Christianity 201

January 18, 2020

The Difference Between a Friend and a Brother

Today we return to Before the Cross, written by . This makes a great and timely point. Click the title below to read at source.

Real Community Shows When There’s Trouble

Our Community Group right now at Austin Life Church is going through the book of Proverbs each week. Recently we were covering Proverbs 17 and 18 and there was a part in chapter 17 that stood out to me.

Proverbs 17:17 says, “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.”

Other translations say a brother is born for a difficult time, or to help when trouble comes.

There’s a couple of things that stand out to me from this.

There’s A Difference Between A Friend And A Brother

After the invention of social media and the increase of technology, we find ourselves with many “friends” these days, but we know they aren’t really that close to us. They aren’t actual real relationships that experience life together. I’m afraid we are getting farther and farther away from real relationships with people, even though we crave this and want real community with others.

A “brother” (or sister), is someone who shows up. An actual real relationship that does life with you. He/She is someone you see or talk to with frequency. Someone you can be vulnerable with and not be afraid about being “the real you.” There’s a huge difference between someone who likes your picture online vs the person who’s in the picture with you.

Do you have someone like this in your life?

There’s Going To Be Times Of Trouble

As we follow Jesus, we are never promised a life free of issues. In fact, sometimes things can feel like they are getting “worse” because we see the real war that is taking place between making Godly decisions vs sinful decisions each and every day. In this life, in this sinful and broken world we still live in, with sinful and broken people, there will be times of trouble.

What is clear Biblically, is that we are not to isolate ourselves and do life alone. We are all different members of the same body (the church) and so when we isolate ourselves, we intentionally separate ourselves from the body.

We absolutely need brothers and sisters to walk with us in times of adversity. When trouble comes into our lives, we need help and encouragement to spur us on to love and good works

…let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works. (Hebrews 10:24).

I’m convinced we all need a few of these close people in our lives as followers of Jesus. Not only for ourselves, but also to be that person for someone else or for multiple people. This is how the whole body of Christ works together.

If you don’t have people that close to you in your life, why not? Are you holding back? Afraid to be real with one another? Not connected to the local church? Been hurt by past friendships?

Let me encourage you that regardless of your past, you have full freedom and forgiveness from what Jesus has done for you and you have the power from the Holy Spirit to step into those close relationships, without fear of what “could happen.” It’s a step of faith on building these relationships around you, but Christianity is all a step of faith. Plus, you have so much to offer because God sees value in your life and He has wired you to compliment the body of Christ so we all have a role to play.

The fact is for all of us who follow Jesus, we are all going to be in heaven together for all eternity anyway, so we might as well get to know each other today.


Friendships: A Warning

While preparing today’s devotional, I found another reference to the Hebrews text presenting another approach. I thought it worth sharing here for those who want to look at this in an entirely different light.

“…spurring one another on towards love and good deeds.” (Heb. 10:24)

Bizarrely, the closer some relationships are, the more permissive they can become; and our passion to do what is right is diluted. As we feel able to relax completely with trusted friends, we can abuse the sense of ease by letting our behavior slip. Gradually language that we would never use in public slips into the conversation and off-white humour that we know is inappropriate becomes part of the common currency of our friendship, because we feel able to let our hair down. The friendship has now become one that gives permission (where we give each other a license to compromise) rather than providing exhortation (where we encourage each other towards character and excellence).

~Jeff Lucas, writing in Lucas on Life, devotional reading for Jan 20, 2005.

Friend Counting: Also in our blog archives this quotation:

I think about the number of friends I have who are that way, who would answer the phone if I were to call at 2 a.m. (and who may well get such a call before peace returns), who would listen and love me no matter what I say, what I do. At the drop of a hat I can tell you roughly how much money I own, the approximate amount of equity in my house, exactly how many frequent-flyer miles I have. But it takes some thought to conjure up the number of true friends, because I don’t think on them as often as I should.Their number is far greater than I deserve, and maybe just enough to carry me through to the end.

It’s worth doing such a heart’s accounting, now and then, to remind yourself how many people love you, how many people would welcome you into their homes, how many pray for you and think about you and take joy in knowing you are well.

And then to ask yourself how many people would consider you such a friend.

~Tony Woodlief

January 17, 2020

The Best Proof for Christianity

Today is a revisit to the website Truth or Tradition, sponsored by Spirit and Truth Fellowship International.This is about half of a much larger article. If you read this, and fear rejection, click the header below to include the two sections on ‘having a thick skin’ and ‘having a thicker skin!’

Heart Matters

Proof of Jesus in our Actions 

Apologetics is the religious discipline of defending or proving the truth about one’s religion. Although some would argue that Christianity is not really a religion, there is information that every Christian needs to know to be able to defend and prove that Jesus Christ and his saving works are true. With all the different belief systems and ideas moving through our society, we need to be able to show others genuine and honest evidence that Jesus is who they need, that God is the creator of this universe, and that he is very real and alive and active in his endeavors to help them.

Your love Matters

I recently heard someone say that the best proof (apologetics) we have of Christianity being true and real is Christians themselves.  He said the way Christians act and relate to others is the best evidence to the world that Jesus is the answer, that Jesus is truth and life. Of course, this would mean that Christians are being good imitators of the love and kindness as shown by Jesus. One of the commands of our lord Jesus, and also one of the prayers by the apostle Paul for us, is that we have love for one another and love for all.

This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you. Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.

John 15:12-13

and may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you,

 1Thes 3:12 

We are truly living in some very good times to be able to display this love for one another and to those around us that have not named Jesus as lord, yet. No matter where we turn there is so much strife and conflict and uncertainty and division and…and …and. Your love for a hurt and confused and possibly hateful person will certainly stand out in blatant contrast to the minimizing and indifference that they might be all too aware of in their interaction with others. During these difficult days we need to not withdraw our attempts to love and reach out to others and help with their difficulties, but we need to be bold and confident because we truly have answers and help for a dying world…

Plant and Water

There is no way of knowing for sure what effect we are having on many of the people we interact with over the course of our lives. So many times I have wanted to be efficient with my time in finding people who are interested in repenting and getting saved, and I have hastily necessitated a decision or a commitment from them without allowing ample time for them to consider deeply what the decision will mean for them, without allowing them to being able to see my life and the fruit produced by following Jesus.

But in my attempts to be efficient, I have often damaged my ability to be effective. It is almost always impossible to be efficient with people because there are so many emotional loose ends that end up taking longer than we have scheduled. Often people need to not feel pressured into making a decision, to have room to consider what they are getting into. Better to be effective than efficient.

