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Caring For The Human Family

Caring For The Human Family

Last night I swallowed a reality pill, and the side effects were a giant dose of humility.  It’s a concept I’ve heard of before, but last night I think I fully digested it.  A friend’s Twitter re-posting of my pastor’s blog caught my eye, so I opened my bible to the place it referenced.  Matthew 25: 31 -46. It’s the passage that talks about two groups of people: one who asks “when did we feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, invite strangers in, tend to the sick, or visit prisoners?”  To the group that did these things, ie: served their fellow-man, he said “whatever you have done to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you have done to me.”  To the group who did not do these things, ie: failed to serve their fellow man, he said “whatever you have not done to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you have not done to me.”

“My brothers and sisters” … that’s the reality pill for me.  I’ve heard and read this story before, but it appeared to me on an entirely different, very real level.  Jesus is identifying himself with human beings. He is calling us his brothers and sisters, his family. He is identifying with us so closely that he says whatever you do to them, it’s like you’re doing it to me.  What you fail to do for them, you fail to do for me.

That crazy odd concept that Jesus was “fully God” and “fully man” at the same time made more sense to me last night.  By stuffing himself (God) into the humbling flesh and nature of a human being, Jesus became “related” to us on a whole new level.  God wasn’t just our Creator through Jesus, he became our flesh and blood relative. He shared in our human struggles in a way we never thought a distant “somewhere out there” God ever could. That makes the phrase “down to earth” resound on a higher wavelength for me.

“My brothers and sisters” … if God relates to us as brothers and sisters, then we should too.  And by relating to people, on some level we relate to God. This absolutely blows my mind! It’s not just a bumper sticker or bracelet philosophy like “What would Jesus do?” It’s a life altering concept to think that the way I treat another person is the way I treat the God of the universe who is literally called Love. Do I care for my fellow man and tend to his or her needs? Do I ignore them with an indifferent posture? By doing so I am either nurturing love (Love) or deflecting love (Love).

My immediate response was “God what can I do?!” “Who needs me? Who can I help and how?” But it occurred to me a split second later that my over-eager response would die out with the coming of tomorrow, because I was looking to make a grand impact in my fervent response.  Jesus let me know in that moment that he doesn’t necessarily want me to go seeking out opportunities, while that is certainly a good thing. Rather, he wants to shift my heart attitude in such a way that when a need arises, I’ll naturally meet it. It is in our daily encounters with people where needs are made known.  They are subtle, which is why I think Jesus referenced simple things like hunger, thirst, companionship, healing, and sticking by someone in tough times.

“My brothers and sisters” … next door, in the checkout line, on the subway, on the bus, a few cubicles down, alone at the park, in the gay pride parade, two church isles behind me, in the suit running for office, in my home in a chair, on the internet in a chat room, bumming a cigarette, holding a sign for food, handing me food at the drive-thru, looking at me for some trace of kindness or connection.

My brothers and my sisters …

 “And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’ “

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You Never Judged Me …

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You Never Judged Me …

I was sitting outside towards evening time and looked up to see the sun burning full and round at me through some nearby trees.  In that moment of warmth and light a thought flickered through my soul, traveled up to my mind, and out towards God: You never judged me.  It was a stunning realization.  For a long time I’ve been aware of the verse that there is no condemnation for those who are Christ Jesus.  But this is literally the first time that it has dawned on me that never, not once, not only in my lifetime, but from all of eternity past has God ever judged me.

In his foreknowledge he knew every sin I would commit and every good I would omit, every pattern, every choice, every hard-fought struggle against giving in to this flesh nature.  He knew my willful sins, the ones that I would delight in.  He knew of the times that I would “know better” and “do it anyway”.  Yet never has he pointed the finger of blame or crashed the gavel down to reverberate so hard as to knock me off my feet.  He has loved me with an everlasting love (Jeremiah 31:3) and his thoughts about me outnumber the grains of sand (Psalm 139: 17-18).  His thoughts towards me are good and not evil, and his plans are to give me a future and a hope (Jeremiah 29:11).

