Posts Tagged ‘love’

I'm still thinking about chapter 8 to an extent–that Jesus we follow who mixes and mingles and heals people that we typically reject. Jesus didn't consider himself better than them–which is exactly how we tend to think of most people. We tend to stick with our own because it's comfortable for us. I'm not necessarily saying that is wrong, but I'm not necessarily saying that is correct either. What I am saying is that if we are followers of Jesus then we need to give serious consideration to how we imitate him in the relationships we create and nurture.

It's not easy. There are people in this world we are naturally offended by and people who are naturally repulsive to us. In some ways, too, we will be repulsive to some people. It's OK. I have learned, and to a large degree, I am still learning, that I don't think the Lord expects that we will 'like' every person we meet. I think this is one of the reasons why there are so many personalities available in this world. It means there is someone for everyone. Yes. There are people I will be naturally drawn to; there are people you will be naturally drawn to. And in this, all people can be reached with the good news.

Luckily for us, this Jesus is different. In chapter 9, Jesus continues to rub shoulders with people that others looked down upon–in particular the tax collector named Matthew. Here's something for you to think about for a minute or two….who makes you uncomfortable? Who is out of your comfort zone? Who gives you the creeps? Who are the outcasts that Jesus would hang around that the world might otherwise reject?

So, then, on to some other thoughts. Jesus talks a lot in this chapter, but it's not like he's giving us a big long discourse as he did in chapters 5-7. His thoughts are memorable one liners that challenge the status quo and conventional wisdom of the day. I think he offers those same challenges to us as well. In other words, these things Jesus says are spoken to us as directly as they were spoken to those who would be his followers then.

First, notice that Jesus says, 'Your sins are forgiven' to a man who is paralyzed. I would think the more pressing matter would be the man's paralysis, but Jesus first addresses his spiritual condition as if one were somehow related to the other. The astonishing thing is, however, that Jesus mentions forgiveness at all. Indeed, as they reply, who can forgive sins but God alone? This is Jesus at his realistic best. Think about it, what other major religion in this entire world begins, continues, or ends with the leader of that religion addressing sin? Seriously? The very fact that Jesus addresses sin in a person's life indicates something about the nature of his being here. I think it says more about his purpose than it does about his nature (although, let's not take away from his nature).

Second, notice that Jesus says, 'Go and learn what this mean, I desire mercy and not sacrifice.' I can't tell you how much I love this statement because Jesus is claiming it for himself. Notice the 'I' in the sentence. Notice the 'I' in what follows: 'I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.' This means there is hope for us all. Jesus didn't come to earth and say, 'I'm interested mostly in all the folks who have it right.' No. He came and said, 'I came for all the people who are completely wrecked by life, by sin, by anything that wrecks life and humanity.' I love this because it means that I, too, am worthy to be called by Jesus precisely because I'm unworthy of Jesus.

Third, notice that Jesus says, 'But new wine is put into fresh wineskins, and so both are preserved.' Jesus, in other words, brought something new. He brought a new forgiveness–administered and received through himself. He brought new calling–because any wreck of life can be called to follow Jesus. He brought new reasons to fast and pray–centered around himself and his presence. Jesus brings new things to humans and gives us new reasons to do this things we do. I saw this thing the other day where someone was pointing out that all the traditions surrounding Christmas actually have their roots in pagan festivals and suchlike. The meme ended by saying something absurd like 'you don't have to believe in Jesus to celebrate and enjoy the season.' Well, that's ridiculous. What Jesus did was inspire his people to take all those pagan holidays and infuse them with new meaning and new hope.

Jesus makes all things new and that's what makes Jesus amazing.

He said some other things too. He healed a woman of a bleeding issue and raised a young girl to life. He said, 'your faith has made you well.' He then healed a couple of men from their blindness. Then he drove a demon from a many who couldn't talk. And at this point we hear other voices. The crowds marveled and said, 'Nothing like this was ever seen in Israel.' And we too are amazed at all that goes on in the chapter: the healing, the forgiveness, the claims, the miracles of many sorts.

Yet there are still other voices who are no so impressed with Jesus' words, but instead seem to be a bit sour: 'It is by the prince of demons he casts out demons.' Maybe we are being forced to decide how we will respond to the things we see Jesus do and the things we hear Jesus say. How anyone can see these things and hear these things and see nothing but the work of the satan is beyond me. How? Where does that sort of energy come from that can see a dead girl raised and consider it a matter of the work of the devil? Does the devil do this kind of work? Does he heal? Does he show compassion? Does he set the world straight and undo the things he himself brought about to the world?

Here's the kicker. The last thing Jesus says in this chapter, the last thing he does, the last thing he sees. He sees people just like those who would attribute his work to the satan and he has compassion on them because they are helpless and harassed like sheep without a shepherd. Again, this is the Jesus who says, 'Pray to the Lord of the harvest for workers.' Do you hear that? Even after these people basically say that Jesus is doing the work of the satan he still has compassion on them, he still wants them in his fold, he still wants them.

He still wants us.

He still wants us.

Read: Matthew 7; Revelation 7; Genesis 12; Ephesians

I had a short, interesting 'conversation' with someone on Twitter tonight. I'd like to tell you he was a thoughtful fellow, but after one exchange he unfollowed me. Luckily for me, the conversation was picked up by another person who thoughtfully engaged me for more than a few tweets and we became sort of friends.

The original tweet, written by a self-described 'author and campus pastor' (whatever that means) went like this: "Proximity breeds compassion. If u don't understand people of a different skin color ask yourself if your friends and church are all the same." Well, I took exception to this tweet because it's based on a profoundly ignorant and unnecessary premise that a person's lack of understanding is necessarily due to a person's associations or, put more negatively, if a person has all the same color friends at play or at church then one probably doesn't understand people whose skin color is different. Ugh. I'm not sure a person can possibly be more ignorant about race relations than this person.

And what's worse is his follow up to my response. He wrote: You're going to be miserable in heaven. Look around: you live in a multiethnic world. My point was ways to understand others.

Clearly. Maybe instead of approaching things negatively he should have said: If you don't understand people of a different skin color go hang out with some of them. But instead, he chose judgment which is not very Jesus-like.

So, because I don't spend my evenings and weekends with people whose skin color is different from mine, I'm going to be bored in heaven. Even though Jesus will be there and I'll be fellowship with people of all sorts of backgrounds…I'll be 'miserable.' Somehow I doubt it.

Anyhow…what about 'race' relationships? I wonder if the best way to forge relationships, compassion, and understanding is to force a relationship where one does not exist? I wonder if that's what Jesus had in mind when he created the multi-ethnic church of Israelites and Gentiles, men and women, black and white, and so on and so forth? Or maybe the people Jesus wants me to understand are the people that I happen across each and every day of my life? I'm thinking of the little children in my classroom–disabled children, black, white, male, and female. Or maybe he was thinking of the white folks my wife and I ran into at a restaurant this evening? Or maybe it was the black men I used to work with many years ago in a small shop? Or maybe it was the black women I went to graduate school with? Or maybe it was the African man that I hosted in my house for dinner and conversation about 2 months ago? Or maybe it was math teacher who happened to be from Iran?

You see my point is this: I don't think Jesus requires us to force anything as far a relationships are concerned. Why would he? He was fairly consistent about his commands for us: Love people. Love people whoever they are, wherever they are, and whatever skin color they are. Love people. If you don't understand people of a different skin color, don't ask questions, love them. Go and love them. Or, better, whenever 'they' happen across your path, love them. If 'they' are laying in a ditch, love them. If 'they' ask for your cloak, give them your tunic as well. The point is that the Christian is defined by his/her love for other people–and it makes no difference who that person is.

If you have to force something, you really need to ask if it is love. If it isn't love, you really need to ask yourself if you are of Messiah.

And this works both ways, my friends because guess what? In all likelihood my pasty white Ohio winter skin is different from your skin color too.

Really it's that simple. Or, here in the seventh chapter of Matthew he says it this way: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. This sums up the Law and the Prophets.

Do you see that? Do you hear it? Jesus is saying something like this: Along life's way you are going to come across a lot of people. They might be black; they might be white. They might be an Israelite; they might be a Samaritan. They might be purple; they might be pink. They might be a man; they might be a woman. But it doesn't matter who you come across if you belong to Jesus, treat all people with the dignity and love you hope to be treated with by others. Jesus isn't saying we have to go out of our way to force relationships because what he is saying is that if you are a Kingdom person you won't have to force relationships. You won't have to because you will already be in a relationship built upon a foundation of love. Relationships will happen naturally and easily. We can simply move from place to place, from person to person, without fear or awkwardness, loving them all as Jesus calls us to do.

