The Image of Love

 

Genesis 1:27 “So God created mankind in His own image, in the image of God He created them; male and female He created them.”

It has been said that ever since God created us in His own image, we have more than reciprocated. It would be sad if it weren’t so humorous. We are ever prone to make God look, act, and feel like a human. Greek and Norse mythologies are about gods behaving like men and women, complete with our own petty jealousies, capriciousness, and immorality. To this day, we all project our inconsistencies upon God: God likes the people we like, puts up with the ones we put up with, ridicules the ones we ridicule, and way too often tells us exactly what we want to hear.

The God of the Bible exhibits amazing love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control toward a human race that not only distorts His image, but treats people in ways He would never intend. Because of what Jesus did on the cross, God intends to form that kind of love in us, through His Spirit.

God exists as three persons in One. It is a holy mystery. But let us remember: this is the basis for love. The Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit love each other perfectly. They share a deep and unique fellowship. We imperfectly try to reflect that fellowship in the union of a husband and a wife and in the community of those who believe in Jesus. But we fail—miserably. Yet Jesus’s prayer in John 17 invites us in to the fellowship and the love which the Trinity embodies.

John 17:11, 20-21, 26 “Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name, the name you gave me, so that they may be one as we are one. . . . My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. . . . I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.”

We know that “God is love.” (1John 4:8) Love requires a giver and a receiver—and the Trinity makes that possible. But the description of love in 1Corinthians 13 does not fit into the Trinity unless the Trinity encounters some imperfection, some transgression in order for love to be shown as glorious as it truly is.

1Corinthians 13:4-8 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.

There is no cause for the Father to forgive the Son or the Son to forgive the Father. There is no cause for the Holy Spirit to have erased a “record of wrongs” with either one of the other persons in the Trinity. The Trinity thinks, speaks, and acts perfectly—for God is love.

It’s when humans get thrown into the mix that God’s love for imperfect humanity is revealed to be as amazing as it actually is. God is patient with us. He is kind when there is no reason to have been so. He does not boast about these great accomplishments. He does not shame or dishonor us, even when we have been rolling in the muck of our sins. He is always seeking to do good for us. He is not easily angered at us, even though we give him plenty of reasons. The fact that He keeps no record of wrongs boggles the imagination.

The kind of love that God is becomes revealed when the object of that affection does not return the love. In Christ, that’s the image we are called to reflect. We engage with God—the Trinity—when we love others as we are loved. It’s why the Apostle John could write these words: 

1John 4:7-8 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 . . .

LOVING MONEY

Ecclesiastes 5:10 Whoever loves money never has money enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income. This too is meaningless. 

Ain’t it the truth. We probably all know somebody who fits this description— people always have (as this verse of Scripture was written three thousand years ago.) It is incomprehensible when those who are rich complain about needing more money. People who have the cash for lavish homes, upscale restaurants, fantastic vacations, and the best schools for their kids don’t usually live with less and usually wish they had “just a little bit more.” 

But this verse of Scripture is not talking about wealthy people. It is speaking about anybody who loves money—so it applies to us all. It’s not wrong to be concerned about paying the bills and buying the things we legitimately need. The recipe for the kind of frustration the teacher in Ecclesiastes warns about is adding more “want” to our lives than the Lord would have us to want. 

Money isn’t the root of all evil (as some have misquoted the passage from 1Timothy 6:10) but it is the love of money that is a root of all kinds of evil. We were not created by God to have a personal attachment or a passionate affection for gold and silver, so real joy cannot be found in the pursuit of the cash to get more “stuff.” On the contrary, love of money always denies our deepest desires. (If anyone realizes this, it’s a rich person who can’t buy love.)

Proverbs 30:8-9 says, “Give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread. Otherwise, I may have too much and disown You and say, ‘Who is the LORD?’”

There’s real wisdom there—which (by the way) the Bible says is way more valuable than money. 

Fairy Tale Wedding

 

God did not choose any other metaphor in the whole universe to depict his love for us except marriage. There is no mountain, no waterfall, no galaxy—nothing can show how much Jesus loves us as can a married couple who are filled and controlled by the Holy Spirit.

If you have children and you want them to see how much God loves them, let them see it in your relationship. If you want unbelievers to believe that Jesus Christ came to earth and died for them, sacrificing His own best interests for their well- being, then it’s a whole lot easier if they see it operating in a marriage. If a couple is selfish, controlling, and going their own separate ways—others will never see the metaphor God wants them to see. Instead, they will think that God’s love is just a fairy tale, way too good to be true.

