Tag Archives: 1st peter

The Top 5 adjectives that should describe a church family (do you know them?)

1 Aug

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Get out a pen and paper, or open up a note-taking app.  What are the first five adjectives that come to mind if you were trying to answer the question: “What are the five top adjectives that should describe a church family?”

This week we are studying 1 Peter 3:8-12 where Peter teaches how a church family should interact with one another.  Yesterday we saw the first of five adjectives that Peter says should define a church: harmonious.  A church should be unified.  Today we going to look at the remaining four adjectives, and I think you’ll see that they all very much relate to or support the idea of being harmonious.

The second adjective is Sympathetic.  Sympathy is when you have common feelings or emotions with someone.  Hear the unity in that?

Third is Brotherly Love.  This is the Greek word philadelphia again, just like we saw in 1:22, “love for your brothers.” Same word.  This is vital for unity.  Love is the basis for unity.

Next is Compassionate.  The passion part of this word is not about erotic passion.  The word Peter is using is about painful passion.  We English speakers almost never use the word passion like that, except in one week of the year.  You know which week?  Holy Week.  It is also called Passion Week, and churches do Passion Plays, and what passion are they talking about?  Jesus’ passion, his suffering!  Jesus’ arrest, beating, crucifixion and death are his passion, his pain, his suffering.  And that is what the word compassion is getting at.  It means to “suffer with someone.”  We normally think of compassion as when we see someone hurting and we go, “Awwww…it will be okay,” or some platitude like that.  But true compassion is to enter into the pain with that person.  That is a whole deeper level of kindness and relationship that we can see totally spurs on unity!

Finally, Be Humble.  That one is huge.  Humility, teachability is critical for unity in the church family.  I cannot emphasize this enough.  In a church family, we must simply be humble.  Pride and arrogance will destroy our relationships.  When I did my missionary internship between my junior and senior years in college, I spent three months in Guyana, South America.  There were probably 15-20 different missionaries working together in the same general area.  My host family were really awesome, and they taught me so much about ministry.  One thing they taught me was humility.  One night the wife was telling me about how they had been having significant relationship problems with one of the missionaries.  This other missionary was being extremely difficult about a policy and making false accusations against my host family.  They prayed hard about how to respond, because they knew they had not done what they were accused of.  You know what my missionary host family told me they decided to do?  “It is better to take one for the team and preserve unity, than it is to be right.”  Wow.  That’s humility.

Those are the five adjectives Peter says should describe a church family: harmonious, sympathetic, brotherly love, compassion and humility.  So how many did you get?  And more importantly, are there any that you need to work on?  Who can you talk with in your church family about improving on that characteristic?

But Peter is not done.  He finally gets to some verbs. We’ll start looking at them tomorrow!

5 church family killers

26 Jun

Photo by Shelby Miller on Unsplash

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peter says get rid of envy.

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

Peter says get rid of slander.

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

Maybe.  Maybe not.

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

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

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

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

19 Jun

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As Howard Snyder says,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The one thing needed for a church to become a family

18 Jun

Photo by Karl Fredrickson on Unsplash

One church I visited during sabbatical did something that weirded me out a bit.  You know what they did?  During the worship service they introduced themselves to new guests by saying, “We’re a family here, and we want you to be a part of our family.”

You might be thinking, “Joel, why did that weird you out? Don’t many churches say that?”

Well, as a first-time guest there, I have to be honest that when I heard them say they wanted me to be a part of their family, it felt intrusive and odd.  I thought, “Does this church really think that I could become part of their family after one visit?  I’m not part of their family after just one visit.”

Or how about Olive Garden Restaurants which once had an advertising slogan stating, “When you’re here, you’re family”?  That’s nice, but it’s not true.  Deep family-like relationships take time.  You can’t just walk through the doors of restaurant or a church and instantly become family, right?

Then it hit me.  I call Faith Church a family too!  Our church newsletter used to be called The Family of Faith newsletter.  We often start our weekly church emails with the line “Dear Family of Faith Church.”  I had to admit that though I felt weirded out at that other church, I still want Faith Church to be a family, not just a label, but an actual family.

