Monday, August 22, 2011

So Much Love!

"And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God." (Ephesians 3:17b-19 NIV)

Paul wrote the Ephesian letter late in his life, and it's likely that the Ephesian letter was a circular letter intended for all of the churches in Asia minor, so I have always thought that what he prays in this letter is of very great significance. It's the distillation of his entire life designed for everyone to pay special attention to! How striking then, that a major part of Paul's prayer for his readers is for them to continuously be growing in their knowledge and actual experience of Papa's love for them. And the longer I walk with God the more sense this makes to me. I cannot think of anything more important than God's people grasping, knowing and experiencing more and more of His love for them.

As you know, I believe that "Living Loved" (to use Wayne Jacobsen's phrase) is the key to everything else in life. There's no such thing as too much of God's love.

But people sometimes get nervous when I start talking this way. I have a couple of thoughts as to why that happens. First, I find that those who protest that we need to talk about obedience, too, not just God's love (I agree with this) are usually those that haven't really experienced God's love. They often have "father wounds" or other wounds that have caused them to keep Father at a distance. With folks like this I have found that it's helpful just to gently persist in loving them, not backing away from the centrality of living loved but patiently waiting for God's healing love to seep past the walls erected against His love.

I also find that some people object to this emphasis on God's love because they think we are talking only about feelings or experiences. But when Paul prays for his readers to know God's love it extends far beyond just a feeling of being loved (as important as that is). To know God's love is to have our eyes and hearts opened to everything about Him that our little minds can catch. Because God is love, everything He does expresses that love. And because His love is completely and totally working for our good, even the most painful experiences in life can reveal His love if we "keep watching" and keep our hearts soft towards Him even in our pain. (I speak from experience here, as you know).

So I will keep on inviting people to know and experience God's love, echoing Paul's prayer as my own and also seeking to express this prayer in how I live and serve others.

Now here are a few more thoughts about God's love for you that I just want to get on paper, so to speak.

Because God's love has no end, our experience of it is something that also has no end. This opens up amazing possibilities, if you catch the meaning here. Everything, everything!! becomes a potential purveyor of Papa's love, from the simple sighting of a little hummingbird to the painful and complex loss of those we love. Everything becomes one more invitation, one more opportunity to experience Father's love, and this will continue forever, ramping up considerably, methinks, once we see Him face to face.

Also, God's love is specific and personal to each person on the planet. For some reason, lots of believers seem to think that God loves them in a sort of generic way: "He loves everyone, so I guess He has to love me, too." But this is a terribly inferior understanding of Papa's love. God loves you with a love that is specific to you or them. His love isn't a one-size-fits-all kind of love but a specific treasuring of you in your uniqueness. He loves the little things about you that make you you. In a sense, God is in love with each and every person on the planet! And since He's God, His knowledge of each person's uniqueness is infinite. Think about that: Papa can honestly say to you, "I will never run out of reasons I love you!" The one who knows when a single sparrow falls knows and treasures you in all your wonderful uniqueness--wow!

Finally, as the plural "you" (y'all) indicates here in this passage and in most other passages that have to do with love, God's love is discovered in healthy community. Yes, Holy Spirit also pours love directly into our hearts (Romans 5:5), but as the many one another passages in Scripture indicate, God's intention was that much of our experience of getting to know His love would happen through others who are living loved. That's why the "whole picture" for me is that we lived loved and listening (for His loving affirmation and for His guidance as to how we are to love others). And yes, I know that church has failed rather miserably in this area. The Christian religion is no better than any other religion at producing loving people. Only a vibrant, "religion-free" relationship with the One who is love will enable us to make our contribution to the loving, healing community that Jesus empowers us to become. Will you sign up for this? Sigh...I could write so much more about this, but I will stop for now and ask Father simply to make me more and more an encounter with His love for all I meet.

Learning to live loved, praying for an eternal and continuing experience of His love for all of us.

Tom, one of Papa's children

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Love and Cherish Until Death Do Us Part

