Saturday, April 2, 2011

Unconditional Love

                “The God-relationship is the mark whereby love towards men is recognized as genuine love. As soon as a love-relationship does not lead me to God, and as soon as I in a love-relationship do not lead another person to God, this love, even if it were the most blissful and joyous attachment, even if it were the highest good in the lover's earthly life, nevertheless is not true love. The world can never get through its head that God in this way not only becomes the third party in every relationship of love but essentially becomes the only loved object, so that it is not the husband who is the wife's beloved, but it is... God, and it is the wife who is helped by the husband to love God, and conversely, and so on. The purely human conception of love can never go further than mutuality: that the lover is the beloved and the beloved is the lover. Christianity teaches that such a love has not yet found its proper object: God. The love-relationship is a triangular relationship of the lover, the beloved, love--but love is God. Therefore to love another person means to help him to love God and to be loved means to be helped." –Kierkegaard
             Can this be true? If it is, the love of the world is in stark contrast to this truth. What is unconditional love?  1 John 4: 7-12. “Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God, everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us; He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning SACRFICE for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.”
           So God is love, but this particular passage doesn’t tell us what love is.  Jesus teaches that love is not an idea, or a conception, rather it is an action.  John 15: 12-13 says, “My command is this; Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.”  So then love is sacrifice, and sacrifice is love.  ‘Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.’  We can then infer that whoever does not sacrifice does not know God because God is sacrifice.  
                Yet I would like to put forward, that the truth of love is not yet complete.  From what has been deduced above, all one needs to do is sacrifice themselves for another.  I would like to pose the argument that we cannot love anyone in and of themselves, because then it would be conditional love and not true love at all.  The love of the world again is based on conditions, characteristics, or similarities of one person to another; which are all conditions that have the propensity to change.  Even a mother’s love for her child is conditional, for it is based on the condition of the proximity of the relationship.  Unless the mother loved all children, even those of her enemies, the love for her child would be conditional and therefore not love at all.  We as humans are sinful, we think one thing one day, only to find it is changed the next.  Our characteristics change, our attitudes change, and even our understanding changes.  In fact most of our relationships our based on our own needs and desires, rather than for the others.  What the world honours and loves under the name of love is group-selfishness. The group also demands sacrifice and devotion from the one whom it is to call loving. It demands that he shall sacrifice a portion of his own selfishness in order to maintain the united group-selfishness. And it demands that he shall sacrifice the God-relationship in order to unite in a worldly way with the group which locks God out or at most takes him along for the sake of appearance." Kierkegaard
                “Jesus replied: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.  This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself.  All the law and the prophets hang on these two commandments (Matthew 22:37-40).”  Jesus does not tell us to love our neighbor or ourselves with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, but only God is worthy of all our being.  "In any relationship if God and the relationship to God have been left out, then, Christianly understood, this has not been love but a mutual and enchanting illusion of love. For to love God is to love oneself in truth; to help another human being to love God is to love another man; to be helped by another human being to love God is to be loved (Kierkegaard)."
                This tears our identity away from ourselves; the love of God takes all power and control from our grasps.  This should not only shock us, but repulse us! For it is contrary to our sinful nature. Not only are we not loveable, but we also cannot love apart from Him.  “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener.  He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.  You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, and I will remain in you.  No branch can bear fruit by it-self; it must remain in the vine.  Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me (John 15:1-4).”  This is completely contrary to the love that is normally thought to exist.  We yearn and fight tooth and claw to claim independence from God.  We want to be worthy, we want to be adequate, we want to justify our lives and live them for our own sake.  God, through Jesus, does not leave this as an option.  The fallen world is set against us.  We need God, he does not need us.  "His dominion is an eternal dominion; his kingdom endures from generation to generation. All the peoples of the earth are regarded as nothing. He does as he pleases with the powers of heaven and the peoples of the earth. No one can hold back his hand or say to him; 'What have you done?'" -Daniel 4:34-35
                 The love of the world is conditional, and selfish, without Jesus we live in a false community.  A community built on false presuppositions and superfluous activities; qualifying and quantifying relationships based on conditional characteristics.  "But when a friend, a beloved, lovers, and associates notice that you want to learn from God what it is to love instead of learning from them, they will very likely say to you, 'Spare yourself. Give up this eccentricity. Why take life so seriously? Cut out the straining, and we will live a beautiful, rich, and significant life in friendship and joy.' And if you give in to the suggestions of this false friendship, you will be loved and praised for your love. But if you will not, if in loving you will be a traitor neither to God nor to yourself nor to the others, you must expect to be called selfish."Kierkegaard
                Only God is unchangeable, he is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow.  In Him we live, move, breath, and have our being.  Only He is worthy of love and devotion, and only because of his love for our fellow man do we love them in due accord. This is by necessity, not by choice.  We either abide in Him, and He in us, or we live superficial lives built on a foundation of lies and half truths neither loving nor being loved. 
"In any relationship if God and the relationship to God have been left out, then, Christianly understood, this has not been love but a mutual and enchanting illusion of love. For to love God is to love oneself in truth; to help another human being to love God is to love another man; to be helped by another human being to love God is to be loved." Kierkegaard

