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Standing

FIRM Q

in the t r u e

gr a c e

Devot i o n a ls

from

of

God

1 Pe t e r

by Patrick Lafferty

a weekly devotional

Originally published as

every thought captive from Park Cities Presbyterian Church


Standing Firm An Every Thought Captive devotional collection Š 2009 by Patrick Lafferty All rights reserved. Printed in the United States of America Sixth printing, 2010 Park Cities Presbyterian Church 4124 Oak Lawn Avenue Dallas, Texas 75219 http://everythoughtcaptive.pcpc.org


Contents 1 Peter 1 Peter 1 Peter 1 Peter 1 Peter 1 Peter 1 Peter 1 Peter 1 Peter 1 Peter 1 Peter 1 Peter 1 Peter 1 Peter 1 Peter 1 Peter 1 Peter Notes

5:12 1:1 1:3–5 1:6–12 1:6–12 1:16–17 5:1 1:22–2:3 2:9–12 2:17 2:24 3:1, 7 3:9 3:15–16 4:3–5 4:7–11 5:6–7

4 6 8 10 12 14 16 18 20 22 24 26 28 30 32 34 36 38


September 11, 2008 a weekly devotional

every thought captive from Park Cities Presbyterian Church

This is the true grace of God. Stand firm in it. 1 Peter 5:12

us in that place and restore us to Himself and His holiness. In Christ and His cross we see those two realities plainly and dramatically.

The astronomers call it an elliptical orbit: A body continues in a stable trajectory around two complementary gravitational forces. If either of those forces is affected, the body circling them falls out of orbit.

When Peter first encounters Jesus aboard his fishing boat, all Peter can say is, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord” (Luke 5:8). To be aware of the holiness of God is to see one’s own inclinations as so deeply at odds with what is true and good. In that moment, Peter saw holiness.

Peter writes to a community where the temptation to drift from faithful and true obedience remains ever present. And so he supplies those two complementary realities which all true obedience must circle around. If either of the two shifts or weakens, one’s obedience degrades into something that is unsustainable.

When Peter later exhorts his listeners with the encouragement that the Lord will “restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you,” it is because he has experienced that grace firsthand—grace that looks past egregious self-interest.

What are those two realities? The holiness of God and the grace of God.

These two realities—His holiness and His grace—are distinct and inseparable. But it remains an ever-present struggle to keep both in view as we live.

His holiness sets before us the mark of what it means to be His, what it means to be truly human. He defines for us what is true, good, and beautiful— deviation from which means a corresponding loss.

Which of the two have you grown less sensitive to, so that your obedience has degraded into something unsustainable?

His grace reveals how distant we are from the center of His holiness, but also how willing He is to meet

Have you forgotten His holiness— how what He demands of you is 4


indeed exacting and high? Has the pull of that reality weakened so that you have no sorrow for your disobedience? Or have you forgotten His grace— that though you offend Him, He will not let you go? Has the pull of that reality weakened so that you have given up the fight to persevere in holiness? If we are to stand firm in the true grace of God, it will mean we keep both holiness and grace firmly in view. They are the realities our obedience must orbit; they are the only proper motivations for true, sustainable obedience.

Patrick Lafferty


September 18, 2008 a weekly devotional

every thought captive from Park Cities Presbyterian Church

“...to those who are elect exiles of the dispersion...” 1 Peter 1:1

and died on a cross. To Greeks they were laughable for submitting to but one God when everyone knew that a whole host of gods inhabited the cosmos. And to Romans they were potentially dangerous because they saw their Anointed One as supreme even over Caesar.

This morning, thousands of people still know what it feels like to be dislocated.1 A furious storm forced them to flee far from home in search of higher, safer ground. Now, truth be told, where they went is not much different from where they came from; likely, McDonald’s and Starbucks still litter the landscape. But they can’t get back to their homes right now. And even if they could, it would be some time before home would be truly home again.

But Peter’s decision to address his audience as exiles is not merely to sympathize with their isolation. To be an exile, you see, is more than just a status; it is an office. It entails responsibility as much as it elicits sympathy. That’s why Peter refers to their identity as exiles three times in this letter alone (1 Peter 1:1, 1:17, 2:11). So what does it mean to live as an exile—as a follower of Christ in a world not yet in full submission to Christ?

These people are feeling, in some small measure, what it means to be an exile. Tens of thousands of other people in this world have likewise fled a fury of famine and war, and know exilic life all the more poignantly. For those who fled the Gulf Coast last weekend, their displacement inevitably creates disorientation.

Exiles are dislocated but not distraught. As Christians, they’re far from home—in the sense of a place of rest, untainted by sin and all its effects. The way things are is not the way things are supposed to be. Corruption prevails. Children die. Noble plans are vanquished. But rather than allow the frustration this creation has been subjected to (Rom. 8:20) lead them to rage or despair, they take heart in the fact that, as

When Peter addresses his audience as exiles, he employs a compact term with enormous significance for them. Peter’s audience could not have been more isolated or disoriented. To Jews they were odious for believing that God became man 6


surely as things ought not be this way, so, too, things won’t always be this way. Exiles are discerning. They recognize that where they are has an insidious capacity to dull their interest in their true home. Exiles are not only wary of the misshapen messages their context sends; they look with care at its rhythms and priorities—lest they indiscriminately adopt what everyone around them seems to stake their lives and futures on. John Wesley, given the tour of an enormous plantation by its owner, was asked what he thought of the vast holdings he’d seen. Wesley replied, “I think you’re going to have a hard time leaving all this.”

to the welfare of our present locale? It’s not “digging down deep” for strength. It’s knowing that we are elect people—chosen from before the foundations of the earth, vouchsafed for eternity by the sacrifice of Christ, and bestowed with help from the Spirit for true obedience. Only by walking in the truth of our election will we find sufficient compulsion to live as true exiles. So, reflect on two interdependent questions: Are you fulfilling your office as an exile? And is the grace of election what’s compelling you to live as an exile?

Last, exiles are devoted. They recognize that the day of their repatriation remains undisclosed to them. They know that the culture in which they are immersed is often more conducive to selfindulgence than selflessness. But they will not simply retreat into their enclave of fellow exiles and live only for themselves. They heed the call of Jeremiah to the exiles of the Babylonian captivity when he said, “seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare” (Jer. 29:7). And what is the only adequate motivation to face our dislocation without becoming distraught, to discern the subtle diversions from what is holy, to devote ourselves Patrick Lafferty


September 25, 2008 a weekly devotional

every thought captive from Park Cities Presbyterian Church

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. 1 Peter 1:3–5

for sale and it is found here; life is a vapor, so get all you can. Amble through the serene, manicured spaces of SparkmanHillcrest, and the place intones just as persuasively: All human striving is for naught; purpose, meaning, and significance are all human contrivances; all persons and plans will one day be snuffed out, often unexpectedly and at the height of their activity. Each place has its own stark message—calling out for us to give heed, and trying to shout down the other.

A mere seventy-five feet separates them. You can see one from the other without straining your eyes. Any duffer can hit a pitchingwedge shot from the sidewalk of one to the sidewalk of the other with only the slightest effort.

It is only the gospel—the “living hope through the resurrection of Jesus to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading” of which Peter speaks in verse 4—that equips you to walk the acreage of either property without being overcome by its slanted, unremitting message.

