Archives For Love

Wedding Cake TopperThis post is inspired by two overlapping events. The first is the approach of Valentine’s Day, when lovers are expected to show their affection through clichés (hopefully breathing new life into old traditions) and social media reflects the desire of many single people to be in relationships. The second is the progression of the Spring semester, during which college students instinctually know that the time to begin relationships is upon them.

A few years ago I wrote a six part blog series on “Why Christians Are Bad at Dating.” That’s not a fair title, of course, but I was trying to capture some of the awkward tension that comes from the Christian community’s disagreement over what dating looks like, what it should even be called, etc. I also addressed factors like the suffocating pressure we put upon young Christians to be married—soon.

In my view, many Christians have forgotten 1 Corinthians 7, in which Paul recommends singleness over marriage. Instead, single Christians don’t make it very far into their twenties without suspicious looks and comments from older (married) Christians. I also think some circles of Christianity have over-exalted forms of “dating” (whatever you want to call it) that make dating into a trial run for marriage.

I am convinced (perhaps naively) that if we do our dating right, our social lives won’t disintegrate into two-person love bubbles, our breakups won’t feel like divorces, and the single Christians in our midst won’t be treated like lepers. These are all major problems within the church. I don’t claim to have all of the answers for getting us to this point, but I’ve heard from many people over the last few years who have found the simple guidelines in that blog series helpful. So I’m summarizing and linking to those blog posts below, in the hopes that you might find them helpful as well. And for those over-achievers who want a book length treatment on the road to marriage and the accompanying dangers, I highly recommend this book: Altared: The True Story of a She, a He, and How They Both Got Too Worked Up about We.

 

Dating Series Part 1Part 1 – You Don’t Need to Get Married

Many people in the church assume that every Christian ought to be married. There’s a good chance that you believe that you ought to be married at some point (and soon!). But this mentality actually contradicts Paul’s advice in 1 Corinthians 7. Some assume that they need be married based on poor interpretations of 1 Corinthians 7:9 and Genesis 2:18… READ MORE >>>

 

Part 2 – What Do We Even Call It?Dating Series Part 2

Though every marriage (aside from arranged marriages) begins with a “getting to know you and find out if we should be married” stage, Christians disagree (sometimes passionately) about what this stage should be called. Some call it dating. Some insist on calling it courting. Others are “just hanging out.” Some will identify as boyfriend and girlfriend, others avoid these labels. All of this disagreement leads to more unnecessary confusion and awkwardness… READ MORE >>>

 

Dating Series Part 3Part 3 – The Love Cocoon

We all know those couples who are so grossly into each other that they make everyone around them feel awkward. If your dating relationship makes all of your other relationships crumble (relationships with friends, parents, God…), then your relationship has become an idol and is doomed to failure. The key is to be the kind of couple that loves each other, but also loves and acknowledges the other people God has placed in your life… READ MORE >>>

 

Dating Series Part 4Part 4 – Test-Driving Marriage

In Christian circles, we tend to encourage dating couples to become intimate in every way except for one: physical intimacy is off limits. But this creates huge problems. When a couple becomes more socially intimate, more emotionally intimate, and more spiritually intimate, we shouldn’t be surprised when the physical intimacy quickly follows. This is how we’re wired. But there are actually other major problems with treating dating like a mini trial run for marriage… READ MORE >>>

 

Dating Series Part 5Part 5 – Playing the Field

Many people think that if you’re not “out there” actively “playing the field,” you won’t get married. There is nothing wrong with going on dates, even seeking them out, but your relationships with the opposite sex cannot all be focused on evaluating their marriageability rather than getting to know people as peopleREAD MORE >>>

 

Dating Series Part 6Part 6 – Successful Dating Relationships Can End in Breakups

Most people would consider a breakup to be a failure. But when you’re dating someone, you’re really just getting to know that person better until you find out whether it would be more glorifying to God for you to get married or not to get married. Either is a helpful discovery, and in either case your relationship should be able to continue in a God-glorifying way: as husband and wife or as brother and sister in Christ… READ MORE >>>

Three Things to Be Famous For

Mark Beuving —  November 19, 2014 — 2 Comments

Each holiday season, we send a dangerous type of person out into the world: Bible College students. You may think I’m trying to be funny, but honestly, this is a dangerous group. Think about the dynamics in play here.

A student leaves his church and comes to an environment where he spends the equivalent of a full-time job learning the ins and outs of the Bible, learning how people function and how we can best help them grow and change, and learning how we should function as the church. He has learned concepts he had never considered before, he sees treasures in Scripture he could never have dreamed of, and he has necessarily formed opinions about the best way to teach and practice these things.

