Reflections on the Ugliness of My Heart

Friends, as I was tying the title, I accidentally typed Uglimess. This is more fitting than I care to admit. 

Before I continue, I owe a person an apology, if by chance she reads this. In one of my recent posts, I snidely remarked this person might be a she/it. She believes we are products of evolution. As a Christian, I believe she is created in the image of God, yet how inconsistent I am to speak in such a dishonorable way. To this person, regardless of what you might think of me, I am sorry for my disrespectful words. I’ve deleted a couple of my posts simply because I know they were not written from a spirit of love.

The Bible says,

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. ~ 1 Corinthians 13:1-3

If I have not love, I am nothing

For a couple of weeks I have not felt like myself. I love writing, but I have not had joy in writing. Recently my wife pointed out the ugliness of the post I had mentioned. This irritated me initially, but I knew she was right. As I thought about her words, some words that were shared in a message at church recently, and the way I’ve been feeling lately I began thinking about other things too. When was the last time a person said, “There’s something different about you,” “I see Jesus in you,” or any thing suggesting any evidence of God’s working in my life? It’s been a while. Instead, I’m left looking at the uglimess of my own heart, not liking what I see. Without love, I am nothing.

Friend of Sinners or Doctor Among the Sick?

My friends, I hope you have been having a blessed week.

It is often said of Jesus that He was a “friend of sinners,” but what is meant by this? Does this mean Jesus had a table in a corner at a local saloon, toking on cigarettes and while guzzling down brews with the boys, and flirting with the “ladies” of the night? Did He have a big tattoo of the temple on His back or a Star of David on His arm? Is this what comes to your mind when you hear that Jesus was a “friend of sinners”? Such thinking is preposterous!

The title wasn’t necessarily a compliment. In fact, from some it was said with disgust. “He’s hanging out with them? How revolting.” Mind you, Jesus did not take this as an insult. The writer of Hebrews says of those who are sanctified by Christ, “he is not ashamed to call them brothers” (2:11).

But how did Jesus see such situations? Did He see Himself as just one of the boys, one of the homies of the gang? To those who saw themselves as morally superior to others and who were critical of the company Jesus kept, He said,

Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick … For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners. ~ Matthew 9:12-13

When one goes to a doctor’s appointment, the doctor is not there to join in on the sicknesses, nor does he treat diseases as no big deal. He recognizes that those in his care are not healthy. Likewise with the Great Physician. Although He was to be seen with the sinners, He was not there joining in on their sins, nor did He treat their sins as of no consequence. Jesus recognized those around Him were extremely sick with sin. The prescription He gives is repentance—to turn from sin and to turn to Him.

My friends, each of us is infected with this virus called sin, and its symptoms are manifested in many ways: selfishness, pride, immorality, covetousness, lying, mean and belittling words, threats, violence, idolatry, laziness, partiality, etc. This disease is lethal. In fact, the Bible tells us that we were born into this world spiritually dead. Paul tells the Christians in Ephesus,

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world. ~ Ephesians 2:1-2

But our situation is not totally hopeless. In Jesus Christ we can have life.

He said to them, “You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world. I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins.” So they said to him, “Who are you?” Jesus said to them, “Just what I have been telling you from the beginning. ~ John 8:23-25

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. ~ John 14:6

Some are turned off by Jesus’ exclusive claim. But if you were dying and a doctor said a certain pill or shot is your only chance of living, would you refuse it with such disgust? If, indeed, Jesus is the only way to Heaven (who else is like Him?), then why be offended for speaking truth? My friends, He offers Himself to you. If you do not know Him as your Savior and Lord, why do you continue to reject the One who loves you most?

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

Racism is such an unfortunate term, as it implies “blacks” and “whites” are different races. We are all part of one race—the human race.

Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation. ~ Revelation 5:9

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

The Challenge

Typically, challenges and competition feed our egos. Who does not like to have points added to the “one up on you” scoreboard? So it might seem surprising to receive a challenge from the apostle Paul. In one of his letters to believers, he writes,

Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. ~ Romans 12:10

Did you catch that? Outdo one another in showing honor. “What? Are you kidding me?” some will say. But think about it, what would happen if each of us tried to outdo one another in showing honor, giving respect, displaying brotherly love? Each of us would receive honor, respect, and love. Each of us would be granted help, encouragement, patience, and the benefit of the doubt. Furthermore, if each of us tried to outdo one another showing honor, we would not have to be concerned about being cheated. It is a win-win situation where each person benefits.

I double dog dare you to outdo showing honor to others. And if you truly want to be a master, let us up the ante. The fact of the matter is we live in a world where people do not strive to outdo showing honor. Some people are outright mean. Yet Paul tells us to repay no one evil for evil, because God will deal with them in due time. But another challenge is given: “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Rom. 12:21).

Are you up for the challenge?

The Tool of the Tongue

“Sticks and stones … but words will never hurt me,” we used to say, but we know that it is not true. In fact, many are emotionally crippled from words spoken many years ago. Broken bones have healed and scarred, but the heart is still wounded and bleeding from angry words or cruel jesting spoken yesteryears. And time does not heal all wounds.

