but it looks like love

What does it look like to love God and my neighbor?

I know, I know. You might be getting a bit numb to the topic of love. Maybe you have love figured out. If so, stop reading right now. This article won’t apply to you. If you’re like the rest of us, you can probably admit you have a thing or two to learn about True love.

Wouldn’t it be nice if there were clear, precise, practical examples of what True love is? Then we could stop guessing and just do it, right? Some of us long to be told just what to DO in order to demonstrate True love. Would that help? I’m not convinced that it would.

You see, what looks like love isn’t always the real deal. Truth is, we ALL know what love LOOKS like, even if we don’t know what love IS. Just think of all the donations to charities all over the world that would never be made unless someone was looking. There just has to be something in it for us. It’s not flattering, but it’s the truth. The world runs on selfishness. And what’s really scary is when selfishness is disguised as humility or generosity.

So I won’t waste any time telling you to talk to your neighbor even if they aren’t like you; I won’t try to tell you where the line is between affection and disrespect for your boy/girlfriend’s body; and as much as you might like me to, I won’t try to tell you how to learn to love people you don’t like or that don’t like you. That is behavior modification, and it doesn’t work. Sure, it might make things look a little bit better, but at the end of the day, no change results.

What I WILL do, is point you once again to the best example of love that we have. The one act of Grace that echoes through all eternity, silencing all other acts of love. The sacrifice that out-does all of our petty performances of trying to love others. The death of Christ.

“In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” – 1 John 4:10-11

May God’s love be perfected in us… period.

-Dale

crashing

Last night, I saw the movie “Crash” with a group.

It basically told several inter-weaving stories of people dealing poorly with people. The themes included rage, impatience, vengeance, racism, power-trips and more. We weren’t left with a very hopeful solution for humanity, but I could appreciate the realism with which the topics were addressed. Kinda nice to know that we are nothing like the people in this movie, huh?

Not really. Truth is, those same emotions are in all of us. Yeah, you. We’re all guilty of some serious over-reaction to various annoying things.

The sub-heading for the movie was something like this: “When you’re moving at the speed of life, you’re bound to collide.”
That is actually quite profound. Why does this happen?

Perhaps we really ARE shockingly disconnected from one another.
Perhaps we really ARE disgustingly comfortable.
Perhaps we really ARE lethargic to do anything to change this.
Perhaps we really ARE terribly self-centered.

As long as we insist that the problem is with someone ELSE, we are going to continue to be frustrated.
As long as we insist on placing high expectations on others, they will continue NOT to meet them.
As long as we insist on finding fault with others, we will continue to NOT see (or rationalise or lessen) our own faults.

Slow down, think, be honest with yourself. Why are you so frustrated with him/her? Why are you allowing their opinion of you to control you? Etc., etc.

“Cease from anger, and forsake wrath; Do not fret – it only causes harm.” – Psalm 37:8

-Dale

are you sure you want love?

We need to ask ourselves this question again.

Is it really love we are seeking? Have we forgotten again what real love is? Just about anyone will admit to the universal desire to love and be loved in return, but we are seriously going to hurt and be hurt if we fail to not only realise what true love is, but act accordingly.

Our picture of love is very incomplete. We have images of companionship, smiles, hugs, kisses and a host of other wonderful things. What we love to forget is that alongside those nice images, there need to be a few more. Sometimes love is stern, grim and menacing. Sometimes silence, rebuke and conflict is a more than necessary part of love.

The difference between love and true love is that true love is rooted in Truth. It must be. It has to be.

We are all guilty of what I like to call ‘keeping people at arms length.’ We like companionship, smiles and hugs, but when someone gets close enough to us to see faults, we take a few steps back. Often times, the people that care the most are the ones that care enough to say a few things we don’t want to hear. THAT is why seeking comfort is so harmful to growth! We stay a safe distance from those that will ‘sharpen’ us, and spend oodles of less meaningful time with others who we simply ‘get on’ with.

“Mockers don’t love those who rebuke them, so they stay away from the wise.” – Proverbs 15:12

So let me ask you one more time…

Are you SURE you want love?

-dale

a comfortable amount of discomfort

In the Christian life, one mistake we can make would be to think that we have no further need to grow. How ridiculous is that? Thankfully, I don’t know many people who think that. However, a much easier mistake to make is to fail to recognise how growth happens or fail to allow growth to happen in my life.

