Don’t love the world…?

Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever. 1John 2:15-17

At first glance, John’s instruction that we should NOT love the world might seem strange… especially when he had previously gone to great lengths to remind his readers of the defining characteristic of a Christ-follower: Love for God & love for each other. Digging deeper, however, we see he is challenging us to not align with or entrust ourselves to this world’s system – its values, practices, & ways of living. The prince of this world, the devil, draws humanity towards a life of self-indulgence, a life that runs counter to the life Christ calls us to follow. Think about it: the desires of the flesh tell us we should be able to indulge without restraint in whatever sensual craving that strikes us, without consequence for who it affects. The desires of the eyes lead us to believe we need more – more toys, more stuff, more everything… with greed, discontent, & covetousness as a result. The pride of life rejoices in a life of self-importance, tempting us to revel in our accomplishments, focusing on all we have & have done, causing us to measure ourselves against one another & missing the self-less example Christ set for us when He laid down His life that we would live.

Bottom line, John reminds us that to “walk in light & walk in love,” we have to live according to the values, priorities, & traits of the Kingdom of God, not the kingdom of this world. And God says that if we love Him, we’ll His commands.

Grace, peace, & God’s blessings to you today –

Love one another… a new commandment?

On the night He was betrayed, Jesus sat around the table with 11 of His disciples, the aftermath of the Passover meal in their bellies. And He talked with them – treasured conversations, some of Christ’s last words to them before He was taken & crucified.

Something He said caught their attention: “A new commandment I give to you…” New? That HAD to be significant… & I can imagine each of the disciples sitting up a little bit, leaning in closer to make sure not to miss a word. And Jesus said:

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, just as I have loved you, you are also to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”  John 13:34,35 English Standard Version

Love one another… using Christ’s own example as the blueprint on what REAL love looked like. Loving others was so significant that Christ identified it would be LOVE that would identify people as His disciples. Not their words. Or charisma. Or how much they knew. Love. Lived out, in the real world, with real people.

Fast forward about 60 years, & the now ancient disciple/apostle John wrote to a new generation of disciples, sharing with them what Christ had shared with him so many years ago – in a nutshell, “God is light. God is love. As His disciples, we show we belong to Him by living in light. And living in love.”  John is ‘discipling’ his readers – he is passing on what Christ said & did in his life. Sharing the areas that the Holy Spirit had written on his heart. Speaking plainly about some of the most important things that Christians can BE & DO. Without the LIGHT & LOVE evident in our lives, we’re lost. John wrote:

“My dear friends, I’m not writing anything new here. This is the oldest commandment in the book, and you’ve known it from day one. It’s always been implicit in the Message you’ve heard. On the other hand, perhaps it is new, freshly minted as it is in both Christ and you—the darkness on its way out and the True Light already blazing!Anyone who claims to live in God’s light and hates a brother or sister is still in the dark. It’s the person who loves brother and sister who dwells in God’s light and doesn’t block the light from others. But whoever hates is still in the dark, stumbles around in the dark, doesn’t know which end is up, blinded by the darkness.” 1John 2:7-11, THE MESSAGE

It’s the same for us – we are called to BE disciples & MAKE disciples. We make disciples by example, by living a Christ-following life & by our words/actions, where we intentionally share with others that which Christ has worked in us.

It’s beautiful.

Walking in the light…

WALKING IN THE LIGHT
As I was preparing for our next series, Letters From John…” I was struck by the vivid imagery of LIGHT & DARK that John uses when describing our life with God:

  • God is light, pure light; there’s not a trace of darkness in Him. If we claim that we experience a shared life with Him & continue to stumble around in the dark, we’re obviously lying through our teeth—we’re not living what we claim. But if we walk in the light, God Himself being the light, we also experience a shared life with one another, as the sacrificed blood of Jesus, God’s Son, purges all our sin. 1John 1:5-7 THE MESSAGE BIBLE

Think about that for a second: When John says God is light (an Old/First Testament reference to God’s purity, holiness, wisdom, & knowledge,) he’s saying God is our source, & walking in the light means living in & through Him – His purity, holiness, wisdom, & knowledge… Conversely, if we are stumbling through life in the dark, we’re walking without Him, counting on our own resources to navigate through the veritable minefield of life. OUCH! That can hurt.

