Thursday, February 28, 2013

Grieving With Hope

The timing feels very fitting for this post because today is Heather's mum's birthday, and three years ago this week we found out she had terminal cancer.

At our house, we've proclaimed Nana's Birthday as a holiday from school, and we're celebrating her life and loves.

Today, I'm trying to live out some of what I've learned:
My biggest takeaway from Grieving with Hope, which is still bearing fruit in our ongoing grief, is the insight that grief is an expression of love. The authors quote Zig Ziglar: “Grief is the recognition that you’ve lost someone you love. It’s the price you pay for loving someone, because if there were no love, there’d be no grief” (p. 19). 
I suppose that’s fairly obvious, but I keep coming back to it. It is right to grieve! Jesus did it, and so should we (John 11:35). If we don’t hurt that we’ve lost someone we love, did we really love them?  I’m glad that it still hurts two years later that Heather’s Mum is no longer with us. That’s a measure of our love for her.
This book is very helpful, and I recommend it to others, because everyone experiences grief.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Pastor Vaughn Roberts on Same-Sex Attraction

One thing I've said that has been helpful to those who come to me with questions about Christianity and homosexuality is that we are all sexually broken, but we aren't all celebrating it.

In this interview Pastor Vaughn Roberts talks about his battle with same sex attraction and how he doesn't let that define him:

Does the disclosure that same sex attraction is one of your personal battles mean you are defining yourself as a homosexual?
No, it doesn’t. . . . All of us are sinners, and sexual sinners. But, if we have turned to Christ, we are new creations, redeemed from slavery to sin through our union with Christ in his death and raised with him by the Spirit to a new life of holiness, while we wait for a glorious future in his presence when he returns.
These awesome realities define me and direct me to the kind of life I should live. In acknowledging that I know something of all eight battles covered in my book, therefore, I’m not making a revelation about my fundamental identity, other than that, like all Christians, I am a sinner saved by grace, called to live in the brokenness of a fallen world until Christ returns and brings all our battles to an end.
He says a lot more that is very helpful, too.  Read the whole thing.

[HT: JT]

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Chris Brauns on "Resisting Gossip"

Obviously, I have a lot of respect for Chris, so I was strongly encouraged by his endorsement for Resisting Gossip.
“This book is excellent. Sweet and winsome in its presentation. Humble, yet biblically reasoned, ‘an apple of gold in settings of silver.’ I pray that it will be used greatly in local churches. It’s good stuff and MUCH needed.” – Chris Brauns
Thanks, Chris!

Monday, February 25, 2013

Blogs I Read: Chris Brauns' "A Brick in the Valley"

Someday, I'll meet Chris in person, but for now I'm glad that we're online friends.

Chris Brauns is the pastor of The Congregational Christian Church in Stillman Valley, Illinois, an author of multiple books, and a prolific blogger.

His blog is called "A Brick in the Valley"--not because their church building is made of bricks (though it is, and their nickname is "The Red Brick Church,")--but because the bricks are a metaphor for individual believers being united in Christian community.

Chris is very generous. He has sent me free copies of his first two books, Unpacking Forgiveness and When the Word Leads Your Pastoral Search. His third book, Bound Together, comes out next week, and I'm already recommending it to people. (Hint, hint, Chris.)

Chris has also given me a great big dose of his time. He served as a critical reader for my doctoral project, reading the first version of my book, and sending in his constructive criticism.  He's given me advice about publishing and introduced me to key people.  He also given me time on his blog with an ordinary pastors interview and a guest post on urban legends.

I highly recommend Chris' blogI regularly link to his site. He is really good at connecting biblical truth with everyday life.

For example, read this recent post where he answers the question (with help from blog readers), "“Why, even amongst Christians, are some of the most incredible statements in human history greeted with yawns of apathy?”

Some of my other favorites through the years:

Gossip Affects Your Spiritual Waistline

The Apostle Paul Sounds Better Than John Lennon at the Nursing Home

The Fear of Man Lays a Snare

Struggling to Find Workers at Your Church? Before You Get Discouraged . . .Read Matthew 9:35-38 and 
Remember: (I love his phrase, "Wear Out the Knees of Your Everyday Jeans.")

Chris obviously loves his family and his church and serves them both well.

