…because we love the brethren

As the pastor of a relatively small church who is always looking at the condition of not only the congregation I lead, but to investigate the history of churches that have seen divisions, splits, and much more.  Since long before I was ever called to ministry, I have “suffered” from a constant yearning to know “why” and “how”. It is just part of my core being.

As a pastor, I try to grasp the whys and whats of a church’s history – why people join or leave a church, why young people (as much are wringing their hands today over) seem to be leaving churches in alarming numbers, and even why a church might split. Part of that ongoing series of quests is a look at the problem of swollen church membership rolls – that often include names that possibly no current member even knows the identity of! I believe one of the core problems (or diseases) responsible for a lot of these symptoms and issues is a spiritual issue – and in many cases, the problem is unregenerate church membership.

Bear with me for a bit – as this will take a few steps to explain.  You see, Jesus assembled His church – that first local church (as Christ’s Church is nearly always referred to) in Israel – a “church” that moved around following Him until He returned to His rightful place in Heaven. That church settled in Jerusalem where it gained the respect – dare say even admiration from their neighbors (Acts 2:47 records that they had favor with all the people). What inspired this period of favor (that also appears to have drawn people to Christ – and thus to be saved?) – the relationship these members of that first church had with each other – they were:

And all those who had believed were together and had all things in common; and they began selling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need. Day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved. (ACTS 2:44-47)

Quite simply, their love for one another was such that they made sure everyone in need had their needs met (through sacrificial giving), worshipped God gladly and sincerely, and were day-by-day (regularly, even daily meeting together including fo worship). This early church was demonstrating what Jesus identified as one of the biggest of hallmarks of being a genuine Christ-follower:

“By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35)

The word love here comes from the same Greek word (ἀγάπη – agapaō the same self-scarificing love Jesus demonstrated on behalf of His sheep on the cross!  And this is the exact same term translated as love in the source passage for my tltle today:

We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love abides in death. (1 John 3:14)

This is the same love that Peter wrote of in 1 Peter 4:8 to the church under great persecution: Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins.

I have long chewed on the concept of “love covers a multitude of sins”.  A genuine, personal, self-sacrificing love for your brothers & sisters in Christ overcomes/covers more sins than we can comprehend – just as Jesus’ perfect demonstration of this same kind of self-sacrificing love covered 100% of the sins of every person who would ever trust Jesus alone for Salvation – His sheep. We are called, time and again, to have and to demonstrate self-sacrificing love, beginning with our “brethren”.  It is this same love that drives a God-called pastor to fulfill the charge Paul had for Timothy (2 Timothy 4:2) to be ready in and out of season to REPROVE, REBUKE, EXHORT. Indeed, anyone claiming to be a pastor who is unwilling to reprove (put to the proof – point out error based on proof), rebuke – to boldly address, call out, to put/shut down errors, and to exhort – to call to action/correction – literally to plead with urgency for change. A pastor who loves his (Christ’s) people is willing to stand on Scripture and to take the steps necessary to correct those in error (sin, as well as doctirnal/theological errors).

And out of love for Christ and love for their brethren (including such a pastor), born-again church members should desire and even be glad to receive such correction with a right attitude.

Likewise – even a pastor with the best of intentions can make an error, and should have such a love that he can take correction with gladness.

Within the local church – genuine, intentional discipleship begins when members have this same self-sacrificing love tha they are willing to invest of themselves and their time to walk side-by-side with fellow believers to teach, lead, and help mature those believers.

It is the same kind of unselfish love that will draw together a local church as nothing else will – and will actually attract those around them who need to experience that same kind of love.

And it is this same love that will lead the born-again to regularly assemble together to worship God, to grow spriritually, and to edify their brethren – and lead you to not forsake the assembling together (Hebrews 10:25).

Which brings us full circle to the title verse – and the sobering reality penned by John under the direct inspiration of the Holy Spirit in 1 John – that we boil down as beign able to identify thsoe who are not abiding in life (Christ) by their lack of love for the brethren.

Do you love your fellow Christians? Does that love cover a “multitude of sins” – aka when they mess up, as humans do? Do you desire to be WITH Christians – beginning with the regular meetings for corporate worship as the local church, but also that you would spend a significant portion of your life with fellow chrisitans sacrificially giving to them of your time and self (disicpleship)? Does the church you are a member of have a pastor who loves you enough to be willing to deal with the real and hard issues and to reprove, rebuke, exhort the body to follow Scirpture?

Or do you abide in death?

Identity Politics, Race, and the Church

What part of Jesus Christ’s ministry, teaching, or preaching played race-identity politics?
 
What, then was the message, both of Jesus’ own words and the rest of Scripture? It’s summed up in Christ’s response to those trying to corner him:
 
The greatest command is to love God with all – your heart, body, mind, spirit, EVERYTHING – first and foremost. The second – to love your neighbor as yourself (with the “love” translated here being the same used to describe God’s love in John 3:16, and the kind of love Jesus inquired Peter about. A self-sacrificing kind of love – a love that considers others (our “neighbors”) literally above ourselves… a servant/humble attitude so perfectly and in every way modeled by our Savior.
 
