The one non-negotiable to becoming a successful church

11 Oct
Photo by Josh Appel on UnsplashThe key

Author John Dickson tells the following story in his book Humilitas:  there were four people traveling on a small airplane when its engines lost power.  The plane started diving to the ground at an alarming speed.  The pilot turned to other three, with a dire look on his face, “There are four of us but only three parachutes.  It’s my plane, my parachutes, and I am taking one.”  The others agreed.  The pilot strapped on the chute, and jumped to safety.  Left on the plane were a brilliant professor (a rocket scientist no less), an elderly pastor, and a backpacker.  After watching the pilot jump, the scientist spoke right up saying ,“I am one of the greatest minds in the country, I must survive.  I will take the next parachute.”  The others agreed.  The scientist prepared himself and launched out.

The elderly pastor spoke next.  He looked at the younger backpacker and said, “I’ve lived a long life.  I do not fear death.  You take the last chute.”  She stopped the pastor right there and said, “No! It’s fine!  The professor just jumped out with my backpack strapped on!”

Do you know anyone like that professor, thinking they are so awesome, so important?

For the past few months, Faith Church has been studying the biblical letter 1st Peter, and in this post we come to the final verses.  1 Peter 5:1-11.  There are few verses after that, but we covered those when we did an overview of the book at the beginning.  In this section Peter has something to say to the professor in the story, and as we’ll find, what Peter says is for all of us as well.

As we see in Verse 1, Peter begins by addressing the elders in the church.

If you could go back in time to Peter’s day and ask a first century kid playing on the road outside Peter’s house, “What does this word ‘elder’ mean?”, they would say, “old person”.

But Peter is speaking about the leaders of the church.  And because, generally-speaking, older people have the experience and maturity of walking with Christ for many years, they are often candidates to be leaders in the church.  It doesn’t automatically exclude younger people from leadership.  There certainly can be younger people who are mature in Christ and could serve well as leaders.  And Peter did not mean to automatically include all older people. There are some older people who are spiritually immature and should not be leaders.  But because of the general principle that older people are mature, Peter used the word “elder” when talking about this role of leader.  “Elder” became synonymous with church leadership. At Faith Church we use the word “leader” but it is the same concept as the elders that Peter was talking about.  Those who are spiritually mature and leading the church.

Peter expands this idea further in verse 2 when he says, “watching over.”  If you could go back to that road outside Peter’s house, and ask a kid what “watching over” means, they would say “a caretaker”. Peter is once again referring to the leaders of the church.  He is saying that elders are caretakers of the church.  Now that we know who Peter is writing to, before we go further, Peter comments about himself.

He says in verse 1 that he is a witness of Christ’s sufferings.  Peter was there for all three years of Christ’s ministry.  Peter was a first-person witness of Jesus’ life and ministry.  Thus Peter is reestablishing his credentials for his friends.  He has some really important things to tell them, and he wants them to trust in what he has to say.  Also take note of what he doesn’t say here.  He could have called himself “Apostle”, like he did at the beginning of the letter.  But he doesn’t this time.  He put himself on the same level as them, elder.  What does that tell you about Peter?  He is different from the professor in the airplane story.  And he wants these leaders to be different too.

Having established his credentials and audience, look at verses 2-3.  He is going to teach them the attitude and actions behind how elders should lead.  If you just thought, “Oh, so this teaching is for the elders, the leaders?  Then this isn’t for me,” I ask you to still stay with me.  Why?  Because you might be a leader someday.  You might want to be a leader.  Some people say that it is arrogant to want to be a leader, that you shouldn’t want to be a leader.  Well, look at 1 Timothy 3:1, where Paul says, “if anyone sets his heart on being a leader, he desires a noble task.”  That means it is okay to desire to be a leader.  It is a noble task!  Furthermore Peter is going to share principles that apply to all people in a church family.

So let’s listen in to what Peter says.

First, elders, be shepherds.  We don’t have shepherds in our culture like they did.  It was an actual job then, and we hear about it in the Bible. These were people who walked around vast meadows caring for sheep.

Thus Peter calls the people of the church, “the flock under your care”.  This is why in church lingo, we often hear about a church called a flock.  It sounds weird to the modern American ear, and we don’t have to use that terminology.  But it gives leaders a picture of their role. Leaders, care for the people in your church family. 

Here me on this.  It is not the pastor’s job to do all the caring.  But it is the job of all the leaders, Peter says.  Sure the pastor is a leader too, and should care.  But it is a group role.

One author I agree with said that 85% of care in a church should be administered by people other than the pastor.  Depending on the size of the church, maybe the pastor or pastoral staff can handle 12-13%.  The remaining 2-3% represents the situations that require professional counseling.  Leaders, we need to be caring teams.

Peter has more to say to leaders.  There is a wrong attitude that Leaders must not have.  As he continues, look at what he says not to do:

  • Lead or serve, not because you must (though sometimes you must)
  • Do not be greedy
  • And do not lord it over those entrusted to you. 

In contrast, Peter says, leaders should have the right attitude: willingness, eagerness to serve, and to be an example.  Leaders reading this post, evaluate yourselves using Peter’s principles.  How are you serving?  What is your motivation?

Because a day is coming, Peter says in verse 4: the Chief Shepherd will appear!  In verse 2 Peter said that leaders are shepherds.  Now he tells the whole story.  Leaders are actually under-shepherds.  Leaders in the church, including the pastors, are not the actual top leaders.  They are followers of the Chief Shepherd!

And so leaders in the church, Peter tells us that we should learn from Jesus how to lead.  We do things his way.  We are not in it for prestige or power or money.  Instead we are eager and willing to serve, to do the dirty work, to give ourselves for those we lead.  You know what that means? Humility.  Leaders must be humble.

I once had a pastor of another church tell me about the top leader in his church.  That leader was a wonderful example of what Peter is describing here.  That pastor said that leader was willing to clean up vomit and dirty diapers in the nursery.  That leader had a heart to serve.

And what is the result of that kind of leadership, Peter mentions?  Look at verse 4.  Those leaders receive a crown of glory that would never fade.  I suspect Peter is primarily speaking metaphorically here about the concept of honor.  In his day there was a famous Olympics kind of event called the Isthmian Games, and the winners would receive a flimsy crown of parsley leaves.  For leaders who follow the Great Shepherd well, who serve well, there will be honor that will never fade.  

But it is not just leaders that Peter wants to talk to.  In verses 5-7 there are a couple more groups of people.  First young men, and Peter here almost certainly meant all people of the church, men and women, who are not elders or leaders.

He says one thing to you: be submissive to those who are older.  Submissive?!?!  Not a word we like.  But there it is.  It carries the idea of obedience.  It is God’s will that the church will submit to and obey the leaders.  That takes humility. Are you seeing a theme yet?

The next group Peter talks to is in the second half of verse 5.  “All of you.”  The young, the old, the men, the women.  Leaders, non-leaders. Everyone!

He says, “Clothe yourselves with humility toward one another.”  There’s that word again.  Humility is all over this passage.  Humility is clearly one of the most important traits that Christians should be known for.  When people think of you, do they think, “That person is humble”?  Peter is using a word image here.  This word, scholars tell us, “refers to a servant putting on an apron before serving.”  We are to see ourselves that way, serving one another.  Show humility to one another, Peter is saying.

