Walking as Jesus Walked

Having the Mind of Christ

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Got Milk?

His name was Howard Hughes. As an aviator he once held every speed record of consequence, and was once considered the greatest flyer in the world. At various points in his life he owned an international airline, two regional airlines, an aircraft company, a major motion picture studio, mining properties, a tool company, gambling casinos and hotels in Las Vegas, along with a medical research center and a vast amount real estate.

It is believed that when Howard Hughes died in 1976 he was worth over $2 billion dollars, making him the richest man in the world.

When he died he was being cared for around the clock by 15 personal attendants and 3 full-time doctors. He had the best health care money could buy; and yet, you may be shocked to know what killed him: malnutrition and dehydration.

Howard Hughes was so eccentric and psychologically disturbed that he refused all food and water because he was afraid it would kill him. He was so obsessed about absolute purity in food and water that he would no longer eat or drink. But He forgot one simple fact: no food and water, no life./1/

The Christian Life

We can see the similarities to the Christian life: We can’t make it without food and water; in the case of 1 Peter, we can’t make it without the “pure, spiritual milk” of God’s word (2:2).

That’s how many scholars translate our passage today: We can understand the adjectives “pure” and “spiritual” better as “word of preaching” or “word of instruction: Just as the promised land flowed with milk and honey for the children of Israel, so also the “milk of God’s word” flows as a foretaste of God’s salvation for those who believe in Christ./2/

In short, this spiritual milk helps newborn Christians grow toward salvation as a mother’s milk nurtures infants toward maturity.

Therefore, as First Peter states, as Christians, we “grow into salvation,” and live with the promise of the fullness of God’s mercy and with a foretaste of what that mercy will be (2:2), for it is only by God’s mercy that we are Christians in the first place (2:10), that we are part of a royal priesthood (2:9)./3/

The image of “milk” is simply that image that helps us with the whole range of God’s good gifts for the Christian life: “pure, spiritual milk” is the opposite of guile and slander and malice and insincerity (2:1).

That kind of selfishness is what we leave behind for new life in Christ: as a newborn infant desires milk, so the Christian desires the Word.

The Greek word for desire here is important: epithymia. It means longing or hunger. It’s similar to what we hear in Psalm 42: that “as a deer longs for flowing streams so my soul longs for the living God (42:1-2a). First Peter tells us that there is a longing in the heart to know what is true and pure: as children of God, we all have a desire to know God./4/

That’s a little different from what the apostle Paul says to the Corinthians when he distinguishes between milk and solid food, with milk being for the infant or selfish person and solid food for the adult or mature person. Paul writes: “I fed you with milk not solid food, because you were not ready for solid food” (1 Cor. 3:2).

We can also find the same emphasis in the Letter to the Hebrews: Milk is for the unskilled person of faith and solid food for the skilled or trained person of faith (5:12-14).

Peter, on the other hand, wants to see every Christian have a desire for the “milk of God’s word,” regardless of age or status.

Hence, the question: Got milk?

Got Milk?

Perhaps you have seen the billboards and commercials: Got milk? There are pictures of famous persons like Michael Jordon and Paul Newman with white ‘milk’ mustaches advertising the importance of drinking milk.

There are even a couple persons at Grace Church with them! Pastor Bob? Got milk? Bob’s is a little more permanent! Pastor Jenothy? Got milk? And Roger and Sarai? Got milk?

And you? Got milk?

Actually, a better or more accurate description would be “Do you have a hunger for God’s milk, for God’s word?” Do you have that desire to grow closer to God?

That’s what Peter is really after: Peter wants to see Christians taste the goodness of the Lord (2:3). He wants to see persons in his congregations come to Christ and allow themselves be built into a spiritual house, a royal priesthood, a holy nation (2:5). He wants to see believers, after receiving God’s mercy, offer sacrifices in return, though not as on the altar in the Temple, but rather as the sacrifice of faithful obedience and the life of love that goes with it (2:5): a life without the vices of malice and deceit and envy and hypocrisy (2:1).

That’s the kind of sacrifice acceptable to God through Jesus Christ (2:5): a life of faithful obedience, a life marked with promise and mercy.

But note the connection: Without the desire for the milk of the gospel, there can be no life of sacrifice and obedience. No milk, no life.

