Friday, October 17, 2014

True Love in a Romanceless Marriage

Why did you get married?  If you aren't married, what are the reasons you would want to be married?

If you read Nicholas Sparks books(please please don't) you would probably answer something about love, romance, fate, etc.  The common dream is that we find some perfect person who will give us continuous butterflies in our stomach and satisfy our deep desires for romantic intimacy.  If you can only find that perfect Prince(or Princess) your story book life will begin and you can live happily ever after. 

Marriage has become a strangely one sided affair.  Yes, I know it involves two people.  But the basic assumed premise of a successful marriage is that YOU are in some way satisfied by the person you are married to and the circumstances you find yourself in.  And when either one person or both individuals no longer feels this way the marriage comes to an end. 

While many may bravely soldier on under these conditions for a period of time the foundational narrative of personal satisfaction overrides other senses.  In my relatively young life I know a number of my peers who have been divorced.  In not once instance were there occurrences of abuse, infidelity, criminal behavior, etc.  They were all cases of, "We(or I) are no longer in "love" with that person". 

No wonder people keep waiting longer and longer to get married!  When you are contemplating committing your life to another person against the backdrop of a culture that says marriage is about love alone when we know how fleeting such emotional feelings can be, the risk seems too great.

In Ruth chapter 3 we have the story of Ruth basically using cultural and religious obligations to convince an older man(Boaz) to marry her.  Our modern sensibilities balk at this story.  Where is the love we ask?  The romance?  The passionate kiss in the rain after they both discovered how much they truly needed each other!!?!?!

The book of Ruth is a foreshadowing of the story of Christ and His Bride(the Church).  The picture of what a marriage is in Ruth is a radical departure from our modern concepts.  Yet it is a picture of the most important love we can ever observe and experience. 

Marriage is not based on "romance", but Love.  These are wildly different concepts.  Starting with Love can, and often, develops romance, romance is not a natural step on the progression to Love. 

Romance is something you feel.  Love is something you do, regardless of feelings.

Romance is an outflow of attraction.  Love is not based upon attraction.

Romance is a temporary event or condition often sourced in impulse.  Love is a permanent act of the will.

Romance is conditionally offered.  Love is unconditionally provided. 

The message of the Gospel is that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.  And the maintaining of our relationship with Christ is not dependent upon us, or, our actions, but completely based upon the character of Christ. 

How would it feel to know that your Eternal destination was dependent upon your "wining and dining" God through your own "appeal".  And, if for whatever reason, God grew tired of you, or you were no longer up to snuff, He said, "You know, it's not you, it's me.  We have just grown apart.  Sorry".............

The True Love Boaz and Ruth experience is not trying to find some perfect person to compliment their personal preferences, but to instead commit life to service to the other.  This is an act of the will, not the impulsivity of feelings.  Christ offers us the Gospel not because we satisfy some sort of romantic need in His life, but because He has chosen to be our Agape Lover and Guardian Redeemer.  Our appearance, intelligence, personality, etc, have no bearing on the stability of our marriage to the Lamb. 

Ask yourself, "Am I looking for a romantic marriage, or, am I looking for sacrificial Love that serves the other, and not the self?"  When the years go by, the kids and jobs come and change.  When the decades tire you out and exhaust your patience.  Which will sustain you?  A whirlwind trip to Paris, or, a spouse who is committed to give the best of themselves to you regardless of the circumstances?

The modern marriage is not a picture of the Gospel.  The Gospel is a picture of Marriage! 

Old couples don't get there because of how many romantic dates they took, but how many unromantic days they stayed.

Friday, October 3, 2014

How Do We Love

“Do not waste time bothering whether you ‘love’ your neighbor; act as if you did. As soon as we do this we find one of the great secrets. When you are behaving as if you loved someone, you will presently come to love him.”
C.S. Lewis

The modern definition of love is most often used in the context of feelings that you feel for someone.  If someone makes you feel good and is attractive you have all the ingredients for "love".  And if you realllllly have these strong feelings for someone, and happen to also want to have sex with's love....let never the two be split asunder! 

Shockingly, today, we have an ever increasing number of divorces, children born out of wedlock, affairs, etc.  When "feelings" become the arbiter we have established an amorphous and unstable standard on which to base relationships and our conceptions of love. 

There is a reason that marriages often dissolve between years 5 and 10.  For most people the butterflies of fresh love have been replaced by the mundane nature of daily living coupled with the stresses of children, bills, careers, and new "attractive" people.  When we place romance as the pinnacle of the value of a relationship we will soon find ourselves without good reasons to continue.

