No Ugly Betty (1 Peter 2:1-10)

Have you seen Ugly Betty? It's a show just out this year about Betty Suarez, a frumpy young woman from a struggling Latino family who works as an executive assistant at a fashion magazine. Most of her female coworkers are more attractive than she is, and they often humiliate and insult her because of her appearance. She wears braces, is overweight, and completely unable to dress fashionably but keeps her job because she's got skills and a good attitude. She is, according to some, Fall TV's most interesting character.

This may be a bit of a jump, but I'm wondering if some of us see the church as an Ugly Betty: frumpy, not very fashionable, but with sort of a good attitude and some skill. Have you ever had a feeling of incongruity as you've sung a hymn about the church and looked around and thought, "The words of this hymn and what I see around me just don't match"?

I love Thy Church, O God!
Her walls before Thee stand,
Dear as the apple of Thine eye,
And graven on Thy hand.
For her my tears shall fall;
For her my prayers ascend;
To her my cares and toils be given,
Till toils and cares shall end.

Beyond my highest joys
I prize her heavenly ways,
Her sweet communion, solemn vows,
Her hymns of love and praise.

Do you ever sing that and think it's a little like telling Ugly Betty that she's the most beautiful girl you've seen in your life?

Eugene Peterson, the man who created the Message paraphrase of the Bible, talks from the perspective of a pastor. He says that some may have at one time thought that pastoring is like riding "a glistening black stallion in daily parades" and then returning to the barn where a lackey grooms the steed for us. Instead, he says, church is more like the routines of "cleaning out the barn, mucking out the stalls, spreading manure, pulling weeds." Nothing wrong with that, but it's a little like Ugly Betty.

I discovered this software the other day. You can take really good pictures of yourself, like this one. Or, you can take pictures and distort them, like this one. It's fun to distort pictures of yourself - as long as you can remember which one is the real you. My son has taken hundreds of distorted pictures of himself now. There's not a problem with that unless he begins to think this is what he really looks like.

So let me ask you: what is your picture of church? Is it more like Ugly Betty or "Dear as the apple of Thine eye, And graven on Thy hand"?

I guess I should be a little more specific. Let's forget talking about churches in general - that's like talking about the institution of marriage. Let's talk in specifics. What is your picture of this church? You know, of course, that I'm not talking about the building or the programs. I'm talking about us as a community of people. I'm talking about the people who helped you move; the guy you try to avoid in the foyer after church; the young lady who used to babysit your kids; the married couple who have a completely different parenting style than you do; the person who's sat in front of you for the past two years. What do you think of this church in particular?

I suspect that you may have a similar view of the church as we read about in the letter we've been considering. I want to take you five thousand miles and two thousand years away from here. Picture getting off work the first day of the week - the equivalent of our Monday - and heading off to what we would consider a small house today. There's twenty or so people there. There's a wife who became a Christian last year against her husband's wishes. There's a servant who's having a hard time with his master. You look around and you see a group of tired people who have only a few things in common: they are followers of Jesus Christ; they are out of step with the rest of society; and they really don't look like much. They look a little like Ugly Betty.

But that evening, word gets out that a letter has arrived. It's not just a letter from anyone. It's a letter from Peter, now an old man. The same Peter who knew Jesus better than almost anyone else; the same Peter that some in your home heard preach at Pentecost years ago. This is Peter the Apostle, hand-picked disciple of Jesus Christ.

What does Peter say to this tired and rather unimpressive group meeting at the end of a long workday?

As you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by human beings but chosen by God and precious to him— you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ...

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's special possession, 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; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. (1 Peter 2:4-5, 9-10)

I was in Boston in March and decided to get tickets for a Boston Bruins game. I took a couple of friends, one from Nebraska and one from Oregon. My friend from Nebraska was fine: he knew more about hockey than I did. But my friend from Oregon didn't have a clue what was going on. They showed a picture of the famous Canadian hockey player Bobby Orr, who played ten seasons with Boston, at the beginning of the game

and the crowd went wild. I explained that he was the Wayne Gretzky of hockey in his day, but otherwise my friend wouldn't have had a clue.

That's a little how I feel as we read what Peter says to this church, and I believe what he would say to us as well. Peter throws in every Biblical image he can think of and more to describe the church, and those who read this letter that night after work would look around and the others and say, "Is this right? Is this who we really are?" They would get what Peter is talking about, and it would hit hard. It's not a view that ignores the tough realities of human nature and the disillusionment that results. But it's a profoundly positive view of the church despite the fact that most churches don't look like much. It's a view that is just as true of Richview as it was of this group back then.

