God’s Love Expressed: Through Our Love For One-Another

In the passage 1 John 4:7-21 the beginning and the end command us to love one-another.

It’s like a love one-another sandwich.

In v7-8 it reads,

“Dear friends, let us love one another, because love is from God, and everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. The one who does not love does not know God, because God is love.”

And v21 says,

“And we have this command from him: The one who loves God must also love his brother and sister.”

Whether there is an issue within the churches John is writing to, I’m not sure. But he certainly makes it clear that loving one-another in an important part of what it means to be in community together.

Because love has come from God we are to love one-another.

To love one-another is an expression of what it means to love God; a visible expression of God being a God of love.

God's Love Expressed Through Our Love For One-Another

Unfortunately, it is not uncommon to find churches who have within their history periods of time where loving one-another is lacking.

But a church devoid of love is like a tap without water.

A church devoid of love is like a football team without players.

A church devoid of love is like an orchestra without its conductor.

A church devoid of love is like cushion without stuffing.

A church devoid of love is like a car tyre without air.

A church without love is an unmitigated disaster.

And I wonder whether John would suggest they are really a church at all.

In his book, ‘The Compelling Community’, Mark Dever writes,

“To follow Christ is to love other Christians…Love between believers isn’t a sign of maturity; it’s a sign of saving faith.” (Dever, 52)

And John seems to suggest this here in our passage. The church, when loving one-another, show they are people who truly believe in the Lord Jesus, acknowledge his saving grace, and understand his atoning sacrifice for sin.

We may know these truths individually and personally. But, we should also see and know it together as a community, as a church.

Love between believers is the sign of a faith that is grounded in Christ and confirmed by the Holy Spirit.

In the same book, Dever says,

“Our greatest confirmation of the gospel is the community of the local church. Therefore, our best strategy for reaching the world is to fan that community into a raging inferno of supernatural witness that will be far more attractive than any adjustment to our music, small groups, or sermons could ever be.” (Dever, 192)

The love of one-another within the local church is what is attractive to others. It is the love of one-another that stands out to visitors and non-believers. It feeds into the mission and evangelistic edge of the church that we are called to be part of.

As Jesus meets with his disciples for the last time before his death he says these words in John’s Gospel, 13:34-35,

““I give you a new command: Love one another. Just as I have loved you, you are also to love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

And in Romans 12:10, Paul writes,

“Love one another deeply as brothers and sisters. Out do one another in showing honour.”

Through the love we have for one-another people see the gospel worked out in practice as we build one-another up through love.

When a local church is going through hardship, significant conflict and disagreement, there will often be less people drawn to the church. The effect of a church lacking in love will mean that there are less new people coming along and less people turning to Christ. On the other hand, when a church displays love for one-another the love of Christ is displayed for all to see. It can be seen and felt within the church itself and draws people in.

It is through our love for one-another in our church that expresses the love God has for us.

In my previous blog post I started by talking about the movie Frozen. How Anna can only be saved by an expression of true love.

We too can only be saved by an expression of true love. This expression of true love is God sending his Son Jesus as an atoning sacrifice for our sin. Through the cross God expresses his saving love for us. And building on this, we too can be part of God expressing his love for others by the way we love one-another in our church.

God’s Love Expressed: Through The Cross

In our house princess stories and movies are high on the agenda. Over the last few years the movie Frozen has been a regular viewing experience.

You may know the story yourself.

We sit on the couch and watch the journey of Elsa and Anna, both princesses of the royal family trapped within the walls of the castle. Yet, it isn’t until Elsa becomes Queen that the gates are opened and the connection with the people is renewed. But because of Elsa’s special powers, and their uncontrollability, the city is sent into a perpetual winter and she runs away to hide and live by herself.

Princess Anna goes on an adventure to find her sister and have her return, but in the process she is struck by Elsa’s icy powers. From here on in there is a distinct concern for Anna who can only be saved by an expression of true love.

I won’t spoil the ending.

But Frozen is a story with twists and turns, and is of course a story of love.

In the Bible we read of the way God has expressed his love toward us. In fact, the whole Bible is God’s love story toward his creation. We see this from Genesis to Revelation, as God seeks to be with his people who are so often rejecting his love.

In 1 John 4:9-10 we read about the pinnacle of this story, the pinnacle of God expressing love. It says,

“God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his one and only Son into the world so that we might live through him. Love consists in this: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins.”

This is the extent of the love God has for us; his expression of true love for his creation.

God's Love Expressed Through The Cross

I wonder how you express love?