These past few days, as I have walked each morning in this well-to-do California neighborhood, I have been deeply aware of the contrast between the many “toys” of the “boys” and the memories of how God changed my heart towards Jettie the last few years of our marriage so that "toys" became so unimportant. As our marriage entered into its 4th decade, I found it becoming more and more important for me to love and cherish her than to “play.” How grateful I am that Papa started making these changes in me before the terrible/wonderful journey took her into eternity!! My affirmations of love for her rang true in those hard times because they were already being lived out in the good times. Ah, Father, thank you! Only your grace could have made such deep changes in me and in time for dear departed Jettie to know for sure of my love for her!
Now why am I writing about this? Am I wanting to "toot my own horn"? Heaven forbid! I of all men recognize that it was God's grace at work in me that brought these changes. And I also know that they were partial at best! There are many warts on this life that God is still working on! But I am writing this to men who may be sensing that there's more to marriage than what is their current experience. But please note that the last thing I want to do is to motivate any man by means of shame or guilt, so please hear what I am writing as invitation to consider things, not an exhortation that says, "You ought" or "You should." But having said this, let me tell you a few things I learned about "love and cherish until death" parted Jettie and me 10 months ago, things that by God's grace I will carry into my next marriage as well.
A lot of the changes came as a result of a "Big Thought" God gave to me one day while He and I were hanging out: that all of the “one another” passages apply first to those closest to us; i.e., to our spouse and our children! For example, I realized that we could quite legitimately paraphrase the New Commandment in John 13:34-35 like this: “Everyone will know you are my follower by how you love your wife. Love her in the same way I love you, and they will know for sure that you are mine.” In other words, our increasingly healthy marriages, born out of God’s immense and immeasurable love for us, and as it overflows to our wives, is one of the best and most essential testimonies to Jesus. When others see Jesus’ love for His bride in our love for our bride—wow!
But here are some specific ways this "one another" thing can work out in our lives as husbands. Just for you to consider, okay?
First, we can work on being sure that our gifts for her cost more than our "toys" (not that I am very interested in toys these days). I have noticed that many men "buy toys" with the expectation that their wives will want to play with those toys as well, even if that's not something their wife likes. I spent many years doing this myself, trying to get Jettie to love being on the water in the many boats I had, etc. Anyway, why not try to give your bride gifts that say to her "I treasure you above everything else, especially my toys"? I invite you to consider whether that might be good for your marriage as well. :-)
Second, we can begin trying to learn to listen to her until we really understand her. As you attempt to put this into practice it will help to remember that the purpose of communication is understanding, not agreement. Agreement is about control, not loving and cherishing. Agreement is necessary for projects and tasks, but requiring full agreement in relationships can destroy them. You will be amazed at how just this one thing (really listening) will change your marriage if you aren't practicing it so well right now. Try it, you will both like it!
Third, we can learn her love language and started trying to speak it with consistency. Jettie's primary love languages were serving and giving. Thankfully, both of those are also mine, so she had been "hearing" my love for a long time. But the serving didn't really kicked into high gear until I took the time to discover it, then Papa allowed me to serve her in unbelievable ways the last months of her life--isn't He amazing! And now as I enter into another relationship I remain just as committed to speaking her love languages (which happen to be the same as mine--yippee!). I invite you to do the same in all of your relationships (our kids have love languages, too!).
Fourth, we can begin to consider how we might apply all the "one another" passages to our relationship with our wife. I think of Philippians 2:3-4: "Consider your wife better than yourself and consider her interests as just as important as yours." That one could take all day to describe, and no, I didn't live it out anywhere near perfectly with Jettie! But it's on the agenda for the rest of my life! And then there's all the other one another passages for us to grown into, eh?
Finally and most obvious of all: we can ask Jesus to show us really how to love her like He loves His Bride. We can be asking Jesus for creative ways to cherish our bride in the same way He cherishes His. It’s a prayer He loves to answer, and I look forward to hearing how He works that out in your lives!
Our 42nd anniversary would have taken place on the 24th of this month, so maybe that's why all of this is on my heart--I'm not sure. Regardless of the reason, I invite you men to consider new ways to love and cherish until death. As I learned so painfully, that last "qualifier" can happen sooner than we think.
Grateful to be learning to live loved and loving,
Tom, one of Abba's little boys

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The Pursuit of Happiness????

I took down my previous post for today. It wasn't written from a place of passion, so I am trying again.

I don't write about world events in my blog, or at least not much, and I don't intend to start now, but I have been struck lately with how the present world situation causes me to be filled with anticipation (yes, anticipation, not anxiety). The shaking of so many things that people tend to trust in means that God's unshakeable Kingdom is becoming increasingly clear and compelling. I am thinking of how the shaking of all things has wonderfully hindered the "pursuit of happiness."

The pursuit of "happiness" (feeling good), which is the "be all and end all" of American culture (permeating the Church as well secular society) is becoming harder and harder in a world of increasing uncertainty. This is a good thing, a very good thing! Why? Because as J.P. Moreland points out in Kingdom Triangle, "there are more important things than being happy. There is a bigger meaning and larger purpose that should be our life's aim. We are wired for more than happiness. We are made to live for God's honor by learning how to become spiritually competent, mature members of His Kingdom and to make that Kingdom our primary concern." (pp. 24-25).

And now, with happiness and security in this present world becoming harder and harder to find, God's people are awakening to their larger destiny and purpose in His Kingdom. I cannot help but think that this is a time when God's people are finally going to awaken from their slumber, shake free of their enslavement to the empty values of western culture and begin to "shine like stars" like Paul said in Philippians 2:15.

The destruction of the pursuit of happiness as our primary goal is a kind and necessary gift from God. Listen to J.P. Moreland again as he describes what a primary goal of happiness does: "If you spend all your time trying to be happy, you end up focusing all your attention on yourself and how 'happy' you are and, as a result, you become a shriveled self who can't live for some larger cause. Your life will center on yourself and your moment-by-moment focus will be on how you feel inside. Your sole criterion for seeking a job, making friends, finding a spouse (or staying with a spouse!), and selecting a church will reduce to one overarching concern: How does this particular thing make me feel?" (Kingdom Triangle, p. 24). I think you can see here how such a goal conflicts with the culture of a Kingdom that starts with self-denial! And I daresay you also see in these words a hauntingly accurate description of how many "believers" live! How kind of Father to change all of that!

And no, God isn't opposed to joy, happiness, etc., and any who read this blog know I don't believe that. But I do strongly believe that God is more interested in our making right choices, living in the power of His love and Holy Spirit, than He is in our feeling good all the time. Dear ones, it's an illusion to think that in this life we will always be happy, avoid all pain, etc. And if that's true, which it most certainly is, then should we not answer God's call to live beyond ourselves for a Kingdom that cannot be shaken?

I close with a quote from Thomas Kelly (A Testament of Devotion, p. 71), written at another time when all in the world was shaking (the beginning of World War 2). "An awful solemnity is on the earth, for the last vestige of earthly security is gone. It has always been gone, but we haven't believed it."

And so as the world shakes and quivers, and our future in this present world grows more and more uncertain, I stand on tiptoes with anticipation, wondering when Jesus' people will become fully awakened! And I choose to start waking up now, asking Papa to enable me more than ever to trust only in Him, live to bring Him joy, and love from His love those who are still caught in the hopeless pursuit of happiness.

Anticipating joyfully,

One of Abba's children