Thursday, December 20, 2012

Surrender ALL

So what can I say?  What can I do? But offer this heart O God, Completely to You -Hillsong

In this nation and in this time we are constantly bombarded with places we have to go and people we have to see and things we have to do.  There is never enough time for the truly important activities in life.  Any person with a job knows that there are never enough hours in the week.  As a Christian I believe this is intensified because our duties go beyond this world.  As Christians our first commandment is to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment” (Matthew 22:37 – 48).  This means God should be more than an afterthought; He is our first thought.  How can we make time for God when we have all these other commitments?  Is this really what God is asking us to do?  In God’s commandments there are no exceptions.  Such as love the Lord you God on Sundays only, or love the Lord your God only at home, or love the Lord your God when you feel His presence.  God wants all of us especially in our busyness.  How can we as Christians reconcile our busyness in light of this first commandment?  The “great and first commandment” speaks for itself.  God does not want our seconds but He wants our best and He deserves our best.  He is our maker, whose image we are made in.  Ever since sin entered the world God has been trying to get us back.  In order for God to redeem us he needs us to be Holy as He is Holy.  That is a near impossible task because once we sin once we can never be as Holy as God is Holy.   Luckily God had a plan!   

Phase one involved setting up a system of sacrificing animals through which the nation of Israel could have their sin forgiven.  The issue was that even though the sacrificing of animals did forgive sins it did not fix the root of the problem which is humans have a sinful nature.   The Israelites kept sinning.  That is why God had to roll out phase two of His plan to redeem all humanity: God sent his son Jesus to be the ultimate sacrifice.  A sacrifice that covers the sins we have committed as well as the sins we are going to commit.  This fixes the root of the problem because it allows Jesus to come in to our souls and change our sinful nature to a God-like nature (don’t ask me how, it is just super cool).  This can only take place when you “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.”  That is the only way God can live in us and with us.

God did not leave us with those words and hoped we would figure it out.  He left us His Holy Spirit (which is the part that comes in and changes our soul) and He left us with a recording of His sayings and His Prophets.  During phase one of God’s plan he gave the Israelites the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20).   All Ten Commandments are directed at our actions.  Then during phase two of God’s plan, Jesus builds on the Ten Commandments and takes it beyond just our actions to the intent behind our actions.  On the Sermon on the Mount Jesus tells us “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them” (Matthew 5:17).  Jesus wants more than just the correct actions from the Ten Commandments; He wants our heart soul and mind as well.  In that same sermon Jesus tells us that 21 “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ 22 But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment” and 27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28 But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5: 21 – 22 & 27 – 28).  God wants all of us!  He wants our heart, our mind, our soul.  

How do we go about giving God our ALL?  There are so many other things screaming for our attention that we may lose sight of what we are to be focusing on first.  At the same time God does not want us to lock ourselves in the room and read the Bible and pray all day.  Jesus made that evident when he told us to 19”Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”  (Matthew 28:19 – 20)  Focusing on God is more than reading the Bible and prayer.  I call it “breathing God.”  Every breath I take I should be thinking about how my actions are affecting the Kingdom.

As American Christians, we need to stop allowing ourselves to be content being comfortable.  A passage that really has me concerns is Matthew 7:21 – 23 where Jesus says, 22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ 23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’  These people that Jesus is rejecting were good people who have done good actions.  Jesus is not solely interested in our actions but he is interested in our WHOLE being.  He is not impressed by how many people we save, or how many people we heal, or how many kids we played with.  What He wants and what He asks for is US; how long did this person spend “breathing God?”  I know I am not there and I feel far from it.  It is a journey that begins anew everyday and gets stronger every time I chose to answer the question:  “Is this action/thought really glorifying and honoring my God whom I am called to love with all my heart, soul, and mind?” 

