Tag Archives: embracing

Seeing God in Our Neighbor

Religion has a tendency to complicate things. Take this simple saying from Jesus.

Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.
(Matthew 5:8, NIV)

heartAs I read this, my religious self wants to say, “What must I do to be good enough to see God?” This type of thinking fails on two levels, doing and seeing. Purity of heart is not something we do, but something we are. Purity of heart has more to do with relationship than it does righteousness. Throughout the Bible, the condition of our heart is shown by how we relate to one another. Jesus taught, “A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.” (Luke 6:35) When we speak, we speak to those around us. What is our heart communicating through our words?

How does the condition of our heart help us to see God? We first need to define what it means to see God. I believe that God’s self revelation comes in ways we don’t immediately expect. No one expected Israel’s messiah to come in the form of a peasant child, born to an unwed mother in a stable in Bethlehem. We may not expect to see God in our family members, neighbors, friends, or co-workers. If we do, we might hope to see God in the people we like and love, but we might not expect God to be revealed in the people we don’t know or even care for. I believe that God’s self revelation comes through the people and situations we find ourselves in, with them.

We can know the purity of our heart by how we treat one another. What if we feel that our heart is not that pure? This is actually a continuation of Jesus’ previous saying in the Beatitudes. “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.” There we found that mercy comes from empathy. To be pure of heart is to love God by loving others the way we would love ourselves. Living in love is both a work of the Holy Spirit and a choice we make. I find that I am more loving when I set myself aside to meet someone where he is at. It is in being present with those we are with that we find we can love them as they are. It is also a work of the Spirit. The fruits of the Spirit begin with love. (Galatians 5:22)  When we commit our lives to follow the indwelling Spirit of God, we commit ourselves to live a life of love as Jesus loves. Jesus said that the role of the Holy Spirit is to reveal the Father and the Son, which is the purest relationship ever. God is love. We love God when we love others. When we love others as Jesus does, we live out of the purity of our heart, which is the outworking of the Holy Spirit within us.

Religion wants to complicate what Jesus simply calls love.

May we grow in love as we seek to honor God in the face of those we find ourselves with, and may we see the face of God in the face of our neighbor!

Grace and peace,
Brook

Being Mercy

Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
(Matthew 5:7, NIV)

sunrise through the treesQuite often it is the understated that houses the greatest treasure. As I was looking at this passage, my initial thought was that there wasn’t much going on with it. I basically said to myself, “Well, of course, the merciful will be shown mercy.” I just wasn’t getting it. I actually had to sit with it for a few days asking the question, “What was Jesus trying to teach us with this simple couplet.” The answer I found was much richer than I had anticipated.

It was like Jesus answered my question with a question. “How is it that the merciful are able to show mercy?” 

I realized that in order to give mercy we must be able to identify with the need of the one seeking mercy. In other words, it takes empathy. Empathy is the ability to feel with someone. Empathy, though, is a by product of a much larger practice of being present. To be present is simply to pay attention to the opportunities to love someone as you would love yourself.

Mercy can be defined as: the moral quality of feeling compassion and especially of showing kindness toward someone in need. We all know what it’s like to need mercy, to need a helping hand, to feel the need to be released from the weight of judgement. This can be a tricky thing. Sometimes we don’t know that we need mercy. We’re struggling so hard that we don’t realize that someone is holding out a hand to help us. Sometimes we feel the pressure of judgement, but don’t realize that it’s only in our head. Understanding this and practicing being present toward others will give us the capacity to extend mercy.

Mercy will look as different as the opportunities there are to extend it. This is where the guidance of the Holy Spirit comes in. Mercy may be lending a helping hand, listening and reflecting with a dear friend, or extending forgiveness to someone who has hurt you.

Now, what about the second half of the passage? I don’t think this is a “you scratch my back, and I’ll scratch yours” type of situation. True mercy has no obligations attached to it. So, where will the mercy come from? I think it comes from the fact that the merciful know when and how to seek mercy, because they have made giving mercy a part of their own life.

