Posts Tagged ‘Love One Another’

I grew up believing the untenable notion that Jesus never smiled or laughed. I'm not sure why I believed such a thing. I suppose it's perhaps because there's no explicit statement in the Bible that says, "And on that occasion, Jesus laughed." But surely Jesus laughed, right? Surely this one who gives his Spirit to produce the fruit of joy in our lives knows how to belly-laugh or chuckle or at least smile.

Surely. Right?

All that stuff about Jesus being fully human and all that surely means that his 30-some years on earth produced at least one smile or fit of uncontrollable laughter. Was he tempted to laugh at inappropriate times like, say, when Peter tried to start a rebellion and managed only an ear? Did Jesus laugh when Paul said something to people who were pushing for circumcision that he wished they emasculate themselves?

"He who sits in the heavens laughs; the Lord holds them in derision" (Psalm 2:4).

Perhaps we church folk would find worship and prayer and bible reading much more palatable things if we imagined that every now and again Jesus laughs–that maybe some things written in the Bible are meant to evoke a chuckle from us. I remember once a friend of mine who is a preacher in the Anglican tradition messed up the words of the liturgy during the Lord's supper. He made a self-deprecating joke and we all enjoyed a laugh. I wondered way back then, in a blog post I wrote somewhere else, if this was inappropriate.

I have been partaking of the Lord's supper since July 1983 and I have heard laughter during communion once. Was the Passover always a solemn occasion? Was there never laughter? Is church on Sunday's the saddest freaking place on earth? Shouldn't churches be filled with laughter (at least some of the time)?

So I'm thinking about laughter because I do not want to go back to a church and find myself mired in a way of doing things that is the same as the way of doing things that pervades the world. I want to laugh and be joyful. Furthermore, I don't want to think of Jesus sitting at the right hand of the Father in heaven staring down at us hapless humans with a perpetual grimace on his face. Surely we do not have to wait until we are dead to enter into the Master's joy (Matthew 25:23).

Here's a few things I imagine make Jesus happy.

I imagine it makes Jesus happy when we finally, after many years of bondage, finally realize that he loves us–unconditionally loves us for who we are. It has taken me a long time to realize what this means in my life, but I think it makes Jesus happy. I think he smiles when the proverbial scales come off our eyes and we sit up with a start as if beholding a rainbow or a parrot or a lion fish or a bride for the first time and spit out some stumbling, fumbling word like, "Wow!"

I imagine it makes Jesus happy when we are peacemakers. You know this world is so disgustingly full of hatred and strife and anxiety and fear and war and violence and oppression and, well, insert your own synonym. And people fight and war against one another. There's competition and jealousy. And there are hurt feelings. I think it makes Jesus happen when we genuinely seek peace. I think Jesus is happy when we lay down our weapons–whatever they might be–and seek to live in peace with one another. I think it makes Jesus happen when someone stands in the gap and helps others pursue a course of peace instead of war.

I like to believe it makes Jesus happen when we love our enemies. I've said it before: hate is too easy. We can hate anyone for any reason at any time. Hate is part of who we are and what we do. Anyone can do hate. But what happens when we struggle our way through our feelings of disgust and distrust and angst that prevail when someone hurts us or crushes us or hamstrings us or goes behind our back with a knife and come out on the other side full of love and mercy and compassion? What happens when we turn the other cheek or go the second mile or give up our shirt and our pants? I think it makes Jesus laugh. I think it makes him happy.

I am also inclined to think that Jesus is happy when we, Christians, love one another. I grew up in a tradition that, while not explicitly condemning those in other denominations, made it rather clear that because we 'baptized correctly' and others did not…well, you get the idea. I have spent the better part of the last five years mixing it up with people are not from my closed-door tradition. Thank God for Anglicans who ministered to us–they were not so much Anglicans as they were Jesus's disciples who loved me and my little flock and ministered to us and brought about much healing.

I confess it has been a hard lesson to learn. I love my tradition and cannot wait to get back to it soon. But I have learned to love people from all sorts of traditions. I think this makes Jesus happy. I think it makes him smile. It seems to me that there's enough discontent and divisiveness in the world that we hardly need the church mirroring it or perpetuating it, yet that's what we often do isn't it?

So I ask: why do we find it so difficult to love one another? I mean some of the stuff I see and hear from pulpits or on FB or in blog posts is just appalling. Jesus did not say this: "A new command I leave you, a new command I give you: agree with one another." No! He told us to love one another. Jesus did not say, "By this all people will know you are my disciples, if you all hold to the same  theological construct." No, he said the world would know us by our love for one another. But if all we show the world is that we know how to fight and argue and carry on and bicker and back-bite and tear each other apart on the internet then to whom does the world think we belong? Because it isn't Jesus.

I have to wonder why it is the way it is. I have to wonder why we are not engaging in things that make Jesus happy instead of the things that surely must just make him sad. I don’t even know if Jesus gets angry. I think it’s sadness mostly—all that work on the cross, all the suffering, all the Son of Man stuff and for what? So that the church could behave in a manner only slightly worse than the world in general? Aren't we supposed to be different?

One more thing I think makes Jesus happy is this: when we give up power. It’s true. Jesus was among his disciples as one who serves, as one who washes feet, as one who gave his life as a ransom for many. I question a great deal of what I see in the church—especially the so-called mega-churches because it is not service I see but the ongoing want to power. It’s the constant struggle to be on top, to be noticed, to be adulated and congratulated. It’s the race to be the loudest and the proudest and to have our name heard more than the name of Jesus. Churches are very good at making names for themselves; not quite so good at making a name for Jesus. Isn’t there something wrong with that?

We have every tool imaginable to make churches grow so do we really need Jesus? We can grow congregations, but I think only Jesus can grow a church. It’s because we like power. We like control. We like the applause and the people knocking on our door asking what our secret is. We like the money.

It sounds harsh. Maybe it is. Maybe I’m still a wee bit jaded after my encounter with the church. I don’t know. But I cannot imagine for a minute that our proclivity to activity designed to exalt the name of the church makes Jesus smile. Maybe it’s time to just quit everything we are doing and just get back to Jesus.

Maybe our goal should be to make him happy and not ourselves.

Letting Love

“We are created by love, to live in love, for the sake of love…By worshiping efficiency, the human race has achieved the highest left of efficiency in history, but how much have we grown in love?” (Gerald May, quoted in John Eldredge, Waking the Dead, 48)

I’m thinking about this love—and especially as this love relates to the church; to Christians. Commenting on 1 John 5:1, author Morris Womack writes:

“If love is one of the familial traits in God’s family, then each of his children will love God and love the brothers and the sisters in God’s family. You cannot love God without loving your brother. You cannot have one without the other. John reminds us that the way for us to become children of God is (1) by loving God; and (2) by carrying out his commands…[T]he conclusion we expect is: therefore if you love God you will love your fellow Christian.” (College Press NIV Commentary, Morris Womack, 1, 2, &; 3 John, 116-117)

And yet…and yet…Eldredge asks, “Why is it so easy to get angry at, or to resent, or simply to grow indifferent toward the very people we once loved?” (Waking the Dead, 113). John made it perfectly clear in his letter, “…everyone who loves the father loves his child as well…This is how we know that we love the children of God of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands” (1 John 5:1b-2).

Why is love so difficult for us? I mean, as I read blogs and the comment sections of blogs I am led to believe that the family of God is one great big, gigantic dysfunctional family. Why? Because we can’t and don’t and won’t love our brothers in Christ—no matter that we are commanded to. But it is one thing to lament the lack of love and quite another to offer solutions. It is one thing to see others as the stumbling block (“I can’t love them”) and quite another to see ourselves as the stumbling block (“I won’t love them.”) I wonder which is worse.

Ah, therein is my problem. I have no solutions. I don’t know how to convince people that they not only should love their brothers and sisters but that they can. That seems to be what grace does in our lives. That is, enables us to do something, love, that previously we could not do and would not do. I don’t know how to convince myself that I should love. Hey, sometimes it is hard to get over hurt. It is one thing to want love to win and quite another to go out of my way to make certain that is a reality.

Someone else wrote: “Brotherly love is proof of love of God; but the reverse is also true.” (Smalley, 268) Ouch. That hurts. Brotherly love, love God, love people. It makes my head hurt thinking about the various peoples that God calls me to love and the various peoples that God, by virtue of his command, calls to love even me. I can’t imagine the horror some people experience when they read in the Scripture that they are, by virtue of their new birth in Christ, obligated to love so-and-so; or me. I am probably more amazed at the people who have willingly, sacrificially, unconditionally, without an agenda loved me; warts and all that is. Yet I complain when I am commanded to love so-and-so.

