Rock Climbing

•March 24, 2011 • 1 Comment

There is this wall which we must all scale. It’s stones are formed of trials, heartaches, disappointments and bitter shocks held in place by the mortar of our anguish and pain. Christ beckons us come to the other side and like Simon of Cyrene he will pick up our cross that we might find but brief relief from its weight and be able to be taken over.

But Thomas À Kempis (in “The Imitation of Christ”) sees that even though we can walk freely with Christ on the other side we find ourselves reaching for the baggage, the ballast we had to cast off to grab hold of Jesus that He might lift us over. We reach for our pack of pride, our valise of virtue, and the gear carrying our good deeds and  respectable reputation. We wrestle for our bag of comfort, for assurance of a charmed life but we are left with bloodied, stone-scraped limbs to remind that there is no charm of the cross.

 

Thomas wrestles. He knows the way of the cross yet he seems to in the barest wisp reach back for an assurance we are not given. We have this mindset, this theology that God will reward us if we are right. “When you are troubled,” Thomas says, “is the best time to merit and win reward from God.” But our righteousness is His gift to us; we cannot attain it on our own. And  yet we want to cry out when a “good” Christian is dying as though the “good” should count for something.  It is that we miss what the “good” was all along and what it truly counts for. 

 

It seems as though we are always trying to apprehend God, but He will not be captured. How could we not seek to hold Him. “O my Lord God, most faithful Lover, when You come into my heart, all within me rejoices,” Thomas says. “You are my glory and the joy of my heart, my hope and my whole refuge in all my trouble.” We live for the warmth of His smile, the scent of His love, the surprise of His whisper, “the marvelous effect of the Love of God.” 

We love so poorly. I have long asked Him to teach me how to love Him. Thomas talks of deliverance from evil passions and having his sick heart healed from all earthly inclinations, so that he can be inwardly healed and purged from all inordinate affections and vices, and be made ready and able to love God, to be strong to suffer for God, and to be firm to persevere in Him. We know from Scripture and from the Son himself, what it looks like to love God, but even still these are earthly manifestations and limited in themselves.

 I love my husband deeply. Seeking to be a good and obedient wife, faithful in all things if it were the total, would leave us cold. There is more. There is so much more.  Thomas says “to strive always without ceasing against all evil motions of sin and to despise all suggestions of the enemy is a token of perfect love, of great merit and singular grace.” I say yes we must strive against all evil motions and cast off the suggestions of the enemy, but these are but behaviors and conscious acts. It is so trendy today to say that love is a verb, not an emotion.  We teach people that emotions are unreliable and not to be trusted. Our emotions are a part of what it means to be made in the image of God and by repressing and devaluing that part of us we reject the image we were made in.

 

We have overused the word ‘love’ as to almost make it cheap and worthless and yes our emotions can fool us, but we should reclaim our emotions and especially love. It is a characteristic of God, hence the fruit of the Spirit. I love the Lord my God with all my heart, with all my soul, with all my mind, and with all my strength.  My actions may please my Lord and warm his heart, stirring His love, but they are not love. Love is that mysterious ache, that joyous swell, that movement of my heart reaching, ever reaching to touch the heart of God in wondrous union.  And it is that same mysterious ache, that joyous swell that waits, though He be absent. Though He tarry. Though He did not save any of my loved ones when with a word He could have. Though He could have stopped every horror and pain I have endured. Though as Thomas says, “disturbing things occur daily in this life.” No a simple act of will or an action could not make me continue to seek Him, to turn to Him, desire Him or endure what comes. Only a powerful emotion that He kindled in me because He first loved me could do that.

My Body for You to Sacrifice

•March 7, 2011 • Leave a Comment

Take you and eat: for it is My Body that will be given for you to sacrifice. Wow! Thomas writes it as “for YOU to sacrifice.” Doesn’t elicit quite the same feelings as “this is My Body given for you.” In just a simple turn of that phrase Thomas A kempis, in his “Imitation of Christ,” creates this profound reality we must respond to. Given for you almost leaves us out of the whole thing.

While I would argue in all other corners that everything is about the faithfulness of God; lovingly sacrificing His Son, Jesus giving of Himself in His incarnation and crucifixion, the Holy Spirit raising Him from the dead and giving of Himself to indwell us. But Thomas masterfully makes the slightest change in this phrase and now I must confront my involvement, my culpability, my continued and ongoing participation in the crucifixion of Christ.

