RSS Feed

Tag Archives: religion

The Art of Conversation

The Art of Conversation

It’s been said that talk is cheap. However, I’m not really thinking about talk so much as conversation. Today it dawned on me that conversation is an entirely different thing from talking. We can talk to others and have discussions, and we generally do this everyday, but it isn’t the same thing as conversation. I didn’t realize this until suffering years of malnutrition, starved of true conversation and it’s blessed essence and nourishment to my human soul.

Conversation is an art, and it is lost and dying. As I sift through the past 10 or so years of change, I wonder what exactly has contributed to placing conversation, that pure and true discourse between souls, in danger of extinction. Was conversation something that only took place in certain contexts, such as college or seminary, where learning, growth, and the exchange of ideas were as vital as a heartbeat to daily life? Is it that I am now on the downside of my thirties, thrust as a single, childless adult into the context of busier individuals’ lives who are occupied now with maintaining marriages and children while juggling careers? Are we as a individuals and a society too busy in this stage of life to quiet our souls long enough to realize that there is a difference between talking to others and having actual conversation?

My soul is sore. I shudder to think how long it has been since I have had the pleasure of conversation – the deep, freeing, flowing, intimacy-creating, relational-building kind of conversation; the kind that defies time, space, boundary and constriction. The artful pursuit of what lies within another person, and the reciprocal relinquishment of what lies within the self. Conversation is a delightful dance where partners grasp each others minds. It is a passionate interlocking of hearts, a joyful, intriguing dive into who another person truly is, and a richer discovery of who the self is. Just as conversation is lost, so also are people without it. I am lost, and I feel the loss.

The question is, am I alone in my loss and state of being lost? Do others feel the vacancy of the masterpiece of conversation? Are the majority of people content with the manufactured prints hanging in their relational halls, happy to call their daily exchange of speech and interactions sufficient? And those who truly engage in conversation, who do not feel bereft in this regard, why do they keep the circle so small?  Are we afraid of expanding our intimacy to the inclusion of pining souls adrift, thirsty for fresh water in an ocean of salty despair? Surely these people did not exist strictly in educational environments. Surely they did not love and hold to their breast the beauty of conversation for a mere few years of life, only to be discarded when jobs and spouses and children and activities began to fill the palettes of their lives.

Or maybe they did.

In the garden of Eden, Adam had a vast display of beauty and life at his fingertips in the form of a startling diversity of landscape, vegetation, and animal life. He had perfect communion and relationship with God, and yet his soul was lacking.  He needed another creation like himself with whom he could not just communicate,  but have conversation. And so God took from within the man a part of himself and created a unique but similar being to fulfill this desire. And conversation as it was meant to be was born into the world.

If only people could awaken and find themselves like Adam, sitting in the midst of the world around them, in touch with that lonely, missing masterpiece.  If only the business and busyness of life could fade for a few clarifying moments to allow that undertow of loss and desire to swell to the top and rise like a wave cresting, rushing to crash ashore. If only even one, such as myself, could again find conversation, or perhaps that God would fashion and merge our paths, then life would indeed be sweeter.

Advertisements

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!’ “

You Never Judged Me …

Posted on
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.

Grave Day: Easter Reflections

Grave Day: Easter Reflections

Today is a grave day.  Not because I’m sad, not because anything has happened or that it is dismal and gray outside. On the contrary it is absolutely beautiful outdoors.  The sun is shining, it’s warm out, and the spring leaves and flowers are becoming fuller.  It is a grave day because today is the 2nd day in this Easter season.  It is the day Jesus’ body was in the tomb, the large stone secured and sealed because the Jewish leaders feared it would be rolled away in the night by Jesus’ disciples.  The Jews feared a resurrection conspiracy and had spoken with authorities to ensure that it was not only sealed but guarded by soldiers.

So I have been contemplative today, wondering what that 2nd day in history was really like.  It was a bleak day for those whose lives were forever touched by Jesus, and an anxious day for his haters. Regardless, all of them were wondering if what Jesus said he could do (raise the broken temple, literally and figuratively) would really happen.  So I turned to an online bible and looked for passages that talked about the crucifixion and resurrection and found something entirely different to wonder about.

In Matthew 28:2-4 it says that after the Sabbath dayThere was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it.  His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow.  The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men.” Yet later on in Matthew 28:11-15 it saysWhile the women were on their way, some of the guards went into the city and reported to the chief priests everything that had happened.  When the chief priests had met with the elders and devised a plan, they gave the soldiers a large sum of money,  telling them, “You are to say, ‘His disciples came during the night and stole him away while we were asleep.’  If this report gets to the governor, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.”  So the soldiers took the money and did as they were instructed. And this story has been widely circulated among the Jews to this very day.” 

OK, what happened here with the Roman guards? They witnessed a powerful earthquake and an angel descend from they sky.  The angel was obviously very “angel like”, supernatural enough to freak the guards out and cause them to faint.  How would an experience like this affect a person truth wise? How can a person not believe something God-sized has just occurred? I’m sure that “some of them” did, because the verse says that “some of the guards” went to tell the religious leaders (chief priests) what had happened. To me, this implies that “some of the guards” stayed behind, and by further and perhaps liberal implication, I believe those particular guards may have at that point believed that Jesus was really the Son of God and had truly raised from the dead.

