the love which drives out fear

God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them. Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness on the day of judgment, because as he is, so are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love. We love because he first loved us. Those who say, “I love God,” and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.

1 John 4:16b-21

There are all sorts of reasons we humans are sometimes afraid in this life. And some fears are actually helpful, like the fear of making bad decisions or even honest mistakes which can be consequential. How we navigate such makes all the difference, so that hopefully we’re not lost in the grip and paralysis of fear.

What is referred to in this passage of Scripture is the fear of God’s judgment and possibly connected to that, the fear of death itself (click link for Eugene Peterson’s rendering in The Message). These can go hand in hand, though we humans are usually occupied with one concern at a time.

The John writing this is bringing God’s great love, in essence God God’s Self into the picture. That love, the love God is, is made known to us by the Spirit through Christ, something we especially experience as God’s children together, but also in our individual lives as we go about our days. 

This love casts out fear no less, the fear which can dominate and actually displace this sense of love from God, the love of God in Christ Jesus. So it’s either this unhealthy, paralyzing fear which can grip us, or the love of God poured into our hearts, one or the other. Though often we can go in and out between. But make no mistake, God’s love wins out in the end even in all things, including death itself.

What John tells us here is that we who know God’s love in Christ and therefore love God, are to love our brothers and sisters in Christ, as well. I’m not sure we’ll ever reach “perfection in love” in this life, though I’m sure we can experience something of that in its fullness at times. But even keeping that in our memory, say from an experience, or experiences along the way, we should proceed accordingly. Refusing to allow our thoughts, actions, and words be dictated by fear, but rather by this love of God for us and for the world. In and through Jesus.

 

 

that we might love more (and better)

Now concerning love of the brothers and sisters, you do not need to have anyone write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another; and indeed you do love all the brothers and sisters throughout Macedonia. But we urge you, beloved, to do so more and more…

1 Thessalonians 4:9-10

Regarding life together and getting along with each other, you don’t need me to tell you what to do. You’re God-taught in these matters. Just love one another! You’re already good at it; your friends all over the province of Macedonia are the evidence. Keep it up; get better and better at it.

1 Thessalonians 4:9-10; MSG

I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

Ephesians 3:18-19

Rich Mullins probably in at least one song wrote how we really don’t love others well, certainly not the way we’re loved by the Lord. Life down here is not easy. There are so many demands, and when you either live with someone or work with them day after day, certain deficiencies in each other can rub the wrong way. Hopefully in the case of spouses and families, this is just a part of healthy growth together, because it’s inevitable given our incompleteness as well as actual sin as human beings.

But love is at the heart of the Christian message, the gospel, what Jesus Christ brought and brings. Yes, through his atoning sacrifice for us, we’re both taught what true love means, as well as recipients of that love from God which we enter into by simply receiving this in faith. And that gift sets us on a course of both love to God and to our neighbor, to everyone, even our enemies, and especially to our brothers and sisters in Christ.

We need to grow in this love. A vital, even crucial part of our development as God’s children. So we need to make the effort from what’s already planted in our heart by God’s word and the Holy Spirit. And we need to pray and ask God to help us grow deeper and deeper, on and on in that love. In and through Jesus.

cut out the criticism and judgment

Do not speak evil against one another, brothers and sisters. Whoever speaks evil against another or judges another, speaks evil against the law and judges the law; but if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. There is one lawgiver and judge who is able to save and to destroy. So who, then, are you to judge your neighbor?

James 4:11-12

In this difficult to interpret (in my opinion) passage, we’re told in no uncertain terms to stop the judgment of others, indeed not even to criticize another. That hits close to home, because all too often we can be critical of each other, of those we live with day in and day out, who see the other’s weaknesses and sometimes eccentricities.

The passage makes the point that our business is to be intent in seeking to do what the law tells us to do, not to judge others as to whether or not they’re doing that. When we judge others, we actually end up distorting the law, because our judgment is so skewed, that it even fails to really understand the law, as well as failing to begin to understand our neighbor.

God alone is the judge. We are all subject only to God’s judgment. Our judgment is so off track, that it ends up making God’s law look bad. Only God knows perfectly and completely the true intent of the law. We are safe to say that it falls along the line of love for God and for one’s neighbor. And that being the case, we need to quit thinking we can judge others, but instead, if we see something that looks wrong from another, we should pray for them and for ourselves. Knowing that we too can be and all too often are caught up in either the same thing or something else that is off track.

An important heads up to me. In and through Jesus.

grace must mark everything

Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer everyone.

Colossians 4:6

Grace should mark all that we are and do. By grace I mean God’s grace in kindness; undeserved, unmerited favor; pure gift to us in Christ. We tend to accentuate the demands of life, what we and others are supposed to do, in biblical terms, “the law.” Of course what the law boils down to is simply loving God with all our being and doing, and loving our neighbor which includes our enemies, as ourselves. So love is the demand. And love is the given, I mean what we receive from God.

Because of God’s grace, gift to us in Christ, we are able to love God and neighbor in the way God desires. The Spirit within that grace enables us to actually do that, though certainly not bereft of our limitations and sins. But we confess them, learn from life, and go on.

And it’s essential that what we’re to experience ourselves, we apply to others. We need to double down in making sure that if we accept and want grace, we apply it to others all the more. Whatever may cause concern for ourselves can be an occasion to seek to apply grace to others, both through our prayers and through our lives in love to them.

So whatever little word we might think we need to say, if it’s smothered in grace, in God’s love, and with the wisdom that brings, either we might not say it or even have to, or else it will be seen as nothing but helpful, hopefully.

In and through Jesus.

what new world is opening up for us today?

“Therefore let the entire house of Israel know with certainty that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified.”

Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and to the other apostles, “Brothers, what should we do?” Peter said to them, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.” And he testified with many other arguments and exhorted them, saying, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” So those who welcomed his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand persons were added. They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.

Acts 2:36-42

When Jesus came, he opened up an entirely new world for any who might listen and be open. Israel was moved by story, and Jesus and the story he brings by his life and teaching, death and resurrection, really does upset the apple cart. It essentially turns the world as understood by the people of his time, specifically Jesus’ own people, Jewish, it turns their world upside down. Instead of a Messiah who would conquer by conquest, or by God thundering out of the sky to destroy the enemy, this Messiah would be condemned and nailed to a cross, the sure sign to them that he was no Messiah at all. On top of that, under God’s curse no less (Deuteronomy 21:23). But we know the end of the story. On the third day God raised Jesus to life. Then after forty days of appearing to his disciples and other believers, he ascends into heaven at the right hand of the Father. And through him, the promise of the Father, the Holy Spirit is poured out on the day of Pentecost. Then Peter speaks, pointing to a fulfillment of Scripture with a story which you can find hints of in the Hebrew Bible, but nevertheless is new. And an entirely new world is completely opened up, now within the apostles grasp because of the coming of the Spirit. And Peter articulates that.

The reaction from faithful Jews present who were living according to the story of Judaism in which they were raised, and we can say for all intents and purposes were largely faithful to God, or at least their understanding of God and God’s will is nothing short of shock and stop. They are ready for change, an adjustment of course which would be abrupt and radical. The story in which they had been raised was now seen to be incomplete. The story of Jesus brought a sense of fulfillment, but also even displacement of the story which they had understood, in which they had been raised. This doesn’t mean for a second that the story in the Hebrew Bible was not important for its place and time, nor that it no longer had anything to teach God’s people. It just meant that what it pointed to was fulfilled in Jesus. In God becoming human in Jesus in complete identification with humanity, so that humans could be identified with Jesus and find the new story which he brings, in which they’re forever to live, beginning even now, the only story that never ends.

For me this is most helpful. We don’t live according to any of the world’s norms, nor even the norms of God’s people of old except where those correspond with the new vision Jesus brings. We see everything along with all of life in terms of Jesus. And that brings nothing less than the beginning of an entirely new world opening up to us. One we get to be participants in as followers together of Jesus. That doesn’t mean that all is great or easy afterward, that we’ll have it all together, as we see clearly from the New Testament. It does mean that there’s an inevitable movement of the Spirit through the church to bring God’s light and love into the world in and through a cross-shaped, love-for-all life. The beginning of so much to come even in this life. In and through Jesus.

Correction in Saturday’s post, Jesus’ freedom proclamation (Juneteenth in the United States): “May the Lord help us, and lead us to see how we white folks can help people of color to live as equals among us, most importantly how people of color can help us in this.”

Three books I referred to which influenced this post, all highly recommended: Acts: A Theological Commentary on the Bible by Willie James Jennings. Acts by Beverly Roberts Gaventa. The Story Luke Tells: Luke’s Unique Witness to the Gospel by Justo L. González.

 

unrealistic expectations

Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Matthew 5:48

The world rightfully expects something more from those who profess the name of Christ as “Christians.” Unfortunately there is mostly disappointment, too often for more than understandable reasons. And really, if anyone knows any of us through and through, then likely there will be disappointment. But expectations can be mistaken, too. After all, what exactly would the world expect of Christians? The same thing they wanted from Christ? That he would be their Bread-King and take care of all their wants, and make life work they way they thought it should (John 6:15 contrast with John 6:41)?

The New Oxford Annotated Bible makes an interesting observation: “This understanding of ‘perfection’ is closely linked with the love commandment (19.19)” (1790).

“If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.” He said to him, “Which ones?” And Jesus said, “You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; Honor your father and mother; also, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” The young man said to him, “I have kept all these;[a] what do I still lack?” Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell your possessions, and give the money[b] to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.”

Matthew 19:17b-21

It’s important that we stay grounded in expectations that are not only realistic for us in this life, but don’t miss the point. Life is about loving God and loving our neighbor, which means every human being on earth, if I understand Jesus’ teaching correctly. We need to be quick to make things right when we do wrong, which at heart is always a violation of such love. But our goal in life should be to simply so love, in the way of Jesus.

Love will take on many shapes and colors, and again won’t always be recognized or appreciated by the world. Certainly that was true of our Master, and will be all the more the case with us, his uneven, imperfect followers. But people need to see the difference in us. Yes, even you and I, with all our limitations, imperfections, and need I say, shortcomings. What must override everything else in our lives is a love for others which comes out of our love for God. Ever growing, of course always grounded in God’s grace to us. And shaped like a cross with the growing likeness of Jesus imprinted on it. By the Spirit. In and through Jesus.

in the spiritual warfare keep on loving

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power. Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm.

Ephesians 6:10-13; NRSV

Keep alert, stand firm in your faith, be courageous, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love.

1 Corinthians 16:13-14; NRSV

I really believe that one of the chief ways the enemy seeks to trip us up is through others. And that can work both ways. When we’re cross about something, or when someone crosses us up somehow, aggravated over something even when we did nothing nor harbored any attitude we were aware of that should cause that. The text makes it clear that our struggle is not against humans, but against spiritual entities. I take it those can include both demonic, spirit beings as well as actual human institutions in which the devil is in the details.

One of the chief strategies of the devil is to get us to react in like kind. If they’re upset, we’re upset also. Or we give others the silent treatment, ignoring them in a way that can’t be missed. All of that and anything like that are exactly what the enemy wants. They want to break up relationships, and especially make it difficult for people to accept the reconciliation that is in Christ. And to divide sisters and brothers in Christ.

We need to be aware of this, and as we draw on the Lord’s strength and put on the whole armor of God, like putting on Christ for the spiritual battle, we need to make sure that our first priority is to love God by loving others, and that includes our enemies, or those who are acting like an enemy. And all the more so to our brothers and sisters in Christ. Yes, we must indeed love. Always. May God help us in this. In and through Jesus.

how is “love your neighbor” like “love the Lord your God”?

And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.

Matthew 22:39

It’s good to see this in context. Jesus is answering religious leaders who were questioning him and really trying to get him in trouble. Jesus answers them in ways they can’t dispute, really leaving them befuddled. In so doing, Jesus leaves us with gems to hold on to.

Jesus here makes the point that to love our neighbor as ourselves is like loving God with all our being and doing. Jesus went on to say that all the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commands. In other words what follows are essentially expressions of these commandments.

We know from elsewhere in Scripture and from Scripture as a whole that God is in essence love. And therefore that God wants those made in God’s image, us humans to live in that same love. We need to receive it ourselves before we can share it with others, and we need to live in that love.

God’s love is the point of it all. How that love works out is in a myriad of ways, and we humans are involved in that. But the main point needs to be kept in mind. It’s not a matter of just living in peace myself, having freedom, etc., etc., even though those and many other matters are good in their place. But life is about loving our neighbor, giving and receiving such love. As an expression of loving God who first loved and continues to love us. In and through Jesus.

greed or God

“No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.”

Matthew 6:24

There are no two ways about it, we live in an all too often greed driven society. The rich at the top are taking in exponential profit, siphoning off hardly enough for their workers to keep up with inflation. The gap between the rich and the rest keeps growing. And if that wasn’t bad enough, we find that those making mega bucks might be willing to do so not only in not paying sufficient wages, but often also not caring about the health of their workers or consumers. Just a sad fact of life.

If we love God with all our being and doing and love our neighbor as ourselves, then such a thought would never enter our minds. We want to do the best for others, as well for the good of all as we consider our planet Earth.

Jesus makes no bones about it. It’s either one or the other. Do we really love God? That will show in how we look at and use money. Do we trust that God will take care of our needs? That is tied together as we can see from this passage (click the above link).

Yes, money is important, useful, and can be a blessing from God for us to meet our needs and bless others. But it can also be a curse if we idolize it as in loving it, hoarding it and living it up as if this world is the end and we’re our own god or independent of God. Something we’re to reject, as we embrace the One who loves us and the world that One created. In and through Jesus.

faith is not just what you believe, but what you do

…humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you.

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.

Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless. Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.

James 1:21b-27

What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.”

Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds. You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.

You foolish person, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless[a]? Was not our father Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,”[b] and he was called God’s friend. You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone.

In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction? As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.

James 2:14-26

The Protestant Reformation emphasized faith apart from works along with a creedal emphasis, stating “we believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth…” Etc. But in so doing what people could easily slip into is the notion that works didn’t matter, as long as they have faith. After all, our good works can’t save, but only Christ so that the one requirement is faith. That’s good and even vital as far as it goes. The problem as James tells us here is that it doesn’t go far enough.

Yes, faith alone saves us, but the faith that saves us is not alone. True saving faith is always accompanied with a life change evident in works of love. Our lives are summarized in love for God and for our neighbor. Unless our faith results in good works, then it’s not faith at all, not the faith which saves. If we look to Christ for salvation, we’re also looking at the Christ who bids us to come and follow. You can’t separate the two. Theology which does is destructive. Note the separate components for sure, but note too that these components end up together. In God’s saving work. In and through Jesus.