Theology Thursday 2.7.2013

Jesus, Love

Love is the motivation (1 Corinthians 13)

Without the right motivation any sacrifice we make is useless.  Whether we give everything we own to feed the poor or give up our life because of our beliefs it does not matter unless we have love.  Love is the motivation for all works that turn out worthwhile.  Actions that aren’t motivated by love become like a Pharisee’s observance of the Law: giving a tenth of everything (including the smallest herbs from the spice garden) and still missing the heart of the matter.

Love looks a certain way though.  It isn’t just a warm-fuzzy feeling that we get about a general concept or idea.  Love is grounded in God’s self-revelation in Jesus. Jesus commanded his disciples to “love one another”.  Love is wholehearted pursuit of Jesus; devotion to sitting at His feet and obeying his every command.  Both together. If we strive to do everything we do out of a desire to be in God’s presence and to be obedient to Jesus then our actions are worthwhile.  Otherwise they’re only worth throwing in a garbage heap.  Actions not motivated by love have no gain in them for us.  And love not motivating the right actions isn’t really love at all.

My Neglect.

God, Grace, Love

I’ve been experiencing some head-splitting migraines lately. The most recent episode was a couple of days ago. As  I was lying down on the couch, eyes closed, cold pack pressed to my neck, I began to hate the intolerable noise of the house. I kept wishing that it would just stop. Stop. STOP. But it didn’t.

I soon realized that I am too easily distracted and caught up in the normal noise of my life. It overwhelms me. It confuses me. It frustrates me. And I still choose to participate in the activities I think I “have” to do. Point-blank, I’ve neglected the most important thing in my life too many times. I’ve made it too easy.

God, forgive me for my tendencies to forget and neglect You.

You know, there’s nothing quite like a pounding pain to give you a wake-up call.

Citizenship

Church, Kingdom of God, Love, New Creation, Politics

WE NEED NEW LANGUAGE:

The apostle James writes that the way we speak controls our lives.  In the same way that you are what you eat, it’s true that you are what you say.  Our language changes the way we view the world…The kingdom of God implies a new citizenship, giving Jesus’ followers a new identity.  If our citizenship is in heaven, this truth should change the way we talk.  The word we, if a person is truly born again, will refer to the new people into whom a Christian has been born: the church.  Christians can no longer refer to “our troops” or “our history” because of their new identity.  Fabricated boundaries and walls are removed for the Christian.  One’s neighbor is not only from Chicago but also from Baghdad.  One’s brother or sister in the church could be from Iran or California – no difference!  Our family is transnational and borderless; we are in Iraq, and we are in Palestine.  And if we are indeed to become born again, we will have to begin talking like it, changing the meaning of we, us, and our.  We see the question of whether we should intervene in a case like Hitler in a whole new light when we change our allegiance and language: the resounding answer is yes: we, the church, should certainly help and intervene – but as Christians.

Shane Claiborne & Chris Haw (Jesus for President, 314)

Somewhere Over the Rainbow

God, Intimacy, Love

My friend knew I felt displaced in life—my ambitions and understanding of things suspended by a yoke of uncertainty—and so he asked earnestly, “So now what? What are you planning? What do you desire?”

I bit down on my sandwich and said with a longing, “I just want to be home.”

It was a fine answer for my friend, and it struck him with a nostalgia for his home in Nebraska where friends and family were left behind. It was pleasant to see him dream. They say home is where the heart is, so I almost couldn’t disturb the peace. But I did. And I did so at the risk of being misunderstood as gothic, or worse, suicidal. It is a lonely thing to be misunderstood, which is why I was surprised to have said anything at all.

What I meant was I wanted to be home home, you know, in paradise with my Jesus. You don’t usually hear this kind of talk except from the deathbed, right?

I don’t often ache for heaven, though I do for His presence; lately, the two are one in the same. If I think long and hard enough I am sure to find a reason and rhyme behind this aggression for eternity. Perhaps it is provoked by the fact that most of my closest friends are either in full-time ministry or married (or on the cusp). I kind of assumed by this age God would afford me an intrepid life for the Gospel off doing missionary work in an exotic land to an unreached people group. I would want Him to.

I had to backtrack to explain to my friend that what I meant was something inspired out of Philippians 1:23-24 “I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account.”

I cannot completely relate to Paul here since there seems to be an asterisk where the phrase ‘on your account’ is. I am not sure to whom I could or should say that to. Marriage would provide an easy answer in the wife. So would being a pastor in the congregant. I think the absence of an obvious answer allows me to relish in the far better—to depart and be with Christ.

C.S. Lewis once said, “If I find within myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probably explanation is that I was made for another world.” It is an uneasy aching, however. Paul wrote this verse while in prison with execution looming. I am young. There is so much life ahead of me to dwell on the premature. But there is nothing premature about aching for the presence of God. Nor could I say I truly understand the intent of eternity if I did not know the presence of God enough to ache for Him now. It would simply be a jargon of religious plurality for Paul to say I desire to depart…and then leave it open-ended to the imagination of someplace, such as a Nirvana or purgatory.

Every religion offers an afterlife. An afterplace. So does Christianity. However, the central message of the Gospel is not about a destination more so than it is about reconciliation. While on the cross Christ turns to the thief next to him and affirms him, “This day you will be with me in paradise.” Quite simply, the judgment and reward of eternity is not someplace but Someone.

