Posts Tagged 'love one another'

In his book Practice Resurrection Eugene Peterson quotes a fellow named Herbert Butterfield who wrote a book called International Conflict in the Twentieth Century. Mr Butterfield wrote the following in that book:

“Let us take the devil by the rear, and surprise him with a dose of those gentler virtues that will be poison to him. At least when the world is in extremities, the doctrine of love becomes the ultimate measure of our conduct” (as quoted by Peterson, p 265).

This afternoon, I read through the short letter Peter wrote to those who were ‘scattered throughout the provinces of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bythinia.’ I have read through Peter’s letter several times, and I have preached through it more than once. I saw something this morning which made me do a double-take–maybe something I hadn’t seen before or had and wasn’t all that interested in. Either way, I saw it; I was caught.

Peter’s letter is normally exegeted in such a way that the exegete will be able to expound dutifully on the virtue of suffering as Christ suffered. That is to say, Peter wrote about how to suffer as a Christian. To be sure, Peter does write quite a bit about suffering—suffering in a variety of contexts and at the hands of a variety of people. If there is someone who can cause suffering for the believer, they have caught Peter’s eye and he has written of how the Christian can and should respond. All of this suffering we do is blended, in Peter’s letter, with both lengthy and pithy explanations and expositions of Jesus’ suffering. Somewhere in all five chapters Peter talks about Jesus’ suffering.

That is good.

But there is an undercurrent also in Peter’s letter that might be easily enough overlooked if we do not pay attention (as evidently I have done). It’s one of those ‘forest and trees’ things. Easily enough are we caught up in conversations about suffering and how we suffer and why we suffer and where we suffer and who is suffering and so on and so forth—and, we should not dismiss the suffering of Jesus which is the context in which all of it makes sense. The undercurrent in Peter’s letter is what we do for one another when we suffer. He begins in chapter 1, verse 8, “Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”

Peter’s optimism shines out: Though you have not seen him, you love him. In light of Jesus’ suffering, we suffer and while we do we hold fast to our love of him. Jesus suffered. We suffer. We love Jesus whom we have not seen. It all makes good sense. We love Jesus. Yet Peter spends significantly small amount of time expanding on this love we have for Jesus and instead turns his attention back to people we do see, those people on earth who dress funny, who stink, who irritate us, who gossip about us, who live side by side with us in the congregation called the body of Christ—that is, those we suffer with every day. And his word for us is difficult.

I don’t think loving Jesus, whom we have not seen, is all that difficult. Peter must not think so or he would have expanded on it a bit more. It is loving those we live with that is difficult. It is the loving of those we have seen that is so confounding. Love one another, he writes, not just once, but nearly as often as he writes of the death and suffering of Jesus. And he starts right in, badgering us for our lack of love and compassion for one another: “Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for each other, love one another deeply from the heart” (1 Peter 1:22) In other words, “You are really good at doing things like staying pure in a funky, armpit kind of world. And you say you have sincere love for each other. Now do it! Get on with the business of loving each other, deeply, from a place inside of yourselves.” Most of us can keep rules all day long. Most of us can stay pure all day. But can we love each other? Will we?

Holiness is easy. Love is difficult. Yet Peter seems to believe the two are somehow intertwined, bound up together like Gollum and the Ring. Loving Jesus whom we cannot, have not, seen is a piece of cake. Loving one another whom we see every day—that’s another story. Holiness is important, no doubt. But what is holiness if we do not love one another deeply, from the heart? “This is the word that was preached to you” (1 Peter 1:25). “This” includes the admonition to ‘love one another.’ Loving one another is just as important as our born-againness, as the death of Jesus, as the resurrection of Jesus, as preaching, as prophecy—it’s a cardinal doctrine. Love one another.

He doesn’t let up either. “I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires which wage war against your soul” (1 Peter 2:11). Great! Another passage about living pure and holy lives in the bowels of existence. No sweat! But he doesn’t stop: “Show proper respect to everyone, love your fellow believers, fear God, honor the emperor” (1 Peter 2:17). Well, what does fearing God and honoring the emperor have to do with the way I treat those who are my brethren in Christ? Seemingly nothing, except that it’s easy to fear God, it’s easy to respect the emperor, and it’s easy to show respect to ‘everyone.’ What is difficult is the loving of my brother and sister in Christ when the only motivation for doing so is because Jesus expects me to whether they love me back or not. Sometimes I wonder if we are not more threatened by those in the body than we are by those who are not.

