The God who is

In fact, I have to reblog this!

your mess, His Message

I’m reading Jack Hayford’s “Manifest Presence”. At one point he talks about how we worship God simply because of who He is. Hayford references Exodus 3:17, in which God tells Moses, “I Am Who I Am”. I Am—well, I thought, if that’s good enough for Moses, it’s good enough for me! Then I read the whole third chapter of Exodus. This is the burning bush episode where God reveals Himself to Moses and sends him to bring the Israelites out of Egypt. And “I Am” definitely wasn’t enough for Moses: he spends most of the chapter going, “but…”
 
Several things strike me about this section. The first thing is that God alone is reason enough to be obedient. The second is that we always second-guess this. The third is that even when we do, instead of picking someone else for the task, God equips us—with staffs that…

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Sleepless

This is not one of my considered posts.

Seminary’s out for the summer, and I’m going home later today.

My phone rang at 02:05 this morning. It was over on the desk. “No one I know would be so inconsiderate,” I thought. “It must be some corporate robot trying to sell me something.” But then, “What if it’s an emergency?” So I stumbled over to it. The display said John Smith. “Huh? He must be calling me in his sleep.” So I went back to bed. And the phone rings again, and I hear this voice calling my name. It’s not God. It’s ‘John Smith’, and he’s at the pedestrian gate to the street, which is right outside my window. I get it. He’s without his gate key and wants in to the seminary residence. So I go out and let them in.

‘John Smith’ is reeking of alcohol and unsteady on his feet. He thanks me and heads on to his flat. Bear in mind that this is a Methodist Seminary; we don’t drink.

I’m supposed to report his misconduct. I’m not going to do that, in spite of the fact that I am liable to discipline if I don’t.

What I am going to do is knock on his door at a reasonable hour and firmly and nicely point out to him that he’s made a mistake. This isn’t a matter of his personal ethics or what’s acceptable between him and God, this is a breach of seminary rules. Then I’m going to warn him that if he makes me a witness to his misconduct again, I will have to report it. And that in that case I will report both incidents, not just the second one.

There are aggravating circumstances to this first incident which I am not going to put down here. I will just say that they have nothing to do with being woken at 02:05: we are called to ministry, and that is always going to happen, for bad reasons as well as good ones.

But I do wonder whether I am taking the right line in this. I would appreciate readers’ views.

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Is Western Society Headless?

wrinkled old lady

This is not
Ouma Van Niekerk,
but
it is very like her.

I remember Ouma (Granny) Van Niekerk. She was old, very old to us; we were little kids then. I remember her demand for quiet on Sunday afternoons, and how proper we had to be in church. I remember her kindness, her careful frailty, her knitting and crochet work, and most of all I remember her old-fashioned, home made chicken pie, redolent with cloves, an aroma of love which drifted through the dim interior for most of the day before we finally sat down to supper. I remember her stories, and most of all I remember her bitter anger against the British.

Ouma Van Niekerk really was old. She had lived through the second Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902) when she was in her early teens. The British invented concentration camps then, and put the Boers’ wives and children in them, because they could not catch the fast-moving commandos (mounted volunteer Boer militia), and their families were supporting them. Ouma could remember how the English starved the families in the camps, and fed them “ground glass” in their food. They refused to give them medical treatment when they got sick. She remembered the funerals, one after the other.
History tells us that perhaps 20 000 women and children died in these camps, within a period of 18 months.

I grew up with a perspective on the idea of concentration camps that Ouma Van Niekerk gave me, together with a clear sense of right and wrong, and of personal responsibility, which came from my parents as well as from Ouma and other adults.

Modern society has many aspects which are ugly. One of them is the loss to us of our grandparents.

There are multiple causes: the dissolution of the nuclear family, which limits available niches which the elderly can occupy; the cult of eternal youth, which gives rise to the desire to deny and hide old age away; the perception that we have a right to self-expression and self-satisfaction, which allows us to believe that rejecting the responsibility to care for ageing relatives is acceptable.

There are multiple effects, almost all of them bad.

For example, a family loses an additional member, and now has less resilience. Many old people, like Ouma Van Niekerk, have acquired a certain amount of wisdom, or at least perspective on life, simply by surviving. Without their contribution, a family battling through some crisis may not have enough resources to win through. The social cushioning of that family member who knows when they just need to allow someone to blow off steam, the wisdom and insight into a problem, the additional adult who can look after the kids when Mom just can’t take another hour of the screaming toddler; these are the resources I mean. And, too often, without just these resources, another family unit falls apart.

