Points? . . . Really?

Not4Points“That’ll get you points!”

That is what a total stranger said to me Thursday morning as we passed on my way to the checkout with these flowers for my bride of forty-three years. Points? Really? While I’m aware of the commercialism associated with Valentine’s Day, I can’t help but comment on the idea (held by many) which transmutes an act of unconditional love into a manipulative ploy. Points? . . . At the same time, I recognize that not all gifts of love are received as readily as candy and flowers—sometimes the most loving thing (that which is best for the other person and which meets their deep need) is something they don’t like or enjoy. Whether it is speaking truth or allowing the one I love to suffer pain or loss in hopes of achieving needed growth, not all acts of love are enjoyable! Sometimes hardship, difficulty, and even suffering is needed for proper growth.  I want to explore this with you a bit as I continue to encourage you to allow Papa God, Abba, to grow your experience of His love for you, as we consider Jesus the beloved—though He was a  Son, yet He learned obedience by the things which He suffered. Papa, we open our hearts to You today.

 The writer to the Hebrews (at our chapter 5, verse 8) is trying to get his readers to understand something of the greatness of Jesus by these words: Though He was a Son, yet . . .—Jesus’ “core identity” as My beloved Son in whom I am well pleased was central to who Jesus was and how He lived—but that didn’t mean that Abba shielded Him from all pain. He learned obedience by the things which He suffered. I draw your attention to two words in particular: suffering and obedience. We do not use suffering to describe things we enjoy: We don’t suffer through a great meal.  We suffer when things are hard, difficult, or even excruciatingly painful—if you are recovering from knee surgery you may suffer through another physical therapy session—in the therapy there is great pain, but there is a good outcome worth pursuing so you endure the suffering. In a similar way, Jesus’ suffering brought great benefits—for us, absolutely, but for Him too—He learned obedience. We see a similar idea in Paul’s words about Jesus to those in Philippi, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even death on the cross. I suggest that what made such painful obedience possible was Jesus’ absolute certainty (His “core identity”) as My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.

These things are not true only of Jesus, they are true for us as well—for Jesus says, in the very same way Abba sent Me, I send you—as My Beloved, in whom I am well pleased. Go. Do all that I ask of you. Even amid suffering and pain—those do not diminish the reality or greatness of My love—they are as necessary for you as they were for Me. Papa, allow us to think right thoughts. You see, allowing Papa to confirm us in the reality of His love is essential for the shaping of our core identity as His new creation, but He didn’t go through death, burial, and resurrection solely so we could experience love. He loves us and makes us new so we can live whole and holy. I hope to talk with you more in the days ahead about some of the truth of who we are as those made new in Christ Jesus, but for now I want you to contemplate just one element—that our nature is now that of obedient children. That is the import of Papa’s words through Peter’s Hebraism (I Pet. 1:14) which describes our character—we are children of obedience—obedience is part of who we are by nature as God’s children. Children have characteristics of their parents—their nature is tied to the nature of their parents—so God’s children are characterized by obedience, although our growth in obedience may require suffering—if Jesus learned obedience by the things He suffered, why would we think it would be any different for us? Papa God, Abba, loves us too much to shield us from suffering necessary for our growth. Like Jesus, the anguish of life does not diminish in the least the reality of His great love for you—though He was a Son, yet He learned obedience through the things which He suffered.

Because we are loved, we love. Because we love, we obey. We do not obey in order to earn love! Love can’t be earned. Yet, because we are loved, we love; and because we love, we obey. We don’t love or obey to earn points! Points?

Like plants grow in sunshine, may you grow in Papa’s love.