I like how Peter sort of throws that in there. “Hmm…let’s see…respect EVERYONE, fear God, the emperor, laugh at Muppets, dance with clowns….oh, yeah, LOVE ONE ANOTHER.” It’s like he’s going to throw that in every chance he gets in order to remind us of what really matters. Holiness matters. Human authority matters. But you must not forget to love one another. If you succeed at loving God and honoring the emperor but fail at loving one another–well, you have not succeeded at all.

He doesn’t stop. In chapter 3 we learn that we will most certainly suffer in this world: “Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed” (1 Peter 3:13-14). But before all this, before he warns us of insults, evil, suffering, threats of violence, and all this he has the nerve to say: “Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble” (1 Peter 3:8). The last thing he says is: Love one another. You are going to suffer. You are going to have bad days. You are going to be thrown under the bus by anyone and everyone in this world: Love one another.

The world is going to spit upon you every chance it gets; love one another. Treat each other right. You are going to have enough trouble in this world without going to all the effort to create it amongst yourselves. And this is the problem I have seen in every single church I have preached among. Churches do not really know how to love each other, and, frankly, no amount of exhortation from the pulpit or reading from the Scripture or praying in the closet seems to alter the simple fact that we, the body of Christ, do not know how to love each other.

Don’t think I’m preaching this from the loft, wearing a halo, and fluttering about with wings. I’m am chief among sinners here. Maybe we do not know how to love each other because we do not know how to suffer together, as a body? Maybe when one part suffers we are far too content to allow that one part to suffer alone or with the pastor or with their family. Maybe suffering needs to be more of a communal thing in the church—but we are too quick to abandon those who suffer, thus love is never truly cultivated and never truly matures among us. Maybe this is an American church phenomenon. Maybe churches in, say, Africa, where suffering takes place daily, do know how to love each other precisely because they have suffered together.

And still Peter doesn’t stop: “The end of all things is near. Therefore be alert and of sober mind so that you may pray. Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8).

“The point is that in the situation of persecution the one thing that matters above all else is love toward one another. It has to be a ‘deep’ love, but the English word doesn’t adequately convey the sense of the Greek ‘at full stretch.’ Why at full stretch? Because this love will be stretched to the limit by the demands made on it. Let us remind ourselves that Christian love means caring for other people in their needs and that such care will be accompanied by a growing affection for them. Many people are prepared to care for others; they are less ready to have affection for them and to demonstrate it. It requires love at full stretch to do this” (I Howard Marshall, 1 Peter, 143).

It is inevitable that we will sin. It is probably even more inevitable that we will sin against one another. These sins, grievous and heinous as they are, can be forgiven. I don’t think this means that the person sinned against simply overlooks the offense. That doesn’t seem to square with other thoughts in the New Testament that we have a right, perhaps an obligation, to confront those who sin against us in order to either offer or obtain forgiveness. Rather, I think Peter is drawing on the imagery of the work of God:  God’s love covers a multitude of sins. The cross has been in every thought he has uttered in this letter, surely he is thinking of God’s great love. In other words, God forgives, we should too. And as God does not continue holding on to our sin once he has forgiven us, so too should we let go when we have forgiven or been forgiven by others. Whatever else ‘covers’ might mean, it surely means that the sins are no longer visible in some sense. They are forgotten, hidden, no longer a part of the memory or function of the relationship. Love conquers all. Love wins.

Love does this. Only love does this. Only because we love Jesus whom we haven’t seen are we able to love those whom we have seen. So as Peter wraps it up, he has one last charge for us: “Greet one another with a kiss of love” (1 Peter 5:14). In other words: demonstrate your deep, from the heart, sincere, compassionate, sin-covering love for one another by laying a big, wet sloppy one on each other. I suspect James would tell us not only to kiss the lovely and good smelling folks among us, but also the broken and smelly ones too.

We are not so cultured in our world where a kiss of affection and love is often shared among brethren. It’s not the way we roll. But I wonder if a handshake sort of misses the point? We shake the right hand of fellowship and carry a dagger in the left. I wonder if a hug is too phony. I wonder if a kiss gets at the root and heart of the matter. In a kiss we expose ourselves to all sorts of trouble—not least of which is sickness. A kiss, however, is intimate. It is necessarily sexual. A kiss necessarily exposes us to the one we share the kiss with. Just ask Judas or Caesar. Maybe Peter had in mind Judas who betrayed Jesus with such a kiss: “Don’t be like Judas and betray with a kiss. Let your kiss be one of love.”

Whatever the case may be, and it is possible that I am overstating the case, Peter’s charge here is definitely that our love be demonstrated. I don’t know how this gets accomplished in various cultures. I don’t know if a kiss is like foot-washing and merely a cultural thing we must adapt in some way. But I am fairly certain we must find a way to demonstrate, without hypocrisy, our love for one another.