I wonder how you express the love you have for others, for your family, your friends, your pets, the things you do, the things you have?

A little while ago Ed Sheeran released his single, ‘Perfect’. In the lead up to the release of the song he publicly stated that he wanted this to be his best song ever. Here are some of the lyrics:

I found a love for me

Darling just dive right in

And follow my lead

Well I found a girl beautiful and sweet

I never knew you were the someone waiting for me

‘Cause we were just kids when we fell in love

Not knowing what it was

I will not give you up this time

But darling, just kiss me slow, your heart is all I own

And in your eyes you’re holding mine

Baby, I’m dancing in the dark with you between my arms

Barefoot on the grass, listening to our favourite song

When you said you looked a mess, I whispered underneath my breath

But you heard it, darling, you look perfect tonight

Ed here (yes, we’re on a first name basis) is expressing love. He is expressing his deepest love for his girl through song. It is a clear expression of love.

And while 1 John 4 isn’t talking about romantic love it nevertheless describes the love God has for us.

John describes the love God has for us as sacrificial love. He points out that God has shown his love for us through, (1) the sending of his one and only son, and (2) as an atoning sacrifice for our sin.

The way God has shown his love for us is through Jesus.

The way God has shown his love for us is through the cross.

It is a cross-bound, life-sacrificing love.

This love is a relational love, meaning God has such a strong affection for us, he cherishes us so much, that he is willing to die for us.

This is a love that is deeply personal, a love that shows his commitment and faithfulness to us. This committed love, this affection for us, is displayed for us through the action of sacrifice. He loves us so much that he sent his one and only Son to be an atoning sacrifice for us.

He loves us so much that he sent himself, in human form, to take our place on that cross.

This sacrificial love is the love God has for us.

In the original languages the particular word for ‘atoning sacrifice’ is only used twice in the whole of the New Testament. Here in v10 and also back in 1 John 2:2. As one commentator has put it, it is a term to,

“…emphasise that God sent Jesus Christ to be the atoning sacrifice to remove the guilt we have incurred because of our sins so that we might have eternal life. This is the great expression of God’s love, and on this basis the author can say God is love.” (Kruse, 161)

Due to our sin, both the sin we do as action and the sinful nature we find ourselves battling against as fallen creatures, we are in need of a saviour.

The reality is that our hearts are naturally inclined to sin. Sin isn’t just what we do that is bad, or immoral, or hurtful, it is more than that. It is a heart position. It is the state of our heart that means we are against God in everything we do.

The bible speaks of our heart as being against God and His goodness.

Our hearts, from birth, are defective.

Our hearts are selfish and messy.

Essentially we’re a mess.

And so, we find God sending his one and only Son in order for our sinful natures to be transformed. Transformed into life-giving, self-sacrificing, love-promoting hearts. Sin is forgiven, our hearts are changed, and we begin to be changed into creatures perfected by his love.

Ironically, Ed Sheeran’s song, which I read out earlier, points to this. You may not remember but he sings,

When you said you looked a mess, I whispered underneath my breath

But you heard it, darling, you look perfect tonight

Did you see it? Do you get it?

We are a mess yet because of God’s great love for us he looks upon us because of the cross and says, ‘you’re perfect’. As we dance with God through what we call life God understands our mess, and because of the cross calls us perfect.

Our mess is made perfect through his sacrificial love.

Through the atonement God’s love is expressed. And through the atonement we find ourselves transformed away from selfishness and mess and made into people of perfected, sacrificial love.

What’s The Deal With Cranky Calvinists?

Seriously.

What’s the deal with cranky Calvinists?

I don’t understand.

I don’t understand why any Calvinist should be cranky. I mean, it’s called the Doctrines of Grace for a reason.

You know, grace and stuff.

What's The Deal With Cranky Calvinists

Sometimes I meet with pastors and Christians who have been significantly impacted by the rise of New Calvinism. And sometimes I leave with a sour taste in my mouth. It seems the ‘grace and stuff’ portion is missing. All that is left is hard doctrine expressed in a way that sounds like a resounding gong and clanging cymbal.

In recent years, Calvinism has made a massive impact in the Christian world, and its only been on the increase in the 10 years since this article was written. So much so there was a recent documentary produced about it. It’s certainly impacted me.

When I lived in the Chouf Mountains of Lebanon for two years I devoured John Piper’s teaching on TULIP, the main structure of Calvinistic thought. I first came across Piper over 15 years ago now, while listening to his biographical messages on significant Christians in church history. This made me put words to a theological system that I’d grown up under. In some ways nothing had changed, but in many ways everything had changed.

