The Fear of God

Dear God, why should I think You’re good in a world that’s falling apart?
The flags and lies, picket signs raised high, the endless enveloping dark
Now here we sit, drifting further from You, two thousand years on their way out
Now here I am, as I’ve grown to know You, still haunted by my fears and my doubts

Just a man, just a vapor, just a waste of your space
All the good that I’ve done is in spite of myself
I’m not sure that I can look You in Your face when I finally set foot in Your kingdom

Dear God, what went wrong? We hate ourselves, we hate our brother
We so desperately want to find our way, and all You say is “love one another”

And little babies starve to death, emaciated, out of breath
Unfaithful wives make vows untrue, husbands beat them black and blue
Junkies vomit in the streets, writhing, twitching in their skin
Sell themselves to die some more, rotting from the outside in
Parents steal the innocence from their children, scared and shaking
Drink away the guilt at night, brings quiet to the endless aching
And evil men boast on TV, swimming in a sea of wealth
While misery beds honest men, and lonely people kill themselves
And everyone cries out Your name, as the world is raped by selfishness
And no one knows the way to heaven, we only know the emptiness
And the storm it rages in my heart, and the endless empty roars in my ears
My world is coming all apart, I’ve no strength left to dry my tears
And through it all I hear Your voice, breaking my heart, breaking my will
Calms the storm inside my soul as You whisper “peace, be still…”

You place Your hands around my heart, You quiet the emptiness in me
A king that kneels, a God made a servant, You set the captives free
You wait for me, a wretch of a man, no record of wrongs do You keep
You are comfort when I mourn, You are strength when I am weak
Jesus Christ, the king of kings
Though we ache, though we cry, never break, never die
We sing of His great love again and again
And His love reigns forever, and forevermore
Forever and ever, Amen

This song is probably one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever heard. I can’t stop listening to it.

Song written and recorded by the musical group Showbread. I hold no rights to this song or lyrics.

In Hell

The first place to look for Christ is in Hell.
Beaten, battered, torn apart.
Spit in his face,
vinegar smeared on his lips.
Four nails hammered in flesh,
supported by the pain.
Wrapped in darkness,
bathed in violence.
Worshiped in blood,
acquainted with sorrow.
Tired, hungry, forsaken.
This is love:
God in need.
The first place to look for Christ is in Hell.

Already/Not Yet (or: “Sorry, by the way.”)

Dark truths written on paper
Truths insomuch as subjective experience is objective
Peeling back, reeling back, so I can know what’s inside my mosaic soul
To be known by myself, and to be known by You
You want honest,
Well – fuck You.
I say that and feel a twinge of sorrow and regret
A siren that signals that I’m different than that arrogant boy who was always
blaming, blaming, blaming everyone (and You)
Not by much, as far as I can see,
But dear Jesus, I’m different now
Thank you – You’re setting me free

I don’t like you…

“…but I love you.”

(A brief note: I’m still refining my views on this. I wanted to post this because I would greatly appreciate criticism, as I’m still in the process of figuring out what I currently hold on this subject as a conviction, and what it looks like to flesh out in practicality. I believe this topic is extremely important for Christians to converse about. Our highest calling is to love God and love neighbor!)

As Kingdom people, we are not called to like (storge) everyone. We are not called to like that the driver in front of us cut us off not only once, but twice! We are not to like that he also flipped us off and honked at us, even if it was his fault. We are not called to like his actions. However, we are called to love (agape) him. So what is the difference?

Storge is one of the Greek words in the New Testament commonly translated as “love.” However, it generally means an “appreciation” or “affection” for something. For example, I personally like cashew butter. I like it a lot. Cashew butter tastes amazing. I would even venture so far as to say I love it. However, I do not love cashew butter in the same way that I love my mother. That would be weird.

