To Love is Our Command

Jesus our Lord orders us not to love Him, but one another. This is akin to a parent putting siblings in a get-along shirt, where each sibling get an armhole in a great big daddy shirt. This may be the hardest command He has ever given us.Today Christians exist in 1000 different denominations. Christians of different stripes have fought wars over doctrine with each other. Some Christians have rounded up other Christians just for printing Bibles. Even today some Christians are jealous because their church is smaller than their neighbor, or self-righteous because their church is smaller. Even when we have no reason to be petty with one another, we still find ways to dislike one another.

I think the kind of love Jesus is speaking of here is more than the toleration you have for family on Thanksgiving. It goes deeper than that. I think it may even be more like the love a parent has for a child who is addict, but who never gives up hope of their getting clean. Love is a hard taskmaster. It asks us to do things we don’t want to do, like get along.

The Methodist right now are going through these labor pains. They are looking to separate themselves one from another over the issue of homosexuality. Some want homosexuals to be their pastors. Others do not. As such, they are willing separate their common bond in Christ over the issue. For those who campaign that love must prevail, let me remind you that this is a truth that comes from Scripture. If you would honor the same God who commands us to love, you would also need to respect what else He has to say. You cannot take one piece out for your benefit and ignore the rest.

They should absolutely not separate. But as Paul once pointed, perhaps it is necessary to point out those who are Christ’s and those who are not. Christ also said, “if you love me, keep my commandments.” Jesus is very specific what constitutes the marriage relationship (Matthew 19). He tells us what relationship has the blessing and binding of God, and it not the homosexual one. This anyone who teaches and practices that homosexual relationships are okay by God is teaching blasphemy.

The basis for love in any relationship is and ought always to be truth. Without truth you do not have honesty. Without honesty there is no integrity and no stability in a relationship. As Christians, we need to be honest with one another, and stop hiding from one another. There is no such thing as “fine” in our world. No one is “fine” because we are all struggling. If you are in honest relationships with other Christians, you have found a rare jewel. Fight for it if you have to.

Heavenly Father, we have so totally messed up obeying this command that we don’t even know where to begin to obey it. We are scattered across a thousand denominations that can’t talk to each other. Father we have hurt each other, deeply. We have done the opposite of this command so many times. We repent Lord of the mess we have made. Show us Lord the path we would take to love our brother and our sister. We pray this in the name of Jesus, Amen.

Love and Sacrifice

In the many definitions of love, you rarely hear sacrifice. It is usually compassion for another, embracing and feeling close. But sacrifice is as natural as breathing when it comes to love. In the famous story, The Gift of the Magi, the young couple each sacrifices what is most precious to them to give good gifts to each other. It is a precious story in that it is a fitting parable for love. Love gives with little thought for itself. It is the new mother who gets up in the wee hours to care for a crying child. It is the father who sacrifices time with his family and those precious first moments so that he can provide for their needs in work. While love takes on many forms, one which we easily recognize is sacrifice.

So it is with our Christian family. Today is a test of your love. Will you sacrifice your time, energy, even comfort to express your love for the brethren by going to church this morning? Jesus came and died for you. That was a tremendous and powerful sacrifice. Men and women died for your right to worship freely in this nation. No one is stopping you from going to a church of your choosing. It may involve some sacrifice, but many have been given for you. You can give this much.

Love is expressed through sacrifice. Our Lord showed us this. We can do this for each other. God bless you today.

Power in Harmony

Now may the God who gives endurance and encouragement allow you to live in harmony with one another, according to the command of Christ Jesus, so that you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ with a united mind and voice.
(Rom 15:5-6)

Last Saturday, my daughter was taking part in a band combined with all the regional bands from their middle schools. I didn’t expect what I heard. Over the course of one day, my daughter has managed to learn how to play three new songs, songs she didn’t even know to start, and then learn how to play them with complete strangers. By the time of the concert, they had managed to learn how to play together and bring off a most impressive concert, despite their youth and inexperience. I credit this in part to the instructors who worked with them, but also the power of harmony, when everyone is working together to a common goal. In this case, everyone was working on the same music, if not the same page.

