please love: let’s grow in God’s love together

Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.

Matthew 24

Loving God and loving others, and being loved. And a love that is practical, meeting people’s needs, especially the poor and afflicted. This is where it’s at, where true religion lies.

But love is vulnerable. You will always be hurt if you love, sometimes just because we don’t love well, as Rich Mullins says in one of his songs. Other times, because we fail to love at all.

Love in the Christian sense is never separate from the gospel, which is the greatest act and reality of love from the God who is love. God’s love in his Son in the love of the cross is indeed central to our faith. And love in the Christian sense is linked to faith and hope, the three things which remain according to 1 Corinthians 13.

Without this, everything is empty and meaningless, insofar as God’s valuation is concerned. This is part and parcel of true humanity which is being restored in Jesus, as we say from the letters in the Final/New Testament, “in Christ.” Everything must be measured by both the quantity and quality of love. And it’s not just any old kind of love, whatever good such loves might have. It is rooted and finds its true meaning and reality in the love of God in Jesus. The Spirit present to help us find, experience, and live in that love.

I am personally tired of Christians who don’t love, or go out of their way to love. And yet I need to remember just how poorly I love, and how empty and cold my own love can be. But that is where we need to light the fire: the love we had at first (Revelation 2). We need to fan the faint flicker of the love that is in us in Jesus, and over time, by God’s grace grow in and be molded by that love. Into the very image of Jesus together, in each of our unique expressions of that as the one body of Christ in and for the world. In and through Jesus.

is God all we need? yes and no

Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner.”

Genesis 2

It is a common thought in Christian circles that God is all we need. That contains truth, but doesn’t play out well in real life. If one is referring to God as the Source of all things, and the actual Life in whom everything else is somehow meant to live, then yes, God is all we need, and all anything else in creation needs. And add to that God’s provision for all. As we read somewhere in the psalms, the eyes of all look to God, and he provides for their needs (a paraphrase).

But God has made it so that within this God-life so to speak, the ideal life of which humans fall short of, there are needs met by something other than God. Life in the old creation is not the life to come of the new creation in Christ ultimately enveloped by the Triune God. But it is nevertheless dependent on the God who made it. God is still present everywhere and upholds all things in every way. Yet within this sphere humans need food and water, shelter, and as the text above makes clear, other humans. At least they’re better off in relationship to each other. If God was all they need the way it is told here and there, this would not be the case.

In the new creation beginning now in Christ, we still need each other. The body of Christ is a good picture of that. We are incomplete without each other.

And even in the fullness of the new creation to come when heaven and earth are made one at Christ’s return there will still be life grounded in a certain reality in which humanity is fulfilled in a certain setting. What is true now will most likely reach its perfect fulfillment later, except those aspects of creation which are only part of the old creation, whatever they may be. That would include the necessity of food and drink to remain alive. In that immortal state in and through Christ, though it’s apparent we’ll be partaking of food and drink, such will not be needed to survive. We are beginning to touch on areas not covered in scripture, and which are certainly beyond us, so it’s best to stop at that, at least for me here, anyhow.

Everything good comes from God. Part of the true way in which God is all we need. In and through Jesus.

throwing in (casting) my lot with the evangelicals, but hopefully “simply Christian”

If you’ve known me through the years, you’ll know that I’ve flirted with the Great Tradition, at one time years back considering considering (yes, repeated) becoming a Roman Catholic. And liking much of what I witnessed and was aware of from the Eastern Orthodox tradition. I still hold the Great Tradition in esteem, but to make a long story short, it seems evident on the face of it, that the true church is bigger, and that the tradition is not as infallible as it might seem to some. But I won’t dig further there.

I could come up with all sorts of reasons, I suppose, why in the end I remain something of an evangelical (maybe of an Anabaptist, liturgical mix), while not making the mistake of cutting myself off from the Great Tradition, as if they aren’t part of the true church as well. They are, at least all who are born of the Spirit, which is the case since the church is the Spirit-indwelled Body of Christ on earth, surely on both a local and global, universal level.

The evangelicals are made to be a regular punching bag nowadays, from so-called “progressive” Christians to nearly everyone else. And it’s not like we’re without our faults. What tradition doesn’t have issues? Strengths and weaknesses? Of course some will refuse to acknowledge any good in a given tradition, nothing new if we consider social interent sites like Facebook, where never is heard a discouraging or encouraging word, depending.

Let’s just say that I cast my lot in with the church and the gospel, with scripture being the backbone of all of that, the church deriving its authority from both. Of course the Lord himself, to whom all authority has been given, the one from and through whom we live and work.

