Tag Archives: love

How to have loving diversity in a church family

9 Oct
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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.

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!

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 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!

How to love and be loved when you are facing hardship

23 May

 

Are you going through a hard time?  How are you handling it?

Some of you have seen The Passion of the Christ which vividly portrays the Roman flogging of Jesus just before they crucified him.  I remember watching that when it first came out in the theater, my stomach churning, tears flowing.  It is awful.

During his flogging Jesus doesn’t talk back, but he communicates very loudly and clearly because this was an amazing act of love.  Though the Gospel writers don’t say much about it, a Roman flogging was enough to kill some people.

But look at how Jesus handles it. Jesus is an example for us at how to handle stress, pain, anxiety, and trials.  We can complain, fuss, or get angry during the troubles and trials we face.  And here is Jesus under self-control. Taking it.

Does this mean that we should be a doormat, and just let trial and trouble bulldoze and steamroll us?

What is the balance here? Jesus allowed himself to be beaten.  Should we?

There is a major difference between Jesus’ situation and ours, and that is that Jesus’ mission was direct mission from God was to give his life.  When we are abused, it is NOT our mission from God to be abused.  Abuse is wrong.  And we must not put up with that.  We must get safe, get away from the abuse.

But what about when face the regular difficulties of life?  For example, what if we lose our job justly, perhaps because of poor performance?  Then it IS our mission to handle that in a way that is honorable to the Lord.  Another situation that many of us face might be a car accident that was our fault.  Again, it is our mission then to handle that difficult with grace.

But what about turning the other cheek?   What about pacifism?  What about Romans 13 and the God-ordained use of government to restrain evil?  These are very difficult questions that would require another blog post or ten! Staying with Jesus’ trial and flogging, we see that our Lord was on a mission from God to give his life, and he turns the other cheek.  He does not retaliate, though he could.  He could instantly eradicate all the Romans by his mighty power.  He does not.

He had to go to the cross.  No matter what the people would do to him to take him there, he was not going to reverse it.  That is another way I see the difference between what happened to Jesus and to the times when we must turn the other cheek.  Turning the other cheek is almost certainly not going to lead to our death.  Following the way of Christ might lead to death.  In many places around the world, Christians, in order to maintain faith in Christ, are put to death.

So there is Jesus, beaten, broken, shamed, rejected, falsely accused, and loving us all the way.

He did this for us.

Go back three years, to Jesus’ temptation.  Satan offered him an easy way out of his mission.  Just worship Satan, just bow down, and Satan would give him all the kingdoms of the world.  No battle needed.  No war.  Just a simple bowing down.  The temptation was great.  Satan is giving him the opportunity to be king without pain.  Jesus said “No”.

Now fast-forward back to Jesus’ trial, and we see Jesus taking the full weight of that mission upon him.  He is in the midst of the pain.

He has just a few hours before this prayed “if there is some other way, Lord, please take this cup of suffering from me.”  Now the full cup of suffering is being poured out on him.  It was not taken away from him.

Jesus endured.  He said “not my will, but yours be done,” and he took the pain because he was committed to the Lord.

That’s how much he loves us.  He was focused on the Lord’s will, on loving us.

Many years ago at Faith Church a guest teacher asked a student to walk a pathway around the classroom floor.  Easy, right?  Except that he had placed boards on the floor.  And there were nails sticking out of the boards.  And worst of all, the student was blindfolded.  Furthermore she could only walk around by following the guest teacher’s voice, while everyone in the class simultaneously, out loud, gave her competing directions. She was very brave to even attempt this!  She had to trust hard in the teacher, and listen closely for his directions.  She said that she had to really try to filter out all the other voices, and that the hardest voice to put out of her mind was her husband’s.

Jesus was laser-focused on God’s will, though the clamor from the crowd was loud and the pain in his body was screaming at him to stop.  He could have easily avoided the pain, the shame, and the loneliness by exercising some miraculous power that day.  Easy!  Call down 10,000 angels ready for war.  But he didn’t because he was focused on one thing.  The mission of God.

Let us come away from this story with a renewed appreciation for God’s love for us, for the sacrifice Jesus gave to us, so that we can remain focused on his voice. As Paul says in Romans 8:38-39:

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 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.

Remember the Duke Lacrosse team?  In March 2006, three of the players on the team were falsely accused of raping a girl at a party.  An investigation leading up to their trial surfaced a staggering amount of blatant prosecutorial misconduct.  Durham District Attorney Mike Nifong handled his case so egregiously that it led to his disbarment and a brief jail sentence.

How did the players handle it?  They got revenge.  They sued.  But did it help?  To mark its tenth anniversary just a few months ago news media revisited the case.  Journalists interviewed those falsely accused, and found that though a decade has passed, the accusation still stings.  Getting retribution money didn’t solve all their problems.

When you are falsely accused, look to Jesus as your example. Seek justice, and with grace and mercy, focus on God’s amazing love for you.  When we remember God’s love for us, how deeply he loves us no matter the situation, it can transform our pain and help us to respond to the pain with love, just as Jesus did.