I think we Christians could take a page out of this book. We are all trying to save the world according to our own silos. Each of us think we have the right way and correct understanding of how the Bible works and how Jesus saves. The fact that there are hundreds if not thousands of churches (and yes, each have their own thing), would seem to give lie to that fact. Either only one of us is completely right, some of us are partially right or we’re all completely wrong.

Truthfully, I think we have much more in common than we think, and we probably ought to cooperate more than we do. If we all claim to be Christians, then surely there must be some real Christians among us. I believe each one must be firmly convinced in his own mind what he believes. But I also believe we tend to nitpick over non-essentials, like whether or not we use musical instruments in worship.

I believe the essentials are these: Jesus Christ is the Living Son of God, born of a virgin, crucified on a cross, risen from the dead and alive in Heaven at God’s right hand, but just as near to us. If this isn’t at the core of your faith, you are not a Christian. The resurrection alone as Paul said is the most important fact of our faith, and must be upheld.

The second is like the first: The Bible as written in its original languages (Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek) is the final authority of God on this earth. It was written by the Holy Spirit through the hands of about 40 men (and maybe women) to its minimum extent of 66 books, the 39 books of the Old Testament and the 27 books of the New. All of the Church recognizes these books. It is true in all that it attests to and affirms. It is our final authority of faith, and cannot be interpreted to the opposite of what it clearly says. It was written to be understood, and written so that even common men (and women) could understand it. Anyone who denies the written Word of God or its authority is not a Christian because they deny the surest source of authority they have.

Beyond these two, we can talk about others, but I believe you need these two to start having a conversation. God bless you today!


Fearless Love

So what do we know today? I feel like I’ve written about this recently, but I couldn’t find it. Perfect love, mature love, is fearless. Because when Daddy is with you, you aren’t afraid of risk.

So what do we have to fear? You might have heard recently about Kanye West. I too was cautiously optimistic that this conversion might actually be authentic. Here is someone from the celebrity scene that is now taking about Jesus in a good way. He is openly evangelizing. He is doing the work of the church. And the church, well, is being the church.

What I mean is, many churches are downplaying this conversion because he didn’t come from us. If this were a pastor from an unknown church who suddenly popped up on the national scene, the church would be far more accepting. But he’s not. He is like a Paul, someone who openly despised conservative values and was a popular rap artist singing what rap artists rap about until one day God got a hold of him.

I think the church needs to take this as a warning. This is what we need to fear. God picked Kanye because we weren’t getting the message out. Let that sink in. We’ve kept the gospel bottled up in church buildings and Christian lifestyle, so that if you are not like us, you cannot be us. It is a condition the church ought to be familiar with, as we have repeated the same cycle throughout history, until God calls a Paul, or a Martin Luther, or a Tyndale, or a Billy Sunday, or a Tim Tebow. Over and again, God has had to call someone outside the box because the gospel couldn’t get out of the box.

So if God is calling Kanye West to evangelize the lost, it’s because the church wasn’t reaching who He wanted to reach. For Paul, it was outreach to the Gentiles. For Martin Luther, it was outreach to the non-Latins. And so on, and so forth. If the church will not go, then God will call someone else to go. Be afraid Church that you have not lost your relevance.

Something to ponder on this Monday.

With One Another

Have you tried living as a Christian all on your own? Actually, I’ve heard many try this, saying that they can worship God anywhere. Some prefer especially during deer season, to take their New Testament up into the deer stand with them. There they have solitude and quiet in their peaceful worship of God. Sounds great, doesn’t it? I don’t know why more people don’t do that?

Others prefer to stay home, watching church on TV. For some, I’ll agree this is a necessity, as they are physically unable to go anymore. Many are unable to leave home for health reasons. But many of these same people will find a way to the doctor’s office, the Walmart and whatever else. I have waited in the doctor’s office longer than I’ve been in church.

But what’s so wrong about people wanting to experience God on their own terms or in the comfort of their home? I would hope that people are seeking God in their own home. But that isn’t Christianity. It’s a part of their work as Christians, their personal work in seeking His face and in prayer. That is a private work, but it not the whole.

The main work of Christianity is body life. We exist as part of a body of Christians. None of us exists to himself. Going to the deer stand on Sunday morning or sitting in your living room watching TV church does not qualify as going to church. Why is going to church so important? Because that is where the body is. You encourage others and are encouraged in return. You support others and are supported in return. The primary intent of attending church is being the church to one another. It is finding our connections in flesh and blood people who believe and serve the same God. We need social interaction and support. (And we need to be mindful of that for our elderly population).

