Category Archives: love

True religion

Religion gets a lot of bad press these days. Not that I would disagree, either-it’s just that sometimes we need to define the term before we lambast it. Religion as most people refer to it is self-effort; man trying to make his way to God or be like God. Lots of rules and regulations; church hierarchies, systems, ect. In this vein I would agree: religion does not serve us very well.

But James, in his letter to dispersed Jewish believers, speaks of something he calls “true religion.” True religion, it turns out, has nothing to do with belief systems and ritualistic devotion to a certain form or code of law; rather, true religion is all about “visiting orphans and widows in their affliction, and keeping yourself unstained from the world.”

A fairly simple, yet workable, definition. I do believe James was on to something.

Anyway, that was just my preface. This verse of scripture has come back to my heart time and again in the past three or four months, and tonight was one of those nights. My wife and I took our kids to visit my “mammaw.” In the course of our visit I was able to help her move some things around and lift some heavy objects which I’m glad she won’t be trying to move herself. It was a simple act, really, not worth mentioning otherwise, but all of the sudden in the midst of performing it I realized how alive I was to God.  I’m not kidding you, there was a sense of the Lord so immediate and so real it was just like breathing Him in to know He was near.

It was only a passing thought, but it made me curious as to how much time we Christians spend trying to “feel” God’s presence via worship services, devotional activities, and a whole slew of other methods by which we try to “get” it. In that moment I saw the vanity and frivolity of so many such exercises, all so self-centered and bound up with our human “doing” and “trying” to be rather than simply being sons and daughters of God. It’s becoming increasingly evident to me that to “find” the Lord you simply spend time going to and being where He is. The places that come immediately to mind are the church (probably not what you’re thinking, though), the Spirit (in your spirit), the poor (see Matthew 25), and in my case tonight, the orphan and the widow. Just by serving my mammaw in that simple way I became conscious-undeniably conscious-of an absolutely splendid oneness with God.

What about you? Have you ever had an experience like this? In what practical ways is God alive and real to you?


The goal of the gospel

Matthew 26:6-13 contains one of the most beautiful stories in all of scripture. Jesus is at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper. John’s account tells us that Lazarus is also there, along with Mary and Martha (who is serving the dinner) and other of Jesus’ disciples. Even a large crowd of Jews shows up for the occasion, not just to see Jesus but Lazarus whom he had raised from the dead.

At some point in the meal Mary comes and kneels at Jesus’ feet. She breaks an alabaster box of very expensive perfume and begins to wash his feet, wiping them with her hair. Fragrance from the perfume fills the entire house.  But not everyone is pleased with this extravagance.  Certain of the disciples, namely Judas, asks indignantly about the purpose of this waste (take note, however, that Matthew records it as being not only Judas but all of the disciples who were upset).

But Jesus stands firm against their callousness. The woman “has done a beautiful thing to me,” he says, and then adds, “Truly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will also be told in memory of her.”

Whatever took place in that moment of time, then, to the Lord Jesus at least it had tremendous significance. I find it interesting to observe this setting. Here you have a dinner being given for the Lord. He is the centerpiece around which everyone present is gathered. However, different people are there for different reasons. The motives of the people in attendance are mixed. Some are there as his followers and disciples, learning from him as they do every day. A few, like Martha, are there to serve him. Others are there merely to see the power and outcome of his miraculous deeds. Among the Jews also there were probably some present who were involved in plotting to kill him. And then there was Judas, who had no genuine care for the poor but was there to use his position with the Lord as a means to his own end. So there are mixed motives present with everyone in the house.

Yet there is one among them whose motivation, beyond any other, is out of pure love for her Lord. And with no regard for appearance she pours out an extravagant display of affection toward the One she loves. Her display draws an immediate reaction from those watching and from the Lord himself. They are repulsed; He is pleased. And the remark Jesus makes about Mary’s devotion is chock full of wonderful meaning.

When the Lord said that what Mary did on this occasion would be told in memory of her wherever the gospel was preached He was saying something very significant. At the heart of the gospel story is a woman who wastes everything she has on the Lord Jesus Christ, for this is what the gospel is intended to produce: a people (a corporate woman if you will, the Bride of Christ) whose lives are spent so lavishly at his feet that even many of His well-meaning followers will look on and ask “Why this waste? This person has such talent, such gifting, such ability that could be put to good use. Why would they waste it all in this way?”

