Loving All of God

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God is love.

Love

God is justice.

Justice

God is tender and merciful and He is sharp and condemning.
To love God is to love everything about Him. Even the parts we don’t understand. Even the pieces we wish were different.

Merciful

To wish that God were only comfort and healing is to wish away judgement for those who abuse children, rape women, sell humans. It is to wish away the cross, and this diminishes Christ’s sacrifice.

Condemning

When we wish for God only to be mercy and grace, we wish away His sharpness, and it is His sharpness that prunes and perfects us.
Christ’s love is not the soft love of human emotion, but a burning fire that cleanses and sears. It is a love that demands self-sacrifice. ~ J. Heinrich Arnold in The Center
And sacrifice is the only way to conquer death, defeat Satan, rescue the world.

Grace

So we come full circle.
To love the saving, forgiving piece of God is to love the judging, condemning part of God.
These pieces which come together in the Christ who hangs on the cross.

Sharp

On this Good Friday, look up at His bloody form and love Him.
All of Him.

Famine in the Land

Word
Bread
 Light
Amos, the herdsman turned prophet.
The visionary with the visions of things he kept talking God out of doing.
Too much! he would say, and God would agree.
Locusts forming up to devour the land.
Too much! And they were turned away.
Fire consuming the deep places in his country.
Too much! And they were put out.
Amos looked around at the men lounging around eating their fill of the richest of foods and throwing the rest to the hounds.  He looked around at the women dressed in the finest of cloth and adorned with the choicest of jewels.  He looked around at the leaders and their wives lying on beds of the softest linens and dabbing themselves with the sweetest perfumes.
Amos also looked at the men and women who fought with the rats for the stalest of bread, who froze when the wind whipped through the largest of holes in their shirts, who slept with the cockroaches on the hardest of stone.
He said there would be famine.  A famine and a thirst and a loss of the sun in the middle of the day.  But not a famine of bread or a thirst of water.
No, this famine would be far worse.  It is a shortage of the words of God.  It is a loss of the light of His face.
The rich and the lovely would be doomed to run from sea to shining sea, searching and thirsting for the Word of Life.
It is a loss of light, a loss of life.  It is the loss of God himself.
Towards the end, God will make himself so scarce that the world won’t even know what it’s starving to death for. ~ Frederick Buechner in Peculiar Treasures
Too much!
May God have mercy and not abandon us to our own selves and desires.
Lord, we would have more of You.

Piety or Knowledge?

I have written before of the battle between holiness and justice.  Some say we are to focus on our own moral purity, on becoming more like Jesus.  Others say we are to focus on social justice for others, on being Jesus to those around the world.
Holiness
Justice
When describing the wickedness of Israel, Isaiah says “He looked for justice, but saw bloodshed; for righteousness, but heard cries of distress.”
It seems that one of the Deceiver’s favorite ploys is to take a set of discipleship practices, a pairing that works best when done in concert with each other, and separate them, throwing them into battle with each another.  In doing so, he not only diminishes the efficacy of both practices but he also divides the very body of Christ.
Clearly both holiness and justice are important.  We should not focus on half of God’s commands to the exclusion of the rest.
Another battle I’ve been trying to understand is the battle between piety and knowledge.
Is it better to obey God, to act on His behalf, or is it better to learn about God, to know what it is He commands?
piety
knowledge
Some would say that knowledge is too dry, that the life of the mind is on par with selfishness.  It brings to mind ivory towers and keeping oneself unsullied by the realities of the real world.
While it is true that focusing solely on knowledge and learning would keep one from ever actually helping this world of hurting people, modern church culture seems to lean too heavily in the direction of anti-intellectualism.  There is a growing spirit of pragmatism in our churches.  A spirit whose first question about an idea is not “Is it true?” but “Does it work?”.
“Young people tend to be activists, dedicated supporters of a cause, though without always inquiring too closely either whether their cause is a good end to pursue or whether this action is the best means by which to pursue it.” ~ Rev. John R. W. Stott in an address at the Inter-Varsity Fellowship Annual Conference
It seems this is another set of discipleship practices that when separated leads to reduced success.
On one hand you have people rushing crazily about for the next good idea regardless of the wisdom or truth of it, perhaps even causing more harm than good.  On the other hand you have people sitting stagnant with their books, not allowing any of the knowledge of God to seep into their hearts and affect the world around them.
Both piety and knowledge are desperately needed together.  Only with knowledge can you know what God truly wants, what is the wise action to take.  Only with piety can your own heart be changed, can the hearts and lives of other people be changed.
Paul says in II Corinthians that we are to take every thought captive toward the obedience of Christ.
Piety and knowledge.  Obedience and intellect.  The heart and the mind.
Both are needed.  Both are required to continue to bring about God’s kingdom here on earth.
Only together can these practices nourish “a warm and fruitful devotion set on fire by truth.” (Stott)

Tolerance or Love?

