Posts Tagged ‘love’

God’s Story and Our Story

Friday, December 24th, 2010 by Diane Chandler

Christmas is about God’s story.  His story did not begin with the birth of Jesus but goes all the way back in eternity past through to the creation of humankind in Genesis 1. Adam and Eve found themselves in the idyllic context of the Garden and ended up being deceived into thinking that they could eat what God had forbidden and somehow get away with it (sounds like the front page of the newspaper).  Eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil changed life forever for them ….. and for us.

Imagine trying to sew fig leaves together to cover up one’s nakedness and also hiding among the trees to escape God’s purview (as if God could not see them!).  There were afraid and experienced shame ~ universal human emotions.  God cursed the crafty serpent by announcing, “He will crush your head and you will strike his heel” (Gen 3:15b).  This would be fulfilled in Christ’s victory over death, hell, and the grave, clearly finalized in His resurrection from the dead (Ro 6:20).

What grips me about God’s meta-story is that our stories derive from HisI am part of God’s story, and so are you.  God sent His Son into the world to provide the ultimate sacrifice for our sin.  The sacrifice of lambs, goats, and bulls vividly described in the Hebrew Bible could not ultimately atone for sin.  God sent the perfect sacrificial lamb, His only Son, to atone for the sins of all humanity ~ born in a lowly manger.  In humility, we need to acknowledge that we are sinners in need of a Savior, cannot save ourselves, and then place our faith in Jesus Christ, as the Messiah of the world. 

I remember so clearly when I received Christ as my Savior.  Quite unexpectedly during my senior year of undergrad, I realized that I had enough credits to graduate one semester early.  This extra semester gave me the opportunity to travel around the U.S., visiting friends and relatives and looking for employment.  I visited Miami, Houston, and Atlanta.  God encountered me in each city through the relationships with those I was visiting. 

While in Miami, I had stayed up all night with friends and caught the sunrise on Easter Sunday.  Because of overuse of my contact lenses, the corneas of both eyes were almost completely damaged (not a good thing when you have no health insurance).  Like Paul being blinded on the Damascus Road, I stayed in a completely dark room for three days, hoping that my vision would be restored.  This is the first time I remember clearly calling on the name of the Lord for help.  After my eyesight was restored, a friend gave me a parting gift of a Bible at my departure. 

In Houston, my uncle’s friend, a godly Christian woman, took me under her wing for the two weeks I was there, included me in all she did and simply loved me.  While in Houston, I sat upon my uncle’s sofa, while he was away on a 3-day business trip, and literally cried out to God to come into my life and guide me.  At that moment, God’s grace filled my life and I realized that God was real, that Jesus was in fact the Savior of the world, and that we might have eternal life by inviting Him into our hearts. 

The Savior of the world born as a baby!  What events surrounded your receiving Jesus into your heart?  What circumstances caused you to be aware of your need for God’s redemption?  How did your life change?

To all of our Renewal Dynamics blog readers, may you have a blessed Christmas and New Year!

Potty Training with St. Augustine

Monday, August 16th, 2010 by Wolfgang Vondey

Okay, if you haven’t figured it out by the title, this blog post is tongue in cheek. My 2 1/2 year old son is experiencing the delights and disappointments of potty training. He really wants to have a clean diapie and use the potty…but it just does not work out many times. Here is where St. Augustine comes in.

Augustine distinguishes between memory, understanding, and will. These three are not only significant components of his view of the Trinity, they emerge from his own personal struggles, so vividly portrayed in the Confessions. Memory, of course, is what we remember, what we keep stored, of the events of the past. That can include the memory of who we are and how we have lived our lives or just the memory of looking out the window a minute ago. Memory is important for understanding, since all understanding and judgment is based on the collective storage (or memory) of events and facts and previous knowledge. We cannot understand what we do not remember, and consequently we cannot make informed judgments. Those judgments of the understanding (based on our memory) informs the will to do (or not to do) things. So how does this apply to my 2 1/2 year old? Read the rest of this entry »

Power of Love

Thursday, June 24th, 2010 by Antipas Harris

By God’s grace, this weekend (Sunday, June 27th) will be a momentous one for my fiancee and me. I am blessed to have met the girl of my dreams. We will unite as one!

In light of my current stage of life, I have given a lot of thought on a common yet powerful word—love. What is true romantic love? Read the rest of this entry »

Masturbation…It’s a Christian Problem

Monday, May 3rd, 2010 by Wolfgang Vondey

Woody Allen once said that masturbation is like having “sex with someone I love.” The statement was made about the same time the Catholic Church restated its views on masturbation in its Declaration on Certain Questions concerning Sexual Ethics (Persona Humana, 1975). Briefly put, one might say that the Church’s teaching directly opposes that of Woody Allen. In a nutshell I would paraphrase the Declaration to say that masturbation is like sex with someone I learn to hate.

