I choose love…

I choose love…

“For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name.  I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.”

Ephesians 3:14-21

Every now and then, throughout my 24+ years of ministry, I’m told that I preach and teach about love TOO much.  For the most part, the critique is based in a desire to hear more explicit condemnation of sin from the pastor and the pulpit.  And, for the most part, I suspect they want me to preach about other’s sins, and not necessarily their own.

I believe their critique is based in the false notion that preaching about sin is more truthful, while preaching about love just implies God loves everyone – which is true – and that sin doesn’t really matter, which is false.  Sin does matter.  And, God’s response to sin is love.

“God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”  Romans 5:8

Over, and over, and over, despite the naysayers, I’m drawn back to love.

God’s love is THE primary theme of the Bible.  Jesus identified love as the greatest commandment.  God’s own self-definition is love, “Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” (1 John 4:8)

As Moses received the Ten Commandments, the Lord said, “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands,and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin.”  Exodus 34:6-7

The Psalms speak of the Lord’s love over 125 times, repeating over and over, The Lord is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love.”  Psalm 145:8

Even in the Prophets, where you find the most judgment and condemnation of sin, God’s desire is to love and be loved by his people, “‘Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed,’ says the Lord, who has compassion on you.”  Isaiah 54:10

Of course, Jesus, and his sacrificial death, is the ultimate expression of God’s love for us.

Don’t get me wrong.  I don’t think God is soft on sin.  Neither Christ’s death or an authentic life of Christian discipleship is easy.  Personally speaking, the Lord certainly hasn’t been soft on the sin in my life, as he continues the difficult work of conviction, refinement, and growth to maturity.  It would be SO much easier if God would just love me, and leave me as I am!  But, God doesn’t work that way!

Here’s what I know.  The more I love God, the closer I’m drawn to him.  The closer I’m drawn to God, the more I see the work still left to be done in me.  But, when I feel guilty or ashamed, I tend to hide from God, hiding my sin in the shadows, even from myself.

I suspect – no, I know – the same is true for others.

“Can’t you see that his kindness is intended to turn you from your sin?”  Romans 2:4

Scripture affirms it.  Jesus embodies it.  The Lord commands it.  The saints cherish it.  God is love.  In all that God is and all that God does, God is love.

My only desire, as a pastor, is for people to know God’s love as deeply and as personally as possible.  My theory is that love draws, judgement shuns.  Love embraces, judgement pushes away.  Love accepts, judgement condemns.  Love pursues, judgment turns it’s back.  Love is unconditional, judgement only sees conditions.  Love is warm, judgement is cold.  Love is truth, judgement is a lie.  Love extends, judgement narrows.

I don’t intend to use guilt, or fear, or condemnation to draw people to God, or to turn them away from God, God forbid!  I choose love.

And, I suppose, I share this because I’m increasingly convinced we all could use a lot more love – for God, for one another, for our enemies, and even for ourselves.

The apostle Paul, often referenced by those too quick to condemn, wrote that his prayer for the Christians in Ephesus was, “…to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge.”  Perhaps you see the same “contradiction” I do.  Paul says God’s love for us “surpasses knowledge,” and yet he prays for the power to grasp its width, length, height, and depth.  In other words, when we’re spiritually stretched beyond any capacity we can imagine to comprehend the vastness of God’s love, we’re still only scratching the surface.

God’s love is greater still.

Perhaps it’s too obvious and unnecessary to point out that Paul does NOT pray for us to know the vastness of our sinful depravity!  Paul teaches about sin.  Certainly.  But, not nearly as much as he emphasizes love.

So, I commit myself again, today, here and now, more and more and more, to the boundless, endless, fathomless love of God; to teach, to preach it, to write about it, and to hopefully – with God’s help – live it and give it.

And, if you don’t like it… well, God loves you anyway.

I’ll try to love you too.

To love and be loved…

To love and be loved…

“Late have I loved you, beauty so old and so new: late have I loved you. And see, you were within and I was in the external world and sought you there, and in my unlovely state I plunged into those lovely created things which you made. You were with me, and I was not with you. The lovely things kept me far from you, though if they did not have their existence in you, they had no existence at all. You called and cried out loud and shattered my deafness. You were radiant and resplendent, you put to flight my blindness. You were fragrant, and I drew in my breath and now pant after you. I tasted you, and I feel but hunger and thirst for you. You touched me, and I am set on fire to attain the peace which is yours.”   St. Augustine of Hippo

As I was praying, this morning, I sensed God saying, “Your calling is to love and be loved.”

When I “hear” things from the Lord, in prayer, I’ve learned to simply receive, as humbly and gratefully as possible, without too much skepticism, over-confidence, or over-analysis.  I try to be equally open to the possibility God has actually spoken to me, and that I might just be talking to myself.  I try to pay attention, listen, and receive.  Time tends to reveal what is of God, and what isn’t.

But, this morning’s word, “Your calling is to love and be loved,” feels like something God would say.  I wasn’t praying about “my calling.”  The words just came.  When a word comes, that clearly lines up with Scripture and Truth – like the Great Commandment, say – why wouldn’t I accept the possibility God has spoken?

But, God took it further.  As I heard it and received it, I first assumed God was talking about people – love and be loved, by people.  Let’s be honest, that’s not always easy.  Some people are easier to love than others!  And, some days, I don’t feel very loving.  But, God wasn’t talking about people.  He was talking about my relationship with him.

My calling is to love God, and be loved by God.

That probably sounds pretty obvious.  Truth usually does!

My calling is my vocation, my life’s purpose, my destiny.  My calling is how I am to use my time, energy, talents and abilities.  My calling is giving all I am to all God has given me to be and to do.  My calling is my first priority.

So is your’s.

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment.”  (Matthew 22:37-38)

I think it’s easy to forget that.  If we care about love, and I think we all do, I suspect most of us focus more on how much, or how little, we love or feel loved by others.  And, if we don’t love, or feel loved, by people, we might assume God doesn’t love us much either.

We might wonder why certain people don’t, or can’t, love us.  We might show love to others, and feel rejected when they don’t love us in return.  We might try as hard as we can to love certain people, and feel like failures when we don’t.

But, if our first love is God, and we allow ourselves to be loved by God, the degree to which others do or don’t love us becomes less important.  If we can grasp how much God really loves us, that’s enough.  Thankfully, others – some others – will love us, too.  And, that’s wonderful.  And, I truly believe God often loves us through the people who really love us.  But, dare I say human love is just a bonus, if we already know how much God love us?

And, if I really love God, in return – with all of my heart, soul, and mind – am I not more capable of loving the people God loves?  Do I not have a greater capacity to love as God loves, even if they are hard to love, or don’t love me in return?

If my first task is to love God, and be loved by God, and I am faithful to that task, won’t my heart gradually become more and more like God’s?

As I pastor, I think about my calling a lot.  Calling is a pastor’s modus operandi.  But, I tend to associate my calling, primarily, with a particular role, or place, or mission, or set of pastoral tasks.  Those are not insignificant.  They are part of how one responds to a particular calling.  But, I am realizing they are secondary.

My primary calling is to love God, and be loved God.

St. Augustine writes,“To fall in love with God is the greatest romance; to seek him the greatest adventure; to find him, the greatest human achievement.” 

I suspect love is your calling, too.