Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Just Love

This may sound weird, but lately I've been frustrated with how much time I spend in my own head. When I was beginning to pray this morning I found myself telling God that I just wish I could hear Him say that He loved me...just as I am...and that I don't need to keep being anxious about what I am doing that I shouldn't or not doing that I should. I mean I really overanalyze everything. Even this soon as I knelt down, I felt bad that a part of me wanted to hurry up and get this over with so I could get started on all the things I have to do today. Why can't I be excited and anticipate this time with just me and God? So often I feel like I am only paying lip service to this relationship that I say I value so highly. I talk about my love for God, but then so often I fall short not because I failed, but because I didn't try. And to be honest...all this thinking and analyzing is draining...and breeds a sense of hopelessness.

But thankfully, God hears me...even if I don't hear Him. And so no sooner do I form these thoughts this morning, when a new one comes to the forefront of my mind. Just love. It was a bit more than that, but the bottom line was that simple. Just love. I can get out of my head...if I just love. The call of Jesus is simple...until we complicate it. In each moment, as I begin each task, or each interaction, or each activity....I just need to ask myself how do I go forward with love. How do I do X or Y with love? How do I share love with this person or these people? And then...whatever answer I come up with...I do. Maybe it won't be right...or maybe it won't work out as I expect. But if my goal is to just love, how wrong can I be? God will take care of steering me and convicting me. I don't need to try and take over His job...or the Holy Spirit's. All I have to do is

And I can do that. Because God already does love me. Just as I am...multitude of faults and all. He loves me. I am His child...His creation. And while He wants me to pay be cognizant of what I say and do...and how that affects others...He also wants me to stay focus at least as much on the stuff going on outside of myself...on the people around me. God doesn't want me spending so much time looking inward...He wants me to focus on Him...and the Him in others. That's why Peter began to sink (when he walked on water); because He took his eyes off Christ and began to focus (and worry) about himself (Matthew 14:28-33). And that's exactly why Jesus made the connection between what we do for others...and what we do for Him (Matthew 25:31-40). That is how we love recognizing that He loves all of us. And so just as we are thankful when someone helps someone we love...especially when someone is kind or loving towards our child...God counts our kindnesses toward one another as if we were doing those things for Him.

And so it really is pretty simple I guess. I just need to not over think it. I need to stop expecting perfection (especially with the mountain of evidence to the contrary). I need to trust that God is greater than any misteps or mistakes I make....and that He will guide me. He will direct me. All I have to do....what it all boils down to...the simple plan I need for my life in order to get out of my own head just love.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Intimacy: How Low Can You Go

I don't want to overstate this and say that I have the secret to a great marriage...or a great relationship...but I think God has given me a glimpse of at least one of the "secrets." In fact, I'm not sure it is even a secret...because God demonstrated it in front of the whole of creation.

Let's start at the beginning. God created us. He created us to know Him. He created us out of and for the purpose of Love. And Love is about relationship. So God created us so that we could have a loving relationship with Him (as well as with eachother). And so God took the first step toward that relationship. He drew near. He, the Creator of all that existed, the omnipotent God who needs nothing, reached out to us. At first He revealed Himself to us (after the Fall) as a voice, a force, an apparition. He was invisible and seemingly distant (though closer than He had ever been before). But simply by reaching out and revealing Himself, and speaking to us, He was closer. And because of that, our relationship with Him grew...because He opened the door for us to communicate with interact. He drew closer.

And over time God continued to reveal Himself, both to large groups and to individuals. But all along He knew this was only the first step. And eventually, He took the next one. This Creator God, this Infinite Person so desired a relationshp with us that He became one of us. He came down from Heaven and took a place next to us. He was born as we were, He grew up as we did, He walked among us, touched us, healed us. He sweated, and felt pain, and went to the bathroom. This Limitless, Unfathomable God became one of His creatures and experienced all that we experienced. He drew closer.

But even that wasn't the end. There was still another step. God desired to be still closer to know us more closely...more initmately (which is to say He desired us to know Him ore closely and more intimately). And so God once again stepped closer. Our Awesome, Boundless, Inexhaustable God made Himself into a piece of bread and a cup of wine and allowed us to literally take Him inside of us. He made Himself food for us. The Everlasting God of Creation allowed His creature to eat Him. He went from being in front of us, to being inside of us. That is intimacy.

But incredible, and amazing, and awe-some as that is, how does that help us? We obviously can't follow that same path in our marriage or other relationships. Or can we?