All matter is corruptible, prone to depreciation and boredom. Pleasures fade. Beauty ages. There is nothing spectacular that isn’t susceptible to becoming common. And, if our highest imagination of heaven is materialistic, then our heaven is bastardized: for the luster of emerald studded gates will dull; streets of gold will turn pedestrian; the host of angelic creatures will be a tired zoo; and the mansion on the hill will rot into a den of pointlessness. In light of eternity, how long can any of these things amuse us for? It is like a child watching a balloon slowly deflate alongside his happiness. If the highest pleasures and amusements in the afterlife cannot by nature last for an eternity, eternity will quickly become something hellish. Heaven left to the invention of man is soon enough damned by man’s discontent for the common. The last thing you would want is to ask for all eternity, so now what?

The depravity of man is most profound and absurd in its belief that God merely exists in paradise but is not the Object of it.

The substance of the Gospel is that it offers an imperishable paradise in Someone not something; because God by nature is incorruptible. The glory, majesty, splendor, wonder, and beauty of God can run circles around eternity. He can never become common. Our worship never exhausted. Eternal life is to pursue You the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent (John 17:3).

It is the joy of my salvation for my heart to ache for the presence of God—to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. I just want to be Home.

Fall Colors

Creation, Gratitude, Intimacy, Love, Old Testament, Sacrifice

Malachi 1:6, “When you offer blind animals in sacrifice, is that not evil? And when you offer those that are lame or sick, is that not evil? Present that to your governor; will he accept you or show you favor? says the LORD of hosts.”

Last Sunday Pastor Jordan preached out of Malachi. A tough book to handle homiletically. It starts off affectionately enough but quickly tailspins into controversy (the whole “I love Jacob but hate Esau” talk) and crashes into the raw nature of a Holy God. The cordial introduction is made quick work of and feels like a contrived setup—though it is far from it—to simply catch its original audience off guard, that being, the Levitical priesthood who were more than responsible yet indifferent towards the corrupted priest-and-sacrifice economy originally designed to showcase a tradition and posture of mercy, of healing, and of worship, but that was instead bastardized by greed, laziness, and mockery.

It is not so much that there was a small margin of error in the selection for a proper offering, it is not as if God expected the priests to choose the “one” sacrifice in the same sense we may erroneously think of there being only one soulmate. There was no perfect sacrifice nor perfect choice, just the cream of the crop. The sacrificial system was to give, not out of the worth of the animal, but in response to the worthiness of God. It was not meant for precision and pressure, but for freedom to worship.

I cannot imagine how a jealous God absorbed the full extent of this insult when the priests deliberately went out of their way to give from the bottom of the barrel and not from the bottom of their heart. It was a spat to the face, and surprisingly enough God did not wipe out the people entirely. He was faithful, even in anger, to covenant love. To illustrate this He reminds them of a scandalous love affair with a conniving, undeserving scoundrel for a patriarch (Malachi 1:2).

And to prove there was no perfect choice, God chose to love Jacob. And to prove their was a perfect choice, God chose to sacrifice His son.

In one sweeping motion the cross unprecedentedly overturns and fulfills, on a cosmic scale, an unfinished system through the sacrifice of One. Done away with forever was the need for animal sacrifices in order to make way for worship in spirit and truth, which, ironically, nonetheless calls us to sacrifice still (Romans 12:1). God did not do away with sacrifice in general, just in particular. As the saying goes, “He who has loved without dying has not loved at all.” Yes, to say Christ is the consummate Sacrifice is absolute; to say Christ is the only sacrifice is left wanting, because then, what must I do with gratitude?

“Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship.”

Perhaps this verse is not about calling us to an old law but rather to a covenant Love, an explanation—to help us make sense—of gratitude. Paul does this with a refreshing truth.  Covenant love is not physical circumcision. The heart is the new circumcision. Covenant love is not animal sacrifice. Worship is the new sacrifice.

Gratitude can never do away with worship, in as much as, love can never do away with sacrifice.

Yet, I thought to myself during Pastor Jordan’s preaching, if my body is the living sacrifice, I cannot help but think that I offer nothing but blemish and lameness. With that realization, I could not but resign to sadness.

Then suddenly the Spirit lifted up my eyes and reminded me of something I saw that weekend.

With horchata drinks in hand and a discounted Domino’s pizza already downed, Ben Wagenaar and I created a homies paradise as we roamed aimlessly through the cool trails of the Nature Center talking about nothing new under the sun but enjoying brotherhood through the exploration of God and creation. I motioned for us to stop as we crossed midway over a bridge, as all this was new to me (I had never visited before), and my eyes beheld in shock at the beauty of autumn.

“Springfield is underrated,” I spoke out loud.

Running water trickled calmly underneath but leaped to meet with the falling rain. A few feet away a turtle pocked its head out of the water and stared in salutation. On the horizon, where earth meets the sky, the autumn trees appeared as frozen flames brilliant with warm colors.

I knew this scenery was only possible because a part of Mother Nature was dying. And she did so without fight nor tension. It was her desire to shed her leaves in order to embrace the harsh winter to come. As it is with life in Jesus, when we present ourselves as living sacrifices to God, we present ourselves as Fall Colors.

Beautiful in dying. Colorful in living.

A couple weekends ago I took a trip to IHOP in Kansas City, coincidentally also with Ben, and I heard Misty Edwards sing live. In one of her songs she sang, almost as if personally to me, during a time when I had nothing of myself worth offering,

I knew what I was getting into and I still chose you.
I knew what I was getting into and I still like you.
I knew what I was getting into and I still want you.
I don’t regret it; I am not shocked by your weakness and brokenness.

If you are not the cream of the crop, of which I never was nor will ever be, do not fret, through Christ you are altogether lovely; your worship as sweet fragrance. Being a living sacrifice is not a beauty pageant. God desires for us to live out a redeemed theology of brokenness and sacrifice, for only then can we can live out worship in spirit and in truth—that truth being, I am weakness and repentance, yet grateful and adored.

At the close of the service I prayed to the Lord as He wiped away my tears, “BE LIVING IN MY DYING.”