Forgiveness…the Evidence of Love

For the Christian… the life and death of Jesus is the ultimate demonstration of love.

The ultimate ‘take-away’ truth of Christ’s life as lived out in front of his disciples… ‘Forgiveness’ 

For most, we would readily agree. Without forgiveness we have no possible way to pray or spend time with our Creator. No option to pursue greater intimacy with the lover of our souls… it takes the foundational truth of being forgiven to start this Christian pilgrimage.

We surround it with words like….Grace, Mercy, Long-suffering, Patience, Humility… but in the end it’s all about ‘forgiving’ sin. From the ‘Lord’s Prayer” to almost every gospel and epistle in the New Testament, we are constantly reminded and commanded to forgive one another.

Forgiveness is the practical and often painful part of redemption. 

Our pop culture senses the power of forgiveness… it stands in wonder at its strength and courage…

Don Henley (of the Iconic band the Eagles) says it like this…

“I’ve been trying to get down
To the heart of the matter
But everything changes
And my friends seem to scatter
But I think it’s about forgiveness
Forgiveness” (The Heart of the Matter – Released1989) 

We are ‘redeemed‘ is the liturgical response for many… it means we are the forgiven and restored ones. True. Yes and thank God!  But Christ’s work on Calvary is more than a theological event for all mankind… it’s also our personal moment of salvation.

This reality crowds out the ‘other‘ offenses in our life. When we remember our conversion to Christ… we instantly return to the realization of our own broken state.

It only takes a sobering second of our time to recall  just how messed up we were/are when we were ‘forgiven’.  We remember in vivid detail… the intense and painful brokenness we felt. The anguish at seeing the devastating effect of our sin. The shame at our wilfulness in disobeying our loving father. The despair of  how selfish we were in thinking only of ourselves.

That is the moment of our transformation, when our despair and darkness was pushed aside by the blazing glory of Christ and His offer of forgiveness. An offer of freedom. 

Yet it’s this reality that often eludes us when we encounter the brokenness of others in our lives. Our spouses, kids, bosses, and mothers… all fail. All of them leave us torn up and wounded by their sin and shortcomings. Yet… we struggle to forgive. 

It’s only when we ‘forget’ the sorrow and grief of our own sin… that we delay offering the grace and gift of forgiveness to others.

source – Money Matters

St. Paul said it like this in his letter to the Colossians (chapter 3).1Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, 13 bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. 14 And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. 15 And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful.

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Is it a wonderful life…?

As the title implies… a thought or two from my favorite Christmas movie…

Jimmy Stewart’s classic performance as “George Bailey” (from the iconic 1946 film “It’s a wonderful life”), always sets the tone for my annual exuberant gush of seasonal joy.

Yet… it begs the question…“IS it a WONDERFUL life?”

So many rushing by, so much of life hidden behind the busy… it takes a profound event to slow us down enough to consider the deeper things. For George Bailey… he faces the moment of his despair with desperation… while all of us watch and hope all over again that he’ll see beyond his profound grief into the true wealth that is his amazing life.

But when it’s no longer a story, and the grief is real… things shift and we’re left wondering. “Is it a wonderful life?” 

It's a wonderful life, 1946

It’s a wonderful life, 1946

Recently my family has experienced some very dark news, a loss of hope and the inexorable pull of mortality come too early. It’s a bitter moment that brings sadness and despair, but also clarity and renewed appreciation.

As we hurry through our days… let’s slow down enough to consider the ‘why’. I can’t answer the question for you… and neither can George Bailey, but it’s important to think about. It’s important to remember what truly matters in your life… for me, it’s all about relationships. 

The weight of our life is contained in our relationships, they are ‘the’ most precious gifts of all. The gift of being loved and loving,  the precious privilege of a genuine friendship, the gift of giving and receiving comfort… of shared grief… these are the truest things we can ever achieve.

It’s not in our IRA fund or the number of mortgages on our house… it’s not in our kids GPA’s or a starting spot on the team. It’s in the relationships we forge along the way that we define our lives.

