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Do You Know How To Love?

Do You Know How To Love?

Do you really know how to love?  For Jesus, loving others is what it’s all about.  But do we, as a people, really know how to love?  Or are those who profess to be the modern-day followers of Jesus more like the Pharisees, who outwardly drew near to God but had hearts that were far, far away from him?  Are we merely whiting our social media sepulchers when we present an image to the world designed to manipulate how others perceive us?  In our effort to be perceived as good are we really being bad?  In our effort to project and convey righteousness are we really just putting on a bad disguise?

Are we really just putting on a bad disguise?

Nothing frustrated Jesus more than people who did the “right” things for the wrong reasons. Jesus abhorred pretense (Matthew 23:14) and hypocrisy (Matthew 6:2, 6, 16; 23:13-15).  While piousness and adherence to religious rules was something Jesus did not want to be left “undone,” he placed religious behavior on a hierarchy where there were some matters that were “weightier” than others.  (Matthew 23:23.)  Of course, the weightiest of all matters was to feel and then show love to others.

The path to true discipleship … requires that you care only about what you think of others and not what others think of you.

He said, “A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you ….”  (John 13:34.)  Of course, Jesus loves not just in deed.  His very essence is filled with compassion and love for us.  So, to love as Jesus loved requires the right actions and the right motives.  Doing good when you “have not the love of God in you” (John 5:42) is ultimately unacceptable.  To love others as you were loved by Jesus Christ requires more.

Paul explains it this way:

“Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.

And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing.

And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.”

(1 Corinthians 13:1-3.)

Jesus evaluated men from the inside out, not from the outside in.

The state of your heart is so important to the Lord that you could give all you have to the poor or die as a martyr, but if you “have not the love of God in you” (John 5:42), it “profiteth you nothing.”  (1 Corinthians 13:3.)  Nothing.  Those are strong words.  The bar is set.  It’s quite high.  Your motives for doing what you do—even if those things are “charitable” and good—matter to the Lord.

Jesus evaluated men from the inside out, not from the outside in.  (See Matthew 15:17-20.)  To him, this was the order of priorities: “cleanse first that which is within the cup and platter, that the outside of them may be clean also.”  (Matthew 23:26.)  He wants your heart first.  Then, Jesus taught, “[a] good man out of the good treasure of the heart bringeth forth good things.”  (Matthew 12:35.)  Hence, discipleship works from the inside out, forcing you to examine your motives; to examine the state of your heart.

Just as the physical human heart has four chambers, the spiritual heart has four main dimensions.

Because this aspect of Christianity is so vital to discipleship I developed a tool that helps me evaluate the state of my heart.  This tool can be used in every single human interaction.  The more you use it, the more your focus will change.  Hopefully, it can help you find the path to true discipleship, which requires that you care only about what you think of others and not what others think of you.

Just as the physical human heart has four chambers, the spiritual heart has four main dimensions, which are depicted in the following graphic:

Chambers of the HeartTo give you an example of how the four chambers works, think, for a moment, to the last time you were at a gathering of family or friends.  Most likely there were people there that you love.  And, most likely, there were people there that you struggle with and that you find hard to love.  For those for whom you have deep and genuine feelings of love, expressing that love probably flowed naturally for you.  It was easy to give compliments and hugs.  It was easy for you to listen to them.  Your behavior and your feelings were congruent with the highest in you and would put you in Chamber Four, where you feel love and show love.  This is the ideal.

Every human interaction is an opportunity to express the highest within you.

There may have been those that you genuinely love and care for but, for some reason, you found it difficult to express your love.  You didn’t know what to say to express your true feelings.  You didn’t know what you could do to express your love in a way that would be understood (or not misunderstood).  Or, for some reason (perhaps unknown to you), you just held back.  You didn’t express your love.  Maybe you were too tired.  Maybe you just didn’t have it in you.  This is Chamber Three, where you genuinely feel love but don’t show it.  In Chamber Three, your capacity to feel love exceeds your ability to express it.

We have to practice being disciples of Jesus Christ each and every day.

