Loving Like Jesus Loved

Becoming more Christ-like.  That is the goal, or at least it should be, of every Christian.  That is what being a Christian is.  Following Jesus’ example and becoming more like him.  The name itself signifies this – Christ-ian.  The Gospels, throughout most of Paul’s writings, and much of the rest of the New Testament try to expound on this very idea.

I’ve wrestled a lot with this concept over my life.  What does it mean to be more Christ-like?  What does it mean to love like Jesus loved?  And once we figure out what it means, do we even bother to ask God for the grace to transform into that more loving person that Christ calls us to be?

More and more in our world today, a world of political-correctness and tolerance, i read in articles and opinion pieces the phrase, “Just love people like Jesus loves them.”  As i read statements like this, i’m not even sure what to think anymore.  The first question that comes to mind when i read these statements is, “Whose interpretation of how Jesus loves am i supposed to adhere to?”

I strive to be more Christ-like, but how do i love like Jesus loved when it seems that this idea is so subjective.  What if how i understand what the NT says differs from someone else (this is not a new concept within the Church, as denomination after denomination has sprung up, often each with their own view of a number of topics like baptism, the end-times, etc.)?  What if how i understand Jesus’ love differs from your understanding.

For example, throughout the Gospels, we Jesus take broken, hurting people and healing them in some way, shape, or form.  He takes emotionally broken people and restores their hope.  He takes physically broken people and heals their body – so they can walk, see, hear, etc.  He takes spiritually broken people and restores them to right-ness – casting out demons, teaching them to pray, etc.  He walks alongside people and treats them with dignity, grace, mercy, and love.

Yet on the other hand, as i read through the Bible, i’m struck by how often Jesus calls people out on their sin.  It’s not just once.  He does it all the time.  He does it with those who believe in him and those who don’t.  He does it with religious leaders and those who had no idea who he was before they met him.  He continually uses the Pharisees as an example, and often calls them out on their hypocrisy.  To the point that a number of them are credited with following him afterwards (see John 19:38-42).  He calls out a Samaritan woman who already had five husbands and was currently with a man who wasn’t even her husband (see John 4:1-38).

But i think (and i’ll take a great liberty here maybe to say that we can all agree) that Jesus calling people out on their sin was a loving act.  If we can agree that it was a loving act, and if i’m supposed to be more Christ-like, then is it not a loving act if i call someone out on their sin?  In fact, i should consider it a loving act when someone else calls me out on my sin.  There’s accountability that happens when we love each other this way (of course this leads to a whole new discussion about judging others).

What about the time Jesus walked into the Temple, took the time to make a whip, and then used that whip to chase the people out of the Temple (Matthew 21:12-17; Mark 11:15-18; Luke 19:45-47; John 2:13-22)?  Most people would agree that this was a loving act on Jesus’ part.  If that is the case, what does that say about how we ought to love others?  I don’t think that this gives us license to beat people up and chase them from our churches.  Not at all.  But i think it does give us pause to think about what kind of things go on in our churches and perhaps some of those things should not be allowed.  Perhaps.

When i think of how Jesus loved the people then, and how he loves me now, i can’t help but think of the interactions i have with my own children.  Most of the time we have a lot of fun.  We play, run around, goof off, and enjoy each other immensely.  But every once in a while i have to be a little stern with my children, in an act of love, to instruct and guide them through life.  Just the other day i was out with my 2 1/2 year old daughter.  We were in a parking lot and i got her out of the van and reached back in to grab the diaper bag when i noticed that she was running into the parking lot.  I yelled, loud enough to startle her and stop her in her tracks, and was able to stop her from getting run over by a car (we don’t yell in our household, so me simply raising my voice lets her know that something is not right).  Most would agree that this was a loving act, even though technically, i raised my voice at my daughter.

There are other times when i need to stop and correct my children for their actions.  This might involve a time-out, or else just stopping what we are doing, sitting together, and having a discussion about what has taken place.  In the same way, as i spend time with God in reading, prayer, and meditation, he might take the time to correct me on something that i’ve done.  We would say that this is done by a loving father, and i should take that correction lovingly and apply it to my life.  To be more Christ-like.

If that’s how i should act when God lovingly corrects me, does it not follow that if God uses someone else to correct me, that i should embrace that correction?  Rather than being offended that they would even have the guts to approach me, i should at the very least accept that maybe God is choosing to use that person to correct my behavior.  If i can accept that God may in fact be using that person, then maybe i should accept the correction.

Or else, maybe i sense God is using me to correct someone else’s behavior.  How can i approach someone in a loving, caring, gracious, and merciful manner, all while calling them out on their actions?

Regardless of either of these scenarios, most of the time in society today, this is viewed as harsh, critical judgment, no matter how gracious the conversation is that takes place.  The question is, and this is where this whole process started for me, why?

Should Christians, in an effort to be more Christlike, differentiate between those in the church and those outside the church?  Should our actions and the love we display to fellow believers differ from those who are not believers?  Seeing how Jesus reacted to believers and the religious leaders of his day, it almost seems so.  Jesus challenged religious leaders as well as his followers, often in a manner different from how he related to those who had no religious affiliation.  Not every time.  But a lot of the time.

So how do we love like Jesus loved?

How do we exemplify grace and mercy the way Jesus did?  With the stranger down the street?  With the stranger on the internet in a chat room or in the comments section on social media?  With a loved one who may be making bad choices?  With a co-worker who needs the love of Jesus in their life?

How do we love like Jesus loves?

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Lessons in Good Listening

It’s not that it’s been so long since i’ve presented the life-lesson (sermon) in church in that long a time.  I’ve just forgotten to post them here over the last long while.  I spoke last week on the theme of good listening as the title above suggests, as we went through a series on Hearing God.  Below is the text i went into the pulpit with.  As is often the case, not all of what was written was said, and not all of what was said was written, or else was said differently, etc.

Lessons in Good Listening

Sunday, February 26, 2017

John 4:1-26 – Jesus and the Samaritan Woman

Introduction

Today we’ll be concluding our series on Listening to God.  We’ve looked at a number of topics: Preparing our hearts to hear; how do we hear God; and even last week, What if I can’t hear God?  Today, we’re going to look at a few things about what good listening can teach us?  If you have your Bibles, I invite you to turn with me to John 4.  We’ll be starting at verse one, and we won’t be reading all of the story, but a sizable portion of it.