The thing that jumps out the most to me is that by walking in the light, living in relationship with & dependence upon God, it also binds us together with others who are doing the same thing – people who have experienced the forgiveness of sin through Jesus Christ.  I’m praying for the Holy Spirit to illuminate any dark patches of our lives… & for the wisdom & perseverance to stay out of the shadows & walk where He’s walking.

Grace, peace, & God’s blessings to you today –

Forgiven…

Forgiven. Think about it.

If we confess our sins, our God, through His Son Jesus Christ, forgives us, cleanses us, & justifies us (makes it as though we’d never sinned at all). 1John 1:7-10; Romans 5:1

Forgiven. Made right with God. By His grace. Through faith. Not a feeling. A fact.

The problem is, we have an adversary, our enemy the devil. Revelation 12:10 reveals that this enemy stands before God, day & night making accusations against us. What does he accuse us of?

The things we’ve done wrong. Our failures. Short-comings. Inadequacies. Unfaithfulness. Unworthiness. Our sins.

He digs through our past/present & throws things at us in the form of thoughts, flinging them our way like fiery darts. He uses people – all kinds of people – Christian people to taunt, provoke, accuse, defame, & malign.

It is going to happen – so what is our response? What do we do when a very real area of sin is thrown back at us to attempt to remind us of ‘who we really are?”

We remember.

We are forgiven. Not according to our merits. Not because we earned it. Not just until we mess up again.

Forgiven. By grace. Through faith. In Christ Jesus.

When I’m assaulted with the condemnations of the accuser, I renew my mind (Romans 12:1,2). To me, this means I revisit & rehearse Scripture  (Psalm 119:9-11). I pray, thanking God for His gift of grace to me & His work of grace in my life (Ephesians 2:4-10). I pray in the Spirit, building myself up in my heart & mind. (Ephesians 3:14-21). I actively submit myself to God, & actively resist the accuser (James 4:7), speaking out loud saying, “I’ve been washed, sanctified (made holy) & justified (made right with God) in & by the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ.” (1Corinthians 6:11)

Forgiven. Think about it. Thank the Lord for it.

Readin’ books, thinkin’ thoughts, processin’ stuff, & other musin’s…

Just finished going through Scazzero’s “Emotionally Healthy Spirituality” again. Check it out if you haven’t.

We used it as a reference point in our most recent teaching series, & also hosted a couple of book talks with a few folks who had finished reading through it, individually (if that makes sense.) The first time I went through the book was back in 2006 at the suggestion of my friend & mentor Chuck. I would guess over the years I’ve read the book 10 or more times. And every time through, something else stands out to me. I think the combo of the 8-week teaching series & the book talks were the most significant in seeing the topic in a different light. Here’s a couple of insights gleaned from our talks:

  • Generally speaking, people don’t have a reference point on how to process through strong, negative, &/or inconvenient emotions. We feel out of control, unsure, anxious, & guilty… & as a result, stuff those emotions in a locked,dark room in their souls that they never plan to visit again. Several people found it helpful to go through a process to get a handle on their emotions; this includes taking the time to experience/feel the emotion, to invite God into the process by asking for His take/His input through reflection on what we’re feeling, then to express those emotions in manner than honors God, that doesn’t sabotage/hurt ourselves, or wound/cause injury others.
  • Christians don’t know how to grieve, mourn, or process through life’s losses. Not just the big ones – like death of a loved one, catastrophies, like war & acts of terror, divorce & infidelity, among others,- but also other losses, like the change in a friendship when someone moves away, the disruption of relationship when a person leaves a church, & even things that look/feel like a POSITIVE change, like graduation from school, or an adult child moving out on their own. Instead, quite a few people deal with loss through denial, avoidance, blaming others, minimizing the loss, rationalizing why the loss isn’t so bad, or developing an addiction (to avoid & numb the pain). The most common way of running from loss that came up in our talks was using God to hide from grieving – this could look like quoting Bible verses, “We don’t grieve like those who have no hope…” as though that is supposed to address the hurt & pain we feel. It could be like offering up words we’ve heard before, like, “The Lord moves in mysterious ways,” or “God must have needed another angel in heaven,” or my favorite, which I have heard from more than a handful of people in response to my own grief at my brother’s passing: “God must have known He was going to fall away into sin in the future, so He took him home now.” Not only do those phrases not help, they don’t accurately portray God as He is revealed in Scripture & in Christ’s incarnation: as predictably, consistently good. And ultimately when people said them to me, I wanted to punch them in the neck.
  • Getting our thoughts out on these topics & talking with safe people helps. I was amazed at how significantly people were impacted as they listened to others, heard that their own story/feelings/experience isn’t unique or weird, prayed together, & spoke words of encouragement to each other.

