Tag Archives: church family

How to be a peacemaker (shocking lessons from an “insane” person!)

3 Aug

Image result for seek peace and pursue it

All week long, we’ve been looking at 1 Peter 3:8-12 where Peter teaches a very difficult thing to do: when people insult you, ask God to bless them.

Is Peter saying you can never defend yourself?  I would submit that Peter would answer, “No. You can defend yourself. But there is a right way and a right wrong to defend yourself.”

First of all, if you are abused, report it and get safe.  We live in a country where there is legal recourse to deal with abuse.  That is a very good thing.  Not all countries throughout history have been like this.  There are certainly Christians living in places around the world even today where they are physically abused, maybe sexually and emotionally too, and they have no recourse.  Imagine how difficult it must be for them to hear Peter’s words.  They might not be able to get safe.  They too, however, can bless those who persecute them.

Thankfully, ours is a country where abuse and persecution are not tolerated.  But I think here in his letter Peter is primarily thinking about how interpersonal relations in a church family can get ugly.  Meanness.  Unkindness. Gossip. In those cases he is not saying, “Do not stick up for yourself.”

He is saying that there is a difference between aggression and assertiveness.  We do not need to attack back.  It will only make things worse if you attack back.

I once heard Ravi Zacharias say: “When you throw mud at others, you not only get your hands dirty, but you lose a lot ground in the process.”  When people are evil to us, or insult us, we are not to get revenge.  Instead, as I said yesterday, if they insult you, eulogize ’em!

Peter supports his argument with a quote from the Old Testament.  Psalm 34:12-16 to be exact. Psalm 34 is a fascinating psalm written by the great poet, warrior, king of Israel David. And it has a wonderful backstory.  The subtitle of Psalm 34 tells us that David wrote this psalm as he was reflecting on a really difficult situation in his life.  At the time he was a fugitive, on the run from his father-in-law King Saul who wanted to kill David.  In 1 Samuel 21 we read that David made the surprising decision, after retrieving Goliath’s sword (the same Philistine Goliath from Gath whom David had killed years earlier), to go to enemy Philistine territory, and of all places the city of Gath.  Can you tell that David was under a lot of pressure and maybe not thinking straight?  He arrives at Gath, and the Philistine leaders there are very suspicious.  In their eyes David was the most well-known Philistine killer.  Not only had he killed their hometown hero Goliath, but in the years following, he had commanded Israelite armies that had killed thousands of other Philistines.  Now he is in their town, hoping for asylum?  David sees their reactions, their doubt, their fear, and he starts thinking “Uh-oh…did I just make a horrible decision coming here?” This would be the Philistines perfect opportunity to get their revenge on David. So what does he do?  He acts insane, to the point of allowing drool to dribble down his beard!  I encourage you to read the account for yourself.  It’s quite a vivid episode in David’s life.  Find out how the Philistines reacted to his insanity ploy!

That is what David was thinking about when he wrote Psalm 34.  The whole psalm is amazing and deserves lots of attention and further study, but Peter only quotes verses 12-16, so that will be my focus here.

I’ll start in Psalm 34 verse 11, “Come, my children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the Lord.” I see David in Psalm 34 as older man, wanting to pass on wisdom to his grandkids.  Telling them the story of the time he pretended to be crazy, and then saying these words.  And what does he say?

He starts with: “Whoever of you loves life and desires to see many good days…”

You probably don’t have to look hard to find people who love life and desire to see good days. So for those who want that, what do you have to do?  David has some specific instructions.

He says, “keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking lies. Turn from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it.”

Four things that line right up with Peter’s teaching, and can be summed with: control your mouth!  That means not speaking any evil or lies, no matter what has been done to you.  Then do good.  Turn from evil.  Finally, seek peace. Actually pursue it.

David is not just saying, “be a peaceful person;” he is saying the we should be actively pursuing peace.  Seek it out, make it happen. When you pursue something, you strive for it, and it often takes intense effort.

David, therefore, is not just reactive; he is teaching a proactive seeking of peace.  When our seminary president, Tony Blair, spoke at Faith Church a few years ago, he made a comment I’ll never forget, “mature Christians deflate drama.”  Peace-seekers reduce drama.  And that can be hard work, but it is necessary work in the life of a church, family, workplace, or neighborhood.

This does not mean you agree with people all the time.  It means that you handle things in such a way that drama is reduced.  This goes back to verse 9 and choosing not to react back, or fight back against someone who has been evil to you or insulted you.

Finally look at verse 12, where David personifies the Lord.  God is spirit.  He doesn’t have a body.  It’s hard to know how to depict God.  When I illustrated this part of the sermon, I chose a lion for the slide because there are times in the Bible when God is described as lion.  He’s not a lion.  But look at how David uses human body parts to teach us about the Lord.

Eyes – on the righteous

Ears – attentive to their prayer

Face – against those who do evil

What a comfort!  No matter what is going on in our lives, our God knows, our God hears, and our God defends.  That means we can take hope in the Lord and do good, loving those in the church family, even when people are unkind to us.  He knows, he is on the side of the righteous!