This Christmas let’s all remember George Bailey and act accordingly…

Pastor B.

PS – as a pastor, I would be derelict if I didn’t point out the ultimate relationship being offered to us… and to George Bailey. It was and is with our creator. His interest in our well-being and desire to be a part of every detail of our life is well demonstrated in the Christmas story – as well as in my favorite movie.

When you can’t love anymore… Love Fatigue

“Love Fatigue”.  

A term of my own creation. Love Fatigue – “Refers to ‘a chronic or enduring feeling of being unable to love anymore.”

Spouses, Parents, Teachers, Friends, and Pastors are all affected by the presence of this often un-diagnosed condition… a subtle but devastating condition known as ‘Love Fatigue’.

What are the symptoms? 

Lack of affection for others. Lack of interest in sharing life. Lack of emotion, especially an absence of compassion or empathy. Reduced awareness of the needs of those around you. Lack of concern for most anything or anyone. Self absorption and brutal self criticism. Lack of patience for others, especially those we live with or work around.

What causes it? 

Emotional fatigue. Chronic stress of an unrelenting nature. Spiritual isolation and independence. Pride. Unresolved anger. Unforgiveness. Feelings of relational despair and hopelessness. Stupid (annoying) people.  

Love Fatigue is all too common for men and women in long-term relationships. (Friendship, Family, Marriage, Church body) Usually the condition grows more invasive over time, starting from a simple mis-understanding or mis-communication into a distorted and perceived pattern of injustice or abusive behavior. Untreated, it forms deep roots in the cardiac and cerebral tissues as repeated opportunities for intimacy are rejected or avoided and a general frustration with other people grows uncontrollable.

boldomatic.com

boldomatic.com

 

Can it be treated or cured? 

Yes. Love fatigue is treatable with the regular (minimum of once a week) application of a spiritual soaking procedure; including exposure to the presence of God, the sacred word, and the Holy Spirit. This treatment has been proven  to help those afflicted to reduce the conditions crippling symptoms.

Research has shown,  only the removal of the ‘justification gene’, can cure the Love Fatigue condition permanently. This genetic & inherited sin-factor chromosome has been linked directly to behavior markers identified as ‘pride’ and “presumption‘.

Unfortunately the genetic factors responsible for “Love Fatigue” must be replaced with new DNA from a unique and rare donor type…Specifically an individual who has never been infected or affected by the condition. (See the your local pastor or Christian friend for more information on Jesus Christ – his history and claims of divinity).

In addition to finding an appropriate donor, the ‘tainted’ genetic mutations must be aggressively treated to prevent re-infection. Fortunately, once the donor procedure is completed… the remnants of the Love Fatigue virus can be easily flushed from the patient.

A simple, self-application of an oral and bitter tasting medicine known as Humility’ has been used and proven effective in long term studies. The treatment can be quite painful and only works when combined with a complimentary pain-reducing ingredient, “Grace.  When used together, an effective tonic is made and Love Fatigue can be completely cured.

Love Fatigue can be easily misdiagnosed, and is fatal to relationships if left untreatedSpecifically at risk are those who misinterpret their symptoms as external or environmental in nature, and simply seek to avoid exposure or aggravation. For successful treatment, a daily self-examination is required to see if any residual presence of the “Love Fatigue” gene remains. (Source – Dr. St. Paul – Epistle to the Romans, circa AD 55)

I had fun writing this…but only partly. It’s obviously an illustration far too close to the literal truth to be denied. Feeling some ‘love fatigue’ in our long-term relationships is normal and human. Just don’t let it grow deeper and consume you. Scripture clearly provides us with the best advice possible…”clothe yourself with humility and grace” and watch your love grow strong again.

Pastor B.

birds and bees…for tweens

newsweek image

blog.sfgate.com – source

I’ve been preparing for the fall youth retreat at our church…. our theme is “Does my faith fit me?” a series of talks about “emotions” and how they impact our lives. Of the four sessions planned, mine is the talk on sexuality and love. 🙂

Considering the massive impact sexuality has on society, it’s a major topic to cover in a few minutes. Add to that the awkward stage every tween lives in… and I’ve got my work cut out for me. So… “Talking “Turkey with your tween” is a moment of reflection that every parent will face eventually. What do you tell your tween about sex? How do you handle the struggle with hormones, faith, and sexual identity?