Peter has covered a lot of ground here, right?

You are in the process of becoming holy, don’t forget to love each other while doing so or else your holiness will amount to nothing. (1 Peter 1:22).

You are living under strange conditions as foreigners and exiles, facing all sorts of strange masters and rulers, don’t forget to love one another which is just as important as living at peace with everyone else (1 Peter 2:17).

You are going to suffer in this life, here on this earth. You will have enough trouble on this earth without inviting it into your fellowship, so love one another; you need each other’s love when the world is destroying and hating you. (1 Peter 3:8).

You are anxiously awaiting the day to be revealed, to see how all of this will turn out in the end, but while you wait, there will be times when we sin against one another. In light of what we await, love one another and forgive. Deeply. (1 Peter 4:8).

And don’t forget to make certain that your love for one another is not merely in words or in thoughts. Demonstrate it, intimately, with a kiss of love. (1 Peter 5:14)

Jesus created the church to be a place, a people, who will support, strengthen, comfort, forgive and love one another while we are doing life together. As always the question remains: How am I perpetuating love and contributing to an atmosphere of love? Am I a  balm of healing or picking at scabs?

Peter’s letter amply describes and portrays the difficult world we live in, a world where we will have much trouble, but it is also the world where some have been marked by the cross of Jesus. We will have enough trouble in this world without being trouble for one another. And how else will we take the devil by the rear if we do not love one another?

Soli Deo Gloria!

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It has been said that we live what we believe. John Piper recently wrote an article on evangelicalism and doctrine. (Doctrine means belief or teaching. In our context, that means the teachings of the Bible.) He quotes from Ronald Sider’s The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience to support his view that doctrine, right doctrine, matters to how Christians live. Not, I think, what we acknowledge as true, but what we believe is important. What we think about, and how we think shapes how we act. Romans 12:2 tells us to, “be transformed by the renewing of our minds.” Right beliefs develop right actions. Let me acknowledge up front that I don’t see this as a cut and dry issue. Nor do I think that every person who claims to believe the teachings of Christ has been transformed by them. Many examples can be given of people who hold to all the right doctrines, but are unloving. Of course, there’s a simple response to this – that they don’t hold to all the right doctrines.

Foundational to Christianity is love. It has to be when the very essence of God is love. He is relationship, three-in-one.* The very thing that defines us, that we proclaim and profess, that cannot be denied despite all of our denominational differences is that God loved us to His death. The virgin birth, the life of demand and stress, the teaching and the touches of hope and grace and peace, the quiet submission to torture, the obedience to the Father and the giving of life on the cross… were an act of love for us.

Our religion, our movement, our faith, our hope was born out of the cross… out of love. We love because He first loved us. 1 John says that anybody who does not love his brother, isn’t living in Jesus, isn’t living by truth. I’m guessing that the majority of examples that we could all provide of people who “have all the right doctrines” also have problems forgiving others, being generous to those in need, serving the marginalized of this world, and generally just don’t have much love. I agree with Piper that “God gives good press to good doctrine” (probably more than I agree with him on most things). But I can’t get over that God has given the best press to the following teaching:

“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: ” ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” Matthew 22:36-40 (NIV)

*Can love even exist outside of relationship? Some theologians think that the three persons of God, Father, Son, and Spirit, were not three before Creation and that They will return to the same state after the Second coming. I don’t see how this is possible if God IS love. The description of the three-in-one is most congruent with the teaching that He is, was, and will always be and that He is love.

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[Disclaimer or something like it. I realize that such blog posts as the one you are about to read are fraught with danger. Being transparent and honest about our struggles in a public forum exposes one to many dangers. I'm willing to take that risk in this post because I'm convinced that most of you who visit here love me enough to bear with my periodic confessions of weakness without judging me too harshly. Grace and Peace.]

Little League and the Christian Pilgrimage

I am coaching little league this year. We have played 15 games, had two games rained out, and have three remaining on the calendar. My team was an expansion team. Last season, we had enough boys sign up to fill out two rosters of about 12 boys per team. This year, we had so many sign up to play that we filled out three rosters of 12 each. My team consists mostly of first year players, well, first year at this level which is Junior Boys Division One or 13-14 year-olds.

One of the teams in our community had, I believe, 9 returning players and the other team had 7. I have 12 boys, all first year 13 year olds. I love those boys. Managing a little league team is mostly about managing personalities (of the parents too!) and managing the numbers such as pitch count and innings played. At the Junior’s level, play becomes far more competitive. The standings mean something, the score counts, and individual play counts for tournament consideration.