And he has a Bible verse to emphasize his point: Prov 3:34: “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”

I saw this clearly when our Faith Church and The Door Christian Fellowship came together at 2124 Old Philadelphia Pike.  It required humility on both churches.  Both had to sacrifice and make changes.  Rod Glick, from The Door is going to share how it was from the perspective of The Door.

Rod: Humility & The Door

How many of you have taken a vacation where you stay with relatives or friends you know in the area?  /How many have hosted a family like this?

Well, we are not on vacation, but this is the arrangement the Lord has provided for both of our churches.  Understanding this, we humbly posture ourselves with gratitude.

We “The Door Christian Fellowship” are guests in the house of Faith EC Church.  

While we have been invited to call this facility our home as well, we understand that for this arrangement to work we must honor and respect not just the facility but also each of you.  

Humility has its root in the Latin word “Humilis” meaning “low”.  Not low self-esteem, but a willingness to put another before yourself.  Like the bow and gesture, “you first,” with the sweep of your hand.) 

This is also known as  “Love”.

To know that all of our actions, expressions, body language, attitude, etc.… will be seen and known by you, and yours by us, requires a posture of daily humility (Love) by all of us toward each other.

We have experienced this and are so blessed to walk with you (Faith Church) in this way. 

And Faith Church has been so blessed to walk with The Door these past two years as well.  We had rented to other congregations before, and each time it required some flexibility, but frankly, only a minute amount.  Welcoming The Door meant a more substantial arrangement.  I continue to be so thankful for how Faith Church approached things like moving rooms around, which had the wonderful byproduct of getting rid of piled up junk.  And both churches changed our worship service time by 30 minutes.  We have been sharing space, which has meant that sometimes groups from each church have requested to use the same space at the same day and time, and have had to be flexible.  And you have handled it with great humility.

Now Peter is on a roll.  He has clearly shown us his theme.  Humility.  And he keeps going into verse 6 with it, where he says, “Humble yourselves under God’s mighty hand.”  Christians are people who lead with humility, who practice humility with one another, and of course in our most foundational relationship with God, we humble ourselves before him.

Humility is scary because some of us have been mistreated.  When we humble ourselves before people we are putting ourselves in a place of vulnerability with them.  It is a trusting place, and they can betray that trust.  When you have trusted someone, when you have been humble, and yet you have been mistreated, it hurts so badly.  Maybe you told them something deep and personal, and they didn’t keep it confidential.  Maybe you loaned some money, and they didn’t pay it back.  Maybe you employed them, and they were undermining you. Maybe you married them, and they were unfaithful to you.  When you have been scarred, it can be hard to place yourself humbly in God’s hands.  You wonder, Will God care for me?

And furthermore, humility is a clear indication of saying, “God I need you.  Help.  I don’t have what it takes.” And doesn’t that cut against our sense of individualism and pride?  But Peter is right.  We must humble ourselves before God, because he is the only true power and strength.  And Peter says that in due time, he will lift us up. We are far too quick to try to lift ourselves up.

Want an example of how to humble yourself before God?  Peter gives it in verse 7.  Prayer and surrender: “Cast your anxiety on him.”  The image here is of a heavy burden that we throw onto God.  Too often, when we are anxious, we want to take matters into our own hands. But instead we give it over to God, because he cares.  That is good news!  We have a God who cares for us.

I’m glad he mentions anxiety because that is a hard area for me.  I will be honest and say that earlier this week I had one really bad night with anxiety.  Woke up a 2am to use the bathroom, and my anxious thoughts started going wild.  It was about school, it was about house stuff, financial stuff, family, on and on it goes.  I can struggle to cast my anxiety on God.

I know many of you have the same issue with anxious thoughts, because you have told me.  It is hard to cast all our anxiety on him.  But we can, Peter says.  It might take practice, might take failing, but we can be humble and learn to surrender to our Lord.  Because he cares, his hand is mighty, he will lift us up.  I urge you to put in the work to learn to cast your anxiety on him.  See a therapist if need be.  Anxious thoughts, left unchecked, feel like they have a power of their own and are controlling us.  Maybe you have been there.  Peter says we can learn to throw our troubles onto God because he cares for us.

But there is a caution in this.  People who are throwing their cares on God can grow apathetic, lethargic, as if we can’t do anything. Peter’s very next words are a corrective to that possible distortion. Look at verses 8-9.  We need to be self-controlled and alert.

This is another example of humility, and with a special focus on the spiritual realm.  Humility is being self-controlled and alert because Satan is powerful.  He is no joke. Satan is an enemy, he is active, he prowls looking to devour.

No doubt, we need to have a balanced view of spiritual things.  We can call too many things an “attack from Satan” when actually it was a life situation, or the consequences of our bad choices.  That can be dangerous.  If we are making a bad choice, a sinful choice, giving in to a bad habit, and we face consequences, then it is not a spiritual attack.  If we call it a spiritual attack, we can be avoiding taking responsibility.

In the summer between my junior and senior year of college, I did a 13 week missionary internship in Guyana, South America.  There Hinduism is a major religion, and there were temples all over the place.  The missionaries told me of a mission team from an American church that had come to Guyana to work with them a few years prior.  It was a week-long work and ministry trip.  At one point the team had been walking through the same village where I was now working.  An adult was watching people go to the Hindu temple for a worship service, and he started getting really upset.  He said he was mad that Satan was deceiving all these people with false religion.  But you know what?  That guy, in his heart and mind, went from angry to aggressive.  In fact, he got arrogant, thinking he could do something about it, and suddenly right there on the street he got knocked flat to the ground.  In his arrogance, he had opened himself up to spiritual oppression and it affected his physically.

So what does Peter mean in verse 9 when he says resist the devil?  Wasn’t that man resisting the devil? No.  What does Peter mean?  Peter says, stand firm in the faith (v. 9).  He says be self-controlled and alert (8).  Peter says be humble (6).  Because God is the true power. And he will lift you up.

Rod again is going to talk further about this.

Humility is the polar opposite of Pride.

Pride is the main source of Anxiety because we take our circumstances into our own hands instead of humbling ourselves under the mighty hand of God.  We don’t believe that he will care for us.

Three forces come against Humility:

  • Our flesh – Pride self-will that set’s its course and sites on things other than God. God’s answer to this is always: Crucify it.  Bring it to the Cross and say with Jesus, Not my will by yours.
  • Our Mind/Be Sober Minded – Thoughts and feelings that bring anxiety.  Bring them into alignment with God’s word.  Isaiah 26:3-4 “You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you,          because he trusts in you.” 2 Cor. 10:5  (Paraphrased) “Demolish an argument by taking your thoughts captive.”   Is this thought defending my pride and flesh, or is this thought one of humble love that will build up the body?  God’s answer: Submit your Mind to Christ
  • Satan and his demons – We know that Lions prey on the weak and isolated.  This is Satan’s way as well.  He wants to weaken you by temping your flesh and mind to dwell on God’s creation rather than Him, your creator.  In doing this you become isolated and vulnerable. God’s Answer – Resist and stand firm in your faith and in the safety of your church family.

And what will happen if we stand firm in our faith?  In verses 10-11 Peter gives God’s amazing promise! Our God of all grace who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered, he will: restore you, make you strong, firm and steadfast. To him be power, Peter says in verse 11, because he is the true power!

Do you see the thread in this passage?  Humility

  • Elders lead with humility as under-shepherds who are led by the Great shepherd
  • Young people be submissive
  • All be humble to one another
  • All be humble before God

How do we clothe ourselves with humility toward one another?

