Love Believes All Things

Greater love has no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.

Greater love has no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.

Jesus’ death on the cross demonstrated to us the incomprehensible love of God. It is often said that God “loved us so much he sent Jesus to die for our sins.” Yet this adage is said in a context neither amenable or conducive to grasping exactly what happened on Calvary. It is generally conceived as a fact that Jesus’ death carried some kind of weight with God so that a transaction was made in and by which sins could be forgiven.

Jesus’ death, it is said, paid the penalty due to our sins and satisfied God’s justice so that we might be able to come to God. God’s love in this is in his willingness to send Jesus to suffer and die on our behalf.

The problem I see with this notion is that God is made to have no other option. Jesus was sent as an expediency, a means to a desired end. That is to say, if God wanted to save us, this is how he had to do it.

But God is not bound by anything. He has no obligation, neither does he have any need to follow a particular method to accomplish his ends. He is totally and utterly free to accomplish anything in any way and by any means. He does not use expediencies.

It seems to me that in order for God to have freely sent Jesus, there had to be no compelling reason or requirement that he do so. Jesus came freely to live among us, to suffer as a man and to die at the hands of his fellow men.

God did this for love. Pure, unadulterated, spotless, clean, ineffable love.

Love.

But what is love?

Love is unlike anything else we might envision or consider. Unlike other things, love has no boundaries. It has no requirements. It has no beginning or end. It is free and limitless. Love is not based on what one is or what one does but rather on the bare fact that one *is*.

Suppose I say I love you. Suppose we share a life together as friends or as marriage partners. If my love for you is based on something about you, what if that something changes or even disappears or becomes something else? Can my love withstand that? No. It can’t. My love for you will fail as soon as you change. But God does not change, “I am the same yesterday today and forever.” He then cannot love us like this. His love is unchanging. Not that it is static and cold, but it is perfectly true, faithful and loyal.

Love believes all things; it ultimately does not care what we are or what we have done. Love is steadfast in it’s movement toward us. It is perpetual. If I change, God’s love for me never falters. If I fail him, he loves me still.

Love seeks primarily the happiness, the well being, the “Shalom” of the other, the beloved. It does not pass judgment based on differing attitudes of right and wrong. For instance, God does not say, “I love you, but…” He will never say this. He cannot. There are no “buts” with love. Love is free and unconditional.

Love which attempts to manipulate the other to a certain set of beliefs or behaviors, is not divine love. So called “tough” love is not love unless it is an attempt to rescue us from self-destruction. Suppose I become addicted to some destructive behavior, like illicit drug use. Love does not merrily go on it’s way and ignore my abuse. It seeks to redeem me from that self abuse, yet it does not withhold itself in any measure. Love seeks the happiness of the beloved. It does this by giving oneself to the beloved. If I am a drug addict, and you tell me “don’t do that” but do not give the means to accomplish what you are asking of me, then you are not loving me. You are attempting to manipulate me and love is not manipulative.

Jesus is the epitome of love. He freely came to human kind. He became a man. He gave himself, in his humanity, to us out of his love. We chided, abused, mocked, scorned and murdered him. Yet his love remained intact to the very end. Father forgive them, they don’t know what they are doing. Not only did he not judge those who killed him, but he overlooked their malice as only love can do. To death he treated humanity as his best friend, his beloved.

Jesus said that no greater love can someone have than to lay down his own life for his friend. Yet while we were enemies of God, Christ died for us. Even while we were nailing him to the cross he considered us more than acquaintances, more than a mere friend. He considered us his beloved. His bride. He abandoned all his “rights” as God in order to show us his love.

That should make us think twice before we go about claiming our rights of one another.

Self giving coupled with the desire to achieve and attain the shalom of another at any cost, that is love.

I could go on about the various kinds of love we humans have and what they mean, but none of them hold a candle to the love that Jesus Christ showed us when he opened the Father’s heart to us and loved us to the death on the cross. This is the love that all other loves are to imitate. This is the love that saves the world.

Being Good and Doing Good

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God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Ghost and with power: who went about doing good – Acts 10:38

5560077We spend much of our time attempting to be good people, at least those who are conscientious about their morality and ethics. As westerners, it has been warp and woof of our existence for centuries to place being good *prior* to doing good. We are fallen creatures, we are told. We cannot do good, it is said. Many of us have had it drilled into us that even if we try to be good, “all our righteousness are as filthy rags” in God’s sight.

Upon conversion to Christ, we are told the next step is to pursue holiness. This, we are told, is sanctification. Thousands upon thousands of books and other literature have been written on the topic; many of which attempt to assist the reader in their life long goal of becoming a good and holy person. The general gist of what sanctification is, according to the literature, is the transformation of the inner man to desire and will what God wishes for us. It is a difficult and often frustrating task, but one we cannot afford to avoid, if we are really in earnest about knowing God.

Millions of Christians have followed this path through the centuries and there is a rich spiritual tradition that has developed because of it. Various ascetic practices, some mild, some more severe, are often advocated as means to the desired end. After all, did not St Paul say we are to bring our bodies into submission? And is not the flesh the source, the effective cause for all of our sin? The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.

All of this is to say that Christians, in seeking sanctification, are an inward reaching people. Yet, how does that square with the life of Jesus, of whom it is said, he went about DOING good to other people? How can we do good if we are NOT good? Don’t we have to achieve or attain at least some measure of sanctification before we can start doing good?

Apparently not. Jesus gave no instructions for developing the inner life, but he did tell his followers to love one another. And, by his example, he did good to and for all. Jesus describes what he asks of us this way:

“My yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

How does that fit with the whole message of sanctification; that it’s a long difficult road? Jesus says it’s easy to follow him.

Here are my thoughts.

I believe it is quite wrong to pursue sanctification as has been traditionally done. The whole idea that we are an inward turned people is contrary to the gospel which specifically tells us to be outward reaching people, doing good and loving one another.

Doing good is easy. It simply means loving your neighbor as yourself. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. How hard is that?

Oh, yes, we often don’t WANT to do good to our neighbor. Well, in that case we are not in earnest about following Jesus. If that’s how you choose to live, fine, but don’t call yourself a Jesus follower, please.

We need not be good people to do the right thing. After all, as Jesus tells us, there is none good but God. We can do good quite easily enough if we want. The desire to do good and BE good together, counts as if it is already so.

We must remember that sanctification is the work of the Spirit, not our own work. We do not become good by turning inward to work on our “inner man”, but we become good by looking outward, first at Jesus and second at our neighbor to attend to his needs. As we go about doing good like Jesus did, the Holy Spirit works within us to change us. As we do good we become good; slowly but gradually.

As things are now, the West is infatuated with being good. Both liberals and conservatives operate on this principle. Of course, they have different interests and agendas, but the mechanics are the same. The net result is an inability to do good, to pursue the right, to see social justice met because we are unable to turn our attention away from ourselves and see the broken world around us and which needs our attention. We strive in vain to fix ourselves when it is our neighbor who needs our help and love.

We are so caught up in do’s and don’ts, so enmeshed in feeling right, or pursuing our personal goals that we cannot see the plain and simple issues of humanity that surround us. Fixing the world is easy, getting ourselves out of ourselves is not.

So, remember, the whole Law is summed up in these two commands: Love the Lord your God and your neighbor as yourself. Everything, literally, hangs on those two commands. Reach out side of yourself, help those around you who have needs. Do a little each day and at length you will find you have begun to experience that peace which passes all understanding. You will not be worried about heaven or hell. You will not fret about your neighbor who doesn’t see eye to eye with you. Everything will begin to fall into place. Sanctification will come through the work of the Spirit as YOU set out to go about doing good as Jesus did.

Why I Pray

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My biggest obstacle to staying Christian is prayer. If God is all-powerful, all-knowing and compassionate, then why does he not answer the prayers of those who pray for others?

