Love Them, Love Them, Say That You Love Them

Gentle Reader,

The Apostle John fascinates me.

…on the way they entered a village of the Samaritans to make preparations for Him. But they did not welcome Him, because He determined to journey to Jerusalem. When the disciples James and John saw this, they said, “Lord, do you want us to call down fire from heaven to consume them?”

But He turned and rebuked them…

– Luke 9:52b-55a (CSB)

Like a gangster’s lackeys in a Depression-era movie, they ask, “Hey, Jesus? You want we should whack them?”

I wonder if Jesus paused before turning around. I wonder if His head dropped to His chest the way a father’s does when he’s exasperated with his children. I wonder if He rubbed his temples. I wonder if His words came out clipped or if they were measured. I know that He surely looked both of them in the eyes and, from the deep well of patient love within His heart, the Savior spoke, telling James and John to knock it off.

James and John, the sons of Zebedee, approached Him and said, “Teacher, we want You to do whatever we ask You.”

“What do you want Me to do for you?” He asked them.

They answered Him, “Allow us to sit at Your right and at Your left in Your glory.”

– Mark 10:35-37 (CSB)

They want the places of honor. The top spots. Of course this makes the other disciples mad. I wonder if Jesus sighed heavily. I wonder if He cast His eyes to Heaven. I wonder if He shook His head, marveling at how little they understood.

Then, Gethsemane. The betrayal. The arrest. Everyone flees. At some point, John circles back around, following the proceedings from a safe distance. He is there, at the foot of the Cross, with the women. Jesus tells him to take care of His mother (John 19:26-27; church tradition maintains that he did so for the rest of her life). Dark, quiet hours as the Light of the World lay in the tomb.

Ah, but as the song says: Bursting forth, in glorious day, up from the grave He rose again. Fifty days to wrap their minds around resurrection, salvation. His feet lifted off of the Mount of Olives. They watched, blinking at the brightness. Confusion, waiting.

Pentecost. Tongues of fire. Preaching and teaching as they’d never preached before.

About that time King Herod violently attacked some who belonged to the church, and he executed James, John’s brother, with the sword. 

– Acts 12:1-2 (CSB)

No mention of how John reacted. No doubt he mourned. As the eldest is usually listed first in ancient documents, including the Bible, James was probably his big brother. If John was like other little brothers throughout the ages, he wanted to be just like James. Followed him around. Tried to act and think like James did.

Suddenly, he is left alone. The community of faith, the family of God, remains, but there’s something about losing a sibling. Your first friend. The one who knows you the best.

Something shifts in John as he grows and continues to walk with God. The narrative in Acts slides over to Paul beginning in Chapter 13, and we lose track of the man who begins, at some point, to think of himself as the Beloved Disciple. No more does he want to call down fire on people’s heads. No more does he seek a place of glory.

Dear friends, let us love one another, because love is from God, and everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. The one who does not love does not know God, because God is love. God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his one and only Son into the world so that we might live through him. Love consists in this: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, if God loved us in this way, we also must love one another.

– 1 John 4:7-10 (CSB)

Brimstone and rage, power and position…to love.

Another church tradition tells us that, toward the end of his life, John settled on one sentence to sum up the life and teachings of Jesus, a sentence that he repeated over and over again: “Little children, love one another.”

I don’t believe it’s too far a stretch to think that John would be shocked by our practices in the church today, for this Apostle was not only the preacher of love but the great enemy of Gnosticism, a philosophy that downplays the importance of the physical and elevates mystical experiences in the pursuit of secret or special knowledge. Gnostics were either ascetics, denying bodily needs, or libertines, engaging in whatever activities they liked because it didn’t matter. In essence, “thou shalt not” or “do what thou wilt.”

These competing ideas influence us greatly. For some of us, there is fear of the body, and so we come up with long lists of rules. A man must not really be friends with a woman to whom he is not married, and he definitely shouldn’t hug women, because he will of course be aroused and there’s no way he can control himself. (I am not sure if this is more insulting to women or to men). For others, there is shunning of Scriptural ethics. That passage tells me not to do this, but that can’t be what the writer actually meant; they had no concept of this and so I can ignore what’s being said and indulge because God is basically a cosmic hippie who cares only about my happiness.

