When Our Neighbor is Hard to Love

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On Decisions

Good reflection for a Sunday

Kaleb Daniel Nyquist

On Decisions (/) is third in an ongoing series of meditations on life’s ubiquitous experiences. The first was On Notifications (!), and the second was On Questions (?).

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“I’ve been really struggling with a decision lately.”

“With what?”

“Well, you know how my phone’s screen cracked last month? Lately, the entire thing hasn’t been powering on.  And so I have been trying to decide between simply replacing it with the same model, or going ahead and getting an upgrade.”

“Okay.”

“…and, you know, I’ve been really praying about this one. You know, whatever God wants for me, that’s what I want.”

“…what?”

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The person in the above anecdote may or not have been the same person who told me “Jesus really doesn’t want me to have this Samsung Galaxy Tab III right now.”

It may or may not have been the same couple who…

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The Love of Some Will Grow Cold

I’ve been struck that the scripture says that in the latter days the love of some will grow cold.

The love, the compassion, the vision of Jesus and the sincere love of our neighbor would give way. In its place would remain self-interest, greed, pride, restless desire, and callousness towards our fellow man. People would be lovers of money, and lovers of self.

I was on the metro today and heard a person cry out endlessly, “Can anybody help me?” He was not mentally well and he was asking for money, but he cried over and over again. In the midst of an otherwise normal morning commute he had the honesty to break the silence.

Do any of us still realize we depend on God in that same way? Do we realize we need to cry out as well?

We who too often love ambition, comfort, and status, but neglect the mercy, justice, and compassion of God.

Do you not find it hard to rouse yourself to proper Christian desires? Has your love and radical desire to follow Jesus grown stale and old? Do we not wonder why we are restless and thirsty?

Have not old values become a thing of the past?

May the Lord deliver us towards higher and more robust passions. The kind found in Jesus himself.

On Spiritual Mentors

In the life of faith you have to have those you trust and respect enough to speak into your life. You need true, loving, biblical discipleship. When you no longer are actively walking with someone who you trust regularly, things tend to break down in the life of faith.

We need mentors, elders, and loving friends. The life of faith can be lived alone even if you attend church. That shouldn’t be though. What you need are people who you can let in on your life, not to dictate but to dialogue.

I heard someone just the other night who said that he had someone in his life that would cause him to rethink even the surest of decisions. This man had lived a long time and was a fairly senior and well respected leader. If he has someone who he respects enough to do that than we all should take stock of ourselves. None of has the wisdom or the mandate to live life alone.

I pray that all of us would be humble and willing to give to another the love and respect needed for true discipleship and fellowship. May we all know the joy of spiritual mentors, elders, and loving friends.

Alexei

On Regular Repentance

If you are like me and worship in a liturgical tradition you likely say a prayer of repentance every Sunday. And more likely than not it begins something like this:

Most merciful God we confess that we have sinned against you

Even if you don’t worship in a liturgical tradition you are likely familiar with the Jesus Prayer:

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner

Repentance involves a turning away from sin, evil, and death. To turn is to begin a process of change and reconciliation with the Trinity. To go from illness and into health.

So what role does repentance play in our lives? The more I’ve thought about this and slowly practiced it (I’m not always ready to admit my actual sins let alone be convicted about my sins of omission or the things I ought to have done but have not) the more I realize my regular need for it. In fact, the more I can practice repentance regularly the more easily I can recall sin and be reconciled to God with my ever wandering heart.

My basic point is not that profound. Repentance is more than a Sunday affair and repentance is not abstract it is specific. If you’re proud like me pray for mercy from God so that you might actually turn from sin.

May the Lord be with you today,
Alexei

Consider Others More Worhty

I  could sit at the feet of Philippians 2 for a long time. Consider others more worthy, do everything without grumbling, complaining, or arguing.

If the church sat in Philippians 2, we would surely shine like the sun. our example would be so different then what we see in the world today. For the moment I want to focus on the seeing others more worthy part.

It’s hard to be deferential and servant oriented towards others. We tend to befriend those who are like us, those who share our preferences and attitudes. We naturally select out the other.

