Tag Archives: Romans

Romans Bible study on JUSTICE from Doing Theology

A month ago we had a “Doing Theology” time on JUSTICE. We had to think things over after being moved all year by the heartache and turmoil caused by police brutality and the protests about  systemic injustice that is poured out on African Americans, especially. This is one of two posts that attempt to sum up what we heard when we gathered to listen to God about justice. Hopefully, they will contribute to our ongoing dialogue.

To begin with, there is no justice without Jesus. We are all wrong. God graces us with “right” and the ability to bring things to right. We exercise His grace by the power of the Holy Spirit and it leads to justice. We demand justice from the powers-that-be from our place of safety in Christ, we don’t beg the powers to give us what is right as if they create it.

Jesus’ mission is to restore humanity and the whole creation. He envisions well‐being for people who are spiritually poor and people who are socially poor. As he walks among us, righteousness and justice mark the events of his days and nights. Jesus lives right and makes life right with and for others. If Jesus had offered a justice code (and it is dangerous to think he might have done this) it might have been centered around this idea: to love is to be just; to be just is to love. When we claim to follow Jesus, we are disciplined by the call to love like Jesus.

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Endless Love Chooses Limits

My sister made a good point last Wednesday after we stopped playing Wii bowling and watched a few minutes of the news. She said, “I like it when the TiVo’s got nothing and I need to watch the commercials. They are educational.” It will be part of her book “$%!# People in the Last Years of the Baby Boomer Demographic Say.”

I am unlimitedBecause she said that, I listened to the Sprint commercial for their I-Phone 5 deal while I was looking for news about the Phillies (which was not good news). While I was reaching for a Rolo, my ears perked up, because the Sprint commercial actually said, “I need, no, I have the right to be unlimited.” I looked at Gwen and asked, “Did you hear that?” She verified that it happened. Then YouTube confirmed it.

I think the commercial is supposed to be a little ironic. But since truth is not a goal for most advertisers, one cannot be too sure — and ads rarely say something that isn’t supposed to resonate in thirty seconds. So I think being unlimited is exactly what the advertiser meant to promise. And even though it is absurd, I think they meant to tap into the innate, entitled feeling (that is becoming more prevalent all the time) that we have a right to be unlimited. Maybe that sense of entitlement is a legacy of those baby boomers I mentioned. YouTube also verifies that they promised that fame would make their children live forever (who all sing and dance), all while enjoying endless love. Now those well-educated boomers are working on how they will make it literally possible not to die.

As a missionary, that thirty seconds was very educational. I also promise that people can have eternal life, which is unlimited. I don’t think one has an innate right to it, but once it is given by the Giver I could say, “I need, no, I have a right to be unlimited.” My fame won’t make me live forever (or my children, as our brothers and sisters at Saddleback are pondering), but God’s fame will live forever. But what about endless love? The Bible records this teaching:

Romans 8:37-39: But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

1 John 4:9-12: By this the love of God was manifested in us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.

What about endless love? God has loved us from the beginning and will love us until the end. Nothing will ever separate us from God’s love. But what kind of love is this unlimited love? It is not like Sprint’s sense of being unlimited, which you can pay for and buy a right to. It is not something I can work hard enough to deserve, like people think of fame or scientific progress.

I suppose it could seem ironic that God’s unlimited love is the kind that limits itself. Nothing can separate us from the love of God because it is in Jesus our Lord; the love is expressed by God who became a limited human to serve humans. Nothing can separate us from the love of God because the one and only Son limited himself to life like ours, killed death, went beyond angels, undermined the powers that be, invested our present with hope and guaranteed our future. God-with-us, who knows the heights and depths and every possibility of our creation, put endless love in limited flesh and made limited flesh full of endless love.

make it workI read a book on the plane about psychology (of course). It had a great metaphor for seeing our many inner “selves” as a family system. What the author suggested is that we get in touch with our true, inner Self with a capital “S” and learn how to let that Self relate to our many selves with honesty and understanding, just like a family therapist would help a family. That is a nice Hindu-ish idea that assumes that people can find the image of God in themselves and “make it work.” I think it was another example, like the Sprint commercial, of how we are being trained to see our potential as limitless.

But true, endless love from our true selves is a gift of God, who demonstrates how it comes alive in Jesus. We don’t make it work as much as it works in us. It is endless, but it limits itself to be expressed in us. Our sin gets us condemned to being in charge of forever. But God’s love demonstrates the alternative that saves the world. For instance, tonight we are going to have a meeting about making a covenant with the other members of Circle of Hope. We would need an alternative commercial for our alternative kind of life: “I need, no, I have a right to be limited.”  I make a covenant with a visible group of Jesus-followers because I need to love in this time and place as one of these people — Christ in me, Christ as us. The meeting answers crucial questions: How am I going to be a visible part of an actual body? “How can I not end up like some kind of imaginary god whose love is endless, a god outside an actual body, an aspiration I need to make work?” God’s love is in us and is something that works in our limited condition; it is a life into which I can enter and from which I can live.

This is a big deal. The love of God is Jesus entering into our world and our lives. Expressing love like God’s is living fully in our world, entering the experiences of others, and living with Jesus in his body, the church. It is a love that serves within the limits of creation. It is limited by the need to be a receiver who gives as a real person to other real people. It is love that is not looking beyond what is to what isn’t, and so love that honors the person in front of them and doesn’t expect what has not matured to fruit yet, much less the impossible. When we meet in our cells or public meetings we are not there to experience wonderful people whose fame should live forever (or to lament the undesirables we are stuck with!). When we meet we are humbly emptying ourselves of self-aspirations to endlessness and entering in to the smallness of knowing someone and being  known, of discovering the goodness created in us and the new life given to us by Jesus. I am not going to “make the cell work” or bring all my endless demands for what I deserve to it. I am going to give of myself as love is given to me by God. I am going to honor the limited person and context and be used to fill them with whatever fullness of love they can contain.

That’s a lot of meditation on a thirty-second commercial! But I needed to do it. We are longing to be the body of Christ – not the only representation, of course, but a real one. I love the limitations of love that empties itself of rights and gives out of God’s endless supply. Within those limitations are where the love of God saves us. It sounds reasonable, I suppose. But then my wife wipes me out at Wii bowling and I have to love her. Someone  messes with my I-phone and I have to make a choice. Someone invites me into a covenant of love like God’s and I have to reorient who I think I am!