Tag Archive: Love


Is this the end of evil?

Is this a season of dancing?

At 5:00a this morning I woke up to 2 sounds: a crying baby and a text alert from the Associated Press.  My five-month-old daughter was hungry and Osama Bin Laden was dead.  As I settled into the rocker I cradled Eva in one hand, and scrolled through the news stories on my phone with my other hand.  My arms were full, my heart heavy, and my mind confused.

My initial thoughts focused on Eva.  She surely had no idea of the significance of the breaking news.  In her innocence, she knew and cared only that her belly was full and that her crib awaited her return.  Events like 9/11, words like “terrorism,” and names like Osama are (or will be) as personal to her as Pearl Harbor, Axis powers, and Mussolini are to me.  She will know only what parents, teachers, family, and history books tell her of the World Trade Centers and a field in Pennsylvania. (Which raises the question: How will I tell my daughter the story of Osama and NYC and Bush and war and terrorism?)

Sure, she’ll grow up with heighten airport security procedures and multifaceted words like “extremists” and “religion.”  She’ll never escape the implications and gravitas of Al-Qaeda, terrorist networks, and the war on terrorism.  But yet, the specifics of today’s news, of today’s names, will likely become folklore or legend.

Many people are trumpeting Osama’s death as a victory for good over evil, right over wrong.  And I suppose it is.  But is this the end of evil?  Of course not.  New regimes bent on killing people will come to power.  Brilliant masterminds with a penchant for using their brilliance in perverse ways will still operate in the shadows.  Individuals and networks of those seeking to do harm will continue to pursue their goals.  Evil and injustice at home and abroad will continue to permeate our lives and institutions.

As Christians we are rightly called to refuse, reject, and rise up in the face of injustices.  However, the celebratory mood and festivities surrounding the death of someone can (or should) only be troubling to Christians.  Our hope, trust, and joy comes not in tanks, weapons, and death, but in the grace and power of the words Christ taught us to pray, “Thy kingdom come…deliver us from evil.”

My pre-dawn thoughts turned also to those Americans cheering in the streets as news of Bin Laden’s death spread.  Is this the proper response…to shout, pump fists, wave flags…?  We are a mere week removed from Easter.  Where were the celebrations and parades proclaiming God’s “yes” to life and “no” to death?  I always cringe, and become a bit uneasy, each time I see video footage from other countries where crowds of people shout in approval of an American soldier’s death.  So…I guess…I hoped…I prayed…we would be different.  I prayed that we might not payback hate with hate, shout with shout, death with death.  And yet…

So…

Celebrate the death of another sinner?  I won’t.  Revel in the demise of one of God’s children?  Not I.  Dance in the streets?  Not me.

I will continue to live in the tension between civil justice and the words from that radical that Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are always talking about.  You know, those words about loving your enemies; praying for those who persecute you; turning the other cheek.

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The sixth sense?

What would it look like to love God with one of the most precious gifts God has given – our body.   How might we engage our five sense in loving God?  Is this how we might embody Jesus’ command to love God with all our heart, soul, strength, and mind?  A few days ago we said something about our eyes; then our ears, then our hands and feet, then our mouth, then our nose, and now… a sixth sense?

“A sixth sense?” you say.  Well, yes.  But maybe not in the way you’ve typically thought of your senses.  We’ve covered the five senses you’re likely to find in medical journals and science textbooks.  But could another “sense” exist?  Is there an additional organ we might employ in our spiritual and social journeys?  What about the heart?  Perhaps that peculiar and vital contraption in our chest matters!

At first, we think of the heart as an anatomical necessity.  It is the hub of our livelihood, pumping blood to and from the rest of the body.  But we often attach other experiences and emotions to our hearts.  We personify our hearts when we speak of our heart’s desires.   We give our hearts legs when we become excited, proclaiming that our hearts are racing!  Our hearts swell with pride or love.  Our hearts burn.  Our hearts bleed.  Our hearts break.

