Critique My Sermon: Incarnational Spirituality

incThis sermon was delivered on April 26th, 2015 at West Loop UBF. Please feel free to rip it apart and tell me how it could have been better :)

Introduction

A bit of disclosure is in order here: Since September of last year, I haven’t been attending church on a weekly basis. I’ve attended Catholic Mass a few times and have taken communion and have also had ongoing conversations about the Bible and life with others and have done my own personal study on biblical topics, but nothing like being plugged into a faith community on a regular basis. To some this may be disconcerting or off-putting, like who takes a half a year off of church and then preaches a sermon? But I thank Rhoel for reaching out to me and befriending and simply talking to me on a human-to-human level. One thing that I really appreciate about the West Loop community is you all’s desire to understand and practice the gospel in a loving manner. So I thank you all for accepting me and giving me the privilege to speak here today. I don’t take this lightly and I don’t want to waste your time, but instead I want to hopefully communicate an important point about the gospel that I think we, including myself, often miss. I’ll attempt to make my point in thirty minutes or less and end with a nice cherry on top which is an example from my own life.

What Does it Mean to be “Spiritual” Anyway?

I mentioned how I’ve been taking some time away from organized religion. I felt as though I needed to do this because I was growing increasingly weary of experiencing this disconnect, that I observed, which exists between the concepts of spirituality or “otherness”, that is something beyond our physical world, and the very material reality that we live in today. To put it bluntly (and with an example to follow), I got tired of sitting in church week after week and hearing things that sounded lofty and spiritual, but were not portable to my everyday life. And believe you me; this was not the fault of the church per se, because if anyone knows me, I love lofty ideas. This is more of an internal battle or beef within me.

At some point last year, the big question that I asked myself was what impact does spirituality have on us on a daily basis, that is, how does this line up with our present-day, physical reality in an impactful way? The form of Christianity that I was largely familiar with was one in which that aforementioned disconnect reached a tipping point on some key issues for me. For instance, in Western Evangelicalism, we are often taught as of first importance, that Jesus has forgiven us of our sins once and for all. Now, I don’t dispute this at all and it’s something that I certainly rejoice in. But a type of thought pattern which was pervasive in my own life was this idea that as believers, we are forgiven largely as individuals and as long as we individually are forgiven, then we are right with God and all is well with the universe. The problem with this is that we don’t sin in a vacuum; often times, we wound each other through our sins and if we are honest with ourselves it’s not enough, that when we sin against someone, to say “you know what, Jesus has forgiven me of my sins, so let’s leave it at that and move on”. On one level that’s true, but on another don’t we actually need to seek reconciliation with the other person; isn’t forgiveness at the cross meant to be an entryway into new relationships built on honesty and repentance? Or on the flip side, if I or someone else is wounded by another, we may often think to ourselves, “Jesus alone will heal me of my wounds by way of his sacrifice on the cross”. We tend to both diagnose and treat our wounds in this way; we overly-spiritualize and try to superstitiously wish away our real hurt and pain. And some wounds are spiritual, but there is also the very real, nitty-gritty task of processing our human emotions.  And still the task of reconciliation, and in some cases seeking restitution from the one that wounded us, remains. Don’t you think? But like I said, there is often this disconnect in Christianity where we are encouraged to see ourselves as these spiritual beings who only need spiritual solutions to our very real problems.

I also thought about what David said in Psalm 51:4, where he says “Against you, you only, have I sinned…” While it is true that all sin is, in a sense, against God there is a very real human dimension to what David did. After all, Nathan spells out what he did very bluntly: He killed Uriah the Hittite with sword and stole his wife. Furthermore, David wasn’t even man enough to murder Uriah himself, but indirectly used the Ammonites to do so. Nathan doesn’t pull any punches in regard to the very real people that David hurt; he doesn’t put a spiritual spin on the situation in any way, shape or form.

I’ll tell you what’s also an even bigger problem with this over-spiritualization: Jesus never advocated this. Look at what he says (right after the Lord’s Prayer, which is largely seen as a “spiritual” exercise between a believer and God):

“14 For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” – Matt 6:14, 15

Very interesting that Jesus would say this; in the Lord’s Prayer, forgiveness does not appear to be the primary thrust of the prayer, yet Jesus deems it important enough to add a sternly worded epilogue specifically about forgiveness between God and others.*

And consider Jesus’ words here:

22 But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.

23 “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, 24 leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.

It seems to me that Jesus is connecting these “spiritual” acts of forgiveness and worship between God and man to the human relationships that exist in our everyday lives. It’s as if he’s saying that no matter what our relationship is like with God, if we aren’t treating the real human beings in our everyday lives with integrity and compassion, our spirituality doesn’t really amount to much.  And this makes sense because think about who Jesus is; he is God incarnate or God made flesh. He is the very intersection between this spiritual otherness that we define as God and human beings just like ourselves. It’s as if God is saying in Jesus that our spirituality is inherently tied to our physical world, our own humanity and the communities that we are involved in.

Incarnational Ministry vis a vis Empathetic Communication

This incarnational aspect of God is what I want to “flesh” out through Acts 17. This is one of my favorite passages in the Bible for in this we are given a vivid example of God’s desire to communicate spiritual truths to us on our human level.

This was during Paul’s second missionary journey, which transpired between the years 50-52 A.D., (he did three in total) and before he arrived at Athens, he was driven from first Thessalonica and then Berea (where he famously met the “Noble Bereans”).  He was driven out of those regions by Jews who wanted to destroy his gospel-preaching efforts. For the sake of Paul’s safety, he was escorted to Athens with the hope that Timothy and Silas, his traveling companions, would join him there at a later time.

Upon arriving in Athens, Paul is deeply bothered by all of the idolatrous statues in the city. Surely Paul understood that it was Rome’s practice to subsume the religions of those that they subjugated. It was to keep the idea of Pax Romana (which was really not peace) intact. But in Athens it was overkill; one ancient is quoted as saying that Athens had over 30,000 idols [1]. I’m sure that Paul was alarmed by the fact that the Jews in Athens could possibly be syncretizing with the culture around them and thus missing the message of the gospel contained in the Holy Scriptures. Think about how many times that Isaiah denounces idol-worship. In fact, this is one of the key points of his sermon to the philosophers later on. So Paul takes the initiative to engage the Jews and the Greek converts to Judaism (called God-fearing Greeks) in discussions namely concerning the Messiah using the OT. From what Luke records, the idea of the resurrection of Jesus particularly piqued the interest of some of the Greek philosophers and so they begin debating with him. They probably regard him as some unsophisticated, primitive Jew (because remember, Greek culture at the time was hot and Athens in particular was seen as an intellectual bastion of sorts.) They probably argued, “Hey, we have all sorts of gods who are immortal, but an obscure Jewish guy from Palestine sure ain’t one of ‘em.” But nonetheless some of the people were interested in what Paul had to say (Luke notes that a lot of people were content to simply pontificate about the latest ideas at the time). So they took him to a place called the Areopagus, which functioned as a place of settling matters of jurisprudence.