Neither is healthy. Neither is loving.

In the youth ministry context in which I currently sit, I listen as teens ask, “Do you really love me? Do I really belong?” They don’t always use words, but the question is ever-present. Of course, we tell them, “Yes! Yes!” But they are smarter than we give them credit for, despite the lack of fully developed brains. They watch how we interact with each other. They see our unease, our inability to avoid the extremes. They notice our fear.

Our answers don’t line up with our actions.

When John said, “Little children, love one another,” he meant it. As in, actually love one another. Recognizing that we who have been brought from death to life by the power of Christ are really family, we don’t have to be paranoid around each other. You can give someone a hug if he looks like he needs it. You can say “I love you” to her without having to rush to the marriage altar. At the same time, we also don’t get to cast off good sense and wisdom; we don’t get to make our own rules and demand that God and Scripture submit to them. Instead, we see the goodness and kindness in what God commands, and we ask Him to reshape our hearts into those that beat to the time of obedience.

We have to love one another. Love is listening. Love is responding in grace and truth. Love is playing, eating, serving, sitting in silence. Love is squeezing hands and shoulders. Love is hugs. Love is looking others in the eye. Love is creating space for God-given differences of abilities, gifts and perspectives.

Love is relationship.

The messy, up-in-your-business, no-room-for-hiding relationship.

Not this fakeness we’re used to.

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Private Woman, Public Walk

Gentle Reader,

The tree just outside my window transformed seemingly overnight. Sad gray branches suddenly full of green leaves and delicate pink blossoms. Winter has finally passed. Spring, with all it’s bluster and showiness, is here to stay.

When through the woods
And forest glades I wander
I hear the birds
Sing sweetly in the trees,
When I look down
From lofty mountain grandeur
And hear the brook
And feel the gentle breeze…

I’ve sung these words more times than I know, and yet, somehow, they remain fresh to me in ways that other words do not. Something in the poetry captures my mind. Perhaps this is because I am inclined to solitude. I don’t mind listening as the wind rustles the new leaves. I like stopping to listen to birdsong. If there’s an opportunity to watch the sun set in real time, I’ll take it. There is such complexity and wonder in nature, such a mark of God’s presence. Others can have the noise of cities and constant movement. I will sit and observe as the clouds change shape.

And yet…

My walk is a public one. My business is in the world, and I must mix in the assemblies of men or quit the post which Providence seems to have assigned me.

– William Wilberforce

God really does choose the foolish and powerless things of this world (1 Corinthians 1:27) through which to pour His light.

…the logic of the Gospel defies human wisdom and conventional expectations.

Asbury Bible Commentary

I don’t know what God is doing right now, what exactly He is calling me to. I do know that I am most wholly myself when engaged in ministry, whether that be through writing, teaching or preaching. Oh, yes. This shy and often tongue-tied woman has been behind the pulpit (well, music stand) before. It’s exhausting, but I like it. I like it a whole lot.

What I like even more?

Serving.

I want to be of good use in this world. I want to be helpful. I want others to see the hope and love of God when they’re in my presence. Perfect, that’s not a word to describe me, ever, and a state for which I no longer seek to strive. But consistent, constant? Those I like.

What I like even more?

Humble.

The greatest saints I know do the dirtiest jobs, and they often go without recognition. Yet their faces shine with a light that must be akin to that of Moses after he spent time with God (Exodus 34:29-35). They are full of joy, because they serve the King, who sees all. Perfect, they are not either, but definitely consistent and constant. Their wisdom impresses me. Their soft hearts convict my own that is so often hard and impatient. Their complete willingness to do as God leads stirs up a longing inside me.

A longing to be that immediately obedient.

I stood at the front of the sanctuary on Maundy Thursday, loaf of bread in my trembling hands. Thank goodness the pastor thought to wrap the base in a napkin, otherwise my clammy palms would have soaked the crust.

“The Body of Christ, broken for you,” I whispered, seeking to look every person in the eye, even as my vision blurred with tears. Blue eyes, brown eyes. Young eyes, old eyes. Eyes full of life, eyes full of pain.

Hands tore as much off of the loaf as they wanted. Smooth hands, wrinkled hands. Hands of office workers, hands accustomed to manual labor. Chipped nails, glossy nails.