Sunday, March 20, 2011

JOY in the Righteousness of Christ!!!

    Today I had the opportunity to play violin at First Lutheran in Fargo with a small chamber orchestra.  At the beginning of the service I was confronted with a very interesting phenomenon.  The pastor greeted the congregation and then told them to greet each other with the JOY that has been given us.  People turned in their pews, shook hands, and mumbled a soft 'goodmorning', or 'peace be with you'.  This is very similar to what happens in many services but it leads me to ask one question.....where is the JOY???
     Jesus died for us! He saved us! We live in freedom for the Kingdom of God!  When we come together to worship Him we ought to be ecstatic. "As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my father's commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete (John 15:9-11)."  The love of God completely satisfies and fulfills us.  We are no longer looking for things in this world, we have been given it all. He is utilizing us, mere sinners, to bring Heaven to Earth!!!

          How glorious, how wonderful!! So many times we forget what God has done for us, and that we are truly saved.  We say we, as sinners, are justified in Christ; and then we go a step further and say our sin is justified as well.  God does not want us focused on ourselves or our sin, "Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God (Hebrews 12:1-2)."  We forget that God made us righteous in his eyes, that we are redeemed, we are his children.  Are we going to sin? Yes, but we ought to boldly step forth with the expectation that we will not.  Jesus has died for our sin, the Holy Spirit is inside of us and empowers us to do things beyond our own capability.  We ought to have faith and trust that God will keep us from temptation. "No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it (1 Corinthians 10:13)."

        Not only will this allow us to live in God and he in us, but if/when we do sin, repentance will come easier but will be much more painful (it is true repentance).  If we do not expect to sin, not because we are strong but because God is, and then we do sin; the blame falls on our own shoulders.  Then we can be broken and in agony over what we did, for we were given everything to overcome it and yet we still fell.  We did not glorify our father in heaven, we did not rely on Him, and that should crush us.  Thankfully our God is loving, compassionate, and abounds in mercy.  He forgives us and we can once again take on the mantle of faith and  bear the very image of Christ.  "What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! we died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? Or don't you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life (Romans 6:1-4)."

      I'm coming to realize that the transformation of re-birth in Christ is much more radical than I had previously thought.  Our minds our truly renewed!  What if Jesus' lifestyle and relationship with God wasn't unreachable, what if he came to show us the standard Christian life.  He redeemed us, allowed us to be in relationship with God just as he was/is, and then sent the Holy Spirit to enable us to do so.  "I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing (Galatians 2:20-21)!"  Righteousness is not from us, it is from God.  It is not about what we can do or who we are, but from what He has already done and who He is!  Sometimes we fall into a trap, we 'act as if we are humble, but in actuality we merely don't have faith in what God has done.  Lack of faith can be misunderstood as humbleness.  God didn't say you will be saved, he said you are saved.  He didn't say pray for the sick, he said heal the sick.  He didn't say be the light and salt of the world, he said you are the light and salt of the earth.  This is not our own doing but by the grace and will of God, who wants us to trust completely in Him and to be obedient.  "So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! All this from God who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:16-18)."