Listen to them argue. Watch as each shakes her head and smiles condescendingly while the other is speaking passionately about what she thinks is right. It often seems that surface level respect doesn’t go very far. Those who support each group seem to vilify the other, speaking out ugly words of disrespect and hate. There will always be someone with whom we disagree, someone we are vehemently sure is wrong.
Angry
Arguing
What do we do with this? What do we do when we disagree, both with those we call brother and sister and with those who do not believe? We are exhorted by our leaders and our culture to be tolerant to those around us. Everywhere we turn we are pleaded with to show tolerance to anyone who is different, anyone who thinks or behaves differently than we do.
And what does that tolerance look like? We are told by our world that we are to stay open-minded, that we are to live and let live, that we should not put up any claim to truth. We are told by the world surrounding us that we can disagree with anyone we want, can believe anything we like, as long as we keep it to ourselves.
Disagreeing
This is what our world says. But what about us? Is this what we who are Christ followers are called to be? Tolerant? Is this really all that we can manage, all that we can aspire to do? Tolerance is easy. It doesn’t require anything of either party. It relieves us of all responsibility. It costs us nothing. Tolerance shrugs its shoulders and walks away, leaving you to your own devices. Tolerance doesn’t care.
“And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” ~ Matthew 22.39
Love is much harder. Love costs our comfort and our time. Love affirms the reality of the other person, culture and way of life. Love takes the trouble to get to know the other person and find out what makes them beautiful. Love wants what is best for that person or culture.
Comforting
Consoling
Helping
Knowing
It was love that brought the world to oppose an apartheid regime in South Africa, not tolerance. It was love that lead Martin Luther King to pursue civil rights, not tolerance. It was love that drove William Wilberforce to lead the British parliamentary campaign to abolish the slave trade, not tolerance.
It was love that sent Jesus to the cross on our behalf, not tolerance.
We live our lives in contact with people who are different. We are surrounded by those who look, dream, think, and believe differently than we. We therefore must pray for strength to choose the harder way. If we are to be Jesus to those around us, if we are to make a difference for Him in this world, we must have the strength to choose love rather than tolerance.
“Love must confront Tolerance and insist, as it has always done, on a better way.” ~ Tim Keller in Generous Justice
Why is love so much harder than tolerance? Why does it require more from us? Part of the reason is that love is asks us to be discerning. Love sometimes asks us to work toward change yet sometimes asks us to see the gray in others rather than viewing the world in black and white alone. It is difficult to see in gray. Life gets harder when you see things from other points of view.  Straight lines get hijacked and carry you off to the unknown.  Solid perspectives grow a little blurry and you begin to take a softer view of those you disagree with.
Black and White
Adding more shades
Seeing in gray
The more we meet people who were raised differently and the more we read authors from other places and times and faith traditions, the more we begin to catch a glimpse of how much our view of God, of the Bible, of the world around us is colored by our own place and time and faith tradition.
Just as with every place and time and faith tradition, there is truth to be found and there is misunderstanding.  Tolerance allows us to be lazy, to choose what we believe and let others walk on their own path. Love requires that we listen, that we look at those before us with wisdom. As we take the time to know another and love them, we begin to realize that there is something even more important than figuring out what is right and what is wrong.
No human here on earth is my enemy.  We who claim the name of Christ are all trying to love Jesus and obey God’s words.  Rather than those who disagree with us being the enemy, being one who is deliberately misinterpreting God’s words, being one who picks and chooses what they will believe, those who see things in a different light are mostly just trying their best to follow Jesus.
Just like we are.
Words
Perhaps they are interpreting Scripture incorrectly, but perhaps we are the ones who are wrong. Grace.  It is easy to receive and devilishly difficult to dole out freely.  We spend so much time either being determined to get it right at the expense of our relationships or trying so hard to tolerate the differences around us that we quit looking at the person with whom we differ.  Yet when we look closely and intently we can see the gray shades of Jesus in the face of the person before us.
And then it is easier to love.