Many times we hear about spectacular conversions of people coming to Christ. And of course this does happen at revivals or other life altering events. We need to be ready to supply people with the truth at these times. However, there are by far more people who come to know Jesus over a course of time, and sometimes through many exchanges from many different people.  Jesus said that he would personally build his church, and something for us to remember is that Jesus brings people and situations together into the lives of the people we meet to help in his building.

On a construction site, usually there are many different contractors who bring different skills at the right time during the building project. The foundation people show up first, then the framers, followed by the mechanical people including plumbers and electricians. It is a process that requires time and planning. Our lord Jesus is very good at putting us into others’ lives at the right time so that we can be a part of the building process that results in God giving growth. Even the Apostle Paul knew that there are others involved in the growth process.

I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth.  So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.

1Cor 3:6-7

My wife and I were at a restaurant eating with a neighbor of ours that we have befriended. We of course have the hope of sharing the good news with her, and do so in little tiny bits. She has, through the course of our friendship, been very outspoken of her non-biblical views. She has listened briefly to some of the points we have made about God, but mostly changes the topic quickly. She also has a few tattoos that she has collected over the course of her life.

As we were at this restaurant, she mentioned the hostess who had these beautiful tattoos all over her arms.  She told us tattoos like those are called sleeves. As the hostess came by our table, our friend mentioned to the hostess how nice her tattoos were. This hostess asked if she could share the story of her tattoos with us. She sat down and started talking about her life and how she was into drugs and other very dark situations, and as she pointed to her arms, from one tattoo to another as they all tied together, she explained her journey out of darkness and into the grace and salvation of Jesus. Part of her tattoos where a stairway leading out of pain into light. Our friend was quiet and did not have much to say after the hostess left, until she changed the subject again.

This was such a great example to me of how our Lord is in the process of building his church and bringing different people together to plant and water.  We may not always be the one who gets the joy of seeing the actual conversion in another’s life, but we should be filled with joy that we get to be a part of the process of planting and watering, realizing that  we are not the whole process. In fact we need to pray that others will be sent to the people we love, so that there will be a concentrated effort leading them in the right way…

…continue reading here

75 Days of Christianity 201

On March 31st, 2020, Christianity 201 will have published a fresh devotional/study reading every day for ten years. On April 1st, Lord willing, we’ll still be here, but as I did with Thinking Out Loud, at the ten year mark I’m releasing myself from the obligation to post something every day. There will continue to be new content posting, as well as fresh articles by Clarke Dixon every Thursday, but not necessarily daily. If this is a subscription that you depend upon for daily input, I encourage you to start now following some of the other blogs which are featured here. Or consider writing for us to keep material coming! In the meantime, continue to enjoy “Digging a Little Deeper” daily at C201.

July 10, 2019

A Theology of Hospitality and Recovery

Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. Hebrews 13:2

Several months back we introduced the devotional blog, Partners in Hope Today. You can also listen to today’s devotional.

I’d like to add something to the first paragraph below. It could easily be applied to introverts. I have a few of these in my family and I am only beginning to understand how that can limit some types of fellowship.

When you think about it, what other factors could limit someone’s approach to hospitality?

Click the header below to read at source.

Hospitality and Recovery

Some of us in recovery lack the quality of being hospitable.  We do not care to be around others.  We give our attention to our own needs and have forgotten, or perhaps never learned, the social skill of thoughtfulness towards others.  Our loving God created us to be in relationship with Him and with one another and we are out of sync with our humanness when we behave in other ways.

Starting from scratch, he made the entire human race and made the earth hospitable, with plenty of time and space for living so we could seek after God, and not just grope around in the dark but actually find him.  He doesn’t play hide-and-seek with us. He’s not remote; he’s near. (Acts 17:26-27 MSG)

Although we may not vocalize it, some of us tend to think this way, “Why should God and others care about me when I really don’t care about them?”  However, we are made to be hospitable and care for one another.  Jesus gave us a commandment to love one another.  This is not a suggestion.  God knows what is best for us and He made us to live in community with one another.

This is my command: Love one another the way I loved you.  This is the very best way to love.  Put your life on the line for your friends.  (John 15:12-13 MSG)

Going to a recovery meeting for the first time can be intimidating, but if we are warmly greeted by others we will be encouraged to stay.  When attendees share their experience, strength, and hope with us, they are being hospitable, and desire that what they share will be of help to us.

Love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.  Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling.  (1 Peter 4:8-9 NIV)

Hospitality is the human way of caring for one another.  It begins with one person helping another to find their way out of the maze of self-centeredness.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, Sometimes I want to hide from others because of the guilt I feel about my past life.  Help me to accept Your forgiveness and live in the dignity of being Your child.  Help me to put Your Word and Your ways into practice.  Help me to be hospitable as I share the experience, strength, and hope I experience in belonging to You.  Amen


Related articles:


Go Deeper: 21 Bible Passages on Hospitality.

May 10, 2019

Limited Love

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” – Jesus in Acts 1:8

Okay.

Wait a minute, Samaria?

No way!

…If there are situations you would prefer not to get into, and types of people you would prefer not to help, perhaps your love is too limited…


Today’s devotional comes from a source we frequently link to at Thinking Out Loud but not here at C201. The website A Life Overseas is an online point of connection for people in missions for whom “home” means two (or more) places. Today’s writer is Ivy Chiu whose background includes Taiwan, traveling by ship to different countries with OM, and now, as she writes this, living in Zambia. Click the header below to read at source and then visit some of the other articles by her and other writers.

Touch the Untouchables

To love God and His people is the core of missions. That’s why missionaries leave their homes and move to places far away from anything familiar. Love is the reason for this crazy movement.

Well, that sounds all great and wonderful. But as I’ve entered long-term missions, I’ve realised it’s not always natural for me to love the people I serve. I’ve found it’s possible to be on the mission field and do all the work but at the same time, not love the people. Instead, I’m there simply to fix a problem. Trying to understand people’s situations, but not wanting to really relate to them. Standing a safe distance away from the ‘untouchable.’

As an Asian with a lot of straight and silky hair (that is hard to braid), African hairstyles were a completely new territory for me. I am always amazed by the endless creativeness and possibilities with African hair. I enjoy watching the ladies braiding their hair, but I never tried it myself until one day a girl called my name and asked me to help her take off her weave. I said yes without realizing what I was getting myself into. The other lady knew this was my first time, so she gave me a warning “This is going to take some time and she hasn’t washed her hair for a while. It’s a bit greasy and messy.” Immediately, I felt the dirt with my finger and I could smell the grease on the wig which had been used by multiple people. To be honest, I was not comfortable, but it was too late to say no. With clumsy fingers, I dug in.

