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2 John – A Lot Like 1 John but Shorter

There is a lot of speculation as to who this “elect lady” is. Some take this literally as a specific individual. I thought I’d read through the letter this time with the mindset that “elect lady” is a metaphor for the church and “her children” as those who are in it. This type of language wouldn’t be uncommon and the “you” at the end of the letter are plural. This would also mean that “the children of your sister” are referring to their sister church, who are chosen by God.

This letter dates around 90 A.D. and persecution of Christians in Asia Minor was on the rise. This is my speculation but it could be possible that John is writing with this kind of language in order to not draw attention to where community of believers might be meeting. Persecutors might not pay as much attention to a woman and her children. John has more to say to them but wants to speak to them in person. Writing too much about Christ could draw unwanted attention. Like I said…this is my speculation.

Truth about Jesus coming in the flesh is essential for Christians. John warns not to accept any teaching that Jesus didn’t come in the flesh and not to accept the teacher. Jesus had to come in the flesh in order to die. He had to die in order to be resurrected. He had to be resurrected for us to have any hope that we too will have death conquered and be resurrected ourselves.

From the very beginning Christians were called to walk in love. Have we deviated from this command? How can we go about loving one another more so than we do now? John says this is what has been taught from the beginning. Let’s put this command into practice more fully each day than we have the day before. This is how we become the first century church more and more.

 
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Posted by on May 17, 2013 in 2 John, Bible Blog

 

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1 John 5 – This is Love For God

Reading through 1 John has made realize how overly simple what John is calling us to is…yet how much we struggle with it. We want to personalize Christianity and make it about whether or not I do “Christian things” and do them correctly. John places the Christian walk in community and gives the simple commands of “love” and “quit sinning.” As God’s Children, those who have faith, we are called to love God and to love our siblings. In addition to this, God wins. We are his children; we win. In faith, because of Jesus, we now live out our lives fully. We relive our baptism daily. We live in love. We live in obedience. The victory has been one…so act like it!

John reemphasizes the importance that Jesus came both in water and in blood. He did come in the flesh, as man. He did humble himself to become like us in every way. Jesus had to become human. He became like us and showed us how to live. He demonstrates what it looks like to live out the love that John has called us to in this letter. We follow him, not just in salvation, but in life.

The letter ends in an odd way but it ends with a strong message that we need to continually remember: “Dear children, keep yourselves from idols.” I like the way Kent captured this command last time we were in 1 John: “Dear Children, keep away from anything that might take God’s place in your hearts.” In a world that bombards us with things we “need” and images they want us to take one, we have to constantly examine our hearts and see who/what is sitting on the throne. When something else has been placed on the throne it is time to do some cleaning. Dear children, keep yourselves from idols.

 
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Posted by on May 17, 2013 in 1 John, Bible Blog

 

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1 John 4 – The Example is the Command

We take for granted that Christians are supposed to live like Jesus.  Many of us have worn jewelry or clothing at some point that actually said WWJD…What Would Jesus Do?  The implication of course is that we should try to discern what Jesus would do and then do that thing.  This is not a normal way of thinking.  I had several great teachers when I was growing up and in school.  They taught me, mentored me, and were significant influences on me; but I never considered that I should try to live like them.  

Throughout the Bible there are people who are worthy of emulation.  We should all strive to have faith like Abraham.  We should seek to have the missional focus of Paul.  We should seek the voice of justice heard from the prophets.  And yet nobody really asks, “What would Paul do?”  Jesus set a standard of living that is not only worthy of trying to replicate, but the things that Jesus did are in many ways the equivalent of commands.  What’s also important is that the most identifying characteristic of Jesus that so many try to live by is his love.  For Christians, loving and living like Jesus are as much or more a part of their active faith than the 10 Commandments or any other rule for Christian living.

