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.

Friendship and Eternal Security

A certain theologian advocates eternal security, declaring, “those who have been genuinely saved by God’s grace through faith in Christ alone. shall not be in danger of God’s condemnation or loss of salvation, for God’s grace keeps them forever saved and secure.”

I see merit in his statement, but have some questions. (1) Who of us dare say whom are saved and who is not saved? Isn’t that God’s domain? (2) Since friendship with Christ is a covenant–an agreement between two parties–what is our part in the covenant?  (Calvin is dead wrong to exclude believers from the covenant, teaching it exists only among the trinity, Father, Son and Spirit. That notion has no support in Scripture.)

 Friendship with Christ: Jesus tells us that true friendship includes sacrifice, i.e. “laying down one’s life.” (John 15:13). Life (Gr: psyche) implies dying to self or laying down one’s ego for his friends. Jesus adds,  You are my friends if you do what I command you.” Our friendship with God is a great gift, but not one based just on a past decision made to trust him.  It rests foremost on God’s steadfast love, but includes obeying his command.  What command?–the mandate he gave at His table which he repeats twice in this discourse: (15. 12, 17). “Love one another as I have loved you.” Jesus laid down his life for us. If I am his friend, I will obey him by loving my fellow believers which includes  laying down my life, i.e. my soul, my ego, for them.

My best friend and I became pals years ago. We continue to enjoy that bond, but it means calling and meeting each other; helping when and if needed. But what if I make no effort to nurture our friendship? Would we remain friends? Clearly not, since Jesus defines friendship as a two way street. Friendship in his covenant is with Jesus on the vertical plane but includes loving others. This what we mean by “the horizontal church.”

 ”If you abide in Me…”Three things I see in this phrase, (a) Abide is a remaining or continuing in Jesus; (b) The little word “if” means I must do my part. (c) Abide is in the present tense. We remain in Him today not  just yesterday or 40 years ago at conversion. Salvation is past, present and future. Today is the day of salvation.” (2 Cor. 6:2) andToday. if you do not harden your hearts…” (Heb. 3:16)

Jesus’ Prime Directive is his order for a new order: “Love one another as I have loved you. -–John 13: 34. Many professed believers are apparently in for a shock.  ”Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, didn’t we prophesy… cast out demons…and perform wonders in your name?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you.” Matt. 7.21, 22” Again, in his parable of the sheep and goats, Jesus rejects professed believers he terms “goats.” In shock, they ask, “Lord when did we see you…. and not help you?” He answers, “when you refused to help the least of these my brethren, you were refusing to help me.”  Their sin? Disobeying Christ’s prime directive.

Don’t get me wrong. I have full confidence in God’s ability to  ”work in me to will and do his good pleasure.” (Phil 2:12). Without his daily grace, I am lost. But I shun the arrogance that says, “It doesn’t matter what I do or don’t do, I’m going to heaven.” I’m  a sinner whom God has reconciled himself to by Christs death and am “being saved by his life (within me). (Romans 5:10) And so I …work out my own salvation with fear and trembling.”–Phil 2:11. I also try to be “diligent to make my call and election sure.” (2 Peter 1:10). So,

Your comments and thoughts are important to us. Thanks.  

P.S. From Genesis to Revelation, we God’s relationship with his people is reflected in  marriage. I would hazard then, what is true for friendship, may go double for marriage. I’m just saying.

The Ambiguities of our Faith

It’s a strange but true fact that we are often held captive by our culture. For example, in the West, we believe truth is usually black or white.

I was sitting in a lecture hall at Yale University, scratching my head, trying to decipher Dr. “Freddy” Wang’s accent. “Chinese is wery ahm-big-oo-us.”  Forty of us were there to learn Mandarin, courtesy of the Air Force. NSA would then train us to spy on the Chinese mainland. Anyway, after his lecture, we were laughing at Freddy’s repeated attempts to say, “Very ambiguous.”

Years later it dawned on me. In that phrase, our professor was sharing with us the wisdom of his ancient culture. We johnny-come-lately westerners are clueless about the oriental insight into the dynamics of ambiguities such as yin and yang.  Webster’s defines ambiguous as” having two or more possible meanings. In the West, we keep trying to force reality into “‘either…or,” a rather static view of the world and the Word.

English has many synonyms for ambiguous. Paradox is one. Dialectic is another. The dialectic method holds that two contrasting ideas (dualities) may be in tension with each other, to reconcile the two into one new meaning, called synthesis.  In simple terms it means life is not always “either… or.” Sometimes it is “both…and. Our Christian faith has such ambiguities. Not convinced? How do you answer these questions?

  • Is Jesus man or God?
  • Is God one or three?
  • Are we saved by God’s grace or by our faith?
  • Are we going to be judged by our faith or our works?
  • Is salvation a present or future reality?
  • Which testament portrays God’s true nature, the Old or the New?
  • Does God judge us in our sins or extend forgiveness?

