Monday, August 26, 2013

The Gospel Consumed (1 Peter 2:21-25)

"I'm sorry, we just don't have anything for you."
"We'd love to help you look elsewhere."

I felt rejected like Vivianne in Pretty Woman. Remember the scene where she tries to go shopping and is asked to leave from a shop on Rodeo Drive? In Christ I feel so richly blessed. I have a purse full of grace and wonder at the way Christ is transforming me. In Him I am ready for action and fix my eyes on the wonderful fulfillment of his grace in full measure (1 Peter 1:13). Yet at times I've felt like the body of believers and life situations want to throw me back out on the street.

Why is it that at times other Christians, and even God himself, seem to reject us? We feel cast out rather than welcomed in. We feel lonely rather than surrounded by a community. We feel naked and hungry instead of fulfilled. In these broken moments, the mountain of missed expectations and hurt constantly knock on the door of the heart.

Knock-knock-knock. "Hello, my name is. . .Oh my! You poor thing. Those clothes just aren't fitting for a woman like you. You deserve something better. I have a catalog of distractions here that will make you feel so good about yourself. Let's take a look, shall we?"

Knock-knock. "Good afternoon. I'm selling a wonderful set of self-justification. Yes! They have rejected you, haven't they. Did you know that not everyone is deserving of grace? You have every right to. . ."

Beware of the peddlers. They prey on emotion and sidestep the gospel.

First Peter 2:21-25 offers Christ as an example of how to conduct one's mind and actions in the midst of suffering or trial. Christ affixes his valuation of himself and his situation on the Father. Do you see how evil intent surrounded Him as He hung dying? His circumstances did not reflect His position before God nor did people treat Him with such dignity.

PAUSE   If you find yourself struggling today, or have a place of hardness in your heart from being hurt, find a moment to identify with the Lord in suffering. Tell Him how you are feeling. Unload the layers of emotion and thought, but withhold from placing blame. Acknowledge that He understands the place of suffering, though He was sinless and you are not. The mind can become a playground when we don't acknowledge that God sees our hearts and mind. Learn to stop playing "Tag" and placing blame in this moment. Be a broken sinner and talk to Him about it.

The passage says that Jesus, while reviled, did not revile in return. He did not retaliate because they missed His expectations. He didn't gasp and complain when he was brought to a cross rather than a throne. He expected those around Him to be sinners and to miss the significance of a holy moment.

Can you imagine Jesus being like us?

"You forgot my birthday, AGAIN! I am Jesus, and you forgot my birthday. I hate you!" (Feet stomp off. Door slams. Mary and Joseph stand watching aloof.)

My expectations sometimes place people into positions that God doesn't intend. It's easy to have a bank full of expectations waiting to be fulfilled by God and others, isn't it? For example, last week I mentioned that during my first year of marriage I realized my lust for a title and a position in ministry. This is not a bad desire when ministering to the body of believers matches my passion and gifting. But God and others are not bound by my desire or goals. My desire turned sinful when I required a position to do what only God could. I lusted after a role and not God to affirm me. Feeling rejected from ministry and volunteer opportunities this past year was hard. I never thought I'd be sitting at home so much after spending so many years pouring into my church family.

Yet, I have no right to a particular station in life. And God never intended a station in life to affirm who I am through Christ. Like Christ, I should not demand that others reflect my value and fulfill my expectations. That is business between God and myself. After all, my expectations might look good on the outside, but be motivated by sin--envy, pride, or selfish ambition. This year through missed expectations, I was forced to unpack my heart to understand why I felt rejected from ministry positions and volunteer opportunities, and why I wavered in my emotional control.

PAUSE   Our expectations of others can form a legalistic structure of giving and earning love. Can you see any expectations that are ruling your mind? How do you feel like others or God have failed you? Is your right to these things promised in scripture? Have you sinned against someone by withholding grace? Have you disrespected God by approaching Him with a demanding attitude? Now is a great time for reflection and confession. These ways are contrary to the gospel. We must learn to consume the gospel like babies needing milk. Jesus' work on the cross for us attained peace with God. Are you at peace? Jesus' resurrection from the dead attained for us a new life ordered by grace. Are you giving and receiving grace today?

Friends, we are so fortunate to believe in a God we've never seen. We are richly blessed to have a Savior who walked this earth and reordered all things back to God through Himself. We are privileged to come before God and realize the person we were created to be. We have so much freedom to pursue our hearts' desires through grace. Read the passage once again and watch what Jesus does between Himself and his Father.

