Friday, December 30, 2011
Perhaps what Lucifer has taught us best about the notion of love is that self-love, or love of self, is not truly love at all. It degenerates. It may begin with innocent sounding questions but it ends in murder and death even to the point of killing the Creator at Calvary. To bottle up love and attempt to only reflect it inward on one’s self is to pervert the very concept of love and morph it into horrific other concepts like arrogance, pride, and greed on an insatiable level. Channeling all of one’s energy on pursuits thought to bring self-fulfillment has the opposite result, creating only the very briefest moments of satisfaction followed by endless years of longing for more. It is a never ending cycle that does not hesitate to kill to achieve its goals, but no matter what actions are taken, happiness cannot be found in the pursuit of self, only deeper levels of depravity and pain. Death becomes a welcome relief to an existence so steeped in misery that joy is simply no longer possible. This is where the seemingly innocuous evil Lucifer entertained has led him. And along the way he was not content to experience these things alone. For reasons that perhaps define evil and iniquity as a mystery, Lucifer, now Satan, sought to spread his notions, and his pain, as far as he was able. Misery loves company, is not just an idol platitude or maxim, it is a truism reflected in our lives every day.
Yet where evil seeks out another to inflict its pain upon, love too seeks out another to bring happiness and joy to. The contrast of a life spent in selfish pursuits and emptiness can be seen in the life spent in serving others and seeking only to bring others joy. This is the example the Savior set for us. Even steeped in the slavery of evil, with minds warped by generations of perversions and backed up by personal choices to deepen them still; the life of the Savior stands out as a clear example of what it truly means to “love”. And for reasons, that perhaps too define love as a mystery, our God left his home, came and served us His enemies, and died to take our punishment upon Him that we might be saved through His sacrifice. Christ too, was not satisfied to remain alone, or keep His enormous love bottled up within Him, instead He too sought to spread His love as far as He was able to anyone He could reach. Misery may not be a welcome guest, but love certainly is. The love of Christ became something tangible in the lives He touched, whether it came in the words of peace, redemption and hope; or whether it came in actions, or miracles. Love emanated from the Savior in ways that simply could not be contained. Love seeks an object to share with.
Perhaps this is why man came into existence. Perhaps when God looks at the love He has for His Son, they sought to multiply that experience by creating humanity. Perhaps we were the next extension of His family, His grandchildren so to speak, or perhaps His babies. Regardless it seems clear we were not created to live in isolation from our God. In Eden He walked in the evenings with Adam and Eve (Genesis 3:8). Indeed the entire plan of redemption is centered around the idea of bringing us “home” to heaven, to “be with Him forever and ever” (1 Thessalonians 4:17). God obviously desires to be with us, to be near us, to be our God and we to be His people. The entire Bible is full of stories of the interactions between God and man, stories designed to teach us about who it is who brought us into existence, and what it means to love. Part of love, is to find an object with which love can be shared or experienced. Love cannot be found in isolation, it is not content there any more than is misery its counterpart.
When a parent is asked why they chose to have another child, it is rarely because they were unsatisfied with the first one they had. Most of the time, parents choose to have more children because the love they experience with the first one brings such joy to their own lives they wish to experience it again and in greater measure. As our children grow, and because we live in a world steeped in evil’s embrace, children sometimes make choices that hurt themselves and others. As parents we long to prevent them from making these choices. When they are young we are able to exert a measure of precaution, but the older our children become, the more able they are to make decisions that could deeply hurt themselves or others. When they do, we long to ease their pain, and help them to avoid a similar fate from similar decisions that might otherwise be repeated. As a species, we have been far from the perfection we were intended to be. Born or created by a perfect parent God, we have been disobedient children who seem bent on clinging to the knives we cut ourselves with. Our parent Father God tries so hard to remove the knife we cling to, heal our wounds, and show us how to live in a way that avoids the pain we inflict on ourselves and on others. But we too often refuse Him. Yet despite our refusals, He does not leave us in isolation. He reveals Himself to us in prayer, in His word, in the life of His Son, and in unseen miracles that go by unnoticed by human eyes. In short, despite our barrier of sin that cannot exist in His presence, He still looks to be with us.
