Category: Love


Good News

People who are not familiar with the Bible tend to look at it as a book full of rules and statements that Christians accept as true. If they scratch the surface a little further, they see the rules of a seemingly wrathful God (mostly in the Old Testament), and the nicer, more gracious teachings of Jesus in the New Testament.

That understanding misses the meat of what the Bible is trying to teach us.

The Law tells us what we ought to do, and that’s great as far as it goes. God cares about humanity, and tells us to Do The Right Thing, both toward Him and in being fair to our fellow creatures. But our experience – held up against this righteous standard – tells us we don’t always do the right thing. Our selfishness affects our relations with people and separates us from God.

The Gospel (literally, “good news”) tells us what God has already done for us – that we have been forgiven since Jesus took our separation from God upon Himself. He broke down the wall. It’s not a rule: it’s an announcement. All we have to accept it.

Easier said than done. People often ask if Christianity is easy or hard, and the answer is… yes.

It’s easy because the justification we could not achieve has been done for us. Christ paid for our sin with His own life and the resurrection is the graphic demonstration that in defeating the sin that bound us, He defeated everything attached to it – even death.

It’s hard because to just accept that and live in the freedom it brings is completely against our inbred desire to justify ourselves. We have trouble feeling good about our lives unless we do the work. The task of the Christian is to unlearn this way of thinking; to let go, to rest, and to just thank God for what He’s done. And (I can’t stress this enough) Christianity is not just agreeing with what the Bible says about God: it’s about trusting the person, work and love of God Himself for us and in us.

And we need constant reminders. Our actions we see and live with every day; but trusting an unseen God doesn’t come as easy. That’s why even experienced, instructed Christians need to keep up the good habits of reading their Bible every day, prayer and getting together with other believers.

But what freedom as light gradually begins to dawn in our hearts! It’s like water to a person dying of thirst, and one senses purpose, love, and radical healing of the heart. And it is offered to all who will simply come, “just as I am”.

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The Basis of Forgiveness

… is a recognition
1. of my own sin. These days it is unpopular to consider personal guilt; it is approached more like a neurosis than a moral fact. But all mankind displays this tendency to sin. No amount of education or social engineering can change that.
2. God really has forgiven me. This incredible gift is given not because I earned it, but because of His love for me.
3. Universal guilt also means we can’t brag about how much better we are, and none can judge. The Christian lives purely by God’s grace., and this is key if we are to avoid a holier-than-thou attitude.
4. As we live in this forgiveness, our hearts start to change for the better in practical fact. And that is just plain incredible.

Fundamentalism

Religious fundamentalism is viewed by most modern thinkers as the starting point of many great evils; that if we did away with it, the world would be a better place.

But I think that depends on what your fundamental is.

A few years ago a gunman went to an Amish school and shot ten young girls, of whom a number died at the scene, before taking his own life.

The families of the victim forgave the gunman and took up a collection for his widow.

To say this goes against the grain is an understatement. And if the Amish aren’t fundamentalists then I don’t know who are.

The difference is that their fundamental is a Man dying for His enemies. The cultural and political baggage that has sometimes attached itself to Christianity (and there is plenty) aside, this is what lies at the very heart of the Christian faith. Christians are told to forgive the same way that Jesus did, and for his sake. If they don’t, they are departing from its teachings.

What’s your fundamental?

Tolerance, Love and Politics

C. Everett Koop was Surgeon General during the Reagan administration. A social conservative and evangelical Christian, he took exception to the gay lifestyle at a time when the AIDS epidemic was ravaging the gay community in the 1980s.

But he fought to change society’s views of the disease and for federal support to find treatment options; gay or not, as Americans they formed part of his constituency and he fought for their good while educating Americans about the disease and its prevention. He remained unapologetic about his personal views, but he gained the respect of AIDS activists around the world.

His actions were consistent with his Christian faith.

Real tolerance is based on love. The civil person can disagree and should be able to say so (Koop certainly did), but must still strive for the good of the person who holds the opposing view, as Koop also did.

But how to define good? To promote acceptance of something you disagree with? That could go against conscience and would amount to tacit agreement with what one consider the other’s poor choice. On my own idea of good? The help will probably be rejected.

I conclude that the good to be shown happens on common ground. Both side agreed on the danger of the disease, and Koop saw that good as managing the AIDS epidemic even as he maintained his view that the best prevention was to be married and straight. In the same way, I won’t give an alcoholic another drink because he asks for it; but perhaps I can feed him or give him a blanket.

