Tag Archives: U2

We really need grace

17 May

Image result for we all need grace

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

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

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

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

Peter also calls himself an Apostle of Jesus Christ.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Well, okay, if you say so.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who is Peter writing to?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grace and peace.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is a song of ascent? (the next U2 album?)

18 Dec

Image result for song of ascents logo

For years the rock band U2 has been hinting that they are going to release an album called Songs of Ascent. What might “Songs of Ascent” refer to?  Why would U2 think of that title?

As the years went by, U2 changed directions a bit, first releasing an album called Songs of Innocence, and just this month, a companion album titled Songs of Experience.  Might there by a trilogy in the works, and Songs of Ascent is forthcoming?  Time will tell.

While there is no U2 album called “Songs of Ascent,” when I first heard they were considering that title, I took interest because there are psalms of ascent in the Book of Psalms in the Bible.  I wondered how these psalms might have sparked U2 to consider an album with that title?  So what are these songs of ascent?

During Advent 2017 at Faith Church we are learning to lament, and the psalmists are guiding us.  During this third week of Advent, we are studying Psalm 126.

Here it is.  Psalm 126

A song of ascents.

When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion,
    we were like those who dreamed.
Our mouths were filled with laughter,
    our tongues with songs of joy.
Then it was said among the nations,
    “The Lord has done great things for them.”
The Lord has done great things for us,
    and we are filled with joy.

Restore our fortunes, Lord,
    like streams in the Negev.
Those who sow with tears
    will reap with songs of joy.
Those who go out weeping,
    carrying seed to sow,
will return with songs of joy,
    carrying sheaves with them.

What do you notice first?

That it is short?  That there is no author named?  Both true.

What I want us to focus on is its subtitle: a song of ascents.  What is that?

An ascent is an upward movement.  We ascend the stairs.  I know, we don’t normally talk like that.  It sounds kind of fancy to talk like that.  We tend to say simply, “go upstairs”.  But that is what the word “ascent” refers to, a moving upward.  In Acts 1 we read about Jesus ascending to heaven, and thus we celebrate his Ascension Day.  On that day, Jesus, we believe, physically ascended, flew through the sky, upwards, to heaven.  His disciples, we are told, looked up and watched him fly higher and higher, apparently, until they could see him no longer.  That is an ascension, a movement upward.

So why is this called a psalm of ascents?

Actually all of Psalms 120-134 have this title, “A song of Ascents”.  The Hebrew word for “ascent” could refer to stairs, and even specifically the stairs leading up to the temple.

So the title could be translated “song of the stairs.”  Scholars tell us that these songs of ascent were used in worship in the temple, maybe sung by priests standing on the stairs.  Maybe even as people were ascending those stairs to enter the temple.  Scan through Psalms 120-134 and what do you notice?  They are all very short, and thus could fit well within the short amount of time it would take for people to walk up stairs.

If that is true, that the psalms of ascent were used in temple worship, then perhaps we could say that songs of ascent are a kind of preparatory songs to help people get ready to worship.  You can envision groups of priests and worshipers singing these songs together.

But scholars also tell us that these songs of ascent were used as pilgrimage songs.  There were a couple feasts each year in which Jews made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem to worship at the temple.  Scholars believe that the pilgrims would sing together as they journeyed on foot or on the backs of animals, on their way to the city.

Almost certainly, this group of songs of ascent was written after the Jews returned from the Babylonian exile.  That is the same time period as Psalm 85 last week.  In fact, psalm 85 and 126, as I think will be very obvious, are often grouped together because they are so similar.

Take a look at the text of the psalm again.  Read it through a couple times.  What do you notice?

My first thought when reading Psalm 126 was, “Wait…Is this a lament?  The word ‘joy’ is repeated four times.  Laughter is mentioned.  The people proclaim, ‘The Lord has done great things for us.’ How is this lament?”

Just like last week in Psalm 85, what we see in Psalm 126 is an eruption of joy because the Lord has restored their fortunes in returning some of the people of Israel from exile in Babylon back to Palestine.  But right there in the midst of joy is also lament as they realize how far they as a nation have to go in order to keep the restoration going.

So this is a lament.  Starting with our next post, we’ll take a closer look at how this song of ascent is crafted and how we can learn more about lament from this psalmist.

How to have a good relationship with money – Part 2: Be Rich Toward God – Luke 12:13-21

23 Nov

 

 

 

How is your relationship with money? I wrote this question on the welcome board in our church lobby.  We always have a question of the day, hoping to get people thinking as they walk in for worship.  As I conversed with one person yesterday, we started joking: “My relationship with money?  We don’t see each very much!”  Whether you love money, hate it, there are so many of us that are very frustrated in our relationship with money.

But here is the good news. It is possible to have a good, even great relationship with money right here, right now.

In Luke 12:13-21, Jesus told a parable about a farmer who had a killer harvest one year.  He thought with excitement that he could build bigger barns, and retire early.  He was going to live it up!  But the Lord came to him with shocking news, “Tonight you will die.  Now who will benefit from your harvest?”

The story reminds us to consider the shortness of life.  In so doing Jesus gives us the secret to having a right relationship with money. In verse 21, he leads us to consider, are we storing up things for ourselves?   Are we amassing possessions?  Or are we rich toward God?

We can be so filled with love toward God that we are not enamored by riches, possessions. When we are enamored with God, we’ll see how inferior possessions are to him.

The band U2 has a song titled Walk On that has a wonderful message about possessions in light of the suddenness and shortness of life.

What U2 is talking about is right in line with what Jesus is talking about. It is the right relationship with money. Money will be left behind. But there are riches that will not be left behind. And Jesus is saying that we should invest our lives in those riches. He says in verse 21 that we should be rich toward God.

How do we focus on being rich toward God? It is an attitude, a heart attitude that leads to action. If your attitude is right, God is glorified.  Here’s a question to ask if you’re not sure how to evaluate your attitude:

By what do I want to be remembered? If you stand before God, we should want to hear him say that we used our time talent and treasure to advance his Kingdom. Jesus does not say that being rich, amassing wealth is in and of itself wrong. What is wrong is if we amass wealth and are not also rich toward God!

So the gaining of wealth is not the issue. It is the heart.

John Wesley famously said “Earn all you can, Save all you can, Give all you can.” There is nothing wrong with being able to make a lot of money. If God has given you that gift, then by all means, amass wealth.

BUT, save it! Don’t spend it. And by “save it” Wesley did not mean what the farmer in Jesus’s story meant. The farmer planned to store his wealth away so he could have a comfortable life. But Wesley meant “do not spend it on yourself.” Instead…

GIVE all you can.

In the wonderful little book, The Treasure Principle, we read about R. G. Letourneau. In the early 1900s he made a fortune in the earth-moving business. He was a committed follower of Jesus and made the decision to give 90% of his income, he lived on 10%. And you know what he said? “As fast as I gave it away, God shoveled it right back in.”

It’s not wrong to amass wealth. If your heart is right, if you love God, amass wealth so you can be lavishly generous with it.

Plan an investment portfolio to be rich toward God.

Pay off debt, so you can be rich toward God.

As people earn more, stats have shown that they are less generous. So fight that trend and give more.

Practice a generous lifestyle. Give your time, talent, treasure.

What do your private choices tell about you? If we could display your bank account transactions on a TV show about your life, what would we learn about you? Would we be able to tell that you are being rich toward God?

If we could display your calendar on that show, what would we learn about you? Would we be able to tell that you are rich toward God?

If we could have camera footage of what happens in your home, what would we learn about you? Would we be able to tell that you are rich toward God?

Let us be a thankful people. People who are thankful remember that he is the giver of all good gifts. Let us not fool ourselves into thinking that we created our wealth, that it is ours. Instead, it is God’s, and he owns it. The capabilities of your mind, your body…not yours. They are gifts given to you by God.

