the love that wins

When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

Matthew 22:34-40

Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us.

1  John 4:7-11

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Matthew 5:43-48

The active love of God in Christ carried on by us to each other and to the world is ultimately the love that wins. It begins and ends in Christ. It is an “in Christ” existence, but thus our real selves are found. And yet it’s in a world like where Jesus lived so that we are called to love in the same way God loves and has loved in Christ: the way of the cross, loving our enemies, turning the other cheek.

This all begins with the realization that we are loved, deeply loved by the God who created us and wants to remake us in Christ. Christ is the human who fulfilled this, and we enter into this fulfillment ourselves, to begin to live out and grow into this love-filled life even in the hard places, doing so together in Christ.

In and through Jesus.

God’s beloved

So then, brothers and sisters, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh— for if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba! Father!” it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ—if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him….

We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn within a large family. And those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified.

What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us. Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written,

“For your sake we are being killed all day long;
we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.”

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 8:12-17, 28-39

We in Christ are much loved by God. As Henry Nouwen put it: “God’s beloved.” I believe God loves all he has made, especially everyone made in God’s image. And there’s a special bond for all who are “in Christ,” in God’s beloved Son. We are taken up into that love by God’s grace through faith and baptism.

It is often hard for us to think good of ourselves. So much is conditioned against that. The push for more and more work, especially on the backs of the poor, but working its way right up to the top with those who want more and more. And then the negative conditioning we’ve received from someone always looking down on us with a critical eye, with never a thing we do measuring up, never quite good enough, and oftentimes no good at all. And we take that in, absorb it, at least many of us, and it leaves its indelible mark on our hearts and lives, so that we see ourselves in much the same way.

But God enters into this through Christ. Lifts us up as God’s beloved children. Yes, God sees the faults, but looks past that with delight to see the sincere desire to do better, to follow Christ, to do well, and improvements by God’s grace and the Spirit which follow.

Everyone in the human race is loved by God, and God desires to receive one and all into God’s special family through Christ. Those in that family are held dear by our God. This is true no matter what they’re going through, no matter what mistakes they’ve made, no matter what sins. God remains present eagerly waiting for, even anticipating their return.

But again, it’s not easy to really believe and come to accept this. We’re so conditioned otherwise. So easy for us to call ourselves something derogatory and curse ourselves for our latest mistake or sin. Instead, like God, we need to look past that, not neglecting confession of sin and repentance for sure. But see past that to who we really are in Christ. The Beloved children of God. Loved now and forever.

In and through Jesus.

God delighting in us, his children

My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline,
and do not resent his rebuke,
because the Lord disciplines those he loves,
as a father the son he delights in.

The other day I was slowly working through this part of scripture, and wanted to go on, but decided I ought to camp on the last line a bit. “…as a father the son he delights in.” This is rather a difficult line for me. Would the Father ever delight in me? These are words which I find hard to take in. I believe somehow intellectually that without any question this can be the case. And some would argue, invariably is the case if we are God’s children through Christ. And I can give some explanation theologically, based on scripture why I believe especially the former thought is true. Of course it is in and through Christ. And this provision is something God did in pursuit of us.

And so I dwelt on that for a time, probably wrestling a bit with it. And the thought came to me something like, “What more would I like to be true of myself than to be a delight to the Father.” I thought of how I want my life to be pleasing to the Father. And then I thought how children want so much to please their parents, especially early on. And hopefully later as well, often after rebellious times have passed.

It was good to dwell on that part alone, and to continue to do so. But to properly read scripture and take it in as it is, we must read in context. And of course here what precedes it is how this is all about God’s discipline of us, his children. I don’t think I gave that a whole lot of thought that day. But something happened soon afterward which ended up, over the course of a few hours and perhaps beyond of being something of the Lord’s discipline in my own life. In terms of life change over what might seem small, but was a hinge which could result in change beyond what I can tell. Hebrews 12, which quotes this passage (from the Septuagint translation of it) goes on to say that this brings a harvest of righteousness and peace to those who have been trained by this loving discipline.

So I spent some time especially on the thought of being a son in whom God could delight in. And how much I want this to be the case. After a time it began to occur to me that for this to be so, I must press on in the text and keep reading. We need all of God’s revelation in scripture to inform and form us. And so I began to work through the rest of that chapter.

But the thought stays with me. The wonderful possibility of us pleasing, even delighting God. How that is set into motion for us. And how I want to go on in that trajectory and direction with all of life the rest of my life. In and through Jesus. Along with others.

am I loved?

