THE DIFFICULTY OF LOVING
EVERYONE IS NOT A PROBLEM – we can ever solve on our own. But it is something that will be a blessing to us when we go about it through the grace God gives. Looking at the passage in 1 John 4, from the other day, there is help for us. This comes after a reminder of God’s ultimate gift of the life of Jesus, given up for our salvation. 11 “Dear friends, since God loved us that much, we surely ought to love each other. 12 No one has ever seen God. But if we love each other, God lives in us, and that love is brought to full expression in us.” But how can this work? We can begin to fathom all this with prayer, expressing all the gratitude we have for the long list of blessings and gifts we have all been given, especially the gift of our salvation. This activates the Holy Spirit within us. So we can then begin to open ourselves to the Spirit, to hear and feel the leading that will guide us in loving others. 16 “We know how much God loves us, and we have put our trust in God’s love. God is love, and all who live in love live in God, and God lives in them. 17 And as we live in God, our love grows more perfect. So we will not be afraid on the day of judgment, but we can face God with confidence because we live like Jesus here in this world.”
This passage does not pull any punches. We have been given an awesome gift, and God wants our love in return. The Holy Spirit will help and guide us to accomplish this, but we have to put our trust in the Spirit, so it can happen. The passage continues with some further guidance. 18 “Such love has no fear, because perfect love expels all fear. If we are afraid, it is for fear of punishment, and this shows that we have not fully experienced God’s perfect love. 19 We love each other because God loved us first.” As we submit ourselves to the influence of the Spirit, it will begin to happen. It may take a while, because we have to let it happen, and we may be independent and resist it. But as we learn to let God in, our love for one another will increase, and life itself will take on new dimensions, as the process of grace works within us, bringing us closer to God. Loving God, who gave us the ultimate gift of your son, we thank you for our salvation, and the unconditional love you offer us. May we accept these gifts and share them with all we encounter, by spreading your love freely, without judgment. Help us trust the power that grace will work within us, and appreciate in awe what changes grace will bring about. Amen. PEACE
TO BE IN RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD – is like going through experiences with co-workers or friends. Relationships are built into friendships and more, by going through experiences with others. The events we share may be difficult or routine, but when we go through them with others we learn about the other person, and they learn about us. Over time and many experiences, we learn whether we can trust them and how far that trust will go. We will also learn things about ourselves and how we interact with that other person. Are we called on to do better or worse, in our own estimation? Do they bring out the best or worst in us? Do they influence us or do we influence them? It will be through these life experiences that we will grow into a better person or a worse person. We may fail or we may succeed, because of the choices we and others make.
It is a great frustration of life currently, that we are affected by choices others make that control our lives. It may seem like we have very little room to make choices of our own. The Bible has many references to what choices we are able to make, even today. Living in a relationship with God is the most momentous choice we can make. Once we decide to go down our path with God by our side and walk through all we do in our day in a relationship with God, we will begin to learn what differences it will make. There is no person who will always love us, and even when we do something wrong will forgive us. Our creator has loved us from the beginning and will want the best for us each day. When we feel as though there is nobody around us to trust, we can trust God. When we get into trouble, God will show us solutions to turn the situation around. It may still be hard to do, but we can move forward because we know God wants the best for us. God will help us live in community with others, especially since God loves others around us too. The famous verse from Micah 6 is a great encouragement for us each day. 8 “God has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” As in any relationship, it is built day by day, walking with and trusting in what God is like, and learning from God how to love. God looks forward to building this with us every day. Merciful and loving God, we are grateful for the opportunity to walk with you each day of our lives and learn to love others, just as you love. Help us listen to your guidance and trust your wisdom, as we transfer the treasures of our relationship to the relationships we have with others. Amen. PEACE
IS NOT ENOUGH – in God’s sight. Those kinds of thoughts are not acceptable to God. When did Jesus say that “meaning well” was alright? I can hear the voices of lots of folks from my past that said, “Just as long as you meant well, don’t worry about it. Just as long as you tried.” The horrifying part of this condescending approach is it was said by law-abiding “Christian” people, who others may have looked at, to set the behavior of the community. I have not heard these words said in a long time, but the sentiment is deeply embedded in the culture. We have only to look at the violence in our country to see it. In an article by Brit Bennett, she refers to the brutal slaying of one of far too many people of color by white police officers. She quotes one officer involved saying later, that he “feels very bad” and “It was never my intention to harm anyone.” Still a life was ended, for a person that God loved, because he did not do any better that intending good. It is not acceptable to God to intend to do good, and then not also do good. If we who love God do not do something better, is it any wonder that the rest of society, who are not familiar with God, are not influenced to live differently than their selfish behavior dictates.