Agape is another of the Greek words translated as “love.” This one, however, is radically different than storge. It means “a love that gives worth to another at cost to oneself, if necessary.” This is demonstrated most vividly on the cross. Jesus, God made flesh, suffers an agonizing death on the cross for all of humanity – probably the most unjust, unfair, and most loving act in human history. The cross demonstrates God’s agape love for the human race – He considers all humans to be of such unsurpassable worth, that He was willing to go so far as die for them. The love that He has for us cost Him something. However, it is highly likely He doesn’t storge a lot of aspects of the human race. For example, He’s not a fan of sin. He hates iniquity, but He loves us. I’m attempting to argue this is how we’re called to view all humans, as well.

So if we’re called to demonstrate this love to those who we don’t necessarily like, and don’t have to like them, what does this mean? First, I think it is important to point out that disliking someone is different than disliking something about them, such as their sin, their action, or their characteristics. I believe this is what is meant when we say we don’t like someone – we don’t like what they do. We don’t like that the driver flipped us off. And that’s okay. God doesn’t like all the sin that you do. But God loves you nonetheless. However, if what you mean is you don’t like someone and think they have no worth before God and you are justified in not displaying the agape love we are called to demonstrate, you are not simply disliking them, but hating them. I don’t think it’s necessarily possible to like/dislike a person, but it is possible to love/hate a person. You can like/dislike characteristics or actions that they do, but you cannot inherently like/dislike who they are in essence, regarding the deep things, such as their intrinsic value, significance, and worth. However, you can love/hate these aspects about a person. By saying you dislike someone, what you mean is you either dislike aspects of their character or things they have done/do, or you mean you hate who they are.

To recap thus far, to dislike someone is to dislike something about their character. To believe they are worthless or insignificant is to hate them. There is a difference. In this sense, it is possible to dislike something about someone’s actions or character, while at the same time love them.

From here, we are able to talk about what it means to love (agape) them, while not liking what they do. My current belief and understanding is that, just as God dislikes our sin, yet suffered for us on the cross, which led to forgiveness, we are called to love those who we dislike and have harmed us, at cost to ourselves. But how does this forgiveness cost us something?

When someone does something that harms you, you get hurt. You now are able to make a choice with what to do with that pain.

1. Dwell on it. Let it turn to bitterness, hatred, and spite. Let it infect you and manifest as something not-so-lovely.
2. Seek physical or verbal revenge – inflict pain on them.
3. Forgive them. Receive the pain of what they did, as well as the pain of forgiveness.

Okay, here they are fleshed out a bit more:

1. Holding a grudge against a person, although not physically manifesting, is itself toxic and harmful to both parties. How so? It makes you manifest anger and hatred, even towards those who were not related to the situation. It can cloud your judgment and make you negative, inhibiting your ability to more fully manifest the agape love you are called to manifest. Not only that, but it presupposes that you are justified in holding a grudge. Even though Jesus, who you are calling “Lord,” and called to imitate, considered them worth dying and suffering for, you strip them of that worth and attribute it to yourself. To hold a grudge against someone is to consider them worth less than yourself. Whereas Jesus demonstrates we are called to consider them as having unsurpassable worth.

2. Seeking physical or verbal revenge manifests itself more noticeably, and generally starts a vicious cycle of verbal or physical attacks on one another. It’s like a game of unloving tennis. Back and forth the ball goes, as both parties involved grow more and more bitter. There is no winner in this game, only losers.
You still devalue this person.

