Tuesday, March 18, 2008

The Opportunity

In January 2006 I wrote a friend, “Until this time I have been smugly happy in my own conceits about my place and part in God's family. Lately, though, I have been pondering the words of John: ‘He came unto his own and his own received him not.’ And I wonder how often I have been unreceptive of Him?”

I thought for years I was as close to Jesus as I could be. I thought I possessed all I needed of Christ. Then Rich’s conversion to Roman Catholicism sent my soul on a desperate journey to reconnect with my commitment to Jesus. As I prayed over how I would follow Him at our Catholic church, I discovered (much to my surprise) my once Christ-centered life had become complacent and stagnant. My sense of contentment was the result of years of rote practice, and the loss of a lively joy in my first love -- Christ. I needed renewal, and Jesus, whose compassion is boundless, revived in me a deep spiritual passion, even while I fussed at Him about the method.

The Lord would not let me languish long in the nether-world of status quo. He knew I needed love that was like living water springing up into new life, and He shook up my world for my good and His purposes.

The Holy Spirit poured Christ’s love into my soul, and like cold water on a hot frying pan, love exploded into my life. His gracious gift of Spiritual communion had created in me a desire to know Christ better. That desire grew stronger each day until suddenly in one moment of clarity I became converted to Jesus’ agenda.

That moment came on a sunny afternoon as I listened to a radio program discussing the servant-hood of the believer. As I listened, my soul stirred, and I remembered a worship song by Kelly Willard entitled “The Servant.” Years before, that song so resonated with my spirit that I had found myself singing it at all hours of the day and night. It became my constant prayer to the Lord. Here is one of the verses:

“Make me a servant, humble and meek
Lord, let me lift up, those who are weak.
And may the prayer of my heart always be;
Make me a servant, make me a servant,
Make me a servant, today.”

At the time, I wondered why I was prompted to pray those words over and over.
But now, several years later, as I listened to the radio discussion on servant-hood, I realized the Lord had answered the desire He placed into my heart years before--- the desire to be a servant.

To think the Holy Spirit had put that song in my mouth so many years earlier, and that He had schooled my heart to plead for servant-hood, energized my desire to agree with what Christ purposed to do with my life.

I did not realize until then that I had been offered a wonderful opportunity.

At last the heartache and heartburn of being separated at Communion seemed to have a purpose. No longer was I only obeying the Catholic Church’s rules of communion concerning non-Catholics. I perceived that I could live out the scripture by expressing love that is patient, love that seeks not its own, is not provoked, and does not take into account a wrong suffered. I realized, too, it was no accident that I received a blessing in place of communion. There was a reason I was a Protestant living and worshiping side by side with my Catholic husband.

The Lord was granting me an opportunity to learn humility and love.

More encouraging verses flowed into my heart that January afternoon. The sadness of being a non-communicant gave way to the privilege of following Christ’s example of servant-hood. St. Paul wrote to the Philippians:

Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.
Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men.
Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
(Philippians 2: 3-8 NASB)

It was not lost on me that, for the most part, the only others who came forward for a blessing were those too young to receive the Eucharist; and I marveled that the Lord placed me in such a position. Nor, was it lost to me what Jesus had once said about permitting children to come to Him – “for such is the kingdom of heaven.”

Like children, I could come, not demanding a place at His table, but to lay my anguished heart at His feet, and receive the various blessings He gives,for it is Jesus and Jesus alone who imparts blessing.

The honor to be like our Master in some small way is the joy of all the redeemed. I thank you Jesus, for this opportunity and the lessons in humility.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

A Preparation to Love

“In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son {to be} the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.”
1 John 4:10-11 (NASB)

My experiences with Catholic community’s cool acceptance – and perhaps tolerant reception – were not the embrace of welcome I had known in Protestant congregations. I wondered how I could love this Catholic community. For that matter, how would I love anyone? I knew as a Christian I did not need to be valued in order to love others. But I wanted to be valued. I was not a Saint John.

I realized, though, that to function within the cultural and spiritual community of the Catholic Church, I needed to actively do what love does – be kind, patient, endure . . . all the verbs St. Paul spoke of in 1 Corinthians 13. Lacking Christ’s love, I did my best to fit in. So, in order to be inoffensive, I crossed myself and genuflected when I entered or left the pew. I knelt or stood with the rest of the congregation and recited the creed and other responses.

Although I recognized anew the glorious work of my Savior on the cross, I nevertheless needed the gift of God’s love, and the mystery of love’s healing work, to see past the actions of others and my perceptions of them.

God’s Spirit urged me to embrace the Protestant/Catholic divisive encounters I experienced. I was beginning to understand that my Father in heaven was using those difficulties to change my heart. And the transformation of my heart – to which the Holy Spirit continued to call me – would be accomplished through love.

During January 2006, the Holy Spirit continued to point out that Christians should love without qualification. As I knelt in the quiet of our church, the crucifix above the altar exemplified a clear image of how down-to-earth Jesus expressed love, and that expression began to seep into my life. It began to probe my motives and actions, while at the same time the balm of Christ’s peace comforted me as I attended services with Rich.

To revive and school my spirit, the Lord repeatedly took me back to 1 Corinthians 13, and He seemed to underscore each word or phrase.

1 Corinthians 13 (from the New American Standard Bible):

“If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. “

“And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing. Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”

“Love never fails; but if there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be done away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part; but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away. “
“When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known. But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love.”

I slowly began to agree with Christ’s Spirit. My prayers grew more fervent. I wanted to love the way I knew Christians should love, but realized I could never love on my own. I needed Jesus to love through me.

One morning a flood of realization burst into my yearning heart. I expected an answer because, as “a child of the King,” I knew He loved me and wanted to help me. However, in order to answer me, my Father first had to prepare me. Jesus had cautioned against filling old wine skins with new wine, lest the old skins break and the wine spill out. And so Christ set about to make my wine skin new.

I think I must be very slow-witted. How had I not seen my self-centered agendas? Reading the Bible that morning, I was dumbfounded to see my motives from Christ’s point of view. My true self-centered format lay open before me. What I previously dismissed as my personality traits or inborn attitudes stood out plainly as selfishness. I tried to excuse my faults by rationalizing away the conviction of my sin. I thought, “Surely I could never be as loving as the Scriptures commanded. I had tried too many times and failed miserably. There is no way anyone could live like 1 Corinthians 13 describes.”

The graciousness of our God supplied me with the help I had asked for. Again, I discovered that Christ’s help came with my obedience. If I was to receive Christ’s gift of love, I had to put aside my rationalizations and own up to my sin. When I did, the Holy Spirit began to point out my faults – not just on that morning, but all that day, and into the months ahead. I was convicted of my sins each time they occurred. And I quickly got the message: now was the time to pay attention to my sin.

I soon recognized the juxtaposition between the Scripture’s definition of love in
1 Corinthians 13, and my actions and thoughts. Each time I snapped at Rich, the Scripture dropped into my mind: “Love is kind.” When I grumbled under my breath after Rich did something that really annoyed me, the Holy Spirit whispered, “Love is patient.” At each turn God exposed my petty motivations in the light of His word.

When I asked the Father to help me love like Jesus loves, I had not expected He would give me a heightened awareness of my wrong doing. But in order for Jesus to love through me, I should have expected He would first teach me humility. The more I discovered how sinful the rags were that covered my selfishness, the smaller my self conceit grew.

I can only hope it continues to diminish.