Posts Categorized as: love
For me, it is a stunningly clear memory…mostly because it was so painful. I was walking around the soccer field at Lincoln Christian University praying as hard as I’d prayed in many, many years. I’m not a genius, but I can usually see what’s coming down the road in regard to next steps during big changes. The truck coming at me was our imminent move to Texas. Did I feel a sense of God’s calling? Yes. Did I believe I was being obedient? I hoped so. But I knew that the housing market in Illinois was down. The recent refinancing (trying to do what had Dave Ramsey said), a new furnace and $5000 worth of plumbing was compounding the fact that my house was worth much less than when we had bought it.
So, in “faith,” I spent two hours stomping around praying as passionately and fervently as I knew how. Outside of a miracle, I was going to be more broke than ever before in my life. I prayed for miracles…miracles were what we needed.
We left for Texas with the house unsold. It did not sell for 10 months. My financial situation became dire. Miracles felt like mirages.
During that time our kids had to transition, and our medical bills skyrocketed. We had terrible health scares/diagnoses, and we had to pay apartment rent on top of our unsold mortgage. Things got tense. I felt so disappointed in God. I was hurt—deeply. Words were not enough to describe my disappointment. God is everywhere (Psalm 139 and Prov 15), and even though I had read this, I tried to avoid him and focused on getting through the season. My prayers changed for a long time during that season.
As I write this, years later, I’m embarrassed at the depth of my hurt and my childish reactions. Mentally, I can play the “you-should-consider-yourself-blessed” game with the best of them. I’ve been to the dark places of the world. Shoot, I’ve lived in some dark places. I KNOW the coping mechanisms: count your blessings; consider the lilies of the field etc. But I was crippled and disoriented by my context and my pain.
Pain In Our Hearts and Ears
It seems to me that our post-election cultural context is like that on a massive scale. If you read the news or social media people are freaking out. Some with joy, some with sorrow. Often there is rage that lets loose words that are horrifying in their scope—both for the victors and the politically defeated. Blame, accusations, and labels are flying around like debris in a tornado. Many people feel a sense of defeat right now. Others feel a rush of triumph. Regardless of which side you voted for, it is terribly painful to see the deep division in our nation. The pain in our hearts keeps our ears from hearing hope. It’s a complicated time to be a Christian leader.
Recently I was in my morning prayer/reading time, and I was praying about the whole situation. I have not written or posted anything about it because no matter what anyone says, they seem to fall into one of three categories: “Told you so” (nyah nyah), “The (x) bigots won and we’ll fight back”, or “everybody-relax-Jesus-still-is-in-charge.” None of those seem particularly helpful to me in getting us to engage more in the Kingdom of God.
As I read my Bible that day, I was asking for help for myself. My kind of work does not really fit this climate. I need wisdom… Think about it—my job is to help our church engage the immigrant, the refugee, the orphan and the “far-from-God.” Yet these are often the very groups we are afraid of and that are being used (by both sides) as pawns and fodder in the current debate. The very nature of what I do is to find and love the “other.” How on earth can this work right now? You can bank on the fact that I’m praying for wisdom.
As God does in response to a prayer for wisdom, I happened to be in Proverbs 15 and Luke 4. Proverbs 15:33 “The reverence of the LORD is the instruction for wisdom, And before honor comes humility.” (NASB). I was turning that phrase over when I turned to where Jesus was led out to the wilderness with the Devil. Every process the Devil used against Jesus just wrecks me: personal suffering (bread), capacity to change the world (all the kingdoms), and proving God (throw yourself off the temple). Now, likely you’ve all read those things before.
But I was struck by something about Jesus that I admire so much: When he was weak, when he was tempted, and when he had opportunity to (wrongly) change the world, he reverently pressed into God’s Presence and the Word. He used reverence for God as the anchor for everything else in His life.