Below are thoughts from my talk notes… hope they help.

Pastor Brad.

—————————————————————————————

SEX ...

SEXUAL

SEXUALITY...

Three potentially awkward – embarrassing topics.

Each distinct but related, and representing 3 huge issues that all of us have to consider, respond to, and decide what they will mean to us as an individual and as families of faith.

1) SEX – the physical act. The joining of a man and woman in an intimate and sacred act of both pleasure and procreation. Designed and encouraged by God, SEX is the ultimate sharing of 2 separate lives as they become one. It’s where babies come from 🙂  Reserved for the covenant of marriage, SEX is a pure act intended to symbolize the union of heart and soul… with the body. A beautiful and divinely inspired celebration of love.

2) SEXUAL – part of our hormonal status quo – it reflects the human nature of each of us. We have surges in our bodies during the stage of adolescence. From 12-20 young men have incredible spikes in testosterone as they grow. Young women begin to feel the effects of hormones in other ways, experiencing the changes to their uterus and physical bodies that prepares them to have children.

Each of you (boy / girl ) are undergoing distinct changes in your bodies as a normal response to the flood of hormones inside you. These undeniable changes are responsible for raising your awareness to see each other as more than friends, but possibly as a future husband or wife. The sexual drive for men is physical (Eros)- the drive for women (Phileo – Storge) to be wanted – desired – protected, to belong and to be safe – comfortable. Surprisingly power feelings and emotions, new desires never before present, a confusing and exciting time of life for sure. But it’s all normal – healthy and designed by God! So much so that we create music, movies, videos and social media to try to capture all we feel… books are written, poems composed and careers decided all by these powerful ‘feeling’s.

The Greeks had four words to describe what we call love, Eros, (romantic love, physical lust), Phileo,(comfortable, fondness, friendship), Storge (family loyalty)and Agape (unconditional love).

Eros– love felt particularly within the body (trembling excitement, elation, joy), colored and underpinned by deep and beautiful procreative urges. C.S. Lewis distinguishes Eros from natural sexual urges and lusts, because Eros is a state of the heart and while it is intimately related to sex, sex can exist, and often does exist, without Eros enlivening it. It leads to children, family, joy and laughter. It is good and right, but it is usually not enough to sustain a relationship long-term. Eros is an exulted and beautifully idealistic love, usually between a man and woman, but can also be “platonic” and extend to deeply intimate friendship. While Eros can simply be an earthy thing, when Spirit infused and elevated to it’s true position, it speaks deeply of universal mysteries, keenly expressed within the most sacred of all relationships, that between husband and wife. The elevated buzz of Erotic love is said to naturally fade within a year of its beginning.

Phileo If Eros is the love of the body, Phileo is the love of the soul. It is easy love and affection, it is bent towards our natural tastes and preferences (familiar and comfortable). It embodies culture and beliefs. It’s about the friendship you feel towards people like you, with the same interests, social graces, and style. God is said to have this kind of love for us and Jesus. Jesus felt this kind of love for his disciples, parents felt it about their children and children to their parents. It is not a shallow love, but rich in emotion and feeling. However it is also described as natural and exclusive and conditional. Also known as “brotherly” love as in “Philadelphia” – City of Brotherly Love. (Phileo derivative)

Agape-Is more of a parental, mature, sacrificial kind of love. Greek references describe it like this… “to take pleasure in the thing, prize it above all other things, be unwilling to abandon it or do without it.” In a way it is as idealistic as Eros, in that it is a crazy love that will not let go. Agape loves, usually at cost to the bearer. Agape puts the beloved first and sacrifices pride, self-interest and possessions for the sake of that beloved. This is the love that God has for us which inspired him to sacrifice His son and for His son to obey and sacrifice himself. It is a love of supreme greatness. It is supernatural and divine – the glue that holds all other loves together!

