Cutting Room Floor: Love

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IMG_0715 - Version 2When was the last time we said no to that urge to give voice to something that takes away from another person? Because love does this, more than anything else: it makes other people more human than when we found them.

The opposite of love isn’t hate, it’s indifference: that what happens to those around us just doesn’t matter. What we say about them just doesn’t matter–who’s going to hear it? What we think about things just doesn’t matter–who’s going to know? What we do with our things just doesn’t matter.

And indifference, at its heart, is the choice to make ourselves more important than anything else, and our opinions, our wants, our needs, our goals, our vision, and our comfort the biggest and brightest things in the constellations of our universe.

But God is anything but indifferent: God is humanizing, because God pays attention to us, and through his attention we are made more human, more real, more persons than we otherwise were. We’re made into children of God because of love.

~ Post Written by Pastor Rich Hagopian

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Going Deeper: One

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On5iRrkKEoTe of our deepest human longings is for intimacy. We hope to find it in marriage. Perhaps we have found it with a friend or group of friends. We long for it in various communities of which we are a part, including our church communities. We may even long for this with God but not be sure whether such closeness is actually possible. And when we find that intimacy, we often describe it using the language of one–the two become one, being of one mind and heart, being at one with each other, oneness with God. It is the oneness not of losing one’s sense of self but of knowing and being known.

This past Sunday, our Pastor Rich preached on John 17:1-26. There was one section of this which yielded an insight I’ve wanted to go deeper into this week, found in verses 20-23:

20 “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21 that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— 23 I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.

I’ve often focused on John 13:35 that says,  “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if Bob Trube2you love one another.” What I’ve paid less attention to is that our ability to love for each other, to be one with each other is rooted in a deeper oneness. Jesus prays that we might share in the oneness he has with the Father, and it is by this that we are also at one with our fellow Christians. Rich talked about this incredible thing that we’ve been brought into the life of loving oneness between the Father and Son and that our oneness with each other flows out of this oneness. Intimacy with Jesus is the fuel for intimacy with each other.

The challenge for me is that I try to do the “oneness thing” on my own strength and what these verses say is that my oneness with my community in Christ comes from being in Christ who is in the Father. The best way I can nurture “the beloved community” with God’s people is to know and accept and embrace my belovedness. Because of Jesus, God is for me. Because of Jesus God loves me in spite of all my faults. God loves me just because He does, and invites me to be as close to him as Jesus and the Father have been forever.

Because this is so, I don’t have to change the things I don’t like in others to be one in Christ with them, or conform to the expectations of others. We simply have to love each other just because. I’ve found myself loving people I didn’t like or wouldn’t have chosen to hang around with. I’ve found myself loving people I disagreed with.

Rich talked about the beautiful thing that happens when we are one with God and each others in these ways–“more and more people, as they see our unity, are drawn into the divine community that we ourselves are a part of. ”

One of the things I love about our church is that it is this crazy place where people who otherwise would not be in each other’s lives are learning to love each other and anyone else who walks in the door in practical and life-giving ways. We don’t do it perfectly, at least I don’t. But we don’t give up. That is the power of One!

Love and Lostness

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Bob Trube2The parable of the prodigal in Luke 15:11-32 is among the most famous Jesus told. Rembrandt did a famous painting of this story that has moved many. Yet to read the parable is always unsettling. I wonder why on earth a father would give half his estate to a son he knows is planning to squander it? That just does not seem like good parenting. It also doesn’t seem fair that this son receives such a lavish welcome on his return without even having to grovel! At least a part of me is with that older brother in pitching a fit and staying away from the party.

One of the insights from our pastor’s message this past Sunday that really helps me is to see how both of the sons are lost. What they share in common is that both are lost in selfishness. In different ways, each is a prisoner of his own self-absorption. They are different only in the way they express it, which might help explain why the older brother is upset. Down deep, I suspect the older brother was confronting the reality of his own selfishness in that of his brother, but didn’t want to see it.

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Rembrandt: The Return of the Prodigal Son

Both brothers are absorbed in themselves to the exclusion of any concern for either their father or their other brother and for the future of their family. The younger brother essentially wishes his father dead and wants the present value of his inheritance now, not willing to share in his older brother’s labors that might have enhanced it. All he cares for it seems is maximizing his pleasure in the moment. Even his approach to his father, as repentant as it is, masks a shrewd appraisal that he might do better as a servant in his father’s home than he is feeding the pigs.

The older brother is lost in self absorption as well. He is absorbed in his personal rectitude and his resentment of the younger brother. Seeing his father’s distress, he makes no effort to find his younger brother. And when the younger brother finds his way home, he seethes in anger both against his brother and his father for not throwing him a feast, when he could have had this at any time!

There are so many ways I can be lost to the captivity of selfishness! There are so many ways I create a cosmos that revolves around closing myself off to God and others! In the end we dehumanize ourselves, whether in unrestrained hedonism or an ugly self-righteousness that is both angry and envious toward those who don’t match our personal rectitude. I vacillate between “I want what’s mine!” and cries of “It’s not fair!”

Rich pointed out that it is easy in this story to try to identify which brother we are most like. But identifying the kind of selfish we are can do little to liberate us from being lost in selfishness. The only thing left for us is to stop focusing on ourselves and rather on the Father who is truly extravagant in love. Both sons lived in a “zero sum game” world. By contrast, the Father is one who is extravagant in love, who always has enough to go around and who would much rather throw parties for those liberated from lostness than leave either son on the outside.

I’m struck that in Christmas, we celebrate this extravagant, prodigal love. The birth of Jesus reflects this collusion of Father and Son to rescue us in all the ways we are lost in self-absorption. Jesus becomes the truly loving and righteous Elder Brother and Father’s Son who rejoices not in condemning people in their failure but in finding lost people and restoring them to the Father.

Christmas is rightly a time of parties. It rightly reflects the parties of heaven over the lost who are found by the Savior whose birth we celebrate. The question for each of us is will we turn from our own forms of self-absorption to join the Father’s party or will we remain on the outside, a party of one in a cosmos centered around self?

Be Not Afraid–Seriously?

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Our pastor explored something in his sermon on Sunday that I think many of us struggle with and that is the clash between statements like “be anxious for nothing” or “be not afraid” and the worries, anxieties, and fear that dog our steps and often feel hard to shake off. Sometimes the words “be not afraid” sound a bit to us like “don’t think of pink elephants”. Once there, it is just not easy either to shake those visions of pink elephants dancing in our heads or those worries nipping at our heels.

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One of the most striking things about most of the “be not afraids” of scripture is that they are spoken by God, or those speaking for God. And this gives me a clue to this thing of dealing with fear that has been of great help to me. “Be not afraid” is not an order to “think positively” or to “make a positive confession” but rather they are God’s invitation to a relationship of trust. God’s invitation is not to try to suppress our worries by our own efforts but to trust them to his care.

I think I first understood this deeply when I was worrying about money a number of years ago. Things were often tight when I was growing up and there was at least once instance where dad was between jobs. I actually think my parents handled this pretty well, but the fear of not having enough carried into my adulthood. Strange then that my chosen profession involved depending on donations of others to pay the salary for the work I do. We were going through a patch where those donations were down and I was facing possible salary reductions, and perhaps worse, not being able to meet our obligations. At least that was what I was afraid of

My strategy for dealing with fear was a combination of worrisome talk that had to be tiring for my wife (who was far more hopeful about things) and “doubling down”, particular in efforts to raise the requisite funds. I even asked God to help me as I met donors and to supply my needs. I did everything except to go to my heavenly Father and say, “Daddy, I’m really scared of not being able to provide for my family and to meet my debts.” I continued coping with these pressures like this until I was doing a Bible study written by Dave Ivaska, a colleague, titled Be Not Afraid. There was a question at one point that asked very simply, “what are you afraid of?” For the first time, I named this fear to God instead of trying to deal with it or even asking God to deal with the stuff that caused me to be afraid.

