Love by God, We Love One Another

On Wednesday, I wrote here at the blog about how important it is to know we are deeply loved by God as His children. What flows directly from that love of God for us as his people is that we are called to love one another as brothers and sisters. Throughout Scripture, the church is consistently referred to as being a family. One portion of Scripture that makes this connection between God’s love for us as His children and our call to love one another very clear is Ephesians 5, where Paul writes:

“Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” (Ephesians 5:1-2)

The church is a community loved by God, and because of that the church is also a community called to love one another. We are children of God and called to love one another as brothers and sisters. Another way to say all this is: Loved by God, we love one another.

This connects powerfully with us in our present moment. If there’s anything the past few years have shown us is that when hard times come, it is much easier to pull apart than to hold together. When the pressure is on, it takes a tremendous amount of effort to step forward in relationship and love with others. Yet, when hard times come, even when persecution may come, the church is still called to live in God’s love for us and our love for one another. We cannot disengage because we are a family established by God through Christ. 

Not only in this present moment, but in our ongoing cultural pressure, we also need to remember something very important about ourselves as the people of God. The church is not an event or a consumer activity. In our culture, we have been groomed to think of everything we do as something to consume. We consume by binging online shows. We consume by quickly scanning snippets of online articles without really reading them fully. We consume by scrolling through Instagram or TikTok, often mindlessly. We consume by throwing away or replacing items that could be used until they’re truly worn out or could be reused by others. We are a consumer culture. 

But the church is not one more consumer option among many. The church is not some place I go to figure out what I can get, but a family with whom I live to consider what I can bring…and what others can bring to me. It is a community of love. And you cannot buy love, even the Beatles knew that, and we cannot consume love, although people do try to do so in many ways. Love is forged within the time-bound, embodied connections, rooted in relationships of honesty, vulnerability, and experience. 

The church is called to live in God’s love for us personally and cultivate true love one with another. Small groups help with this because they are like support groups for living in love. They are like workout groups for muscles for loving that we don’t have yet. Small groups are like mini-schools of learning to live in God’s way of love. 

If the church is going to be a community of love, then we need to shed our consumerist mindsets and mannerisms when we think about existing as the family of love one with another.  Loved by God, we love one another.

Restoration and Embodied Sexuality

This past weekend at Eastbrook, I concluded our series, “Love-Sex-Body: Toward a Biblical Theology of Embodied Sexuality,” focusing on the fourth chapter of God’s Good Story: the Restoration of all things.

I spent a lot of attention in this message on Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 15, which draw together Adam and fallen human bodies (ch. 2 – the Fall), Christ and His resurrection body (ch. 3 – Redemption), and the hope of future resurrection bodies for all those who belong to Christ (ch. 4 – Restoration). I connected that with the calling of the church to be a community marked by resurrection hope, living in holiness and love, touching upon Romans 8 and 1 Corinthians 6. The conclusion of the message directed attention to the ultimate consummation of Christ and His bride, the church, with the new heavens and new earth described in Revelation 21.

You can watch my message from this past weekend and follow along with the message outline below. You can also engage with the entire series here or download the Eastbrook mobile app for even more opportunities to connect.

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Learning God’s Love with St. Bernard of Clairvaux

Bernard of Clairvaux.jpg

St. Bernard of Clairvaux, a Cistercian monk in 12th century France, rose from relative obscurity to influence many  aspects of church life during his time. Born within a wealthy, Bernard forsook all of that to bring enter into a small monastic community in Cîteaux, influencing his five brothers and around twenty-five friends to join with him. Over time, his strict renunciation of life’s pleasures and influential love of God brought him to leadership, first in forming a new monastic community in Clairvaux and later to be an advisor to church leaders. His least admirable legacy was helping to whip up interest in the Second Crusade.

