Love…In Defense of Itself or not.

first-spring-blushI’ve been thinking about tomorrow’s lesson. It’s been a couple of weeks since our last meeting as a group.

This week’s lesson is supposed to be about jealousy. We’re starting to delve more deeply into what love is NOT…

It strikes me that there is a central theme inherent in how 1 Corinthians describes what love is not. And it can be summed up in 3 letters. Ego.

Love is not about…

 

deflating another’s accomplishments or traits to enhance my own = envy

wanting what belongs to another = jealousy

puffing myself up to feel better = boasting

thinking myself better than others = pride

looking out only for my own interests = selfishness

All these types of activities fan the flame which guards the throne of our ego. They are a natural aspect of human nature when it operates with it’s baser instincts. At anytime in which these instincts inform our actions, intentions and motives…we are walking somewhere outside the sphere of true love.

One might actually conclude from looking at the list above that the manner in which love defines the defense of self is NOT to defend the egoic self at all. In fact, true love seems to require us to do just the opposite.

But does that mean that love weakens into a mushy sentiment devoid of any timber or fiber? Absolutely not! Infact, love is a strong defense; but in a way which turns ego on it’s head. Do you know the mystery of love’s defense? Have you witnessed the transforming power in your own life?

The Grey Life in Fast Forward…

Isn’t the principle inhibitor on our effectiveness, the fact that we’re dealing with a fiction?  George Will on the ABC News Program, ‘This Week’ April 5, 2009.

 

Have you ever seen a person without the artfully applied layer of make-up that so many have become so skilled in applying and not recognized them without the mask?  Some celebrities are known to use the unlikely cover of no make-up to appear incognito in public.

Interesting thought…especially within the context of a discussion about love.  When love is artificial, does it count as love?  Can we divorce love from the reality of truth?

This is the question we wrestled with in group discussion this morning. Aided by a revealing section on love from the book, ‘The Spirit of Truth’ by Arthur Katz and Paul Volk; we had a discussion about how Christian communication often obscures the truth about who we are and what we really feel.  The authors have this to say about the resultant emptiness in life…

“We give each other bear hugs and say “God bless you” to one another, calling that love, and then go on pretending that all is well when all is not well.  The gnawing hunger in our hearts persists.  We begin by insulating ourselves from truth in order to protect ourselves.  But we end by insulating ourselves from love.

Wow, pretty potent stuff.   In our search for true acceptance,  the denial of truth costs us what we so desperately crave and long for.  Love cannot be divorced from truth, nor will it flourish in an atmosphere which celebrates unreality, whether that fiction exits on a movie screen, within a relationship or in a house of worship.

Peter was very clear about the implications of being deluded by the lie that true love can exist apart from truth.  Afterall, he experienced the limitation of his love and commitment to the Savior first hand and was challenged by Jesus about what was really in his heart when Jesus asked him several times about if he loved him.  (John 21: 16-18)

When you think of what Peter went through and how that loving confrontation must have deeply impacted his heart, you see this instruction in one of his letters to the early church in a new light…

1 Peter 1:22 KJV  “Seeing ye have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit unto unfeigned love of the brethren, see that ye love one another with a pure heart fervently.”

Jesus is clear about the life he intends to give us.  It is abundant life, free and deeply grounded in truth.  In our search for love without the truth, we condemn ourselves to a grey life; one which is in fast forward but devoid of the rich vitality which we long for.

Love…When Patience Shows Up with A Dirty Face.

Patience is a virtue…Virtue is a grace…Grace is the little girl who didn’t wash her face.

That little ditty is childish, but I remember it because of its incongruity.  The high minded elements of virtue somehow seem at odds with the picture of a little kid with a face covered by dirty smudge marks.

I‘ll be the first to admit, that Patience has not been a virtue which I’ve eagerly sought.  And to be frank, there’s precious little in my modern world which actively supports a drive to learn more about this character trait.

My world, as is your, is fueled in large degree by human impatience.  Food is nuked in the microwave to speed up the cooking process.  Dial-up service has been replaced by DSL for computers.  Cooking is something that many no longer do simply because it takes time.

But, what are we using this extra time to actually do?   Studies show that the average person spends at least 5 hours a day in leisure including approximately 2.7 hours watching images racing across a TV screen.  This was in contrast to the amount of time (1.1 hours) spent reading a book and 46 minutes per day spent on providing primary care to children between the ages of 6 – 17.  (Primary care was defined as primary activity done with children such as reading to them or taking physical care of them)

So, why is it that patience is something we struggle with so much?  Perhaps because we instinctively know that it’s hard…really hard work to develop this character trait.  It’s certainly not ingrained in our human nature.  Witness the loud wails of a newborn when mom delays a meal for a minute.

Yet, 1 Corinthians 13 starts off it’s description of Love by telling us that this is precisely what Love is.   Love is Patient! In fact you could group the first two descriptive traits about love together in a fashion.  Like two sides of the same coin…patience is the passive component of love while  kindness might be thought of as love in action.