There is a difference between knowing that a person will sin versus judging them for it, a difference between allowing the natural consequences of sin versus raging in anger over people about how wrong they are, a difference between God and man.  It is not God, but man who points the finger and slams the gavel and even takes Bible verses to point out how wrong others are and how much they are “God’s enemies” if they continue in their unrepentant ways.  It is not God, but man, who will flip out at this post and begin harvesting verses from their minds, looking in indexes and concordances to find stories or verses to negate what I say here: God doesn’t judge until the end.  Until then, he loves.  And that is all he has ever done.  And that was given to me, today. When the warmth and the light shone down on me.

Peace to all far and wide.  He is a God who has always loved us, and loves until our last breath. The choice to know him and love him back through a relationship with Jesus is ours, and at that point, condemnation shall never touch a hair on our head.

The Measure of a Moment

The Measure of a Moment

I remember the first time I noticed, I mean really noticed, the interaction between light and water.  I was sitting in the grass in a wide open area having a scheduled quiet time at a church retreat.  For the life of me I couldn’t concentrate on the bible or the things they’d given us to reflect upon. Instead I looked around or stared at the ground in contemplation and free thought mode.

Suddenly a burst of color caught my eye and I honed in on a blade of grass upon which a drop of water rested.  The rich green and the perfectly straight edge amazed me.  I thought of a man made level that is used in construction to make sure they are building perfectly straight, level boards and surfaces.  God was the first to create such a perfect thing, yet it is something we hardly notice in the midst of that which we walk upon without a thought.

As I continued to observe the dew on the grass I moved ever so slightly from side to side, marveling at the miracle of subtly changing colors of the spectrum within that tiny liquid circle. I’ll never forget the sense of wonder encapsulated in that simple moment, the stunning realization of beauty so common and yet so rare, the significance of something so small and seemingly insignificant.  It reminded me that whole worlds can exist in a moment even as countless moments comprise the whole world.  It brings to mind now a wonderful quote I often think of in times of quiet observation:

God dwells in the details.  – Mies van der Rohe

Today is a day where the small and grandiose bounce around together in my soul, polar opposites dancing within, waltzing out of reach and eluding my grasp.  I cannot completely define what it is, but it has to do with significance and insignificance, time and eternity, the measure of a moment, the fleeting nature of time.  Time is but a dew drop in the continuum of eternity, yet within it is a marvelous array of colors blending one into another. The earth exists within eternity as a small drop of water, and even smaller, our individual world and the length and breadth of our own lives.  How small, how fast, these lives of ours.  Before we know it we are grown with children and careers, and in the blink of an eye or a shifting of our body we see that life has changed from color to color, season to season, and our children are the ones with children and careers.

What is the meaning of all this smallness and profoundness heaped together in something so fleeting yet ever continuing as time?  Do we get it? Do we truly see the significance within the seemingly insignificant? We hardly have appropriate levels or scales upon which to weigh the measure of a moment, a life, or a lifetime.   Our thoughts and actions, goals and achievements, dreams and ambitions and efforts … all seemingly small, yet at times enormous, deep, and far-reaching.

Maybe there really is nothing which is insignificant.  Maybe “insignificant” should not even be a word.  Everything matters.  The matter within the simple blade of grass and the matter comprising a drop of water and the matter of light pouring from the sun in a beam of glory (as if to say “This matters! Yes, this small thing is simply and profoundly beautiful and alive and significant!”) all come together to enlighten us on our complex journeys.

Perhaps this realization that everything matters, that all things are significant and have purpose and value, is both a precursor to love and a component of love.  Love does not see anything as insignificant, for love sees the “whole” as well as the “part”.  Love sees nothing, save evil, as ugly.  Love in fact creates beauty out of the unbeautiful.  It transforms evil into good, reversing the letters to make the opposite of “evil”, which is “live”.

I guess what I wish is for each of us to really see as much as we are able.  To walk with God and to sit with him, to listen to his observations of the world around.  How marvelous all of life would seem if we would take time to sit with Jesus and ponder the glory and significance of the “insignificant” things laid out before us in our daily lives.  To cherish, as he does, all things that are made and to gaze at everything and everyone is such a way as to see the wonder and the beauty and the incredible meaning and value of life.

Life is a splendid gift – there is nothing small about it.  – Florence Nightingale

Three Types of Love

Of the six types of love according to the Greeks, agape was the only one that came to mind in thinking on love tonight.  Now that I’ve looked them up, I remember some of the others. However, it isn’t Greek types of love floating through the inner chambers of my mind at this late hour, but rather relational types of love.  There are three types that come to mind: self love, God love, and others love.  I realized for the first time tonight that these three forms of love can be arranged in several different ways, and that we as human beings may fluctuate the order of these three types of love throughout our lifespan.  The combination of the three types may be viewed in order of priority, being first, second, and third in importance and practice to us.

1) God, self, others:  Someone who loves God first, self second, and others last

2) Self, God, others: Someone who loves the self first, God second, and others last

3) Others, God, self: Someone who loves others first, God second, and self last

4) Self, others, God: Someone who loves the self first, others second, and God last

5) Others, self, God: Someone who loves others first, self second, and God last

6) God, others, self: Someone who loves God first, others second, and self last

Growing up I learned that #6 was the way that Christians are suppose to love.  We are to put God first, others second and ourselves last.  We are to love God first, others second, and ourselves last.  This was drilled into me through the cute little praise song which made an acronym of the word JOY.  J is for Jesus, O is for others, Y is for you.  But is this proper order of the three types of relational love? Perhaps you’re thinking how a self-professed Christian could even question such a thing? But what does it mean when Jesus said to love God first and your neighbor as yourself? Is Jesus saying we should love God, others, and self or is He saying we should love God, self, and others?

I always interpreted this to mean that Jesus assumed our fallible nature to love ourselves before others, and that He was saying the proper order would be God, others, and self. It makes sense doesn’t it? Putting God first, others second, self last.  It seems the loving and selfless thing to do.

But it just doesn’t settle well with me.  I think Jesus was advocating self love in a verse we interpret as implying selfish love.  I think He was hinting at a God kind of love for the self, and that the true order of love should indeed be God, self, and others and here is why:

Naturally we are to love God first, because we are His creation and when born again, we are His children.  We are to love self second, because we are beings made in God’s image, and that is how He loved before anything was created.  Before creation God existed in perfect Triune love: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit loved self in the sense that they are One.  Perfect love existed in the oneness and three-in-oneness of God.  Then God took the perfect, self love (very distinct from selfish love) and applied it to others by creating a world that He loved.  The natural order for God is to love self and then to love others.  As created beings, we must follow that perfect order.

The challenge is, how do we rightly love self in a holy, pure, God’s-heart kind of way?

My answer is this: spending time in the presence of God, soaking in His love, meditating on verses which reveal God’s love towards us, and asking God to root His love for us within us.  We cannot love ourselves and extend it to others unless we experience love first hand from God – knowledge and experience are very different.  I used to know that God loved me, but until I invited Christ into my heart, I didn’t fully experience it.  The idea made me happy and secure, but the inward reality was an entirely new awakening, quickening, enlivening of my inner senses and awareness.

I read a quote by Soren Kierkegaard that seems to support this view that the proper order is God, self, and others:

“The commandment said, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’, but if the commandment is properly understood it also says the opposite: You shall love yourself in the right way.”

I’d like to conclude by saying that the last 5 arrangements of the  three types of love listed above are all imperfect.  Since “God is love” according to the bible, those which do not start with God cannot be true love towards God, self, or others.  Number #6 (God, others, self – the typical Christian view) cannot be correct, though it starts with God and puts Him first, because the nature of love is to come from within (God loved self first) and then to flow outward.  “Self” must be the proper second love in the order, because “self” must experience love first (from God), understand it within and rightly apply it (to self) before it is able to pass that pure, holy, proper God-like love to others.

