Saturday, March 14, 2009

Let's Talk

“Come now, let us reason together,” says the LORD.

                        Isaiah 1.18

God’s Breakthrough

Promises and precursors of Christ’s sacrifice thread through the Old Testament, from Genesis to Malachi. In Isaiah, though, they weave together into the Bible’s most dazzling prophetic tapestry. Stepping back from its arresting imagery reveals its central theme: God’s redemptive masterpiece is unlike anything the world’s seen or He’s done. “See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?” He whispers in Isaiah 43.19. Indisputably, this is His breakthrough work—nothing after it can be the same. We’re eager to know what inspired His achievement, what went into His process, and how He began. Answers hide in plain sight throughout Isaiah, starting in very first chapter.

A Fresh Pattern

Rather than destroying the lackluster results He got using us as His medium of expression—as He intended to do with the Flood—God unravels everything He’s done thus far to correct warps caused by our stubborn disregard. Isaiah 1.2 and 3 quotes Him saying, “I reared children and brought them up, but they have rebelled against me. The ox knows his master, the donkey his owner’s manger, but Israel does not know, my people do not understand.” From there, He and Isaiah alternate in seething frustration over our unwillingness to yield to God’s intentions. Regardless how often He revises His approach to accommodate our weaknesses, we still manage to distort His original vision,

After the Eden follies stripped us of divine health and provision, God smoothed that wrinkle as our Healer and Provider. Though He refused to turn from us, Isaiah 1.4 charges we turned on Him. For that we suffered from head to toe and lost everything God gave us. Once more, He ironed things out with a slate of demands to strengthen our fiber. But we got strung out on appearances. We perverted obedient worship into a “God’s Top Model” competition. “Stop bringing me meaningless offerings!” He rages in verse 13. “I cannot bear your evil assemblies.” He orders us off the catwalk and back to basics in verse 17. “Learn to do right! Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow.” Listen closely and you’ll hear God sigh between verses 17 and 18. Three attempts and, still, He’s displeased. Instead of throwing us away, He throws out His previous template based on our pliability for a fresh pattern shaped to fit His love.

True Colors

As an exasperated sculptor talks to her clay, God says to us, “OK, let’s talk. Let’s be reasonable about this. What I wanted to do with you, you won’t do. So I’m starting over with a new pattern and emphasis that requires changing the color scheme. I’m removing the stains of guilt to restore your true colors of innocence. ‘Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.’”

Each of us is a critical thread in God’s tapestry, tied directly to His Self-portrait of love and acceptance through Jesus. His new pattern corrects everything that distorts His original vision: our sin, self-righteousness, and neglect. All He asks is we be reasonable and submit to His cleansing. In Psalm 51.7, David prays, “Wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.” That’s our only legitimate response when God says, “Let’s talk.” Hearing that, He changes our lives and weaves them into His breakthrough masterpiece of redemption.

God cleanses us to weave us into His masterpiece of redemption.

(Tomorrow: The Lord’s Day)

Friday, March 13, 2009

A Thousand Generations

He is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations who love him and keep his commands.

                        Deuteronomy 7.9

Descent in Decadence

Yesterday Bernie Madoff pleaded guilty to defrauding thousands of investors—many of them friends and colleagues—of millions of dollars. Last weekend, Walt and I watched W., Oliver Stone’s surprisingly sympathetic portrait of our last President as a witless and unwittingly naked emperor subjected to global disgrace by his deceitful administration. For over a month, Web sites and tabloids have breathlessly followed the fallout of a domestic violence case involving two pop music stars barely out of their teens. Must I go on listing widely chronicled incidents of infidelity, treachery, abuse of power, and other examples of craven behavior mesmerizing the masses? I can, you know.

