Love God ~
(Part 1 of 3)
“God’s love was revealed among us in this way;
God sent his only son into the world so that we might live through him.
In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us
and sent his son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins.”
I John 4:9-10
I am blessed with the opportunity to lead a youth choir. Each year we take tours,- singing for churches, nursing homes, shelters, prisons, and childcare facilities; all of which require many hours of preparation. One avenue we use to prepare is an overnight retreat. It is a great blessing musically and for community building, but also a whippin’ for the adults that chorale and herd the group. At the conclusion of one retreat, the youth were headed out the door with sleeping bags and bed head. We were all anxious to go home. As I was cleaning the choir room to prepare for Sunday morning’s worship, a group of youth led a young man to me who had been knocking at the church front door.
John, the young man, walked up with wild eyes and announced so that all could hear; “I was driving down the road outside your church when I decided to end my life by driving into the next big tree. I saw your steeple and thought I would give the first person I met a chance to give me a reason not to follow through.”
John was a tall young man in his twenties, obviously chemically altered, and desperate for answers. I sent the youth home and John and I walked to the sunlit Sanctuary. He wasn’t really ready to listen, but he had plenty to say. First thing right out of the box, he tried to scare me.
“You know, I could take this Coke can and crush it in your face.”
I chuckled and told him straight up; “You’re too high to pick up your Coke.”
John smiled. Then he cried. Then, he poured out his story. We spent the entire day in the large open space with the colored stain glass light shifting across the room. We sat on a pew, face to face. While he spoke, the chemical’s effect began to subside and finally, he addressed the profound questions of life: “Who is God? Does God care? Prove it. Is Jesus the only way? What’s up with hypocrites? And so forth.” As I listened, I prayed. All of the years and expense of seminary training raced through my mind, “Why me? I’m too tired to think clearly. I have answers to these questions that satisfy me, but do I have answers that will help Big John? How do I–how does anyone–articulate the Gospel in such a way that proves God’s existence to someone who stands negatively to hear it? God is not to be proved!”
We began by talking about love. I suggested that a providential God answered a prayer that John prayed in his car driving down the road. . .even though John didn’t know he prayed. Our meeting, our conversation, this sanctuary (metaphorically and physically) were acts of love on God’s part.
John and I talked all day. When Big John left the church that evening, I was assured he was in a better place, and we committed to communicate. We have for fifteen years. As I drove home, I wondered if the nature of God was adequately shared that afternoon. I decided to trust God for the rest. But, to my surprise, what really haunted me was the question of whether or not the nature of God was adequately shared during the retreat the night before. Did I falsely assume the youth were in a better spiritual place than Big John? Did they share the same questions about God? Was I as clear and direct in expressing how I experience God and who I believe God to be?
* * *
Ultimately, who is God? One word: Love. Wait a minute. That word needs to be redefined. Love. This is way beyond our human considerations. Divine love is something more. As a noun, divine love has a depth and magnitude beyond any limitations. (Human love often has limitations.) As a verb, divine love has a reach and breadth beyond all boundaries including sacrifice. (Human love in action often has boundaries.) And the crazy part for me is that the noun and the verb can never be separated in divine love. They are indistinguishable. God loves and it is always manifest in action. Humanity separates the two. We can love God and yet be unloving. This is not even possible in divine love.
This part blows my mind. God loves me and that love has action. Grace. God loves me in spite of my sin, my selfishness, my idolatry, my pride, as well as my justifications. Yet, in my humanness, I can claim to love while acting the opposite. But that is not who I am called to be. I am called to become the divine image of God within me. . .the divine image of love. I long to live up to the divine love within me. This is a sanctified place and it is my desire to reside there. Yet in spite of my best intentions I falter.
All of my comments that follow stand on this widened awareness of divine love, and inseparable noun and verb which is exemplified in Christ and available to me.
Back two paragraphs. Ultimately, who is God? One word: Love. How is this love manifest? I’ll start with the Trinity.
