Category Archives: a Jesus kind of love

Pass On the Good News Your Way

A wonderful blessing of face book and other sharing internet places is that we can pass on what truths have been grace for us and their source. And those of us who feel called to share are encouraged when someone “gets” what we share and finds it helpful. A very erudite elderly priest who had founded a college in the Philippines once commented about another priest who wrote an amazing amount of novels with moral themes. He said, “That man has never had a thought he didn’t share with the world!” I don’t think he was saying it as a compliment!! Perhaps this is a difference between the ministry of an introvert and an extrovert!

I worked with the MBTI about how differences in inborn personality types affect our learning/teaching style, our very different ways of expressing love even in marriage, and the way we relate to God and with others spiritually, and how middle managers need to understand the big differences in what rewards motivate different people. I know from experience how different styles of discipline have very different responses from even my own five children.

Understanding how different we are is a huge challenge. Even knowing what I learned decades ago, now in my eighties I’m finally understanding the importance of other ways of being in the world in all aspects of life. I think for our mental, emotional, spiritual growth it takes a lot of time, challenges, and even grace to begin to value all the differences in people enough to recognize we need all of them to work together in different areas and ways and times.

As an extrovert, with all the new outlets, I tend to share everything I am currently learning or finally understanding. The hard part isn’t seeing that many people aren’t in a place in their particular journey to understand and value what I share. I, as an extrovert, struggle when I realize that many times when people actually hear and “get” what I’m saying and even apply it to their own lives, they don’t necessarily share it!

My expectation or hope that they will is admittedly mostly an ego problem. But to me it is also a spiritual problem for our world…..not that my insights are world changing. But so much of mine do come from my spiritual journey and the totally unconditional Love that God has expressed in Jesus. I don’t think I would have them without that grace. And I realize again that people whose strength is responding intellectually and people whose gift is responding emotionally are on a different schedule on their journey. And a whole person response to Jesus takes both. Once more that is a reason for us to value both those who value law and those who respond to Love and find a way to work together since it takes a lifetime to get those two sides of us working equally well.

I hope that makes sense.

In my youth I played by the rules mostly out of fear of rejection or judgment by others. After I was simply overwhelmed by an experience of the love of God, I struggled with the feeling that the law was a prison of sorts that limited curiosity and creativity. So, one day as I was doing breakfast dishes, I prayed, “Lord would you show me how law is loving.”

The next moment I heard a thumping at the door. When I opened it, our dog had dropped a bird there. The bird was flopping around and seemed to have a broken wing. I brought the bird in and wrapped a dish towel around it, to keep the wing straight. I decided to make a sort of incubator to keep it still in a round bowl on the stove near a kettle steaming slightly for warmth. It simply wouldn’t accept the limits, thrashing around and almost throwing itself against the hot kettle. So, I wrapped it with a larger towel carefully and held it, trying to soothe and eventually trying to feed it. It simply thrashed and fought until it died. As I was burying it, it hit me. The law is our incubator until we become spiritually mature enough to love others as we love ourselves and to accept the limits that requires. Let’s face it, that takes time and a lot of grace.

Consequences are built into life and if we cannot accept limits, we end up learning the hard way. We are unfinished people at every age. It takes a lifetime of challenges and grace to learn to love others not only as ourselves, but as God loved us in Jesus.

If we believe intellectually in the God of Jesus or have been awakened by an experience of that Love, we are called to share in both word and deed using whatever gifts God has given us and working together at encouraging and helping others to do the same.

Jesus fleshed out God’s Love for us. Pass it on.

How Many Loving People Are Needed to Save the World?

