Stories from the Cleft-8: The Challenge of “Loving Neighbor as Self”

Welcome to the eighth serving of Stories from the Cleft at The Training Table—set to serve and help sustain all those who are “running the good race” (1 Corinthians 9:26; 2 Timothy 4:7).

Please check out where we’ve been along the journey at The Training Table Archives section of Feast of the Heart. Be sure to recall the Bible passage from Exodus 33:12-23; 34:29-35 where the story of Moses and “the cleft in the rock” can be found.

The foundation of mankind’s deepest desires can be summarized in one simple yet very complicated statement made by (God the Father and) Jesus, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself’” (Luke 10:27; Deuteronomy 6:5).

This statement (or commandment), given by God to mankind out of pure love and truth, is “simple yet complicated” due to impact of inherited and personal sin (Genesis 3). But, like Gordian’s Knot, the complexity, the giant-sized hairball of getting it worked out, can be cut through by God’s word, The Sword of Truth!

Now, it gets tricky when history unfolds in such a way that we (culturally and personally) forget the first thing (loving God), while trying to pull-off in any respectable or admirable or enduring way… the second thing (loving neighbor), right? When we lose sight of Who God is, we will, axiomatically, incrementally, yet most assuredly, lose sight of who we are… and our neighbor (fellow man) as well.

The Biblical formula goes something like this: “Know and love God + Know and love neighbor = The Shalom Tapestry of God’s Redemptive Story”. This is a very big deal! And, if we and I are in God’s family, we act as a purposeful, integral, and very personal “thread” in the fabric of how God is working out His plan.

Admittedly, the breadth and depth of importance tied to what I’m about to serve-up has nearly paralyzed me, or choked me, with the backlog of content that one could use to underpin any grand True Truth. It’s an insight prompted by reading a quote that acted like the magnificent kaleidoscopes our family once saw in “a museum of kaleidoscopes” somewhere in Europe: The innumerable, multi-colored, and once-disparate beads fell into place so perfectly, I gasped with delight! Repeatedly, as I roamed through the array of large and fantastical kaleidoscopes, I said to whoever would listen, “OMG! Look at THIS one!”

Is Our Faith Life Godly, Appealing, and Contagious? Or, are We a Contagion?

Thomas Merton said, “He (or she) who attempts to act and do things for others and for the world without deepening his (or her) own self-understanding, freedom, integrity, and capacity to love, will not have anything to give others. He (or she) will communicate to them nothing but the contagion of his (or her) own obsessions, his (or her) own aggressiveness, his (or her) own ego-centered ambitions, and his (or her) own doctrinaire prejudices and ideas.” (Contemplation in a World of Action, pp 178-179—emphasis, parenthesis added.)

This meaty assertion is a life-changer in time and for eternity: Please make sure you chew your food well.

God-awareness AND self-awareness… has, in so many ways, been utterly de-coupled in our culture, and, dare I say as respectfully as possible, in our personal lives—or certainly my own. Today, whether or not we want to live a life of a Godly and contagious faith, or one of being a contagion* is something that we are not even aware of: It’s an unknown and invisible determinant… that determines every relationship we have… Or we don’t have, and may have no idea why.

*Def: “the communication of disease by direct or indirect contact; the medium by which a contagious disease is transmitted; harmful or undesirable contact or influence; the ready transmission or spread as of an idea or emotion from person to person: ‘a contagion of fear’.” (On-line Dictionary)

Three Things to Consider: The Cleft of…

Corroboration—as bizarre as this visual may sound, the very moment I read Merton’s quote I imagined a dozen-plus “Leadership Ninja’s” crashing through and rappelling from a set of large ceiling windows in a warehouse peopled with shocked and hapless folk. Or, to put it more compassionately, a whole bunch of leaderless leaders and the cowering led. (I rather have a burning, bowel-level, eyes-rolled-back thing for the subject of leadership and its consequences—great and not so great. The connection from Merton’s quote to this visual would be an indication of my ailment. No apologies offered.)

They were all there! Bennis, Kouzes, Posner, Driscoll, Kotter, Goleman, Maxwell, Covey, Collins, Blanchard, Prahalad, Charan, Goldsmith, Peters… maybe more. The action was intense. Each one of them have written much in the realms of an inarguable quality of enduring leadership (RE: of being human): SELF-UNDERSTANDING—which, when defined in its broadest and Biblical terms, must include God-understanding as well… or it is a sham, a poser, a placard, an angst not a joy… of what Merton refers to above as “a contagion”.

By just using ONE of the “Leadership Ninja’s” definitions, we can get an idea of what “self-understanding” means—and see its connection to the Merton insight: “The ability to recognize and understand your most core beliefs, your value system, your emotions, and your drives—as well as their effect on others” (Daniel Goleman, Emotional Intelligence).

God’s “common and special grace of glory” passed by in the corroboration of defining True Truth.

Collaboration—becoming more and more self-aware is a journey that one should not (no, not ever and in any way) delay or pass by. And, it’s not merely inadvisable (RE: impossible) to take this journey alone, it’s actually quite insane: You know the definition, “Doing the same things over and over and expecting a different outcome”.

From the Bible’s perspective, the journey of (God and) self-discovery has been made unimaginably complicated by sin’s supernatural and natural effects. There is only one sort of person who is truly objective, and that person is God. But, God is a community, and we can only, “‘…love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself’“… IN COMMUNITY. The only person who is remotely objective is the one who admits their subjectivity. A journey towards any or greater self-awareness must be done in collaboration, in communion, in a community with other people.

God’s “common and special grace of glory” passed by in the collaboration of discovering True Truth.

Culmination—last thing… but a big thing: Please tell me (tell someone…) how you would prefer the epitaph of your life (before God and before men) to read, “CONTAGIOUS” or “CONTAGION”?

For me, this is an incredibly stark contrast that, as I write it, sends shivers throughout my body. I could nearly weep in the loss of ignoring this issue, or in the joy of grabbing hold and going for it! Why? Because, solely by God’s unmerited favor that is revealed in tons of ways to help us along on the journey, it’s something we can do something about… starting right now… and lasting for eternity!

I have been to more funerals in the past year than I would care to recall. The ones that celebrate a life of contagious Godliness and self-sacrificial love leave me in a state of deepest praise and thankfulness and honor and inspiration to love God and neighbor better myself.

I want my life to be marked by being contagious in pursuing the vision of my ministry and my life: “Feast of the Heart exists to help bring about Christ-centered reformation, revival, and constructive revolution so that God will be glorified and people blessed.”

God’s “common and special grace of glory” passed by in the culmination of life by creating an epitaph of True Truth.

“Choose this day…” (Deuteronomy 30:19), what you desire for your life, “contagious” or “contagion”.

Even though many tools exist to help us along this journey of God, self, and other-centered awareness and service, I will offer two today:

First, for anyone who wants to get started on the journey of self-understanding, “To Be Told”, by Dan Allender, and second, for the Christian who wants to raise the bar to a completely new level, “Equipping the Saints”, by Dr. Phillip Douglass, Covenant Seminary, St. Louis, MO. I have this one in Word.doc form. I will pass along a copy, if you would bounce me back to request it.

Please consider using any such tool with someone else who will walk along with you on such a grand adventure!

God’s Glory from the Cleft: Every Moment We Love God and Neighbor as Self!
The day-in, day-out, from the miraculous to the mundane, only the God of the Bible has created a plan whereby we can participate in the reclamation of the entire universe! And, our abilities to do so can only be started by God, completed by God, and participated in by you and me. It’s messy. It’s hard. It’s glorious beyond measure!

I love watching God passing by.

Until we meet at the Training Table again,

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *