Grace is the offer of God’s ceaseless presence and irrational love that cannot be stopped.
Grace is the offer of God’s ceaseless presence and irrational love that cannot be stopped.
In the middle of the first letter sent to the new believers in Corinthians (with instructions on how to use the gifts or tools the Holy Spirit gives) Paul gives is this warning:
Without love, it’s all a gong show (my loose translation).
As Christians we talk about love. We urge people to take the job of showing love seriously. We quote the verse about turning the other cheek. But who knew the charge to love our neighbours as ourselves could turn into a burden that keeps people weighted down with disappointment in themselves and in other less-than-considerate members of the church that is supposed to lead in this area? Who knew the instruction to love could make us feel less loveable?
I used to think that love meant I should be able to conjure up feelings of affection on demand. I thought if I tried hard I could. I learned I can’t. I know I’m not the only one. With very little effort I can give you hundreds of examples of my failure to love in spite of my best efforts.
I even fail to love people who, like me, mean well, but leave a mess to clean up in their short-sighted efforts to demonstrate it.
I can’t even imagine what it is like for the victims of extreme persecution to hear sermons about extending love to those who hate them.
Love is all very good in theory, but, as is evident in nasty posts on various media platforms, people who differ on political ideas, or even styles of music and fashion have a hard time showing it. Love, real love and not merely feel-good self-serving or erotic love is hard to come by. There are some days when I wonder if it is even possible.
And yet Jesus is clear about the command to love.
“’Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?’
Jesus replied: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. ‘This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.’” (Matthew 22: 37-40)
The identifying mark of the early church was expressed this way, “By this shall all people know that you are my disciples – that you have love for one another.”
Recently I hear another full-voiced charge from a pulpit that we should love like Jesus. I wanted to stand up and yell back, “Don’t keep telling us we should love without telling us how!”
People know the difference between genuine caring and marketing. They have a word for it. Hypocrisy.
Then the Lord reminded me he is not dependent on my efforts to do this without him. It’s about His love, not mine. He loved us first. I respond with that little bit that I can grasp before it falls through the holes in my heart and give it back to him. Then he pours out more love.
Paul described this kind of love – agape love, unselfish love from a perfect Father, in the passage in 1 Corinthians 13. I like to read it in different translations. The Passion Translation, which seeks to include emotional communication, calls this kind of love “large.” This is what Jesus came to show us. This is what Christ in us, the hope of glory, looks like and feels like. Large.
I need to soak in it. As I write this I am soaking my foot in a sterilized water and salt solution as part of the healing plan after minor surgery. In the same way, metaphorically speaking, I need to soak in God’s love for continuous healing of soul wounds. Abiding in his company purifies and removes distractions so I can know that I am the object of this love and that the Creator of the universe values me enough to never quit loving me. Only then can I give love the love I have received without risking burn-out or spiritual bankruptcy.
Developing a relationship with God and learning to abide, rest, dwell, and take up residency in the place of intimacy where we learn to accept a love we can’t earn is not for mystics who are so heavenly minded they are no earthly good. It is the essential source for anyone who prays, “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
God never takes failure as defeat, for he never gives up.
“This is all that I’ve known for certain, that God is love. Even if I have been mistaken on this or that point: God is nevertheless love.”
– Soren Kierkegaard
I read somewhere that the Koine Greek word translated as “head” (as in Christ is head of the church) in most English versions of the Bible, carries the connotation of head as in headwaters.
This thought came to me as I came across a photo I took at the south end of Columbia Lake. These are the headwaters the mighty Columbia River that eventually supplies water for irrigation and shipping systems for much of the western USA.
What’s behind that mighty river is a beautiful lake in our backyard that collects the abundant run-off from the mountains.
Christ taught servant leadership.
Jesus: You know that among the nations of the world the great ones lord it over the little people and act like tyrants. But that is not the way it will be among you. Whoever would be great among you must serve and minister. Whoever wants to be great among you must be slave of all. Even the Son of Man came not to be served but to be a servant—to offer His life as a ransom for others. (Mark 10: 42-45 The Voice)
It is what flows out of a person that makes them a great leader. If they are in alignment with Christ as their living head, Christ’s love can flow through them. As others join in unity of the Spirit a confluence grows that pours out in an increasingly deeper and wider outflow, providing for many downstream.
When a leader, any leader, demands homage and lords power over others the direction of flow is reversed. When it becomes all about respect for titles and offices and need for recognition coming his or her way the stream dries up. Submission to the type of leadership Jesus demonstrated is cooperation and confluence, not slavery. It produces much fruit.
We love Christ because he first loved us. Our love and worship is a response to him. Love must be voluntary or it is not love at all. It is something else entirely devoid of freedom.
Freely you have received. Freely give.
When God wants to drill a man,
And thrill a man,
And skill a man
When God wants to mold a man
To play the noblest part;
When He yearns with all His heart
To create so great and bold a man
That all the world shall be amazed,
Watch His methods, watch His ways!
How He ruthlessly perfects
Whom He royally elects!
How He hammers him and hurts him,
And with mighty blows converts him
Into trial shapes of clay which
Only God understands;
While his tortured heart is crying
And he lifts beseeching hands!