May we be present to others and open to the leading of the Holy Spirit, so that we will have a merciful heart, reflecting the heart of God for the world.

Grace and peace,
Brook

Being Present to Others

Life is not lived in a vacuum. We are not islands unto ourselves. We belong to one another.

I feel that it would be an over simplification to say that the goal of being present to God and of being present to ourselves is to be adequately prepared to be present with other people. The fact of the matter is that these three things are concurrent with and inform each other. Our experiences of being present in one aspect, help us to do the same in other aspects. That is to say, one is not more important than another. What good is it to have an awesome prayer time only to find ourself holding ill feelings toward a loved one. Or, have an amazing sense of self awareness, only to be oblivious to those around us. It is all inter-connected. It all matters. It all takes practice. (Ephesians 4:1-6)

I came across a story earlier this week about an American WWII soldier who, in realizing his own feelings, thought of his enemy and how to reach out to him. You can watch him tell the story below. You can also read a fuller exposition of it here.

The reason I share this story is for us to realize that our lives are not our own. Our practice of presence may at some times seem mundane and at others amazingly significant. The idea of being adequately prepared to be present is not in storing up preparation, but rather the practice of presence itself. Instead of seeing ourselves as a reservoir, maybe we should see ourselves as a stream. Our experiences form the channel through which presence flows. It is a picture of strong weakness. (2 Corinthians 12:9) Our strength is not found in the ability to hold on to presence, but in the presence that flows through us. (If you have ever tried to wade across a stream, you will know what I’m talking about.) The strength of presence comes from spending time with God, having a healthy sense of self awareness, and taking the time to be with others where they are at.

My hope is that as we step into the practice of being present, we will find that it is a grace not only for others, but for ourselves as well.

Grace and peace,
Brook

Embracing the Next Step

Over the last few years I have utilized annual themes in writing these devotional articles. It started in 2011 by focusing on Community. From the theme of Community came Building Bridges in 2012. This last year was focused on Embracing. These themes put together create a long trajectory. When we begin to understand ourselves as a community and as individuals within a community, we can then begin to build bridges to that community, understanding that we are actually the bridges themselves. A bridge is a connection between two places that do not immediately meet. A bridge touches, or better yet, embraces both sides of its span. An embrace is an introduction, a discovery, and the beginning of what possibly lies ahead. The embrace leads to a next step.

Sacagawea by Robert Schoeller

Sacagawea by Robert Schoeller

Recently, my family was listening to an audio book chronicling the adventure of Lewis and Clark as they set out to discover a water way from the upper Midwest to the Pacific Ocean. Some distance into the journey, Sacajawea, their Native American guide, introduced them to her people, the Shoshone. The Shoshone had a custom of greeting one and all with a hug. Lewis and Clark humorously referred to this greeting as the “national embrace!” Sometimes this ritual would last for hours.

Lewis and Clark, and as well the Shoshone, discovered that after their embrace there were decisions to be made. Would they continue together or not? To what degree would they support one another? Would they share resources materially, socially, or politically? As they discovered, the embrace was only the beginning. As it turned out, the Shoshone became a vital part of the success of the expedition. This success was based on each party choosing and sticking to the next step.

2014 is a year of next steps. A year of making decisions and taking action. This trajectory we are on is a continual trajectory. Community, bridge building, and embracing will happen concurrently with and will even be the grace to empower us in our journey into the next steps. There is much that lies before us, but we are not alone on this expedition. God has given us the Holy Spirit, the Scriptures, and one another. Just as Sacajawea introduced Lewis and Clark to the “national embrace” that led to a successful alliance, may we as a community continue in the love that chooses to embrace and takes the next steps of loving God by loving one another, so that the influence of God’s kingdom would extend beyond our wildest dreams.

Grace and peace,
Brook