The word of the prophets made more certain... (2nd Peter 1:19)
This morning as I was taking my daily dose of Fox News, I found myself listening intently as the onscreen news personality briefly exposited upon the "true meaning of Christmas." As I listened, I realized that in spite of her earnest and well-meaning commentary, she managed to miss the true meaning of Christmas by a country mile. Quite predictably, her focus was upon those niceties that increasingly define the contemporary concept of Christmas in America: family and friends, charity, kindness, and "peace on earth, goodwill toward men."
Now, I am not saying that these things are unrelated to Christmas, for certainly they are. And each holds its own meaning and truth. But they do not compose the central, key, seminal meaning of Christmas. The true meaning of Christmas is expressed much more profoundly and miraculously by what the Apostle John wrote nearly 2000 years ago:
John 1:14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.
In short, God became a man. The Bible goes into great detail to tell why He did so:
Unfortunately, the Church and many well-meaning Christians have often and unwittingly aided and abetted the popular notions and misconceptions about Christmas — mostly because of an over-developed need to be liked and thought well of. And so, we shy away from awkward discussions about debatable biblical teachings on sin, death, heaven, hell, and especially, the virgin birth. After all, we might reason, if you are going claim something is true, don’t you have to be able to prove it?
Well, yes and no. The virgin birth is not a historical event that left tangible footprints. But likewise, we also have no tangible evidence that Socrates or Confucious or Buddha ever lived, much less that they wrote the things attributed to them.
However, does that lack of tangible evidence, as some assert, make our faith unreasonable or irrational? Not at all, for we do have reasonable reasons to believe:
Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel. [God with us] (Isaiah 7:14)
Not only would this deliverer be born of a woman, but of a woman who was also a virgin. And when that Child was born, we would refer to Him as Immanuel, “God with us.”
Furthermore, Matthew, writing to an audience of his own contemporaries begins his gospel by stating: This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit. (Matthew 1:18)
Luke follows in his account by informing us: Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eye-witnesses and servants of the word. Therefore, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you, … so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught. (Luke 1:1-3) And then further on he adds… In the sixth month, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.” Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob for ever; his kingdom will never end.” “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?” The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. (Luke 1:26-35)
So is this proof of a virgin birth of God? Well, we have prophecies… and we have eyewitness accounts… but even more compelling is what we know about the Man Himself. Jesus’ life is an anomaly no matter how you look at it. Dr James Allen Francis, in his memorable poem One Solitary Life, wonderfully illustrated this fact:
He was born in an obscure village,
The child of a peasant woman.
He grew up in still another village,
Where he worked in a carpenter shop
Until he was thirty.
Then for three years
He was an itinerant preacher.
He never wrote a book.
He never held an office.
He never had a family or owned a house.
He didn't go to college.
He never visited a big city.
He never traveled two hundred miles
From the place where he was born.
He did none of the things
One usually associates with greatness.
He had no credentials but himself.
He was only thirty-three
When the tide of public opinion turned against him.
His friends ran away.
He was turned over to his enemies.
And went through the mockery of a trial.
He was nailed to a cross
Between two thieves.
While he was dying,
His executioners gambled for his clothing,
The only property he had on Earth.
When he was dead,
He was laid in a borrowed grave
Through the pity of a friend.
Twenty centuries have come and gone,
And today he is the central figure
Of the human race,
And the leader of mankind's progress.
All the armies that ever marched,
All the navies that ever sailed,
All the parliaments that ever sat,
All the kings that ever reigned,
Put together have not affected
The life of man on Earth
As much as that
One Solitary Life
Another writer offered a similar perspective:
Jesus had no servants,
yet they called Him Master.
Had no degree,
yet they called Him Teacher .
Had no medicines,
yet they called Him Healer.
Had no army,
yet kings feared Him.
He won no military battles,
yet He conquered the world.
He committed no crime,
yet they crucified Him.
He was buried in a tomb,
yet He lives today.
It may be this last fact has more to do with why we believe in the Virgin Birth than any other thing that could be said. As one old Hymn explains…
I serve a risen Savior; He's in the world today.
I know that He is living, whatever men may say.
I see His hand of mercy, I hear His voice of cheer,
And just the time I need Him He's always near.
