Tag Archives: Love

When Selfless Love and Selfish Love Fall on the Same Day

Today is Ash Wednesday. Today is also Valentine’s Day.

There may not be two more opposite emphases celebrated on the same day. Each one celebrates love, but two different kinds of love. Ash Wednesday is the beginning of Lent- a 40 day preparation for Easter. Lent is often celebrated by fasting from something as a symbolic way to enter into the suffering of Christ and as a way to prepare for the joy of Easter. Ash Wednesday, Lent, Good Friday, and Easter are all about selfless love. The selfless love of Jesus who went to the cross to bring the forgiveness of sins.

Valentine’s Day, in our culture, has become symbolic of selfish love. Love shown by the buying of stuff- teddy bears, candy, and expensive dinners. This way of celebrating Valentine’s Day actually brings out the worst of “love.” It celebrates a kind of love that is needy, a kind of love that finds its fulfillment in materialism, and a kind of love that is given and received based on what it gets in return.

Jesus said there is no love greater than the love that causes someone to lay down their life for someone else (John 15:13). In other words the greatest love is selfless love. The greatest love is Ash Wednesday love, not Valentine’s Day love.

Today, let’s bridge the gap between Ash Wednesday love and Valentine’s Day love. Before you give that teddy bear and candy, and before you go out to that expensive dinner, first give yourself. Show Ash Wednesday love by setting aside yourself, laying down your life, and getting rid of any agenda.

Practice selfless love. Practice Ash Wednesday love.

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Book Review: “How We Love”

9780735290174In a couple of weeks our church will begin a sermon series on marriage and relationships. To get ready, I’ve been reading several books on Christian marriage. One of those is How We Love: Discover Your Love Style, Enhance Your Marriage by Milan and Kay Yerkovich.

In the book, the authors’ main idea is that the way we express love comes from the impressions and imprints of love we received through our childhood (6). As the joke (or perhaps the truth) of counseling goes: It’s all your parent’s fault. They propose that the way we learn to express love, beginning as children, starts as we remember how we were comforted. It’s our memory of how we were comforted by our parents or caregiver that lays the foundation for how we love when we get older.

They go on to outline four different love styles: Avoider, Pleaser, Vacillator and Chaotic. These were actually fairly helpful and I could see my love style and that of my spouse fairly easily. They follow the introduction of the love styles with several chapters on what dynamics tend to occur when different styles marry one another. What are the dynamics, for example, when a Vacillator marries an Avoider?

The final section of the book is devoted to being able to understand the love style of yourself and your spouse and how to get behind the barriers that have been built up and love in a fuller and more intimate way. Two themes that dominate this section are being able to understand your emotions and being able to openly communicate.

One of the positives of the book is that the love styles that Milan and Kay describe are helpful. It’s pretty easy to see which style you most identify with. One of the negatives however, is that most people fit into multiple categories. I understand that there are infinite combinations of how these love styles can be manifested and while they do address that problem it would be helpful if they spent a little more time on it.

One other negative is that in the final section, I think some of the couple emotion and communication exercises they suggest might be a bit more than the average couple would feel doing solely based on what they read in a book. I know part of what the authors want is for couples to move past the awkwardness and into better intimacy. But for the 99% of us who aren’t marriage and family therapists and who don’t have years of experience in these situations, perhaps there is a danger in doing them wrong. I can easily see how couples would be intimidated by some of their suggested exercises.

Overall, I think the book is helpful and provides talking points for couples- even if some of the exercises might be a little too clinical or advanced. It is also helpful that the authors approach marriage from a Christian background. My take is, like with any book, dissect what you read and apply what is helpful for you and your relationship.

I received this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for this review.

Review: Good but falls short sometimes

9781601429513Some parts I agree, some parts I disagree.

