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.

please love: let’s grow in God’s love together

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

Loving God and loving others, and being loved. And a love that is practical, meeting people’s needs, especially the poor and afflicted. This is where it’s at, where true religion lies.

But love is vulnerable. You will always be hurt if you love, sometimes just because we don’t love well, as Rich Mullins says in one of his songs. Other times, because we fail to love at all.

Love in the Christian sense is never separate from the gospel, which is the greatest act and reality of love from the God who is love. God’s love in his Son in the love of the cross is indeed central to our faith. And love in the Christian sense is linked to faith and hope, the three things which remain according to 1 Corinthians 13.

Without this, everything is empty and meaningless, insofar as God’s valuation is concerned. This is part and parcel of true humanity which is being restored in Jesus, as we say from the letters in the Final/New Testament, “in Christ.” Everything must be measured by both the quantity and quality of love. And it’s not just any old kind of love, whatever good such loves might have. It is rooted and finds its true meaning and reality in the love of God in Jesus. The Spirit present to help us find, experience, and live in that love.

I am personally tired of Christians who don’t love, or go out of their way to love. And yet I need to remember just how poorly I love, and how empty and cold my own love can be. But that is where we need to light the fire: the love we had at first (Revelation 2). We need to fan the faint flicker of the love that is in us in Jesus, and over time, by God’s grace grow in and be molded by that love. Into the very image of Jesus together, in each of our unique expressions of that as the one body of Christ in and for the world. In and through Jesus.

the fear of the Lord providing security

Whoever fears the LORD has a secure fortress,
    and for their children it will be a refuge.

Proverbs 14:26

The fear of the Lord is called the beginning of knowledge and wisdom, referring to something of an inside understanding from God. There is certainly a reverential awe with surely a sense of wonder. But never a cowering fear. Through Jesus we know God as a loving Father, whose love knows no bounds (see Jesus’s parable of the Prodigal Son, which also could aptly be called the Prodigal Father). But this God who is love is still God.

This fear of God paradoxically makes one secure, in a sense fearing nothing. We read in 1 John that there is no fear in love, that perfect love casts out fear, because fear has to do with judgment. Although we know that in ourselves we are unworthy, yet living in the fear of God and what he has provided for us in Jesus gives us a security that is not only like being a part of the family, but actually is. Somehow, in whatever way this might best be expressed, and probably in a number of ways, we find security, or a fortress of safety in fearing the Lord, and best of all along with that, this is a refuge for our children. They too can find it, as we live in it. A wonderful reality for us all, in and through Jesus.

does God do a good job being God? (does our understanding of God measure up?)

“Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.”

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.

John 3

Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!
    How unsearchable his judgments,
    and his paths beyond tracing out!
“Who has known the mind of the Lord?
    Or who has been his counselor?”
“Who has ever given to God,
    that God should repay them?”
For from him and through him and for him are all things.
    To him be the glory forever! Amen.

Romans 11

It’s common nowadays to question the God of the Bible in more ways than one. And as N. T. Wright points out, when people use the word God, they don’t at all mean the same being as much as they once did. For a good many people God just seems to fall short both in the Bible, and in life. Anyone who reads the entire Bible will understand that the Bible itself is about real life with most of its characters flawed, and even in the case of one remarkably unflawed character, Daniel, he includes himself in his confession to God of Israel’s sins.

But what about God in these pages? We find a God who again in the words of N. T. Wright is both passionate and compassionate. A God who takes seriously human decisions, and lets the weight of them (even if not fully), good or bad fall into place with the consequences. And yet we also see the God who created all things work to restore all things in a redemption and salvation which brings in nothing short of a new creation. And God does that through humans, specifically through choosing Israel to be his light to the world, coming to culmination and complete fulfillment in Jesus.

There is no question that at times in both the Bible and in life we can’t begin to make sense of at least parts of it, sometimes very large parts which can impact individuals and nations. Of course one would have to see the entire story and really get inside the story to really understand and appreciate what is going on. We often don’t have that vantage point. With scripture, we can read from cover to cover, from Genesis through Revelation and get the gist at least of the story in it, in all its complexity and beauty. If we want an easy read, and easy answer, it’s not there. But such is life. Yet with the faith of a little child, we can enter in, and begin to understand the account of a loving Father in and through Jesus.

As the doxology in the Romans passage quoted above suggests, we can’t follow God completely, it’s not like we can retrace God’s steps or fully comprehend what God is up to especially in the affairs of the world as the sovereign ruler. But the point in that passage is God’s dealings with his covenant people Israel in terms of the gospel and the change that brought. Romans 9 through 11 talk about that, and it’s an important read. And we can understand quite a bit, and at least what is essential for us to understand from that reading. But we do best in the end to echo the doxology which follows it, acknowledging that God is God and his working is beyond us. Yet at the same time we need to keep looking to God’s final word (Hebrews 2) Jesus, who himself is the essence of God, even as a human, of course one with the Father in the Triunity of God.

