A Peculiar People

(Exodus 19:3-6Hosea 2:21-231 Peter 2:9-10)

If you’re familiar with the King James Version, you probably realize that I took the title for this message from its translation of verse 9.  You might also remember that I referenced it in the first sermon of this series.  Our modern translations are right to use the word “chosen” instead, because the word “peculiar” doesn’t really get the right idea across anymore, but it’s too bad, really.  “Peculiar,” as the King James uses it, carries a sense of possession and uniqueness which the word “chosen” doesn’t.  I could say that this is my chosen shirt this morning, and I could say that Sara is my chosen wife, but I couldn’t say that this shirt is peculiar to me—I’m not emotionally invested in it, and there are a lot of other people who have shirts just like it.  Obviously, I wouldn’t normally call my wife peculiar, but in this sense, she’s peculiar to me alone.
Now, you might point out that I didn’t just choose her, she also chose me, and you don’t know how right you are; but that only strengthens the point, because we have also chosen God.  His choice of us is clearly first and greater, but it isn’t something that just happens to us—we respond to him, and so participate in his choice.  We’re bound to him by his act and our own, and so we’re doubly his, and his alone.  No one else has any claim on us—not even denominations that think they have a right to our property.  We are only God’s possession.
All that said, I’ll admit it’s not the whole reason I chose this title for the sermon.  The fact is, while Peter doesn’t explicitly say this, we are indeed a peculiar people as the world understands the word.  We are odd; we are atypical; we are outside our world’s idea of “normal.”  To say God has chosen us doesn’t just mean that he’s chosen us to be with him in the next life; he’s chosen us, as Peter makes clear, to do his work and serve his purposes in this one.  We are strange to this world because we’re turned toward God.
Peter tells us we are a separate nation from the nations of this world.  We are a nation set apart in allegiance to the King of heaven, to be his priests to the other nations.  As we see in Exodus 19, this is language used in the Old Testament to describe Israel and their mission.  God had made a covenant with Israel, and that was to define them in every respect.  They were to be holy to the Lord—different and distinct from the peoples around them in the way they lived life, the values they upheld and the goals they pursued—because their primary allegiance was to him rather than to any worldly powers.  Precisely in that, they were to serve as the priests of God to the world—the access point through whom the nations could come to God, and by whom they might be led to him.
Biblically, all our standards for life are to be disjointed from our culture and society.  How we do business, why we do business, how we talk to one another, how we use money, our attitudes toward material possessions, our view of sex, our ideas of what we deserve and what we don’t deserve—in all these things, and in everything else, we should be fundamentally different from those around us.  The purpose of everything we do is “to declare the praises of him who called [us] out of darkness into his marvelous light.”  That’s why we exist.  You want a mission statement?  In the big picture, that’s it.  Anything else you come up with has to point to that and end there.
The world worships itself, in various ways.  That worship defines the world, makes it what it is, and makes it do what it does.  When we go along with the world in its ways, we join in its worship, bowing at its altar.  That’s not who we have been called and created to be.  We are a people created by the entirely different worship of an entirely different God—a God who is neither ourselves nor defined by and for ourselves.  Everything we do is to be worship offered to him, and to flow out of our worship together as his people.  God has redeemed all of our life in Jesus Christ, all of it belongs to him, and so all of it is for him.

Our morality is to be not a matter of duty, but an offering of worship to God.  Our politics should be not about power and self-interest, but an offering of worship to God.  Our identity is truly found not in what the people of our town or in our broader culture see when they look at us, but in our worship of God.  And our witness to our world, our outreach and evangelism, aren’t things we do because we want the church to get bigger, but expressions of our worship of God.  We worship God, we learn to see how good and great and marvelous he is and how wonderful his grace, and so we talk about him wherever we go.  That’s the idea.

Living Stones

(Psalm 118:20-23Isaiah 8:11-15, Isaiah 28:14-18; 1 Peter 2:1-8)

Jesus is the living Stone promised by God.  He is the keystone of the arch of the living temple of God; he is the cornerstone of the whole building, the one from whom everything else is built out.  For you who believe in him and bow before him as Lord of all creation, he is an unshakeable foundation for your souls, and a sanctuary that will never fall.  The one who trusts in him will never be put to shame and will never have to fear the things of this world, no matter what storm may come.

For those who don’t put their trust in him, Jesus is the cause and occasion of judg­ment.  His blessings aren’t promised to everyone regardless of what they do or what they believe; his promises are only for those who come to him and lay all the weight of their lives on him, accepting him as the only trustworthy foundation.  Either you commit to rest your whole life on Jesus and put all your hope in him, or you don’t.