That is a good summary of my reaction after reading Brian Zahnd’s book, Sinners in the Hands of a Loving God: The Scandalous Truth of the Very Good News. The title of the book is, of course, a play on the famous sermon given by Jonathan Edwards preach in 1741, entitled “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” Zahnd is correct in pressing the reader to rediscover God as a God of love who showed us his full nature in the person and work of Jesus. He writes, “God couldn’t say all he wanted to day in the form of a book, so he said it in the form of a human life. Jesus is what God has to say!” (50).

Zahnd is right in his acknowledgement that God’s anger and God’s wrath have become a point of morbid fascination with some denominations and sects of Christianity- especially within the United States. And while there are obviously biblical passages that speak of God’s wrath, it is appropriate to allow Jesus to have the final word on points where there appear to be tension. That is the major idea presented in the first three chapters of the book and an idea that I fully agree with. I also enjoyed his interpretation of Revelation found in the closing four chapters of the book.

However, it is the middle three chapters that caused me to pause and caused me to really consider how to judge Zahnd’s work. Two chapters deal with atonement theology and the third deals with hell. In the chapters on atonement, Zahnd essentially takes a view of atonement traditionally called the moral influence theory. Moral influence theory sees Jesus’s death as a great demonstration of God’s love that causes “a change in [the] sinners’ heart so that they are drawn to God” (Olsen, The Mosaic of Christian Belief, 258-259). Zahnd says something similar: “Jesus was faithful to embody God’s will even to the point of shedding his blood as he forgave sinners. Jesus did not shed his blood to pay off God in the form of a ritual sacrifice…Jesus shed his blood in faithful obedience to his Father’s will, demonstrating divine forgiveness even as he was crucified!” (105). For Zahnd, Jesus’ death was an example of love and an example of forgiveness.

What Zahnd fails to confront are the multitude of verses and illusions that see Jesus’s death through the lens of sacrifice. He doesn’t mention Paul’s argument in Romans or the  use of “propitiation,” for example. I’m not saying that all of Zahnd’s interpretation of Jesus’s death is wrong, however, it is incomplete. For a full discussion of atonement theology, read N.T. Wright’s The Day the Revolution Began: Reconsidering the Meaning of Jesus’s Crucifixion. Wright begins at the same staring point as Zahnd: Is it theologically correct to say that Jesus’s death was a punishment for sin?, however Wright is able to explore that question to much greater depths.

The third chapter that gave me pause is Zahnd’s treatment of hell. He begins the chapter by pondering if Jewish theologian Abraham Joshua Heschel is in hell. He then goes on to wonder about Anne Frank and the other victims of the Holocaust or the devote Muslim woman who shows charity and worships the best she knows how. He is right in noting that the “simplistic equation…Christians go to heaven, where they enjoy eternal bliss, while everyone else goes to hell, where they suffer eternal torment” (119-120) is more of a populist notion rather than a biblical idea. However, his main ally is C.S. Lewis who is known lean toward universalism.

I admit we get into trouble when we begin pronouncing eternal judgment on people when that judgment solely belongs to God. But Zahnd’s conclusion that hell represents “refusing to receive and be transformed by the love of God” (137) again isn’t wrong it is just incomplete. He equates hell to the realm of the older brother in the Parable of the Prodigal Son who refuses to come inside for the party. Which is true, but he doesn’t address passages that speak of God’s judgment. Zahnd doesn’t throw out the reality of hell but he redefines hell in a way that might make people uncomfortable because he doesn’t address some of those other biblical passages.

Overall, Zahnd writes a thought-provoking book that challenges the reader to take a fresh look at what it means when the Bible says “God is love.”

I received this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for this review.

Today’s World: One size fits all doesn’t apply

If there is one thing we should all be able to agree upon is that we can’t agree upon anything. Take hamburgers for example. How many ways can there be to put a patty of ground beef between two pieces of bread? Yet we have McDonalds, Burger King, Whataburger, Five Guys, In and Out, Carl Jrs and Wendy’s- just to name a few- and then there are the people who (for whatever reason) choose not to eat meat, so we have to include veggie-burgers too. Suddenly, a patty of ground beef (or soy) between two pieces of bread just got very complicated.

