Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Service, Sacrifice and Love

There is a strain of evangelicalism that Kevin DeYoung describes as a "get radical, get crazy Christianity [that] cannot be sustained. If the message of Jesus translates into “Give more away” or “Sacrifice for the gospel” or “Get more radical” we will end up with burned out evangelicals."   Jonathan Edwards addressed a similar problem

"In March of 1792 ... Parishioners were attempting to outdo each other in enthusiasm, spreading the false impression that the more violent the emotions and the more vehement the expressions of zeal the greater the true piety.  Edwards labored vigorously to make the point, as he would throughout the awakenings, that great excitements were not essential to true spirituality—even if they were often compatible with it. ... From hard experience he had learned that revival passions were fleeting. He did not want a repetition of what had happened in the late 1730s [when] he found himself in the embarrassing position of presiding over a spiritually torpid town just as it became internationally renowned as a model of spiritual transformation."  (Jonathan Edwards: A Life By George M. Marsden)

I agree with DeYoung and Edwards, but what should both motivate and temper a life lived for Christ?

I know that at times I'm inclined to labor under wrong motivations such as the guilt of having so much while others in this world have so little. Even the good motivation of  responding to “all God’s done for me” can be mistakenly seen as a "debt I owe to God" and lead to feelings of failure because I have done so little to show my gratitude.  That's probably why I'm so moved by John Owen's assurance that The Father’s love is so full, so every-way complete and absolute, that it will not allow him to complain of anything in them whom he loves.”

Paul is right when he said in his letter to the church in Corinth that love is the best and only lasting motivation, and without it our best efforts are worthless. From personal experience I can say that it is love which fuels our care for our developmentally disabled son, Noah.  Pity, duty, guilt or even "true grit" can motivate for a while but only love can sustain us to the finish.  By itself my love for Noah isn't enough without also having God's love for me and confidence that he is at work to bring good and ultimately joy for Noah and our family.

I do best when love is my primary motivation for other acts of service toward God and those he loves. Most of the time, sacrifice doesn't feel like a burden when love is the motivation.  In fact, the word sacrifice doesn't really apply because acts motivated by love bring greater joy than what could be gained by following any other desire.

Monday, April 18, 2011

There is no forgiveness without Love

Forgiveness is a sacrificial gift given to one who stands rightly condemned. Such forgiveness is an act of love. In fact, true forgiveness is impossible unless it is motivated by love.

In the novel Les Misérables, John Valjean steals the silver utensils from the priest that had given him food and a bed to sleep in. This is the nature of sin that it takes without asking, wounds without shame. When the police catch the thief and bring him and the silverware back to the priest, the priest does not demand that the thief grovel and beg for mercy. He does not even ask the thief to confess his sin. Instead the priest insists that the items were a gift and that John Valjean had forgotten to take the silver candlesticks as well. Here then was a debt of stolen property and more grievous a debt to justice. Not only are these debts forgiven but a gift is also given. The gift is a seal, a guarantee that the thief is released. After giving the candlesticks it is then impossible that the priest could ever hold the debt over the head of the thief. In fact, with the gift the identity of "thief" is erased and the new identity of beloved friend is proclaimed.
Sword of Damocles

What we often call "forgiveness" is not really forgiveness at all. It is forbearance -- the setting aside of a just demand for compensation (an eye for an eye). The required payment of the debt is suspended--for a time. Forbearance may hold out the prospect that good behavior will earn continued forbearance, but not forgiveness and so not freedom. The debtor remains condemned, like Damocles, with a sword suspended above his head by a single strand of hair.

The indivisibleness of love and forgiveness is illustrated in Jesus' parable of the prodigal son. The son demanded his share of the inheritance while his father still lived and by doing so he declared that he wished his father were dead. After squandering the money and facing starvation he truly repents of what he has done. Making his way back home, he does not expect forgiveness but hopes for the forbearance to be treated as a servant. But, Jesus tells us, while the son is still a long way off, his father sees him and runs and embraces him. (Luke 15:11-23)

The father had been deeply hurt that day when his son had turned his back and left. The father had every right to reject his son. It would have been generous of him simply to go back into the house and sit and wait for his son to come and prostrate himself at the father's feet and beg for forgiveness. That act of contrition would be a start toward healing some of the deep wound he felt. But the father did not wait. He ran to his son.

More than that he embraced him and gave him gifts and ordered that a celebration be prepared. Why? Because the son he loved and thought dead was alive and had returned to him. It brings him joy to give his son gifts: rings, clothes, and forgiveness because love's greatest desire is the for the good of the beloved.

Among sinful humanity, there may be no greater reflection of divine grace than an act of true forgiveness. We are told to imitate Christ in this way: "Forgive others as the Lord forgave you …" But how can we forgive those who have hurt us so deeply? This is a hard thing to do, and without love it is impossible. We cannot truly forgive unless we first love and this also is the work of God in us. "We love because God first loved us." We only begin to love others because "God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us." This love, which God gives us, looks for and longs for reconciliation with others because it is the nature of true love to pursue what is beloved. "While we were still sinners, God demonstrated his love in this: Christ died for us." (Col 3:13b, 1 John 4:19, Rom 5:8)