Text – John 4:1-26

Jesus knew the Pharisees had heard that he was baptizing and making more disciples than John 2 (though Jesus himself didn’t baptize them—his disciples did). 3 So he left Judea and returned to Galilee. 4 He had to go through Samaria on the way. 5 Eventually he came to the Samaritan village of Sychar, near the field that Jacob gave to his son Joseph. 6 Jacob’s well was there; and Jesus, tired from the long walk, sat wearily beside the well about noontime. 7 Soon a Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Please give me a drink.” 8 He was alone at the time because his disciples had gone into the village to buy some food. 9 The woman was surprised, for Jews refuse to have anything to do with Samaritans.  She said to Jesus, “You are a Jew, and I am a Samaritan woman.  Why are you asking me for a drink?” 10 Jesus replied, “If you only knew the gift God has for you and who you are speaking to, you would ask me, and I would give you living water.” 11 But sir, you don’t have a rope or a bucket,” she said, “and this well is very deep.  Where would you get this living water? 12 And besides, do you think you’re greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us this well?  How can you offer better water than he and his sons and his animals enjoyed?” 13 Jesus replied, “Anyone who drinks this water will soon become thirsty again. 14 But those who drink the water I give will never be thirsty again.  It becomes a fresh, bubbling spring within them, giving them eternal life.” 15 “Please, sir,” the woman said, “give me this water!  Then I’ll never be thirsty again, and I won’t have to come here to get water.” 16 “Go and get your husband,” Jesus told her. 17 “I don’t have a husband,” the woman replied.  Jesus said, “You’re right!  You don’t have a husband—18 for you have had five husbands, and you aren’t even married to the man you’re living with now.  You certainly spoke the truth!” 19 “Sir,” the woman said, “you must be a prophet. 20 So tell me, why is it that you Jews insist that Jerusalem is the only place of worship, while we Samaritans claim it is here at Mount Gerizim, where our ancestors worshiped?” 21 Jesus replied, “Believe me, dear woman, the time is coming when it will no longer matter whether you worship the Father on this mountain or in Jerusalem. 22 You Samaritans know very little about the one you worship, while we Jews know all about him, for salvation comes through the Jews. 23 But the time is coming—indeed it’s here now—when true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth.  The Father is looking for those who will worship him that way. 24 For God is Spirit, so those who worship him must worship in spirit and in truth.” 25 The woman said, “I know the Messiah is coming—the one who is called Christ.  When he comes, he will explain everything to us.” 26 Then Jesus told her, “I Am the Messiah!”

Teaching

There are a few lessons we can learn about good listening from this passage that we’ll be looking at this morning.

  1. Good Listening Requires Patience

The first thing we see in this passage is that good listening requires patience.  Look at the progression throughout the passage.  Two people who have never met each other.  One of them, at least in this case, has an idea of where the conversation may go, but the other does not.  The woman has no idea who Jesus is and as far as she’s concerned, he’s just another guy.

The same can be said about us in our lives.  Whether having a conversation with another person or with God, we don’t always know where the conversation is headed.  Regarding patience Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes, “Avoid a kind of listening with a half ear that presumes already to know what the other person has to say.  This is impatient, inattentive listening, that… is only waiting for a chance to speak.”  In other words, in our conversations we make assumptions about where we think the speaker is headed with their thought so we already try coming up with our response.

In our Christian lives we do the same thing when we approach God.  We think we already know where God is leading the conversation so we interrupt him, or else we don’t even give him the chance to speak.

Another danger with impatient listening is that we are distracted, and so we’re only waiting for the other person to finish so we can do what it is that was distracting us.  Maybe it’s our phone or computer or maybe we’re due for a meeting, and someone starts talking to us and our only thought is, “How can I wrap this up as quickly as possible to get back to what it was I was doing?”  We do this with people and we do this with God as well.

Janet Dunn in her book How to Become a Good Listener writes, “Unfortunately, many of us are too preoccupied with ourselves when we listen.  Instead of concentrating on what is being said, we are busy either deciding what to say in response or mentally rejecting the other person’s point of view.  Poor listening diminishes another person, while good listening invites them to exist and matter.”

Rather than trying to come up with what to say, good listening means actively seeking to concentrate on what the other person is saying and listen all the way to the end of their thought.  It means turning away from the TV or computer screen or phone.  It takes some effort to learn this, but we can do this in our relationship with God as well.  We see this in our passage today.  Both Jesus and the Samaritan woman throughout the passage listened to the other’s statements or questions attentively until they had finished their thought and then responded in a manner they thought suited the situation.  They had each other’s full attention.

One final thing that I would add when it comes to patience: We don’t always know what is happening in the spiritual realm, and so we must learn to be patient and persevere.  Daniel chapter ten shows us this.  We read in Daniel 10:12-13,

Then [the angel] said, “Don’t be afraid, Daniel.  Since the first day you began to pray for understanding and to humble yourself before your God, your request has been heard in heaven.  I have come in answer to your prayer. 13 But for twenty-one days the spirit prince of the kingdom of Persia blocked my way.  Then Michael, one of the archangels, came to help me, and I left him there with the spirit prince of the kingdom of Persia.

Daniel started praying and God heard him and answered right away.  But for 21 days the angel did battle in the spiritual realm until Michael the archangel came to help in the fight.

We don’t always know what’s taking place in the spiritual realm.  It may be that God has heard and answered your cry.  It may be that it’s not about not hearing God.  It may be that there is a battle going on in the spiritual realm, and we’ve got to be patient and continue in prayer until we see that breakthrough.

  1. Good Listening is an Act of Love

Which leads us to our second point that good listening is an act of love.  Continuing his thought on half-eared listening, Bonhoeffer writes, “Half-eared listening despises the other and is only waiting for a chance to speak and thus get rid of the other.”  In other words, poor listening rejects while good listening embraces.

Philippians 2:5 says, “You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.”  Jesus has a humble heart that is always looking for the well-being of others.  He is more concerned about others interests than his own.  We see this in our passage, where ultimately Jesus is more concerned about the salvation of the woman, yet eagerly listens to her about the things that concern her.

  1. Good Listening Asks Perceptive Questions

That leads us to our third point: Good listening asks perceptive questions.  I would say that you can narrow questions down to two kinds.  First, there are closed questions that don’t invite any discussion.  Questions like this are yes/ no questions, where the respondent only needs to answer with a yes or a no.  Secondly, there are open-ended questions.  These are questions that invite discussion and draw the other person into engaging with you about what is being discussed.  For example, you could ask, “Do you think Jesus was a pretty swell guy?” to which anyone can simply answer “yes,” or, “no.” Or, you can say, “What is your opinion on the character of Jesus?”

We see this interaction taking place between the Samaritan woman and Jesus.  It starts off with the woman asking a probing question in verse 9, “Why would you ask me for a drink?”  Jesus’ answer draws them into a deeper discussion and prompts her to ask a second question in verse 11, “Where would you get this living water?”  And the questions in verse 12, “Do you think you’re greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us this well?  How can you offer better water than he and his sons and his animals enjoyed?” only add to the depth of where the conversation is going.

Jesus’ response isn’t what is expected.  He catches the woman off guard by saying, “Yes, I can give you water that will last for eternal life.”  Of course this intrigues her and she asks for this water.  It is at this point that Jesus does something no one would expect.  He asks her to bring her husband.  There is nothing in the conversation that would indicate this ever being part of the discussion.  However, if someone is going to get into a deeper relationship with Jesus, ultimately he will start pointing out things in our lives that need to be forgiven.  When you start asking God questions, be prepared to go places you may not have expected to be taken.

The woman responds to Jesus without fulfilling his request but instead recognizes there is something different about who he is.  This response by the woman leads her to another question about worship and this leads to a conversation where Jesus reveals he’s the Messiah.

Asking good questions is like peeling away the layers of an onion.  You’re not just cutting into the onion and causing agony.  You’re peeling away one layer at a time until you get to the root of the discussion.

