Friday, April 2, 2010

What Wondrous Love Is This?

Most of the time, as a Christian, I concentrate on the resurrection instead of the crucifixion. Death and suffering are no longer permanent or final. When I approach the story of Jesus' trial and death, I know how it will end—with his triumphant rising three days later. Jesus' death was a calculated move, a price he considered acceptable for the salvation he could win for all people by doing it. It seems reasonable when I look at it that way. But what really happened goes far beyond the limits of reason.

Jesus chose to die so that he could achieve an outcome he wanted, but the outcome was entirely for someone else—for us. Jesus' immortality was never at stake. He didn't need to win salvation for himself. He is already fully God and is therefore perfect within himself and lacking nothing. But God loves us, so He chooses to make sacrifices in order to achieve good for us. Jesus died so that we could live, and the only direct benefit he got from it was the joy of knowing what he had done for us.

How many of us make serious sacrifices entirely for the benefit of other people? Sure, I give my time and money to other people. Sometimes I give time and money I don't feel entirely comfortable parting with, but I always keep enough back to take care of myself. Would I give a kidney to someone who needed it? Probably. I can live without one of my kidneys. Would I volunteer to die so that someone else could have my heart? That's a different question entirely. There are heroes among us who are willing to sacrifice their lives for other people, but we still have trouble really comprehending the enormity of that concept. We say we would walk through fire for the people we love, but do we understand what that really means? Can we visualize the burns and imagine the pain? Are we really willing to endure something like that for others if we get no direct personal benefit from the sacrifice? Jesus was willing, and that is why we have a future. What wondrous love, indeed!

What wondrous love is this, O my soul, O my soul!
What wondrous love is this, O my soul!
What wondrous love is this that caused the Lord of bliss
To bear the dreadful curse for my soul, for my soul,
To bear the dreadful curse for my soul!


Thursday, April 1, 2010

Fishing with God

I've never been able to understand or accept the image some people have of an angry God. I don't remember ever being afraid of God. I've been afraid of disappointing God, but I've never worried that He would retaliate against me for making mistakes. For some reason, I've always seemed to understand that God's love for me is tender and nurturing, not stern and demanding. I know that God has disciplined me sometimes, and I've heard his voice admonishing, "Stop that!" in my head when I was doing something I shouldn't. But I knew that God wouldn't stay upset with me. He was just getting my attention so that I would stop doing harmful things, and then He would encourage and support me as I made better choices.

God is my Father and my Friend. When He convicts me of my sin, it is because He doesn't want to see me hurt myself or others. He wants me to understand that I need to come to Him for forgiveness so that I can be healthy and whole again. My spiritual well-being is what's most important to God, and He makes it the focus of our relationship. Because I know He cares about me so much, I can trust Him when I feel vulnerable. When I was young, sometimes when I was upset I would crawl into bed and imagine that I was curling up to sleep on God's lap. I knew that He would stay with me all night long and give me peaceful dreams. When I was hurt, I told Him all about it, because I knew He cared even if no one else did.

I would like to share a poem that was published in my high school's literary magazine. I don't know the author well and can't conjecture about why he wrote it. It's a simple poem, and on the surface it might even seem a little flippant, but I have always loved this poem because it resonates so strongly with my own concept of a kind, approachable God.

Fishing with God
by Teague Quillen

We walk for about a quarter mile,
and turn down a dirt road.

I try and think of questions to ask,
like where's Heaven, what's it like,
and how do I get there.

But I remain silent while we
toss a line into the stream, and
He quietly hums, "California Dreamin'."

"So," I finally mutter, "does everyone get to Heaven?"
"Just those who want to," He says as he lights his cigar,
"If they want to, they try and go, simple as that."

I return my gaze to the water, just as the Lord
hooks a smallmouth. "Nice one!" I say.
He smiles and puffs on his cigar.

He puts His hand on my shoulder,
and I hook one, too.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Logic of Love

Sometimes love feels like a moral obligation. I'm supposed to love because God told me to, and I'll feel guilty if I don't. At other times love feels like a drug. I need that emotional high to get me through a trying time. Occasionally love can even feel like something I do because I can't choose not to, a hardwired trait that I can't refuse. Skeptics and cynics might say that I love because I'm whipped, I'm weak, or I'm brainwashed. But that's not the whole story. Love is also a logical—it's a choice that makes sense even in a Darwinian world. I don't simply love because I can't help it; I love because I recognize that it's a good choice.

Love is what allows true teamwork to exist. When I join with the people I love, I am stronger than I could ever be alone. These people help me carry burdens (physical and emotional) that are too heavy for me to carry alone. We are sounding boards for each other, and we become smarter together than we would be alone. Some may say that teams can be put together with money or intimidation, but nothing inspires loyalty like love. The people on my team will do their very best for me because they love me, and they won't abandon me when things get hard to look for a better deal. The people on my team aren't just looking out for number one—because we all care about each other, all of our interests are better served. By loving others and accepting their love, I am providing the best possible allies for myself. Being an ally for these people in return is a perfectly reasonable price to pay. Everybody wins.