But I’m disturbed by the actions of the other guards who gave their report to the chief priests.  These are the ones I assume that, while scared to death, didn’t believe the spiritual truth and ramifications of what they had witnessed. And for whatever they believed about what had happened before their very own eyes, they sold the truth in order to save and enhance their own lives.  By accepting the Jewish leaders’ “large sum of money” to lie and tell people that a scam had taken place by the disciples taking the body from the grave, they sidestepped rebuke from their superiors for “slacking on the job” and letting this happen, plus that “large sum of money” was surely enough to live comfortably for a long time.

After witnessing a miracle, a God-sized event, not to mention a supernatural being, they sold the truth.  For self-protection and provision they sold the truth.  Wow.

But don’t people do that today? How many people witness God doing miraculous things, yet they don’t buy the truth of it? Like a surgeon who watches a patient clearly, scientifically, medically doomed suddenly have test results that come back stating a clean bill of health.  Or a person living a completely “hell-bent” life suddenly coming in to work radically changed, talking about how Jesus changed his or her life, talking crazy madman spiritual stuff that is as foreign to that person as another language.  Or a personal God experience, like hearing or seeing something that seems so clearly from God, or hearing a message and feeling so heavily the strong urge within to say “yes”, to respond, to believe and receive the thing so badly yet inexplicably desired?

There are countless examples of God-works throughout our lives.  And there are just as many “bribes” offered to us to sell the truth of what we’ve witnessed or experienced.  Sometimes it really is money and the protection and provision it brings. Some people would rather live comfortably than to risk anything that might compromise the layers of security carefully constructed by meaningless but oh so useful ‘green paper’. Some would rather sell the truth to keep relational peace, fearing the perception of others: “What would my family and friends think if I let Jesus into my heart and started behaving like a ‘religious nut’?” Others sell the truth for identity and independence no matter how powerful the God-sized evidence is in their life.  They don’t want to give up who they are and the control they have over their own life.  Humanly speaking, who would want to do that? I still struggle with that one, even though I know that no one knows who I truly am and can be better than God, and no one is more equipped to steer my life than One who is good and literally called Love.

Again, wow.  This Easter I challenge all of us to put ourselves in a place where we can witness something otherworldly and powerful.  To go to a church service, whether in person, on TV, or online and get ‘close to the tomb’. And for the life of us, and everything that temporally and eternally matters, not to sell the truth for a temporary substitute or bribe.  How grave a decision “some of the guards” made that day in history.  How I pray so many of us will not repeat history this Easter Sunday and match it with our own grave choices.

Blessings to you wherever you are this Easter. If you don’t have a service to attend, or you physically cannot get to one, or if your schedule is crazy and you want to watch an Easter service online at a later date, I invite you to join me at a place that miracles happen every day.  I can tell you this, tomorrow will be a day when earthquakes will happen in the lives of many people who will witness the truth of God’s love for them.  They will choose to receive the God-sized Truth that has pursued them patiently their whole lives!

Wow!

Join me online this Easter at your convenience to hear about how maybe God has a ‘fresh start’ personally gift wrapped just for you!

Quest Community Church

 

A Picture of Restored Humanity

A Picture of Restored Humanity

A friend of mine posted a link on Facebook from a site called ViralNova: Trending Stories on the Web.  I’ve attached the link at the end of this post and you’ve really got to check it out, especially to get a visual for what I talk about here.  It contains a short story of a homeless dog found wandering the streets.  It was so filthy with such caked and crusted, matted fur that a passer-by initially thought the small dog was a pile of trash.  It is an unbelievable, unforgettable image.

I am so metaphorical in my thought process that I couldn’t help but think of how this is a picture of humanity.  This big ball turning is a mass of human generated, perpetuated mess, and we are the messiest of all.  Deep in our hearts there is a goodness worth redeeming, but it is also caked, encrusted, and matted with the badness within us.  Jesus is the “kind humanitarian” who walks by us on the street.  He sees our homeless souls and beyond our unruly filth.  He knows we’re not a pile of trash.  He dares to stoop down and touch our leprous form.  He takes us to a place of cleansing.  He doesn’t just wash us.  He cuts away the befouled growth clinging to us, shedding our moral muck and discarding it as the pile of trash.

When He’s done we look entirely different.  We look human again.  We look like we were intended to before we chose evil into the world.  We are a new creation, no longer homeless, but clothed and cared for.  We are blanketed in love and rest on the pillow of forgiveness and renewal.  We are truly at peace in the home of God’s heart, where we will enjoy his everlasting benevolent presence and companionship, never more to remember the taint and affliction of the former things from which we are forever freed.

Blessings to all who read this and soak in the images and truth.

http://www.viralnova.com/shocking-dog-transformation/

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.

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

%d bloggers like this: