Saturday, June 27, 2009

Five Stories - Part III

I’ve been spending a lot of time in Starbucks this week. The rest of the family has been participating in Summer Kid’s Club at church, so each evening has opened up a couple of hours of solitude, a chance to catch up of some reading and bang on my laptop. Periodically, I look up from what I’m doing, just to see who's walking in and out. Occasionally I’ll see someone that I know, but most of the time, I just watch strangers. I see facial expressions and hear conversations. One thing I can tell you after spending a week of evenings in Starbucks; you really get a feel for the cultural pulse of your community.

“Love one another”. Yeah, I know. Easier said than done, right? I’ve come to a conclusion this week. It’s hard to love one another these days. Overall, we live in a culture that is becoming increasingly angry, frustrated and apathetic. Whether it’s dealing with the regular threat of terrorism, war, the economy, politics or the death of Michael Jackson, there are countless outside factors that negatively affect our day-to-day lives. The frustrations build, anger develops and the next thing we know, we are biting the head off the Barista at Starbucks because she didn’t put enough espresso in our grande Latte; like the guy who just stormed out! “Love one another”.

Story number three of “Five Stories” revolves around a young couple that I saw last week that really seemed to love each other; at least for the time being! They came in, head to toe in tattoos and piercings and looked like they were just making a coffee stop on their way out for a night on the town. They sat down with their coffees, laughing and engaged in discussion. Amid the occasional “F-Bomb”, and other choice four letter words, their conversation seemed to go nowhere. Words went in one ear and out the other as they threw words at each other. No substance. No conversation. Just words flying from one chair to another, with the occasional one landing near me. There is the appearance of love, but in reality, it’s not real. It’s a counterfeit painting. A mini drama being played out with an audience of one and his laptop. It got to a point where I didn’t like what I was hearing. There was a lot of pain just beneath the surface and it began to bubble up as I listened. My heart felt heavy and I seemed to feel the pain that was emanating from them. I felt love for this couple. Strange, but I felt love. “Love one another.”

Remember, “God is love.” John goes on to write “whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him. In this way, love is made complete among us…because in this world we are like him.” (1 John 4:17) How is love made “complete” in this way? Is it because our feeble attempts to “love one another come up empty, shallow and void of emotion? Is it because we are unable to “love one another” without the infusion of God, who is the essence of love? Is true love possible without a relationship with the one who is literally love? Do we have to be engaged in real love before we can offer it readily to those we come in contact with? I wonder. “Love one another”.

Love is active, complex and deep. It’s not an emotion that we take out and use at our disposal, like a tool or weapon to get what we want. Rather, the more I think about it, love is a state of being. And if we follow what God has commanded from us, and what He freely offers us, we exist in perfect and complete love. Day and night, we live and breathe love because God is love. Christ said, and I am paraphrasing, that He is like a vine and His followers are like branches, organically connected and intertwined, so that we live through Him and in Him. Could the life giving sap that runs through this union be the love that bonds each of us together as one? (John 15:1-17)

“God is Love” “Love one another”.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Five Stories - Part II

“Love one another”. As I sit here this afternoon, in my favorite corner of Starbucks, these words echo in my mind over and over again. I read them in the pages of my Bible (John 13:34 & 35), but as with many words of Scripture, they seem to slip in one ear and out the other. I’ve read and studied this passage dozens of times, but what does it really mean to love one another? I mean, I can say that I love the guy sitting next to me who is consistently bumping my chair, or the loud and obnoxious women across the room, or the iced coffee that I’m drinking, but where is the line drawn between words and actions? When is love really expressed as genuine love? What if I don’t particularly want to love someone? What if I can’t, even though Christ commands me to? (John 13:34) Love the unlovable? Love those I don’t know? Love my enemies? Those that have hurt me?