I think my all-time favorite posts is 5th Tree Back, Right Side, As You Face the Throne:
My family talks about where we are going to meet when we get to the Heavenly City.
You have to see the picture in your mind. Revelation 22 says that there is a river as clear as crystal flowing from the throne of God down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river is the Tree of life.
Can you see that in your mind? The Lord Jesus sitting gloriously on a throne, a great tree-lined river crashing down from his throne, and vast throngs of people from every part of the world celebrating?
I can’t wait. But, I also want to make sure my friends and family know where to meet. Here is the plan. We are all going to meet at the 5th tree on the right side of the river facing the throne. Be sure it is the right side of the river as you face the throne. Then count 5 trees back.
My daughter Allison is concerned that our spot may already be reserved. What if someone like Daniel has reserved our tree? But, I tell her they’ll just have to share our space. We’re going to be right next to that tree in the Heavenly City.
If you know Christ, can you find just a few moments today to reflect on what you are looking forward to in the Heavenly City? Who are you looking forward to seeing? Can you imagine feeling perfectly healthy? No more death, mourning, crying, or pain (Revelation 21:3-5)!
Amen!  Read Chris' blog for yourself.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

[Matt's Messages] "God Is Love (Part Two)"

“God Is Love (Part Two)”
Essential Christianity: 1 John
February 24, 2013
1 John 4:13-21

Our sermon series is called “Essential Christianity,” because we are getting to the bottom of what we must be and believe to truly be followers of Christ.

And this is the second sermon with the same title, “God Is Love.”

We’ve learned that this is essential to Christianity: God is love.

God is light! And God is love.  

Not that God is somehow made of love, like we are made of flesh and blood or like toys are made of plastic and houses of bricks and lumber. God is not made of love.

God is love. Which means that God is all about love. Love is essential to His character. Love is central to His heart.

We saw last week that God showed us His love, not because we deserved it [we sure didn’t!], but He loved us anyway and sent His one and only Son into the world that we might live through Him.

God is love!

Now, last week, we only got through verses 7 through 12. 

But John didn’t write the little tiny letters in your Bible. Just like you and I don’t write little verse numbers when we write letters, John didn’t divide his letter up into little verses. He didn’t stop when he wrote at verse 12. 

We needed to stop last week, but that’s not because John was finished. We were!

But we’re back now and need to jump right into the flow with John in verse 13.

God is love.

I said last week that it’s almost impossible to know how to preach that.

I mean, what do you say?

It’s so profound and sublime all by itself: God is love.

Believe that! Know that! And all will be well.

In many ways, I think that’s the point of this passage.

Believe and know and trust that God is love, and all will be well.

But there are a lot of details here, and I think it would be helpful if I at least tried to guide through John’s thoughts.

As usual, he gives us a wily chase, with a lot of twists and turns!

But I’ve boiled it down to three points this morning that are all implications from the truth that God is love.

If God is love then what?  So what?

Here’s the first of the three.


Because God is Love, we live in Him, and He lives in us.

In verse 12, John has already said something like that. V.12

“No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.”

That’s pretty amazing, but in verse 13 he goes even further.

“We know that we live in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit.”

“We live in him and he in us.”

That’s a pretty deep idea and hard to wrap your mind around. 

But it’s glorious!

We live, we dwell, we remain, we abide, we live in him AND he lives in us.

How do we know?  The Spirit says so.

What Spirit is that?  The Holy Spirit.

“We know that we live in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit.”

How we do know that we have the Spirit?  One way is that we love. Because the fruit of the Spirit is love, and if we love, where does that come from?

Sometimes it seems like John argues in a circle, but that’s because all truth is connected and all feeds into itself.

And in the power of that Spirit, John and the other apostles have given us the Gospel. V.14

“And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world.”

Notice the Trinity in these two verses. Verse 13, the Spirit. Verse 14, the Father and the Son.

John says in verse 14 that the apostles have seen and testify that the Father done John 3:16!  “The Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world.”

And that’s the height of love, isn’t it?

That’s what we saw last week.  That’s as loving as you can get.

For the God the Father to send God the Son to be the Savior.

That’s love.

John Forcey, Cody Crumrine, Curtis and Stephanie Quick and I all went to our district theology conference, Stay Sharp, this week.