Some people try to reject love because it comes with risks—the people we love can disappoint or betray us. They might not love us back the same way we love them. They might not want the same kind of relationship we want. They might not be able to help us in the ways we need or want. But those types of risks are unavoidable, whether we love or not. As a flawed human, I cannot succeed at every task I set for myself. Even if I live as a hermit in a cave, I'm going to be disappointed sometimes. Even if I don't have any friends to hurt me, I'll probably get all jaded about the meaning of life as a byproduct of being alone. I don't think the mental anguish of loneliness could be preferable to the pain of heartbreak. Love isn't perfect, but that's because life isn't perfect. If we reject love because it hurts, we'll end up having to reject everything in life for the same reason. We're going to get hurt anyway, so we might as well enjoy the benefits of love.

I think that the benefits of love always outweigh the cost. Even when I love a friend who can't trust me, an acquaintance who doesn't have the time or inclination to be my friend, or struggling individuals who drain me of my energy but can't contribute much in return. Loving them doesn't necessarily mean that I can do everything they want of me or that I can get everything I want from them. It just means that when there is tension in the relationship, I don't have to squelch that love, even if it feels hopeless. There's always some benefit, some character-building payoff that makes it worth it, even if I have trouble finding it at the time. My choice to love is logical, even if I can't prove all the reasons why. I don't love because I'm incapable of making a better choice. I love because I truly believe it is the best and smartest choice out there.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Everything's Gonna Be Fine, Fine, Fine

I really appreciate the little things that help me feel better about my life. Not everything is going perfectly today, but I still feel OK. The sun is shining, I'm getting things done, and I have a smile in my heart. Every time I have to deal with a problem, it's easy to find something beautiful or special in my life to help me feel better. God gives me so many blessings that my joy can never be completely depleted.

As I thought about this, Alanis Morissette's song "Hand In My Pocket" came to mind. Not all of the lyrics apply to me, but the opening describes how I feel today rather well, so I'll post it here:
I'm broke but I'm happy
I'm poor but I'm kind
I'm short but I'm healthy, yeah
I'm high but I'm grounded
I'm sane but I'm overwhelmed
I'm lost but I'm hopeful, baby
What it all comes down to
Is that everything's gonna be fine, fine, fine
'Cause I've got one hand in my pocket
And the other one is giving a high five

There are some things about me and my life that are less than ideal. But there are also plenty of things that are great. Sure, I'd like to have more money and more energy. It would be great if I could change some things about myself or if some of my problems would disappear. On the other hand, I don't need all those things in order to be happy. I have great friends and a supportive family. I'm surrounded by beauty and love, and God has given me a hopeful spirit. Things aren't perfect, but they're still good. 

What it all comes down to is that everything's gonna be fine, fine, fine—
'Cause I've got one hand in my pocket, and the other one is entwined with God's.

Monday, March 29, 2010


Sometimes life can give you whiplash. One minute everything's going fine, and the next thing you know disaster strikes. A period of misery is interrupted by an unexpected burst of pure joy. It's easy to see why some people think our lives are ruled by chance—everything can change so quickly. Our lives can be as unpredictable as the weather, and we never know for sure what's going to happen next.

Even Jesus wasn't immune to life's whiplash (although he at least saw it coming). Yesterday as I sat in church, I was struck once again by the jarring transition between Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem and his crucifixion only days later. Palm Sunday drives the dichotomy home—we start out singing hosannas, but ten minutes later we're listening to an account of the Passion. The service is even stopped in the middle so the paraments on the altar can be changed from Lent colors to Good Friday colors. The congregation is unceremoniously thrust from celebration into mourning and expected to keep up.

In the eyes of the people, Jesus went from a celebrity to a detested blasphemer in only a few days. If that can happen to the Son of God, imagine how much more quickly our own fortunes can change. When I wake up each morning, all sorts of things could happen to me before I go back to bed at the end of the day. I could find miraculous joy or face unexpected sorrow. Really, there's only one thing I can count on, and that's the same thing Jesus counted on—God.

Jesus's life might have changed a great deal in his last week, but God's love and plan for him did not change. I have the same promise that God will stay with me no matter what happens in my life. Things will change, but God will not. He is a constant, and He is always working for my good, even when life feels out of control. God was with Jesus when he rode into Jerusalem, and He was with Jesus when he hung dying on the cross. Likewise, God is with me every day of my life, looking for ways to help me face the challenges that come my way and ready to bring me home when it's all over. No amount of whiplash can shake God loose, and that's a comforting thought.
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