What makes faithfulness so hard for us? Why does its failure excite us? I once thought we lapped up stories of high-flying betrayal as a kind of reverse condescension that viewed such outlandish treachery as beneath us. Now, I’m convinced we’re all, to some degree, impacted by the trickle-down of greed, immorality, and presumed impunity behind scandals we relish. Still, we can’t get enough. I pray God’s help, because it’s clear we’ve learned to believe—nay, celebrate—the worst in us, to devote undue interest to unfaithful villains when we should press one another for faithfulness in all things. In Romans 1.25, we find a similar descent into decadence befalling people of its day: “They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator.” We’ve accepted lies of human treachery as universal truth and lost all sight of the One who made us, Who is, always was, and will always be faithful and true.

Back Where We Started

Belief in unfaithfulness so tightly grips our world that even as believers, we’re sometimes riddled with doubt and cynicism about God’s promise to remain faithful to us. When prayers aren’t immediately answered or clarity isn’t available on demand, our first impulse is assuming God’s vanished for parts unknown, like a con artist running off with our life’s savings or a lousy husband who steps out to buy cigarettes and never returns. That’s how we do. Abandonment, dishonesty, infidelity, and every other abuse we associate with unfaithfulness don’t exist in God. They can’t exist in Him, because He’s perfect.

Furthermore, nothing shakes God’s commitment to love us. He’s impervious to time and human progress. And that alone is why He’s faithful. In Malachi 3.6, He tells Israel: “I the LORD do not change. So you, O descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed.”  His promises to Israel’s ancestors remained in effect long after they left this life. But He finishes His statement with a bold explanation of why it feels like He’s left the scene: “Ever since the time of your forefathers you have turned away from my decrees and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you.” (v7) And here we are, back where we started—with our unfaithfulness, doubt, suspicions, and insistence on expecting God to think and act like us, instead of raising our minds and motives to think and act like Him.

God’s Covenant

Deuteronomy 7.9 reminds us God pledged His love to a thousand generations, a poetic way of saying His love, mercy, and acceptance bear no expiration date. God’s covenant to ancient Israel is no less applicable to us in our time. The love He displayed for dozens and dozens of Bible personalities is equally available to us. He is the faithful God. We have to know that, no matter how ridiculously unfaithful the world we live in becomes. Psalm 40.10 says, “I speak of your faithfulness.” Sometimes when it feels like we’re reaching for a God Who isn’t there, we need to talk to ourselves and express our confidence in Him to others by faith. We need to show the faithfulness and trust we’re seeking from Him.

2 Thessalonians 3.3 says, “The Lord is faithful, and he will strengthen and protect you.” The first letter to the Thessalonians nears its conclusion with, “May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it.” And 1 Corinthians 10.13 (a personal favorite) says, “No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear.” These and numerous other promises of God’s faithfulness invariably depict acts of love—strength, protection, mercy, etc. His faithfulness is a fact, not a feeling, just like His love. Yet while love is a gift, faithfulness springs from mutual trust. Hence, Deuteronomy tacks a condition on its declaration of God’s faithful, timeless love, reserving it for “those who love him and keep his commands.” Given the eternal reliability of God’s love covenant, living in a time and culture reeling drunkenly with unfaithfulness, returning our love and obedience at most are paltry demands.

We've become so mesmerized by our unfaithfulness we've lost sight of our faithful God.

(Tomorrow: Let's Talk)

Thursday, March 12, 2009

What Shall We Say?

What shall we say then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase?

                        Romans 6.1 

Abusing Grace

Acceptance is not indulgence, and forgiveness is not permission. We’ve mentioned this before in terms of accepting and forgiving people who wrong us. Because we accept those who sin against us doesn’t mean we’re obliged to endure rampant abuse. We accept them and yet reject what they do. The same holds for forgiveness. It doesn’t include blanket approval for future harms. Sadly, many will repeatedly exploit our acceptance and forgiveness, leaving us no choice but continuing to accept and forgive. We do this because our Father accepts and forgives us no matter how often we sin and take advantage of His unconditional love. Knowing how it feels when others ride roughshod over our love, we should be very cautious about doing the same with God’s love for us.

