The Humility and Sacrifice Love Requires

Hello, my friends, I hope this finds you well in these crazy times in which we are living. I am sure you are well aware that there so many things to stoke anxiety and fear within us. Like a chain reaction, fear fuels anger, anger ignites hatred, and hatred results in a lot of disunity, destruction, and unhappiness. All one has to do is turn on any news program or social media to find a myriad of reasons to be afraid, angry, and even hateful. In fact, there are certain individuals, groups, and organizations whose ambition is to propagate these in various forms.

Recently I began reading the Gospel of Matthew again. I have been stuck re-reading and reflecting on the teachings found in the Sermon on the Mount (chapters 5-7 and Luke 6). These teachings are not about what one is to strive to become, but what one will increasingly become as he or she surrenders to Christ and His teachings. Yet I admit, I posted on Facebook, “I’ve grown a lot, but the Beatitudes remind me I still have a lot of growing to do.” See, the Beatitudes are the seeds that must begin sprouting before the rest of the Lord’s teachings can become fruitful in one’s life. Have you read the Beatitudes lately? Blessed are:

  • the poor in spirit (spiritually destitute and acknowledge such)
  • those who mourn (for their own sinful wretchedness)
  • the meek (humility + gentleness + self-restraint [e.g., not reacting in anger, etc.])
  • those who hunger and thirst for God’s righteousness
  • the merciful 
  • the pure in heart
  • the peacemakers 
  • those persecuted for Christ’s sake

Meekness, God’s righteousness, mercy, purity of heart, peacemaking, and persecution without retaliation are made possible through humility and the sacrifice of one’s own agendas and sense of entitlements; and these become possible through genuine love. Many of us like to think of ourselves as these incredibly loving individuals, but how many of us handle it well when our spouses, family members, or friends humiliate or upset us, let alone strangers or foes? How well do many of us handle other drivers? Yet, check out what Jesus teaches:

But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you…. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. ~ Luke 6:27-28, 35

Did you catch these? Love your enemies; do good to them; bless them; pray for them—all without expectation. Our adversaries might not ever change, but we are called to still do good, extending goodness. Now, this does not mean to ignore justice. For example, if a man murderers or violates another, love does not turn a blind eye for the sake of “forgiveness.” This is not love. But love does not delight in cruelty, torture, and for its foes to die a thousand deaths and suffer the flames of hell. These are the traits of hatred. Love, on the other hand, desires redemption, restoration, and reconciliation.

Our society talks a lot about love and justice, but these go hand in hand. Yet, are you seeing the difficulties? Love is both patient and kind, and it delights in the truth; it is neither envious nor resentful; it does not demand its own way (see 1 Cor. 13:4-8). Do you and I see these being lived out in society? 

Love must begin with humility. When going back to the Beatitudes, the poor in spirit recognizes he is no better than anyone else, and he knows he, too, is in need of mercy. The one who mourns grieves over his own sins rather than simply hark on others about theirs. The meek refrain from retaliation, even though their blood might be boiling. Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness desire what is right, and they know that man’s anger does not produce the righteousness of God (see James 1:20). Love extends mercy rather than seek to distribute retribution. The pure in heart does not view others as objects or pawns, nor does he pursue his own agendas at others’ expense. The peacemaker is willing to extend a hand instead of a fist, to let bygones be bygones and try to find a way to live in peace without compromising principles.

A practical description of love is shared by the apostle Paul:

Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. ~ Romans 12:9-21

“I’m not going to show them honor!”  “I’m not going to pray for them!” “I’m not going to live in harmony with them!” “Eye for an eye, baby!” If this is our attitude, then why bother talking about love or justice?

A passage that is often taken out of context is when Jesus says, “Judge not, that you be not judged.” Jesus is not saying to never make judgments, but rather cautions us as to how we judge. Jesus tells us to get the board out of our own eye before we try to get the chip out of another’s eye. Is this not one of our major problems today? We want to demand people to get the leaves out of their pools while ignoring the sewage and toxicity in our own? Only as we begin dealing with our own will we gain compassion and proper perspective in helping others. Indeed, we must make judgements, wrongs and evils will always be wrong and evil. But we must begin with dealing with the wrongs and evils creeping in our own hearts, and only them can we properly judge others with mercy. Jesus says, “and with the measure you use it will be measured to you” (Matt. 7:2).

You and I can talk about love all we want, as well as our devotion to Christ, but only to the extent we are willing to humble ourselves and surrender our rights and agendas do we really mean business. Contrary to popular belief, love is not for sissies. Genuine love is difficult, painful, and costly. Love is easy to talk about, but not easily demonstrated and lived out.

We Are Not Enemies

Pause. Breathe. Listen.

The past year or two have been tough for nearly everyone. There is a lot of frustration, fear, distrust, and uncertainty with legitimate reasons persons feel these. As a result, there is a lot of anger and criticism, but a lack of love, compassion, and understanding. As I’ve come to realize recently, I am not guiltless of these. I’ve posted my share of venting of anger and criticism. Yet, each day I meet or pass people who wear masks and those who don’t; some have been vaccinated while some have not yet done so or refuse to. Many are black, white, brown, etc. Many ha e differing views than me. None of us are enemies in the real sense of the word. Most have no ill-will toward one another. In fact, most have families they love and desire to protect and provide for. Most are just wanting to survive this craziness that surrounds us. 

If you’re reading this, know that you are not alone. Each of us, to some measure, are feeling frustrated, scared, suspicious, and uncertain. We are not enemies, but we need to pause, breathe, and listen to one another. Our feelings have not arisen for no reason. But instead of listening to the talking heads on tv or the blabbering voices on the radio, May we see each other as we are—persons living in chaotic times. May we find that grace can help us to have one another’s backs, eyes to see past the exterior, shoulders for each other to lean and cry on, hands to help each other up, ears to listen to the concerns, arms to hug and hold onto one another, to help each other as we can, and words to instill courage, hope, and comfort to one another.

We are not enemies. We are but persons living in difficult times. May we love one another. Together we can get through this, by His grace.

Be of good courage.

Love deeply (even those who have different views).

Help others, knowing they’re wrestling through all this mess too.

And remember that we are not enemies. Blessings to you, my friends.

Genuine love is not for sissies, for it requires self-discipline, commitment, and sacrifice. Even the weakest of fools can scream hatred or pull a trigger. Love, on the other hand, requires incredible strength.

But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you…. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? ~ Matthew 5:44, 46

To Love Like Jesus Does

Jesus was not delusional about human nature. He did not view people as “basically good” but made bad by society. The Scriptures tell us,

But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man. ~ John 2:24-25

Elsewhere, Jesus states plainly,

The world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify about it that its works are evil. ~ John 7:7

Nevertheless, Jesus has a profound love for people. Mind you, He does not love the sinfulness (the selfish, self-indulgent, God-defiant part of us). Yet, He loves and values the actual person of individuals. Consider just a few instances. 

When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. ~ Matthew 9:36

Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.” ~ John 8:10-11

After a night of betrayal, abandonment, mockery, torture, scourging, and then after being nailed to a cross for several more hours of excruciating pain and asphyxiation, only to lift the following prayer for his tormentors:

“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” ~ Luke 23:34

Humanity, being created in the image of God, is not completely void of compassion, kindness, or sacrifice. While the news continually blasts us with humanity’s depravity, we still hear stories of its reflections of the image of whom it bears: a youth helping a senior up some stairs; citizens surrounding a police officer to protect him during a riot; or a person rushing into a burning building to rescue another.

The love with which Jesus loves, however, is of such an unattainable caliber that we are unable to possess and distribute it apart from abiding in the very Source of such love. In fact, many of those who profess to belong to God do not have such love for others. Mind you, I do not profess that I possess this love, so rich and pure. 

Our world will continue to sing and write about love, but will always fall short of genuine love’s grandeur. The highest and purest form of love (Gk. agape) is defined in the Bible:

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. ~ 1 Corinthians 13:4-7

The only way to genuinely display this selfless and sacrificial love is to be connected to the Source of this love (Christ) and continually being filled with His Holy Spirit.