Tolerance do not have to mean an acceptance of all lifestyle options. It does mean discussions of differences should be civil (hence the term “civilization”) but in a liberal democracy all differences must be allowed and discussed. In fact, the right to have the discussion must be vigorously defended. The vitriol displayed in debates about alternate lifestyles is breathtaking; dissenting voices are automatically prejudged haters and bigots. There seems to be little sense of irony amongst some progressives, and their attempt to silence dissenters strikes at the heart of liberal democracy.

My love for my son is unconditional; but it does not mean I would support his becoming a crack addict. I’d be very frustrated to have someone tell me I was wrong to disagree with his choice; in fact, to just condone the thing that’s killing him would be a sign of indifference, of non-love.

Christian Freedom Part 2

I saw this saying on a fellow blogger’s site, beautybeyondbones, and thought it summarized God’s grace and our freedom beautifully:

Living FOR acceptance and love is bondage.
Living FROM acceptance and love is freedom.

The reason there is a cross in Christian freedom is that we are radically insecure. We seek to justify our existence based on what we and others think of us. It never quite works, though, and we try to dull the pain with toys and distractions.

But if we realize this soul-sickness for what it is, we can put it behind us by turning to God for our justification. What greater statement of our worth could there be that the very Son of God would die to secure our forgiveness and to give us a real hope?

But there has to be a letting go of self: it’s not just enough to turn over a new leaf, to force ourselves into moral compliance. The illness is such that the only cure is for is to come to the end of ourselves and our self-justification.

Insecurity and self-centredness are two sides of the same coin. We constantly crave affirmation, to be told we’re all right. But the praise fades and like addicts, we need more.

It’s a big step to realize this, and a bigger step to be willing to let it go, to die to it, finding our justification – our reason to live – outside ourselves: God Himself loved us enough to die for us. But when we finally do let it go, what freedom! Worry and striving evaporate, and for the first time we can live deeply: not trying to drug ourselves with distractions and toys, but to live life down to the roots, secure in His acceptance and living for Him, not because we have to but because it is perfect joy to do so.

THAT is real freedom. That is what we were made for.

Marriage and the Culture of Heaven

In the same way that Heaven demonstrates the other-centredness of love, it’s not a leap to see this at work in functional relationships. Lovers are not mercenary when they love their mate; it’s only when they think about what’s in it for them that they become so, and at that instant they cease to love in practical fact.

And this, by the way, explains why cohabitation and casual sex are disapproved of in the Bible.

Marriage is the binding of oneself by an oath to choose to love in spite of feeling; an admission of the fickleness of our hearts, and the taking of a vow to do acts of humility and love – to put the other first in practical fact even when it no longer serves personally or satisfies.

And there is perhaps an important point to make here: Love is a choice and an act before it is a feeling. Many will jettison a marriage because they don’t have the feelings they used to.

But did we expect otherwise? You can’t make yourself continue to feel something by force of will. Your feelings can change as quickly as your digestion or the minute a pretty skirt walks by.

Common law relationships make it easier to reduce love to a consumer relationship since there is no binding vow. They just move out when the relationship gets uncomfortable. That marriage is not honoured as much as before is not that there’s anything wrong with it; people just don’t believe in making a vow they don’t intend to keep. That’s at least honest, but it still puts self before the other; it’s still a consumer relationship instead of a promise.

Love is humble: humility is not thinking of how bad you are, but if thinking of the other before oneself. And that is what a marriage vow is about: that you will put the other first even when it no longer serves. It is love as a positive moral choice, rather than merely a reaction to how the other person makes us feel.

Heaven

“There is nothing in Heaven that the mercenary soul can desire”. CS Lewis

Is it selfish to desire Heaven? I think not, and a moment’s thought makes this plain. Let’s unpack it. A few quick thoughts:

a) God is love.

b) If you think about it, the nature of love is to look outwards, to the other. The Father loves the Son; the Son honours the Father. The Holy Spirit exalts all. God sends His Son for us; Jesus lays aside His glory, is born in a barn and is killed on a cross. He puts us first.

c) This self-abandonment, so evident in the Trinity, is essential to the nature of love. A letting go of ourselves is not so much a requirement as a structural necessity if we are to know God as our Redeemer and Friend. We can’t see Him when our own lives block the light; when God commands love, He invites us to the kind of self abandonment that has always existed in the Trinity.