No, we don’t understand God all that well, except for what God has revealed to us, and actually it is quite a lot in scripture. But we need the Spirit of God to help us really begin to understand God beyond concepts, even if those concepts contain truth and avoid error. We need what begins as an acquaintance into a full relationship with God in and through Jesus. The God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. And the God who is love (1 John). We need to learn to not only accept the revelation of God in Jesus, but to learn by faith to rest in that God who comes to us in Jesus.

a good picture of the God of the Bible who comes to us in Jesus

Psalm 106 is a good picture of the God of the Bible who comes to us in Jesus. Glenn Paauw’s book, Saving the Bible From Ourselves: Learning to Read & Live the Bible Well helps us see the importance of reading scripture and considering its entire historical narrative before we start claiming its promises. That might be a bit overstated, but I think the point he makes in the book is an excellent one, and sorely needed.

I ran across the sentence perhaps in that very book, which makes the point that God’s wrath in judgment is directed against human machinations, and even against humans themselves, whose actions make not only a mess of things in this world, but bring much harm to others. Of course God is the God of mercy as well. And not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance (1 Peter). Not desiring the death of the wicked, but that they might repent and live (Ezekiel). That’s the God of the Bible who comes to us in Jesus. The God who is to be feared, who is holy, righteous, just and good, essentially love, that love not cancelling out the rest, all else actually being an expression of that.

God is not the God so many seem to want to see as the soft, cuddly teddy bear who simply affirms all we do, the point a Christian brother (who happens to be Eastern Orthodox) was making yesterday. God is a God to be feared, as he would say, and yet all of what God is in all its awe and wonder is encapsulated in love. God is love. That comes across to us in Jesus, but beware of watering down what the Bible makes plain, even in the account of Jesus, including Jesus’s own words.

Psalm 106 in its entirety is an account of the picture scripture gives us of the God who comes to us in Jesus.

Praise the LORD.

Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good;
his love endures forever.

Who can proclaim the mighty acts of the LORD
or fully declare his praise?
Blessed are those who act justly,
who always do what is right.

Remember me, LORD, when you show favor to your people,
come to my aid when you save them,
that I may enjoy the prosperity of your chosen ones,
that I may share in the joy of your nation
and join your inheritance in giving praise.

We have sinned, even as our ancestors did;
we have done wrong and acted wickedly.
When our ancestors were in Egypt,
they gave no thought to your miracles;
they did not remember your many kindnesses,
and they rebelled by the sea, the Red Sea.
Yet he saved them for his name’s sake,
to make his mighty power known.
He rebuked the Red Sea, and it dried up;
he led them through the depths as through a desert.
He saved them from the hand of the foe;
from the hand of the enemy he redeemed them.
The waters covered their adversaries;
not one of them survived.
Then they believed his promises
and sang his praise.

But they soon forgot what he had done
and did not wait for his plan to unfold.
In the desert they gave in to their craving;
in the wilderness they put God to the test.
So he gave them what they asked for,
but sent a wasting disease among them.

In the camp they grew envious of Moses
and of Aaron, who was consecrated to the LORD.
The earth opened up and swallowed Dathan;
it buried the company of Abiram.
Fire blazed among their followers;
a flame consumed the wicked.
At Horeb they made a calf
and worshiped an idol cast from metal.
They exchanged their glorious God
for an image of a bull, which eats grass.
They forgot the God who saved them,
who had done great things in Egypt,
miracles in the land of Ham
and awesome deeds by the Red Sea.
So he said he would destroy them—
had not Moses, his chosen one,
stood in the breach before him
to keep his wrath from destroying them.

Then they despised the pleasant land;
they did not believe his promise.
They grumbled in their tents
and did not obey the LORD.
So he swore to them with uplifted hand
that he would make them fall in the wilderness,
make their descendants fall among the nations
and scatter them throughout the lands.

They yoked themselves to the Baal of Peor
and ate sacrifices offered to lifeless gods;
they aroused the LORD’s anger by their wicked deeds,
and a plague broke out among them.
But Phinehas stood up and intervened,
and the plague was checked.
This was credited to him as righteousness
for endless generations to come.
By the waters of Meribah they angered the LORD,
and trouble came to Moses because of them;
for they rebelled against the Spirit of God,
and rash words came from Moses’ lips.