I went into the season, despite what I knew, with a cautious optimism. I hate losing and I thought perhaps if I rubbed enough of that enthusiasm off on my team that they would play harder and faster. I thought, seriously, we could compete-even with the big boys. Through the first 8 games or so I was actually right. We were 5-3. The first game we played was on the road and we crushed them: 17-4. We were, all of us, in a great mood. Love abounded in the dugout that night.

After our eighth game, however, baseball became a chore. We have lost 7 straight games. We have been run-ruled 5 times and we have lost two games in the bottom of the seventh inning after tying or leading in the top of the seventh inning. Currently, in case you cannot add, we are 5-10. I love my team.

During the stretch of 7 consecutive losses things have been rather tough. We lost one player for the last 5 games to a vacation. We lost another young man when he ended up in the hospital because his hemoglobin dropped way below safe levels and needed transfusions and a bone marrow biopsy. Our latest blow was when our starting first baseman broke his finger. We only carry a roster of 12 boys; 3 are out. Things are tough all over for our team. I’m sure these three would rather be playing ball. I love these boys.

A big part of managing a little league baseball team is in managing personalities and egos. Some kids are ‘better’ than others; some are not. Some kids think they ‘deserve’ to play more than others; others are happy to be on a team. Some kids’ parents think their children’s, well, let’s just say their kids never make an error or throw the ball in the dirt or strike out with the bases loaded; most do not. Some kids are natural born pessimists (and have inherited it honestly); many have no idea what it means to quit until the umpire says ‘you’re out!’ or the sun goes down or the last inning is played or the last ball is lost over the fence. I love those kids.

I love those kids who have no quit in them, who play hard regardless of how poorly ‘we’ play. I love those kids who keep on laughing even when we are crushed by a lopsided score. I love those kids who keep on going up to bat after striking out 20 straight times. I love those kids who still think we can win even when the opposing coach has his players stealing home despite the fact that he is already winning by 8 runs. I love those boys who hustle off the field because ‘it’s our turn to bat!’ I love those boys who turn their hats inside out and believe, even though batters 7, 8, and 9 are coming up and we need 9 runs in order not to be run-ruled, that we have a shot at the win. I love those who get really angry with me when they have to sit because I need to get other players fielding time (per little league rules). I love those boys, pitchers, who want the ball when we are playing the toughest team in the league. I love those boys who hate losing even though that is all that seems to happen. I love those boys who hustle out a foul ball and don’t stop running until blue says, “Foul!” I love those boys who, after a crushing defeat, still have the nerve to run up to their teammates after the game and tackle them in the grass. I love those boys.

I love those boys who know what it means to win and never take it for granted because those are the boys who never quit. They never stop running, catching, throwing, and hitting. Nor do they stop smiling, laughing, and loving. They pick up their teammates when they’re down. They show up at the next game with a clean uniform, a glove, a smile, and a ‘where do you need me to play tonight, coach?’ I love those boys.

These are the ones who continue to believe we can win even when all external indicators point in exactly the opposition direction.

It is terribly difficult to want to show up for three more games when all outward appearances seem to be dictating that we will end our season, at best, 6-12 or 6-14 if we make up two rain-outs. It’s difficult to show up for three more games when you know you are going to be stuck in the outfield for 21-35 more innings. Baseball will break your heart, said A. Bart Giamatti. And even though I’m no fan of the late Giamatti (he banned Pete Rose from baseball), I agree with him 100%. It’s hard to find passion in something that continues to beat you down, game after game, inning after inning, pitch after pitch. How I love those boys who find a way to keep going back on that field that continues to break their hearts; those boys who continue working on their game and making every play even when the team is losing.

It’s terribly difficult to want to coach when there are some around who don’t think it even worth the effort. It’s terribly difficult to love those who are natural born pessimists, but as a manager I am called to do so anyhow. It’s easy to coach the lovable, the excitable, the manageable, the hard-worker, the player; the winners. It’s terribly difficult to coach the perpetually negative; the losers. Anyone would want to coach Derek Jeter; not too many would want to coach Barry Bonds.

And it’s like that in our pilgrimage too. It’s easy to love the lovable. Not so easy to love the unlovable.

I can love those folks who crank out an enthusiastic ‘Great sermon Pastor!’ all day long. It is much harder to love those who show up but never uncross their arms or wipe the scowl off their face or sing a song or even say hello or are more interested in where to go for lunch than they are about the call to put feet to faith.

I have to be honest: I’m not there yet. I am a complete failure in that regard. I know I should. I know the Spirit enables me. I know they need to be loved. But Oh, God it is so difficult. It is so hard to love those who know better and act worse. It’s terribly difficult to love those who show up at board meetings but won’t show up for worship. It’s hard to love those who do not love you. Seriously. It is beyond imagination hard.

