Wednesday, August 29, 2018

5 Marks of a Holy Church

Holiness is a strange word for us today. We get visions of being “holier than thou” or risk presenting ourselves as “perfect.” I get a mental picture of a church lady type with a bun on her head, a long skirt, black plain shoes, a big Bible, and her husband wearing a white, short sleeved button up shirt. Just know, I would not pick this word if I didn’t have to. I am rough around the edges, to say the least. But holiness is what we are called to as a people. Peter makes sure that we understand this point: it is “as a people” that we are called to holiness and not “as a person.”

So what makes us a holy people?

1. Holy in our View of Grace

Peter talks about “girding up the loins of our mind” in 1 Peter 1:13. He knows that what he is about to say requires us to be ready to grasp. He launches out with a radical perspective on grace. Grace is not just what happened, it is not only what is happening, but it also includes what will happen. We will experience grace without measure when Jesus is revealed to us. We are looking forward to this revelation that is grace. We know that we will never be truly whole without it. So, we give others grace for being a bit of a work as well.

2. Holy in our view of Obedience

We are children of a holy God. He is our dad. My earthly dad was a broken dude. He was messed up. He was missing for much of my life and pretty brutal when he was present. He made a lot of mistakes and I never wanted to repeat them. But, when someone would tell me that I was “like my dad” I was proud. I wanted to be like my dad in the good ways. Peter reminds us that we are becoming “like our dad.” Some people might even recognize it if we are obedient to how he behaves.

3. Holy in our view of Redemption

We have a good dad. He is right. He does right things. He can recognize right from wrong. Always. And he will not lie. Never. So when he sees wrong being done, he will call it out. He will judge it. But our dad also provides a way to be forgiven, pardoned, redeemed. He wants to rescue us from this world of wrong junk and embrace us in a world that it right, fair, and just. He wants to be our standard, our measure. We are tempted to judge other things by what culture teaches us. We even try to judge God by what “feels right” according to our culture.

4. Holy in our view of Faith

Our faith is really just our trusting Jesus. When our culture and the words of God collide; we trust Jesus. When our own experience and the words of God conflict; we trust Jesus. When our emotions and the words of God contradict one another; we trust Jesus. We trust a God that was in existence before this world was formed. He became part of this world and understands it. He gave his life to bring it into relationship with himself. We trust him with our lives. We trust that he loves us and has a better vision for our lives than we do.

5. Holy in our view of Love

Peter writes that a holy community will result in love for one another. The outcome of grace, obedience, redemption, and faith is a love for each other like brother and sister. We become a new family. One that seeks to be like our dad. We welcome and care for those that are a part of this family with personal sacrifice and suffering if need be. We do this because that is what pure love does. It is what pure love did for us.

I wonder what we would think of the word “holy” if this were our experience.

If “holy” were humble.

If “holy” were welcoming of all, especially the stranger.

If “holy” just felt like love.

That is our dad’s kind of holy.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Why are you here?

One of the most burning questions inside every human being is about why we are on this planet. Why we exist? We are looking and searching for meaning. This is also true for the church. The collective church seems to struggle with answering this question in a consistent and compelling way. Many look to the day that the church is "called home" but make little emphasis on what is happening today. We are not here to simply endure the failures of culture, society, and the empire that governs us. So, why are we here? Peter helps give us perspective in the first 12 verses in his letter (1 Peter 1:1-12).

We are here to be a Chosen Marginalized

Peter calls the people of God "elect exiles." They are in direct disagreement and inner rebellion with the empire of Rome. The republic demanded conformity and the pressure to worship according to Rome's demands pushed the people of Jesus to the margins of society. This was where the impact on the poor, the broken, and the vulnerable began to mark the followers of Jesus. We were chosen for this task. The margins of society is the center of the kingdom of God.

We are here to display a Sure and Future Hope

The people of Jesus should possess more hope than any other people on earth. It doesn't always feel that way, however. There is a reason that Peter needed to remind and encourage the church that was in Asia about their secure hope: they were scared. They could not see hope so clearly in the midst of persecution. He points them to a hope that is "imperishable, undefiled, and unfading." Our present circumstances are not greater than our future hope.

We are here to form a Courageous Authenticity

Some of Peter's imagery and examples come from the Old Testament during the time of Babylonian Captivity. This time of "exile" for the people of God tested their authenticity. The "fire" of Babylon was very real for men like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. They were found to have an authenticity that was greater than the gold of Nebuchadnezzar (Daniel 3). Peter points to the same tests in other empires for you and me. The fires that we face are not destructive; they are refining. They change us, but they do not destroy us.

We are here to Enjoy Jesus

Jesus is better. Jesus is better than anything. He is what we are looking for and seeking in this world. His Gospel is the hope of this world. His radical grace is our purpose on this planet. Peter points us to grasp hold of what we cannot see. He tells us that this "unseen" Jesus is who we love, put our trust in, and joyously celebrate. This enjoyment of Jesus should mark us as a people. How different would we look to the world around us if this were our everyday attitude and expression.

We are here to Honor those that Came Before Us

We are surrounded by a "great cloud of witnesses." Peter didn't write this phrase (they don't think) but he could have. He believes it deeply. The prophets looked at the grace that was to come through the incarnation of Jesus with longing. The person or people that shared the Gospel with you and introduced you to Jesus looked at your faith with great expectation. Even the angels look on the life that you get to lead with awe. Jesus has caused all of this to happen because he loves you, he has a purpose for your life.

He has a mission for you.

Will you accept it?

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Do You Have a Questionable Faith?

