Tag Archives: love

The one thing you need (to make it as a stranger in the world)

12 Jun

In a world of partiality and discrimination and bias, where is the one place that still considers everyone impartially?

The church?  Nope.  Martin Luther King Jr. said years ago that Sunday morning is one of the most racially segregated places in America, and it is still true today.

I read an article this week that posed the question I started with. The one place in our society that still considers everyone impartially is the field of medicine.  The author, Atul Gawande, tells a story about how he had to treat a scary prisoner who was making threatening comments.  How would you feel if you were supposed to treat that patient? You’d have to be impartial.

Today as we continue our study in 1st Peter, Peter mentions the concept of partiality as foundational to the concept I mentioned yesterday, strangers.

I mentioned how off-kilter we can feel when we are placed in the position of being a stranger.  Today Peter addresses his readers as “strangers”, and he connects strangerhood with partiality.

Read 1 Peter 1:17-21 and 2:11-12.  (Then glance back at 1 Peter 1:1-2 where Peter started his letter by calling his readers “strangers in the world.”)  Did you see how Peter repeats this description of his audience?  In 1:17, he calls them “strangers”, and 2:11 he calls them “aliens and strangers”.  The Christians Peter was writing to were more than likely refugees in their lands.  Some of them had to flee to new areas to avoid religious persecution.  Some of them were ethnically different from the people around them.  But Peter has another deeper reason for calling them strangers and aliens.  He seems to hint that their status as aliens and strangers is as it should be.  Why?  We’ll get to that tomorrow.

Before he delves in the importance of them living as strangers and aliens, Peter reminds them that God is impartial. He says “Since you call on a Father who judges each man’s work impartially, live your lives as strangers here in reverent fear.”  Why does he bring God’s impartiality into this discussion?

The author of the article I mentioned above wasn’t saying that all doctors and nurses and hospitals are perfectly impartial, but he was saying that impartiality should be their goal.  I thought it was also an argument that should be made for Christians and the church.  Why? Because Peter is right, our God is impartial! He treats everyone the same.  We are all equally loved and valued in his eyes.  We love to apply that thought to ourselves.  God loves me!  But when we start to apply God’s impartiality to the whole world, it can be hard to take.

ISIS people who chop the heads off captives?  Equally loved by God.

Registered sex offenders who live in our neighborhoods?  Equally loved by God.

Muslims celebrating Ramadan?  Equally loved by God.

The super annoying neighbor or family member or co-worker or Facebook-poster?  Equally loved by God.

Republicans and Democrats?  Equally loved by God.

Illegal aliens from Mexico who want to jump over a border wall?  Loved by God.

You are all loved by God.  The people you hate are loved by God.  The people who have hurt you are deeply loved by God.

And when you have that kind of love going for you, you can live your lives as strangers here in reverent fear.  Our ability to live as strangers is rooted in the impartial love of God.  God is for us.  If we feel alone at a new job, if we are having a hard time making friends at a new school, if our neighbors are not speaking to us, and if we have a broken relationship in our family, all of these things can make us feel like strangers in the world.  But in the midst of any situation that leaves us feeling like strangers or aliens, we can always know that our impartial God loves us.  Other people may judge unfairly and make us feel like strangers, but God will always love us impartially.

The impartial love of God is foundational for living our lives as strangers here in reverent fear!  Do you need to be reminded of how much God loves you?  Do you need to spend time alone with God, just soaking up the passages of Scripture that affirm God’s love?  Do you need to reflect on the amazing self-giving love of Jesus, of his birth, life, death and resurrection?

One of my favorite reminders of God’s love is Romans 8:31-39.  Maybe read this a couple times, and let the truth of God’s love for you sink deep into your heart and mind:

31 What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? 33 Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. 34 Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 36 As it is written:

“For your sake we face death all day long;
we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”

37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Check back in tomorrow as we hear what Peter says about how to live as strangers in the world!

How to love and be loved when you are facing hardship

23 May

 

Are you going through a hard time?  How are you handling it?

