Now the end of all things is near; therefore, be serious and disciplined for prayer. Above all, maintain an intense love for each other, since love covers a multitude of sins., Be hospitable to one another without complaining. Based on the gift each one has received, use it to serve others, as good managers of the varied grace of God. If anyone speaks, it should be as one who speaks God’s words; if anyone serves, it should be from the strength God provides, so that God may be glorified through Jesus Christ in everything. To Him belong the glory and the power forever and ever. Amen. – 1 Peter 4:7-11

I’ve never run a marathon; nor even a half marathon. I doubt seriously I ever will. But I do go to the gym three days a week, and engage in some pretty intense exercise. As the final round of the workout begins, I begin to look forward to the end of the class – except when there is the dreaded finisher! That’s usually a super high intensity combination of lifts, squats, or lunges that truly lives up to its name: finisher. Once it’s over I’m finished; happy to have don it, but finished for sure!

Peter speaks of the end of all things being near, and draws some conclusions from that which takes into account not only the end, but the relationships we have with others in the body of Christ. His calling is two-fold: prayer to God, and love for others. He reminds us that we must forgive one another by applying copious amounts of love to our fellow Jesus follower. He urges that we use the gifts we have received for the good of others in accordance with God’s power and our neighbor’s need.

The purpose of that is twofold. By living a life of love and grace we glorify God, and encourage and support our brothers and sisters in Christ to remain faithful. We reorient ourselves and our neighbors to the true north of God’s glory and power. We acknowledge that making it through to the end is possible through mutual love, hospitality, service, and the admonition of God’s word.

Some people don’t finish well. They burn out or rust out with little thought of God’s proper place in their lives. Only with the help of others and the grace of God will we finish truly well. If they were true then, they are even more true today. O Lord, help us to finish well!

Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God. For the time that is past suffices for doing what the Gentiles want to do, living in sensuality, passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and lawless idolatry. With respect to this they are surprised when you do not join them in the same flood of debauchery, and they malign you; but they will give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead. For this is why the gospel was preached even to those who are dead, that though judged in the flesh the way people are, they might live in the spirit the way God does. – 1 Peter 4:1-6

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Tiny Red Flowers | San Antonio, TX | May 2007

What do we make of v. 6, above? Is Peter saying that people who have died are able to hear the Gospel, repent from their sins, believe and be saved? A better understanding of this verse flows from the verses immediately before, as one commentator suggests:

Those who are now dead seems to refer deceased believers in Christ. When they were alive, the gospel was preached to them. While on earthy they were judged by men in the fleshly realm, or condemned and martyred on account of the gospel. But they now live by God in the spiritual realm, heaven. – Holman Christian Standard Bible, Study Bible Notes, Broadman & Holman, Pub.

More important than speculation about the dead is the clarion call for us to to avoid living as the Gentiles do, “in sensuality, passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and lawless idolatry.” Peter even says that they are likely surprised the Jesus’ followers don’t just go along and join in on the same revelry!

Perhaps the question ought to be: When was the last time I surprised someone? Or: Do I realize that when people ridicule me for my faith, my stance, and lifestyle choices, they are really expressing surprise at my dedication to following Jesus? They might actually be convicted by your example because of their own failure to resist temptation to something that they know is immoral.

Having been saved by Jesus’ death, through faith in God’s promises centered in Jesus’ suffering, death, resurrection, and second coming, we now embrace the whole council of God and live a life that is markedly different from the world. In doing so we may experience ridicule. But thank God we have the Gospel!

Even if we experience ridicule and rejection, we can be confident of an eternal blessedness and glory of heaven. Eternally blessed. Eternally joyful. Eternally alive. The whole council of God points us to that hope.

For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit,19 in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, 20 because they formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water. 21 Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22 who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him. – 1 Peter 3:18-22

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San Antonio Lily | May 2007

I was not raised in a church that baptized infants, but I cannot remember a time that I did not believe in Jesus. In fact, although I didn’t question it at the time, when my first grade Sunday School teacher asked if I had “become a Christian”, I was puzzled. I didn’t understand what more I had to do than to believe in Jesus…which I already did. This was the teacher who had her Bible on her desk, opened to a picture of Jesus on the cross. She was a wonderful Christian lady. What she was really asking was whether or not I had been baptized. For her – in an odd sort of way – baptism sealed the deal. But it wasn’t about God’s activity in baptism. It was about my active confession of Jesus, and “submission to the ordinance of baptism.”

When our youngest son was born circumstances dictated that he be taken to a children’s hospital 40 miles away. I remember baptizing him in the NICU. A styrofoam cup of water, Stephen, Diane and me (no nurses as witnesses, or elders or friends from the church). What was I thinking?!? I was thinking that upon baptism there were certain promises in the Bible that applied to this little (3#, 12-1/2 oz.) guy. I recall the sense of peace I had as soon as he was baptized. God had put his name on him. He belonged to Jesus. He was marked with the grace and the promises of God connected with that little bit of water.

