Category Archives: Reflections

How to Love Your Enemies

Note: The bulk of this post and the ideas in it were drafted a couple months back, but some life events happened that caused me to put it aside. Yesterday morning I was drawn back to it, and finished editing it this m0rning.

love-your-enemies“Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you.”

“Bless those who persecute you, bless and do not curse.”

“… you nullify the word of God for the sake of your traditions.”

Just now it’s 1:18 AM, and I was ready to fall asleep when I started thinking about loving, blessing and praying for my enemies. This has been a common theme for me for some years. Some time back, during a time I was struggling with forgiveness, I began to find that obeying Jesus’ command to speak blessings over my “enemies” was the quickest way to walk through forgiveness.

Tonight as I was meditating on that again, and praying for someone who has been less than gracious and nice to me, I realized that often we can miss gems like this because, like the Pharisees, we “nullify” the word.  How do we accomplish this?  We do it by either magnifying a word beyond all application to our daily lives, or by minimizing a word to the same end. What do I mean? In this case with “Love your enemies” we often do both.

Minimizing “Love”

One way to nullify Jesus’ command to “Love your enemies” is to minimize the meaning of “love.” In English the word is used in a wide variety of ways, however the Greek word that was used was one that had the connotation of unconditional and complete love. Our undivine nature rebels against such a counter-intuitive thought of loving our enemies. Faced with a prospect that feels quite impossible we can easily find ourselves “minimizing” the biblical meaning of “love.” We convince ourselves we “love” everyone, or at least we don’t hate everyone, even when in our heart we know anger rises in our hearts at the thought of that certain person.  We hold imaginary conversations with them, where we put them in their place. We imagine them “getting theirs,” but we tell ourselves “we love them because Jesus commands me to.”

Here is the litmus test: When we think of that person do we feel patient, kind, gracious, forgiving, calm, generous, longsuffering and merciful? If not, we have not loved (1 Cor 13).

Magnifying “an enemy”

The other trick of our mind is to maximize the word “enemy.” Enemy becomes something huge and monstrous, like Hitler or Osama Bin Laden.  Or, at the very least, someone who did something really blatantly “enemy-like,” such as punch us in the face. Forget the fact that we would have just as much or more difficulty loving these capital-E Enemies. But they are convenient scapegoats because they are much less frequently encountered face-to-face than the small-e enemies. They allow us to define enemy as such an evil and bad person that (a) we seldom encounter them face-to-face, and (b) the person in front of us is not an “enemy,” rather they are only”someone who is annoying me.”

Here are several definitions that will help us better apply this scripture to real life:

enemy  – one who is unkind to me; one who makes my life difficult or undermines me; one who distorts the truth about me; one who is rude to me; one doesn’t seem to like me; one who misunderstands me; one who I strongly disagree with.

Here is a litmus test that that perhaps someone is my enemy: do I find myself lumping that person in a “them” group that is different from “me” and “us.”

How to Love Your Enemy

It has been said that Love is not a feeling, but an action. I say it is both. Love acts, but it is also full of emotion. Not that the emotion is always pleasant. To love your enemy is almost without exception painful, for when we love as God loves we desire to know and be known by the one we love, but we cannot count on love being reciprocated by our enemies. Indeed, often the initial response to love from an enemy is not love in return, but anger. My husband often reminds me that Jesus loved perfectly and they wanted to kill Him. Thus the result of loving your enemies will likely be to feel the pain and anguish of love.

But besides pain, when we truly love we also do feel tenderness towards the one loved and are moved with compassion towards them. Because we love them we are able to see clearly that they are hurt and afraid, and unable to admit it. If compassion is real, we don’t just act compassionately, but we are “moved with compassion,” that is, we feel a sense of longing for them. Jesus expressed this longing when He wept over Jerusalem (the Greek word for weep in this instance means to “wail aloud,”, so he was expressing strong emotions) and expressed His longing to gather them together with him, using a beautiful metaphor of a mother hen gathering her many chicks under her wings. Loving your enemies is not for the faint of heart.

Why is it important to emphasize not only the actions of love, but the feelings of love? Because both are necessary to love genuinely, to love as the John the apostle stated, “not with words or speech, but with actions and in truth.” Holding ourselves to the standard of both feeling love and acting out of love, also makes us aware of our need for the grace and power of God to love. There have been times when I have experienced the grace of God to love my enemies, but I must admit that most, if not all, of these times were preceded by genuinely not wanting to have my heart softened toward the Other.