And one of the key doctrines we learned about was The Atonement, the Work of Christ on the Cross.

Why was Jesus hanging there? What did He accomplish?  What did He do? And why did He do it?

Jesus died for our sins. He was crucified to satisfy the wrath of God against our sin.

And that was love.

Love doesn’t just say, “Oh, it’s okay.”  Love makes it okay.

Love sacrifices. And there has been no greater sacrifice since the dawning of the world or will be any greater sacrifice in all of eternity than verse 14.

“And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world.” v.15

“If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in him and he in God.”

KJV “Whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God, God dwelleth in him, and he in God.”

If you believe in Jesus, and put your faith in Jesus as the Son of God sent by the Father, then God comes and lives in you, and you live in God.

That is just so mind-blowing!

We live in Him, and He lives in us. V.16

“And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him.”

So which is it?

Is it faith or is it love?  That triggers this mutual indwelling?

Is it that if we believe the right thing about Jesus–and confess and acknowledge that Jesus is the Son of God then, God lives in us and we live in Him.

Or is if we love others, especially other Christians, then we live in God and He lives in us?

Which is it? Faith or love?

It’s both, isn’t it?

Verse 15 is clear that it’s faith in Jesus.
But verse 16 makes it clear that it’s living in love.

It’s both.

And that’s because God is love.

V.16 “And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. [He sent His son!]  Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him.”

God is love.

And that means, at the end of the day, that we live in God, and God lives in us.

I think that for application, we should just marvel, just wonder, just revel, just celebrate, and be thankful for this truth.

Because it makes all of the difference.

See what a difference it makes in point #2.

Because God is love:


“In this way [this mutual loving indwelling of God and His people], love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment, because in this world we are like him. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.”

Here’s what I think John is saying.

When we come to understand and to believe that God is love, and that God’s love has reached us and is changing us, it blows away our cringing fear of God’s judgment.

V.17 again, “In this way, love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment, because in this world we are like him.”

Are you confident about the day of judgment?

Notice that John doesn’t say that because God is love there will be no day of judgement.

He doesn’t say that. He says that God is love, but there is still day of reckoning to come.

But believers in Christ who are being transformed by His love, have no fear for the coming day of judgment.

They know that God is making them more loving, more like Christ. “In this world we are like him.”

We walk in love. Not perfectly! Only Jesus walked in perfect love. But truly.

We walk in love because we are loved and God is living in us.

And we know that we are loved and so we are not afraid. V.18.

“There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.”

Now, this is not saying that Christians do not fear God.

The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom.

But it is saying that we do not fear God’s judgment to fall on us.

We do not fear God’s punishment.

We do not have a cringing, hiding, cowering fear of God any more.

Because God is love, and we know it.

Perfect love drives out fear.

Are you scared to death of God?

If you do not know Jesus as your Savior, then you should be scared to death of God.

Because our God is a consuming fire, and He is justifiably angry at our sins.

The world says that we’re not so bad and God’s not so mad.

But that ain’t true.

We have been bad, and it has rightly made God mad.

But God is love.

“And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world.”

Put your faith in Him, and then you can sing with Dawn Boyd, “Whom Shall I Fear?”

Perfect love drives out fear, and Jesus is perfect love.

If you are outside of Christ, then be afraid. Be very afraid.

But if you are in Christ, then you have nothing to fear. There is no fear in love.

And God is love.

But John doesn’t stop there. He has been driving at the same overarching point for several paragraphs now.

And it is point #3.

Because God is love:



“We love because he first loved us.”

We didn’t love Him first. And we didn’t learn to love other Christians first.

First, we were loved by the God Who is love.  And NOW we love, too. V.20

“If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother.”

Love your brother.

That’s the bottom line here.

You can’t say that you love God who is invisible, but hate your brother or sister in Christ who is right here in front of you.  That’s ridiculous!

This is essential. In fact, it’s God’s command. The God who is love has given us the command to love. “Whoever loves God must also love his brother.”

Of course, that’s easy to say, but not always easy to do.

But it makes a big difference that God first loved us, doesn’t it?

If God loved me, who was His enemy, I could probably love...fill in the blank.

I was talking this week with a pastor friend who church has gone from 1300 people to just over 300 people in the last several years.