He lives! He lives! Christ Jesus lives today!
He walks with me and talks with me along life's narrow way.
He lives! He lives! Salvation to impart!
You ask me how I know He lives? He lives within my heart.
Each of us has the right to believe whatever we want; but having a legal right does not inherently make that belief right. However, when it comes to Jesus, the Bible, and the Virgin Birth, I know I am right, because…
He lives within my heart.
For me, one of the most fascinating Old Testament characters is not an Israelite but a gentile: a man by the name of Balaam. What sets him apart from so many other biblical characters of note is that he was a non-Jew who knew God. Like Job and Melchizedek and a few other gentiles, God spoke to him!
So much so that the Book of Numbers tell us of him:
"Those you bless are blessed, and those you curse are cursed." (Numbers 22:6)
"One whose eye sees clearly, the oracle of one who hears the words of God, who sees a vision from the Almighty, who falls prostrate, and whose eyes are opened." (Numbers 24:3,4)
Ironically, this Gentile possessed spiritual abilities that few Israelites did. Here was a man so uniquely, powerfully, and wonderfully gifted by Yahweh that he could influence the course of world events.
Yet this is also where he ran into trouble. He began to believe that his gifts were his own; that he could use them as he pleased; that they could be applied like any other talent, skill, or a trade, to be used as a source of income and wealth. As far as Balaam was concerned, they were chiefly a means to get ahead in the race of life.
Apparently he had either forgotten or was ignorant of Paul’s later injunction:
"What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?" (1 Corinthians 4:7)
This is why, when the King of Moab approached Balaam with a very tempting offer, he succumbed to the temptation. Five times he approached God in an effort to change God’s mind. Each time, he was rebuffed and redirected to bless the nation of Israel, rather than curse it.
But in Balaam’s mind this blessing had a terrible downside, as explained by his patron Balak, the King of Moab:
"Then Balak’s anger burned against Balaam. He struck his hands together and said to him, "I summoned you to curse my enemies, but you have blessed them these three times. Now leave at once and go home! I said I would reward you handsomely, but the LORD has kept you from being rewarded."" (Numbers 24:10, 11)
If Balaam had simply gone home, this would be the end of the story. But he didn’t. He stayed, he settled in, and he began to strategize: How can I get my hands on all that money? He came up with a very creative solution. He knew that the only way God would curse Israel was if Israel brought it upon themselves. Balaam's plan: to convince the Israelites to worship other gods, knowing that God would then punish them (Numbers 31:16). And it worked:
"The men began to indulge in sexual immorality with Moabite women, who invited them to the sacrifices to their gods. The people ate and bowed down before these gods. So Israel joined in worshipping the Baal... And the LORD’s anger burned against them…. but those who died in the plague numbered 24,000." (Numbers 25:1-3, 9)
It is no wonder that Balaam became one of the persons most hated by the ancient Hebrews, and one of the most notorious among New Testament Christians.
"They have left the straight way and wandered off to follow the way of Balaam son of Beor, who loved the wages of wickedness." (2 Peter 2:15)
"Nevertheless, I have a few things against you: You have people there who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to entice the Israelites to sin by eating food sacrificed to idols and by committing sexual immorality." (Revelation 2:14)
When we read these passages, we usually focus on the sexual immorality that Balaam used to entice the Israelites. But Peter gets to the real heart of Balaam’s problem, greed; he loved the wages of wickedness. We might add: he loved those wages more than he loved God.
For Balaam, religion had become a business. His gifts had become the tools of his trade, to be bartered and sold to make a living and, hopefully, to build a fortune.
Sadly, the Church has a long history of Balaam’s, men who were wonderfully gifted by God for service to His Church and the world, but who harbored greed and pride in their hearts. Ministry became a means to a selfish end. We see it in the Pharisees (Matthew 23:25). We see it in some ancient Popes and modern pastors. It’s often reflected in today’s Word Faith movement—which teaches its followers to demand health, wealth and their own way—as their God-given right.
It can also be seen at times in the way that some churches go about doing “ministry.” Their focus centers on bucks, bodies, and buildings; things that can be counted, hoarded, and boasted about. Evangelism becomes a demographic issue that has to be strategized. The Church is an organization that has to be mobilized. The believer is a serving unit that has to be motivated.
