Category Archives: love

God helps us be decent persons

What do you think of these tips found on the internet?

View a picky person as one who “loves quality.”

See one who is boring as “consistent and stable.”

Instead of calling a person gullible, call them “trusting.”

Not weird but “unique.”

See a setback or failure as a “learning experience.”

It’s not a crisis but a “challenge.”

Not criticism but back-handed “advice or guidance.”

You’re not overwhelmed but “in demand”!

As you settle back in your favorite chair after a busy day, don’t see yourself as exhausted but as “recharging.”

We can find many suggestions for how to make our lives a bit better. I’m glad there are articles like “9 Easy Steps to Becoming a Decent Human Being.” a decent person(Step #1 – Realize when you’re being a jerk to someone and stop being a jerk. Maybe someone offers an idea in a meeting that you disagree with and you immediately, without intending to, shut them down. Maybe it really was a terrible idea, but a bit of common courtesy is required in everyday life.) And glad for “10 Tips For Raising Decent Human Beings” (Tip #1 – I do not sugarcoat my words if my child loses. Of course, I try to be as kind as possible but the hard truth is, most times, there is a winner and loser in almost all sports/competitions, and my kid needs to accept that.) We welcome any wisdom that helps improve our lives.

I believe, however, that we need the resources of our Christian faith in any project seeking to form persons who are decent and good. We humans have difficulty being good without God. Here are a few of the reasons:

  • We need someone smarter than us to determine which behaviors lead to human flourishing. For example, Jesus was the first to call us to love our enemies and forgive those who wrong us, a call that yields such marvelous fruit in human relations. Yet that stance seems foolish—surely we should instead treat people according to what they deserve! We would never come up with wisdom like that on our own.
  • The secular world believes in a sense of mutual human dignity. This is a very good thing and has fueled humanitarian efforts like hospitals, disaster relief, initiatives against racism, etc. However, how much does that sense of shared human dignity build on (and borrow from) Christian teachings? Followers of Jesus helped supply the critical mass for beginning all those benevolent efforts.
  • If self is our ultimate concern, we end up selfish. If our family’s good is our highest concern, we will care less for other families. If our ultimate goal is the good of our nation, we will end up with nationalism. If we focus on the good of our race, we end up racists. Only Christianity gives an ultimate concern that encompasses the whole world in selfless love: a God who looks like Jesus, willing to love even those acting in rebellion.
  • Awareness of being loved by God energizes us. The love we discover from God fills us with love that then spills over to others (1 John 4:19).

We should learn from those in our culture who have wisdom to share. But let’s never stop drinking deeply from our faith!

Turn wounds into mere finger pricks

In our hurt and anger after someone wounds us, showing forgiveness is the last thing we want to do. Give them love before they deserve it? No! Chose to let go of any payback? No!love and forgive even when wounded Our natural reaction is anger and retaliation, even if the one hurting us is a close friend or family member.

Yet most of us admire those who follow Jesus in loving and forgiving and doing good to those who hurt and offend us (Matt. 5:43-45, Luke 6:27-28). We are drawn toward these persons as we see lives filled with a sense of peace rather than bitterness and hatred. Further, we see their inner calm and love making them more productive as they work at nudging the wrongdoer to turn from their behavior.

For those of you who want to be able to forgive, I have a tip: do it as the Bible prescribes: forgive out of the knowledge that God in Christ has forgiven you (Eph. 4:32-5:2, Col. 3:13). Sometimes we can’t forgive others until we are forgiven. Or love until we are first loved (1 John 4:19).

Dallas Willard in his book The Divine Conspiracy (p. 323-324) has an analogy that helps us see this. What’s it like when someone steals a hundred dollars from us when we only have two hundred dollars to our name? In contrast, what’s it like if someone picks our pocket of a hundred dollars and we have a billion in the bank?! The same crime feels like a knife in the heart in one situation and like a prick in the finger in the other.

