“Dying Like a Christian”

Somewhere along the way I read something that told me that Barton Warren Stone, one of the “Founders” of my spiritual tradition, had “died like a Christian.”  I was either in Christian College or in seminary when I came across this statement, and I remember thinking to myself when I saw it, “what a curious thing to say.”  You see, Barton Warren Stone “lived like a Christian” too, and that seemed to me to be so much more important to say. In fact, while I have some rather substantial issues with Stone’s theology – particularly his view of the nature of Christ and His saving work on the cross, I have no issues whatsoever with Stone’s life of Christian devotion and discipleship.  Everything I know about Barton Warren Stone only bolsters my opinion that he was the most compellingly Christian man among our Founders.  And in my early 20’s, the proof of this was the way that he had lived his life so generously, so justly, so righteously… so, well, Christianly!  When I was twenty-something, the fact that Barton Stone had “lived like a Christian” was so much more important to me than the observation that he had “died like a Christian.”  But now I’m in my 60’s, and as I recently told the church I’m serving in a sermon on the second Beatitude – “Blessed are those who morn, for they shall be comforted” (Matthew 5:4) –

Death is no longer an abstraction for me.  I’ve buried my mother and my father, my mother-in-law and my father-in-law, a nephew, some ministerial colleagues, lots of church members, a number of strangers, and some of my very best friends.  And I know that one day I am going to die too. I’ve entered the zone when this ordinarily happens to people.  There will be no escaping it.

Right now, as I write this, I’m nearly as old as Barton Warren Stone was when he “died like a Christian,” and rather than the curiosity that this statement was to me in my early 20’s when I first read it, I now hear it as a comforting thought, and a timely challenge.

I am preaching through the Beatitudes right now at the church I am serving as an Interim Minister. I don’t believe that the Beatitudes are prescriptions for our behavior, a list of moral and spiritual things that we must work on in order to get God’s blessing.  No, what I believe is that the Beatitudes are descriptions of our actual present condition as human beings.  They are the “cracks that let the light in.”  And the reason why I’m taking eight weeks to work through them with this church is because I believe that the Beatitudes map out the terrain of the human heart that needs the Gospel.  For a church like this one that’s looking to renew its Gospel ministry, there are few ways of getting at the core needs of human beings, or at the ways that God heals those wounds more directly, or helpfully, than by an understanding of the Beatitudes. To be a Church of the Beatitudes (which I believe that every church in the 21st century is going to have to become) is to be a church that deliberately positions itself in compassionate proximity to these human hurts and hopes where it can specifically and concretely extend the kind of help that the Gospel of Jesus Christ offers. The crack that the second Beatitude opens up in us is death, and comfort is the way that the Gospel goes about healing this most grievous of all wounds.

It was as I was processing this idea last week in preparation for preaching that the old claim that Barton Stone had “died like a Christian” flitted across the screen of my memory, and I knew that I needed to know what it mean to say such a thing about somebody. I found the answer in “The Biography of Elder Barton Warren Stone, Written by Himself – With Additions and Reflections by Elder John Rogers” (1847) in Chapter XIII – “Notice of the death and Character of B. W. Stone.”  Jacob Creath, an early preacher in our Movement, was actually with Barton Stone in his dying hours, and he gave this report of what he saw –

Being confined to bed through indisposition, I did not see him till the 9th. He suffered much without murmuring. He was quite rational, though evidently dying, when I saw him. After prayer and singing a hymn, I asked him if he felt any fear at the approach of death. ” O, no, brother Creath,” said he, ‘ I know in whom I have believed, and in whom I have trusted ; and I am persuaded he is able to keep that I have committed to him. I know that my Redeemer lives. All my dependence is in God, and in his Son Jesus Christ.” He quoted sundry passages and commented on them. But, said he, ” my strength fails, but God is my strength and portion forever.”

…He exhorted his friends and the family to live like Christians—to obey the Savior, and prepare to meet him in eternity. I observed that I almost envied his situation, and desired that my last end should be like his. “Brother Creath,” said he, “if so great and so holy a man as Paul was afraid that he might be a cast-away, may not so frail and poor a man as I fear too? But my God is good and merciful, and my Savior is strong and mighty to save me.” He continued in the same strain till his strength failed, and I had to leave. Bidding him farewell, he said, ” God bless you, my brother. I hope to meet you in heaven.” Kindly and faithfully attended by his relatives, friends, and physicians, he continued to converse with them

…In a little time after I left, he requested to be placed in an arm chair, where, after smoking his pipe, and conversing on the love of God, on reclining his head on the shoulder of his son Barton, he fell asleep in the Lord.

…Thus expired, as he had lived, this decided, intelligent and devout Christian, who had for forty years professed the Christian faith. He was interred in his own locust grove, where repose his remains till the morning of the resurrection.” [https://archive.org /stream/biographyofeldba01ston/biographyofeldba01ston_djvu.txt]

In I Timothy 4:6 Paul said that “the time of my departure has come.” The Greek word for “departure” here was a nautical term that was used in the ancient world to describe a ship setting sail.  It was also used by the military to describe the breaking of camp. For a Christian, Paul said, death would be like “setting sail,” like “breaking camp.” It meant being freed.  It meant going home [Bible.org].  This is certainly how Jacob Creath described the way that Barton Stone approached his dying. To “die like a Christian” is to face it with the firm assurance that death is not the end of things, but merely a change in things.

While searching last week for more information on Barton Warren Stone’s “death as a Christian,”  I came across a fascinating little booklet written by D.P. Kidder in 1854 – 10 years after Barton Stone’s death – for the Carlton & Phillips Sunday-School Union of New York in 1854 called “The Dying Hours of Good and Bad Men Contrasted” in which the description of someone “dying like a Christian” appears on almost every page. “Dying like a Christian” was apparently a 19th century Christian “thing.”  As D.P. Kidder put it, “Religion makes people die well.”