In the Scriptures Noah and his family are saved from the flood because they were good people. Abraham bargains with God to save the people in an evil city, “If ten people are righteous, will you spare it?” We might look at Jesus as the one righteous human, convincing God we are worth saving. I read a book once called the “Hundredth Monkey” about how on an island certain monkeys learned a new survival skill and when the number reached 100, they all seemed to “get” it. And it was found that the same thing was happening with monkeys on other islands. Sunday’s scripture from Isaiah was about the “people of God” having been through dark times, but now God was doing an new thing and they would be blessed. How many people learning to love rather than hate or fear others do you think it would take for change to happen in our world? If you are given the grace to be one by your knowing first-hand the love of Jesus, please please share it!!!! Love, not law, changes people. We can love and help people, but the Love of God fleshed out in Jesus can heal and change wounded frightened angry people. Find a way to share it, not impose it, or come over as righteous or chosen. Those of us who have accepted that love need to admit how much we needed it and how much we still need it and how that love is the grace we all need to become the people we were created to be. (Not like anyone else, just our own best imperfect human self.) The Love of Jesus is the fuel for the spiritual journey until our last breath. Share it! It can make a difference for other people and maybe if enough people open up to that love it can make a difference for our world. This isn’t about being chosen or saved this is about being healed and changed by Love that has no conditions. It’s about grace.

Good Guys and Sinners

My husband was a “do right.”  He really was a good guy. But until his last couple of years in life, he didn’t experience the joy of God’s unconditional love. He thought it was because he was a prodigal son. But it seemed  to me that he was the older brother who thought he had to earn the father’s love.  Being a good person to get to heaven or be loved, is not a bad thing.  But it’s not a joyful grace thing either. And it’s much harder to get rid of our ego, when so much is riding on it. Those of us who have trouble being strong and good, when we experience being loved unconditionally, it’s not only joyful, but a source of grace for us in our weak times. We still have to struggle sometimes, but we don’t want to lose that joy. And once we tune in to God actually being active in our lives, we recognize His trying to show us when we are about to do something harmful and seriously stupid. Once we have the eyes to see and the ears to hear, it’s totally mind blowing how active God is in our lives, because he loves us, idiots that we are. I know where of I speak! What an awesome loving actively involved God we have. (Whether we like it or not!)

Let’s Pretend Our Own Christmas Story

  

Let’s pretend Jesus knocked on your door in the Christmas season to join you for his birthday celebration.
Can you picture him standing there when you open the door? Can you feel your dawning recognition and surprise? Can you sense your moment of doubt, then feel it washed away by sheer joy? Do his eyes have laughter lines as he smiles with just a hint of fun at surprising you? Does his simple kindness surround you like a comforter?
Picture you inviting him in, stammering as you start to reach out to shake his hand, only to be embraced in a warm hug that brings tears of happiness and wonder to your eyes.
Let’s imagine how he might like to celebrate his birthday with you. Do you think he’d be happy if you asked him to sit down, then hurried to get the best lotion in the house to gently rub his worn and callused feet?  Would he want to do the same for you?  Would you protest because you feel unworthy?  Or would you let him help you feel so very tenderly loved?
Maybe he’d accept a cup of coffee and then want to tell you the stories his mom used to tell over and over about giving birth in a dirty drafty barn and about the terror of having to flee to a foreign country in the middle of the night with only a few clothes and a little food.
Do you think Jesus might just try to fit in by eating second helpings and then nodding off now and then in front of the TV set like most of us do?  Or would he possibly suggest, “Why don’t we pack up some of this turkey and dressing and yes, definitely some pie, to take to families living in small rooms at some of the local Motels?”  Might he even ask, “Would you drive me up and down the interstate to check under the bridges for homeless who may need food?”
Or perhaps he’d gently make a more discomforting suggestion: that some presents could be returned and the money sent to help refugees fleeing with their children like his parents did.
Maybe he would just look into your eyes all the way to what’s hidden in your heart and quietly say, “If there is someone you have hurt or anyone who has wounded you, will you make me happy by using your phone now to reconcile with them?”
And then you’d remember what he said at that last dinner with his closest friends, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you should also love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
Then you’d feel not guilt, but regret, that you hadn’t thought of celebrating his birthday by doing more for others, even strangers, as he did his whole life.
So, you’d get your coat and gather food, even your favorite fudge pie, to take to others. And you’d see that he was smiling at you as he waved goodbye.
You wouldn’t feel condemnation, only his love and a stronger desire to love others as he loves you. Because now you’d really know that God did not send his Son into the world to condemn us, but to free us by his love.
And as you start out, you’d whisper, “Happy Birthday, Jesus.” And you would know he heard.

