Monday, October 27, 2008

The Audacity to Hope

Here is a link to a sermon by Jeremiah Wright, Pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, and the church that Barack Obama attended for a large portion of his life. I thought it was very compelling and apparently the inspiration for Obama's book, The Audacity of Hope. I encourage you to check it out.

Rev. Wright has been one of Obama's controversial acquaintances for I believe some radical remarks. I was never overly bothered by it because it seemed to me that such things are more common in that context and sound shocking to the more established people in our country. This is not to excuse objectionable comments, just to put them in perspective of a particular cultural context. Also, to be honest, I don't even know the details of the controversy and the comments of Rev. Wright that were objectionable. Obama has clearly distanced himself from him. In addition, I haven't read Obama's book and don't really plan too. Regardless, this is a good sermon and very interesting in light of its influence on Barack Obama.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

1 Pet. 2:1-12, Crave Change as God's Priests

This is my first post in some time, and I don't think I am merely going to put up my outline, since it seems to be contrary to a blog. Rather, I will a brief summary of the passage we will be studying in Regeneration tonight and hopefully people will engage with it.

New Life Desires Transformation (1 Pet 2:1-3)

We begin with a few verses, 1 Pet 2:1-3, that are really tied to the previous ones, 1 Pet 1:22-25. It gives the means by which we demonstrate the love for one another commanded by God. It begins with a list of vices, or traits that do not characterize a Christian. Karen Jobes in her excellent commentary says of the relationship between these verses, that the "new life is generated by God's eternal word and is characterized by love defined as moral transformation." Do you catch that? New life as a Christian is not merely a confession of faith in Jesus, but a demonstration of his character.
These verses have one command in them, that is to "crave pure spiritual milk." The word spiritual here is important, and in general, I take issue with the false dichotomy in most people's minds when it comes to the word "spiritual" and many related words in the NT. The word here is used in one other place, Rom 12:1, "your spiritual act of worship." The word is "logikos" which can also be translated "rational or reasonable." Crave pure reasonable milk which most take as to be the word of God which gives life, in other words, read your Bible. I don't know about you, but reading my Bible does not always automatically cause me to grow. This is where Calvin, Hort, and Jobes, the three commentators who disagree are right. Milk is clearly a metaphor for the very sustenance that sustains us. The pure spiritual milk is our identity as revealed in the word of God. Thus, we should crave transformation into the fullness of our salvation and complete are destiny. Practically speaking, I am talking about a Christian can maintain their passion and vitality by obeying the ethical demands of the Bible. As James says, "do not just listen to the word. Do what it says." (Jam 1:22-25).

You want to mature in your faith? Crave Transformation

The Priesthood of Believers? (1 Pet 2:4-10)

I always thought this was a passage to support the idea that every believer is a priest and we are all equal in authority and responsibility. Well, I didn't exactly think that but the idea of demolishing any line between laity and clergy was the point. Those other things are the unforeseen consequences evidenced by the plethora of denominations today. Really, when Peter describes all believers as stones in the temple of God set upon the cornerstone, Jesus Christ. He means that the church, not the individual, is a part of proper and holy worship of God. We he says we are all priests, he means we should all pursue the same holiness and devotion of the Christian leaders we revere most. There is no hierarchy of Christian devotion, whether a plumber, engineer, or Pastor, all should seek to be just and holy and devoted to Christ as one who is in full time Christian ministry. The issue of the priesthood of believers is true but it does not necessarily mean all have the same authority, for some were given to be leaders and some were given to be servants. It really means we all have equal access to God.
Another issue here too, is Peter language throughout the book that we are "chosen." I don't want to get into a Calvin/Armenian debate but I think his point is all will encounter the cornerstone of Jesus. All will respond whether he is needed to build the future. Those who choose him will be added to God's kingdom that WILL COME. Those who reject him will stumble and fall over him as they pursue to build their own kingdom. In a sense, God has placed Jesus before all people and their response to him reveals whether they are chosen or not. The issue of if God knew beforehand or not, will always be a matter of debate. The destiny predicated on one's response is not. You will be a part of his kingdom and get to dwell with him eternally, or you will be a part of the rubble. Everyone is building something, the question is, whose temple are you building?

The Priesthood of believers is to choose to have the character of a priest of Jesus Christ.

