Tag Archives: love

God is so very fond of you

I began reading last night another one of Brennan Manning’s books, this one titled, The Relentless Tenderness of Jesus.  Brennan has a gift for reminding me that I am Abba’s beloved child and that he is very fond of me.  All too often I forget this world-shattering truth and turn God into someone who loves like I do, which undoubtedly leaves me wondering if I’m good enough.

But God keeps inviting me, and you, and all of us, into his embrace and seems to never tire of reminding us that we are his children and his love is not subject to our merit, or lack thereof.    Maybe you needed this reminder today, too.   As Brennan is often fond of saying, “God loves you just as you are, not as you should be, because nobody is as they should be.”

I leave you today with my favorite poem.  This was introduced to me some years ago by a counselor who saw in me that I was struggling to believe that God loves me.   By the time he made it to the last word, I had tears in my eyes and a racing heart, knowing this was God, once again reminding me of his relentless love.   This is “Without Brushing My Hair” by the Sufi poet, Hafiz.    Enjoy.

 

The
closer
I get to you, Beloved,
The more I can see
It is just You and I all alone
In this
World.

I hear
A knock at my door,
Who else could it be,
So I rush without brushing
My hair.

For too
Many nights
I have begged for Your
Return

And what
Is the use of vanity
At this late hour, at this divine season,
That has now come to my folded
Knees?

If your love letters are true dear Beloved
I will surrender myself to
Who You keep saying
I
Am.

~ Hafiz 

Love, Sex, Harm and Healing: What’s happening in the #GCUMC is for all of us

The world is watching the UMC Special General Conference today, waiting to see whether or not the Traditional Plan will become the settled law of the church with regards to human sexuality and marriage.   During yesterday’s session, a young gay man named JJ Warren  became an overnight sensation with his passionate speech on the floor, calling upon the Church to seize this moment to show the love of God to all people.   You should take a listen:

I was moved by his passion and his words, but something wasn’t sitting right with me about the whole thing.   Later that night I posted these thoughts on Facebook and Twitter (@holtz517):

“They didn’t know God could love them because their church said God didn’t.” ~JJ Warren #GC2019

I was not as moved by the impassioned speech given today by a young gay man aspiring to be a UMC pastor as the rest of the world, it seems. Not because it wasn’t a good speech (it was) but because it’s passion and conviction seemed misdirected.

I have been a bleeding liberal and a rabid conservative on this issue over the years. I’ve known good and godly people who love Jesus and the Bible in both camps.

I’ve never heard a traditional Methodist church say to gay people that God doesn’t love them. That may be what they *hear* through our policy, but that isn’t the message, nor it’s intent.

As a staunch progressive, I’ve been guilty of preaching a vast, feel-good love of God. I was passionate and sincere, to be sure, and I trust God used it in spite of the fact that this “love” only told half the story. Perhaps I was doing what Paul called “proclaiming Christ from selfish ambition” (Phil 1:17), of which he was gracious enough to give thanks for anyway.

But the love of Christ is not a gushy love affirming me and the world as we are. Certainly it’s a love that loves us no more or less at any time in eternity, but once we are aware of this love, it becomes a consuming fire, making us born again. We are no longer our old selves, but new creations(2 Cor. 5:17).

Traditionalists do not believe God doesn’t love gay people. They believe that God loves all of us broken people the same – gay, straight, addicted, confused, prideful, rebellious – that God has a particular design and plan for human sexuality and marriage and any deviance from that is not a sign of how bad you are but a recognition of how badly we need Jesus to redeem us. If not in this life than the next. Our identity is not our sexual preference but sinner and saint.

There is something beautiful about a life that is surrendered fully and completely to the will of God, who says not my will but His, not my body, but Yours. God’s love is not sentimentalism, but a power great enough to sustain, even thrive, a person through the painful crucifying of the flesh. That is the promise and hope of the Gospel, which is an invitation to come and die. Yet live.

Traditionalists do a poor job, perhaps, of conveying that love properly, and progressives have a hard time hearing it for what it’s worth. That’s what today’s speech helped me see.

Praying for grace and peace.
#GCUMC

Some of the comments I’ve received conveyed concern that I am doing harm to queer folk by my words.   That is certainly not my intent.   One of my biggest concerns about what is at the root of what’s driving our Church’s current divide, and expressed well, I think, in the passionate speech above, is how much our culture has dumbed down the word “love” and how little we understand it’s radical, transforming nature.

