Learning from John

Truth and Love

A big movement has arisen that declares that we can walk in love and grace, but ignore truth. The “hyper-grace movement”, as it has been termed. Yes, we must walk in love and grace towards one another, but part of love is holding one another to the truth.

Enter John. John ended his life known as “the Apostle of Love“. It is a name that, today, might bring forth images of dope-smoking hippies, but such an image couldn’t be further from the truth. Jesus originally gave John, with his brother James, the name: “sons of thunder”. John was an emotive character and this didn’t simmer down as he aged. There is a tale of him jumping out of a public bath (streaking) when a known heretic entered it, because he would not share bath water with a false teacher. He remained passionate, but his passion became founded on the love of God.

John challenges me because he never compromised the truth to remain popular. He was known as the Apostle of Love by the body of Christ, but I wouldn’t have wanted to be caught in sin by him.  One only needs to read through 1 John to hear his fierce love for God’s people, and yet equal fire for the truth to remain unsoiled. I want to cut and paste the entire first epistle of John here, but I’ll content myself with a small passage with the hope that you will read through it yourself today (it’s only 5 chapters).

See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him.Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure. (1 John 3:1-3)

Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness.You know that he appeared in order to take away sins, and in him there is no sin. No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him. (1 John 3:4-6)

Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous. Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God. By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother. (1 John 3:7-10)

Pursing His truth and love

The prayer on my heart these past few months is that I would be known for love. Yet I know that this will only come to pass if I am also known for standing on the truth. God’s love and truth go together. The love of God is not a soft, wishy-washy love. God’s love is a fierce, jealous, consuming fire. God cannot abide sin, and those in Him will also be unable to continue in wilful sin (we all sin, but those in Christ should not make a knowing habit of any sin).

Our love for one another must also be fierce and protective. If we love one another, we will help keep one another from stumbling. When we read the epistles of Scripture they are commanding and corrective. The apostles guarded their flocks with a fierce love that called believers constantly back to the truth that they learnt in Christ.

Today we see a hyper-grace movement taking over the church. It falls under the same title as the gnostics of Apostle John’s ministry – libertarianism (from the gnostic belief that the body was evil and the soul good, so what one did with the body didn’t matter). Many churches today says that grace covers a multitude of sin and we must just “love one another”, but they ignore the fact that those who are in Christ have been made dead to sin! The love that is of God abhors sin. Those in Christ cannot keep making a habit of sin.

I feel like Paul’s argument in Romans makes it one hundred percent clear how we are to live (read Romans, or at least Romans 6-8!):

What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? (Romans 6:1-3)

So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. (Romans 6:11-13)

Grace is not an excuse to sin and those who preach such are not standing on the truth of the Gospel! The good news is that we have been set free! We are no longer compelled by our sinful flesh!

Are you dead or alive?

Christ was humble and meek, yet He intentionally took the time to sit and weave a whip of cords and then go clear the temple out of those who had turned the court of Gentiles (where the Gentiles who loved God were meant to be allowed to worship) into a place of trade.

And making a whip of cords, he drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and oxen. And he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. (John 2:15)

Jesus never condoned sin in all His ministry. He loved those in sin, offered them healing and forgiveness, and then called them to leave their lives of sin.

Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.” Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:10-12)

Those who are in Christ must turn away from the darkness and walk in the light – and who is the light? Jesus! He is the way, the truth and the life. Recently I was heard someone share that they were once told: “Stop being nicer than Jesus”. How appropriate. Jesus is love. Yet Jesus was direct and corrective. Remember His words to Peter?

From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” (Matthew 16:21-23)

Walk in His light

The New Testament is full of passages that push us towards living out the truth in love and I’ll list just a few at the end of this post. Not one of these passages, however, allow us to compromise the way of God for the ways of the world! Yet the church has washed out the truth to make way for the world’s understanding of love.

God loves all people, but few of them are His. Those who are saved are those who accept Christ Jesus as Lord. Full stop. God will not save everyone, but only those who believe on Christ’s name. All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; all need God’s salvation. When did the church stop preaching this foundational message? We are all sinners in need of God’s love, grace, mercy and forgiveness.If we tell people that they are “good people” and “God loves them”, but do not tell them of their desperate need for God’s healing mercy and forgiveness then we have failed in our God-given commission. Accepting Christ means dying to our old self that was enslaved to sin and being set free to live righteously! 

