Monday, October 30, 2006

Contemplation #205
Consider therefore the kindness and sternness of God . . . Romans 11:22

Out of the love of God there is both kindness and sternness, for kindness is not all there is to love, and sternness does not exist without love. In this passage Paul is speaking of how God grafted in the Gentiles though they were not originally part of Israel. This was the kindness of his love. The sternness of God’s love led him to break off those who do not believe, though Paul is confident that they can be grafted in once again if they will not persist in unbelief. Both God’s kindness and sternness are expressions of his love, and we do well to consider the fullness of divine love so that we know we are loved through both God’s kindness toward us and his stern correction.

Contemplation #206
Consider therefore the kindness and sternness of God . . . Romans 11:22

We are enjoined to consider the kindness and sternness of God’s love so that first we learn to recognize God’s love and respond to all that he lovingly does. However, there is room also to consider how our love, when it is God’s love in us, will be both kind and stern . . . merciful and corrective. The fullest expression of love to our neighbor has both aspects. However, we are not kind for our own sake, for any reward or compliment, or sense of fulfillment. We are also not stern out of ourselves: arrogance, self-righteousness, vindictiveness, or malice. Apart from divine love we can be both kind and stern, but these are not fruits of love. To learn to be kind out of love and to discover how to be stern as an expression of love means changing our kindness and sternness into love.

Contemplation #207
Consider therefore the kindness and sternness of God . . . Romans 11:22

In considering the nature of God’s love we must learn to desire to be truly cherished in the fullness of divine charity. Out of our self-centeredness we can easily prefer to be treated kindly, rather than to be loved. When I want only what pleases me I do not want to be loved both mercifully and sternly. I want God to do what benefits me and meets my selfish desires. When we learn to desire to be loved and not simply satisfied, then the “no” of God will become as sweet as his “yes”. We will be grateful for great corrections, which are another form of kindness and mercy to us.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Contemplation #202
Do everything in love. 1 Corinthians 16:14

The simplest of measures is this one from Paul. What we are doing, can we say that it is an expression of love? Every action, thought, word, and ambition that is not love must be abandoned and replaced by works that convey love. While this rule of life is pure in bringing us to the imitation of God, it is very impractical. As long as we choose to be practical and reasonable the way of God will remain beyond us. The love of God is extravagant, radical, and totally at odds with any notion of what is prudent. It is not advisable to love one’s enemies and insane to treat all others better than oneself, for who will look out for me if I don’t protect my own interests? To love in an unloving world is to invite disaster, and any who choose this path put themselves at risk.

Contemplation #203
If anyone does not love the Lord—a curse be on him. 1 Corinthians 16:22

The anathema or curse has been taken by Jesus so that it might be removed from us (Galatians 3:13). However, so strong is the injunction to love, so crucial and essential the practice of love for God to the life of all who would be a disciple of Jesus, that the curse remains on those who do not love. We cannot imagine that Paul is vindictively or eagerly pronouncing a curse as an act of religious spite or censure born out of malice. He is, however, clearly and pointedly reminding us of the importance of love for God, which of course leads to the love of all that is God’s, all people, our enemies, life, and creation. We must be soberly warned not to neglect the cultivation of love in all things.

Contemplation #204
My love to all of you in Christ Jesus. Amen. 1 Corinthians 16:24

Paul’s final word of this letter is a blessing of love which he extends to all the Corinthians. To be in the fellowship of God’s Spirit as believers is to share in love in Christ Jesus. To say that our love is in Christ Jesus is more than to simply declare that we are members of the same group, that we are loving each other because we are all “in Jesus” as Christians. Our love for one another is not a love of those like ourselves or who have similar aspirations. Then our love would be of no different in nature from the affinity that Rotarians might share for each other. Our love is a divine love, modeled by Christ, gifted to us in Christ, both through and by the incarnate Son. Our love is a divine incarnation which is mediated only by Christ. As our lives are caught up in him, our love becomes his love.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Contemplation #199
Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them. John 13:17

When we are caught in the morass of self-righteousness and legalism we think that we will be saved if we do what Jesus instructs. Such thinking is a terrible trap and obscures the work of God. We must avoid turning every teaching into a matter of salvation. Another way to say it is that we must stop making all instruction about being acceptable to God or about pleasing God. We are not learning how to appease God, how to make God happy with us, or earning some divine reward. Jesus shows us how to enter into God’s way . . . a style of living that shares in God’s nature, creates oneness, and results in our being blessed.

