Love First

1 John, Christ & Culture, Love No Comments »

We all know what’s happening in our world, in this country. It’s not new. It’s just amped up to eleven on the ten-point scale and it’s louder than normal and it’s all around us all the time. There is division and strife and conflict. You can’t get away from it. Black and white, left and right, Republican and Democrat, liberal and conservative — it’s splashed across every screen and blaring from every set of speakers. You can’t eat a Twix bar without being forced to choose left or right. And you can’t turn on a football game on Sunday afternoon to escape from it.

And we’re all experiencing this together — all of God’s children, all of Christ’s disciples, all asking the same questions.

How do we handle this? What are we supposed to do? How do Christians engage this volatile culture? What do we say? How do we act?

I think most of us wish there was a third option, a different way, a way to be above all the conflict but still engage what’s happening in ways that matter.

May I suggest love?

Completely love. Love completely. Sharing the immeasurable love of God with others lifts us above the strife.

The world is squeezing us to make a choice between two options and we get in trouble when we don’t recognize that third way, that third and very different option that takes us high above anything else being offered: Love. Committing to love as our guiding principle, as our continuous posture, actually fulfills or completes God’s purposes for the love he’s lavished on us.

The Bible says we love because he first loved us. We love completely because we are so completely loved.

Peace,

Allan

Completely Love

1 John, Central Church Family, Love No Comments »

It’s Missions Month here at Central — probably my favorite recurring season on our local church calendar — and our focus during these five Sundays is on the purpose of God’s great love.

“If we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.” ~1 John 4:12
“Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him. In this way, love is made complete in us.” ~1 John 4:16-17

God’s love is what saves us. The matchless love of God transcends the barriers of time and space to reach into our hearts and draw us in to a righteous relationship with him. God’s love achieves for us total forgiveness and absolute peace. Praise God! But God’s love, which existed for us “before the foundations of the world,” only realizes its true mission, it only accomplishes its eternal purpose, when you and I show that same divine love to others.

That’s the cycle. That’s the ultimate point of God’s great love for us.

This divine love that’s existed for all time comes from God. It is showered lavishly on us through Jesus Christ. We experience that love, we are saved by that love. But that love isn’t complete until we show that same love to other people. Or, to say it positively, like John: The whole point of God’s perfect love is fulfilled — it’s made complete — when we live to love others.

We love completely because we’ve been completely loved.

“We love because he first loved us.” ~1 John 4:19

When the world is hurting, God’s people should be healing. When the world is afraid, disciples of Jesus should be bold. When the world is confused, the Church should be clear. When people are surrounded by hate, we should be where they encounter God’s love. Completely.

Peace,

Allan

The Love of God and Your Group

1 John, Christ & Culture, Jesus, Love, Matthew 1 Comment »

loveperiodblueIdolatry of self is a root problem that keeps us from a supreme devotion and love of God. But a sin that’s just as dangerous, if not more so, is group narcissism. Idolatry of the group. Whatever the group — a political group, a religious group, a racial group — it’s an idol if it steals any of your allegiance away from God. A political party, a nation, a socio-economic group, a language, a Christian denomination — any man or woman belonging to any group is at least susceptible to thinking his group is superior to all other groups. My race is superior, my political party is righteous, my church is correct, my nation is best. If we’re not careful — better, if we’re not diligent — our devotion to a group can very easily compromise or even displace our primary love for God. When God’s platform comes into conflict with the group’s platform, we’re tempted to uphold the values and methods of the group over the ways and means and values of our God.

And they will come into conflict.

In fact, loving God is a gigantic threat to group narcissism. The groups can’t handle it. To love God first and most is to say there is another Power, there is a greater Authority, there is another One to whom all groups must bow. That flies right in the face of the idolatrous values of our society.

As disciples of the Christ, we declare that God has no equal, he has no peer. God alone is God. We cannot seek to find our worth or our identities by rooting ourselves in ethnic or political or geographic groups. We find our true identity in loving God. Period.