This perspective also influences the approach we take to all relationships.  It is easy to speak with eloquence about how much you love others and what a good person you are for caring about their experiences.  But when push comes to shove we would much rather talk about our ambiguously defined feelings than make practical commitments to showing love to someone else when it doesn't translate to achieving something for ourselves. 

Instead, I challenge us to approach love as a deliberate act of the will that puts others first regardless of how we may "feel" about it.  As CS Lewis said in the opening quote choosing to act love outwardly will shape us inwardly.  I have been recently studying the book of Ruth and I think there are three lessons that we can draw out about the practical expressions of giving love to others.

-----if you haven't read, or, recently read, the Book of Ruth, read the first two chapters to get the context for what I am saying here-----

Ruth is a pagan foreigner(boo), recently widowed(boo), living with her widowed mother-in-law who, with her husband, ran from the promised land some years earlier(more boos).  For all practical purposes Ruth is person non-grata in Israel when she shows up at the field of Boaz to hopefully pick up some scraps so she doesn't starve to death.  There was nothing about her that eligible bachelor's in ancient Israel would find "attractive".  Yet, Boaz displays great love towards her.

1-  He speaks kindly with her(Ruth 2:11-12).  Boaz was a busy, respected and successful man.  He could simply have ignored her and no one would have noticed or cared.  He was under no obligation to be kind to this strange pagan foreigner.  But he goes out of his way to seek her out and speak affirming and encouraging words to her.

You and I are surrounded by people who no one would even notice if we didn't take the time to notice them.  Being a loving person is about showing love to those who you have no "reason" to love.  You can say you love your neighbor, but when is the last time you sought them out to share an encouraging word, to ask how they are doing, to pray for them?  We are not loving people if we only give kind words to those who are easy and convenient for us to be kind to.

And to be even more personal, when is the last time you also deliberately spoke with kindness and encouragement to the people in your life?  Like your spouse?  If you only say, "I love you" when you want loving is that?

2-  He shares his life(and a meal) with her(Ruth 2:14).  Boaz doesn't just say something nice and then goes about ignoring her.  He invites her to sit with him, to eat with him, to show real care for her.

Speaking kind words is important, but, they are also easy.  Who do you need to go out of your way to show practically in a real and tangible way that you love them?  Don't say, "I love you....but please don't spend any time with me"

3-  Boaz goes above and beyond and makes a personal sacrifice to help her(Ruth 2:15-16).  Instead of just the bare minimum of letting Ruth have whatever scraps are left, Boaz provides for her from his own personal harvest!

Love, real love, leads to sacrifice.  If you want to practically put love into practice, are you willing to cost yourself something in the process? 

Do you want to truly love people?  Stop feeling stuff about them and start giving of yourself for them regardless of how you feel.  Because just doing stuff for people you "like" is easy and not really very loving at all.

Still a better love story than Twilight

Thursday, October 2, 2014

You Don't Really Love People

Are you a kind, loving, friendly and welcoming person?  Who would honestly say "no"?  In general we like to think highly of ourselves.  In all honesty it would be pretty debilitating to walk around thinking poorly of yourself.  It's a natural survival mechanism that we utilize to view ourselves in a mostly positive light. 

Guess what?  You need to stop thinking so positively about yourself. 

Don't get me wrong, I don't mean start beating yourself up about the things you do.  But the reality is we too often refuse to look at ourselves realistically.  And when we refuse to do, we stop growing as a person. 

I knew a guy who thought he was a great writer(he wasn't).  He even wrote a series of books he wanted to get published.  No one would touch him with a ten foot pole.  Did he start taking classes, join peer review groups, start editing and re-working his manuscripts?  Nope.  In his mind they were perfect exactly the way they were.  Everyone else was just an idiot.....

The biggest barrier to being truly loving and caring people is the belief that we already are.  If that's true, why are so many people lonely, sad, hurting and broken? 

People are hurting because we evaluate how loving we are through the lens of the people who are easy for us to love.  Let me say this very clearly, if the only people who think you are friendly and caring are the people you aren't that friendly and loving. 

In Matthew chapter 5 Jesus says,

43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect."

Let that sink in......

Who in your life is it not natural and easy to love and treat with kindness?  Who is a challenge to reach out to and invite into your house to share life with? 

Unless you are showing ACTIVE love to them you are just doing that which is easiest for you.  And that isn't love at all.