If hamburgers are a multi-layered, not to mention regionally influences issue (Whataburger in Texas, In and Out on the West coast), why do we think that issues effecting the nation and world have simple, black-and-white resolutions? Why do we think that “one size fits all” when it comes to complicated and far-reaching issues?

As a person who sees himself as a moderate on almost every spectrum (religiously, politically, socially), I find it extremely hard in today’s environment to boldly put my opinion into one single camp. It’s not that I don’t care. It’s not that I don’t listen, read and try to understand the issues- it’s because I have and I do. It seems to me that it is just as naive to not know anything about the issues we face as it is to believe that there is a simple, one-off solution to those issues. We simply cannot continue to believe that single solutions fix multi-faceted problems. However, it appears that the only solutions given are the two extremes on any issue (either everyone has to eat veggie-burgers or everyone has to eat Burger King). This only feeds into the divide. Everything has to be all one way or all another and those with an opinion different than our become the enemy. This is not to say that we don’t hold our preference, but we choose to understand why someone might hold the opposite preference. And we choose to engage in the art of…gasp…compromise.

Compromise has been beaten up and left for dead recently. To compromise, in our world, means that we have given up on our convictions. We have surrendered. We have given in. The response (and the anti-thesis) to compromise has become the “double-down.” When presented with an alternative opinion, view, perspective or preference, instead of intelligently debating the similarities and differences in order to come to a compromised solution, we simply repeat our previous position louder and with more ferocity.

On every spectrum the left goes further left and the right goes further right, what is going to happen to the vacuum created in the middle? It will either be filled by those displaced from the far left and the far right or the extremes will tear the whole continuum apart.

What makes me particularly concerned is that it also seems like the two pillars of Christian social-gospel (for lack of a better phrase) are equally susceptible to the current climate of providing simple solutions to multi-faceted problems. For centuries Christians have held on to love and life as nonnegotiable when it comes to the social-gospel (social-gospel meaning the way that the message of Jesus interacts with social issues, economic issues, government issues, justice issues, etc).

These two pillars, love and life, are both firmly grounded in the teachings of Jesus. Jesus said that the greatest commandment is to love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength and the second is like (equal) to it, love your neighbor as yourself. Then the story that Jesus tells immediately following that statement (Luke 10:30-37) Jesus links love and life together. In the story, love of neighbor takes the form of protecting life. Couple that with the Bible’s repeated calls to care for widows, orphans and strangers- it is a natural next step to see early Christians, as well as modern Christians, caring for the sick, opening hospitals, opening schools and building  orphanages.

Yet these pillars are susceptible to the same “simple solution to multi-faceted problems” issue that we have been talking about. Is it inconsistent to be pro-life (in the anti-abortion sense) and be pro death penalty, military expansion and involvement in the world, refugee ban and at the same time being anti poverty -reducing initiatives, access to birth control, paid maternity leave? Is it inconsistent to proclaim that Jesus loved me and gave himself to die for me (while I was a sinner separated from God) and then put qualifiers on those that I love?

There are those that say there is no inconsistency, that these are apples and oranges and that justice or security demand tough choices to be made. There are those who say these examples are the very definition of hypocrisy, that pro-life means supporting all life, in all forms and love, if it’s a reflection of the love of Jesus, means loving all people. Christians fall on both sides. But again, the way that love and life apply to current issues is multi-faceted. What promotes love and life: closing abortion clinics or/and combating poverty? Using military strength to protect and defend the weak and vulnerable around the world or/and promoting the sanctity of all human life? Is there a continuum where we can fall between responsible love and reckless love? Or a chart that shows which lives matter more than others? These may be uncomfortable conversations but having them forces us to think through our positions and evaluate if they conform to the gospel of Jesus and the kingdom of God that Jesus announced. And if we discover that something is out of step with either, it us our application of love and life that needs to change not the definition of the gospel or the meaning of the kingdom of God coming on earth as it is in heaven.

