Friday, September 17, 2010

Finding love as it's given


I don't know that I have ever written anything quite like today's blog, but here goes.
Like many (most) people, I grew up with some "father" (and mother) wounds and by God's grace I have been healed of many of those and have grown to know Father more as He really is instead of how my perceptions of a "father" looked. But lately, perhaps because I have been getting older and perhaps because I have seen the wounds I inflicted as a father, I have been able to "find love as it was given" to me by my dad (who is still with us at 85 and a truly remarkable man). It's not wise or healthy, of course, to expect a child to perceive love when it's given in ways other than how the child needs it, but as we get older and more whole, it's good, I think, to look and see it in the form it was given. My dad loves me. He always has. And although he wasn't able to express it very well through words, warmth and encouragement when I was a child, I have been blessed to have Papa God show me the many ways that my dad showed love to me. And as a tribute to my daddy, I write some of these here.
My father's love for me showed up often in fishing, hunting, boating and camping expeditions. My dad taught me to love the outdoors and he loved to spend time with us in outdoor activities. And even as I write this, I see how my dad so wonderfully expressed love to us in his pleasure when we caught a fish, bagged our first whatever, set up the tent correctly (at last!), etc. Thanks, Dad, for loving me so well! I see it now even if I took these things for granted when I was young.
My daddy also showed his love for me by teaching me lots of things. He was deeply committed to being sure that his children were prepared to meet the world with competence and character. I remember especially his encouragement to us to show initiative and self-reliance (in the good sense). Sometimes he pushed us into initiative a little too soon (I remember having a meltdown when he sent me to buy ice cream at age 4 and they didn't have my favorite flavor), but in those times he was quick to rescue us. Thanks, Dad, for loving me so well. I see it now...
My dad also demonstrated love for me by involving himself in the things he wanted me to be involved in. Thus when I became a boy scout, I found my dad there with me, with him eventually serving as scoutmaster in spite of his heavy business schedule. Thanks, Dad, for loving me so well, taking time to be with me and showing me how to serve others in the process.
My dad also showed love for me by inviting me along on some of his trips, both business and recreational. It really made me feel special to be taken along on some of those business trips. My dad demonstrated a level of trust in me that built my confidence and laid the foundation for my own leadership later in my life. Thanks, Dad, for loving me so well.
Even my father's correction, sometimes rather severe, I can now see as an expression of his love. Proverbs 13:24 says, "He who spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is careful to discipline him." My dad strongly believed this (and the entire Bible) and put it into practice in the way he himself had experienced. Thanks, Dad, for loving me enough to correct me instead of letting things slide!
My dad also loved me by modeling core character traits like integrity, a strong work ethic and generosity. My father started his own business in 1947 and that business is still going today. One of the bedrock values of my father's business dealings was integrity. Did he practice it perfectly? I doubt it, but there was no question about his commitment to living a life of integrity, hard work and great generosity, and I caught these things and never let go of them. Thanks, Dad, for modeling for me what it means to be a man of honor, generosity and service. Your example was a remarkable expression of your love for me, and I am the man that I have become partly because you showed me the way. Thanks for loving me in this way, Dad.
I could go on, but I will stop here. My point is that love can sometimes be more prevalent than we realize, and as we mature we are able to see it because we no longer require it to be given in the way we think it should be given (is true love ever like that? Seems that love sometimes does just the opposite of what one feels is loving!). And I have found something deeply transforming about looking at life through these different lenses that God has provided. Perhaps your life will look more whole as well, if you try them on as well :-)
Finding love that was always there...
Tom, one of Abba's little children

Saturday, September 11, 2010

The Power of Kindness

For those who read my blog, I trust you read Marshall's comment on my entry last week along with my response to it. Marshall raises a good point, and I trust my response to him helped clarify things a little. In one sense, revelation by its very definition requires God to break through our cultural limitations in order to show us things. But my point is that until Jesus showed up, the inability of those receiving revelation to fully catch God's heart (even when He expressed it) means that the revelation of the Father by Jesus always trumps any other view of Him. It's not that some of the OT pictures of God are wrong, of course, but that they are incomplete and fuzzy because of the inability of folks at the time to grasp or express things as they are (similar to the Creation story which omits quantum physics, among other things!). But I get a headache (and you probably get bored) when I go too far with this, so enough said for now.

So...just a brief elaboration today on what I tweeted earlier today: the power of kindness. I have been struck of late how important it is for us both to experience God's kindness and express kindness to everyone we possibly can. Kindess is God's preferred method for leading us to change--Romans 2:4b. It's also an absolutely crucial expression of who He is to all people. Graham Cooke is fond of rightly saying, "God is the kindest being in the Universe," and those who know Him well know that this is wonderfully true and readily experienced.

Because God's nature includes infinite kindness, and because kindness is His preferred method for leading people to Himself (where "repentance" always get us), it seems obvious that followers of Jesus would be marked by remarkable and "highly noticeable" kindness. Reflecting God's image via kindness seems to me to be one of the most profound ways we can woo others towards Jesus.
Thankfully, kindness is part of the fruit that the Holy Spirit produces in us as we live loved, listening and saturated by His presence. So notice that I am not talking about "random acts of kindness" but rather a lifestyle characterized by kindness that is produced as we experience God's kindness towards us and others. "Acts of kindness" are certainly good and are the result of a truly kind heart, but it's possible to "do kind things" without being motivated by that gentle, other-regarding love that God's kindness is made of. It seems to me that most folks, even little children, can read whether or not a kind act is motivated by genuine interest in them or just something we do out of duty. Who wants to be loved out of duty? But when someone really stops and takes time to be kind in a way that suggests I am treasured, important, worth noticing...ahhhhh, now that invites a response, a question, a quest.