Storge– This is the love of community and family. Often dutiful, sometimes unfeeling, but very strong none the less. It is a natural, carnal love, but powerful and committed. It is a love that may pull you towards family commitments, or keep you from wandering far from home as you get older!

All of these ‘feeling’s are distinct and powerful, capable of driving us to do goofy and silly things. From planning our ultimate fantasy wedding down to the smallest detail to thinking about how much we can’t live without another. The pull of sex and love is one of the strongest challenges to being a Tween.

The bible give us so much to consider about love and suggests that what we feel is not as important as how we choose to behave. God sets healthy boundaries to our sexual feelings that include abstaining from sex and restricting ourselves from exploring our sexual urges outside the commitment of marriage. A difficult task given the all pervasive images and opportunity for porn and seductive media that floods the digital age.

Only with the power of the Holy Spirit and healthy boundaries can we navigate the roller coaster of emotions that lift and lower us in adolescence.

My advice to the Christian tween-teen… seek out good friendships, avoid the bad ones. Hang with peers who respect their faith and God’s ways. Live in the open… don’t hide your struggles and have the courage to go and seek help from a pastor or parent if you find yourself in temptation.

3) SEXUALITY: the natural distinction between male / female. It is not as simple as masculine and feminine – however it can be for the vast majority. Over 90% of us when asked would identify with either man / woman in our identities, sexual orientation and attraction towards the opposite. Sexuality is fiercely debated today. The 5-8% who claim to be attracted to same-sex relationships or have gender identity confusion are often struggling with instability in their families, homes and or parental role models.

There is a very small percentage who don’t know who they are (male /female) and are desperately seeking to discover which role would fit-them ‘best’. These lost and lonely are searching for a societal niche to belong to. The need to escape what they perceive to be traditional family exile, they often choose alternative relationships where acceptance is offered without any judgement or condemnation.

It’s no wonder that more and more Tweens – teens are seeking answers outside of the traditional Christian view of sexuality.

It is easy to see the appeal alternative sexual orientation offers to the awkward and uncertain among us. For the Christian family, we should respond with compassion and gentleness – recognizing the need we all have to be a part of something / someone who will “love” us for who we are. It’s one of the reasons I believe Christ provides our culture with an answer to every dilemma we could face, including sexuality. Christ is ultimately the ONLY one who can meet the longing of every human soul. Another_World_Desktop (1)

Encouraging our kids to find their identities and orientation from an intimate relationship with the one who created them is a far better approach than forcing our kids to accept our beliefs without question…we’re teaching them to bury their feelings….and that creates ‘secrecy’ and shame. It allows for other secular voices to speak to our kids hearts when we’re not around. Not a good thing.

From the biblical perspective… in the end, Sexuality is the divine distinction.

It’s a sacred gift and a powerful illustration of what God intends for creation. Our culture has drifted far from the original intent of a loving father for his children. Our standing firm on the biblical mandate is only part of the parenting equation. The other part is to create a healthy and open environment for our kids to discuss and process their personal feelings and beliefs. If we think it through, it’s clear… we can only lead our kids to the savior, we can’t offset the combined impact of mass media, pop culture and trending styles with our dogmatic logical debates. It’s about the heart… and the longing of  our souls.

Authors closing note: To be clear… I’m not pushing these sexuality issues aside as irrelevant to Christians or acceptable to God. Choices matter. Actions define us. As a pastor and a parent, I am very firm on the need for us to respect scripture as authority in these matters. However, it’s not enough to declare the facts.. we’ve got to let complicated lives get untangled in the purity and power of God’s presence. We’re responsible to share the truth in love… to be patient as God does His mysterious work in the souls of those who genuinely seek to know Him. Let’s be sure to cultivate the respect and space our tweens will need to mature, process, and become all that God intended. We’re in a post-Christian world now… and we’re going to have trust God’s truth will outshine the lies.

 

 

Tired of talking?

