Learning to Love (I Corinthians 13), Part 7

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Is not Self-seeking.

Nothing is more natural to us than to look out for ourselves. We do it all the time, and sometimes it is even good for us. We prepare our meals keeping our fingers away from the sharp edge of the knife; we look both ways before crossing the street; we don warm clothes in winter and sunblock in summer. But paradoxically, nothing is more of an obstacle, barrier, and impediment to love than looking out for ourselves.

The writer of I Corinthians 13 has been scrutinizing the notion of love. He has been examining, defining, and virtually dissecting every facet of love for those who care to listen. The ancient text was written specifically to new believers in the Greek city of Corinth (c. A.D. 56), but also to “all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ—their Lord and ours.” He wants people to understand some hard lessons about love.

He has started by explaining that love is patient and kind, that it does not envy or boast, and that it is not proud or rude. Those were the kindergarten and elementary lessons on love. We need to work on those, but they are child’s play compared to what’s coming. Now the Apostle Paul propels us into graduate-level course work. Enough of the easy stuff; it’s time, he seems to suggest, to get down to the real labour of love—the nitty-gritty, ‘get your hands dirty or get out of the garden’ kind of love.

“Love…” Paul explains, “is not self-seeking.”

Adjectives for self-seeking are: self-esteeming, self-interested, self-important, self-serving, self-centred, self-absorbed, and self-obsessed. Read that list again slowly, thoughtfully and carefully. There are other adjectives that go even further, descriptors like egotistical and narcissistic—pathologic extremes of self-centredness—illustrating how destructive the tendency in us can become. But for now, let’s choose from the ‘self’ list one adjective that describes, at least to some degree, our own experience. Let’s put it under the microscope and see what the fuss is all about.

Paul warn us against self-seeking behaviours because in the long run, when we put self-interest ahead of others-interest and ultimately God-interest, we destroy ourselves. Our self was not made to bear the weight of our own inward focus. God created us to find our greatest fulfillment by centering ourselves on Him first, on others second, and on ourselves last. Reversing that order is counter-productive to our need for love. So why do we do it?

We do it because we fall for the world’s oldest lie. The deception is: “The only way to truly be happy is to look out for myself.” We won’t go into where that lie originates; that’s a story for another day. Self-seeking motives hide deep in the recesses of our souls, come imbedded in our very DNA, and cause at least three injuries to us.

Firstly, they are isolating. When we are making decisions based on how to ensure outcomes that benefit us, they are bound to segregate us from others—especially the ones who suffer from our benefitting. When we become preoccupied with our own issues (our external appearance, our social media standing, our finances, our passions, and even our sufferings and experiences as victims) we fail to concern ourselves with others. We become care-less in looking out for the weak, the hurting and the love-needy. We become self-determining islands of isolation, focused only on our self. And selfishness ultimately makes us unlovable, further reinforcing that isolation.

Secondly, self-seeking motives are disillusioning. The lie sets us up to believe that the more we attend to ourselves the better things will be for us in the long run. We begin making choices out of fear for our own happiness, but find happiness an elusive thing to grasp. The older we get, the more we realize the labours of our lives ending much differently than we had planned. The disillusionment that follows this disappointment is often nothing less than overwhelming. Look at any example from the world’s highest pedestals of success and we see the carnage of lives crushed with disillusionment.

And thirdly, the inner drive for self is, in the end, self-destructive. The lack of love for others makes us not greater ourselves, but lesser. Our souls shrivel; our thoughts become disordered; our words take on twisted deceptions; we lose our hold on truth and reality and our actions become self-limiting. The goal of creating ourselves into masterpieces results in a corrupted shell of the glorious individual into which God envisioned making us.