Some of you have seen The Passion of the Christ which vividly portrays the Roman flogging of Jesus just before they crucified him.  I remember watching that when it first came out in the theater, my stomach churning, tears flowing.  It is awful.

During his flogging Jesus doesn’t talk back, but he communicates very loudly and clearly because this was an amazing act of love.  Though the Gospel writers don’t say much about it, a Roman flogging was enough to kill some people.

But look at how Jesus handles it. Jesus is an example for us at how to handle stress, pain, anxiety, and trials.  We can complain, fuss, or get angry during the troubles and trials we face.  And here is Jesus under self-control. Taking it.

Does this mean that we should be a doormat, and just let trial and trouble bulldoze and steamroll us?

What is the balance here? Jesus allowed himself to be beaten.  Should we?

There is a major difference between Jesus’ situation and ours, and that is that Jesus’ mission was direct mission from God was to give his life.  When we are abused, it is NOT our mission from God to be abused.  Abuse is wrong.  And we must not put up with that.  We must get safe, get away from the abuse.

But what about when face the regular difficulties of life?  For example, what if we lose our job justly, perhaps because of poor performance?  Then it IS our mission to handle that in a way that is honorable to the Lord.  Another situation that many of us face might be a car accident that was our fault.  Again, it is our mission then to handle that difficult with grace.

But what about turning the other cheek?   What about pacifism?  What about Romans 13 and the God-ordained use of government to restrain evil?  These are very difficult questions that would require another blog post or ten! Staying with Jesus’ trial and flogging, we see that our Lord was on a mission from God to give his life, and he turns the other cheek.  He does not retaliate, though he could.  He could instantly eradicate all the Romans by his mighty power.  He does not.

He had to go to the cross.  No matter what the people would do to him to take him there, he was not going to reverse it.  That is another way I see the difference between what happened to Jesus and to the times when we must turn the other cheek.  Turning the other cheek is almost certainly not going to lead to our death.  Following the way of Christ might lead to death.  In many places around the world, Christians, in order to maintain faith in Christ, are put to death.

So there is Jesus, beaten, broken, shamed, rejected, falsely accused, and loving us all the way.

He did this for us.

Go back three years, to Jesus’ temptation.  Satan offered him an easy way out of his mission.  Just worship Satan, just bow down, and Satan would give him all the kingdoms of the world.  No battle needed.  No war.  Just a simple bowing down.  The temptation was great.  Satan is giving him the opportunity to be king without pain.  Jesus said “No”.

Now fast-forward back to Jesus’ trial, and we see Jesus taking the full weight of that mission upon him.  He is in the midst of the pain.

He has just a few hours before this prayed “if there is some other way, Lord, please take this cup of suffering from me.”  Now the full cup of suffering is being poured out on him.  It was not taken away from him.

Jesus endured.  He said “not my will, but yours be done,” and he took the pain because he was committed to the Lord.

That’s how much he loves us.  He was focused on the Lord’s will, on loving us.

Many years ago at Faith Church a guest teacher asked a student to walk a pathway around the classroom floor.  Easy, right?  Except that he had placed boards on the floor.  And there were nails sticking out of the boards.  And worst of all, the student was blindfolded.  Furthermore she could only walk around by following the guest teacher’s voice, while everyone in the class simultaneously, out loud, gave her competing directions. She was very brave to even attempt this!  She had to trust hard in the teacher, and listen closely for his directions.  She said that she had to really try to filter out all the other voices, and that the hardest voice to put out of her mind was her husband’s.

Jesus was laser-focused on God’s will, though the clamor from the crowd was loud and the pain in his body was screaming at him to stop.  He could have easily avoided the pain, the shame, and the loneliness by exercising some miraculous power that day.  Easy!  Call down 10,000 angels ready for war.  But he didn’t because he was focused on one thing.  The mission of God.

