God is Love. God is Not Love.

God is love. God is not love.

On the surface, a statement such as this seems impossible and irreconcilable.
How can God be both love and not love at the same time?

The word “love” is limited by our physicality, which not only significantly constrains our experience of love, but also severely inhibits our vocabulary and verbal expression of love, how we talk about love, if you will. 

In short, we have a “skin issue” that limits our love-experience of God, which then restricts how we speak of this experience. 

Both the experience of God’s love, and then the language we use to describe God’s love, are profoundly insufficient.

So while God’s essence is certainly love, we do not have the physical, experiential, or verbal capacity to even come close to describing God as love-essence. Even though God is unconstrained love-essence, we are constrained in our experience of God’s love-essence and then by the words we use to describe that experience.

Maybe an easier way of saying this is- How do you even begin to experience the inexperienceable, or describe the indescribable?

We can’t.

In a very real sense, God is love, but God is not love.

God is love-essence, but our word love will never come close to capturing or describing God’s love-essence.

One may wonder why it is so important to make such a nuanced argument.  Is it not sufficient to simply say, “God is love, and then be content with that?”

At some level, yes.  

It is completely possible to say ‘God is love’ and only understand God’s love through our limited love-experience, but it will always be constrained by our senses and our physicality, our “skin issue.”  

But, and this is why this particular discussion is so important, it is possible to go beyond our limited love-experience of God and enter into the vast and all-consuming love-essence of God. 

And it is in that place where everything changes.

While even our significantly limited love-experience of God can change our hearts and transform our minds, entering into the vast and all-consuming love-essence of God alters our very ground of being.

So if God is both love and not love from our finite, limited human perspective… then what can we learn from this seeming contradiction and what can we do to come close to knowing God’s love-essence, despite our significant limitations and constraints?

The first answer is that a person can only live in the limited and finite love they already know. So while God’s love-essence is always available, and as we will find… always accessible, we are all born into a situation in which we can only know a limited love-experience.  

And unfortunately, this is a wide and varied spectrum based on myriad factors- where one is raised, how one is raised, the parents one has, what relationships one had or currently has, what views one has developed of him or herself, etc. This is probably where most people stay their entire lives, only knowing the limited and finite love they have learned or experienced from those around them.

Even more tragically, there are those in this category who may have learned a very distorted and warped “love” that manifests in unhealthy ways. And it is at this point where there is some significant overlap with religion.

There are elements in religion that distort and warp “love” in unhealthy ways. Many times this “love” is expressed in terms of guilting, shaming, and damning. 

For instance, one may say that the guilt he imposes on another is done because of his love for another, or one may say that the shame she imposes on another is done because of her love for another. 

This negative outward expression or manifestation is not love, for love-essence never expresses to elicit guilt or shame.  

However, there are those who grow up with a distorted understanding of “love,” based upon a distorted experience of “love.”

One could say that this is an extreme end of the spectrum that is incapable of “loving like God,” because the God-love they know is only expressed or received in guilt, shame, and damnation. 

There are some in the religious realm who understand the “love of God” more broadly because they have had a more immersive experience with God’s love, but still constrained by the skin condition. While there are certainly varying degrees of this immersive love from person to person, it is actually closer to God’s love-essence. 

The question then becomes, “How, despite our skin condition, despite any distorted or warped love-experience we have encountered, can we fully experience the immersive love of God?” 

The answer is that, in this lifetime, I do not believe we can. But I do believe that there are avenues by which our experience of God’s love-essence can evolve and grow. 

So how is this possible? 

I believe the beginning point is communion with God’s love-essence through God’s Spirit. I believe this is where heart and life transformation begin. This where we learn the limitation of our experience and vocabulary, and also the depths and breadths of God’s love-essence we could not experience in our tangible, touchable world. 

I also believe contemplation and contemplative prayer are essential.

Contemplation helps one go beyond words on a page, what we’ve been taught, and what we have experienced toward an introspective, self-reflective meditation that desires to feed and commune on a greater love-essence. I believe it is only in an ask, seek, knock posture where we begin to experience the depths that are un-utterable, un-speakable.

One can only fully live in the love they have experienced and that can be painfully limited and even distorted, many times in religion. To go beyond these limitations and constraints, it takes God’s own Spirit to pour out greater breadths and depths of God’s love-essence and then our own contemplation done in a seeking posture for us to even begin getting close to God’s love essence in this lifetime.

Words and experience can only take us so far and that destination is painfully and woefully short of God’s love-essence.

In a seeking posture…

Brandon

When Words Kill

I was reflecting recently about a time a few years ago when I completely blew it.

I was picking my daughter up from a late evening practice. It was dark outside as we drove and talked about her day. I was heading south on Taylor Road in Columbus, Indiana and approaching a stoplight where there were cars already stopped three-wide.

