Keeping Our Promises To God

Then I will continually sing of Your name, fulfilling my vows day by day.

-Psalm 61:8

I want to ask you a question:  What are you going to do?  I mean, what have you told God you are going to do and are you doing it?  What I am talking about is that when you love someone who loves you, you spontaneously make promises to them out of your love.

How do you choose to live?  Our lives are filled with responding to what God has done, becoming aware of what God is doing, and asking God to do things.  There are many facets of the God side, but there is also the you side: “what are you going to do?”

In the ‘you doing’ are you keeping your promises to God, whatever they are?  Are you doing that?  How are your life’s choices impacted or governed by your promises to God?

To have communion, to share life, between you and God; is a key dynamic of your life.

Sharing life with God is the life that we live.  We have communion with God on a daily basis through God’s gift and love mediated through Christ.  We enjoy God and live in a life of worship and keep our promises to God through Christ and in love.

We are day by day singing to God and fulfilling our vows, because we have God in our lives by faith.  Fulfilling our vows means keeping our promises.

In the relationship we have with God, we have recognized God’s love and come into salvation, saying “I do”, as a bride says, “I do”.  As a bride, we are betrothed through unconditional love.  But we make promises or vows back to our bridegroom, to God, to Christ, out of our love for him.  And we live daily, keeping the promises we have made, communing with God in our living out our vows.

When we interact with God, it is natural to ask God questions or make requests of God.  And it is also natural to tell God what you want to do in relation to him.  You have questions and requests, and that is fine and good, but what do you say that you will do?

There is no perfect or correct answer to my question.  Our lives are made up of what God has done and is doing, and what we decide to do.  We don’t just live in the big wow of discovering what God has done, but we also live with God in the decisions we make in regards to God.

Life is filled with challenges.  Success and failure, prosperity and set-backs, favor and loneliness, times of building and times of being attacked; all these times challenge us.  In these times, especially when we have a problem, we call out to God.

And God sometimes feels distant when we are having a problem.  It is like the problem is separating us from God.  The problem becomes the center thing and we call out to God.

I know stories of people promising things to God, when they were in a fix and I have done that in my life, but that is not what I am talking about.  I am talking about the promises that we make to God when we are in love with God.  I imagine that if you are a believer, you became one because you got touched by God and know God’s love and you love him back.

When we love someone and receive their love, we naturally love them back.  We make a commitment to them and in love, we make promises to them.  It’s like we say that in the light of your love and all that you have done and promise to do, here is what I want to do, will do, or promise to do for you.

You have probably heard a saying about married life that goes something like, “a wedding does not a marriage make”.  In other words, whatever kind of wedding you have, it does not guarantee a healthy marriage.  Because a healthy marriage depends on what you do, day by day, in your marriage.

In the same way, a healthy or fulfilling relationship with God depends on what you decide to do, day by day.  The happiness or fulfilling life all depends on you.  You are as whole, have as much joy, have as much peace, and have the amount of love that you choose.

I watched a romantic drama last weekend, where a couple ended up getting married.  At the wedding, the man pulled out some papers and recited vows to his bride.  This was a surprise to her.

She thought that they were just going to get married, and then work out their love life together.  But the man surprised her and told her from the moment he met her, he began writing out the vows he would make to her at their wedding.  He went above and beyond her expectations.

The groom in this story, did something that is optional.  Today, some people do traditional vows, some people like the man in my movie write their own vows, and others have no vows.  It is the same way in our relationship with God: the vows are optional and we can write our own, saying what we have heard others say, or make our own vows.

The word vow is a little bit old fashioned.  A more up to date word is promise.  The wedding vows are promises.  At weddings today, we usually hear, “I promise”.

We can and it is natural to make promises to God.  Lovers make promises to one another and it is the true lover that keeps their promises.  Keeping promises is a day by day thing.

It is natural to make promises to someone you love and then live in the keeping of those promises.  This is the way that loving, covenant relationships work.  Marriage is a covenant and our relationship to God is a covenant.  Out of love, we make promises to our spouse or to God and then we live in the keeping of those promises.

Do not think that anything you do earns the love of your beloved.  We do not pay for or earn our salvation from God through our chosen promises that we make and keep.  But we are paying back or returning the favor.

God does do all sorts of things that we want to praise him for and return the favor so to speak.  But paying back and payment for services rendered are two totally different things.  The more that you return the favor or pay God back, the more you will be blessed.

But this has nothing to do with merit or your elevation or your earning salvation.  It is like a child that chooses to come to grandpa and get hugs.  The child who chooses the coloring book over getting hugs and kisses is not bad, but the child who chooses his grandpa’s embrace and thereby gets hugs and kisses, gets that tangible, relational blessing that the coloring book can not give.

Our lives, as adults are just like that.  God’s embrace is available and God’s ear is open, but we have to choose to go into God’s embrace or to talk to God.  People who choose something else over God’s embrace are not necessarily bad, but they are just missing out on hugs and kisses.

