Releasing the Lover

apr14

I had a conversation last month with someone trying to explain his rekindled passion for following Christ. He talked with fervor, “Life just works better when you do it God’s way. He is the answer to my deepest longings and needs. I feel most fulfilled, peaceful, and happy when I am obedient to Him.”

I heard him, but wanted to challenge him to take things a step further. “But as we grow in relationship with God,” I countered, “hopefully we fall more in love with Him, and begin obeying out of love for who He is, and a desire not to cause Him pain, rather than for what we get out of it.”

My friend looked at me blankly. “Yeah,” he responded, “That’s what I said.”

I didn’t press the point, but I left the conversation slightly dissatisfied that I hadn’t helped him see the difference between obedience that flows out of self-gratification, and obedience that is motivated by reverence for God.

I was reminded of our exchange this past week as I talked with a pastor friend and his wife. “Many in my profession,” he explained, “think our job is to impose a set of rules or a certain lifestyle on our congregations. To teach them how to behave according to certain standards. But the way I see it, every Christian is, at the core, a lover of Christ, and my job is to help them grow in this relationship, and release them to love Him.”

Now, I struggled with this a bit, pointing out that I have been a lover of myself since I was born. This goes pretty deep. Even my decision to follow Jesus was out of a sense of self-preservation, because I had heard about hell and didn’t want to go there.

As the conversation continued, however, we talked about how Paul, in his letters, called the Christians “saints” even though they were behaving in very un-saintly ways. It’s that “old self/new self”, “already-accomplished-although-it’s-still-in-process” type of thing. While we must acknowledge, grieve, and repent every time the old self-lover rears its ugly head, it is important to live out our true identity as passionate lovers of Christ.

The more I thought about it, the more the concept captured my imagination. Better yet, it thrilled my heart. How refreshing not to think of Christianity as a set of rules, expectations, and duties. How liberating to move beyond the obedience that expects God to reward us for our good behavior. To stop approaching God for what He does for us, and begin to truly love Him for the breath-taking Being that He is.

I am, at the deepest core of my being, a love-sick seeker of God. What a difference it would make if I woke up every day with this truth firmly entrenched in my mind and my heart. What joy, as I overflowed with the experience of being loved and loving in return. Moving past external performance, I would look for new and spontaneous ways to pour out the fullness of my heart to my Beloved.

The truest thing about you and about me is that we are lovers of God. It’s what we were made for. And once we truly believe this, it changes everything.

May you, may I, be swept up in this passionate relationship, and find the freedom and courage to release the lover inside.

Question: How does it affect you to think of yourself as a lover of God?

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Identity

Mar23I’m thinking more and more about this Kingdom to which I belong, and I’m thinking that the place to start is identity. Who am I, exactly, as a citizen of the Kingdom of Light?

In medieval times great importance was given to one’s heritage and lineage, and a complex system of heraldry evolved. Banners were emblazoned with colors and symbols boldly displaying a person’s identity. Royal households and kingdoms had their own insignias, and many an army marched proudly out, emboldened by their king’s colors fluttering overhead. Even today a country’s flag can instill in its citizens a feeling of courage and loyalty as they think of their homeland and all it means to them.

And so, as I read through Colossians, I think I’ve found out what my coat of arms, my banner as a citizen of this Kingdom, would be. I’ve found my identity.

“…chosen of God, holy and beloved…” (Colossians 3:12)

And so it is for every citizen of this wondrous Kingdom of Light.

I don’t think it’s any accident that Colossians 3:12 follows Colossians 3:11, which reminds the readers that “…there is no distinction between Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and freeman, but Christ is all, and in all.”

All of those things that the world uses to label us—nationality, race, gender, social status, religious affiliation, education—none of those things matter in God’s Kingdom. We have a new, wondrous identity because of Jesus.

Chosen of God. Holy. Beloved.

This should be the identity that permanently imprints itself on our hearts. The banner that constantly flies overhead, reminding us of who we are.

Chosen of God. Hand picked. Can you believe it? When you, when I, still lived in the kingdom of darkness—not only that, but preferred the darkness to the light—the God of Heaven singled us out and rescued us at great cost to Himself.

Holy. Believe it or not, this does not mean we’re perfect or flawless. Holy actually means set apart. Because we were bought at such a price, because God Almighty chose us personally to be members of His kingdom, we each are now set apart for something sacred.

And I would suggest that the sacred begins and ends with relationship. All too often we think of being set apart in terms of achieving something—performing some particular task or filling some sort of role. And that very well might be. But if we get focused on “doing” I think we miss the point. Because we’re…

Beloved. God rescued us because He loves us. He wants the joy of relationship with you and with me. He wants to fill us to overflowing with the knowledge of Himself—watching us grow, rejoicing as we marvel at who He is, enjoy Him, learn to trust His heart. Yes, there might be things He asks us to do for Him along the way, but the most sacred thing we can do with our lives is take the time to fall deeply in love with God as we get to know Him better and better.

Chosen of God. Set apart. Beloved.

(And if you can’t quite believe it yet, check out Ephesians 1:4, or Jude verse 1, which address believers in almost identical terms.)

How incredibly this might change our lives if we lived it out on a moment-by-moment basis.