THE SUNSHINE OF YOUR LOVE

The band ‘Cream’ sang this in 1967, the year I graduated high school. Forget the lyrics for now. It’s the title I love. I am still a big fan of Eric Clapton.

Anyway, the title reminds me of some words of Jesus. We’ll get to those words but first I need to recall a couple scenes from the T.V. series FRASIER. My wife and I are watching it for the 4th time. Get a life, george. The scenes involve Frasier and his brother, Niles. In different scenes the brothers hold a door open for some woman who neglects to say, ‘thank you.’ It becomes a theme in the show about ungrateful people who don’t offer the thanks that is expected. 

I’ve done that. I stop my car so someone can cross the street apart from the crosswalk area. A little wave of acknowledgment? Nope. So then I decided to not expect any gratitude. That worked for a while and now I’m back to anticipating something that is probably not going to come.

So I’m thinking the other day about Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount. In Matthew 5:45 we read the words that ‘God makes his sun to shine on the evil and good’ and Jesus tells us to do the same thing for others, no matter their character.

God is showering the sunshine of his love on everyone without thinking about getting thanks in return. Oh, does God love our praise? Certainly. But his love takes no notice of those who don’t respond except to keep loving them and letting his sun shine on them. Some folks call that common grace. Let’s call it love, pure unconditional love, a love that does not keep score. And I for one am glad because if God kept score of my ‘bads’, God would be already in the ‘billions to nothing’ category.

Our God is loving. God is love, says the Bible. That’s his essence, his nature. He loves to love. That’s why you and I are here on this earth. To love. Like our Father in heaven, says Jesus.

Thanks be to God for those who want to live in that love, soaking up all that grace and seeing the difference in their lives if they do. Now that I am writing this, I’m gonna see what it’s like in real life.

God be with you.

CRYSTAL CLEAR

So here’s the thing. There are so many things in Bible interpretation that are ambiguous: Atonement, baptism, prayer, as well as the meaning of faith and works.

Even the Reformers couldn’t agree and they split over the issue of communion (The Lord’s Supper). Even Paul said he had to ‘work hard’ so as not to be disqualified from salvation. (1Cor. 9:27)

And the issue of eternal punishment is not clear. Is it annihilation or fires or worms or darkness or is there a possibility that somehow God will bring all his creation back to himself?

I know that many Christians believe that non-believers or disobedient people may be tortured in everlasting torment. But that is mostly from presumptions we make having been brought up in a certain way. Listen, Christian people are not even certain what happens to the people who have never heard of Christ. They say things like ‘well they are not the elect’ or ‘God will do the right thing’. And what about the Jews and little children who are not of accountable age? And what does accountable means? I believe we are manipulating God into a box where we have taken away God’s freedom.

Is the eternal destiny of humanity so clear that some people can be so certain as to who is in and who is out? Doesn’t God judge the intention of the heart? It seems so in the Sermon on the Mount.  And do all our discernments about judgment make us judges ourselves?

And what about those men who crucified our Lord? Were they really forgiven? It all makes me dizzy. And then I know people who say that our little minds can’t understand how God works.

Well, I do. Amidst all the ambiguities of this faith one thing is Crystal Clear: God’s love for us. There is no doubt that God’s love is huge, beyond huge. When my mother use to tell her granddaughter that she loved her, her granddaughter would respond, “I love you more”. That’s what God says to us time and time again and especially from the cross. “I love you more.” And not for one moment do I think the love of God stops when our hearts stop beating. I’ve said before that everything I see now is through the lens of the Christ crucified for us.

We westerners (and you can check this out) have the propensity towards retribution and payback. Our idea of justice is that God will pay bad people back.  It’s probably why I like Westerns so much. But God’s idea of justice is….well, look upon the cross. There we see God’s idea of justice for humanity. We see Jesus loving, suffering, forgiving and dying for love. Death cannot prevent that kind of love from getting through to God’s creation. Never mind Jesus preaching to the imprisoned souls, whatever that means. Just think that God’s love fills eternity, all of it, forever and ever. If God’s love can continue in the ‘saved’ person’s life then why can’t it do remedial work in the other’s lives? Who knows? There might be remedial work to be done in the ‘saved’ lives. And it will be out of God’s love, not vindication or retribution. Yeah, that’s what I believe.

THIS IS NOT THE KINGDOM

Let’s be very careful not to identify our identity in Christ with the government of this world. Recall Jesus’ words to Pilate:

36 Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.” (John 18)

Humans love power. That includes believers. The Bible calls it our flesh and says that the spirit and flesh are in a battle. To desire power is what we might call sin.