I’ve been traveling since the recent tensions in Ferguson Missouri erupted, which gave me a ton of drive time to tune it all in and listen as dramatically different versions of what happened droned on. Polar opposite opinions escalate like the volatile emotions on the ground, as pundits and politicians, activists and angry American’s vented their wrath and frustrations all over the airwaves.

I couldn’t help but feel the bitter sting of the Millions of lives impacted by the actions of just a few. 

I listened as generations of anger and hatred, fear and frustration all came bubbling up and boiling over as each side aggressively took their stands,  prepared to defend the sanctity of their actions to the bitter end.

Forming ranks against any who would dare debate or discount them, people from every walk of life spewing toxic opinions all over twitter and Facebook as the Media machine blew on the smoldering agitation to heat their ratings white-hot, as they ride this tragedy straight to the proverbial bank.

As a pastor, as a man…my heart is seriously grieved.

I have deep friendships with people who are taking up positions on both sides of this tired debate. Each one emotionally sharing their “opinions” to me, needing me to agree with their “take” on exactly what should be done and by who…

Social media blowing up with angry accusations and judgments from one group to other. What should a ‘good’ Christian do or think ? How should churches really respond etc. Good people standing stubbornly on opposite sides of this cultural divide, re-creating in our small groups, schools and homes the same seething emotions that are being acted upon in the streets of Ferguson MO.

What is all this really ?

Why are we so enraged to ‘defend” and debate before we have the facts? Even if we did know what happened, what will that do but confirm to people what they already believe to be true.


 Wrongs  passed down and repeated, injustice and suffering expected, predicted and allowed. A state of mind and life that stems from a broken heart, a condition no doctor, educator, social worker or psychologist can fix? 

It’s hard to take responsibility for our actions. Good or bad, right or wrong… we dislike the shame and humiliation of admitting we are in the wrong. Like a marriage relationship gone really bad, both sides refuse to forgive the other. Each spouse absolutely convinced of their being in the “right” and seek only to “prove” to their point to everyone around.

With humility and some perspective, I am suggesting to each of these polarized camps….the truth might actually be smack-dab-in-the- middle. That each of us has a significant part to play in this social tragedy.

rivercitychicago.com

rivercitychicago.com

As Christians… God calls us to lead the way in reconciliation, in forgiveness and in patience with our fellow broken and imperfect man.

Living in Ferguson MO this is nearly impossible to hope for, and God’s grace will need to flow like a literal river for this mess to be resolved. But what about the ‘rest’ of us?

Are we gonna keep sparking it up or give this over to our God in prayer ?

Guys…If we don’t let God in on this stuff, we’re missing out on another fantastic opportunity to show supernatural love to a broken and bitter world.

I believe Prayer is where the things that matter the most can be changed… the state of the  human heart.

Parents, your kids are watching and listening… be thoughtful in your words, just in your action and compassionate in your opinions, it’s the only way we can go forward with our Faith intact. 

Pastor B.

Polite but Deadly

As Christians we have a unique culture of being “polite”.

Ever courteous, careful and considerate, we strive to be tactful and often it seems, we avoid at all costs the discussions or considerations that might be uncomfortable. So we take a very safe but selfish path… we avoid stuff. We cling to our politeness in an effort to justify our shame and shove more of our messed up world under the rug, hoping someone- someday will come along and  fix things.

Polite for sure… but deadly just the same.  

I believe truth matters. Phil_Robertson_Duck_Dynasty-618x400

Living in a PC world, it’s easy to shrink back from defending or proclaiming truth… especially if it’s unpopular.

Living in a Duck Dynasty world, it’s even easier to justify our decision to try to just fit in and be quiet. It makes a whole lotta sense to be careful in what we say, and avoid being mistaken as a hateful bigot or a right-wing  fanatic. Both a serious risk if we dare to speak out and let our Christian values be heard.

But herein lies the problem. The truth of Christ really is offensive. 

If we as “followers” of Jesus Christ are going to have a voice in our culture and our communities, we must move into more uncomfortable territory. We will need to take a stand on the essentials of our faith and quit apologizing for our biblical beliefs.

That doesn’t justify being a jerk or self-righteous idiot, moving past politeness… we need to claim some  “middle” ground culturally. To learn how to authentically act like the people of faith we are, without compromise and without intolerance of others.

The zealous Christians of past generations may have seriously over-emphasized the “truth” part of Christ’s gospel, and way under-stated the “Love” part… leading to a “gospel-shy whiplash effect” for modern believers to try to shake off, but that doesn’t mean we have to repeat their mistakes. church

What if we could live from a heart of genuine love and respect for others, treating them with kindness regardless of their agreement with our beliefs ?

What if that love “compelled” us to share the ridiculous truth of Christ with those who truly needed to know, without picking a political party to defend?  

Ask God to show you when and where to take some personal risks with this. When he nudges you… obey and see what happens. The truth spoken in gentleness and love has a huge influence on those who only see Christians as either fake or fruitcake.

This is especially true of our kids…

Pastor B.

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18 For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written,

“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
    and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”

20 Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. 22 For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, 24 but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

1 Corinthians 1:18-26 (ESV) Biblegateway.com – source

The truth about intimacy…

I believe everyone wants emotional intimacy. Ladies are always reading – watching or asking about it. Guys seem to avoid it at all costs…but deep down it’s what we all want, and fear.

As parents, we need to remember it’s what our kids want too.

GETTY Images - source

GETTY Images – source

But emotional intimacy is a slow process, you can’t rush through or fake it. Intimacy takes time and lots of risk. I wanted to describe intimacy, to try to define it… looked at several definitions but this was the best one I could discover. freedictionary.com says intimate means;

1. Marked by close acquaintance, association, or familiarity.
2. Relating to or indicative of one’s deepest nature: intimate prayers.
3. Essential; innermost: the intimate structure of matter
To truly get close you have to be close, in proximity. Nearby. – obvious I know, but for parents, this can be a huge challenge. Our days are way full – overflowing with demands, duties and deadlines. We have to carve out – protect our personal time and invest it wisely. Spending time in the same room, looking at and sharing a meaningful conversation is a MUST for any relationship to become intimate.
To relate with someone, to begin to grasp what makes them “tick” is a huge part of becoming intimately familiar. That takes some life experience to grow. In Christian terms… this means suffering through the hard times together. It means watching and learning and appreciating the good and bad traits of our spouses, kids and friends. It’s in the suffering we get to see the “real” stuff come to the surface. We see what drives someone – what scares them and what makes them mad.

datinggod.org

datinggod.org

The essential part of someone is their “heart“. Not the beating muscle that moves our blood from the lungs to our cells and back, but the metaphysical part of us that contains our desires, dreams and despair. The passion and ethos of life, stretching from the highest of highs to the darkest low. Knowing someone’s heart is at the center of understanding them. Of beginning to predict their reactions to life extremes. From the saddest moments to euphoric joy, when we know a person’s heart, we can accurately judge what they will do next.
Our kids need us to know them and be known by them. They want to trust and to love and to always be honest with us… it’s our “reactions” that drive us apart. As our kids age and grow, they form opinions and ideas. Often those are contrary to our own and in moments of discovery and desperation, we parents often blow up or vent so intensely as to train our fledgling adult children to never-ever tell us the “whole” truth again. Not a good thing, and something I am too often guilty of.
We can get so caught up in being a ‘good’ parent, that we forget the goal isn’t to clone our kids…but to prepare them to live their lives well. To teach them to trust and turn to God when things get out of control. Part of that modeling process is to let our kids in. To see our hearts, to feel our pain and to share in our joy.
It’s a risk to trust them with our fears and failures, but in the end… it’s only in being intimate that we can connect the dots from our faith to our families. Paul describes his intimate relationship with God this way in Philippians 1:28-29 (Message Bible) “There’s far more to this life than trusting in Christ. There’s also suffering for him. And the suffering is as much a gift as the trusting.”
Suffering always leads to deeper intimacy. So the next time life throws you a tragic curve ball… look at it as a another step deeper into an intimate understanding of yourself, your family and your God. A beautiful truth for hard times.
Peace out, Pastor. B.