When the burden of our disease is fully and finally lifted from us, when our surrender to His will is so complete that sin can touch us no more, we will be in complete harmony with love and we will be able to enter His presence without seeking our own destruction. This is the day so many believers have spent their lives looking forward to. It will be a great day to see His work in us completed, but it is no less a great day to see it begin here and now. As we surrender our ideas of self-determination, self-control, and personal strength to achieve salvation – we find our victories over evil in both act and desire given to us as His gift of salvation has long promised to do. As the evil cloud begins to break up, and the fog of our sins is removed from our eyes, we begin to see Him and His love more clearly. We are better able to discern His presence in places we never noticed before. For God can be seen in our world today. One need only look at acts of selflessness on behalf of others to see a reflection of the God of our Universe. The doctrine matters little, but the actions of selfless love are hallmarks of our God. It matters little to the hungry whether they are fed by Baptists, Methodists, Catholics, or Adventists, only that they are finally able to eat. The hungry do not care which day we worship on, how we pay our tithe, whether we sing in church with drums and electric guitars or not; they care about whether we brought enough food for all those in need to eat a full meal. A God of love stands behind the actions of those who take the time to prepare the food, take it to a shelter, and perform the act of mercy in sharing what they have with those who have less. A God of love is seen by those whose stomachs do not know the regularity of meals when they are fed by loving hands used in action. Love is not found in isolation, it is found in companionship.
It sometimes seems that every societal trend works against the will of heaven and that of love itself. Whether it be the praise of a capitalist system that prizes self-determination based on the power of one’s own will; or the advancement of technology that allows us to sit in isolation in our homes only interacting with others through electronic mechanisms that keep others at a “safe” distance from us; every popular trend in our world seems determined to take us farther from our ability to personally share with someone else. To meet income requirements in our homes, no longer can only one spouse work, it requires both – leaving children to be raised in daycare, school systems, and by “the community” at large. To meet the demands of long working hours on little income, adults often decide to sleep in on days of worship, choosing to “attend” church online if at all, opting for the convenience of home access rather than the effort of going to the local sanctuary. Charitable individuals are far more likely to make a donation in funds, rather than a commitment in personal time to achieve any goal for the benefit of others. And in so doing, we deny ourselves the beauty and the blessing of companionship.
It is our deep and personal loss, when we lose precious time that cannot be replaced, in self-chosen isolation rather than in companionship with others. Whether it be time with our spouse, our kids, our church, or with those in need – every moment we are able to spend in companionship is better than a moment spent alone. Yet societal trends would keep us from this knowledge or belief. Christ was always serving those with whom He came into contact. His humanity, I’m sure, made Him feel tired and worn down just like we get. But He renewed His strength every day at the divine fountain of His Father, as we too are able to do. God does not ask us to solve the problems of world in our own strength, or because He is unable or unwilling to do so Himself. Instead He invites us to participate in the work of serving others and in so doing learn what a sense of fulfillment can be found only in love that is reflected in action. It is our blessing to join God in this work, not His. It was for our benefit He extended this invitation, not His. As we join with Him in serving, we find love, we find joy in companionship, we begin to understand the reason behind creation and the genesis of our species. But this revelation cannot be found at home, alone, untouched by others. It can only be found as we serve. Whether it be our spouse, our kids, our church, or our community at large it is the interaction of service for someone else that is the beginning of our revelation into the love of God Himself.
In prison, one of the greatest punishments that can be inflicted is time in isolation. Think of it, better to enjoy the company of other criminals, some of which may wish to do you harm, than to be alone “in the box”. Long periods of isolation have resulted in insanity and in extreme cases suicide. As is the image of our God, we were not created to be completely alone. We may not all be social butterflies, but even the most devout introvert still craves the love of another, and must in order to achieve this, show love to another. While our society may benefit from the advancement of technology, we must not let it lure us into less and less actual human contact for the sake of expediency or ease. Rather we must exploit our tools and use them to free up our time in order that time spent together is more and more rewarding not less and less. While a good work ethic is to be praised, let us not allow our government’s ideas of free enterprise cloud our vision that we are all interdependent and within the church we are all indispensable. It is not our strength that brings us our spiritual victories, but our recognition that He alone is able to do this for us. It is in our submission to Christ that we find real change, not in the politicians that run for office, or in the new policies we find at work. Genuine transformation of character is found alone at the foot of the cross by the one who is willing to humble himself before His God and accept that which was intended to be given not earned.
