Tag Archives: love

Key to happy marriage

How to save your marriage in one easy step

First, disclaimers. This is a simple post on how to have a happy marriage. It is not about culture wars, it is not about gender roles, it is not about finger-pointing or blame. I have a happy marriage. My wife and I just celebrated our 11th anniversary. I have one secret. Here it is. Enjoy.

Recently I encountered one of the best articles I’ve ever read about how to have a happy marriage.

Now understand: my wife and I work hard to have a good marriage. We regularly take time alone together, we’ve read books, we’ve gone to classes & retreats, we’ve used therapy when needed. We are each other’s top priority. All of that is important, and any one of those is potentially a good blog post, but none of it is “the secret”.

For all of the sound and fury coming out of the church these days over the state of marriage, the place I found the purest distilled essence of the Bible’s advice on marriage was in a secular article by a guy whose marriage failed, reflecting on the reasons why. It was called, “She divorced me because I left dishes by the sink.” It’s about how to sacrificially love your spouse.

What is love?

Our society gets all twisted up about love. “Love is romance,” we think, or “love is a feeling,” or “love is sexual passion.” All of that is nice, but none of it is the real point.

Here is the point: Love is a decision. Love is sacrifice. Hollywood shows us a naked couple on the screen and says, “This is love,” but the Bible shows us a naked man hanging from a cross for our redemption and says, “This is love.”

  • This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us.
  • For God so loved the world, he gave his one and only son…
  • But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.
  • Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.

As long as something else is more important to us than the well-being and growth of our beloved, we have not truly loved. Especially as long as “holding to our own” is more important.

How to love

The number one thing you gotta know about Christ is, he didn’t insist on his rights:

Much heat nowadays centers on the passage in Ephesians that says “the husband is head of the wife as Christ is head of the church”, across the whole spectrum from those who want women to submit, to those who would rather see the Bible discarded. In either case, the passage is read without much reference to Christ, as if it could interchangeably read, “…as a general is head of his army.” The husband makes the decisions, gives the orders, and the wife says, “Sir, yes sir!” From a Biblical perspective, though, that is nonsense.

To emulate Christ in anything is to take the lowest place, the servant’s place, to empty one’s self of privilege. Here are some tips for Christlike leadership from my own marriage:

  • Walk the dog
  • Change the baby
  • Buy the groceries
  • Fold clothes
  • Do the dishes
  • Take out the trash

Important in all of this is the spirit of loving gift. A loving marriage is not made by simply sharing responsibilities or “doing stuff”. It is made by accepting our Lord’s invitation to beauty, in the bearing of one another’s burdens, by acts of Christlike splendor and Christlike grace.

In so doing, we are given the privilege of glimpsing God’s own love for us. More than any other metaphor, scripture likens the love of Christ to the love of a husband for his bride.


(This week’s post is dedicated with much love to our friends Neal & Mandi… Congrats you two!)

What Google says the Bible advocates

Correcting what the World thinks “the Bible advocates”

I’m depressed. Go to Google, type “Bible advocates”, and see the popular suggested searches that appear: “violence”… “killing non believers”… “slavery”. You can’t even get “love” to appear. Type an L to try and prompt it, and you won’t get anything. Google just sits there, confused, not suggesting anything. Same with F (for forgiveness) and J (for joy). P (for peace) just gives you “polygamy” and “death penalty”.

