community (5)

This Week’s Question: Since too many have a romanticized view of love, what is love from a Biblical perspective?

Love is one of the three foundational pillars that Christianity is built upon, with faith and hope being the other two pillars. Unfortunately, many claim to be Christians based solely upon their love for God. Nevertheless, from a Biblical perspective these pillars work synchronously and cannot be dichotomized. To be more explicit, true faith is dependent upon love according to I Corinthians 13:2, “And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.” In the same vein, genuine hope must be fueled by love according to Romans 5:5, “Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” Similarly, faith cannot be divorced from hope because hope is embedded in it according to Hebrews 11:1, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” In the final analysis, those who claim to have faith without also having hope and love are, in actuality, governed by superstition not faith. Similarly hope that is not accompanied by faith and love is only wishful thinking; and love that is disconnected from faith and hope is mere sentimentality.

In our last post we identified the fundamental element implied in James 2:1-9 to be love, and three reasons were discussed to justify its importance: (1) God commands His followers to love; (2) Love is the distinguishing characteristic that separates God’s children from satan’s; and (3) The motive behind a person’s love is more important than that person’s deeds. So what is love? Four types of love are described Biblically and they are: Eros – Sexual or romantic love; Storge – Natural mutual affection or familial love; Philia – Brotherly love that unites true believers; and Agape – The love God has for humankind. Although each has a place in scripture, agape is focused on in this post because it is the love God has for the world, and is the love that His disciples must have for one another for acceptance into His Kingdom. Paul makes this point very clear in Romans 13:8 when he writes, “Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law.”

So what essentially is agape love? Paul, beginning in I Corinthians 13:4 describes agape love beautifully: “4 Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; 5 does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; 6 does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; 7 bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 8 Love never fails…” Someone once said, “love is what love does,” which confirms the fact that love is not an emotion. Also, it is not rhetoric. Instead love is the mitigating force that controls one’s speech, thoughts, and works. By examining I Corinthians 13, it is evident that love forces true disciples to be patient, mild, and kind toward others. It also prevents them from being envious of or hating others; and keeps them grounded whereby they neither think too highly of nor feels the need to elevate themselves. Instead, proper behavior is the modus operandi for disciples because they are not easily provoked into behaving inappropriately. True love causes disciples, by their thoughts, to internalize Paul’s words in Philippians 4:8, “Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy-meditate on these things.” Meditation, of this nature, prevents true disciples from thinking evil thoughts or gloating when another succumbs to sin. Instead that disciple is happiest when others also stand on God’s truth!

The bottom-line is since love never ends, it is infinite, has no bounds, cannot be measured, transcends time, and, unlike faith and hope, it is the only pillar that extends beyond this realm into eternity. Therefore, since love is infinite, disciples who have it withstand hardship and adversity because love bears all things! Since love is infinite, disciples who have it recite Romans 8:28 as their mantra, “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose,” because love believes all things! Since love is infinite, disciples who have it do not allow their circumstances to dictate their actions because love hopes all things! Finally, since love is infinite, disciples who have it are confident of the power behind Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me, since love endures all things! To bring true love to life, love was the force behind the Civil Rights Movement because despite the murders, lynchings, jailings, protests, beatings, discriminatory laws, biased government officials, hosings, dog bites, and sheer humiliation; my forefathers, as a group, knew that love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails! They knew it, they lived it, and God delivered to us, as a community, several major victories because of our communal love for everybody!

Next Week’s Question: The Bible has many vivid examples of love, can you think of any? And if “yes” is your answer, can any Biblical principles be gleaned from them?

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This Week’s Question: James 2:5 teaches that God has chosen the poor of this world? Why has He done so?

The story of the rich young ruler is instrumental as a backdrop to this question. The ruler began by asking in Mark 10:17, “…what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?” Jesus, in response, listed several commandments and the ruler acknowledged compliance. Scripture teaches that Jesus’ love for this young man prompted Him to address a deeper issue; one that promises to keep many who claim to be Christ’s followers, out of Heaven – a weak faith! In Mark 10:22 Jesus said, “…One thing you lack: Go your way, sell whatever you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, take up the cross, and follow Me.” Jesus’ instructions proved too costly for this young man, despite the fact that his Heavenly reward would far eclipse his earthly possessions (see Mark 10:23)!

James does not claim, absolutely, that the poor will inherit the kingdom. Instead, he adds the qualifier, those who are “rich in faith.” To be rich in faith one has to be totally dependent upon Jesus, which disqualifies many “privileged” believers. Putting one's total faith in Jesus means a person cannot rely upon one’s personal traits, assets, or external factors to survive or gain social advantages over another person, race, or group. Common factors used to one’s advantage are gender, race, possessions, class, social standing, ethnicity, family name, position, unfair laws and practices, the criminal justice system, educational systems, and notoriety. If a person systemically capitalizes on such factors to gain an advantage, then his/her dependency is not wholeheartedly on The Lord, and their faith, if any is claimed, is weak.

