“We love because he first loved us…”
1 John 4:19
A friend just told me a story about a guy who insulted him in public – cussed him out while he was stopped at a traffic light. My friend was probably in the wrong and probably had cut the guy off. Instead of apologizing, he pretended to be someone he wasn’t and wound up intimidating the guy with deceit.
Our eyes, ears, interpretations, and feelings can easily deceive us. When we respond only to them, we stand in the seat of Jonah the Prophet. Jonah was clearly a passive-aggressive exploder – the kind of person you and I probably find impossible to love. When confronted verbally, he often responded non-verbally with avoidance. When confronted more severely, he cranks up the pity-party music and deflects with suicidal ideation. “Throw me overboard… I’m the reason everything is miserable and I’d rather die than carry out my assignment.”
This deep seated self focus makes it impossible for us to love or be loved – giving love is a selfless act and receiving love demands humility or it quickly devolves into a gift giving contest where one party tries to “pay back” the love. That’s not love at all… it’s false humility.
Cristine and I had one of the most extravagant dates ever on Saturday night at a restaurant we’d never have eaten at were it not for the gift card that got us there. We felt like the Beverly Hillbillies as the valet parked our Toyota minivan between a 4 door Porsche and a $100K+ Mercedes. We were so wrapped up in the extravagance that we almost missed the meaning:
Christ loves us extravagantly. Not because of what we have done, but because we are His. So much so, that one day He will sing over us with rejoicing – see Zeph. 3:17. It’s unconditional love and while the meal we had was outrageously delicious and refined, it’s nothing compared to what we’ll taste in heaven.
I shared my friend’s story with her as we ate, not knowing what we were in store for later. We drove to a nearby outdoor mall for a walk under the stars in the unseasonably warm evening. Pulling into the parking lot, a pedestrian raged at me:
“Hey, d!c#! Don’t you know how to F&$ing stop?!”
Wounded heart? I mean, who would publicly spout that much venom if they weren’t deeply wounded, and likely lost, separate from the love of Christ?
Thank God for my friend’s story. I could have pulled a Jonah and yelled back at the guy to protect my honor… Yet, like Jonah, I knew I was in the wrong and God was far more concerned with the soul of that man than with my dented pride or Jonah’s comfort (see Jonah 4:9-11).
Wish I could say I got out of the van, humbled myself before the guy, shared the gospel and brought him to salvation in Christ… But, that just wasn’t on the agenda. He was too busy staring the van down all the way to when I parked and aiming one, singular finger at my face as he walked to his destination.
What’s important is that God got through to me –
“Don’t get so caught up with the glitz and comfort of the things that are here today and gone the next… let your heart be broken for those who are far from me and far from each other. Don’t get so caught up in what others do to “not” deserve love that you forget to love them like I loved you when you were dead in your sin. That guy was created in my image and I love him, too. I will sing over him with rejoicing someday. The world has taught you well to love those who love you and are kind to you. But, I am the Lord and I challenge you to love them, bless them, pray for them even when they curse you (twice in the same breath).”
I can love a God who would pick me up out of the mud I made and stuck myself in. In His honor, how can I not love a few people who throw mud at me?
Love without expectation of anything but cursing in return. If you get better than that, it is a blessing. If not, you will be blessed at the judgment seat as one who overcomes.
Give ’em heaven.
It’s Not What You Think… Or, Is It?
Is God “seeker friendly”? Depends on what the seeker seeks, right? “You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all of your heart. (Jer. 29:13)” In that case, sure. Those who seek Him will clearly find Him. Rock on. Seeker friendly God.
That in mind, one of the hardest things to see in the mirror is the face of the false seeker – that is, self seeking behavior. The hardest to be honest with ourselves about is that which we think we’ve done selfishly but have really done out of service to self.
For example – I try to be a thoughtful gift giver. I like to give people things that are useful and that they want. Maybe you can relate? Who wants to give someone a shirt that’s two sizes too big, not the receiver’s favorite color, and give it two days late? No, most of us want to be thoughtful givers, too. Nobody wants to be “that guy“. We want to do something for someone, but we really have our own gain on the same dashboard!
Isn’t that the sneakiest bait-and-switch?! Isn’t self deception the most annoying form of deception?! “What a wretch am I?!”
Somewhere in the well of motivations from which impulses take root and grow into actions is a pure desire. But, the bait and switch happens when the pure desire is contaminated by the selfish desire, e.g., the desire to be perceived as thoughtful, to avoid being perceived as unthoughtful, or both. Being alert to the scam is crucial in escaping its sticky reach.
Try this: next holiday or birthday, measure your internal response when the receiver reacts to the revealed gift. How do you feel when they’re not 100% overjoyed at what you’ve given them? How do you feel when they’re utterly thrilled, surprised, and compliment your choice and timing? God will make you keenly aware of what bait and switch has gone on in your heart. So, what do you do with that? Who can cure the heart, which is wicked and beyond cure?! Glad you asked.
We live in a world that is broken and refuses to be healed, in imperfect, flawed bodies, with new hearts that know our old, familiar behaviors, yet are being renewed constantly against eternal opposition from an enemy who hates us and our Creator. That same creator will judge and reward everything we do that was done with a God seeking motive. But, then, have we simply traded one selfish motive for another? Am I giving to someone because I want something from God rather than from them? Only by the Spirit can our true motivation be revealed freeing us to give out of worship to God rather than out of selfish motive.
Twenty Seconds of Pain and Stretching
So, today, and everyday moving forward, will you join me in a potentially painful exercise of faith? Will you sit face to face with the mirror – God’s word – and stare into it around 1 Cor. 13.4-8? Will you read each line and pause in silence for 15 seconds after asking the Lord – “where am I falling short in this verse?” – especially at v. 5: “self-seeking”? I can promise you, if you have never heard from the Lord, this is a place where God (who is already omnipresent) “shows up”. The first time you do it, you will hear truth that is potentially painful to hear. You will be stretched in your faith and trust. But, the payoff of the exercise is somewhat self-serving: you will be grown in the area of dependence on the Lord for His motive. This is God seeking behavior. Pray that it springs out of a God seeking heart.
Picture This: We, He, and Thee
If you are a “we” who has placed your full faith solely in the atoning sacrifice of Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, then “we” serve a God who has a will for us. Obedience to and abiding dependence on Him. We believe He communicates His will through His word and His indwelling Spirit, given to us when we place our faith in Christ. We also believe we are both simultaneously free from condemnation by Him and subject to conviction of our wrongdoing so that we may repent and be transformed by the renewing of our minds and to be conformed to His Son’s servant-like image. Can you imagine what it would be like if we were in unity of that spirit?
Will you join us? Be a we, serving He instead of “thee”.