Archive for the 'grace' Category

I have a friend who doesn’t really believe there is such a thing as love. Oh, I don’t think that she thinks love doesn’t exist, just that in one way or another we are thoroughly incapable of the sort of love the Scripture talks about so often. We have debated this point often. I’m sure I always come away unsettled by the discussion–either because she’s right or because I don’t want to admit it. Either way, it’s become difficult to dismiss her judgment: Does love really exist?

One of the first sermons I ever preached (in first year homiletics) was about love. I childishly, naively, spoke of the glories of love and how love is like a diamond and many faceted. I remember extolling the virtue of love and speaking of its grandeur and magnificence. But it’s easy to write and speak about something being so grand when you have never experienced that part of it that is utterly disappointing. And love breaks the heart at times. There are times when love disappoints.

I am nearly 40 and I have loved and been loved. My mother still loves me; so does my wife. My sons do, for the most part. My dad does. My brothers too. I have many friends who love me. (I know I’m selfishly concerned about the love others have for me. It’s a two way street, I know.) I’m like Peter Gabriel who sang, “I love to be loved.” Yet, too, I love these I have mentioned deeply.

But still our hearts break and heal and break again–sometimes they stay broken. I almost let myself believe, in agreement with my friend, that love really doesn’t exist. Because of… hurt, hate, and helplessness. Here, then, is my thought, or question, for the day:

Why is it so easy to get angry at, or to resent, or simply to grow indifferent toward the very people we once loved? (John Eldredge, Waking the Dead, 113)

And if that isn’t enough, he continues:

A common story, I’m sorry to say. The worst blows typically come from family. That’s where we start our journey of the heart, and that’s where we are most vulnerable. (115)

So, if you want to go further with this, then click below to read the rest, but don’t be surprised if you don’t find what you are looking for. I have no answers here, only questions, and questions that cut deep into the heart of the matter.

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I am nearing the end of Justification by NT Wright. What an amazing read! I cannot tell you, in a short space as thought for the day, how important this book is, but I can give you snippets of its importance and let you decide for yourself. Here’s a wonderful, beautiful snippet of delight:

But the great story of Scripture, from creation and covenant right on through to the New Jerusalem, is constantly about God’s overflowing, generous, creative love–God’s concern, if you like, for the flourishing and well-being of everything else. Of course, this too will redound to God’s glory because God, as the Creator, is glorified when creation is flourishing and able to praise him gladly and freely. And of course there are plenty of passages where God does what he does precisely not because anybody deserves it but simply ‘for the sake of his own name.’ But ‘God’s righteousness’ is regularly invoke in Scripture, not when God is acting thus, but when his concern is going out to those in need, particularly to his covenant people…God’s concern for God’s glory is precisely rescued from the appearance of divine narcissism because God, not least God as Trinity, is always giving out, pouring out, lavishing generous love on undeserving people, undeserving Israel and an undeserving world (NT Wright, Justification, 70-71).

There’s more to it than that, of course, but I promised a snippet.

I agree with him. There is a big-arch to Scripture and we do well to notice it, preach it, and live it. Oh Happiness! There is grace enough for us and the whole human race! And He wants us to know it.**

**disclaimer: that is not, in any way, intended to be a plug for ‘universalism’ of any stripe. so please, please, don’t go there.

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I think I know what the problem is when it comes to Genesis, creation, and my faith. The difference between myself and others is that I’m not static in my understanding and I’m not afraid to explore the possibilities presented by alternate points of view and interpretation. I’m not afraid to be challenged even if I happen to put up a good fight along the way. I blog because I want to learn not because I believe I have anything particularly thoughtful or original to say. I’m writing this post not as a lesson on creation or origins or hermeneutics (even though I know some will invariably go that direction and thereby miss the greater point); I am writing this post as a thought or two about faith.

“We know in part,” Paul wrote, “then we shall know fully, even as we are fully known.” (1 Corinthians 13:12)

I know what I believe; I do not know completely what I do not believe. The possibilities are endless, but I also recognize that a large part of my problem is that I graduated from Bible college nearly fifteen years ago and, to a large extent, I never quite treating the Bible like a textbook. I know how I feel about textbooks—they disseminate information, present information on beautifully illustrated pages, and give us enough giddy-up in our heads that we can create pie-charts, graphs, and systematic manuals all day long, all night long, till we are puking out information to our classmates or writing blog posts or research papers just to get it out of our minds.

