God is love

Once I heard (or read) a well known musician, who is now with the Lord say something like, “We don’t love very well.” I like the fact that we do love with the very love of God himself, by the Spirit through Jesus. But I would agree with that brother in Jesus. We often, and all too often don’t love that well. In the first place do we really love God with all our being and doing, and our neighbors as ourselves (or as one who is like us)? And do we love our brothers and sisters in Jesus as Jesus loved and loves his disciples?

The apostle John tells us that God is love and whoever loves lives in God and God in them. I know there is a created love, and people partake of that love. But all love comes from God, and we humans are meant to be moored in that very love. That is where we’re to live which is possible for us in and through Jesus by the Spirit.

I wish I knew that love so much more than what I do. There are times when it is evident and seems easy to live in. There are other times when God’s love seems distant, more a thought than a reality. We see something of that struggle in scripture, which mirrors quite well the reality of life.

I remember a dear professor at the first college I attended. He was a pastor as well as professor, and I remember him as someone like the Apostle John of old. It was said that as an old man John told the Christians to love one another. This professor was beaming with love, and I remember him wrapping his arm around the shoulder of another professor as they walked along. Love came out from him, from his words. He was gifted, but he too was just like us. This is a love we’re to live in through God, and from that to live out to others.

There is no doubt that God is holy, as in pure and other (than us, or anyone or thing else). Some will debate whether God is more holy or more love. While I will say God is holy love rather than lovingly holy, there is no doubt that essential to God’s nature as Trinity is this love. A love that is relational, communal, just, redemptive, self-sacrificial, endless, and yes, holy.

We shouldn’t underestimate the love of God in the world, in our lives, and in the lives of others. God is relentless in that love, even if we don’t see that. His love has found a way we could say, and finds a way in and through Jesus.

And we in Jesus are in that love, for each other and for the world.

 

no one is an island

Like it or not all relationships affect us. In large, significant part humankind collectively and individually is what it is through relationships: good, bad, broken, and everything in between.

The first relationship which we are made for is the relationship with God, who himself is in relationship and communion as Father, Son and Spirit. We are made in significant part for this communion, and to live in this love in participation with the Triune God.

And when God created man, he said it is not good for the man to live alone. Then God made a woman, and so we have humankind made in his image to represent and do his will on earth. Of course we know the story: Adam and Eve sinned, their communion with God was broken, and even with each other. Sin entered into the world, a certain kind of innocence was lost. But God did not abandon humankind, he sought out the lost man and woman. God seeks the lost, and through Jesus brings reconciliation between himself and humankind, as well as between humans themselves.

I am impacted by every relationship I’ve ever had. For better or for worse. Not every relationship is necessarily good for us. But every person is redeemable to God in and through Jesus, and therefore every relationship as well. But it may be difficult at best, and take even a long time. And it may perhaps be best to remain more or less separated, even though forgiving and accepting each other. It all depends on a number of factors. Reconciliation should be the norm, or at least what we would hope and pray for.

We don’t do well to limit what God can do by his grace. It is something we need to pray for and work at, but God wants us to get along with others, to live at peace with all as far as that depends on us—out of love, the love God gives to us in and through Jesus by the Spirit.

In the end in the new world which has begun in Jesus, we live in nothing less than the love of God. A love that brings healing and restoration. A love that lives well in God’s good will. We in Jesus are together in this for the world.

 

 

not ready

Have you ever faced a new week with the strong sense that you are simply not ready? Perhaps not so much because another weekend has come and gone, though that might figure in, too. But more so, simply because you find what lies ahead overwhelming.

I find myself that way today, and at times. I tend to enter into everything with the sense of being in over my head. That what I’m facing is too much for me. That is good if from it we can learn to depend on God through Jesus by the Spirit, as well as have an interdependence on others in Jesus. We are not sufficient in ourselves, to think that anything comes from ourselves, as Paul says. But our sufficiency is of God. Paul is referring to his ministry of the new covenant, a kingdom ministry. And we want whatever we are doing to be kingdom of God-oriented. The work in itself may not be kingdom-oriented. I once worked at a meat factory, and that work in and of itself was not kingdom-oriented. But the way I do the work as well as the interactions I have with others there, may and should be kingdom-oriented.

Whatever we in Jesus do, should be done in the Lord’s strength, by his grace, so that he can get all the glory. But a prerequisite of that is the sense of our own weakness. It is when we are weak, that we are strong, as Paul says in the same letter with reference to a severe trial he went through. The Lord’s answer to Paul’s plea was, “My grace is sufficient for you. My power is made perfect in your weakness.”

The sense of not being ready means we should look all the more to God and his strength, seeking his face always. The sense of dread we are experiencing is a call to prayer. And sometimes we will have occasion to stop and seek a better way to work through whatever issues we may be facing. Actually this sense of not being ready can end up being a needed catalyst for change.

And so I face another week, another challenge. I trust the Lord will help us, and that in it all he will be glorified by us and in our work. Together in Jesus for the world.