At this gathering there were undoubtedly those that you found difficult to have feelings of love for.  Seeing these people may have triggered anger, frustration, or dislike.  Whatever it was that you felt, it was not love.  As you felt these things, you had two choices.  You could either show love or not show love.  If you chose to show love, this was a Chamber Two behavior.  You did not genuinely feel love for this person but you acted as if you did.  If you chose not to show love, this was a Chamber One behavior where you neither felt nor showed love.  In Chamber One you probably avoided this person or perhaps you may have confronted or slighted this person in some way.  Whatever you did, you didn’t feel love or show love.

Is our love authentic or are we merely acting?

Most of us toggle through each of the Four Chambers throughout various social interactions.  However, over time, patterns emerge and through honest self-evaluation and introspection you will notice within yourself the chamber within which most of your behavior patterns occur.  There are, for example, people who are almost always in Chamber Two.  People who care more about how others feel about them than how they feel towards others are classic Chamber Two people.  They act nice and kind but do it for all the wrong reasons, such as wanting to be accepted, wanting to be valued, or wanting to be esteemed.  Like actors, they are constantly playing to an audience and have an insatiable longing and yearning for the approval of the crowd.  They value themselves when they are valued by others, failing to realize that valuing others is what actually helps us discover our true identity and our true worth.

I’m convinced that practicing Christianity is just that–practice.  We have to practice being disciples of Jesus Christ each and every day, which means not just doing the right things but also doing them for the right reason.  Chamber Two behavior doesn’t cut it.  We must evolve into Third and Fourth Chamber beings, who are filled with love and have the ability to express it.  The Four Chambers is a practice tool that will help free you from the prison-like atmosphere of the First and Second Chambers.

Hell has already arrived for them and they may not even know it.

Why do I say these lower chambers are prison-like?  Because for those stuck in Chamber Two behavior patterns, where they care more about being seen in the best possible light rather than seeing others in the best possible light, life is a living hell.  Those stuck in Chamber Two are constantly trying to control how others feel about them, which, of course, is totally out of their control.  And trying to control things that are out of your control is the definition of suffering.  Being manipulative and acting with ulterior motives does not bring happiness.  It’s a prison from which many people don’t ever escape.  Those stuck in Chamber One simply don’t have the love of God in them and, since God is love, they live their lives without God, which is a prison.  Both First and Second Chamber people find it hard to look inward because they are always looking “out there” and trying to control or blame what is “out there” instead of fixing themselves and looking at their own hearts.  In short, they cannot repent.  They are damned.  Hell has already arrived for them and they may not even know it.

Let your light shine.

What chamber are you in?  Do you really know how to love?  Are you honest with yourself?  Do you regularly and routinely work on how you feel about others?  Do you regularly and routinely evaluate your motives?

I would invite you to apply the Four Chambers paradigm for a week.  In every interaction that you have, label what you do and why you do it with one of the Four Chambers.  As you do this, you will start to think from the inside out rather than from the outside in.  You will begin to feel lighter as you shed the burden of worrying what others think about you and focus on how you feel about others.  You will begin to see every human interaction as an opportunity to express the highest within you, which is the light of Christ that is in us all.  And, most of all, as that light of Christ glows within you, you will be filled with his presence and his love, which will bring you happiness, joy and peace.

For more ideas and discussion on this and other related issues, please read my books Gethsemamnesia and Built to Love, available now in paperback.

I Am Here

I Am Here

I distinctly recall taking what I thought would be my last mortal breath.  Life and circumstance had beaten me down and whittled me away to a mere shadow of my former self.  I was rapidly wasting away.  At 90 pounds less than what I weighed just a few months before, my active heart rate was 32-33 beats per minute.  My digestive system was paralyzed.  I couldn’t eat.  I was on a feeding tube.  And, as much as I wanted to live, I was so weak that I remember consciously choosing to take my last breath.

Breathing had become a chore.  Even blinking my eyelids felt like it exhausted me, at times.  I was ready to let go.  I’d had enough.  So in the deep of the night, I closed my eyes.  I inhaled one last time as a voice deep within me said “let go.”  And then I let go, sure that this was it.