What does Peter say about the church in this passage? There are a lot of themes in this passage and you could preach ten sermons. Here are the two overarching themes that tell us who we are today:

We are where God lives

Thousands of years earlier, God told a group of escaped slaves traveling through the dessert: "Have them make a sanctuary for me, and I will dwell among them" (Exodus 25:8). They did build the sanctuary, just as God told them. When they finished, we read, "Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. Moses could not enter the tent of meeting because the cloud had settled on it, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle" (Exodus 40:34-35).

Picture God living right there among people. Wherever they went, God tented right among them. They could look over and see his visible presence, and he guided them toward the land he promised them.

Eventually, Solomon built the Temple, which became the new dwelling place for God. Then it was destroyed and rebuilt and then destroyed again. When this letter was written, the Temple had just been through an 83 year building project. It was understood to be the place where God lived on this earth.

But then Peter writes, "As you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by human beings but chosen by God and precious to him— you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ" (1 Peter 2:5-6).

It's a bizarre image, but let's think about it. Look around you right now. What do you see around you? Peter says you should see a community of people who are built on the precious but rejected cornerstone of Jesus, and who are being built up into the very place where God has chosen to live in this world. We are, as we come to Jesus, where God now lives - an amorphous building that continually takes on the changing dimensions, but where God has chosen to live. Remember that he's not talking about the church in the abstract, the church of our dreams. He's talking about us. We together are where God chooses to live.

In 1991, a prosperous architect took a drive through America's deep South. He was struggling with his profession which sold beautiful buildings to those with status, wealth, and security. Only the rich can afford to live in architecturally beautiful buildings.

The architect dreamed of the poor living in stunning new houses. As he drove through poverty-stricken rural areas, he saw hundreds of dilapidated, almost unlivable houses. That year he gave up his practice and started an architectural school called the Rural Studio. He and his students walked up dusty driveways to decrepit old shacks, knocked on the door, and offered the residents new houses. Here are what some of them look like. He took decrepit old houses and transformed them into works of beauty.

So if you're driving in an impoverished area and see a house that doesn't fit, it's not because the people living there scraped it together themselves. It's because someone saw the potential for beauty in places nobody else would look, and gave them what they couldn't afford for themselves.

Likewise, if you go looking for God, don't go looking in all the obvious places. Go looking for a group of nobodies who are meeting together after work in someone's house one evening. Look around you. God has chosen to move in and live among decrepit communities of people who couldn't make themselves beautiful, and he has made them into beautiful dwelling places for himself. He has choosen the people you see around you as living and moving stones in his house.

We are the people God has chosen

Peter gives us a second image in verses 9-10:

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's special possession, 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; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

This looks at first glance like a laundry list of titles. You could take each metaphor - chosen people, royal priesthood, holy nation, God's special possession - and study it by itself. But the main point Peter is making here isn't each term on its own.

Peter takes a whole bunch of metaphors that were used to describe Israel and applies it to the church. He says that we are the new covenant continuation of the people of God. We are not only where God lives; we are the people God has chosen to be his and to participate in his mission. The responsibility once solely trusted to Israel has now been given to the church.

He even tells us our purpose as his people: "that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light." God has chosen us to represent him and to declare his praises, so others will see his glory and praise him as well.

Now, take all of this together. Take a group of people who have come to Jesus Christ. Put them together in a group like this, centered around Jesus Christ, and they become the very dwelling place of God, the people he has chosen to participate in his mission. To put it simply, the church is where the action is, not because we are something, but because this is who God has chosen and where he has decided to live. The church is something because this is who God has chosen and where he has decided to live.

So what does this mean for us today? Verses 1 to 3 say:

Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind. Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good.

The church doesn't look like much to us, which means that it's easy to see the church cynically. In fact, cynicism pretty much defines how increasing numbers of people see the church. But Peter reminds us that the church is where the action is, because this is who God has chosen and where he has decided to live.

The church is relational, and that means that the greatest dangers within the church will be relational as well. Seeing the church the way that Peter describes means that we must take the sins he mentions in verse 1 as seriously as we take any sin. These are sins that deface God's dwelling place, and that tear down the people God has chosen to be his own.

Malice - ill will; a hateful feeling towards someone; a hostile attitude

Deceit - being less than truthful with each other; being tricky or manipulative

Hypocrisy - insincerity and pretense

Envy - resenting when others do well; wanting what they have for ourselves

Slander - speaking evil of anyone else

If a child came in with a spray can this morning and began spraying paint all over the walls, there would be more than a few of us who would be angry. But if someone expressed some hostility to someone else in this congregation, or spoke unkind words toward them, or refused to deal with conflict in a healthy way, and excused such behavior, then we are complicit with the defacing of God's dwelling place, his living stones, his very own chosen people. We need to take this very seriously. In fact, some of us need to take action today to stop doing this, to stop being party to the defacing of God's dwelling place and his chosen people.