Seventy-five feet is all that separates the property line of NorthPark Mall from the property line of Sparkman-Hillcrest Cemetery. It’s a fascinating juxtaposition of the purpose of each space, and of the underlying theme each space suggests.

Without the gospel, your heart will turn NorthPark’s wares into something far too alluring. How many times have you made a purchase there or elsewhere motivated by a kind of emptiness in your own heart? And how long was it before that very purchase

Walk the bright, alluring, seasonally changing corridors of NorthPark and you see one persuasive message: Real life is

8


lost the capacity to change your world like you thought it might? In such moments, do we not share John’s sobering discovery in C. S. Lewis’s A Pilgrim’s Regress: “If [this] is what I wanted, why am I so disappointed when I get it?” It’s the gospel that reminds us what our hearts really long for, but what cannot be purchased. Unbridled indulgence is not the only thing the gospel keeps us from, though. Without the gospel, the sorrowful sidewalks of Sparkman-Hillcrest can easily overwhelm us with a sense that life is too uncertain to risk anything for—too random in its distribution of tragedy to warrant any hope in anything. Has death ever burdened you so deeply that all activities seemed meaningless (or, ironically, has it sent you scrambling to NorthPark more often to avoid thinking about the implications of your finitude)? It’s the gospel that keeps the reality of our deaths from siphoning away the vigor to face our lives. The gospel has something significant to say whether you find yourself at NorthPark or Sparkman-Hillcrest. What’s it saying to you when you’re at either place?

Patrick Lafferty


October 2, 2008 a weekly devotional

every thought captive from Park Cities Presbyterian Church

In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Though you have not seen Him, you love Him. Though you do not now see Him, you believe in Him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls. 1 Peter 1:6–12

If there’s any merit to his concern, could there be even more significant fallout? Could this information-inundating, attention-depleting culture, of which Google is but one feature, be doing something even more destructive? Could Google also be making us pagan? Could the volume of data we are exposed to and the habit of considering things only in a haphazard way leave us essentially unimpressed by hallowed, consequential truths? Could our habitual consulting of what’s immediately accessible be shriveling our awe at this great salvation wrought in Christ?

In a recent issue of The Atlantic, Nicholas Carr asked, “Is Google making us stupid?”1 He’d begun to notice in himself a diminishing capacity to focus on any sustained argument. Wondering what might account for this, he began to suspect his engagement with technologies like Google. Having an unprecedented volume of information unloaded in his lap each day forced him to cull through all that data in a manner more like scanning than pondering. His mind only gave sufficient attention to assess the most superficial sense of what he was reading.

Have we lost our sense of awe? And is that loss a casualty of the loss of the ability to ponder? Must not the eyes of faith by which we please God learn to look patiently and probingly, relying not just upon prolonged attention but upon humble appeal to the Spirit to strengthen and solidify that faith? Peter’s affirmation of the elect exiles of the dispersion is that they have remained faithful. Grieved by various trials (v. 6), neither having ever seen Jesus nor seeing him now (v. 8a), the recipients of Peter’s letter still love this Jesus, 10


believe in Him, and rejoice with a joy inexpressible and full of glory (v. 8b). How can that be? How can reasonable people be expected to ally themselves with anyone, or any philosophy, that doesn’t succeed in insulating them from all harm but actually exposes them to even more harm? How can anyone love someone in an unpretentious, authentic way whom they’ve never met? Might their faithfulness be explained by how they had pondered deeply—and continually—this love, this hope, this inheritance? Perhaps they were so impressed by these notions—into which angels had longed to look (v. 12)—that neither trial nor secondhand testimony could undermine their awe. The life this gospel calls us to is not one of slavish imitation, but a life where obedience is a function of loving Him we have not seen, and rejoicing in what we have only a foretaste of. If we do not ponder, deeply and regularly, this salvation, the trials we face may leave us cold, embittered, cynical. Unless we see with the eyes of faith that He will not leave us alone, we will conclude He either cannot or will not help. Joy in the midst of trial requires a corresponding faith born of sufficient reflection. If we do not ponder deeply this inheritance yet to come, our obedience will be fearful or begrudging—fearful because we forget our acceptance is not on the basis

of our performance, or begrudging because we do not feel the intrinsic goodness of His commands. Neither fear nor unwilling compliance comports with being a chosen, redeemed soul. Faith nurtured by pondering the rich substance of this faith ensures ours to be the “obedience of faith” (Rom. 1:5, 16:26). If we do not ponder deeply the living hope through the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, we will become too easily impressed with the most superficial things—who’s atop the BCS poll, when the new season of that show premieres, or any number of lesser matters—that leave us increasingly unmoved by significant matters. When’s the last time you’ve thought at length about this salvation He’s purchased for you? Even innocuous things, like what Google or your Blackberry delivers, can end up commanding your attention disproportionately. What in your world is siphoning away more attention than it needs to from what must keep your attention? As you prepare to worship this Sunday, what if you set aside some time simply reading the above passage each day and thinking about—pondering—the substance of our faith, and how our faith appropriately pondered is designed to support us against struggle, steel us against sin, and endear us to Him whom we cannot yet see? What a Google-maycare thing to do! Patrick Lafferty


October 9, 2008 a weekly devotional

every thought captive from Park Cities Presbyterian Church

In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

Jack Swigert would never have willingly subjected his crewmates to the blood-boiling vacuum of space. Not only would their deaths mean his own death, but the nearly two weeks he, Jim Lovell, and Fred Haise had already suffered aboard the ill-fated Apollo 13 had only steeled his resolve to help get them back to earth. Never in his right mind would he even countenance the idea of separating the command module from the lunar module without all of them aboard the former and both sections securely sealed.

Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories. It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look. 1 Peter 1:6–12

But Jack wasn’t in his right mind, and he knew it. Days earlier, the thrill of an imminent moonwalk had plummeted into the devastation of knowing no such walk would take place. Their ship had buckled after an on-board explosion, and precious oxygen bled from their supplies. The only way for the ship to make it back to earth was to forgo the moon landing and conserve all the power they could. The crew would endure intense cold and immense stress, all while getting minimal rest. That’s why in this moment, as the haggard threesome prepared 12


for reentry, Swigert affixed a simple scrap of paper over the switch that would jettison the lunar module from the command module. And upon that makeshift Post-it note he scribbled a simple message: “NO!” With Lovell and Haise contributing to the effort aboard the lunar module, and with all three of them working almost exclusively on adrenalin, their propensity to commit egregious blunders of judgment was high. For Swigert, prematurely jettisoning his crewmates was a conceivable possibility; his fatigue, he said, made him “punchy.” The note served to prevent that. Jack Swigert’s action epitomized the notion that even the simplest truths need to be at our mental fingertips when trials tempt us to react impulsively. The apostle Peter reminds these persecuted exiles of simple, foundational truths. They were truths that the sheer tumult of the trial could’ve easily wiped from their individual and corporate consciousness. If they lost sight of them, they too were prone to act rashly—returning to old ways, mimicking the ways of their surroundings, or responding in ways that would bring them and Christ dishonor. Only a deepseated familiarity with those truths would, with the Spirit’s mysterious help, enable them to respond rightly to persecution (1 Peter 3:8ff), to those in authority (2:13ff), to their own spouses (3:1ff), to

anyone who took issue with their hope (3:13ff). What truths from His Word need to be at your mental fingertips these days? God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. (Psalm 46:1) Why are you downcast, o, my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise Him, my salvation and my God. (Psalm 42:5) If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me. (Psalm 139:9,10) Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. (John 15:13) There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. (Rom. 8:1) And He died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for Him who for their sake died and was raised. (2 Cor. 5:15) Might these and other truths need to be so readily accessible (i.e., memorized) that when trials or threats of any kind come, you are left with something more than your own wits to confront a difficult season of life?

Patrick Lafferty


October 16, 2008 a weekly devotional

every thought captive from Park Cities Presbyterian Church

It is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” And if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one’s deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile... 1 Peter 1:16–17

thereof. How could he love the God whose justice and holiness was so beyond him? Finally, he saw how in the gospel the fearful wrath of God had been met and satisfied by the astounding grace of God. Luther then understood what a proper fear of God was.

In a few days, little ones might be rapping at your door in search of sweets, while adults everywhere will be finding yet another reason to recreate. The attraction to October 31 is twofold: the opportunity to masquerade in alternative identities and the opportunity to entertain notions of things fearful. Whether it is ghastly sights, the threat of death, or the mysteries of the spiritual world, on this last Friday in October many will dabble whimsically in what they’d like to ignore the rest of the year.

Peter speaks to that fear in his letter: “Conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile.” At first glance it may seem that Peter is having an intramural squabble with his fellow apostle, John. John says in his first letter, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love” (1 John 4:18). John means that there is a fear that cannot coexist with our love for God; that’s the fear of punishment. For in Christ we need not fear punishment because He is our advocate (2:1). Furthermore, God’s love for us is based not on our having loved Him first, but on His love for Christ and Christ’s love for us, expressed inestimably at the Cross (4:19). Our confidence in His love for us cannot stand if we find ourselves thinking His love is contingent upon our loveliness. In that sense, fear does not comport with true love.

But October 31 commemorates something else that relates to fear. On Reformation Day, we celebrate a simple, profound statement on what it means to fear God rightly—the watershed moment when Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the church door in Wittenburg. For years the monk Luther had agonized over his understanding of God. To him, the holiness of God was an entirely fearful thing when he recognized his own lack 14


Is Peter’s letter contrary to John’s when he calls us to walk in fear of God during our time of exile? Hardly. (Of the many gifts of the Reformation, the notion that we must interpret scripture with scripture remains one of the most salutary guides to understanding the faith. For this clarification we have Martin Luther also to thank.) When Peter speaks of a right fear of God, he means at least three things—things John would have no quarrel with. A right fear of God sees all other potential anxieties in context. Whatever else might threaten your stability (sickness, loss, persecution, unmet desires) simply pales against the backdrop of the fearful things Christ has rescued us from. Recalling what we’ve been ransomed from is Peter’s attempt to have us see that context (1 Peter 1:18). John likewise points us Cross-ward (1 John 1:7). Is it your discipline to preach the gospel to your fears, whatever they may be? A right fear of God anticipates the downside of disobedience. It sees the intrinsic danger of living frivolously, ungratefully, egotistically. It sees also the sorrow of offending the One who abhors disobedience and labored mightily to rescue us from its debt. That’s why Peter recalls the command to be holy in verse 17, and why John casts the sin of hatred as a self-

blinding act (1 John 2:11). Francis Schaeffer defended the practice of confessing our sins despite their having been forgiven in Christ. We confess, he said, because though our standing before God does not change when we sin, our intimate fellowship with Him is lost, and “we remember what we had.” In sorrow and in desire for renewed closeness we seek His restoration. Is it your discipline to muse on what you would lose in disobedience? Last, a right fear of God liberates us unto love for our neighbor and our enemy. To know you’re loved is a potent motivator. If you know His love for you is unassailable and unflinching, all fears of not being loved by others are subdued; all distress at having your loving acts go unrequited are swallowed up. Peter sees that connection between the fear of God and the love for others in verse 22. John does likewise in I John 4:19–21. Do you find yourself more or less motivated to love these days? So these two apostles who’d been invited into Jesus’ inner circle, who’d been with Him at His transfiguration and His darkest hour of anguish in the garden—they walk in lockstep with one another when it comes to a right fear of God. And so must we. Are you properly fearful?

Patrick Lafferty


October 23, 2008 a weekly devotional

every thought captive from Park Cities Presbyterian Church

...as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed... 1 Peter 5:1

unlike a child who clings intensely to trifles, the Lord shares lavishly. What He shares, though, cannot be subtracted from Him even when He shares it. Sharing it exalts Him rather than diminishes Him. What is it? His glory and His nature.

Perhaps the hardest thing for children to learn when they are young is to share. In the playroom, on the playground, at the restaurant— Twice Peter uses the word even in the bathtub—how often do “partaker” to describe what it is we find them clutching to things to be the Lord’s. It means simply that they think they are entitled to, to share in something. Sunday or that they desperately need? pointed us to Peter’s first use of the word, when he calls himself “a Faster than you can say “idol,” fellow elder and a witness of the they identify so closely with what sufferings of Christ, as well as a they possess that the very thought partaker in the glory that is going of giving it up elicits the volatile to be revealed” (1 Peter 5:1). mixture of fear and rage. Unless the object diminishes in value to Peter is appointed as an elder to them, they will not yield willingly. shepherd the people of God. His Or unless they come to see that appointment rests squarely upon what they share is not a part of his having seen the very Lord who them but a thing they enjoy, it will commissioned him to this work. remain incalculably important. But he is not merely occupying an office or fulfilling a mandate. He’s Children find it hard to share sharing in something of highest because they think what they will value; he’s sharing “in the glory lose is more than they can bear. that is going to be revealed.” If only it were a phenomenon reserved for children. Adults are The view at the base of a 14,000(sometimes) just more subtle in foot mountain is breathtaking, their attachments. but it is nothing compared to the view from the summit. There’s a Our Lord is quite different. To magnificence of God which is still know Him is to put away that sort to be revealed. But to partake of childish way (1 Cor. 13:11). For in that glory, as Peter speaks of 16


it, is more than being earmarked for a future reality. For Peter is a present reality, too. He is moved and sustained by the glory of God. Partaking is not reserved for those in church leadership, as Peter’s second use of the word confirms. He writes, “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us to His own glory and excellence, by which He has granted to us His precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire” (2 Peter 1:3, 4). Sharing in that divine nature means being liberated from loves of flawed things. That’s a partaking all who know Christ may share! What is it to partake of that glory and that divine nature here and now? It may have something to do with our willingness to share with the world as He does with us. John Chrysostom, a pastortheologian of the fourth century, drew the distinction between what is childish and what is mature: For as in the case of little children, when the child eagerly desires childish playthings, we hide them from him with much care, as a ball, for instance, and such like things, that he may not be hindered from necessary things; but when he thinks little of them,

and no longer longs for them, we give them fearlessly, knowing that henceforth no harm can come to him from them, the desire no longer having strength enough to draw him away from things necessary; so God also, when He sees that we no longer eagerly desire the things of this world, thenceforward permits us to use them. For we possess them as freemen and men, not as children.1 The Lord shares what is most precious to Himself, and the more we partake, the less enslaved we are to other things. Time, possessions, talent, money, love—when we partake of His glory we see those things less as what defines us and more as things to be employed for the good and glory of God. As the poet David Wilcox put it more succinctly, “you will always have what you gave to love.” Three questions for your meditation: Do you think of what you have as a possession, or as what you’ve been entrusted with? How does what you’ve done with what you have demonstrate having partaken of His glory and nature? Whatever your answers to the first two questions, why not ask the Lord—who gives wisdom generously (James 1:5)—to show how you might share what you have in the same lavish way He does? Patrick Lafferty


October 30, 2008 a weekly devotional

every thought captive from Park Cities Presbyterian Church

So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander. Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up to salvation—if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good. 1 Peter 1:22–2:3

to love another for the glory of God knows it can’t always be done with a smile. Rather, it’s more like what Tim Keller calls a subterranean joy. In Edwards’s sense, we can recommend the sweetness of honey to another even if we’re not, at that moment, tasting its sweetness.