What is the solution? In a word, Jesus. Jesus taught, “whoever finds his life will lose it but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” It’s a bold statement. It’s an impossible task. But here’s the miracle: Jesus came down to earth to live a life of selfless servanthood toward His heavenly Father and to all of humanity—to you and me. He repelled all temptations of self-interest and sacrificed His very life at the call of the Father to deliver us. And He offers His own Spirit to empower us to live for Him and to be like Him. That’s the breath-taking solution, designed and modeled by Love Himself. Here’s our opportunity. Each day He awaits our invitation to begin or continue the process of learning to love.

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Opening the Door to Psalm 119, Part 17

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‘Samekh’

Kim Peek could read two pages of an open book at one time by splitting his vision. Using his unique savant skill, Peek was able to memorize more than 9,000 books while he had an IQ rated at only 87. It seems that the prenatal development of his corpus callosum—the tissue normally connecting the two hemispheres of a brain—had somehow been arrested, leaving him with a condition known as ‘split-brain’. The surgical operation to produce this condition is called corpus callosotomy, and is used to reduce epileptic seizures. It seems to accomplish its purpose, but it comes with the strange side effect of dis-integrated actions. In one instance, a split-brain individual was documented as finding himself pulling down one pant leg with his left hand while pulling up the other pant leg with his right because of dueling desires to undress and dress. There are difficulties with being double-minded.

In ‘Samekh’, the fifteenth stanza of Psalm 119, the Psalmist tackles the dilemma of double-minded thinking. He is appealing to God with deep intensity a prayer borne out of experience. He has felt the sting of opponents whose double-minded treachery has traumatized him. Perhaps he has even felt the influence of succumbing to their faithless double-dealing deceptions. The old King James version begins by translating his words as, “I hate vain thoughts…” Actions begin with thoughts, and none of us are immune to surrendering our minds to moments of low and ignoble imaginings in the hidden arena of our thoughts. Hatred against this most base indication of human degradation is appropriate. There is something in each of us—the vestige of a memory—that knows we were created for true and noble thoughts; we cringe when we recognize how far and how easily we can slip from the single-minded, undivided loyalty to our Creator and His calling.

With this caveat in mind, we read a newer version/translation of the stanza to say, “I hate double-minded men, but I love your law. You are my refuge and my shield; I have put my hope in your word.”

Why does the psalmist contrast double-mindedness with loving/hoping in God’s word? It sounds like he’s comparing apples to obelisks. We might need to begin by exploring and defining double-minded thinking.

Double-mindedness is a mindset of dualism that separates life into disconnected categories. Relationships, work, leisure, goals, desires, character and behaviour all stand apart from one another, and may be manipulated to achieve whatever an individual desires. There is no regard for any integrated whole to the sum of the parts of that individual’s life. If one were to investigate this kind of life more thoroughly, one would find inconsistencies and illogical, indefensible reasoning, a foundation crumbling from within. Double-minded thinking causes people to reject truths that annoy them and imprecate “Ignorant!” to deflect reality from piercing their souls.

Whereas, loving God’s revealed truths—His principles for living, His solution for our rebellion and His goals for our future—is the epitome of single-minded wholehearted thinking. It provides an integrity for our lives. It gives cohesion and logical coherence to everything we think, say and do. Only God can provide true single-mindedness. He does it by directing us to “Fix (your) eyes on Jesus,” to “Set your minds on things above…with Christ,” and to “not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves…(but to) do what it says(!)”

This is why Jesus is quoted so many times as prefacing His remarks with the phrase, “I tell you the truth.” It is because He intends us to pay close attention to His words, to mull over them, to discuss them with other people and wrestle with the concepts until we can incorporate them fully into our lives. His words make us people of integrity and are the only remedy for double-mindedness.

“I will give them singleness of heart and action” promises God to the body of people He considers His children. What a promise! Let’s reach out and embrace Jesus, accept the gift, and embody the trueness He longs to impart deep into our being.

 

Thirty-one Ordinary Prayers, #10

Prayer Acknowledging God’s Help (Paraphrasing Psalm 124)

Without You, God, without Your faithful, loving and all-powerful help, I would have been swallowed up alive by the enemy; the subtle attacks of the spirit of this age, the insinuation of the evil one—enemy of my soul—and my own foolish whims and rebellious plans would have engulfed me. Like a great and hungry wave they would have crashed over my head and drawn me into their deep watery grave, senseless, faithless, hopeless.