A Christmas Blessing

                                        

During Advent each year, I pray daily, “Come, Lord Jesus.” Then I wait eagerly for that special moment that helps me recognize His presence.

Many years ago, shortly before Christmas, my almost four-years-old granddaughter spent the night with me. She had been diagnosed as having Autism at two years of age.  I asked God to somehow bless our time together. At that time, most words had no meaning for her. When we spoke to her, she either echoed what we said or resorted to a repetition of dialogue from a Disney video. She could only express simple requests, most often in sign language.

That evening she set up her tea set on our kitchen table and to my surprise said clearly, “Have a tea party.”

So she and I took turns pouring imaginary tea and saying “Thank you” to one another. To break a long silence, I mentioner her little sister being sick. She responded by chattering incomprehensively to her image in the window, but then turned to look at me and said clearly, “Cat’s go meow, dogs go woof-woof, cows go moo and birds go cheep-cheep.”

I was both startled and touched, because she was describing communication of others without language. And this was the longest understandable communication I had ever heard from her.  Then she yawned and a moment later smiled at me and said, “We go nighty-night” and led me to bed.  There for the first time ever, she snuggled close and patted me, saying, “Nighty-night.”

This amount of understandable communication, direct eye contact, and her initiation of a physical show of affection with sustained physical closeness were all completely new.

I thought of the Scripture in Second Corinthians where Paul quotes Jesus, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” With silent tears of joy, I recognized the presence of God and His grace within her and my heart overflowed with love for my wonderful little granddaughter.

God in the Galaxies and in Humanity

by Madeleine L’Engle

Best known for her works of fiction, author Madeleine L’Engle (1918–2007) was a devoted Christian who perceived God’s presence in all things and circumstances. Here she invites readers to join her awe-filled observations:

I look at the stars and wonder. How old is the universe? . . . All we know is that once upon a time or, rather, once before time, Christ called everything into being in a great breath of creativity—waters, land, green growing things, birds and beasts, and finally human creatures—the beginning, the genesis, not in ordinary Earth days; the Bible makes it quite clear that God’s time is different from our time. A thousand years for us is no more than the blink of an eye to God. But in God’s good time the universe came into being, opening up from a tiny flower of nothingness to great clouds of hydrogen gas to swirling galaxies. In God’s good time came solar systems and planets and ultimately this planet on which I stand on this autumn evening as the Earth makes its graceful dance around the sun. It takes one Earth day, one Earth night, to make a full turn, part of the intricate pattern of the universe. And God called it good, very good.

A sky full of God’s children! Each galaxy, each star, each living creature, every particle and sub-atomic particle of creation, we are all children of the Maker. From a sub-atomic particle with a life span of a few seconds, to a galaxy with a life span of billions of years, to us human creatures somewhere in the middle in size and age, we are . . . children of God, made in God’s image.

L’Engle honors the unique role that Jesus as Christ plays in creation:

Don’t try to explain the Incarnation to me! It is further from being explainable than the furthest star in the furthest galaxy. It is love, God’s limitless love enfleshing that love into the form of a human being, Jesus, the Christ, fully human and fully divine.

Christ, the Second Person of the Trinity, Christ, the Maker of the universe or perhaps many universes, willingly and lovingly leaving all that power and coming to this poor, sin-filled planet to live with us for a few years to show us what we ought to be and could be. Christ came to us as Jesus of Nazareth, wholly human and wholly divine, to show us what it means to be made in God’s image. Jesus, as Paul reminds us, was the firstborn of many brethren [Romans 8:29].

