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.

forsaken

At noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon.And at three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”).[b]

Mark 15:33-34

Jesus prayed the psalms, twice on the cross. He felt forsaken by God, and in the mystery of God, maybe somehow this did happen. I believe that since it’s impossible to separate the Trinity, it was utterly impossible for Jesus to be separated from the Father. But somehow in his experience, that may have occurred. Not in reality. Though that a real abandonment occurred is still the most common understanding I hear in my circles.

There is no question that as to what Jesus had to go through, the cup he drank, the cup of judgment, that he indeed had to face it and go through it himself. Of course he was in the Father, and the Father was in him. But as far as his experience of that goes, it seems that he felt utterly alone. The Father suffered with him in this, but at the same time in the mystery of the Trinity, the Father is somehow distinct from the Son. They are separate persons in the one person of God. We are using human language along with our limited understanding to try to understand what is beyond us. And maybe something of the same might be said for what actually did happen on that cross in Jesus being made sin for us, that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.

I have felt abandoned, indeed rejected. I have seen people try to avoid me. It really hurts. Sometimes you can’t get it out of your mind. Whenever you see that person, that image often comes up. Or one can feel like they really have no friends. People can be friendly, but not really friends. I know better than that, that I have friends, that surely most all of us have some genuine friends at different levels. In my case certainly my wife is my best and closest friend. I can think of others, as well.

What Jesus experienced on that cross is indeed unique. It was for us, and for our sins that he indeed drank that cup of judgment. We are to take up our cross and follow, to become like him in his death, but we won’t ever do so as the Lamb of God did, to take away the sin of the world. We do so as those who follow the Lamb wherever he goes. Who live like Jesus, to be in the process of becoming like him, so that others might see him in us, and might be drawn to him. Jesus said that when he would be lifted up on the cross, he would draw all people to himself. He was abandoned to ultimately not be abandoned.

Now we look to Jesus and we look at him in terms of his suffering and death, in terms of the cross. We know that through that rejection which he suffered because of and for our sins, we ultimately have communion with him, with God, and with each other. That we are never left alone, that the Lord is present with us, just as he has promised. Even through his own experience of being alone in his suffering and death for us on the cross.

idolatry in the heart

Some of the elders of Israel came to me and sat down in front of me.Then the word of the Lord came to me: “Son of man, these men have set up idols in their hearts and put wicked stumbling blocks before their faces. Should I let them inquire of me at all? Therefore speak to them and tell them, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: When any of the Israelites set up idols in their hearts and put a wicked stumbling block before their faces and then go to a prophet, I the Lord will answer them myself in keeping with their great idolatry. I will do this to recapture the hearts of the people of Israel, who have all deserted me for their idols.’

“Therefore say to the people of Israel, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Repent! Turn from your idols and renounce all your detestable practices!

Ezekiel 14:1-6

Idolatry is everywhere. Some might think of it as something of a bygone era, when people used to make images representing gods, and bow down and worship the god of the image. But idolatry essentially is anything in our hearts we put before God, either in being devoted to it, or trusting in it. Anything, period, even things which in themselves in their right place are good. But also things which are either questionable, or not good.

Idolatry always exacts a steep price, and devastating consequences. Although much of it might be subtle enough to cover a lifetime, yet with some less than desirable fruit along the way.

I wonder myself. What do I put in the place of God? What can easily become an idol to me? Do I think that if I had enough money, I would be okay? Hopefully I am not under that illusion, knowing that some of the most empty people in the world are driven by money, and will scuttle truth and righteousness to make more of it. Knowing scripture and life. And yet those kinds of idols can still make their appeal to us.

Idolatry. It’s something to think and pray about, asking for God’s discernment to uncover where we’re most prone to it. We’re to have no other gods before us, but the one true God. And as Jesus told us, we’re to worship God in spirit, in the Spirit, and in truth, because the Father seeks such worshipers, and because God is spirit. God alone deserves our worship, as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. There is no other.

And in the process of wanting to learn what worship of God is, and wanting to put it into practice, we need to become aware of any idols we may have set up in our hearts. Things so close to heart that they are a part of us. But if idols, in an unhealthy way. And again, most of what we make into idols, in their proper place and in God’s intent, are good. But not all of them. Maybe some of them, at least for us, we need to get rid of forever. Or let go of for at least a time.

And it’s not enough to get rid of idols, if we don’t replace that with the worship of God. So that our practices of faith characterize our lives, who we are from day to day, and hour to hour. Something I frankly am not sensitive enough to, myself. And want to grow much in, in and through Jesus.

being led by the Spirit/the peace of Christ is individual, but essentially communal

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.

Colossians 3:15

But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law….

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 5:18,22-26

Being led by the Spirit and the peace of Christ is both individual, but it’s especially communal. At least that’s the case in the two passages quoted above. I think we often think of them in individual terms and maybe due to our culture. Here in the United States we are steeped in individualism in terms of individual liberty/freedom. From our heritage in the founding of the nation based in the Modernist Enlightenment in which this emphasis was one of its tenets. While there may be some good in that, overall it obscures what is at the heart of humanity: relationships. To be human is to reflect the image of the Triune God who lives in Relationship as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. And we were made to be and practice the same both in our relationship to God and to each other.

So we have to think and live in terms of what is best not just for us, but for others, in fact the emphasis being on the others in our following of Christ, even as we’re reminded elsewhere (Philippians 2:1-11). It’s not like we all simply try to make each other happy, though joy and peace should characterize our lives together in the righteousness the Holy Spirit gives (Romans 14:17-18 in context). Sometimes in our gifting, what we are led to do, always gently, might be a challenge to others. But in the love of Christ that is present, we should receive such in God’s peace: the ideal. And remember too that this is a major way God will lead us and give us his peace: through each other. All of this as always, in and through Jesus.

the center for the new year

As we enter into a new year on our calendars, and reflect on the past year, as well as this new year to follow, we do well to consider just what is central to our existence, and to the world’s existence, and what’s not.

For children, especially toddlers, often they are the center. It is what they want or think they need that counts, and nothing else. And babies necessarily need special care, along with children, to be sure.

All of us enter into the new year with either new or renewed concerns. And we tend to center on the factors, oftentimes people, who are involved in those matters. And naturally we are often trying to figure out just where we fit, or what our response is to be. Or it may be responsibilities we have, which can be in the mix with the concerns. We either don’t know what to do, or we might in panic try to fix everything, or whatever else might go on in how we process and work out things.

In Colossians in particular, but also in Ephesians, we find the center, as far as scripture and the story there, the gospel (good news) puts it. It is no less than Jesus himself, who brings us and the world into the very life of God, the Triune God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It is the case of the new creation breaking into the old, and to actually be completely in place, making all things new when Jesus returns.

The center is not any given mess in the world, in our world or the world at large. It is not the immediate concern we have, nor perhaps something at best hard, that we’re trying to navigate in our life. The center is always and forever, Jesus. Jesus is in the midst of everything, yes in the mess. And also according to scripture, the church is intricately woven into that (see the end of Ephesians 1). And so here’s probably the most important point, so that this post won’t be misunderstood: Jesus is the center, but it is always through the church and the gospel that this is so.

That power is the same as the mighty strength 20 he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, 21 far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. 22 And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church,23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.

Ephesians 1

That is our only real hope on a personal, family, neighborhood, local, state, national, and international level. Jesus somehow is in the midst of all of this, but always through the church and the gospel. Yes, mystically by the Spirit, but also through his teaching, like the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), through his death and resurrection. And though it’s always through the gospel and the church, yet in some sense Jesus is at work in everything. God is sovereign over all, and that sovereignty now is always and forever in and through Jesus. Even though there’s a day coming when the Son turns over the kingdom to the Father so that God might be all in all (1 Corinthians 15). Whatever that means, we can be sure that Jesus will be at the heart, and in the center of it all.

And so I look to the new year, wondering about some things. But not wondering about one thing: just who is at the center of all of this, who is in control even when things seem out of control, chaotic, and maybe heading in a bad direction. Not to ignore the things which are good. It is Jesus himself, who is with us through the good news of God in him. And through us and that, for the world. Jesus being the center.

remaining/abiding in Jesus

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.

John 15:5

Whatever remainder of time I have left, I would like to learn more and more what it means in experience, to remain or traditionally, “abide in Christ”, as it was always put.

This entire discourse is suggestive to that end. Jesus was talking to his disciples on the eve of his crucifixion, telling them he must depart, but that he would return to take them where he would be in his Father’s house, which at a certain point will come to the new renewed earth. But in the meantime, and we still live in that time, he would not leave them as orphans, but would come to them in the person, presence and power of the Holy Spirit, to be with them and help them.

The vine/branch analogy is quite helpful in conveying what Jesus was trying to get across to his disciples. Christianity lived out at its heart is all about life. Paul gets at this same thing from a different angle:

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

Galatians 2:20

People tend to look at the Christian life as a religion, and understood right, I believe religion can be helpful, though that can all depend, as well. It might be a hindrance if it simply is a set of rituals one practices which somehow can seem to become more or less ends in themselves. Here we see Jesus speaking in terms of relationship which certainly includes communion with someone, but a communion that is from a relationship, in this case as close a relationship as one can have. In fact Jesus suggested that somehow we’re taken into Trinitarian love, Jesus loving us as the Father loved him, and us loving him and each other in that same love, as we remain in his love, which clearly by implication is always present.