In this proper order that I believe Jesus was implicating (God, self, others), all love comes from God, honors Him, and is given back to Him. Again I refer to Kierkegaard:

 “But to love oneself in the divine sense is to love God, and truly to love another person is to help that person to love God or in loving God.”

I picture a triangle upside down to illustrate this, with God and others listed at the top and self listed at the bottom:  God’s love comes down to self, which then goes up to God, up to (reaches out to) others, which then enables others to connect to and love God, and connect to and love others.

The World’s Most Beautiful Woman

A friend of mine has been posting inspirational videos on Facebook from the website http://www.upworthy.com.  I finally clicked on one that caught my attention.  It is a 13 minute video of a motivational speaker at a women’s conference.  Her name is Lizzie Valasquez and she was born with a rare condition, that if I remember correctly, only two people in the world have.  She is one of them.  It is a condition in which she cannot gain weight no matter how hard she tries.  She could eat ice cream and twinkies until the cows ran dry and still look emaciated and severely anorexic.

I really encourage you to watch this video.  In today’s day and age our attention might peak at a 2 minute video, but I assure you that this will be worth your time.  Lizzie was bullied, as you can imagine, in some of the cruelest of ways while growing up.  Perhaps a climax of the brutality heaped upon her was a video that some high school peers took of her, labeled as World’s Ugliest Woman.  The Youtube video received a massive number of views and the comments rolled in with earth shattering force.  Some of the comments she mentions in this conference video, which were made on the high school video, include things to the effect of “burn it alive”, and “do yourself and the world a favor, get a gun and just shoot yourself.”

I can’t imagine living the life this woman has lived.  She is only 25.  If the disease failed to take her life, you’d think the hate and scorn of humanity would have by now.

So what helped Lizzie not only survive the world’s condemnation, but thrive in the midst of it?

Love.

When she was born the doctors said she’d never walk or talk or have any sort of normal life.  Her parents took her home with a vow to love, care for, and raise her to the best of their ability.  She speaks in the conference video of the amazing impact her parents love and strength of character had on her life.  It shaped her.  It gave her courage to endure and press on, to realize that no matter what people thought of her, she was beautiful, valuable, and was going to live the dreams that were alive in her heart.  She has learned what few people do in life: not how to look beautiful, but how to be beautiful.

Beauty is, and always will, come from the inside out.  From the heart of all that is beautiful, God’s heart, came forth the outer beauty of all that was made.  True beauty manifests from the beauty that is within God, and the beauty that is within humanity.  Age will always ravage the physical beauty that people have, or death will steal it young.  But the beauty within will only blossom with time and nurturance.  All of us are born with an inner beauty.  If we cultivate it and surround ourselves with people who help cultivate it, we will find ourselves shining as God intended, like stars in the heavens, highly esteemed, lighting a darkened and broken world.

Any woman who lives like this, like Lizzie has the courage to live, will find herself among the world’s most beautiful women.  Any man who lives like this will likewise find himself among the world’s most beautiful men. May those of you who read this be blessed by a beautiful Father who longs to fashion and manifest your true beauty in this life and the life to come.

Here is the link to Lizzie’s inspirational video … she’s a joy to watch as she tells a small part of her story with courage, humor, and the desire to help others realize their worth and dreams:

http://www.upworthy.com/hear-the-powerful-way-the-worlds-ugliest-woman-beat-her-bullies

Everything has beauty, but not everyone sees it.  – Confucius

Never lose an opportunity of seeing anything beautiful, for beauty is God’s handwriting.  – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Am I My Negative Brother’s Keeper?

After killing his brother Abel, Cain hid from God.  When confronted by God as to Abel’s whereabouts, Cain brazenly asked God “Am I my brother’s keeper?” A more modern translation would be “What, you expect me to follow him around like a baby and keep tabs on his every move?” Basically he was using sarcasm to convey to God that he felt he didn’t have to take any responsibility for his brother whatsoever.  Who cares where he was or what he was doing. It wasn’t of any concern to Cain.