Jonathan Edwards wrote:

It is only with those affections There is a difference between for God that we will ever find the having an opinion, that God is motive to “put away” all manner holy and gracious, and having of corruption. One pervasive a sense of the loveliness and corruption he cites is deceit. beauty of that holiness and grace. There is a difference beWe find it hard to apply it to our tween having a rational judgment “little,” frequent misrepresentations, that honey is sweet, and having half-truths, and “white lies.” We a sense of its sweetness. A man even tell ourselves things we know may have the former that knows not to be true and operate on the not how honey tastes; but a man basis of them. Why is deceit so cannot have the latter unless he alluring? has an idea of the taste of honey We lie because we’re afraid. in his mind.1 We’re afraid of what we might As one does not know honey until lose if we opt for full transparency: one has tasted its sweetness, one respect, status, influence, peace. does not know God until one has We are willing to conceal the truth been affected by His goodness. in order to protect them. The Psalmists and the apostle Peter both proclaim that obedience rests on affection for God: “Taste and see that the Lord is good.” It’s not a continuous ebullience undergirding all our obedience; anyone who���s sought

We lie because we’re opportunistic. On our taxes, in our closest relationships, with our neighbors—we see dishonesty as a way to keep something or avoid something. What they don’t know won’t hurt them, right? 18


For both those reasons we acknowledge our need of something more attractive, more savory. Both Peter and Jonathan Edwards proclaim the solution: The way out of the seduction of deceit is to savor the One in whom there is no lie. When we savor the Lord, when we are convinced of His goodness, we find no need to practice untruth. He is enough for us. What we might avoid through deceit need not frighten us. He is enough. He will shelter. What we might gain through deceit is nothing compared to what we already have in Him. George Herbert summarizes Peter’s thought about deceit:2 Lie not; but let thy heart be true to God, Thy mouth to it, thy actions to them both: Cowards tell lies, and those that fear the rod; The stormy working soul spits lies and froth. Dare to be true. Nothing can need a lie: A fault, which needs it most, grows two thereby.

Peter wishes us to so pursue the Lord that we feel His goodness. We seek to understand His mind, not for doctrinal precision alone, but so that we might exult in that doctrine. Then, we feel the folly of deceit because we feel the excellence of God. Obedience matures when it moves from submission out of respect for authority to submission out of respect for that authority’s wisdom. Surely there are many days that require obedience motivated by our sense of His authority alone; that He is God and I am not remains a sufficient rationale for obeying, even if I feel no overwhelming mirth in doing so. But there must be a deeper, quieter appreciation for His wisdom if obedience is to endure. It’s that gratitude for His instruction that keeps us from taking (false) refuge in deceit. Tasting the Lord’s goodness is cherishing the inherent wisdom in His call to honesty.

The Lord’s goodness can be known in a deep and satisfying way. It can be felt when we entrust ourselves to His care by putting off deceit. When we trust that we will lose no good thing if we insist “The Church-Porch” on transparency, we experience His goodness. When we trust that How do you know if you “know” we will gain no good thing without the Lord in the way Edwards resisting deceit, we experience His distinguishes? You see that goodness. Who, then, is it time nothing “needs the lie” because to come clean with—about your you have all you need in the Lord: priorities, your struggle against sin, status, respect, identity, stability, your marriage, or whatever you’ve and everything else that deceit sought to preserve or gain through tries to beguile you with. concealment? Patrick Lafferty


November 6, 2008 a weekly devotional

every thought captive from Park Cities Presbyterian Church

You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

church seem so foreign to our ears: “You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation...” To us they’re a bit odd not because he’s conferring designations that grant us power to rule, but because this authority is conferred by God instead of men. It’s a divine right ascribed by His gracious prerogative and through the gracious work of His Son.

Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation. 1 Peter 2:9–12

If we’re not careful, our immersion in a cultural moment where legitimate authority comes only by consent of the governed can lead us to marginalize Peter’s ascriptions of authority as mere flattery. How might we honor that authority and use it without the arrogance with which too many kings wielded theirs—or without the timidity that can creep into our souls by living in a setting that largely denies any divinely conferred authority? Peter gives us two mandates that correspond to that identity from without.

Two days ago, for the 44th time in our nation’s 232-year history, our country reenacted the repudiation of an age-old philosophy. For millennia, men and women ruled peoples on the basis of what came to be called the “divine right of kings.”

Our first divine mandate is proclamation. We walk confidently, not arrogantly, in this divinely conferred identity when we “proclaim the excellencies of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.” When you love another it is no burden to speak well of them; such adulation comes

With the American Revolution came the crystallization of an alternative notion. Now authority would be conferred by those who were governed. That’s why Peter’s words to the 20


naturally. Giving sermons or writing devotionals is but one type of that proclamation, but proclaiming those excellencies is everyone’s mandate. To proclaim Him is to represent Him in ways that portray our value of Him. In acts of hospitality, sacrifice, justice, and mercy—coupled with words that explain our hope, our stability, our reasons for acting in those ways— we proclaim His graciousness.

stain means that there is hope for true abstention—even against the kind of destructive passions that “wage war.”

As an example, C. S. Lewis said in Surprised by Joy that the “surest means of disarming an anger... was turning your attention from [it]...and examining the passion itself.” Might not the first step in putting away lust, bitterness, impatience, or joylessness be asking why those vices have emerged from within us? Peter’s call to ab-

Where, then, does abiding in His Word and prayer fit into your sense of the identity you’ve been given, if the sense of privilege is to be as potent as the sense of responsibility?

Where does the fight against sin fit into your sense of this identity you’ve been given?

Such mandates are the responsibilities derived from our divinelyconferred identity. Yet, it is not enough simply to know our responsibilities. Only when we see Where does proclamation fit into those divine responsibilities as your sense of this identity you’ve a divine privilege can we hope been given? to consistently fulfill them. The Our second divine mandate is obedience of faith is a mysterious warfare. We walk humbly, not work of duty and delight. Sometimidly, when we fight desperately times one or the other rises more against the wiles of sin. He calls discernibly in our reasons for such us to “abstain from the passions obedience. That is why He gives that wage war against your soul.” us His Word and His Spirit. When Our often unconscious inclinations we’re intimately acquainted with toward self-promotion, our proneHis Word and humbly open to the ness to uncritically follow the ways “persuasion and enablement”1 of of this world, our capacity to seek His Spirit, we see these responstability in things other than the sibilities as things we can’t help God who gave us life, hope, and but do. Peter writes this letter and a future—such propensity for sin Jesus sends us His Spirit because requires nothing less than vigilant, this identity, its corresponding patient, prayerful, and persistent responsibilities, and the necessary attention to what besets, unnerves, motivations are not intuited by us but deposited in us. and derails us.