All of a sudden, mid-sentence, a man and a woman wearing dark clothes walked out from between the vehicles and directly in my path. I slammed on the brakes and was able to avoid a disaster. The only problem is that the guy gave me a dirty look, as if I had done something wrong.

And then I did the unthinkable.

I yelled, “Watch where you are going! You idiot!”

It absolutely kills me to write that story. I never call people names. Never. I rarely get worked up enough to get angry at anyone. That is why it kills me to write that down and share it with you. You may be thinking, “Lighten up Brandon. Everyone is entitled to a little road rage now and then. Besides, that guy deserved it, right?!”

I get it.

But man, ever since that happened the Spirit had been sitting on me like an elephant. There had been a disturbance in the Force, if you will. So much so that the next day I wanted to find some time with my daughter so I could apologize to her.
She was doing her homework the next evening at the dining room table. I asked her if she had a second.

“Hey, I want to apologize to you for the way I acted and what I yelled at that guy last night.”

“Uh ok. I don’t see why you have to apologize to me though for something you did to someone else.”

She had a good point, but I couldn’t get off the hook that easily.

“The reason I have to apologize to you and ask for your forgiveness is because I have been entrusted by God and given the awesome responsibility to teach you guys by my words and actions how Jesus would be toward people… and I completely failed at that last night. Do you forgive me?”

Still thinking of ways to help me get off the hook, Anna said, “You know dad, I am not sure that the guy even heard you.”

To which I responded, “Anna, whether he heard me or not is inconsequential. It is what was in my heart, not the words I used, that was the problem. I am really sorry about that. Will you forgive me?”

Of course she did.

So why do I tell you this story?

Well, first, I want to be honest and let all of you know that just because I write a nice blog and have a cool podcast, I am still a work in progress. And that should give each of us a tremendous amount of hope.

No matter where you are in your life and no matter how close or far from God you might think you are, God always unconditionally forgives and works moment by moment to transform you into something exceedingly more beautiful and loving than you ever thought possible. It’s only by the power of God that I can see my sin clearly and ask for a new heart.

But even more, Jesus equates name-calling to murder. I know you may be rolling your eyes at this point, but hear me out. If any one of us calls our fellow human being a fool, or an idiot, we suffer the same judgment as one who commits murder.

But how can the words we use even begin to be as bad as murdering someone?

As with murder, our verbal insult or attack dehumanizes our victim. Our careless, hurtful, negative words are like daggers that penetrate deeply and then severely wound that person at the soul level.

That is how seriously we should take the words we use, because they really matter, they have a deep and lasting impact, and they can kill a person in ways we may never know or understand.

So this isn’t just Jesus creating a new law or new commandment that we ought to follow, but rather it is Jesus showing us that our words significantly matter in the lives of others and they emanate, or spring forth, from what we have in our hearts.

And from a heart that ought to work toward the healing and restoration of people, for the lifting up and edification of our brothers and sisters, for the value and dignity of every human life, and for the blessing and reconciliation of people and relationships, I significantly failed.

In the tenuous and divided country in which we live right now, where dehumanizing others and name-calling are our primary modes of operation in dealing with those whom we disagree, let us not forget that the words we use have value and power, for good or evil.

For every kid in school who is battling through bullying and harassment, contemplating his or her worth and value, and teetering on the edge of killing him or her self, let us not forget that the words we use can be the difference between life and death for others.

For every person who has been torn apart and ripped to shreds their entire life and just can’t handle another hostile and demeaning word, let us not forget that our every word can be the fatal blow or that which brings a person back to life.

Let us not forget that our divisive and hateful words are as lethal as a weapon used to murder. Let us not forget that the words we use are indicative of a deeper heart problem and the place in which our words are ultimately rooted. And let us be individuals who are cut to the core when we use careless language to hurt, wound, or dehumanize another person and then let us look inwardly to see what healing we need at the heart-level.

For the words we use can be powerful weapons that wound, kill, and destroy, or instruments of blessing, healing, and life.

Peace…

Brandon

Rediscovering the Word Evangelical

There is a beautiful word… an elegant descriptor… that has been maligned, tarnished, lampooned, distorted, and completely misunderstood. It is a name many have abandoned for all of it’s negative connotations and ugly stereotypes. But this bruised and battered identifier… this lowly mark tossed carelessly to the side by a cynical generation… is finally being rediscovered, reclaimed, renewed, and washed clean by those hungry to wear it and hold it high for the world to see clearly.

The word is Evangelical.

And it is beautiful because at it’s very heart, it’s very core, it simply describes anyone who proclaims the Good News. But it seems that many have skewed the Good News and given the name Evangelical a bad rap by proclaiming messages that don’t seem so good… that make people feel worse on the inside and not so hopeful that there is an alternative to this confusing, messed up world.

As an Evangelical, as a proud proclaimer of the Good News, I want to share with you the Good News of the Kingdom of God… and the reason why I will continue to wear the name and preach the message until the day I die.

