Wednesday
Jan302019

Day 6—Loving God

Matthew 22:36-40—"'Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?’ And he said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.'"

1 John 4:10—"In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins."

How do we love God? It can seem so simple until you reflect on the notion. Loving God is not like loving a person or a pet. How do we love God with everything we have?

Here are two simple suggestions that can open us up to love God.

We first accept that we are loved by God. This is harder than it sounds because God loves us as we truly are and not as we imagine ourselves to be. To accept God’s love means we, slowly and over time, realize just who God loves. God proves his love in the cross of Christ. God’s love pours out upon the world when humanity was at our worst.

God loves you as you really are. God’s love stepped toward you first, flaws and failures and all. Realizing and living in God’s love means we discover ourselves and learn how to be honest in deeper ways.

Next, we love ourselves. As Herbert McCabe says, we actually love God by loving ourselves. To say it another way: we love ourselves with the kind of love God had for us.

It’s not quite true that God’s love is unconditional. Christian teacher John Peckham says God’s love is fore-conditional. Love is given before we earn or deserve. We don’t meet any conditions to be loved. But this love is transforming. To receive and live in this love changes us into what we could never be on our own. 

God’s love meets us right where we are. Then it takes us on a journey. When we love ourselves, we don’t try to just stay the same even if that is more comfortable. We become willing to let God’s love open us up and transform us. We let God create hunger and thirst for more and better in us. We hunger to have a heart of mercy, grace, and kindness that mirrors the divine heart revealed in Jesus.This kind of love isn’t selfish. When we love ourselves with God’s love, we realize that everyone else we meet is loved in the same way. I am not more important than anyone else. But I’m not (and you’re not!) less important than anyone else either.

We can never know if other people return God’s love. We cannot judge. We can trust that God loves our neighbors, God loves our enemies, and God invites us into an adventure that causes everyone and everything to glisten and glimmer with the light of love.

GAP Exercise for Day 6

Sunday
Jan272019

Day 5—Love your Life

 

Galatians 1:13-16—"For you have heard of my previous way of life in Judaism, how intensely I persecuted the church of God and tried to destroy it. I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers. But when God, who set me apart from my mother’s womb and called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles, my immediate response was not to consult any human being."

1 Corinthians 3:21-22—"All things are yours,  whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all things are yours, and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s."

The Bible is an honest book. The flaws and weaknesses of great heroes are retained. And not just retained, but put to good use.

Think of Peter’s denial of Christ. Instead of covering this up, the Gospel writers take their time. Pride and vanity would cover this up. Why leave it? Because it shows the beauty and depth of God’s mercy.

We live in times without much grace. Public figures are tarred and feathered (on the internet) by mobs left and right. Honest confession and costly forgiveness are hard to find.

In such an environment, it can be hard to be honest about our lives. We stick to a cleaned up version. We all have hurt others, which is hard to admit. We all have been hurt, which can be painful to face. We can get stuck in regret about the past. We can live in denial about the real challenges of our lives. We can cling hysterically to a version of our lives that might be less than full.

In Galatians 1, as well as other places, Paul gives us a model of how to handle our lives. He looks at the truth of himself honestly, trusting not in his goodness but in the goodness of God. This is a work of the Holy Spirit, helping us learn to accept our lives.

Someone said, “The opposite of love is not hate, it is indifference.” Learning to love our lives does not mean loving every part of our lives—what we’ve done and what others have done. We don’t simply remain indifferent to our lives. It does mean learning to accept our lives and being given eyes to see the good God has done.  

This means we learn to tell our stories, beginning first with the stories we tell ourselves. As we learn how to face our own pasts, our weaknesses and limitations, God works a deeper peace in us. This peace can impact others, sometimes profoundly.

God teaches us to share our stories, but with discretion. We don’t have to tell anyone who will listen everything that has ever happened. But when we’ve learn to love our lives, we will have chances to encourage and bless others when the time is right.

The first step in loving our lives is simply to be open to the idea that we do not yet know our own stories. We can begin to accept the idea that cover-ups have happened and skeletons are in the closet. We can be curious about what might be revealed. And we can pray for God to lead us.

As we are willing, God will lead us. We will be surprised. We’ll see that our lives are less what we or others think about them. Our lives are about what God does with them.

GAP Exercise for Day 5

 

Wednesday
Jan232019

Ephesians 1:18-19—"I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe."