And the problem has been a lack of love.

What Paul called “biting and devouring” each other.

Not trusting the leadership, not believing the best of each other.

Leaders, at times, not listening to concerns, not being as humble as possible.

People not loving each other.

Claiming to love God who it’s easy to say you love because you can’t see him.

But that guy?

You want me to love him?

Yes, or you are lying.

Love your brother.

My pastor friend recently preached a message where he put two boxes on the sermon outline on the back of the bulletin and asked the church family to put names into those boxes of people whom they have a chance to love or hate in the next week.

Somebody they could seek the best for or to seek their worst (even by ignoring them).

And he said that this would be a practical application of his message.

Whose name would you put in those boxes?

“We love because [God] first loved us.”

Perfect love, not only drives out fear, it also drives out hate!

“And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother.”

Who is that for you this week?

And how are you going to do it?

Because God is love.


Messages about Essential Christianity

Saturday, February 23, 2013

More Dungeness Spit

Hope to get back there this Summer.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Stay Sharp 2013 - Headed Home

Stay Sharp 2013
Stop back at the website for Waterdam Church to get the final versions of all of the teaching outlines and the audio files from Stay Sharp 2013.

For many pictures of this event, visit the Waterdam Church Facebook page.

Thank you, Greg Strand, for being with us and sharpening us.

See you next year!

Stay Sharp 2013 Last Session

Greg is bringing our conference to and end with some thoughts on the docrtrine of the atonement drawn from Robert Peterson's Salvation Accomplished by the Son.

Greg on Gregg

Greg just strongly recommended Gregg Allison's Historical Theology: An Introduction to Christian Doctrine.

How Important Is Understanding the Doctrine of the Atonement?

Greg is agreeing with and unpacking this quote:
What particularly interests you or seems important for a discussion of the atonement?
It is no accident that the idea of atonement should be under increasing question in contemporary theology because it fits into a broader range of doctrinal erosion that has already occurred.  If the full deity of Christ and a high doctrine of the incarnation are not upheld, it is impossible to have a high doctrine of the atonement.  Along with that we’ve seen serious erosion in contemporary understandings of the doctrine of sin.  Much of contemporary theology is concerned, and rightly so, with the plight of the victim.  But the victim cannot be understood apart from a more central plight and that is the plight of the sinner.  A failure to understand the saving significance of Christ’s death is at the heart of our malaise in the contemporary church, especially the Protestant church.
George Hunsinger, Perspectives: A Journal of Reformed Thought – Dialogue, “A Discussion of the Atonement: Abuse, Violence, Sacrifice, and the Cross” (February 2009).

Stay Sharp - Recommended Reading from Greg Strand

When asked what books Greg thought could be included on the booktable, he sent this list:

"For the message on The Historicity of Adam and Eve, I would suggest the following:

C. John Collins, Did Adam and Eve Really Exist? Who They Were and Why You Should Care (Wheaton: Crossway, 2011).

Peter Enns, The Evolution of Adam: What the Bible Does and Doesn’t Say about Human Origins (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2012).

Norman Nevin, ed., Should Christians Embrace Evolution? Biblcial and Scientific Responses (Phillipsburg: P & R, 2011).

Todd Charles Wood and Paul Garner, eds., Genesis Kinds: Creationism and the Origin of Species (Wipf & Stock, 2009).

Francis Collins, The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief (Free Press, 2007).

J. P. Versteeg, Adam in the New Testament, 2nd ed. (Phillipsburg: P & R, 2012).

For “The Work of Christ, i.e. the Atonement,” I would suggest the following:

Steve Jeffery, Mike Ovey and Andrew Sach, Pierced for Our Transgressions: Rediscovering the glory of penal substitution (Wheaton: Crossway, 2007).

Scot McKnight, A Community Called Atonement: Living Theology (Nashville: Abingdon, 2007).

Peter Bolt, The Cross From a Distance: Atonement in Mark’s Gospel, New Studies in Biblical Theology 18 (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2004).

I. Howard Marshall, Aspects of the Atonement: Cross and Resurrection in the Reconciling of God and Humanity (Carlisle: Paternoster, 2007).

Mark D. Baker and Joel B. Green, Recovering the Scandal of the Cross: Atonement in New Testament and Contemporary Contexts, 2nd ed. (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2011).

