Thursday, 15 February 2018

Submission! Bet that got your attention. (1 Peter 2:11-3:7)

The word 'submission' automatically brings up several negative connotations. And rightfully it should. If it makes you think of things like slavery, or the subjugation of women, or oppressive governments in the world then these are, of course, terrible things which should be opposed on every level. But the New Testament takes a very different route in to the idea of submission. While things like slavery, patriarchy and political oppression are examples of dominance, submission is presented as something different.

Submission is presented as an act of free will. It is choosing humility, fatherhood, and giving up of power. This is rooted in the very basis of what Jesus taught as "the first being last and the last being first," or "Whoever wants to be the greatest among you must become a servant to all." And yet submission still gives us a negative response, mostly because the demand for submission has been at the core of much of the oppression throughout history. And while we must recognize this oppression and the constructs it still supports, it's important to remember that the understand of submission as part of oppression is a misuse of the word. 'Submission' is supposed to describe the free act of making ourselves servants.

Still, even the act of making ourselves servants of others is something that often goes against the grain. But scripture seems to propose that submission seems to be the very way in which we should approach oppression and subjugation in our lives. This is because submission is a way of life which is powerful enough to change the hearts and minds of people. In 1 Peter 2:12 he writes:

"Live such good lives among the unbelievers that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us."

This passage is followed by passages on submitting to governing authorities, slaves submitting to masters, wives submitting to husbands (and in a roundabout way husbands submitting to wives), and later on, the young submitting to elders. Peter's words in verse 12 gives the theme that the purpose of all this submission is so that others will see and glorify God. He gives us some important points to remember.

1) Submission is a tool for social change.

The civil rights movement was kicked off by courageous individuals like Rosa Parks. For a black woman in her society 'submitting to the authorities' in her context meant sitting on her segregated part of the bus, or face the consequences. She chose to face the consequences. It's interesting that in that act of submitting to the government authorities was how she became the mother of the civil rights movement in the United States.

This was a very similar approach to the way that Jesus demonstrated submission in his life. Jesus submitted to the governing authorities of the Roman authorities, and they killed him. He famously instructed his disciples not to rise up to save him. It is even said that he could have called an army of angels to save him, but he did not. His act of submission was an act which reflected his life and teachings, and he died.

The big idea is that submission is a tool for social change, but it is not a tool for social reconstruction. Peter, and Jesus for that matter, were not interested in breaking down and rebuilding societal constructs, but rather they were interested in changing the hearts and minds of people towards good. And I would suggest that this is actually better. If we start by changing structures we will always get push-back. But if the hearts of people are turned towards good the the structures will change, or will even start to matter less.

2) Submission in suffering.

Peter's words to slaves in chapter 2 are some of the most criticized verses in the New Testament. How could Peter talk about slavery without even once condemning the evil practice. Slavery in the first century was a terrible affair as slavery has always been. But again, Peter isn't as interested in changing the social construct of slavery as we might want him to be. The idea of slaves being free from their masters, and in fact free from any kind of worldly power, is already a well taught and accepted concept for early Christians. What he's actually talking about here is the ability for a slave to influence the hearts and minds of their masters through their behavior. This is actually quite empowering to slaves. And the tool that's given is submission.

In the context of slavery the conflict between dominance and submission becomes important. Slaves were dominated by their masters in every respect. However, if the slave chooses submission it becomes a tool of expressing and living a true freedom in their lives. Their work becomes about their choice rather than being dominated.

But most importantly is the idea of suffering. Peter exhorts the believers in this passage that it is better to suffer for doing good rather than to suffer for doing evil. And this is where things become real for us in a way. One of the realities we need to accept in this life is that there will be suffering. Of course it would be better if we could all just stop causing any level of suffering on others and that should solve most of the problem, but the reality is that suffering is going to happen. Peter brings us an important question. What are you suffering for? Are you suffering in your life because you are choosing holiness, or are you suffering for evil? It is an important question to consider.