Love, as I understand it, is the very definition of God, the same God who calls every one of us, regardless of our sexual orientation, a sinner.   We are born into this world as “enemies of God” (Rom. 5:10).  Every being alive needs to be born yet again (John 3) and have their entire inner world conformed to the image of Christ (Rom. 12:1-2).

Is God doing harm to us by calling our natural selves – the me I wrestle with daily – sinful and at enmity with Himself?   I don’t think so.   It’s the most loving thing for God to bring to our awareness our great need for him.   The Apostle Paul, after serving Christ for nearly 23 years, still struggled with this inner man at odds with the will of God.  In Romans 7 he cries out in anguish over this battle going on between his flesh and the Spirit.   He recognizes that the only relief is to cry out to God in Christ and give thanks that he is being delivered from this body of death.

Paul is a saint not because he was free of struggles but because he humbly submitted and crucified all that he was – desires, thoughts, actions, will – recognizing his great need for Christ.

One of the comments left on my page, insisting that I am doing harm by saying what I said above, wrote that the subtext behind support of a traditional, orthodox view of sexuality is

1) being queer is sinful, 2) when we actually encounter Jesus/get saved, we leave behind our sinful ways, and 3) therefore, if queer people don’t leave behind their sin, they haven’t actually encountered Jesus. (Chris Boeskool)

I responded quickly, and admittedly there is so much more to be fleshed out here but my take on those three points is as follows:

1) it’s not being queer that is sinful – it’s being human. Every one of us – straight AND gay – are born with broken sexuality that gets played out in a myriad of ways. 2) When we enter into a life with Christ, we only BEGIN what will be a life long journey of dying to self and living for Christ. It doesn’t happen over night and some things are more weighty than others, like our sexuality. 3) Those struggling to leave behind their sin is no indication that they haven’t encountered Jesus. It’s merely evidence of the Holy Spirit at work in their life and they need support, love and encouragement on the journey just like everyone else – just like I need.

This post is already longer than I intended, and yet there is so much more to say.   I’ll leave you with this:  I don’t believe that it’s anyone’s desire to intentionally harm any child of God – be they gay, straight, transgendered, unsure, traditionalist, progressive, centrist.   What I have learned, however, is that what I once considered harmful towards me in the midst of my own sexual brokenness was, over time, God’s mercy and love.  I couldn’t, or wouldn’t, see that, however, until I was broken and crying out with Paul, “Oh wretched man that I am, who will deliver me from this body of death?!”

I know, O LORD, that your laws are righteous, and in faithfulness you have afflicted me (Psalm 119:75).

It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees(Psalm 119:71).

God will not break us

I remember like it was yesterday the first time I held my first-born son.    He was so tiny and fragile, so light and small.   I cradled him in my arms, determined to shield him from anything – a cold breeze, a bump from someone passing by, bright light – that could harm him.    And our drive home?   I’ve never driven slower or more cautiously before or since.

When holding a new-born baby we instinctively go into protection mode.   Our movements are less hurried, more gentle.  We know that what we hold in our hands is precious and vulnerable and utterly dependent upon us for survival.

I was reminded of this during Father Jake’s message last night on the gentleness and humility of Jesus as described in a prophecy by Isaiah, re-membered to us in Matthew’s gospel.    Here, in the midst of healing many and choosing to remain hidden and humble, Matthew wants us to know that the Son of God, the One who could have come to us in a triumphant display of power and might, comes to us instead as one gentle and meek, not quarreling or shouting, but quietly and unassuming.    The prophet tells us that God is a servant, one whom while proclaiming justice to the uninitiated will do so with tender hands.   Matthew writes,

a bruised reed he will not break,
and a smoldering wick he will not quench,

breaking-the-bruised-reed

A bruised reed is one on its last leg.   It is hanging, quite literally, by a thread.    A smoldering wick is a candle nearly snuffed out.   The slightest breeze or bump will extinguish it.     Like a newborn child, bruised reeds and smoldering wicks require gentle hands and compassionate intent.