How He bends but never breaks
When his good He undertakes;
How He uses whom He chooses,
And which every purpose fuses him;
By every act induces him
To try His splendor out-
God knows what He’s about.
Quoted by Ravi Zacharias in “God will use you; don’t underestimate what you can do.”
I heard an old man tell the story of when he was a young man. He remembers coming back to his village in Eastern Europe after an army of invaders destroyed property and took sacks of wheat for themselves. They had a few precious hidden sacks left, but not enough to feed themselves and plant a crop for the next year without great hardship.
“We cried over every seed we sowed,” he said. “What if the crop failed? What if the soldiers came back? Would the sacrifice be worth it?”
When this same ethnic group came to Canada they were in the habit of sacrificing their own comfort to invest in the future of their children. They had learned to sow in faith. Sometimes they sowed financially and gave money to care for others when it hurt to do so. Sometimes they stood up for honesty and doing the right thing when it was not to their immediate advantage. Sometimes they chose to plant kindness when they were misunderstood and thrown into the category of enemy by new neighbours who assumed if they spoke the same language as Hitler they must be Nazis. (Meanwhile, in the Old Country Hitler’s troops were killing their former friends and neighbours.)
I don’t know that I could have continued to be kind under such circumstances. Certainly not everyone in that community did, but some pressed on. When elderly friends told me about being harassed as children during the second world war they recalled the advice, “Turn and walk away. They do not yet know who you are. Don’t let them push you into becoming who they think you are.”
This week I have been thinking about the scripture, “They who sow in tears will reap in joy.” I have a new understanding of the verse. The tears are not about weeping over the pain a situation causes. The tears are about the personal struggle to take that tiny bit of love and kindness I have and be willing to bury it in the dirt where it will not be seen or appreciated and may not grow the way I plan. The tears are about denying my “rights,” choosing to not take the easy short-sighted way but rather to have faith that in the long-term God will raise up something greater. A harvest of love. A storehouse filled by righteousness and kindness.
Can I admit that I find it much easier to defend myself with a sharp defensive retort than a determination to go about quietly doing what I believe God has shown me is right? When I’m judged, and condemned, and tarred with the same brush as “them” on the “them and us” scale I long to be understood by people who have no intention of listening. That’s when I want to harden my heart, give them a name (usually ending with “ist”), and write them out of my life.
Today I hear the wisdom of those who have suffered much worse than a few insults, and who developed character that demonstrated the ability to forgive and to show love. If I know who I am in Christ I will not need the approval of loud people with microphones or Twitter and Facebook accounts.
Don’t let anyone push you into becoming what they accuse you of being. Sow with a view to righteousness. Reap with kindness.
I said, ‘Plant the good seeds of righteousness,
and you will harvest a crop of love.
Plow up the hard ground of your hearts,
for now is the time to seek the LORD,
that he may come
and shower righteousness upon you.’
(Hosea 10:12 NLT)
The devil is a terrorist.
My friend, Jeff, pointed out yesterday that while the motivating force behind heaven’s actions is love, the motivating force the powers of evil try to sell us is fear. The world is saturated in fear and constantly trying to manipulate with fear. All stress is fear based and includes “What if [insert nightmare here].”
Graham Cooke points out that fear and intimidation is a low-budget item for the enemy of our souls. But God’s love? Love is costly. And He was willing to pay the price.
This week we have again been hit with fear bombs, the ill wind of dire predictions, and a feeling of being corralled by lack of options. The devil is nasty. Terror is custom-made; it hits where you are most vulnerable. Many friends, some of my family and myself have had these kind of sneak attacks happening lately.
Jeff pointed out that those who have turned to Christ learn to thrive by breathing the joyful, peaceful atmosphere of heaven. If you panic and pull your mask off you will immediately breathe in the poisonous atmosphere of fear.
When we keep focusing on Christ we build a relationship with him through thanksgiving for what he has already done, by praising him for his character and attributes and by taking time to breathe the cleansing pneuma of the Holy Spirit.
When we cry. “Abba! Father!” and rest our weary heads on the chest of the One who loves us most the atmosphere changes and grows from the kind offered via oxygen mask that falls down in emergencies to entire bio-domes where the Kingdom of heaven is being established in a community and where Christ’s love is at the center of all our actions. Love casts out fear.
At the moment I am conscious of the need to firmly hold that mask of thanksgiving and praise and trust close to my face and to reject clouds of toxic fear swirling in the atmosphere. The joy of the Lord is my strength because I am loved by the Creator of the universe. I’m no longer a slave to fear. I am a child of God.
No matter which way the storm winds blow I am a much loved child of God and if you want to attack me, you’re going to have to go through Him.
John, the disciple who knew he was loved, wrote:
Delight yourselves in God, yes, find your joy in him at all times. Have a reputation for gentleness, and never forget the nearness of your Lord.
Don’t worry over anything whatever; tell God every detail of your needs in earnest and thankful prayer, and the peace of God which transcends human understanding, will keep constant guard over your hearts and minds as they rest in Christ Jesus.