There’s probably more, but those are the biggies that have been bouncing around my head for the last couple weeks.


Jerry Cook has a new book coming out in the next 8-12 weeks. He’s the writer of a couple of my favorites, including, “Love, Acceptance, & Forgiveness,” and also, “The Monday Morning Church.” The next one is called, “So… What’s The Big Deal? Six Events That Changed The World”, & it is written in response to being asked this question: “So… what’s the big deal about the Holy Spirit in the life of a Christian?” I have seen a rough draft of the book & I will tell you this – when it comes out, I’m buying a case of them to give away. Great & practical theology communicated in a manner that a Jr Higher could “get.” Be on the lookout.


Over the last year, I’ve been praying for the kind of clarity where I could say, “I only do what I see my Father in heaven doing.”(John 5:19-21). To me, this means – I’m not just living on purpose, I’m living according to God’s agenda. One thing that I have noticed – a lot of people have an idea of what THEY think I should be doing… & if/when it doesn’t line up with what I think I’m supposed to be doing, it is “relationally uncomfortable.” I’m praying for insights & ways to gracefully communicate with others on this, esp. when I don’t meet their hopes or expectations. A work in process, am I. Thankful that the One who started this process WILL bring it to completion. (Philippians 1:5-6)

So say we all.

Through the Gospels – Matthew 5

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp & put it under a basket, but on a stand, & it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works & give glory to you Father who is in heaven.” Matthew 5:14-16, English Standard Version


As I was reading Matthew 5 this morning, several “light-related” thoughts came to mind.

    -The first recorded words spoken by God in Genesis are “Let there be light…” (Genesis 1:3, ESV) This creative declaration spoke into being the beginning point for the life that would soon fill the earth & the sea.
    -One of my earliest memories is being in a car driving down the Mt. Rose highway from Tahoe’s North Shore, heading down the twisty, curvy mountain road, with the destination being HOME (which in my case was & is Reno.) I can still feel the feeling of joy & anticipation that rose up in me as we made the final turn in the dark that revealed the lights of the Greater Reno/Sparks Metropolitan area… several thoughts hit all at once. “Home!” “People!” And “Life!” (I may have had worries that one day the world (or at least my city) would end while I was away & I wouldn’t know about it until we drove home…) Bottom line, I equated the LIGHTS with LIFE.
    Vincent Van Gogh, the famous Dutch painter, had at one time been a Protestant minister – he was fired by his ministerial superiors for undermining the dignity of the priesthood, a charge that stemmed from his missional attempts to meet the physical as well as spiritual needs of impoverished peoples. One of my favorite paintings is Starry Night; one of the most striking features of the painting is also one of the most subtle. The painting depicts a “Starry Night” with a sprawling village laid out beneath it. Lights, (representing LIFE) fill almost every home and building… except for the church in the lower middle of the canvas. No lights to be found. And from his experience, no LIFE.