3 There is a joy in submission

Another piece that Peter takes a lot of flack for are his comments about women. Specifically about how their beauty does not come from their clothes, hair, or jewelry, but rather from what he calls a 'gentle and quiet spirit.' First of all there's a certain disdain for a man making comments on how a woman should feel beautiful, but also why the 'gentle and quiet' woman. Well, as with everyone else he's spoken to in this passage, submission is a powerful spiritual practice for everyone. Of course that would include wives.

Let's remember a few important things. First of all most of the early church, especially in this context, were women. Most of them had unbelieving husbands. Most of them were slaves. There's a very important distinction between these women (generally speaking, which always has it's problems) and the women of today. Women in our culture are generally free to dress themselves in any way they want (even though sometimes they will suffer ridicule from some). However for Peter's audience what they wore would mostly be under the power of their husbands or more importantly their slave masters. Women who were slaves, again a very significant number for Paul's audience, would have been dressed by their masters and would have little, if any chance to dress 'beautifully' in a way they would choose. In fact for some they would be dressed in the 'beautiful' way Peter describes but it would not be by their own choice, but also for the pleasure of the master.

The gentle and quiet spirit Peter talks about is one which finds an incredible joy in a Lord that finds their beauty not in their dress and appearance (something they can't control), but rather in the love and spirit they bring (something they can control).

Conclusion:

What Peter really presents to us is submission as a spiritual discipline. It's a lifestyle chosen freely to make ourselves humble and servants of others. It is the tool for social change without worrying about society, but rather worrying about the hearts of individuals, specifically our own.

Discussion: Read 1 Peter 2:11-3:7 together.

1) Which topic, phrase, verse or issue brought up in this passage brings you the most trouble? Why?
2) Has there ever been a time in your life where you have practiced submission?
3) What is your 'next step' for making submission an aspect of your life? Which area of your life do you plan to bring it? How are you going to do it?




Wednesday, 7 February 2018

Summer camp! We want to help send your kids.

Summer camp was one of the most iconic experiences of my life. That one week away in the summer

helped me to form a great part of who I am today. Ever since the time I was eight years old I began attending the same camp every year. I still have friends that I met on my first year there (my counselor actually). I ended up working at that same camp as an adult and spent my final year life-guarding. (I actually met my wife that year, it was a very good summer).

Knowing that there are many children out there who may long for this kind of experience yet may not have the chance simply for financial concerns is one that has been placed on our heart as a church. There shouldn't be these obstacles in childhood and yet they remain within our cultural framework.

Knowing that camp can be such a formative experience, we're excited to announce that the Network Church has decided that any kids who want to go to summer camp should be able to. That's why we're offering financial assistance to any families out there who want to send their kids to camp but otherwise wouldn't have the means to do so.

Funds are limited (of course) and camp registrations have opened, so we ask that you apply soon.  If you're interested please email thenetworkchurch@gmail.com

Tuesday, 23 January 2018

What is good/evil anyway?

We live in a world where what is right and acceptable seems to be changing at a lightning pace. Yet if we're really honest with ourselves we will realize that future generations as well as the current and previous generations will all likely fail to live up to life in it's fullest. We are constantly changing and adapting to try to reach a better understanding of what is right, and what is wrong.

Scripture talks a lot about purity. I sometimes wonder if purity is something that needs to be separated from right and wrong actions. When the Bible talks about being pure, it never really means that this individual has done nothing wrong. Purity is a state that someone is seen to be despite their past, present, and future actions.

Last weekend we looked at the second half of 1 Peter 1 and saw a few important lessons about purity and holy living.

1) God is the one who makes us pure:

1 Peter 1:13-15 (Exerts) - "Set your hope fully on the grace given you... just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do."

Peter starts this section by reminding us about the grace that God offers us as our reliance for holiness. Christian theology has long taught that it is God's work to save someone, purify them, and bring them to himself. The term 'sanctification' refers to how God continues to work in us through our lives to purify us, change our living, and bring us in step with him.