Angus Kinnear tells the story of a young Watchman Nee going once to visit an old friend and mentor. The story is taken from his book Against the Tide: The Story of Watchman Nee, and it’s just too good to not include here. Fighting tuberculosis, Watchman refused to invoncenience his friend by staying and decided to return home by the river…

“But on the two-hour journey his fever returned, and with it the devil to assail him by using the depressive effects of the tuberculosis to draw out his inner resentments. ‘You had a bright future, full of possibilities, and you gave it up to serve God. That was splendid. But then you had a promising ministry in which, with your gifts, you were assured of success; and that, too, you threw away. For what? You relinquished so much; what have you gained? Sometimes God hears your prayers. Often enough He is silent. Compare yourself with that other fellow out there now in the big evangelical system. He, too, had a bright future, and he has never let it go. He is spiritually prosperous and God honors his ministry. He gets souls saved and they go on with God. And moreoever, he looks like a Christian, so happy, so satisfied, so assured. Do you? Take a look at yourself!’

“Disembarking, he went to his parents’ home on the waterfront to pay them his respects and attend to the business that had brought him… Next day he ventured out into the town, sorrowfully avoiding the two meeting places of the long-divided local church. Below the bridge the cormorant fishers were at work, and he paused to watch them as he used to when a child, marveling at the patience of the captive birds. He walked slowly, leaning on a stick.

“All at once, there on the street, whom should he encounter but one of his former Trinity College professors. He greeted him with a bow, and the man took him into a tea shop where they sat down. After a few sharp inquiries he stopped and looked Watchman up and down. ‘What is this?’ he exclaimed with evident dismay. ‘We thought a lot of you at high school, and had hopes that you would achieve something great. Do you mean to say you are still like this?’

“Traditionally the Chinese student holds his teacher in high regard, returning to him formal thanks for each scholastic success; so the very pointed question struck cruelly home. Here was one whom Watchman instinctively honored and who saw him merely as an educational dropout. He quailed before the man’s penetrating gaze. For it was true: his health was broken, his prospects gone; what had he to show? And here was his old teacher of Chinese law asking, ‘Are you still not an inch further forward? No progress, no career, no nothing?’ In that moment Ni To-sheng, grown man as he was, was close to tears.

“And the very next instant (as he tells us), ‘I really knew what it meant to have the Spirit of glory resting upon me. I could look up and say, “Lord, I praise You that I have chosen the best way.” To my professor it was a total waste to serve the Lord Jesus; but that is the goal of the gospel-to give everything to God.’

Amen! May the Lord find such a people, like Mary, and like this brother… a people whose lives are wasted in love upon Him for the full satisfaction of His heart’s desire. And may the world, through this people, come to see just how worthy He really is!


Who will be the greatest?

It’s funny how my kids will sometimes argue and fight over who gets to sit by daddy. Sometimes when I come to the dinner table and sit by one of them, that one will look at the other and say, “see, daddy is setting by meeee.”

Funny, yes. But frustrating, too. Tonight when this happened it made me think of the disciples of Jesus. James and John once came to Jesus (or their mother did, depending on which gospel you read) and asked to be granted the prime place of honor next to the Lord in His kingdom (see Mark 10:35-39 or Matthew 20:20-28). Apparently the other disciples caught wind of this campaign and did not take very kindly to it. Jesus simply asked if they were able to endure the same kind of suffering he was in order to gain such honor. Of course they said yes.

This vying for spiritual position reminds me of the way I once prayed: “I want to be closer to you than anybody else, Lord.” “Lord, even if everyone else turns away from you, I won’t” (I borrowed that one from Peter). Then there was the quote by that guy who said to D.L. Moody, “The world has yet to see what God can do though a man who is fully given to him,” to which both Moody and I responded, “I will be that man” (emphasis upon the “I”).

All this kind of praying just seems silly to me anymore. I’m fairly certain it’s a mark of spiritual immaturity. Like the disciples arguing over who would be the greatest in the kingdom, or my kids fighting and gloating over who gets to sit next to daddy.

The person who has really faced life and become honest about him or herself is more like the man Peter became after the cross. Such a man is not so sure of himself anymore. In love with the Lord, yes, but not so quick to broadcast his selfless devotion and superior allegiance to the Master. A man who has truly experienced the cross is more confident in God’s love for him than he is in his love for God.

There is nothing wrong with aspring to be great, dont get me wrong. When the disciples argued about who would be the greatest, Jesus did not condemn them for their ambition. He simply corrected their notions of what true greatness really is. Greatness comes not by being on top but by being on the bottom. Not by ruling but by serving. Not through strength but through weakness. So we should all strive to be great. Just get your definition right. 🙂


Living a church life that involves ALL God’s people

The brothers and sisters I meet with on a regular basis are few in number. It’s been that way all three years we’ve been together. And while I am thoroughly convinced that it is not our number but simply what we are that makes for the Lord’s testimony, we often long for more fellowship with other believers. So in the past six months or so, as the light of the local church being the fellowship of all God’s people in a given place has dawned upon me, I’ve been moved to more actively seek out fellowship with other believers beyond the “walls” of our particular circle.

