Tag Archives: transformation

When you start to change and your friends don’t like it

30 Aug

Photo by Adi Goldstein on Unsplash

Have you ever gone through a life change, and that change affected your friendships?

You know who your real friends are when you start changing.

Perhaps you believe new things, or maybe you have shed a long-held belief, and your friends are pushing back.  It could be that you have stopped doing something that you and your friends regularly enjoyed, and they are disappointed, even angry with you.

As Peter continues teaching in 1 Peter 4:1-6, he describes how the people he is writing to started following the way of Jesus, and as they moved away from the self-destructive patterns of their old friends, those old friends were not happy.  In fact, Peter says in verse 4, “they heap abuse you.”

“Abuse” is actually the word “blaspheme”, which means “to speak against someone in such a way as to harm or injure his or her reputation.” (Louw & Nida)

What Peter is describing could be the persecution those early Christians were facing.

So Peter goes on in verses 5-6 saying that those old friends will have to give account to God for their behavior. Then Peter makes a most interesting statement.  He says this is why the gospel was preached even to those who are now dead.  Wait?  What?  The gospel is preached to dead people?

No.  Not at all.

Let’s examine this a bit further.

Peter uses the specific words, “preach the gospel.”  What is this gospel?  Gospel is simply a word that means “good news.” What good news?  Last week we looked at how Peter described the good news in 3:18 when he said that Jesus died for our sin, to bring us to God.  That is some good news, that people who are separated from God can now be with him.

But that is not the only good news in The Good News.  God’s good news is that he is doing a work of rectification, which is a big fancy word that means “making things right.”  God wants to set things right in the world.

As Peter has been teaching in this passage, God wants things to be right in our lives.  God wants us to move away from self-destructive sinful desires, and pursue his new way.

God’s Good News is not just a transformation of individual people.  God also wants to set the world right.  And so his good news is good news for all people, all creation.  Where there is injustice of all kinds, God wants to set things right.

That good news is what Peter says, “was preached to those who are now dead.”  “Was preached” is something that happened in the past.  Peter is talking about a preaching that occurred in the past.  Not present preaching, not future preaching.  Also, the word “now” is not in the Greek.  That has been added to help us understand the intent of Peter’s flow of thought.  He is talking about preaching that happened in the past, and some of the people who heard that preaching have now passed away.  They were alive when they heard the preaching.  They are dead now.  More than likely they had become Christians while they were still living, after they heard the preaching.

What does this all mean for those Christians reading this letter who are still alive and facing abuse from their friends?  While they faced criticism when they stopped their wild living and chose to follow the way of Christ, they can take great comfort that they are now living according to God’s way.

It is precisely at this juncture that some Christians have misunderstood what it means to live according to God’s way in our lives now.

I will never forget my visit to the Ephrata Cloister.  They wanted to remove themselves from the world, so they could not be negatively impacted by it.  It seemed like they wanted to live God’s way.  Except that Jesus specifically prayed in John 17 that God would not remove his followers from the world, but that God would keep them safe in the midst of it.

God doesn’t want us to escape from the world.  We can obey God while still living in the world.  The issue is not so much about figuring out what God’s will is for the myriad choices of living in the world.  Such as, can followers of Jesus watch movies or TV shows or play video games with certain ratings?  Can followers of Jesus wear certain kinds of swimwear?

Instead Peter is saying, start from a place where you stop indulging in evil human desires, and start following God’s desires for your life!

Certainly there are times when a follower of Jesus needs to stop or decrease a friendship because that friendship is a negative influence that the follower of Jesus cannot handle.  But in most cases, we followers of Jesus can stop indulging in evil human desires while at the same time maintaining genuine friendships with people who are not following Jesus.

So as we think about what Peter has talked about in 1 Peter 4:1-6, how about you?  Do you love God?

Are you living according to human desires, or according to God’s desires?

Have you armed yourself with the same attitude as Jesus, that no matter what goes on in your life, you are committed to do the will of God!

If you are like most of us, you have some of both.  You want to obey God, but you also find yourself giving in to evil human desires sometimes as well.

What patterns or habits do you need to change in order to live a life that is line with the way of God?

I encourage you to do what has often been called “soul-searching”.  Today is the day, Peter is saying, for us to stop or to begin to learn to stop following evil human desires, and today is the day to start growing our love for God that we might follow his desires for our lives.  He wants to change us into people that are different, and that might be hard for some of our friends and family to accept.  But God wants to change us into people that obey his desires for our lives, and that is the best way to live.

Christians, has Jesus transformed your life? Here’s how you can tell.

29 Aug

Photo by Matt Botsford on Unsplash

A question for any of you who consider yourselves Christians, followers of Jesus: would you say that Jesus has transformed your life?

Yesterday we saw that Jesus transformed Peter’s life.

It wouldn’t surprise me if Peter has that memory in mind as he continues his teaching in 1 Peter 4:1-6.  In verse 3 he builds on what he has already said in verses 1-2.  To review, Peter has taught that through suffering you are learning to be done with sin.  He says that Christians can choose to no longer live for evil human desires, and thus live for God’s desires, for God’s will.

Now in verse 3, I hear Peter saying: “Frankly, don’t you think you have lived a really sinful life long enough?”  In other words he is saying to them, “You have spent enough time in the past following evil human desires.  Keep following Jesus.”

Peter wants them to take a step back and review their life.  Apparently some of them had really lived it up in the past.  What Peter describes here is some risky behavior.  There is no self-control in this.

The scholars tell us Peter is referring to “drinking parties involving unrestrained indulgence in alcoholic beverages and accompanying immoral behavior.” (Louw & Nida) This is out of control stuff where you are risking your health on a regular basis.  In 2018, it would like getting high on heroine, sleeping around with anyone, getting drunk on a regular basis, and then driving vehicles drunk.  It is very selfish, wasteful, and irresponsible.

Maybe you’ve experienced some of that lifestyle yourself.  Maybe you know people who have.  Maybe your sinful behavior was rebellion in other ways.  Maybe there is some rebellion still going on in your life?

In what area of your life are you lacking self-control?  Is it your mind, mouth, attitude, money, time spent on TV, social media, video games, food, and you know God would say, “Follow me”?

Peter is saying to these Christians and to us that it is time to be done with that old life.

And that is exactly what happened!  Look at verse 4.

Peter reviews their spiritual story.  There was a change.  The people who were formerly partying it up had made a change. They had started following Christ, and they are living the new way of his Kingdom, or at least they are trying to.  The way of Christ is a way of self-control.  Think fruit of the Spirit growing in you and flowing through you.  Love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, faithfulness, self-control.  The new way is exact opposite of the way they used to be.  Where there was lust, there is now love.  Where there was anger and rage, there is now joy, peace, and gentleness, kindness.  Where there was rebellion and fighting, there is now patience and self-control.

Peter is talking to people who actually went through these changes.  So why would he need to warn them, if they had already made the change?

It could be that Peter knows how difficult persecution can be.  Especially when your friends are involved.  And that’s what we we’re going to talk about tomorrow.

God is odd

19 Sep

Image result for odd god

If you were a person living in the Ancient Near East observing the people of Israel on their strange journey out of slavery in Egypt to settlement in Canaan, you might think “this is an odd people, and their God is odd too.”  In fact, as we continue studying Deuteronomy chapter 4, Moses, in verse 6, begins making this point.  What he says to the people of Israel in verse 6, is a bit of recap from the opening verses of the chapter: If they obey, they will preserve their life and land.  But they will do something else even greater.  Moses says that if Israel follows the way of the Lord, they will also show the rest of the nations that they are a wise and understanding nation.  How is that odd?  Stay with me.

We in America know what it is like to be surrounded by other nations.  But really, we have very little idea what it was like for Israel.  Sure we have Mexico and Canada above and below us, but they are friendly nations, despite the tussles we get into sometimes.  But there is no threat.  We are a superpower, they are not.

Israel in Deuteronomy 4 had a totally different situation.  They had powerful, aggressive nations all around them.  They barely have any land of their own, and they certainly are not secure in their land.  Imagine how it would feel to know that on any given day or night, you could be attacked from neighboring nations?

It would be horrible.  How many of you 80s kids remember when we had bomb drills at school?  At the time we were in what was called the Cold War with the Soviet Union, including threats of nuclear war and mutually-assured destruction.  We had this impression that some guy over in the USSR had his finger hovering ever so slightly over a red button that would send salvos of intercontinental ballistic missiles over the ocean to our cities.  Remember when the alarm would go off and we would have to hide under our desks at school? As if that would save us if a nuclear bomb hit Lancaster County.  We knew it was just a drill, but it still got me nervous.  Do you remember the anxiety?

That was Israel every day.  The threat was real.  War was life.

Right in the middle of that national anxiety Moses says something unexpected to the people, “Israel, if you keep God’s Law, those nations all around you will marvel at how wise and understanding you are.”  I wonder if the people listening to Moses bought in to that idea?  Wise and understanding?  Thus far Israel had a testy relationship with the surrounding nations.  I’d be thinking, “I don’t know Moses, I think they still just want to kill us.”

What is Moses getting at? Is it possible that Moses is making a connection to the promise God gave Abraham 500 years before?  We read in Genesis 12 that God promised Abraham that his family would become a great nation that would be a blessing to the whole world.

How could Israel be a blessing to the Canaanites?  The biblical text and archaeological research confirms that the Canaanites were incredibly violent and injustice abounded in their nations.  They practiced child sacrifice and temple prostitution.  They were regularly at war with one another. It was a dog eat dog world.