I was confronted with the drastic difference between these views at a time when masturbation was discussed as a form of “autoeroticism” or “self-satisfaction” in my high school biology classes. Make no mistake, neither Woody Allen nor the Church were ever discussed. In fact, no moral judgment was made at all. All sexual activity was discussed strictly under the idea of gaining understanding of the functioning of the human body. Surprisingly, the entire project addressed only the physical organs. At no time did we talk about the operation of the human mind, the imagination, love, hate, or desire. Don’t even think about bringing God into the discussion.

Allen was right when he brought love into the discussion of sexual activities. So did the Catholic Church. Love, correctly understood, is the proper context for all sexual activity even though, as C. S. Lewis reminds us in The Four Loves, sexual experience can occur without love. In the case of masturbation, Allen’s statement exhibits a particular kind of love that is perhaps best characterized as make-believe. It is shaped by two misconceptions: first, that love of self is an acceptable context for sex, and second, that sex is a sufficient manifestation of love. I say “sufficient” here, because sex, in the right context, is a manifestation of love, but it is not a complete manifestation. Sex alone always remains an incomplete manifestation of love. Thus, just as problematic as Allen’s statement is the popular euphemism for sex as “making love.” The question of masturbation finds its most potent implications in our understanding of love and its proper context.

In the history of Christian thought, Augustine offers a classic description of love when he states that love is not love unless you love someone (On the Trinity, VIII, 12). The point being: someone other than yourself! Love of oneself is seen as imperfect and ultimately unacceptable as an image for God. God, who is love (1 John 4:8), cannot exist only in his love for himself. Augustine here paints a picture of love as relational and as requiring a relationship with someone other than ourselves. In this sense, masturbation is a celebration of one’s own love of self. One is satisfied with oneself and content with one’s own love. For a Christian, nothing could be further from the truth.

The biblical Scriptures show that it is important to love yourself, since we are to love others in the same manner we love ourselves (see Lev 19:18 and its frequent use in the New Testament). Yet, this love is not a simple one-on-one relationship. the love of a Christian is not a simple line from one person to the other. Rather, it is always a triangular desire. It is only in the fact that God is love that human beings can also understand and direct their own love for themselves and for others. We love because God first loved us. For Christians, therefore, masturbation is fundamentally a theological concern about the right ordering of desire.

Masturbation presents the Christian with a theological dilemma: how to reconcile love of self and love of God in the sexual activity of the human person. One alternative is to shut God out of the picture. As I have stated previously, we keep God out of the bedroom. Theology does not engage sexuality. The other alternative is to excuse our actions in one form or another (“God does not care” or “This does not affect my salvation”). In any case, we suppress God. More precisely, we suppress our love for God. And by the same token, we suppress our love for ourselves and for others. The Catholic Declaration emphasized this point when it rejected psychological and sociological factors as the sole explanatory powers for accepting or rejecting masturbation. The problems of masturbation as a habitual practice lie deeper. Christians who continually practice masturbation find themselves in the way of their own love for God and others. Masturbation becomes a form of self-gratification when no such gratification seems warranted. Studies show that the frequent response to this insight is guilt and often the resolve to discontinue one’s practice. As it has become habitual, however, many Christians find themselves caught in a loop between masturbation, guilt, and resolve. In this loop they learn to love themselves less and less. Masturbation becomes sex with someone we hate.

How do we respond to this problem? It is precarious to discuss this aspect, since there seem to be only two sides in the issue: those who practice masturbation and those who do not, and few want to locate themselves squarely on the first side. If recent studies are correct, then masturbation continues to be the most prevalent form of sex. Period. If I am correct that masturbation is ultimately a theological problem, then we are justified in saying that masturbation is one of the most significant theological problems of our time. Were do we start to find a solution? Who should be engaged in the process? What does it take to overcome the problem? And what exactly do we see as the end result?