Can the evangelicals change in some helpful ways before the Lord returns? Of course only God knows what that should be, but surely yes. Life goes on with much change for better or for worse, but God’s word and the truth of the gospel remains the same. Our understanding hopefully will grow within those necessary bounds. And the church by the Spirit most definitely has an important say in that.

Hopefully, “simply Christian” with an emphasis on Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount, is where I stand, but only with others. Yes, each one of us, but also necessarily, all of us together. Before the world, in and through Jesus.

the gospel breaks the color barrier

There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

Galatians 3

Maybe my biggest disappointment with the church as I’ve seen it for the most part, with notable exceptions, is just how monochrome, or segregated most churches are on any given Sunday. It is understandable, yet sad at the same time, in my view. God’s grace covers us, and there’s a history behind it. And it’s not like churches who are white or black want to be segregated. There are different cultures involved, and people are at home in different places.

But the gospel is meant to bring together those who likely would never do so apart from it. What is true concerning Jews and Gentiles being reconciled to God as one body (Ephesians 2:11-22) is also true of all peoples, bringing for example Palestinians and Jews together through the cross, through Jesus’s death, along with blacks and whites, Protestants and Catholics, everyone. The reconciliation to God extends no less to each other through the good news in Jesus, and the Spirit who makes us one in him.

As a witness to the gospel, and the saving power it brings, we need to show the world how we can work through the barriers, whatever they may be. How our unity in God through Jesus by the Spirit in the love of God in Jesus supercedes all distinctions, breaks down all animosities and hostilities, through Christ’s death, and our repentance and faith, and brings the promised healing and shalom. This new world is now present through Christ in his body the church. As a witness to the world, and as part of the salvation we ourselves need, in and through Jesus.

scripture, yes, but also the church

In my own life of over forty years of professing the faith, scripture has been more than less central. Church has been important all the way through in shaping my reading of scripture, but it’s been mostly about reading (and probably even more, hearing) scripture, something which is still of central importance for me to this day.

What has been lacking, I’m afraid, is a sufficient realization of just how central the church ought to be in both our identity and practice. It is as good to be part of a church tradition, as to have a well worn Bible. Understood rightly, I think they go hand in hand. But in our western individualistic mindset, church can be relegated to a secondary status, and a theological commitment to “sola-scriptura” can feed right into this error, even though it doesn’t have to do so. On that point, I tend to see this theological construct as a fiction in that there is no such thing as scripture alone, when you consider the place the church and tradition is given in scripture itself. Scriptura-primera, scripture-first, might better describe the more Catholic, yet still Protestant approach I might take along with others. That plays itself out in wanting to test everything by scripture. Though understood in the full theological context, even the Roman Catholic Church attempts to do the same. It is just that their understanding of tradition goes somewhat beyond, so that part of what can be accepted in the teaching and practice of the church ends up coming from implications or what could follow, or maybe just be in alleged harmony with scripture, rather than from scripture itself. But to some extent, even Protestant churches do that in their tradition as well, in my Anglican church, the bread and wine are consecrated to be in some sense the body and blood of our Lord for us in our participation in Holy Communion.

The so-called Wesleyan Quadrilateral posits the church, tradition, reason and experience in that order as givens in our life in Christ. And some Anglicans like N. T. Wright would insist on the first three, leaving experience out. All four rightly understood can surely have their place, and I especially would not want to lose sight of reason (although experience, as in “Taste and see that the Lord is good,” seems right along this line, also), scripture itself openly and by implication appealing to human reason.

So tradition is important, and has its place. What is of uppermost importance in tradition, I think, is simply the reality and practice of church. After all, the church is Christ in a sense, specifically his body in the world, of which he is the head. So it seems to me that a full-orbed life in the Lord, will certainly put an emphasis on church which minimally means faithful participation in meeting and giving, and in both the common, and the sacramental life.

In my own life, I’m afraid church hasn’t been central enough. I’ve always been a part of a church, but that may not mean all that much to many of us, certainly not enough in terms of what scripture makes church to be. That has played out in my life in a number of ways which were not helpful. Raised Mennonite, after conversion I was influenced by someone, and left the Mennonite tradition, and in my faith journey ended up traversing through a number of traditions in search of the most scriptural tradition. That could be called mistake #1. I frankly would have been better off to pray and become settled in one tradition, which well could have been Mennonite, or something after that. I do appreciate my Mennonite/Anabaptist heritage, which I think in some ways, after coming back to something of it, remains with me for good, not in length, though that’s probaby true, too.

