Archives For Love

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“If you judge people, you have no time to love them.” Mother Teresa

I recently heard a story of a lesbian and a Bishop who were part of a television debate. There was a huge amount of vitriolic argument, with the criticism aimed mostly at the Bishop. The majority of those present, both on the panel and in the audience, suggested his views on sexuality, equality and ethics were outdated and bigoted.

Despite the abuse thrown his way – particularly on the issue of sexuality – the Bishop responded to each question with love, humilty and grace.

At the end of the debate the lesbian participant approached the Bishop, moved at how he had responded so gracefully. She said this:

“I would rather be disagreed with and loved than tolerated.”

The Bishop – despite having strong views on her sexuality – had treated her with love, grace and respect. He hadn’t judged her, hadn’t criticised her, hadn’t made her feel guilty. He had shown her love.

***

In the latest edition of Relevant Magazine, editor Cameron Strang writes this:

“Even when it isn’t popular, or it means we might be labeled or even attacked, we are called to speak the truth in love. We can no longer be voiceless.”

***

In Rumours of God, Jon Tyson and Darren Whitehead point out that in the Gospels, Jesus doesn’t criticise those society would define as sinners.

Jesus loves them. He forgives them. He rebukes those who considered themselves righteous, the Pharisees.

But to those who were expecting to be condemned, Jesus only shows love.

***

I wonder what our worlds would look like if that was how we treated people. I wonder what my world would look like if that was how I treated people.

If I was quick to love, slow to judge, even slower to condemn.

After all, that’s what Jesus did.

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“Hold fast to dreams, for if dreams die, life is a broken-winged bird that cannot fly.” Langston Hughes

***

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the difference between understanding God and knowing God.

I think it’s important we try, within reason, to understand God. While we can never fully get our minds around his power, love, grace or holiness, it is undoubtedly helpful in our relationships with him to grapple with these facets of who he is.

After all, many people over the years have helped other Christians by developing their understanding of God.

***

But more so, I think sometimes we (and by we you can definitely read I) worry too much about understanding God and don’t spend enough time simply knowing him. I may not fully grasp God’s love for me, but I can fully experience it. I may not completely comprehend how great the gift of grace is, but I can embrace it and live my life in it.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying we should never try to understand God. There’s a definite time and place for such thinking.

But I believe understanding God alone will not transform us, will not turn our lives upside down for his Kingdom and fill us with the peace that God offers.

Only knowing God can do that.

***

“Have patience with everything that remains unsolved in your heart…live in the question.” Rainer Maria Rilke

overflow

While praying recently, I saw a picture. I don’t often get pictures and so when I do, I tend to take notice.

The picture was of a person pouring water into a cup. The closer to the top of the cup the water got, the more cautiously the man poured the water. As the water lapped the edge of the cup, the man stopped pouring. As he stepped back, it became clear he was afraid of the cup overflowing.

Despite there being plenty of water left in the container from which he was pouring, and despite the fact his aim seemed to be to empty that container, he stopped short of overflowing.

***

So often, I hold back from giving all of myself over to God.

There’s a variety of reasons for this, but one is that I’m afraid of the mess. Because giving ourselves over to Jesus will result in mess.

But the beautiful thing about this mess is that it’s just that – beautiful.

In our world, mess gets a bad rap. Being messy is considered a character flaw. Which I think is a shame, because often out of mess come the most beautiful creations. Out of the rubble that surrounds us can rise the most incredible monuments to hope and love.

It’s also a shame because life with Jesus is beautifully messy. It’s messy because his kingdom is so backward – the first are last, the poor are rich, the weak are strong. It’s messy because he takes us to places the world scoffs at. It’s messy because it takes who we are, completely shakes us up and re-aligns our lives with God’s kingdom.

Sometimes I’m not ready for the mess. I’m not ready for what handing myself over to Jesus will mean. I’m not ready to have my life turned upside down, to be realigned to God’s perspective. But the promises that come with that mess? They are amazing. Life-changing. Culture-shifting.

The challenge I face is to open up to the mess. To embrace the mess. To recognise that in the mess is hope, love and grace.

All resting in that beautiful mess.

