to love, regardless

Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong. Do everything in love.

1 Corinthians 16:13-14

We live in difficult, even if not perilous times here in the United States. And all around the world much division is becoming more and more evident, and often threatening to tear what fabric of society is left. And of course the actual conflicts with all the human tragedy.

If we don’t have hearts engaged with strong thinking and feeling, then we’re actually not real. Maybe we just want to avoid the pain, including the strife. To want to avoid such is natural, and to want to avoid strife, good. But probably impossible to avoid controversy if one acts on any convictions at all.

But what Paul was saying in the above passage, that in the midst of everything with a thoroughly Christ-centered conviction, following him with others, we’re to do everything in love. That’s how the short imperatives end. “Do everything in love.”

If we’re to break the impasse of strife and hate, we need to love. And not just any love. Not the “all you need is love” bit, which is only good up to a point. No, we need the love of Christ no less. The love of God in him. A love which goes to the cross and dies for one’s enemies, yes for one’s enemies. If we don’t love our enemies as Jesus taught and exemplified, then we fall short of that love.

Love, love, love. In Christ. That’s what we need for each other. And what the world needs to see from us. Which doesn’t mean we won’t speak out against what is wrong. But we always do so in love. And everything tempered in love. In and through Jesus.

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longing for a better day

Woe to you who long
for the day of the Lord!
Why do you long for the day of the Lord?
That day will be darkness, not light.
It will be as though a man fled from a lion
only to meet a bear,
as though he entered his house
and rested his hand on the wall
only to have a snake bite him.
Will not the day of the Lord be darkness, not light—
pitch-dark, without a ray of brightness?

“I hate, I despise your religious festivals;
your assemblies are a stench to me.
Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings,
I will not accept them.
Though you bring choice fellowship offerings,
I will have no regard for them.
Away with the noise of your songs!
I will not listen to the music of your harps.
But let justice roll on like a river,
righteousness like a never-failing stream!

“Did you bring me sacrifices and offerings
forty years in the wilderness, people of Israel?
You have lifted up the shrine of your king,
the pedestal of your idols,
the star of your god—
which you made for yourselves.
Therefore I will send you into exile beyond Damascus,”
says the Lord, whose name is God Almighty.

Amos 5:19-27

Today is Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Martin Luther King, Jr., was I believe the greatest civil leader of the last century. He spoke with a moral authority which arose out of his Christian understanding, and with a gift of intellect, resolve and passion unmatched probably during his time, and nearly any time. And like the prophets of old, he called people to a better day, which would involve change, indeed repentance. He didn’t mince words, yet he spoke and acted as a follower of Christ, with no love withheld from enemies, in the midst of many prayers, and surely, struggles and tears. To do what he was doing put his life on the line. It was compelling, and could not be dismissed even by those who desperately wanted to.

The prophet Amos lived during a time of great evil in the land. God’s people Israel were continuing on as if all was okay, but in fact all was not. Rich people were living off the poor. The heart of God’s command to love God, and one’s neighbor as one’s self was not the heart of God’s people. So through Amos, God was calling his people to repentance.

They sell the innocent for silver,
and the needy for a pair of sandals.
They trample on the heads of the poor
as on the dust of the ground
and deny justice to the oppressed.

Amos 2:6b-7a

Here in the United States, racism is not erased. Society is still stacked against people of color, at least in many places. Of course some overcome, but for many, they settle down into what they have to do to make ends meet. Others, disenfranchised, don’t do as well, sometimes into a life of drugs in which violence is more or less an every present danger and threat. The gap between the wealthy and the poor is widening. I don’t see how God’s people who read scripture and take Jesus and the prophets seriously can remain silent in the face of such injustice and lack of love. To write it off as secondary to the tragedy of abortion is simply the refusal to do what God does throughout the pages of scripture. And see Amos on this. God doesn’t let some sins slide. Everyone for everything is held to account, particularly for sins against love for God and for one’s neighbor, including those different such as the stranger and refugee.

