Here’s another word that gets used often, but is not understood

“God is love, and the one who abides in that love abides in God and God abides in him. In this, that love has been perfected with us, so that we may have boldness in the day of judgment, because just as He is, so also are we in this world. There is no fear in that love, but that perfect love casts out that fear, because fear has punishment, and the one who fears has not been perfected in that love. We love because He first loved us.”

1 John 16b-19

I am coming to understand, sadly more and more all the time, that love is a word that is used often in Christian circles, but true understanding of what that word means is not commensurate with the level of usage.

Inside every person, there is a desire to truly know and to be truly known. And it is that love that is found in God that allows that to occur. How often has it been said that people put on a mask when with others? Why does that person feel it necessary to put on that mask? Because of fear at how others will respond and react if they are allowed to see who that person really and truly is. That person fears reprisal, harsh criticism, nonacceptance, and/or condescension. And those feared responses can be seen as a form of “punishment.” And it is often the case that that fear is justified.

And the one group where that love should be flowing can often be the very place where it is not shown – congregations, assemblies, groups of followers of Jesus. It’s not that there are not other places and groups where that love isn’t shown, but it hurts even more when the very place where one expects to find that love is given the exact opposite.

I have talked with many different people who have told me that the one time where they feel like they cannot be who they truly are due to responses is when they are with groups of Christians. They fear hard reactions and harsh words because it has been their experience that Christians are very good at giving both, both in front of them and behind their back which eventually get back to them. I have either experienced myself or been told by others of their experiences of anonymous criticisms leveled, criticisms which were hard and scathing and down right mean-spirited. And I have no problem whatsoever believing that those who offer these types of anonymous comments feel absolutely justified and righteous and holy in doing so.

There is just one problem – God doesn’t agree. That love that finds its origin, its source, in God casts out fear – ALL fear. So, if an action does not contribute to a person’s willingness to be known by others, then that action is an unloving action and goes against God’s character, nature, and heart.

And just saying that it was said in love (claiming to be “speaking the truth in love,” which by the way is a smelly pile of manure) isn’t evidence that it was love. The proof is in the pudding, as they say. If the action or comment doesn’t cause the person to whom said action or comment was directed to allow themselves to be known more fully, than that action or comment is not loving, no matter what the person doing or saying it thinks.

And here’s another thing – there is an opposite reality to the Apostle John’s words. If the one who abides in that love (meaning that love is truly demonstrated and is the source for all that one does) abides in God and God abides in them, then if one is not abiding in that love, that person does not abide in God and God does not abide in them.

Want to know why a marriage is to be an excellent image of God? Because in a good marriage, neither person has any fear about sharing anything. Neither has any fear of truly being known and truly knowing. And that’s because of the presence of true and pure love. That’s the reason why a person, with one’s spouse, can fully be who s/he is, without fear of reprisal or “punishment.”

So, the next time, before you make that comment, write that anonymous note, or do that action, ask yourself, “Will this encourage or discourage that person to allow themselves to be fully known?” Be honest in answering it; don’t rationalize it. If someone were to say or do to you what you are going to say or do to them, would it encourage or discourage you? And if it will truly discourage, then it is not loving. And, therefore, it is not an example of abiding in God because you are not moving in love.

The Right Goal for What I Do

The Holy Spirit has been having a particular passage resonate in my spirit of a number of days now. It is found in the Apostle Paul’s first letter to one he considered his son in the faith – Timothy. The passage is 1 Timothy 1:3-7.

Paul writes,

“Even as I charged you to remain in Ephesus while I went into Macedonia, so that you might exhort certain ones to not teach different things, not to give heed to myths and endless genealogies, which produce speculations rather than the dispensation of God which is in faith. But the end of the charge is love from a pure heart and from a good conscience and from a sincere faith, from which things some, having mis-aimed, have turned aside to vain things, desiring to be teachers of the law, though they understand neither the things that they say, nor concerning what they confidently affirm.”

Why is having a goal, or a desired end or result in mind, so important? Because that is how we know if we are on the right track because we are seeing the goal produced.

Paul has left Timothy in Ephesus. Now, this is the time after Paul has been released from prison in Rome and before he is rearrested and then eventually martyred for Christ. Before he left, he gave to Timothy  the charge to make sure that those who were teaching in Ephesus were teaching the pure gospel and not something else. He knew this danger existed. That’s why he gave Timothy that charge before he left.

Paul tells Timothy that the goal of his ministry, his teaching and his life, is having love developed in people. That is the goal of the Gospel – to have love developed in people, a love that is demonstrated to others around them in ever-increasing measure. That’s the reason why Paul says a love from a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith. Timothy’s teaching was to produce that good heart, to produce that good conscience, to produce that sincere faith, but always in connection with that person showing love to those around them in ever-increasing measure. If the love didn’t happen, how that pure heart, that good conscience, and that sincere faith were produced must be examined.

This end, this goal, I need to keep in the front of my mind. It is how everything I do needs to be measured and evaluated.

