toward greater things

I sometimes wonder, and this is true even when I read the psalms, but all the more true when I look at my own life, just what value there is in being taken up with troubles so close to home, when the world at large is suffering so horribly. The problems I’m absorbed in can be just as threatening at times, but by and large they pale in comparison with the trauma the world is suffering in so many places.

And yet I believe that God wants us to do well with the problems at hand right in front of us, in faith and reliance on him. With a special emphasis on loving God and loving others, especially those God has entrusted to our care.

Although we should bear the weight of our own responsibility, we can’t carry the weight of the world on our shoulders. And we’re not even required to carry any burden at all which weighs heavily on us. We’re told to cast our burdens on the Lord, and to cast all of our cares on him as well. To come to him when we are burdened and weighed down, with the promise that he will give us rest. That is hard for some of us, because we can be prone to take more responsibility than is reasonable. It is not always easy to figure out just what responsibility we have, and where it ends. And we are told to help each other at times, to carry one another’s burdens, and thus fulfill the law of Christ which is love.

Nothing is foolproof in this life, except seeking to live in God through Jesus. Although that in itself seems deceptive to us, since we’re at least prone to be bent in the wrong direction. And we never arrive in this life, as if its struggles and dangers are over. We await our Lord’s return with God’s promise of a different world in which all troubles will be gone.

What is certain is God’s promise of help for us now in and through Jesus. We keep pressing on, even in the midst of trouble, believing that God is good and is at work, and that we can be recipients of that work. And as we receive God’s help, our heart can be set free to yearn in prayer for the help of others in the world. And especially for the salvation of all, beginning in this present life in and through Jesus.

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.

when who judge others we condemn themselves

“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.

Matthew 7

You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things.

Romans 2

It is interesting how often it is apparent that the very thing we see wrong in another is something we practice ourselves. We need insight from God to be able to see that. Jesus doesn’t tell us to quit judging as in having discernment in the Matthew passage quoted above. Rather he tells us to make sure we are scrupulous to take care of the sin in our own lives,  before we think we can help someone else with the sin in their lives. The crux of the matter is that we’re not to condemn others in a kind of final judgment which only God can make.

I think Paul is saying much the same thing in the Romans passage quoted above. He is challenging Jews who think that just because they had the Law/Torah, they were a cut (circumcision) above the rest. But Paul makes it clear in that letter that just like the rest of humankind, they too were under the power of sin. So that again, an emphasis is made on judging one’s self with reference to that Torah, and becoming obedient to the Law’s requirement, which is love for God and for our neighbor from the heart by the Spirit.

James has some good words for us related to this:

Brothers and sisters, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against a brother or sister or judges them speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it. There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you—who are you to judge your neighbor?

James 4

Simply put, we’re not to put ourselves in the place of God. And here:

Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment.

James 2

Finally, in a sense bringing this to full circle, back to our Lord’s words:

Stop judging by mere appearances, but instead judge correctly.

John 7

I am very wary of topical studies such as this one, because they too often don’t do justice to the context of each passage, and are summarily slapped together in a way which ultimately often fails to support the main point, or at least is simplistic, failing to take into account the whole. Of course we should compare scripture with scripture, no doubt, while letting each passage and book within scripture have its own voice to be appreciated within the mix of the whole.

Today the point is that we must beware and at least be wary of judging others, since only God can see and judge, and since we are sinners, too. But as by grace we do judge ourselves, God will give us insight to help others judge themselves by God’s grace on the path of righteousness. And in the end, we should apply mercy, remembering that mercy ultimately triumphs over judgment. In other words, God’s salvation in Jesus overcomes the judgment and brings mercy in and through Jesus. So that we should learn to see both ourselves and others in light of that great reality and hope.

 

knowing Satan’s schemes

For we are not unaware of [Satan’s] schemes.

2 Corinthians 2

Whether we like it or not, we in Jesus are in a spiritual battle. And the more serious we are about our walk in the Lord, the more real that warfare will become.

Yes, Satan and his hosts are defeated through the risen Christ’s death (Colossians 2:15). We in Christ have the victory, and can live in that by faith. But living within that is not automatic.

Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God,and everyone who loves the father loves his child as well. This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands. In fact, this is love for God: to keep his commands. And his commands are not burdensome, for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world? Only the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.

1 John 5

The world, the flesh, and the devil have aptly been called the unholy trinity, not that such is actually analgous with the Blessed Trinity, but because in scripture these three though distinct, are in sync with each other. The world refers to the world system set against God either subtely, or not so subtely. The flesh refers to humankind under the power of sin, manifest individually and systemically. And the devil is Satan, or evil personified, actually in a person which in their evil loses what is good of personhood, and disguises evil as good.

We in Christ by the Spirit and in the communion of the church need discernment from God to understand the enemy’s working, what they’re up to, and how they trip us up. There is no question that they do. And we need to be not only aware of that, but to learn to recognize it when it is happening, and know what to do to resist and overcome it. And we have to remember that in this present life this spiritual warfare will continue on (Ephesians 6:10-18) until the Lord returns.*

To be aware of this we might well say is half the battle, but we need to know what to do, as well. We certainly need to resist and stand firm, holding on to the gospel as the power of God to overcome sin, death, and evil. While seeking to remain responsible, our final hope and confidence lies only in the good news of God who is Jesus, with all the meaning that comes with that in God’s revelation found in scripture and taught by the church. There is no easy formula. It involves our entire life, and all of God’s revelation to us in Jesus, received not only once, but over and over again. Through a once for all salvation, which involves a process in growth in grace into increasing conformity to God’s will in Jesus. So that even though we through Jesus can do better and overcome some things, we must be ready for more. Hopefully getting better and better at it, as we look forward to our Lord’s return when evil will be vanquised forever and this spiritual warfare done.

*See C. S. Lewis’s, The Screwtape Letters for a most interesting, informative look at this, told in an imaginative, true to life story.

thirsting for justice

God blesses those who hunger and thirst for justice,
    for they will be satisfied.

Matthew 5:6; NLT

Justice is a theme all throughout scripture, especially justice for the poor and oppressed, as well as for innocents. Justice could be described as what is right in terms of societies and how people treat each other. We speak here in the United States of criminal justice, as well as justice in other ways. While the main idea may be agreed on, just what is involved in true justice, or what is right for all, is a debated point. For example, again in the criminal justice system it’s debated on what kind of justice should be given to those who commit crimes, the worst of such being murder. Some advocate punitive justice and the death penalty for the murderer. Others advocate a restorative justice which seeks to help the murderer and all other prisoners so that eventually they might not only be let out of prison, but also that they might flourish and desire to pay back something of what they owe to society.

Justice is grounded in a righteousness which at its heart is loving God with all of our being and doing, and loving our neighbor as ourselves, which in the case of Jesus includes loving our enemies as well. It’s grounded in love. Jesus taught that those who are blessed include those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for justice. That they will be filled, or satisfied. We live in a world in which justice and what is right is scuttled time and time again for agendas of greed and power. And the “news” is normally about such abuses, so that we are prone to think that injustice reigns supreme. And in too many places, in too many instances, that does indeed seem to be the case. In this world we should be advocates of justice, justice of all kinds. That is part of hungering and thirsting for such. We are passionate about it, and we pray for it, but we also do what we can to promote it. It’s easy to give up and give in to the thinking that there’s little or nothing we can do.

We know that ultimate and final justice will occur at Jesus’s return when God’s kingdom in him is fully put in place. In the meantime we pray and advocate a justice in keeping with the world as it is now, in all its brokenness. One that can’t be as complete as it will be someday, but nevertheless with an aim for completeness even in the here and now. As we await the justice to come.

 

remembering the love

We live in a time in which love is disdained and dissed, or is sentimental and not grounded in either reality or truth. And we have our own difficult worlds to maneuver in, which at times will test our love.

What we need is not just love, but the love so to speak: the love which is grounded in the truth which ultimately is the Truth himself, Jesus. A love which can look past the faults and sins of others, “love covers over a multitude of sins.” And when necessary, but with a reticence ready to reconsider, and great care taken if proceding holds the other accountable, but does so always in a way in which they know we have their best interests at heart, and that we’re on their side.

Sometimes we’re in situations which do affect us, their action or inaction making our life more difficult. That is when we might need to hold them accountable, but we don’t let what might even possibly be an actual personal affront get to us, we don’t let them “get under our skin.” One key way which has helped me time and again is to recite the Jesus Creed (Scot McKnight) over and over:

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.

Mark 12

I will repeat that over and over as a discipline, a necessary reminder to me of what the heartbeat of my life is to be no matter what. And keep doing that until it begins to sink into my heart. And with that, I’ll include “the Lord’s prayer” here and there (Matthew 6:9-13).

Even as God in and through Jesus loves us, we need to love each other, and others. And while our love will fall short of God’s love, nevertheless we drink from that stream of love by the Spirit, so that we receive and impart something of it to others. And we choose to love, when all of our own inclinations might go the other way.

Yes, we must remember the love, the true love, the love of God in Jesus which has been given to us not only to know for ourselves, but to begin to practice on others. Loving them even as Jesus has loved us: sacrificially and to the end.

love one another

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.

1 John 4

There is nothing more important, foundational, or basic to our life in Christ than to love one another, even as God in Christ has loved us.

This does take effort on our part, but that effort is out of the grace through which this new life is given to us by God through Christ. It is a gift in and through which we live.

We must not draw back and give up and give in to lesser, even base things, which come from the brokenness of sin and out of our broken humanity. And because our love will never measure up in degree to God’s love, we might lose heart.

In the gift, we end up sharing in the very love of God, so that we both receive from and give to each other something of that love. But because all too often, and by and large we don’t love that well, we can too easily be prone to throw in the towel and give up altogether. But God won’t let us stay there. One way or another, we’re brought back to this requirement, indeed imperative necessity of love, because that is the life that is ours in Christ. There is no other life in him.

And so we must be committed to God and to each other in that love. To look for growth in it in our lives with each other and with others in tangible, down to earth ways. To get rid of all that is contrary to that love, whatever it might be. And together to live out this love of God in Jesus as a witness of God’s love in and through Jesus for the world.