In your time with God, don’t be afraid to ask questions.  “God, I don’t understand what you mean by this verse.  Can you explain it to me?”  “God, what does it mean for me to minister to my neighbours?”  “God, how can I use the gifts that you have given me to glorify your name?”  You might get an answer that you don’t expect, like the Samaritan woman, so don’t get caught off guard.  She wasn’t expecting Jesus to bring up five past husbands and a current fling.  But it brought her into a position where she could receive from God in a way that she might not have otherwise.  You might not like where God takes a discussion, but that doesn’t mean you should ignore it or decide not to engage with it.

  1. Good Listening is Ministry

Which brings us to point number four, that good listening is ministry.  I won’t spend a lot of time on this one, as I think Pastor Abe did a great job explaining some of this last week when he talked about What if I Can’t Hear? Sometimes it’s just better to shut up and not say anything.  Bonhoeffer says, “Sometimes listening can be a greater service than speaking.”  For instance, there may be times when someone is hurting, and we don’t have the words to say, but we try to come up with something and it does nothing to console the hurting person.  In those times, just being quiet and being a shoulder to lean on is better than having all the answers.  Janet Dunn writes, “Good listening often defuses the emotions that are a part of the problem being discussed.  Sometimes releasing these emotions is all that is needed to solve the problem.  The speaker may neither want nor expect us to say anything in response.”

Sometimes God wants to use us more as affirming love than anything else.  This involves compassion and understanding, and not being a Mr. Fix-it.

  1. Good Listening Prepares us to Speak Well

The fifth thing that good listening does is that it prepares us to speak well.  The conversation between Jesus and the Samaritan woman shows us this.  Throughout the conversation they listen to each other carefully and so were able to respond in a proper way.  And it’s not just Jesus.  The woman does a great job of this as well.  Even as Jesus challenges her on her past husbands and current fling, she recognizes that there is something deeper to his challenge.  Because she heard distinctly what he said, she was able to discern that he was at least a prophet, as we see in verse 19.  Knowing that, she responds with a question about worship, and she’s actually the one who turns the conversation to a spiritual nature.

Bonhoeffer suggests that “the wise person tries to resist defensiveness, and to listen from a non-judgmental stance, training themselves not to formulate opinions or responses until the full update is on the table and the whole story has been told.”

These are great words as we converse with God as well.  God may point out something in your life that needs addressing.  Don’t get defensive.  Listen from an objective point of view and trust what God is showing you.  Or God may be trying to encourage you, but if you approach with a defensive attitude you may miss the encouraging word he has for you.  When we approach God this way, and we patiently listen to what he’s saying, it prepares us to respond in a way that glorifies him and we’ll be better equipped to speak and respond accordingly.

  1. Good Listening Reflects Our Relationship with God

The final, and perhaps the most important lesson we can learn is that good listening reflects our relationship with God.  We see this in our passage this morning, where two people who started out as strangers ended up in a relationship that will last forever.  Not only did this conversation affect the woman’s relationship with Jesus, but a few verses later we’re told that many from her village believed in Jesus following her encounter with Jesus.

The story is told of a young man.  This young man had grown up in the church, knowing who Jesus is, and at times served in different ways in the church.  In 2005, this young man was going through a bit of a difficult time and began questioning a lot about faith, life with God, and the church in general.  He had seen how Christian people treated each other and had thought, “If that’s how Christian people treat each other, maybe he didn’t want any part of it.”  In 2005 his church attendance was sporadic, not committing to any church in particular but visiting different ones occasionally, not really knowing why anymore.

The story goes that in October of 2005 that young man had gone to a house party.  He would say that he never was much for parties, but he knew that some of his friends would be there, and he would go to parties just to make sure everyone was safe.  The story goes that throughout the night people came and went, including some of the friends the young man had gone with.  As is often the case, there happened to be a girl there that the young man liked, and, at one point in the evening they even talked about what a relationship together might look like.  As it got late, the young man told that friend, “Don’t leave without me.  I’ll walk you home.”

Some time had passed and the young man decided to find this particular friend.  He couldn’t find her, and as he had an early morning decided to leave.  As he walked home he left a message on her voicemail, “Hey, just thought I’d leave a message seeing if you got home alright.  Have a great night.”

He found out the next day that in the block between where the party had been and where she lived, someone had jumped his friend and raped her.  Confused and hurt and angry the young man brooded over that news for a week.  The story goes that a week later, the Saturday a week after that event, the young man went home, angry at God.  He already had so many questions about faith and God and church and was on the verge of walking away from his relationship with God, ready to walk away from his faith, and then this happened to one of his friends.

The story goes that the young man went home, locked himself in his room, and started yelling.  He yelled at God.  He asked questions like “Why could he let this happen?”  “How could he let church people treat each other so horribly?”  He swore at God.  He used words that if they were repeated here, you might have a heart attack.  He vowed never to go to church again.  He yelled at God so much that night that he lost his voice.  And after all the yelling, and after all of the screaming and all of the blaming, and when that young man had no energy left inside himself, he simply sat down on his bed.

What kind of response would you have to a story like that?  What goes through your mind when you hear that someone could yell at God with such anger?

The story doesn’t end there.  It is said that as he sat on his bed the Lord spoke to him with an audible voice and said, “Now you’re beginning to understand the kind of relationship we can have together.”  The story goes that the next day, being a Sunday, that young man got up determined to chase God to the end of the earth.  That Sunday, I got up and it was the first Sunday I started attending Fourth Avenue Bible Church.

Conclusion

Friends I’m here today to tell you that you can hear the voice of the Lord.  It’s not a fairy tale.  That night was the second time in my life I heard the audible voice of the Lord.  Maybe one day I’ll tell you about the first time.  You can hear him when he speaks through his word.  You can hear him when he speaks through a friend or mentor.  You can hear him in the quiet, locked up in your room.  We know this because God wants that kind of relationship with us.  Jeremiah 33:3 says, “Call to me, and I will answer….”  God guarantees that if we’re serious about approaching him, he will talk to us.  The more real, the more open and honest you are with God, the more you will hear his voice speaking to you.

Pray

Did God Really Say…

The first time we read about Satan in the Bible is in Genesis 3:1.  We are told that he is the shrewdest of all that God had made.  And he makes his entrance into the Bible in dramatic fashion by approaching Eve, saying, “Did God really say…?”  It’s not a bad question really, when you think about it.  It is a question that invites conversation between the two parties involved.  The problem is that it’s a damaging question.

Did God really say…

One of the most damaging things in the life of a Christian today is biblical illiteracy.  I read a few articles recently, one titled The Epidemic of Bible Illiteracy in Our Churches and another called The Scandal of Biblical Illiteracy: It’s Our Problemthat show some startling statistics regarding how biblically illiterate Christians are.  Some of the statistics are hard to stomach and some are almost funny.  One paragraph from the first article reads, “British parents didn’t do much better. Around 30 percent of parents don’t know Adam and Eve, David and Goliath, or the Good Samaritan are in the Bible. To make matters worse, 27 percent think Superman is or might be a biblical story. More than 1 in 3 believes the same about Harry Potter. And more than half (54 percent) believe The Hunger Games is or might be a story from the Bible.”

