Christian Mindfulness: Called to Bless
I want to show you a statement that was in a major news outlet this past week, and your job is to figure out which news source — “This is an election year unlike any we’ve experienced in recent decades.” Where do you think that was? The article goes on to outline threats to our country, implying that if their voter base doesn’t respond, our nation is doomed.
Now, obviously, as many of you picked up right away, it’s a very unfair question. That statement was in The New York Times, but it could have just as easily been in any newspaper, any news source online — FOX News, CNN, whatever. Every political campaign, every fund-raiser raising letter of every political party will have statements just like that. And as I say that I’m not at all minimizing that that may be true in the sense of the seriousness of an election. I believe there are massive threats that will have huge implications for our nation’s future.
Nor am I recommending that we as Christians put our heads in the sand and say, “Well, politics are dirty; they’re secular; we’re Christians; we don’t have anything to do with them.” It’s difficult to say that I love my neighbor and not care about some of the issues that politics address.
However, here’s the tension. I can’t remember an election that wasn’t described as “unlike any other election.” I can’t remember an election that wasn’t labeled as “the election of our times” or “this election will determine the future of our children and grandchildren.” And that raises the question … And this is why it’s really important for us as the people of God to be clear about this because I wonder when will that not be true? Can you imagine if Jesus doesn’t return, our nation coming to a place fifty years, a hundred years, three hundred, five hundred years from now where politicians are saying, “Hey, guys, it’s not a big deal this year. If you want to come out and vote, it’s great. If you don’t, things are good, things are good. Political parties are working together. If you vote for us or them, it really doesn’t matter. We’re working together. Everybody’s being taken care of. Everything’s safe in our country”?
I think we’re confusing that with heaven. Is that ever going to happen? You can tell we’re all wired to crave heaven because we all believe it every time. This is THE election. We want it to be true. We want to believe that if we would just do this or get them in office or pass this or that, it will be like living in heaven. And the reason this is vital for us as believers to be clear on is not only “is this always going to be true until Jesus comes?” but also the purpose of those statements is to elicit fear and at times panic. “If you don’t act, this will happen! You must act right now!” And as with that article in The New York Times, but really in any, it’s to get the voter base going and realize you must do something, or all hope is lost.
And the danger of that is, if you study history at all, you notice when people are afraid, when people feel their lives are threatened, they are capable of doing anything and feeling it’s right, it’s justified because of the threat. They are also, we are also, very easily manipulated by leaders when we feel our way of life is threatened.
And that is why what Peter, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, is training us to do is so vital. We’re calling it Christian mindfulness, but Christian mindfulness enables us to hear God’s call in the middle of uncertain or unsafe times. What call? The call to bless. And in I Peter, the call to bless is shorthand for “to respond to evil with good.” You’ll see it in 2:21, I Peter 2:21, “For to this you have been called.” You’ll see it in 3:9, the text we’re going to look at today. “For to this you were called.” Without a strong sense of calling, the media — I’m talking about more broadly — the media, with all its endless temptations and distractions, or political forces with their constant threats and crises, will rearrange our priorities as the people of God, and we will be very easily swept into priorities that are not commissioned from above.
Before we see what that looks like, let’s get our bearings in I Peter. If you’re just joining us, three weeks ago, we looked at 2:9-12, that’s really the hinge passage where he summarized what he [Peter] had covered and launches us into what he’s going to cover. He answers four questions — Who were we? Who are we? Where do we belong? and What do we do? And then what we’ve been covering the last three weeks is the outflow of that identity — Who were we? Who are we? Where do we belong as sojourners in exiles? and What has he called us to do? And you’ll see Peter seems to structure this in what’s often called a chiasm, which just means he moves from outside in.
So, two weeks ago we talked about instruction for everyone. And one of the reasons I use political illustrations is that’s where Peter began because he knows the force of political pressures and crises to reorient believers to focus on the wrong kingdom. And then he moved to work, and then the heart is the example of Jesus. And then he moved out, as we saw last week, to instruction to couples. And now this week, he broadens it again to instruction for everyone. So, the structure moves to and from the gospel, the illustration and activation of the sacrificial love of Jesus. And there will be, again, constant cultural pressures seeking to refocus our priorities off of this ultimate priority we are called to. Christian mindfulness enables us to hear his call in the midst of the chaos.