We can begin by praying. First we can pray for our own behavior, and ask for support and the grace of God that will limit our own sinful nature. We pray to stop judging others, by ourselves and others around us. The process we are tapping into is God’s love for the world, and the action God is taking with each and every one of God’s children, including within ourselves. So while we may see someone who is doing something we disapprove of, God is already influencing their inner lives. When we take out our anger on someone else, because we see them doing something wrong, we are getting in God’s way. This behavior is working against God, not helping to uphold God. Unconditional love for others is the way of God, and the only way we can help in God’s work. This is why justice work is so important. God insists on justice for all, and we must uphold this, if we intend to help God. In John, there are several instances where Jesus tells people to stop sinning. In chapter 8, he says “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.” If Jesus did not condemn, then neither can we. When we are frustrated at circumstances beyond our control, the very best way to begin to cope with our anger and frustration is with prayer. God’s power comes into play as soon as we pray for help. Then we become part of God’s plan to change those circumstances, beginning with changing us and opening our hearts to see God has something else in mind for the world. Ever hopeful God, we lay our lives at your feet, and offer ourselves to become part of the solution, not part of the problem. Grow our hearts to embrace all your children, so we may speak differently, and influence others around us. Guide our behavior away from sin, and toward the loving patterns Jesus showed us. In his name we pray with power. Amen. PEACE
LAYING OUR INTENTIONS
AT GOD’S FEET IS ANOTHER IMPORTANT ASPECT OF PRAYER – and is the most honest way to live in a relationship with God. We all have intentions for what we are doing each day, whether we express them specifically or not. They may not be anything different than what we do every day or have done daily for years and years. But if we want to live in an honest and loving relationship with God, it takes an awareness of what we may take for granted. It may be difficult for many of us to accept that God really wants to be part of the details of our daily lives. But we have help from God to learn just how to accomplish this.
In 1 John 4 we hear this affirmation as a part of a larger reminder of just how much God loves us, because he gave us the gift of the life of Jesus, God’s beloved son. 13 “God has given us the Spirit as proof that we live in him and he in us.” Since God demonstrated the extent of love and commitment to us in these ways, might we pray for ways to be able to accept these great gifts? When we trust God, we will find the Holy Spirit working within us, to bring us closer to God. 15 “All who declare that Jesus is the Son of God have God living in them, and they live in God. 16 We know how much God loves us, and we have put our trust in God’s love.” Therefore it is not as difficult as the world would have us think, to open ourselves to God and plan our day, or discuss the events of the day with God, as they are happening. This is one way we build our relationship with God. As we live in the love and grace God provides, it will become part of who we are, and we will be a transformed child of God, and source of love in a world so much in need of it. Gracious and loving God, we thank you for making us a part of your work of love and grace, in order to transform the world. Help us live into this work you have called us to do, letting go of our fear of failure. With you there is only strength and success when we become a channel for your love and mercy. May we trust that you have the future in your hands, and will make us a vital part of your work. Amen. PEACE
WHEN WE LOVE GOD
FIRST, ALL THE REST – will happen by God’s gracious actions. How do we do this? Prayer is one important part of the strategy to put God first. What do we pray for, when we are setting God as our goal? We ask for God’s help in whatever words come to us. We could use a written prayer, except then we are expressing someone else’s thoughts and feelings, and God is waiting for us to express our own deepest desires. So a big part of loving God is acknowledging that God is already with us, and even admit to ourselves that we have at times perhaps listened to the urgings of the Holy Spirit.
Another step is to become more aware of creation in all its complexities, express gratitude for it, and then delight in all its glories and surprises. Long ago in Psalm 37, those who loved the Lord expressed this to others: 4 “Take delight in the Lord, and God will give you your heart’s desires.” This does not refer to frivolous desires, but if we are truly intending to love God with our whole selves, God is the one who will help bring it into being. Which leads us directly to the next verse in the Psalm, 5 “Commit everything you do to the Lord. Trust God, and God will help you.” It cannot be explained any plainer than that. When we intend to love God, God is the one who will help us do it. There just aren’t any fancy ways to go about it, but only in an honest and sincere frame of mind, in all humility and with an open heart. Dear God, who first loved us unconditionally, help us love you entirely and without reservation. Guide us in taking the steps we need, when we need to take them. Help us respond to your ways of reaching out to us, so that we may be transformed. Amen. PEACE
A DIFFERENT LIFE
BEGINS WITH A SINGLE STEP – taking us into God’s loving arms. Changing our lives for the better begins with a choice to let our lives be different than what the world offers. God offers us that choice, at every turn in the road of life we are following. Two very different books come to mind, that can help us understand the importance that both choice and imagination play in changing our lives for the better. The first is a simple story line of a young man, who went off to college with dreams of a different life than what he got. As soon as he arrived, he was swept up into the party life of unrestrained living. He tried to apply himself to school, but was undermined and discouraged by his primary choice to party whenever the opportunity presented itself. He became discouraged by the struggle to understand his courses when he didn’t put in the work required to succeed. By then he was too ashamed to ask for help and instead gave up and dropped out of school, arriving home with his dreams for a different life shattered. He could not discern that the choices he made had consequences he did not intend.
