I have a friend who wants to help me fix my car. Yes, I made a bad decision and purchased a lemon. No, I don’t have the money or skill to fix my situation. But, that’s not his main motivation to help me. He also wants to spend a week working side by side with me on it. That’s God’s kind of love.
That’s the love demonstrated in Romans 1:6-7:
And you also are among those Gentiles who are called to belong to Jesus Christ. To all in Rome who are loved by God and called to be his holy people: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.
We’re called to belong to Jesus Christ. God loves us and called us to be his holy people – that is, his own possession.
Jesus didn’t come to die, rise, and return just because we’re pathetic. He went to all of that trouble because he wants us. He did it for us and he did it for himself. The author of the letter to the Hebrews said that Jesus endured the cross for the joy set before him. What was that joy? It was you and me.
The good news that Paul preached isn’t just “good” to us. It’s “good” to God. We’re restored from waking death and God gets his children back. Then, we all celebrate together!
In some ways the Spanish language conveys the concepts of the gospel in every day life better than English. “I love you” in Spanish translated literally is, “te amo.” That’s not how it’s said in daily speech, though. If you want to express love like a person might have for their spouse, you say, “te quiero,” literally, “I want you.” This isn’t sexual. It’s an expression of the value placed on the other. It says, “You are my treasure.”
Recuerde hoy, Jesu Cristo te quiere.
What drives you? Are you working for the weekend (like everybody)? Do you run from fears of failure or inadequacy? Does social censure silence you? Are you paralyzed by worry? Does a need to please pull your strings? If you answered yes to any of these, then you are a sinner. In Romans 14:23, Paul declares that whatever is not of faith is sin. Now, you might say, “Wow, that’s a pretty stringent standard.” I’d agree. And yet, it’s not just a standard but a living reality with a definite experience.
I look at Paul’s indictment of most of my default motivation as stringent because I’m mired in a view of Christianity which just peers over the top of the hedonistic flood of our world. I am accustomed to the religiosity and moralism that masquerade as faith in Christ. The false religion that I’ve always taken for granted has given me ample excuses for my rejection of Christ. I’ve not seen any inconsistency in flailing about while elbow deep in “ministry.” I have been much like Peter, Christ’s most enthusiastic sycophant. But how did Peter deny his Lord or fall beneath the waves? Faithlessness will always produce unfaithfulness. The drive to survive will drown us every time.
Though Paul’s standard seems to border on impossible to the American Christian mind, he simply was describing a spiritual truth which could never be otherwise. Faith (implicit trust and loyalty) is the one thing that God requires of us. Through faith our ancient aspiration to supplant our creator reverses and creation begins to renew. In the garden, our native state was faith and to it there was but one alternative. Now, the alternatives have proliferated beyond number and there is but one place to find faith, at the foot of Christ’s cross. There the Son of Man (“adam” in Hebrew) rejected all other options and hung his fate on his God. Having been vindicated, he requires all who are his to accept his brand of faith.
God deserves our implicit trust but he doesn’t require it only for his satisfaction. Galatians 5:6 declares that the only thing that matters is faith working through love. Love is the goal and faith is the means. The eternal Godhead bound by self-giving love has poured out that love upon us inviting us into their fellowship. But we can’t give self without faith. Fear and worry, the antitheses of faith, pull all of my attention onto my own well being. Within that tunnel, the best I can do is damage control. I can feign love if it will advance my situation or forestall negative consequences. Without faith, I succumb to this world’s counterfeit for love, lust. As St. John says, “If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.”
I want to ask you as I’ve been asking myself, can you abandon fear and worry? Can you abandon yourself to God’s faithfulness? Can we release back to Satan any version of Christianity that would excuse faithlessness and compensate with outward conformity? Can we confess that we’ve been no better than unbelievers as we’ve lobbied and campaigned against certain behaviors all in response to a fear mongering political machine? What if we did our best at work out of worship to our God rather than aspiration or intimidation? What if we loved our family rather than appeased them? We can. We must. It is the essence of our profession, not some state of super sainthood. To enter the experience of God’s kingdom under Christ, we must repent. That is, we must turn away from our problem solving and pleasure seeking to hang our fate (both immediate and ultimate) on the faithfulness of our Abba Father. Go to the cross and once again be saved from this present evil age by the faith of Christ.
I just reblogged a post on Islamophobia. I agree with the facts related in the post and with the contention that many people fail to call out the misdeeds of Muslims out of fear of backlash or worse. However, I would not say that Islam is ultimately to blame for the evils committed by some Muslims around the world. Islam just provides a convenient palate upon which the sinful hearts of humans mix the blood-red hues of their hatred. Other convenient ideologies have been churchianity, Communism (rational atheism applied), nationalism, and racism to name a few. For the real issue check this sermon I delivered on November 11th.
I used to correspond through the mail with an inmate named Lowell. I don’t know if I’ve ever encountered a more biblically literate person. Perhaps this was because he had come to know his desperate need for God and was given plenty of time to find him in solitary confinement. As a former member of a white supremacist prison gang, he had been placed in solitary for violent acts (I don’t know what) against blacks in the prison. Of course this was just the last in a long list of crimes committed by this relatively young man.
As his story unfolded through our year or so of correspondence, the most shocking revelation dawned on me – Lowell and I were not all that different. Had I encountered the same life circumstances which he had, I probably would have ended up in the same place. My heart reflected the selfishness, malice, and prejudice which landed Lowell in solitary. Conversely, he demonstrated genuine remorse and a desire for redemption. The last vestiges of my childish notion that humanity can be divided into “good guys” and “bad guys” melted as I figuratively gazed into the mirror of Lowell’s heart.
As a human being at the bottom of society’s dumpster, Lowell sits upon an anthropological dilemma. Should Lowell not have to “pay” for what he did? If so, who determines when the debt is paid? If not, what of his victims? During our correspondence, Lowell petitioned to be released from solitary after he had spent a year there. He was denied. The prospect of another year cut off from human contact in the name of justice nearly destroyed this man who had made so many positive changes.
So, how can we maintain the worth of an individual yet decry his evil deeds? Is such a thing even possible? The answer is yes and no. Humans will never solve this dilemma because we are incapable of separating the essence of a person from their behavior. We will never have instrumentation that precise. God, however, does have an implement which can do the job. The cross of Christ in one moment categorically condemns human evil (including mine and Lowell’s) and unequivocally declares human worth. From the cross, God in voice clear and loud declares, “I hate your murder, theft, prejudice, selfishness, and lust and I love you more than words can say.”
Lowell is probably still in prison but Lowell has found a freedom while incarcerated that he never had before. Lowell continues to suffer the consequences of his past actions but he is not defined by them. God’s scalpel, the cross has removed the sin which was entangled around the heart of a man created after the divine image. Praise God for the wonderful, horrible, crucial cross!