Is Christian Love Unique?

2019 Blog Tour GraphicIf you have a moment today read 2 John, a short letter addressed to the “elect Lady” and her children.  John personifies the church as the one whom Jesus loves and cares for as his “elect lady.”

 As I read this letter, there are a couple things that jump out to me.

  • First, there is a relationship between love and truth… to walk in truth one must practice love, and to love is to practice obedience to God’s truth.
  • Second, the word “abide” appears several times, being the glue that holds truth and love together. According to John, these attributes abide in us as we walk in them.

I want to look at the notion of Christian Love and provide a practical way to build our love for one another in the church. I.H. Marshall wrote,

All who have come to know the truth are brought into the same bond of mutual love which exists between elder and this congregation. Acceptance of this truth involved active love, where love is absent, truth has not been accepted.

LOVE

The notion or idea of Christian love was not taught in a vacuum, it wasn’t a new concept introduced by Jesus, but one both grounded in the ideas of the times and challenging to the ideas of the times.  So, before we understand Christian love, we must survey what “love” meant at the time of Jesus’ teaching.

https://ozziepete.files.wordpress.com/2019/09/03d65-file.jpgAt the time of the church’s application of Jesus’ teaching on love, there were several groups teaching about it, and some were teaching it as a technique of sorts.

  • The Roman Poet Ovid wrote his “Ars Amatoria” to instruct men in the ways of love. Written in 2 AD, this work taught men how to find, win, and keep a lover with very little regard for any sort of ethical questions.
  • Meanwhile, it was reported by well-known historians Josephus and Philo that the Qumranites and the Essenes, Jewish sects at the time of Christ, practiced celibacy and were accused of being misogynistic. While those claims can be debated with the finding of the Dead Sea Scrolls which display their work, it is still a label that these groups have to this day.
  • There were other groups, like the Stoics and the Cynics who claimed that wise men had more important things to do than to worry about love, there was little use for it. Love was a disruption to peace of mind.  In other words, the end goal of life is virtue, not pleasure, and it can only be obtained by independence of all earthly possessions and pleasures. (http://philosophy.lander.edu/ethics/stoicism.html)  These men would come off to us as indifferent and aloof.

Interesting enough, it was the Stoic Philosopher Epictetus who wrote that the end goal of love was “If a man is unhappy remember that his unhappiness is his own fault, for God made all men to be happy.” (Discourses 3.24) Happiness as the end goal of love is not a Christian concept, but a popularized Stoic concept.

Love in John

Saint John - Reni

‘St. John the Evangelist’ by Guido Reni, 1621

 

John’s notion of love differs from these types of love.  For Jesus, and also for John, a Christian can have a longing and desire for someone whom they marry and enjoy, but the church’s call to love is a different type of love altogether.

The word love is used by John 42 times in his Gospel, and it is used 46 times in 1 John…which means that by the time we have arrived at 2 John, this notion of love has been well established as foundational to the church.  So, let’s understand John’s notion of love and how it is different.

  • First, love comes from God who is essentially love according to 1 John 4:9. The foundation of love starts with God who loves us.
  • Second, God has loved us in a very particular way. The laying down of His Son’s life was necessary so that the world would know the love of God. (John 14:31; 15:13; 1 John 4:10)
  • Third, we as a church must dwell or abide in Christ and in His love and this confirms that God is present in the church and thus the world.

Jesus taught that He and the Father are ONE, and that unity defined love (John 10:30).

Jesus prayed that His disciples would be ONE, and that unity defined love (John 17).

John sees the proof of God’s love being the Unity of the church; moreover, the love between believers in Christ is to be a witness to the world of the power and presence of God.  When this unity breaks down, the witness is broken.  When this unity is present, the witness is powerful.

For John, the command to love God is the first and greatest command.  The second command, love your neighbor (or each other), starts within the church community as loving your brothers and sisters in Christ.  This means that our love for one another should fall in line with the foundation upon which it is built:

  • Our love for each other honors God and obeys His will.
  • Our love restores, encourages, and gives life to each other!
  • Our love, producing unity, bears witness in a divided world that God is among us.

Christian love is a distinct love. We will know we are obedient to God’s command and we will see a practical difference when we abide in these two important aspects that set Christian love apart from other concepts of love:

  • The foundation it is built upon God, who is love, and His Son who laid down his life for us. It is not a matter of desire or being good enough, it is matter of whose we are and to whose family we belong.
  • The end goal of Christian love is not physical reproduction or emotional happiness; but a spiritual reality that God is among us and we experience God in relationship with each other.

Jonathan Woodall - pic

Jonathan Woodall is the minister for the GracePointe church of Christ in Elizabethtown, PA and blogs on the church website www.gracepointechurchofchrist.org and on his personal page at www.jonathanfwoodall.com.  He is the spouse of Hayley and they have two children–Brynn and Aidric.  Jonathan has also served as a worship minister, campus minister, and adjunct instructor of communication.