Yes, I know all the theology of the Cross, but still we can avert our glance and convince ourselves that it was this free gift that God just decided to give us. As if we had nothing to do with our own separation from Him. As if our own sin stood by the side of the road and did not participate in the breaking of His body or the drawing of His blood. As if I did not lounge upon that crossbeam as it ground splinters into His shoulder. As if the shouts and jeers were not of my lips. As if I do not warm myself by the fire while my Lord is beaten and mocked.

No, I stood outside the Temple with nothing that I could possibly sacrifice that would atone for my sin and He came and said, “Here, offer Me. Sacrifice Me.” And so, it is true that when I opened my mouth to speak of my love for Him, the words “Crucify him!” came out. Oh, that it were not true. Oh that I could count one day, just one day in which I did not hurl upon my Lord some unholy thought, some sinful act that separates me from our Father and drives ever deeper the nails into his flesh.

I wonder now in joy mixed with trepidation how it will be to come to Your table and receive Your Holy Sacrament. I have rarely known what Thomas speaks of to be dry and without any affection of heart. But how will this new affection manifest in me as I receive Your body and Your blood that I sacrificed. I find it hard to put my thoughts and feelings about it into words.

I cannot portray the height, nor depth, nor breadth of the love I have for my husband or my children; how much more difficult to try and capture in words my love for You, my Lord. You are all things to me. I receive You gladly into my body. I joyfully, thankfully remember. I remember not only that You went to the cross of us, but that when nothing existed but chaos, you swept across the dark waters and brought forth light; that we can love You because You first loved us and that Your love for us is manifest in this most marvelous plan to bring us peace and wholeness, to restore us to who You created us to be and to give us rest in You.

As I prepare for Lent, I will meditate on this phrase the way that Thomas has turned it and its implications. How will I prepare to receive this gift of God? Thomas says, “Lo, I stand before You poor and naked, desiring and asking Your grace. Refresh me, therefore, Your poorest servant who begs for spiritual food, kindle my heart with the fire of Your presence. Turn all worldly things into bitterness to me, all grievous and irritating things into patience, and all created things into a despising and a forgetfulness of them. Lift up my heart to You in heaven, and do not permit me to live vainly or to err in this world. “

You, O Lord, are the Love of my life. The joy of my soul. The counsel of my wickedness.

It’s About Relationship

•March 2, 2011 • Leave a Comment

Several  years ago I heard a story of a high powered female executive driving her young daughter to dance class. Having finished an important phone call the woman removed her headset and tossed it on the backseat beside her child to signal that she was ready to hear about her daughter’s day. Immediately, her daughter donned the headset. The proud mother smiled in anticipation of her daughter following in her footsteps with all of the power that went with it. “Hi, my name is Madison,” the little girl said. Mom was beaming with how clearly she began her “call” and waited to hear what would come next.”  … ….. “Welcome to McDonald’s, may I take your order.”

Needless to say, the mother’s smile drooped in horror as she hypothesized the genesis of this disturbing role play. Was this her daughter’s ambition in life or was this who her daughter thought Mom was – the voice on the other end of a mystical contraption that magically produces chicken nuggets and chocolate milkshakes  – all at the simple command of your voice. Wow.

Jesus finds himself riding alongside our “may I take your order mom” as he comes upon his disciples, a demon possessed boy, and his own “headset” lying in the dust nearby. Chapter 9 of Mark’s gospel reads, “And when they came to the disciples, they saw a great crowd about them, and scribes arguing with them. And immediately all the crowd, when they saw him, were greatly amazed, and ran up to him and greeted him.”

 Now we know that Jesus was so ordinary that Judas had to use a signal to identify him in the Garden of Gethsemene, so why, here, when this crowd saw him were they greatly amazed, running up to greet him? Mark does not spell it out for us, but Jesus had just come from the mountain on which he had been transfigured and his garments were radiant. Perhaps, like Moses, his face still shone like the sun. So here he is glowing, not unlike our mom, as he finds his disciples engaged in the very same activities he has been engaged in, in his ministry. He must have been proud to find them out and about, like him, doing the will of the Father. A crowd has gathered around them, scribes are arguing with them, there is talk of a miracle – exorcising a demon. And then, there it is, “Welcome to McDonald’s. May I take your order?”

“Teacher,” the boy’s father says, “I brought my son to you, for he has a dumb spirit; and whenever it seizes him, it dashes him down; and he foams and grinds his teeth and becomes rigid; and I asked your disciples to cast it out, and they were ….  not … able.”

