When the law is taught, or any of the Word is taught, without love as it's central goal, then it misses the point.
Love is the reason the Word of God exists. Love is the reason the Gospel is good news. Love is what we, as believers are called to do towards the world. We're not called to create division because of our theology, we're not called to alienate folks for their race, gender, sexuality, or eschatology.
Yet there are an awful lot of us defining ourselves by who we are not. When we meet people who fall in to whatever category we dislike, we push back, and don't love. We push away and hurt. I've done it. I still do it.
It is entirely about love. We're called, as believers, to bless the world. We're God's chosen people so that we can be a blessing to the world. And we do that by loving. Not by correcting "wrong" theology, convicting people of sin, or alienating the lost.
My wife and I moved back to the Denver area about 8 months ago, after a 10 year absence from the state for me. All of our time in ministry we participated in small house churches, or the sole government approved church for Westerners in whatever city we were living in at the time. The choice for a church during those years was easy. Because there really was no choice.
Now we’re on the hunt and can’t find a church we can handle more than a few weeks in a row.
Here are some reasons this has been almost impossible (all from different churches):
1) The worship pastor is actually a minority. Amazing (This place is pretty white, but not as white as it’s churches). He plays great worship. Unfortunately the head pastor feels it’s his role to pace around the front of the auditorium with his hands in the air during worship. I’d hate to think we should focus on God instead of him for a few minutes.
2) The pastor manages to touch on the gospel about once every month. And preach a straight up “if you act good, you’re a good Christian” message just about as often. Can’t do it.
3) The preaching begins this morning with the phrase, “I’ve recently been convicted that I’m not reading enough biographies.” Because lack of biography reading is clearly forbidden by Paul’s writings. It’s strange, I’ve been convicted about how few donuts I’ve been eating lately.
4) The church is so big we walk in and out without talking to a single person. We try, but there is no time set aside for it, there are kids here, but no parents come to get them from the classroom. There are only 3 small groups throughout the week, all in the same neighborhood a long way from us.
5) It seems like we’ve found a great one and when we ask how we can get connected, the adult pastor tells us there really isn’t anyone from the church who lives in our part of town. Sorry.
6) The pastor says, “This really is the best church in the Kingdom of God isn’t it?” And the whole church screams and whoops as though attending a Trump rally.
7) The worship leader stands up from his piano and dances while playing, grabs the microphone and skips across the stage screaming. His music would have been incredibly great in the late 80’s. His showmanship would have been excellent at a concert.
I feel like Jerry Seinfeld finding small things to nitpick about girls.
Is a church that preaches the gospel, has liveable worship, and a decent childcare program so hard to find? Why when it looks like we find them, do they all have head pastors who want to be the center of attention (at the expense of the Lord)? Am I doing it wrong?
Goodness, what I’d kill for some good community (we have, thankfully, met some great people along the way, many have turned in to friends).
Our God is a God of patience because His people are the kind that require it.
They (we) do eventually sometimes get to where they intend to go, but often they’re bogged down in pretty overwhelmingly insignificant details. Yet the Lord can wait. He can and will wait on them.
“The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” - 2 Peter 3:9
Martin Luther (I’ve been getting a kick out of reading his stuff lately), when writing on church says the following if you patience to read:
“The Scriptures speak of the Church quite simply, and use the term in only one sense; these men have added and brought into general use two more. The first use, according to the Scriptures, is this, that the Church is called the assembly of all the believers in Christ upon earth, just as we pray in the Creed: ”I believe in the Holy Ghost, a communion of saints.“ This community or assembly consists of all those who live in true faith, hope and love; so that the essence, life and nature of the Church is not a bodily assembly, but an assembly of hearts in one faith, as St. Paul says, Ephesians iv, ”One baptism, one faith, one Lord." [Eph. 4:5]
Thus, though they be a thousand miles apart in body, yet they are called an assembly in spirit because each one preaches, believes, hopes, loves, and lives like the other. So we sing of the Holy Ghost: “Thou, who through divers tongues gatherest together the nations in the unity of the faith.” That means in reality a spiritual unity, because of which men are called a communion of saints. And this unity is of itself sufficient to make a Church, and without it no unity, be it of place, of time, of person, of work, or of whatever else, makes a Church. On this point we must hear the word of Christ, Who, when Pilate asked Him concerning His kingdom, answered: “My kingdom is not of this world.” [John 18:36] This is indeed a dear passage, in which the Church is made separate from all temporal communities, as not being anything external.
And this blind Romanist makes of it an external community, like any other. Christ says even more clearly, Luke xvii, “The kingdom of God cometh not with observation: neither shall they say, Lo, here, or lo, there! for behold, the kingdom of God is within you.” [Luke 17:20, 21] I am astounded, that such strong, clear words of Christ are treated as a farce by these Romanists. For by these words it is clear to every one that the kingdom of God (for so He calls His Church) is not at Rome, nor is it bound to Rome or any other place, but it is where there is faith in the heart, be a man at Rome, or here, or elsewhere. It is a nauseating lie, and Christ is made a liar when it is said that the Church, is in Rome, or is bound to Rome—or even that the head and the authority are there by divine right. Moreover, in Matthew xxiv. He foretold the gross deception which now rules under the name of the Roman Church, when He says: "Many false prophets and false Christs shall come in My name, saying: I am Christ; and shall deceive many, and show great signs, that if possible they shall deceive the very elect.
Wherefore, if they shall say unto you: Behold, in the secret chambers is Christ, believe it not; behold, He is in the desert, go not forth. Behold, I have told you before." [Matt. 24:24–26] Is this not a cruel error, when the unity of the Christian Church, separated by Christ Himself from all material and temporal cities and places, and transferred to spiritual realms, is included by these preachers of dreams in material communities, which must of necessity be bound to localities and places. How is it possible, or whose reason can grasp it, that spiritual unity and material unity should be one and the same? There are those among Christians who are in the external assembly and unity, who yet by their sins exclude themselves from the inner, spiritual unity. Therefore, whosoever maintains that an external assembly or an outward unity makes a Church, sets forth arbitrarily what is merely his own opinion, and whoever endeavors to prove it by the Scriptures, brings divine truth to the support of his lies, and makes God a false witness, just as does this miserable Romanist, who explains everything that is written concerning the Church as meaning the outward show of Roman power; and yet he cannot deny that the large majority of these people, particularly in Rome itself, because of unbelief and evil lives, is not in the spiritual unity, i. e., the true Church.
For if to be in the external Roman unity made men true Christians, there would be no sinners among them, neither would they need faith nor the grace of God to make them Christians; this external unity would be enough."
In full agreement of all said points. We’re so very confused in our understanding of the word “church”.
Luther wanted to reform the Catholic Church. And he thought this would happen if he just got the Bible in to enough hands. If people just heard the truth through teaching and preaching.
I identify with his optimism. But also see it as foolishly underestimating how tightly people in power will maintain a grip on their positions. Failing to see the truth if it smacks them in the face because of what’s at stake for them.
I’ve heard it said, and I fully agree, that the vast majority of evangelical Christians live their lives as though they believe the Holy Trinity consists of God the Father, Jesus Christ the Son, and the Holy Bible.
That is, there is a near denial of the Holy Spirit. Or the Holy Spirit can be a thing that exists, but it can’t be a person of the Godhead who lives, breathes, acts, and speaks today with any kind of real power.
This belief and reaction is partly our loss of mysticism since the enlightenment, we simply don’t buy the supernatural anymore (even if He dwells right inside of us). And another part is the widely held belief that “God doesn’t work that way.” Sad. But a lot of people truly believe this.
What if the Lord does use His word to reveal Himself to us (He does), but also put an actual living breathing helper inside of us? What if He wants to talk and we deny Him the right. Instead saying in our hearts (or God-forbid outloud), “Well, God doesn’t work this way, so… This must not be from the Lord.”?
Alternatively. What if we believe that God Himself dwells within us, in power, like He did in the Temple? And what if we believe that we are cleaner than the High Priest ever was through the sprinkling of animal blood because we’ve been sprinkled with the blood of Jesus? And what if we believe that we can enter the Holy of Holies and interact, first hand, with the Creator of the Universe? Whenever. Whenever. Right stink in’ now.
Because we can. And we’re foolishly denying God to think otherwise. What is He trying to say? And are we open to hearing Him?
Buddhism - I can cleanse myself of my shit through washing away the impurities in my mind and body.
Taoism - If I meditate long enough, I can figure out how to empty my mind, and free myself of my shit.
Islam - If I pray five times a day, fast, do a pilgrimage, give to the poor, and give testimony, my shit will be good enough for heaven.
Hinduism - I can get my shit together if I try hard enough to accomplish the four proper goals of human life.
Mormonism - What Jesus did was cool, but I also need to get my shit together. Others might believe if I hide my shit.
Summary: Every religion in the world (except Christianity) - I’ve got shit, but if I work hard enough, I can get my shit together.
Christianity - Oh God look at my shit, I need a savior.
As Christian men, we spend a good percentage of our time wondering what the Lord wants us to do. Where we should go. How we should serve. And usually we plan on casting vision to our family and bringing them along.
But what about those stages in life where we’re called to live a support role? What if our sole calling for these 5–10 years (or our whole lives) is to make a little money so our wive’s can do what they’re called to do? What if we’re called, not to make a big impact on the Kingdom, but to support our wives so they can?
I’m curious if we would be insecure as a result.
I also wonder how many of us will stand before the Lord one day and be told, “I gave you to her because it was your calling to support her for the outrageous work I wanted to do through her for the Kingdom. Instead you made her fit a victorian model of a wife, she never left the home, and you went to do what made your name great.”
What if God’s plan isn’t for your wife to support you wherever you’re called, but the other way around? Could your theology handle it?
Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving. - Colossians 2:6–7
When I realize I’m not exactly abounding in thanksgiving, which is the situation an awful lot of the time, I wonder if I’m missing the first part.
What does it mean to walk in Him. I suppose it means abiding.
Rooted and built up in Him. Established in the faith.
