Tag Archives: Love

Falling Off the Precipice: A Brave Easter

Unknown-1I’ve been reading David Brooks’ book The Road to Character. The book seeks the develop what Brooks calls the Adam II part of us. The Adam II part of us is “the internal Adam,” the part of us that wants “to embody certain moral qualities” (xii). Brooks believes that, as a society, we have failed to make the development of the Adam II part of us a priory. He challenges us to make it a priority by examining the biographical narrative and inner character of people throughout history. People like Dwight D. Eisenhower, Dorothy Day, George Eliot and Augustine.

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In his chapter on Augustine, brooks crafts a sentence that, if you are follower of Jesus, immediately forces you to take an account of your own life. In telling the story of Augustine’s conversion journey from a life of worldly but unfulfilling success to one of Christian faith and service, Brooks says Augustine “hung on an emotional precipice between a religious life he was afraid to sacrifice for and a secular life he detested but would not renounce.” 201

The picture Brooks’ thought creates is vivid. And I believe most of us stand exactly where Augustine stood. We stand on the precipice, the edge, having come too far to go back but unable to fully let go and jump.

So we stand, afraid to let go. Afraid to commit. Afraid of what it’ll look like to others. Afraid of the reality that when both feet leave the edge there’s no going back.

But that’s exactly what God calls those that want to follow him to do: jump. Commit. Let go. Surrender.

This isn’t Kierkegaard’s “leap of faith,” rather it is the decision to choose the things of God wholly, fully and completely and let go of (renounce) the things that appear to give security but are ultimately unfulfilling.

But just like Augustine, we are afraid to wholly, fully and completely choose the things of God because of the sacrifice that choice requires. We find that we are much more like the “rich young ruler” than Zaccheus- we just can’t bring ourselves to the sacrifice required.

What is it that God requires from us? What are the sacrifices we are afraid to make? There are different things for each individual. But there are sacrifices God calls all his followers to: love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength and sacrificial love of neighbor.

If we desire to wholly, fully and completely choose the things of God, how can we do it? How can we be sure that the sacrifice will be worth it? In one sense we have to take it on faith. In another, however, we have the ultimate confidence that we are able to completely choose the things of God and do so confidently because of the resurrection of Jesus. In the Resurrection, we behold the ultimate proof that God’s word is true and that God’s word is powerful. It is the Resurrection that allows us to wholly, fully, completely and bravely choose the things of God and let go of the old life. In the Resurrection, God, through Jesus, defeated all enemies and gave all power, authority and dominion to Jesus.

If Jesus has everything, where is our hesitation to commit wholly, fully and completely to Jesus? One answers is that we continually choose lesser loves over the one great love that we find in Jesus. Holy Week invites us to fix our attention on the great love of God, the love that gave Jesus over to death on a cross. It invites us to re-commit ourselves wholly, fully and completely to the things of God and renounce the old life that we detest but somehow always entices us.

The challenge is for you and I to enter into God’s invitation and to choose that whatever sacrifice is asked of us, we have the bravery to embrace it because of the Resurrection.

 

-Bibliography

Brooks, David. The Road to Character. Random House. 2015.

Walk To Unity

walk

Last time we looked at the Apostle Paul’s observation in Galatians 6 that, within life, a person will reap what they sow. To say it another way, a person will harvest what they plant. Paul tells us to sow in the Spirit to reap the things of the Spirit which, as we saw last time, are what we lump together as the fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness and self control.

This leads to the question, how do we sow in the Spirit to reap the things of the Spirit? Paul anticipates our question and tell us twice in Galatians 5 to “walk by the Spirit.”

“Thanks Paul”, the cynical side of me wants to say, “could you be any more ambiguous?”

Paul doesn’t give us “Walking by the Spirit 1-2-3” but he does give us a few descriptions within his letter to the Galatians. But first, what do we mean by “walk?” This is often one of the Christian-lingo sayings that makes little sense to those outside the Christian community. Walk simply means your way of life. When Paul says “walk by the Spirit” what he’s saying is “live a life marked by the Spirit.” What are the marks of a life lived by the Spirit?