Eugene Peterson wrote in Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places:

“A primary task of the community of Jesus is to maintain this lifelong cultivation of love in all the messiness of its families, neighborhoods, congregations, and missions. Love is intricate, demanding, glorious, deeply human, and God-honoring, but—and here’s the thing—never a finished product, never an accomplishment, always flawed in some degree or other. So why define our identity in terms that can never be satisfied? There are so many easier ways to give meaning and significance to our human condition: giving assent to a creed or keeping a prescribed moral code are the most common in congregations.” (313)

Don’t you think that is too much pressure? Quite frankly it would be much easier if we did have a set of rules that would measure our success; indeed, many think we do. But the Scripture is rather clear that the measure of our success is determined by our love for one another and in no other way. There’s an easy way and the right way. The easy way is rules; the right way is love. And Peterson is right: love is never a finished project or product. There is always some obstacle we have to overcome along the way. Love always wins when we are brave enough to love.

I don’t think I’m searching for anything out of the ordinary, although, to be sure, love is out of the ordinary. It is not what we are accustomed to in this life. So when we get involved with the Jesus life we are shocked that this is what we are called to do. Love one another. Love one another. A new command I give you, Love one another. Jesus said it three times on the night he was betrayed. Three times! I suppose that shocked his disciples that night. Love one another. Pshaw! What sort of kingdom is going to grow, overcome the world, and remain when the cornerstone of that kingdom is love for another?

I’m not looking for anything out of the ordinary, although love does not come naturally to us. To love the people of God causes us all sorts of revulsion and convulsions and indigestion. Yet that command is not rescinded: Love one another is what Jesus left us with. He could have said any of a billion different things is the ‘new command’ he was giving us. And yet…and yet…our story, his story, is defined by love. No matter how complicated it becomes the command never changes: Love one another. Jesus either had a sense of humor or he was serious. Could be both. But while not excluding the former, I am inclined toward the latter.

“This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for one another. If anyone one of you has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in you? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth” (1 John 3:16-18).

Yeah, right. That’s going to work.

In my ongoing series of posts on the current lectionary readings, I offer you these notes on 1 John 4:7-21. There are notes from DA Carson, Eugene Peterson, I Howard Marshall, Craig Keener, Dietrich Bonhoeffer and David Jackman among others. The notes focus mainly on John’s call to his congregation to love one another as this is the booked found in verses 7 & 21. There are 15 pages of notes in this study.

May 10, 2009: 1 John 4:7-21, Love One Another

Excerpt:

Let us love one another. I know how this works. I know what it means, but I tell you the truth: Loving one another is not about uttering words or feeling some particular swelling of the heart. John says that the only possible explanation for loving one another is that we happen to know God. He says that the only possible outcome of our knowing God is that we love one another.

And if we do not love one another then it is not God we know regardless of how much we claim to ‘know’ about him. Knowledge begets action not mere facts. Whoever does not love does not know: It is that simple and that terrifying. Furthermore, John is not content to allow us to define love on our own terms either. No. No. No. Scripture contains its own definition of what love is and how we can know that it is God we know. Anyone can define love on their own terms. Anyone can create their own ideas about love, but John defines love on different terms altogether: “This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only son into the world that we might live through him.”

Be blessed.

Friends,

In my preparations for Sunday’s Lectionary readings, I came across this in David Jackman’s The Message of John’s Letters in the IVP The Bible Speaks Today series. The author is commenting on 1 John 4:20-21. I thought you might appreciate it:

“This final ground of assurance brings us full circle back to 4:7, where this major section began. When God’s love begins to fill our lives, he not only gives us a model of how we should live in our human relationships, but he gives us both the desire and the ability to begin to do it; to reflect his love others. Once again John reminds us of this most practical of all his tests of Christian reality. It is the easiest thing in the world to make a verbal profession of Christian commitment, or to say I love God. But if we do not at the same time love our brother and sister, it is a lie. Love for the unseen Lord is best expressed not just in words, but in deeds of love towards the Lord’s people whom we do see.

“Is this not one of our greatest sins as Christians today? We may talk a lot about loving God, we may express it in our worship with great emotion, but what does it mean when we are so critical of other Christians, so ready to jump to negative conclusions about people, so slow to bear their burdens, so unwilling to step into their shoes? Such lovelessness totally contradicts what we profess and flagrantly disobeys God’s commands. It becomes a major stumbling-block to those who are seeking Christ and renders any attempts at evangelism useless. In many churches and fellowships we need a fresh repentance on this matter, a new humbling before God, an honest confession of our need and a cry to God for mercy and grace to change us.

“Let us not avoid the plain teaching of Scripture. If we do not love those fellow Christians whom we know well and see regularly within our fellowship circles, we cannot be loving God. We may have occasional warm feelings, but these can be merely sentimental and unrelated to other people in their real-life situations. The proof of true love is not emotion or words, but deeds, which read out to help others in need. But the other side of the coin is that such practical caring love can be a wonderful ground of assurance. There is a divine obligation laid upon us all in verse 21. The whole law is summed up in the royal law of love and we cannot love God without keeping his commandments. His will is that we should reflect the image of our Creator, who is love, by our love for one another. Plummer quotes the words of Pascal: ‘We must know men in order to love them, but we must love God in order to know him.’ That is true, but John would insist that we add, Whoever loves God must also love his brother.” (131-132)

I really needed to be reminded of this today.

I’ve been trying to think about what I would like to preach this year. Back in November and December of ‘08, I wrote out two complete series of sermons-each 10 weeks long. I was ready for ‘09. Then, well, let’s just say there were some issues with my mouth and my pen and then, well, let’s just say that I won’t be preaching either of those series of sermons anytime soon. Sermon schedules aren’t that helpful when the preacher is being undone by the Spirit.

So that leaves me here, wondering, staring at snow and a computer monitor, drinking a cup of hot tea, contemplating…what shall I preach? What does my church need to hear? What do I need to wrestle with in prayer and what Scripture do I need to be confronted with over and over again so that it becomes the breath in my lungs and the blood in my veins and every waking thought in my head and heart? No, not that one!

Then on the way home from the gym this morning, I was suddenly overcome by a thought, one word, something I had toyed with but that seemed too convenient at the time. (I don’t suppose there is ever a convenient time to preach it.) I mean, of course I should preach about that. Always; who shouldn’t? It’s not that I don’t preach about it, every sermon I preached is infused with and under-girded by this. And I think also, at the same time, even though the thought has continued to regurgitate itself, I have been fighting against it. Seriously: there is a part of me that does not want to preach this. There is a part of me that thinks if I preach it now it might seem choreographed to justify myself or something silly like that. Strange that I cannot get beyond trying to discern the motives of others when I should really be examining my own motives.

Even now, I am afraid somewhat to post this, lest someone misunderstand MY motives. It is a terrible thing, it seems to me, to live for nothing other than trying to discern motives when even the apostle Paul didn’t care about motives.

William Willimon wrote, “Preachers, by the nature of their vocation, are those who speak because they have been told something to say. Can you imagine Paul pacing about his prison cell, agonizing because ‘I have nothing to say to First Church Corinth?’” (Conversations with Barth on Preaching, 47). We speak, he notes, because God has spoken. I am normally very organized in my preaching schedule. Right now I’m not. This is one of those times when I have to ‘not worry about what to say because the Holy Spirit is teaching me what to speak’ and, I am fighting it. I don’t want to preach what the Holy Spirit is telling me to preach. I want to preach from my neatly organized sermon schedules that are lying upon my desk, printed on nice clean paper, not from some fit of inspiration that certainly did not come from within me. He’s stalking me.

Seriously. I don’t want preach this word, but as I was on my way home from the gym this morning, was so overcome by this that I literally had to pull off the road. I’m not like that at all. I’m organized. I’m a planner. I want to know where I’m going and how I’m getting there. “Oh God, don’t do this to me. I don’t want to preach on that.” Christus Victor, yes! Resurrection, yes! Anything but this. But it is a losing battle. I can’t shake it. I’m defeated. I’m undone! It’s much easier to preach what I want, when I want. It’s much harder to listen and follow and preach what he commands.

“‘A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.’

“‘Lord, where are you going?’”

Jesus commands us to love. Why? Because if it is not commanded we will likely not do it. Seriously, loving one another is hard work and not work we are likely to engage in if we don’t have to. How many of us make an effort to love the ‘least of these’? How many of us go out of our way to ‘love one another’?

I don’t want to preach on love, not now. How can I love now when I know there are ‘issues’ and when I feel like some haven’t loved me. It might seem too fake, too contrived, too choreographed. Right. Like preaching a ten-week series on church leadership isn’t contrived! Still, God is not being at all merciful to me right now. I don’t want to do this, but…

And here’s the worst part of it: I know he’s talking to me; first. I looked briefly at another blog yesterday (I won’t mention which one, but use your imagination) and saw that the top three posts on the front page were all scathing attacks against pastors, men who stand in a pulpit each week and proclaim the Gospel of Christ; imperfectly all, yes, but done nonetheless. And Christ empowers their words or he doesn’t. My heart broke when I saw those blog posts–vitriolic un-love against pastors of Christ’s Church. I am asked to love a person who has not a kind word for even these preachers? How can I do that?  “I don’t want to preach on love! I can’t preach on love! I am too angry to preach about something so redemptive, something so resurrection empowered, something so kingdom oriented as love. Can’t I just preach on something else. What words could come out of my mouth now about love?” That Hound of Heaven has me in his jaws and the more I wriggle around and excuse myself and justify my Jonah-like attitude about this sermon, the deeper in those jaws sink to my flesh and spirit.

Who cares if we don’t love one another? And how will preaching change any of that at all? Then I was slapped in the jaw with this: If we don’t love one another, how on earth are we going to love our enemies and the poor and those who persecute us? That is, if we don’t, won’t, or can’t love one another-those whom it should be easiest to love-then how on earth are we ever going to be able to love those it is the most difficult to love? Or, worse, if I cannot love those I can see in the flesh, then how can I ever begin to love the God whom I cannot see?

It is far easier, I think, to simply pretend that I love ‘one another’ and go on in life without any real level of commitment to those persons. Words can be terribly empty at times, can’t they? I think it is far more complicated and difficult to be obedient to the command to love one another when there is nothing to gain except a possible rejection. Yet the command is not abated or rescinded. Jesus didn’t say, ‘Wait until everything is A-OK and then love one another’ He just said, “Love one another” and he qualified this in no way at all. Love. We are the only ones who qualify love.

Paul wrote that ‘love keeps no records of wrongs,’ but that doesn’t mean love begins with a clean slate. It means that love wipes the slate clean and starts all over again-each second, each minute, each hour, each day. It means that I forgive 70 times 7 70 times 7 times a day. Do you understand why my flesh is rebelling against this? Jesus has commanded us to do the most difficult thing imaginable: Love one another. My God, I cannot love one another. Or maybe, I don’t want to. Either way, what you are asking Lord is too difficult. Lord, how do I love those and preach love to those that I am struggling to love right now and who are not struggling at all to love me? Is there room in the church for this love? Better: Can the church survive without it right now?

And I don’t want to preach it. I really don’t. Wouldn’t it be safer for all of us if we didn’t have to love those we are like and unlike? Wouldn’t it be safer if I didn’t have to extend and expend myself for someone else and take the risk that they might just be in need of love or that I am commanded to love regardless of reciprocation? Loving one another might mean I have to forgive or humble myself or repent or admit that I am wrong-sometimes even if I am not wrong. Loving one another might mean that I have do all that I can to secure peace even if means that I have to ‘be wrong’, which Paul seems to think is far better (1 Corinthians 6:7). What is impossible with man, is possible with God.

Why is it easier to love those outside the church than those inside it? Why does our flesh rebel against this command of Christ? Why is it that ‘loving one another’ has to be commanded in the first place? Well, I sure don’t understand that at all!

Jesus three times said, “Love one another.” Yet when he was finished Peter looked at him, I assume with a straight face, and said, “Lord where are you going?” You know why I don’t want to preach it, love, that is? That’s why. What Peter said, or what Peter asked. Right over his head what Jesus said.

And yet, Sunday’s sermon is already written. Now I am free to practice what I preach. Better, now I am free to love. That is, Jesus didn’t tell me to preach love, even though I should preach love. He told me to love. And he set no boundaries for doing so.

Semper Deo Gloria!

Friends,

Paul Washer is a preacher. I hear about him seemingly everywhere. Many hail him as the latest in a long line prophetic preachers who are going to change the world with their powerful voice by calling the church to reform. He is hailed as being extremely orthodox, although others have pointed out some inconsistencies  (see, A Message Charles Finney Would Have Love; Calminianism) in his teaching. He is venerated as a powerful voice amongst Reformed Evangelicals. He is a compelling speaker. I came across this little segment just this evening at Reformed Voices:

“You see young men listen to me, there is a reformation going on in this country. There is a real reformation. I’m not talking about the church growth six flags over Jesus entertainment type of reformation or revival. I’m not talking about the media charismatic type of revival. But I travel all over this country, I travel all over the world, I visit many universities and I am seeing quite an amazing thing, that even in secular universities when I go there to speak, I see 100-150 young men and women reading Edwards and Spurgeon and more importantly the Apostle Paul and reading him rightly. There is a reformation occurring. And God has done it, and He will do it.”

I don’t mean to be a wet blanket to Mr Washer’s enthusiasm and conviction, but what?!? This paragraph is absolutely meaningless and I am surprised that the normally carefully written Reformed Voices blog even posted it.

First, what does ‘reading Edwards and Spurgeon’ have to do with ‘real reformation’? All that tells me is that there are a group of people in the world who have done nothing to acclimate themselves to the year 2008. Oh sure, Spurgeon and Edwards said some wonderfully Biblical and profoundly powerful things in their day, many of which are still, amazingly, relevant. But is Mr Washer really saying that in order for God to do ‘it’ (reformation) all he requires is for the church to start reading the works of Jonathan Edwards and Charles Spurgeon? This is naive at best; myopic at worst. This takes the burden off of every preacher to do the real work of study and places it squarely in the laps of several hundred year old men. Easy enough for me! Furthermore, this tells me that there is a group of people who think that current day authors and theologians and preacher have discovered nothing new, nothing better, and have nothing fresh to say about the way we do church in 2008 America. Or, that these kids have college professors who are making them read those authors.

Second, what, only 100-150 out of all the people he sees in his ‘worldwide’ and ‘countrywide’ travels are getting this reformation going and, furthermore, not because God’s Holy Spirit has taken hold of them with a conviction for justice, compassion for the poor, love of Messiah, and creativity in ministry–but because they are reading the tired, verbose writings of Edwards and Spurgeon? Seriously? Is that all it takes, because if it is, I’m going to Amazon or Christian Classics Ethereal Library in the morning and downloading a copy of Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God and preach that instead of preaching a long-winded sermon from Mark and Luke’s Gospel. In fact, I’ll just photocopy some Spurgeon and pass it out to the congregation and sit back and enjoy the morning. No point in doing the hard work of study for myself when Spurgeon and Edwards have it all worked out for us now is there?*

Third, while I am glad there are young men and women reading Paul ‘correctly’ I have to confess that I am a bit confused. (Unless Mr Washer means people are reading Paul Washer correctly, and then I understand perfectly. 🙂 ) Still, here’s my point. Paul the apostle wrote, what, 13 of the books of the Bible. There are 66 books. That means Paul did not write 53 of them. So, my question is, are these 100-150 young men and women around the world also reading Isaiah correctly? What about Leviticus? What about Malachi? What about Matthew, Mark, Luke and John? How about the Psalms? What about reading the Bible Jesus read? There’s a great big Bible to be read and thinking that we need only read 13 of the books is rather, well, insulting. And ‘correctly’? Well who makes that judgment? If by correctly he means ‘in a Calvin’ sort of way then I know a whole host of people who will contend they are reading Paul, actually, incorrectly. If by correctly he means ‘in a pre-millenial’ sort of way then I know even more people who will contend they are reading incorrectly. If he means ‘in a Church of Christ a-cappella’ sort of way, then others will contend they are reading it wrongly. If in an ‘Amish’ sort of way, again others. If by correctly he means ‘in a Catholic’ sort of way…well, you get the picture.

NT Wright said it this way, “The Bible is there to enable God’s people to be equipped to do God’s work in God’s world, not to give them an excuse to sit back smugly, knowing they possess all God’s truth” (Simply Christian, 184) He also wrote, “Listening to God’s voice in scripture doesn’t put us in the position of having infallible opinions. It puts us where it put Jesus himself: in possession of a vocation, whether for a lifetime or for the next minute. Vocations are fragile, and are tested in performance. That’s what it’s like to live at the intersection of heaven and earth.” (Simply Christian, 189)

Look, I understand perfectly well what Mr Washer is saying and trying to get across, but the fact of the matter is, the majority of Churches in America already hold to a ‘correct’ reading of Paul. What Mr Washer has done is, at least judging by this quote, look at a few radical cases and assume that is the norm for every church that he is not preaching in, to, or at. There are so many orthodox teachers and preachers it isn’t even funny, Bible Colleges are filled to the brim with orthodoxy. There are blogs, websites, Evangelical Associations, magazines, journals, bookstores, publishing houses. I mean the list possibly might never end. What orthodoxy are we lacking? What orthodoxy needs reformed? I defy this notion that the church needs to be constantly reforming because this assumes that the church can be reformed simply by changing our doctrines around every so often–as long as those doctrines go backward, achingly, several hundred years to John Calvin, Jonathan Edwards, or Charles Spurgeon. It’s not doctrines that must change in the church, it is the people of God who must change. And people will not be changed, necessarily, by reading Edwards or Spurgeon. I think this call for constant reformation is simply a way to keep the people calling for constant reformation employed thus enabling them to avoid the hard work of being involved in the broken, hurting, lives of the sick, poor, and lost. Endless debate; beginningless service.

I contend: The church is not lacking in orthodoxy. The church is lacking in orthopraxy. The church, Mr Washer, knows too much for its own good. We can recite the catechisms, the confessions, the creeds. We can tell you about TULIP and Arminian theology. We have whole systems of theology. Countless books are published daily on orthodox subjects. It’s neverending. We can spout off a hundred different millenialisms. The church has even developed several different atonement theories–all based on Scripture (perhaps Paul) no less! We know ‘books of the Bible, John 3:16, we’ve got the biggest King James you’ve ever seen’ (to paraphrase an old Amy Grant song called, Fat Little Baby.) We are not lacking in outrage at those so-called media churches and clown preachers. We are not lacking in materials to study or copies of the Scripture Mr Washer. But I’ll say this loudly for all to hear, for any who will listen: If the Church wants true, biblical, radical reformation we must learn how to love. “I’m not talking about the six flags over Jesus entertainment type of love or love. I’m not talking about the media charismatic type of love.” I’m talking about hardcore, radical, love your enemies and those who hate you kind of love. I’m talking about ‘getting your hands dirty’ kind of love. I’m talking about loving the least of the least, the lowest of the low, the unloveliest of the unlovely.

I would be more impressed if those 100-150 young people, sitting around reading Edwards and Spurgeon, took Edwards and Spurgeon to heart and instead went outside the library or the dorm room, and loved someone in the Name of Jesus. Maybe they are! If they are, that should be Mr Washer’s message. How did I hear it said the other day? Oh, yes: We must not be so heavenly minded that we are of no earthly good; and we must not be so earthly minded that we are of no heavenly good. Would that the world heard we were more interested in justice, mercy, compassion, and love than we were in the writings of dead theologians.

Here’s what Isaiah said about Judah’s orthodoxy:

 11 “The multitude of your sacrifices—
       what are they to me?” says the LORD.
       “I have more than enough of burnt offerings,
       of rams and the fat of fattened animals;
       I have no pleasure
       in the blood of bulls and lambs and goats.

 12 When you come to appear before me,
       who has asked this of you,
       this trampling of my courts?

 13 Stop bringing meaningless offerings!
       Your incense is detestable to me.
       New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations—
       I cannot bear your evil assemblies.

 14 Your New Moon festivals and your appointed feasts
       my soul hates.
       They have become a burden to me;
       I am weary of bearing them.

 15 When you spread out your hands in prayer,
       I will hide my eyes from you;
       even if you offer many prayers,
       I will not listen.
       Your hands are full of blood;

 16 wash and make yourselves clean.
       Take your evil deeds
       out of my sight!
       Stop doing wrong,

 17 learn to do right!
       Seek justice,
       encourage the oppressed. 
       Defend the cause of the fatherless,
       plead the case of the widow.

They said all the right things, believed all the right things, practiced all the right religious things, and offered up as much sacrifice as they could. Still they were empty and God judged them harshly. Why? Because they did not practice what they preached; they didn’t know how to love. They didn’t love. They loved neither God nor neighbor. In fact, Isaiah begins by pointing out their lack of God-centeredness and goes on to point out how this led to the inevitable destruction of their neighbors and untold suffering and eventual exile. In other words, it’s possible to love people without loving God, but it’s impossible to love God without loving people. Mr Washer: We do not need Edwards and Spurgeon, great, honest, and orthodox as they may be. We need to learn how to love: Our neighbors, our enemies, one another, those who hate us, and God himself.

Mr Washer needs to ‘get out of Paul’ for a day or two and get into Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Then again, it is much easier I suppose to stand and rattle off doctrine. It’s much hard to be confronted with the radical Jesus of Nazareth. Much easier to preach unassailable doctrines than it is to be vulnerable to infection, disease, broken hearts, weakness, etc., etc., etc. I suppose.

Soli Deo Gloria!

*(Please notice that my tongue is firmly planted in my cheek. Or, for the brave among you, read with utter and complete sarcastic tone of mind.)

PS–This is not an ‘attack’ on Paul Washer so please do not characterize it as such. This is an examination of his words and their clarity. I am trying to get at the root of what he means and whether or not what he says is viable. I don’t have the context for this quote. I only have this quote as the snippet of a much larger sermon preached by Mr Washer. This snippet, as I noted above, was posted at Reformed Voices.

Friends,

Here is an important post from my friends at CRN.Info and Analysis concerning the grace of God. The important part, however, is not necessarily in the post proper, but rather in the replies that it has generated so far. (26 as of this post.) I will explain in more detail below. First, let me set the stage by reviewing the post.

The post begins with the retelling of a story from Philip Yancey’s book What’s So Amazing About Grace? It’s the story of a young woman who is deeply embroiled in prostitution who sells her 2 year old daughter because she makes good money doing so. Here’s what happens next:

At last I asked if she had ever thought of going to a a church for help. I will never forget the look of pure, naïve shock that crossed her face. “Church!” She cried. “Why would I ever go there? I was already feeling terrible about myself. They’d just make me feel worse.”

Philip Yancey then writes:

“What struck me about my friend’s story is that prostitutes much like this woman fled toward Jesus, not away from him. The worse a person felt about herself, the more likely she saw Jesus as a refuge. Has the church lost that gift? Evidently the down-and-out, who flocked to Jesus when he lived on earth, no longer felt welcome among his followers. What has happened?

The author of the blog post, Joe Martino, rightly points out that this is exactly what has gone on in the church by noting what the church has become: Not a refuge for hurting people, but a miserable place where Christians thrive on destroying one another (as exemplified in the world of blogdom). The woman in Yancey’s story is right: Why would anyone want to go to a place where the people there only make them feel worse. Churches are good at making people feel worse. We are really good at helping people ‘comprehend their worse-ness.’ Ironically, most people need very little help understanding the depth of their depravity.

The problem is that we construct churches nowadays so that they ‘fit the neighborhood.’ The neighborhood, sadly, is often a place in the suburbs, or a place where people of like feathers can gather in way-too-expensive buildings where all the latest amenities are present (ATM’s, Coffee shops, McD’s, etc). We Christians plant churches in comfortable neighborhoods where comfortable people can go and worship a comfortable God in a comfortable atmosphere along with other comfortable people. We necessarily exclude people like the prostitute in the story because there is no room for her in our comfortable world.

In other words, the churches we plant and the churches we are, are notplaces constructed for the hurting, the broken, the fragile. They are places constructed for the comfortable. (A shabbily dressed prostitute is unlikely to believe for a minute that she is welcome, let alone wanted, in the typical suburban mega-churchopolis; or in most churches for that matter.) We hope will remain comfortable because if they are uncomfortable they might not want to be a part of our club any more. But what if churches were places where the hurting people of this world knew they were not just welcomed but wanted? How would we accomplish such a thing? How would they know? What sort of preaching would they hear on Sundays, Saturdays, or any days?