God is the ticket to living water. To streams of overflowing. And He knew, He knows, life is hard. He knows we’ll have landlords who ask us to leave our dream home two weeks in to our stay. He knows we’ll deal with crazy people who literally cannot connect two related thoughts unless they’re screaming. He knows children will be born with disabilities or their mom’s will die of cancer when they’re young, or… or…. or….
I don’t need to continue because the list in your life is long enough to not need help imagining. But if you’re like me, you find yourself not abounding in thanksgiving. Feeling an awful lot like the well is dried up rather than overflowing with living water.
We need to abide.
The good news is that we do abide in Him (and Him in us) whether we’re aware of it or not. We just need to lean in, to draw from the well even when it seems dry.
Walking in Him doesn’t happen in our own strength. Our being rooted and built up in Him, established in the faith, that happens because He is good to us. Sufficient for us. Because He died for us we get to abide. And there is thanksgiving despite the struggles of life.
God I need help to lean on you. To be established and built up. To have the joy I had when I first found you. I need thanksgiving when I don’t feel thankful at all. And I need you for it. I can’t conjure it up because it isn’t inside of me. It comes from you. Help me to draw on it.
“Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, in Aramaic called Bethesda, which has five roofed colonnades. In these lay a multitude of invalids-blind, lame, and paralyzed.” - John 5:2–3
And Jesus walked in and healed … one??? Can you imagine being one of the other invalids in this pool and seeing Jesus come in and heal one person?
There was a reason people flocked to Jesus. When we are sick we want to be better. My neighbor’s wife died of cancer five years ago when they had a 4 year old and a 1 year old. How do you recover from that?! He hasn’t.
Moreover, others are healed. How can you see others recover and make sense out of it?
The brokenness of this world is too often tied up in pretty little knots by those who were healed, who were saved. And don’t get me wrong, the favor of the Lord on my life is something I can’t make sense out of. And I pray for and hope for safety for my family. But this is a world with evil in it.
I don’t mean to breed fear, I mean I wrestle with the Lord constantly over why He shows me this kind of favor. I don’t want Him to stop, but I can’t make sense out of it.
When the Europeans were first arriving in the North America they were rejoicing over the slaughter of the natives. They’d share the gospel and, without near immediate repentance, they would slaughter and somehow feel guiltless as they moved on.
Today, missionaries are trying to learn how leave as little collateral damage as possible. But we still don’t have it figured out. Partly because our theology justifies our actions to ourselves now as it did then. Just for different things.
In what things do I use my theology to justify my actions—and will I one day believe I was way off base?
Our level of comfort seems to affect our ability to see the supernatural. The more comfortable we are, the less we ask for the supernatural, or expect it, because we don’t feel we need it.
Certainly the finances to put food on our own table day in and day out has us seldom praying for food. And as such, the Lord doesn’t need to provide it supernaturally. But when you’re hungry, and your kids are hungry, you pray and pray, and your expectation that the Lord will provide is heightened because He has to, and He does.
The more spiritually oppressive the place is, the more you beg for mercy from the Lord just walking down the street. In the beautiful resort mountain town, you might be thankful (and you should be), but you probably aren’t begging the Lord to help you make it the next three hundred yards. When you’re sick, and the street is covered in filth, and the people are miserably lost and hopeless around you, then even making it to the next block requires incredible dependence on the Spirit, and the Lord provides.
God is not done acting in supernatural ways, be that in healing or other more controversial things. He is at work right now, all over the world. Even in your life (if you’re a believer you can be sure of this), but you might be less likely to expect it, or even to notice it, if you live in an incredibly comfortable place.
Living comfortably is not a bad thing, but be careful writing off the supernatural as a thing of the past just because you’re in a place of never needing it.
A few years ago, when we were home on a furlough, a couple had us over to talk about our missionary life. After talking for a bit the father mentioned to me that his son liked to play video games, he said this with some disappointment in his voice. I didn’t notice at first and I expressed excitement. I also like video games. I talked with his son about the games I played when I was a kid and we laughed about a few he still knows.
But apparently I did that wrong. The father wanted me to condemn it. Maybe I should have been “hyper spiritual.” But I’m not. And I don’t think pharisaical behavior is something we should ever have patience for. Maybe it’s something people expect from missionaries.
Jesus saves us, not our stereotypical “good Christian” behavior. If behavior saved, Mormons would be a lot less hopeless.
Whatever the case, the meeting was over.
Sorry I disappointed you.
A huge percentage of ministry is simply listening and holding your tongue while people argue over things which seem painfully insignificant. But their opportunity to feel involved is of eternal significance.
Maturity as a leader is somehow figuring out where the line is between just having patience and then putting your foot down to move on. Sometimes you need to let people just talk because this is their favorite time of the week—the prayer committee. And then there are the times where Steve shares about his struggles loving his wife and, instead of praying, Bob lectures him for 10 minutes about the importance of loving his wife. Steve knows. That's why he asked for prayer. Sometimes Bob needs to be interrupted and reminded just to pray.
And immaturity as a leader? Well, that's when you slap someone so everyone is quiet five minutes in to the meeting. Then you stand and pray for 85 minutes.
God give us maturity.