Archive | June, 2018

The cause and cure for spiritually malnourished Christians

28 Jun

Photo by Ben Hershey on Unsplash

Hey there, Christians.  Quick question for you: are you spiritually mature?  Take a few minutes and think about that.  Pause reading the rest of this post, and really try to answer this question.

I am concerned that though Peter is very clear in 1 Peter 2:1-3 that we need to crave pure spiritual milk from God in order to mature spiritually, what we actually crave is far different.

Just like the difference between skim and raw milk, I am concerned that we are skim milk Christians, when we need to be raw milk Christians.  Is it possible that we have attempted to nurture Christians on skim milk for decades, teaching them that only a thin, weak commitment to growing in maturity is what is needed?

But Peter says that if we want to grow up in our salvation, we are going to have to crave raw milk.  I’m concerned that we might be malnourished baby Christians.  In fact, it is entirely possible that people can be baby Christians for decades.  For their whole lives.  Staying in a state of immaturity because they are not craving pure spiritual milk.

Do you need to go deeper with Christ?  Evaluate how much time you give in life to receiving the nourishment of pure spiritual skim milk.  The Daily Bread is good, and the verse of the day app is good.  Nothing wrong with them.  Use them.  But they are spiritual skim milk.  We simply need to go deeper.

In order to mature as followers of Jesus, we need to take in lots of pure spiritual milk.  We talked about that yesterday.  So where does a Christian get this pure spiritual milk?  The Bible?  Is it from the Word of God?

Think about the Christians Peter is talking to in 1st Peter 2:1-3. How could they get this pure spiritual milk?  They did not have smart phones with the Bible app.  They did not have Christian bookstores where they could visit and choose from 100 different kinds of Bibles.  They didn’t have Amazon where they could go online and select from 1000 different kinds of Bibles.  This might be shocking, but those Christians Peter is writing to didn’t have any Bible at all.  So though the Bible is a source of spiritual nourishment from God, Peter is not talking about the Bible.

Where, then, could those early Christians get spiritual nourishment?  Well, they did have bits and pieces of the Bible.  They would get letters, like this one from Peter, and from guys like Paul.  Those letters were often copied and distributed.  But they didn’t have copying machines with cheap ink and paper like we have.  Each week at Faith Church we crank out paper bulletins at minimal cost.  To have one’s own copy of Peter’s letters would have been unthinkable for most Christians.  So they would gather together as a group, and they would listen to the letter read to them.  They would listen together as the apostles and pastors taught them.  They would gather in groups to encourage one another.  And of course they could grow their relationship with God through prayer, fasting and other spiritual disciplines.  Their church family was a treasure to them. That was how they could take in pure spiritual milk.

Their church families, therefore, were vital for spiritual growth.  Those first Christians were a small minority.  They did not and could not approach their faith in Jesus as something they did alone.  They were in this as a family.  That’s why Peter has to say “love one another deeply from the heart” and “get rid of” all the family killers.

They would have conceived of craving pure spiritual milk primarily as something they did together.  Look again at 1 Peter 2:1-3.  See all those times Peter uses the words “you” or “your”?  We can’t see it our English translations, but in the original language, those words are all plural.

If we were to capture his meaning in English we would have to add the word “all”.  Like this: “You all rid yourselves of all malice, deceit, hypocrisy, envy and slander of every kind.  Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you all may grow up in your salvation, now that you all have tasted that the Lord is good.”

So craving pure spiritual milk is something we do together.  It is participating in worship, it is hearing the word of God preached, it is gathering in smaller groups and praying and discussing what it means to live as a follower of Jesus in the real world.

But it wasn’t only a group thing. Each person also has to receive spiritual nourishment.

What helps us get this spiritual nourishment?  I am convinced that spending time in spiritual disciplines is essential.  Spending time in prayer, contemplative prayer, silent prayer and studying God’s word.  And going deeper it in groups.  It requires time.  I learned that during sabbatical.  Prior to sabbatical I didn’t spend nearly enough time craving and drinking pure spiritual milk.  I was way too distracted, and figured “Well, at least I got the spiritual skim milk.”  That was an excuse to not actually drink pure spiritual milk.  I am so thankful for sabbatical.  And now in the three months that I have been back from sabbatical, I’ve made a change.  I spend time almost every day with God, particularly in contemplative prayer.

The next keep step is putting action to what we learn.  And this is where the group can be so important.  For accountability.  Telling someone what you are learning and what action you think it might be requiring.  Pure spiritual milk always leads to action. It is not simply knowledge.  And it is so much more effective when we do this with others.  That’s the plural “you” that Peter is talking about.

