People to Be Loved, or Things to Be Used

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“We must rapidly begin the shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society. When machines and computers, profit motives, and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.” – Martin Luther King Jr.

Today, I want to write about how we see the world. Because, the truth is, we all see it through a different lens and worldview. And, what I want to briefly raise up is that there is a way of looking that prioritizes things(i.e. money, power, productivity, property), and another that prioritizes people (i.e. their welfare, care, support, freedom).

We get a really good example of this in the story of the Exodus…

What ends up happening is the people of Israel are made to be slaves to the Egyptians, who then see them not as people, but as things to produce, things to be controlled, things to be abused, and things to be managed and owned. Their focus was on making Egypt more profitable, meeting higher quotas, and not caring about the Israelites or the harshness of their demands on them. (see Exodus 1:11-14) The Egyptians saw the Israelites as “things” to be exploited and used.

But, what I think is so interesting is that if you go on to read Leviticus (I know, it’s a tough slog at the best of times), what you see again and again and again, is God seeking to shape the consciousness of the Israelite people away from things and toward persons – to not see people as things to be used, but rather as people to be loved.

We see this in verses like Leviticus 19:16…

“Do not try to get ahead at the cost of your neighbor’s life, for I am the Lord.”

Or, Leviticus 19:18…

“Never seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone, but love your neighbor as yourself.”

Or, most clearly in Leviticus 19:33-34…

“Do not exploit the foreigners who live in your land. They should be treated like everyone else, and you must love them as you love yourself. Remember that you were once foreigners in the land of Egypt.”

God is seeking to not only bring the Israelites out of Egypt, but to rid them of the way Egypt saw the world. His desire is to change the world from seeing it as primarily about “things” (i.e. ownership, possessions, power, and production), and to see the world through His eyes, focusing in on persons and people.

Remember, God is the one who “heard the cries” of His people and “looked down on the Israelites and felt deep concern for their welfare.” (Exodus 2:24).

So, I write all this because, in today’s world, it is so easy to slip into seeing everyone in terms of “things” – to see the world like Egypt did, as detached, indifferent, uncaring, and concerned most about protecting their stuff and their wealth. But, the way of Jesus is different…

Jesus is concerned first and foremost with people, both prioritizing them and loving them.

And, while I don’t know what this all means for you practically, with all that’s going on in our world, in your life, in politics, and in our neighbourhoods, one thing I think it does mean is that when Jesus says, “Love your neighbor,” and God says, “Treat the foreigners well” and “Don’t try to get ahead at the cost of someone else,” I think He meant it.

And, this means we should seek to practice it too.

Daddy Watch Me!!!

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Our daughter, Eden, is three years old, and amazing. I’m obviously biased, but I think she is beautiful, so bouncy with energy, and adorable.

Your kids are probably cute too. 🙂

Anyways, she has this habit of saying, as only a three-year-old can, at the top of her lungs, “Daddy, watch me, watch me, watch me!!!!” And then she will twirl, dance, try to jump, or do something ridiculous like push one of her brothers.

The point is that she wants my full attention.

In fact, what she will often do is stop what she’s doing and look back to make sure I’m still watching. She wants to know that I’m watching her, invested in her, and attending to her.

Because, when we give someone our attention, what we are actually doing is giving them a signal and a sign that we love them.

To truly love someone means giving them our attention. That’s what Eden is seeking from me, as I’m trying to make supper and she is twirling, wanting me to watch her go round and round.

So, if giving someone attention is a sign of love, maybe that’s why the Bible so often speaks about God always looking over us. We read verses like…

Psalm 32:8 (NIV) – “I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my loving eye on you.”

Psalm 33:18 (NLT) – “But the LORD watches over those who fear him, those who rely on his unfailing love.”

Psalm 121:8 (NIV) – “The Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.”

And, I read these verses and realize that God is not like some silent watchmen up above. Instead, He is like an interested and invested parent, watching their son or daughter twirl, jump, or dance through life.

We have a God who is fully invested in our lives.

And, even when we, like Eden, are yelling, “Watch me, watch me, watch me!!!!”, God is always watching. His attention to us isn’t distracted or distant. He is fully engaged in our lives, which should give us hope.

Because, His attention is a reminder of His love for you, me, and all of us who say, “Watch me!”

Resentment

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Today, I want to talk about something that so often stalks us, as Christians. It is something that hides in churches, and it is something that hides in our lives. It is something that actually kills and steals so much of life.

It is resentment.

Resentment is almost a “Christian sin.” And, I say the word “sin” specifically in the sense that sin separates you from God.

Sin kills healthy things. Sin infects living things with death.

In this sense, resentment is a sin. It will infect your life, bring death to your soul, and separate you from God.