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Hesed in Action

Our theme for this year’s Blog Tour is “Love in Action.” My mind goes many places when I think of that phrase. Of course, we think of Jesus giving his life for us, but my mind also goes to someone in Jesus’ earthly lineage. Someone whom nobody would expect to show a Christ-like love in the pages of the Old Testament. The story of Ruth teaches us, through several characters interactions, about the hesed of God. What is hesed?

It’s a difficult Hebrew word to translate, is most often translated as “love,” but almost as often translated as “loyalty, joint obligation, mercy, faithfulness, goodness, graciousness, kindness, favor, etc..” Hesed is one of the most fundamental characteristics of Yahweh, so much in fact that I’ve often heard hesed described by the fruits of the Spirit. Hesed is a “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” kind of love. It’s “Love in Action.”

See the source imageWithin the story of Ruth, we find love-in-action-hesed at play in a number of places. Ruth’s refusal to leave Naomi? Hesed. Ruth’s willingness to glean for food? Hesed. Boaz going above and beyond to let Ruth harvest with his workers instead of gleaning, and sending her away at the end of the day with months worth of grain instead of what she picked up that day? Hesed. Naomi devising a plan for Ruth to marry Boaz? Hesed.

But I think the most brave, selfless, and daring act of hesed comes when Ruth goes to Boaz at night with a marriage proposal. Chapter 3 is clear that Naomi wants to get Ruth a husband so she can go on with her life. Ruth takes Naomi’s plan, however, and changes it completely! Without getting too technical, Ruth invokes two cultural laws here: the levirate and kinsman-redeemer laws. The levirate law saw to it that if a woman’s husband died leaving her childless, the dead husband’s brother must marry the woman and give her a child (Deut. 25:5-10). The kinsman-redeemer law dealt with the responsibility of redeeming land so it didn’t leave, or at least returned to the possession of the original family to whom it was given (Lev. 25:23-28).

Neither of these rules apply to Ruth. Boaz was a relative to Elimelek, Naomi’s husband. Levirate law would fall to a brother of Elimelek for Naomi, not Ruth, and Boaz was not a brother. Kinsman-redeemer law dealt with Boaz buying back land for Naomi, not Ruth, and Boaz was not the closest relative.

What does all this mean? Naomi wanted to take care of Ruth by finding her a good man to marry. Naomi was only concerned with Ruth. This is Hesed. Ruth’s only concern was Naomi in getting Elimelek’s land back, and this point is vitally important, invoking levirate law using herself as the surrogate for bearing Naomi a child (see Ruth 4:13-17). This is why Boaz says her “kindness” (hesed) is greater than she showed earlier in gleaning for Naomi. Ruth shows hesed toward Naomi, and does not look out for herself. And then Boaz, not bound by either of these laws, decides to carry out Ruth’s plan. As a result, Obed, the grandfather of King David, is born to Ruth, and becomes Naomi’s son.

Hesed floods this story. A hesed so great to self-sacrifice for the sake of others. That’s Ruth. That’s also Jesus! Love in action fills the pages of Scripture, and love in action should fill the story of our lives.

Matt Stidham


Matt Stidham is the preaching minister for East Side Church of Christ in Snyder, TX. He blogs at LivingInTheWord.org. You can join him for weekly Bible studies on Facebook @LivingInTheWordBibleStudy.

Love in Silence: An Interview

My post for the summer blog tour “Love in Action” features an interview with Terrell Smith. I met her while visiting First Colony Church of Christ in Sugar Land Texas. I was totally captivated by Terrell Smith who used American Sign Language to interpreted the service for those hearing impaired in attendance that day. 

As she signed with a wonderful sense of timing and musical feeling conveyed in each song, I thought “God thru the Arts!” and what a wonderful way to feature the blessed heart of this dear woman who heard God’s call and answered. I hope this little interview will inspire you to start your own program or maybe step out and take a chance when you hear God’s voice calling you to Love in Action!

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Dear Terrell, I was very impressed last Sunday when I watched you sign the praise songs. Can you tell us just a little about who you are and about your special ministry?

My name is Terrell Smith, and I’ve been attending First Colony Church of Christ, in Sugar Land Texas for about 18 years.  I help interpret for the deaf in our first service on Sunday mornings, and it’s been a joy to become involved in serving in this manner.

I was particularly impressed with the musicality of your signing. I could feel the emotion behind every word. Can you tell us a little about your musical background? Was there someone who was a big influence on you?

Using facial expressions to convey the meaning of the message is part of American Sign Language, so we are “supposed to” convey emotions as we interpret.  I do have a musical background, though; I took piano lessons for many of my elementary years, was a percussionist in middle school and high school, sang in the choir in high school, and I played with a local community orchestra for about a decade.  My biggest influence I would have to say was my main ASL teacher at church. Yvonne Butler is deaf, and she “sings” beautifully through her signing.  I have learned so much from her and others as I have tried to learn the language.