Make the time to bring others into your walk with God.  We Americans talk a lot about our “personal relationship” with God.  And God does love us each personally.  He cares about our individual lives, needs, concerns.  But community is where the power of nourishment from raw milk comes can really grow us.

Our church family is where we have to work through things in our lives, where we can be about doing things for the Kingdom together, as His church.  Do what Jesus did.  He had plenty of personal time alone with God. He went away to quiet places to spend time with Him.  But he also then came back to his earthly family, the 12 disciples, and he helped them understand how to live life.

So let us crave pure spiritual milk.  That almost certainly means our lives will have to change in some way.  Stopping the wrong habits and starting new ones takes work, it means establishing new patterns. It can take time.  What do you need to change?  What will it take for you to invest the time to change and grow in that area?  Do you need a mentor?  Find someone to be your guide!

Two odd but important Christian phrases about becoming spiritually mature

27 Jun

Photo by Jens Johnsson on Unsplash

If you’ve ever watched a newborn nursing or drinking from a bottle, it is wild how hungry they can be.  As they grow a few months, and they start to be a bit more aware, they can get very excited when you start talking about their bottle.  They shake, they wave their arms, and sometimes start crying because it is taking you soooo long to get the bottle ready.  Then when you hand them the bottle,they slam it into their mouths, gulping furiously, and their crying stops in an instant!  I remember watching our kids do that, and thinking they are craving that milk.

Christians, that’s how we should be.

Yesterday we looked at how Peter, in 1st Peter 2:1-3 says that there are five church family killers we should get rid of.  But Peter doesn’t stop there.  Peter doesn’t just want the people to stop things.  He also wants them to start things.  Remove the poor behaviors, for sure, but then add what?

He says in verse 2, “like newborns, you should crave pure spiritual milk.”  Again he mentions the concept of new birth!  Since the beginning of his letter, this is now the third time Peter has brought up the idea that Christians are reborn.  When you are reborn in Christ, you gain citizenship in a new country, and you become part of a new family of love.  Now Peter says we should be like newborn babies who crave milk. But he calls it “pure spiritual milk.”

Odd Phrase #1: Do you crave pure spiritual milk?

That’s a weird question, isn’t it?  “Do you crave pure spiritual milk?”  I don’t think I ever in my life asked that question before.  What is pure spiritual milk?

It’s pure. That means it is not infected, it is not diluted.  It is not half and half.  It’s not skim.  It’s not pasteurized. It is pure, like raw milk straight from a cow.

Also that pure spiritual milk has a purpose. Peter says in verse 2 that the purpose of this milk is that, “by it you may grow up in your salvation.”

This pure spiritual milk is stuff that helps you grow.  But not physical growth.  It is spiritual milk and it helps you grow spiritually, in your salvation, Peter says.

Odd Phrase #2: Grow up in your salvation

“Grow up in your salvation” is one of those Bible-sounding phrases that I could skip by really quickly assuming that you know what that means.  It is a very Christian kind of thing to say.  We Christians talk about salvation as if it is normal and everyone knows about it.  But do they?

“Grow up in your salvation.”  Look at that phrase.  Who talks like that?  You won’t hear that phrase anywhere in our culture.

You will hear “Grow up.” If a person is acting immature, we say, “Grow up!”  Why? They are not acting their age.

Or we use “grow up” from the perspective of a child who is dreaming about what they want to do when they grow up.   Usually it is about the career they want to have.  We often ask children, “what do you want to be when you grow up?”

Of course there are some adults who are also wondering what they want to be when they grow up.  Usually that is because they aren’t sure they have found that thing, that meaning, that fulfillment, in their career.

We know the term “grow up.”  It refers to a change that needs to take place.  A development in our lives.  It is a development toward maturity, right?  Growing up means that we are putting aside immaturity, kind of like Paul saying “Get rid of” the family killers in your life, and we are moving toward maturity.

Craving and taking in pure spiritual milk so that we can grow up in our salvation is just like that.

Our salvation is a way that Peter is describing our relationship with Jesus.  By his life, death and resurrection, Jesus made it possible for us to be saved from the penalty of sin.  When we trust in and obey him, as Peter said in verses 1:21-25, we are saved, we are reborn as citizens of a new spiritual country, the Kingdom of Jesus, and thus we are reborn as new babies into a new spiritual family, the church.

That’s what happens when we trust and obey; we are saved, we are reborn. Thus the image of new babies is perfect for the Christians that Peter is writing to.  They need to see themselves new babies in a new family.  Thus they should want to grow up and mature.

The implications are clear.  Christians are not to stay in the infant stage.  Christians should grow up.   Growing up as followers of Jesus requires that we take in a form of nourishment called pure spiritual milk.  Just as a baby derives nutrients and calories from milk, and that causes the baby to grow, so Christians must take in pure spiritual milk, and the spiritual energy it brings will cause them to grow and mature as followers of Christ.

Also, Peter is saying this pure spiritual milk is not option.  He says we should crave it.  We need to want it.  That means we need to have humble teachable hearts to see those areas of our lives that are immature, where we need growth.  Then we can seek pure spiritual milk to help us in those areas.

Finally, Peter answers where this spiritual sustenance comes from.

In verse 3 he is saying, “Christians, you have tasted that the Lord is good.  You know that he is the real deal.  He is the truth, and because you have tasted the goodness of the Lord, that means that the pure spiritual milk is from the Lord.”

Only the Lord can satisfy the longing of your life.  In other words, if you want to grow up in your relationship from the Lord, you need sustenance that only comes from him.  That’s what pure spiritual milk is.  Pure spiritual milk is spiritual sustenance, spiritual calories that are only available from God.  If you want to grow up in your salvation, if you want to become more mature in your practice of discipleship to Jesus, drink more spiritual milk.

Check back in tomorrow as we’ll give practical suggestions about how to get this pure spiritual milk and take it in to our lives on a regular basis.

5 church family killers

26 Jun

Photo by Shelby Miller on Unsplash

Yesterday our community learned that police apprehended a man who is accused of, 25 years ago, killing a local school teacher.  He has been living and working in our community all these years.  Here’s the freaky thing, he has a long career as a popular DJ, and he recently deejayed our daughter’s 6th grade end-of-year party hosted by her elementary school.  Undercover officers attended the party and were able to obtain a DNA sample giving them long-awaited evidence to confirm his involvement in the murder.  They later arrested him at his home without incident.  My wife and I read the news article with eyes wide.  There was a killer in our midst.

Today, as we continue studying what Peter has to say in his letter to Christians in the first century Roman Empire, he teaches us about 5 killers in the midst of church families, and he says they need to go.  If you want, go back and read the intro post from yesterday. Here’s the scary thing, though: the five church family killers could easily be within any of us.

Read 1 Peter 2:1-3 where Peter names the five: Malice, Deceit, Hypocrisy, Envy, Slander.

If we are to be a loving church family, all five of those family killers have to be discarded like dirty clothes, Peter says.  Let’s make sure we know exactly what they are so we can identify them in ourselves and clean them out.

First up is Malice.  Not a word we use too often.  But this word Peter used is defined as, “a feeling of hostility and strong dislike, with a possible implication of desiring to do harm—‘hateful feeling.’[1]  That is intense, right?  Feeling hostile toward someone?  Maybe even desiring to do them harm?  My first thought is “Woah…wait a minute Peter.  Are you serious?  People in a church family are not like that toward one another.  You’re starting us off way over the top here, Peter.”

But let’s face it.  When it comes to church, our feelings can run really deep.  In a culture that is changing rapidly, we want the church to be our safe place.  When the church starts to change, that can set off deep feelings of anger and stuff comes out of our lives that maybe we didn’t ever imagine we were capable of.  Rage and temper are powerful forces that many of us cannot control.

Peter is saying malice has to go.  Do you have those strong angry feelings toward anyone? Those feelings need to go.  Surrender your feelings to the Lord, repent, confess, ask forgiveness.  Don’t let them eat you up.  Malice has to go.

The next two are similar.  Deceit and Hypocrisy.  Deceit is defined as “to deceive by using trickery and falsehood.”[2]  This is lying.  Hypocrisy is defined as “to give an impression of having certain purposes or motivations, while in reality having quite different ones.”[3]  Normally when we think of a hypocrite, we think of a person who says one thing and does another.

No surprise here that hypocrisy and deceit are church family killers, right?

My wife, Michelle, is reading a book right now called Sacred Slow, and the author says that hypocrisy and deceit can be poison.  She says, “Physically most of us will never poison ourselves.  But mentally, most of us habitually poison ourselves.  “I’m unattractive.”  “I’m all alone.”  “I’m stupid.” “I’m worthless.”  “If only I were…”  “If only I wasn’t…”  “If only I hadn’t…”  These are poisonous thoughts which can ruin ourselves, our activities, and our relationships.”

We need to rid ourselves our deceit and hypocrisy first by telling ourselves the truth!  The author of Sacred Slow says we need to speak truth to ourselves regularly: “God made me, I am not alone, I have Jesus, I have _____ as a friend, God loves me unconditionally and I am fearfully and wonderfully made.”

What we allow our minds to focus on becomes our truth, and that flows into our actions.  Dwell on who you are as a child of God.  View one another in your church family as children of God.  Peter says remove deceit and hypocrisy in the church family.

