Hound of Heaven: God, Quincy and Me.

The Hound Of Heaven. This poem by Francis Thompson, a brilliant but tortured drug addict, hits home. It exquisitely describes how a friendly but persistent God pursues us with patience and love. Saints in every age, prodigals all, grasp the pure joy of being caught in the Divine Chase and the utter misery of running away from Him.

Charles Schultz’s hound, Snoopy did something similar, but in a subtle and light, tongue-in cheek style.  It’s interesting that in his Gospel According to Peanuts, the author, Mr. Short reminds us dog is God spelled backwards.

Quincy is my “some-timey” hound. Why do I say my 10 pound poodle is some-timey? The other night I kindly let him do his business out back. When I whistled for him,  he ran to me, likety-split, happily wagging his tail. Hugging him I said, “I just love it when you obey me like that!”

Today–a very different story. When I whistled, he glanced up and gaily went back to exploring all those lovely smells he’d found. I called, yelled and cajoled. Nothing. The pleasures of his doggy world had him in its grasp. Sadly I had to go and fetch him.           (I’m so like that).

So I’m thinking God must feel joy when I obey him—delighted when I come into His presence at his call–sad when I put him on the back burner, caught up in worldly cares and pleasures. Yeah, I think that’s probably right.

Some, with a puritan bent might raise an eyebrow at the notion that God feels joy or disappointment over us… or anything else for that matter.

Others might scoff that it’s anthropomorphic—projecting human traits and feelings onto the Divine. But isn’t believing we can attribute good stuff like love, joy, or bad feelings onto the King of the Universe rather like saying we invented ourselves?

King David, had deep insight into such things. No mean song and dance man, he also wrote some really cool lyrics to a bunch of songs, called psalms. One of them shouts, “Hey, it is He who made us! We did not make ourselves!” Dummy!  Wasn’t David the guy  ”after God’s own heart?” So isn’t it just plain whack-o to buck his insights and talk about projecting our feelings onto the Creator when it’s so completely the opposite.     

The prophet who heard God sing. Zephaniah wrote, “The Lord thy God in the midst of thee is mighty. He will save and He will rejoice over thee with joy. He will rest in his love. He will joy over thee with singing.” Zeph. 3:17 (Good old KJV)

In the very front of the book, we read how we are all made “in His image.” So, when we sing, dance, celebrate, feel joy, love, peace, good stuff like that, we are reflecting Daddy God. To say he reflects us is absurd, like saying the sun reflects the moon. A more recent song puts it this way, “I find beauty looking through my Father’s eyes.”

So in my relationship with Quincy, my hound, I get a glimpse of how God is happy with me when I trust him, obey him and love Him and others. It’s a good bet, like me with Quincy, Jesus is delighted when I come running at his call.

Thanks for reading us. We live for your comments. They keep us going.

 Next post: The Humanity of God? Sound like heresy? Let’s talk.

We are the church, the bride of Christ

Years ago I received a mission from the Lord to pray for his church, his bride, his body–to pray for her unity and mutual love. This morning in prayer, God’s Spirit reminded me of a passage from Paul:

Ephesians 5: 35-37 (Paraphrase) Husbands, go all out in your love for your wives, just as Christ did for us, his church. May your love be a matter of sacrifice and giving to her, not out of your need to receive.

Just as Christ’s love makes His church whole, your love will bring out the best in your wife. Everything he does and says is designed to bring out the best in his bride, whom he dresses in a dazzling white gown, radiant with holiness and without fault. That is how you Christian husbands must love your wives. Love and cherish them as you do your own flesh. For a man who loves his wife actually loves himself, since “you are “one flesh.” When you do this, you both will benefit and God will be glorified.

The first thing about this text  is the Apostle uses the feminine pronoun “she.”(Greek: autei). The church is not an  “it.”  The church is the family of God’, a living entity, not an institution. We are Christ’s bride, his living, breathing body on earth. We are the church.

