Tag: love

Nov
26
2013

The Lord would speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks with his friend. Exodus 33:11

I want to be like water. I want to slip through fingers, but hold up a ship. Michelle Williams

photoI have a picture in my office at home that might be the one thing that I own that I treasure the most. It is a picture taken in 1972 of me and my grandfather. He and I are sitting snuggled tight in his favorite chair. He is wearing a plaid, blue and white checkered short-sleeve shirt; he has on his Saturday khakis that he would wear while working in his enormous garden; and he is sporting some glasses that kids today would say are hipster and cool. I am wearing some blue shorts, an orange shirt, and the biggest smile a five year old could have. Why is this picture so important to me? It is the perfect image of who Jesus is to me today — me sitting in his lap.

My grandfather was easily the most important person to me when I was growing up. I could argue that there has not been a deeper influence on me in all of my life. Let me share a little back ground. The year that picture was taken is when my biological dad left my mom and I. One day, he just picked up and left and never turned back. I don’t really have any memories of my dad in those years and it wasn’t until I was nineteen that I went and searched him out and finally met him. At that moment in time, when I was just five years old, it seemed as if I was left fatherless. How untrue that really was.

When my dad packed his bags and left, it left my mom in a serious bind—she was now a single mom, she only had a part-time job and a mortgage to pay. We were always close to my grandparents and so the most sensible thing to do was to move in with them. We moved just a couple of miles away and for two years we lived with my grandparents in their small two bedroom home with its one bathroom. I think at best its size would be about 750 square feet—in today’s standards, it would be considered a small apartment. For the entirety of their fifty-five year marriage, my grandparents lived and died there. Though it was small, it was the perfect home.

As you can imagine, with this sort of background, my grandparents had a humble and simple life. To this day, I am so grateful for that heritage. My grandfather worked for over forty years at the local Roper plant making refrigerators and stoves. My grandmother worked as well—second-shift at a factory that she also gave forty years of her life. I have vivid memories in that fifth year of mine, when my mom and I lived with my Grandma and Grandpa Stutz. Every week night my grandfather and I at ten o’clock at night would drive and pick up my grandmother from work, because she never learned how to drive. When we would awake the next morning, I can remember an early breakfast being made by my grandmother’s hand—always an egg, two strips of bacon, a piece of toast and some sweet orange juice from the carton. And most importantly, I remember my grandfather, a solid place to stand in a time of confusion and tumult.

My grandfather was a simple, but an extraordinary man. He served on the board of his church for many years. He was an extremely devoted family man, where even to this day, not just I, but most of my cousins would also tell you that he was one of the most important persons also in their lives. And he had two vices—he loved the Chicago Cubs and he enjoyed wearing nice clothes. My grandfather was the sharpest dressed man at his church, and you would have never guessed that during the work week he was getting his hands greasy and grimy working under a factory roof. He bought some of the finest suits, fedoras and ties, and he taught me early on that “it’s the clothes that make the man.” And he loved the Cubs—a “gift” he gave to me which to this day I will never forgive him because they are always losing. On many occasions, I remember driving up to Wrigley Field, both just he and I, or with some senior group, and we would sit in Wrigley Field and watch the Cubs lose another baseball game. Here is a fitting antidote—I think in all of the games I personally went to—the Cubs won only one game…

As I have alluded to, my grandfather was one of the hardest working people I have ever known, but beyond that, he was a good man. I never heard him say an unkind word about anyone. He was always honest, even to the point that on one occasion I remember him returning to the bank teller because she gave him an extra five dollar bill. He was an ever-faithful and loving husband. That was what my grandfather was to me—he was solid, like a branch of a tree that you could hang onto and know it would never break. Everyone should have a person like my grandfather in their life, because for me, in a way, he is a picture of what God must be like—generous, kind, caring, wise, faithful, sacrificing, humble—I could go on and on.

PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER

Jesus can be this person for us and we can have someone even more solid than what my grandfather was for me. When Jesus spoke about himself, he clearly emphasized that he desires a deep relationship with us, even to the point of calling it friendship (John 15:15). He wants to be a safe, secure place for us where we can learn more and more about him and where we can learn just as much about ourselves. In our relationship with God, we can ease our lives into His and become who we were meant to be. This is what he told us it would be like. We will look into his face, friend to friend, and it would be as natural as anything we have ever experienced.

But for any of this to begin, we need to seriously look at our lives. Are you caught in that believer stage of faith? Is God distant from you because it is you that has moved away from him? Could you care less about how you live life and you truly think that the choices that you make don’t matter? Have you grown up in the church, but never made a genuine commitment to God, making the claim that you were going to live for him and him only? Perhaps you are the type of person who at the end of the day, you live your life as if you don’t need God. Is that you—are you so self-sufficient that God is a nuisance in how you want to live? But with all of this, you also know that your life is not on track and that just around the corner a crisis of some kind could overtake you. Are you in a place in your life that when you look at yourself in the mirror, you realize that your whole life needs a significant overhaul?

For others, perhaps you grew up in the church, but this thing about friendship with God is entirely foreign to you. Does everything have to be perfect and in its right place in your life, but in living this way, you never seem to add up to this standard? Have you when you look back over the years, you have served in many different ways, but almost always out of obligation and not because you really wanted to? And there is something else—deep down, something is missing, and also something is hidden in you that is dark and secret. Instead of being in friendship with God, you really have become just a religious person. Yes, you can speak eloquently about grace or forgiveness, but to know this deep down in your soul, you’ve never really experienced that (and somehow, someway you would really like to). Perhaps a common theme for your life is control—to control your relationships, your marriage, your kids, even your relationship with God.  If this is you, Jesus is waiting for you—grab his hand and learn how to become his friend.

There are many shapes and sizes to being a Christian. But with this, we need to make our days count and attempt to develop our relationship with the One who created us. The choice is ours—whether it is living indifferently or ungraciously toward the seriousness of our lives. Life is short and we need to make the most of it, especially as it relates to becoming a friend to God. In our kitchen for about sixteen years has hung a picture that quotes a Psalm: it says this:

 Teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts to wisdom.

We need to count our days and the wisest thing we can ever do is move into a friendship with Jesus. For the person who keeps God at a distance in whatever way they do, they miss out on so much. Remember, he wants all of our lives, not just the edges or the crumbs of our lives. Some years ago, I came across the beautiful epitaph that the poet Gregory Corso wrote for himself. It lies etched on his gravestone in Rome. It simply reads:

                                          Spirit                               

            is Life

            It flows thru

            the death of me

            endlessly

            like a river

            unafraid

            of becoming

            the sea

On some level, we are all afraid to come to God. No different than Adam and Eve after they had wronged the One who had created them, each of us looks for all kinds of ways to run and hide. But in every situation in our lives, he is right there trying to find where we are hiding. For each and every person, no matter where they are, where they come from or what kind of lives they lead, he is waiting for each of us to courageously pursue him. Each and every day, he is speaking to us in a singular way. Just as he wishes to be sought after, he will pursue us in creative ways—we just need to have our eyes open to his coming. Just like that river in Corso’s epitaph, we have to decide to be unafraid of moving into the sea. To be unafraid of the most daunting thing we will ever do—to learn how to be friends with God, to truly be in relationship with him. When we do this, when we make that decision—we will then be able to swim out to him into the waves that at first we thought would overtake us. But here was the reality of the situation—we didn’t need to swim at all. We could actually walk on the waves, because he already had showed us how. In the end, we learned how to take his hand, and we learned how to look him squarely in the face gaining a confidence we never had before. We were unafraid of what might happen when we took that first step—we were unafraid of the waters that now we could walk on with ease.


In: Friend to Jesus
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Aug
24
2011

Over the next weeks, we will be going through each of the fruit of the Spirit and looking at exactly what they are and how we can apply these characteristics to our lives. For the first one, we will be looking at the attribute of love and how the Bible defines it.

