Begin Again

“All Easter Items ON SALE!” The sign announces another grand retailers’ event. The shelves still hold patches of bright colored plastic eggs and toys, the last few hollow chocolate rabbits, and a scattering of “religious” cards. The heart of love may be giving, but with all my kiddos gone their ways, I indulge my “bah, humbug” and turn back to the grocery aisle.

Then I remember something I saw years ago: “The individual asked Jesus, ‘How much do you love me?’ ‘This much,’ Jesus replied, and He stretched out His arms and died.” He loves you “to death.” Literally! Many are familiar with John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son…” and “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends…” (John 15:13). This is the love I want to share with my friends.

But that was Good Friday’s event, and there are no greeting cards for a crucifixion. Nor for Saturday’s black abyss–entombment, utter devestation. Marketers find nothing to celebrate in this scene. Yet those who have endured such loss may later testify that resurrection joy is on its way–as the preacher exclaims, “Sunday is coming!”

At last the jubilant, astounded shouts fill the dark places. “He is risen!” The tomb is empty because God’s love has overcome death. And so we discover that Sunday joy starts with Friday love that has endured Saturday pain.

So what about Easter Bunnies and spring flowers? They can remind us that God provides new life and second chances–even for tulips! Thus I can look at this entwining of the sacred and secular and accept that God loves a good celebration and He is not threatened by chocolate bunnies or colored eggs!

Advertisements

Knowing Me

Did Jesus have to contend with identity issues? God said, “This is my Son…”(Mt 3:17) “Who do you say that I am?”(Mt 16:15) John the Baptist’s followers asked, “Are you the one who was to come…?” (Mt 11:3) We read that Jesus was always certain of His own identity, though that certainty is an enigma for our human natures! Let me explain.

Self-identity is, in large part, established on what others think of me–or my perception of how they know me. I may be different in public than when I am alone; whether the setting is informal or structured. Expectations, “comfort zone,” peers, competencies, “If you really knew me…,” all are pieces of the me you see.

Too often I have accepted without question these (mis)conceptions or assumptions as the real me. When I began helping foster kids work through their own fragmented identities I began growing in understanding, knowing, loving my self so that I could really love others. And I came to better recognize the fine line between nature and nurture–how I am wired with what I’ve experienced.

One method of exploring my human nature is to learn about “temperaments” based on Hippocrates (father of modern medicine 460-377 BCE) and the archaic “humors.” In 1971Tim LaHaye wrote Transformed Temperaments in which he uses the biblical characters as representative of each of the four types — Peter the Sanguine, Paul the Choleric, Moses the Melancholy, and Abraham the Phlegmatic. Each one has its human qualities. These may be seen as weaknesses until transformed by God, who revels in turning our humanness into soul strengths for His purposes!

Then, just this past year, Kay Warren authored Choose Joy Because Happiness Is Not Enough. She created a lighthearted “Winnie the Pooh School of Personalities” (See pgs. 91-93.) Easy-going Winnie, goal-oriented Rabbit, enthusiastic Tigger, and deeply emotional Eeyore represent those four types.

Sanguines (Tigger) and Cholerics (Rabbit) represent the extrovert-leaders among us while Phlegmatics (Winnie) and Melencholics (Eeyore) exhibit the more introverted qualities. No type is static. Though one may be dominant, none is singular.

Another aspect of my wiring is based on the theory of Multiple Intelligences (Howard Gardner, mid-1980s.) These include native aptitudes and learning preferences categorized as verbal/linguistic, logical/mathematical, visual/spatial, musical/rhythmic, body/kinesthetic, interpersonal, and intrapersonal. An eighth way of knowing was added later and termed nature. This would be intuitive, possibly spiritual in nature.

A third aspect of wiring has come to be know as Love Languages (Gary Chapman). These five different ways of feeling and expressing relational love are Words of Affirmation, Quality Time, Gifts, Acts of Service, and Physical Touch. This angle helps explain why some relationships are satisfying while others may leave us feeling lonely and even unlovable.

An important link, arguably, between how I am wired and how my environment shapes me are gender responses (Shaunti and Jeff Feldhahn.) As this couple explain, such responses are not seen as 100%, but as majority and most frequently.

Now factor in such nurture-related events as birth order (Dr. Kevin Leman,) ) age, culture, and life experiences. Little wonder that the psalmist would acknowledge, “I am fearfully and wonderfully made!” I am uniquely “me” indeed! Yet I can cling to the wisdom that God loves me just the way I am, but He loves me too much to leave me that way.

Who Am I?

“What should I do?” The age-old angst posted on contemporary social media soon brought pat answers from the drama crowd. “Do what makes you happy.” “Be true to yourself.” “Take charge of your own life.”

Cliches are two-sided coins. “Heads” may hold some positive truths. “Tails” reveal some faulty logic. Complex issues, with no simple answers, are not well served with simplistic idoms. So…

How can I be true to myself unless I know what makes me, well, ME? Can I “know” myself? If so, does that make me self-centered, selfish, lacking concern for others? How can I follow the “Golden Rule” or the scriptural admonition to love others as I love myself unless I first understand/love myself?

When I was learning to read, The King James Bible was the primary translation. I read that a man “knew” his wife and then a child was born. Being yet innocent about such things I was puzzled how a man wouldn’t know his wife and what that had to do with a next generation! Several decades later, I have come to understand that this level of intimacy required is the physical parallel to the soul intimacy necessary to “love” God. Knowledge and love of myself would be a logical extension of loving God, and only then would I have the ability to love others unconditionally.

Yet there is a fine line between self-knowing love and self-indulgent nature. Just as “i” is at the center of s-i-n (a great acronym for Self-Indulgent Nature!) self-control is the heart of God’s love. It is in that self-controlled relationship that we reflect His heart to our world.

If you read God’s love letter (The Holy Bible) you will come to find just how incredibly loved your are! Although, for most of us, the limits of human love cloud the bright hope that we are loveable, it is only when we follow the first glimmers that we can rightly value our uniqueness. And only in rightly understanding our unique characteristics do we learn to love ourselves.

There are a multitude of resources dealing with aspects of this discussion, but the ones I find myself returning to repeatedly are Transformed Temperaments by Tim LaHaye, The Birth Order Book by Dr. Kevin Leman, Dr. Gary Chapman’s Love Languanges, and Howard Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences studies.

I’ll share more about these next time. What are some other resources that you have found especially helpful? Please share your journey to “know thyself.”

A Day for Hearts

St. Valentine seems to have been a real guy, a friar, in the third century. How he connects with romantic love is a little sketchier, especially as Feruary 14 was the day he was beheaded! As is usually the case, given enough time, fact and myth tangle and distort into a retailer’s sales event, replete with chocolate and flowers. So as I struggle with my endemic cynicism about these events, I need to define love in its original terms. Where better to begin that search than in our human being “owner’s guide” — the Bible.

John, the disciple of Jesus, understood relational love. In his book on the life of Christ (the Gospel of John) he always speaks of himself as the “disciple whom Jesus loved.” Later, as he writes his letters to the early churches, he reaffirms the importance of making the mental connection between God (Jesus) and love. So let’s start our thoughts there.

The opening scene of this story explains that at the very beginning, before recorded history, there was “the Word,” (a.k.a. “God.”) In the third chapter we learn that God loved this old broken world so much — and we just weren’t understanding what He’d been trying to tell us all those centuries before — that He, God, sent His Word in the flesh to show us how to live. (see John 1:1,14 & 3:16)

It would seem that many people were (are) still trying to figure out “the Word” — like a clue on a crossword puzzle! So this beloved disciple, spelled it out for them (us,) “God is love” (1 John 4:8 &16).

Sadly, that which should be our intrinsic nature has to be further explained as if it were a foreign concept. The Apostle Paul, in his letter to the Corinthian followers, listed these features of love: It is patient, altruistic, respectful, forgiving, nurturing, protective; not manipulative nor possessive. (see 2 Corinthians 13:4-8)

So, back to “Valentine’s Day.” This early-day priest had the misfortune of having to choose between following his God-nature or caving to the evil of the world in which he lived. He chose love over life.

As God celebrates His creation, He renews the message written on the heart He sent two thousand years ago, “I love you to death!” Now that’s a love worth celebrating!

Merry-Happy-Joy Season

 

 

 

Just before The Great Gift-giving Day, the young sales clerk acknowledged she was ready for the insanity to be over: “I’m not religious, and I hate all this commercialism.” Yet we insist on doing the “Merry Christmas & Happy New Year” scramble. I simply could not escape her comment.

 

I thought of how it was for Mary as Jesus was being born in the small town of Bethleham in the land of Judah on the western edge of what we now refer to as the Middle-East. Devout and righteous, but not “religious.” Deserving of being stoned to death by those who were for bearing a child before she was wed. No commercialism as there were only small shop keepers to supply essentials that the townsfolk might not produce for themselves. Insanity? Only in trusting the God of her family’s faith as she allowed the miracle of Immanuel to be born in her, with a righteous man to walk beside her in the harsh world of Roman control.

 

Merry? Certainly not by today’s definition. Perhaps we would feel a stronger purpose in celebrating the miracle of pure love in our midst if we change that to Mary-giving-birth-day!

 

 Then along comes “Happy New Year” — totally dependent on the version of an annual calendar we use! For example, why don’t we start the counting with the vernal equinox instead of ten days after the winter solstace? Happy? Hardly, as the pundits remind us of the increase in violence (to self and others), more depression and attempts to drown it, dark days and bitterly cold nights — at least in the northern hemisphere! Power outages and returning of gifts we didn’t want or need add happiness? Some folks participate in “polar bear plunges” designed to wash away yesterday and offer a fresh tomorrow while more go through the futile ritual of resolutions made and broken before the month is out.

 

 Seems we need to redefine happy also — perhaps thinking of those letters as an acronym for Harboring A Positive Perspective Yet.

 

 Joy? It really is the only realistic option as the past months have seen more than their share of violence, trauma, and tragedy. It seems almost wrong to turn the page on all that has happened around the world and maybe in your own life. And yet — a student from Newtown weighed her words and spoke so earnestly of praying that something good would come from this evil; communities gathered together to comfort, crowded churches to pray, and individuals choose to find good in life and grow stronger for the pain.

 

 So let’s resolve only to be wiser tomorrow than we were yesterday and search for the lessons when there seem to be no answers. What about you? Is there light in your darkness? Peace in your pain? Strength in your weakness? Joy in your sorrow? My prayer for us each is magnified through the words of a current Christmas favorite — “don’t save it all for Christmas day… give a little love away.” And ANY season is a great time to join with Jesus and love on others! So Merry-Happy-Joy Season from my heart to yours!

 

 

Joy — Really!

“I have the joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart… to stay.” Those lyrics from childhood Vacation Bible School days still ring true for those who have learned the formula.

In my seven decades of life, I have gradually come to the knowledge that happiness is usually dictated by circumstances while joy is a choice — an attitude, a “set of the will” as my grandmother used to say. Several authors have written about the necessity of a joyful attitude, and I intend to share some of those thoughts in upcoming blog posts.

However, I need terms defined rather than assuming our brainwaves are in agreement! Also, I can be easily distracted, so I need those definitions brief and meaningful. Thus I often create acronyms from the letters in that word.

I came to recognize that J.O.Y. (Jesus, Others, Yourself) must go beyond the cliche, (love Jesus first, others second, and yourself last) to hold meaning and encourage a “go and do likewise” lifestyle. I envisioned myself accepting Jesus’s invitation to join Him and “love on” others. If I know myself — no better, no worse — as God’s child, and if I reflect the love he showers on me, I will know perfect joy in my life and draw others into a life of joy beyond anything the world has to offer.

Whether or not you are a Christ-follower, I invite you to join me on this adventure. I welcome comments that add to the discussion, and honest questions about the content.