Yet, after 15 years of knowing what I’ve known about God, the Bible, and the Gospel I look around at this rise in Calvinism and am sometimes saddened. I’m either saddened, angry, or cynical – I’ll be honest. For some reason people jeopardise their relationship with others over a system of thinking about the Bible.

While I believe it is the more consistent system in understanding God and His Word I realise it is just that. A system. It’s not Jesus himself.

Anyway, this rant-like post has been inspired by my reading of William Jay. In his autobiography he writes about Calvinists in his own day. Thankfully he came across some good ones, as he says,

“In my considerable acquaintance with the religious world, some of the most exemplary individuals I have met with have been Calvinists. Of this persuasion were the two most extraordinary characters I ever knew – John Newton, and Cornelius Winter. They held its leading sentiments with firmness; but their Calvinism, like that of Bunyan, was rendered, by their temper, milder than that of some of their brethren; and they were candid towards who who differed from them; and esteemed and loved them as fellow-heirs together of the grace of life.” 

Well, to have that said of you would be a terrific thing. But, evidently these cranky cage stage Calvinists must’ve been around in his day too (circa early-1800’s).

If you are a Calvinist, or lean that way, then I encourage you to be a pleasant and understanding Calvinist, not a cranky one.

Remember, grace and stuff.

Published: Easter Reflection – Cleaning Feet

A little reflection piece I wrote about Easter was just published on the TGCA site.

You can find it here.

“Through his death on the cross Jesus has not just given us a symbol of humility and service but has acted in humility and service toward us. Jesus’ death provides us with the cleanliness we need. His death is the sacrificial service for our sin. It is an act that cleanses us. As Jesus washing his disciples feet, making them clean; so too Jesus’ death washes our hearts and makes us clean from sin.

As we solemnly remember the death of Jesus these next hours, as we enter into the remembrance of our Lord’s death, may we come to a new appreciation of this great act of humility and service, for us, for our neighbour, and for our world.

And boy, don’t we need it.”

You can read more articles I’ve written elsewhere here.

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Published: Hope In Distress

At the last minute I was tasked with preaching on Sunday. After contemplating what I should speak on, and not finding peace about any of my previous sermons, I landed on Psalm 142. This Psalm certainly spoke to me in the context of the last week–Christchurch and Cardinals, disaster and religious war. In the end I prepared as I could and preached the Psalm on the Sunday morning.

In the days after I turned the message into a piece published by The Gospel Coalition Australia. You can find the article here.

“The events of last week (or a look down our street, or an examination our own hearts) prove that we need rescuing. And through his Son, Jesus Christ, and the cross on which he died, we find that rescue.

Through  Jesus, and through the cross, we find our hope: hope in distress. And we can live in this hope knowing that God has already dealt with the evil of this world, and even our own pain and hurt and distress. He deals with us generously. He rescues and restores, comforts and consoles. Despite tragedy, we can hope and trust in God, our refuge and rescuer. May we say with the Psalmist, “Put your hope in God, for I will still praise him my Saviour and my God.” (Ps 42:11)”

Hope In Distress

Unlimited Access To God

The Melbourne Cricket Club membership is one of the most important and prestigious memberships in our country. I’m not saying that because I enjoy my sport, I’m saying that because it will take you 20 years to receive the opportunity to join, if you apply today. That’s right, 20 years. Currently, the waiting list is over 225,000 people long. It tells a story of its importance to our city and to our country.

With this MCC membership comes particular privileges. You see, access into the more prestigious part of the MCG, including the Long Room and the Members Dining Room are now open to you. Along with these privileges comes responsibilities. These include appropriate behaviour and dress. But unless you have a membership, and wear the appropriate gear, you don’t have access to the seating and rooms available to you when you are a member. A non-member has no such access.

Thankfully, when it comes to access to God there are no such barriers. We have personal, relational, and unlimited access to God because of who Jesus is and what he has achieved.

Unlimited Access To God

One of the key themes of the Christian scriptures is that of access to God. Access to God in the Bible is depicted in different ways through the various parts of the Christian story but it all heads toward an understanding that we can have personal, relational, and unlimited access to God.

In the beginning, back when God created the world and everything in it, access to God is personal, relational, and unlimited. But this is torn to shreds when his creation takes it upon themselves to do their own thing. As Adam and Eve are disobedient to God we find the entrance of sin into the world, drastically changing the shape of humanity’s relationship with God.

And from here the story of God and his people unfolds like a dance. There is the seeking of restoration with God but also the reality and tension of son, distorting humanity and their worship of God as God.