Charles E. Hill and Frank A. James III, eds., The Glory of the Atonement: Biblical, Historical and Practical Perspectives (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2004).

Leon Morris, The Apostolic Preaching of the Cross, 3rd ed. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1965).

Ian J. Shaw and Brian H. Edwards, The Divine Substitute: The Atonement in the Bible and History (Leominister: Day One, 2006).

John R. W. Stott, The Cross of Christ (Downers Grove: IVP, 1986).

David Peterson, ed., Where Wrath and Mercy Meet: Proclaiming the Atonement Today (Carlisle: Paternoster, 2001).

Derek Tidball, David Hilborn and Justin Thacker, eds., The Atonement Debate: Papers from the London Symposium on the Theology of Atonement (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2008).

Robert A. Peterson, Salvation Accomplished by the Son: The Work of Christ (Wheaton: Crossway, 2011).

Bruce Demarest, The Cross and Salvation: The Doctrine of God, Foundations of Evangelical Theology (Wheaton: Crossway, 1997).

James Beilby and Paul R. Eddy, The Nature of the Atonement: Four Views The Nature of the Atonement: Four Views (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2006).

J. I. Packer and Mark Dever, In My Place Condemned He Stood: Celebrating the Glory of the Atonement (Wheaton: Crossway, 2008).

Stephen R. Holmes, The Wondrous Cross: Atonement and Penal Substitution in the Bible and History (Carlisle: Paternoster, 2007).

J. Denny Weaver, The Nonviolent Atonement, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2011).

Mark Dever and Michael Lawrence, It Is Well: Expositions on Substitutionary Atonement, 9Marks (Wheaton: Crossway, 2010).


Stay Sharp Book Table

Greg started our morning by introducing us to the books on atonement on the book table from our partners in ministry at Next Step Resources.  (I've linked to the Amazon pages for those who don't have pages at NSR.)

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Allegheny District Credentialing Workshop

Following Stay Sharp's first two sessions today, we will be holding a district credentialing workshop.

Our Constitutions and Credentials Board (CCB) will be meeting with pastors who are interested in licensing and ordination using the Guides to Credentialing you can find on our district website.

Stay Sharp 2013 Session 2

The good folks at Waterdam Church provide not only a warm and welcoming facility for Stay Sharp but also an online archive of audio from past conferences and teaching outlines.

This year, Greg's outlines are already posted.

Greg always brings more material than we can process--it's like drinking from a firehose.  We didn't finish the material on Adam and Eve yet, so session #2 is still engaging those issues.

Stay Sharp 2013 Session 1

Greetings from Waterdam Church in Canonsburg, PA!

I had planned to liveblog our Allegheny District (EFCA) Stay Sharp conference today.

However, I'm experiencing the proverbial "technical difficulties" and will probably not try to keep up with things on this borrowed computer.

Here's a snippet though: Greg Strand has 4 teaching units, and he has dedicated the first one (going on right now) to teaching on the ongoing controversy over the historicity of Adam and Eve.

In his typical (and helpful) approach, Greg has reminded us to not adopt either minimalist nor maximilist approach to any of these issues--but also to affirm the gospel essentials and work out from there in our discussions.

Books interacted with so far include:

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

February Posts About Gossip by Christians

I am always keeping my ears open for what others in the Christian blogosphere (do we still use that word?) are saying about my "favorite topic."  (See what I linked to last month here.)

Here are four things that appeared in my RSS Reader in February:

1.  It Only Takes a Spark at the Peacemaker Ministries blog, Route 5:9.
The culture in which we live seems to worship the reckless word; the popular people just call it being “snarky.” For some reason, we’ve equated reckless with being wide-eyed and grown-up. The reality is that reckless should be equated with near-sighted and immature. Our marriages, families, schools, churches and country are ablaze. Oh, of course, we really didn’t mean to set them on fire, but we really didn’t make the effort to not set them on fire, either. Remember, through the power of the Holy Spirit, only you can prevent those fires set by reckless words.
Sometimes gossip is intentional--we mean to stab someone in the back. But often, gossip is careless and reckless. "I was just saying..." can hurt someone just as much.

2. How To Shut Down Gossip and Its Nasy Kin by Dan Phillips at Pyromaniacs.
First, understand what gossip is. Gossip is spreading harmful information in an ungodly manner — without love, and thus to no positive end. Its bastard stepchildren are the triplets: Strife, Dissension, Division. Once again, my focus is the life of the local church.
Phillips' definition is good because it recognizes the importance of motivation, intention, and heart-attitude.  While I think some of his practical steps can be a little heavy-handed and need to be applied with a big dollop of discernment, I know that he is right that we need to choose to resist gossip and do something godly instead.

3. Linking to Phillips and adding good stuff from past blogposts and friends Kent Hughes and Ray Ortlund, Justin Taylor gave us How To Stop Church-Killing Gossip

JT is always a one-stop shop for good resources.

Here's what he got from Kent Hughes: "Gossip involves saying behind a person’s back what you would never say to his or her face. Flattery means saying to a person’s face what you would never say behind his or her back."

4.  Tasty Morsels by Nancy Wilson.
A talebearer is a vehicle for gossip, chatter, idle talk, hearsay, and rumors. I picture a parade float with the very self-important queen seated on a throne tossing candy to the crowd as they slowly go by. In much the same way, a talebearer is tossing all kinds of tasty little morsels to one and all. “Did you hear….?” Another name for a talebearer is a blabbermouth. Not a nice description.
Wilson's article is one of the most succinct and helpful short articles I've seen on gossip. She talks about the addictive yet poisonous nature of gossip, applies it to family life, and reminds us that we need to choose godly alternatives.

Image courtesy of Ambro at

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Tim's Story - You Are Not Alone

As I listened to Tim's story (below), I was struck again with how important the loving reaction of his friends was to his revelation of homosexual desires.

One of Tim's friends, Eric Teetsel, wrote about their friendship in an article titled, "My Gay Roommate."
One lesson in particular stands out from the rest. Tim vacillated between acceptance of his sexual inclinations and the greater calling of his faith for years before finally finding rest in the decision to let Jesus be enough. That arduous journey was made much, much more difficult by voices from within the Church encouraging him to embrace his inclination to homosexuality.
The debates in our culture and churches about homosexuality are not just theoretical. They are about real people with real lives.

Note: I don't know why, but sometimes the words don't match the video. Listen to it, even if you don't watch.

[HT: Denny Burk]

Monday, February 18, 2013

Family Day

My favorite family photo. Jumping for joy together!
Today is my weekly family day off from my vocational duties as a pastor.  For the last (nearly) 15 years, our church family has been great about not engaging me as their pastor on Mondays--no unnecessary phone calls, etc. We normally take the day to do something fun as a family and to get some errands run.

Lately, I've been trying to maximize my time by taking the day off online as well.  I'm not so good at that--I have been finding that I creep over to the computer to try to get a jump on work or to waste time on my social media sites.  It takes a real commitment to make it work--but I am seeing some results (peace, focus, love) from turning off the computer on Mondays.  (Don't worry, I wrote this a few days ago and set it to auto-post. I am not online right now....At least I shouldn't be.)

The other thing I do on Mondays is the cooking. I try to make Monday Heather's day off. If I get one in seven, so should she!

What do I do the rest of the week?

I'm glad you asked. There is no typical week. This week, for example, includes a day in the office, a trip to the high school to speak to the FCA Bible Club, and a trip to Pittsburgh to coordinate our Allegheny District Stay Sharp Conference (check back on Thursday and Friday as I try to "live-blog" it).  After that, I write a sermon, lead a baptism class, lead worship & preach that sermon, speak at a nursing home in the afternoon, and then host our Link Group at our place for a Bible study. 

But next week? That'll be totally different. I like the variety!

For more on what I do all week, see this class post: Pastor Matt, G.P.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

[Matt's Messages] "God Is Love"

“God Is Love (Part One)”
Essential Christianity: 1 John
February 17, 2013
1 John 4:7-12

We’ve turned the corner on the second half of 1 John and can almost see the end from here–though we do still have several weeks to get there. I expect to end just before Resurrection Sunday.

Our series has been called “Essential Christianity” because we’re learning what is essential to be and to believe to be a Real Christian.

Don’t worry, we won’t play “What the Essence” today, that was too much running for me! 

But we have been learning about the essentials of Christianity.