N. T. Wright on the primacy of reading scripture for Christian character formation

The practice of reading scripture, studying scripture, acting scripture, singing scripture—generally soaking oneself in scripture as an individual and a community—has been seen from the earliest days of Christianity as central to the formation of Christian character.

It is important to stress at this point…that this has only secondarily to do with the fact that scripture gives particular instructions on particular topics. That is important, of course; but it is far more important that the sheer activity of reading scripture, in the conscious desire to be shaped and formed within the purposes of God, is itself an act of faith, hope, and love, an act of humility and patience. It is a way of saying that we need to hear a fresh word, a word of grace, perhaps even a word of judgment as well as healing, warning as well as welcome. To open the Bible is to open a window toward Jerusalem, as Daniel did (6.10), no matter where our exile may have taken us.

It is, in particular, a way of locating ourselves as actors within an ongoing drama. No matter how many smaller stories there may be within scripture, and how many million edifying stories there may be outside it, the overall drama of scripture, as it stands, forms a single plot whose many twists and turns nonetheless converge remarkably on a main theme, which is the reconciliation of heaven and earth as God the creator deals with all that frustrates his purpose for his world and, through his Son and his Spirit, creates a new people through whom his purpose—filling the world with his glory—is at last to be realized. To be formed by this capital-S Story is to be formed as a Christian. To take the thousand, and ten thousand, decisions to open the Bible today and read more of this story, even if we can’t yet join it all up in our own heads, is to take the next small step toward being the sort of person who, by second nature, will think, pray, act, and even feel in the way appropriate for someone charged with taking that narrative forward.

We are not yet, after all, at the end of the drama. Bible-readers (unless they adopt one of the well-known strategies for resisting this process) will find themselves drawn in as “characters” on stage. Yes, that may well mean “playing a part,” and all the old charges of hypocrisy that cluster around the practice of virtue will come rumbling in here as well. But the more you know the play, the less you will be “playing a part” and the more you will be simply yourself. Sooner or later, you’ll be acting naturally. Second nature. That’s how virue works.

N. T. Wright, After You Believe: Why Christian Character Matters, 261-262.

more work to be done

Progress in holiness is important in our lives in following Jesus. It’s not that I’m saying one can be obedient up to a point, and that’s it. God calls us to be obedient to him in all things, within his grace in Jesus, and out of his love. And we should work on that. But God in his grace seems to often work with us on one area or issue at a time, though I’m inclined to think he could be doing that in a number of points with us at the same time.

I’ve become aware of growth in grace and in holiness, and that is encouraging. But I soon became aware afterward of what we might call the next step for me to take. This is all about adhering to God’s call to us as his people in Jesus found in scripture and prepared for us in Jesus, yes for this life (as well as for the next).

All of this is encouraging as well as humbling. And the goal is not just personal holiness. But it is the goal of living in the love of God both for God and for others, in and through Jesus. And seeing God’s good will be done on earth in and through his grace and kingdom come in Jesus.

And so there’s more work to be done. Not that I can do that alone. Only through God’s work in me, and in communion, fellowship and participation with God’s people in Jesus will this continue. And we are promised that the one who began his good work in us, will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus, when Jesus returns. All of this so that others might see God’s good work in us through our good works done in love, and glorify our Father in heaven.

winning arguments

There are some people who are quite keen and adept at winning debates. I think I used to try to be that way, and at least I thought it was important to some extent. Now as I get older and reflect over time, I’m beginning to think it’s less important, not that important, maybe not of much importance at all.

I think very few people have been won over, who have lost an argument. Now if it is done clearly in love, with some good give and take on both sides, at least the former being clearly the case, then over time the seeds planted could change one’s heart and mind. But by and large I think the debate mentality can be ego driven so that truth is not really what it’s all about as much as winning a contest. We know one could win a debate and yet not really have the substance of truth on their side.

Paul did debate, a debate that was in-house concerning the one faith. And he won over many Jews as a result. So did Apollos, who was quite adept at this. But I’m wondering more about those outside of the faith. I’m not sure I see any scriptural precedent in which debating such did any good, though I would think it could, depending.

I prefer to think in terms of sharing, as much preferable to debating. In the sharing, there may well end up being elements of debate, as the two share concerning their particular faith (or lack thereof). But by and large, those times would simply be sharing with each other, and in terms of a witness. I share what’s important, essential and central to my life and why, and what difference that makes. And I seek to listen well to someone else do the same. And I let them have the last word, and maybe even let it seem that they have won the debate, while doing the best I can to present the faith, or my faith.

And Peter tells us that we’re to always be ready to give an answer to those who ask us about the hope we have, to do so with gentleness and respect. We witness from the witness of Jesus’ resurrection, our lives being in a long chain of changed lives because of that. And we believe the gospel of Christ is the power of salvation to all who believe. The good news that Jesus is King has a power all its own. Our ability to defend it may do some good, but we have to be careful that we don’t get in the way of a message which has a power all its own, and simply needs to be proclaimed, shared as a witness.