The Textures of Grace

Friday, April 16th, 2010 by Dale M. Coulter

Because grace makes beauty. . .out of ugly things (Grace by U2)

Inside I’m dying, I hide from the light, but you see me beautiful, you see; I roar like a lion, an unlovable sight, but you see me beautiful. You make me beautiful, you make me, you make me beautiful. (See Me Beautiful by Sister Hazel)

Christian tradition has always seen a close connection between grace and beauty although this connection can be obscured when one focuses exclusively on a single dimension of grace. Grace is a word rich in texture. One of its most common definitions is unmerited favor. Protestants usually connect this definition to God’s justifying activity in which sins are freely forgiven and humans are unconditionally embraced. From this perspective, grace expresses the qualities of kindness, compassion, and mercy, which are best encapsulated within the Hebrew term hesed (loving kindness, covenant faithfulness, compassionate mercy). The grace of God is his determination to remain faithful when all others are faithless, and this is his love in action (Rom. 3:24; Eph. 1:7; Eph. 2:4-5, 7). I know that I am accepted because God has freely extended his favor toward me and adopted me into his family. In the words of Sister Hazel, “Inside I’m dying. . . but you see me beautiful.”

Another way of considering grace is in terms of strength and power. For Paul, grace is the strength made perfect in weakness (2 Cor. 12:9), and this gift comes through the working of divine power (Eph. 3:7). Grace is the perfecting power or energizing presence of God that brings the individual to completion, causing the person to flourish. It is not enough to see humans as beautiful; we must be made beautiful.

Ultimately, these textures of grace point us back toward the triune God whose life is love. To borrow a metaphor from the second-century bishop Irenaeus of Lyon, the love of the Father extends to the world through his two hands, the Son and the Spirit.

The Incarnate Son is the shape of divine love. His life, death, and resurrection extends divine favor to the world “God so loved” (John 3:16). In the language of Anselm of Canterbury (d. 1109), the Son renders satisfaction to the Father for the sins of the world. To make satisfaction (satisfacere) really means to do (facere) enough (satis). Jesus did what no mere human could do by conquering the forces of sin and death and thus restoring order to a world that had descended into chaos. As Jeremiah reminded Israel during her exile, the Lord’s loving kindness never fails and his compassion does not end (Lam. 3:22-23). The Son is the shape of love because he embodies the Father’s determination not to allow the powers of sin and death to hold humans captive on a slave ship bound for the abyss of nothingness.

There is no distance between justice, love, and righteousness: By restoring order, the Son brings justice; by rectifying what was wrong, the Son brings righteousness; and by ordering and rectifying a world in the chaos of exile, the Son fully expresses the love of the Father. These connections emerge when we cease to think of justice solely in punitive terms and begin to see it as not allowing the broken to remain broken or the disordered to remain disordered. So, I would call for a rejection of views of Christ’s work that pit justice against mercy and love. Justice is love in action and righteousness is the expression of justice.

The Spirit is the power of divine love. As the love of God poured out into human hearts (Rom. 5:5), the Spirit restores order to human desires and emotions thereby releasing us to express our love rightly and fully. We are liberated from sin as a self-destructive power (the flesh), or the emotion and desire that binds us to all kinds of things that can consume us. Such liberation comes from the Spirit’s passionate love that inflames our love for the eternal and cools our love for the temporal. Some Christian thinkers, like Evagrius of Pontus, have called this love eros to underscore its consuming, burning, fiery presence. This is power, the power of love. Augustine likened it unto a weight to underscore its gravitational force. It is nothing less than the Spirit’s own regenerating and sanctifying presence.

Anyone who has experienced the power of attraction has a sense of this kind of love. The Spirit catches us up into the life of the triune God by simultaneously breaking the attraction to the “world” that forms the basis of our slavery and igniting our love for another world, another place, another order. We begin to perceive a richer hue, a deeper melody behind the colors and rhythms of creation. This is not to deny creation’s own beauty, but it is to recognize that, like the moon’s light, it is reflective of a brighter source. If beauty is order, harmony, or symmetry, then the Holy Spirit makes us beautiful by rightly ordering our loves so that love for God, love for neighbor, and love for the created world all take up their rightful place. In other words, to be made holy is to become beautiful–the beauty of holiness (Psalm 29:2, NKJV; Isaiah 61:10, ESV; Isaiah 62:2-3, ESV). We are made holy when our emotions and desires are re-directed toward God as their proper end and thus brought back into balance, harmony, and wholeness. Once again, we see that love, justice, and righteousness have no distance between them.

So what is the connection between grace and beauty? Does it have something to do with the rich textures of grace? By exploring those textures, maybe we can glimpse how grace enables us to see ourselves as beautiful and, more than that, refashions us so that we become beautiful. As the two hands of the Father, the Son and the Spirit embrace us by painting afresh on the canvas of our lives so that, like the colors of a butterfly, they reflect the beauty, symmetry, and order of the triune life. This happens when we become caught up in the harmonious movement of that triune dance between Father, Son, and Spirit as we learn to move to the rhythms of God’s grace. Here is love vast as the ocean. . . .