Here is a song that describes what I am talking about.
My Lord, My God; by Darren Clarke

Longing For God

As a deer longs for streams of water, so I long for You, God.
-Psalm 42:1

Do you long for God?  I believe that a fundamental activity in the believer’s life is longing for God.  And we only stop longing for God when we have drank from God.

If we have not drank from God and are not longing for a drink of God, then I believe something is wrong, because I believe longing for God is a fundamental activity in the believer’s life.  Just as a deer can not survive without water, so we also can not live without God.

If you say you have God, I would say, show me your longing.  A fundamental activity in the believer’s life is longing for God, seeking God, and being with, in, and all wrapped up in God.  If you are keenly in the place of strong longing for God, crying for God, with painful desire for God; and you wonder if something is wrong with you, the answer is no, you are not wrong, but right.

Longing for God is good and you may very well feel immense pain in your longing and even sadness and grief, as one distraught.  All around you, it seems that everyone is doing ok with their various lives, but you are in tremendous emotional pain and part of your picture is that you have an issue with God:  You have this overwhelming desire for God, and this is a massive blessing.

If you are one of the blessed ones, who has a broken heart for God; it really does not matter what else you have in your life, in all those dimensions that we measure life.  You just want God.  If that is you, then you are right on target, on point, on the best path.

You are a blessed one if you have a devastating immobilizing desire for God.  Life is in black and white, nothing looks good, nothing tastes good, because you are hungry for God.  Nothing sounds good, because you want to hear God’s voice.  Nothing feels good, there are no creature comforts for you without God.

When will God come to me?  When will I find God?  When can I see God?  These are the thoughts you are preoccupied with.

When you don’t have what you want, you are naturally sad.  It is the same with God.

I said that I believe longing for God is a fundamental of the life of the believer.  We need God, we need and desire to be with God, to be in God’s presence.  That is fundamental and normal.

To be a believer and to not desire God or to be with God or in God’s presence is antithetical to the Christian life.  To not have a longing for God is at odds with being a Christian.  Not desiring God’s presence or not pursuing God is inconsistent and incompatible with Christ.

Yet, God loves his people who do not seek him.  Many believers do not realize that this place of intimacy with God, pursuing God, and the hunger that goes with that is their birthright.  The truth is that each of us are as close to God as we choose to be.

Longing for more of God or strongly desiring God is the warp and woof of being a Christian.  Not finding God does not mean you are a failure, but that you have an appetite for God.  Hunger and thirst, with the sadness that you do not have what you are looking for, is a blessed place to be in.

Your unfulfilled desires say something very good about you. To be hungry for God yet unfilled is better than to be filled with something else and not hungry for God.  It is actually tragic to be not be hungry for God, because you are filled up with something else or just don’t have an appetite for God.

The presence of God is the fundamental principal on which the Christian life is based.  If you do not have or care to have the presence of God, then you do not have Christ.  Because the crux of being a Christian is being in Christ.

Being in Christ is not like an add-on, but a take-over; a complete renovation of a life.  Being a Christian is not like a club or a party, but a life: Christ’s life in my life is a Christian life.  Christ takes me into God: into Father.

I now live through Christ and have his desires taking over my desires.  It has always been this way for believers.  Believers in God desire God.

Let’s pray.

Simon, Simon

When the hour came, He reclined at the table, and the apostles with Him. Then He said to them, “I have fervently desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you, I will not eat it (again) until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” Then He took a cup, and after giving thanks, He said, “Take this and share it among yourselves. For I tell you, from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.”

And He took bread, gave thanks, broke it, gave it to them, and said, “This is My body, (which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of Me.”

In the same way He also took the cup after supper and said, “This cup is the new covenant established by My blood; it is shed for you.)  But look, the hand of the one betraying Me is at the table with Me! For the Son of Man will go away as it has been determined, but woe to that man by whom He is betrayed!”

So they began to argue among themselves which of them it could be who was going to do this thing.

Then a dispute also arose among them about who should be considered the greatest. But He said to them,“The kings of the Gentiles dominate them, and those who have authority over them are called (call themselves) ‘Benefactors.’ But it must not be like that among you. On the contrary, whoever is greatest among you must become like the youngest, and whoever leads, like the one serving. For who is greater, the one at the table or the one serving? Isn’t it the one at the table? But I am among you as the One who serves. You are the ones who stood by Me in My trials. I bestow on you a kingdom, just as My Father bestowed one on Me, so that you may eat and drink at My table in My kingdom. And you will sit on thrones judging the 12 tribes of Israel.

(Then the Lord said,) “Simon, Simon, look out! Satan has asked to sift you (all) like wheat. But I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And you, when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.”

“Lord,” he told Him, “I’m ready to go with You both to prison and to death!”

“I tell you, Peter,” He said, “the rooster will not crow today until (before) you deny three times that you know Me!”

-Luke 22:14-34

Artwork: Gerard van Honthorst (1624)

“Simon, Simon”, the Lord called out to Peter, from across the table.  Luke records Jesus as peculiarly and particularly, saying his formal, given name two times, to get his attention, or to underscore the seriousness of what he was about to tell him.  Just previous to this, we see the disciples arguing about who is the greatest among them.