You might be thinking, “Nice work Einstein…this little bit of teaching has been around a while now…way to go, Captain Obvious.” But (while that might be the case) what struck me was that in my worst times, I am the focus in my pain—and then I question God’s work in my life. I wonder why he doesn’t want me to be happy, healthy, rich, more influential etc. And I think that’s normal. In pain, I seem to have such a hard time hearing God. The pain numbs my hearing. But what Jesus did in the desert, that is so extraordinary to me, is that in pain, in weakness, in defeat, and ultimately in death, he pressed into God’s presence and promise REGARDLESS of the outcome. He trusted in the Father so profoundly that he was forever rooted in truth. Instead of Himself as the center, asking why God was not addressing His needs, Jesus pressed into a reverence for God as the center of everything—including his very reason for coming to earth.
So, during this climate of fear, rage, triumph and word-bombs being lobbed around, I am going to work harder at pressing in to God’s presence as I press on in His loving work. I’m asking for God to help me use HIM as my reference point instead of the cultural angst or how I’m feeling today. In His Presence and truth, I am in the exact spot I want and need to be in order to be obedient.
Being preachy here isn’t my point. People’s pain is real and it matters and I want to respond to that as lovingly as I can. But the God who prophesied Immanuel 700ish years before His birth is not surprised by today. And America isn’t the center of God’s activity or inaction. So, my delightful, complicated work of welcoming the stranger, the immigrant, and the unborn must go on. Our need to trust and preach God’s word co-exists with our task of feeding the hungry and loving the “other” and even our enemy. I need to continue to love people regardless of gender orientation or political stance while I lift up orthodoxy. We will press on to plant churches, to pack meals for orphans, to reach out to the refugees, the hungry and the broken in our midst! This work costs time, money, and emotion. Yet as we press into God, we can, “press on so that (we) may lay hold of that for which also (we were) laid hold of by Christ Jesus.”* Rhetoric is not what will convince a broken world of our love. Only the love of God, displayed in the power of God will do that.
Jesus returned from the desert full of the power of the Holy Spirit, and he began something that continues to change the world to this day. As we lean into trust, we rely upon that same Spirit to empower our work. Pray for me. Pray for all our church leaders. We need wisdom in this era…this work of mission leadership requires nothing but our best right now. I am praying for strength to press in and thereby press on. When God answers this prayer, I believe we are in for an amazing ride!
God, be our reference and give us the grace to revere You more than our own suffering, fear, or discomfort.
*Plural version of Philippians 3:12
Caveat: This is a complicated post and might be boring to some readers…. fair warning.
It can be discouraging times for a Bible-believing Christian if you look around at all. The Charleston massacre, racism, the vitriol about Bruce (Caitlyn) Jenner’s issues, the decision by SCOTUS on gay marriage, the Pope and ISIS. If you are like me, you might be wondering, “how in the world will we ever be a nation that pleases God?” If you look around a little further, you’ll see the church at odds with itself. Facebook abounds with lazy, ad hominem attacks on why the church has failed (x) demographic and how it has missed (x) teaching of Jesus. I have some smart Christian friends who are avidly anti-gun and other smart Christians who are equally pro-second-amendment. Even the Christians who are trying to do some good tend to take shots at each other regarding justice, poverty, loving your neighbor etc. And, if you’re like most people, this discussion goes at the national or regional level even if you have never met the people involved, or researched the issue at hand. We have, at times, become a church at the mercy of the media. The only vetted purveyors of truth are those self-proclaimed prophets with the fastest internet or the shrillest voices.
Now, in all fairness, this is nothing new in principle. Gossip, rumor, personal attacks and intentional misinformation have been around since the dawn of mankind (e.g. Adam and Eve’s deflection of blame in the Garden). Empires, both old and new, have used these techniques. Mussolini’s first weapon was the newspaper he owned; Hitler had Goebbels. And, while the press has also been a force for truth, freedom and democracy, the issue here is that we have a new platform (internet and social media) but the dangers involved are the same. The biggest change with the new platform?—no editors and no pushback. Anyone can throw out anything they want and escalate things as fast as they like. Passions flare, calls to action abound and clear thinking becomes difficult.