So here's a final point. I don't think Jesus is saying we have to go crazy in this life trying to understand every single person and every single ethnic identity. In some cases, this will be virtually impossible. On the other hand, what he is saying is this: don't do the world like the satan, don't do the world like Herod, but instead go and be kingdom people. When you are a kingdom person your life will be markedly different and people will notice as much without you having to actually announce it. So go! Be my disciples and be marked by your pursuit of the kingdom of righteousness, be marked by your love for your enemies, be marked by your willingness to do more than is asked of you, be marked your prayers for those who persecute you, be marked by your inconspicuous love for others, and be marked by being willing to do for others (love) what you would have them do for you (love).

Do you see? Jesus called us to be different and when we are different…things will be different. We will love people without them having to call attention to their skin color and without us having to announce that we love them. A few months back, a man from Liberia, Africa came to my house. He sat at my table. I served him a bodacious Mexican cuisine that my wife and I prepared. Afterwards he sat in my living room and I served him a cup of hot tea. We talked about Liberia. We talked about his work. We talked about Jesus. When it was done, we prayed together.

We were like old friends who were meeting again for the first time–two friends who had no past, but certainly shared a future. He loved me and accepted my hospitality. I loved him and shared with him whatever he asked for. But you know what? It makes no difference because at the end of the day, he didn't eat with a white man from the USA and I didn't eat with a black man from Liberia. Two disciples of Jesus sat, ate, shared, enjoyed fellowship, and loved each other. And that was enough. I'm certain that in heaven, I won't be miserable because it will be just like that day: unforced, unrehearsed, pure love in Messiah.

Because #love.

Because #Jesus.

I've been thinking a lot for the past several days or so and the Lord has really convicted me of something. This morning he cornered me and left me no other option but to surrender.
 
It's far more complicated than simply changing my mind and agreeing with another person's idea. Fact is, some people simply cannot contain their ignorance when it comes to giving others space to grow and learn. I saw some people saying that if you reject refugees, you are rejecting Jesus. Yeah. That's the sort of statement that helps change a person's mind. (/sarcasm). Nor are people who are concerned about refugees racists. It's not quite that simple. I’ve seen people misusing the Bible to make their point as if the United States is somehow or other equivalent with the Church of Jesus and, therefore, obligated to act in a way that Jesus expects Christians to act.
 
It’s not as simple as simply condemning someone or calling into question their faith–ironically, that’s the easy way to disagree with someone: just dismiss them as lunatics, racists, or heretics. This is not what I have learned about thoughtful engagement with people. I’m still learning. I don’t always succeed. Yet here we are.
 
It might just be that some folks are not ready to make such decisions yet. I confess that is exactly where I have been since the attack on Paris and the rise in awareness that the the country where I live was to receive Syrian refugees. You can call it fear. You can call it politically motivated. You can call it whatever you like. I am not ashamed of the fact that it took me several more days to come to my conclusions than it did other people. I’ve learned the dangers of making quick decisions about such things–be them complicated or simple.
 
I am ashamed, however, of some of the things that other Christians have said about their brothers and sisters in Messiah who have arrived at different conclusions or are still thinking through all the things that go along with welcoming Syrian refugees into our states, our cities, and our homes. There’s a lot of judgment being hurled around by some church folks on social media towards other church folks. I’m sure that looks worse than those who have legitimate concerns about the welcome of refugees. It’s a shame, really, that thoughtful dialogue goes by the wayside when we are politically motivated.
 
The truth is more complicated. A person is not rejecting Jesus just because they have legitimate concerns about the safety of their family or others. Nor are they lesser Christians because they have political disagreements with the current presidential administration. Some people will not, admittedly, change their minds. You know what? That's cool. It doesn't mean they are a terrible person. And it doesn’t mean people who disagree with them are somehow smarter, better, more politically astute, or more Jesusy. It means that some folks have concerns and in our current world's climate, I think to reject legitimate concerns of anyone is the ultimate hubris.
 
Rather, I think love is patient. Love gives people room to grow and change and be molded into the attitude of Jesus who, although being in very nature God, did not take hold of it and use it for his own purposes. But He served people and gave his life for them. And love is kind. It means nurturing those who are a little slower with whom we disagree. It means what whatever we do we do in love. Whatever we say or do, we say or do in love. Even when we disagree. Even when you are right and I am in error.
Can I have space to grow and learn and think and research? Can the Holy Spirit of Jesus have time to work on me too?
 
I have grown weary of those people in the church who think that because they are ‘right’ they have the ‘right’ to ridicule and judge those with whom they disagree. This is not the attitude of Jesus. This is not love for your brother. If I disagree with you politically, will you love me less?
“If I smelled like Vapo Rub; if I talked like Elmer Fudd; if you found reptiles in my tub; Would you love? Would you love me? Would you love me anyway? (Elliott Parks)
Anyhow, I've been thinking a lot about refugees. I thought about them this morning when I was at a school doing some observations. I saw a little child who, for all intents and purposes, was a wreck. He looked malnourished. He looked like he had just woke up. He looked bad and he was easily the kind of kid the some people will reject because of his appearance, his slowness, and for other reasons. But when I saw him I was overcome with conviction because the reason I teach is for him. I always tell people that I want the kids no one else wants. Give the most difficult children and I will teach them. I saw the face of Jesus in this child. I repented on the spot because I saw the face of an innocent child who looks neglected and impoverished. I saw Jesus.
 
Statue of Liberty: Give me your poor, your tired, your huddled masses.
 
Jesus said it first: Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.
 
Here’s what I got to thinking. Maybe the rest of the world lives in fear and rejects refugees because they practice Islam or because they had a cousin who wore a bomb vest. Maybe the rest of the world says, “you cannot come here, because we hate you.” Maybe the rest of the world, right now, hates those of Middle Eastern descent. Maybe they have no where else to go. Maybe they feel unloved. Maybe Jesus wants me to think differently. Maybe, even though this is clearly a political move on the part of Washington, just maybe God has other plans. Maybe they are impoverished and unkempt.
Maybe in coming here and finding mercy, compassion, and love…maybe they will also find Jesus.
 
Honestly? I wouldn’t want to live in the Middle East–torn from the chaos of war as it is. Maybe coming here refugees can find peace, and hope, and mercy, and love such as they are not able to find in their homeland. Maybe the Lord will use us and our open doors as instruments of his peace. Maybe we should hope he does.
 
And maybe now is the time to build relationships with people who will likely someday return to their homeland. And maybe do so with Jesus in their heart and the Gospel on their lips.
 
Is there risk in taking in refugees from the Middle East? I suspect there very well may be. Are there angry people among the infirm, women, children, and elderly? Probably. That is a risk we take and whether we agree politically with the president or not; whether we agree with the loudmouths on the other side of the political aisle or not; we agree with Jesus. And Jesus wanted people. Jesus never said that love was easy. Jesus said that love is risky. For his love for us, it cost his life. And in order for us to love, I think we must be prepared to do the same. Really it’s not a matter of political allegiance; it’s not a matter of religion; it’s not a matter of my Christian faith (in the sense of whether I have it or not); it’s not a matter of anything but love.
 
Jesus told Christians to loved and I suspect that he means if the world goes north, we should go south. It means that our attitude should be that of Jesus, not the world. It means we should be different. And noticeably different.
 
I’ll close on this. On the way to work this morning I was listening to Rich Mullins. It’s an old CD called ‘Songs’ and is a compilation of some of his better or, at least, his more well known songs. I had a longer ride to work this morning so there was more time to listen to music. I made it through the first several songs and then the CD, because it is old and scratched up, froze up in my CD player. I had to skip a couple of songs and I ended up on a song called ‘Let Mercy Lead’. I said at the beginning that the Lord boxed me into a corner. When this song came on my car stereo, the last song before I had to work, he sealed the deal and slay me.
Let mercy lead
Let love be the strength in your legs
And in every footprint that you leave
There'll be a drop of grace
If we can reach Beyond the wisdom of this age
Into the foolishness of God
That foolishness will save
Those who believe
Although their foolish hearts may break
They will find peace
And I'll meet you in that place
Where mercy leads
Love doesn’t make sense. It’s somewhat irrational at times, I suppose. It does things, or forces us to do things, that often make no sense to others who do not know about Jesus. Love takes risks. Love is the very thing Jesus told us to do and I don’t suppose that Jesus meant for us to be picky about who we love. Just. Love. Always. All.
 
Not everyone will buy what I’m selling. I’m cool with that. Take your time. You may never arrive here. I’m cool with that. There are probably areas of life where you are leaps and bounds ahead of me with your love of others. I’m happy to grow and learn from you. Imagine if all of our thoughts and actions and words were lead by mercy. Imagine if people are coming here because the Lord Jesus wants to send them back to the Middle East with himself in their hearts?
 