We are not called to be professionals, or practitioners of, Christianity. We are called to be slaves of Jesus Christ (Romans 1:1; Titus 1:1). We are not called to win people to our side, but to love them just as Jesus loved them (John 13:34,35). We are not called to build a life for ourselves, but to give our lives away for the sake of Jesus and the Gospel (Mark 8:35). Our treasure is to be in heaven, not here on earth (Matt 6:20, 24).
Balaam was indeed a prophet of God. We can assume, I think, that at one time he was a faithful follower of Him. That he eagerly listened when God spoke. That he willingly lined his life up with God's commands. That he served God whole-heartedly.
Is that how you are living your life? Or are you still trying to build your career… your ministry… your dream? Then you are falling into what Jude referred to as “the error of Balaam.” It’s time then, as Jesus put it, to …
"Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first." (Revelation 2:5)
One of the most sobering thoughts that comes to mind from time to time is that God has entrusted me with the keys of His Kingdom (Matthew 16:19). Let me put this into a context that might help you better relate to what I am saying: Do you remember the first time you entrusted your car keys into the hands of your 16-year-old son or daughter? What God has entrusted to you and me is something far more important and far more powerful: The very Words of Life!
You may be wondering, "What exactly are these keys He’s entrusted to you and me?" Here’s how Matthew explained it:
When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, "Who do people say the Son of Man is?" They replied, "Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets." "But what about you?" he asked. "Who do you say I am?" Simon Peter answered, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." Jesus replied, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, [Peter’s confession] and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven" (Matthew 16:13-19).
Sadly, some have misread what Jesus was saying, and have concluded that the keys of the kingdom were Peter or the Apostles; and that these men would determine who would be saved or lost. But in fact, it was Peter’s confession, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God,” that is the key. It is believing that thing that Peter confessed that unlocks the doors of eternal life to a sinner: that Jesus is God and Savior.
To be honest, I have at times wondered about the wisdom of entrusting such an important task to someone like me. I know my faults, weaknesses, and sins all too well to entrust something so important to someone as fallible and failing as me. And yet that is exactly what God has done:
"So then, men ought to regard us as servants of Christ and as those entrusted with the secret things of God" (1 Corinthians 4:1).
Some twenty-three times in the New Testament, this word entrust is used to describe our responsibility to share the message of God’s saving grace through Christ with the rest of the world. It is literally a sacred trust.
Repeatedly, we are told to “Go” into the world around us, near and far, proclaiming the message (Matthew 28:19,20; Mark 16:15). Paul even adds that if we do not “Go,” the message will not be communicated (Romans 10:14). For God has made no other provisions to get His message out but through the mouths of His Church.
And yet, in America today, two out of every five Christians do not believe that they have any obligation or responsibility to share their faith with others. That’s 40%! And many of the remaining 60% feel guilty, but rarely say anything to anyone. Only about 5% of Christians ever share their faith with someone who is not a Christian.
So what’s wrong? There are probably many factors, but the one that I have had to confront in myself is the mistaken belief that my life is about me; that I exist to find my best life now. So whatever passion I possess, I spend on meeting my needs, making myself happy, promoting my agenda. Even when I pray, my tendency is to pray that God would bless, heal, help, and prosper my life; one could say it's the spiritual equivalent of "fiddling while Rome burns."
You see, I have all the faith and passion needed to powerfully impact the world around me. But I choose to spend it all on myself, while ignoring what the prophet Amos referred to as a “famine of hearing the words of the LORD.” (Amos 8:11)
Few of us are evangelists. And preaching the Gospel is not always done with words. Often our actions speak as loud, or louder than, our words. But at some point, if people are going to believe, they have to know what it is they are being asked to believe. That requires words. Words are key!
Arriving at Mumbai, India, I took a seat on the transfer bus that would shuttle me from my plane to the terminal. Before the bus traveled across the tarmac, three more passengers - two Muslim women with a young child - pressed into the crowded vehicle.
Dressed in form-concealing burqas and head coverings, these Muslims were for me a momentary curiosity… one aspect of the cultural milieu that makes India such a fascinating place. But I noticed that the upper-class Hindu women who were also on the bus radiated an obvious disgust at their presence. And I quickly realized why: Muslims and Hindus in India are cultural enemies.