Love is such a strange thing. If I love those contrary people…am I not giving up my rights? Am I not allowing my ego to be destroyed? What about my pride? I happen to know for a fact that I am right. Oh God this twisting inside me is killing me. I want so badly for God to do what is right and yet the only thing that seems to be making progress is the weakness that is pushing me closer and closer to the edge of a breakdown.

I keep telling God, “God, why won’t you do what is right?” And all I keep hearing him say in response is, “Why are you not loving my people? Those people, yes, those people.” “I am unworthy-how can I reply to you? I put my hand over my mouth” (Job 40:4). Or, maybe it’s, “I am unwilling-why should I? I clench my teeth and harden my heart.”

Jesus could have said anything else to us; frankly I wish he had. He could have given us any other command or any other idea or any other teaching or any other way of demonstration. But he didn’t. He didn’t. He didn’t. The one he gave is the one that is killing me, killing us, killing the church because it is the one that is daily refused, especially here in the blog world, to be practiced.

“Love one another.”

He didn’t tell us to discriminate or separate the church into groups of sheep and goats and only love the lovely.

“Love one another.”

Die to your life; kill your pride. Love those he loved. Love those he died for. Feed his sheep. Lord, do you know what you are asking?

“Love one another.”

Lord, isn’t there some other way for me to show you that I love you? Can’t I memorize a book of the Bible instead? Isn’t a clanging cymbal a nice thing at times?

“Love one another.”

Lord, I can’t. They have hurt me. It’s a matter of principle. What about truth? What about right? Lord why do you seem to care more about their feelings than mine?

“Love one another.”

Lord, you are killing me. I’m dying here. I can’t breathe. I have no strength to do what you are asking.

“Love one another.”

Lord, they don’t. They make no effort. They don’t even care if I love them. They are sinning.

“Love one another.”

Lord, have mercy. Isn’t there some other way? How about if I serve poor people? Or give my body to save a dying person? How about if I preach a sermon in Greek? How about if I explain in great detail your Scriptures and defend truth?

“Love one another.”

“Love one another.”

______________________

See you at the field, thursday evening. I’ll be there. Managing. Coaching. Loving…all my boys.

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This is from Eugene Peterson’s book Tell It Slant. Here he is commenting on the prayer of Jesus in John 17.

“A major difficulty in taking this prayer to heart is that it doesn’t seem to have made much difference for twenty centuries now, and certainly doesn’t seem to be having much of an impact on Christians at the present. The Christian Church is famous worldwide for being contentious and mean-spirited, for using the words of Moses and Jesus as weapons to exclude and condemn. One of the identifying marks that Jesus gave his disciples is that ‘you have love for one another’ (John 13:35). But not many centuries had passed before outsiders were saying, ‘Look how they vilify one another!’ We kill with verbs and nouns, swords and guns, ‘Christians’ marching under the banner of the cross of Christ.” (Tell it Slant, 223)

Be blessed today. Find a way, as far as it depends upon you, to live at peace with your neighbor. Love the fellowship of Saints.

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I’ve been trying to think about what I would like to preach this year. Back in November and December of ‘08, I wrote out two complete series of sermons-each 10 weeks long. I was ready for ‘09. Then, well, let’s just say there were some issues with my mouth and my pen and then, well, let’s just say that I won’t be preaching either of those series of sermons anytime soon. Sermon schedules aren’t that helpful when the preacher is being undone by the Spirit.

So that leaves me here, wondering, staring at snow and a computer monitor, drinking a cup of hot tea, contemplating…what shall I preach? What does my church need to hear? What do I need to wrestle with in prayer and what Scripture do I need to be confronted with over and over again so that it becomes the breath in my lungs and the blood in my veins and every waking thought in my head and heart? No, not that one!

Then on the way home from the gym this morning, I was suddenly overcome by a thought, one word, something had toyed with but that seemed too convenient at the time. I mean, of course I should preach about that. Always; who shouldn’t? It’s not that I don’t preach about it, every sermon I preached is infused with and under-girded by this. And I think also, at the same time, even though the thought has continued to regurgitate itself, I have been fighting against it. Seriously: there is a part of me that does not want to preach this. There is a part of me that thinks if I preach it now it might seem choreographed to justify myself or something silly like that. Strange that I cannot get beyond trying to discern the motives of others when I should really be examining my own motives.

Even now, I am afraid somewhat to post this, lest someone misunderstand MY motives. It is a terrible thing, it seems to me, to live for nothing other than trying to discern motives when even the apostle Paul didn’t care about motives.

