God’s cross-shaped 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.

1 John 4

In our culture, today, we celebrate romantic love in Valentine’s Day, and surely we do well to do so (see Song of Songs). C. S. Lewis’s great book, The Four Loves, comes to mind as well.

In the very passage quoted above from 1 John 4, we read more than once that “God is love.” The God who is love shows to us and to the world a cross-shaped love, that is, the love of the Cross. In Jesus, God’s Son, is the ultimate expression of love. God took upon God’s Self all of our evil, all of our sin, and in love laid down his life for us, yes, for the world.

We receive that love so as to enjoy it, live in it, and from that actually be a manifestation of that love of God in Christ to the world. It is not us, but Christ living in us (Galatians 2:20) who enables us so to live, but mysteriously this becomes (or can and should become) a part and at the heart of who we are. As Paul said, he wanted to know Christ and the power of his resurrection, and participation in his sufferings, even becoming like him in his death (Philippians 3). Christ’s love compelled him in his mission and life (2 Corinthians 5).

We want to enjoy every aspect of what love is, of course not outside of what God commands. But above all, our focus is on the Love of all loves, found in God, and on the Cross, in which love is given its supreme and final expression in this world. The love of God to bring us into no less than the life and love of the Trinity. In and through Jesus.

knowing Jesus

Does that sound as though my account was well in credit? Well, maybe; but whatever I had written in on the profit side, I calculated it instead as a loss—because of the Messiah. Yes, I know that’s weird, but there’s more: I calculate everything as a loss, because knowing King Jesus as my Lord is worth far more than everything else put together! In fact, because of the Messiah I’ve suffered the loss of everything, and I now calculate it as trash, so that my profit may be the Messiah, and that I may be discovered in him, not having my own covenant status defined by Torah, but the status which comes through the Messiah’s faithfulness: the covenant status from God which is given to faith. This means knowing him, knowing the power of his resurrection, and knowing the partnership of his sufferings. It meams sharing the form and pattern of his death, so that somehow I may arrive at the final resurrection from the dead.

Philippians 3:7-11; The Kingdom New Testament

It has been dawning on me, at least the increasing awareness that I have lived all too much in a world of ideas, of thoughts, and not nearly enough in relationships. It’s not even that I have thought particularly well, but that is how I’m wired, to think, and to keep thinking. And to enjoy the fellowship of others who think. Though it can end up sadly being that it’s not so much them I’m enjoying, but our thinking together. Of course one can enjoy both at the same time. But simply to know others, just to know them, is probably plain downright underrated, yes by myself, as well.

And then someone on Facebook shared the first sentence of this quote from Oswald Chambers:

Paul was devoted to a Person, not to a cause. He was absolutely Jesus Christ’s.

God reveals truth to us in the form of knowledge and wisdom. But it’s important, indeed vital for us who name the name of Jesus to remember that all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are found in him (Colossians). And that our goal should be to know him. Yes, in a personal way along with others, and in that communion, more and more get to know each other.

Eternal life is knowing God, and Jesus Christ whom he sent (John 17). God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit is eternal life, the life by faith in which we live. And that is a relational existence of love, and all that makes up a relationship. We are taken into that communion by faith, in and through Jesus. We learn communion with the Father by the Spirit through the Son.

Lofty words, and quite beyond me, indeed. But I realize that in the midst and maelstrom of it all, I simply need to settle down more and more into this relational knowing in communion, the heart of what life is really all about. In and through Jesus.

who sets the agenda?

Some people are excited over the new president of the United States. Others might be excited about this or that, so that their thoughts and lives end up being preoccupied with that. There are a host of factors which influence what we do, and the bottom line seems to be somehow securing some sort of happiness. Is that wrong? I think not. I believe God created us for a life that is abundant in realizing the fulfillment of our humanity, or what it means to be human. The question ends up being, just who determines that, and why does that matter?

The freedom that seems to be in vogue now is simply to fulfill whatever desires and dreams one has. A self-fulfillment which has nothing to do with any notion of truth, but everything to do with a freedom which is determined simply in how one feels, their desires. And from that people say that what is true for you, might not be true for me, in other words it may not work for me in realizing my self-fulfillment, or simply in letting me be and do what I want.

For us in Jesus there is only one who sets the agenda: God the Father through the Son by the Holy Spirit: the Triune God. Jesus is Lord, period. And all other authorities have their authority only under him, under God. What they say, and their values are not determinative for us, even if they might have legitimacy in their place.

The one who sets our agenda is the Lord, King Jesus, by his person, teaching and work, through the gospel, the good news, which really is Jesus, and is actually all throughout the Final/New Testament. That is where we find the truth for life, the true humanity fulfilled in him, and from that, real, neverending freedom. But that freedom is a byproduct. We follow and submit to God in Jesus no matter what. God is the one who sets our agenda.

our one safety: in God

God is our refuge and strength,
    an ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
    and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam
    and the mountains quake with their surging.

Psalm 46

One of the most basic fears of humankind is the fear of death. In fact in Eastern Orthodox Christian teaching and liturgy, that fear is at the heart of our sin, the gospel in Christ’s death and resurrection having destroyed death, and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel (2 Timothy 1:10).

I think most all of my lifetime I’ve struggled with the fear of death, and have not always made good decisions in the process. It’s not like we’re to be foolhardy, and careless, so that we live recklessly, thinking God has our backs (and fronts, and every side) not matter what we do. We want to act wisely and prudently, and make the best decisions we can. But in the end our confidence can’t lie in ourselves, or in anyone else, but in God alone.

This presidential election season in the United States has exposed, I think, what could possibly be, though I don’t believe in every case is, an idolatry at play on both sides, exposed well in this article.

Over and over again in my life, I find that the one refuge to whom we should turn is God himself. We turn to God through the gospel, through the word and the sacraments, through the church, through prayer, and through a basic commitment of faith and ongoing repentance. We are not assured in this life that bad things won’t happen, in fact we can be certain that difficulties, including persecutions from living for Christ, troubles from simply living in this world, and at last death, barring our Lord’s return before that, await us in this life. Of course God has not promised to remove us from the trials, but to be with us through them.

It’s not like we will no longer be subject to possible fear in this life, but that through faith in the gospel, worked out through daily being in the word, God will help us to find our one refuge in him. A large part of our life and witness in this life, as we look forward to the life to come when in God through Christ by the Spirit, we will live in an existence in which no fear is possible. A taste of which we receive in this life, brought to perfection and completeness in the life to come, in and through Jesus.

seeing through the disappointments and hardships to the blessings

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.

Romans 8:28-29

In our broken world in which if something can go wrong, chances are it might, we need to learn to look for and find the blessings. In the many little things, as well as all that doesn’t go wrong. And yes, somehow even in the wrongs themselves.

A key for us in this is somehow to believe that God is at work in some way perhaps unimaginable to us, that if we were told, we might not even be able to appreciate. We can appreciate the general point which we are told in the passage above: God is at work in everything in our lives, to make us like his Son, into his family likeness, as his daughters and sons, as well as sisters and brothers. And that surely doesn’t mean that all will be glum; in fact it surely includes something of the opposite which we could experience no where else, nor in any other way. We get to experience the joy of God: the joy of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, a communal, as it were, family kind of joy. As together we are shaped more and more into the full humanity which is in Jesus.

And so we look for that joy, and for the good, even in the midst of the difficulties, what might not be so good, even what might be evil. We choose to find the good hand of God at work for good in everything. And to look for the blessings, big and small. Certainly to be enjoyed by us, and shared with others in and through Jesus.

“you made me, you bought me, I’m yours”

The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleasedto have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.

Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation— if you continue in your faith, established and firm, and do not move from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant.

Colossians 1:15-23

Jeff Manion at the church where we’re taking our granddaughter for the children’s program there gave what would probably be as close to an altar call as you would ever get at that church, summing up this pericope of Colossians, 1:15-23, entitled in the NIV, “The Supremacy of the Son of God,” with these words: “You made me. You bought me. I’m yours.” I think that is pretty apt, and certainly spoke powerfully into a culture in which the designations given to Christ in this letter, were given to the Emperor in that culture, to Caesar.

This passage teaches that God created all things in and through Christ, and for him. That God reconciled all of that creation to himself, including each one of us who by faith receive that reconciliation, through his physical body in his death on the cross. And that therefore, Christ as head of the church is to have the supremacy in all things. So that, as Jeff Manion put it, everything in our lives is to revolve around him. That he is to be the big thing in our lives. Of course Jesus bringing us to God, into relationship with the Triune God.