We are the light of the world because we have the LIFE that Christ has given, represented by the in-dwelling of the Holy Spirit. We are the light because Jesus was the light first (John 8:12), & we’re following in His footsteps, reflecting Him. The Matthew 5:14-16 passage declares that the light is meant to shine; a lamp isn’t lit to be covered, but to be placed where it can bring light to the dark areas. Since we are the light of the world, we are to LET our light SHINE – not hide it, minimize or cover it. To me, this is a declaration that if I live following after Jesus & loving God & people, & following Him, my light WILL shine; I would have to take specific measures to keep the light from being seen.

And that is the purpose of shining the light – so people can see. Light means, “There is LIFE here.” It draws people towards it. And worked out in our every day lives, it brings glory to God the Father.

LORD, let Your light shine in & through me today. Bring life to me & to others in Jesus Name, for Your glory.

Through the Gospels – Matthew 1

SOAP – Through the Gospels
Matthew 1

S – SCRIPTURE
Matthew 1:1 – the book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.

O –OBSERVATION
When I was just learning to read, one of my daily routines was going through a devotional bible reading plan called “Bible Pathways.” Their particular plan was set up in such a way that if you followed it closely (reading approximately 3 chapters/15 minutes/day), you would finish reading the entire Bible in one year. I absolutely loved finishing my reading because then I could put a check mark on the scheduled reading plan for the day. (Nothing like crossing things off a list! DONE! Still love doing that.)

That said, I hated reading the genealogies & family trees. Whenever I came across them, I would just SKIP over them to the end; the spot where the ‘boring’ & meaningless to me list of oft-unpronounceable names ran on & on. I can remember asking several people WHY this was in the Bible; it made no sense to me to have all these people listed & that I had to read over it. And it wasn’t like there was only one spot in the Bible where the genealogies were, like the “Book of Genealogies” located after Esther & before Job, so you could just kind of SKIP over them to get to the good stuff. Nope. They pop up all over the place, invisibly connecting narratives, histories, & stories like connective tissue – its there, but you don’t know the reason for it.

Matthew 1 begins with a genealogy – one that I have skipped over many, many times. Until I got frustrated & asked God a question: “Why? Why are these in the Bible? Is it to build my perseverance? To make me thankful for the end of the list? I don’t get it – but if its in there, its gotta be important. What is it?”

A – APPLICATION
The answer to my prayer/question was not immediate, & it came from an unlikely source: my dad’s cousin Laurie. Cousin Laurie is our very own “Family Tree & Ancestry Expert.” For some reason unbeknownst to me, she has been passionately researching our family line for years, even crossing the Atlantic to peruse family records in Scotland. To my knowledge, she has traced our family of origin, with multiple branches, back into the 16th century. I had heard many 2nd hand stories about her searches, but never really got the straight scoop until one day she stopped by my office after church on a Sunday, & started in on a story about “our family.”

Laurie pulled out a notebook with several pieces of paper – it was obvious she’d spent a lot of time with it, & that the information on it was valuable. In a very short period of time, she showed me different branches of the family tree, complete with names, birth/death dates, & interesting vignettes. What had once been a poorly understood & mostly unknown collection of names came to life. These were people, with lifetimes of stories – & every one of them was connected to me & my own story. The actions, choices, & lives (good, bad, & ugly) of people living hundreds of years prior had somehow, someway led to me & my reality.

As I listened & observed, suddenly threads began to emerge in my mind – I could see & trace God’s hand of mercy, grace, & purpose on my family line. Generation upon generation, God had been working redemptively & faithfully. The family tree revealed a forest of purpose & intentionality. It was like a puzzle piece being placed into the 10,000-pc puzzle it originated in; somehow it fit.

And then I saw it – an answer to the prayer/question I had asked God long before. Genealogies are reminders of the importance of individual lives in the grand story of the gospel, as well as a picture of the absolute sovereignty of God to weave those threads of story into a beautiful tapestry that reveals HIS story, purpose, plan, & the Good News of Jesus Christ.

P – PRAYER
LORD – thank you for not only being a “big picture” God, but also for dealing with the small & seemingly insignificant life story threads… that You make something beautiful from it. Remind me of the significance of my actions, choices, & the way I invest my life today. Fill me with awareness of where You are at work in & around me, & show me how to cooperate with Your Spirit in that work.