Live a life marked by love. Throughout Galatians 5, Paul urges the church to love one another and not give into attitudes and theologies that attempt to divide the church. Paul even says, “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision [there were those in the church arguing that a person had to become a Jew- circumcised- in order to be a Jesus follower] means anything, but faith working through love” (Gal. 5: 6).

As we try to live a life marked by the Spirit, the first mark on our lives should be the mark of love to one another.

Live a life not marked by the flesh. The second mark of a life lived by the Spirit is a list of characteristics that stand in conflict to the characteristics of a life lived by the Spirit. I won’t re-write the list, you can read it yourself: Galatians 5:19-21. There are some attributes on the list that we probably don’t have to worry about (sorcery, for example) but what’s interesting about the list is that they deal with attitudes, actions, characteristics that cause division. Paul mentions things like jealousy, anger and envy which have the ability to cause major divisions between people.

As we try to live a life marked by the Spirit, the second mark on our lives should be the absent of characteristics that cause division.

Live a life marked by the fruits of Spirit. The third mark of a life lived by the Spirit is evidence of the fruit (the results) of the Spirit. Once again, you can read the list (Gal. 5: 22-23) and once again the fruits of the Spirit are those attributes that foster unity: love, patience, kindness, faithfulness- to name a few.

As we try to live a life marked by the Spirit, the third mark on our lives should be the cultivation of the characteristics that foster unity.

The main takeaway of this post is that a major indicator of a life marked by the Spirit is the working toward and preservation of unity. We have to ask ourselves, then, is the working toward and preservation of unity within the community of the church found in our lives? If wherever we go division seems to follow, that appears to be a good indication that we aren’t living a way of life marked by the Spirit.

It is important to note that unity does not mean uniformity. Followers of Jesus do not all need to the same in all practices and expressions. Paul calls followers of Jesus to be united in direction, united in love and united in living the fruits of the Spirit.

As we walk, let’s walk away from division and toward unity. Over the next few weeks we’ll continue to explore this idea of “walk” and our way of life.


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An Un-Advent-ful World: Love

St. John, the Apostle

St. John, the Apostle

John, the disciple of Jesus, writing to early believers, mentions it almost as an afterthought. It is such a huge thought and yet John doesn’t even give it it’s own sentence. He could have written volumes on the ramifications of this thought but John only gives us a couple of sentences of elaboration.

What is John’s huge thought?

 

“The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love.” 1 John 4:8

God is love.

Perhaps no greater words have even been written. But love is a tricky entity to describe and for love to be love it must be shown by action.

How does God, as spirit, show love to physical human beings?

God becomes a physical human being.

Jesus came, fully God and fully man, as “the exact representation of [God’s] nature” (Hebrews 1:3). Jesus perfectly reflects God, a God who’s very nature is love.

In an un-advent-ful world God’s love remains an abstract idea. In an un-advent-ful world, love does not possess hands and feet. In an un-advent-ful world, love does not heal the sick, love does not feed the hungry and love does not restore those caught in sin. In an un-advent-ful world, love does not spread out it’s arms and die on a cross.

In Jesus, in advent, we have a God who does exactly that. We see love become flesh and dwell among us and in Jesus we can see God’s glory.

As your church lights the Christ candle on Christmas Eve, let’s see Advent in light of what the world would look like without it.

Merry Christmas!

 

The Wild West and the Kingdom: Let’s Talk About the Kingdom, Part 4

Over the last month or so, we have been unpacking some of the ideas around the kingdom of God. You can review part one, part two and part three to catch up on the discussion so far, but basically my main idea is that the kingdom of God is here, Jesus is King, so the way we look at the world changes and how we live changes based on that idea.

The paradox of the kingdom of God rests in that the kingdom is here and yet the kingdom is not fully realized. It’s like the old Wild West where, although the US government was in control, people had a tendency to do whatever they saw fit. The Wild West did have representatives of “the law” in judges, sheriffs and marshals who attempted to remind people that there was someone in charge even if it wasn’t clearly seen. You can see the comparison.