Let us come away from this story with a renewed appreciation for God’s love for us, for the sacrifice Jesus gave to us, so that we can remain focused on his voice. As Paul says in Romans 8:38-39:

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Remember the Duke Lacrosse team?  In March 2006, three of the players on the team were falsely accused of raping a girl at a party.  An investigation leading up to their trial surfaced a staggering amount of blatant prosecutorial misconduct.  Durham District Attorney Mike Nifong handled his case so egregiously that it led to his disbarment and a brief jail sentence.

How did the players handle it?  They got revenge.  They sued.  But did it help?  To mark its tenth anniversary just a few months ago news media revisited the case.  Journalists interviewed those falsely accused, and found that though a decade has passed, the accusation still stings.  Getting retribution money didn’t solve all their problems.

When you are falsely accused, look to Jesus as your example. Seek justice, and with grace and mercy, focus on God’s amazing love for you.  When we remember God’s love for us, how deeply he loves us no matter the situation, it can transform our pain and help us to respond to the pain with love, just as Jesus did.

How God wants to restore you

16 May

Betrayal and denial.  Jesus experienced both, from two of his closest followers, in a matter of no more than one hour.  That had to hurt deeply. You can read the story in Luke 22:47-62.

Yesterday at Faith Church we talked about what it feels like when we have been betrayed or denied.  We also talked about how easy it is, like Jesus’ disciples Judas and Peter, to betray or deny God.  Imagine how those two guys felt when the realization of their betrayal and denial of Jesus finally broke over them.

We are told that Peter had godly sorrow that led to repentance.  After Peter denied Jesus the third time, just as Jesus said he would, Luke tells us that Peter and Jesus were in close enough proximity to one another that Jesus turned and looked right at Peter.  Imagine being Jesus at that moment.  Heartbroken.  Imagine being Peter.  Sick to the stomach at his failure, Luke tells us Peter goes away sobbing bitter tears.

Judas had a different reaction.  We have to go to Matthew’s story of Jesus’ life to learn about it.  In Matthew 27:3-5 we read: “When Judas, who had betrayed him, saw that Jesus was condemned, he was seized with remorse and returned the thirty silver coins to the chief priests and the elders. I have sinned,’ he said, ‘for I have betrayed innocent blood.’  And he went out and hanged himself.”

Peter wept, and Judas admitted his sin.

But there is a difference in the nature of their actions.  Judas acted with premeditation.  Peter did not.  Judas took time to plan out his betrayal, sought out the religious leaders, received payment, set up the arrest.  Peter did nothing like this.  Peter’s denial was not premeditated or proactive.  Instead it was reactive.  It was an unplanned act, a terrible choice in the midst of a horrible situation.

Judas’ response of suicide showed he had no hope.  Why would he have no hope?  Shouldn’t he have known Jesus and the grace, mercy and forgiveness of Jesus?  Yes, he should have.  But he didn’t, and that is revealing.  Judas didn’t really know Jesus.  Peter did.

Peter’s response is very different.  He is broken, sorrowful.

Have you ever been like Peter, caught by the proverbial crow of the rooster, reminding you of your failure?

2 Corinthians 7:10 says it perfectly: 

We can be sorry we got caught.  We can be sorry because we don’t want consequences for our actions.  When we examine our motives, we can learn that they are really messed up.

It is hard to be sorry with a godly sorrow that leads to repentance.  All of us have messed up.  What does it mean to be restored?  To find restoration we can examine Peter’s story: What was it about Peter that led him to make a rebound?

This past Sunday was Pentecost Sunday.  Do you remember what happened on Pentecost Sunday?

We read about it in Acts 2, when the Holy Spirit first came to fill the disciples, while they were waiting in Jerusalem, waiting for what to do next.  The Spirit comes and they start preaching in other languages.  One guy takes the lead in the preaching.  One guy is particularly bold.

Guess who it was?  Peter.

Think about the timing.  The events of Pentecost, where Peter is so bold, are only about a month and a half after the events of his denial of Jesus.  A month and a half!