This is the major focus of John in this chapter.  Let us love one another.  Why?  Because love is from God.  Also, everybody who loves is born again of God and knows God.  If you don’t love, then you don’t know God.  How does God love?  By sending his son Jesus to die on the cross for us (the fact that this is said twice in a row means that it is super true.  Biblical repetition amplifies meaning).  So we should love one another.  God’s example in Jesus is as good as a command.  God loved through Jesus’ love so we should love.

Perfect love, John goes on to say, drives out fear.  When you love somebody enough to give anything for them, what do you have to lose?  If your love is complete, then you share in Jesus’ love and know that even death cannot overcome your love.

Two conclusions:

  1. As John says, he who claims to love God but hates his brother and sister is a liar.  Can you imagine telling God that you love him and having him look back and you and simply say, “You lie.”  If you have a grudge between a brother or sister…work it out.  The example is the command.
  2. The essence of God is love.  We were created in his image, and thus our essence should be love.  When we fail to show love, we are living counter to God’s will and counter to our own humanity.  Additionally, if we are baptized and clothed in Christ, how much more should we love as he loved.
 
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Posted by on May 14, 2013 in 1 John

 

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1 John 3 – Foundation of Christian Community

You’re either a Child of God or a Child of the Devil. There are no passive observers. John defines Children of God as those who do not continually sin. John draws the contrast between God and the Devil so that they will not be flippant about the actions of those who claim to be their Brothers and Sisters.

If you continue to sin, you are continuing the work of the Devil. This doesn’t mean that you won’t sin any longer but it means that you take sin seriously and are not flippant with it. You strive to stop sinning. You don’t do it willingly. You know that identity that you have taken on as a Child of God and you strive to live out that reality. Christ, the Son of God, came and destroyed the Devil’s work. He conquered death and all that is evil. Our tasks, being made and transformed into his image, is to make this the reality for the world.

Knowing that we are Children of God, what is the message that we are to live by? Love one another. This is a simple message that seems hard for us to live out. If you do not remain in love you are dead. Love passes you from death to life. How are we doing with this?

One of the things I love about working with teenagers vs. working with adults is that I can highly motivate (force) teens into putting themselves into situations where they have to learn to live out their Christian convictions. When we go on a youth trip and I room one of them with another teen that they do not like I am able to remind them that the cross of Christ overcomes their differences and they need to work on loving them. This is a lot harder with adults.

I’ve heard on a number of occasions, “I have to love them but I don’t have to like them.” I’m not sure this captures the heart of this passage like John would have liked. The early Church was persecuted and they had to look to one another for love and strength. When your family rejected you for becoming a Christian you knew that you had a Family where you were loved. Not being persecuted has brought us to a point to where the Christian community is merely a part of our life amongst other things. How do we develop a Christian community that becomes the center point of our lives? Love. This seems overly simplistic but we have to find ways to love one another to develop the kind of Christian community that matters. We do this at Northwest in a number of ways: monthly potlucks, life groups, praise nights, pants and pancakes, inter-congregational sporting events, family retreats, etc. We try to provide natural ways in which community is built so that when people do come to our congregation there is an overwhelming feel of love and acceptance.

The Christian community should be developed to the point to where there is no fear in death or persecution. Because of the Christian community we should have confidence that if something were to happen to us our families would be taken care of. We should have no doubt that when we step out on faith there is a net provided by our Brothers and Sisters who are there to catch us if we fall. This is the kind of Christian community that is developed because of love. This is the community that draws the attention of those who do not belong to Christ. Love is attractive.

 
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Posted by on May 13, 2013 in 1 John, Bible Blog

 

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My Vision – A Family Building Church

I want to take an opportunity today to share a personal vision with you.  I have been envisioning and praying for some time that God would use me to start a ministry or group of ministries at Northwest that would be designed to strengthen families.  If you are reading this today, I would ask you to also be praying about this as well.

