Category: 1 Peter (page 1 of 4)

Church People: Part 2

Our Lord Jesus is a flesh-and-blood person. That’s the beauty and the glory of our salvation, that our God didn’t just come to us, he became one of us. This is God’s salvation plan, that he would put on our flesh-and-blood.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God… The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” ~John 1:1, 14

What’s the covenant God made with us? From Genesis through Revelation, from the Law and Prophets and Psalms through the Gospels and Letters, God says it dozens of times, the same promise over and over: “I will live with you, I will walk among you, I will make my dwelling with you; you will be my people and I will be your God.” That’s the covenant.

And when Jesus comes, it’s the messy particularity of it that’s so striking. As you read the Gospels, you can almost taste the dust. You can smell the animals. You can hear the people arguing. Jesus is not so much about inspiring concepts and theological abstractions, he’s about fishing nets and mustard seeds and coins and lepers and spit mixed with dirt and sheep and synagogues and sermons and suppers and tears and frustrations and heartaches and forgiveness. The flesh-and-blood reality of Jesus as a real human person is in your face!

And it’s a beautiful and magnificent thing. We praise God because he became one with us, he became one of us, in Jesus Christ. Our eternal salvation is grounded in the fact that Jesus is a flesh-and-blood person, that he experienced everything we experience, that he knows us intimately and he fully understands everything we go through because he went through it, too. It’s awesome and mysterious and so amazingly glorious! What other God would do this? Jesus the Christ, the promised holy One of God, is a flesh-and-blood person!

So, of course, his Body, the Church, is a flesh-and-blood people.

Our God has always called people. He always calls his people to be people — certainly more than just people, but not something other than people.

“You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God!” ~1 Peter 2:9-10

Just like individuals, I think churches long to throw off their flesh-and-blood natures and soar like Superman. Or super-saints. But that’s a childish wish and it’s not going to happen. When people complain about the Church being too preoccupied with money or buildings or doctrines or prestige, when people gripe about the Church being closed-minded or exclusive or lazy or boring, they’re usually revealing their discomfort that the Church is, indeed, a body.

Bodies sweat and get sick, they produce weird smells and require varying levels of maintenance. That’s the Church.

Some churches are the bodies of infants — they’re crawling and stumbling and falling down and uncoordinated, but so full of potential. Other churches are like the bodies of teenagers — they’re full of muscle and energy and they’re tripping over each other in their enthusiasm to save the world with no appreciation for how difficult that really is. Some churches are really old bodies — they have a distinguished heritage and some really great memories, but they’re about ready to keel over. For better or worse, whatever kind of body we encounter, this is the Body of Christ. This is the form our risen and reigning Lord has chosen to be present in the world.

And it never meets our high expectations. We can be disappointed by the Church. Embarrassed.

But the world being what it is and we being who we are, we are not going to arrive this side of glory. We’re still human pilgrims doing our best to live out the love of God in Christ. And falling way short. But the Church is always more than it appears to be. It’s not another club or social organization. The Church is a chosen people, a holy nation selected by a holy God. What can look like a failing, declining institution for religious folks is, in truth, nothing other than the very Body of Christ, the Bride of Christ, united as one with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit right now today and forever!

And it’s real. It’s physical and tangible and flesh-and-blood visible. And real.

God’s Church does not work as an abstract ideal. It’s not a theological concept. It’s intended by God to be visible and authentic and real, warts and all.

Peace,

Allan

Open Your Eyes

We are so blessed by God to be alive today during this particular time. We are so privileged to be alive during this current chapter of God’s Story. Right now, today, we are living during the in-breaking of the Kingdom of God! Because of the pouring out of God’s Holy Spirit on all people, through the Church, we get to see things and experience things nobody else could!

We get to participate as co-workers with God as he redeems and restores his creation. We get to experience Gods’ Spirit moving into and re-creating people. We get to watch as God moves into a place and reclaims it for his glory. The prophets could only speak of such things; we get to live it! Israel’s kings could only imagine the worldwide spread of God’s reign; we get to help fund it! Peter says angels long to see such things; we get to see them and live them every day!

Here at Central, we’ve watched and participated as the Route 66 strip club has been transformed into a place where every day 50 homeless and marginalized men and women gather for Bible study and grace and love and dignity and Christian community in the presence of God!

