Archive | May, 2018

When following Jesus seems to make no sense…think about Oreos

31 May

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

“We’re being saved by someone we cannot and never will see.”  In a way, that describes the Christian faith, and I have to admit that at first glance it sounds ridiculous.  Being saved?  What is “being saved” all about?  Christians talk about being saved, but what do we mean?  Saved from what?  And saved by whom?  Jesus?  A guy that lived 2000 years ago?  How does this work? Does it seem illogical or anti-intellectual?  If you say “yes” to that, I don’t blame you.  It does sound odd.

As we continue looking at 1 Peter 1:6-12, Peter delves into this issue because the people he was writing to are like us, they never met Jesus and never would.  He was gone 30 years prior to this writing.

Start by reading verses 6-7 and the post about those verses.  Then look at verses 8-9 for how Peter’s thought proceeds.  When you keep the faith in the midst of trials, what happens?  First, he encourages the people because even though they didn’t have the privilege of knowing Jesus in the flesh, like Peter did, they still love him and believe in him.  That is pretty deep.  It describes you and I, and our belief in Jesus.  We never knew him in the flesh, and yet we still believe and love him.  It takes serious faith to believe in that which you cannot see or touch or hear.

Peter’s goal is to be very encouraging to the people because if they wanted to, they could feel that they are really far removed from Jesus.  Not only did they never meet the guy, and never have the experience of his touch, his miracles, his teaching, and everything that made him so compelling, they are now being persecuted for faith in him.  It’s almost ridiculous.  You can hear the people in their towns.  Maybe their family and friends saying “So you’re telling me that you are following the teaching of some prophet from Israel who died 30 years ago, and you never met him?  Are you sure about this?”  Add in the persecution, and a person could have less and less reason for keeping the faith.

So Peter just calls it all out. “I know you are suffering trials.  I know you didn’t see him. But you still love and believe in him! That is awesome.  Rejoice!”  Peter is saying, “you are doing the right thing. It might seem ridiculous, it might not make sense to the people around you, and they might try hard to get you to stop it, but you are doing the right thing.   So rejoice in that!”

In fact, the words the Peter uses in the original are “greatly rejoice joy inexpressible and praise”.  That’s three rejoice words, and two emphatic words all jumbled together.  That means he thinks they should really, really be happy about this situation.

But there’s more.  They should be super excited and happy not just because they are doing the right thing in the middle of a difficult situation, but also because the benefit to them is amazing.  He says, “For you are receiving the goal of your faith, salvation of your souls!”

Wait…what? Aren’t they already saved?  Yes.  Why does he say “you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls”?  He makes it sound like salvation isn’t fully theirs yet.

Jesus and the apostles taught that we were saved, we are being saved, and we will be saved.  Sound confusing?  It was surprising and confusing to me, too, the first time I hear that.  That word “saved” is a Christian word we throw around a lot, but what is this salvation, and how can it possibly be saved in the past, being saved in the present and saved in the future?

Let me explain.  You can be saved from something, and you can be saved for something.  When a person is drowning in a pool, a life guard jumps in and saves them.  The life guard saves that person from dying.   Or you can go to the store, and find that packs of Oreo cookies are on sale, buy one, get one free.  Jackpot.  You buy them, bring them home, and you don’t want your family to ravenously eat both packs in one day, so maybe you hide it in the back on the pantry.  You are saving that pack for use another time.

Like the drowning man, Jesus’ life, death and resurrection can save us from the penalty of sin, which is separation from God.

In other words we were saved in the past, as we talked about last week, when we were born again.  Remember that phrase?  Born again. We talked about it last week.  Look at verse 3 and you see the words “he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus.”  New birth, or born again, we saw last week, is from Jesus’ teaching in John 3.  Being born again is when we believe in Jesus, and his Holy Spirit enters our lives, and we follow Jesus.

But that doesn’t mean that you have suddenly become all that God wants you to be. There is still a process of transformation that God is working by his Spirit in our lives.  In other words, we Christians are not finished works, we are in process, we are being changed, and because of that we say that we are in the process of being saved.  We were saved from the penalty of sin, and we are being saved, like the Oreos, for a new life of following the way of Jesus.