Do you want fries with that? ……… Moses had, had a similar experience when he had come down from the mountain. He found Miriam and Aaron, in charge so to speak in his stead, amongst a crowd, helping them dishonor God in faithless disobedience, all the while proclaiming “tomorrow shall be a feast to the Lord.” Here, Jesus’ disciples were bringing dishonor upon God and they were doing it in a crowd in Jesus’ name. Is it wonder then, that Jesus became angry? “O faithless generation,” he cried out. “How long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you?”

I don’t know about you, but it makes me more than just a bit uncomfortable that Jesus never bemoaned living in the lowly state of humanness, not even once, which if you think about it might be akin to giving up this life for the life of a clam, wallowing in mud one moment and tumbling on the sea bottom the next. But here, standing amongst his disciples who just did not get it he could not wait to get away. Beam me up, Daddy! I need to know what the “it” was that they didn’t get so I don’t elicit such a response. Some people assume Jesus is only calling the scribes and the crowd a faithless generation, but Mark’s carefully constructed telling of this event points mostly to the disciples as the target of Jesus’ angst.

At this juncture, Jesus stops the car. On the side of the road he questions the boy’s father.  “… it has often cast him into the fire and into the water, to destroy him;” the man says, “ but if you can do anything, have pity on us and help us.” If. Such a simple little word. If. Please drive around to the first window for angry outburst number two. “If you can!” Jesus mimics incredulously. “All things are possible to him who believes.”

Why would Jesus be so angry? Here’s my take. Clearly this man had, had faith that Jesus could heal his son. After all, he began his conversation with Jesus saying, “Teacher, I brought my son to you.” But now, he uses the word “if.”

As we sit here on the curb amongst this scene, we need to peer into the car and see that it is us fiddling with the headset. The father was bringing his son to Jesus, but turned to his disciples in Jesus’ absence. Not only were the disciples not able to cast the demon out, but their lack of that “it” that we have yet to discover, has caused the father to begin to question his faith in Jesus. Instead of building faith, the disciples were contributing to its dissolution.

What would the disciples have had to argue with the scribes about? The disciples couldn’t cast out the demon, end of story – unless the disciples were arguing that Jesus could cast it out, but because of the disciples’ failure the scribes were probably insisting that they are all frauds and that Jesus would be unable cast it out, too. We know that the crowd is probably disillusioned because it has obviously begun to drift away. We know this because Mark tells us that when the father responds to Jesus’ outburst with “I believe; help my unbelief” the crowd came running together.

Is there still something to believe in they wonder?

Jesus rebukes the unclean spirit and it leaves the boy. But the crowd is still suffering from the virus of doubt and seeing that the spirit had left the boy lying on the ground, they supposed him dead. Jesus takes the boy by the hand and he rises. Uncharacteristically, Mark gives us no description of the crowd’s response here. Perhaps because Mark too wants to get to the “it” he has set the stage to reveal.

Once in private, his disciples could not wait to question Jesus. Mark tells us that “when he had entered the house his disciples asked him,” which conveys to me an immediacy of their questioning. This wasn’t just later. They didn’t wait for him to recline at table. As soon as he crossed the threshold they wanted to know. My thought is that they, too, knew there was an “it” they had yet to get. But isn’t it interesting that they didn’t ask him on the way home. They waited until they were in private. Hmmmm.

One has to wonder if they were, at this point, demanding an accounting of why they pushed the miracle button and no miracle popped out or were they truly seeking after the truth. It was likely a little of both, if we can project our own character onto them.

Mark is the only gospel that provides us the vivid detail of this account that we’ve just reviewed. Matthew and Luke’s don’t include the confounding first response that seems to be the point of Mark’s retelling of these events. We should see, too, that this is one of the few times that Jesus answers their question directly and without commenting on their lack of understanding. They need to get this critical point, now! When his disciples ask “Why could we not cast it out?”  Jesus responds. “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer.”

Oh, OK. … Oh. No, wait a minute. What is he talking about? Jesus didn’t go off by himself. He didn’t pray over the boy. He didn’t even cry out to heaven. He simply said, “I command you, come out of him, and never enter him again.” Like he was, ah, placing an order.