If I had thought about it before, I would not have agreed to help. I would have wanted to keep myself clean. Dirty hair might not sound like a big deal. However, this shows that in some parts of me, I still wanted to stay in my comfort zone. I wanted to make sure the ‘mess’ of people would not affect me. I didn’t want to take the risk. Deep in my heart, I still separated myself from the people I served. I might be friends with them, but I was not willing to put myself in their shoes. But this is not the attitude of love.

I also started working with people who are HIV+. I thought as a missionary I was totally ready to love these people who are often pushed away from communities – I was there to serve the outcasts with the love of God. The reality struck me when I had a few people over to my house. I am not proud of my reaction to that first visit. I freaked out over the possibility that someone would cut their finger and bleed and I would somehow come into contact with it. I have received many teachings and trainings about HIV – I knew I just needed to be aware. Even with all the knowledge in my head, my heart still panicked. Love should be without fear and there I was, a missionary afraid to get close to the very people she was called to serve.

‘’While Jesus was in one of the towns, a man came along who was covered with leprosy. When he saw Jesus, he fell with his face to the ground and begged him, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.” Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” And immediately the leprosy left him.’’ – Luke 5:12-13 (NIV)

Lepers were some of the most untouchable people in the Bible. Everyone was afraid to get leprosy, a sign of uncleanliness, and so lepers were often isolated from the rest of the world. To me, the most amazing part of the story in Luke is not that Jesus had the ability to heal the leper, but that Jesus chose to touch him. From other scriptures, we know that Jesus could heal people via simply speaking – it was not necessary for Jesus to touch a person for healing. However, He touched the untouchable as the way of healing. Jesus didn’t stand far off and pray for the man. He reached out His hand without fear. He loved this man and knew what the leper desired most. Jesus didn’t care what other people might think and He truly acted out the belief that the man was worthy to be loved and accepted.

This story brings me back to my knees in prayer for God’s forgiveness and love. My love is too limited and I need God to help me overcome the fear. It’s by God’s grace I am able to serve and love the people I work with because I am too weak. I don’t want focus on the work instead of the people; creating a comfort zone within the mission field. I need to daily remind myself that love is the reason why I am here and it’s risky. I know there will be times when I want to run away and pray from a distance, but instead I need to run to God and ask for His power and love to fill me and help me reach out my hand to touch the untouchable.

January 19, 2018

The Struggle With Judging

So there I was at the devotional page at Daily Paradigm Shift, reading the devotional which follows and I was thinking that it was a bit shorter than what we usually use, but something about it struck me as worth bookmarking for later use.

Then yesterday, I came back to the site and reexamined the article, and discovered it was written by Rebekah B. who is only 15 years old, and I’m asking myself, ‘Why do I have so many problems getting adults I know to consider writing devotional pieces, when here is a 15-year old doing so well at this?’

Crickets.

Anyway, when not at Daily PS — or six other websites where her material has appeared — her own blog is The Narrow Road for Teens.

Should Christians Judge?

What does God say about judging others?

Christians sometimes get confused with the concept of judging. Biblically we are commanded to judge (John 7:24 says, “Stop judging by mere appearances, and make it right judgement). Then at the same time we are biblically told that we are not to judge. (Matthew 7:1 NIV, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged.)

So, which is it?

Jesus knew that we would struggle with judging.  This is why He gave us a strict warning in His Word saying, Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure that you use, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? … You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7:1-5 NIV)

This verse is not telling us that we should never judge. Obviously, we make judgments every day between right and wrong. What Jesus is telling us here is to not judge others hypocritically. He is telling us to remove the plank from our own eye so that we may help the other person.

We should not be judgmental of others when our own sins need to be corrected as well.

Just as we are commanded to not condemn others, we are also commanded to not ignore sin. This requires the act of judging others in a biblical way.

It is important to be able to discern the difference between the judging.  There is judging that is mentioned in Matthew 7:1-5 and the biblical kind of judgement mentioned in John 7:24 NIV.Stop judging by mere appearances, but instead judge correctly.”

If I am to see a fellow believer sinning, I am biblically instructed to confront the person. In a respectful and loving manner of course.  Matthew 18:15-17 says, “If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just go between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church, and if he refuses to listen to even to the church, treat him like a pagan or a tax collector.  

The ultimate goal in confronting someone is to bring that person to repentance. We are called to judge sin with the goal of bringing repentance and reconciliation.

God commands us to point out the truth with hope, love, and Christ-like compassion.

Ephesians 4:15, “Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ.

I hope this helped you understand the difference between biblical judgement and non-biblical judgement.

In closing I leave you with this verse. “Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke, and encourage–with great patience and careful instruction.” – 2 Timothy 4:2 NIV

 

July 6, 2017

On the Right Track: Love in John 13:35

Staying on the right track spirituallyby Clarke Dixon

How do we know that we are on the right track in matters of faith? How do we know that we are “good with God?” Some will point to life experiences. If everything is going well for you, and your prayers are being answered, then obviously you must be on the right track. Others will point to spiritual experiences and say that if you can speak in tongues or have experienced some form of miracle then you must be on the right track. Still others will point to religious activity, that if you are keeping up with religious observances and practices, then you must be on the right track.

But how would Jesus answer this question? Thankfully he answered it long before we asked:

34 I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13:34-35 NRSV

Notice that Jesus did not say everyone will know we are his disciples if our lives went smoothly, or if we showed ourselves to be be super-spiritually gifted, or really religious. Rather our love is the evidence we are His followers. John also links love with reassurance that we are on the right track:

18 Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action. 19 And by this we will know that we are from the truth and will reassure our hearts before him 1 John 3:18-19 NRSV

But don’t those who do not follow Jesus also love? My experience is that yes, people who have no interest in following Jesus are capable of being and often are loving people. So does this mean they are on the right track, living lives that please Jesus, and so are “good with God”?

Before we jump to conclusions we will want to remind ourselves of the important role Christianity has played in lifting up an ethic of love in our society. Thanks to the influence of Christianity our society has been “marinating” in an ethic of love. Christianity has added flavor to our nation and many others. So when the Beatles sing “All you need is love,” or when Katy Perry sings “I will love you unconditionally,” there is a Christian ethic shining through. People who have no time for Jesus are nevertheless enjoying a certain flavor he has brought to society.