So, how do I love my enemy? The key which opens the door to the grace of God is humility, and our first step is found right beside the initial command:

“But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.” (Luke 6:27-28)

I have learned many lessons as I have prayed about what it means to “bless my enemies,” but those are for another post, and probably many more posts for I am still learning. But suffice it to say, in the process of learning to bless, I have often learned to love as well.

How do you learn to love your enemy? Do good to them. Bless them. Pray for them. Don’t know what that means in practice? Ask the Spirit of God to show you and you will learn.

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the Coming of the Light

“Come, house of Jacob, and let us walk in the light of the LORD.” – Isaiah 2:5

“The night is almost gone, and the day is near. Therefore let us lay aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light.” – Romans 13:12

img_0133As I read the readings for the first Sunday in Advent, what strikes me is the image of light. Though Christmas became a tradition reltively late in Christian history (4th century), it seems fitting that is celebrated at a time when darkness is greatest, when the night is the longest, when all seems lifeless. Jesus as light and God as light is a common theme through scripture.  Here are just a few of many references:

“In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men. The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.” – John 1:4-5

“This is the message we have heard from Him and announce to you, that God is Light, and in Him there is no darkness at all.” 1 John 1:5

“This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.” – John 3:19-21

“Arise, shine; for your light has come,
And the glory of the LORD has risen upon you.
For behold, darkness will cover the earth
And deep darkness the peoples;
But the LORD will rise upon you
And His glory will appear upon you.

“Nations will come to your light,
And kings to the brightness of your rising.” – Isaiah 60:1-3

“The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.” – Isaiah 9:2

It is only with light that we can truly see.  Even those creatures who see well at night, do so because they are able to better harness the little light that is available to their eyes.  in absolute darkness all are equally blind. And the picture we are given is that God Himself is light.  That is, his very nature is such that nothing is hidden from Him. His very nature is such that those who attempt to follow Him will have their deeds exposed, both good and evil.

Therefore the coming of the light is both hopeful and terrifying: hopeful for those who are oppressed, and terrifying for the oppressor; hopeful to those who love the light, terrifying for those whose deeds are evil. Further, in each of us is both that person who longs for truth, and also the person who wants to hide. In each of us both oppressed and oppressor dwell together. For the beauty and the ugliness of humanity dwell together in each heart. To find the beauty one must also gaze on the flaws, to accept the beauty one must acknowledge the ugly. The light exposes all.

I have often been intrigued that John 3 does not contrast those whose deeds were evil with those whose deeds were good. Rather, it contrasts those whose deeds were evil with those who live by the truth. Those among us who love truth also have evil in us that needs to be exposed – our own inner selfishness, pride, ingratitude, hard-heartedness, blindness. It is not our perfect deeds that draws us to the light, it is our love for the light, our love and longing for truth.

“Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.” – Hebrews 4:13

For those whose image of God is a harsh taskmaster, such a thought would almost certainly be terrifying, but the same disciple who told us “God is light” also tells us this:

“God is love.” – 1 John 4:8b

It is not a harsh taskmaster that shines the light, but a loving Father, whose “mercies are new every morning.”

God for Sale

imagesRecently I was browsing my Facebook feed, when I saw a post that intrigued me. It said, “Join other pilgrims for a soul journey into advent… you’ll be immersed into the season in a more whole and holy way.” I had previously read one or two interesting articles on the site in question, and my soul was hungry for something more, so I clicked through to be greeted by the following title:

“when the heart waits: a soul journey into advent, christmas + epiphany”

I continued to read paragraph after paragraph about waiting, quietness, seeking, longing for God, endings and beginnings, and hints of hope that the wait is worth it. So far, so good.

There’s the bait, now for the hook.  After reading a delightful description of a spiritual journey, I come upon the final section entitled “Levels of Participation.” Evidently there are “levels” at which one can participate in one’s “soul journey”:  Levels 1, 2 and 3. If you only want level 1 of spirituality, “those who want in,” then it can be had for the bargain price of $98. For those “longing for real encounter and transformation,” level 2 is only a bit more at $125.  But if you want the full experience, go for level 3, for those who “just want more.” At this final and highest level you’ll be able to “hear the voices of those who understand what it is to walk in the dark, bearing the light.”  And that, all for the low, low price of $165.