This passage could be taken out of context of the whole of Scripture to the point that we might open up a fire hose on every unsuspecting passerby and announce that they had been baptized into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. But the Bible is clear about the essential element of faith to our eternal salvation. Without faith it is impossible to please God. We have been saved by grace through faith. We are justified by faith apart from works of the law. (cf. Hebrews 11:6; Ephesians 2:8-9; Romans 3:28)

Some have said this makes too much of baptism, turning it into a mechanistic operation tantamount to lever-pulling or spiritual engineering. But that is to make too little of baptism! Baptism is an instrument of God’s favor by which he pours grace upon grace. Baptism saves because it connects us to the promises of God in Jesus Christ, by whom we have been saved. It seals the deal that God made with himself when he sent Jesus to die for the sins of the world so that whoever believes in him may not perish, but have eternal life.

For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit,19 in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, 20 because they formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water. 21 Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22 who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him.

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Snap Dragon | San Antonio | May 2007

The first time I attended a Lutheran Church service I really appreciated the Apostle’s Creed. I believe in God the Father, creator of heaven and earth… “Yes! I believe that!” That was my thought. And in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary, suffered under Pontus Pilate…He descended into h…. “No. I don’t believe that.” The creed says, “He descended into hell.” But I had not been introduced to this passage from Peter. I now say it with confidence, He descended into hell. The third day he rose from the dead and ascended into heaven. Yes. This I believe.

Imagine a late night poker game in the bowels of hell on a certain Saturday night. Satan and his evil angels are sitting around congratulating themselves on the coup: They had killed the Son of God! Glad hands all around. They are elated. Suddenly there is a sound at the door. It’s Jesus – the Son of God – and he’s alive! He has come into the depths of hell to proclaim his victory over Satan to Satan and all the evil angels and all those who were in his evil vice.

We don’t know what Jesus said, and we won’t venture a guess. Even the Lutheran Confessions refuse to say much more than the fact that that Jesus didn’t go there to suffer, nor did he go there to give them a second chance. Then comes this conclusion:

For it is sufficient that we know that Christ descended into hell, destroyed hell for all believers, and delivered them from the power of death and of the devil, from eternal condemnation and the jaws of hell. But how this occurred we should [not curiously investigate, but] reserve until the other world, where not only this point [mystery], but also still others will be revealed, which we here simply believe, and cannot comprehend with our blind reason.

Nor had I ever encountered the words of 1 Peter 3:21, …Baptism…now saves you…” That is for another day, and we will consider that tomorrow. For today we will rejoice in what Jesus has done, and his complete victory over Satan and his victory parade into the depths of Satan’s domain.

Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? 14 But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, 15 but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, 16 having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. 17 For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil. – 1 Peter 3:13-17

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“Crimson Cascade” | San Antonio, TX | May 2007

Nicky Cruz of The Cross and the Switchblade fame has a dramatic conversion story. St. Paul has a dramatic conversion story (cf. Acts 9). Many life-long Christians have no such dramatic story. We don’t have a time when we were in full-tilt rebellion against God, or completely disbelieving or denying God’s rule in our hearts. We have struggles to be sure, and many failures to live out fully what we believe. But those pale in comparison to the likes of St. Paul, St. Augustine, John Wesley, Martin Luther, or Nicky Cruz.

We do, however, have hope. And when the days grow dark with discouragement, or long with fear, our hope can bolster us and allow us a platform to give witness to God’s work in our lives.

My story is punctuated with challenges and joys growing up. As a first-born son of a Christian father and mother, I do not remember a time when I didn’t believe in Jesus. I remember standing on my parents’ bed, singing Jesus Loves Me while getting ready for Church. I remember being baptized at First Baptist Church, at 8 years of age, “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.”

I remember also wandering from a fully faithful following of Jesus in high school and my early college years. But I thank God for my friend Jerry who introduced me to a darkroom in my junior year of high school, interested me in photography, revealed that he was a believer in Jesus who wanted to be a Lutheran pastor. He convinced me, ultimately, not only to join the Lutheran Church, but also to study for the ministry and serve as a pastor in the Lutheran Church.

The hope I have is that God can redeem a completely unmotivated, unsuccessful, and unlikely real estate broker, and turn a boy who graduated in the bottom 10% of his high school class into a student who excelled to the extent that I have an earned doctorate degree (Doctor of Ministry, a professional, rather than an academic degree) from Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California.

Trust me, that is testimony to God not to my abilities or success. It’s a message of hope that I hold to: God can redeem the lost, the wayward, the confused, the tired, the angry, the hopeless, the floundering, the wayward, the misdirected, the sinner of every type and kind and the saint that still carries the scars and scales of sin and spiritual blindness, and all too often stumbles.