But there is still that day in the future, that day of Jesus’ revealing Peter said earlier in verse 5, that day when we will be finally and completely saved, either when we die and go to heaven or when Jesus returns.

We are saved, we are being saved, and one day we will be saved.  So keep the faith, Peter says, no matter what you are going through, keep the faith.  Even though you have not seen and do not yet see Jesus, choose to love him and follow him, even if you are being persecuted for him, because you are being saved.  And in that you can rejoice!

4 pieces of advice to those who are suffering

30 May

Photo by David Beatz on Unsplash

Have you ever suffered specifically because you are a Christian?  I don’t know that I have, at least not in ways that would be considered significant suffering, or suffering that led to bodily harm or loss of opportunity or privilege.  Yesterday, I related a story from author Scot McKnight who counseled a teenager who did face discrimination and suffering because that young man began to follow the way of Jesus.

But maybe you have faced suffering for being a Christian.

So how do we have the right perspective about this suffering for Christ?  That is a huge reason Peter is writing the letter of 1st Peter, which we have been studying for a few weeks now.  If the Christians don’t have the right perspective about their suffering, they could easily say “Forget this.  If this is what I get for following Jesus, I’m done.”  And they could give up. So Peter gives them numerous reasons for looking at their suffering. Let’s continue looking at 1 Peter 1:6-12 to see what Peter has to say.

First, Peter says that they need to remember that suffering is for, “a little while”, and contrast that with our inheritance in heaven, which is eternal.  For those that suffer for Christ, that is one way they can have a healthy perspective on their suffering.  Suffering won’t last forever.  But heaven will.

When you are in the midst of suffering for Christ, it can seem like it will last forever.  That’s how it is for anything difficult we go through, right?  Not just suffering for Christ, but any suffering.  There seems to be no end in sight.  I can think like that when I am struggling. It’s called worst-case scenario thinking.  Peter says, “Time out on that thinking.  Your trial is only for a little while.”

Second, he says greatly rejoice.  Greatly rejoice?  In what?  We greatly rejoice in the hope we have, Peter says. Remember that Peter talked about hope in verses 3-5 which we studied last week? Even though we are currently in the midst of trials, we have hope of our inheritance in heaven.

Because we have hope, we can rejoice in the midst of trials.

I don’t want to hear that.  I want God to take the trials away.  I don’t any of this business of rejoicing in the midst of trials.  I’ll rejoice after the trial is done.  Anyone else with me?

But that’s not what Peter says.  He say that because we have hope, we can rejoice while we are still in the middle of the trial.

Third, he says trials are the good stuff in life.  Ugh.  More words I don’t want to hear.  Trials are the good stuff?  I’m not sure I agree.  But let’s at least try.  Peter doesn’t use those actual words. “Trials are the good stuff” is my paraphrase.  Look at what he says in verses 7-9, “Trials have come so that faith may be proved genuine.”

Here he uses an analogy, a comparison to gold.  Faith is of greater worth than gold (because gold perishes in fire).  That might be a shocker.  Faith is greater worth than gold?  I can very, very easily want gold.  Money.  I can believe that money will take care of me.

My prayer often goes like this.  “Lord, if you just drop $10,000 in my lap…well…better make it $20 grand…then my life will be so much easier.  Now that I think of it, can it be $30 grand?  That would really do the trick.”

I think about how much we can be tempted to value huge sums of money.  We can be tempted to think that money is the solution to our problems in life.  And no doubt, we need to pay the bills and provide food and shelter.  Money is necessary.  But it is so tempting to think money can care for us in the hard times of life.

So when Peter teaches that faith is of greater worth than gold, we can wonder if Peter is nuts!

When the hard times come, especially the financial hard times, will we believe what Peter is teaching?

He is convinced, and he wants us to agree, that our faith in Christ is worth more than gold.  Therefore he wants our faith to be proved genuine.  Peter knows that when we are persecuted for our faith, we can turn back on our faith.  During those hard times, it is our faith that is causing hardship to enter our lives.  Get rid of the faith, and hardship goes away.  That is tempting.