Love (Greek, agape; Antonym: hatred)

The word rendered love in Galatians 5:23 is agape in the Greek and one meaning for this expression is “unconditional love.” This word which is often used in the New Testament was a word to which Christianity in the first century gave new meaning. Another interesting tidbit is that outside of the New Testament, it rarely occurs in Greek writings during that era. Agape denotes an undefeatable benevolence and unconquerable goodwill that always seeks the highest interest of the other, no matter what the other person does. Let me say that last part once more, no matter what the other person does. Agape is a self-giving love that gives freely without asking anything in return, and does not consider what it can get from the other person. Agape is a love by choice and it refers to one’s will rather than to one’s emotions. To put it another way, agape is not a feeling; it is a willed action. Often when I love someone, I might not feel like doing it at all. Often, we have to make ourselves love with agape love. As the Scriptures states with great clarity, “Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is agape.” (I John 4:8) Meditate on that: God is agape; God is love. This is what the Scriptures declare in simple terms. His love is not based on an emotional impulse and it is not fleeting. As you can guess, beyond any other feature, agape is the most important character trait any person can have.

I once came upon the words of American novelist Jack Kerouac, which perfectly epitomize the opposite of agape love; he wrote: “So therefore I dedicate myself to myself, to my art, my sleep, my dreams, my labors, my sufferance, my loneliness, my unique madness, my endless absorption and hunger, because I cannot dedicate myself to any fellow being.” On the reverse, if we had to picture an image of agape, it would have to be Jesus on the cross, giving all of his life and laying it all on the line. Even in his own words he shares the immensity and importance of this characteristic. “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13) So on some level, tied to this fruit of the Spirit is the quality of sacrifice. Agape is a sacrificial, self-less love. The love of agape is often thinking about the needs of others, even in non-consequential ways (e.g., how often do you have to have it your way or how well do you give your time away to others?).

As one sad and startling example of this—in my private practice in counseling I would often work with teenagers and I was astonished at how over and over, they would share that they just wanted their parents to spend time with them. All they wanted was for their dad or mom to put away their own selfish lives (e.g., their jobs, their televisions or computers, their recreations, etc.) and really engage their lives. Sadly, in almost every case, these were kids from Christian homes. As stated above, the opposite of agape is hate. Almost in each instance, do you know what these teens believed about their parents? That their parents hated them in some way and that is why they never spent any time with them. Their parents were caught in their own selfish worlds and had neglected what mattered most. This is just one of the dangers when we don’t engage and learn how to agape love in every aspect of our lives.

Below are some questions you can ask yourself as you attempt to apply the fruit of agape to your life: How well do you love unconditionally? How well do you love when it is entirely up to your will versus “feeling” like it? Who is in your life that you need to love, but you just don’t feel like it? How genuinely sacrificing are you? How often do you give your will over to another person and do what they want, especially those closest to you? How selfish are you? How well do you put yourself in uncomfortable or costly situations to love someone? What do you need to do to change in your life to become more loving?


In: Spiritual Formation
Tags: , , , , , ,
Jul
27
2011

So how does one get the fruit of the Spirit that Jesus and Paul thought were so vital to our lives?

Jesus made the most important point and that was that the only way a person could exhibit this fruit in their lives was if they stayed in a relationship with him.

I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me, and I in him, he bears much fruit; for apart from Me you can do nothing. (John 15:5)

This also, if you think about it, is an amazing statement. To be genuinely loving or patient or kind means you have to literally be in a relationship with Jesus. If we are to believe his words with this, we need to live this out on a day-to-day basis learning how to be in relationship with him. Through this verse, Jesus is driving home the point that even having the very ability to have these qualities in a person’s life is entirely rooted in a relationship with Him. In statements like these that Jesus made, he was either thinking way too much of himself or he was saying something that we really need listen to and live out. When he says stuff like this, I think of something C.S. Lewis wrote:

I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: “I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.” That is the one thing we must not say. A man who said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic—on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg—or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God.

With words like these, Jesus basically was saying that to be a person of character—loving, joyful, patient, gentle, etc.—you have to be in relationship with him. Again, we need to take him at his word with these strong words he says.