But You were there for me; You were and are and will be ever near, protecting my soul for Your eternal kingdom.

Somehow I sensed Your presence, believed what You said about me, and came to You for forgiveness. And what did I receive? Love—Your soul deep, ever-present, faithful compassion, calling me Your dear child.

Like a bird released from the fowler’s snare, I have escaped the deception and self-destruction I see all around me. I am breathless thinking about my narrow escape. May I never forget that my help is in Your Great Name, Jesus, O Maker of heaven and earth.

Thirty-one Ordinary Prayers, #6

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Prayer for Tongue-healing (Paraphrase of Psalm 120)

I’m on my knees before You, God. I’m more than disappointed in myself and others; I’m appalled. And yet, I know from Your Word that You hear the heart that repents.

Save me, O LORD, from undercurrents of deception. They’re everywhere I look and listen. Even my own lips have worded thoughts in ways that are not wholly true. What can be done to heal a lying tongue? Pierce it with the arrow of Your Truth—embed Your very being into it, so that truth becomes a good infection filling it. Redeem it for Your true and eternal purposes.

Too long have I let pride and selfishness influence the way I speak; that is the worldview of my fallen nature within me and the godless culture around me. The deception goes deep. It says that You are absent, impotent or nonexistent, and truth is only what we make it.

Instead, fill me with a deep sense of Your ever-present companionship. Let the overflow of this reality be expressed as words of truth and love; let my tongue be Your faithful servant, not only here in this quiet place with You, but also in my world where war is being waged against truth. Teach me to speak truth and life for eternity, where I will praise and honour You without end.

Twenty-eight Days With Jesus, Day 24

Alert to Deception

The orchid mantis deftly reaches out, snagging a bee for brunch. The hapless nectar-gatherer is easy game for the orchid mantis of Southeast Asia for one reason: this mantis looks and smells like a delicate nectar-producing orchid blossom. One can hardly blame the countless bees and butterflies deceived by this clever hunter—even the mantis’ own predators would never imagine that behind the cloak of its petal-like body parts lurks a living beast.

Discovering the intricacies of this world’s creatures is fascinating—especially since we ourselves are not the unlucky targets of deadly predators like the orchid mantis. But what if there was a predator in our world camouflaging itself to appear not just hidden, but actually attractive and even life-giving?

Matthew records Jesus offering counsel to His followers after His public contretemps with the religious ruling powers of the day “Watch out that no one deceives you,” He warns His disciples. Two more times in the chapter he refers to the existence of predators whose purpose it is to deceive people. And twice more Jesus advises, “keep watch” and “be ready.” We get the sense that something is afoot, something dangerous—perhaps even deadly—something cleverly disguised and attractive.

Jesus calls the danger “false prophets”; it’s a term used throughout Scripture to describe purveyors of ideas that sound good but contain anti-God sentiments. Those representing these false ideas may themselves not even be aware of the dangerous territory they inhabit; the force behind the ideas, though, is intent on trapping naïve and gullible individuals with the nectar of the gods—it will use any minion who volunteers for the task.

How can people like you and me protect ourselves from something as insidious as Jesus predicts will enslave so many? With truth and vigilance.

“I tell you the truth,” Jesus claims twice in the chapter. It is a favourite phrase Jesus regularly uses to precede His teachings. The phrase isn’t just a nicety, though, a euphemism repeated in monotony like Eastern religion’s empty “OM.” Jesus is claiming to know truth. More than that, He is claiming to embody and even be the source of truth—all Truth. Think about that for a moment. Is the man lying? Or is He crazy?