Paul seizes this opportunity, taking the floor and launching into his gospel message. Notice how he begins his dialogue. “People of Athens! I see that in every way are very religious.” This was actually a commendation, because he affirmed the fact that they were somehow seeking to worship or reach out to God. And also notice the fact that he addressed them as Athenians. He didn’t open up his sermon by saying, “Non-descript people group who I’m preaching to, repent or burn in hell!” Rather he started with a positive affirmation which was actually quite true.

Next, Paul exploits one of their idols, using it as an entry point to introduce his God to them. He says, hey you guys have this inscription to an unknown God, and wouldn’t you know I happen to know something about a God that you guys don’t know about so take a listen to this:

24 “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. 25 And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. 26 From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. 27 God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. 28 ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’

29 “Therefore since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone—an image made by human design and skill. 30 In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. 31 For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead.”

This is such a profound message of God’s initiative to reach out to us. He corrects the idea of man’s tendency to make God in his own image, thus fashioning idols and temples and so forth; he turns this notion completely on its head by saying that no, we are in fact made in God’s image. And he’s not dependent on us, endlessly requiring our servitude so that he may be both appeased and sustained. Furthermore, he’s not a vending machine that only blesses us when we do something for him. Rather, out of his own loving initiative, he is the one that ultimately serves us and gives life and provision to us. And look at what Paul is doing; he’s essentially giving the message of the entire OT without using OT quotes or references. He understands that his audience doesn’t have the OT as a reference point, so he communicates biblical truths in a way that they can understand. In fact, he intersperses quotes from their own poets and philosophers. Aratus, a Cilician Stoic philosopher and poet remarked that we are God’s offspring. And the Cretan philosopher Epiminedes wrote that “in him we live and move and have our being.” These are beautiful statements which completely undermine the sentiment that we have come about by happenstance; indeed, God was intimately involved in everything from choosing our skin color and ethnicity to determining where we would be born; God infuses his own image into us so that through interacting with each other, we would come to know him in his fullness (theologically, this is called the variegated or multi-faceted nature of God). So it is no mistake that we are who we are, rather it is God’s perfect wisdom to put us in the optimal position where we could reach out to him and know him.

Finally, Paul closes with the revelation of God’s appointed judge, Jesus Christ. He will rule the earth with justice and judge every act; he will put everything in its proper place. A foreshadow of this kind of perfect adjudication is found in the resurrection and thus vindication of his Son; he was unjustly put to death, but God rose him from the dead in effect reversing the edict of guilt showing that he had power over such definitive decrees. Not even the stark reality of death can overcome God’s desire to mete out justice. In fact, Christ is justice personified and that is why he prevails even over death. This is a massive comfort to those who long for justice in this world; those who are involved in combating sex trafficking and tackling civil rights and equality issues. In the person of Christ, we see that mankind’s ultimate trajectory is toward becoming a perfectly just and loving being like him.

Through a comparison of the tenets of Epicureanism and Stoicism (link to ppt slide), we can see specifically how Paul contextualized the gospel to his audience. (The red and blue circled items are tenets which line up with Christianity while the strike-throughs do not) Note a few things here: 1) Paul affirms some of the positive aspects found in each philosophy (namely, free will and determinism). And he corrects some things which are vital to understanding Christianity and knowing the incarnational nature of God. For instance, God is theistic rather than deistic and understanding our existence does not come from abstract wisdom (logos) but rather through knowing God the person in Christ (Logos). Paul has a keen understanding of his audience and out of love, he can empathize with some of their beliefs and make a meaningful connection with them.

How God has Contextualized the Gospel to Me

Several years back I developed something called the Evil Survey, where I simply ask students about the problem of evil. After all, this is an issue that the gospel seeks to rectify and it hits home with everyone, religious or not. So the method is to simply ask questions and understand people’s world views. It doesn’t use any biblical language and avoids asking both leading and loaded questions. Through this, I’ve had many eye-opening conversations with people from all kinds of backgrounds including believers, atheists, Muslims, Hindus, agnostics, former believers and so forth. Notably, what I’ve come to learn through this process of listening and asking questions is that 1) people genuinely long for someone to listen to and either challenge or affirm their worldviews and 2) I have to respect where people are at in a given moment in their lives. It’s as if God has been evangelizing me or teaching me the gospel through this, making me more human in the process. And this comports with a statement made by the German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer,

“The first service that one owes to others in the fellowship consists in listening to them. Just as love to God begins with listening to His Word, so the beginning of love for the brethren is learning to listen to them. It is God’s love for us that He not only gives us His Word but also lends us His ear.

So it is His work that we do for our brother when we learn to listen to him. Christians, especially ministers, so often think they must always contribute something when they are in the company of others, that this is the one service they have to render. They forget that listening can be a greater service than speaking.” [2]

Though he’s speaking about the Christian community here, I believe full and well that we should apply this to those outside of the church. Additionally, I work in a multi-cultural environment where rather than preaching to my colleagues, I have taken the approach of simply seeking to understand where they are coming from. What are their life narratives? For instance, as someone who has migrated from the Middle East, what is it like to now live in America? What are the challenges, what do you like and dislike about it? What do you think about life and spirituality? Again, this process has served to humanize me and it has made me realize that as human beings, we all stand together in a sort of solidarity in that we are trying to make sense of life and seek some kind of meaningful purpose.

Counter-intuitive, Unconditional Love

But the main way that I have come to know the gospel in a contextual manner is through my wife. My wife and I are almost complete opposites. She’s always on time, has a schedule for everything and is detailed oriented to the tee. She doesn’t like to talk much either; she’s a doer. I couldn’t be more annoying to her. I’m always late, I take my time and I’m a lofty thinker and my head is usually stuck in the clouds. Plus, I like to talk. A. Lot. I always ask her, “What’s on your mind?” and I want to engage her in some kind of theological discussion, to which I receive the proverbial eye roll and sigh from her.

