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Posts Tagged ‘caring’

Oh foolish we who don’t believe we need salvation.

heal the worldRestore us again, God our Savior,
    and put away your displeasure toward us. . . .
Show us your unfailing love, Lord,

    and grant us your salvation. [Psalm 85: 4, 7; NIV]

It’s gotten corrupted, this idea of being “saved.” I suppose we can blame all the good-hearted Christians who claimed the “born again” phrase and the Bible thumping preacher whose gaze pierced the crowd and said, “you must be saved!” And we’re all looking around and saying, “saved from what?” The whole saved got totally personalized. And although it’s true, we all do need personal salvation (or in my view, better described as surrender), it is global salvation we should think about now.

Our world is in deep danger.

According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization one in eight people in our world is starving to death. Most of these people live in developing countries. Of the 10.9 million children deaths, almost half are due to malnourishment and hunger. In 2005, the World Bank estimated that almost 1,400 Million people live on $1.25 or less per day. According to a 2002 World Health report, 1.6 Million people lose their lives to violence. Just in America alone, over 30,000 people commit suicide every year [Suicide Facts]. And the number one cause for suicide is “untreated depression.” In 2004, NIMH estimated that 26% of all Americans, 18 and over, could be diagnosed with some kind of mental disorder in a given year.

Naturally, none of these statistics is hard and fast or specifically represents where we are today, but regardless, the numbers are staggering.

Humanity is in need of saving. We are dying. We are killing ourselves. And who knows when the next “real” weapon of mass destruction is loosed upon humans. We are killing each other.

Personal recovery is important. I know that very well. I lay out my state of soul to God each day, asking forgiveness and renewal. But I find my God asking me to reach out for the greater good. The psalms are teaching me about praying corporately, with a wide net.

“Show us your unfailing love, oh Lord . . . “

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Art by Jonas Gerard

God blessed Ishmael because he was the son of Abraham. And although it may not seem like a blessing at first blush, those many tribes that descended from Ishmael only to become enemies to the progeny of Isaac: but there was still fruitfulness. And God is honored in fruitfulness.

Genesis 17:18, 20; 21:11-12a,  And Abraham said to God, “If only Ishmael might live under your blessing!” . . .  “And as for Ishmael, I [God] have heard you: I will surely bless him; I will make him fruitful and will greatly increase his numbers. He will be the father of twelve rulers, and I will make him into a great nation. . . . But God said to him [Abraham], “Do not be so distressed about the boy and your slave woman. . . .  I will make the son of the slave into a nation also, because he is your offspring.”

But the blessing of Ishmael is not simply about childbearing and big families, it is about enlarging the place of one’s tent (e.g. one’s influence).

Enlarge the place of your tent,
stretch your tent curtains wide,
do not hold back;
lengthen your cords,
strengthen your stakes.
For you will spread out to the right and to the left;
your descendants will dispossess nations
and settle in their desolate cities.  [Isaiah 54:2-3]

Children are the hope of the future, whether we have them in our immediate family or we serve them through school, church, neighborhood, or work. It is the children who carry the message of our lives into their own. If our lives are loving and giving and caring, then they will respond to the model we provide them. But the opposite is true as well.

They say, if you want to know where a person’s priorities are, look at the list of things in which they invest their money. I say, the same is true for the way money, time, knowledge, and energy are invested in children. They cannot love if they have not been loved. They cannot give grace if they never received it. They will not show compassion if they have not seen compassionate behaviors around them. What we pass to children of all ages is only limited by our own misplaced preferences and choices.

I wish I could say that my children are bearing the fruit of the blessings of God. In some ways, they are: instead of an orphanage, they live in a family and a country of great opportunity. Instead of a proscribed future dealt to them through poor diet, alcoholism, and abandonment, they do know they are loved unconditionally. But in my enthusiasm for having children, I spoiled them too. I wanted them to have some of the things I missed and I created a distorted view of value, of appreciation for the little things, of comfort. Like most Americans, they reflect a world where “need” means another car, not another meal.

So now, I am sorry dear children, what I failed to pass along, you will have to discover on your own. Life will teach you and in that life, God will teach  you. For the blessings of God are still there, the promise of good things still available, but the road may be a little longer.