Even though God has given the Holy Spirit to us, our pain and pride can keep us from freely loving and forgiving others as God has loved and forgiven us. How can we stir up real love for those who have brought us so much pain? We begin by seeing the love of Christ.  He is "the author and perfecter of our faith.  For the joy set before him he endured the cross, despising the shame."  Christ is like the father of the prodigal son who despised the shame associated with hiking up his robes and exposing his bare legs as he ran to embrace his son. Christ endured the cross because he knew he would gain the joy of an eternity with those he loves -- sinners like Peter who abandoned Christ and denied even knowing him and Saul/Paul who  hated and persecuted Jesus' followers and sinners like me and you.   Like Christ our Lord, we should look beyond the pain of our wounds and look ahead with faith to the joy of never ending love and friendship with those we forgive. In our forgiving we "clothe ourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience … and over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together." (Heb 12:2, Col 3:12,14)

Monday, April 11, 2011

Love. (III)

from The Temple (1633), by George Herbert:
(follow title link to hear poem set to music)

Love. (III)

Love bade me welcome: yet my soul drew back,
Guiltie of dust and sinne.
But quick-ey’d Love, observing me grow slack
From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning,
If I lack’d any thing.

A guest, I answer’d, worthy to be here:
Love said, You shall be he.
I the unkinde, ungratefull? Ah my deare,
I cannot look on thee.
Love took my hand, and smiling did reply,
Who made the eyes but I?

Truth Lord, but I have marr’d them: let my shame
Go where it doth deserve.
And know you not, sayes Love, who bore the blame?
My deare, then I will serve.
You must sit down, sayes Love, and taste my meat:
So I did sit and eat.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Heaven, A World Of Love by Jonathan Edwards

An excerpt from Jonathan Edwards on the love that we will have for one another in heaven.

Love in heaven is always mutual. - As much as we love another, that much we also desire to have their love. And in heaven this desire of love, or this fondness for being loved, will never fail of being satisfied.
As the saints will love God with an inconceivable ardency of heart, and to the utmost of their capacity, so they will know that he has loved them from all eternity, and still loves them, and will continue to love them forever. And God will then gloriously manifest himself to them, and they shall know that all that happiness and glory which they are possessed of, are the fruits of his love. And with the same ardor and fervency will the saints love the Lord Jesus Christ; and their love will be accepted; and they shall know that he has loved them with a faithful, yea, even with a dying love.
The love of the saints, one to another, will always be mutual and reciprocated, though we cannot suppose that everyone will, in all respects, be equally beloved. Some of the saints are more beloved of God than others, even on earth. The angel told Daniel that he was "a man greatly beloved" (Dan. 9:23); and Luke is called "the beloved physician" (Col. 4:14); and John, "the disciple whom Jesus loved" (John 20:2). And so, doubtless, those that have been most eminent in fidelity and holiness, and that are highest in glory, are most beloved by Christ in heaven; and doubtless those saints that are most beloved of Christ, and that are nearest to him in glory, are most beloved by all the other saints. Thus we may conclude that such saints as the apostle Paul and the apostle John are more beloved by the saints in heaven than other saints of lower rank. They are more beloved by lower saints than those of equal rank with themselves. But then there are answerable returns of love in these cases; for as such are more beloved by all other saints, so they are fuller of love to other saints The heart of Christ, the great Head of all the saints, is more full of love than the heart of any saint can be. He loves all the saints far more than any of them love each other. But the more any saint is loved of him, the more is that saint like him, in this respect, that the fuller his heart is of love.
There shall be nothing external in heaven to keep its inhabitants at a distance from each other, or to hinder their most perfect enjoyment of each other's love. - There shall be no wall of separation in heaven to keep the saints asunder, nor shall they be hindered from the full and complete enjoyment of each other's love by distance of habitation; for they shall all be together, as one family, in their heavenly Father's house. Nor shall there be any want of full acquaintance to hinder the greatest possible intimacy; and much less shall there be any misunderstanding between them, or misinterpreting things that are said or done by each other.
In heaven all shall be united together in very near and dear relations - Love always seeks a near relation to the one who is beloved; and in heaven they shall all be nearly allied and related to each other. All shall be nearly related to God the supreme object of their love, for they shall all be his children. And all shall be nearly related to Christ, for he shall be the head of the whole society, and the husband of the whole Church of saints, all of whom together shall constitute his spouse. And they shall all be related to each other as brethren, for all will be but one society, or rather but one family, and all members of the household of God.
Those that are highest in glory, are those that are highest in holiness, and therefore are those that are most beloved by all the saints; for they most love those that are most holy, and so they will all rejoice in their being the most happy. And it will not be a grief to any of the saints to see those that are higher than themselves in holiness and likeness to God, more loved also than themselves, for all shall have as much love as they desire, and as great manifestations of love as they can bear; and so all shall be filly satisfied; and where there is perfect satisfaction, there can be no reason for envy. And there will be no temptation for any to envy those that are above them in glory, on account of the latter being lifted up with pride; for there will be no pride in heaven. We are not to conceive that those who are more holy and happy than others in heaven, will be elated and lifted up in their spirit above others; for those who are above others in holiness, will be superior to them in humility. The saints that are highest in glory will be the lowest in humbleness of mind, for their superior humility is part of their superior holiness. Though all are perfectly free from pride, yet, as some will have greater degrees of divine knowledge than others, and larger capacities to see more of the divine perfections, so they will see more of their own comparative littleness and nothingness, and therefore will be lowest and most abased in humility.

And, besides, the inferior in glory will have no temptation to envy those that are higher than themselves, for those that are highest will not only be more loved by the lower for their higher holiness, but they will also have more of the spirit of love to others, and so will love those that are below them more than if their own capacity and elevation were less.

For me, the love shared within a family comes closest to this heavenly love on earth. Yet compared to the love of heaven, the familial bonds of love are like the morning star compared to the rising sun.