The Problem with Modern Love

Read 1 Corinthians 13

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Dear friends, let us continue to love one another, for love comes from God. Anyone who loves is a child of God and knows God.” (1 John 4:7 NLT)

loveAs a Christian pastor in the United Methodist Church, I have officiated in plenty of weddings and funerals. That just goes with the territory and, quite honestly, I am always honored when people seek me out to celebrate in their mutual love, or when people request that I be with them in their times of loss and grief. After all, did not the Lord Jesus Christ do such things?

As any pastor can tell you, one of the most requested (if not THE MOST requested) Scriptures for weddings is 1 Corinthians 13. Because that scripture talks about an enduring love, people automatically link it to the marital union between two loving partners. I think that this, unfortunately, does a disservice to what the Apostle Paul was actually writing about. I can assure you that, as a self-imposed, celibate man, Paul of Tarsus was not thinking about marriage when he penned those immortal words.

As such, whenever I am asked to utilize that particular passage at a wedding, I make a point of bringing the true meaning of the text into my message before tying it into the marital covenant. This is is important because there is huge problem with modern love. What I mean by this is that the modern understanding of love is shallow at best. It is all about peaches and cream, fuzzy bunnies and puppie dogs, kisses and hugs, compliments and unconditional affinity.

This modern understanding has been propagated by enless jewelry advertisements, happily ever-after romance novels/films, motivational speakers, prosperity preachers, societal pressures, and new age and/or civic theology that renders love into an emotional experience to be had within oneself. In a nutshell, love is rendered into a feel-good, warm and fuzzy experience centered around our over-inflated egos.

We tend to see love in those who make us feel good ourselves and in those who tell us how beautiful, great, smart, and awesome we are. Conversely, we tend to not see love in anyone who disagrees with us, calls us out for being wrong, encourages us to change course, or stands in our way from getting we want. After all, how could someone possibly love us and disagree with how great we are,    right?

Let me really clear about this: LOVE IS NOT ABOUT SELF-WORSHIP! It is not about us at all. LOVE IS ABOUT GOD. In fact, GOD IS LOVE. When Paul is writing about the characteristics of love, he is actually writing the characteristics of God as revealed in Jesus Christ. In other words, despite our often misconceptions of God, Jesus revealed to us that God was patient and kind, forgiving, slow to anger, and keeps no record of being wronged. God does not rejoice at injustice, but rejoices whenever truth wins out. God never gives up, never stops being faithful, is always hopeful, and endures through all things.

God loved us so much that, in order to redeem us in that love, God became a human being and lived among us. As that human being, God taught us what TRUE LOVE is all about. Love is sacrificial, it is in service of others, it holds people accountable to who they were created to be as opposed to who they are, and it is persistent in being present with others even when to do so comes at a great cost. Jesus Christ is the embodiment of God, who is love. As Christians, we ough to be the embodiment of Christ, who is Lord, and bear that LOVE out into the world.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
Love is not just a verb, but a noun that calls us be verbs.

PRAYER
Lord, you loved me even when I have not loved you back. Help me to model that love in my life and act it out in the world. Amen.

Playground Christianity

Read 1 Corinthians 13

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
But anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love. (1 John 4:8 NLT)

St.-Johns-Wood-Adventure-Playground-London-Hurtwood-1968I am one who believes that God can and does reveal truth in all things. Something need not be “Christian” for God to use it for the revelation of truth. Over the years, I have been finding truth in the unlikeliest of places. I have found God’s truth at a Krishna temple in India, I have found it in films, in novels, in Walt Disney World (I mean, who wouldn’t), and I have found it in other faiths, old and young alike.

One such place that I have found some truth is in a book by James Redfield, The Celestine Prophecy. James Redfield was brought up in a Methodist Church that he described as being “loving and community-oriented”; however, he now is an influential person in the New Age movement. He was no doubt influenced by his Christian upbringing, but he also studied Eastern philosophies such as Taoism and Zen while a student at Auburn University.