The only other option is that Jesus is telling the truth. His greatest claim would be to assert that following His death at the hands of powerfully evil people He would resurrect—come back to life. That claim is enough to determine whether the man is a liar, a lunatic, or Lord of all creation. The fact is, He did rise from the dead. His resurrection is better documented than the existence of Shakespeare or you or me.

Those who accept Jesus and all He taught as ultimate truth—and are willing to live by those truths—are given what we might call an unfair advantage. They will be furnished with the ability to see beneath the attractive façade of the dangerous lies abounding in this world. They will have a sort of night vision warning of ideas and activities that house soul-dangers.

In contrast, those who reject Jesus and the way of life He models will be drawn like moths to the glitter of every whim of dangerous attraction. They are fair game for deception. Truth will no longer be important to them, will be unable to protect them.

“Be ready,” Jesus advises. Be alert. Be vigilant to our own naïve tendencies to be swayed by any wind of an idea that attracts us. Jesus is the only one who truly longs for our ultimate good, who will not prey upon us but is able, rather, to lift us up to become fuller, freer, truer people than we could ever become on our own. Do you believe it, or has deception already drawn you into its grasp?

(Photo Credit: Dr. James O’Hanlon, Macquarie University. Retrieved from http://www.livescience.com/41605-predator-lures-prey-by-mimicking-flowers.html)

THE MINISTRY OF INTERNAL AFFAIRS, PART 4

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The Light of Truth

When Bilbo Baggins finds Gollum’s ring, in Tolkien’s The Hobbit, something begins to happen to him. Do you remember? Rather than possessing the ring, the ring seems to possess him – it begins to change something central to his character as it had done to its previous owner, Gollum. It has to do with light and truth. When worn, the ring enables Bilbo to become invisible, which helps him escape from several dangers, to be sure. But invisibility is immunity from light’s effects, for better or worse; Bilbo finds himself lying to cover up others’ knowledge of this possession. He becomes a victim of the ring’s corrupting influence, just as Gollum had been.

While Tolkien’s world of The Hobbit is fictional, we relate to it because our world spins on the same axis; the central pivot of our lives regards our relationship to truth or to its enemy, deception. The choices we make to apprehend deception or truth will eventually apprehend us. Listen to how the Apostle Paul puts it.

“The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God” (II Corinthians 4:4,2).

We’re hearing ‘us’ and ‘them’ language, but we’re all part of this cosmic struggle between light and dark, truth and lies. We’ve all known the power of deception in our lives – we’ve been hurt by it when others have used it against us, and we have done the same to them. We’ve discounted the image of God in Christ, distorted the Word of God for our own purposes, and been caught up in the tangled web the practice of deception produces. Is this the truth or not?

The Ministry of Internal Affairs, as we’ve been terming God’s kingdom influence, is a ministry of truth. It calls us to take action by making a choice. We must renounce deception; we must toss away the ring of lies that has possessed us, and peel off the spidery web of deceit that has held us captive. It begins with the choice to proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord — the central Truth of reality.

The complexity of deception beginning with a ‘will not see’ attitude toward Christ becomes a ‘can not see’ limitation. No one is born an atheist – rather it is the culmination of many small choices to slip on the ring that lures us with its advantages. Our souls turn Gollum-like pale and our eyes become unable to endure the searing nature of light.

The simplicity of truth begins with a ‘will to see’ desire which transforms into a ‘can see God in Christ’ capacity. Gone is the shame. Removed is the distortion of God’s Word in our lives. Instead, we open ourselves to the truth, plain and simple, and are able to see that Christ alone is truly God. Our hearts begin to glow with the precious knowledge of Christ as we give ourselves over to truth.

The ministry of God’s Spirit in our lives expands with every step we take into it. It begins with the aroma of Christ, moves into our hearts, replaces law with covenant, and now frees us from the bondage of deception.

“ O Truthful Father, Son and Spirit, come into our hearts and minds and relieve us of this burden of deception into which we have fallen. Replace it with your truth and light. Change the core of our being so we can become the people you desire us to be. Amen.”

(Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons)