The Shape of Love

We are able to love God and others because, the Bible tells us, God first loved us (1 John 4:7, 10-12, 16). Think of our love for others as an overflow of God’s love for us. When we receive the love of God, we can’t help but love God and others.

When Jesus was asked what the greatest commandment was, he had over 600 commandments to choose from. The Israelites had a lot of commands they were commanded to obey in the Old Testament. Would Jesus say, “Do not murder” is the most important? Would he answer, “Have no other gods before God” was the primary commandment? No, instead, he summed up the Ten Commandments by saying, the greatest commandment is to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. Then, he said, and the second most important commandment is to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. 

By commanding us to love God and our neighbors, Jesus summed up the main points of the Ten commandments. The Ten Commandments show us what this love looks like. The first four commandments emphasize our love for God, while the last six focus on neighbor-love.

But even there, we think we’re obeying these commands by NOT doing something we’re commanded not to do. But the commandments mean so much more. For example, not only are we NOT to murder another person, but we are to have their best interest at heart and try to help them when we can. There’s a positive side of every command, just as there is a negative side.

The Good Samaritan not only committed no harm to the injured Jewish man (The Jews and Samaritans hated each other, as groups of people). But the Samaritan did more than “not hurt” the Jewish man, he helped him. He put the Jewish man’s needs before his own. He went out of his way to help him and then made sure that if more was required, that too would be taken care of. Jesus is telling us that that is what our love for others should look like. 

That’s the shape of Christian love. And most importantly, that’s how God loves us. We aren’t called to love others because they deserve it any more than God loves us because we’re so awesome. We love others because the grace-filled love of God flows in us and through us so that we can love others with God’s love. Thanks be to God for his love. Amen.

Son of Encouragement

A Man Named Joseph

Joseph was a Jewish Christian who lived in the first century. While he wasn’t extremely rich, he was a landowner. He lived in a time and place in which many of the early Christians were greatly persecuted.

One of the things Joseph did to help his fellow Christians was to sell his land and give the money he made to the group of believers in Jerusalem. However, not only were the early Christians being stripped of their money, their very lives were being threatened for following Jesus. Therefore, Joseph traveled the land to encourage those believers and to persuade them to keep on keeping on in their commitment to Christ.

He was much loved and though you’ve probably never heard Joseph’s name, the early church knew him well. He was highly regarded among them. In fact, he was so highly considered that the leaders of the early church assigned him the job of teaming up with a recent convert to the faith, a fellow who had been known for stirring up a great deal of trouble against the early church.

This new convert had been a great persecutor of the early church, but now, seemingly out of nowhere, was a disciple of Jesus. Understandably, the men and women of the early church found it difficult to trust this man.

What this new convert needed desperately was for someone greatly loved and trusted to come alongside him and help him build bridges to the rest of the early church. That’s exactly what Joseph did. In fact, Joseph did such a thorough job that he was eventually eclipsed by the mighty work God did in and through the life of this new disciple. This new disciple of Jesus became one of the most influential missionaries and theologians the Church, in any age, has ever seen.

Perhaps you have figured out who that “new convert” was. It was Saul of Tarsus who became the Apostle Paul. However, you may not be quite as sure of Joseph’s identity. Maybe you know him by his nickname: Barnabas. The name “Barnabas” meant, “Son of Encouragement,” and that’s exactly who Barnabas was. He was a great encourager.

Come Alongside Of

One of the primary definitions of the word, “encourage,” is “to come alongside of.” That’s exactly what Barnabas did.

He came alongside those in the early church when they needed money. He sold his land and gave the profits to the early church in Jerusalem.

He came alongside the persecuted believers and lifted their spirits with the message of the Gospel and by reminding them of the hope they had in God.

He came alongside Paul when he was distrusted and disliked by so many folks and helped to bring reconciliation and trust between Paul and the early churches.


Stay tuned for Part 2

One Hundred Godly Men

The Mission

I’m on a mission. I’m searching for one hundred godly men.

John Wesley once wrote in a letter…

“Give me one hundred preachers who fear nothing but sin and desire nothing but God, and I care not a straw whether they be clergymen or laymen, such alone will shake the gates of hell and set up the kingdom of heaven upon earth.” (From a letter by John Wesley to Alexander Mather in 1777)

For Wesley, “preachers” didn’t have to be what we call professionals. Instead, the proclamation of the Gospel and the witness of and for God’s Kingdom was to be done by every person who follows Christ. The undergirding biblical witness of Wesley’s words inspires and provokes in me a strong desire to see one hundred godly men in my community fear nothing but sin and desire nothing but God. If such a faithful fellowship of one hundred brothers in Christ could be cultivated and encouraged, it would transform our little corner of the world for Christ.

A Grand Vision

Is this too grand a vision? Thomas Chalmers once said, “No matter how large, your vision is too small.” In other words, nothing is impossible for God and therefore, we must dream big. I believe this vision for one hundred godly men is well within the reach of a sovereign and gracious God. Of course, my desire is not only for my community. Instead, my prayer is that bands of one hundred godly men will spring up in countless “little corners of the world.”

The Nature of the Call

This is not a call to nominal or cultural Christianity. It is a call to what John Wesley described as Scriptural Christianity (what I have referred to as Kingdom Discipleship). Following Christ in such a way steers clear of halfhearted and mere intellectual belief in Jesus. Instead, it’s the terrifying and exhilarating call of discipleship our Lord warned must be responded to first by counting the cost of following him daily. This does not produce a privatized or compartmentalized faith. Instead, it develops a faith that is passed from one person to another, from one generation to the next. As salt and light, this faith permeates every sphere of a person’s life, in homes, workplaces, communities, cities, and, ultimately, the world.

