A few months ago, we had our front fence replaced. For the past six years, we’ve had a rotting fence that was of such an age it was only standing because of a few meters of rope. The decision to replace the fence wasn’t a hard one. As the original fence was torn down, the pickets simply crumbled as they came off the beams. The nails were rusty. The posts had deeply rotted holes through their center. Everything tore down in a matter of minutes because of its terrible condition.
Fast forward ten days and the new fence is immaculate. It’s been prepared well. The holes for the posts were dug deep and filled with concrete. The pickets were measured and screwed in for stability. The gate to the driveway is now in existence. Even the neighbors are coming by and commenting on how good this fence is now.
I’d been thinking about getting it fixed ever since we moved into the house. Instead, I’ve procrastinated and other things have taken priority. Now, as I stand back and look at the fence that stands strong I think, ‘Why didn’t I do this earlier!?’
What has occurred is that the old has gone and the new has come. The old fence, now only good for firewood, has been replaced by something great, something solid, something new, and something special.
In 1 Peter 2:9-10 we read the following words,
But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his possession, so that you may proclaim the praises of the one who called you out of darkness into his marvellous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
In having received the mercy of God we find ourselves, find our identities, as people included into God’s holy people. We are of God’s ethnicity, we are in His royal family, we are citizens of His state and His people, because of the mercy he has shown us through Christ. This places us in a special position. Formerly we were not God’s people, but through Jesus we are part of God’s abundant family.
Again, this term ‘but now’ changes the way we look at ourselves. The phrase, which we’ve been exploring all week, is an identity phrase. It impacts us and the way we think of ourselves and others. Here is who we were before Christ. Here is who we are after.
I am reminded often, when working with teenagers, that there is a tendency in our younger years to withhold mercy toward one another. This, of course, isn’t solely a student problem. This is a humanity problem. But the withholding of mercy toward others, especially school friends and those who we deem “different,” seems particularly evident in teenagers.
In our ministry to students, one aspect of the gospel to emphasise is the fact that the mercy we have received from God through Christ changes our identity to mercy-givers. Following in the example of God, we too are called to offer mercy to others. History’s greatest act of mercy is the mercy offered by Jesus on the cross. And in our lives and the lives of our students, it is he whom we seek to imitate.
So often, the main concern of my students is that of purpose. Why am I here? And truth be told, it is a question we often ask ourselves as youth ministers. However, here in 1 Peter we find that not only is our identitychanged because of God’s mercy, so is our purpose. Notice what Peter says in v9, “…so that you may proclaim the praises of the one who called you out of darkness.”
Here Peter says our new purpose as members of God’s family is to proclaim the praises of God, who delivered us from lives of isolation and darkness. God’s great mercy shown to us on the cross also gives us purpose – praise and proclamation of Jesus the Merciful.
And isn’t that what we hope for our students?
Isn’t that the hope that we have for ourselves?
Among all the different and quirky hats we wear as leaders of youth ministries around the country and beyond, we find our place with God through his mercy and grace, and we find our continuing purpose to proclaim his praises.
For the last five days we have explored this phrase ‘but now’ in relation to our identity and role as youth ministers. These two words shape so much of who we are because of what Christ has done. The fact that we are given such a unique opportunity to work with young people, exploring life and faith with them, inspires and encourages us deeply. However, this work is not done because it might feel good, or for the pay packet, or for the fun activities we get to do. No, this work is done and worth doing so that students may hear the message of the cross. The message of grace that makes them right with God (Romans 3:21-26), sets them free from sin (Romans 6:22-23), brings them near to God (Ephesians 2:11-15), reconciles them with their Creator (Colossians 1:21-23), and includes them into the family of God (1 Peter 2:9-10).
May our students, and may we, understand how much of an impact these two words, ‘but now’, have on us and our lives.