." One-quarter of Canadians feel that "religious communities tend to contribute to intolerance and distrust." One-third of Canadians have either little or no trust in churches when it comes to charitable work, with churches placing third-last among the types of charities the public trusts.

In other words, many people don't see churches as good or neutral. Many actually see the church as harmful to society.

An urban studies student wrote a survey to examine how churches interact with different people groups in a city. Block after block, she surveyed citizens of her town. More often than not, she found that the interviews produced thought-provoking stories.

She asked one lady, "What do you think churches could do to improve their relationship with the local community?"

"Churches?" she repeated, as if she might have heard wrong.

"I don't see anything that churches could do." She wasn't being mean; just to the point. "We've already got tons of churches. Look around. There's a church on every corner. I bet you could count nine or ten churches within three blocks of here."

"And nothing has changed, has it? Did you know that three or four of these churches have been here since the town was on the map? But some of the social issues just keep getting worse and worse."

"People don't have enough job training or employment opportunities. Drunks wander the streets. The same homeless people have been circling in and out of the shelters for the last fifteen years. Kids don't have anything to do to keep them out of trouble. Meanwhile, the churches keep right on existing, holding their services every Sunday. And it never changes anything. It seems pretty obvious to me that churches are not the answer." (From Sarah Cunningham, Dear Church)

Churches have PR problems. I was listening to the radio this week and heard callers complain about the Christians who handed out evangelical tracts on Hallowe'en night. I'll put it this way: you couldn't hear much love for Christians in the voices of the callers.

Then there's what happened with Ted Haggard this week. Ted Haggard is the megachurch pastor and evangelical leader who this week was caught in a sex and drug scandal. Although he's denied the allegations, he resigned from his church yesterday after an independent board found him guilty of "sexually immoral conduct." There were almost three thousand stories about this on Google News yesterday. One of the saddest articles to me was one in Forbes magazine entitled "A Look at Some Fallen Religious Leaders" listing six leaders American religious figures who lost their positions due to sexual misconduct.

The question for me is: how do we live as Christians when the trust in the church is so low? How do we at Richview live and serve within the community when so many see the church in such a negative light?

I want to take this question to the Scripture, but before we do I'd like to pray this morning for some of the situations we've just talked about:

  • For those who have been disillusioned because the church has let them down
  • For those who have fallen - for the situation in the States right now
  • That God would give us wisdom as we consider how to be the church in this context

I'm going to invite two or three of you to pray about these situations before we continue.

[Prayer]

So we're asking how to serve in a climate of mistrust and cynicism toward the church, some of it deserved. To answer this question, I want to take you back to a group that faced cynicism and even hostility, and how the Bible said they should respond.

Here's the situation. The churches we're going to look at were experiencing cynicism and even hostility because they were Christians. It was said that these Christians practiced murder, incest, and cannibalism in their secret meetings. This sounds completely off the wall, but you can understand where some of this came from. They called some of their meetings "love feasts." They talked about loving their brothers and sisters, and eating the body and drinking the blood of their Lord. The most serious charge was that they disturbed the peace and good order of the Empire.

The situation got so bad that eventually the emperor of that day, the most powerful man in the world, used Christians as human torches at sporting events. The charges against them included disloyalty to the emperor; propagating unlawful customs, defaming the gods, and defying authority.

Peter writes to these churches. One of his main goals is to tell them how to react to the situation they're facing. They were facing even more hostility and cynicism than we are facing. Up until this point, he's told them about the difference that the Gospel has made in their lives. Now, Peter transitions and begins to describe how they can live as Christians in a hostile world. This is a pivotal passage; the next couple of chapters are going to unpack what he says in these two verses. Up until now he's been primarily theological. Here, he begins to

How do we live as Christians in a hostile and cynical world?

1 Peter 2:11-12 says:

Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.

We're going to explore how this applies to different situations over the next few weeks. We want to talk about some of the practical issues of our life, like how this works out in our relationships with friends who aren't Christians, to be a Christian at the workplace when we're outnumbered, and even how this works in our marriages. Today, though, I want to spend just a few minutes thinking about what these verses could mean for those of us at Richview.

What Peter Didn't Say

If I were one of the people getting this letter from Peter, I need to be honest: I would feel a little disappointed at first. Given the accusations and the hardships that I was facing, I would hope that Peter would do one of two things.

No Withdrawal - First, I could settle for a bit of withdrawal. I'm not usually one to argue that Christians should withdraw from society and live in their own conclaves, but if I was facing this type of persecution, I think that a conclave might look a little more attractive. If I was going to work and experiencing abuse, I'd like to hear that it's time for another job. If my friends didn't understand my commitment to Christ, then I might look for new friends. I might have hoped that Peter said, "Protect yourself from abuse by huddling with other Christians."

But Peter says, essentially, that these Christians are "foreigners and exiles," or as another translation puts it, "resident aliens." They're different from the surrounding culture, but they're not called to abandon the surrounding culture. Instead, they're to engage with culture, as we're about to see, with a robust faith. No withdrawal, even when culture is hostile.

If we're honest, withdrawal is a temptation that many of us face. We have Christian bookstores, Christian schools, Christian friends. You can even get a Christian yellow pages so that you can only use Christian plumbers and Christian auto mechanics. There is nothing wrong with any of these things in themselves, but there's a danger that over time we become less and less connected with the world out there and more insulated, more out of touch with those who see the world differently from us.