Well, one person who responded to the post at CRN.Info demonstrates exactly what would not happen in a church where people, hurting people, knew they were wanted. Here’s one one respondent wrote:

And the wonderful thing about this story is it is not about grace! Grace is not grace if we offer our broken approval and don’t tell the truth. [Where did the author offer broken approval?] Of course a sinner is going to feel lousy in the church if the law is preached and they come face to face with their sin. [Can’t people come face to face with their sin by preaching grace? Why does a person need to feel lousy at church when they feel lousy every minute, of every day? Shouldn’t ‘church’ be different?] Of course, we should do so seasoned with salt. But allowing an unrepentent [sic.] sinner to be locked in the chains of their sin without offering a way out is not love, nor is it grace. It is our broken attempt at empathy. [Uh, where did the author leave the sinner locked in chains?]

* * *

I fully understand what grace is. [No, you don’t; no one does.] But no one can understand the depth of the grace of God until they understand the awful depth of their sin. [Yes, they can. They live it every day! They see it in the mirror, their empty pockets, their broken relationships, etc.] I see this prostitute as one who has a sorrow for the pain of her addiction, a sorrow for what she has to do to feed it, but not a godly sorrow that leads to repentance and trust in Jesus. [How do you know what she was feeling, were you there?]

* * *

I agree that the church is broken. I agree we need to be much more like Jesus. [When Jesus preached to the prostitute in John 8 he did not demand repentance. He simply said, ‘go and sin no more.’ But there is nothing implicit in that sentence that demands she ‘repent’ of her past sins, only, rather, that she guard herself from future sin.]  I don’t think we do this through compromise with sin, however. [No one does. No one did. This is a straw-man.] I think the church can do much better at reflecting the love of Jesus to a hurting world, while still communicating the truth of Gods Word. [Then we should teach grace, because, as you say, law cannot save us; it is a poor mirror at best.] We as individuals are called ambassadors, communicating the will of the King to a world that He died for. [Emphasis all mine.]

These quotes are from three different responses, all by the same author, but they faithfully convey the point this particular author is trying to make. He wrote, “But no one can understand the depth of the grace of God until they understand the awful depth of their sin.” I’m curious about this comment because I think the author of it has inferred it, incorrectly, from Scripture but has not read it explicitly. But, and here’s the point, how much more did this particular prostitute need to ‘understand the awful depth of her sin’? She was living the awful depth of her sin! She understood it every minute she was awake. What she needed was the grace of God, what she needed was relief, what she needed was a balm, what she needed was a church–not in the sickening sense of a building with multi-purpose rooms and stackable chairs, but a people who shared in her hurt, suffered with her, carried her burden. 

No one would condone sin by offering her a way out of her sin. Sinners need to know not that they are so pathetically bad that all they can do is feel worse or understand they are worse than they already know. Sinners need to know there is a way out of their current situation; a different way; a better way; a Jesus Way. When Jesus healed the man named Legion, he didn’t first sit down and explain to Legion the depths of his depravity or discourse on the Law and demonstrate how a holy God demands perfection. Jesus simply set the man free, then the man wanted to follow him. The woman at the well in John 4, again, no demand for repentance; just an offer of Grace. The apostle Paul: No demands; just grace. Now this is not to say that they did not repent. It is to say that grace has its own funny way about itself. In Luke 15, the Father demanded nothing of the prodigal son; only the older brother did. And we can see quite clearly in the parable whom Jesus takes the most offense at. The Father offered unconditional grace; the older brother did not. (Before I’m accused of not paying attention to the younger son’s ‘repentance’, please carefully note in verse 20-24 the Father ignores the prepared speech the younger son gives in verse 21.)

The point of the original post is not that repentance isn’t important or that preaching ‘all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God’ should be neglected. Rather I think the point is that the church never gets to that point because ‘sinners’ do not want to be a part of, or visit with, or be involved with Christians in a place where they see people ripping each other to shreds, people who are supposed to love one another deeply. In other words, how can the sinner trust the church when it says ‘God’s grace saves you’ when it is clear to any thinking person that the church refuses to practice grace towards one another? Jesus said, “Love another. By this all men will know you are my disciples.” Love one another he said. But we don’t. We devour one another for sport. We destroy one another for pleasure. We devastate one another for utter delight and joy. This, I contend, is why people don’t want to be a part of the church and why they believe the church makes them feel worse and further why they won’t listen when we talk about sin.  Jesus may well have preached such things when he was at the dinner parties of ‘sinners, tax-collectors,’ and the like. But Jesus first had to find himself in the company of ‘such people’ before he did so.

Why did Jesus have to command us to love one another? Why did he have to command the one thing that should be the most natural to those saved by grace?

The replies I quoted above were written in response to Joe’s post. The irony is this: Joe’s post was confessional. He wrote:

And the whole time people who’s lives are being blown apart just keep on dying. They just keep on living the wrong way because Darn It, I AM RIGHT!!!   One camp  picks apart a person in the other camp because he doesn’t go far enough down the Theological trail with them. They may agree that one goes to Heaven by believing on the work on Christ but down the path they disagree so it’s Ok to tear each other apart. I wonder, does this make you as sick as it does me?

The second response in the thread is this:

Point the finger at this site, because you all are part of the problem, not part of the solution.

If you disbanded, it would be one less place that was spewing hate on the blogosphere towards brothers and sisters in Christ.

This is from the same person who wrote those three responses above. Implication: He is unwilling to admit that he, too, is part of the problem. Joe did this; Pastorboy did not. Do you see how Joe’s point is proved in the very responses made by Pastorboy? What a sickening display, which is why I’m still awake at 1 AM writing this lengthy post exposing the ignorance of one who claims to understand grace: He doesn’t. Grace does not point the finger at other people; it points the finger at the self. Grace does not admit the faults of others, but the faults of the self. Grace does not help other people realize their sins, it rejoices that it’s own sins have been forgiven and delights to share the same with others. Grace needs no help tearing people apart that they may be set free. Grace makes no demands of us.

Still, the bottom line to the story is that woman’s criticism of the church is dead on. Churches are so concerned about protecting their purity that they can do very little to involve themselves in the lives of broken people. All we do is rant and rave against all the big stuff while offering very little in the way of imparting God’s healing grace in Christ to hurting and broken and shattered people.

There is a big difference between these two ideas, a difference, I suspect, that would make more sinners give their attention to God than there mere pointing out of how depraved they are. Instead of putting all the focus on humans and their depravity, why don’t we instead put all the focus on Christ Jesus and His truly remarkable, amazing, incomprehensible grace. It seems to me that to do the former is to make church far more about ‘me’ than it should be; to do the latter is to keep the focus exactly where it should be: On Jesus.

Soli Deo Gloria!

Day 7, Colossians 1:7-8: Love in the Spirit
You learned it from Epaphras, our dear fellow servant, who is a faithful minister of Christ on our behalf, 8and who also told us of your love in the Spirit.

Grace is not merely something they heard about and signed up for. Rather, it was something they understood. They made an intellectual, cognizant decision to participate in the grace of God. It was something that was preached to them as truth, it was something they believed, it was something they comprehended, it was something they accepted and believed, and it was something they incorporated and practiced in their lives as believers in Christ. What defines us as Christians is not the mistaken idea that we have all the answers to life’s questions but rather that we are a people full of all sorts of questions. We have found the world’s answers lacking; we find grace filling. And this grace compels us, moves us, changes us. It causes us to love in ways we never imagined possible a people we could never get close enough to under our normal circumstances. Grace has that sort of power to enable us to love the unlovely, the unlovable, and the unloving. The irony is that God doesn’t even wait for us to go to ‘them’. Instead, he brings us all together in one place (‘in Colossae’) and plants us in one person (‘in Christ’). There, in Christ in Colossae, we learn how to love.

So love works itself outward towards others. In the context of the church: it IS worth talking about, love, that is. Jesus made it clear that when others see our love for one another demonstrated they would know beyond doubt that we belong to Him. And it is probably possible that the sort of love Paul is talking about is only possible within the context of congregation of grace, empowered by the Truth, and filled with the Spirit. If he mentions earlier that we are ‘in Christ,’ here he mentions that we are no less ‘in the Spirit.’ This prompts Dunn to write, “The love that mirrors the love of God in Christ can only be aroused and sustained by the Spirit of God. The phrase carries overtones of an inspiration that wells up from within, charismatically enabled, and that depends on continued openness to the Spirit if its quality of unselfish service of others is to be maintained.” (65)

This is what was being demonstrated at Colossae: A love for one another because of Christ and in the Spirit.