The problem comes when we start to take that responsibility on ourselves as individuals and as a church. Every church has it's priorities and essential practices. Often these are things like abstinence before marriage, not drinking/smoking, giving a tithe of some sort, attending a service, participating in prayer/study, and a myriad of other examples. What we tend to forget is that the priorities we set as individuals and churches are not necessarily God's priorities for someone's life. While we may tell someone that they must stop cursing, God's work in them at that time may be around some sort of heavy addiction that we know nothing about. The mistake of 'challenging' or 'rebuking' others in the church, which has caused so much pain, is that these challenges and rebukes often come from a place of selfish motivation.

Instead we should learn to develop the spiritual skill of discerning where God is moving in someone's life so that we can speak into their experience with encouragement rather than rebuke. God is the one who makes us pure, but we can become important participants in that, both individually and communally.

2) God is the one who 'knows:'

1 Peter 1:17 - "Since you call on a Father who judges each man's work impartially, live your lives as strangers here in reverent fear."

The idea of God's judgment here is one which always causes problems. One of the greatest reasons for this is because our experiences in our lives make it very difficult to imagine a perfect judge, and we're constantly reminded that we live in an imperfect, or even corrupt, justice system.
But scripture constantly teaches God as one who's judgment and justice is tied to his perfect love for an imperfect world. This means that God is the only one who truly knows justice.

It becomes interesting when we look at the way people often try to 'know' what is right in the world now. Such as...

The majority- In our democratic societies where the majority are the one's who decide who has the power over our lives, laws and society, it makes sense that we would put a lot of trust in the idea that whatever the majority believes is right must be right. Anecdotally we cold come up with many examples of people who have tried to use the 'the majority of people agree with me' argument. 

The problem is that the majority isn't usually the majority, but rather the majority of whoever that individual speaks to. But even if it is an actual majority that agrees with us we need to remember the vast examples of geniuses from history who were opposed by the majority. Even Galileo's theory that the Earth revolved around the sun was opposed by the majority of experts and scientist for many years.

The loudest- It seems like loud people always get the platform. You might say that loud people are listened to because we have no choice. I would say that the louder someone is the more likely I am to ignore what they're saying. And yet it seems that those people who have the larger platforms, biggest stadiums or the reddest face when they speak are given a lot of credit for these things.

When I look at a loud person I can't help but feel like "wow, there's a person who has life figured out" (sarcasm intended). I find that often when you get past the bluster and noise you rarely find much behind what's being said. And on the other hand, there are many wise people in the world who will never have a platform because of their quiet, meek, and honestly more holy manner.

Intuition- Beyond the others is the prevailing thought that we must naturally know what's right. We understand what is right and acceptable naturally and should trust our instincts. And while this may be true for some things, such as torture and murder, even with those examples we can see instances where people just don't seem to understand the natural immorality of these tragedies.

The problem with being guided by intuition means that we're rarely convinced about doing good, or challenged to be holy in a way that doesn't seem natural. Truly holy living requires sacrifice and humility. Intuition will rarely lead someone towards giving away their possessions, blessing an enemy who harms them, or refusing pleasures. Yet all these things are clearly taught in scripture as holy living. surely living 'right' means giving ourselves to a lifestyle more difficult and challenging.

3) Purity creates communal love:

1 Peter 1:22 - "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."

The biggest lesson we need to learn is that true purity, true holy living, or simply what is 'right,' will always result in greater love for each other. It's unfortunate that we can so easily turn purity into some reason or excuse for ignoring or even casting away people we don't like. But purity can never be used as a reason for exclusion or bigotry. Neither should purity be seen as something which makes anyone better than, or above others. True purity will only result in bringing people together, working through problems, and creating a more fulfilling experience for those around us as well as ourselves.