In proximity with our God, is found peace. The closer we get to God, the more peace that seems to flood our souls, our minds, and our beings. We lose the agitation, and aggravations that plague us the closer we get to God. In our companionship with God our own weaknesses seem to no longer apply. Our strength is renewed by simply entering His presence. Our worries and cares seem to melt away as we approach the Throne of Grace, on which He sits. What is impossible for us, is child’s play for Him. What is insurmountable for us, is done with ease on our behalf by He who is our Father God. Surely the benefits to us found in companionship with God are too many to list. But perhaps this is also the secret to the reason for our Genesis. Perhaps it is God too, who finds fulfillment in spending His time with us. Perhaps He too, so much more than we, looks forward to the time when our separation is ended, and our proximity can be as close as He wishes. Perhaps the idea of a loving child curling up in the lap of a loving parent is not beyond the hopes of an omnipotent God, as He looks longingly at us. The child finds comfort in the lap of his parent as he peacefully drifts off to sleep. But the parent too finds joy in the expression of such trusting love. Perhaps this is the joy of companionship we bring to our God on a scale defined by the numbers of each of us. Perhaps only God could truly understand what this is like as He is our creator. Regardless, it seems clear, we were and we remain destined to be together with Him. What remains now is only our choice to that effect …
Saturday, December 10, 2011
Scripture says when God looked at the newly created world … “He saw that it was good” (Gen 1:31). By contrast when scripture describes God it says … “as your Father in heaven is perfect” (Matt 5:48). When the perfect God of creation looked upon the work of His hands, He saw that it was very good. But Moses did not describe the wondrous beauty of Eden as being perfect, only that it was very good. Perhaps perfection would have required the absence of potential for evil. Perhaps since Adam and Eve had not made a final choice either for obedience or not, perfection was elusive in our first garden home. But then on closer examination, despite all the glorious language describing the beauty of heaven, the city of our God, it too does not often if ever get described as perfect. The term perfect does appear many times in scripture but seems to always be applied as a characteristic for us as people – either striving for perfection in how we live, or being made perfect by our Lord Jesus Christ. It does not seem to be used to describe inanimate objects. Perhaps this is because perfection cannot be found in or around our settings, our possessions, or our environments. It may be that perfection itself is something that cannot be achieved in our surroundings as no matter how wonderful they may be, they could always be improved in some manner.
When God looked at His creation of this world, He spent time (6 days) in the infinite details of plant life, rocks, trees, seas, lakes, and all the living beings that would live in the nature He created including us. But having created them, and having had Adam give names to all the animals, the remainder of His attention in our Genesis turns to the things God values most – namely us. Perhaps this is because even God looks at the universe He has made, and can imagine new ways to see it improved. Perhaps His own ideas of perfection include constant innovation and Genesis-style creation. But regardless of His opinions of the environments He is able to create, where God centers His attention, His time, and His value is in the origination of man He intended to spend eternity with. We were intended to be the perfect creation, His crowning achievement, patterned after His image and set just a little below the angels, it was to be us who would offer the universe an even clearer picture of what love is – and perhaps in so doing, offer a better picture of what perfection is. This model however would stand in stark contrast to the idealization of “things” and would find fulfillment only in the actualization of “love”.