One of my classes is Introduction to Special Education (ESE 500). Every week we have a 20 question test over the chapter material. Maybe we feel that way about the Bible sometimes—like there’s going to be a test at the end and if we do not get all the answers right then we will not get the credit we feel we so richly deserve after having diligently studied for the test, read the chapter, and memorized countless charts, graphs, and graphic organizers. I’m not a test taker so if there is a test, an entrance exam, I’m out for sure. I’d rather write a paper.

Scripture is not a textbook; it is a story.

I hate charts, graphs, and graphic organizers. Even in Special Education, how can I justify my making a person’s disability into a spread sheet? People are not pie charts; furthermore, passing a test is not necessarily an indicator of whether or not I know the material or whether I can do the job or whether or not I care. Conversely, the Bible is not a textbook that we should study as if there will be an exam. Nor, for that matter, is our particular knowledge or understanding of the Bible the badge determining whether or not we ‘can do the job’ (live by faith), love God (in Jesus), or love our neighbors as ourselves.

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It is not uncommon to hear the argument against [insert favorite ODM whipping boy here] that s/he is popular with or respected by the “world”.  Conversely, disdain by the “world” is seen as a stamp of godliness.

Now certainly, Jesus did warn His disciples that if He was getting persecution, they definitely would.  But one of His disciples also noted that sometimes we suffer simply because we’re booger-heads (1 Peter 2:20).  As with many things there is a distinction made here, and “A” does not always imply “B”.

John Calvin wrote about this distinction, and Tim Keller quotes him and expounds on the thought.  Keller (citing Calvin) notes the danger of missing the distinction, and suggests that those that miss it are acting not out of courage, but out of pride.

A good, quick read.  I recommend it to you.

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I hope you get the opportunity to hear this song in its entirety. It’s from the new Crowder CD.

Oh, happiness
There is grace
enough for us
And the whole
human race.

–David Crowder, Oh, Happiness

Be blessed and well my friends.

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“The Lord said to me, ‘Go, show your love to your wife again, though she is loved by another and is an adulteress. Love her as the Lord loves the Israelites, though they turn to other gods and love the sacred raisin cakes.’”—Hosea 3:1

“I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.”—Revelation 21:2

I had a moment of clarity yesterday during worship. Maybe not so much clarity as stark, hard, cold reality slapped me across the face. It happened, strangely, not during the sermon (which was excellent and listened to intently); it was not during the songs; it was not during the time when we received communion at the altar (although there are a lot of things that were realized while I knelt and received the body and blood of Christ).

It happened, strange as it may sound, when my wife held my hand.

I think of 18 years of marriage and what has she seen, heard, and known about me and there she stands in the place where we are most unmasked, most undone—the worship—holding my hand while we pray. Is anything more absurd? Is anything more true and untrue at the same time? I held her hand back; later I pulled her close and put my arm around her. But she is the one who started it. She held my hand. It’s funny, I know, so go ahead and laugh.

I’m not one for public displays of affection so the hand and the arm are about as far as it gets, but there was that moment of clarity when I realized that this woman, this beautiful, spectacular, young, cooks-a-mean-pot-o-chili, girl—still loves me. After all she has seen; after all she has heard (and she has heard nothing short of the most ungodly misery over the last 4 and half months); after all the foolish decisions I have made; after all the poor choices I have decided upon at one time or another; after all the times when I have been mean and unpleasant at best—there she stood, in the worship, in the Spirit, in the presence of Holy Christ holding my hand. Not ashamed. Not embarrassed. Loving.

I’m not sure which is more amazing: that she has stayed married to me or that she has not filed for divorce.

I’ve heard a lot of complaints about the church; many of them are true. Many of them are hurtful. Many of them are just unhappy people complaining because they have nothing better to do. Often the church seethes with ugliness. And much more often there are those among us who do really well at complaining about how ugly the church is. It’s easy to point out the ugliness and wrong and think that what is best for the church is to redo the way we do church. I suppose that is what the satan does all day long as he constantly accuses the church and slanders her (Revelation 12:10, just so we know where the accusations really come from.)

Everyone has a better plan for the church–and a better picture, a better idea to make her more pure, more perfect, more holy. And everyone has a swell picture of all that the church has done wrong. We are adept at painting pictures of ugliness. Reading through Scripture gives that idea sometimes: the church can be an ugly place, the church can be an unfaithful bride. And yet all Jesus does is continue to love us in spite of ourselves. “Go and love your wife,” the Father says to the Son.