That’s the key take-away from Romans 6.1. In the previous chapter, Paul eloquently lays out God’s strategy to reconcile us to Him. He explains Christ’s primary objective was replacing arcane Mosaic mandates with a New Order based on grace. Out went our failure and in came His forgiveness. While God’s standards didn’t change, Christ radically reversed the emphasis from means (earning God’s mercy) to ends (receiving it). Here’s Romans 5.20: “The law was added so that the trespass might increase.” In other words, the more it asked of us, the more we failed. “But where sin increased, grace increased all the more.” After Calvary, there’s more than enough grace to go around; no sinner at his/her worse can max out God’s love and forgiveness.

This raises an interesting question, though, which Paul addresses head-on at the top of chapter 6. Does unlimited grace license us to sin repeatedly? If more sin means more grace, might continuing to sin arguably be a good thing? When does relying on grace end and abusing grace begin? By the time Paul gets to the bottom of this, we see how we treat God’s grace works exactly as how others treat ours. God’s acceptance doesn’t imply indulging behaviors that displease Him, nor does His forgiveness grant permission to persist in wrongdoing.

Spiritual Psychos

“What shall we say?” Paul asks. “Keep sinning so grace keeps increasing?” Absolutely not, he immediately answers. “We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?” (Romans 6.2) There’s something slightly creepy about this that reminds me of Hitchcock’s Psycho. Hitch leads us to believe Norman Bates is the Mama’s Boy of a homicidal maniac. When things go awry at the Bates Motel, Norman blames his mother and begs his customers’ forgiveness. And then comes the stunning twist (spoiler alert): Mama’s been dead for years, but Norman’s kept her alive in his head, acting on delusional compulsions to destroy anyone challenging his devotion to her. Psycho ends with one of the most chilling moments in film history. Norman has completely surrendered his personality to his mother’s. He’s beyond help because it’s he, not Mama, who no longer exists.

When we die to sin, sin’s lure and power are dead to us. Yet if we keep sinning—because we don’t think we can live without it or we love it too much to let it go—we risk becoming spiritual psychos. Sin captivates our imaginations, urging us to act on delusional fear, insecurity, and protectiveness. Over and over, we mess up and beg God’s pardon, weakly blaming what we’ve done on unavoidable circumstances. Yes, God forgives us. He’ll forgive us every time we ask. But what’s the point if we submit to sin’s domination of us again and again? How long will the cycle continue until it spins out of control and, like Norman, we cease to exist so sin can survive? These are grim prospects, yet they can’t be ignored. Habitual sin places us in the only position known to man where God’s grace yields diminishing returns—not because there’s less of it, but because continual sin reduces our desire for it.

Dying to Live

We come to Jesus because we’re dying to live. Our existence so far has yielded little. Purpose and fulfillment elude us. All we know of life is not enough to sustain us. We can’t shake the sense there’s a better way and, once we hear God’s voice, we recognize it leads where our hearts long to go. Dying to live becomes more than an expression—it’s our new reality. Christ’s offer supersedes life improvement. He specializes in life replacement. Paul uses baptism to describe this: “We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.” (Romans 6.4) He makes a similar point in Galatians 2.20: “I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” We’ve been given a choice between two options whose contrast is so stark to make the right decision a no-brainer. Would we rather die to sin to gain new life, or do we abuse God’s grace to keep sin alive? What shall we say?

Do we die to sin to gain new life? Or do we keep sinning until it captivates our minds and we become spiritual equivalents of Norman Bates--controlled by a dead, and deadly, force?

(Tomorrow: A Thousand Generations)

Wednesday, March 11, 2009


Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the desert.

                        Luke 4.1

How Do You Feel?

The tradition I grew up in didn’t observe Lent—not in the seasonal sense, that is. One could say we practiced Lent year-‘round, just like we celebrated Christmas, Easter, and Pentecost every day. We were taught to devote ourselves to prayer and fasting always; to rejoice daily in the miracle of Christ’s birth, life, death, and resurrection; to seek the Holy Spirit’s guidance and power in everything we do. This by no means suggests Christians who set aside times of year to focus on specific aspects of their faith believe and live with any less day-to-day fervor. In fact, most of us here follow the ecclesiastical calendar and our collective comments, blogs, and testimonies ring with joy in walking daily, closely with Christ. I draw the distinction only to say not until my partner and I found a home in a welcoming congregation that observed Lent did I really understand and fully appreciate its importance.

