Love May Get You Hated

I’ve been considering the subject of love recently. In particular, how one can honestly show love to an individual who is participating in destructive and/or self-destructive behavior without giving the impression that the behavior is being condoned. Our society’s imbecilic idea of love would have one smiling and blowing kisses to people as they drive themselves over a cliff. That, of course, is not love, but rather, a cowardly act of self-preservation that wishes to avoid the unpleasantries of upsetting someone. That is not what I was looking for.

I remember being a little child and believing that, at times, my mother didn’t love me because she refused to condone my foolish behavior. How could she hate me so much as to suggest that what I wanted to do was wrong? It was, of course, an infantile outlook on love. As one matures, however, one begins to recognize that love is far grander than simply hugging people as they stubbornly head off into harm’s way. Being a parent myself, I now recognize the emotional sacrifice my mother made as she bore the brunt of my anger so she could truly love me.

Love is a powerful gift, but the reception of love is truly a fickle thing. There are times when someone we love is inviting catastrophe into their life and one cannot simply show up with a Hallmark card and a bouquet of roses. Yet, showing up with shackles and a baseball bat, intending to beat sense into the person is too far onto the other end of the scale. How does one show love to an individual who is living in a self-imposed cataclysm?

I was looking for more than a simple cliché quip set to the background of sunlit skies and majestic mountains. I needed something real, something practical, and above all, something Scriptural. As I pointed out in my last blog post, God is love. Therefore, if I want to learn how to love, even in the most difficult of circumstances, I need to go to Him and not search for some empty spiritual fluff.

If anyone in history has ever displayed love in the type of scenario my thoughts were centered upon, it was, without question or equal, the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus loved others perfectly, and it was not always the way our society would respond to well. The Lord showed tender mercy where it was needed, but He also condemned sin unashamedly. And lest we think that He only had strong words for the “religious” lot, let us remember that the woman whom He rescued from a justifiable stoning under the Law, was also told by Him, “Go and sin no more.” (John 8:11) We should not suppose that His final words to her were said with a sweet smile; more like a sobering look of, “Do not squander the mercy shown to you this day. I love you, but you need to stop this wrong behavior.”

One of the most notable things about the love that Jesus showed to everyone, was how often it got Him hated. Not everyone loved His love. In fact, the Lord clearly points this out in John 7:7 when He said, “The world cannot hate you, but it hates Me because I testify of it that its works are evil.” Jesus was well aware that if He wanted to show true love to all, He would have to deal with the hatred such love could generate – similar to what my dear mother prepared herself to endure when she denied her young son carte blanche on every impulse.

You see, real love is not based in thoughts of, “What kind of return will get out of this?” or “How will this make me feel?” Real love is anchored in truth; not the arbitrary relative truth that our society wishes to embrace, but absolute truth. The truth that there is right and wrong and that wrong actions bring about bad consequences. Truth that can be expressed with compassion, but may bring a stinging backlash against a person nonetheless.

Real love will sacrifice and take the pain. It will not attempt to avoid the pain by pretending all is well or by refusing to clearly warn another of the danger of their choices. In fact, real love can be so painful at times, that people would much rather settle for the counterfeit version that fabricates the mirage that all is well.

Real love speaks truth, not rudely, but compassionately. Nonetheless, that truth, no matter how compassionately it is delivered, may be returned with hatred. Real love may hurt and it may even leave scars upon the person giving that love. The Lord Jesus Christ knows that all too well; His body still retains the scars of His love given to us.

There is no warm and fuzzy answer here when it comes to showing love to one who is on a path of self-destruction. If you truly wish to love them, then you had better prepare yourself for pain. If you are not willing to endure that pain, then simply smile and say nothing… but stop pretending that you love the person. If Jesus “loved” like that, we’d all be hell-bound with no hope.

If you are facing this type of difficult situation today, my prayers go with you. Be strong, be truthful, love like Jesus does, and don’t be shy about shedding some tears in your coffee. Bring your pain before the Lord in prayer as you endure the hatred you may receive for your love, and He who shed His blood for you will see you through.

Until next time, may your coffee and contemplations be rich and fulfilling.