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Can I be honest about what I see when I meet someone? I’d love to say my eyes go inside and seek out the “sacred other” but no, not usually. I’m still assessing the outer shell. It happens in a flash, whether it’s chewed down fingernails or Jimmy Choo shoes, my first impression rules the day.

Philemon 16
. . . no longer as a slave, but better than a slave, as a dear brother. He is very dear to me but even dearer to you, both as a man and as a brother in the Lord.

Haven’t we all played that first impression game with people who have developed into friends?

“Oh, when I first met you, I thought you were a snob . . . or a slob . . . or whatever.” And then we laugh and say how wrong we were, how we had misjudged, how we had missed the clues of the truth inside. It’s all so funny, but is it?

Or what about those times I’ve yelled at a driver or gestured inappropriately or intentionally cut one off as a payback. Yeah, and then we both drive into the same church parking lot. That’s humbling. What did we see? What will we see next?

I work in a community library and we deal with the public all day long and sometimes, it’s not always pleasant. Patrons “swear” they returned a book only to find it later under their son’s bed; or they adamantly deny the water-damage happened during the three weeks they borrowed it. Bottom line? They lie and lie and lie. And often, they don’t just lie, they yell and threaten too. Just such an incident happened last Friday to my colleague and sure enough, they met up again in the same pew on Easter morning. Nice first impression on both sides. Not.

In this letter to Philemon, Paul is asking him to “see” Onesimus, not as a slave, but a “brother” and even moreso, as a man.

When Jesus came to the Jews, he turned their belief system upside down, announcing himself as the Messiah, breaking the dietary laws and traditions, and advocating for grace over legalism. Then, Paul comes along and moves into the Greek and other Asian cities nearby. If we think following Christ in those places was any less disruptive, that’s just wrong. Hierarchy and class ruled those cultures and now, they were being asked to set those traditions aside as well. A slave is a person, a human being, and if that man has entered the life of Christ, then how is he different from you or me?

Some weeks ago, a friend shared this video with me about Narayanan Krishnan, a successful restaurateur who decided to return to his native city in India to feed and care for the poor, some of them untouchables. Who did he see?

CNN Video Story about Narayanan Krishnan [2.5 minutes]
Is it not the Christ?

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When Paul’s cohort (more than likely, all men) lived and worked in Thessalonica among the new believers, they had a dual role: mother and father. It’s no different for us, for me. And I don’t mean replicating what it was for us, but what it could be.

I Thessalonians 2:7, 11-12a
. . . but we were gentle among you, like a mother caring for her little children. . . For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God . . .

Like so many of us, I grew up with a dysfunctional family life. I wouldn’t say my early season as a believer was much better. There were “teachers” aplenty and people who were sure they had all the answers, but not too many who role-modeled mother/father love.

One role meets those basic needs like food, shelter, clothing and above them all, unconditional love and holding (this is how I see the mother who cares for a small child). The second role expands on this one with encouragement, comfort, and advocacy. The first role builds up within the safety of a known environment and the second role sends out into the world.

Jesus did the same thing. He taught in the small circle and gave his disciples everything they needed to thrive and then sent them out to build on what they had learned. Build strength; use strength . . . to grow even stronger.

Have I done this as a parent? Only in fits and starts. Have I practiced these roles as a friend? Not as much as I could or should.

Sometimes I blame my abdication from one or both of these roles because I didn’t get the benefit of them, or at least, it doesn’t seem that way on first blush. It’s not true, of course. God provided everything I needed to move me forward in the world, but in less traditional ways. My God is creative in loving and sending me forth.

In my first year as a believer, it’s true that I didn’t have a caring core to carry me through my questions and disappointments. There were no clear mother/father faithful around me. But I also remember a specific night when I prayed to God, a time when an hour in prayer was nothing because I was on fire and so hungry for the Holy Spirit. And in those early weeks and months, many of my prayers were in Latvian, a language I grew up with as a child. My birth father never did learn English and so up to his death, this was the language we shared. And so, on this night, I talked to God in that child-like way, in a language I hadn’t really exercised much as an adult. The result? I distinctly heard, in Latvian, God speak to my heart and claim that father-place. He would be the father I lost. He would comfort, encourage, and send me forth.

” . . . for He [God] Himself has said, I will not in any way fail you nor give you up nor leave you without support. [I will] not, [I will] not, [I will] not in any degree leave you helpless nor forsake nor let [you] down (relax My hold on you)! Assuredly not!” [Hebrews 13:5, Amplified]

Selah! [Pause and think of that]

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Power in the basics. There is such a simplicity to the message: love God, love others. One builds on the other. One is enhanced by the other. And along the way, the love itself creates a momentum for the ages. Love is like energy: it never disappears.

I Corinthians 13:8a, 13
Love never fails. . . . And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

I know about energy intellectually, but it’s not something I think about every day. Energy is bouncing around us all the time. Energy is transformed from one state to another, always moving, morphing, or actively waiting. And so is love.

This is how love never fails. Love is resilient and creative. Love is strong and gentle. Love is comfortable in the world of paradox.

Love is the most powerful force in the universe. And instead of harnessing it, we have cheapened it with images of Valentine hearts, cupids, and “Precious Moments” figurines. We have allowed love to become sex. We have watered down the strength of love.

But it is still there. Love is still available, because love never fails. Love is not just the words. Love is a space where energy can flow back and forth. I can’t really love pizza, it’s an inanimate object.

God is love [I John 4:8]. God is light [I John 1:5]. God is energy. God cannot be destroyed. To love others is to “god” others.

If we want to introduce God to others, then we’d better start at the ground level with love. And if we’re not sure what that means, then we need to learn I Corinthians 13 by heart, ground it in the heart, move it through the heart: kindness, generosity, patience, humility, caring, calm, soothing, forgiving, unassuming, and contented.

Love is a practice.

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I Corinthians 13:4b-6
. . . It [love] does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, 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.

If love is not these things, perhaps it’s a good idea for me to consider the antonyms. I can’t really “do” or “practice” a “NOT.” So I looked them up.

The opposite of the verb envy is to be confident or contented, to be generous and giving. Do I reflect love in this way? Is my love toward others unwavering and confident. Am I content with the love I have as well as the love I can give. Interesting though, these are actually “states of being.” I cannot practice contentment and confidence, not really. I can turn a corner and choose. And generosity comes from within. Generous giving comes from confidence and contentment. So, perhaps, “not envying” what others have is indeed the first step toward contentment.

The opposite of boasting is to be modest, quiet, and deprecating (playing down what one has). It’s not that I don’t have the “stuff” or the relationships or the love or the ability, it’s that I don’t brag about what I have. This brings to mind the “ugly American” who travels with a chip on his/her shoulder, expecting service up to certain standards. It’s an “I deserve” attitude. All of those cliches like “keeping up with the Joneses” are counter to the basics of not boasting. Our of pride in the accomplishments of our children, we often provide litany after litany of their successes, their grades, their jobs, their scores.

The opposite of rudeness is kindness, politeness, and respect. This I can practice, if I choose to do so. The more kindness I show, the more politeness, the more respect, the less rude I will seem. Politeness has gone out of favor. Our children do not recognize politeness as necessarily important. But do we realize that love requires this of us? If I love my children, I should also be kind, polite and respect them for who they are in each stage of life. It is my job to model that.

The opposite of self-seeking is similar to the opposite of envy — it’s giving, benevolent, and caring; moral and ethical. This is the essence of mindfulness of “other.” These are the traits of the humble. Really, it reminds of stepping out of costume, the selfish costume, and showing the tender center within. It’s casting off the habit of selfishness.

The opposite of anger is joy, pleasantness, calm and being soothing. I cannot practice joy, it’s a result, but I can be pleasant instead of not, I can look for my inner calm and bring it to the surface, I can be soothing to the one who is hurting. I cannot be angry if I am doing any of these other things. There is no longer room for anger.

The opposite of “not keeping a record of wrongs” must be forgetfulness, choosing to “not recall” or dismiss the offense. And of course, forgiveness. They go hand in hand.

The last antonym for “not delighting in evil” is provided for us and is a surprise: rejoicing in truth. I would have thought it would be delighting in “good,” but instead, Paul chooses truth as the powerhouse to overcome evil. I can indeed practice truth and with it, I will be able to walk away from evil and lies.

The opposite of pride is humility. And each one of these opposites is embraced in this one word. Oh Lord, I am so far. Give me courage to embrace and exercise those aspects of love that will help me evolve truth in humility.

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