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Some Different Thoughts On Love: The Kind That Loses Friends

February 17, 2010 3 comments

From this time, many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him. – John 6:66

Everything Jesus did was out of his love. I’m assuming that’s true. If it is, then why does he often seem like He’s an ass? A few examples: he calls the teachers of the law and Pharisees “whitewashed tombs, ” covering up their inner deadness with a little paint (Mttw 23:27), “blind guides” (Mttw 23:16), “son of hell” (Mttw 23:15); he calls a pleading woman a dog (Mk 7:27); and gives teachings like John 6:26-66 that push people away. It would seem that everyone would love Jesus because everything He does is love because He is love, but a lot of people don’t care much for him. A lot of people don’t even like being around him. So many people hated him that they were able to influence a government to brutally executed.

I think we have to dispel one foolish idea that both seems sensible and wonderful and yet is totally false if the life of Jesus is an example. There’s an illusion present in our world that it is indubitable true that love draws people. It’s a really nice idea because we can think that if we just love people enough, in the right way, and for a long enough period, then they will be drawn to us. It’s simply not true. No doubt love can and often does draw people. But true love, Christlike love, often pushes people away. Read Scripture. It’s true no matter how much we want it to be false.

I do trust that every action of Jesus came from a heart that loved people and a wisdom that knew how to love people perfectly. I think that even while Jesus was in the middle of seriously pissing people off, he was loving them perfectly. Weird concept, huh? I think we are called to love in the same way that Jesus does. Selflessly, perfectly, and completely we are to love people in ways that both draw them toward us and the Messiah and in ways that may result in pushing them away from us. We first have to dispel the lie that love always makes people feel good and, more importantly, get over ourselves.

Most people I know are scared to love with the same audacious ferocity that Jesus loved with. Most people are scared that they will make those they love uncomfortable, hurt their feelings, or even makes the person angry at us. Often people are scared to truly love someone because they’re scared of losing the person’s friendship or losing their social status or level of social comfort. We’re so selfish we can’t love people with boldness by saying the hard things that may or may not have a positive result.

Get over yourself. And I’ll get over myself. The hardest way to love someone is to tell them where they are going wrong and how their life is something other than truly life. It takes so much love for the other person to risk a relationship and risk your own image to care about them by questioning the foundations of their lives. But people are dying out there. People are dying. They are living dead lives covered with a little bit of paint covering things up. It’s not love to pretend you only see the paint and don’t realize there is a corpse inside. Unless they deal with the corpse they can’t ever truly live. Love people so much that they see their heart and let God transform it. Love people so much that some people hate you. Love like Jesus.

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Some Different Thoughts On Love: Functional Capacities of Different Types of Relationships

February 11, 2010 1 comment

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
Love never fails. 1 Corinthians 13:4

Beautiful isn’t it? So simple in theory, so difficult in practice. Impossible without Jesus and sometimes feels impossible with Him. But what a beautiful picture! How wonderful would our world be if we all let these words become our life. Actually though, if I was close to just one person that lived this out devotedly, I think it would make my world wonderful. Indeed, it seems that a single life living this out could permanently mark the lives of others with beauty. It also seems ridiculously hard. And it is. I’m not going to give much advice on how to actually love like this. I think it has something to do with this. But also an incessant depth of intimacy with Jesus that I have not known.

The actual living out of these verses doesn’t always look how I think it would. When I consider the life of Jesus Christ, I don’t immediately think of these verses. I think of Him as loving, but also many other things. Like angry, saucy, rebellious, sacrilegious, and a brilliant debater. But, I do believe Scripture and so believe that Jesus actually spent His entire life living out these words of Paul in Corinthians. Jesus is God and John tells us that God is Love. So, Jesus is love, and somehow, all of his anger, sass, harsh words, and undermining of authority is an act of love. Despite his love manifesting in sometimes unexpected ways, His life is still beautiful, and what life has marked more lives with enduring beauty than that of Jesus? My point is that sometimes perfect love looks different than what we immediately think of as perfect love.

One factor that influences how love looks is the nature of our relationship with someone. At the coffee shop, living out this sort of love might simply look like smiling and asking sincerely how the barista’s day is going. That might seem insignificant, but it might be the maximum amount of love that the relationship allows. Going beyond the boundaries of that relationship might actually be totally unloving. For instance, someone might try to really love the barista by getting to know them and ask them deep questions about their personal life, but it makes the individual feel unsafe and exposed and embarrassed in front of this person they hardly know. The nature of the relationship only allows a certain kind of love and other attempts at love, however well intentioned, are simply not love.