Jesus and the guys had been eating the meal and Jesus had shown them how the meal was about him and told them to keep having meals together, “do this”, to remember him and celebrate what he has done.  Jesus makes mention that, in the future, they will all be having meals together, eating and drinking in the kingdom.

The dispute about who is greatest shows us that they didn’t get it, after three years with Jesus, on some levels.  It is so often the case, that they and we do not get it, but Jesus calls us and uses us anyway.  Living the life in Christ and doing his ministry, always requires on the job training.  Jesus deploys troops on the battle field or players in the game who are not experts, not seasoned, and not really ready.

To stay on the sidelines or at home base, because you say you are not ready is a mistake.  Christianity, living in Christ and participation in Christs’s ministry is always with on the job training. And it is also very common to get into ministry and think we are ready, when we are not ready.

That was the case here with Peter and some or all of the others.  They had the intimate time with Jesus around the meal.  Jesus shared many of his deepest teachings with them that night.

In the midst of Jesus teaching them, they turn to one another and begin arguing about who is going to be the greatest.  Jesus responds by teaching them about servant-hood in the kingdom.  Then Jesus turns to Simon Peter and gives him a very serious word about Satan’s workings on him and all the guys, in the hours to shorty come.

Jesus tells Simon that Satan, behind the scenes, has asked permission to sift them all, like wheat.  Sifting wheat is when it is tossed and shaken, until the husk or chaff is separated from the edible grain.  The wheat is flailed, threshed, or beaten; until the separation occurs.  It is thrashed.

He experienced Jesus, first hand, close up, for about three years.  Intensive discipleship, training, teaching, mentoring, and fathering from Jesus.  He still does not get all of it and he still is not completely transformed, but that is how Jesus uses us, while we are in process.

Now, here comes Satan.  He wants to destroy and at least corrupt us.  Satan does not have in mind to make us better.  He says, “Let me thrash them”.  This is what happened to Job (Job 1:6-12; 2:1-6).

Satan asks to and gets permission to thrash us sometimes.  But the thrashing has grace, a blessing, or a gift from God attached to it.  In this case, Jesus says that he has prayed for Peter, that his faith would not fail.

Satan brings flailing upon us, so that our faith will fail.  Jesus prays for us (Rom. 8:34, Heb. 7:25) that our faith will not fail.  Who’s prayer is God going to answer?

Imagine that Jesus spoke to you.  I will use myself as an example.  “Steven, Steven, look out!  Satan has asked to sift you like wheat.  But I have prayed for you, that your faith will not fail.  When you return, strengthen your brothers.”  Bad news and good news, right?

It looks like 5 phases:

  1. Pay attention.
  2. Satan has been given permission to thrash you.
  3. But, the Lord has already, ahead of time, prayed for you.
  4. You can come through this.
  5. When you come through, strengthen (help establish) your brothers.
Jesus first says, “Look out”.  Many translations say, “Behold”.  It means, “Pay attention”, or, “Now get this”.  I often hear preachers say, “Watch this”, when they are about to make an important point, they want you to get, that is key.  I think that is the modern “Behold”.
Before the thrashing, before the trial, before Peter falls away; Jesus tells him that he has already made provision for him.  Jesus implicitly says, “You are going to fall, but you are also going to return, because I say so”.  Peter had to live out the awful real thrashing of that.
Peter’s first response is not good.  He says, to Jesus, “No way”, or “You’re wrong”.  In a word, Peter is audacious.

Jesus responds to him, straight up, head on; and gives him specifics.  Peter stops talking.  He is now beholden to Jesus’ words, even though they don’t make sense and he has not yet lived out the trial that is soon to be, with his fall and return.

In the midst of the best dinner party so far, where Jesus has shared his last meal with these roughneck guys,  some or all of them are not even fully aware of what is happening, how history is being made right before their eyes and the most important event in the history of the universe is about to transpire within hours.  In this, they argue, perhaps led by Peter, about who is going to be the top one in the kingdom.

Jesus patiently teaches them about servant-hood.  He is The Servant and they are to be servants.  But then, Jesus tells them Satan has requested to thrash them.  It was not enough for Satan to gain access to Judas, for Jesus’ betrayal and brutal torture and execution.  Satan also wants them all to go down and be done.

Permission is given to Satan, to thrash Peter, but Jesus has asked his father to help him.  The principle here is, “What God allows, he makes provision for”.  God already loved Peter before this.  But, when Satan makes a move on him, God provides provision for Peter to come back from it.

That is good news.  It is sobering news that, “You are going to get hit”.  But God always provides for us in life’s trials.  We know that nothing can separate us from the love of God.

We need to pay attention to Jesus as we go into hard times, and realize that he has been and is praying for us.  I remember when I was witnessing and feeling the pain of one of the worst things in my life and I sensed the Spirit of God tell me to turn my eyes upon Jesus.

The trashing still went on, but I saw the Lord, in my deepest pain, and it dazzled me, to quote a famous saint.  I really experienced that.  I can remember a number of times in my life, when the pain was acute, and I saw him.  It is very special and precious or awesome.