It’s a divine privilege to fulfill a divine responsibility derived from a divine identity. Knowing and living in that identity is your divine right. Patrick Lafferty


November 13, 2008 a weekly devotional

every thought captive from Park Cities Presbyterian Church

Honor all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. 1 Peter 2:17

Their simplicity and straightforwardness notwithstanding, honoring and loving as Peter exhorts may be more of a challenge than we might think.

The chameleon’s claim to fame is his amazing capacity to change colors depending on his mood, often making him almost indistinguishable from his surroundings. The musk ox, native to arctic climes, is a burly, thick-furred animal that travels in herds. Like settlers who circle their wagons in the face of a threat, musk oxen form an outwardfacing ring to defend themselves and their turf. The two animals couldn’t be more separated by climate and distance, and yet they each metaphorically represent a particular orientation to the world that churches too often assume. So goes the thesis of Dick Keyes in his book Chameleon Christianity. Sunday we heard the contemporary equivalent of what it means to “honor the emperor” (1 Peter 2:17). But all political considerations aside, how does the church remain the church in whatever environment she finds herself? Peter summarizes the church’s call in three succinct commands: “Honor all men, love the brotherhood, fear God.”

If Keyes is right, we have to beware of letting our honor of men slip into accommodation of all men’s ways—like a chameleon adapting to his surroundings. We’re chameleonlike when we adopt the practices of our culture uncritically: when we accrue, expect, schedule, make purchases, and prioritize in ways essentially indistinguishable from those without any interest in the glory of God. We’re chameleonlike when we consciously or unconsciously adopt the prevailing wisdom that our faith is merely a private matter, a choice relevant only to our own circle and situation. The fear of what we might lose keeps us from showing our true colors. The honor of men deteriorates into an honor of our reputations among men. If Keyes is right, we must also beware of understanding love of the brotherhood as a rationale for stringently insulating ourselves from any and all who are not presently part of that brotherhood. We’re musk ox–like when we take no interest in working for the good

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of those outside the church, and when we never take the time to translate the very vocabulary of our hope into the dialect of those with whom we’re to share that hope. We’re musk ox–like when we view the parts of this world that have no interest in Christ as regions we ought not tread. The fear of what might become of us if we get too close to what appears antithetical to righteousness keeps us from loving those outside the fold. The fear of what we might lose and the fear of what might become of us are potent, and yet they creep inconspicuously into our orientation to life. What, then, shall keep us from this often unconscious drift into accommodation or insulation?

being of the world while still remembering that we’re here for the world. Then, rather than assuming the features of the chameleon or the musk ox, we live as exiles, for the glory of God and for the good of our locales. In which direction does your life trend—toward the ways of the chameleon or those of the musk ox? Where might the fear of the Lord—of His holiness and His love—need to push you out of the inclination toward accommodation or insulation?

Thank God for what Peter reminds us: The fear of God must always complement this kind of honoring and loving. Seeing God’s fearsome holiness keeps us from being too enamored with all that this world defines as good. Seeing His immeasurable love for us keeps us from being content to celebrate that notion only among those who are presently resting in that love. Keeping those realities before us stems the drift. Then, in whatever her circumstances, the church remains ever the church, as Jesus prayed she would in John 17. We can be in the world without becoming indistinguishable from the world. We can refrain from Patrick Lafferty


November 20, 2008 a weekly devotional

every thought captive from Park Cities Presbyterian Church

He himself bore our sins in His body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. 1 Peter 2:24

In September 2005, a convoy of American military vehicles took a wrong turn outside Fallujah. The mistake provoked an eruption of violence against the convoy and led to the ghastly deaths of at least four civilian contractors who were shot, burned, mutilated, and hung from a bridge for all the world to see. You may very well remember those images. The act was more than an expression of indignation. It was a message—a message of outrage at what they considered to be foreign meddling in a sovereign nation.

meant to notice something more specific about a death on a cross. Those who put Jesus to death intended to silence Him. What’s more, they also sought to make a public mockery of Him, to strip Him of his dignity, so that no one would see Him as worthy of any honor or respect. Paul makes the same point in Galatians 3:13 when he quotes Moses’s declaration that those hung on a tree are cursed of God (Deut. 21:23; there, even the Lord stipulates that bodies hung on a tree must be removed before sundown, lest they be drained of all honor). That Jesus underwent a curse made His work all the more difficult to accept, and yet all the more compelling. Those who killed him sought to send a message. The Romans proclaimed by His crucifixion that no man could claim authority over Caesar and live—the Jews proclaimed that no one could claim authority alongside God and live. But those messages faded into the backdrop of the more poignant message sent not by men but by God. It was God, Himself, who sent His Son to the cross (Acts 2:23), and His message to all was that you shall not meddle in sin and live.

It may also be the closest thing we know of to the pronouncement of a curse. Designed not only to thwart the intentions of its victims, the violence intended to strip those men of their dignity. Make someone an object of revulsion and you remove any sense of what formerly gave them honor. That’s what curses do. It’s easy to miss, but when Peter reminds us that Jesus bore our sins in His body on the tree, we’re 24


In suffering the indignities of those curses, the Lord Jesus did two things. He ascribed to us the highest dignity. For the glory of His heavenly Father, Jesus bore His cross. For the good of those He came to save He did the same. Surely the message of wrath against sin displayed on the cross was designed to make us sober. Any sin is heinous to our God. But a message of divine honor accompanied the message of wrath. Those who’d defaced the image of God by sin needed to remember that they still bore that image. Thus, even in our darkest, most loathsome moments, we must make it our discipline to see the true and unassailable dignity of our lives, since His death confirmed His regard for us. “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). How can the object of an unsurpassable love justify denying its own dignity and worth? In other words, who are we to despise, in ourselves or in our neighbor, what the Lord Jesus cherished? Furthermore, ascribing to us that dignity by His willingness to suffer indignity had designs far greater than merely showing His appreciation for us. In fact, the dignity He ascribes us intends to affect every choice we make.

He called us to find our dignity where He found His: in His heavenly Father. Jesus willingly suffered ridicule, torture, revulsion, and a heinous, public death because He knew there was a deeper dignity that could not be taken from Him, no matter what men said or did. He did not need to protect or preserve what could not be assailed. Our Lord therefore refused to retaliate, not only because it would have kept Him from His appointed task, but also because it would have expressed mistrust in where His dignity came from. You and I are faced with a similar challenge whenever we feel our dignity is being threatened. The first step toward sin is to forget where that dignity is found. Then all manner of anger, resentment, bitterness, and estrangement may follow as we seek to protect counterfeit versions of what defines our dignity. Holiness follows when we remember who defines and validates that dignity. Advent approaches. The indignities Jesus endured began not at Calvary, but in the feeding trough of animals. Isn’t it time to reflect again on how He paid us the highest compliment and set before us the highest calling by suffering the indignities of a curse?

Patrick Lafferty


November 27, 2008 a weekly devotional

every thought captive from Park Cities Presbyterian Church

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.

machine. I tell you they are one flesh, even when they are not one spirit.

G. K. Chesterton, early notebooks1

Whether disseminated among the churches of first-century Asia Minor, or written in 19th-century England, or spoken last Sunday, the message that marriage is both magnificent and hazardous remains the same. From that notion, two mandates follow. Marriage must be treated with the greatest care. And the proper care of marriage rests on an abiding grasp of the gospel of grace.

