Thursday, June 14, 2012


I have often reflected on the great risks of love and authentic community.  Love is not something we enter into lightly, but requires much responsibility, as does real community with one another.  Love is a risk because with the great blessings of love, also comes the potential of great pain.  When we love each other in complete fullness, we expose our fragile hearts to the world, much like a dandelion, brittle and vulnerable, risking destruction by a sudden gust of unexpected wind.  The question we ask ourselves then is, “Is it worth it?”  From my experience, and as with Christ as our example, I would have to say undoubtedly and without hesitation, “Yes!”  The intoxicating blessings of love far outweigh the potential pain that may come and the regret that would come from never loving.  

As we love one another, we realize that love is not always about what we feel; specifically feeling good.  There is a huge difference from “loving” someone and “liking” someone.  If we “like” the person we love, the blessings are increased, but much of the time, that is not our call.  We are commanded by Christ to “love one another” (John 13:34-35), but we are never called to “like” one another.  In many ways, love is tied to the concepts of repentance discussed in the previous blog.  Love comes from a commitment and devotion to the other person because they deserve our love.  Being created in God’s image, each human being deserves love, not because of what they do or do not do, but because of who they are.  In some circumstances, loving one another has nothing to do with emotions.  Can we dislike someone, and yet still genuinely love them?  I think the answer is yes.  And we experience this in real Christian community.      

I often imagine the relationship between the disciples and how they may have felt about one another.  For example, imagine the possible interactions of Simon the Zealot and Matthew the tax collector.  Both men were called to love each other, but it is doubtful that they “liked” each other or got along very well.  Image the heated dialogues that may have arisen between a man that once believed in overthrowing the Roman yoke of oppression through violence and death, and a man that supported Rome’s extortion of the Jews.  Both men had left their previous lives in order to follow Christ, but there is no doubt that baggage came with each.  Can you imagine Simon crying out in frustration, “Why is this scumbag among us!  He’s one of them!  He betrayed God’s people!”  And when Jesus taught on loving your enemy, could Matthew have interrupted and shouted at Simon, “I’m pretty sure that includes not killing them!”  But both men loved each other, because the bond that brought them together in community was supernatural and transcended the divisions.

And that’s what we ultimately come to.  Love is supernatural.  Love transcends all barriers and areas of division and unites one to another in a way that we sometimes do not comprehend.  I think it is no coincidence that love remains the simplest, and yet most powerful attribute of God.  “God is love” (1 John 4:8).  Is it possible that when we love one another, we are revealing God in His most essential form, when we love one another?  Is it possible that when love is revealed, even outside of the Christian faith, that others are seeing a glimpse of God that may eventually draw them to Him?  Is it a coincidence that love is the one emotion that encapsulates all feelings that humans can experience, all at the same time?
Although bound by a supernatural union, community has the power to transcend the culture around us through it's simplicity.  Corinthians 13: 13 says, “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”   Community is simple.  It is rooted in the essential love of God, and through our faith in God, we build hope for the future.  Through our love for one another, God is manifest in our presence.  I often wonder that if we want more of God, and more of Christ’s presence working in our midst, perhaps we should first focus on loving one another more.       

I see community as being somewhat like a mosaic;  A vast array of personalities, woven together by a common thread, that being Christ.  If viewed from afar, it is easy to see the image and the beauty that it demands.  It appears as one complete image, without division or breaks in flow.  But when one looks closer and deeper into the mosaic, it is easy to see that the unity of the image is created by many imperfect and quite unassuming tiles.  There is nothing special about each one, although each is unique.  And consider this.  If one single tile falls out of place, the entire mosaic image is flawed.  The missing piece will leave a blank space in its absence, thus distorting the entire image.  The presence of that one tile is not necessarily recognized, but if it is removed, the disunity is apparent.  

Christian community is unique in that the unity we witness comes from Christ being at the center of all we do.  In essence, He is the only unifying factor that binds us in community.  He remains the center, while all other aspects fade in importance. And because of this, being part of community is essential in terms of our spiritual growth.  We need the supernatural unity of Christian community, especially those that share a common vision of life and God's Kingdom.  It is exciting to be part of a community that is bigger than ourselves.  Community opens new doors of possibility and when that happens, we see the Kingdom of God realized just a little more than before.  When we open our vision to new and different community, we pull back the shade just a bit more so that the world can see His Kingdom in its essence and fullness.     

