Good Friday: God’s answer to suffering

Good Friday. This day is a day unlike any other day in the course of human history. This day changed everything. This is the day God demonstrated the depth of His love. This is where God entered into the world of suffering, experienced the depth of what this fallen world has to provide regarding pain. He gave himself to such horrendous suffering so that there may be reconciliation. There are many who use the existence of pain and suffering to dismiss God. Some even consider a God who allows for the varied depth of pain to be a psychopathic despot lacking in love for allowing such. Love is then defined as sparing others from pain. Yet, in such thinking, there is a failure to grasp that God in his actions lead mankind a chance to be truly spared from pain. He took on pain so that in the grand scheme, any can be freed from the pain and suffering. Actions were given to change everything. It required God in the flesh, surrendering self to pain and depth to create a way. So he did meet that flawed definition of love, sparing others from pain. Yet, what God did was not a temporary answer but provide a chance for complete wholeness. Sure, the impact in this life, in this time, in this world of pain is not always immediately observed, but when you look beyond and past the temporary conditions we face, the reality of the depth and restoration provided at the cross is incredible. God gave us an act of love that brings us beyond the pain, beyond the suffering, and makes all things right.

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Reflections on Brennan Manning: A Teacher of God’s Love and Grace

Today 4/13/2013 news that Brennan Manning left this life on 4/12/2013. He was a man of God, a disciple who now has moved on. Yet, he was a teacher of much controversy. The top of the controversy was that he taught “contemplative prayer” with use of things like emptying thoughts and repeating words. This controversy exists and is out there, yet, I have no question that in He was a true follower of Jesus the Messiah. His teaching and from what I understand even his life was fractured and flawed. He knew fully what it was to experience God’s grace. Yet, he is really know different than any other disciple of Jesus. He tought things wrong, he did things wrong, he was flawed. Yet, he knew what it was to be loved by God. He was a teacher and preacher of God’s love. His messages focused on deepening the understanding of God and His love. This is true for me.
I heard Brennan Manning speak at Church of the Open Door in Minnesota two or maybe three times. When he spoke his words and presence displayed and shown the love of God. His words touched to the very core. I do not remember his words or his teaching at that time. I do know what he taught and spoke of on those days changed me. He gave words that brought closer awareness to the love of God. He taught in such a way that got beyond the fractured images I had of God the Father and God used to touch hurt and pain and let God’s love in. God used this man. And for that I am grateful. He served and was used by God and he touch my life and many others. There are a great many quotes out there that demonstrate the truth he taught. It is important to note in God’s economy the words of Love and truth have far greater impact than the things we speak that are flawed, dangerous, or destructive. Truth and love always have greater effect. In closing this article I am posting some Brennan Manning quotes that demonstrate the Truth and Love that he taught that impacted so many.

“Define yourself radically as one beloved by God. This is the true self. Every other identity is illusion.”

“In every encounter we either give life or we drain it; there is no neutral exchange.”

“God is love. In human beings, love is a quality, a high-prized virtue; in God, love is His identity.“

“God loves you unconditionally, as you are and not as you should be, because nobody is as they should be.”

“My deepest awareness of myself is that I am deeply loved by Jesus Christ, & I have done nothing to earn it or deserve it.”

“Christianity was not some moral code; it was a love affair, & I experienced it first hand.”

“If we conceal our wounds out of fear & shame, our inner darkness can neither be illuminated nor become a light for others.”

Love is all we need

All_We_Need_Is_LoveLove. It is a simple word. It signifies something we all so desperately want but it is also so very lacking.  Love is the most talked about subject within our culture and everything point to a significant relationship and subsequent children as the apex of love.  Yet, ultimately none of us get it. We fail to grasp love.  We all wanted be care for and are hurt when we are not.  We all desperately want to be loved and to love. It is at the core of humanity. It is why we take on pets for example, to love and be loved.

 Yet, ultimately we fail to grasp love and are really far from it. 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 (NIV)Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves provides a definition of love: “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” Our experience of love falls far of that definition.  Here is the reason. The definition involves no focus on self. It is looking outward toward the welfare of others. The essence of love is found in Philippians 2:3 (ESV) Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.   When we love we are emptying of self. We are giving of self. We are focused on the welfare not of self, but of others.  However, we are ever self-focused.