Now imagine two Christians, both feeling offended by unfair criticism. As we watch them, it is clear that one is able to sort through what is said and admit to what is true and patiently explain what may be unfair; the critical remarks are little more than a prick in the finger. In contrast, that same criticism leads the other person to sink into depression or to respond with anger and blame-shifting. The words of disapproval feel to them like a knife in the heart.

Why? Willard suggests that the one person may know how rich they are in God’s love through Christ, whereas the other may not have yet had that truth sink deep within them.

When we begin to see and feel how much we are loved in Christ in spite of our flaws and how fully he can fill us, we develop the same inner resilience and healthy confidence that a child enjoys when growing up in a family that gives unconditional love. When we are forgiven by God—and when the truth about the riches of love and grace that is ours in Christ Jesus begins to permeate us deeply—then unfair criticism or some other hurt begins to feel less like a knife to the heart.

One caution: don’t wait to forgive an offense until it feels easy to do so (i.e., until it feels like we’re only forgiving a mere irritation or finger prick). Yes, our ability to forgive depends on our experience of being forgiven. But the opposite is also true: our experience of feeling God’s love and forgiveness depends on us showing whatever love and forgiveness we can. Until we forgive another, we will have a hard time believing that God is forgiving us. Why? It’s because we instinctively assume others do what we would do if we were in their position. Consequently we do not fully believe that God forgives us until we forgive another. Somehow us choosing to forgive someone else sends God’s forgiveness deep into our heart. In fact, Jesus implies that us-forgiving-others happens before God-forgiving-us: “If you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins” (Matthew 6:15). When we don’t forgive others, it reveals that we probably haven’t really believed God’s forgiveness of us (Matthew 18:21-35).

Some good magic for all us valentines

This week romance and love are taking on a redder hue than usual! Hallmark and the local florist appreciate it. So do all of us valentines.

Showing that we like each other fuels our relationships. Instead of taking the other for granted, we take the effort to be aware of the other, to notice. (Ever watch the eyes of a couple in love? They’re always looking at each other!) We listen, we touch. We give flowers, chocolates.

Don’t follow the husband who told his wife: valentine roses “I said I loved you the day we got married, and if I change my mind I’ll tell you.” Compliment each other—the more specific the better. Recount some strength or typical act in the other that is satisfying, that makes you want to be with him or her.

Much good magic happens when we affirm someone and tell them we like them. First, they like us more. All of us enjoy being around those who like us, who appreciate us. Second, when we affirm another, now we like them more. We live with whichever aspect of the people around us we choose to emphasize. Third, when we affirm another, they tend to repeat the behavior we affirmed!

Not all days, though, is the red glow in relationships from valentines and roses. Sometimes it’s anger. What about the days when the warmth of love is replaced with feelings of frustration or bitterness?

Loss of closeness is a signal that there is something in the relationship that needs attention. Give it attention. Be assertive; tell the other what your needs are. As Jesus instructed, “if your brother or sister sins against you, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you” (Matt. 18:15).

Often when we try to be assertive, we demand that the other change their actions. Or we make statements judging their motives and personality traits. Both of those tend to provoke argument or defensiveness in the other.

But there is a way to be assertive that does not provoke a negative response: we can describe our feelings and pain at the other’s behavior. “When you do…, this is what happens to me.” “I feel… when you… because….” Look at the good magic that happens when we describe our feelings. First, the other can’t argue about our description of our feelings because we are the expert on that. Second, we have given the other an opportunity to feel our pain, to empathize with us. Third, often when we ask or demand that a person change their behavior, they resist; whereas when they see why they should change, they do. And we’ve weathered another crisis on our way to being valentines forever.

In this fallen world, some relationships are so stuck in destructive responses to each other that the above practices of affirming the other or describing our pain fail to work their magic. But in most relationships the magic can be there for the trying. It sure has in mine! valentine roses Here’s to you, Karen: my favorite person to be with and favorite consultant. One loved by our kids, grand-kids, the Sunday School children, the women’s groups you lead—and most of all by me.