Though he spent more than 15 years as a therapist for abused children, he left that and, since he published the worldwide bestseller, The Celestine Prophecy, he has become an bestselling New Age author, lecturer, screenwriter, and film producer. The book itself follows the protagonist, never actually named in the book, on a truth-seeking, soul searching adventure in Peru following the loss of a job and other personal crises that arise in his/her life.

In the film version of the book, there is a quote between the protagonist and someone else. While I don’t remember the quote exactly, word for word, I remember the gist of it, “When people have the true God-experience, the debate over whose religion is right or wrong fades away.” That quote truly struck me as provocative and something worthwhile writing about.

First, let me be clear that I DO NOT endorse the theology behind The Celestine Prophecy. As a New Age theology, it is quite simplistic with many glaring holes, inaccuracies of other religious beliefs and is, in many regards, without much substance in terms of a cohesive theology. Its mish-mashing of different theological ideas from different religions is intriguing, but often falls short and does a disservice to all the religions involved. But that does not mean that truth cannot be found within it.

Now, on to my point. One thing I have noticed in Christianity, is that some Christian circles are filled with some of the most insecure people ever. For instance, if one was secure in their faith in Christ and in God, why would they feel the need to demonize others who disagree with them or other religions that are not in line with theirs? If one were not operating out of fear and insecurity, there would be no need to participate in the whole, “My God is bigger than your god” debate.

Yes, there are times that one must defend their faith and their religious beliefs, especially when others are mischaracterizing them. Yes, one should stand up for their faith when others are pressuring him or her to deny it. Yes, one should represent their faith well and should teach people what they believe to be correct and theologically sound. However, one need not go on a crusade against other ideologies, other religions, or other people who differ from him or her.

Christians who aggressively attack other belief systems than their own, who pass out tracts warning people of a religious group that they’re going to be damned to hell, or go on long diatribes online as to why they think someone else has it so wrong, are practicing what I like to call, “Playground Christianity.” They’re acting like elementary-aged bullies on the playground fighting over whose daddy is bigger and can be the other’s dad up. It’s silly and it completely misses the heart of Christ’s message: LOVE.

The “true God experience”, as I see it and certainly as Redfield sees it as evidenced in his book, is the experience of God’s wild, untamable, unconditional LOVE. When one is enveloped and filled by that LOVE, one cannot help being transformed by it either. LOVE begets more love. God’s love transforms us to be creatures of love, to be agents of love, to be bearers of love. When one has the true God experience, when one truly knows and enters a relationship with God, the debate over who’s right or wrong, who’s holier and who’s not, and any other nonsensical comparison fades away. All that remains is LOVE. This doesn’t mean that LOVE doesn’t hold others accountable to truth and justice; however, there is no room for pettiness or divisiveness in LOVE.  I would like to invite you to search God out, to have that true God experience in the context of a community of believers, and let go of anything that counters God’s LOVE.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are My disciples.” – Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ (John 13:34-35 NLT)

PRAYER
Lord, fill me with your love and transform me into an agent of love. Amen.

Xtreme

Read Mark 1:29-34

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Once you were like sheep who wandered away. But now you have turned to your Shepherd, the Guardian of your souls.” (1 Peter 2:25 NLT)

ChristianLoveWhen I was a youth pastor, I attempted to write a weekly devotion that was directed toward teenagers. I called it, “Xtreme Faith”, because it was edgy sounding and it reflected well the reality of what it means to be a Christian, a person of faith, in today’s times. It also drew a parallel to the ancient church and what it meant to be a Christian in those times as well.

I decided to spell it, Xtreme, because X is the Greek letter in the word χρηστος, which transliterates to the word Christos (pronounced kr-eest-os), which translates in to the word Christ. X was often used as the shorthand for Christ in ancient Christian circles. (Side note: The next time you see Xmas instead of Christmas, don’t get mad, but rejoice because it means the same thing). So, I spelled the word Xtreme, because it pointed to Christ and how extreme following Christ can be in this culture.

