Tag Archives: 1 Peter

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.

Why I am not a fan of eulogies (but why they are surprising important for church families)

30 Jul

Photo by Rhodi Alers de Lopez on Unsplash

I am not a fan of eulogies.  I’ve told you before that one of the aspects of being a pastor that I was definitely not prepared for was death.  It affects me.  Some pastors tell me they love funerals, and can’t stand weddings.  I’m the exact opposite. I love weddings.  Funerals, though?  No.  I’m just not a fan.  Of course I officiate funerals, and I hope I do well.  I believe they are a very important event for the family and friends of the deceased.  Grieving is important.  Thinking about matters of life after death is important. And almost always a funeral includes a eulogy.  You know that speech that tells the history of the person who died, praising that person?

I have given numerous eulogies over the years, and many times I don’t like them.  It’s not just the fact that we are talking about dead person, which can be depressing.  It is that so often in eulogies we straight up tell lies.  Most often the family wants you to tell a totally positive story about the deceased, even if everyone knows the deceased had numerous, even glaring faults.

This week as we continue our study through1st Peter, I was shocked to learn something brand new about eulogies.  We’ll be looking at 1 Peter 3:8-12 all week.  Read it for yourself.

One phrase I want you to listen for is: if people insult you, eulogize them!  What could Peter mean by that?  Oh, you don’t see that phrase in there?  I promise, it’s there!  I’ll show you this week!  What’s even more important than finding that phrase is what it means and how we can apply it to our relationships in the church family.

Peter says in Verse 8 “Finally” and by that he means “here is the end of the matter”, or “let me sum up what I am talking about.”  For a few weeks now Peter has been talking about many different relationships that Christians experienced in his day.  If you want, you can review the posts and you’ll see that Peter talked about the following:

  • How Christians should relate to governing authorities.
  • How Christian slaves should relate to their masters…even mean ones.
  • How husbands and wives should relate to one another.

Peter taught a common principle that Christians should apply to all these relationships: submission.  That’s not a very popular idea in our era, but as we saw, Peter was teaching Christians to submit first and foremost to God and the mission of his Kingdom.  If you want to learn the specifics of what Peter said about each of those other relationships, feel free to scan back through previous posts.

What we see today in verse 8 is that he is now bringing his thoughts to a close.  This week Peter is going to talk about how people in a church family should treat one another.  As I said above, he is going to say, “If someone insults you, eulogize ’em.”  Next week, Peter changes the focus to how Christians should relate to people outside their church family.

So his “finally”, his concluding remarks will cover the next few weeks.  As he goes on in verse 8, notice that he says, “all of you” and begins listing adjectives.  He is saying “Church…Christians…every single one of you, let me describe what you should be.  Then he lists five adjectives that should define Christian relationships in a church family.  What adjectives do you think should define a church family?  Tomorrow we’ll look at the first one.  And I promise…the surprising thing I learned about eulogy is coming later this week!

 

Was Fred Flintstone right that a woman’s place is in the home?

23 Jul

How many of you remember the 1960s era cartoon, The Flintstones?  If you haven’t seen it, the cartoon is set in an imaginary cavemen society, except their society has all the amenities of modern society with cars, television, and neighborhoods.  The main characters, Fred and Wilma Flintstone, are husband and wife.

In Season 2, Episode 23, “The Happy Household,” Fred and Wilma had gotten into a fight because Wilma came home from a shopping trip, and Fred blamed her for spending more money than he makes.  Fred thinks Wilma should get a job.  So the next day Fred is surprised when he comes home from his job and Wilma is not there.  He is used to Wilma having a big dinner waiting for him.  Instead Wilma wrote him a note saying Fred should warm up a frozen dinner.  Fred is not happy.  He tries to get leftovers from his neighbor Barney, but Barney says there aren’t any.  Barney tries to placate Fred by turning on the TV.  Does it work?  Nope, Fred gets the shock of his married life.  Here’s the clip:

Later that evening, Wilma returns, and things blow up.  Take a look at the next clip:

I don’t know why the person who posted that YouTube video gave it that title, because Fred never hits Wilma.  And yet, the cave man speaks.  Did you hear what he said? “A woman’s place is in the home!”  Is that just a cave man speaking?  Or do we still hear that phrase today?

You might think, “Well, the Flintstones came out over 50 years ago!  Society has changed.”  Very true.  Society has changed.  But for many people the questions remain. What are the appropriate roles for husbands and wives in marriage?  Does God care?  How do we find out?