I believe that identifying as a family and acting like a family is a primary distinguishing feature of what any local church should be.  But as I sat in that other church service, I had a whole new perspective.  You can’t just declare that people are your family, can you?

I know, I know, maybe I’m being picky.  Good for those churches or any organizations that want people to feel like family.  That’s really the important thing, right?  We want the people in our church to become like a family, to act like a family, and for new people to become part of the family.

This week we continue looking at 1st Peter, and we come to the end of chapter one, verses 21-25.  Remember that Peter is writing to Christians scattered around the Roman Empire. He has called them strangers and aliens.  But are they a family?  Read the passage and see what Peter has to say.

After you read the passage, look with me at the middle of the passage.  Did you see in verse 23 that Peter brings up the idea of being born again? What does “born again” mean?  This is the second time that Peter has mentioned this.  The previous time was in verse 3.  What does it mean to be born again?

Born again means a new beginning, a new life, but this time the Holy Spirit of God is with you, helping you and empowering you to be different.

It is an image that points to the transformation that we Christians should be seeing in our lives. And furthermore, just as we saw last week, our new birth in Christ means we have citizenship in a new country. In the same way, our new birth in Christ means we are born into a new family.

Now let’s go back and add verses 21 and 22.  Peter says that being born again starts with belief (which he mentions in verse 21).  Being born again starts with believing in God who raised Jesus from the dead, so that our faith is in God.  Belief, faith, and trusting in God is the critical starting point.  But it doesn’t stop there.  True faith in God, and the evidence of new birth, Peter says, is obedience to the truth (as he mentions in verse 22).  Put these two things together (belief in verse 21 and obedience in verse 22) and you get the words of the classic hymn “Trust and obey, for there’s no other way, to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.”

As we have seen so many times already in his letter, Peter is not teaching something new here.  He is repeating what Jesus taught him.  Jesus often told his disciples that they, followers of Jesus, first say, “Yes, Lord, I place my faith in you,” and then follow up that faith with action, obeying the teachings of Jesus.  When that trusting and obeying happens we can know that we have been reborn into a new family that resides in a new Kingdom.

What is so interesting, then, is that when Peter talks about obedience in verse 22, he mentions one thing that is the outflow of the obedience.  He has all kinds of actions he could choose from to illustrate obedience to Jesus here: Tell the truth.  Be honest.  Preach the Gospel.  Feed the hungry.  Clothe the naked.  Give to the poor.  He doesn’t choose any of those.  Later in his letter he’ll get to some of that.  But for now, he chooses one thing and one thing only to illustrate obedience to Jesus.  That means this one thing he chooses is probably very important for us to learn.  What is that one thing?  Look at the final phrase of verse 22.

“Love one another deeply from the heart.”

Once again, Peter is teaching something that Jesus taught him.  Check out Jesus’ teaching in John 13:34-35.  “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, that you love one another.”

There you have it: Christians, followers of Jesus, are born again into a new family that is marked clearly by loving one another deeply from the heart.

Check back in tomorrow as we explore further what Peter meant by “love”.  It might surprise you.

The day I felt like a stranger and couldn’t find my car

11 Jun

Photo by Ian Valerio on Unsplash

Years ago I was delivering a meal to refugees in the city of Lancaster.  They had newly arrived from years of living in a refugee camp in a faraway country, having fled for their lives from their home country.  They arrived at the refugee camp with extremely few possessions and hardly any opportunity.  Imagine the feeling of not just losing all you have, but also having to leave your home and country and start over with next to nothing.  It’s almost impossible for us to imagine.

Thankfully, many countries like the USA allow refugees to come to their countries to start over.  After what usually takes at least 15-18 years, organizations like Church World Service helps families through the resettlement process.  I was delivering a meal to a family that had gone through that long process and had just arrived in Lancaster, scared and anxious to start a new life in a country where they wouldn’t have to flee for their lives because of their beliefs or ethnicity.  Imagine how unsettled they felt, moving to a new country, with a new language, new customs, new people, everything new.  Imagine how it would feel to receive a meal from a stranger.

