what gives meaning to it all: Love

Now eagerly desire the greater gifts.

And yet I will show you the most excellent way.

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

1 Corinthians 12:31-13:3

A couple years ago, I made a decision which in retrospect ended up being like a born again experience. At work I used to sit by myself during lunch at a little table and read the psalms. I did that month after month, maybe piling into a couple years or more. Time flies. But I decided to call that quits, and instead, sit at a break table with a group of people I struggled to understand and relate to. A couple of guys were getting close to retirement, so I was with them the last year or more before that, at the table.

God met me there in a way that wasn’t better than in reading in word, but in a sense it was, only because I was in a place where I could start putting the word into practice. Just by being present, and learning to meld into the fellowship, or communion, as a friend. Although I work at a Christian ministry, this would make sense anywhere. After all, Jesus ate and drank with tax collectors and sinners.

The heart of this is learning to get at the heart of all that is: the God who is love. God is Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and as such, God is essentially a relational being. And to be relational and in relationships is part of what it means to be human. And in Jesus, the brokenness of our existence in not doing well in this, indeed relationships themselves can be redeemed and reconciled.

So it matters not at all what I might think I know, or even what I do, if love isn’t at the heart of it all. And for that to be so, I need to be open to being vulnerable, and I need to learn to love and receive love from others. People have to be together, and as Christians, Jesus is then with us. He promises to be present wherever two or more are gathered in his name. Then we can find and begin to experience and understand the real, unadulterated, pure love. And hopefully begin to live and grow in that. By God’s grace. In and through Jesus.

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the brokenness of our culture and the church

There isn’t a one of us who doesn’t need the Lord. “People need the Lord.” And we need each other in the Lord. The church is nothing less than the body of Christ. It is supposed to lovingly take care of itself, of its members, through mutual care from the head, Christ. And it’s supposed to, in love, reach out to the world. Christ’s saving and healing presence is primarily through the church, at least in getting through to people, of course through the gospel. But it’s also directly mediated to us by the Spirit.

On Scot McKnight’s blog, Jesus Creed, these two posts profoundly address this in much more detail: The Spirit And Discernment (Today) and The Death Of The Church: 1. If you don’t read another line of this post, and read those two, you’ll do well.

I am broken, too, of course. Just as in much need of God’s grace in Jesus from the Spirit, and through others, as anyone else. We can become more and more grounded in our faith and walk. But that doesn’t make us any less dependent on the Lord, and interdependent on each other, for sure.

May God give us the wisdom needed, and discernment to both be receiving the answer for ourselves, and helping others find the same help. In and through Jesus.

romantic love

There is a kind of mystery to romantic love. It is definitely an important aspect of human life. See (and a good read for Valentine’s Day, or listen) Song of Songs, traditionally Song of Solomon.

Sadly, not everyone had a love which resulted in marriage in this life. But the tradition of allegorizing this song to mean something of God’s love and relationship to his people surely has some merit. The people of God, Israel, are said to be in a covenant with God which is likened to a marriage in the Old Testament. And we read in the New Testament that the church is the bride of Christ. All of us in Christ together.

There is no part of romantic love which isn’t good. Some might see the sexual part as somehow dirty, but it is a part of God’s good creation. It’s we who have cheapened it to mean something less than the place it has in a covenant relationship of love. But the sexual part is only one ingredient of romantic love. Closer to the heart of it is a sheer and really kind of mysterious mystique (to say the same thing in two words). How one can “fall in love” with someone else in a way which excludes all others. Hence the exclusive claim of God to be worshiped and against all idolatry. But also the importance of humans holding to the covenant with the one that was either chosen for them, or that they chose, in a special bond reserved only for each other. And making sure no one else takes that place.

For those who are single, and may have never been married, or perhaps have experienced the heartbreak and dishevel of divorce, or are a widow or widower, God’s promise extends to you to be for you what the missing partner would have been, and beyond that. Of course in a spiritual way, but in a way which can help you to be content in that love. And note the advantages to those who remain single in being devoted to Christ (1 Corinthians 7:25-40).

Today I celebrate my love with my wonderful wife, Deb, who is my true love and friend. We have been through much together. She has had to put up with me over the years, and we have seen rough patches in our relationship. But God has been so faithful. There is nothing I like as much as a good getaway with her, the longer the better. And I would like to be with her forever in the life to come.

But in Jesus we will all be one in the love of God. Not to say that old relationships will no longer matter, because I think they will, and will somehow be heightened and fulfilled in a way which is not possible in this life. But all in the love of God. The love extending to us to bind our hearts to him, to our beloved, and to each other in friendship. In and through Jesus.