All this said, over the years, I’ve come to find out that my wife is one of the most loving people I have ever known. She puts up with so much of my stuff. If marriage teaches you anything, it’s that yes, you’re a jerk. See, mom will never admit this to you, though she knows it’s true. She’ll love you till the day you die but your wife loves you enough to tell it like it is. But my wife loves this jerk. She accepts me as I am and affirms the good things she sees in me on a daily basis. I’m simply floored and smitten by this kind of love. I’ve come to the conclusion that her unconditional love is God’s incarnate love to me. It’s fascinating how counter-intuitive his love can be. I thought that love would be putting me with someone who is the same as me, but in fact, it has come through two seemingly opposites. But this is wonderful, because through her I’m able to view an intriguing and captivating side of God that I would have otherwise never known. And now we have these beautiful children who are a product of this incarnate love. When I look into their faces, I’m amazed and taken aback at what God has done. We’re all vastly different in our little family unit and thus we’re put in a position where we can each grow in our humanity, that is, in Christ’s image together. So my family has sort of been the church to me over this past half year or so.

My Hope for the Church

In closing, I want to remark on a saying that I used to hear in ministry. It’s that you don’t have to necessarily like your fellow church members but you do have to love them. This is one of the most misguided sentiments I have ever heard. How are you going to love someone that you don’t like anything about? The gospel affirms each of us as individual and unique human beings. While the cross reveals the ugliness of our sin, it also helps us to look past this in order to see the beautiful images of God in one another and simply appreciate, learn from and behold that beauty. When we look at one another, we are looking into the face of Christ, I believe. Wouldn’t it be great to simply relate to one another in the church in this way? This is my prayer and hope. I’m starting first in midst of my family members. And who knows, I may someday again commit myself to a particular church fellowship. Thank you all for listening and God bless you all abundantly.

 

[1] Kayser, Phillip G., “Ruins of Athens – The Curse of the Athenian Model of Education”. Biblical Blueprints. 2009. Pg. 4 [http://biblicalblueprints.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/02/RuinsOfAthens.pdf]

[2] Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. “Life Together”. 1954.

*[Author’s note] This originally said, “Very interesting that Jesus would say this; there is nothing about forgiveness in the Lord’s Prayer, yet this is right at the end of it making a seemingly important point.” This is of course wrong. I’ve both read and written about the Lord’s Prayer many times, so I might chalk that glaring error up to confirmation bias; I felt strongly about making a point about forgiveness and so I viewed the prayer a certain way. Good lesson in objectivity or the lack thereof we sometimes display. This could also indicate that I simply need someone to proofread my material beforehand :)

43 comments

  1. Thank you for posting! I really like this sermon.

    • Thank you, Chris. I’m very glad that you enjoyed it. Please do share more on what impacted (or even bothered) you. :)

    • What I liked first about your sermon it was not so preachy and artificial, but frank and personal. I also liked the way how you connected the real life experienced we make (and mine were very similar) with Biblical teachings, and make these teachings relevant and new again. Real life is humbling. When we lived in the artificial world of UBF, we thought we helped and loved all the students and coworkers when in reality we did not have any real deep connection, much of it was artificial and superficial, even when we honestly prayed for them so much. So I came to the same conclusion, instead of a top down approach where your love people you don’t even know yet in an abstract way (“world mission”), start with the people you know, with your own family, your husband, wife, parents. I made this my mission and I found that it was hard enough for me, a very humbling experience. When I tried to concentrate on loving my family, I arrived at the same stage as you, wondering how my family even puts up with a jerk like me. I came back from spiritual illusions to real life and a proper perspective of myself.

      Real life gives us enough opportunities to practice Biblical teachings, we don’t need to burden us with many additional meetings and missions. For instance, my wife is currently helping a foreign woman who is in financial and emotional need, and she sometimes sleeps in our home. It just happened organically, not as something mission for a church or charity organization. Since I’m very busy and work part-time at home and love my peace and order, this feels sometimes like a burden, and I fail to say a friendly word, to see the face of Jesus in such people in need, and I fail to see this as the most spiritual and meaningful life. Instead, we always want to have this clean and abstract and academic spirituality, preferring hours of Bible study over simple Bible application in daily life.

      Last week my wife and I watched “You’re not You” in the cinema. In this movie, a man cares for his wife who has a deadly illness. The way how he treated her reminded me of how we treated our “sheep” in UBF. He failed to see the real person (hence the title of the movie). In contrast, a messy college student who the husband considers unqualified to help is the best help for the woman, because she is able to see her as a person, not only as a nursing case. The German title of the movie is more positive: “The happiness by my side”. Seeing each other as persons is where happiness starts.

      In this context, I’m reminded again of a key moment in UBF that I’ve already written about. The background was that I was required to attend the sogam sharing meeting of the male missionaries on Sunday evenings. This was after the whole Sunday program which kept me busy and locked in the center from morning to evening on Sundays. I often had headaches and sometimes asked if I could skip the meeting. My chapter director would then guilt trip me, saying that my attendance and listening to their sogams was a way of loving them, i.e. by not attending I would not love my brothers. However, in reality all these sogams were boring and scripted and did not tell me anything about the real-life struggles of these missionaries. One night, I was repairing a computer in the center together with one of the younger missionaries. We sat together a long time in the office next to the computer, waiting for a hard-disk to be defragmentized and reformatted, so we had time to talk to each other, with nobody else around. It was a great talk in which for the first time I started to see him as a person and a friend, understand his struggles and real-life problems. This helped me open the eyes about how all the artificial meetings in UBF rather alienated us from each other than helping us to see each other as friends, and understand each other’s needs and problems, and appreciate each other’s’ unique quirks. I also remember how in the early morning meetings our director required us to speak with a microphone and loudspeakers even though it was a small room, on a podium, 2 meters away from the table with our brothers and sisters, using words from a pre-written sogam. When I suggested it was more natural to sit normally and talk at the table, he yelled at me. Natural interaction was not considered spiritual. And then, we had to pray together on our knees against the “ungodly individualism”. No wonder we stopped to see each other as persons.

    • Beautiful post, Chris. You said, “Real life is humbling.” Ever since having my second child, I’ve experienced this reality on a daily basis. It’s been so difficult but also so necessary because it helps me to understand the gospel in very basic terms. And that is, man we are all in a similar struggle, that is to make sense of things of maintain some level of sanity, and we need to extend grace to each other and furthermore embrace what’s good in one another, especially with regard to our family members. One of the major reasons why haven’t felt the need to plug into a church community is because as you said,

      “Real life gives us enough opportunities to practice Biblical teachings, we don’t need to burden us with many additional meetings and missions.”

      My plate is pretty full with simply living life. Plus, I don’t have the energy and stamina of a 21 year old anymore to attend meetings and do x,y,z and life has gotten more complicated with a growing family and the demands of work. So I’m trying to see God at work in the places where I am already at and appreciate the people I am with on a regular basis. I wish that I was taught this way of viewing life as a Christian much earlier instead of a compartmentalized, almost schizophrenic type of existence. So much unnecessary pressure there which almost completely turned me off to Christianity.