Fourth he brings up Envy.  This one is defined as a “state of ill will toward someone because of some real or presumed advantage experienced by such a person”[4]  That definition might sound complicated.  Basically, envy is jealousy.  Here’s an example: have you ever had bitter feelings because a person in your church family clearly makes more money than you and is able to have a bigger house, better vacations, and nicer cars?

Jealousy can happen when one person has a certain kind of family, and another person doesn’t.

Jealousy can happen when one person seems to have a lot of friends, or is invited to certain social functions, and another person is not.

We can be jealous of another person’s personality, sense of humor, attractiveness.

Peter says get rid of envy.

Finally, Peter mentions Slander which is “to speak against, often involving speaking evil of”[5]  Slander and malice go together.  Malice is the feeling of evil against another.  Slander is speaking in an evil way against or about another.  You might be a person prone to malice, where you feel strong feelings against another, but you are not a slanderer.  You wouldn’t go so far as to actually open your mouth and speak against them.  Slander involves another level of sin.  It is not only having strong feelings, but speaking them.  Gossip is very much related to this.

Peter says get rid of slander.

So there they are.  The five church family killers. Malice, Deceit, Hypocrisy, Envy, Slander.  That is a bad list!  These are really awful behaviors.  Peter wants the readers of his letter to be super clear: these things should have no part of a church family.  It would be easy to think, “Well, geez, Peter, those are really bad behaviors…why are you talking about them?  Wouldn’t it be super rare that Christians treat each other like that?”

Maybe.  Maybe not.

I think it is important that Peter clearly lists out what is not acceptable in a loving church family.  But more than likely, Peter is addressing issues that he actually heard about in churches.  So let’s pay attention to our church family.  Let’s call out these behaviors and work to stop them.  They should have no part of our fellowship, and no part of our individual lives.  Take off those dirty clothes!

But Peter doesn’t stop there.  Peter doesn’t just want the people to stop things.  He also wants them to start things.  Remove the poor behaviors, and make sure you add what?  Check back in tomorrow, and we’ll find out!

[1] Louw, Johannes P., and Eugene Albert Nida. Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament: based on semantic domains 1996 : 763. Print.
[2] Ibid. 758.
[3] Ibid: 765.
[4] Ibid: 759.
[5] Ibid: 432.

That time the Bible teaches us to take off our dirty clothes and drink raw milk?

25 Jun

Photo by Edward Boulton on Unsplash

How much milk do you drink?  And what kind?  Skim?  Whole?  1 or 2 percent?

Milk is good stuff.  And what I have found over the years is that people have lots of opinions about milk.  My family is a skim milk family.  I have heard some people call skim milk, “chalk water.”  Some of you are 1 percenters and 2 percenters, and it seems to me that you tend to be a bit more quiet about your preferences.  The whole milk people, though?  You are passionate.  For you, whole milk is the only milk.  To me, though, whole milk tastes like liquid sugar.  I really like its sweetness at first, but I can barely get through a full bowl of cereal with whole milk because it is so sweet. It can make my stomach sick.

But that is not the only option when it comes to milk, right?  There is also flavored milk, like chocolate and strawberry, and non-dairy versions like almond milk.

Then there is raw milk.  I had raw milk for the first time about five years ago at our Amish friends’ house.  First of all, it didn’t look like milk.  I’m used to pure white milk.  This raw milk had a touch of tan coloration to it.  Second of all, it didn’t smell or taste like milk.  Remember, I’m used to skim milk.  I love skim milk.  To me skim has the perfect sweetness level.  Raw milk?  Whew, it tasted like liquid earth.  Like there had to be some actual dirt in there.

Raw milk is pure unadulterated milk.  Not even whole milk can say that.  How many of you like raw milk?

I’m saying this because when you’re used to skim milk, whole milk might make you sick.  If you’re used to skim milk or whole milk, you might not like the taste of raw milk.  We might be so used to impure or diluted spiritual milk that we won’t like the real thing.

In our next section of 1st Peter, 2:1-3, Peter says we should be drinking raw milk.  Check it out for yourselves.  We’re going to be looking at these three verses all week.

Peter starts with “therefore,” thus connecting the material that came before with this new material.  So what came before?  Well, the final verses of chapter 1 which we studied last week.  And in those verses we saw Peter the Christians in his day that they were to love one another deeply from the heart, because they were reborn into a new family by trusting and obeying the imperishable word of God that was preached to them.

Remember that?  We are reborn into a new family, and we are to love one another deeply, from the heart.

Now Peter continues.  Because of that rebirth into a new family, because we are to love one another deeply, he says we must rid ourselves of five family killers.  Before we get to describing those five family killers, it is important to reemphasize that Peter is saying clearly that the Christians need to stop these behaviors.