There are societies which have not had so thorough a permeation of Jesus’ love ethic. You can think of areas rife with militant Islam where a strict interpretation and application of sharia law is seen as more honorable than an ethic of love. We all know where that has led and is leading. Or you can think of where a belief in karma can lead. If you are brought into life as an untouchable, born into a sorry state of affairs, you must deserve it. That’s karma. Jesus teaches grace. Jesus loves us regardless of merit and went to the cross for us. Though Christians can get it wrong, one cannot deny that Christianity has lifted up an ethic of grace and love in some societies in a way that other religions have not in others.

Still, we may be wondering if a person who rejects Jesus as Lord and Savior is on the right track by living a life of love. Actually, yes, they are on the right track. But they have not got on the train. We cannot love enough to go the distance and bring ourselves into the presence of God. We can devote ourselves to a life of love all we want, but when we refuse God’s love for us, we refuse God’s offer to carry us for the distance. We would rather walk, though the destination is far. Too far.

“By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” Love is powerful evidence that we are on the right track. But being on the right track is not enough. This destination requires getting on the train.

18 Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action. 19 And by this we will know that we are from the truth and will reassure our hearts before him 20 whenever our hearts condemn us; for God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. 21 Beloved, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have boldness before God; 22 and we receive from him whatever we ask, because we obey his commandments and do what pleases him. 23 And this is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. 1 John 3:18-23 NRSV emphasis mine


If the graphic looks familiar, yes it is an Amy Grant album cover, a supposedly rare cover without her name on the front (that we can see).  This article appeared previously at C201 in April, 2015 under the title Staying On Track. Clarke Dixon is a pastor in Cobourg, Ontario, Canada. Read more at clarkedixon.wordpress.com

November 15, 2015

Q&A Was Still Open, But Nobody Had Any Questions

Today we pay a return visit to Brandan Robertson at the blog Revangelical, now part of Patheos and renamed Nomad. This article was posted two weeks ago and is based on the Lectionary reading for November 1st. Click the title below to read at source.

The Flow of Love

Each Sunday, I take time to reflect on a sacred text, usually from the Revised Common Lectionary, in order to re-calibrate, challenge, and fuel us to continue on this rough and rocky journey of faith. Today’s reading comes from Mark 12:28-34:

One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”

“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”

“Well said, teacher,” the man replied. “You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but him. To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.”

When Jesus saw that he had answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And from then on no one dared ask him any more questions.

“From then on no one dared to ask him any more questions.” What could Jesus have done that caused such silence to emerge from this antagonistic crowd of religious leaders?  This is truly seems like a mic-drop moment. In an attempt to trip Jesus up, this young seminarian comes and asks Jesus what seemed to be an impossible question. Out of all of the Laws of the Hebrew Bible, which command was most important? I imagine any other religious leader would have stopped to think through what was written in the law. Could it be honoring the Sabbath? Worshiping God alone? Staying away from unclean foods and people? Which commandments carried the biggest consequences? Surely, that would help us determine what is most important to God.

Yet in one sentence, quickly uttered, Jesus silences all of the religious leaders of his day. “There is no commandment greater than this: love.” That was it. Love God. Love your neighbor. If you do this, you will fulfill all of the Law. In one sentence, Jesus shifts the focus from personal piety, seeking to obey every jot and tittle written in the Hebrew Bible, to a single broad principle that reshapes the rhythm of our lives than it tries to get us to obey an obnoxious laundry list of religious rules.

I was recently talking to a group of friends and we somehow stumbled onto the topic of “sin”. I voiced my critique of progressive churches, who often, in my opinion, focus so much on societal sins and systemic injustice that they neglect personal morality.  I offered the exact opposite critique of conservative churches, who seem to care little for systemic injustice and instead pour all of their time into keeping God happy through acts of personal piety. Both views of sin, in my opinion, are flawed and lead us away from walking in step with the rhythm of the Kingdom. Keeping the commandments is not rigid obedience to a laundry list of rules nor engaging in activism for the sake of activism. It is living life with an ethic of love.

Each day, in every action that we do, we should shift our awareness and ask ourselves whether or not our every move is motivated by and rooted in unconditional, self sacrificial love. Love that builds up, love that heals, love that encourages, love that unifies. When we live with a broad ethic of love, we will live holy lives that are pleasing to God and beneficial to ourselves and to the world around us. When we live lives of love, we live with awareness of our interconnectedness to all things, understanding that every choice and action we make has an impact on others.

Is what I am doing today liberating, healing, blessing, and encouraging others? Is it liberating, healing, blessing, and encouraging me? If so, I can be assured that I am walking in step with the Spirit. If not, may I be empowered to repent, or turn from the path I am walking down and chose the way of love. It will not always be comfortable or favorable, and it will always cost us. But “it is in giving that we receive; It is in pardoning that we are pardoned; It is in dying to self that we are born to eternal life.”(The Prayer of St. Francis) In the subversive, upside down Kingdom of Jesus, when we are able to live lives to the rhythm of love, we align ourselves with the Divine Flow, and we will experience righteousness, favor, and an abundance of peace. And not only us personally, but our entire world will feel the effects of the Love that flows from our lives.

This command, the command of love, silences the most legalistic of people and liberates those who are weighed down by the burden of religion. This command opens us to lives of abundance and challenges us to ask different questions about the way we live, move, and have our being in the world. The way of love is the way of life. May we realign ourselves to be people of love today.


Ten Ways to Love

May 19, 2015

What Impedes Brotherly Love?

Today you will have to click through to read the real meat of the article, but overall it’s not long.

Here’s how the article begins. Click the title below to start at the beginning, or the one at the bottom to continue to the five factors the author mentions. The article is by Nebraska pastor Erik Raymond and appeared at ChurchLeaders.com

How to Prevent Brotherly Love

Let brotherly love continue. (Hebrews 13:1)

Brotherly love is the love that comes from God and functions within the context of our new family, the church. And we come to experience and express this love by repenting of our sin and trusting in Jesus Christ for salvation. A love like this is so very precious. It is little wonder then that the author of Hebrews says, let brotherly love continue. It is something that is so very costly! Christ gave his own life; he died to purchase this love. This is not cheap, fleeting, diminishing love, but costly, enduring and replenishing love.

However, this verse indicates a potential for brotherly love to stop. This all-important, ever precious, God-reflecting love from within the church—could potentially come to a grinding halt. This is very concerning to the writer of Hebrews. This should be very concerning to Christians. This is why he urges his hearers, and all Christians who would come after them, to let brotherly love continue.

If we are going to persevere in this brotherly love amid adversity, we need to know what the problem is. What impedes brotherly love? What derails it? What suffocates it?

