We are back in 1 Peter. Chris Kelly has returned from his Sabbatical and picked up the thread from where he left off.
We begin at 1 Peter ch 1 v 13: Therefore, prepare your minds for action; be self-controlled; set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed. As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: "Be holy because I am holy."
These two verses give us two instructions about the Christian life: Hope and be Holy.
So many Christians major on Christian love. God is love, they say and their whole life is devoted to good works. I read this from a character in John Le Carre's latest novel, an earnest young lawyer doing pro-bono work for asylum seekers/illegal immigrants: "We'd rather be fooled than be cynical." But it can hardly be good stewardship to be the dupes of cynical crooks. Many people have scrimped to fund those doing the supposed good works.
Other Christians major on faith. By faith are you saved, they say and they are especially concerned with whether so-and-so is really saved. Is his faith saving faith? Is he trusting only in the blood of Christ? Or is he adding something of his own? In my opinion that is a question the God only knows the answer to. It's not my responsibility to question who are who is not a Christian. I shall certainly guard the pulpit against heresy, but I have no window on men's souls. Such an overemphasis can lead to a bitter, twisted life that displays a meanness that is nothing to do with Christ.
So why neglect hope? I know that Paul says that of faith, hope and love, the greatest of these is love (1 Corinthians 13:13), but a life without hope is hopeless. Paul also says, If it is only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men (1 Corinthians 15:19).
Have you ever flown first class? I did once. Not of choice, I hasten to add. I was due to fly from London to Philadelphia to stay with a Pastor friend in Wilmington, Delaware. The flight was delayed for 8 hours, so I looked for alternatives. After consulting a map I hit upon a a flight to Washington/Baltimore followed by the Amtrak to Wilmington. the airline agreed to the switch, but made me upgrade to Business Class. In those days this was an extra couple of hundred pounds and was just about affordable. However, when I checked in, there were no seats in Business so they bumped me up to First Class. I have travelled several times in Business since, but First Class is a revelation.
There were only two of us in First; the other was an Ambassador who didn't want conversation. The seats were sumptuous and the food... We were served a claret that must have been more than £100 a bottle (and this was in the Eighties!). We had fillet steak with all the trimmings and creme brulee to follow and a single steward between the two of us. It was like staying in the President's suite in a grand hotel (something else that once happened to me - two bedrooms, two bathrooms, a drawing room/dining room, five televisions - yes that's right, one in each bathroom - and a grand piano!).
I was thinking about the difference between those poor souls in steerage (economy, cattle class - name it how you like). A ten hour flight overnight, cramped in a hard seat with too little leg room, trying to sleep but waking every hour with cramp in one set of muscles or other, being woken every time the fat Texan with a large prostate on your left decides to visit the bathroom - at least you have twenty minutes when he's not overflowing his seat into yours - being woken by a tired flight attendant to serve you an overcooked, pre-frozen concoction of rice and dead chicken, while in the back of the seat in front of you an old movie is playing on a tiny screen, but you can't follow it because the hiss from the cheap headphones is drowned out by the noise of the engines.
And in my seat at the front of the airplane I pity you as I chew on my luscious steak that has been cooked on the plane and sip at my Mouton Rothschild, then don my airline-provided pyjamas while the steward transforms my seat into a flat bed with wonderfully deep pillows, real sheets and a duvet, and I think how the Lord as blessed me in this life compared to those miserable sinners at the back.
The thing is the airplane I am thinking about is Air France Flight AF 447 and it is doomed to come down in the South Atlantic with no survivors, and it doesn't matter whether you are sitting in the front or back of the airplane, your fate is the same.
If your hope is only for blessings in this life then we are indeed of all men most miserable. But our hope is in the return of Christ. His second coming is very close, like a bird skimming over the surface of a lake, He is very near. I am not sure when He will make His touch down, but I am certain He will. Soon and very soon we are going to see the King. This world is not my home, I'm just a-passing through. Who cares if the roof needs fixing or the carpets are thin, we are in transit. At the airport you notice that the bathrooms need cleaning - so what! You'll be gone in a couple of hours. Fix your eyes upon Jesus, Look full in His wonderful face and the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of his glory and grace.
But His demand of us is that we be Holy. Holiness means separating ourselves from sin. But it also means separating ourselves for God and to Him. Sometimes Christians in the past have concentrated on the first and neglected the second. No lipstick, no movies, no nylons. Always wear a hat in church. Walk on Sundays, but never run or skate or ride your bike. No TV, but listen to the hymn singing on the wireless then tune off when the comedy program comes on in case you fail to repress that sinful snigger. Closed orders of monks and nuns tried to separate themselves from the world but in shutting themselves in they did not the light of God to escape. Holiness means being like Christ, who healed the sick, succoured the poor, fed the hungry and preached to the needy. I remember in my youth being stunned to see a Salvation Army Major in a pub. Most Christians thought alcohol the Devil's brew, but here he was with his War Cry witnessing to those without hope. Now is the time to show the love that is the greatest of the three; now is the time to testify to the faith that saves.
The world is coming apart. The financial crash has left many unemployed, many homeless and many bankrupt. What hope do they have? Only the fear of catching swine 'flu confronts them. In America now, following Britain, we are losing faith in our elected leaders. Despite the need to set up free field hospitals to cater for the uninsured, Obama's heath plan is stuck in Congress where even the Democrats can't stomach it. Obama's approval rating has fallen below 50% in record time, while Gordon Brown's seems stuck on 16%. Where can they put their trust? The middle verse in the Bible tells them: "It is better to take refuge in the LORD than to trust in man."(Psalm 118 v8)
This is what we should shout from the rooftops. Jesus is safe! Jesus saves! Jesus has risen! Jesus reigns! Jesus is returning! Put your trust in Him!