By Dan Crain. This is a blog in a series from the resource, Loving Freely.
You are the Beloved
So many leaders in the ministry of reconciliation struggle with shame. We don’t think we’re good enough and constantly think of ourselves as a failure.
The summer of 2009 was all of this for me. I had just graduated from seminary, moved back to Orlando, was living with our gracious in-laws and Adrienne and I just got pregnant with our second child. I was working a part-time job to make ends meet and trying to find a job where I could live into the passion that God has placed inside of me.
I met with over forty different churches and ministries trying to find a job that involved racial reconciliation or justice work from a gospel perspective. Nothing turned up. By the grace of I met Phil Hissom that had just started up Polis, went through Dignity Serves and the rest is history.
I felt like a failure, like I didn’t matter and was anything but the beloved of God.
What was significant in that first year is that I began to facilitate a Bible study with friends that were living on the streets in Orlando with Compassion Corner. One of the first texts we dove into was the story of the two lost sons from Luke 15, commonly known as the story of the prodigal son.
Little did I know but Christ was about to serve me through friends that were homeless to help me discover my belovedness in God. As we were walking together to help find jobs, bus passes, a warm cup of coffee or a way to get back home, my new friends were helping me to discover that I was the beloved and chosen of God. It was a dignified interdependent relationship in its most pure form.
As we spent the next three months on a Tuesday morning in downtown Orlando diving into the Luke 15 text, it became apparent of what God the Father was trying to teach me. At this point in my life I felt like a failure. I felt like I had let God down, my wife, children, family and friends. For the first time in my life I had thoughts of doing harm to myself because of the lack of belief I had in myself.
In many ways I was like the younger son in the story of the Luke 15 who had thrown everything way and was left to eat the pods that the pigs were eating. The younger son decides to return home to become a servant, not to become the son again. A lot of us miss this as to what the motivation was for the younger son to return. He returns to earn back his belovedness as his his father’s servant to work in the fields.
Then something so beautiful happens when he returns home. His Father runs to the son, embraces him, restores him to his place of honor and throws him a party. The younger son does nothing to earn back his belovedness, because the reality is that he was always the beloved! He was always the Father’s on.
Now that’s good news.
The younger son did nothing to become the beloved, because was always the Father’s son. As a reconciler, this is good news to me, because nothing that I do in the ministry of reconciliation is going to impress God.
This same theme happens in the gospel of Mark when Jesus is commissioned to pronounce that the kingdom of God is here. John baptizes Jesus in the Jordan and as he comes out of the water, the Heavenly Father looks at him and says, “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”
At this point Jesus hasn’t done anything to impress the Father. He is the Father’s son, whom is loved and whom is well pleased before he does anything to love others.
Jesus loves freely because he is the beloved, not to become the beloved. This is significant. There have been countless times that I have loved others in order to earn my belovedness.
And because of the finished work of Christ on the cross, this belovedness is available to us who believe and confess to God the Father that we need his grace and forgiveness in our lives.
Henri Nouwen says it like this in The Return of the Prodigal Son; “Jesus has made it clear to me that the same voice that he heard at the River Jordan and on Mount Tabor can also be heard by me. He has made it clear to me that just as he has his home with the Father, so do I. It is the place within me where God has chosen to dwell. It is the place where I am held safe in the embrace of an all-loving Father who calls me by name and says, “You are my beloved son, on you my favor rests.” It is the place where I can taste the joy and the peace that are not of this world.”
As we follow Jesus loving others through the gospel of Mark we see him living out of this belovedness, regardless of how he’s attacked, judged or maligned. It is from this place as being the Father’s beloved that he loves freely.
Howard Thurman describes this belovdness as being a child of God in his book, Jesus and the Disinherited“The awareness of being a child of God tends to stabilize the ego, and results in new courage, fearlessness and power. To the degree that a person knows this that he is a child of God, he is unconquerable from within and without.”
As the Beloved, I can suffer persecution without desire for revenge and receive praise without using it as a proof of my goodness.
Our story begins in creation as the beloved children of God. There is nothing we can do in loving others that will take us away from our belovedness in Christ. Loving freely properly flows from the belovedness we have in Christ in creation.
The reality is that because of my false self there have been so many times where I have loved others when I am not living as the beloved child of God. My false self does not believe I am the beloved and thus looks for love in the ways of serving and loving others.
When I am not living as the beloved child of God, my false self becomes a sponge to people and situations around me. I am constantly looking for the approval and affirmation of others. I am always trying to stay in control of relationships. I am looking to others for safety and security. And, I become a narcissist making life and ministry about me, rather than Jesus.
But because of God’s work, we are the beloved of God in Christ. Nothing you do will take away this and no amount of loving and serving others will make you feel more affirmed.
We don’t have to do anything to prove to others or ourselves our value or worth. This is really weird for me, because typically there’s always a voice in the back of my head saying I must do something, say something or be something to prove that I am good.
Being the beloved of God means we love others freely. We no longer need the affirmation of others when we serve as we hear the words from the Heavenly Father, “You are my child, whom I love, with you I am well pleased.”
We have nothing to prove, because Christ has approved us!
Love Freely, beloved child of God.