Category Archives: Love Like Jesus

Live with the End in Mind – reading the Bible’s last book

16-11-20-ccbe-rev-live-w-the-end-in-mind-028The week before I was scheduled to preach on the book of Revelation in our 40 day blitz through the New Testament, Neil our Executive Pastor quipped that I’d be answering everyone’s questions about the Apocalypse in one sermon. I didn’t! Rather, I took one core idea behind what the Biblical authors wrote about the End Times, namely: to “Live with the End in Mind.” You can listen here. It includes the wonderful stories of a mother and daughter’s experiences serving in a school and hospital in Mali. I’m also including some resources for understanding the book of Revelation better.


As Jay Phelan points out in his book on Eschatology (the study of the end times), “There is probably no book so beloved and so despised, so carefully studied and so terribly abused, so routinely obsessed over and so generally ignored. G.K. Chesterton famously observed, ‘Though St. John the Evangelist saw many strange monsters in his vision, he saw no creature so wild as one of his own commentators!'”  (Essential Eschatology: Our Present and Future Hope, p. 7)  The prophets, including John, are not primarily about prediction and speculation, but becoming aware that the future is breaking into the here and now!

One easy to understand and substantive commentary on Revelation is N. T. Wright’s The New Testament for Everyone – Revelation.

Eugene Peterson’s Reversed Thunder; The Revelation of John and the Praying Imagination, is a beautiful look at the unique poetic and apocalyptic genre of the book that helps make it exciting and accessible.

I included this diagram in the sermon that helps explain how the Bible sees the end times as beginning at Christ’s resurrection and completed at his coming again. We live in the tension between “The Already and the Not Yet.” We are to live now with the end in mind!

16-11-20-ccbe-rev-live-w-the-end-in-mind-012

 

 

 

 

 

 

And so Paul, the Apostle, ends his magisterial chapter on the Resurrection and the New Creation with these words:

And so dear brothers and sisters of mine, stand firm! Let nothing move you as you busy yourselves in the Lord’s work. Be assured that nothing you do for God is ever lost or ever wasted!  (1 Corinthians 15:58)

 

J. S. Bach’s ‘Faith at Work!’

"For the Glory of God alone"
“For the Glory of God alone”

J.S. Bach loved Jesus! For Bach, there was really no difference between the worldly and the divine. His life as a believer was the same as his life as a musician, as a husband, as a father, and as a professional. (Brian McCreath, ‘The Bach Hour’) His music sings of passion for God in the battle against the world, the flesh, and the devil; and of his desire to live Jesus’ greatest command of loving God and neighbor. I needed this one today! Maybe you do too. (I’ve listed the source and links at the end of the post.)


God Alone Shall Have My Heart
(Cantata # 169)

1. Sinfonia

2. Arioso and Recitative A

God alone shall have my heart.
Indeed I observe of the world,
which holds its dung as priceless,
since it treats me with such friendliness,
that it would like to be
the only beloved of my soul.
But no; God alone shall have my heart:
I find in Him the highest good. We see indeed
here and there on earth
a little brook of peacefulness,
which springs from the goodness of the Highest;
God however is the source, overflowing with streams,
there I create what forever
can nourish me truly and satisfyingly: God alone shall have my heart.

3. Aria A

God alone shall have my heart.
I find in Him the highest Good.
He loves me during evil times
and in blissfulness
He will shower me with the goodness of His house.

4. Recitative A

What is the love of God?
The rest of the spirit,
the delightful pleasure of the mind,
the paradise of the soul.
It closes off hell,
and opens heaven;
it is the chariot of Elijah,
which will bear us up to heaven
into the bosom of Abraham.

5. Aria A

Die in me,
world and all your love,
so that my breast
for ever and ever on earth
becomes practised in the love of God;
die in me,
arrogance, riches, greed,
you rejected urges of the flesh!

6. Recitative A

Yet also keep in mind
to be faithful to your neighbor!
For thus it is written in the Scriptures:
you shall love God and your neighbor.

7. Chorale

O sweet love, bestow your favor on us,
let us feel the fervor of love,
so that we might love each other from our hearts
and remain of one mind in peace.
Kyrie eleison.


WGBH radio has a unique program, The Bach Hour, with episodes archived online. The programs include brief introductions and sometimes interviews. Each includes a Cantata – or sacred choral work – that is often written for that week of the Church Year. Translation links are in each program intro.  The above work is linked here. Check it out! 