The second story is the John Bunyan book, Pilgrim’s Progress. I think it is the most influential book I have ever read. It is not easy to read, even in the “modern” version I recently downloaded. The allegory is set as a dream, where a man sets off on a journey to relieve his burden on his back [his sin] and to find out how he can escape the destruction he reads about in the Bible. The book comes out of an era when sin was the message of the churches of the time, and so the book dwells on sin and its consequences. The reason the story has stayed with me for so long is the journey the main character took and the people who helped him along the way. He was not always aware of how he was guided along his path to make the choices that would lead him forward. There were many chances for him to take side roads, but he was counseled by God to choose the straight paths, and reject the crooked ones. This imagery has stayed with me, and there are times when that advice has been a reminder to look at the paths before me, and ask for help in finding the better choice. There are many ways that a particular choice can look enticing, and perhaps even look like the right way to go, but we have an advocate, the Holy Spirit, who will show us the right path to take at every turn in the road. When we ask for directions, we will be shown the better path. When we let our hearts imagine the glorious path where God’s love and grace lead us, we will begin to see it shine out of the darkness of the world, and the path will be lighted for us. Illuminating God, we are grateful for the ways you are able to show us the paths to follow, in order to live the kind of life you have designed for us to enjoy. Help us ask for the help we need, to make the right choices, and follow where you lead us. In the name of Jesus, the original pioneer of the right path, we pray. Amen. PEACE
GOD SEES US
AS REAL PERSONS, WHO WE ARE CREATED TO BE – not as someone else’s idea of who we should be. The word “should” is a loaded word. It conveys what others think we “should” do with our lives. There is a strong bias in our culture for others to sound wise by telling us what would be best for us to do. These may be well intentioned, and unsolicited suggestions, but they can never be valid for us. We are the ones who have the right to make decisions for our own lives. Of course we have to take others in our lives into account when making these responsible decisions, but ultimately we are the ones who live with the consequences of our decisions. Yet it is a strong cultural tendency to listen to and follow other peoples’ directions, as if we have no ability to run our own lives. It undermines our confidence and keeps us from living out the life we are given by God. We are given gifts to make our lives rich and filled with joy. If we don’t live our lives authentically, we may never discover what those gifts are, and so we will never experience the joy as well. We have not been created to be the person our parents think we should be, or who will make them proud of the person they have made. This feeds their ego, but it does not show an unselfish love for us and who we could be. Living our own lives is messy and even dangerous – because we are certain to disappoint someone. God walks with us through this mine field, and is ready to lead us to the real life waiting for us, and the joy that is its reward.
In Tara Brach’s book, RADICAL ACCEPTANCE, she tells a story of a five year old little girl at a restaurant with her parents. The adults order and then the child pipes up and orders a hot dog, fries and a coke. The father says no, she will have the meatloaf. The waitress ignores the father and asks her what she wants on her hot dog. Afterwards, the little girl says to her parents, “She thinks I’m real.” We are not created to be the extension of someone else. We are meant to live and shine our light into the world, and contribute in ways that are uniquely our own. Having said that does not mean it is easy and that we don’t need support. We do have that unwavering support in God, and life giving forgiveness through Jesus. In John 10 we are reminded of how important our lives are in God’s plan, when Jesus says: “but I came to give life—life in all its fullness.” This life we are given is a free gift, to use in ways we choose. By design, it works best with God and the atmosphere of love. But beware others who use the word “should”, and examine their intentions. If love and acceptance are not evident, then leave it behind and walk on in the strength that only God gives us. Great God, who loves and accepts us for who we are, we are grateful for our lives, and the courage you give us to live it authentically. Help us with all our decisions, and give us the ears to hear your loving guidance for a life of love for others and the joy that comes from it. May we feel your grace grow and expand in us, as we find our ways of living our lives as they are meant to be. In Jesus name, we pray. Amen. PEACE
WHAT GOD THINKS