Do you really choose your next breath?

But then, somehow, somewhere; somewhere from beyond me but within me I found my next breath.  In fact, it wasn’t really “me” that took that next breath at all.  At least it didn’t feel that way.  My chest rose.  My lungs filled with air.  It was not by my own doing.  And as I felt this strange invader fill my chest with air, I heard an instinct that sounded like the quiet, thunderous, soothing voice of a thousand rumbling whispers declare from a place deep within the universe of my soul, “I am.”  It then rushed out of me, echoing, “here.”

I am here!

It happened again. Inhale.  “I am.”

Exhale.  “Here.” Again.

Inhale.  “I am.”

Exhale.  “Here.”

I AM.

Here.

As my mortality persisted one breath at a time, I was deduced to the cosmic realization of my own nothingness, which revealed the mystery of my existence—that my existence had always been breath-to-breath and, so long as I had mortal breath, the great “I AM” of scripture (Exodus 3:14) and the little “I am” of “me” existed and spoke with a univocity I’d never realized.  God was in there somewhere inside of me.  And I was part of him.

The breath of life is more than a mere instinct.  It is God in us.

“Be still, and know that I am God,” (Psalm 46:10) meant something entirely new to me.  My existence was proof of God’s existence.  He was right there, in me, all along, breath by breath.  I now realize what an illusion it is to think that we somehow control our own mortality and live apart from God.  Do you really choose your next breath?

“God the Lord, he … created the heavens, and stretched them out; he … spread forth the earth, and that which cometh out of it; he … giveth breath unto the people upon it, and spirit to them that walk therein.”  (Isaiah 42:5.)

The breath of life is more than a mere instinct.  It is God in us.  The very breath of life in us is Existence itself captured and condensed in broken, frail and feeble mortality.  Our Existence means God wills and purposes us to live.  Therefore, so long as you are breathing, there is beauty, meaning and purpose to your existence, whether you see it or not.

So I took another breath.  And another.  And another, each breath a reminder of God’s loving presence inside of me.  And then I was filled with God’s overwhelming love.  Actually, “filled” is a bad way to describe it.  Yes, it was in me.  But I was also surrounded and immersed in this atmosphere of love, as if in a womb or cocoon.  And yet even that is an inaccurate description.  It was more like the realization that in my nothingness love was reality.  It was the atmosphere I breathed.  Love was the foundation of reality.

You’ve never been in control and you never will be.

It is true that “in him we live and move and have our being.”  (Acts 17:28.)  It is true that God is love.  (1 John 4:8.)  And having been reduced to my essence, my wonderful nothingness, I wanted nothing more than to share God’s love and to be the embodiment of love.  I realized that I was part of God, that God is love and that I was built to love.  This purpose is what sustained me through years of living without food, subsisting on a feeding tube.

Our fears are like imaginary pirate ships on the sea of consciousness.

When you are so broken and so weak that you can no longer hold on, you have no choice but to let go.  When you let go, you look upon the fears and worries that tormented you and, suddenly, they are no longer a part of you.  Instead, they’re like pirate ships drifting away on the sea of consciousness … and you just let them float off to the horizon because they are no longer a part of you.  They are “out there.”  In fact, they were never real to begin with.  They were mere illusions, created by my refusal to embrace my innate worthiness and godliness, byproducts of my lustful pursuit of the illusory oasis of control and perfection.

Truth is, you’ve never been in control and you never will be.  You’re never “perfect” in the way you think of perfection.  If you give up, fail, lose, or whatever else you fear, you’ll keep breathing.  So surrender the imaginary battle.  Stop trying and repent.   After all, repentance is nothing more than an awakening to your innate lovability and worthiness.  It is re-discovering that lovable, innocent child of God you once were, filled with love, filled with a sense of wonder, filled with light and innocence, ignorant to fear and avarice.  That child of God is still there inside of you and a new and hopeful world awaits you.  But you must let go and die to discover that.

Each breath witnesses that you are an extension of the great “I AM.”

