Category: 1 Peter (Page 2 of 4)

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

Light of Life

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“In him was life, and that life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not conquered it.. The true light that gives life to every person was coming into the world.”  ~John 1:4-9

Throughout the Gospel of John, Jesus over and over refers to himself as the light, the true light of life.

“I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” ~John 8:12

“I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness.” ~John 12:46

When Jesus was betrayed by his friends and then crucified on the cross, the gospel says it was dark. When Mary went to the tomb early on that first Easter Sunday morning, the Scripture is clear that it was dark. It’s also certain that Mary was not looking for a resurrected Jesus that morning; she was looking for a dead body. Maybe that’s why she didn’t recognize Jesus when she saw him — she wasn’t expecting it. But when he said her name, when she heard his familiar and powerful and loving voice, she knew it was Jesus her Lord, she knew he was alive, and she knew it wasn’t dark anymore.

2 Timothy says Christ Jesus has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light. 1 Peter tells us Jesus has brought all of us out of darkness and into his wonderful light.

I don’t know what kind of darkness maybe you’re living in. Maybe you feel trapped by sin or by some really bad decisions that you’re still paying for years later. Maybe there’s strife in your marriage or in your family. Maybe you’ve been diagnosed with something and your future’s unclear. Maybe you’ve just got this dark cloud hanging over you that follows you everywhere you go and you can’t really describe it or explain it, but it’s just there. It’s just dark.

“You were once in darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light… Wake up, O sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you!” ~ Ephesians 5:8, 14

Listen, that darkness is real. I don’t want any of us to pretend that it’s not. You and I are broken. We are fallen. We are sinners. And this world we live in is broken and sinful. There is starvation and disease and violence and injustice all around us. Every day. We can’t get away from it. And we are not called to deny it or ignore it. The darkness is real. The darkness in your life is real. Your sin is real. Your desperation is real. Your sickness, your depression, your lack of faith is real.

It’s OK to feel it. It’s OK to be sad. It’s OK to feel hurt and disappointed. It’s OK to get angry. As a Christian, though, it is not OK to live without hope. It’s not OK to live without courage and confidence. It’s not OK to live like the darkness has any power. Jesus is risen, he is alive, and the darkness, whatever it is, is no match for the light of life.

“The truth is seen in Christ Jesus and in you, because the darkness is passing and the true light is already shining.” ~1 John 2:8

Peace,

Allan

Central has 750 Ministers

We swore in almost 750 men, women, and children yesterday as ministers at the Central Church of Christ. Borrowing from the Gospel accounts of the feeding of the multitudes in which the disciples asked Jesus for a way to solve the problem and Jesus responded by telling his followers, “You give them something to eat,” we declared that everybody in our Lord’s Kingdom is a Christian minister. We are all priests, saved and sanctified by God to serve as powerful mediators between him and humanity.

As priests, we reflect the holiness of God. We are holy because God is holy. And that holiness will not be compromised or conditioned. We are set apart. We are ordained by God for his purposes and to his eternal praise.

As priests, we offer spiritual sacrifices to God. We give our bodies to God. We give our money to God. We submit our very lives to God so that everything we do and say and think is offered to him.

We intercede like priests. We grab our brothers and sisters and we take them to God in prayer. We bring them into God’s presence and intercede for their healing and forgiveness and blessings and peace.

And, as priests, we represent God before others. We bless people. We take what God has given us and we, in turn, give it to others. We graciously share his love and mercy, his comfort and forgiveness, to everyone we meet with his power and authority as his holy priests.

A lot of us, though, are paralyzed. We’re stuck. We see things that need to be done, but we wait on somebody else to do them. We know something’s wrong, but we count on somebody else to fix it. We hear that somebody’s hurting, but we wonder if it’s any of our business. We’re especially susceptible to this in a big church. We recognize a hole that needs to be plugged or a problem that needs to be solved or a brother who needs a visit, and we don’t do anything. And then we wonder why it didn’t get done.

We are all powerful priests in God’s sight. Nobody in God’s Church has more power or authority or more permission than anyone else. We’re all the same. We have different gifts, certainly. But we’re all called to serve. Nobody’s exempt. We’re all authorized to pray and teach. We’re all authorized to comfort and minister, to encourage and bless. We all have the same permission.

To drive the point home, we passed out 750 little sheriff’s badge stickers at the conclusion of our lesson, pinned them on one another, and we swore everybody in as ministers in God’s Church. We all stood and raised our right hands and recited these vows together out loud:

“I do solemnly swear as a faithful member of God’s royal priesthood to act like a priest. I promise to henceforth and forever more regard myself as a minister in God’s Church. I promise to honor and respect and love and cherish my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. I promise to encourage and not tear down, to bless and not curse, to submit and to serve in compassion and kindness until Christ Jesus returns. As a minister and a priest in God’s Kingdom, this is my pledge as surely as the Lord shall live. Amen.”

With those gold stars pinned to our chests, we all looked like we belonged in a saloon scene in a corny old western movie. But when the words began coming out of our mouths, and the weight of our promises began to take hold, the worship center was transformed into a sacred place where we acknowledged the wisdom and power of our God who would dare to partner with us in his work of redeeming the world.

Peace,

Allan

 

Prayer and Peace: Part 2

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” ~Philippians 4:6-7

I suggested yesterday that Paul is telling the Christians in Philippi that giving everything to God in prayer will result in an experience of divine peace ONLY in the context of a prayerful life lived according to the things Paul had already written in the letter up to this point. Prayer is not a technology or a technique in which we try to get God to give us what we want. It’s not a matter of saying the right words or setting the proper mood or how many times you pray or how many people you get to pray with you or for you. Prayer, to Paul, is an attitude. It’s a manner of living. It’s a way of looking at God and the world that’s based on a real relationship with Christ Jesus.

So, yes, prayer results in peace, assuming you are still shocked by your salvation (yesterday) and confident of God’s care (today).

At the very beginning of the letter, Paul says he is confident that this good thing God has started in you, he will finish. He will see it through (1:6). God is working in you, he says, he’s working through you to make sure it happens (2:13). Paul’s in chains, but that’s causing more and more people to speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly (1:14). Whatever’s happening to me, Paul writes, will turn out in the end to be for my deliverance (1:19). I am confident, Paul asserts, that I myself will be able to see you soon (2:24).

This isn’t a superficial obliviousness that ignores reality. Paul’s not whistling past the graveyard. He really does trust in the love of God that saves him and the love of God that is taking care of him and protecting him. All of Paul’s circumstances are in God’s hands. God is fully sovereign and totally in control of everything that’s happening to Paul. And Paul’s great with that because he knows that God loves him.

Of course, Paul got this from the example of Jesus.

Peter had the same idea. “When they hurled their insults at Christ Jesus, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to God” (1 Peter 2:23).

Peter’s got it. And Paul’s got it. And they both got it from Jesus.

“Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7) sounds a lot like “Do not be anxious about anything… present your requests to God” (Phil. 4:6).

I would encourage you today to give to God in prayer that one thing that’s eating you up. It’s keeping you awake at night and distracting you during the day and totally stressing you out all the time. It’s that thing that’s just hanging over you. Give it to God in prayer right now. Don’t ask God to fix it. Don’t ask him to make it better or solve it or make it go away. Just give it to God and tell him you trust him. Tell him you know he’s in control and you’re good with that. Because you’re confident that he loves you and that he cares for you.

Peace,

Allan

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