Love Came Down: A Christmas Meditation on John 3:16

rawpixel-com-445786Christmas is a time filled many wild and wonderful traditions.

 

For instance, the Japanese celebrate Christmas with their favorite holiday meal—Kentucky Fried Chicken. Since 1974 KFC has been the Japanese’ Christmas meal. If you traveled to the Philippines in this season, you’d come across a festival of giant lanterns, where 11 different village compete to build the largest and most elaborate lantern.

If you go to Europe, you will find the Austrians pair Saint Nicholas with a demonic figure named Krampus. St. Nick rewards the good boys and girls; Krampus punishes the bad ones. And if you go up to Iceland, you will hear of 13 Yule Lads—13 tricksy trolls who break into homes and lick spoons, slam doors, and steal yogurt.

Here in America too, Christmas is filled with tradition. From gifts under the tree to long lines at the mall, from Santa Baby to the Trans-Siberian orchestra, our country celebrates the season with all sorts traditions that make us feel the Christmas spirit. Continue reading

Grasping the Covenantal Love of Psalm 136

zoriana-stakhniv-347480Psalm 136 is a glorious, antiphonal Psalm detailing the steadfast love of God with the various actions of God’s redemption throughout history. A brief reading of the Psalm notices the Psalm’s uniqueness, where every attribute of God or demonstration of power is followed by the refrain: “for his steadfast love endures forever” (ESV) or “for His lovingkindness is everlasting” (NASB).

In all, the Psalm praises God for who he is (vv. 1–3), what he has done in creation (vv. 3–9), what he has done for Israel in redemption (vv. 10–22), and what he has done for “us in our low estate” (vv. 23–26). The last four verses seem to reflect a move from history to personal experience.

Certainly, in these 26 verses, the Psalmist is using repetition to stress the covenant love of God. Yet, it is tempting to skip over the refrains,  thinking I’ve read this before. But this is to miss the force of God’s love, if the reader replaces “his steadfast love endures forever” with some kind of mental “ditto.” Indeed, this repeated explanation for God’s action reveals much about God’s love and works powerfully to impress his love on our hearts.

Therefore, lets consider five truths about God’s covenantal love, that may help us better hear Psalm 136 and give praise to God. Continue reading

Walk Worthy (pt 2): Walking in (His) Love (Ephesians 5:1–5)

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Walk Worthy (pt. 2): Walking in His Love (Ephesians 5:1–5)

After laying out the riches of God’s grace and glory in Ephesians 1–3, Paul turns to the way in which Christians are to walk in their new life. Five times in Ephesians 4–5 he uses the word “walk:— in light of Christ’s work of salvation, Paul calls us to walk worthy of our calling (4:1), to walk unlike Gentiles (4:17), to walk in love (5:1), to walk in light (5:8), and to walk in wisdom (5:15).

In this week’s sermon, I consider the third of these instructions, to walk in love. Based on a close reading of Ephesians, we learn that walking in love depends on knowing, delighting, and experiencing God’s love. Only as we walk in his love, can we express love to others—especially love to those who are unlovely.

You can listen to this message online or read the sermon notes. Discussion questions and additional resources are listed below. Continue reading

Finding Life in Leviticus 19: Ten Gospel Notes for Social Justice Warriors

commandments-311202__480The Ten Commandments are listed twice in the Old Testament—once in Exodus 20; once in Deuteronomy 5. They are also explicated at least twice. After each list (Exodus 21–23 and Deuteronomy 12–25), Moses specifies and applies the Lord’s “ten words.” This means that we do not need to wait for Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5–7) to get an inspired interpretation and application of these commands. There is, within the Torah itself, explanation and application.

In fact, there is one other passage on the Ten Commandments which stands between Exodus and Deuteronomy. In Leviticus 19 Moses records the holy standards of God and makes personal application to the people of Israel. In reading this chapter recently, I took note of ten observations related to the content and context of these laws. I share them here to help us to better understand the good purposes of God’s Law, and specifically to show how many modern desires are best fulfilled by God’s all-sufficient Word.

In short, Leviticus 19 is not an archaic list of do’s and don’ts; it is actually a personal application of the Law which deals with so many of the issues Social Justice Warriors seek out. Only because these “laws” are grounded in the personal, holy love of Israel’s God, they retain their life-giving shape—something that no human set of ordinances can ever do.

Take time to read Leviticus 19 and consider how these laws give life by leading members of God’s covenant to trust in him. Continue reading

Welcome One Another: Five Ways to Show Hospitality at Church

welcomeWelcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.
— Romans 15:7 —

In the Bible hospitality is no small matter. From Abraham to the Apostles, God called his people to greet one another with love and concern. For instance, in the Old Testament it was more than a cultural faux pas to deny hospitality; it was an indictment against the whole village. Likewise, in the New Testament we find John commending the believers to welcome into their homes those who have gone out for the sake of the name (3 John 8). And Paul makes hospitality (i.e., love for strangers) a necessary part of an elder’s qualification (Titus 1:8; 1 Timothy 3:2).