But Peter says, don’t do that.  Keep the faith, pursue your faith, grow your faith.  And what you will find is that keeping your faith in the midst of trials will bring you joy and maturity that you will value far more than gold.

Finally your faithfulness will result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus is revealed some day in the future, either when you pass on or when he returns.

The point that Peter is trying to make here is that Christians view and respond to suffering differently from the rest of the world.  When we are persecuted, we respond with joy because God has not left us.  We are not alone.  We can keep the faith and actually grow in him!

Satan did not break my lawn mower

29 May

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Are any of you suffering?  Any of you going through a hard time?

How does it feel?  Lonely, right?  Maybe you feel people just don’t understand.  Or your suffering might be ongoing, and you feel you are a burden to the people around you.  You worry about that, and your worry only compounds the suffering.

Have you ever wondered if you’ll ever be done suffering?

What can be so hard for us Christians is that we know we are to cling to Jesus in the midst of our suffering, but it can seem like he is not there.  That’s scary, right?  Suffering can lead to a crisis of faith?  Why is Jesus allowing me to go through this?  Does he really care about me?  Does he know what I am going through?  Of course he knows.  So why he is letting this suffering drag on so long?  What does my relationship with Jesus matter during the hard times?  Am I just supposed to get through this on my own?  I don’t know that I can do that.

As we continue to study Peter’s first letter, we find that he has a word for people who are suffering.  But not just any sufferers. Before going any further in the post, please stop and read 1 Peter 1:6-12.

First of all, what are the trials that Peter was referring to?  Remember that Peter was the leader of the church in Rome, and he was writing to Christians around the Roman Empire that had been dealing with some persecution.

I know this is not fun to talk about.  Persecution.  But we need to have at least a basic grasp of what Peter and the Christians in that day were facing before we can apply this passage to us.  Especially because there have been Christians facing persecution for hundreds of years in many places around the globe, and there still are many Christians being persecuted today.

If we don’t have a good sense of the trials that Peter is talking about, we could very easily apply Peter’s words to every situation that we find difficult.  Getting a bad parking space at the mall.  Having your dryer make funny noises, like ours was this week.  Well, actually, the first comment was “Dad, there is a bat trapped in the dryer…we need to get it out of there.”  Over the course of a few days, the sound went from trapped bat, to full-on shrieking.

You can think about the difficulties and griefs that you’ve had this week.  Are they in any way related to the trials that Peter is talking about?  My concern is that we can trivialize what Peter is talking about.  Missing an important family event.  A sports team losing a big game.  A dryer breaking.

These situations are nothing like what Peter is talking about.

Scot McKnight says it this way: “Peter was addressing the impact salvation had on one’s life and how a person’s changed life (and status) ran counter to the culture in which these Christians lived.”[1]

In other words, the people in Peter’s day, and Peter himself, were suffering specifically because they were Christians.  Their suffering was completely and totally connected to the fact that they had decided to live their lives according the way of Jesus.  Peter is not talking about bad things happening to people who happen to be Christians.  They are suffering because they are Christians.

As I said, my dryer broke last week, and thanks to YouTube it was easy to fix, but also my mower broke…in the same week. Equipment breaking has nothing to do with me being a Christian, or being a pastor.  Now some may say, “What about the spiritual realm?  Couldn’t that be an attack from Satan meant to discourage you?”  I will admit that I don’t know for sure, but I highly, highly doubt it.  That, to me, sounds more like a plot line in a Christian fiction novel than it sounds like how Satan really works.  We need to be careful to avoid spiritualizing things.

Here’s what actually happened.  It was anything but spiritual.

A couple weeks ago, my mower stopped working.  You would pull the cord, the engine would fire up and immediately stop. So Daniel, a teenager in my church, fixed it for me. Daniel is learning small engine repair in an internship, and he did great! I mowed my whole yard, and the mower worked like a charm.  Then a few more days went by, days filled with rain and warmer temps, and the grass was growing out of control.  But there was no end in sight to the rain.  So Friday a week ago, we had a break in the rain, and even though the grass was wet, I had the kids start mowing.  They did their portions, and then I was going to finish up.

I didn’t get far, and the mower died.  Same thing as before.  Pull, start, die.  Pull, start, die.  Pull, start, die.  Ugh.  I thought, how dumb of me to mow wet grass.  And tall grass to boot!  Totally my fault.  Probably got the carburetor clogged again.  So the next day I took it to Daniel again.  I was hoping he could teach me what he did before. But this time there was no fixing it. Same thing: pull, start, die.

He said he would take it to his internship and look at it.

Well the streak of rain and warm temps continued. The grass grew like crazy.  On Wednesday I asked my neighbor if I could borrow her riding mower, and she said I could.  I got it out of her shed, it started, and I drove it maybe 20 yards, and it died.  I couldn’t start it. So I checked and it was out of gas.  Whew.  I filled it up, and I still couldn’t start it.  It would turn over a little, but never really start.  So I pushed it back into her shed.  When she got home, she was able to start it.  It looked like I didn’t have the throttle in the right place.

So I walked over to get started using it, and when I tried, it wouldn’t work.  I thought I must be the lawn-mower anti-Midas.  Whatever I touch breaks.  Then she got on it, and this time, even she couldn’t start it.  She said she had just had it serviced a few months ago, and wasn’t having any problems, so she would call her mechanic.

I was really frustrated, and my grass was super tall.

Then I got a text from Daniel.  “Your mower is fixed.  There was two-stroke gas in the engine.”

What???  Where in the world did I get two-stroke gas?  I have no two-stroke engine equipment like a chain saw.  I never bought two-stroke gas.  What was going on?

Then I had a scary thought!  I had filled up my neighbor’s riding mower with the same gas!  I ran over to her house hoping she was still home.  And she was.  She graciously allowed me to empty her gas tank of the two-stroke gas.  But neither she nor I had regular gas.  As I write this, days later, her mower still isn’t working.

Daniel dropped off my mower, and it works great.

But where did this two-stroke gas come from?  I realized that my father-in-law had been at our house a few weeks ago using his chainsaw to cut some of our wood.  That gas can must have been his, but it looks incredibly similar to our extra gas can, and it had no markings on it!  You know, like a label that would say “two stroke gas”  or something?

There was no demon.  It was the wrong gas.  We need to be super cautious about spiritualizing difficult situations in life and blaming them on Satan.  So many times difficulties come as a result of our own actions and choices.  When we blame the consequences of our poor behavior on the devil, we are trvilializing the actual suffering that people are going through around the world, specifically because they are Jesus-followers.

This week in my prayer app, Prayer Mate, which I have mentioned before, it pulled in a prayer request for Sabina in Tajikistan who became a follower of Jesus. Several members of Sabina’s own family, including her father, beat her when they found out. That didn’t stop her from giving a Bible to her friend Madina, who is now a follower of Jesus.  Sabina and Medina are following Jesus at the risk of their lives.

McKnight told the following story, “I recently spent some time with a young athlete who had some rough experiences at his local high school with his “former” friends. As a senior he had a track record of drinking and drugs but was converted to Christ. His conversion made a sudden and immediate impact on his life, so much that he found himself on an island. After games, he was no longer invited to the parties; during games, he was no longer given the same opportunities to shoot the basketball; and in the hallways at school, he was no longer a “hit” with either the girls or his friends. He came to me for consolation. I explained that at least part of this was suffering and that he needed to guard against retaliatory speech and bitter attitudes. He began to see, in a painful way, that commitment to Christ can involve suffering.”[2]

That is who Peter is talking to.  Peter is writing to people who started living life in a very differing way because they began to believe in Jesus and learn from him how to learn. As a result, other people in their communities starting mistreating them.  As we start looking into this passage this week, it will be very helpful for us to have a proper perspective on the kind of suffering we’re facing.

Tomorrow, check back in, as we look at how Christians have a distinctly different response to suffering.

[1] McKnight, Scot. 1 Peter. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1996. Print. The NIV Application Commentary.

[2] Ibid.

