Bigger fish to fry

I’ve been thinking recently about past controversies in the theological circles I run in. The worship wars, the Calvinist vs Arminian debates, “emerging” vs “emergent” (remember that one?), and so on.

Many of these are still going on, and others are being cooked up all the time. If you’re incensed because someone used the phrase “reckless love” in a worship song, for example, you’re still in these battles.

I’ve been in them too. Case in point, over the past fifteen years or so I inched closer to Calvinism though I never fully embraced it. For various reasons I’m now crab-walking away from that brink as fast as I can, but that’s a post for another time (and, no, my pigeonholing friends, I’m not an “arminian” either).

Things have changed. The few topics I raised above, and many others, are important and deserve to be worked out fearfully and respectfully. But they seem, to me at least, to be mainly side shows these days.

Bigger questions are looming now. For example, what is the future of the evangelical church in America? Have we learned from our unholy alliances or are we going to double down? Will the church become a leading force for good and needed change? Will we continue to automatically dismiss certain concepts, such as “justice”, as being aligned with theological liberalism? Will it continue to be impossible to blame ourselves for anything because we are GOOD PEOPLE?

A few days after the resurrection Peter and some of the disciples decided to go fishing. It’s unclear why; they may have been hungry, they might have needed some money, or maybe it’s because that’s what they always used to do. When in doubt, catch a trout.

You know the story. They didn’t catch a thing until the Lord showed up on the shore and told them to cast their nets on the other side. Then the catch came.

When they got out on land, they saw a charcoal fire in place, with fish laid out on it, and bread. Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” John 21:9‭-‬10 ESV

They had gone back to what they always did. Jesus showed up to, among other things, remind them that there were now bigger fish to fry. The old pursuits weren’t the main thing anymore.

I think we’re in a moment like this, and have been for a long while. In John 21 Jesus connects love for him with love for the sheep that he has entrusted to us. This echoes the greatest commandment, doesn’t it? Love God and love your neighbors.

“Feed my sheep” surely does mean to feed the people in our care (our neighbors) with the truth. But what’s needed is the whole truth, not just those truths and semi-truths that are comforting and convenient (such as “We’re GOOD PEOPLE”).

“Feed my sheep” is not an other-worldly command. It often means literal feeding. It means valuing and advocating for justice,  turning the other cheek, giving of ourselves, going the extra mile, giving up our treasures.

I wonder if, while we claim to be rich and whole, we’re sick and broken and poor.

We’ve wasted a lot of time on small distractions. There are bigger fish to fry.

Heartbreaking implications

A friend of mine posted on facebook: “Our President is new…the Great Commission is not. As our President begins his new work, it’s time for Christians to get back to their work.”

Here was my original response. The only part I left in the comment is the part in bold below but I’m posting my full thought below.

I fear for many of our American Christian brothers and sisters, the “work” they think they’re supposed to be doing is furthering political agendas, garnished with Jesus-talk to give the facade of spirituality. I came of age in the 80s and the early days of the religious right and was an enthusiastic partaker for many years. In this election the mask was finally taken off. Principles that they swore were unshakable (and that they used to bludgeon past Presidents) suddenly were discarded. So I really appreciate the sentiment, Mark. But I don’t believe it anymore. Lord, we need a generation of Kingdom-minded, not Nationalistic, Christians who will have their focus on God’s kingdom and not on political idolatry.

The Republican party is not now and never has been the answer. I repent for ever thinking it was.

Implied in your post is a heartbreaking truth – so many devoted so much time in service of a political idol while the great commission calling on their life languished,and the witness of the American church suffered greatly. Unpopular opinion, I know.

Turning the tide

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen. – Galatians 1:3-5 ESV

“To deliver us from the present evil age.” There’s something there, tangible, that I often miss.

Through his death and resurrection, the Lord Jesus delivered us from death and hell, and has given us eternal life. It’s easy to think of that deliverance only in the future tense. But if you’re paying attention you’ll notice that the New Testament resonates brightly with a sense of the Now.

Salvation in Jesus is forever, of course. But forever started that moment that he took you into himself. These days have enough trouble of their own; deliverance from these days, these evil days, is happening now.

Deliverance from, not teleportation out of.

The Lord is with us – that’s his forever promise – and he is turning us each day into immortal beings like himself who are becoming immune to the evil of our times, and indeed are daily more and more a part of his heavenly host, turning the tide.

Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.  – Matthew 6:10 ESV

Out with the garbage

Oh, this is so good. From Ray Ortlund’s latest post, Out with the garbage:

“We have become, and are still, like the scum of the world, the refuse of all things.” 1 Corinthians 4:13

Gospel people know where they belong – out with the garbage. In this world of false glories, the cross and all who love it will never measure up to this week’s definition of cool. The early church accepted that, and triumphed. Now it’s our turn. And one thing to gladden us is this. Even below the bottom of the heap is the Lord Jesus Christ, the weakness of God and the foolishness of God, saving everyone low enough to discover him there.

Thoughts on a new season

My friend Riley recounts what he’s learned at our church over the years. His dad, who has been the music minister at our church for a long time, is moving on to work for World Hope. This is one of those *good* resignations, because it’s God moving someone on, not a break in fellowship. They will still be church members, at least for awhile.

I love the Sheehans. God speed you guys!

I’ll make just a quick hitlist of just some hard lessons I learned through 16 years of worshipping, fellowshipping and working at Houston Northwest:

  1. If you base your vision for a church on a man or a program, and invest all that you are into it, you will ultimately be let down. Base your vision on God, and be faithful to Him. He might use a man or a program, but he certainly is not either of those.
  2. If you work hard for others and not unto the Lord, you’ll be left dissatisfied. People are people. God is God. Approval from man tastes sweet on the tongue, but doesn’t fulfill the appetite. Slaving away for man’s approval will leave you worn out, tired, wasted, and useless. Instead entrust your work to the Lord.
  3. If you don’t have patience and love in all you do, you will harbor bitterness and become ineffective in your ministry. Bitterness leads nowhere but to sin. Carry yourself in love, grace, and kindness. Most of the times the finger you point at others should also point back to yourself. And when that realization is made, then the Cross and the Gospel’s universal truth seem much more poignant.
  4. Before you say or do anything, and as you say/do it, and after… think of and enjoy the Gospel. If we don’t fight sin and build ministries on the Gospel, they’ll crumble. If we don’t build words on Gospel truth, they’ll fail. If we don’t encourage other people in the Gospel, but with other means, they won’t be refreshed.

. . .

So here’s to you HNW, and all you have meant to me. May you continue to grow and flourish in a love for the Gospel, God, the world, and each other. I love you with all my heart.

In Christ

-Riley

Great wisdom. The above is just a few excerpts. Read the whole thing if you can.

Blessed at church

I’m so thankful to have a teaching pastor who doesn’t shy away from the hard passages.

Today’s message was one of the clearest and most in-depth sermons I’ve ever heard on the difficult passages in Hebrews 6 (primarily verses 4 through 8).

Scratch that. This was possibly the only sermon I’ve ever heard on that passage. And Dr. Howell dove pretty deep into it; he discussed the strengths and weaknesses of the various interpretations, shared supporting scripture, and included generous and frequent references to the Gospel.

It’s so good to be in a place where the Bible is taught.

Embarrassed by each other?

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” – John 13:34-35

These are words Jesus spoke to his disciples on the night before his torture and crucifixion. They amaze me. They cause me to bow in shame. They cause me to rejoice.

This passage has been simmering in me for quite some time. I have found it hard to tackle this core truth; this beautiful, beautiful diamond of a command that Jesus gave us his last night on earth pre-resurrection.

“By this all people will know that you are my disciples . . .” – by what? By the fact that we have love for one another. I like the way the ESV (and NASB too) render that last phrase: “if you have love for one another”.

Do you know anyone who has love for you? I certainly hope so. I hope I’m not mangling this or reading too much into it – not all versions translate it that way – but I am caught by the subtle difference between “if you have love for one another” and “if you love one another”. Someone can love you and never show it, can’t they? Someone can say they love you, and not mean it. But if someone has love for you – the image I get is that they have love ready, available, on full display, kind of like a good meal, set out for you – now that’s quite another thing.

But be that as it may, it is definitely quite another thing, quite a different thing, quite an amazing thing, to love our brothers and sisters in Christ so that all the world can see it. That’s the beauty of the church. You see, loving people who are just like you is easy. But the church is diverse, different, full of many, many different kinds of people, spanning the globe and spanning history.

The love of Christ is the kind of love that can spring into full bloom between two people who’s only similarity is that they are in Christ. When the world sees that, they know it’s real. The love of Jesus, truly and freely given to our brothers and sisters in Christ, is the height of (to use a word very popular these days) authenticity.

It’s absolutely beautiful.

And this is one reason I am afraid. Not just because the church is divided; God’s love can span those divisions and has for millennia. But in our day, in this time, it seems our divisions are becoming more dumbed-down, and hence less hefty, and, therefore, far less excusable. It’s one thing to respectfully divide from a brother over the weightier matters of doctrine. It’s quite another to divide from him because he isn’t as relevant as you are, or because you want to be called “Christian” and he wants to be called “Christ-follower”, or because his suit irritates you, or . . . whatever. It’s one thing to disagree on the meaning of communion, quite another to bash your brother because you think ministering to people’s physical needs is primary and you’re embarrassed because he wants to give them a Bible.

It’s common to be embarrassed by our brothers and sisters in Christ, isn’t it? It’s so easy to have that thought slip into our minds: “They’re doing it wrong. They’re giving me a bad name.” When, God help us, by our rejection of our brother, we give Christ a bad name. I’ve written around this subject recently, and continue to think on it with Christ’s words in mind.

I read the passage at the top of this post and I want to sing and dance for joy, and I want to fall to the ground and hide from God’s wrath. I’m no theologian, but I’m pretty sure that it means that Jesus wants us to have love for our Christian brothers and sisters. Full, unashamed, on-display, familial love. Not a love that sweeps aside true differences, but rather a love like that with which Christ loved, one that sharpens our brothers and sisters, speaks the truth in love, forgives, yields, shows mercy, gives others preference in honor, and stands beside them always.

“just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.”

If there was ever someone who Jesus could be embarrassed of, it’s me. It might be you too. Yet he loves me. And he loves you. And he wasn’t too embarrassed to be seen with us. In fact, he humbled himself beyond all imagining to come dwell among us so we could kill him.

In light of that, the least I can do is follow his example and love you.



Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. – 1 John 4:7