It also means that we crave growth together - that we crave being shaped by his Word so we can become all that he intends us to be.

So let me ask you again. What do you see when you look around? What do you think of the church, this church in particular? As you look around, do you see Ugly Betty? Or do you see that this group, just as we are in our imperfection, is who God has chosen and where he has decided to live?

Sarah Cunningham is a twenty-something author who has written a book called Dear Church: Letters from a Disillusioned Generation. Sarah is disillusioned in many ways with the church. Her book is fascinating and disturbing. She doesn't write as someone who is blind to the faults of the church. She writes with gripping honesty and sometimes with despair.

But listen to how she ends the book.

Dear Church,

It may surprise you...sometimes it surprises me...that I am where I am today.

That I can still say I love you.

And, after all of this, you deserve one really good love letter...I write you, Church, because despite your flaws and despite my affair with disillusionment, I love you...

I love you because you are brilliant. You started out as this fragile group of marginalized disciples that almost no one thought would succeed. Yet in a dot-comlike explosion, you emerged on the global scene as a force to be reckoned with. Google and eBay have nothing on you, Church...

I love you because I am part of you. Because when my friends and I are teamed in Christ's mission, we are you.

So I write - first and foremost - because I love you.

There is something powerful about realizing that someone or something is not perfect and loving them anyway.

Sometimes, love is all the reason a person needs to stay in contact. So I leave you with this final message: I love you. Keep in touch.

Father, when we look at the church, we don't often see what you see. Thank you for Peter's reminder that while we see people and disappointment and ordinariness, you see the very people you have chosen to be your house, the people you have chosen to be your own, participants in your mission.

Right size our view of this very imperfect, sometimes frustrating, but ultimately glorious group of people here. Help us to be aware of the ways that we deface your house and your people and let us see them as seriously as we would see graffiti on these walls.

Make us the church you are calling us to be, so we may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. In Jesus' name, Amen.

Living the Gospel (1 Peter 1:13-25)

It was a proud moment. The pastor had just commissioned eighty-three new members. The newly initiated made their way off the platform as the pastor descended the steps to get closer to the congregation to begin the sermon.

"This is great, isn't it?" he began. "But before we get too giddy about new members, let me ask you a question. Why should we bring eighty-three new people into something that is not working?"

"Something is wrong," he continued, "and it was been tormenting me for several years. All the formulas, strategic planning, mission statements, and visionary sermons are not making disciples."

"Where was the personal transformation after all the effort we put into weekend services, Bible studies, small groups, and outreach events? We were engaged in a studied routine of religious activity without change." (from Bill Hull, Choose the Life)

We believe the Gospel, but most of us would have to admit that we aren't doing a great job of translating the Gospel into every day life. One study shows that Christians are very much like their non-Christian neighbors in rates of divorce, premarital sex, domestic violence and use of pornography, and are actually more likely to hold racist views than other people. I agree with Bill Hull. "Something is wrong...All the formulas, strategic planning, mission statements, and visionary sermons are not making disciples."

That's why I'd like to look at part of a letter written to address this very issue of translating the Gospel into action. The letter is 1 Peter. The first half of 1 Peter 1 tells us about all the blessings of the Gospel that we have received. The second half of 1 Peter 1 tells us how to translate the Gospel into life, so that we live it, not just believe it.

I really have no interest in believing the Gospel without living it, and I hope you don't either. So let me ask you three questions today from 1 Peter 1. I'd invite you to open your Bibles as we look at this passage and ask these three questions. These are three dimensions that are necessary for living the Gospel.

IN: Are you committed to becoming holy?

Verses 13 to 16 say:

Therefore, with minds that are alert and fully sober, set your hope on the grace to be brought to you when Jesus Christ is revealed at his coming. As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: "Be holy, because I am holy."

We put a lot of emphasis on making a decision to become a Christian, and that is important. I want people to enter into relationship with God and follow Him.

But sometimes we think it ends there: with a decision and agreement with a set of facts. Peter says that it can't end there. The Gospel is not a one-time decision. It's a way of life, and it's a process of transformation into holiness. So the question is not, "Have you made a decision?" but "Are you committed to becoming holy?"

In other words, Christianity isn't a one-time decision. It's a way of life that requires our ongoing obedience.

Peter tells us why we are to be holy: because God is holy. "Just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: "Be holy, because I am holy" (1 Peter 1:15-16). Our lives are to reflect God's character. God has always been about calling a people to be his so that they reflect his character and are holy just as he is holy.

Peter also tells us how to become holy. "Therefore, with minds that are alert and fully sober, set your hope on the grace to be brought to you when Jesus Christ is revealed at his coming" (1 Peter 1:13). Peter uses a word picture that is lost in the translation. The picture is of a man who is wearing a long robe. To get ready to run, he gathers up his long robes and holds them in his hand to prepare for action. Peter says, "Get your minds ready for action. Be alert and ready." Our part is to prepare ourselves so that holiness is on our agenda, that it becomes our pursuit.

