Loving God, Loving Others
Jesus loved. Those associated with him are also to love.
The first thing I learned about defining what it means to call God “love,” as one of Jesus’ first followers, John, did, is that love defies definition. The second was American English dictionaries help us understand how modern Americans use the word “love” but they don’t define love as Jesus understood and practiced love. The third thing I learned is that humans are not ones to watch if one wants to know what love is. Every now and then one meets a human about whom one can say, “That person knows how to love.” But isn’t it often the case that we soon are wondering What’s that seemingly loving person like when no one is watching? The fourth thing I learned about defining love is that if we want to know what Jesus meant by love we need to start with God. We need to watch God love if we want to understand what love is.
To know and understand love is to know and understand God.
Jesus knows what life is all about.
Thomas a Kempis knows: he wants to be in complete union with God. Brother Lawrence knows: he desires to converse with God constantly. John Woolman knows: he strives to do what is right in every situation. J.I. Packer knows: he longs to be fired with holy zeal for God. Richard Foster knows: he craves the grace of inner spiritual transformation through the spiritual disciplines. Dallas Willard knows: he hungers, in this physical existence of ours, to be like Christ. John Ortberg knows: he pines to morph into the image of Christ. Rick Warren knows: he thirsts for a life driven by God’s purposes. . . .
But behind these influential masters is Jesus, and he also knows.
So the big questions are these: What does Jesus know (and say) about spiritual formation? What, according to Jesus, does a spiritually formed person look like? These questions are different than to ask which spiritual disciplines Jesus practices and teaches. These questions stand quietly behind the disciplines and ask: What are they for?
The Shema gets personal in the Jesus Creed.
Jesus regularly invites others to join his small band of disciples. When one man hears about this, he volunteers to join and, in so doing, he thinks he will lvoe God more deeply. The man comes to Jesus with a simple request, “Lord,” I want to love God and follow you, but “first let me go and bury my father.” Jesus abruptly states: “Let the dead bury their own dead.” Ouch! All this man is asking for is an opportunity, with perhaps a little delay, but still an opportunity to love God with all his heart. Jesus, however, is redefining what it means to love God.
Sometimes prayer is like dry lima beans in a dry mouth on a dry day.
Other times, in the words of Richard Foster, prayer “catapults us onto the frontier of the spiritual life” and “is the central avenue God uses to transform us.” Maybe so, but it doesn’t always feel that way. In fact, each year scads of new strategies and routines become available so we can get more from our prayer lives.
Why? Prayer is hard, it gnaws into our schedule, and it can be as much a source of frustration as satisfaction. Brother Lawrence, who has probably encouraged more people in prayer than anyone in the history of the Church, found routines in prayer dry and dull. He was bluntly honest about his own perplexity with prayer. Such honesty about prayer by a champion of prayer encourages us all in our own struggle to pray.
Life begins all over again with truthtelling.
The Jesus Creed begins with loving God. Love, for it to work at all, requires truthtelling. Telling this truth to God is how we genuinely love Abba, and it creates a new beginning in life. Our “Yes” to God is, in the words of theologian Dietrich von Hildebrand, “the primal word” and “cannot be spoken too clearly, too wakefully, too explicitly.”
Ever since Eve and Adam, we have been trying to hide from God, to no avail, for the Creator of Eden continues to summon us in our own gardens, asking, “Where are you?” Because we have learned to hide, we need new beginnings to set us free, and the new beginnings begin at our own Jordans when we tell the truth. As John Paul II has put it:
To acknowledge one’s misery in the sight of God is not to abase oneself, but to live the truth of one’s own condition. . . .The truth thus lived is the only thing in the human condition that makes us free.
My grief is observed by Jesus.
Sometimes the grief observed by Jesus is caused by the suffering of leprosy, by spiritual and physical malnutrition, by the helplessness of epilepsy, or by the misery of blindness. Whether it is caused by physical or spiritual issues, Jesus observes the grief because his “compassion radar” is set on high. He is a walking emergency room, so it seems.
Kingdom transformation is sustained by fellowship
The Jesus Creed creates a society of people who love God and who love others. Jesus Creed people don’t merely shuffle off to the shade of a fig tree to be alone. They gather together around a table. Together they learn from one another what the fellowship of Jesus is all about. Two words describe this fellowship: family and upside-down.
Once, when Jesus is teaching, Mary and her other sons come to the door of the home in which Jesus is teaching. They are looking for him. They send someone inside and interrupt his teaching. Some of those in the home inform Jesus that his family wants him. Jesus asks a stunning question: “Who are my mother and my brothers?” Then he looked at those seated in a circle around him and said, “Here are my mother and my brothers!” The new society Jesus creates around the Jesus Creed is like a family---they share their lives with one another, they care for one another, and they do all of this around Jesus.
The mustard seed sprouts among the unlikely
Time and time again Jesus chooses odd people to follow him, and then he holds them up as examples of what the kingdom is all about. Instead of gathering together the Pharisaic leaders or a few well-heeled Sadducees, or even a convert or two from the Heroidan powers, Jesus chooses four unschooled fishermen, a tax collector, a woman with a bad reputation. . . . I could go on but you get the point. The kingdom is not made up of Roman giants and gladiators or the Jewish elite and their entourage, but of ordinary, gritty folk and ragamuffins. As Herb Brooks, coach of the United States hockey team in the 1980 Winter Olympics, now the focus of the movie Miracle, says, “I don’t choose the best players; I choose the right players.” So also Jesus: he found the right ones, each a mustard seed.