Jesus’ way to deal with insult and criticism

Here’s a personal story from when I worked as a substitute rural mail carrier many years ago. I ran across it while preparing for a sermon in a series on the impact God’s love has as it fully sinks into our mind and heart. It’s adapted from my journal.

     Mail volume ebbs and flows. One day we rural carriers got a lot of mail and got it late. Back then (before automation) we had to put every piece of mail into delivery sequence before leaving the post office for the route. The more mail, the more sorting, and the later we started delivery. Toward the end of the route that day, I was running about two hours behind normal schedule and Mr. Green was waiting for me at his mail box. “I don’t know what you’ve been doing, but it sure as @#$! wasn’t delivering mail.” He thought I had been goofing off! And I had worked harder that day than for a while.rural
     I’m a people-pleaser. And was also sensitive to running late on the route, feeling that my brain ran a few megahertz slower than other carriers’. So his criticism went deep and kept replaying through my mind the next weeks. I found myself a little tense and edgy every time I came to his mail box. And getting a little jolt each time I saw one of his letters while sorting.
     Finally I decided that this had gone on too long. I gave myself an assignment, a simple spiritual discipline: every time I thought of Mr. Green and his comment, I would tell myself: God loves me and was pleased with my hard work that day. Initially that truth didn’t have as much energy and emotional grip as my frustration and anxiety did. But as I continued to feed my faith in God’s love, I soon could think about Mr. Green with inner calm and compassion. I was following Jesus’ strategy: “He left his case in the hands of God, who always judges fairly” (1 Peter 2:23).
     We mail carriers sometimes share war stories. I told another carrier about Mr. Green and how I dealt with it: by telling myself that God was pleased with me even if Mr. Green wasn’t. She responded by telling me of a time that a trucker honked and yelled at her because he thought she pulled out in front of him. She too had left it bother her a while, letting his anger toward her replay in her mind. But then she dealt with it, she said, by telling herself that she doesn’t care what he thinks.

Which strategy should we use when unfairly accused: rest in God’s love and let his assessment matter most? or tell ourselves that the other person doesn’t matter?

Following Jesus’ way—letting our case in the hands of God who always judges fairly—is far healthier. Both my strategy and my coworker’s strategy allowed us to let go of anxiety over an insult. But only the approach that Jesus modeled enables us to give the angry person “the gift of non-anxious presence”—to both let go of the other’s anger and yet be fully engaged with them.

Marriage we’re willing to die for

There’s a marriage stat I’ve told many people.

In 2002 a research team based at the University of Chicago presented an analysis of data on 5,232 married adults from the National Survey of Families and Households. That sample included 645 who said they were unhappy in their marriage. These persons were interviewed again five years later. Those who divorced were on average still unhappy or even less happy. But two-thirds of those who stayed in their marriages reported that their marriages were happy five years later. As the USA Today headline put it: “Unhappily wed? Put off getting that divorce.” The odds are that divorce will not bring happiness, but that toughing it out in an unhappy marriage until it turns around just might deliver.

There are always seasons in married life when our spouse is not serving us, being attentive to us. Perhaps they’re sick, discouraged, or absorbed in their own problems. Can we choose to love our spouse during times when we are getting very little, if any, love back?

Tim Keller in The Meaning of Marriage points out that we parents do this with our children. We give and give to a child, forgoing much of our freedom and life for the child. Sometimes we get hugs or thanks in return; but by and large we give and the child gives very little in return. Even when we don’t feel any love for the child, we choose to give to them—we come home, we sacrifice for the child.

In contrast, what happens when our spouse is not loving us? We tend to think, “You’re not being the spouse you used to be, so I won’t be the spouse I used to be.” We pull back, risking a loveless, downward spiral. At the end of 18 years, even if our child is a mess, we still love the kid. But with our spouse, after years of choosing to not love when we don’t feel them loving us, there’s no love left. The child goes off to college and the marriage falls apart. And it’s our fault. What we practiced with our child, we didn’t practice with our spouse: during the times of not receiving love, we didn’t choose to give love anyway.