They did not destroy the peoples
as the LORD had commanded them,
but they mingled with the nations
and adopted their customs.
They worshiped their idols,
which became a snare to them.
They sacrificed their sons
and their daughters to false gods.
They shed innocent blood,
the blood of their sons and daughters,
whom they sacrificed to the idols of Canaan,
and the land was desecrated by their blood.
They defiled themselves by what they did;
by their deeds they prostituted themselves.

Therefore the LORD was angry with his people
and abhorred his inheritance.
He gave them into the hands of the nations,
and their foes ruled over them.
Their enemies oppressed them
and subjected them to their power.
Many times he delivered them,
but they were bent on rebellion
and they wasted away in their sin.
Yet he took note of their distress
when he heard their cry;
for their sake he remembered his covenant
and out of his great love he relented.
He caused all who held them captive
to show them mercy.

Save us, LORD our God,
and gather us from the nations,
that we may give thanks to your holy name
and glory in your praise.

Praise be to the LORD, the God of Israel,
from everlasting to everlasting.

Let all the people say, “Amen!”

Praise the LORD.

love’s priority over knowledge

Now about food sacrificed to idols: We know that “We all possess knowledge.” But knowledge puffs up while love builds up. Those who think they know something do not yet know as they ought to know. But whoever loves God is known by God.

1 Corinthians 8

Discover the Word had for me what was a rather convicting program on love’s priority over knowledge. There is no doubt that knowledge is important, and that it can make the difference between success and failure, even between right and wrong. It’s not like we can simply toss it aside as unimportant, or unmeaningful. But it must be coupled with love to amount to anything. And that reminds us of what is called “the love chapter” in the same book, 1 Corinthians 13, which tells us the very same thing.

It is relatively easy to accumulate knowledge over time. Some of it is basic, yet important for life, and wears well, lasts. But other knowledge is certainly subject to revision, I think of science’s current adjustment from the theory of relativity into quantum physics. That’s an extreme example, not something most of us ever think about.

But much of what we know includes elements of the unknown. The problem for us is that we never know what we don’t know. It’s simply unknown to us. So that a big part of true, good knowledge is to acknowledge that there’s much that we don’t know, and that we know nothing at all in the way God does, completely and perfectly. Not that God doesn’t reveal knowledge to us, nor that we don’t have certain basics down well enough to carry on in life, like how to drive a car to work.

But to love is another story. Is that something we think about, and occupy ourselves with? Scripture says that in the last days people will be lovers of themselves. There is a proper love of self, but not the kind spoken of there, in which all that matters to people is what matters to them, and others are good only insofar as they fulfill that. No, the text quoted above says that we’re to love God, and we know elsewhere that we’re to love our neighbor, even including, according to Jesus, our enemies.

So love, beginning in the sphere of God’s love for us, is to be coupled with our knowledge, and is indeed to have priority over what we know. We don’t violate love ever. There is a place to put what we know (or think we know) aside, but never a time or place to put love aside. And this needs to be at the forefront of what we do, not on the sideburner, as we supposedly get the real tasks of life done. The priority in the midst of all we do, and all our work must be love. Because that is where God lives, the God who is love, and who we know in and through Jesus.

God’s judgment as good news

In the Bible, judgment mostly comes across as good news, or at least that’s a large swath of its teaching. One sees that over and over again in the psalms: God is going to root out the wicked and destroy them, maybe even in a way which not only brings them shame, but actually causes them to seek his face, whatever that might possibly mean in the hidden scheme of things. The backdrop of this is God’s care for the poor, the oppressed, the bereaved, as well as for his people. The day of God’s judgment, called the day of the Lord (LORD, or Yahweh in the First/Old Testament) is coming.

In the Bible, judgment always precedes salvation. We all end up being judged in some way, but God in Jesus takes the judgment for sin on himself by suffering death, even at the hands of sinners, and through that death providing the way for forgiveness and eternal life for all who believe. When Jesus returns, he will rid the earth of all evil to bring in the full salvation, somehow all of this being a new creation in the fullness of the kingdom of God.

We were raised on the version of God’s judgment as something to fear and even be ashamed of. How could a loving God pour out judgment on the earth? Admittedly some of the lines and passages in the prophets show a passion on this which seems extreme. Though one has to remember the nature of prophetic writing, how exaggeration to make a point is accepted, and not to be taken strictly literally. We in this culture with any knowledge of Christian history remember Jonathan Edwards’s famous sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” Heaven and hell once dominated the American Christian theological landscape in the Christian understanding within the churches. At least it was a dominant theme.

But we do much better to let that recede, and what actually is in the wave of biblical teaching appear. It may not appeal to the world, or to those coming up with some kind of new theology, but it will deal forthrightly with things as they are by a God who is completely good and pure love. As we remember the salvation provided in Jesus from all of the destruction to come, to bring us into the goodness of God’s judgment, both for ourselves individually and for the world in and through Jesus.