My dad taught me that lesson one time too after my wife had an argument with my mom. “Dad,” I complained, “what am I supposed to do?”

“Go with your wife. Love her.”

Then there’s God’s words to Hosea: Love your wife.

Then there’s John’s vision: I saw the Bride; beautiful; glorious.

And Jesus remains faithful to us even though we are, well, what we are. He—as amazing as this is—stands there in the worship and holds our hands, covers us with sloppy wet kisses, puts his arm around us with deep affection, and loves us. The wonder is that despite our fears and inhibitions to demonstrate our affection publicly, I wanted to dance yesterday and didn’t), he stands right beside us and can’t stop showering us with affection.

I cannot escape the wonder of it: She loves me; He loves us. Can you make sense of it either?

Yes. “The church is wicked, evil, wrong, hypocritical, blah, blah, blah, etc, ad infinitum, and so on and so forth…day and night, forever and ever…”–the world.

“HEY WORLD, HEY ACCUSERS, HEY HATERS, I STILL LOVE MY BRIDE!”–Jesus

The wonder is not that we are in worship or taking communion or singing songs. The wonder is not that we have anything to bring before him. The wonder is that He shows up.

The church is bloody. Beaten. Bruised. Crushed. Unfaithful. Undone. Rebellious. A whore. And loved. Loved. Loved–loved more than we can hope or imagine or dream. Sometimes we try to hard. The wonder is that He loves us in spite of our complacency.

Jesus loves his bride. The wonder is that after all the years, after all the anger, after all the sins, and mistakes, after all the unfaithfulness—He remains. The wonder of it all is that Christ Jesus has not divorced the church. The wonder of it all is that though now we are beaten, broken, and bruised, yet someday we all together will be that beautiful bride prepared by God and ready for the wedding-feast.

though i am poor and needy
my Shelter You’ll be
not by my merit lead me
to where You say

waste my time on lover’s quarrels
speed my breath and hope to stumble
out of my disdain and still
You Remain
–Jennifer Knapp, You Remain

The wonder is not that I am a catch or pleasant or all that much fun to be around. The wonder is that Renee loves me. The wonder is that she is faithful. The wonder is that she has not divorced me. The wonder is that after 18 years she is still here, still refreshing me each day with her affection, grace, mercy, and love. The wonder is that she believes that I am worthy of her love even though I am clearly not.

I fact, I can think of no better metaphor for grace than that of the love that a wife has for her husband. Marriage is about so much more than we think. Marriage is about so much more than feelings. Marriage is about holiness and Christ means to perfect us thus he stays with us, faithful in season and out of season, day in and day out, rain and sun—the wonder of it all is that he still loves the church. And he will purify us because he is faithful, because he loves us even when we fail.

Ugly we may be. But we are loved. And nothing or no one is going to change Jesus’ mind about that.*

*I hate to have to add this disclaimer, but the internet can transmit ideas that were not intended by the author of a blog post. Thus, my post should not be interpreted to mean that I have been unfaithful to my wife in any physical way. Of course, as with most men (except the superheroes among us) my eyes and heart have been wayward at times, and I have confessed and repented. And Renee and I have talked about this and she assures me that although she believes Don Draper is dreamy she has not been unfaithful to me either.

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Today’s Gospel lesson was taken from Mark 12:28-34.

And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” And the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher. You have truly said that he is one, and there is no other besides him. And to love him with all the heart and with all the understanding and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself, is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” And when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And after that no one dared to ask him any more questions.

I’m sure all of you have heard sermons from this passage or read it. Maybe you have a t-shirt with these words emblazoned on them. I do not know what you have done with these verses, if anything.

This morning as they were read to the congregation by the pastor heard something that struck me as meaningful. It’s that small word: ‘is’. It is there in plain sight. It’s not making any attempt to hide itself. There it is.

Is.

The greatest commandment is. (v 29)

There is no other commandment greater than these. (v 32)

‘Is’ bookends Jesus’ thoughts.

And not only that, but Jesus’ answer stymied everyone so badly that ‘from then on no one dared to ask him any more questions.’ Not one more? Really?

So what Mark is saying is that Jesus’ answer was so profound, so deep, so meaningful, so wonderful, so inspired that it answered all questions they had and all questions they might be considering. Whatever question they might have had from that day forward, in the future, they could not ask because, for better or worse, they remembered this answer and it silenced them. (I wish I had that sort of intellectual prowess.)

Is.

The tense of the verb has not changed. I suspect that if Jesus were standing right beside us, or if he were over there and we had to run up to him, and we asked him this question his response would be the same.

There’s not much point in giving us any other commands. I think I know what the fella was getting at. It was something like, “OK. I’ll just ask Jesus what the greatest command is. I’ll do it. Then I’ll be all set.” Then Jesus completely undoes the man by telling him that the greatest command is neither as sublime nor mundane as he might have supposed. It’s neither; it’s both.

Is.

I think Jesus’ point is something like this: “You are gonna have trouble enough with this one. Manage this and you will be set.” Right.

It’s enough to love God and to love people. That love will manifest itself in a thousand million ways. For some it will mean suffering alongside those who suffer, for others it will mean marching alongside those who march. For some it will mean protesting the vilest and most disgraceful among us, and for others it will mean giving a cup of cold water in Jesus’ name to our worst enemy. For some it will mean fighting wars, for others fighting peace. It will mean discovering and rediscovering each day how to love people, all the people, whose paths we cross, whose lives intersect ours, a thousand times a day.

Right now loving my neighbor means loving a young man in my neighborhood who treated my youngest son badly today, physically by hitting him and emotionally by saying vulgar things about my son’s mother. I know I could call him out (he’s on my little league team and really wants to pitch next year). I could call his mother. I could make him stand in the hallway at lunch tomorrow and eat by himself. I could impose my fairly large size and intimidate him. But that would not be love, would it?

Is.

The command doesn’t change just because we do. The command has not been altered or rescinded just because we are seeing Jesus say it on paper and not with his mouth. The command has not been countered just because we hear it in our hearts and not with our ears. I heard someone say, “You can love your neighbor without loving God, but you cannot love God without loving your neighbor.” True.

Sometimes I wish we had the option though, don’t you?

I have to teach my son that I will protect him, but that I also still love the young man who treated him poorly. Not an easy choice for someone like myself who is anything but a pacifist, someone who swore a long time ago an oath against bullies and punks and all sorts of bully mayhem.

I’m stuck on ‘is.’

It’s easy to love God so long as I do not have to put flesh on him, but make him a person who is as worthy of my love as I suppose God is and I am undone. And there is no getting around it. Jesus said, and I either believe it or I do not, ‘is.’ You know as well as I do that ‘is’ leaves none or less room for wiggle. Nor, for that matter, is it something we have the right to contemplate. ‘Is’ is ‘is.’ There are no two ways about it. The greatest commandment is the two things we find it most difficult to do: Love God; love people.

I’m stuck on ‘is.’

But maybe that’s not such a bad place to be.

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I’m pressing my luck using this series, but I want you to understand that even though at this point much of Claiborne’s argument is lost on me, I am trying hard to understand his point of view. I think he has many, many important things to say and that we should listen when we can and even when we cannot.  So if I am arguing with you loudly during these posts it’s not because I necessarily disagree with you it is because I’m am speaking out loud my objections to what I read in order that others among us can help clarify what I may have missed.

So I press on in the hope that I might have a deeper understanding of the faith that I profess and cling to. Since the Lord has seen fit to silence my voice for now and prohibit me from entering the pulpit for a season, I think it best to learn to listen to those around me. This means reading books by authors I might not otherwise read (like Claiborne, or Lamott, or MLK). It’s all a part of the reshaping of my faith all over again for the first time ever. It happens about every ten years or so for me. So here’s today’s ‘whaddya think?’

Hell is not just something that comes after death but is something many are living in this very moment: 1.2 billion people groan for a drop of water each day; more than thirty thousand kids starve to death each day; and thirty-eight million folks are dying of AIDS. It seems ludicrous to think of preaching to them about hell when we would do better sitting at the well and asking them for a little water. We see Jesus spending far more energy loving people out of hell, and lifting people out of the hells in which they are trapped, than trying to scare them into heaven. And one of the most beautiful things we get to see in community here in Kensington is people who have been loved out of the hells they find themselves in–domestic violence, addiction, sex trafficking, loneliness.

[...]

…Jesus reassured Peter that the ‘gates of hell will not prevail against you.’ As adolescents, we understood that to mean that the demons and fiery darts of the Devil will not hit us. But lately we’ve done a little more thinking and praying, and we have a bit more insight on gates. Gates are not offensive weapons. Gates are defensive–walls and fences we built to keep people out. God is not saying the gates of hell will not prevail as they come at us. God is saying that we are in the business of storming the gates of hell, and the gates will not prevail as we crash through them with grace.