Other Food

I don’t know if you are a milk drinker. I know some persons are allergic to milk. I know as a family we drink a great deal of milk every week. I grew up drinking milk, and I love the taste of ice cold milk; and without sounding too much like a commercial, I will say it is good for you. And so, I hope you can drink milk!

But I also hope there is a desire for the kind of milk we are talking about today: the gift of God’s word. I hope there is a hunger for that.

The human heart desires many things. Many of those desires, when out of step with God’s purposes, can lead to downfall, to a life without mercy and peace. As Peter says, our desires can go in many directions: they can go toward slander and malice, or toward envy and hypocrisy and evil speaking (1 Peter 2:2, NKJ). They can lead us, if allowed, down the road to becoming ensnared in power-games or ego-trips. Our desires are in constant need of God’s grace and judgment, for it is only by God’s Spirit working in us that those desires can become the fruit of holiness.

I share that because it is so easy to say things and do things that can hurt others, even without being aware of what we have said or done.

When left to our own devices, our hearts are lost; or, in the words of the prophet Jeremiah, when we forget God’s covenant our hearts become “wicked” (44:9). We forget whose we are and who we are.

It’s why the words of Saint Augustine still ring true: “Our hearts are restless until they find rest in God.” That is, our hearts will look to fill the void with other “spirits,” with other things, unless they find assurance in God.

Our souls, our hearts – our spiritual stomachs, if you will – will look for nourishment elsewhere if they are not actively pursuing or longing for the milk of God’s word. Hence the question: Got milk? Or more precisely: Do you have the desire for the milk of God’s instruction, of God’s word, of God’s mercy?

With so many options today for choosing what to believe, we need to ask ourselves: What are we seeking to eat and drink? What kind of food – spiritual food – are we going to eat?

The famous writer and author G. K. Chesterton once said that the purpose of having an open mind is the same as having an open mouth, so that we can close it on something nourishing.

May 21st, 2011 was supposed to have been the end of the world. A pastor by the name of Harold Camping and several other persons have been predicting that major other calamities would destroy life on earth as we know it, thus bringing about the rapture at 1:00 in the afternoon (Eastern Time or Pacific Time, I don’t know). Apparently, he had decoded the Bible and calculated that the world would end at that moment.

Not to make light of the suffering in the world due to recent events, and not to dismiss the hope of God’s future (which we all have), there is a report that God has continued to sustain and provide life on this earth as we worship!

And yet, the news of this kind of ‘gospel,’ of this kind of message, raises questions: Is this the kind of milk God wants us to have? Is that the kind of food we are to eat?

In several recent studies on American culture and religion, it is clear there is a deeper problem: Persons may say they revere God’s word, but they know very little about it: Fewer than half of all adults in the United States, for example, can name the four Gospels in the New Testament. Sixty percent of adults and youth cannot name five of the Ten Commandments. And twelve percent of adults believe Joan of Arc was Noah’s wife. I think you get the picture.

If we don’t know the basics, what will fill the emptiness?

It’s a big cafeteria out there! There are so many different religious options from which to choose. And now with the internet it’s almost impossible to keep track of the different kinds of spiritual food on sale.

What’s the old adage: You are what you eat! With so much junk food out there – spiritual and otherwise – it is becoming more and more difficult to eat well and live well. It’s becoming more and more difficult to digest what is on offer, to find food that is spiritually nourishing.


And yet, the good news is that God has given us a better offer, a better hope of what is pure, what is good, what is whole, what is holy: God has given to us Jesus Christ, rejected by mortals, yet chosen and precious in God’s sight – a perfect offering (2:4), without whom we would remain in darkness but with whom we can live in light (2:9-10).

God has given us that precious gift out of his great love and mercy!Hence, the question: Got milk?

Dear friend, receive this invitation: Come and see; come and see and taste that the Lord is good!


1. Thanks to Reverend James Merritt for this story (Collected Sermons: Christian Globe Networks, Inc.).

2. See The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1998), p. 264.

3. Ibid., p. 264.

4. Ibid., p. 264.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Marked with Promise

Acts 2:42-47

Over the last few weeks Peggy and I have had the opportunity to attend several track meets to watch our daughter Grace. Needless to say, we always enjoy seeing so many young people out there running and jumping and throwing. It is a pleasure to see what the kids can accomplish.

The other day while we were watching the Conference Meet we overheard the judge instruct the runners for the 800 Meter Run. The judge told the boys how they were to approach their marks before he would fire the gun. The instruction was simple: He would say the command “To your mark” which would signal to them to move up, and then he would shoot the gun, beginning the race.

What I found a little amusing what was that when the judge made his command to move to the mark, several of the runners stood still; they didn’t move. Rather than start with the others who had moved up, these boys remained in place, already two paces behind. And the race hadn’t even started!

To your mark!

From the days of the ancient games in Greece, the “mark” was that unique design on the track or field, identifying the athlete. Anyone who knew all the competitors’ “marks” could tell who was running as they lined up.
Therefore, the first command to the runner is not “go,” but “on your mark.”/1/

Early Christian “Marks of Community”

That’s a good way to understand our passage from the Acts of the Apostles today: following the preaching of Peter on the resurrection of Jesus, the first apostles were quick to establish the definitive “marks” of the church; they were quick to embody these marks in the life of this new community as they went about running the race of faith.

Luke tells us that from the start this new community took on a unique shape. In fact, it might be helpful to think of the early church as the first attempt at spiritual “cross-training.”

Cross-training is the concept that gets gymnasts lifting weights while football players take ballet. Lately, it has become popular through different kinds of shoes.

According to Luke, from the very beginning the church practiced a kind of spiritual cross-training by committing itself to four basic exercises:

First, there was a commitment to teaching: the early apostles’ passed on what Jesus had taught. They took time to instruct and counsel new converts.

Second, there was support to have fellowship together. The early Christians took time to be together, to enjoy relationships, to encourage and to support.

Third, there was the benefit of breaking bread together, not only during the celebration of Communion but also with other families and in homes. There was a commitment to give and share.

And fourth, there was prayer to strengthen the whole fabric of the church’s life. There was an intentional effort to lift up others and to remember the concerns of the whole community. Prayer was a key part of the church’s success.

Luke tells us that these early Christians did a great deal of cross-training together, so much so that when they practiced this way of life they saw “many signs and wonders” taking place (2:43), they were able to share “all things in common” (2:44), and sell their possessions and goods and give the proceeds to any who had a need (2:45); they were able to gather in homes and praise God (2:46), and respond with glad and generous hearts to the concerns of others (2:46).

And everyday that these Christians practiced this way of life the Lord would add to their numbers those who were being saved (2:47).

What began as a small house gathering would grow into a worldwide movement: all after the preaching of Peter’s first sermon! What any pastor would give for such a response! From country chapel to mega-church all in one day, in less than one hour! I can tell you that didn’t happen after my first sermon!

It was like these early Christians had entered the Zone! Do you know what I mean by the Zone? In athletics the Zone is that extraordinary place in which action and reaction seem to happen automatically. Everything falls into its right order and rhythm. Everything is clicking and falling into place.

The baseball looks like a watermelon. The basket looks like a hula hoop. In golf the swing is effortless and every ball flies straight off the tie.

It is Michael Jordan winning six NBA championships, or Lance Armstrong winning a record sixth Tour de France – the flow, the effortless present, all humming together./2/

Our passage from Acts describes what happens when the church enters the Zone of the Holy Spirit, when “awe and wonder” come over the whole assembly (2:43) and when believers discover the true purpose of the Christian life – in community.

Suddenly, the true “marks” of the church become visible and apparent to all – the generous giving, the glad hearts, the warm fellowship, the faithful teaching, the breaking of bread, the commitment to pray, and the praising of God.

When these “marks” become visible, people can actually see how the Holy Spirit is working; they can visually locate what the Lord is doing through the company of faithful followers: through a church marked with God’s promises!

Where Is this Church?

Let me ask you: Have you seen this church? If so, where?

The great missionary bishop of the Anglican Church in India, Leslie Newbigin, once wrote that the best evidence for believing the gospel in a highly indifferent, secular culture is a congregation of persons who display these “marks” of the Spirit on a daily basis./3/

A congregation! A church! Not simply a scattering of individuals hither, thither, and yon, but a community devoted to the Way.

It’s an old argument, of course. John Wesley, the leader of the Methodists, made a similar point two hundred years earlier. And Martin Luther and St. Augustine and the apostle Paul made it before him: When people see the church “living in sink” with God’s Spirit, they are more likely to come to faith.