It’s up to us as God’s people in Jesus to do what Martin Luther King, Jr. did. To do our part, whatever that might be, in calling especially the church, God’s people along with others to a better day. Of course in the church we should be endeavoring to live this out, but alas, all too often we rest in the status quo. God is patient, but wants us to develop a sensitivity to these things. That we might have something of God’s heart for every situation. And show that heart through prayer and deeds in and through Jesus.

people are the problem (including me)

“Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”

He also told them this parable: “Can the blind lead the blind? Will they not both fall into a pit? The student is not above the teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like their teacher.

“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, ‘Brother, let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when you yourself fail to see the plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.

Luke 6:37-42

Jesus reserved his harshest words, or basically got after those who pointed the finger at others. Especially the Jewish religious leaders, who were critical of those who did not line up with their traditions largely put in place to keep people from breaking God’s Law, but missing the heart of the law: love for neighbor demonstrating one’s actual love for God.

If we’re generous to others, we’ll experience generosity, but if we’re harsh, then harshness. Those who lead others do so in how they live, whether or not they really put God’s word into practice or not, whether they come to Jesus, hear his words, and put them into practice, which includes how they view others (Luke 6:46-49).

To be upset over shortcoming in others in itself should raise our suspicions: What about us? When people do light into us, what’s our reaction? Is it helpful? Is there some blindness to it, so that we can’t really see what actually was meant by the other person and why? Often enough there is fault on the other side, and maybe they are largely or entirely to blame on a given matter. But we need to step back a bit, and consider how we can grow as in grow up more toward maturity in Christ.

There may be a time to confront, but in the end, and really throughout, we need to love. To make sure our lives line up with that love toward others. Taking the plank out of our own eye, so that by our example, they might see the speck of sawdust in their own eye. In and through Jesus.

an infusion of gospel love

Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them.

He said:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Matthew 5:1-3

I was reminded yesterday of my blessed heritage in being raised Mennonite.

“True evangelical faith is of such a nature that it cannot lay dormant; but manifests itself in all righteousness and works of love; it dies unto flesh and blood; destroys all forbidden lusts and desires; cordially seeks, serves and fears God; clothes the naked; feeds the hungry; consoles the afflicted; shelters the miserable; aids and consoles all the oppressed; returns good for evil; serves those that injure it; prays for those that persecute it; teaches, admonishes and reproves with the Word of the Lord; seeks that which is lost; binds up that which is wounded; heals that which is diseased and saves that which is sound. The persecution, suffering and anxiety which befalls it for the sake of the truth of the Lord, is to it a glorious joy and consolation.

“Beloved sisters and brothers, do not deviate from the doctrine and life of Christ.”

Menno Simons

Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount is a staple for Mennonite/Anabaptist faith. Part of my own regular Bible reading is to read a passage from either the Sermon on the Mount, or the Sermon on the Plain (Luke 6:17-49). Even though I left the Mennonite church decades ago, I think some of how I was raised remains in my bones. I tend to think that accepting and even almost glorying in violence, a part of the world, has seeped into the Christian mindset. I have to admit, I am at a loss since I’m not sure, but at this point see myself as almost a pacifist Christian. I have known pacifist Christians who don’t seem pacifist at heart, and Christians serving in the military who do seem to be pacifist at heart.

But there’s no doubt in my mind that Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount and Sermon on the Plain should indeed occupy a place in our minds, hearts and lives which it just doesn’t seem to do today. That’s true I think for a number of reasons theologically. And I have to wonder if what can be involved in some quarters is simply a matter of being conformed to this world (Romans 12:1-2). But I wonder if it’s ever had a central place in most traditions of Christianity.

It is a matter of grace, needing an infusion of gospel love. That’s the only way we can love our enemies, bless those who curse us, turn the other cheek when struck, go the extra mile, etc. The sayings of the Sermon on the Mount are sprinkled, and I think even embedded in the rest of the New Testament. We can’t escape it. It is at the heart of our faith and outcome of such in loving God and neighbor. Something that needs to get into our hearts, bones, and be worked out in our lives in and through Jesus.

what do we love?

Oh, how I love your law!
I meditate on it all day long.
Your commands are always with me
and make me wiser than my enemies.
I have more insight than all my teachers,
for I meditate on your statutes.
I have more understanding than the elders,
for I obey your precepts.
I have kept my feet from every evil path
so that I might obey your word.
I have not departed from your laws,
for you yourself have taught me.
How sweet are your words to my taste,
sweeter than honey to my mouth!
I gain understanding from your precepts;
therefore I hate every wrong path.

Psalm 119:97-104

When it comes right down to it, what do we honestly love? What do we come back to again and again? And admire, so that we want to emulate it? And what does that make us hate? The psalmist loved God’s law, scripture, put it into practice in life, and therefore hated every wrong path.

Life tends to either make this hazy, or clarifies it, of course our response by faith needed. When we run up against trials, we can run to God in prayer and by that find blessing. A big part of this psalm overall, even if not in the section above. But the passage quoted (מ Mem in the NIV) focuses on one’s love of God’s law or instruction, scripture itself. A love which doesn’t just delight in that word, but puts it into practice in one’s life. It is a game changer, meaning a life changing word from God.

The point of the word is not so much the word itself, though every word from God is important for life and precious. But it inevitably points and directs us to its fulfillment in Christ who came to fulfill all. So that our love for God’s word naturally results in a love for Christ himself.

Again, this is a good question to ask: What do we love? Sometimes after getting up from sleep, there’s a freshness that helps us appreciate what matters most to us. And other times it comes through the hard knocks of life. Love for something less than how God’s word directs us will leave us high and dry and often troubled. A good sign that we’re off track, and that we need to come back to scripture, and get our lives redirected by God in the way fulfilled and given to us in and through Jesus.

being a prophet, a lonely calling

Today we praise and appreciate the prophets of old, I’m thinking of the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible. Isaiah, Jeremiah, Amos come readily to mind. I have a friend who really is gifted and would be well received in any university setting including Harvard and the like. But his thought is on the edge against where people comfortably live.

I’m thinking of prophet in terms of the classical Biblical sense, and more in line with the Old Testament prophets, than the New Testament ones. There definitely was some foretelling of the future, but the brunt of their message was God’s word against sin, and specifically especially sins of injustice which violated loving not only God, but one’s neighbor as one’s self. And the message is ordinarily directed to God’s people who somehow are violating their covenant with God.

Prophets characteristically, while they have some following, are not treated well. They speak truth to power, and find plenty of opposition. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. comes clearly to mind, whom I consider the greatest prophet of the twentieth century, certainly in that mold. See Allan R. Bevere’s thoughtful post. Jesus certainly spoke about this (Matthew 23).

I consider myself a follower of the prophetic. I often feel compelled to take a stand against what I perceive to be unjust. And particularly when God’s people seem implicated somehow in that. I intensely dislike being involved in that. And almost inevitably, I see myself as sharing some guilt somehow in the matter. And feelings can be misleading. But if we never do what we’re moved to do, then we become something less than human. The key is whether or not we are being moved by God and wisdom, which actually is more than a moment of inspiration, but involves incremental growth over a lifetime.

For those who are prophets, as we see in scripture, and in life, it is indeed lonely. And even their followers can often share in something of what that prophet faces. If you leave the mainstream, especially of those around you, and are no longer “politically correct,” which simply means not in line with them, then you will lead a lonely life indeed. All prophets have to struggle with that. And with even worse at times, as well.

A difficult, lonely calling. Marked by mistakes along the way for any of them, but somehow having God’s signature.

everything depends on this

Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Matthew 22:34-40

This part of Matthew’s gospel is quite interesting, Jesus being in and around Jerusalem for what ends up being his sentencing in what amounts to a mock trial and his death. In the exchange that takes place here with a Pharisee, Jesus answers his inquiry as to what is the greatest commandment in the Law, the Torah. In Matthew’s account, Jesus cites the command following the Shema, and a passage tucked in Leviticus. And then tells us that all the Law and the Prophets, shorthand I think for all of scripture, hangs on those two commandments.

To love is first and foremost. There is plenty else to do, but if we don’t love, it amounts to nothing (cf. 1 Corinthians 13). And to love God with all our being and doing involves knowing God’s love.

We love because he first loved us.

1 John 4:19

And this:

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.

1 John 4:15-16

We love because of God’s love given to us in creation, and especially through Jesus in new creation. That love, as Jesus has taught us, extends to all, even to our enemies (Matthew 5:43-48).

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

John 3:16

It’s all about love, really. God’s love for us and the world, and then through us to each other and to all, in and through Jesus.