“we shall overcome”: Martin Luther King Jr. Day

We Shall Overcome” was a beautiful anthem of the American Civil Rights Movement. It was sung by the African-Americans of that time, and those who stood with them in their cause for justice in equal rights in the United States. It was more than a push back against the Jim Crow laws of the south (not to mention the segregation in the north), but a stand in saying, “We will accept, and take no more of this.” Rosa Parks was a key person in getting the movement started, and there was no more prominent leader in it, in fact he is considered the leader of that movement, today, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

The song expresses a stand rooted in God’s image within all humanity. That we are made for relationship and love, and an understanding that we are in this life together. And that we all have our part in it, both in relationships, and in vocation. And it’s a song of commitment to overcome injustice together, but not in a violent way, but with a commitment to nonviolence. Martin Luther King Jr. was impacted both by the life and example of Mahatma Gandhi, and preeminently by Jesus himself who taught his followers to love their enemies and turn the other cheek. King over and over again preached and spoke in these terms, and with the words of Jesus. And he and many others put those words into practice again and again.

We do need to stand up for what is right, particularly when it affects others. And we who in the United States live to this day in a privileged condition, especially compared with our African-American sisters and brothers need to be sensitive to how we might play in that ourselves without realizing it, as well as develop sensitivity to how society itself is bent in this direction. How we are all, each and everyone impacted by prejudice in prejudging others through some stereotypes, instead of really getting to know them, and becoming aware of their difficulties and plight.

And we need to remember what was done to them: They were stolen from their nations in Africa, and forced to be slaves with no possibility of freedom, at least not under the normal circumstances. And to this day are discriminated against in the criminal justice system, and before that, all of this lending itself to the fallout which would occur with any of us. And a deep wounding which can only be healed through much time, leaving its scars behind.

As in all things, and as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. knew and preached, the one hope for all humankind and against all evil is found in the gospel of Christ. Through that good news we are reconciled to God and to each other. Sin is dealt with, and all the injustice with it through the atoning sacrificial death of Christ on the cross, the resurrection bringing the new life of love into the here and now, to break all the chains of injustice, and bring in nothing less than the freedom of God’s children.

We are all in this together. Today I celebrate and remember the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and of all those who stood with him in love against the hate of that time. And remember that though some most significant changes came through that movement, we have not yet arrived to the place where we fully love and accept each other, and have the best interest of the others in our hearts. We’re not there yet.

Laws of the land can help and actually are crucial against corrupt systems, but what is especially needed is the change of hearts through the gospel, and an acclimation toward justice which we find in scripture fulfilled in the gospel, as well as in other places where this ethic is taught on earth through God’s image within all humankind. But there is no place where it is so thoroughly taught with the hope of being fully realized as in the gospel of Christ, to begin in the church.

This is an essential part of the heart of our calling as witnesses of Christ and the good news in him. Something we wish to carry on in the love and compassion of Christ, in and through him.

the love that overcomes (in anticipation of Martin Luther King Jr. Day)

13 If I speak in the tongues“[a] of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast,b]”>[b] but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in partand we prophesy in part, 10 but when completeness comes,what is in part disappears. 11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. 12 For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

1 Corinthians 13

Martin Luther King Jr. Day is just around the corner (Monday), so I’ve been been listening to his speeches, and remarks from witnesses of his time from Martin Luther King: The Essential Box Set: The Landmark Speeches and Sermons of Martin Luther King, Jr.. This morning I listened to his message, Paul’s Letter to American Christians.  And from that comes this.

We look back on him and what he did, and we see him as a kind of prophet from God for his time. Although true prophets are for every time, which is no less the case with him. But what marked him above all, and gave power to his prophetic words was the love which marked all of those words and actions which followed.

People nowadays say (and it’s on car bumper stickers), “Love Wins,” but it’s the love of Jesus Christ found in the gospel that wins, period. Other love might win in some ways, but only the love of God in Jesus is victorious against all the hate and wrong in the world.

We get on our bandwagons, and we might give lip service to certain causes, one quite noble cause being the integration of all peoples, so that no one ethnic group or category is marginalized. But is there heart and hand service to go along with that? It is noteworthy how some of us can be so zealous for political positions, but our personal lives calling into question our professed allegiance to such causes.

But this is where the church through the gospel of Christ is to make the needed difference, or more precisely, to show the difference that the power of God for salvation is to make in the world. 1 Corinthians 13 quoted above is in the context of church relations, so that it is not really about this love in the world, but in the church. Only in and through Jesus can God’s love be manifested in the way described by Paul. Paul is pointing out that all of the spiritual gifts spoken of in 1 Corinthians 12 and 14 are empty and mean nothing apart from this all pervasive love. And he even suggests when you consider the end of 1 Corinthians 12, that love is a way that is superior to the gifts. I don’t think in the end he’s making the case for either or, but again that love is to pervade all that is done in the church. How we love each other demonstrates to us and to the world the power of the gospel.

Racism is a grave and serious sin. It is to have no part in our hearts, and particularly in our churches. But we need to begin with the truth that we are all prejudice in that we all hold to certain myths which affect our view of others (listen to the January Series talk by David R. Williams, “Unnatural Causes: Is Inequality Making Us Sick?”). Myth used here in the sense of ideas which may or may not hold some water generally speaking, but fail at a most basic, needed level. Racism is especially bad because it flies in the face of love; it denies love, and in fact stands in opposition against it. And most often it is not blatant, but subtle. And it’s evident in our neighborhoods, and even in our churches– sad to say.

The love of Jesus Christ through the good news, the gospel in him is the only hope to heal all of the wounds, and help us begin to live well together. All barriers are broken down by that gospel, so that we can learn to love and listen, listen and love. And that should begin in our neighborhoods, and at our workplaces, so that the power of that gospel can have its full effect and be seen in our churches. Different cultures brought together in ways which impact us all for good. In this way we are more human, since inherent to our humanity are relationships marked by love which sees us through the thick and thin; the good, the bad, the beautiful, and the ugly. So that we’re committed to each other, and to the gospel for all peoples in a humility marked by this love.

We are all surely on a learning curve, some of us on a steeper one than others. So we have to pray and think, and work at this. We don’t bale out when we fail or see just how far we miss the mark. Instead we use that as a means of seeing God’s salvation through our commitment to ongoing confession of our own sin and change through repentance into a new way of thinking and living. No less than in the way of love in and through Jesus.

looking toward the end

Sometimes there seems to be no answers, or the prospects don’t look good. Maybe it’s telltale signs, or even possible indications that our time may be drawing near. It is amazing how resilient we humans can be, but we’re also so fragile in this life.

We will naturally do what we can to prolong our lives and make them better, but we can’t escape reality, as the years go by, and seem to hasten on. We likely will take a good look at our lives with some, and even maybe much lament, but also with understanding, and even thanksgiving to God for God’s goodness in his grace and mercy in the midst of it.

It is important that we think in terms of how we end well, or live life now, whatever age we are, because our mortal existence is uncertain and death is certain, unless of course the Lord returns prior to that. I think most importantly we should want to make first priority, love within our family. Where relationships may have been hurt, we need to seek healing. And we simply need to be present with others. Not on our computers or phones, but really present with them. And above all, we need to pray.

Of course we also need to be committed to a church, part of a fellowship or communion of believers in Christ. Meeting regularly for teaching and worship, and participating with each other in small groups, or however our church practices that, sometimes in the meetings themselves. And we need to be drawing near to God ourselves, daily, and all throughout the day.

All of this we want to do in prayer, and with God’s help. In the love of God, loving others. In the word, and in prayer. Trying to leave a blessing behind for those who follow us, a spiritual blessing, though where we can be a help materially can be good as well. All of this as always, in and through Jesus.

the need for civil discourse

Does not wisdom call out?
    Does not understanding raise her voice?

….Listen, for I have trustworthy things to say;
    I open my lips to speak what is right.

Proverbs 8:1,6

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of a special kind of wisdom that God wants to give. I take that in the sense of reverence and awe, and because of Jesus, not cowering fear. But there is also a general wisdom given to all humankind from God. So that when wisdom speaks, it can speak from just about any source. Maybe even from the devil, if you would backmask that.

And the funny thing is that all of that wisdom is a gift from God. So that we need to have ears to discern, but in the first place listen.

But a big part of wisdom is to see through the deceptive, foolish allure of sin, and to ferret out both deception and foolishness, that which isn’t wise. And let’s all face it, we all carry a mix of wisdom and foolishness. I’m not saying we’re out and out fools, although scripture says there are such people. Let God be the judge of who. But we can be downright foolish and obtuse. Just the realization of that can help us to be quiet and listen, and only offer humbly any thoughts which might be helpful, but otherwise to be still.

In this day and age, and surely not unlike any other, but maybe given all the media outlets and ability to publish one’s thoughts anonymously, we need like no other time to measure words, first our own words, and then the words of others. We need civil discourse, which means a commitment to listen well, ask questions, listen some more, and offer carefully, with openness to correction and refinement, whatever we might have to say.

This doesn’t mean that we don’t stand by some principles or truths, such as the need for justice for all, the end never justifies the means, etc., etc. And as Christians, we do so with an eye and heart ever ready to be a witness in life and in word to the good news in Jesus.

Love is to mark us in all we do. And what we’re to model in all of this. Love listens, makes its appeal, and accepts the outcome, including inevitable differences all of us will have.

Something needed today in our society which should always be what we in Jesus strive for in all of our interactions. In and through him.