All that is a bit tongue in cheek, and I do not know the people behind the site. I am willing to believe they are well-meaning. And it’s not that I would mind spending $98-165 for a “soul journey” either. It’s just I cannot imagine Jesus doing that. I did search the site, and only one place, deeply buried in the FAQs, mentions that “other arrangements can be discussed” for those going through financial hardship. This is not for the advent “soul journey” but for those who are seeking to have a “spiritual director” at $75/hour, nothing is mentioned for the “soul journey.”

But back to Jesus, can one imagine the person who said “Come to me, all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest,” saying “oh, and that will be $98 please?” Can one imagine the one who was “gentle and humble of heart,” but became so angry at the money changers in the temple that he turned over their tables and drove them out with a whip (!), can one imagine such a man assigning levels of participation with him, with each level being a little more expensive?  Rationalize however you want, it’s not the spirit of Jesus Christ. I say this without standing in judgement of the person behind the site.  As I said, I do not know them, they may be a lovely person. They may love God. They may have a lovely spiritual journey, and they may even have wonderful things to share. And those who decide to spend $98-165 may end up with a wonderful spiritual journey. I wish them well.

But if such an pitch leaves you disheartened because you don’t have $98 to spend on a soul journey, and you are too weary to “discuss other arrangements” due to your financial “hardship;” if you are tired of talking about your financial hardship because every one thinks your financial hardship is their business; if you are wondering if $98 will really take you on a “soul journey” and are not entirely sure that it may not end in disappointment; if all these things describe the weariness that your soul feels as you approach this advent season, then I have a deal for you:

“The Spirit and the bride say, “Come.” Let anyone who hears this say, “Come.” Let anyone who is thirsty come. Let anyone who desires drink freely from the water of life.”

Note: All this has inspired me to write about advent.  I cannot promise that it will exactly run on time, but I can say that it will  be “good news for the poor.”

Contentment & Joy in “The 2 or 3”

seeds

“Better a dry crust with peace and quiet than a house full of feasting, with strife.”
– Proverbs 17:1

Today, in commenting on another person’s blog, I ended up navigating back here, and reading some of my old posts. One in particular, “Let’s Start a Grassroots Revolution of Love!” got me thinking (again) about Jesus’ intriguing statement “…where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst.” Like the many revolutionary statements that Jesus and his early disciples made about love, this is one that, because it is so counter-cultural to our world, we often dismiss.  Even if our minds agree, our hearts say, “yes, but…”  Something in us continually is drawn back to “bigger is better.”  We don’t just want to build a super tall tower, we want to build one that “reaches to heaven.” In business, we are often not content running a mom-and-pop shop, but must expand it to a chain, despite the fact that we slowly lose contact with those we serve until we become an impersonal institution with no personality or soul.  Walk into Starbucks and then walk into the local coffee shop owned and operated by Joe who you know, sit in both and soak up the atmosphere.  It won’t take long and you will feel the vast difference, despite whatever the original founders of Starbucks may have intended.

The same happens in church life. We enjoy life in a small gathering of believers, but (often) automatically assume that more will be better.  There is a huge industry here in the U.S. of “church consultants” that is built around “church growth,” with the assumption that bigger… and bigger… and bigger… and YET BIGGER… is better. How tragic!

“But growth shows life,” you might say, “and growing means a church is healthy.”  True, growth is a sign of health, but unbridled growth is not.  In an ecosystem, unbridled growth of a species makes it an “invasive species” which destroys the ecosystem as a whole.  In the body, unbridled growth of cells is cancer, which likewise destroys the body as a whole.

Contrast this with the above-quoted words of Jesus – “two or three” – so counter-intuitive to all we are taught and all we instinctively believe!  There is a caveat though: the 2 or 3 can not be just “gathered,” but must be gathered “in my name.”  I believe this phrase “in my name” has much greater depth of meaning than just that we profess or say the words that our gathering is “in His name.”  Let me give an example.  Suppose I were to die.  Then suppose after my death, that my loved ones were to do something (anything) “in Margaret’s name.” The assumption would be that whatever they would be doing would be some cause near and dear my heart, and that they would be making every attempt not only to do what I would have done had I lived, but also to do it in the manner I would have done it.  If I loved to laugh, and had a wry sense of humor (which I do), than an event in my name that was humorless would not fit the bill, and those who knew me best might even be angry that it was done “in my name.”  The same is true if some cause were done “in my name.”  If, for instance, someone decided to “kick kittens” in my name, or even worse “kick calico kittens,” in the world of those who know me best it would be an utter sham!  Those who know me the very best would say, “They don’t know her at all!  This is not in her name, despite what they say!”  They would refuse to participate.

