Posts Tagged 'God’s love'

I have been waking up early for the last two weeks. I’m not sure why. I’m content to stay up late and sleep late too; not much of a morning kind of guy. So it is indeed strange that all of a sudden I have been waking up at 6:45 AM and jumping out of my bed as if there were springs on my back and Wyle E Coyote had just pressed a remote control button activating a mechanism that releases the tension and sends me bounding into the day with reckless abandon.

Or at least that’s me waking up in the morning, for a week or two.

I share that short introductory remark about my sleeping and waking habits so that I can tell you this extra time has benefited me greatly. I have been using this time to read (and write, a little). I’ve been reading a lot. Today one of my books reminded me how amazing is this world and how wonderful is all that the eyes can see. I’m sitting behind a window, staring at a fake farm in a fake world, and right outside the window I am trapped behind is a spectacular, wonderful, grace filled world of trees and birds and spiders and flowers and grass and gravel and sunlight and paint and concrete and butterflies and squirrels  and the neighbors’ annoying feline.

About a month or so ago I moved my study desk out of my bedroom, to the downstairs, and in front of a window. I had grown weary of staring at the wall in my bedroom. Here I sit with my books surrounding me, my laptop beckoning me, my dogs crowding me, and the world open before me. There is a tree—one of my favorite trees: a Japanese Maple. It is a spectacular tree and I marvel at its grace and beauty. Have you ever seen one, ever beheld their breathtaking beauty and elegance? It is like arms reaching upward, palms upturned in worship, asking God for rain or light or a touch. It is balanced and perfect. It is a wonder to behold.

Hanging from the gorgeous Japanese Maple tree that God has so graciously permitted me to borrow for a while is a small red hummingbird feeder. My wife graciously created some yummy sugar water for the tiny birds and after about two weeks of hanging there silently, the hummingbirds finally discovered it. Now they make regular rounds visiting my feeder and, I presume, several other feeders in the area. I am amazed at their uncanny ability to hover (scientific explanations of how they do this hasn’t ruined my wonder of their doing so). I sit behind my window and watch the hummingbirds as they flit from hole to hole filling up on the succulent liquid. They are so perfectly designed, so wonderfully majestic, so majestically beautiful. I could sit and watch them all day.

I have two other trees in my front yard. They are tall trees. (The hummingbird has just returned. Now she’s gone.) The squirrels like to play in the trees. One day I went out and sat on the sidewalk. A squirrel walked right up to me and if I had had a peanut or a salad I suppose I could have fed it from my hand. It showed no fear of me. Although they can be annoying (David Crowder has written and spoken of how annoying squirrels can be) I love to watch them play in the trees. You can’t tell me they are not playing as they jump from branch to branch without a care in the world that they might plummet to their death. They frolic and play with abandon, throwing all caution to the wind and putting more faith in their furry tails than I put in my two feet. They are marvelous.

On the screen in front of me, the one that divides inside from outside when I have the window sash raised there lives a small jumping spider. I suppose it has a proper name, but I do not know what it is or care to look it up right now. I just call her Ma’am and I am very polite to her. She’s small and there’s glass between us, but I take no chances. I do not provoke her by tapping the glass or anything silly like that. I just sit and watch, amazed at how stealthily she glides across the screen looking for prey. I wonder if she prays?  I wonder if this glorious creature ever has thoughts about God? It is precisely that thought that prevents me from killing insects or animals of any kind. What if I squashed her under my thumb while she was praying to God? She is spectacular.

Every now and again I am also treated to a visit from a Cardinal. His glorious red feathers are all afire as he sits in the Japanese Maple or dares to hop over the white railing on my front porch. I love to watch him as he sits and looks at the ceiling of my porch. For a while, I couldn’t figure out why he would brave such a close encounter with my house when it is so clear that humans live here. Then one day I watched as he batted his wings, lifted off, and plucked a spider or another bug off the ceiling of the porch. He braved the encounter because he was hungry and found on my porch a wonderful restaurant, a smorgasbord of delectable delights. Look at the birds of the air…look at the birds on your front porch.

I could tell you about more. There’s also a Blue Jay that sits in the Japanese Maple cracking open seeds he gathered from the feeders we have out back of the house. I could talk to you about the Monarch Butterfly that just lighted upon the flowers surrounding the tall tree in my front yard. (I’d love to tell you about the two boys from across the street, the ones who are tormenting the neighborhood cat with their water guns.) There is the new grass that my wife planted that is the most perfect green I have ever seen, and delicate. There are the massive orb spiders that also live on the porch and scare me to pieces. There are the moths. The flies. The battalions of ‘Canadian Soldiers’ dead in spider webs. The Mosquitoes. The Ants. There’s more than I have time to tell you about this morning. But here’s the thing: I see all of this by looking out one small window, from one perspective, inside my house. I see all these creatures at least once a week, and most of them once per day. They are always there. And there is more: I haven’t even lifted rocks, dug a hole, or looked closely at the bark on the trees.