In your trial, in your sifting or thrashing, you are going through; God is there.  He has already made provision for you, just like he did for Peter.  In whatever is being done to you or you are doing to your self, God has given you a grace package, provision, or a care package.  It is a gift for this time, from Jesus.

In your trial or after your failure, it is available.  This is sobering and encouraging.  We need encouragement, because life kicks us down, and it seems that our courage is gone.

Open the gift of provision that Jesus has made, personally for you, when he saw that you were going to go through bad stuff.

Sky Links 6-11-15

Photo: Spacebridge by longobord CC 2.0

And they were all together in one place…
-Acts 2:1

A Church For All Ages

Do you dream of a church where all ages are present?  I do.  J.R. Miller wrote some ideas about what his church has done to make this workable.  His church formulated, through a consensus of the adults, a list of expectations:

 Adults need to “Put on love” so we don’t ‘porcupine’ each other!  But what about the kids?  J.R. Miller wrote a

This list of expectations would be like a fence around a playground; it would keep our kids feeling safe, yet not restricted. The list of expectations would be like a guardrail along a cliff; it would provide security without unnecessary restriction.

So here is what we did.

The adults sat down during one of our gatherings and each of us listed behaviors we felt acceptable or unacceptable. This was a great opportunity for us, as parents, to build trust in one another to be responsible for holding all the kids accountable to our shared expectations.

J.R. Miller, What can we do with all these kids

Kevin Brown just wrote about why the “family of God” should gather all together, with all ages:

This fact seems almost strange in our day and age when, in many churches, we send our children off to “Children’s Church” to eat snacks, color and watch videos. Yet, as we study the Scriptures, we can’t find any verses in the entire Bible where the children were pulled out of the meeting. It would have been completely unorthodox to do so. There is never a time or an instance in Scripture when the children were separated from the parents/family when the people of God met together. At this point, I’m reminded of Jesus and his rebuke of the disciples for not allowing the children to come to him recorded in Mark 10:13-14:

And they were bringing children to him that he might touch them, and the disciples rebuked them. But when Jesus saw it, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God.”

I know for many churches, the idea of having young children in our services is very counter-cultural. Many church leaders and members say the children are too noisy and disruptive and people can’t worship the Lord. Yet, when we say these things, we are much like the disciples when they tried to shoo away the children. Consequently, in our day, we have lost the blessing of the full body being together in the meeting. Sadly, we have become comfortable with some of the body missing. How have we gotten to this point? The Church wasn’t this way in the New Testament or even 40 to 50 years ago. It has happened, because it’s convenient

…Children are a blessing of a growing church, not a nuisance.

I am grateful for a church that is literally willing to suffer for the children. I’m grateful for my granddaughter’s church, Parkview Baptist, in Morehead City, NC. They allow Charlotte to be with them. Thank you Pastor David Mills!

Yes, a church should allow families to worship together as a part of the onefamily. Churches have the opportunity to tell the body, (a family of families), that all are welcome at the Lord’s Table, even our youngest. I know for many reading this, seeing church life in this way is a total paradigm shift and would be a significant change in philosophy, church culture and practice at your church. But, I promise you what I’ve described to you embodies biblical patterns that can successfully be integrated in the fabric of any church if we’ll take the risk of being biblical versus convenient. 🙂

D. Kevin Brown, Why Do We Have Babies and Small Children in Our Church Services?

The photo is from a story about a house church, from NPR- Swapping Steeples For Sofas.

Robert Stamps: “The supper of the Lord is a place where Christ is appointed for the church to meet him.”

Dr. Robert Stamps teaches that what happens to us, by Christ, in communion, is the purpose of it.  Stamps has a PhD in Eucharistic Theology.  The emphasis of remembrance or memorializing Christ gets it wrong, says Stamps, because communion or The Eucharist is not about the past, but about the kingdom breaking in now.

Jesus said, “Do this in remembrance.”, not, “Remember as you do this.”  The “this” is Jesus working today in people’s lives (together), delivering and saving them to be his disciples.  The “this” is not a hushed (memorial) moment.  Christ’s life is celebrated in a meal with laughter and weeping, sharing life in his life.

The “table” is the table at your house, or in your “upper room”, and not a special table, on a stage, or at an alter.  Your table might be a tv tray or a blanket spread on the floor or ground.  The table is the place between us where we experience the presence of Christ.  That’s Holy Communion, The Lord’s Supper, or The Eucharist.

The message of the Lord’s Supper, Communion, or The Eucharist (and The Gospel); is that God comes to your house, to your table, into your world, in this world.  We’ve had it backwards.

Stamps said,

“We don’t don’t just reflect.  Jesus Christ is a living presence.  And when the church has communion, and ‘remembers’ him, we remember as an encounter…  John Wesley said we believe in a real presence with a real encounter.  Jesus Christ is not a distant savior back there in history.  Jesus Christ is alive and present to us in the Holy Spirit… So, the question is not one of how he is present, but what his presence will do to us.”

Robert Stamps- The Meaning of Communion

Dr. Stamps is a longtime friend of Wayne Jacobsen (Finding Church) and has been on Wayne’s show recently and in the past:

“The supper of the Lord is a place where Christ is appointed for the church to meet him.”