A pastor friend of mine started a church in Portland. They only ever grew to about forty or fifty people for the first few years, all of them Christian. One day the pastor, Rick, realized that he only hung around people who were like him, who shared the same views, held the same belief. He read every how-to book on how to reach people, and began to realize that the problem wasn't really a how-to problem. It was a want-to problem. He didn't want to reach out to those who were unlike him. He really didn't care.

He decided to call for a weekly meeting, every Wednesday night, to repent - something, he says, that was pretty hard to market. They began to meet and to repent of the fact that they didn't care, that some of them hated their neighbors. They continued to pray this way for nine months. The story continues today with a church in one of the least Christian cities in America, and the people of that city like that church, because they realize that the Christians in the church like those who aren't like them.

So how do you respond in a culture that's hostile to Christianity? According to Peter, and seen in places like in my friend's church in Portland, you don't withdraw. You stay connected with those who aren't like you.

No strategy that focuses on them - The other thing that I wouldn't have minded if I got this letter back then would have been a strategy for changing these people. I mean, they are clearly in the wrong, aren't they? They have such a negative and hostile view of Christianity. I would like a plan to change them. I would like it to be all about them.

There is a place for strategy. Paul and some of the early missionaries were master strategists. They knew exactly what they were doing. Peter does in fact have a strategy, but it's not so much a strategy about them. The minute we focus on them, we've lost sight of the real challenge. The real challenge is us.

What Peter Says: Passing the Sniff Test

Remember what I said earlier? I quoted from an author who said that people have a nose for what's fake. They're looking for authenticity. In essence, we have to pass the sniff test.

There's a new friend of mine who's been through unbelievable tragedies over the past year. I hope one day you'll get to meet her and hear her story. Early on, when we first met, I remember her saying, "I need to know if Christianity is real. I need to know if it's just a game you play on Sundays, or if it's the real thing. I desperately want God, but I don't want to waste my time if it's all a game." She wanted to see if we passed the sniff test, if it's real.

So Peter says not to withdraw, and not to come up with a strategy for changing them out there. Instead, Peter says that our real challenge if we want to reach them is to make sure that we're real, that we pass the sniff test. He says to live holy lives so that those who are cynical and hostile become persuaded because our lives speak so loudly.

Two areas he mentions in particular.

The first is how we handle our sinful desires. The word is a little bit stronger than it seems. It's talking about our passionate longings, the things that we know are wrong but that we really want to do. These passionate and sinful desires, Peter says, are at war against our souls. You know what I'm talking about. All of us experience this in different areas of our lives. It's an ongoing battle, one that will never fully be over.

This is especially an issue when we're under pressure. I am a much nicer person when I'm not under pressure. You ever take those psychological tests that tell you what you are normally like, and then how you react under pressure? Peter is writing to people who are under pressure, and the danger is that they will react with a desire to protect themselves, to act in ways that are self-absorbed and focused on their own well-being. That's not even to mention all the other temptations they face.

So Peter says, "Abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul." Those who are hostile and cynical toward Christianity are watching your life. They see how you live. The best way to overcome their cynicism is to pass the sniff test in the area of temptation.

So that's the first area: how we handful our sinful desires. The second area Peter mentions is how well we measure up to society's standards. He's already told us to be holy, but that's not what I think he's talking about here. These people are working as slaves, or they're in marriages with unbelievers. Peter's not just telling them to be holy; he's telling them to be the best slaves possible, the best wife possible, because that will help them pass the sniff test. He says, "Live such good lives among the pagans" (1 Peter 2:12).

The result, he says, is that "though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us." That phrase, "on the day that he visits us," sometimes refers to God's judgment. Here, though, I think it's talking about another type of divine visitation. He's talking about these hostile and cynical unbelievers being won over to the faith because of the good behavior of those who are Christians.

Imagine if we turned our focus as a church on one area only: on becoming a disciple of Jesus Christ who took our discipleship so seriously that we passed the sniff test of a cynical and hostile world. Imagine that people could see that, because of the Gospel, we were prevailing in our own war against sin, and that Christians were known to be the best employees, the best neighbors, the best students that you could ask for. Imagine if our lives spoke the Gospel.

So how do we encounter a cynical and hostile world? Not by withdrawing, and not by trying to change them. The focus isn't on them; it's on us, on our passing the sniff test so that we have something real to offer.

Some have suggested that we don't need to make outreach our primary goal. Instead, our real challenge is inreach - to turn those of us within the church into lights that can shine in a darkened world. Our challenge, really, is to become disciples in every area of our lives so that our lives pass the sniff test. We'll continue to look at this in coming weeks as it applies to different areas of our lives. This morning, I'll leave you with a question:

Are we attractive Christians? Do we give people the impression that the most marvelous thing in the world is to be a Christian and to have the Spirit of God within us? This is the thing to which we are called and the way to do that is positively to avoid grieving the Spirit, and to walk in him, to dwell in him as he dwells in us, and to be led by him in all things. (Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones)

There's no way we can make this happen ourselves. I would like to invite you to pray that living this type of life would be our burning desire, and that as we yield to the Spirit we will begin to smell more and more like the fragrance of Christ, which will help us pass any sniff test out there.