Some thoughts on truth and love

17 11 2012

I’ve been thinking this week about a phrase that Paul wrote in his letter to the followers of Jesus in Ephesus: “we will speak the truth in love”.

My thoughts were kick-started by listening to Shauna Niequist speaking about the ancient proverb, “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” You can listen to her talk here.  She tells of a visit she made to a metal worker who showed her that you need two things to shape metal – heat and force. We can hammer metal with intense force, but if there’s no heat it’s just big noise and no movement. There must be heat before there can be shape.

Shauna then talks about the two things that are needed if we are to engage in the arena of personal growth – trust and truth. If there’s no trust, the words that are said, however truthful, will be just that – words, and probably hurtful ones at that; if there’s too much trust, the truthful words never get said.  I’ve been in both positions. Someone once said some very hurtful things to me and concluded with, “I’m just being honest.”  Yeah, right!  And wary of this trap, I’ve often failed to say things that I should have said because I didn’t want to upset the other person, even although leaving them where they were did them no favours. It’s critical to have the two in tandem if personal transformation is to take place.

So back to Ephesians.

Someone once said that the sense of  “we will speak the truth in love” in the original Greek (and who am I to argue!) is “truthing it in love”. I like that.  There’s the sense of continuation, not just a vomit of words, but a walking alongside another person, loving them, easing them into realisation of the truth and, as they say in the classier classics, “being there for them”. Isn’t that what you would want from a friend?

And to what end are we to engage in this often difficult path with others?  It’s so that we, and they, grow up – “God wants us to grow up, to know the whole truth and tell it in love—like Christ in everything. We take our lead from Christ, who is the source of everything we do. He keeps us in step with each other.”

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Can a leopard…?

12 10 2012

I am a leopard with selfish spots. By that I don’t mean “a few little bits of selfishness in an otherwise unblemished character”; I mean that selfishness is my character, my default position in life. I’m not proud of it, but it’s true.

I find it’s well nigh impossible to live out Jesus’ exhortation to –

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’  This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.” (Matthew 22:37-39)

I have little bursts of love, and then return to default.

A couple of years ago, I took up a challenge with some friends to see if there was anything we could do to change our “spottiness”, to live life closer to the ideals of Jesus. We were inspired by reading Mike Frost’s book Exiles, although we “made the idea our own”. Here is our version.

We took the word BELLS and used the initial letters to prompt different actions:

  • Bless
  • Eat
  • Listen
  • Learn
  • Sent

So in random order-

Listening and learning involved a God-ward focus – reading the Bible, praying, writing journals, blogging.

Eating?  Well, that’s obvious, except that twice a week we looked for opportunities to eat with people whom we might not otherwise have paid much attention to. “Eat” didn’t need to be cordon bleu, it might be a cup of coffee, but the intention was to focus on another person, spend time with them, make an effort to be a friend.

Sent is trickier to explain.  There’s something about tapping into God’s purpose for your life, seeing the different component parts as constituents of a greater whole. So, for example, instead of seeing work simply as a means to earn a living, seeing it as an opportunity to connect with people, to improve the physical environment, to be “sent” as God’s representative to the workplace. (Paul talks about this idea of sentness when he says that we are “ambassadors of God” – 2 Corinthians 5)

Bless presented me with the biggest challenge.  The word itself has something of the papal about it and if you Google “blessings” images  you will see why I have a problem with the word.  However, it is the first letter of the acrostic, so…

The agreement was that we would make at least two opportunities in the week to bless someone else, not the papal type of blessing, but something simple that would mean a lot to the person.  It might be an encouraging phone call, a card, a small gift, a smile to a stranger, a random act of kindness with no thought of payback. Nothing too demanding, but an intentionality about the action.

Now, I will digress a little via the dishwasher at my place of work.  No one at work likes to load or empty the dishwasher.  If it on already, dirty cups accumulate in the sink, despite the signs which request that people wash their own; if it finished, the clean cups remain in situ waiting, waiting…. you get the picture.  I decided that my “blessing” to the workplace would be to load/unload, wash up the extras/put away, even go round collecting the dirty cups, the ones with the engrained coffee dregs.  If it meant I had to stay after my shift was finished, that was OK because I had decided to do it.  If that meant I missed the bus, the walk would do me good.

Before you think how virtuous I am, I need to confess that it was often a struggle.  I saw the dirty cups and added mine to the pile…and had to make myself turn back and wash the lot. I saw that the dishwasher was finished and took a clean cup out for myself… and made myself keep going until it everything was put away. But bit by bit it became easier to give my time and to deal with the resentment about my colleagues’ untidiness. Spots were fading.

Why do I tell you all this?  I want to illustrate two things.  First of all, I was intentional. I signed up for the BELLS challenge and stuck to it, albeit reluctantly at times. I wanted to change, and I did something about it. Secondly, it had an unexpected effect.  Looking for opportunities to bless others helped move me from persistent selfishness. I found that I wanted to bring blessing to people’s lives, and more than the two times a week that I’d agreed.  Doing something led to becoming something; reaching out to others in a simple, ordinary way made me a better person. I challenge you to try it!

I wonder if this is the sort of partnership that Paul envisaged when he was writing to the followers of Jesus in Philippi –

“Work hard to show the results of your salvation, obeying God with deep reverence and fear.  For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him.” (Philippians 2:12-13)  

We need to work hard at following… and allow God to work in us. Can a leopard…?

 

 

 





Step up!

27 06 2011

Do you know this feeling?  You have been climbing a ladder, quite successfully, when something happens that raises the question –  “Is my successful ladder up against the wrong wall?”

I’m guessing here, but I wonder if that’s what Simon Peter and Saul experienced. 

Simon Peter was a successful fisherman, but he left it behind to follow Jesus.  He was close to him and had taken a lead amongst the disciples – surely his ladder was up against the right wall now?  Then disaster –  Peter denied that he had ever known Jesus and then Jesus died before he could put things right.  He had just begun to adapt to that, when the plug was pulled again – the risen Jesus appeared to him and commissioned him to tell his story to others.  And the fishing?  (Check it out here.)

Saul had his life sussed – top level religious leader, A* from the university of Gamaliel, chief persecutor of Christians – when his plug was pulled.  Saul had the Damascus Road experience that raised a question mark over everything and altered his dreams of success.

What was the “Aha moment” for both of them?  It was an encounter with Jesus, an experience so profound that they had to realign their lives completely and step up to what he wanted them to do.  And they both got a name change (Simon –> Peter; Saul–> Paul) so that they would have a constant reminder of their change of direction.

~

I found this clip the other day.  It reminded me that it’s not just Bible characters who get to meet with Jesus and have their lives transformed.








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