I think we can. And I think the key is right there. At every every moment...God humbled Himself. He lowered Himself for our sake. He so desired to be close to be intimate...that He continually put aside His Greatness, His Glory. Instead of demanding that we come to Him or that we praise Him, He lifted us up by lowering Himself. He made Himself second for our sake. And I think that is one of the secrets to marriage...or any relationship.

We get closer, but humbling ourselves. When we put the other person first, when we care more about their needs and wants than our own, and when we are willing to put aside even those things that may be justifiably ours ("me time", forgiveness, relaxation, the moral high ground, frustration, pain and hurt, etc.), it is then that we are able to get closer to the other person. It is then that we find intimacy.

I don't say this suggesting that this is easy...and certainly not to suggest this is what I do in my relationships...definitely not consistently...but I think this is a path. If we will deny ourselves for the sake of others, if we will say we are sorry even when it wasn't our fault, if we overlook and forgive in silence the hurt the other person caused us, and if we choose to do the thing or go to the place or watch the show that makes the other person happy even when it would not have been our choice...THEN we find the door to intimacy is open. THEN we find barriers removed, distance bridged, and past hurts healed. Yes, it may not be a secret, but I think Our Father has shown us that great marriages...and great relationships...require that we humble ourselves. Just like Him, we need to lower ourselves for the sake of lifting our spouse/friend. And just like Him, there shouldn't be a limit as to how low we will go (in terms of humility) for those we are called to Love.

Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:5-8).

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Less...of me

So much about holiness seems to be about humility. It's a constant theme in Scripture. The last shall be first. The least of you will be the greatest. You must lose your life to save it. And then we read in the Gospel:
For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled,
but the one who humbles himself will be exalted. (Luke 14:11)

It's just so difficult for me let go of my plans, my goals, and even my needs... for the sake of someone else. Too often I feel like what I "have" to do is more important. Sometimes I even go so far as to suggest what I want to do is holier...more spiritually valuable...than what they are doing...which of course is an attempt to make me feel even more justified it putting myself first.

But I guess that is why we aren't called just to deny our "self"...but to kill our "self." And not just kill our self....but crucify it.

I have to die to all these little thrusts of self. I have to deliberately, and even stubbornly, deny what I want for the sake of what someone else wants...and still more for the sake of what someone else needs. I need to humble myself and eat at the restaurant my wife wants, even (and maybe especially) when I wanted to go somewhere else...because love puts others first...and so her wants should come before mine. I need to emphasize my colleague's contribution to the project that everyone is praising even though I may think I did (and may actually have done) more of the work...because love puts others' needs first...and my colleague needs to feel encouraged and supported. I need to agree to a meeting at 7:00pm rather than 6:00pm because that is the best time for someone else on the committee to meet, even though I didn't want to be out that late...because love is about less of my wants and more about others.

All of these seemingly insignificant things...or maybe not-so-insignificant things...where I could easily justify "sticking to my guns" or "following my gut" or "getting my way for a change"...these are opportunities to deny step back from the limelight, to value someone else above me, and to let them have the better seat at the table.
And He began speaking a parable to the invited guests when He noticed how they had been picking out the places of honor at the table, saying to them, "When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for someone more distinguished than you may have been invited by him, and he who invited you both will come and say to you, 'Give your place to this man,' and then in disgrace you proceed to occupy the last place. "But when you are invited, go and recline at the last place, so that when the one who has invited you comes, he may say to you, 'Friend, move up higher '; then you will have honor in the sight of all who are at the table with you. "For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted." (Luke 14:7-11)

I think there is an important piece of this parable that we often miss. You see, not only does Jesus explain that we should seat ourselves at the lower spot and humble ourselves and make ourselves the least among the guests, but He also explains why. Because when we humble ourselves and take the lower seat, then the Host will come and set things right. He will move us to a higher seat. To me what this says is that I don't need to worry about my "need" being met or about never getting what I want or about missing an opportunity. Because God is in control. He will do the exalting...the supporting...the need meeting. And so whatever opportunity I may think I am passing up, whatever need I think I am sacrificing...God can accomplish...and accomplish better than I could. We must remember, all things are possible. So when we miss that opportunity or give up somethng we wanted, we need to remember that it is God who meets are needs and orders our days. And nothing can disrupt His will. Not a boss, or a spouse, or a pastor, or anyone. So the seemingly logical protest of my flesh ("sure self-discipline is good every now and then, but it isn't always in this instance") can be seen for what it is...another attempt at trying to sit at the head of the table.

The call of Love is simple: Less of me...and More of Him. Which really means: Less of me...and more of others.