Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Commandment and Love

Law and love are not in conflict. Love is part of the law, and the law commands love. The command to "love your enemies" became one of the most important moral imperatives ever uttered. Also, the word "commandment" ("commanded" - Mt 28:20) is connected to the word "love," a connection that underscores the costly nature of true love: Jn 13:34-35; 14:15, 21, 31; 15:10. The linkage of the words command and love occurs > 30 times in the N.T., and thus is a significant theme throughout. This connection between costly, Christ-like love and Jesus' commandments is why Jesus calls this imperative the "new commandment."

"Our mission as Christians is to conform ourselves evermore to Jesus as the model of our lives." Pope Francis.

John 13:34: "Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other" (NLT). "Just as I have loved you, so you must love one another" (J.B. Philips). "You must love each other, just as I have loved you" (CEV). Jesus' disciples are to love one another with the same love Jesus had for them during his sojourn. Our love is God's sign to the world (Jn 13:35). This is the mark of genuine Christianity.

"The Johannine talk of love does have practical implications. Love within the community is not merely a matter of warm feelings; rather it is a matter of action." Richard B. Hays. 1 Jn 3:11, 16-18, 23 cover a wide range of activities. There is no sectarian retreat in the new commandment.

"It took me a long time to understand that God is not the enemy of my enemies. God is not even the enemy of God's enemies." Martin Niemoller.

"Loving those we like and hating those we don't like is as common as sin." Scot McKnight.

"If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the dividing line between good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being, and who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?" Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. [Most violence occurs between people who know each other. A husband, wife, coworker, boss, neighbor, family member, or former friend becomes the target of violence. Also all kinds of categories or stereotypes: blacks, whites, Hispanics, Muslims, Arabs, Jews, Democrats, Republicans, gays, punks, pro-abortionists, pro-lifers, illegal immigrants, dictators, jihadists.]

"What if a man gives way to grief and anger and indulges these emotions (which he should struggle against)? What if he rushes wherever injustice will call him? Such a man does not fulfill the duty of virtue. For he who tries to return an injury desires to imitate that very person by whom he has been injured. In short, he who imitates a bad man cannot be good." Lactantius (250-325), a prominent Roman teacher of rhetoric converted to Christianity.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Preparing for You a Place of Love (John 14:1-6)

The whole journey of life is a journey of preparation. The journey of faith is to prepare the heart to see the marvelous face of God. The whole Christian life is a work of Jesus, of the Holy Spirit to prepare a place for us, to prepare our eyes to be able to see, to feel, to grasp the beauty of what awaits us--that definitive homeland toward which we are walking.

"Don't let your hearts be troubled," Jesus continued. "Trust God--and trust me, too! (Have faith in God and have faith in me)" There is plenty of room to live (there are many places of rest) in my father's house. If that wasn't the case, I'd have told you, wouldn't I? I'm going to get a place ready for you! And if I do go and get a place ready for you, I will come back and take you to be with me, so that you can be there, where I am (so that where I am you might be also). And as to where I'm going--you know the way!"

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Love and Obedience (John 14)

Theme: To love God is to trust him (Jn 14:1). When we love and trust God we obey him (Jn 14:15, 21, 23). Our ultimate obedience is to trust God regardless of our situation (Prov 3:5).
Pray that January 2018 may be the month of love. The last two weeks we touched on Real Love (Rom 12:9-21), and  Love at Ten Years (1 Cor 13:1-13)--last Sunday being West Loop's 10th anniversary. Paul says that love must be real (Rom 12:9) and that love is the greatest (1 Cor 13:13). This Sunday, we consider what Jesus says about love and obedience (Jn 14:15, 21, 23).

In 2013, while studying Jesus' upper room dialogues, I preached on John 14 with the title Believe in Jesus. My point was that when we simply believe in God without fear or doubt, all of our problems vanish away. That's what Jesus promised his disciples (Jn 14:1). It really seems cliche and simplistic or even unrealistic to say, "Believe and trust God and you'll have absolutely no problems!"

Yet our lives, even as we profess faith in God, is often inundated with our own frustrating problems and issues that never seem to go away, or that keep recurring again and again. Often without any effort, we keep falling into the same problem over and over: fear, lust, anger, bitterness, resentment, sorrow, unforgiveness, even uncontrollable hatred.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Love that is Genuine, Sincere and Real (Romans 12:9)

Just how important is love? What is the place of love in Christianity? What is the evidence that you truly love God? What Who When Why How.

Romans 12:9-21 - Love Must Be Real; Love and its manifestations. [The transforming power of the gospel: Christian conduct (12:1-15:13).]

From Rom 12:1 Paul shifts his focus from instruction to exhortation, from theological to practical, from "indicative" to "imperative," and from "what God has given us" (Rom. 1-11) to "what we are to give to God." Yet it must be noted that what we are to give to God cannot be produced independently of God's continuing gracious provision; it cannot be anthropocentric.

Commands are rare in ch. 1-11 (Rom 6:11-13, 19; 11:18, 20). To Paul, what he teaches in Romans has an eminently "practical" significance. For if we take the gospel to heart it will affect our lives in uncountable ways. In ch. 6 Paul makes clear that our union with Christ in his death and resurrection leads to "walking in newness of life" (Rom 6:4) and demands that we "present ourselves to God as those who are alive from out of the dead" (Rom 6:13). Now in 12:1-15:13 he fleshes out these general principles about the transforming power of the gospel by urging Christians to manifest the power of the gospel in specific areas of day to day life.

Ro 12:1-2 is one of the best-known passages in the NT. Its fame is justified. Paul succinctly and with vivid imagery summarizes what the Christian response to God's grace in Christ should be.

12:9-21 is a parenesis. It strings together admonitions of a general ethical content and is characterized by eclecticism (borrowing from many sources). Rom 12:9a is regarded as the heading for the entire section. Genuine love is the overall topic and the underlying motif of the section. In Rom 13:8-10 Paul spotlights again that love is the fulfillment of the law and basic to the section. Paul keeps coming back to love as the single most important criterion for approved Christian behavior.

There is no verb in the Greek in Rom 12:9. Paul says, literally, "sincere love," "genuine love" or "real love." These words are the heading for what follows, as Paul proceeds in a series of clauses to explain just what sincere love is. The addition of an imperative verb in all major English translations is not off the mark, as Paul's purpose is to exhort, not simply to describe.
Jesus singled out love for others as the essence of the OT law (Mk 12:28-34), and the central demand of the New Covenant (Jn 13:31-35), which is enshrined as the traditional and characteristic ethical norm of Christianity (1 Th 4:9; Gal 5:13-14; 1 Cor. 13; Jas 2:8-9; 1 Pet 1:22; 1 Jn 2:7-11; 3:10-18; 4:7-12, 18-21; Rom 13:8-10). The love of Christians for others is grounded in, and enabled by, the love of God expressed in the gift of his Son (Jn 13:34; 1 Jn 4:9-11). Love is a necessity and is an indispensable mark of the new creation in Christ.

Rom 12:9. Paul has already reminded us of this love (Rom 5:5-8). So basic does Paul consider love that he does not even exhort us here to love but to make sure that the love he presumes we already have is "genuine." In urging that our love be genuine, Paul is warning about making love a mere pretense, an outward display or emotion that does not conform to the nature of the God who is love, and who has loved us. The Greek word literally means "without hypocrisy," not playing the part of an actor on the stage. This same adjective is applied to love in 2 Cor 6:6, 1 Tim 1:5 and 1 Pet 1:22 (2 Tim 1:5 describing faith; Jas 3:17 describing "wisdom from above").

Friday, December 22, 2017

Discipleship Rooted in Love

"In the twilight of our lives, we will be judged on how we loved." St. John of the Cross.

"To love yourself in the right way and to love the neighbor correspond perfectly to one another; fundamentally they are one and the same thing." Soren Kierkegaard.

"Christian perfection is loving God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength. This implies that no passions contrary to love remain in the soul. It means that all thoughts, words, and actions are governed by pure love. Charles Wesley. For Wesley, all God is and does is motivated and governed by divine love.

"God gave love. God bestowed love. There brothers you have the scriptures of God." Augustine. "The entire finite universe disappears like a speck when placed on the scales of value next to the love of God." Kreeft. Love has infinite value.

"It is not by ideas and programs or by conscience, duty, responsibility and virtue that reality can be confronted and overcome, but simply and solely by the perfect love of God." Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

"Therefore let us repent and pass from ignorance to knowledge, from foolishness to wisdom, from licentiousness to self-control, from injustice to righteousness, from godlessness to God."  Clement of Alexandria.

"The (Bible) is God's open love letter to humankind and thus should be read with a deep hunger for the experience of eternal love." John Armstrong describing what the Bible is. When I know love through God-given experience, I can then love as he loves. This experience of love is what leads to true discipleship. God's love is central to Jesus' mandate to "make disciples" (Mt 28:18-20). At its core Christianity teaches that following Jesus in true faith and obedience really can radically change our lives, despite how our early influences may have shaped us in less than optimal ways.

"In love, our self and another become entwined, so that sorting our benefits becomes absurd. Do good for loved ones and gratefully receive the good that comes from doing so. Give and don't count the costs, but don't give because it costs. Give because there is a love for the recipient and glory in giving." Chad Engelland. The Way of Philosophy, 2016.

"A real love for God arises out of the knowledge of what God is like. But at the same time that we begin to have this knowledge, we also come to know what being in the image of God means. We long to have that image, covered over with the muck of everyday life, restored to what it was meant to be. Then we are able to seek our own salvation not out of self-hatred, but rather out of a love of our own life. We begin to see that if God loved human beings so much that we were given the gift of the incarnation, the terrible crucifixion, and the resurrection, then no one can offer any Christian justification for despising or hating any human being, ourselves included." "It is the way God made us when God set us in creation, for creation itself is changing. The real issue is not physical change at all, but moral or spiritual change, over which we (d0) have control." Roberta Bondi.