DSCN2541

It is said that love makes the world go ‘round. There’s a certain truth in that. It is also said that to be human is to be in relationship; that this is an inherent part of our humanity. Which stands to reason, if God is Trinity and in eternal communion with himself/God’s self, as Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

At times we may be hit with this or that, something threatening, maybe connected with a past sin or failure. And we can begin to wonder if God really loves us, to question that love. We know better in our head, from scripture, but isolated things in scripture and in life make us wonder. For example I know God is love, that God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that God loves individuals, I would argue everyone, calling us back to himself. But then we read about judgment in ways that seem severe, here and there in the Bible. Of course this opens up a subject which is not being addressed in this post. All must be read in the light of and toward the end of what we see in God’s revelation of himself in Jesus. We have to try to understand other parts of scripture and indeed all life in that light.

When we are nagged by the question whether or not God loves us, we do well to dwell on Jesus and God’s love in him, preeminently on display at the cross. That this is God’s love which is active for the world is made clear in Jesus’ resurrection. It is an active love, albeit ever cross-shaped/cruciform.

Because we are loved we love in return. The Apostle John says, “We love, because God first loved us.”

I think at times, probably oftentimes at least for some of us, we need to slow down, push the pause button of our lives, and wait on God, asking God to reveal to us, to our hearts, what we know in our heads. We know in part, to be sure, but we know enough to go on that, regardless of how it might seem to us, and how we feel. And yet we need to know something of that special love poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit. At times we will find it as we go on, doing what needs to be done especially in our relationships with others.

Let’s look to Jesus, to the cross on which he died. God loves us no matter what, seeking to draw us to himself in Jesus. We in Jesus are to live in this love of God together and for the world.

The picture was taken at St. Augustine’s House near Oxford, Michigan, the only Lutheran monastery in North America.

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.

 

Henri Nouwen on God’s full love for each of his beloved, chosen ones

When we claim and constantly reclaim the truth of being the chosen ones, we soon discover within ourselves a deep desire to reveal to others their chosenness. Instead of making us feel that we are better, more precious 0r valuable than others, our awareness of being chosen opens our eyes to the chosenness of others. That is the great joy of being chosen: the discovery that others are chosen as well. In the house of God there are many mansions. There is a place for everyone–a unique, special place. Once we deeply trust that we ourselves are precious in God’s eyes, we are able to recognize the preciousness of others and their unique places in God’s heart….

It is impossible to compete for God’s love. God’s love is a love that includes all people–each one in his or her uniqueness. It is only when we have claimed our own place in God’s love that we can experience this all-embracing, noncomparing love and feel safe, not only with God, but also with all our brothers and sisters.

Henri J. M. Nouwen, Life of the Beloved: Spiritual Living in a Secular World, 63-65.

being a little child

I think, think, and think some more. I recall the words from one of my favorite psalms:

I do not concern myself with great matters
or things too wonderful for me.

I don’t think at all that this means we eschew the intellect. We have to take this psalm in context. What it does mean in context is that we are to live as children of God, learning to be as content as a little child with their mother.

We continue on as we are in the way God has gifted us. But as children, children of God no less. Jesus said that unless we change and become like little children, we will never enter the kingdom of God.

Therefore we must subject everything to God. Perhaps especially our strong points or propensities. If not, we can begin to have confidence in our own abilities, in ourselves. Rather than the confidence we need and find in God, in the way of Jesus.

Being a little child while loving God with all our minds is simply a matter of trust. We trust in God and in his way, even if it runs against the grain of our way, our thoughts and understanding. Maybe especially when it does. That means even more trust, doesn’t it? So that perhaps we can grow in our faith all the more. Learning to trust our Father so as to quiet our thoughts, and dispel our fears.

Oh to be like a little child content with their mother! Sitting on the Father’s lap and resting content in his love.

Together in Jesus in and for the world.

beloved of God

I’m still trying to get my hands on a library copy of Henri Nouwen’s book, Life of the Beloved. To know and live by the truth that in Jesus we are loved by God is essential. Not only loved, but God’s beloved.

It is amazing how other’s perceptions of us can wear us down to the point that we begin to believe them and wear them. Real friends are a gift and treasure, to be sure.

When that happens, or begins to, I need to remember that I am in Jesus, and that I’m God’s beloved. That no matter what they think of me, how they might condemn me and cast me out, or look down on me–in God’s eyes I’m more than loved–indeed, I’m God’s beloved, or loved one. Along with all others in Jesus, to be sure, even the one who may be despising me.

I have long struggled over this, even over God’s love for me. Not in my mind, but in my heart and life. I know myself to be unworthy, and I always felt all my life that something was wrong with me. Or that something was wrong. I didn’t feel loved.

Now sometimes I do feel loved, though most oftentimes I am able by grace to rest by faith in God’s love. I find that when I think I’m under attack, to rest in that love helps me fend off such attacks. So that I’m not trying to retaliate, nor escape.

We in Jesus are God’s beloved, his loved ones. And in love God in Jesus reaches out to all, to bring them in with us. That we more and more might be a community of love. A blessing to each other, and to the world.