I stand on the deck of my cottage, looking at a sky full of God’s children, knowing that I am one of many brethren, and sistren, too, and that Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.

Bathed in this love, I go into the cottage and to bed.

Come, Lord Jesus

(The second of my yearly Advent stories)

Many years ago, I began on the first of the four Advent Sundays to pray, “Come, Lord Jesus. Then I would watch expectantly for Him to become present in small, but recognizable ways in my life and heart. And most years my heart and mind are attentive enough to recognize His coming.

One Christmas Eve, our children and grandchildren were all at our home surrounded by the friendly reds and greens of Christmas with yummy smells teasing from the kitchen. In one bedroom a baby snuggled into sleep, while in others whispering parents wrapped and ribboned Christmas secrets. Only Grandad was missing, out doing his traditional Christmas Eve shopping. As excited older grandchildren were setting out to explore the woods and creek, I was making a clean-up sweep through the holiday chaos. One preschooler, too young for exploring and too old for a nap, went from room to room knocking on doors, only to be told that he couldn’t come in.  When I found little Jordan sobbing forlornly in the middle of the Christmas glitter, I decided to console him (and me) with an outing to feed the ducks that winter on the lake in town. When we arrived at the lake, the hungry ducks and geese gobbled up our bread crusts so quickly and ferociously, that we began to fear we would soon become part of their Christmas Eve menu. As we took refuge in our car, I heard our parish bells ringing for the special Christmas Eve children’s service, The Mass of the Bells. Since the children get to sing all their favorite carols and even ring bells to celebrate the birth of Christ, it seemed like a Christmas serendipity for Jordan. Looking at our faded jeans and muddy tennis shoes, I hesitated. But remembering the ragged shepherds at the first Christmas, I headed on to church anyway. For lack of having his own bell, Jordan rang my keychain as he sang with off-key gusto. Then, as all the children gathered around the priest on the floor of the Sanctuary to talk about the Christmas story, Jordan somehow managed to squirm all the way to the front of the group. When Father asked them what happened when Mary and Joseph knocked at the door of the Inn, Jordan’s response rang out, “They wouldn’t let them in!” Then with a sudden rush of outraged feeling, he shouted louder, “They wouldn’t open the door!” It seemed like he remembered his feelings about the closed doors at home earlier and identified with the Holy Family. So, when Father asked how they would respond to Jesus knocking at the door of their hearts, Jordan sang out with conviction, “Come in Jesus! Come right on in.” On the way home, Jordan joyfully assured me that even if others sometimes didn’t let people in, he and Jesus always would. At his own level, he had made the connection between his life and the Gospel story, realizing that opening his heart to Jesus, also meant opening his heart to others.

And my heart was filled with the joy of Christmas, of seeing Jesus being born once more in the heart of a child.

A postscript about Jordan. When he was a college junior, he was active in the Baptist Student Organization at Memphis University. He and several other students took cold water and hamburgers downtown in the August heat to share with the homeless.  As they did this, one man asked for them to pray over him. And as they prayed, others began coming forward asking, not for money or even food, but for prayer.

After college, Jordan became a teacher with a non-denominational Christian organization, first in Indonesia where besides teaching, he reached out to homeless street children through organizing and coaching soccer teams. Then, he taught in Afghanistan in a school of two hundred students. It was in a compound, but shortly before Christmas, Afghan student siblings and their parent were killed by the Taliban for being Christians. Then the school was warned there was a plan to bomb it. So, it was closed immediately and the teachers had to scramble for flights home.  His last three years of missionary teaching were in Bolivia.

So, whenever the stores start Christmas music, let it be our cue to start praying the prayer of our hearts, “Come, Lord Jesus.”

Suffering, a Chance to Love God as God Loves Us

I want to share what I have recognized late in life about suffering. I think there is much more to understand about it, but this aspect helped me.