Matthew wants us to know that God is like this.   When you and I are hanging on by our last thread or feel as though we are on the verge of being snuffed out, God is the sort of Father who knows how to nurture us back to life.    God is not seeking to further damage the weak.   In fact it’s just the opposite.   God has a special affinity towards those of us who are weak and barely able to stand against even the slightest breeze.

God will not break or quench us.

As I look back over my battle with addiction I remember so many moments where I felt exactly like a bruised reed or smoldering wick.   I recall so many moments of feeling like all hope was lost and that the next moment may, or should, be my last.   I even remember believing that God was the sort of God who was kicking me while I was down.   God punishes the weak and rewards the strong.

A bruised reed he will not break.

God did not crush me.    While I didn’t always see it at the time, looking back now I can see how God was gently leading me out of the pit I was in.   He did not bludgeon me with facts or “truth” or “thou shall nots,” but lovingly cared for me as a Father or Mother would hold their newborn son or daughter.    Even when my actions may have warranted my bruising, God bandaged me instead.

Most often God’s tenderness came to me through his children.    Many, many times it was the children of God who loved me back to health.   Men in my recovery group and my sponsor poured into me, embodying a sacrificial, non-judgmental love which I came to believe was the way God must love, too.

As I ponder the way Jesus comes to you and I – we who are struggling and hurting and barely holding on –   comes to us with gentleness and humility, I am both awed by his great love and compassion and convicted by the lack of the same in myself at times.

May you, this day, know that God does not seek to kick you while you are down.   May you, this day, come to realize that while you are barely hanging on, your Father in heaven is craddling you with tender arms, full of mercy and grace.   May you, this day, trust in the God who will not break you.

 

 

Love as Appreciation

I have been meditating on two passages I’ve read this past week.  Both of them commend the art of appreciation.    The first quote comes from Gerald May’s wonderful book, The Awakened Heart (you may know him from his more popular work, Addiction and Grace).

A certain asceticism of mind, a gentle intellectual restraint, is needed to appreciate the important things in life. To be open to the truth of love, we must relinquish our frozen comprehensions and begin instead to appreciate.  To comprehend is to grasp; to appreciate is to value.  Appreciation is gentle seeing, soft acknowledgment, reverent perception.  Appreciation can be a pleasant valuing: being awed by a night sky, touched by a symphony, or moved by a caress without needing to understand why.  It can also be painful: feeling someone’s suffering, being shocked by loss or disaster without comprehending the reason.  Appreciation itself is a kind of love; it is our direct human responsiveness, valuing what we cannot grasp.  Love, the love of our heart, is not what we think.  It is always ready to surprise us, to take us beyond our understandings into a reality that is both insecure and wonderful.

The second comes from Mister Rogers:

36870014_10214901478764814_8975518867296092160_n

 

I think I spend a lot of time trying to comprehend things.  I read books about love, for instance, hoping to understand it or, as Gerald May puts it, grasp it.    Perhaps I feel that by comprehending love I can better control it.

But these quotes cause me to pause.   It rings true to me that love is not something to be understood but appreciated.  Valued.   To hold something as holy, sacred.  To be in awe, with or without understanding the reasons why.

Maybe this is something like what Jesus meant by being born again, or becoming like a child, or having eyes to see.   Maybe to love oneself and one’s neighbor and one’s God is about being humble and giddy and vulnerable enough to allow yourself to be in awe.   To appreciate someone or something without grasping them or it.  This, I think, is love at it’s best and purest.

Who or what might you show appreciation towards today?

Hi, my name is…

Last night at Recovery at Dayton something amazing happened.  Our host for the evening introduced himself the way we do, saying, “Hi, my name is ________, a believer in Jesus Christ who struggles with….”    Jeremy was hosting for his first time so he forgot that he introduced himself not once but twice.  We had fun with it, responding back with the obligatory, “Hi Jeremy!” both times.

That wasn’t the amazing thing though.   At the end of the message, Jeremy got back up to lead the closing Serenity Prayer, but before he did he said,

HI, my name is…Beloved.

beloved

In that moment you knew Jesus was everywhere in that room.   The hairs on the back of my neck stood up.

Beloved went on to say that if anyone here tonight doesn’t yet know that as their name, then keep coming back.  Because that is the truth that will change everything in your life.  To know how much you are God’s Beloved.