I am amazed at these things. Truly, utterly amazed that all of this is right outside my window. I am even more amazed that all of them, every single one will eat today. They will have enough and they will be here when I awake tomorrow and sit in this chair.

I marvel at God’s creativity and provision. I marvel that he allows me stewardship over some of this. I marvel that he is faithful in and caring (there’s a lot more too that I’m sure God also cares about as Jonah learned). I marvel that there is so much beauty around us and just two eyes to see. (I also marvel at how delicious olives are, even at 9:15 AM.) I marvel at the sunlight streaming down to touch the earth, that it still has strength and has not grown tired after traveling 93 million miles. I’m tired after five minutes. I marvel at the delicious, juicy sweetness of the Red Delicious apple I am consuming bit by bite.

I am amazed at God’s graciousness and grace. I marvel at his power. I marvel that his power is also love. I marvel that I am loved by him even though I am all too familiar with myself. I am amazed and I will continue to be amazed that this God of Japanese Maples and Humming Birds loves me. Right here, right now, the Holy King of Israel loves me.

“And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” (Ephesians 3:17-19)

The hummingbird just came back for a third visit. This time, he sat for a while and enjoyed the drink before flying off again. I am still amazed.

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“My deepest awareness of myself is that I am deeply loved by Jesus Christ and I have done nothing to earn or deserve it.”

–Brennan Manning, The Ragamuffin Gospel, 25

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It has been said that we live what we believe. John Piper recently wrote an article on evangelicalism and doctrine. (Doctrine means belief or teaching. In our context, that means the teachings of the Bible.) He quotes from Ronald Sider’s The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience to support his view that doctrine, right doctrine, matters to how Christians live. Not, I think, what we acknowledge as true, but what we believe is important. What we think about, and how we think shapes how we act. Romans 12:2 tells us to, “be transformed by the renewing of our minds.” Right beliefs develop right actions. Let me acknowledge up front that I don’t see this as a cut and dry issue. Nor do I think that every person who claims to believe the teachings of Christ has been transformed by them. Many examples can be given of people who hold to all the right doctrines, but are unloving. Of course, there’s a simple response to this – that they don’t hold to all the right doctrines.

Foundational to Christianity is love. It has to be when the very essence of God is love. He is relationship, three-in-one.* The very thing that defines us, that we proclaim and profess, that cannot be denied despite all of our denominational differences is that God loved us to His death. The virgin birth, the life of demand and stress, the teaching and the touches of hope and grace and peace, the quiet submission to torture, the obedience to the Father and the giving of life on the cross… were an act of love for us.

Our religion, our movement, our faith, our hope was born out of the cross… out of love. We love because He first loved us. 1 John says that anybody who does not love his brother, isn’t living in Jesus, isn’t living by truth. I’m guessing that the majority of examples that we could all provide of people who “have all the right doctrines” also have problems forgiving others, being generous to those in need, serving the marginalized of this world, and generally just don’t have much love. I agree with Piper that “God gives good press to good doctrine” (probably more than I agree with him on most things). But I can’t get over that God has given the best press to the following teaching:

“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: ” ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” Matthew 22:36-40 (NIV)

*Can love even exist outside of relationship? Some theologians think that the three persons of God, Father, Son, and Spirit, were not three before Creation and that They will return to the same state after the Second coming. I don’t see how this is possible if God IS love. The description of the three-in-one is most congruent with the teaching that He is, was, and will always be and that He is love.

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A while back, I read this fantastic little book called Perspectives on Election: Five Views. It is a helpful book–who could imagine that humans could even invent consistent supralapsarian perspective on election, let alone teach it to people in the pew–and yet that is one of the five perspectives discussed in the book.

The view range from that just mentioned to infralapsarian election (a variation on the Calvinist doctrine) to Classic Arminianism to Universal Reconciliation and the Inclusive nature of Election to Divine Election as Corporate, Open, and Vocational.

The authors are varied and include: Bruce Ware, Robert Reymond, Jack Cottrell, Thomas Talbott, and Clark Pinnock. Each author wrote from his own perspective and then the other authors respond with criticisms of that position based on their own position. So, for example, if Robert Reymond wrote about the supralapsarian position all the other writers wrote a criticism of his position each from the point of view they adhere to.