“but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you, yet do it with gentleness and respect,” 1 Peter 3:15

There are a couple of book of the Bible that are more plainly focused on being the people of God and setting out for us the vision of Jesus for what that looks like. Ephesians is one; 1 Peter is the other. Peter commends us to live lives that are worthy of questions from outsiders. His idea of evangelism and apologetics is a response to the questions that come about the hope that lies within you. How many of us are so full of hope that our neighbors are confounded? How many of us live lives that are radically reformed by the hope that we have in Jesus? What if our lives were worthy of questions from those wondering what would make us live like we do? There are several areas of our lives that Peter points out that if addressed would render our lives worthy of questions.

Courageous Authenticity

I am just going to dive into the most provocative first. Christians struggle with authenticity. Everyone struggles with authenticity, but Christians seem to be the poster child. Our world of social media and YouTube stardom have us living in a culture where we give in to the temptation to put our best face forward at all times. A simple survey of Facebook will show that Christians (and the church) are some of the worst offenders. We are always “blessed” and “giving it to God” and making “unspoken” prayer requests. The world around us is stepping out into a #metoo movement because they crave authenticity and are tired of hiding. We stand in the grace of a loving God. The grace of Jesus empowers us to be more real than anyone about our sinfulness and failures. In fact, Jesus paints the most beautiful pictures of his grace on the canvas of our brokenness.

Community of Servants

Jesus came to serve and not to be served. However, it seems that more and more we loath being last. We never say this, of course, because that would not be cool. But, we use even our “service” as a way of self-promotion. A community that is committed to serving the people around them raises questions. What family do you ever visit that races to be the one to clean the dishes? Where do you ever go where the people show up early to look for ways to help (not just ask)? Jesus commissioned a people that served each other before anything else. It was what he said would tip off the fact that we were his people.

United in Mission

Sometimes I think that if you had ten people in a room, you would find ten different agendas. Most of the agendas are pointed to our own personal gain and satisfaction. We do this often, I think, with the way we gather for church services. We hire the best preacher, desire the best music, demand the perfect temperature. But it could look different if a group of people were gathered and focused on ways that we could love and serve other people. Even in missional communities it is uncommon to see people sharing the work. If the only thing that unites us is where we gather for an hour a week then we are not living the same mission as Jesus. He calls us out of our gatherings as a gathered people to scatter them in order to display to the onlooking world his grace and redemption of all things (and all kinds of people… wink, wink) and then gather them together.

Welcoming and Generous

People don’t like to share. Days like “giving Tuesday” and “Amazon Smile” exist because people hate to share their space and their stuff. I will break you off five bucks but don’t touch my lunch, invade my space, or ask me for my time. This is a part of the culture we live in. Our society created a church that asks for “10%” as a means to keep up the salaries and buildings for our gatherings and we conclude that this is church. This is not. The vision of Jesus for the people of God is to practice hospitality by opening our space to others and welcoming them in. He desires that we share our stuff (all of it) with others as they have need or that being in the same space with them might require. Let’s admit it, people that hold their space and their stuff loosely are weird. Jesus calls us to be weird. He asks us to bring the better wine. He asks us to host the parties, too.

Live Our Calling Everyday

What is your calling? Do you know? Do you think that only those that pursue full-time ministry or are at the church “every time the doors open” have a calling? If you are a follower of Jesus then he has placed his Spirit in you (don’t ask me where) and one of the results is that you possess the spiritual DNA to reproduce the entire church. In you. That is true. No person has more Jesus than anyone else. This means that your everyday life has as much potential for kingdom impact as any pastor or preacher. In this day and age, your life has more potential because you are around people that are looking for grace, they are longing for hope, they are desperate for redemption and they are not going to the church building to find it. They just don’t know that what they are looking for is Jesus. Your home, your neighborhood, and your city in the everyday patterns and rhythms of your life can display the movement and intentions of Jesus.  

Express Heartfelt Praise to Jesus

That brings us to our next point. You don’t have anything. Nothing. It is not yours. What you do claim as possession, you don’t deserve. You did not earn it. You have been lied to. Now, the truth. Everything you have and all that you are is from Jesus. He desires for you to be cared for and loved. He gives you relationships and provisions. His grace gives you courage and boldness. He commands leaders, presidents (even the ones that are “not yours”), and kings. They all serve his purposes. Because this is true, we live every day in praise of him. How weird would it be to pray, not just before a meal, but during it? Praising Jesus for making steak taste so good and inspiring the person that invented macaroni and cheese. If we honestly believed these things then we would never run out of praise and we would not need to wait for the worship band to start playing to express it. We would already be doing all the stuff they sing about.

Display Justice, Peace, and Hope

When is the last time that you heard someone ask, “Why are you Christians so peaceful?” or “How do you Christians always show such hope for this world?” Yeah, I have never heard that either. In fact, I think that the reputation for the people of Jesus is quite the opposite. We are seen as angry at the way the world has become. We do not see any other way to fix than to have “our way, our president, and our laws.” We demand and require a “Christian nation” in order to live our “Christian lives.” We stand against “immigration” as if we are not aliens in this world. We want walls to keep out the outsiders even though Jesus says that we are strangers. We place our comforts before our compassion. We will not suffer in order to share. Because we don’t have much hope for this world. But Jesus does. He desires a people of peace. That will walk among our enemies, as we love them, as they harm us. He desires that we have eyes that can see the injustice in our world (including in our church buildings) and do something about it. He wants a people that are not afraid of any neighborhood. He fills us with his grace and presence so that we will be full of hope, his hope, so we can be a loving presence in this place and for these people.

What if our neighbors thought we were weird? “But even though weird, there is something different about them.” I wonder what our lives would be like if evangelism required just answering all of their questions, “Oh, the reason I am like that is because of Jesus.”

Then invite them to be weird.

But not in a weird way.

Oh, you get it.

5 Marks of a Holy Church

Holiness is a strange word for us today. We get visions of being “holier than thou” or risk presenting ourselves as “per...