I’m interested in hearing about the process for learning to sign for the deaf in worship service. How long did it take you to feel comfortable enough to interpret a church service?

When I came to First Colony, I had very little background in sign language.  I knew the ABC’s and a few “church words” like Jesus, Christ, Lord, and love.  We had a couple of ASL classes through the first several years I worshiped there, and knowing some basics helped me to learn a great deal just by watching the interpreters on Sunday mornings.  

After about 8-10 years of attending classes and watching and learning, Yvonne began a class for a few of us on Wednesday evenings to specifically learn to sign/interpret the songs in our worship.  After another year, I think, I felt like I knew enough to be able to begin to interpret a song or two in our church services.  From there, my skills continued to grow until I began to interpret all the songs, prayers and announcements in the worship service.  Eventually, I also began to interpret the lesson being taught. The strange thing about this is I NEVER thought I would be doing this type of thing.  When I said that out loud, I think God laughed…  It’s been a long process, and it’s really nothing I did.  God was always at the heart of it.  I just held on and tried to not get in His way!

I understand what you mean. I never thought I would want to do public speaking. Growing up, I always thought speaking in front of others looked very scary and I was happy to let others be up front, but now I am leading retreats and speaking at workshops. God is always working in surprising ways if you let him.  Do you have a bible passage that speaks to the heart of your ministry?

When I read the passage in Matthew 19 where Jesus tells his disciples to let the little children come to Him, I think of some of the people I’ve met through our deaf ministry.  Many were not brought to church as physical children, and I sense in them a sort of “spiritual childhood” and with that comes a pure hunger for God’s word.  They want to learn about God, and I think Jesus welcomes them as He did the little children in that passage.  Thinking on this I realize weekly, “What a blessing to be able to help them get to know Jesus!”

02_TerrellCan you tell us a little more about the specific needs you have noticed while working with the hearing impaired? What do you mean by the “spiritual childhood” you are witnessing as you interpret for them in worship?

In the past, because they might have been considered distracting to others, some parents were not comfortable bringing hearing impaired children to church. And it can also be difficult to find a church that has sign language interpretation for these young ones.  Thus, a great number of these precious souls don’t know the familiar Bible stories those of us in the hearing world learned in our Sunday school classes.  It’s wonderful to get to share these beloved Bible stories with many of them for the first time.

Do you have a specific story of someone who has been blessed by what you all are doing at First Colony Church of Christ?

I think I’m the one who’s been blessed!  I have learned so much about grace since getting involved in our deaf ministry.  Our deaf brothers and sisters at First Colony know that I am trying my best and that I make mistakes.  They gently correct and encourage me, and they “give me credit” for trying.  It’s humbling and a wonderful example of God’s grace!

In closing, can you share with us what surprised you the most about working with the deaf community?

I am amazed at God’s power.  That’s such a silly thing to say for someone who grew up going to church and has always believed in God.  But I so surprised that I am involved in this at all and that I have been given the opportunity to serve in this way.  As I said, I didn’t do this at all!  God is at work, no question about it.  And I am so very thankful!

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01 Profile_Jen_Rundlett aJennifer Rundlett
God thru the Arts: www.godthruthearts.com

Jennifer teaches flute to children and adults of all ages and levels of experience and has been a part of Shepherd College & Mount Saint Mary’s University faculty and Millbrook Orchestra. Currently she is adjunct faculty at Frederick Community College .

Her work in the community also includes an active lecture series called: God thru the Arts where she works to link the spiritual connections throughout all arts. Author of My Dancing Day: Reflections of the Incarnation in Art and Music and The Joyful Sound: Reflections on the Life of Christ in Art and Music and has been a speaker at the Pepperdine Bible Lectures in Malibu CA, Tulsa Workshop in Tulsa OK, David Lipscomb University Summer Celebration in Nashville TN, Rochester College Streaming in Rochester Hills Michigan and Fort Detrick Prayer Breakfast in Frederick MD.

Love in Theory

I’m thrilled to launch the 2019 Blog Tour. Once again I’ve had the opportunity to team up with some terrific writers to share their hearts and talents with you. This year we explore the theme “Love in Action”. I pray you’re encouraged by the articles headed your way over the next few weeks. Today, I get the tour started with one of my own.

2019 Blog Tour Graphic

How many definitions do you know for love?

If you’ve spent a few years in church, you’ve probably come across agape, phileo, maybe eros and if you’re a serious student, perhaps also storge. And they’re just the Greek words!

In English we struggle to find words to differentiate between loving our car, our cat, and our spouse.

