Thursday, March 13, 2014

Loud Noises

Only the strong survive.

 Are you scared easily?
Some folks just love going to see horror flicks at the theater. Not me.
In youth group when I was a sophomore, we had one of those all night lock-in events.
While most of the kids were off playing hide and seek throughout the church somewhere I was in the "parlor" (I think that's what it was called) with our two adult supervisors (who were of course sleeping) and one girl from our group. We were taking in one of those "Night of the Living Dead" films. (Yes, a poor choice for a church youth group lock-in.) We were reaching one of those climactic moments where something terrible was about to happen. A zombie creature was about to jump out and grab someone. I don't recall being particularly frightened of the whole scenario. Many of the outcomes in these films are very predictable. The girl watching with me, however, was choking on the suspense. Every time I looked at her you could see the terror growing on her face. When the zombie guy finally did jump out there, she SCREAMED with all her might. She grabbed my arm, which is the tense situation made me jump. Our adult supervisors woke up and jumped. Some of the kids poked their heads in the room to see what was going on. Fear can bring a crowd.

It's hard to be alert and sober when you're drunk on fear. Life is full of problematic issues that cause us to fear. Peter's letter is traditionally thought to have been written to Christians suffering through persecution. There's a word that can cause us to feel more than a bit uneasy. None of us want to truly experience what it is like to be in the face of someone who does not agree with our faith. Peter's audience is living a real life horror movie. To be on the run and daily facing tragedy is no way to live one's life. Peter pens this letter with instruction on how to live the Christian life following the example of Christ in the face of a world that doesn't understand. Jesus went through the same. He ultimately gave it all on the cross for the sins of this world. As Peter approaches the climax of his letter he has closing instructions he would like all his readers to follow.

1 Peter 5:8-9

New International Version (NIV)
Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings.

At the website there is a listing of the top 10 countries in the world where persecution is at an all time high. (Not sure how they got these rankings unless persecutions are being reported in some sort of professional fashion.) Maybe these countries simply have that reputation about them. Word has spread that it not fashionable to be a Christian in these places.
  1. North Korea
  2. Saudi Arabia
  3. Afghanistan
  4. Iraq
  5. Somalia
  6. Maldives
  7. Mali
  8. Iran
  9. Yemen
  10. Eritrea
Why is it so hard to live as a Christian in this world?
Well, we're not of this world. Has that truly occurred to you? We don't belong here. This is not our home. This is not our world. Who runs this world? Paul would say in his letter to the Corinthians that the system of sin in this realm is run by "the god of this world". Peter would refer to him as a "roaring lion". Peter says he "prowls". Many of the Christians on the time frame would have felt like someone was prowling around looking for them. A hungry lion wants something to devour. If you've taken in any show on National Geographic or Animal Planet then you maybe have seen a show on lions. How they go to great lengths to track down their prey. How treacherous they can be in overpowering the one they are attacking. Once they have sunk their teeth in they never let go until they have their prey down for the count. Our enemy can be just as villainous. Just as treacherous.

Is persecution quite like this for us in our comfortable country? I think not. There are certainly people who do not agree with our faith around us, but I'd like to think that we live in a much more stable environment where people can live together without fighting over our religious issues. Many of the so called "persecution" issues I've seen and heard about in our country can be attributed to people who think everybody should listen to them and what they want. People in our western culture bring much trouble on themselves because we tend to be a people who are self-absorbed. Maybe our enemy has worked on us in a reversal mode of attack. Paul would talk about our flesh being the enemy. The devil certainly knows our weaknesses and how to get us all twisted and turned about issues and people who are truly out of our control. Blood pressures sky rocket. Physical problems and sicknesses get us side tracked. Emotional and spiritual issues have us wrapped up in a hot mess. Truly, our enemy is just as villainous and treacherous whether the opposition is external or internal.

How do you handle somebody like that? Paul, Peter and even James, the earthly brother of Jesus, in his short letter would all state the same - resist him. Sounds rather simplistic. Just resisting him is all we do and he just goes away? You've most likely been telling him to go away for years and you don't think he's getting the message. Maybe there's a little more to it than that. Lets look closer at what Peter and some of the other writers have to say on the matter.

1 Peter 5:9

New International Version (NIV)
Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings.

It is not enough to just tell him to get lost. He has to know we mean it. Standing firm means the other party knows we mean what we believe. I know much about having to stand up for what I believe. I was the classic nerd in school. I lived a sheltered life growing up. There was lots I didn't know or understand as I came up through the grades in school. Then came the moment when I decided for myself what career path I would follow. It's not easy when your family doesn't understand and your classmates can't embrace the idea. It forces you to stand firm or melt in the heat of pressure. 

James 4:7

New International Version (NIV)
Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.

Maybe one of the most famous verses that comes to mind when dealing with the enemy. Also one of the most misquoted verses I have ever heard. Many good meaning church folks will be quick to state that we should resist the devil and mention scripture from James. What too many people miss is the first part of the verse - Submit yourselves, then, to God. It's really hard to stand firm in your faith, as Peter suggests, unless your life is in the hands of God. I didn't stand firm real well when I was a kid in junior high or high school. The harsh words and the oppression came and by the time I was a sophomore I gave up the idea of ministry and by the time I was 18 I gave up on church. If we want the devil to know we mean what we believe, then our enemy needs to know who we have given our lives to. Submit means someone else is calling the shots. Not us. The devil doesn't stand a chance if God is the one in control. 

Ephesians 6:10-12

New International Version (NIV)

The Armor of God

10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.

We all want to be strong. Peter and James helped us to understand how to be just that. We need armor to take on such an enemy. Paul elaborates on how to stand firm as Peter suggested. This is Paul's most famous piece of work when referring to our enemy. There is also a verse that gets overlooked. In order to take on such a task we truly need to understand who our enemy is and it's not who we think it is. Christians who are facing persecution and oppression need to understand who they are up against. It's not the ruler of their country that truly oppresses them. It's not the physical or emotional hardship that is our enemy. It's not that person who is trying to make our lives impossible. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood... Our problem is not something we can actually lay our hands on. It requires us to realize we that our answer must come from the same place - in a realm we cannot lay our eyes upon at this moment. 

One other thing we can draw from Peter's passage...

1 Peter 5:9

New International Version (NIV)
Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings

I don't wish trouble upon anyone. Most of the time, you don't have to ask for trouble. It will come find you. It is comforting to know that others are going through similar things. God is our biggest ally and can crush the enemy under his feet. Other human beings can be our greatest supporters if we can find people who are going through similar issues. Support groups and counseling & therapy are some of the biggest growing fields in America today. Do a search over at Google and find out what kind of resources we have at our disposal. It's kind of depressing to see all the trials and issues people have to deal with in this world. It also turns out that we can get together and help each other in our hour of need. 

Just like a friend staying with you through a scary movie.
Or, sitting beside you through a medical nightmare.
Or, standing up for you when you can't stand up for yourself. 

When dealing with a lion, it helps to know a Lion yourself.
Be strong. Growl back. And, know your enemy doesn't stand a chance.

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