One of the greatest periods of enthusiasm and growth at my church, Northwest, came when we were running the Recovery Groups.  We offered free classes for anybody that would help with addiction recovery, grief recovery, divorce recovery, anger management, and the search for significance.  As a church we committed to opening our arms to the broken and it was a great ministry to them, but was also extremely powerful in helping to better shape us in Christ’s image.  Through these ministries our congregation became not only believers in grace, but practitioners.  However, as some of our volunteers and leaders for that ministry transitioned into other places or ministries, and as more churches (many with greater resources than us) began offering these same ministries, we slowly discontinued our recovery programs.

Several years ago I first heard Dr. Beth Robinson who introduced me to Family Life Education.  Family Life Education (FLE) is designed to produce family learning opportunities that are preventative rather than reactive.  Dr. Robinson described it this way: “Instead of having an ambulance at the bottom of the cliff that tries to put people together after they fall off, FLE seeks to stand at the top of the cliff with a sign that says ‘STOP!'”

Recent research (various Barna Group studies among others) have shown that families who identify themselves as Christian, and even those who attend church, struggle with family problems at the same frequency or level as non-Christian families.  Christian marriages are as likely to end in divorce as it’s non-church counterparts.  Christian men are as likely to be viewing or addicted to pornography.  Christian teenagers are as likely to engage in pre-marital sexual relationships as their friends who don’t attend church.  This is a problem.

Stated differently, I strongly believe that Christian families should be stronger families.  I believe that when parents introduce the principles of Christianity into their families they should be better parents.  I believe that Christian marriages should be stronger and last longer.  I believe that churches should be reinforcing their families in many ways.  I believe that churches should be providing support and resources to the community so that people inside and outside of the church would look at it and say, “That is a strong family that builds strong families.”

In the end, its as simple as “By this the world will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

What will this look like?  Well that’s what I am hoping to figure out in the coming months.  I know that I want to provide ministries that will strengthen marriages and parents especially.  I hope to someday provide resources and support for adult children of aging parents, single parents raising kids, first generation Christians who want to know how to share their faith with their kids, tools for effective communication and conflict resolution and much more.  I usually don’t share my ideas until they are well past the vision-casting, dreaming, brain-storming stage, but I am making an exception because I wanted to ask you to be praying about it too.  And probably as a heads up.  I will likely utilize some tools on the blog to help when I get to the needs-assessment phase of planning.

 
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Posted by on March 22, 2013 in Hot Topics

 

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2 Peter 1 – From a Shepherd

Peter’s first letter was written primarily to help the church figure out how to deal with dangers and threats from outside of the church.  This letter is written from Peter to help protect them from evildoers and false teachers who have come into the church.  Peter, a shepherd of the early church, recognizes the danger of a wolf among the sheep and writes this letter to protect them and also provide them with a guide for dealing with these problems in the future.  He has three primary purposes: to stimulate Christian growth, to combat false teaching, and to encourage watchfulness because of the knowledge that Jesus will return.

Chapter 1 has the beautiful poetic progression of what the Christian life should be.  The progression is in a list below so you won’t just skim over it.  You come to faith through knowledge and are no longer part of the evil desires that control this world.  For this reason:

  • to your faith add goodness
  • to goodness add knowledge
  • to knowledge add self-control
  • to self-control add perseverance
  • to perseverance add godliness
  • to godliness add mutual affection
  • and to mutual affection add love

“For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.”  In the church today we often talk about how you must have faith and then you are saved.  Then, we have this idea as long as you hold on to your faith and stay out of the corruption of this world, then you are good to go (to heaven presumably).  However, Peter recognizes that faith and avoidance of sin are not the culmination of Christian living.  Rather, the precede Christian growth.  Once you have faith and end sinful living, that is when Christian growth begins.

So what does it look like?  Well, it looks like the list above.  Which means for Christians today, we should be able to take the list and use it as a measuring tool against which we can see where we need to be growing.  It’s also worth noting that the list begins with faith, knowledge and goodness, which many would consider the pinnacle of Christian living, and then ascends towards godliness, mutual affection, and love.  These are the higher order attributes of Christians and what all who claim to be Christians should be aspiring towards.