      And similar to your story about the young missionary, I happen to have a good friend who is a younger missionary (in his mid thirties) and we love talking to each other about family and work. We were at an Easter conference one time and we spoke together for a long time and laughed so hard about what we encountered in our day-to-day lives. That authentic time together is the only thing that I vividly remember about that conference. We stepped outside of the bounds of church activity for a moment and ironically experienced profound communication on a deep and substantive level.

      If I ever come to Germany, I’d love to hang out. Btw, my wife and I are both fond of Guinness beer :) Is that actually popular over there or is it simply an Americanized German product? (We do something similar with Chinese food; for instance, General Tso’s chicken is not a legit or authentic Chinese food product.) And we’ll definitely check out “You’re not You” when we get a chance; we love movies like that.

    • Joe Schafer

      David, I have some bad news and some good news.

      The bad news is that Guinness comes from Dublin, Ireland.

      The good news is that Germany has countless local and regional beers that are better than Guinness.

    • What the… I don’t know why I associated that beer with Germany for so long.

    • Guinness is awesome. I am especially fond of their Harp Lager.

      I suspect that nothing compares to German beer though.

    • duly noted, Brian. I’ll have to try that one.

    • David, you mentioned the word I was looking for: authenticity.

      Don’t worry, we have an Irish Pub in Heidelberg, too. I like Guinness sometimes, but of course German beer is even better – when you come to Germany, we can test both and you will certainly agree :)

  2. David, a gifted communicator and thoughtful man, kept our West Loop congregation of 60+ people engaged and enthralled during his preaching and presentation. Many commented how the sermon touched them and many stayed to ask questions and talk after the sermon. Thank God. I told David after his sermon that God willing, we may plant a church together some day.

    • Thank you, Ben. I really like your community and the environment that you’ve fostered there; it was such a breath of fresh air. Let’s talk more and pray about a potential church plant. My wife had a similar sentiment afterword too.

  3. Charles Wilson
    Charles Wilson

    Thanks for sharing this, David. You wrote, “It’s as if God is saying in Jesus that our spirituality is inherently tied to our physical world, our own humanity and the communities that we are involved in. – See more at: http://www.ubfriends.org/2015/04/27/critique-my-sermon-incarnational-spirituality/#sthash.67rvzXB5.dpuf

    I’ve been thinking about this very aspect of our spirituality and how we are to relate to other people. I also commend you for juxtaposing David’s psalm with Jesus’ words on forgiveness and then moving on to what it is to love. I agree that David’s mention of sinning against God is not to be taken to mean that we do not or even cannot sin against others, and that if someone did sin against another person that it does not count to God. Jesus says without using figurate language in many places that how we treat others is not only a reflection of our relationship with him but an act towards him directly, whether good or bad. I believe now that Jesus’ teaching bring our relationships with others to very forefront of our spirituality, just as the one teaching that he called “a new command” is about how we treat others.

    It’s also great to hear about Rhoel reaching out to you.

    • Charles Wilson
      Charles Wilson

      I think the topic you brought up is prime for discussion. I saw many young people come to church with the question, “What does God want me to do?” Usually, they had in mind their paths in school, career, or romance. Unfortunately, it was often met with Bible study that taught about living in God’s sight and before God only, without mention of people. The result, I think, is nil in with what you shared in terms of disconnecting. Everything became “spiritualized” (ugh, how often the word “spiritual” or “spiritually speaking” was thrown around) at the cost of one’s humanity. I think that this is also one reason why many leaders in UBF wouldn’t believe me that I was discontent with what was being done in the name of ministry and how such actions and teachings were hurting people. When I heard, “Just trust in God,” and “have faith in God,” or, “God is sovereign” became repulsive. Let’s not use God to turn away from people, when his new command is precisely about loving others.

    • Yep, there are so many ways in which Jesus brings the gospel home in a practical manner, almost always in the context of relationships. I wanted to talk much more about these references, but I wanted to keep things concise. For so long, I believe that I knew the gospel because I knew the flow of Paul’s letters or a gospel account, but I never made the connection about the new command, as you spoke of, until much much later. And I think too that I used a lot of spiritual lingo to justify and simply not think about ways in which I was hurting people in the name of God. So I’m going through a re-tooling process where I’m trying to understand the gospel in as down-to-earth a manner as possible, seeing how it relates to all spheres of life.

  4. Charles Wilson
    Charles Wilson

    Your story reminded of a time while I was at a conference and eating with older Korean missionaries, Mark Yoon asked me, “Do you like your wife?” Before I could answer, someone else spoke up and said, “Yes, of course, he loves his wife! It is God’s command.” But Mark Yoon replied, “No, I’m asking if he likes his wife.” That table interaction has stuck with me to today and has been important in my relationship with my wife and my son. I don’t want to disconnect and make “love” out to merely fulfilling duty and not foster liking of each other with joy, pleasantness, peace and trust.

    • Yes, Charles, I am beginning to see how holding to a mantra of obeying commands (though some are important to obey at face value) is often a cop-out for critical thinking and asking yourself tough questions about meaningful spirituality. In my mind, it short-circuits a holistic approach to making the gospel a part of your life, which includes the relationships of those closest to you. When I began to understand the gospel in some depth, I could begin to appreciate many things about people, even those who I had deep disagreements with.

    • Yes, service shouldn’t be a cover for deeper problems. We need Jesus to work in us and branch out in our relationships more and more.

      Good for Mark Yoon . . . although it’s still a peculiar question.

  5. Joe Schafer

    David, I love this sermon.

    First, I have a minor question. You said, “Very interesting that Jesus would say this; there is nothing about forgiveness in the Lord’s Prayer…” The Lord’s prayer says, “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Did you miss that? (I doubt it.) What were you thinking? In my mind, the Lord’s Prayer (and many other passages in the gospels) explicitly connect our willingness to forgive others with our receiving forgiveness from God. In some passages, the latter is conditioned on the former, which is theologically inconvenient for some but nonetheless it is what Jesus taught.

    I have been wrestling with many of the same questions as you.