But actually, Cain was responsible for Abel.  Cain was the firstborn, and sometime later Abel came along.  Abel was a responsibility to Cain because Abel was younger, more vulnerable, in need of learning new things.  He needed someone to look out for him, someone to look up to, someone from whose experience he might gain.  Cain was older and had that life experience.

I use this story to take a look at something that’s really been bothering me lately.  Every now and then I’ll hear or read a comment advocating that we should surround ourselves with positive people in order to stay positive.  Negative people bring you down, right? So protect yourself and keep those negative folks at bay and you’re guaranteed to feel better, have a more positive outlook, and just be happy and successful in general.  I know people who delete negative Facebook people from their friends list, or more harmfully just delete them from their physical lives.

Honestly, it should go the other way.  People who are positive and want to protect their positive bubble or outlook on life shouldn’t shun negative people.  They should be the very ones seeking to lift up and encourage those who are downtrodden, cynical, or pessimistic.  Positive people are the Cains of emotional well-being, and to cut ties with their negative human brothers and sisters is to abandon the Abels whom God has put in their lives.  They are their negative brother’s keeper so to speak.

We are all accountable for each other.  If someone enters our life, there is a measure of responsibility to them.  We may sarcastically shirk the idea much as Cain did to God, but to our own detriment.  For if our rejection and abandonment of them in their time of trouble leads to their harm, God will surely question us regarding it and then bring about a just response.

I’m not saying we need to be doormats to the naysayers and sink to the bottom with them in their negativity or despair.  God says to bear each others burdens, but also to lay our burdens on him.  If we aren’t going to God to unload our own burdens or relying on Him for strength to bear others burdens, then yes, we will become saturated with heaviness and at risk of being bound to negativity.  Or, we will become weary of the weight of our Abels and cut them loose from our lives out of self-preservation.

So how do we deal with chronically negative people, or even the sometimes negative?

  • As stated above, take it to God, and take from God.“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you … for my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”  (Matthew 11:28 & 30)
  • Regularly practice openness to God’s love; be a receiver of that love.  If our love tank is empty we have nothing to pour out into others.  “May your roots grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is.  May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God.” Ephesians 3:17-19)
  • Be patient.  It didn’t take a negative person one or two times to become filled and burdened with negativity, so don’t expect your one or two pep talks to snap them out of the pattern.  If you are living in God’s love for you and letting it fill you with love for others, patience comes with much greater ease.  “Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged.  It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out.  Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance. (I Corinthians 13:4 – 7)
  • Seek wisdom, understanding, and insight. Ask God for them.  These will allow you to discern in every aspect of listening to, loving, encouraging, and teaching those  who are chained to negative patterns. “Tune your ears to wisdom, and concentrate on understanding.  Cry out for insight, and ask for understanding. Then you will understand what is right, just, and fair, and you will find the right way to go.” (Proverbs 2: 2 – 3 & 2:9)
  • Have a support system/community with other positive people and invite them to tag team your investment in a negative person to help them past their negative thoughts, emotions, and patterns. “Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed.  If one person falls, the other can reach out and help. But someone who falls alone is in real trouble.” (Ecclesiastes 4: 9 – 10)

As one who has dealt with a fair amount of negativity and negative people, I know it can be frustrating and difficult to endure the Debbie Downers in life, especially if I’ve reiterated my best advice till the breath has left me.  Likewise, as one who has been stuck in a rut of negative thoughts and perspective, I know what it is like to be so easily dismissed and given up on.  I can tell you this, cutting loose that negative person and denying them whatever measure of support you can is to shove them harder into the negative cycle and further into despair.  The last verse offered above, in the last phrase says “Someone who falls alone is in real trouble.”  How desperate are they, how compounded their troubles, when they are left alone by those in pursuit of their own happiness, who dare not risk the responsibility of a ‘brother’ or ‘sister’.

Peace to all, and please know that I welcome your own tips or experiences on this topic.