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

That dear, dreamy old bachelor notion—the notion that the unity of marriage, the being one flesh, has something to do with being perfectly happy, or being perfectly good, or even with being perfectly and continuously affectionate! I tell you, an ordinary honest man is a part of his wife even when he wishes he wasn’t. I tell you, an ordinary good woman is part of her husband even when she wishes him at the bottom of the sea. I tell you that, whether the two people are for the moment friendly or angry, happy or unhappy, the Thing marches on, the great four-footed Thing, the quadruped of the home. They are a nation, a society, a

Whether the controversy is trivial, and yet leaves one spouse wishing the other were at the “bottom of the sea,” or if the two disagree on matters of eternal significance, the regard for the marital bond is never to oscillate according to the intensity of the disagreement. Both Chesterton and Peter affirm this: The bond that is formed by marriage calls for a steadfast commitment to protecting and preserving the love that united it. In sickness and in health, in want and in plenty, the indissoluble nature of marriage requires the respect and understanding Peter calls for.

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But steadfast commitment, respect, and understanding all rely on something greater than just a proper regard for the nature of marriage. Only with the gospel of grace superintending all thoughts, prayers, and decisions can marriage ever find its purpose in glorifying the God who formed it. Marriages may endure without the gospel, but only those who understand themselves to be “joint heirs of grace” can glorify God by their marriages. For only the husbands and wives that see themselves as the recipients of immeasurable grace can hold at bay illicit enticements or lasting grudges. One cannot look long at the cross of Christ and entertain what threatens fidelity. For never has there been a greater display of affectionate fidelity than when God came for His bride through the love of His Son, the bridegroom.

And for those not married who one day may be, would it not be just as fitting to reflect again how His grace is sufficient for contentment in this moment (Phil. 4:11, 2 Cor. 12:9), and that only by taking refuge in that grace shall contentment find you in whatever station of life you occupy?

We’re given time to pause this week. To reunite, share stories, perhaps to delight in some enduring delicacies—all with a view to rediscovering the reasons for gratitude that strengthen our resolve to remain faithful in whatever our lot. For the good of your marriage, wouldn’t it be fitting to reflect on this bond between you and your spouse— how its magnificence in God’s eyes requires a renewed attention to the grace of the gospel so that the hazards of marriage do not threaten? Patrick Lafferty


December 4, 2008 a weekly devotional

every thought captive from Park Cities Presbyterian Church

Do not repay evil for evil, or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless. 1 Peter 3:9

imprisonments, and threats, King refused to repay the evil with evil, for he knew that there was a paradoxically stronger power to be exerted through nonviolence. The nonviolent movement seemed to grow with every new instance of unreciprocated violence against them.

Many things make a man, but two things did most to form the man Martin Luther King, Jr. The first was that he’d become acutely aware, at an early age, what it felt like to be oppressed on the basis of his skin color. The second was that he’d been steeped since birth in two complementary notions— that God had assigned dignity to men equitably by making them in His image, and that God had achieved man’s liberation from sin by His Son’s refusal to retaliate against those who maligned and murdered Him. As one who’d been oppressed and who had trusted in the One who’d suffered the severest oppression, King spearheaded a campaign to win justice and equity for AfricanAmericans by the same means His Lord had used. The same Lord who had preached, “Love your enemies and pray for those persecute you.” The same Lord who inspired the apostle Peter to write, “Do not repay evil for evil, or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless.”

Stokeley Carmichael also knew the life of oppression. He, too, had received threats and seen his friends disparaged, mistreated, impugned, and even murdered. For a time he walked in lockstep with King and the nonviolent, gospel-centered movement. But in time his patience for restraint grew thin. To him, achieving equality through nonviolence eventually seemed foolish and futile. Such a conclusion led him to push no longer just for equality, but for power. And the pursuit of power would be exerted by way of raw, unbridled retribution, if necessary. Nonviolent resistance would take a back seat to a strategy that sought ostensibly more immediate results. Thus set sail a separate movement, loosed from the moorings of Peter’s received wisdom not to repay evil for evil. Now insult would be met with insult, beatings with beatings.

Though he would suffer indignity, revilement, beatings, 28


Henri Nouwen wrote in his little book In the Name of Jesus, “Dealing with burning issues without being rooted in a deep personal relationship with God easily leads to divisiveness because, before we know it, our sense of self is caught up in our opinion about a given subject.” What he means is that our pursuit of a principle is compromised when we allow the defense of ourselves to become the overriding motivation for our effort. Truth can end up taking a back seat to will. The more Stokely Carmichael asserted his movement’s quest for power, the more obvious it became that self-interest had replaced interest in the noble truth of ascribing equal dignity to all. He and his movement became like their adversaries, rather than rising above them and contending for something more noble because what they defended was greater than those who contended for it.

the matter of lesser value, and delaying a resolution. Our fallen, deceitful selves (Jer. 17:9) require a sturdier, purer motivation for contending than merely the defense of our desires. Whatever you find yourself contending for, the true object of your pursuit will be revealed by the means you seek to obtain it. Trading insults and jabs is a defense of the self, while absorbing blows as you represent truth bespeaks a quest for a greater thing. What does the way you engage in disagreement or argument reveal about what your true quest is for? How might His call not to repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling adjust not only the means, but the ends, of your contending?

Your struggles may not be as epic as the civil rights movement, but life presents ample occasion for having to contend for something. The defense of both epic causes and small principles requires the same commitment to the Lord’s call to bless rather than retaliate. In any friendship, any business relationship, any marriage, unless it’s the pursuit of the truth of the matter that motivates us, too easily we begin to defend our mere selves. In doing so we risk escalating the tension, upholding Patrick Lafferty


January 15, 2009 a weekly devotional

every thought captive from Park Cities Presbyterian Church

In your hearts regard 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, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. 1 Peter 3:15–16

Heather Mac Donald is a professed atheist, but not as strident as the Richard Dawkins or Christopher Hitchens type. She takes issue with inconsistencies she sees in the faith of most Christians. But she also distances herself from the New Atheism’s antipathy toward Christians. In a recent blog post, she said: Do modern Christians still believe with the same fervor as in the past all those unyielding doctrines of eternal damnation for the unbaptised and unconverted? They sure don’t act as if they do. If they really were convinced that their friends, coworkers, neighbors, and in-laws were going to hell because they possessed the wrong or no religious belief, I would think that the knowledge would be unbearable. Christians surely see that most of their wrong-be-

lieving personal acquaintances are just as moral and deserving as themselves. How, then, do they live with the knowledge that their friends and loved ones face an eternity of torment? I would expect a frenzy of proselytizing, by word or by sword. . . . Either believers live with an extraordinary degree of cognitive dissonance between the inclusive values of their society and the dictates of their religion, or they unconsciously mitigate those bloody-minded dictates as atavistic vestiges from a more primitive time.1 Sunday we were reminded of Peter’s teaching that if Christ is in you, you will likely be exposed to harm. Yet, Mac Donald’s comments mean no harm; in fact they may bear something salutary in them—even where her conceptions and conclusions are misshapen. Christians ought to be more energized to make Christ known and understood. If, as Peter says, Jesus is to be honored in our heart for His holiness, then a right regard for Him would issue in a more concerted effort to explain Him. Mac Donald’s reduction of the gospel to “doctrines of eternal damnation” associates all Chris-