This past summer when a group from our church took a mission trip to Kenya, one of the phrases that we used was that we hit the geographical lottery. We Americans have hit the geographical lottery. We are so blessed here.  We have opportunity.

Why are we rich?…Paul says in 2 Cor 9:11, we are rich so we can be generous. As Jesus will say later in Luke 12:48 “To whom much is given, much is desired”

Maybe you’re thinking, “I’m not rich. I can barely pay the bills, and sometimes, I can’t even pay the bills.”  I understand. My family is carrying some debt right now that bugs me to no end. I want to pay it off.

Remember that we have opportunity here in the USA. Work hard, pay off debt, so you can have more financial space to be generous. For many of us, it is our debt that is keeping us from being generous.

And perhaps, like some good friends taught us, when things are tight, that is the moment we need to show our trust in God and give. Watch him provide.   Plan your life so you are rich toward God.

Saying “NO!” to yourself

30 Aug

It is one of the hardest things to do. 

When there is chocolate peanut butter cup ice cream in our freezer, it is nearly impossible.

When U2 releases a new album, it basically IS impossible.

What is it?

Self-control. Patience.  Two of the most difficult words in the English language.  How many of you struggle with them?  Every couple weeks for the last two years I have been trolling the internet for hints and clues of when U2 is finally going to release their next album.  Why is it taking so long?  They are notoriously, maddeningly slow in releasing new stuff.  It’s looking really good (see pie chart).

Then there is the peanut butter cup ice cream, made by Turkey Hill.  I’ve had others which are good, but nothing compares to Turkey Hill’s version.  We almost need a special locking freezer to keep it from disappearing in one night, with the raging metabolisms in our house.  My wife bought some last night for our small group which is coming over tonight, and she had to give a stern warning about not touching the ice cream.  I wonder if it worked…  She had to leave the house today for a few hours, and I am at the office.  There’s no telling the power of Turkey Hill Chocolate Peanut Butter Cup ice cream.Turkey Hill Chocolate Peanut Butter Cup

So as we prepare to study self-control and patience, how about you?  Can you say “No!” to yourself?  What areas are hardest for you to have self-control and patience?

Getting to know Bono

23 Feb

U2 is my favorite band for many reasons.  I have a lot of respect for the lead singer Bono, and I would love to sit down and have a nice, long talk with him.

I don’t think that’s going to happen, but I’ve come close!  I’ve seen U2 in concert twice.  Going to those concerts was a lifelong dream come true for me.  U2 tickets are very hard to come by, and I thought it would never happen.  But a couple friends made it happen.  (Ray and Todd, if you’re reading this, let me say thanks again!)  In Denver, CO, in Nov. 2001 during the Elevation Tour my friend Ray and I were on the floor in general admission.  The next was with my wife in Philly in May 2005, during the Vertigo Tour.  There we were seated to the right rear of the stage, so close we could read the lyrics off the teleprompter.  I actually got within 20-30 feet of Bono each time.  For years before the concerts, and ever since, I’ve bought their music and videos, read the books, and followed their website.  I feel like I’ve gotten to know Bono especially well.

But here’s the rub: if I showed up at his house, and he answered the door, while I would be super-excited, I’m pretty sure he would say “I don’t know you or where you come from.”

I would say, “Yeah but, I was at your concerts.  I read your books.”

But he would say, “Sorry…I don’t know you.”

Those are hard words to hear, aren’t they?  They make me think of the classic romantic movie, where a major breakdown has happened in a relationship, and one person says “I don’t know you, anymore.” There is shock and pain involved, extreme disappointment.

Wouldn’t it be awful to have God say that to us?  Here’s the awesome news, we don’t have hear that!  There is a better way.  Want to hear about the better way?  Join us tomorrow morning at Faith Church, or wait for the podcast on Monday!