It’s also almost a “Christian sin,” because it’s such a temptation for Christians – a temptation to do the right action for the wrong reason.

Resentment is a particularly tough temptation for those drawn toward caring and helping others, because resentment builds when we don’t feel appreciated enough, valued enough, or noticed enough.

We do the right actions, but don’t see the “right” or expected reaction, and resentment builds.

This is why I said it’s almost a “Christian sin,” in that so many Christians choose to love and care, but then feel resentful afterward…

They serve and give to someone, who doesn’t seem to appreciate their effort.
They bend over backwards for someone, who seems to take it for granted.
They put way too many hours into a sermon, only to have it critiqued within five minutes.

Or, however else it works out in your life.

But, this is why resentment is both subtle and a sin. Because, ultimately, whenever resentment is present, what it reveals is that the right actions were done for the wrong reason. That we gave, sacrificed, or served not because it was right, but because we wanted the “right” reaction.

Resentment happens when sacrifice turns inward.

And so, while we often talk about lots of other “obvious sins,” this is one that goes unnoticed, slides under the radar, and then remains unchanged.

But, I think it does need to change.

Because, I know, at least in my life, that resentment is often right there under the surface. I can get resentful to God for all that I gave up for Him. I can get resentful for the sacrifices that I give that seem to go unnoticed. Surely I am owed something in return!

But, resentment can’t go unnoticed and unchanged, because a resentful heart isn’t a Christ-like heart.

So, what do we do with all of this?

Well, I think the first step is to reflect and ask: Is resentment hiding in our hearts?

And, if so, then I think what we do is confess and get back to giving.

We confess the sin, ask for healing and forgiveness, and then seek to get back to giving, serving, and sacrificing, but this time without the expectations or agendas.

Conditional Love

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Here is the awkward truth of my life, and likely yours…

I talk a lot about the unconditional love of God, and showing it to others, but mostly the love I show is conditional.

This was recently pointed out to me in and through the writings of Thomas Merton. If you’ve never read him, I encourage you to do so. But, beware, it’s likely to challenge you. So, you’ve been warned.

He says this…

“Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. That is not our business. What we are asked to do is to love, and this love itself will render both ourselves and our neighbours worthy.” – Thomas Merton

There is more depth in that one paragraph then in pretty much all I’ve ever written combined. Because, the truth is, when I reflect on it, I realize that when it comes to love, I far too often first assess whether or not someone is worthy of my love.

Before I give love, I try to see if the person meets my requirements or conditions first. Sometimes this doesn’t happen, and sometimes it happens in a split second, but this assessment of another’s worthiness does seem to happen way too much.

What I’m drawn to in Christianity, and in the quote by Merton, is that when Jesus died for all of us, He didn’t think about who was worthy or not. He didn’t just give His love to the ones who earned it. He didn’t just give His love to the ones who deserved it.

Jesus didn’t just give His love to others with conditions.

Rather, He gave His reckless, unconditional, everlasting love to the whole world. To ALL of us.

And, while I’m far from loving at that depth, that is the call upon me.

As I seek to follow Jesus, I want to learn to love like Jesus. To love without conditions. To love without first judging if someone is worthy, but rather to realize that in loving others truly, deeply, and from my heart and actions, I find the kind of worthy actions to which we are called.

Because, they are Jesus’ actions.
 
So, I write all this to remind myself of something I know, that might be the same for you. That often my love has too many limits and conditions.

But, as I learn to follow Jesus, I need to learn to love more like Him. Not first asking if someone is worthy, but first stepping out with love, being obedient and being changed in the process.

Worthiness is God’s business, not ours. Our business is to love.

And, I know I need that challenge, and that reminder.

Repentance

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“The Kingdom of God is near! Repent of your sins and believe the Good News!” – Jesus (Mark 1:15)

“Repentance is not an emotion. It is not feeling sorry for your sins. It is a decision. It is deciding that you have been wrong in supposing that you could manage your own life and be your own god; it is deciding that you were wrong in thinking that you had, or could get, the strength, education, and training to make it on your own; it is deciding that you have been told a pack of lies about yourself and your neighbors and your world. And, it is deciding that God in Jesus Christ is telling you the truth. Repentance is a realization that what God wants from you and what you want from God are not going to be achieved by doing the same old things, thinking the same old thoughts.”

“Repentance is a decision to follow Jesus Christ and become his pilgrim in the path of peace.”

– Eugene Peterson, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction

In this quote, Peterson really gets at what repentance truly is, and what it looks like: It looks like making a decision to live differently.

Repentance is to exchange the ways of the world, for the ways of Christ; to say that following the path of guilt, shame, judgment, power, and fighting for meaning isn’t the path you are called to walk. Instead, you are called to walk a path of peace, life, grace, holiness, and love. 