Broken ‘People Pickers’

Many of us have trouble in our friendships.  Friendships are very unsatisfying when they are one-sided, when you do most of the giving, while the other person mostly takes.  We are all in the process of ‘growing up’.  Donald Miller wrote, Do You Filter Your Friendships?  You Probably Should. :

Growing up as a Christian I was taught I should forgive and accept everybody. I still

believe that. But what forgiving and accepting has looked like over the years has changed.

One of the best pieces of advice I’ve received was given to me by my friend Ben. We were taking a break from a writing project, sitting out on my deck when I brought up some trouble I was having with a friend.  I’d grown a little tired of this friend using me and I was losing trust.

Ben said something I’d never forget.

He said You know, Don, there are givers and takers in this life, I got rid of the takers years ago and I’ve been better for it. I’d recommend you do the same. To be sure, this was reductionistic but Ben was making a general point.

The point is this: Some people aren’t trustworthy. He’s right. And if we don’t believe that, I think we’re being naive.

Don Miller: Do You Filter Your Friendships?  You Probably Should

Don highly recommends the book, Safe People, by Henry Cloud & John Townsend.

The Biggest Mistake a Successful Church Planter Can Make 

Aaron Gloy is the pastor of a 5 year old church.  He recently wrote about how church planting and
disciple making are two different things:

I was trained in all the conventional methods of planting a church. But what I wasn’t trained in and what I failed to think through entirely was how we were going to make disciples.

This is rather problematic when you consider that Jesus never commanded us to plant churches. He commanded us to make disciples. Now when you effectively make disciples I believe church planting becomes inevitable, but it is very possible to plant churches and never get around to actually making disciples.

I thought, studied and planned relentlessly when it came to planting our church, but disciple making wasn’t given nearly the same kind of attention. I assumed that if we moved people into small groups it would just sort of happen on its own. This is easily the biggest mistake I’ve made as a pastor and church planter…

Aaron Gloy- The Biggest Mistake I Made As A Church Planter.

NT Wright: “Jesus is the hinge on which the great door of history swings…  ‘As the Father has sent me, so I send you’, is the key to the Church’s mission.”     

Shane Blackshear interviewed NT Wright on his show.  I was deeply impacted by his words on Jesus and the kingdom and the church.  I found this book and his chapter in it, where he speaks on this more.  He takes up the issue of holding together the kingdom, the cross, and the resurrection.

“He is the crucified, resurrected, kingdom-bringer, and Israel’s Messiah.  His crucifixion established the kingdom, his resurrection established him as Messiah.  On the cross, he did the work of Messiah, defeating the powers of evil, conquering death.  His resurrection means new creation has come, now and here.” -NT Wright

This is Wright, from the 2010 Wheaton Theology Conference, on his work, that became this book; Jesus, Paul and the People of God: A Theological Dialogue with N. T. Wright.  These words are from his address & chapter entitled, “Whence and Whither, Historical Jesus studies in The Life of the Church?”:

“…What about fresh readings of the Gospels in the service if the church?

What is the “so what”?  This, I believe, is not basically about apologetics… but about mission.

Somehow, the whole complex of kingdom, cross, and resurrection must play out into a full-orbed gospel-rooted mission which will be significantly unlike the social gospel mission that forgot about the cross, or the “Jesus died for you” mission that forgot about the kingdom.

One of the great breakthrough moments for me when I was first struggling with historical Jesus questions was John 20:21: “As the father has sent me, so I send you.”

That derivative correspondence – the “as” and the “so”, with Jesus’ own mission the source and the template for that of his followers, as they receive the Spirit- suddenly opens up an entire hermeneutical world, demanding that the church again and again study the historical mission of Jesus not just to find out the back history of the crucified and risen One, but to realign itself with the shape and content of that mission in order to carry out its own.  

Jesus’ own mission becomes the template and the energizing force for all that the church has to do and be. We are to be for the world what Jesus was for Israel.

You will only understand the mission of the church in the world if, instead of using the canon as a closed story, a charmed circle in which it means what it means, but which you can’t break into or out of, you go back to Jesus himself, which is what the canon is pleading with you to do, so that you can then see who he was and is and then discern, in the power of the Spirit, what (who?) we have to do and be.

If you want to know what it looks like, read the book of Acts: a story of doing the kingdom, bearing the kingdom, suffering for the kingdom, and eventually announcing the kingdom under the nose of Caesar himself. That is what it looks like when the church goes out, with the breath of Jesus in our lungs, to tell the world that he is its rightful Lord.

Sometimes people get hurt; sometimes a thousand people get converted ; sometimes all sorts of things in between take place; and somehow the Gospel gets to Rome, to the center of human power and authority, to announce there that Jesus is Lord and God is king, openly and unhindered.

 To do this, however, the church needs constantly to reconnect with the real Jesus, who the canonical Gospels give us but whom we have so badly misunderstood.  The world will pull these things apart again, will lure us into the smaller worlds of either social work or saving souls for a disembodied eternity.  

