character versus giftedness

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

1 Corinthians 13:1-3

The fruit of the Spirit (“love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control”) are not in competition against the gifts of the Spirit. But this passage from Paul makes it clear that without love, the operation of the gifts means nothing, at least not in God’s estimation of the person who practices them.

What I would like to tell any young, budding preacher would be something like what Paul is saying here. I would say, the gift part will come. That is important. But major on character. Make sure your life is in line with God’s call to love which includes living in and according to the truth.

Give me any day and every day someone who is faithfully plodding along with what might be considered a nothing out of the ordinary gift, but consistently and faithfully loves others, and loves God, their lives marked by obedience to God’s will. I’ll take that any day over a person who has an amazing gift, but is a bit fast and loose when it comes to character. The fruit of the Spirit is the goal in our lives toward Christ-likeness. The gifts of the Spirit are meant to help us move that direction. In and through Jesus.

beyond fear

God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.

1 John 4:16b-18

I remember years, now decades ago when I think the Dean of Men where I went to school opened his Bible as we sat in his office, turning to this passage. And with an emphasis on perfect love casting out fear, and spoke some on that. I can remember his tone of voice, and etched concern on his face, even if I can’t remember much if anything at all of what he precisely said. But I returned in my thoughts to that from time to time.

And now, relatively late in life, I do so again. Yes, I’ve believed this is truth, that it applies to me, but I often still struggle in regard to it. I think I understand much of the answer in my mind, but I’m afraid it hasn’t made much inroad into my heart. But even with that, I still have made sure progress in holding on longer what I believe in my head, so that I’ve experienced more of God’s breakthroughs of peace amidst the storm.

One way of approaching this which might be helpful is to seek to land and stand on truth. If we believe that the God who is love has made that love known through the sacrificial death of Christ, then we need to stand by faith on that truth, whatever emotions to the contrary we might be experiencing, including crippling fear. Our judgment has been taken care of through Christ, who took that judgment on himself at the cross.

The faith which is involved is not only about grasping and holding on to something: God’s word to us in Christ. But it’s also about letting go of what has bound and crippled, or at least to some extent has hampered us over the years.

Come what may, whatever we face, we need to stand firmly in this one place, that of God’s love for us in Christ. When we do so, we’re standing in the one true perfect love. And by and by we’ll begin to know something of the experience of that, something in itself that never depends on our own feelings, but where God wants us to learn to live. Away from any feeling of panic or dread. In the reality of God’s love, the God who is love. In and through Jesus.

no truth apart from love

The wise in heart are called discerning,
and gracious words promote instruction.

Gracious words are a honeycomb,
sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.

Proverbs 16:21,24

Some people seem to think that truth is telling it like it is, no holds barred. But truth in God’s world is always joined with love; you can’t separate them. Love is not love apart from truth; truth is not truth apart from love.

This should be an important baseline on how I judge my own speech and the speech of others. How well I receive a sermon, message or as it’s often called nowadays a conversation around and in God’s word. Is it imbued with grace and truth? If not, it will be lacking.

None of us has it altogether. And we might tend more either toward grace, or truth. People who are known to be blunt are often admired as “telling it like it is,” or “being real.” And others who can never say anything that might be displeasing to others will likely not be taken seriously, or will be seen as flatterers.

What we need is a combination of grace and truth. We speak truth, but we do so gently, with love. In fact we would want to consider and ponder how to make truth as attractive as possible, rather than quite the opposite. What will help us a long way in that direction is humility, the realization of how much we ourselves are in need of grace. That should help us put a curb on our harshness, and hopefully find in time that it no longer characterizes us.

When we understand our own great need for God’s mercy and grace, we won’t look down on others. But instead will want to help them with the help God gives us. In and through Jesus.

what is “the lie”?

For the secret power of lawlessness is already at work; but the one who now holds it back will continue to do so till he is taken out of the way. And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will overthrow with the breath of his mouth and destroy by the splendor of his coming. The coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with how Satan works. He will use all sorts of displays of power through signs and wonders that serve the lie, and all the ways that wickedness deceives those who are perishing. They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. For this reason God sends them a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie and so that all will be condemned who have not believed the truth but have delighted in wickedness.

2 Thessalonians 2:7-12

Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”

The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’”

“You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

Genesis 3:1-5

Yesterday we talked about the truth. Today, we think a bit about the reverse of that, the lie. The lie began way back when in the Garden of Eden. And it will reach its ultimate expression in the end in the rise of “the man of lawlessness,” who will essentially be a law to himself.

We know that Jesus said he is the truth and the way and the life (John 14:6).  Jesus ends up being God’s final word (John 1; Hebrews 1) in whom we’re to believe. So naturally there would be a counterfeit to come, since the human heart no longer finds itself at home with God, but alienated from him just as Adam and Eve, when they were ashamed and hid themselves from God.

