Tag Archives: pastors

How all Christians should identify as priests

5 Jul

Photo by Josh Applegate on Unsplash

Sometimes people have bizarre reactions when they learn I am a pastor.  If they had been cursing, once they find out I’m a pastor, they’ll over-apologize and try to stop.  Often they’ll ask where Faith Church is and talk about how they’ll visit some Sunday.

Even people within our church family can have strange reactions.  At a church meal, they’ll often wait for me to pray for the meal before they start eating.  Or if they get sick and go to the hospital, they’ll want me to visit.  I could go on an on with stories like that.  I’m just a regular guy, so even after nearly 16 years in ministry, I’m still often surprised by these reactions to me.  Pastors aren’t special pray-ers or visitors, but people often think we are, elevating us to a higher plane of spirituality.

As we saw yesterday, Peter taught against this idea when he said that all Christians are royal and holy priests.  Not just pastors.  Not just missionaries.  Not just Bible teachers.  Every single Christian is a priest!  We’re all on the same level in God’s eyes.  Sure, we have different gifts and different roles.  I am so thankful for this teaching about all Christians being part of the holy, royal priesthood.  As a pastor, I think way too much focus is placed on me.  All Christians need to learn how they are priests.  But how?

In our continuing study of 1st Peter 2:4-10, Peter explains our priestly identity, which we will look at today, and he explains our priestly responsibility, which we will look at tomorrow.  So for today, what is our priestly identity?

First Peter says we are holy.  He was telling the Christians in his day that they are set apart.  It doesn’t mean “holy” in the sense that they are perfect.  It means they are set apart for a special purpose.

They are a “people belonging to God,” he says, and “a people of God.”  We all need to see ourselves that way.  A special people, belonging to God, set apart for a purpose, which we will look at tomorrow.

Here we can start to see Peter’s flow of thought into verses 11-12 which we already covered a few weeks ago when we talked about the theme of aliens and strangers.  People who have been built on the foundation of Jesus need to see that that are so precious in God’s eyes.  Though we might be strangers and aliens in the world’s eyes, we are people who belong to God!

Another way that Peter says they are holy or set apart or special is that they have received God’s mercy.  How amazing!  You are loved by God.  He has shown mercy to you!  How has he shown mercy?  God has shown his mercy by making it possible for us to become living stones.  Read about that here.

That is the first way Peter teaches that all Christians are priests: you are a holy priesthood.

Second, he says we are a royal priesthood.

Royal? Did you know, Christians, that you are royal?

You’re like Meghan Markel.  Remember her?  She recently married Prince Harry, and is now known as the Duchess of Sussex.  She doesn’t have royal blood so she cannot be called “Princess.”  That is a title she can earn eventually.  William and Kate’s children, however, were called princes and princess at birth.  They have royal blood.

When Christians consider our relationship to Jesus, we’re like Meghan Markel.  We weren’t born of royal blood.  We were adopted into it. Or as Peter says, we are reborn into God’s family, and thus we are now children of the king, with the rights and privileges of royalty.

Think about how special God views you!

If I were to guess, most of us would never think, “I am a holy, royal priest in God’s Kingdom.”  We don’t see ourselves that way.  I suspect we don’t think of ourselves that way because we are humble or feel unworthy.  Humility is respectable.  But Peter is saying, “You actually are holy, royal priests in God’s Kingdom,” and because of that we all need to see ourselves that way.

But note that the world will not see us that way, and we shouldn’t try to get them to!  Being a holy royal priest of God doesn’t mean that we go around saying that!  “Look at me, I’m a holy, royal priest!”  That would be really weird or arrogant.  Instead, we stay humble.  We know that God looks at us as holy royal priests, and so we gratefully and humbly serve him.  Jesus, our great high priest, gave us the pattern for how live in his Kingdom when he washed the disciples’ feet and gave his life as a sacrifice.

So all you Christians, your identity is holy, royal priests.  Yeah, it is an unexpected identity.  But take on that identity.  And tomorrow we’ll see how Peter describes our priestly responsibility.

Why all Christians need to see that they are living stones and priests

4 Jul

Photo by Jen Millet on Unsplash

We’ve been seeing lots of images of lava in the news in the last month or so, as volcanic activity has rocked Hawaii and Guatemala. Red hot glowing lava seems alive, as it crawls along the ground.  But it is not alive.  Lava is molten stone.  There is no stone that is alive.  Maybe something like coral is close.

Yesterday we looked at 1 Peter 2:4-10 where he says that Jesus a living stone.  There Peter also calls Christians living stones. How are we living stones?