The Gospel message is offensive to the world. We are not meant to be loved by the world. The New Testament is overflowing with the promise of persecution; Jesus Himself promised it (John 15:20, John 16:33)! If you are a Christian offended by this post then I challenge you to open the New Testament and read it from start to finish. What do you see of Christ? Who is He? What is His attitude to sin and compromise? And if this doesn’t convince you, go and reread Revelation and soak in the two camps – we are either in God’s camp, or we are in the world’s camp. There is no middle ground. And Christ’s camp is righteousness. 

So let us challenge ourselves to walk in truth with love. Let us challenge ourselves and our faith communities to walk in step with the teachings of the Bible. Let us ask God to reveal the true expression of love to us. Let our hearts be transformed into the image of Christ. Let us love sinners, and disciple believers. Let us no longer be conformed to the image of this world, but be transformed by the Spirit into the glorious likeness of Christ.

Light or dark?

Here are those Scriptures I promised (that are very far from a complete list!):

“No one after lighting a lamp puts it in a cellar or under a basket, but on a stand, so that those who enter may see the light.Your eye is the lamp of your body. When your eye is healthy, your whole body is full of light, but when it is bad, your body is full of darkness.Therefore be careful lest the light in you be darkness. If then your whole body is full of light, having no part dark, it will be wholly bright, as when a lamp with its rays gives you light.” (Luke 11:33 36).

Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness?What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever?What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said, “I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.Therefore go out from their midst, and be separate from them, says the Lord, and touch no unclean thing; then I will welcome you,and I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to me, says the Lord Almighty.” (2 Corinthians 6:14-18).

Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children.And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints.Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving. For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. (Ephesians 5:1-6)

This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. (1 John 1:5-10)

As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” . . . Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God; (1Pe 1:14 -16, 22-23).

Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. . . But that is not the way you learned Christ!—assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus,to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds,and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. (Ephesians 4:15-17, 20-25)

Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from what is dishonorable, he will be a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work. So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart. (2 Timothy 2:21-22)

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Pouring out my perfume

“A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?”

Simon answered, “The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt.” And he said to him, “You have judged rightly.”

Then turning toward the woman he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment.Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.” (Luke 7:41-49)

Who are you in this story? Do you invite Christ into your home, but offer only the most basic hospitality and criticise His followers? Or do you know that you are a sinner, saved by His grace, ready to pour out all you have for Him and into His Kingdom?

I am the woman. I am poor of heart. I am of the most sinful. But He has cancelled my debts of sin and I now desire to pour my entire self and all I have out at His feet. Everything I have, He gets. All I am is His now. There is nothing I can give Him in exchange for my salvation – it is a free gift. But from the gratitude in my heart flows a love so strong that I want to serve Him with all of me.

What this outpouring looks like will be different for everyone. For me, at the moment, it means renting our house out to live in a city we would never naturally choose to live in, and live as missionaries rather than in formal employment. The beautiful perfume I am pouring out to Him is finance and time. What is your perfume of love?

Pouring out the perfume

Respect dare series – day 21 – Do him good

Proverbs 31:12, 18-19

 She does him good, and not harm, all the days of her life . . .

I know I’ve given this verse before, but I just can’t get enough of it! It keeps coming back to mind in many different circumstances and contexts. If I could simply do him good every day, then there would be no need for me to focus on anything else; this covers everything!

Today my heart yearns to stay Glenn’s greatest fan. As teachers, we both enjoy critical feedback to improve, but I don’t want to forget to share the encouragement. Even if it is praise he has heard from me 1000 times, I want to share it for the 1001st. I want the strengths and giftings I see in him to be what I call out further. I want to build him up and not tear down.

My action for today: Glenn taught today and it was a joy to be able to encourage him afterwards and once again highlight his teaching gift. It was also wonderful to support him through prayer.

My prayer for today: Let me be a wife that does for her husband all of his days. Keep me from a critical spirit. Put his best on my heart. Let my actions show him that I’m his biggest fan . Amen

Two things I love in Glenn – his gentleness with animals and his sense of adventure (our old trucks in the background)

Laying down my life

Last post I talked about going to dangerous places for the gospel even when there’s potentially the physical cost of laying down one’s life. But there is another loss of life apart from physical death and it is this one that God is currently teaching me about yet again.