Granted, none of us put all our trust in Jesus all the time without fail; we have to keep choosing to trust him alone, because we drift.  We’re well trained to put our trust in our money, our education, our résumé, our family, our connections, and so on, and if we aren’t vigilant in our own hearts, we will always tend to revert to old habits.  Even so, the commitment to trust him alone, to follow him alone, to serve him alone, has to be there.  We can’t have Jesus as half our foundation, whether we take money or anything else as the other half; as he himself said, a house divided will never stand.

In the last analysis, we’re either all in with Jesus or we’re all out, and he drives us to make that choice.  You can maybe be neutral about Jesus from a distance, where you can’t see him clearly, but as you get closer, that quickly becomes impossible.  You either bow before him in utter surrender as the king of everything, or you refuse his demands and go your own way.

For those who reject him, who refuse to acknowledge him as the only true cornerstone for life, their refusal changes nothing:  he still remains the cornerstone.  He still remains a massive, immovable, unbreakable stone right in the center of life.  For those who build their lives on him and are built on him, he is the firm foundation.  Those who refuse to acknowledge that must still deal with him.  They may try to pretend he isn’t there at all, or that he isn’t what he is, but that doesn’t mean their way is clear.  In trying to walk through a stone they will not admit is there, they will stumble and fall and break themselves, and willfully refuse to under­stand why.  When the storm of God’s judgment breaks on the lies of humanity, they will be swept away, still rejecting the refuge.

This is the Prince of Peace who said, “I did not come to bring peace on earth, but a sword.”  He was, and is, a divisive figure, because he demands and deserves our absolute allegiance and our highest loyalty.  No lesser promise of support and service is ac­ceptable to him—it’s all or nothing.  And this is the mighty God in whose image we are being remade day by day.  He is the living Stone; we are being made living stones.

This is significant for us in a couple ways.  First, it connects to one of the main themes of this letter:  because we are in Christ, because of who we are in Christ, because we take our identity from him and not from the world, we will have conflict and we will have trouble.  People stumbled over Jesus, and they will stumble over us, and then they’ll blame us for their fall.  It doesn’t matter if they weren’t really looking where they were going; it was the stone’s fault, and they will vent their anger by kicking it and beating on it, even if it means they break a toe and bruise their fists.  This is the inheritance of the children of God—in this world.  We need to expect it.  We need to stop assuming that conflict means we’re doing something wrong.  It may mean we’re being like Jesus.

Second, this is the point at which Peter shifts from talking about our individual identity in Christ to our collective identity in Christ, and note how he does this.  I’m sure you’ve heard the line, “We don’t go to church, we arethe church,” and he affirms this in a profoundly concrete way.  Unlike Paul in 1 Corinthians 3, he doesn’t talk about us as the people who build the church—Peter tells us that we’re the building materials.  We are the stones with which God is building his temple on earth.

Think about that.  The home of God on earth is us—he lives in us by his Holy Spirit—and he builds it with our lives.  We are the visual representation of the character of God, in the way we live together; we’re the ones given to draw in the nations and lead them in the worship of God.  We’re called to carry on the ministry of Christ as a sanctuary and a shelter; we aren’t the foundation, but we lead people to the One who is.  We stand as a great rock in the world’s way.  For some, that makes us a beacon of hope; others see us as an obstruction to be bulldozed at any cost.

This is what our lives are for, and this is what our life together as the church is for.  Nothing more, and nothing less.  We don’t exist for ourselves, and the church doesn’t exist for us.  Like Jesus, we don’t exist to support ourselves, but to spend ourselves for the world; supporting us is God’s job, and he’s better at it than we are anyway.  We’re part of something much, much larger than any of us, or all of us together, and the measure of our lives is—is the temple of God more glorifying to him, more true to his character, and more dedicated to his work, because we’re a part of it?

Permanent People in a Temporary World

(Psalm 34:8-10Isaiah 40:1-111 Peter 1:22-2:3)

You have been redeemed from the empty way of life of this world with the precious blood of Christ, who gave his life as the perfect, sinless sacrifice for sin.  God the Father raised him from the dead, and through him you believe in God and have been made children of God; therefore your faith and hope are no longer in this world or the things of this world, they are in your Father in heaven.  This is Peter’s summary of the gospel in our passage from last time.  As he makes clear, it’s not enough for us simply to agree with this in our heads; we need to agree with it in our hearts, our mouths, our hands, and our feet as well.  If we nod and smile and say, “Yes, that’s true,” then go on about life as if we’d never heard any of it, we’ve missed the point.

