is God really love?

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is 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. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.

This is how we know that we live in him and he in us: He has given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God. And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.

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.

We love because he first loved us. Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.

1 John 4:7-21

I am having a hard time on my own believing that “God is love,” as the Scripture tells us here. There’s just too much evil, and even so-called “acts of God” to make one see God as love. Little children killed in accidents, or even in natural disasters, etc., etc. And on top of that one might have a hard time accepting love for themselves, since their experience because of sins against them and their own sins have made their inner life mostly a desert.

But this passage from the beloved disciple John, the one who leaned on Jesus’s breast, and seemed maybe more than all the others to have received God’s love in Jesus most deeply, is at least helpful to me. And a passage I need to dwell on, and take in more for myself.

I lament the lack of love in our world, and even among Christians, those who profess to follow Christ. If we don’t live in love then nothing else we do matters. Do we really believe that? What we believe is evident from just what we think, and  out of that, how we live.

In the end I have to trust the testimony of God in Jesus, in the good news: the gospel. That gives hope, and hopefully impacts life in a way that can make the much needed difference. So that one will really believe what they do, or even their existence matters. For one reason: love. From the source of all real love in creation and new creation, the God who is love, and is revealed in and through Jesus.

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defining God and God’s mission by our own expectations

After the people saw the sign Jesus performed, they began to say, “Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world.” Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself.

John 6:14-15

As Aaron Buer pointed out this past weekend, the Jew’s agenda, especially among the Zealots was to get free from Rome, for the Zealots get rid of Rome altogether by force. Aaron pointed out how we often see God and by extension Jesus according to what we expect God to do for us, instead of letting God reveal himself in his words and works.

There’s no question that what God is doing sometimes includes nations. The spread of the gospel was helped much by the Roman roads, even the empire itself, though certainly unwittingly. We can say that God not only used it, but in some sense orchestrated it to a greater end than what it was originally intended for. Not that human civilization and culture doesn’t have its place in the present.

Present day issues, just as in the past can be nagging and even biting. And it’s not like so much that’s up in the air politically isn’t important or significant even for Christ’s mission and the gospel, like the plight of the poor. But as Christians we have to step back and ask ourselves just whose agenda we’re on: our own, someone else’s, a combination of the above, or God’s?

In terms of the politics of this world Jesus would have none of what people wanted out of him. From a reading of the gospel accounts and the rest of the New Testament we see that the battle of the Lord is spiritual, not physical. And that Jesus conquered through the cross, through his death and resurrection, his ascension with the promise of his return not only marking that victory, but seeing it proceed by the gospel through the work of the Spirit right in the present time.

Nowadays it’s as easy as a click to get sidetracked from what God is doing and wants to do through us onto some other agenda, often set by well meaning people, even Christians, yet by that sidetracked from God’s calling to us in Jesus. And perhaps the most dangerous part is trying to sublimate as in include it in our gospel agenda, somehow merging the Lord’s work and man’s work into one, as if it’s a hand in hand endeavor. But as we see from Scripture, that’s not the case at all. It’s either the Lord’s work entirely, or it’s not his work at all.

Jesus would have none of what the people of his day wanted, indeed seemed to expect. What are we expecting today? Are we open to God’s work in Jesus? Or is it something else that matters more to us?

the gap between hearing and doing

Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.

James 1:22-25

We believe and value the words of Scripture and we want to grow. But we little consider the gap between our hearing and reading of God’s word, and our actual doing of it. That can be a world apart, and while we know better, we also often take it for granted as being just the way things are. That there’s a gap in this life seems inevitable. After all we will never arrive to completion and perfection in this life. So on those grounds we pay lip service to what James says here, but in our hearts and lives, we sadly know we’ll fall short.

James would seem to accept none of that. His blunt words don’t allow for any such gap. You either hear the word and do it, or you hear it and don’t. The former are blessed; the latter are not. And the entire book carries this tone. Given our theology in which we see grace as covering our inevitable shortcomings, what are we to make of this?

Once again we have to go back to the plain words of Scripture. We let it speak for itself and critique not only us, but our theology. Reading all of James along with the rest of Scripture will help. James talks about confessing our sins to each other, and praying for each other. So he certainly does not deny God’s grace available for ongoing forgiveness. We endeavor to do what God’s word tells us. We do so perhaps in a clumsy way. Not feeling like we’ve arrived. It’s a work in progress, even as we are. And yet that is our goal. To become aware more and more what God’s will is for us in Jesus. And do it.

 

Bible stories which call us to radical faith

As Pharaoh approached, the Israelites looked up, and there were the Egyptians, marching after them. They were terrified and cried out to the Lord. They said to Moses, “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die? What have you done to us by bringing us out of Egypt? Didn’t we say to you in Egypt, ‘Leave us alone; let us serve the Egyptians’? It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the desert!”

Moses answered the people, “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again. The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.”

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Why are you crying out to me? Tell the Israelites to move on. Raise your staff and stretch out your hand over the sea to divide the water so that the Israelites can go through the sea on dry ground. I will harden the hearts of the Egyptians so that they will go in after them. And I will gain glory through Pharaoh and all his army, through his chariots and his horsemen. The Egyptians will know that I am the Lord when I gain glory through Pharaoh, his chariots and his horsemen.”

Exodus 14:10-18

We had a big Bible story book when we were growing up, along with Kenneth Taylor’s classic picture book walking children through the Bible. Of course those make great impressions on you as a child; my mother was faithful in reading them to us kids. What you take for granted as a child becomes a different matter when you grow up and become an adult, especially in today’s world. God is great and God is good, and we can depend on him and his word is replaced with the idea that it’s up to us, or at least that we have to do our part.

Contrast that with the message in the above Exodus event: to simply stand still and see the salvation of God. We struggle with that. Backing up a bit: not all the Bible is written to us, for example the book of 1 Corinthians. But everything from start to finish is written for us. So these stories telling of actual historical events are not just some kind of rare occurrence of the miraculous. They are that, but much more. They are present to encourage us in our own faith, into the same radical commitment that believes that come what may, God will save. That in a very true sense, we’re simply to stand still and see the salvation of God.

We have to get away from the notion and indeed the practice that we must take matters in our own hands. Instead we need to replace that with the commitment to leave everything in God’s hands and simply live by faith. Which means while it’s not like either that we’re automatons- although sometimes it will seem like God is carrying us, or that we never do a thing, after all the Israelites had to listen, believe, and move at God’s command through Moses, our dependence is not on ourselves at all, but on God. Neither do we depend on other lesser things than God.

We believe in the radical biblical way. Not just in a reciting of the creed, but through and through so that our faith carries through into all of life. That it’s first about finding God’s will and way and by faith living in that. Together as much as possible, while we endeavor to live there ourselves in and through Jesus.

life as a trial (test)

Be careful to follow every command I am giving you today, so that you may live and increase and may enter and possess the land the LORD promised on oath to your ancestors. Remember how the LORD your God led you all the way in the wilderness these forty years, to humble and test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands. He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your ancestors had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD. Your clothes did not wear out and your feet did not swell during these forty years. Know then in your heart that as a man disciplines his son, so the LORD your God disciplines you.

Deuteronomy 8:1-5

All of chapter 8 is good to see more of the context (link includes it), but this passage quoted above is easily sufficient to make the point needed. One important aspect of life is that it’s essentially a trial as in a test from God. Who likes tests? Not many, myself included. But good tests in a healthy academic setting can be learning experiences both of what we need to shore up on, and actually providing a stimulus for better understanding.

We off and on run into matters we just as soon would escape. That was so true of Israel in the wilderness. They grumbled and complained about the manna God gave them, missing the food they had in Egypt, even though their lot there had been abject slavery. Instead of going through the trial, trusting in their God who had delivered them, they failed the test, resorting to their own thoughts and devices or way of living.

All Scripture is written for us, for our learning and benefit (Romans 15:4; 2 Timothy 3:16-17). In this passage we learn that we can look at life in significant part as a testing from God, to help us see where we fall short, our dependency on God and God’s word, and what we should do and not do if we’re to trust God.

Psalm 95 and Hebrews 3 warn us against failing to trust in God and his word. When we’re up against it, in an impossible situation, and really in any and every circumstance in life, we’re supposed to trust God and in faith hold on to his promises. The testing shows both the genuineness of our faith (1 Peter 1:6-7), and where we need to grow. Something we may not like, but all for our good. In and through Jesus.

where is our attention turned?

Nowadays with social media we have everything good, bad, and in between at our fingertips. There’s no end to what we can access, and to the time we can waste on things that may not be bad in themselves, but are not the best.

Yes, we have certain hobbies, or interests which usually are perfectly legitimate in themselves. And actually we should enjoy such. But we need to beware lest we lose out on what is most important.

We need to turn our attention to God’s revelation in Christ, and to the Scriptures to see this. Yes, to Scripture, because it, the Bible, is God’s written word pointing us to God’s Word in Jesus.

This will make all the difference. Like as in light and darkness, good and evil, peace and unrest, hope and despair. Trying to grind through another day, or instead trusting in God, depending on him for all the help one needs. And to work one’s way through the difficult places of life. In and through Jesus.

the blessing of the hard places

Remember how the Lord your God led you all the way in the wilderness these forty years, to humble and test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands. He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your ancestors had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.

Deuteronomy 8:2-3

No one likes hard places of any kind. In the text, outward circumstances which the Israelites disliked almost from the start, and came to contrast it with their familiar experience as slaves, yes slaves back in Egypt. It’s almost like they preferred slavery, although they had short memories. Rather than the freedom which depended on ongoing faith in God. God was indeed bringing them into unfamiliar, even hard places, to help them realize their own weakness, to humble them and teach them their utter need of God and his word.

All Scripture is meant to teach us. God does something of the same for us his people today. We experience circumstances or are in places which are not comfortable, or just plain challenging. And oftentimes we experience what’s been called inward privations. We are uncomfortable to say the least, with no peace. And sometimes horror. It’s like spiritual warfare when we’re up against the enemy trying to hold us down to take us out. That’s when we want to look to the pertinent passages in Scripture and pray. Committing ourselves to God as we claim his promises.

I have found that in such places I can have a new appreciation for prayer, not just for myself, but also for others. It’s almost as if God needs to submerge me into loss so that I can gain something I didn’t have before. In the midst of it all, God really does provide. And once we’ve come out of it, we can be better people because of it. Hopefully we’re deepened and matured. So that like Jacob, we walk with a limp, but are worshipers of God.

The blessing of the hard places. Not really where I ever want to go. But blessed so that we can be a blessing in and through Jesus.