If we don’t understand how growth happens, we are likely to either falsely perceive growth that isn’t really there, or falsely believe that it can’t or won’t happen. Still yet, even if we do understand how growth happens, we are likely to resist the process.

We want growth to happen, sure enough, but we can’t get past the biggest obstacle: our desire for comfort.

Growth requires discomfort. That fact is unavoidable. It’s as true as the reality that water flows downhill.

If we are ever going to grow as Christians, it means that we are going to have to give up level upon level of comfort in our lives. Read this next sentence carefully.

If you want to be more loving, you will HAVE to learn to put up with un-lovable people.

(Might wanna read that one again.)

Truth triumphs over feelings. We can’t rely on feelings. Frankly, I don’t FEEL like loving people that aren’t like I want them to be. But when my mind is renewed with the TRUTH that I am no better than they are, I am enabled to love them, whether I FEEL like it or not.

May we recklessly love one another in a true, self-less, Christlike way.

Grace and Love,
Dale

painting with no canvas

Evangelism, evangelism and more evangelism.

This is the desperate cry of many churches around the world (or at least in the wealthy, comfortable, ‘established’ parts of the world). We are losing members fast, and we want to get them back. So, we launch ourselves into much activity to bring about the desired result. Books are written, strategies are implemented. Seminars are given. At least two groups arise out of the activity.

1. Individuals who are oblivious to the lack of ‘evangelism health’ and are not moved to action.
2. Individuals who are obsessed with need for evangelism, and feel the need to force the others to action.

Evangelism is a commandment of Jesus, but to emphasize the Great Commission while forgetting the 1st and 2nd Commandments is a grave error. The purpose of the Church is not merely to evangelise, but firstly to bring honour and glory to God. It’s not the first Good Idea, it’s the first and Greatest Commandment! That means it cannot be excluded! If we are just trying to do all right things without doing them out of devotion to Him, then we are just contestants in a rather large morality contest.

An over emphasis on Evangelism often reveals a mis-placed priority on the number of people in our churches. Do we want to reach people because we love our Master or because we love the idea of being “spiritually successful?” Let’s consider this analogy:

If we’re building a house, the order of progression goes something like: foundation, floor, walls, roof, wall-board, many other things, and finally… paint. If we use this analogy to represent evangelism, let me say that I think we are standing around during the entire project holding a brush and a paint can. We’re not really interested in the ‘foundations’ and ‘floors’ and ‘walls’ of the Gospel, love and self-lessness. This is lazy evangelism. The fact is, you might have to actually CARE about the person you are trying to reach. If you do care about them, you might start doing some radical things like… oh, I don’t know… making time for them, investing in their lives, meeting their needs and the like.

“I am the vine, you are the branches. Apart from me, you can do nothing.” – Jesus

-Dale

fools and rules

Last week, we talked about how important thoughts are.

This week I want to continue that theme as we look at a passage in Galatians. Our thinking about sin and righteousness just plain matters. In the first century, Paul, who was a Jew among Jews (Gal. 1:13-14), was radically transformed into the Apostle that we know so well for reaching Gentiles (non-Jews) with the Gospel. When he converted, he eventually joined the rest of the Apostles. In Galatians, Paul recalls a ‘disagreement’ he had with Peter (yes, Peter.) and a few of the other Apostles. (And you thought disputes in church were a recent thing?) Paul literally got in Peter’s face about being a hypocrite. When Peter was at Antioch, he had no problem eating with Gentiles until some folks arrived that said that believers had to be circumcised. Peter was afraid that he would be seen eating with these uncircumcised Gentiles, so he stopped eating with them!

Paul openly rebuked him, asking him why he should expect Gentiles to live as Jews, when he (a Jewish believer) lived as a Gentile? Paul then reminded Peter that justification was not from keeping the Law, but by faith in Christ!

Some of the early Jewish-Christian believers of the 1st century struggled to welcome Gentiles into the church. After all, they were the good, moral, circumcised, Sabbath-keeping ones. They were appalled by these Gentiles walking around like they own the place. After all, these ‘other’ people didn’t keep the Sabbath, they weren’t circumcised, they ate pork and other non-kosher food… they just weren’t like them! How could these people be believers?