Today, we will get hear one more.

It is one of the most simple and, at the same time, amazing truths in the whole Bible.

Are you ready for it?

Here it is.

“God is love.”

Believing that “God is love” is one of the essentials of essential Christianity.

God is love.

This is John’s “Love Chapter.”

We know the Paul’s Love Chapter is 1 Corinthians 13.  One year, we memorized it together.

This is John’s Love Chapter–the chapter in all of John’s writings that talks the most and the most deeply about love.

And it says (twice), “God is love.”

And there is too much here to cover (in the way that I want to) in just one week, so we’re going to divide it up into two messages.  This week, Part One, verses 7 through 12. And then, we’ll plan to finish the chapter next week with Part Two.

“God is love.”

Now. That’s not all that God is. John has already given us a simple and startling statement that begins, “God is...” What?

“God is light.”

He is perfectly good, perfectly holy, perfectly glorious, perfectly radiant.

God is light.

And now, John tells us something more. “God is love.”

I’m going to start with a trick question today.  Ok?  Are you ready?

For the last 3 weeks, the main take-away from each sermon has been a simple sentence that you could ask each other at the Sunday dinner table and anyone could remember and repeat.

The first was “Love Your Brother.”
The second was “God Is Greater Than Our Hearts.”
The third was “Test the Spirits.”

Here’s the trick question.

What takeaway sentence should be the main application in our lives of this paragraph of holy Scripture?

Now, remember, this is a trick question.

What would you say?

The obvious answer is “God is love.”

And that’s the title of today’s message and is something that God, John, and I all want you to remember!

But the key takeaway application in this passage is, “Love one another.”

V. 7, “Dear friends, let us love one another.”
V.11, “We also ought to love one another.”
V. 12, “If we love one another.”

Three times John repeats it. I think he means it.

“Love one another.”

This is not the first time in this letter that John has told us to do that, and it won’t be the last.

John says that Christian love for our Christian brothers and sisters is ESSENTIAL to Christianity.

Love one another.

Easy or hard, we all need to do it.

In verse 7, he emphasizes it in a way that is hidden in our contemporary English Bibles by saying, “Dear friends, let us love one another.”

The “Dear friends” used to be translated, “Beloved, let us love.”

Loved ones, let us love!

That’s what Christians do.

Love one another.

But John goes further here than he has so far in telling us exactly why we should love each other and in doing so he goes really really deep to the very character and heart of God Himself.

Why should we love one another?

I think John gives us at least 5 reasons.

#1. GOD IS THE SOURCE OF LOVE.  V.7 again.

“Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.”

One of the hardest things about preaching 1 John is that John says some of the simple and most profound things. What does the preacher say about them?  How can I get out of the way and let these elegantly simple but profoundly amazing truths speak to us again?

John says that the beloved should love one another.


“Love comes from God.”  King James, “Love is of God.”

If there is any true love in the world, it finds its source, its origin, its generation, its birth in God.

Love comes from God.  That’s where it comes from.

Lots of things come from God. In some sense, everything good comes from God.

But love is special.  Particularly holy love. That’s a gift from God alone.

And John says, v.7 again, “Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.”

Now, that sentence, if it was alone might lead you to think that anyone who ever did a loving thing was been born of God and has a relationship with God.

That’s not what it’s saying.  John has made it clear just a few verses before and will again just a few verses from here that to be born of God and have a relationship with God you have to know and trust Jesus.

But those who claim to know and trust Jesus but have NO LOVE are fakes.

Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.  The opposite is also true. V.8

“Whoever does not love does not know God,”

Love is essential, and if you don’t do it, you aren’t real.

“Whoever does not love does not know God,”

Why?  Everyone together!

“...because God is love.”

We should love one another because...


Not only is He the source of love, but He is love Himself.

God is love.

I don’t know what to say about that.

It is just so profound.

I will say this, we can get some wrong ideas about what that means.

I remember talking to one clown, literally, he was a clown with me on the circus that I used to travel with Summer of 1993, and I was trying to explain the gospel to him.

And he said, “Oh you and I believe the same thing.  God is love and love is God.”

Oh. No. That’s not what I believe.

I don’t believe that love is God. That makes an idol out of love. Romance becomes central to life. And anything that you decide that love is becomes what you worship.