This is truth we need to obey.  That might sound like a strange way to put it, but it’s a normal part of life.  We obey the law of gravity:  we know that if we hold something out and let go of it, it will fall, so we don’t intentionally do that unless that’s the result we want.  We know the law of gravity is true, and we act on that knowledge—we make our plans and our decisions with the understanding that gravity is in effect.  I am married, I have four children, and I obey that truth—I don’t do things the same way I would if I were living alone.  (Partly because I don’t want to be living alone.)  These truths define and limit us.  They tell us this is how life is, this is what we can do and what we can’t, and we obey them, or else we get the consequences.  So it is with the gospel.  The Father doesn’t just want us to say that it’s true, he wants us to live the truth.

It’s through this, Peter says, that our lives are being made holy, as God commands in Leviticus 19.  I said last week that part of seeing ourselves as children of the Father is recognizing our fellow believers as our brothers and sisters in the family of God; Peter lands on that here, telling us that part of the purpose for which we’re being made holy is that we would love one another deeply and sincerely as brothers and sisters in Christ.  There should be no place among us for evil actions or dishonesty—no hypocrisy or jealousy, no gossip or backbiting or trying to undermine one another; we should never have agendas against one another, no matter how justified we might think them to be.  We face too much opposition from the world to be turning it against ourselves.  Instead, the more we look to the Father, the more his love will move us to value the good of those around us ahead of our own desires.  That’s his character being formed and revealed in us, and it’s the core of our witness to the world around us.

Obviously, this is something God is doing in us, not something we can do by our own efforts.  Our part is to seek to develop a taste for the things of God—a commitment to taste and see that the Lord is good.  My Nana used to tell us kids that we weren’t allowed to say we didn’t like something until we’d tried it five times, and she wanted us to try everything honestly.  There was no room in her view for taking a bite of food determined to dislike it—we were supposed to look for reasons to like it.  For all that, broccoli and I had a hate-hate relationship until a couple years ago when I tried some that my in-laws had just picked from their garden; all of a sudden, I had some idea what the good part of broccoli was supposed to be.  I’m still not hugely fond of it, but I’ve been able to develop more of a taste for it now that I know what I’m tasting for.

There are a lot of kids out there who won’t eat anything much beyond Wonder Bread, hot dogs, cheese pizza, and candy—cheap pleasures that don’t require any effort from them.  That’s the sort of food, spiritually speaking, that the world teaches us people to enjoy:  the cheap pleasures of malice, deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander, among others.  To learn that the food of God really does taste better, and to learn to desire his goodness instead of the evils of this world, takes time, and a certain degree of commitment.  There are exceptions, but generally, you have to want to taste that the Lord is good before you will.

I said this takes time and commitment; but it takes something else, too, because if all you have is the life of this world, the things of God will never taste good to you.  The food of God does not feed the life of this world—it starves it.  I mentioned learning to like broccoli a moment ago, but I left out part of the story.  My in-laws’ garden broccoli had a significant effect on my perceptions, but I don’t think that would have happened were it not for some medication I’d started taking a while before which changed my tastes in food—not hugely, but significantly.  I was able to make an external change, in my response to broccoli, because there had already been an underlying change in me; I could act differently because I myself was different.

That, working inward from the beginning and end of this passage, brings us to the key point at its heart.  What makes all of this possible?  What makes all of this real?  “You have been born again, not of any mere earthly seed that will perish in time, but of the eternal, incorruptible seed of the life of God through his living word, which abides forever.”  When my children were conceived and then born, they received life from me and from their mother; that life passes and decays, and in time it will end.  We have been born again as children of God, and we have received his life; that life will never end, and it does not decay.  This world is temporary, and everything that is born of it is temporary.  God is eternal and his word is permanent, and everyone who is born of him is permanent.

That ought to change how we live.  Whatever we spend of ourselves is permanent; what­ever we buy from this world is temporary.  Obviously our time is passing, and so is our money; but we have the chance to spend them on things that will last forever, instead of things that are here today and gone tomorrow.  Our talents and skills are gifts God has given us for his service, meant to be used to do works that matter eternally.  If we use them instead merely to gain the goods of this world, which do not last, aren’t we wasting them?