It was nighttime, and I was unfamiliar with that part of Lancaster city, so I was feeling just a tinge unsettled myself.  Nothing like the unsettled feelings the refugee family was experiencing of course, but I still felt those uncomfortable feelings we all feel when we’re trying to find a house on a dark, unfamiliar street, and we are going to meet people we don’t know.  Further, I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to communicate with them.  None of this was bad.  I was glad to do it, but it definitely had me on edge a bit.

I finally found the house, parked outside it, delivered the meal, chatted with them briefly, as best I could, and then I needed to be on my way. I walked outside…and my car was gone!  Immediately that feeling of fear and disaster took over me.  You know it, right?  Flushed red, body heat radiating from me, heart racing.  I quickly scanned up and down the street.  No car.

I was starting to really feel the nerves, when way down the block at the intersection, I noticed a car stopped in the middle of the intersection, waiting under the stoplights.  It was my car!

What the???

Then it hit me.  I had been thrown off, mentally and emotionally, trying to find the house, preparing to meet the new family, that when I parked my car, I must have forgotten to put the emergency brake on.  My car at the time was a manual transmission, and the grade of hill in front of the house was just slight enough that when I stopped and put the car in neutral, I didn’t feel like I was on a hill.  In the few minutes that I was in the house, the grade of the hill was enough that the car, with no e-brake on, slowly drifted down the street, into the intersection where the grade of the hill evened out, and the car stopped!

Whew!  Even though I was super thankful my car was safe, as I ran down the street hoping no one was watching, my heart was really pumping at the disaster that could have been. It’s amazing, isn’t it, how off we can be when we are feeling like strangers.

I thought about how it feels to be a stranger in a new area.  How much more the refugees must have been feeling like strangers.

How about you?  Do you know the feeling of being a stranger?  Have you ever been the new person at work?  Have you ever had to change schools and start at a new school?  Have you moved to a new neighborhood, new state?  It feels awkward and difficult, right?  Have you ever been in a new country, with a new language and new customs?  In 2016 when I joined my wife Michelle on a trip to visit her work in Cambodia, with all the Buddhist temples and almost no evidence of Christianity anywhere, it was awkward.

The people Peter is writing to in 1st Peter are living the stranger’s life.  They are a tiny minority.  There were few Christians in the Roman Empire.  So what does he say to them?  Check in tomorrow and we’ll find out.

We really need grace

17 May

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Do you or anyone you know go by a nickname?  I love the band U2, and both the lead singer Bono and lead guitarist, The Edge, go by the nicknames.  Bono has said on numerous occasions that even The Edge’s mom calls him “The Edge”.

But I wonder how many people with a nickname refer to themselves by their nickname?

As we learned last week, Saint Peter, whose first letter we are studying at Faith Church, had a nickname,   The Rock. Check our 1st Peter 1:1, and look how Peter starts the letter.  With his nickname!  The Rock.  Fair warning…you won’t see the words “The Rock.”  You’ll see the name “Peter”, but in Greek that name means “Rock.”  Peter’s actual name was “Simon”.  Does anyone else find it interesting that Peter used his nickname rather than his actual name?

Sometimes nicknames stick!  After 30 years of Peter being the leader of the church, he was The Rock.

Peter also calls himself an Apostle of Jesus Christ.

So far I have called Peter a disciple of Jesus.  What is this word “apostle”?  It refers to someone who is carrying a special message.  Generally, the 12 disciples became known as the 12 apostles.  These guys who followed Jesus became special messengers of Jesus.  The word we would more commonly use in English for an apostle is ____________.  Can you guess it?  Missionary.  That’s what Peter was. You can read about his mission trips in the book of the Bible called Acts.  Peter was a missionary, a special messenger, an apostle of Jesus Christ.

