Tuesday, November 22, 2011


Recently I asked a former associate to forward everything with my byline to me, since I had managed to lose those files.  This is one of the pieces he sent.

We are born hungry.  The heart cries out for a safe place to love and be loved.  Throughout our lives we search and strive for that place which our hearts tell us exists, only to find that most of what we think will satisfy that hunger in truth leaves us longing for more.  While riches are nice, they cannot love us.  People can love us, but there is a lot of pain that comes with human relationships.  People fail all the time.  They say and do things that hurt.  They disappoint.  Whether through negligence or deliberate malice, people hurt other people with alarming regularity.  Broken marriages, failed friendships, ambitious one-upmanship, and animosity between rivals…all of these point to a lack.  That lack creates a void and the void causes pain and, as has been said in numerous ways, hurting people hurt people.  So the cycle continues. 

We search for Eden.  We search for Heaven.  We search for something that is unlike anything we have ever really known in this world.  None of this is to say that relationships in this world are a bad thing, because they are not.  God created us for relationship.  We are hardwired to seek others with whom we can walk and live and enjoy creation.  To be devoid of relationship is to be among the walking dead, with the illusion of life but none of the substance. 

God saw Adam in the Garden and said that it is not good for him to be alone.  Adam had been created in the image of God Himself, to experience His glory.  He possessed the relational capacity that enabled him to walk, openly and unashamedly, with God Himself.  Still, God saw that Adam was alone, declared that it was not good for Adam to be alone, and created for him a counterpart in Eve.  In the perfection of Eden, Adam and Eve fulfilled each other and, in conjunction with their relationship with God, were truly alive.  Nonetheless, sin crouched at the door and humanity has suffered ever since because deception was allowed to enter in.  No longer were Adam and Eve unashamedly open and naked and vulnerable, in their hearts, before each other and God.  They went into hiding and people have been hiding ever since.  Vulnerability is seen as a weakness to be avoided, and people are afraid to be openhearted with one another.   

What does it mean to be in relationship with someone?  We can have an intellectual understanding of a person’s worldview.  We can have knowledge of a person’s likes and dislikes.  We can know someone’s family history and personal background.  However, having such information does not automatically mean that we actually know the person.  Without a heart connection there is no relationship, there is just information.  There can be the illusion of a relationship, perhaps even some sort of emotional connection.  But having emotions with regards to another person does not necessarily mean there is a relationship.  All one has to do to see an illustration of this principle is look at the phenomenon of celebrity.  An avid fan of a movie star can know all about this person, have certain emotions with regards to this person, and even have met this person, but that does not mean there is a real relationship there.  That does not mean that there is anything enduring or of depth.  Even if there is some mutuality of emotion, it takes a deeper bond than emotion because emotions change.  They are very unreliable barometers of what is real.  Every woman who has battled with her “time of the month” knows this to be true.  There are myriads of factors that can impact the emotions, causing them to ebb and flow like the tides of the sea. 

We hunger for something real and enduring.  We hunger for something bigger than we are.  One cannot separate those hungers.  The hunger for relationship is as much a driving force in the life of every person as the hunger to be a part of something meaningful.  Part of what is real about love is the desire to share that love. 

It is one thing to be in love with someone.  There is an incredible intensity about it that is focused on the person with whom one is in love.  Being in love is very exclusive and can be very needy and demanding.  To the one who is in love, the world narrows down to become solely focused on the beloved.  There is a need to be with the beloved to the exclusion of everyone else.  Like a blazing fire, it is very hot to be around and can burn when one comes too close.  Within the right framework this is not necessarily wrong.  Romantic love is not a bad thing.  Without this sort of mysterious relationship between men and women the human race would have faced the possibility of dying out.  Romance is God’s idea as a blessing to His creation.  But the love of which I speak is like the love of God in His relationship to Himself as Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  It is inclusive.  God’s love is warm and welcoming.  God’s love is inviting.  God’s love is who He is.  God cannot be separated from His love because He is love.  That is His character.  