We are wrapped up in our perception of being loved and are quick to voice when we are not engaged in behavior that is perceived as caring or loving. When we get upset, we do so when someone else has failed to engage in looking out for our welfare and did or said something we find lacking.   Such a response is even followed suit in understanding and rejecting God.  Many who reject God look at pain and suffering in the world and their own lives and conclude that a loving God could not allow such.  So they reject God. Some in that rejection will push simply engaging in looking out for the welfare of others.  The refrain is “all we need is love.” Simply look out for others and make the best world today.  Yet, lost in it all is the day to day agony when that desire of love falters.

 The fact is God does look out for our welfare. He never fails.  The rest of us fall far short.  So, yes we all need love, and love is what we all need, but if you separate that love from the author  and source of love it is but illusion. God is the only one who provides full care and love. Yes, the love does provide limits and structures, not out of cruelty, but in understanding what we need and what hurts us. We see that every day with parents and children, choices made and limits set for their welfare often in spite of great protest. Sure, any one of us can demonstrate love to others. We can do good too others apart from God. We can make the best out of life. Yet, it is making the best of what we can. But that falls far short of a life submitted to God, the source and author of love. And none of us have a grasp on God’s love. Our understanding is limited.  Yet, as you grow in understanding God, love grow. Love for God, self, and others. It comes as you grow and as you understand and grow the wounds and hurts from the damages of living life heal and allow true forward movement that in turn demonstrates the care for others found in demonstrating true love. We need love. We need God. You cannot separate the two for God is love.  So yes, all we need is love and that need is only found in God, who is love. So God is what we all need, for God is love.

Saint Patrick’s day musing: learning from the Faith of the Irish

 Today, 3/17/2012 is Saint Patrick’s day. A day where people celebrate their Irish heritage. This writer does have family who immigrated from Ireland, so the day has some meaning. Yet, the meaning for me does not rest on green beer and alcohol, but rather the roots of the Church in Ireland. There is a lot of history related to Ireland. Now I am not talking about the modern and infamous Protestant and Catholic battles that can easily focus on. The history is not even the legend and stories related to Saint Patrick. Rather, it is the unique elements of the early Church in Ireland and what it should point us to today. It is very worthwhile to examine and explore the early church history of Ireland. Granted, this writer has only viewed a few articles here and there over years and seen varied writings about “Celtic Christianity” but there is a core element that runs through the early Church and Ireland that want to discuss and encourage others to take to heart. Some of these thoughts are triggered by an old article found here: http://www.cslewis.org/journal/hearts-and-minds-aflame-for-christ-irish-monks%e2%80%94a-model-for-making-all-things-new-in-the-21st-century. There are three key elements of the Irish faith that is important for us to learn from: growth focused, other focused, and wholly surrendered. Let’s look at each area briefly.

 The early church in Ireland stressed growth with a balance of both knowledge and spiritual.  The encouraged discipleship. Growth of the whole person. They developed schools, monestaries and varied means of encourage growth in relating to God and growing in knowledge.  Ignorance was not tolerated. In order for people to grow in truth they needed to learn, so people were taught through a variety of means. Growth was not just limited to education either as creativity was embraced and used to spread and teach the truth. The just not teach things from a growth in knowledge standpoint but encourage over all growth. They truly embraced Philippians 4:8 (ESV) Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. This focus should encourage us to each continue to learn and grow much like the early Irish Church.

The second area to examine is that the early Irish Church was other focused. They engage others. It starts with Saint Patrick who is rumored to have brought the whole Island of Ireland to be disciples of Jesus. Now, while that is interesting piece of legend, those reach in Ireland were reached because of actions Patrick took to share God’s love with others. The same is true for Columban, who brought the Gospel from Ireland to England and beyond. The Gospel spread greatly because of early Irish Christians. They lived not to hold back but to share and give to others. They did so by word and deed. They created great works that spread. Even the Hymn “Be Thou My Vision” has Irish history. The used the gifts they had and created whatever God put on their heart, by it for a few, or be a reach of many. They gave of themselves to others. Too often in today’s church the focus becomes on what is good for self and what makes me comfortable in the world we live in. We want the world to shape to what makes us comfortable. The early Irish Church impacted the world by engaging with the Gospel and living fully as salt and light. It is a challenge to us to be that engaging and not dependent on what others give, but to give what we have to give to reach others.