I am not sure how successful that short-lived devotion was; however, I believe the name of it, as well as the fundamental message that was being conveyed is vitally important for us as Christians in an increasing secular, and even anti-religious, American world. What’s more, even many professing Christians choose to only halfway follow Christ in ways that are neglectful of, if not antithetical to, the Christian faith we claim to profess.

We don’t like to think of him this way, but Jesus of Nazareth was a pretty extreme individual. He called people to give up their careers and social status to follow him (Mark 1:16-20; 2:14). He told people that they were not worthy of following him if they did not forsake all things, including their parents, siblings and family (Luke 14:26). Jesus told people that if they wanted to be his disciples, they should deny their own hopes, dreams, and aspirations. That they should pick up their instrument of capital punishment and follow Jesus to their deaths (Matthew 16:24). I could go one with a plethora of other examples; however, I think the above three prove the point. Jesus was extreme.

Peter knew this to be true. I love the account of Jesus coming to Simon Peter’s home in Mark, because it shows exactly what was at stake for Peter and the rest of the disciples. They weren’t two-dimensional characters from a story book; rather, they were real, living, breathing human beings. Peter had a wife, he probably had children, he had an ailing mother-in-law, and a household to look after. When he chose to leave his career behind to follow this itinerant teacher from Galilee, he was giving up the only source of money he had, and that would affect his WHOLE FAMILY!

If you are still struggling with the idea that Jesus was extreme, let me ask you this: would you leave your ailing family members, your spouse, your children, your homes, and your careers to follow Jesus into the great unknown? Would you be willing to leave behind your cars, your boats, your lifestyles, and your dreams and hopes for the future to follow Jesus to the ends of the earth?

It takes and Xtreme faith to do that, and that is the kind of faith that χρηστος is calling you to. It may not mean that you leave your family as Christ did, but it means that you need to be willing to go wherever Christ is calling you. It means that, no matter what you are called to and no matter how politically incorrect it may be nowadays, a Christian is always willing to bear witness to their faith, to uphold Christ’s two greatest commandments (Matthew 22:37-40) even if it means standing up against the status quo, and to strive to not let any part of your life become a denial of Jesus’ Lordship over you.

Sounds Xtreme? Certainly! But then again, so were the lengths Jesus went to in order to show us how much we are ALL LOVED. So, be Xtreme for χρηστος and be one of the vessels who are bringing Christ’s transformative love into the world!

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
Being Xtreme does not mean being an extremist; rather, it means following Christ over and above the ways of the world, even if people end up thinking you are.

PRAYER
Lord, help me to be an Xtreme follower of Your way, an Xtreme speaker of your truth, and a witness to the Xtreme LOVE that leads to everlasting life.

Identity

Read Colossians 3:1-17

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“See how very much our Father loves us, for He calls us His children, and that is what we are! But the people who belong to this world don’t recognize that we are God’s children because they don’t know Him.” (1 John 3:1 NLT)

identityIn today’s time, we have come to understand the importance of identity. We know that during our toddler years, we are modeling our identity off of our parents and immediate family. As school-aged children we are becoming socialized and beginning to identify ourselves by the people we socialize with and the subjects we we connect with. As teenagers we are trying desperately to find our own identity apart from our parents and family (which is what makes these years so challenging for parents and teens alike). As adults, we spend our working years establishing and maintaining our identity in what we do, in the families we create, the stuff we own, and the stuff that owns us (you know, those bills, bills, bills). Finally, in our later years we re-identify ourselves in our family legacies (as our kids have kids who then have kids, etc.).

Yet the above is really a gross, oversimplification of identity. There are other things that form our identity. First, we are human beings and identitfy as such. Beyond that we find our identity in a whole host of other things such as our sex, gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, culture, the groups of people we associate with, and a whole host of other things. We easily find the validity of our own identity and who/what we identify with; however, we tend to look at conflicting identity’s as a threat to who we are and what we think, feel, hold dear, and believe.