Let mercy lead. Jesus, Lord, open my heart to your forgiveness. And grant that I, sinner as I am, will demonstrate your love and mercy to all who will receive it.

MessyMany, may years ago when I was still young, I felt I was being led to be the preacher of a certain church. I began going through all the motions–sending a resume, sample sermon, meeting families and members of the church, preaching trial sermon(s), and finally submitting to a vote of the congregation. During the course of this process I met with a particular gentleman who also happened to be an elder in the church. He was an older man, from a different generation, and was necessarily conservative in his theology. I distinctly recall our meeting one day before I was hired. We were sitting in a quiet room off of the main sanctuary talking with the door closed. I distinctly remember his question to me: What do you think about 'the gays'? Not, "What do you think about Jesus?" But, "What do you think about 'the gays'?"

This is all prefatory to my review of this book called Messy Grace. I received this in the mail on July 21 and on July 22 made it my ambition to read it. I did. It took me about 3 hours (because I underline and make a lot of notes.) I will just say, straight up, I love this book. That's right. I love it. Now don't mistake my loving of the book for agreement with all things written in the book, but I think it is safe to say that by and large there is nothing in this book that I find theologically repugnant. 

For this review, I'm staying wholly positive. Except for a couple of minor quibbles (his use of the word 'gender' as a synonym for 'sex', and a couple of generalizations, for example), I have no complaints at all about this book. This is an important book that needs to be read because it strikes a beautiful balance between grace and truth and helps us apply both wisely in our relationships and witness to people who are different from us. So while I understand that he is writing to Christians about the manner in which we relate to homosexuals, as you will see in my conclusion, it's really about how we relate to anyone who is different from us.

So, a few points to highlight.

This past Sunday our preacher made a statement that was utterly profound in its simplicity. He said (and I'm paraphrasing): "We cannot build relationships with people unless we start them." I couldn't agree with him more. The author of Messy Grace makes similar statements throughout the book. One that I found helpful begins on page 31: "It's imperative that we have grace for people while they are still thinking, speaking, and acting in ways we might not agree with. And we need to overcome our own inner resistance to getting involved in a relationship with them. A real mark of spiritual maturity is how we treat someone who is different from us" (31-32, his emphasis.) Isn't this how all of us want to be treated? Do any of us want to be outcasts from the church until we get all of our life together?

The church would be empty.

Kaltenbach consistently calls us to evaluate this question of how we treat other people.  He is absolutely on mark when he calls the church to think differently about the way we treat those who are different from us–those who happen to be on a journey that moves at a different speed than the one we are on. I think it is fair for Christians to ask why someone would say, "Christians don't like anyone who's not like them" (39). Could it be that in some ways those who are different from us are in fact more understanding and loving and compassionate than those of us who are called to be defined by those very things: loving, kind, compassionate, and understanding? Shouldn't this change? Shouldn't the church be a place where people can be vulnerable and weak and loved?

"Part of the pursuit is being honest with people, but doing so in a loving way." (45) This theme is developed over and over again in the book. He's asking us to evaluate who we are because of Jesus. Has Jesus changed us? Has he made us new or not? If we are still stuck in days gone by ways of thinking and judging then might we not ask if we have really met Jesus at all?

Second, I want to add that by and large the author handles Scripture very well and does not shy away from the so-called hard passages that talk about homosexuality. He affirms over and over again the testimony of Jesus, Paul, and others. So for example, he notes that "nowhere in the New Testament, however, does God define acceptable sexuality as being other than between one man and one woman. In fact, the New Testament specifically reaffirms the Old Testament's position that same-gender sexual activity is not acceptable" (86). He says later, "Another way to say this is that Jesus had to chance to define an intimate relationship as being other than male-female, but he did not" (90).

This book, so far as I can tell, is wholly orthodox which is a way of saying that he is not blurring lines in Scripture in order to spare people the truth. In contrast to other books on this subject, he is not performing exegetical somersaults to make his point one way or another. He is reading Scripture and talking about its plain meaning. He lays it out for us and allows us to think on matters. He candidly admits we might disagree with him and that he is still searching some things. He is telling us what the Bible says. But he is saying we need to be gracious…much in the same way 'God demonstrated his own love for us in this: while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.' We do well, as Christians, to bear this in mind continually in our dealings with people.

Finally, there is one more thing that stood out to me as important and something that I think served to minister to the author and in some ways served as the catalyst for the writing of the book. He tells in the book the story of his own conversion experience and he tells how his family reacted to his conversion to Jesus. I wrote in the margin on page 118 that Caleb is saying we should respond to homosexuals about their sexuality exactly not how his parents responded to him about his faith. Then a couple of pages later I read that 'the irony of this situation was that my parents thought I would disown them, when in actuality I felt as if they were disowning me" (123). The point is that he did not like at all the way he felt when he was rejected for his faith in Jesus. I'm glad he remembered that feeling. I'm even gladder he shared it with us.

Something tells me that this feeling stayed with him as he grew older and was trying to work through all the things he writes of in the book–in particular, how is he going to treat others because of his faith in Jesus? There is a significant lesson here for all of us who claim Jesus. In America we experience very little rejection because of our faith, but maybe that's not the best thing at all. We grow in our experience. Caleb's experience of rejection taught him how it feels to be rejected and thus how someone else might feel if they are rejected. I see God's brilliance here and I see a brilliant man who understood well the lesson that Jesus was teaching him. Would that more of us learned this lesson. It might make us more compassionate believers and more easily accessible to those who face it daily.

I love that he is open and honest about the relationships he has formed in life with those God has brought to him. I love that this guy didn't write a book crying and moaning and complaining about his 'terrible life' being raised by divorced, gay parents. I love that this guy wrote a book that at its core is telling us to get over ourselves and get to loving people–like Jesus did.

I love that he is open and honest. I love that he weeps and laughs and gets angry and is confused and is (still) searching–I love that when this guy lost someone close to him, he had a group of people to weep with him. I mean this when I say that this book touched me precisely because it is honest and unflinching and yet vulnerable and emotive. He helps us understand that no matter what we believe, there are no easy answers and that there will be pain along the way. But he also lets us see that we belong to a God of hope and mercy and grace and truth and love and Jesus.

Let me tell you how much I love this book!

Here's the truth that I have figured out after a long time in and out of ministry: this book isn't just about Christians and LGBT people even if that is the overwhelming paradigm being established in it. It's about Christians and all people. It's about the way Christians treat one another: abysmally. It's about the way we treat old people: horribly. It's about the way we treat young people: dismally. It's about the way we treat poor people: dishonorably. It's about the way we treat liberals: ugly. It's about the way we treat conservatives: angrily. It's about the way we treat foreigners: condescendingly. Frankly, it's about the way we treat one another–all the time, in every way, in every circumstance. We are not nice people when it comes too most people who are different from us. I could tell you how I have been treated by the church when I was a preacher. It's not pretty.

I teach special education. I have since I was removed from ministry against my will about 6 years ago. You know what I have learned since I started working with students who have autism, Down Syndrome, emotional and behavioral disabilities, ADHD, and more? They all, all to a very large extent although not literally all, come from extremely dysfunctional, broken, and wrecked families. Yep. Almost without fail there is divorce, separation, jail, death, poverty, substance abuse, abuse (in one form or another) and more. And these are the people that God has called me to minister to–not just the students, but the parents. And you know what I have to do? I have to be nice. To all of them. All the time. Every day. I can't tell the parents what I really think. I can't make them all rich or fix all of their marriages. But I say this honestly: I have learned–as an educator in public schools–how not to be judgmental. That's right: how to love people, all people, any people is my daily objective. Anyone who walks through my classroom door. Anyone with whom I come in contact with: I am an agent of God's grace in an often ugly environment.

But it's not just about being nice while something else is swirling in my head. It's about changing and actually becoming a different person (CS Lewis describes this change brilliantly in Mere Christianity, chapter 10, "Nice people or new men?") It's about being a nice person and not just about being nice to people. Anyone can be nice, but not all of us are truly, genuinely lovers of people. God takes these barriers of soft bigotry and hard prejudice and breaks them down–like he did the dividing wall between Jews and Gentiles. I truly believe this book, Messy Grace, will go a long way towards helping people not just be nice (which is a nice way of saying 'being hypocrites') but also to transform them  into the sort of people who actually, truly, genuinely love people for Jesus' sake, love people for their own sake. This is what he has called us to do. To love people, other humans–our brothers and sisters in flesh. To minister to them. To bring the healing of Jesus into their lives when they are ready for it. And to let God do his work on them when he is ready to do his work.

