Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Do Everything In Love

Do you remember that old Far Side cartoon where a guy was scolding his dog? The cartoon had two identical frames, the first of which had the caption “What we say to dogs” and the man’s ‘word balloon’ said, "Okay, Ginger! I've had it! You stay out of the garbage! Understand, Ginger? Stay out of the garbage, or else!?" The second frame had the caption “What they hear” with the ‘word balloon’ saying, "Blah blah GINGER blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah GINGER blah blah blah blah blah."
Now I’ve gotta admit that I love dogs. And I’ve had some great dogs over the years - some that were real smart and some . . . not so much. But despite how much we love our dogs and want to ascribe to them human traits, Gary Larson’s depiction is pretty accurate.
Surely dogs may pick up on and understand a few basic words (‘fetch,’ ‘food,’ ‘no,’ ‘stay,’ etc.). But, for the most part, they respond to the tone of our voice and how they’ve been rewarded for responding a particular way before. And in Mr. Larson’s cartoon, Ginger could certainly tell she was being scolded by the tone in her master’s voice and by his actions – even if she couldn’t understand the words.
That brings me to two very important passages in the Bible that tell me about how we are to conduct ourselves in this world. The first one speaks to the human version of that Far Side cartoon:
If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels,
but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong
or a clanging cymbal. If I had the gift of prophecy,
and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and
possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith
that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others,
I would be nothing. If I gave everything I have to the poor
and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it;
but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing.

1 Corinthians 13:1-3, NLT
In that passage, Paul is telling us that no matter how impressive we think we are in what we are doing for ‘the kingdom,’ if we aren’t doing it in love, what others see and hear is, “blah, blah, blah, blah, . . .”
The second passage turns up the heat and tells us that it’s not just those ‘church projects’ and ‘spiritual gifts’ that are to be done in love. 1 Corinthians 16:14 says, “Everything you do should be done in love.” (NET, emphasis added.) And that little Greek word (panta) translated as ‘everything’ means (coincidentally): Everything!
That means that when you pulled over to help that lady with the flat tire because you felt obligated since someone helped you last week – ‘blah, blah, blah, blah.’
That means that when you gave $100 to the listener-supported Christian radio station so they’d shut up and get back to playing the music – ‘blah, blah, blah, blah.’
That encouragement you gave through clinched teeth, that smile which hid your anger, that mission trip you took to pad your resume, that donation that got your name listed in the program – ‘blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.’
Like in Ginger’s doggie world, our world can’t hear anything we’re saying if not said in a tone of love. And actions without love are hollow, ignored, and forgotten.
I don’t think I like that very much. I’d rather be able to do ‘stuff’ without regard to my attitude, my motivations, my emotions, my desires.
But it doesn’t work that way.
God is concerned with heart transformation, not behavior modification. And lost people out in the world don’t care what we know until they know that we care.
Sure, it’s easy to apply these passages to criticize some street corner evangelist who is preaching AT people rather than ministering to them. But we’re not talking about ‘other’ people or just ‘full time’ pastors. No – those passages apply to each one of us and it’s pretty hard to get around that little word, “everything”:“Everything you do should be done in love.”
At work, at home, in the car, at church, on the golf course, at the restaurant, on vacation, at the podium, in the hot seat, behind closed doors, face-to-face, on the telephone, in cyberspace, on the field, in the stands, when someone’s watching, when we’re all alone – “Everything you do should be done in love.”
That’s a tough row to hoe.
But it can be done. It has been done. In fact, Jesus did it perfectly for 33 years. So - He can probably help you and me to work on that.
Are you ready to try it for just one day? (And then maybe another day after that?)

Focus on your attitudes and motivations today. Try with all His might to do everything you do in love.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Growing Up - Baby Steps

They say that big jobs are made much easier by taking ‘baby steps.’ Rather than trying to do the whole thing at one time, doing a little at a time is supposed to make a difficult job easier.
But sometimes that just means spreading out the pain.
We recently took a very painful ‘baby step.’ One in a long line of painful steps.
Let me explain.
The primary purpose of being a parent is to prepare our children for life without us. There are lots of other ways to phrase it, but that’s what it all boils down to – training them to leave and make it on their own.
So last Sunday, we deposited our nine-year old daughter at a Christian camp to spend the next week. Sure, she has spent the night at a friend’s house, spent the weekend at her grandparents’, etc. But to leave her for an entire week without us to tell her when to brush her teeth, when to go to bed, when to say her prayers – that was a first. It was another ‘baby step’ in her growing up (and away).
It hurt.
She’s learning to live without us. But, like I said before, that’s the plan - even if it does hurt.

While I love looking to God’s model of what fatherhood is all about, this facet of parenthood is the complete opposite of our spiritual growth. Because as we mature in our faith, as we become more spiritually mature, we should be becoming more dependent upon and more needy of our Father in heaven.
There are no Bible verses I can find telling us how we grow to be independent of God. Nothing tells us how we can rely more and more on ourselves and less and less on Him. There is no revelation of how God trains us up to live without Him.
It absolutely doesn’t work that way. (See John 15:1-11 about ‘abiding’ in Him.)
Quite the contrary, spiritual maturity means understanding how utterly dependent we really are on Him. The men I know who are further along on their walk than I am spend more time every day in prayer, they have a greater understanding of how desperately they need His love and grace, they are more thankful of His kindness and providential care, and they crave His presence more and more.

If you’re feeling strong, independent, ready to make it on your own, then you’re not getting closer to God and you’re not growing spiritually. Wouldn’t you rather start growing up?
Like our children taking ‘baby steps’ as they move away from us, we move closer to God by taking baby steps, too. It’s a process. It’s a journey. Sometimes we move by large bounds; often we take almost imperceptible steps. Sometimes we don’t realize we’ve taken any steps until confronted by Him.
In one of the C.S. Lewis’ Narnia tales, Prince Caspian, an adolescent named Lucy encounters Aslan after not seeing him for a long time. (Aslan is the Christ-figure of the series.)
“Aslan, you’re bigger,” she says.
“That is because you’re older, little one,” answered he.
“Not because you are?”
“I am not. But every year you grow, you will find me bigger.”

What about you?
Are you growing away from your Father or are you growing up?
Is He becoming bigger to you? Are you needing Him more and more every day?