The Real Counterculture

I once heard pastor and writer, Tony Evans, preach these words,

  • As the man goes, so goes the family
  • As the family goes, so goes the church
  • As the church goes, so goes the community
  • As the community goes, so goes the city
  • As the city goes, so goes the state, the nation, finally the world

This, I believe, is nothing less than Scriptural Christianity, than Kingdom Discipleship.

Our world is in great need of such men of God, for they are truly, in our day and age, the real counterculture and one of God’s primary provisions for a lost and hurting world. Such men are ambassadors of the King of kings, and therefore, minister and bear witness to the kingdom of this world under his authority and according to his agenda. They have no message but his. And not only are they called to proclaim this message, but they must also live it out before a watching world. The motivation of their mission is love for their Lord and their neighbor.

Join Me

This mission to find such men is part of God’s call in my life. Through Bible studies, small groups, one-to-one discipling, mentoring, spiritual direction, counseling, and writing, I am prayerfully working to help and encourage available and willing men become the kind of men God has created, redeemed, and called them to be. I believe God is calling you to be such a man. Join me on this journey.

Finding Your Paul, Barnabas, and Timothy

One-On-One Discipleship

In my reading over the years I’ve been often reminded of how important one-to-one ministry is in the course of one’s Christian journey. In working with men in particular, I’ve observed that as a man invests his life into the life of another man, real growth can occur in remarkable ways. This is one of the key ways our faith has been passed down through the centuries. And I can certainly attest to the power and influence such a ministry has played in my own walk with Christ.

A helpful way of thinking about one-on-one ministry is to think about three names: PaulBarnabas, and Timothy. Below is a description of what each name represents as we think in terms of ministering to other men.

Paul

1.) Paul represents that person in your life who mentors, leads, and directs you. This is the man who comes along side you to disciple you on your pilgrimage of faith and life. This is someone who has traveled further down the road of faith and life than you. He doesn’t have to be a great deal older than you, but it probably ought to be someone who has walked faithfully with God long enough and far enough for you to profit from his wisdom – his reflected-upon experience, study of God’s Word, etc. And it usually is the case that, though not exclusively so, this man will be older than you as well. But, as I said, sometimes this simply means, “older in the faith.”

I hasten to add that you must beware of someone who says he has been a Christian for 25 years when in reality, he has been a Christian for only one year, 25 years in a row. In other words, there has been no growth and maturation over that 25 years. My own observation as a pastor is that this sort of person abounds in the church. There are many people who, by their own admission, haven’t learned much more about God’s Word and walking along the road with him, than when they were children in Vacation Bible School. And so brothers, you must be careful about this. Pray for discernment.

Also, just because a man is at the top of his game in his profession, does not mean he is likewise mature and advanced in his faith. Success in one field of endeavor doesn’t necessarily mean success in another area of life. As I heard one person describe it, a man may have a Ph.D. in psychology, but have a second grade Sunday school degree in Bible. This is not the sort of man you want to have as your Paul.

Barnabas

2.) Barnabas is someone who encourages you and holds you accountable in your faith and life. This is more or less a mutual friendship, or what’s called in the world of spiritual formation, a “spiritual friendship.” In the book of Acts, Paul and Barnabas traveled together side by side. Barnabas was a key person in Paul’s life, especially at the beginning of his walk with Christ when he introduced Paul to the Christian community. Their relationship then became one of mutual encouragement, ministry, and accountability.

There are men I have discipled for years who have gone from being a Timothy in my life to becoming a Barnabas to me. And while I can still disciple them, they also minister to me in many ways.

Timothy

3.) Timothy is that man you help guide along the road of faith and life. This is generally someone who has not traveled as far as you have in your walk with Christ. Such a man is marked (or should be) by an eagerness to grow in his relationship with Christ and is humble and teachable enough to receive what you have to share and to interact with you on the things of faith and life.

This “mark of a Timothy” should not be ignored just for the sake of having a Timothy. There are many smart guys out there who don’t have teachable spirits. They feel they have nothing to learn from another man. So too, some are indifferent to the things of God. Timothy, Paul’s “son in the faith,” as Paul called him, was humble, teachable, and eager to know, love, and follow God through Jesus Christ. So too, a “Timothy” shouldn’t expect to only receive guidance and wisdom from his “Paul,” but should plan on becoming a Paul himself one day so he can begin the whole process over again with another man.

This is a process in a man’s life that ought to last a lifetime and be produced, reproduced, and multiplied over and over again throughout the course of the man’s lifetime, as well as in the lives of the men in whom he invests. We are Christians today, humanly speaking, because those who went before us were faithful to this process.

In sum, we need to be a Paul, Barnabas, and Timothy and we need to have a Paul, Barnabas, and Timothy. Such men in our lives are gifts from God. And we have the blessed opportunity to be such gifts to other men.

Walking Points

·         Who is your Paul? To whom are you a Paul? Describe those relationships.
·         Who is your Barnabas? To whom are you a Barnabas? Describe those relationships.
·         Who is your Timothy? To whom are you a Timothy? Describe those relationships.
·         If you drew a blank on any of those questions, begin praying for God to bring men into your life who will invest in you, or who will be open to you investing in them.