John 15 says that laying our lives down for another is the greatest form of love:

This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. (John 15:12-15)

I used to consider this passage to be solely talking of physical death,  but now know it means so much more. We currently live in a world consumed by self. We live in a culture where the individual reigns supreme. Giving is often done to make oneself feel good, but usually doesn’t come at a substantial cost to the one giving. How different is God’s call upon us!

God says that love lays down oneself.  Love is willing to give up everything for others. Love sacrifices!

Laying down one’s life could mean giving up career advancement to protect family time. It could mean giving up a hobby in order to do a joint activity with one’s spouse. It could mean moving overseas to love a different people group. It could mean giving up a Saturday afternoon in order to visit people in hospitals or nursing homes who do not have family support . . . And so the list goes on.

For me, John 15:12-15 is fully realised in the roles of wife and mother. They are beautiful roles, but come at great cost of independence. I am daily reminded of my inherent selfishness and need the help of the Spirit of God to set my wants down for my husband and child. There is often frustration, rebellion or heartache within me with each new sacrifice, but then there is joy in coming into alignment with God’s way of love.

In what ways are you living a life laid down? Is there something God is calling you to sacrifice in order to love another?

Lay down your life and follow Christ.

Which capacity are you growing?

I don’t know about you, but I hear the phrase: “God will increase your capacity” quite frequently. It is true, He does. He certainly has increased mine and I am sure that He will continue to do so. Yet should this be our focus? I would say not, and yet it had become so for me. It had also become a source of pride. And now that pride is crumbling as I realise how wrong I got it.

Yes, God has placed me in positions of leadership in both the Congo Project and SBS, but is this really what He had in mind when people spoke those words of promise over me, the words proclaiming that God increases our capacity? If this was so, then we would all have to be up front leaders to be able to say our capacity had grown. Of course, we have the beautiful analogy from Paul about believers being a body, made up of many parts, but all serving the same God, so we know this isn’t the case. We all have different roles and functions to fulfil, and for many of us it won’t be up-front leading.

You see, I had taken those words to mean that He would increase my capacity to do, when really what He wants is to increase my capacity to love.

Romans 13:8-10 Do not owe anyone anything—except to love one another. For the one who loves another has fulfilled the Law. For the commandments, “You must not commit adultery; you must not murder; you must not steal; you must not covet,” and every other commandment are summed up in this statement: “You must love your neighbor as yourself.” Love never does anything that is harmful to its neighbor. Therefore, love is the fulfillment of the Law.

I am challenged by this revelation. And I’ll say it again so the words can sink in:

He does not want to increase our capacity to do, but rather our capacity to love.

I had become caught up in doing to the point where I feared that if I couldn’t keep up, then I had some how failed. My brain tells me “you can still keep all those balls in the air; keep juggling a little longer and you’ll make it.” But have you noticed how jugglers are really only keeping the same balls moving continuously in the same circle? The balls don’t go anywhere new; there is no progression to the cycle. How can I make it, if I’m not going anywhere? Why would keeping the balls in the air just a little longer make any difference to reaching the destination when I’m moving them in circles? My actions are just as pointless if not centered in love:

1 Cor 13:1-3 If I speak in the languages of humans and angels but have no love, I have become a reverberating gong or a clashing cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can understand all secrets and every form of knowledge, and if I have absolute faith so as to move mountains but have no love, I am nothing. Even if I give away everything that I have and sacrifice myself, but have no love, I gain nothing.

It is time to drop the juggling balls. It is time to drop the tasks that distract us from Christ and His call to love. It’s not that the tasks are wrong in themselves, but our focus is if we let them distract us from our call to love. Our doing should be the outward working of love. 

It is not an easy application and I know that, for myself, I need to pray into what this specifically looks like, particularly since I am still involved in the ministries. Nevertheless, I challenge you to stop with me and take time to pray and refocus on what it means to love. We are called to love, not to do. Pray that God will increase your capacity – your capacity to love

You have Stolen My Heart

Have you met those Christians who are just SO IN LOVE with Jesus? I’m sure you have. Do you look at them with their noses in the Bible or their hands raised during worship times and wonder what they have that you don’t? Do you ask: “how do I get there?”