Perhaps in no instance is the value of religion more fully exhibited, than it is in the final departure of the saints… The dying hour is said to be an honest hour. It is a period in which we view things in their proper light… When everything else fails… we see can see more clearly the value of the Christian religion. …Then Christianity appears in its true glory in the comfort, support, and triumph, it affords its votaries in a dying hour. There it shines forth in its peculiar brightness. There it enables its subjects to exclaim, “O death, where is thy sting!” [www.swcs.com.au/uploads/dying_hours_of _good_and_bad_men_contrasted_by_d_p_kidder.pdf]

It was said of the early Christians in the age of martyrdom that they “out-lived” and “out-died” their rivals, and that that’s what helps to explain the emergence of Christianity as the big winner in the marketplace of ideas that was the ancient world in the first century.  But this isn’t just ancient history.  Barton Warren Stone “died like a Christian,” as have countless other believers, the famous and the obscure, across the ages.  In my ministry I have been with people who have died like Christians, men and women who “like aged Simeon in Luke 2:29-32 declared himself ready to go… who looked death in the face cheerfully without terror… and who rested his hopes in that salvation which God has prepared before the face of all people” (Kidder).  I’m thinking of my pastor in Houston, Bob Beaman of blessed memory. When I asked Bob on his deathbed while holding his hand if he was afraid to die, he told me, “Doug, I’m not afraid, I’m excited.  After a lifetime of assuring other people at their bedsides and gravesides that Jesus Christ is truly the Resurrection and the Life, the One in whom we never die, it’s now my turn to trust that promise.  And I do.  Soon my faith will be sight, and I can hardly wait!”  He died like a Christian, and when it’s my turn, I intend to as well. DBS+

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Comfort When We Mourn

“The longest walk you’ll ever take is the walk away from the grave of someone you loved,” writes Geoff Thomas, pastor of the Alfred Street Baptist Church in Aberystwyth, Wales. “If you’ve never done that,” he says, “you can’t imagine how grievous it is.”

To walk away and feel as if the world has come to an end. To walk away and think about what used to be, and what might have been. To walk away and realize, “I’ll never be the same again.” …To reach out to touch a face and to find it gone forever. To cry until you can’t cry any more. To watch them bury your dreams and hopes and all that was good about life. To know it’s over, done, finished, the end, and there is nothing you can do about it. …It is the longest walk and the saddest day.  Every step takes you away from the tombstone of a broken dream.”

Jesus felt these things. “Jesus wept” (John 11:35).  We’re familiar with these two words as the answer to a Sunday School riddle – “What’s the shortest verse in the Bible?”  But it’s not just these two words that describe Christ’s response to the news of the death of His good friend Lazarus.  In John 11:33 we’re told that when Jesus met Mary the sister of Lazarus after his death, that Jesus “was deeply moved in spirit and troubled.”  And then again, in John 11:38, as Jesus approached the tomb of Lazarus, we are told that He was “deeply moved again.”  The Greek word translated “deeply moved” is a word that literally refers to the snorting of a horse.  It’s a word that describes a passionate outburst – the outward expression of a deep inward emotional convulsion.  And the word that gets translated as “troubled” is a word that means  “to get agitated, stirred up, disquieted, unsettled, consternated.”  Jesus’ tears were not a polite, delicate, measured response to the news of the death of His friend.  No, He was “agitated and irritated” (Maxey).  Jesus “sighed in sympathy and shook with emotion.”  His tears were public, piercing, and intense.

Now, right before Jesus was “deeply moved in spirit and troubled” in this way, He told Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die” (11:25-26).  Jesus on His way to Lazarus’ tomb to raise him from the dead when He broke down and wept.  This confuses some people. If Jesus knew that He was just about to restore His dear friend to life again, then why did He get so upset?  The answer, I think, has to do with how Scripture views death. We get introduced to death for the first time back in Genesis 2:15-17.  This is the story of the Garden, the Bible’s picture of the “Original Blessing” – the world and all that’s in it just as God intended it to be.  And God commanded Adam – the Hebrew word for “man” or “human being” – not to eat of “the tree of the knowledge of good and evil,” for “of the day that you eat of it you shall die” (2:17).  You see, death was not originally part of the plan. Death is punitive, the penalty for the rebellion of human disobedience – for doing what God told humanity not to do. “The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23).  This is why we experience death as such a threat as human beings, something to deny, something to delay, and something to avoid at all costs.  The New Testament goes so far as to call death our “enemy,” our “last” enemy (I Corinthians 15:26). A rather obscure Czech philosopher voiced the threat that death represents to us as human beings just about as clearly and poignantly as anybody I’ve ever read has –

That I die means that I cannot complete my work. I will no longer see those I have loved. I will no longer experience beauty or sorrow.  The unrepeatable music of this world will no longer ring in my senses; never again will I anywhere move out beyond myself. (Vitezslav Gardavsky in Thielicke 7)

Jesus was “deeply moved in spirit and troubled” as He made His way to Lazarus‘ tomb because the death of His dear friend brought into sharp focus the problem that He was sent to solve.

Jesus was angry, upset, and troubled over the misery that sin and death had inflicted upon humankind, and in this case upon a dear friend. Death is an enemy, and here Jesus was facing it down over the body of a loved one! …It was the great enemy Death that stirred the deepest parts of His being, and perhaps these inner stirrings were exacerbated by His knowledge that in just a very short time He Himself would be facing that same enemy at the cross, and He Himself would be laid in a tomb. Yes, Jesus was stirred up, He was angry, He was looking for a fight. “Where have you laid him?!” [11:34], He demanded. And then He headed for the tomb of Lazarus with a fierce resolve — He would take on death, and He would defeat it. (Al Maxey –  “The Tears of Jesus:  A Reflective Analysis.”  Reflections. Issue #279 – 12/13/06. www.zianet.com/maxey/reflx279.htm)

The Gospel of Jesus Christ solves a problem, and one of the ways that the New Testament defines the biggest problem that we have as human beings is death.  The book of Hebrews actually tells us that the reason why Jesus Christ came into the world was to deliver us from the fear of death that holds us in lifelong bondage (2:14-15).  And I think that the second Beatitude points us in this same direction – “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” (Matthew 5:4).

Each one of the Beatitudes describes a specific broken place in us as human beings, a crack that lets the light of God’s grace into our lives.  And that’s certainly what death does.  It exposes our greatest vulnerability as human beings.  Death shows us just how fragile we all finally are.  In my 45 years as a local church minister I have done a thousand funerals.  I have buried men and women.  I have buried the young and the old.  I have buried the strong and the sick.  I have buried those who knew that death was coming for them and those who thought that they still had all the time in the world left. There has not been a week in my adult life that I haven’t had to stare death in the face at hospitals and at gravesides, in the dying and in the grieving.  Death is not an abstraction for me.  I’ve buried my mother and my father, my mother-in-law and my father-in-law, a nephew, ministerial colleagues, lots of church members, a number of strangers, and some of my best friends.  And I know that one day I am going to die too. I’ve entered the zone when this ordinarily happens to people.  There will be no escaping it, and so I have learned to pray – “Grant me grace always to live in such a way that I may never be afraid to die; so that, living and dying, I may be yours, O Lord.”  Rather than pushing me deeper into anxiety and fear, knowing that I will die has actually opened me up to greater grace and a deeper trust.  “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”  Death is a crack that lets the light in.

