Most important of all, continue to show deep love for each other...
1 Peter 4:8a
This spring I facilitated a course for about 40 adults in our church called Emotionally Healthy Relationships. It was about as straightforward as it sounds. We discussed hands-on skills and tools to help us love others well with our words, expectations, and attitudes.
During one session, my breakout group got onto the subject of deep relationships. Someone mentioned how much they appreciate being able to get below the surface in connection with others, but how much of a challenge that can be.
And I started thinking about "surface tension." Surface tension is fascinating. The top of a liquid will naturally resist external forces, because there is a cohesive nature to the molecules on the surface. In simple terms, it forms a sheet on the top that insects can walk on... and that also feels like a slab of concrete if you jump onto it from too high up.
There's a literal, scientifically-proven force out there that pushes us away from experiencing depth. And all along you just thought you were socially awkward!
Surface tension is surprisingly powerful. Maybe that's why Peter writes to the early church in such un-ambiguous language: Most importantly, friends! Love deeply.
A key to healthy discipleship and being the Church is that our love has got to go below the surface. The actual Greek word that is translated "deep" in the NIV means "fervent." This is a love that requires true effort and true commitment to break through the surface layers. (This love also covers a multitude of sins! But that's for a different day.)
Simply understanding love in this way is a first step to healthy Christian community. The second is acknowledging that surface tension is a real thing. When we name the reality of surface tension and how easy it is to avoid depth in our relationships, we can move beyond our egos and be more intentional about diving deeper and breaking through.
But somebody has to go first. With how strong the pull is to stay on the surface of conversations and relationships, someone is going to have to break the tension and make the splash. Someone has to be willing to ask great questions, share honestly, and disrupt the ease of surface level interactions. You will rarely love people well by talking about the weather every time you see them.
As we learn to practice deep love, beauty will emerge in new ways. First, we will find that below the surface there is a world as vast and surprising and mysterious as the ocean itself, with infinitely unexplored areas and new discoveries all the time. Knowing someone's story infinitely increases our capacity to love them. Listening to someone's hopes, fears, joys, and sorrows is a rare and special gift. And sharing our own with others is equally beautiful. We will discover things about ourselves and our sisters and brothers that change how we experience the world.
Additionally, this type of love is a witness-- a beautiful invitation for others to explore the Jesus community. People will look and note that the Christians among them have a depth of care and love that is unique and compelling. To borrow the words of Jesus, everyone will know we are his disciples by our love for one another: love with a depth and fervency about it.
So how will you dive in this week? Who will you show love to in a new way? Who will you pray for and encourage? To whom will you ask a great question and listen meaningfully? How will you break the surface tension?
Jesus, give me a genuine love for others today, and lead me to take a step toward deeper and more meaningful interactions. Give me courage to go deeper.
Then when they were alone, he turned to the disciples and said, “Blessed are the eyes that see what you have seen."
-Luke 10:23 (Jesus to his disciples)
A few weeks ago it was announced that my cousin Ben was hired to a wonderful new position within his Indiana school district as the Director and Principal of their Career Center high school. It is exciting news, and a local newspaper carried the story. But it wasn't the job report that caught my eye in the story. It his quote about the opportunity.
"I feel severely blessed by all the great people that I get to work with and continue to work with," he said.
Honestly, I've never heard the phrase "severely blessed" before. Have you? My cousin is a really entertaining guy, and so I could easily imagine him saying this, but I've found myself sitting with that comment for weeks now (Ben, thanks for letting me have some fun at your expense, man. You're a good sport :).
What a great phrase. Severely blessed.
It creates all sorts of imagery, doesn't it? It's a little extreme, and a little weighty... but at the same time exceedingly good.
And, given the week we're in, that may just be the perfect description of a disciple of Jesus. Severely blessed.
We are blessed... but in the most extreme way.
We are blessed... but there's an intensity about it.
We are blessed... but there's a calling to it.
In the middle of Holy Week, today is the day where we remember the severe servanthood of Jesus as he washed the disciples feet on Maundy Thursday.
Tomorrow we'll remember the severe violence and rejection and injustice that Jesus endured on the cross, as well as the severe nature of a love that would give its life for another- a love that absorbs all the evil in the world and responds with forgiveness.
And on Sunday, we celebrate God's severe judgment over death itself, opening a new door for life now and forever with Jesus.