What we saw in Luke 22 is that Peter is a broken man.  He has just denied Jesus, three times, and Jesus knew it, and Peter runs out weeping bitterly.

Now a month and a half later he is preaching boldly about Jesus.

What gives?  How did that turnaround happen?

To find out we turn to John 21:15-17, a story that does not appear in Luke.

After his resurrection, the disciples went back to their jobs.  They were fisherman, and they needed to make some money, feed their families, and so they went fishing.   Jesus found them, made a fire on the beach, waiting for the disciples to return so they could eat together.  Though he had resurrected, he was about to return to his Father and turn the mission of his Kingdom over to them.  He had some unfinished business with them to care for.  The disciples return to shore, and Jesus pulls Peter aside and says “Do you love me?”

It is more precise in the original language, Koine Greek, which has a variety of words, all of which we translate with one English word: “love.”

 

Jesus starts in verse 15 asking Peter “Do you agape me?”  Agape is perfect love.  This is the love that is used to describe God’s love, or to describe the love we should have for one another, as stated famously in 1 Corinthians 13.

Peter responds “Lord, you know that I phileo you.”  Phileo is brotherly love, very relational.  Phila-Delphia is the City of Brotherly love.

In a way, then, while Jesus asks Peter if he loves him, Peter answers very relationally, saying he has brotherly love for Jesus.

So Jesus says “Feed my lambs.”  It might sound odd to us, this shepherd language. But Jesus knows that Peter felt terrible about denying Jesus, that Peter would be wondering if he was no longer acceptable to Jesus. Perhaps Peter should forfeit his position in the inner circle of Jesus’ twelve disciples.  Jesus, who had once said to Peter “on you I will build my church”, now reinstates him: “Feed my sheep.”

Then surprisingly, Jesus asks him again, “Do you agape me?”, and Peter repeats “You know I phileo you”.  You can see Peter internally, and maybe in body language on his face, wondering, “Why is he asking me again?”  You and I know how it feels when our spouse or loved one asks, “Do you love me?” and we respond “Of course I love you!”  And then they ask again, “But really, do you really love me?”  At this second questioning, we can start to get offended, thinking that they shouldn’t have to ask a second time!  Do they not believe us?  Why would they have any reason to doubt?  Peter is starting to feel this, to think these thoughts.

So Jesus says again “Take care of my sheep.” Again, reinstating Peter.

Imagine the shock as Jesus now asks Peter a third time, “Do you love me?”  But this time Jesus has used the word “phileo”.  Now Jesus is getting very personal.

John tells us in the middle of verse 17 that Peter is hurt.  As any of us would be when we are asked to repeat ourselves a third time.  But Peter now says a third time, “You know that I phileo you.”

And Jesus says a third time, “Feed my sheep.”

Do you see what Jesus has done?  Each of Peter’s three denials have now been overturned by three “I love yous”, and by Jesus’ three reinstatements of Peter to “feed his sheep.”

Peter is restored.

Jesus is in the business off restoration.  Do you need to be restored?  If you have denied him, if you have disobeyed him, if you have been ashamed of him, you can be restored!

He loves you with Agape and Phileo, and he wants to restore you.

So come to him, like Peter, with a heart, mind and will that show your godly sorrow, and he will restore you.

That’s how Peter could preach a powerful sermon just a few weeks later.  He was restored.  And he fed Jesus’ sheep.

If you have betrayed Jesus, if you have denied him, know that he loves you.  Let him restore you.  Then feed his sheep.

Was Jesus’ teaching too radical? – Luke 6:27-36

30 Apr

UpsideDownKingdom_bannerLove your enemies?  Give the shirt off your back?  Give to everyone who asks?

Last week I introduced the next section in Jesus’ sermon in Luke 6, the section he starts off famously “Love your enemies.”  Jesus really has some challenging things to say here. Because Jesus’ words are so different from the prevailing truth of most cultures around the world, some people have taken to calling Jesus’ approach, The Upside-Down Kingdom.  From the vantage point of our culture, Jesus seems wrong and thus upside-down.