A living stone is an anomaly.  Stones are dead.  They have no life in them.  But living stones?  How can a stone be alive?

What Peter describes here is something that is physically impossible.  A stone that is alive.  For a stone to be alive, a miracle has to take place.  The stone’s physical properties have to change.  The rules of biology and geology must be replaced.  That is exactly what has happened for Christians.  We once were dead in our sins, but we have been made alive in Christ Jesus.

That is good biblical talk right there, but what does it mean?  “Dead in sin, alive in Christ.”  It means that all humans have a sin nature, and we will choose, over the course of our lives, to behave in such a way that goes against God’s will for us.  That is sin.  Choosing to do what God does not want us to do.  From the littlest white lie to grand acts of violence and everything in between.  Because of that, the biblical writers figuratively call us dead in sin.  What they mean is that when we die, we will be separated from God forever. That’s really dead.

But thanks be to God, it doesn’t have to be that way.  Because of Jesus’ birth, life, death and resurrection for us, God is at work rectifying the sin problem.  He has made it possible for us to place our faith in Christ, to trust in and obey Jesus, and thus be reborn.  This is what baptism symbolizes!  The idea of new birth is the idea of new life that Peter has mentioned three times so far in his letter.  Here he hints at it again.  This time he is not talking about being born again as babies, but he is talking about the concept of something that was dead that is given new life.  A stone that is alive.

In Christ, we are living stones, just as Jesus was the original living stone.  As he died and rose again to new life, so we too, when we trust in and obey him, we can become living stones, which means that when we die in this life, we will not be separated from God, but we will be with him forever.

The image of living stones, then, is an image of hope!

Now Peter quickly changes images.  Next he says that we, the church, are a holy and royal priesthood, a holy nation, and we have a job to do!

Priesthood is not a word that is common to many Protestants.  In Catholic circles, it is common.  The priesthood is how Catholics and some other denominations describe their pastors.  Would the idea of priesthood have been common to those first Christians Peter was writing to?  Some of them likely came from a Jewish background, and it was a big part of their history, there were priests of the nation of Israel.  Also, some of these Christians were Greek or Roman, and there again, pagan religion in Greco-Roman society had priests.

In each of their societies/culture there was a priestly class.  But in those cultures, like ours, only the rare few were priests.  Most people are not priests or pastors.

Peter teaches something shocking.  He says they are all members of the holy, royal priesthood.

Not just the pastors.  Not just the missionaries.  Think about that: Every single one of us that is a living stone is now in the priesthood!  You transformed living stones are all priests!  We so rarely talk about that.  We should not elevate a priestly class within the church.  I’m the pastor.  It doesn’t mean that I am in a different special class in the church or in the Kingdom of God.  The young, the old.  The males, the females.  We are all on equal footing in God’s eyes.

So how did Peter envision that these Christians live out their role as living stones in a royal and holy priesthood? We’ll look at that tomorrow!

What if Christianity’s massive investment in worship is wrong?

17 Feb

Image result for wrong worship

Is it possible that Christianity’s massive investment in worship is misguided?

Think about it.  We invest a lot of time, money and energy into worship, don’t we?

One morning or evening each week is devoted to it.  Our society is very much oriented toward a weekly schedule that keeps Sunday mornings free.

We also build buildings for worship.  We don’t have to.  We could worship without them.  But it is also not wrong to build buildings.  The simple matter of fact, though, is we build buildings, lots of them.  I don’t know the specific number, but I have heard that there are about 800 churches in Lancaster County, and most of them have buildings and property.  Some are massive, some tiny, and many sizes in between.  Drive around Lancaster County and start tallying up the church buildings and you lose count.  Think about that with me for a minute.  What would you estimate the average value of a church building and property to be?  Now multiply that by 800.  Then add the years upon years of furnishings, utilities and upkeep.  That’s a lot of money, isn’t it?  I wouldn’t doubt the figure is in the billions of dollars.

Then think about the other costs of worship.  Staff is the big one.  That’s me.  The pastors.  Then there are worship leaders and the many other staff.  Multiply that by 800 churches, and here in Lancaster we spend a lot of money on hiring people to be involved in worship and worship programs, don’t we?

Next think of the time involved.  Not just the 1.5 to 3 hours that you spend attending worship service and classes.  Also add in the prep time, the volunteer time.  Multiply that by 52 weeks every year.  The result is a boatload of hours.

Put it all together and what do you have?  We Christians make a massive investment in worship, don’t we?  Why do we do this?  The standard answer, and it is a good one, is that we give so much because God is worthy of our worship.

Not so fast, though.  God is worthy, no question about it, but does that mean we can worship him however we want?

