my go to passage nowadays

A psalm of David.

The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
he refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths
for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk
through the darkest valley,[a]
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Surely your goodness and love will follow me
all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord
forever.

Psalm 23

Life is utterly crazy in a good number of ways. I wish it was more laid back and less eventful, really. That’s true at home, as well as in the news we’re inundated with. Life comes crashing in. And for some of us, the life inside has not been any kind of paradise. Really, just the opposite. We press on, but in spite of raging voices or feelings inside of us.

I’m finding for myself that Psalm 23 is becoming my go to passage from the Bible nowadays. Something I keep repeating it over and over again, praying about it, until finally it seems to take hold and become part of my own experience. Or even if it doesn’t.

I’m just a sheep in need of the good Shepherd. That doesn’t excuse me, or any wrongdoing. In fact, that gives me hope that no matter how I might get off track for a moment, or even more, the Lord is present to help me, to be my help. That he loves me no matter what. I’m one of his sheep.

That gives me all the hope I need in the faith and love that is in Jesus.

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prejudice, racism, and loving your neighbor as yourself

“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”

Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

Luke 10:36-37

Jesus’s parable of the Good Samaritan is considered a classic for good reason. And it really puts us on our heels in a number of ways, regardless of who we are. (Read or listen to this interesting piece.) The one who did good was part of a people who were not only looked down upon, but utterly despised by the Jews. Samaritans did not hold to the faith, and they were a mixed race. But Jesus singled out a Samaritan, as opposed to a Jewish priest and levite, as being the one who epitomized what it meant to love one’s neighbor, a staple of the Jewish faith, in contrast to the Jewish religious men who failed to do that.

There’s no way getting around it. We probably all struggle with prejudice. It’s not like we ought to simply accept that, but when we don’t understand another culture, it is easy to simply dismiss them as somehow not measuring up, yes to our culture. And surely they end up looking at us in much the same way. Just that realization should help us curb our tendency toward prejudice. We realize our own weakness and lack of understanding, so that we more and more refuse to prejudge anyone. Rather we might ask questions, or simply assume the best. While at the same time giving no one a free pass on what is plainly wrong.

Racism is another, more serious matter. It has a marked, troubling history in the United States, and actually is still alive today. And for one reason: humans are sinful, and inherently see others who are different as somehow inferior to themselves. Again, refer to the article linked above which I would say substantiates this Christian claim, even if people in it would not use the word “sin”. If we all struggle with sin, then to some extent, we might struggle with racism. Racism simply put is the opinion, even conviction that one’s own race is somehow superior, and that other races are somehow inferior. By race I mean one’s ethnicity, their ethnic roots, which oftentimes is marked by skin color and culture.

Scripture does not either deny the diversity within humanity, or try to tamp it down. Rather, as we see in the last book in the Bible, it acknowledges and one might even say, celebrates it. The gospel in the reconciliation it brings, integrates into the one humanity, all the different peoples. And that would include everything they have to contribute to the whole. This is all considered a gift from God in creation, and especially in new creation in Jesus.

Like “the good Samaritan,” it’s not enough at all to agree intellectually. We must act on that, regardless of what prejudices we still might have. And see ourselves not only as givers, but also as receivers of God’s good gift and blessing from others who we don’t readily identify with. More and more learning to see our differences as complementary, as we find our unity in the love of God that is in and through Jesus.

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.

we become like who or what we focus on, what we love and hate

Why do the nations say,
“Where is their God?”
Our God is in heaven;
he does whatever pleases him.
But their idols are silver and gold,
made by human hands.
They have mouths, but cannot speak,
eyes, but cannot see.
They have ears, but cannot hear,
noses, but cannot smell.
They have hands, but cannot feel,
feet, but cannot walk,
nor can they utter a sound with their throats.
Those who make them will be like them,
and so will all who trust in them.

Psalm 115:2-8

A frightening thought today: but I think it’s psychologically, and far more importantly for me, biblically and theologically sound: We become like who or what we either love or hate.

First the easier, or more obvious: We become like what we love. I think of a man and woman who have been happily married at least a good share of their marriage for decades. They know each other practically better than they know themselves, and feel completely at home only in the presence of the other. They may have completely different personalities, but they believe they are one flesh in the holy state of matrimony. That may seem like a far fetched example, but there is a sense of awe and reverence for the other which ought to carry over into all of life. Akin to “the fear of the LORD being the beginning of knowledge” (Proverbs).

We become like the one we admire. And who should we admire and esteem the most? Of course if there’s a god, than that god, at least you would think. We Christians reverence God and accept the love of that Triune God in and through Christ by the Holy Spirit. And Scripture tells us that we as God’s children through faith in Christ are being made more and more like Christ. We somehow through God’s work are becoming more and more the people we were created to be, no less than brothers and sisters in the very family of God.

But what if we don’t love God? What if it’s a love focused on ourselves, or someone else? Then either we, or whoever, or even whatever becomes the measure of everything. And the problem with that is that we’re all sinners. We are a mix of good and bad, beautiful and ugly, but somehow never measuring up to whatever good aspirations we might have. And often pursuing what is really not good at all, or is at least a waste. It ends up being the blind leading the blind, like sheep going astray, heading toward a dead end, or even for a cliff. Not good to say the least. We need God’s grace and salvation found in Jesus.

What about what we hate? We must beware here. Indeed we should hate all that’s evil, while we love all that’s good. But we must be careful lest in that hatred we become like the very thing we hate. In the passage above, people of olden times didn’t necessarily love their gods. In fact they often feared them in more like utter fright, believing them to be vindictive if they failed to meet their demands. And while we may not have those kinds of gods today, we do have figurative gods in their place that are every bit as real. The idol of ambition to make it to the top and maybe be well known. The idol of pleasing someone who or something that demands a loyalty that is both crushing and demeaning. Causing us to act in certain ways we never would otherwise. Whatever it might be, anything less than the God revealed in Christ and found in Scripture does not deserve any such place in our hearts and lives.

The dearest idol I have known,
Whate’er that idol be,
Help me to tear it from thy throne,
And worship only thee.

William Cowper

Only God’s grace meaning God’s undeserved, unearned favor in the gift of Christ can make the needed difference in our lives. But even after receiving that grace, we must beware lest we drift back into our old ways. We must hold onto God’s grace in Jesus through faith. We must turn away from other things and keep our focus on Christ. In so doing we will be looking into the face of God. And will change from glory to glory into that resemblance beginning in this life, to be perfected when we see Jesus.

 

why faith, hope and love are each vitally important

Now, brothers and sisters, about times and dates we do not need to write to you, for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, “Peace and safety,” destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape.

But you, brothers and sisters, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief. You are all children of the light and children of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness. So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be awake and sober. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, get drunk at night. But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet. For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him. Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.

1 Thessalonians 5:1-11

We’re more familiar and maybe even more comfortable with what has been called “the love chapter,” 1 Corinthians 13, in which when all is said and done- faith, hope, and love remain. But God would not be good or just if a final salvation didn’t come which eventually ultimately clears out all evil in the world. You don’t have to look long or far to find what is best called out and out evil. And in one way or another, we all end up being implicated in it. Either by our silence, or actual often unwitting participation in one way or another.

But we know Jesus came in large part to take God’s wrath on himself, therefore God himself taking the judgment we deserve by accepting, and has been said, absorbing in himself the evil we heaped on him, and turning that into our salvation. Even our forgiveness and new life in his love, if we simply accept this salvation as a gift.

We in Jesus belong to the day in contrast to those who are of the night, still in spiritual darkness. The imagery that follows is spiritual battle. We’re therefore to put on both faith and love as a breastplate for our protection, along with the hope of salvation as a helmet, again for our protection. Faith, hope and love go together.

In God’s love we live, and dare to live come what may. Faith is the means by which we enter into the love and hope that is offered as a gift in Jesus. Faith and love are joined together in the passage. We can’t know and begin to experience God’s love apart from faith. By faith we are justified (declared righteous), and experience God’s love poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit (Romans 5).

Hope follows. It is something so important to hold on to, especially in the midst of the spiritual battle which oftentimes is personal, but inevitably extends to those around us: loved ones, “neighbors,” even enemies. Our hope is for God full and final salvation promised in Jesus. Hope for those in Jesus is anticipation of what is yet to come. We experience it anew and afresh when God’s love is poured out in our hearts. But we also hold on to it during the times when all seems pitched dark in the spiritual battle we’re in. And it should always be, along with faith and love a basic part of our lives day after day in and through Jesus.

love imperfectly, but love

Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.

1 Peter 4:8

None of us have it all together. We’re all broken. We struggle in this way and that. And if we take life seriously at all, we realize that we fall short from our own ideal, and much more from God’s. But according to God’s word, the text above, love makes up for that.

I’m thinking not only of loving others so as to cover over their sins, look past them. But loving others helping cover our own deficiencies. That point is well made in this post.

That doesn’t mean for a moment that we should excuse poor attitudes like a critical spirit. No. And if we mess up or come across in a way that’s not helpful, we need to make it right as soon as possible. Nor does that mean we just let people run over us, and abuse us. But no matter what, our heart should be that love would always prevail.

Sometimes it’s hard. We may be tired, or feel unloved ourselves. That’s when we need to remember that no matter how we feel, God does indeed love us, that God has proven that in sending his Son, and not sparing him from the death of the cross, even for us. Indeed God in his love has led the way in covering a multitude of our own sins. And because of that we can do the same for others. And love, yes imperfectly, knowing that through that love our own deficiencies will be covered also. That people will indeed know we’re seeking to live in God’s love, and to love them and others. In and through Jesus.

the heart and soul of Jesus followers

Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not covet,” and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.

Romans 13:8-10

There is nothing more fundamentally basic for human life than love, specifically loving each other, one’s fellow humans. It’s profound in its implications, and given the nature of us all, it can be a tall order. We have to look out for each other, and think about the best interest of the other. In fact in following the way of Christ, our best interest should be pursued so that we can serve the best interests of others.

As Jesus taught, echoing Scripture, we’re called to love our neighbor as ourselves. He put that in the same category as loving God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. We can’t love God if we don’t love our neighbor. And theo-logically, our love for our neighbor is rooted in, and comes out of our commitment to love God. It’s not just rote, but it can begin there. But out of love for God, we commit ourselves to loving our neighbor as ourselves. Something which should flow naturally out of that, but something also that we need to be committed to. Because given the nature of us humans, everyone of us, it would be easy to opt out. But then we would be abandoning love for God. Something we in Jesus cannot do.

Commands are given to us as necessary boundaries we’re not to cross if we’re to love our neighbor, which includes doing no harm to them. The ultimate goal of the law, or God’s word is love: love for God, for each other in Jesus, and for everyone else, including our enemies. This is fundamentally basic to us as Christians, but is not only the foundation in Jesus for how we live, but ought to be our heart and soul. It’s the cake and frosting and everything else. In God’s love in and through Jesus.