The image Peter uses is one of taking off old clothes.  Get those old dirty clothes off because that’s not you anymore!

Maybe Peter heard that the Christians were behaving this way.  It wouldn’t surprise me.  These behaviors he’s about to bring up can be present in nearly any church family. There is no perfect church!  And so Peter is clear.  These church family killers have to stop.  A follower of Jesus who has been reborn will strive to stop these things.  Then they will drink raw milk!

Check back in tomorrow as we look at the five family killers.  Then later in the week, we’ll see Peter make his case for drinking raw milk.

Forgetting 9/11, Changing seats, and the breaking through the Invisible Wall (aka “3 ways we need to improve as a loving church family”)

21 Jun

Image result for invisible wall

Yesterday I mentioned 6 ways I think Faith Church does really well at being a loving church family.  But how could we improve loving one another?  We’re certainly not perfect.  No church is.  So today I am talking about ways that a church family can improve in their love for one another.  I hope these will encourage you to love one another more deeply in your own church family.

Malcolm Gladwell had a recent podcast episode on memory. It really freaked me out.  In the days after 9/11 scientists asked people a few basic questions like: “Where were you when you first heard about the attack?”  “What were you doing?”  “Who told you?”  We love to talk about that kind of thing right?  On September 11, 2001, I was in Kingston, Jamaica, feeding our neighbors’ rabbits because our neighbors were on vacation, and Michelle called me on the cell phone and told me to turn on their TV immediately.  I was stunned.  Where were you?  What were you doing?  Who told you?

So in the days after 9/11, people wrote down answers to these questions.  Then they came back a year later, and the scientists asked them the same questions.  Guess what?  The people had different answers!  In fact, the scientists pulled out the paperwork with the people’s original answers in their own handwriting, and the people stared at their answers in disbelief saying things like, “Why did I write that?  That is not what I remember.  That’s wrong!”

We’ve all experienced this, right?  Memory fails us.  You know this means?  We should not automatically trust our faculties.  Not that we doubt everything we think or remember. But when it comes to interacting with people in our church family with whom we disagree, we should be quick to say “I could be wrong about this.”  That’s the first thing I want to encourage you to practice in love for one another.  In a church family we need to give one another the benefit of the doubt.  We should be quick to open up the possibility that we could be wrong.

I bring this up because in a church family we can disagree with one another.  The presence of differing opinions is normal, and can even be healthy.  I would actually be very suspicious if I heard of a church family that did not have differing opinions.  In the family of Faith Church we have conservatives and liberals, Republicans and Democrats, young and old, male and female.  We are diverse in those categories.  That means we have plenty of opportunity for disagreement.  We should not see that as a problem, but as the natural outflow of a family.  We are not trying to achieve uniformity. Instead we are okay with variety and diversity.  We are, however, trying to achieve unity, and that will require an intentional practice of humility, of saying “I could be wrong about this.”

Next it is easy to get in our comfort zone with our close friends, and it can be hard to reach out with someone new.  We sit in the same seats during worship.  So would you counteract this by sitting in new seats each week!  That small gesture alone can help you interact with new people.

What can it look like to get out of your core group, or include more people in your core group? There is a comfort in what we know.  It is familiar, expected.  We generally feel best about that.  To symbolize this, I encourage you to sit in a new spot every week.

But understand that some personalities will click more than others, and that’s okay.  That’s part of loving deeply, that we find those we connect with and we dig deep.  It is unrealistic to think we’ll be close friends with more than just a couple people in the church family.  That’s normal.  That’s how actual families are too.  But don’t let that keep you from still reaching out to others.

Finally there is a phrase I have heard about a situation that has affected some in our church family.

In my almost 16 years here at Faith Church, I have heard multiple viewpoints on this phrase.  This past week I asked numerous people to share their thoughts with me.  It was quite interesting.  There are many people who have moved to Lancaster for a variety of reasons, and with a variety of life situations, and unique points of view. In what I share here, I don’t want to give the impression that “one size fits all”.  But I do think there is legitimate wisdom in many points of view, all of which I hope we can learn from.

The phrase I am talking about is what I call The Invisible Lancaster Wall. In our church family, most are from Lancaster, with a history in Lancaster. It is their home and they have a network here.  But then there are some not from Lancaster. I’m referring to those who have moved here and maybe have lived here many years.  Some of those not from Lancaster have told me that they feel like they hit The Invisible Lancaster Wall.  Not all of those from outside Lancaster have experienced this, but some have, and they said it has been difficult.

Let me describe what those who have hit the wall have said to me.  What they have said is that they felt very welcomed by the church, loved even, but then after a year or so, they hit a wall.  A wall of exclusion. It is not necessarily an intentional exclusion.  They have little or no family here, no network, and it feels to them like it is incredibly difficult to break through that wall and become family.