Eve listened to the serpent, was seduced, and Adam followed, and we’ve been on that trail ever since. But fortunately for us, just as God reached out to Adam and Eve, so he reaches out to us in the promise of the gospel, the good news in Jesus. That God took it on himself to come and make his home with us, so that we might at last be at home with him. And that he did not only by fully entering our sphere, even becoming one of us in the Son. But also undid what the serpent had done, yes dying for us so that we might be restored to the life in God and in creation we were meant for in the first place.

Now it is a struggle for us here. It is so easy even for us who are “in Christ” by faith to doubt God’s word, and in so doing, just as Eve did, doubt God’s goodness. Even in her unfallen state she was susceptible to doubt. One might well ask why God had one forbidden tree amidst all the other trees they could fully enjoy. The story for me is highly symbolic, and amounts to her thinking that somehow she could receive and even retain goodness, becoming good apart from trusting God. And even shockingly enough, that somehow God was withholding what was good. Click the Genesis passage above for the full story.

The truth is in Christ himself. And since we’re so far removed from that, it will be a struggle for us until Christ returns, and we see him as he is, and become like him in each of our God-given unique ways. Just as it was for Adam and Eve after they were driven from Paradise.

Our intention needs to be to learn to trust in God, which means trusting God’s word, even and maybe especially when it doesn’t make sense to us. Learning to trust in God’s goodness instead of our own fallen inclinations which always reject God’s word. That God is indeed good, and in that goodness will do what is good, even in the midst of the evil, or whatever trouble we’re facing. In and through Jesus.

“What is truth?”

Pilate then went back inside the palace, summoned Jesus and asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?”

“Is that your own idea,” Jesus asked, “or did others talk to you about me?”

“Am I a Jew?” Pilate replied. “Your own people and chief priests handed you over to me. What is it you have done?”

Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.”

“You are a king, then!” said Pilate.

Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”

“What is truth?” retorted Pilate.

John 18:33-38a

The ongoing reality that truth is under attack seems especially prominent in our thinking today in the United States. And it doesn’t matter which political side you might be on, or your political thinking in general, it does seem indeed that “truth is on the scaffold.”

I for one accept truth gathered from science as part of God’s general revelation to us, hopefully that, not sloppy thinking. Always a work in progress, but not to be disregarded as a result. Most all of the advances we’ve gained in medicine and technology are due to science. And there is truth in the sense of integrity in people trying to pool knowledge as to what is good and right and helpful for humans individually and in community. That I would take as a part of what theologians call “common grace,” God’s gift to all humanity.

The truth Jesus was getting at is different in that it goes beyond what humans can actually measure and tell, even if there’s a sense that something like this exists. There is a certain knowing that goes beyond what humans can test and verify in any scientific way. We might well be learning more and more about what the universe consists of, mysteries in that, and its origin. But can we really venture an answer scientifically as to why this is so? I don’t think so. I remember a few decades back there seemed to be a movement to try to figure out that puzzle scientifically, maybe in a modernist optimism. But it seems to me that has long since been abandoned perhaps influenced by a postmodern realization that the good found in modernism has its limits.

Jesus comes and gives us the sense that there is something found in his mission, even in him which gets us to the reality of what truth is at its center, and heart, without disregarding the truth humans come up with, however so limited. In this case there is no limit, but its our own blindness and limitation due to our finiteness as humans, and brokenness which keeps us from seeing it, indeed, even taking it seriously. Maybe we can see that in Pilate who seems to me to be skeptical of it.

All I can say for myself is that I try to see everything in the light of what I would call this ultimate truth found in Jesus, who himself said elsewhere:

I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

John 14:6

That is where I rest, and what I am assured of. But given by God, not something we humans can come up with ourselves. Yet something we have to be open to receive by faith. In and through Jesus.

doing what is right and loving others

Anyone who does not do what is right is not God’s child, nor is anyone who does not love their brother and sister.

1 John 3:10b

1 John is a powerful letter from the start, both in its simplicity and profundity. And one of the things John pounds home again and again in the brief letter is the importance of living by the truth of God found in Jesus which means obeying God’s commands, the most fundamental of all, to love each other.

1 John has much to say about this, so we need to read further. Love is made known in Christ laying down his life for us, and our love is made known in laying down our lives for the brothers and sisters (3:16). And this is about day to day acts of faithfulness, especially to meet a need.

So John stresses that God’s children do what is right, and love God and the family of God.

I am grieved when I see what seems to me to be less than that. Yes, we can’t see into other people’s hearts like God can, so that we need to indeed be careful. Sometimes it’s in overt acts such as harsh words. Other times it may be subtle, yet even worse, like when one is continually ignored. It may involve a slow burn. We need to watch ourselves, even check to see whether or not we might be misunderstood by someone to be doing that. And we need to pray for any who might be doing that to us. As we seek to do what is right and love. In and through Jesus.

while the world is falling apart…

God is our refuge and strength,
an ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam
and the mountains quake with their surging.

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy place where the Most High dwells.
God is within her, she will not fall;
God will help her at break of day.
Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall;
he lifts his voice, the earth melts.

The Lord Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.

Come and see what the Lord has done,
the desolations he has brought on the earth.
He makes wars cease
to the ends of the earth.
He breaks the bow and shatters the spear;
he burns the shields with fire.
He says, “Be still, and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth.”

The Lord Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.

Psalm 46

We live in a time of cultural seismic change. In society, including the church, certainly in politics. And if you’re not on board, then you’re not welcome.

Christians need to hold steady, just as the psalm tells us. Not be taking sides in the culture war, or whatever war is going on out there. But standing steady in the faith, come what may. On the truth of the gospel, and as found in Scripture.

We need to appeal to reason, but no matter what we say, we will face opposition. Of course we need to listen well, too. We can learn from those who oppose us, since they might have some truth in what they’re saying. After all, we have our blind spots too.

When it’s all said and done, we still hold steady to the truth as it is in Jesus and in Scripture. And we stake our lives on that, and nothing else. Confident in the God who has made himself known in and through Jesus.

in a world of competing narratives and ideas

All your words are true;
all your righteous laws are eternal.

Psalm 119:160

It is amazing, the diversity in thought more readily apparent nowadays due to the internet. I’m referring to “movers and shakers”, confining that to those with credentials. And even within the Christian world there is enough divergence, which might not seem that great at first, but can make a big difference.

It is probably good for people to engage all of this, and especially Christians. We all have our niche and calling. But we especially need to major on what we know to be true, the truth as it is in Jesus as found throughout scripture. And especially its fulfillment in the gospels along with the rest of the New Testament.

Of course we must be ready to speak out where need be, even when we know that inevitably we’re not going to see the whole or everything clearly, at least not as much as God does. And that we will make mistakes along the way. Surely even Paul didn’t get everything right. Though what he did write in scripture has God’s breath on it, so that it is absolutely true, along with the rest of scripture.

All of scripture is true to the point for which it is given and written: the gospel of God, the good news in Christ. That is what the Bible is: God’s written word pointing humankind to God’s final Word: Jesus. The fulfillment of all of God’s promises and truth are in Jesus.

That is where I go back to again and again. That does soundly critique all else; it’s not as if it’s on a plane where what it says has nothing to do with the supposed real world. The Bible actually uncovers reality. Even within its own culturally set place, a word for all cultures.

Where I start and must finish. In and through Jesus.

the mistake of relevancy

Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.”

“You are a king, then!” said Pilate.

Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”

“What is truth?” retorted Pilate.

John 18:36-38a

To want to be relevant is not necessarily a mistake at all. Paul sought to be all things to all people that by all possible means he might win as many as possible to Christ through the gospel (1 Corinthians 9). But often it is. The problem is one of truth. We want to reach people where they’re at, but never at the expense of truth.

Jesus made no sense to Pilate. Yes he was a king, but not in a way that mattered to Pilate. The governor was accountable to Rome, and that’s what mattered to him. Whatever “truth” might be, that was irrelevant to Pilate.

Truth telling, and more precisely, testifying to the truth was what Jesus was all about. We read in the same book that Jesus called himself “the truth”, along with “the way and the life” (John 14:6). So Jesus’s testimony necessarily pointed people to himself.

That doesn’t seem relevant to the world at large. What goes on in Washington and elsewhere matters, and little else. But if Jesus were here today, he would make the same appeal. Yes, we have to live in the world, in nations under governments, and for many, that’s where all truth and justice are found. And the power to implement such. Jesus lived in Roman occupied territory, but he did not base his life on such. It was all about his identity, who he was and what he had come to do.

What about us today? As Christians, where do we find truth? What do we think is relevant? Or is any of this much of a concern to us? Do we simply fall into line with the status quo, with what others, maybe even other Christians are doing and thinking?

We need to find for ourselves what we can then offer to others, hopefully by our example in searching and the change that brings. Yes, truth is something we search out and find, find and search out. That never ends.

Jesus is a king, and his kingdom is not from this world, but is indeed for living in the world. But not attune to the world. It would never become a part of the Roman empire, so that it would be irrelevant to them. Though later, the Roman Empire would become “Christian” simply as a way of uniting the empire, since Christianity was so widespread. In many ways not unlike what people mean when they call the United States a Christian nation. But Jesus’s word goes on. And it’s not about was is relevant to how we’re getting on with life, or what any nation is doing. But in terms of what is truly and in the end eternally relevant for this life and the next.

So let’s be in our Bibles, in prayer, in church, regardless of how irrelevant that oftentimes might seem. And stay in that. Finding the truth in Jesus, down to earth, even while not of this world and its ways. In and through him.