Learning to Love (I Corinthians 13), Part 2

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Love is Patient.

We’re asking, “How do we love the culture around us—co-workers, neighbours, friends, family, those who offend us, those who reject us, those who may even be changing our culture for the worse—how do we love them in a way that pleases God?”

We’ve seen what love is not. It is not big talk, brassy proofs, or bold campaigns—not that big, bold productions are necessarily bad. Look at God’s intrepid exhibition in creating the universe: stars, planets and moons flung into vast, meteoric order so that one small planet could sustain life. That’s mettle with infinite love at its core. But we’ve observed that when we humans try to replicate the show, it comes from a heart of fear: fear of being found out as frauds, fear of failing, fear of missing out, fear of not realizing our unique selves.

We are infatuated with the idea of love; we think expressions of passion and stagings of happy-ever-after romantic matches are love. We think love is something we fall into, something of which we are passive recipients, something we must release with open hands when we no longer feel its fire. We use the idea of love to justify actions that promote our own satisfaction regardless of the long-term consequences.

In what colours does the ‘Love Chapter ‘of the Bible paint love? If we still expect a pyrotechnic revelation of love, we’re in for a shock. Rather than love as the roar of a waterfall, we’re shown it as the whisper of a hummingbird’s wings. “Love is patient,” the Apostle Paul begins. The words painstakingly inked onto the original papyrus would have taken no small amount of determination to inscribe. The grain of the stripped, flattened and glued papyrus leaf would have tended to draw the ink in strange directions like bicycle wheels caught in a rut, careening off their intended path. It took resolution to write those words. It took patience.

But patient writing with ancient inscribing materials is nothing compared to patient loving. Patient loving, explains the Apostle, must persevere against the grain of our natural earth-bound inclinations. What is patience? How do we begin to grasp the facets of this complex and difficult-to-practice aspect of love?

Patience begins with looking at God, with recognizing the vast eternality of His existence. “Be still and know that I am God,” He commands through one of the psalmists. To be patient is to be stilled and silenced in awe of the One who is Supreme. He is. Inhale the thought of Him.

Next, patience grows through learning about the patience of God Himself—the perfect, ultimate form of patience. “The LORD is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love” explains another psalmist. One of the breathtaking results of reading through Scripture is seeing examples of God’s great patience in the lives of ordinary folk—people like you and me. You and I are the Adams and Eves, the Abrahams, Sarahs, Rebeccas and John Marks of this century. Like them, we stumble along making messes that God patiently works through to align history with His great plan to bless this world. God never tires of taking us back into His arms after each of our breakaway attempts to do things our way. He patiently heals the wounds with which we’ve pierced ourselves, helping us understand the beauty of soul He desires to create in us.

And finally, perhaps most, difficult, patience matures when we step into the lives of others, when we treat them with the sort of patience God has shown us. Practicing patience means no one is beneath us because we recognize how far God has reached down to us time and time again to lift us up. Practicing patience is seeing all people as inherently valuable—nothing they say or do can change our mind that they are made in God’s image. No wound they inflict is unforgiveable. Practicing patience is…practicing. It is a trial-and-error sort of loving, recognizing we ourselves are imperfect, and that while our attempts to love are imperfect, we will keep on trying. For those who have submitted themselves to the Lordship of Jesus, there is the inside help of His Holy Spirit, counseling us, awakening our consciences, moving us into situations where patience is required. For those who have not His Spirit, patience is a much more difficult virtue to practice.

If we want to love we must grow patient. We must look at God and His great patience with us; we must turn outward to express that patience to those who need love: our families, friends, peers and co-workers, drivers on the roads of life, people online and off the political centre—none are immune to the loving effects of patience. God be with you.

(Photo Credit: By “Mike” Michael L. Baird, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3593420)

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Twenty-eight Days With Jesus, Day 28

Famous Last Words.

Great ironies often describe our lives. A healthy-eating resolution is forgotten at the sight of a tasty but fattening treat; promises of a newly elected politician are either neglected or exploited to satisfy a personal agenda; a marriage vow dissolves under the pressures of daily living. Our pledges are often merely ‘famous last words.’

Famous last words of legendary people, though, are something different. They tell us what that person was thinking at the culmination of a distinguished and famous life. Groucho Marx is said to have quipped on his deathbed, “This is no way to live!”

Winston Churchill merely growled, “I’m bored with it all.”

And of course Julius Caesar’s final words at his assassination pled, “Et tu, Brute?”

As the gospel writer, Matthew, concludes the last chapter of his biography of Christ’s life, he quotes Jesus—after Christ’s resurrection, but just prior to His ascension—in what is often referred to as ‘The Great Commission.’

He recounts Jesus as saying, “God authorized and commanded me to commission you: Go out and train everyone you meet, far and near, in this way of life, marking them by baptism in the threefold name: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Then instruct them in the practice of all I have commanded you. I’ll be with you as you do this, day after day, right up to the end of the age.” (The Message).

Jesus has packed an abundance of depth into His famous last words.

He starts by assuring His followers that He has the backing of the Father in His plan and process for making true followers. He has the authority, jurisdiction and prerogative to speak into the lives of all those who are willing to have their lives turned upside-down by Him. With this mandate, He commands the eleven disciples to disciple others just as they themselves were discipled under the tutelage of Christ’s commands.

