The Third Commandment

www.bible.com/72/jhn.13.34.hcsb

Jesus was once asked what are the greatest commandments in the Law. He said that the two greatest commandments were the Love God with all your heart, soul and mind, and to love your neighbor as yourself. These didn’t change with the advent of Christianity. We are still expected to follow these commands under grace. But Jesus then added a third commandment, one distinctive to the Christian faith and experience. He said that Christians ought to love one another. Weird, huh? It seems like that should be a given. If I love God and love neighbors, wouldn’t I love my fellow Christians?

It seems to me that Jesus knows us better than we think. But what commandments have we violated more than this? And do you know what excuse we use to avoid obeying this commandment? They don’t believe like we do. We don’t associate with them. We don’t fellowship with them. We don’t do anything with them that might look like we love them. Hmmm.

Should there be recognition of doctrinal differences? And are there boundaries that denominations should not cross, boundaries of orthodoxy? Is there orthodoxy? Should the Bible have the final say on what we ought to believe, or should the Church? Because if we are going to disobey this commandment of Jesus, then we ought to have a really good reason. Is our reasoning strong enough to “tithe mint and dull and cumin, but avoid the weightier matters if the law”?

This is the tension between love and truth. Many churches exclude others based on truth. Other churches avoid truth and include everyone based on love. Is the “other” in one another a person also saved by grace, washed in blood through faith in Christ Jesus who must also live up to a code of conduct expected of the Christian?

It is very easy for us to dismiss “one another” when they don’t believe as we do, or their practices are different. We may stand and point fingers at each and declare “heretic”! all day long. But we forget that we are all fighting he same battle, the same enemy. And this enemy has enjoyed much success because he has us fighting each other instead of him. Are there greater evils in the world than a rival denomination? It seems we have bigger fish to fry than making sure everyone believes in exactly the same way.

I believe that every denomination has a problem in its doctrine somewhere. Nobody has it right. And I don’t know if this side of heaven we’ll ever figure it out. But I do believe some have it more right than others. Certain essential doctrines like the resurrected Christ, His atonement for our sins, the veracity of the Scriptures, the presence of the Holy Spirit in the Church and a host of other things. But let us not turn on each other over petty things, like worship styles and architecture, crowd sizes and preaching styles. We have a bigger mission. Let us learn how to love one another, despite our differences, learn to combine our strength and defeat this enemy’s work among us.

God bless you all today.

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Finding Joy

An additional meditation today for those that need a little extra. I’ve been troubled by the disparity between the coverage of the Muslim massacre in New Zealand and the Christian massacre in Africa. As you might notice, I can pinpoint where the Muslim massacre was because of the amount of coverage it has received. Not so with the Christian one. I think it was Nigeria, but I may be mistaken. The news has not been as forthcoming about he 120 Christians killed by Muslim militants. Jesus was certainly understating when He said “in this world you will have trouble.”

I don’t care what your denomination is. When Christians are attacked anywhere, it’s not because they are Lutherans or Pentecostals, it’s because of Christ. As one of our founding fathers once coined, “either we hang together, or we hang separately.”

Now I don’t agree with Lutherans, Pentecostals, or Baptists on certain points of doctrine. But if you attack my family, you are attacking me. I really don’t care if these Christians in Nigeria were Independent Christian Church like I am, whether they believed in the plan of salvation and baptism by immersion. It doesn’t matter if they believed in the Trinity or Modalism. They believed that Jesus Christ was able to save them. They believed the gospel, and I doubt that high theology entered into it. They were attacked because they believe in Jesus, as I do. They believed in the resurrection of the Son of God as I do. They were killed because they identified as Christian, as I do. Their death puts all of us on notice. Evil is real and it seeks to devour us, and it attacking the most vulnerable of us.

Wolves attack the weak and the sick. Both of the targets I’ve mentioned were vulnerable to attack and made for easy targets. I’m sorry that such a person attacked the Muslims. It an act of evil. But he was not by his own explanation a Christian. The militants that attacked the Christian congregation in Nigeria were muslim by their admission. Both are regrettable. One is a lone wolf. The other is part of a pack. I will let you decide which is which.

Is there any good in this? The meditation above was based on Habakkuk, who lamented that the enemy that attacked Israel was wicked, that God was using a wicked nation to chastise the people of Israel. Is God doing so today? Is God allowing His people, the Christians of Nigeria, to be attacked to chastise them? To chastise us all? Do we wealthy and well-off Christians in the west have an obligation to our brothers in the east? You might think so if you read Romans 15. If there is good in this, it may be to call to those asleep to awaken to the threat at our door. Our brothers are being murdered. Do you care?