Sunday, October 21, 2012

True Friend

32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free. John 8:32

"Why don’t you come right out and say it?  Even if the words are probably gonna hurt I’d rather have the truth than something insincere." -Relient K

The truth is powerful.  It is full of truth.  It shapes what we do and how we interact with people.  Sadly we are directed not by full truth but by our perception of the truth.  Rarely are we given one hundred percent truth but instead we are given some deviation of the truth which forms our perceptions.  Telling the truth should be easy and something instinctive to all of us but it does not seem to come natural all the time.  What comes natural, at least to me, is telling others what they want to hear.  I aim to please people.  That is my nature.  But there is something to be praised about being one hundred percent truthful.  I have found that my relationships that are built on truth are more solid than any other type of relationship.  My “true” friendships are the ones that last.

Jesus told everyone exactly who he was and those who could accept him for who he was were more than his friends, they were his companion.  In John 6 Jesus says, “47 Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life. 48 I am the bread of life. 49 Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. 50 This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. 51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh….”  In response many of his disciples left but those who knew the truth about Jesus stayed: “66 After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. 67 So Jesus said to the Twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?” 68 Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, 69 and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.”

This passage, without knowing Jesus, is extremely difficult to accept.  Jesus is telling His audience that they need to eat His actual flesh and drink His actual blood in order to have eternal life.  As in everything Jesus had perfect timing in knowing when to tell the truth.  Had Jesus been saying these things at the beginning of His ministry no one would have followed Him.  If He had waited much longer the crowds would have crowned Him King (because He had just fed the 5000).  Jesus knew He was not an earthly king and He knew that He had to die so He made a statement to see who his real disciples were.  If you notice, in verse 66, the Bible uses the words “many of his disciples turned back.”  The people who turned away were not His acquaintances but these were men who followed Him regularly.

Luckily for us we don’t have to have Jesus’ perfect timing because the fate of every soul does not hinge on us revealing the truth about us to people.  But I think we can learn from Jesus’ authenticity.

The first step is knowing your audience.  The relationship between a husband and wife should be the most transparent of any relationship.  After that, relationships with members of the same gender should move towards complete transparency but relationships with members of the opposite gender should not.  Opposite gender relationships can stir up too much emotion and it is never a good idea to tempt ones loyalty to his or her spouse.  There are too many chances for “Well she just gets me better than my wife.”  Even if you are not married developing a “true” relationship with an opposite gender is still dangerous unless the ultimate goal is marriage.  If the goal is not marriage then it can cause mixed signals and hurt feelings.

The next step is knowing the situation.  Relationships should start off slow and if it continues more and more truth should be added.  Jesus did not start off telling the Twelve to eat His body and drink His blood but waited for the right moment when he knew the Twelve could handle it.  We have to ease into telling the truth and typically the flow of a relationship will lead to more and more truth being shared.  Finding that balance is difficult but if it works it will result in gaining a true friend.

This is the way to create lasting friendships.  Without the truth, friends will come and go because humans seem to be able to sense authenticity.  If you only say what others want to hear you may get lots of “friends” but true friends are only produced from a truth-filled relationship.

There are many “buts” when it comes to sharing the truth.  Many of those “buts” have merit.  The number one reason why people do not share the truth is because they do not want to hurt the other person. I believe there is a time to try to protect the other person but the longer that a truth is concealed, the more likely it is that person whom that truth is hidden from will discover the truth.  Or even worse, they will make up their own version of the truth.  I was recently at a funeral of a young man who died too young and the circumstances surrounding his death were unclear.  His father stood up in front of 1500 people and told them about how he wanted to conceal the truth because it did not honor his dead son’s memory.  But then he told the crowd that, “The truth sets the mind free.  Without the truth our minds comes up with their own conclusions.”  When the truth is told it frees the listener and the speaker.  The speaker does not need to worry about any lie being uncovered and the listener does not need to worry about uncovering any deceit.

What if my friends end up leaving after I tell them the truth?  I would respond with the question, “Were they a real friend to begin with?”  Jesus’ statement separated His true followers from those who were merely lukewarm followers.  In the same way, someone who cannot accept the truth about you may not be the type of person that you want to invest in.  I know that if everyone cannot accept the truth about who I am, God still loves me and He will never leave me nor forsake me.  The loneliness will come and go and friendships shift but there is still that constant in life. 

True friends see you for who you are and accept you for that.  I know I have made my fair share of mistakes when it comes to telling the truth and being a true friend.  I would say one thing and then do another, and I didn’t allow people to see the true me because I was afraid they would leave if they knew me.  Even though I never shared the truth with them, they still left because they could tell I was not being open and honest with them.  I now attempt to tell the truth and be open and honest when the time is right.  That way if they do leave, I have peace that I did everything I could to try and create a true friendship; rather than feeling guilty that I didn’t allow them to see the true “me.”

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Closing Time

“Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.” –Semisonic

During the first three months this year I had to deal with five different relationships in “closing” mode. I find that I need closure in a relationship when that relationship changes in a way I did not want and in a way I was not expecting. Usually these changes happen quickly and without much warning. Searching for closure in a relationship is a difficult and at times painful endeavor; the magnitude of the hurt is proportional to the degree of investment in the relationship. Basically if there is a sudden and unexpected change in a close relationship, it will hurt much more than if the relationship is just with an acquaintance. For me, the beginning of this year was very difficult because in all five relationships I was either highly involved or becoming highly involved.

One of the first big hurdles to finding closure is actually knowing that the relationship is changing. Only one of my five relationships had a definite end to it; in that one relationship the other person laid it out for me and told me that our relationship was changing. The other four relationships changes were much more subtle and from my perspective I did not see a need for them to change. I was left to “find out” that something was changing. As I said these changes were unexpected and unwanted. And since I was dealing with five different cases my reaction time to the change was much slower than it could have been.

It always takes time to find closure in a relationship and that time will vary. First thing that I did was blame myself for the change in the relationship. I went through every scenario and thought to myself, “Where did I screw up?” I thought about what I could have done differently and what I should have done differently. Though it is good to reflect on how I treated people, it was not healthy for me to replay situations over and over and over again. Over time I did find ways to reduce the amount time I took to find closure.

The best way to make the time go quicker was to have an open communication with the person. This is usually hard to do because communication is the first portion of a relationship to go when it changes. Of my five relationships, I was able to have open communication only with the one person that told me that the relationship was changing. The open communication allowed me to know what that person was thinking rather than to guess and blame myself for not doing the “right” thing at the “right” time. I am extremely grateful that communication was a possibility in that relationship. In the other four relationships I was not as fortunate to have open communication. The reason for that is I was unsure they were actually closing; I kept hoping that they were not closing or that the other parties would tell me something was changing. I did not want to initiate the conversation because I had the unhealthy conviction that if they had a problem with our relationship, they would say something. That conviction was unhealthy because I started to hold resentment towards those individuals because they changed our relationship without informing me. Since I refused to initiate conversation, I had to go about finding closure in another way.

Since I couldn’t bring myself to talk with any of them, the next most important thing for me to do was remain firm in my identity. This helped me when I would blame myself for the unwanted change. The countless hours I spent thinking about my five relationships and what I did wrong really wore on me. How I got out of the continual second-guessing was remembering who I am as a person. I needed to remember my identity. My friends and family really helped me out in this situation because they affirmed who I was. Also I was able to find my identity in Christ and that made my healing go faster as well. We all have worth well beyond a single relationship but it is hard to remember that when we are focused on one or two aspects of that relationship.

Once I remembered my worth, it was a bit easier to look at the situation from a more objective standpoint. I remembered that I was not the only one who had a role in these relationships. The line “it is not you, it is me” has always seemed hollow for me but it holds a lot of truth. Other people have their own priorities and if they don’t see you fitting into them, they won’t hang out with you. You cannot be friends with everyone (even if you want to be); that is still a hard lesson that I am struggling to learn. I thought I had built some solid relationships with five people but when their priorities changed our relationship changed with them. As much as I want to, I cannot control how others feel about me; my actions play a part in how they feel about me but they don’t ultimately control how they feel about me. All I can do is try to be the best person I can be to others. When I do something wrong, I hope people will have grace on me because I am not perfect and I make mistakes.

Getting closure in a relationship is never fun and often painful. It requires you to evaluate how you treat others and how you look at yourself. Ideally we would never hinge all our worth on our relationship with another individual. Sadly that happens quite frequently and when that relationship doesn’t work out, our self-worth suffers. The quicker we can get closure the better off we will be. Even though I don’t think I have complete closure in all of those relationships, I do know I learned so much through this closure process; it has made me a much better person and given me a more complete outlook on life.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Ridin' Solo

“I'm Ridin’ Solo” Jason Derulo

Being single is great! You don’t have to check in everyday or every 12 hour or every hour. You can make plans for the weekend without worrying about the other person’s plans. You don’t have to shoulder a heavy burden that someone else may be carrying.

Being single stinks… You don’t have that one person you can go to and tell them anything. Close friends are great but there is something more intimate when the friendship is a committed relationship. The level of comfort that can be gleaned from a marriage or dating relationship far exceeds the comfort that can be gleaned from a great friendship.

Being single is great!! You can take time to focus on what you need to get accomplished and focus on what is important to you. I know that I have poor time management skills and being in a relationship has only proven that I struggle with time management. It is easier to work on an issue you see in your life if you are single.

Being single stinks… There is no one to be there after a long day. There is no one to affirm you after you have been beaten down by your boss, co-workers, clients, and children all day. Again, friends can only go so far on this front as well.

All of these scenarios are not inevitabilities but rather possibilities. I just wrote generalizations of being single and being in a relationship (experiences may vary). What I am worried about is that I know so many people who are discontent with their situation and they ruin this awesome opportunity to grow while they are single. When all you do is worry about finding that someone two bad situations can occur: you compromise on what you deserve in a relationship and you neglect your need to grow.

Compromising is good when you are in a relationship but bad when you are compromising on a person’s character to get into a relationship. This applies even to friends that we are not dating. The type of friends we chose to hang out with affect much of our lives; much more than we give credit. Our friends go a long way in determining our sense of self-worth. The friends that we chose reflect our need for companionship.

Not focusing on your need to grow is also disregarding your self-worth. There are many people who think finding that “special someone” will be the missing piece to the puzzle that is life. What happens when you find that “special someone?” Odds are that you won’t be complete and you may be in a worse situation than you were. You were waiting for this “special someone” for so long and when they cannot fill you like you wanted to be filled, you are still left with a piece missing from your puzzle.

Relationships are great, but a relationship is much stronger when both halves have gotten to focus on themselves while they were single. Being single is a blessing and it should be used to become a better husband or wife. Being single is the best time to prepare for being a husband/father/best friend or wife/mother/best friend because you have more time. But being single is also the time when you are least motivated to strive to be any of those possibilities.

Monday, April 25, 2011

What is Love?

“All you need is LOVE”


“God is LOVE”

1 John 4:8

How many different types of love are there? There is love for one’s parents and family, love for one’s close friends love for stuff, love of money, love of sports, love of self, love of women, love of sex, love of drugs, love of music, love of __________ (fill-in-the-blank hobby), love of men (maybe…. :), and love for a significant other. When I’m talking to someone I will throw around the word “love” frequently and it never has the same meaning. There are intensities of love. We are all looking for love in one way or another. Someone without love is someone without hope.

Why do we love? We are hoping to be loved in return. It is something we all seem to inherently strive to gain: the love of others. We even attempt to get love from things that cannot really love us back. Why do we love sports? We get such a high emotional reaction to the outcome of the game that we feel fulfillment from that. It is the same with any other sort of entertainment. It is not bad. Actually it is good to be able to enjoy entertainment but it cannot be our main supply for love. How can we define love?

In Greek they had four different words for love: “Eros,” “storge,” “philia,” and “agape.” C.S. Lewis put them in the following order: storge, philia, eros, agape with agape being the most intense form of love and the greatest of loves. I am no Greek scholar and I have seen them put in different orders but I have always appreciated Clive’s point of view.

