Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Perfect Love?

Loving others is important -- I think just about anybody on the planet would agree with that. Are you good at it? I'd like to believe I am, but I'm too fickle, too human, to love well, even most of the time. And to love perfectly? Out of the question, unfortunately.

John, the apostle who may have known Jesus best, says in his first epistle, 1 John 4 verse 18, that perfect love drives out fear, and fear is linked to punishment. Well, since my love isn't perfect, won't I get punished by God for that? I've beat myself up for decades on that one, trying to make my love perfect (and failing).

But that isn't the love John is describing here. It's not our love, but God's, that is perfect. Verses 9 and 10 say that "God showed how much he loved us by sending his one and only Son into the world so that we might have eternal life through him. This is real love—not that we loved God, but that he loved us..." So God's love is perfect, but how do we get his love?

John outlines God's love through the whole chapter in this way: Starting in verse 7, he says "Dear friends, let us continue to love one another, for love comes from God. Anyone who loves is a child of God and knows God." Well, this love must be something special, not just romantic love, or fondness for a pet or for chocolate. Verses 9 and 10 (I quoted those just above) define the love he's talking about: a love that sacrifices what you want, with the good of the other higher than your own good.

In verse 15, he says "All who confess that Jesus is the Son of God have God living in them, and they live in God." The Greek word for 'confess' in this verse means to recognize, face and admit, even to promise. It's commonly used in the New Testament to describe people's statement of allegiance to Jesus Christ.

What's with this "God living in them, and they live in God" stuff? In verses 2, 4, 6 and 13, he describes the Spirit of God and that it is the Spirit's work of living in us that produces God's love in us. Our loving like God depends on the Holy Spirit "who lives in" us (verse 4) -- not on our own effort. How do we 'live in God' then? By belief in -- allegiance to -- Jesus Christ, we have the promise of "eternal life" (verse 9); not just in the future, but since our life comes from him, we can say that we live 'because of him' and our lives are 'wrapped up in him' already in the present moment.

How do you know if you have the Holy Spirit living in you? Typically, from the time of baptism, although scripture also shows the Spirit drawing us before then. It gets down to this: if what John says about God's love, and our loving others, makes sense, if you know that you love this way (which is beyond yourself) and you desperately want to love more and know God's love more, that's the Holy Spirit's work. If you don't care, then the Holy Spirit hasn't gotten through to you yet.

But -- if this love is what your life has been missing, now's the time to pursue it. God has loved you since before he made the universe, but you can only experience his love by admitting how much you need it and asking him for it. How 'bout it? Why not now?

Tuesday, March 17, 2009


Trees and shrubs are budding out. New life is bursting out all over. Must be spring!

I think God chose the spring of the year for the centerpiece of his plan - the death and resurrection of the Son of God to bring us new life - so the visual metaphor of new life everywhere would remind us of the new life we have in Jesus Christ.

The book of Colossians has a lot to say about this new life. In chapter 2, Paul tells us that God has given us life in Christ: "You were dead because of your sins and because your sinful nature was not yet cut away. Then God made you alive with Christ, for he forgave all our sins." He starts chapter 3 by saying "Since you have been raised to new life with Christ..." and then gives some suggestions for living in a way that is focused on what Jesus Christ has done and where he is now (in heaven). In verse 10 he gives it a sort of summary: "Put on your new nature, and be renewed as you learn to know your Creator and become like him."

Plants and trees can only grow as they have good roots, getting nutrients from the soil that they can combine with the sunshine to produce branches and eventually fruit. Paul uses this metaphor too: "Let your roots grow down into him, and let your lives be built on him. " (2:7) Our source for nutrition and strength for a Christian life is -- no surprise! -- Jesus Christ. Being based on Christ is the only way we can follow what Paul says in 3:17: "And whatever you do or say, do it as a representative of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through him to God the Father."

In its own mysterious way, new life is budding out in the trees and plants we see outside. In "God's mysterious plan, which is Christ himself" (Col. 2:2) we also get to have new life, new growth, and the fruit of the Spirit. As you enjoy the spring season, I hope that seeing the new life in plants will inspire you to thank God for the new life he has given us in the Son!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009


I get my jeans dirty every time I wear them, because of the kind of work I do when I've got them on. So I wash them. And get them dirty again. I could keep them folded up in a drawer. But jeans are made for wearing, not hiding.

Once we accept the salvation God has for us (Romans 6:23 says "the free gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord") -- which is includes being washed clean -- can we just 'fold up and stay in the drawer'? Avoiding everything outside of our own house, or our own little circle, could help avoid sin, I suppose -- although sin will creep in as long as we're human.

Jesus gave us a job in Matthew 28:19-20: "go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you." So we can't just sit around being holy. There's life to be lived, and work to be done. Jesus also wants us growing, "measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ" (Eph. 4:13). And Paul was as serious as a mother in labor, to make sure the church was a group with "Christ...fully developed in your lives" (Gal. 4:19).

Being disciples of Jesus means getting 'out of the drawer and into the world', which can be messy sometimes. But we grow as we go, and go as we grow.

We 'measure up to Christ' in several ways. As we learn to love other people (who have sinned just like us) and help them find the same forgiveness we've found in Christ. As we learn to help one another grow, encouraging each other by Christian company, studying God's word together and being corrected by it. As we struggle through prayer, and learn to surrender our cares and our wrong desires to God. As we recognize our ongoing sins and go back to God, asking his forgiveness and accepting it. As we learn to ask forgiveness of each other, and give it freely too. As we teach others the ways of Christ (that's 'making disciples', like he said).

That's what the church (all of us, together) is to be doing. But unlike jeans, which get torn, dirty and trashed, we get to improve: 'And the Lord—who is the Spirit—makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image.' (2 Cor 3:18) So let's be doing both -- growing, and going.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Mortgage Life Insurance

Well, it's the first of the month again, and time to pay the mortgage. The loan is a lot of money -- there's a comma in the middle, and the rest of the numbers are a little frightening sometimes. And it's hanging over my head for the next 30 years! Sometimes people buy 'mortgage life insurance' so that if they die, the loan is paid off and their surviving family have a place to stay without paying for it.

In 30 years, I'll be (well, never mind how old) but I hope I'm still enjoying living here. In 30 years, some of us will finally be grown up, and some of us won't be here any more. But did you know that Jesus promises us a place to live, forever, with no mortgage payment?

In John 14, Jesus was telling his disciples that he was going to leave them, but 'prepare a place' for them -- and for us, of course, as the disciples of this day. What kind of place was it he planned to prepare? We don't know exactly, but look at what he says next: 'When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am.' Wherever and whatever that is, it sounds like a lot of security to me.

One more thing: there's no mortgage. No monthly payments.

See, Jesus had what we might call, in this context, "mortgage life insurance" with you and me as the beneficiaries. In John 19:30, as he was ready to die on the Cross, he said "It is finished." That was a sound of triumph as well as relief; the job was done. But you may also know that the Greek word translated "it is finished" is 'tetelestai' which also has a technical meaning: it was often written at the bottom of loan documents to show the loan had been paid. Your sins, and every other thing against you and God have been taken care of, completely.

Yup, that's the deal. He paid
off the loan with his death. He made sure that we don't have to make even the first payment on the new place. It's all done! He invites us to move, rent-free, now and forever, into his Father's house, where there's lots of room, endless love and more enjoyment than we can imagine.

If you haven't yet decided that this is the life for you, now's the time. (Shoot, when will there be a better time?) All you have to do is stop running away, face God through his Son, and start walking forward again. He'll show you the Way (John 14:6) and help you move, step by step. Ready? On three: One, two, ...