Our various Western worldviews will force on us political agendas that are culled from elsewhere, which we can feel good about because they don’t have the cross attached to them.  

-NT Wright: “Jesus and the People of God: Whence and Whither Historical Jesus Studies and the Life of the Church.”Jesus, Paul and the People of God: A Theological Dialogue with N. T. Wright By Nicholas Perrin, Richard B. Hays (pp. 151-2).  The original audio of Wright’s lecture is here.

Engaging The LGBTQ Community

I listened to Debra Hirsch‘s Seminar on “Enagaging The LGBTQ Community”.  Debra Hirsch is the author of Redeeming Sex.  Here are some endorsements of her book:

“With lived experience, direct frankness and a pastoral heart, Deb Hirsch addresses the church on sexuality. In so doing, Redeeming Sex prepares the way for the places the church must go to be ‘among’ today’s confused and strife-ridden world of sexuality. It is a vulnerable gift that moves us beyond faulty stereotypes and pre-set notions. I cannot think of a better book to start the conversation.”

David Fitch

“Debra Hirsch’s own story—and what she learned about sex before and after meeting Jesus—is both convincing and convicting. But the book is more than testimony. Debra makes intelligent, faithful use of Scripture and of authors who have engaged with this topic. She also untangles key differences between sexuality and cultural roles. Noting the Bible’s extensive ‘sexual language and imagery,’ Debra affirms that ‘our sexuality lies close to our spirituality.’ Her book can lead Christians to an integration of sex and sanctity that enriches both—and makes us more faithful and redemptive disciples of Jesus Christ.”

Howard A. Snyder 

“I’m so grateful to Deb Hirsch for writing the best book on this conversation I have read. It speaks to the heart of our identity in Christ. It addresses complex and sensitive realities and tensions with grace, love, compassion, truth, justice and mercy. It is prophetic, profound, candid, transparent and should be read by every Christian. It will challenge you to the core, but we can no longer stick our heads in the sand and ignore the fact that people are hurting and need real answers to real issues. I am giving a copy of this book to everyone I know. It’s that important.”

Christine Caine

Deb Hirsch: Engaging The LGBTQ Community – Exponential Podcast (you  might need to subscribe)
Redeeming Sex (Amazon link)
A 4 minute video primer from Deb Hirsch, on the topic in her book.

Obedience Is From A Life That Has Had His Love Revealed, & Loves Back

Whoever holds to my commandments and keeps them is the one who loves me; and whoever loves me will be loved by my Father, and I shall love him and reveal myself to him.’

“The person who knows my commandments and keeps them, that’s who loves me. And the person who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and make myself plain to him.”
-John 14:21 (NJHB, MSG)

The person who loves Christ, has grasped, has layed ahold of his commands firmly.  That person’s mind holds onto Christ’s words, which are commands to be obeyed.  The person who loves Christ hears him, takes hold of the commands his gives, and obeys them.

But this does not happen in a vacuum.  It happens through God’s love for us first.  It also is able to happen, because we are people who have the Holy Spirit.  We take hold of something that deeply impacts us- God’s love in Christ, and become lovers ourselves.  And we express that love through obeying God’s son.

The Father has always loved the Son.  The Father loves those who love the Son.  Those who love the Son, show that love by obeying what the Son has said.  And what he says are commands.

Jesus is king.  His words are life.  His words are instructions for life.  If we love him, we will follow him, by obeying his words.  We will observe his commands.

God’s love is not conditional.  God loves the disobedient and the ones to even listen, but do not hear or lay hold of his commands and put them into practice.  God still loves those people.  Many verses say this, in John (3:16, 13:34, 15:9, 12; 17:23), and places like Romans 5:8, that says, “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us”.

When we obey Christ’s commands, we enter in to the reciprocal love between the Father and the Son.  Conversely, when we do not obey; we close ourselves off from enjoying fellowship with God.  Like Adam and Eve, we end up hiding and putting on fig leaves in God’s presence, because of the stain of sin and the shame of it.

God is unconditional, but we put the conditions on our own selves.  Every believer is as close to God, or as much in God’s love, as they choose to be, through their own actions in their lives.  God does not decide to be near to some believers and distant from others.  We actually choose how close we will get.

Jesus says that those who enter in to the reciprocal love of the Father for him, through their obedience, will be loved by him in a revelational way, that is showing himself, manifesting himself, in our lives.

To paraphrase, Jesus is saying that if you take his words and run with them, getting it and doing it; that you will find yourself living in the extravagant love of the Father for the Son.  Then, Jesus will show up in your life, in a special way.

His revealing himself to you is not specific, but it is sure.  Your obedience takes you into a deeper experience of God’s love for the Son and then, Christ promises to reveal himself to you.

The context of Jesus saying that the one who loves him obeys his commands, and will enter in to the reciprocal love of his Father and be so loved by Jesus, that he will manifest himself to you; is, the whole of John 14, which is a discourse that Jesus spoke to the disciples at their last supper or communion time together.

The backdrop, is when Jesus washed their feet, and had the exchange where he told Peter that he would get it later, on what this was about.  Then, he told them that one of them would betray him; and he dismissed Judas, into the night.