I know of a young seminarian who wrote about an encounter he had with a visitor in one of his classes at school. This stranger had just shown up  one day in the middle of a semester. The young seminarian introduced himself and began a conversation with the stranger, and what he learned was that this man was an alum of the school who was home from serving a church in Europe.  He’d decided to sit in on some classes while he was there. As they visited, the young seminarian learned that when this man graduated from the seminary that he’d accepted a call to join the staff of a young, growing, dynamic congregation in a major European city. But after a couple of years of serving that church, he’d resigned in order to become the pastor of another church, a state church – a small, struggling, declining congregation in a great big, empty, cold, historic building. Why?” the seminarian asked him. Why would anybody in their right mind leave a dynamic growing congregation for a small struggling one?  And the visitor answered – “funerals!”  He explained that he’d accepted that call because he knew that the main thing that he would be doing as the pastor of that state church was funerals.  That’s when they would need him, he explained, and that’s when he would have an opportunity to minister God’s love and grace to people at the one of the most vulnerable and receptive moments of their lives. “That’s what I got into ministry to do,” that minister told that young seminarian, “and that old state church gives me the perfect place to do it.”

The “comfort” that God offers those who “mourn” changes the way that we approach death as Christians. Some of us are studying I Thessalonians together at the church I am currently serving.  One of the things that makes I Thessalonians such a compelling read to me is the way that it was written to bolster the courage of a group of early Christians who were facing some severe opposition (1:6-7; 2:14-16).  Some of them had died (4:13), and there was real concern among them about what had become of their family and friends.  So, Paul wrote, he said, so that they would not “grieve as those who have no hope” (4:13).  To do this Paul didn’t just pat their hands and speak some pious platitudes.  No, what Paul did was to walk them once again through the basics of the Gospel.  He reviewed with them the death, the resurrection, and the promised Second Coming of Jesus Christ to finish the saving work that He had begun (4:14-17) so that they would know what God has done, is doing, and will do about death. In the Eucharistic liturgy of many churches, this is part of the “so what?” in the “what?” of the familiar Christological acclamation – “Christ has died!  Christ is risen! Christ shall come again!” 

“Comfort one another with these words” (4:18) Paul told them.  The “comfort” that God offers those who “mourn” is the assurance of the “death of death in the death of Christ.”  Just as Jesusheaded to the tomb of Lazarus with a fierce resolve” to defeat death by prying him from its icy grasp, so Jesus heads to all of the tombs in our lives and loves with that same “fierce resolve.”   Those who “mourn” can be comforted because what makes us “mourn” – death – has been defeated by Christ.

William Laud, the Archbishop of Canterbury during the English Civil War in the middle of the 17th century, was eventually executed by order of Parliament. In the moments right before his death, tradition tells us that Archbishop Laud prayed –

Lord, I am coming [just] as fast as I can. I know [that] I must pass through the shadow of death before I can come to you, but it’s…. just a shadow… a little darkness… By your Passion, you have broken the jaws of death. So, Lord, receive my soul, and have mercy upon me. (paraphrased) 

It’s because God has broken “the jaws of death” in the saving work of Jesus Christ that there is a source of real comfort available to us when we mourn.

Jesus wept at the grave of His friend Lazarus.  “His heart is touched with our grief,” and I’m certainly glad that it is.  It’s good not to be alone when the shadows lengthen, and the evening of our lives comes. But it’s not just sympathy that we get from Jesus Christ in our times of sorrow, but a solution to the source of that sorrow – death.  Peter Kreeft, a professor of philosophy at Boston College, says that when our cars careen into a snowbank, that it’s nice to know that we have a friend who will come and sit with us in the dark and the cold.  But we need more than that. We need someone who will come and pull us out of the snowbank. We need someone who will come and fix what’s gone wrong.  And that’s what the Gospel of Jesus Christ offers us – 

Brothers and sisters, we want you to know about those Christians who have died so you will not grieve as those who have no hope. 14 Jesus died and rose again, and because of this, [we know that] God will raise with Jesus those who have died… 18 So, comfort each other with these words… (I Thessalonians 4) 

“Blessed are they who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”

DBS +

 

 

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The Beatitudes are not Self-Improvement Projects – They’re Openings for Grace

In 1726 when he was just 20 years old, Benjamin Franklin concluded that he could be a much better person than he had been.  It was during a transatlantic crossing that Benjamin Franklin began to think about the specific virtues that he wanted to begin to cultivate in his life. He finally settled on 13 –

  • Temperance – Don’t eat or drink too much;
  • Silence – Don’t talk too much;
  • Order – Keep everything in its place;
  • Resolution – Always do what you say you’re going to do;
  • Frugality – Waste nothing;
  • Industry – Always be doing something useful;
  • Sincerity – Always be honest;
  • Justice – Wrong no one;
  • Moderation – Avoid extremes;
  • Cleanliness – In body, clothes and habitation;
  • Tranquility – Don’t sweat the small stuff;
  • Chastity –   Control yourself;
  • Humility – Imitate Jesus and Socrates.

For the rest of his life Benjamin Franklin worked on these virtues.  Each week he focused his attention and concentrated his effort on one of them, covering all 13 of them in 13 weeks, before starting all over again.  And at the same time, he kept a careful record of how well he was doing with all 13 of them every single day.  Benjamin Franklin never claimed to have achieved moral perfection.  By his own admission, temperance and chastity proved to be especially challenging for him.  But Benjamin Franklin did improve morally over time by following this plan.