The love of Christ was poured out in the form of His precious blood for the sins of not one race, not one nationality, not one “people group” – but across all of the above. God has and is redeeming a people for Himself from every tribe, every tongue, and every nation – with no racial, economic, or social distinctions. We have ZERO right to judge others worthy of the Grace of God. And we, as professing Christians, have no right or place to become purveyors of race-identity politics. 
This week, the Southern Baptist Convention, convened in Phoenix, AZ (#SBC2017) approved a non-binding resolution denouncing racism and specifically the alt-white movement.  It is my prayer that the heart behind this was to put a biblically-mandated separation between that denomination and a truly hate-filled, race-identity thriving movement. I don’t have a problem with the spirit of such a resolution – the SBC (and many Baptist denominations) have a long history of very real race issues.  My problem with this particular resolution is that it is a one-sided and fails to even go back to both the Gospel and Christ’s commands. It simply buys in to the media and political Left’s race-identity politics. It continues the white vs. other narrative (the resolution uses the term anglo and non-anglo).  It fails to genuinely recognize and affirm the “#HumanRace, and accepts the overly-broad brush the terms used have become.
And I speak from the view of having been a leader in a church early in my ministry that, while claiming to “love its neighbors”, used terminology such as “those people” and “we don’t want them taking over” in reference to people of a different race. I speak of someone who grew up in a very diverse home town, where race has been a problem for centuries, and where many of us did, indeed, look beyond skin color – something now deemed offensive itself.
I write from the view of someone who is just plain sick-and-tired of race-identity politics and divisions.  Why is it so difficult to just take Christ’s words for what they are: Love your neighbor.  Period.  Our neighbor is anyone other than ourselves.
Racism is an evil that just doesn’t seem to want to go away.  Sadly, after a few decades of attempts to move away from race-identity, it now has come rushing back from all sides.  And it is no accident that politicians from every direction play the game in one form or another: it is all to “divide and conquer”.  The sooner we begin to recognize our neighbors, regardless of what they look like, what they wear, how much money they have (or don’t have), where they are from, and what religion (or lack of) they practice as our “neighbor”, and someone who desperately needs the Gospel – the sooner racism begins to fade.  And the way to that – is the Gospel itself.  It’s pretty hard to love like Christ, when we don’t really know Him.  When we are not made a “new creation” in Christ Jesus.  If we have not received the new heart He promised (Ezekiel 36:26). Until we are born again, not of flesh and blood, but of spirit – we just cannot see and love as Jesus does.
So – to my SBC brethren.  To my BMAA brethren. To my ABA brethren – and to all who genuinely know, believe, and follow Jesus Christ – repent of your sins (including any vestige of hate and racism), distance yourself from those who cling to those divisive race-identity politics, and seek Christ’s Love – and Love your neighbor…

Loving, Christian Parents

A news story crossed my feed this evening, a story that literally broke my heart.  Here is a link:

13-year-old girl who was supported by her Christian parents in living as a transgender boy commits suicide

The title pretty much says it all.  Two parents, who apparently profess to be “Christians” chose to not only allow, but encourage their 13 year-old daughter to live as a boy – to pursue the “transgender dream” of changing her God-given gender. Yet the thrill of becoming the opposite gender from birth, while seeming to be a popular idea today with promise of greater happiness as the “gender one feels”, the statistics prove otherwise.  The suicide rate for so-called “transgenders” is exponentially higher than any other demographic, with the rate among teenagers hitting a staggering 41%+ rate of attempts (meaning 41% admitted in surveys to have at least attempted suicide at least once).

Yet while the heartache over yet another senseless loss of life is predominant, I also am alarmed at the article’s title, and this girl’s parents profession to be “Christian”. And this led me to my soap box for the evening:

How, now, are we defining “Christian parents”? Maybe we should really grasp what being a “Christian” really means – and I’ll start with the base definition: Follower of Christ.

To profess Christ, yet blatantly walk counter to His Word is to live a lie. Yes, we ALL sin and come short of the glory of God. BUT – when one is genuinely a Christian (characterized by not only a verbal profession, but a life changed and a hunger to know our Lord and Savior, and to follow Him closer each and every day – to love Him – and to keep His commands.

As a parent, if your child begins to walk a path of rebellion against God – you don’t hate them. You love them. But loving your child should and cannot ever CONDONE or SUPPORT walking in open rebellion against God. Period. Indeed, to actually ENABLE such behavior is to be guilty of it yourself – and more ugly – is quite the opposite of loving your child.

If you kid were running full-speed towards the busy highway with no signs or desire to stop before running directly into the path of a tractor trailer and certain death, what do you do? Do you encourage him or her to run faster? Or maybe you tell them to enjoy the run? No – of course not, you cry out to them with a warning of the impending devastation. You drop everything and you go running after them to stop them by any means you have at your disposal to prevent them from certain destruction.

Yet why would a parent (professed Christian or not) not only stay quiet, but actually encourage a child to run at full speed into certain death and destruction – and in this case, eternal destruction?

And one last rant before I post this: this is a symptom of “the church” today – not every local church, but the far-too-common version so prevalent today – that preaches and teaches a false gospel, a gospel that does not demand change. A gospel that is so weak as to not even begin to bring about a “new creation” in Christ Jesus. And most certainly doesn’t take intentional, personal, and biblical discipleship seriously.

I pray that this will lead to a much more serious look at the harm being done by encouraging “gender rebellion” as I call it.  And if you attend a church that would be ok with this story and it’s foundation – of not only being accepting of this rebellion, but encouraging of it – then please, flee that “church” and seek one that teaches and preaches the FULL counsel of the Word of God, not one that picks and chooses what is worth following and what is not.  I pray for this family, that this horrible event will shake them to their core in such a way that they turn to the REAL Jesus in their own life – and that God would then use that to wake many up to the truth.

Lest you forget – there are eternal consequences at stake!