I was once asked: “Isn’t it disingenuous for a Christian to develop a friendship with someone if there is an ulterior motive of leading them to Christ?”

The suggestion being made was that the value of the person and the friendship itself should be the driving force. Any ulterior motive for the friendship necessarily subverts and devalues both the friendship and the person being befriended.

At the time I was asked this question I wasn’t sure about what I thought, but thought that it was an interesting point being made.

As I’ve thought about it over the years though, I’ve come to the conclusion that the point being made is a red herring. Here’s why:

People do not have what might be called “intrinsic” value, actually no created thing or entity has intrinsic value. People have value that is conferred value. It is a value that is conferred on them due to the fact they are made in the image and likeness of God. This is what fundamentally drives a desire to appreciate, understand and get to know other people; we actually see something of the nature and character of God which attracts us to them or piques our interest in getting to know them as friends.

But there is a problem: this value, which has its origin in our invaluable God, has been marred by sin. And any and all relationships I might build with other people, any friendships I may pursue, are actually marred by this same sin. They can never know me rightly and I can never know them rightly due to the infection of sin. It is as if a great cancer has ravaged each of us so that we do not see who we actually are, but only the husk of what we were. The effort then is to remove and kill the cancer so that life in its fullness and relationship in its fullness can be restored and enjoyed.

If, in any friendship, we are trying to pursue the knowing of a person, it seems reasonable that we would want to remove all barriers in getting to know them and in our appreciating and understanding them.

This is quintessentially demonstrated in marital relationships where there must be no “fig leaf” of separation if the married couple hopes to develop a lasting, fulfilling, honest, beautiful relationship over their lifetime together. The couple must both be getting know Christ better and better and be expressing this knowledge of Christ more and more in order for this to occur. As Christ is pursued more and more, as He is glorified in the marriage, the relationship becomes deeper, richer and truer. Back to friendship.

If I am going to cultivate a friendship with anyone that gets better, that improves; becoming more open, honest, loving, giving, etc., it only stands to reason that it is essential to the dignity of the person and the friendship that I, as a follower of Christ, be in the friendship with an ulterior motive, actually a primary motive, i.e. that they may come to know Christ. That is my purpose. Why? Because this is what serves the friendship best. This is what preserves and improves the friendship best. This is what recognizes and appreciates the dignity and value God has placed in the person most vigorously.

In fact, the relationship cannot progress beyond the level of pleasantries if Christ is not the goal. It is the image of God which is under restoration in this other person and in me, therefore to pursue a friendship absent Christ would actually be a disservice, a dishonoring of the conferred value which God has bestowed on both me and this person.

Would I wish to see this dignity, image and value ever fully restored and redeemed? Would I wish to fully experience who this person is in all their conferred God-like-ness? Would I wish to know them as God has meant for me to know them and visa-versa? Then I cannot enter into any relationship where this pointing them, leading them, introducing them to Christ is not the goal. Anything less, and this relationship can only become a sin-marred perversion of what it was meant to be. Dishonoring to them, to me and to the God who lives in perfect triune relationship with Father, Son and Spirit. Rich, beautiful, joyful and good.

The purpose of friendship then?making sure that Christ stays at the center; that He remains the primary motive. Once we have come to know the truest friend, we will then be released to be a true friend.

So, the election is over. The commercials have, thankfully, ceased. The rhetoric is slowly decreasing from its fevered pitch and we are entering that relatively peaceful political space known as the lame duck session. I don’t know about you, but I have, for the most part, tuned out of the 24-hour news cycle, and am sort of in the process of crawling back into my little hobbit hole in the Shire, perfectly content to allow the world to begin to pass me by. I am tired, worn out, ALL of my people lost. You get the drift.

It is in times like this, in the midst of cultural and political upheaval, that Christians must continue to remember those things that are most important. The Apostle Paul put it this way:

I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
(Ephesians 4:1-3 ESV)

How, why are we to walk this way with one another? Why would Paul urge us to walk this way? Well, I’m glad you asked, Paul continues:

There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call—one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift.
(Ephesians 4:4-7 ESV)

Grace was given to each one of us. I forget that sometimes.

Fortunately, grace was given to me in my forgetfulness. Grace is a gift. It is given to us from God who is over all and through all and in all. Will I choose to look past political differences, even those I believe to be important, those that keep me up at night repenting for our nation, and choose to find the one Spirit in my brother or sister with whom I disagree?

Christian Fellowship is a spiritual discipline. It should be challenging, but it should also be a force for good in the world. A force which reminds each one of us that we are moving toward something much greater than we could possibly imagine. We are practicing for eternity with God, and he has given us the responsibility of demonstrating the coming Kingdom to the world around us now.

How will Christians live in fellowship with one another in the eternity that is to come? I am not so sure about the specifics, but I am absolutely certain that it will not look like what many of us all just experienced in this last election season. I think it may be the fulfillment of Paul’s vision for the church, which is really God’s vision.

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.

May each of us who call ourselves members of Jesus’ body demonstrate in fullness this most lovely command in our lives, in our homes, in our churches, in our communities. By this all people will know we are his disciples.

I don’t know about you, but the thought of attempting to write an entire album, not just an EP or a couple of singles, but an entire full-length, 12-song album, thematically based around the writings of C.S. Lewis would frankly be unthinkable to me. If you’re familiar with Lewis, you may understand what I’m talking about. Perhaps writing a song or two about Narnia, or about Perelandra would be feasible, but to write a song based on The Great Divorce, or The Problem of Pain, or Surprised By Joy or his classic and perhaps greatest essay The Weight of Glory, would be something else entirely. Somehow, Heath McNease pulls it off. In fact, he more than pulls it off, this may be my favourite album of 2012.

It’s up against some heavy hitters too, to my mind. Considering Andrew Peterson’s 2012 effort Light For the Lost Boy, or Andy Osenga’s most recent full-

length release Leonard the Lonely Astronaut,

I would put McNease’s The Weight of Glory right up alongside these in terms of its musicianship, lyrical creativity and intelligibility, and album scope.

There is not one moment on The Weight of Glory where the listener feels like they are hearing the same thing over again. Each song is masterfully crafted both musically and lyrically. And instead of simply taking a catch phrase of book title and then throwing some esoteric words around it, McNease does a spectacular job of binding these stories together in a poignant yet accessible way. You can almost hear Lewis at moments, especially in A Grief Observed and Perelandra, both almost brought me to tears.

Give this one a try, you will not be disappointed. The Best Album of 2012? That’s for you to decide, but you can be sure The Weight of Glory by Heath McNease does not disappoint. Download it for free from Noisetrade!

I received this question this morning:

Hello, Andy.
This morning I was reading in 1 John 5, where it talks about a “sin that does not lead to death.” What does John mean by that if Romans says that the wages of sin is death?

Here was my response:

Great question! I hope the following answer is helpful.

The immediate context of 1 John 5:15 is concerning eternal things. In verses 6-12 John is writing about those who believe in Jesus and those who do not. Those who believe in Jesus have “the testimony” in themselves. What is this testimony? Eternal life in Christ (v.11). Those who DO NOT believe God (i.e. that Jesus is his Son) call God a liar, and do not have this testimony (v. 10). They have eternal death, not eternal life.

So, the “life” and “death” that John is writing about here are eternal life and eternal death (not merely physical). John refers to this death in the book of Revelation as “the second death” (Rev. 2:11; 20:6; 20:14; 21:8). He is referring to the same thing here.

Indeed, all sin leads to death. In Romans Paul is making the case that we die physically because death reigns in us through sin like a terminal disease. Yes, this is true.

John is not disagreeing with Paul, he is simply talking about something else entirely. What John was specifically addressing here were those people that were saying that they had eternal life too, but did not believe that Jesus is the Son of God. John is saying that this is not so (v.13). The Christians John wrote this letter to were unsure how they could know that they indeed had eternal life because they were being confused by those who were worshiping idols and saying that no, THEY actually had eternal life, NOT these Jesus followers. Chapter 5 of 1 John is all about giving the Christians assurance that they have inherited eternal life, NOT these idol worshipers. It is why he tells them in the last sentence of chapter 5 to stay away from idols, because they were probably tempted to turn away from Jesus and follow these other “deities”.

There is a sin which leads to [eternal] death. And that is the sin of calling God a liar. Essentially disbelieving that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. If you think about it, this makes all the sense in the world since this is the reason we do evangelism: so that those who do not yet believe might be presented with the truth concerning Jesus Christ and be saved from this [eternal] death and receive in themselves the testimony of eternal life.

Thanks for the question! Have an awesome day!

~a

Oh, I almost forgot!

“If anyone sees his brother committing a sin not leading to death, he shall ask, and God will give him life—to those who commit sins that do not lead to death. There is sin that leads to death; I do not say that one should pray for that. All wrongdoing is sin, but there is sin that does not lead to death.”