. . . And it is sort of is a fairy tale isn’t it? Can anybody who is a Christian deny the amazing love they feel from a Savior who has swept them up into his arms and is carrying them to an eternal, heavenly home where they will live happily ever after?

There is a longing in the heart of every human for the old tales to really be true—that love truly does conquer all— and that longing is there for a reason. Why have men and women of so many cultures written stories with a happily ever after? It’s because they are, unconsciously, tapping into an eternal truth that God actually has a happily-ever-after planned for those He loves. Truly, Christ resurrects us from our spiritual deadness with a kiss, but the journey to eternal bliss is not an easy one.

As a bride, the church tends to be stubborn and want its own way. Sometimes we stop talking to Him as we pout; we whine and complain. Sometimes we’re angry that He doesn’t do things our way. Jesus is an ardent lover, however, and will not allow us to wander too far away. Our honeymoon in the Heavenly City is a reality more solid than our sinfulness by the grace of God through the sacrifice of His son, Jesus Christ. God did not choose any other metaphor in the whole universe to depict his love for us except marriage.

M&M  June 1978

“God & Country” or “God & Church”?

… if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.

(2Chronicles 7:14)

So often I hear this verse used in reference to the U.S.A., quoted by well-meaning Christians who sense our society’s moral decline. Perhaps it could apply to us as a country (I mean, God can do whatever He wants with the nations of the world). Frankly, I hope it can apply to us because I like the thought of living in a country that God would bless. Originally, though, the context of this story in Scripture was for the land of Israel only. Solomon had just finished overseeing the building and dedication of the Temple of God in Jerusalem. The LORD then appeared to Solomon at night and said,

“I have heard your prayer and have chosen this place for myself as a temple for sacrifices. When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command locusts to devour the land or send a plague among my people—if My people, who are called by My name, will humble themselves …”

This was God’s prescription for Israel for when things got bad. Christians, however, should primarily think of that promise as metaphor. Christians have never been given a piece of real estate by God in the same manner the Jews were given the land of Israel. We are God’s people, sure enough, but what is “our land?” It doesn’t appear that Jesus claimed any specific plot of ground for Himself or for His followers. Could our inheritance be the Church — Jesus’ Kingdom on the Earth? If Christians humble themselves, pray, seek God’s face, and turn from their wicked ways, then might God heal the drought of love in the church? Might God destroy the “locusts” that are robbing us of fruitful labor in our ministries? Might He heal us of the plague of self-centeredness? It’s tempting to point fingers at the pagan society around us and urge it to repent (for, indeed, it needs to) but this verse actually asks us, the church, to do the repenting.

45 Years of Dating the Same Person

 

Mike & Mary @ Purdue University, Winter 1977-78

I met Mary in the summer of 1976. She was in the big, outdoor pool where I was a lifeguard (enough said). Our first date was a double date to an old-fashioned ice cream parlor.  We saw each other at the pool and I went over to her parents’ home where we talked on the front porch after work. I took her out to breakfast before she left for graduate school. Mary and I became “official” boyfriend and girlfriend in the autumn that year. We were married in June of 1978.

A wise old pastor once told me, “We don’t get married because we are in love; we get married to learn how to love.” Jesus is the author and perfecter of our faith and our love.  He uses marriage to mature both people so that, eventually, the couple will love the way that He loves.

Mary and I entered marriage with the belief that we deserved to be made happy by marriage—that somehow we would “live happily ever after.” It would be like dating, only more fun. But here’s the truth we have learned: If we aim for happiness, we won’t get it—but if we aim for love, happiness will get thrown in. 

I’ve often thought that while a wedding couple say their vows, God hears and thinks, “OK. I’ll give you a chance to fulfill those vows. Sometimes it will be worse and not better, poorer and not richer. You’ll have sickness and not health. Death may separate you two, but it won’t separate you from Me. I’m with you forever. In the meantime, you’ll learn to love each other more like I love you.”

The Foolishness of Christianity

1Corinthians 1:20-23
Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles…

The death and resurrection of Jesus means the penalty of sin has been paid by the Lord Jesus Christ; it proved His power to forgive sin—His crucifixion spanned the gap which existed between Heaven and Earth.