Psalm 4:4—"Tremble and do not sin; when you are on your beds, search your hearts and be silent."

Human beings have emotions. Even the tough guys. We can’t help it. Emotions are part of being human. If God created us to be human, then God must want us to have emotions.

Why? Emotions are based on our responses to our circumstances. Our emotions keep us connected to the world, to others, and to God. God created us for connection with the world.

Often, Christians don’t talk much about our emotions. We might emphasize our ideas or our actions. But in the Psalms, we find every imaginable emotion put into words. The Psalms give us permission to bring our emotions into our relationship with God.

Trouble is, some of our emotions are uncomfortable. We don’t like the way we feel so we distract ourselves with entertainment, substances, and staying busy. We try not to feel our emotions or we vent our negative emotions on others. Handling our emotions poorly can lead us to sin. We can, over time, become either overly emotional or seemingly emotionless.

When we are overly emotional, we seem to be controlled by our emotions. We lose our temper. We cry when we’d rather not. We are overwhelmed by fear.

When we are emotionless, we lose connection with our emotions. We don’t really pay attention to how we are feeling. We can struggle to connect with others on a deep level.

Scripture, I believe, invites us into a healthy way of dealing with our emotions. This doesn’t mean we all need to show our emotions on the outside the same way. Different people, men and women, will have different ways of showing emotion. That’s fine.

What we all can do is learn how to make room for our emotions on the inside. We can learn how to feel our emotions without being overwhelmed, without denial, and with much less distraction. According to Psalm 4:4, this paying attention to our emotions—“examining our heart”—can bring us into a deeper connection with God. Making room for emotions can connect us to the truth about ourselves and our lives.
Learning how to feel our emotions inside ourselves is another way we can learn to love ourselves. We can learn to be gentle with our emotions and not be afraid of them or be harsh with them. This might be part of what Paul calls the opening of the eyes of our heart, which opens up new dimensions of hope and riches in our lives with God.

GAP Exercise for Day 4

Sunday
Jan202019

Day 3—Love Your Physical Body

Psalm 139:14 “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;  your works are wonderful, I know that full well.”

1 Corinthians 6:19-20 “Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.” 

Romans 12:1 “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.”

The Bible honors the human body. Unlike some religious teaching that views the body with disgust and dislike, Scripture views the body as “wonderfully made.”

Paul tells us the body is a temple of the Holy Spirit and to offer our bodies as living sacrifices. Our bodies are vital for our relationship with God.

Often Christians only focus on the potential for sin involving our bodies. We learn to avoid behaviors and substances that can harm our bodies. This can leave us without a positive vision for how to appreciate and use our bodies. We might not imagine that our bodies have anything positive to contribute to the life of faith.

I think this leaves us vulnerable to damaging attitudes toward our bodies. As mentioned in the video, the attitudes are perfectionism and neglect.

Perfectionism leads us to focus on how our bodies don’t fit our culture’s standards. We try to change what we don’t like through intense diet, exercise, and cosmetic surgery. This affects both women and men. Our looks and athletic performance can become unhealthy obsessions. Perfectionism is very critical of bodies.

Neglect leads us to largely ignore our bodies. We don’t eat well, we aren’t physically active, or we don’t take care of ourselves. We might only pay attention to our physical well being until we are hurt somehow.

Perfectionism and neglect can reinforce each other. If I can’t look the way I want, I won’t even try to be healthy.

Here’s an alternative- gratitude for our bodies. At each moment, there are thousands and thousands of processes happening to keep us alive. We aren’t in control of most of these processes.

Your heart beats without your effort. Your brain sends signals to move your muscles. Your stomach produces enzymes to turn food into energy. We are alive, through and as our bodies.   

Of course things go wrong with bodies. Children are born with birth defects. Disease brings suffering and death. We cry out to God about these things. We trust him to make all things new. But these problems do not negate the fact that our bodies are “temples of the Holy Spirit.” We can meet God somehow through our physical being.

When we love our bodies, we are grateful to God for them. We see them as God’s gifts to us. We are kind and gentle to them. We try to appreciate our own and not compare with others. We take care of them with a positive sense.

Does this mean we can’t try to change things about ourselves? No, though this requires wisdom. I think of the Serenity Prayer: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and the wisdom to know the difference.”

With God’s help, we learn to love our bodies allows us to live more joy, peace, and generosity of spirit.

Prayer Exercise:

One way to love our bodies is through prayer. This prayer exercise is one way to pray with specific attention to our bodies.