Scripture is full of images, stories, and sayings about the heart.  When Moses demanded that Pharaoh let the people go we learn that Pharaoh’s heart was hard.  The Psalmist prays often for a clean and pure heart.  The wonderful wisdom literature of Proverbs suggests that a joyful heart is good medicine (17:22).  Jesus even says that the greatest commandment involves the heart: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.”

As Methodists, we celebrate John Wesley’s special heart moment in 1738.  Wesley, feeling lacking in his faith, went to a Moravian meeting at Aldersgate Street. After hearing a reading of Martin Luther’s preface to the Epistle to the Romans, Wesley wrote in his journal: “About a quarter before nine, while the leader was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ alone for salvation; and an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.”

In her brilliantly moving and touching novel Beloved, Toni Morrison tells of a slave’s heart.  Baby Suggs, an elderly woman who survived years as a slave thinks back to her years laboring under the sun.  Slave life had “busted her legs, back, head, eyes, hands, kidneys, womb and tongue.”  She says she had nothing left but her heart—which she put to work at once.

We too put our hearts to work.  When the rest of our body, or senses, feel broken and weary we offer our hearts.  To those who are hurting or lonely, we offer the solidarity of our heart.  When others’ hearts break, ours break too.  When the hearts of friends and neighbors rejoice, our hearts rejoice also. We offer our hearts in prayer, longing to connect our heart with God and the world.  How amazing to think that your heart, my heart, and the hearts of those across the globe share similar rhythms and longings. One of my favorite hymns, “O God of All the Nations,” begins with this opening verse:

This is my song, O God of all the nations,

a song of peace for lands afar and mine;

this is my home, the country where my heart is;

here are my hopes, my dreams, my holy shrine:

but other hearts in other lands are beating

with hopes and dreams as true and high as mine.


Those with hearts let them share God’s heart.

Marketers and advertisers frustrate me.    They are brilliant in their jobs.  Over and over they convince me to want (and buy) something I never knew I wanted.

We’re consumers.

Or maybe…

We’re being consumed.  We’re consumed by television commericals and newspapers ads.  We’re consumed by a culture that tells us we need and want the next, latest, greatest thing.  We’re consumed by a desire to keep pace in the house/car/toys race with neighbors.

But…

What would it be to be consumed by God?  By a love for God?  By a love for God’s people, our neighbors?

Scott Jones’s Evangelistic Love of God & Neighbor makes many important contributions to the contemporary study of evangelism.  Jones is unapologetically Wesleyan, but at the same theologically charitable and ecumenical.  His desire and ability to connect doctrinal beliefs about God and scripture with the lived theology and practice of evangelism is welcomed.  His evangelistic strategies flow from scripture and tradition, not from the latest business marketing strategies or committee meeting schemes.

Jones’s passion for scripture, evangelism, and the church is clearly evident. As he puts it, the church’s ministry of sharing the gospel is a necessary and important corollary to the gospel message itself.  He gives us pause to reconsider, “What is the gospel?”  “How is it best shared?”  For Jones, the gospel is good news of God’s love for all creation, news Christians are called to participate in with others.   The evangelistic sharing of the gospel of love best comes through “that set of loving, intentional activities governed by the goal of initiating persons into Christian discipleship in response to the reign of God.”

Jones’s emphasis on the discipleship aims of evangelism over the salvific component of evangelism is insightful.  The distinction helps us to see that evangelism is rooted in building relationships (with God and neighbor) that encourage persons towards great disciplined love of God and neighbor.  Evangelism is not geared solely to immediately winning others to Christ or packing more people into the pews on Sunday mornings.

Surprisingly, one aspect Jones’s definitions and suggestions lack is an adequate role for the Spirit in evangelism.  Jones writes of “loving activities” and human response through discipleship, but he rarely allows for the Spirit to guide these processes.  All of the actions and responses seem to be primarily performed by humans, as if we can muster enough faith or energy to bring about the desired results.

In one instance Jones references the Parable of the Sower, and points out that evangelism is like spreading the seed.  When we scatter the seed who knows how the seeds will take to the ground – results may vary.  But in this interpretation we, Christians, are responsible for scattering and watering the seeds.  Perhaps a more faithful evangelistic interpretation of the parable places greater emphasis on God as the sower.   If so, then the issue is not, “where do we Christians sow seed?  I hope it works!”  The question becomes, “where is God sowing the seeds and how may we participate in that mission?”