OF US IS SO MUCH MORE IMPORTANT – than what others around us think of us. There are a lot of influences around us and in the institutional church, that would have us behave uprightly in order to please God. Centuries ago, when the Roman church needed to keep the peace, this is what the message of the church became. This concept isn’t very different from the Hebrew practice of keeping the Law. Add to this the idea that we want those around us to like us, and we don’t want to offend others, and so we come up with a life style of trying to be good and please everyone. Not only is this impossible to do, it isn’t what God wants us to do. This is what the writer of Colossians said to the church in that city: “We ask God to give you complete knowledge of God’s will and to give you spiritual wisdom and understanding. 10 Then the way you live will always honor and please the Lord, and your lives will produce every kind of good fruit. All the while, you will grow as you learn to know God better and better. 11 We also pray that you will be strengthened with all God’s glorious power so you will have all the endurance and patience you need. May you be filled with joy, 12 always thanking the creator. God has enabled you to share in the inheritance that belongs to God’s people, who live in the light. 13 For God has rescued us from the kingdom of darkness and transferred us into the Kingdom of God’s dear Son, 14 who purchased our freedom and forgave our sins.” Add to this the guidance Jesus gives us in John 15: “4 Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.” If we allow ourselves to love God and others first, then pray for the help to live this way, all these things will happen as a result of God acting within us, and we will grow into a person who pleases God. Redeeming God, we thank you that you love us and at the same time stretch us and help us grow into something more able to do what pleases you. Help us grow into the person we need to be, through your grace. May we rest in this nurturing climate that helps us bear fruit to transform your creation into your kingdom. Amen. PEACE Col 1: 9-14
REACH OUT IN LOVE TO OTHERS AND IT WILL COME BACK – sometimes in very unexpected ways. We are called by Jesus to love one another, the second of the great commandments. There are many ways that love can be communicated. One very interesting instance was when Jesus was sending out the seventy followers. His instructions in Luke 10 are almost the same as he gave to the twelve disciples in chapter 9, with one interesting exception. He instructs them to take nothing, and then asks them to do this: 5 “Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace to this house!’ 6 And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you.” We extend “the peace of Christ” to one another in worship at times, and some of us are very uncomfortable. We don’t hear a lot about what may happen if we would do as Jesus asked of the seventy. These two verses give us very important information that could help us grow in our ability to extend our love to others.
Jesus tells them to bless the house they enter. If it is received in love, then the blessing remains with that person. And if it is rejected, it is not lost, but will return to those who took the risk to bless, and show love to others. My son reminded me the other day of a principle in physics – that energy is never lost, even if it changes to another form. Love is energy, and by that principle, we see how love is never lost either. God cares so much for us that when we risk doing work for God, we are not abandoned in the chance we take, but are supported and loved in return. So we need never fear that if we risk love and ourselves in some way, we are not left without support. Love, simply offered without an agenda or expectation, is very powerful. So the chances are great that others will accept it. If the love is not returned, the rejection does not have the power to destroy the love we offered. This is what the world teaches, and it is totally wrong. Yes, rejection does not feel good, but the reality remains, that God stills loves us all unconditionally. The rejection does not change that. In fact, it will become part of our own transformation, into a person who knows how to love better, each time we risk loving others. Protecting God, we thank you for your transforming power of love you make available to each of us. Help us to be open, and overcome our fear of sharing that love with others. Guide us in those steps and teach us how it will always be returned in some way, if we just look for it. Amen. PEACE
WHEN WE LOVE GOD COMPLETELY
AND WE WILL LIVE – an eternal life. So says both God, in the first commandment and Jesus, as we hear in Luke 10: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind”. We are called to do that, with God’s help. None of this is easy, and we are not able to do any of it without God’s grace and love. All of these avenues are ways that we can come to God, and build a relationship, and we all find or will be led in unique ways that work for us. Many of us find paths through our hearts, souls and strength, but it seems it may be the most difficult to commit our minds to God. For many of us it is the center of how we control ourselves and our lives.
I don’t know about anyone else, but I talk to myself. It helps to hear certain things I am working through out loud. I have encountered many lately who have apologized for talking to themselves, and I assure them that they are not alone, and it helps us to hear things out loud. So this morning during my wake up routine this idea came to me, from the Holy Spirit. If we don’t mind when we talk out loud to ourselves, isn’t it just one small step to acknowledge that when we hear ourselves, it is OK for God to hear us too? What is our fear about God knowing what is in our inmost thoughts? No matter what those thoughts are, God will still love us, and never condemn us. It is by letting us think through our worst that God can help us. God loves us always, and will not condemn us – ever. When we let God in, that is when we can begin to be transformed. Especially if we have begun to love God through other avenues, we will be closer to our complete spiritual transformation. It is by loving God in all these ways that we become new persons, because we have taken God into our whole being. The product of this is a transformed person, wanting to love and follow in the ways we are called. Loving God, we thank you for loving us, and acting in us to transform our lives. Guide us in the ways we need to choose, so that our transformation may begin or continue and grow, or be completed. Amen. PEACE