We not only need it, but we are commanded to it, even by the verse quoted above. It isn’t just our own voice lifted up in praise to the King of Heaven that He wants to wants to hear. He wants a concert of voices. He wants to hear our song combined into one multi-layered sound. If it is not good for “man to be alone” it is certainly not good for a Christian to worship alone, to be alone, to be faithful alone.

I know this will hit some of you in the wrong place, because you’ve tried it. You’ve tried to be that encouraging voice in the church. You’ve tried to be a peacemaker, and you’ve received the sharp stick of Christian discouragement. You’ve tried going to church, and you’ve only received pain. That is not a church God wants you to attend. Find another one. As Hebrews 10:25 says, “don’t give up meeting together.” Don’t give up. Part of your Christian walk and faith is the harmony and synchronicity you find with other believers. You can’t do that on your own. Going to a church is not a suggestion. Staying home and watching it online or on TV is not a solution. You need interaction with real people. You need others to fellowship with, to study with, to share ideas with and struggles with. Is it a sin not to go to church? Is disobedience to a clear and direct command from God a sin? Then yes, and heaping sin upon yourself in wilful refusal with not help your walk or your prayer life. GO TO CHURCH!

God bless you today.

Brick Wall

Yeah, I’ve been before the audience gathered to hear the word of God, only to respond to my heart-felt pleas for action and repentance like, well, a brick wall. But, that’s not so bad. Like the text today suggests, we are all made out of clay, fashioned by His hands, for His purposes. I believe one of those purposes to be a brick wall. Let me explain.

When we build with brick, we expect every brick to be identical, otherwise, in our limited abilities, we will have trouble fitting all the pieces together. With all the pieces identical, they all fit together to make the solid pattern we need to create a stable and sturdy wall. We then expect this wall to do many things for us, namely to protect us from the elements, the heat and cold, the wind and the rain. Only a well-fitted brick wall will do this. If one of the bricks were loose or fell out, suddenly our barrier is no longer solid. That single break in the wall will only expand, causing more trouble until the brick void is refilled. In a Church where everyone is expected to maintain their moral integrity, even one person who backslides becomes a threat to the whole. Because we are also bound together in love. When one person backslides, the rest of us work to restore and maintain that person (theoretically) or (more realistically) the rest shame and ostracize that person so that there is a gap in the wall. Unless that gap is refilled, the wall itself begins to lose integrity.

God puts every person in the wall of the Church’s strength intentionally. Everyone has their place. If one person decides that this Church is not for them, or that sin sounds sweeter, that person’s role in the Church suffers and will do so until it is filled again. This is why you have so many small churches suffering, flailing with a patchwork of brick, of people who are filling not only their own roles but covering for someone else who left or who died. Because they can’t cover roles they are not gifted for, those roles fail, that person get discouraged, and they too leave for a church “wall” that is more filled. Many of these small churches were once big (believe me, they will tell you of the days when they were big, and had so many bricks that they were standing in the aisles), but now only the handful that’s left hang on to the memories. They are a brick wall about to topple because they’ve tried to cover too much area with too few bricks. Because there are gaping holes they let through a host of false teaching and acceptance of immorality because “That’s how we’re going to get people back”, or more likely, “We don’t want to offend that new couple who are living together because that they might leave.” They lose the ability to rebuke sin because they can’t afford to lose anyone. They think that building with straw and wood will be just as good as brick. We’ll look the other way so they’ll at least keep coming.

Do you see it? I’ve seen it. I’ve wrung my hands in frustration at folks admitted into leadership whose morality is questionable, and seen the ugly side of church politics when that happens. Small churches get smaller. Resources get squandered. And small churches die.

We are clay. God fashions us into exactly the people that He wants for each fellowship. If you are unhappy with your place in the church, you can’t complain to the church. They didn’t mold you. However, if you feel like you are being stretched to cover too much space in the wall, maybe you need to stop trying so hard so that someone else God is molding to fill that space can.  I don’t have the all answers here, and I may even be stretching the analogy a bit (you think?). But one thing I have noticed across several ministries: I see the same people in every church. They have different names and faces, but the same people exist, filling the same kinds of roles in the church’s structure. I believe that is God’s providence and giftedness at work, gifting people in the church to fulfill their part in the body.