Adam and Eve wanted power, self-determination and then came Cain and Abel, one of which was willing to kill for power. And it continues.

Jesus invites us to give up our hunger for power. Read Matthew 5. He promises that there is something better in the Kingdom of God, which is always found where we place our trust in God and not in any human. Certainly I trust doctors and people close to me but not the powers of this world, not even when God’s name is invoked.

In the Old Testament we are told not to trust in chariots. “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God.” Psalm 20:7.

And recall that when Jesus was about to be arrested, his disciples wanted to fight for him.

52“Put your sword back in its place,” Jesus said to Peter. “For all who draw the sword will die by the sword. 53 Are you not aware that I can call on My Father, and He will at once put at My disposal more than twelve legions of angels?”  (Matthew 26)

That’s 72,000 angels, certainly enough power to overcome the soldiers who were there to arrest Jesus.

The Kingdom of God is, as Dallas Willard wrote: A DIVINE CONSPIRACY, whispered from one person to another letting people in on the divine subversiveness against worldly powers and principalities. It comes through trust and love, not through the exercise of power. God desires a relationship of love among the people called by his name. And there are people in this world who don’t know his name but are living in his spirit of love, sometimes better than believers in God.

Wherever God’s love catches on we can know the Kingdom has found a foothold, a beachhead.  Politics won’t carry the day. Only love can do that. And God brought that love to us, not on a Jetliner or Army Tank or even a Police force. He came in a little out of the way place on the margins of society, and that’s where God is still found. We call his name JESUS.

A LETTER ABOUT LOVE AND RECONCILIATION

Some churches I know are deeply divided over the issue of gay people of faith being included in the life of the church and particularly with regard to gay marriage.

I want to suggest a way to some peaceful, loving reconciliation in this matter. Church folks need to learn how to listen with love to the stories of people on both sides of this topic. Some of my straight friends get defensive for the same reason they don’t like Jehovah Witness folks coming to their door. The former are afraid they won’t be able to answer and will be pushed into a corner or made to look ignorant of their own faith. That’s why all this works better in small group gatherings.

This topic needs a voice.

I propose a Reconciliation Team within the churches that can bring different sides together. This team needs to be diverse to allow for diverse opinions. We need never to be afraid to hear brothers and sisters who differ from us on Scripture, Theology, or Life Choices.

It’s like the Jerusalem Council that met regarding the Gentiles. (See Acts 15) The earliest Christians differed on Bible matters, commandments, and loving flexibility as regards the Gentiles who wanted to become Christians. The Council compromised and decided that new converts did not need to keep the Mosaic Law of Circumcision. And this was a significant decision because it was the stipulation for the Covenant people with their God. (See Genesis 17) And many people did not believe that law could be nullified. But it was. See, changes do come.

Christian Ethicist David Gushee has written a book called, CHANGING OUR MINDS in which he suggests several ideas for churches confronted by this matter of gay inclusion and marriage.

One of his suggestions is that we STOP JUDGING PEOPLE. (See Romans 14 and the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7) Judgment does not come from love. It comes from not seeing the log in one’s own eye. It’s looking down on another. It would be like telling people in the northeast they are sinning because they eat Lobster and Pork. Oh, no. Let’s not go down that road.

The other suggestion he makes is for a church to go through a deliberate time of dialogue and discernment where we have the conversation about homosexuality and the will of God. Such conversation will impact many areas of faithful life.

Paul writes to the Ephesians that we should speak the truth in love. Speaking and listening to what we understand as God’s truth and doing so in ‘regard for the other’ is what that means.

Some churches have made conscientious decisions about homosexuality according to their best prayerful understanding of God’s will. Whichever conclusion they come to is not without consequences. And the leadership of the church needs to reach out to people who by their own conscience have a different belief. But I sincerely believe that no decision by any leadership can be made without lots of input and conversation. And resources are readily available.

Right now Christ’s body is torn asunder and needs a loving spirit and intention to bring healing. The church is for everyone. Maybe I should say the Kingdom of God has come for everyone. No one is disposable.

WE NEED A PHYSICIAN

The coronavirus has changed the way most of us think. Some didn’t pay attention when it was first announced. But most of us have now heeded the warnings and cautions and we have adjusted life accordingly. People seem to be more caring for one another. They are finding ways of making connections. Many are sacrificing their own safety to serve others.

So I got to thinking – when Jesus came into the world his message was ‘change your way of thinking because God has come into your midst to create new hope-filled life instead of the fear and enslavement you’ve been used to’. Jesus came to say that he was providing a way to God’s life. You might remember the exact wording: “Repent for the kingdom of God is here.”

Now we’ve got scientists and health providers, ‘messiahs’ if you will, telling us how to get better, stay well and enjoy life. I’m sure they soon will let us know they have figured out the way to the ‘kingdom’ of healing and wholeness. And most of us believe what they are saying is true and we are willing to follow.

As in the days of Jesus, some of our leaders turn a blind eye to these ‘messiahs’ and insist their way is best. This got me to thinking that when Jesus says he is the only way to God’s life, he wasn’t being exclusionary. He was stating a fact – that his life, death and resurrection were providing for the whole world a way of healing, hope and eternal life. He provided this for everyone.

I personally think everyone will receive, by God’s grace, the antidote to hopelessness. But a lot of folks just won’t appreciate or trust the giver of the gift and thus they will miss the very conscious new life that is being made available to them.

So when Jesus says, “Repent, for the kingdom is here”, he is telling us to change the way we think about love, hope, justice, forgiveness and even death. For God is healing this creation by his personal involvement. He’s changing hearts and minds. He’s on a rescue mission to show that there is a better way to live – with him.

The Sermon on the Mount is our health guide. There is a reason we call Jesus the Great Physician. He came to begin the process of healing, of reconciliation of heart and mind with God. And around the world there are emergency clinics – churches, synagogues, temples – where ‘paramedics’ are trained to care for the least.

Two-thousand years after Jesus we are still in need of the Great Physician. Maybe that’s why Jesus told his disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane to ‘keep an eye out and pray so that you are not distracted from the One who is able to do for you more than you can even imagine’.

 

 

GOD’S NOT MAD AT US

Many folks think that talking about hell and God’s judgment will bring non-believers to faith. That might be good psychology but not good biblical theology. The scripture teaches that God is love. While there is talk about wrath, the presupposition with which I begin is knowing that God’s central essence, around which God creates and sustains his whole creation, is love.

God’s anger is really against the evil to which humans succumbed. Sin is the result of idolatry. Idols have been empowered by human worship, and God in Christ is out to destroy the power of that evil and thus allowing you and me to worship God. Look at the second commandment. In Exodus 20 God says that we shall not bow down and worship any idol. Worship is reserved for the one true God. When the Israelites were freed from Egypt they were to go and ‘worship’ God, not just take a nice trip to the Promised Land. We are created to worship and love God. That’s where the only real life is to be found.

Now let us realize that after all the idolatry God has made peace with his creation through the Son’s victory over death. In Colossians 1:19,20 we read ‘For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross’ (ESV).

Christ rescues us from the dominion of darkness. ‘He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son’ (Colossians 1:13 ESV). Christ has disarmed all the powers and authorities against us.

The Bible doesn’t say that God was so angry with the world that he sent his Son (John 3:16). Rather it says that God loved his world so much. It was love –  God wanting the best for his wayward children.

See, the God we know is fully revealed in Jesus Christ. And that revelation is Love. It is the self-giving of God for God’s creation in order to reconcile us with him. And we know that the Christ on the cross is there because of LOVE. So if we start with the presupposition of a loving God we will then look at all God’s revelation in Scripture through that lens. Certainly there are passages about wrath and anger and God being sorry that he created this world but those scriptures are ‘the dark side of love’, a side that while expressed is not enacted but through the pain of the cross.

Theologian Kazoh Kitamori, in his book ‘Theology of the Pain of God’, wrote that God’s love becomes the wrath of God in his response to sin. God is sorely against sin because it alienates his creation from him. And if I may be so bold I would compare this to a human father loving his child who is bent on living a life in opposition to the love the father has for them. Take for example when my son was little and insisted upon playing in the street. After three times of telling him not to, I resorted to what he might have considered my wrath as he felt the sting of my hand on his butt. But I prefaced my action by saying, ‘Son, this is going to hurt me worse than it hurts you.’

So when the Bible speaks about the wrath of God, it means that WE experience an alienation from God when we worship idols. God has left us to our own devices but God has always been about redemption, restoration, and reconciliation. Read the book of Hosea.

Let’s look at a few passages about the wrath of God. In Ephesians 2:3 we are told we are objects of God’s wrath. But read carefully and you will notice that God loves these objects of wrath (some translations say children of wrath). You will find God’s love expressed in verse 4: ‘Because of His great love for us.’ In the MSG Version we read, ‘It’s a wonder God didn’t lose his temper and do away with the whole lot of us. Instead, immense in mercy and with an incredible love, he embraced us.’

In John 3:36 we read that, ‘whoever believes in the Son has eternal life but whoever rejects the son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains upon him.’ I believe this means that outside the Son there is the darkness of an unconscious life, which is then subject to the evil in this universe. And who really wants that kind of life? ‘All he experiences of God is darkness, and an angry darkness at that’ (John 3:36 MSG).