GAP Exercise for Day 3

 

Wednesday
Jan162019

Day 2—Is It Selfish to Love Yourself?

Luke 14: 25-27—Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple. And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.”
 
Matthew 14:24—Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”
 
How do these verses fit with Jesus’ other words, “Love your neighbor as yourself?” How do we both love ourselves and deny ourselves?
 
Let’s think first about the life of Jesus. Jesus certainly suffers on the cross and faces hardship in other ways, but he doesn’t suffer as much as he possibly can. In Luke 4, Jesus didn’t let the crowd in Nazareth push him off of a cliff. Jesus avoids danger and stops to rest. He eats and drinks, so much that people call him a glutton.
 
Jesus doesn’t glorify suffering for the sake of suffering. Sometimes Christians get this wrong.
 
Jesus, along with so much of the New Testament, does call us to suffer when it leads to good for ourselves or others. Giving birth is an example of suffering that leads to new life. Banging your head against a wall might hurt, but it does not lead to new life.

What does Jesus call us to deny, “hate,” and let go of? Our social reputations, our delusions and lies, our self-centered pursuits, our own agendas, and our superiority to others. Jesus doesn’t want us to do this because we’ll suffer more! He gives us this invitation so we’ll find true and deeper life in God.

Just look at what Jesus says in Matthew 10:39, “Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.” You might say, Jesus wants us to lose our “false life” to find “true life” in him. This doesn’t mean try to increase our suffering or refusing to take care of ourselves.

Here’s a practical example of how we might figure out both denying and loving ourselves.

Let’s say I’m tired on a Saturday afternoon. Should I take a nap? Or should I deny my desire for rest for the sake of others? How might I decide?

Here’s a question I’ve found helpful.  We can ask “Is this action only good for me (or me and mine)? Or is it good for others as well?”

If taking a nap is only good for me; for instance, if my taking a nap would leave young children unsupervised or important work undone, then I probably should skip the nap. But if taking a nap would help me fight off an illness or be more patient with my family, then my nap would be good for others.

Sometimes our failure to take care of ourselves, even while trying to sacrifice for others, can actually harm others. If I’m “selflessly” cleaning the house while exhausted and I end up screaming at the children, I have probably done more harm than good.  

Is it selfish to love yourself? Is it selfish to share the attitude that God has toward you? Not at all. The Christian life will bring difficulties and sometimes invite significant sacrifices. But we will be much more willing and joyful during trials if we have learned to love, to delight in, and enjoy being ourselves.

GAP Exercise for Day 2

Sunday
Jan132019

Day 1—Love Yourself

An expert in the Jewish Law asked Jesus, “What’s the most important commandment in the Law?” The Hebrew word for Law is Torah, which is also what Jews call the first 5 books of the Old Testament. There are 613 commandments in the Torah. Which does Jesus say is the most important?

Matthew 22:37-40—Jesus replied, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

“Love God with everything you have and are. Love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus’ answer is familiar. We’ve heard the Golden Rule inspired by Jesus’ words: “Treat others the way you want them to treat us.”

But have you heard of the Hidden Rule? (Full disclosure, I made up that this is called the Hidden Rule. I think it works.)

“We treat others the way we treat ourselves.” When we see how we act toward others, we see how we see our own attitude to ourselves. If we are impatient, critical, judgmental, teasing, quick to blame, or eager to give advice to others, we get a glimpse at our own self-treatment. It’s likely we don’t even realize this most of the time.

When we hear “Love your neighbor as yourself,” it’s easy to assume that we love ourselves. But what does it really mean to love yourself? What if, in our sinful and fallen state, it is really hard to love ourselves as we ought to love?

During this eRevival, this is what we’ll explore: perhaps learning to love ourselves rightly is a key to loving God and our neighbors well.

Prayer Exercise:

Psalm 131:2 says, “But I have calmed and quieted myself.” The Bible indicates that silence and quiet are important to prayer.

To love ourselves, we also need to know ourselves. But so often, we are too busy, too overwhelmed with information, and too preoccupied to know what’s really going on with us. For example, have you ever been exhausted for weeks, but didn’t realize it until you got sick?

This prayer exercise is called "GAP," which stands for Ground Aware Presence. It is a simple way for us to still and quiet ourselves. We’ll be using the GAP exercise as preparation for prayer as we continue through this eRevival.

GAP Exercise for Day 1