Jesus says this kind (of demon we suppose) requires prayer, yet we don’t see him pray. He simply commands it to leave just like he had done with previous exorcisms. Mark is expanding our understanding here of prayer, of faith and of our relationship to God.  Matthew and Luke’s gospels had taken a bit of a different turn here, not including this response concerning prayer. Their gospels focus directly on faith and in so doing, seem almost to put their emphasis on the strength of the faith of a person; not in the sense that the person in themselves has the strength, but their faith is the strength that enables one to perform such miracles as casting out demons. But for Mark, the “it” we desperately need to grasp is our relationship with God; prayer is that deep abiding communion with God that draws us so close we live in His will and His power.  Note the Jesus we see here is so close to God he need only make a statement and the demon leaves the boy.

You know it is believed that Mark wrote his gospel from the eye witness accounts given to him by Peter. It is not a stretch to imagine that Peter would remember and pass on details that stress our relationship as much if not more so than our faith. Remember that it was Peter who thought he was so close to Jesus because of his faith, but who found out that his faith was more so in an ideology about Israel, than it was in who Jesus was and what his mission was. It was Peter who Jesus rebuked, telling him “Get behind me Satan,” when Peter’s faith flew in the face of God’s plan of  salvation. It was Peter who said he would die right along with Jesus, but who at Jesus’ hour of  need, denied Jesus not once, but three times. It was Jesus, though, who restored Peter, making him breakfast after His resurrection.  Jesus and Peter’s relationship truly began that day and in that relationship, Peter began to manifest a power that performed far more than miracles.

I think we should also always remember that Jesus donned not a headset, but a towel and knelt to wash his disciples feet. Yes, those disciples dishonored him. Those disciples who he knew would abandon Him. Jesus would gladly “take your order,” so the next time you drive through McDonald’s remember that Jesus came to serve and that we who would follow him should also serve. Being a disciple of Christ, not merely a fan of Christ, is not child’s play. If you truly aspire to be like Christ, you must don His crown of thorns and suffer alongside of Him. Jesus’ response shows us just how serious he is about our relationship with God. And lest we forget, so serious, is he, that he gave his own life for us to open the path for us to have that relationship with our Father.

Literacy Leads to Love

•December 15, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Someone once said that we need to stop reading books about the Bible and actually read the Bible itself. That had a huge impact on me. (I know, duh!) I’ve have had an insatiable appetite for books about Jesus, prayer, Christian living, etc., for a long time, but I couldn’t say I was reading the Bible with that same ferocity. That statement was probably in one of those books and many of them enlarged my understanding and helped me grow in my faith, but I was reading about what the Bible says and through someone else’s eyes.

 For about the past four years, though, I’ve been ravenous for the actual word of God. I took that admonition to heart and now I cannot get enough of Scripture.

 As this appetite grew I began really digging into the word, practicing lectio divina (the ancient art of listening deeply with our hearts as we slowly read a portion of Scripture, meditating what God speaks to us and praying into it)  and intently studying the Bible, using all of the skills and means to do so. Consequently, I have to wonder, where did I get my theology before I was living in the word?

 I guess I mostly got it from pastors, my church’s articles of faith and doctrine, other Christians, and Christian (and probably even some nonChristian) authors. Sounds pretty good. Maybe and maybe not.

 George Barna, in “Growing True Disicples” said, “There is reason to be concerned about what believers claim the Scriptures teach.”  He goes on to say, “When it comes to many of Christianity’s core teachings or central beliefs, millions of believers are sorely deluded in their interpretation of what the Bible says.” (His marketing research firm surveyed more than 4,000 people in 2000)

 His surveys asked a host of questions about things that are close to the core of the faith. I had the opportunity to survey a congregation on these questions and then in a different community a small group. My findings were very close to Barna’s. With the small group, we had an opportunity to discuss the questions around tables. As I moved around the room and engaged people in discussions about these questions, I asked people how they came to believe what they believe. Time and again people quoted someone in their life. A pastor, a Sunday School teacher, a friend, a family member, but rarely did they refer to the Bible as their source. Sometimes they couldn’t identify the source, but it didn’t stop them from arguing their position. They also argued quite a bit about things that aren’t even in the Bible, but some people were sure they were. This is hand-me-down or second-hand (thoughts and ideas received from other people) theology.  