Stroge is applied to acquaintances and in our language I think I should be classified as a “like” and not a “love.” This is the type of love we have for inanimate objects. “Bro, I love that movie!” Inanimate objects should not be given more love than this because they cannot love you back although people try to get money to love them back. Philia is the love that is shared between close friends and family. It is developed over time and is obviously what comes after stroge. The next love in line is eros which some define as actually “being in love.” It is the romantic part of a relationship that can follow a philia friendship. The last one doesn’t necessarily follow any of the other “loves.” Agape is the love that I have heard the most about in church and it is also what Clive calls the greatest of loves. Agape is what is called unconditional love and this is the love that is used the most in the New Testament.

The Greek terms for love do help narrow down our intensities of love a little bit more but there are still intensities for the Greek terms for love. I know I have a different level of “love” for my acquaintances, my friends, and my family members. I have never really experienced eros but I can say with confidence that there are different intensities of that love as well; Almost every marriage starts out with that eros feeling and for at least 50% of them they lost that feeling somewhere along the way and many end in divorce.

The one love that doesn’t have any different levels of intensity is agape. That is because agape is not dependent on what the other person does but it is a state of mind and a choice to love. Agape does not seek the love of others. It is the love the loves with the possibility of not getting anything in return. It is that crazy love that says “Love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you.”

I want to add one more level of love that I have never seen but I have felt. I am referring to God’s LOVE but I want to make a distinction between our love and God’s LOVE. God is LOVE! Everything he does and everything He is, is LOVE. The New Testament writers used agape whenever they were referring to LOVE. But His LOVE is much deeper than anything we can describe or imagine because we get our understanding and our desire for LOVE from God. We are always searching for something to fulfill us. We try eros, philia, love of money, love of things to bring fulfillment in our life but all we need is LOVE. One of my friends wrote on her status: “May all my friends experience HIS extravagant LOVE. Reach up and receive it!! It is available for you now. stop and open your heart up for the touch!!” God’s LOVE is free and it is crazy and it doesn’t make human sense. Why does God love me with this LOVE after all the times I have lied to him and betrayed him and told him “no I am going to try this form of fulfillment?” I believe Francis Chan puts it very well in his book entitled Crazy Love. He says

There is an incalculable, faultless, eternal God who loves the frail beings He made with a crazy kind of love. Even though we could die at any moment and generally think our puny lives are pretty sweet compared to loving Him, He persists in loving us with unending, outrageous love.

The last book that we read as a small group was called The Comfort of Vengeance by Ben Redmond. It brings up the perceived conflict between God’s LOVE and God’s vengeance found in the book of Nahum. How can God be loving and vengeful? The conflict only arises when we look at it from a human standpoint. Vengefulness and love has never existed in any human I have ever met. When I see someone bent on vengeance, they do not have love. But with God, his vengefulness flows from his LOVE which means it is not vengefulness at all. But we see it as vengefulness because there is no word to describe a loving vengefulness. It is same thing when God is said to be a “jealous” God. When I think of jealousy, I think of a man who does not trust his wife enough to let her talk to other men. This vengefulness and jealously cannot be looked at it as a human being vengeful or a human being jealous. God’s vengeance comes from His LOVE for all the people and things that He made. If a nation is continually sinning against Him and His creation, it is His right as the creator to punish them. People need to know that they cannot commit such atrocities and get away with it. God always warns the people as well and is much more forgiving and patient with them than any human would be. Why should parents punish a child? Parents should punish children to let them know they have gone too far and to correct wrong behavior NOT just to get the child to be quiet. It should be through love (and hopefully LOVE). God’s motivation is the same and much purer and true than any parent’s motivation could ever be. “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him! (Matthew 7:11)”

God’s LOVE is crazy! Reach up and grab it because He gives it to us freely. Everyday renew your LOVE intake. There may be times when you feel dry and you feel God is not there but "I will never leave you nor forsake you."