* * *
The Trinity is an incredibly important part of the Church’s understanding of who God is and how God relates to humanity. The Trinitarian concept has guided faithful Christians for centuries. I have a great appreciation for the theological perspective, and at the same time, I fear that humanity limits and distorts who God is as we stand behind the Trinity.
Take a moment, seriously take a moment before you read on and name attributes of God that describe your clearest understanding of who God is. . .
If you were to ask me, I would choose love and then add the many manifestations of love: forgiver, restorer, encourager, provider, for whom I’m accountable, redeemer and so on. How do I experience these attributes? How do I understand these attributes to describe God?
Since the beginning of creation, God has been seeking a relationship with humanity. God has reached out in uncountable ways, including but certainly not limited to, pursuit as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. If I were to tell you how I experience God as love, I would have to begin with God as my Creator who loves me and longs to be in a loving relationship with me. But I could not summarize my understanding without reflecting on love as expressed by Christ in the stories he told, the loving way he lived, and the selfless love he exemplified in his death. I could not complete my understanding without sharing how I have experienced love, felt, and have been moved by love through the Holy Spirit. And I would long to share how I have witnessed God’s love in people around me, loving me, and holding me accountable to love.
I cannot share with you who God is without sharing the many ways I have experienced God. It is important to me to remember that the Trinity is a monotheistic theology. There is one God, who we experience in different ways. However, I fear that faithful people unwittingly dissect the Trinity to a polytheistic understanding, separating the various manifestations of God into individual entities.
This summer, I enjoyed the opportunity to ask several groups how they experience the Trinity. When I ask, “To which part of the Trinity do you identify the most?” I am no longer shocked that faithful people divide evenly between each of the three as their primary understanding of who God is. And when I ask, “Which part of the Trinity do you struggle with? Where is it difficult for you to relate, comprehend and identify with as you look at the Trinity?” I am no longer shocked that faithful people divide evenly between each of the three as their primary struggle. It is a beautiful thing, the diverse manner in which God reaches out to humanity knowing that a diverse humanity would need diverse reaching.
Why do we latch on to just one part of who God is as the complete understanding of who God is? It teeters on polytheistic thinking. Our denominationalism is often linked to a particular form of the Trinity as an identifying mark of a community of people. Some traditions focus on God as Creator; others focus on Christ or the Holy Spirit. You can even see it in the titles of churches on signs in their front lawns. With human pride, we all have the tendency to perpetuate our focus as the ultimate understanding of God, which is completely cool, until we exclude others due to conviction in our perspective.
* * *
I want to refer back several paragraphs when I suggested a list of attributes that I would use to describe God. Among those attributes, forgiveness, and restoration come to the top of my list. How do I fully experience these? I understand them in the Old Testament as I read about Israel and God’s relentless pursuit and continued relationship with a people in need of forgiveness and restoration. I also experience these traits in personal and knee buckling ways through the Holy Spirit, however, it is Christ who has the most profound effect on my understanding. Nothing shapes my perspective more than the Prodigal Son. Nothing moves me more that the story of Jesus’ forgiving relationship with a prostitute. Nothing inspires me to exemplify forgiveness and seek restoration other than Jesus on the cross. I, Tim Morrison, cannot adequately describe my theological perspective on God without telling you about Christ. The Scripture, “No one gets to the Father but through me,” is definitely true for me.
Even with that foundation under me, I am left with important questions.
- Is it possible for someone to understand every attribute we assign to God and live faithfully to those attributes and be in complete relationship with God without ever saying, “I experience the Holy Spirit?”
- Is it possible for one of our denominations to focus so entirely on the Holy Spirit that God the Creator is never addressed or recognized?
- Is it Jesus who defines my life or is it divine love as witnessed in Jesus?
- Is it possible for one to live a life of every attribute you and I assign to God and live a Christ-like life without ever recognizing Christ as Savior, and yet be in a complete relationship with God?