The second is the joy and mystery of the profound unity of man and woman–husband and wife– in the  sacred bond of marriage. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and  mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.” (Genesis 2: 24)

My third response is perplexity. How can God Almighty transform this deeply flawed church of his so that she becomes his glorious bride, one without spot or wrinkle or any fault?  It stretches my faith to the limit.  Yet His Word is clear that he does do this and at his appearing will perform this great miracle of transformation. Or, perhaps the transformation will continue even beyond that. The Bible doesn’t say.

But for me, now, and for many men I know, the main point of this passage is, while, like me, my wife is deeply flawed, I am to love her unconditionally, as Christ loves his own bride. I can do this if I choose to do it AND if I trust Him to give me His agape Spirit to accomplish it.

Recently, I’ve been finding God’s grace to take a few faltering steps in this direction, answering her negatives with soft positives, not feisty arguments. Funny thing is, when I do, she changes and answers me with a softer, kinder spirit.

As a result, we have been having much fewer conflicts. But that’s not the best part. As  I overlook her flaws  to focus on her good qualities, our relationship blossoms. When she receives from me the positive attention and love she craves, I find pleasure just being with her.  Yes, it’s great! Little by little we are helping each other become better than we were.  And through all this, God is glorified.

Thanks for sharing your insights. We will answer all comments and responses to our posts.

 

Book Review: The Love Revolution, by Gaylord Enns

With this post we begin our review of an important book that has become a personal treasure, The Love Revolution by Gaylord Enns. Our New Canaan Society (NCS) men’s group has been reading and discussing it for a few weeks. It’s changing  some of our lives. Goodreads rates it five stars, commenting, “Get ready! Love Revolution will rock your world!”

Hidden in Plain Sight Rediscovering the Lost Commandment of Jesus is the book’s subtitle. No, the author isn’t suggesting a lost command of Jesus has recently surfaced. It’s been right here all along. Gaylord simply points out that Jesus gave us his love command in John 13: 34, 35 and twice again in John 15:12, 17. “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”

How did we miss it? After reading a chapter of the book, Dave, our group’s leader was aghast. “How is it that, after all these years, I didn’t see this before?” Well, he isn’t alone. Many believers will tell you that Jesus commandment is “Love God with all your heart, soul mind and your neighbor as yourself.” They wouldn’t be wrong, exactly. But think about it. These were Moses’ words, given to him in the old covenant. They don’t come from Jesus.

But Jesus said them, right? Yes Jesus did say them, but only as a quote from the old covenant. It occurred when an expert in the Law asked, “Master, which is the great commandment of the law of Moses.Jesus quoted Moses in his answer, but never owned the command as his own, never taught it to his disciples and it’s found nowhere else in the New Testament.

“Astonishingly,” Gaylord writes, “most of us, and I was one, have substituted the two core commandments of the old covenant for the two core commandments of the new.”

The crux of the book is that Jesus came to bring us grace, truth and love, paying for it with his blood. His joyous good news is that we are free from the harsh demands of the law, and this includes the command to love God and our neighborHold on now. Don’t jump the gun. Let’s give our author a chance to explain, which he does very well.

The Burden of the Law. With genuine honesty and humility, Gaylord shares his own struggles, trying hard to keep this mandate to love God with all of his being. Like many of us, he often felt a nagging guilt that he was never loving God enough. Many responsibilities “kept me from being as devoted to God as I should be”….feeling, “I should be spending more time in prayer and more time in the study of Scriptures.” Think of it! The demands of the law had put him in the awful bind of being torn between loving God and loving his family and congregation. I can relate.

Down the Rabbit Hole. Without knowing it, over the years, this burden took its toll. His faith was becoming a burden rather than a joy. In 2001 he fell into a hole, experiencing a breakdown. It took a full year to recover. But, thank God, during that recovery, he made the discoveries of a lifetime. When he was back, leading his congregation of 33 years, it was with fresh insights that changed his life and the direction of his ministry forever. He was, and is, on a journey rediscovering Jesus’ neglected command, not only for himself, but for his Jerusalem, which is the environs of Chico, California and even to the uttermost parts of the world, literally.