Learn to grow your humility muscles. Two ways:

First, do some assessment: Years ago a person was telling me about how they were getting into conflicts with people at work, including their boss.  And this was happening at multiple jobs they had.  Things would start off great, then eventually they would have big problems and have to leave that job. They were so frustrated.  And I asked, “Why do you think this is happening?”  And they said, “Well, my coworkers and bosses don’t handle me well.”  And I wondered if they meant they were being mistreated somehow.  They admitted that they speak their mind to their coworkers and bosses, confrontationally, and they leads to conflict.  I thought, OK, they’re getting to the root of the problem.  What they said next kinda shocked me.  This person said, “But that’s me, and they need to deal with it.”

Have you ever said that?  “Well, that is just how I am.”  As if there is no changing. That’s not the attitude of a follower of Jesus.  That’s not humility.  Followers of Jesus should be the first to confess and repent and strive to change. Get an accountability partner, someone who will speak truth to you, maybe a Therapist.  Seek to change and grow to become more and more like Jesus.

Second, put yourself in places or with people that are new to you and even make you uncomfortable: read new things, eat new food, listen to new viewpoints, experience new places, especially places where you don’t know the language, or where you are the ethnic minority.

We can grow humility in our lives!  We must, because humility is vital for a church family.

Two surprising ways to respond to suffering

10 Oct
Photo by Jonathan Rados on Unsplash

Being surprised or scared can be a horrible feeling right?  Even when the surprise is a good surprise, there are some people that hate to be surprised!  Do you know anyone who makes you promise that you will not throw them a surprise birthday party?  Why? When you are in a groove, a routine, and something interrupts you, it can feel like a loss of control.  We hate that. 

In our next passage in 1st Peter, he says that Christians are people that should not be surprised about something.  Take a look at 1 Peter 4:12-19.
In verse 12 Peter is once again addressing his Christian friends who are being persecuted for their choice to follow Jesus. He says, “Do not be surprised about it, as if something strange were happening.”

Imagine being persecuted because you are a follower of Jesus.  Our normal viewpoint is that following Jesus is normal and good.  To be persecuted, to be shunned, to endure physical bodily harm simply because we are followers of Jesus sounds crazy.  If that happened to me here in Lancaster, I would be very surprised.  I wouldn’t expect it.  It would feel like my life is out of control.

But here Peter is saying to these Christians, “Don’t be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering as though something strange is happening to you.”  I want to say, “Peter, what are you talking about?  Don’t be surprised at pain and suffering?  If they are not surprised, then how should they react?  Are you saying they should expect it, as if it is normal?  No way!  They definitely SHOULD be surprised.  That pain and suffering is wrong, it shouldn’t be happening.”

From our vantage point living in a time and place where there is no persecution for our faith, of course we would think that persecution is surprising and strange.  But those Christians were not living in our time and place. 

And what is more, I suspect that Peter is concerned that if those Christians become surprised at the suffering, and they think it is strange, they will miss the opportunity to have the right attitude about it.  If they think pain and suffering for Christ is strange, they will likely have the wrong attitude about the persecution.

In my own life, and when I have interacted with people going through difficult situations, I have seen that often times when we are suffering, we hate it, we want it to be done, and can easily become bitter and angry and lose heart.  We often look for someone to blame, and we get stuck on that. It is very, very easy to have the wrong attitude about suffering.

So Peter tells them not to be surprised, and he goes on in verse 13 to explain to them the right attitude they should have about their sufferings.  And what he says is truly a shocker: they should rejoice that they participate in the sufferings of Christ!  And thus they will be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.

But he doesn’t stop there.  He says in verse 14 that if they are insulted for Christ, they are blessed, and God’s Spirit rests on them. 

Rejoice.  Be overjoyed.  You are blessed.  Huh?

That’s the kind of language that we normally reserve for good things.  Birthday parties.  Even surprise parties.  The blessing of new children, weddings, baptisms, new jobs, raises, new houses, a vacation.  You name it.  When really good things happen to us, we rejoice!  We are overjoyed, and we say that we are blessed.

The hashtag “Blessed” was a thing that was overused and is oftentimes still used when people post on social media about something good that happened in their life. But Peter isn’t talking about any of that good stuff.  He is talking about painful trials.  Suffering.  Participating in the sufferings of Christ, he calls it. Why does Peter call suffering, “good stuff”?

Christians, Peter says, look at suffering differently.  Very differently.  For Christians, painful trials are not strange, they are cause for rejoicing!  For Christians, suffering is not surprising or unexpected, it is cause to say “I am blessed!”

Just let that soak in.

We are so used to our comfy society, and we try so, so hard to avoid pain of any kind, that what Peter is saying might have us ripping out this page of the Bible.  I get it, I am not a fan of pain.  When things don’t go our way we can be quick to say “God, why are you doing this to me?”, and we generally don’t look at ourselves, that we might be the cause of our pain. Or we point to others as the cause, and then we get angry, hurt and bitter.

But read through this passage by Peter again, and what you will find is that there is nothing like that described here as the way to handle suffering and persecution. What Peter does say, instead, is that Christians will have a change in perspective about their pain.  No blame, anger or bitterness, but rejoicing in the pain.  But how?

Three of us from Faith Church are once again in training for a marathon.  On Sept 30th, we will run 26.2 miles.  That will be a painful day.  But what most people don’t realize is that a marathon of 26 miles can only happen after much training.  Our training plan is 18 weeks long, and by the end of the marathon, we will have run nearly 600 miles in those 18 weeks.  For the last month or so, we have been saying that we are basically hungry, tired and sore all the time.  My knees ache.  My feet hurt.  My muscles are just worn out.  You might think, then why do you put yourself through that?  It is a very good question, because I hate pain.

But there is something weird that happens, and it is unexpected.  On the day of the marathon, after I have run about 21 or 22 miles, and all the way until mile 26.1, I am thinking this is stupid and dumb and I am never putting myself through this pain again.  And then I see the finish line, and I cross it, and something comes over me, and I think this is the greatest thing ever, and I love it and I’m definitely going to run a marathon again. You know what I doing at that moment?  Rejoicing through the pain.  But how?  My body still hurts.  In fact it hurts bad.  But you know what? My attitude has changed.

It’s all about attitude and perspective.  Peter is telling them to have a new perspective, a new outlook.  See pain as blessing.  He says in verse 13 that it will mean extra joy when Jesus’ glory is revealed, which is another way of talking about some day in the future when they meet Jesus face to face.  And further, in verse 14, they are blessed because, Peter says, God’s Spirit rests on them!  That is amazing.  Not only do they get the joy of going through what Jesus went through, and so identifying with him like that, they also are blessed because God’s Spirit is on them.

When you are facing suffering, a change of perspective will allow you to see the pain as joy and blessing.

But not all suffering should lead to rejoicing.  Peter is quick to say in verse 15 that there is some suffering that does not qualify as rejoicing.  That is suffering for doing wrong.  He lists a couple sins in verse 15.  If you suffer consequences for poor behavior, that is not good suffering.  When we are suffering, it can be hard to be honest with ourselves.  When we suffer we can think that is all bad and painful and want it to stop, and that can mess with our heads.  We can start to think that it wasn’t our fault.  We can start to blame others.  We can start to say that we are being attacked by the devil.  There are all sorts of things we can do to have the wrong attitude about suffering.

