It has been interesting cycle, ministering in Montana for 9 days, then back to Brownwood for 5 days and repeat. In all fairness, two of those five days in Brownwood are travel days. Nevertheless, I consider it a great privilege to teach my courses and simultaneously get to know a new community of people. Although it is physically demanding, it is also mentally stimulating!
What I want to share with you though is not my personal travel and schedule. It is a developing set of ideas.
1)People are sinners. All of us have some idea of this concept, it is not new. Sinners are not necessarily 'bad' or 'evil' - there are some people out there who obey the laws, go to work, have families and retire, but are still separated from God. We see this separation from God in our generally self-focused behaviors. In business speak, we are not maximizing our potential as human beings. We are unrealized. However, our generally selfish approach to life coalesces into a communally tragic situation over time. Our sinful condition manifests itself in anger, lying, greed, lust and a multitude of over painful behaviors. We are in desperate need of God.
2) Salvation is transformation. Salvation is not found in a confession of faith or even in a set of theological principles. Salvation begins with grace, resulting in confession, profession and transformation. Thus, our confession begins a transformation - a living theology. We are judged by the Creator in the end of time, not based simply upon our confession, but on the accompanying transformation! (See below) Most Christians don't get the transformation part because it is humbling. We like feeling superior; we like the fact that "we are chosen" and they are "not." Pride is always the final sin to go and it is replaced with a self-controlling humility. But the end of transformation isn't simply humility.
3) The end of salvation is love. God is love, agape love (1 John 4). Agape is "selfless concern for the other." Agape is not simply a noun, but a verb. One does not simply possess love; one lives love. Or better, love is lived through us. When love is lived, it becomes a fixed aspect of life and takes on objective, noun-like qualities. Understood in this fashion, salvation is the process where we learn to live in relationship with God, who is love, and allowing God, who is love, to love others through us. Jesus stated, "By this all men will know that you are my disciples if you have love for each other" (NIV). We have often interpreted this 'each other' as 'one another' - this is a legitimate translation, just not a good interpretation. We naturally interpret this as others 'like us' - Christians. This is the ornery residue of the sin nature, the natural man, seeking the easiest path, the wide road. But the Spirit gently directs us 'other' wise!
But I believe it is best to understand 'other' as those not us. To love each other then becomes the command to love each person that is not us. Hence, Jesus tells us to love our enemies, to forgive those who abuse us and even those who would kill us - "forgive them father for they do not know what they do..." (Luke 23:34). We are to love as Jesus loved.
In Matthew 25:31-46, "The Parable of the Sheep and the Goats," the sheep, those who "entered into their rest" (heaven), did not do so based upon confession, but rather on transformed living. The sheep did not even realize that their lives were characterized by unconditional, selfless concern for the other. Their lives were lived love. They were transformed and being transformed.
4) The Church is a Movement of Agape-Love. Awash in the inner strength of the Holy Spirit, the church - made up of persons brimming with the Love of God as the Holy Spirit - penetrates its community. Rather than being a specific social strata of people who gather for a few hours each week for worship and discipleship, the church is the ekklesia, those called out by God to demonstrate the righteousness of God in selfless concern for the other.
My home church has started a project called, "Love Brownwood." That is the heart of what we are called to be and do. We go to the laundromat, to the impoverished neighborhood, the hurting professionals, the struggling businesses and we live selfless concern for the other. No fancy programs, no slick bible-teaching, no contemporary worship can replace the command to love. The church is an outpost of love, sending out sorties into the world, so that person by person, community by community, our world is changed into what God intended from the beginning of time.