Why do we love God? This is the question Gaylord answers, not by reverting to Moses’ law, which puts the burden of love on the believer. Jesus gospel of a new covenant, places the burden of love on God.  Simply put, “We love Him [only] because He first loved us.” It’s shocking, isn’t it? Somehow, God’s love for us and his desire for us to return his love has been overshadowed by a law that demands we love him! How could we have slipped back into that bondage–turning the joyous good news that, “God so loved the world” into, “World, you better love God!?”

Trust and obey. Gaylord explains that Jesus, like Moses, had two core commands. “Trust and obey” describes them in a nutshell.  Our author identifies his first command, to believe in Jesus in John 3: 16. We also find it   throughout the gospels, especially in his reply to the people who asked, “What does God want us to do?” This time Jesus answers with his command, not Moses.’ ”God wants you to believe in the One He has sent.” His apostles also urged it, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.

His second command, ”Love one another,” follows necessarily from his first. Gaylord stresses that love for God results from putting our trust in His son. New Covenant faith begins with trust, but doesn’t end there. It leads us to love God and others, not because we are ordered to, but because we want to.

Pastor Enns has helped me grasp once more, the simple truth that true faith in God must lead to love. And isn’t this true of any solid relationship? A great, old hymn makes it crystal clear. “Trust and obey; there’s no other way to be happy in Jesus but to trust and obey.”

How did we miss it?

In our next post, Gaylord answers an objection I’ve often heard to this teaching. He explains how Jesus’ two “trust and love” core commands, helps him to love God and his neighbors even more, not less. I would add that, as I continue to grasp this truth for myself, I’m more relaxed and more fun to live with—at least my wife said so today. It’s working!

We live for your comments. Please drop us a line or three.

DAY 5: MYSTERIES OF THE KOINE

Gnosis:  What You Know or Who You Know?

Does Paul Contradict Himself? It seems so at times, doesn’t it. For example, he writes “knowledge (gnosis) puffs up, [makes one arrogant] but love builds up.” (1 Corinthians 1:8).  Yet another time he prays for believers that we may increase in our knowledge (Eph 1:17; 4:13; Phil 3:8].  But then he adds, knowledge “of Him…”of the Son of Man…“of Christ.”  We need to adjust our cultural mirror once more.

To the Eastern mind, there are two very distinct kinds of knowledge: [1] to know a thing and [2] to know a person.  To the Chinese the distinction is so important they have a separate word for relational knowing [renshr] which means “be acquainted with”.  We have no such word in English.

When We Appear Before Christ. Believers I have known, and maybe you have also, place great emphasis on doctrinal knowledge and statements of faith. Sometimes it feels they are requiring us to be ready to pass a doctrinal quiz when we appear before Christ.  Yet the truth is, it isn’t “what we know” that qualifies us as Christians, it’s “who we know.” When the King divides the sheep and the goats in Matthew 25, he never asks what they know or believe. Immediately he recognizes his own sheep from others, false believers, as goats.

“The greatest of these is love” For St. Paul, all of his great attainments and knowledge meant nothing. “I consider all these things as useless, in order that I may have an abiding  knowledge of Jesus Christ my Lord. [Phil. 3:8]. When I became a believer, a key phrase was, “a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.”  We don’t hear that phrase so much anymore. But we do have a legion of books, classes and seminars to increase our biblical knowledge. One of the finest believers I ever met was a Taiwanese woman. Mrs. Chen could not read and had limited knowledge of the Bible. But she had a shining relationship with Christ and her witness helped launch a brand new church in her neighborhood.