Now, again, let’s keep reviewing. What is Christian mindfulness? You’ll see it in the qualifying statements, where Peter calls us to submit, to suffer, to do good, but they’re always with a qualifying statement. I’ll show you a few examples — “for the Lord’s sake,” “for this is the will of God,” “living as servants of God,” “fear God,” “when mindful of God,” “in the sight of God,” “to this you have been called by God.” Last week we saw “which in God’s sight,” “who hoped in God so that your prayers may not be hindered.” These are just a few examples. There are more, and there are more coming in the passage we’re looking at today.
At the heart God is saying to us, “Will you slow down, turn off the news for a bit? Will you set aside your phone, close your laptop? And I want you to quiet your heart in my presence.” That’s why all these statements about “in the sight of God,” “when mindful of God” It’s “Okay, God, this is what’s happening inside of me when I read that news, when I learn that information, when I see trends, when this is what’s happening inside of me.” And God is saying, “Okay, will you bring that to me? Will you see that through who I am and what I’m doing when mindful of God?”
When you practice this, it’s got to become a habit, and for many, many weeks of starting to do this, you will quickly feel like a failure. You’ll get in in that place where you think, “God, there’s so much peace in your presence. There’s so much clarity of thought. I can see deceptions more accurately, and I don’t freak out.” So, there’s a calmness, there’s a shalom, even in the midst of the chaos and confusion and uncertainty. But then ten minutes later, we’re easily set off again.
It’s like physical training for the brain, for the heart — mindfulness training. And what Peter does to this section is he’s helping to train our minds. He began in chapter 1 saying,
“Prepare your mind for action.”
He’s going to say in the next chapter,
“arm yourselves with this way of thinking.”
It’s a different way of thinking, and it comes through repeated Spirit-empowered training.
In verse 8, you will see he is summarizing his thoughts and applying them to all of us.
“Finally, all of you”
And then if you skip down to the middle of verse 9, the command,
“bless, for to this you were called.”
Now the word “bless” is kind of Christian-ish. We know the word. It’s applied to many different contexts. But what does it really mean? And is it possible? And so, Peter covers three things here — the habits, the benefits, and the tensions of this call to bless, and “to bless” again is shorthand for “to respond to evil with good.”
First of all, the habits. Verse 8. By habits, we’re thinking of habits of the heart, inclinations of thought, emotional responses that result in a certain action. There’s a bit of poetic symmetry again. Whether this is true or not, whether this is an actual chiasm, it just highlights the way the thought pattern goes here. If you drop down to the bottom of verse 8, if we start there with a humble mind, it enables us to maintain (jump up to the top) unity of mind. Notice he’s not saying “uniformity.” There’s never going to be a big group of followers of Jesus who agree on all the secondary issues, and that’s okay. What unites us is the humble mind in the presence of Christ. We’re all together on where our hope is. And so, therefore, we have tender hearts that produce sympathy. Those two go together. That word — I know I do this every time the word appears, but I just love it! — eusplagkhnos. That’s the word “tender heart,” eusplagkhnos.
“Eusplagkhnos” it is a very organic word. “Bowels” is what some have translated in the past. It’s gut love. It’s when you love someone so much, you know when it hurts, or when they’re suffering you feel so deeply. You might even feel like you’re going to throw up, or you feel pains in your stomach. It’s the way the Greeks described that compassion. It’s hitting you right here. It’s a kind of love. That’s where it’s related to sympathy. And I must say, you all are so good at that — feeling other people’s losses and joys deeply as if they were your own.
All of this moves to and from brotherly love, philadelphus. We get our word, the city of Philadelphia, known for their brotherly love. But it’s a family, friend love.
And then Peter in verse 9 moves outward to,
“do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, [there it is again] bless.”
There is a reflex within all of us that prompts us to react to “you give me evil; I’m giving you back evil.”
So, my wife and I this summer, big road trip, on Audible, listening to The Feud, which is the true story of the Hatfields and the McCoys by Dean King. Prior to the Civil War, these two families actually got along pretty well, but they always had a deep sense of personal and family justice. One quick example — Jim McCoy, who is the nephew of Randall McCoy. Randall McCoy is the patriarch of the whole McCoy side. And Jim said his family actually had a reputation of being hospitable to strangers. In other words, if you’re nice to us, we will be super nice to you, but if you cross us … And so, he gave an example of his cousin, Leland, who had a really nice plum tree, it bore a lot of plumbs, and he began to notice some of them were missing. And so, he decided he would solve that problem. He poisoned all the plums and looked around for someone dead. And sure enough, within a couple of days, the thief was identified by his corpse, and mountain justice was delivered. And that’s a mild form. The book is full. It’s really fun summer reading — story after story of one wrong being met with another wrong!
And what’s tragic is to watch the family tree shrink. It’s actually gut wrenching. We had the audible going, but I always have to have a paper copy because I mark it up. And so, Karen’s looking through as I’m driving, and she’s following these. (Sorry, this is just a scanned version. I know you can’t really read the names.) But as you work through the book, you see anyone who is maimed gets a line through them. Anyone who is killed gets an X through them. And you start seeing whole groups of family members wiped out. It’s gut wrenching.
Now some of you are saying, “Well, that’s kind of extreme.” Yeah! The Hatfield and McCoy feud is legendary and tragic, but that craving for revenge is in all of us. We typically find more sophisticated ways to respond than poisoning or shooting, but it’s still very real. You do me wrong, I will find a way to make you pay.
But I often think when those feelings are inside of me, I often think, “Jesus, if you responded to me like I want to respond to them, I would have no hope. I have just given you evil after evil. I have wronged you so many times. And what have you done? You’ve taken on my evil for me, and then you’ve given me good, just good, never evil, never once! [He] keeps giving good!”
And so the way we respond when we are wronged preaches the gospel we believe, whether it’s a true gospel or a false gospel. If it’s a gospel of works, then I need to give you what’s coming to you. If it’s a gospel of grace that I believe, how can I do that to you when he has forgiven me for so much? This is the blessing that we live in. Now, look at the benefits because some of us are prone to think, “Yeah, that’s really great in church, but do you know what that person did to me? It’s not worth it to live the way the Bible describes.” Well, in verses 9-12, second half of verse 9, he talks about the benefits. Look at verse 9.
“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.”
There is a blessing in this calling, and Peter quotes Psalm 34 (we quoted earlier) to illustrate the joy and the peace and the intimacy with our Father that comes from this way of thinking and living.
Look at verse 10, I Peter 3:10.
“For ‘whoever desires to love life and see good days,’”
Stop there for a second. Anybody here want to love life and see good days? Remember, Peter is writing this in the middle of suffering. He had been put in prison. He was going to be crucified for Jesus upside down. And he’s saying, “Man, I love life. I’m seeing good days. Politicians can’t give me this. A bank account can’t give me this.” Your boss can’t give you this. I mean loving life and seeing good days only comes from one place. He goes on,
“Let him keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit.”
In other words, don’t get swept up into this evil-for-evil cycle. When someone wronged you, it always feels right to do them wrong, and even if all the wrong that you’re doing to them isn’t even all accurate, it still feels right. Revenge can justify anything. Any response feels right when we feel we’ve been wronged. And he is pleading with us. There’s no blessing down that road. Verse 11,
“let him turn away from evil and do good; let him seek peace and pursue it.”
Well, how do I know there will be a blessing? It doesn’t get fixed right away. The person doesn’t even know what they’ve done. Nobody around knows the wrong they’ve done. They think I’m the one who’s done wrong. Verse 12, and this is the mindfulness, Christian mindfulness,
“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.”
That’s key. Unless we know that his eyes are on us and his ears are open, we will never risk giving good for evil. We never will. It won’t seem worth it. But when his eyes are on you and his ears are open, there’s nothing anybody can do against or for us that’s worth trading that blessing. Does that make sense? Once you’ve tasted that, his eyes are on me. And so, this is why for some of us, this word from God today is going to snap us awake to realize “whoa, no wonder I retaliate so quickly! No wonder when my spouse says that I just want to give it to him. It’s because I’m not living with the confidence that his eyes are on me. I’m like a scared, little orphan who thinks he must fend for himself. I have no sense of a Father in heaven who’s looking on me, hearing my prayers so that I love life and see good days, even in the midst of wrong, even in the midst of suffering.”
So, if nothing else, this is an invitation. It’s what Christian mindfulness is — Come to the Lord! Come to him! Rest in who he is! Wallow in his favor! His eyes are on you, not because of your sinless record, but because of Jesus’s sinless record! He hears your cries.
Let’s test this in the real world. That’s what Peter does next in verse 13. I’ve generally called it tensions. In verse 13 he asks,
“Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good?”
You’ve got to love that question. Who is there to harm you? They can only kill the body, as Jesus says.
“But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled.”
In verse 14,
“Have no fear of them, nor be troubled”
is a reference back to Isaiah 8, and the background is significant. King Ahaz, who was King of Judah, has been threatened by the Northern Kingdom partnering with Syria. And they’re coming together to wipe out King Ahaz and replace him with a puppet king and basically take ownership of Judah, and Ahaz is terrified. And God sends a message in Isaiah 8:12,
“Do not fear what they fear, nor be in dread. But the Lord of hosts, him you shall honor as holy. Let him be your fear, and let him be your dread. And he will become a sanctuary.”
And he goes on to describe a part that Peter quotes elsewhere. But isn’t that fascinating? You’re terrified of this army that’s coming toward you, and God says, “Listen, you shouldn’t be terrified of them. You should be terrified of me because they’re not terrifying. I am terrifying!” And you’re like “okay, I’ve just traded terrors.” Yeah! “And I will be a sanctuary.” Isn’t that wild logic? Stand in all of God, and he will rush in and protect you and be your sanctuary.
And so, Peter picks up on this and applies this to Jesus, which is a shocking example, a stunning example of the deity of Christ because he says three responses here. How do we respond? Number 1, honor Christ. Verse 15, this is a reference back to Isaiah 8,
“but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy.”
That’s Christian mindfulness. Just like in Isaiah, Ahaz, terrified. No, Ahaz, be mindful of God. That army is not terrifying. I am terrifying. And so, honor, reverence, Christ, the Lord as holy. There is only one Lord who is in this place, and if you make your boss lord, you will be terrified of him. If you make your friends lords, you will be terrified of what they think of you. If you make your health or germs or whatever lord, that will be the source of your fear. But if he is lord, if he is big, everything else is small. I’m not saying insignificant, but it’s put in its proper place in reference to standing in awe of God. Honor Christ.
And then secondly, be prepared. Second half of verse 15,
“always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, yet do it with gentleness and respect.”
Over the past year and a half, my wife and I have been in a lot of hospitals with a lot of doctors talking with a lot of different people about things like cancer, health, all that — life, death. And there have been several times where we’ve come from chatting with someone, whether a doctor or someone else, and we’ve looked at each other and we said, we kind of blew that one. It’s like God just served us up on a platter an opportunity to share where our true hope is, and we kind of stumbled. Have you ever done that where you feel like just after you’ve left, you thought, “Oh, Lord, that was a perfect opportunity, and I was spiritually asleep.” What was going on?
And this is what Peter is saying. “Always be prepared to give a reason for the hope that is within you.” And let me explain what that isn’t. That isn’t having some zingers memorized so that you can zing ’em at the right time because then they’ll immediately repent and believe in Jesus, if they get zinged right. Or utilize a lot of Christian clichés that will be real meaningful. Or even have a formulaic presentation with slides to convince them.
And don’t misunderstand me, there is a time when you may have a more formal interaction with someone — What is Christianity all about? How do we defend? How do we believe in a resurrection? There are times where God opens up those doors. But here, by using the words “always” and “to anyone,” he’s just talking about normal life. You’re on a way to a meeting or hanging out with a friend, and he’s saying, “What if you were mindful of me as you’re driving there or at a doctor’s appointment or whatever, mindful of me?” “Lord, I’m not going to feel pressure that I’ve got to always get something, but I want to be ready. I want to be prepared that if you open that door, I want to be ready to walk through it.”
And the key there is not to memorize a system. It’s to have a hope. Some of us struggle sharing the gospel, not because we need better strategies. We need a better hope! Because let me tell you, if you have a better hope, you will find a way to share. You will! And it’ll look different for all of us. It’s not a formula. It will be very natural because it will be your way of sharing. But if I have no interest or capacity to share, I need to back up a little bit and say, “Do I have a hope? Where is my hope?” If my hope is in health, if my hope is in my bank account, if my hope is in my nation’s prosperity, if my hope is in my friends’ opinion, those are going to rise and fall. But Peter began this letter by describing this living hope through the resurrection of Jesus that we have. And that’s the source of our explaining where our hope comes from.
Thirdly, he says, keep a good conscience. So, honor Christ, be prepared, and keep a good conscience. Verse 16,
“having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, [Peter’s assuming it’s going to come] those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame,”
those who malign or speak against you. Now, when you taste what it’s like to have a good conscience, good, clean conscience, when you know what it’s like putting your head on your pillow at night and knowing your sins are forgiven, your Father is in control, he gives good gifts, my conscience is clean. It doesn’t mean you’re sinless, but you’re not holding anything back, you’re running to your advocate, your intercessor all throughout the day, and you’re experiencing that clean conscience. And when you have that, there is no crisis, there is no person, there is no event or opportunity that is worth giving that up for. It becomes a blessing that you will not trade for any kind of “bowl of porridge,” to revert back to an Old Testament story.
And Peter ends this section the same way he began it. Verse 16, “good conscience,” verse 16, “good behavior,” verse 17, “doing good.” What is he talking about? Skip back up to I Peter 2:12.