I have much to learn on this, and I’m thinking mostly of experience. But it’s amazing, the words Jesus used in the discourse, which tie in with the point he is making in John 15, well worth a slow read, and meditation. John 13-17.

 

prayer for Trinity Sunday

Almighty and everlasting God, you have given to us your servants grace, by the confession of a true faith, to acknowledge the glory of the eternal Trinity, and in the power of your divine Majesty to worship the Unity: Keep us steadfast in this faith and worship, and bring us at last to see you in your one and eternal glory, O Father; who with the Son and the Holy Spirit live and reign, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Book of Common Prayer

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.

finding home

Like a bird that flees its nest
    is anyone who flees from home.

Proverbs 27:8

From an old song comes the well worn saying: “Be it ever so humble, there’s no place like home.” We feel at home at home, for sure. It’s an escape, and more than that, it’s our abode. It’s where we’re acclimated into hopefully a place where we can rest. Of course to both build and maintain a home requires work. But home ought to be above all a place we can leisurely enjoy.

God made us for home. In a sense, humans were made to be at home in fellowship with God, in Jesus taken into the communion of the Triune God: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. But God made humans also to be earthly dwellers in communion with each other. And even to have a relationship with animals, I’m thinking of pets. This is why the biblical promise of heaven coming down to earth and becoming one with it when Jesus returns is so appropriate. God will come to earth to dwell with his people. In the meantime, God lives with us in Jesus as Emmanuel (God-with-us).

So our true home is right where we live on earth, renewed in Jesus, and in God in and through Jesus. Both.

So we are at a loss, and lost when we stray from either. Especially basic for us is to find our home in God, but we are earthlings, made from the dust of the earth, so that this wonderful world in the end renewed in the new creation at the resurrection in and through Jesus is also our home. We can’t get too much of either, as we now live in the world to be renewed when God makes all things new through Jesus.

“This world is not my home,” refers to the world system, which like Babel of old (Genesis 11) is estranged from, and in opposition to God. So that this life is not our final home. We are strangers here, pilgrims on a journey, looking for a better, heavenly country (Hebrews 11).

We pray for those who have strayed from their true home, that they would find it in God. And we long to be more and more at rest in that, as well. While we fulfill our calling to work and be stewards of this good earth God has entrusted to us. Knowing that our work someday won’t end, though the toilsome labor due to the curse imposed on it will. At Jesus’s return.

Home.

 

the blessedness of unity and the kind of unity that is blessed

How good and pleasant it is
    when God’s people live together in unity!

It is like precious oil poured on the head,
    running down on the beard,
running down on Aaron’s beard,
    down on the collar of his robe.
It is as if the dew of Hermon
    were falling on Mount Zion.
For there the Lord bestows his blessing,
    even life forevermore.

Psalm 133

God seems to put a priority on unity. In Jesus’s high priestly prayer of John 17, that is front and center in his petition for all believers, that God’s people would be one and be perfectly united, even as he and the Father are.

This begs the question just what kind of unity we’re talking about, the answer being self evident already, and especially so when we consider our Lord’s prayer in John 17, along with the context of Psalm 133. Unity is not merely for unity’s sake, as good as that may be. That can definitely be dangerous as well, in a world in which deception and following the crowd, or simply keeping in step with custom is either sacrosanct, or else expected, or at the very least what helps a person fit in and not stand out like a sore thumb.

There is a unity that God brings his people into through Christ, and which God blesses, and is indeed delighted in, and in which we should delight. But it’s not a unity of this world, let’s say some political unity, whether Democratic or Republican, or whatever it might be. Probably many of us are united in things like that, maybe not. But that’s not the unity referred to here. In fact many of the unions of this world are broken down, and shown to be suspect, I think now of such things as reactions to evil which may not be good, and may even end up evil themselves. We have to beware of the human tendency to unite in a way that ends up being in opposition to God, not in harmony with the unity of God, and what God is bringing about in and through Christ.

Only through the gospel, the good news in Jesus, can we enter into this blessed unity of God. This is a Jesus thing. But just because we have entered into it, doesn’t mean that it’s automatic, and we can coast from there. Ephesians 4 makes it clear that our oneness is evident and rooted in a number of ways: one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father. But we’re told in that exact same passage to make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. We are one body already. We’re to live out what we already are in Christ. And scripture makes it clear that this is an important and even vital part of our witness to the world.

We are already one in Christ. We’re to live that out, through all the complexitites and different circumstances and perspectives we find ourselves in. We each have our part in this in working toward a harmonious whole, which is both a witness to the world of the truth of the gospel, but is also central to who we are and what God is making us to be in and through Jesus.