Saturday, April 30, 2011

Love One Another - A Lost Passge: John 13:39 - 47

39 "Peter said, "Lord, I will never deny you!  I love you and will stand by you until the very end!"

40  Jesus replied, "Peter, how can you say that you love me when you will surely deny that you even know me?  I command you to love one another.  To love one another is not to think of oneself.  Love as I have loved you."  

41   Peter began to weep and fell to his knees in sorrow.  "Lord!", Peter cried out.  "You have loved me as I am.  You have loved all of us, even though we have done nothing to deserve your love!  How can I love that way?  What if no one loves me the way you have loved me?"

42  Jesus placed his hand on Peter's shoulder.  Peter looked up to see Jesus' eyes looking on him with love and compassion. "Peter, love one another.", Jesus said.  "Love one another", he repeated.  "As I have loved you, so you must love one another.  This is what I command you to do."  

43  "But what about me, Lord?", Peter said while weeping.  "Who will love me?  What if no one returns my love?"    

44  Jesus called the other disciples and they gathered around him.  He looked at them with compassion, knowing that they did not understand what he meant when he said, "Love one another."  45  "Do you not understand what I have commanded you to do?  Do you love one another?  Or do you only hope to receive love?  Do you only hope to be loved as I have loved you?  I command you.  Love one another."

45  "Loving one another has nothing to do with you and the self.", "Jesus continued.  "The self must be denied.  You are not commanded to be loved.  You are commanded to love.  In loving one another, the cycle of love is made complete.  If each of you loves one another, as I have loved you, you will indeed be loved as I have loved you.  In this way, love is made complete.  Live your lives in love, for in loving completely, you too will be loved."

46  The disciples looked at Jesus, finally understanding what he was commanding them to do.  "It is not that we loved you, Lord.  It is that you first loved us.  We understand what you mean when you say, "Love one another.  May we love each other as you have loved us."

47  Jesus knew what was in their hearts, for he knew all men.  He knew that they understood his command, but he also knew that it would prove to be very difficult for them.  He knew that this command to love one another, would be difficult for generations to come.  

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Norms & Fringes

I got into an interesting conversation this week with a good friend of mine.  We're about the same age and started discussing the punk movement of the late 70s and early 80s that we grew up with.  Neither of us were really considered "punks", but we listened to the music and were influenced a great deal by the philosophies that arose from the culture.  As we talked, we began to ask each other how this type of culture compares to the "norm" of society today.  What determines "normal" American culture?  What determines some groups to be considered "sub-cultures" of fringes of society?  Is there a "right" and "wrong" way of living, simply in terms of amoral lifestyles?  Who sets the standards, and are those standards necessarily deemed as "normal" just because they have been determined to be standards?

Meditating further on this, we discussed trends in history and how other countries have followed similar paths.  Western culture differs greatly from Eastern, and influences in philosophy, as well as religion, have developed the images we as common.  We see this in the development of the enlightenment, modernity and the post-modern culture of today.  My friend also pointed to the fact that authority has great influence on what is considered normative, and results in the inevitable descent and those groups that consequently become subcultures.  Regardless if something is considered moral, those in authority dictate what is considered "normative" and to a great extent, how a culture develops over time.  You can see this narrowed down from state to state, and even city to city.  Any way you look at it, a great deal of normative and fringe culture comes down to one thing: authority.

My friend asked me what I think the standard looks like, and if there is a so called standard, then what does the fringes look like.  I'm a very visual person, so I instantly came up with a picture in my mind.  Think of a tree branch with several smaller branches stemming from the main one.  The main branch would be the average American picture of normal and the smaller branches would be considered fringes, or possibly subcultures.  However, that got me thinking as well.  Normal would depend of the culture you reside in, right?  The normal branch will look different for me because of the culture I currently live in.  For me, it's the typical suburban, minivan, 2.5 kids, soccer on Saturday picture of Americana.  But for someone living in Manhattan, their picture of normal is going to look very different.  Hence, the fringes are going to look different as well.  So depending on what the main branch looks like, the smaller branches are going to vary in how they look and what might dictate them to be such.  A fringe branch may be a main branch in other circumstances and cultures, and vice-versa.         

So, this got me thinking about culture and how it all coincides with faith.  One of the basic tenants of Christianity is that God is our ultimate authority for life and how we live.  Through prayer, revelation and Scripture, He communicates the details of His standards and we follow suit the best we can by implementing these aspects into our life.  When you think about this from one perspective, there would consequently be a normative life picture that would develop, right?  But let's look at this from another perspective.  Let's look at this from the point of implementation.  How I implement God's standards into my life may not look like someone else's implementation because of the culture we each live in.  From person to person, each may be identically incorporating God's standards into their lives, but from a cultural standpoint, they may look very different.  One may appear to be socially normal, and the other may seem to be in the fringes.