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tians with the bloviating (and usually unemployed) doomsayers you find on the edges of college campuses. Jesus does warn of eternal judgment (Luke 13:1–5). But He invites us to believe in what He offers for this life as much as what He offers in the next. Consider the woman at the well (John 4:1–42), or consult His Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5–7). The gospel isn’t exclusively a message of warning, as Mac Donald suggests. It is an offer of hope—for both eternal joy and present endurance.

grain of a culture that responds to universal claims couched in spiritual truths with almost conditioned skepticism. That requires a step of faith, a risk whose outcome we cannot predict. So rather than ascribing to our hesitancy a subconscious ambivalence that our faith is an atavistic vestige from a more primitive time, Mac Donald might ask herself this question: who hasn’t hesitated in the risky act of expressing love? Peter and Heather Mac Donald leave us with two questions:

Mac Donald is also right to expect Have you prepared your defense? a distinctiveness in where ChrisNot a jargon-filled, book-length tians place their hope. If what we exposition of the gospel, but a invest in, where our priorities are, succinct explanation for why you and how we respond to life are place your trust in Christ. indistinguishable from the investments, priorities, and responses of And does the way you live before those without faith, no wonder the others show them where your gospel at face value seems insipid hope is placed? to them. But what makes someone a Christian is not her “moralJohn Calvin said of the Christian, ity” or that she is “deserving.” It “It is not the mere fear of punishis her love and devotion to the ment that restrains him from sin. only One who was morally deserv- Loving and revering God as his ing of honor and praise. (And we father, honouring and obeying Him should expect to find some nonas his master—[even if] there were Christians who are morally more no hell, he would revolt at the very praiseworthy because they view idea of offending Him”2 (Institutes the favor of God as contingent of the Christian Religion). It may upon their own holiness.) not be too strong a fear of others that explains our diffidence in Finally, Mac Donald is right to nowitness; rather, it may be too little tice the inner turbulence Christians a love for the One who loved us face at their call to evangelize. first and most. Perhaps it’s time What we offer in love may in fact to pray that our explanation and be interpreted as anything but, demonstration of our hope would and that can be unsettling for the rest on nothing less than our love messenger. To preach “Christ and for Jesus’ blood and righteousHim crucified” is to cut across the ness. Patrick Lafferty


January 22, 2009 a weekly devotional

every thought captive from Park Cities Presbyterian Church

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. 1 Peter 4:3–5

In Mark Helprin’s novel Winter’s Tale, a family heirloom becomes a metaphor for the moral compass of the story’s protagonists. A salver, an ornately decorated tray overlaid in both silver and gold, had survived generations of the Marratta family, giving rise to the notion that the tray was somehow protected. Around the circumference of the tray were embossed four words in Italian: onestá (honesty), corragio (courage), sacrificio (sacrifice), pazienza (patience)— the virtues that defined this family. The son who possessed it remembered his father telling him, Little men spend their days in pursuit of such things [wealth, fame, possessions]. I know from experience that at the moment of their deaths they see their lives shattered before them like

glass. I’ve seen them die. They fall away as if they have been pushed, and the expressions on their faces are those of the most unbelieving surprise. Not so, the man who knows the virtues and lives by them. Ideas are in fashion or not, and those who should prevail are often defeated. But it doesn’t matter. The virtues remain uncorrupted and uncorruptible. They are in themselves the bulwarks with which we can protect our vision of beauty, and the strengths by which we stand, unperturbed, in the storm that comes when seeking God. The Apostle Peter has told us thus far in his letter that to be found in Christ is free of cost, yet it is a costly fight to follow God. That’s why he calls us not simply to remember Christ’s own suffering but to “arm ourselves” with that knowledge. The fight to follow God presents itself most chronically in the call to uphold virtue before a world that mocks or maligns it. That’s why half of verses 1–6 call attention to the enduring influence of a corrosive way of living—one, sadly, for which our taste remains. Virtues are not ends in themselves, but expressions rather of our love for Christ, who longs to see them 32


in us. In fact, the only reason we would choose not to pursue them is that we do not trust the one thing that motivates them: the love God has for us in Christ. We lie because we don’t think His love for us is enough to protect us from what telling the truth will yield. We shrink back in fear because we don’t think His love for us is enough to steel us against what threatens. Impatience turns to petulance when we think Him unable to provide us what we need for contentment. So what shall keep these virtues in us? Sunday called us to frame the rest of our days in much the same way Jonathan Edwards did in his resolutions—one of which, worth hearing again, would be sufficient to sustain our loving pursuit of those virtues: “Resolved: to examine carefully, and constantly, what that one thing in me is, which causes me in the least to doubt of the love of God; and to direct all my forces against it.”1 Virtue proceeds from a profound humility before God, issuing from a sense both of His majesty and of His love.

depth of His love for us? Who has shown more courageous sacrifice than He who willingly suffered for us to know God truly? And who has shown greater patience than He who withheld His judgment (Acts 17:29–31), and continues to advocate for us whenever we fall into sin (1 John 2:1)? Where are you lacking courage at work or school? Where are you lacking patience at home? Not mere willpower, but, as Edwards taught, only a robust sense of the love of God in Christ can nurture those virtues in us. For then we see their beauty and long to see them embodied in us. What’s your plan to direct all your forces to that end? It shall be worth the fight.

Like that gilded tray ennobled by virtues, we must have the truth of His love embossed upon our souls. The embossing begins and is sustained by a frequent consideration of Him who embodied virtue unsurpassingly. Who has spoken more honestly than the One who unflinchingly told us both the depth of our flaw and the Patrick Lafferty


February 5, 2009 a weekly devotional

every thought captive from Park Cities Presbyterian Church

The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers. Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To Him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. 1 Peter 4:7–11

the appearance of being faithful. Looking busy is nothing to God. Every act has a motive. Samuel Johnson, and others before him, identified the measure of an act when he said that “the morality of an action depends on the motive from which we act.”1 It doesn’t take long for even the most moral to discern a complex of motives driving their actions, some of which are less than virtuous. As we heard Sunday, Peter spurs believers on to many things, but not without reference to the motives behind them. Since self-control and sobriety can be motivated by a desire for personal advancement, Peter cites unhindered prayerfulness as the proper motive. Since what may seem like loving hospitality can at its core be saturated with begrudging, Peter calls for earnestness. And since using our gifts—whether speaking or serving—can become a veiled act of self-promotion, Peter insists that their use reflect a thoroughgoing regard for the origin and purpose of those gifts.

At a Lollapalooza concert several years ago you could purchase a psychedelically colored button with a simple phrase: “Jesus is coming. Look busy.” One might infer from Peter’s opening statement in verse 7 that all his exhortations to us are motivated by a desire not to be caught looking idle when Jesus returns. Jesus does exhort us to be found faithfully obedient at His return (Matt. 24:45–51), but the motive behind that obedience is surely greater than just having

Even if we don’t find those blatantly suspect motives undergirding our actions, what

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shall we do if we detect something less than earnestness in our love, or selflessness in our service? Shall we break off obedience until our motives become unsullied? Or are we to pay no attention to the rough edges of our motives and just press on? Jesus knew we had nothing and could do nothing to commend ourselves to God. Those who recognize their lack of intrinsic virtue, which Jesus terms poverty of spirit (Matt. 5:3), genuinely comprehend the holiness of God and His grace to forgive and renew them. Paul understood that it would not be by our righteousness that we would know God’s salvation (Phil. 3:8–9). Yet both Jesus and Paul speak unequivocally about seeking the “reward” of the Father (Matt. 5:12) and making it our “aim to please Him” (2 Cor. 5:9). Again, can obedience plagued with mixed motives obtain either outcome?

to refine both our motive and our obedience. Where do you notice your selfcontrol, your love, your service lacking in unstained motive and vigor? With your colleagues, your children, your spouse? You can take comfort that even the obedience of the disciples often had self-interest infiltrating its motives (Matt. 20:20–28). You may also note well, though, that Jesus had, and has, as much interest in refining motives as in securing obedience. Jesus is coming. Take every motive captive to obey Christ.