Discussion:

  1. What is something that you know is acceptable? What is something that you know is wrong? How do you know? Does it compare at all with 'majority opinion, loud teaching, or intuition?'
  2. How do you look for God in the people around you, and the society as a whole? 
  3. How do you encourage someone towards purity without seeming to belittle them?



Wednesday, 10 January 2018

Blessings for Evil.

Peter's often known as Jesus' hothead disciple. We like to talk about the reckless guy who pulled a sword, or stepped out the boat. This is certainly a part of Peter's character but, as with most people who are not constructs of one trait, Peter is much more complicated. And it can be hard to reconcile the hothead Peter we talk about with the 'Rock' that Jesus was going to build his church on, or the apostle who died famously for his faith in Rome.

Peter also wrote two books of the new Testament, and while not particularly popular or long, these books are rich. 1 Peter 3:8-9, for example, carries one of the greatest summaries of Jesus teachings. Specifically "do not repay evil for evil or insult for insult, but with blessing, because to this you were called..."

The idea of repaying evil with blessing is one that at first glance seems like a simple 'nice' idea. But the further you think about it the more radical it becomes. You'll notice, for example, that there's not limit or qualification on the evil talked about in this verse. This could range from someone 'calling you a name' all the way to an enemy of the state threatening (and performing) violence against you. There's no limit on the evil and no limit on the blessing. the line "repay evil with blessing" is not a line that's meant to sound nice. It's ridiculous, radical life-changing even world-changing teachings.

Peter links this aspect of choosing to respond to evil with blessing to five other qualities.

  1. Harmony - Harmony doesn't sweep problems under the rug for the sake of harmony. Harmony recognizes and deals with the hurt and problems which come. In the same way, the way we bless those who hurt us should recognize the hurt and work to repair.
  2. Sympathy - Linked with empathy. Recognizing that those who do harm do not do so in a vacuum. It does not excuse evil, but it does seek to find humanity in enemies who we tend to dehumanize.
  3. Love - Loving as brothers means loving 'just because.'
  4. Compassion - Compassion means giving to those when we have no requirement to give. Compassion on those who do evil to us recognizes evil acts as cries for help with no language to express it. Blessing those who do evil seeks to heal the hurt of those who harm us as much as ourselves.
  5. Humility - All these qualities are enhanced when we realize the truth about ourselves as imperfect beings. We too are guilty of harming and doing harm, regardless of extent. This should all us to connect, understand, and then bless.
For discussion on the topic of blessing those who do evil to us we're not going to talk about who has harmed us and how we act specifically. Instead we're going to look at the five qualities of harmony, sympathy, love, compassion and humility and ask ourselves two questions for each in turn. 

1) How does this quality rate in my life with those I struggle against?
2) How do we improve this quality in ourselves?



Wednesday, 15 November 2017

The Ten Commandments

This past Sunday we took a quick introductory look at the ten commandments from Exodus. Even though these are some of the most famous rules from the Bible they have proven to be some of the most simple and yet most complex statements in scripture. For a sense of their simplicity, all you have to do is give a quick list.
  1. God is God.
  2. Don't make any idols.
  3. Don't misuse the name of God.
  4. Remember the Sabbath day.
  5. Honor your parents.
  6. Don't murder.
  7. Don't commit adultery.
  8. Don't steal.
  9. Don't lie.
  10. Don't covet
These are so simple that in a way there seems to be no way to meaningfully expand on them. For example. If you don't already know that it's wrong to commit adultery, I find it difficult to believe that I can convince you now that it's wrong. However, the complexities of these commandments often show a lot more about ourselves then the basic meaning that these commandments seem to have.

The commandment not to murder seems fairly straightforward. However the Hebrew word Rasah used in this commandment is not so clear. This is a word that's never used for killing in war (possibly, but not necessarily, indicating a difference between the two). The word is used for murdering a neighbor, but it is also used for killing someone by accident. So is accidentally causing the death of an individual then included in the commandment?

