Mar 29, 2013

What is Love?


I warrant that it is not unfair to assert that popular culture is trying to claim, nay purchase, the meaning of love. As if love could be equated to a monetary value. Yet if love is limited to a transitory emotion, or a seemingly casual—or deceptively meaningful—physical intercourse, perhaps it indeed can be bought and sold as loosely as a sexual fetish novel. Cheaply. With little or no integrity.
Well, that is life.
Or is it?
Absolutely not (I reply with unabashed certainty). Who do we think we are? There are far greater powers at work. The aforementioned ideas are merely us beginning to glance back at the hordes of decrepit evil materializing—less and less subtly, I might add—from the darkest shadows, lurking ever so near. Glancing back at elements—at enemies—that seek to destroy us, all the while we are apparently unaware of the fact that an immortal host of light is gathered right in front of us with a rider at the vanguard who is calling to us to step behind him to be healed of our wounds, to be restored to warm sunlight, and to be armed to turn around and join his ranks that are pressing the desperate voices of degradation back. The enemy is defeated. His forces are in their last gasping throes. The Great Campaign is concluding. 

What is the Great Campaign?

Let us, in following Jesus, be prepared to announce as he did the message of comfort and discomfort, of welcome and warning. And let us, in our own day, so turn from our sins, individual and corporate, so worship the one in whose image we are made, and so follow the Image himself, that we as individuals and as a society may live out the prayer we pray, the prayer for hell to be vanquished, and for heaven and earth to become one. 
(N.T. Wright, Following Jesus: Biblical Reflections on Discipleship, 1994)
To begin to hope to answer the question, “What is love?” I must first examine what this campaign is all about—was this season for the Christian Church means.

 

It begins with healing.

Healing necessitates openness, with confessing my limits: lusts, insecurities, uncertainties. For reflection on preparing one's heart for the culmination of Lent today, this Good Friday, and Jesus Christ's resurrection celebrated on Easter this weekend, I recommend reading Glenn Packiam's recent post, "Why Do We Confess?
This season of the holy liturgical calendar is not just about personal spiritual examination and transformation, however. God's passion is not just that I, His follower, receive His gracious healing and bask in perpetual stillness and solitude. These are immensely important—foundational even—but it is also so very much about letting that divine power transcend my life, letting the Holy Spirit pour out its abundant love from my heart onto the lives of others.

 

It progresses with proclamation.

I am Christ's ambassador, a herald of the Kingdom of Heaven. I have a purpose, a mission. I, along with all who are Believers, have acknowledged and received unfailing love. Unfailing love. Faithful. Enduring. Limitless. Selfless. Passionate. Desirous. Love. I am not meant to hide that within myself, to bury it away with the notion that it can be preserved as my own precious possession—as though it will be safe if unexposed to the harsh unwieldy elements of life. Love must be shared. It must be invested in more love, in the beautiful lives of those I am blessed to encounter—friends and enemies. It must be proclaimed through word and deed. 
My courageous friend, Ben Morrell, is at a crossroad in his second battle against cancer (note: "Never Know Who's Watching You"). Despite the desperate limits of science and the haunting unknown of each day, Ben is witnessing the stirring power of Jesus' love emanating from his life, touching the souls of his proximity in profound ways. 
This is what Jesus' life, death, and resurrection are about. This is the call of YHWH, the banner of His Kingdom's advancement. That the world will know the restorative welcome and tender comfort of the God of the universe, the “I AM” who cares for us so deeply that He reached out as a literal human presence to our frailty, to help us rise from the dust of our inadequacy and to stand firm against fallen-ness; Jesus denounced our frailty by gathering ultimate suffering onto himself—humanness, death—and by offering us true love instead: beauty, life.
It is time to reclaim the definition of love.
That the Creator of all things loves me in such a personal way is immensely sobering to me. But more so, it is empowering. It is life giving. It is utterly attractive.

 

It continues.

Every day is a battle. Here is where I often begin—where I must begin each day:
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore . . . praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints.
(The Apostle Paul of Tarsus, from his Letter to the Church in Ephesus, 6:10-18)
May your kingdom come, Lord. May your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. For yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory, forever and ever. Soli deo gloria. 
Amen.

Mar 7, 2013

comes wisdom through the awful grace of God


Even in our sleep, pain which cannot forget
falls drop by drop upon the heart
until, in our own despair, against our will,
comes wisdom through the awful grace of God.

--Aeschylus

Mar 2, 2013

Where does hope come from?


Hope springs eternal in the human breast;

Man never Is, but always To be blest:

The soul, uneasy and confin'd from home,

Rests and expatiates in a life to come.

—Alexander Pope, “An Essay on Man"


* * *

Where does hope come from? What gives it life?

Does it grow from the greatness of God; or does it haunt from the frailty of Man, spurned on by the limited perceptions of a fallen existence?

Is hope our profoundest ally or our most treacherous companion, warranted to be our enemy if we did not so desperately thrive by it?

Is hope fulfillment or is it a void bemoaning our desperation?


The World English Dictionary defines hope as “a feeling of desire for something and confidence in the possibility of its fulfillment.” Does our confidence not often prove foolish? Everyone has experienced significant disappointment. Yet we remain ever confident in possibilities. I used to always think of that as strength: idealism counteracting jaded realism and cynicism. But perhaps hope is more desperation. Perhaps it grows more from insecurity or even fear.

