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A Living Hope: 1 Peter 5:6-14, Staring Down The Enemy

Staring Down The Enemy
1 Peter 5:6-14

How good is your parachute? On February 22, 1911, Gaston Hervieu climbed the Eiffel Tower to test a new parachute for pilots. He checked the wind, took a nervous breath, and began the test. His silk parachute filled with air, then sailed safely to the ground. Hervieu did not make the jump himself; he used a 160-pound test dummy. To one man this was an outrage. Franz Reichelt was an Austrian tailor who was developing a parachute of his own. He denounced Hervieu’s use of a dummy as a “sham” and, one year later, on the morning of Sunday, February 4, 1912, arrived at the Eiffel Tower to conduct his own experiment.

As Reichelt posed for pictures he announced, “I am so convinced my device will work properly that I will jump myself.” Gaston Hervieu pulled him aside and tried to stop him. Hervieu claimed there were technical reasons why Reichelt’s parachute would not work. The two men had a heated discussion until, finally, Reichelt walked away.

Modern parachutes use 700 square feet of fabric and should be deployed only above 250 feet; Reichelt’s parachute used less than 350 square feet of fabric, and he deployed it at 187 feet. He had neither the surface area nor the altitude needed to make a successful jump. Hervieu was not the only one who had told Reichelt that his parachute suit would not work. It had also been rejected by a team of experts who told him, “The surface of your device is too small. You will break your neck.”

He not only ignored experts, he also ignored his own data. He tested his parachute using dummies, and they crashed. He tested his parachute by jumping thirty feet into a haystack, and he crashed. He tested his parachute by jumping twenty feet without a haystack, and he crashed and broke his leg. Instead of changing his invention, he clung to his bad idea in the face of all evidence and advice.

Reichelt fell for four seconds, accelerating constantly, until he hit the ground at sixty miles an hour, making a cloud of frost and dust and a dent six inches deep. He was killed on impact. Let me ask you again … how good is your parachute?

Life is like that. Life for every human who has ever lived is a leap off a giant tower, plummeting toward a sudden ending we call death. And we’re all, every one of us, wearing a parachute. The question is, how good is your parachute? As St. Peter closes his letter to the underprivileged, persecuted Christ-followers in the backwater areas of the Roman Empire in Asia Minor, he wants to make sure they understand one thing above all else – there is only one parachute worthy of your trust, and that is Jesus. Life is full of ups and downs. Sometimes it’s exhilarating, with the sun on your back and the wind in your hair. At other times, it’s terrifying, like you’re plummeting toward the ground with nothing and no one to slow your descent. Regardless of what you’re facing, there is one parachute, only one, that will not let you down. And that is reason for hope in even the darkest of days. Turn with me to 1 Peter 5:6-14.

We all place our faith and trust in something. In someone. We often divide people into those who have faith and those who do not, but the truth is, every human being is a person of faith. The issue isn’t whether you have faith or not. The issue is where you place your faith. Even an atheist is a person of faith. Their faith is placed in the proposition that there is no God or life after death, but it’s still faith.

Many place their faith in themselves, in what they have accomplished and accumulated, whether it be accumulating good works and the praise of people, or lots of money and nice things. Others turn to dead religion and false gods, systems of rules and regulations they seek to live by, hoping beyond hope that when they die, they’re following of the rules of the religion they follow will be enough to provide them with eternal life.

Eventually, we all come to place where we realize that the parachute we’re wearing isn’t up to the task. The good news is we can change parachutes mid-flight and land safely in the arms of God. And that requires humility. Look at V. 6. If I’m going to place myself in the mighty hand of God, I have to have the humility to recognize that my own hand isn’t strong enough to save me. Humility doesn’t come naturally to us as human beings. In the ancient world and among the people Peter was writing to, humility was viewed as a vice, not as a virtue. Until Jesus, no one saw humility as something to seek and embrace. But Jesus re-orients us. He changes our perspective on the world and everything in it. He changes the way we relate to our friends and family, even our enemies. He changes the way we view and relate to ourselves.

Jesus completely changes our entire mindset. The things those caught up in this world and its system pursue, things like status and wealth and power and the security that come with them no longer hold value to us. As followers of Jesus, our entire value system has been changed by him.
And that value system is now cross-shaped. Jesus willingly embraced the cross and its agonizing suffering for us, to set us free from sin and death. And as his followers, he calls us to pick up our own cross daily and follow him. To willingly embrace death to self and if necessary, suffering and sacrifice, not to purchase anyone’s salvation – Jesus has already done that. But to introduce them to the love and grace we’ve found in Christ. And dying to self, allowing Christ to re-orient our mindset, our values, our worldview, requires us to reject pride and arrogance and self-confidence and to humbly and willingly place ourselves in God’s hands.