So let’s cherish each other—even when the other doesn’t signal love to us. And more than just on Valentine’s Day. Every day let’s do things like prioritize the first four minutes together after work: listen to the other, observe them, ask specific questions about their day, show affection. The potential return is huge every time we invest time and energy into an act of love toward our spouse. Be willing to die for our marriage—and we just might get a marriage to die for!

Is our life story compelling or boring?

What ambitions, what goals are shaping your life? If someone wrote the story of your life, would it be a compelling narrative full of incidents where you do what matters and help your world become a bit better and the Kingdom come a bit more? Or would your story be boring with you choosing what is safe and easy?

Yes, attention must be given to self-care and security. But in the last decades our culture has swung too far in that direction—except for athletes like those in the Super Bowl and Sochi Winter Olympics who gladly risk injury to life and limb for a chance at glory! Two persons who changed this world more than any other did not prioritize personal safety and ease: Jesus who died a premature death and Paul who detailed lists of hardship and danger (2Cor. 6:4-10; 11:23-33).

Last week I read about a young father and pastor in Florida leaving his comfort zone on a mission from God. Tim Brister in his July 2013 blog tells about seeing a large black plume of smoke billowing into the sky one evening. A neighbor’s house was on fire. He arrived just as the mother and daughter ran from the house, and watched as everything was destroyed.

Later, after he went home and put his kids in bed, Tim says, I came into the living room and looked outside at the smoke still visible through the rain and felt like Jesus was telling me, “Love them, like I love them.” I told my wife that I needed to go back to talk to the father. But it was raining now. We were strangers. I was sure he didn’t want to talk to anyone. And I wanted to lie down on my couch in my air-conditioned, smoke-free living room. By God’s grace, I did not listen to myself. I headed back to the burned down house. As the firefighters wrapped up their work, I saw the father squatting down at the edge of his driveway with tears in his eyes. I told him who I was and how sorry I was for his loss. We wept together, prayed together. Through that contact, Tim was able to organize neighbors and local businesses to rally around this family, collecting clothing, groceries, and gift cards.

What about us? Is our goal to stay comfortable and not try anything uncertain? Or to step out when God gives a mission, and write another compelling chapter to our life?!

Don’t tune out the good things

Interested in a simple exercise that can boost how you relate with God and with persons around you?!

At any moment in our lives, there are many more things going on around us than we can consciously focus on. So we must “tune out” wide swathes of life so our mental circuits don’t overload.

Unfortunately, one class of things that we “tune out” are the recurring good events or elements in our life; we tend to go through our days ignoring that whole group because we are used to them. Even more unfortunate, these are the most valuable parts of our lives – good things so consistent that we depend on them and expect them to be there for us. Here we are, taking some of the most important blessings in life for granted! Instead, what we notice most are the events that disrupt their occurrence!

The simple exercise that can reverse this whole unfortunate pattern is the discipline of gratefulness. This is a choice to notice and remark on some of the multitude of good things that happen so consistently that they can pass unnoticed, a choice to fight our natural tendency to “tune out” such things. Instead we deliberately “tune in” to them (1 Thes. 5:18).

Think of a difficult relationship, perhaps a co-worker or family member. This person is a mixture of both good and bad. If we continue the natural pattern (automatically noticing the bad, not the good), our emotions about the person are more negative than necessary. Without the discipline of choosing to look for and affirm the positive, we give ourselves a diminished person to relate to: we go into interactions with them with our mind full of how they disappoint us but not full of what they do right.

Similarly, God seems a mixture: regularly giving good gifts that we count on (and take for granted) and then at times taking those good things away (which we notice). We have a choice: do we dwell on the pain and loss? Or do we choose to focus on the many instances of God’s goodness present even in the midst of suffering? Giving thanks does not eliminate our questions about God. But it does fill our minds with the overwhelming indications of God’s love, and move us toward joy and trust!