The Bible tells us,

Death and life are in the power of the tongue. ~ Proverbs 18:21

How many have been so deeply wounded, and parts of them killed, because of words? We casually speak hurtful words, dismissing the seriousness of any wounds or consequences. We justify our anger,  as we delight in another’s hurt feelings. “The idiots deserve it,” we say. We jest and make fun because it makes us, somehow, feel superior. We claim, “It was only a joke, they need to get over it!” Even though another was verbally and emotionally abused and molested; they were humiliated and shamed, pieces of them robbed and broken. Death is in the power of the tongue. So is it any wonder Jesus tells us,

You have heard that it was said to those of old, “You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.” But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, “You fool!” will be liable to the hell of fire. ~ Matthew 5:21-22

Elsewhere, Jesus says,

But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. ~ Matthew 15:18-19

Obviously, there is nothing intrinsically evil about the tongue. Like a rock, knife, machete, or nail gun, the tongue is but a tool. If used properly, it has the potential of such beneficial good. However, if misused, it can do unbelievable damage. In fact, Jesus equates abusive speech with murder, and tells us the words we speak reveal what is already filling the heart (murder, adultery, theft, etc.).

James writes of the destructive wickedness of the tongue in his short epistle:

How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire!  And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. ~ James 3:5-6

Consider all the malicious, abusive, and slanderous talk permeating and  being absorbed throughout our society and world on social media, in our schools, in political arenas, etc. This is not simply venting. Much of it truly is murderous and violent, creating such division and flames set ablaze by hell.

May God help each of us to learn to control our tongues, and to start using them for healing and mending. Have we not seen and heard enough destructive talk?

The Anatomy of Love

Our society talks a lot about love. It is portrayed in movies, sang about in songs, placed on t-shirts (eg., “I [heart] _____”), and painted on posters (e.g., “Give love a chance” “Make love, not war”). But the love of the world is, too often, romanticized and superficial. After all, many in Hollywood know nothing of devoted commitment of the characters they portray. Music celebrities are often known for their activities with groupies after the gigs. T-shirts are mere pieces of cloth, and those at protest rallies with posters crying out for love are often vessels of hatred, spewing out, “Burn in hell!” Die, you pigs!” “Damn you!” to all who disagree with their position.

The world’s version(s) of love is childish, fairy-tale make believe. The world’s version is like a marshmallow, a squishy puff of sugar. However, authentic love has substance of bone and flesh, so to speak, having an actual anatomy.

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. ~ 1 Corinthians 13:4-6

Now, let’s consider briefly the anatomy, or structure, of love:

Patient (or long-suffering) – love bears with other’s differences, quirks, and mistakes without becoming quickly annoyed or rejecting hastily.

Kind – love is gentle and benevolent.

Content – love is not competitive; it is not envious when someone else has nor does it boast when someone else does not have.

Humble – love views others with equality of worth; it does not show partiality nor is it filled with contempt for others. Love does not feel superior to others.

Selfless – love does not demand its own way but considers the needs and wants of others. 

Levelheaded / Forgiving – love does not keep tally each time another fails, demanding absolute perfection. Love does not nurse a grudge to keep such bitterness alive.

Righteous / Honest – love does not not delight in evil or harm of others, nor does it take any delight in falsehood, gossip, or slander.

When fleshed out, love has real substance. Genuine love is not for the weak. Any fool can get angry, be rude, refuse to forgive, or desire harm to another. Any fool can scream profanities and derogatory statements in the midst of a rally. And any fool can look upon another with such contempt and hatred easily enough. 

It is easy to betray a friendship when one does not get his or her own way. It is easy to curse another rather than taking the time to understand them. However, what is hard, what is extremely difficult, is having genuine benevolence for others simply because they are human beings, regardless if they are like us, or attractive to us, or even kind toward us.

Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good …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, 13-21

In the Person of Jesus Christ we have the perfect example of genuine love put into action. Jesus was kind and welcoming to the misfits and outcasts; He was gentle with people’s failures and shortcomings. While the Scriptures do show He was angry on a few occasions, it was always in connection with people’s hypocrisy, injustice, and hard-heartedness towards others; ironically, He prayed for forgiveness concerning those who persecuted and crucified Him.

Genuine love is both benevolent and sacrificial for the sake of others. For all the talk and portrayals of love in our society, do these correspond with reality? How can it when we are so busy flinging mud, refusing to see any common ground; when we have such disdain for others whose political leanings are different than ours; when the “end justifies the means” while destroying others, regardless of any deception or smoke and mirrors, as if injustice can bring about justice?

My friend, love is hard. It requires courage to lower the defenses and resolve to put off our egos. It requires humility to “turn the other cheek” and to consider the needs of others. It requires commitment to hang tight when every part of you simply wants to let go. Only as we are willing to become weak will we truly become strong.

“Hell no! That’s stupid! I’m not humbling myself for nobody!” many will say. Ah, but this is precisely why we are in the mangled, divided mess we are in today. Nevertheless, unless we are willing to humble our own selves, extend kindness, meet on some common ground, and treat others with courtesy and respect, we might as well throw away our banners and burn our placards extolling love and unity. For there is no other way these can be attained. We must study the anatomy of love and put into practice its various elements. Cursing, force, and violence will only  produce more unrest, keeping us in the mangled, bloody mess we are in. Only genuine love will lead us to a productive peace and unity we claim to desire.