Prior to that, all I knew was from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday some Christians sacrificed a thing they enjoyed, a subset of whom abstained from meat on Fridays to remember the crucifixion. Oh, but I get it now. I marvel at the beauty of millions of believers walking into the wilderness en masse. I’m awed by the faith that surges when Catholics, Protestants, and Orthodox Greeks and Russians kneel penitently as one before our Maker. And I’m mystified by the deeply personal impact of joining brothers and sisters from every corner of the planet in self-denial and prayer for God’s mercy. There’s a spiritual that asks, “How did you feel when you came through the wilderness? Were you leaning on the Lord?” To my mind, leaning on the Lord as a people is what Lent teaches. So, two weeks into this most sacred season, how do you feel? Are you leaning on the Lord?

The Middle of Nowhere

Lent reminds us God maps our lives across desolate passages to strip us of arrogance, delusions of self-sufficiency, and useless desires. We’re led to the middle of nowhere to reawaken our awareness that whatever we accomplish and accumulate depends on God. Grandiose success fantasies evaporate in the wilderness, where surviving one day to the next constitutes triumph. Popularity and status have no value out there. The desert is an unforgiving place where we live with our thoughts and keen to hear God’s voice. Isolation from the clamor of materialism and self-gratification opens our eyes to how silly and unprofitable much of what we pursue can be. The wilderness teaches getting what we want is pointless if we ignore what we need. It humbles us, restores clarity of purpose, and purifies us of frivolous vanities.

Here’s the truth of it: family, friends, and fellow believers will only travel into the desert with us until its demands and discomfort turn them around. As they fall away, loneliness looms and panic sets in, stirring accusations of unconcern and disloyalty. It takes time to realize this is our wilderness to cross. Its centerpiece is the point of abandonment where no one’s left but God and our only option is leaning on Him. Realizing He’s all we have and everything we need reorients our purpose from surviving the wilderness to leaving it.

Irregular Topography

We commonly view our lives as natural landscapes. But the metaphor doesn’t always fit since life’s irregular topography is seldom seen in nature. For example, many wilderness experiences immediately follow thrilling peaks of feeling we’re on top of the world. We see this often in Jesus’s life. After starting His ministry abroad, He returns with great fanfare to preach in Nazareth only to be run out of town. Similarly, He enters Jerusalem on waves of wide—some think scandalous—acclaim; within days, He leaves the city for a hill where He’s sentenced Him to die.

We might attribute such stark turnabouts to fickle human nature if it weren’t for the first time we see this happen. Jesus’s baptism by John has just ended with a supernatural display. God has audibly confirmed Jesus as His Son and the Holy Spirit has visibly lighted on Him to signify His divine anointing. This occurs in Luke 3. Turning the page, He’s immediately led into the wilderness—this time not by an unfaithful crowd, but by the Spirit. Luke 4.1 says Jesus is full of the Holy Spirit. It's the Spirit within Him leading Christ to to master physical drives, silence doubt with solitude, stare down temptation, and learn to lean wholly on God’s direction and mercy. Lent’s 40-day fast emulates Jesus’s wilderness example, but its significance isn’t calendar-based. It starts and ends with the Holy Spirit’s presence in us. Regarding Lent as an annual observance diminishes its power and obscures its purpose. Lent isn’t following tradition. It's learning to lean. It’s being led.

We're led into the wilderness to learn to lean solely, wholly on God.

(Tomorrow: What Shall We Say?)

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Spiritually Minded

To be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace.

                        Romans 8.6 (KJV) 

The Lost Connection

The etymology of “carnality” traces back to the Latin root, caro, or “flesh.” That’s what we understand carnality to mean—indulgence in desires of the flesh or submission to its needs. A number of well-known words, good and bad, descend from caro: caress, carnage, carnation, carnival, carnivorous, incarnate, and charnel. So where did caro come from?. Going one step further to investigate its origin, we encounter a weird leap. Caro derives from the Greek verb keirein, “to cut.” This makes no sense. If anything, association of flesh with cutting gives us shivers.