Repentance is making a decision to live differently, not just feel differently.

So, with all that, ask yourself, “Are there any decisions you need to make today?

Because, you can choose to live differently, starting today.

Can we be brutally honest about something?

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After seeing all that’s happened in the past year, we can honestly say this:
Hate seems to be alive and well in our world.

For all the progress we have made as a society in so many areas, hate has not been eradicated. In some ways, it’s still growing – in our culture, in our politics, in our lives, and even in our churches.

And, this is problem. Because, there is almost nothing more antithetical to Christianity than hate.

More and more, in the political process, in conversations, and even across pews, hate is pouring forth. And, it’s no longer enough to simply “call out” hate as wrong – we definitely need to do that – but, we also need to change this reality.

As Christians, we need to be partnering with the Spirit to rid our world of hate. Because, hate is toxic, it is infectious, and it spreads. Hate is insidious on the left and the right, and it is a problem.

So, what do we do? How do we rid our world of hate?

Well, the answer is to love those who hate. But, that is a real challenge. Because, loving hateful people is just plain hard.

Recently, I read something by James A. Baldwin that I believe is both true and helpful. He writes,

“I imagine one of the reasons people cling to their hate so stubbornly is because they sense, once hate is gone, they will be forced to deal with pain.”

I think this is insightful, true, and also helpful.

As Christians, we are called to love others. We are called to make the world a better place. But, in a world of shouting, anger, and hate, it can be hard to love others.

What Baldwin is getting at is that often hate gets attached to pain. And, perhaps that’s where we need to focus. To not just focus in on changing people’s hate, but also on the pain underneath the hate. To hear, listen, care, and, yes, at times even challenge the pain, if necessary.

We need to see others not just as their hate, but rather as a people who might have pain as well.

This has been helpful for me. Because, now when I hear a hate-filled speech, I also hear pain attached to lost jobs, fear-filled futures, and uncertainty and lies. Of course, this pain never excuses the hate, but it does help me to love those who hate.

It also helps me to be part of changing the hate around me, as well as the hate that is within me.

So, I write all this because I think in our world full of sound bytes, talking points, yelling, name calling, and hate-filled speeches, we can find a better way. It begins by healing deep pain, not just seeking to stop hate. Maybe one way to live in this world of hate is to focus on its healing.

Because, hate will truly be stopped when healing happens.

Death and Suffering are Weird Things

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Death and suffering are weird things.

Because, they are awful, wrong, and even evil things, but, they are also the things out of which meaning, beauty, and strength can grow.

This is the strangeness of death, suffering, and difficulty. It’s both terribly awful, and also the place of some of the deepest transformation I’ve ever seen.

Elisabeth Kubler-Ross is one of the best known writers on the subject of death, suffering, and grief. In fact, she was the one who made known the “Five Stages of Grief.” She writes this…

“The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen.”

I love that last line: “Beautiful people do not just happen.”

So often, beautiful people, with strength, sensitivity, and compassion, have gone through the crucible of suffering. They have faced hurt, suffering, and evil, and have not let it turn them bitter, but rather let it turn them into someone better.

And, to say this isn’t to make light of the suffering people face. Instead, it’s to realize that suffering doesn’t have the last word.

Because, what Kubler-Ross is getting at is something that is actually biblical. We read this in Romans 8:28…

“And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God.”

We should be clear with something: The text does not say everything we go through is good. Some things are evil. Some things are hellish. Some things are so full or darkness and difficulty that we yearn to be free.

What this verse is promising is that evil, suffering, and even death do not get the last word. That God works all the evil we go through toward good. That even the worst parts of our lives don’t get the final say.

That, in the words of Kubler-Ross, beautiful people don’t just happen, but rather they are made.

I saw this especially with my dad.

He suffered in pain with cancer for years and years. I saw him struggle, and walked with him as his health slid and pain increased. My dad always said that cancer had made him a better pastor, but was quick to add that he would have been fine remaining a mediocre pastor without the cancer.

So, death and suffering are wrong. They are to be fought against. And, they are an enemy. But, as Paul says, they also don’t get the last word.

Because, out of the ashes of death, suffering, and hurt, goodness can grow. In the end, grace, life, and God get the last word, not the difficulties we face. The question is…

Will we trust in a God who is working things toward good, even in the midst of the darkness of our lives?

The Power of Routines

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A week a bit ago, we ended up cancelling our services because of the bad weather, and the forecast of freezing rain. What this meant was that I was up much earlier than the rest of my family, looking at the forecast, and talking with my team and other churches, in order to make the best decision.

So, when my kids came down, I was already on my second cup of coffee. And when I told them that we had a snow day and we weren’t going to church, they all promptly started crying…

Hudson cried, “Dad, I want to learn about Jesus!” To which I assured him I could teach him about Jesus, but he said I wasn’t as good as his teacher (never mind that I teach people about Jesus for a living).