We’ve painted and prayed and stacked diapers and sorted car seats as the Planned Parenthood building down the street has become a place where nearly 900 young women last year said “No” to abortion and said “Yes” to God’s promise of life!

Open your eyes. God’s Kingdom is breaking out everywhere around us. Broken things are being fixed, what’s wrong is being made right. We’re so blessed by God to live when we do, right now, in the wonder and joy of his visible reign.

Peace,

Allan

I Saw Satan Fall

LightningIn Luke 10, Jesus sends out 70 of his disciples. He sends them to every town and place, it says, to declare the Kingdom of God is here. He sends them with his power and authority: “Whoever listens to you listens to me.” And they go and they testify and they proclaim, “The Kingdom of God is here!” And they’re blown away by the power of their testimony. They return to Jesus with great joy. They’re amazed by the response to their witness, “Lord, even the demons fall down to us in your name!”

And Jesus says, “I saw it.”

“I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.” I sent you out to go with my authority. And when you proclaim my truth and declare my Kingdom in my name… I saw it. Satan falls.

And now Jesus is overcome with joy by the Holy Spirit and he thanks God in prayer, “I praise you, Father, Lord of Heaven and Earth.”

And then he says to his disciples:

“Blessed are the eyes that see what you see. For I tell you that many prophets and kings wanted to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it.” ~Luke 10:23-24

We are so blessed by God to be alive today during this particular time. We are so supremely privileged to be alive during this current chapter of God’s story. Right now, today, we are living during the last days of the in-breaking of God’s Kingdom. Because of the pouring out of God’s Spirit on all people, through the Church, we get to see things and experience things nobody else got to. We get to participate as co-workers with God as he restores and redeems his creation. We get to experience God’s Spirit moving into and re-creating people. We get to watch as God moves into a place and reclaims it for his glory.

The prophets could only speak of such things; we get to live it! Israel’s kings could only imagine the worldwide spread of God’s Kingdom; we get to help fund it! Peter says angels long to see such things; we get to see them and live them every day!

Our God gives us the opportunity to join him in creating new possibilities, in changing the potential in people’s lives, in participating in his new creation. We are highly favored by our Father!

The prophets gave us the beautiful vision from God: You will be a light to the nations, to open eyes that are blind, to free captives from prison, to release those who sit in darkness. The prophets gave us the glorious mission from God: I will make you a light for the nations that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth. And now WE get to be that light! He’s chosen US to shine his light!

Here at Central, we’ve seen that chapel that was built in 1929 become a sacred space for five generations of Christian worship and countless numbers of baptisms and weddings and funerals and a launching pad for nearly 90 years of Gospel ministry. We’ve seen it.

We’ve seen a modest commitment to Ted and Dot Stewart back in 1961 turn into Great Cities Missions and thousands of new Christians in a hundred new churches in dozens of cities in Latin America. We’ve seen it.

We’ve seen the Upreach Center, the house Central reclaimed and redeemed in 2001, become an outpost for Loaves and Fishes, CareCentral, and Prayer Breakfast, compassionate ministry and outreach to the poor that was un-thought of twenty years ago and continues to grow today. We’ve seen it.

Just in the past year-and-a-half, we’ve seen God change the Route 66 strip club into The PARC where our city’s homeless are being gathered into Christian community around morning Bible studies and prayer in a context of God’s limitless love. We’ve seen the Planned Parenthood building become the regional headquarters for CareNet, where unwed mothers are taught that every human life is precious to God and devastated families are given love and support and resources in the manner of Christ.

We can join our Lord in declaring together, “We see  it!” We see Satan fall from the sky! Praise God, we get to see it and experience it; we actually get to participate in it. The great prophets and Israel’s kings and the angels in heaven are jealous. Who knew God believed you and I were so special!

Peace,

Allan

The Holy Church

“We believe in the holy, universal Church, the communion of saints.” ~Apostles’ Creed

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Let me first say what ‘holy’ does not mean. It does not mean ‘perfect’ and it does not mean ‘without sin.’ Every sin that you can find outside the Church, you can find inside the Church. We know this. Individuals in the Church and the Church as a whole — we’re guilty of prejudice and intolerance; personal immorality and legalistic self-righteousness; competitiveness; misuse of the truth for personal gain; lust for money, prestige, power, and success. Praise God the Church is not perfect! If the Church were perfect, where would I fit in? Where would you?

