5: 1 Peter; A Carefully Chosen Word

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Questions from Readers
How do you know that God is Just Love? 
Ken, how did this become heart instead of just head knowledge?
(What follows is the fifth of an eleven-part series that is one answer to these questions.)

For pleasure’s sake, make your spaghetti sauce from tomatoes fresh from your own vine; speak romantic words especially chosen just for your lover; slowly meander along the edge of the Grand Canyon and really see the miracles before taking your first photo; pray the scriptures and listen and wait long enough to receive the God chosen word for your moment.

We boarded the bus early in the morning for an 11:00 A.M. service in Timisoara.  I was preoccupied by our late-night visit to Titi and Ligia’s home.  This encounter now had a never to be forgotten grip on my heart, despite the fact that there was no reasonable expectation of ever seeing them again. 

Suddenly, there he was–Titi–grinning from ear to ear and beckoning for me to sit with him on our bus.  I promptly swung my body into the seat next to him.  Without wasting a breath, he commanded me, “Get out your sermon, we need to work on the translation.”  Titi was to be our interpreter for all the rest of the services on the western side of Romania.  “Awesome,” I swiftly grinned back at him.  I suggested, “Let’s read 1 Peter.”

Abruptly Titi’s smile vanished and he dissented, “You can’t preach on 1 Peter, not in Romania, not at this time.”  I knew exactly what Titi meant and hoped I was a step ahead of him. 

“Listen,” I trumped Titi’s angst,  “God specifically told me to avoid any mention of 1 Peter 2:13-17.“   He starred at me as if I had read his mind.  I had not read his mind but I had heard a word of God regarding how wrong  these  verses  were  for  that  time  and place.   Consider how this text might be received by Baptists under oppression in 1982:

                  For the Lord’s sake accept the authority of every human institution, whether of the emperor as supreme, or of governors, as sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to praise those who do right. For it is God’s will that by doing right you should silence the ignorance of the foolish. As servants of God, live as free people, yet do not use your freedom as a pretext for evil.  Honor everyone. Love the family of believers. Fear God. Honor the emperor.” 

 “Instead,” I suggested, listen to these words from 1 Peter 1:3-9:

            “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!  By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, (By the way, this was the day after Easter in Romania.)  and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who are being protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.   In this you rejoice, even if now for a little while you have had to suffer various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith—being more precious than gold that, though perishable, is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.  Although you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”  (1 Peter 1:3-9)

I believe that God has instructed me, this day after Easter, to put the accent on the living faith and the living hope of all Baptist believers all over Romania who are seeking with body, mind and spirit, to be courageous and hopeful.  I am not to emphasize today the division and distrust and betrayal that exist.  They may have to be addressed another day.  Today, reflecting the glory of the resurrection of Jesus, God desires that we all be uplifted by hope.  Hope will be a marvelous witness to everyone who worships with us today.

Why should Titi believe this revelation?  At that moment all I got from Titi was, “Let me read your sermon.”  As he read he asked a few questions about the meaning of words.  When the bus arrived at the church we solemnly filed in and I took a seat on the podium with Titi by my side.

I had never seen such a narrow sanctuary.  The Communists gave the church the land for their building and permission to build on that land and no other.  The fact that the strip was so narrow was the church’s problem to solve, not the government’s.

The worshippers in the balcony were just a handshake away from the pulpit.  It felt like I was squeezed in the midst of a host of believers overflowing with the energies of faith, hope and love.  The mood that day was celebrative and as I reached toward a hand in the balcony I informed a man that if I ran out of things to say I would grasp his hand again and swing him into pulpit and let him preach.  The North Americans enjoyed the comment and smiled but the Romanians laughed loudly. 

It was time to get serious.  I read the text and Titi translated.  The next 40 minutes were, how do you say this, awe-inspiring, magnificent, and even beyond rational.  I preached, Titi interpreted, the people heard and sent their enthused energy back at us.  My new friend seemed technically adept as an interpreter.  But as his voice reverberated through the sanctuary I knew he was capturing the excitement and the hope and the spirit of the words I had been given to preach.  We were plugged in to the same Source.  I also ascertained that Titi had decided to give my interpretation of I Peter a good hearing with an open mind.  I was as aware of the Presence and Power of God as I had ever been—actually I was playing on a whole new spiritual field of possibilities.  God was with us, lifting each one and binding us as one in Christ.  At the end of the service exuberance overflowed again as our mission team circulated among the Romanian Baptists for whom we had apparently established a vital link to hope and freedom.

Timisoara, just a few miles from Arad and the Hungarian border, was one of two cities in Romania that instigated and propelled the 1989 revolution that overthrew Communism.  That city and its Baptist leaders felt like revolutionaries even in 1982.  The same day I preached in Timisoara our mission team was introduced to two pastors who were friends of Titi Bulzan.  Both Paul Negruti and Nicolae  Gheorgita, definitely rebels with a cause, had just retired from their practices of medicine to be co-pastors of the Second Baptist Church of Oradea.  Their ordination was hotly contested by the Baptist Union despite the fact that there were so few pastors in the country that no one could be found to serve the church, the largest Baptist congregation in Romania.  Despite the church’s size and importance we stopped by only briefly and did not worship there.   The necessity to walk the razor’s edge that divided Baptist factions was a frequent feature of our pilgrimage.

I was personally introduced to Paul Negruti by Rodica Cocar, our translator on night one in Romania.  She was on the short list of trustworthy Romanian Baptists that Bob Williams had asked me to greet on his behalf.  I sat with her on the bus after our morning worship service.  She was a frightened young woman, under attack by the denominational leaders for her friendships with the fringe elements of Baptist life, like Paul and Nicolae.  Alienation from the Baptist powers could mean she would be cut off from the Baptist Association’s modest ability to protect its leaders from being tossed to the secret police wolves.

In the afterglow of preaching in Timisoara, I noticed an entirely new question beginning to emerge.  It could have been a fear-based question but it was to me unmistakably reality based.  I would return home.  I would be a different person.  I was already feeling the transformation.  The communities I lived within, especially the church, would not understand my God encounters and my new determination to live and lead by faith.  The persecuted church in Romania intimately resembled the first century Christian Church which was the birth-place of remarkable faith and gifted spiritual practice and an unquenchable mission enterprise.  How would I continue to live by such elevated faith and cavernous experience in the shallow soil of American Christianity?  This question would become more intense throughout our venture and when I returned home it would be an insolvable quandary.  It remains a thorny, complex and unanswerable question to the present day.  I live this question.  I give it my best shot.  (to be continued next week)

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