Edited from the archives

An Essay I Didn’t Want to Write

I’ve had a lot on my heart lately.  A lot of thoughts, issues, questions that are simmering deep inside me as I search for discernment and clarity.
Some of these you will probably read about in future essays.  Some may stay in my heart for a while yet.
Notebook and Book
This essay today, though, is one I did not want to write.  It makes me nervous and uncomfortable.  I was tempted to leave it alone.
I worry that people will think I am foolish.  I hate being foolish.
I worry that people will get angry with me. I hate having people mad at me.
Worried
I am trying, however, to value God’s opinion of me more than man’s, to desire God’s approval of my writing more than man’s.
I could come up with all sorts of worries and reasons why I shouldn’t write this, but one of the main reasons is that it is a topic about which most people don’t allow dissent. One can either agree with the speaker’s point of view or get lambasted over a fire of burning coals.  I think I just boiled together several metaphors.
Burning Coals
The topic?  Same-sex marriage.
Upset Baby
See?  You had an immediate visceral reaction one way or the other, didn’t you?  :-)
Could we agree to something within this space?
Could we agree to love each other, regardless of our opinions? Could we agree to listen to each other with open hearts and to trust that we are all trying to follow Christ the best that we can? Can we agree to value diversity of thought and to have a conversation in which we may find ourselves in disagreement?
Coffee and Conversation
I’m not sure why this topic causes so much emotion.
Even those who do not claim the name of Christ can see it:
Spiked logo
Brendan O’Neill, a self-proclaimed atheistic libertarian who is a columnist for spiked says:
But I have never encountered an issue like gay marriage, an issue in which the space for dissent has shrunk so rapidly, and in which the consensus is not only stifling but choking.  This is the only issue on which, for criticising it from a liberal, secular perspective, I’ve been booed during an after-dinner speech and received death threats.
I’m not sure why this is so, but that’s not really within the scope of this essay.  Suffice it to say, I feel nervous talking about this topic.
Seal of the United States Supreme Court
Yet it is at the forefront of our American culture right now as we wait for our Supreme Court to rule on the Defense of Marriage Act and on California’s Proposition 8 (probably sometime this month), and so I feel that I need to speak.
Several popular Christian bloggers lately have spoken about this issue, both for and against, and I feel that I, too, should speak.  I am quite sure that I don’t have all the answers and I know for certain that I am probably wrong on several fronts.  Still, I have this space, this platform, for speaking and for conversation, and if enough of us can host a civil conversation, perhaps we all might get somewhere helpful.
Those bloggers who championed the gay/lesbian cause challenged the Church to stop treating homosexuals harshly, to quit excluding gays and lesbians from their congregations, to instead love them unconditionally.
With that, I agree wholeheartedly.  Sin is sin, and to heap shame and disgrace and hatred on the heads of some while extending grace, or worse a blind eye, to those who commit adultery or have sex outside of marriage or gossip about all those who do is simply wrong.  We are called to love each other and to look in the mirror at our own plank before picking at the dust in another’s eye.
And so I, for one, say to any who have been made to feel shame or to feel unloved or worthless by anyone in the Church: I’m sorry.  We all struggle with sin and with judgement.  Please look at Christ rather than at us for perfection and holiness.
Jesus and the Samaritan Woman
Yet inside the Church is different than outside the Church; the atmosphere of the Church is different than the laws of the land, and I’m not convinced that legalizing same-sex marriage is wise.  When it comes to the laws of our country, I try not to consider things solely from a Biblical viewpoint, because I also am not convinced that we should impose Biblical principles on a country that espouses freedom to practice any or no religion.
American Flag
Standards of morality for believers are much different than for those who do not claim the name of Jesus.
Yet even when I look at things from a philosophical or a natural law point of view, legalizing same-sex marriage doesn’t seem to make sense.
Laws should be about advancing the public interests of society.  In every culture, children are the future, so it would make sense to incentivize  a marriage contract that can bear children, that contributes to the success of society’s future.  It may or may not be true that legalizing same-sex marriage would advance the private interests of our society, but private interests do not justify the force of a law.  No liberty is being denied to anyone who wants to live together and call it marriage.  The issue seems to be whether the state should grant incentives to anyone who wants to live together and call it marriage.  This sort of proposed law does not advance the public interests.
As long as one side is angry with me, may I now pique the other side?
Making You Mad
Same-sex marriage is not the greatest threat to the traditional definition of marriage.
Inside and outside the Church, when our highest goal is our own self-satisfaction, when we choose self over a spouse and children, God’s version of marriage is threatened more than when a free country decides to legalize same-sex marriage.  I believe that the loss of keeping a covenant before God is the greater threat to the tradition of marriage.
 Wedding Photo
Yet in the end, for those of us who claim to follow Jesus, it doesn’t much matter whether we would have voted for or against Proposition 8.  It doesn’t much matter whether we enjoy debating the matter thoroughly or we’d rather hide under a bed then speak about such things.
What matters is how we love people.  What matters is that we treat all people as men and women who are loved by God and are therefore full of worth.
We must love as Jesus loved Zaccheus and the Samaritan woman.  We must love as Jesus loved the woman caught in adultery and the men who crucified Him.
We must love as Jesus loves us.
So let’s have the conversation, and let’s love each other at the same time.  What do you say?