Indeed, to err is human, and we know this all too well. But to love like Jesus does is truly a work of the Divine within. I admit, I am not there yet. Perhaps you are not either. May we draw close and abide in Christ because of our own obvious deficiencies, but our world is in serious need of the purest love that He provides.

I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. ~ John 15:1-5

Revive Us, O Lord

You might be familiar with the word to an old hymn:

Revive us again;
Fill each heart with Thy love.
May each soul be rekindled
With fire from above.
~ from “Revive Us Again” by William P. Mackay 

Whatever happened to the words “revive” and “revival”? These used to be spoken of more, even prayed for, in churches but have somehow fallen on the wayside. This is tragic, since we are in such desperate need of revival.

Imagine, for a moment, a cruise ship. On board are people involved in various activities. Some are working, some are in meetings concerning itinerary, and others are running to the next fun activity. Many are content with a sense of safety and security. However, look over the rails and there are literally multitudes drowning in the waters. Is this not unthinkable that those on the ship would not have a sense of urgency to help as many as they could?

I am not trying to be critical nor am I saying fun, rest, and relaxation are wrong. However, are not many churches like this ship and its passengers? We have our meetings and planners set for coming events, but often there lacks any real sense of urgency. Oh sure, we want our churches to grow numerically, but does it always have to do with “souls being saved”? While we might say, “Yes!” But does this include those who are quite different than us? The “sinners” and outcasts for whom Jesus also died? Shame on us when the gospel is more for “people like us.” Lord God, have mercy on us for our Pharisaical hypocrisies!

Our church events, like any secular entertainment, are fleeting. The persons (i.e., souls) around us are eternal. How can our hearts not be burdened for the perishing? Oh, that God would revive us again!

We’re Going to Heaven (but So Many Won’t Go)

We’re going to Heaven—O glorious day!
But still there’s so many who are lost on the way.
Will our hearts have compassion, will we be saddened so—
That we’re going to Heaven, but so many won’t go?

We’re going to Heaven, but so many to hell;
My brothers and sisters we have Great News to tell—
That on an ol’ Cross Jesus died for our sins,
Opening Heaven so that all may go in.

We’re going to Heaven, but are family and friends?
Will they know Jesus when they come to the end?
Oh, do they know how much God loves them so?
We’re going to Heaven, but will they, too, go?

We’re going to Heaven—O glorious day!
But still there’s so many who are lost on the way.
Praise God, Jesus saves! Let the redeemed say so—
We’re going to Heaven … but so many won’t go.
~ Geno Pyse

Understanding a Loved One Battling Depression

Depression. It is not simply sadness (“What do you have to be sad about?” one naively asks), nor is it a hurdle or a mesmerization (“Get over it!” “Just snap out of it!”). Furthermore, depression is not a single element stemming from a single cause. Rather, it often consists of multiple factors weaving from numerous sources.

Depression can stem from painful events, grief/loss, anger, guilt, shame, loneliness, failure, disappointment, anxiety, fear, stress, chemical imbalance, or a number of other things—sometimes built up over time. Often it is a combination of these things creating the perfect internal storm. Thus, to state aforementioned comments to a person struggling with depression is not only naive, it is also callous—inflicting further injury onto someone who is already hurting.

Depression varies from person to person, and is on a sliding scale from mild to severe. It can feel as a gray sky, a swamp, a pit, or an abyss. It can feel as a light mist to a raging hurricane. It can range from a feeling of sadness to utter despair.

Perhaps you are living with a person who suffers from depression. Admittedly, such a person can be difficult to be around. For sure, he is not the life of a party; indeed, she can be a “Debbie Downer.” But please be patient and sympathetic with such persons. As much as you might not enjoy being around them, he or she does not like feeling the way they feel either. Mind you, this does not mean to tolerate outbursts of anger, but it does mean more is going on inside of a depressed person than what you see externally.