As a result, the resurrection of our Lord means that the foolishness of Christianity is wiser than any other religion’s wisdom. Yet, Christianity appears foolish in the eyes of those who will not believe in and follow a crucified, risen Christ.

When the topic of religion comes up, some people have a difficult time taking faith in Jesus seriously. Perhaps there are raised eyebrows, sighs, or outright antagonism. More than once, friends have been surprised that someone as intelligent as I would believe the old Christian “fairytales.” I have also spoken with those who honestly think that the world would be a better place without Christianity.

The “foolishness” of the crucifixion and resurrection is the perfect way of revealing who Jesus is and who we are. Even I don’t understand why God chose to orchestrate Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection the way He did—I mean, I can’t understand it from a marketing perspective. From a barely noticed crucifixion, thousands of years before the invention of mass media in a remote part of the Roman Empire to an even less noticed resurrection—which nobody actually saw at the time but later was witnessed by a few women and a small group of friends— most of the world now knows about those events in the life of Jesus.

That makes no sense. I’d have waited until the Internet was invented, I’d alert every major world news organization. I’d make sure there were television crews and documentary filmmakers present—I’d have bloggers live at Golgotha writing about all the events of Good Friday. I’d place video cams inside the tomb, streaming every minute for three days. I’d have scientists reading spectrometers placed at the tomb’s entrance and an iMax film crew posted there on Sunday morning.

“The foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom” (1Corinthians 1:25) however. God has chosen seeking and preaching as the preferred avenues of faith. We preach that “the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost” (Luke 19:10). God wants to keep it personal. That’s God’s wisdom. So let’s tell our family, friends, and even our enemies about the wondrous events of the crucifixion and resurrection this Easter and afterwards. It pleases Jesus to save people He loves through that kind of “foolishness.”

Not the “Silent Night” You’ve Always Sung About

So, you’ve probably heard the common application of this part of the Christmas story — that God announces to the lowly shepherds this amazing news so that we might know Christ came for anybody, regardless of social status. I buy that wholeheartedly, but there is so much more to be tasted in these delicious verses of Scripture. The shepherds were “terrified.” Hello. No kidding? You’re at work, minding your own business in the stillness of the midnight shift and someone much more powerful than your boss stops by. At this point, you’re not worried about how you’ve been slacking on the job — you’re worried about how you’ve been slacking your entire life! God’s own top brass has arrived and it looks like it’s time for an accounting; but no, the angel says he has “good news of great joy.” 

At this point, the relief has got to be incredible. You find out in the following verses that God’s long-awaited promise to set everything right is finally kept. This is wonderful news, you’re thinking to yourself. And just about the time you’re getting comfortable with your lone midnight visitor, a whole army of angels appears, probably armed for battle. (Otherwise, why use the military term, “Heavenly Host”?) Somewhere in the spirit-world there is a war going on, and the angels are sounding the battle cry. We know that soon there will be threats on the baby Jesus’ life, that Mary & Joseph will have to flee with Him to Egypt. We also know that Satan will be trying to stop Jesus for the rest of His life. 

Yeah, angels are terrifying (almost every time they appear to somebody in the Bible, they tell that person not to be afraid) and it’s because they are God’s special forces in the war against ultimate evil. Christmas was God’s D-Day on Planet Earth. Of course the shepherds were afraid. They were front-line observers as God, through the birth of His only-begotten Son Jesus, began to take back enemy-occupied territory in the battle for human souls. 

Waiting for It

 

But by faith we eagerly await through the Spirit the righteousness for which we hope. (Galatians 5:5 – New International Version)

For we, in Spirit by faith, the hope of righteousness eagerly expect. (Galatians 5:5 – Original Greek word order)

Hmmm… isn’t this interesting?  Just after coming down on those who try to get God to like them by “following the rules,” the Apostle Paul writes the words above.  He says that trying to make yourself okay with God by keeping God’s laws is the same as cutting yourself off from Christ.  (And he is writing to believing Christians!)

Galatians 5:5 is a key verse for our “attempts” to be more like Jesus.  We can expect God to do it.  We cannot do it—on the contrary, the Spirit does it in us, according to our faith.  We wait on God for the righteousness to come.  When we try to do it ourselves, we actually push ourselves farther away from Jesus.

Expecting God, awaiting God—one gets the picture of a child staring out the window, looking for UPS to deliver a present from Grandma.  She knows it is coming without a doubt, but nothing she does can make it appear.  Still, she looks for it, she hopes for it, and when it arrives she is ready by the front door.  