Loving God first will always mean loving others, too. It will always lead to loving our neighbors as we love ourselves. That’s not going to sit well with your “group,” either. This is why followers of Jesus can’t base their value on the political or social or cultural groups of the world: selfless, sacrificial love has almost nothing in common with the strategies and goals of the world’s groups. In fact, the two exist in constant conflict.

loveperiodglassWhen Jesus tells us to love our neighbors as ourselves, we’ve got to remember that Jesus ate and drank with lepers and prostitutes. He spent his time taking care of the foreigners and the poor. He protected the vulnerable people on the margins and stood by those who had been accused. Jesus reminds us of the command to not kill and then he says, “You’re not even supposed to get angry.” He tells us when somebody hits me in the face, I’m supposed to turn the other cheek. He tells us not just to tolerate our enemies, but to actually love our enemies.

These are fierce teachings. This is a very difficult way to live. Christ Jesus has put before us a very hard path, a path that few have really tried to follow. To paraphrase Chesterton: “Christianity has not been tried and found lacking; it’s been found difficult and never really tried.”

It’s been so loud in this country lately, so angry and mean and hateful and loud, the idea of loving others has mostly been set aside.

“If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in him and he in God. And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him. In this way, love is made complete among us…” ~1 John 4:15-17

The life-giving love that begins with the Creator flows to the Son. Jesus then takes that love and showers it upon us. And he tells us to show that same divine love to others. This heavenly love is completed, it’s fulfilled, when we give it to others. We’re the last link in this eternal chain of love. God’s love has not fulfilled its purpose, it’s not finished, until it’s coursing through his people and being lavished on every man, woman, and child around us.

God is not a man. He is not a state. God is not an institution or a party or a possession. He is the divine Creator and Father of us all. And he calls us to share his limitless love extravagantly with everybody.

Love doesn’t tear down, it builds up. It never divides, it always unites. It’s not terrified by terrorism. It doesn’t hate those outside the group. And love does not follow leaders or groups who promote hate and bigotry and division and violence as a way to get things accomplished.

Whatever you do as a child of God and follower of Jesus, make sure you love. If anybody tells you to do otherwise; if you get any email insisting that you forward something that’s not loving; if any leader or group urges you to act in any way toward anybody that’s not loving; you know that person or that group is not under the influence of the Holy Spirit.

Don’t let anybody ever stop you from loving. Don’t let anybody kill your love for anybody. Love everybody whether they like it or not. Love the people you’re told not to love. If you let anyone or anything keep you from loving, you’re cutting off the proof and the expression of God’s nature in your body and soul.

Peace,

Allan

The Universal Church

1 Corinthians, 1 John, Church, Ephesians No Comments »

“We believe in the holy, universal Church, the communion of saints.” ~Apostles’ Creed

steepleThe early Church thought of themselves as a worldwide movement through a network of gatherings spread all over Palestine, Syria, Asia Minor, Greece, and Italy. When Paul wrote his letter to the Corinthians, he called them one group among those “everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ — their Lord and ours.”

We are one people — everybody equal, everybody the same — with all Christians everywhere. Universal. One. There are so many wonderful, glorious, Kingdom things happening in and through your church. But it’s so puny compared to what God is doing globally. His Church is growing in every part of the world today except in North America. God is right now today growing his Church; he is today adding to his Church. And we are united together with all of it. One of the reasons we want people to go on short term foreign mission trips and help them pay for it is so they can watch other people following Christ. To see different cultures, different languages, different customs — to see people so different from us worshiping our God and submitting to our crucified and resurrected Lord is profound. The Church of Jesus Christ is a universal Church — all believers for all time in every place forever. One universal Church.

You love your church? Good! I love mine, too! I want you to love your church! But we’re not in competition with anybody (well, except the devil; and he’s already lost). Praise God for our brothers and sisters in the Baptist and Methodist and Presbyterian churches all over our city! Praise God for the Christian churches throughout this country and around the world who are faithfully preaching and teaching and praying and serving and living together in the name and manner of Jesus!

They might have their faults. They might have their shortcomings. They might have their misinterpretations and questionable practices. And so do we! We’ve got ours by the buckets! We’re all in this together!

“Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit — just as you were called to one hope when you were called — one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” ~Ephesians 4:3-6

And, I know, some of you are pushing back on this. “Don’t talk like there aren’t any boundaries. There have to be some boundaries. You can’t talk like everybody’s in.”

No, of course there are boundaries. If a somebody comes in saying that Jesus is not from God, that Jesus is not divine, he’s out! 1 John 4. If a guy comes in bragging about having sex with his step-mother, he’s out! 1 Corinthians 5. Believe me, the Bible gives us some lines. And we need to pay attention to them. But we don’t need to obsess over it. I mean, myself, if I’m not careful, I can go from zero to Pharisee in 2.9-seconds. But I will not draw any lines of fellowship between Christians that I can’t find in the Bible. I’m too conservative.

You know the disciples see these others casting out demons in Jesus’ name and they run to our Lord with their complaint: “Make them stop, they’re not one of us.” And Jesus responds, “Just because they’re not with you doesn’t mean they’re not with me.” Elsewhere our Lord says he has sheep who are not even from this pen. He says all those sheep will hear his voice and there will be one pen and one shepherd. Drawing those lines is above our pay grade.

When the Church is splintered into different factions, when the Church is divided into different denominations, when we draw lines between us because of our differences instead of tearing down the walls because of everything we have in common in Christ, what we’re saying to the world is that the Church is not holy and it’s not universal. We can no longer in good faith justify or excuse or explain away the sin of the divisions in God’s Church. Going along with the divisions, keeping our distance from other Christians in other churches, contradicts everything we say about one Lord, one Spirit, one faith, one baptism, and one God over all.

Peace,

Allan

Light of Life

1 John, 1 Peter, 2 Timothy, Jesus, John, Resurrection No Comments »

EmptyTombAbstractNew

“In him was life, and that life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not conquered it.. The true light that gives life to every person was coming into the world.”  ~John 1:4-9

Throughout the Gospel of John, Jesus over and over refers to himself as the light, the true light of life.

“I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” ~John 8:12

“I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness.” ~John 12:46

When Jesus was betrayed by his friends and then crucified on the cross, the gospel says it was dark. When Mary went to the tomb early on that first Easter Sunday morning, the Scripture is clear that it was dark. It’s also certain that Mary was not looking for a resurrected Jesus that morning; she was looking for a dead body. Maybe that’s why she didn’t recognize Jesus when she saw him — she wasn’t expecting it. But when he said her name, when she heard his familiar and powerful and loving voice, she knew it was Jesus her Lord, she knew he was alive, and she knew it wasn’t dark anymore.

2 Timothy says Christ Jesus has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light. 1 Peter tells us Jesus has brought all of us out of darkness and into his wonderful light.

I don’t know what kind of darkness maybe you’re living in. Maybe you feel trapped by sin or by some really bad decisions that you’re still paying for years later. Maybe there’s strife in your marriage or in your family. Maybe you’ve been diagnosed with something and your future’s unclear. Maybe you’ve just got this dark cloud hanging over you that follows you everywhere you go and you can’t really describe it or explain it, but it’s just there. It’s just dark.

“You were once in darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light… Wake up, O sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you!” ~ Ephesians 5:8, 14

Listen, that darkness is real. I don’t want any of us to pretend that it’s not. You and I are broken. We are fallen. We are sinners. And this world we live in is broken and sinful. There is starvation and disease and violence and injustice all around us. Every day. We can’t get away from it. And we are not called to deny it or ignore it. The darkness is real. The darkness in your life is real. Your sin is real. Your desperation is real. Your sickness, your depression, your lack of faith is real.

It’s OK to feel it. It’s OK to be sad. It’s OK to feel hurt and disappointed. It’s OK to get angry. As a Christian, though, it is not OK to live without hope. It’s not OK to live without courage and confidence. It’s not OK to live like the darkness has any power. Jesus is risen, he is alive, and the darkness, whatever it is, is no match for the light of life.