Since there is no other place for Gran, she is put in a ‘home’, often out of sight and out of mind. When I say there is ‘no other place’, I mean that none of the members of the broken home are prepared to make a place for her; nor are they prepared to put up with the inconvenience and emotional cost of living with her. (We can’t go to the seaside; what would we do with Grandma? Has Grandma wet the bed again?  Where am I going to find a clean sheet? Yes, Grandma, you have  told us how you met Grandad. About a thousand times.)

Guilt kicks in, since we know, at some level, that this ‘home’ is far from the ideal we wish existed. So we don’t visit much, since having to see how she lives makes us feel worse.

The kids grow up knowing only mother and – too often – divorced father, and quite likely one or two step-parents, as the failure of one marriage does not quench the hope of lifelong happiness, nor the fact of loneliness, nor, perhaps, the need for additional income.

The childrens’ only adult role models are their failed parents, and, perhaps, equally unsuccessful teachers.

Mother, at 43, still occasionally wears miniskirts, and might be seen at singles bars which hold people of a steadily greater average age. Mother never saw Great-grandma ageing with dignity, moving from stage to stage of life and always with a contribution to make; great-gran is in a home somewhere, and we the children have never visited her; she is almost a fiction, not real to us. Grandma has a new husband, but we can’t stand his children, so we don’t see them much either. Tolerance is not something our parents know much about.
One of our teachers at school is getting divorced. Apparently his wife left him for a younger man. Dad’s got a new sports car, have you seen it?

Young people have no history, no tradition. Where Grandad would have filled them in on where they came from, and Grandma would have told them family stories, there’s the TV. The box offers ‘role models’ like Michael Jackson, P Diddy, Paris Hilton and Justin Timberlake. Maybe there’s a reason kids today have trouble making sense of their lives in the real world.

People are growing up believing that anything painful, anything demanding effort, anything that is less than perfect, is actually intolerable. They expect life to work out; some of us might say that they believe the world owes them a living.

There has been no one in their lives who could tell them any different.
Do we wonder that they cannot make a go of marriage, of family?

The family falls apart, and the people who could have made a difference are merely photographs in a dusty album lying in the attic – or on the town dump.

So I wonder, and I am asking you to think about the question as well:

How much of our troubles are due to putting grandma in the old age home?

Of course this is far from the only cause. But has it not made a significant contribution?

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Moving Elsewhere?

Due to the recent change implemented by WordPress in the way that the WP Reader handles posts, combined with the “this is the way it’s going to be, get used to it” response by WP to the complaints by many users, I may discontinue this blog.

It depends on whether WP reverts to the (perfectly functional) way things were,
by the end of this month.
Or not.

 

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Feral Soul

A Word for the feral wanderers – I love it!

Shootin' the Breeze

Like a lost dog

Or barn cat

No longer tame

No longer fed

Hunting instead

Without a master

To provide

Sustenance

Security

Stability

Trusting no one

Completely

Not even itself

As it tries

To be safe

Hungering

Not only for food

But contentment,

For company

And for love

All the while

Ignoring

Something more —

An invitation

From the Master

On his porch

The Master calls,

Offering all

The feral soul

Longs to have

All is ready

At the place

Where the Master

Kindly waits

With all you need

There is a way

To find a home:

By coming

When the Master calls

For you to be his own

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O LORD, our servant

“Jesus is Lord!”, proclaim preachers and T-shirts, bumper stickers and wall plaques.
“Give your life to Jesus”, calls the pastor, “and you will find that His yoke is easy, and His burden light. Make Jesus Lord of your life, and you will be received into His kingdom.”

So when we go to church we pray, “Lord, please forgive us our sins.” And we sing, “What a Friend we have in Jesus…. take it to the Lord in prayer!” And we pray for His Church, that He will bless and strengthen us. And we pray for the world, that He will save the lost. And we pray for Aunt Dorothy, that He will heal her from her sickness, and for cousin James, that God will help him to be able to stop drinking, and for our pastor who is a lovely person, even if he does preach too long sometimes, and we even pray for that mean woman at work, who is always mocking our faith, that God will reveal Himself to her, so that she can also be saved.

Sometimes, the pastor suggests to us
that it might be nice if we got up off our sports- and TV-addicted behinds and did something for God, and of course we agree. We make the donation, or we wear the ribbon, or – if we are very committed – we even go down and help out at the soup kitchen
one evening.

And then we go back to watching TV in our free time.

We love watching soaps and competitions and reality shows. Generations. Jeopardy. Survivor. The Amazing Race. And we know which competitors are Christians, because we often hear them, as they struggle along, asking Jesus to help them to figure out the answer or help them to get through the obstacle or even to help them to win.

Have you ever thought that to gasp out, “Jesus, please help us to beat the competition!” is a prayer that makes Jesus Christ little more than a lucky charm?

If Jesus really is my Lord, then why am I always asking Him to do stuff for me?
I know that He is God and is infinitely more able than I am, and I know that He loves me and delights in looking out for me and helping me.

But there is a world of difference between Jesus choosing to don the towel and serve His disciples as a slave would –
and my treating Him in such a way that it pushes Him into that role in my life, and
only that role in my life.

 If Jesus is my Lord, shouldn’t it be I who puts on the towel to wash His feet,
and I who serves at His table, and i who ministers to His Body?

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Ministers come in different flavours

I’m going back to a couple of previous posts in this one, and then I want to add something new.

First, Considering Others. I did say I was going to let readers know how things went from there, so here’s the update:
I think that there has been a small but permanent change in the way I relate to other people. Every so often I have something like a flashback to those weeks when I was consciously practicing to consider others as better than myself, and the reminder returns to the forefront of my mind. But even when that does not happen, there are little flickers of a warning light, which make me realise that I am about to interrupt or speak over someone (I am very bad at that still, but getting better now!), or that I am thinking that they don’t know what they are talking about (well, perhaps I am wrong and they know more about themselves than I know about them) – that is the kind of thing that crosses my mind, which never used to happen. So, there is some growing going on, in spite of me.

Secondly, after writing Different I have been more aware of the need to see others in the light of their values, their personal history, and their culture. I also have my values, personal history that has shaped me, and my culture, which have all been known to get in the way of others’ appreciation of me! (Maybe read that one again, it’s an unusual angle from which to consider the idea. Especially for me.) And to build upon this notion, which is central to the “Different” post, I had an epiphany this morning. (That’s a minister’s fancy word for saying a little light bulb lit up above my head. But it does have the advantage of being a lot shorter.) And that was that “ministers come in different flavours”.

What I mean by that is that I am not black, or female, or liberal. And “Alice” is not male, or reserved, or old. And “Paul” is not confident, dynamic, or South African. But Paul is gentle, and patient, and a wonderful pastoral minister. And Alice is loud, aggressive, and challenging. And I am learning to be caring, considerate, and faithful. God knows us all; God has called us all. Because God wants ministers of many different kinds to serve the many different needs of His Church.

I was inclined to think that I had an understanding of what makes a good minister. I was wrong. My understanding was that what I valued in a minister was what made a good minister. In the ministers of His Church, God wants a far broader range of qualities (and flaws!) than just those that I think are important. Many of us have our favourite minister or pastor or preacher in mind when we think we know what we need in our church leaders. But ministers come in different flavours, and if we are to be one whole body, then we need them all. A church needs ministers of different qualities at different stages of her life. We are all equally valuable to Christ’s Church.

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The Picture vs. The Thing

Really clear, really helpful – and really important. Reblogging. Thanks!

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The Paradox of Our Time

Morning Story and Dilbert

The paradox of our time in history is that we have taller buildings, but shorter tempers; wider freeways, but narrower viewpoints. We spend more, but have less; we buy more, but enjoy it less. We have bigger houses and smaller families; more conveniences, but less time. We have more degrees but less sense; more knowledge, but less judgement; more experts, yet more problems; more medicine, but less wellness.

We drink too much, smoke too much, spend too recklessly, laugh too little, drive too fast, get too angry too quickly, stay up too late, get up too tired, read too little, watch TV too much, and pray too seldom. We have multiplied our possessions, but reduced our values. We talk too much, love too seldom and hate too often.

We’ve learned how to make a living, but not a life. We’ve added years to life, not life to years. We’ve been…

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Playing the grace card

All too often these days people – especially in South Africa – will “play the race card”.
A judge, perhaps, is caught driving while drunk. Ah, no, he claims, he was never drunk. It was the white traffic officer who was out to get him just because he is a black man. 

I saw a newspaper story this morning: the taxman is after Julius Malema for R16 million in back taxes. Malema (the former leader of the ANC Youth League) has recently formed his own political party, the Economic Freedom Fighters party (EFF), after being kicked out of the ANC. So Malema is now claiming that his tax debt is a frame-up by “the Afrikaners and the Indians.” Since these are the  two ethnic groups which many black South Africans are most likely to regard with suspicion, pardon me if I view this latest claim sceptically.
I should note that the race card works both ways. Some white “sportsmen” have also tried it on.

Playing the “grace card” works in much the same way.

A minister or a church leader or member gets caught doing something they should not be doing:
Perhaps a minister is using his position to pressure young girls in the church to sleep with him. Perhaps an unmarried local preacher is having a baby. Perhaps a society steward has a drinking problem, or a gambling problem. Perhaps there is an abusive relationship in a marriage. Perhaps a circuit superintendent is openly lining his own pockets with church funds.
It is sad to say it, but every one of these examples is real, and recent.

Then, when the church finds out about it and angrily asks the guilty party to answer for their actions, the first response is usually to deny everything and challenge the church leadership to prove the charges. In the event that the church actually can show that there is a case to answer, then the offender presents a penitent front and plays the grace card:

“We’re all sinners. We all need God’s grace. Why pick on me? Let the one who is without sin throw the first stone…”

And, usually, he or she gets off with a warning. Perhaps a pastoral commission is held. But usually, pastoral commissions are instructed to find ways of healing the situation, rather than to apply the discipline of the church.

There is a trend in our church today to put mercy first…. and last, and always.
I must ask what that looks like to those who have left the church or been driven from it in despair; worse still, what it looks like to those who have never been believers at all?

I observe the easy grace being both preached and practiced in our church with considerable dismay, and I wish that we could find the courage to practice discipline as well as mercy.

I believe grace is free. But it should never be cheap.

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Considering Others

Philippians 2:1-3
So if there is any encouragement in Christ,
any incentive of love,
any participation in the Spirit,
any affection and sympathy,
[then] complete my joy by being of the same mind,
having the same love,
being in full accord and
of one mind.
Do nothing from selfishness or conceit,
but in humility
count others better than yourselves.

(RSV)

 God has been challenging me lately. 

I have always responded to the final command of this text by asking myself, “But what if they really aren’t better than me? What then? Do I still have to count them as being better than me? Wouldn’t that be hypocritical?” – and then rapidly moving on to think of something else!

But in our church service on Tuesday (I’m at seminary; we have a lot of church! 🙂 ) the thought came back to me: consider others as being better than yourself.

When I came back to the Biblical text, I saw Jesus the Son of Man doing just that. He was and is Lord of all – yet He placed Himself at the service of everyone and anyone, “nobodies” included. (There are, truly, no “nobodies” – but there are people who have suffered under such oppression that they have begun to believe this about themselves.)

So it is not so strange that He actually expects His disciples to do the same.

And, you know what? I have known (a very few) Christians who actually do this, who have grown into having this attitude as natural to them. Such people appear to have an innate respect for others, an openness and concern and approachability which I wish that I had.

So I have accepted this challenge:

On meeting each and every person through my day,
as the very first action within myself at that meeting,
to consciously place each person I meet in such respect as recognises:
that God made this person just as he wanted them to be;
that He made that person in His image;
that He gave them the gifts He planned for them to have;
that Jesus died on the Cross just for them, as for me, because
God loves and values that person at least as much as He loves and values me:

Jesus is not only my Redeemer. He is our  Redeemer.

For each and every person I encounter, of whatever position in life,
the first action within myself must be:
to place that person above myself, in this position of respect.

You know what?

We live too fast!

So I have had to slow down a bit. I have also had to repent several times a day, when I forget to do this, which is more often than not.

But I am not giving up so easily; I will persevere.

Not because I am so capable, but because I believe in the grace of the Lord Jesus, the Christ, which is sufficient for my weakness.