In the book of Leviticus God and his people are together again. Yet, for the proper worship of and access to God particular regulations put in place. These regulations come in the form of instructions or laws, led by a tribe of people designated as priests for all of God’s people. These priests would perform their duties in the Tabernacle, a large tent designed and built for the worship of God. Later in Old Testament this would become a Temple, a permanent residence where God would reside in the most inner place, the Holy of Holies.

And so access to God was limited to the priests, often limited to one day per year for the particular sacrifices and festivals expected. The ordinary Hebrew is cut off from access to God, their worship is delegated through the priests. Like an MCC membership, access to God is restricted to certain people.

Thankfully, however, we understand through the New Testament, that the restriction in worship to God has been once again opened up. Jesus comes and fulfils the role of the priest. He is the one who restores our relationship with God. He is the one who is sacrificed for the sin of the people. He is the one upon which this sin is placed. He is the one who provides access to God – personal, relational, unlimited access to God.

The writer of Hebrews outlines the way Jesus completes and fulfils this role. But more specifically, he writes in chapter 4:14-16:

“Therefore, since we have a great High Priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathise with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

The uniqueness of the Christian faith, the uniqueness of Jesus, is that we don’t have to do anything to have full access to God.

We don’t have to say any particular prayers, we don’t have to earn any particular merit, we don’t have to perform any particular rituals, we don’t have to give any particular gifts to earn God’s grace and mercy – to gain access to God himself.

No, God has provided for us personal, relational, and unlimited access to himself through this great High Priest Jesus.

We aren’t on any sort of waiting list. We aren’t required to have any particular dress code. We aren’t limited in our access to God because of what we have done. No, we can go with confidence and approach God, receiving his grace and mercy and help in our time of need.

Whatever our need, we find ourselves able to have access to God. And not just able to have access, but we can have confidence in coming to Jesus, the Son of God.

Published: The Servant Songs And The Greatest Service Of All

With Christmas only a few weeks away there are plenty of Advent readings and articles written. I had the opportunity to add to this through a little Christmas series Rooted Ministry are doing, focussing on how the OT prophets speak to Jesus’ birth. I planted myself in Isaiah, with particular attention on the four ‘Servant Songs’ (Isaiah 42:1-4; 49:1-13; 50:4-9; 52:13-52:12), and took some time to reflect through Isaiah 42:1-4.

It will probably become the basis for my sermon on the weekend before Christmas.

You can read it here.

Through his birth Jesus comes as the great justice-giver. Jesus comes to bring justice to the nations, and establish justice upon the earth. Jesus achieves these words of justice through his life and ministry, ultimately turning that justice upon himself, making himself the conduit of justice by taking upon the sins of the world. Through the cross Jesus achieves and establishes justice for the nations, and for us personally. He serves as the Servant-King, reminding us of the words of Mark 10:45, “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Published: Asking The Why – What Is My Calling?

I’ve written regularly about calling, and how to think through it.

Recently, I was interviewed by the YMI podcast “Asking The Why”. It was a fun conversation, and hopefully helpful too. Here’s how it’s described:

“What career path should I go down? Which relationship should I enter in to? Where should I live?

For many of us followers of Jesus, these questions can depend on what we feel God is calling us to do with our lives. In church language today, the term calling usually refers to a Christian discovering a specific job, ministry role, or use of gifts and talents that is out there for them. But for many of us who feel like we haven’t found that special “calling”, we can sometimes feel like we are outside the will of God or failing as a follower of Christ. So how then can each of us find out what the call of God is for our lives?”

You can also view the video here:

Is Mission Optional For Discipleship?

OK, let’s be clear from the outset.

To be a disciple is to be a student of a teacher.

To be a disciple of Jesus is to learn from Him.

This learning and growing process is known as discipleship.

I imagine for the majority of those who call themselves disciples of Jesus, discipleship involves some or all of the following – meeting with other believers, reading the Bible regularly, praying, going to church, meeting with a mentor, doing a short-course on an aspect of the Christian faith, listening to podcasting preachers, reading Christian books, talking about spiritual things with Christian friends, being involved in a small group, volunteering in a ministry at church and maybe even using Christian buzz words like ‘journey’, ‘organic’, ‘missional’ and ‘emerging’.

Most of these are excellent. They’re great and important. They help us grow in our faith. They allow us to gain a better understanding of the nature of God and the power and presence of Jesus. They help to build real and authentic (OK… another buzz word) community and inspire us into a deeper faith.