Peter says, don’t do that.  Be honest with yourself about your suffering.  Own what is yours to own about a situation, about a circumstance, about why there is suffering going on. Be honest and own it.  That requires a lot of humility and maturity.  It is hard to swallow your pride and say, “I messed up.” 

But, as he says in verse 16, if you suffering because of your faith in Christ, now that is a whole new thing.  That is good suffering.  And you can and should rejoice!

But the thing is that when we are suffering for Christ, it is still suffering, still hurts, still stings, whether physically, emotionally, or relationally.   If we are suffering for Christ, if people are making fun of us for praying at meals, for going to Bible study, for reading our Bibles, for going to church, for talking about Jesus, you name it, then there is one simple thing we can do to make the pain go away. 

Just stop following Jesus.  Or more likely, we can hide the fact that we are following Jesus.

Think about it, if you were one of these early Christians who used to participate in wild partying, just like we heard about in an earlier post about verses 3-4, and you have stopped that partying, your old friends might not like the new you, and they might heap abuse on you.  That would not feel good, and depending on long the abuse lasted and how awful it was, the easiest thing to do to make the abuse stop would be for you to go back to your old ways.

A Christian would feel shame from their old friends. And in that culture that was a big deal. Scholars tell us that the Ancient Near East was an honor and shame culture.  What that means is that saving face was a huge part of their society.  People would go to great lengths to save face, including lying.

When Peter says, in verse 16, “do not be ashamed,” he is using honor and shame language that would have spoken deeply to his friends.  I think it speaks to us too.

Have you ever been ashamed of Jesus?  For me the most obvious time in my life when I struggled with being ashamed of Jesus was in 9th grade in high school.  I had gone to a private Christian all my life up to that point, and 9th grade was my first year in public school.  I remember that gradually I stopped wearing my Christian school apparel.  I stopped telling people I had previously gone to a Christian.  I stopped telling them my dad worked at the Bible College.  He was just a professor.  I didn’t want to feel shame.  I became way more concerned about what other kids in school thought, than what God thought.

That was wrong.  But how about you?  How do you feel shame for being a Christian?

Sometimes there are people in our world who loudly say they are Christians, and then maybe don’t act the way that Christ actually acted.  That can cause shame for us because we may think, “I don’t want to declare I am a Christian, if that poor example of Jesus is what people think when they think of the name ‘Christian’.”  There were certainly people like that in Jesus’ day; the Pharisees, for example.  But Jesus’ followers were still to follow his ways and let it be known that they were living their lives because of their desire to follow Jesus.  He didn’t tell the disciples to not follow God just because others were hypocrites about it.  Instead he said, “follow me.”

Peter says we should praise God that we bear the name “Christian.”  We should wear that label with pride.  Of course we don’t actually wear “Christian” as a written label, such as a logo on a hat or shirt or flag.  There is another, but still very physical, visible way we show we are Christians.  We show we are genuine followers of Jesus by how we live our lives, and a huge way we can do that is to rejoice in the midst of suffering.   I have watched many people in my church rejoice and faithfully praise God, even as they have battled difficult health and life situations.  That has been amazing.

When people think of the word Christian, they should think, “Those are the people who rejoice in suffering.”

We Christians have a different perspective about our pain!  We praise God, Peter says, that we bear the name Christian.  And Jesus Christ had a different perspective about suffering.  He said, “Blessed are you when men persecute you because of me.  So rejoice.”  When we rejoice in suffering, we carry Jesus’ name, we are Christians.

But just as Peter says that we praise God that we bear that name, he goes on to say in verse 17, “For it is time for judgment to begin with the family of God.”  I read that and I thought that I don’t like that sound of that.  Judgment?  In the family of God?  What does he mean? Peter, in verse 17, is connecting back to verse 12.  Peter is now rounding out a thought he started then.  Look back and 12 where he says, don’t be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering.

Peter is literally using a word picture here of a trial by fire. It’s no joke.  Fire purifies.  But even more, a trial by fire is a test.  Like walking on hot coals.  Can you handle it? Would you do it?  Will you pass the test?  Or will you chicken out?  The persecution those Christians endured, Peter says, is a test.  And would they pass the test by remaining faithful?

In verse 17, then, he hearkens back to verse 12.  It is time for judgment to begin with the family of God.  By tying the two verses together, we get the idea that as these Christians were going through persecution, it was a kind of trial by fire to see if they were going to remain faithful to God or not.  How would they handle the fiery trial?  They were literally being tried and tested first.  It began with them. And the testing would continue with everyone else, including those who do not follow the Gospel.

Peter quotes a proverb to support his view.   In other words, he is using Proverbs 11:31 to say, “if you, the faithful follower of Jesus, are going through difficult trial, imagine how much more difficult it will be for the ungodly and sinner?” In verse 19, Peter’s conclusion is this: when you suffer for God, commit yourself to him, because he is faithful, and thus you though you are suffering, you can and should choose to do good.

We Christians have a different perspective about our pain.  We need to be known for joy in the midst of suffering, and for doing good.

We Christians view things differently.

We rejoice in suffering.

We’re unashamed about Jesus.

When we suffer, we respond by doing good.

When we are feeling like we have been treated wrongly, we rejoice and we serve others!  It would be very easy to succumb to bitterness, or wallow in self-pity, but Peter says that when we are persecuted, we choose to do good. 

When you are feeling shame, choose to volunteer and serve others!  Peter’s advice here is genius.  He knows that when those Christians were being persecuted, it would be so easy for them to be self-focused and get stuck in a mindset of “how bad they have it”.  But what does he tell them to do?  Rejoice, be unashamed, and do good.

When you get bad news about your health, think about how you can volunteer at the clinic. 

When you lose your job, think about how you might serve the homeless and those in need of food and clothing.  Maybe you’ll have some time on unemployment where you can volunteer at a food bank or shelter!

When you have a relationship go bad, call up the person you know who struggles with loneliness and encourage them.  Invite them over for coffee, or take them out for lunch.

We Christians think about suffering differently!  Our heart and focus needs to be on Jesus and on others, as we look for ways to rejoice and serve.

How to have loving diversity in a church family

9 Oct
Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

Let’s talk about the elephant in the room.  Sometimes church families are like any other family, and that means we can butt heads.  We don’t always see eye to eye.  With the exception of ethnic diversity, my congregational is quite a diverse.  Young and old.  Male and Female.  Rich and poor.  Conservative and Progressive.  Introvert and extrovert.  That diversity is a beautiful thing, but it means we often disagree.

In this post we continue through 1st Peter looking at chapter 4, verses 7-11, and Peter is talking about how church families can handle this kind of diversity.

Peter, in verse 7, starts by mentioning that “the end of all things is near.”  What end?  We’ve been having blood moons in recent years, and people talk about how blood moons signal that the end is near. 

When we think about end times, our minds jump to ideas like a rapture where Christians suddenly disappear, maybe a time of tribulation, or a great war called Armageddon, but did Peter think of “the end of all things” like that?  What images did he have in mind? 

Almost certainly Peter is referring to the return of Jesus.  We read in Acts 1, that right after Jesus returned to his father in heaven, angels appeared and told the disciples that Jesus would come back. But when?  Peter says “the end is near”?  Did Peter think that Jesus was going to return in his lifetime? Probably. The early church seemed to think this.  It is mentioned more than once in the NT writings.

