Loving One Another in the Quarantine

This time of isolation and quarantine is difficult. But it has had at least one benefit: I have been renewed in my appreciation of the gathering of the body of Christ.  “Absence makes the heart grow fonder,” so they say. I couldn’t agree more.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote in the book Life Together, “The physical presence of other Christians is a source of incomparable joy and strength to the believer.” How true! This echoes the sentiment of the Psalmist, “Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!” (Psalm 133:1).  The opportunity to come together for worship, fellowship, and discipleship ought to be the highlight in the life of the believer.

Though we cannot come together, we are doing what we can to maintain some semblance of regular life and ministry in the church.  The doors are still open for those who want to come and meet for prayer and study. We continue to offer our Sunday morning worship, even though we are recommending that everyone tune in via our cable broadcast and Youtube. 

Still, it’s not the same.

I am reminded of those times when Paul wrote to the churches about his desire to come to them (Rom 1:10, 1 Thess. 2:8) to share in their fellowship and ministry. He also wrote to Timothy and Titus at times, urging them to come to him when he was in prison (2 Tim 4:13; Titus 3:12). John, in writing to the church, twice states that though he had much to write, “I would rather not use paper and ink. Instead I hope to come to you and talk face to face, so that our joy may be complete” (2 John 12; 3 John 13). To paraphrase the apostle, I have much I could write in my blog, or say on Facebook Live – but I would rather talk with you in person, so that our joy may be complete.

But for the time being we continue with the quarantine. 

This time of social distancing, however, need not hamper our expression of love in Christ for one another. As a matter of fact, social distancing, and forsaking our rights and privileges for the sake of those around us, may be one of the greatest demonstrations of love we can ever show.  Paul wrote in 1 Cor 13, “Love does not insist on its own way…”  For the sake of loving our neighbor, we are called to lay down our own lives, our own desires, our own preferences, all to show the love of Christ.  “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).

We are practicing isolation so that we do not wrong our neighbor, and in this is love (Rom 13:10). Martin Luther, when asked what the Christian’s response should be during the midst of the plague, wrote:

“I shall ask God mercifully to protect us. Then I shall fumigate (disinfect), help purify the air, administer medicine and take it. I shall avoid places and persons where my presence is not needed in order not to become contaminated and thus perchance inflict and pollute others and so cause their death as a result of my negligence. If God should wish to take me, he will surely find me and I have done what he has expected of me and so I am not responsible for either my own death or the death of others. If my neighbor needs me however I shall not avoid place or person but will go freely as stated above. See this is such a God-fearing faith because it is neither brash nor foolhardy and does not tempt God.” (Whether One Should Flee From A Deadly Plague – To Rev. Dr. John Hess)

If we want to be the body of Christ, and love one another well, let us recommit to praying for one another. Call the members of your church, your neighbors and friends; find out how they are doing, and pray for them. Intercede before the throne of God on their behalf. 

Long ago I heard a pastor talk about just how powerful a sign of love intercessory prayer really is. You have this opportunity to come before God, to ask Him all that your heart desires. Your first desire is for His glory, but long before you pray for yourself, you pray for those around you. Saying I will pray for you is not some cliche line to end a conversation, it is a pledge that you are on my heart and I will plead your case before our heavenly Father.  This is love.

Another way to encourage one another, even though we cannot be together, is to bless one another with the Word of God. Send cards, emails, or post on Social Media scriptures of promise and hope. As you spend time in the word daily, share what you’ve been reading.  When you call on your fiends and loved ones, share with them God’s Word. Don’t miss the opportunities God has given to let His Word be spoken. Build up and encourage one another with the gift you’ve been given.

Remember, the church is not the building, it is the people of God. Even in this time of isolation and distancing, especially in this time of isolation and distancing, we are to be the Church for one another. Beloved, let us love one another.

SDG

The Test of Love

“We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers.”
1 John 3:14

In my previous posts I stipulated that 1 John was written to give assurance to the doubting believer – pointing out the birthmarks of those born from God – namely, Righteousness, Love, and Truth. These marks aren’t things that we do in order to earn salvation and God’s favor, but are signs to which we may look in order that we may know we are indeed saved.

We come to salvation, as John writes in chapter one, by knowing Jesus is the manifestation of the Word of Life, and by entering into fellowship with him as we confess our sins and trust in His atoning work for our forgiveness and cleansing. John then tells us, and repeats throughout the letter, that the first mark of those who are in Christ is a life of righteousness, obedience to His commandments, living as He lived, walking in the light.

The second of the three birthmarks is this – Love. If there was one word that jumped off the page when reading 1 John, it would be “love.” I would put John’s letter next to 1 Cor 13, maybe even before it, in its impassioned call for us to love one another. Consider the call to love in 1 John –

  • (1 John 2:10) Whoever loves his brother abides in the light, and in him there is no cause for stumbling.
  • (1 John 3:10–11) By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother. For this is the message that you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another.
  • (1 John 4:7–8) Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.
  • (1 John 4:19–21) We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.
  • (1 John 5:1) Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves whoever has been born of him.

Certainly, the list is not exhaustive, but the evidence is clear. If we are in Christ, we will love God, and we will certainly love one another.

J.C. Ryle put articulated the point so well:

A man born again, or regenerate, then, has a special love for all true disciples of Christ. Like his Father in heaven, he loves all men with a great general love, but he has a special love for those who are of one mind with himself. Like his Lord and Savior, he loves the worst of sinners, and could weep over them; but he has a peculiar love for those who are believers. He is never so much at home as when he is in their company. He is never so happy as when he is among the saints and the excellent of the earth. Others may value learning, or cleverness, or agreeableness, or riches or rank, in the society they choose. The regenerate man values Grace. Those who have most Grace, and are most like Christ, are those he most loves. He feels that they are members of the same family with himself. He feels that they are his fellow-soldiers, warring against the same enemy. He feels that they are his fellow-travelers, journeying along the same road. He understands them, and they understand him. He and they may be very different in many ways-in rank, in station, in wealth. What matter? They are Jesus Christ’s people. They are his Father’s sons and daughters. Then he cannot help loving them.

The evidence given, then, for every believer is this: Love one another. Here are the evaluative questions: Do I love fellow Christians? Do I look forward to our fellowship together? Do I seek forgiveness and willingly give it because of our shared grace in Jesus Christ? Will I invest my time, my life, my energies, to show my love to those in need?

Beloved, let us love one another!

SDG

A New Way of Thinking

“Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God”
Romans 15:7 (ESV)

Last Sunday I began a series of sermons here at Memorial Presbyterian Church on the New Life in Christ, focusing then on Ezekiel 36:26-28, how we recieve a New Heart from God to replace our hearts of stone.  In God’s mind-blowing way, and with no contrivance on my part, the sermon tied in so well with the “Midweek Message” which I wrote about being a loving congregation.  One of the reasons why the church has a hard time being the kind of loving community that Christ intends for us to be is our cold and wandering hearts.  This week, I am preaching on what it means to receive a New Mind from God, a mind not fixed on the things of the flesh, but on the things of the Spirit (Rom 8:5-8).  (You can listen to the sermons at www.cmpres.com.) If we’re honest, our old minds are another reason why we are not always the kind of community Christ has called us to be.

If you’ve done any reading on Church Growth, Mission Development, or just plain Church Management (though I can’t imagine why you would have), you’ll find most of the literature is written from a corporate or sociological perspective.  After all, if the business models work for corporations and non-profit agencies, shouldn’t they work for the church?  So many attempts have been made to model the church after the world, to judge the success of the church by the world’s standards – have we forgotten what it means to be the church?

If we are to really be the church, the body of Christ in the world, shouldn’t we look different from every other business model that the world offers?  We are not a corporation who gathers to put on a good show to entertain our audience.  We are not an organization that exists to serve its members. 

We are a community called by God, and when we come together, we are to renew and re-commit ourselves to the God who has covenanted to be with us.  We are a community marked by the cross, and when we come together we remember the calling of Christ to die to ourselves, our passions, our goals, and to follow Him.  We are a community filled with God’s Holy Spirit, and when we come together we need to listen to the Spirit’s teaching in God’s word, sing and pray in the joy of the Spirit, and go into the world to serve God in the power of the Spirit.

Too often, the worldly mind, the mind that is “set on the things of the flesh” can creep into and overwhelm the church.  When we start thinking about church in worldly ways, in ways that lead to death as Romans says, the life and joy of what the Christian community dies.  The church will not survive if it operates like the world, and the world will not survive without the church. 

If the church cannot be a place of forgiveness, what can?
If the church cannot be a place of peace, what can?
If the church cannot be a place of grace, what can?
If the church cannot be a place holiness, what can?
If the church cannot be a place of purity, what can?
If the church cannot be a place of love, what can?
If the church cannot be a place of service, what can?

What we need, once God renews our hearts, is for God to renew our minds as well.  We need to come to church, to do church, with our minds set on the things of the Spirit.  Letting the fruits of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control) guide and direct our every word, our every decision, our every action will dramatically transform the church from a gathering of man to the community of Christ.

SDG

A more excellent way…

“And I will show you a still more excellent way…”
I Corinthians 12:31 (ESV)

I have to confess, in preparation for this morning’s men’s bible study I was convicted in my reading of I Corinthians 13:

4 Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant 5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6 it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. 7 Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 8 Love never ends…
1 Corinthians 13:4–8 (ESV)

Usually this passage is read in weddings, and it is a wonderful text for the wedding service.  If more couples would take these words to heart, we would find stronger and healthier marriages and families. 