Since India's "emancipation" from Britain in 1948, militant Muslims and Hindus have been viciously at odds over the government of the country. The conflict has been sanctified by the banner of religion on both sides – and each side has claimed its victims. Not too long before that day on the bus, Muslim terrorists had carried out a murderous attack on a major hotel in the center of Mumbai (Bombay), India. Scores of innocents were killed and many tense days passed before the terrorists were subdued. Sadly, the hate-filled eyes of those Hindu ladies reflected their outrage toward all Muslims.
I could understand the hate of the Hindu ladies; the recent terrorist attack was still fresh in their minds. But as I eyed the two Muslim ladies, I could also sense their acute discomfort. Unprotected and in a vulnerable situation, it was obvious that they realized they were despised.
Of course, they had not been involved in those deadly attacks. And almost certainly, they didn't intend to hurt anyone that day. Even if they had, there was no chance they would succeed. Nevertheless, in that time and place, they had become the collective “them” of the Mumbai terrorists in the eyes of the Hindu ladies. “You’re one of them,” hate says, even if you really aren’t.
As I reflected on what was transpiring in front of me, my thoughts went to Jesus and how he dealt with such situations. Over and again, he placed Himself between those who hated one another—due to what each saw as a righteous cause. The Jews hated the Samaritans because they had created a corrupted form of Judaism. The Samaritans hated the Jews because one of Judea's kings had destroyed their temple and carried out an ethnic cleansing, ordering the deaths of thousands of men, women, and children. (This, ironically, is history's earliest account of racial genocide.) This Jewish king (Alexander Janneaus) was also the first to force religious conversion by the sword, killing those who resisted.
Contrary to such examples of history, Jesus both enraged His enemies and confused His followers by telling them to love their enemies. He illustrated brotherly kindness by exalting a Samaritan above both a priest and a Levite (unthinkable). He told a Samaritan woman of ill repute that God’s Kingdom was going to move past both Judaism and Samaritanism to a worship of God in spirit and truth. Which temple, what rituals, would become unimportant, because all would share the same Messiah—Jesus Himself. Jesus touched and healed lepers and did miracles on the Sabbath—enraging the Jewish leaders. He even healed the servant of a Roman military officer despite the Jews' collective hated of the occupying Roman army. And then there were the people Jesus hung out with—He broke all the religious taboos. “But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, ‘This man welcomes sinners, and eats with them’” (Luke 15:2).
Jesus sought to build bridges, not barriers, amid a lost and dying world. As He said after touching the life of the despised chief tax collector, Zacchaeus: “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost" (Luke 19:10). Jesus purposefully mingled with a sinful world, knowing it was the only way they would believe that God loved them too.
One thing became clear to me as I sat on that bus. The conflict between Muslims and Hindus will never be resolved by raising the body count. Each death, each terrorist attack, broadens the divide and increases the hatred between the two groups. And Christians should take note. As Paul said, when people give their lives to Jesus, he makes “the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility” (Ephesians 2:14). Paul was speaking of the divide between Jews and Gentiles, but there is further application: the wall of hostility has been destroyed and the Law of Love has been enacted. Christ loved all mankind and made peace with His death on the cross. (Ephesians 2:15) And He commanded that His followers do the same: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God” (Matthew 5:9).
Unfortunately, most Christians only follow this command in theory. As Dan Allender notes in The Healing Path, “The trend in many churches is to circle the wagons, remain inwardly focused, and serve primarily the needs of those who are already attending church.” Such a perspective concludes that the command to “Go” involves sending others (missionaries) and money. In reality, when the church constrains itself to chiefly such ministry, most of the church body has merely erected a "sanctified barrier" between themselves and the world's lost. In truth, the command to "go" involves building bridges to where others are—personally. This requires a willingness to go deeper in our relationships with the unsaved—despite our differences, and despite the degree to which someone's behavior or lifestyle might offend us. By loving as Christ loved, we build bridges. By maintaining our distance and our disapproval, we build barriers. The question for us all: Are we building bridges or barriers?
It is common today to hear people dismiss disagreements by saying, “It’s just a matter of semantics.” What that statement reveals, among many things, is that this person doesn’t understand what the word semantics means. Semantics is about “meaning:” that is, words mean something. They are not just sounds that we utter; they are messages that we send out to others so that they can understand our thoughts and feelings.
Now there are those who use techniques to mislead by infusing certain words with meanings that are not original. They use language deceptively, not to communicate but to confuse.
There is a legitimate sense in which words are altered. We combine or invent new ways of using them in order to say something that cannot be adequately “labeled” by existing terminology. In such cases, these new words help our understanding and improve communication.
This is what David Kinnamon & Gabe Lyons have done in their book UnChristian. The word they created is “de-churched.” Today when we speak about people who are outside of the church, we use terms like “un-reached,” or “un-churched.” “Un-reached” implies that they have never heard the Gospel and therefore have never had a chance to believe. “Un-churched” suggests that the person has some degree of familiarity with the Gospel and Christianity, but have not connected with the church in a meaningful way.
According to work done by the Barna Research Group, neither of these words adequately describe the condition of most Americans. They are not “un-reached” because it is nearly impossible to avoid hearing the Gospel in America at least once in a lifetime. Nor can they be called “un-churched,” since between 65 and 73 percent have at some point in their lives had an extensive or intensive encounter with the church. Kinnaman suggests that instead we should call these folks, “de-churched.” In other words, they have disconnected from the church. They feel it is irrelevant to their needs, and inauthentic in its practice. In their view, we are like King Belshazzar; we have been weighed in the balances and found wanting.
How do we reach these folks? They have most likely already heard the Gospel. Now they need to see it!
Lord, help us to first know what we believe,
Pray for the grace to radically live what we believe,
To be honest and humble enough to admit when we don’t.
Recently, I asked the church staff what they considered to be the greatest needs and/or challenges facing our church. Here are their thoughts:
1. That we might encourage the body to become more FULLY DEVOTED FOLLOWERS of Jesus.
Too many Christians take pride in their knowledge of the Bible and the fact that they are part of a Bible-teaching church. What they seem to forget is Paul's warning that knowledge puffs up, but love builds up (1 Corinthians 8:1). The true reason we need to study and know the Bible is so that we can see the nature of the Father, perfectly expressed through Jesus… so we study Jesus—with the desire to devote ourselves to God and to His will. Pray with us: "Lord, make me a FULLY DEVOTED FOLLOWER of Jesus—and make me more like Him!"
2. That more FULLY DISCIPLED LEADERS would be trained up.
Jesus put it best: The harvest is great, but the laborers are few (Matthew 9:37). There are too many people who need spiritual mentors to disciple them in the faith. Because too many people see discipleship as the job of the pastor or other church staff, few relationships between Christians involve mentoring or discipling; those that exist instead just focus on "fellowship." Bible teachers and preachers are called to communicate what the Word says—but those truths can only be fully understood as they are shared one-on-one. Discipleship requires relationship between a mature believer and an immature believer. Pray with us: "Lord, raise up FULLY DISCIPLED mature leaders who are willing to disciple the younger."
3. That the church would become a FULLY MISSIONAL COMMUNITY.
Christianity was not designed to be lived in isolation; yet large congregations tend to isolate many people. We are individuals, but we are also parts and members of a spiritual community called the Church. The Church is repeatedly referred to as a family, a community, a brotherhood, etc.
But what is the purpose of the community. It is not intended to be simply a holy huddle where Christians can find their seven best friends and live happily ever after. Christians are called to be on a mission to reach the world. As we grow in community we are also called to reach out into our community. This is done best when we not only love others that we know, but together we reach out together in love to others we don’t know. This is community with a purpose beyond ourselves. It is community designed to reach the greater community for Christ.
Are you part of a small home-based group of believers? It is within such a context that the most and best spiritual growth takes place. It is the place where the Bible’s teachings make the most sense and have their greatest opportunity to be expressed in meaningful ways. Pray with us: "Lord, lead me to a small group of dedicated believers where I can grow in YOU, and be knit together with this COMMUNITY of YOURS."