Thus far, the results of this endeavor have been both rewarding and frustrating. While we have been able to connect with many brothers and sisters who have different backgrounds and emphases of truth, at the same time it’s been difficult to gain any kind of reciprocation to our reaching out. Whether they are too busy, too cautious or simply do not see the importance of it, many saints don’t seem to have much desire to really go beyond their own congregation to have fellowhsip with other local believers. It’s heartbreaking, really. 

Even still, we press on. If the church is really one, and if the practical expression of that oneness is the local church in the city, made up of all believers who reside in a given locality, then we are obligated to go beyond our little circle to embrace fellowship with all believers. Even as we seek to be true to the truth the Lord has committed to us and to go forward with the light He has granted, we must walk in step with this realization that the local church is not just my little organic group. The local church encompasses all the saints in my city who call upon the name of the Lord, and even if they will not live like it I must. To do any less than this is to be a sect and not a church. To whatever degree possible, even as I seek to move forward with the few brothers and sisters I share life with on a day to day basis, I still have to find some way to experience and display a practical unity with all the believers in my town. Anything short of this will never come close to fulfilling God’s purpose.

So then, we must be true to what we see. We must go forward upon the ground of oneness, meeting simply as fellow members of the church in our city, expressing the Lord Jesus in truth and fullness. But we must also put into practice a local church life that extends beyond our own borders, for though we are taking our stand according to the way we believe God views the situation, the fact remains that we are not the only peeps in town who are “of Christ”. Therefore our fellowhsip must never be confined to any particular group or party. It takes “all the saints” to comprehend the awesome depths of the love of God, and only together will we ever come to know Him in His fullness.


When the word in your mouth is truth

There’s a story in the Old Testament of the prophet Elijah going to the house of a widow in the town of Zarephath (1 Kings 17:8-24). While he is staying at the house the widow’s son becomes sick and dies. The woman basically cries out against Elijah, who takes the boy up to his room and cries out to God. The boy returns to life. Elijah brings the boy back to his mother and she says, “Now I know that you are a man of God, and that the word of the Lord in your mouth is truth.”

Now I know your word is true, she said. When? After the boy was brought back from death unto life. This story simply goes to show that the evidence of truth is life… real, spiritual, resurrection life.

Most people look for truth in the realm of arguments and reason and proof-texting. “Such-and-such is true because so-and-so said it is!” But even in the field of evangelical Christianity this kind of view is sorely lacking. You can take all the “truth” there is in the Bible and unload it on a person and kill them dead on the spot. If you don’t believe me, ask Paul. I’m only alluding to what he said in 2 Corinthians 3:6:

“The letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.”

Moses brought truth down from the moutain, but the people weren’t up to par so three thousand of them died on the spot. Now don’t get me wrong-the problem, as Paul says, was not with the law but with them-but hear what I’m saying. The law came by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ. During the inaguration of the ministry of condemnation 3000 people died, but on the opening day of the ministry of the Spirit (Acts 2) 3000 people were made alive!   

My point is, it is not just truth we need in a purely academic or textual sense. We need truth in the Spirit. If you’re not convinced of this then go on Facebook and read certain people’s status updates, or go to certain churches on Sunday morning and listen to the guy behind the pulpit. Brothers and sisters every day are using the scripture like a sword to slice one another up, all in the name of standing for the truth!

Hopefully you get what I’m saying. The evidence, or outcome of truth is spiritual life. When the word in your mouth is truth, and that truth is more than a mere theory to you but something that is wrought into your very being, then you will impart something of spiritual life to those you come in contact with. This is the meaning of the story in 1 Kings, and it is the essence of the ministry of the Spirit which Paul writes about in 2 Corinthians.

May the Lord make every one of us, through whatever means necessary, ministers of the Spirit of life!


Your Christ, my hope

The story surrounding Paul’s initial journey to Thessalonica, the raising up of the church there, and his subsequent letters to this little assembly is well worth a good study. Paul was in town for barely a month before getting tossed to the curb by the local Jewish community, but in that small window of time the Lord gave birth through his ministry to a gathering of believers whose testimony sounded out all across Macedonia, Achaia, and beyond in the days to come.