In all, Jones’s work is a faithful and fruitful look at evangelism in the church today.  He reminds us that God’s love for us is our impetus for sharing that love with others.  In love, we invite others to be disciples who live obediently to God’s will and participate in God’s redeeming mission in the world.  Jones captures the church’s evangelistic heart best with the poetic words of John Wesley:

Freely to all ourselves we give,

constrained by Jesu’s love to live

the servants of mankind. (2 Cor. 4.5; 5.14)

This is the final review in an eight-part series looking at Scott Jones’s Evangelistic Love of God & Neighbor

Evangelism and persons from other religions

In chapter seven Jones discusses the centuries old question: How do Christians relate to people of other religions?  Jewish Christians struggled with the “religion” of the Gentiles.  First century Christians confronted the paganism of the Roman Empire.  As Christianity spread across the world from Europe it encountered different traditions in the Americans, Asia, and Africa. Jones argues that the question of how Christians interact with other religions is more acute today than ever.  As he puts it, globalization has brought world and its cultures closer together, and religious pluralism in he West is on the rise.

Jones outlines three traditional stances Christians have held towards non-Christian religions.  Jones describes the exclusivist position as one that maintains that the Christian church is the sole religious community in the world with a legitimate missionary mandate.  Alternatively, the inclusivist approach emphasizes the continuity rather than the discontinuity between Christianity and other religions.  Inclusivists identify the redeeming gifts and graces of God that may be operative in non-Christian religions.  Finally, the pluralist approach articulates a less ecclesiocentric and more threocentric Christian perspective.  Pluralists focus on the relativity of all human knowledge, the mutual sharing of religious experience, and the value of dialogical exploration in multi-religious contexts.

Jones contends that he (along with John Wesley!) believes the most faithful position is at the intersection of the exclusivist and inclusivist positions.  Love of God, neighbor and the Church is the motivation for an exclusivist’s stance, but that love also includes respect for others’ beliefs and practices (163).  “Truly loving means knowing them [non-Christians] and understanding who they are and why they live the way they do” (163).  Loving means respecting the human and civil rights of others, objectively learning as much about the other religions and people as possible.  This loving and tolerant attitude, however, is buffeted by an understanding of God’s universal prevenient grace.  That is to say, God’s love is universal for all creation.  God’s undergirding motivation to save the whole world is rooted in God’s love and the grace God gives to all people.

What is Jones’s conclusion of how Christians should interact with non-Christians?  Jones suggests that Christians “offer them an explicitly faithful relationship to Christ” (171).  Christians offer to non-Christians “the purest gospel in the most authentic way possible, knowing and trusting that God may work through our work.”  And Christians do this “because Christianity offers the grace of God in ways that Christians should understand to be more true, more complete, and more helpful than the ways grace is made available in any other religion” (172-73).

Jones deals with the evangelization of Jews in a specific and direct manner.  He writes that when Jews receive Christian baptism they are “welcomed them into the Body of Christ, but they are maintaining their lifelong relationship with same God.”  Any other motivation for evangelizing Jews fails to deal with the complexities of Romans 9-11 and the Judeo-Christian history.   Thus, “any organized evangelistic effort to target Jews as a group in the present situation is unchristian” (175).  On the other hand, however, Jones states, “any attempt to claim that Jews should never become Christians is not faithful to Christian discipleship” (177).  He points out that everyone needs to grow in understanding of the truth, which is Jesus – the way, the truth, and the life.

Finally, Jones provides a few thoughts on the idea of “dialogue as evangelism.”  Today it is chic to distill or promote evangelism as simply conversing or dialoguing with others.  Jones presents a few guidelines for such conversation.  First, dialogue partners must see that Christians who proclaim a God of love are in fact exhibiting that love through respect and tolerance in conversation.  Second, dialogue partners must be committed to hearing the Christian witness abut God in depth.  Likewise, the evangelist must believe in the truth of the gospel.  Thus, dialogue partners must state their beliefs and commitments at the outset, agreeing to remain open that engagement with others may enhance their own understandings.