But who is he writing to?  Look at verse 1 and 2. He uses numerous phrases to describe the recipients of the letter:

To God’s elect, Strangers in the world, Scattered throughout Asia, Chosen according to the foreknowledge of God, Through the sanctifying work of the Spirit for obedience to Jesus Christ and sprinkling by his blood.

In that short description of these people, Peter packs a lot in.  Did you feel you just jumped into the deep end of the theological pool?  Geesh.

Remember how last week the religious establishment guys in Jerusalem looked down on Peter calling him an unschooled man?  Now listen to Peter.  He is starts off his letter laying on some thick theology.

And what’s more, Peter gets into one of the most divisive theological issues of our time.  Do we choose God or does God choose us?

For Peter that question is easy to answer.  God chooses.  “Chosen according to the foreknowledge of God.”  That’s pretty clear.  “God’s elect” means God elects them.  God chooses them.  What is not so easy to understand is what Peter meant by all this talk of choosing and electing.  There are two main ways that Christians through the ages have used to help us understand.

One is the deterministic way.  God determines everything and we don’t.  We might think we are choosing him, but determinists say that our feeling of choice is basically a mirage.  God gives faith to some and not to others.  That is the deterministic view.

The other way is the free will view.  God gives us free will to either choose him or not.  We think we are choosing him, free will says, because we actually are.

Each method has its difficulties.  Take the deterministic view.  If God chooses us, then how can he punish those he didn’t choose?  Doesn’t seem fair, right?  And it also really doesn’t seem like my act of choosing is a mirage.  I feel like I am making my own free choices.  I see very little evidence of God controlling everything.

The free will view seems to answer those problems nicely.  If God gives free will, it makes a lot more sense for him to punish sin, right?  Because the sinner doesn’t have to sin.  The sinner can choose God.  Also, free will seems to fit our common experience of life, right?  We feel like we are doing the choosing.  But free will has a problem too.  Peter just said God chooses, God elects.  Peter did not say God gave us free will so we could choose.  And Peter is not the only writer of Scripture to teach this.  The problem free will has is that it seems like the Biblical writers teach God as doing the choosing, not us.

So what do we do?  Do we choose God or does he choose us?

I am going to give you the wonderfully satisfying answer of: “I don’t know.”  That’s just a horrible answer, isn’t it?  You want to me to take a side, right?  At least give my opinion, right?

Well, okay, if you say so.

I think Peter is teaching both actually.  I think the other writers of Scripture are teaching both.  What I mean is this.  God gives us free will and he chooses us. That seem impossible?  A logical fallacy?

Here’s what I believe is the best way to make sense of this:

God chooses corporately, not individually.  Usually the determinists, those who hold to God as chooser, God as elector, believe that God is choosing individuals.  God chooses one person to be saved and go to heaven.  And he decides not to choose the next person, so that person will go to hell.

My denomination, the EC Church comes from a wing of the Christian Church that views God, not as choosing individuals, but God as choosing corporately.  In the Old Testament, God chose a whole people group, the nation of Israel, to be his chosen people.  People from outside Israel could choose to become part of Israel.  In fact, from the very beginning, in his covenant with Abraham, the grandfather of the nation of Israel, God said to Abraham, “I have a mission for your family.  I want you to be a blessing to the whole world.”  God envisioned Abraham’s family, part of which would become the nation of Israel, to be a missionary nation, a nation that actively sought out the rest of the world to join Israel in following God.  Sadly, Israel would go on to do an incredibly poor job of fulfilling that mission.

God gave Israel many, many chances to do better, and after eventually God decided to create a new covenant with a new group of people.  But the mission stayed the same for the new group: reach the whole world with the message of God’s good news.

Who is the new group of people that God chose?  The new group is all those who are in Christ. I believe that is what Peter is talking about here.  God chooses not individuals, but instead he gives us free will to choose to be in Christ.  We cannot choose to be outside of Christ and still expect to be in God’s family.  Why?  Because God chooses only those who are in Christ.  One way to put it is that God does not choose individuals, instead he chooses the method by which individuals of their own free will choose him.  And that method is in Christ alone.