However, what Bernard is often best-known for today is his writings on the love of God. His work, On Loving God (available in full here or summarized here), provides one of the most powerful explanations of both God’s love for human beings and human love returning toward God. Most notably, he outlines four degrees of love for God, which have provided a framework for growing in love toward God for many over the years. In fact, I first heard about Bernard of Clairvaux in a seminar on the love of God that I attended during my college years while at the Urbana conference. The speaker referenced Bernard again and again, and I figured this was someone who I needed to know more about.

When I returned to school after Christmas break at Wheaton College, I scoured the lower level of Buswell Memorial Library until I found works by Bernard of Clairvaux. This led me to a four-volume set of his 86 sermons on the Song of Songs (excerpts available online here). Convinced that, as Paul writes in Ephesians 5, the relationship of a husband and wife in Christ mirrors the love relationship that exists between Christ and the Church, Bernard preached these sermons on the Song of Songs as a means to better understand God’s love in Christ for His people. When you read those sermons, you know that Bernard knew the love of God that surpasses all our knowing. Eugene Peterson, that rugged pastor to pastors, once wrote: “Love is Bernard’s theme, a non-sentimental, hardheaded and warmhearted love that is equally informed by self-knowledge and God-knowledge” (Take and Read 10).

Reflecting on God’s love and our love back to God, Bernard once wrote to a friend: 

You wish me to tell you why and how God should be loved. My answer is that God himself is the reason why he is to be loved. As for how he is to be loved, there is to be no limit to that love. [1]

If you are looking for a good guide into the love of God, I cannot recommend too many more heartily than St. Bernard of Clairvaux.

 


[1] Bernard of Clairvaux, “On Loving God,” https://www.christianitytoday.com/history/issues/issue-24/on-loving-god.html.

Sexuality and Marriage (discussion questions)

HS 4Here are the discussion questions that accompany the message that Kelly and I delivered this past weekend at Eastbrook Church, “Sexuality and Marriage.” This was the fourth and final part of our series, “Holy Sexuality.”

Discussion Questions:

  1. What was your view of marriage growing up?
  2. This week we conclude our series, “Holy Sexuality,” with a focus on sexuality and marriage. We will look at various passages in this study. Before you begin, take some time to pray, asking God to speak to you and transform you through this study.
  3. Whether you are studying alone or with a group, read Genesis 2:20-25 aloud. What level of commitment do you see in these verses about the marriage relationship before God?
  4. How is this similar to or different from the view of marriage in our world today?
  5. Now read Song of Songs 8:4-14 aloud. This passage is a richly poetic and almost surprising expression of the joys of love in marriage. What are the different aspects of love that you see in these verses?
  6. How does the community celebrate and guard love in this passage?
  7. What are one or two ways in which the example of the lovers in Song of Songs is helpful to you right now?
  8. Next we want to look at the challenges to married sexuality from Proverbs 5:1-23. Read that passage aloud and identify a few of the main challenges to holy sexuality in marriage.
  9. What antidotes to these challenges are presented in these verses?
  10. After looking at the challenges, it is clear that we cannot live this out from our own resources. What are some of the keys to committed sexuality in marriage from Ephesians 5:1-2, 21-33?
  11. What is the “profound mystery” that Paul connects to the marriage relationship in Ephesians 5:31-33? Why is this important?
  12. What is one major takeaway you have from this week’s study? If you are studying on your own, write it down and share it with someone this week. If you are in a group, take time to pray for one another about these things.

Sexuality and Marriage

HS 4My wife, Kelly, and I concluded the “Holy Sexuality” series this past weekend at Eastbrook Church by talking about sexuality and marriage. I was so glad to have Kelly join me for preparation and delivery of the message. She is such a gifted pastor and woman of God, and working together on this made the message so much better.

You can view a video of the message and the accompanying outline below. You can also listen to the message via our audio podcast here.

As always, I’d like to invite you to connect with us further at Eastbrook Church on VimeoFacebook, Twitter and Instagram.

 

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