There’s also examples of situations in which doing things that normally look like acts of love are not in reality loving at all. Advice is a common example. People (like me!) are often so quick to give advice to people that don’t need advice, that aren’t loved by advice. What love looks like might just be to listen and to try to understand or to hug and be there. Advice might be really well intentioned and still make the other feel terrible. On the flip side, passive listening and understanding is sometimes totally useless. Sometimes people need to see something more clearly and they need someone to speak up and tell them where they are wrong, even fiercely debating them. To love them is to reveal to them, no matter how difficult or painful it might be, the things that are destroying them or keeping them from truly living life as beautiful as it is meant to be lived.

My life is actually what got me thinking about this concept* and has been full of misguided love that hasn’t been love at all. It’s quite pathetic. I’ve been interacting with an individual that I want to love really really well, I care about them deeply. But I haven’t love them well at all. Not at all. The problem is that in reality, I have a friendship with this person that is limited in the maximum amount of love I can express and how I can express that love; however, I’ve basically been playing house with this person, pretending like we have a relationship that has a depth that it definitely does not. I can’t love them truly because I’m trying to love in a way that I can’t. At one level of friendship, I really could (at least sometimes) love them with a constant trust, hope, perseverance, forgetting all wrongs, with complete patience, without envy, and without self. But in this pretend world I’m living in, I can’t. In trying to love at a level the relationship doesn’t have the capacity for, I end up hurting this person I want to care for. I end up hurting myself too by putting myself in a situation where I am not able to be truly loved or to feel any love because we’re both trying to love in a way that is beyond the functional capacity of the relationship we should have. And I end up doing many things with good intentions that I truly desire to be acts of love that are damaging and hurtful. I thought pretending would be okay and that somehow the relationship would become what we were pretending it was, and misguided love would suddenly be rectified.

After a long period of time, it hasn’t happened. I don’t recommend ever trying anything of the sort. Learn from the ways of a fool. Be careful in how you love.

*Which, I think might be helpfully explored more and expanded on to fit a lot of different situations. I haven’t thought much about the idea of certain relationship types containing a maximum amount of expressible love. Does the basic concept at least make sense? Shed light on anything in your life? Do you even agree with it?

Some Different Thoughts On The Past: Maybe It’s Not The Problem

February 3, 2010 4 comments

This is provocative. It’s a little bit stronger language than I would typically use because I want it to be a little provocative. A lot of people I know at a lot of the churches I have been at have a strong focus on trying to find a reason for their current behavior, emotion, attitude, perspective, etc in some past event or past relationship. It’s been happening for a few years in a few different communities of believers. Somewhere around 80% of my Jesus loving friends seem to be convinced that the past is a key to spiritual growth. Most of that group would say it is an absolute necessity. It’s not really talked about, it’s merely assumed that one has to deal with their childhood in order to be like Jesus today.

I don’t discuss the topic much with people. I seem to talk with them a lot about their past and how they’ve been affected by it, but I don’t talk about the underlying presupposition that focusing on one’s past is necessary or even helpful for growing in likeness to Jesus. I just listen to them talk. I don’t mind it. I don’t even mind the idea that the past is so central to transformation. I just don’t actually believe it. And it confuses me, because I don’t think it’s a central theme of Scripture. I don’t even think a very strong case can be made for it in Scripture. And its frustrating when people insist that I need to deal with my daddy issues, ask about sexual abuse, and tell me I have some deep seated issues that I need to start looking at to figure out where they come from.

Being soaked in an environment like this and being a pragmatist, I’ve tried to do these things that involve looking back at my past. I’ve tried to humor friends and family by trying to humbly engage in something I didn’t actually have much respect for. It didn’t really do anything. I thought more about some of the influences that have contributed to some of my habitual sins and areas of difficulty in following Jesus. But seeing influences doesn’t change actions. I never thought that my past is why I am the way I am and have struggled with sins I have. My sinfulness is not the fault of things that have happened to me or things that I was missing in my life as a child. It’s mine!

Maybe the lives of some people really are simply products of their pasts. It was inevitable that they would sin in area A or struggle in area C or be impatient in area Z, but not for me. I am not as good as those people. I have had a choice at every point of sin in my life. And I have chosen wrong. I really am that bad. I have absolutely nothing to attribute my mistakes to but my own dirty heart and my own foolish decisions. That’s it. When I sin it is only because I am proud and selfish, even though I wish I could attribute it to something else. However, taking responsibility for our own actions is essential to understanding the immensity of God’s love.