One of the most intriguing passages in the New Testament is John 2:24-25. Read it and tell me if you don’t agree:
“Jesus didn’t trust them, because he knew what people were really like. No one needed to tell him about human nature.” (New Living Translation)
Simply put, Jesus didn’t trust people. But then, how could He. He knows us too well. He knows we are fickle, unreliable, changeable, self absorbed… and worst of all, habitually sinful. Like Peter we like to boast about our fidelity under all circumstances (John 13:37). But when the going gets tough, we more often than not head for an exit. Peter did. And so did the remaining 10 disciples. Once Jesus was arrested, John reports on their response:
"The disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews” (John 20:19).
They were no-where to be found. Apparently they had fled to the safety of the Upper Room, locked the doors, shut the windows, turned off the lights, and waited for the trouble to pass.
Think about this for a moment. Jesus foreknew (knew in advance), everything that was going to happen (John 16:32). He knew Judas would betray Him. He knew that Peter would deny Him. And He knew that the other ten would desert Him; consumed with fear that the Jews would come for them next and do to them what they had done to Jesus.
Yet despite His foreknowledge of their coming betrayal, Jesus still “washed their feet”, so that He could,
“show them the full extent of his love” (John 13:1).
It is easy to overlook the fact that Jesus washed the feet of men He knew would betray Him in a few hours hence. He washed Peter’s feet who three times denied that He even knew Jesus. Most remarkably, He washed Judas feet; the man who was at the center of the whole series of diabolical events to come.
And then when He had finished washing their feet, he told them (and by extension, you and me),
"I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you" (John 13:15).
But how? How do I allow myself to be open, vulnerable and loving towards others whom I know may very well let me down; especially if they have hurt me in the past? Aren’t they likely to do it again?
We do it in the same way that Jesus did it: We don’t trust people, we trust God!
Jesus knew that He could not rely upon even His closest and most devoted followers. So instead of “relying” upon them, He placed all His reliance upon the Father, who never fails or disappoints!
When we get disappointed in others, it reveals that a subtle kind of idolatry is going on inside our hearts. We are looking at others to provide for us what only God can provide: Safety! People can make promises, but even the best of men will fail to keep their promises sooner or later.
But not God. God is love. And of that “love” Paul writes
"It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails" (1 Corinthians 13:7, 8).
The point is this: If you rely upon people, they will disappoint you. In response, you will probably become guarded, cautious, distant, self-protective, and even bitter. You will live with a clenched fist and a distant heart. And with each new betrayal, the walls around your heart will get taller and thicker. They will also slowly strangle you like a boa constrictor.
But if you rely upon God, human disappointments, may still hurt; but they will not derail you. Instead, they will drive you deeper into the Father’s heart and hands. The love you find there will be so rewarding, that you will no longer fear the hurt that people can do to you. As a consequence, you will live an open life, receptive and loving of others.
If you look at the byline on our website, or on our weekly bulletin, you will notice the following mission statement: Love God, Love His Word, Love One Another. These three things, I believe, are what should define the life and mission of any individual or organization that claims to represent the person of God in Christ.
Why? Unless what we are doing is an active expression of love for God, it can only be of one other source: Love for Self! As Jesus said, we can only serve one master. More importantly, we will love the one and hate the other. We are either intentionally serving God, or intentionally Self; there is no middle ground. If we get it wrong on this point, the whole will in time prove to be wrong.
Love His Word
Second, if we love God, it will first reveal itself in a love for what God says within His Word, the Bible. Sadly, many understand this only as a gathering of facts and information about God and about His Word. Sometimes they become extremely knowledgeable about the words in the Bible, without the slightest understanding about the Word that became flesh and dwelt among us…full of grace and truth! Consequently, their words and their life are marked by commands and rules; do’s and don’ts. They can tell you what to do, but have trouble telling who they know. But when one loves God’s Word because it reveals who God really is and the amazing love He has for us, it converts static religion into a sacred romance. You begin to talk far more about Him then about what one is supposed to do.
Love One Another
Third, as a consequence of being deeply loved, we become deep lovers of others. Not because we find others particularly lovely, but rather because God’s love is desperate to find a person and place to express itself. We find ourselves, as Paul put it, compelled to love. We serve, we sacrifice, we fellowship, we share, we find ourselves doing all those things that the Bible says become characteristic of people who know and therefore love God.