Yet, scriptures remind us to not only consider the other but to give the other a place of deference. Why is that?

Why give deference to another? Because to give difference is to refrain from judgment. Not only to refrain but to replace judgment with compassion and charity. To understand the actions of others (pastors, friends, bosses, teachers) with a certain nod towards humility and deference. In other words to refrain from sitting at the seat of scoffers, but instead to consider that the other has more pressures and challenges going on in their lives. It’s not to refrain from judgment by taking pride in being nonjudgmental, no not that by any means. It’s to identify in, to recognize our own sin and limit and to actively choose to keep others in high esteem. To ground our own advances in the reality that we often fail.

We often fail, we often sin. One thing I’ve noticed in myself is a stubborn refusal to admit my sins. I don’t know if you can relate, but it takes me time to admit my mistakes and to want to turn from them. Much easier to ignore my mistakes or blame others. The problem is that I will not properly repent or accept others as they are until I am willing to own my sins.

I was reading somewhere how the Orthodox make it an explicit teaching to refrain from judging others, especially those in authority. I think that would be healthier for Protestants and Catholics. Especially if your tradition has accountable leadership (Anglican, Lutheran, Methodist, or Catholic) best to be differential and obedient rather than judgmental and unwilling to learn. We too often play favorites with our leaders showering our favored ones with applause and praise while we ignore those that don’t fit our particular temperament. Might be wiser to submit and hear so that we might grow in maturity in faith.

May we all grow in a holy deference to each other and those in authority,
Alexei

Why Community Can Be Hard to Come By

Community can be hard to come by. It’s not a shock for me to write something like this. But having, keeping, and maintaining friends let alone a loving and supportive community is pretty hard to come by.

I remember talking to one younger person engaged in ministry. I asked him who he talked to for support when his day to day was difficult. He said no one. Apparently he had tried to reach out but found others so unwilling to be available that he gave up. Not only did he give up but seemed to double down on his present strategy, which was to rely on God more and not trust others.

Community is hard to come by and impossible to control. You have very little control in people’s interest in relating to you. Luckily many people have loving spouses or nearby family that fill the role of “no matter what” support. But there are also plenty of people who live without much if any family like support at all.

Community is something we all desire, but mostly on our terms. We view it as a negative if a friend inconveniences us or seems to impose or expect more than we are willing to give. This is neither particularly praiseworthy or terrible, it just happens to be reality for many.

So where does Jesus fit into all of this? How does the emphasis on love, compassion, and family fit into the kingdom of God? Where do the teachings of Jesus fit in the community life of the church?

Jesus seems to challenge all our notions and lifts up stories like the Good Samaritan. The honest and compassionate man who spared no expense to see another fully and completely restored.

I wonder do we have that vision towards each other? Do we want complete restoration and wholeness even at great expense to ourselves?

Our present day notions of community are fairly impoverished, mostly from disuse than from anything particularly terrible. We mostly don’t practice long lasting and meaningful fellowship with others so we are unaware of the diversity of approaches and richness of meaning it can bring to faith.

We often say we want community, but do we really? Do we want the hard work that goes along with cultivating virtues that are relationally practiced even at great cost? Do we want to be challenged to love our fellow even when it is the middle of the night? Do we want the messiness that comes with confrontation, repentance, and reconciliation; elements found in any real and meaningful relationship. Do we want the joy and sorrow that comes with watching another person grow, succeed, and struggle over a lifetime?

Or do we want the way of ease and bliss? Do we want to continue down the road of desire without fulfillment. The road of stepping around toes? The road of “I’m doing well.” The road of good news “I got promoted. I had a nice vacation. I had an awesome date.” The road of following cultural or even social media cues without real significance.

Community is hard work. It’s a cultivation of virtue and compassion over time. It’s a road filled with disappointment and filled with joy.

There’s not a lot of great books that really work through contemporary community (with its unique challenges), but here’s some things to think about. Start with folks who live in your rough neighborhood. Have regular contact with folks. Don’t give up on others, but try to understand their stories and why you see the hesitation or disinterest. Be realistic without internalizing the blame for broken relationships.

May the Lord bless you with an abundance of community.

Blessings,
Alexei