"Christians need to stop trying to convert people's sexuality. It isn't our job to change someone's sexual orientation. You and I are not called by God to make gay people straight. It is our job to lead anyone and everyone to Christ. I believe God is big enough to deal with a person's sexuality" (185).

Well said. Very well said.

It will never be easy for Christians in this culture of 'I want to see results now.' But we can if we are patient, if we pray, and if we pay attention to the often subtle movements of the Holy Spirit of Jesus. My prayer is that our Father will use this book to change the hearts and minds and attitudes of the church of Christ into such as we see in Jesus who welcomed all who came and never drove any away, who called all to repentance, who loved all right where they were but wasn't content to leave them there, who didn't condemn but commanded us to change.

And this is the message to the church. First. First Jesus speaks to the church. And we must listen.

You will do well to pre-order this book and read it prayerfully in one sitting. You will be rewarded for doing so.

5/5 stars

Important Book & Author Things

  • Where to purchase Messy Grace Amazon (Paperback, pre-order for $11.24; October 20, 2015)  CBD (Paper back, $10.99; pre-order 10/20/2015); WaterBrook Multnomah (Trade paperback, $14.99; pre-order).
  • Author: Caleb Kaltenbach on Twitter | Messy Grace
  • Publisher: WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group
  • Pages: 212 (ARC, page count may be different in final publication)
  • Year: October 20, 2015
  • Audience:Pastors, preachers, Christians, missionaries, elders, deacons, young people, old people
  • Reading Level: High School
  • Disclaimer: I was provided a free advance reading copy courtesy of WaterBrook Press via the Blogging for Books Blogger program
  • Page numbers in this review are based on the ARC. Numbering may be different in final publication.

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Jesus said a lot of things that we are aware of. Jesus said a lot of things we are not aware of. John tells us the whole world doesn't have enough books to contain all that Jesus said and did. I'm not surprised; although, I'd certainly like to have a little more. We like to play games with Jesus' words and conveniently forget those things he made explicitly clear to us.

Christians are a strange tribe. We like to shoot our own wounded goes the old cliche. We like to point out the flaws of those we dislike and conveniently disregard Jesus' most important command to us when we encounter someone who troubles our sense of right(eous)ness. We like to think our sense of righteousness is the thing that matters and trumps the faith of others and our relationship to them.  As I have reflected on my experience with the church, via the internet, I have come to think that maybe a little line in a song by Pearl Jam makes a little more sense to me:

I'm ahead, I'm a man
I'm the first mammal to wear pants, yeah
I'm at peace with my lust
I can kill 'cause in God I trust, yeah
It's evolution, baby

Do the Evolution

That is, we think that so long as I am righteous, as long as I am singing in the choir, as long as I love Jesus, it's OK for me to do or say whatever I want–even if it is hurtful or hateful to others. I don't have to love someone from whom I am different because I love Jesus. And let's be honest: Christians are professionals at this game. We seem to think we can trample anyone who gets in the way of our righteousness. We seem to think it is our calling as Christians to point out the hypocrisy and sins of other Christians. We seem to think that if they offend us, we are permitted to have a word for them via blog or FB or Twitter or radio or otherwise. We seem to think if Christian 'A' offends Christian 'B' then it is the god-given responsibility of Christian 'C' to point out how heinous Christian 'A' is so that all those hopeless sinners won't think Christians 'B' and 'C' are somehow like Christian 'A.'

Because, let's be honest, the salvation of the world depends entirely upon such scenarios taking place rather frequently, rather loudly, and rather lengthily. I'm an intervention specialist and one of my main responsibilities is to help my students who have behavior issues decrease their Meltdown Level Events in frequency, duration, and intensity. I'd like to be have such a job in the church. I'd like to help people learn the valuable lesson that it's OK with Jesus if we mind our own business and worry about our own sins more than we worry about those of others. I promise you that the church will not fall apart if we suddenly stop worrying about others' sins and calling them out publicly on them.

I wish I could help some Christians reduce the frequency, intensity, and duration of their hatred of their brothers and sisters in Christ. Maybe even help them love a little.

I'm not gonna mention what provoked this post except to say that if we think it is our responsibility to dredge up everyone's, anyone's, or someone's past in order to point out how mean and horrible and terrible they are then we ought to make certain we dig up our own past too because I have a suspicion we, too, are guilty of something heinous and despicable. I have a feeling that those Christians who feel it their responsibility to harass other Christians by dredging up the past are going to find Jesus a difficult task master at some point in their own lives. You know, that whole mercy, love, forgive thing….

Ask yourself, you dredger-upper of the past: in what manner does your 'work' advance the Kingdom of God? In what way does it correspond to the grace of God? In what way is your rebuke helping to turn a brother or sister from sin? In what way is your rebuke restoring them to fellowship? If they have repented 77 times will you demand yet one more? Does it make you feel really good about yourself? Does it help your google-juice? Does it feed your ego? Do you delight in doing something even Jesus doesn't do? How does your effort reflect obedience to Jesus' command to 'love one another'?

In my opinion, Jesus has no use for such people and if he does then I'm not certain I understand Jesus just yet because I don't recall that Jesus dispensed to anyone the spiritual gift of Spiritual Historian. If Jesus can audaciously say something in the present like, "He who is without sin, let him cast the first stone," then who on earth are we to think he also said something like, "Appoint people in the church to continually dredge up the sins of other christians and expose them to more ridicule in the public arena"?

If I recall Jesus' words correctly, and I think I do, I recall him saying, "Love one another." He gave it as a command. Seriously, as a command. Seriously, christians of the world, did you skip that part that said, "Love one another."

I sincerely love Jesus and the church, but I am beginning to understand at a wholly new level why so many people are opposed to being involved with Christians or Jesus. It's because of the way we treat one another. Sometimes Christians are among the worst people on earth. Sometimes we deserve God's wrath simply because we choose to ignore his command to love one another. I can think of no other way to say it: we ignore his command. Jesus gave us one command, one task, one thing to do: Love One Another and we cannot get it right. Ever. Never.

Jesus said Love. What's so difficult about that? All we have to do is love one another. That's it.

Maybe it's time to give it a try?

God have mercy on me, a sinner, because I have left undone the hard work of loving those brothers and sisters of Jesus. God have mercy on me, a sinner, because I have loved my own righteousness more than my brothers and sisters in Christ.

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.

Once upon a midnight dreary, I was enrolled in seminary. I had to write a paper once concerning whether or not Jesus ever said anything political. I don't remember everything I wrote but I do remember being marked down a grade because it was my opinion that Jesus had very little to say about politics.

I suppose by now I might change my mind. He probably said a lot. He probably said more than I really care to think about right now. I think if Jesus did say something about politics it is something that most people really will not want to hear. The liberal thinks Jesus said something that justifies their liberal social agenda. The conservative thinks Jesus said something that justifies their conservative social agenda. If we use Scripture to justify a political point of view then we have missed the point of reading Scripture altogether.

I think Jesus said something about the Kingdom of God and anything he said about politics, and how they are used, must be found somewhere within the matrix of God's Kingdom. I think we must also be careful because Jesus spoke to a particular and peculiar political situation. He did not, to be sure, say anything specifically about American politics, American politicians, or the American political machine. There's a lot of folks who think Jesus had something to say about America, but he didn't. Not specifically anyhow. But if he did say something in general, I think he warned his followers that we ought to tread lightly and not be found holding hands with those in power.

Jesus had lots of things to say about the Kingdom of God though.

So I got to thinking tonight and went on a mini-facebook rant, posting mini-screed after mini-screed to my wall. (Mostly I do things like this to aggravate people, but tonight I was kind of being serious because I'm kind of getting sick of the attitudes of many of my conservative Christian friends. Jesus did say something to them, something about humility or being humble or being last or something.) The point here, then, is to post a few of those mini-screeds.

I think if Christians really, really, really want to see the world changed for the better, kind of a redeeming the time sort of thing, then it would be better if we aligned ourselves with Love instead of a particular political party.

[Comment: Jesus gave us one command: Love. We are to love our neighbor as ourselves. Love God. Love one another. That's pretty much it in a nutshell. What bothers me is that more people seem to get this who aren't christians than who are. I think that should bother people; a lot.]

I think if Christians really, really, really aligned themselves with Jesus, then we would have the same opinion of both sides of the political aisle because in truth, neither conservatives nor liberals have in mind the things of Jesus. I'll go a step further and suggest that they don't have your best interests in mind either. Politics is about one thing and one thing only: power. And the Gospel of Jesus is the power we already possess and the only power we need.