I guess what I’m saying comes down to this: we must begin to see and understand that these issues are large, complicated and ever changing (solutions that might have worked a decade ago, may not work today). And the way that we approach issues must be large, multi-tiered, and ever changing. Most of all we, as Christians, must have the hard conversations of how love and life (shown and enacted in Jesus Christ) interact with these issues. To believe that there are single solutions to these problems and continuing to practice “double-down” debates won’t provide long term solutions, in fact they are just as likely to create further problems.

 

A Beautiful Gospel

The message of the gospel is beautiful. Sometimes we need to be reminded of that. Especially for those of us who are ministry and church insiders, by that I mean pastors, ministers, teachers and volunteer leaders, we need to be reminded that the message of the gospel is the most beautiful message there is. Often we get too busy to see its beauty. Or maybe we get too close and, like zooming in on a human face, we see the unevenness, the pours, the oil and the imperfections. Sometimes we need to zoom back out and see the full picture once again. And in seeing the full picture again, we can re-see, reconnect and re-appreciate the beauty of the gospel.

This song and video have done that for me. It has allowed me to once again see and hear the beauty of the gospel. As you watch it, I think that it will do the same thing for you.

A Fellowship of Grace, Love and Table

We need diverse churches but we also need churches that are diverse.

We’ve been looking into Scot McKnight’s book A Fellowship of Differents: Showing the World God’s Design for Life Together (Zondervan, 2014). We’ve said that bringing differents together is one of the fundamental things that makes the church the church. We also talked about the tension that exists between the need for diverse churches, churches that reach specific people, culture and language groups, while maintaining churches that are diverse in bringing differents together under the Lordship of Jesus.

We left the last discussion with the question, how to we maintain or become churches that are diverse? In his book, McKnight proposes six traits that characterize a fellowship of differents. These six traits will guide the discussion as we look at three in this post and three in the next post.

The first three traits McKnight mention are grace, love and table.

Grace

“Grace takes lonely people and gives them friendship with God. Grace takes our longings for love and ushers us into the presence of God. Grace transforms our yearnings for significance into gifts of significance. God’s grace speaks to us when we are alone and draws us into fellowship with God and with others” (42).

It’s not only God’s grace that saves us, it’s God’s grace that transforms us. It’s God’s grace that weaves people who are different, at one time hostile toward God and, perhaps, hostile toward each other and makes them into a family. Differents come together through grace.

Love

“For Paul, love is central. It was central because he knew the challenges of the Christian life for those who were in fellowship with one another in house churches dotting the Roman Empire. The only way they would make it is if each person learned to love the others” (52).

If that was true for Paul, how much more is it true for us? Just like churches in the first century, we still have to learn to love each other. It’s not something that we learn once, it’s something we have to continually learn, relearn and practice.

Table

“Against this background [the culture of status in the Roman Empire], the fathering of the Christians reconstructed everything from the bottom up: everyone was welcome, everyone got the same meal, everyone was equal, and everyone had one Lord, King Jesus. At the new family’s table they were one” (99).

McKnight is speaking here of Communion, Eucharist, the Lord’s Supper. If status was a big deal in the Roman Empire, it remains a big deal in 2016 as well. So much of our lives is defined by what kinds of things we can afford. It defines what we eat, where we go to shop, who our friends are, what we do for fun and what we post on Facebook. As McKnight says, we need to rediscover the equality and unity within the act of Communion.

McKnight believes, and I think rightly, that if we can rediscover these traits, our churches will naturally begin to become more and more diverse. Differents will know that our churches are places of grace, love and equality.

We’ll look at the other three traits next time.

Shoes, a Sales-Pitch and the Church

Stephen Curry is already being called the greatest shooter of all time but I still hope the Spurs will beat them in the Playoffs. Photo from USA Today.

Stephen Curry is already being called the greatest shooter of all time but I still hope the Spurs will beat him in the Playoffs. Photo from USA Today.