Even if it was something, my friends were not generally opposed to, like eating a McDonald’s hamburger, even if it were something they would normally participate in, if it were done “in Margaret’s name,” those who know me, knowing I really hate McDonald’s hamburgers, would say “This is a horrible way to remember Margaret.  This is NOTHING like anything she would want to do.  Let’s do something else.”

On the other hand, if my friends sat in my studio, made clay pots, played music and those who couldn’t play listened or sang, surrounded by frolicking calico kittens, and cracking wry, sarcastic jokes, and laughing until tears came out of their eyes, eating grilled salmon, roast lamb, hummus and lentil salad, and drinking a glass of a full-bodied red wine, or a cup of dark roast fresh ground coffee, or a glass of clear cool water from the well, and did this all while enjoying memories and talking about things that matter in life, than at the end, those who know me the very best would KNOW that this was truly a gathering “in Margaret’s name” – no questions asked.

In the same way, two or three gathered in the name of Jesus is not just words.  It must be in a context of knowing Him, and caring for those things He most cares about. And what does He care most about?  Well, when a man or woman is about to die, the thing they speak of typically reveals what they most care about. As I have written, elsewhere, as Jesus prepared himself to face an excruciatingly painful and torturous death, He got down to what mattered most:

“Love each other.”

But here is the sad and tragic part: we so often settle for far less than love in the Body of Christ.  We settle for “general affinity” or “cordiality.”  So often we can be “bigger” but in that largeness can feel utterly alone.

“Better a dry crust where there is love.”

Today, my husband and I often meet in groups of 2, 3, 4 or 5 “in His name.” Our meetings may not be “a meeting” – we may eat, we may laugh, we may tell stories about friends or memories, we may think of something we learned, or an insight we had.  Somehow, I think that is something that Jesus looks on, as he sits in our midst, and the one who enjoyed a meal with sinners says “Yes, this is truly in my name.

Today I remembered a time when we first began meeting in this way, and though I knew it was good, though I often reminded myself that He said “2 or 3” was enough, I still felt, at times, not quite legitimate, not quite like we were really the church.  Today, as I looked back on those days, I realize I have changed.  I find myself quite content being gathered together, just 2 or 3, in His name.

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Revolutionary Love

Hate is Easy; Love Takes CourageNote: This post was written as a comment in response to a fellow blogger’s post about his longing to be heard and accepted, and his realization the very desire to be heard erodes our ability to listen, and in turn, to truly communicate with those around us.  The blog post that elicited this response can be found here.

For many years now I have been mediating on the linkage between being seen and heard, and being loved… and conversely, seeing and hearing another, and loving them. My first memory of this connection came from reading Viktor Frankl’s reflections on love:

“Love is the only way to grasp another human being in the innermost core of his personality. No one can become fully aware of the very essence of another human being unless he loves him. By his love he is enabled to see the essential traits and features in the beloved person; and even more, he sees that which is potential in him, which is not yet actualized but yet ought to be actualized. Furthermore, by his love, the loving person enables the beloved person to actualize these potentialities. By making him aware of what he can be and of what he should become, he makes these potentialities come true.”

To love another means to see them, and to truly see them, they must be heard. This dynamic of seeing and hearing is also central to the extension of justice. At the core of injustice is the capacity and power to silence and make the oppressed invisible. To refuse to listen, to refuse to see.

On the other hand, to hear and to see the Other is the very essence of love. This was the miracle that happened on the day of Pentecost; it was not the tongues of fire or the healing of the sick, or the raising of the dead that were the miracles, as wonderful as those things were. No. Rather, it was that a band of infighting misfits – who wrangled over who was greatest, while the One who was Greatest anguished over his impending torture and murder – these competitive, compulsive misfits were suddenly empowered from above to love one another. Did they do it perfectly? No, but they did it profoundly – so much so, that they “turned the world upside down” (according to their critics).

If Jesus had stopped there, had stopped at the greatest commandment and the second that is like it, perhaps we might find some loophole that would allow us to feel (mostly) comfortable with his command. But he went further to something so revolutionary it is still scoffed at today, and if not openly scoffed, it is conveniently ignored. Meditating on the linkage of seeing and hearing with love, justice and mercy, I find these words of Jesus astounding:

“Love your enemies.”