[Comment: In my opinion, way, way, way too many Christians think that our salvation comes from electing socially and fiscally conservative politicians. I disagree. I happen to be a socially and fiscally conservative Jesus follower, but that is not where our hope is found. We are not a people of power and we do not need those in power for protection and/or salvation. We belong to Jesus. He is our King. He is our love. He is our God who came to bring us back to Him. David Crowder wrote those last three lines. All I'm saying is that dialogue is fine. Opinion is fine. Belief is fine. But don't for a minute think that dialogue, opinion, and belief in or with a political party is going to keep you safe. It's dog eat dog in politics and Christians are very tiny dogs.]

Funny thing is that I often find it is those who are politically liberal or religiously agnostic who tolerate my ideas more than my conservative friends.

[Comment: I don't even care anymore. I don't even try. I like a good debate, but I have long since given up the idea that I will lead anyone to Jesus just because I have more arguments against evolution than they have for it. I figure if God wanted it to be so clear, he could have made it clearer himself. These political and scientific arguments are great fun, but really amount to nothing in the grand scheme of things. Let's talk about things that really matter–like life, and love, and happiness (that's from Audio Adrenaline.) Down at the bottom of a person, I want to know they are into Jesus. They can sort out their political and scientific angst in their own time and with God. None of this means we have to agree with one another. Jesus didn't say: A new command I give you: Agree with one another. No. No. No. Jesus said, verbally and demonstratively, Love. That's all. Just Love. ]

The Resurrection of Jesus is God's demonstration of Power and if Christians think we need something more or other then we have not truly understood the Gospel of Jesus yet. The greatest among you will be the least. The first shall be last.

[Comment: At the heart of the matter is that we now live in a church that reflects the US constitution and not the Bible. I'm sorry to say it. The church is stagnant–and mega churches prove nothing otherwise. I know from first hand experience how churches treat people–and they do so because of power. Churches like power just as much as the politicians with whom they align themselves. And our daily commentary on world events is not Jesus or Scripture, but talk radio hosts whose use of Scripture is offensive and appalling. What's worse is that Christians buy into it: lock, stock, and barrel. We think because it's conservative, it's right. We think because it's liberal, it's wrong. Seriously, who cares? Let's talk about something like fixing the world because we love Jesus or because he loves us. Let's talk about what real power is and where real power comes from. Let's talk about love. Let's talk about something like how we as Christians can be Jesus to the thousands of people who are illegally entering this country each day. What can we do to alleviate some or all of their burden? Let's talk about how that Jesus Resurrection Power can make this earth shake.]

So you see I am a little out there tonight. It's not about being contrary. It's about thinking through what the Bible really, really, really says and means. It's about being a Jesus follower first and an American second. America is great. I have no desire to live anywhere else, well, maybe Paris for a year or so, but other than Paris, Venice, and Berlin, I'm all about America the beautiful.

But I'm more about Jesus.

Christians need to give serious thought to where their loyalties lie and to whom they belong. Faith is about trusting that God knows better what's going on than we do and that that's OK. We don't have to be in the know about everything. We don't have to be on the supposed right side of everything. Key to our discipleship is God's grace: no one will be saved because they dotted all the i's and crossed all the t's. We are saved only by grace. No one will be saved because they had the right political opinion or because they hobnobbed with all the right political power mongers. Grace. That's all.

In other words, I don't think Jesus gives a rip what your politics are. I do think he pays attention to your motivations when it comes to politics though–that is, where your faith is, how you use politics, etc. He knows your heart. That's what he is concerned with each moment of each day. Your heart. Many of us would do well to be liberated from the notion that our political persuasion will somehow persuade Jesus.

Old Blackberry Pics 2008 2009 227It's been a few days since I have written about the Daily Office. That kind of bums me out a little bit because it means I haven't been truly engaged in the Scripture as I want to be. I suppose all of us at some level have these ideas about what we should be doing and what we are actually doing. Key, I believe, is not even balance because that implies, in one way or another, that all things are equal or equally important. I need un-balance. Or maybe the correct word is imbalance. Either way, we get caught up in life, family, the affairs of today, the regrets of yesterday, and the dreams of tomorrow and it tends to crowd out those things that matter more.

So I'm generally distrusting of people who tell me that their lives are balanced. It generally means they have no priorities. This was not something I easily learned–the struggles of the last several years demonstrate adequately that all the while I was seeking balance–professionally, personally, spiritually–God was in the business of throwing me off course and challenging my notions of what it really means to live, move, and have being.

On then to today's readings.

Psalm 16, 17 What is interesting about these two Psalms is not that the New Testament writers took verses 9-10 of Psalm 16 and filled up its meaning with the Resurrection of Jesus. That is powerful reading, to be sure, but not what I find most compelling. Too often we see such prophecies fulfilled in Jesus (a good thing) and we forget that there are other verses to read as well (a bad thing). Psalm 16 & 17 both begin in sort of the same way: Lord, I am in deep trouble. Keep me safe. Hear my cry. What else is interesting is that they both seem to end the same way too. At the end of 16, the Psalmist is clearly in the grave and counting on the Lord's intervention, and 17 ends with the Psalmist waking up happy to see God's face. In both cases, and at some level, the Psalmist has died. Not terribly optimistic until you remember that in both Psalms the writer has thrown caution to the wind and is reminding God that He is the only hope and vindication he can count upon for survival.

And if we read carefully through the Psalms, we see there is no end to the dangers faced by the righteous in this lifetime. The righteous are always on the backside of those who 'run after other gods.' We see in Psalm 16 that even though the 'boundary lines have fallen in pleasant places' and even though 'with Him at my right hand, I will not be shaken' the Psalmist still finds himself six feet under by the time we reach verses 9-11. I wonder if it is fair to assume that some how or other this death was brought about by those who 'run after other gods'?

Then we arrive at Psalm 17 and we find that the stakes have been raised even higher and the threats against the righteous have grown even more demanding: bribery and violence (4);  seeking destruction of the righteous (9); callous hearts and arrogant mouths (10); hunting parties ( those who 'run after other gods' also form hunting parties to 'track us down' 16:4 & 17:11); physical abuse (11b); and in general wickedness (14). And another interesting note: those who 'run after other gods' in Psalm 16 are 'like a lion hungry for prey, like a fierce lion crouching in cover' (12). I know where I have heard that before: "Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour" (1 Peter 5:8). Maybe those who 'run after other gods' are equally adept at doing the work of the enemy, the devil. One thing is for certain: the righteous can fully expect that those who 'run after other gods' in this lifetime are going to get what is coming to them, what they desire–their bellies will be full and there will be leftovers beside (17:14). They will have their rewards here, now, in this life. And the righteous should not be envious.

So what I'm thinking about is this. What am I doing with my life? What am I chasing? Am I running after other gods hoping to get my fill of this life? Or will I take refuge in God (16:1 & 17:7)? I guess it depends upon what we want. Do we want a life filled now? Or do we want hope of a life perfectly satisfied forever? In some ways I really believe it is an either/or proposition. Do we take refuge in God and have hope now and later? Or do we do the devil's bidding and be forever unsatisfied? Are we happy to find hope in Resurrection with Jesus? Or are we busily living the unsatisfied life of the devil? Interestingly enough, Psalm 16 reminds us that those who 'run after other gods' are the ones who will 'suffer more and more' (16:4). So it kind of makes me wonder if I have put all my suffering into its proper perspective so that even when I am surrounded on all sides by an enemy who wishes nothing better than my discontent, death, and my utter destruction I can say, with the chorus of the righteous: I will not be shaken because the Lord is at my right hand.

Imagine that: The Lord at your right hand.

Matthew 24:1-35 Over the years, as I have read this complex and perplexing passage of Scripture–set within Matthew's overt Kingdom story–I have grown fonder and fonder of it not, I think, because it tells of signs and wonders and so-called apocalyptic things, but because at the heart of it it tells the story of Jesus. It's like when we read the book of The Revelation. I think if we read the book of Revelation hoping to find anything there but Jesus then we are reading the story in the wrong way or with the wrong intent. The story in the Revelation is about Jesus: first to last, alpha to omega, beginning to end. John encounters a suffering church–7 of them to be exact–and what does he do? He gives them a vision of Jesus (see chapter 1 of Revelation for more insight). So when we read Matthew 24 I believe the intent is the same. You and me we look around and we see all sorts of calamity and persecution and suffering and death and destruction–much like the Psalmist did in Psalm 16-17–and we may grow to despair this life. We may grow to wonder what is happening and where it's all going. And Jesus recognized this so look what he does. He tells us: Yes, there are going to be times when life absolutely sucks. Life is going to get so bad that people won't even respect religious buildings or the righteous who gather there. I like that Jesus is sitting on top of a mountain, looking down on the world like a King on a throne. So again, what does he do? He warns us that there is only one Jesus.

