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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Five Minute Friday: Pass

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com

Gentle Reader,

I made it to work every single day this month. Big deal for me.

My eyes are droopy so this is likely to be short and sweet (okay, salty). Kate says: pass.

Go.

I’m an outsider. I’ve never had a positive pregnancy test or felt those first, fluttering kicks. Never picked out a “going home” outfit or set up a nursery room. Never felt the pain of labor or the joy of cradling a newborn in my arms.

Really, I’m okay with all of that. God knows everything we will face and sometimes releases us from emotional suffering in advance. He’s done that for me. I am confident that my family is as it should be at this time – Chris and the fat, neurotic dogs – and He will make it clear when and if it’s time for a change (as in fostering or adoption, not kicking Chris out of the house).

My point is that I’m not involved in the battle women wage against each other. I stand on the edge and look in.

And I think it’s stupid.

So, so stupid.

One woman judges another for not breastfeeding. Another gives the new mom a side-eye because she gives her fussy baby a pacifier. Co-sleeping or cribs? Cloth or disposable diapers? Homemade or store-bought baby food? Name calling. Screeching.

Sanctimommy.

Pass.

Women should not do this to each other. It’s not about “educating” anyone. It’s about feeling superior. Prideful. Smug. The choices that a woman makes in the raising of her children (barring neglect or abuse) aren’t anyone else’s business. There is literally no reason for one woman to care about the kind of blanket with which another woman covers her baby at night.

Please, my sisters. Support each other. No caveats, no “I just want to help you do what’s best…” If your input isn’t sought, don’t give it. Pass on the urge to control and the judging and the shaming. Pass on the waste of energy and the fleeting sense of fulfillment that “defeating” another woman gives you. Pass on being unloving.

Just pass.

Stop.

My journey to faith. (15)

31 Days in the Quiet: Meddlesome

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Gentle Reader,

The word for “quiet” in the passage that I have been contemplating this month is the Greek “hesuchia” (hay-soo-khee-ah), which is “quietness; description of the life of one who stays at home doing his own work, and does not officiously meddle with the affairs of others.”

I love that word, officiously. It means “assertive of authority in an annoyingly domineering way, esp. with regard to petty or trivial matters; intrusively enthusiastic in offering help or advice; interfering.”

In our all-too connected world, it’s easy to meddle in other people’s lives. I’m not even sure we’re aware when we’re doing it. Someone posts something on Facebook, drops a curious tweet, posts a blog. We think that we’re entitled to offer an opinion. And maybe occasionally we are; surely a loving, sound word of advice or a differing view expressed respectfully in the context of a solid relationship can be good things. However, I think that all too often we skip from engaging in dialogue and go into that domineering mode. I know I certainly have.

The truth is, we’re too obsessed with each other. The smallest of molehills becomes the largest of mountains in the space of seconds. I know I need to pursue discernment when it comes to what I do and don’t comment on, whether in the virtual universe or in that of flesh-and-blood.

I think we all do.

My journey to faith. (15)

For all posts in the 31 Days in the Quiet series, go here.

I Need, You Need

Gentle Reader,

I am a needy person.

Guess what?

So are you.

I daresay that discussing this topic ranks right up there with listening to nails screecing across a chalkboard. Nobody I know actually wants to admit that they need anything. In our Western mindset, to ask for help or confess a need is tantamount to declaring total defeat. You might as well plop a paper bag over your head and scrawl the word, “LOSER” across it in big, bold letters. We want to be known as independent, competent, together. Not a hair out of place, not a speck in the house, no mistakes at work. Ever smiling perfection, ready to lend a hand to anyone –

– but never able to take one.

Let us examine a very simple passage of Scripture which has enormous implications for our daily lives:

My God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.

– Philippians 4:19 (NKJV)

This post tonight is not about the Problem of Pain. I’m not going to try and sort out why bad things happen, why some people go hungry, why disaster strikes. Frankly, I don’t think that there will ever be an answer that fully satisfies anyone. This is not about what needs are met and what needs are not met. This is about having needs in the first place.

To place this verse in context, Paul is writing to the believing community in Philippi, Greece. He is sitting in prison, traditionally thought to have been his first incarceration in Rome, but I am more convinced by the evidence of those who attest to an Ephesian setting. Either way, he’s locked up. Yet, Philippians is perhaps one of the most joyful and hopeful letters of the New Testament. In it the audience reads that Paul is content to be where he is (1:12), that they should not be frightened by anyone who opposes them (1:28), that their conduct should be such that they may be as stars shining in the heavens (2:15), that they must press forever onward and upward toward Jesus (3:14), and that they can do anything by the strength of Christ (4:13).