Our constant failures, inherent short comings, and repeated losses have trained us to become comfortable with mediocrity. Compromise is the rule of our day, whether we curb our desires to what we believe to be attainable, or sacrifice our values to attain something we desire just a bit more than we value our ethics, compromise is our mantra. For generations after the fall of mankind this was so, no less in our own day. Therefore when something identified to be perfect comes along; it causes us to see our own imperfections in its reflection. The law of God was such a thing. The Ten Commandments given at Mount Sinai carved by the finger of God Himself in the stones of the cliffs and handed to Moses to take to His people were perfect. “The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul” proclaimed David as He pondered God’s revelation of love in his Psalms (19:7). God’s law was a beginning revelation of the nature of His love. Well beyond merely a list of do’s and don’ts His precepts were summarized by Christ as loving God first, with all our hearts, minds, and souls, and our neighbors as ourselves (Matthew 22:37-40). Christ did not focus on the particular points of the law; instead He focused on the motives behind it, something His contemporaries seemed to have lost sight of.
Perfect love revealed by God in His law, and by Christ in His life, reveals to us our own failures by contrast. We see in the deeds that contradict the prescriptions outlined in His commandments that love of others does not always govern our motives and behaviors. The law points out to us when self-love is responsible for what we do, more than self-less-love that the law proscribes. When we examine the deeds, words, and motives of Christ, we see perfect compliance to not only what the law proscribes but to the motives that were its underpinning. To attempt to discard the law, to state that grace has somehow overcome the law and made it of no effect, is to attempt to remove love as having meaning from the character of God. Since God is love, this is simply impossible. The freedom our God gives us is actually defined in His laws. Consider for a moment what the law forbids; murder, lying, adultery, lust, dishonor to our parents, the pursuit of other gods, devaluing our God in vanity, discrediting His acts of creation, etc.. All of the things God’s law proscribes against limit our own self-interests that would come at the expense of another. God’s law protects the rights of another person from us damaging them by our actions. In essence, God’s law limits evil. It does not however as Christ pointed out in His very words, put a cap on how much one can express love to God, or limit the expression love to someone else. We are “free” to love others as much as we want, free without limits, free without proscriptions. Christ Himself demonstrates just how far love will go as He offers His own life in exchange for ours. Christ shows to love another is the nature of perfection. His law shows to love self, is the nature of evil.
Our “human” limitations and history of failure to achieve perfect compliance to the law of God have caused us to believe it is an impossible standard. We aspire to act as Christ acted, but find our implementation far from what He achieved. So even within our churches and our Christian ideologies we begin to seek for excuses as to why we do what we do. We offer reasoning that since we are unable to “keep” the laws of God, He must not have intended for us to do so. Our ideas of spiritual perfection have been tainted with the reality of our expression. Too often our failures and manifestations of self-love over self-less-love color our very ideas of what perfection should be. As we lose sight of even the possibility of perfection, we lose the desire to be perfect. We begin to think that God will “wink” at our imperfections. We think His forgiveness will cover our actions, no matter how intentional, or repeated they are. This is the thinking that springs from tainted minds, looking through tainted realities, at a future we can no longer imagine. But it is not the reality God offers. His ideas of perfection for us, can no longer originate within us. Adam and Eve lost us this birthright at our origin, and in choosing to embrace evil began a legacy of inability on our part to achieve the high standard of love our God would outline in stone, and live in the flesh of His Son. Instead we would require a Savior to save us from ourselves and our self-love. We would require outside intervention, from a God of creation, who could re-create us from the inside out. We would need not only a rebirth, but a continual reengineering of our daily lives until He returned and would be able to finish the work He started within us.
It would take more than 6 days to recreate a damaged human heart and psyche. Not because God has limitations in His own abilities to create, but because the clay of our hearts and minds He is forced to work with now is so steeped in evil and selfishness it rebels against His work of recreation every time it has a chance. Our greatest hope now lies in our pursuit of total submission, not total conquest. Everything we have been taught in a society of self-reliance, and self-help, stands in stark contrast to the gift of salvation from self our God offers. We are not to seek perfection in the strength of our characters and actions, but rather on our knees in submission to the only savior who is able and eager to remove from us what we cannot remove from ourselves. It is in perfect surrender that we will finally find perfection achieved. It is because we can only be made perfect, through the act of recreation, the discarding of all that is evil, and remaking of all that is love. In this alone to we find hope. In this alone is the grace of His forgiveness coupled with a change we so desperately need in our day to day expression of His ideals. It is through our salvation from self-love that we find natural and perfect obedience to a law that is steeped in love itself. And through the salvation from slavery to self, we finally see the freedom He truly offers us. A life lived beyond the basics proscribed by His law, a life that is free to explore the infinite expressions of what love to another is all about.