“Secularized Americans should not be expected to be knowledgeable about the Bible,” Albert Mohler writes in the latter article.  He adds, “As the nation’s civic conversation is stripped of all biblical references and content, Americans increasingly live in a Scripture-free public space. Confusion and ignorance of the Bible’s content should be assumed in post-Christian America.”  If you understand the life of Jesus at all, this statement actually makes sense.  Throughout the gospels, it is clear that Jesus didn’t expect those who were not part of the church to know much about biblical truths.  He led them into discussion about it and after their encounter with him, in most circumstances wanted to change their ways and follow him, although there were a few exceptions.

Mohler continues though, “The larger scandal is biblical ignorance among Christians. Choose whichever statistic or survey you like, the general pattern is the same. America’s Christians know less and less about the Bible. It shows.”

And herein lies the problem.  When it’s broken down to its root, Satan has been asking one question since he first arrived on the scene, “Did God really say…?”  Adam and Eve fell for it, and they walked with God in the Garden of Eden.  People have been falling for this question for a long time.

The challenge for the Church, especially in the Western world, is that Christians are more biblically illiterate than ever before.  This means that they don’t even know what God says.  If the Christian doesn’t know what God says, how can they even answer the question, “Did God really say…?”  And it’s a question that is attacking many facets of everyday life in devastating ways.  Mohler asks, “How can a generation be biblically shaped in its understanding of human sexuality when it believes Sodom and Gomorrah to be a married couple?”  Remember, Mohler is addressing Christians and ignoring secular society as he asks this.

The two great needs of this time in the lives of Christians are these: Time spent with God in meditation and prayer, and, time spent in the Word of God.  It is time to make biblical illiteracy history.

Maybe Just Some Rambling Thoughts

One week ago Donald Trump was sworn in as the president of the United States.  I have been neither here nor there on Donald, and on Hillary for that matter, but a lot of what happens in American politics directly affects Canada, where i live.

What i found interesting on the night/ day after the election, and again after the swearing in ceremony last week, was reading about the amount of riots and protests in the streets of a lot of cities across the U.S. following both events.

I asked myself, “Why would it get so ugly?”

So i did what seemed best to me.  I asked my youth group last Friday what they thought might be the reason the younger generation is inciting such anger over Trump’s win and inauguration.

In a matter of moments the youth, aged 14-18, came up with two very real possibilities.

  1. Because of the way they’ve been brought up, the current generation reacts to situations in temper-tantrum mentality when they don’t get what they want.  Oftentimes when kids are told “No!” they stomp around and create a fuss and yell until they get their way.
  2. The second reason has to do with the “everybody  wins” mentality.  The younger generation plays sports where score is not kept, where everybody gets participation awards, and nobody loses.  Kids always keep score, and both teams really know what the score is and who’s winning and losing, but their told not to think of it that way.  That doesn’t really matter.

Combine these two things and you have a dangerous cocktail that results in much of what we’ve seen on the news.  It’ll be interesting to watch moving forward.

P.S. i find it funny/ sad/ interesting/ etc. that the same people  who want more focus on global-warming and stuff are the ones creating so much havoc, like setting cars on fire which pollute the air they’re trying to defend.  I wonder if they see the irony of it.

Opinions

Something tweaked in me this week, after seeing Meryl Streep in the news regarding her speech at the Golden Globes this past weekend.

Maybe it started a few months ago already, before the U.S. presidency election.

Why is it that celebrities feel that they need to speak out against [enter person’s name here] because they disagree with said person.  For instance, Streep had nothing good to say about President Elect Donald Trump.  She must still be hurt by Clinton’s loss in the election.  Fine.  Be upset.  Be hurt.  But why does she think that her opinion suddenly carries more weight?  Because she’s famous?

It happened a lot in the weeks leading up to the election.  Famous people took to all sorts of platforms to shout out their disapproval of one or the other candidate.  As though a famous person’s opinion is any more valid or real than the working class person.

Do they think that more people will rally to their cause if they take those opportunities afforded them with a public stage – Streep at the Globes, etc.?

I remember some time ago Leonardo DiCaprio did this as well, in his fight against the oil sands in Alberta.  The problem here is that he was flying around in a multi-million dollar jet burning who knows how much fuel that was produced from places exactly like those he’s rallying against.

And then consider Emma Stone’s acceptance speech at the Globes this past weekend.  She mentioned how her film was a dedication to those struggling artists, of all kinds, who’ve been told “No,” or “You’ll never make it.”  She encouraged those artists to chase their dreams and never give up.

But Stone’s message wasn’t necessarily just a message for artists.  Hers hits a deeper cord with anyone really.  No matter who you are, don’t stop chasing your dreams.

Streep’s message, at least to me, seemed to convey the idea, “Just keep whining.  Eventually, maybe, something different might happen.”  It’s a message of entitlement.  As though she herself, Meryl Streep, DESERVED for Clinton to win.  And her message gives the idea that everyone can feel this way.

Here’s the thing: Everyone is entitled to your opinion.

The problem with our society today is that I might have an opinion too.  And if i have an opinion, and if my opinion happens to be different than yours, i’m considered wrong.  I’m considered hateful or [insert other word here].

And that’s just not the case.

For instance, and some of you may disagree with me here, but in my opinion, i think people will be surprised by what kind of a leader Donald Trump can be.  There i said it.

The thing is though, that i’m not a politician.  I don’t want to be a politician.  I leave the politics to those who are better suited for it.  And even then i mostly won’t weigh in on the subject because i’m just not equipped enough to handle an intense discussion about politics.

The same could be said for all kinds of issues.  I’m not an apologist, so i’d rather just leave the discussion to someone like Ravi Zacharias, etc.

It is my opinion, that celebrities need to learn their place, and stop adding fuel to an already highly volatile situation by weighing in and expecting that the general public is somehow going to a) side with them on an issue, or b) suddenly change their mind on an issue.

But that’s just my opinion.

Bible Translations

I read a quote today by A. W. Tozer that says,

It is amazing that in a generation of Christians with more modern translations of the Scriptures than all the other generations put together, it is just about the weakest group of Christians we have ever seen.

It was a rather convicting statement for me. I have long held onto the New King James Version as a preferred version, and more recently have added the New Living Translation to my list of “go to” translations. I don’t necessarily promote one translation over another, although some i find difficult to read (The Amplified Bible for instance). I know Tozer wrote in the 1950’s and early 1960’s (he died in 1963) and i wonder at what his opinion would be on the selection of versions of the Bible we have today.

But Tozer’s statement points to something drastic about the modern Christian even today. Many within the church have very little biblical knowledge and have never read through the bible cover-to-cover. While reading through the bible cover-to-cover may not be entirely necessary either, it causes a disconnect in a person’s theology. For example, how is it possible that someone should argue for creation based solely on Genesis 1 & 2? The first two chapters of Genesis are important to the creation story, but are only a part in the vast dialogue within the scriptures. One is inadequately informed and should not defend creation solely on Genesis 1 & 2.

Another example would be the events surrounding the rapture at the end of the age. Many Christians simply avoid the book of Revelation altogether because it is “confusing” at best and “incomprehensible” at the least. If today’s Christian is going to try and make sense regarding the rapture and the return of Christ at the end of the age however, Revelation is the least of their worries. They must also study books like Leviticus, Ezekiel, Daniel, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Joel, Amos, 1 & 2 Thessalonians, 1 & 2 Peter, and Jude, as well as a number of others not listed.

