God is Love

I am a huge fan of hymns with words that still speak, with truths that help us to glorify and praise a God who is love everlasting.

There is something about these hymns that sparks within me a sense of awe and wonder. Perhaps it is the simplicity of the music which allows the words to stand out and speak their truth plainly. Maybe it is because there is a huge amount of “shallow” Christian music in our culture (or subculture, if you will) so that when a song contains so much truth and teaching it is the notable exception.

Whilst watching Songs of Praise today, I heard this beautiful hymn, God is Love, sung to the tune we (in Australia) know as “Love Divine, All Loves Excelling.”

God is love: let heaven adore him;
God is love: let earth rejoice;
let creation sing before him,
and exalt him with one voice.
He who laid the earth’s foundation,
he who spread the heavens above,
he who breathes through all creation,
he is love eternal love.

God is Love; and love enfolds us,
all the world in one embrace:
with unfailing grasp God holds us,
every child of every race.
And when human hearts are breaking
under sorrow’s iron rod,
then we find that self-same aching
deep within the heart of God

God is Love; and though with blindness
sin afflicts all human life,
God’s eternal loving kindness
guides us through our earthly strife.
Sin and death and hell shall never
o’er us final triumph gain;
God is Love, so Love forever
o’er the universe must reign.

(Timothy Rees, 1874-1939)

Considering the time in which the hymn was written, the message contained in its poem is so appropriate for us in our world where God’s love is so desperately needed, yet it is a truth that is often misunderstood, misrepresented or silenced.

Lethal Injections

“Fret not thyself because of evil doers, neither be thou envious against the workers of iniquity.” (excerpt from psalm 37, KJV)

A man was working outside in his garden one hot summer afternoon when a snake appeared out of nowhere and bit him.  While he was bleeding, the man chased down the snake and beat it to death with his shovel.  After chasing and conquering the snake, the man tried desperately to catch his breath and calm down, but he felt extremely light-headed.  When he finally stumbled into the door of his home, he collapsed. His partner rushed him to the emergency room.

After about an hour, a forlorn doctor approached the partner and informed him that despite the best efforts of the medical team, the man had passed.  With tears in his eyes the partner asked: “What happened?”  “He suffered a snake bite,” the doctor responded.  “But the snake bite didn’t kill him.”  “The poison that remained for too long in his body is what killed him.”

While attending Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia, as a seminarian, I will never forget hearing Dr. Martin Luther King, Sr. say over and over again, “Don’t let anybody make you stoop so low as to hate!”  I have always considered this an amazing assertion from a man whose beloved son and wife were both murdered on two separate occasions. But Dr. King knew what the Psalmist knew.  Like venom to the body, hatred and vengeance are lethal injections to the human spirit.

It takes a lot to forgive, and to place those who have wronged us into the Lord’s hands.  But hatred and vengeance require even more of us – too much more.  Hatred and vengeance rob us of our peace of mind and our peace with God.

Dear Lord, you know the bites and attacks we’ve suffered.  Now please help us not to allow the venom of our adversaries to destroy us.  Amen

–Reflection by Kenneth L. Samuel, from StillSpeaking

Secrets

Everyone has secrets.

Everyone is keeping secrets.

Some are brave enough to tell one now and then, but the decision to do so is weighed and internally debated, sometimes in great angst and anguish, before the revelation.

Some, like Wikileaks, become top headlines and cause international concern and criticism. Others–most–lie deep within the hidden parts of our own minds and hearts, shut away in a dark room where they are not likely to be disturbed, or remembered. . . .

Everyone has secrets. Whether or not we choose to tell them is another story.

Anonymity is a great friend of secret-telling, especially if the revelation could split your world apart.

TellingSecrets.org is one of many sites on the Internet that survive on anonymous confessions. Things like a secret hatred of someone else, office gossip, affairs and sexual encounters, thoughts of revenge, suicide, deeds of deepest personal shame or betrayal . . . the list goes on and on. (And it makes for interesting reading.)

What is the great fear in revealing the truth that is hidden inside of me?

I think that the greatest fear is that, if I let my secret out, people will think less of me–or shun me altogether. And (most of the time) I would rather hide my truth than risk my relationships and support structures falling apart.

Another reason for clamming up is that I don’t want to disappoint others, especially those close to me.

Imagine the teenager who comes home and reveals to her mother, ‘I’m pregnant.’ Or the young man who opens up to his family with, ‘I’m gay.’ Then there’s the pastor who tells his congregation, ‘I don’t believe this anymore.’ The politician who decides that enough is enough and forsakes the party line. Whether it’s family, friends, our community or constituency, we as people created for relationship, do not want to disappoint.

I also think there is an element of ‘I don’t want to rock the boat,’ or, ‘I just want to keep the peace.’ This is prevalent in community groups, workplaces, schools, churches, or other organisations. I realise that if I tell my secret, it will ‘open a can of worms’ in the organisation. It will stir the status quo and may result in rumours, innuendo, judgement, criticism, and potentially me being ostracised from the group.

You just need to look at Facebook to see numerous examples of people being ‘defriended’ (or in Twitter, ‘unfollowed’) over a statemnet that was made or over the misunderstanding of a post. Or a group may be created over a common dislike of a ‘traitor’ or betrayer of trust. The judgement falls quickly in any social media circle, but usually without so much as a phone call or email to ask what the real intent was.

I remember hearing Bill Hybels say that in community we have many needs that need to be met. Two of these needs are to know and be known, and to love and be loved. I think these two are mutually inclusive. We can’t truly love unless we truly know and we can’t truly know unless we understand that we are truly (and unconditionally) loved.

Perhaps this is a dream, but it is one worth chasing. Imagine what a weight would be lifted off of our hearts if we knew that, regardless of how we felt, believed, understood, experienced, or how we hurt, those alongside of us would openly, confidently, and sincerely support, validate, and be agents of healing as we laid bare the secrets held so close.

Until that time, places like TellingSecrets.org will be filled with dark pieces of people’s lives, regrets, confessions, fears, and sad tales they wish they could share freely . . . longing to receive forgiveness, healing and love.

May God grant me the grace to receive what those close to me share without judgement, with genuine love and understanding, and in full validation and acceptance of them as a person, a child of God, and a fellow companion on the journey.

Gentleness

“Compassion is expressed in gentleness. When I think of the persons I know who model for me the depths of the spiritual life, I am struck by their gentleness … They are gentle because they have honestly faced the struggles given to them and have learned the hard way that personal survival is not the point. Their caring is gentle because their self-aggrandizement is no longer at stake. There is nothing in it for them. Their vulnerability has been stretched to clear-eyed sensitivity to others and truly selfless love.” — John E. Biersdorf (from Healing of Purpose: God’s Call to Discipleship)

I found this quote in Sojourners Verse & Voice email today. It spoke to me, probably because I know someone like this–one who is gentle, kind, is exuberant as he shows God’s love in everything and to all, is encouraging and uplifting, and truly is an example of what it means to live like Jesus.

I want to be like that. I’ve got a long way to go, but that’s the kind of person I want to become. God help me.

I Have an Agenda

I have an agenda.

I thought I’d just put it out there and be honest.

It probably comes as no surprise to many of you because you’ve been suspecting this for a long time. I haven’t kept my agenda hidden. I haven’t tried to play it down. I haven’t even denied it to be so.

My agenda is this: I want to see the dominion of God come to be on earth as it is in heaven. Sometimes I want this more than others. Often I lose track of what my agenda is a wander about in some self-serving daze.

In the past I have been somewhat confused about my agenda and have tried to substitute the agendas of others for my own. Sometimes I’ve jumped from one agenda to another, strugging so tirelessly to get others to conform to my agenda-of-the-week, thinking it was the be-all-and-end-all of my “ministry.” (Oh, how many ways that word can be abused!) Other times I have held so tightly to my agenda that I failed to see that God’s kingdom comes in a variety of ways, through a multiplicity of spiritual exercises, and from sometimes unlikely advocates.

From my understanding of what this agenda is all about, it requires a lot of me, including the following:

  • That I live in humility
  • That I act selflessly
  • That I do my best to be a bringer of peace
  • That I depend on God for my daily needs in all areas
  • That I follow the example and commands of Jesus the Christ to the best of my ability
  • That I love people in the same way as Jesus loves them
  • That I be an agent of change wherever it is needed

I know–these are all huge asks! There’s no way I can do or be all these things. I haven’t got what it takes to fulfill my own mission–BUT I DO because God has promised he will always be with me and be my strength, and tells me that I can have confidence in his faithfulness.

The one thing I do know is that one day God’s kingdom WILL come. It will not come in fancy oratory, quality worship, high-brow performances, or state-of-the-art technicolour. It will come quietly, perhaps unseen by most, in humility and mercy.

God’s reign will come. Until it does, I want to keep my agenda from being hidden, I want to set it in the front of my consciousness at all times. I want it to dictate how I live, love, journey, pray, talk, sing, play . . . After all, that’s why we have agendas, right?

So, what’s your agenda?

*   *   *

Just enter any up-to-date Christian Church today and listen carefully. It won’t be long until you hear the word “vision” tossed about. Usually Proverbs 29:18–“Without a vision, the people perish”–is quoted in support.

The Naked Pastor (David Hayward) has a sensible take on this in his poat Biblical Arguments Against Vision. Here’s just a couple of the 10 points he raises:

  1. The verse most often used to support vision in a church is Proverbs 29:18… “Without a vision, the people perish.” But even an elementary study of that verse will reveal that the word translated “vision” is best translated “prophecy” or “revelation“. It isn’t talking about the modern preoccupation with creating and articulating a vision over a group of people to maintain health or secure life or success. It’s more related to the biblical theme, “We do not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” Without revelation, without the truth coming to us, we would die.
  2. There is no talk about vision for each local church in the New Testament. I suggest the earliest church’s concern is primarily a human one: the urgent necessity of fellowship, the gathering together of those with the same belief in a hostile environment. Then it is out of this that worship, prayer and apostolic teaching find expression. Not even evangelism is its primary concern. The New Testament assumes evangelism is the byproduct of the presence of the church in society. For instance, in Acts, the earliest Christians didn’t disperse in order to evangelize. Instead, the church dispersed after each increase in persecution, and people were added to the church as a result. Which of course brings to mind that this obsession with vision is a modern one. From the earliest church to the post-modern era, it wasn’t a concern. Now, it seems to me, vision is a modern technique for attracting, keeping and motivating people in the midst of heated competition. (Read more …)

We Laugh, But . . .

Church signs have been used ever since the invention of moveable type to display all sorts of messages: humorous and serious, challenging and trivial.

Here’s one that’s not set in moveable letters, possibly because the church doesn’t think it will ever need to change it.

My particular favourites on the list of people who love the devil are “Loud Mouth Women” and “Government Recipients.”

Incorrect use of apostrophes aside, My mind boggles at the mentality behind such a sign. Rather than point to a God who hates, churches need–more now than ever before–to point to a God who loves . . . and who loves everyone in spite of the labels they wear or the hangups they have. Without a doubt, if our God can extend his mercy to St Paul, who called himself ‘the foremost of all sinners,’ then he surely can have pity on us “Sport’s Nut’s”! (Insert grinning face here. . . .)

All Are Welcome

Facebook is a brilliant idea! This week I was found on Facebook by one of my College buddies, Curt Allison, who now lives in Canada and is still an awesome pianist!

On his Facebook status this week, he quoted one verse of a song which really ministered to me, so I had to look up the rest of the lyrics (and download it from iTunes). I have never been so moved to a hymn as I have to the words of this one:

Let us build a house where love can dwell
And all can safely live
A place where saints and children tell
How hearts learn to forgive
Built of hopes and dreams and visions
Rock of faith and vault of grace
Here the love of Christ shall end divisions
All are welcome, all are welcome
All are welcome in this place

Let us build a house where prophets speak
And words are strong and true
Where all God’s children dare to seek
To dream God’s reign anew
Here the cross shall stand as witness
And a symbol of God’s grace
Here as one we claim the faith of Jesus:
All are welcome, all are welcome
All are welcome in this place

Let us build a house where love is found
In water, wine and wheat
A banquet hall on holy ground
Where peace and justice meet
Here the love of God, through Jesus
Is revealed in time and space
As we share in Christ the feast that frees us
All are welcome, all are welcome
All are welcome in this place

Let us build a house where hands will reach
Beyond the wood and stone
To heal and strengthen, serve and teach
And love the Word they’ve known
Here the outcast and the stranger
Bear the image of God’s face
Let us bring an end to fear and danger
All are welcome, all are welcome
All are welcome in this place

Let us build a house where all are named
Their songs and visions heard
And loved and treasured, taught and claimed
As words within the Word
Built of tears and cries and laughter
Prayers of faith and songs of grace
Let this house proclaim from floor to rafter:
All are welcome, all are welcome
All are welcome in this place.
(All Are Welcome, by Marty Haugen)

My prayer is that, increasingly, all our churches, places of worship, and faith communities will fully join in and embody the message of this song with the intent that God’s kingdom will come and his will be done on earth as in heaven. Amen.