The Apostle Paul consistently reminds us that we are not saved by what we do, but by the grace of God. That’s it! It’s true! Done deal! You don’t have to jump through all the right hoops or measure up to any standards.

“I do not set aside the grace of God; for if righteousness comes from the law, then Christ died in vain.” – Galatians 2:21

May we recognise where our life comes from, and extend grace even to those who don’t dress, talk, smell, look or act like we do.

Trusting in His Grace,
-Dale

help! i’m not acting right!

Thoughts, Feelings, Actions

Here’s a theologically loaded statement:
Right beliefs (ortho-doxy) create right feelings and lead to right actions (ortho-praxy).

As Christ-ians, our life (and thereby, our life-STYLE as well) is all about Christ. This is true isn’t it? Whatever we think, feel or do ought to be thought, felt or done in regard to Christ. Pretty amazing to think that Christ wants to renew our thinking, give us joy, and (as if that’s not enough) DO great things through us.

Thoughts
It starts with our thinking or our beliefs, doesn’t it? They are of utmost importance. When we actually believe that the God of the universe would not just merely be interested in us, but also would be willing to die for us, that has an effect on us!

Feelings
Once we are thinking straight, and it starts to sink in that Christ paid a debt that we would never have been able to pay, I’m just guessing that our feelings should take perhaps a small positive turn! That is what joy is all about! Would a prisoner that had been freed from a death-sentence show no emotion? Well, whether you realise it or not, or just have forgotten, If you are a Christian, you were a prisoner, and you have been set free from your death sentence!

Actions
This is where it gets interesting. We tend to be terribly distracted when our actions (or someone else’s) are either lacking or not of the right “kind.” If we’re not careful, we can slip into a pattern of thinking that our actions shape and form our beliefs. It’s the other way around. Our REAL thoughts and beliefs are seen in the way we act. It’s a tricky distinction that can easily be missed. Put plainly, you can’t serve your way into having Christian beliefs. You can, however, believe your way into serving in a Christian way. As church-type-people, we often act like the former statement is true. We care less about what people believe or how they feel, and instead just try to find ways to get all of the Christian jobs done! We must not do this.

If you are experiencing a ‘dry spell’ in your Christian life, check your beliefs and feelings. One of the many great things about the Christian life is that we are not simply converted and then put on a shelf, we are grown, tested, tried, bruised, etc. These bumps are to cause us to remember Who we are intended to rely upon. The dry spells aren’t there to get us to try harder, but to help us realise our inability to please God with our flesh, and remember Who our strength is. One of the greatest passages in the Bible about God’s will for living the Christian life is the beginning of the 12th chapter of Romans. Among other things, it says to “be transformed (continually) by the renewing of your mind.”

Thoughts are important.

Blessings,

Dale

i love you because…

Find True Love Now…
What’s More Fun Than Love?
Live. Love. Learn.

Perhaps you’ve seen the following tag-lines for one of the latest online dating services, called True. The success of such services says something about the way we think about love.

We seem to want it really bad.
We seem to hope we “find” it someday.
Also, we seem to be extremely afraid of getting hurt by it.

Thoughts matter. The Bible says, “as a man thinks, so is he.” (Proverbs 23:7) Our thoughts determine our actions. So, what is wrong with our thinking about love? It’s not just about romantic love, either. May I make a few suggestions that will hopefully apply to all of us?

We are all familiar with how abused the word love is, right? I love ice cream… I love God… I love my brother… etc. It appears that we often think that love is simply what it means to like something so much that your affection for the thing moves outside the realm of ‘like’ and into the green pasture of ‘love.’ While this is partially true, I think we’re missing one of the most essential aspects of love.

Un-conditionality.

As humans, we are just selfish. This is the easiest truth to demonstrate. We love ice cream because it does something for our taste buds, or we might love email, because it makes it easier for US to stay in touch. When we apply this logic to inter-personal relationships, we end up ‘loving’ people because they do something we like, make us feel a certain way, etc. As long as they maintain this appealing quality, we continue to ‘love’ them.