Tozer’s comment reveals a lack of spiritual growth in today’s Christian. Regardless of which version of the Bible one finds “most helpful,” spiritual illiteracy is perhaps at an all-time peak. Worse yet, his comment comes on the heals of a condemnation of Christians for getting caught up in the vice of entertainment. To be sure, Tozer isn’t suggesting that we cannot be entertained. However, he does suggest that Christians have traded pure worship for being entertained, where the people have become spectators. He writes,

We no longer have worshipers but rather observers and spectators who sit in awe of the performance. The demand is for something that will make us feel good about ourselves and make us forget about all of our troubles.

Having said this however, Tozer is quick to point out that roughly every third generation something happens within the hearts of people and revival and repentance explodes. Every so often people come to the end of themselves and wake up to how “bought in” to worldly ideas and ideals they have really become and a renewal of the magnificence, fear, and awesomeness of God takes place.

Are we that generation?
What is your favorite translation?

The book is called The Dangers of a Shallow Faith: Awakening from Spiritual Lethargy by A. W. Tozer.

So, He Loves Us?

I’ve been on an intense personal journey for the last long while and find that the hiatus has been good. I don’t expect to blog every day, but the posts should come quick regularly from here for the next while. I have preached on a number of occasions since the last post and yet didn’t feel like posting them. Not really sure why.

So when i looked today at my last post which happened to be titled “God is… Love,” it seems strange to me that here i am with my latest sermon titled, “So, He loves us?” If time permitted, i would transcribe the audio and post that version here instead, simply because of how the sermon ended up flowing. Nevertheless, my prayer is that your heart will be affected by the words presented here…

So He Loves Us?
Sunday, September 22, 2013
Sermon from John 3:16 for Our Foundations Series: Topic – God’s Love

1. Introduction
In February of 1993, British police arrested and charged two ten-year-old boys with the murder of a two-year-old. The boys said they were innocent. They said that they didn’t do whatever they were accused of doing.
The trial lasted two weeks, and while it was going on the young boys were questioned a number of times about what had happened. The boys didn’t answer the questions the same way every time and this puzzled the police. The police had video footage evidence that the boys had in fact taken the two-year-old.

The height of the trial came when the parents of one of the boys told him that no matter what happened, no matter which way the trial went, regardless of any of the things going on, the parents told him that they will love him. Because of the love of the parents, the boy confessed that he had killed the two-year-old. The parents of this boy didn’t know the truth and it didn’t matter to them. No matter what they still loved their son.

The same thing could be said about God, except he knew we would mess up. Unlike the parents of these boys, God knew how the situation would end up. But that doesn’t matter to God. He loves us anyway. At the end of last week there was brief mention about the fact that God loves us, and that is what we’ll be talking about today. I read a quote a few weeks ago that said, “There is a great battle in the church to define what “loving God” means. We must define love on God’s terms or according to the Bible.” I’m going to steal the second part of that quote for our take home point today. So, if there is one thing that you should take home today it is this: We must define love on God’s terms or according to the Bible.

We’ve been going through a series the last few weeks called Our Foundations. Pastor Abe has been going through some of the foundations about God over the last few weeks. He talked about creation and some other things which I won’t get into here. I invite you to visit our website where we have the audio from the last few weeks to get caught up on what he’s talked about.

2. Sermon Body – John 3:16
We’re going through this series on Our Foundations and the question we’ve been examining over the last few weeks is: Why believe in God? As I said, today we’re going to talk about God’s love. My prayer for today is that if you are, can I say “a seasoned veteran” in your faith?, that you will walk away with an even greater appreciation and love for God than you had walking into these doors this morning. But if you’re here today because someone promised you lunch, and you’re just really skeptic about faith, God, and Christianity, my prayer is that you won’t just write off what is said as hogwash. I pray that you will sincerely evaluate what we talk about today.

What I’d like to do today is draw your attention to what could be called the most famous verse in the Bible. Do you know what the most famous verse in the Bible is? John 3:16! Right! Some of you might have it memorized. Do you want to recite it with me?

For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.

For God…
As I said, over the last two weeks Pastor Abe has been talking about the foundation of God’s existence so I won’t get into that today.

For God so loved…
But this verse says, “For God so loved…” Have you ever tried to define, or maybe even try to understand why the word “so” is in this verse? Jesus could just as easily have said, “For God loved…”
I did some digging around and found out why this word “so” is here. There are two reasons. The first reason the word “so” is found in this verse is because of the magnitude of God’s love. Let me give you an example.
Have you ever been hungry? It’s funny because whenever someone’s hungry they don’t say, “I’m hungry,” do they? They usually always say, “I’m so hungry.” Or here’s another one. You never hear someone say, “That guy is crazy.” They always say, “That guy is so crazy.” It’s the same with God’s love. God so loved…

So that’s the first reason. The second reason the word “so” is in this verse is that it actually suggests the way in which God loves us. You could say it like this: “The way that God loves us is like this, he sent his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him won’t perish, but have eternal life.” The word “so” points to the way that God loves us.
Look at what the verse says though: God so loved…

You might look at this and say, “Yeah so, what’s so great about that?”

In order to fully grasp the fact that God loves us you have to understand something about the culture and the time that Jesus is saying this in.
How many of you have ever seen this picture? (show picture of Zeus); or what about this guy? (show picture of Poseidon). These are just two of the gods that the Greeks worshiped for thousands of years before Jesus was born.