I can’t say that my fear magically disappeared. But in naming my fear to God and allowing God into that fearful space, the fear began shrinking and lost its hold in my life as I became aware that God didn’t just love me in an abstract sense–God loved me at the place of my fear. Rich talked about this idea that there is no fear in love because perfect love casts out fear (1 John 4:18).

I’m still on this journey. Other fears about loss are becoming real for the first time. There are the fears of significant loss of physical or mental abilities that come as I notice bodily changes or take longer to remember a name or grope for the right word. There is the kind of loss of recognizing you are far from indispensable and wondering as you hand off to rising leaders whether there is anything left that you can contribute, or what all you did meant when much of it is changed!

Rich talked about how we often experience the love of God that drives out these fears through people in community. I need that! It is still tempting for me to just put on my game face and double down. That strategy never worked very well and I have less energy or time for it now. Perhaps it is in becoming a safe place to name and shed our fears that we become “the beloved community.” That’s the safe place we have with the God who says, “be not afraid.”

It’s Your Fault

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Rich touched on an idea Sunday that at first I didn’t relate to. He talked about the tendency for some to blame illness on the person who is ill. A person who has lung cancer deserves it because they were a smoker for 30 years. A person with diabetes should have been eating better. An alcoholic with liver failure brought that on themselves, etc.

Ben TrubeI do not encounter a lot of this direct kind of bigotry in my every day life. Well, except maybe about celebrities because something about the publicness of their habits makes it fair game for us to judge them. Your Amy Winehouses, Rob Fords and others.

I’ve had two more significant “illnesses” in my life. The first was a congenital heart anomaly called WPW (which has been corrected), and the second was thyroid cancer a few years back (also corrected by removing the offending organ). Neither of these conditions had a particularly significant effect on the way I felt, and neither were a result of my actions (thyroid might be environment but the science on that is inconclusive at best). Therefore, there is no logical case to be made that they were my fault, I was simply born this way, and even the more judgmental among us would probably accept that.

But if in thirty years I die of a heart attack from overeating and a lack of exercise (both things I’m working to correct by the way), then I probably deserve it, despite an American culture that celebrates gluttony in all its forms, and working in a necessary, stressful but physically inactive job.

Is assigning blame really something we’re called to do as Christians?

It’s a casual thing we do, it may not even be something we say out loud, but we have the thought nonetheless.

For me I tend to view getting sick almost as a form of spiritual attack. I get in a good habit of going for a bike ride and I feel achy or tired. I want to go to life group and I have an upset stomach. I write for a few days in a row then am hit with a head cold. Whether it actually is spiritual attack or not, getting sick is one of the easiest ways to break a new habit I’m trying to form. If I push through, sometimes I find myself feeling strangely better.

But more often than not, getting sick is just something that happens. It provides us an opportunity to be compassionate to one another, or to be a judgmental jerk, depending on our tendencies. I’m gonna go out on a limb here and suggest love and compassion are probably the better way to go.

Forgiveness, grace and garage doors

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This week Pastor Rudy Bocanegra spoke on the importance of family.  He used 1 John 3:11-24 and 1 Timothy 5:1-8 at his main passages.  I really enjoyed what he had to say.  I felt that he did a fantastic job of describing how the family unit looks very different today than what it may have looked like just a short 20-30 years ago.

There are a lot of factors that play into this.  The concept of the “blended” family, due to divorce, remarriage, adoption, sexual orientation, ect has become a cultural norm for today.  Some of these things are good and some are bad.  Yet whatever your family unit looks like; blended or not, it still hopefully has some principles that are solid rules for living.  I think that this is true even more so if we are Christian.

These are things that I have known and also am experiencing in new ways due to the new family unit I am now apart of.  I am now living with a friend, to save some money on rent and also help him with some of his own living expenses.   In some respects it could be like college all over again.  Yet what makes this situation even more interesting though is that he has an 8-year old daughter living with us a few days a week and alternating weekends.

As I was sitting and listening to Rudy’s sermon, and he was talking of what the Christian family looks like today in our homes, this picture of my “new” family unit kept coming to mind.  What does my life look like to this young girl who is beginning to form concepts and ideas of what a Christian looks like? Based on those adults she encounters on a daily basis, is she seeing what love, grace, kindness and forgiveness looks like?

So now, I suppose even more so, I have to watch how I live and act on an everyday basis because someone else is watching.   I need to also be prepared to give an answer to every question that may arise.  Hopefully, if I mess up, there is some grace and forgiveness there not only from her; but from my roommate as well.

For example, last night, I needed some forgiveness and grace shown.   I went outside to move my car from the street back into our driveway after a friend had left.  I went out with no shoes.  As I began moving my car into its spot, my foot slipped on the gas pedal and instead of slowing down, it sped up and hit the garage door.  I am fine. The car is fine other than a bit of paint and a small dent.  The garage door however…not so much.  It will need replaced.  It suffered the worst damage, along with my pride.  I needed forgiveness and grace and needed it now.  I felt stupid, yet my roommate was very cool about it.  Despite damaging an aspect of his house he showed tons of grace and forgiveness. I owned up to my mistake, told him I was sorry, and will pay for the damages.  He forgave me and showed tons of kindness and support.

My roomate is a Christian and so am I.  He was able to demonstrate without a second thought what a Christ would do.  Hopefully I did as well.  As Pastor Rudy stated in his sermon and my roommate demonstrated, we must act with love, kindness, grace, forgiveness and the like.  The world tells may tell us different.  Yet that is why the concept of a family that holds to Christian values is so needed today.  With that type of character displayed in the story I described, it is much easier to repair a garage door and even the brokenness of our world as well.

When saying you love Jesus isn’t enough

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This week, one of our fellow bloggers, Bob Trube, spoke to our congregation this past Sunday on John 8:31-49.  He brought out a phrase that I have heard numerous times.  “I love Jesus, but it’s the church that I hate.”  Powerful words are they not?  Have you heard that before?  Maybe you have even stated it yourself a time or two.

mattI know it is a phrase that I have said more than once.  Sometimes our view of Jesus and the church can be so radically different.  Jesus is to be loving.  Some in the church can hate.  Jesus is to welcome all.  Sometimes the church denies people access into their “click” because they have different opinions, thoughts, political views or even look different.  Jesus is to be accepting of us just the way we are.  The church tells us we have to be like them or go to hell.

Here is the issue I have with what I have just stated, although some of these statements may be true, they are not true of every church.  I also think that although Jesus is loving, welcoming and accepting of us coming to Him just as we are, it does not mean He will not want us to change.

Mark 1:15 says,  “The time has come,” he said.  “The kingdom of God has come near.  Repent and believe the good news!”  (NIV).  These are the words of Jesus.  Notice that He says repent first.  Repent is to turn around.  To do a 180.  To change.  To be different than you once were…then believe.  We often flip these in their order.  When we do so we often never get to the repent part because we think that the belief is enough.  Yet Jesus calls those who believe in Him to a lifestyle change.

In today’s passage as Jesus confronts the believers that He is talking to, they are angry when he tells them that they are not acting upon what they know is right.  He tells them they are still slaves to their sin (v. 34-38).  He tells them that they need to change their ways.  This is the part of Christianity that EVERYONE has a problem with.  If we could all just live the exact same lifestyle as before we came to Christ, then all would be good right?  Yet, Jesus (and the church) demands more of us.  Saying you love Jesus is just one of the first steps in the process.

So are we changing?  Are we being transformed by Christ?  Are we as the church living to the example that Christ called us to?  We are all sinners in need of His grace.  We all need His forgiveness.  We are all no better than another.  Jesus does love us all, desires to welcome us all into His kingdom and is accepting of us just as we are when we come to Him.  I hope you will consider these things if you are a part of the church or not.  But make sure there is more to it.  Jesus does desire us to change and grow.  If we don’t then what is the point?