How to have an inheritance that cannot be squandered

24 May

Image result for squandered inheritance

Michelle and I both had grandparents pass away in the last few years, and we have watched our parents and their siblings handle their parents’ estates.  Sometimes inheritances are smooth and easy.  Sometimes they are a bit complex.  One time Faith Church received a bequest from a parishioner who passed away, and it took nearly two years to receive it!  After a person passes away, there can be many details to process in the settlement of their estate.  Those details are often bills that eat away at the inheritance.  Imagine the frustration when what initially appeared to be a nice inheritance is reduced to pennies.

As Peter continues his teaching in 1 Peter 1, verse 4, he says the living hope based on Jesus’ resurrection, which we looked at the past few days, gives us “an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade.”

What inheritance is Peter talking about?  That word “inheritance” is defined as: “to receive something of incredible value which has not been earned.”  Human inheritances can be squandered away quickly.  My father-in-law loves to joke around that he is going to write us out of the will, for example, if we don’t help him split firewood.  I love to say back to him, “Good, because all you have to pass on is junk!”

But not the inheritance that Jesus promises to those who are reborn.  We read that it can’t perish, spoil or fade.  Peter goes to enough trouble to use three individual words to describe how indestructible this inheritance is!  It is imperishable and undefiled and unfading, which is a word that means “pertaining to not losing the wonderful, pristine character of something”.

Like a new white shirt.  You know what happens: in a couple months or so, they lose that bright color.  But imagine a shirt that stays just as white as when you bought it at the store, even if you wash it 1000 times.  Paul says our inheritance in heaven is even better than that.  It will never fade.

So not only do they have hope that gives them inspiration to keep the faith now, even though they face persecution, they also get to experience the inheritance of God in heaven.

In other words, Peter is saying, “Christians, you can do this!  Though life is rough when you are going through hard times, remember the hope you have.  That hope can motivate you to stay true to God, to follow him, even when people come against you.  And what’s more, if they kill you, then you get that inheritance in heaven!”

It begs the question: just what will this inheritance in heaven be like?

Probably the most frequent thing I hear at a funeral is that heaven is a better place.  The person who died “is going to a better place.”  What is that better place?  A mansion in Heaven? The Good Place?  Have you seen the TV show The Good Place?  It is a comedy about a lady who, after death, goes to The Good Place, but it becomes apparent very quickly that a mistake was made, because she was supposed to go to The Bad Place.  And in the show, The Good Place is amazing!

Is that what our inheritance in heaven is?  Peter doesn’t tell us.  Instead he assumes that his readers who are going through hard times will know that their inheritance in heaven, which God has gone to great lengths to make available to them, and which God preserving for them, is far superior to what they are going through now.

Remember that Peter is talking to people who are being persecuted or who are threatened with persecution.  He is not intending to give them a full blown treatment of what heaven is like.  Instead he wants to remind them that they have hope now and an inheritance in the future.

For people living in uncertainty, there is certain hope that inspires them to stay true to God now, and an inheritance that will be waiting for them in heaven after they die.

I have to admit, during a prayer time last week, I was thinking about this passage and my own struggles in life, and I said to God, “Lord, I am intellectually thankful for hope of an inheritance in heaven, but I want to feel better now, to be done with my struggles now. I want that inheritance now.”

And instantly, you know what happened?  Thoughts flashed in my mind, thoughts I take as from the Lord, saying, “That’s what the prodigal son said.”

Bam! Conviction hit me hard and fast.  It’s true.  I so often ask for my inheritance now, just like the Prodigal Son saying to his father, “Give me my share of the estate,” while his father was still living.  What a slap in the face.  Do you ever do that to God?  I admit I do. I want my troubles to be done now!

But Peter is not telling these Christians going through a hard time that the hard time will stop.  The persecution might not stop.  Some have already died for their faith.  When we are going through a hard time, we usually want it to stop immediately.  Peter doesn’t say that though.

Instead he concludes in verse 5 that they are being guarded and protected by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in last (moment in) time. In other words, we can learn to wait for our inheritance in heaven.  We can learn to trust in God in the difficulties of the here and now, remain faithful to him, keeping that hope, that inheritance set before us.