Our interactions when fully surrendered to the process of His recreation of love within us, are no longer focused on what we cannot do to another person – but on what we might do to bring someone else joy, peace, life, and fulfillment. Merely not killing, not coveting, not lying, and not defiling are way too small concerns for a life that is remade in the image God intended. Instead, the quest becomes one of how to make the life of another wonderful, fantastic, and so much better, despite the circumstances we find ourselves in. The life of Christ was set in difficult times where hard physical work was required to survive, when political turmoil threatened your very existence, where taxation was unjust and crippling, where the poor had great need and little help, where the spiritual leaders of the day had perverted a religion of love to one of aggrandizement at the expense of illiterate. But Christ did not use the hardships of His day and circumstances as an excuse to love less, to do less, to show us less what He only “intended” to do. Instead His actions were not bound by His environment. Indeed no-one and nothing could prevent Him from showing us the love He came to show. He was always tender, merciful, and redemptive to everyone He met. He sought out the poor and downtrodden, He went to them not requiring them to find Him. Where He met with the religious leaders of His day, He tried to teach them how far they had strayed from the God of love behind their laws and more importantly their traditions (which had no actual divine origins).
The Pharisees and Sadducees of His day could not even agree on all points of religious doctrine, arguing over the resurrection. They had taken the laws of Moses given beyond the Ten Commandments, which were given in a time in Israel just out of slavery, and extended their limitations even farther. Instead of recognizing the progress that living a self-less kind of love will do to a person, they focused only the “justice” aspects of punishment that unrepentant evil would deserve. They ignored all the proscriptions for mercy found within these same laws for anyone willing to seek forgiveness, and instead only focused on the penalties that would come to those who did not value forgiveness. The religious leaders in the days of Christ made the laws of Moses seem the same as the laws of the Ten Commandments, even though the entire sanctuary services would find their fulfillment in the coming of the Messiah. They equated all laws as being everlasting, all punishments as mandatory regardless of the pursuit of forgiveness, and thus all responsibility for achieving perfection would be left to the strength of the penitent. This is what Christ would strive to correct, from the three days He spent in the temple when we was lost to Mary and Joseph on His twelfth birthday, to His endorsement of the ministry of John the Baptist, to His counsels on His travels throughout the countryside. Christ outlined to Nicodemus, one of these leaders, the true nature of salvation – a rebirth to spiritual perfection that ONLY the Messiah could bring. Perfection would not be found in the leadership of His religion, but in submission to the God of His religion. Christ did reach a few of the religious leaders of His day, but too many were more comfortable with ideas of self-reliance that had led to such vast personal gain.
Is it any different for us today? Our society values self-reliance, a good personal work ethic, and has little sympathy for the downtrodden and unfortunate we come across. These values invade our Christian ideologies until we begin to believe that our salvation is our own responsibility, and that those who suffer in life do so for transgressing the will of God. Like the Pharisees of old, we see those who are poor as being “responsible” for their own conditions either through being lazy and unmotivated, or from committing various acts of evil. It even goes so far as to see diseases like Aids and STDs as punishments from God, instead of the natural consequences of sexual promiscuity. Earthquakes and natural disasters get tagged as “acts of God” instead of merely natural phenomenon influenced by how we treat our planet. In short even those of Christian ideology of today choose to focus on the punishment of unrepentant evil, rather than on the true transformation, and rebirth Christ would offer to all who will seek Him. Salvation is not only for the rich, or for the poor, but for any who would wish to have a better life here and now. Salvation from self-love was not supposed to be something that waited to only find fulfillment in heaven, but rather as a process that begins here and now, and reaches its maturity in the heaven we seek. Christ said … “the Kingdom of God is come”. Obviously He was not referring to streets of Gold, and pearly gates of His city. He was referring to the establishment of His kingdom in the hearts and minds of mankind. He was referring to wonderful gift of recreation He would offer us. A beginning to the achievement of perfection was to be His gift. We could not earn it. We would not deserve it. But we could finally attain it, by merely accepting it.