What I have heard is that the holidays, those times of the year with traditional family events, can be especially tough.  Feeling alone, the holidays can be the loneliest, most painful times of the year, when the holidays are intended to be some of the most joyful times of the year.

My parents used to invite people from church over on the holidays.  One guy who came multiple times was a really unique individual.  He was previously homeless and came to us from Water Street Rescue Mission.  He was unkempt, believed strongly in conspiracy theories (which led to some amusing behavior when my FBI uncle was at the family gatherings!), and had some bizarre obsessive behaviors like stroking his mustache really emphatically.  But there he was at Thanksgiving dinner.

I have so appreciated what one family in our church has started.  At numerous holiday meals they have an open invitation to anyone to join them.  They have a heart for people who don’t have family!   If you don’t have family to go to on the holidays, you can go to their house.

In any church family, there should not be a single person that is alone at the holidays, if they don’t want to be alone.  Not a single one.  Ask yourself: Who are the people in your Sunday School class, or in your small group, that might be alone on the holidays?  Don’t assume that they are okay.  Invite them to your home, and make them a part of the family.

But sharing meals at the holidays is not what makes a family.  The loving relationships that Peter is talking about are day in, day out loving relationships.  To be healthy they take work from both friends.

And that is what I found out when I talked with people from our church family who were not from Lancaster who had another view of making deep relationships in the church family.  I got permission from them to quote them.

Here is what one of them said, “I never felt any non Lancaster vibes.  I tend to think “If you want something, you have to go out and get it for yourself.” When I didn’t have a Lancaster network, I had to make one. Don’t get me wrong, most of those who would eventually become my Faith Church Family were welcoming and wonderful from the very beginning, but ultimately, once I was acquainted with the setting and people, how and where I got involved was my own doing.”

Another one said this, “In my season of blatant need, the church supported me, but did not spoil me.  I had to learn that people were not at my beck and call every time I felt lonely or sad.  And that benefited me greatly in the long haul.  I learned that having a healthy personal life will lead to other healthy relationships. ”

One other person emphasized the importance of being in a small group and meeting consistently and choosing to open up to them.

So in conclusion, I hope you see this is a both/and.  Reach out.  Dig in.  Mix it up.  Go out of your comfort zone.  Ask God to help you love deeply.  This is for those of your who’ve been in a church family for a long time.  And this if for those who are newer.  Love.  Look for new ways to love.  And give grace to each other as we all learn and grow in this.

6 ways a church family can love one another

20 Jun

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

How would you say your church does at loving one another deeply from the heart?  Today and tomorrow I’m going to talk about Faith Church, where I serve, and how we are doing loving one another.  We’re not a perfect church, and we will look at some ways we need to improve, but I am also convinced that Faith Church is a loving church, and we are doing many things well.  My desire in sharing about Faith Church is that perhaps all Christians and all churches can evaluate their own church families.

This week we have been looking at 1st Peter 1:21-25 and we have found that Peter is teaching Christians how they are a new family with a priority to love one another deeply.  You can read the previous posts here and here.

Now nearly 2000 years later, the same calling exists for us.  In our local churches, we must love one another deeply from the heart, thus creating a new real family.

Years ago we, Faith Church, updated our church mission statement and we decided it should focus on four key areas: Worship, Fellowship, Discipleship and Outreach.  It is the Fellowship area that most relates to what Peter is talking about.  Here is what our mission statement says about Fellowship:

Fellowship – Being a Community of Love – We work toward loving one another, building authentic, accountable, healthy relationships.

I want to say I am very encouraged by how I see this happening. Here’s how I see Faith Church doing great loving one another.

First of all, about 70% of our church family is involved in small groups.  We call them Care Groups, and they are about 8-12 people meeting regularly in one another homes, often sharing a meal together, and caring for one another through honest communication, prayer and discussion.  This is incredibly important.  Most of our groups meet once/month.  That alone is fairly infrequent, and slows down the relationship development process.  If you miss one month, it can be two months until you hang out.   May I make a recommendation?  Start meeting more often.  If you are unable to meet more often, check in with one another throughout the month.  Put a priority on getting face to face and catching up, even if it is just two of you.  Also consider using technology, like texting or social media, to connect with one another between meetings.  When you do meet as a small group, or as individuals, ask yourself: are you sharing honestly with each other and then following up with how things are going?  Don’t wait for another person to do that within your group, you be the one to do it!