It's almost like working backwards from the way we will be when Jesus returns to today. We know we'll be holy one day; our job is to live today in light of that reality. Peter says, "Set your hope on the grace to be brought to you when Jesus Christ is revealed at his coming" (1 Peter 1:13). In other words, "Place your hope totally on the return of Jesus Christ and its results, and live your life in light of that future reality."

That is the first question I want to ask you today. Are you committed to Christianity that is more than a decision or agreement to a set of facts? Are you committed to making holiness and obedience the pursuit of your life? To make the Gospel a way of life rather than a one-time decision? Dietrich Bonhoeffer said that Christianity without discipleship is Christianity without Christ. Do you commit to become holy?

UP: Are you appropriately fearful of God?

Haddon Robinson is a Distinguished Professor of Preaching. He is like the rock star of preachers. He wrote the textbook on preaching. He has been named one of the twelve most effective preachers in the English speaking world. He's also tough as nails. He grew up on some of the rougher streets of New York and knows how to scrap. In other words, he really isn't the type of guy that you want to preach in front of if you're a preacher. Yet that's exactly what I had to do a couple of years ago, and I was scared. I knew that I couldn't fool him, and he wouldn't be scared to point out what I was doing wrong.

We normally don't think of being afraid as something good, but there's a sense in which fear is a good thing. It's bad to be scared of things that aren't scary, but I'm glad that I'm afraid of touching a hot stove or of jumping off the top of an apartment building. Fear is a gift when we're afraid of the right things.

Peter says that we need to be appropriately afraid if we are going to translate the Gospel into life. Peter says in verse 17, "Since you call on a Father who judges each person's work impartially, live out your time as foreigners here in reverent fear."

So my second question today is, "Are you appropriately fearful of God?" There's a reason to be fearful. It's because we "call on a Father who judges each person's work impartially." God is our Father. What is at stake when God judges us is not our eternal destiny or our relationship with him. That is secure. But make no mistake: God judges us according to our work, and he does so impartially. He doesn't play any favorites when he judges.

There are a couple of senses in which God judges us. One is on the day of judgment, when we will give an account for what we've done. But I don't think that's what Peter's talking about here. He's talking about God's present discipline. God is the one who is judging us, right here and right now. Hebrews 12:6 says, "The Lord disciplines those he loves, and he chastens everyone he accepts as his child."

You want to be appropriately afraid of God? Recognize that he sees your whole life, and that he will discipline you in this life. The God who sees our entire loves is the God who judges us out of love.

Peter explains why God takes this seriously. It's because we have been saved at such a great cost. He writes,

For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake. Through him you believe in God, who raised him from the dead and glorified him, and so your faith and hope are in God. (1 Peter 1:18-21)

If I give you the keys to my old beater with 326,000 km on it, you don't need to be too afraid if it comes back damaged. It's old and it's a beater. But if I gave you the keys to a Saleen S7 Twin Turbo, worth over US$670,000, you might be more afraid to drive it. But the Saleen S7 Twin Turbo pales in value to what God has given you, He didn't redeem you with inexpensive things like silver and gold. He redeemed you with the incomparably precious blood of Christ his own Son, and that's why he takes seriously what we do with the new life that he purchased for us. So let me ask you: are you appropriately fearful of God who judges what you do with what he's purchased for you?

Oswald Chambers said, "The remarkable thing about fearing God is that when you fear God you fear nothing else, whereas if you do not fear God you fear everything else." If you are going to translate the Gospel into life, you need the fear of God. Are you appropriately fearful of God?

OUT: Do you love other Christians deeply?

Last question: Do you love other Christians deeply? Are you committed to becoming holy, are you appropriately fearful of God, and do you love other Christians deeply? Peter writes in verses 22 to 25:

Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for each other, love one another deeply, from the heart. For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God. For,

"All people are like grass,

and all their glory is like the flowers of the field;

the grass withers and the flowers fall,

but the word of the Lord endures forever."

And this is the word that was preached to you.

I don't have to tell you how hard this is. If you love other Christians, you will be disappointed. But becoming a radical community of Christians who love each other is essential to translating the Gospel into life. Peter tells us why. He says that the community that has been formed by faith is eternal, because it has been formed by the word of God which is eternal. You can't become a person who lives the Gospel alone. You need to "have a sincere love for each other, love one another deeply, from the heart."

