the space between absence and presence.

Do you ever wish there was a delete button for your life?  Like, you could highlight a certain thing you said or did and just magically erase it?

What if our entire life was written out on an 8.5 x 11 sheet of paper and editing was simply a matter of ‘undo, redo, cut, copy and paste’?  What would you rewrite?

I used to think (and still act to a degree) on the notion that if I could just get rid of a certain mistake or prevent a temptation or stop a sin then my paper would be perfect and I wouldn’t need the delete button.  I was convinced that then my 8.5 x 11 would make my Father proud.

This idea, however, met reality when I found that sins like to lurk behind each other.  For example, when I felt that pornography didn’t have near the stranglehold as it once did, there furtively waiting in the shadows of my soul lay a bed of anger, perhaps an even more dangerous enemy.

I’ve spent so much time trying to erase what I have done or focused on abstaining from a sin, I’ve forgotten that freedom is found in a better way.

The freedom that I’ve longed for isn’t in my energy to abstain; it’s in my energy to pursue.

The object of that pursuit isn’t to be a “better person“.  I’m not interested in the next self-help bestseller.  My pursuit is for the presence of God, manifested in what I know, who I am and what I do.

However, that presence won’t be manifest just because I was able to abstain from a sin.  That would mean it’s about me and about my attempt to manipulate the Father.

The mere absence of a sin doesn’t suddenly mean that God is now able or even willing to invade my life with blessing or clarity.  I’ve spent a majority of my life focusing on the absence of one sin or the other when God has been saying, “Spend less time on that absence and more time in My presence.”

If my 8.5 x 11 sheet of paper were filled with the pursuit of His presence then I would find much less need for the delete button.  Unlike the false space between love and obedience, there is a very real space between the absence of sin and the presence of God.

Seeking that absence would mean I’m more than human, more than frail and broken.  Seeking His presence would mean that I accept my humanity, that my frailty and brokenness are His delight.

It’s in His presence that I will find fullness of joy and strength.  Finally, here are the words of Eugene Peterson, paraphrasing the Apostle Paul:

I’m not saying that I have this all together, that I have it made. But I am well on my way, reaching out for Christ, who has so wondrously reached out for me. Friends, don’t get me wrong: By no means do I count myself an expert in all of this, but I’ve got my eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onward—to Jesus. I’m off and running, and I’m not turning back.

Advertisements

the space between love and obedience.

September 12, 1922.  The day wedding vows were rewritten.

Over time, even something as traditional as the marriage covenant has to evolve.  The section on matrimony in The Book of Common Prayer from 1662 has the classic line ” to love, cherish, and to obey, till death us do part…”  This book has been just about as influential on the English language as the King James Bible or the works of Shakespeare.  It has also influenced generations of newlyweds.

However, on Sept. 12, 1922 the Episcopal church voted to remove the words “to obey” from the marriage vows.  Why did they do that?  Most likely to align with a more modern view of women’s roles in the family and society at large.  Perhaps even with the hope of establishing more egalitarian principles between a husband and wife.

Regardless of the Episcopal motivation, this divorce of love and obedience in the marriage covenant does have some legitimate implications.  My point here isn’t to argue whether the word “obey” should or shouldn’t be included.  Instead, my point is to imagine if we were to truly dichotomize love and obedience.

What would we have?  Obedience without love is but religion and love without obedience are but empty words and promises.  If I confess to love someone then I am binding myself to them and therefore obeying a moral and ethical obligation to them.  The fact is that love and obedience cannot be separated.

Love for God, however, isn’t the rote memorization and strict adherence to a static list of commandments.  Love for God is dynamic, breathing and perhaps even dangerous.  Just like renewing marriage vows, we should continuously say “How can I love, honor and obey my Father?”  I have the suspicion that if you were to ask the Lord how you can obey, He would answer in a clear voice.

On the one hand there is space between love and obedience.  It’s a false space we create to hide in and hope that our religiosity will keep us comfortable.

On the other hand, there isn’t space between love and obedience.  Kind of like the space that’s eliminated when we covenant with someone in marriage.  There is no more ‘private’ when two become one.  In the context of marriage vows, maybe obedience was never about the submission of one gender to the other but more so about simply offering ourselves to the other.

My hope in believing all this is both simple yet audacious.  It’s to fearlessly obey the Father because He fearlessly loves me.  My hope is that our obedience both begins with and is perfected by His love.  My hope is to diminish the space between love and obedience, until the two are synonymous.

One thing hasn’t changed.  The wedding vows in the Book of Common Prayer still say “…till death us do part.”

Now to obey the one who’s defeated death itself…that’s something else entirely.

love sick_an elementary curriculum_part three

Thank you to Colea Henderson for writing this lesson.  She took it in a more reflective direction, which I really like.  Huge thank you to Jake Page as well for the fantastic artwork.

Week#3 – 1 John 2:3-11

The Key to Loving God?  Obedience. Continue reading