Here’s where Peter’s greeting and conclusion are really powerful.  Just because we have free will to choose Christ, it doesn’t mean that God is totally standoffish, wondering what we will do.

Peter talks about another key factor at work helping us to understand this.  Grace.  Look at verse 3, and Peter’s first message in his letter is this: Grace and Peace.  Keep your finger in 1 Peter 1, and flip a few pages to the end of the book, to 1 Peter 5:12, and notice some of his final words of the letter: “stand fast in God’s grace.”  Peter bookends his letter by referring to God’s grace.  Why?  Because God’s grace is at work in the world and in our lives.

The official word for this is Prevenient Grace.  Prevenient simply means “that which comes before.”  Use it as an adjective to explain grace, and Prevenient Grace means “grace that comes before.”  But what in the world is “grace that comes before?”

The United Methodist Church summarizes well when it says that our evangelical forefather John Wesley, “understood grace as God’s active presence in our lives. This presence is not dependent on human actions or human response. It is a gift — a gift that is always available, but a gift that can be refused. God’s grace stirs up within us a desire to know God and empowers us to respond to God’s invitation to be in relationship with God. God’s grace enables us to discern differences between good and evil and makes it possible for us to choose the good. God takes the initiative in relating to humanity. We do not have to beg and plead for God’s love and grace. God actively seeks us!”

So we don’t have a standoffish God.  We have a God that seeks us, that woos us, that desires to be in relationship with us.  That is grace.  Grace is undeserved favor.  We don’t deserve a God who so actively chases after we who turn away from him.  And yet, Peter says, look at what God did in Jesus!  Jesus gave his life so that the sin that made it impossible for us to be in relationship with God could be dealt with.  God made things right, out of his gracious desire to be with us.  That is amazing.

We can bank on that, Peter says. More on that in just a minute.  Because I have skipped over something important.

Who is Peter writing to?

Look at verse 1, he calls them strangers, scattered people from many places.  With this opening description, Peter begins a theme that will be very important for him.  Christians need to see themselves as strangers who were scattered.  Peter wrote this letter not to one person or one church, but to Christians at the time who had been scattered around the world.  They were Christians living their lives as strangers in foreign countries, scattered away from their homeland.  Many were refugees.

Why? Because it was a difficult time for the church.

As we will see throughout our study, Peter addresses the fact that the Christians are being persecuted.

Peter is their leader. He lives in Rome. The Roman Emperor Nero lives in Rome.  The historians tell us that Nero, at the end of his life, persecuted Christians.  It is likely that both Peter and the apostle Paul died at Nero’s bidding.  But what we don’t see in the time period Peter is writing is Empire-wide state-sponsored persecution of Christians.  Our best guess is that Nero did not try to wipe out Christianity.  So the persecution that Peter refers to throughout his letter is more likely happening to Christians in the localities where they are scattered. The persecution is not in every town and city.  And it is not like they are all being burned at the stake. The persecution varies.  But it is still persecution.  Many Christians have been disenfranchised or displaced.

You can bet Peter hears the talk wafting through the Christian community.  Christianity is only 30 years old at this point.  That’s not a lot of time to develop a rock solid foundation.  If the persecution continues or gets worse, people could easily turn away.  Peter knows he needs to write the Christians who might be feeling like this Christianity thing is no longer worth it.  And that leads to the letter we are reading now.

Peter is not writing to people who are citizens of one national country or city. Peter wants to give them a higher vision.  He says they are strangers in a strange land.  Why?  Strangers?  They are citizens in heaven, and they should live for a purpose, which he describes in verse 2.  Their purpose is “for obedience to Jesus Christ” no matter what is going on.

That is our purpose.  Are we ready for obedience to Christ?  To get ready, we need to see ourselves not as citizens of a country on earth, but as strangers here.  We need to see our citizenship in heaven.  Our citizenship in heaven is the true citizenship, and we are actually strangers in a nation here on earth.  That can be a very hard reality for Christians to grasp.  We are strangers here.