Something to think about today. Remember your gifts. To use your gifts is to build up the body of Christ. God bless you today!

Freedom of Speech

In the first amendment of the constitution, the government is specifically forbidden to abridge the freedom to speak your mind. Curiously, it was not the government who the first to discover this freedom. It is also found in the Bible.

In Hebrews 10:35, the idea of confidence, or boldness in some translations also translates to freedom to speak. This freedom is not merely guaranteed by a government, but by the Lord God, who expects us to speak on His behalf to this lost and fallen world. We have the freedom, nay, the authority to speak to this world about the grace given to us as Christians and extended to everyone because of the shed blood of God’s most perfect gift, His Son Jesus Christ. Would that we would express this freedom.

But it is not merely evangelism, but a whole life changed and encouraged by this fact. Jesus Christ died for me. He took my penalty upon Himself so that I might live. What does that mean for you? What does that look like to you? Does it mean the same glum and unhappy face from day to day, or do we “count it all joy my brothers when you encounter various trials”? I will agree that life is not always roses, but it is always God’s Into each life, a little rain must fall. But this life isn’t what we’re all about, is it?

Thus we have the freedom and the joy to share our praise, our worship, our exultation of the Lord God. If we don’t, who will? Who on earth has more reason to be glad than we do? We have the answer to life’s question, “Is this all there is? Is there nothing more?” Is life only about stuff? Is life only for the here and now? What happens when I die? We have glorious and amazing answers to all of this and more. But who wants to hear about from the joyless, graceless people we are painted to be?

I have seen a problem among the small churches, both which I have pastored and attended. It is an utter sense of helplessness but ironically pride which many pontificate over, saying that if the lost only knew better, they would come to my church. Many small churches feel helpless because “we just don’t attract new people.” “Nobody comes to church anymore. Aren’t we really friendly?” Blame often shifts to leadership and especially to the Preacher. “If only our preacher were better, or younger, or had a more engaging family, then people would flock to our church.” And so many small churches look for the younger, prettier, less experienced preachers who tend to be black and white in their preaching, passionate for lost souls but poor communicators, and in a few short years, frustrated because the church doesn’t share their vision for the lost. Don’t get me wrong. Preaching ought to be express morality and ethics in stark terms. But there are ways to do that without alienating people, especially people who are hurting. Young preachers just don’t have enough life experience to do that yet, especially when they have been brought up in this small church setting.

Small churches don’t fail because they are small. They fail because they stop participating. The attitude of “let the young people do it because they have the energy” causes the old to simply be, rather than sharing their knowledge and wisdom. As a result, the older people, who have the financial assets and the leadership roles, find the younger people’s direction distasteful, too loud, too expensive, and it is letting in the riff-raff. Because the older members have the purse strings, they disdain and look down their nose at the younger and their ilk. Younger people, including that young pastor with the pretty wife, move on. Some manage to keep their faith and attend another church. Others, finding themselves unwelcome at Church, stop going anywhere.

The lost don’t understand denominations. When the lost are rejected from one church, one single congregation, they feel rejected by all of them. Their defense before God? “We tried, but they rejected us.” You cannot hold that evangelism is all about bringing people to church to hear your preacher (oh, and then they’ll find Jesus when they hear his profound arguments and amazing preaching) and simultaneously reject visitors who come to your church because they’re not like you.

The biggest example of this in my recent memory was a community dinner that a church held, offering free food and activities to any who would come. They decried often how they are friendly church, and people would know this if they would only visit. This after an effort to invite people by going door to door and making personal invitations. Many invitations and visits were made. On the day of the dinner, one couple came. They had heard about it through a friend. That single couple was welcomed, but everyone else who were regular attendees sat on the opposite side of the dining room. They didn’t interact, and the whole thing actually came across as awkward. Only a handful of outgoing members went and sat with the new people. Tell me. What aspect of this story tells you that this is a friendly church that is excited to see new people?

Ok. Enough of my soapbox. We have the freedom and the responsibility to exercise our freedom of speech, not guaranteed by a government, but by God. every aspect of our speech ought to reflect our status as saved people.