- Do I sometimes unwittingly focus on Jesus the man to the detriment of divinity revealed through Christ? I’ll say it another way. Is it possible to be “Christ-like” without knowing Jesus as a way to the Father?
- Is it possible to claim a relationship with Jesus and not be “Christ-like” at all? (Surely you know folks who claim the Christian faith while living cruel lives.) I wonder how God feels about that.
- Is it possible to live AND love like Christ and not know the name “Jesus?” I wonder how God feels about that.
The Scripture still rings true. There is no way to the Father but through Christ. Does the word “Christ” name a man or define a way of living and loving? Ultimately, is God concerned with our decisions to live lovingly or the places we are inspired to live lovingly? There is no way to the Father, but through Christ. How do we interpret the word Christ?
(For my systematic theologian colleagues, I am not picking a traditional way of defining the words “Jesus” and “Christ.” For everyone else, I’ll explain.)
Allow me to define the word “Jesus” as the man who walked among this earth, born in Bethlehem and died in Jerusalem. And allow me to define the word “Christ” as the divine manifestation of love within this man. Include every act of peace, kindness, generosity, sacrifice, forgiveness, tolerance and love evident in the stories Jesus told and the choices Jesus made. Just for a moment, distinguish between the things that made Jesus Christ truly human and truly divine. And just for purposes of this conversation, name the things that distinguish humanity as “Jesus” and the things that distinguish divinity as “Christ.” And consider; which is the path to God?
I imagine God is interested in our pursuit of divine love as we grow into the image of God within us. I cannot imagine that God’s self-esteem needs humanity to embrace allegiance to the human concept of the man named Jesus. However, I believe God’s agenda for our lives is for us to embrace allegiance to the manifestation of divine love found in Christ.
When the beating heart inside of Jesus ceased to beat as Jesus hung on the cross, what happened? Is it the blood of a human Jesus that brings salvation, or the divine love of Christ that ushers salvation? Personally, as for me, I am saved through Christ. Christ had to die on the cross in order that love would be manifest. And through that love, my sins are forgiven and I have a relationship with God that changes everything.
* * *
I began this line of thinking with the Trinity as a way of diverse reaching by God to be in relationship with a diverse humanity. I remind myself, the Trinity is a monotheistic theology. There is one God, yet different paths to realize who God is. I don’t believe that God is offended when faithful people do not connect with the Holy Spirit. I don’t believe God is offended when humanity struggles to understand God’s role in creation as the author of the universe. Equally, I don’t believe God is offended when humanity does not recognize God’s incarnation in Jesus. God has one concern; humanity’s ability to claim divine love. For God is love and created humanity in the image of divine love so that all may inherit the salvation that comes through divine love.
I am concerned that these assertions seem universalistic. It may appear that I believe that human love is all that is required for salvation. Nope. Only divine love ushers salvation. Therefore, I do not believe that every religion on earth is a pathway to God. For example, other faiths may value pacifism which is certainly Christ-like. But, love sometimes demands bold action and is not passive in the least. For me, love as defined by God is probably beyond my human comprehension of love. This is much more than “non-violent” or “simply being nice to one another” or “live and let live.” People in other cultures and in other times may be completely faithful to their concept of God and yet be unloving. Similarly, people in the Christian culture may declare Jesus as Lord and be bullies. This is hypocrisy. And I grieve that those who live this way are not self-aware enough to recognize it. I am growing in this confidence: God is concerned with our destination of experiencing divine love, not with the avenue we find it. As for me, the path to divine love is best found in Christ and I could not find it myself or in any other way. Yet, I will not deny that someone else can find it differently.