 It isn’t just what we are directly taught, though, that influences our beliefs and predispositions. We have to recognize that a host of things influence our development of beliefs. They may be cultural, political, economic, societal, etc. Think about how growing up in the depression influenced people so differently than growing up in this age of rapid technology and planned obsolescence.  We see that it is not just what we are taught, but so much more. In recognizing that, we can also realize that the same holds true for the church. Over the years, and now, it is influenced by more than just the Bible because man cannot help but interpret the Bible and while doing so he will be subject to outside influences. Although some may not succumb to them entirely, there is still some amount of influence. It is unavoidable.  So it seems, we inherit filters and lenses through which we look at and try to understand God.

 In reading the foundational principles of a nondenominational church, I was struck by how many times the distinctive in question was supported as much or more by how others got it wrong, did it badly or hurt Christianity in their approach or behavior. I was also surprised at how most, if not all of the distinctives, I would agree with – and so would my denomination. They weren’t all that distinct – so why this claim? When you really boil it down, it seemed like the distinctives (they avoid the word doctrine) were really saying that they get it right, do it better, take their faith more seriously than others.

 This isn’t just nondenominational movements and it isn’t new. When Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the door of  Castle Church in Wittenburg, a common practice seeking academic debate, he was more so calling attention to a practice, not a doctrine. He had been sickened by the selling of indulgences, a paper guaranteeing – for a fee – that a loved one would spend less time in purgatory and get to heaven quicker. He had, through his own journey and study of Scripture, come to the belief that we are justified by faith alone and not the faith and works doctrine of Rome, but it was the corrupt practices and those behind them that set the stage for the schism that has led to the more than 3,800 denominations we have today.

 It seems that it is in the practices of our faith that we run into the most trouble and has probably been at the root of most church splits. For example, we all agree on one Lord, one faith, one baptism, but when we get into the practice of baptism (babies or adult believer’s, sprinkling or immersion, water or Spirit, etc.) we differ and then it is sometimes difficult to determine if we are defending a doctrine or developing a doctrine to defend our beliefs and desires.

 Once in that defensive posture it is hard to bend our stiff neck to turn and see Christ, kneeling before His Father to pray for us:

 “My prayer is not for them (his disciples) alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message,  that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.  I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one—  I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” (John 17:20-23)

 Jesus prayed for unity so that the world would know that the Father had sent Him and that He loves us. There is clearly diversity in the Godhead (Father, Son and Holy Spirit), but they are one. The church can have diversity in its expression of Christ’s body, but it cannot have division and still be one.

 Perhaps if we all were faithful to study Scripture together, not just by ourselves or within our local church or denomination, but together as the Body of Christ across denominations and movements, we could shed some of those hand-me-down differences. If we truly seek unity instead of defending our desire to be apart and do it our own way, maybe the world would see the Body of Christ. As it is, He is hidden behind pointing fingers and pounding fists. As we would study together we would build each other up instead of tearing each other down. We might still not agree on some things, but there will surely be more that we do agree on that can draw us together.

 We have one Lord and one mission. What would happen if each member of a football team behaved the way the church has? It will probably never win a game and no one will follow it.  

 We were commanded to be one and speak in one voice to glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, but with the name calling and shouting at each other, the church could be drowning out that small still voice that is calling people who do not yet know Christ.   

 I recently received a great visual concerning the coming together of the church. John Armstrong, author of “Your Church is Too Small” related something from Dietrich Bonhoeffer. The gist is that if we focus on moving toward Christ, who is the center, we cannot help but come closer to each other the closer we get to Him.

 This is an awesome picture of the reality of Jesus, but if we are Biblically illiterate and flop around in hand-me-down doctrine, we could well walk right by Jesus because of the fuzzy picture that has been painted of Him for us and find ourselves further apart and further divided; grieving the heart of God and hampering the missio Dei.

 

Love Before Doctrine

•December 8, 2010 • Leave a Comment

I recently read a heart-breaking blog post by someone whose mother was Catholic and father was Jewish, lamenting the fact that she is not really accepted as a Jew no matter her beliefs, religious practices or genetics. I watched the trailer for “Through My Eyes,”  a stirring video made by homosexuals who are committed to Christ, some since a very young age, describing what is it like to be made to feel like a disease and that God hates them. I also read an essay by an atheist explaining why he will never join an atheist organization. What these three have in common are issues with doctrine, those principles or beliefs commonly held by an organization, a religion or a government. What the first two have in common, but the third differs on, is that the doctrinal issues had hurt them deeply and, by invalidating them, stood, or at least tried to stand, as a barrier between them and God.