I used to.

And it led me to pray about it. Never underestimate the power of prayer. You see, God WANTS to be pursued. He wants to be sought after. He wants us to turn hungry eyes on to Him.

When you turn to God in prayer and start asking for a deeper love for Christ, greater understanding of His forgiveness and grace, and a passion for His Word, you can be sure that He will answer. In the meantime, show your desire for Him.

Open your Bible faithfully and trust His Spirit to bring the words to life. As you read of God’s character (and the contrast that man’s character makes with His) you cannot help but fall in love with Him. You will grow in awe and wonder of the Almighty.

If you find making time for consistent prayer hard, why not join your church’s weekly prayer meetings?

If you read the Bible with a sense that you are missing the point – that you aren’t going beyond the surface – then don’t allow discouragement prevent you from finding what you need to dig deeper. It may mean a trip to your local Christian bookstore (in Australia two big names are the WORD Bookstore and Koorong). Find a Bible Study book to work through. Go to your church library for resources or the local library (most have a Bible Dictionary or similar that you can use to gain an overview of the book in the Bible you wish to study).

If you find it difficult to break into spontaneous worship when preparing the evening meal, why not play your favourite worship CD?

If you find it too hard to fit Bible reading in to your afternoons after collecting the kids from school, why not play an audio Bible on your drive to work each day?

And never forget that it is a personal journey – God doesn’t want you to be where Mr Hands-Raised-Each-Week is. God has you on a unique journey. Don’t look at where others are in their faith. Fix your eyes on Christ and seek after more of Him.

Turn your eyes on to Christ and He will captivate your heart. He is worth our adoration and praise. If you look for Him you will find yourself falling ever more deeply in love with Him.

John 15:7-11
If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.
As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love.
These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.

The ‘Unloveable’ Lonely

I watched the Gran Torino with Mark a few weeks back. Whilst I would not recommend it to anyone with a faint heart, I personally found it very moving. It is an intense movie but I found it to be a brilliant social commentary as it looked at one “unloveable”.

Clint Eastwood starts as a bitter old man who has shut everyone out. He remembers “the good old days” when young men stopped to help women and the elderly. He knows houses by the names of their builders and original occupants, not as transitory shells. He grew up in a time when Anglo-Saxons were the main racial group in his area and does not count the new immigrants as Americans. I don’t want to give too much away but I will say that he ends up discovering that friends are not always found where you expect them and family are not always denoted by genes.

The reason that I found the movie touching was the truth I saw within Client Eastwood’s character and the challenge it presented to me. Here was a man who was lonely; longing for someone to see value in him, his life and his skills. He had much to offer but no one, not even his family, looked passed his age nor the shell of bitterness and aggression he hid behind.

 Watching the film I could think of people I have met that hide behind walls to prevent people seeing the pain, loneliness or hurt they live with daily. But these people are treasured by God, made in His image, and have value. It only took one person to allow his wave of bitterness and angst to sweep over them as they stepped inside the wall. Once that one person was inside they were privy to all the wealth of treasure to be found in the old man Client Eastwood played. Then others saw; others came in; the wall melted. His family had wanted him to receive their well intended advice with joyful acceptance so that they would feel good. They did not ask themselves how they could best love him.

Touching. Challenging. Am I prepared to take that initial wave? Am I willing to seek out the treasure in people who throw angry words at me? Am I prepared to step up to those who society classes as ‘unloveable’, who are unwilling to be loved? Am I  prepared to change how I show love to meet another’s needs?

Christ declared these words:

Luke 4:18-19 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

Oppression can be of spirit; captivity can be of the mind; poverty can be of the heart. Christ calls us to walk in His ways. If He went out to such people, should we not also stretch out our hands to them and offer them hope, love and friendship?

John 12:46 I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness. Mathew 5:14 “You are the light of the world… Mathew 5:16 In the same way, let your light shine before others…

This is not easy but it is our call and He will help us. We are called to love. Remember the two greatest commandments; love God and love man. Today let love infiltrate your daily routine – especially extend it to the “unloveables” who are, in fact, loveable and are crying out for love.