That was the sin of the rich young ruler; and we see this scenario being played out in today’s college admissions scandal. We also see it ever present in America’s political, criminal justice, civic, social, and financial institutions. For poor people, who have few social advantages, many have no recourse but to place their welfare squarely in God’s hands out of love for Him and His justice. For that group, Matthew 6:31-33 is their hope, “Therefore do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.” This deep and unfeigned faith in a loving and caring God was manifested in the rich theology of the Negro Spirituals which survived the slave experience, the Jim Crow and Civil Rights eras, and some have been woven into traditional Christian circles. It was also the impetus behind the Civil Rights movement in which protesters (of all races and nationalities), countered bitter hatred and vitriol with faith, hope, and love – the three pillars that undergird Christianity. Oppression, discrimination, and social injustice have historically forced many African-Americans to maintain a strong faith in God’s justice; whether it is realized in this world or the next.

This unfeigned faith of many African-Americans is also a major factor in why my father, the late Rev. Clarence L. Hilliard, and founder of the church I currently pastor, prophesied that the Black Church, as a group, will lead Christ’s Church Movement in these latter days. Two passages The Lord placed on his heart while unveiling this prophecy are Zephaniah 3:10, “From beyond the rivers of Ethiopia My worshipers, The daughter of My dispersed ones, Shall bring My offering;” and Psalm 68:31 “Envoys will come out of Egypt; Ethiopia will quickly stretch out her hands to God.” My father effectively used social action and mentorship to help bridge the racial divide within the Christian Community while simultaneously serving two evangelical associations in leadership capacities: National Black Evangelical Association (NBEA); and National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) – the effects of which are still being realized throughout Chicago and its suburban communities.

Unfortunately, Many Black churches (but especially the mega- and more prosperous churches), have forfeited its leadership responsibility because they have adopted the ways of the dominant culture, or have figuratively sold their birthright for a mess of pottage (see Genesis 25:29-34). But for those lesser churches that continue to put their faith, hope, and trust completely in The Lord; it is quite possible that this prophecy will become reality in a manner that continues to spillover into the evangelical community, and reach those who are burdened by the plight of the poor, powerless, and oppressed here in America and beyond. Nevertheless, the only bond that can keep them unified, as a group, is, they are rich in faith; and therefore, are the rightful heirs to the kingdom of Heaven!

Next Week’s Question: What is the fundamental missing element implied in this James passage? And why is it so important?

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Who Is Holding Your Rope?

If I asked you who was responsible for writing nearly half the books of the New Testament and over 30% of its content, you probably would say the apostle Paul. Although that’s the correct answer, I was actually thinking of a couple of other guys. If not for these “other guys,” Paul’s amazing ministry would never have taken place.

These unnamed heroes are described in Acts 9:23-25, soon after Paul’s conversion. Paul learned that the Jews were plotting to kill him, watching the city gates day and night in order to get their chance.

Keep in mind that Paul hadn’t planted any churches at this point. Nor had he written any epistles. He was just a new convert—but one with a special calling from God.

So how would Paul escape this plot? “During the night, some of the other believers lowered him in a large basket through an opening in the city wall.”

We’re never given the name of these “other believers,” referred to in some other translations simply refer as “the disciples.” But make no mistake about it: Their faithfulness in “holding the rope” on Paul’s basket was the difference between success and failure, life and death.

This observation leads to two important questions for each one of us:

      1. Who is holding the rope for YOU? If you face tough times someday and your back is against the wall, is there anyone you can count on to hold your rope and keep you from crashing to ground? In an age of megachurches that often don’t even provide staff members for counseling, weddings, hospital visits, or funerals, are you confident that other believers will be there for you in your hour of need?

      2. Whose rope are you holding? Are there people who are counting on you to faithfully hold their rope, serving behind the scenes in order to ensure their safety and success? Are you willing to be a selfless, unnamed servant while God raises up someone else to prominent ministry?

The problem with rope-holding is that it seems unnecessary when everything is going well. You may be saying today, “I don’t need anyone to hold MY rope! I can navigate life just fine on my own, thank you.”

But the truth of the matter is this: We ALL need someone to hold our rope at one time or another. And if we are faithful disciples of Jesus Christ, He will surely call upon us to hold someone else’s rope in their darkest hours. Are you ready? Have you invested your time in relationships that will stand the rope-holding test? Or are you content just to “play church” and maintain superficial, noncommittal relationships?