       God is not a fan of skepticism, he doesn't care if we get everything theologically correct right away, he tells us to have faith like a child, to listen to our Father, to FOLLOW Jesus, and to GO make disciples of all nations. Single minded obedience chosen as a friend of the Lord. We have Joy when we realize what is attained by, from, and through God.  When we gather together as the body of Christ our joy should be tangible in the air.  When someone comes to Christ, it is the most glorious moment for the Kingdom and we ought to rejoice with greater enthusiasm then when our team wins the Superbowl.  Keep in mind that even with Joy we will still feel sad sometimes, we will feel compassion and sympathy, we will suffer; but even in our suffering we can by joyful. "But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed (1 Peter 4:14)."  We can have joy in our trials and in our suffering because we have been given the opportunity to glorify God in them, and to shine his light.  It is not about us, it is about God, this is what gives us great Joy!

      We are loved...period. Let your joy be expressed to others in service, words of encouragement, teaching rebuking, prayer and compassion.  "You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. "In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven (Matthew 14-16)."  Our fulfillment is in God, our lives our given to Him, and our Joy is found only in Him.  Step boldly out in faith, disciple one another and glorify God in everything, for he is the only one worthy of it.  All things are from Him and through Him.

"God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. As God's fellow workers we urge you not to receive God's grace in vain. For he says, 'In the time of my favor I heard you, and in the day of salvation I helped you.' I tell you, now is the time of God's favor, now is the day of salvation (2 Corinthians 5:21 - 6:1)!"

Monday, March 7, 2011

Excerpt #2 from Bonhoeffer's "The Cost of Discipleship"

        In the following passage, Bonhoeffer writes about the Christian community in relation to the world?  How should we view the world, and how should we interact within it?  For we are no longer of this world, we live in it but are not of it.  The kingdom we are apart of is from another place.

       "The Christians live in the world.  they make use of the world, for they are creatures of flesh and blood, and it was for the sake of their flesh that Christ came into the world.  They indulge in worldly activities.  they get married, but their marriage will look quite different form marriage as the world understands it.  Christan marriage will be undertaken 'in the lord' (1 Cor. 7:39).  It will be sanctified in the service of the Body of Christ and in the discipline of prayer and self-control (1 Cor. 7:5). It will be a parable of the self-sacrificing love of Christ for his Church.  It will even be itself a part of the Body of Christ, a Church in miniature (Eph. 5:32).

         The Christians buy and sell, they engage in trade and commerce, but again in a different spirit from the world.  They will not only refrain from driving a hard bargain with one another (I Thess. 4:6), but (what to the world will appear incomprehensible) they will prefer to let others gain unfair advantage over them and do them injustice, rather than take their case to a pagan law-court over 'things that pertain to this life.'  Should the need arise, they will settle their disputes within the Christian community, and before their own tribunals (I Cor. 6:1-8).

      Thus the life of the Christian community in the world bears permanent witness to the truth that 'the fashion of this world passeth away' (I Cor. 7:31), that the time is short and the Lord is nigh.  This thought fills them with joy unspeakable (Phil. 4:4).  The world is growing too small for the Christian community, and all it looks for is the Lord's return.  It still walks in the flesh, but with eyes upturned to heaven, whence he for whom they wait will come again.  In the world the Christians are a colony of the true home, they are strangers and aliens in a foreign land, enjoying the hospitality of that land, obeying its laws and honouring its government.  They receive with gratitude the requirements of their bodily life, and in all things prove themselves hones, just, chaste, gentle, peaceable, and read to serve. They show the love of God to all men, 'but especially to them that ore of the household of faith' (Gal. 6:10; II Pet. 1:7).

     They are patient and cheerful in suffering, and they glory in tribulation.  They live their own life under alien rulers and alien laws.  Above all, they pray for all in authority, for that is their greatest service.  But they are only passing through the country.  At any moment they may receive the signal to move on.  Then they will strike tents, leaving behind them all their worldly friends and connections, and following only the voice of their Lord who calls.  They leave the land of their exile, and start their homeward trek to heaven."

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Excerpt from Bonhoeffer's "The Cost of Discipleship"

         I have just started reading this book, and already I can tell it will be very challenging and convicting.  Here is a few paragraphs about grace, and the differentiation between what Bonhoeffer calls cheap grace and costly grace.  Generally we utilize the grace of God to justify our lifestyle... but this is not the gospel message.  Rather grace allows for us to follow after Christ, denying ourselves and following him which will include suffering and persecution.  It is costly because as a christian our whole life is given for the purpose of His kingdom.  But it is grace because we are allowed to follow Jesus Christ.

        "Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without Church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession.  Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate. 