Because we invest so much into worship, it is incumbent on us to evaluate our investment, right?  When you give time and energy and money to something, you are being responsible if you evaluate how that time, energy and money is being used, right?

How many of you would want to stand before God in heaven and hear him say “Your worship was seriously wrong.  All that time and energy and money you spent on Sunday mornings in your buildings with your professional staff and worship services with songs and sermons and classes…I didn’t want you to do that!”  You would want to know that,  right?  And you’d want to know what God wants sooner rather than later, wouldn’t you?  I would.  In fact, even if he said “You were on the right track, you were mostly right, about 75% correct in your investment in worship, but here are some things I wish you had done differently…” I would want to know that too!  I would want to know even if we only got 5% wrong.  Even if it was 1%.  But how can we know?

When I meet people who don’t know much about Faith Church, they often have a series of questions they ask me:  How big is the church?  Is it inter-generational?  And what kind of worship do you have?  When they ask about worship, they’re not wondering about my sermons.  They are wondering about the music!  Is it traditional, contemporary, blended?  We had a guest musician at our church a year ago or so for a special service, and he asked me that question: “What kind of worship do you have?”  When I answered “experimental”, you should have seen the wrinkled up, confused look on his face.  It was great!   More recently I have changed my answer a bit.  I still describe our worship as experimental, but I try to explain it a bit because people don’t know what I mean.

So what do I mean by “experimental”?  People from Faith Church reading this might actually be confused by what I’m saying here because most Sundays we have a typical standby kind of worship.  If you’ve been with us for a couple months, you know what I mean:  welcome & announcements, focusing prayer, worship songs (mixture of old and new), sharing time, prayer, dismissal of kids, sermon, closing song, fellowship time.  Doesn’t sound very experimental does it?

But I say that we are experimental because about once per quarter we try to do something completely different.  Silent Sunday, Church has left the building, Worship in the park, worship in the Fellowship Hall around tables, artistic Sunday, change up the order of worship, change the method of communion, etc.  It has been wonderful having the variety!

Why do we experiment with worship?

We experiment because we don’t ever want to give ourselves the idea that we have worship figured out.  We always want to have the posture of learners when it comes to worship.  There is no one right way to worship. We can learn from many different Christian traditions and new and upcoming styles about worship. Silent Sunday, for example, was informed by Quaker and Taize worship.  We want to keep learning.

Why am I saying all this about experimental worship and being learners about worship?  Because on our next two Sundays in our study of 1st Timothy, Paul teaches Timothy about worship.  This is perfect for people who see themselves as learners of worship.  Learners of worship don’t come to worship expecting to worship how they like to worship. Instead learners of worship come to worship services expecting God to teach them.  That’s you and me. We are learners of worship.  Disciples are learners from Jesus.  And when we come to worship we come with hearts and minds that pray “Lord teach me today.  Teach me how to worship you.  Teach me what you want to teach me.”

Learners come to worship with teachable hearts and minds!  And for the next two Sundays we are going to learn from Paul how to worship.  Paul wanted Timothy to teach the church in Ephesus about worship. You are welcome to join us at Faith Church on Sunday if you want to learn about worship too!  To prepare you might consider reading 1st Timothy 2.  Hope to see you there!

Why pastors lie at funerals

28 Jan

Funerals are a place where we pastors can be guilty of lying…a lot.

Maybe I’m just speaking for myself.  So this is my confession: how to do I lie at funerals?  I almost always talk about the person who passed away as definitely being in heaven.  As if there is no question about their eternal destiny.

Should I say that the person who passed away is in heaven?  Do I really know this?  No, I don’t.  I am not the judge.  Only God knows for sure.  So why do I say that the person is in heaven?

I know why I say it. Oftentimes the family has beat me to it. After the person draws their last breath, almost immediately family members start saying their loved one is in heaven. So it can be very daunting and even offensive for me to say at that moment, or anytime in the coming days, “Well, I know your loved one just died, but you don’t really know for certain that they’re in heaven. So let’s talk about that.”

I don’t do that. Instead I just go along with it. But should I?  Am I promoting a lie?

For many of them, based on the life the deceased lived, it is almost certain that their loved one was a true disciple of Jesus, and we can say with confidence that they are in heaven.  Some of them when they were living may have been very vocal about their faith in Christ, some were obviously committed disciples of Jesus.  But for others we are not so certain.  We wrestle with how much theological hairsplitting we should get into with a grieving family.