In the days ahead, who will hold your rope? Whose rope will you hold? Your answer to these two questions will have profound implications.

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Just need to be fed? Grow up!

Tomorrow our family will gather, like most of yours, to celebrate Thanksgiving. I'll be giving thanks for many things this year, but one of the tops is for my kids.

I'm particularly thankful that not one of my kids will ask me to cut up their turkey for them or feed them their cranberry sauce tomorrow. In fact, the girls are ready to help prepare the meal. We won't have any babies with us this Thanksgiving, but if we did, they could feed them their Gerber Turkey and Gravy. This is no big deal, of course. It's just a natural part of growing up.

So why do we so often hear long-time church folks say, "I just need to be fed!"?

I blogged about this the other day (click here to read) and shared about two possible reasons. Today I want to share my thoughts on what we can do.

If you consider yourself a mature Christ follower, you are now responsible to do 2 things: (1) feed yourself and (2) feed others. See Hebrews 5:11-6:1. The writer's main message here is what I'd like to tell those who say, "I just need to be fed!": GROW UP!

Pretty simple and should be pretty natural as we develop, but for some reason, this is often the exception rather than the rule in churches and small groups.

There is no magic formula here. Your way of feeding yourself may be very different than mine, but I will share here how I am making room in my own life to feed myself.

When I was a young Christian, I read the Scriptures kind of like a young child reads a picture book. I wasn't going for a whole lot of depth, just getting some basic understanding of the Bible. I read through the whole Bible, but could not have told you much more than the basic story. It was good; I needed that introduction to God's Word, and I was just learning how to feed myself as I read through it. But (and here's the important part) I'm glad I'm not still reading the Bible that way.

Today I read with more concentration, and by that I don't mean mental focus as much as I mean intensity or purity, like a laundry detergent is more concentrated. So now I read less, usually much less, Scripture each day, but I really take time to hear from God in what I read that day. This is the spiritual practice of meditation or reflection on God's Word.

I take an hour or two each day and I usually read one chapter of Scripture, sometimes even less, depending on how I sense the Holy Spirit leading me. Sometimes I read the passage from two or three or more versions. I read a couple good Bible commentaries. (My favorite right now is Warren Wiersbe's commentary set, although I also consult several others as well. I use WordSearch, so all of this is right there in one place.) I also journal my thoughts as I meditate on the Word, writing what I hear God saying, and I often include a prayer.

I'm just finishing reading through the minor prophets. Lots of people skip over these, thinking they're boring or irrelevant. As you learn how to feed yourself from the meat of God's Word, however, you'll find, as I have how much rich flavor and nutrients God has placed in these books. If you will take the time, God will reveal himself and his will through these passages like you've never seen before. You can do this. Your small group members can do this. It must become just as normal and natural as learning to feed ourselves from the dinner table.

Once I begin feeding regularly on God's Word myself, I can also feed others as well. But notice that I used the word begin. You don't have to have it all completely figured out to start feeding others.

When my kids were very young, I began involving the older kids in helping to feed the younger ones. So 3-year-old Jordan would hold Dru's bottle in his mouth. Four-year-old Sarah would feed Annie her strained peas. Yeah, it was messy sometimes, but it was worth it!

Tomorrow I won't be feeding my kids their Thanksgiving meals. And not one will say, "Daddy, I just need to be fed!" They've learned how to do that long ago. Now it's time that you and the members of your group learn to do the same in your growing relationships with God. I'm writing more about that in my new book, Small Group Vital Signs, to be released early next year.

How would you respond to someone who says, "I just need to be fed!"?

How can you as a leader help your group members learn how to feed themselves?
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Solitude First


I've been blogging a short series about our inner life, discipleship, community, and ministry, inspired by an article by Henri Nouwen years ago in the Spring 1995 issue of Leadership. Find the most recent blog here.

A short excerpt from the blog that you may find interesting:

It seems to me that in today's church culture, we put everything else in front of solitude.

  • Some put discipleship first. They say it all starts here. That we have to teach people how to grow and serve and share their faith.
  • Some put evangelism first. Our first priority, they say, is to carry out the mission to make disciples.
  • Some put leadership first. Everything begins with leaders who model the abundant life and bring others along, right?
  • Some put community first. After all, they say, all of this good stuff happens in the environment of authentic Biblical community. So we have to build small groups.

Jesus said, "But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well." We seek God's Kingdom by being committed to the King.

Pleasr check out the rest of the blog here and I'd love to hear what you think.

Feel free to subscribe to my Small Group Leadership blog at

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