Saturday, May 31, 2014

"Teacher of LOVE" or Facebook theology, part 4

This is the fourth of an irregular series, where I reflect on something seen online, usually through a post on Facebook. 

About a week ago I saw this picture, and it has been percolating in my mind.  As I have thought about it I have come to a few conclusions about the beliefs of the person who wrote it.  I haven't been able to ask them any questions and may have their intentions wrong, but this is what I came up with.

First, the author doesn't care much for the concept of organized religion.  The three listed groups account for 62% of the world's population, and that is without including Hinduism, which is twice as large as Buddhism. 

Second, the author has what might be called a lowest common denominator for religion.  For the author, religion, at its most basic level, is about "LOVE," which is emphasized by placing the word in capital letters.  According to my Webster's Dictionary, 'religion' is "The service and worship of God or the supernatural."  My knowledge of Islam and Buddhism is very limited but, as a Christian, I would say that what Jesus did on earth, the whole of his life, was most definitely about the "service and worship of God."  Everything that Jesus did was rooted in his relationship with God. 

And third, because of this lowest common denominator view of religion as being solely a matter of love, the author holds that there are no differences between religious groups in the world.  As long as we are all practicing love then we are serving God rightly, and therefore anything else we might do in our religious practice is a misrepresentation of the intentions of the founder of our faith tradition.

As a Christian, and as a pastor, I'm going to say that what sounds like a good thing, to ground our life in love as a universal value, is actually a bad thing.  It offers us something, that is actually nothing, at the cost of everything.

Love, as a universal value to guide our relations with others, the people in our families, our friends, the people we don't like at work, and people groups through the world, is not in itself a bad thing.  There are many ways in which our relationships with others are strained or broken and life would be better all the way around if we could improve our relationships, all relationships, with love. 

But the Christian is called to live in the present with eternity in view.  We can't just let love for others in the world be the only way we direct our love.  The first place we need to direct our love is towards God, a God who in the work of His Son, Jesus, has already given us a love that is so wonderful as to be fully beyond our understanding.

Jesus himself teaches this directly in Matthew 22:36-39, saying:

 “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

To settle for the world's version of love means missing out on the love of God that was uniquely given in His Son, Jesus. 

Jesus was most definitely a teacher of love, but it was a love that was always grounded in God the Father as his primary relationship, a love that led him to cross, to give his life for the redemption of sinners.   A love described in John 3:16-17 like this:

 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him."

This, is love, a love that means everything.

Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Friday, May 23, 2014


"It's all about relationships."  

The word had gotten around that our family would be worshipping with our former congregation while we were in Rochester on vacation.  As a result I had been asked to share a few things in worship about our ministry in New Mexico.  So I began with the words of Romans 5:8, where Paul writes:

"But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us."

God's love is definitively revealed for His people in that Christ died to redeem sinners.  Christ died on a cross 2000 years ago to redeem sinners living then, to redeem sinners long-dead, such as Abraham and Moses, and to redeem sinners not yet born, such as the sinners gathered on a Sunday morning in places as diverse as Rochester, Minnesota and Dulce, New Mexico. 

All sinners coming to God with faith in the work of Christ are in a relationship with God as an act of His grace and mercy, and they are also in a relationship with all others who call themselves "Christian."  And as I thought a bit in preparation to speak to our former congregation I thought that at the heart of our ministry in Dulce is the idea of relationship.  Our relationship with God, and our relationship with each other.

God has been at work in this community, through this congregation, for a long time.  This congregation has had a presence for 100 years.  Since coming to Dulce last August we have seen the church's historical presence as being one way in which someone seeks the church out today.  "I went there as a child" or "That was my grandparents church."  A past relationship becomes the starting point for a new relationship.

Another thing I shared with our old congregation was that it has been my privilege to gradually get to know people in the congregation and in the community.  Relationships have started through the act of unloading a moving truck, while talking with someone passing behind the parsonage, and while standing in line at the post office.  One thing I seek in these relationships is to help people grow into a deeper relationship with God.  And I do so knowing that as I talk and pray with people God is also at work in me.

And the last thing I shared was how God has been at work in the community, strengthening the relationships of different churches with each other.  One of the exciting things about a new ministry that will be starting this fall is that the Dulce churches have worked together on it.  While it will use our buildings it is not so much  a ministry of our church as it is a ministry of God that uses many churches together to do His work among the children of our community. 

It's all about relationships.  Individual people drawn into a relationship with God, gathered as God's people to serve Him in the community, to His eternal glory. 

Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.