Transformational Knowing: Reflections on 2008

29 12 2008

The end of a year is a time of reflection for me.  Yesterday, I went out to my fire pit, my “fellowship of the ring” in the woods behind my house. I sat out by a blazing fire for a few hours just to pray, meditate, and read.  It was a good time.  I so enjoyed feeling the warm sun and the crackling fire against the cold westerly breezes.

I was quiet.  I thought about this past year and all of the losses and the victories I have experienced.  I have been in full-time ministry for over 28 years, and this year was the most difficult in memory.  It’s amazing what we remember about life when we really reflect.  For me at least, it’s not the programs, accomplishments, or “things” completed that are memorable.  No, it’s people, it’s relationships, it’s love that matters.  The losses this year in relationships have been hard to take. 

All relationships that end, whether positively or negatively, still feel exactly the same for me.  I feel loss.  I feel the distance.  I feel the pain of no longer having that particular person in my life.  One would think that the time spent in relationship would suffice the parting, but it never does.  The parting always leaves a hole—a gap, a missing character in the puzzle of our heart.  A friendship is a person that fills this place in our heart that no one else can fill.  It is uniquely their place and their contribution that makes them a friend.  When they are gone, they take with them a part of our heart.  They are irreplaceable.  Irreplaceable means that they had a place, a spot, a post in our hearts.  It is really hard to let them go.

And yet the new year presents new challenges and most importantly, new relationships.  The puzzles of our heart long for new friendships that will make our lives richer.  These relationships will not replace the old ones, nor do we expect them to, but they will bring a new vibrancy and love that is unique to their shared lives.  As they share their lives with us, we will share our lives with them.  For we must share, we must always give.

I think our lives are most vibrant and most healthy when we give our life away to God and His most valued creation—people.  God is love.  And because God is love, we can’t know God without knowing and loving people.  Friendships drive us to God and God drives us to people.  You can’t love, really love, without God.

Friendship transforms us.  You can’t be transformed without love and love is friendship.  This is why real change, real transformation at the heart level, can only happen in relationship.  Our nature cannot be transformed without friendship. 

We only really know God by love.  Love transforms us.  This is a “transformational knowing,” a knowing of God’s love through loving others.  God’s love changes us.  God’s love transforms our heart and mind.  David G. Brenner writes, “Transformational knowing of God comes from the intimate, personal knowing of Divine love.  Because God is love, God can only be known through love.  To know God is to love God, and to love God is to know God.” (The Gift of Being Yourself, IVP, p. 35)  We can’t know God without loving God and others.

Love is the message of 1 John.  This is what I’m calling a “revolutionary love.”  A revolution, according to the Merriam Webster Dictionary, means “a sudden, radical, or complete change…a fundamental change in the way of thinking about or visualizing something.”  John, the apostle of radical love is giving us an epistle of revolutionary love.  This is not a love that the world can understand.  No, this is a love that goes completely against, a 180, from the manner and ways of this world’s values.

John, in explaining this love to the saints, says it clearly, “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God, for God is love.” (1 John 4:7-8, NKJV)  In other words, our testimony of love for God is a love for one another.  Our testimony of knowing God is this crazy love.  This is our supreme witness to the world.  The world is watching for and longing to experience genuine love.  Only we who know the God who is love, can show the world this kind of love.  If we love, they see God.  If we don’t love, they don’t see God.

So loving God is our basis for friendships and friendships are our basis for loving God.  It is as we forge and commit ourselves to friendships of love that God transforms us.  This is hard.  This is not easy.  It is easier to be a loner.  We will be disappointed and hurt by people.  People, by their very nature of being living things, change.  Sometimes those changes mean distance, separation, and even betrayal.  We all wish that the close moments and intimate times could just be paused on our relational remote and held onto forever.  And they can—in the memories of our heart.  But they can’t in the reality of our busy lives.  Life moves on, and so must we.

So I want to cherish my friendship with God by cherishing my relationships with my friends.  Those relationships will change over time.  I will move on and so will many of my friends, but we do have One who is closer than a brother.  His love is constant.  His love is abiding.  His love will never leave or forsake us.  And that brings a sense of security and depth.

As we enter a new year, may the revolutionary love of Jesus transform your heart into loving your fellow man with a deeper love than you have known in the past.  Though we risk pain and even betrayal in friendships, don’t quit giving your heart to others.  For this is the transformational knowing, the knowing of people, that changes our hearts into knowing God’s heart.

Cultivating An Attitude of Gratitude

1 12 2008

To the Mountain Springs Church Family;

“Through the Lord’s mercies we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not.  They are new every morning; Great is your faithfulness.” (Lamentations 3:22-23)

The prophet Jeremiah is speaking during a time of great depression and disaster in Jerusalem (586BC).  Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonian army have besieged and destroyed the holy city and her people.  Indeed, the book of Lamentations opens with, “How lonely sits the city that was full of people!  How like a widow is she…the princess has become a slave!” (Lam. 1:1)  Jeremiah is an eyewitness to the dismantling and destruction of not only the beloved city but the Temple.  Nebuchadnezzar not only tore down the Temple brick by brick, he also took the great treasures of the inner sanctum back to Babylon.  (As a side note, it is believed that during this time the Ark of the Covenant was secretly hidden to avoid capture.  To this day, no one knows for sure what happened to the Ark.) 

So, Jeremiah is writing while everything that he loves, everything that he has preached about and cherishes is being systematically driven out of his life—his nation lies in defeat; the great Temple is in rubble; the Jews lie dying or captured to a foreign pagan power.  Jeremiah is writing in a time of ecclesiastical and national depression.

What does Jeremiah have left?  Nothing from a worldly viewpoint. Yet look at our passage above.  Look at how positive and joyful Jeremiah expresses himself! “His compassions fail not…Great is your faithfulness!”  Wow!  This is a man with a different kind of attitude.  Jeremiah, who was actually hated and imprisoned by the Jews themselves, and is now watching a pagan nation destroy all that he loves, finds deep within his spirit an attitude of gratitude.  Is this not amazing?  It is nothing less than supernatural.

An attitude of gratitude is only possible as we shake off the fears and doubts that so easily plague us.  Doubts and fears rob us of faith and peace.  Fear sabotages faith.  Fear is the polio of the soul.  Faith is the inoculation we need to change our attitudes.

Jeremiah made a choice in his heart when all of his circumstances and feelings railed against him.  Jeremiah chose a grateful spirit.  Jeremiah chose the faithfulness of God.  Jeremiah chose to cultivate an attitude of gratitude. 

When you read the book of Lamentations, one quickly realizes that the center of the book is our passage.  One commentator on Lamentations writes, “Great is His faithfulness,’ is the literary center of the book.”  It is also the spiritual center of Jeremiah’s faith!  Is the faithfulness and mercy of God the spiritual center of your life today?

How are you doing today?  Are you worried about your job? Concerned about your marriage? Doubting the presence of God?  Are you enveloped in fears that are overwhelming?  All of us go through uncertain and wavering times.  Nations, churches, and individuals will pass through times of great testing and trials.  Our church is passing through such times.  Our nation is passing through such trials.  Maybe you are passing through such difficulties.

Let me encourage you to choose joy.  Choose God’s faithfulness.  These are times of great testing and if we will make a choice to rejoice, the joy of the Lord will indeed by our strength and portion.  Speak out the blessing of God to those around you.  Let’s Sing with joy in our heart.  For great, really great, is His faithfulness!  Choose God’s way and discover fresh joy!
Pastor Steve