Your love choice.

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15The Lord God placed the man in the Garden of Eden to tend and watch over it. 16But the Lord God warned him, “You may freely eat the fruit of every tree in the garden—17except the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. If you eat its fruit, you are sure to die.” Genesis 2:15-17

This tree of the knowledge of good and evil appears to be the problem when we look back through the lens of our suffering and evil. Why did God do this? The tree is the hinge on which love turns. God created humanity with capacity and opportunity to choose love. So it is with the “image of God.” Love maintains a mixture of awe and respect with trust. Love cherishes the other. Love enters communion. These are all choices. Without “the tree” there are no choices and humanity resides in the garden as automatons, puppets on a string, acting only within a predetermined script.

Just as relationship within the communion of God is dynamic; so relationship between God and those who bear His image is dynamic.

Love for God is to live in respect to God with trust in Him and in His Word. The image of God has been bestowed on us and with it comes both capacity and responsibility to choose.

Fight Club–The conflictual nature of belonging to Jesus. Authentic Stewardship, Part 3.

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14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. 15Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 16Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. 17Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. 18If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 19Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” 20To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” 21Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.  Romans 12:14-21

The fight.
We are going to talk about it.

To follow Jesus is to land firmly and fully in a conflict. And yes, it is between good and evil. The battlefield that matters most is in your heart, mind and soul. For from inside of you, you will be called on to love with “the love genuine.” The Gospel is doing its work and you are a participant in your sanctification. (See Romans 12:1-3)

Your mettle will be tested by those who contend against the firmness of your stand with Jesus. They may not even know what they are doing! Paul would write to the Ephesian church that this battle is not against flesh and blood, but against  “the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” (Ephesians 6:12) People are really not THE enemy. Yet their compliance with evil and our own compliance with evil must be confronted.

Every command of love-in-motion confronts. 

Paul begins this battle-aware list of commands by echoing the words of Jesus. Every command confronts. “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.” Please go back and read the passage again with this question in mind “How are we going to engage with people in the highs and lows of life?”

Every command urgently requires us to seek the Spirit of God for the deconstructing and constructing work of the Gospel in our lives. Truly its only our fears and the fears of others that disable and negate the creative impulse to overcome evil by doing good.

Do good. Mobilize the stuff of earth.

Why, you may ask is this part of a discussion on authentic stewardship? Because doing good goes beyond words. Doing good requires the requisition of resources and their thoughtful and generous application to business, to governance, to art and culture, to the judicial system, and to community and city infrastructures. Those intent on doing this for the common good and not just for personal gain will always find the conflict. Christians are Jesus’ stewards. We move forward with personal responsibility towards Him for what has been entrusted to us. We are to steward with the posture of genuine love, not acting, but loving with integrity to Jesus. When we miss the mark, we miss it royally!

Spontaneous Worship!
Jesus is the Lord of Heaven and Earth! He comes to us from the communion of God, and the humble ground of the stable, and the refuge of Egypt, and the shores of Galilee, and the halls of Jerusalem’s justice, and the Cross of the cursed, and the tomb of the dead, in order to reign as Lord of all. Having  ascended to Heaven He has given us His Spirit to establish His temple in our very body and in His Church. Glory to God! Let our love be genuine.

Love can’t be hurried. Authentic Stewardship, Part 2.

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9 Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. 10Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. 11Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. 12Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. 13Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality. Romans 12:9-13

We have a giant plastic box at home. And depending on the occasion we all have reached into it. Its the costume box. We have hats: firemen hats, cowboy hats, pirate hats, clown hats, robin hood hats. We have capes: merry men, zorro, and all kinds of super heroes. We have wings and wands and brooms. We have… Ok you get the picture!

No actors allowed.
At a moment’s notice we can be someone else! When we put on these hats and capes we get to pretend to be someone else with different powers and personas. But this is not how we are to live as followers of Jesus.The Apostle Paul is clear — those who have received the mercy and grace of God through Jesus Christ are done with pretending. He writes, “Let love be genuine.”
The phrase here is more like a heading: The Love Sincere. The love without hypocrisy. No play-acting or pretending here! This is how we are to steward the grace of God given us and residing in our bodies and our fellowship.

With that introduction Paul is off to the races. He races through a list of commands illustrating real love in a world of great challenge. In the first five verses of this list of love we see that maturing, genuine love empowered by Jesus gives His people a subtle and pervasive strength. What real love can do, the people of Jesus begin to do.

What love can do; and how Jesus’ disciples are being changed.
Love can differentiate. So, they know the difference between what is evil and what is good. (v. 9)

Love has brotherly affection. So, they maintain boundaries in relationships. (v. 10)

Love honours. So, they can show honour to others without fear of loosing themselves. (v. 10)

Love takes personal responsibility; So, they perennially engage in the disciplines generating enthusiasm for Jesus. (v. 11-12)

Love sees what is needed; So, they enter into the lives of others and allow others into their own. (v. 13)


Make it personal.
In these five verses we are confronted with a dynamic vision of the soul who loves. Jesus shows me the God who loves, and shows me that I am loved. Such knowledge changes everything in my relationships with people and the stuff of earth. Authentic stewardship is love in motion. I know a transformation is required! But it cannot be hurried. There is no mask to put on that will make me love like Jesus. There is only a work to be done from the inside out.

Let love be genuine.

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9 Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. 10Love one another with brotherly affection. Out do one another in showing honor.   Romans 12:9-10

Love must be sincere.

Love must be without hypocrisy.

Love must be without a mask to hide behind.

Are you willing to love with your cracks showing?

Are you willing to sit long with Jesus till your view of a difficult  person is formed by love?

When there are cracks in your capacity to love will you meet Jesus for the grace to grow in love?