Sadly, Christians are known more for what they are against than for what they are for. We Christians make it impossible for ‘sinners’ to get near us not because we put up fences or walls or traps (even though we do!) but rather because we fail to love one another. Instead, we hold up placards denouncing one another, judging those for whom Christ has died, lambasting those who might otherwise have a heart or an ear towards the Gospel. In my estimation, the greatest single cause of unbelief in this world today, is the church because for all the church’s talk about love and compassion to the world at large, we fail to love one another sacrificially in the way Christ would have us to. Give away all the food you want, but who wants to be a part of a group that cannot love one another? No one will convince me that the proliferation of judgment ministries around the country via the Internet, radio, television is doing anything to attract people to the Gospel of God’s grace. Those ministries are not protecting the Gospel, they are cheapening it. Those ministries are not protecting the ‘saints,’ they are pushing away the ‘sinners.’

I am always amused by this story from Mark’s Gospel:

“Teacher,” said John, “we saw a man driving out demons in your name and we told him to stop, because he was not one of us.” 39″Do not stop him,” Jesus said. “No one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me, 40for whoever is not against us is for us. 41I tell you the truth, anyone who gives you a cup of water in my name because you belong to Christ will certainly not lose his reward. (Mark 8:38-41, NIV)

Or the Message:

38John spoke up, “Teacher, we saw a man using your name to expel demons and we stopped him because he wasn’t in our group.” 39-41Jesus wasn’t pleased. “Don’t stop him. No one can use my name to do something good and powerful, and in the next breath cut me down. If he’s not an enemy, he’s an ally. Why, anyone by just giving you a cup of water in my name is on our side. Count on it that God will notice.

In our world, doing something in the Name of Jesus is not enough any longer. Nowadays, if it is not done in a manner prescribed by someone else (see my post on ‘modern gnostics’) then it is just not enough, not good enough, not holy enough. Nowadays in the church, love in the Name of Jesus is the last thing we ask of or see when we are considering someone else’s faith in Christ or their work in the kingdom. But this is what Jesus said: “Do not stop him.” Jesus told us not to stop the person doing something in His Name. Our problem is that we tend to act like his Name is somehow our name and that we must protect our name from any stains and blemishes that those a little less sanctified might taint it with. Love gets thrown aside, grace is cast out, in favor of protecting something that even Jesus didn’t protect (that is, he did not retain the exclusive rights to usage; he was happy that love and grace were abounding when power was recognized.) I suspect that those who used his Name knew about love and grace and had a burning passion to demonstrate it in the only Name that they could: Jesus’ Name. Thus, “Don’t stop them.”  Jesus did not seem too concerned, did he? (This isn’t to say that every use of the Name of Jesus is righteous or valid or blessed. This isn’t to say that we should ‘take the Lord’s Name in vain’ which means a lot more than just uttering a curse when we hit our thumb with a hammer.)

My point is this: If Epaphras told Paul about the love the Colossians had in the Spirit then it seems rather clear to me that this was something Epaphras saw with his eyes. I do not imagine a scenario where Epaphras conducted interviews: “Well tell me, member of the Colossian church, do you love in the Spirit?” No. I imagine a scenario where this love was visibly demonstrated before his eyes. He saw it and when he told the apostle about it, it was no mere, “Oh, and by the way, they love in the Spirit.” I imagine an enthusiastic, ebullient, child-like explosion of, “Oh you cannot imagine how much they love! I saw it all over the place! It was everywhere! They withheld their love from no one! They love Christ the Lord! They love one another! They love their neighbors! Husbands love wives! Wives love husbands! Children love parents and parents children! You cannot imagine the love these people have!”

It’s that, isn’t it? He doesn’t specify who or what they were loving in the Spirit. It just says, “your love in the Spirit.” Truth be told, does it matter? Our love is not something we have to brag about to others, but if we love like Scripture says we should then it will be visible to others. “By this will the world know you are my disciples, if you love one another.” Why? Because the world will see our love being demonstrated. Would that the Body of Christ could be marked by our love in the Spirit instead of marred by our hate and contempt.

Soli Deo Gloria!

PS–If you would like to more fully appreciate what I have written here about love and grace, I would recommend you click this link and read the post. Here’s a taste:

I sit back a little stunned. I want to argue but can’t find anything that counters the simplicity and elegance of Papa’s words.  “Okay, I think I get what you’re telling me; that we aren’t very good at loving, but a lot better at defending our turf.”

“See, another great reason for mystery. The ambiguity of belief, of doctrine, reveals the motives and the dark places of the heart…the places that need to be healed. Religious self righteousness and intellectual snobbery are kissing cousins. Intelligence was never created as a justification for the absence of kindness and respect and love. Do you remember the community of faith at Ephesus. I wrote a letter to them in which I commended their ‘orthodoxy’, that they wouldn’t put up with the Nicolaitans…”

“Yeah,” I interrupt, “I have been meaning to ask about them…”

“Not important right now, “ she cuts me off and continues. “The point is that they were all about theology and doctrine, but I removed their light, their influence, their very life; not because of doctrine but because they no longer knew how to express the love who is Truth that indwelt them. Ambiguity and mystery constantly raise real questions. In the face of uncertainty and differences of idea and belief, will we stop loving? Will I descend to the acquisition and defense of territory and turf? Will I even stop loving my enemy, let alone my brother or my sister?”

“How come I haven’t understood this?” I shake my head.

“Like you stated yourself, it is because love doesn’t come naturally to you. The closest you have is how you love your own children but even that is only a reflection of what love truly is. Turf and territory have always been about independence, while love is only present in dependence.” 

We are silent for a few minutes while I try to organize the jumble of thoughts crashing around inside my paradigm. Papa, aware of my struggle, speaks first.

“Not everything is ambiguous or a mystery. There is much that is clear and evident. I even wrote it down for you. Very clear, very unambiguous. It is all over the scriptures. Start with I Corinthians 13…clear as the nose on your face. The question is why have you turned the clarity of love into something ambiguous?” (William Young)

butterfly-picture-numero-uno.jpg

Day 4, Colossians 1:4: Our Faith in Christ Expressing Itself in The Love of the Saints

“…because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all the saints…”

“But Jesus’ glorious prayer ‘that they may be one’ is manifestly being answered to a superlative degree in the confessional church around the world today, as Christians bask in God’s love and understand that all of our love is but a grace-driven response to the intra-Trinitarian love of God which has issued in the glorification of the Son by means of the cross, in the Son’s perfect obedience to his Father, all the way to the cross…Or what shall we make of postmodern voices that, in the name of love, deny the exclusive role that Jesus plays in mediating God’s love to us? Will their siren tones increase love, or even our understanding of love? Sadly, no: they merely restore idolatry under a new guise. These voices are among the least tempered and least loving of our time, especially with those who do not agree with their vision…Christian love is anchored in the Godhead, anchored in eternity, anchored in Christ, anchored in the cross.” (D A Carson, Love and the Supremacy of Christ, in The Supremacy of Christ in a Postmodern World, 99)

(You should get that book and read that chapter.)

I realize I am doing a dangerous thing by taking one verse at a time for mediation and thought. In taking one verse at a time I run the risk of oversimplifying Paul’s arguments or overcomplicating his exhortations or of being less faithful to the context than I should. It’s a dangerous method of meditation. So, remember that today’s verse was preceded by these words: “We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you…”. Then he says, “Because…”

We have heard…he is praying a prayer of thanks because someone had heard something about someone. In this case, someone had heard about the faith of the Colossian church. This was no random faith. This was no easy believism. This was no mere acceptance of something as truth with absolutely no evidence to back it up. (That’s how unbelievers define the faith of Christians.) No, theirs was a real belief in someone real and historical. They had faith in someone that could be heard, and seen, and touched. Christians do no believe in just anything and everything blindly for nor reason or just because some ‘poorly translated, dusty old book’ says it. We believe because people have testified to the truth and history is on our side. But this was no small thing. Their belief was known. Someone heard about their faith. In other words, they were not ashamed of what they believed nor were they ashamed of the consequences that such belief had in their everyday lives. It produced the sort of love that got people talking.

About their faith…this is no mere faith in whatever happens to come along and stir up their interest. This is a specific faith in Jesus Christ. N T Wright wrote, “Faith is not just (as often today) any religious belief. It is defined as faith in Christ Jesus.” (51) Too often today people, even church folk, have faith in something or someone other than the true object of faith Jesus Christ. It was this specific faith that the apostle ‘heard’ about and which caused him to offer prayers of thanks to God. I wonder what the apostle would say about the faith that is demonstrated and proclaimed in many evangelical circles today? Would the faith we are known for be something worth bragging about, something worth hearing about, something worth preserving, something worth thanking God for? Can people in the church define the full nature of the faith they profess or are those who criticize Christians correct that most Christians believe in myths and fairytales? What do you think the apostle would say about our faith?

In Jesus Christ…It gets a little deeper, no? Just as the church is also found ‘in Christ’ so also is the faith that they demonstrate a faith that has a location: In Christ. But this is not all! It also means, I think, that we have put our trust and confidence in Jesus. In other words, we are counting on Him to bring about all that we hope for. David Garland writes, “A fallen humanity in a fallen world offers no hope. Many people today place their confidence in science, but all our great advances have produced as many problems as have been solved. In many ways, science has shattered hope. It has become more difficult for some to believe in a God that would care about or even notice our existence. Consequently, many people live without any hope of salvation in this life, let alone the life beyond.” (62-63) Everyone has faith. There is not a single person on this planet who has not put his or her faith in something or someone with the expectation that said faith will give them some sort of hope. But the Colossians were different from the world around in that they put their faith in Christ alone. What of the church today? Are we putting all our faith in one basket so to speak? But if we do not put our faith in Christ, where else can we put it? Who else will cause our faith to realize its hope? Who else is trustworthy to do with our faith, to bring our faith to its intended ends? Surely the one who is the beginning and end of creation is trustworthy to handle our faith? Will he let our faith fall or fail?

But I might also add this: Faith is not just the ‘sphere in which we live’ or the ‘manner in which we conduct ourselves.’ We don’t sit around in hopeful, eager expectation wishing and praying that Jesus would do something for us so that our faith will be sure. Instead, we put our faith in Jesus Christ in confidence that He has already done something. We put our faith in the Jesus Christ who has already accomplished a great work and finished it. Our hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness. Our faith is confidence that what God has promised, Christ has completed and will complete. This is no empty promise devoid of power. Our faith is in this power we know will finish what was started.

Which prompted their love…David Garland asks well: “Is our love for the saints something worth broadcasting? Is it something worth talking about?” Again, we have to be most careful to define the sort of love that is being spoken of here. Love, in this case, is specifically defined as love that is based on faith in Christ Jesus: It is a sacrificial love being spoken of here. I don’t think for a minute that Paul is talking about merely saying, “Hello, I love you.” I suppose there is nothing wrong with telling people that, but mere words do not define Christian love. Those who belong to Christ, those found in Christ, those who put their faith in Christ Jesus cannot help but be people of love. Jesus said, “A new command I give you, love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this will all men know you are my disciples, if you love one another.” How can we claim to be the people of God if we do not love one another? How can we claim to be in Christ if we do not love one another? What does it say about our love for Christ if we do not love one another? What sort of faith are we demonstrating to the world if we do not love one another?

For all…here you can see that there are no exclusions to the love that the Colossians had even if the love they demonstrated was rather narrow and focused. There’s that word ‘all’ again. This word is anything but exclusive. It means that there is not a Christian brother or sister on the planet that we have a right to not-love. Dunn writes, “Presumably, therefore, this is what was in mind here—an active concern for one another among the Colossian Christians which did not stop short of self-sacrifice of personal interests—and not just for one another, if the ‘all the saints’ is to be taken seriously.” (58) We discriminate too much among ourselves. We think too highly of those we know and too little of those we do not. We think that we don’t have to love those who have different theological ideas from our own—even if those ideas happen to be decidedly wrong. But Paul writes that what defines us is our ‘faith in Christ.’ I see too much discontent, too much dislike—frankly, too much hate in the Church. There is no room for hate in the Body of Christ of which Jesus is the Head and in whom we live and move and have our being and place our faith and trust.

I think this hate must stop. I know it must. I understand well theological arguments and disagreements. I understand well that there are heretics among us. I understand well that there are plenty of people who are preaching a Gospel out of false motives. Yes, it is true: this and more is true, the Church is an ugly place at times. But what are the boundaries of our love? Does our love know boundaries? Did the love of God, the God who rescued us while we were yet sinners, who rescued us while we were still in the dominion of darkness, who rescued us while we were still enemies in our minds and doing evil works—did His love know boundaries? I ask you, should our love know boundaries when it comes to those who have put their faith in Jesus Christ? My contention is that it should not and that it will not if, in fact, we are people of grace. I’m not suggesting that we do not contend for the faith. I’m not suggesting that everyone who utters the name of Jesus is among the sheep and not the goats. I’m not suggesting, for a minute, that we should scuttle orthodoxy. May it never be! What I am suggesting is that we can engage people with differences in these areas in love, genuine, self-sacrificing love. We can love them regardless of how right or wrong they or we happen to be. It will not be easy and it may require some effort, but it can be done; that’s what grace is about isn’t it?

The Saints…Wright said it this way: “For Paul, the sure sign of grace at work was the fact of a loving community created out of nothing: of a love not restricted to those with whom one has a natural affinity, but which extends to all the saints.” (51) You understand that our love and affection for the Saints is evidence of the grace of God working among us? The saints, the holy ones, the call out and set apart ones, will factor prominently in these verses (2, 4, 12, 22, 26, 3:12). We are the saints and we are called to love one another. I don’t think this means we are to neglect the world at large, but I do think it means we are to have a special affection in our hearts for those who also share a hope in Christ, have placed their faith in Christ, and who belong to the Lord Jesus Christ. We are the holy ones. Notice that saints is plural. This means that there is more than one, and we are to love them all. (As an aside, please do not misunderstand Paul here. He is not talking about some specialized group of people who have been canonized by the church. Paul here is talking about Christians. This holiness is our common bond with one another: We have, all Christians, been called out, set apart, and are being perfected in the image of holiness. The saints are all of us or they are none of us.)

So what does Paul write: We always thank God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ when we pray because we have heard about your faith in Christ Jesus and your love for all the saints. When was the last time you can say that you prayed such a prayer in the Name of Jesus? I wonder if we can say this about our church? Can we say that our love for one another is something to brag about? That is, is it something that people are talking about or hearing about in general conversation? Is our faith in the Lord Jesus a talking point? I notice that Paul does not say, “I thank God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ because we have heard about your fantastic new multi-purpose, multi-media, multi-million dollar building.” No. He thanks God for something simple: I thank God for your faith in Christ which manifests itself among you as a sincere, self-sacrificing love for one another, indeed for all the saints. This is the evidence that God’s grace was truly working among them.

Would that our churches here in America could be known for something more than our political agendas. Would that our churches here in America could be known for something other than our budgets. Would that our churches here in America could be known for something other than our fancy campuses. Would that our churches here in America could be known for more than their television or radio ministries or their charismatic senior, executive, director of operations. Would that our churches here in America could be known for something as radical, as Biblical, as holy as our faith in Christ expressing itself as love for one another.

Soli Deo Gloria!

John 13:31-38 (90 Days with Jesus, Day 65)

When he was gone, Jesus said, “Now is the Son of Man glorified and God is glorified in him. 32If God is glorified in him God will glorify the Son in himself, and will glorify him at once. 33“My children, I will be with you only a little longer. You will look for me, and just as I told the Jews, so I tell you now: Where I am going, you cannot come. 34“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”  36Simon Peter asked him, “Lord, where are you going?” Jesus replied, “Where I am going, you cannot follow now, but you will follow later.” 37Peter asked, “Lord, why can’t I follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.” 38Then Jesus answered, “Will you really lay down your life for me? I tell you the truth, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times!

Does it seem strange to you that on the most important night in history, the night before the death of Jesus on the cross for the sins of the world, that Jesus chose to spend a great portion of time talking about how we should treat one another? From a purely human point of view, there are many things that Jesus could have spoken of that night; so many problems he could have solved; so many errors he could have eliminated. But the scary truth is: He didn’t. And on the night that he was betrayed, the night before his death for the sins of the world, Jesus the Messiah said: “Love one another. Love one another. Love one another.”

Jesus associated this ‘love one another’ with three different things. First, he said ‘a new command I give you: love one another.’ Then he said, “As I have loved you: Love one another.” Finally he said, “All men will know you are my disciples if you: Love one another.” Later in chapter 15 Jesus will say, “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.”

This love that he calls us to practice—now that you know these things you will be blessed if you do them—is radical to say the least. I can’t live up to it. I cannot even fathom it. I cannot, on the one hand, say ‘I am wrong’ with the understanding that this is required in order for me to ‘love one another’. I know that makes no sense, but it is true. There are plenty of occasions when we are simply required, by the very nature of love itself, to admit that we are wrong—mortifying pride—if we are going to love one another in obedience to the command of Jesus. But on the other hand I cannot say ‘You are right’ with the idea in mind that I am actually wrong. It is an irresolvable conundrum. How can I be both simultaneously right and wrong and still actually ‘love one another’? How can I eradicate the pride that needs to be right?

What I mean is this: there are times when the conflict inside must be laid to rest. What I have found in preaching is that people—and I am one too!—are unbelievable territorial, especially when it comes to what they believe. Once a person reaches a certain age it is nearly impossible for them to change their mind about any subject. Every now and again a cataclysm occurs and their mind is changed. Not too often, however. And so, “A new command I give you.” But how do we persuade folks to change their minds? How can we expect people who have been born into a spirit of hatred and lived in that spirit all their lives to change their minds? How can we, church folk, change our minds? How can we in the church love those with doctrinal differences, practical differences, liturgical differences, and so on and so forth? How can this love be manifested so that people not only see something I know but know of something I do?

Jesus also says we should love as he has loved us. Well what on earth does that mean? ‘As he has loved us’? What, by washing feet? “Now that I your Teacher and Lord have washed your feet you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.” He did this to ‘demonstrate the full extent of his love.’ Well, we’re certainly not going to do that because that merely cultural! Let me translate: We’re not going to do anything that makes us uncomfortable or makes us get involved in other people’s lives.

Yet Jesus said: Love one another. I have to be honest. There are times when I am profoundly unloving towards brothers and sisters in Christ. There are times when I am just sickeningly condescending and mean towards people who wear the Name of Christ. I have no excuse except my own pride. I love a good spirited debate and conversation, but I also know that I want to be right! You know as well as I do that it is very, very difficult to confess to being wrong.

Jesus could have solved so many problems that night. He could have settled for us in ‘plain language’ the debates over the ‘millennial kingdom’ for example. He could have solved for us in ‘plain language’ the debates over election. He could have solved debates that have raged on in the church over baptism, communion, musical instruments—he could have said, “Evolution is a lie.” But the sad, scary truth is: He didn’t. He deliberately left those subjects vague enough that there would be ongoing debates and conversations and dialogues and schisms and Protestants and Catholics and Evangelicals the world over, from the day of Pentecost until today. Why do you suppose Jesus did that?

And in the midst of it all he says: Love one another.

By this, he said, all men will know you are my disciples: “If you love one another.” I wonder what the church has shown the world? I wonder who the world really thinks we belong to? If our love for one another shows us to belong to Jesus Christ, then who does our hatred of one another show us to be disciples of? I have thought that for some time now because hatred is entirely too easy. You know, that is exactly why I think Jesus did not answer all of the questions that we bring to the text, and why, I think, certain doctrines, while patently present, are purposely ambiguous or at least open to different interpretations. For example, I just finished reading a book titled Perspectives on Election: 5 Views. I cannot believe how arrogant, condescending, and unloving Robert L Reymond is towards those with whom he disagrees: As if his supralapsarian Calvinism is entirely without flaw! I wouldn’t be a supralapsarian if that were the only choice and Reymond were only one advocate of it precisely because of his unloving attitude towards others with whom he disagrees. (At one point Reymond refers to someone he disagrees with in these words, “I feel much like CH Spurgeon apparently did, who, when commenting for his students and for ‘ministers of average attainments,’…I almost despair in thinking that anything I say will persuade him and his Arminian friends of their error, but I will try to make Paul’s intention in Romans 9 plain to them!” (138))

I use this as a mere example to illustrate the sort of unloving attitudes that people have towards one another in the church. It is the same in my own tradition where those who worship without pianos have traditionally un-loved those of us with pianos (or any musical instrument) straight to hell. We in the church love to major in minors. Why do you think Jesus didn’t explain everything to us? I think it was precisely so that he could test us and see if we really love each other or if we love ourselves or if we love our interpretations and ideas concerning Scripture more than our brothers. I hate to be the one to criticize the church, because I love the church—and so does Jesus!—but don’t you think that the time has come for the church to organize itself around Jesus Christ and love as he loved, show the world to whom we belong because of our love, and follow the new command he gave that we love one another? Don’t you think it is time for the church to rise up and declare that the very Christ Jesus whom we serve is the very reason why we love people who view certain aspects of the faith differently than we? (This is not a declaration that we will tolerate sin in the church. And this is not to say that doctrine doesn’t matter.)

But you know as well as I do what happened right after Jesus said ‘love one another three times’ right? Well, I’ll remind you. Here’s what Peter said right after Jesus said three times we are to love one another. Are you ready? “Lord, where are you going?” It’s almost like Peter didn’t even hear what Jesus said. Peter was stuck on what Jesus said in verse 33 and zoned out when Jesus spoke verses 34-35 (not that Jesus spoke in verses). Well that had to be somewhat embarrassing. But aren’t we like that too? The preacher will say: “Love one another, follow Jesus, take up your cross.” And the people will say: “Don’t forget about the pot-luck dinner next week.” We all zone out when it comes to the majors.

But what matters most? Does it matter really if we have the information about when Jesus is coming back (which is big in today’s culture) or where He went? Jesus seems to be saying that these things are minors compared to the major of “Love One Another.”

Then the most embarrassing thing is the conversation between Peter and Jesus where Peter professes his undying love for Jesus, his willingness to die for Jesus, His certainty of conviction regarding Jesus. And Jesus says what: No, Peter, you will deny me not once, not twice, but three times. Judas’ sin was that he knew Jesus and acknowledged it; Peter’s was that he denied he knew Jesus and acknowledged it. Don’t you see what happened? We are just like Peter when it comes to Jesus. We are more than willing to do the big things: Oh, yes, Jesus I’ll give away a $1000, or Yes, Jesus I’ll be a martyr, or Yes, Jesus, I’ll sing that really difficult song on Sunday, or Teach a class, or do this or do that. But who among us willing to listen to what Jesus is saying and: Love one another?

You see, I think too often we are more than willing to do the stuff that will be remembered, the stuff that gets us acclaim, the stuff that gets us in the limelight. Very less often are we will to do the menial stuff that no one notices, you know, the ‘love one another stuff.’ Not many of us are ready to be foot washers. Write a book? Sure, Jesus. I’ll do that. Even though it is a great burden, I’ll make the sacrifice, put in the labor, the time. Visit that person in the nursing home? Well, uh, you know that’s not really my gift. There are others who can do that and I’ll pray for them while I write my book, uh, your book.

I suspect we are just like Peter. We want to skip right over the little things like “Love one another” and get on to the bigger things like, “Oh, Jesus told me where he is going and now I will share that with you.”

This is not easy for me to write. I struggle sometimes because I am hunkered down in a congregation that doesn’t seem very motivated to want to get moving on forward. Again, I come back to pride. It is very difficult to confess to the Lord and others something like: Lord, I thought higher of myself than I should have. But then again, there’s this way of looking at it. Perhaps the Lord chooses people for certain roles not just to teach them, but because he trusts them. That is, if only certain people are really qualified to write books and lead mega-churches, perhaps only certain people are really qualified to bury dead people, or comfort the afflicted, or afflict the comfortable, or pray over a really sick person, or show compassion to a young child at school.

I don’t know if any of this makes sense or not. It’s a difficult meditation to write because I find myself being rebuked by my own words, and especially by the Word of God. I confess: It is hard to love one another. It is difficult to love those with whom you disagree in the Church. And if it is that difficult to love those in the church with whom we disagree then what are we supposed to do with those words of Jesus that say, “Love even your enemies”?

I think there is a way forward and it gets back to what I started with in this meditation. We must learn to humble ourselves and not think more highly of ourselves than is true and even then knock it down a notch or two or three. I have to say this: I don’t think the church can survive apart from our love for one another. I don’t think the church can effectively evangelize the world apart from our love for one another. I don’t think the church even comes close to exalting Jesus apart from our love for one another. The church must learn how to love one another. We must humble ourselves, each and every one, and do the hard work, the very hard work, of demonstrating our love for one another. It is futile to think that we skate by simply saying, “I love you.” Don’t you find it strange that it was in washing feet that Jesus ‘demonstrated the full extent of his love’ and not the cross? No, our love must be demonstrated.

I’ll end with this:

If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, 2then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. 3Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. 4Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:

Who, being in very nature God,
      did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
    7but made himself nothing,
      taking the very nature of a servant,
      being made in human likeness.
    8And being found in appearance as a man,
      he humbled himself
      and became obedient to death—
         even death on a cross!
    9Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
      and gave him the name that is above every name,
    10that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
      in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
    11and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
      to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:1-11, NIV)

Love One another.

Soli Deo Gloria!