God/Jesus loves us unconditionally. He hurts for us when we make mistakes and have to take the consequences so we won’t keep on making them. He hurts with us when others harm us and he hurts with those we harm and he hurts for those who harm us also. He’s in this duck soup of life even more vulnerable than any of us. Jesus told us that whatever we do to others, we do to him. Yet he never stops loving any of us.

Life is about learning to love as Jesus showed us God loves, unconditionally. That means our self, our neighbor, our enemy, and God who is in control, but lets us and those we love suffer. Why?

Because that is learning to love like God loves. That is true love above and beyond the ordinary garden variety we call love in our societies.

Life is a spiritual journey of taking a leap of FAITH, of growing in faith until we can trust (which is HOPE). And with grace (the Love of God) hope can become LOVE with no small print, expectations or exceptions. I think that is the whole point of our human journey.

Two small experiences I’ve had illustrate some of the reasons I believe this:

Many years ago, I woke up in the middle of the night with a horrible stabbing pain in my eye. There was no ophthalmologist in Dickson then and Julian was just recovering from the flu. So I lay down on the couch in the living room, hoping to be able to hold out until morning to wake Julian to drive me to Nashville. As I lay there struggling to bear the pain, I remembered about praising God even in times of suffering. I decided at least this way, God would get praise, so I began through gritted teeth to praise God. After a few minutes of praising God each time the pain hit, I had a very vivid sense of a presence in the room over by the window. I began to experience an awesome feeling of being tenderly and totally loved. I soon was overcome by joy even though I still was feeling the stabbing pain. Continuing to praise with joy, I finally fell asleep. When I awoke at dawn, the pain was gone and never returned.

Now, I have been in physical pain plenty of times since then and praising has not taken it away. But now, I know that God is with me in it. I am not alone.

I have been pretty insecure most of my life. Emotional pain can wipe me out as much as physical. In my fifties I was in a wheelchair from a painful condition on the soles of my feet and palms of my hands. But one of my sons worked for an airline and as his parents, we could fly free even to Europe. So, I traveled in a wheel chair to countries that not only weren’t handicapped accessible, but where the handicapped were even kept out of sight in attics. In one, it was raining and Julian was trying to get the wheelchair and me out of the street onto a covered sidewalk. Three middle-aged local women were chatting and blocking us from getting out of the rain. They saw our problem, but not only didn’t move, but when we had to go past them out in the street, they literally hissed at me! I was shocked. Why would people hate me when they didn’t even know me? I wasn’t used to being the victim of prejudice and I was very depressed that night. The next morning when we toured a very crowded Cathedral, Steve wanted to climb to the top of the dome and Julian wanted to take photos of all the gold and silver and even semi-precious stones in the walls. So, we finally found an empty dark corner to get me out of the way while they did their thing. They were gone a long time and I began to get more depressed and to feel sorry for myself. I could see the beautiful carved marble altar, but though Jesus on the Cross is usually on the wall above the gold tabernacle, he wasn’t there. I began to look for him and finally thought to look up behind me and there he was on the cross. We were alone together in the dark empty corner. Once again, I had that sense of his presence and even his understanding of my feeling of rejection. I realized then that we are not alone even in our feelings. Jesus not only suffered for us, he suffers with us. He is God with us in our humanity with all its joys and sorrows.

This was over thirty years ago, so those countries may have changed. But on that trip we ran into obvious prejudice several times. And again, I don’t have that same sense of his presence in similar situations, but I know he is with me. And it makes a difference. I can praise him with faith and trust and with love.

What Does the Lord Require of Us?

Some new insights from our sermon today.

Today had one of my favorite scriptures from Micah 6:8. “What does the Lord require of you, but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”

It was paired with the scripture Matthew 9: 10-13; ” As he (Jesus) sat at dinner in the house, many tax collectors and sinners came and were sitting with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” When Jesus heard this, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice. For I have come to call not the righteous, but sinners.’ “

Now, the tax collectors were hated for several reasons, 1: they were working for Rome taking money from the oppressed Jews. 2. And they also enriched themselves by overcharging their own people.