But there is even more to this hope, Peter tells us in verse 5. By faith our salvation is shielded by God’s power. The word “shielded” is the idea of a guard that is posted until the time that God’s salvation is ready to be revealed.

Do you see the overall theme? Though you are going through these hard times, you can still have hope of a great inheritance, and it is secure.

You and I are not being persecuted.  But that doesn’t mean we don’t have challenges in life.  What are the difficult situations you are going through right now?  Know that your future is secure and your hope in Christ can enable you to face any challenges.

Nothing is certain in our world.

It is hard to watch the news.  Our country and world seems unstable.

The stock market is up and down. Bills keep coming and finances might be tight. Maybe we get laid off from work.

Health fails.  All of a sudden we can be on death’s door in a hospital bed.

Family and relationships go sour.  A person has to admit to their friend, “My relationship with my spouse is on the rocks, and we are headed for divorce.”  Friendships can tear apart.

Something in the house breaks.  The car dies.

A school shooting.  And our kids go through active shooter drills now.

Life feels very uncertain. We cannot count on the things of this world to take care of us.

But the good news is that we have a living hope.  And it is kept secure for us in heaven by the power of God.  That is our solid rock that will not be shaken.  What is that living hope?  That God is alive.  That he is active in our lives.  That he gives grace and mercy in the midst of the struggles.  That he loves us unconditionally. That he has made new birth in Christ available to us, so that we can have an inheritance in heaven.  This motivates us to pursue him in faith now!

That’s why it makes incredibly great sense to follow the way of Jesus, even when it gets hard, even when it doesn’t make sense, even when our bodies and emotions tell us to follow a different way.

Jesus’ way is the one true solid rock.

This is not just knowledge we need as we face difficulty and uncertainty!  We can access this hope to make actual choices to keep following Jesus, to keep being his disciples, to keep living like he wants us to live, even when life is falling apart around us.

Have you experienced this new birth?  Following Jesus starts with new birth that Peter refers to in verse 3.  It means believing in him, and living your life the way he wants you to live.  Or maybe you have received the new birth of the Spirit, but you know you have not allowed that to fully define your life.  Today is the day to make the choice to follow Jesus.  Let’s talk about that.  Comment below!

How we can know that hope is alive

23 May

Photo by Hillie Chan on Unsplash

Last week I did a search on our local website, as I was looking for the word “hope” in the news.  You know what I discovered?  Hope is a very flexible word, used many ways for many situations.  Here are a few of the recent headlines.  Maybe you remember some of them!

First, here are a couple articles where something was done that brought change:

  • “Sewing Hope in Sierra Leone” – April 16 – It was about a local ministry that makes “pillowcase” dresses for girls in need.  So cool!
  • “Trump’s bid to help Chinese firm draws fire but raises hopes” – May 14 – I didn’t take the time to learn all about this situation but the news report thought it would raise hopes.

Then there is the most common use of hope.  Aspirations for the future!

  • “76ers hope to keep thwarting history in Game 5 vs Celtics” – May 8 …those hopes were not realized, sadly for all you 76ers fans, and happily for all you Celtics fans.
  • “Billboards warning against prescription painkillers hopefully will combat opioid addiction in Lancaster County” – May 8 …they hope billboards will combat opioid addiction?  How do you think that will work out?
  • “US hopes North Korea will become close partner, Pompeo says” – May 12

In our lives we experience lots of these hopes and dreams.  What hopes do you have? What do you hope will happen?

So often we talk about hope as something that we want to happen, but we have no idea if it will actually happen.  We use the word “hope” a lot in our conversation.  “I hope my team wins!”  “I hope I get an iPhone for Christmas.”  I hope…I hope…I hope for a lot of things.  We call that wishful thinking.

Wishful thinking is fun, but it can’t sustain us at the point of our need.  And wishful thinking is not the hope Peter is talking about, as we continue looking at 1 Peter 1:3-5.

As we saw yesterday, when, by God’s great mercy, you have been born again, you have a living hope. For those who are going through a difficult time in this world, you who are born again have a living hope that matters right now.  You have a living hope that shapes you right now. It’s not something that you are just waiting for one day.  It is living.  It is active right now.  This hope we have impacts us now, helping us to the have the proper perspective of what we are going through. It means that no matter how difficult it is now, you don’t have to turn away from God, you don’t have to give up, because you have a living hope.