The religious leaders of His day rejected Christ because they did not want to remove the quest for perfection from their own hands and place it humbly in the hands of our God. They wanted rather to believe they were good, and worthy to be saved, from the great deeds they did; not be forced to admit their hearts had not been truly changed. They were still slaves to self-love. They were still addicts to self-serving, even if it came at the expense of another. Today, we cling to a similar ideology that states we find our salvation in the strength of our characters, or we negate its need clinging to the idea that forgiveness is offered even before we need it for the deeds we are about to commit. It robs us of the power of our religion, and makes Christianity a joke to those who witness us committing the same acts, at the same frequency, as those who do not claim Christ as their savior. If Christianity can only offer forgiveness for wrong doing it is indeed a poor religion. Muslims share this ability, as do our Jewish brothers. All three religions share the ideology of the great forgiveness of our God. Christianity distinguishes itself in that Christ, being the son of God, offers us more than mere forgiveness, He offers us reform. A true change in not only what we do, but in how we think; this is the gift of Christ to us. He re-creates us anew, and re-establishes perfection within us as we surrender to Him. It is NOT our own perfection that is created in us, but His perfection that reflected through us. We become vessels of perfection, not fountains of it. And when we finally reach our heavenly home, it is this work of creating perfection within us that is finally and fully completed – not started, and then ended. It starts today.
In this sense, we need not run from the standards of Gods law as being unachievable. Instead we can recognize our inability, and rest knowing that He will remake us until we find harmony with His laws our natural state of being. We need not seek to delay our freedom from slavery to self, in order to continue committing acts of evil that hurt us and everyone around us. Instead we can seek His salvation from evil and the pain it causes immediately, and begin a life of reformation today, powered by Him, and founded in our submission to Him. As we surrender, our ideas of perfection are restored to what He intended. The taints of our evil, and our genetics, are undone by the power of a regenerative God, who is able to create in us a clean heart, and a clean mind. As the influences of evil are removed, our ideas of perfection become greater and more noble. We begin to see what is truly possible, unbound by mediocrity we have come to accept. We realize that we wish no more a compromise with evil, but its complete and utter destruction within us. Perfection is so much more than we had hoped. Perfection is so much better than anything we could have experienced. And it is indeed plausible, possible, and part of our reality as we embrace our surrender to our Messiah of Love. Christ offers what no other deity has ever purported to do, to reach within us (His enemies) while we are yet His enemies, and change the very nature of who we are, freeing us from evil, as His gift to us, if we but accept it. It is the acceptance that we could not achieve this ourselves that is required of us. It is the recognition of our dependence that is the beginning of the road to perfection. And it is the embrace of His gift that can then transform our lives from the mediocrity of evil, to the infinite that perfection has to offer.
To begin to see perfection, to understand it, we must move past our “human” limitations. To delve into what is by nature infinite; we must allow our creator, to remove what binds us and taints us. We must let Him change the very nature of “how” we think. Unbound by our past and our perspectives, we can begin to see perfection for what it truly is. We can begin to appreciate it. And through our submission to Christ, we can begin to see its potential within us. Perfection then becomes more than an aspiration we can barely hope to achieve, but a daily reality that can be reflected in how we love another. Our relationships will dramatically improve as we have something of His to bring to the table. Our perspectives and priorities of what is truly important will alter as we forsake the pursuit of Madison Avenue suggestions of acquisition, and begin the pursuit of character transformation Christ alone can bring. We can finally and fully embrace the Kingdom of God in the here and now, restoring the power of Christianity which is based in the power of love to others. We can show to the world a reason to see this ideology as being superior to others. Not because we are superior, but because we reflect a superior love through us. In our weakness, in our surrender, we come to find that which is infinite, that which is perfect, the God of love within us.