More than once in my life I’ve been told by preachers and teachers that I needed to approach the Beatitudes in the same way that Benjamin Franklin approached his 13 virtues.  Just like Benjamin Franklin’s virtues, they told that Jesus’ eight Beatitudes are personal qualities that we’ve got to put in place in our lives if we are to get God’s blessing, so write them down on a piece of paper and tape them up on your bathroom mirror.  Read them every morning when you get up.  Review them every night before you go to bed.  Work on them every single day. The Beatitudes are self-improvement projects.  Get poorer in spirit, purer in heart, and hungrier and thirstier for righteousness.  Work on being more meek, more merciful, more mournful, more peaceful, more joyful in opposition.  Do more!  Try harder! And then one day it dawned on me that the Beatitudes aren’t a “to do” list at all.  Look at them!  They don’t tell us to do anything.  Instead,  they simply describe what is. They aren’t things that we need to work on. They’re things that we already are – spiritually bankrupt (the poor in spirit); overwhelmed by the sadness of life (those who mourn); beaten down and pushed around by people and circumstances (the meek); broken by injustice (the hungry and thirsty for the right); soft hearted (the merciful); troubled in conscience (the pure in heart); weary of conflict and strife (the peacemakers); and always in trouble (the persecuted).  [Michael Spencer]

The Beatitudes are Christ’s announcement that people like this are standing precisely where God’s grace can find them.  To quote a line from a Leonard Cohen song – “There’s a crack in everything; that’s how the light gets in.”  Each Beatitude describes a broken place in us. They’re the cracks that let God’s light in.

A generation ago Dr. Carlyle Marney, the rascally preacher of the First Baptist Church in Austin, Texas, said that he was on a college campus back east somewhere leading a Faith Emphasis week when a young, smart, strong, and beautiful young woman in a roomful of young, smart, strong, and beautiful young people asked, “Dr. Marney could you tell us the real meaning of Christianity?”  He told her that he could, but that he wouldn’t. “Come back,” Dr. Marney told her, “when you’ve lost a job. Come back when you’ve gone through a painful divorce.  Come back when you realize that you have a drinking problem.  Come back when you’ve had some kind of serious health scare. Come back when someone you truly love has died. Come back and see me then,” Dr. Marney said, “because until these sort of things start happening to you, a talk about the meaning of Christianity will just be an empty academic exercise, but once these sorts of things start happening to you, then Christianity will be the lifeline that you will be desperate to grab hold of.”

Ask somebody in recovery and they’ll tell you that they had to “hit bottom” before they could start the journey back to wholeness. It was only when they came to terms with their brokenness, how they were utterly powerless, and how their lives had become completely unmanageable, that they found themselves open to the great truth that there is a power greater than ourselves that can restore us to sanity.  There’s not a better explanation of the meaning of the first Beatitude than this.  “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” means that it’s when we finally realize our helplessness, that the way to the help that we desperately need opens in front of us. The cracks are how the light gets in. The Jesuit priest William Breault writes about this in his piece “A Hollowed Space to be Filled” –

 A cup must be empty before it can be filled.
If it is already full, it can’t be filled again except by emptying it out.
In order to fill anything, there must be a hollowed-out space.
Otherwise it can’t receive.

This is especially true of God’s word.
In order to receive it, we must be hollowed out.
We must be capable of receiving it,
Emptied of the false self and its endless demands.

When Christ came, there was no room in the inn.
It was full. The inn is a symbol of the heart.
God’s word, Christ, can take root only in a hollow.

“Poverty of spirit” is just a way of talking about these hollows in us that make room for Christ.  These hollows are in all of us, but for most of us they have been buried under piles of junk.  Do you remember that scene in the movie “Dances with Wolves”  when the character played by Kevin Cosner had to drag out of the spring all the garbage that had been thrown into it by the previous residents of the frontier outpost to which he had been sent?  That’s a pretty good picture of us and the spiritual task that we have as adults.  We fill the springs in our lives with all kinds of trash through the years, thinking that it will take their hollowness away, but it just clogs the flow and contaminates the pool.  For there to be life, they’ve got to get cleared.

Lewis Joseph Sherrill (1892-1957), a Professor of Practical Theology at Union Theological Seminary in New York City a generation ago called this clearing process “simplification.”  By “simplification” he meant the way that we all have to “distinguish the more important things in our lives from the less important things,” how we’ve got to “get rid of the less important things, or at least relegate them to the margins” so that we can “elevate the more important things to the focus of feeling, thought, and action.”  We do this, or it gets done to us.  It’s like that old commercial about changing the oil in your car – the mechanic says – “You can pay me now (for the oil change), or you can pay me then (when you need a new engine).”  Either way, simplification is coming for us. Either we will come to terms with our “poverty of spirit” voluntarily, or we get overwhelmed by the inevitable impoverishing of our spirits that comes with the passage of time. Either we will push all of those “less important” things that we have treated as if they were the “most important” things – beauty, strength, health, intellect, power, status, beliefs, and possessions – to the margins of our lives, or else we will be destroyed as all those “lesser important” things that we have given ourselves to start going away one by one.

It’s been said that our lives are like altars on which we light and carefully place candles that represent all of the different things that we have pursued.  There’s a candle for our educations, and another one for our careers.  There’s a candle for our marriages, and another one for our families.  There’s a candle for our material possessions, and another one for our wealth.  There’s candle for our reputations, and another one for our successes.  There’s a candle for our popularity, and another one for our influence. There’s a candle for our strength, and another one for our beauty.  We spend our whole lives carefully gathering these candles and lovingly  placing them on the altar of our lives.  And then one day they start going out.  Careers end.  Relationships crumble and change. Beauty fades. Health breaks. Loved ones die. Possessions wear out. Resources play out.  Somebody else takes our place in the spotlight. Nobody asks about where we went to school.  Nobody cares what we think.  “Naked we came into this world, and naked we will go out” (Job 1:21).  There are no exceptions.  There will be no exemptions.  But rather than this being a shattering experience that takes us by surprise in the end, Jesus Christ in the first Beatitude invites us to discover it’s truth right here and now, and to start living in the freedom and security that it’s discovery lets into our lives.  You see, as the light of all those other candles that burn on the altar of our lives go out, one light remains and  burns even brighter —- it’s the light of God’s grace that gets in through the cracks and that fills up the hollows.  DBS+

 

 

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How Pastors Read Scripture

Daniel M. Doriani in his commentary of the Epistle of James  (Reformed Expository – 2007) offered this “typology of the ways pastors read Scripture.” (pages 50-51)

  • As a new Christian, the future pastor’s reading of Scripture is “naïve and devotional.” Scripture is devoured. Verses get underlined.  God speaks from ever word.
  • As time passes, the budding pastor’s reading of Scripture becomes “sophisticated and devotional.”  God still speaks from the texts, but now, with the help of dictionaries and commentaries, they are being read in context.
  • Then the future pastor goes to seminary and becomes a “technical reader of Scripture.  Through the study of language, history, and culture, the future pastor pursues “what the word originally meant and perhaps neglects what it means today.”
  • With ordination comes the responsibility of the new pastor for a church.  The flock needs to be fed, and so the new pastor becomes a “technical-functional” reader of Scripture.  The new pastor still reads the Scriptures technically as was learned in seminary, but now the findings must be shared with the church each week for its edification.  The new pastor knows how to package and present what’s read in Scripture, but often “does not personally profit from the detached reading of Scripture.”
  • What pastors finally need to become are “technical, devotional” readers of Scripture.  “Every technical skill remains,” but “every word speaks directly to the heart again.” Ministers need to be both “technically astute and meek.”  Minister need to “receive God’s word and expound it.”