I’m reading a book on ministry right now and just finished a section where the author, Stephen Seamands, said that what I do as a pastor will one day all be gone.  I can’t be a pastor or even a husband or father or blogger or worker or any of these things for ever.  But the one thing that will never change is that I will never cease being God’s beloved son.   I am His forever.  To know that I am Beloved is the greatest and most lasting truth about me that I need to know.   It’s the only thing that matters.

Things go sideways for me when I forget that astounding truth.

Paul said it this way:

And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow–not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love (Rom. 8:38).

I’m so very thankful as I write this that I am God’s son, and God is well pleased to be my Father.  He is this not because of what I do for Him, or what I fail to do for Him, but simply because He is Love. It’s who He is.

Hi, my name is Beloved.

My prayer is that you will know that as your name, too.

God is Holy

It strikes me as problematic that there are more bumper stickers that read “God is love” than there are that read “God is holy.”    Come to think of it, I don’t know that I’ve ever seen one that reads: God is holy.

god_is_love_bumper_sticker

Referring to Isaiah 6, R.C. Sproul says this about God’s holiness:

The Bible says that God is holy, holy, holy. Not that He is merely holy, or even holy, holy. He is holy, holy, holy. The Bible never says that God is love, love, love, or mercy, mercy, mercy, or wrath, wrath, wrath, or justice, justice, justice. It does say that He is holy, holy, holy, the whole earth is full of His glory.

The third Person of the God-head even has a name:  Holy Spirit.    Yes, God is also love, but when choosing a name for God’s presence in the world He chose the name Holy Spirit rather than Loving Spirit.

There is a lot to be said about what the word holy means, but at it’s core is this idea of transcendent separateness.  To be holy means to be set apart.  When the bible calls God holy it is to say that God is so distinct, so lofty, so set-apart from all else.  There is none like our God (Ex. 15:11; 1 Sam. 2:2; Psalm 86:8-10).

To be holy also means to be pure.   The trouble God went through to describe the way the temple of God was to be built, the ceremonial rites of priests, the mandate that sacrifices made to God be unblemished, the purification rituals of those who would dare come before God, all demonstrate God’s precedence upon moral purity.     The psalmist declares,

Who may ascend into the hill of the Lord?
And who may stand in His holy place?
He who has clean hands and a pure heart,
Who has not lifted up his soul to falsehood (Psalm 24:3-5)

The importance God places on the holiness of those who would be called His children is not confined to the Old Testament.  Paul says this about God’s goal for us,

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him (Eph. 1:3-4)

And to the Corinthians he reminds them that sexual impurity makes one unholy,

Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.

We glorify God by becoming holy, as He is holy.   For the Christian it is not an option, but a command: Be holy, as I am holy (Lev. 20:26; 1 Peter 1:16).

So if holiness is what God is, and is what God wants us to be, why don’t we hear more about it?  Why don’t bumper stickers reading “God is holy” sell?  My hunch is because “love” is something we all want, and the sentimentality behind it sells.   Today, love is popularly understood as an emotion (we “fall in” and “out” of love) rather than it being the robust, active decision as seen in God, and meant to be embodied by Christians.   In the bible, love has more to do with obedience than feelings, but in our culture today love, however you want to define it, wins.

The word “holy,” by contrast, has fallen out of popular use and is not as easily reduced to a feeling.    I believe this has something to do with the fact that the Holy Spirit is still at work in the world, and our conscience knows that to speak the word “holy” we are talking about God, who is unlike us, yet calls us to be like Him.   Love may be what we want, but holiness is what we need.

Sadly, by evacuating our talk of God as holy along with His desire for us to be holy, while simultaneously using “love” for everything from what I had for dinner last night and to describe God, we miss the God revealed to us altogether who is far more marvelous than we can imagine.    It is only when we grasp the truth of God’s holiness – how separate and transcendent He is from us –  that we can even begin to appreciate what it means for Him to come to us in Jesus, and die for us “while we were yet sinners.”   That God is holy should makes us come undone, as it did Isaiah (Isa. 6), or make us drop like we are dead, as it did John, the disciple whom Jesus loved (Rev. 1:17).

Meditate on the awesome holiness of God.   It will radically transform what it means to you when you see those “God is love” bumper stickers.