How Shall the World Know Us—by our knowledge or by our love? Before his death Jesus gave the answer with his new covenant mandate:  “Love one another as I have loved you.” Only then will “everyone recognize you as my disciples(John 13: 34, 35).  Yet the culture of our modern church leaves average Christians feeling they aren’t qualified to witness because, “I don’t know enough.”  I repeat, is our witness our Bible knowledge or our love? The Apostle warned,  ”Even if I have …all knowledge…and faith so as to move mountains, and have not love, I am nothing at all.”(I Cor 13:2) Love not only trumps spiritual gifts but also trumps knowledge and even faith, “Faith, hope, love, these three abide, but the greatest of these is love.”(I Cor 13:13)

Knowledge Puffs Up…Love Builds Up.  I recently tried to find study materials on love.  Most of the current books have to do with marital love.  There was little available on how to cultivate our love for Christ and its corollary, our love for fellow believers.

Our next post will cover what the Greek New Testament has to say about how to cultivate loving relationships with Jesus and one another.

Please join the conversation. Your feedback is invaluable to this blog.

Christ’s New Order for a New Order

“Let us do good to all men, but especially to believers, fellow members of God’s family with you.” (Gal 6:10 )

What is our mission?  In the 1970’s, during a controversy over the church’s mission, Dean Heckel, a highly placed layman in a Presbyterian denomination, addressed the issue at a worship service. “Why do we debate the church’s mission?” he asked. “We all know what it is. It’s the love commandment of Jesus Christ, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and your neighbor as yourself.”

Heckel got it right, but also got it wrong. Continue reading

A Tribute to my Uncle Pete

My earliest memory of him was when he asked, “Wade, what’s that updock on your back?”

“What’s up doc,” I replied innocently. That joke delighted everyone but me. You see, I had buck teeth back then and used to imitate Bugs Bunny with that phrase. But when people seemed to be  laughing at me, not with me, I stopped.  Classic Uncle Pete, so clever and funny!

He was always Uncle Pete to my brother Bill and me and also to my two boys, Wade and Ward. We adored and respected him, and not only because he was the single most entertaining, funny guy we ever knew.

God put him on this earth to tickle people’s funny bones, and he was very faithful to that calling, even when he couldn’t attract an audience. I remember him wearing that costume of the guy he invented named Father Pitt or Penn or such. It was so clever, but  sadly, folks just didn’t get it.

It was also because he was such an engaging romantic and lover. I’ll never forget the look of urgency on his face when he ran around Niagara Falls on a mission of love. We ran with him, searching for a letter he had written and hidden there years before.  Why was it so romantic! He wrote it to the love of his life years before he ever met and fell in love with Maria. A rock slide buried that letter, but never the passion that drove him to show authentic love to many around him—so like his mama, my Grandma, who showed us such unconditional love when we needed it most.

Funny thing about love. It’s not really a single thing, but, like the rainbow, has many colors and dimensions. Uncle Pete explored most of them, whether it was with his nephews, his students, his family of origin, with the family he and Maria built together or, later in his life, with Jesus.

Have you ever felt very close to someone because they loved someone you also loved? When Uncle Pete and Maria became personally acquainted with Jesus, I felt our relationship took a quantum leap forward. Did he have failures in that relationship as with others? He must have. Haven’t we all? Even St. Peter failed the Lord. Didn’t he deny him three times? Yet the Lord forgave and used him still.  I remember how crushed Uncle Pete was when I failed the Lord.  I’m not sure he ever got over that.

But now we can rejoice that il professore, Peter Iole, is done with the troubles of the world. I wonder if he isn’t still doing his thing, entertaining and tickling funny bones of that great audience above—the Father, Son and Holy Ghost and all the saints who have marched into glory with him.

“Oh, Lord, I want to be in that number.”  Amen

So, if you’ll pardon the expression, “knock ‘em dead,” Uncle Pete and thank you. You made us laugh. You shared our joys and sorrows. You taught us some very important things about love.