So, these guys were double trouble, getting rich at the expense of their own people and supporting a government that oppressed them. Yet, Jesus hung out with them.

Would a modern equivalent be Jesus hobnobbing with Elon Musk and all the Billionaires who don’t pay taxes? That makes me uncomfortable.

I spent Covid quarantine struggling to understand the Trump devotees, which has helped me move away from judging and hating……though I still have to continue working on my attitude. But as much as I’d like to feel secure financially, I have a really hard time thinking I’d hang on to billions while people struggle to keep body and soul together working two jobs. But since I’ve never had the option or the experience of having earned that much through my own talents, intelligence, and hard work, maybe I can’t really get into that mind set. Obviously, I still have challenges in the “judge not” department.

But if Jesus doesn’t judge and when dying prayed, “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do,” why do I think I can?

Over the years I have sincerely tried to do justice and as I struggled through the years, I tried to love kindness………..admittedly with some failures. But, old age is a whole other challenge…..”Walking humbly with my God” means being like a small child holding a parent’s hand facing four lanes of speeding traffic. As we lose our beloved mates, watch our grown children struggle, are forgotten by the grandchildren we spent so much time with and love on, and become invisible to a younger stronger more attractive population, our bodies and minds betray us. We actually become those dependent children again, rather than the parent protecting our children. Because of what we’ve experienced and what we now know about the vagaries of life and even about ourselves, old age is humiliating, frightening, and painful. This truly is like being a small child again and having to hold onto God’s hand and trust like a child in the Ukraine.

Pray daily for us old guys………nothing quite prepared us for this.

Our Shared Values

Interfaith leader Eboo Patel founded the Interfaith Youth Core (IFYC), which brings together youth of different faiths through cooperation and shared service. When a skeptical questioner asks, “What’s the IFYC approach?” Patel explains:

“We call it shared values—service learning,” I said. “We begin by identifying the values that different religious communities hold in common—hospitality, cooperation, compassion, mercy. We bring a group of religiously diverse young people together and ask them, ‘How does your religion speak to this value?’ One kid will say, ‘Well, I really admire how the pope [John Paul II] embodied mercy when he forgave the man who tried to assassinate him.’ A kid from a different religion will say, ‘There is a story like that in my religion: when the Prophet Muhammad returned to Mecca, he extended mercy by forgiving many of the people who had waged war against him.’” . . .

“Are you trying to teach the kids that all religions are the same?” he asked, again growing suspicious.

“Not at all,” I responded. “We are showing young people that religions have powerful things in common, but they come to those shared values through their own paths. . . .”

“The IFYC always gives young people the chance to actually act on the religious value they are talking about through a service project. It’s amazing how many faith stories of compassion kids remember when they are building a house together for a poor family, or what their insights into hospitality are when they are tutoring refugee children.” [1]

CAC teacher Brian McLaren writes about the sense of “with-ness” that arises when people of different faiths join in service, justice, and solidarity:

Another friend . . . went to a Muslim-majority country specifically to convert Muslims to Christianity. After some time there, he got a sick feeling: he felt he was serving neither God nor the best interests of the people around him, but was instead serving the colonizing agenda of the religious clan that sent him. So he changed the direction of his work. He started mobilizing Christians and Muslims to work side by side in helping the poor. “Something happens,” he told me, “when we work together for the poor. We all change. I know that both the Christians and the Muslims feel they are encountering God in one another, and together we are encountering God as we join God in serving the poor.” He discovered that witness led him to with-ness. . . .

Talking together is important—but that interfaith dialogue becomes much deeper in the context of multi-faith collaboration. Words are good, but actions are better—especially actions that bring us together solving problems that affect everybody. . . . [What] so many other people are doing is a lot like what Jesus did: bringing together unlikely people to serve and heal together, to liberate the oppressed and their oppressors together, and to model, in their collaboration, the kind of harmony and human-kindness the world so desperately needs. [2]