 

Same-Sex Marriage and the Church

praxis_encountering_godThis sermon in our Praxis series begins with a pastoral statement I made re: the Supreme Court decision on same-sex marriage. You can listen to the entire sermon here. I also am including the written version of the statement as some have requested. It was helpful for many and I trust it will continue to set the tone for further gracious dialog and Christ-like ministry. Continue reading Same-Sex Marriage and the Church

An Ebola Doctor on ‘True Neighbor Love’

aug-11432LR-P-005-Dr.-BrantlyListen to this short interview with the Samaritan’s Purse doctor, Kent Brantly. A wonderful reminder of “compassion trumping fear.” He closes with these words which, I believe, are deeply relevant to many other complex issues that can challenge and divide us.

A lesson I’ve learned is – we need to worry about the people we don’t know just as much as the people we do know. We all have the tendency to have compassion on the people we know, on the people we love. When we can get to a point where we feel that same sense of empathy and compassion for people who are suffering even though we don’t know them – I think that’s what Jesus is talking about when he said, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

Beyond Tolerance: Being the Church in our Culture

14-06-01 Flourish5-civility-conviction-comp.027How Christ-followers engage with the culture they are a part of is a crucial and sometimes complex question. I have been working over the last two years on three essential ingredients from the Scriptures that put ‘flesh’ on being ‘salt and light’ in the culture. (Matthew 5:13-16) God calls us to be people of CONVICTION, CIVILITY, and COMPASSION.  The audio of the teaching is here, and I’m adding the illustrations I use below. I’ve made some changes which I trust will be helpful. I welcome your comments.

Civility is becoming recognized as a public virtue far superior to an often mushy Tolerance – which does not even require love for the other as ‘neighbor!’

The apostle Peter put it this way:

…in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil.  (1 Peter 3:15-17, ESV)

Let me take this a step further explaining why I believe God calls us to all three of these essentials…

14-06-01 Flourish5-civility-conviction-comp.024Without CONVICTION, we can be aimless or even compromising, not pointing people to ‘the Good, the True, and the Beautiful’ which come from God.

 

 

 

 

 

14-06-01 Flourish5-civility-conviction-comp.025Without COMPASSION, we can be impractical and just ‘live in our head’; or worse – be people without embodied love in action, and ultimately become invisible to the culture in need around us!

 

 

 

 

 

14-06-01 Flourish5-civility-conviction-comp.026 Without CIVILITY, we can become a limited Christian ‘ghetto’ that doesn’t engage the culture. Or, we can be only a marginalized subculture – unpersuasive and the opposite of the Good News aroma of God!

(Richard Mouw’s Uncommon Decency is a must read on the subject of civility with convictions.)

So, let’s grow in our biblical convictions of truth while embodying and proclaiming the Gospel of hope in Christ – all with a grace and respect among the sacred humans we live with every day!

Day 25, The Ephrem Prayer (part 9)

prodigal-detail1Pray the Prayer of Ephrem the Syrian again. The final positive virtue in this wonderful prayer is for a spirit of LOVE.

O Lord and Master of my life!
Take from me the spirit of
apathy, despondency, ambition, and empty talk.
+++
But give rather the spirit of
purity, humility, patience, and love to Your servant.
+++
Yes, O Lord and King!
Grant me to see my own errors
and not to judge my brother or sister;
For You are blessed forever, to ages of ages.  Amen!
+++

The commentary by Alexander Schmemann:

Finally, the crown and fruit of all virtues, of all growth and effort is love—that love which, as we have already said, can be given by God alone—the gift which is the goal of all spiritual preparation and practice.

A version of the whole commentary can be read here.

Day 16, Today is ‘Hunger to Hope!’

H2Hbanner_0If  you pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then shall your light rise in the darkness and your gloom be as the noonday. (Isaiah 58:10, ESV)

It seems appropriate to be holding a food packing event like Hunger to Hope in the middle of Lent. Pray for the hundreds of volunteers packing 175,000 special meals with Feed My Starving Children. today. This is equivalent to providing food for a village of 500 for a year. Ask the Lord to use this day to in compassionate and transforming ways!

This has become a statewide event, anchored by Christ Church, but involving friends, co-workers, neighbors, children and their school-mates and folks from many other churches. Thanks to our World Missions Team for their wonderful Spirit-led leadership, and for all those who are giving money and time and resources to exceed what we imagined!