What we need to accept is that we do form boundaries of interpretation around these statements. We draw lines around what it actually means to remember the Sabbath, or misuse the name of God, or to make an idol, or to covet, or to lie. It's important to accept that we all draw lines through what is acceptable or not acceptable in these areas. What is truly meaningful is that these lines generally show a lot more about us than anything else. How we choose to draw the line reveals how far we're willing to go, and even our motivations and desires in these areas.


  1. Which two of the ten commandments confuse you, challenge you, or you simply disagree with?
  2. What are some of the lines you've seen drawn for these commandments? Or, how have you heard these commandments explained in the past?
  3. Are these lines or explanations helpful in following the commandment deeper, or does it simply make it more achievable? Which is more helpful for you?
The way Jesus approached the commandments was very different. While we tend to try and define and box in the meaning of the commandments Jesus tried to give them the widest possible interpretation. When it came to murder, he didn't draw any lines around what murder technically is, its relationship to war, or accidents. Jesus simply said "don't be angry." When it came to adultery he said "the real issue is lust." You can see this theme in the way Jesus lived his life in relationship to all of the commandments in general where Jesus erased the lines and gave the widest possible berth into the spirit of the commandments. In this he wasn't great at following them, he became great at fulfilling them.
  1. Can you share an experience when your heart has been changed in one of the following areas:
    • Undivided loyalty to God.
    • Honoring with our language.
    • Honoring a cycle of rest.
    • Caring for the elderly who came before us.
    • Malice towards others.
    • Lust.
    • Theft.
    • Honesty.
    • Jealousy.
  2. Did the change come because you properly defined the commandment, or because you were challenged by it?


Tuesday, 24 October 2017

Fear, Watching and the Red Sea

The event at the Red Sea is one of the most important from the Biblical perspective. The event becomes almost synonymous with the idea that God saves. But what we usually loose in the big epic climax to this big epic story in Exodus is the humanity of the moment. With all these great bit miracles going on it seems like there's very little which focuses on the experience of the normal person in the story. There's one passage that captures it well.

In chapter 14 in Exodus we find that the people are terrified at the oncoming Egyptian army. Their chariots are closing in and it seems clear that they're there for death and nothing else. It makes sense that the fear, anxiety and uncertainty that they feel would take over in the moment.

Moses answered the people, ‘Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again. The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.’ (Exodus 14:13-14)

Even though these words seem at first to do little to comfort the people there is a great deal of wisdom in them that surrounds two basic ideas which are actually quite common in scripture. 1) Do not fear. 2) "Look and you will see."

1) Do not fear!

The command to not fear is actually the most common command throughout scripture. And this makes sense. Even Yoda had it figured out when he said "Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to suffering." Hate is most often expressed in our world through hatred, suffering, persecution and scapegoating of others. It's no wonder with this kind of expression of fear that it becomes one of the things that God commands us to avoid most.

It seems that almost every Biblical character is told not to fear at some point in their life. And with all these commands not to fear there is a follow-up statement, usually something like "God is with you," or "God will fight for you." This gives us an important principle that fear can be replaced by other things in our lives. I think that this is best expressed in 1 John 4 when he wrote "There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear."

In the same way Jesus wanted us to replace our natural feelings of revenge when someone takes from us, misuses us, or persecutes us by blessing them, giving to them, and praying for them. Jesus also wants to to defeat fear by using loving action to take away the power of that fear.

  • What has been the source of your anxiety, uncertainty, and fear in recent life?
  • How has this fear expressed itself in ways you don't like? What has those expressions revealed about yourself?
  • What kind of loving action might help you?

2) Look and you will see.

There's several ways we're told to be watchful in this passage. They're told to 'stand firm,' and to 'be still.' They are also told that they will 'see the deliverance,' and that the Egyptians they will 'never see again.'