You didn’t let ME run!

“You didn’t let ME run, Dad.”

TheWeez’s comment took me by surprise. I had no context. “What do you mean Weez?”

“You sat up on the stage today after church, & there were like 100 little kids running crazy all over the church, & you just sat there smiling. And then later on, you pointed out that little kids run & make messes & are loud… & you’re okay with it, because they are also a great sign of life. But you didn’t let ME run!”

Hmmm. She was going back in the archives to the Olden Days. The days before Boys entered her world. Before self-consciousness had struck. Before there was anything else on her agenda for the day except getting where she wanted to go as fast as she could. And what she recalled was that when she was small, like the running mitey-mites that had filled the sanctuary today, I wouldn’t let her run. My daughter.

I remember THAT guy. Sometimes he feels like a completely different person than I was, but then I see that he has scars on his shoulders in the same places I do, & I can remember thinking what he was thinking, & knowing, KNOWING that I KNEW what was most important in life… & kids not running at church, especially my kids, was important. Sigh.

That guy. Uptight. Grumpy. On the edge of angry most of the time. Easily frustrated. Defensive. Insecure. Immature. Trying sooooo hard. Working harder. Faster. Longer. Wearing out. Breaking down. Bottled up. Hurting. Confused. Tired.

He was so hard to be around; I couldn’t stand him. Its even harder to come to grips with when I know that I know that THAT guy was me. He left marks on the psyches of those he loved the most, theBean, Pasty, iDoey, & theWeez. Among others.

What I don’t remember is when that guy left. It seems that he might have lingered, neither here nor there, for quite a while, until finally he was gone, no longer welcome.

“You didn’t let me run, Dad. I just wanted to run,” theWeez said, softer this time. “WHY? Why didn’t you?”

“I’m so sorry Weez. I thought I knew what I was doing, but looking back, I was silly, in the worst grownup kind of churchy silly that I could be. I’m so sorry…” My voice trailed off. My eyes reacted with vigor to the dust-storm that must have just appeared in the room; otherwise, why would my eyes be so clouded…?

“If I had it to do over again, sweetheart, I would let you run. And I would run with you.”

“You would?”

“Yep. I would.”

She thought for a moment… “Yeah, you probably would.” Big smile.

the day at church no one ever forgot, & other musings…

I’ve been a part of the Church for the majority of my life, & I have experienced many incredible, wonderful things; interactions with brothers & sisters in Christ, & time spent in the presence of God in the context of our whole church family.

Some of the most powerful memories I have, however, are when something bad happened.

One Sunday that will live in infamy, I was a 19 year old kid working the sound board. At the beginning of the pastor’s message, a woman walked up to the front of the church & tried to grab a microphone. The pastor told her, “I’m not going to let you share.” She insisted that she had no choice, & that she was being compelled by the spirit to do so. The pastor was resolute, (thankfully) & told her that under no circumstance would she be allowed to bring her message.

The room was deadly quiet. The pastor explained that the woman had come to his office earlier in the week, & had told him that she had a message from God. After hearing what her message was, the pastor told her (& relayed to us) that he didn’t believe it was from the LORD because of the severe tone of condemnation, accusation, and belittling. He told her at that time, (& relayed to us,) that our Father God doesn’t speak to us that way; His heart is for repentance & restoration; further, spiritual gifts (including prophetic words,) were to be encouraging, edifying, and exhorting to the Church. This woman’s message was none of those.

So what happened? She laid down. In the front row of the church. And the pastor went back into his message. And no one in that room EVER forgot what had happened, nor the lesson that we learned about how God speaks to His people.

I’ve wondered how he finished the message… especially when I’m distracted by something as benign as a louder-than-it-needs-to-be conversation that happens during the speech. Hmm.


Acts 5 –
What was happening in the early church was a beautiful thing. The believers were putting into action Christ’s command to “love one another” in a most tangible way; they were using their finances and other resources to care for each others real, felt needs. No one was left out; all were provided for. This spirit of benevolence was so pervasive that people were even selling properties in order to make sure that there would be money available to help others, just in case.