Our church leadership team is attempting to show loving care for the church family through what we call our Growth Process.  (You can also learn about how our church logo tells the story of our Growth Process here.)  The heart of the Growth Process is that our leaders want to help every adult in our church to move forward, or grow, in their relationship with Jesus.  So we endeavor to get in touch with them a few times each year to check in and see how they are doing.  Maybe there is some way we can point them toward a mentor who can guide them to go deeper in their relationship with Jesus.  Maybe there is some way we can pray for them.

Another wonderful way that I see Faith Church loving one another is through meals.  We have a ton of people making meals that go out when someone is ill, recovering from surgery, or just had a baby.  Our Fellowship Serve Team sets up an online sign-up sheet, and it is amazing to watch how quickly people volunteer to sign up.  Out of your love for one another, you make a meal and then deliver it to the family in need.  I love when this comes full circle, and the recipient of the meals stands up during our worship service sharing time and expresses how they felt the love of the church family through receiving meals!

We also have Family nights 6-8 times each year.  On the first Wednesday night of most months, fall through spring, our Fellowship Serve Team makes a meal, and we gather in our fellowship hall to eat and talk, just to get to know one another better and catch up.  (Have you noticed how food seems to be a centerpiece in this post?)  Simply put, loving relationships take time.  Over the years, I’ve heard that when it comes to relationships we should put a priority on quality time over quantity of time.  But I have found that it often takes a large quantity of time to achieve quality time.  This is why availing yourself of additional opportunities to connect with people, be it small groups or Family nights, is vital to building loving relationships in the church.  And I am so thankful how I see that happening in our Faith Church family.

Another thing I am so impressed with when I look at the family of Faith Church is how many visit others, especially visiting those who are sick in the hospital or who are homebound.  A couple weeks ago, one our oldest living member passed away.  Betty was 99 years old, just four months shy of her 100th birthday.  She lived in a local retirement village, and for years, one of our Faith Church family visited her weekly.  Dee would decorate Betty’s door for each season, bring her news of the church family, and care for her.  We need more of that, and our Leadership Team recently talked about making a Visitation Team that will coordinate efforts to visit.

Thus far in the post, I have talked about formal ways that our church strives to gather and love one another.  I know there is much happening informally too.  We have people that on their own meet for coffee or lunch and praying for one another.  They are accountability partners.  They are prayer partners.  They are friends.  Do you have someone within your church family that you can share honestly with?  If you do, that’s excellent!  That’s more than some people have within their “real” families!

And by the way, in a series of posts where I am saying that the church should be a family, it is important that I pause and talk about real families.  I’m saying this because if you have a close friend you can share deeply with, that could be more than what some people have in their real families.

We need to be realistic about families.  There is no perfect family.  There are members of families that don’t agree, and there are some that seem to agree about everything.  There are some that are best of friends, while some only speak once or twice a month, or maybe not at all.  There is laughter and there are tears in families.  There are some members that work harder at relationship than others.  There are misunderstandings, there are differing personalities.  Family is made up of people.  People will inspire, they will disappoint, and through it all we will hopefully keep trying, working and striving to be our best selves with each other, even if that looks different with each family member.

How can you love your church family more deeply?

If you want to be a loving church family, seize the 167!

19 Jun

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Yesterday I said that Peter, in 1st Peter 1:21-25, says that a church family must love one another deeply from the heart.  What is this love Peter is talking about?  We all know what love is, right?  It’s obvious.  Love is love!  Well even though there is one English word for love, Peter uses two words for love here:

First is the word, philadelphia.  In the Greek language that Peter wrote in, it is literally the word philadelphian, one who practices brotherly love. Peter is referencing here the love that a Christian should have for his or her brothers and sisters in Christ, for their church family.

But notice that Peter tacks on another word to this.  He adds the word “sincere,” and thus he is talking about brotherly love that is genuine, lacking in any pretense or show.  It is real.  This is the love that those Christians had for one another, flowing from their obedience.  They had real brotherly love.

Peter says there is another kind of love too.  This other love is called agape, and he uses the word agape in the phrase, “love one another deeply from the heart.”  The word “deeply” means “unceasing or earnest.”  But what is agape love? Scholars define it as “affection and high regard.”  Peter is also using the imperative tense here, thus teaching the people that they must love like that.  He is saying to them, add this love to the brotherly love you already have shown.  And it is not just agape, but it is agape love that flows deeply from the heart.

Sounds great, right?  Just love one another!  No problem, right?  The reality is that that kind of selfless love can be difficult.  1 Corinthians 13 is considered the love chapter in the Bible. “Love is patient, love is kind, love bears all things, never gives up, etc”?  1 Corinthians 13 is perhaps the best description of agape love anywhere.  It is beautiful.  It is used in weddings, because husbands and wives should love each other like that, but if you look at the chapters surrounding 1 Corinthians 13, you’ll see really quickly that the author, the Apostle Paul, was not talking about weddings or spousal love.  He was talking about how people should love one another in the church family.  That’s same group of people Peter refers to in 1st Peter 1:21-25.  What both Peter and Paul describe is a sacrificial, selfless love.  It’s beautiful, but that kind of love is not easy to give.