After Judas left, Jesus talked to the remaining eleven about how he is about to be glorified and God will be glorified in him.  Then, he told the eleven that he would be gone from them soon.

Immediately, as if this was importantly linked to how much they are going to miss Jesus human presence with them, he tells them this new command, that they should love one another, as he has loved them.  He said that as they do this, all people would know that they belong to him, are his disciples.

This command was wonderful and awe inspiring, but his leaving them was disturbing.  So Peter, inquired further about it and bragged that he would go anywhere with Jesus, even to death.  And that is when Jesus had to tell Peter that he was going to soon deny him three times, before dawn breaks tomorrow.

That must have broken Peter’s heart.  They were all broken up about losing their master.  This is where they are in John 14:1, when Jesus says, “Do not let your hearts be troubled”.  Jesus said that, because their hearts were very troubled.  Jesus is not saying, “just get over it”, and he does not say that to us when we are suffering a loss.

John 14:1-3 is not a sermon to comfort us at funerals, about heaven.  The Father’s house is you and me.  That is what Jesus explains in the whole chapter of John.  Jesus was not talking about heaven.  He was talking about the life of his disciples, on earth.

The only way you can live the life is to abide in Christ.  And it is even better than that, because Jesus says that the way that it works, is for the Holy abides with us (14:16).  We are his abodes, the dwelling places that Jesus mentioned in verse two.  He, the Holy Spirit, will remain with us and be in us (14:17).  They, and we, will not be orphans.  Mysteriously, Jesus comes to be with us, through the Holy Spirit (14:18).

Jesus is saying, in the midst of this, “here is what I want to tell you, for you to know.”  He then tells them that the life he has planned for them is a life of abiding in God – in him, with the help of the Holy Spirit.  John 14:21:

Whoever holds to my commandments and keeps them: it is he who loves me. And whoever loves me shall be loved by my Father. And I will love him, and I will manifest myself to him.”

Do you notice the quotation marks, at the end of Jesus’ words, and wonder what the beginning of his statement was, or what he was responding to?  He was responding to Philip, who spoke in verse 8, saying:

Philip said to him, “Lord, reveal the Father to us, and it is enough for us.”

Jesus answers Phillip:

Jesus said to him: “Have I been with you for so long, and you have not known me? Philip, whoever sees me, also sees the Father. How can you say, ‘Reveal the Father to us?’
Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I am speaking to you, I do not speak from myself. But the Father abiding in me, he does these works.
Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me?
Or else, believe because of these same works. Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever believes in me shall also do the works that I do. And greater things than these shall he do, for I go to the Father.
And whatever you shall ask the Father in my name, that I will do, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son.
If you shall ask anything of me in my name, that I will do.
If you love me, keep my commandments.
And I will ask the Father, and he will give another Advocate to you, so that he may abide with you for eternity:
the Spirit of Truth, whom the world is not able to accept, because it neither perceives him nor knows him. But you shall know him. For he will remain with you, and he will be in you.
I will not leave you orphans. I will return to you.
Yet a little while and the world will not see me any longer. But you will see me. For I live, and you shall live.
In that day, you shall know that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you.
Whoever holds to my commandments and keeps them: it is he who loves me. And whoever loves me shall be loved by my Father. And I will love him, and I will manifest myself to him.” -John 14:9-21 (CPDV)

 That gives us the context.  The manifestation, revelation, that Jesus gives us is of the Father.  He is answering Phil’s question, “show us the Father”.

The Christian life is a life of God being in us, with us, and beside us; empowering us to love and to obey what Jesus has said.  God starts the relationship and we just have to say, “yes”, and enter in.  We agree, we yield, we permit, and consent.  Then we work it out and walk it ou and live it out.  But God supplies the ability to do it.

Those that love Jesus obey him.  They have entered in to the love of the Father for the Son.  They have the Holy Spirit in their lives, who empowers them to live the life.  He guides, he comforts, and most of all, he points to Jesus.

Baptism in water is a blessing.  But what about the baptism of the Holy Spirit?  John, the baptist said that Jesus would baptize his disciples with the Holy Spirit (Mark 1:8).  John 14 is a chapter about the Trinity.  We need to understand Jesus, the Father, and the Holy Spirit.  Only by experiencing God, can we live out the life.  True understanding is when we get it and live it.  And we can only get it, if we genuinely love, entering into the love of the Father for the Son, and allow the Spirit of God to dwell and abide in and with us.
The painting above is by Mark Lawrence, Peace I Leave With You (John 14:26), found here.

Gathering in Christ – Eating & Discussion

On the first day of the week, as we gathered together for a meal, Paul was holding a discussion with them. Since he was leaving the next day, he continued talking until midnight.

On the first day of the week, when we met to break bread, Paul was holding a discussion with them; since he intended to leave the next day, he continued speaking until midnight.

On the first day of the week, when the disciples were gathered together to break bread, Paul talked with them, intending to depart on the next day, and continued his speech until midnight.

-Acts 20:7 (CEB, NRSV, WEB)
When Christians gather together, Christ is the center.  Jesus taught the first disciples to remember him when they met together, in the meal that they ate together.

