Heaven Without Love?

In his book, God is the Gospel, John Piper asks, “If you could have heaven with no sickness, and with all the friends you ever had on earth, and all the food you ever liked, and all the leisure activities you ever enjoyed, and all the natural beauties you ever saw, all the physical pleasures you ever tasted, and no human conflict or natural disasters, could you be satisfied with heaven if Christ was not there?”

I thought about that question for a moment and quickly decided absolutely not. Without Christ, there would be no love, and there are not enough wonderful things in this world to take the place of one moment of love. I’d rather have the mess here with Christ’s love than an eternity of what I want.

The absence of love is hell, God is love, and His presence is heaven. If Christ isn’t in heaven, then it isn’t heaven. I had this discussion with a dear friend this week, and we decided that heaven without God would be a field full of happy California cows chewing cud and looking at the beautiful scenery. It may be bovine bliss, but humans are created to love. Without love, having everything I wanted would leave me empty and searching. Cows are contented when fed, and so are humans who have given up on love.

Happy Cows?

Without love, life is lifeless, and heaven is heavenless. Love is what makes the difference in life. I cannot make others love me, but I can love them with the help of the Holy Spirit. God could make me love Him, but He knows love doesn’t work that way. He could easily give me everything I want and make all things perfect, but how would I learn about love? My heart’s been broken, but I still believe in love. Loving and being loved is what makes life worth living. Love reigns supreme in heaven, and that’s because it’s God’s home. I get a sweet taste of the heaven to come every time I spend time with someone I love. It whets my appetite and makes me want more. As long as I’m in this world, love will be a challenge. I plan to keep on loving and being myself because God loves me just as I am and so do all who understand true love. God knows better than anyone that I’d be miserable if I got everything I wanted. The most miserable people in the world are the ones who get what they want because love gets lost in their selfishness. I’m learning to ask for what God wants, and that’s changing everything.

The Nature of Love

God is love, so loving Him is what Christianity is all about.  God created me to love Him and others. It was, is, and will always be the message Christ relays. His life is a life of love, and the world crucified Him for loving in ways they could not understand. The world doesn’t want someone telling them to love everyone. People wanted, want, and will always want someone to tell them what they want to hear. God allowed, allows, and always will allow earthly things to take the place of His love in the lives of His children even though it breaks His heart. God never has and never will coerce or cajole because that isn’t love.

Love is something you fall into. It might happen at first sight and feel like jumping, or it might take a while and be more like a gentle slide. The fall depends upon the individual, but falling in love changes everything. Just as all human relationships are different, so is the love between God and each of us. I am sick to death of theological arguments, denominational disputes, cajoling, coercing, how-to books, and hierarchies when it comes to Christ’s body. None of those work with love. God is love. We are His creation. He loves us and wants us to love Him back. Humans got, get, and will always get that wrong and make a mess of God’s simple truth.

John 17:18-22 beautifully describes Christ’s desire for me.

As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world.  For their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they themselves also may be sanctified in truth. I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word;  that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me.”

The nature of love is oneness, so why doesn’t the world look more whole and less like a pile of broken glass. No one is perfect. God knows that, and He loves us anyway. Jesus knew that, and He came any way. The Holy Spirit knows that, and that’s why He’s here to stay and encourage us not to give up. I cannot love as God desires or find the oneness Christ offers without the help of the Holy Spirit. On my own, I’m just a piece of broken glass being crushed by the weight of the world’s desire to be right. With God, I become something more than I can be without Him. It’s what love does.

Oneness isn’t about forming a club or creating a new church or denomination so I can find those who are like me or criticize those who aren’t. Oneness is seeing God in everyone and everything. It’s loving those who do not or cannot love me back. It’s living in the mess knowing that that I am part of something wonderful. I’m part of God. I am love too!

I did an exercise this week that humbled, but helped me see the importance of keeping my focus upon love.  I took 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 and put my name in front of the descriptions of love. I’m sorry to say I didn’t do as well as I thought I would when I took an honest look at how I compared to the nature of love. Try it yourself to see where you need some help and ask the Holy Spirit to help you where you need help so you can get you closer to God and others.

Here’s the verse with the blanks where love should be:

___________ is patient, ______________ is kind ________ is not jealous; _____________ does not brag and is not arrogant, _________does not act unbecomingly; ______________ does not seek her own, ____________is not provoked, ___________does not take into account a wrong suffered, ___________does not rejoice in unrighteousness, _________ rejoices with the truth; ________bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

I hope you did better than I did, but don’t worry if you didn’t; love is patient 🙂 Thanks be to God!!

The Nature of Love

 

Hearts Breaking Open

God placed this in my path this morning, and I want to pass it along. There is great healing in hearts breaking open at ground zero, and I pray this from Maya Angelou helps open yours as it helped open mine in a beautiful way. I fear 9/11 has become a symbol of closing rather than opening. I pray we will see the love extended and the hearts bared bravely on a day that forever changed us all. I choose to believe that the love shown was what changed us and pray I will open my heart to ground zero today and every day. Thank you Michael Collins for the vivid reminder.

