Tag Archives: Unconditional love

Unconditional Love and Eternity

Living in the Spirit
November 26, 2017

Scripture Reading: Matthew 25:31-46

Then he will say to those at his left hand, “You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.” Then they also will answer, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?” Then he will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.” And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.’—Matthew 25:41-46

What does Jesus mean by eternal punishment? If we do not understand what eternal punishment means, we easily let it go as unimportant. We do so at our peril.

The Greek word, kolasis, translated as punishment means chastisement, punishment, torment, perhaps with the idea of deprivation*.  In the Bible it appears only here in Mathew 25:46 and 1 John 4:18 which reads: There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love.

1 John may provide the insight we need to understand Jesus’ meaning. It is my understanding that the Kingdom of God started at Christ’s resurrection. If so, then eternity began then too. We practice every day of our lives loving the way Jesus loves training for perfection in our loving now and throughout eternity. 1 John suggests that fear is our greatest impediment to reaching that perfection. To love God and to love any other opens us to the vulnerability of not being loved in return. The ways of the world dictate that we must receive just return on any investment we make. The unconditional nature of God’s love negates that idea. If we give in to the way of the world regarding how we love, we condemn ourselves to live without accepting the unconditional love that God so freely extends to all.

Prayer: Lord, many of us having been hurt by what we perceived to be love but wasn’t. Asa result we built walls of fear to protect us from fully accepting your unconditional love. Tear those walls down and heal the wounds that enslave us keeping us from fulfilling our call to love as Jesus loved. Amen.

All scriptures are quoted from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright 1989, 1995, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights are reserved.

Don’t be so Selfish

love1Lent
March 18, 2016

Scripture Reading: Luke 19:28-40

Then they brought [the colt] to Jesus; and after throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it. As he rode along, people kept spreading their cloaks on the road. –Luke 19:35-36

How do we show respect or adoration to someone entering our presence today? Pope Francis recently made a trip to South American from where he came. As his vehicle rolled along the streets, he was greeted with loud shouts, waving arms, people jumping up and down to see over those in front of him. He stopped at one point exited the vehicle and approached a man seated in a wheel chair. As he blessed the young man someone in the crowd reached over the seated person pulling Pope Francis over the wheel chair bound man potentially crushing him. The Pope pulled himself back and chastised the person pulling him, “Don’t be so selfish.”

How do we love without conditions? Jesus’ willingness to die on the cross was surely the best example of loving without conditions. Whether we want to admit it or not, most of us want something in return when we offer our love. The man pulling at the Pope was trying to touch him for selfish gain with no concern for who might be endangered in the process.

My teacher, mentor as a spiritual director, Bob Gardenhire, shared with our class that he really did not fully understand the meaning of unconditional love until he cared for his mother as she experienced in the end stages of Alzheimer’s. I have always wondered how many of the people laying their coats in the road to honor Jesus, were in the crowd shouting “Crucify him” a few days later. As we lay our version of our cloaks before God this Holy Week, let us all be mindful of what our commitment really is. Have we learned from Jesus’ how to love unconditionally?

Prayer: Lord, forgive us when our selfish desires overcome our concern for those around us. Enable us to love like Jesus’ loves. Amen.

All scriptures are quoted from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized 
Edition, copyright 1989, 1995, Division of Christian Education of the National Council 
of Churches of Christ in the United States of American. Used by permission. All rights 
reserved.

Thorn in the Flesh

branches-trees-sunrise-nature-thorns-hd-wallpaperEastertide
July 2, 2015

Scripture Reading: 2 Corinthians 12:2-10

But if I wish to boast, I will not be a fool, for I will be speaking the truth. But I refrain from it, so that no one may think better of me than what is seen in me or heard from me, even considering the exceptional character of the revelations. Therefore, to keep me from being too elated, a thorn was given to me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me, to keep me from being too elated.
—2 Corinthians 12:6-7

The old adage “actions speak louder than words” flashed through my mind as I read our scripture for today and then St. Francis’ of Assisi poignant words, “Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary use words.”

The thorn in Paul’s flesh has been a subject of great supposition. No one actually has any idea what it really was, but I’ll bet most of us, if we think about it, have thorns that prick our hearts to behave differently than was once our norm. Obviously from Paul we learn those reminders can be a good thing, but, I also think, they can be bad, too. If we have ever been burned by touching something hot, we are probably forever reminded to be careful around fire, but hopefully the burning did not stop us from enjoying a campfire or even cooking.