Bible College tip: Use the word "exegesis" in every conversation.

Bible College tip: Use the word “exegesis” in every conversation.

And then Thanksgiving and Christmas roll around, and we are careless enough to send this young man back to his home church for a time. While there, his idealism is deeply offended. He finds that his church body is not perfect. His pastor is not wringing every ounce of insight out of the biblical text. His friends and family are not using the words “kingdom” and “worldview” enough. So this dear soul spends his holidays putting his ¾ of a semester of Bible College training to work in correcting his church family.

Having seen this scenario play itself out year after year, we have taken to gathering our students just prior to the holidays and giving them the “don’t be a jerk when you go home” talk.

The reality is, we can all benefit from this talk—on a regular basis. Just like the first year Bible College student, we all suffer from misguided passions. As a Christian, you may want to gain a reputation for knowing the Bible well, for being a strong leader, being a powerful speaker, being above reproach morally, being theologically precise or profound, or some other equally noble goal. Honestly, each of these is a worthwhile pursuit, each is modeled in Scripture, and each is commended in the Bible.

But I want to present you with three traits that may not be at the top of your list. Yet the Bible tells us to be famous for each of these things.

1. Be known for love.

Jesus told his disciples to love one another just as he had loved them. Then he said, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). What should we be known for? What characteristic will set us apart as followers of Jesus?

It’s not good theology. It’s not impeccable moral standards. (Good though both of those things are.) It’s love. Love for God should lead to good theology and godliness. But love is the defining characteristic.

Be famous for loving people. Do it sacrificially, following the example of Jesus. Love even your enemies. Love the arrogant, the mistaken, the misguided, the uneducated, the overeducated, the immoral, the rude. Love because you have been loved. Until people see you and think immediately of love, you haven’t taken Jesus’ words seriously.

2. Be known for gentleness.

Paul says it clearly: “Let your gentleness be evident to all” (Phil. 4:5, NIV). Other translations say “reasonableness” (ESV), “gentle spirit” (NASB), “moderation” (KJV), or “forbearance” (ASV). Each of these translation choices gets at the meaning. Here’s the definition of the Greek word: “not insisting on every right of letter of law or custom, yielding, gentle, kind, courteous, tolerant” (BDAG).

Paul says that our gentleness should be obvious to everyone who looks at us. They should think: She has a lot of patience. She never insists on her way of doing or seeing things. She’s reasonable in dealing with other people; so courteous!

I don’t often hear gentleness or a willingness to yield being praised in Christian circles. We’re certainly not famous for it. But Paul says it should be immediately obvious to the people around us.

3. Be known for humility.

Peter makes this huge statement: “Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble’” (1 Peter 5:5). Being “clothed in humility” is rich imagery. Clothing covers us; its visibility hides our covered selves. What if we wore humility like that? What if every inch of our being were only accessible beneath a covering of humility?

Bible College Student

So whether you are a first-semester Bible College student, a graduating Bible student, a homemaker, a banker, a pastor, an elder, a retiree, or anything else, evaluate your reputation. What do you want to be known for? God wants you to be famous for love, gentleness, and humility. How are you doing with these things?

If your knowledge of God and his word leads you to apathy, a harsh or dogmatic spirit, or pride, then you are squandering your knowledge. But if your increased knowledge leads you to greater service and a decreased desire for accolades, then something is going right.

Picture yourself as that first-semester Bible College student travelling home for a few weeks over the holidays. How would you put your newly gained knowledge into practice? When you returned to school would your church be in awe of your knowledge? Would they be “humbled” by your theological precision and insistence that doctrine matters? Would they be scrambling to quickly put your hasty reforms into action? Or would they feel encouraged, supported, and loved as you headed back to school to study the Bible in greater depth?

It’s impossible to make a stronger statement about why these things matter than this: God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.

This entry is part 15 of 22 in the seriesBook of the Month

To this point, the books we’ve recommended as our book of the “month” have been popular level books—books that the average reader can get through without too much difficulty. This “month,” I’m recommending a book that will require more effort from the average reader, but I think it’s worth it.

The book is Desiring the Kingdom by James K. A. Smith and it’s the first in his “Cultural Liturgies” series. I think this is an important book, especially for those of us who are convinced of the importance of “worldview.” Here’s why.

Smith invites his readers to view our familiar world in an unfamiliar way. One poignant example he explores is the shopping mall. We believe the mall is a purely secular location that we visit on our terms to pick up items we need for our own reasons. But Smith paints the mall in a religious light (or rather, reveals the inherently religious nature of the mall, hence the term “cultural liturgies”).