art credit: Christ and the Samaritan Woman by Henryk Siemiradzki

Tolerance or Love?

 Personal holiness or justice in our world?
If we have decided that “both” is the answer we believe, if we resolve to strive for both ideals, what do we do with those who disagree?

What do we do, for that matter, with anyone with whom we disagree?

We are exhorted by our leaders, our culture, to show tolerance to those around us. Everywhere I turn, I am pleaded with to be tolerant, to show tolerance to anyone who is different, anyone who thinks or behaves differently than I.

Is this what we who are Christ followers are called to be? Tolerant?

Is this really all that we can manage, all that we can aspire to do?

Tolerance is easy. It costs me nothing.

Tolerance shrugs its shoulders and walks away, leaving you to your own devices. Tolerance doesn’t care.

And the second is like it: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” ~ Matthew 22.39
Love is much harder.

Love affirms the reality of the other person, culture and way of life.

Love takes the trouble to get to know the other person and find out what makes them special.
Love wants what is best for that person or culture.

It was love that brought the world to oppose an apartheid regime in South Africa, not tolerance.

It was love that lead Martin Luther King to pursue civil rights, not tolerance.

It was love that drove William Wilberforce to lead the British parliamentary campaign to abolish the slave trade, not tolerance.

It was love that sent Jesus to the cross on our behalf, not tolerance.

Before November 6th and afterward, as I live my life in contact with people who are different than me, I will pray for strength to choose the harder way.

If I am to be Jesus to those around me, if I am to make a difference for Him in this world, I must choose love, not tolerance.

Love must confront Tolerance and insist, as it has always done, on a better way. ~ Tim Keller in Generous Justice
art credit: The Three Crosses etching by Rembrandt

Holiness or Justice?

I listen to them argue, watching as each shakes his head and smiles condescendingly while the other is speaking passionately about what he thinks is best.

Surface level respect doesn’t seem to go very far. Those who support each one seem to vilify the other, speaking ugly words of disrespect and hate.

Where should we who follow Christ fit in? 

One group is concerned with personal morality, the other is focused on social justice. 

Are we speaking of parties or churches? Is it telling that we sometimes cannot discern a difference? 

When we bring religion into politics, can it turn people away from Christ? If I cannot agree with one set of ideas, yet that same idea set is anchored to Jesus, I may conclude that following Jesus is impossible.

Surely this breaks the heart of God.

Yet surely one passion is more important. Surely either personal morality or social justice should be our highest priority.

If I have a passion for justice, personal holiness may be simply a distraction.

If I desire to cultivate personal holiness, I may yet ignore working for justice in our world.


Perhaps, just perhaps, a balance is needed.

In describing what brings the wrath of God, Amos says

They trample on the heads of the poor as upon the dust of the ground and deny justice to the oppressed. Father and son use the same girl and so profane my holy name. ~ Amos 2.7

Personal holiness or justice in our world?

When describing the wickedness of Israel, Isaiah says

…He looked for justice, but saw bloodshed; for righteousness, but heard cries of distress. Woe to you who add house to house and join field to field till no space is left and you live alone in the land…Woe to those who rise early in the morning to run after their drinks, who stay up late at night till they are inflamed with wine. ~ Isaiah 5.7-8, 11

Personal holiness or justice in our world?

Jesus, when teaching the crowds how to live, spoke of refraining from lust, adultery and divorce. He also spoke of giving to the poor, refraining from overwork and resisting the siren call of materialism. All in the same chapter of the Bible. ~ Matthew 6

Personal holiness or justice in our world?

Perhaps, just perhaps, we should not choose one to the exclusion of the other. Perhaps we should strive to attain both ideals, following all of what Jesus teaches us rather than excusing away half of His commands.

And what should we do with each other? What do we do with our brother or sister who insists that another course is highest?

Perhaps we should speak of that next week.