There are actually a whole bunch of these gods that were worshiped during that time. The thing is though, that the people were afraid of these gods. Literally. It was believed that the gods had absolutely no interest in people and that they just wanted to use people. The people prayed to these gods and obeyed them because they were afraid they would be killed. They were never sure if a god like Zeus was going to hit them with a lightning bolt.
That was the type of culture these people lived in. So along comes Jesus and says, “For God so loved…” There is a good chance that Jesus was laughed at for this. In the mind of the people of the day, gods don’t love. God’s kill, or at least strike fear into their subjects. What Jesus says goes against everything that the people truly understood about gods. But Jesus says, “For God so loved…”
For God so loved…
So let’s talk about love. And I want to preface this part of the discussion. If we can agree with the past two Sunday’s foundations, and accept that God existed before there was anything and that God created everything, including love, then we must define love on God’s terms or according to the Bible.
You know, as long as I can remember I’ve heard it said that 1 Corinthians 13 is the love chapter of the Bible. Many Christians would probably say that. But I wouldn’t necessarily agree with that. In my opinion, the greatest verses on love in the Bible are in 1 John 4:7-21. Now just to clarify for those unfamiliar with the Bible. In the early part of the NT there is the book of John. Near the back of the Bible are three little letters that are referred to as 1, 2, & 3 John. And it’s in 1 John, the first of these three little letters near the back of the Bible, that John writes this amazing passage about love.
In my opinion, 1 Corinthians 13 is a lot less relevant without 1 John 4:7-21. So here’s part one of your homework assignment this week to go home and study these passages because I’m not going to go through them in any great detail today.
The problem with any kind of discussion about love today is that we use modern definitions of love and attribute them to God. So the way we understand love is how we try and define God’s love toward us. And that’s a mistake. We must define love on God’s terms or according to the Bible.
There is a verse in 1 John 4, verse nineteen that says, “We love Him because He first loved us.” According to this verse, the only way that we have the ability to love is because God first loved us. And if that’s true, then what the apostle Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 13 begins to make more sense. But I’m going to let that thought hang in the air for just a minute and address one more thing.
For God so loved the world…
In order to go any further, we need to talk briefly about who God loved. John 3:16 tells us this, “For God so loved the world…”
If God and the Bible are new things for you, you might struggle a little with some of the language in it. Let me give you an example. Over the last number of years there has been a great push to make sure that the language of the Bible is gender inclusive. So in the older versions you might see the word “man” somewhere, and now in the updated versions you might see the phrase “man and woman.” In this case, the word “man” is inclusive to encompass the human race, but the change is done anyway.
In John 3:16 we have one of these words. “For God so loved the world…” is not meant to be taken literally. Yes he loves the world, the earth, the planet we live on. Pastor Abe talked about this last week. After God finished creating he said that it was good. But the word “world” in John 3:16 doesn’t mean the earth. John uses the word “world” to describe the human race; all of humanity. You could say it this way, “For God so loved humanity…” God loves people. You and me. In fact, God loves us so much, what did He do?
He Gave
“For God so loved the world that He gave…”
Have you ever gotten a present? When? For your birthday? Christmas?
Why did you get a present? It isn’t so much that you got a present because it was your birthday or Christmas. The real reason that you got a present is because someone loved you enough and thought you were special enough that you deserve a present. Or maybe you gave someone a present. Someone was special enough to you that you thought they deserved a present.
God did the same thing. He loves people so much that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

You could say it this way: For God loves people so much, they are so special to Him that He wanted to give them a present. That present was His only Son, so that people could have a forever relationship with Him.
Conclusion
I’m going to finish this foundation of God’s love today by asking you to turn to 1 Corinthians 13. I mentioned this passage earlier and now I want to go back to it. In 1 Corinthians 13 the apostle Paul gives us the biblical definition of what love is. I’ll read it from the New Living Translation. Starting at verse four Paul says,

“Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud 5 or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. 6 It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. 7 Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.”

Remember that we must define love on God’s terms or according to the Bible. So what if we take the definition of love that Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 13 and apply it to John 3:16:

For God is so patient with people that He gave His only Son…
For God is so kind to people that He gave His only Son…
For God is not jealous or boastful or proud that He gave His only Son…
For God is not rude with people that He gave His only Son…
For God does not demand His own way with people; He didn’t make a bunch of robots that He gave His only Son…
For God was not irritated with people that He gave His only Son…
For God does not keep a record of being wronged by people that He gave His only Son…
For God does not rejoice about injustice that people create but rejoices whenever the truth wins out with people that He gave His only Son…
For God never gives up on people that He gave His only Son…
For God never loses faith in people that He gave His only Son…
For God is always hopeful of people that He gave His only Son…
For God endures through every circumstance with people that He gave His only Son…

When you define God’s love according to His terms, you come away with a new appreciation for the foundation of belief in His love for people.

And that’s the second part of your homework this week. The first part is to read 1 John 4:7-21 and 1 Corinthians 13. The second part is to sincerely evaluate God’s love for you. You can do this through prayer, even if you are skeptical or even if you are struggling. Just say something like, “God, this whole love thing doesn’t make sense to me. Will you show me what you mean when you say you love me.”
Pray

God is… Love!

Much is made about God’s love.  Christians tend to gravitate to the verse “God is love.”  If i could say it any better i would, but let me draw on Tozer once again for clarification on God and love.  Writing on the love of God, Tozer writes,

The apostle John, by the Spirit, wrote, “God is love,” and some have taken his words to be a definitive statement concerning the essential nature of God.  This is a great error.  John was by those words stating a fact, but he was not offering a definition.

Equating love with God is a major mistake which has produced much unsound religious philosophy and has brought forth a spate of vaporous poetry completely out of accord with the Holy Scriptures and altogether of another climate from that of historic Christianity.

Had the apostle declared that love is what God is, we sould be forced to infer that God is what love is.  If literally God is love, the literally love is God, and we are in all duty bound to worship love as the only God there is.  If love is equal to God then God is only equal to love, and God and love are identical.  Thus we destroy the concept of personality in God and deny outright all His attributes save one, and that one we substitute for God. The God we have left is not the God of Israel; He is not the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ; He is not the God of the prophets and the apostles; He is not the God of the saints and reformers and martyrs, nor yet the God of the theologians and hymnists of the church.

For our souls’ sake we must learn to understand the Scriptures.  We must escape the slavery of words and give loyal adherence to meanings instead.  Words should express ideas, not originate them.  We say that God is love; we say that God is light; we say that Christ is truth; and we mean the words to be understood in much the same way that words are understood when we say of a man, “He is kindness itself.”  By so saying we are not stating that kindness and the man are identical, and no one understands our words in that sense.

The words “God is love” mean that love is an essential attribute of God.  Love is something true of God but it is not God.  It expresses the way God is in unitary being, as do the words holiness, justice, faithfulness and truth.  Because God is immutable He always acts like Himself, and because He is a unity He never suspends one of His attributes in order to exercise another.

In other words, yes, God is love.  But God is a whole bunch of other things too.  We must remember that the love of God does not supercede all the other attributes of God.  God’s love does not outweigh his justice, righteousness or holiness.  All of the attributes of God are on a level playing field.  God is just as much omnipotent as he is faithful as he is loving.

Which begs to ask the question: As Christians, do we put too much emphasis on the love of God?

The Problem with Truth

As is sometimes the case, i have been silent over the last little while here.  God called me into a period of silence.  I can’t tell you how awkward it is for someone who has to speak for a living to be called into a period of silence.  Don’t get me wrong.  I still did my job.  I still did the bible studies and even preached twice during this time.  The silence i was called into was a silence i hadn’t experienced before.  Be quiet and say nothing during prayer meetings.  Be silent on the blog.  Be silent.  Listen.  Do you hear My voice?  Yes, Lord.  I hear.

The problem with truth is that sometimes it hurts.  God spoke much to me over the last while.  Things about my life, my marriage, my relationships, my responsibilities.  Some of those truths hurt.  Some brought incredible insight or healing.  And in the midst of those truths being revealed i continued to read, study, and be informed.  One of the books i have been plodding through is A. W. Tozer’s (1897-1963) The Councelor: Straight Talk About the Holy Spirit.  I thought i would leave the rest of this post to Tozer, except to say that sometimes the truth hurts.  How you react is up to you…

All One Body
What Paul is emphasizing is the fact that the Church, the Body of Christ, is not torn nor divided, but each local church group has all the functions of the whole body.  Just as each individual state is a vital, throbbing part of the whole union of the states, so each local church is a living, organic part of the whole Church of Christ.  I believe that we are members of the whole Body of Christ in heaven and all over the world, but we are all descendants of the great God, who by the Holy Spirit and the Word caused us to be born into His family.

