Â Â Most of us are an independent lot.Â We are not at all likely to put up with very many people telling us what to do.Â In fact, we most likely resent being told what to do by anyone.Â In the 1980s, Japanese cars began to incorporate into their construction voices to tell you what to do. Â The voices reminded you that you were low on gas, a door was ajar, to fasten your seat belts.Â In the show room of Golden Imports the Nissan Maxima was spotlighted on the east side of the showroom and on the westside were the Volvos, BMWs, and Peugeots.Â It was about 7:30 PM one evening, and we were winding down the day.Â A 24-karat Bubba came in on the east door of the showroom, and was â€œattackedâ€ by several hungry salesmen.Â I watched with detached disinterest until he slammed the door on the Maxima and headed straight toward me.Â His anger showed from his vibrant red neck up as he stormed to me and asked, â€œDoes a Volvo talk to you?â€Â I started to make a smart aleck remark like â€œNo, but they make a statement about you,â€ but I thought better about it. Within thirty minutes, we had a deal. Â I had set a 4 PM the next day as delivery time and we were now friends and visiting.Â He had come in to by a Nissan Maxima, and went home a Volvo owner.Â He said as he left my desk, â€œI have a wife, I have an ex-wife, I have a mother, I have a mother-in-law, and an ex-mother-in-law.Â I have two daughers, and a daughter-in-law.Â I have a woman boss, and I do not need one more woman telling me what to do.â€ Most of us feel that way.Â We have enough bosses; we want a little self expression, and freedom to do our own thing, in our own way, at our own time.Â I want to be me!
Â Â Â The New Testament is written so that we would know that â€œAll Authority in heaven and on earth was given to Jesusâ€ (Matthew 28:18 and I Peter 3:21).Â Â Jesus has also appointed and provided leaders for his church, â€œIt was He that who gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors, and teachers, to prepare Godâ€™s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God, and become matureâ€ (Ephesians 4:11-13a).Â The church works best when those in authority treat those under them with love and respect, and those under authority, obey and follow instructions.Â Â Â All the denominations and various Christian so-called faiths, are a result of someone insisting on usurping authority that belongs to someone else.Â The Biblical pattern is so clear in the New Testament; each congregation is autonomous under the direction of their appointed elders.Â Into this mix over the centuries came hired ministers, paid clergy, area bishops, heads of national churches, state and national headquarters, and world headquarters, and bingo, you have a thousand different so-called Christian religions. The secular world and other religions look at the splintered body of Christ and laugh at Jesusâ€™ prayer for unity in John 17.Â If Jesus is really God, is this what he had in mind? I think not.Â The truth is if the church today were equated to a meal, we would be a bowl of unsalted, cooked without meat, lima beans; mushy, savorless, bland, and totally unexciting.Â I believe what Jesus had in mind for the church would be far better exampled by a meal of spicy burritos, with green chili, chopped beef, cheese, and a liberal smattering of Pico de Gallo.Â Little wonder that the world basically just ignores the church today.Â If Jesus were really God, and we believed that, and acted on that belief, what would the church look like today with 2 billion members worldwide?Â
Â Â The questions being asked about God today, are coming from the world around us. â€œIf God were so powerful, why didnâ€™t he create a world with no sin, a utopia?Â The answer is simple, â€œHe did.â€Â And par for the course, man messed it all up, and the world became one â€œmell of a hess.â€Â
Â Â Following in the heels of that question, â€œWhy does God allow suffering and pain if He is really God?â€ That answer again is that God did not plan a world of suffering, and pain was created as our best friend.Â Suffering is a direct result again of sin.Â We have emotional suffering because our life is all messed up, and we are anxious about things we fear will happen, our bodies are messed up with chemical addictions, our relations are all messed up with bad decisions in how we are to be honest with each other or treat each other.Â Much of our suffering is self made.Â As to pain, pain is a gift from God as a sensor warning that we are about to be injured.Â A pain of touching a hot pan warns us in advance of burning our hand so badly that we cannot use it. Internal pain gives us a warning that something is wrong, and that we need a check up to get it repaired before disaster happens.Â The Leper has loss of fingers and toes and becomes deformed because his leprosy deadens his tactile sensors that warn of pending injury. Pain was created as our friend and protector.Â Too often we are all too soon ready to deaden our pain rather than to listen to it.