What Peter talks about here isn't just community. I think it goes deeper than that. It's communitas. Communitas is a word that describes the depth of community that develops among soldiers in battle, or people who are thrown into some sort of crisis together, or even on a short-term missions trip. They develop a super-community, a sense of closeness that's hard to describe. It even happens on some sports teams. One writer calls it a "community infused with a grand sense of purpose, a purpose that lies outside of its current describes the experience of togetherness that only really happens among a group of people actually engaging in a mission outside itself" (Alan Hirsch).

In other words, this is the type of relationship we'll never experience if church for us is only about attending services. It won't happen if we aren't engaged in a mission outside of the church. This type of community, which is absolutely necessary for living the Gospel, only comes as we enter into genuine, authentic relationship with each other and as we join God in his mission.

These are the three questions I want to ask of ourselves today. Are we committed to becoming holy? Are we appropriately fearful of God? Are we committed to developing communitas, loving other Christians deeply."


Bill Hull said, "Something is wrong...All the formulas, strategic planning, mission statements, and visionary sermons are not making disciples." What was missing, what is missing from many churches, is discipleship. What's missing is translating the Gospel into everyday life. What is needed is repentance from a form of Christianity that doesn't include these three things.

Today is repentance time. It's time to say no to Christianity that doesn't include these three dimensions. It's time to enter into living the Gospel rather than just believing it in our heads. So lets pray.

Father, we repent of believing the Gospel but not living it. Today we want to commit to being holy, to living the Gospel as a way of life. Make us holy. Make us fearful of your discipline. Build a sense of love and communitas among us. Make us disciples.

Let us never settle for anything less than living these three dimensions: of Christianity as a decision rather than a way of life; of glibness with you rather than fear; of pseudo-community rather than the real thing.

We pray these things for your glory, in Jesus' name. Amen.

The Holiest Thing You Can Do (1 Timothy 4:1-5)

I want to ask you a question today: what is the holiest thing that you have done all week? Take a minute to answer that question with someone near you. There really aren’t many wrong answers, so go ahead and talk about this for a minute.

Okay, who’s got an answer? We’ll put your answers on the screen.

We normally think of some parts of our life as holy:

  • Reading the Bible
  • Going to church
  • Listening to a Christian CD
  • Praying

We consider these things to be holy. By implication, we see other parts of our life as secular, sometimes even profane:

  • Working
  • Sleeping
  • Cooking a gourmet meal from scratch
  • Drinking a bottle of vintage wine
  • Closing the door of the bedroom with the one you married
  • Playing cards with friends

Isn’t that true? I’ll bet that nobody said, “The holiest thing I did this week was to play cards with friends.” Or, “The holiest thing that I did this week was to spend all day Saturday preparing a turkey dinner using an old family recipe.” We see part of our lives as holy, and the rest of our lives as normal and ordinary - maybe even secular or profane.

The reason I want to talk about this today is because this way of viewing life - separating life into what’s holy and what’s not - is very common. It’s probably the way that most of us see our lives. It’s common, but it’s a lie straight from hell.

That’s strong language, and it may surprise you. I’d normally say, “That’s a wrong way to see the world, and I’d like to suggest an alternative,” except that this wouldn’t be strong enough. I’d like to look at a passage of Scripture that uses very indelicate language to describe this way of seeing the world. This passage tells us how to stop separating our lives into what’s holy and what’s not. Instead, it teaches us how to make all of our lives sacred, so that maybe the holiest thing you do this coming week is to push a child on a swing. Let’s look at this passage together this morning. It’s found in 1 Timothy 4.

The author, Paul, describes the issue problem of separating life into what’s holy and what’s not in verses 1 to 3, especially in verse 3:

The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron. They forbid people to marry and order them to abstain from certain foods, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and who know the truth.

There’s the problem in verse 3: some people who claim to be Christians taught that to be holy, you have to stay away from marriage and certain kinds of food. What would make them take such a view?

The reason is that they had a belief that is actually pretty common today, even in churches. You may have heard the saying, “I am not a human being having a spiritual experience, I am a spiritual being having a human experience.” In other words, there are two levels to life. The lower level is human, in which we eat, sleep, procreate, and work. The higher level is the spiritual, in which we meditate, grow our souls, and have a relationship with God. The goal is to live at the higher level.

The underlying view is that the material world is evil and we should avoid it as much as possible. So spiritual things like going to church and praying and meditating are associated with godliness. The things down here at the human level - eating, working, procreating, playing soccer - are anything but holy. To be holy, you have to do more up here - going to church and praying - and less down here - going out to eat with friends and going on vacation and so on. The big word to describe this is asceticism, which means “self-discipline and abstention from all forms of indulgence, typically for religious reasons.”

You can see how people get to this point. Some of the people Paul is writing too had very destructive experiences in their past involving food and sex. Now that they were Christians, they went to the other extreme, and ended up rejecting them because of past hurts.