IN MEMORY OF 9/11 :
With out their fierce devotion
We are fragile and forlorn
Stumbling briefly among the stars.
We and our futures belong to them
Exquisitely,our beliefs and our
Breaths are made tangible in their love.

Let us remember all the bravery, “exquisitely tangible,” all the public and anonymous heroes, in a time when “serving and giving for others rose above every other concern. Think about all of the giving. Those uniformed and civilian servants who risked their lives for others on September 11, on the flights, in the Pentagon, at Ground Zero in New York;teachers who comforted children and waited till all were safely accounted for (we lost 47 parents of our Lutheran school children that day);pastors and parishes who kept their doors open and sat with the public,listening to their lament for months;those around the world and throughout our church who sent stuffed animals,cards, letters, money, expressions of prayerful compassion, visits; ironworkers, truck drivers, chaplains, counselors, volunteers, all who worked at ground zero, at the morgues, at the site in Staten Island during the longmonths of rescue, then recovery; military chaplains and those who serve in our armed forces; those who lost loved ones, friends, businesses and worked at the dignity of living every day with sorrow. Walking the streets of Manhattan, going on the subways, a different spirit prevailed. All this heroism and sacrifice and shared sorrow made us open to one another. The open window reminded us that for a time we were one metropolis, not divided by inner city\suburb or race or class;that for a time our synod and national church lived in unity of prayerful purpose, transcending the things which vex us and divide us. We were neighbors, sisters, brothers,friends to one another, almost outside of ourselves and our narrow self interests.

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I haveloved you. No one has greater love thanthis, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you.” (John 15:12-14)

At Ground Zero when the remains of a child of God would be found something remarkable would happen. All activity would cease. The pile would gentle down to silence. Withbowed, uncovered heads everyone at Ground Zero would show their consummate respect for life as the remains would be lovingly brought out from the rubble. Let us remember, with bowed heads and respectful silence, the heroes, the servants, the extended act of giving which surrounded all of us us.

And let our hearts break open to the ground zeros of today…

Maya Angelou

Maya

Love is Light Luggage

Today marks my first guilt-free Labor Day since 2002. I left my husband of thirty years on Labor Day eleven years ago, and my heart has been hanging on to a suitcase filled with guilt since then. Letting go of the guilt has been like giving birth in a strange way, but I’m the one coming out of the darkness and on to the shore. I knew better than to enter a marriage based upon guilt, but I did it anyway. The narrow religion of my childhood was an unforgiving birth canal in which I stayed for far too long. It constricted my heart and made me feel guilt going in and coming out of my marriage. There are still many who see divorce as a cardinal sin, and I fell into a pattern of apology and wore my relationship status much like that scarlet letter Hester Prynne donned.

Miserably married folks were particularly irritated by my divorce, and I see now it was simply a case of misery loving company. ‘If I have to stay married, so do you’ was a prevailing attitude. I found myself defined by yet another negative label, and it hurt my heart deeply.  I know now that I put those labels  on my heart, and I found others who agreed with me. It’s been the theme of my heart until this year. I see myself in a new and beautiful light for the first time, and I’ve let go of those hateful labels that weighed down my heart and broke my spirit. Ripping off the labels was a lot like tearing bandages off healing wounds. They didn’t come off easily and took little pieces of my heart with them when they did.

The pieces of my heart that were attached to those labels are gone, and they aren’t coming back. Like skin pulled away with a bandage, they needed to go. It was worth all the pain of the past month to see the beautiful new heart under those labels. God has been creating that heart in me for almost three years, and it’s been a process that brought both amazing love and deep hurt into my path. Last week, God took off the labels when I finally agreed to let them go. He  tossed them in the trash and bid me to look at my new heart through His eyes. I can’t describe how I felt when I saw the new me; I cried cleansing tears of pure joy. Obeying God was the key to my makeover. I listened as never before and heard love. Love changes everything, and that was the lesson my heart so needed to hear in order to heal.

I was stuck in a ridiculous rut for eleven years that took my heart to its lowest level ever. I longed for a way out, but I continued to go deeper into darkness and almost drowned. God had other plans, but those plans could not begin until I agreed to obey Him and Him alone. I let religion define my relationship with God, but He showed me that only love can do that. Love lifted me once again as I found myself drowning in a sea of guilt unable to reach the shore. God put a beautiful lighthouse  on His sweet shore of grace that gave me the courage I needed to fight my way out of the dark waves and find His love and grace waiting for me on the shore.

I’m not sure where my path will go from here, but I know that the luggage I’m carrying now is not the same I carried to this point. Grace, peace, and love are carrying me this time. That terrible load of guilt sank to the bottom of a dark sea and is right where it belongs. I feel like my nineteen-year-old self running in the woods, and that’s just where God wants me to be. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that God put a trip to Topsail Island in my path this week. My heart feels like a Topsail sunrise!

Sunrise on Topsail Island