In churches today, the command to welcome one another in the Lord is no less emphatic.  While Western Christians live in an upwardly mobile culture, where grocery stores overflow with food, and people typically present themselves as self-sufficient, we know from Scripture (and experience) that weakness and worry—not strength and sufficiency—is our natural condition. Accordingly, to fulfill God’s calling to love others, we must make hospitality a priority in the church. After all, Scripture says this glorifies God (Romans 15:7)

If we are going to glorify God in our church, we cannot simply put effort into good music, good preaching, and good Sunday schools; we must also give attention to good hospitality. And such an emphasis goes beyond a team of people with name tags greeting people at the door. For all of us committed to making disciples and sharing the love of Christ, we should feel a happy burden on Sundays to look for others to meet, greet, and take out to eat.

What follows, therefore, are 5 practices to help us as a church love those who gather with us know and experience the love of God. Continue reading

Love Never Ends (1 Corinthians 13:8–13)

sermon photoThis last Sunday we considered how love endures, looking at four movements in Paul’s argument in 1 Corinthians 13:8-13.

  • From the temporary to the eternal (v. 8)
  • From the partial to the perfect (vv. 9-10)
  • From the child to the man (v. 11)
  • From the mirror to face to face (v. 12)

Sermon audio is available online; discussion question and study resources are listed below.

1 Corinthians 13:8-13

8 Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. 11 When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. 12 For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. 13 So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

Discussion Questions

Continue reading

The Necessity and Definition of Love (1 Corinthians 13:1–8a)

sermon photoYesterday, Ben Purves, pastor for student ministries at our church, preached a tremendous message on 1 Corinthians 13. Let me encourage you to listen to his message, “The Necessity and Definition of Love,” as he unpacks Paul’s explanation of love in the context of spiritual gifts. Even more, Ben also showed us how Christ fulfilled the qualities of love and how we can look to Christ to find his love, and then how we can love one another more effectively.

Below you will also find discussion questions on 1 Corinthians 13 and a few resources on 1 Corinthians 13, including a five-part series on 1 Corinthians 13 that I preached a number of years ago.  Continue reading

More Than a Feeling: What Does Love Really Look Like?

buildMaybe you’ve heard or maybe you’ve said statements like this about your church: “I felt so loved in that church,” or “This church feels so loving.” I hope people say that about your church and mine, but I wonder: What does love “feel” like in the church, really? Is it just that, a feeling, or is it something more concrete? Or maybe it is something of both? Can we see love, or should we close our eyes and put out our antennae to pick up the vibe? I jest a little, but it’s an important question, because it will shape our aims in church. What does a loving church look like?

Thankfully, the Apostle Paul doesn’t leave us wondering. Love looks like a construction zone, or at least it looks like people denying themselves to build up others and using their gifts to help “construct,” or edify, others in the church. On this point Richard Hays observes a predominant theme in Paul’s letters. The temple-conscience loves to use the verb oikodomein (‘to build up’) and the noun oikodomē  (‘upbuilding, edification’) “to refer to loving actions that benefit the whole community” (Richard Hays, First Corinthians175).

Consider a sampling of verses which show this. Continue reading

Loving God By Loving Others (1 Corinthians 8:7–13)

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A chapter on “meat sacrificed to idols” may not, at first glance, look like the most relevant subject for us modern technophiles, but as is always the case—the eternal Word of God is living and active and never dull in bringing piercing insight to our lives. In 1 Corinthians 8 Paul addresses the strong and weak consciences of the Corinthian believers and challenges those with “knowledge” (a key idea in this chapter) to use that gift to care for and edify their weaker members in the church.

This chapter is one of a few key passages that deal with conscience (the others include Romans 14–15; Galatians 2; and Colossians 2). It also shows how love must be worked out in matters where Scripture does not give a specific command. From the love God has shown us in Christ, we are to love in steadfast and sacrificial ways, to people who are not like us, with the goal of spiritual unity and edification.

In preparation for this message I found great help from a book on the conscience (Conscience by Andy Naselli and J.D. Crowley) and from considering the the nature of idolatry and meals in Corinth. You can find a few reflections on Naselli’s book here and notes on the culture here.  For further reflection, you can listen to the sermon, read the sermon notes, or discuss the questions and resources below. Continue reading

Loving the One, True, Triune God (1 Corinthians 8:1–6)

sermon photoIn the Gospels, Jesus says the “Great Commandment” is to love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength and to love your neighbor as yourself (e.g., Mark 12:29–30). Indeed, it is impossible to love God and hate others (1 John 4:20–21). Just the same, it is ultimately unloving to do good to others without reference to the God of love; true love labors and suffers to increase another’s joy in the love of God.

This week our sermon considered this intersection, how knowing God means loving God and then loving others. In the context of 1 Corinthians 8, love for God looks like rejecting culturally-acceptable idols and sacrificing our own rights to serve the needs of others, especially our church family. You can listen to the sermon here or read the outline here.

Below you can find discussion questions and further resources on the love of God and fighting idolatry in our day. Continue reading