Think about that, Peter said this 2000 years ago.  So does that mean Peter is misinformed or misguided?  I don’t think so. It is best to understand “near” in the sense of “it can happen anytime”.  As Jesus himself said to his disciples, “no one knows the time of his return, so be ready at all times.”  Jesus himself said that the Kingdom of Heaven in near.  “Near” is best understood as something that can happen at anytime, rather than something that will happen soon.  We don’t know when it will happen, but it could happen anytime.  So we must be ready.

Peter goes on to say that one way we show that we are ready for Jesus’ return is to be “sensible”.  In the NIV that word is translated as “clearminded” which is to have understanding about practical matters and thus able to act sensibly.

Peter also says that we show that we are ready for Jesus’ return by being “self-controlled”, and the word Peter uses means the opposite of getting drunk.  But he is not just talking about alcohol. One scholar defines this as “to behave with restraint and moderation, not permitting excess in general.” It is an attitude that affects action.  When we say that someone is sober-minded, we don’t mean that they are simply not getting drunk.  We mean that they have an attitude of self-control about their lives, and that attitude leads to self-controlled actions.  Peter is not just saying “don’t get drunk” or “don’t get high”.  He is saying something much larger or broad.  Be a self-controlled person. 

When Peter talks about self-control he is saying that we organize our lives in such a way to prioritize the mission of God’s Kingdom.  How do we do use self-control to focus our lives on the mission of God’s Kingdom?  Peter says that we pray. We make time in our lives for spiritual practices so we can know God more, depend on him, and make him the focus of our lives.  But Peter is not suggesting a legalistic, rigid approach.

I remember that when our two oldest were babies and toddlers; there were stretches where Michelle and I did not go to Sunday School because it was so difficult to get ready, and to place them in childcare for long stretches. Likewise, a friend recently told me the story about a phase in their lives where they had to get up really early for work, 5am.  She wanted to have time alone with God, maybe reading the Bible and praying. But given that work schedule, it wasn’t going to happen even earlier.  Every now and then I hear that we should sacrifice sleep in order to spend time with God.  I’ve come to believe that sometimes the most spiritual thing you can do is get good sleep.  So my friend said her devotional times were on her days off.  That’s okay.

What I’m saying is this: following the way of Jesus is not a legalistic thing.  There are phases in life where it will look different, but what should always remain is the self-control to put his ways, his principles, the fruit of the Spirit, first.  We won’t be perfect in that.  But, that is the goal.  To put his ways first.

Again, Peter says, “Because the end is near, be self-controlled, so that you can pray.”  I wouldn’t have expected that.  Why prayer?  If the end is near, shouldn’t Peter be telling people to get out on the streets to invite more people to follow Jesus?  I think Peter has something else in mind.  A memory.

Could Peter be transporting us once again back to the night Jesus was arrested in the Garden, the night before he was crucified?  We know that night was the most impactful and vivid of Peter’s life.  He had many incredible moments with Jesus, but that night was etched in Peter’s mind.  Remember what happened that night at the beginning of their time in the Garden?  Jesus brought his disciples to the Garden.  That alone was not unusual.  It was a walk outside the city and Luke tells us that in Jesus’ final week, he went out there every night to pray.

Then in Matthew we read that he asked Peter, James and John to break away from the group and go a little further into the Garden.  He said to them that he was overwhelmed with sorrow, to the point of death.  Jesus was really going through it, the anxiety was intense.  And specifically asks Peter, James and john to stay there and keep watch.   This is Matthew 26:38.  Jesus went a little farther from the disciples, fell with his face to the ground and prayed that famous prayer, “Father…not my will, but yours be done.”  We don’t know how long Jesus prayed.  If it was just the text Matthew gives us, it is a very short prayer.   I suspect it was a good bit longer, because Jesus mentions “one hour in the next verse.”  I also think it was a longer prayer because of what we learn next.

Matthew records that Jesus takes a break from praying, and goes back to check on Peter, James and John, and what does he find?  They are asleep. He wakes them, and Matthew mentions that Jesus specifically speaks to Peter, “Could you men not keep watch with me for one hour?…Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing but the body is weak.”  Then Jesus went back and prayed again, “Father…may your will be done.”  And again he checked on the disciples and again they were asleep. This time he didn’t wake them, instead returning to prayer, praying the same thing.  Finally Matthew says that he returned to the disciples a third time, waking them with, “Are you still sleeping and resting…Look, the hour is near.”  Just as he was saying those words, Judas, the betrayer, arrived with armed men to arrest Jesus.

I think Peter remembers that night quite well.  “The hour is near,” Jesus said.  The exact same words that Peter uses in 1 Peter 4.7!  “The end is near.”  Just as Jesus called Peter and the disciples to watch and pray, now Peter is calling Christians to be self-controlled and pray.

These are parallel situations.  Moments of intensity and ultimate destiny, and where Peter failed to be self-controlled and therefore did not pray, he wants something better for these Christians 30 years later. 

But again I ask, prayer?  Why prayer? Why then?

Because prayer roots us in the will and ways of God. Prayer says, “Lead us not into temptation and deliver us from evil.”  Prayer is a submission to God.  Prayer is act that shows that we depend on God.  In the middle of crisis, prayer is especially vital.  Normally in crisis, we want to take matters into our own hands and resolve it.  Prayer, however, hits the pause button and refocuses our lives on God, who is the true power.  But when we are freaked out it is hard to pray!  Maybe when we are so distracted, so anxious, our minds are out of control and we can’t pray.  I have definitely felt that in moments of high anxiety.

We can be so emotional that we just can’t settle our minds enough to prayer.  I believe this is where Peter is going with this. He remembered his own failure and wants these people to learn to depend on God during moments of crisis.

Or we become so distracted by the things of this world that we set prayer aside.  We are literally too busy to pray, we say.  But I know for myself that, while I can say that I am so busy, and I feel so busy, I sure have time to watch TV daily, check the news on my phone.  So let us make more space in our lives for prayer.

With this foundation of depending on God in prayers, Peter builds on that in verse 8, returning to a theme that we have seen multiple times in the letter: that the church family should love one another deeply.  He quotes an Old Testament verse, Proverbs 10:12, “love covers a multitude of sins.”

This also quoted by James, and there are echoes of it in the famous love chapter 1 Cor. 13.  What does it mean, that love covers over a multitude of sins?  If you love someone you have to accept their sinful choices and be okay with them?  This is very picturesque word. In Proverbs, it is the image of love as clothing that covers over sin.  Forgiveness is very much a related concept, and in fact the Hebrew word used in Proverbs 10:12 is in some circumstances translated “forgive”.

Love can overlook faults, it doesn’t seek revenge, forgives.  Love gives grace, and it doesn’t seek perfection.  You know how some personalities rub you the wrong way? Love says that we accept the people who are difficult for us. 

Remember that proverbs are not promises.  Proverbs are principles that are generally true.  They hold true in most cases, but not in all cases.  So when Peter quotes this proverb, he knows that.  He is not trying to say that love means we should somehow turn a blind eye to sin.  What he is saying is that in a church family, we need to be gracious and forgiving.

But how do we know when to cover over the sin?  I would submit that a big part of the answer to that question is how the sinning person responds.  If they are repentant and humble and seeking to change, then let love cover over their sin.

But if they are unrepentant, repeating their behavior, unwilling to submit to correction, then the most loving thing to do is hold them accountable and create boundaries for them.

This is hard.  We are not people who like boundaries.  We flee boundaries.  We want chances to start over, wipe the slate the clean, as if the past was gone. 

What, then, does repentance look like?  I want to bring up a word called penance.  We need to be people of penance.  Penance means that you work hard to show you are sorry, that you are repentant.  You are willing to do the hard work to heal a broken relationship, make real changes in your attitude, actions, and lifestyle choices.

Have any of you watched The Crown on Netflix?  The final episode of season 2 tells the story of John Profumo.  Ever heard of him?  Profumo was the British Secretary of State for War in the 1960s and he fell into a sexual scandal that led to his resignation. 

Politicians and sex scandals.  Sadly, we’ve heard that before many times, right?  I read an article by writer AJ Jacobs who tells the untold story of what happened next that the episode of The Crown didn’t tell.  And where political sex scandals are commonplace, the untold part of the Profumo story is unheard of.  Still today.  Though Profumo was well-connected and likely could have gotten a cushy job, he left public life and never fully returned.  You know what he did?  He began to volunteer at Toynbee Hall, a charity in London that seeks to alleviate poverty.  He started by doing menial work, and over the decades…decades!…he became a primary fundraiser for the charity.  He never sought office again.  For the rest of his life he worked out of the public eye to serve the poor.  He did this for fifty years.  That’s penance.  He knew he did wrong and made changes in his life that showed that.

Peter now goes on in verse 9 to say that our love for one another should demonstrate itself in being hospitable to one another without grumbling.

Look around your life: who needs hospitality?  What is hospitality?  The specific word that Peter uses is to be a friend to strangers, but notice how he also qualifies this word by adding “one another.”  Showing hospitality to strangers.  What strangers?

There are strangers around us.  Refugees, tourists, and people in our neighborhoods and schools who we don’t know.  I have been particularly convicted lately about the lack of ethnic diversity in my life.  That concerns me because my local school district reports that it is 1/3 comprised of people of color.

Do we have eyes and hearts open to practice hospitality to strangers?  We Christians should be leading the way in that!  We should be known for that!

But remember Peter’s qualifier, “one another”.  He is primarily talking about how these Christians practiced hospitality or friendship with one another. The reality is that some people in our church family are strangers to you, or some feel very different from you.

In Peter’s day, these Christians were very counter-culture.  They were following a religion that was very new and considered a cult.  As we saw last week in verse 4, these Christians were facing abuse because they were following Jesus. 

So they had to break down the norms.  They had to create family where there was none before.  One author I read said this, “In certain cultures that are strongly family-oriented, the bringing of strangers into a house may be somewhat shocking.  Yet Christians overcome these conventions because God’s love has made them into a single great family.”

There is nothing wrong with spending a lot of time with people you find enjoyable and are close with.  But it is also important to reach out to those who you are different than you, even people you butt heads with, and you still reach out to them anyway and Peter says to do so without grumbling. 

That’s family isn’t it?  There are those within our natural families that are easier for us to connect with than others.  There are those within natural families that we want to be with more than others.  But, still we are family, and still those who are feeling alone, and those who are not, need to try to reach out to each other.

Then offer your friendship and hospitality, and this is the kicker!, without grumbling. I get it, helping people can be a great joy, but it can also get to a point where it can be tough. It can go on a long time, and over time the hospitality wears us down and we can grumble. Some people are easier to offer hospitality to than others.

But Christians are people who are self-controlled and loving and thus go beyond the difficulty and awkwardness!  We are people who serve, and we serve some more, and we sacrifice.  We get this strength to press on in love for the strangers among us by making time in prayer and by making the way of Jesus our priority.

That’s exactly where Peter goes next in verse 10. He says that you have each received a gift, and you are to use it to serve one another as a good steward of the manifold grace of God. What gifts?  They are received gifts.  Received from who?  God.  God has blessed each one us with a gift. And how are we to use these gifts?  To serve others.

When the NIV says “faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms,” Peter is using the word “steward”.  We are stewards of God’s grace.  Stewards are not owners.  We have been given a gift, but that doesn’t mean it is now our possession to do with what we want!  God is just giving it to us as a privilege and honor, and we are to use our gifts the way he would want them to be use. They are gifts of God’s grace, Peter says, gifts that are graciously given to us, and in various forms.

So in verse 11 Peter talks about the two main categories of gracious gifts that God gives us to steward.  Speaking gifts and serving gifts. Notice what kinds of gifts that Peter is not talking about.  Not the miraculous.  Not healing, not speaking in tongues, not prophesying. The gifts he is talking about are gifts that minister in a church family: speaking and serving

First of all the Speaking gifts.  What speaking?  Teaching, preaching. 

When we use the gift of teaching and preaching and speaking into someone’s life, Peter says, it is like an oracle of God.  Or speaking the very words of God.  Wow.  Does that mean if I speak, I am guaranteed to be speaking the words of God.  No.  But Peter is saying “do it AS one speaking,” meaning that we should see the weight and responsibility of it. The impact should be to glorify God, to encourage people in God’s direction.

Next are gifts of Serving. 

Who are you choosing to serve in our church family?  Who are you reaching out to?  Each of us should be ready and able to answer this.  Who are you serving?  Peter says, serve with the strength God provides, so that God may be praised through Christ.

Note that the focus on this is clearly God, for the use of both categories of gifts.  Peter wants the focus on God.   Not on ourselves.  Not on our comfort.  God and his ways are to be our priority.   As a pastor, I have the distinct blessing of being able to see so many ways that many in my church are reaching out, are serving, are sacrificial to others within this church family.  I am so grateful for that.  Keep at it.

So whether the person next to you in church is old or young, Democrat or Republican, male or female, and any other category, let us sacrificially love one another to keep our focus not on ourselves, but on God.

I want to end with this quote that my wife found in a Beth Moore study she’s doing.  In it she is speaking about discipleship, but I think you will see the connection.

“Discipleship involves a constant volleying between being apart and being a part. To pursue deeply satisfying intimacy with Christ, learning how to be apart from everyone else and alone with Him is a necessity. But discipleship also places a high premium on community and fellowship, on camaraderie and co-working. To know only how to be apart with Jesus but not a part of a holy partnership of believers leaves more than a deficit of human company…it also subtracts from our knowledge of Christ. Similarly, we are vastly less equipped in our effectiveness if we’re perpetual spiritual shut-ins. Isolation is not His way….One common cause of loneliness is the natural human tendency to limit our search for comrades to people who look or seem very much like us. We will miss what would have surely been some of our favorite people on earth if we don’t look beyond our mirror image in age, marital status, background, and personality.”

So we need to be working on our priority relationship with Jesus.  Time with him in prayer and time growing ourselves in HIS ways is so important.  From that foundation, then, we take those things we are learning, and we work them out with each other in our church family. So let’s be somber-minded and self-controlled as we focus on making his ways our priority.

When you start to change and your friends don’t like it

30 Aug

Photo by Adi Goldstein on Unsplash

Have you ever gone through a life change, and that change affected your friendships?

You know who your real friends are when you start changing.

Perhaps you believe new things, or maybe you have shed a long-held belief, and your friends are pushing back.  It could be that you have stopped doing something that you and your friends regularly enjoyed, and they are disappointed, even angry with you.

As Peter continues teaching in 1 Peter 4:1-6, he describes how the people he is writing to started following the way of Jesus, and as they moved away from the self-destructive patterns of their old friends, those old friends were not happy.  In fact, Peter says in verse 4, “they heap abuse you.”