And what is the foundation of that hope?  How can we prove that hope to be true?

To answers those questions, Peter takes us back in time 30 years or so.  In your Bible, turn to to John 19.  Remember that scene when Jesus is arrested and talking with Pilate?  It is wild. Look back in chapter 18 quickly, and you’ll see that Jesus had already stood trial before Pilate earlier that day.  Pilate found no reason to convict Jesus, and sent him away.  Now he’s back.  You get the sense that Pilate is just done with this whole thing.  I imagine a look on Pilate’s face, and a tone in his words, and they are saying, “Are you serious? I have to deal with this ridiculous situation? A guy who is clearly innocent, but these Jews want dead?  Geesh.”

Now in the beginning of chapter 19, he has Jesus flogged, hoping that will get these bloodthirsty Jews off his case.  He is very wrong.

You see what is going on here? Pilate is saying, “Jesus, come on, man. I know you aren’t guilty.  Why are you doing this?  Don’t you know that I have the power to kill you?”  When Pilate says that very thing, he reveals what is in his heart.  Pilate knows the normal power structure of the world.  The threat of death.  Whoever has the power to kill others holds total control.  That is the normal way of the world.  We see this every day in the news.  It’s why the threat of nuclear war around the world is so serious.

But three days later, something astounding would happen to that power structure.  Jesus, who Pilate did crucify, that same Jesus, would defeat death.  “Death where is your victory?”, the apostle Paul would say in 1 Corinthians 15.  Death has been swallowed up in the victorious resurrection of Jesus!

And that, Peter reminds us, is the basis of our living hope.  Jesus defeated death, and when we are born again, when we believe in him and give our lives to be his disciples, we have a living hope that one day we, too, will experience resurrection. The power of death has no hold on us anymore.  The power structure of death has been overturned.  Jesus’ resurrection is the new reality we live with.  Thus we have a living hope in the future that impacts us now.  But how?  More on that tomorrow!

Why being “born again” might not be as crazy as it sounds

22 May

It is cringe-worthy. I admit it. Being born again?  It just sounds weird, not to mention the baggage associated with “Born Againers” in our society.  My guess is that most people don’t know what it means to be born again.  Or they believe born-againers are fundamentalistic, and therefore, mean, jugdmental and harsh.

But being born again is none of that.  In fact, please read on, because what being born again really is just might surprise you.

Last week I started preaching through the book of the Bible called 1st Peter.  It is actually a letter the Apostle Peter wrote to Christians around the Roman Empire in 1st Century AD when they were being persecuted.  This past Sunday, we looked at 1 Peter 1:3-5.

In verse 3, Peter exclaims, “Praise be the God and father of our Lord Jesus Christ!”  When you’re reading the Bible, you pretty much expect a phrase like this, right?  “Praise God!” sounds like a really biblical thing to say because it is a really biblical thing to say.  But why does Peter praise God?  Is he bursting with praise, just because?  Nope.  He has a reason.  There is something causing him to praise God.

Peter praises God for his great mercy.  God, Peter says, does not give us what we deserve.  As people who so often choose to rebel against God, whether in big ways or in tiny little ways, what we deserve is punishment of being separated from God.

But that’s where God’s mercy enters the scene. He could separate us from himself, but he chooses not to do that.

Instead, Peter says, God has mercy on us in that he has given us new birth!

New birth is a very Christianese sounding idea.  Here’s the thing though, Peter and other Christians didn’t make it up.  Jesus did.  Peter is just using words that Jesus taught him.  In John 3 we read the story when Jesus taught this.

Let me set the scene a bit.  The religious establishment guys were constantly on Jesus’ case?  They were called Pharisees, Sadducees and teachers of the Jewish law, and Jesus often had run-ins with these guys.  The religious establishment guys were the power-brokers in the land of Israel.  What they said was law.  If you didn’t follow what they said, watch out.  The problem is that they had stacked law upon law upon law so that it was incredibly difficult for the regular person to have any hope that they, the regular Joes, could truly enter the Kingdom of Heaven.  Jesus could not stand for that lie, and he undermined their false system every chance he could get.  As you can imagine, the average Joes loved him for it, and the leaders hated him for it, and the leaders looked for ways to take Jesus down.