Contemplation #200
Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them. John 13:17

When we are caught in the morass of intellectualism we think that we will be blessed if we understand the teachings of Jesus. Such intellectualism doesn’t discount action, but believes that right thinking is the beginning. However, living a life of obedience to Christ is not following our understandings, but being true to the teachings of Jesus as communicated to us in word and deed. Often our understanding lags far behind our practice. Truly, we struggle to understand how we will be blessed by practicing self-humiliation as Jesus exemplified in washing his disciples’ feet. Knowing that we will be puzzled as to the point of humbling ourselves, Jesus reassures us that we will experience blessing in the practice of faith.

Contemplation #201
Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them. John 13:17

The “knowing” that Jesus is referring to is the simple knowledge of what we are to do. Jesus showed and told his disciples how to treat one another. This is what they knew. We do not see the larger picture or understand all the ways in which we will be blessed. We know what to do even if we do not see the purpose of design of this teaching. Too often we want to see the end results definitively, and to be assured that we will be blessed is not enough. We want to know more. The way of a disciple is to emulate the master, to speak his words, emulate his actions, and so learn his heart. We will be blessed in ways we cannot understand, but to be disciples we must choose voluntary humiliation.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Contemplation #196
The man took Jesus at his word and departed. John 4:50

We are reading the story of a royal official who comes to Jesus because he fears that his child is dying. Jesus reassures him that he may go because his child will live. The gospel then says, that the man “took Jesus at his word.” Undoubtedly the official has some faith or confidence. He accepts and trusts the word that Jesus speaks to him, and leaves as Jesus told him. We should also note that when his servants meet him on the way and tell him that his boy is living, and he finds that the time of his recovery was the exact time that Jesus reassured him, scripture says that he “believed.” There are times when we take Jesus at his word and yet we are not yet in true belief.

Contemplation #197
The man took Jesus at his word and departed. John 4:50

We should not disparage the way in which this royal official accepted the words of Jesus even without the later belief that he would experience. In fact, this is a most necessary step in how God builds faith in us by his grace. As the psalmist challenges us to “taste and see that the Lord is good” (Psalm 34: 8), so strong belief grows out of the experience of God’s grace and goodness. Taking the Lord at his word, even in doubt, is the first step toward vibrant faith. Accepting and acting on God’s word to us will often lead us into a powerful belief that can be received no other way. We begin in imperfection so that God may bring us to greater perfection.

Contemplation #198
The man took Jesus at his word and departed. John 4:50

Perhaps this official left the presence of Jesus supposing that he’d been reassured about what the future would hold, when in fact he was being told about what was happening in the present. While he thought that Jesus was telling him that his son would get better, he did not understand that Jesus was saying that his son was better. The divine blessing was given without his unawareness, and before he believed. We do not have to believe in order for God to work, but we do often need even the most minimal willingness to act on his word if we are to ever see what God is doing. If we take Jesus at his word, we will come to have faith.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Contemplation #193
Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life.” John 6:35

When we respond to God’s call to come into the blessing that is offered in His Son, Jesus himself becomes our source of all spiritual nourishment. Jesus is not only the bread of a heavenly life which we will experience beyond our existence here and now, but he becomes the basic food of life as we now live it. Bread is a symbol of the staple of existence. It is the daily food that sustains. Christ has become to the believer the sole means of living. Without Christ life is not possible. We choose to reject all other sources and be devoted to the One who is our spiritual food.

Contemplation #194
Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life.” John 6:35

This simple and yet powerful statement of Jesus makes clear that the life of God will only be received and sustained through the Son who has descended from God to bring close this blessing. In our affection, our desire, and the deepest part of our hearts, we must seek Christ. He must be received daily. There is only one source for us: the person of Christ who showed us God in human form. The gift and the Giver are intertwined. The gift of life cannot come without receiving the Giver completely and continually through humble confession of our dependence and need. We do pray “Give us this day our daily bread” with our desire for Christ being the greatest meaning we can give to these words.

Contemplation #195
Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life.” John 6:35

How do we receive Jesus as the bread of our daily life? We have all received Jesus as Savior in repentance from all other ways of living and a confession of faith, but how is Jesus to be received daily? The answer is that Christ comes to us in many different ways. Because creation was made by him and through him, and he is the One who fills everything in every way, Christ can be found in every aspect of life and received as the Bread of Life. But he is not automatically received this way, for it is very easy for us to neglect Christ in all things. Our desire daily must be for Jesus, our willingness to receive him and him alone.