        Costly grace is the treasure hidden in the field; for the sake of it a man will gladly go and sell all that he has.  It is the pearl of great price to buy which the merchant will sell all his goods.  It is the kingly rule of Christ, for whose sake a man will pluck out the eye which causes him to stumble, it is the call of Jesus Christ at which the disciple leaves his nets and follows him. 

           Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again, the gift which must be asked for, the door at which a man must knock. Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ.  It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life.  It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner.  Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of his Son: 'ye were bought at a price,' and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us.  Above all, it is grace because God did not reckon his Son too dear a price to pay for our life, but delivered him up for us.  Costly grace is the Incarnation of God.

         Costly grace is the sanctuary of God; it has to be protected from the world, and not thrown to the dogs.  It is therefore the living word, the Word of God, which he speaks as it pleases him.  Costly grace confronts us as a gracious call to follow Jesus, it comes as a word of forgiveness to the broken spirit and the contrite heart.  grace is costly because it compels a man to submit to the yoke of Christ and follow him; it is grace because Jesus says: 'My yoke is easy and my burden is light.'"

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Excerpt from Kierkegaards "Works of Love"

A friend and I have embarked on a literary adventure this semester.  Together we are hoping to read a book a week and an author a month.  January was Augustine, we read the Confessions, On Free Choice of the Will, and On Christian Doctrine.  February is Kierkegaard and we are currently tackling his book "Works of Love."  I am beyond fascinated and convicted by his writings; and although difficult I would highly recommend this particular text.  He truly derives what it means to love God, and it lies in stark contrast to the socially constructed definition of love.  I am going to try and post excerpts of the books I am reading, highlighting some of points that stick out most to me. 

          "Woe to the men by whom the temptation comes we confidently say: woe to him who first thought of preaching Christianity without the possibility of offence. Woe to the person who ingratiatingly, flirtatiously, commendingly, convincingly preached to mankind some effeminate something which was supposed to be Christianity.Woe to the person who betrayed and broke the mystery of faith, distorted it into public wisdom, because he took away the possibility of offence! Woe to the person who could comprehend the mystery of atonement without detecting anything of the possibility of offence; woe again to him because he thought thereby to make God and Christianity something for study and cultivation. Woe to all those unfaithful stewards who sat down and wrote false proofs, winning friends for themselves and Christianity by writing off the possibility of offence in Christianity and inserting foolishness by the hundreds!
          "O, the learning and acumen tragically wasted, O, the time tragically wasted in this enormous work of defending Christianity! Truly, when Christianity simply rises up again, powerful in the possibility of offence, so that this terror can again arouse men: then Christianity will need no defence.  On the other hand, the more learned, the more excellent the defence, the more Christianity is disfigured, abolished, exhausted like an emasculated man, for the defence simply out of kindness will take the possibility of offence away.  But Christianity ought not be defended, it is men who should see whether they can justify themselves and justify for themselves what they choose when Christianity terrifyingly, as it once did, poses for them the choice and terrifyingly constrains them to choose; either to be offended or to accept Christianity.  Therefore take away from Christianity the possibility of offence or take away from the forgiveness of sin the battle of an anguished conscience (to which, nevertheless, according to Luther's excellent explanation, this whole doctrine leads),  and then lock the churches, the sooner the better, or turn them into places of amusement which stand open all day long! 
      But although by taking away the possibility of offence men have gotten the whole world Christianised, the curious thing always occurs--the world is offended by the real Christian. Here comes the offence, the possibility of which is after all inseparable from Christianity.  Only the confusion is more distressing than ever, for at one time the world was offended by Christianity--That was the intention; but now the world imagines that it is Christian, that it has made Christianity its own without detecting anything of the possibility of offence--and then it is offended by the real Christian. Truly it is difficult to break out of such an illusion. Woe to the flowing pens and the busy tongues, woe to this whole busyness which, because it knows neither the one nor the other, can so very easily reconcile both the one and the other." 

Monday, January 24, 2011


This is an interesting 'poem' that my uncle shared with me.   Do you believe that what you believe is really real?  And what would happen if you did believe what you claimed to?

Totally like whatever, you know?
By Taylor Mali

In case you hadn't noticed,
it has somehow become uncool
to sound like you know what you're talking about?
Or believe strongly in what you're saying?
Invisible question marks and parenthetical (you know?)'s
have been attaching themselves to the ends of our sentences?
Even when those sentences aren't, like, questions? You know?