For the needy shall not always be forgotten, and the hope of the poor shall not perish forever.  (Psalm 9:8, ESV)

Day 4 – Fasting from ‘Religion’

Jesus eating w the nationsIsaiah and Jesus took fasting to a whole other level! God calls Isaiah to fast  from sin – from oppression, pointing the finger of false accusation, malicious speech, and lack of compassion. The people of God are to feed the hungry and care for the homeless and outsider. The promise is wonderful: “You will be like a spring of water; you will be guided continually and be called repairers of breaches and restorers of streets to dwell in.”

Jesus broke all the religious insider codes by “eating with tax collectors and sinners.” “I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.” We’ve missed the point, if we don’t join Jesus to tear  down the “closed country club for the ‘healthy'” and build instead an “always-open hospital for the ailing and weak – which is just about all of us.” (Richard Rohr, in God for Us, p.22)

Scriptures to pray with:
Psalm 86:1-11 – “Gladden the soul of your servant.”
Isaiah 58:9b-14 – “you shall raise up the foundations of many generations!”
Luke 5:27-32 – “O Physician of every soul…!”

Response:
Will our churches be “always-open hospitals for the ailing and weak?” Begin with me.

A Prayer for the road:
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

 

[Join us for these 40 days of “Spiritual Spring Training,” as we journey through Lent. You can visit the blog each day. You can also follow me on Twitter which will have the links as well. I will post each day leading to Easter (April 20th) except Sundays.]

One reason why our mission includes ‘Compassion’

compassion imageI have strongly advocated that “Tolerance” is really useless as the central public virtue it has been lifted up to be. I can “tolerate” you without showing any neighbor love to you! Civility and Compassion with Convictions is the better alternative. (see a previous post on “Loving Like Jesus in Public”)

Krista Tippett, host of On Being and the designer of the Civil Conversations Project, has spoken about both the importance of Civility and the resurrection of the true meaning of Compassion in our language and culture. Her presentation at The Charter for Compassion has been picked up as a TED talk. Though I can’t agree with all the assumptions of this particular movement, I would say that it is tapping into the essential biblical truth that love must be visible. As the apostle John wrote, “Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.” (1 John 3:18, ESV) Tippett calls compassion a “spiritual technology” – more essential to the world than mere scientific knowledge.

As a church, we were led to describe our mission: “to build compassionate Christian communities that transform lives and bring hope to the world.” Compassion is Christ’s self-sacrificing love in action! It also resonates with the Imago Dei (Image of God) that is embedded in each of us. And therefore it is also a natural bridge for people everywhere to connect with the Good News as they see it in practice. This kind of compassion often naturally leads to the question from the watching world, “Why are you doing this?” Deeds of compassion in the spirit of civility with the conviction of Jesus’ name!

Imitating Jesus’ body language

dinnerWe’ve all heard the stats – that 60-90+ percent of our communication is non-verbal! Actual words are only a part of the message we send.  Certainly Jesus relied on more than the spoken message, as vital and powerful as his teaching was!

Jesus proclaimed the Good News of the Kingdom’s arrival – in many ways. People were healed of disease; demons were cast out and defeated; he chose 12 to be his messengers. AND he did something else. He ate with tax collectors and “sinners.” His body talked.  In our series, “I am a Disciple,” Mark 2:13-17 tells the story of Jesus calling Levi (later ‘Matthew’) to follow Him. We called the sermon, The Eating Habits of a Disciple.

We need to see ourselves in this story in two ways:
First, we are all radically INCLUDED SINNERS. Jesus came to save sinners – like you and me! (1 Timothy 1:12-17) The religious teachers of Jesus’ day excluded most of humanity and most of their fellow Jews with their heavy load of man-made laws smothering the heart of God’s Law. So they couldn’t handle Jesus consistent choice of dinner companions. But they got it all wrong! Jesus wasn’t being soft on sin – he was strong on true repentance and healing. Jesus was the holy physician, shouting with bold compassion that “holiness is not fragile – but powerful” to transform and change broken, sinful people into his very likeness and image.

Second, Like Levi throwing a party for his tax collector buddies, we are called to be radically INCLUSIVE DISCIPLES. “Imitate me,” Jesus says to us. Make a statement by who you hang out with. I agree with Larry Crabb that the Church should be “The Safest Place on Earth” – to meet Christ and spiritual friends who help us grow from where we are, to where we are meant to be.

There is room for every kind of background and past sinful experience among members of Christ’s flock as we learn the way of repentance and renewed lives, for “Such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified (made whole), you were justified (made righteous) in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”  (2 Corinthians 6:11)  This is true inclusivity.

Richard Bewes, All Souls Church, London (in Washed and Waiting p. 44)

Are there people Jesus would love to invite to dinner – who you would rather not? If so, who is in greater need of repentance?