Flights of Faith

Monday, January 07, 2008

Love as Obedience, Belief as Action

(QT, quiet time reflection, I sent to my church on 1 John over winter break as part of our QT swapping)

16This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. 17If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? 18Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth. 19This then is how we know that we belong to the truth, and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence 20whenever our hearts condemn us. For God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything.

21Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God 22and receive from him anything we ask, because we obey his commands and do what pleases him. 23And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us. 24Those who obey his commands live in him, and he in them. And this is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us. John 1 3: 16-24

1 John is a sweeping reiteration involving the fact of Jesus’ death for our sins and His resurrection, the salvation into Christ that comes from that belief, and a reminder that the greatest commandment of loving God and loving our neighbors is expressed through obedience and an active display of love in Christ through emulation of His life. In addition to this, John draws portraits of people without a belief in Christ in order to expose false teachers.

I read this book during the last days of Fall semester, and I was completely struck by it. I’ve been thinking of it ever since because, to me, it provides the stuff of healing, urgency, and security for communities that seek to follow Christ.

Alice Lin quoted from 1 John in her QT looking at a verse describing God as love. John constantly refers to love and slightly redefines it in ways that are unified in his statement of loving God as knowing God, being known to one another in a relationship. Love is also very much presented as an action, it is something that we do. It is obedience. Love is stopping your brother or sister from sinning. Love seems to be something we can have but also something we step into.

In verse 16, John asks our knowledge of love always to be tethered to our knowledge of Jesus’ death on the cross for us. Saying that we should lay down our life for our brothers, John stretches what we know of Christ into what our love should look like: a reflection of Jesus’ love. These verses are incredibly meaningful to me because my faith became awakened and matured when I opened my eyes to the places my belief and love were not taking me. I was limiting my love to my comfort zone. As my interactions in life revealed more and more people crying out for help, for human recognition (value of being made in God’s image; a creation of God), for love, I started reacting to these cries from street corners, books, and newscasts. I had to love with the love I received from Christ. It was the only way to defeat what I saw as the sins of the world and the sins of my own inaction and personal brokenness. It was a love that needed to be active. Prayers, not fleeting thoughts. Walking with Christ, not paralysis from guilt. Striving to live a righteous life and being an active witness and advocate for those without justice, not taking comfort in a dormant life. As I delved into the bible anew, I was almost shocked at the words calling us into community with God through active lives of love expressed through willful serving, demands for justice, but most of all, through obedience, something that includes those things.

The dissonance was staggering at the time. The fact that I had been a Christian and known these things in moments, but was not really taught them was shocking to me. If verses like these ones in John sort of nullify the faith/acts divide, then why was that an ongoing battle almost politicized in churches and denominations. A belief in Christ demands love for Him through willful sacrifice and obedience. That belief will produce faith and fruits. I understand that people can lose sight of Christ if they act without Him and I also understand a belief in Christ can become corrupt if Jesus’ life is not followed “with actions and in truth” (1 John 3:18). However, it seems like teachings should start there not necessarily from either side as has been common in my experience.

Knowing that the searing power of Love can incise any situation we find ourselves in, I often wonder how I am living and loving and question if it is pleasing to God. Using words from the simple praise song we might have sung as kids, I wonder how deep my love is willing to go? How wide am I willing to spread it? Christ's Love is, of course, infinite. As a reflection, though, ours should still be expansive and we certainly should not be engaged in the obvious destruction Victor made clear could happen with our words and destruction we know can happen with our actions. That's a bold love to emulate, and it can be overwhelming. The thing that is very comforting to me is the security found in John’s definition of the Holy Spirit. “We know[Christ is alive in us] by the Spirit he gave us.” We are not left alone with this enormous task to love God and to love others. We have a way of knowing through the presence of the Holy Spirit when we are aligned with God. We also have a knowledge that this Spirit is communal and can be found in groups of believers in fellowship under God.

This alignment, to me, is very important to discuss pre-retreat because I am pretty confident it is something that will be felt as we (hopefully) prioritize God before anything else. As Carol said earlier (and as someone who has been to UCW retreat, I can agree), retreats are like glimpses into heaven. But just as reading the Bible and then looking up can provide a jolt of reality, this can also be the situation at retreat when we feel part of the Body of Christ but also feel the same confusions we brought to retreat. I remember praying last time with many people who were questioning how to live for God in their “everyday” lives. This distinction always proves interesting to me because it sort of reveals the way we compartmentalize our lives when God seeks integrations of our talents, our passions, our past history and life experience, and our belief in Him.

Again, there is something unsettling about a popular notion of belief that has come to mean “safe” in an abused way that only really means inaction since living with God is true safety and security. For me, I see Jesus speaking against this inaction and lack of creative thinking in the Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:14-30) where he rewards those who multiply their talents and punishes the servant who squanders his talent. One of the amazing things about maturing as a Christian in college and as a youth, in general, is coming alive to Christ through the revelation, acceptance, and discovery of increased meaning of Jesus’ death for our sins as we are literally growing up and shaping our lives and potential career paths in a very real way.

As our hearts ands minds grow, we should actively see if they are awakening our Spirit and bringing about a renewed passion for Christ.

Here are some questions that a friend of mine was asked by her Campus Crusade for Christ chapter in order to get their membership actively thinking about this integration.

1.) What would I enjoy and desire doing in the future?

2.) What needs in the world and church grip me the most?

3.) What do I make a fist and pound the table about?

4.) What do I have vision for?

5.) What am I burdened about?

6.) Where am I going to make a difference?

7.) What are my gifts and strengths?

8.) What is my background and training, and how has God used it in the past?

I hope to ask myself these questions and pray about them before retreat to be ready for another undeserved glimpse of God’s Grace.

If anyone who reads this is not yet going to the United Church of Westville retreat but wants to attend (dates are January 18th-20th; Fri night to Sun morn), please comment and I’ll write back with more details.

PS Thanks Danielle for posting these questions on your blog. And I hope it's ok that I called you a friend. :)

Friday, January 04, 2008

Pakistani Voices

Wow. After reading these testimonies, it is sort of sickening to remember that the American media largely used Pakistan as a foreign policy litmus test for presidential candidates. I tried to connect through the pictures. I tried to connect to that lone man in front of the car shaking his hands looking up angrily, perhaps, at God. But, the connection was tenuous since I do not know their reality fully.

Listening helped.

Pakistani Voices

...and the prayers for peace continue.

Thursday, January 03, 2008


Someone asked me recently, "What is love?"
While my head immediately bounced along with my mind to the first few bars of the Haddaway classic, I knew exactly where to go. Google, unfortunately. And I looked up one of the most famous verses from the Bible and one of my favorites: 1 Corinthians 13:4-7.

"Love is patient, love is kind. It 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. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres."

I'll add memorizing that to my resolution list. Here's some context:

1If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.

4Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

8Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. 9For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears. 11When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me. 12Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

13And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

My friend guessed the verse and then repeated a critique he has of me. "See, that book thinks for you." I did not wince or pout. I have heard this before from him and, quite honestly, I have been expecting it more from others. As I've developed in college, I've found my answers becoming His answers. On the surface, it is not a good or bad thing. A lot of people quote from the Bible and do not believe the words they repeat. But just as I feel my love alone will never be strong enough, I do not ever think my independent description of love will be strong enough either. The position of my heart and spirit is reflected in my position in the Word. Alignment. It is what I seek.

I read those words and they fill me up. Church scandals, a broken Gospel, "American Christianity," and a wounded world with privileged Christians sitting around do not take the power of these words away. They matter.

The words matter.

IS patient, kind, rejoices with the truth
IS NOT envious, boastful, proud, rude, self-seeking, easily angered, a record keeper of rights and wrong, a delighter in evil
ALWAYS protects, trusts, hopes, perseveres

I love explicating this a bit and examining always. I do not think there is a contradiction here. It's not that love will sometimes be impatient. It's that love can be demonstrated in a way where patience will be a non-factor, so to speak. But in every circumstance of love there is protection, trust, hope, and perseverance. Isn't that awesome? Or is it frightening? What if we were asked to examine our every action in this way? I'd love to live in that thoughtful and considerate world. I'd also have to radically change my behavior. It is not just the protection of our individual selves, trusting in ourselves, hoping for ourselves, persevering for ourselves. It is about a community. There are so many times when my demonstrations of love are merely demonstrations of self-worship, favoritism, nepotism, a self-seeking love, a love those who comfort me, a love for those i want to impress. Something this verse directly speaks against. The love I practice most is love for rewards, and not spiritual ones. It is a broken love that, frankly, does not deserve to be called love at all. I hope I have moved away from that more and more but I know that I have not.

Caring about others is being obedient. The status of the world as living or living dead matters to our hearts and our individual walks toward Christ. Being outward focused is not the opposite of finding Christ in our own personal compartmentalized hearts. He is everywhere. We can find Him anywhere. These are the spaces where we must meet Him. Everywhere we go. And doing one thing is not the answer. It is about integration. It is about balance. A complex love. Paul took fifty-seven words to describe this Love. In my mind, it takes two births and two deaths to fully understand it, Jesus' life and our own. It takes a lot of thinking. And only a Living book that is followed with open ears to the sounds of life, something also Written by Him, is helpful in this aim. Words that are not merely read, but felt and believed.

So, is it thinking for me? For me, that question is all wrapped up in semantics and unhelpful theology. Ultimately, I know the Light inside me is thinking against my own shadows of a former self. And words seen and robotically understood destroys the gift of free will while also presenting an ideal notion of obedience of a sovereign God. However, I do not resent that robot. I simply know I am not it. I am not supposed to be it. I am human for a reason. One that He knows and I am still figuring out.

"Can I put it in my own words?"

Love is the only hope we have for peace, justice, and reconciliation.
Love makes us extend ourselves outside of our bodies and think about others, seen and unseen.
Love is the healing embrace we feel in times of despair and brokenness. Love urges us not to call that moment the end.
Ultimately, love is what keeps us going on in the present and love provides hope for the future.

That's what I believe.
And that's how I'm trying to live.

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Eleven Movies

Originally, I thought I only had seen four '07 movies in the theaters this (past) year.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

Turns out I saw nine more.

American Gangster
Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End
Spider-Man 3
Stomp the Yard
Amazing Grace
Bridge to Terebithia
Meet The Robinsons

Airplane Movies: Music and Lyrics, Freedom Writers, Zodiac*, 300*, Waitress**, Transformers, Hairspray

*indicates I turned the film off **slept through

The year in film?

I don't know. I have to admit I was kind of disappointed. '06 was absolutely magnificent, especially December. Films that actually took me somewhere. Looking at the list of films I saw, every film (with the possible exception of American Gangster) had the potential to be amazing and also a personal favorite of mine. Almost all fell a bit short.

Top Three: Potter, Pirates, and Atonement.

2008, be better. Please.