And if we let ourselves be filled with envy of others, if we lie to make ourselves look better or others look worse, if we give in to the temptation to undermine others and tear them down, if we nurture grievance and bitterness in our hearts, Peter tells us, we’re wasting our lives.  None of these things is ever from God.  They are of the life of this world, they serve only the purposes of this world, and none of them will endure, for he will blow them away like dead leaves in a hurricane.  It doesn’t matter what our reasons might be, treating other people this way never pleases God.  Bitterness, malice, deceit, envy, slander, and spite are all completely alien to his character; they arise from hearts which are focused on the things of this world rather than of God.  This world is temporary.  We have been born again, we are no longer of this world.  In Christ, by the Holy Spirit, God the Father has given us his life and made us permanent.  Peter challenges us:  live like it.

Children of the Father

(Leviticus 19:1-2Isaiah 52:1-61 Peter 1:13-21)

Last December’s issue of the magazine First Things opened with a piece from editor-in-chief R. R. Reno titled “How to Limit Government.”  You might wonder why I’m mentioning it, but here’s his thesis:

Government will remain in bounds only to the degree that it meets resis­tance, and the historic sources of resis­tance—faith and family—are in decline.

As he goes on to say, these have historically been most people’s two primary loyalties, their two primary sources of guidance, and their two pri­mary forms of support in times of need.  As such, they have long been the two major restrictors on the growth of government, and thus the two primary things which metastasizing regimes of whatever type have sought to control, subvert, or supplant.

Dr. Reno’s comments on religion and religious institutions are particularly insightful.  He writes,

Faith makes a claim—the claim—on our loyalty.  As an institution that nurtures and expresses faith, the church or synagogue or mosque is a sacred community with a law of its own.  When Caesar’s laws contradict the laws of God, divine authority trumps.

[The French philosopher] Rousseau saw how Christian faith divides our loyalties.  We can be citizens, yes, but we must be disciples first.  Our highest loyalty is to the City of God, not the city of man.  He rejected this divided loyalty as a threat to genuine freedom, which to his way of thinking requires an integral and all-powerful government . . .  Therefore, he insisted, true religion is a natural and ennobling piety that has no creed or church and, consequently, does not involve a system of authority to rival the state.

Rousseau’s vision has gained ground.  Atheism is rare, but many who believe in God don’t like “organized religion.”  They describe themselves as “spiritual” but not “religious.”  Disorganized religiosity cannot limit government.

Now, let me take Dr. Reno’s argument one step further.  What he says is true of religion in general, but Christianity does more:  it teaches us to call God Father and to understand ourselves as his beloved children—and thus to understand one another as our brothers and sisters in Christ.  It unites these two loyalties in a way that nothing else on earth does.  Christian faith is apolitical and resistant to government in a way that politics and government can’t control.
Am I off on a tangent here?  No, I’m not.  Look at verse 17:  “Since you call on a Father who judges each man’s work impartially, live your lives as resident aliens here in reverent fear.”  This is a different word from the one the NIV translates “strangers” in verse 1; this one was only used of foreigners who had lived in the same place long enough to gain a certain degree of legal protection.  It acknowledges that most of us live in this world long enough that we think of it as our home, but calls us to see past that to the deeper reality of our lives.  This isn’tour home, because we are children of the Father.  He is our home.

Calling God our Father isn’t just about him comforting and protecting us; that aspect of his relationship to us is real and important and worth celebrating, as in the hymn we sang a few minutes ago, but it’s only part of the picture.  Allegiance and obedience are at least as important, and they’re critical to understanding who we are in Christ.  If we live as children of the Father, we will live as resident aliens in this world; we will see ourselves as strangers living in strange lands.

Craig Barnes, the president of Princeton Theological Seminary, has said that exiles are people who know where home is—they just don’t live there.  The German mystic Meister Eckhardt wrote, “God is at home.  We are in the far country.”  Put the two statements together, and you see our position.  We are exiles in the far country, living under a foreign govern­ment—one which we can influence, but which isn’t ultimately ours—holding to a different alle­giance than the world around us, obeying a different authority.

Now, am I saying we shouldn’t love this country or live as good citizens here?  No.  Our model is Jeremiah’s letter to the exiles in Jeremiah 29, which we’ll look at a bit more closely in a month or two.  The key verse for our purposes is 29:7:  “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.”  We bear witness to the goodness of God by working for the good of the community and nation to which he sent us; but that’s not the same as working for what this community or this nation think is good for it.  We bear witness to the character of God by defining that good differently than the world around us does.  Sometimes that means taking stands which are deeply unpopular, and telling people the truths they’re most determined not to hear.