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I Want to Know What Love Is

Perhaps, like me, you remember your mother acquiring a pack of silly cards for you to pass out to your grade school class for the Valentine’s season. Or maybe you remember your junior high or high school promoting a carnation fund raiser whereby one could purchase carnations for fellow students that they liked. I recall those years, going through the hallways with my hands empty as others carried full bouquets of white, pink, and even red carnations that they had received. I always hated that season. However, I’m not looking for pity for the past, because I am very happily married now. I would much rather experience living love now each day, than having only memories of carnations to hold on to. (Keep that in mind if you are a teenager now.)

Valentine’s Day is one of those holidays that can provoke a wide range of expressions. For some, it is a day to publicly celebrate the love of their life (or the current love of their life). For others, Valentine’s Day is a day to publicly express feelings of bitterness and jealousy over not having a current love of their life. And still for others, the holiday is nothing but a mechanical obligation that must be observed in order to keep the peace.

In short, the Valentine’s celebration is an entire holiday surrounding the idea of love… or at least some version of it. The thing is, do we really know what love is? There are many people who talk about love these days, but have little problem directing hatred towards those with whom they disagree. These people often act as though they are an authority on love and yet fall far short of love’s genuine display. We should really contemplate how such fickle creatures as humans could possibly hold the corner market on love.

Perhaps the most arrogant display of love-expertise that is touted is when a society who ignores God, for the most part, then declares what God means by commanding us to love. I recently saw a comic online depicting Jesus speaking with some preachers. The caption read, “The difference between Me and you is you use Scripture to determine what love means and I use love to determine what Scripture means.” The statement is actually true. The flaw in the comic was its application as some sort of rebuke towards the preachers or Christians in general.

God is love; that’s what 1 John 4:8 tells us. He is love. God doesn’t just know love, He is the actual personification of love. Therefore, God’s word is spoken from the One who is love. However, we are not love nor do we fully comprehend love, so we need to read and study His word to properly determine what love really is. If we try to use our skewed understanding of love to determine what the Scripture is saying about love, we end up perverting love into some sort of abomination of man-made design. We must look to God to properly apply love, not take our version of love and apply it to God.

Human beings will mask all kinds of things under our perversion of perfect love, which is personified in the nature of God. Adultery is often excused as love (and indeed, an adulterous couple may have actually fallen in love), but adultery is still a sin. Feelings of love don’t sanctify the sin and make it pure before God. And such are many things which we try to cleanse by applying the label of love, but they are based on our version of love and not God who is love.

Truly, there are many things that human beings love which God despises. “But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away!” (2 Timothy 3:1-5, italics mine)

If one considers the way that a child perceives love, we begin to gain a picture of how we pervert love. A child often views love as being given permission to do whatever they wish. Nearly every child throughout history has at one point believed that their parents hated them simply because they were denied license to act on their impulses. Of course, parents understand that real love sometimes mean saying no. Unfortunately, though we mature, we do not always lose that warped concept of love; we only transfer it to God. Therefore, if God says no or if God’s word declares some action we love to be a sin, we throw a temper tantrum (albeit a mature, adult temper tantrum) and basically declare that God’s word is promoting hatred. Once we feel like that, there are only two options; reject God’s word or “reinterpret” His word to make it say something else (i.e., using our version of love to interpret Scripture).

There is much more that can be said, but I shall end with the following thought: If you really want to know what love is, study God, study the Life of Jesus Christ – and study without a preconceived idea about love. You will find that love is merciful and kind. You will find that love treats the least with as much value as the greatest. You will also discover that love rebukes and corrects and has a definite standard of absolutes. Love, you will find, is also not a feeling, but it is often an act of one’s will that at times actually defies our feelings. Above all, you will discover that love will honor God and His high and holy standard. True love will never compromise that for the ever-changing standards of men.

Now, allow me to encourage you to go out and treat someone you love to a cup of coffee… or maybe someone who could use some love today. Happy Valentine’s season!

Until next time, may your coffee and contemplations be rich and fulfilling.