‘Holy’ does not mean ‘sin-free,’ it means ‘called-out.’ Consecrated. Set apart for God’s divine purposes. We are God’s treasured possession. We are his called-out people.

“You are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood… You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God.” ~1 Peter 2:5, 9

The Church is not a voluntary association of believers who got together one day and decided to start a religious group. It is God who creates his Church, his holy community, and calls his people into it.

churchfathers2It is just as impossible to be a Christian by yourself as it is to be an arm or a leg and to live and function apart from the body. To be a Christian is by definition to belong to the Church. There’s no such thing as a purely individualistic relationship to Christ. To follow Christ is to be joined to the community of followers he draws to himself. To be reconciled to God in Christ is also to be reconciled to other people. As God’s holy people, we are called out from our sinful attempts to live in self-sufficient isolation above, or apart, or against others. We’re placed by God in a community where the barriers that separate people are broken down.

For God’s purposes. That’s what ‘holy’ means: called out for God’s divine will, to join God in what he’s doing in the world.

To be God’s holy community gathered in the name of Jesus is to stop reflecting the same social and personal hostilities as people in the world and start reflecting God’s work of reconciliation in how you think and act and speak and post and repost and forward on social media. To be holy is to stop being primarily concerned with our own happiness and comfort and security and to start putting the needs of others ahead of our own. To be consecrated or called-out means to renounce the ways of the world and to commit together by the power of God’s Spirit to live differently from the people around us, to live visibly and obviously and scandalously in the name and manner of Jesus.

Holiness is both a gift from God to the Church and a calling to the Church to live it out. It’s both a position we have in Christ and a task to join God in his global salvation mission.

Peace,

Allan

We Believe in the Church

Maybe you’ve noticed that people are leaving the Church. Not just your church, not just your denomination — people are leaving churches all across the board all across this country. The numbers are slow, but they are steady. Church attendance and church membership are on a decline. And the shifting attitude can be summed up like this: “Jesus, Yes. Church, No.”

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“I love Jesus, but I don’t like the Church.” “I follow Jesus, but I don’t go to Church.” “I don’t go to Church because they’re all sinners, the Church is full of hypocrites” (which is like saying, “I don’t go to the health club because of all the out-of-shape people there). “I serve the Lord every day, but I don’t do Church.” “You can’t organize spirituality.” “Jesus, Yes. Church, No.”

Let me confess right here that I know the Church is a mess. What else could it be? Have you looked at the people who sit by you when you’re there? Yes, the Church is guilty. We’re all guilty of being smug, complacent, self-righteous, racist, misogynist, impersonal, unfeeling, dated, and stuffy — all these things and more.

But Scripture —and the song — says our Lord Jesus purchased the Church of God with his blood. Ephesians says Jesus loves the Church and gave himself up for her. Church is a pretty big deal.

But even “church people” are struggling. All the research and surveys show that the Christian Church and its message do not significantly matter in the lives of its members. Attitudes about sex, marriage, and divorce; ideas about race, poverty, and war; thoughts and actions related to recreation, work, and money — in all areas of life you can’t tell the difference between church members and people who aren’t church members. Lots of people see the Church as really good as long as it gives me personal comfort or meets my needs or confirms what I already think about myself and other people and the world around me. That’s it.

A lot of Christians pretty much ignore the Church as harmless or irrelevant and live their lives like it doesn’t even exist. Christians are increasingly just going through the motions on the inside of Church and, on the outside, the Church is ignored and laughed at for its irrelevance.

I think one of the main problems is that we don’t have a robust theology of the Church. We think the Church is where the theology is packaged. We think church is where religious people with religious things in common go to get their religious stuff. Church is just a place to get your spiritual needs met.

No! Church is theology! Thinking right about the Church is directly tied to thinking right about God.

From the Day of Pentecost right up until this hour Christians have always believed in the Church. That line about the Church in the middle of the Apostles’ Creed — I believe in the holy, universal church, the communion of saints — comes from a baptismal confession from the middle of the second century. Only a few years later, it was being recited together by all Christians every time they assembled. A belief in the Church has always belonged right in the middle of our theology. Just like we believe in the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; just like we believe in the dead, burial, and resurrection of Jesus; just like we believe in the forgiveness of sins and the second coming; we believe in what God is doing in and through his Church.