***

“You are a beautiful mess, you are the melody.” William Paul Young

Working on my reflection

September 21, 2012 — 1 Comment

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

I love Jesus. I’m quite the fan.

But frankly, I really struggle to be like him.

I know it’s because as a fallen human, I am not perfect, and so can’t ever be completely like Jesus. The thing is, I want to be more like him, but I find it really difficult.

I find it hard to love those who annoy me. There are plenty of people with whom I don’t see eye to eye, and I struggle to treat them as Jesus would have. He’d have loved them, given them time and shown grace to them. All things I probably don’t.

If I’m honest, I find it hard to love the poor and the lost as Jesus would have done. Yes, I give money to charities which support them and provide hope. But whilst money and support is vital in helping these people, Jesus never gave anyone cash. He gave them his presence and his love.

***

I wonder what would happen to those around me if I was more like Jesus. More compassionate, gracious and loving. I don’t wonder that from a self-centred, “wouldn’t it be brilliant if more people looked at me and thought I was amazing” perspective.

I wonder it from an honest place of longing to be more like Jesus. Despite all the wonderful programs, five-year goals and objectives our churches put in place, these aren’t going to transform the lives of those around us.

Only meeting Jesus is going to do that.

We are the representatives of Jesus for so many of those in our lives. In my life, I know there are some people whose only contact with the church is me. So how I act matters. How well I reflect God’s love matters.

***

I wish it was easier, but it isn’t. Being like Jesus can be hard, because it flies in the face of what the world defines as successful.

But the impact it can have on people is beyond anything this world can offer.

For all the struggles we may have with it, the difference our reflection of God can have in the lives of those around us echoes into eternity.

I think it’s time I worked on my reflection.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Here’s a snapshot of the sort of conversation I have with God on a regular basis:

Me: “Hi God, it’s James.”
God: “I know.”
Me: “Oh yeah. Right. Anyway. How’s it going?”
God: “Tell me about you.” (No matter how many times I ask God how his life is, he seems pretty reluctant to reply.)
Me: “Well there’s a few things bothering me, some of which I’m sure you can deal with, but a couple of which I’m not sure you’d really…you know…get.”
God: “You don’t think I’d get them?”
Me: “Nah, you wouldn’t understand.”
God: “Try me.”
Me: “It’s OK, I’ll figure it out myself. It’s better that way.”
God: “Alright then. Let me know how that goes.”
Me: “Will do. Have a good one.”
God: “OK. Peace out.”

***

When it’s written out like that, it seems the most ridiculous thing in the world to say there are some things I don’t trust God with.

But the reality is, this is something I desperately struggle with. I find it hard to hand over to God things which are troubling me, things which I can’t see panning out well. I don’t mind handing over the things that are going well but when it comes to giving major decisions to God – crossroad moments – I usually retract my offer.

Why? I don’t know. It’s not that I don’t trust God. There’s just something in me that thinks I can do it better.

Which isn’t true.

But still I do it. So I’m shaping my prayers to make sure I hand these things over. I’m making sure I tell God what is really going on with me (he knows anyway) rather than trying to hide things so I don’t have to tell him.

Slowly, it feels like it’s working. Very slowly. Like a child learning to walk, I have a couple of steps of progress followed by a fall.

But it’s still progress.

***

“Prayer is not asking. Prayer is putting oneself in the hands of God, at His disposition, and listening to His voice in the depth of our hearts.” Mother Teresa

Over-complicating God

September 12, 2012 — Leave a comment

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

God is pretty complex. There’s a lot to him. After all, he made the universe and everything in it, knows the numbers of hairs on each of our heads, and knows what has been, what is, and what will be.

The Trinity of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit exists in perfect harmony, is the same but different.

Frankly, I don’t really get it.

I did a theology degree, and took modules in how to understand God, and I still don’t.

Sometimes, this frustrates me. I want to be able to logically formulate why God loves me, and why he forgives me. I want to find some theologians who back me up, academics who I can name-drop when I need to. I don’t know if it’s because I sometimes find it hard to fathom God’s love, but I find myself trying to produce a formula to prove it.

God = creator. Jesus = creator’s son. Spirit = creator’s presence on earth now. (I’ve probably said some heresies already). God loves us. You. Me. Jesus died for us. The Spirit came for us. God + love + Jesus + his death + coming of the Spirit = salvation.

That’s not even close.

***

I think I spend too much time trying to explain and understand God, and not enough time enjoying him and loving him.

There’s no doubt there is a time and a place for trying to understand God, for theology and exegesis and picking apart the story of Jesus.

Ultimately, however, I think God wants us to love him. Wants us to believe his promises, to trust him, to shelter in his grace.

Sometimes, it’s that simple. The life we get in return isn’t always easy or straightforward. More often than not, it’s the opposite.

But through it all, God reminds us of his love, and longs for us to love him with all we have.

His message to me, and to all of us, is simple.

I have done, and will do, anything for you. You are my child. Take shelter in me. I love you.

***

“No one’s ever seen or heard anything like this, never so much as imagined anything quite like it – what God has arranged for those who love him.” 1 Corinthians 2:9, The Message

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

“We meet again, at the turn of the tide. A great storm is coming, but the tide has turned.” JRR Tolkien.

When I think about my relationship with God at the moment, the only way I can begin to describe it is with a roller coaster. Since I lost my job a few weeks ago, I’ve fluctuated between excitement and dread, hope and fear, expectation and resignation.

Some days I wake up and I’m fully confident that God and I are together on this adventure. I’m completely sure that he has the plans laid out for me, that it’s only a matter of time before he lets me know and we get on with living the dream.

But some days I wake up, and I get this feeling in my gut, this worry, concern, fear. That I don’t know what’s going on, and that I’m not sure God does either. It sounds stupid to say that, but that’s sometimes how it feels. It’s not how I feel, but it’s how the process feels.

***

I’ve written about it here recently, but I can’t seem to get away from talking about storms at the moment. The last two weeks at church we’ve looked at Jesus leading his disciples into the boat and into the storm.

Christ leads them there.

***

All of this comes together when I feel like God has forgotten what’s going on in my life. When Jesus was asleep on the boat in the midst of the storm (Matthew 8:23-27) he hadn’t forgotten the disciples. He hadn’t abandoned them.

They might have felt forgotten, felt like Jesus was ignoring them. But he wasn’t. He knew what he was doing.

That’s the truth I keep reminding myself of at the moment. God has not forgotten me and will not forget me. He does not and will not forget any one of us.

Through the highs and lows, his loves outshines the darkest darkness.

I wonder…

August 30, 2012 — Leave a comment

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

I wonder…

I wonder what God thinks when all I do is come to him with a list of things I want, rather than simply sitting and listening.
I wonder what he thinks every time I fail to do something according to his word, or his will for my life.
I wonder what he thinks of church.
I wonder what he thinks of what I do at church.

I wonder what the Trinity thinks when it looks at its creation killing each other.
I wonder what Jesus thought as he looked out from the cross.
I wonder what the thief on the cross next to him thought when Jesus said, “You will be with me in paradise”.
I wonder what God the Father felt the moment Jesus breathed his last human breath.

I wonder if I’ll ever truly grasp the love of God.
I wonder if sometimes I should stop trying to understand and question God’s love and just live in it.
I wonder what those who don’t know Jesus see when they see me.
I wonder if I’ll fulfil all my dreams.

I wonder.

***

“Your plans are still to prosper, You have not forgotten us, You’re with us in the fire and the flood. Faithful forever, perfect in love, You are sovereign over us.” Aaron Keyes.

“The world is indeed full of peril and in it there are many dark places. But still there is much that is fair. And though in all lands, love is now mingled with grief, it still grows, perhaps, the greater.” JRR Tolkien.

Watching the Olympic Games over the last few days, I’ve been amazed at the lengths athletes and their teams will go to in order to win a medal. The sacrifices made by the competitors are great – moving countries for a better training programme, training every day of the year, sacrificing time with their families and friends in order to push themselves that bit further.

Humans have an immense capacity to fight for what they believe in, for what they desperately desire and want to achieve. This can be seen in athletes getting up before dawn each morning to run, and in those who give over their lives to helping others, to fight for God’s love in a world which doesn’t always show it or want to see it.