I have a long list of people I pray for on a daily basis. I don’t pray because I “have to” but because I love to help others and (seemingly) there is no better One to ask than God to give assistance with that. I will not paint the picture more bleak than it is. Sometimes things happen that could be an answer to prayer. But how do I know it is that and not just coincidence? Other times, when needs are desperate, there is nothing. No wind, no light, no movement. Just darkness and static existence. Silence from heaven.

On the other hand, I have explored my own questions so I don’t just ask them and then abandon all hope. If there is a God and if He is GOOD, then he MUST answer prayer. He cannot ignore the pleas of one who cries out to Him for help, and remain Good.

Something I have learned (it was a VERY hard thing to learn) is that God is so much bigger than we are, so glorious, so vital, so immense, that we cannot (literally) begin to comprehend his majesty. We are but dust and He is the Lord of the Universe. I visualize an image of Betelgeuse with a comparative image of our Sun and another image of our Earth. Then I consider myself in regards to them all and I am nothing. Yet this illustration is but a grain of sand compared to God. In one sense we cannot know God. How can we? He is wholly other and is ineffable…beyond possibility of comprehension. Yet, as a Christian, I believe that he is in the smallest things too and is personally present with me and makes himself known to me. How this is so is a mystery. I have no idea.

Another thing I have learned is that prayer is not exactly what we think it is. While it can be asking God for things (indeed, to ask is the meaning of the word, pray), what it really is, is communion, fellowship, union. Though no request is too small for God if asked from a sincere heart, who do we think we are to demand that God cater to our wants and desires? God works all things together for the good of those who love him, who are the called according to his purpose. If this is true, then oftentimes the difficulty of our prayer lives reveal more about ourselves than about God. We have wants. We have desires. We have needs. But do those wants, desires, and needs correspond to what God knows is best for us? Do they correspond to what He knows will work all things together for good?

And lastly, I am persuaded that God is never absent. Never. The reason we often feel alone and abandoned by God is very simply that we fail to realize that we have *never experienced the true absence of God*. He has always been there. Those times we feel alone? They are the result of our nature and our tendency to turn from God, even when we don’t want to, or realize that we are doing so.

God is so present with us that he is the very life source of our full existence and being. Think about that. Why then are we not more aware? The answer, I think, is much simpler than we might expect…and it has nothing to do with our “sinfulness”. Rather, it is because God is the foundation of our being, that he does his work at levels of depth in our person that do not often rise to consciousness. As Christians, we have a 2000 year history of saints and preachers, apostles and others who have told us of the glories of knowing God and how he can change one’s life. We all want that. The mistake comes when we expect God’s work to be done on a conscious level. God is working to change us from the inside out. He does this in the profound depths of our being, transforming us inside first. Of course, the ultimate goal of sanctification (theosis) is the full conscious communion with God. Face to Face as it were. But that is for the future for the most part. After all, *something* must be different after the resurrection! We do NOT have it all now. There must be something to hope for in the future.

So, though I sometimes doubt, even God’s existence, I remember that I am dust and that God is in me working in ways I cannot comprehend and I am comforted. I also remember that God is working in those for whom I pray as well. I rarely pray for anyone anymore for a short time. I pray for them for years. Some of them I will pray for until I or they die. I believe God is working. I believe not one word uttered in sincere prayer ever goes awry. I may never realize or see how it is answered, but that doesn’t matter. I trust the One who always answers and is always faithful to complete the work in us that he has begun in Jesus.

Becoming as Little Children

jesus-children.24174626_stdThe human person is incredibly complex. Exactly how human consciousness arises is a greatly debated issue and thus far no satisfactory theory has been presented.

Consciousness seems to develop alongside biological development. That is to say, a child does not have the integrated consciousness that is had by an adult. Exactly what factors bring this advanced consciousness to the fore is debatable, but I think, that it exists cannot be denied.

Now, consider the maxim by Jesus, “except you become as little children you cannot see the Kingdom of God.” I suggest what this means is that little children inherently trust. Trust is something foundational to the child psyche. Who ever heard of a child that did not trust it’s mother? Of course, not all mothers are trustworthy, but that’s quite beside the point.