What’s more, our identities are not just subjective (meaning that they only exist in our heads), but they are also objective and tied into our bank accounts, our stocks, our careers, and our debts. In fact, our objective identities (name, height, weight, eye color, hair color, birthmarks, tattoos, etc.) are placed onto identification cards and attached to numbers for our own social security, among other things. This reality causes much fear for many people, because there is always the chance that someone else could steal our objective identities and do anything with them.

We are so attached to our subjective and objective identities that we very often forget our TRUE identity, which transcends both the subjective and the objective realities that we get so mired in. That IDENTITY is in God our Creator. We were all created in the image of the Creator, meaning that we were created to be autonomous beings, free to choose to be in a loving relationship with our Creator and free to choose to live into God’s very image: LOVE.

Yet, humanity had its identity stolen by SIN and, unfortunately, what followed was death. Perhaps that is a little vague, so let me add clarity to that last statement. People, out of free will, chose to identify itself by their sins, in place of their creator. They began to identify themselves by the things they desired to be. Such false, human-made identities, led them to be divided amongst themselves. They began to prefer to be with those they identified similarly with, and to reject, spurn, feud with, and even murder those they saw as different than them.

The true tragedy is that, as a result choosing to have their own identity, humans chose to identify themselves apart from God. They divided themselves away from God, for they viewed God as something other than what they were. Instead, they began to worship god(s) fashioned in their own identities and likenesses.

Yet, despite all of this, God did not give up. LOVE NEVER QUITS, IT NEVER GIVES UP. God decided to give up all of the things that “separated” God from humanity in order to become one of us. God, in essence, became Jesus the Christ. In Jesus, God showed us that it is possible to reclaim the divine image we were created in. It is possible to find our reconciliation with God, to give up the false identities we have taken upon ourselves, and to return to our TRUE identity as children of the Creator God! All we need do is place our faith in God through Jesus the Christ, who was, who is and who will come again.

If we do that we will begin to be tranformed into who we are into who we were Created to be. The Holy Spirit will enter into us and will guide us in becoming embodiments of God’s LOVE. We will no longer seek our own identities, our own ways, our own desires, our own fears. We will no longer seek to destroy, or to get vengeance, or to hate on others because we think they hate on us. We will no longer see things through human eyes, but through the eyes of the one who Created us all! If you would like that, if you find yourself trapped in your own humanity, if you find yourself desparate for an escape from hell this world and your false identity offers, then stop in your tracks, acknowledge your need for help, and turn to the one who LOVES YOU so much that not even death would get in the way of SAVING YOU! God lovingly awaits.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me.” – Jesus the Christ (John 14:1 NLT)

PRAYER
Lord, save me from myself and restore to me the identity that is truly mine, for I am your beloved child. Amen.

Children of God

Read John 1:6-13

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“See how very much our Father loves us, for he calls us his children, and that is what we are! But the people who belong to this world don’t recognize that we are God’s children because they don’t know him.” (1 John 3:1 NLT)

  There are so many things that tear us human beings a part. There are, unfortunately, far more things that divide and separate us than there are that unite us. I wish that wasn’t the case; however, when we look at the world, at our country, at our regions, at our towns, our churches, our families, and other aspects of human existance, we do not see a decreasing amount of division, but rather more and more of it. 
Rececntly, I was watching the movie “Underworld: Rise of the Lycans”. This film is the third out of five films in the Underworld franchise, and it is a prequel to all of them. It takes place back in the Medieval time period, where Vampires are Lords who rule over the land by night. While they remain hidden from human society, the operate within it. Hence the name “Underground”, there’s human society and then the secret society of vampires who pray upon humanity.

But this film isn’t just about vampires, it is also about Lycans. The name Lycan comes from the word lycanthropy, which is a mental illness in which humans think they are becoming wolves and even begin to take on the characteristics of wolves. Of course, these Lycans are not people with mental illness, but are actually werewolves. Unfortunately for them, the Vampires look at these Lycans as being “mindless beasts” who are beneath them in every way. So, the Vampires enslaved them and forbid any vampire from having romantic and/or sexual relationships with them. To do such was considered an abomination.