Thursday, June 7, 2012


I don't know about you, but as I grow older, I'm confronted with the continuing realization that I am an imperfect man, and I'm OK with that.  With the clarity of this realization comes the overwhelming reality that I am in fact being converted daily and reconciled to Christ on a regular basis.  As I grow spiritually, I realize that repentance is a daily discipline that requires a conscious effort.  By remaining close to Christ and through His Spirit, I see that we are all naturally convicted of sin, whether we like it or not.  As we regularly reflect and examine our inner selves and consequent outward actions, we grow closer to the image of Christ and that conviction becomes more frequent and natural.  You might say that it feeds on itself and this requires daily reflection, which is something that I've committed to daily.  As I ask God to search me thoroughly, and reveal any sin or imperfection, I begin to see things that ordinarily may seem obscure or even absent in my life.  And as I become reconciled to Christ, I also become convicted to be reconciled to others well; both those who have wronged me and those that I have wronged through my actions and sin.  In fact, repentance and reconciliation go hand in hand.  When we base our lives and decisions on loving God with all our hearts, and loving our neighbor as ourselves, we naturally long to be reconciled with all those around us.
In it's very essence, repentance does not carry the burdensome weight that is sometimes associated with the act, but rather represents somewhat of an inner release of love.  Repentance entails a loving discipline and commitment to a God that we long to please because of His love for us, and the love we long to return to Him.  When reflecting deeper on this principle and what it means for me personally in my spiritual life, I don't see repentance as rigorous, religious or forced upon believers.  Rather, I see it as a discipline much like prayer, worship, silence, meditation or the study of Scripture.  Is it possible that “discipline” is too strong a word, but instead, would a term such as “devotion” or “commitment” be more appropriate?  As we find ourselves devoted to God, we naturally and organically long to please Him and walk the path that He has carved out for our lives.  In acknowledging our sin and His sacrifice through His Son Jesus Christ, we find ourselves committed to live a life worthy of His sacrifice.  Of course, this is impossible in terms of reaching perfection, but I believe that this is where the “daily conversion” principle clearly comes into play in our lives.

I think of Philippians 2:12-13 and how it illustrates this principle so clearly.  continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.”  We see that this is a “continuing” process for us that requires “work”, but not in the grueling sense, but going back to the idea of “discipline”.  The aspect of “fear and trembling” connects well with the above comment regarding devotion and commitment.  Because of what God has done for us, and His perfection in light of our imperfection, we are utterly in awe.  And as we remain devoted to Him, He works “in” and “through” us, to complete the conversion process.  We grow as we abide in Him (See John 15)

One might find themselves pondering if there a tension between God working in and through us to create daily conversion, and what we do in commitment to Him.  I can understand this reaction, but I don’t think that such a conflict exists.  I think this very much parallels the “faith vs. works” concept between Paul and James.  While the two might seem to be at odds withe one another, there really is no conflict because the two work hand in hand.  One could say that it is through our devotion to God that He blesses us with supernatural transformation, and as we see this being produced in and through us, we become that much more dedicated to Him for more.  Show me your devotion to God, and I will show you my devotion to God by what He is doing through me.  (See James 2:18)

I  have never had much of a problem with the concept of repentance because of my rather pessimistic attitude throughout my life.  Growing up in the Roman Catholic Church only added to this trap that I sometimes still find myself caught within.  If allowed to my own devices, I can have a rather dark outlook on life and how my sin adds to that darkness.  I often become quite angry with myself because of sin and can be rather self-deprecating.  After a period of giving in to a repetitious sin, I will go through a few days of “paying God back” for the damages done.  But I realize that my acts of penance are wasteful and it is my heart that God longs for.  He wants my devotion and commitment, not my religious acts of abuse.

Ultimately, repentance begins with God and not with ourselves, and this is the only way that we can continue a process of continuing conversion on a daily basis.  By forgetting our faults, looking to forgiveness and repentance; we look to God for His grace and mercy to renew our minds and move us forward.  We must refuse the proverbial beating ourselves and acknowledge our forgiveness.  This is not an easy task, is it?  But the love of God softens our hearts and moves us to deeper devotion to Him.  Then the cycle begins as He works through us to convert us into His image; day in and day out we are changed.  As we are changed, we are humbled and realize that it is not ourselves, but God working in us.   
When I see myself from the outside looking in, I see myself as being converted by two factors:  First, I begin to see substantial and consistent changes in my life to being more like Christ.  Consistency is the essential aspect in real repentance.  If I am no different than I was 1 year ago, where is the transformation?  Where is the conversion?  If I am no different than I was yesterday, how did I spend my day that hindered that?  How can I be better today?  Tomorrow?  As I search myself, what aspects are being sifted out and thrown away?  I often think of sand being sifted.  As it is sifted through, sticks, rocks and dirt are filtered out.  What you have left is pure and white sand.  Are we no different when we search ourselves, or ask God to search us, for that matter?  

The second factor is peace.  When I have a sense of peace about myself and my daily walk, I know that God is converting me.  As I abide in Him, I find a peace that confirms that He is working in me.  If I am out of His will and abiding in sin rather, I feel anxiety, instability and frustration.  I firmly believe that peace is a natural indicator that God has given us to be able to monitor our conversion.   I think we need to trust in peace much more than we do, but our culture makes that a difficult process.  By media, marketing, the work place, etc., we are subconsciously being taught that if we reach a point of peace, or contentment rather, we are being lazy and that there is something we "should" be doing.  Idleness should not be confused with peace.

In the big picture, repentance is not about someone banging on a pulpit and screaming, "Repent!"  It's not about feeling guilty about sin.  It's not about beating yourself up because of sin, or paying for sin as if a fine is required.  But rather, repentance is about a loving call to each follower of Christ to be transformed.  It's  an offer of something better.  An alternative that doesn't even compare to what was before.  And as we realize God's overwhelming love for us, we feel His love.  It consumes us and we can think of nothing more than to return love to Him.