Are there even words that describe the feeling of gazing at that individual on the school bus, across the aisle and up three rows. The individual that slows time, but accelerates the pulse. The individual that surely represents perfection in human skin. Perfection that will make your life complete… if they ever notice you. Are there words for her glance, or his smile?

Many ways exist to theorise concerning love. We can define it. We can seek to describe it. We can imagine it. We can sing or write about it. Each of these options contain merit.

Love in theory is a wonderful thing.

Love in theory contains no flaws.

In theory, love is patient and kind. In theory it celebrates other people’s accomplishments and doesn’t boast about its own. Theoretically, it always puts other people ahead of itself. Not only does avoid anger, it also doesn’t even keep records of the hurts, frustrations and disappointments that could prompt anger. In theory love is beautiful. It protects, trusts, hopes and never comes with an expiry date.

Love-in-theory creates expectations. Whether those expectations are achievable or not depends upon the individual’s theory. But we need love-in-theory.

As valuable as love-in-theory is, it only tells a part of the story.

Love-in-theory is comparable to the thoughts and prayers sent to victims in the wake of natural disasters and violence. In many ways, prayer provides the greatest response to tragedy. It petitions God to act in situations where we have no answers. What greater power can be applied to a disaster than the power of Yahweh?

But sometimes… many times… most times… God expresses his love and power through his children, the church. If the church focuses too much on prayer, it will never fulfill its function as the hands and feet of God.

God longs for his people to pray… and comfort the hurting.

God longs for his people to pray… and feed the hungry.

God longs for his people to pray… and stand against injustice.

God longs for his people to pray… and make friends across racial barriers.

God longs for his people to pray… and rebuild brokenness.

God longs for his people to pray… while speaking and being his Good News to the world.

Love-in-theory dwells in idealism. In contrast, love-in-action dwells in imperfection. Love-in-action is most often found in the messes and turmoil of life. When things aren’t perfect, love springs into action. This explains why Scripture encourages us that, “love covers over a multitude of sins.” (1 Peter 4:8) Sins require more love than our idyllic impression of perfection can ever generate.

Love-in-theory motivates and inspires. We all need this motivation and inspiration. The key question remains, “How does love-in-theory prompt us to act?” Does it inspire us to retreat inwardly to a dream world of perfection? Or does it motivate us to take practical steps toward improving the world we live in.

Love-in-action effects change.

I recently saw an internet meme that said, “Marriage is your spouse constantly standing in front of the cabinet or drawer you need to open.” How we respond to repeated mundane frustrations like this demonstrates our progress at converting love-in-theory into action.

The apostle John wrote, Don’t just talk about love as an idea or a theory. Make it your true way of life, and live in the pattern of gracious love. (1 John 3:18 VOICE)

Let’s commit to turning our love-in-theory into love-in-action. Together, as the hands and feet of God, we can change the world we love.


picture-3Peter Horne moved to the United States from Australia in 1999 to pursue training for ministry. Having filled the roles of children’s minister, youth minister, and college minister in various locations around the US and Australia, he has served as the minister for the Lawson Rd Church of Christ in Rochester, NY since 2008. He is married to Julie who constantly finds him standing in front of cabinets and drawers she needs to open, but loves him anyway.

 

Rethinking Restoration

Churches of Christ have their origins in what is commonly referred to as the “Restoration Movement” of the 1800’s. The movement’s name comes from its goal of “restoring New Testament christianity” or “restoring the New Testament church”. The pioneers of the movement were reacting to the excesses they witnessed in existing denominations. Their solution was to begin anew by returning to Scripture and following the pattern they found there, rejecting subsequent human innovations.

This blog post from 2009 still reflects some of my reservations about this goal of restoration. Since I’ve written them there, I won’t write them here.

port arthur church 01

Part of my reluctance to embrace the goal of restoration stems from the image it paints for me of a museum. I picture the church as an antique on display, or as Colonial Williamsburg, or Port Arthur. It becomes a reminder of how things used to be. These sites teach valuable lessons. Mostly they teach us to be thankful we didn’t live back then. They’re interesting to visit, but no one wants to live there.

Perhaps you’ve experienced a church like that. It has restored everything from the first century beautifully. It worships precisely in the approved manner and is ruled by correctly authorised men. It’s an interesting place to visit, but not a place you’d want to live.

Then it occurred to me… or maybe I read it in a book or heard it somewhere…

There are several examples in the Bible where Jesus, the apostles, or a prophet restore life to someone. That last phrase caught my attention, “restore life to someone“. Without dismissing the need to worship God in ways meaningful to Him, or to have godly church leaders, the power of the early church was not in its forms and structures. The power of the first Christians became evident when the Holy Spirit infused them with new life that they shared with others.

Jesus restored life to people in numerous ways.

At times Jesus literally raised the dead. He also touched the quarantined. He healed the sick. He ate with the outcasts. He welcomed the isolated. He gave hope to the hopeless. He loved everyone.