I would encourage you today to go through and honestly and prayerfully evaluate your own life by each of the items on the list.  In fact, we would all benefit from doing this on a regular basis.  Peter says in verse 8 that Christians are to have these qualities “in increasing measure.”  This is important because this isn’t a check list that anybody could ever say, “Love…got it…check.”  You must have these qualities in ever increasing measure.  So today I challenge you to be looking for ways to grow in each of these areas, especially those which have the most room for improvement.

After all, if you don’t do it, Peter believes you will be near-sighted and blind.  And in his world that meant you had no ability to take care of yourself, see danger ahead, or know what’s coming.  You would should stumble.  Instead, do these things and receive a rich welcome (read as awesome party) into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

 
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Posted by on March 12, 2013 in 2 Peter

 

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Hebrews 13 – Never Leave You, Never Forsake You

In the closing chapter the writer of Hebrews addresses influences Christians should be aware of and avoid: Sex, Power, and Money. Taking a quick glance at CNN this morning I saw headlines about what is in this year for staying sexy (apparently butts are out and faces are in), how to gain power over others in the business world, and multiple articles about people’s obsession over money (favorite headline: Drag queens, fake beards and chocolates: Notable diamond heists).

You will sacrifice for what you love. We don’t have to look too far to see how quickly we sacrifice for sex, power, and money. Women put themselves through horrible pain to attract guys. Guys spend tons of money to get women into bed with them. People sacrifice friendships and partnerships to gain power over others, not to mention the moral sacrifices that are often made to gain power. Parents are absent from their kids lives because they work endless hours at their jobs to support the level of living they desire to keep up. Hebrews response to this is that God has said that he will never leave us or forsake us so quit searching for security in all the wrong places.

We’ve seen a moral decline in our country but things weren’t any better in the early centuries. Though they may not have been bombarded by it like we are today in our media, advertisements, and the rest of culture, sex was rampant in the Roman Empire. Sex has been dumbed down to a physical action that is following the natural instincts embedded in us. We ignore the emotional aspects of sex. It is the greatest level of intimacy you can share with someone and there will be a connection with that person that is hard to let go of. As a 29-year-old virgin I’ve found that our culture finds me a bit taboo and even a bit unrealistic. I’ve heard all kinds of comments from women in my dating life because I’ve found that this is something I need to be upfront about since it is so expected in our society. Sadly we’ve dumbed abstinence down to a “rule in an old book” (an accusation I often hear). Here’s my take on my virginity based on this passage. Sex is the greatest level of intimacy I can share with someone and that emotional and very deep connection is a gift that I want to give my wife. The response I typically get is that my wife most likely hasn’t done that for me but a gift isn’t a gift if something is expected in return. Forgive as Christ has forgiven is where I sit on this. All in all, we need to reclaim sexuality from our culture.

“Keep on loving each other as Brothers and Sister.” Hebrews calls us to be the great cloud of witnesses to one another as well. We have received a Kingdom that cannot be shaken! We are going to mess up. We are going to fight from time to time. Leaving the community of believers is not an option though. We have been brought into the body of Christ, the Family of God, and Family sticks together. Love as Brothers and Sisters. All things should be done in community together. At the very foundation of who we are as a Body is Christ. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. We are not a people waiting for tomorrow to come. We live in the reality of today knowing Christ.

The Hebrew writer also mentions a number of times to “remember your leaders” and uses words like “obey” and “submit” in when talking about our relationship with them. In a lot of our churches we have become more so democratic in our relation to our church leaders. We don’t take these positions as seriously as we should. It isn’t that leaders should walk around with heads high in their authority. They are still to be servant leaders in the image of Christ but they are our leaders nonetheless, put there by God, and accountable to God. Submission and obedience are hard things to do in a culture that constantly pushes you to desire power and authority.

I want to end our time in Hebrews with the prayer in 20-21,

Now may the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.