Now one more verse – Ephesians 5:6. After a litany of the bad things humans do, Paul writes: ‘because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient.’ But there again it is the darkness of being apart from God that is experienced as wrath because remember, we were all disobedient to God, enemies of God and alienated until by grace through faith we stepped into the light of life. See Ephesians 2:4.

There are other passages but these will suffice to say that wrath is NOT the nature of God. That’s good news for all. God is not out to ‘get us’ but rather his purpose is to reconcile us to himself. As Jesus proved through the cross, this work of love pained him more than we can even imagine. That’s ‘costly grace’ that yearns for a response.

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE TIME HAS COME TODAY

The church and individual Christians, including yours truly, has for too long lived by law, exclusion, judgment, and even punishment. The time is right and the opportunity is now for inclusive love, barrier breaking and yoke removing love. The love of Christ knows no limits, sets no boundaries.

 

“God’s love is meteoric

His loyalty astronomic

His purpose titanic

His verdicts oceanic

Yet in his largeness

Nothing gets lost

No human, not even a mouse

slips through the cracks.” Psalm 36:5-6 MESSAGE VERSION

 

ONLY LOVE CAN LEAD THE WAY TO CHRIST

LOVE HELD HIM THERE

Christ did not die to remove us from evil by taking us to heaven. Christ died to destroy the power of evil within us. When Christ came to earth he brought the arrival of the Kingdom of God. In the death of Christ the power of evil was defeated. As the Gospel of John explains:  ‘In him was life, and the life was the light of men.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.’ John 1:3,4 (ESV) Paul writes similarly in Colossians 1:13; 14: ‘God has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the Kingdom of his beloved Son in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.’

Jesus did on the cross what Israel of old could not do- be faithful to God and to God’s project of redemption for all creation. Israel had succumbed to evil inclinations and rebellion against God. And so God in Jesus comes to defeat that evil, not Israel but the forces and principalities of darkness. Romans 8:3: ‘For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh’. God wanted a relationship with God’s people. They wanted something more and so they got the LAW through which evil was happy to exert its powers. And then God in Jesus lured evil to its demise and stripped it of its power. Now through Christ the relationship of love has been established for good.

At the cross of Christ all the political and religious forces as well as the power of evil converged upon Jesus to rid the world of God’s saving love. But there on Calvary those forces of evil were led to defeat by God’s love. In the words of theologian N.T. Wright, Jesus bears the taint of evil, taking it away by exhausting its power.

It brings to mind the tactic of a boxer who allows himself to be pummeled by his opponent until his opponent is so exhausted that he is able to be defeated.

Evil tries its best to destroy our relationship with God like it did to Jesus in the Temptation in the Wilderness. God’s love gave Jesus and us a free will to love God or resist God and give room for evil. And the number one tool of evil is PRIDE. It is the living space in which evil thrives. But we need to know that evil cannot ‘take’ power. It can only be given power. Oh, it may whisper in the halls of Congress, on the battlefield, in relationships and in the courts of justice. It may utter a quiet invitation to walk away from God but the real power resides in the weakness of our surrender to Christ, trusting in his faithfulness. And that surrender in this world is necessary every day. It is a surrender to love, a love that never fails.

IT WAS LOVE, NOT THE NAILS THAT HELD JESUS TO THE CROSS. (Anonymous)

 

 

 

 

 

 

GRACE IN A NUTSHELL (A LARGE NUTSHELL)

I am a hunter, of sorts. I like to find things that I want or need. Google search and Amazon are my favorite sites. I have also searched for people, mostly girls- in my youth. I would pretty much go to any length to secure a date with someone I was attracted to. I’d sit in classrooms writing notes to pass to the object of my affection. I’d find ways to meet up in the hallways. I’d join the same clubs or music groups just to be near them. Hey, who really understands young love? Then I met Gigi, my wife of almost 48 years now. As I like to say, ‘I chased her till she caught me.’

Back to the GRACE.

Grace, simply put, is God’s pursuit of you and me out of God’s love for the creation and us.

The FIRST instance of grace in the Bible takes place after our ancestors ate the ‘forbidden fruit’. Genesis 3:8,9 (NIV)

        Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?”

That’s a great image. God taking a walk on the earth to find humanity that somehow thought they could hide from God. And God, who knows everything, actually calls out to his hidden rebels as though he wants them to know he’s searching for them. They had shared a beautiful intimate relationship from which they broke and their God is not giving up on them. God wants their hearts to know that God’s heart is still in love with them. And God takes the initiative to find them. (That’s grace.)