Therefore, the Church of Christ is not divided.  When we sing that old song, “We are not divided, all one body we,” people smile and say, “How about your 600 denominations?”

Well, they don’t frustrate me with that question.  That song, that truth – “We are not divided, all one body we” – is just as true as the fact that I am not divided.  The Body of Christ is all one body.  We can sing it, and let those people make fun of us if they will – keep on singing it, for it is true!

We are not divided.  It is a whole Church.  Everyone who has ever been born into the family of God is born into a living, organic union and there we are.  There is nothing the devil can do about it.

Each local group, I say, has all the functions of the whole group, just as the body of each man has all of the human faculties and organs and members.  The members are designed so that each has a function.  The eyes are designed to see, the ears to hear, the hands to do work, the feet for movement, the stomach to digest food, and so on.

So, we are designed to cooperate, and that’s in concert.  I remember once reading a great article in Harper’s magazine.  It explained what brought on old age.  It said it was not the loss of strength in any organ of the body, but that the organs of the body ceased to cooperate and went off on their own, and that was what brought on old age.  It was the failure of the organs of the body to cooperate that made people die of old age.  They got independent and went off and started their own tabernacle, if we can use it in that sense of illustration!

So it is with the Church.  When we work together and have a sense of unity and fellowship, when we all work together, cooperate with each other and act in concert, when all are for each and each for all, and all take directions from the Head, then one has a perfect Church.  Each local church can sum it up, and we can all sum it up ourselves.

The Gifts of the Holy Spirit
Anything that God can do through all of His Church, He can do through a local church, a local group.  These various functions are the abilities to work and they are called gifts.  He said, “Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us” (Romans 12:6a), “Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren” (1 Cor. 12:1a), “But covet earnestly the best gifts” (12:31a), “When he ascended up on high, he… gave gifts unto men” (Ephesians 4:8).

So, when the gifts are lodged in the Body of Christ, in the local church, they are the ability to do.  By way of illustration, your stomach is a gift from God.  The purpose of it is not to hold up your trousers, just something to put a belt around.  The stomach has a purpose and a function.  What is your liver for?  What are your eyes for?  They have specific purposes and functions, something to do and accomplish.  If they do their function and all the others cooperate, you will be a healthy, useful person.

We have these gifts in the Church in the same manner.  Paul said in his careful instructions in the God-inspired writings that these gifts are placed to get things done.  They exist in the Church for a purpose.

Now, Paul also used sports to illustrate, so if I use sports to illustrate, don’t say I’m not spiritual.  I have no ambition to be more spiritual than the apostle Paul!  You know that a baseball team in action has nine men.  There’s a fellow to catch the ball, there’s a fellow to pitch the ball, there’s a fellow in center field, and there’s a fellow on first base and second base, etc.  Each man in his own position has a function, and each knows what he is to do.  As long as he does his job skillfully, the team as a unit is hard to beat.  Whenever a team gets a star who does not care whether the team wins or not, provided he can shine, the success of the team as a winning unit is sacrificed.

Paul says that these gifts are in the Body.  Some say that there are only nine, because the opening verses of First Corinthians list nine.  But do you know that I have counted at least eighteen in the Scriptures?  There may be some that overlap, and the list could be reduced to fifteen.  Let me follow the Scriptures closely now and staying by the Word of God, let me simply name the gift functions of the divine Body which are named by Paul.

First, there is the gift of an apostle, or an ambassador or messenger.  There is the gift that makes a prophet.  There is the gift that makes a teacher.  Then, there is the gift that makes an exhorter.  There is the gift that makes the ruler.  That would be someone like the old Presbyterians called a ruling elder.  Then there are the gifts of wisdom, of knowledge, of faith, of healing.  There is a gift of miracles, a gift of tongues, a gift of interpretation, a gift of discernment, a gift of helps, a gift of mercy showing, a gift of government, a gift of liberality and the gift of the evangelist.

There you have it.  These are the gifts which are in the Body, the functions which enable the Holy Spirit to work.  As long as you have the bodily members, the life within you can find its mode of expression.

As long as your hands are obedient to the head, they will be all right.  Just as long as your feet take orders from the head, you will not get hit as you cross the street.  Just as long as the members of your body do their work, and take orders from the head, you will be all right.  Just as long as the Church of Christ recognizes the Lord as being the Head of the Church, and Christians as members in particular and these members gifted with the “abilities to do,” we will have a revived and blessed Church!

When the Gifts are Missing
Remember that the work of the Church is done by the Spirit, working through these gifts and through these gifted members.  Where these gifts are not present, or not recognized, or denied, the Church is thrown back upon other ways of getting a work done.

There are several mistaken emphasis in our circles, and the first is just plain humanism.  If you had no hands, you would have to do the best you could without hands.  If you had no eyes, you would be doing the best you could without eyes,  If you had no feet, you would have to crawl around as well as you could without feet.  So, if we deny or refuse to recognize that there are members, and that there are gifts in these members, then we are thrown back upon mere humanism.  We have this in great measure today.  We are thrown back upon talent – just talent.  Let me solemnly tell you that the Holy Spirit never works with mere talent.  Don’t be mistaken by the parable where Jesus uses the word talent, which was a sum of money (see Matt. 25:14-30).  It had no reference to the ability to sing or imitate or project – whatever it is that theatrical people do with their talent.

Our second mistake is that we are thrown back upon psychology as a substitute.  I am quite amused and somewhat disgusted with some of my ministerial brethren who are so busy studying psychology in order to know how to handle their congregations.  When you have a Bible and a mind, a mouth and the Holy Spirit, why do you have to study psychology?  I recall my own experience as a young fellow when I thought it necessary to become a great student of psychology.  I studied Watson and James, and particularly Freud, who was the father of psychiatry and psychoanalysis.  I learned all the terms and all the pitch.  I’m not dumb about psychology, but there is no use bringing psychology to the pulpit when you have the Holy Spirit.  If you have the gift of the Spirit, you do not need to study Freud.  If you do study him, that is all right, but don’t bring him to the pulpit with you!

Another mistake we make is dependence on business methods.  I get amused and hurt a little about these brethren and their business methods, trying to carry on the work of God after the fashion of the American businessman.  When we carry on the way they do on Madison Avenue or Wall Street, the body is all artificial limbs.  It won’t work!

Then there is the political technique, with persuasion by sales methods.  I think we are going to have to restudy this whole teaching of the place of the Holy Spirit in the Church, so the Body can operate again.  If life goes out of a man’s body, he is said to be a corpse.  He is what they call “the remains.”  It is sad, but humorously sad, that a strong, fine man with shining eyes and vibrant voice, a living man, dies, and we say, “the remains” can be seen at the funeral home.  All the remains of the man, and the least part about him, is what you can see there in the funeral home.  The living man is gone.  You have only the body.  The body is “the remains.”

No Life Without the Spirit.
So it is in the Church of Christ.  It is literally true that some churches are dead.  The Holy Spirit has gone out of them and all you have left are “the remains.”  You have the potential of the church but you do not have the church, just as you have in a dead man the potential of a living man but you do not have a living man.  He can’t talk, he can’t taste, he can’t touch, he can’t feel, he can’t smell, he can’t see, he can’t hear – because he is dead!  The soul has gone out of the man, and when the Holy Spirit is not present in the Church, you have to get along after the methods of business or politics or psychology or human effort.