Beloved and “at home”

Shortly after my post last week one friend wrote, “How do we live loved? I see the need for it. I understand the idea of it. But the word “abide” can seem so amorphous and non-concrete. How do you abide?” What great questions! Perhaps you have a similar desire for specifics in hopes of doing what we are talking about—moving beyond information about God’s love on to actually living in the conscious experience of Jesus’ love (“abiding” or being “at home” in His love). Significantly, that is exactly Paul’s prayer for Jesus followers in Ephesus in the First Century, which I pray for you in the Twenty First:

“My response is to get down on my knees before the Father, this magnificent Father who parcels out all heaven and earth. I ask him to strengthen you by his Spirit—not a brute strength but a glorious inner strength—that Christ will live in you as you open the door and invite him in. And I ask him that with both feet planted firmly on love, you’ll be able to take in with all Christians the extravagant dimensions of Christ’s love. Reach out and experience the breadth! Test its length! Plumb the depths! Rise to the heights! Live full lives, full in the fullness of God.
Eph. 3:14-19 (The Message, emphasis mine)

To experience (“take in”) the vastness of Jesus’ love involves . . . prayer—talking with Papa God (our magnificent, loving Daddy) and asking Him, by His Spirit, to enable you to “take in” His limitless love (consider the translation “to comprehend with all the saints . . . and to know [by personal experience] the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge”—which develops the meaning of Paul’s words, that his friends might begin to grasp and then experience personally, intimately, the great, expansive, beyond-the-horizon to beyond-the-horizon, love of Jesus). Open yourself to Papa’s answering this prayer, pray it for others, and talk with Him whenever the events of life cause you to doubt the reality of His love.

I can speak truth, but my telling you over and over that You ARE God’s Beloved will not get you there. Your repeating it over and over (especially if you doubt the truth) may actually move you backwards! This is not an area for “self-help!” We need the Spirit to embrace us, welcome us, speak love over us—like the Father loving the prodigal (as depicted here by Rembrandt), rembrandt_prodigalwhich Jesus says is exactly what our Abba is like. Only as His Spirit communicates affirmation to our spirit will we be able to begin to live as His Beloved. Fortunately, that is exactly what His Spirit does, for we have received the Spirit of a true child of the Father, and by that Spirit we call out “Abba” (Daddy!). (Romans 8:15; read also Gal. 4:6, 7). This is how Jesus lived; it is central to living the Jesus Way.

“Jesus had the Heart of a Son . . .  knew himself to be the Son, felt very much like a [Beloved] Son, looked on God as “Abba,” his dear Father, lived in a Father-Son relationship. The divine relationship Son-Father filled his human heart; it was his secret, his joy; a constant awareness; a basic attitude that determined his behavior.” (Jan Bovenmars, A Biblical Spirituality of the Heart)

What Jesus experienced as the Beloved, He wants us to experience—He died, was buried, rose again, and ascended into Heaven so we could experience being His Beloved, so we could live enjoying the love of Abba—today, tomorrow, . . . always. You may not have known this as His purpose, but The Enemy knows, and thus The Enemy seeks at every turn to cause us to doubt God’s love. Most often we are so uncertain of God’s personal, intimate love for us that we misinterpret our experience—like the disciples and the man born blind, we misconstrue our circumstance. Jesus steadfastly refused to live that way—His Abba’s affirmation, “This is my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased” was a core reality which He would not abandon despite hunger, lack of sleep, lack of money, lack of a place to “lay His head,” pressures of ministry, popularity, rejection, beatings, and even crucifixion. Being Beloved doesn’t protect us from hardship, but living as Beloved by God is essential to joyfully loving others in the midst of our pain.

Perhaps your contemplation of Jesus as The Beloved will be used by Papa to adjust some of your misinterpretations of life thus far; perhaps you will hear His affirmation of love for you through a song; or perhaps you will experience His embrace as you open yourself honestly to Him–expressing your pain . . . and doubt. To that end, I offer a paraphrase of a prayer by John Eldredge, from Fathered by God,

Abba, . . . Papa, . . . Daddy, what did I miss of your loving me? Did I ever hear that I am Your Beloved, that You are well pleased with me? Do I believe it even now? Come to me, in this place, transcend the years. Speak to me in ways meaningful to me, so I know it is you. Do I believe you want good things for me? Is my heart secure in your love? How was my young heart wounded in my early years? . . .  And Jesus, you who came to heal broken hearts, come to me here. Heal these wounds in my heart. Restore me so I may live as Your Beloved. Father me, . . . please. In faith, trusting you to answer beyond my imaginings, I say . . . Thank you.