I draw from this that what Jesus is saying is that we must retain, regain, develop, secure, maintain that primal trust but as we grow in maturity, to focus that trust on Him. Often, this trust becomes sidetracked or lost through the growing process. We get hurt, we begin to doubt, we start to recede into our selves, we stop trusting because the world is found to be untrustworthy.

This further suggests that the nature of our encounter with God is not usually on the conscious level, yet this is where we expect it to be. We expect God to interact in our lives in visible, tangible ways. How often are we disappointed to find this is not the case??? As C. S. Lewis said, “Isn’t it funny how day by day nothing changes but when you look back, everything is different”? I’d suggest that our encounter with God is not a fleeting thing that happens occasionally, but is so foundational to our existence and being that it takes place in a profound depth of the human person in perpetual communion. The reason we do not easily grasp God’s presence is not because He is not there, but because we have never experienced life without it! The Divine-human encounter is a perpetual thing, not a rarity. Though it is true that it only rarely rises to the conscious level. This is why we can look back over our lives, even when filled with failure, and honestly say, God has been faithful. We see it even though we can’t understand it.

Let us seek and restore our inherent attitude of trust and let us turn it toward Jesus.

Christianity and The Kingdom

Is Christianity, as we have known it, Christianity? Or is Christianity something larger, something bigger than we have realized? Isn’t the name itself limiting, suggesting that Truth is confined to history rather than to the present and future as well?

Suppose Christianity has barely scratched the surface of the meaning of the incarnation of God in Jesus Christ. Suppose that when Jesus said the kingdom is here that really is what he meant, and that His kingdom would grow just as other things grow. A seed is not apparently a tree, but after a long time that is what it can become. Do we really think that Christianity as historically defined is the Kingdom of God in all its fullness? Or that future generations will find themselves in no possession of truth beside that which we currently have?

If the kingdom of God is like a mustard seed then the fullness of the kingdom must be radically different in appearance than the humble beginnings. Who would ever deduce from appearances that a tree came from a seed? So it is with the Kingdom. To equate historic Christianity with the final and ultimate issue from the Seed, which is Christ, is foolishness. Eye has not seen, nor ear has heard, nor has it entered into the heart of man the things that God has prepared for us. This refers not merely to the eschaton, but to the reality of the growth of the Kingdom in this world.

The Great Commandment

Life is not fair. From the human perspective, in which we live, life will never be fair. Did the Amish girls who were murdered a few years ago deserve to die? Who can name anyone who is more the image of chastity and innocence in our world than those children?

Holy Scripture speaks a lot about fairness and justice and equity. It is part and parcel of living the gospel life. We are to treat everyone as we would have ourselves treated by them. That is the second great commandment.

Some would argue that the second commandment is sometimes trumped by the First Great commandment, to Love the Lord with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. They seem to believe that God’s honor is above or different from that of the people around us. Yet if we observe the way our Lord Jesus lived, we will see that the first Great commandment is kept *in the keeping* of the second. We love God by loving our neighbor who is made in God’s image. Say’s St John, “If any man says he loves God and hates his neighbor, he is a liar. How can the love of God dwell in him?”

What is fairness? Is fairness getting what we deserve? Certainly not. Justice would have us all in hell. We must get over this attachment to “Blind Justice”. Justice is NOT blind. It is precisely justice that SEES the plight of the poor, the sorrow of the oppressed, the need of widow and orphan, the disenfranchised, the lonely, the hurting and the weak. Without eyes to see the pain of the world, how can we possibly be fair? Fairness is love. To not love is to be unfair. IT’s that simple. Yes, yes, hate the sin but do not thereby neglect the sinner. We do not hate those who sin. Let him who is without sin cast the first stone. So much “hating the sin” is in reality self righteousness and self-conceit. To “hate the sin” in truth, is to give oneself in love to the sinner.

Love is the essence of the law. Not man’s law, but God’s. If we do not love we are lawless. And love is not selective. Love itself is blind. It loves indiscriminately, without condition, without rules. It is free. And because it is free, it is the fulfillment of the Great Command to Love God, who alone is free and freely loves in and through us. Without this freely given love, we cannot know God and any pretense of love beside that is a lie.