July 30, 2020
"Love one another deeply, from the heart."
- 1 Peter 1:22
Greetings in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ!
Many thanks to all those who held down the fort while I took a much-needed vacation. My mother, two of my nieces, and I rented a cabin along the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia where my mother is from. It was such fun to show my nieces their great-great-grandparents' farm and tell them funny stories about the mischief their dad and I got into when we were kids. I wanted them to have a glimpse their heritage, not just in DNA, but also in faith and love.
We in the family of faith have a rich heritage of love also. "We love because God loved us first" (1 John 4:19). "For God so loved the world that He sent His only begotten son..." (John 3:16). "In this is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins" (1 John 4:10). Peter's final character quality on his long list is love. As Paul says in 1 Corinthians, if we have all these things but have not love, "I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal" (1 Cor 13:1). Love is the most important characteristic of a Christian because it is the most important characteristic of our Holy Father.
Peter had to learn about love the hard way. He thought he had it all figured out. He was the first one to identify Jesus as the Messiah. He was the bold one at the front of the pack, one of Jesus' three closest friends. But then came that terrible night when he denied the Lord three times. He went away and wept bitterly. How would Jesus ever respond if he could see him again?
Peter got his chance to reconcile with Jesus one unexpected morning on the shores of Galilee. He and the other disciples did what guys often do when they need to think - they went fishing. But after a night of catching nothing, they headed in toward the shore. Then someone called out to them to try the other side of the boat. A vague sense of familiarity sounded in their brains as they lower their nets on the other side. The nets were so full they almost broke, and they knew immediately that this had to be Jesus. Peter grabbed his cloak, took off his pride, and dove into the water to swim to Jesus.
Jesus met him with breakfast and one question. "Peter, do you love me?" Three times, Jesus asked it. Three times Peter answered. Each time, the betrayals were stripped away. "Lord, you know that I love you." Peter, the one who had been humbled in failure now was given forgiveness and a new calling in life. "Feed my sheep," the Lord said. Jesus asked him to tend the flock, to love them as He had loved them. Just as Peter had been the one to wander away from the 99, now he would be the one pursuing the lost.
These are stories we have heard all of our lives. We know they are true. We can quote many of the verses by heart. But why is it so hard to live out a life with that kind of love? As I was reading last week, I was convicted of all the things I worry about. We are all being bombarded with fears right now, whether of Covid-19, rejection, financial need, loneliness, or failure, We try to talk ourselves out of being worried, but that strategy never works.
What is the antidote of a life of fear? Love. "Perfect love casts out fear" (1 John 4:18). The more we soak in the love of God, the more we can turn over our worries and fears to him. The more we allow his love to soften our hearts of stone, the more we can love others. Peter's transformation from failure and betrayer to bold leader of the church did not come by pulling himself up by his bootstraps. It came from Jesus. It came from grace, from forgiveness, and from the life-changing power of love.
Someone once challenged me to think of a child I absolutely adored - skinned knees and runny nose and all. I pictured my hilarious, crazy, stubborn, full-of-life nieces and nephews. And then the person said, "Now imagine God looks at you just like you look at them." The Father loves us like that, only a million times more so. That's the kind of love that can cast out fear. That's the God who loves us and promises never to leave us or forsake us. That's the God who walks beside us through the valley of the shadow of death. That's the One who even after our giant failures can meet us at the beach with breakfast and forgiveness and a new amazing calling on our lives. We need not fear, for Christ is with us and He loves us more than we could ask or imagine.
Communion this Sunday, August 2: We will be celebrating Communion together in the 10:00 a.m. livestream service, so prepare to have the elements available in advance if you would like to participate. You can use any kind of bread, crackers, or gluten-free alternative and a cup of grape juice, wine, or similar juice. We can provide individual servings of juice and wafers to those who can't access them; just contact the church (412-531-3387) by Friday July 31 and we will arrange to get them to you.
Small Groups: Now is a great time to join a small group! This is our last week of the Peter study, and we will be starting a new study of some of our favorite Psalms during the month of August. Study guides for the Psalms study will be available on our website, mlepc.org. We have small groups meeting online almost every day of the week, and we have groups for Tweeners, Middle School and High School, Young Adults, just women, just men, and coed groups. The Lamplighters Sunday School class is taking the month of August off, but they will be back in September. If you are interested in becoming part of one of these groups, please contact us at 412-531-3387 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Hour of Prayer (formerly known as Sundays at Seven): A group of us are gathering on Zoom every Sunday at 7pm to pray together, and we would love to have you join us! Here is the Zoom link for a computer, tablet, or mobile phone: https://us02web.zoom.us/j/92561964416 . You can also call in from a regular phone - dial 1-646-558-8656 and enter the Meeting ID - 925 6196 4416. For more info, contact Pat Gaudio at email@example.com.
As always, please let us know if there is any way we can support you or connect with you during this season. You can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, with any needs, prayer requests, or just updates on how you are doing. And you are always welcome to call us at 412-531-3387.
Having Trouble Viewing the Graphics?
If you are having trouble viewing the graphic elements on this Pastoral E-Letter, please go to the top of the page and click where it reads "Click Here." If you have Outlook, please right click in the image block and "download pictures."