The second person of “Five Stories”, sat a few tables from me. He was a man that I had seen a number of times in Starbucks, and in my neighborhood, and was talking with someone else about his realty business. As the conversation moved to more personal topics, he began to share how he was beginning to realize that life’s BIG adventures might be as simple as drinking a cup of coffee while watering his flowers early in the morning. His Dad died recently and he watched him work until he was 70 years old, never really seeming to enjoy his life to the fullest. He doesn’t want this to happen to him, and feels God is leading him to slow down and enjoy each moment of life. From listening to his words and the inflection in his voice, it is obvious that he gets it. He is content with his life and is learning more about his relationship with God every day.

As I watched this man, and his interaction with his friend, I felt myself having compassion for him. I could feel something deeper than just observing a stranger, but there was somewhat of a connection with him. Even though I was uninvited to listen in on this little segment of his life, I felt as if I was joining him in his journey of life; if only for a few moments. He had no idea that I was connecting with him, but on some spiritual level, we were connected. Was this “love” that I was feeling for this stranger? The way in which God intends us to love one another? And as my mind meditated on his story, was the love of God being expressed in my concern for him?

The author of the Gospel of John was called “the disciple whom Jesus loved”, and as you read through the words of his gospel account, you get a sense of why he was singled out among the other eleven disciples and given this title. His words take you into a deeper understanding of the humanity of Christ and the fullness and complexity of His emotions moreso than the other three gospels. In his first letter of the New Testament, John speaks quite a bit about the concept of love. In fact, he draws one of the most significant and simplistic parallels to God that has ever been written: God is love. “God is love”. “Love one another”. Are we able to put some pieces together here?

I don’t think that John was merely talking about one of God’s many attributes or actions. Rather in His love, we see the complete embodiment of who God is, culminating in the death of His Son, Jesus Christ. The ultimate sacrifice. The ultimate expression of love. Maybe being extensions of God’s love is more than just saying we “love” others. Maybe in order to really love one another, we must first be intimately connected to the one who is the essence of love. And as God dwells within us, His love pours out from us as we submit to Him completely. Let’s face it. Some people are impossible to love through our own power and actions. Yes, Christ commands us to love one another, but it seems to me that if God is love, and we are called to love one another, maybe it has less to do with our feelings or actions. Maybe it has nothing to do with us at all, and our expressions of love are simply the revelation of God to the world.

"Love one another".

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Five Stories - Part I

Jesus said in John 13:34, “A new command I give you: Love one an another”. Love one another. Recently, I began wondering why we seem to take this “command” as if it were simply a suggestion. But while I was sitting in Starbucks yesterday afternoon, trying to relax and finish a book that I began reading a few weeks ago, my mind began to wander, as did my eyes. As I looked around the room, I started watching the people who were enjoying their coffee and engaging in various conversations. Everyone was drinking iced coffee drinks, signifying that summer had finally arrived, and after about 20 minutes of observation, I realized that there were 5 groups of people in the room. Five individual lives. Five individual stories existing in five separate, specific and secluded realities. “Love one another. “ Allow me to tell you about one of the five.
The first person that I noticed was an older woman who was talking with the barista and leaning on the counter. She was much older than me, had very weathered skin and a raspy voice. Probably a smoker, she was talking about how she had just had the first good night’s sleep in a long time, due to a new mattress that she had just aquired. After listening for a while, I began to realize that she was a victim of hurricane Ike, and was just starting to get her life back together again. She looked tired. She looked troubled. She looked lost. And although my heart really went out to her, I realized how isolated I felt from her. Here we were, sharing the same air, the same light, the same sounds and maybe the same brew of coffee, and yet we might as well be on opposite ends of the globe. “Love one another.” I love my wife. I love my two boys. But, how am I supposed to love a person that I know nothing about it?
A little later, she walked outside and sat by herself. Enjoying a smoke along with her coffee, she stared out into the parking lot, looking deep in thought. Not a peaceful contemplative type of thought, but a troubled and worried thought. The kind of thought where you wish you would just freeze time and live in this moment forever. You don’t want to leave the moment because reality is waiting for you just around the corner, and it’s not pleasant. I watched her from the window, but couldn’t bring myself to talk to her. I felt isolated and disconnected from her, and wondered how I could show the love of God to someone so distant. “Love one another.”
It’s interesting how our culture functions. Millions of people walk in and out of each others lives without so much as a second thought. We imagine our lives as being the center of the universe and elevate ourselves above others. But what if God had different plans for us? What if we were meant to engage each other as part of life’s natural rhythm? What if my observations in Starbucks are a flaw in how I perceive life? Should my observations rather be conversations?
Jesus said in Matthew 22, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” How is that possible when we find it so difficult to love ourselves? Many of us find ourselves either in the pits of self-loathing, or we are constantly striving to be someone that we’re not. We constantly attempt to improve ourselves inside and out, as if the imperfect always needs constant improving. Either way, we reject ourselves as incomplete, imperfect and flawed; as if God just didn’t get it right when He created us the first time.
“Love one another.” What does it mean to love one another? I’m not sure that I understand, and I’m not so sure that I am always capable. But maybe its more simple than we think. Maybe loving one another has less to do with a physical decision or action, and more to do with a spiritual connection. A divine encounter. Love one another.

Monday, June 1, 2009


There was a time when I loved the debate over denominational differences. I zealously followed the beliefs and doctrines of my particular denomination, dotting each "i" and crossing every "t". I held firm to my beliefs as absolute truth, and assumed without doubt that other denominations were completely wrong; and in many instances, not biblical. As I made my way through seminary, I began to have less interest in arguments. AT this point in my life, I find these arguments boring. In fact, I avoid them at all cost.

Please don't misunderstand what I'm saying here. There is a significance of seeking truth within our faith system. Each of us should seek truth and wisdom with all of our heart. The book of Proverbs constantly speaks of the importance of seeking wisdom and holding firm to it as a precious jewel. It's vital to our spiritual development to hold firm to what we believe and not waver on basic doctrinal truths. And let's face it; there are some bizarre interpretations of the Bible that we must be aware of with a wise and discerning spirit. But let's be honest, most of the issues that we argue over within denominations, do not fall in the category of bad theology or even heresy. Most of the issues are not worth the effort of a good debate, let alone divisions in Christianity.

But it makes me think: Is our faith a personal experience, a group relationship or elements of both? Is it mandatory that we buy into the "corporate philosophy" 100%, or face being ostracized? Are we merely following a set of rules and regulations mandated by the denomination, pastor, council, etc.? Or are we following the teachings of Christ and seeking what He taught and implementing it into our lives? Do we belong to a corporation, or the Body of Christ?

Hey, we all believe different things, right? We all carry a personal bias of interpreting scripture, and most people are well intentioned in their quest for truth. Most folks don't run out and try to develop heresy, for the sake of causing division. Most Christians are on the same journey, trying to make sense of all this. And yes, we make a mess from time to time! James Garlow, in his book, "God and His People", says that it is nothing short of a miracle of God that the Church has not only survived, but thrived for over 2000 years, despite the failures of man. I can't agree more.

Sometimes I imagine when we come face to face with our Creator, and He explains what HE intended, we are ALL going to realize that we had it dead wrong in many areas! Oh sure, we've done some great things. One denomination does "this" really well. These guys do "that" very well. And another church has their game down pretty well also. Looking at the various mosaic of denominations, each one has nailed one aspect of Christianity very well.

But what if we stopped criticizing each other on the areas of disagreement, and attempt to come together on what we all hold as truth? Those certain essentials of our faith?

Paul sums this up pretty well in 1 Corinthians 15. "For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to Scriptures," That just about sums it up, doesn't it?

What would happen if we just allowed God to sort out the other stuff? When you think about it, most of it is not detrimental to our salvation or relationship with Christ. The "denomination" is not who is going to be held accountable in the end. We join together in unity, but in the end, it comes down to our relationship with a living God. We seek. He speaks. We listen. We do our best to understand. We receive.