It is a fascinating book and if  you are interested at all in such discussion, you should get it and read it. Today’s thought for the day comes from this book and in particular it comes from Thomas Talbott who wrote from, espoused, and defended the position of Universal Reconciliation and Inclusive Nature of Election (a point of view that I do not necessarily endorse myself). Still, his thoughts are worthy of consideration.

Consider first a mere awkwardness in the doctrine of limited election. If God has commanded us to love our families, our neighbors, and even our enemies, as the New Testament consistently affirms, then a doctrine of limited election carries the awkward implication that God hates (or simply fails to love) some of the ones whom he has commanded us to love. Jesus declared  that we are to love our enemies as well as our friends, so that (a) we might be children of our Father in heaven and (b) we might be perfect even as our Father in heaven is perfect (see Matthew 5:43-48); that is, we are to love our enemies because God loves them, and we should be like God in just this respect. So why should God command us to love some of the ones whom he himself fails to love? The reply that we can never know in this life who are not the objects of God’s love may seem to provide a practical reason for loving all, lest we fail to love a true object of God’s love. But such an answer hardly accords well with the words of 1 John 4:8, ‘Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.’” (Thomas Talbott, Perspectives on Election: Five Views, 215)

So just exactly who are we to love? And please, for the love of all that is right and good, do not dismiss Talbott’s quote simply because he is a universalist. Consider carefully what he has said, and have at it.

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In my preparations for Sunday’s Lectionary readings, I came across this in David Jackman’s The Message of John’s Letters in the IVP The Bible Speaks Today series. The author is commenting on 1 John 4:20-21. I thought you might appreciate it:

“This final ground of assurance brings us full circle back to 4:7, where this major section began. When God’s love begins to fill our lives, he not only gives us a model of how we should live in our human relationships, but he gives us both the desire and the ability to begin to do it; to reflect his love others. Once again John reminds us of this most practical of all his tests of Christian reality. It is the easiest thing in the world to make a verbal profession of Christian commitment, or to say I love God. But if we do not at the same time love our brother and sister, it is a lie. Love for the unseen Lord is best expressed not just in words, but in deeds of love towards the Lord’s people whom we do see.

“Is this not one of our greatest sins as Christians today? We may talk a lot about loving God, we may express it in our worship with great emotion, but what does it mean when we are so critical of other Christians, so ready to jump to negative conclusions about people, so slow to bear their burdens, so unwilling to step into their shoes? Such lovelessness totally contradicts what we profess and flagrantly disobeys God’s commands. It becomes a major stumbling-block to those who are seeking Christ and renders any attempts at evangelism useless. In many churches and fellowships we need a fresh repentance on this matter, a new humbling before God, an honest confession of our need and a cry to God for mercy and grace to change us.

“Let us not avoid the plain teaching of Scripture. If we do not love those fellow Christians whom we know well and see regularly within our fellowship circles, we cannot be loving God. We may have occasional warm feelings, but these can be merely sentimental and unrelated to other people in their real-life situations. The proof of true love is not emotion or words, but deeds, which read out to help others in need. But the other side of the coin is that such practical caring love can be a wonderful ground of assurance. There is a divine obligation laid upon us all in verse 21. The whole law is summed up in the royal law of love and we cannot love God without keeping his commandments. His will is that we should reflect the image of our Creator, who is love, by our love for one another. Plummer quotes the words of Pascal: ‘We must know men in order to love them, but we must love God in order to know him.’ That is true, but John would insist that we add, Whoever loves God must also love his brother.” (131-132)

I really needed to be reminded of this today.

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Reflections on the Fifth Sunday of Lent

March 29, 2009

The Love of God in Christ

“You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! Not only is this so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.

“But Paul’s vision of God’s love, rising here like the sun on a clear summer’s morning, shines through all the detail that has gone before…God’s love has done everything we could need, everything we shall need. As Paul continued to explore the meaning of the reconciliation that has taken place between God and human beings, he delves down deep into the depths of what God had to do to bring it about….When we look at Jesus, the Messiah, we are looking at the one who embodies God’s own love, God’s love-in-action.” (NT Wright, Paul for Everyone: Romans, pt 1 chapters 1-8, 86)

Paul has spent a great deal of space telling the world, telling the church at Rome, telling anyone who would listen exactly how terrible is the predicament of man. It is bad. One might say that if it was bad in Paul’s day, it might be worse now. I doubt it. All bad such as Paul is speaking of is relative to the age. That’s not to say bad is relative, it is to say that the nature of the depravity is relative to the age. I agree with many who think that there is something terribly amiss in this world, in our culture, and in the church in general. I am not so pessimistic to think it is beyond redemption-in fact, I think that might have something to do with Jesus and why he came in the first place.

That’s what I love about Romans 5:6-11. If one were to read Romans and suddenly stop at the end of Romans 4, one might be left despairing and hopeless although, to be sure, Paul has dropped hints and given us glimpses of the beauty of what God has been planning for humanity such as chapter 3:23-24: “…for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” And perhaps also this in chapter 5:1-2: “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into the grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God.” But these hints in these places are hints. Here in Romans 5:6-11, Paul blows the lid off the whole thing: Here’s what God did despite all that I have written about in the previous paragraphs! And we are stunned. We are stupefied. We are knocked down; thrown for a loop. Our entire world is shattered by these few sentences concerning God and his actions.

How can we not be bowled over by such statements?  How can any single one of us, any of us, read such passages of Scripture as this and think that it means anything but what it says at face value? In the midst of all the wrath, in the midst of all the sin, in the midst of all the hate we have for God, in the midst of all the pride and boasting, in the midst of all the immorality, lying tongues, open grave throats, in the midst of all the convoluted ways we have chosen to live precisely because of our free-will-there is God. There is God! Standing at the dawn with his arms opened wide welcoming home all those who lived in the manner Paul described in chapter 1 is the God who loves. There is God! I don’t know about you, but when I read how God demonstrates his love (which leads me to understand how he really, truly feels about me) I am stunned into silence, humbled, humiliated; wrecked.

At just the right time God did the most inconceivable thing: No eye had seen, no ear had heard, no one could even imagine what God had planned for us; many still find it impossible to believe. Yet God was not even willing just to say ‘I love you.’ For God it was not enough to give lip-service to his great love for us: He demonstrated it. He made it visible. He made it concrete. He put his love on display for all to see. He so loved the world that he didn’t bother to ask anything of us. He so loved the world that he sent, essentially, himself. Paul will later express this love as such: “If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all-how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” (8:31-32)

Have any of us plumbed the depths of love this God has for his rebellious children?

For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. (Ephesians)

Is it possible to read Romans 5:6-11 and be anything but overwhelmed? Is it possible to read these verses and be anything but destroyed, thrown down, overwhelmed, and undone? Is it possible to consider that God loves us quite in spite of ourselves and be anything but humiliated and humbled? And so Paul can rightly ask in these verses: If God loved us this much while we were yet sinners, then ‘how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life?’ Or if God demonstrated his love for us while we were yet rebellious, then how much more ‘having been justified by his blood, shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him!’

I’ve been thinking about these verses because it seems to me that this God is rather amazing. Paul hasn’t written, in these particular verses, about the pride of men. He has written about how utterly confounding is this God who loves and forgives and heals and justifies and resurrects despite the worst man has to offer. “You see at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.”

So there it is again: Hope! Forgiveness! Healing! The love of God towards a people who are decidedly against him. He continues, time and time again, to astound us and reverse all our conceptions of himself. We hate, and he loves us. We run away, he chases after us. We curse, he blesses us. We sin, he forgives us. We deny he exists, he shows Himself in Jesus. We kill him, he Resurrects! We can’t really make out this God can we? We cannot really, truly comprehend a God who goes out of his way to make himself real to us, who so desires that we be his people and that he be our God that he will be crucified to make the point and to make it possible, who is so wildly in love with us that he himself will deal with our sins instead of asking us to. He makes a way where no way exists. He creates a people where none is. He extends mercy where there is none.

I’ve been thinking about this God who loves us quite in spite of ourselves. I’ve been thinking about this God who loves us. I’ve been thinking about this God who thought it necessary to demonstrate his love to us, and did so in the flesh; in Jesus. If there is anything that dispels pride in humans, it is this amazing God who loves; the God of grace. This is the God we need to preach and share and adore. This is the God who saved us in Christ.

The best irony there is is that God loves us. In spite of all the worst that Paul wrote we are, in spite of all the devastation we manage to conjure up because of sin, in spite of our creative habit of inventing new ways to die and kill and run away from God-in spite of it all: He still loves us. The Hound of Heaven dogs our every step and won’t relent; pressing in on every side.

Dare we imagine a God, dare we submit to a God-this God of the Bible, fully come in Jesus Christ? Dare we love such a God who dared to love us?

Soli Deo Gloria!

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