So today, I am fixing it. Some of that stuff is treated in the Bible, but none of it is what the Bible is about. Here is what it is about:

Google suggestionWhat the Bible is really about
A“abortion”, “child abuse” Abundant life, Atonement
B(no suggestions) Baptism, Begotten son
C“child abuse” Christ, Carry your cross
D“death penalty” Divinity
E(no suggestions) Eternity
F(no suggestions) Forgiveness, Freedom, Father
G“genocide” God, Grace
H (no suggestions) Holy Spirit
I“inc” Incarnation
J (no suggestions) Jesus
K“killing” King of kings
L (no suggestions) Love, Lord
M (no suggestions) Mercy, Messiah
N (no suggestions) All things new
O (no suggestions) Only begotten son
P“polygamy”, “death penalty” Peace, Prayer
Q (no suggestions) Quiet
R (no suggestions) Redemption
S“slavery”, “stoning”, “socialism” Salvation, Sacrifice, Son of God, Sabbath, Service, Freedom from sin, Defeat of Satan
T“the bible advocates slavery, violence, genocide” Trinity, Truth
U (no suggestions) Unity
V“violence” Virgin birth
W (no suggestions) Worship, Will of God
X (no suggestions) Example of Christ, Crucifixion
Y“yelp”, “yale” Pray
Z (no suggestions) Zion
Christmas wishes with family

15 Christmas wishes for saving the world (especially #5)

This Christmas, I don’t want any stuff. What I want is our society to be a whole different way. Here are my Christmas wishes:

I wish we would judge one another based on others we get to know, not others we only hear about from people just like us.

I wish our leaders wouldn’t refer to themselves as “Christian” unless they want to learn about sacrificial love and follow the example of Christ.

I wish it wasn’t so hard to agree that our society is too violent, and that responding with more violence will not solve that.

I wish we weren’t so angry.

I wish that different people would sit down together in peace more often and talk; we might  realize that we are all the same.

I wish we could figure out health care.

I wish we would encourage one another to face our fears. Our easy, natural reaction is to separate from those we fear, but this only makes the fear grow.

I wish that Christians could overwhelmingly be known as the ones speaking the heart of Christ.

I wish we could all be calling out the need to shelter the poor and the destitute, that none of us were the ones walking past in the street with our heads down. (I was hungry and you fed me…)

I wish we were the champions of peace, lamenting the violence in our society, that none of us were the ones asserting the only solution is to kill them before they kill us. (All who draw the sword…)

I wish we could be the warm and gentle voice of love and healing to all, not the angry voice of condemnation over some but not others, as if God sees any difference. (All fall short of the glory of God…)

I wish we could be full of grace. (By the same measure you use…)

I wish that we could be emissaries of startling mercy toward people we’re supposed to hate. (Which of these was a neighbor to him…?)

I wish we, especially, would be known as those who love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us.

Hate is not going away. Misunderstanding is not going away. Prejudice is not going away. But all of those things are evils to be shunned, not blessings to be embraced. This time of year, we Christians celebrate a new hope, the birth of a savior, good tidings of great joy which shall be to all people. What were the Christmas wishes of the angels that night? “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”

That is my wish today for you, and for us all, as well.

Refugees: boy on street

Guns, flowers, refugees… and why I am not afraid

You’ve probably seen it by now. A little boy and his dad are being interviewed about the recent attacks in Paris. He wants to move away to escape the terrorists who, he explains, have guns, prompting this (excerpted) exchange:

  • They have guns but we have flowers.
  • But flowers don’t do anything!
  • Of course they do. Look, everyone is putting flowers. It’s to fight against the guns.
  • It’s to protect?
  • Exactly. Do you feel better now?
  • Yes… I feel better.

Is this exchange inspiring or hopelessly naïve? Is the father simply lying to provide an illusion of safety, or does he have some kind of valid point? The questions of safety and danger are on everybody’s minds right now, especially as we in the U.S. weigh whether to participate in the sheltering of refugees fleeing from ISIS. What does the Bible have to say?

Illusion of safety

The little boy in this video has a tragically valid concern: getting shot. The father gives him a soothing answer, but is there a better answer? Something he could say or do to actually assure his son’s safety? Of course not.