There will be false messiahs, but don't listen. There will be wars, but don't be alarmed. Wickedness will increase, but this Kingdom Gospel will be preached. Religious persecution will grow, but stand firm. False messiahs and prophets will perform great signs and wonders, but don't be deceived. Don't grow cold in your love if everyone around you does. Don't be attached to this life when everyone else is running back inside for a cloak. Don't believe what people tell you when they point to false hope but remember Jesus' words. What does Jesus do? He tells us this: You will know me when you see me and I will not look like or be like what the world tells you I look like and act like. I might come and do no miracles or signs like the world does so don't look for signs and wonders; I might not relieve all your troubles at once as the world does so don't look for comfort or convenience; I might not come to the world's acclaim so don't look in the direction the world points. Instead, listen for a trumpet, watch for the lightning, follow the vultures, pray for peace, and pay attention–not to what the world says to pay attention to–but to the Words of Jesus (35). In other words, if you are paying attention, you will not miss Jesus when he returns. Remain steadfast. Stick with love. Pay attention to his words. He has not abandoned this place or his people. He will not abandon us to the grave any more than his Father abandoned him to the grave. When the world around you goes to the pot, keep looking for Jesus, keep listening to his words, and keep busy in his kingdom.

When you see all these things, pay attention. Things are near. But don't put too much stock in them because it's easy to get caught up in these things and miss out on what we truly hope for: the return of Jesus. And if we are looking, hoping, and waiting upon Jesus we will not miss him. Ask yourself, is it Jesus you are looking for?

That's all I have for today and I hope it is helpful. Be blessed. Grace and Peace to you in Jesus' Name.

Grace. "It's a name for a girl" (U2). Grace falls all over us and colors us clean. Grace marks as children of the living God. Grace prevails upon us when we have no clue who we are, what we are doing, or where we are going. Grace guides, teaches, sustains, and reveals to us the mystery of God. All we need to know is found in grace–charis.

And why not? While all the other gods of this world demand from us, Jesus gives to us. Grace enlivens the heart and enlightens the eyes. Grace creates space inside of the void of our selfish and survivalist existence and then fills the vacuum. Then slowly it begins to expand like a universe and what started as a mere pinpoint of light eventually has expanded into a galaxy full of light and life within us. We are consumed. We are lost and found again in grace. We are destroyed and made by Grace.

Grace is our peace. Grace is a thought we can never lose, yet we can never track it down. We can scarcely pin down and yet it never lets us go. Never let me go. Never let us go. Let your grace conquer the abyss of wickedness that swims and swirls in our hearts and minds. Dear Father replace our inclination to evil with a bent towards your mercy and love and forgiveness.

Grace like rain. Grace like a waterfall. Grace like an ocean. These are all ways various artists have spoken or sung about grace. It's always about drowning, being overwhelmed by a fluid density that we cannot stand up under: we are lost, we are drown, we are suffocated, we are consumed and of us there is nothing left when grace is finished. Can we overstate the case for grace? Can we condense grace to a single point? Can we contain grace or keep it from expanding in our lives until it replaces all of us we hate and even bleeds into the lives of others? I think not.

If grace once infects us, we can neither contain nor control its growth. It grows and spreads with a rapidity we cannot imagine or believe. We cannot stand before the flood, the rushing tidal wave of forgiveness, mercy and love. Once we see it, it's too late. Grace utterly wrecks and makes us less useful to the world of self-interests and more useful to the ministry of Jesus.

And we cannot stand before God any longer without fear and trembling once grace has taken over our lives. So with reckless abandon we hurl ourselves and are ourselves hurled into a broken world where the Father invites us to trust and believe and hope despite all that speaks against such things. We are asked to live as though his grace is all we will ever need–it is sufficient–and that it will somehow sustain us now and forever come hell or high water.

We need grace just to live in grace.

It's pretty sad when I read more about unconditional love from an author who makes no faith claims whatsoever than I do in books by authors whose sole purpose is to tell their readers about God's unconditional love. Or maybe it's not. Maybe I needed to read it some place else in order for it to really cut me deep.

So I was laying bed last night–rather, this morning between the hours of 2:30 AM and 4:30 AM–utterly unable to sleep. I kept tossing and turning, flipping and flopping, changing positions, sighing and groaning, praying and gasping–I just could not figure out what was going on and why mind would not just shut down for a few minutes so I could catch the sleep so fleetingly eluding me. It was that book the Myth of the Spoiled Child and the word 'unconditional' that kept stretching my eyes, pounding my heart, and infuriating my mind. It wouldn't leave me alone.

I do not lay claim to having many, if any, of those particularly queer moments when God speaks directly to us with words, dreams, or pictures, but I think last night that's exactly what happened. Here are a few of the sentences that kept dragging me down:

Children don't just need to be loved; they need to know that nothing they do will change the fact that they're loved. They require reassurance that their 'lovability' isn't in question, which is another way of talking about self-esteem. By contrast, on conservative critic of self-esteem not only complains about 'unearned praise' for children but expresses distaste for how 'today's parents' are like to express 'enthusiasm for their children's very existence.' (Kohn, 136)

Unconditional love corresponds to one of the deepest longings, not only of the child, but of every human being; on the other hand, to be loved because of one's merit, because one deserves it, always leaves doubt; maybe I did not please the person I want to love me, maybe this, or that–there is always a fear that love could disappear. Furthermore, 'deserved' love easily leaves a bitter feeling that one is not loved for oneself, that one is loved only because one pleases, that one is, in the last analysis, not love at all but used. (Erich Fromm, as quoted by Kohn, p 136-137.)

This is why I was awake all night, but not just this. This of itself merely tickles me. It doesn't leave me so speechless as when I read this and remember what the Bible says about the way God loves us.

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8)

…nothing…in all creation will be able to separate us from the Love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:39)

Here's what kept me awake: I suddenly realized that God does, in fact, love me unconditionally. I had an epiphany of His love: I did nothing to earn it and can do nothing to lose it.

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.

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.

Friends,

I’d like to share a thought or two on the subject of Christian Unity. I am a preacher by calling, and as such, lately, I have been preaching a series of sermons to my congregation on this ever so strange idea of Christian Unity or as I prefer to call it, essential oneness. I have been preaching this series of sermons because my congregation has been going through some difficult times lately and we needed to be reminded of what Scripture says about our oneness in Christ.

It’s no small thing for a church to be one in heart, mind, and ambition. If you think about what Christ did when he brought us together it is really quite remarkable. He pulls people together who are different races (although we all belong to the human race), people of different colors, people of different nationalities, people from different religious backgrounds, people from differing social backgrounds (‘rich’ and ‘poor’), men, woman, young, old–the list could go on–and he throws us all into one great big bag that he calls ‘church’ and says: “Find a way to make it work.” Find a way to make it work?!? Seriously? Seriously.

Jesus knew, knows, what he is doing; doesn’t he? I mean, no two people come into the church with the same history or motivation or even theological ideas. For that matter, no two people ever even retain those original theological ideas. As few as 10 years ago, I would never have considered an Anglican preacher to be among my best of friends–simply because of theological ideas. You know what, today I can; and I am glad for it. The problem we have, I think, is that we in the church are far too concerned about the baggage that people carry with them after they become Christians. We sort of seem to think they ought to drop it all right away and get on board the Jesus train. When it takes longer, we get frustrated, irritated, angry, and begin to lack patience; love might slip.

That is, we think that people need to be remade into our image. You know what I mean, right?

That’s when problems creep into the church–when we forget to love. So we believe things like this:

  • Those people who are not maturing at the same rate as I am are bothersome.
  • Those people who are not thinking like I am theologically are weaklings.
  • Those people who do not see things the way I see them are troublemakers.

We think that anyone who is not ‘like me’ is, clearly, not a Christian at all. Or worse. You know what the problem with all this is? We are not being remade in the image of other human beings! That’s the glory of it all! I don’t have to stack up against other humans, because they are not the template; they are not the standard; they are not the goal. Jesus is. Paul wrote in Colossians 3 that we are being recreated in the image of our creator who is Jesus. And none of us is there yet. We are all still on the way. Only those who fail to recognize this ‘on-the-wayness’ lack the courage to be patient with others. Those who think all baggage must be left at the door are those who do not believe Jesus came to ‘save the sick’ and the ‘sinners.’ We might sing ‘just as I am’ but there are a lot people who don’t believe it for a minute. They think it is something more like ‘you better get the way I want you or even Jesus won’t help you.’