This prejudice was produced out of a fear, but it was certainly not grounded on reality. When one watches the Underworld series, one quickly finds out that both vampires and werewolves are from the same bloodline. The vampires descend from Marcus Corvinus and the werewolves descend from William Corvinus. Marcus and William were brothers; they were both the sons of Alexander Corvinus. One was bitten by bat, the other by wolf, but both had the same parents. Lucian, who rises up to be the leader of the werewolf army, said it best to his vampire lover Sonja, “We are both children of Corvinus. Yet my kind are slaves.”

Even if you have never seen the films, I don’t think the metaphor will be lost on you. Clearly, we can look throughout human history and see how human beings have hated each other, enslaved each other, murdered each other, and dehumanized each other as a result of fear. Fear has motivated humanity to do many wicked and evil things. Well fear and greed, both of which are not mutually exclusive. We are all children of God, and yet we look at other human beings who are different than us as if they don’t share that same heritage with us.

The hope of Christianity is comes from Jesus Christ who gave each of us the right, and the responsibility, to reclaim our heritage in God. Each of us have been given the right to be called children of God; however, that right bears some real responsibility with it. Being a child of God does not mean we’re in some sort of elite, underground, secret society. It does not mean that we are more special, loved, or valued than anyone else. It certainly does not mean we are better or above anyone else. It means that we recognize that we were created in God’s image and, through Jesus Christ, are allowing that image to be reflected in our lives. What this means, specifically, is that we will no longer be agents of division and discord, but agents of unity, acceptance, affirmation and unconditional love. We are children of God. Let us point others to the revelation of that reality as well.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“Fear lead to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.” – Master Yoda

PRAYER

Lord, help us to lay aside our fear to see all people, no matter how different, as your children. Amen.

Just Who Do You Think I Am?

Read Romans 7:7-25

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23 NLT)

CrossRedeemedIf you were to ask any of the students I have had over the years for confirmation class, they would tell you that one of the major projects I have them do is write a theological essay on who people say Jesus Christ is, and to also write about who they believe Jesus Christ to be. This essay is based off of the two questions Jesus asked his disciples, “Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say that the Son of Man is? Who do you say that I am’” (Matthew 16:13, 15b)?

There were no wrong answers, and it wasn’t anything they were graded on. The purpose of the required exercise was two-fold: 1) To help them develop the skill of critical theological thinking and the ability to articulate the Christian faith as they have been taught it. 2) To promote critical thinking around their own experiences with Jesus Christ, as well as to give them the opportunity to express those experiences and their own understanding of who Christ is in writing to themselves. Later in life, they can look back on those answers and see how their understanding has grown over the years.

Recently, while driving, I was listening to the Christian metal band Demon Hunter’s album, “Extremist.” The first song on that album is “Death”. This song, to me, is the opposite exercise. Unlike the exercise I have my confirmation students (aka confirmands) go through, this song is not asking the listener who they think Christ is, but rather it is asking that same question in regard to all of the other influences in their lives.

Actually, the song is a reflection, in part, on the tendency to idolize people like him, as if they are some sort of paragon of perfection. With that said, I also think that this song works beyond just Ryan Clark, but other people and/or influences in our lives that we turn to in order to be “saved” from ourselves and our circumstances. In the song, Ryan Clark screams, “I’m not your gateway. I’m not your prodigal son. I’m the vile lesser-than. Just who do you think I am? I’m not your standard. I’m not your vision divine. I am not sacrificial lamb. Just who do you think I am? I am death.”