When we notice conflictedness of motive in us it’s time to ask, “Why is the Lord worthy of this obedience?” The question will drive us back to the Cross and force us to see the stinginess of our love against the lavish backdrop of His. Then, it’s time to pray that the Lord will remove the spiritual blindness and callousness of our hearts so that we obey with increasing earnestness. Finally, we need to act on the conviction that even if suspect motives taint our actions, the Lord, through our continued obedience, will work Patrick Lafferty


February 12, 2009 a weekly devotional

every thought captive from Park Cities Presbyterian Church

Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time He may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on Him, because He cares for you. 1 Peter 5:6–7

life with restraint at its core might justifiably be seen as limiting.

Standing at the corner of Guadalupe and West 21st in Austin in the early ’90s, I caught up with a childhood friend who had recently matriculated at the University of Texas. Somewhere in the conversation I mentioned that I’d recently placed my hope in Christ, to which he replied with an honest question, “Isn’t that a bit limiting?” There on that mild fall evening he, in so many words, wondered if all the prescriptions and proscriptions, all the doctrine and dogma, of the Christian faith were so constricting as to make life a virtual prison. I fumbled for an answer. His question intended no offense and reflected perhaps a widespread perception in the world as to what it means to live a godly life. Without context, one might infer from biblical words like holiness, law, wrath, judgment, and obedience that Christianity is primarily an exercise in restraint. In a world of such abundant opportunity and possibility, an orientation to 36

Sunday we heard how humility before the gospel of God in Christ expresses itself in submissiveness, sincerity, simplicity, selflessness, and security. That’s a demanding list of traits subsumed within Peter’s call to “clothe ourselves in humility”—so demanding one might think the whole enterprise limiting. But, quite to the contrary of my friend’s assertion, nothing liberates you for life like humility before the cross of Jesus. There’s a freedom for living that only trust in the gospel can provide. In the call to humility there’s an invitation to liberation. How so? It’s an act of humility to cast all our anxieties upon the Lord. To speak honestly before God all the things that cause us concern is to acknowledge our own limitations in managing our circumstances. It also affirms the Lord’s willingness to respond to what we cannot make sense of or control. And in humbling ourselves there’s a freedom—a freedom from the selfimposed tyranny of having to account for every variable of life. It’s not an invitation to passivity; we’re called to act with godly wisdom in all things. But we’re relieved of the burden of managing things


beyond our reach: “Do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? . . . Your heavenly Father knows that you need them all” (Matt. 6:25, 32). Rather than take the burden upon yourself, you’re freed to seek His help. What is perhaps most liberating about humility, though, is the basis for casting our anxieties upon the Lord. It’s because “he cares for us.” It’s not an obligatory concern; nothing in us obligates Him to care for us. It’s not a begrudging act on His part. Peter wouldn’t use the word “care” if God were simply being perfunctory in that care. It’s a care He expressed in “causing us to be born again” (1 Peter 1:3). It’s a care He expressed in sending His son to bear “our sins upon the tree that we might die to sin and live to righteousness.” (1 Peter 2:24). It’s a care that will be expressed in fullness when he returns to “restore, establish, and strengthen you” (1 Peter 5:11). To see our unworthiness to receive that care against the backdrop of His willingness to extend it is to be humbled immeasurably—and immeasurably freed. You’re freed from the fear of condemnation for all your sins of commission and omission. You’re also freed to seek the forgiveness of those you’ve wronged because

you rest in the greater forgiveness you’ve received from God. You’re freed from the sense that you need to prove your worth to God. The “God of all grace” (1 Peter 5:10) champions your cause on the basis of His Son’s worth and work. You’re freed from trying to keep up appearances, from trying to enhance your performance, from thinking you must establish a name for yourself, freed from the impulse to outwit, outlast, outplay—all because you live before a God who already cares for you. Such freedom doesn’t siphon away determination and diligence; it refines its expression and purpose so that, like a musician in a practice room, you play for the sheer beauty of the thing and not for what you obtain in applause, acclaim, or abundance. Oh, to trust so deeply in that truth! That’s freedom of the highest order. If your life were used as an example, would it show that the gospel is limiting or liberating? Usually life feels constraining when you are preoccupied with something. What are you preoccupied with today? The humility engendered by the cross leads us to cast our anxieties on the Lord and to trust foremost in His care. Humble yourself today. Let the cross clear your life of the limitations imposed by fear and by all the fruitless ways you seek to overcome it. Patrick Lafferty


a weekly devotional

every thought captive from Park Cities Presbyterian Church

Notes

November 6, 2008 1. The Westminster Shorter Catechism, Q. 31, http://www.ccel. org/creeds/westminster-shorter-cat. html.

September 18, 2008 1. Hurricane Ike struck Galveston, Texas on September 13, resulting in damage along the Gulf Coast and mass evacuations in Texas.

November 27, 2008 1. qtd. in Alvaro da Silva, ed., Brave New Family (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1990), 92.

October 2, 2008 1. Nicholas Carr, “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” The Atlantic, July/ August 2008, http://www.theatlantic. com/doc/200807/google.

January 15, 2009 1. Heather Mac Donald, “Has Christopher Hitchens Been Duped?” Secular Right, December 22, 2008, http://secularright.org/ wordpress/?p=1009.

October 23, 2008 1. John Chrysostom, Homily 25, A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, Ed. Philip Schaff, et. al., Volume XIV (Edinburgh, T. T. Clark, 1885), http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/ Nicene_and_Post-Nicene_Fathers:_ Series_I/Volume_XIV/On_the_ Epistle_to_the_Hebrews/Homily_25.

2. John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion (Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 2008), 8.

January 22, 2009 1. Jonathan Edwards, Letters and Personal Writings (WJE Online Vol. 16), Ed. George S. Claghorn, 753–759, http://edwards.yale.edu/ node/142.

October 30, 2008 1. Jonathan Edwards, “A Divine and Supernatural Light,” Select Sermons (Christian Classics Ethereal Library), http://www.ccel.org/e/edwards/ sermons/supernatural_light.html.

February 5, 2009 1. James Boswell, The Life of Samuel Johnson (Chiswick: Whittingham, 1830), 120.

2. George Herbert, “The ChurchPorch,” The Temple, http://www. logoslibrary.org/herbert/temple/ porch1.html.

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About Every Thought Captive Every Thought Captive is a weekly e-mail devotional based on the previous Sunday’s sermon at Park Cities Presbyterian Church. You can sign up to receive these e-mails at www.pcpc.org.

About Patrick Lafferty Rev. Patrick Lafferty is Pastor of Spiritual Formation at Park Cities Presbyterian Church. He is a graduate of the University of Texas and Dallas Theological Seminary. He and his wife, Christy, live in Dallas with their two children, Seamus and Savannah, and a dog named Boomer.

Park Cities Presbyterian Church 4124 Oak Lawn Avenue Dallas, Texas 75219 214-224-2500 www.pcpc.org


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