Being watchful has never seemed to be the thing we're very good at in modern day spirituality. The phrases about standing firm and being still are helpful but often misunderstood. We usually picture someone 'standing firm' on a cliff face or a mountain, but I think it's more useful to picture standing firm on the lookout of a ship. First of all, its more meaningful to be watchful while you're on something that's moving and going somewhere. Also, it takes effort to 'stand firm' on a whip while on a rock it's more passive. I think this gives meaning to the thought that in order to 'be still' and 'stand firm' in a meaningful way we need to understand the intentionality of this, but also the fact that we're going somewhere with purpose. That purpose being God moving us towards something new and different everyday. 

  • How have you chosen to be watchful in the past?
  • Do you think you are better at listening to God, or speaking to God. Why?
  • What does being watchful have to do with conquering fear?



Tuesday, 20 June 2017

Fasting

Even though fasting is one of the most common expressions of spirituality you see in scripture, it seems so rarely practiced in the modern church in Canada. It's likely that you've participated in fasting at some point. But we're a far cry from the early church that fasted twice a week, the Israelite nation who all fasted together, or Jesus who fasted for forty days straight. For me, it wasn't until more recently that I began exploring the ancient practice of fasting and began to realize just how little I understood about the topic. So taking some time recently in my life to practice fasting in the wisest way I'm capable of, I hope that I can bring this one idea from my experience.

Our church has been serving meals in the downtown coming up on three years now. This has been a meaningful ministry for us since it began and has certainly helped us to get out of our comfort zones. There has always been gentle, genuine love in the act and service. I've seen it over and over again from the members of our church who serve. There's no judgment, and no vilification, just fellow people loved by God who don't have the means to feed themselves, and our capability as a church to do something about it.

There's nothing wrong in the motivation the execution of our ministry as I've seen it, except for the natural separation between us and them that just seems to come.

Maybe you've experienced this as well. There's the natural separation of us in the kitchen and them in the dining room, there's the physical barrier of the counter between us as we serve them food. But those have good reasons including health codes and issues of fairness of portions. These are understandable. The most significant point of separation actually comes down to something more basic. They're hungry and we're not. We have food at home and they don't. We probably ate lunch and breakfast that day. They will probably only eat this one meal all day. This is the most significant point of separation.

This is where fasting comes in. Fasting provides one of the greatest tools available to us for breaking down the barriers between the rich and the poor, the fed and the hungry. Fasting is the spiritual practice of those who have enough standing alongside those who don't. The last time we served our meal in the downtown I had spent the day up to that point fasting, for almost no other reason other than to be able to come to them understanding, just a little bit, their own personal experience. If I'm hungry with the hungry then I'm not 'with' the hungry, I'm 'one with' the hungry.

Fasting allows us to stand in solidarity with the poor and the hungry. We stand with them and tell them "You're not alone, we're here with you. We choose to be here with you."

Fasting is best experienced as a response to the sacred, a response the grievous things in this world. Sometimes we see hunger, or we experience the loss of a loved one. In those moments of sacred grievous loss it can naturally feel that going without food just seems like the right thing to do. This is the purest form of fasting, as a response to the sacred grievous things in life. If you were to look at scripture you would see that theme. Fasting always comes as a response in scripture. A response to a sickness, a loss, a defeat, a sorrow, a glorious experience of God or some other great moment always precedes fasting. The primary motivation for me has been a response to the hunger not just in the world all over, but even just in the city in which we live.

I would encourage anyone thinking about practicing fasting to find advice and support in the practice. Understand that fasting is naturally harmful to the body and can cause severe health problems if done incorrectly.

For more discussion on fasting we'll be looking at these questions:

  1. What have been your misunderstandings about fasting in the past?
  2. Have you practiced fasting before? What is your opinion of fasting based on that experience?
  3. Which is more significant to you with fasting, the Reward or the Response?
  4. Which is the most significant purpose for fasting to you?
    1. As a reminder? (What would you be trying to remember?)
    2. As creating the ability to give? (What and how?)
    3. To stand in solidarity? (With who, over what?)
  5. What is your opinion of practicing a common fast as part of our ministry feeding the hungry?