So therefore, just as grapes or oranges need to be cultivated and nurtured so that they can grow, so does this spiritual fruit that Jesus and Paul talk about. When one tends to an orchard, there is watering, pruning, weeding, many different things need to be done to have a plentiful crop to enjoy. It is no different when it comes to the fruit of the Spirit. This fruit that Paul details for us are a blend of our own choosing and the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives. They go hand in hand and you cannot have one without the other. The Holy Spirit works with us so that we can be fruitful. As one example, the Spirit gives you patience; but you also must actively be patient in that difficult situation you will face tomorrow. God always works with us in our endeavors, but he never does it alone. We work with him to become the people we were supposed to be.

To end, these characteristics, these fruit are not gained because we are just being moral or good. As I once heard someone say, they are nine graces. I love the use of that word, because in some ways it exemplifies what the fruit are all about. The dictionary defines “graces” as:

• Seemingly effortless beauty or charm of movement, form, or proportion.

• A favor rendered by one who need not do so.

• A temporary immunity or exemption; a reprieve.

This definition pictures for us what the fruit of the Spirit are: 1) They are given by God who bestows them upon us as a reprieve from our broken lives. 2) The fruit of the Spirit allow us to be who we were meant to be from the beginning of time (e.g., loving, patient, self-controlled, etc.). 3) And they inevitability restore our character.

 

So now might be a good idea to discuss just what specifically the fruit of the Spirit are and why they are so important to our lives. In the up-coming weeks, we will look at these in some detail and see how we can apply them to our lives.

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In: Spiritual Formation
Tags: , , , , , ,
Mar
02
2011

To end this series on unfaithfulness, I want to add some personal thoughts.

Recently, I read that an infamous actor (who starred in a NBC series on Thursday nights in the 80’s and ironically, played the character of a psychologist) left his wife for a woman 26 years his junior. He said this about his unfaithfulness— ‘I needed more love in my life.’

I read that and thought, you have to be kidding me…does he really believe his own words? You need “more love” in your life?!

But in truth, I can’t tell you how often I have heard that same sentiment from others who have found “someone else.” When someone is leaving their spouse, they invariably say some of the craziest things.

One of the best ones I heard was this; a woman I  had met with had the audacity to tell me, But God just wants me to be happy. This was a woman who was sleeping with her next-door neighbor while her husband of over 30 years was recovering from a serious surgery.

One final story. In my early years as a psychologist, I can remember I met with this couple in which the husband had left his wife for another woman, but he kept on changing his mind whether or not he was going to return to the marriage. I remember one March evening he finally made up his mind and he told me this, I love my wife, but I just don’t have the same feelings that I have for her (referring to his mistress).

I simply tried to explain this to him, that the love he “felt” for his wife really rested on his shoulders. If he didn’t feel it, he was the one who wasn’t making it happen. It was his problem, not hers. He didn’t buy it and eventually left his wife. He just didn’t get it—love is not a feeling—love is a willed action. He didn’t understand this: If I don’t “love” somebody, it’s not their fault.  It’s mine. Just for the record, that concept is kind of biblical—the feelings of love occur first and foremost because of what we do.

But in all this, I have an admission. I have very little judgment when it comes to those who have been unfaithful. No different than what Paul said in the New Testament—I too am the “worst of sinners” (1 Timothy 1:15-16) and if I am not actively protecting myself and my marriage, I also could easily fall. As the life of David shows (2 Samuel 11), nobody is immune to making really bad choices. If for even a minute I think that I am beyond any type of sin, I then become its easiest prey.

On a final note, I am now nearing my 18th year of marriage, and God has been teaching me probably the most important lesson of my life. He is teaching me this, and I hope I can continue to apply this truth until the day I die:

As I am faithful to you, Kelly, I want you also to truly experience what it means to be a faithful person. To one woman. To two sons. To me.

So far so good. In these last few years, God has been teaching me that as I am faithful to Julie—even when I don’t want to, even when things aren’t going my way, even when she isn’t “there for me”—in this act of being faithful, I am just a little bit understanding how faithful Jesus is to me.

I am learning this—his faithfulness to me is pretty incredible. He has never wavered and he has always been there for me no matter what. And with that, I’m pretty grateful.


In: Marriage, Psychology
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