Without legalistically having to come up with something, I have to ask myself, just what do I need to give to God through Christ today. What might be the big thing to me, other than him, for my own self-interest, rather than Christ’s? Christ made me, he bought me, I’m his. Or maybe I would prefer to put it: God made me through Christ, and reconciled me through the redemption of Christ, and therefore I am God’s in and through Christ, which certainly includes Christ himself. But Jeff’s way of putting it is pithy, poetic, and therefore brings home a powerful point.

Right now there is something which stands out to me, which I would do well to address in my heart and thoughts and actions. It is something I perceive that God might be working on in my life, and wants me to totally surrender, and grow in that surrender. And I’m sure that there will be many other such things that will come up which will need addressed in my life along the way.

Jesus is to have the supremacy in our lives. As Jeff said, he already is the center, yet we also need to make him the center, as in submitting to that supremacy, to Jesus as Lord. As one who is a member of his body, the church: God’s unique place and entity in flesh and blood through the Spirit, in and through Christ, in the world.

living in the Joy which is God

So with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy.

John 16

A friend shared something with me from C. S. Lewis’s great book, The Great Divorce, which is more than worth the effort to read slowly and thoughtfully so as to begin to grasp, as I had to yesterday:

Sarah, speaking to Frank, says:

“Pity was meant to be a spur that drives joy to help misery. But it can be used the wrong way around. It can be used for a kind of blackmailing. Those who choose misery can hold joy up to ransom, by pity. You see, I know now. Even as a child you did it. Instead of saying you were sorry, you went and sulked in the attic…because you knew that sooner or later one of your sisters would say, ‘I can’t bear to think of him sitting up there alone, crying.’ You used your pity to blackmail them, and they gave in in the end…

Did you think joy was created to live always under threat? Always defenceless against those who would rather be miserable than have their self-will crossed? For it was really misery. I know that now. You made yourself really wretched. That you can still do. But you can no longer communicate your wretchedness. Everything becomes more and more itself….”

Later, George MacDonald, the narrator’s teacher, explains why it is right that Sarah not be pained at her husband’s choice to be self-interested, rather than accept Joy:
“See what lurks behind it…The demand of the loveless and the self imprisoned that they should be allowed to blackmail the universe: that till they consent to be happy (on their own terms) no one else shall taste joy; that theirs should be the final power; that Hell should be able to veto Heaven.

…Ye must distinguish. The action of pity will live fore ever, but the passion of Pity will not. The passion of pity, the pity we merely suffer, the ache that draws men to concede what should not be conceded and to flatter when they should speak the truth….–that will die. It was used as a weapon by bad men against good ones: their weapon will be broken. ”
[but speaking of the action of Pity}
It leaps quicker than light from the highest place to the lowest to bring healing and joy, whatever the cost to itself. It changes darkness into light, and evil into good. But it will not, at the cunning tears of Hell, impose on good the tyranny of evil. Every disease that submits to a cure shall be cured; but we will not call blue yellow to please those who insist on ha still having jaundice, nor make a midden of the world’s garden for the sake of some who cannot abide the smell of roses.”

We are also told to rejoice in the Lord always by the Apostle Paul in that great letter of rejoicing, Philippians. It is not only something we experience, but more fundamentally something we do by faith, more and more learning to rest in that joy, in the peace which God gives us in Jesus. And this joy is no less than the joy of the Lord, which is our strength (Nehemiah 8:10). It is the joy of the Blessed Trinity, in a sense what one might aptly call the Joy who is God.

The C. S. Lewis passage read in the light of scripture is more than sufficient to prayerfully ponder, putting the rest of this post aside. But we do well not only to rethink where we live, but what it means for our lives in Jesus. There is inescapable suffering in this life, sometimes due to our own folly, oftentimes due to the sins of others, and simply part and parcel of living in a broken and incomplete world. No matter what we may be experiencing, we must choose by faith to not surrender or back down from the joy that is ours in God through Jesus. It is a joy the world cannot give or appreciate, a witness to help people find their way to God in the way which is Jesus, and the reality in which we in Jesus are learning to live.