Around the world we Christians for centuries have had strong feelings about these questions.  Christians have been in sharp disputes.  It still goes on today.

Think about it.  That day you say your marriage vows you begin a new journey with a long road in front on you. How should a husband and wife relate to one another?

What does the Bible say?  In our next section of 1st Peter, 3:1-7, Peter talks about husbands and wives. Check it out and see what you think.  Peter says “Wives be submissive to your husbands.”  Before we get into Peter’s teaching, the primary question that people ask about these submission passages, is this: Is this passage to be applicable for all time OR is it to be understood as for that time only?

If the passage is to be for all time, then that means that Christian marriage, always, everywhere, forever, should be a relationship of the wife being submissive to the husband.  Period.  The husband is the leader, the head of the household, the decision maker, and the wife must submit to or obey the husband’s authority!

If Peter only was writing for that time, then Christian marriage roles between a husband and wife could look different.  Shared leadership.  Equal authority.  Or the wife could lead, and husband could submit.

So how do we know?  Christians still today disagree about which interpretation to use.  I think Peter has BOTH in mind.  I suspect he is thinking both about the Christians in that day, but also laying a foundation for Christians in the future.

Here’s why.  Peter seems to be responding to the Christian teaching of freedom in Christ.  This teaching was new. He told them that they were free, but asked them not to use their freedom for evil.  That’s back in chapter 2 verse 16.  There he says, “you are free, but don’t use that freedom as a cover-up for evil.  Instead, though you are free in Christ, you are bound to serve God.”  That is a massively important mindset.  Yes we are free in Christ…free to serve God!  That means we first and foremost submit to God and to the mission of his Kingdom.

This week we’ll explore further how freedom in Christ can help us understand what Peter has to say about the role husbands and wives have in marriage.  See you tomorrow.

Naming a new church is difficult (and the Bible might make it worse!)

2 Jul

Image result for naming a churchHave you noticed the trend in the last 15-20 years to give churches unique names?

For years Christian churches tended to be named by one of four methods.  The first two methods are quite practical.

First, it could be simply the location, usually connected to a denomination’s name.  A church is named for its town name, or street name.  For example, in a town near us there is Leola United Methodist Church.

The second common method was the timing of when the church was started relative to other churches, usually of the same denomination, in the same area.  You see this mostly in larger towns or cities.  In Philadelphia, one of the most famous churches is Tenth Presbyterian.  That means there were nine other Presbyterian churches before it.  I can see the original members of the church thinking, “We have Grace Presbyterian, Westminster, Trinity, Philadelphia…they’ve already taken all the names!  There are nine others!  What should we call ours?”  Someone says, “How about Tenth?”  And it stuck.  That’s true!

Then the next two methods are distinctly Christian.

A church could be named for a famous Christian, usually titled a Saint.  Some of our sister EC Churches are named for saints.  St. Matthew’s EC Church is in Emmaus, PA.

Fourth, churches used to be named with a word related to a significant Christian concept: Grace, Faith, Trinity, Christ, Bible.  In Lancaster county, we have three different Trinity EC Churches.   One in Lititz, Manheim and the city. And that is how Faith Church got its name.

But in recent years, groups starting new churches became more…creative.  Have you ever heard of the Babylon Bee?  It is a Christian publishing company that releases satire, trying to help us laugh at ourselves and our idiosyncrasies.  Let me read a few lines from an article they published about this trend in creative church naming.  Again, this is satire, meaning that it is not true, and is meant to be funny.  So you’re allowed to laugh!

CHARLOTTE, NC—A representative for the Ekklesia Church Planting Network confirmed Monday that church planting teams from around the nation are running dangerously low on edgy names for new churches.

“We’ve really started scraping the bottom of the barrel,” the representative noted.

The problem was perhaps most pronounced in a recent brainstorming session for an Oklahoma City urban church plant. According to sources at the scene, in a conference room featuring a whiteboard displaying all kinds of different random, unique names for churches, Ekklesia church planting specialist Holly Quinn reportedly just sat staring blankly at the coffee machine while chewing on a pen. Suddenly, she just started throwing out whatever random words popped into her head as possible name ideas. “Pipes. Barnyard. Bauble. Weasel. Pilot.”

According to the representative, the crisis has been brewing since the ’90s, but only recently has the potential name shortage come to a head. “You definitely can’t just use words like ‘Faith,’ ‘Bible,’ or ‘Church’ anymore,” the rep said. “Even ‘Grace’ is played out, our research has consistently shown.”