We all want to feel safe, but we live in an unsafe world. If the little boy feels better because he has a flower, an adult perspective recognizes that as just a calming illusion. But we all are clinging to calming illusions. Some places in the world are more violent, some less so, and it is worth working to reduce violence, but also remember that, if you’re reading this, you live someplace with enough violence to worry about and it’s going to be that way for a while. The father could have said, “We have guns too and we’re going to keep you safe,” but we have more guns in the U.S. than any other developed country and violence still exists here. So as we advocate for our particular solutions, we must also figure out how to keep getting out of bed in the morning even if violence is never solved, and that is where the flowers come in.

How “the flowers” fight

From “love your enemies” to “do not resist one who is evil” to “all who draw the sword will die by the sword“, Christ’s response to violence is nonviolence and submission. There is no exception for us; we are commanded to take up the cross as well.

The whole point of forgiveness and love is that it takes the power away from the terrorists. It is not the result of stupidity, ignorance, or naïveté. There are other words for facing danger without fear. They are words like bravery, self-sacrifice, heroism… the firefighters did not rush into the World Trades on 9/11 because they were unaware of the danger.

Where, then, should we stand when there is a choice between heroism and danger? If we can save some innocent lives, should we not be willing to risk even our own lives to do so? Up to now, the whole argument on accepting refugees has been, “Is it dangerous or isn’t it?” To me, both arguments are nonsense. Resisting evil is always dangerous.

Into danger, unafraid

It was dangerous to operate the Underground Railroad. It was dangerous to confront Apartheid. It was dangerous to shelter Tutsis during the Rwandan genocide, to inscribe the names on Schindler’s List, to harbor the family of Anne Frank. It was dangerous for Christ to go into Jerusalem. All of those people walked into danger with their eyes open. Many of them paid with their lives. I don’t think any of them had regrets.

The dustbins of history are littered with the names of those who chose their own prosaic safety rather than stand up to a monstrous evil. When we consign the innocent to their fate in Syria, we number ourselves among them. We buy our illusion of safety at the price of our humanity. Because the reality is, we are no safer for our refusal to help the victims. We are in constant danger regardless.

When attacks come, if we are marked to die, we should at least be buried in hallowed ground. We should cry out our defiance. We should plant flowers on the graves of our fears.

We should shelter the refugees.

We are still, above all, the home of the brave.

Other recommended posts:

Photo credit: Bengin Ahmad / Foter.com /CC BY-ND

Deeper prayer life

My so-called prayer life

I’ll say it right up front: this is a posting for people who like prayer. I know of lot of us scoff at prayer, you’re all very welcome here, I would love to talk about that sometime soon, but not today.

I like prayer but unfortunately (like many of us), I am not particularly good at it. There have been moments— those prayers of earnest seeking when God is suddenly so present for one tiny instant, and then the wave crests and it all ebbs away. Or those vindictive moments when I remember to turn to God, then am shocked to discover I have found my way to love for my enemies. Those are the times when the power of prayer is like an electric force coursing through my body.

Then there are the other times… When my mind keeps getting distracted by shiny things. When I know I promised to pray for someone but can’t remember who. When I feel like a petulant child with my bullet-stream of requests, when I want to pray better but can’t think how, when I wander from topic to topic or (being honest) fall asleep.

How can we pray better? How can we have more of the immediate, intimate prayer life we want? Partly the answers must be found individually. The Christian walk is a relationship, and as there is no single secret to a happy marriage, there is no single secret to an intimate prayer life. However, there are some common threads, and I would like to highlight two that have proven meaningful for me, which are: space and intention.


We live in a busy time. Everything is crammed in; nothing receives the attention it deserves. As 2013 New York Times editorial rather poignantly put it, “Being a Working Mother Means Always Having to Say You’re Sorry.” Little wonder, then, that our prayer times are crammed in as well. 1 Thessalonians 5:17 does instruct us to “pray without ceasing,” but again, the analogy to marriage is a good one: simple small acts of love are wonderful, but they don’t replace the periodic date night. Any healthy relationship requires genuine investment.