 

 

On Being and Becoming

Earlier this week I read again the words of Jesus recorded in John 15,

I’ve loved you the way my Father has loved me.
Make yourselves at home in my love.
(The Message)

This statement is amazing, but we often read past it with not so much as a notice. Yet our failure to hear the truth of these words and to acknowledge their significance is the root of many of our struggles and failures in life. We do not believe we are intimately and fully loved by Jesus and we have not taken the time to make ourselves at home in His love. Jesus expressed his love for us and told us to make ourselves at home in his love for a reason, but we seldom think on such things. There is so much going on around us, so many things pulling on us and pushing us that this truth, this reality, is often lost to us. It is a great loss. So over the next few weeks I hope to prompt us all to ponder, think on, contemplate these words—for we pass over them to our peril!

Let’s begin at the beginning—allow your thoughts to move toward the distant past, allow your imagination to enter into that era before Earth came to be, before there was time or space, back to where the only existence, the only reality was God . . . in glorious light, expressing love. Pause there. Listen again to Jesus, a little later in John’s narrative, where he speaks of this way of existing as he talks with Abba (Daddy or Papa), that they may see My glory which You have given Me, for You loved Me before the foundation of the world (John. 17:24c nasb). Think about the connection between the glory of Christ and His Father’s love for Him. Better yet, ask Jesus to let you see the connections between His glory and the Father’s love. Do it now, and ask Jesus to take you there again at various times over the next week or so. Allow yourself to wonder at the greatness of their love for one another.

Hold that as The Son creates the world, the stars, light, plants, animals, humans . . . humans loved by The Son . . ., sin enters and relationships shatter. Eons pass and then, in the fullness of time, The Son takes on flesh and at what I believe is the crucial point in his earthly existence, he receives affirmation of his core identity—he is The Son beloved by his Papa. Before he begins that difficult journey of teaching, healing, bringing freedom in the power of the Spirit, as he publicly identifies himself with fallen humanity in his baptism, Papa speaks to him from heaven—You are My beloved son, in You I am well-pleased. (Luke 3:22, nasb) jesusbaptism1Immediately after his baptism and affirmation as Papa’s beloved son, Jesus is compelled by the Spirit to go into the wilderness where he is tempted by Satan to act contrary to his core identity as the beloved. As Henri Nouwen says, “He was tempted to believe he was someone else: You are the one who can turn stone into bread. You are the one who can jump from the temple. You are the one who can make others bow to your power. Jesus said, ‘No, no, no. I am the Beloved of God.’”

How do you face temptation? Is it by your own power, strength, and willpower, or is it rooted in your core identity as God’s Beloved? That is Nouwen’s point, for he says “The greatest trap in life is not success, popularity, or power but self-rejection, doubting who we really are.” The greatest trap? It is not that those other things are not traps, but that our mere doubts about being Beloved makes all the other temptations so much more attractive. This is why we need to not only know we are loved, but also make ourselves at home in his love. We are loved whether we recognize it or not, but we don’t enjoy being loved and it doesn’t affect how we live unless we are really “comfortable in our own skin” as Jesus’ Beloved. This is taking the being into the becoming—into living as who we are: Beloved.

Jesus, Wow! This is too much for me! Please take my thoughts often to the place before time when Papa loved You. Take me from there, please, into the truth that even then, before the foundation of the world, you loved me. Allow me to experience Your speaking to me affirmation as Your Beloved, for You said:

I’ve loved you the way my Father has loved me.
And please enable me to make myself at home in Your love.

Thank You.

 John