You Shall Love, I Promise

What if I really believed this? How would it change how I live?

The final secret, I think, is this: that the words “You shall love the Lord your God” become in the end less a command than a promise. And the promise is that, yes, on the weary feet of faith and the fragile wings of hope, we will come to love him at last as from the first he has loved us—loved us even in the wilderness, especially in the wilderness, because he has been in the wilderness with us. He has been in the wilderness for us. He has been acquainted with our grief. —Frederick Buechner, A Room Called Remember

This idea has really captivated my mind – that all of those Old Testament laws, all of those “shalls” and “shall nots” could be looked on as promises, not as commands. As even the longing cry of God: Someday you will love me with all your heart and all your mind and all your strength. Someday you will love your neighbor as yourself. I promise!

Jesus said, “Don’t misunderstand why I have come. I did not come to abolish the law of Moses or the writings of the prophets. No, I came to fulfill them (Matthew 5:17 NLT). Jesus made it possible for me to do the “shalls” in him and through him. He did this by making me a new creature, by changing my heart, by making it possible for me to come into the Presence of the Father and know him.

For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy. The Holy Spirit also testifies to us about this. First he says: “This is the covenant I will make with them I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds.” Then he adds: “Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more.” Hebrews 11:14-17 (NIV)

He has put his law in our hearts. He has given us new hearts, new minds, the mind of Christ. He has given us grace and power to obey his will, to truly know him, to truly love him.

What if I really believed this? How would it change how I live? It would set me free. If I truly believed that God is not a fierce judge, giving me impossible things to accomplish, just waiting for me to trip up, but a loving Father who is by my side, walking through this wilderness with me. A loving Father holding out his arms to this (still) toddler-me, saying, “Come on, you can do it! You shall love!” I would fearlessly go out there and love – not love to be noticed and acclaimed, not love to be accepted and loved back, not love to please people, not love to earn Brownie points, not love to finally “get it right.” But just freely love to please God, to know the joy that it gives Him.

And if I was rejected, taken for granted, ignored, dissed, insulted, criticized, misunderstood, it would not make me stumble as long as my eyes were fixed on his loving face and my ears attuned to his joyful, encouraging voice.

So, you and me, let’s not give up. Don’t despair. Keep going “on the weary feet of faith and the fragile wings of hope” through this wilderness. Trust in him. Keep running into his open arms. You shall learn to love the Lord your God. You shall love.

The LORD your God will circumcise your hearts and the hearts of your descendants, so that you may love him with all your heart and with all your soul, and live. Deuteronomy 30:6 (NIV)

See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland. Isaiah 43:19 (NIV)

Christ’s life showed me how, and enabled me to do it. I identified myself completely with him. Indeed, I have been crucified with Christ. My ego is no longer central. It is no longer important that I appear righteous before you or have your good opinion, and I am no longer driven to impress God. Christ lives in me. The life you see me living is not “mine,” but it is lived by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.  Galatians 2:20 (MSG)

For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. John 3:17 (NASB)

 

Photograph by Jack Bair, copyright 2019, all rights reserved.

Opening Windows

God doesn’t want me to close and hide what’s inside, pretending I have it all together. He’s never been big on “safe” either. He wants the windows open so His light in me can shine out, despite the interior mess it illumines.

I have done nothing but open windows – God has done all the rest … [I resolved] to be as wide open toward people and their need as I am toward God. Windows open outward as well as upward! Windows especially open downward where people need most! – Frank Laubach, Letters by a Modern Mystic

He [the saint] wants himself to be simply a window through which God’s mercy shines on the world. – Thomas Merton, Life and Holiness

This idea of simply “opening the windows” was a hard one for a performance and approval junkie like me to grasp. It has been a revelation and healing to me as I tend to think I have to be wonderful, accomplish wonderful things, be perfect, be the savior somehow.

I chose the above photograph of an open window for this post because the room shown reminds me of the inside of my head, my soul – a big, falling apart, scarred, paint-peeling mess. All that indecipherable graffiti yammering away, images of bad things from my past I don’t want to remember. My instinct is to close the windows and curtain the mess – but make sure the outside looks good. And yet, God seems to want me to keep the windows open, revealing it all to every passer-by.

God’s been teaching me the amazing grace of open windows lately as I visit people at the jail. I go feeling, and confessing to God, emptiness. I have nothing to give or say to them. But as I just ask him to speak through me, pray through me, love them through me and “open the windows” His love fills me and pours out, his words and prayers come to my lips, and his Spirit fills the cell. It doesn’t matter that I am a mess. I have found that my mess ministers to their mess. They rightly see the outward attempt at perfection as hypocrisy.

God doesn’t want me to close and hide what’s inside, pretending I have it all together. He’s never been big on “safe” either. He wants the windows open so His light in me can shine out, despite the interior mess it illumines. That can only happen by his grace and when the light in me is Jesus and his love. Christ in me the hope of glory (Colossians 1:27).

Mary accepts an unseen, unborn, and unknown love. She proclaims, “My soul magnifies the Lord,” as if she herself knew she would be a window of grace letting through the light of God’s hidden love. – Suzanne Guthrie, Grace’s Window

Mary, the first to hold the glorious Light of Christ. The first to dare to open the window. And she proclaimed, “My soul magnifies the Lord.” “Magnifies” means to exalt, extol, laud, celebrate, declare great with my mouth. But it also means to magnify, enlarge, show great. My soul, my weakness, my falling apart mess, is a lens that magnifies God. It enlarges him to others; it shows how great he is by comparison. Like the night sky reveals the glory of the stars. All I have to do is be real, be vulnerable, let him love through me, open the window and let the Light out.

You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven. Matthew 5:14-16 (NIV)

Amazing! You are the light of the world. He was talking to us! We are the town built to have open-windowed houses. We are the lamp that has been lit by his light, and that was never meant to be hidden. The light is in you child of God. There are so many living in darkness today, living in hopelessness, thinking of (or tragically doing) suicide. They need your light.

Jesus commanded us to love as he had loved. Jesus was totally vulnerable. Jesus came to be the Light, to give hope in the darkness.

Frank Laubach said, “I have done nothing but open windows – God has done all the rest” We who have the light in us, let us open our windows.

My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.  2 Corinthians 12:9 (NIV)

 

 

Image, Open Window by Keith Ellwood https://www.flickr.com/search/?text=open%20window%20keith%20ellwood

 

 

Love is My True Identity

To say that I am made in the image of God is to say that love is the reason for my existence, for God is love. Love is my true identity. Selflessness is my true self. Love is my true character. Love is my name.  -Thomas Merton

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. Galatians 2:20 (NIV)

And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him. 1 John 4:16 (NIV)

For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. Colossians 3: 3 (NASB)

And this expectation will not disappoint us. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love. Romans 5:5 (NLT)

Yes, Lord, fill my heart with your love. Let your love become my true identity, my name, my character. Let my life be hidden in you Jesus, let me live in love. May the world only see you and how much you love them when they look at me. May the words I say, the prayers I pray, the thoughts I think, the healing touch of my hands be yours – for you are Love.

 

Image copyright Jack Bair 2019

I Am the Good News

Jesus is the bread of life given for the life of the world. I understood that metaphor. But what/who are the fish?

Then he took the seven loaves and the fish, and when he had given thanks, he broke them and gave them to the disciples, and they in turn to the people. Matthew 15:36 (NIV)

This account of the miraculous feeding of thousands with a few loaves of bread and fish is repeated in all four gospels. Matthew, Mark, and Luke explain that Jesus himself did not hand out the bread and the fish; he gave them to the disciples to hand out.

As I was recently looking again at this witness the Lord showed me something I had never seen before. I hope I can communicate it for you. But it is so much that it will take two blogs, so I will finish next week. I think Jesus was demonstrating something far more important than the miracle of multiplication that day. Something that the disciples, and we, would only understand much later. He was demonstrating what the Church would be like after he was gone back to the Father.

I think Jesus was training the disciples to be the Church, to be the hands and body of the Lord. They were the Church-in-training. That’s why he had them distribute the food. Jesus also did not himself baptize people, but had the disciples baptize (John 4:2). Jesus did not go with them when he sent them out two by two (Mark 6:7).

So, the disciples were learning how to be Jesus here on earth. They were distributing the physical bread that day but would later hand out the Bread of Life.

I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.” John 6:51 (NIV)

Jesus is the bread of life given for the life of the world. I understood that metaphor. But what/who are the fish? In a couple of places Jesus talked about people as fish.

“Once again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was let down into the lake and caught all kinds of fish.” Matthew 13:47 (NIV)

“Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will make you fishers of men.” Matthew 4:19 (NIV)

The disciples were also fishers-of-men-in-training. But they weren’t just learning to fish for men that day as they were handing out the fish, they were also learning to hand out themselves. They were fish that had been caught in the Savior’s loving net whose lives in turn would be broken and given in self-denying service.

Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me. John 12:24-26 (NIV)

Just as Jesus was broken and given for the life of the world, so we are to be broken – die to self, be crucified with Christ – so we can give ourselves. We are to be the hands and the body of the Lord here on earth handing out His love. And, because he is in us, we also become the bread and the fish that is given. J.D. Walt has written, “Because Jesus is good news and Jesus is in me, I am good news.” [i]

Jesus said, “You are the salt of the earth … You are the light of the world” (Matt. 5:13, 14).  Jesus blesses us and graces us and strengthens us, but he also breaks us as he broke the bread and the fish that day. Like Gideon’s torches in jars, the light that is in us cannot be seen unless the jars are broken (Judges 7:15-21). And as Gideon’s jars were empty save for the light, we must empty ourselves of all self-seeking, self-righteousness, self-sins.

Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. 1 Corinthians 12:27 (NIV)

And the church is his body; it is filled by Christ, who fills everything everywhere with his presence. Ephesians 1:23 (NLT)

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. Galatians 2:20 (NIV)

Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 1 John 4:11 (NIV)

 

Image, by Mira66 https://www.flickr.com/photos/21804434@N02/4739074036/

“Loaves and Fishes is set into the wall of the Brighthelm Church and Community Centre, North Road, Brighton, Sussex.”

 

[i] J.D. Walt, “The Sower’s Creed,” in This is How We Know, p. 132.