This tends to create camps, groups, and labels. Negative attribution begins to thrive and we start developing a strong sense of who our enemies are. A former student of mine has announced that he’s become “a champion of justice and a defender of gay rights.” according to a social media post. Regardless of your beliefs on gay rights, this person has set up everyone who is not on his side as an enemy. Against whom is he actually fighting? We have turned into a society that demands that you endorse our opinions and feelings. If you don’t, you’re a bigot and,…well, you better watch out because my righteous team is against your evil team. This kind of emotional pain makes us myopic. Our own pain (real, imagined or borrowed) makes us stop thinking about anything other than our wounds. Our “camp” becomes our form of communal sharing of pain. And, when we feel our camp might be threatened, we all tend to get defensive and a little aggressive.
What pathway do we take to find hope for ourselves and assist in healing? How do we engage the suffering we see around us, actually love our enemy (esp if we’ve never met them personally) and do good work in the world today? How do we address racism and white privilege without separating into camps? How do we love the gay community and still pursue holiness? Who can show us how to address poverty, terrorism, domestic violence and hyper-capitalism?
John 1:17 says, “For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ” (NASB95). Grace and truth—here is our secret and hope.
Some of us err on the side of grace—we say that there is no room for the church to judge anyone, ever. If we’re not careful, sentimentality becomes our new standard. Statements like “love has no labels” creep into our dialogue. Feelings tend to become the indicators of rightness and anything that hurts emotionally becomes the work of the evil one. We can also err on the side of truth and simply let broken people go on their way and smugly judge them. We fight hard to address things as they really are (e.g. love really actually does have labels) and then let the bodies fall where they may. Over the last few years as a teacher, leader and pastor, I have seen most of my students gravitate toward one side or the other. It is very difficult to walk in both grace and truth. It’s a very, very messy pathway. But I’d like to suggest that the grace-and-truth-way gives us several forms of leverage for the world we live in.
- Canceling Revenge: Grace, together with truth stops the revenge cycle. Here’s what I mean—It’s easy to say “you should forgive” if you’re not the one who feels hurt. This is part of the issue of the racism arguments. Truth calls out the evil, the sin, the injustice and takes the brokenness out into the sunlight where we have to address it. However, left by itself, the truth demands action—usually punitive. Our problem is that we all tend to think that we are the judge of what equality should look like. Grace allows us to let God be the judge. We get the chance to forgive, to extend to others the grace that was extended to us. Grace without truth in this situation is a terrible option…we expect people to “get over it” and just decide they shouldn’t be hurt anymore. This just escalates the hurt and the sense of injustice. Grace and truth together give us the chance to address the “Stockdale Paradox”* and still choose to not be chained to revenge. Only then can we move forward. Grace accepts the true debt owed and then cancels it; there is no more need for revenge.
- Thinking Clearly: The combination of Grace and Truth helps us to stop and think a bit. Revenge will scream at us but truth tends to whisper. Allowing ourselves to step back from the issue and think a bit gives us a chance to practice Covey’s habit of “seeking first to understand…” Proverbs 18:17 is applicable here. There are two sides to every issue (or more) and truth helps us see clearly what’s going on while Grace allows us to resist judging motives or intentions. When we stop for even a moment, we can start to see that there are more opinions than just ours. This helps us not be afraid. The Gospel turned Rome upside down and has flourished in far worse civilizations. When we think clearly, we see that God is still in control and we have to pay attention to him.
- Humility: This awareness of the power and sovereignty of God allows us to genuinely manifest humility. We all tend to think we’re geniuses and prophets. Everyone seems to think the answers are obvious. But grace and truth allows us to partially remove our biases, address our weakness and ignorance (and we are all of us, very ignorant indeed) and see that we are both part of the problem and part of the healing. Very few people belong to actual hate groups. Most of us are just weak and afraid. When we humbly admit our fears as well as our bias, we can look for truth, through a lens of love for others that cannot come outside of Jesus. Truth tells us that we are not the judges or creators; we are derived from the One who can see all things. Grace shows us that while we are limited, we are loved and cared for. That’s what humility looks like.