To you, their depression might seem inconceivable. Overall, their world and reality might appear good (and, indeed, might very well be); however, their hurts, fears, feelings of failure and shame are just as real. What you say to them might be true and logical, but the lies and accusations rambling through their minds seem just as true and logical.  Inside of them storms are brewing, as thoughts and feelings mingle together, forming internal tornadoes. Bombarding his mind are accusations of his failures, highlights of every blemish and flaw, screaming echoes of regrets, and any number of lies that will make her feel unloved, unwanted, worthless, and ever increasingly isolated.

In addition to all the bewilderment (for the person who is depressed, as well as their family and friends) is when thoughts of suicide begin aiding feelings of despair. Some, who have never tasted the bitter waters from the well of despair, will accuse those struggling with suicidal thoughts as being self-centered—thinking only of themselves. Before I address such accusations, let me say this first: Thank God if you have never experienced such darkness, such aloneness, such despair! Such lofty condescending judgments reveal an ignorance, because persons speak with such certainty concerning matters they know nothing about. Like a person wanting physical pain to be taken away, persons struggling with suicidal thoughts simply desire an end to the internal anguish that can seem perpetual.

“Well, they’re not even thinking about the effects such an action will have on their family and friends!” someone will snidely say. This, by and large, is not true. Within the depressed person’s thoughts, as distorted as they might be, he truly believes he is doing his family a favor. She truly believes she will not be missed, as though the world would be a better place without her.

Please understand, I am certainly not advocating suicide or saying it is a legitimate action. One of the great aims for my blogging is to extend some hope to persons who might have otherwise lost it—to hopefully steer them away from taking their precious lives! Yet, I also want to help those who have a loved one struggling with depression to validate the deep anguish their loved one is feeling—without preaching, lecturing, criticizing, or judging them.

I have shared in previous posts about my own struggles with depression, and I plan to share more aspects of it in posts to come, as well of things that help. I wish I could say that I am now completely free of all depression, but this would not be honest. What I can say is what I experienced when my depression was at its darkest (at least, what I have experienced to this point), I would not wish upon anyone. I hope to share more in the near future about the darkness and confusion, the “diabolical logic,” and the despair that I felt. Suffice to say, for now, is I felt extremely abandoned, and that my family would be better off without me.

I admit, I still question at times what difference would it make if I were not here? Genuine, close friends are scarce. I know God loves me, but I  question that He actually delights in me (I have my reasons). I bear within me a broken, wounded, battered, and perplexed heart. U2 says it well: “And in our world a heart of darkness, a firezone where poets speak their hearts, then bleed for it.” [1] While I can pour my heart out, you could not truly understand—unless you have experienced this too. My point is this, my depression did not just happen one day. I did not just decide one day to not enjoy life. There have been constant chips and wounds spanning many years. I have been lied to, betrayed, rejected, and forsaken by some I had trusted. There are reasons for my withdrawing, skepticism, and pessimism.

I am not saying the attitudes, thinking, or responses of the persons who are battling depression are good or right. What I am saying is there are reasons—even legitimate ones—for these. The depressed person is feeling a deep inner pain—one they cannot simply go to to the doctor, take a pill, and have the infection go away in a week or two. No, it is far deeper, and much more complex, than this.

People tend to feel uncomfortable around the depressed. To be fair, it can be like walking around on eggshells. No doubt, depressed persons have a tendency to push others away—this serves more as a defense/protective mechanism. The irony of it all is this is when the depressed one needs others more than ever.

The person struggling with depression does not need you to preach to, lecture, criticize, or judge them. What they need is for you to be there, and to validate (this does not mean you have to agree with) their feelings.

In the book of Job, we read:

Now when Job’s three friends heard of all this evil that had come upon him, they came each from his own place, Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite. They made an appointment together to come to show him sympathy and comfort him. And when they saw him from a distance, they did not recognize him. And they raised their voices and wept, and they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads toward heaven. And they sat with him on the ground seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his suffering was very great. ~ Job 2:11-13 (ESV)

Job’s friends were of great comfort to him for a week—and then they started opening their mouths, thinking they were qualified pastors, psychologists, and theologians. After this Job finally bellows, “I have heard many such things; miserable comforters are you all” (16:2).