This is not to say that neglected prayer time is one more thing to feel guilty about. Guilt may have its place, but it’s not a fruit of the Holy Spirit. A better way to think of it is that, when we crave deeper intimacy with God, a way is available to us. “Behold, I stand at the door and knock,” says Christ. When that thirst for God becomes greater than the other needs that press in upon us from every side, he is there to be found.

As a practical note, one way to carve out space in our lives is with a clear start and finish. Small prayer-time rituals can have enormous value: ring a bell, light a candle, roll out a prayer mat… any such practice can reduce the muddy splashing of the everyday onto our sacred space/time.


Prayer needs to have the right focus, which is surprisingly easy to forget. During my flickers of transcendent prayer, the clearest memory is what I felt. So, the attempt to recreate those feelings is one very natural, but very wrong, approach to prayer. Because it is such an easy mistake, many Christian authors have written about it.

Way back in 1875, Hannah Whitall Smith wrote, “The common thought is, life is to be lived in the emotions. As they are satisfactory or otherwise, the soul rests or is troubled.” More recently, Bill Bright described the Christian experience as a train. “The caboose we will call ‘feelings,'” he writes, “It would be ridiculous to pull the train by the caboose. In the same way you, as a Christian, should never depend on feelings or seek after an emotional experience.”

Much of the core gospel message is concerned with love, which we think of as an emotion, but in scripture, “love” tends to be more of an action verb: “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son,” “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us,” “Let us show love, by which we may offer to God an acceptable service.”

Christian love, by definition, is other-focused rather than self-focused. The richest prayer life becomes available to us when create real space and time in our lives for it, and when our focus is on God, his work in the world, and our place within that.


Leave a comment! What practices help you to have a deeper and more transformative prayer life? 


Jesus work, fabulous luxury

Doing Jesus’ work through fabulous luxury

Have you heard the saying, “Preach the gospel at all times; use words when necessary”? My pastor recently spoke about that. It used to be one of his favorites, he said, but not anymore; instead, he urged us to talk about Jesus, “no matter how uncomfortable it is.”

I was thinking about that this week as I took vacation time with my wife and daughter and some dear family friends. Some see vacation time as a fabulous luxury, but despite what my pastor said, I think we were doing at least three things that express God’s design for us— building relationship, creating sabbath, using our treasure— quite apart from the need for words.

Building relationship

Recently I have realized that vacation is not “one thing”, and how people like to enjoy themselves varies widely. For example, when my 70-something parents vacation, they like to go someplace new and exotic, and suck all the marrow out of life; where they get their energy from, I have no idea. When my sister’s family vacations, they like to go to an event, like a puzzle competition or a bluegrass festival. Whereas for our family, vacation is all about the “who”, more so than the “where” or the “what”. We like to “stay-cation” at a beautiful spot about 40 minutes’ drive from home, and the whole time is spent entertaining friends and family who drive up to visit us there. We swim, we cook out, and we celebrate time together.

Is it holy? Are we doing ministry? As I reflect on it, the answer, I think, is very much of a yes, even though most of the time, nobody is talking about Jesus. In Matthew 25, Jesus says, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father… for I was a stranger and you invited me in.” I have written before about the deep craving for relationship that is ingrained into each of us. Meeting this need for others, Christ says, is on a par with life essentials like food and water.

Creating sabbath

Our society is stressed out. A 2013 study by the American Psychological Association says that we are “a picture of high stress and ineffective coping mechanisms that appear to be ingrained in our culture”. Stress, the study says, impacts both our physical and mental health:

  • resulting in high rates of anger, irritability and anxiety
  • contributing to ailments ranging from digestive upset to heart disease
  • compounding depression and obesity

We see the examples everywhere. The Onion just satirized it with an article entitled, “Father Teaches Son How To Fly Into Rage Over Completely Inconsequential B*******”. This week when a friend’s dog escaped and ran into the street, rather than help, a nearby stranger began screaming unprovoked invective at her, moving her to tears. She was able to offer grace to her tormentor, concluding “Be kind. Everyone is doing the best they can. I know that angry man has some battles of his own.” But none of this is what God intended for us. Part of the reason we have so little patience for each other is that we do not honor our God-given rhythms of work and rest. Ann Graham Lotz went on record this week blaming the decline of American society on all the usual suspects, but nowhere does she mention our wholesale abandonment of the sabbath. Yet the biblical commandment to honor the sabbath and keep it holy is no less strongly worded, and the consequences are far more obvious and direct.

