Love is more real than we think.

 

Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us. (1 John 4:8–12, ESV)

Given the fact that the Bible tells me that “God is Love”, it’s surprising how long I lived under the impression that love was primarily a need or lack in me that was fulfilled by someone else. This leaves me imagining that God loves me because He needed someone to love, or because He was lonely or some such thing. Yet love is, when we get right down to it, more real than that. Love is not the result of need, but the power by which needs are fulfilled, primarily by God.

It is true that love needs an object (one of the reasons I believe in a trinitarian God…. that and the Bible tells me so). We talk about a love interest romantically as someone who “completes me”, or who I “need more than air” (or some other romantic verbiage that looks kinda silly outside of the romantic films they feature in). In the regular friendship situation, we think of friendship love as that which staves off loneliness, or gives meaning to our lives.

Love does those things, but I’m learning that the instrumental way we define things (something is like this, because this is the way we can use it) is at best a little deficient. It makes something the Bible seems to speak of in powerful and glowing terms into a mere method of fulfilling a need. It serves to make me as the object or subject of love more important than the love involved, as if love is valuable because it helps me, instead of being something that is valuable whether it meets my felt needs or not.

Even when John talks about love and how God is love, he says that God’s love is made manifest (revealed, made clear) in that He sent His Son to be a propitiation for our sins. It’s not that He is loving because he sent His son, but that he is love, so as a result He sent His Son. God’s love is not a result of God’s loving actions, but is the ground for God’s actions. He is not love because he does loving things, but he does loving things because He is Love.

Seems like a minor distinction? It’s actually very profound, especially if we see God’s love (as Paul does) as the ground for our own actions. You see, we do not love because we want to be loving, but because we have God’s love in us, we should do loving things. It is a reuslt of having been love.

Love is a positive thing, a real thing,not a fulfillment of need. It is not a corruption, but real in itself. Thus love is not about how we need others, but ultimately about how God’s love overflows in us, and through us to others.

Bradley Hook / Pexels

 

Blogging for the new year?

Here’s how I hope to keep up on a discipline I’ve failed to do for years and years.

So my new year’s resolution is to have some discipline in the new year. It’s not that I completely lacked discipline before, but that I always see the need to improve in that department. The weird part is that developing discipline is not quite a thing in itself as much as it is seeking to change your habits form bad ones to good ones. You don’t gain discipline by seeking to develop discipline in the abstract, but by more directly seeking the things you should (and as a result ignoring the things you shouldn’t).

The Christian life is, in the end, not so much about primarily avoiding things, but seeking after things; primarily seeking after the God who is the proper object of our affections, but also concretely seeking the things that mark such an ultimate pursuit. As Paul says in his letter to the Philippians:

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, sbut in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, vwhich surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you (Philippians 4:4-9, ESV)

Notice that Paul doesn’t leave his hearers seeking to *not* do something primarily, but to avoid the evil by seeking the good. You don’t become a lover of truth by hating lies (or false news, or whatever you call it), but by seeking truth. You gain joy by thinking on worthy things, you become a man of prayer by seeking communication with God, you avoid sin by seeking to be holy etc.

This year, I’m trying (yet again) to become a regular blogger. I am not sure it will work out, but I think my failures in the past can be informed by some of my recent successes in discipline. I have found myself more able to spend time in the Word, and in prayer, not by seeking to be a man of prayer and the Word, but by keeping love in mind, and acting accordingly. That’s how I power the long obedience in one direction that is discipline.

The prayer list program was helpful, but what drove me to my knees more regularly was the memory that I loved the people I was praying for, and I loved the God I was communicating with (and I realized that love was as much long-term action as it was gushy feelings). I found it easier to keep to my Bible reading schedule because I wanted to hear from the God I love. The discipline came as I held that before me and acting accordingly.

Hence the renewed interest in blogging. I am commanded to tell of the glories of God, and to reflect on His goodness in my life, living as Paul did, an example of godliness (not perfection). So here I am aiming to reflect on how God is teaching me, and share it with you, my readers.

I have no idea if this will bring me the discipline (and the ultimate joy) of daily blogging. Telling of how God is working all things together for my good mediately, and His glory ultimately. But that is the goal.

One year from now, lets see how it went.

Keep me in coffee

The author is often highly caffeinated. Keep him that way!