And not just me. Everyone who is a pastor or leader in a congregation must also have this goal. They must also evaluate and measure what they do in light of this goal.

And, frankly, there are occurrences, some about which we read in the news, where a person’s response to how they have been taught has not led to love from a pure heart or from a good conscience or from a sincere faith. It has led them to think that a pure heart or a good conscience or a sincere faith is a be all and end all.

They are not. If they do not lead to love, they aren’t worth much. They are only a step to the real goal – love.

The ability to and demonstration of love by those entrusted to my care is the goal by which I must evaluate and measure the charge I have been given.

 

 

Religion is alive and well; I wish it would die

“We are not governed by externals. We are led by the Spirit.” – Graham Cooke

On a regular basis, I receive messages like this in my email from Graham. The above was the first line of the one I received today. And it is the essence of the gospel that Paul was given through direct revelation from and taught to him by Christ. And that gospel is in direct opposition, direct conflict, with religion and the religious spirit. As I said a couple Sundays ago in my sermon, the gospel is anti-religion.

This is why, in a discussion about this very thing, Paul writes at the end of what we know as Colossians 2, “If you died with Christ from the elements of the world, why, as if alive in the world, do you subject yourselves to ordinances?  Do not handle nor taste nor touch, (regarding things which are all to perish when used) according to the commandments and teachings of men?  Such things indeed have a reputation of wisdom in self-imposed piety and mock humility and severe treatment of the body but are not of any value against the indulgence of the flesh.”

Religious-inspired Christianity says things like the following:

Good Christians don’t drink alcohol.

They also don’t patronize business establishments that serve alcohol.

Good Christians don’t get tattoos.

Good Christians don’t get body piercings.

Good Christians only wear certain types of attire to worship.

Good Christians only listen to certain types of music.

Good Christians don’t bake cakes for same sex weddings.

Good Christians don’t do certain activities on Sundays.

And on and on it goes.

And adherence to lists like the one above is how one’s spirituality is judged. Religion is all about externals – living life by what one must do and what one must not do – whereas what God has done through Christ is all about the internal – life lived by the Spirit, meaning that we live by the nature of God, which He placed within us who have believed in Christ, having been joined with Christ in His death and raised also with Him to walk in newness of life just as He walked, by which we have been given Christ’s nature as our one and only true nature.

Life by the Spirit does not abide by some religious code or moral code; it abides by the very heart and desires and character of God. And that is display in different, sometimes seemingly contradictory, ways. This very truth, this very heart of the gospel, is why Paul no longer considered it obligatory to follow the dictates of the Mosaic Law as a Jew. In Galatians 4:12, he says this directly to the Galatian believers: “Be as I am, because I am also as you are, brothers…” He’s telling these Gentiles that he had become just like them as Gentiles in observance of the law. Gentiles didn’t follow the mandates; Paul was saying that he was no longer either, all because of life by the Spirit through the gospel.

I wish religion would die, but it won’t until the reality of the defeat of the enemy of God and all those who believe comes to fruition.

Until that time, we who believe must live from the inside out, for when we do that, we experience the culture of the Spirit – of joy, of power, and of peace.

Graham says this at the close of his message:

“Everything we really want in life comes from living within Christ and within ourselves. In order to prosper in all our situations, we must develop a life from the inside—out.”

There is a connection between what a person values and true change

I have often said to people that if I was given access to a person’s checkbook and calendar, I could determine much about what that person values. I believe this to be true because what we value, we spend our money and our time on.

But there is another aspect to this. In order to get a person to change how they spend their time and/or money, one of two things must happen: either something new must begin having a higher value to them than what is currently deemed valuable or the possibility of losing something valuable if current practices don’t change.

By and large, humans are creatures of habit. If something is not in our normal experience and habit, in order for a new thing to take the place of something in our current normal experience, that new thing must “wow” us to the point so that we make a change in our normal experience and habit.

For example, if a new restaurant opens in town, you may try it out, but if the food and the experience isn’t better than those restaurants you normally patronize, it is often the case that your going to that restaurant will be infrequent at best. You may not even consider it in your normal thinking about where to go out to eat. You end up having to think very intentionally to even go there. But if the restaurant does “wow” you, you very readily and easily make that a common restaurant to patronize, taking the place of another one.

It is often the case that these two things are linked. By allowing a person to experience the value that something has for them, something which they don’t currently value, so that they develop a desire for that thing to continue, and then allowing them to experience the possibility that if changes are not made in the way they spend their time and money, that new thing they now desire and value could possibly go away, it is often the case that that person will readily and eagerly make changes so that it doesn’t go away.

And this type of change isn’t coerced; it is change that finds its source in the person making the change. It is change that is made on the heart level because that person has placed a high value on that thing. And it is incredible the lengths to which a person will go in supporting that newly valued thing with their time and their money.

But if there is no value change at the heart level, eventually the person will go back to what was the normal experience and habit before. There is no true change occurring. Oh,  different practices might last for a while, but they will not last if no true heart change has occurred.

Without a change in value, true change does not occur.

My thought for the day.