Thursday, February 27, 2014

The Word that Calls Us...

            Peter was a man who learned to rely on the word of God. Growing up in a Jewish family, he was, of course, instructed in the value of God’s word. He most likely was faithful in attending the synagogue where the word of God was read and explained each week. That being true, his mind was filled with the curious mixture of God’s pure word and human ideas about that word. That is true, not just for Peter, but for everyone who seeks to hear God’s voice.

Once Peter reached adulthood, he learned to fish for a living. The word of God was still rumbling around in his mind, but often his mind was simply occupied by the pressing needs of life – to make a living and keep his home running smoothly. While seeking to do this, his little brother Andrew introduced him to a rabbi named Jesus. Everything changed for Peter on that day. It was from Jesus that Peter learned to value God’s word more highly than he ever had before and to rely on it for his very life!

Peter was accustomed to hearing the word of God discussed and its meaning debated. When Jesus entered his life, he finally saw the word of God lived in all of its demanding gracefulness! It changed Peter’s life forever. He stopped fishing and began a life long obsession with telling (and showing!) God’s word to everyone who would listen.

In his old age, Peter wrote to the churches in Asia Minor about this powerful word of God. He reminded them that the word of God has changed their lives! They were pure because they had obeyed the truth. In a world that did not value moral purity, these Christians were like a light in a dark world. Obedience always leads to purity of heart, and the truth of God’s word always leads to obedience.

The word of God also called these Christians to greater love. Peter described their love with these words: “you have sincere love for each other, love one another deeply, from the heart!” They knew that love was the thing they most needed as they attempted to walk with Jesus. If we are not becoming more loving over time, then we are not obeying God’s word, whatever scriptures we may quote!

The word of God called these Christians to continued growth. Peter calls them newborn babes. God’s word was to be their milk to lead them to growth. Peter tells them to grow up in their salvation. This is a difficult task, for we often get satisfied at certain maturity levels and slip out of growth mode into maintenance mode. God’s word, gently at times, forcefully at times, pushes God’s people to grow.

The word of God changed Peter eternally, because Peter paid attention. Are you living attentively, hearing and obeying the word of God?   


Thursday, February 20, 2014

Be Holy - Like Your Father

            God is holy. Holy means “set apart” or “perfect, transcendent or spiritually pure.” Holy also brings to mind great and awesome power! To approach the holy can mean ones destruction. That is why the ancient Hebrew people were terrified to be in the presence of God or any of his “holy ones.” God is intrinsically holy – it is one of his foundational characteristics. People, obviously, are not intrinsically holy.

            God wants his people – all people, really – to be holy. Of course, since we are not intrinsically holy, our holiness must be an acquired holiness. It is a gift that Jesus wants to give us. It seems, at least to me, to consist of two distinct elements. There is the status of “holy” which Jesus confers upon us when we are saved. By his sacrifice and grace our sins are washed away and we are divinely declared righteous and holy. What an amazing gift! Then there is the living out of this holy status or state. We are to turn away from “the evil desires we had when we lived in ignorance” and we are to “be holy in all you do.” (1 Peter 1:14-15).

            This paradoxical truth about holiness – that it is a gift from God that we must live out – creates positive spiritual energy in our lives and churches. First, since holiness is a gift, we can have confidence because our salvation and success in living as disciples does not rest finally in our performance; rather it is anchored in the goodness and generosity of God. Our faith is not in ourselves, or even in faith itself, rather our faith is in God. But because holiness is also a gift that must be lived out, our lives, choices and actions become meaningful. We are not automatons who stumble through life in a predetermined fashion with no options and no purpose. We are beloved children who have been blessed by our Father to become a source of blessing to others. This idea is as old as God’s call to Abraham and Sarah. Lived holiness is extremely attractive. It is also somewhat rare in our world.

            That is why Peter calls us to remember God’s desire for us to be holy. The holiness that God shares with us is not terrifying, rather it is a beautiful demonstration of what life can be. As I am writing this I am in intense prayer for the country of Ukraine as they are on the verge of civil war. The power of darkness is threatening to engulf both sides in the conflict. Yet moments of something holy keep showing up – a babushka with a cross standing between police and protestors; priests who position themselves between the protestors and police and sing hymns for an hour everyday; an impromptu worship service in the square when news of the truce is shared. Darkness always seems to be more powerful than light, but it is just an illusion (however powerful!). Holiness will lead us to become what God created us to be. Nothing else can do that. Be holy because your Father is holy.

- Kenny Payne