For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him.  1 Thessalonians 5:9-10

Jesus ultimately died to give us the gift of new life. He rose from the grave to defeat death and give us the hope of eternal life.

I’m proud to be part of a Jesus movement with the goal of restoring life to those who hurt and live without hope or purpose.

I don’t live to argue over pews vs chairs, instruments vs a cappella, one communion cup vs many, or hymns vs contemporary music styles. Those conversations have a place. I live to receive and then to give life.

The biblical story begins and ends with a Tree of Life. Jesus described himself as the Bread of Life while offering Living Water to those with a thirst.

May we each choose to be life givers and speakers.

 

Matt Dabbs wrote a valuable article with a similar theme HERE. Here’s a snippet, “We can have churches that haven’t converted a single non-Christian for years, decades, and yet their failing on Jesus’ very obvious command to go and make disciples somehow doesn’t disqualify them from being the true church.

What Was Herod Seeking?

Magi Following the StarFear will make you do strange things. It will make you do terrible things.

Fear can make you hurt others. Ultimately, it will hurt you more than anyone else.

Zach Williams has recorded a song titled “Fear Is A Liar”. To date, the official has over 22 million hits. It captures well the destructive nature of fear.

It’s also true that fear functions as a God-given self preservation mechanism. The great quandary which confronts us requires us to discern between real and imagined fears.

As Jesus prepared for his return to heaven at the end of his earthly ministry, he told his disciples, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” (John 14:27) This promise forms a wonderful bookend to the events of Jesus’ birth.

Jesus was born into an environment filled with fear. His parents had made a long journey to Bethlehem out of obedience, and fear, of the occupying Roman legions. Although Judea experienced relative stability under the rule of Rome and the 33 year reign of Herod, it wasn’t exactly peace as we know it. Many people sought a return to true Jewish independence and purity of worship. While Herod maintained order with an iron hand.

Fear consumed Herod the Great. He was paranoid about protecting his throne. He killed family members. He executed his wife and his brother. He had his sons killed. He believed in eliminating all potential competitors to his power.

Consumed by fear Herod lashed out creating an environment of retribution and fear.

It wasn’t only family. Rebellions and revolts were not unusual during the reign of Herod. His commitment to extinguish these revolts kept him in the good graces of Rome. Like other provincial rulers of the time opposition was met with violence and usually death. By modern standards, Herod was a monster.

Life was cheap when it came to maintaining the peace and the power.

Then Jesus, the Messiah, the King of the Jews, arrived. Herod recognized the threat. He murdered all boys under the age of 2 in the village of Bethlehem.

Jesus was born in this world or fear. Jesus lived in this world of fear. Jesus’ parents fled to Egypt to protect their son’s life.

When we apply the titles of Isaiah 9:6 to Jesus, ‘Prince of Peace’ isn’t just filling in space to provide cadence. Herod had every right to fear Jesus. Jesus was born to become king. Jesus was born not only to replace Herod, but to replace Herod’s environment of fear with and environment of peace. Significantly, in contrast to Herod, Jesus wasn’t ever proposing to maintain peace through violence. He maintains peace through peace.

Thirty-three years later, Herod the Great is long dead. Jesus himself is about to die. But while Herod’s final days were filled with increased paranoia, Jesus could approach death and promise his followers, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you.

Fear isn’t dead.

Fear is real, and sometimes it’s healthy.

But fear is often a liar. And when fear festers it fosters hurt and turmoil.

I’m not suggesting that all Jesus followers just need to “think happy thoughts” to solve all our problems. I am suggesting that we need to take seriously Jesus’ mission to bring peace to the world, including to our world.

The apostle Paul explains it this way in Romans 8:14,

For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.”

May the love and peace of Christ overcome your fears this Christmas and in the year ahead. May you find refuge in the arms of your Father and strength in His Spirit. May you find joy in your adoption as a child of God.

Seeking to Love

2018 Blog Tour cI sat across the table with one of my closest friends and mentors, lamenting to him, “Since when did discipleship become only about Bible study?” Later that day, I read this: “You are hungry for knowledge; you thirstily drink up biblical ideas; you long to be Christlike; yet all of that knowledge doesn’t seem to translate into a way of life. It seems we can’t think our way to holiness.”* You’re good, God…

“Would you disciple this person?” I remember asking a mature Christian of a new Christian. “Sure, but I don’t have a lesson plan or a bunch of studies ready,” was the reply. It was a reasonable response, after all, as part of my schooling I was tasked to write a 12-month discipling study; it’s little wonder that many people don’t have that lying around…

“Let’s form a teaching schedule from real-life principles that our teens face, with every lesson geared towards reinforcing that one principle a quarter,” came the cry at the educational curriculum meeting. “But, how do we make sure we teach all of Scripture?” came the earnest, if expected, critique…

“What’d you think of the lesson?” I asked of someone visiting a class taught by one of my favorite in-house Bible teachers. “Fine,” she replied, “but he didn’t use very many verses…”

calm pond fishing 01

For 4 months the fly fishing rod produced no fish but much suffering, yet here in my hand it was again. I had only just learned the (still too thick) line and (way too big) bug to tie on, and so I cast with hope. With barely any knowledge of how or why it would, a hooked trout shook my rod for the first time, and a passion for the sport, nurtured in suffering, was born that continues today.