No, love is not God.

But God is love.

Another mistake the people make is to think that “God is love” means that that’s all that God is.  “Well, God is love.” “God is loving.”

You can boil God down to one thing–love.

But that’s not all that John has said about God.

He said, “God is light.” And that’s saying that God is holy. That God is good.

He’s not just loving. He is good, and holy, and perfect, and righteous.

You can’t boil down God to just being love.

He is all of those things and more and perfectly that.

The Bible also says that God is holy, holy, holy.  

And those things fit together perfectly in God. They are not at war.

God is holy, holy, holy, and God is love.

Another mistake is to think that saying, God is love means that God is somehow made of love.

If you opened Him up, so to speak, and saw what he was made of, it would be love.

But, I don’t think this is saying that love is God’s essential nature as much as it is saying that love is what God is all about.

Love is what He is best at.
Love is what He does.
Love is what God is all about.
He’s always doing it.
He’s perfect it.
He is love personified.
He is love in action.

This goes right to the character and heart of God.

If you said, “Keith is streetrods.”
Or you said, “Dan is motorcycles.”
Or you said, “Curt is sports.”
Or you said, “Tim is hunting.”
Or you said, “Matt is books.”

God?  Oh, God is love.

And love, not just as a feeling or a word, but an action.  V.9

“This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.”


God manifested His love.

He didn’t just talk the talk, He walked the walk of love!

“He sent his one and only Son [only begotten] into the world that we might live through him.”

Sounds like John 3:16, doesn’t it?

Just that it says “sent” and not “gave,” but they mean the same thing in this story.

“[God] sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.”

And in doing that He showed his love to us.

And we all know this. We talk about it every week here at church.

Many of us have grown up knowing this, “[God] sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.”

Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Let’s never get used to this idea.

This is amazing.

That God would have a son.

That God would send His son.

That God would send His son to give us life.

And we know how He did that. He gave up His own life.

And He did it FOR US!

This is amazing; no matter how much we already know it.

#4. GOD LOVED (EVEN) US! V.10. 

“This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.”

John can’t get over that.

And hopefully we won’t get over it either!

God loved US?

We didn’t love God!

We hated God!

We were all rebels. We were all sinners. We were all, like Steve Sorenson said last night, “broken by sin.”

And God loved us?

God sent His son (one and only son?!) into the world that WE might live through him?

“This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.”

A propitiation.

An offering that propitiated God.

That satisfied God’s just anger for our sins.

Because God is just.  Not just light, not just love, but just.

He is righteous.

He doesn’t just love. He hates. He hates sin, thank God!

And we were all sinners.

But He loved us so much that He gave His own Son to die in our place.

May we never get tired of that story!

And may it motivate us to love each other.  V.11

“Dear friends [beloved!], since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.”

If God would do this, then we should do that.

I was surprised when I read v.11 this week that John didn’t say, “Since God so loved us, we ought to love God.”

Isn’t that true?

Sure it is.

We should love God because God loved us.

But that’s not where John goes.

John says, “Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.”

And I think that part of why he says that is that it’s not easy to love other Christians.

Remember the key takeaway application of this paragraph is to love one another.

If God has loved us, then we will be loving.

“Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.”

Turn that around. “Everyone who has been born of God and knows God, loves others.”

God’s love changes us and enables us to love the unlovable.

Just like we were.

So, the point is not, “I just love this church! The people here are so great.”

The point more is, “God is calling me to love my brother or sister in Christ that so often drives me nuts.”

Who do you need to show love to this week?

Not the easy ones.  The hard ones.

Remember that you once were a hard one yourself.

But God loved you anyway.

“Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.”

One more reason why. Number Five. Because...


“No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.”

I’m not sure of all of what that means, but it sounds glorious.

God is invisible. No one has ever seen Him.  But we make His love visible when we love one another.

God (somehow, mysteriously) lives in us and (let this one blow your mind) His love is perfected in us, completed in us.

Not that His love was imperfect before, but as we love, His love reaches its completion, its purpose, its fulfillment in our hearts and lives.

I want that.

I want God to live in me and for His love to be complete in me.

And I want that for our whole church.

For God to live in us and for His love to be made complete in us.

Because God is love!

And therefore we should love one another.

Let’s get started.