Sometimes your love can speak volumes when you simply validate your loved one’s feelings, are present, and say nothing at all—until he or she is ready to talk.

Notes:

[1] U2 (words by Bono), “One Tree Hill,” from the album The Joshua Tree, 1987.

The Willow Tree

The Willow Tree

“Why does the willow weep?”
A child asks.
The question is ignored,
As he and his mother
Pass by the willow tree.
And but for a mere speck
Of time,
The willow rejoices,
In that someone took
The time to care.

Although I wrote this poem a number of years ago, the message remains the same. Those who are hurting (grief, depression, anxiety, loneliness, etc.) do not need anyone to fix or lecture them, but
to listen and genuinely care. They need to know they are loved and have a sense of belonging, because they probably already feel like an island detached from the mainland.

A Deeply Broken Heart Can Lead to the Development of Deeper Compassion

Cash was our “three legged bandit” we adopted from the local animal shelter. When we got him he still had stitches where a back leg had been amputated. He had recently been rescued from his previous owners who paid no attention to his injured, useless, infected leg.

Regardless of any hardships he had gone through, there was not much he was afraid of. In fact, he brought a sense of security to our other rescue, Jolie. While they had their share of scuffles, there was a bond between them. Jolie felt safe with him, even enough to go outside to potty and play when it was thundering and lightning!

Cash had a bark that would make others afraid or uncomfortable, but he was actually a big ol’ cuddle bug. He always made his rounds, some nights going to our son’s room to be with him, some nights cuddling next to me on the couch, then some nights cuddling next to his favorite person, his mama. I am certain inside that doggie brain of his he thought my wife was his girl and not mine. Whenever she and I would hug or smooch, Cash would run up, “Woof! Woof! Woof! Woof!” with his tail a-wagging, as he would shove himself in between us, as if to say, “This is my girl, bucko!”

Make no mistake, he could be a pain in the butt, but I loved that crazy dog. Far more than I realized. He often made me laugh. I was convinced he had watched a lot of romance movies, because he would look a person in the eyes, hold the gaze, and slowly draw near to give doggie kisses.

We had him for about two years when something dreadful happened, and we had to make the heart wrenching decision to put him down. The day arrived when we would take him to the vet. On the way there we stopped by Burger King and got him a couple of sandwiches. When we arrived at the clinic he was all excited. To him, he thought he was going to simply get a thermometer put in his rear, a shot, a bunch of treats, then go home. Just as plenty of times before. Little did he realize the very one he trusted most was bringing him to his death.

He was so excited they had to give him a tranquilizer to calm him down.  My family and I loved on him while we still could. Soon the tranquilizer began kicking in, so the vet began euthanasia. Cash began shaking and I knew he was afraid. I got in front of him as he laid there. As I petted him, I told him, “It’s okay, buddy, it’s okay.” There was a tear coming down from his eye. He was being betrayed by the very one who loved him so much. I just kept petting him and speaking to him as he slipped away.

I never had my heart break in such a manner. For the next several months I would have periods of crying, as I missed Cash terribly. I was very angry about this situation. “Was it not bad enough to have my heart ripped out by those I sought to minister to?” I cried out to the Lord. “Why did this have to happen? He still had a lot of puppy in him!” The whole situation was unfair, and I held onto some resentment for quite some time, I confess.

There were those who did not understand. To them, Cash was “just a dog.” But to me he was so much more. It was not important they did not understand; however, my heart was broken into a thousand pieces. Ah, but this was a lesson in compassion to be learned. There are those around me and afar who suffer loss; some of these losses might appear trivial, but are devastating to them, nevertheless. I do not need to understand, I simply need to empathize. As their heart breaks, I am to remember the anguish of my own heart breaking. I might not understand why they are taking a loss so badly, but their pain is very real and far from being trivial.

The strange thing about compassion and empathy is that we must experience suffering and heartache if we would have these qualities developed in our lives. Pain and heartache hurt. Sometimes to the very core of our being. While we do not always understand, these do serve a greater purpose, a greater good, although we often wonder how any good can come out of pain.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. ~ 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 (ESV)

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. ~ Romans 8:28