Just let me share with you, I have already seen it making a difference.
I have seen it making a difference in the way I treat people, the way I speak to people, the way I respond to people.
And I have seen it making a difference in the way people respond to me.
That is – when I do remember to “count others better than myself”!

So – I’ll let you know how it goes. In the meanwhile, I would appreciate your support in prayer.

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NOT A GOD HAS WOUNDS BUT THOU

You want to visit Thin Worn Image. You really do, trust me. This is a tiny sample of a pile of treasures!

Thin Worn Image

 

Jesus of the Scars

by Edward Shillito (1872 – 1948)

If we have never sought, we seek Thee now;

Thine eyes burn through the dark, our only stars;

We must have sight of thorn-pricks on Thy brow,

We must have Thee, O Jesus of the Scars.

The heavens frighten us; they are too calm;

In all the universe we have no place.

Our wounds are hurting us; where is the balm?

Lord Jesus, by Thy Scars, we claim Thy grace.

If, when the doors are shut, Thou drawest near,

Only reveal those hands, that side of Thine;

We know to-day what wounds are, have no fear,

Show us Thy Scars, we know the countersign.

The other gods were strong; but Thou wast weak;

They rode, but Thou didst stumble to a throne;

But to our wounds only God’s wounds can speak,

And not a god has wounds, but Thou…

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Old-Fashioned Marriage

On the lighter side of serious…

Shootin' the Breeze

I have not been availing myself of the full capabilities of cell phone devices, according to what I see in the news.

Anthony Weiner is running for mayor of New York City.  Previously, he served in Congress, but resigned in 2011 due to a scandal involving exchanging sexually suggestive texts and racy photos with several women.  Recently, another young woman informed the media that he  had similar communications with her last summer and into the fall of 2012, including telephone sex, whatever that is.  Apparently, Mr. Weiner, whose name is no joke, has one of those fancy phones.  My own phone is not that attractive to me.   Mr. Weiner has a different  contract than the one I have with Verizon.  He might have T Mobile.  Or Sprint could be good for his active lifestyle.

Candidate Weiner is married.

His wife, Huma, who works for Hillary Clinton, a woman who…

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13 Tips on Disagreeing With Love and Respect

Kingdom Living

After blogging for the last seven years learning how to navigate through disagreements has been a real learning process for me. Here are 13 tips for learning how to listen well and disagree in a cordial manner.

1 – Make sure you really are disagreeing. A small percentage of disagreements are people who agree but just aren’t communicating well. Sometimes people talk past each other. Other times people are emphasizing different aspects of the same point and are really just wanting the person on the other end to say, “Ok, I see what you are saying too” when the honest truth is they don’t disagree at all.

2 – Be a learner. If you think you have all the answers, expect many disagreements and expect them to go poorly. There is little more frustrating than discussing things with someone who can never say they are wrong or that they have…

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Different

I was talking with a friend this morning about an upcoming four-day mission to a rural area, and our conversation got side-tracked, which is not unusual. But he said something which, if I was a cartoon figure, would have produced a little light-bulb above my head. And I thought that this was quite an important idea:

We are all different.

Hey, let me finish! I know that’s not a terribly profound discovery, it’s just the introductory statement, ok?

You see, there are implications. One of them being that perhaps, since you are not me, you might already be aware of what I only just figured out.

Being different means that we have different gifts, different qualities, different strengths and weaknesses. In personality, but also spiritually – and culturally, and as a result of our personal histories or life experiences (or lack of same), in our educations, and in the set of friends and relations who form our support networks, and in our ethics and values. 

How do I, as a Christian, look at fellow-Christians?

When we started at seminary, I was horrified by most of my co-seminarians. How could the church possibly  have thought that these people were suitable as potential ministers? “They” were (and are) loud, rowdy, appeared to have no sense of respect for the consecrated space of our rather impressive chapel, and many made no secret of their ambition to, if not enrich themselves out of ministry, at least to see that they were comfortable. Many of “them” differ radically from me in terms of what constitutes acceptable sexual conduct for single Christians, or what accommodation is or is not possible with African Traditional Religion and its practitioners (think of prophecy or divination by spirit possession, propitiation of ancestral spirits by animal sacrifice, etc.) Some seem very immature and graceless, others have unresolved issues which result in their being very touchy on such issues as chauvinism, racism, or abuse. 