The third area is that of a while surrender. The early Irish church recognized that whole submission to God was vital. They gave of all. They even often pursued a “Green martyrdom” of giving up all of self. They encouraged the fully giving of all not just for the purposes of self, but to reach and touch others. A relationship with God was considered, that a relationship involving the whole person with total commitment. In terms of what is best for the whole person, it all stopped and started with growth in knowledge of God. As one grew deeper in knowing God, one also grew in experience of God’s love. As that grew, in turn it flowed to those with whom they interacted. That love built great passion for God and others and that passion was seen in their expressions of music and art. Today, we settle for “good enough” and too often simply lean on the works of others. We sing songs with passion, but do we create? We recycle what others have done, but how much of gifts and self do we give? Do we have limits, do we give all that God asks of us? These are things the example of many of the early Irish Church pushes us to examine.

Admittedly, the early Irish church was not perfect and there are elements of what they said and did that are flawed, for we are all but just a part with limits that skewed by our own minds and imaginations. The early Irish Church though did not shrink back. They advanced the Gospel. They encouraged growth with actions that impacted others with a passionate whole surrender to God. This is the Faith of The Irish that should impact each of use today.

Valentine’s Day Musing: Some thoughts on love

Today, 2/14/2012 is Valentine’s Day. It is a day where love is celebrated. It is day special attention is giving to doing what we believe will let those around us we care about know how much we care. We express love in a variety of ways through words, deeds, and gifts. Every person wants to love and be loved. It is something deep within each of us. God created us in His image, and thus the giving and receiving of love is part of who we are. The moments we experience of love, the moments we give love reflect God. Sadly, our love is imperfect and clouded in our own wants and desires. We love, not simply to love, but to be loved. When we fail to experience love in the ways we perceive we should be loved, we get hurt. Even when experience a touch of love, it does not satisfy. It is not enough. None of us are capable of loving as God loves, we all falter. None of us love purely or are purely loved by anyone else. We all have a skewed view of love.

God did demonstrate pure love. We find that love at the cross of Calvary where God in human flesh took on all of human suffering and frailty and providing the way that can save all those that accept His love, truly. Yet, some how we do not really grasp that love. Even those who have believed that God expressed love in such a way so as to enable relationship with Him, we fail to grasp. God’s love is far greater than we can comprehend. We get focused on what we experience. God often feels like this great “other” who lives a “way up there” and fails to act. Thoughts come to mind that if God is love, why does he seem so distant? Why is he not active in the world to reduce the pain we experience? Why does he allow bad things to happen. We does he not prevent unloving actions. Why does he not stand in way of all evil? How can God stand in the midst of great pain and sadness without doing anything to relieve it? Wouldn’t real true love always give what is right and never generate or allow pain? We just do not grasp love at all.

What we fail to grasp, is love is not about the momentary, the instantaneous. Love is not about getting what we think we need. Love is not about being flattered and showered with all that is good. No love is the giving fully of all in the midst of where we are. God has given us words to know love is not really about all that feels good. We quote those words often, they are used in weddings and even included in Valentine’s day cards. Take a good read over 1 Corinthians 13 and pay particular attention to verse seven. “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” That verse does not speak to the absence of difficulty or pain. It does not speak to giving others whatever they think they want. The verse speaks of giving a covering, holding firm, building up in the midst of pain, moving forward in the midst of whatever may be happening. Good, bad, or ugly love bears, believes, hopes, and endures. Love is persistent in all times and circumstances.

While our understanding and grasp of love is flawed, what we do grasp and experience reflects God who is love. Not our twisted concept of love based on whatever we think is best for us, but rather love that knows each of us intimately and knows what benefits us, knows even how what we experience will enable us to grow in love. He knows each one, each moment of failed love. He experiences that pain. He knows the depth of the failures in love, yet still what is of love is greater. God has shared that the impact of love in our lives is far greater than any wounding. For in God’s love is all safety, all security, and there is no lack even if we do not experience it in the now. So take time to think about love, think about the people God has brought in your life that touched you for the good and enabled you to experience love, even if you did not get it at the time. Seek to grow in love, for compared to God, our love is but of a child and driven of self but a time is coming when we will mature in love and demonstrate that to others. Our actions of love, however imperfect, always matter.

Post-Christmas Musing: Christmas Future- Keeping each day well

The Christmas Holiday has come and gone. Gifts have been given. Traditions have been followed. Interactions with family have occurred. It is the time for taking down the decorations, using or returning gifts, and returning to normal routine. The focus becomes on what is needed from day to day until the Holiday season returns. It is important to recognize that there is far more available than moving from one Holiday to the next. There is far more than “keeping Christmas well.”