Â Â The next questions the God doubters ask, â€œWhy does God allow hurricanes, tsunamis, floods, blizzards, and weather and natural disasters that kill so many?â€ Â Â From my study in geology and palenontology, I can tell you that all these natural disasters were not in the original plan of God in creation.Â In the beginning of creation, our world was sitting in relationship to the sun so that the north pole, south pole, and equator received the same amount of sun every day.Â That is, the world sat with true north and magnetic north being the same.Â If you look at a globe today, it is tilted 21 1/2 degrees and the world wobbles through space so that in December northern Alaska is in total darkness 24 hours a day, and Antarctica is in total sunlight for a few weeks.Â There is ample scientific evidence, that at sometime in history, the world had an even environment. There is petrified giant Sequoia Red Woods north of the artic circle, frozen hairy mammoths in northern Siberia with semi-tropical food quick-frozen is their tummies, undigested. There are petrified magnolia blossoms in Greenland. And beneath Antarcticaâ€™s frozen snow pack is one of the worldâ€™s largest coal reserves. Geology and paleontology clearly point to the fact that, sometime in earthâ€™s history, a gigantic holocaust happened and everything was shook up. Biblically, we point to that time as the great worldwide flood in Genesis.Â Before that flood, there was a perfect climate worldwide, a NASA computer model estimates that there would be no more than a 10 degree difference worldwide in temperature.Â The earth was on a rock solid foundation.Â After the flood, geologists speculate that the tectonic plates were all shifted, continents shifted, oceans enlarged, the earth was shifted 21 1/2 degrees, and suddenly we had glaciers, earthquakes, and destructive weather all brought about by sin and God redoing the world.Â Genesis 8:21bff; â€œNever again will I curse the ground because of man, even though his heart is evil from childhood.Â And never again will I destroy all living creatures, as I have done.Â As long as earth endures, seed time and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and nights will never cease.â€
Understand our world of harshness and disaster was not in the design of God, but the result of mankindâ€™s rebellion and stupidity.Â The secularistsâ€™ question that I want to answer today in this essay is at the heart of the church that God created to represent him on this earth.Â The secularists and weak-kneed Christian asks, â€œWhen there is disaster, when I am hurting, when things go wrong, where is God?â€ God has reassigned this earthside duty to the church, The question should be, and â€œWhen there is disaster, where is the church?Â
Â Â As I have described on the back cover of this Epistle, God has re-assigned much of His miracle working duties to the church today.Â When the hurting need relief, when the dying need aid, when the hungry need food, when the lonely need a friend, when those in jail need a visit, when those in the hospital need prayed for and a hand to hold, when God needs to show up, He has designed the church to be â€œJohnny-on-the-spot.â€
Â Â The real disaster is that too many of them donâ€™t show up.Â I want to say, in the defense of the Church worldwide, we are doing a much better job of showing up today than we were 25 or 30 years ago.Â Today, the IDES of the Christian Churches and Churches of Christ, the menâ€™s organization of the Southern Baptists, the Lutheran menâ€™s organization and many, many others have been there to help in areas of disaster this past decade.Â Para church organizations have brought food, equipment, aid of every kind, and the Church has been showing up.Â Not only showing up, but staying and building homes, refinancing businesses, providingÂ tools to make a living and so much more.Â I want to take a look at what I believe has happened, and why the church has transformed from a bland bowl of unseasoned lima beans as Mark Labberton wrote in his book, â€œThe Good News is much bigger than we made it out to be.â€Â To a spicy meal of world changing, salt and light groups that is better represented by a smothered burrito of beef and green chili with a generous covering of cheese and Pico de Gallo.Â
Â Â God never told his church to build buildings with stained glass windows, high ceilings, brick walls, that are closed most of the week.Â He sent his church into the world to be Jesus to folks on both sides of the tracks to, well how did Isaiah say it as quoted by Jesus in Luke 4: â€œThe Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.Â He has sent me to bind up the broken hearted, to proclaimÂ freedom for the captives, and release from darkness for the prisoners. To proclaim the year of the Lordâ€™s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zionâ€”to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness, instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despairâ€ (Isaiah 61:1-3a).Â The church is sent by the God of the church to be His hands, feet, arms, heart, in the world that is suffering from sin and despair.Â
Â Â How did the church miss that for nearly nineteen hundred years?Â In reality, after the apostles finished their work and went to heaven, the churchÂ was looking at Jesus from 10,000 feet away.Â Close enough to recognize him But, â€œLike Googling the earth on the computer, â€œEarth view of Jesus only identifies the most prominent features of His life and teachings, bringing nothing too close, and taking nothing too seriously. Such a Jesus would be vaguely interesting, but he is consigned to blandness and faint praise.â€™â€ Kind of like a bowl of unsalted, bland lima beans.Â Â When you get up close and personal with Jesus, it is a whole different picture and appearance.Â Such a bland church doesnâ€™t â€œfollow the God who burns for justice for the needy, they are most likely to ask the Lord for â€˜our fair share.â€™Â A bland God for a bland church, with a mission that is at best innocuous and quaintâ€”in a tumultuous world.â€Â A church more interested in building buildings than building people.Â A church more interested in their own way, not Christâ€™s.
Â Â The reason the church has been Centered on building local buildings and in personal projects, rather than on the worldwide mission, it just was plain easier and that didnâ€™t require dealing with 6.5 billion people that are so very different.Â The creator God has 300 created types of hummingbirds, and 500 varieties of bananas; there are 6,000 recognizable languages and a multitude of cultures.Â That same God, decided on one family, a universal church that had one goal and purpose. This is indeed a true God-sized project.Â
Â Â â€œPostmoderns are keenly aware that we live in a vastly heterogeneous eHe
worldâ€”of cultures within cultures, of languages within languages, of religions within religions.Â They are likely to find it extremely counterintuitive that a single religion or deity could possibly reflect reality.Â In this world variety, uniform solutions in politics, economics, and culture are unappealing, undesirable, and unworkable.Â How can that be any less so when it comes to matters of religion and spirituality?â€Â Â
Â Â Is it realistically possible for the God of such diversity in the world to proclaim that there is now just one way to God, and that we were all to be one family?Â How could he require religious uniformity from a world of such diversity?Â The problem in understanding this uniformity, are we are all looking for the wrong thing?Â We want a uniformity of church style and government, we want a uniformity of chosen working language, we seek a uniformity of dress, organizational style and methods, and all we find is a hodge-podge of confusion of styles.Â Jesus on the night he was betrayed gave us the marching orders that brings us into His planned unity. Hear Him well, â€œBy this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.â€Â And in a few verses he will say, â€œlove one another as I have loved youâ€ John 13 and 14.Â â€œSuch love is meant, at the very least, to make our lives more truth-bearing, more soul-enlarging, more justice-evidencing.Â To give ourselves in love is to devote ourselves to â€œthe more important matters of the law: justice, mercy, and faithfulness, â€œrather than fiddling with our â€˜mint and dill and cuminsâ€™â€ (Matt. 23:23).Â
Â Â Â When we get involved in this kind of love, all the sudden we look past all the differences and get involved with the heart of the matter of the church, not the more obvious differences that causes the world to think we are so diverse and scattered and divided.Â This kind of love does not enlarge our fellowship at once, but values it like finding the pearl of great price, not some cheap imitation.
Â Â â€œWe have to give up the small gospel that simply confirms what C. S. Lewis called our â€˜congenital preference for safe investments and limited liabilities.â€™Â The freedom of grace grants us many gifts, including that there is â€˜now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesusâ€™ (Romans 8:1).Â This assurance of grace is meant to set us on the road of faithful discipleship, not just to assure us of grace at the finish line.Â Such freedom enables Christâ€™s disciples to love because we have first been loved (1 John 4:19).Â The grace that settles our account with God is meant to set us free from self-interests for the sake of loving others with abandon.â€Â
Â Â The truth is, we live in a love hungry world. A world that is well aware of being steeped in sin and degradation.Â A world that knows full well that they are on a hell bound slippery slope, greased and with no handles.Â If there is indeed a God, He must be able to meet them at their needs, not condemn them for their shortcomings.Â Such a God must have a church that will truly love them and show that they are disciples of Christ.Â
Â Â But first we musts realize that it is by Grace that we are saved, by faith, as expressed in Ephesians the second chapter.Â We are not saved by goodÂ works, but saved (Eph. 2:10) to do good works.Â Those good works begin with loving the unlovely. And learning what Jesus means, â€œTo love others as I have loved them.â€Â Â Â Â Â Â Â HH
Â Â For centuries the church has had the wrong idea about love and the wrong definition of love.Â We have been told that we must love everyone, but that we donâ€™t have to like them.Â That is psychobabble.Â Â You cannot love someone that you donâ€™t like, and for centuries the church has totally been on the wrong track as far as loving the world as Christ loved them.Â Â If God is God, then our God can teach us to love like He did.Â Â He first loved us.Â
Â Â â€œThis is obvious in ordinary experience.Â We come to know the meaning of love by loving and being loved by particular people in particular places and times.Â We donâ€™t come to know love first as a broad category, and then as a particular instance.Â Rather, only if we are loved in particular do we gradually come to love more broadly.Â The absence of the particular leads most likely to absence of general ability to love.â€Â In short, we learn to love someone in particular by being loved by them.Â To love someone requires getting to know them, and sharing a common experience with them.Â Getting to know them will lead to learning to like them and sharing your life with them as they share their life with us.Â We are always running into someone that can- not love, and are unable to return love when we try to love them.Â
