Loving by Listening

The first service that one owes to others in the fellowship consists of listening to them. Just as love of God begins with listening to his word, so the beginning of love for our brothers and sisters is learning to listen to them. —Life Together by Dietrich Bonhoeffer

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Life of the Beloved — Book Review

In this little book, Henri Nouwen, who was a Catholic priest, educator and writer takes on the task of trying to explain spiritual life to his secular, Jewish friend.  For Henri, that life begins with understanding that we are created, loved and chosen by God.  We must experience His love and feel gratitude for how He has blessed us;  then we pass that love and blessing along by serving others. Society constantly encourages us to compete, to excel and to compare ourselves to a worldly version of “success.”  Often this means we see ourselves as failures, or we force ourselves into a mold that looks good to our culture, but doesn’t fulfill our deepest, God-given desires and abilities.  According to Nouwen:

“Spiritually you do not belong to the world.  And this is precisely why you are sent into the world.  Your family and your friends, your colleagues and your competitors, and all the people you meet on your journey through life are all searching for more than survival.  Your presence among them as the one who is sent will allow them to catch a glimpse of the real life.”

Life of the Beloved: Spiritual Living in a Secular World by [Nouwen, Henri J. M.]

In the epilogue we learn that according to Henri’s friend, the book is a failure.  He tells him, “you do not realize how far we are from where you are.”  However a number of Christian friends assure him to “trust what is there (in the book) will bear fruit.”  It becomes the basis for a course on “The Life of the Beloved” at the Servant Leadership School of the Church of the Savior in Washington D.C. Nouwen muses about how ironic it is that he tried so hard to write something for secular folks and the ones helped by it were searching Christians.  The point, I think is this:

“But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with him in the heavenly places that in the coming age he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.  For by grace you have been saved through faith;  and this is not of your own doing, it is the gift of God — not because of works, lest any man should boast.  For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”  Ephesians 2:5-10

He made us, He loved us, He chose us, and He will use us in ways we would never expect.

Two Are Better

“Two are better than one, because they have a good reward  for their toil.  For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow;  but woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to life him up.  Again, if two lie together, they are warm;  but how can one be warm alone?  And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him.  A threefold cord is not quickly broken.”  Ecclesiastes 4:9-12

In an earlier blog, I wrote about how God did not create us to be alone.  When I think back over my life, I see how it has been enriched by the love of others.

What would my life be like without my siblings, with whom I remember my childhood, and who helped to care for my mom in her old age?  Or without my mother who read to me, my grandmother who cooked the best dinners ever, my grandfather who taught me I was smart enough to become whatever I wanted to be?

What would my life be like if I had not had my husband to help with all the child rearing chores, to support me and cheer me on when I wanted to go to school, try a new job, or learn a new skill?  Who stuck with me through all the good and bad times of life?

What would my life be life without the many friends, who over the years, saw talents and abilities in me that I didn’t even realize I had?  Who encouraged me to be a leader, to grow spiritually, and (most recently) to start this blog?

Where would I be without God in my life?  To comfort, to guide, to provide, to accept me with all my quirks?  To be a father whenever my earthly parents failed me?

Storge, eros, philia, agape, we need all those loves.  Life is definitely better when we live it with others.

Love Lifted Me

“…Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus.  But when he saw the wind, he was afraid;  and beginning to sink he cried out, ‘Lord save me!’  Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him …”  Matthew 29-31

I’ve never walked on water, but I’ve certainly had the experience of trusting God, and then almost in the same moment doubting and becoming anxious … only God’s love can lift us up and keep us from sinking during those times of fear.

The original version of this beautiful “love” hymn was written in 1912.  It was the joint effort of James Rowe who penned the words, while his friend, Howard E. Smith, composed the music.  Row worked for many years composing hymns and editing music journals for various publishers.  Sing these words when you are in need of God’s sustaining love.

real sex — Book Review

If you’ve never read a book by Lauren Winner, run out and get one now!  She is not only articulate, her topics are well researched, and she is honest and open about her own struggles with leading a faithful Christian life.  Her first book, a memoir entitled Girl Meets God is the story of how she, a young Jewish woman, converted to Christianity.

Real Sex

Anyway, real sex, seemed an obvious choice for this month’s topic and exploring the theme of eros love.  Subtitled “the naked truth about chastity” the book begins with Winner’s attempt to work through the difficulty she, and other people, even Christians, have in maintaining chastity.  Somewhere along the line she realizes that you cannot discuss chastity without discussing marriage — chastity isn’t a virtue or discipline to practice for the sake of avoiding something bad or harmful — it’s to be practiced in order to understand what marriage and becoming one flesh is meant to be and to represent in the Christian community.

Here’s a quote from the book:

“When I see them (a married couple she knows who have their share of differences) I not only feel optimistic about the possibility of staying married, I also feel optimistic about the possibility of staying a faithful Christian, of not drifting from church when I grow bored or indifferent or angry.  I remember that the Bible tells me over and over that marriage is like the relationship between God and His beloved.  I am cheered.”

According to Winner, marriage is not just for the couple, it is for the community.  They are a sign that:

“He (God) loves us, and is faithful to us, when we cheat on Him.  He loves us and is faithful to us, when we insist our love has died on the vine.  Marriages are made in part, to remind us of God’s relentless fidelity”

I have to admit, I hadn’t thought of my marriage that way before.  Perhaps we would all take marriage more seriously if we did. Our love for one another is an earthly example to others of God’s heavenly love for each of us.

Read the book for more.  You’ll be edified and challenged, and if you’re like me, you’ll want to read other books by this author.

Godly Relationships

“Then the Lord God said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone;  I will make him a helper fit for him.”  Genesis 2:18

From the beginning, God intended us to be in relationship with others.  He said it wasn’t “good” to be alone.  He also made man “in the image of God”( Genesis 1:27) and God Himself is a relationship — Father, Son and Spirit.  It’s a relationship founded on love according the apostle, John:

“…the Father loves the Son, and has given all things into his hand.”  John 3:35

and producing love, according to Paul:

“…the fruit of the Spirit is love….’ Galatians 5:22

In fact, Scripture tells us that God is not only loving, He is love.

It seems to me that if God is love, and He made us to mirror His image, and He created us to be in relationship with one another — then His desire is that all our relationships be loving!  I’m not always a logical thinker, but this is where logic leads me.  I guess that means acting in love, even when we don’t feel love.  How do we do that?  Well…..

“Love is patient and kind;  love is not jealous or boastful;  it is not arrogant or rude.  Love does not insist on its own way;  it is not irritable or resentful;  it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right. ”  1 Corinthians 13:4-7

It’s not easy, but I think if we pay attention and keep these verses from Corinthians in mind, we can become more patient, kind, courteous and humble;  and those few changes in our behavior will allow God’s love to shine into all our relationships.

 

 

That’s What You Get for Loving Me

I seem to be on a kick of remembering old songs.  When I was in college, the one above was popular.  It’s about a scoundrel who tells all the girls, “if you love me, expect to be abandoned, broke and forgotten, because that’s just how I am!”  “Fair warning!”  (I’m not sure why I liked it, this guy is unbearably arrogant).  Anyway, it began bouncing around in my brain the other day, causing me to think about the many, better things we get for loving God.  I’m sure this isn’t a comprehensive list:

  • Someone who will never leave us or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5)
  • Someone who will always listen (John 9:31)
  • Our daily needs and pleasure in our work (Ecclesiastes 3:23)
  • Wisdom (James 1:5)
  • Christian fellowship (1 John 1:7)
  • Fellowship with Christ (1 Corinthians 12:27)
  • Spiritual gifts to serve the others (1 Corinthians 12:7)
  • The Holy Spirit, who encourages and comforts (Acts 5:32)
  • Forgiveness of sins (1 John 1:9)
  • Salvation (6:23)
  • Eternal life (John 3:16)

If we’re willing, even eager to take a risk on loving a flawed human being, who will no doubt disappoint us, why wouldn’t we take a chance on God’s love?  We stand to gain all the things above and more.  Love and trust God, and see what you get for loving Him.