When Paul wrote his first letter to the Thessalonians some weeks after being “torn away” from them by hostile circumstances, his heart was rejoicing. From the moment he’d been forced to leave the city he’d been burdened for the little children he had left behind. He knew they were facing heavy afflictions, and though he entrusted them to the keeping power of the indwelling Christ, still he worried that the pressure would be too much for them to handle. “Therefore when I could bear it no longer, I chose to remain alone at Athens and sent Timothy, our brother and co-worker in the gospel of Christ, to establish and exhort you in your faith, so that no one would be moved by these afflictions” (1 Thess. 3:1-3). When Timothy returned to Paul at Corinth he brought good news: not only was the church at Thessalonica surviving, she was thriving. And the saints were longing to see Paul again as much as he longed to see them. At this point Paul says something that is simply beautiful:

“For now we live, if you are standing firm in the Lord” (1 Thess. 3:8)

Did you catch that? Here you have the great apostle Paul-a man who has seen visions and revelations of the Lord, has been caught up to the third heaven, has seen the resurrected Christ face to face-saying to a little assembly of new believers barely out of their spiritual training pants that he cannot live without them. That they are his life. That his going on depends on their going on.

It’s a pretty remarkable thought, if you ask me. You and I are accustomed to think of this the other way around, aren’t we? In other words, we think it should be the weak believers in Thessalonica declaring their utter dependence on Paul and his ministry. But here in scripture we see it just the opposite. Here you have the strong apostle, the Lord’s worker, the one who should surely be able to stand on his own if anyone could, declaring his need for the Thessalonian believers to stand firm in the Lord. Isn’t that wonderful? It shows just how much we all need one another in the Body of Christ. Big or small, one talent for five, none of us is going to make it very far on our own. Simply put, we need each other. If Paul needed the two-month old believers in Thessalonica, then you can be sure that you need me and I need you.

Today the church I’m a part of was visited by some saints from a town a couple hours north of us. We sang a song together which is drawn from this very passage in Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians. I submit to you here the words to the song and a small video clip from the meeting, for your mutual enjoyment. 🙂

YOUR CHRIST, MY HOPE

1)I’m thankful that God has placed me

With you to build up His body

Christ in you is the hope for me

You also need Christ lived in me

 

(CHORUS)

I live if you stand firm in the Lord

You live if I stand firm in the Lord

My going on is for you, your going on is for me

Not separate entities, I need you saints desperately

 

2)Oh what a sweet church life have we

Built up in Him His bride to be

In Him steadfast you help me be

Encouraged by Christ whom I see

 

3)Your faith in Christ helps me pursue

My progress depends upon you

As I seek Christ with you in view

My heart full of prayers is for you

 

4)God’s heart longs, desires that we

His lovers seek Him corporately

On each other spent constantly

My life is for you, yours for me

 

5)I want to encourage you all

Without your supply I would fall

Never think that your Christ is small

Christ needs you and so do we all


One in Christ

Yesterday I went out to lunch with some brothers. In the course of our fellowship an elderly lady who was serving tables came up and asked us about the Bible we had at out table. We told her it was a New Testament and she just smiled and shook her head in the affirmative. Her name was Faye and she was the sweetest lady you’ll ever meet. Later she came back and asked us what kind of Bible it was; more specifically, she wondered whether it was the King James version or not.

Perhaps you know the feeling that comes in a moment like this. In my neck of the woods the King James reigns supreme as God’s one and only inspired version of scripture-in the minds of most people at least. Men will argue and fight with you over this belief. Around here, then, when someone asks you about the kind of Bible you’re reading you can be pretty sure it’s because they’re a King James-only believer.

Anyway, you could sense this sister was of that persuasion. As soon as she asked us about the Bible and we told her it was not the King James but a different translation I could just sense the divide that might come between us, the same divide that separates so many Christians in my town. Yet she saw that we were sincere young brothers, and she was so pleased to meet us. She wanted to say something, yet she didn’t. So she just smiled and said, “I like the King James”. We responded with “Yes, the King James is a very beautiful version of scripture,” “we love the King James, too”, and I even told her that all the scriptures I still have committed to memory are from the King James version, since that is the one I read growing up.

Maybe you had to be there to get the impression of what I’m trying to convey, but it was a beautiful moment. She asked us where we go to church, and we told her we are simply members of the Body of Christ in Portsmouth (our town), and that we meet house to house with some other brothers and sisters but we are one with all believers, herself included. She smiled so big. We all said how nice it was to meet each other, and we parted ways with a blessing in Christ. As we walked out of the restaurant I turned to my brothers and said, “Look what just happened. We encountered one of the many issues that separate brothers and sisters from each other, and we transcended it in Christ!” What a small yet significant triumph that moment was!

Never have I been more convinced in my heart that this is the kind of testimony the Lord is seeking to have in every city on this planet. The testimony of a people reunited and made one in Christ… a new humanity with Him as Head. Brothers and sisters, let us pray and live toward this end!