You cannot overstate the necessity for the Holy Spirit in the Church, if you say it according to the Scriptures, for without the Spirit there can be nothing done for eternity.  Someone will say, “If that’s true, why don’t we just cast our lot in with the tongues movement, because they believe you can be sure you are filled with the Spirit, but you must have the evidence of tongues”?

Well, in answer, I have known and studied these dear brethren, and I have preached to them for a long, long time.  I have studied them, and I know them very well, and I am very sympathetic with them.  There are some churches that are very sane and very beautiful and godly.  I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings, but it is true that, as Christians, we have to smile and thank God for the truth, whether it hurts or not.  The movement itself has magnified one single gift above all the others, and that one gift is the one Paul says was the least.  An unscriptural exhibition of that gift results, and there is a tendency to place personal feeling above the Scriptures, and we must never, never do that!

God has given us the Book, brother, and the Book comes first.  If it can’t be shown in the Book, then I don’t want anyone coming to me all aquiver and trying to tell me anything.  The Book – you must give me the Word!

Amen!

James 3:1-7

I have long been an admirer of the book of James. The simplistic way that he writes. The boldness with which he writes. I enjoy reading something in James that might seem to contradict what Paul writes in his letters, but when looked into deeper, the two writers are actually agreeing with each other. I appreciate the way James challenges the reader in daily living.

James was a brother of Jesus. Not the kind of brother that we say, “We are brothers and sisters in Christ,” but an actual brother. One of Mary’s kids. The same Mary who bore Jesus. James was the one mentioned in Matthew 13:55-56, which says, “Is this not the carpenter’s son? Is not His mother called Mary? And His brothers James, Joses, Simon and Judas? And His sisters, are they not all with us? Where then did this Man get all these things? (NKJV)” This is the same James who became the leader of the church in Jerusalem, and who would later earn the nickname “Camel knees” because of the time he spent in devoted prayer to Jesus, his brother.

There is a lot of wisdom in the five short chapters in the book of James and chapter three is no exception. Here James talks about controlling the tongue. He speaks of how,

We can make a large horse go wherever we want by means of a small bit in its mouth. And a small rudder makes a huge ship turn wherever the pilot chooses to go, even though the winds are strong. In the same way the tongue is a small thing that makes grand speeches.(NLT)

But then he adds,

But a tiny spark can set a great forest on fire. And the tongue is a flame of fire. It is a whole world of wickedness, corrupting your entire body.

The first reaction is often to think, “Whoa, James. Relax a little bit. It’s not that bad.”

But when we think about how powerful words are, we begin to see just how true James’ statement really is. How much love has been poured over your life because of some kind words a friend, relative, parent, or spouse spoke to you. How much hurt has been caused because of an angry word spoken in the heat of an argument. Think back, how much love have you poured out, or hurt you have caused, because of the words you spoke. Yes, James’ statement is more true than we probably care to consider, especially in this day and age. We live in a “me” world. “I” have a right to say or do something because that’s just who “I” am, and “you” have to accept it.

Or maybe not…

But if you look at the end of verse six, we see something curious. Remember, we saw before in verse six that the tongue “is a whole world of wickedness, corrupting your entire body.” And James ends the verse with these words…

“It,” the tongue, “can set your whole life on fire, for it is set on fire by hell itself.”

Wait, the tongue is set on fire by hell? If we remember the teachings of the rest of scripture, we are reminded that we are sinful people. We are born into sin. That is the reason for needing a Savior. But set on fire by hell itself?

This statement had me puzzled so i did a little digging around and came across something interesting. I like reading commentaries. Some of them i can do without, but people have devoted vast amounts of time to studying God’s word, hearing from God, and trying to understand what God is saying in a certain passage. It’s no different than our prayer lives, only they wrote stuff down. One of my go to commentaries, i don’t know why, is the Matthew Henry Commentary of the Bible. Observing this passage, Henry writes,

The snares into which men are sometimes led by the tongue are insufferable to themselves and destructive of others. It setteth on fire the course of nature. The affairs of mankind and of societies are often thrown into confusion, and all is on a flame, by the tongues of men. Some read this as, all our generations are set on fire by the tongue. There is no age of the world, nor any condition of life, private or public, but will afford examples of this. The phrase, “and it is set on fire of hell” we observe: Hell has more to do in promoting of fire of the tongue than men are generally aware of. It is from some diabolical designs, that men’s tongues are inflamed. The devil is expressly called a liar, a murderer, an accuser of the brethren; and, whenever men’s tongues are employed in any of these ways, they are set on fire of hell.

That’s powerful stuff. “Hell has more to do in promoting of fire of the tongue than men are generally aware of.” How much do we say in our daily living that we don’t even know is set on fire by hell.

I have heard many arguments over the years on this passage. Control the tongue they say. Watch your words. Don’t talk too much, because what you say can be damaging. These are all true. But…

Let’s take a look at what Matthew Henry says next, shall we…

The Holy Ghost indeed once descended in cloven tongues as of fire, Acts 2. And where the tongue is thus guided and wrought upon by a fire from heaven, there it kindleth good thoughts, holy affections, and ardent devotions. But when it is set on fire of hell, as in all undue heats it is, there it is mischievous, producing rage and hatred, and those things which serve the purposes of the devil. As therfore you would dread fires and flames, you should dread contentions, revilings, slanders, lies, and every thing that would kindle the fire of wrath in your own spirit or in the spirits of others.

I wrote once, here or elsewhere, about how i was learning to watch out for the opposite in scripture. For example, when we read of a blessing in scripture, there is written within that passage the means with which to obtain that blessing. We may not read of any curses in the passage, but by implication, anything we do that goes against the obtaining of the blessing will produce the curse. Anyway, i’m still learning the whole “opposite” thing in scripture, and this one totally blew by me. My eyes were opened to something incredible here.

Let me explain. James is writing very negatively in this passage. And perhaps that’s a good thing. The warning about using our words carefully, because the tongue “is set on fire by hell itself” is a very good warning. But this passage produces in it a positive, even if it is never mentioned, and Matthew Henry sheds light on it.

Acts 2 is the story of the Holy Spirit descending on the people in the upper room “with tongues of fire.” Here, the tongues of fire come from heaven. In James, the warning is the tongues of fire from hell. James is implying that our words may be lit on fire by heaven, which in turn produces all kinds of good; “there it kindleth good thoughts, holy affections, and ardent devotions.”

I am starting to look at this passage in James in a different light. I’m not completely settled on it, but i think what James is trying to say is, yes, watch your tongue, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you shouldn’t speak. If your words are set on fire from heaven through the power of the Holy Spirit, speak away. Use as many words as needed to ignite the hearts and lives of men and women in your sphere of influence. In our daily lives. With the people we meet. Give a word of blessing instead of cursing.

I want to challenge us, me and you, to ask God to give us words of blessing set on fire by the Holy Spirit, to speak to the stranger in the grocery aisle about the love of God. To set the hearts of our neighbors on fire with a passion for Jesus because of the anointing our words have from the very throne of heaven. May we change our communities with the words we speak that have been lit up from heaven.

Amen.