Snowed In

It happens on multiple occasions over the winter season here in Pennsylvania. The weather reports an impending snow storm and a mad rush to the grocery store ensues. Shelves are cleared of all kinds of items, but especially milk, eggs, and bread. Personally, I think the first staple that needs to be stocked up on is coffee. Enjoying a good hot cup of coffee while watching it snow is one of life’s simple pleasures.

This scenario is played out in many other northern states as well over the winter months. The rather funny part about all of this is that, with today’s infrastructure, it is highly unlikely that one will be snowed-in for days on end. Even when I lived in a very rural area for a number of years, most roads were cleared within twenty-four hours of a snow storm. Yet, the mere mention of snow has people preparing to be buried for days and setting up supplies in their homes like some sort of apocalyptic bunker to endure Snowmageddon.

However, with roads being cleared and things being back to normal typically within a day’s time (not to mention the often inaccurate weather forecasting), one wonders what the reason is for all of the panic. I’m going to make a suggestion. Listen and see if this resonates with you. I believe, for many people, it’s not really panic people are experiencing, but instead, it is hope.

I believe many people are not as much experiencing fear of being snowed in as they may be of hoping they are snowed in. Why? Because our society runs at such a high pace and we are constantly trying to cram more tasks into our schedule that we want something to cause a shut-down so that we can stop. We are desperately looking for a break and we need something to make that happen. We require a reason to be confined to our homes and our pajamas with nothing but snacks and Netflix to be concerned with.

All week, every week, we run and run and run. Our jobs demand time and overtime with little consideration that we work in order to live, not live in order to work. After work, however, kids must be shuttled to several different extracurricular activities all the while doing their hours of homework during the car ride (because we are also training them to become busy little bees like us). Of course, there are also tasks that must be done at home and to the lawn and the volunteer work and so on and so on. We’ve become so busy that we now praise the ability to multitask thinking that doing several things at once is somehow better than concentrating on one thing at a time and doing it well.

The fact remains, however, that we were not made to run at this pace and though we wear our busy schedules like some sort of badge of honor as we attempt to declare ourselves more busy than our peers, we really don’t enjoy it. We need a break. We want something to stop the cycle and give us a respite for a day or two. Hence our hope in an impending snow storm. We internally smile at the idea of not being able to leave the house for work or take the kids somewhere. We imagine a day of sweatpants and movies to watch or books to read while wrapped up in a blanket with a large cup of coffee. The best part of this daydream is that it all comes to us guilt free because we cannot go anywhere. We’re snowed in!

The simple fact is that we need to rest and reset, and we need to do it more often than once or twice a year. This is how we were designed. Therefore, when the Lord formed the nation of Israel, He gave them a command requiring rest. Exodus 20:8-10 reads, “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord your God. In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates.”

God scheduled a weekly day of rest for His people. It was a day to be made holy to God and a day to rest from one’s labors without feeling guilty about getting nothing accomplished. Of course, over time the command was twisted into something to create strife so that a man could not even walk a certain distance without breaking the Sabbath. Today there are those who demand the Sabbath can only be on Saturday (as it is the seventh day of the week) instead of Sunday when early Christians started observing it marking the day of the Lord’s resurrection. But as Jesus plainly told His critics, “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:27)

Now, we do not live in a society that observes a Sabbath. Our culture is all about filling the schedule. Yet, even disciples of Christ don’t really observe a Sabbath any longer. Many cannot seem to keep a regular week day, like Sunday, holy unto the Lord. Church gets pushed out for other things on the schedule and even if church is worked in, there are often tasks and appointments and events to be attended right after the last amen. The Sabbath is rarely holy and it is rarely a day of rest.

If you are a disciple of Jesus Christ living in a culture that observes no Sabbath, you are going to have to be the one who makes that happen in your family. Society is not going to do it for you like ancient Israel’s society did. You have to choose to hollow the day, make worship important, and then create a day of rest from all the typical tasks and activities of the week. That will certainly come at a price, but if you do it correctly and consistently, you may not have to hope for a snow storm to provide it for you. With all of our busyness, we need a day each week to reflect back upon God and then to rest from the demands of our schedule. Just think about that for a bit.

Until next time, may your coffee, your contemplations, and your Sabbaths be rich and fulfilling.