Maybe this is where the Roman Catholics and the Eastern Orthodox have it over on us, one of the ways: Your obedience to the faith, to Christ, includes your obedience to the Church. You can protest, and for example become an advocate for women in the priesthood, etc., but you still have to be obedient to the Church to be obedient to Christ. I think there’s plenty of wisdom in that. Not to mention that it is plainly taught in scripture.

I hope and pray that scripture will continue to have primacy in my life, in the attempt to keep Christ and the gospel central. And part of that ought to be a complete identification with and participation in the church.

Ascension Day and the National Day of Prayer

I think Ascension Day, the church’s rememberance and celebration of our Lord’s Ascension to heaven, at the right hand of the Father to reign in power does coincide with the National Day of Prayer here in the United States. What might that mean for us here, as well as for believers elsewhere?

Jesus through his death and resurrection is Savior of and Lord over all, sitting at the right hand  of God in the place of ultimate power. His rule extends beyond, but is especially active in and through his church. But I don’t believe in terms of some of the theology we’ve placed on it. Dominion theology readily comes to mind, and while it can be misunderstood, there is in my mind little  if any valid defense for it from scripture itself.

Jesus today reigns through his body the church in the way of the cross. That is the way of love in and through his life and death, we his body now on earth, living as those who share in both his death and resurrection, not only in salvific terms, but also in a sanctifying and missional sense. Jesus’ rule continues to confound the rulers of this world, except insofar as they might begin to take it seriously themselves, and try to fulfill their calling in that light.

And that should make a difference in how we pray for nations, particularly our own nation, and those in governmental authority. We do so primarily in terms of our own calling as Christ’s body, the church. To live peaceful lives in all godliness and holiness as witnesses to Jesus being the one Mediator between God and humans (1 Timothy 2). And so we pray simply that they would be given the wisdom to govern well, certainly that they would look to God for that wisdom, that they would be converted themselves to the faith. And this prayer should be not only on special days, but regularly, and especially corporately, together. We exist in different countries to be a blessing from God to those countries (Jeremiah 29:7).

We pray through the one who is given ultimate authority in heaven and earth, that authority active for us to make disciples of all nations, no less (Matthew 28). Not for, as in our case here, voting in the best candidates and seeing that the nation is run well. That is not our calling, but if we fulfill our calling, that certainly can help for the good of the nation and governments where we live.

And so today I will join with others where I work at Our Daily Bread Ministries for National Day of Prayer, simply to lay before the Lord in prayer the good of this nation, but in terms of not just US national interest, but for the good of the world, and primarily for the sake of the gospel and its spread everywhere, to the building of Christ’s church by the Spirit to the glory of God.

 

love always hopes

Love….always hopes

1 Corinthians 13

The description of love in 1 Corinthians 13 is certainly classic, understandably used at weddings as a standard to learn how love carries itself and acts. In context, it is about relationships in the body of Christ, the church, although it certainly carries over to all relationships. It’s like Paul is saying that love is to be the motive behind everything we do. So that regardless of what else we do, no matter how great it is, it’s worthless without love, as this “love chapter” makes clear.

Are we living in love, are our thoughts, attitudes and actions, including words- done in love? Good questions. And considering this, including the entire description of love as given in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 ought to make us both aware of how we fall short, and of what our goal should be. The description is relational in nature, in fact it’s about human relationships. One could say that it’s descriptive of God’s love to us, and there’s surely plenty of truth in that, though in its original context, it’s to help a church which was proud and divisive, and essentially thinking and acting like the world.

God’s wrath is shorthand for God’s judgment. Even when anger is clearly a part of it, God’s wrath is always motivated by love; love is at the heart of it. How that plays out in ultimate, final terms is something theologians go back and forth on. What is certain is what characterizes God and all that God does is good, and is done out of love. That should be no surprise since “God is love” (1 John). Love marks everything about God, and all that God does. It should be no surprise that we struggle with all of this, given the fact that because we’re sinners, loving in that way is not a part of who we are. We can see it’s good, but in our brokenness, we at best fall short of it. As Rich Mullins wrote:

We have a love that’s not as patient as Yours was
Still we do love now and then

Hard to Get

However in our ongoing repentance and awareness of falling short, we can be growing more and more into this ideal of Christ-likeness. And by the Spirit of God, I really believe that in some true measure we can genuinely possess these qualities as described in 1 Corinthians 13, true gifts from God to us, in and through Jesus.

And so we go on, needing this love ourselves, but no matter what we experience, endeavoring to live out this love to others, in the life that is ours together, in and through Jesus.