- Courage: When God told Jesus “no” in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus was forced to trust God through the worst things imaginable. He was forced to walk through the hatred and violence. He had to trust that God the Father was going to repay him (Heb 12:2). He was an example of suffering unjustly (I Peter 2:21) that we can follow. Trust in God starts with picking up your cross…your death to self. This has never been easy and will not get easy until we have practiced it over and over (Luke 9:23). Courage comes from knowing what really is happening and realizing we can love the messy people around us anyway. And, when action is finally required, we know that grace and truth accompany us as we go.
Grace and truth is what came through Jesus into this world. Law was the option before Jesus and most people are still trying to live by law…only they set themselves or their “community” up as the arbiters of that law. Woe unto those who break their law…
If you would live a life of both Grace and Truth, there are a couple of suggestions I have that might be of help.
First, read a chapter of Proverbs every day and try to think clearly about what’s going on in the text. You’ll begin to see parallels immediately in the culture around you and this will give you a rubric to think more clearly about our issues. I’m not kidding about this one… if you want to think well, you need a teacher. Start here.
Second, take a season and stop listening to social media about the issues and get involved in serving locally. I suspect you’ll find that there are plenty of complicated issues right next door to you that require grace and truth. We all tend to want to have our voices matter on the national (or global) stage but the truth is that what makes the news is probably our local context writ large. If you ask God to open your eyes to the needs around you, he is faithful and will do so.
Next, read wisely. Read Stephan Bauman, or Jud Wilhite, or John Perkins, or Eric Metaxas, or Thomas Sowell or Dallas Willard or… well, you get the idea. Read good history. Read widely—especially books that have been vetted by other thought leaders. What you’ll find as you read really wise books is that our generation is addressing the same problems that have faced humanity since the first day.
Lastly, work through Matthew 5, Habakuk and I Peter to think about how we love those who are against us. Think deeply about what it means to suffer unjustly and yet be pleasing to God in spite of our pain. It doesn’t take much to love the people who look like you or agree with you. It takes nothing less than grace and truth to love your enemies. In fact, you should practice this with the people you work with daily. Let them win….
It can be extremely discouraging if you pay too much attention to the world today. But take heart! God has not left us! The response from the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church after the shooting in Charleston has garnered the amazement of millions—grace and truth is being manifested in power. Thanks be to God, grace and truth still are being made real every day. We can be honored that we have a role to play in this era! You can be part of that same power and process.
*I refer here to what Jim Collins discusses in his book “Good to Great.”
Prologue: Guest Writer
I am writing on behalf of my Dad, Clarence Maupin. He was born in Southwestern Nebraska in 1933. He wrote out this manuscript longhand and asked me to write it up for other people. I asked him permission to put this on my website and he reluctantly agreed—he was hoping just to give it to some family I think…. I have edited his grammar unless otherwise noted. All the mistakes are mine… all the good stuff is his. Few people in this era can say they had a wonderful Dad (and I am well aware of that), but I do. I will add some commentary at the end.
Love Tanks: Because Love is Energy
I think that Love is the most misused word in the English language. This happens when people misuse “love” in church down to saying that we love root beer or something even more mundane. I would like to concentrate these brief thoughts on the Agape love that comes from God and God alone.
It permeates our lives all the time—both for the Christian and the non-Christian. In the fourth chapter of 1 John, as I read it, all of the good love in this world originates with God. People cannot obtain it from any other source. This is significant because it relates to the concept of energy. All of the world (even the universe) moves from place to place in a regular fashion. It takes energy to accomplish this. In my experience as a farmer, this is a common experience for me.
In the history of man, there are times where sticks need to be gathered to prepare food and keep warm. This is common in the past as well as in many parts of the world today. The earth used the ashes and gases/smoke to regenerate new sources of energy. The human body uses energy in the way of food. From birth to death, the process of energy works in a cycle for the sustaining of life for the next generation.
As societies progressed technologically, they became more efficient in using energy from the earth. Coal turned out to be better than sticks; oil and natural gas were better than coal. Electricity was invented and harnessed and everything from hydroelectric power and nuclear energy were used as well. A singular feature of energy is that there must be a way to distribute it to where it is ultimately used.