God will find them and rescue them and keep them in relationship with God come hell or high water, through countless rebellions and acts of idolatry until God completes the plan of salvation through Jesus.

One might say that grace actually happened long ago in eternity because we read that Christ actually was slain, sacrificed, from before the foundation of the world. (See Rev. 13:8 and 1Peter 1:18-20).

There’s a magnificent purpose statement of Jesus in Luke 19:10 in which he states that the Son of man came to seek and save that which was lost.

God’s action to find, save, reconcile and redeem all creation is the meaning of grace. There’s that ‘nutshell’. In 2 Corinthians 5 we read that God was in Christ reconciling the world to God.

God is the great lover of our souls. The Bible affirms that ‘God is love’, not anger, judgment, or enmity. Evil is God’s only enemy and God will go to any lengths to save us. And when the objects of God’s affection get lost, run away or hide, God will pursue them through all eternity and welcome them back home, as marvelously illustrated by the parable of the Prodigal Son. (See Luke 15.)

So no matter what difficulty you might be having with faith and obedience there is no need to hide from God. God’s love will embrace you. God will love us always. God’s love is eternal. As Paul writes in Romans 8, there is nothing that can separate us from God’s love in Christ.

And… God’s love will change us. That’s grace.

By the way- Gigi’s love has changed me. I haven’t always liked the process but I can tell you that it’s all good.

PLACES IN GOD’S HEART

I am wondering why some Christians, supported by denominational doctrines, and certain biblical passages, want there to be a hell of eternal torment. Is it for justice or perhaps revenge? Like ‘they’ get what’s coming to them for not believing in Jesus or doing bad things.

Surely it’s not from any sense of love. Jesus reminds us to love our enemies. (Matthew 5) We are told often in the Bible that the essence of God is love. A great definition of love is to work for the good of others even at our own expense. I am thinking of God doing that very thing through the sacrifice of his Son on the cross. Why, I wonder why would God go to such an extent with his love only to one day say to some folks, ‘Too bad for you’. God’s love is eternal. (Jeremiah 31:3, for example.) I think that Jesus expressed God’s love for the thief on the cross who was to be welcomed into Paradise. Jesus also asked God’s forgiveness for those who were crucifying him.

We know that God knew, planned, or permitted the FALL to take place back in the Garden of Eden because Scripture asserts that Christ’s sacrifice for all God’s creation took place before the creation of the world. ‘Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes.’ (Ephesians 1:4 NLT) The Trinitarian love of God is eternal and being shared with us through creation and redemption and finally reconciliation.

See 2 Timothy 1:9 (God’s grace came to us in Christ Jesus before the ages)  and 1Peter 1:20 (Christ was chosen before the creation of the world, but revealed in these last times for our sake).

God is a good ‘love investor’, having already planned for the inevitable conclusion of giving humanity free will. God was not giving up on creation and surely not on any of us who were created in God’s image, stamped with the life of God’s son, and it is in God all humanity lives and moves and has its being. (See Acts 17:28 for this last phrase.) This is all grace.

Scriptures declare that even after the rebellion of God’s people God’s love remains everlasting. Paul even writes that all ISRAEL will one day be saved. (See Jeremiah 31:33,34 along with Isaiah 59:20,21 for God’s everlasting love and Romans 11:26 for Paul’s statement about ‘all Israel’.)

Do I really want murderers, rapists, Nazis and the like sitting with me at the marriage supper of the Lamb (Rev. 19:6-9)? ‘Of course not’, my flesh replies, but if I walk by faith and love I will not reply from my flesh. And yes, my flesh looks for the Bible readings where the righteous prevail and the wicked are doomed but I want to live by grace, forgiveness and with enduring love.

The Bible tells us that ‘God will be all in all.’ (1Cor. 15:28) Perhaps it’s a mysterious passage or it well could match up with what Paul says to the philosophers in Athens about everyone having their whole lives wrapped up in God with the possibility that we may indeed look for God and find God.

In the meantime the church is Christ on earth to help bring creation back to the Garden as it were. God, through the church, is filling the earth with God’s presence. (See Ephesians 1:23) That is a call to responsibility and joy.

The final scene in the movie PLACES IN THE HEART depicts a gathering at worship of all the characters, the ones who have died and those who are alive. Some have been mortal enemies. They are sharing the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper together. I pray and hope that one day all people will bow and worship God as one. Paul writes that in Philippians 2.

So this Christmas let us proclaim God’s love, an eternal love, for all creation. It’s going to be a great day when all the creation realizes that the babe in the manger came to redeem the ones God loves so much.