Patience is the inner resilience which does not strike back in the face of antagonistic behavior.  It’s the unique ability within love to wait through the discomfort that is an on-going part of human interaction and support the other individual with grace and dignity even when their actions offend.

It is indeed a virtue which is developed in us through the ongoing grace of God’s work in our lives precisely through circumstances which tempt us to be impatient.  I think where the ditty goes awry is in the descriptive of grace…but perhaps not as awfully as one might first suspect.

Because it is God’s grace in our lives, despite our uncleanliness, ugliness and selfishness which most exemplifies His love and patience towards us.  In many ways, we are like ‘Grace’…the little girl with an unwashed face whom the Father loves unconditionally.  Not because she’s perfect and all cleaned up…but precisely because she isn’t.  And for that…I remain grateful.

 

Picture courtesy of Mexikids on Flickr w/Creative Commons

In Search of Thorns…

In search of thorns...

In search of thorns…

One thing is certain about thorns, they’re not hard to find!  I love roses and have tended them in my garden for many years.  Although I’ve used all sorts of gloves of varying degrees of thickness, more often than not, the thorns win.  They just seem to  have a way of finding some part of my body which is exposed even when my hands are protected by gloves.

I’ve sometimes wondered why one of the most beautiful flowers on the planet, the rose, would have a stem which could wound so dramatically.  I don’t know the answer, but according to this wiki author, the thorns on the stems of roses are there to protect the rose from being eaten by wild animals attracted by its beauty and scent.  I guess that sounds plausible…

Over the past several weeks, we’ve been talking about the power of love.  It’s awesome potential to transform life is unparalleled.   But our recent class discussion was about the issues that stand in the way of love.  We explored the dimension of the small stuff.

You know… the minor irritations, grudges, resentments and agitations which have a way of stealing the joy of life.  The stuff which we fail to notice when love is in it’s initial bloom, but somehow seems to crop up and grow bigger the longer we’re in relationship with another.

The thing about holding grudges is that we tend to regard it as an innocuous activity.  Our grudge bearing and resentment takes place under the wraps of pretensions, hyprocrisy and passive aggressive behavior patterns.  Within this actively potent fertilizer, these small  negativities grow and flourish.

And not unlike the thorns on the stem of a rose, they become protective measures by which we undergird our hearts from getting hurt.  But the trouble with this solution is this…thorns sometimes wound.  When a small child grasps a rose to smell it, the child does not intend to harm the rose.   Unfortunately, the thorn doesn’t know the difference  between the innocent grasp of a child and a hungry animal.  It will harm indiscriminantly.

This is to some degree what happens when we nurse our resentments and irriations as a means of staving off further hurt.  We may actually end up wounding the hand that was sent to embrace or miss the opportunity for growth which can only occur when we choose to harness the courage to love, regardless of the risk.

photo is courtesy of peasaps photostream on flickr.

*this blog post is from the challenge of excellence blog.  You can read more entries from this series by visiting the blog.

Related Posts:

Entrapped by a Millstone…The Nature of Fake Affection.

What if Everyday Were Valentines?

Entrapped by a Millstone…The Nature of Fake Affection.

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I just saw the  movie “Doubt”in which Meryl Streep plays a nun who faces a crisis of faith as she confronts the certitude she feels in her heart about an evil being perpetuated in the name of ‘love’ towards a young defenseless child.

The tension in the film revolves around the nature of a falsehood and the substitution of false affection for true love.

Over the past several weeks, our class has been exploring the journey of the “Most Excellent Way” through a passages in 1 Corinthians 12:31 to 1 Corinthians 13.

Last week, we explored exactly where this love which comes from God resides.  Are we recepients of this ‘love’  from somewhere out there or is our experience in faith the process of allowing the presence of God manifested through relationship with Jesus Christ to be revealed through us?

To aid in this process, we looked towards the world of art and discussed how some of the world’s greatest artist have spoken about their muse…the inspiration behind or perhaps better stated, within a painting, story or sculpture.  The idea of a work being inspired in some ways points towards the release and revelation of something which is apart from oneself.

In one of the last recorded prayers of Jesus for his followers before he left the earth, He prays these words:  John 17: 21-22, 23. “That they all may be one; as thou Father art in me and I in the, that they also may be one in us; that the world may believe that thou has sent me…I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou has sent me and hast love them, as thou has loved me.’

Why might Jesus most earnest plea to the Father before leaving the earth be about giving his follower His glory and making them perfect through His presence dwelling in them?  Perhaps, because he understood clearly, what we only see through a glass dimly.  The more excellent way is a revealed path, not a product created by our own self-aided design.

Jesus completed a perfect work on the cross.  The imperfections which continue to exist within it’s full revelation in our lives are there not because there were any blemishes in His sacrifice.  The imperfections are the result of hindrances of sin within our hearts through thoughts, words, actions and deeds…spoken or unuttered.