In short: selfishness.

In other words, we oppose it. The love of self will suffocate a love for others. John Calvin got it exactly right when, thinking about this verse, he said, “When someone thinks more of himself than he ought, he will love others less than he ought.”

Selfishness is such a helpful word when thinking about what impedes our progress in holiness. Selfish. It is to be focused on, preoccupied with, in love with, concerned with—self. It is the characteristic of a heart that is turned inward upon itself. We love self, preserve self, honor self, serve self and defend self.

Selfishness is actually self-worship. Anything we elevate above God and his commands is what we worship. So, if we don’t obey God’s commands because we don’t like how it will make us feel or look, or because we just don’t want to—then we have identified our selfishness.

What does this look like? What impedes brotherly love in the church? We could list 500 things, but here are five big ones…

April 29, 2015

Staying on Track

On the Right Track: Love and John 13:35

Staying on the right track spirituallyby Clarke Dixon (Click title above to link)

How do we know that we are on the right track in matters of faith? How do we know that we are “good with God?” Some will point to life experiences. If everything is going well for you, and your prayers are being answered, then obviously you must be on the right track. Others will point to spiritual experiences and say that if you can speak in tongues or have experienced some form of miracle then you must be on the right track. Still others will point to religious activity, that if you are keeping up with religious observances and practices, then you must be on the right track.

But how would Jesus answer this question? Thankfully he answered it long before we asked:

34 I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13:34-35 NRSV

Notice that Jesus did not say everyone will know we are his disciples if our lives went smoothly, or if we showed ourselves to be be super-spiritually gifted, or really religious. Rather our love is the evidence we are His followers. John also links love with reassurance that we are on the right track:

18 Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action. 19 And by this we will know that we are from the truth and will reassure our hearts before him 1 John 3:18-19 NRSV

But don’t those who do not follow Jesus also love? My experience is that yes, people who have no interest in following Jesus are capable of being and often are loving people. So does this mean they are on the right track, living lives that please Jesus, and so are “good with God”?

Before we jump to conclusions we will want to remind ourselves of the important role Christianity has played in lifting up an ethic of love in our society. Thanks to the influence of Christianity our society has been “marinating” in an ethic of love. Christianity has added flavor to our nation and many others. So when the Beatles sing “All you need is love,” or when Katy Perry sings “I will love you unconditionally,” there is a Christian ethic shining through. People who have no time for Jesus are nevertheless enjoying a certain flavor he has brought to society.

There are societies which have not had so thorough a permeation of Jesus’ love ethic. You can think of areas rife with militant Islam where a strict interpretation and application of sharia law is seen as more honorable than an ethic of love. We all know where that has led and is leading. Or you can think of where a belief in karma can lead. If you are brought into life as an untouchable, born into a sorry state of affairs, you must deserve it. That’s karma. Jesus teaches grace. Jesus loves us regardless of merit and went to the cross for us. Though Christians can get it wrong, one cannot deny that Christianity has lifted up an ethic of grace and love in some societies in a way that other religions have not in others.

Still, we may be wondering if a person who rejects Jesus as Lord and Savior is on the right track by living a life of love. Actually, yes, they are on the right track. But they have not got on the train. We cannot love enough to go the distance and bring ourselves into the presence of God. We can devote ourselves to a life of love all we want, but when we refuse God’s love for us, we refuse God’s offer to carry us for the distance. We would rather walk, though the destination is far. Too far.

“By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” Love is powerful evidence that we are on the right track. But being on the right track is not enough. This destination requires getting on the train.

18 Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action. 19 And by this we will know that we are from the truth and will reassure our hearts before him 20 whenever our hearts condemn us; for God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. 21 Beloved, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have boldness before God; 22 and we receive from him whatever we ask, because we obey his commandments and do what pleases him. 23 And this is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. 1 John 3:18-23 NRSV emphasis mine


If the graphic looks familiar, yes it is an Amy Grant album cover, a supposedly rare cover without her name on the front (that we can see).

April 7, 2015

Loving the Unloveable

We linked to Garrett Kell before at Thinking Out Loud, but I believe this is the first time here at C201. He is a Baptist pastor in Alexandria, VA. There are many good articles to see, be sure to look around after clicking the title below:

Loving Christians Who Are Tough To Love

“Whoever loves God must also love his brother.” 1 John 4:21

After love for God, the most basic mark of the Christian is love for other Christians (Matthew 22:36-40). But love for our fellow blood-bought brothers and sisters isn’t always easy.

As a pastor friend of mine used to say:

To live above with saints we love; Ah that will be glory,
To live below with saints we know; Well, that’s another story.

Just because someone is a Christian, doesn’t mean they are easy to love. Sanctification is a slow process (sometimes really slow) that doesn’t transform our personality quirks, theological peculiarities, and sinful tendencies over night.

Love requires patience—and perspective.

Help from Heaven

Having an eye toward eternity helps our hearts to love even the most difficult of believers.

John Newton captures what I mean in a letter he wrote to another pastor who was about to write a letter to a fellow Christian he strongly disagreed with. Here’s a portion of his advice,

As to your opponent, I wish that before you set pen to paper against him…you may commend him by earnest prayer to the Lord’s teaching and blessing. This practice will have a direct tendency to conciliate your heart to love and pity him; and such a disposition will have a good influence upon every page you write.

If you account him a believer, though greatly mistaken in the subject of debate between you, the words of David to Joab concerning Absalom, are very applicable: “Deal gently with him for my sake.”

The Lord loves him and bears with him; therefore you must not despise him, or treat him harshly. The Lord bears with you likewise, and expects that you should show tenderness to others, from a sense of the much forgiveness you need yourself.

In a little while you will meet in heaven; he will then be dearer to you than the nearest friend you have upon earth is to you now. Anticipate that period in your thoughts; and though you may find it necessary to oppose his errors, view him personally as a kindred soul, with whom you are to be happy in Christ forever.

You can read the letter in its entirety here.

Remembering Empowers Love

Let’s consider three reflections from this letter to help us love our “tough to love” brothers and sisters in Christ.

1. Remember how God has loved you.

“Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” Ephesians 4:32

God serves fresh grace to our hearts when we recall the ways He has loved us. It would do you (and others) well if you take a moment to consider how Jesus has loved you.

Think of His persistence in pursuing you, even in spite of your resistance to His pursuit.

Reflect on how many transgressions He has blotted from your account with His own blood.

Consider specific ways He has shown you compassion despite of your defiance.