This also means not putting our hope and our trust in the things of this world.  Rather, as Peter says, “set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed.”  The world values perishable goods like money and power, pleasure and status, reputation and security; it has made them idols, things which people pursue above all else, on which they build their lives.  That way of life is slavery to sin.  Christ bought our freedom from that slavery, and the price he paid was none of the ephemeral treasures of this world, but the infinite, eternal treasure of his own life.  He freed us from the fleeting hopes of this passing age, and gave us a greater hope than all of them put together:  the assurance that we are saved by the grace of God.

To this end, Peter says, we’re to prepare our minds for action.  If you were here the last few months, you may remember me talking about the long robes the Jews wore.  If you were going to do any serious activity, you had to gird your loins—to put on a belt, gather your robe up, and tuck it into the belt to free up your legs.  What Peter says here, literally, is, “Gird up the loins of your mind.”  Get yourself ready to move, to run, to work, in order that you may be self-con­trolled.  That’s bigger than you may realize.  Most people aren’t truly self-controlled—they’re controlled by their desires, their fears, their habits, their instinctive reactions.  Apart from Christ, sin controls all of us.  In him, we have been set free to be our proper selves, and to choose not to be ruled by these things.  To do that, though, we need to gird up our minds for action, and intentionally set our hope beyond the walls of this world, on our Father in heaven.

I like the way Karen Jobes summarizes this:

Peter instructs his readers to set their hope on the grace that will be theirs when Jesus returns by being fully able to think and act on the basis of their true nature in Christ, despite whatever hostility such a lifestyle might provoke from their society.

We cannot resolve to stand against worldly opposition unless, as she says, we “have [our] minds fixed on the final outcome of that resolve.”  That final outcome is the only reason it makes sense to buck this world now; doing so is what it means to live as obedient children of God the Father.  God calls us to holiness—to be set apart from the world and con­formed to his character in our thinking and our behavior—nothing less.

This doesn’t just mean not doing stuff we know is sinful, either.  For instance, it’s not enough to say, “Well, I don’t spend money on illegal things, so I’m fine.”  When you look at the decisions you make with your money, do they show that you’re putting your trust in your money, or in God?  Being holy as the Father is holy is about our entire lives being set apart for him.  It means seeking first his kingdom and his righteousness in everything we do and with everything we have—even things like our operating budget and what we do for fun—and not keeping anything back for ourselves, trusting him to provide for all our needs.

Strangers in Strange Lands

(Exodus 24:3-8, Jeremiah 31:8-14; 1 Peter 1:1-12)

As we move into this new year, I wanted to take some time to give you a sense of where we’re going with the sermons and how things fit together.  In the last few months, I started to feel a pull to preach on revival.  I prayed about that, and had several con­versations which reinforced that idea, so I started thinking about it in earnest.  Problem was, I had no real concept of how to go about doing such a thing.  As I began to try to figure that out, I soon found myself thinking that I needed to do something else first.

What that was, I didn’t know.  I was driving along with the music playing, pondering this, and suddenly the song “Trouble Is” caught my attention.  It’s a song by the group Jars of Clay; the chorus gives the album on which it appears its title, which I’ve taken for this sermon series.  We think we are who the world tells us we are, and that life works the way the world tells us it works.  Jesus tells us otherwise, but we have a hard time believing him, because our vision of ourselves hasn’t really changed.  We think we are who the world says we are; the trouble is, we don’t know who we are instead.

As I continued to think and pray, a phrase came to mind:  “You are a royal priest­hood, a peculiar people.”  I went looking for it, and found it to be an abbreviation of the King James of 1 Peter 2:9.  As I read, I realized that that’s really what it’s about.  Peter tells us that we are the new Israel, in that we have been given the mission which was first given to Israel:  to be the distinct people of God in the midst of the peoples of this world, and thus to bear witness to his character, will, and purpose.  To understand what we’re called to do and how we’re supposed to relate to the world around us, we have to understand who we are in Christ instead of who we were in the world.

We see this in 1 Peter from the first line.  He addresses his hearers as “the chosen,” who are “exiles of the diaspora” in the provinces that covered the area we now know as Turkey.  That’s loaded language.  The Greek word “diaspora” was already being used to describe the Jewish communities scattered across the known world as a result of the exile.  Wherever the Jews went, though there were always some who assimilated to the dominant culture, as a whole they maintained their own identity and allegiances as a separate people.  They didn’t conform to the societies around them; they were conspicuous by their difference.  In this, they are the model for the church.