“The truth is seen in Christ Jesus and in you, because the darkness is passing and the true light is already shining.” ~1 John 2:8

Peace,

Allan

Apostles’ Creed

1 John, Faith, John, Romans No Comments »

We-Believe-Logo“This is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” ~John 17:3

In today’s postmodern world in which the accepted truth is that there is no truth at all, we can’t take for granted anymore the articles of the Christian faith. Biblical literacy is low. Doctrinal literacy is low. There is a tremendous need for the Church to refocus the center of our faith, to get a better grip on our true identity as Christ-followers. We’ve got to get clear on our core. It occurs to me that the best way to keep from being blown by every wind of doctrine is to have a doctrine.

So, yesterday here at Central, we began a year-long exploration of the ancient Apostles’ Creed.

I know, I know; I know what you’re thinking. We don’t do creeds in the Church of Christ. In our faith tradition it’s always been, “No creed but Christ!” That, ironically, is one of our better known creeds. We have traditionally rejected human creeds because “We call Bible things by Bible names and do Bible things in Bible ways.” Again, that’s one of our hardest held creeds. Funny, huh?

All individuals and communities function from a center of belief and practice. These core beliefs that inform and guide a group’s values and behavior can usually be summed up in a short statement: a creed. A statement of belief. Whether they’re written down or not, everybody’s got them. Democrats and Republicans have their creeds. So do Cowboys fans and Hindus, labor unions and college sororities, civic clubs and sovereign nations. Christians aren’t the only ones with creeds — everyone’s got creeds.

And I think Christians wanting to summarize and write down and memorize the specifics of the faith can be clearly seen in the Scriptures. The apostle Paul is very particular about what Christians need to believe and how they need to believe it.
“If you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” ~Romans 10:9

Several places in 1 John make it clear that being a Christian doesn’t just mean believing in Jesus, but believing certain things about Jesus. If you deny that Jesus is the prophesied Jewish Messiah, then you’re denying God. You’re a heretic or, as the passage says, an anti-Christ (1 John 2:22). You have to believe that Jesus came to earth in the flesh and blood of a human being or you don’t have God; you don’t have his Spirit (1 John 4:2-3). There are summaries of the faith throughout the pages of the Bible in Deuteronomy 6, Ephesians 4, 1 Corinthians 15, and 1 Timothy 6 to name a few. These statements clarify the truth and sweep away any false beliefs. Believing the right things in right ways is important. Scripture is very serious about rebuking false teachings and holding to the “pattern of sound teaching.”

The Apostles’ Creed is one of these ancient summaries. Outside of the Bible, it’s the earliest known version of a summary statement of the Christian faith. It goes all the way back to the late second century when candidates for baptism were asked to publically confess their core beliefs on the way into the water. Hippolytus writes the words down in 215 AD as if the Church has been reciting them for years. So, it’s old: really, really old. Technically, it’s older than the New Testament canon. Yes, the New Testament gospels and letters had already been written when the Church adopted the Apostles’ Creed. But the ink was still wet. In fact, the church councils used the Apostles’ Creed to help guide them as they were deciding which books belonged in the New Testament and which ones didn’t. After all, the creed had been faithfully recited by the Church for more than a hundred years at that point. So it played a major role in the canonical process.

Now, I’m not actually preaching the Apostles’ Creed. We’re using the creed as a guide while we preach the Bible. The Apostles’ Creed is not the authority. It has no authority in and of itself. It’s like the moon. The moon is awesome to look at. The moon is beautiful and inspiring, we write songs and poems about the moon. The moon doesn’t have any light in and of itself. But it tells me there’s a light out there.

The Apostles’ Creed reflects the light of the Word of God: the written Word, the Scriptures, and the incarnate Word, Jesus Christ.

It’s ancient. It’s good. And it’s strong. It affirms the unshakable beliefs of the Christian faith: only one God, the divinity of Jesus, the birth, death, and resurrection of Christ, the coming judgment, the Holy Spirit, the one Church, the forgiveness of sins, and eternal life. It’s timeless. It’s withstood all the tests. We’re memorizing it and reciting it in our families and in our assemblies. And it’s going to be good for us.

Peace,

Allan