It's a week of being severely blessed.
But as resurrection people, there's even a severity about our calling.
When we think about how ridiculously good the news is about Jesus' resurrection, we begin to realize that it's too good to keep to ourselves.
Like Abraham was told by Yahweh in Genesis 12, God's blessing of him had a purpose-- and that was so that he would be a blessing to all the nations.
Blessed to be a blessing. A blessing with a calling. Maybe we call that a severe blessing as well? So good, so weighty. I think we're severely blessed.
The beauty of being severely blessed, though, is that at its core, it's still a blessing. This is not about pressure, but about how big and beautiful and important it all is. It doesn't rely on what we do, it relies on what God has done through a love beyond imagination.
So we step into our severe blessing full of grace, knowing that we have a responsibility to live God's unfolding kingdom, in everything we think, do, and say. But we've been given all we need to do it well, and to do it with the power of the same Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead.
This week brings with it an intense story with intense feelings- but it's all for our benefit. Our blessing is not lighthearted or passive. It's intense. It's daunting. It's beautiful. It's overwhelming. And that's because it flows from the most severe display of love that we could ever imagine.
What an incredible blessing we've been given. Let's rest in the grace and beauty of Jesus this Holy Week... and make the most of the gift God has given us by living a new life.
Jesus, as we receive your endless love again today and receive the story of ultimate love this weekend, spur us on to spread the kingdom you came to reveal.
Whoever derides their neighbor has no sense, but the one who has understanding holds their tongue.
Ever been cut off in traffic? I have. People are such jerks!
Sure, I've also cut people off in traffic. But mine was just an honest mistake because I was in a hurry...
Early this week I spent some time with other pastors in my network exploring ways to build bridges and extend God's love and invitation to the world. A guy named Terry spends his career training pastors in this, and he facilitated our conversation and gave meaningful insights. One of the concepts he shared deserves to be explored further. I couldn't remember the name of it, but after a little research I think I found it. It's called the Fundamental Attribution Error.
Fundamental Attribution Error is a psychology term, and here's what it means. When we see a certain behavior in someone else, we are quick to attribute that behavior to someone's character more than the situation that may have played a role. For example, if someone gets late to a meeting with us, we might quickly think the reason is, "he's so careless! He doesn't respect this relationship."
But if we get to a meeting late, we think, "My kid needed me at the last second and I hit 2 red lights." See that? We understand that situations play a big role in our behavior, and that helps explain our actions (whether good or bad). But we rarely give others that benefit, often assuming that their behavior is directly linked to their character more than their situation, when we do the opposite with ourselves.
When we make this error of attributing a single action to someone's core character, it makes us quick to judge and slow to understand the complexities of other people. We become less compassionate, and it hinders meaningful connections.
What's a better way? Well, we can try to give people the benefit of the doubt, for sure, and we should. But there's only one way to truly stop the temptation of FAE.
Get close enough to know more.
Let's take the driving example that I started with (that my new friend Terry used). I might call the driver that cut me off a jerk-- but if I am close enough to see a "novice driver" bumper sticker on the back of their car, I may change my tune, right? I will think, "Ah, they're just learning. I remember when I was learning. Merging was terrifying."
We've got more information now... and compassion flows a bit more readily because of it. If a bumper sticker like that can help with our compassion and connection, how much greater knowing a person's story would be!
As disciples, our highest calling is to love God and love our neighbors. Love and understanding are absolutely linked, so this is a chance to help us look more like Jesus in his radical love, welcome, and grace. Let's increase proximity to those whom we casually judge from the outside. We'll find they are complex and worthy of love, just as we are.
When we make our own mistakes, we don't want others to decide that is the sum of who we are. So we honor the truth of our own value when we refuse to define other people by a moment that we may not fully understand. When we move closer, we see more layers, and compassion follows.
All it takes is just a little information to build a lot more connection. This is true for all of life, not simply when we see someone's rough moments. So let's keep seeking understanding, and let's keep asking Jesus to help us see beyond our human tendencies. We want to gaze on others with the eyes of Christ himself, who is within us.
New friendships will emerge, new bridges will be built, and new glimpses of God's kingdom will be had as we get close enough to know more.
Jesus, help me learn more stories so that I can have an increased capacity for compassion and connection today.