The kingdom of God and the role of the Christian in the kingdom of God are similar to what I described above: God is in charge even if people don’t acknowledge it and our task is to be representatives of God and remind those around us that someone is, indeed, in charge. The Christian message goes further however. Not only do we proclaim that God is in charge and that people should acknowledge God’s rule but that God wants them to join God’s family. God isn’t interested in a kingdom of subjects but, rather, a kingdom of sons and daughters.

The main question for this post is how do we represent God to a world of people who don’t know, or don’t care, that God wants to invite them into God’s kingdom and God’s family?

This is the point in the post where I could list one thing, three things, ten things that we could do to represent God- and they probably would all be right. I might even be able to come up with one or two that were clever or unique. The amazing thing is that I don’t have to create some list or come up with anything clever because Jesus gave us everything we need.

Jesus tells us that the way we represent the kingdom of God to those in the world is two-fold: love God (with all your heart, soul, mind, strength) and love your neighbor as yourself. Jesus said everything we attempt to do must one of those as it’s foundation. This stands especially true when we talk about representing the kingdom of God.

If Jesus is king now then I should love him with all my heart, soul, mind and strength.

When I’m tempted to view the world through the lens of evilism, I should love my neighbor and the people who make up the world as I love myself.

How do I live the kingdom of God in my personal spiritually? I love God with all my heart, soul, mind and strength.

How do I represent God and God’s kingdom to those living in the world? I love God and I love my neighbor.

When Jesus said that everything else we do or say rests on these two things, maybe he was right after all.

Sight of Surrender

There are several phrases we use when we talk about surrender. We can say that someone threw in the towel. Or a team is waving the white flag.

Beyond those phrases, though, there are actions we take to show surrender. In a boxing match, the trainer will literally throw a towel into the ring to show that his fighter cannot continue. Soldiers will hold up or wave a white flag. A criminal will hold their hands up in the air to show that they surrender to the police. Even in chess, a player can surrender by laying down their king.

Surrender is one of the words that is heard regularly in sermons and in churches, but what do we mean when we say it? And what does it look like?

Surprisingly, the Bible doesn’t use the term surrender in the same way we typically hear it used in sermons, Bible studies or books. When we hear the term used in the “churchy” way, it’s a summery of several biblical teachings. It summarizes Jesus’ teachings about not worrying about tomorrow, about taking up one’s cross and about praying for God’s will to be done- even above our own will. It summarizes Paul’s exhortations to live is Christ and that Christ’s grace and strength come in weakness. It’s summarized John’s call to lay down our lives for each other. When we say surrender, this is what we are saying,

But saying that we surrender and surrendering are different things. As we already saw, surrender is accompanied by an action. An army that says they surrender yet continues to fight, really hasn’t surrendered. Surrender has to come with an action others can see, the sight of the surrender. What, then, is the sight of surrender as we apply to our life as followers of Jesus?

It’s not our GOP or NRA bumper stickers. It’s not the Santa Clause kneeling before baby Jesus we put in our yards at Christmas. It’s not that we know the exact moment to lift our hands during worship. It’s not even the way we can throw quotes of Scripture into everyday conversation: i.e. Co-worker: “How are you today?” You: “Well, in the words of Acts 3:8, I’m just walking and leaping and praising God.”

The sight of surrender in the Christian life has always been love. This love consists of love for God and love for others. It consists of loving our neighbors, as well as our enemies, as we love ourselves. It consists of loving the self-righteous, the sinner and the Samaritan. It consists of loving in the pleasure of joy and in the midst of pain.

When we surrender to God (using surrender as the summary of the teachings we mentioned earlier) the act that accompanies it, the sight of surrender, is love.

Love is a tricky thing, however, because just like surrender, saying and acting are two different things. In 1 John 3:18, the Apostle John tells us not to love just with words but love in “deed and truth.” Love takes action (deeds) but it also takes truth.

If we want to surrender to God and show that we are surrendered to God, the sight of that surrender is love- love in action and love in truth. We know, we understand, we see actions of love (or love in action) but what about love in truth?