I know this journey well, and I am grateful for the grace to have seen it completely through. As my Evangelical Covenant friends put it, “To read the Bible properly is to find it an altar where one meets the living God and receives the reality of redemption.” DBS+

 

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Not to be served but to serve…

This past week I slipped into the Sanctuary of the church I am serving as its Interim Minister to count the crosses.  The cross is the familiar symbol of Christianity.  See a cross on the wall of a home you’re visiting, and you can safely assume that the people who live there are Christians.  See a cross on a chain around the neck of a person with whom you are talking, and you may conclude that the person who is wearing it is a Christian.  See a cross dangling from the rear-view mirror of the car next to you in traffic, and you can reasonably infer that the person who is driving that car is a Christian.  The cross is the symbol of Christianity par excellence.   But Donald Kraybill, a Mennonite theologian, says that this isn’t really what Jesus intended. The cross was imposed on Jesus from the outside, he says.  The cross was a Roman instrument of torture and death that Jesus resisted.  Don’t forget that in the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus begged to be released from its suffering and shame.  In the Upper Room, Jesus didn’t hold up a cross and tell His disciples that they should use it as the symbol to remember His saving work. No, He broke bread, poured a cup, and said, “Do this in remembrance of Me”.

Donald Kraybill says that it was something else that Jesus did in the Upper Room on the night when He was betrayed that tells us what He intended to be the symbol by which His followers would be known.  The basin and the towel – the tools of servanthood – are the symbols by which Jesus intended His disciples to be known. “I have given you an example,” Jesus said in our Scripture lesson this morning, “ that you should do as I have done to you” (John 13:15).

Some churches wash feet as a Gospel ordinance on par with baptism and the Lord’s Supper.  When Alexander Campbell, one of our Founding Fathers, was asked why we didn’t do this as a church, he said that it was because there was no record in the New Testament of the early church ever taking up foot-washing as a repeated ritual practice.   The one reference to foot washing in the New Testament, apart from our Scripture lesson this morning, is I Timothy 5:10 where Paul listed “washing the feet of the saints” as one of the prerequisites for a woman who wanted to become part of an order of ministry that focused on a life of prayer and good works, and this fits better with how we as a church have tried to follow the example of foot washing that Jesus gave us.  It’s not a ritual to be occasionally performed, it’s a way of habitually living our lives as Christians.

This theme is as clear as any in the New Testament – to be a Christian is to be a servant.  After His disciples had been quarreling with each other about who was the greatest, Jesus sat them down and told them that –

 Whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave;  just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many. (Matthew 20:26-28)

 Jesus didn’t impugn their desire for greatness, He just wanted them to know that they were going about it all wrong. To be great they needed to serve.  The word for “servant” that Jesus used was “deacon.”  We think of “deacons” as one of the leadership categories in the church.  We have elders and we have deacons.  But before “deacon” was a word that was used in the Bible to describe a kind of church leader, it was a word that was used in the Bible to describe everyone who is a Christian.

In Greek the word “deacon” is a combination of the preposition  “through” and the noun “dust.”   A “deacon” is literally someone who passes “through the dust.”  There are scholars who think that this word was a description of the way that servants went about their work in ancient households.  Greco-Roman houses were built in the shape of rectangles with big open dirt-packed courtyards in the middle.  Servants would cut across those courtyards – “through the dust” – to get from one part of the house to the other to do their chores.  They didn’t mind getting their feet dirty to do their jobs (Joe McKeever).  And this is still what it means to be a deacon.  Deacons do the dirty work. To be a deacon is to be someone who is willing to get dirty for Jesus.

In the days following Hurricane Katrina, Rudy French traveled to New Orleans to help.  Unable to find a place to plug in, Rudy finally walked into the kitchen of the Williams Boulevard Baptist Church and volunteered.  This church was strategically located next to the Highway Patrol headquarters which was hosting hundreds of troopers who had come from all over the nation to restore order and protect the darkened city. The church had become a kind of hotel for the troopers, and the women of the congregation were serving three meals a day.  They welcomed Rudy and assigned him to the garbage detail. It wasn’t exactly what he had in mind. Rudy had been the pastor of a church in southern Canada before going to Louisiana.  When he saw the suffering of the people in New Orleans on television – entire neighborhoods flooded, thousands homeless, people being rescued off rooftops – he resigned his church, sold his gun collection to fund the move, and went to help. That’s what he was doing there emptying garbage cans.  But by his own admission, Rudy was developing something of an attitude problem. One day he was lifting a large bag of garbage into the dumpster.  The kitchen workers had been told not to put liquid garbage into the bags, but evidently they didn’t get the message. Suddenly, as Rudy was lifting it up, the bag ripped and all kinds of kitchen leftovers poured down over him–gumbo, red beans and rice, gravy, grease, whatever.  Rudy stood there drenched in garbage, crying like a baby. “That’s when the Lord broke me,” he said later.  “I told the Lord, ‘If you just want me to empty garbage cans, I’ll do it.’”  That was a Thursday.  That Saturday night late, a minister from that church woke him up.  “Rudy, our pastor is sick. They tell me you are a preacher.  Can you preach for us tomorrow morning?”In time, Rudy became the pastor of another church in Louisiana, and he’s turned this little congregation into a mission center that sends people up and down the river sharing the love of Christ in practical ways with those whose lives had been upended.  The Lord has given Rudy French an unforgettable ministry, but not before his “baptism of garbage.” (Joe McKeever)

To be a deacon is to be a Christian who has surrendered his or her life to be used by the Lord in any way that He sees fit.  In the Methodist tradition, on the first Sunday of every new year, they have a special service in which church members are asked to recommit themselves to Jesus Christ and His purposes for them by praying a prayer that says –

 I am no longer my own, but yours.
Put me to what you will, place me with whom you will.
Put me to doing, put me to suffering.
Let me be put to work for you or set aside for you,
Praised for you or criticized for you.
Let me be full, let me be empty.
Let me have all things, let me have nothing.
I freely and fully surrender all things to your glory and service.