But not all of them.  Some of the leaders were curious about this Jesus guy.  They had never encountered someone with his gifts and abilities and teaching and miracles.  As hard as they tried to defeat him, those miracles were hard to argue with.  So at least one of the Pharisees was really intrigued by Jesus and knew he needed to meet with Jesus.  But it had to be in secret, under cover of night.  This Pharisee could not risk being found out by his Pharisee pals that he was going to talk with Jesus.

That is where John 3 picks up. Before you continue this post, read John 3:1-10 or so.

Did you read where Jesus says to Nicodemus the Pharisee in John 3 that no one can see the Kingdom of God, unless they are born again?  That’s where the common Christian phrase “new birth” or “born again” comes from. Jesus himself!

Well, this confused Nicodemus greatly.  Born again? You can’t be born again. It’s obvious, Jesus.

Frankly, it is almost silly to me that Nicodemus even brought that up in verse 4.  It is so obvious that Jesus is speaking figuratively here.  You almost want to shake your head at Nicodemus, like we do nowadays and say, “Really?  Really?!  You think he wants you to get back inside a womb?”

Of course not, Jesus explains, what he means is that you must be born of water (which is natural birth) and spirit (which is the new birth).   Nicodemus is still confused, and in verse 10, I love how honest Jesus is. Can you imagine the twinkle in Jesus’ eye when he says, “You are Israel’s teacher, and do you not understand these things?”

That’s Jesus saying, “Come on, man, do I have to really spell it out for you?  When I say you have to be born again, I’m not talking about taking you to the hospital so the surgeons can cram you back inside a womb!”

Look at verse 5 where Jesus explains what he means.  The Spirit of God must change us!  We must be born of the Spirit from the inside out.  That is the “born again” that Jesus is talking about.  But how are we born again by the Spirit?

Jesus goes on to say that it starts with believing in him.  Look further down at verses 16-18.  Being born again, means that we have a spiritual rebirth which starts by believing in Jesus, and a change takes place within us, a real change.  This is symbolized in our practice of baptism.  We go under the water to symbolize that we have died to our old selves, and we rise up out of the water to symbolize the spiritual rebirth, that we have new life in Christ.

Let me say something very important about belief.  It is not intellectual or mental assent.  Intellectual or mental assent is just saying, “Yeah, I believe that.  I would say that is true.”  But mental assent does not impact your life.  Jesus is not looking for intellectual assent.  Jesus is not interested in people just believing a fact about him.  I have quoted our Bishop Bruce many times throughout the years, when he says, “Jesus doesn’t want believers.”

That phrase might sound ludicrous when you are reading John 3:16 (“whosever believes in him”).  But Bishop Bruce is right on the money.  Jesus doesn’t want us to just agree to factual data about him.  He wants us to be his disciples.  He wants belief to lead to action.  How do we know this?

In James 2, we read that even the demons believe!  In other words, you can believe the right things about Jesus, but not have been born again into the new life of Jesus.  What Jesus wants, Bishop Bruce says, is disciples. A disciple believes and follows Jesus, learning from Jesus how to live out the principles and the way of the Kingdom of God right here and right now.  A disciples actually changes.  Jesus once taught “by their fruits you will know them.”  You can tell who is reborn, because the new things of the Spirit flow out of their lives.  The evidence of the Spirit changing us from the inside out is what is called the fruit of the Spirit.  Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, self-control.   That’s what it means to have new birth.

And that is not so strange, is it?

Embracing Your Daughter’s Killer: The Freedom of Radical Forgiveness (Betwixt Podcast)

21 May

I am so thankful to my friend Deb Gregory for the wonderful podcast she created, Betwixt.  I encourage you to subscribe, listen from the beginning and learn about the wonders of liminal space.

I am also thankful that on her most recent episode, Deb featured my story!  You can listen to the episode here I would be glad to talk with you further about it.  Just comment below.