No one knows what  Jesus wrote on the ground when the Pharisees brought him the alleged adulterous woman and demanded her stoning. What it does not appear to have been is a line in the sand on doctrine. A line in the sand divides, baits, excludes. It is a figure of speech to say “You stay over there. If you come over here, it’s war because your ideas or behavior will not be accepted.”

Some would say, based on Matthew 10:34 that, that is exactly what Jesus came to do. “Do not suppose I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn ‘a man against his father….’” That passage, however, is not about issues of doctrine, it about Jesus. About our loyalty to Jesus over everything, even our families.

The teachers of the law and the Pharisees were using the woman accused of adultery to test Jesus in the hopes of undermining his teaching. They brought no witnesses, nor the man, which, according to Jewish law, was to be stoned to death also. But Jesus did not get into an argument of law. Commentaries have observed that Jesus’ writing on the ground showed his unwillingness to allow them to draw him into their issues and to not allow them to exercise control over him or the issues. While this story is popularly told as either a tale to warn us against self-righteousness or as a story about Jesus’ attitude toward sexuality, this is really about Jesus’ authority. Jesus trumps everything, including our doctrine.

When Jesus met the Samaritan woman at the well, he blew away everyone’s doctrinal and societal issues for the ultimate goal of bringing her to himself, to restore her to wholeness and for her to participate in His mission. One commentary points out that the woman is never judged as a sinner, but is portrayed as a model of growing faith. Wow, not how we have traditionally interpreted that and heard it preached on, but if you read the text Jesus never calls her a sinner or unfaithful or disobedient to God. She is clearly seeking to grow in her faith as she asks Jesus the theological question about worship, confused for her by doctrine concerning where worship must take place. By speaking about worshiping in spirit and in truth, Jesus teaches us that worship is about the character of God as seen in Jesus, not the dictates of man.

This snapshot of Jesus is played out over the entire New Testament. It speaks to the character of Jesus as compassionate love. Not the corrupted love of the 60s where anything goes. No, the true love that seeks to restore, not unravel or condemn. In  1 Corinthians 13, Paul tells us, Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”

If we are to be Christ-like, we are to live this love. The second commandment that Jesus gave us is to love our neighbor as ourselves. How I understand this, it includes being patient with those who may not agree with our doctrine or with whose doctrine we do not hold to. We are to be kind. Our doctrine should not be used to hurt people. We love others and so do not envy what they have, which could even go so far as to desire that they not have it. (Some of the very doctrines or even behaviors people rail against, they deep down desire) We do not boast or act in pride by demanding that we have the answer. We do not dishonor others by excluding them from fellowship or Christ’s banquet table at which He is the host and we are all His guests. We do not dishonor anyone, for all are made in the image of God,  by defining them by their behavior or according to our theology or doctrine. We do not judge others to puff ourselves up and we do not become easily angered by those who would disagree with us.  We forgive those who trespass against us and we do not keep a list of their perceived wrongs. Love does not delight evil (that which ultimately seeks to separate us from God), but delights in the truth. It always protects – it does not place in harm’s way nor brings harm. It does not leave someone vulnerable. Love always trusts, for God is in control. It always hopes, for Love is Jesus our hope. And it always perseveres in the mission of God to restore all of God’s creation.

None of this is to say that we should not seek truth or hold to any doctrine, but we must recognize that doctrine is not what our faith is to be in nor advance. Our faith is to be in Jesus Christ. He alone is the authority, not our doctrine. He has shown us that to love Him and to grow to be like Him, is to love as He loved.

If you’ve followed this blog, you’ve seen the conversations between ReasonBeforeFaith and myself and others. I’ve so appreciated the opportunity for us to share, seek  and grow together, made possible  I believe because being right and demanding that one has the corner on the truth has not been an impetus in our dialogue.

I Love You More

•October 18, 2010 • Leave a Comment

My daughter and I have for a long time played this “game.” When I would say to her, “I love you.” She would say, “I love you more.” As I kissed her goodnight last night and said, “I love you” the words from  1 John 4 struck me in a new way.  John tells us that we love because God first loved us. It struck me that I loved her before she knew me, literally while she was being formed in my womb. In some ways, her loving me is a direct result of my loving her, yet my love for her was and is there whether she loves me back or not. Unfortunately, as humans we can’t or don’t always love like this.  We get our feelings hurt, we get angry, we just decide we don’t love someone any more. You don’t show me love, so I won’t show you love. God’s love is not like that. It is not quid pro quo. Whether we love Him or not, He loves us.

When I say I love God, He could emphatically say, “I love you more” and that would really mean something, but God needs no contest or word banter. His love for us is all around us, every day.

Now, if only we could love Him more than we do. For then we would love others the way we should as John tells us in 1 John 4, written while he was imprisoned on Patmos, living in a hostile environment to a church facing hatred every day. His message: love.  

1 John 4:7-20

 7Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. 8Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. 9This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son[b] into the world that we might live through him. 10This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for[c] our sins. 11Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.

 13We know that we live in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. 14And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. 15If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in him and he in God. 16And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.
      God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him. 17In this way, love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment, because in this world we are like him. 18There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.

 19We love because he first loved us. 20If anyone says, “I love God,” yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. 21And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother.

PRAYER 10.15.10

Lord, I just have to stop today and thank you for loving me and providing for me. How you love us is amazing. What mind can hold all that you are? I certainly cannot. When we think about that you are the creator of heaven and earth we just think of plants and animals. But you created each cell and placed within them something that  knows not only if it will be a zebra or a magnolia, but will it be skin or hair, will it be a cell in the esophagus  or the stomach. The systems and how everything is created in relationship are too intricate to fathom. O God, you are so creative. And your love, O Lord, is almost too much for us to receive. You are so majestic and merciful, faithful and gracious. Thank you. I love you!!!

When God’s Answer is to Not Answer

•October 15, 2010 • 1 Comment

I’ve been under tremendous pressure lately. It’s as if everything has heated up at once. There is too much to do and it seems I can’t just do any of it and get it off my plate. Almost everything requires that I have to wait on someone else, or there’s some problem with it or someone involved is being ugly about it.  My computer is down. Then the system is down. Then that’s all fixed and the outside website I have to work through is down. My efforts are constantly being frustrated. It has been so bad that it is almost comical, waiting to see what ridiculous thing will come up next to mess me up.  This is so much so that the other night while I was driving home in a terrible thunderstorm I was sure I would be hit by lightening. And it was like, “… go ahead.” I was resigned to it.

This all tells me that something is definitely up. So I began to wonder if I needed to take something off my plate. Is there something I shouldn’t be doing, like this job, this ministry, going to school? I’ve prayed and prayed about it. I’ve prayed for relief and I’ve prayed for direction. Nothing.  Nada. Zip. Dead silence.

So I began to pray not for direction, but just for a word from God. Anything. Just speak to me. … Nothing!

Sunday our pastor spoke about hearing from God. Great points. Nothing I didn’t already know. Nothing I hadn’t already considered. Yet some of his word choices were the exact words I had used in my prayers. Some of his “for examples” spoke just exactly to my situation and to my heart.

He also led the congregation in a time of silence, listening for a word from God. … Again, nothing.

After worship I was talking to a friend about my situation and she said, “Well, if you haven’t heard from him, then don’t do anything.” It was exactly what I needed to hear because I am a make-things-happen kind of person. I don’t like the in-between. The waiting.

I think God is well aware of that and maybe He is teaching me to wait in the in-between. To be comfortable there. To trust more and in different ways.

Is it coincidence that our pastor preached about the small still voice of God when I’ve been begging for a word from Him? That the pastor spoke about quieting the competing voices in our lives so that we can hear His, when I’ve been holding a microphone to them and filling my mind with them? I’m sure if I asked my pastor about some of the more specific things he said that were my words exactly he probably wouldn’t remember saying them, but I heard them come out of his mouth.

Is it coincidence that the devotions I get by email have lately been titled things like “Tested for Abundance” and “When Plans are Thwarted?”

I don’t think so. I think all of these are ways that God is communicating His encouragement to continue to wait for an actual word from Him. When God speaks directly to you, you know it. It is indescribable. It’s worth waiting for. And in this in-between I am growing. This is what God cares more about than my immediate comfort.

So sometimes, I think, that God’s answer is to not answer… at least not yet.

PRAYER 10.14.10

Jesus, I pray today for those looking for a job. Comfort those who are hurting from losing a job for whatever reasons. Restore them and redeem their pain, Father. Encourage those who are trying to go back into the workforce and those who have been looking for a long time. But, Father, I also ask that you do a practical work in their lives; point them in the right direction, open doors for them, create contacts that can help them. And give them patience to persevere while you work things out for their good.

 “… Look at the birds of the air. They neither sow nor reap nor gather into their barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?”

Matthew 6:25