The culture of Heaven is love and is therefore essentially other-centred. Nobody there seeks their own advancement since they are focused completely on living for and glorifying God.

When Jesus said there was no greater love than the laying down of one’s life for another, He illustrated this and then demonstrated His total commitment to us on the cross. If that’s the kind of love we must have to dwell in Heaven, it’s not hard to imagine there are many who wouldn’t like it there. Those who do desire it already display God’s work on their hearts.

Life, Love, and Zero Sum

“Love is the one true innovation”
– Jon Foreman

My mom was one of 21 siblings, and my grandmother said that whenever a child was born, love was born with it. There was an inexhaustible supply; there was ALWAYS enough love no matter how big her family got.

In nature, if one wins, the other loses. Economists call this “zero sum”; when you add up the gains and losses of both sides, they add up to zero. Assuming no outside interference, the lion gains food and life at the expense of the gazelle it eats.

Those who think the physical world is all that is real would agree this is the way things are, along with its companion: cause and effect. Everything happens because something else already in existence caused it.

But choosing to love against our natural inclinations is different. Think about loving an enemy, or even those whom we have no expectation of getting loved back. That is unnatural in the most precise meaning of the word, something that would not happen if nature took its course.

When we choose to love thus we create an event without a cause. And love as a moral choice is evidence that the universe is not a closed system: to die for a stranger or to love an enemy is just plain unnatural. Love reaches in and disrupts the natural order.

Those who say the physical universe is all there is must ignore this moral potential. They would reduce it to a series of chemical reactions in our brains but can’t give a logically rigorous explanation as to why someone would sacrifice or love with no strings attached. They may insist it’s the “selfish gene” or some sort of evolutionary programming to propagate our species but it can’t be proven by experiment and at any rate begs the question.

And this is why Judeo-Christian thought states that God is love, and that alone out of all the creation stories, only Judeo-Christian thought asserts that God created “ex nihilo”, out of nothing.

Because love alone can create events without prior cause. It can create care for the unlovely, love for an enemy – or create a universe. God loves, and commands love. And He further demonstrates this love when He becomes man, dies for estranged mankind and resurrects, His final word on the defeat of sin.

The Bible nothing less than the story of God’s proactive love reaching down to create a good world and then to mend it after we fell.

What Christmas Means

How God can allow pain in the world? What answer can He possibly give us? From ISIS to the gas chambers of Auschwitz it often seems He is silent.

And like us, Jesus as Man even asked the same: “Why have You forsaken me?”

But the answer was given over 2,000 years ago. At Christmas, we celebrate the fact that God became man, an act of staggering humility. But why was this necessary?

If we understand God is real, and that He desires relationship rather than just religious rule keeping, we must be free to choose or reject Him.

And in the only world where free will can exist, so will the potential for this chaos, pain and the evil we choose to do to one another. An act of divine power to just fix things would violate this freedom; so He had to come as a helpless baby to grow, dwell in our broken world and actually share in our pain. He identifies with us because He became human.

His answer was to suffer with us, and then to offer Himself as the atonement for our sin. And if He identifies with us, when we choose to enter relationship, we identify with Him: and what happens to Him becomes our fate as well.

His work was that, having died to sin, to rise again, through death to the resurrection: the defeat of the random, decaying order we see, an eternal hope for all will put their trust in Him.

If, in our identification with Him we died, we hope also to rise. This is the central belief and hope of the Christian faith: death and sin are defeated in fact.

He came to do so much more than teach.

Two Kinds of Legalists

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Legalists come in all sorts of flavours, but the common thread is that they look at the Bible as primarily a set of rules.

There are two kinds of legalists. Some try to justify themselves by obedience to the rules (religious legalists). There’s a lot of these in churches.

Others seek to justify themselves by rejecting the rules as too hard or modifying/interpreting to a more comfortable fit (liberal legalists). But both display a misunderstanding of grace, because both are still trying to justify themselves.

You can tell either type by the way they view those who don’t measure up. Religious legalists will be judgemental towards those who don’t follow the rules closely enough.

Liberal legalists, on the other hand, will be judgemental towards those they think are bigoted and intolerant.

Both consider themselves better than the people they judge, and they justify themselves by their own actions and enlightened attitudes.

The person who understands grace does not deny or change the rules. They acknowledge the claim the rules make on their lives; they don’t try to change the them to fit, but embrace their failure and trust in Jesus as their justifier. Remember the tax collector? “God, be merciful to me a sinner”. And he went home justified.