In Paul’s time, however, when many were bilingual in Latin and Greek, the older word added unique resonance to its stepchild much like someone fluent in English and German gets how zaftig, Yiddish slang for “plump,” relates to saftig, which means “juicy” in Munich. The lost connection between caro and keirein is restored when we hear Paul say, “To be carnally minded is death.” This isn’t a clumsy ploy to coerce Roman readers to shape up or face eternal damnation. (Such a cheap scare tactic doesn’t jibe with his theology of hope and grace, anyway.) Yielding to carnal drives is deadly right now. “They that are in the flesh cannot please God,” Paul contends. (Romans 8.8) Carnality cuts us off from God. It short-circuits His power in us and severs ties to Him. Now the caro-keirein connection makes a world of sense.

On the Upside

As he so often does, Paul hurriedly balances his negative point with its polar opposite. What he least wants to do is cloud the Romans’ minds with defeatism and fear. That’s old-school legalism, and after his bitter history as an “our-way-or-else” Pharisee, Paul despises nothing more than fear-clad compliance. His message consistently witnesses his personal testimony—“I’m free!” Listen to his lead sentence in Romans 8: “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.” I know this for myself, he says, and you should know it, too.

Paul habitually prefaces the gospel of freedom with the law of sin and death to divorce following Christ from keeping laws. Legalism focuses entirely on failures of the flesh. Thus, it’s carnal and can’t work because its tireless attempts to legislate behavior inevitably result in defeat. Sooner than we realize, conforming to standards replaces pleasing God. We fly so fast down the slippery slope we’re scared to death and fraught with anxiety. “Now let’s look on the upside” is basically what the semicolon in Romans 8.6 means. “To be spiritually minded is life and peace.”

Transformed to Transcend

To understand Paul’s definition of “spiritually minded,” we flip a few pages ahead to Romans 12.2, which says, “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” To be spiritually minded requires disavowing all thoughts rooted in flesh. And to Paul, governing our flesh to please others and indulging it to please ourselves are one and the same. Neither pleases God because both cut us off from Him by closing our minds to His will.

Spiritually minded believers stay open. They believe in change. They move when and where His Spirit leads, knowing they’re free to do so. Harnessing themselves to hard and fast rules impedes their responsiveness to fresh inspiration and opportunities God provides. They don’t pretend to know exactly what He expects or what He’s up to, but they learn to accept the unprecedented and anticipate the unusual. The spiritual mind renews itself to accommodate renewed thinking. It tests every thought for God’s pleasure, rejecting notions that place pleasing others or ourselves above Him. As a result, it routinely shouts “Yes!” when carnally minded believers shout “No way!” Spiritually minded people aren’t transformed to conform but transformed to transcend, to rise above fleshly conceits to realms of faith, where they find life and peace. In this light, Lent becomes less about what we should and shouldn’t do than how we should and shouldn’t think.

When carnally minded Christians shout "No way," spiritually minded believers shout, "Yes!"

(Tomorrow: Led)

Monday, March 9, 2009

The Guilt Offering

It was the LORD’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the LORD makes his life a guilt offering, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the LORD will prosper in his hand.

                        Isaiah 53.10

Symptom Mirrors

Family therapists can often pinpoint one person who “acts out” every conflict disrupting a household. Usually, they’re children born after the troubled dynamics are well established. They may be emotional wrecks, plagued by insecurity, anger, and antisocial tendencies, yet as this is all they know, they come by their undesirable behavior innocently. For example, a Kindergartener who expresses displeasure through physical violence may think nothing of it since Daddy beats up Mommy when she makes him mad. On the flip side, the child may sob and tremble when scolded by the teacher because that’s how Brother responds after either parent unleashes a torrent of profanity if he misbehaves. While psychologists typically treat this condition as early onset of post-traumatic stress disorder, they sometimes refer to these patients as “symptom mirrors,” relying on them to reflect dysfunction other family members refuse to disclose.

