Only In Love…

“…then I can bury myself entirely in you, O mysterious God”

This morning my prayerful reflection was written by Karl Rahner SJ. It is a beautiful invitation into love, which is the presence and form of God.

God of My Life

Only in love can I find you,my God.
In love the gates of my soul spring open,
…..allowing me to breathe a new air of freedom.
…..and forget my own petty self.
In love my whole being streams forth
…..out of the rigid confines of narrowness and anxious self-assertion,
…..which makes me a prisoner of my own poverty and emptiness.
In love all the powers of my soul flow out toward you,
wanting never more to return,
but to lose themselves completely in you,
since by your love you are the inmost center of my heart,
closer to me than I am to myself.

But when I love you,
when I manage to break out of the narrow circle of self
and leave behind the restless agony of unanswered questions,
when my blinded eyes no longer look merely from afar
and from the outside upon your unapproachable brightness,
and much more when you yourself, O Incomprehensible One,
have become through love the inmost center of my life,
then I can bury myself entirely in you, O mysterious God,
and with myself all my questions.

Pain In The Ash

The season of Lent is almost here, it begins next week and flows from Ash Wednesday.

Interestingly enough, the huge celebrations of Fat Tuesday sprang up as a reaction to the imposition of religious ritual concerning the observance of Lent…a season in the church year whose focus is on repentance and realignment with God.

In and of itself, having a time of spiritual realignment is good for everyone…however, when the grip of religion laces its fingers around anything, it tends to strangle out the beauty and grace, and in their place are born rules, regulations and legalism.

Fat Tuesday, then, became the last opportunity before the 40 days of Lent to go and sin wildly. As I ruminate on this, isn’t that always what happens in our lives when rules replace relationship? When we live by a check-list of dos and don’ts, we begin to think and respond in contractual terms instead of relational exchanges. When this happens, we experience Fat Tuesday’s surrounding every area of our life.

For instance, when a marriage becomes contractual exchange, then love is something that is earned in light of certain actions having been done well. And, contractually, if certain actions are not done, or are not done to the expectation of the other person, then love is contractually withheld until those things are accomplished.

This is not a marriage though, it is a contract based on rules. A relationship that is based on an unconditional covenant understands that sometimes things don’t always happen or get done the way we want, desire, or expect, but since the marriage is based upon covenant love, love is always infused regardless of contractual performance.

You might also see the Fat Tuesday effect in marriage happen when a spouse is bound by duty to “do something” “be something” or “go somewhere he/she doesn’t want to go.”  Since he/she did their contractual duty they feel justified to over indulge some area as a “reward” for their work. Maybe a husband finds justification in going on an extended hunting trip because he just got word that his In-laws are coming to stay for an extended period, so he needs to get out-of-town for a while before that happens and his In-laws rules cramp his style…or perhaps a wife limits out the credit card on a spa day because her husband’s college buddies are due the next day, and since she is being the “good wife” and allowing it, she’s gonna splurge!

Do you see how contractually we live? Do you realize contractual living, or religious living results in the creation of Fat Tuesday’s? When genuine love and relationship fills our world, we can enjoy life, have fun and not feel guilty about it! Isn’t that a novel concept. Religion creates Fat Tuesday’s…Fat Tuesday’s create guilt and shame…Guilt and shame turn a powerful season of grace and alignment like Lent into a ritualistic experience of dos and don’t devoid of their real meaning.

When we approach God contractually, we turn something that is holy, cool, and cosmically awesome like Ash Wednesday or Lent, into a check list of contractual duties to appease God into liking us again…This is so far away from the God revealed through Christ.

If we would live in a sense of daily alignment, in other words, simply realizing that God is for us, not against us, and that as we make mistakes, or perhaps over-indulge in something that isn’t good for us, we stop, and have a relational conversation of confession, repentance and forgiveness. God isn’t standing by with the lightning bolt of contractual misuse ready to smite us, but rather is simply waiting for us to say…“man, I blew that one, I’m sorry, please forgive me..”

In that moment, the spirit of religion is thrown out the window, and a relationship is born. Religion focuses on rules to keep you in line. God invites you into a relationship, where the interactions are based upon a mutuality of love.

Because I am so grateful that God loves me on my best days as well as my most abysmal days, I look forward to a season like Lent not in such a way that compels me to go out and get bombed out of my skull because I won’t be able to drink for the next 40 days, but instead, I long to have a season offered to me where I can realign my thinking process with God’s…Where I can experience grace in the midst of economic trials…Where I can be reminded that God doesn’t care about how well I perform for Him, only that I love Him, and He is thrilled that I simply showed up!

Maybe what I am saying is that an excessive emphasis on rules naturally finds its outlet in sin or doing things that we normally wouldn’t do if we lived relationally. Perhaps Fat Tuesday’s exist because the religious rules push people where they don’t need to be pushed. Maybe, just maybe, some of the dumb choices that are made in the Fat Tuesday’s of life wouldn’t happen if we understood God relationally and religiously…hmmm, I think I’m right.

