"The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth." John 1:14

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Love and Irritability

Ecclesiastes asserts there is a time and place for every action and emotion under heaven. This must include anger. God certainly exhibits anger, and Jesus demonstrated it from time to time in various degrees. Anger is not always wrong, and it is not always sin. Sometimes, however, when our buttons are easily pushed, when we are easily provoked, when our anger is stirred at the drop of a hat, when we become greatly distressed over matters that later appear minor, it can only be supposed that we are not coming from a place motivated primarily by love.

Godly anger is motivated by godly motives. His values are being violated, people are being hurt, his truth is being compromised. We must take a stand and speak clearly on his behalf. There is a time for such anger, and God stands with his hands on our shoulders as we become his channels for such energy, still motivated, even at those times, by his love.

Much of the anger that gets us in trouble is the kind Paul alludes to in 1 Corinthians 13:5, “Love is not… easily angered.” The Corinthians were even suing one another rather than approaching one another in love to reconcile their differences. Of course, such things would never happen in the church today (insert sarcastic tone here).

Some of the attitudes that set us up to be easily angered include: a highly opinionated approach to life (a prideful attitude that implies “I know best.”); a lot of beliefs, beyond scriptural principles, about the way things “should" be done; personal insecurity and self-doubt easily triggered by off-hand remarks; a desire to have personal control of things that are beyond one’s personal control; an unrealistic need for the approval of others; projection of our own dark hearts onto the character of others (so that we can safely judge them from a distance). What these things have in common is an attitude of godlikeness-- with a small “g.”

Rather than becoming like our Father, who forgave us much, we are becoming little gods of our little kingdoms, setting up our thrones of judgment and control and handing out judgment and retribution when people fail to meet our standards. What is lacking in our hearts at such times is clearly agape love. Agape love, expressed in Gods child, is not easily angered because it is not invested in ruling its own little kingdom. It knows that is God’s job.

Agape, expressed through people, knows that it is forgiven, and gives itself away freely on that basis. We love, from agape, not because the other person fails to annoy us (on the basis of our own arbitrary standards) but because God loved us first. The only reasonable outcome of such love is that it be given away—with abandon. In order to do so, I must let the peace that comes from Christ rule in my heart (which means setting aside the many other idols I have placed there) and let him rule. Then I will kneel, side by side with my brothers and sisters, objects of his love, grace and mercy, freely loved, freely loving.

“Love is not… easily angered.” 1 Corinthians 13:5

“And over all these virtues, put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body, you were called to peace.” Colossians 3:14-15

Monday, October 10, 2011

Love and Rudeness

This week I am returning to 1 Corinthians 13 to our phrase by phrase ownership of the famous chapter on love’s superiority to any spiritual gift without it. Paul here states,” Love…is not rude.” Study of the Greek word revealed that it is found only here and in the same letter, chapter 7, when Paul states that a man who has been engaged to a woman for a long time and finds that he is “acting improperly” toward her, can go ahead and marry her if he wishes. If he does so, Paul concludes, he is not sinning. This passage seems odd to today’s reader and is worthy of its own analysis. Suffice it to say here, that the meaning has something to do with not taking into account the effect of one’s behavior on the feelings and reputation of another. To act in such a way, with disregard for how we are affecting others, is to act improperly, to act rudely. One has the distinct feeling that this is one of those words that loses something in translation, but we are stuck with what we have.

Rudeness in this sense seems to carry a tone of insensitivity, callousness, indifference to the wellbeing (emotional, spiritual, reputation) of another whom we are called to love. The Corinthians were exhibiting rudeness in their worship (insensitivity to how their disorderly worship might affect newcomers) and in the observance of the Lord’s Supper (showing favoritism). To this extent, they were not exhibiting the agape love God intended.

Today’s reader can learn a lot from considering this phrase. In our quest for boundaries (I am responsible for my own feelings and no one else’s) we may, at times, go too far. In Western culture, we stand upon our independence. In so doing, we are fond of declaring our rights: our right to say and do and eat and drink exactly as we please. Our freedom in Christ may give us even more reason to declare that no man can tell us what to do. We are not legalists, after all, bound to a set of rules. But we are not to forget that just because a thing is permissible, that does not mean it is profitable. And permissable does not make it beneficial. If a newer believer, or one weaker in the faith, witnesses us doing a certain thing, might it cause him to stumble? Then love might call us to make another choice.