[...]

People sometimes ask if we are scare of the inner city. We say that we are more scared of the suburbs…As Shane’s mother says, “Perhaps there is no more dangerous place for a Christian to be than in safety and comfort, detached from the suffering of others.” We’re scared of apathy and complacency, of detaching ourselves from the suffering.  (Jesus For President, 291, 292)

Whaddya think? There is much in these statements that I agree with entirely. But I want to know what you think. Later, if I argue with you, don’t get angry. Let’s learn together.

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And the amazing thing is that when we have nothing else to say, He is still willing to listen. Happy Monday.

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During the Willow Creek Association’s Global Leadership Summit this year Tim Keller spoke from the text of the parable of the prodigal son. He recently wrote a book titled The Prodigal God and I assume much of what he said is expounded upon in the book which I plan to read soon.

Tim mentioned that the word prodigal also incorporates the idea of reckless expenditure and because this parable involves the reckless expenditure of love by the father (i.e. God) Tim titled his book The Prodigal God. The sub-title (aim) of the talk was to diagnose spiritual deadness and reveal the cure for it.

The parable of the prodigal son was told to Pharisees and religious folk. In Luke 10 we read that the Pharisees and scribes complained because Jesus ate with and received sinners. In the light of this Jesus told three parables, the third of which is the prodigal son.

In the parable we often miss the fact that it was not only the younger brother that was alienated from his father but so was the elder. The younger did not love the father but rather he loved the money of his father and so he asked for his share of the inheritance and goes and spends it. But the older brother wasn’t much different and his attitude is revealed in Luke 15:29

“he said to the father, Behold, so many years I serve you, and I have never transgressed a command of you. And you never gave a goat to me, so that I might be merry with my friends.”

He also was after his father’s possessions though he went after it in another fashion.

At this point Tim mentioned that people try to gain salvation in two ways. The one way is like the younger brother – ignoring God and be immoral and irreligious. The other is like the elder son – be very moral and religious. But in both these ways the heart of the person is not drawn to God but rather what can be gained from God – salvation.

By the end of the parable it is the older brother that is outside the house trying to save him. He is lost because of his goodness. This is what religion does. It acts morally in order to gain salvation while salvation is not gained in that manner. Religion says obey and be accepted. Elder brothers serve God to get things from God. In other words doing what they think is expected of them and so getting leverage over God.

The Gospel turns this on its head – you are accepted, now obey out of love towards the One who accepted you. We get a righteous record because of the Son and then obey because we want more of God himself not of what God can give us.

So, diagnosing spiritual deadness – it is caused by the attitude of the older brother. At one level we believe the gospel, but persistently our hearts go back to religion – we go back to being elder brothers. Elder brothers, and here is the source of spiritual deadness, believe they’re getting leverage over God

  • Elder brothers get angry when their life doesn’t go well
  • When elder brothers are criticized they either attack or are demoralized
  • There is no intimacy in an elder brother’s prayer life – it is about what is to be gained
  • Elder brothers have a sense of superiority because of their good works. Their self image is based on right doctrine and they loath all who disagrees with them.
  • They look down on people who have or know less as lazy
  • They get merciless – forget from where they themselves where saved

What to do about this spiritual deadness.

  • Get to a new level of repentance.

    Repentance that means much more than just being sorry for wrong done and confessing it. It goes to the level of repenting for the reasons behind actions both wrong and right. Repenting from that motivation behind our good actions that seeks to gain something from God.Often the elder brother/Pharisee types are even proud of their repentance. It is one more “good” thing to do by which leverage over God can be gained.

  • Break through to a new level of rejoicing.

    Here Tim touched on something I have never thought about before. The estate of the father was already divided in two because of the younger brother’s request. He went and spent his part of the inheritance so the only reaming part of that estate would then be the elder’s inheritance. At the return of the young brother the father commands a feast must be held and the young brother is given a ring and robe – all of it at the expense of the older brother’s part of the inheritance! Understandably the older brother is furious. Here this squanderer of his father’s possessions comes back and gets all the advantages of the household for which he has not worked and that at the expense of the older brother – scandalous!

    We however have an elder Brother quite unlike the one in the parable. Our elder Brother brings us back to our Father at His expense – his very life.  We, the squanderers, gets welcomed back, a feats is held and we get to share in all of God’s house – all at the expense of our elder Brother.

    This moves us to humility.

    This is cause for rejoicing.

This is truly Good News!!!

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