3. Forgive them. You realize that you don’t understand everything about this person – their situation, their mind, their heart, their deepest being. You don’t know where they’ve been, where they are, or where they’re going. And even if you do understand a bit of it, you’ll never understand them to completion. You are not God. You understand that there are many factors that play into someone’s actions, whether it be a bad day, abuse in the past, or all the other negative influences of a messed up, broken world. You realize life is complex, and that every event in a person’s life impacts and can shape their actions. Above all of this, you realize that Jesus considered them to have such amazing, unsurpassable worth, that He went so far as to die for them. If He considered them significant enough to die for, you should as well. This is the love we are called to. This is what I believe is one meaning of “picking up your cross” daily. To forgive causes us pain. We bear the pain of what the other person deserves. Jesus suffered on the cross by bearing our sin and our judgment – receiving what we deserve. This is exactly what we do when we forgive someone. In a sense, we are on a cross, bearing what the other person deserves. Love attributed to someone at cost to oneself.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t believe you can just automatically forgive someone. If you were abused as a child and you are now a fully grown adult, it’s going to take time to learn to forgive. Forgiveness is a process, not a one time thing. Forgiveness is a way of life, a commitment, a journey, a path, a direction. It is not a one time action. It is hard, can be a struggle, and is many times painful. This is the way of the cross. This is the way of agape love.

Okay, but what about the people who we simply dislike but who haven’t so much hurt us as annoy us? What about the people who we simply just..don’t like? The ones that are just annoying. What about them?

Attribute unsurpassable worth to them anyway. It might not cause you the same pain in the same way that forgiveness does, but it will still be a struggle. When you catch yourself thinking nasty thoughts towards a person, thank Jesus for them(both the thoughts and the person. Be thankful for the thoughts, because they serve as a reminder for who you are not called to be. It won’t do any good to get angry at yourself for these thoughts. Simply be thankful for them, and turn them around. And of course, thank Jesus for the person.), ask Him to help you find something beautiful about their character, and pray a blessing on them. This love is not about feelings, it is about action. However, when this love is practiced, you’ll find that you might start feeling compassion towards people you never thought you’d even be able to tolerate, let alone feel love towards.

Two final notes:

We do not forgive in order to be forgiven. We don’t love in order to be loved. We don’t give to receive.
We do forgive because we have already been forgiven. We do love because we already have been unconditionally loved. And we do freely give because we have freely received. We do none of these things to earn God’s love, forgiveness, or approval. We do them because we already have them. The more you receive from God, the more you will be able to give to others. Trust in God’s goodness and love for you, and you will be able to give that to others.

As you grow in your reception of love and your giving of love, it is possible you will find that the pain and burden of carrying the cross of forgiveness does not lessen, but it becomes less of a burden and more of a joy. You will find that the compassion you have for others overshadows the pain and burden they cause you to carry. The agape love will be not only a choice, but always a feeling. This may not come to fruition until after your perfection manifests itself after death, but it is possible you will get beautiful glimpses of it.

Let us all grow in love for God and one another, resting in Jesus and allowing the Spirit to bear fruit in our lives.

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forevermore. Amen.

Blessings and peace,

Jacob

Image source:

God Is Love – But Which One?

In the New Testament, there are four words that we translate as “love.”

Here they are in all their glory:

1. Storge – means “affection” or “approval” for something. Sort of like, “I love your car,” or “I love pizza.”

2. Philos – means “friendship.” “I love you, bro. Thanks for always being here.”

3. Eros (which is where the word “erotic” comes from) – means “romance,” or “sexual love,” or “passion.” The kind of love one would show to their spouse. Meant to be shared with only one person. “I love my wife,” or “I love my husband.”

4. Agape – “other-oriented, self-sacrificial, choice-based love…agape love ascribes worth to another at cost to oneself (if necessary). It is not based on a characteristic within the person, nor is it based on feeling. It is completely a choice, unrelated to emotion or characteristics of the object/person of its direction.” You can have agape love towards someone but not have storge love, philos love, or eros love towards them. This is the kind of love, we are told in the New Testament, that God has toward humans.

This kind of agape love is the kind of love John says God is in 1 John 4:8, “Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” God doesn’t just love, God IS love. Everything about Him, His essential being, His nature is love. He can’t stop loving because He would stop being God. The nature of this self-sacrificial love is revealed to us on the cross – the centrality of Jesus’ ministry.