Love functions as the goal, yet love is also the means to the goal. Love is the language of the covenant, and the basis for discipleship.The Spirit loves us and draws us into the redeeming relational love of the triune God (2 Cor 13:13).

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Make Love Your Goal

"Let love be your highest goal!" (1 Cor 14:1, NLT) "Follow the way of love..." (NIV). "Pursue love..." (ESV, HCSB). "The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love" (Gal 5:6b).

The singular mark of the church should be love. Why? There are many reasons foremost of which is that God is love (1 Jn 4:8, 16). Also, the greatest struggle inside the church has always been love, or the lack of it. Yet the church (and the gospel) has often been reduced to rules, rituals, commandments, theories or organizational goals and concerns. The highest priority of various churches are outreach, worship, youth ministry, leadership development, evangelism, discipleship, church growth, mission, purity, holiness, sacraments, particular doctrines of particular Christian leaders, denominational concerns, etc. These are not unimportant and certainly have their place. But should such agendas and ideologies ever supersede the place of loving others, or relegating love to just one of the many things the church does?

What should the church do? Shame people or slam "bad" people? Win the "culture wars"? Elect our "Christian" candidate? The Christian church is singularly commanded to bear witness to God's love for the world (Jn 3:16).

"Love is not something you choose to do, but what you choose to be." Dallas Willard.

"(Jesus' cry of forsakenness from the cross was) the climax of his pain (and) the climax of his love. The fact is that if 'Jesus is Jesus Forsaken,' that is, the Son who entrusts himself to the Father, without residuals and conditions, in the act in which the Father seems to hide the name of Abba in the most cruel and darkest trial--if Jesus is this, then our faith in him is a partaking, through grace, intimately, in the very event of his abandonment. Our faith is carrying within us the faith of the abandoned One in the occupations of our day. Whoever finds this man has found the solution to every problem human and divine."  Chiara Lubich.

"By each action done to the sick and dying, I quench the thirst of Jesus for love of that person--by my giving God's love in me to that particular person, by caring for the unwanted, the unloved, (the) lonely, and ... all the poor people. This is how I quench the thirst of Jesus for others by giving his love in action to them." Mother Theresa.

"It is hard to find a church or para-church staff that is practically oriented around Jesus' instruction: 'Love one another, even as I have loved you' (Jn 13:34). You might think this would be their primary explicit goal, but it usually turns out otherwise." Dallas Willard, Getting Love Right, 2012.

"At the 'heart' of Paul's theology was the 'Gospel' or 'good news,' about Jesus as the revelation of God's love and the source of all benefits that accrue to us from it (liberation, reconcilliation, redemption, justification, access to God, sanctification, and so on). The proclamation of this mystery is what Paul called the 'good news,' and his primary concern was that those whom he brought to Christian faith might fully participate in the Paschal mystery and its benefits. (Paul) regards love as the 'super' virtue that joins together all the other virtues in perfect harmony." Daniel J. Harrington, Jesus the Revelation of the Father's Love: What the NT Teaches Us. 2010.

"We know little, but that we must trust in what is difficult is a certainty that will never abandon us; it is good to be solitary, for solitude is difficult; that something is difficult must be one more reason for us to do it. It is also good to love--love is difficult. Love is perhaps the most difficult task given us, the most extreme, the final proof and text, for which all other work is only preparation." Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926).

"Jesus calls men not to a new religion but to life." Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

Mt 5:17-20 is an indispensable text for understanding why everything "hangs" on loving God and our neighbor. From tradition we receive secondary forms of faith and practice. But what remains primary is the commandment Jesus gave regarding love for God and neighbor. All our religious practice and piety "hangs" on these commandments.

 "All the patterns, morals and predictions of the OT come to their complete realization in (Jesus). The first lesson we get in reading the Bible is this one: Look to Jesus as its central story." Scot McKnight, The Jesus Creed: Loving God and Loving Others.

"God does not demand great acts from us, but only surrender and gratitude." Therese of Lisieux.

"We do not achieve the disposition of agape love by direct effort, but by attending to and putting into practice the conditions out of which it arises." Dallas Willard.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Love Must Be Real (Romans 12:9-21)

Love must be real (sincere, without pretense). 
Hate (abhor) what is evil; 
stick fast (cling) to what is good. 
Be truly affectionate in showing love (show family affection) to one another (be heartfelt in your love to one another)
compete with each other in giving mutual respect (honor one another above yourselves). 
Don't get tired of working hard (do not lack diligence; never be lacking in zeal; in zeal do not be lazy). 
Be (set) on fire with (by) the spirit. 
Work as slaves for the Lord (serve the Lord). 
Celebrate your hope (rejoice in hope); 
be patient in suffering (bear up under tribulation); 
give constant energy (be devoted) to prayer; 
contribute to (participate in) the needs of God's people; 
make sure you are hospitable to strangers (pursue hospitality).