Thursday, September 25, 2014

Country Club or Hospital

When we were kids my sister and I would often spend time at my dad's church office.  They had this super powerful electronic stapler that we were clearly and strongly instructed to not get near or touch due to the potential of bodily harm that such a device posed for two little kids.  These instructions had a clear understanding that failure to follow the rules would carry with it dire consequences. 

Due to the fact that I was always super obedient and the perfect child(and the favorite one which is clearly demonstrated and confirmed by our mother....) I followed this rule.  My squirrely little sister on the other hand....well....lets just say she was not as perfect as I was(and am).  One day she happened to stick her thumb into the opening, causing the stapler to launch a staple right through her nail and thumb.  Realizing that she had broken a rule that carried consequences she kept it to herself and quietly whimpered in the corner holding(and hiding) her thumb. 

For a few hours that day she kept it a secret, avoiding our parents and clearly being sad.  Finally, upon going back home my mom held her and asked her what was wrong.  My sister tearfully said she didn't want to say because she didn't want to get in trouble.  After some convincing and promising that she could tell mom anything, she finally revealed the heinous injury.  In the blink of an eye she was rushed to the ER to have it removed. 

The worst part is that she didn't even get in trouble.  I though at least a few spankings were in order.....because I love my sister and wanted her grow up to be a responsible adult!!  But we did learn a valuable lesson; when you are hurt mom and dad are a safe place to share your hurt and you won't be "hurt" more for sharing what happened.  Even if your pain was due to your own choices!

When you are hurting where can you go to weep? 

Sadly, for too many people, Church is the last place you think of.  Even if you go there for help it is common to have help be given with a heaping dose of judgment.  You are already hurting enough, and the last thing you want is someone telling you that you are just getting what you deserve. 

Here is the worst part about churches and pastors presenting that sort of attitude to people;  The whole message of the Gospel, which the Church is called to proclaim and practice, is that in Christ we don't get what we deserve.  Instead of hearing "Come all you who are yoke is easy and my burden is light", people hear, "Come all who are screwed up and we will give you a bunch of burdens to pile on to your exhausted shoulders".....

Many churches today are glorified Country Clubs where you come to look good and show people that you are checking off all the right "behavior" boxes.  Struggles, pain, frustration, questions and hurts make people uncomfortable.  We are here to smile, shake hands and keep up appearances. 

Christ's church is not a country club, it is a hospital.  It is SUPPOSED to be a place where people who are broken can come to be loved and have their pains treated.  How would you feel if you walked into a hospital with a broken arm and the staff looked at you like you had the plague and said, " know this is your own fault....helping you is going to be a bit inconvenient for us today.." 

When you arrive at a hospital they ask you what brings you there that day, they listen to you, they address your concerns, they do everything in their power to put you back together.  They don't ridicule you and blame you. 

They listen, empathize, and, HELP.

Many churches talk at you, judge you, and never want to help. 

Let me challenge you if you lead in a church, or, are a part of a Church.  Are you trying to maintain a country club, or, are you serving a hospital.  If your church feels a lot more like a country club, you are doing something wrong. 

When people need help, but they don't feel safe asking for help, it gets worse.  In the book of Ruth we learn about how a family runs from Israel to Moab because of a famine.  In Moab everything goes horribly wrong.  Then we find out that back in Israel, the whole time, they had a family member who was wealthy.  Why didn't they ask for help before they ran away?  We don't know. 

But this story plays itself out every day in our communities.  People are too embarrassed and afraid to ask for help.  And sadly ,things get a lot worse as they hide their pain and heart aches. 

Is it your fault that people are too afraid to ask you for help?  If no one is asking you for help, it probably is.  What are you going to do about it?


Saturday, September 20, 2014

When We Make Bad Decisions

Not sure if this is just me.....but I have a tendency to sometimes make bad decisions.  Bad decisions fall into two categories;

1)  Knowingly doing something stupid/inappropriate/harmful/irresponsible/etc.  It is common to "know" what one should do, but then doing the opposite.... There is no excuse for this...but we all find ourselves in this camp from time to time.

2)  Decisions that are good decisions, but, end up badly.  For example;  Choosing to take an unsinkable ship across the Atlantic for its maiden voyage...falling in love with a young woman, and giving her your spot on a floating door....In general, none of those decisions were necessarily bad...but why Jack, why??? 

Regardless of how we end up where we end up, our natural reaction is to say, "Why me??"  For a Christian this can be quite a challenge because we wonder why God would have allowed "this" to happen to us. 

The book of Ruth is an interesting story snuck into the early books of the Old Testament.  On the surface it is not a historical narrative detailing the exploits of heroic patriarchs of Israel, heck, the main character isn't even Jewish in the first place! 

The story starts with a fellow named Elimelek who gets worried about a famine in Israel so he runs off to Moab.  A couple of important points to this; 1)  Famine in the promised land is generally tied to Israel's sin.  We know this was during the time of the Judges, which is a period in which Israel was constantly turning their back on God.  So, instead of dealing with the consequences, Elimelek runs away.  2)  This was the PROMISED LAND!!!  Even today Jewish people contend for their place there.  But Elimelek chose to not trust God and ran away.  3)  The Jewish people were not to intermarry with the pagan nations surrounding Israel.  We see in the first chapter that Elimelek has his sons marry Moabite women(one of them being our main character Ruth).

In a nutshell, the background of the story of Ruth is; A man choosing to run from God, not trust God and sin by breaking fundamental rules God laid down for his people.  Yet here it is.  A whole book of the Bible dedicated to telling the story of a non-Jewish woman who shouldn't have even been around if Elimelek had simply honored God and trusted Him. 

But there is more.  (SPOILER ALERT)  Ruth goes on to marry a Godly man named Boaz back in Israel and she is part of the line that brings us King David and....JESUS!!!   

Elimelek knowingly and willingly made bad decisions.  And, he had bad things happen to him(he and his sons ended up dying in Moab) yet Ruth is one of the most significant people in scripture and was used by God in a miraculous and beautiful way.  We cannot miss this!

God does not MAKE bad things happen to you.  Whether by our individual choices(running from God), or, the fallout of the collective fallenness of creation that has produced a broken world that bad things are sadly common(death), bad things happen because this world is broken.  And in the midst of the tragedy and heartache God stands over it and works all things towards His promise, and, our ultimate hope. 

In the midst of things outside of her control what does Ruth choose to do?  Go to God and God's people.  Her sister-in-law chooses to go back to Moab after the death of her husband, and we never hear about her again.  Ruth chooses to follow her mother-in-law back to Israel knowing that choosing Yahweh over what she was familiar with did not immediately lend itself to a whole lot of definitive "hope" for the future. 

Our lives are shaped by bad choices and bad circumstances every day.  And in that moment of hurt and frustration we have a choice.  Either, we run from God and towards worldly comfort, or, we run towards God and eternal hope.  And the most amazing things about the hope that is found through Christ is that even our tragedies can become our crowning achievements when they are laid down at the cross.  Everything that brings us Ruth was a series of terrible choices and circumstances, but it is exactly because of these things that Ruth is a testimony to God's faithfulness and ultimate promise. 

People like to say "everything happens for a reason".  And there is SOME biblical truth to it.  But we abuse it.  All of these things can happen to us that are terrible, and the only way they can have a truly beautiful "reason" that recreates them into something meaningful is when they are given new life through the only one who can give life to that which was once dead. 

What choices will you make?

If you know it, you love it!

Friday, September 12, 2014

Group Think and Peer Pressure

We lack the strength of our convictions.  In so many ways, in so many places, we substitute individual thinking(and risk taking) for the safety of "group think".  When instead of personally defended facts and figures we lean on the ambiguous concept of "consensus" we are abdicating our responsibility to be independent moral agents and thinkers.  And here is the great inherent risk in such cowardice; Agreeing with the group will not protect you when your individual choices come home to roost. 

If everyone says that drinking bleach is good for you, there is no healing to be found when you lie in a hospital bed and say, "But but but, the "experts" said it was ok". 

Socrates said, "The unexamined life is not worth living".   How much of life today is not worth living!  Sitting in our comfortable bubbles we expect others to do our thinking for us.  If something a bunch of people say sounds good to us, it is good enough.  Whether scientifically, politically, personally, religiously, we are in a constant tension of trying to pretend that truth is created by trending hashtagged phrases on social media.

And it is killing us.

Internally and externally. 

Here is the thing about truth;  It has no problems with being questioned!  If you question someone, or, something, and the response is mockery, ridicule, and general offendedness, then it should be a red flag that truth may not be found in such claims.  Stop asking yourself, "What do others believe?" and start asking, "What is true?"

In John 7:48 the Pharisees are furious that people are listening to Jesus.  Does one of their leaders stand up and say, "Here is my 5 point argument, with Torah footnotes, that show in detail why Jesus is a crazy person, feel free to critique my points!" ?  No, they say, "Do any of us leaders believe him??  Of course not!!!" 