My eyes well up at the sight of all that encouragement, and it cannot be said that I am much of a crier. Something stirs within me, though. To think that this man, thrown into a dark hole, hoping that friends might remember to take care of him (Roman prisoners were not fed or clothed by the state), could write such stirring words is a depth of confidence that I have not yet grasped. Add to that the delightful bit of theology contained within the kenosis passage of 2:5-11, and this remarkable letter is signed, sealed and delivered straight to the heart of the reader.

I have to think that Paul had arrived at a place in his life, long before this prison sentence, where he could freely admit that he had needs. Though it is in this very same letter in which he writes that he has learned to be content in every circumstance (4:11), I believe that it would be very wrong for us to link contentment with stoically facing life with a stony face. Such an attitude is nothing more than falsehood. Where is the solution, then? How is it possible to be content and needy all at once?

I think that the key lies in being able to refer to the Lord as “my God.”

Paul was not the first to write about God in such a way. Ample precedent was available to him in the Psalms. The shepherd-turned-king David wrote:

The LORD is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge. He is my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.

– Psalm 18:2 (NKJV)

The LORD is my shepherd.

– Psalm 23:1 (NKJV)

In you I trust, O my God.

– Psalm 25:2 (NKJV)

The LORD is my light and my salvation.

– Psalm 27:1 (NKJV)

Think about it. To be able to say that “the LORD is my rock” is admit that you need a rock. To be able to say that He is your deliverer is to admit that you need one. A shepherd? You need guidance. A light? You’re walking in darkness. The depth of need exposed in these and countless other verses is astounding. Do we really understand this? Are we simply mouthing platitudes?

Is the Lord “my God” or is He just God?

There’s a vast difference between the two.

So, we have needs. We wake up with them strapped to our chests and don’t bother to take them off and night. Our needs are an intrinsic part of who we are. This neediness is not a result of our fallen state, though sin certainly magnifies and exacerbates the needs. Even in Heaven, however, when all is peace and light, we will continue to need. That is blatantly obvious.

Isn’t it?

In Heaven, won’t we continue to need God? Life? Beauty? Joy?

I’m a needy person. I need unconditional acceptance and love. I need personal space and lots of quiet time to think. I need more rest than the average person. I need to eat in a much healthier way then I currently do. I need to be able to say “no”. I need friends. Family. Stimulating conversation. A roof over my head. Romance. Puppies. Laughter. Is it possible to be truly content in the midst of this ocean of need?

Yes. I have come to think that contentedness lies wholly in flinging my broken, bleeding, needing self at the feet of the Father. My God will meet all these needs and more. Perhaps He will intervene in a miraculous way. Perhaps He will work through the hands of another person. Perhaps, in a stamp of divine mystery, He will appear to not meet a need. As I said before, this I cannot explain. All I know is that any “no” always leads to a much grander “yes”. God desires to give! (James 1:17) And give He does, whether in these outward ways or in a quiet, inward manner; the manner of pouring out His own love and strength upon me.

This is all fine and dandy, well and good. If pressed, I think we can admit that we need God. What about each other, though? Can we really admit that it stings to be left out? That it’s draining to be constantly in the position of rescuing others? That we need people in our lives who are wholly safe and who can and will accept us for who we are, as we are, as much as they are able to do so?

I very hesitantly pat that need on the back, stopping short of a full embrace. I need to stop trying to be the Messiah and leave that job up to the One who is far better qualified. I can’t be everything that everyone wants me to be. It’s just not possible. For I, the “together” one, am not together. Not really. On the surface, I can look pretty good. Inside? I need just as much healing and comfort and support as anyone else.

That’s where contentment comes from. It’s not just blithely accepting whatever comes your way. It’s admitting to the need and keeping your eyes open for the answer which comes from on high. It is having confidence that He is taking care of you, even if you can’t fully understand it. Contentment isn’t ignoring things. We are left in bondage to discontentment and masking our neediness in doing that.

I want something different. I want to be free. Free to admit that I need, free to seek out real contentment, free to be a broken, messed-up, hurting, imperfect, desperately-needing-Jesus person. That’s who I really am. Anything else is just a game.

Think about it.

If you can’t admit that you’re needy, then can you really claim that you need Jesus for anything?

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