being alert for the Lord’s coming

This time of the year is called Advent on the church calendar. I miss Advent, since the church we’re part of is not much into church liturgy. I think Christmas is a most special time of the year since we’re remembering and celebrating the birth of the Savior, our Lord Jesus.

Advent is simply about the Lord’s coming. And that includes his coming in full as given to us in Scripture, which means his first coming, already accomplished, and his second coming, which we look forward to.

Scripture likens Jesus’s second coming to a “hope,” even “the blessed hope.” Hope as in something we’re anticipating and again, looking forward to, not a kind of “hope so” attitude, where we’re not sure. By faith we’re certain and assured.

Still I wonder just how much anticipation I really have. Yes, chances are I’ll die before the Lord’s return. But that won’t much matter when the return takes place. The dead will rise first, and then those who are alive will be caught up together with them in the air, and so we will all be together with the Lord forever.

The gospel accounts tell us we need to be alert. I am not much into the signs stuff and looking at events. I’ve been burned too often in my lifetime, and have long since dismissed such notions as poor Biblical understanding. But regardless of how we view things, we need to be alert with the imagination: What if Jesus actually would return today? Would we have been preparing ourselves? Or do we think and live like that could not possibly happen?

Faith, hope and love are a triad, love being called the greatest of these. They’re interwoven together, so that our “hope” in our Lord’s return comes from faith with love following and accompanying that. I think the most important thing we can do is to endeavor daily to be in an interactive relationship with our Lord through his word and Spirit, and paying attention in life. Then, through the grace he gives us, we can be ready when that moment arrives. In and through Jesus.

a kind of summation of Psalm 119

ת Taw

May my cry come before you, Lord;
give me understanding according to your word.
May my supplication come before you;
deliver me according to your promise.
May my lips overflow with praise,
for you teach me your decrees.
May my tongue sing of your word,
for all your commands are righteous.
May your hand be ready to help me,
for I have chosen your precepts.
I long for your salvation, Lord,
and your law gives me delight.
Let me live that I may praise you,
and may your laws sustain me.
I have strayed like a lost sheep.
Seek your servant,
for I have not forgotten your commands.

Psalm 119:169-176

One can see the last part of Psalm 119 as a kind of summation of this great psalm. There is a mix of faith, hope and love; a dependence on God in looking to God to do what only God can do. But an expectation along with that, that God surely will. And with that, an anticipation of what will come as a result: God’s goodness, and the response of praise to God for such. This is always the tension at play in our lives in God.

The end is appropriate. There is a sense of lostness, the psalmist’s fault and yet almost an inevitable part of our lives in this life now. We do stray along the way, but our response should be the same as the psalmist: a cry to God to find us, to come near to us, since in our heart we want to obey God’s commands. In and through Jesus.

 

 

why faith, hope and love are each vitally important

Now, brothers and sisters, about times and dates we do not need to write to you, for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, “Peace and safety,” destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape.

But you, brothers and sisters, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief. You are all children of the light and children of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness. So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be awake and sober. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, get drunk at night. But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet. For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him. Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.

1 Thessalonians 5:1-11

We’re more familiar and maybe even more comfortable with what has been called “the love chapter,” 1 Corinthians 13, in which when all is said and done- faith, hope, and love remain. But God would not be good or just if a final salvation didn’t come which eventually ultimately clears out all evil in the world. You don’t have to look long or far to find what is best called out and out evil. And in one way or another, we all end up being implicated in it. Either by our silence, or actual often unwitting participation in one way or another.

But we know Jesus came in large part to take God’s wrath on himself, therefore God himself taking the judgment we deserve by accepting, and has been said, absorbing in himself the evil we heaped on him, and turning that into our salvation. Even our forgiveness and new life in his love, if we simply accept this salvation as a gift.

We in Jesus belong to the day in contrast to those who are of the night, still in spiritual darkness. The imagery that follows is spiritual battle. We’re therefore to put on both faith and love as a breastplate for our protection, along with the hope of salvation as a helmet, again for our protection. Faith, hope and love go together.

In God’s love we live, and dare to live come what may. Faith is the means by which we enter into the love and hope that is offered as a gift in Jesus. Faith and love are joined together in the passage. We can’t know and begin to experience God’s love apart from faith. By faith we are justified (declared righteous), and experience God’s love poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit (Romans 5).

Hope follows. It is something so important to hold on to, especially in the midst of the spiritual battle which oftentimes is personal, but inevitably extends to those around us: loved ones, “neighbors,” even enemies. Our hope is for God full and final salvation promised in Jesus. Hope for those in Jesus is anticipation of what is yet to come. We experience it anew and afresh when God’s love is poured out in our hearts. But we also hold on to it during the times when all seems pitched dark in the spiritual battle we’re in. And it should always be, along with faith and love a basic part of our lives day after day in and through Jesus.

is the love of God in us?

….I know you. I know that you do not have the love of God in your hearts.