 

To See Is To Love

Oh me.  Another night of propaganda from an agenda focused Christian. It hurts my heart, truly.  Can you guess what religious agenda I’m referring to? There are probably only a handful of them.

The marquee sin folks.  Let’s put it this way rather, the “marquee” sin. Because really it’s not marquee.

I am referring to homosexuality.  I was reminded that few sins are so bad as to be called an abomination.  It made me wish I remembered the verse that lists about 8 other common sins – not so segregated, pinpointed, judged and despised – that are indeed called abominations.

Ugh. I can’t really defend my position or reason with my propagandist either because I can tell when a person is so blinded by religion and rules, so ingrained in perception and opinion, that they cannot receive an opposing view.  Only faith is flexible, only love lubricates, to enable movement like brave steps out of the confinement of rigidity that people lock themselves into.

On my drove home from this discouraging interaction, listening to the radio with a scattered mind, a voice spoke through,or  rather bored through my thoughts.  I love it when this happens.  It is totally superimposed, audible and clear in my mind’s ear, and I know it’s more than me.  It said, “How can you love me if you can’t even see me?”

Wow. Is this the voice of the shunned and judged homosexual, asking Christians (who say they love all people, who “love the person but hate the sin”) in painful honesty:

How can you love me? You can’t even see me. You only see my behavior.  You see what I do, and think that’s all that I am. How can you love someone you cannot see? You don’t see my heart, my thoughts, my likes. My contributions, my passions, my quirks. My personality, my brokenness, my potential. You know nothing of me.  Just my sin.  

Or was that arrow-driven phrase the voice of God? God asking people, “How can you love me when you can’t even see me?”

Double wow.  How can we love God, who is invisible, when we can’t even see (let alone love) people who are right in front of us, tangible, in the flesh, touchable, knowable, interactive?

How many believers rock out on Sunday with arms raised to Jesus, yet Monday through Saturday hold their arms out to keep others at bay (sinners, don’t mingle with them lest you be like them), or cross their arms in closed body language.

Eek.

Some time ago, whether before I knew Christ for real, or after, I know not, but some time ago, I read a verse that packed a powerful punch to what judgment may have been floating around me or attaching to me at the time.  It also shattered any future judgement like shards of glass with no possible recovery to ever be rebuilt again. It wasn’t even the whole verse, just the first part:

“Jesus looked at him and loved him…” (Mark 10:21 NIV)

I know that because God is love, that he loved this man.  But I also know that God saw this man, really, truly, deeply saw this man.  He had an interest in this guy. He liked him.  He probably laughed at some of his quirks and loved to just hang out with him. He knew the man’s humanity, the good and the bad. He understood the man’s history, cared enough to piece together all the things that made him who he was in that moment.  He saw the man, past, present, and future, and he LOVED him. Just by looking at him, he loved him.  And by ‘seeing’ him, on a deeper level of understanding and appreciation, he loved him.

We are so supposed to be like Jesus in this.  Made in His image, we should look at people physically and love them right off the bat.  We should also “see” people on a deeper level, and love them.  When we see a person, our heart should stir on some level if indeed the love of Christ is born in us.  It is only a natural overflow. Yes, our love will be small in comparison to God’s, our ‘seeing’ others physically and insightfully will be imperfect, but the spark should still be there. Ignition should happen when the eyes of a child of God, with love in their chest at the core of their being, should fall upon the sight of another human being.

And if we profess to love God, then we should also see him for who he really is: utterly open-handed, arms wide open to the world.  God is a reacher of humanity.  A friend of sinners.  He walks with people and gets to know them.  In the context of relationship and love, he teaches them, and he looks at them and is so filled with love, so stirred and brimming and impassioned for the one as well as the many.

God is love.  As he is, so he does.  And so should those of us who have that awe-inspiring mystery of mysteries abiding within us, God in us, and therefore Love in us.

 “My dear children, let’s not just talk about love; let’s practice real love. This is the only way we’ll know we’re living truly, living in God’s reality.” I John 3:18

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