C$2.00

5 Things About Canada’s Motion M-103

How should we be thinking about M-103?

Here in Canada, the private member’s motion by Liberal backbencher Iqra Khalid has been causing some consternation. As with most things political and legal, the result has been a great deal of misunderstanding about what is actually said, and where the arguments really lie in the debate over the motion. Unfortunately, this has become a bit of a political Rorschach test (with people seeing their own political boogeymen in the issue regardless of the facts), meaning that fair-minded people can get easily confused as to the issues. So here are some points that we Christians should be considering when thinking and discussing this topic.

1) This is a motion, not a bill. There is a very big difference in parliamentary procedure between a bill (which if passed becomes law), and a motion of Parliament (which if passed can only change the rules in parliament at most, and usually simply records the will of parliament). You can see this in the text of the motion, which instructs a Parliamentary committee to do research on a defined set of terms. You can check out this short backgrounder for more information.

2) Religious Discrimination really is a problem. It’s hard to argue that there aren’t people who have hatreds of Muslims in Canada (even evidenced in the pushback the member bringing the motion has faced). In at least one (possibly deranged) case, it has led to violence. As people who are in favour of religious tolerance (i.e. religious people being allowed to be openly religious in our society), Christians generally should be ready to oppose unjustified religious discrimination, whether it is focussed on us as Christians, or on any other religious group. In this way, the motion makes some good statements about dealing with religious discrimination.

3) There really is racism in Canada, and some of it expresses through the hatred of perceived “foreign” religions. Again, this is not particularly a controversial point. Some people (both in support of Muslims, and those opposed to Muslims) mischaracterize their feelings in terms of race. As we will see in a moment, part of the discussion does have to be about language, and so this is more of a complicating factor than it would first appear. That said, as a people purchased by Christ from every tribe and tongue and nation, and who affirm that all humans carry the image of God, we cannot support racial discrimination either, and indeed need to be openly opposing it. Here again, the motion has much Christians can applaud.

4) The issue is language. Contrary to public opinion at present, Islam is not a race any more than Christianity is. Thus, while we need to oppose unjust religious discrimination, and racism, we need to be careful not to conflate the two. The Muslim teacher I have had the best conversations with happened to be a redhead from Newfoundland, who has a whiter complexion than I do, and I have spent more time in the Middle East than he has. Similarly, as Mark Noll has pointed out, the average Christian globally is a woman living in sub-Saharan Africa. Thus I would point out that the juxtaposition of systematic racism with what is termed “Islamophobia” is going to cause confusion. To oppose the teachings of any religion is not in itself racist. While Christians need to oppose unjust racial and religious discrimination, we need to be careful to keep open the possibility of disagreeing over religious beliefs.

5) The Term Islamophobia is (a large) part of the issue Here the issue is going to depend largely on how you read the word. If Islamophobia refers to the irrational fear and hatred of Muslim people, there is valid reason to oppose it. As with any fear and hatred of people made in the image of God (regardless of what they believe), Christians must be at the forefront of opposing it. However, recent cultural movements have tended to mobilize the term “phobia” as a means of discrediting all criticism of the thing ostensibly feared. While the applicability of the terms in those cases can be debated elsewhere, when it comes to a creed or religion, applying the phobia moniker may chill free discussion of those creeds or religions.Where this may work against free speech, Christians need to be vigilant, since evangelism, and even internal religious debate within Christianity (as well as within Islam) may be chilled.

The Discipline of Letting Go

I like to be busy.

There are a lot of reasons for this. It makes me feel like I’m needed, as if the world can’t function without me. It means that I do not have to think about future and plans and vision and such, because I’m wrapped up in the now, and of course this is only compounded by the fact that I’m single.

If I spend the day busy, I don’t need to worry about my own questions and insecurities, that I am somehow now too old to start a family, or that I may be failing in part of what God calls me to in not actually finding a family. That’s not to say that I believe I am a lesser pastor or a lesser Christian guy because I’m single, but it’s easier to ignore my doubts when I’m too busy to face them.

As a pastor, it is easy to remain sinfully busy. Yes, I mean that. Sometimes we can be so busy it’s sinful, and as a pastor, it’s actually much worse.

Personally, from what I’ve just admitted about my own doubts and questions and needs, and the desire to avoid them, I’m making my busyness my salvation. Instead of bringing my requests before the Lord, or facing the problems I have squarely, thinking and praying on them, and repenting of where my opinions are sinful, I instead focus on preparing too many Bible studies.

Worse, as the busyness becomes where I get  my value, I place my value less and less in the person and work of Christ. As what I do becomes the measure of my own importance, I am placing less value on God, and that is a form of idolatry. My work, even godly work, becomes the measure of who I am rather than my status as beloved of God, an heir of Christ, and fearfully and wonderfully made by a good God.

And in each of these things, I am training those who watch me to think the same.

So today I’m seeking to let go.

I’m going to do less “churchy” work, and spend more time reflecting and getting to know the God I serve. I’m going to place some responsibility in the gifts of people in my congregation, gifts that God has drawn here in His own sovereign will.

Hopefully, dear readers, this also means I’ll get back to semi-regular postings.  We’ll see how this goes. You’re welcome to call me to account, by asking me if my posts again become too sporadic. :-)

Online Reading, June 22, 2010

Church and Social Media: This article has special interest for me working in Korea where privacy is much less of an expectation.

The Church in North Africa: The expulsion of hundreds of Christian foreign workers in Morocco is making for friction with the U.S. State department.

The Church in Afghanistan: Pray for our brothers and sisters in Afghanistan as they face popular (and mortal) opposition for taking the name of Christ.

Prayer: Speaking of which, a very good prayer guide is the Joshua project. They even have a mobile enhanced page for the iphone.

Reflections on my First Year of Pastoral Ministry

This week marks one year since I first arrived in Korea and began to preach at the English Worship Service at Sangdang Presbyterian Church. I have to say that pastoral ministry is greatly different than I had imagined it to be, though I’m betting much of that has to do with the different kind of ministry I’m part of. I also know a little better why pastors give newbies like me the advice that they do. Here at the end of the first year, I figured I would say a few of the things I’ve learned (in no particular order).

1. Carry a pen and paper everywhere.

This has a few reasons, but the biggest is that pastors often get told the most important things as an aside halfway through a conversation. It’s a good practice to be able to write down, as soon as is practical, information you will need to remember so that you can pray for and better love your congregation. It also helps you keep straight the things people are expecting you to do. Remember to sync that information with your day planner.

2. Loving people is work.

Pastors are expected to love their congregation members, and that is not always easy. This is not just because the members of your church are sinners, but because you are at heart a sinner. Myself, I am often struggling with my desire to always be right, and holding my tongue over unimportant criticisms for the sake of the relationship is difficult for me. I often want to defend myself against (perceived) attacks, rather than see the Gospel as central. As a pastor, I am finding I need prayer and repentance more than I had expected. Honestly, it’s easier to see the grace of God now, since I know that any good done through my ministry is going to be Him.

The upshot is that pastors cannot do the easy thing and just hang out with the people who they find it easy to like. That is to be lazy, and is also a bad habit you don’t want your congregation to pick up.

3. Preach the Gospel!!!! be ready for change (and for no change).

It is the pastor’s job to, in season and out of season, preach the Gospel to people who may or may not be willing to hear it and be changed. Sometimes pastors face the difficulty of dealing with hard hearts who will simply show up Sunday after Sunday (or stop showing up). Other times, the Gospel will find soft hearts, but that is not going to be any less difficult. The Word of God changes people’s lives, and repentance can be messy.

4. Sometimes critics are your best friends.

It’s very easy to bask in the good things people say after you preach a sermon that reached them in a good way. That said, not everything you say is going to be golden, and in your congregation may be people who see your errors faster than you do. With my own ministry (with a high turnover rate), catching your errors and misstatements can be more important, since you will have a very small window to correct your mistakes.

This is also why you need to train your congregation to see God as revealed through the Bible as the primary authority, not you. Ideally, people in your congregation should be learning to ask questions of the text and of your sermons, and then seeking the answers in the Bible as they listen to you. This may mean more work in dealing with criticism that may, or may not, be well-founded, but it also means that you get to learn from the congregation and how God speaks to them.

5. Do discipleship for the Kingdom of God, not for your own personal fiefdom.

Since foreigners are only going to be in Korea for a limited time, and the Koreans have a great system of discipleship in place, it’s tempting to simply see the worship service as a stopgap while people are here for a short time. After all, the fruit of work you put into discipling people will not accrue to your own ministry, but will instead be to the various places these people go after they are with you. But the scriptures say that one plants, another waters, and another reaps the harvest. Just because you have no reason to expect to reap the benefits of your work does not mean you have the right to shirk your duty to plant or water.

Besides, unless people are growing under your care, they are dying under your care. There is no 0 movement faith. You will still need to give an account for a short time of ministry with them as with a long time.

6. Make sure you have supports.

A pastor is human. That’s not always realized by the people in your congregation. You have all the same struggles regular believers have, and so like them, you need to have the supports you tell them they need. This means that you have to put time into developing “non work” friendships where you can be real, and where you can be corrected, or just have fun. Ideally, these would be the fellow members of a board of elders, but in any case, good Christian friends are just as necessary for the pastor as for the congregation. After all, a pastor is just an undershepherd, and will sometimes need to be shepherded himself.

7. Family is very important.

This might be a little controversial, but the Bible states that an overseer (or pastor) must be able to manage his own family well. This means that sometimes the congregation will have to take a back seat to your marriage, or to your children. Some say that if you take care of the Church, God will take care of your kids. I don’t see that in scripture, and instead see the command to provide for my family.

A pastor should never model the evil understanding that a job (any job) is more important than the Gospel reflection that is marriage. A pastor must love his wife as Christ loved the Church, or he is not serving his Church well, or the Gospel.

Some would say that’s easy for me to say, as I’m a single pastor. Well, if so, it’s one of very few things made easier by being a single pastor.

8. Pastors should, ideally, be married.

This one hurts to say since I am not married (and given my present ministry am unlikely to be married anytime soon). I am not saying that every pastor must be married, or that there are not benefits to not being married (I am able to place more effort into Christian service than married pastors), but I am saying that a married pastor is probably in a better position in many ways.

In the first place, the pastor can thus better model in his life what a Christian family should look like, and also get the sanctification that comes from being married (having a spouse means having someone who will know all your sin, so you won’t as easily be able to hide it, and thus will have to face it for the sake of the marriage). A wife is also a complement to your ministry, as she would ideally provide the emotional support a pastor will often need, as well as the sympathetic ear and a person who you can be perfectly honest with. Note: I am not saying that she needs to perform ministry duties in the Church beyond what other Church members provide. She should be a committed Christian, and thus a member of the Church, but there is no church office of “Pastor’s Wife”.

I don’t think this is a type of “grass is always greener” syndrome, as I am aware that marriage adds many stresses (and children many more). Nor do I think I am saying that being a single pastor is wrong (or else I’d resign). I am just saying that a godly marriage is usually beneficial for a pastor.

Anyway, that’s all the reflections for the moment. Comments anyone?

Is Brit Hume out of line?

Many people on the blogosphere have been commenting on the statements of Brit Hume on Fox News Sunday, where he said essentially that Tiger Woods should turn to faith in Jesus Christ.

Now, most will recognize that I would agree with that statement (though I might quibble with Hume’s phrasing). I agree that Buddhism is insufficient to provide redemption of a person in the position of Tiger Woods at the moment. Funnily, since Buddhism would advocate the elimination of attachment to worldly (and hence illusory) desires, it seems that some Buddhists would agree. Redemption for a Buddhist, is unnecessary, as the desire for that would be grasping at illusion, and so the wrong move for a Buddhist. I think Buddhism is incorrect, and so would most Christians. Is that a surprise? No. At least not if you have any idea about either Christianity or Buddhism.

The problem that Hume has though, is not the many Buddhists in the world, his problem is actually secularists in the media. As far as I can get the problem, it is that a commentator should not mix their field (providing commentary based on their opinion) with religion. Besides being patent nonsense (religious opinion is opinion, and thus fodder for commentators….. the reason I don’t freak out at Christopher Hitchens slagging my belief… he has a right to his opinion, and I have the right to publicly disagree), the assumption itself seems very hypocritical.

The secularist belief is that religion is best left to the private sphere. Secularists are entitled to that belief, but they should not be surprised when Brit Hume and many other Christians (and many other religionists) disagree with that assumption. The opinion the secularists hold is not universal, so it behooves them to convince others of their position, not simply attempt to bully people into adhering to their (minority) position.  Join the marketplace of ideas, and (as Hunter Baker said on a radio show recently) stop playing the game of public opinion

while simultaneously pretending to be umpires.

Brit Hume is not out of line, but his secularist detractors are.