25 August 2008

Prodigal Love and the Eyes of Faith

by Joey Swofford, one of our elders

The word "prodigal" means lavish, without restraint, or no boundaries. We remember the story about the prodigal son and his lack of self-control and personal restraint (Luke 15). But also in that story, we see a father, who is also prodigal, in a different sense. He was prodigal in his love. He had love with no boundaries, no restraints, no conditions. He had an undonditional love for his undeserving son. Do you realize his love came from an unlimited source? It was God! God is love and He is the same place our love should come from. Our Lord and Savior has this kind of love for us. He is the God of the lost, hurt, and undeserving. He not only welcomes us back home but He comes searching for us when we have gone astray. In Luke 15, we see that our Father looks for us like a shepherd looking for lost sheep, like a woman looking for the lost coin, like a father for his missing son.

God is a loving, searching, giving and forgiving, and restoring father. You may be thinking that you've "sinned away" all the grace you received from God, but please know that you have not. God loves you and will not stop loving you every day of your life. I believe that it is a good time to ask yourself this question: How am I responding to the Lord's love for me? Do I truly believe and accept His grace and understand what that means? It is His gift. Ephesians 2:8-9

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On a slightly different note . . . I sometimes hold Ella in my hands while we look into each other's eyes trying to understand each other. I know I'm trying to do two things: 1) to understand what she is trying to communicate and 2) to communicate my love for her in ways she understands.

In some ways, she is more limited than me with regard to communication. She can smile, let her lip quiver, sigh, squeak, cry out, swing and kick, . . . but she seems to do most of her communication with her eyes. (secondarily, I would say she uses her mouth a lot, too, especially to signal her hunger to me, although sometimes I think she does it just to tell me that her favorite thing to do his feed.)

I can't see what my eyes are sending her, but I imagine they can only tell the truth as far as what is in my inner being. It almost worries me. Don't I believe God is powerfully able and generously giving? What if Ella sees in my eyes that the real truth is that I believe God to be selfish, lacking, and stingy? That He only helps people who help themselves. That He only gives to the ones who deserve it.

I don't believe any of those things--I believe all power, wisdom, and beauty belong to God and that He shares it like there's no tomorrow. But when I look at Ella I wonder what my eyes reveal to her. It makes me wonder whether grace and generosity and faith are welling up inside of me or if it's greed and selfishness and scarcity. There's a song that says, "There's love enough for the taking . . ." I hope that Ella will see that when she looks into my eyes because it's true--there's more than enough love to share and oh, what a joy to share it with her. God knows that she is a gift of love to us and of that generosity we are truly grateful.

22 August 2008

20 August 2008

Triple Post: In Love with Ella, Jesus and the Religions, and Heavenly Embarrassment

It's been so long since I've blogged and Ella's sleeping peacefully, so I thought I would do two blogs posts in one. The first one's short. The third one's probably confusing. The second one, I'm sure, is just right. ;-)

In Love with Ella
For me, having a daughter is like falling in love for the first time again. I look at her and think "How can someone so beautiful want to be with me?" I look around at other girls and ask, "Is she really the most valuable girl in the world?" and I decide, "Yes, she is, but I don't deserve her." Ella certainly doesn't take Nicole's place in my life. I am still madly in love with Nicole, no less now than before, but even more. But, I find myself longing to come home from work or wherever to see her and look in her eyes and express my love for her.

Jesus, the Heart?
I heard a statement a few weeks ago that is still bothering me. I was in the gym working out and conversing with two new friends. One is a Muslim originally from Chicago, but his parents are from the Middle East. The other guy is a Christian and Latino from Dallas. There was a slightly awkward point in our conversation when they found out that I am preparing to be a Christian missionary, but we naturally began discussing various theological questions. We talked about common misconceptions about Muslims and stereotypes. Then, we talked about anti-evolution and creation and human inability to fathom what God has done. Through everything, we either agreed or at least learned something from going back and forth on what each of us believed. Then, I was stunned a bit. The Christian said, "Well, I believe Christ is at the heart, right? And other religions are different veins, but each one flows to the heart, right? So, everybody's okay, right?" Well, I couldn't say I agreed, so I just said, "That's interesting." The Muslim went on to say that he believed in Jesus and that he figured he was closer to being a Christian than, say, a Jew, or someone who did not believe in Jesus. I thought, "That's great that you believe in Jesus. But what does that mean?" But, it was the first question, by the Christian, that has been bothering me almost constantly. Yes, of course, I believe Christ is the heart of life. I believe other religions point to Christ as much as anything else in creation. But, that it means everybody's okay just doesn't seem congruent with the way Christ and his earliest followers acted. They seemed to believe that Christ should be Lord. He was the One, whether they understood what it meant for Jesus to be the Messiah or not. They surrendered to Christ as the ultimate authority above all rulers and powers visible or invisible. Any religious or political figure must give up all power to Christ. Perhaps a better image for Christ is the head. The brain sends signals to all religions and cultures and politics in order for them to submit and be healed. As individuals and groups perhaps we drop to our knees realizing the he is Lord, Master, Boss, CEO of the Universe. We give him permission to heal us. Like someone with a broken leg that heals, due not to the surgeon's scalpel or the pharmacist's drug, but due to proper relationship between the brain and the leg . . . people of various religions that submit to Christ will certainly receive help and salvation. Those who consider Christ as an equal or lesser option will go the way of destruction.

Going to Heaven
That being said, . . . "What does one have to do to go to Heaven?" is a question that bothers me to no end. Along with that is the equating of "salvation" with "heaven". It bothers me in two points that I'd like to mention here on my blog so I can look back on them and see what was bothering me. 1) I do not find this interest as one of the hotter topics in the Bible. No one came to Jesus saying, "Rabbi, am I going to heaven?" Paul never said, "Your works don't get you into Heaven." Jesus never said, "Blessed are the meek for they get to go to heaven." I could go on and on and on of examples where God's early servants could have used the phrase "going to heaven", but didn't. 2) People teach and act like the only thing that matters is going to heaven. If you ask a Christian, "What's the most important thing?" I imagine they would say, "Going to heaven." If I then said, "What in the Bible gives you this idea?" I can't imagine what they would say, but I would certainly be curious. 3) The Christian's understanding of heaven (and hell) doesn't seem any different at all to what pre-Christian Greek philosophers or what popular Americans believe. Or another way to put it, The Christian's understanding of Heaven (and hell) seems void of Scriptural images and narratives and words. Doesn't that startle anyone else?

My irritation is not arrogance. I am not proud. I simply feel alone. I am embarrassed to ask the questions, "Isn't Jesus the only way?" and "Where do you get 'Going to Heaven' information?" I've been reading the Christian Bible my whole life. I meditate on the words almost constantly. I'm not proud of that; it's just that Scripture tastes like honey to me. I'm not necessarily good at understanding Scripture, though. Perhaps I read things into it or miss "weightier" distinctions. There's also a possibility that my obsessive irritation with these questions grows out of my own avoidance of taking the claim of Scripture seriously for my own life. My weakness, perhaps, is that I don't look inwardly to see what needs to change in my life if I do indeed believe Scripture is authoritative and "heavenly".