other things matter, but not without love

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.

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 part and we prophesy in part, but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. 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. 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.

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

1 Corinthians 13

We need always to be reminded that our faith is one of love. There’s more to it than that; it’s not “all you need is love.” Love is not really love in its fullness, separate from truth. Truth and love are joined together in Scripture (see 2 John). So we need to hold to God’s word in Scripture which ultimately points us to Jesus and the good news in him.

It’s a struggle, seeking to live in the truth and in love in this life. But in Jesus that’s what we’re called to, where we have to live and remain. Which means working through the hard places beginning with our own attitudes and actions, and in our relationships with others. In the context here with each other as believers, Christ’s body.

I like the list of what love is, what it doesn’t do, and what it does. We need it, to check ourselves, because at best our love is imperfect. The kind of love spoken of here is certainly a gift from God to us in and through Christ by the Spirit. But it’s also something we must work on in developing what we have been given into the warp and woof, the very step of our lives.

If everything we do isn’t informed and formed with this love, it has no value. To the extent it does, it’s a blessing to others, and to ourselves as well.

I want to live in this love far more. To love those who I at times struggle to like, at least what they’re doing. And to love the ones I naturally love with this kind of love. A love that is joined to the truth as it is in Jesus.

 

 

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a different direction

“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.”

Matthew 7:13-14

Jesus’s words, near the end of the Sermon on the Mount will probably be met with a sigh and a dismissive shrug if even that, nowadays. The small gate and narrow road seems so confining. People often either want to keep their options open, or just go with the flow.

Instead, Jesus calls us to be counter-cultural in following him. It’s to be small in that Jesus and his words, the good news in him is how we enter and remain. And it’s narrow in that we follow him by paying attention to his words, and to God’s word in him given to us in the gospel and in Scripture.

I think Jesus’s words have a lot to do with focus and intent along with follow through. The title of one of Eugene Peterson’s books comes to mind: A Long Obedience in the Same Direction. No matter what, we continue on. With ongoing confession of sins, and change along the way, to be sure. But we continue on. In and through Jesus.

I’m okay; I’m not okay

I was asked recently by a friend how I was doing, maybe even if I was okay. I replied that I’m okay, and I’m not okay. And that’s the way I think and feel about life in this present world.

I’m okay in that my identity is “in Christ.” And I’m part of Christ and his body in the world. “In Christ” I have God’s promises that begin now, and assure a good outcome.

I’m not okay, because of all the suffering in a broken world. Christians are persecuted today, arguably worse than ever, worldwide. And many other peoples suffer as well at the hands of injustice and pure evil.

I am a citizen of a nation (the US) where I don’t believe either major political party is pro-life, if one considers all that’s involved in helping people from the womb to the tomb. And where there’s a growing, deeper divide, the two sides further and further apart. And Christians taking up sides, but where I live, mostly one side, which I think is mistaken. The issues are more complex than that, I think. And neither major party is worthy of endorsement by Christians, but rather, rebuke. But we should praise whatever good we can find.

I am uncomfortable with a Christianity which doesn’t openly grieve over injustice. I don’t believe that is consonant with the Bible I read. How can we be okay when so many Christians are suffering? There’s no doubt that any real suffering in the US, minimal at this point is often self-inflicted through caricatures, and not trying to understand, as well as not accepting what has always been true in the United States: people don’t agree, and often vehemently disagree. Look into the early history of the US, and you’ll find plenty of that, and it never ends.

I think Christians can ultimately be okay, because they know in the end that Christ prevails, that the gospel, the good news in Jesus wins. And that God is working in his grace in spite of so much, often the church in the most persecuted places, growing exponentially and thriving.

Yet at the same time, with Jesus and the prophets we weep. Longing for something better in this life since we’ve been given a taste of that “in Christ.” As we look forward to the end of all the brokenness and evil, in God’s kingdom to come. In and through Jesus.

the end is coming; the inevitability of death

…death is the destiny of everyone;
the living should take this to heart.

Ecclesiastes 7:2b

It is tragic to read of the death of younger people from accidents or illnesses, even fatalities. We say “before their time,” which is well said, because people want to “live out their days.”

When one gets older, it’s inevitable to start thinking more seriously about the inevitable. Or at least that seems the healthy thing to do on balance. The “Teacher” in Ecclesiastes tells us so.

Once upon a time, death was taken more seriously since it seemed to make its rounds more often and with greater intensity. Death was a part of life, and there was no denial of it.

Nowadays it’s different. People seem to look much younger in their fifties, and it’s generally expected, or at least hoped that one has good health well into their seventies, and even beyond. Medical advances and healthier lifestyles contribute to this. But along with that easily comes the deception that we no longer have to look death in the face. Or that it’s some foreign intruder that we would just as soon ignore, so that we easily forget about it.

On Ash Wednesday, a big part of the ceremony of marking a cross with burnt ashes on the faithful’s forehead is to acknowledge one’s mortality. “Dust to dust, ashes to ashes.” We are mortal. We will die. We need to take that to heart, so that it can inform and indeed form our lives. And there’s more to it.

…people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment…

Fortunately for us, that passage doesn’t end there.

Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.

Hebrews 9:27-28

Christ has taken care of our sins, so that all we have to do is repent and believe. Stop thinking we’re okay, or have things in hand, or can do better, or can take care of our problem ourselves. And instead entrust ourselves to Christ, receiving God’s gift of salvation in him through his death and resurrection.

I think of legacy, what one leaves behind, and I have to admit, I’m not that impressed. That surely does have some truth in it. But it seems more than less that God simply blesses one’s family or those one’s life touches through the blessing God gives them. None of us is without fault, God does redeem, and each has to come to the faith themselves, though the faith of others certainly can help.

At any rate, death is something we ordinarily never look forward to. It is an intruder no doubt, away from God’s original intent and design (Genesis 1, 2). It is called the last enemy to be destroyed (1 Corinthians 15). So “in Christ” we have an extraordinary hope, indeed anticipation, which sees something beyond the grave. No less than resurrection in Christ.

Meanwhile we grope in this life, knowing that short of Christ’s return, the end is inevitable. It will come. I hope to live my life everyday in light of that. Knowing this day could be my last day. But if not, that last day will come. And that we can rest in the fact that the same God who gave life through creation has given new life through the new creation. Death is the end here, but not the end. In and through Jesus.

 

 

 

 

 

the blessing of being insignificant and worse

Already you have all you want! Already you have become rich! You have begun to reign—and that without us! How I wish that you really had begun to reign so that we also might reign with you! For it seems to me that God has put us apostles on display at the end of the procession, like those condemned to die in the arena. We have been made a spectacle to the whole universe, to angels as well as to human beings. We are fools for Christ, but you are so wise in Christ! We are weak, but you are strong! You are honored, we are dishonored! To this very hour we go hungry and thirsty, we are in rags, we are brutally treated, we are homeless. We work hard with our own hands. When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it; when we are slandered, we answer kindly. We have become the scum of the earth, the garbage of the world—right up to this moment.

I am writing this not to shame you but to warn you as my dear children. Even if you had ten thousand guardians in Christ, you do not have many fathers, for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel. Therefore I urge you to imitate me. For this reason I have sent to you Timothy, my son whom I love, who is faithful in the Lord. He will remind you of my way of life in Christ Jesus, which agrees with what I teach everywhere in every church.

1 Corinthians 4:8-17

The Apostle Paul’s words to the Corinthian church are remarkable. Those believers were wowed by leaders infiltrating the church who were impressive in worldly ways. And they even compared the true Christian leaders, lining up with this or that one, indicating they were spiritually immature.

I find it a blessing to settle into the notion, indeed reality, that “in Christ” we are quite insignificant as far as the world is concerned. And insofar as the spirit of the age, and worldliness is still a part of us, we can find what we do and are about, quite insignificant.

We might well imagine and think: Of course, Paul was on a special, not to mention, quite dangerous mission. Naturally he was going to be despised. But even that account alone is kind of a head-scratcher. He along with his team were brutally mistreated, hungry and thirsty, in rags, homeless. Wow. The health and wealth gospel surely just took a hit. Paul was indeed the example of what sacrifice is involved in being on mission as Christ’s servant for the gospel. But his word to the Corinthian Christians is that they were to imitate him.

It is a different day and age, but God’s kingdom and the world, as in the world’s system is at heart the same. We may think what we have to do is relatively insignificant, and often not appreciated. And we may struggle ourselves in accepting it, let alone appreciating it. But if that’s the case, then we’re in good company, with no less than the Apostle Paul in his following of Christ.

What if we do have success in the eyes of the world? Does that exclude us from the possibility of imitating Paul’s following of Christ? Not at all. It may be in some ways more challenging, but when we do take any stand for Christ and for righteousness and justice, we can be sure to encounter trouble. We are in a position of blessing those who are putting their lives on the line for the gospel. And there’s no reason why in doing so, that we can’t put our lives on the line for Christ, as well.

This is an encouragement for me, because I see myself precisely as one in a corner, whose life little matters. But that’s a lie of Satan. It does matter, in and because of Christ. Not because of myself, or who I am, but only because of him. Christ makes all the difference. Just as he did in Paul’s life and ministry. In our’s as well, yes, in the lowly, unnoticed, and under appreciated places.

 

let Christians be Christians

What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.

You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God? Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. Or do you think Scripture says without reason that he jealously longs for the spirit he has caused to dwell in us? But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says:

“God opposes the proud
but shows favor to the humble.”

Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.

Brothers and sisters, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against a brother or sister or judges them speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it. There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you—who are you to judge your neighbor?

James 4:1-12

James is a great go-to book for the present day. We have to be careful when we do, about making applications to any present day situation. First of all, as James says elsewhere, we have to keep looking at ourselves squarely in the mirror of God’s word, and keep looking, instead of thinking we have some sort of great application for everyone else.

That said, I think we can together acknowledge our need and our propensity to depend on and be devoted to the world rather than on God. And even find our identity somewhere in the world system, when through Jesus, our identity is in him and God’s kingdom come in him.

I take it that “friend of the world” from James doesn’t mean we shouldn’t make friends with people of the world, nor does it mean we’re not present and active in doing good works. What it does looks like will differ among us depending on our gifts and calling, and our understanding of the nature and extent in which we can be involved. For some Christians, they will be involved in the political process, some even running for political office. Other Christians will not even vote, but will try to be good neighbors, and help in ways they can. And everything in between.

The call here is that we as Christians must simply be Christians. If we’re anything else, all those things must be secondary. For example as a citizen of the United States I would like to understand so as better appreciate the founding of this nation from the ground up in its early decades and beyond. But when it’s all said and done, and I know better than to think that’s not an ongoing endeavor, but always and in the end, the bottom line is that we who name the name of Christ as our Lord, are above and beyond anything else, simply Christians.

That should mark our thinking, words and actions. If the first thing that comes to mind when people think of us is that we’re Republicans, Democrats, progressives, conservatives, or even moderates, whatever, then we should well wonder just what kind of witness in the world we have. And to the extent we’re part of this world order, we’ll partake of its fruit. Note the passage above. Cutting others down who don’t see the light that we think we have is a sad example.

This is difficult, and it’s not like any of us is perfect in it. But this should be our goal. To be Christian, to let our light shine before others, that they may see our good works and glorify our Father in heaven. In and through Jesus.

the heart of the battle

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people. Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.

Ephesians 6:10-20

Near the end of a letter which marks what God is doing on the earth through the gospel and the church, and the impact that’s to make in our lives and witness, we have this word: we’re in no less than a spiritual battle, all the way around.

It’s easy for us to get mired into other things, even other battles, be they political in different ways, and those of our own making perhaps connected to “the pride of life.” It’s not like all those things are necessarily out of bounds, though they may be for a time, so that we can step back, and regain our bearings.

The real crux of the matter which underlies everything else is spiritual. And not in the way of the early popular Frank Peretti writings, which I think he improved on later. To reflect Scripture, and real life, it’s more complex than that. But a reaction might be to remove the spiritual element entirely, particularly the thought of the demonic and satanic, relegating such to some bygone time when people didn’t know better. Like C. S. Lewis wrote, the devil would like us to either deny his existence altogether, or see him behind everything, probably preferring the former.

As those in Christ, we’re in a spiritual battle no less. And it’s a battle for the gospel and the difference it can make in the world. But each of us are individually, as well as collectively involved in that. We’re either strong in the Lord, taking up the full armor of God, and standing firm, or we’re not. Our provision is Jesus Christ and the gospel.

We would do well to memorize and mediate on this passage, quoted above. And we apply it in large part by remaining daily in the word: Scripture, and in prayer. If we’re looking for some place and experience that’s pleasant, than we best look elsewhere. It’s not like the Lord doesn’t give us rest along the way, but that he’s also with us through the darkest valley (Psalm 23).

To the extent that we Christians understand the spiritual battle we’re in, and prayerfully act on that, we’ll see God move in ways that are helpful for people, and societies. Yes, for ourselves. Whether we like it or not, that’s the reality in which we live. And as we accept that, and act according to God’s word, we are a witness to the world of the needed difference in our own lives and churches Christ makes. In and through Jesus.