In a tradition that emphasizes Bible study as the goal of assembly, a contrast strikes me. Is there value in knowledge and study? Absolutely. But to what end? Often, this leads to assumptions that the more we know, the more God-like we are. Personal experience has taught me that’s vehemently false as a rule. This also assumes humans are mainly thinking beings, and that learning can and will change habits. This is how services and Bible classes are geared, and we lament when those raised to know everything from Scripture fall away. Except we don’t apply this logic to other disciplines such as exercise, or on-the-job training, or nutrition, or even fly-fishing.

Jesus didn’t ask Peter what he knew about Himself in John 21:15, Jesus asked if Peter loved him. Jesus didn’t say in John 14:15 that if you know more about Me you’ll keep My commands, but if you love Me. This isn’t a false dichotomy – what we love is what drives us, motivates us, and orients our life, far more than knowledge alone. We know this because we can know the benefits of exercise all we want, and never do it. We can know that cake is bad for us, and still eat it. And we can know about Jesus without ever truly loving Him.

What if discipleship was less about learning about Jesus, and more about loving Jesus more? What if church services were less about information and more about transformation? What if our goal was less about making sure the whole Bible is covered and more about covering our whole selves with the love of God seen in Jesus? What if our goal was less a habit of church attendance and more about attending the habits of the church that lead us to be more, or less, like Jesus? What if we spent less time learning about being a Christian, and more time living like Jesus?

Bible study is essential, no doubt. Should the whole Bible be taught and preached? Absolutely. But knowledge alone isn’t the thing which will keep Christians faithful. Simply knowing about your spouse isn’t what keeps you married. Love: what you love, whom you love, and why you love, is what God is after – that you desire Him above all else, and orient your life to keep Him oriented as your goal. We’re not to know as Christ knew, are to love as Christ loved.

Four months of habitual fishless fly-fishing that finally produced one fish lead to a passion, one that then produced a love to learn more, fish more, and do what was needed to transform into a better fly-fisher. If a tiny little trout could produce that much life-change in the hobbies of a man, where could truly discipling, not just teaching, someone to where they catch the smallest glimmer of true Christ-likeness in themselves lead? Perhaps, just perhaps, it could lead to truly becoming what we love. In one case, an able fly-fisher. I’ll take Christ over a trout every day.


Thomas Pruett - pic

Thomas Pruett is a disciple of Jesus, a husband to Amy, a father of four Ms, who prefers to be outside when possible and with coffee when indoors. He currently serves the Northern Hills Church of Christ in western South Dakota and will transition to serve the Circle Church of Christ in Corvallis, Oregon starting in February 2019. He rambles usually every week at www.northernhillscofc.org/blog.

Seeking God’s People

Hosea.
A testimony to God’s steadfast lovingkindness towards Israel and Judah.

2018 Blog Tour c

From the start, Hosea tells the story of our God whose unfailing love paves the way for the redemption of God’s people even as they commit adultery with every lover they can find.

Read Hosea 1-2. Note the intentionality of the writing. Pay attention to the meaning of the names. Let the movement of the plot become apparent. Watch carefully what God is doing behind the scenes.

It is astounding. It is delightful. It is transforming.

The book is likely written in the final days before Israel’s exile during the rapid succession of kings (six in twenty-five years). God pled with God’s people through many prophets to turn back from their idolatrous ways to avoid the cleansing God would bring through the exile.

In verse 1:2, Hosea is instructed by God to go take a wife, Gomer, from among to harlots and to have children with her, an analogy for Israel and Judah’s adultery.

Three children are born.

The first is named Jezreel in reference to a massacre in 1 Kings 9-10.

The second child is a daughter named Lo-ruhamah, meaning “she has not obtained compassion.” God tells Hosea to name the innocent this for, “…I will no longer have compassion on the house of Israel, that I should ever forgive them” (1:6b).

A third child is born. Another son. His name means “not my people.” Verse 1:9 reads:

And the Lord said, “Name him Lo-ammi, for you are not My people and I am not your God.

Chapter two opens with the two younger siblings instructed to contend with their mother for her harlotry. Hosea writes of how Gomer cheated on the children’s father and warns the father will strip the mother naked and leave her exposed unless she repents of her adultery and no compassion will be had for the woman’s children.