Mall Cathedral

The moment we enter the mall, we gain a sense of transcendence from the vaulted architecture, the skylights, and the lack of windows, which divert our attention from the sea of cars outside and the mundanities of daily life. In this place, time is marked not by the ticking of the clock (which you’ll be hard pressed to find) but by cycle of festivals and celebrations for which the “cathedral” is regularly re-adorned. Oversized photographs on the walls and mannequins in shop windows function as icons, embodying for us a vision of the “good life,” reminding us of what our “worship” will produce and calling us inside to “taste and see.” When we decide to partake of this vision of the good life, we approach the altar, item(s) in hand, and the priestly salesclerk guides us in consummating our worship, sending us out with a benediction (“Thanks, have a great day”).

On one level, this is all nonsense—the mall is not a church. But Desiring the Kingdom argues that this interpretation of the mall is profoundly realistic. The world around us shapes us, not simply at the level of our intellect, but at the level of our desires. Commercials don’t convince us of the logic of buying their products, they appeal to our desires. They make us want it. And in doing so, Smith argues, the marketers are exhibiting a more biblical view of humanity than most churches hold.

Our society recognizes that we are not primarily thinkers. Rather, we are primarily lovers. We do what we do not because we follow our logic in every case, but because we are driven by desire. Think about it: Do you drink Starbucks coffee (or the more obscure and therefore more trendy type of coffee that you consider far superior to Starbucks) because you intellectually believe it is so much better than the alternative that you’re wiling to spend $2 for a small coffee and $5+ for other drinks? No. You drink Starbucks because your desires have been trained, not just for the flavor, but for the atmosphere and experience. It’s not necessarily illogical, but it’s deeper than logic. It’s about a vision of the good life that resides more in our gut than in our brain.

PrintAnd here’s where Smith’s argument gets very important. The world is busy shaping our desires. Meanwhile, the church fights back by filling our minds. We fight love with facts. This is where the worldview approach often falls short. Descartes famous saying, “I think therefore I am,” summarizes our default view of humanity. We are thinking beings. So put the right knowledge into a person’s head and he or she will behave accordingly. And there is some truth here. But we all know it’s not the whole picture. We don’t upgrade to the new iPhone because we believe the new features are worth the price. Our desires have been trained to despise our (months) old iPhone and long for the newest.

Smith’s solution is worship. Our desires are trained through worship, not just ideas. We need to shape our worldview, but we also need to shape our longings. We need formation, not just informationWe need to desire the kingdom. In this regard, Smith advocates liturgy, but in a broad sense. He’s not saying we all have to become “high church” in the sense that we all do responsive reading and observe lent. But he does argue that those things can play an important role in shaping our desires. Biblically speaking, we are whole beings. We’re not disembodied minds, we are embodied creatures. So involving our senses in worship, engraining deep habits and rituals into our routines can help to train our desires. It’s not just about thinking, it’s about worship. It’s about love. The marketers understand this, the church should as well.

That’s Smith’s overall contention, and I’ll warn you that he’s persuasive. As I said, it’s not the easiest book to read, but it’s also not the hardest. Smith intentionally took a middle path: the most scholarly discussions are moved to the footnotes, but the overall discussion is still meant to contribute to higher-level debates. Anyone who has had a year or more of college education should be able to hang with Smith’s arguments, and his writing style continually emphasizes key points.

This book has been very influential for me, and it’s shaping the way I view my role as a Christian, as a parent, as a church member, and as an educator. I would say this is one of the most important books I’ve read in a long time. Give it a shot.

 

Frozen CastWith the video release of Disney’s Frozen this week, I have been doing what parents everywhere are doing: seeing bits and pieces of Frozen on a regular basis. I’ve written briefly about the movie already (here and here), but I feel compelled to add one more post.

As I watched Frozen again with my young daughters, I was struck by how clear the themes of love and fear are throughout the movie. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that the whole movie is an exposition of a Bible verse (whether the filmmakers intended this or not is a different question):

“There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.” (1 John 4:18a)

Think about how this plays out in the movie. The older sister, Elsa, has an incredible power. But because that beautiful gift has proven dangerous, she grows up in fear of the gift. In the film, she imprisons herself through fear, repeatedly mentioning her fear.

And then how is that fear overcome? Love. Love casts out fear. Anna pursues her sister, continually offers to help her, and eventually sacrifices herself out of love for her sister, which is the greatest form of love (John 15:13). And in the end, it’s love that shows Elsa how to control her gift, using it for beauty and keeping its danger at bay.