What would be even more powerful is if we all realized that God intends our lives to fully experience…and good times. Sure there are some incredibly hard valley’s we will go through, but the religionists among us seem to think that that is all that God wants us to experience…”Stay in the lines, only use these colors, don’t have fun if at all possible, chin up, gut in…etc.”

As I think of Jesus, and all his human interactions, I think of how often He was at parties, amongst friends, enjoying the things of life…not just sitting in Temple or Synagogue assailing Himself religiously. Jesus had an incredible sense of humor that is lost in translation from the Aramaic and Greek into English. He enjoyed living, had fun, and avoided the mistakes of the Fat Tuesday’s of life while enjoying all the celebrations of this life.

So on Wednesday this week (Ash Wednesday) take some time to remember that you are human, a creation of God’s, made of earth, and that one day you will return to the elements of this planetary creation. In light of that truth, ask God to help you realign your heart and soul to His, not because you are doing all the right things, but because He is such a great God who loves you and will never leave you in the hard moments of life.

If you’re in the Seattle area, come and hang with me for an Ash Wednesday service at Snoqualmie Valley Alliance…it starts at 6:00 and will be interactive, reflective and powerful, you won’t want to miss it!

And guess what, you won’t walk away feeling guilty (that’s religion) but you will leave feeling the freedom that comes from our God of Grace and Truth.


Ready To Lead?

It has been said that “everything rises and falls on leadership.” This is true, but how do you know if you are ready to lead. Perhaps if more people were aware of the state of their soul before attempting to lead, there would be fewer wounds and war stories.

I have noticed that some people have too low an opinion of their leadership. They don’t feel ready, equipped or gifted for the task at hand, when in reality, they are ready and have enough humility to lead well. Others, conversely, believe they have been endowed with the abilities of superman. They quickly jump at, and taker over, leadership initiatives when they would do well to slow down and grow in some key areas before attempting to lead others.

So that leaves the question, “How Do I Know When I Am Ready To lead?”

In 2 Corinthian 4:7-12 there are some powerful thoughts about leadership:

But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. 10 We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. 11 For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body. 12 So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.

Notice that leadership is not without trial, struggle, or pain. Even having a great cause does not mean that everyone will like you or agree with what you are saying. The health of a leader is crucial in order to navigate the ideologies and opinions of the day. In Paul’s life I notice the following areas to reflect upon concerning leadership readiness.

1. Are you self-aware and honest with yourself? In other-words, do you know that you are not perfect, that you have areas of deficiency and brokeness that need to be addressed, worked through and healed. One will never be a great leader if they are not ruthlessly honest with themselves about themselves. Not only is it the portal to leading, it is the first step towards healing. If the broken areas are not addressed, those hurts, habits and hangups will be transferred to those you lead, creating a seriously dysfunctional team. A leader with no self-awareness will hurt those they are trying to lead.

2. Are you connected to others in community? Being in community and accountability with others provides the safe environment where people you trust can reveal your blind spots…the wake you leave behind you relationally, vocationally and spiritually. Most people have many acquaintances, but few deep friendships. A healthy living community is one where you laugh, play and serve together being committed to helping each other become the best they can be. A leader that is not in community will not see how their wake affects the people they lead.

3. Are you willing to decrease so others can increase? One of my favorite leadership quotes comes from Lao Tzu where he states:

“A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves.”

Are you ready to take on a role or responsibility that isn’t “up-front” and highly “visible?” A great leader helps others towards self-epiphanies. Not that all roles are “unseen” but are you willing to decrease so others can increase. The best leaders surround themselves with men and women who are great at what they do, and they facilitate them to do even better, even if they don’t get the strokes for it. A leader who is not willing to decrease will use others to serve them and not the mission.

4. Are you consistent in the small things? Jesus said that “If you have been faithful in little, then you will be made master of much.” Are you willing to do the small tasks that you have now, and are you doing them well? As a leaders proves faithful with the part she has, then more will be given. If you have an attitude that the “small stuff” doesn’t matter, then it’s time to go back to question number 1. A leader who isn’t faithful in the small stuff will not be faithful in the big stuff.

5. Are You Liquid.  Effective leadership for the 21st century is not rigid, but liquid. We live in a time where fluidity in the norm and flexibility is crucial. Gracefully and patiently moving with and alongside those you lead reveals the calmness of your soul, how attached you are to “things” and how will you will deal with things when coloring inside the lines doesn’t work. Flexibility does not mean the removal of expectations of vision, rather it is harnessing the power of the river to forge new ways that flow best in the surrounding atmosphere. A rigid leader might have some obedience, but he will never have all the creativity and potential that comes with fluidity. A leader who isn’t liquid will frustrate and limit the potential of the people they lead.

Spend some time reflecting on these questions concerning your leadership. As you reflect you are actually practicing question #1 which is the gateway to the rest!