My thought is that in their moment of crisis and tragedy, I’m not going to make things worse by trying to suggest that maybe their loved one is not in heaven. Instead I have a strong desire to comfort them as they mourn.  I want to help them walk through sadness in a healthy way.  So I choose not to quibble with them about whether their loved one is in heaven or hell.

I’d like to believe that my choice to avoid the discussion is not actually lying.  Instead I look at it as withholding the conversation for a different time.  In fact, that different time is usually during the funeral, though indirectly.  I don’t address the family of the deceased, in the middle of the funeral, asking them pointed questions about their loved one’s eternal destiny.  But I do share with the entire audience about what the Bible teaches about eternal matters.  From there the family can decide for themselves if they want to engage a further discussion.  And you know, while it has been rare, a few courageous ones have had that discussion with me.  They usually ask “I loved my relative, but I don’t know if they are in heaven or hell.”

So, what happens when we die?  Is it possible that we can know now what our eternal destiny will be?  It sure would be nice!

This week in our study of Luke, Jesus tells us a parable set in eternity.  Check it out at Luke 16:19-31.  Perhaps this parable will help us? Or maybe not?  If you haven’t clicked on the link and read the parable, let me warn you, Jesus teaches some rather bizarre details about heaven and hell.  Is he serious?

Join us at Faith Church this coming Sunday, as we’ll talk about this further!

Why I dislike church worship surveys very, very much

7 Feb

The pastors of the EC Church have a Facebook page.  It’s a place where we pastors talk shop throughout the week, ask each other questions, debate, and so on.  Recently a pastor friend of mine asked the following question:

Has anyone ever surveyed their congregation regarding worship style? If so, do you have any questions that my worship committee might use?

I knew I had to respond.  We’ve done worship surveys at Faith Church.  Maybe some of you remember them.  How would you answer his questions?  Want to know what I said?  here is my response:

Don’t survey them! It always went bad for us!!!! Ha! That is true though.

My eye starts to twitch when I think about surveys.  They give the impression of interest in hearing from people and caring about their perspective.  But somehow it has not gone well for us.  I think that might be due to believing that majority rules, or that majority is always right.  At Evangelical Seminary’s recent Faith in the Marketplace breakfast, speaker Jim Smucker (CEO of Bird-In-Hand Corporation) gave a wonderful presentation, including a clip from the movie Invictus.  Please watch it here before reading further.

So I knew I had to say a bit more in response to my friend’s question:

When I said, “don’t survey them,” above, the more I think about it, the more I think that is serious. By surveying them about worship style, how could you avoid promoting a consumerist mentality toward worship? In 2007 Faith Church was going through worship difficulties. One proposal (which I admittedly favored) was going to two services, one traditional, one contemporary. I was wrong. Though kicking and screaming, I supported our decision not to go to two services. Instead we attempted a blend. Our reasoning was that we wanted our people to practice unity over and above their personal preferences. Many were unable to demonstrate that kind of sacrificial attitude. Faith Church is now smaller from a resulting worship exodus, and has ongoing budgetary concerns.

I wonder often if we should have just given people what they wanted, and hoped to minister to them (change their minds) after keeping them here. This is speculation, but after decades of consumer-oriented worship, I highly doubt we would change their mind. Could the Spirit do it? Sure. But we didn’t go that route, and here we are smaller. About two years ago, we evaluated the blend idea, and found that wanting too. Attempting to place everyone in a position where they get a little of what they want, and have the opportunity to sacrifice a little bit, it wasn’t working. Trying to please everyone leads to pleasing no one.

So we went back to the foundation, asking “what does it mean for the gathered church to worship God?” The traditional style doesn’t have a corner on the market. Neither does the contemporary or the blend or high liturgy or anything else for that matter. Our conclusion was that we needed to lead our people in a varied, experimental, creative, biblical, Christ-centered, joyful, worship of God. Now, we tinker with order of worship almost every week. We introduce elements of worship from a variety of traditions. Some weeks an entire worship service is devoted to one of those traditions. We practice variety in giving, with communion, with baptism, etc. One week we didn’t have a worship service and instead did a Church Has Left The Building…worshiping by serving. We worship twice each summer in a local park. And we’re looking into more options this year. Not everyone likes every Sunday, but we’re no longer driven by their preferences. After a Silent Sunday (Quaker and Taize influenced), I asked for feedback, and one couple gave the best compliment: “We didn’t care for it, but we respect what you’re doing.” They’re still here a year later.

Unless you can avoid promoting consumer worship, I urge you not to survey them. Lead them into worshiping God.

So while we don’t have worship figured out at Faith Church, I hope we never do.  Instead I hope we always experiment, having teachable hearts that expectantly seek to worship God in new and old ways as much as possible.