Later on, this was changed to the Roman Catholic way of taking a sip and a nibble from a priest.  The Protestant Reformation changed this a little, but we are still not celebrating or remembering or communing with Christ the way that he modeled and the way the church in the NT did.

The meeting of the church is for Christ and about Christ.  I want to find Christ in a Christian gathering.  Why do you go to church?

The early church, recorded in scripture, gathered together to break bread or have a meal.  Some would argue, and I agree with them, that breaking bread means having communion (The Eucharist, The Lord’s Supper) in the context of a meal together.

That’s church.

The breaking of bread probably denotes a fellowship meal in the course of which the Eucharist is celebrated (cf. Acts 2:42).  -F. F. Bruce, The Book of Acts (1979)

The first thing is that they gathered for a meal.  The second thing is that Paul had a discussion with them.  It was a dialogue, a back and forth; discourse and response, living room style.  I love these words about this sort of thing from Michael Green, that Dave Black quoted:

The home is a priceless asset. It is informal and relaxed. It makes participation easy. The teacher is not six feet above contradiction and there is no temptation to put on a performance.

Having a dialogue or a discussion is so much better than listening to a speech.  That was what Paul did here.  Paul might have done the majority of the talking, but there were questions or responses from the others and possibly, interruptions.  I’m betting that Paul liked it.

Hungry learners ask lots of questions.  Discussions and dialog-ing are far more productive for learning than monologues or speeches.

We could make the case that Jesus instituted having a celebratory, remembering meal; when his disciples gather.  We could also say that he never said that we should have a sermon when the church gathers.

The modern sermon tradition has its roots in the 3rd & 4th centuries, in how the church changed; and in the protestant reformation and puritan tradition. You can read all about it in Frank Viola & George Barna’a book, Pagan Christianity (chapter 4).

We tend to read the Bible through the lens of our traditions. I have heard or read preachers argue for weekly preaching on the basis on Acts 20:7. Often, the translators themselves are biased toward traditions.

Sermons have fallen on hard times in many places.  Stuart Murray Williams wrote:

Research into the effectiveness of sermons has uncovered worrying evidence that all preachers need to take seriously. North American and European studies have produced similar results: somewhere between 65% and 90% of those interviewed directly after the meeting ended could not say what the main point of the sermon was or what issue it was addressing. Again, it is possible to argue that sermons are about more than information, that they impact the heart as well as the mind – but is that an adequate response?

How much preaching is a sheer waste of time? We pray, we study, we reflect, we craft a sermon, we illustrate it with stories, we deliver it with passion and integrity – but it has very little impact on those who listen to it. They are too polite to say so usually, but it did not really engage their attention, address their concerns or affect their lives. Some give up after a few weeks or several years and leave our churches. How many of the thousand people a week who have left British churches in the 1980s and 1990s did so because they were bored by our sermons? Others remain and listen to perhaps 100 sermons a year, but with what result?

Jeremy Thomson, a lecturer in Religious Studies at Birkbeck College, has explored this topic in a Grove booklet entitled Preaching as Dialogue: Is the Sermon a Sacred Cow? He writes in the introduction: ‘For all the effort of preparing, delivering and listening to sermons, most church members are not as mature as we might expect as a result. Why is this? Of course, there are bad sermons, and there are preachers whose lives are inconsistent with their teaching. But people may listen week by week to the best prepared and presented sermons, given by thoroughly sincere preachers, and yet make little progress in Christian discipleship. Some preachers blame congregations for a lack of expectancy that God will speak, for an inability to listen to a “solid exposition”, or even for disobedience to what they hear. But I suspect that there is a more significant factor in the failure rate of the sermon than the quality of the preacher or the responsiveness of the hearers. I want to suggest that the problem lies in our concept of preaching itself.’

Jesus said, “do this in remembrance of me”.  Do what?  He said to eat together, with him (the Lord) in our midst. That’s the Lord’s Supper!

People naturally talk when they are eating.  Except, don’t talk with your mouths full!  Christians, who have Christ in them, bring Christ in them, when they gather.  There will be sharing, dialogue and discussion.  Welcome to a meal with Christ!

This is the church as described in the snap-shots that we have of it in the NT.  Other snap-shots show an interactive body of people, where everybody has a voice and a hand.  There is no clergy/laity divide in the NT.  We are all priests, we all have Christ in us.  Some are gifted to teach, but that’s not all we do.

I believe that we should have a higher view of preaching, in the Karl Barth & Dietrich Bonhoeffer tradition AND I believe that church gatherings can be and should be so much more than one person talking.

I remember hearing the story, in which God showed someone what this new church would be like, and he said that it would be like when people gather in a kitchen.

Talking, eating, some standing, and some seated.  Casual, not pretentious; shared life together.  This would be the essence of this new church.

Jesus is the builder of the church.  What does his church look like?
For further reading & study:

Pagan Christianity by Frank Viola & George Barna
Interactive Preaching by Stuart Murray Williams

A critique of Norrington’s book, by Chris Altrock
Eric Capenter – Acts 20:7 Gatherings 

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