Tag Archive: 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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Hope

“They shall still bear fruit in old age; They shall be fresh and flourishing, To declare that the LORD is upright; He is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in Him.”
‭‭Psalms‬ ‭92:14-15‬ ‭NKJV‬‬

As long as we’re breathing we can honour God with our lives. This is a great comfort as one enters mid life with its typical existential angst and thoughts of mortality.

There’s a wonderful little song written by Annie Herring of 2nd Chapter of Acts fame:

Fly away little burden
Fly away off my shoulder
Yesterday was a burden
Yesterday I was older

Clouds of grey will fly away
And wait on me no more
I threw the looking glass away
He’s at the door

We serve a God who values us, who is Love itself. We were made for this: a life of love, meaning and service. There will always be others we can encourage, someone to love and help and tell them they matter because God made them. We have a real hope: in this world and in the resurrection to come, because Jesus has defeated death, and we will be like Him.

So take heart! Despair is not an option for those who belong to the King.

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

“Whom the Son sets free is free indeed” (John 8:36)
“Where the Spirit of the Lord is there is freedom” (2 Corinthians 3:17)

We hear a lot about how Christians have been set free, and it’s gloriously true. But we need to think about what that freedom really means.

Christian freedom has a cross in it. We are free because we have died to our old lives with its desires and pride, and our new lives are bound up in His. That means the Christian admits Christ’s primacy in and over every area of their lives.

Many take the gospel to mean they can do what they want because Christ has taken the consequences of our sin. But how can we be truly Christian if we remain centred on the self and its desires?

The gospel is far more radical than we are sometimes willing to consider. We are called to a complete humility: my old life with its desires and self-seeking is dead, and I am called to look to God for my affirmation. I don’t have to prove anything to myself or others because my identity and my future rests in His hands.

Our new lives, then, are entirely in Christ. Until we are willing to give ourselves completely to Him – to follow Him to the cross in practical fact – dare we call ourselves His followers?

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.

Truth and Mercy

If we are to come after God, it’s important that we know Who or What we seek.

Doctrine is about understanding certain facts about God, ourselves, and our relationship to Him. Until we understand our true situation we can’t appreciate what He has actually done for us, why He’s done it, and what our response should be.

A seeker of truth must be quite ruthless with him or herself, and be constantly aware of their own tendency to project their personal preferences into their belief systems. For to believe a doctrine that is merely agreeable to is to make God in our own image. It’s do-it-yourself religion.

A starting point would be to determine the reliability of the Bible and its authority. Is is really God’s word, or just the creation of a particular culture? What does it tell us about people and God? How does it relate to the world we see?

The Bible tells us a number of uncomfortable truths about ourselves, things not agreeable to human nature.

It tells us of a good God, the source of all sensible statements about the worth of all people and the goodness of creation.

It tells us of how we should treat others. So far, so good.

But then it tells us we break that moral law (as does experience), and are guilty before Him; and that the abuse of our free will has separated us from Him.

It tells us of what He did to make a way back, and how we can freely choose to return on His terms: by changing direction and choosing to trust in Christ’s atoning work and resurrection instead of relying on our own efforts.

This understanding is key. We need to understand we can’t save ourselves, or even change our own hearts. We need to distrust our own motives, and to understand our constant need of His grace.

But we can then look past our brokenness… to HIM. The redeemed soul understands its situation, but also knows that He’s saved us, not because we deserved it, but simply because He is love. And that because of that we are truly safe, and truly saved.

It tells us that the very power of death is broken, and that we have an eternal hope.

We need to hold these as truths in our hearts before we can come to God for mercy and supply. To do otherwise is to not know what to ask for and to tell Him there are parts of our lives He is not allowed in to.

The gospel is radical. God wants our whole heart, and will use life’s trials to keep us coming to Him for help. The changing our hearts in practical fact is God’s work, and He will make us into true sons and daughters if we will let Him.

Faith and Forgiveness

The heart that really understands God’s power can afford to forgive, to live a generous, open life.

To resent and hold things against people is the mark of a shrunken, insular spirit, turned in on itself and trying to live on its own meagre resources.

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.

There’s a Greek legend about a fellow names Procrustes, a rogue blacksmith from Attica. He had an iron bed, and he would force people to lie on it. If they were too short, he would stretch them until they fit; if too tall he would cut off their legs.

I wonder if we don’t sometimes do this with our own beliefs. People talk about finding a religion they like as if truth was something they could find at a supermarket; or if they already have a religion, of altering it until they are comfortable with it.

The problem is the nature of truth doesn’t allow this. If truth is really… well, true, it can’t be a matter of our own preferences. It has to be beyond opinion. It can be discovered, but not created.

We are told to be tolerant of other belief systems…
but what do you mean by tolerant? Accept all as equally true? That’s logically impossible, and quite useless if we want to discover anything real. By nature truth is exclusive; if one thing is true, its opposite must be false, just as it is possible to get a wrong answer in math.

But if tolerance means to allow others to believe differently and to put up with them in love – even when you are convinced they are wrong – that’s different; this kind of tolerance is the basis of a free and civil society.

But all belief systems – not just Christianity – must be open to examination and questioning; to prohibit this in the name of political correctness is to stifle free thought, to become less civilized and more totalitarian. And to try to convince by rational argument is not the same thing as to indoctrinate.

Christianity asserts reasoned freedom of choice, regardless of what its detractors may say; and even a casual reading of scripture makes this plain. It insists that those who come to Christ do so after considering the evidence for and consequences of discipleship. We are to “count the cost”.

This is why I don’t understand people who can look at what the Bible plainly says and then quibble about its interpretation. Are people honestly trying to figure out what the Bible is really saying, or is it a disingenuous attempt to twist it to fit how we have already decided to live? We want to be “spiritual” – but we want it on our terms. Whatever else you want to call it, it’s not discipleship.

And so we become Procrustes – but instead of lopping off an arm or a leg, we chop up the Bible to fit our own standard.