The Intentionality of Love

March 3, 2015

If we want to grow in love, we might need to plot and meditate on how we want to love those we encounter. It has struck me recently that the hardest area of growth for me is showing love when I’m surprised by an opportunity or encounter. Even though we love someone from a volitional and intellectual standpoint and want to bring wholeness to a person’s life, our response emotionally to an unexpected situation can look like criticism, indifference or even rejection.

So, how do we learn to show love to those we truly love?

For starters, we have to develop patterns of behavior that come from a strategic and rehearsed place of consciousness. The idea that we will naturally give or receive love is not likely or is, perhaps, naïve. I had this reality come crashing in on me recently.

I returned home one day after a meeting and some errands and my son asked me to come to the garage to see how he had put away the case of bottled water that he purchases each month. When he proudly showed me his work, I responded by pointing out that he had put all of the bottles on one side of the refrigerators_freezers_general_use_3763shelf in the refrigerator, which pulled the shelf loose on one side and was pressing on the drawer below. His face saddened and he was crest fallen saying, “I just wanted to show you that I had put them all away.” He was looking for a “well done” and I gave him a “poorly done.”

My heart sank, too. I tried to recover with words of praise and explaining my comments, but the damage was done. I had wounded him. And I had learned a valuable lesson. Of course, this was not the first time that I had done this. But it was the first time that I had grasped the gravity of what I had done. And I also shared the story with my wife.

Later that day, my son invited me to the garage, again. This time I was prepared. And he was, too. Perhaps even more proudly this time, he opened the refrigerator door and showed the perfectly balanced shelf of bottled water. “Twelve on each side and the grease jars in the middle,” he said.

I smiled, and said, “Great job!” We fist bumped and then hugged. It was a sweet moment. We savored the experience and went back inside the house. He smilingly shared with his Mom the “twelve and twelve” good deed he had done.

We discussed later how God had given us a “do-over.” We don’t always get a second chance to restore love and acceptance. In fact, it is rare. But, it allowed me to rehearse how I should’ve responded initially and how I’d like to act in the future. I have often shared the principle that solitude is the furnace of transformation. And the corollary is that we need to prepare in advance to do the right thing.

The more we practice love and the more our hearts are connected to our actions, the more likely we are to do the deeds of Jesus.

“For God’s Glory…”

One of the ways that we often end our prayers or conversations in a church-related meeting is with the phrase that we want to do everything to God’s glory and not our own. It seems like a selfless and humble thing to say. It is an acceptable platitude, but what does it mean? If we examine our intent or search out our motives, how can we ever know if we are succeeding in what we say is one of our deepest desires?

First, let’s remind ourselves that we ARE the glory of God. In Genesis 2:7 we read, “Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.” With that singular act, we were given the very essence of God’s glory, the breath of G5049161418940014od. We live because of God’s actions. This changes the question from, “how do I live for the glory of God?” to “how do I live who I am and who I was created as?”

 

We are told this in our post-gospel readings in the New Testament, too, when we are told that we are the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit. As such, we are restored to our created state of living as the glory of God. Our calling is to make a space for God to dwell. God has chosen to reside in us and to be the indwelling glory to shine through our lives.

So, what does it mean to live who you are? This should be a cause for meditation and for the reading of God’s Word with a slightly different perspective. Perhaps we can ask God to reveal to us how he means for us to show the glory he has put in us. Can you accept this? You are God’s place (topos tou theou). You are the place where God has chosen to live. You might want to meditate on the thought: I am the glory of God. And see what that does to the concerns of your life. Might this change how we live, what we think about and how we battle against the thoughts that would rob us of this reality.

In his last days on earth before his arrest, Jesus said that he was going to prepare a home for us so that we could be with him forever. In the meantime, he promised us that he would be with us through the Holy Spirit. Using the most basic of metaphors, Jesus assured us of his oneness with us. We are his dwelling place and he is our dwelling place. We can deny this (Peter), but Jesus will come back to us (Peter) and restore us and remind us what we are.

So, I remind you today, brothers and sisters, that You Are the Glory of God.

Light and Dark

February 2, 2015

The past few days have been full of images: paintings, stories and conversations about light and darkness. In the final scene of the TV series True Detective that I watched on Saturday there was a lengthy discussion of light and dark that summarized themes that had been referenced throughout the 8-episode story. Also, in a Sunday morning class discussion on the idea of painful self-probing and the attributes of God, there was a vivid contrast. Then, during the sermon teaching on grace there was a reference to the Vacquez painting of the crucifixion of Jesus, which was the dark day in human history.

In our visual culture where most of us are learning through pictures and images, the contrast of dark and light always gives us an undeniable truth concerning the world in which we live.

Rust Kohle, one of the two central characters in True Detective, said that he had been thinking about what this investigation had been about. That it had been part of a bigger story. What he called, “The oldest story.” When asked what that was, he replied, “The story of light versus darkness.”