If you’re like me, you can respond to Jesus with of all kinds of “yeah, but…what about this or what about that, Jesus?  Have you thought about how your teaching will work out in real life?” Let me explain.  As I’ve studied for this sermon, I’ve struggled with how to present Jesus’ teaching. There are exceptions to the rule. Would Jesus be okay with allowing for exceptions?

Usually the difficulty lies in those life situations when obeying one teaching leads us to disobey another. Like the idea that if I give all my clothes away, I won’t have any for myself. Do I practice generosity so far that I am guilty of disobeying modesty? If I gave all my clothes away, I would be nude.  Should I do that?  Of course not. Do I practice non-retaliation so far that I allow my kids to be abused? Of course not. We need to use wisdom in applying these principles. And these are great principles. Let us not get confused by the exceptions to the principles so that we just chuck the principles out the window.

Jesus is calling us to be disciples in his upside-down kingdom, and that means we have hearts that love and give, sometimes in a way that seems reckless to the world! So here are some principles to take away:

First, let us give generously and sacrificially, especially to those in need. The biblical principle is that we should give towards equality. In the example of the first followers of Jesus or in passages like 2 Cor 8:14 we see this:

Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality. At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. Then there will be equality, as it is written: “He who gathered much did not have too much, and he who gathered little did not have too little.”

Last week I introduced our evangelical forefather John Wesley’s teaching “Earn all you can, save all you can, give all you can.”

Earn means “work hard and make money.” In fact, make all you can. Use your gifts and abilities to make a lot of money. There is nothing wrong with amassing wealth, as we learned last week, if that wealth doesn’t own us.

Instead, Wesley says, “Earn all you can, save all you can.” Save means “don’t spend the money.” When he said “save,” he didn’t mean you should earn a ton of money and build up a massive savings account so that one day you can have fun in retirement. He specifically meant, “don’t spend your money on yourself.” Of course, we must meet the essential needs of our families, but in so doing live very, very simply. This incredibly hard to do in America because we have been told that we need tons of stuff, food, clothes, gadgets, cars, houses, hobbies and vacations. What we want and what we need has been confused. Wesley taught, however, the biblical principle of simplicity.

And why? So that you give all you can. Make a ton of money, don’t spend it, so you can be generous.

This video of a freezing child really challenged me to be more generous:

In addition to radical generosity, let us practice the principle of radical love.

Let us live lives without tit for tat. You have heard it said “eye for an eye” (OT principle), but Jesus tells us “get hit, turn the cheek!” Jesus himself is our example, washing the disciples’ feet. He is our example, saying “Father forgive them for they know not what they do” while they were nailing him to the cross. We must become people who do not take revenge. Instead, in this upside-down kingdom, when people mistreat us and take advantage of us, we seek to love them. Again, loving them doesn’t mean enabling bad behavior. But we should not be people who hate others, who are looking for revenge, who are hoping for bad to happen to others.

Instead we practice kindness. We practice love. Let us love the difficult people, the enemies. Treat them like you want to be treated. Remember that you are a person who some people have a very hard time with.

Being Mystics in a Messed-up World

13 Mar

love-cross-upside-down1Last week, guest writer and teacher, Tony Blair introduced us to the idea of being Christian mystics.  And it is all about LOVE!

Then on Sunday he visited and taught at Faith Church, and I can say without reservation that it was a powerful morning!  So many people expressed their appreciation for his interaction with us.   At sermon discussion we laughed and cried and left inspired to be Christian mystics.  Thank you, Tony!

Mystics in Love

6 Mar
Today we welcome a guest writer, Dr. Tony Blair, president of Evangelical Seminary.  We’re looking forward to this coming Sunday, March 8th, 2015, at Faith Church as Tony will be our guest teacher.  As he is also a pastor, we are quite grateful to his church Hosanna, for sharing him with us!

Are you a contemplative or an activist?

