Three Guiding Principles for the Church

Sometimes it’s good to get back to basics. Doing so may reveal that we’ve gotten off track. Or it may affirm and empower us in the way in which we are already going.

With so many voices and competing truth claims pulling us this way and that, it behooves us to recall what it is that we are to be about as Christians, both individually and collectively. And when we turn to the Bible, God has given three main guiding principles. They are:

  • The Creation Mandate
  • The Great Commandment
  • The Great Commission

Let’s look at each briefly.

The Creation Mandate

Otherwise known as “The Cultural Mandate,” this is the nickname given to Genesis 1:28 which says: “God blessed them and said to them,Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.'” Christians throughout the ages have seen this as a call to cultural, familial, and societal participation. It calls people to get married and have children. To work to provide for yourself. To contribute to society. To pursue creative endeavors. To grow food. To take care of animals. To build cities. To seek the good of your community.

These ideas are echoed elsewhere in Scripture. To The Jewish exiles, the prophet Jeremiah passes on a message from God, urging them to “seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.” (Jeremiah 29:7) The Apostle Paul also reminds the Thessalonian church: “make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.” (1 Thessalonians 4:11-12)

This guiding principle tells us that God assigns dignity to the mundane, to the normal parts of life. God does not call us only to evangelism or only to loving one another; he calls us also to work in the contexts of creation and our families and communities.

The Great Commandment

We see this spoken by Jesus in Luke 10:27. “He answered, ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'” It is the call to be guided by love in all we do–first by love for God and then by love of other people. We love God by learning about him, using our energy to serve him, and communing with him. 1st Corinthians 13 lists ways that we can love our fellow humans–by treating them with kindness, being patient, assuming the best, and speaking the truth. This principle, the call to be guided by love, reminds us that God cares not just about our knowledge, but also about our affections and motivations.

The Great Commission

In Matthew 28:18-20, Jesus commissions his disciples specifically and the church generally, saying, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Similar ideas are expressed in Acts 1:8, which quotes Jesus as saying, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

The idea is that Christ wants his church to grow—in breadth (making new converts) and in depth (creating mature disciples). Another component of “breadth” is that Jesus wants disciples of all kinds of people. Following the pattern of Acts 1:8, Christians are to evangelize and disciple those near to them (Jerusalem), those unlike them (Samaria), and those far away from them (the ends of the earth). This guiding principle reminds local church bodies to look beyond themselves in the cause of bringing people to maturity in Christ. It may require immense effort and discomfort, and yet it is what God has called and empowered the church to do! Christ will build his church, the Gates of Hell will not prevail, and he calls us to participate in such a work.

Conclusion

When the church neglects any one of these principles, it becomes unbalanced; worse, it fails to live according to the call that God has given. On a corporate level, various denominations may tend to focus on one principle while neglecting another. On individual level, a person’s culture or personality may lend itself more towards one over the others. The point is not that everyone needs to apply these principles in the same way, but rather that all three should be pursued in some way–individually, yes; but even moreso, corporately.

On the other hand, to those who feel discouraged, unsure if their tasks matter, may these principles offer encouragement. Whether you are caring for children at home, making beautiful YouTube videos, teaching missionary kids, holding the hands of the sick, praying with a co-worker, or participating in local government—what you are doing matters for God’s Kingdom! Press on, dear friends!

So, in closing, let us remember the dignity of work, the beauty of creativity, and the weight of our duties to society and family. May we be guided by holy affections and motivations. And may we live out the vision of the expansion and maturity of Christ’s church.

Let’s get back to basics, shall we?

~Hannah 🌸

A Scriptural Response to Charleston

charleston3My heart is broken for the families of the victims of this atrocious massacre, but in light of this horrific incident, the families are practicing what they’ve heard preached their whole lives – forgiveness.

Business Insider reports the following:

“Family members of those killed during a bible study at a historically black church in South Carolina Wednesday night were given the chance to speak to their loved ones’ alleged killer during his bond hearing today.

“Although my grandfather and the other victims died at the hands of hate … they [the victims] lived in love,” Alana Simmons, the granddaughter of Reverend Daniel Simmons, said in court.

“Their legacies will live in love so hate won’t win,” Simmons said.

So, how do we respond? I and many of my readers live in Arkansas. We can’t physically be there for the city of Charleston, and even if we could, what could we possibly do? The damage has already been done. So, today I want to talk what we can do now to show the sincerity of our love for Charleston as the city goes through this time of mourning and loss.

I believe our response should be one of love, prayer, and forgiveness with a full recognition of Jesus Christ as our Prince of Peace.