God has been kind to you. His heart has been tender toward you. If you are in Christ, He has forgiven your debt in full. Shouldn’t your love for others be affected by His love for you?

“Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” 1 John 4:11

2. Remember that we will soon be with them in eternity. 

There will be a day when all God’s children will stand together before His throne of grace. On that day, all disputes will be forgotten and all irritations will be abolished. Why allow those quarrels to steal love from your brother on this day?

I’m not in any way suggesting that all disputes are small or all disagreements are insignificant. There are weighty things in this life, some which are very difficult to endure. But what I am suggesting is that all of our relationships must be guided and guarded by the fact that one day we will stand alongside our fellow Christians before the Savior who died for them.

That kind of perspective helps us to extend love to those who are not so easy to love. Perspective grants us patience and compassion. Let the sourness of a relationship today be overcome by the sweetness of that everlasting day to which you are traveling together. Ask the Lord to help you see others in light of the love you will share together in the eternal dwelling Christ is preparing for you (John 14:1-2).

3. Remember that you aren’t so easy to love either. 

Spurgeon rightly reminds us “if you cannot bear with your imperfect brother, take it for certain that you are very imperfect yourself.” Our inability to love others perfectly is a faithful reminder that we don’t have it all together either.

Humility about our own lovability serves as a gracious help in extending love to others. What sinful patterns do you have a tough time fighting against? When have you said hurtful words? Where do you still have room to grow in spiritual maturity? How do you think those shortcomings affect those around you?

I’ve found that when I’m concerned with confessing my own sins before the Lord, I’m less irritated with the sins of others. Regularly confessing your sins to God keeps you downwind of yourself and helps you to remember that you’re probably just as as tough to love as the next person.

 

Though no relationship will be perfect on this side of eternity, I am convinced that the more our hearts are set on heaven, and the more that we are sobered by our own need for a Savior, the more our love for others will reflect the love of Christ—including those who are tough to love.

March 26, 2015

The Command to Hospitality

Today we return to Gathering Rubies, the blog of Janice Garrison. Click the title below to read this at source.

hospitalityLove of Strangers

HOSPITALITY, host, love of strangers, guest, friend, innkeeper
(from International Standard Bible Encyclopedia)

For much of my life I believe I misunderstood the word hospitality. I understood it to mean inviting someone into my home and perhaps sharing a meal and spending an enjoyable time with them. The them however, was always someone I already knew. I didn’t grasp that it was to be a stranger.

Over the years as I have examined hospitality closer, I realize, as an extrovert, I’ve been practicing hospitality most of my life. I’ve always loved being with people, sharing things and sharing my life story. I am usually a cheering section for the underdog. Growing up, I was the underdog. Being second, hopefully, means someone else is first, or someone is being served.

Being an extrovert is not realizing people I haven’t been introduced to are strangers. Extroverts don’t look at many people as strangers. I may view some people as strange, yet rarely as a stranger. Many times I have unwittingly made my husband, who by his own admission is an introvert, cringe, as I strike up random conversations with people I’ve never seen before. I laugh and call it my ‘gift’. So far, my gift hasn’t gotten me into trouble. Most people are willing to share in conversation, even if it’s brief.

If we don’t share our journey, no matter how painful, how can we encourage and enrich others who have had similar experiences. I read of a good example recently from an article, The Place Along the Way, by Marie Loewen. She spoke of hurriedly making dinner, chopping vegetables, and tearing lettuce for salad and throwing the trimmings in the garbage. Her daughter, who was a gardener, reminded her that the trimmings were the stuff of precious compost. How could she grow a good garden if her mother persisted in throwing away just what she needed to enrich the soil? She realized her daughter was absolutely right, saying the parts of our lives that we would hurriedly discard, the pain we would deem garbage, is exactly what can become the compost that enriches the soil of our lives.

Scripture is full of examples of hospitality, to traveling strangers, washing of feet, to the fatherless and widows, at banquets and feasts. Hospitality involves loving and doing for others, strangers and non-strangers.

Rom 12:13 Share with God’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.

Rom 12:16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.

Heb 13:1-2 Keep on loving each other as brothers. Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it.

1 Peter 4:9-11 Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms.  (This is one of my favorites), have you ever considered that we can administer God’s grace in it various forms. I remember the first time that was pointed out to me in bible class. It impacted me greatly.

And finally, John 13:20 I tell you the truth, whoever accepts anyone I send accepts me; and whoever accepts me accepts the one who sent me.”

There are many more scriptures on hospitality.

I love this from Rachael Crabb:  “Don’t make it complicated. Hospitality consists essentially of a relationship, where one person gives to another, that which is alive in his or her heart because of Christ.”

Now go out and love a stranger!


Go Deeper: 21 Bible Passages on Hospitality.

November 22, 2014

Translation Nuances in 1 Thessalonians

The third verse of the first chapter of Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians apparently offered translators a variety of options.  In the NIV, the verse reads:

We remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.

Before we look at three distinct pairings in this passage, I want to point out that from my perspective, the words work and labor suggest the same thing. In some the second word is service. But even that is very similar, though not all work is an act of service, all acts of service certainly involve some effort.

The NIV would seem to say that faith, love and hope are the motivators or inspiration for work, labor and endurance.  Thus,

  • faith gives way to work (something James would agree with)
  • love gives way to labor (see this September post on compassion)
  • hope gives way to endurance (we would not endure if there were no hope, right?)

But in the ESV, we see the motivating characteristic embedded in the fruit that it produces:

  • work of faith
  • labor of love
  • steadfastness of hope

To some of you it may be a minor nuance in the translation, but it certainly reads differently.

The GNT (Good News) expresses it yet differently again perhaps putting more emphasis on the motivation than the fruit:

  • you put your faith into practice
  • your love made you work so hard
  • your hope in our Lord Jesus Christ is firm

The ISV (still not in print) provides a more descriptive picture combining the motivation and the effect:

  • your faith is active
  • your love is hard at work
  • your hope in our Lord Jesus the Messiah is enduring

I think it’s a real blessing that certain passages can be read different ways, but also it challenges me to see the intertwining of the action and the motivator. Some people believe that as long as certain results are attained it doesn’t matter why. Paul certainly saw this as a distinct possibility:

ESV Phil 1:15 Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. 16 The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. 17 The former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment. 18 What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice.

But what a greater beauty awaits you when you see both the purity of the motive and the fruitfulness of the result; when you see them intertwined.

ESV Prov. 16:2 All the ways of a man are pure in his own eyes,
    but the Lord weighs the spirit.

 

 

 

September 5, 2014

Understanding Song of Song’s Place in Scripture

Note: Song of Songs = Song of Solomon (just in case a reader didn’t know that!)

Today we have regular columnist Clarke Dixon’s latest from the blog Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon. To read this at source, click the title below.

Your Love is Better than Chocolate. Reflections on Song of Songs

Through the ages many have wondered just how to deal with the book of the Bible known as Song of Songs, its sensuality and sexuality surprising many and causing many a good Christian to skip ahead to a much more modestly behaved Isaiah. However, celebrating fifteen years of marriage this week I found the words of Song of Solomon quite fitting: “For your love is better than chocolate” (1:2 mostly NRSV, except that I prefer chocolate to wine!). The Bible itself teaches that “All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16 NRSV). So we might ask, just how does Song of Songs help us with righteousness?

To answer that we first need to ask what the book is about. In it we find a love triangle with powerful Solomon who never speaks, a male shepherd who does, and a female who is brought into Solomon’s harem, but who is in love with the shepherd. With many just seeing it as a love poem between Solomon and his bride, why do we see a love triangle instead? Consider:

  • With regards to Solomon we know that “Among his wives were seven hundred princesses and three hundred concubines; and his wives turned away his heart” (1 Kings 11:3 NRSV), So . . . “I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine” (6:3 NRSV) could hardly make sense for a bride of Solomon who must instead say “I am one of my beloved’s many, and my beloved is shared between us.” Also, “I am my beloved’s, and his desire is for me” (7:10) again does not fit for a man with so many women. If the woman is speaking about Solomon it would be “I am one of my beloved’s, and his desire is to build up his own ego by conquering women.”
  • In 6:1-3 when the female looks for her lover, she does not look for a king in a palace, but a shepherd in a garden.
  • The male voice says in 6:8,9 “There are sixty queens and eighty concubines, and maidens without number. My dove, my perfect one, is the only one” (NRSV). I am hardly romantic, but even I know that it would be horrible love poetry for Solomon to tell the female how many women he already has at home. This makes far better sense on the lips of an exclusive partner, the shepherd.
  • In 8:11-12 the male voice points to the wealth and power of Solomon. “My vineyard, my very own, is for myself; you, O Solomon, may have the thousand [pieces of silver]” (NRSV). In other words, “you can keep your wealth, I will enjoy being in love with this woman which is a far better life.”
  • In 3:6-11 we read about Solomon arriving to marry the woman. But in contrast to all the garden imagery she uses to speak of the shepherd, she points out Solomon’s power: “sixty might men of Israel, all equipped with swords and expert in war” (3:7,8 NRSV). How could she say no that?

Given this love triangle, Song of Songs has much to teach about righteousness.

First, Song of Songs was a corrective to the faulty wisdom of Solomon in matters of love, sex, and marriage. True love is not found in the multiple wives of Solomon, or even Abraham, or any of the males of the Old Testament for that matter. God’s intention is found in the Garden of Eden with one man and one woman exclusively and mutually in love. The shepherd has it right, not Solomon. The exclusive relationship is more romantic by far! And notice how much the female speaks in the poem. That too is far more romantic than the domineering male scenario which Solomon represents. So this poem shows a better way ahead for love, sexuality, and marriage, a more righteous way for Solomon and men like him.

Second, Song of Songs is a corrective to the faulty wisdom of the Christian Church in matters of love, sex, and marriage. So often throughout the history of the Christian Church Song of Songs was interpreted in an allegorical way which would soften the “obscene” bits. It was seen as a description of love between God and His people. However, this often seems a bit forced and the explanations become very arbitrary. Better to see it for what it is, a celebration of love, sex, and marriage. Given the ‘bad press’ that parts of the Church have often given to the physical aspects of love, this poem does help us recover the goodness of sexuality. God invented it, is not surprised by it, and it existed back when God looked at His creation and called it good. That the Church has often downplayed the goodness of sex has more to do with being swayed by Greek and gnostic thinking than with sticking to solid Biblical theology. When we affirm the goodness of a mutually expressed sexuality within marriage we find a way towards greater righteousness.

Finally, Song of Songs is a corrective to the faulty wisdom of society today in matters of love, sex, and marriage. If the Church has at times needed the lesson that sexuality is good, then society needs to learn that sexuality is a big deal. That is why it has traditionally been linked to the lifelong commitment and covenant of marriage. It is too sacred, too holy, too important, too powerful, too harmful, too exploitable to be without boundaries. In God’s design, the covenant of marriage is that boundary.

While people will tell the Church to “get with the times” and that the sex-within-marriage is old fashioned, we do well to notice the teaching of the apostles in the New Testament to people coming to Christ from the Roman culture. They do not often talk about keeping the Sabbath, or tithing, or some of the other things you might expect former pagans to know when drawing close to Israel’s God. But they do warn again and again against sexual immorality. In the ancient Roman society sexuality was “no big deal.” The Christian Church did not “get with the times” then and it should not now. It has always been a counter-cultural revolution.

We have been hearing more often about “rape culture” on university campuses which has been met with a “no means no” campaign. But suppose a young man points a water pistol at a young woman and she says “no.” Is he not likely to pull the trigger anyway and say “What? Where is your sense of fun? A little water is no big deal!” Far too many men and women are playing with loaded guns while thinking they are playing with water pistols. And people are getting hurt. Song of Songs, in teaching that love, sexuality, and marriage is a big deal provides a corrective to the wisdom of our society and points the way to righteousness.

While it is difficult for me to select passages for the scripture reading as some parts are too saucy, and others are, for us today, comically weird, this is the Word of God. And the Word of God tells us that sex is good, exclusive marriage is great, and the two belong together.

Set me as a seal upon your heart,
as a seal upon your arm;
for love is strong as death,
passion fierce as the grave.
Its flashes are flashes of fire,
a raging flame.
Many waters cannot quench love,
neither can floods drown it.
If one offered for love
all the wealth of one’s house,
it would be utterly scorned
(Song of Songs 8:6-7 NRSV)

February 2, 2014

True Compassion Comes Judgement-Free

Sometimes in our zeal to be right about issues, we can offer what is genuine heartfelt compassion but it has moralism attached to it. When Jesus encountered situations where he could have preached, he first loved unconditionally.  Consider this article by Deb Wolf at the blog, Counting My Blessings, titled “I’m So Sorry. I Care. I’m Praying.

The other day I did something I rarely do . . . and it wasn’t long before I realized I should have considered the place before sharing my thoughts.

I was on FB and saw this headline – Marlise Munoz removed from life support; baby ‘executed by judicial tyranny,’ pro-lifers say – LifeSiteNews. You can read the article and following comments here.

