love is not piecemeal

Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.

Romans 12:9-15

Genuine love does not pick winners and losers. We in Jesus love all, period. That is part of who we are in Jesus. But it doesn’t mean it’s always easy. Sometimes people can say or do things we find quite offensive, maybe even on a personal level, so that they might, so to speak “get under our skin” a little. And then there’s the case of simple blatant out and out hatred toward Christians, which while rare where we live, does happen, and certainly is known all too well in certain parts of the world.

Our mindset, the renewing of our minds (Romans 12:2) involves aligning ourselves with the new heart and spirit God gives us in the new covenant in and through Jesus. Put more simply, we need to put into practice who we are in Jesus, and leave the old person we used to be behind. Which means we’ll have to go against the grain of what we’re used to at times. We may be new in Jesus, but we have to act on that, which involves getting rid of old habits and ways of thinking, and putting on the new ways in Jesus. Ephesians and Colossians both have some important things to say about that.

And so our professed love of the Lord is real insofar as we love others with that same love. We may say we love the Lord, and think we do, but if we withhold love from others, that puts our love for God in doubt, and certainly contradicts that, as we’re reminded in 1 John 5.

And so we want to love, period. A love which isn’t mushy, and may challenge others along the way, but which is genuine and true, marked by gentleness along with the rest of the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5). In and through Jesus.

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holding on to what lasts

“See, I will create
    new heavens and a new earth.
The former things will not be remembered,
    nor will they come to mind.

Isaiah 65:17

Essentially what seems to be at the heart of this picture is the curse of Genesis 3 being removed in what is nothing less than a new creation. Maybe making the old new, or making something brand new that has similarities to the old. Different, either way.

So much that occupies our minds is destined to be forgotten forever. I know this application is not quite what the passage above is getting at, but it’s nevertheless apt from it, I think. What I’m thinking of is perhaps made more clear by our Lord’s words in the parable of the sower:

Still others, like seed sown among thorns, hear the word; but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful.

Mark 4:18-19

This reminds us of our Lord’s teaching in the Sermon on the Mount, telling us to store up for ourselves treasures in heaven, rather than treasures on earth, and not to worry about material provisions since we are in the Father’s care. But instead, to seek first God’s kingdom and righteousness, knowing all of our needs will be met (Matthew 6:19-34).

There is no question that we have responsibilities on earth that we would just as soon forget even now. But insofar as they are connected to that which lasts, we need to do as well as we can in fulfilling such.

What lasts is the love of God that is in Jesus and present to us by the Spirit. We want to live in that love, and share that love with everyone, particularly our families, where often the rubber meets the road as to just what kind of people we really are, and more importantly, are becoming. And we have special responsibility to them. I think of Paul’s words:

Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.

1 Timothy 5:8

So we can’t shirk our duties in the name of devotion to God, and think we are devoted to God. But in the midst of that, we must put first things first. Doing the best we can, realizing that in this life, much of it will be a crap shoot, meaning neither fool proof nor assured. But in all of that seeking to hold on to that which will last. A prayer in the Book of Common Prayer is helpful here:

Grant us, Lord, not to be anxious about earthly things, but to love things heavenly; and even now, while we are placed among things that are passing away, to hold fast to those that shall endure; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

the power of poetry and song (the Christ-kenosis/self-emptying hymn)

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

Who, being in very nature God,
    did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
    by taking the very nature of a servant,
    being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
    he humbled himself
    by becoming obedient to death—
        even death on a cross!

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
    and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
    in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
    to the glory of God the Father.

Philippians 2:1-11

In Jeff Manion’s message to us this past weekend in the series “Choosing Joy Under Pressure,” through the book of Philippians, entitled “The Servant Mindset,” he touched on the power of song. Yes, most Bible scholars believe this was a hymn which Paul included in this letter. And that we do well to play that song again and again in our heads until it becomes the theme to which we live.

Notice that although it’s about Jesus, it is to be applied by us who are in Jesus in our individual lives, and in the context of the letter, especially in our relationships with each other. We are to take on ourselves the same humility and servant mindset that Jesus took on himself.

This doesn’t mean trying to perform great heroics. Of course what Jesus did in the eyes of the world was exactly the reverse of that. There was nothing more humbling than a cross, probably not much higher from ground level than one would stand, likely hung naked, and just outside the city where the populace could walk by, say anything they wanted to say, and spit in one’s face.

Jesus’s attitude was one of humility, service, and obedience. It ended up being great since he stooped to the greatest depths possible: God becoming human, and then subjecting himself as a man to the death of the cross, all out of love, as a servant. And for our salvation, but in this context specifically as the example we’re to follow. And therefore God raised Jesus to the highest heights, giving him the name above every name, so that all might bow the knee to him.

We do well to read both what precedes this poem, and what follows, the context, because this poem is followed by a “therefore” as well as the call to value others above ourselves.

But again, this needs to be the kind of song playing in our heads. Which acclimates us over time to grow in the depths of the life we’re to live in Jesus. Toward each other, and toward the world. In and through Jesus.

love as Jesus has and continues to love

“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. This is my command: Love each other.

John 15

In the passage on the vine and the branches, Jesus tells his disciples that he loves them, with the implication that is love is always present. He simply tells them to remain in that love. That sounds really good.

But then there’s the caveat, a condition: They must obey his commands, just as he obeyed his Father’s command. By doing so he remained in the Father’s love, and they will remain in his love. Oh no, not so good! Sounds like a very conditional love indeed, and therefore puts that love into question: Is it really love?

But then comes the command: Simply to love one another as Jesus had loved them. With the added word that there’s no greater love than to die for one’s friends, which of course Jesus did on the cross. 1 John echoes this: the command there being to believe in the name of God’s Son, Jesus, and love one another, as Jesus commanded us (1 John 3).

Of course this is not a weak “all you need is love,” kind of thought, but has all the meaning of the example, teachings, and life, as well as death of Jesus. That is how we know what love is in its essence, it is humble and self-sacrificing, lived out for the good of others. In essence reciprocating God’s love in Jesus to each other, and to the world. What that means is best understood in the reading of the entire Bible, and especially the New Testament, grappling with the story there, and the good news at the heart of it. All of this given to us by God in God’s grace by the Spirit in and through Jesus.

hanging in there with each other

We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. Each of us should please our neighbors for their good,to build them up. For even Christ did not please himself but, as it is written: “The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.” For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope.

May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had, so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.

Romans 15

Weak and strong have to do with the changes that were taking place with the coming of the new covenant in which many rules, even the schema of the old covenant, was being put aside since the fulfillment of it in Christ and through his death, had already come. It was not an easy time, a time of change. It was not like Christians at that time had to put all the old practices aside. But they had to accept the new reality that other Christians were not going to practice them, and would still be completely accepted by God, so that they too would need to accept them. They were the majority at first, but in a matter of a relatively short time would become the minority as more and more Gentiles would come to the faith.

We can apply this passage in a looser sense with strong and weak perhaps signifying scruples and religious practices. What might be out of bounds for some, might not be any problem for others. Of course I’m not talking about out and out sin, but rather things that might lead some, the “weak” into sin. What might not be a problem for me might be an occasion of stumbling for them, so that I won’t be acting in love if I flaunt my freedom in their presence.

Also I need to be careful not to judge others on things which in themselves are not sin, covered by God’s grace. I might possibly be termed as “weak” in those situations. God looks at the heart. Some practice might be better than others, and maybe it doesn’t matter. But oftentimes what we know is best for us, or what we’re accustomed to, we impose on others, and judge them according to those standards. Which might in fact not be helpful to them, even if they might possibly learn something from our own practice.

We must accept one another fully, even as Christ has fully accepted us, that we together might bring glory to God. A big part of that is simply learning to get along well with our differences, some of that contrast perhaps being uncomfortable to us like the sound of chalk on a blackboard. For this to happen, we need to pray, and be open to the work of the Spirit in drawing us together in harmony, so that in that, we might bring praise together to God. Getting along with each other is a high priority to God. And the essence of what it means to be “in Christ.” Of course as those who are seeking to live in the grace and truth of our Lord. 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.

being with people

One of the best decisions I think I’ve ever made would seem to be on the surface, trivial, and probably counterintuitive to people like me. In the past during lunch at work I would sit with my Bible open, reading my daily portion from the psalms. That was good, and I probably did it for years. But I more or less am in scripture all day, insofar as that’s possible. And while I can well converse with others, the nature of my job, not to mention my own naure, is given to being more than less on the job, not having time to talk much, or listen to others.

I decided to change my routine, one of my realizations being that at least one friend I work with on the team was nearing retirement. This was a fun table, active in conversation, but I suppose not necessarily along the lines I would talk about, if there were a bunch of me-s, or people just like me there, which thankfully there are not. I tend to be rather quiet a lot of the time, anyhow. I won’t forget this table, two guys now recently retired, who I grew to love.

For me the take home lesson, even life changing, has been that we need to simply spend time with others. “Spend time,” a way we put it which makes you think. But God speaks to us through scripture, nature, experience, the gospel, the church, and through people. Scripture itself tells us that, and life will verify it.

And so I developed a bond in a way that I don’t think would have been possible, otherwise. The people came to realize that for me, being with them during lunch was a priority, a new habit, simply what I do. I didn’t just do it now and then, although my memory could possibly be a bit faulty here. But I think I plunged into the change completely.

Being with others is underrated. Good leaders will spend time with the people. The best pastors will pray, read, study, and prepare well for their next message. But they will also spend time with the people of the church. They will regularly hang out with them, and learn to simply be with them over time, not necessarily in any “ministry” context. To simply be with each other can amount to something of the ministry we are called to as Christ’s body, the church, in scripture.

I think too of leaders in other places, like at work. Some are not given to being with their team members. But a little bit of that regularly can go a long way. And with those one might not share much affinity with, and may even want to avoid. A good leader ought to touch base with such regularly, preferably daily, to see how they’re doing, just to make human contact. And simply be with them insofar as that’s possible given time constraints and other responsibilities.

For myself this thought has changed me forever. Both in terms of its impact on me during the last maybe couple years since I made the change and how I want to practice life from now on. Instead of reading with classical music on, which I still love, I would just as soon be with a friend over coffee, or better yet with the grandchildren anywhere, like on a nice warm day out on the playground. I have my little Psalms/Proverbs/New Testament in hand to glance at the next verse with metal clip as a marker. But I want to be fully attentive to them, to be there to watch over them, and help them have fun. Particularly a daring little toddler who makes her way up challenging steps or bars, and needs her grandpa’s help.

To be with others, to simply be there to listen. To not think one has to speak at all for that to be valuable. In fact as a rule it might be better to remain silent, especially on controversial issues like politics. Simply being present. That is underrated, but much needed both for others, and for ourselves. In and through Jesus.