One author that was quoted at our week pre-sermon roundtable Bible study remarked that it is easier to love Jesus who we cannot see, than it is to love our brothers who we can see.  Isn’t that ironic?

But think about it.  What do we think of when we think of Jesus?  His love for us, his self-giving sacrifice on our behalf, his perfection.  It’s easy to love that.

On the other hand, what do we think of when we think of brothers and sisters in Christ?  Some we love deeply, some are easy to love.  Others in the church family are difficult, and they rub us the wrong way.

Sounds like a family to me.  Families are comprised of people with differing personalities, styles, emotions, and habits.  And man oh man, can we rub each other the wrong way.  Same goes for the church family.  Think about your church family.  My guess is that there are people whom you find very difficult, people you probably don’t want to spend time with.

When I say that, it could be easy to think, “Is he talking about me? Surely not me! Everyone would want to talk with me and hang out with me!  I’m likeable. I’m easy to get along with.”  If you are thinking that, think again.  None of us should think that everyone would find us easy to get along with.  Not me, not you.

Before we can love one another deeply from the heart, we need to admit that it can be hard.  But let that not be an excuse!

As Howard Snyder says,

The church today is suffering a fellowship crisis.… In a world of big, impersonal institutions, the church often looks like just another big, impersonal institution.… One seldom finds within the institutionalized church today that winsome intimacy among people where masks are dropped, honesty prevails, and that sense of communication and community beyond the human abounds—where there is literally the fellowship of and in the Holy Spirit.[1]

Is Snyder right?  Well, before we answer that, let’s see how Peter finishes out the chapter.

In verse 23 he says, “you have been born again of something that is not perishable, but the imperishable word of God.”  Then in verses 24-25 he quotes a passage from the Old Testament that agrees with and supports what he just said in verse 23.  From Isaiah 40:6-8, the quote affirms the perishability of humanity, but the imperishability of the word of God.  That imperishable word of God, he says, in verse 25, is the word that was preached to them.

There you see the continuity between the OT and NT.  To people who are being persecuted, to people who are uncertain about life, this is a statement of the one certainty in life, the word of God.

So let’s put it all together.  What can we conclude about Peter’s teaching?

Peter envisions a transformed community of believers.  Peter is saying that a church is a group of people who have heard the imperishable word of God and are reborn into a new family which is marked by loving one another deeply and radically.

Peter isn’t just making this stuff up.  Jesus taught it to Peter.  30 years before Peter wrote his letter, we can read a story in three of the Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) about a time when Jesus said something that could have been interpreted as being really cold to his family.  He was in a town, healing people.  Preaching.  Crowds were following him.  Huge crowds.  Everyone wanted to see this Jesus guy.  In this town Jesus was at someone’s house.  We’re not told which town it was or whose house it was. But the crowd was packed in the house so tight, hoping to get close to Jesus, that people couldn’t squeeze their way in anymore.  Guess who shows up?  Check out Matthew 12:46-50.  Be forewarned, when you hear who shows up, and then what Jesus says to them, it might shock you.  Go ahead, click the link and read the story.

Now how about that?  You see what Jesus is saying?  In Jesus’ Kingdom, your family identity is not based on genetics, not based on blood, but based on how you respond to him!  There is a new family for those who have been reborn in Christ.

This command was very much in the hearts and minds of the original 12 disciples because look at how the early church started out. In Acts chapters 2:42-47, 4:32-37, and 6:1-8.  I think you’ll see in these chapters how the early church took Jesus very seriously and attempted to create a new family.

What we can conclude about this is that what happens during the one hour we gather on Sundays only scratches the surface of what it means to be a church family.  One Christian organization I appreciate has started using the phrase “Seize the 167!”

The 167?  What do they mean?  There are 168 hours in a week.  Most churches gather for worship on Sundays for approximately one hour.  What about the other 167?  The rest of the week is where we live out our faith!  What we read in these passages in Acts, and what Peter describes is a practice of loving one another as a church family in the other 167 hours of the week.

Peter has to teach these new Christians how Christians are a new family with a priority to love one another deeply.  That same calling exists for us.  Faith Church we must love one another deeply from the heart, thus creating a new real family.  But we can’t do it in one hour per week.  A church family that loves one another deeply will have to do so in the other 167.

Check back in tomorrow as we start to look at how we can Seize the 167 and love one another.

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