If they insult you, eulogize them!  Guess what I learned this week?  I should love eulogies!  I should be eulogizing all the time!

How to handle difficult people: When they insult you, eulogize ’em!

2 Aug

I learned a shocking thing about eulogies, and in this post I’m going to reveal what I learned.

This week we are studying 1 Peter 3:8-12, and so far we have learned the Top 5 adjectives that Peter says should describe a church family.  Now he gets to some verbs, some actions that members of a church family should practice.

Look at Verse 9 and we see the verb “paying back”, or as the NIV says “repay”.  This can be positive or negative.  You have to look at the context.  A payback can be very positive, right? When you borrow money, you pay it back.  That is good.  Or when someone is kind to you, then you are kind back.  Or you might pay it forward.  You are sitting at the drive through and the person in front of you pays for your meal, so you pay for the meal of the person behind you.  Those are awesome paybacks.

Then there are other not so awesome paybacks.  And that is the verb, the action Peter is talking about.  But he puts a tiny little three letter word in front of it, the word “not”.  Do not repay.  Do not do the negative paybacks. At a recent youth group pool party, I witnessed tons of paybacks.  A person would be standing on the edge of the pool, and another person nearby would push them in!  Guess what would happen five minutes later?  Yeah, paybacks.  I think we got to the point where there paybacks for paybacks for paybacks.

The first things Peter mentions is paying back evil for evil.  Don’t do that, he says.  The second thing he mentions is paying back insult with insult. Don’t do that either.

The word Peter uses for “insult” means “highly insulting and slanderous.”  We are not sure if Peter is referring to the method or the message, or both.  It doesn’t matter.  Don’t do either one.  Don’t speak with an insulting tone, and don’t speak insulting messages.  He is saying “Don’t pay back an insulting comment with an insult of your own.”

This requires huge amounts of self-control and love.  We need it in church families just as much as we need it in any family, any friendship, and workplace, any neighborhood.  Christians show self-control when someone treats us bad.

How about you?  Do you have trouble with self-control?  Has your mouth gotten you in trouble?   The escalation of insulting one another is rampant in our society, and it can happen in the church too.  Drama increases! What should we do when people are mean to us?

As Peter continues in verse 9, he gives us the answer.  Guess what?  He says the answer is eulogy!  See the word “Blessing”? In Greek this is the word from which we get our English word “eulogy.”

I have done a lot of eulogies in funerals.  But Peter doesn’t have a funeral in mind here.  He is saying “Eulogize people when they insult you!”  Now, when you are insulted, you might be inwardly wishing it was that person’s funeral!  But no, Peter is saying, bless them.  Here is the definition of eulogy, the specific word that Peter uses.  This definition blew me away, when I thought about how Peter uses it in the context of a person who has just been insulted!  The definition is “to ask God to bestow divine favor on, with the implication that the verbal act itself constitutes a significant benefit[1]

That is amazing.  When they insult you, eulogize ‘em! And it doesn’t mean you wish them dead!  It means you ask for God to bless them.

What’s more, Peter supports his teaching by saying that we Christians are called to eulogize people who insult us, so that we might inherit a eulogy.

Think about that.  If we bless people who insult us, or who are evil to us, that means that we will inherit a blessing.  Again, remember the definition of this word blessing, eulogy, “to ask God to bestow divine favor on.”  Would you like God to bestow his favor on you?  If so, we are to be the kind of people who ask God to bestow his favor on those who insult us or who are evil to us!

So now whenever someone says something mean to you, just put on a smile and say “I am going to eulogize you right now.”  They’ll give you a weird look.  So maybe don’t do that…they might misunderstand and think that you want them dead, which could make things worse!

Instead, you might just need to not say anything.  You know yourself.  When you are attacked, you might have a really hard time reacting with kindness.  If so, maybe the victory for you is to just respond with a smile, and pray silently in your thoughts that God would shine his favor on them.

You’ll have to evaluate the emotional temperature of the situation.  It may be that the person is so upset that they are not in a place to hear anything, even blessing.

For one of my college soccer games, we were playing another Christian college.  I played defense and my main job that game was to cover one-on-one an offensive guy from the other team.  So we battled a lot throughout the course of the game, and this guy had some attitude.

There we are, players from two Christians schools playing a level of soccer that was maybe the quality of good public high schools.  Not world cup.  Not professional.  Not even close.  And this guy on the other team was fired up, pulling at my jersey, talking nasty to me, and I’m thinking to myself, “You have got to be kidding me.”  Now I will admit that it was not a proper eulogy or blessing, and my attitude definitely had a dose of snarkiness, but at one point I looked at him and said, “Jesus loves you, man.” It was a Christian soccer player attempt at repaying an insult with a blessing.  The funny thing is that it seemed to hit home. 