People who are busy in the world sometimes look down on those who are more contemplative and withdrawn, and contemplatives sometimes look down on those who are bustling around doing good.

Jesus shows us through his own life that this is a false dichotomy—He is out among people, listening to them, arguing with them, feeding them, healing them, serving them… and then he withdraws for a while to be alone with his loving Father. He is a contemplative activist, what we might call a true mystic.

morning-with-jesus-quiet-time-with-the-Lord

How do you and I become true mystics, Jesus style?

Love.

Without love, a contemplative can be aloof, arrogant, without compassion. Without love, an activist can be “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” Those who follow Jesus, however, are hopelessly in love. That’s why Paul, another true mystic, said that love was the primary characteristic of God’s People.

It doesn’t matter how spiritual I think you am, how gifted, sacrificial, knowledgeable, disciplined, or kind… if I do not love, I’ve missed the main thing.

The main thing is loving God and my neighbor. Like Jesus did.

When we love like that, we can give ourselves freely to service and try to change the world, like activists do, and we can pray without ceasing and savor of the intimacies of our union with Christ, like contemplatives do. And we can hold them in balance, like a true mystic, Jesus style…because we are in love with the One who has made us so.

Take a look at 1 Corinthians 13 and join us Sunday for more about “being mystics in a messed-up world.”

What is Love? – Our theme for Worship in the Park this Sunday!

22 Aug

what-is-loveWhat is love?  Do you know for certain?  There is a popular song that asks “What is love?” and then responds with “Baby, don’t hurt me.”  Though we don’t think of love as painful, another popular song echoes what many people have found to be true: “Love hurts.”  You might have experienced that in your own life.  It leaves many people wondering what love is all about and why our culture is so focused on love.  It leaves many people wondering if they will ever find love.  Maybe love isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.  If you read on, you’ll see that people all over the world are searching for love.  In fact they are searching for answers in the Bible.  Can the Bible possibly have an answer to a question of such magnitude?  That’s what we are going to try to find out on Sunday, and a special Sunday it is!

I’m super excited for this coming Sunday because it is Worship in the Park and our annual church Picnic! Join us at East Lampeter Community Park on Hobson Road at 10am on Sunday August 24th.  When you arrive just follow the music to find us, as we’ll be in the middle pavilion.

Tons of people from the church are working hard behind the scenes to pull off the event, and I am so grateful for their work.  Getting sound and music to the pavilion is a big deal.  Our worship will finish with a special large-scale art project for all ages, and putting that together has required the people to help out.  Then there is the coffee, snacks, and later the picnic which involved a whole additional group of people.  Thank you all!

As you prepare for worship on Sunday, our theme is What is Love? 

In preparation for Sunday, I came across this video.  It is fascinating to see how many people all over the world are searching to find the meaning of love.  In our ongoing study of 1st Corinthians we come to chapter 13, which as the video points out, is one of the most sought-after chapters in the Bible.  In 2009 it was the most searched for chapter on Bible Gateway.  In 2013 “love” was the most searched for topic.  On just about any list of the most popular chapters of the Bible, people put 1st Corinthians 13 in their Top Ten.  It is used prolifically at weddings.  And for good reason!  1 Corinthians 13 is all about the meaning of true love.

Because it has become almost synonymous with weddings, many people don’t realize that it was not originally written for that purpose.  Surely it applies to marriage, as we believe that love should be the foundation of a healthy marriage.  But why did Paul include this chapter in his letter to the Corinthian Christians?  If he wasn’t addressing love in marriage, what was he addressing?  Is there some reason that he put this chapter on love in the particular placement that he did?  At first glance it seems odd, random.  A chapter about love right in the middle of a bunch of chapters about worship-related things like the role of women, spiritual gifts, and speaking in tongues.  Why not talk about love in chapter 7 which was all about marriage?

Paul has a reason.  Take a look for yourself and see if you can figure it out.  Read 1 Corinthians 13 (and boost Bible Gateway’s stats a bit in the process!) and prepare to answer the question What is Love?