 What happens when you pray a prayer like this?  Well, Mother Teresa of Calcutta liked to say that she was just a “little pencil in the hand of a writing God who is sending a love letter to the world,” and what that prayer does is to consciously put us into the hand of God so that He can use us to write His love letter to somebody, somewhere.

 When you pray a prayer like this you can expect God to give you a “burden.”  There is some part of God’s eternal purpose that He specifically wants to put into your hands, and if you will open your heart, God will show you just exactly what it is that He wants you to do. It’s going to be that human need that keeps you awake at night.  It’s going to be that situation of suffering that you know people are facing, and the thought of it just won’t let you go.    It’s that picture of a face full of fear or sadness that you see in the paper or on the television that haunts your every waking moment.  That’s God talking to you.  That’s God saying to you – “This is where I need you to be.  This is what I need you to do.”

We tend to resist this idea because we think that it’s going to demand too much of us.  A long time ago somebody told me that most of the Christians he knew believed in what he called “the mystical doctrine of salt water.”   We think that if God is going to call us to do something that it’s going to be really, really hard and far, far away, like on another continent, hence the “mystical doctrine of salt water.”  We’ll have to cross an ocean in order to do what God needs us to do.  It was Malcolm Boyd’s “Prayer of Discipleship” that straightened this out for me –

“Send me.”

But where? To do what?

To bring pardon where there had been injury in a life I casually brush against at my daily work? (But I had thought of mediating a teenage gang war in Chicago!)

To help turn doubt into faith in a person with whom I live intimately in my circle of family and friends?  (But I had thought of helping a tired drunk on skid row!)

To bring joy into a life, consumed by sadness, which touches the hem of my life at a drinking fountain? (But I had thought only of a far-off mission land!)

“Send me.”  Send me next door, send me into the next room, to speak somehow to the human heart that is beating alongside mine… 

Where God needs you to serve is more likely than not somewhere that you are already going every day.   And who God needs you to serve is more likely than not someone you are already with every day.  And how God  needs you to serve is more likely than not something that you are already really good at doing because you do it every day.  It’s not the externals of your life that necessarily have to change in order to become that pencil in God’s hand that He can use to write His love letter to the world; it’s the internals.  We need to start looking at our externals differently.  They are not just places we go, and people we know, and things that we do.  They are daily occasions for grace, invitations to love, and opportunities to serve.

 “Break my heart, Lord,” Bob Pierce prayed, “with the things that break yours.”   Start praying this, and the hurts and the hopes of the people who are all around you every single day will start to come into sharp focus. Eric Hansen says that it’s gotten so that whenever he walks into a room he is quickly affected by what others are feeling, especially their pain, and that this gives him an opportunity to quietly pray for them.  Eric writes –

 When dealing with the pain, wounds and burdens of others I have come to understand that I cannot carry them for too long. Christ alone can bear our burdens fully… The ultimate destination for burdens is into the hands of Jesus.

And as we do this, as we start to carry the burdens of the people who are all around us to Jesus Christ in prayer, then the ways that we can wash their feet – serve them at the point of their need in a practical and helpful way – start to become clear us as well.  A hungry person needs to eat.  A grieving person needs to be comforted. A lonely person needs a friend.  An anxious person needs some reassurance.  A lost person needs to be found.  When we see a need, we usually know what to do, and then, it’s just a matter of being willing to do it.  And this is where I’ve found the wisdom of Edward Everett Hale to be helpful.

I am only one, but I am one. I can’t do everything, but I can do something.   The something I ought to do, I can do.  And by the grace of God, I will.

 Dr. Karl Menninger, the great psychiatrist, was asked at a conference on mental health when he was asked at an open session, “What would you advise a person to do if they were feeling particularly vulnerable and on the verge of a mental breakdown?”  Everyone there expected him to say, “consult a psychiatrist, get some medication.”   But he didn’t.  What he did say was, “If I felt a sense of futility overwhelming me, I’d get out of my house, I’d find someone in need, and I’d do something to help. That’s sound psychiatric advice; that’s sound spiritual counsel, and just imagine how our world would be different, and how well the cause of Christ would be served, if every Christian, every day, got up and got to find somebody, somewhere whose feet we could wash. I dare say that in short order we would have a revival on our hands because it’s Christian acting like Christians who turn the world upside down, or is it, right side up?

By the way, it’s 145. I counted 145 crosses in the Sanctuary of the church I serve.  DBS +

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“What is to prevent me from being baptized?” (Acts 8:26-38)

This is the Baptismal Meditation that I shared at a midweek baptism service with the Sunday afternoon Spanish speaking worshiping congregation of First Christian Church of McAllen, Texas.  What a joyous, dynamic and faithful community of faith I am privileged to serve with my ministry partner Joel Pereira.

I got baptized when I was 17 years old and a Senior in High School. My parents had me baptized when I was an infant, and then they raised me in the church.  We went every Sunday. But it had all been external.  I was outwardly in the church, but I wasn’t inwardly in Christ.  I had “churchianity,” not Christianity. And then one day everything changed.  Jesus Christ became real to me.

Eventually I asked Him into my heart to be my personal Lord and Savior, and I started going to a church that taught the Bible, and it wasn’t long before I started hearing things at that church like that story from Acts chapter 8 that I just read to you about the Ethiopian Eunuch who came to faith in Christ and then wanted to be baptized as a result.  It wasn’t long before I wanted to be baptized too. It was clear to me that baptism was something that Jesus Christ commanded, and I really wanted to be obedient.  I wanted to do whatever He asked. I wanted Him to see what was in my heart.

Now, clearly baptism didn’t save the Ethiopian Eunuch in that story from Acts 8, and baptism didn’t save me either. It’s Jesus Christ the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world who saves us.  But baptism is the Divinely appointed way to show that the Lamb of God who generally takes away the sins of the world has specifically taken our sins away.  I think that this is what “baptism for the remission of sins” means in Scripture (Acts 2:38) and in the church’s historic creeds. Baptism is the sign and seal of forgiveness.

When C.S. Lewis became a Christian he said that he felt like he really needed to do something to fly the flag of his new found faith, something to show the whole world that something spiritually momentous had happened to him.  And Biblically that’s what baptism does.  Baptism is given to us as the outward and visible sign of what happens to us inwardly and invisibly when we ask Christ into our hearts.

There’s an old preacher’s story that is told about a man who went to an evangelistic meeting and repeatedly tried to give himself to Christ. Every night he would go forward and kneel at the altar to consecrate himself to Christ, and every night when he got up off his knees the devil would show up and convince him that nothing had really happened and that he wasn’t really saved.  Night after night he was beaten back by the adversary. Finally, one evening that man came to the meeting with a big hammer and a wooden stake. At the end of the service after he had gone forward again and placed his trust in Christ one more time, he wrote the day and the hour onto that wooden stake and then he drove it into the ground right outside the church. When he turned to leave and the devil showed up as usual to make him doubt his salvation, he walked back to that stake in the ground and pointing to it, said, “Look here, Devil, do you see that stake? Well, that’s my witness that on this day and at this hour God forever accepted me in Jesus Christ as one of His own.”  Immediately the devil left him, and whenever he had doubts again, he could just go back to that stake in the ground and know what had happened once and for all right there.

Baptism is the act by which you drive the stake in time that says Jesus Christ is your Savior because there was a moment when you consciously and deliberately gave Him your sins and He forgave you, and baptism is the stake you drive in time that says Jesus Christ is your Lord because there was a moment when you consciously and deliberately gave Him your life and He began to change you.    This is two things because  we are “saved from” and we are “saved to.”  We are “saved from” our sins by accepting Jesus Christ as our Savior.  This is why one of the ways that baptism gets described for us in the Bible is as a bath (I Peter 3:21; Titus 3:5).  This is a time and a place of cleansing.  But we are also “saved to” newness of life by confessing Jesus Christ as our Lord, the One who baptizes us in the Holy Spirit (John 1:33).  This is why another way that baptism gets described for us in Scripture is as a birth – we are “born [again] of water and the Spirit” (John 3:5).  And that makes this a time and a place of renewal.

It’s said that when the Devil taunted Martin Luther, the great Protestant Reformer, telling him that God didn’t love him and that he wasn’t really a child of God, that Luther would always answer the darkness – “But I have been baptized — I am a Christian — Jesus Christ was crucified for my sins and He was raised from the dead so that I could walk in newness of life.”  And in just a few minutes now, you are going to be able to say the very same thing – “I have been baptized — I am a Christian — Jesus Christ was crucified for my sins and He was raised from the dead so that I can walk in newness of life.”  This is how you fly the flag of faith over your life.  This is when and where you drive the stake. DBS +

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Making the Gospel Visible

The late Vernon Grounds, President of Denver Seminary, said that the church is a lot like a pack of porcupines on a freezing winters’ night.  They pull in close to each other for warmth, only to drive each other apart because of their sharp jabbing quills. This is a familiar enough dance, isn’t it?  We need each other, and we hurt each other. We draw in close, then we drive each other away.  We ache for community, but it turns out that being in community is hard. The Church is a glorious ideal, and a less than glorious reality, and we’ve got to come to terms with this because the church is the “plausibility structure” for the Gospel.

When the Communists took over Poland in 1948 they immediately built a model city with sparkling buildings, first class schools, state of the art medical facilities, efficient public transportation systems, beautiful parks, and spacious athletic fields so that they had something they could point to show people what Communism was going to do for all of them. This model city was Polish Communism’s “plausibility structure,” the concrete demonstration of its utopian promise, and the tangible proof that it was possible.  And that’s what the church is to the Gospel, at least that’s what Jesus said.

In John 13:35, right after He washed His disciples’ feet, Jesus said, “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35).  And then in John 17,  right before He went out to take up His cross, Jesus prayed that His disciples would be one so that the world might believe that the Father sent Him (John 17:20-21).  Twice Jesus gave people the right to look at how we treat each other as Christians, and to conclude on the basis of what they see, whether or not Christianity is true. When somebody asks – “Why should I be a Christian?”  We’re supposed to be able to say, “Well, look at the church — look at the way that we love each other; look at the way that we accept each other; look at the way that we help each other; look at the way that we forgive each other — look at us — and you will see the truth of Christianity!”  Is your church a living demonstration of the truth and power of Christianity?  Before simply shrugging this off as some kind of unrealistic ideal that’s far beyond our capabilities, let me tell you a story from my denominational history.

In 1809, when Thomas Campbell wrote “Declaration and Address,” the document that began the “Disciples of Christ,” he told a story about a gathering of Native American chiefs in the Northeast whose people had been the evangelistic target of a succession of competing churches. Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians, and Congregationalists had all sent missionaries to convert them.  But those chiefs told the missionaries from all those different churches that they were just going to sit back and watch them for a while before making any decisions about their Christianity.  The chiefs said that they wanted to see how loving the missionaries’ message about a loving God actually made Christians in their relationships with each other.  And Thomas Campbell said that they were exactly right to do so. Our proclamation of God’s unconditional love for people in Jesus Christ lacks complete credibility if we who proclaim it can’t get along with other Christians.  Why should anyone believe us when we tell them that God loves them, if we don’t, or won’t, love each other?  Thomas Campbell started the Disciples of Christ as a Movement of Christian unity and love.  He believed that when Christians relate to each other with affection and respect rather than with criticism and suspicion, that when we then preach the Gospel that the world will listen because they will be able to see its power and truth in the way we love each other.  But what does love look like?

Romans chapter 12:9-13 is one of the places where the New Testament tells us – specifically, concretely, constructively – what love looks like in 13 concise statements.

1. Let love be genuine…

On the Greek stage the same actor would often play different roles.   The way they pulled this off was by wearing masks.  The word for this practice in Greek is the word we translate “hypocrisy” in English.  To be a “hypocrite” is to wear masks, it is to be two faced.   Christian Love, in contrast is “genuine,” literally, “without hypocrisy.”  Christian love is not something that we can fake.  Just as God’s love for us never varies or wavers, so our love for others must be constant and authentic.

2. Hate what is evil…

The opposite of love is not hate, but indifference, and so we are told that Christian love hates evil.  But to do this we have to know what evil is, and that’s going to require us to make some moral judgments.  You’ve no doubt seem William Barber ll on TV making his call for a Moral Revival in America around the issues of poverty and racism.  What you may not know is that he is a minister of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).  He is one of us, and we should be proud of that because Christian love hates evil, and he is helping us recognize the shape that evil takes in our world today so that we can hate it.

3. Hold fast to what is good… 

My favorite description of the earthly ministry of Jesus Christ is what Peter told Cornelius in Acts 10:38 – “He went about doing good.”  Paul told the Ephesians that God saves us to do good as well (2:10).   Christian love shows itself by Christians being good and doing good.  And when people see our good, Jesus said, they will be drawn to the goodness of God (Matthew 5:16).

4. Love one another with mutual affection…

If one of my sisters calls me this afternoon and tells me that she needs me, I’m on the next plane.  That’s what it means to be family, and it is not accidental or incidental that the New Testament consistently uses family language to describe what our relationships are supposed to be like in the church.  “Treat older men as you would treat a father; treat younger men like brothers,” Paul told Timothy, “treat older women like mothers, and younger women like sisters” (I Timothy 5:1-2).  The natural bond of family is the primary way that the New Testament would have us think about our relationships with each other around here. We are brothers and sisters in Christ, members of the same forever family.

5. Outdo one another in showing honor… 

Last week when the President was in England visiting the Queen there was a small kafuffle over a minor breach of protocol.  You may have seen it.  While reviewing the Royal Guard at Windsor Castle, the President got out ahead of the Queen by a step or two before he stopped and motioned for her to go ahead.  “Outdoing one another in showing honor” means that we are constantly doing this with each other. We defer to each other.  I put your interests and concerns ahead of mine.  You put my interests and concerns ahead of yours.  And in this way all of our interests and concerns get taken seriously.

6. Do not lag in zeal…

I love that old story about the elderly couple who were leaving the church parking lot after a worship service one Sunday.  In the car in front of them was a young couple sitting just as close to each other on the front seat  as they possibly could.  The old woman wistfully said, “Dear, I remember when we used to sit like that.”  And the old man huffed in response, “Well, I didn’t’ move!”  C.S. Lewis said that something fundamental shifts when our Christianity becomes more a theory than a love affair.  At the end of a long week of workshops on church renewal and revitalization, Mark Pattie, an Evangelical Covenant Church pastor up in Minnesota, says that the Lord spoke to him in a dream. “Mark,” God said, “Do you want to know the steps are to a vital life and a vital church?” “Yes, Lord! Yes!” Mark said. And God told him, “Come back to Jesus… Come back to your first love.”

7. Be ardent in Spirit…

Be “aglow” with the Spirit is how the old Revised Standard Version of the Bible rendered this phrase.  Be “on fire” in the Spirit is how the new Contemporary English Version puts it.  Love is the fire in the belly of the life of faith.  It’s what drives the mission of the church.  In his inaugural lecture as a professor of Christian mission at Gordon Conwell Seminary in Boston Peter Kuzmic asked, “Why should we care about Syrian refugees, or the starving children of Africa, or the victims of sex trafficking in Southeast Asia?”  And for Christians, he said, there’s just one answer – “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son.” There’s fire in those words.

8. Serve the Lord…

In his account of what happened in the Upper Room, John tells us that Jesus, “loving his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end” (13:1), and so He got down on His knees and He washed His disciples’ feet. Love shows in specific and concrete acts of human service.  Richard Foster says that every morning when he wakes up that the very first thing that he does is to pray – “Lord, please send me someone I can serve today, someone who needs to feel your love.”

9. Rejoice in hope…

The love that holds us is the love that will never let us go and that will welcome us   home at the end.

10. Be patient in suffering…

Nothing has the power to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

11. Persevere in prayer… 

One of the things that I pray every morning is that God would be “be graciously pleased to take all who are dear to me under His Fatherly care and protection.”  And each morning as I pray these words I see in my mind’s eye those four friends in the Gospel story who carried their sick friend to Jesus and who wound up letting him down through the roof to get him to Jesus.  Nothing should stop us from bringing our loved ones  into the presence of Christ who can make them whole and keep them safe.

12. Contribute to the needs of the saints…

 One of the truly remarkable effects of the Gospel on the first Christians in Jerusalem was the way that they used their material resources to take care of each other.  “There was not a needy person among them” (Acts 4:34), Luke tells us, and “great grace was upon them all” (Acts 4:33). The Apostle John stated the principle that drove this practice (I John 3:17) – “If anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother or sister in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?”  It was this teaching that prompted St. Basil to tell Christians in the fourth century – The bread in your cupboard belongs to the hungry; the coat unused in your closet belongs to the one who needs it; the shoes rotting in your closet belong to the one who has no shoes; and the money which you hoard up belongs to the poor.”  When Tertullian said that people in his day were constantly saying, “See how these Christians love each other,” it was this concrete way that they were taking care of each other that they were talking about.  And it didn’t stop at the front door of the church.

13. Extend hospitality to strangers…

Francis Schaeffer said that Christian love gets real ugly real quick when it becomes exclusive, when it gets limited to just those of us who are on the inside the ark.  And so in Romans 12, right after telling us that genuine Christian love compels us to look out for the needs of our fellow Christians, it tells us that it also compels us to attend to the needs of the outsider and the stranger.  As Paul told the Galatians – “Let us do good to all men, and especially to those who are of the household of faith” (6:10).  Christian love is not either/or.  Christian love is always both/and.

Walter Brueggemann, one of the most highly respected  Bible Scholars of our day,  asks in one of his books – “Are we living our Christianity in such a way that our family members are convinced that there’s something different about us because of the Gospel?”  We can say that we’re Christians. We can say that our commitment to Jesus Christ is the most important thing about us. But our families know the truth of such claims. Trevor Hudson, a South African Methodist churchman says that he was visiting a ministerial colleague and his wife one day when the man got called out on a pastoral emergency.  Trevor said to his wife, “Your husband is such a devoted Christian.”  To which she replied, “Yes, but you don’t have to live with him.”

 “Do as we say and not as we do,” one of the ways that Christians have long excused themselves from taking responsibility for living what it is that they say they believe, has no place in Biblical Christianity.  The truth and the power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ gets demonstrated in the loving quality of our relationships with each other in the Body of Christ, His church.  Jesus said that people have the right to look at how we treat each other around here, and then to decide whether Christianity is true based on what they see.  What will your church convince them to decide about Jesus?  DBS +

 

 

 

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