I have made plenty of mistakes in life and in ministry. I have had too many failures of ministry to count. I have given up all too quickly. I have lost my will and travelled an all-too-well-worn rut of rebellion. But I have never been without a God of redemption or hope. Jesus redeemed me, a lost sinner. He sent his Holy Spirit into my heart and I believe in him. My heavenly Father calls me his Son. I have been saved. That is what I believe, and why I have hope in my heart.

Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing. 10 For

“Whoever desires to love life
    and see good days,
let him keep his tongue from evil
    and his lips from speaking deceit;
11 let him turn away from evil and do good;
    let him seek peace and pursue it.
12 For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous,
    and his ears are open to their prayer.
But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.”

Hollyhock

Hollyhock | San Souci Palace | August 2017

Jerry was my high school buddy. He introduced me to the darkroom, photography, plain talk, and the Lutheran faith. God used him to point me to becoming a pastor. He had a profound impact in my life. Click here for a slightly fuller story of Jerry and his impact on me.

Jerry wasn’t afraid to speak his mind. At his interview to be admitted to Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, he said, “You can pretty much take the Old Testament and shove it out the window.” He may have been overstating his case, but that was his conviction at the time. He later came to appreciate the fullness of God’s revelation in the words of both the Old and New Testaments.

“The Old Testament is,” as one of my seminary professors said, “prelude to the New Testament. And the New Testament is a commentary on the Old Testament.” Luther said that the Old Testament is “the cradle of Christ.”

Some folks want to take away the Law of God and for that reason wish to ignore the Old Testament. Peter sees clearly how the teaching of Jesus flows from the Old Testament, and quotes here from Psalm 34:12-16. This passage raises the bar above an easy-believism that puts the grace of God at our disposal at our convenience without any true sense of our need for it. If we have no heart for repentance our faith will lay very shallow in our souls.

The implications of believing in Jesus go beyond belief in the grace of God and the forgiveness of sins. It starts there to be sure. Without that there is no hope at all. We who believe, however, are called to a life that reflects our faith. We have been saved from a life of self-service and hedonistic epicureanism. That is because God loves not only you and me, but he loves our neighbor as well. He commands that we love him first and love our neighbor as ourselves.

This is nothing new. It is as old as Adam and Eve. Yet it is a new as today’s dawn and the opportunities God will bring into our lives to seek peace and pursue it with our neighbor – the same way God sought peace and pursued us to be his own and live under Christ in his rule and reign, and serve him in eternal righteousness. (Cf. Luther’s explanation to the 2nd Article of the Apostle’s Creed)

Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives,when they see your respectful and pure conduct. Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear— but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious. For this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their own husbands, as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. And you are her children, if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening.

Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered. – 1 Peter 3:1-7

Hollyhock at the Sans Souci Gardens - on the outskirts of Berlin | August 2017

Hollyhock at the Sans Souci Gardens – on the outskirts of Berlin | August 2017

At the risk of meddling, and stirring up unnecessary controversy, let’s take on the issue of wives and husbands, and the proper manner in which each us supposed to relate to the other. Simply put, wives here are called to be subject to their husbands, and husbands are admonished to honor their wives. There is plenty of inflammatory power in these verses (“weaker vessel” or “submitting”), and they can become a stumbling block to the larger issue.

The larger issue is how our Christian faith informs all of our relationships, and attitudes toward God, others and life’s issues. If it does not – from marriage relationships to women’s and men’s issues, to the manner in which we comport ourselves in deference to the world’s value systems (think “politically-correct”) – then we have eviscerated the fullness of Jesus’ work and ignored the radically-different way in which he calls us to live.

Some might shy away from these verses; and indeed they are prone to misunderstanding and may incite out-of-hand rejection. But consider this: the basis for Peter’s admonition here is to express the profound difference Jesus makes when he dwells in the heart of a believer. We come to care more about our neighbor’s good than our own reputation. We grow to be more aware of the opportunities to pray for others than whether or not we are properly respected.

Notice here that Peter doesn’t say to the husband: Make certain your wife submits to you. He doesn’t even make his call to honor our wives dependent on their submission. He calls husbands to honor their wives because they are co-heirs with them of the grace of life. This is a call for husbands to honor their wives because they are not just possessions or chattel, they are heirs of eternal life the same as the husband.

Likewise he does not direct the wives to demand that their husbands honor them. He simply calls wives to a life of submission. This is not blind obeisance or gratuitous compliance; it amounts to being under the mission of God who has given his Son for our salvation, and wants all people to be saved – including stubborn, godless husbands!

It is lost on our modern minds how radical this is toward women – for the good! Women were too often treated without honor. They had no standing and would more often than not be denied an inheritance. Peter raises the bar for their proper place in the household of God. He calls for a perfect beauty in women and a godly strength in men that is worthy of all followers of Jesus.