Watching the movie “Doubt” gave me  renewed insight into why Jesus says that if we lead others astray (particularly little ones) it is better for us to jump into a lake with a millstone wrapped around the neck. (Mark 9:42)  A commentary note in the NIV version of the Full Life Study Bible puts it this way; ‘One of the highest priorities for believers is to set a holy example for their children by life and teaching.  In doing so, they demonstrate a sincere love for them…To fail in this responsibility can bring eternal disaster.’

God clearly defines and demonstrates true love for us in 1 Corinthians 13 and in several other passages of the Bible.  When we miss the mark, it is as much about our choice to remain cloaked within the safety of our darkness as it is about our denial of biblical truth.

The light of God is love in its purest form and intention.  It’s a work that was completed when Jesus gave his life to redeem us and said ‘it is finished.’ That is why it can never fails.  It is also the reason that Paul can say with conviction that there will be a day in which this perfect love of God will be fully revealed  in all of Christ’s followers in an untarnished fashion .

What’s Hidden in Your Block of Marble?

Love blooms...

Love blooms…

It is sometimes said that great pieces of art are not so much created as they are revealed.  The inference being that the music, picture, sculpture and poem are received as creative gifts to individuals who were able to process the divine download.

It’s interesting to observe how variations of this theme run through the lives of many famous individuals.  Inspiration is truly a gift from God  And the wonderful thing about God is that He is incredibly generous.

But I wonder how often we miss the best gifts because we’re unable to peer through marble?  Or see through paper…or understand that the packaging of God often masks the treasure.  That’s just His way.

Who else but the Creator of the Universe would think about showing up in a tiny embryonic earth suit tucked within a teenagers womb?  Or would envision the shameful, painful death on a cross as an arc between man and God?

In 1 Corinthians 13, Paul’s attempt to describe the nature of love ends with an apt description…”now, we see through a glass dimly, but then we shall see face to face.”  His descriptions about what Love is are balanced by admonitions of what it is not.  A sort of divine paradox.

Perhaps in this give and take, we can begin to chip away at the marble that obscures the deeper truth.  Yes, love just like faith without words is ultimately dead, but as the opening of the chapter declares…just the works, faith and power aren’t the real deal either.

We’re reminded that LOVE IS.  Love exists even when our earthly vision obscures it.  Love exists within our perplexed and mangled human experience.  God is Love.  God coming to dwell within human flesh as Emmanuel; making His place within us.  Love is revealed through the chisel of life circumstances and the choices we choose to make or avoid.  LOVE IS and there fore LOVE DOES…not the other way around.

Which actually is a very hopeful place.  To know that within this earth suit, the great Sculpture has not finished his work.  But, He does have an end in mind.  It’s the image of Himself, and thus He works with purpose and compassion, knowing that He who began the good work in us will be faithful in his duty to bring it to completion.

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*This Blog is an outreach of the Challenge of an Excellent Life Class of First Evangelical Covenant Church in Grand Rapids, MI.  The class meets on Sunday mornings @ 10:30 a.m. directly after the 9:00 a.m. service.  You’re welcome to Join Us!

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What if Everyday Were Valentines?

chefTry getting a reservation today in just about any fine restaurant in Grand Rapids, MI.  You’re likely to be out of luck unless you’re willing to eat near midnight!

It’s Valentines Day and judging by the reservation lists across the city, it’s one holiday which unlike even Christmas, seems to be recession proof!  It’s a day which is making lots of folks happy, including candy makers and florists who are frantically driving around making deliveries.

Valentines Day was originally a pagan holiday.  According to this entry in Wikepedia, it was later renamed to honor two martyrs and the modern Celebration of the day dates back to this tradition.

Since then, this celebration of eros love has mushroomed into big business making it the 2nd largest card sending holiday second only to Christmas.

Which brings up an interesting point.  In Christmas, the celebration is about the Prince of Peace,  whom the God of Love sent to earth as an infant born to bring about reconciliation and relationship with Himself, the Creator.

Both holidays, Valentines and Christmas have in some meaningful ways been hijacked from the purity of intention which makes them truly extraordinary.  And in a sense, the enormous time and attention placed in making a simple day ‘special’ draws us a way from the most meaningful elements of either celebration.

‘Cause you see, I don’t think Christmas was intended to be about an event, so much as it marks the beginning of a relationship of reconciliation…the love of God restored to mankind through the gift of his son Jesus.  Christmas has a spiritual focus of peace…peace between God and man and peace within the human family.  Gifts were merely symbols…not intended to be the main event.

In a way, Valentines Day is also minimized to a degree when we relegate the celebration of  love between human beings to just a day.  Love is meant to be descriptive of our everyday  interactions.

In 1 Corinthians 13, the text refers to a lot of every day things such as: patience, kindness, not being rude, not seeking our own way all the time, bearing all things, thinking well of each other.  All of these practices go a long way towards making everyday life more enjoyable and desirable.  So…what do you think?  Shouldn’t Valentines really be an everyday Celebration?

 

*The Challenge of an Excellent Life Class is a ministry of The First Evangelical Covenant Church in Grand Rapids, MI for young adults.  Visitors are always welcome.  The class meets at 10:30 a.m. on Sunday morning  & the church is located across the street from Union Highschool.