We love in truth when we can come before God and not have any regrets in the way our actions have shown love. We love in truth when we can come before God in confidence that we loved our enemy in the same way we loved our neighbor. We love in truth when we can come before God in confidence that we loved the “sinner” the same way we loved ourselves. We love in truth when we can come before God in confidence that we loved Christ more than we loved our own lives. Any other kind of love isn’t a love in truth.

There have been several decisions both locally and nationally that have church members and Christians questioning those decisions and wondering how to respond. I believe the only response is that we, as Jesus followers, show the world that we have surrendered to God and that love becomes the sight of that surrender as we love in deed and love in truth.

A Millennial on Why the Atonement is Still Important: A Response to Christian Piatt

imagesRecently another tidal wave of atonement wariness has swept through the Christian village. It has been subtle at times. It has even been constructive at times- seeking to reframe the atonement for a postmodern audience. It has also been blatant at times, and none so blatant as a recent article by Christian Piatt.

In his April 28, 2015 article entitled, “Is a Theology of Atonement a Ponzi Scheme that Enslaves Us to God?”, Piatt writes: “Aside from atonement theology (the idea that Jesus’ death paid a debt to God I could not repay myself) painting God as a bloodthirsty bully, it also raises the question of whether personal salvation based on this atonement principle is the greatest Ponzi scheme ever sold from the pulpit.”

He then goes on to show how this Ponzi scheme works; essentially arguing that the job of a person who accepts Jesus as Lord and Savior is to “work for this deferred compensation [freedom from eternal suffering in hell] for the rest of your life. And chief among your jobs is to sell other people on this same deal so they can be covered under this sin umbrella policy, and then recruit others to do the same and so on…”

Piatt’s main problem with this is it makes Christians “act fundamentally un-Christ-like,” “act like jerks to everyone else,” live a life that is “fairly indistinguishable from indentured servitude” while “screwing” anyone who doesn’t “sign on” to this way. He closes the article by describing the way he sees God, or at least desires God to be. He writes: “If we believe in a God of unconditional love and grace, however, it seems we have to do a lot of mental gymnastics to also believe that we have to proclaim that Jesus paid our debt, or else no deal.” He says if God’s love is unconditional, then it cannot be based on any kind of deal or preference and since Jesus sought to erase the idea of insiders versus outsiders, the theology of atonement “paints God as particularly un-Christ-like.” Finally he puts it all out, “Personally, I choose to believe in a God that really offers love and grace freely, and that would not set up a man the likes of Jesus to be tortured and killed.”

As a Millennial (I was born in 1985) and as someone who classifies myself as either moderate or progressive on many theological issues, this post is not an attack on progressive Christians or liberal Christians, rather it is me standing as a young Millenial Christian to say that the atonement, for all the discomfort it causes our modern/postmodern minds, is still important. If we take the theology of atonement away, we aren’t left with Christianity- in fact we aren’t left with anything at all.

Without the atonement, we cannot use Scripture as a means to know and understand God. Piatt writes that atonement theology is un-Christ-like and that the God he chooses to believe in could not act in such a way, if that is true then the Scriptures are useless because from the Old Testament to the New Testament God’s character is seen through atonement. Without the atonement, we can throw out the Law because without the atonement we cannot say that anything someone does is wrong. Without the atonement, we can throw out the Prophets because there can be no reason or means to hold someone accountable for their behavior. Without the atonement, we can throw out the Psalms, because one of the underlying beliefs of the Psalms is the understanding that God judges wrong doing. Without the atonement we can throw out the Tabernacle and Temple. Without the atonement, we can throw out the gospels because they show Jesus as embodying God’s atonement. Finally, we can throw out Acts and the Epistles because they elaborate on the ‘Jesus is God’s final atonement’ idea. Once we take the atonement out of Scripture, we actually aren’t left with any Scripture at all.