In the end it is God through Jesus by the Spirit who changes hearts and minds. Who keeps us in his love and care, so that we continue to have and be a witness. Even though we may not be able to win a single argument.  God continues to do his good work in the world, even through us in Jesus for the good of the world.

the self-emptying of Christ

Paul tells us in Philippians 2 that Christ emptied himself, or as the New International Version renders it, “made himself nothing”, taking on the nature of a servant. Christ became human, became what we are, so that from the saying of old, we may be what he is, or be like him.

And that’s the crux of the matter in the Philippians passage. Yes, Philippians 2:5-11 is a great Christological passage and poem, most likely a hymn of the early church.  But one must read it in context, seeing that the first four verses of this chapter, what precedes it most certainly shows that Christ in his incarnation and obedience to the point even of death on a cross, is to be our pattern for living. We in Jesus are to humble ourselves in that way. With reference to our relationships with each other.

I tend not to think, right or wrong. that the deadly sin of pride and perhaps a form of pride, vain-glory are troubling and sticking points with me. However when pride (and/or vain-glory) rears its ugly head, then I am aghast because I hate it, and there seems to be nothing I can do about it. In fact that is the very reason God may let me struggle with it for a season, so I can catch a small glimpse of just how ugly it is, and just how helpless I am to do anything about it myself.

But God will do that work, the work to help us humble ourselves, even as Christ did. And this happens, according to the Philippians passage, in relationships. We are to do this, indeed become this within the context of our relationships with others in Jesus. This will take time, it is indeed something we are to do, but something we can’t do apart from God’s ongoing work of grace. We  are told immediately after this to work out our salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who is at work in us so that we will choose to do his good will. And as we see further in that passage, as we follow God’s directives, we are in that way to be a light to the world, in and through Jesus.

Of course only Jesus was completely humble. We want to grow into more and more of that humility together in Jesus for the world.

a healing presence (after the election)

Our Pastor Jack recently spoke words I’ve been thinking about ever since. Something like his concern that the church be a healing presence to a sharply divided people in this country after the soon coming presidential election.

I couldn’t agree more. My own view is that pastors are wise to not let their political views become generally known. And in fact churches are best set to really be a healing presence when they are not known for either adhering to the religious right or religious left. Those on either side may be able to help their own, but they won’t be able to reach out and help those on the other side politically.

Diverging a bit, and getting to the root of the problem, the Christian scholar Peter Enns helps us see how misplaced our confidence is when we put so much stock in any political party or ideology of this world. I have my political leanings, but I am wrong to think that the answer the world needs is to be found in such. The kingdom of God come in Jesus and found in the one holy nation scattered throughout the world, the church, is the one true hope the world has.

Whatever the outcome of this election, people will get over it and go on, but wounds will remain. And the sharp divide between Democrat and Republican, liberal and conservative will likely continue on. Along with the other divides. I never cease to be amazed at just how divisive politics can be. But we in Jesus need to rise above that, above our own thoughts or convictions on the politics of this world. So that we can be the healing presence in and through Jesus to others who will be hurting after this election.

We do well to temper our words before such elections. to listen well to other views and respect them, even when we don’t agree with them. There are some views we may have to speak forcefully against. But do we do that from the position of always being right, of being the righteous judge of others, or as fellow journeyers along with all others, in need of grace?

For us to be that healing presence for others, we need to know something of that healing for ourselves. And we need to be able to point others to the one hope we and all others of this world have, the hope that is in Jesus, and God’s grace and kingdom that has come and is coming in him.

We in Jesus, whatever our worldly political leanings, are in this together for the world.

unreal

It is unreal to expect to live in a trouble free world. Trouble and problems beset us on every side. I once read of a community which was supposed to be built with homes and on residences that were to be relatively trouble free. As you might imagine, it was quite expensive. The only problem is that such a venture is done on earth with limited knowledge.

Trying to avoid problems shouldn’t be our goal. We will inevitably encounter them. It’s what we do with the problems which matters.

I’ve always tended to try to solve the problem right away myself, rarely coming to the Lord in prayer when faced with it. And probably even more rarely counting it pure joy when it happens, as again, James instructs us to do. I wonder what would happen if we would learn to consistently do both.

I think the real and most evident change would be in us, but I also think we would begin to see more change with reference to the problems themselves. Again we’re reminded by James that the prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective. That is especially in reference to loving God and loving our neighbor. Our goal in life and in working through trials should be to fulfill that love, of course living in God’s love. Getting out of trouble should not simply be the case of saving our own necks. Not that we shouldn’t have any sense at all of self-love. The important thing here is to know that we are loved dearly by God. To accept that, as we learn to lay down our lives in love for our brothers and sisters in Jesus, as well as for others.

We need to get real with God, learn to depend on him, and persevere in all of this. Through thick and thin, together with others in Jesus for the world.