If we had more time, we could experiment with the Babylon Bee’s Church Name Generator, where, with the push of a button they create church names for you!  Try it, it’s amazing.

My point is that churches have been experimenting for centuries, using all kinds of names to describe what they are about!  How should we describe a church?  A few weeks ago, I said that “family” is a good word, because Peter taught that we should love one another.  But it seems like Peter himself maybe wasn’t totally sure how to describe a church.  In our next section of 1st Peter, 2:4-10, he uses a whole bunch of ways to describe the church.  And some of them are…unexpected.  Check back in tomorrow to find out what they are!

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.

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?

The one thing you need (to make it as a stranger in the world)

12 Jun

In a world of partiality and discrimination and bias, where is the one place that still considers everyone impartially?

The church?  Nope.  Martin Luther King Jr. said years ago that Sunday morning is one of the most racially segregated places in America, and it is still true today.

I read an article this week that posed the question I started with. The one place in our society that still considers everyone impartially is the field of medicine.  The author, Atul Gawande, tells a story about how he had to treat a scary prisoner who was making threatening comments.  How would you feel if you were supposed to treat that patient? You’d have to be impartial.

Today as we continue our study in 1st Peter, Peter mentions the concept of partiality as foundational to the concept I mentioned yesterday, strangers.

I mentioned how off-kilter we can feel when we are placed in the position of being a stranger.  Today Peter addresses his readers as “strangers”, and he connects strangerhood with partiality.

Read 1 Peter 1:17-21 and 2:11-12.  (Then glance back at 1 Peter 1:1-2 where Peter started his letter by calling his readers “strangers in the world.”)  Did you see how Peter repeats this description of his audience?  In 1:17, he calls them “strangers”, and 2:11 he calls them “aliens and strangers”.  The Christians Peter was writing to were more than likely refugees in their lands.  Some of them had to flee to new areas to avoid religious persecution.  Some of them were ethnically different from the people around them.  But Peter has another deeper reason for calling them strangers and aliens.  He seems to hint that their status as aliens and strangers is as it should be.  Why?  We’ll get to that tomorrow.

Before he delves in the importance of them living as strangers and aliens, Peter reminds them that God is impartial. He says “Since you call on a Father who judges each man’s work impartially, live your lives as strangers here in reverent fear.”  Why does he bring God’s impartiality into this discussion?

The author of the article I mentioned above wasn’t saying that all doctors and nurses and hospitals are perfectly impartial, but he was saying that impartiality should be their goal.  I thought it was also an argument that should be made for Christians and the church.  Why? Because Peter is right, our God is impartial! He treats everyone the same.  We are all equally loved and valued in his eyes.  We love to apply that thought to ourselves.  God loves me!  But when we start to apply God’s impartiality to the whole world, it can be hard to take.

ISIS people who chop the heads off captives?  Equally loved by God.

Registered sex offenders who live in our neighborhoods?  Equally loved by God.

Muslims celebrating Ramadan?  Equally loved by God.

The super annoying neighbor or family member or co-worker or Facebook-poster?  Equally loved by God.

Republicans and Democrats?  Equally loved by God.

Illegal aliens from Mexico who want to jump over a border wall?  Loved by God.

You are all loved by God.  The people you hate are loved by God.  The people who have hurt you are deeply loved by God.

And when you have that kind of love going for you, you can live your lives as strangers here in reverent fear.  Our ability to live as strangers is rooted in the impartial love of God.  God is for us.  If we feel alone at a new job, if we are having a hard time making friends at a new school, if our neighbors are not speaking to us, and if we have a broken relationship in our family, all of these things can make us feel like strangers in the world.  But in the midst of any situation that leaves us feeling like strangers or aliens, we can always know that our impartial God loves us.  Other people may judge unfairly and make us feel like strangers, but God will always love us impartially.

The impartial love of God is foundational for living our lives as strangers here in reverent fear!  Do you need to be reminded of how much God loves you?  Do you need to spend time alone with God, just soaking up the passages of Scripture that affirm God’s love?  Do you need to reflect on the amazing self-giving love of Jesus, of his birth, life, death and resurrection?

One of my favorite reminders of God’s love is Romans 8:31-39.  Maybe read this a couple times, and let the truth of God’s love for you sink deep into your heart and mind:

31 What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? 33 Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. 34 Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 36 As it is written:

“For your sake we face death all day long;
we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”

37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Check back in tomorrow as we hear what Peter says about how to live as strangers in the world!