    This tendency to spiritualize and abstract-ify the teachings of Scripture is strong in evangelical Christianity. I was struck by this as I read the recent post http://www.ubfriends.org/2015/04/23/a-response-to-joes-open-letter/

    In that post, the author speaks eloquently about the church, and the glorious privileges of belonging to the worldwide body of Christ. It struck me as deeply ironic, because the gospel that I was taught in UBF was a church-less gospel of individual salvation and individual discipleship. And the practices of UBF actually cut me off from meaningful interaction with the church outside of UBF for 20+ years. As Brian pointed out, 49% of UBF chapters worldwide consist of one family. Let that sink in. 49% of UBF chapters worldwide consist of one family. Many of these “house churches” are in places where there are multiple Christian congregations nearby, but these single families believe that it is best to have little or no meaningful interaction with believers close to them so that they don’t compromise or lose their UBF identity. That thinking — which I wholeheartedly swallowed — is really screwed up. UBF members talk about being so blessed to be part of the body of Christ, when their actual interaction with the body of Christ is severely stunted.

    This is not just a problem with UBF. From the beginning, evangelical Christianity (birthed in revivalism) was an anti-clerical and anti-church movement. The gospel that they proclaimed was essentially a church-less gospel, a severe reduction of what the apostles taught and the NT proclaims. I am generalizing, of course. There are some parts of evangelicalism with a decent understanding of church and some sense of the social dimensions of the gospel. But they are not the voices that we hear very often.

    Two books that I have been reading lately have been helping me a great deal to understand the inseparable connection between gospel and church. Both are by Scot McKnight: Kingdom Conspiracy and A Fellowship of Differents.

    Here is a great quote from A Fellowship of Differents that you might like. It is about the Apostle Paul.

    A friend of mine once asked me what was the one thing Paul taught in all his churches. I thought the answer was, of course, the gospel. He said, “No. Check out 1 Corinthians 4: 16 – 17.” So I did. Here’s 1 Corinthians 4: 16: Therefore I urge you to imitate me. . . . That takes some chutzpah! But it takes more to say what follows in verse 17: Timothy [Paul’s best friend] . . . will remind you of my way of life in Christ Jesus, which agrees with what I teach everywhere in every church. Paul’s words are packaged tightly enough that we need to unpack them a bit. Here’s what he is saying, and I have arranged it so you can see how repetitive it is:
    A What I teach in every church is
    B my way of life.
    B’ Because my way of life agrees with
    A’ What I teach everywhere in every church.
    Paul’s claim is that his life embodies the gospel so clearly one can learn the gospel by observing him — and he claims he teaches this everywhere.

    McKnight, Scot (2015-02-24). A Fellowship of Differents: Showing the World God’s Design for Life Together (pp. 64-65). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.

    The point is that, as Christians, we are supposed to embody the gospel so clearly that people can learn and understand the gospel by watching how we act. That holds for individual Christians but especially for the local church. The local church is supposed to embody the gospel so clearly in its social relations that people who observe the church will learn what the gospel is, even if the church members aren’t trying to preach at them.

    • Man, you know what, I am such a dolt. My wife always gets on my about this, and it’s usually that I don’t memorize bible verses or that I butcher or paraphrase them while reciting them. In my zeal, I think that Jesus’ mention of forgiveness in the Lord’s Prayer totally vanished from my mind. I suppose I was in a place where I was so frustrated about this idea of over-spiritualization that that one line about forgiveness just seemed so insignificant to me. Like, we pray it all the time, but how much do we actually believe or practice that? This seems to be the central theme of Jesus’ prayer (perhaps a kingdom defined by grace and forgiveness is central to Jesus’ idea of it?) but how many times do we focus on all of the other things in the prayer so that it become another “spiritual” exercise? And furthermore, do we ever really forgive others as God forgives us? I mean, think about it, if God really forgave us to the extent that we forgive others, would any of us actually be worthy recipients of forgiveness from God?

      You said, “The local church is supposed to embody the gospel so clearly in its social relations that people who observe the church will learn what the gospel is, even if the church members aren’t trying to preach at them.” This is precisely what I’m trying to foster in my own life. It’s beyond difficult but I just don’t think that there is any other way to do justice to the gospel.

    • Joe Schafer

      David, you are not a dolt. It’s easy to miss the theme and flow of the Lord’s Prayer. Most people do.

      Have you read NT Wright’s most recent book, Simply Good News? In the last chapter of that book, he shows how the Lord’s Prayer encapsulates all the main teachings of the gospel, and he also explains why this gospel is so easy to overlook and miss, not just in the Lord’s Prayer but in all the sayings and doings of church life. He goes through the Lord’s Prayer line by line, but in reverse, starting at the end and moving toward the beginning, recounting the gospel as he goes. It’s a beautifully written chapter, and it helped me to appreciate the Lord’s Prayer all the more.

    • Joe, I haven’t yet read the book, but hope to some time soon. I’m hoping to participate in some online classes that he’s teaching and one of them happens to be based on Simply Good News. Seems intriguing: http://ntwrightonline.org/

  6. David,

    I only rip apart 1 star and 2 star lectures :)

    According to the Karcher Sermon Scale (which I totally made up) this is a solid 3 start sermon that I thoroughly enjoyed! My star scale does not say anything about the quality, but only gauges some critical sermon components that I’ve come to value. On a quality scale of 1 to 10, this is a solid 8 point sermon. Here are some further thoughts.

    * This sermon has a lot of 3 star qualities. You have a strong gift for sharing the gospel. It is hopeful because you are asking questions instead of dictating answers. It is heart-moving because you share from your heart some personal impact and the key issues you wrestle with (such as how to connect to daily life). It is lively, as shown by the “cherry on top” comment.

    * This sermon has a glimmer of a 4 star sermon since you are able to inspire your audience.

    * This sermon has some 5 start qualities such as being vulnerable (your admitting not attending church) and a touch of humor (I love the “flesh out” incarnation comment!)

    Here is what kept this out of the 4 star range:

    * This statement takes my focus off the Messiah and paints a perfect picture of the church; it comes across as a bit self-loathing: “And believe you me; this was not the fault of the church per se, because if anyone knows me, I love lofty ideas. This is more of an internal battle or beef within me.”

    * This section seems to stray from what I know of Paul’s heart. Was he concerned about the actual statues or the people’s hearts? The text says this slightly differently and I think that is important to look into: “Upon arriving in Athens, Paul is deeply bothered by all of the idolatrous statues in the city. I’m sure that Paul was alarmed by the fact that the Jews in Athens could possibly be syncretizing with the culture around them and thus missing the message of the gospel contained in the Holy Scriptures.”

    * This is a great statement, and true, but I feel like you probably lost your audience here: “For instance, God is theistic rather than deistic and understanding our existence does not come from abstract wisdom (logos) but rather through knowing God the person in Christ (Logos).”

    * This is nit-picky, but I was distracted by the use of “meet out” several times. Isn’t this supposed to be “mete out”? Not a big deal but that distracted me.

    Here are some kudos:

    Pointing out the problem of over-spiritualization: “We tend to both diagnose and treat our wounds in this way; we overly-spiritualize and try to superstitiously wish away our real hurt and pain.”

    Pointing out the affirmation nature of Paul: “…his was actually a commendation, because he affirmed the fact that they were somehow seeking to worship or reach out to God. And also notice the fact that he addressed them as Athenians.”

    Pointing out the God-idol: “He corrects the idea of man’s tendency to make God in his own image, thus fashioning idols and temples and so forth; he turns this notion completely on its head by saying that no, we are in fact made in God’s image.”

    Pointing out the contextualization nature of Paul (which we should learn from more than his exact commands) “Through a comparison of the tenets of Epicureanism and Stoicism (link to ppt slide), we can see specifically how Paul contextualized the gospel to his audience.”

    This is brilliant! “Several years back I developed something called the Evil Survey, where I simply ask students about the problem of evil.”

    Nice! “If marriage teaches you anything, it’s that yes, you’re a jerk.

    This is something great I learned recently too: “So my family has sort of been the church to me over this past half year or so.”

    And kudos for having the guts to share this: “This is one of the most misguided sentiments I have ever heard. How are you going to love someone that you don’t like anything about?”

    • Wonderful feedback, Brian. Yes, I should say “mete” instead of meet. For some reason I get confused on that from time to time.

      You picked out a part that I really struggled with writing:

      * This statement takes my focus off the Messiah and paints a perfect picture of the church; it comes across as a bit self-loathing: “And believe you me; this was not the fault of the church per se, because if anyone knows me, I love lofty ideas. This is more of an internal battle or beef within me.”

      I’m in a place where I’m trying to make a break from the organization that we all know so well. At this point, it’s somewhat healthier for me to just say, “you know what, I’m going through an internal battle that God is trying to work out”. I just don’t want to say anything negative (though there may be some validity to doing so; although I do kind of lampoon Western Evangelicalism a bit, so picking my battles I suppose) or even communicate to myself or others that I am shifting blame. It may not be accurate, but that’s where I’m at. But trust me, I’m embracing the battle with a kind of joy and excitement rather than settling into a state of self-loathing.

      Yeah, while the theism/deism and Logos/logos concepts excited me, I could gather that some did not hold the same sentiment. I gotta talk about what excites me too, right? What can I say, I’m a sucker for fancy terms :)

      I see what you mean about the idolatrous statues statement. Maybe my poor communication there. I certainly wanted to get across the idea that Paul reached out to the Athenians out of love and concern. I could definitely make that clearer by wording things better.

      And oh yes, the Evil Survey is quite exquisite; I was beginning to write some articles on it, but got swamped by other things. Hopefully I can finish that series soon.

      I’m glad you enjoyed it though. As I wrote about my family being the church and reaching out to obscure or marginalized groups, I thought about your story a lot. Your journey has inspired some of my thoughts about incarnational (or shall I say in-karcher-national) spirituality and ministry. Thanks! And man, I’m so glad that I didn’t get the infamous monkey with a banana rating.

    • I really want to know more about “the Evil Survey”!

    • Certainly, Brian. I will email you a ppt that my wife and I use to teach this concept throughout the year. Let me get back to you early tomorrow though, have to turn in now. Thanks for the interest!

  7. Love this interaction everyone! Now this is why I keep coming back to ubfriends! My heart is at peace knowing we can see glimpses like this of the kingdom of God.

  8. The part that hit me is this:

    How you relate Paul’s discussion of the difference between God and the idols of the Athenians.

    BrianK thought it was focusing more on idols than on the people’s salvation (at least, the way you talked about it).

    But for me, it was really lovely. We make gods in our own image–but God made us in his image. Idols need to be served to be satisfied, but we in fact depend on God for life and breath and everything.

    I believe this is compassionate for the hearers and their salvation . . . to lead them to see God for who he really is. I’m sure that was Paul’s heart, and his rhetoric is both lovely and edifying.

    I’m going to give a short message tomorrow evening about Mark 10:45 and my thesis is, this is not about how to be great, it’s about how pitiful our greatness is (making everything in our own image, our idealized self that we worship so much but doesn’t exist) compared to the greatness of Christ. His greatness is in his service, yes, and his giving, yes, which we depend on, and which he gives freely to all. This greatness should impress itself deeply on us. We shouldn’t try to do everything he did (how can we give our lives as a ransom for many? O wait, smells familiar . . .) but allow ourselves to be changed and find value and direction in serving and loving others. Mother Theresa said, Not all of us can do great things, but we can do small things with great love.

    • Thanks, Matt. The part about the idols hit me like an epiphany as I was writing. In my preaching I tried to emphasize how we get that crucial truth so wrong and that what ends up happening is that we get the complete opposite picture of what the gospel says. And it makes sense that we do this, because a god made in our image is subject to our whims and its also much harder to grapple with idea of a god who is not based on some simple superstitious beliefs. But as you stated, when we see the gospel picture of God, it is quite captivating to say the least. This reminds me of the OT referent of God as “Jealous”, in that he pursues his people with whole-hearted, loving passion.

      In reference to Mark 10:45, you said: “We shouldn’t try to do everything he did (how can we give our lives as a ransom for many? O wait, smells familiar . . .) but allow ourselves to be changed and find value and direction in serving and loving others”

      I say a hearty “amen” to this. There is something to be said of an almost purely spiritual/unseen exercise such as contemplation. If done rightly it will eventually lead to an outward display of fruit (such as good character and compassion for others). However, when this is short-circuited the intended fruit comes forth in a forced manner and the emphasis always becomes some kind of seen product such as more disciples or a more impressive ministry. What if God’s ultimate intention is simply to be with us and minister to us and what if the real fruit is more love engendered between he and man? Just thinking out loud. At any rate, God bless your message. I’m interesting in reading it (perhaps as a post on the site? :-)

  9. I might post it. At least I’ll email it to you or something. Really deserved more time. My main point was just that Jesus didn’t give a sermon on how to be great. He wanted to crush our notion of greatness, because it blocks us from appreciating him and being fully aware of how great he is.

    It’s funny, in my chapter I was the first to really relish in writing testimony. It gave me a chance to really apply myself to the bible passage. It started the trend and became a burden in many ways, honestly.

    But I still believe that part of UBF’s power comes from the simple fact that when we do meditate on the Scripture, it can really work in our hearts and set us straight. The danger is in using it to appear holy, to shallowly consider it to keep face, or to hear someone’s heart cry and try to change them through manipulating their testimony.

    Personally, I’d like to see the reflections just be part of Bible study. they have power when they initiate real dialogue. The problem is that testimony has become an idol and a standard that people measure themselves by, instead of Christ (no matter what some people say).