I do believe that thinking about and discussing some of the more formative relationships of the past can help people feel like they have a more cogent view of themselves. Although that’s somewhat useful in gaining a self perspective that feels like it fits, which I think is important. I look at my past, and while I know it has shaped me, I also see myself as a different person than the one that experienced what I experienced, than the one that did what I did. If I truly become a new creation through Jesus, then I am not the same. If Jesus has truly freed me, then my past experiences and my past person has no necessary effect on me. If the presence of the Spirit of God in our lives truly is all Scripture says it is, then figuring out our childhood or discovering reasons for our habitual relational interactions isn’t really necessary. What is necessary is that we humble ourselves, crucifying ourselves with Christ so that we no longer live but the Messiah lives in us. True life is not about getting over what is behind, but Jesus in us now as we strain to humbly live for all there is in front of us… thoughts?

Some Different Thoughts On Love: The Ancillary Concept of Loving Oneself

January 29, 2010 4 comments

“‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these”. – Mark 12:30-31

Many people disagree with what I’m about to say. I’m pretty used to it. :). I do think what I’m about to talk about is true, but I would love some discussion on this topic because I know amongst readers of this blog there is a diversity of opinion. And some of you readers are both discerning and great writers, so make my life a little more interesting and post a comment.

In the last 5 years, I’ve heard this statement and variations of it 100 times, “You have to learn to love yourself before you can love others.” The statement is based on Jesus’ claim that loving your neighbor as yourself is the second greatest commandment. I don’t have a problem with an individual loving who they are, not by any means. However, I don’t think it should ever be a focus for someone to learn to love themselves in order to learn to love others. Here’s the deal, the thing that gets in the way of people loving others is not them not spending enough time caring about themselves, but by spending too much time and thought on their own well being.

There are some contendable things I believe about self-love that are the result of personal experience. I believe people naturally love themselves with their actions. I think this love is perverted and unhealthy, but I would define it as twisted form of love, and so, still love. It seems to me that the people with the worst self perspectives are frequently some of the most self focused. They don’t have a very high view of themselves, but self-love and self-perception are not the same thing. I don’t have a very high view of the rapist, but I care deeply for him. The cutter doesn’t think they’re worth much, but they cut because it does something or they hope it will do something for their emotional well being, whether that be getting attention or numbing their pain. One who commits suicide does so because they hate their life so much that they want it to end. They are fulfilling their desire of not having a life and so caring for themselves. Those that run around trying to please everyone are only focused on pleasing everyone because they are desperate for everyone to like them or to be happy. They run around to please everyone because they are looking out for their own emotional well being. It’s self-love even though on some level it looks like its about caring for others. I could give a number of other examples. I hope my contention is made, however, that a lack of love for ourselves is not really the problem. Self love is what we do.

Another problem with the idea that we need to learn to love ourselves before we can love others is that it doesn’t say it anywhere in Scripture. If this was such a vital concept to understand before we could live out the second greatest commandment, don’t you think that God would have mentioned it? But He never really says that. He says other things, such as “in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Phil 2:3-4). He implies that it is inherent in each of us to look to our own interests, but looking to the interests of others (“having the same love” phil 2:2) requires some effort on our own part. It’s doesn’t come instinctively. I do believe there is something necessary we need to do before we can love others to the fullest. And I believe Jesus tells us precisely what that is.

The first commandment is greater than the second and perfects the second. Loving God is necessary to both love others in a pure way and to love oneself in a healthy way. If we don’t love God, I don’t think we can appreciate just how valuable every person is. If we can’t understand their value, we can’t care about them in ways that honor and bring out their value. The reason people are worth loving at all, the reason it is so important to care about others is that they are made in the image of God. If we don’t love God, we certainly aren’t going to be able to appreciate His image in others. And if we don’t love Him first, far above ourselves and far above others, then all of our acts of love, toward ourselves and others are going to be always perverted and frequently destructive. Only when He is first can we love others well. I think that loving ourselves is ancillary because if we love God, we’re going to appreciate ourselves.

I do think our self-perspective is important, but if we’re focusing on that, we’re being self-centered and self-loving. People don’t have a hard time with a negative self perspective because they need to learn to see themselves in a more positive light, they have a hard time loving themselves because they need to learn to see themselves less. When, instead of focusing on us, we focus on loving God, His reality becomes our reality. We stop being so arrogantly self centered with our self-demeaning attitude, and we put God before us, loving Him over all and in so doing, we recognize His image in ourselves.

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