Think for a minute about some of the things you’ve been told that holy people don’t do. Holy people don’t...fill in the blank. They don’t go to clubs. They don’t drink certain beverages. They don’t enjoy sex. They don’t run in the church. They don’t play cards. We’ve been told that some things are holy and other things aren’t. The unholy things should be avoided.

What’s the problem with separating life into what’s holy and what’s not? Read verses 1 and 2. “The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron.” Do you get the idea that Paul is serious here? He doesn’t say that these people are well-intentioned but mistaken. He says that they aren’t who they seem to be - they’re hypocritical liars. He says that what they teach is false. What’s more, it comes from demons. It’s demonic teaching. And he says that their consciences have been seared as with a hot iron.

We normally think of false teaching in very lofty terms. False teaching isn’t always about abstract and theoretical matters. When someone tells you that good Christians don’t enjoy sex, that is false teaching from hell itself. When someone tells you that good Christians should withdraw from enjoying what God has created for our enjoyment, then that person is substituting exhibitionism for the very point of Christianity. This isn’t something to put up with. Don’t ever let anyone say you shouldn’t enjoy what God has created for you to enjoy.

Here’s what we’re to do instead: Make all of life holy. Live like Jesus. The most common charge against Jesus is not that he was a blasphemer or a heretic, but that he was drunkard and a glutton. who was criticized for enjoying life too much. A feast at a restaurant, a well-cooked meal, a passionate embrace, playing golf, serving the poor, a night out with friends - these are all holy experiences. Don’t separate your life into what’s holy and what’s not. All of your life is holy.

Why? Because God didn’t create us to withdraw from what he created. He created all things as good, and we glorify God when we enjoy his gifts. Verses 3 to 5 say, “God created [food] to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and who know the truth. For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, because it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer.” Everything God created is good, and when we enjoy what he’s created, we bring glory to the Creator.

So eat food, and praise the master cook who invented more tastes and taste buds. Look at the sky at night and take in all the colors. Run with the wind blowing on your face. Take all that life has to offer, because in enjoying the gifts of God you are bringing glory to God. Don’t detach yourself from the world, but find evidence of God’s glory in the everyday and the ordinary. Leonard Sweet reminds us,

Life’s treasures are buried right under our noses...Life isn’t somewhere else. Life is here - all around you and inside you, a succession of astonishments. True artists write hymns to ordinariness. True artists find meaning in the small wonders of life. The art of godly living is making every moment a real do, making every moment count, even turning “senior moments” into “God moments.” (Soul Salsa)

Here’s how you do that. It’s deceptively simple. You say grace. Verses 4-5 say, “nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, because it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer.” Here’s the rule: if it isn’t prohibited by Scripture, then it can be made holy no matter how ordinary it is if you receive it with thanksgiving and say grace. It becomes consecrated - holy and set apart - if you pray a prayer according to Scripture thanking God for what you are received.

G.K. Chesterton wrote a poem:

You say grace before meals. All right.
But I say grace before the play and the opera,
And grace before the concert and pantomime,
And grace before I open a book,
And grace before sketching, painting, swimming, fencing, boxing, walking, playing, dancing;
And grace before I dip the pen in the ink.

It’s all a gift from God.

Some people say that to be holy you need to separate and withdraw from the world. Scripture teaches us, and Jesus showed us, that it’s the opposite: that we move into this world and live as God’s people, and soak it all up. We were meant to be part of the created universe; proper enjoyment of what God has made is appropriate as long as it is received with thanksgiving. We are not called to abandon our humanity, but to celebrate its rescue, redemption, and remaking. Embed all of life with sacredness. Make every moment holy.

We could learn from a monk who found he didn’t connect as well with God through meditation, contemplation, silence, and written prayer, as much as he did through ordinary daily living. This monk, who lived in the 1600s in France, believed that anyone could connect with God in all of life. His name was Brother Lawrence and he wrote a profound book called The Practice of the Presence of God. Listen to what he wrote:

I gave up all devotions and prayers that were not required and I devoted myself exclusively to remaining always in his holy presence...I flip my little omelet in the frying pan for the love of God, and when it’s done, if I have nothing to do, I prostate myself on the floor and adore my God who gave me the grace to do it, after which I get up happier than a king. When I can do nothing else, it is enough for me to pick up a straw from the ground for the love of God.

Brother Lawrence teaches us that ordinary life is holy. Flipping an omelet can be as holy an act as going to church.

God can be worshiped in church buildings and in religious services. But he is also worshiped when we enjoy all that he has made and embrace all of life as holy. We can worship God in cathedrals and in prayer, but we can also turn the making of a bed or dinner with friends into a sacrament, a holy act of worship before God.