On the other hand, when the church falls outside the workings of the Spirit, when it fails to live out the power and promise of Christ’s resurrection, it more often than not falls prey to the latest trend, or fad, or ideology, or philosophy. No longer is there anything unique about Christ’s body.

Sadly, the church in our world today is so tragically divided that it has become more and more difficult to see the marks of the Spirit. We simply take it for granted that the reason there are so many churches is to satisfy the spiritual needs of individuals with different tastes: Methodists and Baptists have become like franchises that exist to serve a basic kind food to a particular kind of demographic group!

What we so often fail to realize in this picture is that when the Holy Spirit created the church, the Spirit created a community that was to tell the world that apart from Christ our “needs” or “tastes” really do not make sense at all, that apart from the gospel our “needs” are really not what we thought they were (Jn. 15:6-7): seen in light of the gospel what I thought I needed I didn’t, and the medicine I really didn’t want to take I need to take, if I wanted to be made whole.

To a society built on the myth of self-reliance that’s not a popular message.

In fact, when we see the church simply as a voluntary organization comprised of “individuals” and not biblically as a community of the Spirit, gifted with the presence of Christ, we suddenly recognize features other than what God intended: that is, we can begin to act in ways that run contrary to the gospel, focusing on whatever “works” (a kind of runaway pragmatism), or on whatever “feels” good (a kind of Dr. Phil therapy session); or we can become captive to a political or religious ideology (as happened in Germany in 1930’s)./4/

On all of these counts there is a loss of substance of the gospel about the costs of discipleship (Lk. 14:27). Suddenly, the focus is not on Christ but on us.

Perhaps another way of approaching this is by asking the following questions: What do you look for in a church? Do you look for strong teaching? Do you look for authentic fellowship? Do you look for a congregation that is committed to serving others? Do you look for a church that challenges you to sacrifice and give and pray? Do you look for the biblical “marks of promise” that we hear about in our passage?

Several weeks ago I met with a gentleman from a church north of here. I learned that this particular church has numerous sports programs and a huge physical education complex. He shared with me how many people playing basketball and volleyball and involved in aerobics. And I couldn’t help but be impressed and a little jealous! But I thought: Are those the marks of the church: Yes? No? It’s a way to catch people, isn’t it? What do you think?

In the United Methodist Church there is a new report entitled “The Call to Action”; it has been commissioned by our Council of Bishops in an attempt to address the years of decline in the church.

In this report it states very clearly that a vital congregation will be known by the following “marks” or “features”: numerous small group ministries, solid children’s and youth ministries, strong outreach and mission programs, different styles of worship services, topical preaching, and long-term pastorates. Marks of the church? Yes? No? Sound promising? How are we doing?

Without going into specifics, I will only say that, regarding this report, I wish more was stated about the biblical marks of the church – that as Christians in the Wesleyan tradition we believe the church is “one, holy, catholic, and apostolic”; that is, we believe the church is “the redemptive fellowship in which the Word of God is faithfully preached and the sacraments are duly administered; and that under the discipline of the Holy Spirit the church exists to build up the life of the believer for the redemption of the world”./5/

In other words, the church is more than simply a set of programs! Amen! It’s more than any one person, or place, or thing, or pastor! It’s more than a beautiful building!

And it’s that “more than” that makes the church so promising, that connects people with Christ…that brings hope and healing so that people can rebuild their lives…that invites people into God’s love and grace and service and fellowship and praise, and that challenges them to grow and give.

That promise! That faithful promise of devoting ourselves to being together in mission, with glad and generous hearts, praising God and following Christ, and having the goodwill of all the people (2:46-47).
That promise!

And so, with glad and generous hearts, let us fulfill that mission as we share with and to give any as they have need (2:45; 46). Amen.


1. Thanks to Leonard Sweet for these insights; see the sermon info “On Your Mark” at www.HomileticsOnline.com (5/2/1993).

2. See “The Effortless Present” at www.HomileticsOnline.com for these insights (4/17/2005).

3. See Leslie Newbigin, The Gospel in a Pluralist Society (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1989), p. 227.

4. Robert N. Bellah et al., Habits of the Heart (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985). This book brings to light how the language of therapy and utilitarianism bring to light the empties of modern self-understanding and lack of depth in community.

5. “Confession of Faith” – Article V, The Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church (Nashville: The United Methodist Publishing House, 2008).