Jesus entrusts himself to God. He does not avoid recognizing the sin of those around Him. He knew it and moved forward with grace. You, too, will be affected by others' sin as well as being sinful yourself. Face it. Confess. Forgive. And then entrust yourself to God's good pleasure. He sees our situation. He meets us at the place of difficulty. He trains our eyes to look directly at Him in the midst of His sovereignty that allows difficulty.

My turning point this past year happened during prayer. I finally broke and let faith be the only avenue of seeking a future plan. I cried to God for faith. I wanted faith in Him to guide my steps and to stop looking for a position to affirm that I was still chosen to minister the gospel of peace to others. I stopped trying control the safe box in which ministry would happen. He would be my guide of stepping to the right or to the left. He would guide me to the door I should knock on. And He did.

As an act of celebrating God's grace through Jesus, prayerfully entrust yourself to the hand of God in your moment--this place where you find yourself yearning for God and struggling with the flesh. It is a beautiful place!

(c) 2013 by Kendra Higgins

Next Week

For the next two weeks, we will have two lovely women sharing about their own consumption of the gospel in the midst of life's challenging situations. I'm so excited for you to hear from women who are faithful to Christ and honest about themselves. Please pray for them as they prepare to share!

Monday, August 19, 2013

Curbing An Appetite for Sin (1 Peter 2:1-3)

My first year of marriage has been a blessing bundled in change. After 34 years of singlehood, I married a wonderful man and was grafted into a new lifestyle. I previously ministered within the church in various jobs with titles such as Secretary, Administrative Assistant, Coordinator, Intern and volunteer. I even landed a job as a Sorority House Director for many years, living in the house with the gals as a platform for loving them in the name of Christ. I devoted much of my time to pursuits that hit my life's core values and interests, and reaped the rewards of having such titles. I could focus my attention on what mattered. People knew me, recognized me. People sought me out. Those titles and roles stood as an open door to direct people my way.

After a lovely piece of metal and rock adorned my finger, I set my course to plan a wedding in a few months time. (When you're single so long, who wants to wait?!) I left my beloved job at the sorority house. I stepped aside from church-based ministry. And I began to let God's current of change sweep me away.

One year later I've ridden the rapids of how much I loved myself way too much and struggled to navigate around an invisible existence. ("Invisible" meaning unable to attain the attention I wanted for myself.) My previous titles blessed me with open doors to minister to hearts the Lord directed toward me, but they also served my sinful appetite of being known. To be recognized by people is a tool God can use for influence. But the human heart has an appetite for sin, even in the midst of holy pursuits.

Cast Off
This is why Peter, in his letter to the churches, instructs churchgoers to get rid of or lay aside certain behaviors and to crave pure spiritual nourishment so that we might grow up into saved adults instead of remaining immature (1 Peter 2:1-3). As a sinner saved by grace, my desire for sin did not leave me. God didn't wave his magic wand and surround me with an aura of light and angelic singing. I'm as sinful as I was before. I see it. I smell it. I know it. I recognize that I am a new creation in Christ and saved from the guilt of my sin. Even still, I need someone to remind me to quit what is outside of God's will and to hunger after God Himself.

My niece P recently potty trained. It was quite the struggle for her little self. But tasting of something better ahead, she set her mind to conquering the flesh. Her fear of the toilet was NOT going to keep her from getting into preschool. Her esteemed big brother had the privilege of attending preschool as a part of the potty-trained community; she wanted that. She worked hard and earned her letter of acceptance, but P needed to first hear about her need for growth and to understand how to get there.

Similarly, Peter knows that Christians still need training in regards to spiritual growth. We get tangled, like I did in the esteem of titles and attention. But if we direct ourselves to the growth that Peter encourages, the Holy Spirit will help us recognize that in Christ some thing are no longer needed or acceptable. We do not need to entertain evil in our minds, to envy one another, to speak against and criticize one another. Instead Peter commands us to leave that behind, to love sincerely and to ingest what is spiritually pure. First Peter 1 explains that what is pure comes from God and is directed by the Holy Spirit: God's chosen revelation of Himself through the prophets, the teaching and testimony of Christ, and the good news of salvation preached by those who believe.

Today, I invite you to let the Holy Spirit minister to your heart. Take a moment to consume what is spiritually pure: repeat the good news of Jesus to yourself, listen to the Bible and pray. He will reveal what you need to lay aside and walk away from today. Be encouraged, God will not hold against you the fact that you don't desire what is good in the first place. That's why the Holy Spirit was given to you as an encouraging gift--a revealer of sin and builder of holiness. He is equipped with the power of change.

Let Jesus be the glory you walk towards.

(c) 2013 by Kendra Higgins