What is love?

Love isn’t just about being nice, it’s about wishing and willing good. Love in our culture is usually associated with either romantic feelings or deep affection for someone: we love our spouses, or we love our friends. This cultural view of love is sentimental, it’s about a feeling of niceness toward others that we can maintain for a while, but won’t last. We can be nice for a while, then go off and sulk; or be nice to a friend’s face while nursing a grudge, then run off and gossip to our friends. Sometimes we can think of God’s love as this same type of niceness. D.A. Carson describes this view of love as having “all the awesome holiness of a cuddly toy, all the moral integrity of a marshmallow.” Our current pandemic and our calling as Christians demands “something a great deal more profound than sentimental niceness.”

Love is wishing and willing good. C.S. Lewis defines biblical love well: not as a state of feelings but an act of our will. “It is… that state of the will which we have naturally about ourselves, and must learn to have about other people… our love for ourselves does not mean that we like ourselves. It means that we wish our own good.” Love then isn’t something we know how to do with anyone naturally, except ourselves. We have to learn how to love others, and we have to put our backs into it. That’s the kind of love the scriptures speak of and Christ has made a way.

Our worldwide ministry

One of the incredible surprises of this strange season of ministry is how many people all around the world are joining our livestream worship. When I think of you all, when I imagine your faces. When I hold you up before God in prayer, I now think of not only those of you walk through our blue doors each week, but also those of you who are gathered scattered in your homes all around the globe.

Thanks be to God for his presence in our absence. May we all receive more love, that we might spread more love around our homes and neighborhoods today.

Join me in celebrating that literally people all around the world (Germany, Saudi Arabia, the Philippines, and Africa) are joining us in livestream worship weekly. Here is a picture I received from one group in Africa…

 

 

 

 

 

 

“I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”

— Philippians 1:3-5

Sightings of Hope

We do not have to “go” to church to worship. One of my favorite childhood artists was Amy Grant. I am a product of the 1980’s and it was hard to escape that decade without a few of her songs getting stuck in your head forever. One of her lyrics was, “worship is more than just singing a song, it is all that you say and everything that you do, letting God’s spirit live in you.”

We worship when we take our eyes off of all that is wrong in our world and place our eyes on all that is right with God and God’s kingdom. We can worship anytime anywhere, in any set of circumstances. No one can take away your ability to worship because no matter where you are, you can always take your eyes off of all that is wrong in our world and place your attention on all that is right with God and God’s kingdom.

The apostle Paul said, “Rejoice in the Lord always: and again I say, Rejoice.” (Philippians 4:4) He actually said those words from prison. Here are a few ways I am worshiping today and I invite you to join me in celebrating these sightings of hope.

  • Breath.
  • Music.
  • Walks.
  • Water.
  • The provision of a Platt Park person receiving housing (after being near homeless) through the generosity of another Platt Park family.
  • People all around the world (Germany, Saudi Arabia, the Philippines, and Africa) are joining us in livestream worship weekly.
  • The healing of a COVID-positive couple at PPC.
  • Nearly 1000 households joined us on Easter via livestream.
  • Each of you.

I sure do miss you all. I miss seeing your faces, hugging you, and sharing together in the bread & wine each week. This time apart from you physically brings me both a gratitude for our community of faith and a deep longing to see you again.

May the love and peace of Christ fill your hearts and your homes today.

Find a House Where the Truth is Told

This month we are going to look at some of the lies that Christians love. For some folks, this series might seem kind of negative. My hope and prayer is that we carve out honest spaces together where we can explore the tough questions of life and faith. Lies are woven into the fabric of our theology. Lies like “The safest place to be is in the center of God’s will,” really? Based on the stories in the Bible it seems fairly dangerous to me. Or, “God helps those who help themselves.” And “Everything happens for a reason.” There are lies we swim in and don’t really think about until someone points them out, like the lie of our beautiful stained glass that says “Jesus Christ was actually a Dutch man!”

I regularly hear people say, “we’re all addicted to something.” I think that is true and a cornerstone of addiction recovery is telling the truth. We need to find a house where the truth is told, even if that house is simply the soul of another human being. I want our community of faith to be a house where the truth is told. Charles Spurgeon said, “Tear off your masks. The church was never meant to be a masquerade.”

We all have lies that we love. These lies help us get through the day, help us feel better about ourselves and our world. But these lies also obscure reality, and we are people who live in what is real and true. Worst of all these lies obscure the person of Jesus who says “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” (John 14:6) If we are going to live in what is real, we need to see through these lies, let go of them, and embrace the good & beautiful reality found in the kingdom of God.

Love in Hard Places

Jonah hated the people of Nineveh, and he had reason: they were legitimately a nation filled
with cruel and evil people. There are people in our world today, both near and far, who give us
reason to hate them. To deny this is to rob the message of Jonah of its power and its gospel
witness. It is also to soften the piercing command of Jesus in Matthew 5:44 “I say to you, love
your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” Jesus isn’t being hyperbolic — at times we
will all have real enemies, just as Jesus did (see John 15:18-20) — but Jesus’ point is that we
can’t use that as an excuse to hate them back.

Let’s be honest, sometimes we like to hate. The command to love our enemies is hard because
we like to hate them. It satisfies our selfishness; hate prioritizes “us” over “them” and it never
asks us to love and serve “them.” Our hatred also satisfies our own internal sense of justice. But
this is precisely what Jesus takes aim at in Matthew 5:43-48.

Jesus attacks the principle ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemies,’ not by denying that
there is such a thing as fairness and justice, but by showing that we don’t get to use the Old
Testament law as a way to justify our own personal hatred. In other words, we don’t get to use
passages that speak against racism, for instance, as an excuse to justify our personal hatred of
racists. We don’t get to use passages that speak against murder to deny grace to murderers.
We simply don’t have the right to deny people the gospel of grace simply because we don’t like
the way they need the Savior. The reality is: we all need saving.

This is the heart of Jonah’s problem. Jonah likes hating the Ninevites, because they were his
enemies and the enemy of Israel. Do you love your enemies, great and small? Friends and
family can be enemies. Revolting relatives, rude coworkers, business rivals, proud teachers or
students, insecure people who resent your competence, those who lust for power, the bitter ex,
the angry spouse, and far more – all can be our enemies. In 2020 we face an election; for many
people in our country, politics has become a religion. We measure moral character and define
our allies and enemies according to political affiliation.

The command of Jesus to love, exemplified in the call of Jonah to preach to the Ninevites, is a
call to love all of our enemies. In the book Love in Hard Places, D.A. Carson recounts “Karl
Barth was once asked, ‘Is it true that one day in heaven we will see again our loved ones?’ He
replied, ‘Not only the loved ones.’”

Who are you being called to love today?

When God Relents

Jonah is a fascinating story! God asks the prophet Jonah to go preach to the city of Nineveh; which is in Assyria – a terrorist nation known for its brutality, and an enemy of Israel. Jonah does not want God to grant mercy to his enemies and so he is reluctant to go. Jonah wishes judgment would fall on his enemies. If there had been no hope for Nineveh, God would not have sent Jonah; just as if there had been no hope for Jonah as he fell into the ocean, there would have been no point to his prayer for deliverance. But God is “a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty.” (Exodus 34:6-7a) God is not unjust, but he is also slow to anger and forgiving. He relents of the judgment on Nineveh, and in this we learn something about God. 

God forgives those who ask for it. God sees the repentance of the Ninevites and changes his mind. “When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil way, God relented of the disaster that he had said he would do to them, and he did not do it.” (Jonah 3:10) It is this merciful nature of God that invites a response. In a closely related passage, Joel 2:12-14, God invites stubborn Israel to repent of their own sin: “Yet even now… return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your hearts and not your garments. Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and merciful… Who knows whether he will not turn and relent, and leave a blessing behind him?” (cf. Jeremiah 18:7-10) 

Our actions, our repentance, our prayers – these things really matter to God. He is the ruler of all creation and accomplishes his purposes, yet passages like this remind us that our actions really do matter to him. This text in Jonah shows us that it is the actions of the Ninevites, their prayers and fasting and repentance, that move God to have compassion on them and “relent of the disaster” that was coming their way. 

The nature of our merciful God, and stories about the repentance of Nineveh, are facts which make us ask: are we right to hate our enemies? To think they cannot be reconciled to us, or worse, to God? To, by our stubborn hatred, deny them a chance to come to know this God who delights in showing them grace and forgiveness and love in Christ?

Welcome, Advent

We celebrate the four weeks of Advent with four themes: Hope, Peace, Love, and Joy. We have to remind ourselves of these themes because we live in a world filled with their opposites: despair, conflict, hate, and dissatisfaction. As we walk in the world these qualities can fill us up; we must displace them again with the qualities of Christ. When we do, we become like ships, sailing in the waters of the world yet dry and snug in Christ. The hope, peace, love and joy we find in Christ displace the qualities of sin, shame and darkness within us, and we are re-filled with the righteousness and life of Christ. We also become a refuge on the waters of the world; calling others to come and sail with us as we set our eyes on Christ and sail toward heaven.

May you be filled with the love, joy, peace & hope of Christ this Advent season.