No one is willing to put their individual name on the line.  They just hide behind their group think.  They never seem to want to respond to anything Jesus specifically states, they just keep arguing that the "consensus" by those who "know better" is that Jesus is a crazy person. 

We are made as individuals.  We are responsible to respond to truth claims as individuals.  Either Jesus is the son of God who died on the cross for our sins and rose again, or, He is not.  There is no arguing about what other people might think.  Too often we defer our personal responsibilities by arguing about peripheral details.  Like, "What about aborigine Joe from 4000 BC?", or, "But 'those' people don't act very nice(in my opinion)". 

You, and you alone, have to address who Christ is.  Or, not.  Again, it is you and you alone who is responsible.

Don't drink bleach because someone else said it was ok.  And, don't avoid bleach because someone else said you should.  The double edge sword is if you make any decision because someone told you to, you will eventually question the reasoning.  If a friend tells you to not drink bleach and that is the only reason you don't, what if you find out that friend is a liar?  You might throw out his reasonably good point of not drinking bleach.

Make your own decisions.


Thursday, September 4, 2014

Rabble Rousers in the Church

If you follow the Christian Sub-Culture you probably know who Mark Driscoll is, and, the church he started, Mars Hill.  You probably are also aware that the whole thing is currently imploding. 

A quick overview....
- Driscoll founded Mars Hill about 20 years ago as a basically brand new Christian in the most unchurhed city in America(Seattle)

-  With a brash and engaging style Driscoll oversaw explosive growth that quickly led to him being the new "IT" guy in evangelicalism. 

-  He wrote a number of "best sellers" that detailed the churches growth and his theology.  These books were treated as "Church Growth Manuals" for many young pastors coming up who wanted to emulate MD's success. 

-  MD oversaw a church planting network(Acts 29) that has planted hundreds of churches world wide in just over a decade. 

-  In the last two years the bloom has fallen off the rose as destructively unhealthy leadership by MD and his "executive" elders has come to light. 

A couple of general thoughts and reminders....

- The Bible is littered with flawed people who would be kicked out of most churches for their sinful behavior if they were doing it today.

-  God still used these broken sinful people for His purposes...not that He ever gave a pass for their culpability, but His sovereignty ruled over the sin.  God even chose a murderous adulterer(King David) to be the line through which the Messiah would come. 

- Even our greatest sins and failures do not limit the redemptive power of the Cross.  As Paul says, as long as Christ is preached.... EVEN when it was done for selfish ambition!!!

Personal Responses and Convictions......

- If Acts 29 or Mark Driscoll have been a blessing to you in any way at any point....GREAT.  We are capable of benefitting from God's work, even when the vessel that delivered it is tragically flawed.  We don't stop reading the Psalms because David was a pretty screwed up guy.

- Who are you attaching yourself to?  Our celebrity driven culture is excessively unhealthy.  When we begin to follow man instead of Christ, we are setting ourselves up for a fall.   Even if Driscoll did not have any of these problems, we should have never been so undiscerning by how much "worship" we were giving him.  And this includes anyone else out there.  Whether it is your favorite theologian, or, your local pastor.  They are flawed people that God can do great things through, but everything they do and teach must be weighed against the Cross and God's word. 

Moving Forward....

So what now?  I hope a lesson we can draw from all of this is that sin that is allowed to fester becomes more and more damaging with a far greater fall out.  To borrow from a good law enforcement statement, "If you see something, say something".   One of the red flags at Mars Hill was when they bylaws were changed in a way that consolidated "absolute" power with Mark Driscoll.  This is unbiblical.  Should Elders lead the church.  Absolutely.  Is it an authoritarian unaccountable paradigm.  Never.  If you are a part of a church, and leadership is unaccountable, treats members as a bunch of little children who have invalid for the hills. 

In John chapter 7 the Pharisees are furious about what Jesus has been saying and how the people are seemingly "buying into it".  They say, that mob, they know nothing!!  Only these high and mighty self-righteous guys are able to really know what is going on.  Everyone else is a bunch of idiots.  But it was actually the "mob" who got what was really going on! 

Read your bible, test everything you hear according to God's word.  Love and trust your leadership, EVEN when they make mistakes.  But don't excuse sin and mistakes just because someone is a leader.  Nip it in the butt.  And if it doesn't change.  They can't be leaders.

Use this image to ask yourself how your leaders are doing