Â Â â€œStill, the more noteworthy this absence of love in peopleâ€™s lives, the more we suspect a deficit of an experience of being loved.Â And that is precisely what millions of unchurchedÂ people suspect about Christians, and therefore about the gospel we proclaim; without more-evident fruit of self-sacrificing love, at least when we are affirming a God of love, the more our claim of Â Â particularity seems corrupt, bankrupt, or worse.â€ Â Â That is, we talk a good game of love, but lack the loving attitude, relationship, to convince the world that our talk is real.Â We fall back on â€œI love them, but I donâ€™t have to like them,â€ and they pick upon that at once.Â In short, the church has not even been able to love each other in the church; so, we have totally avoided loving the world as Jesus loved them, and it really shows in our behavior in spite of our evangelistic talk.Â
Â Â â€œThe particularity of our sun is not a problem, because it shines on the just and the unjust. So does Godâ€™s particular love in Christ.Â The Church cannot afford to give the impression that the particularity of the gospel only shines on us.Â If we love as we have been loved by Christ, the immensity and scope of Godâ€™s intimate and cosmic gospel in Jesus Christ will be more evidently the salt and light of the world.Â We will be far more like Jesus describes usâ€”tangy and full of robust and tasty Good News.â€Â That is the gospel that will attract and win the world to the universal church of Jesus Christ.
Â Â At the same time, that particular love in our life begins by learning to know each one around us, and spreading out in a relational circle till we have thousands in our sphere of influence and love.Â That particular learning to like and love people will change how we deal with everyone around us.Â
Â Â From the full message of this Epistle I want you to know that Jesus is really who He claimed to be.Â He is Immanuel, God with us.Â He was right when he said that â€œIf you have seen me, you have seen the Fatherâ€ (John 14:9).Â Paul was right when he wrote to the Colossians, â€œFor God was pleased to have all His fullness dwell in Himâ€ (Colossians 1:19).Â Paul was right when writing to the Hebrews, â€œThe Son is the radiance of Godâ€™s glory and the exact representation of His beingâ€ (Hebrews 1:3).Â Jesus is God, and God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself.Â God in Christ will provide for us, prepare for us a heaven in which to spend eternity.Â He will protect us, and we are his family, adopted sons and daughters that are joint heirs with Christ to the kingdoms of the Father.Â Â We are family.Â How then should we live?Â So What?
Â Â Â If we want to live like Jesus is God, then we need to love people as Christ loved them and love them in the particular.Â That means we have to like them, by getting to know them and spending love on them as the family of God, or potential family of God.Â That means loving obnoxious people that come to church and seem to be against everything that we do.Â They have a million excuses for not getting involved or taking part.Â Yet, we are getting to know them, are learning to love them, and that means to overlook their obnoxious remarks and attitude. That means giving the Holy Spirit room to work in their lives and convict them of sin at the right time and at the right place. Until then, I am just called on to love them.Â
Â Â That means loving the mentally challenged person that insists she is married to Jesus one day, and signs herself as Satanâ€™s wife the next.Â That means not to fight back when she accuses you of stealing all her wealth, and â€œstuff.â€Â And seek to help her find her way in life, even when all her family has turned their back on her. Â The state courts and mental health service is ignoring her. Â No one said it would be easy to love like Jesus loves.Â
Â Â We need to love the brother and sister in particular that seems to have and finds in necessary to use a style of language that would make the average sailor blush.Â To love in particular that brother and sister that canâ€™t stay out of the wrong bed while they are striving to learn to get it right with Jesus and get on the straight and narrow that seems so impossible at times.
Â Â That means loving in a particular way those noisy kids that seem to always be making the wrong decisions about life.Â Those kids that have parents that you have taught them to obey, and those very same parents are restricting them from the Lordâ€™s House each and every week. You are caught in a catch-22, you want them in Church and you want them to obey their parents.Â You pray for their life to be spared until they are 18 or 21 and can make decisions on their own.Â You listen to non-attending parents that make association rules for their student in Church, and you strive to keep within the guidelines and still be accountable to God.Â Â
Â Â Â We need to love family that you canâ€™t always tell your reasons why you are doing things the way that you are, and they are upset that you are not doing things the way they want them done.Â Or feels that they should be done.Â
Â Â Learning to love as Jesus loves will take you many a night to Gethsemineâ€™s garden of olive trees and dark shadows.Â There will be many a night that you can relate to Jesus asking that this cup will pass from him and you look at your hands and you are still holding the cup and you know that you must drink it to the bitter dregs, the lost world is watching you and judging your love.Â