Ryan is not stating that he is literally Death, as in the Grim Reaper. Nor is he stating that he is evil or that he has no part to play in helping others. That is not what he is saying at all; rather, he is stating that ONLY CHRIST is the savior. We all, including Ryan, are sinners and we are all in need of being saved. How do I know that’s what Ryan actually meant when writing the song? Here’s what Ryan has to say about it:

‘By our very nature, we are a sinful people. It doesn’t matter which side of the fence you stand on, that will always be the case. If you don’t see it, you’re not paying attention. There is no pretending to be impervious to it. The answer is revealed in the realization of its existence, and the understanding that you are in need of forgiveness. The wages of sin is death. Eternal death. My desire is to be an instrument for this revelation, but my words alone can only point the way. I am no savior.’

Amen. We are all in need of being saved and, for those who recognize that need, salvation rests in Jesus Christ who literally HELD NO BARS in ensuring that  salvation for us, should we desire and ask for it. Our way, apart from the eternal love that is GOD in Jesus Christ, leads to death. This need not merely be in some other-worldly sense either. Just look at the wisdom and “saving plans” of human beings running amok in the world. Look at the broken relationships, the drug addiction, the abject poverty, the abuse and oppression, the genocide and the governing for SELF-INTEREST. It is clear, we humans are not saviors, but lesser-than (to use the lyrics).

We are, apart from Christ, death. Yet, as Ryan rightly points out, those of us who are saved are called to point the way to Christ, who is the revelation of God’s unconditional, saving love. We may not be the savior, but we intimately know the savior and can introduce people to our Lord and Savior. If you feel lost in your life, if you feel surrounded by dead ends and hopelessness, there is a way out of such despair. There is a way to abundant and joyful life. That way is Jesus Christ and I pray that you two get in touch. Find a pastor or someone grounded in faith who can support you in that. If you are a person of faith, be willing to be the vessel that points the least, the last and the lost to the One who LOVES and SAVES THEM beyond all measures!

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“He that falls into sin is a [human]; that grieves at it, is a saint; that boasteth of it, is a devil.” – Thomas Fuller

PRAYER
Lord, have mercy on me a sinner. May I always point to your saving grace. Amen.

A LOOK BACK: Pieces of You

bflw-devotional-800x490Writing the Life-Giving Water devotionals is not only an important ministry, but is a deeply rewarding spiritual discipline for me as well. With that said, observing Sabbath (aka rest) is an important spiritual discipline as well. So here is a LOOK BACK to a devotion I wrote in the past. Read it, reflect on it, be challenged by it. Who knows how God will speak to you through it and how it will bear relevance in your life today? May the Holy Spirit guide you as you read the suggested Scripture and subsequent devotion.

A LOOK BACK: 99

bflw-devotional-800x490Writing the Life-Giving Water devotionals is not only an important ministry, but is a deeply rewarding spiritual discipline for me as well. With that said, observing Sabbath (aka rest) is an important spiritual discipline as well. So here is a LOOK BACK to a devotion I wrote in the past. Read it, reflect on it, be challenged by it. Who knows how God will speak to you through it and how it will bear relevance in your life today? May the Holy Spirit guide you as you read the suggested Scripture and subsequent devotion.

LOOKING BACK: Spider Web

bflw-devotional-800x490Writing the Life-Giving Water devotionals is not only an important ministry, but is a deeply rewarding spiritual discipline for me as well. With that said, observing Sabbath (aka rest) is an important spiritual discipline as well. So here is a LOOK BACK to a devotion I wrote in the past. Read it, reflect on it, be challenged by it. Who knows how God will speak to you through it and how it will bear relevance in your life today? May the Holy Spirit guide you as you read the suggested Scripture and subsequent devotion.

A LOOK BACK: Out of the Chaos

bflw-devotional-800x490Writing the Life-Giving Water devotionals is not only an important ministry, but is a deeply rewarding spiritual discipline for me as well. With that said, observing Sabbath (aka rest) is an important spiritual discipline as well. So here is a LOOK BACK to a devotion I wrote in the past. Read it, reflect on it, be challenged by it. Who knows how God will speak to you through it and how it will bear relevance in your life today? May the Holy Spirit guide you as you read the suggested Scripture and subsequent devotion.