He Who Not Against Us

It’s been a long time since I’ve written, and the reason is what it always is: I’ve been busy. But this time it’s not been the usual, normal busy. It’s been mind-numbingly busy. And in the midst of that, I’ve had help come from the most unlikely of sources. Which got me to thinking about the words in the title of this blog post:

“He who is not against us is for us.”

You might be saying, “Wait, is that right? Isn’t the correct quote ‘He who is not for us is against us.’?” Well, in fact Jesus said both. But to look at Christian culture lately you might think He only said the later quote. I often feel like Christianity becomes more about what (and who) we are against, rather than what (and who) we are for. We define ourselves by what group we perceive as our enemies, and then further define ourselves by the things we oppose in that group. But if we are, in fact, supposed to be following the revolutionary statement “Love your enemies,” then who can we really consider our enemies? We can become so bent on showing ourselves right, that we make enemies where there need not be any.

Another quote came to me this morning, and woke me up to write (it’s 5:30 am as I write). I was thinking about help coming from unlikely sources, and I thought of this other thing Jesus said:

“Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you.”

When I lived in China doing nonprofit work there was a lot of suspicion of the motives of foreign nonprofits by the government, but amazing help sometimes came from the most “unlikely” sources. Sometimes it was the most hard-drinking, cynical, communist party cadres that would open doors for us. Sometimes people who we most assumed would be “against us” were in fact “for us.”

Here’s another thought to build on the last, when Jesus was questioned about when the kingdom of God was coming (at some time in the future), He answered another revolutionary statement:

“The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed; nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or, ‘There it is!’ For behold, the kingdom of God is in your midst.”

So this kingdom of God that prostitutes and tax collectors were entering wasn’t some far off pie-in-the-sky place, it was a current reality. And actually (to be a language geek for a minute) the verb tense used in the passage in the original language was present tense as is correctly indicated by the translation “are entering.” So what I believe Jesus was saying was not “the prostitutes and tax collectors will enter the kingdom, and you will not.” But rather He was saying, “As we are sitting here, and you are criticizing these prostitutes and tax gatherers, they are acting in ways that allow them to enter the present reality of the kingdom of God now. They are experiencing it, while you are not.” In other words, in the act of experiencing Jesus and in experiencing the love and truth of God through the person of Jesus, these outcasts were “entering the kingdom.” Thus the outcasts were proceeding the criticizers into the kingdom of God.

So, as I meditate early this morning on the kindness and compassion I see expressed in most unexpected quarters, I want to say:

Truly I tell you, the cross-dressers, unemployed, homeless, gays, liberals and yes even the atheists are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you.

I’m seeing some of them in the present moment experience and respond to the love of God (maybe either realizing or not realizing that it is the love of God), while some of those who profess to know God are full of vengeance, bitterness and anger. Everything has become about what is hated, and we’ve forgotten to love.

Let us return. Let us return to patience and kindness. Let us forsake jealousy, bragging and arrogance. Let us stop seeking our own – our own lives, our own perspectives, our own views. Let us return to forgiveness. Let us hate injustice, while we embrace truth. Let us return to faith and hope for our fellow man, and enduring patience when considering their many flaws (knowing our flaws too are many). In short, let us return to Love.

Botany

the flowers of the field

the Flowers of the Field (c) 2007 muddart

“And why are you worried about clothing? Observe how the lilies of the field grow; they do not toil nor do they spin, yet I say to you that not even Solomon in all his glory clothed himself like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, will He not much more clothe you? You of little faith!” – Matthew 6:28-30

In my last post I wrote about the “birds of the air” and how in the original language, the passage has the idea  of fixedly observing the birds, as contrasted with casual observation.  I then considered whether Jesus might have been  speaking more than rhetorically, and actually suggesting that his hearers go out and intently observe the birds.

But he did not stop there.  In the passage above, the word translated as “observe” likewise is not a casual observation, but has a fuller definition of “to learn thoroughly.”  From a literary perspective, such compelling language, used in a parallel structure, strongly suggests that Jesus was indeed urging his hearers to go and personally take time to meditate upon the birds and how they live and eat, and upon the flowers and how they grow and flourish.  How do they accomplish what they do?  How do they do their amazing feats?

In the observation of these things the answer is hidden on how to not be worried or anxious or stressed about this life and all its most important concerns.

Have you ever taken some time to carefully study the birds and flowers in light of these questions?  What did you learn?  If you never have, why not try it?  Let me know what you find out.