And that means that when people resist Christ, when they spit in our faces and call us names, when they aren’t the most respectful when they come to community meal or the food pantry, we die to self, embrace humility, and refuse to resist, or attack back, or rage against God. It means that we love when we aren’t loved. Serve when they spit in our faces. It means we respect when we aren’t respected, and are kind when they aren’t kind to us.

It means that we humbly submit to God and his will, even when we are mistreated. Look at v. 7. Placing our faith in Christ is like jumping out of the plane, figuratively speaking, with Christ as your parachute. Through the exhilarating times and the terrifying times we cast our cares on Jesus, knowing that he cares for us. Even when it looks like he doesn’t care for us, or feels like he doesn’t care for us. Even when we’re terrified and in pain, we trust that he cares for us and that we will land safely in his hands. Even if that doesn’t happen in this life and we only experience it in the life to come.

I grew up in rural Ohio, and during the summers, while I was in college, I worked for the county highway department. In rural Ohio, that means you spend most of your work days out in the middle of nowhere, working on roads winding through the woods or surrounded by corn and soybean fields. Sometimes, we were far enough away from town that there was a delay between when the last truck hauling asphalt or gravel or whatever left the worksite to reload and when the first truck to leave got back. I remember one time we were working out in farm country, surrounded by pig farms and corn fields, and while we were waiting on the trucks to come back with asphalt, one of the equipment operators, a younger guy named Randy, pointed at an old, abandoned house out in the middle of a field. He lived somewhere near where we were working, and told us that the creepy, old, abandoned house was haunted. So, of course, three of us college crew members walked down the lane flanked by stalks of corn and went into the house.

As is often the case with houses like that, it was like the people just up and left one day and never came home. Furniture still in the rooms, clothes left in the closets, and magazines and papers all over the floor. It took a minute, but we finally worked up the courage to go from the kitchen and living room up the stairs. When we got up there, one of us looked out a window, and could see the work crew out on the road, chatting while they waited. Well, the whole crew but one – Randy was missing. And he was a prankster. Now, we knew he was in the house, waiting to jump out and scare us. We just knew it. Because he was. But knowing it didn’t make it any easier to walk back down the stairs. And we had to. We could see the first truck coming back down the road.

You would think three big college guys would be fine. We weren’t. We KNEW Randy was somewhere in the house, waiting to scare us. But even though we knew Randy, and knew he was in the house, we were afraid to leave the room we were in upstairs. “You go first.” “No, you go first.” “I’m not going first, you go first.” “Alright, we’ll walk through the doorway together.” At which point he jumped out and grabbed us and had us screaming in terror so loud that the work crew heard us all the way down the lane over the paving equipment and trucks. We never really did live that one down.

Many people are living their lives as if they’re in a haunted house. Every step is one of caution, concern, and worry. Can I handle what is just around the corner? And the truth is, apart from Jesus, we can’t. But he invites us to cast our cares – our fear and our worry and our concern – on him with abandon, knowing that he is there strengthening us, even when we are afraid.

And it isn’t sin to feel afraid. I work with people dealing with anxiety all the time. Sometimes it comes from a biological imbalance in our neurotransmitters. Sometimes it comes from past experiences of horrific trauma or deep pain and loss. Sometimes it comes from genetic, personality-related traits or ingrained thinking patterns.

And you can’t just throw a Bible verse at it and expect it to go away. It takes time, living in the Kingdom of God, learning to trust God, casting small cares and then larger cares and then even larger cares on him, as God proves himself faithful, even in the difficult circumstances in life. And ultimately, it comes as we get to the point where we begin to see life itself from God’s perspective and really understand that this life is not all that there is. But Peter doesn’t scold us for anxiety and fear. He simply instructs us to cast those things, with abandon, like jumping out of a plane, on God.

And then he tells us to be sober-minded, or clear-headed, and alert. Look at V. 8. When we’re clear headed, we are free from the mental confusion that comes with intense fear, and our emotions are guiding our thoughts and actions. We might be feeling fear, but we aren’t overcome by fear, and there’s a difference. We don’t lose our minds to fear and anxiety as we watch or read the news and listen to the political pundits argue. We aren’t overcome by fear because we learn to cast our cares on God, knowing that whatever else may happen to us or around us, God cares for us.
And like soldiers on watch, we are alert. Alert, because we do have a spiritual enemy who wants to destroy us, and if he cannot destroy us, he wants to neutralize us, make us ineffective in sharing Christ’s love and the good news of Jesus with others. Look again at V. 8. Peter tells us that our enemy is “the devil,” and he prowls around like a roaring lion seeking prey to devour.

Christians have typically responded in one of two wrong ways to the devil. One is to completely ignore the Biblical truth that there is a real, spiritual, adversary who opposes God and his people. The other error is to obsess about him and see a demon behind every bush or negative event, so to speak. We either over-estimate him or under-estimate him.

Neither is the approach the Bible teaches us to take. We are to be alert, like a soldier on guard. The word devil is the Greek translation of the Hebrew word Satan, which means adversary or opponent. The Bible also calls Satan a slanderer or accuser, like an opposing lawyer in a lawsuit. He is also called a destroyer. As our adversary, he slanders us and accuses us, both before God and in our own minds, and he seeks to destroy all that God and God’s kingdom stands for.

BUT, and this is a big but, Satan is not an equal to God. He is a created being, a fallen archangel, who stands against all that God stands for and wants to destroy the goodness that God desires. Yes, he is an enemy, but he is not on the same level as God. Ultimately, he can only do what God allows. And God has allowed him to operate since he fell. You see, God wants our love, and love is a choice freely made. Love is freely given, not coerced. And for there to be real choice, there has to at least be the opportunity to choose that which is not God.

Yes, Satan, the destroyer, the slanderer, the accuser, exists and is at work in the world. But we are to neither fear him nor flee from him. We are to resist him, neither under-estimating him nor over-estimating him. We are simply told to resist him when we see him at work. And truth be told, we often miss the things he’s doing around us. St. Paul in 2 Corinthians 11:14 tells us that “even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light.” In other words, he is subtle and deceptive. He wants to appear good. As straight up darkness and evil, most of us, even those who do not follow Christ, would leave him. No, he disguises himself as good.

We sometimes have a guest in the food pantry who gets upset and curses and yells in the building. And I’ve heard people equate that to an attack from Satan on the church. That isn’t directly Satan. That’s trauma and shame and things like that. But Satan IS present in attitudes that view those who come to us for help as somehow less than those who are giving away the food. Satan IS present in attitudes that are less than compassionate to our guests in the food pantry and community meal. And Satan IS present in their pasts, in the trauma and shame people experience that cause them to act out that way. So we are to be alert to the attacks of Satan, especially those that seem to come from within us.

But we do not stand firm alone. Look at vv. 9-11. We stand firm with the rest of the citizens of the Kingdom of God around the world as we lift up and pray for and encourage one another. And we stand in the strength of God. Throughout the Old Testament, God led his people into battle, often against numerically stronger, better trained and equipped foes. And sometimes with ridiculously small numbers of warriors. Think of the story of Gideon, who was instructing him to cut the size of his force way, way down before leading them into battle. Or the people of Israel who took the mighty Jericho without firing a shot, so to speak. Why did God do this? Because he wants his people to realize that we live in his strength, and that he fights on our behalf. In 2 Chronicles 20:15, the prophet Jahaziel told the people, “And he said, “Listen, all Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem and King Jehoshaphat: Thus says the Lord to you, ‘Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed at this great horde, for the battle is not yours but God’s.”

Pastor Kyle Idleman, tells this story about learning this lesson for himself. He says, “When I started a new church in Los Angeles County, California, I found that I was overwhelmed with pressure and stress. I was working more than seventy hours a week. My wife would ask me to take a day off, and I would say, “I can’t.” I wasn’t sleeping at night, and I started to take sleeping pills. When the church was about a year old, I woke up in the night, and I had this strange sense that God was laughing at me. As I lay in bed, I wondered, Why is God laughing at me?

It would take five years before I finally got an answer to that question. Here’s how it happened: when we moved into our current house, I saved the heaviest piece of furniture for last – the desk from my office. As I was pushing and pulling the desk with all my might, my four-year-old son came over and asked if he could help. So together we started sliding it across the floor. He was pushing and grunting as we inched our way along. After a few minutes, my son stopped pushing, looked up at me, and said, “Dad, you’re in my way.” And then he tried to push the desk by himself. Of course it didn’t budge. Then I realized that he thought he was actually doing all the work, instead of me. I couldn’t help but laugh.

The moment I started laughing at my son’s comment, I recalled that middle-of-the-night incident and I realized why God was laughing at me. I thought I was pushing the desk. I know that’s ridiculous, but instead of recognizing God’s power and strength, I started to think it all depended on me.”

Life is one giant leap out of the plane. How good is your parachute? When you feel like you’re plummeting toward the earth at break-neck speed, how good is your parachute. When you’re staring down the enemy of your soul, how good is your parachute? When the lion roars in your face and you tremble in fear, how good is your parachute? When you feel the weight of the world on your shoulders, how good is your parachute?

If Christ is your parachute, if you are humbly casting your cares on him with abandon, staying clear-headed and alert, seeking to live in God’s strength and not your own, your parachute will hold. He is the only parachute that will hold. Let us pray.