I won’t advocate for a particular organization here, because there are several worthy ones. I advocate for those whose voices you cannot hear by reason of distance. In our day-to-day, we seldom think outside those in our circle of friends. May I ask that you at least pray for these brothers and sisters on the front lines? I don’t know what form their help will take, but I know the Lord is not slack concerning His promises.

Dear Lord, please help my brothers and sisters who are subjected to constant harassment and persecution. I pray for those families whose tragedy spans generations and have little peace. You are a mighty and all-seeing God. Even now, I know you are putting things in motion that will bring justice to all these murderers. But I pray that the sacrifice of your lambs would not be in vain, and that lives will be changed, saved by the grace and mercy through your Son, that even those who killed might receive saving grace. For our enemies are not of flesh and blood, but of the powers of darkness that seek to destroy your church, your bride, wherever she is. I pray this in Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Sup?

www.bible.com/72/rev.3.20.hcsb

in the old King James, Jesus offers to come and sup with whomever opens the door to His knocking. This verse always seemed to be in the wrong book. It doesn’t feel like a verse out of Revelation, but here it is, in the letter to the Laodiceans, a town that has done very well thank you very much. They have survived an earthquake and needed no outside help to recover. They were wealthy, well-to-do, and needed no handouts.

We don’t have a origin story for the church of Laodicea, like many of the churches of Revelation. There is no record of a Pauline visit or any of the other apostles making their way here. Her first mention is here. But the church ought to be very familiar to us, for it is one who has let too much of the world in. She is neither cold nor hot for the gospel, but lukewarm. Perhaps she never experienced the conflict or the persecution suffered by others. Maybe her relative wealth and lack of conflict has made for a complacent church. It would be easy to make imagined parallels here between the American Church and this one, and many have. Truth is, we just don’t enough about this church to know either way. And we ought not to compare. American churches stand before God on their own, but we ought to learn from this church, as we do the others.

That is why this simple verse is so striking. Speaking into a complacent church, with powerful warnings of removal from the body of Christ, Jesus comes back around gently. “Open the door, let me in, and we will dine together.” I’ve always read this in an individual context, but this is a message for the church as a whole. He is asking to be invited back into the Church so that He May dine with them, a strong reference to the Communion of bread and wine. Standing at the door is a subtle reference to His imminent return. Will they let Him in before it is too late? We don’t know if they did. But dare I ask, should a church neglect Communion, will they last? If they forget hat Jesus is at the door, will He stop knocking and leave?

Don’t be that church.

Where Two or Three are Gathered

www.bible.com/72/mat.18.20.hcsb

There is a running joke in my house that our County Judge Executive always seems to be present where “two or three are gathered” because he always attends any sort of public event, regardless of the crowd. We laugh because it’s often true.

However, I’ve also heard this verse to justify small gatherings of Christians, very small gatherings. If two or three Christians show up for Wednesday Night Prayer Meeting or Bible Study, this verse gets pulled out of context and employed to justify our own presence at the meeting, sometimes with an eye of condemnation for those that failed to show up.

So what does this verse mean? So in the context of Matthew 18, it is the subject of judgment within the church if someone has sinned against you, you are to confront them personally with the sin. If they are not repentant, you are to bring them before the elders, and if not then, before the whole church. If as a church, such a one does not repent, then such a person is to be excommunicated and withdrawn from the fellowship. The idea is that if even two or three are witness to this unrepentance and approving of the excommunication, Jesus is also present, as this unity of decision indicates the presence and agreement of Jesus. The passage is far darker than we usually see applied. It is a hard passage to interpret, and I’ve only given one of a few possibilities. But in short, it seems where two or three are gathered, they may act in unison and pass judgment in the name of Jesus.

It’s funny that this is not the style of church judgment we see employed by the apostle Paul, who in Galatians 2 confronted Peter publicly for refusing to be seen with Gentiles after certain Jews showed up. Peter’s sin was public, so Paul confronted him in kind. There were no private meetings behind closed doors. Public sins have to be addressed publicly?

On the one hand we have Jesus’ explicit teaching. On the other we have Apostolic example. There is something here that may get into another time, but we have enough today to get you to thinking. There are other examples, like 3 John where John tells the church to be rid of a person who was causing trouble. We have 1 Cor 5 where Paul demands the removal of a person living in public sin.

The is probably a book about this somewhere. Remember that this verse is more than about the size of gatherings or about when Jesus shows up.

God bless you and your walk today.