Paul expands on this in Ephesians 3:17-19 when he writes,

I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together will all the Lord’s people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge – that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

This agape love surpasses mere knowledge – it takes the intervention of the Holy Spirit to believe in such a thing. It is simply too beautiful, too extravagant, too good to be true to believe it. And yet, it is true! Praise be to God! This is why so many people stumble over God’s love – they try to understand it, but it’s impossible. It’s simply too wide, too long, too high, and too deep to grasp. To begin to even scratch the surface is to admit that you cannot understand it.

Although we cannot understand it, we can at least see a perfect image of it, as Jesus is this love personified – the fullness of God – and what we see Jesus do is how the Father acts as well. Jesus died and suffered for everyone on the cross. Everything else, such as the portrayals of God in the Old Testament, is a mere shadow of His true nature.

This means no matter what you have done, no matter what you are doing, and no matter what you will do; has not, is not, and will not prevent God from loving you any more or any less than He does right now. Once that starts to seep into your soul, deep transformation happens. This is why love is central to everything!

For example, Paul exhorts the believers in Ephesus to be rooted and established in this love of Christ, as seen above. This is the very foundation, the very core of what they should be building their faith on. This is expanded on in Colossians chapter three:

Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. – Colossians 3:14-15

Again Paul emphasizes the importance of this type of love. Not only is our faith meant to be built on it, but we are also called to clothe ourselves in it, thus replicating it! However, the only way to replicate this radical love is to first be rooted in it.

Believing this is difficult, and frankly impossible, without the help of God. If you are struggling to believe God is really as good as seen in the person of Jesus Christ, ask Him to reveal to you how beautiful He truly is. Put away all of your objections for the time being, as they can be dealt with at a later time, and simply rest in His love for you. Know that God loves you with this immense agape love – He does it because it is who He is. He may not storge things about you, in fact He may hate aspects of what you do, such as sin, but that is only because He agape loves you. Rest in His love. Let it penetrate the deepest, darkest compartments of your soul.

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forevermore.

Amen.

Blessings and peace,

Jacob

 

sources:
“Love is…” sermon found on whchurch.orghttp://www.pinterest.com/pin/301319031290197451/

The Not-Oft-Quoted 1 John 3:16

I have to be honest. I don’t remember much from my year or two attending Sunday School in my younger days (do I really have younger days?). There are only about three prominent things that I remember. Two of which are a bit embarrassing.

1. Every time I would go, I would cling to my mom and cry. I didn’t want to leave and go to the class with all the other kids. I was scared of what they would think of me. People frightened me (they still do [just kidding]).

2. I distinctly remembering sitting in class one morning and for some reason, I asked the teacher what God’s name is. She laughed, as well as the class, and they told me God’s name is simply, “God.” I was confused, as I had remembered learning somewhere that God’s name was “Jehovah.” She told me again that I was silly and God’s name is “God.”

3. John 3:16. John 3:16. John 3:16. Did I mention John 3:16? This got pounded into my brain (not complaining), even though I really had no idea what it meant. I just knew the words – and could quote it from memory. It obviously had no impact on me until much later. (I went to Sunday School in early elementary years and started following Christ in late high school) It must have planted some sort of seed, though, as I was adamantly against all things religion during Junior High and early High School. Although, I told people I was a Christian, simply because I grew up in Midwest, rural, farmland, Apostolic Ohio. I was already an outcast – I didn’t want to be considered some anti-God freak, although I was on the inside.

That said, John 3:16 definitely is important. It helps reveal the beauty and character of our loving God. But, I think there is another John three sixteen that we need to focus on. And that is 1 John 3:16:

We know love by this, that [Jesus Christ] laid down his life for us—and we ought to lay down our lives for one another.