And then there was Israel.  Compared to the Canaanites, Israel was odd.  Their God, his name Yahweh, wanted them to be odd.  But then again, Yahweh was odd too, when placed side-by-side of the Canaanite gods.

Moses goes on in verse 7, describing this. He says that Yahweh is near. The people could see his physical presence in the tabernacle. Also, Moses adds, God is near to us in prayer.  What an amazing verse.  In the Canaanite nations, people had to visit an idol, a temple to get near their gods. But Yahweh brought himself close to his people.  From the perspective of the Ancient Near Eastern person, Yahweh was odd.

Moses continues this line of thinking by asking a question in verse 8: “What other nation is so great as to have such righteous decrees and laws?”  He doesn’t answer the question, does he?  You know why?  Because the answer was obvious to everyone.  No other nation was like Israel.  No other nation had a God like theirs, and no other nation had such a righteous law code. God prohibited injustice, like child sacrifice and prostitution.  God uplifted women and children.

Do you see where this is leading? If Israel can remain faithful to God and keep his law, they might just have a wonderfully positive impact on the world.

Moses senses the gravity of this.  He knows the hopes and dreams God has for Israel, the promise that through Israel God can bless the whole world.  Therefore what Moses says next to the people is vital. “Remember what God has done. Remember what you have seen because you have seen some amazing things!”  In essence, Moses is saying, “Israel, you are different.  Your God is different.  And if you can remember how Yahweh your God has been true and faithful, then you can stay faithful to him, and through you He wants to bring radical change to the cutthroat world you’re entering.”

See the connection?  We need to remember what God has done, how he has changed our lives and wants to transform others as well.  It starts with remembering that he is so different, and as a result by following his way, we become different.  While the difference might seem odd to those in our world, they can come to learn how wise and understanding and good God actually is.

How about you?  What have you seen?  For those of you a part of the family of Faith Church, what have we seen?  How have we seen God at work?  For those of you not familiar with Faith Church, this is a question I ask a lot.  Most Sundays we have an open mic sharing time, and that is question we want people to answer.  How have you seen God at work in your life?  It is vital that we ask and answer that question, that we remind ourselves of how God has been at work in our lives in the past and how he continues to work.

Do you remember this one?  Who remembers the amazing gift we received from The Door a few months ago?  $20,000 for our Capital Campaign!  What a blessing.  We are so thankful to not only rent space to The Door, but also to grow our unity and fellowship with them.

Here’s another one:  Remember when Lamar & Janice Stoltzfus were taking sabbaticals from their teaching jobs so that they could be interim missionaries at Rift Valley Academy in Kenya for one year?  The year was 2006, I think.  The Stoltzfi (as we lovingly call them!) applied for full year sabbaticals.  But they were denied.  Their schools approved half-year sabbaticals.  They could keep their jobs if they were away a full year, but they would only get paid for half the year.  That meant they needed to raise $40,000 in two months.  What happened?  God provided.  Amazing!

Like his plan for Israel, God wants the world to blessed through us.  And when we remember how amazing he is, we’ll be inspired, motivated to fulfill that purpose.  We are blessed to be a blessing.  Have you forgotten?

How to access God’s power for your life

18 Apr

Image result for the power of godDon’t you hate it when the batteries are dead?  I pull out my cordless drill to work on something, and there is no power.  Thankfully, my drill came with a second battery, so I swap them out, and I find that they second one is dead too.

Ever dealt with that? So frustrating, right?  Powerlessness.

Power tools or other gadgets are one thing.  You can buy new batteries, or charge the ones you’ve got.  It just requires a little wait or money.

But when you are dealing with power for life, that’s another story.

What do you do if you are trying to kick a bad habit, and you feel like you have no power?  What about fixing a broken relationship?

What about dealing with a difficult health problem or job loss or lots of bills?

Have you ever been in a situation where you felt powerless?

Sometimes in life we feel totally powerless about the situations we get into.  And that is not a fun feeling.  We hate it!  I hate it.

In Ephesians 1:15-20, Paul talks about power that is available in those difficult situations.  Paul prays that they may know, in verse 19, “[God’s] incomparably great power, for us who believe; that power is like the working of his mighty strength which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead.”

This reality is ours.  You can know God’s resurrection power at work in your life now!  What an amazing promise.

And yet some of you hear that, and it sounds so far-fetched, so unbelievable. How do you feel about that?

On Easter Sunday I have found that while we often look backward in thanks and joy remembering Jesus’ victory over death, and while we look forward to the day when we will experience that resurrection ourselves and be with him, we often neglect to think about the implications of the resurrection right now. Does the resurrection matter today?

Paul is saying that we can experience that resurrection power in our lives right now.  He is not talking about some distant future.  As followers of Jesus, we should expect that working of his mighty power in our lives right now.