After the game, he actually came up to me, shook hands and thanked me, saying that it totally convicted him!  I was shocked.  Glad, but shocked.  Embarrassed because my motivations weren’t totally pure, but still amazed that God used that.  When we played that team the next year, that guy came right up to me with a big smile, remembering the previous years’ interaction and he was like a totally different guy.  It was wild.

When they insult you, eulogize ‘em.

[1] Louw, Johannes P., and Eugene Albert Nida. Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament: based on semantic domains 1996 : 441. Print.

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!

How a church family can disagree but still be harmonious

31 Jul

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Is your church family harmonious?  How much should a church family agree with one another?  Is it okay if there is disagreement in a church family?

Yesterday we began looking at 1 Peter 3:8-12, and I said that Peter is talking to all Christians about how they should interact with one another in their church families.  He starts off with five adjectives that should describe us.  Today we look at the first one, and tomorrow we’ll see how the remaining four support the first.

Adjective #1.  Christians should be harmonious

The word Peter uses for “harmonious” means, “Pertaining to being of the same mind or having the same thoughts as someone else.”  So Peter could be translated here as saying, “all should be like-minded”. The dictionary I use says that the word Peter uses is a word picture of “having thoughts that follow the same path.[1]

Harmony is a musical word.  To make harmony, not everyone is singing the exact same tune.  In fact they are singing different tunes that work together.  But we know right away when harmony is poor, right?

Peter is not saying that everyone in a church family must think about everything exactly the same. That would be uniformity. Peter is not suggesting that we need to strive for uniformity in the church.  Peter is talking about unity, where we have the same goals, same mission, same heart, but we can still disagree about a great many things, in love.

What are some areas where we can disagree?  Politics and matters of ethics are areas where I think it is obvious that people in my Faith Church family disagree.  We have Republicans and we have Democrats.  We have those who are conservative and those who are moderate and those who are liberal.  We have people think that certain behaviors are okay, and people who think those same behaviors are wrong.  Those differences are completely normal, and even to be expected.

Though we have differences of opinions about many things, we are to be harmonious.

There are a few things that are non-negotiable, and the rest we can disagree in love. Have you heard the phrase:  “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; and in all things, charity.”  I find it to be very helpful in providing a framework for how Christians in a church family can be harmonious.  Let’s look at all three levels.

In Essentials, Unity

What are the essentials in which we are to practice unity?

Historically, the Apostles’ Creed.  This is what Christians everywhere, from the very early days of the church, said out loud together to give voice to what is true Christian teaching:

I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, And in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord, Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, Born of the Virgin Mary, Suffered under Pontius Pilate, Was crucified, dead, and buried. He descended into hell; The third day He rose again from the dead; He ascended into heaven, And sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty; From thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead. I believe in the Holy Ghost; The Holy catholic Church, the Communion of Saints; The Forgiveness of sins; The Resurrection of the body, And the Life everlasting. Amen.

I think it is best to keep as small as possible the theological statements that we feel are absolutely essential to be followers of Jesus.  The Creed is perhaps the best foundation.

In Non-Essentials, Liberty

What are some examples of the middle level, the non-essentials?  One could be differences in churches’ modes of baptism.  Or differences in how we practice communion.  These and many other doctrines express differences that distinguish between denominations.

I think the EC Church does a great job of asking its members to commit to a few distinctives rather than a big group.  The EC Church has 25 Articles of Faith and a really long statement on Christian Practice.  But to be a member of an EC Church, you don’t have to agree with that.  I find that very healthy.  What do you need to agree to, to become a member of an EC Church? This is what we ask:

The Discipline of the Evangelical Congregational Church outlines the qualifications for membership: (1) Believe in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord; (2) Believe that the Bible is the inspired Word of God; (3) Be committed to daily Christian growth; (4) Be committed to giving Jesus Christ your time, talent, and treasure; (5) Be supportive of our local church and the ministry of the Evangelical Congregational Church denomination; (6) Be faithful in attendance and participation; and (7) Be baptized as a Christian.

In All Things, Charity

Finally there is the third level, what we would call “in all things, charity” and this is where much disagreement takes place.  Should Christians gamble, drink, smoke, swear, watch R-rated movies, wear bikinis, and on and on? When I preached this, I illustrated this part of the sermon with a picture of a gambling table at a casino. I said, “As soon as you see that picture, some of you are thinking, ‘I can’t believe you put that picture there!  Gambling is a sin!  Are you trying to encourage gambling, Joel?’  And others of you are thinking, ‘There is nothing wrong with having a little fun at a casino on vacation.  Geez, the stock market is a worse gamble.’

There is so much we could talk about here.  Peter says, be harmonious.  Charity means “love.”  In all things, charity, means that we absolutely need to love those, especially those in the church family, with whom we disagree.  Check out this post (about bikinis!) for further thoughts on how Christians can disagree about ethical issues.

 

[1] Louw, Johannes P., and Eugene Albert Nida. Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament: based on semantic domains 1996 : 351. Print.

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

30 Jul

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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!

 

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.

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

21 Jun

Image result for invisible wall

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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