Now, like a newborn child, I sometimes feel a bit alien in this confusing world.  I miss the cocoon.  I miss the womb.  It’s when I’m fighting the evil pirates out there, labeling who the bad guys are, and judging and assessing that I feel this way.  That’s when I feel lost.   But when I get back to my core purpose, when I put the things I’m trying to control out of reach and then reach out and love another person with real intent, I find God again.  I feel that connection and closeness once more.  I see the enemy pirate ships float away and then evaporate on the horizon once again and say to myself, “Why was I so worried?”  “Home” really is where your heart is.  Living love is living with God.  It’s heaven on earth.

It’s the little things that keep me grounded in true reality.  Buy lemonade from a kid at the lemonade stand.  Compliment someone.  Write a nice email or text to encourage someone.  Give hugs.  Pat someone on the back.  Be courteous in traffic.  Buy someone lunch.  Just little stuff like that can keep you grounded in the reality of your existence and purpose.  These things create atonement and connection.

You were built to love.  That is your purpose.  And living your purpose brings peace and happiness.  That is why the breath of life persists inside of you.  Each breath witnesses that you are an extension of the great “I AM.”

Pornography and Other Monsters and Scapegoats

Pornography and Other Monsters and Scapegoats

Pornography is evil.  I’ll never deny that.  But, for the religious, it has become a convenient scapegoat, hiding an even more insidious evil we don’t like to talk about.  The ego/the natural man (whatever you want to call it) … it will always find a person, group or thing—something or someone “out there”—on which to project its problems.  This great evil, this plague, this thing “out there” attacking us and assaulting us diverts our attention and focus away from where the real trouble lies.  In reality, we create most of the monsters that we hate and fear.

Having a monster to slay keeps us distracted and busy so we don’t think about all that motes and beams stuff or ask the difficult questions such as, “Lord, is it I?”

There’s a name for what we do when we rail on pornography, bullying or other monsters.  It’s called the “scapegoat mechanism.”  This scapegoat mechanism largely operates at the unconscious level.  People don’t even know when they are scapegoating.  It’s a convenient diversion that works quite well.  Having a monster to slay keeps us distracted and busy so we don’t think about all that motes and beams stuff (Matthew 7:3, 5) or ask the difficult questions such as, “Lord, is it I?” (Matthew 26:21-22.)

Lord, is it I?

And when we can rally as a group and rail against the monster, the diversion away from the real problem is even more successful since hatred and fear hold a group together more readily than the self-examination and introspection mandated by the gospel of Jesus Christ.  So we rail on the monster as if it was more evil than the unredeemed culture of guilt and shame our self-righteous defense of purity and piousness perpetuates.  Blaise Pascal so insightfully wrote, “People never do evil so completely and so cheerfully as when they do it with a religious conviction.”

So what is the real problem?  Who created this monster of pornography?  You did and I did.

You see, we are learning, more and more each day, that people turn to pornography for escape and not necessarily sexual pleasure.  As Robert Weiss wrote recently in Psychology Today, “these individuals use not to feel pleasure but to escape emotional discomfort. It is a desire for emotional escape rather than a desire to ‘get high’ that is the crux of all addictions and compulsive behavior.”

The gospel invites us into a path of introspection and self-examination

Yet how many of us ask ourselves, “Do I contribute to the environment of pain and emotional trauma ‘out there’ that would lead someone to seek escape through pornography, drug addiction or some other outlet?”  “Lord, is it I?”  Of course not.  We never see a connection between ourselves and the “out there” monsters.  So the evils in society repeat themselves, over and over and over again.

Even when we can catch a glimpse of our own culpability the cycle inevitably repeats itself.  For example, the recent school shooting in Spokane, Washington, is typical of the pattern.  Kid gets bullied by all the “nice” kids at school.  Kid has access to a gun.  Kid goes berserk, takes his gun to school and starts shooting.  We all feel bad for the innocent victim, who is eulogized in the media nigh to sainthood (rightfully so).  We hold a candlelight vigil, talk about the evil monster called “bullying,” and then get back to our self-centered, unempathetic, uncaring ways until the next school shooting.