 
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Posted by on February 20, 2013 in Bible Blog, Hebrews

 

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Christian Response to a Post-Christian Society

Watch this video from CNN.

http://cnn.com/video/?/video/us/2013/02/07/nr-pkg-costello-atheist-movement-america.cnn

Back in 2004, I spent the summer working with a church and living in Dundee, Scotland. My three months there did more for me than I ever realized at the time. Growing up in the Bible belt I grew up with the assumption that everyone was a Christian in some way or another. My time in Scotland gave me a glimpse of what it is like to live in a culture where Christianity and God are not the assumption. The reality we live in today is that Christianity is not at the center point of our culture and society like it used to be. We have to ask ourselves a few questions: Why has this happened? Should we be ok with it? How do we respond?

I have a number of friends who are atheist or agnostic and I try to take time to listen to their stories as to why they do not believe in God or why they are frustrated about Christianity. In these situations I find myself sitting and listening mostly and sadly agreeing with a lot of their criticisms. The “Why’s” come down to Christians not being very Christ-like, Christians being judgmental, closed minded, angry, don’t care about the poor, hateful, etc. For a more exhaustive list of how Christians are viewed check out the book “UnChristian.” We talk a lot about the moral decline of our society and that it is because people aren’t going to church anymore. We have to ask why they have quit going. In short, people have lost interest in God because He doesn’t seem to matter to those who profess to follow Him. We would disagree but frankly they don’t see that He really matters in our lives.

Christianity is being moved to the margins of our society. Should we be ok with it? The answer is both yes and no. We shouldn’t be ok with it but not for the reasons you are probably thinking. We should have the overwhelming desire to live out the Great Commission and transform the world into the Kingdom of God but we need to rethink what that looks like. I don’t want to spend too much time on that right now but there is a lot of research about what evangelism looks like in a “post-Christian” society and what we are doing or have done just isn’t working (There’s a book about this as well if you’re interested). I’m sure Kent or I will have a post about this later but for now I’ll just use it for this point and will come back to it here in a min.

As Christianity has moved more and more from the center to the margins of our society we have responded fairly poorly on the whole. Three bad responses: Retreat – Some Christians have hid from society all together walling themselves in to where they can really have little to no influence on the world around them. Assimilate – As Christians have become the butt of more and more jokes the temptation for some is to become like the surrounding culture so that they won’t stick out too bad. Some churches have so starved themselves of Christ that they have become anemic in their presence to those around them. Retaliate – The reaction of Christianity overall has been to fight back. When the culture has yelled at us we have yelled back louder. There’s a lot more to be said here but that isn’t the point of this post.

Christianity is moving to the margins of society and we need to quit fighting it. When Christianity is at the margins of society it thrives there. Finding ourselves in the margins we need to find ourselves being faithful no matter what. Before Constantine institutionalized Christianity in the Roman Empire in the 4th Century it took great courage to be a Christian. After Constantine it took great courage to be a pagan. Pagans joined Christianity because it was a good political move, good for business, good for social status, etc. After Constantine, the church became anemic in its lack of Christ. Let’s be ok with being moved to the margins and allow Christ to take the center point of our churches and our lives and have power again.

So, how do we respond? Follow Christ faithfully. If that sounds like too simple of a response, we need to rethink what following Christ looks like. We need to reexamine what it looks like to “take up our cross and follow Christ.” We need to reexamine what our lives look like when we look down from the cross at every situation. How do our marriages look when we’re on the cross in them? How do we conduct ourselves in business from the cross? Our driving? Our schools? How do we respond, from the cross, to a world that hates us?

Peter reminds us that we are to live as foreigners here (1 Peter 1:1, 2:9-12). Our citizenship is not American but Christian and we are not to confuse the two. When we say that Jesus is Lord we are claiming that America is not. How do we respond to being moved to the margins and the persecution/accusations we receive? “Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us” (1 Peter 2:12).