Feet, in sneakers, in heels, in sandals, shuffled over to the cup. “The blood of Christ, spilled for you,” the pastor whispered. Her face, it was shining, a tender smile extended to all.

At once the fear left me and I focused simply on the holy moment. People of disparate backgrounds and experiences drawn together by the sacrament. The remembrance of Christ. The beginning of three days’ somber contemplation before the celebration. The noise of chairs, coughing, the clang of rings against the cup no longer registered in my ears. All I could hear, see, or feel was Christ and His love.

What an incredible privilege!

How wondrous it is, to be part of something logic-defying. How strange, to walk against convention. How utterly impossible, if not for Jesus.

So I will continue, one step at a time. I do not know where this bend in the road will end up, but my business is in the world. My task is among the people. And I think that, because He is a very good God and He knows that I need time and quiet, that there will be space for walking in the woods. There will be moments to feel the breeze. Somehow, solitude and service will join together in the beautiful and mysterious way that bears His mark.

I can’t wait to see what that looks like.

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Worthwhile: Creating a Life of Purpose & Joy in Infertility

Gentle Reader,

“Are you really a woman if you can’t have a baby?”

I’ve been asked this question, in one form or another, many times. It’s on the rude end of the spectrum, and I admit to responding with equal rudeness on occasion. But mostly, I get it. The general assumption, especially within the Christian community, is that woman equals one who gives birth. This is God’s design.

“You must have sinned in a major way. God must be mad at you.”

The bolder sort move from the question to these assertions, which never fails to leave me wondering what Bible people are reading. The God I know is the essence of grace, love and truth. He is not vindictive. He doesn’t engage in tit-for-tat. Can you imagine if He did? We’d all be lost.

This, my friend, is why we must know our theology well…

To read the rest, head on over to Rachel Marie Lee’s site. While you’re there, stay awhile. You’ll find encouragement and hope in her words. Grateful to Rachel for sharing her space with me!

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A Shattering Peace

Gentle Reader,

Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God.

– Matthew 5:9 (NIV)

Don’t you crave this? Not only the peace, but the being called a child of God?

Christians experience joy and self-fulfillment as they contemplate what God is now doing and what He will do when He fully establishes His kingdom at the second coming of Christ. … The reference to the peacemakers involves more than simply avoiding conflict or even attempting to reconcile warring parties (5:9). It stems from the OT understanding of peace (shalom) as comprehensive wholeness and well-being. Those who pursue this kind of peace do all they can to promote the welfare of others (cf. 5:38-48). Since God actively desires wholeness for all persons, He gladly will claim as His own [children] those who share in this enterprise.

Asbury Bible Commentary

Here’s the thing, though: The pursuit of comprehensive wholeness and well-being, for self and for others, doesn’t always feel peaceful.

Such is the nature of obedience. Following where God leads is exactly what we should do. It is the way of fulfillment, of true life, of deep holiness. But it’s not always fun. In fact, sometimes it’s very much like standing at the proverbial fork in the road, knowing in your bones which way to go while also knowing that the next step will take you off the edge of a cliff. Into thin air. Into the wild and unknown.

The other road, it winds away from God and His will, but at least you’ve got footing. It’s familiar, though lacking.

I am desperate for peace. Faulty biology leaves me with a brain consistently on red alert. Experiences, both far and near on the timeline, have me looking over my shoulder. The world is large and noisy. I am small and quiet within it, just trying to get through without causing too much trouble or drawing too much attention. Always ceding space. Allowing my voice, my words, to be smothered. Or claimed by others, never daring to challenge them.

God, He tells me that this isn’t really peace.

And I know that. Because the familiar, it’s frustrating, even as I cling to it.

Something within is begging to be set loose. Perhaps has been for a while. There are things I want to do, things I want to try, desires and dreams and passions long ignored. Pushed aside for…what? Mediocrity? Safety? Keeping others comfortable?

That can’t possibly be the life God designed for me.

Can it?

And so peace can be pain. Deep, sharp, heart-rending pain. Because you can’t be made well and whole until Jesus pulls you apart and puts you together in a way that is for His glory and your best. You can’t step off the cliff until you trust that His hand is there to catch you.

You can’t be a peacemaker until you’ve experienced the peace that shatters your orderly world.

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