But when Jesus taught that the kingdom of God is within you (Luke 17:21) perhaps it was an indication that the gospel invites us into a path of introspection and self-examination—fighting the evils within rather than those without.  If you want to build the Kingdom of God, become a better person.

Pornography is evil.  Make no doubt about it.  However, what is more evil, pornography or the culture of emotional pain that we create and that leads people to seek refuge and comfort in the grasp of this false god?  The stories of Jesus give us some clue as to the answer.

The longer you gaze, the more you will see your own complicity in and profitability from the sin of others, even if it is the satisfaction of feeling you are on higher moral ground

What was Jesus more worried about—the sexual sin of a woman caught in the very act of cheating on her husband or the pious men who lacked love and had so much judgment in their hearts that they wanted to kill her by stoning her to death?  (John 8:3-8.)  What troubled Jesus more—a sinful woman of the “city” (who by every indication was the village harlot) inappropriately touching and kissing his feet, or the judgmental thoughts of the pious Simon and Simon’s overall lack of empathy, which manifested itself in failing to extend even common courtesies to a dinner guest?  (Luke 7:36-50.)

Wasn’t Jesus saying that the sins of judgment, condemnation, piousness, lack of empathy, lack of understanding, lack of compassion and lack of courtesy—in a word, pride—were bigger issues for him than sexual sin?  Make no doubt about it, he never approved of sexual sin.  But he prioritized and juxtaposed“sin.”  And who were the heroes and who were the villains in these stories?

Yes, pornography is evil.  But the way we talk about it, the way we are fixated upon it, the way we preach about it … none of that will do any good unless we, ourselves, look inwardly and see our own complicity in this (and every other) modern-day plague or monster.  Until our dialogue regarding pornography, bullying or any other monster or plague “out there” includes a discussion of what we’ve done (and are doing) “in here” to contribute to it, we will never understand the true nature of evil and sin.  As Franciscan scholar Richard Rohr wrote recently, “You will keep projecting, fearing, and attacking it over there, instead of ‘gazing’ on it within and ‘weeping’ over it within yourself and all of us. The longer you gaze, the more you will see your own complicity in and profitability from the sin of others, even if it is the satisfaction of feeling you are on higher moral ground.”

We cannot transform suffering and evil in the world unless and until we, ourselves, are transformed.

We create most of the monsters we fear.  Why?  So we can hide from our shadow selves and bask in the false light that our spiritual lynch mob torches and candlelight vigils cast us.  Attacking monsters feeds the ego.  If even at the subconscious level, it feeds our pride, which is the ironic self-deception that we are better than someone else experienced only when we are insecure enough to value superiority.  But isn’t our pride the more sinister monster and the more devious addiction?

We can decry the evils of pornography upon every housetop.  We can preach a thousand sermons about how wicked and corrupt it is.  But no amount of condemning, shaming or guilting will ever do any good unless we are willing to set aside our pride, look deeper, see ourselves as part of the problem, and then learn how to become the embodiment of compassion and love—in a word, repent—which is what God has really called us to do.  (See Matthew 5:48; 1 John 4:8.)  We cannot transform suffering and evil in the world unless and until we, ourselves, are transformed.  Until then we won’t transform suffering and evil, we’ll transmit it!

It is you, and it is me.

Would pornography exist in a world that was built to love?  If our emotional culture was loving and nurturing (instead of so proud and competitive) would people need to turn to pornography for escape from emotional pain and trauma?  If our emotional culture was compassionate and empathetic (instead of so proud and perfectionist) would we want to desecrate the sacredness of sex?  If we were good at building and maintaining strong and healthy relationships would pornography really be a temptation?

You want to fix the plague of pornography?  Learn how to love.  You want to solve the drug addiction and opioid crisis?  Learn how to love.  You want to stop school shootings?  Learn how to love.  Teach your children to do likewise.  As we try to navigate a world that is more confusing than ever, that is filled with changing values and social upheaval, that is filled with random acts of terror, and where, as Jesus said, men’s hearts will fail them (Matthew 24:12), I am convinced that the only hope for the world is learning how to love.  Yes, let’s fight pornography.  But let us not be distracted by the “otherness” of it.