How God wants to restore you

16 May

Betrayal and denial.  Jesus experienced both, from two of his closest followers, in a matter of no more than one hour.  That had to hurt deeply. You can read the story in Luke 22:47-62.

Yesterday at Faith Church we talked about what it feels like when we have been betrayed or denied.  We also talked about how easy it is, like Jesus’ disciples Judas and Peter, to betray or deny God.  Imagine how those two guys felt when the realization of their betrayal and denial of Jesus finally broke over them.

We are told that Peter had godly sorrow that led to repentance.  After Peter denied Jesus the third time, just as Jesus said he would, Luke tells us that Peter and Jesus were in close enough proximity to one another that Jesus turned and looked right at Peter.  Imagine being Jesus at that moment.  Heartbroken.  Imagine being Peter.  Sick to the stomach at his failure, Luke tells us Peter goes away sobbing bitter tears.

Judas had a different reaction.  We have to go to Matthew’s story of Jesus’ life to learn about it.  In Matthew 27:3-5 we read: “When Judas, who had betrayed him, saw that Jesus was condemned, he was seized with remorse and returned the thirty silver coins to the chief priests and the elders. I have sinned,’ he said, ‘for I have betrayed innocent blood.’  And he went out and hanged himself.”

Peter wept, and Judas admitted his sin.

But there is a difference in the nature of their actions.  Judas acted with premeditation.  Peter did not.  Judas took time to plan out his betrayal, sought out the religious leaders, received payment, set up the arrest.  Peter did nothing like this.  Peter’s denial was not premeditated or proactive.  Instead it was reactive.  It was an unplanned act, a terrible choice in the midst of a horrible situation.

Judas’ response of suicide showed he had no hope.  Why would he have no hope?  Shouldn’t he have known Jesus and the grace, mercy and forgiveness of Jesus?  Yes, he should have.  But he didn’t, and that is revealing.  Judas didn’t really know Jesus.  Peter did.

Peter’s response is very different.  He is broken, sorrowful.

Have you ever been like Peter, caught by the proverbial crow of the rooster, reminding you of your failure?

2 Corinthians 7:10 says it perfectly: 

We can be sorry we got caught.  We can be sorry because we don’t want consequences for our actions.  When we examine our motives, we can learn that they are really messed up.

It is hard to be sorry with a godly sorrow that leads to repentance.  All of us have messed up.  What does it mean to be restored?  To find restoration we can examine Peter’s story: What was it about Peter that led him to make a rebound?

This past Sunday was Pentecost Sunday.  Do you remember what happened on Pentecost Sunday?

We read about it in Acts 2, when the Holy Spirit first came to fill the disciples, while they were waiting in Jerusalem, waiting for what to do next.  The Spirit comes and they start preaching in other languages.  One guy takes the lead in the preaching.  One guy is particularly bold.

Guess who it was?  Peter.

Think about the timing.  The events of Pentecost, where Peter is so bold, are only about a month and a half after the events of his denial of Jesus.  A month and a half!

What we saw in Luke 22 is that Peter is a broken man.  He has just denied Jesus, three times, and Jesus knew it, and Peter runs out weeping bitterly.

Now a month and a half later he is preaching boldly about Jesus.

What gives?  How did that turnaround happen?

To find out we turn to John 21:15-17, a story that does not appear in Luke.

After his resurrection, the disciples went back to their jobs.  They were fisherman, and they needed to make some money, feed their families, and so they went fishing.   Jesus found them, made a fire on the beach, waiting for the disciples to return so they could eat together.  Though he had resurrected, he was about to return to his Father and turn the mission of his Kingdom over to them.  He had some unfinished business with them to care for.  The disciples return to shore, and Jesus pulls Peter aside and says “Do you love me?”

It is more precise in the original language, Koine Greek, which has a variety of words, all of which we translate with one English word: “love.”

 

Jesus starts in verse 15 asking Peter “Do you agape me?”  Agape is perfect love.  This is the love that is used to describe God’s love, or to describe the love we should have for one another, as stated famously in 1 Corinthians 13.

Peter responds “Lord, you know that I phileo you.”  Phileo is brotherly love, very relational.  Phila-Delphia is the City of Brotherly love.

In a way, then, while Jesus asks Peter if he loves him, Peter answers very relationally, saying he has brotherly love for Jesus.

So Jesus says “Feed my lambs.”  It might sound odd to us, this shepherd language. But Jesus knows that Peter felt terrible about denying Jesus, that Peter would be wondering if he was no longer acceptable to Jesus. Perhaps Peter should forfeit his position in the inner circle of Jesus’ twelve disciples.  Jesus, who had once said to Peter “on you I will build my church”, now reinstates him: “Feed my sheep.”

Then surprisingly, Jesus asks him again, “Do you agape me?”, and Peter repeats “You know I phileo you”.  You can see Peter internally, and maybe in body language on his face, wondering, “Why is he asking me again?”  You and I know how it feels when our spouse or loved one asks, “Do you love me?” and we respond “Of course I love you!”  And then they ask again, “But really, do you really love me?”  At this second questioning, we can start to get offended, thinking that they shouldn’t have to ask a second time!  Do they not believe us?  Why would they have any reason to doubt?  Peter is starting to feel this, to think these thoughts.

So Jesus says again “Take care of my sheep.” Again, reinstating Peter.

Imagine the shock as Jesus now asks Peter a third time, “Do you love me?”  But this time Jesus has used the word “phileo”.  Now Jesus is getting very personal.

John tells us in the middle of verse 17 that Peter is hurt.  As any of us would be when we are asked to repeat ourselves a third time.  But Peter now says a third time, “You know that I phileo you.”

And Jesus says a third time, “Feed my sheep.”

Do you see what Jesus has done?  Each of Peter’s three denials have now been overturned by three “I love yous”, and by Jesus’ three reinstatements of Peter to “feed his sheep.”

Peter is restored.

Jesus is in the business off restoration.  Do you need to be restored?  If you have denied him, if you have disobeyed him, if you have been ashamed of him, you can be restored!

He loves you with Agape and Phileo, and he wants to restore you.

So come to him, like Peter, with a heart, mind and will that show your godly sorrow, and he will restore you.

That’s how Peter could preach a powerful sermon just a few weeks later.  He was restored.  And he fed Jesus’ sheep.

If you have betrayed Jesus, if you have denied him, know that he loves you.  Let him restore you.  Then feed his sheep.

Was Jesus’ teaching too radical? – Luke 6:27-36

30 Apr

UpsideDownKingdom_bannerLove your enemies?  Give the shirt off your back?  Give to everyone who asks?

Last week I introduced the next section in Jesus’ sermon in Luke 6, the section he starts off famously “Love your enemies.”  Jesus really has some challenging things to say here. Because Jesus’ words are so different from the prevailing truth of most cultures around the world, some people have taken to calling Jesus’ approach, The Upside-Down Kingdom.  From the vantage point of our culture, Jesus seems wrong and thus upside-down.

If you’re like me, you can respond to Jesus with of all kinds of “yeah, but…what about this or what about that, Jesus?  Have you thought about how your teaching will work out in real life?” Let me explain.  As I’ve studied for this sermon, I’ve struggled with how to present Jesus’ teaching. There are exceptions to the rule. Would Jesus be okay with allowing for exceptions?

Usually the difficulty lies in those life situations when obeying one teaching leads us to disobey another. Like the idea that if I give all my clothes away, I won’t have any for myself. Do I practice generosity so far that I am guilty of disobeying modesty? If I gave all my clothes away, I would be nude.  Should I do that?  Of course not. Do I practice non-retaliation so far that I allow my kids to be abused? Of course not. We need to use wisdom in applying these principles. And these are great principles. Let us not get confused by the exceptions to the principles so that we just chuck the principles out the window.

Jesus is calling us to be disciples in his upside-down kingdom, and that means we have hearts that love and give, sometimes in a way that seems reckless to the world! So here are some principles to take away:

First, let us give generously and sacrificially, especially to those in need. The biblical principle is that we should give towards equality. In the example of the first followers of Jesus or in passages like 2 Cor 8:14 we see this:

Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality. At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. Then there will be equality, as it is written: “He who gathered much did not have too much, and he who gathered little did not have too little.”

Last week I introduced our evangelical forefather John Wesley’s teaching “Earn all you can, save all you can, give all you can.”

Earn means “work hard and make money.” In fact, make all you can. Use your gifts and abilities to make a lot of money. There is nothing wrong with amassing wealth, as we learned last week, if that wealth doesn’t own us.

Instead, Wesley says, “Earn all you can, save all you can.” Save means “don’t spend the money.” When he said “save,” he didn’t mean you should earn a ton of money and build up a massive savings account so that one day you can have fun in retirement. He specifically meant, “don’t spend your money on yourself.” Of course, we must meet the essential needs of our families, but in so doing live very, very simply. This incredibly hard to do in America because we have been told that we need tons of stuff, food, clothes, gadgets, cars, houses, hobbies and vacations. What we want and what we need has been confused. Wesley taught, however, the biblical principle of simplicity.

And why? So that you give all you can. Make a ton of money, don’t spend it, so you can be generous.

This video of a freezing child really challenged me to be more generous:

In addition to radical generosity, let us practice the principle of radical love.

Let us live lives without tit for tat. You have heard it said “eye for an eye” (OT principle), but Jesus tells us “get hit, turn the cheek!” Jesus himself is our example, washing the disciples’ feet. He is our example, saying “Father forgive them for they know not what they do” while they were nailing him to the cross. We must become people who do not take revenge. Instead, in this upside-down kingdom, when people mistreat us and take advantage of us, we seek to love them. Again, loving them doesn’t mean enabling bad behavior. But we should not be people who hate others, who are looking for revenge, who are hoping for bad to happen to others.

Instead we practice kindness. We practice love. Let us love the difficult people, the enemies. Treat them like you want to be treated. Remember that you are a person who some people have a very hard time with.