I have been very upset about this story since it surfaced weeks ago. While reading the article my emotions took over and before thinking as carefully as I might have . . . I left the following comment:

This case has made me so sad, and I don’t feel any of us has a right to judge. I believe life is God-given, all life. But we must stop attacking this poor family. We have not walked in their shoes. This is a time to extend grace and love.

Those of you who know me, know I am pro-life. I believe that every baby is a blessing, and I am against abortion (but that is not my point here).

What is my point?

To a grieving family this is the time to say, “I’m so sorry. I care. I’m praying.”

That’s it!

I didn’t always feel this way. I must confess that I’ve voiced more than my share of judgmental comments in the past. Something I deeply regret and that I’ve repented. I am especially sad that it took being on the receiving end of judgment for me to change.

I wish I’d always honored Jesus’ words:

“You must be compassionate, just as your Father is compassionate. Do not judge others, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn others, or it will all come back against you. Forgive others, and you will be forgiven.” Luke 6:36-37

“If another follower sins, warn him, and if he is sorry and stops sinning, forgive him.” Luke 17:31

Be compassionate, don’t judge, don’t condemn, and warn him (personally).

I’ve come to believe it’s important to live by the saying…

“Hate the sin. Love the sinner.” 

And “the sinner” includes every one of us. You and me.

Speak the truth. Tell people about the value of life, all life. Talk about God’s command to live with sexual purity. Explain God’s truths about coveting, gossiping, and stealing. Carefully respect the use of His name, and show people what it means to love Him with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.

Through thick and thin, keep your hearts at attention, in adoration before Christ, your Master. Be ready to speak up and tell anyone who asks why you’re living the way you are, and always with the utmost courtesy. 1 Peter 3:15 (MSG)

“Always with the utmost courtesy,” other translations say with, “gentleness and respect, humility, reverence, meekness, and fear.”

Is it possible that too much of society has become comfortable with . . . Hating the sinner, and excusing the sin. At least the sins they commit. We don’t like the word sin anymore, but sin is everything that separates us from God.

God hates sin, but He loves sinners. So much so, that He provided a Savior for us. And it is that Savior who told us not to judge others. It is that Savior who told us to show compassion, who told us to forgive, and who told us to “go and sin no more.”

Will you join me today in telling the Munoz family, “I’m so sorry. I care. I’m praying for you.”

January 27, 2014

Religious Activity versus Abiding in Christ

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Matthew 7:22 Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ 23 Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’

Matthew 7 reminds us here that much of what passes for spiritual activity doesn’t ultimately guarantee us standing before God. I was thinking of this today in reference to a very familiar passage in I Corinthians 13. This is often referred to as “The Love Chapter” though it falls into the middle of a larger passage on spiritual gifts. The actual “Love is patient, love is kind…” section has more affinity with Paul’s teaching on the fruit of the spirit than it does with things he says elsewhere about Christian marriage. Someday in the future, I hope to walk up to Paul and say, “Hey, you know that stuff about how ‘love is patient, love is kind…;’ did you know that used that as part of our wedding ceremonies?” And he’s gonna be like, “Weddings? Wow! I didn’t see that coming.”  But I digress.

The set-up to the classic love reading is three verses that are not as well known:

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast,  but do not have love, I gain nothing.

The principle here applies to many other dynamics of the Christian life. Using the second part of verse 2 as an example:

  • if I have a faith that can move mountains, but lack humility, I am nothing.
  • if I have a faith that can move mountains, but am prone to anger, I am nothing.
  • if I have a faith that can move mountains, but ignore the marginalized, I am nothing.
  • if I have a faith that can move mountains, but cause controversy and division, I am nothing.
  • if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have stopped hungering and thirsting after God, I am nothing.

I can be so very spiritual in so many ways but also so very lacking spiritually. It’s interesting to look at the various ways these outward manifestations of great faith are articulated in different translations:  (NIV unless indicated)

  • speak in the tongues of men or of angels
  • speak with human eloquence and angelic ecstasy (Message)
  • speak in different languages (NCV)
  • have the gift of prophecy
  • I have prophetic powers (the gift of interpreting the divine will and purpose) (Amp)
  • can fathom all mysteries
  • understood all of God’s secret plans (NLT)
  • understand all the secret things of God (NCV)
  • have the gift to speak what God has revealed (NOG*)
  • can fathom all knowledge
  • speak God’s Word … making everything plain as day (Message)
  • can move mountains
  • my faith is strong enough to scoop a mountain from its bedrock (The Voice)
  • give all I possess to the poor
  • give over my body to hardship
  • go to the stake to be burned as a martyr (Message)

[A more complete list of the supernatural gifts can be found in I Cor. 12: 8-10.]

The Voice Bible bookends this first section of chapter 13 with this commentary:

Gifts of the Spirit, which are intended to strengthen the church body, often divide the body because members of the church elevate those who possess the more visible gifts over those whose gifts function in the background. In fact, this is the very problem facing the Corinthians. So while talking about the importance and function of these gifts in chapters 12 and 14, Paul shifts his focus to the central role love plays in a believer’s life in chapter 13. Love is essential for the body to be unified and for members to work together. Members of the body that are very different, with little in common, are able to appreciate and even enjoy others because of the love that comes when a life is submitted to God.

Paul boils it all down for the believers in Corinth. Religious people often spend their time practicing rituals, projecting dogma, and going through routines that might look like Christianity on the outside but that lack the essential ingredient that brings all of it together—love! It is a loving God who birthed creation and now pursues a broken people in the most spectacular way. That same love must guide believers, so faith doesn’t appear to be meaningless noise.

Often, non-believers look at us and merely see religious people busy doing religious things; church people running to and fro with church activities. Or, more specific to today’s passage, they hear of spectacular miracles or visions or healings, but don’t see anything tangible manifested in how we live our daily lives in the neighborhood, the workplace, at the school committee meeting, or at family occasions.

Decades ago, in a book titled The Mark of the Christian, Francis Schaeffer exhorted, “Love — and the unity it attests to — is the mark Christ gave Christians to wear before the world. Only with this mark may the world know that Christians are indeed Christians and that Jesus was sent by the Father.”

In certain Christian quarters, we tend to treat supernatural gifts as the gold standard of faith, but without humility or love, we come up empty; and all our co-workers, neighbors, or extended family see is a preoccupation with religious things that really don’t appeal to their felt needs.

*Names of God Bible, a 2011 edition from Baker Book House just added at Bible Gateway.

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