Did you notice the twofold plan of how this will be achieved in the lives of Christ-followers? Jesus says He wants to see His followers marked by a Trinity-inspired baptism and an obedience-based practice of godly living. Both are external exercises representing internal effects occurring in a life given over to God.

The baptism Jesus describes is to be a mark—a sign, symbol, and imprint—revealing a follower’s choice to be a different person than she or he was before choosing to follow Christ. It is a public act that boldly declares her new identity to be inextricably tied to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. No other identity will supersede this one. It is a one-time gesture signifying a new beginning.

The practice of godly living is the ongoing application of the Christ-follower’s new outlook on life. It is the daily work of living with integrity so that the outward signs of a follower’s Christianity mirror the inward realities. It is conformity to the very clear expectations and commands Jesus spoke first to His twelve disciples but by which He expects all true followers to abide. And of course it culminates in obeying Christ’s command to share this two-fold offer to others.

Learn one, do one, teach one. These were Christ’s famous last words. They are about how we must live our lives if we want to truly love God, love our neighbours, and thus love ourselves in the only way that really works for human lives. So the ending of Matthew’s biography of the life of Christ really brings us back to the beginning of Matthew’s gospel. It calls us to reapply ourselves to studying Christ’s life, and especially His commands. This is the essence, the heart and soul of the way in which Christ comes to live within us, not figuratively but literally; the Word becomes flesh in you and me. That, according to Matthew, is the whole reason the Son of God came to earth. The miraculous birth, the perfect life, the healing touch, the sacrificial death, and the victorious resurrection are all about inviting us to be back in right relationship with God. “And surely I am with you always,” comes the promise, “to the very end of the age.” Those are amazing last words.

(Photo Credits: By Zahrairani74 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=36580049; By Unknown – Mikó Árpád – Sinkó Katalin (szerk): Történelem-Kép, Szemelvények múlt és művészet kapcsolatáról Magyarországon, A Magyar Nemzeti Galéria kiadványai 2000/3, cat. no.: V-11 (Magyar Digitális Múzeumi Könyvtár), Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=19342018; https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Ivan_Ohienko_Bible.djvu; By Wesley Fryer from Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, USA – Cherokee Heritage Museum, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=40556270)

HOME

800px-Vancouver_City_2_by_ajithrajeswari

The City of Vancouver has a problem. It’s ranked as the tenth cleanest city in the world, one of the most livable places in North America, and boasts one of the world’s most beautiful metropolitan reprieves, Stanley Park. That’s not the problem. The problem is homelessness. In spite of a goal to completely eradicate the dilemma by 2014, the number of homeless people on Vancouver’s streets is on the rise. But that’s not the worst of it. If we are honest and look deep enough, we have to admit every one of us has contributed to those numbers.

We have all left the safety of home and camped on skid row, figuratively speaking. We’ve cast away the restraints with which our consciences have tried to surround us. We’ve said to the Father of our souls in one way or another, “I’m out of here!” Perhaps we’ve only dared to slip out under cover of night and return before dawn to hide our forays. Or we’ve ignored the Father, while living under His roof, so that others in the household will think all is well. We have all left home one way or another. Away seemed like the answer to our penchant for happiness.

Dr. J. Begbie, a professor at Duke Divinity School, has a theory[1] about this movement we all experience. He sees this trend as descriptive of the Bible’s story of our world. He calls it the “home-away-Home” progression, and he says music illustrates this same phenomenon. There is a beginning, followed by tension, followed by resolution. He says it is one of the fundamental patterns governing our lives. He describes it this way:

Home is “the equilibrium of the good earth and the Garden of Eden, with the first humans live in harmony with God and delight in each other.” That’s only a distant genetic memory for us, but we sense it, don’t we? We long for it in the quiet moments of our lives.

Away describes the tensions that have entered. “Humans rebel, they say no to God.” We’ve done that. We’ve wandered, explored places we should never have gone. We’ve been homeless.

 Home is God’s “work on a resolution, beginning with a character called Abraham, climaxing in Jesus, and finishing with what the last book of the Bible calls ‘a new heaven and a new earth’…not simply a return to how things were but to a universe remade.” That’s the resolution we each need in our lives—souls remade.

Jesus describes a similar story about our problem of homelessness. He talks about His going home to the Father to prepare a place for those who turn to Him. It’s the Home our souls have longed for. It’s where the Father resolves the tension of our wayfaring souls.

We’re all at different places on the journey. Jesus says no one is so far away that they have to remain homeless; if they truly want to come Home He can bring them there. That’s what you and I need, isn’t it? Someone who can turn our hands and feet, heart and soul toward Home. He’s there for the asking.

Father of my soul, I’ve been away far too long. My wanderlust has led me places I never meant to go. Only You can make me fit for Your Home of homes. Let Your love bind me to Yourself so I will always be where You are. Thank you Jesus.

 

[1] Willard, D. ed., A Place for Truth, IVP Books, Downers Grove, IL, p.217-219.

(Photo Credit: Ajith Rajeswari, Wikimedia Commons)