    Interestingly, one of my family’s former Bible students who left our ministry engaged a couple teenagers in her church and encouraged them to study Genesis. When they did so without a ministry goal or pressure, the students really enjoyed learning more and sharing what they learned. This family now has weekly bible studies in their house, and when it gets too big, it splits and others start doing it in their houses and so on. All on their own free will and time spent. A beautiful offering to the Lord. I think UBF had this for a time, here and there, and likely still has it. But if so, it has changed.

    • Matt, good points about testimony writing:

      “The danger is in using it to appear holy, to shallowly consider it to keep face, or to hear someone’s heart cry and try to change them through manipulating their testimony.”

      “Personally, I’d like to see the reflections just be part of Bible study. they have power when they initiate real dialogue.”

      I never realized how vulnerable a person was making themselves through testimony sharing until much later in life. Listening to someone’s intimate thoughts in a constructive and healthy way takes a great deal of training and anyone could benefit from consulting professionals on this matter, such as counselors. I wish that in UBF, there could be more serious discussion about this.

      As to the second point, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve shared something in a testimony that was essentially begging for meaningful dialogue in my fellowship. Again, it’s difficult to process people’s intimate thoughts, but that never seemed to be the goal of testimony sharing meetings anyway.

      “When they did so without a ministry goal or pressure, the students really enjoyed learning more and sharing what they learned.”

      Simply beautiful.

      Also, would love to hear/read your message.

    • Charles Wilson
      Charles Wilson

      Matt, I’d also like to read/hear your message.

      As for testimony writing, I’ve always had a disdain for it. It’s forced and manipulative. Sharing them publicly on demand led to performances, competitions, at times just very strange musings, and so on. Most students who came to a testimony sharing meeting who grow up with a Christian background had a similar first response: the meaning of the word “testimony” was completely different from what they saw in other churches. Instead of people talking about Jesus, they were talking about themselves in, oftentimes, strange ways. For years I tried to remove testimony writing/sharing times from conference programs. You can image the reactions I received. Apparently, without those times students just won’t receive the word of God in a meaningful way.

    • Charles Wilson
      Charles Wilson

      It’s great to hear about that organic growth of coming together to read Scripture and share about it.

  10. Joe Schafer

    After re-reading this sermon by DavidW, I was reminded of an article that I wrote a long time ago on a similar theme: the sense of unreality that often pervades our spiritual life. This is what David called “over-spiritualization.” The article is here.

    http://www.ubfriends.org/2011/04/15/bringing-reality-to-the-spiritual-life-part-1/

    • Joe, it’s interesting that your two articles and my sermon seem to converge to a similar point, which is that true spirituality should manifest itself in a changed heart which enables us to love God and others in a concrete and genuine manner. There are two statements that I want to comment on:

      In the first article, you said:

      “Self-effort cannot bring our dead souls to life; God must do it. Similarly, self-effort cannot bear good fruit in our lives; God must do that as well. Just as we receive from God our justification from sin as a free gift of grace, we must also receive any good works that we do from God as a free gift of grace. This understanding of how to receive good works, rather than merely do good works, is notoriously difficult to describe. But it is not a minor issue. It is a fundamental principle of Christianity. Without it, the gospel isn’t really the gospel.”

      And in the second article:

      “The essence of the Christian life is not found in adhering to any list of external behaviors, but in truly loving God and loving other people. Sinful people are not naturally filled with love. The kind of love needed to live the Christian life requires nothing short of a supernatural, miraculous transformation of the inner person. Anything short of that is not authentic Christian spirituality; it is playing games and trifling with God.” – http://www.ubfriends.org/2011/04/26/bringing-reality-to-the-spiritual-life-part-2/

      I’ve been grappling with statements like these lately. What I see in relationships outside of the church, that is, those of non-believers, I find that people still display qualities such as unconditional love and genuine empathy and compassion. We could chalk this up to God’s prevenient grace I suppose and the fact that everyone is made in the image of God. It appears as though the Christian should have an advantage over or more insight into the concept of love than their non-believing counter-parts, but in practicality, I don’t often find this to be the case. Any thoughts on this?

    • My comment is not a knock on Christians, I’m just stating what I have observed. There is something particularly special and inspiring about seeing acts of true love/compassion displayed among those in social groups that don’t explicitly affirm the tenets of Christianity.

  11. Joe Schafer

    David, like a laser beam, you focused precisely on the part of these articles that I would change if I had written them today. Four years ago, I knew very little theology and I didn’t know that what I was learning from Francis Schaeffer was heavily laden with Calvinism. I’m not anti-Calvinist but I am now aware that there are diverse ways to think about grace, sanctification, etc.

    In response to your questions: I have many of the same concerns as you. In my opinion, it is unwise and unrealistic to believe that nonChristians are unable to show Christlike love. All love that is love ultimately comes from God, because God is love. All people who are made in the image of God are capable of godly love. Christlike love should be especially present in the lives of Christ-followers, because Christ is alive in them and the Holy Spirit should be actively working through them, bearing the foremost fruit of the Spirit which is love. But that is hindered when people think of salvation, justification, sanctification, etc. purely in in individual terms. The Holy Spirit descended corporately on the Church on the day of Pentecost, and it is in the body of believers (especially the relationships among them) where the love of God should be appearing in supernatural amounts.

    Sorry for rambling. But the relationship between gospel and church is very important to me right now. This lies at the root of what I have been wanting to say to UBF leaders for the last couple of years but couldn’t find the words. The gospel I learned in UBF was a church-less gospel. We (evangelicals) need to enlarge and renew our view of the gospel to understand what church is and how integral it is to God’s salvation plan. Once we do, it becomes possible to create structures and policies within an organization that are consistent with that gospel vision. But without that understanding of gospel and church, we are just groping in the dark, with no idea of how to identify or fix problems.

    • “Christlike love should be especially present in the lives of Christ-followers…”

      Answering the question of what Christlike love is or looks like is a task that the church needs to put at the forefront of its endeavors, in my opinion. In so many places in the gospel accounts and the epistles the supremacy of love is made abundantly clear. Even Jesus looks back to the Torah and says that it can be summed up as love God and love your neighbor as yourself. Certainly, even during the apostolic age of the church, sifting out the details of how this was to be practiced was a messy process, but from what is recorded in books like Acts, Romans and Galatians (specifically in regard to the interactions between Jews and Gentiles), it seems as though the church was beginning to get a grip on it. Though from church history, there were still many, many hiccups along the way.