William Willimon wrote, “Preachers, by the nature of their vocation, are those who speak because they have been told something to say. Can you imagine Paul pacing about his prison cell, agonizing because ‘I have nothing to say to First Church Corinth?’” (Conversations with Barth on Preaching, 47). We speak, he notes, because God has spoken. I am normally very organized in my preaching schedule. Right now I’m not. This is one of those times when I have to ‘not worry about what to say because the Holy Spirit is teaching me what to speak’ and, I am fighting it. I don’t want to preach what the Holy Spirit is telling me to preach. I want to preach from my neatly organized sermon schedules that are lying upon my desk on nice clean paper not from some fit of inspiration that certainly did not come from within me. He’s stalking me.

Seriously. I don’t want preach this word, but as I was on my way home from the gym this morning, was so overcome by this that I literally had to pull off the road. I’m not like that at all. I’m organized. I’m a planner. I want to know where I’m going and how I’m getting there. “Oh God, don’t do this to me. I don’t want to preach on that.” Christus Victor, yes! Resurrection, yes! Anything but this. But it is a losing battle. I can’t shake it. I’m defeated. I’m undone.

” ‘A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.’

” ‘Lord, where are you going?’”

Jesus commands us to love. Why? Because if it is not commanded we will likely not do it. Seriously, loving one another is hard work and not work we are likely to engage in if we don’t have to. How many of us make an effort to love the ‘least of these’? How many of us go out of our way to ‘love one another’?

I don’t want to preach on love, not now. How can I love now when I know there are ‘issues’ and when I feel like some haven’t loved me. It might seem too fake, too contrived, too choreographed. Right. Like preaching a ten-week series on church leadership isn’t contrived! Still, God is not being at all merciful to me right now. I don’t want to do this, but…

And here’s the worst part of it: I know he’s talking to me; first. I looked briefly at another blog yesterday (I won’t mention which one, but use your imagination) and saw that the top three posts on the front page were all scathing attacks against pastors, men who stand in a pulpit each week and proclaim the Gospel of Christ; imperfectly all, yes, but done nonetheless. And Christ empowers their words or he doesn’t. My heart broke when I saw those blog posts. I am asked to love a person who has not a kind word for even these preachers? How can I do that?  ”I don’t want to preach on love! I can’t preach on love! I am too angry to preach about something so redemptive, something so resurrection empowered, something so kingdom oriented as love. Can’t I just preach on something else. What words could come out of my mouth now about love.” That Hound of Heaven has me in his jaws and the more I wriggle around and excuse myself and justify my Jonah-like attitude about this sermon, the deeper in those jaws sink to my flesh and spirit.

Who cares if we don’t love one another? And how will preaching change any of that at all? Then I was slapped in the jaw with this: If we don’t love one another, how on earth are we going to love our enemies and the poor and those who persecute us? That is, if we don’t, won’t, or can’t love one another-those whom it should be easiest to love-then how on earth are we ever going to be able to love those it is the most difficult to love? Or, worse, if I cannot love those I can see in the flesh, then how can I ever begin to love the God whom I cannot see?

It is far easier, I think, to simply pretend that I love ‘one another’ and go on in life without any real level of commitment to those persons. Words can be terribly empty at times, can’t they? I think it is far more complicated and difficult to be obedient to the command to love one another when there is nothing to gain except a possible rejection. Yet the command is not abated or rescinded. Jesus didn’t say, ‘Wait until everything is A-OK and then love one another’ He just said, “Love one another” and he qualified this in no way at all. Love. We are the only ones who qualify love.

Paul wrote that ‘love keeps no records of wrongs,’ but that doesn’t mean love begins with a clean slate. It means that love wipes the slate clean and starts all over again-each second, each minute, each hour, each day. It means that I forgive 70 times 7 70 times 7 times a day. Do you understand why my flesh is rebelling against this? Jesus has commanded us to do the most difficult thing imaginable: Love one another. My God, I cannot love one another. Or maybe, I don’t want to. Either way, what you are asking Lord is too difficult. Lord, how do I love those and preach love to those that I am struggling to love right now and who are not struggling at all to love me? Is there room in the church for this love? Better: Can the church survive without it right now?

And I don’t want to preach it. I really don’t. Wouldn’t it be safer for all of us if we didn’t have to love those we are like and unlike? Wouldn’t it be safer if I didn’t have to extend and expend myself for someone else and take the risk that they might just be in need of love or that I am commanded to love regardless of reciprocation? Loving one another might mean I have to forgive or humble myself or repent or admit that I am wrong-sometimes even if I am not wrong. Loving one another might mean that I have do all that I can to secure peace even if means that I have to ‘be wrong’, which Paul seems to think is far better (1 Corinthians 6:7). What is impossible with man, is possible with God.