A pastor named Kyle Lake was tragically killed last Sunday, October 30. He never got to deliver the sermon that he had prepared for that morning, but it was read at his funeral, and I want you to hear part of it today:

Live. And Live Well. BREATHE. Breathe in and Breathe deeply. Be PRESENT. Do not be past. Do not be future. Be now. On a crystal clear, breezy 70 degree day, roll down the windows and FEEL the wind against your skin. Feel the warmth of the sun.

If you run, then allow those first few breaths on a cool Autumn day to FREEZE your lungs and do not just be alarmed, be ALIVE. Get knee-deep in a novel and LOSE track of time.

If you bike, pedal HARD… and if you crash then crash well.

Feel the SATISFACTION of a job well done—a paper well-written, a project thoroughly completed, a play well-performed. If you must wipe the snot from your 3-year old’s nose, don’t be disgusted if the Kleenex didn’t catch it all… because soon he’ll be wiping his own.

If you’ve recently experienced loss, then GRIEVE. And Grieve well. At the table with friends and family, LAUGH. If you’re eating and laughing at the same time, then might as well laugh until you puke. And if you eat, then SMELL. The aromas are not impediments to your day. Steak on the grill, coffee beans freshly ground, cookies in the oven. And TASTE. Taste every ounce of flavor. Taste every ounce of friendship. Taste every ounce of Life. Because-it-is-most-definitely-a-Gift.

I can’t think of a better way to celebrate Thanksgiving than that. Make all of life holy by saying grace. Thanks God, for all of your gifts. We enjoy you when we enjoy what you have made for us. Everything you made is good, and we receive it today with thanksgiving, because it is consecrated by the Word of God and prayer.

Don't Just Do Something (1 Peter 1:1, 2:11-12)

Every year, Beloit College in Wisconsin releases a list describing those who are entering college and university this year. Here is what's true for those who have just entered college this past month:

  • The Soviet Union has never existed and therefore is about as scary as the student union.
  • They have never heard anyone actually "ring it up" on a cash register.
  • Smoking has never been permitted on airlines.
  • "Google" has always been a verb.
  • Text messaging is their email.
  • Bar codes have always been on everything, from library cards and snail mail to retail items.
  • Non-denominational mega-churches have always been the fastest growing religious organizations in the U.S.
  • Reality shows have always been on television.
  • Brides have always worn white for a first, second, or third wedding.
  • They have always been able to watch wars and revolutions live on television.
  • Green tea has always been marketed for health purposes.
  • They have always been searching for "Waldo."
  • Michael Moore has always been showing up uninvited.
  • They have always had access to their own credit cards.
  • Bad behavior has always been getting captured on amateur videos.
  • Beach volleyball has always been a recognized sport.
  • Disposable contact lenses have always been available.
  • Ringo Starr has always been clean and sober.

Times have changed. These are some examples of historical and cultural changes that have taken place, but this is nothing compared to the vast changes that are taking place between eras that we are facing today.

James Emery White, the new president of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, argues that the there have been six identifiable ages in relation to the Christian church. Based on his research on the writings of Christopher Dawson, each of these ages has lasted between three and four centuries. Each one began and ended in crisis: a fresh new attack by forces outside and within the church, and to which the church had to respond with fresh determination. According to White, we are now living at the start of the seventh, the end of one age and the beginning of another. And we are facing a crisis: a fresh new attack to which the church must respond.

Western society has been going through a dramatic change for the past fifty years, and the process is accelerating. We are now living in a period of radical and discontinuous change, and we are feeling the stress. Someone has described continuous change as being hit in the head hard with an acorn. Discontinuous change is when you face an all-acorn assault. What we are facing is not the pain of getting hit on the head with one acorn; we are facing an all-acorn assault, and we need to learn how to respond.

What's Changed

Let me talk a bit about some of the changes we are facing.

  • Many of us grew up within a generally Christian culture; not everyone was Christian, but the church was generally respected and was the only viable religious option in town.
  • The church was stable. Most people went to some kind of church.
  • Christians had privileges that we could impose on society at large. You might not be Christian, but you will say the Lord's Prayer at school. You would get a Gideon Bible in grade school. And Ontario's education system would reflect Judeo-Christian values.

Slowly, things have changed.

  • Somewhere, society decided there would be no free pass for the church.
  • The church is no longer the only show in town - religious or otherwise.
  • Only two out of ten people attend church in Canada. That number is even lower in other countries - this Sunday, only 2% of New Zealand will go to church.
  • Between 1991 and 2001, the number of non-Christians in Canada increased by 72%.
  • Christianity is dying in the West just as it is exploding in parts of Latin America, Africa, and Asia, leaving behind empty churches and cathedrals.
  • You can deny this in parts of North America. We have a Prime Minister in Canada who is a professing Christian, and there are churches that are growing (although they are usually homogeneous, suburban, and middle class). But this misses the big picture: it is not so much that we have rejected the idea of God, but that our culture ignores him.
  • We in the church are doing the same things with decreasing effectiveness.
  • It feels like an all-acorn assault.

