What is Love?

And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?”  Jesus answered, The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.  And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’  The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.

Mark 12:28-31 (ESV)

Love Is:
4a:  unselfish loyal and benevolent concern for the good of another: as
          (1):  the fatherly concern of God for humankind
          (2):  brotherly concern for others
     4b:  a person’s adoration of God

Definition of from Merriam Webster

So what does it mean to love God? Does it mean being at the church every time the doors are open? Does it mean accosting everyone you come across with the Four Spiritual Laws? Does it mean dressing weird? Does it mean putting tons of bumper stickers on the back of your car? Of course not.

  • To love God is to first of all believe that He exists.
  • To love God is to admire His character.
  • To love God is to love what He loves and hate what He hates.
  • To love God is to follow His decrees and commands.
  • To love God is to pattern your life after Him.

And what does it mean to love your neighbor? Does it mean agree with or condone everything he does? Does it mean to roll over and do everything he wants you to? Does it mean offer him platitudes when he is poor, or in trouble, or depressed? Of course not.

  • To love your neighbor is to treat him like you want to be treated.
  • To love your neighbor is to seek his best interests.
  • To love your neighbor is to not seek revenge.
  • To love your neighbor is to open your heart, home, and wallet to his needs.
  • To love your neighbor is to be happy for him when he wins, and mourn with him when he loses.

 

Or as a much greater writer put it:

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.  And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.  If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant  or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful;  it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.  Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away.  For we know in part and we prophesy in part,  but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away.

When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways.  For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.

So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

1 Corinthians 13:1-13 (ESV)

The Wishing Well

When my beautiful bride and I got married (many many years ago), one of the cherished memories we created was using a crystal wishing well as a cake topper. That sparkling piece was a symbol of the hopes and dreams we each held for the future. It was also a reminder of the uncertainty that lay before us. Would we be happy? Could we learn to adjust to each other? What was just around the bend for us?

Not very long after, that shiny object was sitting on a shelf, observed but rarely thought about. Within a few short years, as we were moving to a new home, the wishing well became cracked and broken. It truly symbolized our lives at that time. Like the pretty glass, our marriage was crumbling around us. I was pulling away and she was glad for it, as I was not a pleasant person then. By God’s grace He saved our marriage and healed both of us. (read our story here)

I’m not sure what ever happened to the original piece, but we soon replaced the broken well with a new shiny one to symbolize (again) our newly reformed union. And like the first one, it soon ended up on a shelf gathering dust.

One of the strategies we have learned to keep our relationship vibrant and growing through the years is to take time together to love and study each other and to learn new habits for life. We recently enjoyed a time we called ‘A Weekend to Remember‘. Our weekend included laughs, love, and learning. One of the special things I planned for my princess was that I would do all the cooking (and cleaning!). I set a special table with our best dishes and tablecloth, and even got out the (now dusty) wishing well.

As we looked over and past it that first evening, my lady jumped a little then started laughing. It seemed that even though I had dusted off the wishing well and it was sparkling clean on the outside, a bug had decided to crawl into the bucket and die! We spent the better part of the meal discussing how much that wishing well mirrored our marriage. We talked about our resolve to continue cleaning not just the outside of our marriage (how we look to other people), but the necessity of cleaning our hearts and desires and motives. In short, making sure that the important part of our relationship is whole and wholesome and healthy.

I would encourage each you to plan your own Weekend to Remember. Find a marriage seminar or get a DVD of one. Plan special meals and events. Act as though the only other person that is important is your spouse. If you need ideas, contact me… I have tons of ’em.

You’re Worthless… and Other Lies

You’re worthless!…

When are you going to grow up?…

Why can’t you be like your brother??…

You’re such a failure…

The world would be a better place without you…

 

These words hurt. A lot. But they are not the words of a cruel father to his son. They are not the words of a wife to her husband. They are not even the words of an enemy.

They are the words that flow through my mind on an all too often basis.

BUT, they are LIES!

You see, I’m broken. We all are in some ways. My particular brokenness (at least the one I’m disclosing here) is hard to describe to those who don’t deal with it in their life. But it’s very familiar to many of you. All my life I have overextended myself to do great things and then turned right around and sabotaged my efforts. I have heard those words echo in my ears countless times. Why?? What is wrong with me?? Am I insane? Why am I so happy one month and then so low the next?

About a year ago, while searching for an answer to this, I had a shocking revelation. I found a description of a disorder that seemed to fit. I even found a few places that had a self questionnaire…and I fit each marker….