Jones ends his discussion of Christian and non-Christian evangelistic interaction with a call for love and sensitivity in all situations.  When conversations open a door for faith-sharing, Christians are called to faithfully walk through it.

One piece of inter-religious dialogue that seems missing from Jones’ analysis is confession and repentance.  Nowhere does Jones suggest that confession of wrongs may open the door for evangelistic conversation with others.  I wonder how Christians may be received by other religious tradition if we started our conversations from a place of humility and confession, admitting that we (the Church) have been wrong at times.  What if we confessed that our love has been misguided or wrongly directed?  Would owning the inglorious parts of Christian history (Crusades, Inquisition, Conquistadors, Christian participation in the slave trade, etc.) open the doors to more honest conversation and action among religious traditions?  Just as we pray a prayer of confession becoming to the Eucharist table to commune with other, perhaps we should approach conversation with others with confession and humility written upon our hearts.

This is the seventh review in an eight-part series looking at Scott Jones’s Evangelistic Love of God & Neighbor

Humanity’s evangelistic love of God and neighbor

After exploring the diversity of ways in which God’s grace and loved are offered to persons, Jones turns to examine humanity’s response to God’s gracious offerings.  Jones suggests that the appropriate human response to God’s love and grace is faith.  Faith, for Jones, is both a mental assent to know God and also a “radical trust and a commitment of one’s whole life to loving God and to loving all whom God loves” (49).  The “loving of those God loves” is the crucial point of discipleship. God loves the whole world enough to send the Son to save humanity.  Thus, loving God with everything one has and loving one’s neighbor as oneself has a priority and centrality to God’s will for humanity.  Jones beautifully claims, “the reign of God is the state when all of God’s creatures are fully loved” (47).

What does love look like?  At times, loving God and neighbor requires meeting felt human needs.  Naturally, Jones names feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, welcoming the stranger, and clothing the naked as some of humanity’s felt needs (Mt. 25.31-46).  Loving others also involves repentance, forgiveness, and the righting of wrongs.  Zacchaeus models these actions when he redistributes the money back to those he wronged.  Regardless of the diverse and infinite ways Christians love, loving God and neighbor is always tied to entry into eternal life (52).

Individual Christians are not the only ones called to participate in God’s loving mission in the world.  God has also called the Church to participate in the mission.  Through worship, formation, and witness, Christians in and through the Church cooperate in God’s redeeming work.  Jones describes the work of the Church as “works of love.”  In worship, Christians love God.  During formation, Christians love themselves.  And in Christian witness Christians love others.

Jones discussion of human response to God’s love and participation in God’s mission is straightforward and clear.  His discussion of the “work of love” is adequate, but could be more fully unpacked.  How does spiritual formation disciplines cause Christians to grow in love of themselves?  Must we also acknowledge the duty of such practices?  Do we form ourselves only in order to love ourselves?  I wish Jones had connected the three “works” in a way that emphasizes the how the Spirit infuses worship such that we are formed to be witnesses.

I also wish Jones would have offered a word of hope about the state of the church.  He acutely (and rightly) points outs that the church often fails “when it becomes a club for the benefit of its own members.”  However, mustn’t we also offer the hope that God works in, through, and despite our brokenness?  How might we call the church to confession, repentance, and change?  Yes, the Church may be a broken vessel at times, but that should not diminish our hope for evangelism and the future.

This is the second review in an eight-part series looking at Scott Jones’s Evangelistic Love of God & Neighbor

Fusing doctrine and theology

Scott Jones begins Evangelistic Love of God & Neighbor the exact place the book’s title suggests.  He asks: “How do we love non-Christians well?  Evangelize them.  How do we evangelize non-Christians well?  Love them.”  Jones locates his cyclical argument amid a proliferation of definitions of evangelism.  But for Jones, love is the hinge of any definition of evangelism.