Love shows itself in numerous forms – a sunset, a kind word, a generous action, gesture or motion. God is love and God’s love is worth fighting for. Sometimes the battle is great – the fight against poverty or injustice. And sometimes the fight is smaller, less obvious – against self-doubt, against a world which judges us by what we have rather than who we are.

God places different desires on different hearts. Some people fight injustice, others witness at work or school, others become up-front ministers. But the common denominator through all this is the desire and passion of these people to show God’s love, to fight for God’s love.

1 John 4:19 – “We love because He first loved us.”

1 John 4:8 – “Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.”

God is love. Love created the world, love runs through the veins of all that has been, is and will be. Love.

That is worth fighting for.

As someone who is quite hard on myself (annoying character trait), I spend a lot of time thinking and convincing myself that God must be disappointed with me. After all, I’m a bit of a mess really. I sin on a constant basis, I’m forever making mistakes, and it seems like I’ve managed the awful achievement of going against pretty much everything Jesus said we should do (although I’ve never killed anyone).

This makes me sad, because I know that is not how God wants us to live. It must constantly break God’s heart to look at the world He created, and see the state it has become. It all started so well, but boy has it deteriorated since Eden. Some Christians seems happy to shift the blame onto Adam and Eve, and be done with it, but I don’t think that’s fair. If Adam and Eve hadn’t sinned, someone else would have. I would have for sure.

When I come before God, there’s a list of hundreds, if not thousands of things that He would be disappointed in me for. The things I’ve done, the things I haven’t done. The countless times I’ve slipped up, the countless times I’ve fallen short of the mark. And I know it’s not just me – because of the fall, it’s the whole human race who is in this position:

“For all have sinned, and fallen short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23)

In all honestly, sometimes this can look quite bleak. I know I find it difficult sometimes to come before God without all of my own insecurities and worries getting in the way. But there is one thing that, above all else, I need to constantly remind myself of, to continually bang into my head: God is not, has never been, and will never be disappointed with me.

But what about all the crap I do wrong? What about all the times I screw up and upset God?

It doesn’t matter, because God is never disappointed in us or with us. God loves us, with a love that no human could ever imagine. From before we were even conceived, God knew us. Our God, the Creator who made the earth and the sun and stars, knows us by name. He knew us before we knew us, before the world knew us. He loves us with a fierce and jealous love, a fire than cannot be quenched. Whether we are the holiest person on earth, or the world’s biggest sinner, God’s love is the same. There is no escaping the love of God:

“Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence? If I ascend to heaven, You are there; if I make my bed in hell, behold, You are there.” (Psalm 139:7-8)

No matter what I do, no matter how many times I screw up and stumble on this journey, God will never stop loving me. He will never get disappointed in me, never be let down, never feel anything but love. This is such a mind-blowing thing, especially in a world that is only too keen to judge, lambast and criticise. But the reality of God is that He is different. He is not of the world, He is God. He is above and beyond our understanding.

This reality in my life slowly changed the way I viewed God. I no longer kept seeing Him as the disappointed father or teacher, shaking His head at everything I do wrong and constantly letting me know His disappointment. That isn’t to say that I no longer struggle with things, and no longer feel repentant and sinful in God’s eyes – after all, we are all sinners, sin is serious, and we should repent of our sins.

But God is not disappointed. I can turn to God knowing that His love for me has been burning forever, and will continue to do so. I can turn to Him knowing that He feels nothing but love for me – no resentment, no disappointment, no feeling short-changed or let down. God is love, and God loves me. He loves you. God loves us to the point where He sent His Son down to be sacrificed for us, just so we could be in a relationship with Him. That is not the action of a disappointed, resentful God. That is the action of a God who burns with love for us, who is jealous for us and would do anything for us.

This understanding of God constantly challenges me, and constantly forces me to think differently not only about God, but about myself. Humans are very good at finding faults in themselves – it’s one of my particular strong points. God, however, looks at us completely with love. He sees us through the lens of a Father, a loving, heavenly Father who is madly, deeply and unconditionally in love with His children.

God is never disappointed. God is never let down. God will never stop loving us because we’ve mucked up. God’s grace does not have a limit – it keeps on going. God’s love is not conditional on our response to Him. God is love, and God loves us with such passion and fire that nothing could ever change that.