Isaiah 53’s uncanny prophecy of the Passion tracks Jesus from His birth as a “tender root” growing “out of dry ground” to His sacrifice and resurrection. Speaking in the past tense, the prophet notes Jesus as an unremarkable boy with “no beauty or majesty to attract us to him [and] nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.” Once His godly nature emerged as an adult, “He was despised and rejected, and we esteemed him not.” So hostile a reaction sounds odd; one expects those who knew Jesus as a boy to delight in seeing Him come into His own. Isaiah explains the discrepancy: “He took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted.” It’s a classic mirror-symptom case study. Born into a sorely conflicted world, Jesus absorbed and reflected its dysfunction through His precisely accurate filter of innocence. He exemplified God’s perfection while mirroring our failures. And we despised Him more for exposing our sins than we revered Him for revealing God’s love.

A Closer Look

Having been consistently taught that Jesus bore “the sins of the world” on Calvary, it’s easy to objectify His sacrifice as something bigger than you or I. Even the worst sinner’s transgressions go undetected when mingled with all of humanity’s offenses over thousands of years. Yet I wonder if we’re subconsciously drawn to the enormity of the entire burden to distract us from our contributions to its weight. A closer look at the cross stands us before a mirror to stare back at ourselves and recognize we’re really the ones hanging there. Once again, it’s easier to say and believe Christ died for us, when He actually died as us. The Hebrews writer stressed this distinction by saying Jesus became us (Hebrews 7.26; KJV) to complete the three roles needed to perform the final sacrifice for all sin. Simultaneously, He was God, the high priest who interceded on behalf of every sinner, and every sinner. He became us. Although the horror of His disfigurement alone is too gruesome to imagine, thousands of people have died equally horrendous deaths. Not until we personalize the cross and see all of our ugliness exposed can we comprehend why no death in human history remotely approaches the extremes of Christ’s suffering.

The Last Stop

Discovering our reflection on the cross adds immeasurable meaning to Paul’s statement in Galatians 2.20: “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” Isaiah’s case study reaches a similar conclusion, observing Jesus became our symptom mirror in compliance to God’s plan to crush him and cause him to suffer and make him a guilt offering. Yet unlike ordinary symptom mirrors, whose innocence often defeats their ability to shake their distorted concept of permissible behavior, Christ’s inherent innocence was the crucial factor in God’s plan. Jesus triumphed in spite of carrying our sin, not because He carried it. The beauty and majesty no one noticed during His youth now radiated in full splendor, shattering the mirror once and for all.

After Calvary, when we look at ourselves, we see Jesus. The ravages of sin and its poisonous aura of guilt disappear. We no longer live, but Christ lives in us. Crossing Lent’s wilderness gives us vitally needed time to search ourselves for any recurrent urges to relapse into our former lives of sin. Our journey leads to the cross, giving us the chance to look at who we were. But always remember Calvary is the last stop prior to reaching our final destination—one last look in the mirror before stepping into new life.

Looking closely at the cross, we discover reflections of our former selves. 

(Tomorrow: Spiritually Minded)

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Love's Foothold

After you have done everything… stand.

                        Ephesians 6.13

Note: Today’s planned post was Deadly Lies, a continuation of previous Lent-related reflections about repentance and purification. Based on the Acts 5 account of two believers who tried to hide the truth from God and lost their lives, I hoped to encourage us to be completely honest with Him. In the last 24 hours, however, several off-line discussions with readers currently dealing with a variety of relationship issues remind me as we pass through this season of penitence, life goes on. While we seek God’s mercy and forgiveness, we must also remain grounded in His principles of love for one another.

