Jesus’ community has always been fundamentally counter-cultural. Where else do people of all generations and walks of life gather for a common purpose? And not to consume goods or experiences either, but really the opposite. To give. To create. Not even for their own sake, but for the sake of the Master. This radical, purposeful community defined by God’s presence and work in the world — this was the dream of the prophets.
The counter-cultural purpose of Jesus’ community reflects its counter-intuitive nature: “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (v.21). It cannot be earned with moral behavior. It cannot be acquired through transcendental enlightenment. This is the grace and mercy Jesus showed Peter around that fateful campfire, when he forgave him his denials and restored his belonging and purpose in Christ’s community. This is the same Peter who preached in Acts 2 on the prophetic dream of Christ’s community.
The problem is that one dream can be co-opted by secular, cultural “dreams” of community and contentment. But if dreams are by nature creative and unique, like the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives, then we must be open and responsive to God the Holy Spirit. We mustn’t allow ourselves to be swept into the habit of dreaming the same materialistic and self-aggrandizing dream as the bulk of our population. “When the whole population dreams the same dream, empire is triumphant.”*
We are called to be animated by a different narrative, and our experience of Jesus’ community will be only be what we make it. God’s grace is unconditional. Our choice to respond in gracious and merciful community? Well that’s up to us.
- Describe the prophet Joel’s “dream” in your own words.
- Do you see his dream anywhere in the world today?
- Many people would respond positively to Joel’s vision — what makes the Christian response unique?
- If our community is “up to us,” what is one thing you can do this week to move one step closer to experiencing the community that Joel describes?
- Do you see any opportunities at UPPC to either find this community or to create it?
***JOIN US to explore Group Life together!
Sundays in May | 9:15-10:15 | Gym.
*Walsh, Brian J., Sylvia C. Keesmaat. Colossians Remixed: Subverting the Empire. (IVP, 2004).
1 Corinthians 8
We’re following the overall Biblical narrative of God’s covenant community, beginning last week with the establishment of the covenant. But almost immediately, God’s community began to replace God in their hearts with idols (see Exodus 32:1-14). And of course there was a pantheon of “deities” in the 1st century Roman culture of Jesus and the apostles.
In this chapter, Paul begins a long discourse on an issue that was threatening to divide the young Christian community in Corinth. Some of them understood the “gods” weren’t real, while others were still struggling with that concept.
But the problem wasn’t really idol worship itself. It was the way that people “in the know” about it didn’t act with love toward those still trying to figure it out. They were basing their behavior on their knowledge, rather than the more important ethic of love. So Paul reminds them: “Knowledge puffs up, while love builds up” (8:1).
When Christ’s community comes to enjoy being “in the know” about something, it’s easy to grow complacent and to forget that there are plenty of others who would like to be part of the community but feel like outsiders–like middle schoolers trying to find a seat in the lunchroom. If someone wants to experience the Christ-community but is given the cold shoulder, that very community can become a stumbling block to them. But in the Christ-community, it should never be difficult to find a seat at the table.
In our congregation, there are many types of smaller communities, or “group life.” Ministry teams, music groups, youth groups, small groups, groups of friends, parent support groups, etc. And those groups are a blessing from God to support and encourage us in life and faith. So rather than becoming so accustomed to our groups that they become like closed clubs, how can we leverage the blessing that they are to “build others up” who may be longing for community?
- What kind of “Group Life” do experience in your church community?
- When is the last time you invited an outsider to consider being part of your group?
- Why can it be challenging to invite people in our group life?
- What are the potential repercussions of group life that tends to be insular or “closed”?
- Is it possible to experience both the intimacy of healthy group life, while also being intentional in helping people find or create community?
It’s interesting how knowing more about our past informs our present, and even our future. When I was in high school, I didn’t understand why the study of history was interesting; it seemed like a bunch of irrelevant black-and-white photos and phrases like “Federal Judiciary Act of 1789.” Ugh.
Thankfully, I later learned more about how history impacts the present, and that intersection is really where knowing our history becomes not only interesting or relevant, but crucially important to our identity and future.
And Moses knew this.
That’s why he commanded the budding nation of Israel to never forget who they were. As J.A. Thompson notes: “The original covenant [with Moses at Mt. Sinai]…was not simply an event of the past which concerned Israel’s ancestors only, but was the concern of Israel in every age. The original Israel held within it all later Israelites.”*
What’s interesting is that, anticipating the need to “pass the baton” of nationhood from one generation to the next, Moses gave instruction about how to explain the “stipulations, decrees and laws” of the people. The answer: Learn our story. Tell our story.