Jones suggests that any theology of evangelism flow from Christian scripture.  We should start with that which is most fundamental to the gospel, and allow those claims to shape all other theological constructs (30).  What does scripture tell us about anthropology?  Soteriology?  Sin?  God?  From these starting places, Jones argues, we may begin to lovingly interpret and meet human needs, which is core of Jones’s evangelism.

As Jones rightly points out, God’s evangelistic love of the world is the central message of scripture (33).  God’s love draws all of humanity into worship and relationship with God and one another.  Love for others demonstrated through actions, Jones says, is the crux of evangelism.  Such loving acts are evangelistic in two ways.  First, loving actions are good news (God is actively working to solve humanity’s problems).  Second, actions are invitational (God is working to invite and encourage persons to participate in the reign of God).

Jones’s emphasis on God’s love for humanity as the impetus for human love for one another is faithful to the canon.  All of Christian scripture directs us to see and live God’s compelling love for God’s creation.  Jones’s call for Christians to tie God’s love for us to our love for others is thoroughly Wesleyan.  (Think of John Wesley’s love for 1 John).

I greatly appreciated Jones’s ability to wed doctrine (what we believe about God) to theology (how we live our beliefs).  This link seems all too often missing in much evangelistic conversion.  Evangelism too often becomes something we do because well…we’re supposed to, right?  Jones shows that there is much more depth behind our convictions to evangelize.

I am reminded of St. Basil’s argument concerning the essence of God. Basil believes that while God’s essence is an unknowable mystery, “we can know God by His energies, or His activities.”  At the heart of God’s redemptive activity is love (John 3:16).  For Basil, what we believe about God is revealed to us in God’s actions in the world.

The same may be said of the Church today.  Perhaps the world will most know the essence of the Church by the Church’s actions.  The question then becomes, “Do our actions point to a loving, caring, generous essence?”  The words of the famous hymn come to mind… “And they’ll know that we are Christians by our love.”

This is the first review in an eight-part series looking at Scott Jones’s Evangelistic Love of God & Neighbor

Kingdom as Gift of Love

Arias begins chapter six with a challenging question: How do we announce the kingdom as gift today?  How do we “tell the old, old story of Jesus and his love?”  Arias suggests that the answer to such questions rests with Christians’ willingness to become living letters and new chapters of the story (70).

Often, Arias argues, Christians have confused their role in the story.  They have told the story more than they have lived it.  And in their telling they have reduced the story to a single plot line with extreme polar ends.  The announcement of the story has been reduced to the plot of salvation by grace, justification by faith, and conversion to Christ.  The grace that is presented as part of the story often comes in two forms: cheap or costly grace.  “Cheap grace” knows only of the gifts but no demands of the gospel.  “Costly grace” does not necessarily emphasize the demands of discipleship in the kingdom, but rather the demands of a particular ecclesial tradition, confessional creed, or even a cultural form of Christianity (71).  Missing from the tellings is a true offering of the kingdom as a gift.

How then might Christians better extend the gift of the kingdom?  Forgiveness.  As Arias has said before, forgiveness is the door of entrance to the kingdom of God (75).  Since sin distorts creation and ruins human life, separating us from God, from neighbor, from creation, repentance and forgiveness are vital to the gift of the kingdom.  Such repentance and forgiveness liberates the believers, freeing them for full participating in God and the kingdom.

The gift of the kingdom also includes care and compassion for the outcasts.  In the midst of a world of suffering and death, the kingdom proclaims life for the sick, protection of women, and care for the handicapped children and elderly.  Arias describes the work of the kingdom (and ways in which Christians announce the gift of the kingdom) as: healing through prayer, medicine, science, pastoral counseling, therapy, and rehabilitation.

Arias’s “we should evangelize like Jesus evangelized” theme drives chapter six.  Since Jesus ministered on the periphery, we too should seek to be with those on the margins (Mk. 2.17).  Just as Jesus had compassion, we should also exude compassion (Mt. 9.36). On these points, most Christians would agree.  I found myself nodding at many moments throughout the chapter.

