Thursday, June 19, 2014

Love One Another - Part VI


Well, after a delay of several months, I'm finally completing the Love One Another series. To be honest, I haven't been writing much of anything these days, as words and thoughts are just not playing nice. What develops within my mind rarely reaches the page and that has been one of the most frustrating things that I've recently dealt with. But as I woke up this morning, and the effects of caffeine began to settle in, the words of 1 John 4:16 popped into my head for some reason. In this passage I was reminded that I am compelled and driven to write because of love. This is not always apparent to me because there are many reasons for why I write, but love is the driving force of why I write. As I began to think of completing this discussion on what it means to "love one another", I was consumed by the fact that I have not been doing a very good job at loving others. And that is a very convicting and sobering realization when you read 1 John 4:16.       

When we are confronted with the simple, essential and all encompassing theological fact that "God is love", we come to the realization that not only does God have love to express to each of us, He is the very essence and existence of love. Through Christ, we are surrounded by the love that emanates from all that He is. God immerses us in love so that we then have the ability to effortlessly reflect it to those around us. As we go about our day, we realize that all of nature reflects God's love. The air that we breath is being saturated with God's love. And the light that radiates from the sun is the very manifestation of the love of God as it illuminates our path and warms our soul. But there is a very critical catch to this concept.

"God is love" is not an isolated declaration. Just before this revealing divine attribute, John reminds us that "Whoever does not love does not know God," Therefore we see that love is somewhat conditional. Not conditional on what we do or do not do in this world. Not conditional on our circumstances or even those that we come in contact with. Love is not conditional on how we feel or act. In fact, love is really not conditional on anything that evolves from this natural world but is linked essentially to the supernatural. If God is love, then true love can only come from God, and when God is acknowledged as the source of our love we find ourselves linked to the divine. When God is placed at the center of our lives, loving one another is not an effort that we need to be reminded to do, but a reflection of Christ living and breathing through us. In reality, it is not we that express love, but love being expressed through us and God being made manifest in this world. Yes, God is love. But love can only truly be expressed and experienced by first recognizing that God is. Let us end our discussion by hearing what this final group of friends has to say about what it means to "love one another".  Thanks to all who participated in this project. If you missed the previous installations, check out parts 1 through 5 under the same name: Love One Another.


"To love one another means to do unto others as Christ has done unto us. Living God's love is not the strain of 'doing'. Living God's love is relaxing into the grace of our baptismal identities, where the Calvary-shaped love that has saved us starts to become the shape of our lives. That's why Jesus calls us his friends, cause mates get the inside joke, they know what's going on, and what's going on is as Christ has loved us, we are empowered to love one another.”

- Jarod Saul McKenna

Jarrod is World Vision Australia’s National Advisor on Youth, Faith & Activism in a full-time capacity at the invitation of Tim Costello. In the last year alone, Jarrod has run his peace award winning social change training on 3 continents, in 12 counties, to over 10,000 young people. Jarrod, with his wife Teresa and son Tyson, are three of 17 people living at First Home Project; an innovative community modeling how is a real alternative to detention.You can connect with Jarrod of Facebook or World Vision Australia.



“To see the people through the eyes of Jesus. Let the attitudes and desires revealed in scripture so richly dwell in us that they exude to "one another." To inhale mercy, and breath out promise. 

- Frank Aragon  

Frank has been in the music ministry since 1994. A song writer and recording artist in Texas that also serves on staff at Heritage Park Baptist church south of Houston. Frank and his wife Sara met at Texas A&M, and have four children and foster infants. Connect with Frank on Facebook and Twitter @aragon_tunes



“Loving one another is about entering into the suffering, broken parts of other's lives and offering a listening ear as a place of healing. It's about gathering together with the outcasts and weather worn travelers and be redeemed through a sacred space called community.”

- Beth Orchard

Beth is a lifestyle, relationship and wellness coach living in the
western suburbs of Chicago. She has written several small pieces published yearly in the DuPage Writer’s Group (DWG) *Possibilities* journal and a few other independent publications. Beth has a deep love for working with the homeless, mentally ill and in issues of social justice such as human trafficking. She has a passion for writing short stories, plays and loves to travel overseas. Connect with Beth at http://www.tricorehealth.com.



“To love one another means giving up our needs in order to help someone get what they need most. The best example of this is when Jesus said, "Not my will be done, but your will be done." That means that love is primarily a choice rather than of a feeling or mere emotion.”

– Mike Bauer

Mike is Lead Pastor of Oak Creek Bible Church in League City, Texas. He is married to his wife Shawn and they have four children: three boys and one girl. Mike has 18 years of ministry experience and has served as an associate pastor, youth pastor and children's pastor. He has a deep love for Christ and the Church and has a strong vision for transforming the culture for the Kingdom of God.


 
“What does it mean to love one another? I've come upon few definitions better than the one Rex Andrews gives for mercy. He writes, "Mercy is God's supply system for every need everywhere. Mercy is that kindness, compassion and tenderness which is the passion to suffer with, or participate in another's ills or evils in order to relieve, heal, and restore. It accepts another freely and gladly as he is and supplies the needed good of life to build up and to bring to peace and keep in peace. It is to take another into one's heart JUST AS HE IS and cherish and nourish him there. Mercy takes another's sins and evils and faults as its own, and frees the other by bearing them to God. This is the Glow-of-love." Jesus embodied this perfectly and calls us to do the same.”

– Chad Holtz

Chad is the fortunate husband to Amy and proud father to 5 kids. He pastors at Mountain View UMC in Dayton, TN and is most passionate about seeing people lives changed by Jesus. He and his wife blog about their freedom from addiction and brokenness at www.desiremercy.wordpress.com


 
“I think loving one another is summed up by Philippians 2:3 "Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves." There is never a time when God says it's OK to be selfish, so we are called to constantly put the needs of others above our own and trust God to provide for our needs (Matt. 6:25-33). We we're also told in multiple places that if we don't have love for one another, then the love of the Father can't possibly be in us.” 

– Chris Lanig

Chris has been playing music and leading worship in the Houston/Galveston area since 1998. He has a passion for the good news of Jesus Christ and to see the Bride of Christ passionately worshiping and serving God in unity. Chris has been married to his beautiful bride Courtney since 2007, and they have 3 children, Granger, Adilynn, and Christopher. Connect with Chris on Facebook.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Jesus FAIL


As I celebrated Holy Week, I found myself pondering the same things that I seem to do each year. There is almost a dark “real time” anticipation of the events that transpired over 2000 years ago. I meditate and imagine what the week must have been like. I imagine the lingering excitement from Jesus’ Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday and the great hope that gripped the hearts of the crowd. I imagine the celebration as the crowds gathered for the Passover. But I also imagine the thoughts that must have been going through the minds of the disciples in the upper room and on Golgotha. Messiah had finally come. The Roman yoke of oppression was just about to be cast off and Jesus was going to lead the way! "Hosanna!"  But then things begin to radically change and unravel with the washing of some dirty feet and the eating of a meal.

Hearts began to sink. Anxiety levels escalated. Tears fell. It appeared to be the end of the line as Jesus unfolded the details of what was to come. As he predicted, He was arrested and beaten. He was rejected by the same people who celebrated His entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. And finally, on Good Friday, He was nailed to a cross, breathed His last breath and uttered, "It is finished." He died.  Finished? He was taken down from the cross and buried. From all practical perspectives, it was over, and as Jesus' disciples gathered together on that Sabbath before the Resurrection, the pain, fear and grief must have been overwhelming.

Was it really finished? Good Friday and Holy Saturday did not carry with them the anticipation, preparation and joy that it does for us today. For those who followed Jesus, it appeared that there was nothing to look forward to, except the same possible fate that met their friend. The end of the line, boys. "Jesus is dead!  And we're next!  You're going to get your wish, Peter!  Believe what you want, Thomas!  But you're doubting ass will be hanging on a cross by sundown!"          