Yet, when I look at the discipleship ‘journey’ that Jesus took with 12 young guys, I wonder if we’re missing something in the discipleship package we’re sold today. Yes they prayed together, ate together, were part of a mentoring relationship and listened to cracker sermons (from Jesus Himself!). But all of this happened within the context of a much larger picture. There was a purpose that led to something greater than their own faith development: the faith of others. AKA Mission.

Is Mission Optional For Discipleship_

From the outset Jesus equipped, prepared, challenged and released His followers into mission.

It was mission-focused discipleship.

A discipleship that was geared more towards the needs of others than their own. It was a kind of discipleship that required them to be active and to work out their faith in the daily grind. It was this kind of discipleship that grew some uneducated country fishermen into ‘missionaries’ committed to spreading the Good News to people who hadn’t heard it. Mission was not an added, optional, “Would you like fries with that?”’ extra. Rather, it was completely integrated into their discipleship. Just like your veggie patch needs light, food and water to survive, our discipleship is nurtured, fed and grown by engagement with others in mission.

Discipleship is the vital activity of believers around the world. In fact, it’s the model of mission Jesus has given us from the start. The Great Commission in Matthew 28:19-20 emphasises the making of disciples as the primary activity for believers. Jesus Himself showed us the way as He led His disciples, while in Acts and throughout the rest of the New Testament believers continued to grow their faith in all the different places and cultures they lived in.

I wonder what part mission plays in your understanding and experience of discipleship? It may mean joining a new sporting team or club or being more intentional with your time, resources and language at uni, work or mother’s group or engaging with other cultures to see where God is already working and how you might be able to join Him.

If the job that Jesus left us with is really about being disciples who make disciples, then it applies whether we are here in Australia or in a far corner of the world. If we follow Jesus’ model of discipleship, then no matter the number of books we read, sermons we listen to or mentoring sessions we slot into our week, something will always be missing if it isn’t wrapped up in mission. And while this can seem impossibly daunting, even simple things like starting a soccer match or joining a Tai Chi class can be used by God not only to make more disciples but to help deepen our own experience as disciples as well.


Originally published in Resonate (ed. 20), a publication of Global Interaction

Are You Walking WITH God?

The book, With: Reimagining The Way You Relate To God by Skye Jethani, was probably the best book I read last year. It was just brilliant. It was challenging and helpful in thinking about what it is to relate and commune with God. It’s a book I’ve made our interns at church read. And more recently, it’s a book I’ve quoted in one of my sermons when talking about what it is to grow as a follower of Jesus.

Are You Walking WITH God_

One of the helpful ways Jethani frames this idea of walking WITH Jesus is by highlighting how we perceive our relationship with God. In doing this he talks of four postures:

First – Life from God

These are people seeking blessing and gifts from God, but aren’t particularly interested in God himself. God is seen as a combination of a “divine butler and a cosmic therapist”.

Second – Life over God

Here people have lost the wonder and mystery of God and his world. Instead they seek to earn God’s favour through formulas and proven controllables. Those who believe God operates this way will seek to put the right techniques in place for faith, church, and life so a relationship with God can occur.

Third – Life for God

This is the posture of being concerned with serving God and expending all energy in doing something for God. Whether it be service or mission this posture highlights those who believe a relationship with God is founded on the things done. Identity is wrapped up in doing and service for God.

Fourth – Life under God

People who have a posture of life under God sees God in cause and effect terms. Through obedience to his commands God will bless life, family, and the nation. In this posture the believer is to determine what God approves and make sure they remain within those boundaries in order for God to uphold his part of the deal.

I find that these postures are fairly accurate in terms of how people think about their faith and relationship with God. But as Jethani rightly outlines, our relationship with God is exactly that, WITH God. It is a relationship, not a religious exercise with rules and rituals. And so, when speaking about being with God Jethani says,

“The life with God posture is predicated on the view that relationship is at the core of the cosmos: God the Father with God the Son with God the Holy Spirit. And so we should not be surprised to discover that when God desired to restore his broken relationship with people, he sent his Son to dwell with us. His plan to restore his creation was not to send a list of rules and rituals to follow, nor was it the implementation of useful principles. He did not send a genie to grant us our desires, nor did he give us a task to accomplish. Instead God himself came to be with us–to walk with us once again as he had done in Eden in the beginning. Jesus entered into our dark existence to share our broken world and to illuminate a different way forward. His coming was a sudden and glorious catastrophe of good.”

How about you, do you walk WITH God? Or, do you find your relationship with God is depicted through another posture?