 

I don’t know how many times, I have heard the words, “We tried that once and it didn’t work.” The period at the end of the statement usually meant we were not going to try it again. We need to be very careful not to let bad past experiences cast a shadow on our loving one another. Indeed, Paul was surely cautious about whatever his thorn in the flesh was, but he never stopped teaching us to love even when our love may have been rejected for Paul’s whole ministry was based on Christ crucified—the one who went to the cross out of love.

Prayer:  Lord, let your love flow steadily through us washing out our fear of loving others even those who do not love us back. Let our lives and actions speak louder than our words. Grant us wisdom, strength, and courage in our work as your body today. Amen.

All scriptures are quoted from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright 1989, 1995, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the United States of American. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Abba! Father!

AbbaLiving in the Spirit
May 29, 2015

Scripture Reading: Romans 8:12-17

When we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ—if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him. –Romans 8:15b-17

My Sunday School class does not follow a particular curriculum but routinely assesses the needs of the members and formulates our studies based on those expressed needs. It perhaps could result in our being stunted only picking the things we already agree with, but most often it leads us into areas we probably would never have explored. Recently one of our members said she would like to know more about the Lord’s Prayer. What we found was that there is not many stand-alone studies on just the Lord’s Prayer. We did find a wonderful small book by Joachim Jeremias, Jesus and the Message of the New Testament, which included a well-developed chapter on the Lord’s Prayer.

Jeremias notes that the identification of gods as a father images occurred in other Middle Eastern religions by the third and second centuries before Christ. While God is rarely spoken of as father in the Old Testament it does occur 14 times*. Most often these references are found among the prophets who are describing God’s mercy beyond understanding.

The unique characteristic of the Lord’s Prayer is Jesus’ use of the word Abba. It is translated Father in most of our Bibles but it is the more intimate word a child uses. Our word for this might be Dad or Daddy or Pop. What is even more incredible is that Jesus gives all his disciples permission to address the almighty God as Abba.

Paul is recognizing that distinction in our scripture today, not in the sense of lowering the status of God, but in a way that makes even more holy the intensity of God’s love. Love we are called to emulate with all people everywhere as Jesus Christ did even in the face of adversity.

Prayer: Abba, thank you for your unconditional love. Thank you for your constant presence giving us the will and the energy to love like Jesus Christ loves. Amen.

*See Isaiah 63:15-16, 64:7-8; and Jeremiah 3:4

All scriptures are quoted from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright 1989, 1995, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the United States of American. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

 

Divine Love

agapeLent
March 17, 2015

Scripture Reading: Jeremiah 31:31-34

No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, ‘Know the Lord’, for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.— Jeremiah 31:34

What does it mean to “know God”? Sometimes I wonder if it is even possible to know another person, fully and completely. 1 John 4:7-8 talks about knowing God: Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. If we truly know God, we must love one another. When we humans reach the point of all loving one another then we will also fully love God and thus know God.

So what is love? The Greek word translated love in 1 John 4:7-8 is Agape* and is often described as divine love. What seems to set Agape love apart from the other forms of love in the Greek language, the love of siblings for each other or erotic love, is that Agape love, God’s love, results from choice. God chooses to love each of us and we are to follow God’s example and are free to choose to love one another. Agape love centers in moral preference. God calls us to prefer to love one another always and to live that love.

When I worked at children’s hospital years ago, we helped a family whose baby had a very rare condition that resulting in his emitting a strong foul odor most of the time. Besides that he was very large for his age and very delayed in development. It was backbreaking to carry him and at that time he was too big for infant strollers and two underdeveloped to sit in a wheelchair. We could use a gurney to move him about at the hospital. I think the family used a padded wheel barrel at home. His family could have chosen to walk away from him. They did not. The mother chose to love him with all her heart and the resulting care was still there when he died in her arms a few months later. I have also seen substitute caretakers chose to love unconditionally when primary caretakers cannot. In many instances it takes both.

Sometimes the people we deem the most unlovable are the ones who we need to love the most.

Prayer: Lord, enable us to love each other particularly the least of these. Amen.

*http://biblehub.com/greek/26.htm

All scriptures are quoted from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright 1989, 1995, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the United States of American. Used by permission. All rights reserved.