I have seen the monster.  It is you and it is me.

For more ideas and discussion on this and other related issues, please read my books Gethsemamnesia and Built to Love, available now in paperback.

Why Is That Stone in Your Hand?

Why Is That Stone in Your Hand?

I love that it is the unorthodox who are almost always the heroes in the stories of Jesus.  Take, for example, the sinful woman who—in a most unorthodox manner—washed the feet of Jesus with her tears and dried them with her hair in the house of the “righteous” and observant Pharisee.  Jesus was disgusted with the Pharisee’s self-righteous judgment and condemnation:

“Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, ‘Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair.  You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet.  Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.’”  (Luke 7:44-47.)

This Pharisee, who by all accounts was an active church goer, was so spiritually dead that he couldn’t even be a good host.  His pious life of having “been forgiven little” left him out of touch, unable to identify basic human needs.  In contrast, the woman’s display of compassion, understanding and love—meeting the basic human needs of Jesus—showed that despite her sinful life (or perhaps because of it) she was a transformed human being who really “got it.”

Perhaps the crisis of apostasy and disbelief we perceive in the world today is a direct outgrowth of the greater apostasy, the secret revolt that is being perpetuated in the hearts of the orthodox who have forgotten how to love and, indeed, seem to love their theology and conformity more than they love people.

This story speaks discourses on the culturally converted—those who don’t “get it” (but are blinded into thinking that they do).  Ironically, in this and most of the other stories of Jesus, it is the so-called “active” and “faithful” who most often unlovingly judge and hypocritically brand the unorthodox as if struggling with orthodoxy was really more sinful than the uncompassionate and dogmatic enforcement of it.

Do you really think the message of Jesus is that what you believe—your theology, your rule-keeping, your conformity—matters more than the kind of person that you are?  Do you really think that your strict orthodoxy or faithful belief in a set of dogmas or tenets makes you righteous?  If so, you really don’t understand the scriptures at all.

Remember, whenever you point your finger at someone there are three fingers pointing back at you.

When Jesus confronted the would-be stone throwers who were ready to condemn the woman caught in the very act of adultery (John 8:2-11) what do you think troubled him more?  The woman’s sin or the fact that the would-be stone throwers’ orthodoxy had led them to a spirit of murder?  Jesus had to know that this same spirit would eventually lead to his murder.

“What is that stone in your hand and what does it say about your heart?”

What spirit is inside of you?

Perhaps the crisis of apostasy and disbelief we perceive in the world today is a direct outgrowth of the greater apostasy, the secret revolt that is being perpetuated in the hearts of the orthodox who have forgotten how to love and, indeed, seem to love their theology and conformity more than they love people.

Grounding yourself in orthodoxy is as silly as sitting on the sideline, studying your rule book and thinking that it will make you a football star.  Yes, knowing the rules is important.  But that is not the essence of the game.  It is barely even the beginning!  It’s the hours in the gym, lifting and struggling.  It’s the hours on the practice field, running, hitting, getting knocked down, and then getting back up again.  It’s a thousand tears, a million drops of sweat, blood and sacrifice. That’s what football stars are made of.

Judging reveals more about you than the person you are judging

Likewise, studying the scriptures, keeping all the rules and being fully orthodox might make you a spiritual Bob Costas; knowledgeable but wholly inadequate and incapable of playing the real game on the field of life.  Those things are necessary but wholly insufficient.  Orthodoxy without orthopraxy is a dangerous thing.  It renders you weak when you think you are strong.  It’s an illusion, a golden calf, a graven image.  It swells your head and shrinks your heart.

So I would ask you who are so ready to judge, so ready to condemn, so sure that you’re right, so confident that you are among the “righteous,” so worried about what other people believe, so worried about what others are doing and how they are living, “What is that stone in your hand and what does it say about your heart?”

Remember, whenever you point your finger at someone there are three fingers pointing back at you.  As the stories of Jesus teach us, judging reveals more about you than the person you are judging.

The next time you are ready to judge or condemn someone, especially for what they do or don’t believe, ask yourself, “Would I be the hero or the villain if this were a story of Jesus?”