The Good News is that there is an alternative. This is another way. There is a reason to have hope.

The great alternative to this world, that Jesus preached about and was preoccupied with establishing, operated by a new set of values, a new way of thinking, a new way of being human. The Good News that Jesus announced was like nothing the world had ever known or seen before. As such, Jesus was not preoccupied with fighting violently against the kingdoms of the world, or the prevailing governmental or political order. Jesus wasn’t even preoccupied with trying to reform them or preoccupied with trying to establish a new or different political system or governmental system. And, he was certainly not trying to build up a bricks and mortar palace where he would rule from the top-down.

The Kingdom that Jesus came to proclaim would be established much differently than those of the world, and it would not look like anything the world had ever seen, because the people in this Kingdom would do everything opposite from the ways and workings of the world. It would be a grassroots, organic movement that changes the world from the bottom-up and from the inside-out, defying every bit of worldly wisdom in the process.

When the world hits you, do not retaliate, but give the other cheek. When the world is weighing you down with heavy requests, don’t just go one mile with the request but go two miles. When the world takes everything you have, even the coat off of your back, don’t just give your coat but go even further by offering your shirt. When the way of the world harbors anger and holds grudges, be one who forgives your friends and your enemies alike. And, don’t just forgive once, but forgive and forgive and forgive.

When the world is quick to respond and rip a person to shreds, be one who controls your anger and the words that come from your mouth. When the world devalues relationships and marriages, be one who looks to the interest of others, honors commitments, and always remains selfless. When the world looks out for and protects its own pursuits and interests to the detriment of others, be one who treats others as you would want to be treated yourself. When the world is ready to cast the stone of judgment at the sinner, be one who loves and stands beside every single person without judgment. When the world shuns the outcast and pushes him to the edges of society, be one who befriends the outcast and welcomes him back into loving community.

When the world lords over you with mighty power and authority, be one who is humble and comes from the bottom-up to serve everyone. When the world takes the seat of honor so it can be seen and noticed by everyone, be one who takes the seat of low-position in the back of the room. When the world puts on a show of being pure and good but is corrupt at the very core, be one who is pure from the inside and let it work out through your life. When the world continues in the ways of injustice and is merciless to the least in society, be one who stands for the least and for those who cannot defend themselves by demanding justice and mercy.

When the world fights and wars, be one who always stands on the side of peace no matter the situation and no matter the circumstance. When the world insults, ridicules, and curses you, be one who blesses in return. When the evil of the world assaults you, be the one who does not resist the evil. And when the world beats you, spits upon you, and is preparing to crucify you, continue on the way of forgiveness and self-sacrificial love.

That is the Good News of the Kingdom of God! That is what it means to be a true, genuine, authentic Evangelical. That is the treasure of great riches that the world so desperately needs to discover. That is the pearl of great value that we sell everything we have in order to attain it. That is what will spread like an infection, a mustard seed, yeast in the dough if the world would ever hear it and see it put into practice by a transformed people. That is the in-breaking of heaven into the house that has been held hostage for far too long. That is the occupation, proclamation, task, and obsession of the follower of Christ… of every Evangelical… in the vineyard of the world!

The Kingdom of God is the full-on reign of God in the hearts and minds of those who believe in the way, life, and teachings of Jesus, who have died to the old, tired, and worn-out ways of the world, and who have been made new by the working and empowering of the Spirit of God in order to bring heaven on earth, while awaiting and anticipating the return of Christ as Lord at the renewal of all things!!! It is what a life looks like when God reigns in and through a person here on earth in every single thought, action, attitude, situation, or scenario. The Kingdom of God looks like an invasion from heaven into the strongholds of a person’s life, a cleaning out of the house, a light breaking through into the darkness, and a constant and continual in-breaking of heaven through one’s life into the world. It is a Kingdom that reigns in the hearts and minds of people, not through the political, governmental, bureaucratic, religious, institutional brick and mortar systems of the world. The Kingdom of God will never come through those systems, because they will all pass away one day.

That is why Jesus said that the Kingdom of God is not something that can be seen or observed. It is not visible with the eye for anyone to see or to visibly discover. In fact, people will not be able to say, “Here it is,” or “There it is,” because the Kingdom of God is within the hearts and minds of those who follow the way, life, and teachings of Jesus. In this way, the Kingdom of God can not be conquered, destroyed, or defeated, but it continues to grow larger and continues to spread from person to person all throughout the world like a mustard seed in a field or yeast in dough. It breaks into our world like an infection to displace the kingdoms of the world and to establish the reign of God, through and through, in the hearts, minds, and lives of people who are like Jesus in everything we do.

That is what it means to be an Evangelical. That is why I wear the name with honor and will hold the banner high. It is to Jesus Christ and the Good News of his Kingdom that I pledge my allegiance and give my life.