Piatt’s other main point, namely that God’s love and grace can exist apart from the atonement, also causes some major problems. If you are able to keep Scripture, despite its atonement foundation, it’s hard to circumnavigate that Scripture links God’s love and God’s grace to the atonement. Texts like Romans 5:8-10, 1 John 4:9-10 and Galatians 2:20 all link God’s love to atonement in and through Jesus’ death. Likewise, God’s grace is linked to the atonement. Texts like Ephesians 1:7, Romans 3:21-26 and all of Romans chapter 5 show that God’s grace is shown and given through the atonement. To say that we believe in a God of love and grace and yet deny the atonement is like standing before a fireplace and affirming the existence of light and warmth but denying the existence of the fire.

The questions of how the atonement works and why Jesus had to die have existed within Christianity since its inception. Theologians through the centuries have proposed various ways to understand the atonement- ransom, satisfaction, moral influence, penal substitution, Christus Victor. Despite the questions of how and why, the Christian faith is the belief that the atonement works and that the atonement remains God’s means through which love, grace, mercy, redemption, forgiveness and salvation come. With its questions and with our uneasiness in aspects of the atonement, it remains the central and vital component of the Christian faith. Without the atonement, we cannot know God though Scripture and we cannot believe in a God of love and grace. That is why the atonement is still important.

 

Perfect Love: 1 John- Part 3

Is love what God does? Or is love who God is?

In blogging through 1 John, I’ve been looking at some of the themes that John uses in this short letter. So far we’ve looked at the theme of light and the theme of children.

However, you can’t talk about 1 John without mentioning the theme of love. John writes about love so beautifully.


“God is love, and the one who abides in love abides in God.” – 1 John 4:16

“There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear…” – 1 John 4:18

“We love, because He first loved us.” – 1 John 4:19


Now, back to the opening questions. Is love what God does? Yes. Is love who God is? Yes. For God, love is so much of God’s character that is indistinguishable from who God is and what God does. His love is perfect in that way; it isn’t selfish and it never manipulates. It’s a love that frees, it’s a love that gives, it’s a love that casts out fear.

What does it mean for love to cast out fear? I’ve had to think about this. The greatest fear in love is the loosing of that love- especially when that love is lost as a punishment for a mistake. God’s love doesn’t work like that and I for one am hugely grateful for that.

The mistake that we can make when we talk about God’s love is believing that once we have received God’s love, the results are all for us. God’s love is a love that doesn’t terminate with us. John makes it clear that receiving God’s love means extending that love to others (1 John 4:19-21). It even means laying down our lives for each other (1 John 3:16-17).

How do we do that? How can we possibly extend the same perfect love that God

Return of the Prodigal Son- Rembrandt, 1660s

Return of the Prodigal Son- Rembrandt, 1660s

gives to others? When I think about this question, I can’t help but to return to two stories of Jesus. In one story, Jesus tells about a son who took his share of the inheritance (even though his father was still alive) and went to a far away country and blew all his money. When hard economic times hit that country, the son found himself starving and decided that he would return home, give up his sonship and become a slave in his father’s house. When the father saw the son coming, he ran out to him and restored his position. Why? Because the father’s love wasn’t something that could be taken away by a mistake.

The Good Samaritan by Paula Modersohn-Becker, 1907

The Good Samaritan by Paula Modersohn-Becker, 1907

In the second story, Jesus tells about a traveler who was assaulted, robbed and left for dead along the roadside. Two religious men passed by and did nothing to help the injured traveler. Then a man came by and helped. This man wasn’t religious, he wasn’t a friend, he wasn’t even the same nationality- he was just a man who saw the injured traveler and had compassion on him.

What do these stories mean for us in how we extend God’s perfect love to others? I think as least these two things:

1. Who needs to know that our love won’t leave as a punishment for a mistake? Does a spouse need to know that?  A child? A family member? A stranger?

2. To whom can we show compassion? Who around us has been passed by and left as a hopeless cause? Who can we stop and help- even if they aren’t our religion, our friend or our nationality?

Imagine if Christians were known as people who loved in such a way that the only adjective that fit was “perfect.” Those Christians are people of a perfect love. I bet that kind of love would change lives, families, communities and the world.