I’m convinced the whole movie could be summarized with John’s phrase: “Perfect love casts out fear.”

But I do want to be careful. While I do believe that Frozen is built on this biblical concept (and I don’t have any reason to think the filmmakers started with 1 John and built the movie from there), I want to emphasize that 1 John 4:18 means more than we will find in Frozen. Here’s the verse in its context:

“So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.” (1 John 4:16–21)

Let me just point out a few things here. First, notice the judgment theme. John is talking about fear of judgment, fear of punishment. And he’s saying that God’s love is so powerful when we truly come to recognize it, to believe it, our fear of punishment disappears. That’s profound. We don’t fear judgment because we know that God loves us. In this sense, John goes far beyond Frozen. For Elsa, love casts out the fear of hurting people she loves. For John, love casts out the fear of eternal punishment.

But also notice the last verses. John insists that if we love God, we will love our “brother” as well. And once again Frozen comes to my mind. Many of us would love to see a movie like Frozen explicitly speak about Jesus’ love for us. But even without that level of explicit theology, Frozen is showing us a fundamental piece of John’s message. Anna and Elsa (and Kristoff and Sven and Olaf) spend the film loving their brothers and sisters, whom they can see. And John tells us that without this kind of love, whatever love we claim to have toward God is a sham.

So Frozen is actually calling a lot of attention to the fundamental portion of this passage. Yes, John is talking about a far deeper love: the love of God that removes our fear of judgment. But John says that if we don’t love our brothers and sisters, then we know nothing of that profound love of God. And he says that our love for our brothers and sisters can only be shown because God has “first loved us.” So 1 John 4:18 means more than Frozen conveys, but not less.

Go ahead and watch Frozen again. If you’re as emotional as I am, you’ll be moved by this powerful representation of a message that’s at the heart of the Bible.

 

 

Do Feelings Follow Action?

Doug Main —  October 15, 2013 — 2 Comments

Yesterday I argued that God’s kind of love begins in the affections and shows itself outwardly in action. But that kind of love is difficult, so we come up with poor alternatives. In this post, I’m going to explore some of those alternatives.

One such alternative that I hear people say goes something like this: “Love is not a feeling; it is an action. So do the right action and the feelings will follow.” I may or may not be guilty of this logic in my past (years and years ago when I was so young and immature). I understand the thought, and it may be true sometimes in experience. Sometimes if we will just do the right thing—even when it’s difficult—our feelings afterward may be a lot different than our feelings before.

But there’s a real danger in this way of thinking. We may be performing the right action with the right feelings following afterward. But it’s equally possible that we outwardly perform the right action without dealing with the negative feelings we have toward that person. This leads to hardness of heart. Bitterness. Anger. Callousness. Hypocrisy. All sinful traits we are called to put away from our lives—and replace with God’s kind of love (Eph 4:31-5:1; Col 3:8-10; 1 Pet 1:22-2:3).

Too often my love is captured in the saying, “I’ll love ’em, but I don’t have to like ’em.” I don’t say it, but I do it. I love by gritting my teeth and putting a smile on my face and trying to act kindly and appropriately—but inwardly I don’t feel very loving toward that person.

When I find myself with less-than-perfect feelings toward a person, I don’t need to respond with a “I’ll just sacrificially serve them” mindset; I need to deal with my sinful feelings. At these times, if I’m really honest with myself, what I find is a love that has run cold, a heart that has become hard, and an affection that is really lacking for the person. To just outwardly “love” the person in the hope that the feelings follow after tends to do nothing but solidify my affection-less attitude toward that person. It becomes easier and easier to distance myself from him or her without having to deal with what is going on inside me.

This is far less than God’s kind of love.

whitecrossThe kind of love we are called to in John 13:34-35 and Romans 13:8-10 and Ephesians 5:2 and 1 John 4:7-11 and on and on is the kind of love God has shown us. The kind of love that starts in the heart and moves to our actions. The kind of love that is an affection shown in action. The kind of love that flows from a genuine care for the person instead of just outwardly doing the right thing to them.

So the next time that saying, “I’ll love ’em, but I don’t have to like ’em” (or one like it), pops into your head—or comes out your mouth—start by dealing with your heart before the Lord. The next time you don’t feel like loving that difficult person, remember God’s love for you. Allow His love to shape your heart, and then watch how you will actually care for the person—which will move you to action.

Then you will be able to say, “I’ll love ’em—and I actually like ’em too.”

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