Of course, I have none of these faults!!
(Mine are other faults, far less serious – in my eyes!)

As time went by and I got to know people, I began to see that most of those I had at first judged as fatally flawed had very good qualities as well. Perhaps the church had, after all been right? At any rate, I came to regard nearly all of my fellows as having at least as much potential to be good ministers of the Gospel of Jesus Christ as I have. And, to be fair, each of us is still a work in progress.

Here is the important bit:

The more people are different from me,
the more I need to borrow their spectacles to see them with.

If I look at a Christian sister or brother with my values, from the point of view of my culture and my background, I will be judging them as if they were me.

And they are not me. God loves them and has chosen them just as He has done for me. She or he has been bought with the same price paid for me.

In my value-set, certain things are as Law: if you transgress my Law, then you are lost, then you are walking in sin, and you need to repent and mend your ways.

Make no mistake, Scriptural holiness is not modified by culture or background or characteristics or modernity. The measure of Scriptural holiness, God’s plumb-line, applies to all of us. Equally.

But my personal value-set includes things which come out of my culture, my personality, my community, my history; things that are NOT Scriptural – but which I venerate as if they were!

When that causes me to judge or reject a fellow-Christian, then I need to think about taking off my cultural/ethical/historical/tribal/habitual/personal spectacles and putting on those of my brother, or sister.

Only when I am looking at that person with insight into their life, from their point of view as far as I can see, might  I be in a position to say whether, in the light of Scripture, there is something that needs to be corrected in their lives. And even then, that is “might”.

Because only they know themselves, and only God knows them entirely. And – reminder to self – God does not always have the same priority list of necessary corrections that I do.

Furthermore, God has made it quite clear that only He is in a position to judge you, me – and them.

So what I really need to be doing is to consider what values I have been making into idols. And it can be very instructive, if sometimes a little painful, to consider how I might appear, when looked at through the lenses of others. 

It is almost always, I have found, better to be looking at one’s own faults and failings than to dwell on those of others.

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Lord of Love

Image

I am the LORD, I am your God.
Lo, I love you with all My heart.
Let Me serve you, let Me wash you.
With My body let Me feed you,
let Me pour out My blood for you;
take all your sin and make you new.

I am the LORD, I am your God.
Entreat Me not to stay on high –
I choose to kneel upon the floor!
I choose, resolved, My love to pour
like ointment out; to care for you,
and hold you close, for evermore.

Image courtesy of http://breadsite.org.

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The Plans We Make

Can you get great theology and the giggles at the same time? Oh, yes!

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I love you

Three little words, to give voice to what fills and overflows from your heart.
Three words to communicate a great abundance of caring, emotion, desire, closeness.
Sometimes I think it’s a pity we aren’t telepathic. Then I come to my senses and realise what a good thing we aren’t, at least in our present broken and sinful condition!
But I have been thinking about not being telepathic, and what that means for we who love at least some others.
It’s our (22nd) wedding anniversary tomorrow.
If I leave “I love you” to telepathy, I will hurt she who is dearest to me in the world.
No, I will be writing her a special poem, I will be cooking a special dinner for her, I will be doing all I can to demonstrate, to reveal, to share openly with her the yearning toward her, the care for her, the love and desire for her that stll burns in my heart.
I don’t write this to say what a wonderful husband I am. To tell the truth she has had to endure years of neglect, years when I went through dark depression, she has had to carry the load of caring for a bedridden husband with a broken spine, and she now must be the breadwinner in the family and provide for her husband who is, effectively not earning while he is at seminary. Do I sound like a great catch? I trust not!
And yet, I have to find ways to show her that I love her and appreciate her. Not just tomorrow, but every day that we have together.
So I am writing all this not to say, “What a good husband am I!”,
but to illustrate different ways in which we can be visible witnesses to the “I love you” which is afire in our hearts. Because we are not telepathic, and most of the time it is not enough to just say the words.
I’m not speaking only of romantic love; it is true of all love relationships.
As a minister, if I love my congregation, I must find more than words to show them that, or they may not know it. If I appreciate the labour of the cafeteria ladies, how will they know that unless I make it clear to them?
So, my point is this: if you love someone, find a way to show him or her or them how you feel, or they may never know it.

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You Are Not–And Never Will Be–In Control. But It’s Okay!

Some very good thoughts in this. Read the rest!

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