Into the midst of this kind of world, I believe, nothing is more important than creating margin for downtime. We relax, we renew, we replenish. We invest in our marriages and our children. Again, I think it is work God would approve of.

Using our treasure

There has been a lot of talk in the U.S. in recent years about “the 1%”, by which we mean the super-wealthy ivory-tower elite. But in a global sense, I am actually part of that top 1%, and so, quite likely, are you. (Find out here.) We have a lot to share, and God commands that we do so; otherwise we are like Jesus’ parables about the rich man (“This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God”) or the unworthy servant (“So I was afraid and went out and hid your gold in the ground”).

We have nice things. We like to share them. We get to vacation in a beautiful place. Why should we keep that experience to ourselves? Once, a friend’s father was diagnosed with terminal cancer, and his kids pulled together to raise money and send their parents on the honeymoon they’d never had. We helped. Sometimes we are hosts on Airbnb, and have the privilege of helping to make that “pause from the action” happen in the lives of people we didn’t even know before. I think all of this is work that is pleasing to God, absence of a come-to-Jesus talk notwithstanding. Speaking of which…

About Jesus: uncomfortable?

When my wife was involved in Young Life, one of their core principles was “earning the right to be heard,” meaning that your advice to others is fairly meaningless and hollow if you won’t take the trouble to invest and walk alongside. The class Perspectives on the World Christian Movement makes the same point in the context of global missions. The gospel message is good news of freedom and reunion and redemption, soaked in a tonic of self-sacrificing love. It is hard to see how we have worked ourselves up into a state where talking about that should be seen as an uncomfortable chore. Jesus’ conversations about himself and the kingdom of heaven were a lot of things— transformative, miraculous, polarizing— but they were never simply socially awkward.

When our focus is on building relationship and investing in others in love, conversations happen naturally about who we are, how we live, what we believe and why. And that, after all, is what Christian faith is fundamentally about.

Related links

Be loved. I double-dog dare you.

Surviving years alone with God and “Into The Woods”

Love— a poem

Here’s a viral headline: “Christians nice, talk about love”

This week, my daughter brought home a poem she had written as part of her third-grade class:

Love is pink.
It tastes like lemon pound cake.

It sounds like singing birds, and it smells like vanilla.
It feels like baby hair, it looks like a butterfly.
Love makes me feel like singing.

Inspired, my wife sat down and composed one too:

Love is periwinkle
It tastes like whipped cream.
Love sounds like the ocean waves softly crashing.
It smells like fresh banana bread.
Love feels like a long warm hug.
It looks like a sunrise.
Love makes me feel so peaceful.

In writing these beautiful poems, it turns out they have quite a bit in common with earlier authors who wrote things like this:

God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. In this world we are like Jesus. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear. We love because he first loved us. And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.

Or this:

A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.

Or this:

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

What does it mean to be a Christian? Will they know we are Christians because of… our political stands on certain issues? Because of… the people we are against, the laws we protest, the banks we boycott? Or will they know we are Christians by our love?

Some people think we are naïve in our view that love and prayer are our most powerful weapons: that they can save lives and transform society. If so, we share the naïveté of our savior. As Christians, we are on the wrong battlefield when we spend our time fighting to possess the kingdoms of this world. We need to be focused instead of the kingdom of heaven, and the only language they speak there is the language of love.