However, Arias’s discussion of the “work of the kingdom” (counseling, therapy, rehabilitation, etc.) caused me to pause.  I wonder, has the Church outsourced this work?  Has the Protestant tradition so emphasizes the preached Word that our action of the Word has been relegated to the background?  How successful or faithful are we to telling the story – offering the gift of the kingdom – through our actions?  Certainly there are times when we (ministers) are right to refer individuals or families to professional counselors or therapists.  But do we ever use it as an excuse to free ourselves from the difficult work of entering into others’ difficult and intimate times?  Are there ways we can still remain “kingdom givers” to those we refer elsewhere?  Can we still love persons in ways that relay the kingdom, holding their hands along the journey?

This is the sixth review in a nine-part series looking at Mortimer Arias’s Announcing the Reign of God.

Mark 10:2-26

“Jesus, what’s the point of the Law?  On what grounds is divorce acceptable?” the Pharisees ask Jesus.  You would think that the Pharisees would learn their lesson.  Every time they come to test Jesus, to back him into a corner, it is they who leave entangled.  This encounter is no different.

The Pharisees want to talk about the Law and divorce, but Jesus wants to talk about Creation and love.  The Pharisees are concerned with Deuteronomy, Jesus goes back to Genesis.  Jesus says, “But at the beginning of creation God ‘made them male and female’…and the two will become one flesh.’  So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.”  God created humanity in love for the purpose of loving God and one another.

Love, not a rule about divorce, is what Jesus wishes to promote. But not just any love.  Christ calls Creation to a love for Him and one another that is unconditional.  A love without boundaries.  A love without limits.  Jesus might say, “If we can get the beginning right- if we can get the love right- then the divorce question will take care of itself.”

How are we able to love our spouses and neighbors in such an extraordinary and extravagant way?  With the grace of God.  By knowing that we have a Lord and Savior who loves us this way.  Christ didn’t come to earth to gives us a bunch of rules.  God became incarnate, died, and was resurrected in order to show us how to love.  He came to show us true obedience, commitment, sacrifice, and fidelity.  We love because Christ first loved us (1 Jn 4:19).

This love without limits that Christ calls us to is articulated nicely in our marriage vows.  We love in good times and bad, in sickness and in health, for pricher or poorer.  We love when we don’t feel like it. We love even when its difficult and we don’t think we can.  Some will say, “But my neighbor is a scoundrel. My wife is my enemy.  Love is just not an option!”  But what did Jesus say about our enemies?  Love even them…unconditonally…without limits.

Song of Solomon 2:8-13  –  “Arise, my love, and come away with me.”

Whether your Bible refers to the Song of Solomon as the Song of Songs or Canticles, we might blush or squirm at the words of main characters.  At times their love is portrayed in a “PG” way, but at other moments the language warrants an R-rating.  We may even chuckle at the way the lovers describe one another.  Try telling your spouse that his or her hair is like “a flock of goats descending from Mount Gilead (4:1), or that their teeth are like a “flock of sheep” (4:2). We are quickly reminded that this is ancient Hebrew poetry, not contemporary prose.  Yet, the Song of Solomon is Christian Scripture.

Throughout the history of the Church, the Song has been interpreted in a variety of ways.  Some believed it was simply a love poem between two lovers.  Others argued that the Song was a secular ballad.  Traditionally, however, many Christians (including John Wesley) believed that the love presented in the Song alludes to God’s love for His people.  In that way, I think the some of the most beautiful words in the Song come in 2:10 and 2:13.  One lover cries out to the other, “Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away with me.”  I imagine that these are God’s words to us.  God beckons us, calls out to us, to come away from whatever it is that distracts us and spend time with Him.  We become busy, fearful, and stressed.  We are seduced by the world away from God. But God still calls, “come away with me.”

Do you hear God calling?  Do you hear God pleading for you to spend time with Him, to give Him your attention, focus and love?  Whether you feel intimately close to God or far off from God, we are never too far away that God’s voice can’t reach us.  Maybe your relationship with God is one of head-over-heels mutual love.  Or maybe you’ve been in an on-again, off-again relationship with God.  Whichever describes us, we know that God’s grace prevails.  We can never wander too far away that God can not call us back.  “Arise, my love, and come away with me.”

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