the love that wins

When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

Matthew 22:34-40

Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us.

1  John 4:7-11

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Matthew 5:43-48

The active love of God in Christ carried on by us to each other and to the world is ultimately the love that wins. It begins and ends in Christ. It is an “in Christ” existence, but thus our real selves are found. And yet it’s in a world like where Jesus lived so that we are called to love in the same way God loves and has loved in Christ: the way of the cross, loving our enemies, turning the other cheek.

This all begins with the realization that we are loved, deeply loved by the God who created us and wants to remake us in Christ. Christ is the human who fulfilled this, and we enter into this fulfillment ourselves, to begin to live out and grow into this love-filled life even in the hard places, doing so together in Christ.

In and through Jesus.

that we might love more (and better)

Now concerning love of the brothers and sisters, you do not need to have anyone write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another; and indeed you do love all the brothers and sisters throughout Macedonia. But we urge you, beloved, to do so more and more…

1 Thessalonians 4:9-10

Regarding life together and getting along with each other, you don’t need me to tell you what to do. You’re God-taught in these matters. Just love one another! You’re already good at it; your friends all over the province of Macedonia are the evidence. Keep it up; get better and better at it.

1 Thessalonians 4:9-10; MSG

I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

Ephesians 3:18-19

Rich Mullins probably in at least one song wrote how we really don’t love others well, certainly not the way we’re loved by the Lord. Life down here is not easy. There are so many demands, and when you either live with someone or work with them day after day, certain deficiencies in each other can rub the wrong way. Hopefully in the case of spouses and families, this is just a part of healthy growth together, because it’s inevitable given our incompleteness as well as actual sin as human beings.

But love is at the heart of the Christian message, the gospel, what Jesus Christ brought and brings. Yes, through his atoning sacrifice for us, we’re both taught what true love means, as well as recipients of that love from God which we enter into by simply receiving this in faith. And that gift sets us on a course of both love to God and to our neighbor, to everyone, even our enemies, and especially to our brothers and sisters in Christ.

We need to grow in this love. A vital, even crucial part of our development as God’s children. So we need to make the effort from what’s already planted in our heart by God’s word and the Holy Spirit. And we need to pray and ask God to help us grow deeper and deeper, on and on in that love. In and through Jesus.

the most basic truth for us: God loves us

God is love. When we take up permanent residence in a life of love, we live in God and God lives in us. This way, love has the run of the house, becomes at home and mature in us, so that we’re free of worry on Judgment Day—our standing in the world is identical with Christ’s. There is no room in love for fear. Well-formed love banishes fear. Since fear is crippling, a fearful life—fear of death, fear of judgment—is one not yet fully formed in love.

We, though, are going to love—love and be loved. First we were loved, now we love. He loved us first.

1 John 4:17-19; MSG

There is nothing more basically important to us than the fact that we’re loved, and loved by God no less. We really have to hold on to that and not let go of it. God loves us, each and everyone God has created. God wants relationship with us, even longs for us. And God wants us to live in loving relationship with each other.

We humans are easily given to fear. We’re afraid of this and that, and for understandable, good reasons. But what is more important than that is God’s love. No matter what we face, no matter what happens or might happen, God is love and loves us. And we know because of that, God will take care of everything, that ultimately all will be well. So that even in the midst of the troubles of this life, we live in God’s love. And continue on knowing we’re loved both in our mind and experience.

And out of that love we seek to love others in practical, down to earth ways. In so doing extending God’s love to them in a way in which they’ll hopefully find that same love which exists for themselves.

The God who is love really wants the entire human race to live in that love. And out of that love in love with each other. Even now. In and through Jesus.

no, I’m not a piece of whatever

And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge…

Ephesians 3:17b-19b

I’m a believer in dreams and visions from God, and it just might be that I received one recently. I so easily nod off no matter what I’m doing if I’m sitting down. Recently I was opening our new Mennonite hymnal, Voices Together, and thought I saw a song, or perhaps one of the readings simply stating that God calls us good, that we’re his beloved children, that we are not what we call ourselves. Really to the point, and actually better than what I expressed it just now. And just at a good time for me, because I was berating myself under and over my breath as I have off and on over the years. But after searching for it days before, and going through the entire hymnal today, I failed to see it. So maybe it was a dream, clearly to me, a dream from God.

That touched me deeply, and I knew it resonated with what we learn from Scripture, just how much God values each and everyone of us. And calls us to be close to him in his very family in and through Jesus. This is so helpful, to have this truth dawn on us, to begin to really believe that God loves us, yes “loves me.” Even when I have a hard time liking myself for many reasons. God’s love is wide and deep, and never lets go. We see the truth of that in Jesus, God becoming human in him, and doing what he did for us. God’s love in Jesus will pursue us.

We need to accept what God calls us. And quit calling ourselves what is nothing less than a lie from the pit of hell. God is helping me this way. In and through Jesus.

returning to our first love

Write this to Ephesus, to the Angel of the church. The One with Seven Stars in his right-fist grip, striding through the golden seven-lights’ circle, speaks:

“I see what you’ve done, your hard, hard work, your refusal to quit. I know you can’t stomach evil, that you weed out apostolic pretenders. I know your persistence, your courage in my cause, that you never wear out.

“But you walked away from your first love—why? What’s going on with you, anyway? Do you have any idea how far you’ve fallen? A Lucifer fall!

“Turn back! Recover your dear early love. No time to waste, for I’m well on my way to removing your light from the golden circle.

“You do have this to your credit: You hate the Nicolaitan business. I hate it, too.

“Are your ears awake? Listen. Listen to the Wind Words, the Spirit blowing through the churches. I’m about to call each conqueror to dinner. I’m spreading a banquet of Tree-of-Life fruit, a supper plucked from God’s orchard.”

Revelation 2:1-7; MSG

To really get a good overall picture, and just how we might fit into the scheme, or what God might be saying to us, we surely need to read each of the seven letters to the churches in Revelation 2 and 3. The first letter here as rendered by Eugene Peterson, or in any translation, for that matter, is striking and noteworthy. This church is as zealous as it gets, but their zeal while at least largely based on head knowledge, has left its/her first love, or the love this church had at first. And thus we might say it was bereft of heart knowledge, or a knowledge driven by love. Love for Christ, and the love which follows from that.

It’s a burden to try to apply these letters to us as individuals, and it’s important to see that they’re actually written to churches. But individuals make up churches, so we all have to ask how they might apply to us, what we might be contributing to the situation. Notice that the blessing at the end is applied to individuals who overcome. I would like to think that I fit, or would prefer to be part of a church like Philadelphia, having little strength, but faithful, and simply being told to hold on to what they have until Christ returns. But we need to prayerfully read and consider all these letters.

How do we fall from the first love we had? And Jesus makes no bones about it, they either have to repent as a church, or he’ll put their light out, so that they’ll be a church in name, only. No church was more active, but that’s doesn’t mean they were okay. Far from it, though Jesus does give them the nod of approval for their hatred of the works of the Nicolaitans, which he too hated.

I’m not sure. I think it can become more about what we’re doing than anything else. Maybe we need to stop in our tracks, shut our mouths, quit doing what we’re doing, maybe something like a silent retreat. Then maybe we’ll be able to hear what the Lord is saying to us. It’s a work of the Spirit, quite beyond us. It’s not like sitting in a schoolroom where we might possibly figure it out with the help of the teacher. No.

I will offer this from my own life and experience. I think the more we realize life is all about love, that God is love, and that Christ’s love for us is as great, deep and true as love can get, then that can help us. But it’s so easy to substitute doing, doing and more doing for the real thing. Let’s find that love, enter into it, live it out with each other, and out into the world. And keep doing that. Then what we do will matter. And Jesus’s life and love will continue among us as a light for us and for the world. In and through Jesus.

the fruit of the Spirit, the love of the cross

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.

Galatians 5:22-26

Something of the practical culmination of Paul’s letter to the Galatians, we are seeing how this new life no longer under Torah (the Law), but under the Spirit is to be worked out in life. We see that while it is a fruit of the Spirit, something we could never come up with ourselves, we still have responsibility in living it out. It doesn’t just happen automatically. We can fall into sins of the flesh, and inevitably will if we fail to walk by the Spirit.

The fruit of the Spirit here in its essence is a love which is the same as the love of the cross, by which I mean Christ’s love made known and given to us through his death, so that we not only receive its benefits, but participate in it in this life. When you read the entire letter to the Galatians you see that Paul’s argument is inextricably linked to the cross, to Christ’s death for us, of course followed by his resurrection. So that all that follows comes from that.

Love is straightforward in that love is love. But the love spoken of here is not the love we find in the world. There’s overlap, but through and through it is genuinely different. It is a love which forgives others, and doesn’t hold grudges. It’s a love willing to sacrifice for the good of others, whatever the cost might be. It’s a love which never accepts or rejoices in evil, but delights in truth prevailing in all of life. 1 Corinthians 13 describes this love well. No less than the love of Christ himself.

What is needed in our lives is nothing less than the fruit of the Spirit. We have to depend on the Holy Spirit and as we do, we’ll see the Spirit’s fruit, and the love which is surely the heart of it become more and more a part of who we are and how we live. In and through Jesus.

shift down and relax

What do people get for all the toil and anxious striving with which they labor under the sun? All their days their work is grief and pain; even at night their minds do not rest. This too is meaningless.

A person can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in their own toil. This too, I see, is from the hand of God, for without him, who can eat or find enjoyment? To the person who pleases him, God gives wisdom, knowledge and happiness, but to the sinner he gives the task of gathering and storing up wealth to hand it over to the one who pleases God. This too is meaningless, a chasing after the wind.

Ecclesiastes 2:22-26

I think one of the staples of the United States has been hard work. I guess the Protestant work ethic has somehow figured into that. But we work long and hard. And production or how much you get done for the bottom line (profit), is considered critical.

I am trying to dial down, yet be fully engaged at the same time. Just much more relaxed, in fact essentially relaxed. I have been uptight for years, staying on top of everything, and pushing to the max always. But while that might have translated well in terms of output, I don’t think it was either that healthy for myself, or even for others around me who might pick up that spirit. One is more on edge then. Production numbers might be higher, but at what cost?

I’ve decided that for me to carry on day after day, I need once again to dial down. Staying on top of things as best I can, yes, but much more laid back. Our job can be fast paced and have one machine problem after another. And without knowing it, I can easily be living outside of God’s peace in the midst of it all.

My goal now: do one thing at a time, relax, try to keep everything going as much as possible, but not be upset when we don’t, even if I’ve overlooked something in that process.

It seems like that’s something the Lord may have been working in me for some time, to slow down, actually do less, and pay more attention to God and God’s priorities of love to others in Christ’s love, and out of love for God in response to his love. Too often in my life I’ve been quite driven, and while that can contribute to good numbers, it doesn’t necessarily mean the good that God is looking for. God might want something better, at least hinted at from the passage above in Ecclesiastes. In and through Jesus.

to know Christ’s love

For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.

Ephesians 3:14-21

I like traditional church liturgy, and even crucifixes (and I like the empty cross) because they remind me of the center of our faith: the good news in Jesus. It is through Jesus’s Incarnation, death and resurrection, and the ascension which follows with the pouring out of the Spirit, that we have forgiveness of sins and new life in him. Jesus’s death and resurrection at the heart of that. And in that we can come to know the love of God. A love that is beyond description, as the text says, surpassing knowledge. We shouldn’t neglect Jesus’s teaching and ministry during his earthly life, either, quite formative for us in this.

But where do we begin so that we can hopefully know this love in the way this text says? It began with Paul’s prayer or we could say by extension the prayers of those who follow Paul’s example, a prayer for the church. Evidently Paul had come to know this love for himself, and he was here praying that the church would know it as well.

It’s a prayer to the Father, that out of his glorious riches he would strengthen his people with power through his Spirit in their inner being, so that Christ might dwell in their hearts by faith. It seems to indicate that one’s main impulse for life is no longer themselves, but Christ (Galatians 2:20). We are still ourselves, but ourselves as God meant us to be. Of course this is not something we arrive to overnight, or fully in this life. It’s a transformation beginning now and continuing as a process in growth in Christ-likeness.

Christ dwelling in our hearts through faith is the result of the Spirit’s work in us. From that we’re rooted and established in love. By the way, in passing I want to point out that this seems by the text to be a communal matter, one might say, even endeavor. Church is at the heart of the letter to the Ephesians, we could say the universal church played out in local churches. Which is why I prefer smaller churches. But if one is part of a mega church like my wife and I are now, then you need to plug into a small group. Too often in the United States, and I would think western culture at large, especially European in its roots, we’re more than content to remain in isolation as individuals. But the spiritual life isn’t lived that way: it’s in union with Christ and therefore in the Triune communion, and therefore in union with all who are “in Christ.”

But back to the point: We’re to be rooted and established in love. We live in God’s love in Christ. That is to impact and animate us. We love, because God first loved us. That is where we begin and remain. But through that we’re to experience so much more. Or maybe better put, know so much more. We make much of experience, impacted by the romantic era in ways that are not altogether healthy. Know includes experience, but in a sense goes beyond that so that it transcends or is not dependent on our experience. Through thick and thin we’re to “know” this love of Christ which paradoxically is beyond human knowledge, a gift to us from God by the Spirit.

And the result? To know together as God’s people the fullness of Christ’s love. And Paul is descriptive (or whoever wrote the letter under Paul’s direction): it’s width, length, height, and depth. With the result that we’re filled to the measure of the fullness of God.

And then the great promise that God is able to do this beyond what we can ask or imagine. And through it he would receive glory through the church and through Jesus Christ through all ages. Good to know the context of this great promise. It is about knowing Christ’s love. The heart of our existence, and ultimately the heart of all things. Through the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Something we need to be aware of and aspire to, in and through Jesus.

looking toward the love of Christ

For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

Ephesians 3:14-19

If there’s one passage of scripture I would like to get hold of me, this probably would be it. We need all of scripture, for sure. But this passage could help us to learn to live in a love that is present here and now, no matter what else we might be facing and experiencing. So that this love can both inform and form us.

Note that it’s Paul’s prayer for the believers who will receive this letter, and we could say by extension to all of us who receive this letter as part of our Bibles, God’s written word to us, to this present day.

This is a prayer which is frankly beyond me. We can parse out the words, and that’s good. I think it’s also good to acknowledge that by grace we have had at least a glimpse and taste of this. And in a certain sense we live with it all the time. But somehow too often it’s too far removed from our thoughts and experience.

What we need is a sort of makeover, do over, from God, of course. We are definitely involved in both an active, as well as passive sense in our faith. But in this prayer, especially in the posture of receiving God’s working by grace and the Spirit. Yes, in our individual lives, but together as well. The words translated “you” are plural in the Greek. And Ephesians as a letter stresses community, the church. So this is not some kind of solitary desert project, as I myself left on my own would tend to think. It is surely both communal and individual. We all experience it together from God. And certainly it is to shape our lives as individuals. In and through Jesus.