Live as Dual Citizens (1 Pet 2:11-12)

This is probably the best verse in the whole New Testament on how Christians should live in the world. It is reminiscent of Jer 29:4-7 says, to seek the welfare of the city in which you live as you seek to be faithful to God. Essentially the rest of 1 Peter will tease out the implications of this for the audience of his day, but the point should not be overlooked. We must abstain from the desires that war against our whole self as Christians and we should live such good lives among those around us they will glorify God. This is the verse for lifestyle evangelism. We must live under the authority of the nation we live in, seek its welfare as we above all else, remain faithful to God. The non-Christians around you are watching you, quite literally it says "observing" you. We will work out the implications of this as we continue through 1 Peter but for now, know the stage has been set. Since the majority of the first two chapter discuss what Christian identity is, people who were not among God's people, and have now been given a new life that results in a total transformation of character consistent with Jesus and live in a foreign and hostile land, the rest of the book tells us what it looks like to maintain godly character in the midst of an unbelieving land. The emphasis is on your character, not the content or actions of the country you live in. Karen Jobes says it best when summarizing this issue, "it is better to suffer than to sin."

Meditate on that, as you increase in your cravings for transformation and service as a priest in God's temple.

Sermon Audio

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

1 Peter 1:13-25 "Holiness by Faith"

  1. Introduction
    1. Review last week
      1. Author: Peter
      2. Audience: Believers throughout Asia Minor
      3. Context: Suffering
      4. Purpose: Encouragement
      5. Themes: Future grace, right living
    2. Tension
      1. Past
        1. Jesus' victory on the cross
        2. Our redemption experience
      2. Future
        1. Jesus' future appearance in victory
        2. Our future glory and inheritance in Christ
      3. Now
        1. Jesus not seen
        2. Our present suffering
        3. Life as an alien and a stranger
    3. Part I of Ch 1 was indicative and descriptive, now the second part is prescriptive--the two are linked! We are still in the conceptual part of the book, though.
  2. The Text: 1 Peter 1:13-25
  3. First imperative: Set your hope on grace
    1. This bridges the previous theological truth about past, present, and future grace to present action
    2. This command is the foundation for the others
    3. The means of persevering in suffering is the gospel
    4. Set your hope on grace by
      1. Preparing your minds for action
        1. Idiom: gird up your loins
        2. Similar to "roll up your sleeves"
      2. Being sober-minded/self-controlled
    5. Similar to Heb 12:1-3, Col 3:2, Rom 12:2
    6. Application
      1. The emphasis here is on your mind
      2. What do we think about, dwell on, etc.? (Phil 4:8)
      3. For me, no television
      4. Look for grace principles in all of life
  4. Second imperative: Live your true family identity
    1. Negatively, do not conform
      1. to the evil desires of ignorance
      2. to the way of life "handed down from forefathers"
    2. Positively, be holy as God, our Father, is holy (quoting Lev 19:2)
  5. Third imperative: Live in reverent fear throughout time in exile
    1. Closely tied with previous imperative (could even be considered as one)
    2. Because God is our father and is an impartial judge
      1. Response of fear is respect
      2. Every branch that does not bear fruit is cut off (John 15:2)
    3. Because we were redeemed by Jesus Christ
      1. Redeemed from "empty way of life handed down by our forefathers"
        1. Usually the way of life is positive, the foundation of society
        2. Empty or futile in that Christ is not in it
        3. Contemporary equivalent: the American dream?
        4. Even apart from the specific issues of culture and family, we are children of Adam and inherit a sinful nature bent toward evil desires and rebellion against God
      2. Perishable vs. imperishable
        1. When life is trying, we need a firm reference
        2. Jesus is that rock
      3. Precious blood, as of an innocent, unblemished lamb
      4. Chosen before creation of world but now made known
      5. Raised from the dead and given glory
  6. Fourth imperative: Love one another earnestly, from the heart
    1. Again, closely tied with the previous two
    2. Perishable vs. imperishable again
    3. The four imperatives move from most general to most specific
    4. Why such general applications?
      1. A general epistle, passed around to many diverse churches
      2. The gospel is central, not the specifics of how it works out
      3. More specific applications are coming later
        1. Submission to authorities
          1. Emperors/subjects
          2. Masters/slaves
          3. Husbands/wives
        2. How to respond to mistreatment
        3. Serving and offering hospitality to one another
        4. Abstention from debauchery
        5. How to lead the church
      4. Be vs. do
  7. Conclusion
    1. The grace of God (the gospel) and our holiness are inextricably entwined
      1. You cannot experience the grace of God without being moved toward holiness
      2. You cannot grow in holiness apart from the grace of God
    2. Grace is appropriated by faith and fueled by hope
      1. We look backward to the cross
      2. We look forward to Jesus' future return in glory
      3. We live the present by faith
    3. Fix your mind, your heart, and your hope on grace
  8. Regen Reflection
    1. What competes with grace for your hope?
    2. What most draws your hope toward Christ and away from those things?
    3. Activity: As a group, create a way to present the main point of this passage without words. (E.g. draw something, act something, etc.)