"Where did things go wrong?”, they must have thought have thought. “How did we misinterpret what Jesus had been telling us over the last three years”?, they must have asked themselves. “Were we totally misled?” “Are we all fools? Morons?” “Was our mission with Jesus a complete failure?” FAIL! Their feet were clean, but their minds were cloudy as they waited. The anxiety must have felt like the weight of the world. Fear. Rejection. Anger. Confusion. All of these emotions must have been running wild as they mourned the death of their Rabbi. Their leader. Their friend. From the view of the world, this must have appeared to be the perfect failure.

Time doesn’t permit me to go on and on with the thoughts that flood my mind this morning, but I encourage you to ponder these things as well for one very simple reason. There appears to be two sides to this story. One side tells us that this was in fact, a perfect failure. This side leaves Jesus in His tomb and leaves the disciples defeated, broken, dejected, afraid and probably eventually dead. The other side of the story is victorious. Renewal. Transformation. Resurrection power. The power that took these eleven broken men that cowered in fear, and used them to transform the world. He is risen! This was not a perfect failure, but complete victory!

There are two stories to every story, isn't there? And as we observe Good Friday, each of us stand on the cusp of the breakthrough that changed humanity. From the perspective of Good Friday, and Good Friday alone, we live in a constant duality of existence. Good Friday leaves us in Chaos, fear and defeat. Good Friday blows a cold wind of disunity, rejection and separation. Good Friday leaves us isolated, cowering in fear, feeling disconnected from God and humanity. Good Friday leave us in fear of death. There is a division that exists with Good Friday, and it creeps in to pollute our communities, even with the realization of the Resurrection .      

As we walk through Good Friday, let us reflect on what Sunday will mean to us. Let us remind ourselves that the darkness of Good Friday will eventually be joined and obscured by the light of Easter Sunday. Easter brings order, peace and victory. Easter Sunday brings unity, acceptance and connection. Easter Sunday finds us in community with out fellow man, celebrating in courage as God's cleansing Spirit flows through creation and mankind. There is a oneness that exists for us on Easter Sunday as we see that Christ's victorious redemption applies to us all, without division.

But the questions remains for us all: Are we living our lives in shadow of Good Friday, or the briliant light of Easter Sunday? Do we cower in the upper room, defeated, disconnected and absorbed with grief? Isolated? Alone? He is risen, and if he is truly risen, then why do we not rise with Him? And if we truly rise with Him, do we not all rise together in complete unification?

As we celebrate Good Friday, let us remember that this shadow will pass over. Let us look forward to the unity and completion of Sunday. Death brings life. Let our vision be encompassed with the vision of Resurrection, not death. Let us join together as the Body of Christ, embracing each other as we suffer. Let us carry each others burden through Friday and journey together in unity.  All things are new, my friends!  All things are new!

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Maundy Thursday and Communion

It's no surprise that many churches today fail to acknowledge the deep spiritual significance of Communion, Eucharist or the Lord's Supper. Rather than the observance being the center of worship, it is typically tacked on to the end of a normal service. We quickly go through the motions with a somewhat fast food mentality, complete with plastic cups and prepackaged wafers. Doesn't exactly resemble a meal, or memorial for that matter. Whether observed every Sunday, once and month or every quarter, most Christian Churches incorporate Communion as part of their community of faith.  

Today is Holy Thursday, also called Maundy Thursday. If you didn't grow up in one of the liturgical churches, you've probably never heard of this celebration. It has several traditionally rich aspects, but the most significant is the commemoration of the the Last Supper that Jesus Christ celebrated with His disciples, the night before He was crucified on Good Friday. While Palm Sunday and Easter focus on the more joyful aspects of the Lenten Season, Holy Thursday, as well as Good Friday and Ash Wednesday, commemorate the more solemn and reflective acts of Christ and traditions of this season. Although these celebrations are more somber, they remain just as powerful and meaningful to the Christian faith.

The name “Maundy Thursday” comes from a Latin word "mandatum" which means “commandment.”  If you're familiar with John's Gospel, you'll recognize that the essential commandment in Jesus’ message is found in the story of the Last Supper, when He humbles Himself and washes the feet of his apostles just before the traditional Passover meal. Afterward, He commands his friends to “Love one another as I have loved you” (John 13:34). In some churches and traditions, the observance of this commandment, the act of feet-washing, is often performed by pastoral ministers as part of Holy Thursday service.