Congratulations if you answered “both” to all seven. Paradoxes like these have sadly been the cause for dividing Christians for centuries. Often it’s because the western mind fails to grasp what the eastern mind does–reality is not always a one-edged thing. Sometimes it has two-edges, as we see in this passage, “God’s word is living and active, as sharp as a two-edged sword, dividing asunder soul and spirit, where joints and marrow join, for God’s word judges a person’s thoughts and intentions.” –Heb. 4:12.

Did you notice the five underlined pairs? They are dualities. I believe the inspired writer put them there purposely, to help us see truth often has two edges—two contrasting ideas in harmony with each other.  This insight helps us resolve so-called discrepancies found in Scripture. It also may help us reconcile doctrinal controversies.

Consider two passages, quoted by opposing sides of one such controversy. “I have written these things that you may know you have eternal life – 1 John 5: 13. “How can those who abandon their faith be brought back to repent?”-Heb. 6:4. It’s tempting for one who is zealous for his doctrinal position, to twist a text to make it agree with his view, or to manipulate one to disprove the other. But why not let God’s Word be His Word? ”Let God be true and every man a liar– Romans 3.4. We can solve the dilemma when we hold these two truths in tension with each other. We are not forced to choose one over the other.

Once on a long car trip, I sat between two pastors. Each of them was as dogmatic as the other, heatedly arguing Calvinism vs. Arminianism, proof texting their positions from Scripture. After many miles of this, I finally spoke up. “You know, I believe you are actually both right. But is it “right” to let your doctrinal views come between you as brothers?”

Many church splits have been caused by these kinds of disputes. How sad, when the inspired Word clearly states,  “Be in harmony; show love for one another; be united in spirit and agree with one mind”– Phil, 2.2.  Brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus the Messiah,[o] I urge all of you to be in agreement[p] and not to have divisions among you, so that you may be perfectly united in your understanding and opinions. –I Cor. 1.10

Paul is just following Jesus when he made this fervent prayer before his passion. ”Father, may they all be one, as you and I are one…may they have such perfect unity that the world will know you sent me.”–John 17.21-23.

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What Can We Do About Our Divisions?

Previously we traced some root causes for the many divisions among Christians.     In this post we stress why unity is vital and offer some steps to implement  it. 

Part 1:  If Christianity is to recover from its malaise, our leaders  must find ways to cooperate and work together, not competitively. God’s ultimate plan for our broken world is “to bring all things  together in unity through Christ both in heaven and earth.” (Eph 1:12) . We can help heal our broken church to find  ways to model agreement and harmony, fulfilling God’s dream for us.

Why Is Unity So Important?

1. Jesus’ heart cries out for it “I pray for them Father…that they will all be one,…may they be one. May they be together in unitymay they be one. In this, his high-priestly prayer, urgency grips the Savior. Five times he pleads for us “to be one.” [BTW: Wesley wisely observed that the Bible’s most essential truths are the ones most repeated].

2. Our unity conforms with and reflects the harmonious relationship within the Godhead. Jesus’ prayer shines light on  God’s perfect unity within himself.Father, as you and I are one…as you are in me… as you are  in me, Father, and I am in you.”

3. We are called to ”Imitate God and follow Christ’s example of love” –Eph. 5:1. If we imitate God and follow Christ. we will seek grace to resist temptations to argue and bicker over doctrines. Is my job as a believer to criticize you and correct your beliefs or  to love and encourage you? -Galatians 6: 1-5

4. Divided we fall and our witness is dead in the water.  Jesus prayed for unity so the world would know we are genuinely His “…then the world will believe you sent me” and “…so the world will know you sent me.

  • When we demonstrate unity and model Christ’s love among ourselves, unbelievers will be open to us and the gospel of love we preach.
  • .Competition, lack of cooperation, doctrinal quarrels, is a real turn-off. Divided, we lose our saltiness and hide our light. (Matt. 5:13-16).
  • Jesus calls us to “be” his witnesses,”—live the gospel, then “tell it.” -Acts 1:8

6. Our unity goes hand in hand with obeying Jesus’ new covenant command: “Love one another as I have loved you”—-John 13: 34.

  • He promises the same results in his command and prayer: “Your love for one another proves to the world you are my disciples
  • Lost, hungry souls need to see we are genuine before they accept our message.

 Part 2: Vital Ways To Restore Unity. 

1. Pray! Pray! Pray together and alone, fervently with expectation, that mutual love and unity will take root in our fellowships and spread across our divided church.

  • It shows our love for Jesus Christ“If you love me, you will obey me.”
  • Prayer changes things. Our prayers may help put “united” back in USA.
  • Pray for peace in our homes. Eph. 5 and 6 offer 365 wise words of counsel to families. When we follow them, God’s peace strengthens family ties.
  • Harmony in other relationships Charity (love) starts at home, but it mustn’t stay there:  “As far as possible, be at peace with everyone.” (Rom.  12:18) “Do good to all, especially to those of God’s family.”  (Gal 6:10)

2. Prayer Requires Actions. Ask God as if everything depended on Him. Act as though it all depends on you.     

Future posts will offer more strategies to implement His love and unity.  

Please, share your comments. It encourages us if we know folks read our stuff.