Anyway, I am tired and probably not making much sense, but I pray that God's kindness be so revealed to you in the days ahead that you can't help but begin to spill it out on those around you, especially perhaps to those whom others don't see.

Loving the power of His kindness.

Tom, one of Abba's children

Friday, September 3, 2010

Did God 'Get Saved'?

     "So what happened to God? Did he get saved somewhere between Malachi and Matthew? Had he reinvented himself into a nicer, gentler God? Of course not! He is unchanging, the same throughout all eternity." (He Loves Me, p. 30, by Wayne Jacobsen).
     I have been re-reading He Loves Me of late, and I laughed out loud at Wayne's question about God "getting saved" between Malachi and Matthew. But our laugh at such a thought is a "nervous laugh" if we are honest, isn't it? How do we explain the various pictures of God we find in the Bible, some of which seem contradictory? Is He a God of wrath and judgment or a God of love or both? Clearly, I can't begin to answer this question with much depth in a blog. Instead I recommend that you read Wayne's book if you haven't already done so--it answers this question far better than I ever could! And of course we always need to remember that Jesus is the last Word in terms of what God is like. God is like Jesus, period. So if you want to know what God is like, ask Holy Spirit to guide you into Truth as you read the Gospels and follow Jesus (I have written about this before).
     But coming back to our question, I would like to suggest a few things here that may help you understand why there seems to be different pictures of God in the Bible (especially in the Old Testament). See what you think of my ramblings.
     First, throughout the Bible the true God, the God of love, is clearly revealed in little glimpses, starting with the creation story which tells us we were created to be in loving relationship with Him and that when He finished creating all things He declared it to be "Very good." And many more sightings of this God who is love are sprinkled throughout the Old Testament. We see Him in the frequently repeated phrase first given in Moses' encounter with His glory (goodness) in Exodus 34:6-7 "The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin." We also meet this loving and patient God again and again in the prophets, as we see God's anguished heart of love for His people (perhaps nowhere more clearly than in Hosea, but elsewhere too). We also see it in His appeal to His people to love Him ("You shall love--not serve or fear--the LORD your God..."). So even in the rather "mixed" picture of God in the OT we find a consistent picture of who He really is peeking out at us time and again.
     Second, and this is a real key, I think, God has always chosen to communicate to human beings at the level of understanding and in the language of the culture and era in which they live. He can only be understood by humans in the context of what the people can understand at the time. The people who lived in the time of the Patriarchs, the time of the Exodus, even up to post-exilic times, lived in an incredibly vicious and barbaric world. It was a world so twisted by evil that children were routinely abused and sacrificed to "gods," where pregnant women were ripped open during war, and where the concept of "loving your enemies" was inconceivable. Even if God had said this, or described Himself as Jesus revealed Him to be, those who heard it would have had no "vocabulary" to understand it. You can't teach quantum physics to a two year old, you cannot discuss ethics with a toddler, can you? They simply don't have the ability or language to "hear" what you are saying. Indeed, love expressed to young children is often misunderstood by them. A deeply loved 3 year old may yet say, "Daddy hates me" because Daddy has set loving boundaries in place by saying no to something that will harm him/her. Perhaps this is what sometimes happens in the OT. For example, I don't think Joshua and the Israelites could have heard or lived out God's real heart for the people of Jericho. Picture Joshua scratching his head as God tells him, "What I really want you to do is love these people into a relationship with me."!! Nope...there simply wasn't the capacity to understand this or put it into practice in that season of human history. Neither was there vocabulary or understanding for God's people under the Old Covenant to grasp God's love with consistency, but rather as with a toddler, even God's loving acts were misunderstood and misinterpreted.
      So it was that "in the fullness of time" (Galatians 4:4) God sent His Son, the Word, as the revelation of Who He really is. Only in Jesus' day was it finally possible for at least a few people to hear and understand, "Love your enemies... because that is what your Father does." Only in Jesus' day was the "toddling" human race (a few of them, at least) ready to understand a God who loved them unconditionally and invited them back into relationship with Him. There is more here, of course, but I must keep this short.
     But, you may say, even Jesus says some pretty hard things and expresses anger towards those who are hard-hearted. Yes, that is true. But if you look carefully, you will see that Jesus reveals to us that God's anger is the anger of love, not of selfishness or rejection. It is the anger of a parent who sees His children doing things that harm themselves and others, not the anger of a grouchy deity that can't wait to punish his subjects. Any healthy parent knows what it is to get angry because of love for a child! Think about it. (One great illustration of this type of loving anger is found in the Visual Bible version of Matthew, with Bruce Marchiano, where Jesus is filled with grief, not wrath, as He declares the "woes" to the Pharisees and where Jesus weeps as he tells Judas, "Yes, it is you!" If you can watch these scenes and "get it," you are on your way to knowing what God is really like, I think! )
     So why is all of this important? Two reasons come to mind: first, it affects our relationship with God, second, it affects our relationships with others. As Wayne so masterfully points out in his book, it's not possible to have a tender, loving relationship with a God of wrath. It is love alone that can invite us into relationship and into intimacy. Relationships cannot be coerced or manipulated, especially not by fear! Second, it's important because we become like the God we worship. Our relationships with others hinge upon our knowing God as perfect love. The world has already experienced more than enough angry "Christians" (who are indeed like the "god" they know, sadly enough). God longs for us to know Him in His love so that we reflect accurately the One who is "compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in love."
     So for me, at least, when I see something in Scripture that doesn't fit with who Jesus revealed Father to be, I simply think "toddler" :-) and return to Jesus' words, "If you have seen me, you have seen the Father." That might not work for everyone, but for someone like me, it'll have to do.

Tom, one of Abba's children