“Abuse” is actually the word “blaspheme”, which means “to speak against someone in such a way as to harm or injure his or her reputation.” (Louw & Nida)

What Peter is describing could be the persecution those early Christians were facing.

So Peter goes on in verses 5-6 saying that those old friends will have to give account to God for their behavior. Then Peter makes a most interesting statement.  He says this is why the gospel was preached even to those who are now dead.  Wait?  What?  The gospel is preached to dead people?

No.  Not at all.

Let’s examine this a bit further.

Peter uses the specific words, “preach the gospel.”  What is this gospel?  Gospel is simply a word that means “good news.” What good news?  Last week we looked at how Peter described the good news in 3:18 when he said that Jesus died for our sin, to bring us to God.  That is some good news, that people who are separated from God can now be with him.

But that is not the only good news in The Good News.  God’s good news is that he is doing a work of rectification, which is a big fancy word that means “making things right.”  God wants to set things right in the world.

As Peter has been teaching in this passage, God wants things to be right in our lives.  God wants us to move away from self-destructive sinful desires, and pursue his new way.

God’s Good News is not just a transformation of individual people.  God also wants to set the world right.  And so his good news is good news for all people, all creation.  Where there is injustice of all kinds, God wants to set things right.

That good news is what Peter says, “was preached to those who are now dead.”  “Was preached” is something that happened in the past.  Peter is talking about a preaching that occurred in the past.  Not present preaching, not future preaching.  Also, the word “now” is not in the Greek.  That has been added to help us understand the intent of Peter’s flow of thought.  He is talking about preaching that happened in the past, and some of the people who heard that preaching have now passed away.  They were alive when they heard the preaching.  They are dead now.  More than likely they had become Christians while they were still living, after they heard the preaching.

What does this all mean for those Christians reading this letter who are still alive and facing abuse from their friends?  While they faced criticism when they stopped their wild living and chose to follow the way of Christ, they can take great comfort that they are now living according to God’s way.

It is precisely at this juncture that some Christians have misunderstood what it means to live according to God’s way in our lives now.

I will never forget my visit to the Ephrata Cloister.  They wanted to remove themselves from the world, so they could not be negatively impacted by it.  It seemed like they wanted to live God’s way.  Except that Jesus specifically prayed in John 17 that God would not remove his followers from the world, but that God would keep them safe in the midst of it.

God doesn’t want us to escape from the world.  We can obey God while still living in the world.  The issue is not so much about figuring out what God’s will is for the myriad choices of living in the world.  Such as, can followers of Jesus watch movies or TV shows or play video games with certain ratings?  Can followers of Jesus wear certain kinds of swimwear?

Instead Peter is saying, start from a place where you stop indulging in evil human desires, and start following God’s desires for your life!

Certainly there are times when a follower of Jesus needs to stop or decrease a friendship because that friendship is a negative influence that the follower of Jesus cannot handle.  But in most cases, we followers of Jesus can stop indulging in evil human desires while at the same time maintaining genuine friendships with people who are not following Jesus.

So as we think about what Peter has talked about in 1 Peter 4:1-6, how about you?  Do you love God?

Are you living according to human desires, or according to God’s desires?

Have you armed yourself with the same attitude as Jesus, that no matter what goes on in your life, you are committed to do the will of God!

If you are like most of us, you have some of both.  You want to obey God, but you also find yourself giving in to evil human desires sometimes as well.

What patterns or habits do you need to change in order to live a life that is line with the way of God?

I encourage you to do what has often been called “soul-searching”.  Today is the day, Peter is saying, for us to stop or to begin to learn to stop following evil human desires, and today is the day to start growing our love for God that we might follow his desires for our lives.  He wants to change us into people that are different, and that might be hard for some of our friends and family to accept.  But God wants to change us into people that obey his desires for our lives, and that is the best way to live.

Christians, has Jesus transformed your life? Here’s how you can tell.

29 Aug

Photo by Matt Botsford on Unsplash

A question for any of you who consider yourselves Christians, followers of Jesus: would you say that Jesus has transformed your life?

Yesterday we saw that Jesus transformed Peter’s life.

It wouldn’t surprise me if Peter has that memory in mind as he continues his teaching in 1 Peter 4:1-6.  In verse 3 he builds on what he has already said in verses 1-2.  To review, Peter has taught that through suffering you are learning to be done with sin.  He says that Christians can choose to no longer live for evil human desires, and thus live for God’s desires, for God’s will.

Now in verse 3, I hear Peter saying: “Frankly, don’t you think you have lived a really sinful life long enough?”  In other words he is saying to them, “You have spent enough time in the past following evil human desires.  Keep following Jesus.”

Peter wants them to take a step back and review their life.  Apparently some of them had really lived it up in the past.  What Peter describes here is some risky behavior.  There is no self-control in this.

The scholars tell us Peter is referring to “drinking parties involving unrestrained indulgence in alcoholic beverages and accompanying immoral behavior.” (Louw & Nida) This is out of control stuff where you are risking your health on a regular basis.  In 2018, it would like getting high on heroine, sleeping around with anyone, getting drunk on a regular basis, and then driving vehicles drunk.  It is very selfish, wasteful, and irresponsible.

Maybe you’ve experienced some of that lifestyle yourself.  Maybe you know people who have.  Maybe your sinful behavior was rebellion in other ways.  Maybe there is some rebellion still going on in your life?

In what area of your life are you lacking self-control?  Is it your mind, mouth, attitude, money, time spent on TV, social media, video games, food, and you know God would say, “Follow me”?

Peter is saying to these Christians and to us that it is time to be done with that old life.

And that is exactly what happened!  Look at verse 4.

Peter reviews their spiritual story.  There was a change.  The people who were formerly partying it up had made a change. They had started following Christ, and they are living the new way of his Kingdom, or at least they are trying to.  The way of Christ is a way of self-control.  Think fruit of the Spirit growing in you and flowing through you.  Love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, faithfulness, self-control.  The new way is exact opposite of the way they used to be.  Where there was lust, there is now love.  Where there was anger and rage, there is now joy, peace, and gentleness, kindness.  Where there was rebellion and fighting, there is now patience and self-control.

Peter is talking to people who actually went through these changes.  So why would he need to warn them, if they had already made the change?

It could be that Peter knows how difficult persecution can be.  Especially when your friends are involved.  And that’s what we we’re going to talk about tomorrow.

The one crucial step that must come before doing God’s will

28 Aug

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

What is the will of God?

Yesterday we looked at the surprising weapon Christians are to arm themselves with: the attitude of Jesus, which was an attitude of following the will of God for his life no matter what.  As we continue studying 1 Peter 4:1-6, Peter goes on to say in verse 2 that we Christians will no longer live for evil human desires, but rather we live for the will of God.

What is the will of God?

Here is what the will of God is not: Peter is not talking about some special plan that God has for our future.

Very simply, living for God’s will is doing what God says.  Another great word for this is obedience.  We followers of Jesus are committed to obeying God, and Peter says that means that we no longer obey evil human desires.  What are evil human desires?

Another way to translate the words “evil human desires” is the word “lust.”  The scholars tell us that the word Peter used means “to strongly desire to have what belongs to someone else, and/or to engage in an activity which is morally wrong.” (Louw & Nida)

When you put verses 1 and 2 together, Peter is saying that through the suffering he mentioned in verse 1, disciples of Jesus are no longer living for selfish human desires, but we are to live for the will of God, which means we obey his desire for our lives.

This the key to living as followers of Jesus: we live to obey the will of God! To obey God’s desires.

To understand this further, Peter uses the word “Flesh” multiple times in these few verses.  In the NIV you see it as the word “body” and as “earthly life”.  What Peter is talking about is that there are so many desires that our flesh has.  But so far in verses 1-2 Peter has been saying that when we experience suffering in our flesh, it really puts things into perspective, and sinful desires pale in comparison.  Thus followers of Jesus make it our focus to live according to God’s will and desires for us.

Let’s talk more about living for God’s will.  It is such a foundational concept to Christianity.

But how to we follow God’s will?  It can feel a bit forced.  Peter is saying, “Do God’s will.” Or, “Just obey.” Is that all there is to it?  Just obey.  Can we just choose to obey?  Is it that easy?

Maybe you have a personality where if God says it, then you are good to go with obeying it, period.  No questions.  You are okay with it.  And you genuinely seek to obey.

But there are others of you who have a different personality or approach.  You hear, “do God’s will,” and you know that it is a good thing, but you are wondering, why should we obey God?  Or is that all there is to it? Is there a reason for it? Can’t God tell us more about this?

I would suggest that there is more.  And that Peter knows there is more.  And that Jesus taught that there is more.  And this is what is more: obeying God’s will is intended to flow from a heart of love for God.

When we love someone, we are inclined to respect them, serve them, treat them well, help them.  God doesn’t want us to obey him begrudgingly because he is the supreme power of the universe, and we are his creatures.  As if God is some dictator.  Or a master with slaves.  God wants us to do his will out of love for him. He wants to be in a real loving relationship with us.

I wonder, do you love him?

Of course we would say “yes” to that.  But perhaps we say, “Yes, I love God” too quickly, without examining our hearts and minds.

I use some phone apps to guide me in reading scripture and praying.  One is from the Book of Common Prayer, and it has morning, evening and night prayer services that you can read through and pray.  It includes plenty of Scripture and the Lord’s Prayer, other written prayers, spaces for silence and your own prayer requests as well.  One of the written prayers that is in there every single day always gets me thinking:

“As we rejoice in the gift of this new day, so may the light of your presence, O God, set our hearts on fire with love for you, now and forever, amen.”

And then yesterday, another app I use had this prayer,

“Dear Lord, instill in my heart the desire to know and love you more.”

In a week when I was thinking about a passage that emphasizes obeying God, these two prayers hit me hard.  Do I love God?  Of course, I love God.  But really, do I love God?

I thought of Peter, not long after Jesus was arrested and taken away.  That evening, Peter is following from a distance, watching, fear rising in his heart, as they put Jesus on trial.  Then Peter is spotted, and pointed out as one who had been with Jesus.  Peter allows fear to overtake him, and he denies knowing Jesus, once, twice, three times.  Vehemently Peter denies knowing Jesus.

Then the rooster crows, and Jesus looks out across the way, locking eyes with Peter.  Peter, who had only hours before made bold claims about dying for Jesus, now has denied him. He flees the scene, weeping bitter tears.  But a few days later, Jesus rises from the dead, and Peter is a changed man.

Jesus reinstates him, saying Peter, “Do you love me?”  Three times, one for each denial.  And each time Peter says “I love you.”

This is a different Peter now.  Having acted out of fear instead of love, Peter is now set on a trajectory of loving Jesus that will carry on for the rest of his life.

Jesus transformed his life. Jesus wants to do the same in your life.  He wants to restore a loving relationship between you and him.  He is not a taskmaster forcing you to do his will.  Instead, he wants you to know, out of mutual love for one another, that loving him leads to obeying him which is the best possible way to live.

The surprising weapon followers of Jesus arm themselves with

27 Aug

Photo by Cmdr Shane on Unsplash

One of the biggest questions followers of Jesus ask is: how much should we be in the world, exposing ourselves to the world, participating in activities or behaviors that are considered normative in the world?

And by contrast, how much should we remove ourselves from the world? Which behaviors should we stop?

How much should we play video games, watch movies and TV, and which ones?  Should we trust the ratings systems?  Is it okay for 13 year olds to watch PG13 movies, for example?

And what about the many varieties of food, drink and drugs available to us, for our pleasure?  How much of that should we partake of?  As substances like marijuana become legal, should we partake?

What clothing should we wear?  How much skin should we show?  What is modest?

This was as big a deal for the earliest Christians 2000 years ago as it is now.  How do we be in the world, but not of it?

Where it really gets tricky is in the area of friendships.  If you are a follower of Jesus, and you have friends who are not followers of Jesus, how much should you do what they do?

As we continue in 1 Peter, we have arrived at chapter 4, and Peter addresses these issues.

In verse 1, the NIV’s “arm yourselves” is a great translation of the word Peter used.  It truly has military overtones!  Think of soldiers preparing for battle.  Strapping on bullet proof vests, helmets.  Lacing up boots, attaching a knife, grenades, ammunition and of course their gun.  A backpack with all kinds of equipment.  They are ready for battle.  No doubt Peter is talking to those early Christians this way because he sees that they, too, are in a battle, but it is not a military battle.

So how should followers of Jesus arm ourselves?  How should we get ready?  What equipment do we strap on?  The attitude of Jesus.

What was his attitude?  It is most clearly described in a place called the Garden of Gethsemene, just a short walk outside the city of Jerusalem.  Jesus was there on the night of his arrest, praying with his disciples.  Remember his prayer?  It was intense.  He knew that his arrest, beating and death were right around the corner.

How would you feel if you knew that within hours you would be severely beaten, falsely tried, and killed?  I would be freaking out.  While Jesus was definitely emotional, he wasn’t losing control.  The anxiety was massive.  And yet what did he pray?  “Father, not my will, but yours be done.”

In the face of severe bodily harm, Jesus remained 100% committed to do the will of God.  That is the attitude Peter says we should arm ourselves with.

Why?  Because, Peter says, “he who has suffered in his body is done with sin.”  But what does Peter mean when he says suffering in the body will lead to being “done with sin”?

Peter’s flow of thought from 3:18 all the way through 4:6 has Christians in mind, and how Christians can handle suffering.  In other words, he is saying, “Christians, when you suffer, it puts things in perspective.”  You’ve maybe experienced that yourself.  When you go through a hard time, you realize so quickly and clearly what really matters in life.

When you are suffering, you’ll realize that your previous sinful choices were so wrong.  We might even call this the process of sanctification.  Sanctification is a big long Christian theological word that refers to the process of being set apart for God.  During that process of being set apart, we are being shaped and changed, so that gradually we act more and more like Jesus would.  All disciples of Jesus are undergoing this process, where the Spirit of God, if we allow him, is at work in us.  What we find is that suffering, as painful and difficult as it is, actually grows us faster and more deeply, when we allow it.

Unfortunately, some people do not allow suffering to shape us to become more of what God wants us to be. Some people wallow in their suffering.  You know the Eeyore syndrome?  That’s when, instead of sitting in the suffering and listening to what God might want to teach us, we have a pity party.  Poor me.  We followers of Jesus should not approach suffering like Eeyore.  Instead, Peter says, we should have the attitude of Jesus, to follow God’s will no matter the difficulty.