Bipolar Disorder (also called Manic Depressive).

I go through cycles of being very up (manic) followed by times of being very down (depressive). The way I describe it is; when I’m in my upswing, I’m the king of the world and can do no wrong, and when I’m in my downswing, I’m the scum of the earth and can do nothing right. The problem comes when in my upswing I commit to more than I am truly capable of and then in my downswing I abandon all my projects and leave others hanging. That is when the lies come yelling in my brain….

What then is the answer for me? Go to a doctor and get prescribed a bunch of drugs? Just deal with it (that hasn’t worked by the way)? Just chuck it all and go be a hermit (sort of).

I decided I would go to God for the answer. And He gave me one! I can sum it up with the phrase ‘this too shall pass’. He taught me that most of the worst decisions I have made in my life were when I was at the extreme top or bottom of my cycle. So the answer to bad decisions is to not make them in a rush or without good counsel. He taught me to wait.

He taught me to question the thoughts in my head to see if they are true or not.

(I do understand that I have a fairly mild form of BPD, and that there are many people who need medications and specialized treatment… If you, or someone you love needs help, please find it as soon as possible.)

He taught me to see through the lies and to hear His response:

Me: You’re worthless!…

Jesus: Really? I died for a worthless man? No, I came to show you how truly marvelous you are to me!

Me: When are you going to grow up?…

Father: I’ll always think of you as my son. Just rest in me. Besides, I like kids!

Me: Why can’t you be like your brother??…

Jesus: Why would you want to? There is only one like you, and I love you!

Me: You’re such a failure…

Spirit: True, you failed in this instance and have made mistakes in others, but that is how I am teaching you to be more like Jesus. And when you see the tapestry of your life from this side… WOW!

Me: The world would be a better place without you…

Jesus: True, the ‘world’ would likely not notice if you were gone, But Lynn would… and Dustin… and Brendon… and Frank and Debbie… and Gordon and Kathy… and so many others I can’t even mention.

Special Note: Thoughts of self destruction are one of the markers of BPD. While I have never attempted or even seriously considered harming myself, thoughts similar to the last one above go through on a fairly regular basis.

For more information see here:

Bipolar disorder, also known as manic-depressive illness, is a brain disorder that causes unusual shifts in mood, energy, activity levels, and the ability to carry out day-to-day tasks. Symptoms of bipolar disorder are severe. They are different from the normal ups and downs that everyone goes through from time to time. Bipolar disorder symptoms can result in damaged relationships, poor job or school performance, and even suicide. But bipolar disorder can be treated, and people with this illness can lead full and productive lives.

and here:

Bipolar disorder — sometimes called manic-depressive disorder — is associated with mood swings that range from the lows of depression to the highs of mania. When you become depressed, you may feel sad or hopeless and lose interest or pleasure in most activities. When your mood shifts in the other direction, you may feel euphoric and full of energy. Mood shifts may occur only a few times a year, or as often as several times a day. In some cases, bipolar disorder causes symptoms of depression and mania at the same time.

Although bipolar disorder is a disruptive, long-term condition, you can keep your moods in check by following a treatment plan.

Unto the Least of These

I was shopping today at a big name general merchandise store, just waiting my turn in line to checkout. There was a lady with her two daughters checking out at the register. When she saw the total, she grimaced a little and then asked the cashier to start pulling items off… healthy snacks for lunches… bread…. a couple more items…. From the look on her face and the reaction of her girls, I surmised this wasn’t the first time this had happened. Then a man in line asked the clerk to put the items back on the bill and he would cover the difference. Such a simple act. From his appearance, it wasn’t much for him (about $12). Maybe he’d have to miss a takeout meal this week and eat a sandwich instead. The woman was grateful, of course, and the kids were happy. Life went on.

Later on, as I reflected on this simple event, I started to wonder, what if the woman and her girls hadn’t been nicely dressed and pretty? Would the man still have helped? What if they’d spoken a different language? What if their ancestors had come from a different continent than his? What if they’d been tattooed and pierced? What if she had, in her embarrassment, lashed out in anger at the clerk?

My thoughts then drifted to how often I go into the world among people and never see them as people. I get out of my truck and go shopping as if on a mission. The people around me don’t come to my attention unless it’s as a distraction or interruption of my mission.