In the first few centuries when Christians were being persecuted, they willingly went to their deaths (the death of a martyr) willingly because they knew that this life meant nothing and death had been conquered for them. Rome killed Christians in horrible ways in order to keep others from becoming Christians. The opposite was the outcome. People looked at the peace that Christians had as they went to their deaths and wanted whatever it was that they had. When the plagues came through and Rome abandoned the sick, the Christians went in and took care of them even though many of them died doing so. When the surrounding culture asked why they did what they did, the response was always the same. Christ came to serve and we’re here to be Christ. When the world cursed God, the response was love. When the world slaps the church in the face, the response is love. Like Christ standing before his accusers he willingly goes to the cross. This is the example we have been given and the example we should live out. As Christianity moves to the margins it becomes more and more important for us to embody Christ in this world, not just as “good moral people” but also as people who are willing to hold “the least of these” up above ourselves. We need to show the world that Christ’s death and resurrection matters for life and how we live.

 
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Posted by on February 9, 2013 in Hot Topics

 

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1 Thessalonians 4 – Proper Love and Dead Believers

As For Other Matters…

In a number of Paul’s epistles he will have a section where all of a sudden he says “as for other matters.”  When this happens, Paul is going to quickly give several pieces of very concise and practical rules for Christian living.  In this case, Paul has two topics he wants to emphasize.  First, God wants us to be sexually pure.  Look at the reasons given for being sexually pure:

  1. It is God’s will.
  2. It is an exercise in control over the physical body.
  3. It separates God’s people from the passionate lusts of pagans.
  4. It keeps us from taking advantage of our brothers and sisters.
  5. You have been warned and if you violate this, you will be punished.
  6. This isn’t a command from Paul, but as mentioned above, is a command from God.

Are all sins equal?  Yes.  Do Paul’s instructions in scripture indicate that some sins are worthy of special instruction and are somehow more dangerous to us and others?  Yes.  Can they be equally forgiven?  Yes.  Should we give extra special attention to teaching sexual purity?  Yes.  Clear enough?  Uh…..

Second, God wants the Thessalonians to continue in their love for one another and others.  Don’t be troublesome meddlers who upset people, but live quietly and respectfully.  Do good work with your hands so that you won’t depend on others and the world will respect you.

Believers Who Have Died

Ryan explained in detail in his introduction to the book that Paul is having to add this extra instruction on what will happen to those who have died and are believers.  Since many early Christian anticipated the return of Christ to be soon and very very soon they didn’t spend much time thinking or talking about what would happen to those believers who died before his return.  Since years have come and gone and Christians have passed away, Paul needs to add this teaching to those the church already had, making sure they understand that when Christ returns that the dead believers will rise and we who are still alive will rise with them and join Christ, so be encouraged by this news.  To those who were unsure about what was going on with dying believers, this certainly would have been encouraging news!

 
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Posted by on October 25, 2012 in 1 Thessalonians, Pauline Epistles

 

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1 Thessalonians 3 – Love Like Family

It used to drive me nuts that I had an 11 o’clock curfew in high school. One of my parents would be up till I got home. My mom at one point informed me that nothing good ever happened after 11 o’clock at night. What she didn’t know was that she was ruining my sand volleyball career. All of my friends played volleyball during the summer till around 2 or 3 in the morning and I could never stay and play. It wasn’t that my parents didn’t trust me. The reality is that they were worried about all of the bad things that could happen late at night. They had enough care and concern for me to make sure I was safe. I realized this more after I got older. It is in the tone of my parents that I hear Paul’s words to the church in Thessalonica.

Paul takes very seriously the role that he has as Father/Mother and Brother that he has with his fellow believers. When they hurt, he hurts. When they rejoice, he rejoices. When they are falling away, he takes it personal that he has a job to do to restore them. When persecution came, he wanted to make sure that they were encouraged and strengthened. When their faith proved strong, he was encouraged by it.

What do I take away from today’s reading? We are the family of God. Do we have the care and concern for one another as though we’re family? When someone struggles, do we inwardly burn for their redemption? Paul demonstrates the familial love that we should have for one another. Let’s not sit back and wait for others to love us in this way. Start loving one another as though you are family, because you are, and the church will be transformed by the love of Christ to be what He intends for it to be.

 

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