The connection between ancient Israelites and today’s worldwide community of Christians is, of course, Jesus Christ. Jesus fulfilled the original covenant, and thus established a new covenant in himself, rather than in the Law. Those who are in Christ therefore also share in the story of the covenant people, all the way from the beginning.
- What are some of the stories from your personal life that still inform who you are today?
- What do already know about the Bible and the story it tells?
- What do you still need to learn about the Bible?
- Learning and telling the story of our faith is always done better in COMMUNITY. Are you connected to “Group Life” at UPPC?
*J.A. Thompson, Deuteronomy: An Introduction and Commentary, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove: IVP, 2008) 128.
There are two things every human being needs:
Belonging and Purpose.
In John 21:7-17, after having denied even knowing Jesus only a few nights beforehand, a despondent Peter goes fishing with a few friends. And because of the overflowing grace of Jesus, Peter and his friends are stunned to experience Jesus, now alive in his resurrected glory, cooking breakfast for them on the shore.
What follows is one of history’s most…awkward exchanges. Jesus asks Peter three times, “Do you love me?” (Note: if you have to be asked three times, you must not be showing the love too well.) Of course, these three times echo the three times Peter had denied Jesus just a few nights earlier. Jesus is reinstating Peter as an apostle.
Jesus is taking a dead relationship and resurrecting it, by giving Peter a renewed sense of belonging and purpose.
Even in this moment, Peter must have felt like a fraud. He knew what he had done, and how he had failed. But if we’re honest with ourselves, we should all feel like frauds to some extent. All have fallen short of the glory of God, Paul reminds us, so we rely on the grace of God for giving us a seat at his table. Because of Jesus, we know we belong.
But belonging is just the beginning. Belonging exists to strengthen and empower one’s purpose. One doesn’t belong on the football team just to talk about football, or on the fire department just to watch movies about fires. Jesus gives Peter his purpose: “Feed my sheep.” Because of Jesus, we know we have purpose.
- Where do you find a sense of belonging and purpose?
- Do you see yourself as having the ability to help other people find belonging?
- What role can you play in helping others find purpose?
- The apostles catch 153 fish — far more than they needed in that moment. What does that tell you about God’s plans for the world?
Are you good enough?
One of the most popular truisms of our time is the notion that “good people go to heaven.” Of course there are dozens of subtly different takes on this idea, ranging from complicated systems of karma to the simple axiom that you get what you pay for. But the core of the idea is the same: good people get rewarded, even in the afterlife.
The problem with the idea is that the definition of “good” is so blurred that one can never know if one is good enough. Where is the line? How much good must outweigh the “bad?” How much lawfulness outweighs lawlessness? And what happens if you were 49% good, but 51% bad? Does it seem fair to be 100% condemned if you weren’t 100% bad? And even then, what if just tipping the goodness scales (i.e. 50.1% “good”) still isn’t good enough? What if dwelling in the presence of God requires 100% goodness?
Well here’s the bad news — it does.
So here’s the good news — Jesus was.
And here’s the truth — good people don’t go to heaven. Forgiven people do.
In Luke 23:39-43, the thief that hung on the cross beside Jesus fully admitted his own guilt. Still, he hoped Jesus would have mercy on him. Unfortunately for him, he was long past any chance to be good enough for it, and he knew it. So when he asks Jesus to remember him, what would be a “just” response? What would have been fair for Jesus to say to him?
The Cross of Christ is scandalously unfair, in fact. Good thing it’s unfair in our favor. Just as Jesus’ crucifixion was unfair against him. But he was willing to endure that injustice so that he could give the thief the answer that we would all want to hear: “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
The glory of Easter is simply this — Jesus is the first born of the resurrection life, never to die again. And by his mercy and grace, he invites us to partake in it with him by faith.
- Have you ever heard that “good people go to heaven?” Where did you hear it? Did you believe it? How do you feel about that idea today?
- If we do have to be “good enough” to be saved, what does that imply about the character of God?
- Many people have heard the gospel before but choose not to believe and follow Jesus. What might be standing in their way? Is something standing in your way?
Imagine that you are the thief on the cross. There is no longer any denying that your mistakes have caught up with you. And Jesus is so close you can speak to him. What would you say?
A blessed Easter to you,