John 5:42

Interestingly the NIV adds “hearts.” Across word for word from the Greek, it would simply be translated “in you.” That additional word probably does capture the sense of what Jesus was getting at. But it would include one’s entire life. Everything we do does flow out of our hearts (Proverbs 4:23). The love of God as the NET Bible note helpfully suggests may refer to the love God puts in us through which we respond in love to him, and of course to others.

This is a challenging and important question all the time, but especially when others may be annoying to us. Do we have God’s love in us, yes, in our hearts? And if so, what difference should that make in our lives? It should help us not do what we might do otherwise. And with that love, we will do more, as well as acts we wouldn’t think of otherwise.

This wasn’t what Jesus was getting at in the passage. And yet given the context of the rest of the New Testament, this is a more than apt application. With God’s love in us, we receive the one whom God sent: Jesus, God’s own Son. We have received that love for ourselves, and in turn, we share that love with others. Not just in witness of words, but in actions and life.

This love of God in us helps us overcome everything, press on in faith when otherwise we would not. Faith, hope and love are tied together in scripture; we need them all, and of course have them all, in and through Jesus.

 

faith

If there’s one most basic thing the Lord calls us to, it probably is faith. Faith in God, in God’s word, in the gospel, the good news in Jesus.

Faith at its bare essential is receiving from God, so we do well to be in that posture. At its onset it comes from hearing the message about Christ (Romans 10).  Faith ushers us into a new relationship and reality. We know God and are a part of God’s family. And that involves a number of basic things for sure. All expressed in love, and with hope; faith, hope and love being joined together.

But even though I’ve been on this faith journey for decades, in some ways I’m afraid I never matured, at least not much. Anxiety has been my number one “besetting” sin. God has been working on that, and teaching me to let go and live in his peace more, but still I find myself in need of doing the same thing over again, and again and again. I wish I could settle more into a disposition of rest and peace in God’s grace.

There are Christian traditions which seem to make much of the faith, the gospel, and there are other Christian traditions which seem to make much of faith, the response to the gospel. Of course we need both. Faith comes from the faith, and is dependent on that. But the faith gives faith and instills that in us.

And so as I face a new day, I want to do so with a renewed commitment to faith in God, come what may. Believing in God, receiving his word, trusting in him so that I can do the works that come from a faith characterized by love and sustained by hope. In and through Jesus.

 

faith, hope, and the greatest of all, love

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

1 Corinthians 13

In the midst of another terrible disaster (praying for them), when there is challenge after challenge in life with hardly any rest, when being tired is the norm and exhaustion is what one tries to, but doesn’t always avoid, when it seems like one is left alone in their own thoughts, when dreams have long been forgotten and one is trying only to survive, when it seems like life has taken a turn for the worse, fill in your own blanks, whatever it is that we’re facing, in Jesus faith, hope and love always remains.

Faith means we believe and trust in God, in God’s promises to us and to the world in Jesus, even when, and we might say especially when they make little or no sense to us. That doesn’t mean they don’t make sense in the overall scheme of things, or when one is considering and comparing worldviews, including the view which might question such an endeavor. Faith ultimately looks to God’s promise in Jesus which is focused on the cross and the life which flows out from that. It is our crucified, resurrected Lord we follow as God’s resurrected people, and the heart of our faith is always the turning point of the cross, of Jesus’s death. All the promises of God are dependent, hinge on, and ultimately find their meaning in that.

Hope is a confidence by faith (Hebrews 11:1) that what God has promised, he will fulfill and bring to completion in and through Jesus. It keeps us going, when all other hope seems gone. Hope of course is needed by humans. There seems to be nothing worse than a hopelessness given to a despair which simply gives up on life, and might simply muddle through it in a set cynicism, or even worse, think of ending it all. We all need hope, and that hope is ultimately found in Jesus and the good news in him, of course Jesus and him crucified (1 Corinthians 2:2).

And then, last, but not least, there’s the greatest of all: love. In the context of the passage written above, it is described:

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Love never fails.

1 Corinthians 13

It is found in Jesus who is the revelation of God, of who God is, of what love is, again ultimately through the cross. It is again, Jesus crucified. That is the kind of love that changes and moves us to love in return. And with that same kind of love. Certainly a gift of the Spirit, to us. And that keeps giving and giving (and receiving and receiving, as well), to the very end, no matter what. Of course a discerning love, as well (Philippians 1:9-11). A love in which faith and hope find their true meaning.

And so we have faith, hope and love, whatever else is happening, all very much needed in this existence, in and through Jesus.

God is love

God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them.

1 John 4

I suppose and hope that if there’s one note I would like to end my life on, and hopefully begin to live out much better, it would be the reality of God’s love in Jesus from the God who is love. This special incarnate, atoning love would mark every step of my way, not by myself, but with others. And it would mark our witness to the world. Of loving each other and loving everyone, even including our enemies.

It is the way of the cross. Not without struggle. But a faith and love which overcomes everything, along with the hope which accompanies that. An inseparable triad in scripture, the greatest of the three being love (1 Corinthians 13).

God is love, period. Everything else comes out of that love. And it’s the love we find in scripture, demonstrated in the cross. For us, and then even through us in Jesus. And for the world. In no other terms than in and through the gospel. But a gospel in Jesus which ends up as big as all of life. As we await the completion and climax of this reality, when Jesus returns. All of this from the God who is love, in and through Jesus.

do we really believe?

In liturgical churches every Sunday, worshipers recite usually the Nicene Creed, which begins with:

We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, the maker of heaven and earth, of things visible and invisible.

I like that practice, though it’s seldom used in churches we’ve been a part of. It is suggestive of the reality that our faith is not just an indiviudal faith, but communal. Like Paul said, we can be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith. And it is about what we believe in terms of what God has revealed in what theologians call general and special revelation. Fulfilled in Jesus and the good news in him.

The intellectual belief shouldn’t be underplayed; it is important. But if we really believe that, it means we’re taking God at his word, and therefore trusting him. It is a personal, experiential faith which concerns all of life. We believe in and trust the God who created everything, and promises to make all things new in the new creation in Jesus.

When it comes right down to it, our faith is pretty well worthless if it doesn’t involve the nuts and bolts of where we live, and if it doesn’t get beyond just our concerns to concerns for others, to God’s concerns, the interests of Jesus. Faith isn’t some mere religious belief which is nice for Sunday at church, but is hardly an afterthought in real life. It is about nothing less than all of life, or it is nothing at all since it’s not living up to what it is said to be.

We believe because of God’s testimony to us in Jesus, in the gospel, and because of God’s grace through that testimony. We have the witness in ourselves by the Holy Spirit, that even as the gospel accounts compellingly make clear, Jesus indeed rose from the dead, a bodily resurrection. And God’s promise in him won’t stop until all evil is judged, and all things are made new. And that hope begins in this life, with the faith and love which accompany it.

What we truly believe because of God’s grace in and through Jesus.

the hope for 2017 and beyond

For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.

Titus 2

There is actually one ultimate hope for us and for the world, and that hope is in King Jesus, and God’s promises in him. We in Jesus await for his return, when at last all that is lacking and wrong now, will be made right and complete in the final judgment and salvation, in the new creation. Until then, it’s not like we don’t have hope in Jesus for good in this present existence. In another place we read:

Love…always hopes…

1 Corinthians 13

Hope in scripture is put in the context of faith and love. This is a hope distinct from the blessed hope when the final salvation is put into place. But it’s certainly related to that hope.

All Christian hope is solely in Jesus. It’s not like we can’t hope for the best in the institutions of this world, in governments which are appointed by God for the good of people. But the faith, hope and love which we have in Jesus, just as they are linked together as a triad, are also dependent on the gospel. We have prayerful, lesser hopes, which are still important in their place, as we pray for everyone, for governing authorities, that people might live in peace, and that we might be able to spread the gospel in that same peace. Though in this world we can expect pockets of persecution for such a stand. That hope is grounded in God’s sovereignty now over the nations, which is often hard if not impossible to trace or understand.

And so my hope for 2017 is not so much in earthly institutions, which I think are always certain to disappoint those who have high expectations for them. Instead we look to God’s promises in Jesus for ourselves, and ultimately meant for everyone else. Even for the wicked, who will repent of their ways, and bow the knee to the one Lord, King Jesus, and trust in God and God’s promises in him.

That is my one hope for 2017 and beyond. Even while we pray, hoping for other things along the way for the good of all. More of a just and righteous peace, being one of them. While we wait in the anticipation of the blessed hope when at last every good will be fully realized in and through King Jesus.

losing love

Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.

Matthew 24

It is easy to lose heart in more ways than one. We in the United States live in a society which is practically at war with each other. I don’t think close to actual physical arms, though there may be small fringes that aspire to that. But given the political divide, and deep divisions that come with that, we tend to see everything in stark black and white, and from that tend toward an apocalyptic attitude. Nothing new in American history, by the way, at least in various ways. And it seems to me to be a human tendency.

Jesus’s words quoted above are in the context of end times. We all know that everything must end some time. The fall of Jerusalem and destruction of the temple did take place not long after Jesus’s words, within that generation. Oftentimes there is at least the threatened impending of something important that seems evident in the horizon.

We are to be aware of all of this as followers of Jesus. And we are to hold on to our priorities: the gospel, and the life that comes out of that. The good news in Jesus certainly brings with it both grace and truth. And the nonnegotiable that comes out of that seems to me to be a Calvary, cross-shaped kind of love, a love for one’s enemies, as well as the hard work of maintaining love amongst ourselves.

The one who endures to the end will be saved, Jesus said. So to hold on to love and truth, or truth and love requires endurance on our part, persevering in the faith which makes love and hope possible, though any of the three can be helpful to the others. But most basic is holding on to faith in the faith out of which a special kind of love flows, which is able to break through all the divisions of hate, and even systems of evil, though sometimes at great personal cost.

In this day and time we need to hold on to love and then truth. It is most basic in our relationships, in listening to each other, in respect even when we don’t agree. And above all for us in Jesus, our focus on helping others find him, so that we can look past what differences we may have, to that. And maintaining love with each other which is grounded in nothing less than the gospel, in Jesus himself. A big part of our calling in him now until the end.