There are many things that are not technically sin that can wound another. While we are not unilaterally responsible for the feelings of others, we are commanded to build one another up. In another letter, one written to the Ephesians, Paul challenged Christ followers to allow only those words to cross their lips that were beneficial for building one another up. What a different experience the church would be, if we took these charges to heart. Sensitivity toward one another is not a sign of weakness, it is a sign of Christlikeness, as we take on his compassion, and leave behind the rudeness of the world from which he called us.

“Love … is not rude.” 1 Corinthians 13:5

“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only that which is useful for building others up according to needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” Ephesians 4:29

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Coming Home

Our recent trip to Nashville revealed many wonders. The Opryland Hotel, with its acres of atriums, waterfalls, walkways (many at treetop level) cafes, restaurants and elegant architecture is a marvel to behold and a privilege to abide. The classes were Spirit led, opened with sincere prayer for guidance and open hearts, both psychologically researched and scripturally sound. Our “extra days” got us a river boat cruise, some neat music shops (including a chance personal encounter with Brad Paisley) and some time downtown on Broadway where many music legends were born.

There is a lot to like about Nashville, in my opinion. It has not lost its “small town feel.” People have time to talk with you, take an interest in you, and for the most part, exude that traditional southern warmth. Driving through town, you never have a sense of being in a metro area, as the lush trees and greenery flank the roads and highways. As you look across the landscape, you see trees, rolling hills and rooftops, not sterile subdivisions, concrete and pavement. It’s probably a matter of taste, but for these reasons, I like Nashville a lot. Then there’s the music-- everywhere. Open air downtown, in the restaurants, and concerts. The hotel has a free shuttle to The Grand Ole Opry where you get a blend of old and new style music in a fun and professional atmosphere for about $40 a person. On Friday night we saw: Jimmy C. Newman, Lonesome River Band, The Whites (Oh Brother, Where Art Thou), Josh Kelley, Jimmy Dickens, Jesse McReynolds, The Mclymonts (Aussie Sisters), T.G. Sheppard and Exile.

Back in the hotel, as I walked among the other 6,999 conventioneers, I observed a sea of diversity. There were the guys with $100 haircuts and tailored suits, the women with stylish shoes that came off the minute they sat down, and the folks in tattered jeans and tee shirts, looking like they would, I assume, on a typical Saturday afternoon around the house. Some were outgoing, making eye contact with easy smiles, many were in their own little spaces and following their own little road maps for the day, oblivious to those around them (probably an urban phenomenon I have left behind or forgotten). A chance encounter on one of the shuttles with one “pastor” with a gift of prophevcy was a standout. Within a sentence or two he was ready to judge a particular church’s growth as being “like a cancer” because it shares some seeker sensitive principles in its approach. His communication was one way, and I could see that he was most definitely a prophet. His disclaimer, “I don’t have the gift of mercy,” seemed to get him off the hook for a lot…

On the plane coming and going, I read “Forgotten God” by Francis Chan. It is a challenging book, and I recommend it with the assumption that the reader is mature enough not to take any book outside the Bible as gospel. It is our job to search the scripture and take the contents in prayer to Spirit to ask him to reveal to us what we should learn and become. That being said, there is a section in the book where he asks regarding our geographical setting: “What would be different in the kingdom of God if you were not there?”

In reading that sentence, even in the wonderland of Nashville, with all that I enjoy and even prefer there, I longed to come home. I think this is one of the ways we can know that we are in God’s will (at least for now). If we feel the tug to be with those we minister to and with, even when the world dazzles us with its splendor, then I think we have found a home.

Yes, it’s nice to be home again. I am so thankful for the place God has carved out for us here, to bless and be blessed by the family of God. I am grateful for this place between the mountains to (hopefully) be a lamp on a stand to those who seek, and to serve shoulder to shoulder with fellow travellers on the ultimate road home.

"God can testify how I long for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus." Phillipians 1:8