Evaluate your own life.  Have you become defeated?  Have you forgotten that his power is available to you now?

That power that God wielded to raise Jesus from the dead is available to us!  Or as another translation puts it “how tremendous is the power available to us who believe in God.”  New life is available to us now.  Power for victory over our on sin.  Power to be changed.

But you might be thinking “wait a minute…I have been asking for that power to be at work in my life for 20 years, and I feel like I haven’t seen it.”  Or “I have been praying for a loved one to experience that power, or for that power to heal a broken relationship…and I have been praying for a long time, and I haven’t seen it!  What gives?”  Know that many people feel this way.

Some things to remember:

  1. We are in a battle with an enemy who has not given up.
  2. We have free will, and God rarely, extremely rarely overrules us.
  3. We might have a misconception about our part in the process. Paul is not saying here that we need to just do nothing and wait for God to rain down his power in us.   We have a responsibility.

Know that God is alive and well, and his resurrection power is at work changing lives.

A couple weeks ago at Family Night, a former Faith Church member shared the heart-wrenching story of her husband’s arrest, conviction and incarceration for child pornography.  She also shared how the power of God has been very evident in their family’s life, and especially in her husband’s life, as during his 20 month-long house arrest he started following Christ.  He lost his job, they had to declare bankruptcy, and their neighborhood rejected them because of his sinful choices.  Through this, God’s transforming power was at work, and her husband, though he is in prison, is a changed man, and is even ministering to other inmates in prison.

Those of us here for the CV Community Good Friday worship service heard the amazing story of how one of the top gang leaders in Lancaster City came to Christ.  He went to a presentation at Clipper Stadium where Nicky Cruz spoke.  Cruz was a big time gang leader in New York City whose life was transformed by Jesus, and has been sharing the story of the power of God for decades.  So this Lancaster City gang leader was listening to Cruz.  He didn’t respond to Cruz’s sermon, to the invitation or to the prayer.  But as he walked out of the stadium into the parking lot, he broke down and gave his life to Christ.  Since that time, he has now led 13 of his gang members to Christ!

On Thursday night at our Maundy Thursday Passover Seder, a Jewish Christian shared his story.  He grew up in a Jewish household, and though he heard about Jesus, he never read the New Testament.  He was always taught that Christians were violent cult members.  Later in life he started reading the New Testament, and he was absolutely astounded at what he read.  He learned about a thoroughly Jewish man that was truly the Messiah, the Savior, the Promised One, and this Jewish man gave his life to Christ.

God’s power is at work in so many ways!

And that power is available to us.  If you have a problem with complaining, God’s power is available to you.  If you have lustful thoughts, God’s power is available to you.  If you have anger issues, God’s power is available to you.  That same power that raised Jesus from the dead is available to you to transform your life now.

But what about the people who are Christians who feel distant from God?  What if they are thinking “I wish I could experience some of God’s power in my life! But I don’t feel like I do.”

We need to first of all realize that his amazing power is available to us!  That alone might be a new concept for you.  God is not distant. His power is available to us.

Second, we should ask him for his power.  That’s what Paul is doing in this prayer in Ephesians 1.  Paul is praying that those Christians in the Roman city of Ephesus would know God’s power like never before. Start asking God to give you his power to transform you life.

The hard part of this is that some of us are not experiencing this amazing manifestation of power, and we wonder if something is wrong with us.

“Where is this power you are promising, God?”

God can and does manifest himself in radical ways.  But his incredible power is also available and flowing to us in many ways, sometimes quiet ways, sometimes in ways that don’t seem like power.

It should be seen as a partnership.

I have heard people say “God took away my desire for cigarettes” and it was miraculous.  But more often than not, it will be hard work.  God empowering us to work hard, to be creative, diligent, determined.

Should we think “God will supply food for my family while I do nothing.”?  No, most often God’s power will enable you to get out there and work.

I am an adjunct professor for Lancaster Bible College.  I teach online course.  Back in the fall, I was looking ahead to the winter/spring, and I hadn’t heard anything from the college about teaching.  So I contacted them, and asked if they needed me to teach. The one course I teach is for adult learners who are going back to school later in life to finish off an uncompleted bachelor’s degree.  That course has been on a standard schedule, and they responded that would continue as normal.  But I also teach regular semester courses in the traditional undergrad program.  I asked about that, and they told there were none.

Two weeks later, surprise, my name was on the list for one of those regular semester courses.  I thought Okay, great!  That extra income would be a wonderful help.  Then two weeks after that, I got an email from the guy who originally told me there were none available, and this time he offered me to teach another course!

I had to ask, I had to work, but clearly it was God who provided.  And what amazing is that this winter/spring we needed extra income to be able to go visit our son who graduated from Army boot camp in Oklahoma.

God’s power is available for the powerless. Remind yourself that God’s resurrection power is available to you.  Believe it. Ask for it.  And then strive for it.