Relearning to love after we lost our baby

Compassion for “them”: relearning to love the people we were before we lost our baby

When you read about a horrible disaster— a doomed airliner, a tsunami, anything that suddenly shatters peace and calm and well-being— when you read an article like that, sometimes there are “before” photos. The people in harm’s way are normal people, just doing what normal people do: having fun, laughing, taking selfies… They’re enjoying themselves, and sometimes the photos survive and get published after the fact. You look at the people in those photos, and you can see it in their eyes: there’s an innocence, a naïveté, an uncomplicated trust. They have no idea what’s about to happen to them.

We have photos like that all over our house. They aren’t disaster photos. They are photos of our wedding. Of our family trips when our two oldest kids were small. Of us at the coffee shop, that time we snuck in a date night and my wife surprised me with a little white stick whose digital read-out bore the single word “Pregnant”. That was a good night. We were happy. We took photos.

From that day on, we rechristened our family as “Party of Five”. We bought bunk beds and a mini-van, and a gigantic double-stroller that we called “The Land Behemoth”. After the ultrasound, we started buying boy clothes. One said, “Little Rookie”. Another, we bought in Napa; it said, “Vintage 2007”. And then there was the picture my wife didn’t want to take. I scheduled our church directory sitting about a week before our due date; she wanted to do it after he was born, but the dates wouldn’t work, so we did it beforehand anyway. We didn’t know that was the last photo there would ever be with our entire party of five. We didn’t know there was already a kink in his umbilical cord. We didn’t know we were about to lose a baby.

When something bad happens to your children, part of you has a biological need to blame yourself.

When you look at the people in those pre-disaster photos, sometimes you want to reach through that lens and warn them. How much more so when those people are you? When something bad happens to your children, part of you has a biological need to blame yourself, and for a while, we were so angry at “those people” in our photos. They were so stupid and ignorant. They should have done more. They should have known.

Our baby boy (Boaz, we named him) would have turned 8 this year, and in that time, learning to have grace for “those people” has been an important part of our healing. Many of the lessons we learned from scripture have helped with that journey:

  • Matthew 24:38 says, “…and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came.” In the same way, we had to realize, there was no way we could have known. We did the same things that everyone else does; it was not our fault that it worked out well for them and badly for us.
  • Ecclesiastes repeatedly talks about things that are meaningless. We had fixated on finding the meaning: what was God trying to tell us (or being honest, why was he punishing us)? We finally had to let that go, realizing our need to “find the meaning” was a need to keep control. Instead, letting go and rejoining life was the legacy we wanted our baby to have. As Ecclesiastes finally concludes, “There is nothing better for a person under the sun than to eat and drink and be glad.”
  • For me, the greatest lesson was from 1 Peter 4: “Dear friends, don’t be surprised at the painful trial that has come upon you to test you, as if something strange were happening to you. Instead, rejoice as you share in the sufferings of the Messiah, so that you may also rejoice with great joy when his glory is revealed.” The redemptiveness of Christ’s passion was never so clear to me as in the midst of our own grief. His suffering was not wasted, and through our own suffering, the scripture says, we gain a unique partnership in that redemption.

I do not believe that God causes suffering, and I do not agree with the many people who say, “God did this to teach you… whatever.” We live in a fallen world, and we have to live here, because we are fallen too. Bad things happen here. That is not God’s fault, because this isn’t the place he designed us for. But he is here at work in this place too, finding ways to bring redemption out of the heartbreak that inevitably accompanies our life under the sun. As I became fond of saying in the midst of our loss: “Out of soil the devil has sown for evil, God can make many good and green and living things to grow.”

This article originally appeared as a guest posting at Me Too Moments For Moms.