The reality is, though, that this passage has nothing to do with marriage.  The letter to the Corinthian church was written to a broken and divided community.  They were divided over which pastor they liked, they tolerated overt and heinous sin openly practiced by members of the church, they were filled up with pride in their accomplishments and fighting over the importance of their giftedness in the Holy Spirit.  Most notably, the Corinthian church made a mockery of the Lord’s Supper by allowing the wealthy to gorge themselves on the meal, getting drunk on the wine of the table, while ignoring the needs of the poor and keeping them from the table.  This was a broken and divided church.

Paul gave counsel and correction on the issues that plagued the Corinthian church, addressing the particular problems they faced.  But in chapters 12-14, Paul addresses the heart of the matter.  The problem of the Corinthian church wasn’t necessarily poor theology, the problem was a lack of love.  The division and in-fighting of the church was a direct result of the lack of love the community shared.  They were tremendously gifted, but all of those gifts, without love, were meaningless.  Of all the gifts we could desire from the Holy Spirit, the greatest and most fundamental gift is that of love.

Every day it seems we hear of divisions and fighting within the church.  Competition between denominations, controversies that arise in national churches, arguments that ensue within local congregations; the problems of the Corinthian church are with us today.  I wonder, how many of these divisions are a result of our lack of love?

I know that I struggle with this daily.  It is easier for me to respond in the way of the world.  When somebody offends me, or questions my integrity, or says something to cut me down; my first inclination is to respond in kind.  But I hear the Spirit teaching me: Love is patient, kind, humble; it does not insist on its own way, is not irritable or resentful.  Love does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth.  Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things.  Love never ends.

Have you been upset by someone in the church, or some decision made by your church recently.  Have you said to yourself, “I just won’t have anything to do with that person,” or “I’m just not going to participate in that event?”  Are we divided as a church, as the body of Christ, over the songs we sing on Sunday morning or the decision made by a particular committee, rather than, in love, “not insisting on our own way, bearing all things, believing all things, hoping all things, and believing all things?”  John MacArthur wrote in his study on this passage, “It is tragic that in many churches, as in the one in ancient Corinth, the love that is basic to Christian character does not characterize the membership or the ministry.” 

I have been challenged by this passage today to be a more loving person.  Have you?  May we, regardless of where we may be, commit today, by the grace of God, to be a more loving church!

SDG

Practical Love

But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? ” (1 John 3:17)

For those of you who don’t know how I plan my sermons, I usually take a day in the fall to plan out my preaching plan for the year.  This allows me to put the whole year in perspective, working up to the big days like Easter and Christmas, and along the way focusing on important themes or working through books of the Bible.  Still, it always amazes me how God’s Spirit works through such planning.

I selected I John for the beginning of the year thinking, “Let’s start the new year studying what it means to love one another so that we can become a more loving community.”  Working through 1 John we’ve seen how our assurance of salvation comes from the evidence of the new life that Christ has given us – that is, if we are saved we will follow his command to love one another (1 John 2:5).  Then we saw how, if we are walking with Christ, we must love our brother, so that there will be no cause for stumbling (1 John 2:10).  Last week we were reminded that as the children of God we are growing in the likeness of Christ (1 John 3:3).  This week we will see how our love for God is expressed in a very real and practical demonstration of love for our brother (1 John 3:17).

We cannot love God without that love being demonstrated in our love for those around us.  As John writes, if we have the world’s goods at our disposal and see our brother in need, yet we close our hearts to him, how can God’s love abide in us?  James 2:15 says, “If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?”  When Jesus told the parable of the final judgment, he said that he would separate the sheep from the goats.  To the sheep he would say, “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.”  When asked when they had done this, the Lord said, “As you did it to one of the least of these my brothers ,you did it to me” (Matthew 25:31-40).

Two weeks ago a powerful earthquake hit approximately 10 miles from the capital of Haiti, Port-au-Prince.  Millions of people have been affected by this disaster and over 150,000 are reported dead.  With many of the established sources of safety and security demolished – churches, schools, hospitals, and government buildings – survivors are searching for signs of hope and help.

The Presbyterian Church (USA) is responding through Presbyterian Disaster Assistance (PDA).  World Mission is in contact with and providing support to current mission personnel in Haiti.  PDA is rushing an initial $100,000 from One Great Hour of Sharing and designated funds to provide immediate emergency relief to the affected people.  Funds are being sent through our ecumenical and local partners working in Haiti.

What can we do to help?  The PDA recommends we stand in the “GAP”

Give – Financial support for relief efforts can be designated to DR000064.  Gifts can be made online at www.pcusa.org/pda, by phone at (800)872-3283, or checks can be mailed to Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, P.O. Box 643700, Pittsburgh, PA 15264-3700.

Act – Congregations and individuals can put together hygiene kits to be distributed through Church World Services.  Contact your local church to find out more about how you can help.

Pray – You can join with others in lifting up the people of Haiti and those seeking to provide aid in this critical time.

Beloved, let us love one another, and may our love for God be shown in how we love those who are in need.

Grace and peace,

SDG