Resource: Reading the Bible Redemptively, a few questions to ask when you read the Bible that will help you find grace and the connection to Jesus.

Sermon Audio

Monday, October 20, 2008

Voting for President

We are blessed to live in a nation where we witness a peaceful transfer of power every four (or eight) years. For some nations, any change in the head of state is a violent, bloody proceeding.

Nevertheless, there are perhaps few issues as polarizing in evangelical Christianity and the American populous at large as the event coming up on Nov 4: the presidential election. Instead of shedding blood with our hands, we shed blood with our words.

What are Christians to do about all of this? Should we vote or not? And if we answer that question in the affirmative, who should we vote for, and why?

I'm not here to tell you who to vote for--that is not the purpose of this blog, and besides, I'm still deciding--but I thought I would share something with you that has been helpful to me in thinking about how I, as a Christian, approach politics.

The following three articles are from Scot McKnight. He has been one of the most influential thinkers in my life in recent years.

According to his bio, "Scot McKnight is a widely-recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. He is the Karl A. Olsson Professor in Religious Studies at North Park University (Chicago, Illinois). A popular and witty speaker, Dr. McKnight has given interviews on radios across the nation, has appeared on television, and is regularly asked to speak in local churches and educational events. Dr. McKnight obtained his Ph.D. at the University of Nottingham (1986)."

Here are some of his thoughts on the whole matter:

- The merits and demerits of voting for president

- Thoughts on John McCain

- Thoughts on Barack Obama

One of the topics that came up at the Off the Map conference on Friday night was how Christians engage the sphere of politics, so I have been thinking about this topic even more than usual this past weekend. I was prompted to write this blog post after Paul's message last night, upon thinking more about this verse:

"Set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed." - 1 Peter 1:13

What do you think? How do you, as a Christian, approach the intersection of faith and politics?

Thursday, October 9, 2008

On Third Places

Since the concept of "third place" came up in our discussion related to the previous post, I thought I would read the book Great Good Places by Ray Oldenburg to get a better picture of what a third place is. The book was wonderfully fascinating, and I've posted some summary thoughts over at my blog. If you aren't sure what a third place even is, that's the place to start. For here at the Regen blog, I thought I would put together some of my thoughts about third places as it touches on our ministry.

First, I think it is clear that we need to be in third places. These are great connecting points for a well-balanced society, and being active in a third place is important for our own well-being and the good of society, community, and family. Even apart from any possible avenues for evangelism that might open up, I think being in a third place is a good thing.

Second, I think third places are hard to find. Modern cities and especially in the suburbs, there just aren't many places that meet the criteria for being a true third place. As Americans, not just as Christians, our free time is mostly organized around activities and is typically committed to structured activities rather than unstructured and unplanned hang-out time at a place close to our homes. Unstructured time is usually spent holed up at home in front of the television or the computer or otherwise with our families. This doesn't mean that there are no ways to connect to other people in our society, and it doesn't mean that the third place concept is unhelpful, but it does mean that the third place is not a panacea for how Regen can connect to new people.

Third, I think it would be very difficult for a Regen small group to meet in a third place and engage with it as a third place without giving up the ability to discuss issues that are of our particular interest. We could locate ourselves there yet set ourselves apart in order to talk about Jesus or pray or whatever, but then we aren't really engaged with the native discussion of the place. Alternatively, we could join the conversation is there, but we wouldn't be able to pursue any agenda other than just being there. Most of us in Regen live far enough from each other that in order to go someplace together, we would have to adopt a third place that's not really in our neighborhood. Further, "regular" at a third place would probably mean something more than once a week. This doesn't mean that meeting in a third place (if one were found) is a bad idea that should be thrown out, but there are certainly some issues to think through.

Fourth, if Oldenburg is right that third places are important to human flourishing, and if he is right that our communities largely lack third places, then there may be opportunities for us, corporately or more likely individually, to be involved with promoting or creating third places. I don't have any ideas of what that might look like for Regen or Bear Valley or myself individually, but I think it is worth at least keeping in the back of our minds.

The book really is great, and I would recommend anyone to read it. You can find it at several area libraries or your favorite book retailer.