Declarative sentences - so-called
because they used to, like, DECLARE things to be true
as opposed to other things which were, like, not -
have been infected by a totally hip
and tragically cool interrogative tone? You know?
Like, don't think I'm uncool just because I've noticed this;
this is just like the word on the street, you know?
It's like what I've heard?
I have nothing personally invested in my own opinions, okay?
I'm just inviting you to join me in my uncertainty?

What has happened to our conviction?
Where are the limbs out on which we once walked?
Have they been, like, chopped down
with the rest of the rain forest?
Or do we have, like, nothing to say?
Has society become so, like, totally . . .
I mean absolutely . . . You know?
That we've just gotten to the point where it's just, like . . .

And so actually our disarticulation . . . ness
is just a clever sort of . . . thing
to disguise the fact that we've become
the most aggressively inarticulate generation
to come along since . . .
you know, a long, long time ago!

I entreat you, I implore you, I exhort you,
I challenge you: To speak with conviction.
To say what you believe in a manner that bespeaks
the determination with which you believe it.
Because contrary to the wisdom of the bumper sticker,
it is not enough these days to simply QUESTION AUTHORITY.
You have to speak with it, too.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

The Purpose of the Church (1)

      There is another transition occurring within the church; and at a time like this it is important to look at scripture to try and understand God's intended purpose for it.  This understanding has become very important for me.  Here at Concordia College I witness a strange dichotomy when it comes to ministries on campus.  The campus ministry itself, led by the pastors on campus, has become very bland.  Sermons and teachings revolve around us instead of around God.  This 'church' seems to be more influenced by the World then it does  God, and it is reflected in where they search to find truth and how this changes the interworkings of the community. 

        On the other hand there is an 'emergent' church on campus as well.  These student led bible studies and worship services, have a different character then the more common 'Campus Ministry.'  Here it seems the students are more willing to look deep into themselves.  There is a yearning for not just more of life, but more of God (which of course are inextricably connected but not always recognized as such.)   However neither group is perfect, nor do they completely fulfill the purposes of the church as outlined in scripture.  I believe that every church body should strive to conform to the will of God; and in order to do that, we must look towards scripture for our guidance and direction.

      In Scripture Jesus scarcely mentions the word 'church', although he does often refer to it indirectly.  In Matthew 16:13-18 it says, "When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, "who do people say the Son of Man is?"  They replied, "Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets."  "But what about you?" he asked.  "Who do you say I am?" Simon Peter answered, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God."  Jesus replied, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven.  And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven." Then he warned his disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Christ."

      So what can we learn from this passage?  I think one of the most profound things is the blessing that Jesus gives to Peter, not the blessing in itself but the reason for the blessing.  Jesus blesses Peter not only because he claims Jesus is lord, but because he did not hear it from the mouths of men.  This shows and expresses how one must have an understanding of Jesus in order to truly accept Him as our savior.  Knowledge is not enough.  I cannot merely express a prayer on my lips proclaiming Jesus as my savior, rather it needs to be an internal understanding of myself in relation to Him.  Jesus then goes on to say, "and on this rock I will build my church." The church then is made of people who truly 'know' and 'understand' Jesus for who he is.  The church is built on the revelation of Jesus Christ, the Son of the Living God.  It is only in a community devoted to God and founded on Jesus Christ, where true unity, peace, and joy can be found.  The relationships within the church, which differ from relationships of the world, are not based on what we've done or who we are; but on who He is and what He has done.

John Piper puts it this way, "Do you love God because he makes much of you, or because he allows us to make much of Him?"  I was convicted by this question and I think it is an important one for every church and individual to answer.  One example of a church that appears to put people first, is Joel Osteen's church in Texas.  One that I have found that lifts God above all else, is Mark Driscoll's church in Seattle. 

Finally we are given a wonderful promise by God in Matthew 16.  Jesus says, "And the gates of Hades will not overcome it."  The true church, the community that consists of those who understand and know Jesus for who he is, will not be overcome by Satan!! How amazing is the power and glory of God, and oh what peace he brings.  Looking into it further, the imagery depicts the church as on the offensive not the defensive.  As members of the church we are called to battle against the evil that is in this world.  To be a light on a hill that cannot be hidden, to proclaim the good news to all the World; and Jesus promises victory!