the great need in the world today (and everyday, forever)

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”

Romans 1

There is much that’s needed in the world. After all, God put humankind on earth to be stewards of it, caretakers, as well as to enjoy it, and live off of it (Genesis 1-2). There is much that needs to be done for sure, on different levels.

But our greatest need is the gospel, the good news in Jesus. That good news is about our salvation, personally, for sure, but it’s about the salvation and new creation of the entire world, and on every level, the beginning of that to be seen through Jesus in the church, and its completion when Jesus returns and heaven and earth become one in him.

The good news is Jesus himself, in his becoming one of us in the Incarnation, his life and teachings, his death and resurrection, all of this fulfilling God’s call to Israel for the world. His ascension and the oupouring of the Holy Spirit. And the promise of his return. All of that is the good news in Jesus, and to understand it, we have to be reading the Bible from cover to cover. But all we need to enter into it is the faith of a little child. Simply trusting in God’s word to us, that if we believe in Jesus in the sense of submissive trust, we will be saved, and begin to recover our true humanity and calling in him.

Although I made that commitment years ago, I still need that good news in Jesus every day. God’s grace in God’s unfailing love to us in Jesus is present with us always, no matter what we’re facing, no matter what actually happens. Even no matter what we do, but to help us get back on track. The truly one good news that will last forever, in and through Jesus.

God’s cross-shaped love

This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.

1 John 4

In our culture, today, we celebrate romantic love in Valentine’s Day, and surely we do well to do so (see Song of Songs). C. S. Lewis’s great book, The Four Loves, comes to mind as well.

In the very passage quoted above from 1 John 4, we read more than once that “God is love.” The God who is love shows to us and to the world a cross-shaped love, that is, the love of the Cross. In Jesus, God’s Son, is the ultimate expression of love. God took upon God’s Self all of our evil, all of our sin, and in love laid down his life for us, yes, for the world.

We receive that love so as to enjoy it, live in it, and from that actually be a manifestation of that love of God in Christ to the world. It is not us, but Christ living in us (Galatians 2:20) who enables us so to live, but mysteriously this becomes (or can and should become) a part and at the heart of who we are. As Paul said, he wanted to know Christ and the power of his resurrection, and participation in his sufferings, even becoming like him in his death (Philippians 3). Christ’s love compelled him in his mission and life (2 Corinthians 5).

We want to enjoy every aspect of what love is, of course not outside of what God commands. But above all, our focus is on the Love of all loves, found in God, and on the Cross, in which love is given its supreme and final expression in this world. The love of God to bring us into no less than the life and love of the Trinity. In and through Jesus.

does God love people no matter what they do? who is the God who is love?

Scripture clearly says that God hates evildoers, specifically those who victimize others such as the poor. Yet it also says that God is not willing that any should perish, that God takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked, wanting them to repent and live. I don’t believe there’s any sinner or sin which can’t be forgiven through God’s grace in Jesus.

God’s jealousy may be with reference to God’s infinite, cascading love. When people don’t give God something of the honor due him, or worship other gods in their hearts and lives, then God’s jealousy is aroused.

God is grieved when God’s people sin against him and others in their attitudes and actions, especially when they fail to love each other as Christ has loved us. That too is an expression of God’s love.

God in his love pursues us, and wants us to experience that love and be changed by it. So as to love out of being loved. God wants us to live in the same love that marks God as Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The same love shown to us and to the world in Jesus in his Incarnation, life and teachings, death and resurrection. Especially prominent and made known in Jesus’s death on the cross. That is how much God loves; God died on the cross in the Person of the Son.

Yes, God’s love goes on. But what is our response to that love? By what theologians call prevenient grace, God enables us hopeless and lost sinners to open our hearts to God’s heart through the gospel, the good news in Jesus. The question becomes not whether God loves everyone or not, because even though he may hate for a time, it seems to me from scripture that eventually God’s longing love wins out, and he would woo even the worst of sinners to himself. The question turns in on us. Will we respond? And the danger is that we will grow careless and hard hearted, so that we can be in danger of sinning against the work of the Spirit in prevenient grace, and thus close the door to God’s love for us, and perhaps seal our fate by our own choice.

Yes, no matter what, God is love, and God loves. That is shown within scripture and supremely and climactically in Jesus himself. We need to learn to read scripture and see all of life in that light. And let that change us even toward enemies. Changed by the love of God in Jesus who is love, that we might begin to live and grow in that love toward each other and everyone else.

the love which carries us through

I am not one much for what might be called “proof texting,” by which I mean trying to come up with a Bible verse, or even passage (though a passage is much better) to prove a point. Although one sentence can surely say a lot. Context is so important in good Bible reading and study, and most certainly includes the tradition of the church as in how the Holy Spirit has helped the church in seeing the truth of the gospel in any given passage, aside from the details which are bound to bring out different perspectives, and aren’t meant necessarily to be pinned down to one sure meaning, as we often do.

And so in trying to think of one passage which might get across what I want to think on now, I can’t come up with one off the top of my head. Instead I would say, go and read the entire Bible. Over time, of course. Maybe a one year reading program would be best. I like the idea of reading it all straight through. Or reading the New Testament twice, for every time one reads the Old Testament. My current plan is a bit haphazzard, except that I keep at it every day. But I’ll spare any reader any further details on that.

What we need is the grace of God, which one might call “unmerited favor,” and which I like to call a gift, sheer gift, and this in and through Jesus. And what we find is that we’re somehow taken up into that same love which characterizes the Trinity, the Love which God is. And also that this love is brought back down to earth in the exhaustion and failure which characterize our humanity down here. But a love which isn’t only present to make us feel better, but to lift our very lives into something much better.

Now what does that look like? Again, begin to turn the pages of a Bible, as you read it. You can read online, I do a bit of that through BibleGateway. My own preference is hard copy, a regular book, and my Bible translation of choice is the New International Version, while the New Revised Standard Version is probably my second preference and good in that it also translates the Apocryphal (called Deuterocanonical) books which are good for edification, even while not binding for teaching or doctrine (and I don’t think I’ve even ever read through those books completetly, though I want to). Another good resource online is the New English Translation, with helpful notes. And actually most any Bible translation is probably just fine, a good number of them on BibleGateway (see link above) itself.

The written word of God and prayer in the communion of the church and through the saving power of God in the gospel is what can help us by faith enter into this love. The love from God by which we live; the love which will carry us through come what may. In and through Jesus.

loyalty for the sake of the gospel

You know that everyone in the province of Asia has deserted me, including Phygelus and Hermogenes.

May the Lord show mercy to the household of Onesiphorus,because he often refreshed me and was not ashamed of my chains. On the contrary, when he was in Rome, he searched hard for me until he found me. May the Lord grant that he will find mercy from the Lord on that day! You know very well in how many ways he helped me in Ephesus.

2 Timothy 1:15-18

The distinguishing mark of the Christian is loving one another, not being “right,” not even being holy, although a central part of true holiness is this distinctive love in Jesus. And it’s a love which embraces even enemies. But might have to expose those who are doing harm to others, especially with reference to the faith of the gospel.

In the Apostle Paul’s last letter, he noted what the NIV‘s heading calls “Examples of Disloyalty and Loyalty.” In Paul’s case, he was so closely aligned to the gospel, that loyalty to Paul meant loyalty to the gospel which for him was front and center, always, in terms of both his message and his very life. Paul became all things to all people so that by all possible means, he might save some. And that he did for the sake of the gospel (1 Corinthians 9).

We might define loyalty as being present for someone first of all, because like us, they are human, and made in God’s image. And then also, doing so for the sake of the gospel. And that presence being in terms of being for them. This will sometimes involve forgiving, which we all need at times, and sometimes we won’t be able to do anything more than pray for them, which after all, is the greatest thing we can do for each other.

Loyalty is important, and actually like God in that the God who is Love, pledges God’s Self to humankind, that pledge being covenantal in God actually becoming one of us in the Son, and taking upon himself the evil of humanity, to free humanity from that evil. God’s loyalty to us plays out in all kinds of ways. Like in the case of Cain before he murdered his brother Abel, God faithfully warned Cain, and tried to call him into his blessing (Genesis 4). As it ended up, God did not even prevent Cain’s murder of faithful Abel, which seems more than a bit of a mystery in our eyes, although we too easily get used to such, so that we can become jaded. But we have to look at the bigger picture, and accept the fact that God is faithful and loyal, and that we are called to that same loyalty.

I don’t believe people, including too many Christians are all that loyal in the way described above. Too often we divide along the lines of politics, which can seem to be as divisive as in the days of the American Civil War, when in some cases, brothers in the same family fought on different sides. We divide or simply become disloyal for a whole host of other reasons. When I find something of that in another, I find something that is lacking, period. If I see something like that in myself, I see something that needs confession, repentance, and prayer. We are loyal to others for the sake of Jesus and the gospel. And we are in need of that same loyalty ourselves.

I lose faith in the kind of Christianity which can cut another off, or doesn’t find room to include them. After that, I have a hard time receiving from such a source. We must always live and breathe and think and pray in terms of this loyalty derived from the God who is Love, and grounded in the gospel, the good news which is in Jesus. I believe when people do this, whoever they are, they actually need to repent and get back to the true basic, the covenantal love of God in the gospel. That is the one fellowship or communion which will last, and through which we seek to embrace everyone, even our enemies, in the same way which we ourselves have been embraced, in and through Jesus.

not acting on our fears

Sharon Brown, pastor and award winning author used to tell us never to act on fear. I think these are most wise words and I wish I would have taken them to heart and really ingrained them in my heart and mind into my life. She’s echoing what scripture says again and again, “Don’t be afraid,” said to be the most frequent command of all. We aptly can call them loving directives as from a father, but they’re also commands. That is how we’re to live even in this world as God’s holy and dearly loved people. Dearly loved by God of course. God’s perfect love meant to cast out all our fear (1 John 4). When we are afraid, we’re to put our trust in God who will dispel our fears (Psalm 56).

Our fears often cause us not to think straight, indeed to think irrationally. It is one thing to have some healthy tension or nervousness about certain things we have to do. It’s quite another thing to be struck sometimes to the point of paralysis or perhaps more often in a way in which we feel and out of that feeling think we have to do something. We’re far better off, in fact we’d best learn not to act on that feeling at all. The thoughts woven around it are most often not coherent or have a serious problem in one way or another. This is when we need to become rationalists and apply some cold hard reason. But more accurately we need to get at the underlying issue here: likely lack of trust in God. As we refuse to go there and commit ourselves to trusting him, true thoughts will eventually come into place and we can then be at rest.

It is a sure sign of the enemy’s working, by the way, when fear comes on us (see 1 Peter 5:8-9). That reminds us of the spiritual battle we are in as spelled out in Ephesians 6. We are to be strong not in our own strength, but in the power and might of the Lord. We’re to put on the whole armor of God and hold our ground. We need every part of what is made available to us in Christ, perhaps most notably in this context the shield of faith with which we can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. But we need them all for this battle.

For us in Jesus it’s either fear or faith. Or more realistically faith when we are afraid. Which means prayer and refusing to yield to those fears. Perhaps getting someone else to pray for us as well as praying ourselves. As we learn more and more to trust in the God who loves us and is for us all the way, in and through Jesus.

an Advent meditation: Jesus came to show the Father’s love

One of the striking revelations of Jesus’ coming is the love of the Father. One can gather something of that from the Old Testament/ Hebrew Bible, even as one can gather something of God’s terror and judgment from the New Testament. At the heart of the good news Jesus did bring was the love of the Father in sending the Son to be the atoning sacrifice for the sins of the world and to give new, eternal life. That God in Jesus took the consequences and judgment for sin on himself.

Jesus said that to see him was to see the Father. Jesus is the revelation of God. And at the heart of that revelation is love: the love of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, the love of the one God revealed anew and in a final sense in Jesus.

And so into the conundrums and brokenness of life Jesus came. With something that can make all the difference in the world if we can learn well to take it to heart: the love of the Father. Jesus told a story that highlights that extravagant, unbounded love:

Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons. The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them.

“Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.

“When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ So he got up and went to his father.

“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.

“The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you.I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’

“But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.

“Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’

“The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’

“‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’”

Original line in song:
“And I remember my father’s house
What I wouldn’t give right now
Just to see him and hear him tell me that he loves me so much”