Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Pride and Love

1 Corinthians 13, Paul’s famous writing about love, is one of the lectionary texts for this coming Sunday. It’s an interesting choice, alongside Jeremiah’s call to be a prophet (Jeremiah 1:4-10) and Jesus claiming his call in his hometown synagogue as he reads from Isaiah (Luke 4:21-30). Yet I see how love connects these two stories, because both are about the ability to speak and act congruently and courageously, powered by deep love of God.

Paul is blunt: no matter how powerful and dramatic our actions may be, if they don’t arise from love of God, they are meaningless. Our words about love are hollow if our actions aren’t congruent with them, not matter how emphatically or often we claim to love others.

When love dwells in our innermost being, our words and actions are integrated, and what we do and say builds God’s kingdom. If, however, pride is what dwells in our innermost being, there is no room for love, and no matter what we say and do to prove otherwise, there will be a disconnect between our words and actions. I believe Paul knew that, which is why he points out that love isn’t self-seeking, arrogant, jealous or boastful. Love doesn’t keep a scorecard of the good it does, while pride wants every good deed or word recorded and seen by others.

People rooted in pride may say they love others, but their actions betray their hearts. Or they may perform acts of charity, all the while criticizing those they claim to serve. Or they may shun small deeds of service because they won’t be seen or praised by others.

However, those who have hearts full of love act and speak with integrity. What they say is consistent with what they do. They may not say much and what they do may not be noticed by many, but in consistent ways they demonstrate what is within their hearts. It is such as these who lay down their lives for others in countless small ways, who sacrifice much without fanfare because love fills their hearts.

When I consider that Jeremiah faced hardship as a prophet, and that Jesus was rejected by those who thought they knew him, I can see that they endured because their eyes were fixed on the object of their love. They put God first, and not only with their lips but in their hearts.

Paul knew that pride and love cannot occupy the same space within us. Where pride dwells, there is no room for love. May we evict pride and invite love into our hearts!

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

The Power of Withdrawing

Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit . . .
                                                                Luke 4:14a

After forty days in the wilderness, Jesus emerges with power, ready to begin his ministry. I think about the preparation that his time in the wilderness gave him. Would we ever think of withdrawing as a way to access power? I have heard many people say they were fearful that if they took time away from the activities (be it work, volunteer service or recreation) they would be forgotten, deemed nonessential, or would lose the discipline to show up.

Withdrawal seems so passive to us, and most of us don’t like to be passive. I remember several years ago hearing someone say he did not want to call a retreat by that name. Instead he wanted to use the word “advance.” Advance does sound more assertive than retreat, and we might think that advancing would make us more powerful. Withdrawing or retreating, stepping out of the fray of daily activity, may not seem like the way to power.

Our cultural tendency to grit our teeth and push forward as if we are superhuman is not the way of Jesus. If we want to follow Jesus, we have to cease our breakneck pace of life. We have to move with intention and attention. We have to stop, rest, withdraw and pray. To receive the power of the Spirit requires that we lay aside our own notions of power, our tendency to take matters into our own hands.

To follow Jesus, not run ahead of Jesus, requires that we trust that the Spirit will empower us, that we can withdraw, wait and rest, setting aside our arrogant notions of how things should be and instead entrusting God with our being and doing.

It is why following Jesus is so hard for us. We have to follow, not lead!

Wednesday, January 13, 2016


(A poem based on Isaiah 62:1-3)

Trampled, torn, a dirty scarf,
looking more like a rag.
Kicked to the curb, future hope
washing into the storm drain,
forgotten, faded, forlorn--
until you came, picked me up,
cleaned me, healed my broken,
buffeted soul.
A splendid garland you named me,
held as treasure in your tender hands.
No longer cast aside, I adorn
your scarred head, high and lifted up,
shining like the sun.

For Zion’s sake I won’t keep silent,
    and for Jerusalem’s sake I won’t sit still
    until her righteousness shines out like a light,
    and her salvation blazes like a torch.
Nations will see your righteousness,
    all kings your glory.
You will be called by a new name,
    which the Lord’s own mouth will determine.
You will be a splendid garland in the Lord’s hand,
    a royal turban in the palm of God’s hand.

                                                                Isaiah 62:1-3

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Knowing Our Belovedness

“You are my Son, the Beloved, with you I am well pleased.”
                                                                                                Luke 3:22b

Fifty-five years. That’s how long it took me to finally understand that I was beloved. I knew in my head that God loved me, but I didn’t know it in my heart. My self-talk was an inner critic, not the nurturing, grace-filled language of belovedness.

I didn’t come to a sudden awareness of my belovedness. It was a slow dawning, like watching your child grow. You live with it daily, so the growth is imperceptible, but one day you are aware that things are different. Turning points along the way mark our growth, like marks on the door frame mark the growth of our children.

What God says of Jesus at Jesus’ baptism, God also says to us. We are God’s beloved sons and daughters. God is pleased with us. How sad that so many of us have grown up in churches that spent more time telling us we weren’t good enough than in loving us into relationship with God, our Creator.

Ephesians 2:10 reminds us of our special place in our Creator’s heart: For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago. God, the Artist, calls us God’s masterpiece! Of course we are beloved!

Coming to awareness of my own belovedness, that slow, slow journey, was aided most by relationships with friends. For most of my adult life, I felt like an outsider. I saw people with deep, close friendships and I longed for such myself. My hesitancy and busyness held me back from giving myself as a friend to others. But when I became part of a community formed of folks with a common longing for a deeper relationship with God, the Academy forSpiritual Formation, I gave myself to the community and others in the community gave themselves to me and to one another. Academy became the soil where my own seed of belovedness began to grow. The people with whom I journeyed in Academy modeled unconditional love and I found a place to call home.

Encouraged by my experience, I began to cultivate life-giving friendships in my local church. Over time, the depth and mutuality of such relationships coaxed my belovedness into full flower. Knowing the unconditional love of friends, I better understood the unconditional love of God.

It has not been a straight, linear journey. Several months ago I was faced with a situation that violently shook my awareness of belovedness. But thanks be to God, through the love of God shown to me directly and the love of friends who incarnated God for me, I am reclaiming my belovedness.

What I want you to know is that it is often a slow and difficult process to truly know in your deepest heart that you are beloved. It may be your whole life’s journey to accept and embrace your belovedness. But it is the journey that changes us, that shapes us into people who can truly love one another and God deeply, intimately, and wholeheartedly. I pray you will come to know, if you don’t already, your own belovedness. You are God’s masterpiece!