My Platonic Love For God: A Confession

“There’s nothing you can do that will cause God to love you more, and there’s nothing you can do that will cause God to love you less.” I love that statement. It resonates with me as someone who still struggles to truly allow God to transform into a new creation more and more in the likeness of Christ. It’s a reminder that God’s love for humanity, corporately and individually, is greater than we can comprehend, unconditional and as unchanging as he is. However, I’ve come to a realization that my fixation on the truth of that statement has led to a blind spot in my faith that needs to be reconciled. I share this because I would wager I am not the only one.

The reality of God’s unchanging and beyond comprehending love is not simply a truth to rest in with a sigh of relief and not live a life shaped by guilt and fear of God’s wrath. It is a statement that leads to a therefore statement. It’s a statement that leads to a “so what?” God’s unconditional and unfathomable love therefore should lead to an unchanging and deep love for God. My love for God needs to grow to the point of likewise being without condition, and so deep that it oozes out every part of my life because it can’t be contained. I’m not talking necessarily about the passionate love that I often try to stoke and produce through a worship experience. I’m talking about the kind of uncontained love that knows and does naturally the things that the object of love desires. I’m talking about the kind of love that declares it to the world and more importantly whispers it to the one they love when alone together.

Personally that is the kind of love that I find myself lacking. Too often I’m busy obsessing over God’s love for myself, or growing complacent in my assurance of his love for me. As great as God’s love for me is it doesn’t make me the center of the universe. Which all adds up to my love for him becoming increasingly passive over time until it eventually becomes platonic. It’s not a good place to be. As much as I love the aforementioned phrase I need to allow it to do what it is meant to do in my heart and life. God’s great and glorious love is a revelation that he is center of the universe and to be loved back.

Scripture for Reflection

  • Deuteronomy 6.1-9
  • Psalm 33 & 34
  • John 15.9-10
  • Colossians 3.12-17
  • 1st John 3.5-6, 23-24 & 4.17-18
  • Revelation 2.5-6

Are You Blessed?: Recapturing What It Truly Means To Be Blessed

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Blessed had become a dirty word as far as I was concerned while my wife and I struggled with unexplained infertility. Hearing the things that people saw as evidence of God’s favor had put a bitter taste in my mouth. I wasn’t bitter things were apparently going their way and God possibly had a direct hand in making sure things worked out for them.  I was bitter about what it implied. If getting the job or the house or the car or the new pair of jeans at the right price meant that you had God’s favor, then what did it say about the unemployed, the homeless, the people that have to ride the bus, and those who get hand-me-down pants? Are they not favored? If they don’t have God’s favor then does that mean they’re cursed?

This came to a head for me one Sunday morning during baby dedications when it was repeated a few times that babies are a blessing. Not to say that children are not a blessing. Still when you’re sitting there childless and enduring months of infertility treatments, it’s like a punch to the gut. It’s easy to wonder if maybe, just maybe, God has cursed you. It’s easy to start wondering if there is something you did to really tick God off and he’s not going to bless you until you make amends. I’m sure I’m not the only Christian who has had dark moments like this when you look at what seems to be the overflow of the lives of others claiming God’s abundant blessing and wonder where you went wrong.

It’s not as if this kind of thinking doesn’t have a biblical precedent. Look no further than Leviticus 26, subtitled “Blessings for Obedience, and Punishment for Disobedience”, to see where it comes from.  In an ancient world dominated by pagan religious practices shaped by the pursuit of the gods’ favor, God did this to show his people and the nations that he was the one true God. So when the prophet Elijah predicts that it won’t rain for three years, except by his word, it wasn’t to simply punish the people. It was to demonstrate that God was real and Baal was not (1st Kings 17.1-7), which is exactly what happened three years later on Mount Carmel (1st Kings 18.20-41).

Of course if we understand Jesus’ ministry in light of these things we understand that the New Covenant, established by Jesus’ death and resurrection, does not include the if you do this, then I will do this equation. Because Christ was obedient unto death, we have God’s favor. Because Christ was punished for our disobedience, God is with us. And because Christ, our mediator has ascended to the right hand of God, those of us who are being sanctified always have God with us (Hebrews 10.12-17). In other words we are blessed in good times, bad times, ugly times and everything in between.

So when Jesus says, “Blessed are the poor, for yours is the kingdom of heaven”, he’s saying God is with those who we assume according to Leviticus 26, he is not. When he says, “blessed are the hungry”, he is saying God is with those who we assume are cursed. In fact Jesus completely turns Leviticus 26 on its head, and he warns against assuming that just because things are going you’re way, [“Woe to you who are rich”, “Woe to you who are full now”, “Woe to you who laugh now”, “Woe to you, when all people speak well of you”] that you’re blessed and experiencing God’s blessing.

I think this is important to know because there are still churches that preach Leviticus 26—at least the blessings part—so loudly people get the message without ever listening to a sermon. It is important to know because if life is really hard for you individually, it can be depressing to log on to Facebook and see what people are claiming as God’s blessing.. I think it is important because I know good Christian people who are growing angry with God, or walking away from him, because little if anything seems to be going their way. It is important because there is a growing movement of believe-ism claiming if you believe hard enough God will bless you so your life goes well and your dreams come true. Jesus is little more than a genie granting countless wishes and the Bible is the lamp. It is important because the truth of the matter is God’s blessing and favor is as simple as his presence. His presence and desire to be with us in good times, bad times, awful times, and everything in between… God is with us. When we understand that we don’t have to be the person in the poem Footprints who looks back and wonders why God abandoned them. When we understand that we may not even have to be carried at all because we know God is walking alongside of us always.

Don’t Let Your Struggles Define You

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A friend of mine recently said to me, “I know life isn’t fair and struggle is indiscriminate. but it just seems to be picking on you and your wife.” I’d be lying if I didn’t say it would be nice to get an extended Sabbath from difficulty in life. In the nearly six years of being married, we have navigated unexplained infertility, the exhausting adoption process, and now breast cancer. Even during the period when things seemed to settle after Isla, our daughter, came into our lives two years ago, was highlighted by waiting for the legal process to be completed making us her legal parents, and the unusually difficult process of getting Isla’s birth certificate and social security number. It’s been quite a ride for about five years.

More than ever before, as Emma undergoes chemotherapy to hopefully decrease the likelihood of a recurrence, I am convinced that you can not allow for your circumstances in life to define you. I’ll never forget the conversation Emma and I had years ago when we made the conscious decision to not let infertility nor being a couple that had to adopt in order to grow their family beyond two people to define us. It was something that we were going to experience and would be chapter in our lives. It was not going to be the plotline by which every other moment, relationship, experience would be filtered through and then analyzed. It would not shape our choices and relationships. That resolve has carried over into navigating cancer as she has determined from the start to not allow her diagnosis define her, for which I am so proud of her. Her focus and determination has been to get to the other side of cancer and treatment.

Life is a struggle. There’s no way around it. Even the people who experience monumental success in life, especially if defined by their success, struggle to keep and maintain it. My advice to anyone who will listen is to not let your struggles define you. Struggles in the end are temporary, and there’s always a new one waiting. Christ and God on the other hand are eternal and everlasting, and there is only one. Ironically enough the first true struggle in life I experienced was shaped by the common adolescent experience of trying to figure out who I was and where I belonged. It was a difficult struggle, possibly more difficult than any other I have faced or ever will face, because it was the only one I have navigated without my identity being firmly fixed to Christ. The rest, although more heartbreaking, unwelcomed, and many totally out of my control, by a mile, do not carry the same hopeless and lost feeling that I felt in those days when I wasn’t defined by my savior I was just “saved”.