* * *
(This next paragraph stands upon these unique definitions of Jesus, the man, and Christ, love manifest.) If I must choose between offering someone Jesus and offering someone Christ, I’m going with Christ. Deep in my heart I believe Christ is The Way. It is love that ushers in salvation. This is why mission is vital to the Christian agenda. To offer incredible love and therefore inspire incredible love in others is God’s agenda for humanity. If I have the opportunity to offer Jesus, the manifestation of love revealed to me, then I am giving a gift which helps others know the depth of divine love expressed in a man on a cross. This is why I strive to feed the hungry even if I don’t put a Bible under the plate.
This is why I believe our church buildings belong to the mission field in which we live and not the members who paid for the bricks and mortar. This is why I think our facilities should be open to community groups, (as long as their reason for existing is consistent with Christ-like living) even though they are not preaching Jesus. This is evangelism through invitation to use sacred space.
Similarly, this is why the Church participates in secular events such as Trunk or Treat, Independence celebrations and school events. Hopefully, while our communities enjoy our welcome and hospitality, they will grow in curiosity about our faith and seek to become a part of our journey with Christ. I pray I show the love of Christ first. . .and offer Jesus next.
* * *
All of this, every part of the Trinity, is about love. This is who God is, how God interacts, and who God calls us to be. Those who understand this kind of life-changing divine love, understand who God is, regardless of the manner God was revealed to them.
* * *
When the next Big John confronts me demanding proof of God, I pray I will be ready to describe who I understand God to be and reflect on the many ways God reaches out to me to be in relationship with me. I pray the next Big John will hear love from my heart and want that kind of love in his own. I hope to speak of what it means to be loved by God and then to share what it means to love God.
Loving God is an act. We express our love for God when we worship. We offer God praise, not because God needs the affirmation, but because we need the perspective we gain when we announce to ourselves who God is. We sing songs of praise, not simply because God’s divine ears get something out of it, but because our ears are reminded of our own humble humanity and God’s divine nature. This act of loving God, this act of being reminded of whom God is and who we are, is an act to be repeated. This moment of praise, this act of worship, this affirmation must be repetitious in order to keep our internal balance of living in this secular world while striving for divine transformation. Unfortunately, our current culture continually diminishes that need for reminding and the faithful appear to be making worship less and less a priority, both corporate as well as individual.
Loving God is more than an act. To love God is an act of praise, but love is also an act of silence and listening. To love God requires a heart willing to recognize the places where God’s will to love is ignored. It is also reflected in the choices we make and the way we live our lives. To love God is to allow love to re-shape our decisions, our motivations, and our perspective. To love God is to make God’s will a priority for our lives.
Loving God is manifest in action. To love God is to step beyond human agendas and embrace the divine agenda. The result is not works righteousness, (doing good works to merit God’s love) but love’s righteousness (choosing love because God loves us). This is where sanctification blows our minds and overwhelms our hearts. This is where we find our purpose and experience peace. This is how we live into the image of God that we were created to be.
Ultimately, who is God? One word: Love. Wait a minute. That word needs to be clarified. To love, (the noun) and to show love (the verb) is indistinguishable.
The Great Commandment begins with “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength” because this is the place where we begin to comprehend who God is and who God has called us to be. (Scriptural reference: Matthew 28:37-39)
In the opening welcome and introduction to this website, I shared the Scripture that inspired this online adventure, I Tim 6:20. This text is also the origination of the name; “Sacred Chatter.” However, my intent is not to be a singular voice. I invite your voice to be a part of the “chat” and I base this on another of my favorite Scriptures: Hebrews 10:24. “And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds.” I am considering how I can provoke love and good deeds in places beyond where I live. This is my attempt to enter into a Hebrews 10 conversation with you over social media.digitally. Now, I am interested in your feedback. Consider what provoking you can provide with your own Sacred Chatter.
What’s important to you? What really matters?
Add your voice in Sacred Chatter.
Love is ours to provoke. Good deeds are ours to sew.
That the wisdom of Hebrews 10 may flourish and grow.
Email, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, they’re potential mediums for the Hebrews 10 plan.
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