fresh bread: when it’s hard because you believe

Do you have a boss or co-worker who doesn’t know the Lord who tries to make your life miserable because they know you believe? Is your home divided on matters of faith and so you pay the price for your faith daily? Do the pagans pick on you at school because you’re a Christian?

What can you do when you suffer because you believe? What can you do when you suffer evil for doing good?

Though it’s natural to feel helpless, you’re anything but defenseless. Peter, an apostle of God and no stranger to suffering for faith himself, tells us it’s an inside job.

1. You can deliberately project beauty, not ugliness, in response to whatever you receive. “… make yourselves beautiful on the inside, in your hearts, with the enduring quality of a gentle, peaceful spirit.” (3:4)

2. You can decide ahead of time not to return in kind, but to be kind in return. “Don’t pay back evil for evil or insult for insult. Instead, give blessing in return. You were called to do this so that you might inherit a blessing.” (3:9)

3. You can refuse to let your fears get the upper hand on you. ” Don’t be terrified or upset by them.” (3:14)

4. You can diligently determine deep down that Jesus rules. “… regard Christ as holy in your hearts.” (3:15)

5. You can do the smart work of preparedness so that when you open your mouth, the best of things come out. “Whenever anyone asks you to speak of your hope, be ready to defend it. Yet do this with respectful humility, maintaining a good conscience.” (3:15-16a)

6. You can be consistent in your witness and responses each day so that you can keep a clear conscience about what you’re doing in the Lord’s name and toward others. “… [respond] with respectful humility, maintaining a good conscience. … so that those who malign your good lifestyle in Christ may be ashamed when they slander you.” (3:16)

7. You can construct real conviction about not compromising your convictions to try and avoid pain. “… since Christ suffered as a human, you should also arm yourselves with his way of thinking. For whoever suffers is finished with sin.” (4:1)

8. You can dig in your heels and not retreat into living in ways that contradict your faith in Christ, no matter how seriously you are tempted and even if it holds promise of deflecting some of your suffering because of their slander. “You have wasted enough time doing what unbelievers desire … They think it’s strange that you don’t join in these activities with the same flood of unrestrained wickedness. So they slander you.” (4:3-4)

9. You can “… be self-controlled and clearheaded so you can pray.”(4:7b)

10. You can remind yourself again and again not to be surprised that this has come to be your lot in life for you are following the way of Christ, your Lord who suffered for you. “… don’t be surprised about the fiery trials that have come among you to test you. These are not strange happenings. Instead, rejoice as you share Christ’s suffering. (4:12-13a)

My Father in heaven, this is my prayer: that you would strengthen me to give only good witness of you each day, come what may. In the name of Him who suffered in my place, I pray. Amen.

ct: the crucified God

If the central fact of the newer Testament’s witness is the passion and death of Jesus, the Christ, then this fact must not  become a mere addendum to an a priori theism in which God is defined by a power and glory that precludes any kind of qualification. If the crucified one is truly representative of the God by whom faith believes him to have been sent, then, however ponderous the transcendent power that reason and religion have attributed to deity, the Christian God must be seen as a suffering God. (Douglas John Hall, The Cross in Our Context, p.85)

fresh bread: rejoice in this hope

“May the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ be blessed! On account of his vast mercy, he has given us new birth. You have been born anew into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. You have a pure and enduring inheritance that cannot perish—an inheritance that is presently kept safe in heaven for you. Through his faithfulness, you are guarded by God’s power so that you can receive the salvation he is ready to reveal in the last time. You now rejoice in this hope, even if it’s necessary for you to be distressed for a short time by various trials.” (1 Peter 1:3-6 CEB)

As Christians, we have been born all over again. We have been born all over again into a hope that is truly alive. We have the perfect, ongoing inheritance for us reserved by God himself. Absolutely nothing or no one can harm or hinder that inheritance. God Almighty himself is our bodyguard.

Now I ask you, “Does it get any better than this, this side of eternity?” Not hardly. And so, if we truly grasp this what do you suppose our response should be given that we are born of God, heirs of God, and shielded by God?

“You now rejoice in this hope …”

Rejoice. This is the single, most appropriate word that comes to Peter’s mind to describe what the overall Christian experience in attitude and spirit is like.

And here’s the kicker: this should be true “even if it’s necessary for you to be distressed for a short time by various trials.” Peter was writing to Christians who were going through persecution and who would only live to see it intensify.