The cost of serving Christ

Smelly clothes and the cost of serving Christ

Shane Claiborne knows about the cost of serving Christ. Twenty years ago, as a college student in Philadelphia, he learned that a group of homeless families, sheltering inside an abandoned Catholic cathedral, were 48 hours from eviction. Thinking of Matthew 25:40, he rallied to action, plastering his campus with fliers proclaiming, “Jesus is being kicked out of the church!” So was born a movement called The Simple Way; the entire trajectory of his life was set by that initial act of obedience.

Glyn Franks knows about the cost of serving Christ too. Founder of “Second Chances Bread of Life”, he was served with eviction papers for attracting homeless with his food distribution.

If we are to be true followers of Christ, it may not cost us our whole lives (as it did for Shane), it may not cost us our homes (as it may for Glyn), but it is going to cost us something. We will have to give up things we would rather keep. We will have to draw near to people we would rather not. We will have a cross, in whatever form it takes, that we must daily take up and bear.

There is going to be a cost

A pastor friend likes to pose the question, “If you were on trial as a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?” The truth is, my life, in most ways, looks an awful lot like the lives of my unbelieving friends. Yet if Christ paid a price— the ultimate price— for his message, then why should I expect that I can have everything the world values and still consider myself as a bearer of that same message?

In fact, in Luke 14, Christ urges would-be followers to first sit down and decide if they are up for it, with the rather extreme summary, “In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples.” If this standard is to be read as a literal, material one, then I don’t know any true disciples of Christ. No one I know has taken a vow of poverty.

Speaking personally, I have made my peace with this verse by an attitude of heart surrender, that nothing I have is withheld from God, no area of my life is “off-limits” if God were to call me to use it, or even sacrifice it, for his purposes. The time that I spend writing this blog is actually part of that; carving out that time is a sacrifice of sleep or family time or both that does not come cheap. It is an ongoing effort for me, and a regular area of prayer, to review my life and look for new areas that God is calling into submission.

Going among the undesirables

As is abundantly illustrated by the story of Glyn Frank’s eviction proceedings, there is no love lost towards the homeless in our society. Nobody liked homeless people back in biblical times either; that is not a new problem. The book of James makes the point specifically, right down to the smelly clothes:

Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old clothes also comes in…

And yet, says the scripture, we are to welcome the beggar just as graciously as the rich man, if not more so. This is far from a theoretical question. My church is in an urban area where we are privileged to have homeless attendees with some regularity. Three weeks ago the police showed up mid-service on a Sunday morning, having received a complaint that we were busing homeless people in to attend. We hadn’t been, but what if we were? Surely it should not be a criminal matter to show mercy and compassion toward the down-and-out. 

But the challenge of overcoming the distaste we have for certain of our fellow men goes so much deeper than that. Our aversion toward the homeless pales in comparison to our outright rancor toward those with differing belief systems and behaviors, and in my personal experience, this is just as true among Christians as anyone.  The passion we feel is a good thing, but it can be wrongly applied.

I once met a missionary in Mexico who gave me a catalog of his life-long prejudice against Mexicans. But living and working among them, those prejudices had fallen away, one by one, until none were left. Much great work of the kingdom was the final result, but the first step was to overcome his natural instincts, and to go serve those he scorned. In the words of Christ, “Go ye and do likewise.”

No matter who it is that ignites your passions— be it liberals or conservatives, feminists or fundamentalists— drawing near to them, serving them, and showing love to them is the only Christ-honoring solution.

Be loved. I double-dog dare you.

Be loved. I double-dog dare you.

Show of hands: if a sweet little girl mistook you for a famous movie actor, how many would be flattered? Probably most? At one point in my life, I would have assumed that. And how many would react with shame? How many would feel hot tears of hurt and anger welling in their eyes? How many would perceive mockery and want to lash out?

Once, I couldn’t even have conceived of these responses, but lately I’ve begun to wonder: they might even be the majority reaction. Because here’s the problem: to believe that someone else could think well of us, we have to think well of ourselves. To believe that we can be loved, we have to love ourselves. And that, I think, is a lot less common than people realize. How much more difficult, then, to be able to accept and believe in the love of a perfect and infinite God? This is the reality seen in scripture. But, like a doctor who must wait for some natural recovery before the body can tolerate surgery, I think God’s biggest challenge with many of us is to heal us enough that we can tolerate his healing: is to grow a kernel of love inside us large enough that we will be able to tolerate his love.

Beating us over the head

I was reflecting on this recently in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians; specifically, in the part I had always blown off before. You know how, when you’re having a serious discussion, you have to kind of ease into it? Like, “Hey, how ya doing, howsa wife, howsa kids, great, me too, well, listen, here’s what I wanted to talk about.” There’s some small talk. It doesn’t mean anything. So that’s what I used to do with this scripture. I would just kind of mentally skip over it, like “that’s just the nice pious-sounding intro before he gets into the REAL scripture.” Here’s a sample:

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will.

Now, I’m not going to read out the whole thing, but it goes on, and on, and on like that. Easy to blow past, but let’s dig in for a second:

  • He has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in Christ (v3)
  • He chose us to be holy and blameless in his sight (v4)
  • In love He predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ (v5)
  • His glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the one he loves (v6)
  • In him we have redemption (v7)
  • The riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding (v8)
  • We were chosen for the praise of his glory (v11-12)
  • Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal (v13)
  • The Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance (v14)

Do you see what I’m saying? Every verse is chock-a-block with the reality that God’s love for us knows no bounds. It’s like Paul is trying to beat us over the head with it, verse after verse, because he knows how resistant people are to this message.

The thing in us that hates us

Our world is not much of a place for unconditional love, especially lately. People who were supposed to be there for us, aren’t. Mothers leave, fathers leave. School friends turn against us and bully us on Twitter. Eventually, we internalize all of that external rejection, and then the voices in our heads become our own worst enemy. Gene Wolfe imagined it as an internal torturer, calling it “the thing in you that hates you.”

Whatever replaces “being loved” in your life, more likely than not, there is a multi-billion dollar industry supplying it to you.

Whatever may be wrong in our lives, don’t we say, “It’s my problem, it’s up to me to fix it?” But the truth is, no matter who you are, no matter how powerful and clever and creative you are, you didn’t create your sin by yourself, and you are not going to solve it by yourself. If you’re into alcohol, there’s a multi-billion dollar industry making it and serving it to you. If it’s shopping or food or pornography or gambling, there are multi-billion dollar industries for all of that too. Drugs are a multi-billion dollar black market. You didn’t come up with that sin by yourself.

A man in a twelve-step recovery program was once asked “Which step takes the longest?” Do you know what he said? It’s step 1: “we recognized that we were powerless, and that our lives had become unmanageable.” Other steps, people may take a month, or two months, or a year, but that step 1… people will stay out in the howling storm, demons of addiction shrieking around their ears, shouting how they’ve got it under control and they don’t need help, for a decade, or two decades, or five.

Not a “nice to have”

Let’s take another look at that first passage from Ephesians that we started with: “Lord Jesus Christ”, “in Christ”, “through Jesus Christ”, “in the One he loves”, “In him”… in these two paragraphs of scripture alone, Christ is mentioned 10 times. God has a plan of redemption, but it is not one in which we save ourselves. In this plan that I am talking about, Christ is not an optional add-on. Christ is not an “also ran”. Christ is not a “nice to have”. Rather, Christ is the cornerstone. Without the power of the blood of Christ unto redemption, the whole thing would collapse. But with Christ, that which is dead in sin can be made alive. That which is lost can be saved. And even those years that were a loss to sin can be made into gain for the good of God’s kingdom.

To me, one of the most beautiful and memorable promises of scripture speaks to this exact point, in Joel 2:25, when God promises, “Then I will restore to you the years that the locust swarm devoured.” Out of soil that the devil has sown for death, God can make many good, green and living things to grow.