 P.S. Seven Words From Scripture To Help Confirm This Truth To Our Hearts. 

  1. Peace: (eirenei) Inner peace comes when we have peace with God & others.
  2. One accord: (homothumadon) In Acts whenever disciples are “of one mind and heart,” God blesses them with rapid growth and miracles.
  3. Agreement/harmony: (symphanos) Jesus promised His special presence when we agree. “How good it is when brethren dwell together”…like a symphony
  4. Reconciliation: (katalogei) God unites and restores us to himself, then calls us to be his ambassadors of reconciliation to unite others to God and one another.
  5. Love: (agape). “I show you a more excellent way.” Where I Cor. 13 love is practiced, unity follows. If we are in unity, expect miracles of grace.
  6. Friendship: (philei) “I now call you my friends. If you are my friends, you will obey my commandment to love one another as I have loved you.”
  7. Fellowship (koinonia) is our common love for Christ and one another.

Feedback encourage us to continue in this ministry until Christ’s dream for us to be “one” comes true.

 

 

When to hold ’em and when to fold ’em!

 “It’s Wrong to Compromise!” I’ve heard and understand this fish or cut bait sentiment among believers, but I tend to go along with Kenny Rogers —“You gotta know when to hold ‘em and when to fold ‘em.” Sometimes it takes more grit to fold em than sticking to our guns. It was was through the genius of folding ’em, i.e. compromise, that Lincoln preserved the union and emancipated the slaves. When faced with three intolerable options, he had the wit to find a fourth, knowing the murky, treacherous  waters of slavery were to be navigated the way bomb squads diffuse bombs–slowly, gently and carefully.

The framers of the constitution walked the same slippery slope.  The purists were horrified when the constitution didn’t abolish slavery. They preferred being right about the issue than bringing to birth this great nation. Can there be any doubt this great  document would have never been ratified if founding fathers hadn’t compromised?

Compromise and the law of Christ. In Luke’s account of the First Jerusalem Counsel in Acts 15, we find the church was faced with intolerable options as well. The choices were to either obey God’s law to circumcise or disobey it. After listening to arguments on both sides, James decided the Jewish branch  of the church had no right to put intolerable burdens on non-Jewish believers. It would violate the law of Christ. Leaving aside the heavier doctrines of old covenant rituals of circumcision and sabbaths, he believed Christ’s law trumped Moses. “Only abstain from the pollution of idols, from fornication and from eating what is strangled and from blood.” Gentile believers were told. It was a compromise guided by Jesus great new covenant law, “Love one another as I have loved you.”. 

While this decision angered some, it advanced Christ’s gospel by leaving the door open to the great majority of people not of the Jewish covenant. This agape, new covenant decision saved the young movement which went on to shake the world.

Strong Leaders Understand When to “Fold em.” Paul did when faced with the tricky issue of eating meat sacrificed to idols. Some were convicted that this was a sin. Others did not.  While agreeing with those who had no scruples about it, it was to them he wrote,  “While knowledge (i.e. being right) can produce arrogance, love builds up.” (I Cor 8:1) Paul concludes, “When you sin against brothers by wounding their weak conscience, you sin against Christ….so, I will not eat this meat, lest I cause my brother to stumble.” (8: 12,13). Thus we see, Christ’s law of love transcends what may be considered right and wrong. To hurt and divide Christ’s body is a far greater sin. Paul followed Jesus’ agape principle when he instructed the apostles that if they loved him and wished to abide in him, they must lay down their lives, souls, egos for each other (John 15. 12-17. In the synoptic gospels he laid down the same principle. “If anyone will come after me, he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” Denying ourselves sometimes means denying our need to be right and fear of being wrong for the sake of the unity of Christ’s body.

When to Hold em” While Paul told believers to fold ‘em on that occassion, there are times when  compromise was dead wrong. He tells how once he had to correct Peter, the Rock–not  for incorrect beliefs, as we tend to do in the church, but for his actions.  “Before certain men came [to Antioch]…, Peter used to eat with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from them.” (Gal 2:12). Why did the Rock violate the Jerusalem Counsel and Christ’s own command.? Paul explains, “Because he feared those of the circumcision” i.e. the purists who clung to the past and their precious doctrines even if it meant blocking God’s plan to build a new future.

Culprits causing conflicts and divisions in the church Why do Christians fight over issues of predestination vs. free will but fail to fight for Christ’s law of love? Often it’s Peter’s issue–both the one in Antioch and earlier when he warmed his hands while denying his master—his fears! What’s so wonderful and amazing about Jesus’ unfailing love is, how he handled Peter’s failure by the Galilean Sea. He folded em, i.e. he never brought up Peter’s moral failure. Instead he challenged him Do you love me?  Are you my friend?  Then love, tend and feed those I give you to lead. (See John 21: 15-17). \

Other times the cause is not our strong convictions, it’s loving them more than one another which means loving Jesus less. When I put my need to be right and fear of being wrong ahead of my love for fellow believers, I must ask myself, am I denying him as well?

 

 

 

 

 

 

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!

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