      For instance, in the early church, deeply schismatic and sectarian behavior was taking place. The Donatists, particularly come to mind. They refused to allow those who had made some concessions while undergoing persecution to administer the sacraments of baptism and communion, which comprise the centrality of the outward marks of a Christian. I know that these issues are not so straight-forward and I don’t necessarily want to paint a picture of hypocritical or unloving intolerance, but such events in early church history give me pause. But again, I understand that the church was going through extreme birth pains at that time and things needed to be brought out of a place of chaos and disarray.

      I suppose I am pointing toward the fact that we are still very entrenched in that type of process today. Organizations like TGC come to mind (sorry TGC lovers and btw I don’t hate or dislike them). They seem more interested in determining who is ‘in’ or ‘out’ rather than inclusively loving others. It’s as if Calvin is seen as someone who had such theological precision that to go against what he deemed was the faith is akin to becoming apostate. But perhaps organizations like TGC ultimately see this kind of delineation as love; if you don’t know whether you are in or not, you might be liable to suffering hell fire. But this kind of delineation presents too many strictures that would disqualify numerous people. Adherence to the doctrine of the trinitarian nature of God for instance, is one boundary. Believe this or else you are heterodox and, not to mention, a false teacher if you happen to be a pastor. But I wonder how many Christians even understand that aspect of God and practice it in a way that is indicative of his nature. We also alluded to total depravity. This doctrine has been used to essentially relegate all nonbelievers as spiritually dead people who are incapable of being morally upright and moreover who are hostile to God. I find that many of this ilk are more worried about verbally adhering to the ‘correct’ doctrines more so than practicing what is truly important to Christ, which is embracing the idea of divine love. Anyway, this is starting to become a rant.

      At any rate, I wonder how we can nail down what gospel love is and how to practice it. I have a hunch that it will not be understood through the church alone (as sacrilegious as this may sound), that in these times we will have to venture out into the world and interact with the rest of humanity in order to understand this. I believe that God’s Spirit is at work in unexpected places.

    • Charles Wilson
      Charles Wilson

      If I could jump in here, I’ve had the same questions about love in and out of the church–Jesus told the apostles that their love for another, as Jesus had loved them, would be the defining character as his disciples to all people. Unfortunately, I spent too much time in telling how those who were not believers, those of the world, lacked “true” love and other noble and honorable qualities. I created this a false dichotomy that only served to puff me up or further distance me from the world and God. I’ll see a good movie, for example, and be moved by the love being portrayed in it. Humans are creating tangible ways for a sincere and moving love to be experienced throughout time. I don’t think that it has to mean that the love we find from people “in the world” has to conflict with the love of Jesus. It doesn’t mean they’re the same, and more often than not it falls very, very short of it. (Paul even shared a specific prayer for the “all the Lord’s holy people” to grasp the far reaching dimensions of the love of Christ, Eph 3:16-19). There is something much more to Christ’s love, obviously.

      I fully agree with what you said here, David, “I have a hunch that it will not be understood through the church alone (as sacrilegious as this may sound), that in these times we will have to venture out into the world and interact with the rest of humanity in order to understand this.”

      Jesus said that the love of many will grow cold. I am saddened that I see that in churches more and more being true, especially as the debates around gays and muslims continue to intensify. What you said also helps to think about the time Jesus spent with “sinners” in a new light. In UBF it was almost always put in the context of him serving his mission. But I think that speaking about it in that way takes away his humanity and divinity and turns him into a kind of mercenary. Does loving other people having to be put into another context of a mission? I don’t think so and this may be one reason why the Jewish leaders could not understand what Jesus was doing. Not that they thought he should be serving a mission, but they lacked the love of God in their hearts (as Jesus once said to them). Love is where the divine and the human come together. So I’m also trying to venture more into the world without a mission, but to interact and to be a human among other humans and to love.

    • Excellent thoughts! My take is this: Love is love, whether “in” or “out”. Love is the bridge that connects humanity. Love is the thread that knits us together. Love is the pathway that Jesus intended His gospel messages to travel.

      When we redefine love then we disconnect ourselves from reality. When we claim to have the “true” love we hinder the pathway of the gospel. To advance the kingdom is to clear a path for the kingdom; it is to remove the barriers or climb over the barriers that hinder us.

      Yes, love comes in many flavors and love is nebulous at times to define. This is because love is higher than what words can express. God is love. We cannot fully know love with words alone. We need to see, to feel, to express and to receive love to know what it is and how to recognize when we are being loved and when we are not.

    • Joe Schafer

      Love is not a part of the church mission or a means to carry out the church mission. Love is the mission.

    • Thanks, Charles for this comment. Your comment about movies portraying love reminds me of the Nolan film Interstellar. A conservative website, which shall remain nameless for now, featured a review that decried what they called “scientific romanticism” in the movie. That is, an atheistic view of the universe in which science will solve all of mankind’s problems. If you know anything about film (my wife read a book about writing screenplays a while back), there is an inside and an outside story. Clearly, the sci-fi element was the outside story, which is basically a vehicle or shell which delivers a more profound point. And the inside story is the relationship between a father and his daughter. The film actually presented a breath-taking depiction of familial love.

      Anyway, my wife and I have been watching quite a few films lately after putting the kids to bed just to de-stress. It’s been a good exercise in stretching my mind and heart to see what people outside of the church long for, rather than just slamming an idea as secular and thus useless.

    • Brian, you said:

      “When we redefine love then we disconnect ourselves from reality.”

      I think that I see your point; that we shouldn’t abstractify and convolute something so simple and basic to humanity and yet also so profound. Whenever I start to complicate the matter, I personally find it refreshing to appeal to Paul’s short discourse on love in 1 Cor 13. After reading some of the, shall I say, uncharitable comments by our recent posters, I thought about this verse:

      “If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast [or to the flames], but do not have love, I gain nothing.”

      In this context, some commentators have said that Paul is referring to boasting about potential martyrdom, which some Christians at that time were wont to do. I’m speaking from my personal experience when I say that whenever I tried to defend UBF as an organization or certain individual members, I had a martyr’s mentality and, deep down, I also felt as though I was getting extra browny points from God for defending his enterprise. But ironically, I can say that the times that I was doing this, I was actually largely ignoring the real hurt and complaints of those who were railing against the ministry. I lament the people that I have hurt in this way; I was acting out of a twisted view of love. I hope that some UBF defenders will consider whether or not this is the case with themselves.

    • Joe, your point is one that I expressed in my first article I posted on the site:

      “Lastly, some practical advice, not a command, to you today is this: If you have children or family that you have not seen for some time because you have been so busy with ministry, please go home and hug them. Tell them that you love them and that they are more important than any mission, that in fact they are the mission; your mission is to love them with the love of Christ.”http://www.ubfriends.org/2013/07/16/sophomoric-musings-my-dream/