“Keep your conduct among the Gentiles [good] [that’s one of the words for good] honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your [same word — honorable] good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.”
That word for good there twice in that verse could be translated “honorable, good, beautiful, attractive.” There is something magnetic about a group of people who live out the blessings they’ve received in tangible ways.
So, what is our calling? This is it. No matter how bad things get, we are going to be known for good. That’s Christian mindfulness because we’re living in the presence of our Father and bringing that awareness to what is happening all around us.
Let me give you two examples of this during the pandemic, especially early on — a lot of fear, a lot of hostility, a lot of political division, racial riots, mass debates … And let me illustrate the fact that I am not, Peter’s not, recommending we put our heads in the sand. At that time, several of our pastors met with government officials. I know I met with a group of pastors who met with our governor early on before we even knew what was happening a few years ago. How can we be wise, do our best to keep people safe? How do we maintain religious freedom, spheres of authority? We had great conversations about that.
So, I’m just illustrating the fact that you’re not detached, you’re not aloof, having nothing to do with politics. But we said at that time, and we continue to say, “What are we going to give ourselves to as the people of God?” We talked about coming out stronger at the end of the pandemic. We talked about how we can help. Allan and the outreach teams just exploded with ideas — How can we get meals to people who need meals? How do we identify disadvantaged areas? How do we reach out to students who are falling behind? How do we cross racial and political barriers to be what Jesus described as “salt and light” in the middle of a national crisis? Obviously, we didn’t do that perfectly, but I think this is what Peter is saying — What are you known for? What are we as a church known in the community for? What are we known for at our work?
Second example — this is earlier. Years ago, when we were first building our relationship with Brook Glenn Elementary School, a public school down the road, we were already partnering in Good News Club, and that continues today. Praise God! Many of us were volunteering there, and while many of us were playing with the kids at recess, we began to notice, the fields were like gravel pits, just dirt and gravel, and a lot of the kids would get injured when we were playing soccer. So, the elders decided after exploring other options over there, we decided let’s do something to help. And we went to them and said, “We want to put a sprinkler system in and sod your fields.” And many of you volunteered, and we went over there and did it on a Saturday, and it was so much fun. I cannot tell you how many conversations came from that one simple act, how many teachers and administrators came and said, “What is a church doing sodding our field? We thought you hated us. Why would you do that for us?”
And the doors that that opens! And you say, “Well, that’s just a social gospel.” Well, that sets up for the gospel. That’s the tangible gospel. You’re living it out tangibly. We didn’t stop there. Tons of gospel opportunities continue today. Kids and families whose lives are changed because of doors that opened. And the doors open when people know you’re not there to shove a finger in their face. You’re there to do good. And even the doors open to have hard conversations about controversial things when they know you care for them. And I really believe that’s why Peter keeps using this word “good.” Do good, do good. Even if you’re getting evil, do good because it opens up huge doors.
So, real quick, where do we start? First, start with your own heart. Where is your hope? You’re not going to live this way, which is risky and countercultural if your hope is not in the resurrection of Jesus, if the gospel doesn’t define my identity. So, if you don’t know Jesus, we beg you … There are many here who would love to share how you can have a relationship with Jesus Christ.
Second, I plead with you to think small because sometimes we can feel overwhelmed and feel like we can’t make a difference. But there’s someone down the road that you can encourage. There’s someone near you after the service that you can hear their burden and carry that burden with them in prayer. There’s someone at your work that you can get to know and begin to pray for. And then you never know the doors that begin to open to do good when you start small. So, this week pray small and watch God do big. Start small.
And then third, if you’re visiting or you’re an attender and want to know more … How do I get involved with what’s happening here? I come on Sunday, and I feel like there are no needs. Everything’s covered, and what opportunities are there? The next connection class is October 1st. You can register online. It’s from 9 to 1. It includes lunch, lots of opportunities to ask questions, to hear what we believe, what we believe God is calling us to do. It’s a great place to start. And for all of us, there are tons of opportunities to volunteer here and with all our partners in the community and do good. Let’s pray.
Father, you’ve given us so much good for our evil. You’ve blessed us! And you bless us so that we can be a blessing. So, we ask now as we respond, crying out praise, calling for grace to help, Lord, we pray that you would pour out the living hope, that relationship with you through Jesus that fuels everything we’ve been talking about. Please, Lord, save lives today! Fuel us to be on mission this week in very simple ways, but we know that you can take something very small and do big things. So, we trust you for this in Jesus’s name. Amen.