That’s why Peter calls his hearers “exiles.”  The NIV has “stran­gers” there, but I don’t think it’s strong enough by itself.  The Greek word refers to people who lived someplace where they weren’t citizens—foreigners who were long-term residents but remained foreigners, not belonging to the country in which they lived.  They were outsiders, and often treated with suspicion as possible threats to the social order.

Interestingly, Peter doesn’t address his readers as “the church” or “the churches” in these provinces, the way Paul would, but as individual believers who are out in the everyday world living as foreigners.  He’s balanced this quite carefully.  On the one hand, he wants them to understand that as Christians, we’re all exiles and resident aliens; yes, we live here, but we don’t belong here and we never will.  Karen Jobes of Wheaton notes that Rome expelled Christians from the capital more than once during the first century, and suggests that Peter’s audience may be Christians who were deported to colonies in the provinces during one of these expulsions; this would give his language extra force, if he’s drawing on a sense of homelessness and disorientation that they already feel.

On the other hand, addressing them as “the church” would focus their attention on what they do when they’re gathered together, separated out from the world around them, and Peter doesn’t want to do that.  The easiest way to deal with a society in which you’re a misfit is to withdraw from it, to find other misfits and create your own little bubble.  It would be easy for the church to become just that sort of bubble, a little pocket culture for the benefit of those who already fit in there.  That’s not what the church is supposed to be, and it’s not how Christians are supposed to live.

Rather, we’re called to live as strangers in strange lands.  We don’t belong here, and the countries in which we find ourselves don’t belong to us.  This isn’t home, and it’s no place we should be making ourselves comfortable.  Yes, that’s true even of this country, for all the influence Christian faith had in its founding.  Really, that was always the case, but all the more now that the body politic is moving into a religious hangover phase, no longer truly operating under the influence.  As Dr. Jobes puts it, “foreigners dwell respectfully in their host nation but participate in its culture only to the extent that its values and customs coincide with their own that they wish to preserve.”

If we’re faithful to Christ, we may not conform ourselves to the values of this society, or operate according to its models, or let its priorities dictate ours.  Rather, we must let the gospel of Jesus Christ and the holiness of God the Father judge them, and where they stand in conflict with God, we must stand against them—neither going along with them nor getting out of the way.  We are called to be, consciously, conspicuously, and carefully, different, and to let the world denounce us as different.

Inevitably, living that way leads to opposition, which sometimes rises to oppression, persecution, and suffering.  That’s why oppression, persecution, and suffering are such strong concerns all through this letter.  It’s not often our place as disciples of Jesus to create conflict, but we do need to accept it when it comes—and if we’re faithful to him, it will.  Peter’s concern in verses 3 and following is to focus his readers’ attention—and beyond them, ours as well—through suffering to hope.  Whatever trials and struggles we face will be worth it, and more than worth it, for two reasons.

One, in Jesus we have an inheritance which is beyond all the corruption of this world, and we have the assurance that it’s being kept for us and we’re being kept for it by the power of God.  This world cannot raise the dead, and though it can give much pleasure, it cannot offer joy.  God has already given us both, though we cannot now fully experience them.  The world can’t save us, and quite frankly, it wouldn’t want to; it profits too much from our scrambles to save ourselves, and even from our ultimate demise.  Jesus has already saved us, purchasing us out of this world and into the one that is coming.  Our society frantically tries to deny that, striving to convince us either that we don’t need it or else that it can’t possibly be for us—that we’re too messed up for him to love us.  Jesus just looks at us and says, “I love you anyway.”

Two, when trials come and we suffer for our faith, for all the grief and pain we experience now, even that is part of our hope.  Trials and suffering are the testing of faith.  A faith that has never dealt with trials and suffering is a faith that has never been experienced.  It’s easy to say you have faith in your ability to walk when you’re lying flat on your back; if you never get out of bed, your faith is merely theoretical.  It’s easy to talk about faith in God when everything in your life looks good, because you don’t need faith then.  It’s when trials come and you’re hurting, when you have to hang on to Jesus for dear life, that you see what your faith is made of.

But when you come out of those trials and you can look back and see that Jesus was faithful, that he hung on to you and you made it through by his power, then you can rejoice in his faithfulness—and then you have the assurance he’ll bring you through the next trial, because he brought you through this one.  Then you know that whatever this world can dish out to try to force you into line, God can and will give you the victory over it.  And that’s a joy and a peace that are more than worth the cost.