The Weight of the Law

www.bible.com/72/gal.6.2.hcsb

Do you know how heavy the Law is? If I read this verse right, the Law weighs exactly as much as the burdens of my fellow believers. Now, let’s break that down a little bit.

We are to carry one another’s burdens. That demands fellowship, just as I spoke about in a post a few days ago. When you participate in fellowship, you make friends, and friends share burdens, struggles and sufferings they are dealing with. Ok. So as friends, we share in the carrying of other’s burdens. That is called love. We love one another and so pray with them, weep with them, listen to their stories, offer to help as we are able, and in general try to lighten the load our friends carry with them.

Paul says that when we do these things, we are fulfilling the Law of Christ. That law is the new commandment He have to us, to love one another. The distinctive of the Christian community is that we live each other. Our religion isn’t about every person trying to be perfect for themselves and their own salvation. True Christian religion is that we give freely of ourselves for the sake of each other. We love one another as Christ loved us.

I have been in “Christian” churches where this was not the case, or better, when there were enough who ignored the law of Christ as to make the rest ineffective. But Christianity forms it’s beginning has always been about you, not about me. It has always been other-centered. Jesus didn’t die for Himself, but for the whole world. When we love and give and share, we don’t do it to earn salvation points, but because we’ve already been saved. And we simply extend that grace to others. This is why Christianity is different. It doesn’t focus on the self in its religious “duties”. It focuses on those outside of ourselves. To live our neighbor as ourselves, to love one another, especially those in the Christian community, as we love, support, and encourage.

If you don’t have a community like that in your church, I am very sorry. I would say to start one, even within the church, but it seems so foreign to many churches I don’t know where I would even begin. I feel that my own church where I attend is doing a good job at this, and I would love to invite you all to know what that feels like. You might check out http://www.betterlife.church and see what the fuss is about. But I encourage you as a fellow Christian. There are churches like this, even if you haven’t found one yet, that loves people, rather than forces them to pretend to be perfect.

God bless you today.

Working Together

www.bible.com/72/heb.10.24.hcsb

Did you know you are not the only Christian? I know right? Mind-blowing! Close on heels of “do not neglect the gathering of yourselves together” is this gem, “let us be concerned about one another to promote love and good works.” Who knew there were others to “one another” about? And yet key to the Christian experience is the idea that there are others.

The greatest commandment in the New Testament is to “love one another as I have loved you.” That requires others. That requires community. You cannot be a Christian in isolation. How often do you see Christians alone in the New Testament? Where is the Christian discipline of solitude practiced? Yes, Paul did it, on the way to Athens. Once there, he preached a message, and suddenly he wasn’t alone anymore. Others believed his message and they became a community.

The medieval practice of the Christian hermit was never commanded in Scripture, and it should never be practiced today, especially when temptation abounds and we need to be accountable to one another, encouraging one another in love and in good works. Don’t be a Lone Ranger Christian. It’s not Christian. Even the Lone Ranger had Tonto.

God bless you today. Let’s get together. Love you all.

Why go to Church if I don’t feel well?

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It seems especially true in winter that people are sick and they miss church, but this can happen anytime. Now, you can’t blame someone when they are sick that they miss service, right? We all get sick sometimes, and sometimes, we do the Christian thing and don’t share the illness with others. Parents of newborns are encouraged to stay home from church for this reason. But this reason can be used too readily, so that a slight cough and the uneasy headache are called upon as unwitting accomplices in the delinquency of Church attendance.

And what about those who are too old or infirm to attend Church? These are the homebound elderly or those whose chronic illness keep them from attendance. Shouldn’t there be an exception made for these too? Conversely, is the Church off the hook if these people can no longer attend Church?

The Scripture is quite clear to both sides of this. “If anyone is sick, let him call upon the elders. They will come and anoint the sick . . .” (James 5:14) I think it goes without saying that missing a Sunday is excusable, since most illnesses clear up in a week’s time. But this verse seems to speak to the more chronic conditions that keep someone from attending church regularly. The homebound and the chronically ill still need to be fed spiritually. The Church needs to engage them on at least a weekly basis. This verse implies that the one sick at home is not simply to just stop attending, but continue to be involved in the local church, calling upon the elders. If a Church has not made contact with you for being absent, then this verse demands that you contact the church and tell them you are ill and need a visit. Church leaders can’t read minds. Being at Church is so important, even for the sick, that the elders, in their shepherding role, need to continue to minister to them.

Non-Christians don’t really use this excuse, unless they are older. but being older, have a greater need for interaction. This is a perfect situation for outreach, and should not be avoided.