Jesus said:

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ “The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’
Matthew 25:34-40 (NIV)

Notice He did not say ‘if it’s convenient’, nor did he say ‘make sure to pay your taxes so there are programs for the poor’. I also don’t think He meant for our helping to necessarily be something special we go out of our way to do. He meant for our attitude to be one of always looking for ways to help those around us. I’m sure that the list He gave is incomplete and also that those who are sick and in prison are not always in an institution. What about the prison of hate or anger or pain? What about the sickness of loneliness or strife?

May God help us all to get out of our shell of self-centeredness and notice those around us, and give us the love and grace for them that He has given to us.

Reformation or Resurrection?

Religion is about reformation. Reform the world. Reform your actions. Reform your appearance.

Easter is about resurrection. The dead coming back to life. Jesus doesn’t want to help us reform our old life. He wants to kill it. Then give us new life instead.

The old life is marked and marred by a constant struggle by our Self to have its own way and do its own will. The old life is permeated by moral failure. We try, but we can’t even live up to our own meager standards, much less God’s. Sometimes that failure (which God calls sin) is a conscious choice. Often it is an ingrained habit. It may have even become an addiction. The result is damage to ourselves , pain to others, and separation from our God.

The good news of Easter is that through the Crucifixion Jesus has broken the stranglehold Sin has over us, and through the Resurrection He has demonstrated His power over death. His offer to us is one of hope. Not a cheap, simple, self-help hope. Not a reformation project, but a complete tear-down and rebuilding project. He offers us death and resurrection. By allowing Him to kill our old self, He is then able to create a new life in us that has the ability to say no to sin (moral failure) and is able to follow Him in doing good .

This offer is given to every person, but each one of us has to personally accept it. We must recognize our failures, and earnestly desire to be rid of them. We must accept his forgiveness for our sin. We must acknowledge that he has the right to direct our life.

As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions–it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God– not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
Ephesians 2:1-10 (NIV)

Acceptance and Love

This will be a difficult post to write. Not because of any earth shattering thing. Not because I failed miserably, but because it will be hard to not sound like I’m patting myself on the back.

The other day a very dear person to me confided and confessed a sin that will have long term effects in his life and mine. Now because of our relationship, I have the authority to speak into his life. At that moment I had a choice. I could condemn his actions and heap shame on him, blame him for acting foolishly, or reproach him for bad decisions. OR, I could model God’s love to him. I could empathize with him in the pain. I could help him to formulate a plan to move forward. I could let him know that no matter what he has done, he is always welcomed and loved here.

Our model in all things is Christ. What would he have done? To the Samaritan woman at the well, He brought her to the knowledge of sin then offered her the hope of relief. To the woman caught in adultery He defended her from the mob who wanted to punish her then offered her forgiveness. To the rich young ruler, He invited him to lay aside everything else and follow Him. To Nicodemus, He offered a new start and a new life.

I’m happy to say that God won the day. We were able to calmly and lovingly work through the issues surrounding his sin and what might happen. I believe he felt loved and accepted. That has not always been the case. Many times in my life (even most) I have been hard and unforgiving. I believed the way to keep someone accountable was to clearly lay down the law and rigidly hold to the consequences of violating that law. But what did that get me? A wife who was afraid to speak freely around me, kids who hid from me, friends who didn’t include me in their plans.

What has made the difference in me? Forgiveness. Truly understanding that I am not the shining example I thought myself to be. Realizing that I am a terribly flawed man. Accepting God’s forgiveness for my sin and welcoming His correction in my life. While I am not the man I want to be, thank God, I am not the man I once was.

Christ Centered Hate?

I came across an interesting phrase today; “Christ Centered Hate”.

The context was a man who came out at 13 and was removed from youth leadership, ostracized, and eventually left that church. I think his statement is very telling about our culture.

‘Hate’ has become a word that simply means you’re offended that I’m claiming the Bible says what you’re doing is sin.

‘Christ Centered’ is what we as Christ followers and as the Church are supposed to be isn’t it?

One of the Church’s functions is to correct and rebuke sin in it’s members, to restore repentant members, and if necessary, to protect the church by putting out a flagrantly non repentant member.

I have no idea how this man’s church handled this situation, I rather think they did poorly, but the idea I am running across all too frequently is that the church has no business at all correcting a member. I am NOT saying we have any business telling unbelievers how to live.

Christ spent His ministry seeking hurting people, meeting their needs, showing them their need of a savior, then calling them to repentance and obedience.

We should do no less (nor more).