We are told what it looks like.  Scriptures tell us, in 1 Corinthians 13, that love is patient, and kind, and merciful, and hopeful, and faithful, and enduring.  The same scriptures tell us what love does not look like.  We are told that it is not rude, nor selfish, nor temperamental, nor pessimistic, nor does love find joy in the downfall of another.  

Much of what we experience as love is tainted by what is not love.  We don’t really know what true love is like.  It is one thing to have it described to us, but another thing entirely to experience it in such a way that we really recognize it when we see it.  Because our experience has taught us that tainted love is the real thing, we do not recognize the real thing when it is offered to us.  We don’t trust the real thing because our experience has taught us that the real thing is an illusion.  Consequently it is very difficult to trust God’s love, which makes it difficult to trust God Himself.  And yet we hunger, with a deep abiding hunger, for the real thing.  We hunger for something beyond what we have known.  Accordingly we continue to search for the real thing.  We look to and fro, within the realm of the existence we know, to find something to satisfy that hunger.  However, the realm we know is not the totality of existence.  There is more to existence than the reality of what we can see and taste and touch and hear.  Our hearts know this.  Somewhere deep inside, we remember that there is something bigger and nobler and more beautiful than what we have known.  As is stated in Ecclesiastes, God has set eternity in our hearts.  It is His gift to us.

If we want to see what the desire for something noble and beautiful and eternal looks like when it’s displayed as a picture for the world to view, all one has to do is take a look at one the most recent blockbuster movie series to hit the cinema.  “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy speaks to many of those who have seen it on a very deep level.  It speaks to the heart.  

As an exercise in modern cinematography, it is an incredible illustration of the outworking of the gift of creativity that God has given to a humanity that was created in His image.  As a message to the heart, it tells us that there is more to life than what we know in our everyday, humdrum lives.  The author of the novels on which the movie trilogy is based, J.R.R. Tolkien, is known to have said that he simply wanted to create a mythology for his homeland, England.  What he created, however, calls to us on a level that is deeper than the intellect.  There are generations of self-proclaimed “Tolkien geeks” who have loved his books since childhood.  Because of the sheer beauty and epic nature of the movies there is now a new generation whose hearts have been stirred to explore the realm of Middle-Earth.  The storyline is classic – good verses evil in an epic battle for all of creation.  The characters are memorable, and the real hero of the tale is one that every person can relate to…someone small caught up in something bigger than himself that takes him on a quest for something that impacts all generations to come. 

That is what the quest for love is to all of us.  

Whether we know it or not, it is a quest to find something greater than ourselves which we can share with those around us and pass on to all generations to come.  It is a quest to find something eternal, for love is eternal.  Real love, real nobility, real beauty all transcend the here and now.  All of these things also enter into the here and now.  Eternity is not something for later.  Eternity contains within it everything that is past, everything that is present and everything that is to come.  Like a person who contains all the genetic codes of his or her ancestors and desires to have a part in future generations, we have in our hearts the desire for something eternal.  We have in our hearts the desire for love.  We have in our hearts the desire for God.  Those desires cannot be separated, for God is love and His desire is toward us.  He has made us in His image, to love and be loved, to share His glory.  Because of our smallness, He became like us so we could see Him.  Because of His greatness, He has made a way for us to come out of hiding.  Because He is eternal, we have been given a way to be eternally alive.  That is what God, in Christ, has done for us because of His love.  As Saint Iraneaus has said, “the glory of God is man fully alive.”  That is God’s gift to us.  It is what He offers us.  He invites us to return to Eden.  He invites us to experience Heaven.  He extends His hands with the desire to let us experience eternity in the here and now, with all of the beauty and nobility of His creation and with the everlasting joy of His Presence with us. 

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Thoughts on Courage

I've been on a, thus far unfruitful, search for a devotional I wrote a few years ago.  While on that search I came across this piece.  

It's interesting to me to see where I was in 2006, when this was originally written.

Courage.  Generosity.  Loyalty.  These are virtues that ancient peoples held in high esteem.  In his book How The Irish Saved Civilization Thomas Cahill details the great impact that one man, Saint Patrick, had on an entire people.  According to Cahill, “…the Irish found Patrick admirable according to their own highest standards: his courage – his refusal to be afraid of them – would have impressed them immediately; and, as his mission lengthened into years and came to be seen clearly as a lifetime commitment, his steadfast loyalty and supernatural generosity must have moved them deeply.  For he had transmuted their pagan virtues of loyalty, courage and generosity into the Christian equivalents of faith, hope and charity.” 

In his first letter to the Corinthian church, the Apostle Paul describes the virtue of charity, also translated as love, and states that the greatest virtue is love.

It takes real courage to love someone, and it takes great loyalty to be faithful in any relationship.  In these modern times people are often selfish in their relationships.  Take, for instance, “the dating game”.  In their quest for romance, people go to great lengths to find that special someone who will make them feel loved and who they might possibly love in return.  But the foundation of those relationships is often very selfish. 

A person who goes into any sort of relationship with the goal of finding someone to make him or her feel good, or to fill some internal void, is using the other person to meet his or her own emotional and ego gratification needs.  In those situations it is more often about what a person can get out of a relationship than what a person is willing to put into a relationship.  Sometimes it’s mutual, nonetheless the underlying motive is selfish and the lie upon which those motives are built says “it’s all about me.”  The first sentence, in the first chapter, of Rick Warren’s The Purpose Driven Life categorically disagrees with this.  He states “It’s not about you.”

When motives are selfish, and people use each other, then people become toys to one another.  Toys, when they have been outgrown and become boring, are thrown away.  How many relationships have ended because people got tired and bored with each other?  How many have died because one or both of those involved were more focused on what they think the other person should be giving instead of on what they, themselves, were giving?  Whether due to malicious intent or simple insensitivity, people become disposable.  The inherent value of a person is demeaned until they are thrown into the recycle bin where perhaps someday somebody will hopefully come along and choose the disposable, dispossessed, rejected and unwanted.  And, thanks be to God, Somebody has.

The Bible says that while we were in our sin God loved us and sent His only begotten Son into the world to redeem us.  Scriptures, and the current blockbuster movie “The Passion of the Christ,” show us in agonizingly bloody detail, the incredibly high price that God paid for humankind.  Jesus sought out the lowly, the dispossessed, the rejected and the disposable.  By the life and sacrifice of Christ, God said not “it’s all about Me” but rather “it’s all about you.” 

Jesus was, and always is, other-focused.  His prayer in the Gospel of John, Chapter 17 verses 20-26, declares His desire for us experience the kind of oneness and love that He experienced.  We are told to love each other as He has loved us.  Throughout the Epistles we are given instruction on how to do this.  The Apostle Paul says “Be kindly affectionate to one another in brotherly love, giving preference to one another…” (Romans 12:10).  The Apostle Peter writes “…be of one mind, having compassion for one another; love as brothers, be tenderhearted, be courteous…” and “…above all things have fervent love for one another, for love will cover a multitude of sins.” (1 Peter 3:8; 4:8).

By being commanded to consider the other person first, we are instructed to take the attitude that “it’s not all about me”. 

We are to love as Christ loves, and He gave up His life for us.  To live, and love, in the same manner as Christ takes incredible courage.  Loving selflessly means that we risk being thrown into the recycle bin by those with hardened hearts.  It requires great generosity.  If we are genuinely going to help someone else we have to be willing to step outside of our own small worlds to enter someone else’s world, where he or she is hurting and in need.   And finally, it requires enduring loyalty, first to Christ, and then to each other.  There is only One Person who ever loved perfectly and He was dreadfully mistreated.  If He was so mistreated then we can expect the same.  Without having made the decision to be loyal we won’t have what it takes to follow-through in being there for someone else.

We will never know the blessing of experiencing the answer to Christ’s prayer unless we make a committed decision to be loyal, live generously and courageously, and take the attitude “it’s NOT all about me.”   But, if we will choose to turn our backs on cowardice and selfishness then we will experience what Christ prayed we’d experience…the only kind of love that can ever fill the void within our souls.  Only through experientially knowing the kind of love that Christ has, and sharing that love with those around us, can the face of the world be changed…one person at a time.