The “eagerly expecting” righteousness is our part.  The rest is God’s part.  I’m expecting this truth will trouble a few who read this.  It will seem, perhaps, I am saying we have no responsibility to live righteously.  Of course we do—we have free will and must apply that righteousness—in the same way that it is the child’s responsibility to open the package when it comes to the house and put the gift to use.

There is so much righteousness that I am waiting for—a heart that loves my spouse like Jesus loves, wisdom to lead in the home and ministry, strength to face the difficulties of every day life, freedom from my insecurities, patience with my family and extended family, a generosity of spirit and of stuff, a soul that longs to be close to God each moment of the day and night, etc., etc., etc.

This is supernatural. It is the thing that humbles us because we realize our need for Christ.  When Jesus said, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness for they will be filled,” (Matthew 5:6) He was talking about miracles.  It’s a miracle when it happens for us.  The Apostle Paul knew that.  We should, too.

 

painting by: http://www.katinalowe.com / @katina_arts 

About the Virgin Mary

     It’s difficult to talk about the Virgin Mary. On the extremes, some Protestants contend that reverencing her borders on polytheism while some Catholics take offense at any slight (as if somebody said something bad about your mom).
     It is my opinion, from Scripture, that Mary was a virgin until after the birth of Jesus (Matthew 1:25) and that when the Gospels talk about Jesus’ brothers, they mean just that (John 7:3). I think that Mary was fallible, just like the rest of us, and needed salvation through her Son just as we do. Recall the story about when she and her other sons came to take Jesus away because they thought He was “out of his mind” (Mark 3:20-34). It is also seems that she jumped the gun with her request of Jesus to do something about the wine shortage at the wedding feast in Cana of Galilee. Jesus told Mary that His “Hour has not yet come” (John 2:1-12). Moments later, however, Jesus does change the water into wine. My conclusion: God the Father must have then told Jesus to go ahead and perform the miracle, honoring her request.
     Mary was blessed and graced like no other in history (Luke 1). I think that most Protestants pay too little attention to Mary as a model of faith, obedience, and perseverance compared to Jesus’ other male disciples. The Orthodox Church has a slightly different perspective on Mary than the Catholic Church. There is no Immaculate Conception of Mary in Orthodoxy—the belief that Mary was born without the stain of Original Sin. In Orthodox iconography, Mary is never pictured without Jesus. I think that’s healthier. Mary was born like the rest of us and must always point to Jesus as her own Savior and Lord. Thus, the sightings of the Virgin Mary—alone—at places such as Lourdes, Fatima, Guadalupe, and Medjugorje present me with some problems.

     Some of my problems with the apparitions are: Why Mary and not other disciples? Is it because she’s a woman and sometimes the church needs a more feminine touch? Why does the first purported sighting of Mary (in Spain, 40 A.D.) occur while she is still alive in Jerusalem? Why is this predominantly a Roman Catholic thing? Why does Mary usually come across as the merciful one who is trying to “Hold back the heavy arm of my Son” in judgement of the people? (This is from The Apparition of La Salette.) Throughout the New Testament, Jesus’ mercy is highlighted as in this passage from the Apostle Paul:

“But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in Him and receive eternal life.” (1Timothy 1:16)

All that aside, I believe that God could send Mary as an ambassador if He thought it would bring people closer to Jesus as “The way, the truth, and the life” because no one comes to the Father except through Him (John 14:6). Thus, I always inspect the fruit of the apparitions—do they point people to Jesus? If they only increase devotion to Mary, that’s the biggest problem of all.

     Look at the span of her life and see where Mary was after the resurrection of Jesus. She was with the believers in the Upper Room, waiting for the Holy Spirit to fall upon them (Acts 1:12-14). We would be wise to do likewise. She became part of the community of the faithful that shared with one another as each had need. She must have devoted herself to prayer and to the Apostles’ teaching like the rest of the church (Acts 2:42-4). Let’s be like Mary.
     Ultimately, Mary falls at her Son’s feet with all of the saints, thanking Him for the forgiveness of sins and eternal life (Revelation 7:9-10). The result of her being “Highly favored,” the one of whom Elizabeth said, “Blessed are you among women,” and she whom “All generations will call blessed” lives happily under her Son’s rule, now and unto the ages of ages.