It was truly incredible.

At the very same time, a sobering event shook the church to its core. A married couple, Ananias & Sapphira, sold their own piece of land with the intent of giving the proceeds to the church. At some point however, they decided that they would keep some of the money for themselves; they’d still give some to the church, but not all of it.

The fact that they kept some of the money wasn’t the problem. In no way was there any requirement for them to give it all. However, together they plotted to tell the apostles (& the rest of the church) that the amount they were giving was the entire purchase price, thinking that no one would be the wiser.

They chose willfully & intentionally to lie. To God. It was a big deal to Him. It cost them their lives.

I’ve read this passage (Acts 5:1-11) many times, & I’ve wondered about & guessed at the motivation for Ananias & Sapphira’s lie.

    -Was it people-pleasing mixed with greed? Others in the church were getting attention for their selfless acts; did they just wanted in on that attention?

    -Was the love of money? Did they start out with a good intention & get sidetracked, tripped up by temptation?

    -Were they trying to buy favor, influence, &/or position in the church?

I don’t know. And I also don’t know the WHY behind their deaths. I do know that ultimately, God chose to address their choices and behaviors in a strong way, & that as a result, a great fear came upon the church & all who heard about it. That church didn’t see sin the same way ever again; & they most definitely didn’t think that God was Someone to try to pull one over on.

Both Ananias & Sapphira had the choice to repent, to acknowledge their lie, & given that choice, they stuck to their story. Ouch.

I look at my own life & see many times where, if God wanted to step in & say, “Not in my house!” I would have been dead to rights, & worthy of whatever punishment He chose to give.

It makes me thankful for repentance – the opportunity God gives us to turn FROM sin, & to turn TO God, & to know that if I confess my sin, & turn from it, that Christ is faithful & just to forgive & to purify from all unrighteousness (1John 1:7-10)

Thoughts on Acts 15…

Acts 15:10,11 Now, therefore, why are you putting God to the test by placing a yoke on the neck of the disciples that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? But we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.”

Acts 15 tells of a crisis in the church… the number of believers in Christ was growing daily, & not just among Jews anymore. Now, even the Gentiles were coming to Christ! So what’s the crisis?

Certain groups among the Jewish believers couldn’t imagine God calling and saving people that weren’t circumcised. After all, circumcision was VERY significant for the Jew, as it marked the establishment of their covenant identity with God. Circumcision marked them in most intimate way as a separate, distinct, people who belonged to the LORD.

I thank God for Paul, Barnabas and the Jerusalem council; when confronted with the pressing question, “What are we going to do about this?” they reminded their Christian brothers that the gospel being preached is one of grace and justification through faith. I imagine their debate with those that were demanding circumcision, wondering out loud what other hoops to jump through could have arisen if Paul and the others had given in. Dietary restrictions? Hair and beards? Rejection of one’s culture of origin to embrace the Jewish culture?

Here we are 2000+ later, mostly Gentiles reading this, wondering what the big deal was… in hindsight its easy to point out the Old Testament scriptures where God calls for the “inner circumcision,” a circumcision of the heart. It’s silly, because we know that we’d never put stumbling blocks in front of new believers, and for sure would never add to the gospel… Would we?

Hmmm. I remember as a kid seeing people different than my family and me coming to church. I know now that they were ‘hippies” – identified by their bare feet, old Levis, t-shirts, and mostly unkempt hair and beards. They really stood out…

I remember it was a big deal when they came to Christ, gave their testimonies of deliverance and expressed earnest desire for freedom from drugs, immorality, and their desire to be clean, whole, and experience real love. I remember the discussions that took place where church leaders wrestled with the influx of new people, and wondered how we could help disciple them… One suggestion rings in my ears:

“What they really need is some different clothes and a haircut. They need to know that they’re the temple of the Holy Spirit.”

Ouch.

We do it too. Makes me wonder… are we adding to the “Main Thing” of the gospel? Are there “Louie-isms” that are being elevated to “gotta do’s”?

LORD, remind us that we are saved by Your grace, just as our brothers and sisters around the world are.