The big picture:

  • Christendom has ended. It's been dying for 250 years, but it's now pretty much breathed its last. We live in a post-Christendom world.
  • Christendom is the religious culture that has dominated Western society since the fourth century.
  • With the Emperor Constantine, Christianity moved from being a marginalized, subversive, and persecuted movement to being the official imperial religion, the only official religion of the State.
  • The church that was once viewed with at least grudging respect is now suspected. Popular novels depict the church as being involved in cover-ups, trying to protect its status and beliefs by any means possible.
  • Religion is now seen as a private matter with no bearing on public life.
  • Someone has said that our culture has received a mild dose of Christianity and is now inoculated against the real thing.
  • We are dealing with a demographic of 80% of people who are at best blase and at worst hostile to us. We are in deep trouble in the next twenty years, because we only have 20% of the market and many of them are elderly.
  • We now face a new question: how to live as Christians in a post-Christendom world.

Our Response

Walter Brueggemann writes:

I believe we are in a season of transition, when we are watching the collapse of the world as we have known it...One can paint the picture in very large scope, but the issues do not present themselves to pastors as global issues. They appear as local, even personal, issues, but they are nonetheless pieces of a very large picture.

Brueggemann suggests that what we are encountering at the local level, at a church like Richview, is part of the bigger transition that is taking place.

So how to respond?

  • We are tempted to look for a stable past that no longer exists - especially since pastors like me were trained for a world that no longer exists, and the church seemed to have an easier time.
  • We are tempted to redouble our efforts, to work harder. But to work harder at what is not working will not get us there.
  • Pragmatic responses are not the answer. If the answer was a new technique or program, we would have solved this already. Strategic plans will not get us where we need to go.
  • The answer is more sophisticated, and more theological. It involves relearning who we are, and everything else that flows from it.

Learning Who We Are

So who are we?

Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To God's elect, exiles scattered throughout... (1 Peter 1:1)

Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us. (1 Peter 2:11-12)

Peter writes to a group who were strangers in a strange land. They were a colony, an island of one culture in the middle of another. Although they lived in Asia Minor, there citizenship was elsewhere - ultimately in heaven.

The answer to the situation we are facing is not a new program or technique, but to rediscover our identity as exiles, as a colony of heaven in an alien society.

  • God's people have been here before.
  • What's more, they have thrived as exiles in the margins of society.
  • But it involves some relearning. The Jewish people, exiled to Babylon, had to relearn their stories and traditions, because they had lost many of them without even knowing it through acclimation with the surrounding cultures.
  • We can't go back there, because back there no longer exists.
  • We need to learn from others, such as the recipients of 1 Peter, what it means to live as exiles - a marginalized, subversive, and persecuted movement
  • We don't need a new discovery, but to rediscover Jesus and the practices of Christians who lived in pagan times just like us.

So what if:

  • We stopped saying, "Don't just sit there, do something," to "Don't just do something, sit there - and learn who you are." In other words, what if we took seriously that our first job isn't to go out there and do something, but to really learn who we are in Jesus Christ?
  • We stopped coming to the Bible expecting it to tell us how to have a better life - a better marriage, a better job, dieting advice, our best lives now - and instead we came to the Bible expecting it to tell us how to participate in the adventure of what God is doing which is bigger than any of our lives?
  • We stopped seeing Christianity as a consumer product to meet the needs of self?
  • We said no to a church in which our biggest danger comes from dying of boredom, to a church in which our greatest danger is to live dangerously as representatives of Christ in a hostile world?
  • We stopped inviting people to church - vacuum cleaning them out of the community, as Al Roxburgh said, and instead we took the Gospel to them?
  • We lived in such a way that we couldn't afford for church to be a service in which we sit in an audience, and in which we were forced to live as a colony of heaven right here in Etobicoke?
  • We really believed that God was alive and powerful and we lived in such a way that we show that we really believe it?
  • We really lived as exiles, believing that we face not just a crisis, but an opportunity to relearn who we are in Jesus, and how we should live in the world?

I invite you to do a couple of things today.

First: let go of the past. This includes the core stories, values, and habits learned under Christendom. There is no going back because the days of Christendom are over.

Second: let's commit to relearn the stories of Jesus and of the early Christians, who lived as exiles and turned the world upside down. Let's not just do something, let's sit there first, and learn who we really are.

Because when we do, we will be ready to bless the community because of the Gospel, individually and with the support of the church. We will, as Peter says, be able to " Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us" (1 Peter 2:12).