The Last Supper story, which developed to become the Eucharist, Holy Communion or the Lord's Supper, is described in all three of the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark & Luke), and expounded on in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians. Christians commemorate the Last Supper by sharing communion to commemorate the sacrificial death that Christ would eventually make on Good Friday. While different denominations may maintain different specific interpretations of this tradition, many incorporate a special communion into the Maundy Thursday liturgy.

It's believed that the Last Supper was a Passover meal and that has had a strong influence on the way that many Christians mark Maundy Thursday, and observe communion in general. It is not uncommon for smaller groups or entire congregations to celebrate the occasion with a traditional Passover Seder instead of or in addition to church services and communion. The Maundy Thursday Seder has been used by many as an occasion to remember and celebrate the origins of Christianity in Judaism and the strong ties that the two religions maintain.

As with me and my family, you may be observing Holy Thursday this evening. If not, let me encourage you to just spend some time reflecting on these events that took place over 2000 years ago. Remember the importance of the Last Supper, reminding us of Christ's body that was broken and His blood that was shed.  Meditate on the humility that He urges us to emulate as He washed the dirty feet of His disciples. And remember the command that we often conveniently forget, "Love one another."

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Lenten Reflections: Holy Week


"The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted, "Hosanna to the Son of David!" "Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!" "Hosanna in the highest heaven!"  
     Matthew 21:9

Saturday night, the lights of the city were in view. 

JERUSALEM: Next Exit

We stretched our legs and cast off the dust that we had been carrying for 40 days.

Our long journey came to an end.

It was a "long and winding road", wasn't it?

Palm Sunday. The embodiment of Lent and all that we've been through and experienced. Utmost joy and deepest pain rolled into one. Celebration and mourning. Two birds killed with one stone.

The overwhelming welcome for Jesus and His followers would soon give way to a roller coaster ride of events and emotions that would leave Jesus rejected, beaten and killed, and the disciples scattered, confused, dejected and terrified. They had no idea what was to come. We see the end with complete clarity.

"Hosanna!" soon would become "Crucify!"

The one that the people called Messiah and begged, "Save us!", would soon morph into someone that they saw no salvation in whatsoever.

Even today, how quickly we change what and where we find our salvation.

Are we any different?

Sunday we shouted, "Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord." 

This week we'll join the crowds: "Crucify Him!"    

Sunday we came to the end of Lent. We cast off the dust that we've carried since Ash Wednesday. Our mourning turned to joy. Celebration. Culmination. Long awaited redemption. But reality stares us in the face with those who rejoiced over 2000 years ago. Rejoicing is short lived and transparent. We join the crowds. We condemn. We spit. We beat and torture. We crucify.

Let's not kid ourselves. We still have a few difficult days ahead of us. Have we learned enough from Lent to carry us to Golgotha? I can see it in the distance.

Lord, as we join with the crowds in declaring, "Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.", help us to not turn our backs. Help us not join the crowds. Help us to stand on our own if we have to. We know how easy it is to follow others, even when it means betraying You. Keep us close. Let us suffer with You as we celebrate as well. Because it is in our suffering that we find our perfect joy. Amen   

 

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Lenten Reflections: Fifth Sunday of Lent


"And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." - Philippians 4:7

Peace be with you! 

"Imagine all the people living life in peace." - John Lennon


Peace is not something that is easily obtained in the world today. In many ways, peace is a priceless commodity because without it, nothing in our lives has any value. When we experience peace, nothing can shake us. When peace is not to be found, we wonder if it even exists.

Peace be with me?

We usually choose a fickle peace; a peace built on circumstances. We offer it on Sunday morning, and sell to to the highest bidder on Monday. We usually choose self-peace.    

God's peace is all encompassing. Self-peace is isolated. 

God's peace surrounds us like being submerged in the ocean. Self-peace comes from wading in to the knees. 

St. Patrick knew the all encompassing peace of God, for he reveals it to us when he prayed....
 
May Christ shield me today.
Christ with me, Christ before me,
Christ behind me,
Christ in me, Christ beneath me,
Christ above me,
Christ on my right, Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit,
Christ when I stand,


Amen