But when we look at culture from God's perspective, we see that the normative lines of society fade quite a bit, don't they?  When choosing to live in the Kingdom of God as a reality, we begin to see that the only authority worth serving is the one who rules the Kingdom.  Instead of setting cultural guidelines for normal living, He simply sets standards for the citizens to live by.  The normal becomes relative, as well as the fringes because we no longer few each other according to "normative" aspects.  The man in the business suit walks side by side with the skinhead.  The doctor shares a meal with a homeless man.  The drug addicted prostitute shares coffee with the stay at home mom.  The former Pharisee and murderer of Christian talks philosophy and theology with some Epicureans and Stoics. (See Acts 17:16-34)  Neither one sees each other as above or beneath.  Just citizens of in the Kingdom, following a higher standard than culture can dictate.  Do this sound like a Utopian view of life?  Idealistic?  Liberal?  Maybe.  But isn't that what the Kingdom of God is?  Isn't this more of what the King wants from His citizens?  And imagine what this would this look like in American culture?

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Drunks and the Kingdom of God

Lots of talk about community these days, and specifically what "real" Biblical community really is.  You may have heard the question asked many times, "What does real Biblical community look like?"  Hmmmmm.  You know, I'm actually not quite sure what the answer is.  I'm not even sure that it's a legitimate question.  I guess it would be similar to asking, "What do "real" people look like?"  Sure, there are certain distinguishing characteristics that make a human being a human being, but the individual details are so varied that one cannot paint a broad enough picture to include every single personal scenario.  In the same way, Biblical community is difficult to classify.  Sure, there are certain, and very specific requirements for a community to be classified as "Biblical", but each community differs drastically because of the individuals that represent the community.  And that's the one aspect that gives Biblical community such a vast array of images: Individuals.      

Last week a friend of mine invited me to a meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous.  I'll admit; I had no idea what to expect, but he did a pretty good job explaining the gritty details of what I might experience.  But as usually happens, the picture that I had in my mind did not represent reality.  Let's admit it.  For people that have never been to a meeting, the name Alcoholics Anonymous might bring to mind certain cliche images.  A group of old timers, with visible signs of years of alcohol abuse?  Tattoos? Chain smokers talking about how they are coping with day to day life?  Motor cycle riders?  Auto mechanics?  Aging musicians?...Wait a second...Doctors?  Lawyers?  Teachers?  Pastors?  Coaches?  Moms?  Dads?  Me?

My point is that from my perspective, many different types of people was represented in this community.  In fact, it was one of the most eclectic groups of people that I have ever seen.  And that got me thinking.  When we look at our Biblical communities, what do we see?  How varied are the personalities, lifestyles, backgrounds, nationalities?  Can we honestly say that our communities represent all, walks of life?  Even many walks of life?  Is it easier for culture to describe what the typical Christian might looks like?  Think about your church.  Think about your small group.  Think about your Sunday School class.  What do you see?

Now don't get me wrong.  I'm not making a blanket statement that indites the entire Church.  I've been in many Biblical communities that range in age, color, nationality and even sexual orientation.  But in my experience, this is unfortunately not the norm in today's culture.  After visiting Alcoholics Anonymous, I found myself asking a very sobering question: Do these meetings represent more of what a church should look like?  Is this more the kind of honest, open and trusting community that our Biblical communities should try and emulate?  Granted, there were aspects absent that would theologically not classify AA as a "Biblical" meeting, or church for that matter.  But I'm talking more about the "communal" aspects.

Just for a few minutes, think about the human condition, and just how messed up we are without the saving grace of Christ.  Think of what we are capable of doing without God's guidance.  Think about the awesome unconditional love of Christ.  Think about the outcasts that Jesus surrounded Himself with when He walked the earth.  Think about those he turned away, or those that wanted nothing to do with Him.  Now think about those that fill our churches.  Our small groups.  Our Bible studies.  Compare and contrast.  How often does someone walk in off the street, sit down among us and announce for all to hear:

"Hi!  I'm Jake.  And I'm a messed up sinner with a messed up life."

"Hi Jake!" 

(Insert hug here)          

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The Practice of Love

The Practice of Love is a project that I was privileged to work on this year and developed by my friends at Civitas Press. It's a collection of essays by a community of great writers, delving into the aspects of loving God, loving ourselves, loving our neighbors and loving our enemies. The result is personal stories that examine what would happen if we actively chose to engage our culture in a deep sense of love, even when the situations are difficult. Writers from all over the country joined together to share their personal experiences that will challenge the reader to reconsider what it means to live out the practice of love in each of our lives.

Christ invited culture to engage love as a way of living each and every day. In doing so, He revealed a way of living that in essence revealed the Kingdom of God. To live this way requires courage and conviction and often means facing fears that are not easily overcome. Unconditional love requires us to be vulnerable, and often opens us up to the possibility of experiencing pain. But in the end, the practice of love invites us to discover something deeper about what it means to be human.

I encourage you to check out the links, ask questions and consider ordering your copy of The Practice of Love today. To a large degree, a book's success can depend on the number of orders placed on or before the release date, which is set for May 1, 2011. It is available for pre-order, so reserve your copy by ordering today!

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