Asher cried, “Dad, my craft! I won’t make my craft!” To which I assured him I could do a craft with him, but he also said I wasn’t as good as his teacher.

And, Eden? Well, when I asked her, she was just crying because the other two were.

Now, in some ways, I know this story sounds like a made-up pastor’s story. You know, the kind that embellishes the spiritual connections of the family of the pastor. But, let me be up-front about something:

My kids are normal kids, and my family is a normal family.

We are not the rock-star, spiritual all-star family who have quiet, daily devotions with long prayers. We are a regular family who struggles, just like everyone else.

I share this story to point out, not the amazingness of my family, but rather the power of tradition, rituals and rhythms. Because, what gets repeated often gets missed. What I think this little anomaly of a story demonstrates is how good rhythms, rituals and traditions are missed when they don’t happen.

That’s what happened on Sunday. My kids missed our normal routine. They missed our regular rhythm. Because, routines, rhythms and rituals create huge impact over the long-term.

So, my question is this: What routines, rhythms or rituals do you have in your family? Which ones really matter? Which ones should you add?

Because, we tend to have family traditions around things like Christmas, holidays and Easter. But, what about weekly habits that draw your family closer? Is church a habit? What about Friday night game/movie night as a family? Or, saying one thing you love about your child or spouse each night before bed?

I write all this because very early on Sunday, I was reminded about the power of routines, and how they build good things within us. So, take some time to make sure you are intentionally creating the right ones.

People of the Second Chance

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A little while ago, I was reading the book, People of the Second Chance by Mike Foster. In it, he lists what he calls “The Five Condemnments”:

1. “I don’t deserve a second chance.”
2. “I am my shame. I am my secrets.”
3. “I will always feel and be this way.”
4. “I am defined by my worst moments.”
5. “My life, my dreams, my hopes no longer matter.”

As I interact with people, I see so many who live under these condemnments. That somehow a second chance is for others, not for them. That somehow what defines them most is their shame, failure and worst moments. They feel trapped in a cycle of no hope because yesterday was bad, so tomorrow will be bad, and they feel they deserve it. In essence, they start listening to the lies other people say about them, rather than what the Gospel says about them.

But, Jesus has a radically different promise and pronouncement for all of us. Here’s what He has to say about you:

1. “You do deserve a second chance, because I died to secure that for everyone.” (John 3:16)

2. “You aren’t your shame and secrets. You are forgiven and free.” (John 8:1-11, when Jesus encounters the woman caught in adultery).

3. “Your future isn’t full of darkness and repeats of defeat. If you believe in Me, you will have full and abundant life today.” (John 10:10)

4. “You are not defined by your worst moments, but rather by My calling on your life.” (John 21, when Jesus restores Peter after his worst moment).

5. “Your dreams do matter, because I, the Good Shepherd, know you and all that you need.” (John 10:14) – In fact, the first words of Jesus in the book of John are, “What do you want?” (John 1:38). So, your wants, dreams and desires do matter to God.

I write all this to remind you of something: The Gospel of Jesus Christ is freeing, transforming and totally life giving. The condemnments we so often live under aren’t part of living under God’s reign, love and grace.

So, today I want to remind you that if you feel like you don’t deserve a second chance – that shame owns you, that your past failures define you, that life can’t change, that your wants and desires don’t matter – than, well, Jesus begs to differ. Come and experience Him, and find that difference in your life.

There Is No Love Which Does Not Become Help

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There is a beautiful quote from theologian, Paul Tillich, about the relationship between love and help. He writes this:

“There is no love which does not become help.”

I find this immensely helpful. Because, in my world (and probably yours too), the situations around me are complex. Sometimes I see the struggles in the lives around me, both locally and globally, and I can feel stuck. I mean, I want to help that neighbour who is struggling; I want to help that co-worker with a broken relationship; I want to change some of the global realities around me. The problem is, I just don’t know how.

Have you ever been there before?

Sadly, since we don’t know what to do, we just don’t act. We end up having loving intentions that don’t lead to helping actions. And, if the love isn’t there and you just focus on the helping part, it will often come off in the wrong way.

This is why I love Paul Tillich’s quote. Because he gets the focus right.

If you want to help someone, the focus should be on loving that person. And, if that focus is there, as Tillich says, it will turn out to be helping. When you focus on loving someone first, it always turns into helping them in the best way possible.

Love turns into love-filled actions, which turns out to be help. Because, help without love isn’t charity; rather, it’s empty actions.

So, I write all this to say something simple: If you see someone and you want to help, but don’t know how, start by loving them, and the rest will come.

“There is no love which does not become help.”