In the final scene of season one of the HBO series True Detective, there is a lengthy conversation [NSFW-language] in the parking lot of a hospital in Louisiana between detectives Rust Kohle and Marty Hart. Kohle in a wheelchair has been convalescing after surviving a horrific stabbing by the serial killer they had spent 15 years trying to find. As they gaze up at a cloudless night sky, Rust says that while healing in bed he had been musing as to what their investigation was really about. He said that the investigation had drawn them into a bigger story – a story about light versus dark.

In the simplest of terms, this is the story of all of our lives. Are we moving toward the light? Or, are we moving toward darkness? There is a trajectory to our lives, perhaps like the stars in the dark Louisiana sky. The darkness seems massive and the stars are tiny in comparison. Are we letting the light creep in or are we being overcome by the darkness?

In the painting by the Spanish artist Diego Velazquez depicting the crucifixion of Jesus, there is darkness all around, too. The light in the painting is reserved for and focused in Jesus who is overcoming the darkness with the light of a ransom-paying sacrifice. He is rescuing all of humanity from the darkness.

The Crucifixion of Christ by Diego Velazquez
The Crucifixion of Christ by Diego Velazquez

In the same way the final words of True Detective reveal a truth, Rust said, “If you ask me, the light’s winning.”

We make choices from time to time that move us closer to the light or deeper into the darkness. Clarity and purity are experienced as we move into the light and confusion and contamination as we shift toward the darkness.

So, in humility and ascent, we surrender our hearts to the Light of creation. For we hope that as we move toward the light we will experience transformation. We become new creations shedding the layers of darkness and becoming, as it were, our greatest selves: all that for which we were created and the journey for which we were equipped through the magic of substitutionary grace given to us by the death (dark) and resurrection (light) of Jesus.

 

 

Excluding or Including

I’ve been reading, from time to time, a diary that Henri Nouwen kept while he spent several months living in a monastery in upstate New York. The book is titled “The Genesee Diary” and it is not unlike other journals and diaries that Henri published or that were published after his passing on to glory. Like many of us, our deepest questions are sometimes answered in the most common of readings and experiences. It seems that the Holy Spirit enlightens our hearts and minds when we are not expecting it. That is, if we have trained our hearts to listen or are open to hearing.

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So, this was on an ordinary Tuesday that the Spirit spoke to Henri as he had been reflecting on the writings of the desert fathers from the 4th Century and, no doubt, examining his temporary life in a monastic order. His insight or “revelation received” gave me an answer to a larger practical, yet theological question this morning. Perhaps it will provide some guidance to you as well.

“In the writings of the desert fathers there is much emphasis on renunciation and detachment. we have to renounce the world, detach ourselves from our possessions, family, friends, own will, and any form of self-content so that all our thoughts and feelings may become free for the Lord. I find this very hard to realize. I keep thinking about distracting things and wonder if I ever will be “empty for God.” Yesterday and today the idea occurred to me that instead of excluding I could include all my thoughts, ideas, plans, projects, worries, and concerns and make them into prayer. Instead of directing my attention only to God, I might direct my attention to all my attachments and lead them into the all-embracing arms of God. When this idea grew in me, I experienced a new freedom and felt a great open space where I could invite all those I love and pray that God touch them with his love.”

Praying for you today that God would touch you with his love.

Letting Go

I’ve promoted the books of Dr. David Benner before. Like many of my favorite writers, David has that great combination of training in psychology and spirituality. Thus, his books often integrate the two disciplines into more fully developed frameworks for our inner lives and how we can apply our beliefs in our daily activities. [David’s website]

From David G. Benner, PhD, in “Soulful Spirituality: Becoming Fully Alive and Deeply Human” on pages 151-152:

Letting go is an important spiritual practice, but it is counterintuitive because the default posture for most of us is to clutch, not to release. If we are to be truly present to ourselves, we must let go of the preoccupations that fill us up and keep us from stillness and presence. To be fully present means that I must be temporarily absent to the things I normally carry with me in consciousness. They are the noises that drawn out inner silence, the distractions that keep me from a deep presence to my self and my world. For when I am caught in the rut of my ordinary inner self-chatter, all I am present to is this background static.

This ties in beautifully with what I’ve been learning over the past few years about “praying without ceasing” and the inner dialogue versus the monologue that I so often have with myself. The “background static” that Dr. Benner refers to is the re-hashing of our past that tends to dominate our thinking. Or, for some, it is the anticipation and rehearsing for our future performances that pre-occupy our minds so that we can’t hear the voice of the Holy Spirit who indwells us and speaks comfort and wisdom into our daily activity.

It also meshes with Jesus’ teaching on “go and sin no more” and the idea of “fast repentance” that I’ve been mulling over for a while. I’ll be posting more on these themes soon.