Throughout the Scriptures, however, hope is expressed as a kind of divine blessing and empowerment. “[God] delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again” (II Corinthians 1:10). The New Testament writers speak of how this deliverance manifested itself through the flesh of humanity: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (I Peter 1:3).

Hope is an idea that really cannot be dissociated from a discussion of faith. What is faith? “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). Where does faith lead? “For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness” (Galatians 5:5). Righteousness is generally defined as pursuing Christ-likeness, following in the footsteps of our rabbi, Jesus—becoming covered in the dust from his steps (Luke 6:40). Leo Tolstoy wrote, “'Faith is the sense of life, that sense by virtue of which man does not destroy himself, but continues to live on. It is the force whereby we live.”

Belief in the Gospel of Jesus Christ provides an object and direction for the hope that seems to dwell innately within the heart of Man. Even if hope implies bareness, Jesus can fill it. Of course, many people try to fill that emptiness with other answers—even Believers do this. We seek fulfillment in vocation. We seek fulfillment in relationship, in emotional and/or spiritual intimacy. We seek it in sexuality. These are not necessarily wrong. It is just that they are not enough. The Bible teaches that they have a proper place. Regardless, doubts persist. Incompletion plagues. “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life” (Proverbs 13:12). Deliver us from loneliness. Deliver us from meaninglessness. Deliver us from heartache. Is this not one of the fundamental cries of humanity: a cry for purpose, for strength, and most of all for love? For the Christ-follower, especially, life seems to be a cyclical road because we know that we cannot reach perfection on this side of Heaven. We anticipate Heaven, and as Rob Bell explains in Love Wins, we can experience facets of the Kingdom of God now in this life. Yet the Kingdom of Lucifer is also in our midst. The kingdoms of shadow and light, chaos and peace, are ever at war with one another.

How are we to sort out being amidst this mess? How are we to sort out having contributed to it from the very beginning (Genesis 3)?

There are surely many ways to approach an answer. For now, what can hope and faith teach us?

So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love” (I Corinthians 13:13).


If love is indeed greater, should we not long for our hope to be consumed by it? In its purest form, the yearning for love—whether discovered through the Holy Spirit or by the inspiring nearness of another tangible soul—can direct us to God. Can the Spirit of God be so incredibly fervent in someone that, in a desire to be closer to that person, you are thus drawn to be nearer to God—when you realize that the love growing in your heart is in fact the love of God?

We are called by Jesus to define our lives by love, hence the importance to not sully love with insubstantial definitions. Because we are not perfect, we inevitably will sometimes seek lesser substitutes for love, discrete or indiscrete, subconscious or conscious. Regardless, the Bible teaches that we can know love by knowing God (Or that we can know God by knowing love?). God’s love became tangibly known through the life of Jesus Christ (Philippians 2:1-11).

God’s breath is in every human being. Jesus’ Spirit is in every one of his disciples, in every Believer. Is it not then reasonable to think that the other most profound way we can know love—aside from our individual spiritual relationship with God—is to know people? The Apostle Paul wrote, “For what is our hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at his coming? Is it not you? For you are our glory and joy” (I Thessalonians 2:19). Now, Paul did write in such a way as to suggest that marriage is a necessary response to lust, but in a way still a distraction to the call to makes disciples of all people. I have thoroughly wrestled with this idea, but that is part of another conversation. The point for now, at least, is that community is absolutely necessary for hope to survive. “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there I am among them” (Matthew 18:20).

A few scattered questions thus remain.


Relationships are the greatest spiritual battlefields. They benefit the Kingdom of God so powerfully that they have thus been the target of the most ruthless attacks by the enemy. Hallelujah, we overcome by Jesus and the word of our testimony. But does hope predominantly rise from such hardship? Or if we are to hope, and if hope is of God and draws us to Him, are we to desire difficulties? “More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope” (Romans 5:3-4). If hope is essentially rooted in faith, and faith is a foundational theme of the whole narrative of the Gospel—as the book of Hebrews suggests: that mankind is saved through faith in Jesus Christ—then are we wrong to hope for a sense of completion in this life—in love, peace, joy, even happiness? Are we wrong to hope for relationship blessed by such gifts? Is God not glorified by that? He once stated, “It is not good that the man should be alone” (Genesis 2:18). How are we to explain the paradoxical message, this cognitive torture, of “If two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven” (Matthew 18:19) with

But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair, persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. (II Corinthians 4:7-12)

To me it seems that death is an easier path than life. Paul seemed to wrestle with this concept as well, as expressed in a few of his epistles. So perhaps hope is a gift from God to aid us in this mortal journey. Jesus provides that hope, that love, as do people.

So why do I feel guilty in hoping for human love, as if it somehow detracts from God—a form of idolatry or unconsciously proclaimed incompleteness? Why does it make me feel like a fool? Why am I so afraid of intimacy and commitment while at the same time praying for their fulfillment? Why am I so eager—so impatient—for that kind of love while also fortifying the defenses of my heart against it?

There are so many questions. There are so many battles. Most are nothing new to the human discussion. Most are likely doomed to linger and decay until Jesus’ final coming to conclude his promise of true everlasting life (The Gospel of John).

I do not have many answers. But what I do have, I must cling to with each clumsy, agonizing step. The Holy Spirit is real. Truth strengthens and guides, acts as a sword against the lying hosts of faithless Lucifer. Every day is a battle. Life often brings me to my knees. Hallelujah for my God who meets me there, who offers real grace. Himself. His love is so very real.

“Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer” (Romans 12:12).

Amen.