As strangers here, though we aren’t facing persecution like the people Peter was writing to, we need to be ready.  Jesus talked a lot about this.  Be ready for his return.  Persecution may never arrive.  I hope it never does.  But Jesus taught, and the book of Revelation reminds us, that Jesus’ return could be preceded by persecution.  I know many teachers teach that there will be a rapture, meaning that all Christians will be removed from the earth and escape persecution.  Maybe.  But maybe not. Scholars are VERY divided in how to interpret that.  Persecution could come.  And we need to be ready.  We are called to follow Jesus no matter if life is going really well or if life is terrible.

I also encourage you to remember that there are many Christians being persecuted NOW.  The church is being persecuted around the world. And we need to remember that, pray.

In our church fellowship hall, we have copies of Persecuted magazine.  They send five copies every month.  I encourage you to pick it up and read it.

In my prayer time, I use an app called Prayer Mate, and one of its features you can choose is to bring in a new prayer request each day for someone around the world who is being persecuted for their faith.  I love that.  Imagine thousands of Prayer Mate users praying for the person.  How that must feel to be that person?  I hope and pray they can feel God at work answering the prayer of his people, encouraging that person by his Holy Spirit.

And we return to what Peter’s first message is 1:2 “Grace and peace to you.”  And then we look at how he repeats that message in 5:12-14 when he says “Stand fast in the grace of God…[and]…Peace to all of you who are in Christ.”

Grace and peace.

God’s prevenient grace is at work in the world, wooing us to find peace in him.  We can’t control God’s grace, and we don’t want to!  It is his loving choice to shower grace on us, that we might find peace in him.

And what Peter says is that our response is to obey and stand firm in that grace.  Peter, The Rock, knows who the real firm foundation is.  Not him.  He surely knew that.  Peter, the Rock, found a firm foundation in God’s grace.

If you feel like life is anything but firm, I get it.  I talked about my own struggles with anxiety a few weeks ago.  When anxiety hits, when stress rises, when life gets complicated and difficult, it feels like our lives are built on quicksand.

We all seek a firm foundation in life. If our core relationships are not solid, we can be so tempted to betray those core relationships and find other ones that are rock solid.  If we feel an unsettledness, a dissatisfaction, a struggle, with work, with our homes, with our finances, we often go looking for other things in life that we feel rock solid.

Peter, The Rock, says we have a rock solid firm foundation in the grace of God.  The pursuing, loving Grace of God.

This past week I had an anxiety day on Thursday, and as I walked back the hallway of the church, I saw one of the signs the kids made.  I have walked by that sign hundreds of times.  Never struck me before. You know what it says?  Be still and know that I am God.  Psalm 46:10.  I hadn’t been still.  The previous few days were filled and busy and I hadn’t spent time with God, basking in his grace, knowing that his grace is the solid foundation.  I needed that reminder.

Choose to rest in his grace.  That means actually opening up space and time in your life to be with God.  To rest in him.  To be quiet before him.  It might take practice.  To be silent before God is super hard, especially when it feels like life is falling apart all around you.  In those moments the last thing we want to do is stop and be quiet and listen for God.

Standing firm in God’s grace, no doubt about it, is an act of faith in God, right smack in the moment of our struggle, when it seems like God is not there.  Standing firm in God’s grace in that moment means believing that God is who he says he is, and then choosing an action, or more likely a persistent ongoing series of actions, that show we are placing our faith in him.  That is the obedience that Paul is talking about in verse 2.

What will it look like for to stand firm in God’s grace today?  This week?  I encourage you to have someone like Peter, The Rock, in your life.  Someone who has seen firsthand through the years that they can build their life on Jesus.  Sure, Peter was nicknamed The Rock.  But he knew that Jesus was the real  rock of his life.  Who will that be for you?  Who will help you build your life on The Rock of Jesus?