As a case in point, the form of energy I am most familiar with is petroleum. The earth has a lot of oil deep underground. Thus it must be extracted and moved to refineries where it is then processed into the many products we use. The gasoline that comes from these refineries must be moved to filling stations where we fill up our gas tanks then go our merry way. This is just one example of the physical kinds of energy that we use every day. All of it comes from the earth that God made. Tides, storms, earthquakes, drought, flood and famine also all use or release energy. I could go on with examples of how energy is used, stored, distributed, mined and raised (by farmers/ranchers/fishermen etc.).
When energy reaches it’s final form (when it is ready to be used) it cannot retain its full strength or potency for extended periods of time. In the pioneer days of the West, cow (or buffalo) chips had a very short storage time. As you go up the chain [sic] to corn cobs and firewood you get a little longer storage time. While fossil fuels last a long time underground, once they are refined, they do not last as long at full strength.
Now then, compare this with the pure source of love: God. I think of love as a spiritual energy because it is what makes us move toward action. Agape love starts out in the person of God and can only be obtained from that one source. However, as it spreads out through the earth, it seems to become diluted by people and their mistakes. In my imagination I think that God’s love (energy) is distributed much like physical energy and the results are similar.
In my mind’s eye, I think that every baby is born with an empty love tank. His mother and father immediately start taking from their own love tank
and start filling their new arrival a little at a time. Grandparents and extended family and close friends also add to the baby’s love tank. While humans share some physical characteristics with animals, this intention to fill another with love is unique to humans. Animals will often protect their young, but as the young become mature, they often become competitors for food and territory. Humans are family for life if they have love.
Since the source of Agape (my version of high octane) love is God, I want to think about his distribution system. Devoted Christians are always able to fill up their love tanks through prayer and time with God. They can do this as often as needed* and then go out into the world and freely share that love. When they do, they put a little bit of love into another person’s love tank. While they consume a little of that energy while doing so, but most of that goes into others. When they are nearing empty, all they need to do is go back to the source for a refill and then repeat the cycle gain. This is the distribution system God designed.
The make up of this system is a combination of preachers, teachers, missionaries, fathers, mothers, uncles and aunts, husbands, wives, friends and co-workers. Those who have been served share some of this energy while they also consume some of it to survive and work. The real difficulty begins when many do not start from the source. Love becomes diluted and of a lesser quality as it gets passed on, barely shared and sometimes stolen. While all of mankind gets love from God, many do not acknowledge it and even deny it.
As I mentioned earlier, when energy is not used at the proper time, it disintegrates—love is the same way. You cannot store it for a long time. If you try, it will not perform like it should. If you are restoring an old engine, you need to get any old fuel out and start with fresh fuel, otherwise it actually does damage to that engine. Spiritual energy is the same way. You cannot let it remain unused and expect it to be effective. So, the moral of my story is to get love, use love, share love and replace love. Keep this cycle up and you will see the results of God’s Agape love over and over.
*cf John 5-6 for more support for this thought.
In his introductory page, Dad mentioned that my two grandmothers and my Mom had the best love tanks of anyone he’d ever known. I agree. I was fascinated as I read through this essay. Dad’s thinking mirrors some of the main thought of Dallas Willard’s book “The Spirit of the Disciplines.” My Dad didn’t go to college but he’s one of the smartest guys I know. Part of the allure of my Dad’s life and thought is that it takes a long time to get him to teach. He thinks over things for a long time (often alone on the tractor) and tests and re-tests them in the furnace of daily church life. Dad has been a leader at my home church for over 50 years. I have inherited that desire for effectiveness in my life and I have long searched for compelling ways to get people involved in missions, ministry and justice-related issues. Yet, as all long-term leaders learn over time, the issue of good leadership is the leader. Someone with a full and constantly renewed love-tank will always be effective at most levels. I am overjoyed with the unknown congruence of my own journey that has gone along with Dad’s. I love and owe him so much. I hope this has blessed you as a reader.