Why is it easier to love those outside the church than those inside it? Why does our flesh rebel against this command of Christ? Why is it that ‘loving one another’ has to be commanded in the first place? Well, I sure don’t understand that at all!

Jesus three times said, “Love one another.” Yet when he was finished Peter looked at him and said, “Lord where are you going?” You know why I don’t want to preach it, love, that is? That’s why. What Peter said.

And yet, Sunday’s sermon is already written. Now I am free to practice what I preach. Better, now I am free to love. That is, Jesus didn’t tell me to preach love. He told me to love.

Semper Deo Gloria!

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Friends,

Good morning! It is a glorious Wednesday morning here in Northeast Ohio. My wife and I woke up early this morning–well, I did :) anyhow. I walked to the bathroom and washed my face and then down the stairs from my bedroom where I would meet with the Lord in prayer and Scripture. What I learned this morning is that the Lord was already speaking in His Word and that He was waiting on me to listen. Surprisingly, and much to my dismay, the the Lord got along quite well without me while I slept.

I want to begin this rather short post by first reminding everyone to continue praying for Jim Bublitz, Mrs Schleuter, and Pastor Silva among others. I did that very thing this morning and also remembered Pastorboy and Samuel Guzman (the nice young man from Reformata and Always Ready). I also prayed for CRN.info and asked the Lord to help me understand how the prophet Isaiah used the word ‘justice’ (KJV, ‘judgment’) in his preaching. Finally, while reading a small book Disciplined by Grace by J F Strombeck, I was reminded that

“Grace, then, is God’s provision to bring into being, sustain, and perfect His new creation in Christ Jesus. It is the operation of his infinite love on behalf of such as are worthy of everlasting punishment. This outpouring of God’s infinite love is possible only because Jesus Christ, by his death, fully satisfied the demands of God’s justice. As grace came by Jesus Christ, only those who receive Him are under grace.” (19)

Now, on to other issues, not nearly as important, but equally confounding.

I have been following rather closely the posts made by Mrs Schleuter at SOL concerning the so-called ‘Word of Faith’ at the inspiring excellence conference in Tinley Park, Illinois. I was actually rather surprised that Mrs Schleuter would attend such a conference after so roundly rejecting the invitation to attend a conference by Rick Warren. But I’ll leave that alone for now.

Actually, in my estimation, Mrs Schleuter has nailed it down with her latest post on John Avanzini. Those ‘preachers’ are hucksters and it is good that someone is pointing this out to people. Sadly, no one is taking steps to point it out to the people who are actually being taken in by these hucksters and I was a bit dismayed that at the end of her rather well written essay that she actually offered a link back to the Family Harvest Church so that her readers could implicitly support the Word of Faith movement by buying CD copies of the conference speakers. Hmmm. But I’ll leave that alone for now.

Here’s the point of my morning conversation with you. It seems there is a very low threshold of tolerance for orthodoxy when it comes to certain ODM’s. Do you know what I mean? I fully grant that Mrs Schleuter and others are dead on when it comes to ‘word of faith’ ‘preachers’ because it is so patently obvious that those preachers are not preachers of the Gospel at all. Frankly, my sons could make those sorts of discernments and judgments. What gets me is that, at Slice for example, everyone gets lumped into the same category. I wonder then if I can trust the discernment of Mrs Schleuter when, for example, the same criticisms that are leveled against Mike Murdoch and Robb Thompson are leveled against Rick Warren or Rob Bell or Ray Comfort or Doug Pagitt or (insert name of favorite Slice heretic).

Seriously. Is  it really so easy to lump together a World Harvest Church and a Granger Community Church? Is it really so easy to lump together all things Emergent with all things Word of Faith? Is it really so easy to lump together all things Name and Claim It with all things Purpose Driven? Is it really, gulp, so easy to lump together all things Health and Wealth with all things Roman Catholic? Do you see my point which is that if you are outside that small, narrow, myopic, Spurgeon, Edwards, Washer, MacArthur, Piper worldview then you are automatically outside of the possibility of God’s grace? Is it really so easy for people to dismiss the large majority of Christians on the planet just because they don’t see things exactly the way ‘you’ do? Is it really so easy to dismiss what the grace of God might be doing in the lives of others? Is it really so easy to sit back and make such judgments about people for whom Christ died?