Such brutality is shocking to modern Western readers.

But then something beautiful happens in 2:6.

https://i1.wp.com/brians-walks.co.uk/photos/a-coast-to-coast-cycle-path-cleator-to-moor-row.jpgThe harlot’s husband says something even more shocking!

He tells the children of prostitution that even as their mother pursues her lovers, she will never overtake them. He has put a hedge up along her way. He has walled the paths so that she can run, but she cannot hide from him. She can seek her false lovers, but she will never find fulfillment with them.

‘Then she will say, “I will go back to my first husband,
For it was better for me then than now!”‘

What Israel does not know is that God provided for all her needs while she chased her false lovers. The grain, the new wine, the oil. Even the silver and gold which she and her lovers sacrificed to Baal were lavished upon the her by the harlot’s husband, God.

Still, God says, she will be punished for her unfaithfulness in the sight of her lovers.

But then. Oh, then, declares the Lord, “I will allure her” (2:14b).

Did you hear that? God will allure the bride who ran off after all her lovers, chasing them with God’s own gold and silver, new wine and oil.

God loves God’s bride so richly, so heavenly, that even the ones called “Not My People” and “She Has Not Obtained Compassion” are worthy of God’s alluring efforts.

“Therefore, behold, I will allure her
     Bring her into the wilderness,
     And speak kindly to her” (2:14).

And God does. After the adultery/idolatry is removed from the people by means of the exile, the people are brought back to their land. The bride returns to her first love.

“And it will come about in that day,” declares the Lord, “That you will call Me Ishi [husband]” (2:16).

See the source imageHosea 2 ends like a letter between two lovers. No more false lovers, no more war. Israel will lie down in safety, betrothed to God forever in righteousness and justice, in lovingkindness and in compassion.

God will betroth God’s bride to himself in faithfulness and she will know the Lord.
And God will respond.
God will respond in the heavens and Israel will respond on the earth.
And the earth will respond with grain and wine and oil 2:18-23.

In grand triumph, the children return:

I will also have compassion on
     her who had not obtained compassion,
And I will say to those who
    were not My people,
‘You are My people!’
And they will say, Thou art my God!’ (2:23 b,c)

(Be still in that for a moment. Let the beauty of what just happened wash over you.)


This is the story of God and Israel.

It is my story.
My precious love story with God who allures me.

Yes. God strips me bare and uncovers my nakedness in front of my false gods.
Then God removes those unkind lovers from my lips and betroths me to God forever.

This is also your story.
(Be still in that for a moment. Let the beauty of what just happened wash over you.)


God is always seeking God’s people. Providing for them.
Loving you steadfastly and making a way for you to be found.

Let God’s lovingkindness and compassion wash over you.
God calls you God’s people.


christine parker - pic

Christine Fox Parker serves as President/Executive Director of PorchSwing Ministries, Inc., a non-profit ministry she founded to offer healing and safe space to survivors of all forms of church abuse and to educate churches and Christian institutions in creating safer spaces and improving care for abuse survivors. She earned a Masters in Christian Ministry and a Master’s in Counseling from Harding School of Theology.

A popular speaker and teacher across the country, Christine co-edited and contributed to Surrendering to Hope: Guidance for God’s Broken, published by Leafwood Press in May 2018.

Connect with Christine on her websites at www.porchswingministries.org and www.christinefoxparker.com .

 

 

Disordered Loves

A long time ago, our friend Augustine talked about disordered loves. His contention was things tend to be good in and of themselves but the way we often use those good things is problematic. God created these things, after all – and he called them very good – but these good things were created within an order and with purpose. God’s good creation was meant to work a certain way. So our problem, Augustine says, is that we get our loves out of order. We neglect some things while trying to use other things to do more than they were ever meant to do.

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I think there’s a lot of truth to what Augustine is laying on us here. I think about Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 6:1-21. He bookends this teaching with dual warnings about being careful where we look for our treasures and rewards. Don’t give or pray or fast to impress people. (This was a culture, after all, where giving, praying, and fasting carried major social capital.) If that’s where we’re placing our worth and identity we’ll get our reward, but be careful: those neighbors we’ve worked so hard to impress with our shows of generosity, pious prayers, and righteous displays of fasting simply cannot bear the weight our bid for approval, worth, and meaning places on them. Investing ourselves in such storehouses inevitably leads to loss because, “moth and rust consume” and “thieves break in and steal.”

Augustine reminds us it’s not that our neighbors are bad – or even that we should avoid their approval. Rather, when we make the approval and validation of our neighbors the locus of our worth and identity, the place where we store our treasures, we’ve gotten things out of order. We look for something from our neighbors they cannot possibly deliver in any meaningful way. Only God can. It is only in rooting who we are in God’s estimation of us that we can hope to find lasting worth and meaning and identity. This is “where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal.”

“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

In Matthew 6:21, Jesus ends by reminding us our hearts will follow our treasures. Another way of saying that is this: You will spend your life chasing the treasure you seek. More, other friends as diverse as Aristotle, Aquinas, and James KA Smith remind us that it is in this chase that we become who we are. The chase forms us, for good or ill.

What am I seeking? That’s the question we’ve been assigned to ponder and I spend a lot of time doing that. I too often recognize the ways I chase the wrong sorts of treasure – when I place too much stock in whether or not my friends and neighbors think I’m funny or smart or successful or good. I’ve had to deal with all the ways I’ve hitched my identity to being a vocational minister, and I’ve had to figure out what I’m worth now that I’m not that anymore. More, I’ve had to come to terms with the fact that pursuing those treasures has often made me a more selfish person because it’s hard to both love and use my neighbors to satisfy my own neurotic needs. The only path forward I’ve discovered is to begin putting those loves back in order. This is, after all, the way Jesus showed us.

What do I seek? It has to be God. I stink at the pursuit. I struggle with it. I often get sidetracked and turned around. But, nothing else will do. Nothing else can.


Rob Sparks - picRob Sparks is a Jesus follower, a father and husband, a nerd, and a paper pusher. He worships and serves with the Fernvale Church of Christ in Middle Tennessee and occasionally blogs at robrsparks.wordpress.com

Seeking “Gentiles”

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Photo by slon_dot_pics on Pexels.com

In Romans 11:13 Paul describes himself as “the apostle to the Gentiles.” This isn’t the main point of the chapter, but it reveals that Paul possessed a clear understanding of his ministry and calling from God.

God didn’t call Paul to stand by the temple gates in Jerusalem and hand out Jesus tracts to those coming to worship. Although Paul healed people at times, God didn’t call Paul to establish a healing ministry at Jesus empty tomb. Paul’s mission didn’t exclude Jews, but he was called to ensure that his mission, and God’s kingdom, always included gentiles.

I suspect that many Christians lack a sense of calling and purpose in their Christian walk. Our Christian mission has a global, nondiscriminatory element to it. Jesus himself taught us “Go into all the world and make disciples” and  “A town built on a hill cannot be hidden.” Which makes the specificity of Paul’s calling all the more interesting.

Sometimes God continues to call people to serve and share the Gospel with particular foreign nations. I have friends in a variety of African, South American and Asian nations endeavouring to introduce people to Jesus. At first glance, this international mission work seems like the closest approximation of Paul’s calling.

I believe that God also calls each christian to narrow their beam of light. In that sense we’re more like a rotating lighthouse that shines it’s light in different directions at different times. We may have a stationary light at the top of the lighthouse that people can see from all directions, but the strong light focuses its beam in one location at a time.

lighthouse night 01

The question really isn’t whether  we have “gentiles” in our lives. Rather, the question comes down to whether or not we’re willing to accept our proximity to them as our God-given calling.

The word “apostle” comes from the Greek word for messenger. In this sense we can all describe ourselves as the “apostle / messenger to the ____________”. Who might God be calling you to shine His light upon?

  • Family
  • Co-workers
  • Children’s friends
  • Neighbours
  • Immigrants
  • Teenage mothers
  • People in recovery
  • Special needs families
  • A local elementary school
  • Homeless
  • LGBT
  • College students
  • White collar professionals
  • First responders

When I was in university studying accounting, I had a commercial law professor, Dr. James Wong. He passed away several years ago, but he remains a great example to me of someone who let his light shine. Here are three examples I know of.

  1. Students: I first met Dr Wong outside the classroom when I chose to attend a “Staff & Students” Bible study I saw advertised. Dr Wong was the only staff member and there weren’t many students, but it became a source of encouragement for me. The group primarily consisted of students from Hong Kong and southeast Asia. Dr Wong and his wife, Sharon, served these students not just through a Bible study but in helping them adjust to life on a Tasmanian university campus. He was an apostle to these students.
  2. Professional colleagues: Dr Wong felt that churches often struggled to connect with white collar professionals. As a lawyer himself, he felt a strong desire to share the Gospel with this community. To accomplish this end he self-published a book of testimonies from various successful Christian lawyers, doctors, accountants, engineers and others. It never became a best seller, but it was how he carried out his calling to be an apostle to the professional community.
  3. Northern Tasmania: Dr Wong and Sharon weren’t from Tasmania, but they lived there for many years. They gave themselves the goal of delivering gospel tracts to every home in Launceston. When they accomplished that they continued to expand their efforts. Over the years they had traveled as far as 100kms from home to fulfill their mission of sharing the Gospel with as many of their neighbours as possible. We might question the effectiveness of tracts in letterboxes, but not their commitment to letting God’s light shine through them to a specific region of “gentiles”.

Who are your “gentiles”? Who are you seeking?