So, then, what does all this have to do with unity in the body of Christ? Well, consider these words from Paul’s pen to the Ephesian church:

As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. 2Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. 3Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. 4There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to one hope when you were called— 5one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. 8This is why it says:

“When he ascended on high,
he led captives in his train
and gave gifts to men.”

(What does “he ascended” mean except that he also descended to the lower, earthly regions? 10He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe.) 11It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, 12to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. 15Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. 16From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.

Be patient with others. Be humble–they may be more advanced than you think. Work at unity in the body. It won’t be easy: work at it. And here’s the thing, if we have a proper view of ourselves (humility) and a proper view of others (patience and bearing with them) then working at unity in the body will be our goal. But if we are not working at maintaining peace, then are we working at war? Even a casual indifference (not working towards unity) is an example of not working at maintaining unity in the body. We must work at unity in the Body of Christ. Work. We cannot afford to not work for peace in the Body because if we don’t work at it war will break out among us.

Growing up is the goal: the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Along with self-sacrificing efforts at unity comes maturity in Christ as we are patient with one another and understand that God has apportioned his grace to us. Unity in the body and maturity in the individual somehow go hand in hand. Then there’s that grace word again! It’s so intrusive isn’t it? So how do we ‘make it work’?

It’s not complicated. He says three times: Bear with one another in Love. Speak the truth in Love. Build up the Body in Love. Do you think we can overstate the case for how much we must love in the Body of Christ? Do we have enough room to love? Can we humble ourselves and love? For the sake of the essential oneness of the Body of Christ can we love one another? Can we recognize that all of us are ‘on the way’ and none of us has arrived?

It’s that love thing. It’s that grace thing. It’s that patience thing. It’s that humility thing. Paul wants us to grow up, yes, but he is saying to the people that growing up takes time. It is the goal. It is the point. But it is not accomplished overnight. And it is not done in isolation. Maturity is an ‘all’ issue. We work together in unity so that we might worked together for maturity. We do it! We won’t become mature on our own. We need each other and this is why we are patient, speak the truth in love, bear with one another, think of ourselves in humility, understand that grace has been poured out in Christ, he gave us teachers and preachers and prophets, and this is why we should make every effort to maintain peace in the Spirit.

Do you really think for a minute that people can grow up and mature in Christ when there is fighting and arguing and carrying-on happening in the church? Do you think God will tolerate new babies living in a hostile place, in an environment of warfare? I don’t think so. How can people who persist in immaturity think for a minute that God is going to entrust them with babies who need to grow up in their faith? Not. Gonna. Happen.

So we must work at unity in the Body of Christ for the sake of our maturity. Christians need an environment where healthy interaction can take place and folks can grow up in their faith–into the Head who is Christ. Love will go a long, long way towards this goal. If we truly desire unity in the Body of Christ, love is the place we must start. Apart from patient, humble, bearing-with-one-another love–maturity is not likely to happen.

Soli Deo Gloria!

Discern Your Doctrine (Mark Dever)

Trevin Wax: What is at stake in this debate over justification? If one were to adopt Piper’s view instead of yours, what would they be missing?

NT Wright: What’s missing is an insistence on Scripture itself rather than tradition . . .
Kingdom People (NT Wright) or here Unfinished Christianity.)

I spent some time yesterday, a little more than an hour, listening to a speech by Mark Dever. The speech was delivered at the 2007 New Attitude conference-a conference featuring the likes of Joshua Harris, John Piper, Albert Mohler, and CJ Mahaney, all well respected Evangelical Christians. Dever’s speech, or sermon if you like, is titled Discern Your Doctrine. It is worth the hour to sit and listen to it. I will provide a synopsis and attach a few brief comments before concluding with a call to love.

As most of you know by now, or have wondered, I am a member of the so-called Restoration Movement Church of Christ (not a Capella; that is, my church uses instruments in worship). Our ‘movement’ (we have eschewed such cumbersome boxes as ‘denomination’ or ‘tradition’ thinking them too slow or stagnant; we are a ‘movement!’). Our movement has, at least at its inception, been controlled by an unofficial creed, not called a creed, but a slogan. Actually, there have been several of them along the way, but I think the one I will mention stands as the most prominent. So it was much to my surprise when listening to this speech by Dever that I heard him quoting our slogan and then wrapping his entire speech, or sermon if you like, around it: “In opinions liberty, in essentials unity, in all things love.” Why you…that’s our slogan!!! (spoken as a remarkably Homer Simpsonesque threat.)

Well, it is a fascinating idea; although, it is necessarily, as I have read recently in a history of the Disciples of Christ (Disciples of Christ, a History, Garrison and Degroot) a flawed idea. But I digress. This slogan is the hub around which Dever built his speech even though he didn’t really get to the slogan until the end of the speech and then attributed it to some Germans (!) instead of to my beloved Restoration Movement forefathers. In leading up to this fascinating announcement of what should motivate all of our discernment activities, Dever makes six rather important points. I found that the first 2 were the most important and took the longest (if I recall he spent about the same amount of time on the last 4 as he did the first 2), but I will list all six points he made and offer only the briefest of points about each.

First, he asks: Do we follow commands in order to purify or unify? Here I found Dever’s most compelling argument. He notes that Jesus himself said we must ‘be on our guard’ against all kinds of teachings and teachers. In other words, discernment is not a bad idea. In fact, we should discern because if we don’t we are likely to fall into all sorts of dangers. Dever points out, however, that discernment always runs the risk of extremes and that there are basically (I hate the word basically) two opposite, but equally dangerous, extremes.

On the one hand, some tend to be too inclusive for the sake of unity. These are folks who ramble on about things like ‘no creed but Christ, no book but the bible’ (Ha! Another RM creed…slogan.) These are folks who think doctrine doesn’t matter all that much as long as we are united, answering Jesus’s prayer for unity (John 17), etc. Dever says these folks might be just as judgmental as anyone else because they tend to ‘undervalue God’s truth.’ Ooooh. That stings.

On the other hand, some tend to be too exclusive for the sake of purity. He says, “They are ready to quickly declare something wrong, or someone wrong or maybe even declare someone not a Christian. They neglect the wideness of Gods love that he shows in Scripture. They neglect seeing examples of his work when he has been at work.” He also said, that “we threaten our humility when we become self-righteous about this.” He noted that “truth and humility are not enemies” and that “knowing the truth will humble us.” He warned about those who are so exclusively concerned about purity that they think they have a “prophetic ministry of correction.”

In his second point he asks, “What are some common fights that we Christians have?” He goes on to note many and concedes that the list is virtually endless. I won’t bore you; his list is impressive.

In his third point he asks, “What are we together for?” In this point he notes that different levels of agreement are needed for different levels of cooperation and that agreement is not essential in all areas in order for Christian fellowship or evangelism to exist.

In his fourth point he asks, “What are the things we must agree upon?” That is, what are the essentials that we, as Christians, must necessarily agree upon to be considered Christians? I thought his best point here was when he noted that all of us will be “corrected at some level.” But I think the gist here was that there are some doctrines that can be dismissed (bad choice of words here) without sacrificing Christian orthodoxy or severing Christian fellowship.

His test pattern for discerning such agreement for essential doctrines is as follows:

1. How clear is this doctrine in Scripture? (I assume here he means ‘to me’.)
2. How clear do others think it is? (that is, other Christians)
3. How near is it to the Gospel? (that is, which instructs us about salvation)
4. What would be the doctrinal and practical implications if we allowed disagreement on this particular issue?

I think this is a fine test, and when it is done Dever concludes that there are three areas upon which we must agree as Christians: God. Bible. Gospel. Of course, within these terribly vague ideas he breaks it down even further. Not only must we agree about God, but we must believe certain things about God. Not only must we believe in the Bible, but we must believe certain things about the Bible. Not only must we believe in the Gospel, but we must agree what constitutes the Gospel. (Here I think the flaw of ‘in essentials unity’ becomes apparent.) Dever narrows the Gospel down to 1 Corinthians 15:1-9:

1Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. 2By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. 3For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. 6After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. 7Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, 8and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born. 1 Corinthians 15:1-9

He notes that for 14 chapters Paul had pointed out all the unnecessary things that divided the Corinthian church and points out that here, in chapter 15, is the one thing we should stand for: ‘Contend for this truth,’ Paul seems to be saying. Here is the Gospel in a nutshell, the essentials upon which we must agree. Thus Paul reminds the Corinthians of this core of beliefs.