Love
The Bible clearly teaches that our love should be unconditional. If you don’t believe me read 1st Corinthians 13:1-13 and 1st John 3:10-18. As a matter of fact, read the entirety of Scripture and show me one place where God gives us one excuse for us, as His New Covenant people, not to love freely, unconditionally, and sacrificially. So, whom do we love? We love the people of Charleston. We love the friends and families of the victims, and we love people like Dylann Roof. That’s hard to say and probably hard for you to read, but let’s examine the words of Scripture:

“If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. 33And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. 34And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount. 35But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. 36Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.” – Luke 6:32-36, ESV

Jesus makes no qualms about it. “Love your enemies.” Now, more than ever, the words of our Savior should be ringing our hearts and our minds. We know the victims showed loved and affection for Dylann Roof when he walked through the doors of their church by this report from the article mentioned earlier:

“The mother of the youngest victim, 26-year old Tywanza Sanders, told Roof that “every fiber in my body hurts, I will never be the same.”

“As we said in the Bible study, we enjoyed you,” she said. “But may God have mercy on you.”

I watched the coverage on Fox Business of Roof’s bond hearing, and I heard only a portion of the hurt in Sander’s voice as she spoke these words, and the friends and families of the victims say that the congregation completely welcomed Roof as soon as he walked in. They had no idea who he was. They just wanted to love him as they had been loved by God, and that’s what we need to do, love.

Prayer
We need to pray for peace for Charleston, we need to pray for comfort for the families, we need to pray for racial reconciliation, and we must pray for our enemies. Again let’s turn to the words of Jesus:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. 46For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” – Matthew 5:43-48, ESV

Let’s think about this just for a second. Why do we have enemies? Why do we have people like Dylann Roof who hate and express that hate through violence and bigotry? Why did Adolf Hitler persecute the Jews? Because Satan hates what God loves, and sin stands directly against anything that God ordained as good and holy. So,if God loves racial harmony and racial unity (and we know that He does), then sin causes people to hate God and everything that He loves including racial harmony and racial unity. We know that God loves these things because He sent His son to die for people of all races, creeds, and nationalities. If you don’t believe me, then let’s look at the book at the Book of Revelation:

“And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, with seven horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. 7And he went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who was seated on the throne. 8And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. 9And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, 10and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.” – Revelation 5:6-10, ESV

This passage points us to a time when racism, sexism, and all of the other “isms” are no more, and it points to people that were redeemed by the shed blood of Jesus. All peoples of every tribe, nation, and tongue are singing to the sovereign Lord of the Universe. This is real racial harmony because this is when all earthly races become one race, God’s chosen race, His redeemed people.

So, when we go back to Jesus telling us to pray for our enemies, He tells us how to pray in Matthew 6:5-13, and finally He gives us the confidence to pray this way in Mark 11:23-24 when He says that “whatever you ask in prayer, believe… and it will be yours.” So, what should we pray? We pray for the salvation of Dylann Roof and those like Him, but we pray ultimately that God will have His way with him.

One of two things will happen by the end of Roof’s life, He will either stand before God justified by grace, through faith in Jesus Christ, or He will stand condemned, under the kindled hot wrath of Almighty God as servant of sin. And either way, God will have had His way with him. What he did was horrible beyond description, but when he stands before the judgement bar, only God can judge him and we must come to terms with that.

Forgiveness
“For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, 15but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” – Matthew 6:14-15, ESV

I want you to notice something in this passage. Jesus doesn’t put any conditions on forgiveness. He doesn’t say, “Wait until the offending party asks for forgiveness.” He simply commands us to forgive others their trespasses regardless of the act, regardless of whether they ask for it, and especially regardless of whether or not they deserve it. Our whole motivation for forgiveness to see how much God has forgiven us in Christ (Ephesians 4:31-32).

The families of the victims have shared the Gospel and extended forgiveness to Dylan Roof, and I truly believe that the Bible commands us to do the same. The Christian Post stated that a gospel musician by the name of Marcus Stanley left a message on Roof’s Facebook before it was taken down for security reasons, and in a portion of the message Stanley gave an invitation to accept Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior.

“If you’re still out there… Give your heart to Jesus and confess your sins with a heart of forgiveness. He is the only one that can save your soul and forgive you for this terrible act that you have done.” Stanley then added, “I love you Dylann … even in the midst of the darkness and pain you’ve caused. But more importantly, He loves you.”

A Need For the Prince of Peace
The prophet Isaiah proclaims that Jesus will come as the Prince of Peace. Paul tells us in Ephesians 2:14 says that Jesus is our peace because He breaks down racial, cultural, and national barriers and brings near the throne of His grace by His blood.

We live in a broken world. What happened at Charleston is proof of that (as if we needed more proof). Only Jesus can bring peace to all the futile racial wars that fallen man fights. His redemption by His destroyed all walls and beckons us to a life of love and Christian unity.

“Not color but faith in Christ is the mark of the kingdom. But it is a mighty long journey. And the price is high. Jesus was on the Calvary road every step of the way. He knew what it woud finally cost Him. It would cost Him His life. But His heart was in it. To the end.” – John Piper, Bloodlines

Charleston needs Jesus. Dylan Roof needs Jesus. I need Jesus. You need Jesus. This world needs Jesus.

Joy To The World: A Christmas Homily

This post was inspired by a Christmas post I read from John Piper entitled, “World, Get With the Program: Joy! Joy! Joy!”

Issac Watts was a theologian, a logician, and a writer. On his headstone it will read “July 17, 1674 – November 25, 1748”. Within the dash between his birthdate and his death date, he penned a book about logic and over 750 hymns, many of which we still use today.

“That’s my kind of person! Lucid logic for seeing truth, and a living soul for feeling it and singing it. This is what we were created to be.” – John Piper’s Description of Issac Watts

One of the hymns that Watts wrote was “Joy To The World”. It was based off of his own personal meditation of Psalm 98 and most agree that the psalm and the hymn are vivid descriptions of Christ’s Second Coming. Pay attention to the very last verse.

“O sing to the Lord a new song, for he has done marvelous things. His right hand and his holy arm have gotten him victory. 2The Lord has made known his victory; he has revealed his vindication in the sight of the nations. He has remembered his steadfast love and faithfulness to the house of Israel. All the ends of the earth have seen the victory of our God. Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth; break forth into joyous song and sing praises. Sing praises to the Lord with the lyre, with the lyre and the sound of melody. With trumpets and the sound of the horn make a joyful noise before the King, the Lord. Let the sea roar, and all that fills it; the world and those who live in it. Let the floods clap their hands; let the hills sing together for joy at the presence of the Lord, for he is coming to judge the earth. He will judge the world with righteousness, and the peoples with equity.”
– [Psalm 98:1-9 NRSV]

This psalm gives us two clear reasons for us to have joy this Christmas season: Christ loves the world (verse 3) and Christ will judge the world (verse 9).

CHRIST LOVES THE WORLD

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved. – [John 3:16-17 KJV]

“The sin underneath all our sins is to trust the lie of the serpent that we cannot trust the love and grace of Christ and must take matters into our own hands”
― Martin Luther

Satan wants to make us blind to any evidence of God’s love toward us. If he can convince us that we’re not loved by Almighty God then we’ll believe that God left us with no way out of our sin and no where to turn in times of temptation, but that’s not the truth. God has provided a way of escape from our sin.

A little over 2,000 years ago, a baby was born into this world that would forever shake history, and change the course of humanity. That baby’s name was Jesus. He was the Son of God. He grew up like you and I did, had to eat, drink, and breathe just like the rest of us, but He was entirely sinless. He lived a perfect life that couldn’t have lived and died the death that we deserved to die, but the story doesn’t end there, he rose again to proclaim victory over sin.

Now that sounds like a happy ending, right?
It gets even better…

CHRIST WILL JUDGE THE WORLD

“Let the floods clap their hands; let the hills sing together for joy 9at the presence of the Lord, for he is coming to judge the earth. He will judge the world with righteousness, and the peoples with equity.” – [Psalm 98:8-9 NRSV]

One day Jesus will come back to judge the world. Everyone that has received the grace and forgiveness of the Lord will be taken to live with Him for eternity. All those that rejected the love of the savior will be thrown into outer darkness where there is wailing and gnashing of teeth. In judgement all things will be made right. Things will once again be complete peace and rest, just as they were before the Fall.

As you celebrate your Christmas with your friends and loved ones this holiday season, be thankful for every moment you have and keep in mind that it’s only a foreshadow of the wonderful fellowship we’ll experience in Heaven together.

The Black & White Truth About Love

black and white love

“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful;it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” – 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 (ESV)

“Now, I let go of your hand somewhere in between
Love and what it demands of me.”
– As Cities Burn, The Hoard

“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.” ― C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves

Not to quote Rob Bell or anything, but Love wins. I don’t mean in the Universalist sense like he does. I mean that active love always wins by bringing glory to God through our works of love. Consider what Jesus says in Matthew 5.

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” – Matthew 5:14-16 (ESV)

Our good works done out of the motivation of love, bring glory to God. It’s not just a “I’ll volunteer at the shelter if I have time this week” kind of love nor is it a “If I have some money left over at the end of the month I’ll give to the missionary fund at church” kind of love. It’s sacrificial love. It’s love that costs you something. A wise man once looked me in the eyes recently and said “Love is sacrifice. Always.” Real love will always cost you something.

Three of the most valuable resources you have are time, energy, and money. Where you spend the majority of your time, energy, and money is where you find the aim of your love.

As we go into Advent this Christmas season let us consider the aim of our love. Where are we putting our time, energy, and money? Are we using our three most valuable to resources to sacrificially love God and others, or are we bowing down to altar of comfort and ease?