The famous character grew to “keep Christmas well” by being exposed to past, present, and future relationships. He turned from being self-focused to “keeping Christmas well” by being concerned with others, being generous and engaging the relational. The turning point came with awareness of own mortality and no impact on others. His looking at Christmas future showed limitations and changed focus.

In thinking about Christmas future it does seem to be all about where is your focus and impact. Are you focused on concerns of self or is there priority to growing in relationship with God and others? Christmas ultimately is about the celebration of God’s gift of a reconciled relationship. It is all about God being accessible. It is about God demonstrating his love and our reflecting it by sharing what we have received with others.

Each day is a day where ones focus is needs to be examined. Are we living in such a way to connect and impact others? Are we growing in relationships? Do we take in consideration all of past, present, and future in our day to day existence? Such examinations and more are worthwhile for the choices we make now impact what is ahead and lead to “keeping each day well.” For each of us need to daily keep the Christmas focus on God with us with the result of engaged loving of God and others. Doing such results in moving beyond “keeping Christmas well” and touches all.

Biblical Holy Day Musing: Feast of Tabernacles (Sukkot)- Sorrow turns to Joy.

Tonight is the start of one of the final fall festival in the Jewish calendar. Sadly, as with most of the Biblical festivals we know very little about this day and the experience of the Holiday, yet it is one that will be part of the experience to come (See Zechariah 14:6). This festival is not just a day but an 8 day party. This festival does not involve fasting or sacrifices. This involves celebration. It is not a somber time, it is a time to celebrate. Now, admittedly this writer does not have much understanding of the rituals, traditions, or symbolism of the days of this festival but in reading about the Holiday the concept of embracing Joy and Happiness in this time is central.

There is a distinct flow to the fall festivals. It starts with the alarm, the call, the trumpet, the awakening of Rosh Hashanah and the ushering in of the new. It is followed by ten days focus on change and repentance. Then comes Yom Kippor, the day of Atonement, or At-one-ment; it is the day of cleansing, of sacrifice and ultimately of judgment. It is a solemn day. Then five days later it is party time. Note that during the days preceding Sukkot there is much focus on change, self, and being right with God. In that there is much sorrow. When truly engaging in recognizing areas of change and then stepping into them, it is not easy. Leaving old ways for the unknown new is tough. There is grief involved in leaving the old behind, in turning to follow what God leads without knowing how it will play out. Yet, starting tonight and for the next eight days, God designated a party. So what is that about?

Well, one thing I have learned about the day in learning about the events of this upcoming week is the booths/tabernacles/shelters/tents. Hand-crafted shelters are made and lived in or at least meals taken in the temporary shelters. The imagery really points to the temporariness of the things of this life and even that, which is of our own hands. We live in dwell in the temporary but there is something greater: God and His love. Everything that God offers pales to what we depend on. It is in recognizing the fragility of self and own works and the greatness and fullness of what God gives. It is taking focus off of own life, pain, and sorrow and embracing joy, letting the feeling swell because of the goodness of God who has given all beyond measure. Such consideration turns sorrow into Joy. The changes lead to what God will do when the focus leaves self and turns to God. In such action does sorrow turn to Joy, in this does mourning become dancing, as recognition is given that God brings that which is beyond measure and lasts.

The whole focus is that beyond our circumstance to what God provides. He provides refuge and strength. We change not of own accord but obedience empowered by the Holy Spirit through obedience in faith. The little bit of reading about this celebration points to demonstrating the whole submission of self to God in faith. It points to complete surrender of self in every aspect and direction of life. In such surrender is sorrow turned to Joy. For the focus is on God and His Glory. It is a focus on the great things He has done. It is a time to PARTY.

So here is a challenge. Each day for the next 8 days take time to focus on what God is done. Celebrate. When you feel sadness, pain, or anxiety, take time to praise God. Something stressful happens praise God. Make concerted effort to bring your mind, heart, soul, and strength to focus on what God has done and celebrate. This is a time for Joy, let Joy envelope you to the core. May the Holy Spirit feel you with Joy beyond measure as you set aside all that burdens and turn all to God; for His ways are not our ways, and He always delivers what He promises. Beyond measure! So rejoice. Party! For God is Good and His Love Endures Forever!