In point five, Dever asks, “What are some things we may disagree about?” He cites Romans 14:22: “So whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the man who does not condemn himself by what he approves.” He also takes four test cases and notes that we can indeed disagree about some things without compromising faith, the Gospel, or Christian fellowship. Encouraging indeed. (His section about ‘egalitarianism’ is rather brilliant.)

In his last point, Dever asks, “How can we disagree well?” Again, Dever makes two solid points to consider when having a conversation with someone with whom we disagree. I should ask: 1. What can I learn from this one with whom I disagree? Well, this requires a great deal of humility, and can be difficult to navigate since we may have to finally admit that we are wrong. 2. What do I owe this person with whom I disagree or who disagrees with me? Again here is required a great deal of humility. We owe them love. We owe them respect. We owe them the courtesy of making it evident that we care about this person and that we are not just trying to win an argument with them. In other words, we should try to understand what they are saying. I think this point often gets lost on me. Much of the time, I care more about winning an argument with someone than I do about the person. This is dangerous ground upon which to tread.

So what is the point here? I think the point is clearly this: Disagreement is not bad; discernment is required. Those who point out our errors are not our enemies. “The opposite of your friend is not your enemy, but your flatterer.” So it is good, it seems to Dever (and I agree), that there are those who are willing and able to engage one another in hardy, healthy debate and conversation. Disagreement is not the end of the world, and there are some areas where our error clearly needs to be pointed out in order that we might be saved (Jude). However, it is better to engage in debate and conversation with humility, with love, with an eye and ear for learning and not just winning. Best line in the speech was this, “We want to be known for what we are for rather than what we are against.” (Hmmm…someone recently wrote a post about this very point.)

Here’s what the apostle wrote to the church at Ephesus:

It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, 12to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. 14Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. 15Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. 16From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work. Ephesians 4:11-16

If some are given to this and some are given to that, I think this means that the Lord fully expects we will correct and rebuke one another (and often Scripture may do that very thing). Scripture may bite hard, but we should not. (Although someone said to me the other day: “I’m not nice when it comes to gross misrepresentations of the genuine Christian faith. And, I’m not supposed to be.” Indeed!) This does not mean, however, that we abandon the overarching command to love. Love. Love. Love. This is what distinguishes the church from everything and everyone else in the world (as far as organized religion is concerned). If we are not known by our love for one another, then we will be known for something else. And if we are known by something else, can we legitimately call ourselves Christians? Can we who fail to love even begin to think we have a right to do evangelism and call people into this story? (I’ll say this, there are times when I know I am loved more by people outside the story than I am by those inside the story. There are times when I love those outside the story more than those inside it.)

So, “In opinions liberty, in essentials unity, and in all things love.” It seems to me that love can go a long, long way towards correcting our errors-and who among us desires to remain in error? Dever ends by quoting from John Wesley, “I shall thank the youngest man among you to tell me of any fault you see in me. In doing so, I shall consider him by best friend.”

It remains to be seen, however, if love will win the day, especially in the world of blogs where, for example, just the other day, a couple of the writers here were called Pharisees because we “make grace too wide.” It remains to be known if love truly conquers all. It remains hidden as to whether or not we can love. Maybe there is something to this slogan after all. It remains to be seen if we will be known by our love and not our hate. It remains to be seen if love can truly bring together those who are concerned with unity and those who are concerned with purity and conclude that the two need not be mutually exclusive. Maybe Alexander Campbell and Barton W Stone weren’t wrong to adopt this slogan and hoist it high even if the opinions and essentials part is practically impossible. And maybe, just maybe, if we pay attention, close attention, to love we will see that what matters most is not our opinions, not our essentials, but our love.* After all, Jesus himself said that it was by our love for one another that the world would know we are his disciples.

Not opinions. Not essentials. But love.

And so it remains, can we disagree and still love? Can we disagree and maintain Christian fellowship? Will we love? How will we be known? Can we discern with more concern for the person than for winning? I ask all who visit and read: Can we, will we, discern with love?

Will we love?

*Which is not to say that we abandon essentials at all, but does mean that we should be far more concerned about humility. Fact is, I could be wrong. We could all be wrong. And all theology is a matter of opinion. Maybe there is something to the vaguery of Dever’s ‘God, Bible and Gospel’ regardless of how we formulate our opinions about these essentials from Scripture. Maybe there is something to grace after all and its wideness is not the real problem, but its narrowness.

**word count 2494

The Kingdom of the Son He Loves

“For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”

Dunn wrote, “The implication, therefore, is not so much that the darkness has been already stripped of its power and banished. Rather, the darkness can be legitimately and authoritatively resisted, as having its license revoked” (78).

But can that really be said? Can we really say that darkness has power? Can we really say that darkness has not been banished? It seems to me that Paul is saying something quite the opposite: We have indeed been rescued from its power and authority. The dominion of darkness has no claim on the believer whatsoever. Darkness has been scattered and light has broken out all over. Perhaps Dunn gives darkness a little too much consideration.

Perhaps most don’t give it enough consideration. Indeed, the dominion of darkness can be seen all around us. It’s on the television in such innocuous places at advertisements. Darkness lurks in places we might not consider dangerous. And the darkness is dark.

But this darkness has no claim on the Christian. Why? We have been transferred out of that dominion. We no longer reside there. We no longer call it home, and we are no longer its prisoner. We may well feel the effects of its power, but we no longer suffer under the weight of its authority. The darkness is dark and perhaps getting darker, but it is no longer the only option available. I suspect there are many who are still living under the authority of the darkness. I suspect they do not even know they are. Some light needs to be shed.

Perhaps darkness ought to be called what darkness is and spotlights aimed in its direction. Are we children of light? Are we sparks of radiance that set the darkness on fire? If we have been rescued from the dominion of darkness, set free from its prison, are we so inclined to see others rescued too?

The thing is, this is an entirely passive operation. He has rescued us from the dominion of darkness. Those trapped in darkness will need far more than what we can offer. There must be a divine intervention. Someone outside of ourselves must brave the harsh realities of the enemy’s camp and bind up the Strong Man and then raid his house. This is not an operation for the fainthearted or weak or feeble. This is a work that requires a strong will and skill. He has rescued us.

I don’t suppose this means that he has any ambition for us to go back to that dominion and take up residence there again.

Who would want to? He has given us a new authority to live under: The Kingdom of the Son He loves. In this kingdom, life is different. Here there is forgiveness of sins and redemption. Here we have been placed in order to thrive and grow and live in the light. Here life is completely different from life there. Here there is light, and we can see. A certain amount of clarity has come over us and we see with unveiled eyes and hear with unstopped ears. There we wandered around in the dark with blindfolds around our heads. Our guides were blind themselves and had no other ambition but to lead us into deeper darkness. But He has rescued us from this dominion. At least we understand that the dominion of darkness was not quite as safe as some would lead us to believe. Rescue implies peril. Peril implies life threatening. And who would say that we were living in peaceful times when we were unredeemed?

The contrast is stark and cold. The dominion of darkness. Dominion is an unforgiving word. It even sounds relentless. Darkness hunted us down, captured us, held us captive and worse, we made very little attempt to escape on our own. We had to be rescued from it’s clutches because on our own it just wasn’t going to happen. He took the initiative to do what many of us did not want. As CS Lewis described himself a most ‘reluctant convert.’ On the other hand, there is the Kingdom of the Son he loves. He loves. Darkness is a dominion that operates on the principles of power, coercion, fear and brutality. But the Kingdom we are transferred to is based on Love, forgiveness, and freedom. The contrast could not be clearer: Love is the operating principle, the guiding factor.

The key is not the transfer is not the what, but the ‘whom’. In whom, he says. In whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. Our transfer from the dominion of darkness to the kingdom of the Son he loves was a positional transfer. We moved from one place to the other. Apart from this ‘in-ness’ there is simply no redemption because it cannot be both ways. Redemption, then, is not only something that we are or something done to us, but some place we are. In Christ…how many times does the apostle use this expression in his gospel? Over and over again we learn that salvation is positional. We are either in Christ or we are not. I don’t see how it can be both ways.

David Garland asks, “Have the believers forgotten what their Lord and Saviour had done for them? Can they be dissatisfied with that great work of redemption at the cross? Is Christ not sufficient both to pardon and to deliver them from all their sins? Then let them be filled with the knowledge and power for this-a life of increasing goodness and gratitude to the end” (43). It is important we not forget the transfer that has taken place and the position we have been transferred to. It is important that we do not forget that we have been transferred from a Place where love is not the controlling factor to a Person in Whom love is the controlling factor.

And here also we see the important feature: It is the Father’s love for the Son that dominates Paul’s thoughts here. Not our love. No, that is not sufficient to initiate such a rescue operation. It is the Father’s love upon which all these things are predicated and dependent.