Life together with anyone has a way of revealing my incompetence at love. Scary as it is I’m finding this awareness of my love deficit is a gift. Must of us think we are pretty good at love and naturally deflect responsibility for our inadequacies. Our denial is expense and works to the detriment of ourselves, our families, our churches, our friends, and our communities.

If I hate the pain my deficiencies may cause another then I may choose humility and the reckless love of Christ at the Cross. Then I can invite all to dive deeper into His grace with me. But if I deny and refuse to acknowledge when I acted  without love or with a false love, then I perpetuate the deception ruling this world and actually join in — purposefully excluding God from my relationships.

Christ’s Love, My Rights, and a Free Society

The Human Problem

Our world is a messy place. The Christian worldview sees the human problem through the lenses of a great catastrophe and a great cost-at-the-cross. The catastrophe ripped humanity from their deep satisfaction found only in the communion of God-Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The by-products of this fellowship were innocence, honour, and trust. But on the other side of the great catastrophe human relationships separate from the communion of God deteriorated into schemes to manage guilt, shame, and fear. (I am indebted to Roland Muller for his work on harmartiology in The Messager, The Message, and The Community.)

The great cost is death and it is ultimately seen at the cross of Jesus Christ as God enters into the catastrophe in fulfillment of God’s promises to Israel. Jesus shared the Father’s will to ignite a spiritual rebirth in the hearts, minds, and souls of people who will gracefully receive His redemption, the forgiveness of sins, accomplished through His body on the cross. Now, the Holy Spirit sent to all who receive Jesus, will give them a new heart and a new spirit.

When I read the news and listen to people affected by violence and the competing pulls on freedom—license and legalism, I try to listen through the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Our yearning for honour is satisfied through the death of Jesus Christ. Our cries for justice are  satisfied through the death of Jesus Christ. Our seduction to power is satisfied through the death of Jesus Christ. For at the Cross, we believe, Jesus through weakness becomes the source and object of our faith, hope, and love. And in Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, the Heavenly Father validates the life and work of Jesus Christ. Through the resurrection He establishes our hope for His full redemptive work in all Creation.

 

Roman Problems

This hope is tested by complexities of the human heart and the diversity of people. For example,  when Jewish Christians returned to Rome after the Emperor Claudius’ death, they returned to  the fellowship of Gentile Christians in the city. Apparently there where conflicts as some may have felt disrespected and shamed by the Gentiles who had created patterns and circles of comfort that did not consider their needs. Its into this conflict of honour and respect that Paul writes the book of Romans contained in our Scripture. Gentile Christians who had no qualms buying, eating, and serving meat from the local butcher were offending the Jewish Christians who took issue with the source. The local butcher on the corner probably received his meat from the priests of local temples dedicated to the Roman gods. This “meat sacrificed to idols” offended the Jewish Christians. (See Romans 14 and 15.)

Paul writes that as believers under the grace of God in Christ Jesus, they are all free to receive with thanksgiving any meat. But if the “weaker” of faith is offended, the “stronger” of faith out love can choose to go without meat or to seek to satisfy their brothers and sisters who need the care at this point in their journey with Jesus. Love is the capacity to suspend what I want or need in order to meet the needs of another. And on the other side of the problem, when I don’t get what I want, love is nurtured in the community by choosing to forgive the offence.

Such restraint in the fullness of their freedom, is a demonstration of the love of Christ in the fellowship of believers. And it must be said, even as followers of Jesus, redeemed by Him, we do not do “this” easily or even automatically. It might not be automatic for some to accept the pluralism and diversity that Christ allows. It comes with struggle. People long for respect and honour. People long for freedom. These two longings clash when there are competing visions of rightness. The dignity and sanctity of life cherished in the Gospel will be cast aside when offence and the longing for power are mixed in the crucible of greed. Under the cloak of justice people imagine that if they have their way or have their vengeance, things may be set right and people will learn their lessons. That’s a deception.

 

Rights Restrained by Love

The struggle then, is to enter into the love of Christ and extend it to those who believe and even to those who do not believe. What love might constrain me to limit my rights? What love would compel me to lift up those who are alienated in my society? What love would govern me and compel me to enter into the tension of religious liberty for all? Jesus never required His followers to defend His honour or His kingdom with violence. In fact, Jesus teaches us that we are blessed in the face of such opposition to Him, His Gospel, and to righteousness. He says,

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. 10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11 “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”  Matthew 5:9-12

Jesus goes on to command His followers to the most extraordinary application of the virtue of love. “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” Matthew 5:44 This is so hard, as enemies ultimately believe their world would be better without you.

 

Questions for a Free Society

It is my conviction that the pattern of love in the church can be extended to others. You might be tempted to call it the secularization of love. But the desire to extend this love is actually a fulfilment of God’s promise to Abraham to create a people who will be a blessing to all the nations. Now the church shares the vision of being a blessing to the societies in which it resides.

Our “free” society in the West, is not the starting place for Christian thought. Christ is and the church is our starting place for understanding the leaven of the Kingdom of God. When I get to our “free” society in my thinking I get there with a recognition of our common longings. And its because of the restraints of love in the fellowship of Jesus’ Church, that I see challenges for us all in a pluralistic and “free” society. These questions are not new. But they are always current.

How shall we govern our rights with love?

What posture shall we take in society towards each other as we hold competing systems of truth?

How do we turn enemies into friends?

How do we protect each other from the lawlessness of blood-thirst?
How will we grieve with those who grieve and celebrate with those who rejoice?
How will we include outsiders in such a way that they become insiders?
How do find agreed upon values and a narrative of the future to move towards together?

How do we treat tension and conflict as a good symptom of two or more high quality but competing demands without desiring the annihilation of a people because “they are the problem” or abandoning our most ideal values?