The Church is an utterly indispensable part of what God is up to in the world. Followers of Jesus have never believed anything less.

The Church can’t be treated like an optional extra. It’s not like ordering a side salad to go with your steak: I can take it or leave it, it just depends on what mood I’m in. The Church is the family of God, the called-out people of the Messiah, the baptized, sanctified, Spirit-indwelled, disciples of Jesus who become something together they can never be as individuals. Y’all are the Body of Christ and each one of you is a part of it. Our identity in Christ cannot be understood outside our membership in his Church. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God. To him be glory in the Church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations for ever and ever!

This week in this space, I want to take a look at the three descriptors in that line about the Church in the Apostles’ Creed. These three words/phrases give us a great outline to point us to what the Bible says about the Church and what Christians have always believed. These three words/phrases — holy, universal/catholic, communion of saints — will give us a better Church theology.

Peace,

Allan

Jesus is Judge and You Are Not

“Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord.'” ~Romans 12:17-19

JudgeMosaic4When people hurt me, my gut instinct, my sinful human instinct, is to hurt them back. When someone does something that causes me pain or causes pain to someone I love, I want that person to suffer some pain, too. Even when that person apologizes, even when that person asks for forgiveness, even after I forgive that person, my gut thinks, “but he needs to feel some pain, too. He can’t get away with this and nothing bad happen to him. It’s his fault this bad thing happened to me or this painful thing happened to my family; he needs to have something bad happen to him, too. He needs to feel this, too.”

We know that justice will be served. We know that God’s children will all be vindicated. We know that evildoers will be punished. But that is not your job. Or mine. That’s not our job. Judging and taking revenge and seeking that kind of justice is the Lord’s job. And it’s his job alone. As followers of Christ Jesus, we do not ever seek to punish the people who hurt us. Ever.

God is the perfect judge. He knows all things, he sees all things, and he has all righteous power. He is a perfectly just God who will not allow evil to go unpunished. So we can trust him. If we try to exact any kind of revenge, we’re trespassing into territory our God has reserved only for himself. So we let him handle it.

Surrounding the above text from Romans 12, Paul quotes from the teachings of Jesus to make his point:

“Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse” (12:14).
“Do not repay anyone evil for evil” (12:17).
“Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (12:21).

We believe that God in Christ is ultimately going to make all things right. God is going to right all the wrongs and avenge all the evils. In the meantime, Christians respond to wrongdoing and to evil with kindness and love. This is one of the most distinctive things that sets Christianity apart from Islam and Buddhism and all the other world religions: we do not live tit-for-tat. Harming or killing our enemies is not an option for Christians. Our job is to love and forgive, to bless and to pray. Our job is to faithfully trust God. Trust God that he will judge and avenge.

“To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. ‘He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.’ When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.” ~1 Peter 2:21-23

Our Lord Jesus did not retaliate. He didn’t seek to punish or act to avenge the injustices he suffered. Look at Jesus. He refuses to lift a finger in his own defense. He rebukes his followers who try to defend him with a sword. He doesn’t call ten thousand angels to destroy his enemies. He prays for their forgiveness. The people who are killing him — Jesus prays for their forgiveness.

I know this is hard. I know this is counter-cultural, counter-natural, almost anti-American. But this kind of thinking and acting, this way of living, is not just for Jesus. Loving our enemies and being kind to people who do you harm and leaving all retribution to God is not some unattainable ideal or something only for super Christians or the spiritually elite. This very hard thing is required of all who confess Jesus as Lord. When Jesus says “teaching them to obey all I have commanded,” this is part of it.

There are people who say they don’t believe in the God of the Bible, the God who judges and punishes people, because they believe in a God of love. Now, what makes them think God is love? Can they look at the world today and see anything that proves God is love? Can they see anything in history, is there any evidence out there, any proof at all at that God is love? Where does that come from? Where do people get the idea that God is love?

The Bible. The Bible tells us over and over again that God Almighty is a God of deep and eternal love. And the same Bible also tells us that because of God’s deep and abiding love, he will judge and avenge and ultimately make everything in the world right.

Peace,

Allan

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