I come from a church that has traditionally been a part of a movement called the “Restoration Movement” (even though for a good part of my life I was Methodist). You know what the hardest aspect of being in a Restoration Movement church has been? Allowing God to remove the mindset from my heart that believed I belonged to THE ONE TRUE CHURCH, that ‘our’ way was the only way, that ‘we’ had all the right doctrines and that if anyone didn’t belong to the Restoration Movement then they were simply lost. It was my job, so the mindset goes, to convert the heretic Baptist, the recalcitrant Lutheran, the wayward Methodist and to avoid the hypocritical Catholic and so on and so forth. What I learned a few years back was this: It is not my job to convert anyone (Thank God!). Rather it is the job of the Spirit to convert the heretic jerry, the recalcitrant jerry, the wayward jerry, the hypocritical jerry and so on and so forth. Ironically, one of the ways the Lord has done this is by putting me in communities where there are very few Restoration Movement preachers. My first preaching ministry in Brandywine, WV was in a town of 500 that had 6 or 7 churches: Lutheran, Methodist, Baptist, Brethren, etc. (There was even a female preacher in the next town over. That took a while too, but that’s another story.)  In my current location, there are other Restoration preachers, but my two best friends here are an Anglican priest and a retired Pentecostal Methodist. Both decidedly saved by the grace of God, and both ridiculously sold out for Jesus Christ. Isolation from same feathered birds has taught me about grace.

A lot of this is about maturity and growing up and taking Doctrine of Grace (TTH 560 at CCU). The thing is, God’s grace is evident and present in all sorts of places and ways. This is why, for example, there are 4 Gospel accounts (Matthew, Mark, Luke, & John) instead of one; we get the complete picture by seeing four views. This is why there were 12 apostles (or 13). You can’t tell me that Matthew the Tax Collector always got along well with Simon the Zealot! But, from 12 points of view, He gains a more complete mission. Matthew could minister to a group of people that the Simon could not and vice versa. Likewise with Paul, the Pharisee! It’s not that they shared everything in common, but that they held One Person in common: Jesus Christ. Ironically, in the Gospel, Paul wrote this: “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. But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.” What he didn’t say is this: There is one opinion; one point of view. Here I tread carefully because this can be taken too far to the extreme. Some things are purposely ambiguous; we have to learn to live there.

This is true also of the ongoing efforts between churches of Christ a Capella and not a Capella to forge some sort of unity. In reality, all that needs to happen is for Christians to acknowledge the unity that already exists by virtue of the grace of God. As it is, two different congregations can reach two different groups of people: One that prefers musical instruments and one that does not. That’s just one (post) modern example. Fact is, I would have a hard time worshiping in a place like Granger on a regular basis and I would probably be left unsatisfied listening to Rob Bell every week. To me it (Granger) would be like Church camp every Sunday. I am much more comfortable in my tradition. But that doesn’t mean Granger is wrong or outside of God’s grace any more than it means John MacArthur’s church is right or has an inside track on God’s grace. It means they are different while being the same. It means that God has created them with red and yellow feathers and he has created me with blue and white feathers and still others have been made with red and green feathers. It means that where Christ is King, we are all different and yet all the same.

In conclusion, I will say this: If Mrs Schleuter or Pastor  Silva are right about WOF, this does not necessarily guarantee they are right about everything. And the problem is that they hold to a monochromatic view of God’s grace: all they see is Crows and not Birds of Paradise, Goldfinches, Parrots, Peacocks, etc. The God of Creation, however, made flowers, and animals, and a thousand different kinds of birds and trees and fish. So creative is He, so fascinated with diversity, that no two of us have the same fingerprint profile. He didn’t make one, but many; and yet many are also one. A fascinating picture of this is in Revelation 7 where from God’s perspective there are 144,000 Jews and from John’s perspective there is a great multitude from every nation, tribe, people, and language. One; yet many. The same; yet different. 

What I’m asking for is more discernment in the way we discern. It is not right to lump all people together the way certain ODM’s do. And the sooner clearer distinctions are made, the better. Does this mean every single Emergent church pastor is among the wheat or sheep? Nope. But neither does it mean that every single Spurgeon toting, Washer quoting Reformed church pastor is either. What it means is that every single one of us is dependent upon the grace of God. What I am asking, pleading for, is that grace find a way to insinuate itself into the online discernment ministries and conversations. As I said in a reply yesterday, God could have given us straight-forward Levitical law type instructions about the church. But he did not. Some things He left purposely ambiguous and sometimes I expect He did so precisely because He wants to see just how much we really love one another and how much we love Him. Or maybe He has a sense of humor and likes to see us trip all over ourselves in our efforts to ‘Lord it over’ one another while Jesus remains enthroned at His Right Hand.

Soli Deo Gloria!

jerry

PS–Poor Ray Comfort. The man cannot win for losing. Everyone is on his back now and all he really wants to do is love God and people and share the Kirk.

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