Shaky Ground

Loving is hard work. The urge to love comes easily. It’s in us because God is in us and He is love. Yet love loses its urgency the moment we start loving. If love is to survive—let alone, succeed—we must fill urgency’s vacuum with the will to love. In other words, love ceases as a feeling we crave to become a fact we prove. Simple though this sounds, it’s not, because genuine love tasks us with great challenges: patience, forgiveness, understanding, self-sacrifice, discipline, and so on. Commitment between two people—as lovers, family, friends, or fellow believers—isn’t secure until each commits to love’s demands. Could we foresee what loving will require on a case-by-case basis, commitment to love would amount to an informed decision. But love must establish itself as a fact long before all other facts emerge and remain constant while we constantly change. Our relationships evolve as we evolve. Thankfully, most of the time their parallel growth stabilizes both. When they fall out of synch, however—when we grow quicker than the relationship or one another—we land on shaky ground. It’s here that love’s factual endurance serves its purpose.

All That Remains

Along with faith and hope, love abides, 1 Corinthians 13.13 tell us, singling out love as the greatest among the three. There will be times when unforeseen or unavoidable changes topple every expectation built into a relationship. In the tumult, we lose grip on faith and hope hides under debris. Our immediate impulse is salvaging as much as possible. The enormity of the job and shock of having treasured notions suddenly wrenched away overwhelm us. Our teetering world throws us off balance. Unsure what to do, we do all we can to little or no avail. We have two options. We can sink in despair, listening to confusion in our heads. Or we can hear God’s voice calling from Ephesians 6.13: “After you have done everything, stand.” Where can we stand? We’re surrounded with wreckage. How can we stand? Everything feels off kilter. What can we stand on? Nothing seems strong enough to support us. Then, surveying the damage again, we discover love is all that remains. It held fast through the crisis. It provides a foothold to stand securely. It restores our stability, our faith, and our hope.

Now What?

Standing securely on love commits us to Christ’s principle of loving others as ourselves. It forces us to consider what’s happening from their side of the conflict and opens our understanding of external factors or influences beyond our control. Commitment to love is not a panacea for wounded relationships; it’s our key to acceptance. Sometimes differences in our growth and the relationship’s progress—or the other’s growth—run too deep to be reconciled. Closing the gap is a temporary fix at best. We accept this to prevent future harm to those we love and us. Sometimes we’re at fault. Love enables us to accept responsibility for our actions and correct future behavior. If fault lies with the other, love expects us to accept his/her shortcomings and forgive. Lastly, when we share fault for the relationship’s instability, which is most often the case, love drives us to accept our portion of the effort to rekindle the passion and recalibrate the balance that once existed between us.

1 John 4.7 reads, “Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.” This applies across the board to everyone—life partners, family, friends, neighbors, colleagues, fellow believers, strangers, and enemies. We are our Father’s children and knowing how He loves, we love like Him. We’ve also learned from Him that offering all the love we have, as Jesus did in life and death, doesn’t guarantee it will be appreciated and returned by those we love. Still, we love unconditionally, from afar if need be, because love is what we do. In 1 Corinthians 15.58, Paul writes, “Stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.” Loving is hard work. But it’s God’s work. We stand firmly, confident love’s foothold will secure and sustain us no matter how rocky our relationships get. Loving may leave us shaken at times. Yet if we stand on love, we’ll never be stirred.

After we do everything we can with our relationships, we stand firmly only love.

(Tomorrow: The Guilt Offering)

Postscript: Friends We Love

I want to mention two terrific people whom I’ve grown to love during time we’ve shared here and at their blogs. I’m adding them to the blog roll in hopes that those who don’t know them yet will drop by and make their acquaintance. They’re great friends to have.

If you click through the comments, you’ve probably already met Vikki. She’s been a regular here for quite some time and consistently brightened Straight-Friendly with her warmth, honesty, and inimitable—always hilarious—sense of humor. These virtues spill over from her blog, Knikked, which features “ramblings and observations from the frigid land of ‘the Big Wild Life!’” She means Alaska, but there’s not a cold spot to be found at Knikked.

Incoherent Babble is the work of Jake, a smart, witty, and sincere friend. He blogs mostly for people he already knows, yet his posts reveal a young person of integrity and joy. There’s always something enjoyable in what he says, and his soul-searching candor at times is simply amazing.