Every time you see the word death in this paragraph you should insert the word “eternal” in front of it. There are sins which do not lead to eternal death. These are sins which we commit in our everyday living, and which we seek forgiveness for regularly. We repent from these sins specifically because we know that Jesus is the Son of God and that we are forgiven through his blood. These sins do not lead to eternal death because they are sins for which we receive forgiveness.

A little theological fun first thing in the morning. Might seem mundane to some, but I sorta love it.

Ahhhh…..Milton…..

Thou O Spirit, that dost prefer Before all Temples th’ upright heart and pure,

Instruct me, for Thou know’st; Thou from the first Wast present,

and with mighty wings outspread Dove-like satst brooding on the vast Abyss

And mad’st it pregnant: What in me is dark Illumine,

what is low raise and support; That to the highth of this great Argument

I may assert th’ Eternal Providence, And justifie the wayes of God to men.

Milton, John (2011-03-30). Paradise Lost (Kindle Locations 11-15). . Kindle Edition.

127 hours.

That’s how long it took Aron Ralston to fall into a cave, and hike back out.

127 hours.

If you haven’t seen the movie or read the book, you’re missing out.

Firstly, the story is simply amazing; made even more so because it’s true.

Secondly, the visuals are mind-jarring in their ability to keep you engaged with what could have been a very long, very slow-moving film.

Thirdly, you get inside the head of someone who is desperate, and staring death in the face. This one facet alone was worth the time investment in watching this story unfold.

Without spoiling the movie (I think most of us are familiar with the story as reported by major media outlets in 2003), it struck me in thinking back about the movie how this story is a metaphor for the state of the church in the West, particularly in the U.S.

The film begins with Aron leaving to go do some cave climbing by himself. He has a great time getting out to the area where he is going to climb, several hours from his home. The next day as he first bikes, then hikes, into the wilderness, he has a lot of fun. It’s almost comical the level of enjoyment and the shear rush he gets from the adventure and the anticipation of the climb. Being a hiker and novice climber I can appreciate his exuberance. It’s as natural a high as anyone can have.

Later in the day, as Aron negotiates a descent into a cave he’s familiar with, everything goes terribly wrong. In the end, 127 hours later, he did the unthinkable, cutting off a full third of his own right arm in order to escape that cave and escape death. That’s right. He cut off his own arm.

How is this story a metaphor for the Church of God in the U.S.? Here’s how:

For some time (nearly 500 years) the Christian Church held a place of massive influence in most spheres of both private and public discourse and development. This time-span is commonly known as Christendom.

We were just sort of loping along through the years, enjoying the status that we had (gained through both holy and unholy methods), the prominence we enjoyed in society at large, the wealth we amassed as people willingly gave of their time, talent and treasure to see the Church continue to flourish. The Church was the seat and center of community experience, and it frankly never occurred to anyone that this might ever change.

But change it did…

…to be continued…

Did you think that your life would go the way that it has?

I think most of us, myself included, may have thought that Jesus would change our lives. I think we thought that meeting Jesus and declaring Him Lord of all, even our lives, would have the effect of changing everything. We didn’t know what that change would mean, but we just thought it would be pretty big, pretty dramatic, pretty noticeable. And for some of us, that probably was the case. Everything changed. But for most Christians, I think about two to three months later, we got a big dose of reality, we noticed all the others around us seemed to live pretty normal lives, and so we found ourselves not expecting too much anymore.

What does Jesus say about all this?

In the book of Genesis God creates. He creates for six days, then rests. On the sixth day God creates human beings. He then gives them instructions; “Be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth, subdue it…”

God’s first creation ushered in life, culture, relationships, reproduction, even eating, sleeping, everything.

In the 28th chapter of Matthew, Jesus does something very similar. After dying and rising from the dead, here’s what happens:

…Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

The command of Jesus mirrors that of God in Genesis 1. It is, in essence, the new cultural mandate that Jesus gives with all authority. God commanded the man and the woman in Genesis 1 with divine authority, and Jesus here does the same.

It is a new creation, as Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5. All the old things have passed away. The new is come.

Has the new  come in your life? Does your life in Christ reflect the kind of foundational re-creation that Jesus intended? Are you being fruitful in His name? Are you multiplying for His glory? Does it seem truly like you, to your very core, have been made new, revived, re-created?

Jesus came that we might have life, and have it to the fullest (John 10:10). Is your life full? What is it full of? Is it full of the Spirit of God? Is it full of stuff? Is it full of old things? Are you continually emptying yourself to be refilled by the Holy Spirit?

Before your decide to have your next meal, ask God to begin to open your eyes in a new way to the “new” that is come. To the “fullest” that He intends. To the newness that can only be found in Him.

Come Lord Jesus.

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