Nike lost Stephen Curry; the church is losing a generation.

Last week the sports site ESPN ran an article by Ethan Strauss on the events that led current NBA MVP Stephen Curry to leave the shoe and athletic apparel company Nike. I was first made aware of the article through a summery written for Bleacher Report by Kyle Newport.

Strauss’ tells the story of Curry’s shoes. In the NBA shoe endorsements are a HUGE deal. Companies pay athletes millions of dollars (sometimes even more than what they make playing basketball) to wear (and therefore entice the public to buy) a certain brand of shoe and clothing apparel. Since Michael Jordan the pinnacle of the shoe brand has been Nike.

Back in 2013, Stephen Curry was an up-and-coming NBA star. His stardom hadn’t yet exploded but he was a player that was definitely on the way up. He was a Nike athlete and when the time came to re-up his contract, it seemed that Nike had the deal all but done- but then they blew it.

Under Armour shoe ad with Stephen Curry

Under Armour shoe ad with Stephen Curry

Strauss tells that, according to Stephen’s father who was present, the Nike executives made several huge errors that caused Stephen to ultimately leave Nike and sign an endorsement deal with Under Armour. The first was they mispronounced Stephen’s name- and no one corrected it. Second, they used a Powerpoint presentation (which was out of date even in 2013) that was prepared for the sales pitch to another NBA star. Stephen’s father said the presentation still had the other player’s name on it along with material specific to that particular player. Third, Stephen wanted to participate in the Nike basketball camp program, since he went to them often as a kid, however the prospect of a camp wasn’t on the table as far as Nike was concerned. So Stephen Curry left Nike and went to Under Armour.

What does all that have to do with the church losing a generation?

The mistakes that Nike made in their sales-pitch to Stephen Curry are the same mistakes that churches are making today when it comes to the largest yet most religiously apathetic generation ever- the Millennial generation.

Courtesy of the Barna Group

Courtesy of the Barna Group

First, far too often the church is speaking to the wrong audience. This is like the Nike executives mispronouncing Stephen Curry’s name. I’m sure you’ve been in a situation where someone calls you by the wrong name. Maybe you understand the first time but if you correct it and it continues to happen you know that the other person just isn’t listening to what you’re saying and you, in turn, tune them out. The same thing is occurring in our churches today. Millennials see the church speaking to audiences other than them. Or if the church does attempt to speak to them, many times it’s mispronouncing who they are, what they value and what they are seeking out of life.

Second, the church can’t simply repackage what its done before. Just like it’s inexcusable for Nike to repackage a presentation obviously created for another athlete, the church cannot repackage it’s old “presentations” and hope that Millennials don’t notice. Details matter. One of the main points in Strauss’ piece is that Nike failed to play to Stephen’s ego; they failed to show that he was going to be a major piece in their company and not a second tier athlete. This generation doesn’t need it’s ego stroked but it does need to know that it deserves something new, distinct, creative and to know that they are not second tier.

Third, the church isn’t providing for the deepest desires. For Stephen Curry, his desire was to give back to aspiring basketball players through Nike camps and when it appeared that Nike wasn’t sharing that desire, he went to a company that did. What are the desires of Millennials? Being a Millennial I can speak to some of our desires. We desire relationship and community with each other and across generational lines. We value being involved in something bigger than ourselves, especially if that “something” is trying to make a real difference in the world. We want to be connected to the past, as well as, to the future. We desire to be challenged to do big things. Most of all we desire to be loved and accepted.

I’ve written this post about how the church is making a sales pitch to the Millennial generation but the church isn’t trying to reach only them. The church is making a sales pitch to Baby Boomers, African Americans, Asian Americans and Hispanics. The church is making a sales pitch to people with graduate degrees and those with no education. The church is making a sales pitch to the highly spiritual and the atheist. No matter where your church is located or who you and your church are in position to reach, the truth is if you haven’t thought about the ways and the message you are communicating, then you’re probably driving people away, not from Nike, but from God.


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