I first happened upon this verse while doing a study in the book of 1 John my Senior year of high school. To be honest, I don’t remember much of what I learned in the study, but I remember this verse sticking out to me. So I looked into it a bit more. I knew that both context in the letter itself, and historical context of the time it was written, is important, so I tried my best with my very limited knowledge to study into it. I remember discovering that for the first three hundred years of church history, the church generally believed self-sacrificial, non-violent love was crucial, and even central, to discipleship. I didn’t know at the time whether or not I agreed with this, considering I was discovering faith in a very Conservative and Fundamental church that taught war was not only important, but necessary. I eventually let the issue die down over time, as I was still caught up in whether or not God actually loved me, why God tormented people eternally in Hell, and frankly what it means to be saved. They seemed like more crucial issues to me than this 1 John passage.

For about a year I entirely forgot about the whole thing. Then, in my Freshman year at Cairn University, during Spring Semester, my professor of Intro To Christian Theology revealed to us we had to write a paper on the book of 1 John. “Yes!” I thought, “I studied this a year ago! This should be easy peasy.” Although, I had recently learned a lot more about exegesis, hermeneutic, and historical context, so it was a bit more complex than I thought. Nonetheless, it brought this verse to my attention again. This time, I decided to dig a bit deeper. Until recently, I’ve been digging deeper. I’ve finally come to what I believe to be my conviction, and that is the call to Christians to be non-violent in their approach to life. Here is my case and my understanding thus far, and why I believe 1 John 3:16 should be emphasized just as much as John 3:16:

As John points out in the first part 1 John 3:16 (“We know love by this, that [Jesus] laid down his life for us…”), Jesus emphasizes non-violent, sacrificial love throughout His ministry as seen most emphatically on the cross. The cross signifies many important things to the Christian, but the aspect I want to emphasize here is the non-violent approach Jesus takes to His accusers. His enemies are unjustified in their crucifixion of Him, and He undeservedly goes through torment that no man, let alone God, should go through. Yet He volunteers for it – for the sake of people who treat Him like He is nothing. The God of the universe becomes man, goes through unimaginable torment, death, and separation from perfect love, all for the sake of a rebellious, evil, and heinous race of beings that could care less whether He lives or dies. Jesus had every right to call down armies of angels to violently prevent his accusers from crucifying Him – but He didn’t.

Accordingly, Jesus preaches a message of non-violence to His hearers. He teaches that God loves both the just and unjust, causing the sun to shine and the rain to fall on both parties, whether they deserve it or not; to turn the other cheek; extreme generosity; not to resist the wicked; and to love those who don’t love you:

You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.  But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. – Matthew 5:38-48


Notice here, that Jesus even goes so far as to say, “Love your enemies…that you may be children of your Father in heaven.” He points out that even the most wicked people know how to love people that love them. So what makes followers of Jesus stand out? Loving one’s enemies in a cross-like fashion. This a characteristic of a child of God – and an essential one at that. So what of your fellow employee who unjustly blamed you for the mistake? Take the fall. What of the friend who gossiped about you and ruined your reputation? Let it go. Pray blessings for that person. What of your arguing with your roommate who just won’t let you find peace and quiet in your own room? Go somewhere else to study. Be creative, be loving.

In the book of Luke, Jesus emphasizes once again that God loves even the most wicked and heinous of people, and so should we:

But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return.Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. – Luke 6:35

Obviously Jesus expects us to love everybody – even those who threaten us, or violently oppress us. This is extreme. This is radical. This is Jesus. We are called to model our lives after Jesus (“Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did” 1 John 2:6), and Jesus humbly surrendered to His accusers – even at the cost of His own life. Retaliating, although justified, was not as important to Him as displaying the immense love of the Father. And that is what we, as followers of Christ, are called to replicate. Not just in martyrdom, though, but also in our day to day lives. As the latter half of 1 John 3:16 says, “…and we ought to lay down our lives for one another.”

In a future post I hope to look at the writings of Paul and how they point to a cross-like, non-violent approach to love and discipleship.

Blessings and peace!

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