Stop thinking like that. (Romans 12:2)

If we continue to love one another like that, we are destined for failure. The minute someone lets us down or doesn’t meet our expectations, we withdraw from what we thought was love. Imagine if God loved us like that! We would have NO hope. Perhaps that’s what Paul was getting at when in 1 Corinthians 13 he talks about this long-suffering, not self-seeking, patient kind of love. Perhaps that’s what Jesus was getting at when he challenged the disciples to love their enemies, for “if you only love those that love you, what reward is there in that?” After all, Christ died for us “while we were yet sinners.”

You might be starting to realise just how HARD it is to love people that are… well… HARD to love.

Next week, we’ll look at what Galatians 5 has to say about HOW to love like that.

In His Grace,

Dale

no offense…but you’re worthless

It’s just not what you read in the newest self-help books.

It’s completely contrary to every trend in society. We adjust grading methods to make students feel better about themselves. We say that everyone is special and don’t stop to consider that by saying that, we make no one special. (this is well illustrated in the brilliant movie-cartoon: The Incredibles) Why do we do this? What’s the deal?

So many of the belief-systems in the world struggle to deal with the condition of humanity. I think this is very interesting. The fact that humans are bent on selfishness is quite possibly the easiest truth to demonstrate! We all hide our wrong and promote our good. Yes, even in churches! We look for the fastest lane in traffic, and the shortest line at the grocery store. We’re always looking out for our own best interests!

I love Christianity for many reasons, one of which is it’s realness. Jesus wasn’t out to flatter humanity. His disposition with humankind is very succinctly described by His half-brother James, who wrote that God “opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”

One of Jesus’ most striking message to humanity was that we aren’t good enough. He raised the ‘bar’ of morality so high that nobody would be able to say they were good. That is why Jesus was always barking at the Pharisees! He called them white-washed tombs, and made no ‘bones’ (pardon the pun) about how he felt about their self-righteousness! In sharp contrast, He forgives and welcomes sinners who are repentant and aware of their moral bankruptcy. The Apostle Paul echoes Jesus’ message in passages like the third chapter of Romans, where he quotes various passages in the Psalms: “There is none righteous, no, not one… none who seeks after God… they have together become unprofitable (see title of this article)… etc., etc.

As Christians, our confidence is NEVER in ourselves. Not in the past, not now, and not in the future. We were never good enough, we are still not good enough and we will never be good enough! The technical-theological definition of grace is undeserved favour. Take a good guess why it is undeserved. Because we can’t earn it, and we don’t earn it!

Why are so many Christians BORED with the Christian life? I think we have forgotten just how BIG a deal God’s grace is!

May we live in the awe of God’s grace to the point where we see for ourselves just how ‘amazing’ it really is.

In Him,

Dale

through the week

Greetings,

So how was your church on Sunday?

This phrase illustrates how grossly incorrect we use the word ‘church.’ We use the word as if it means a place and a time (most commonly the church ‘building’ on Sunday morning). Some of you will be familiar with the Greek term behind our English word church which is ‘ecclesia.’ The literal meaning of this word is ‘those called out’ or ‘called out ones.’ So in the book of Romans for instance, the apostle Paul was not writing to ‘the building in which Christians meet’ at Rome, but to ‘those called out’ at Rome. Many of you will know that many early churches in the first century met in homes. For centuries, however, the majority of Christians have met in buildings. Lately, you will have noticed that the trend of ‘home groups’ has been popular all over the world.

Can I just say that I don’t really believe it matters WHERE or WHEN the church meets? Can I also say that even though we must meet corporately together, the Church is not (or at least should not be) defined by what happens when ‘it’ meets? We tend to compartmentalize our lives in to sacred or secular sectors, and this ought not be so.

In Acts 2, the earliest Christians met daily in the temple, but that was a central place of community for their Jewish culture. Reading these kinds of passages, you quickly get the idea that there was never a time or place when the early Church was not being the Church. We ought to follow their example. Didn’t Jesus himself say that WHENEVER two or more are gathered in His name, that He would be there with them? So why do we argue about where and when to meet?

In modern days, Christians are very concerned by how our services run, and what percentages of people are in small groups, etc. We find safety and comfort in such noble things as mission trips, bible studies and meetings.

I’m interested in joining God in being a part of a culture of Christians that are letting Christ live in them to the point that it makes sense that they bear His name. Not a once or twice a week irrelevant gathering of warm bodies, but an ongoing, constant culture of self-sacrificing, serving, slaves of Christ. May we begin that culture in our own hearts.

In His Grace,

Dale