Joy is the true north of our compass. God’s presence is our God-given promise of inheritance. Come hell or high water – particularly because we believe – these things should never be diminished in our mind and should ever be obvious in the expression of our lives.

Father in heaven, you have adopted me as your own, shield me now as your beloved, and promise me things beyond my ability to imagine. Each day of my life, no matter what life brings me, may I give you joy with my joy over you. In the name of Christ my Savior and Lord, I pray. Amen.

ct: engaging the world

Unlike religions that draw their converts away from this world, a faith informed by … [the cross] … constrains the community of discipleship to enter into its historical situation with a new kind of openness, attentiveness, and compassion. … We are inclined to create for ourselves spaces apart, havens of withdrawal; for we know all too well that unprotected exposure to the world – to our here and now – is never painless, even at the best of time. Who can contemplate the kind of life undertaken by the great Christian activists of our epoch – Martin Luther King, Jr., Jan Vanier, Mother Theresa, Dorothy Day, Helder Camera, and others – without feeling incapable of such vulnerability? Despite our admiration for such figures, we are apt to find more appeal in a religion that provides sanctuary from the world, or at least a reliable insulation against the world’s insidious taunts, temptations, and revenges. As the cross of Jesus makes entirely plain to all who follow in his steps, those who seek great proximity to the world must be prepared to experience rebuff: the world is governed by a strange wrath that is most vengeful against those who choose to love it. For, its complacency and conceit notwithstanding, the world does not love itself. …

… neither will the world be engaged if … a religious body refuses to enter its world with sufficient abandon to arouse the world’s interest or curiosity. In biblical terms, the disciple community is called to be in the world yet not of the world – or … not of the world, but most decidedly in it. …

For the gospel is not the possession of the church: good news must always be discovered and rediscovered by the church – heard again in all its newness and goodness; heard, that is to say, in relation to the specifics of the here and now. The disciple community formulates its articulation of good news only as it experiences and seeks to comprehend the bad news that is just at this moment oppressing God’s beloved world. (Douglas John Hall, The Cross in Our Context, pp.53-54,56,59)

fresh bread: to carry his cross

Our reading today in the Fresh Eyes project is Mark 13-16. The focus text for today’s Fresh Bread devotional is Mark 15:21, an excerpt from the account of Jesus making his way to Golgotha to be crucified.

Simon, a man from Cyrene, Alexander and Rufus’ father, was coming in from the countryside. They forced him to carry his cross. (Mark 15:21 CEB)

I’ve always enjoyed William Barclay‘s comments on these verses:

This must have been a grim day for Simon of Cyrene. Palestine was an occupied country and any man might be impressed into the Roman service for any task. … Simon was from Cyrene in Africa. No doubt he had come from that far off land for the Passover. No doubt he had scraped and saved for many years in order to come. No doubt he was gratifying the ambition of a lifetime to eat on Passover in Jerusalem. Then this happened to him.

At the moment Simon must have bitterly resented it. … It may be that it was his intention when he got to Golgoatha to fling the cross down on the ground and hasten as quickly  as he could from the scene. But perhaps it did not turn out that way. Perhaps he lingered because something about Jesus fascinated him.

He [Simeon] is described as the father of Alexander and Rufus. The people for whom the gospel was written must have been  meant to recognize him by this description. It is most likely that Mark’s Gospel was first written for the church at Rome. Now let us turn to Paul’s letter to Rome and read 16:13. “Greet Rufus, eminent in the Lord, also his mother and mine.” Rufus was so choice a Christian that he was “eminent in the Lord.” The mother of Rufus was so dear to Paul that he could call her his own mother. Things must have happened to Simon on Golgotha.

Things indeed.

Our Father in heaven, holy you are and in all of your ways. As you cross our path each day, give us eyes to see you and serve you in every way, all of the way. Amen.

ct: theology of the cross as contextual theology

The theology of the cross as faith’s continuous commentary on the incarnating of God’s suffering love for the world can only prove itself such by extending itself further and further into the actual. … By definition, the theology of the cross is an applied theology. How in this world of the here and now are we to perceive the presence of the crucified one, and how shall we translate that presence into words, and deeds – or sighs too deep for either? That is the question … (Douglas John Hall, The Cross in Our Context, p.42)