Tuesday, May 25, 2010


I've decided I love my wife.

I hope that is no surprise to The Amazing Joanne, but of course like all married men, I sometimes don't act like I love her, and often I don't appreciate her as I should.  Proverbs 18:22 says "The man who finds a wife finds a treasure, and he receives favor from the Lord."  So according to that verse, I've got a treasure and have received favor from God.  I agree!  I don't deserve her love, and I am blessed more than I can measure to have a life partner, friend and the amazing ministry partner she is, in my life.

Paul says in Ephesians 5:25 that husbands should "love" their wives.  In society of that time, marriage was a social convenience for raising heirs to the man's family, and love was often given to the man's mistress instead.  As he often did, Paul turns this human idea on its head and says that the man should love his wife "just as Christ loved the church. He gave up his life for her."  Men tend to be a tad more selfish than that.  Sometimes if we're being heroic we give up our lives for a cause, but not for our wives.  But Paul instructs us that, as the Messiah sacrificed himself for the sake of the church, husbands should give up our own agendas and desires and priorities in order to serve our wives.

Marriage experts will tell you that a wife will feel nurtured and cherished by this behavior by a husband, and respond by loving him; but Paul doesn't talk about whether a wife will respond, he merely says this is our duty.  Her response, if any, is secondary and we aren't to serve in anticipation of a return, but because God says we must.  (Loving in order to get a response that we want isn't really loving anyway.)  Still, it shouldn't be drudgery; in verse 28, he says "In the same way, husbands ought to love their wives as they love their own bodies. For a man who loves his wife actually shows love for himself."

A man who will love his wife this way, whether he feels like it or not or thinks she deserves it or not, learns some of the love that Jesus himself has for his church (a church that is, by all accounts, not perfect nor sometimes seems loveable).  He may learn some humility as he reflects on how our Savior loves the church in spite of itself, and so loves him in spite of himself; and that might encourage him to love his wife with true selflessness.  I'm working on that one and will be for some time to come.  But still grateful for the treasure and favor God has given me in Joanne.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

"God Doesn't Love Me"

"Yeah, I know, the Bible says 'God so loved the world' but that means the planet -- not people like me."  I know people who feel this way; who insist that it's impossible for God to love someone who is like they are.  The way some people act, it is certain they don't feel loved, or believe that God loves them. But is God's love for us true, whether or not we believe it?

Here's how Paul put it in Ephesians 1:  "Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes.  God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure." This says that the Father committed himself a long time ago -- really, before time existed to measure 'a long time ago' -- to create us and bring us into his circle of love. And to create the mechanism for that inclusion, the Son (we know him now as Jesus Christ) committed to come into human flesh, to bring us to the Father through the Spirit's work. 

People hadn't been made yet, and the first sin hadn't been committed when all this planning took place. But because God (whom we know as Father, Son and Spirit) created us with the freedom to make choices, it was inevitable that somebody, sometime, would make the wrong choice and send us all down the wrong path. So the decision of God to love us and save us in spite of our sins was inevitable, right from the first.  It was part of the package.

That means this:  God already knows what kind of person you are, and loves you anyway.  Jesus, the Son of God in the flesh, loved you so much he went through the same meat-grinder of physical life that you go through, and then died to pay for all our lousy decisions (including the idea that God doesn't love us!) and then was brought back to life to give us life.  "God is love" (1 John 4:8) and since God himself is limitless, God's love is limitless,which means he loves you whether you're having a good day (or life) or a bad day (or life).  He created you and me out of love, and he intends to love us forever.

That's his story, and he's sticking to it.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Soul Amendment

The Lovely Joanne has been working in the soil lately, planting flowers and helping me in the vegetable garden.  The soil around our house is mostly clay, which is fine for some plants and not so fine for others.  We've decided that it needs "amending" which is a term for adding different components to the soil.  Soil amendments loosen the soil or make it hold water better, or make it more or less alkaline.  This is so the soil can be more balanced, have more nutrients available for the plants, and in general help the plants grow better -- that is, soil the way it's supposed to be.

I have a plan for soil amendment in our garden.  You may or may not have realized that God has a "soul amendment" plan going on in your life.  Why is that?  Well, all of us have grown up in a world that is far from what God intended.  In Romans 5, Paul describes the desolation that rejecting God has brought on the world:  "When Adam sinned, sin entered the world. Adam’s sin brought death, so death spread to everyone, for everyone sinned." So even if we had loving parents and a happy childhood, we've grown up in a broken world, and one way or another we ourselves are broken.  We need help--and God gives it!  It comes in the form of "soul amendment" -- not only forgiveness of our sins, but a whole new life in Christ, a life of growth and change.

Some of what my lawn and garden need can be simply spread on top, and it will soak in and do its work.  Other amendments need to be dug into the soil, so out come my shovel and spading fork to turn it all upside down. The worms aren't happy about being dug out of their home, but it has to be if I'm going to give then a new bunch of goodies to chew on. Sometimes 'soul amendment' has to be done that way too, even though it seems very painful at the time.  James writes in chapter 1: "Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow."  Ouch!  Joy??  I'd rather be comfortable, and receive joy from getting a fat tax refund.  But being comfortable doesn't usually help us grow, and it won't break up the spiritual 'hard ground' we've all inherited as children of Adam and Eve.

We usually don't know how to handle the discomfort during a trial or difficult time.  James continues in verse 5, "If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking." God doesn't leave us alone or without resources -- he remains a generous and loving Father who wants us to thrive, and will provide wisdom and encouragement.  Sometimes those come from his word, and sometimes from other people. 

Soil amendment can be hard work, and it takes time.  Same with soul amendment.  But in both cases, the eventual result is beautiful growth, showing the best of God's creation -- the way it is supposed to be -- in our gardens, and in our souls. 

Tuesday, May 4, 2010


The last few weeks in church, we've been discussing how we can obey the "second great commandment" as it is sometimes called.  Jesus agreed with a lawyer in Luke 10:27-28 that the summary of the entire law was to love God with all we have, and to love our neighbors as ourselves.  The lawyer of course, being a lawyer, wanted to define neighbor.  He should have quit while he was ahead!  The Lord gave him, instead, a reminder that "neighbor" really means "anybody around us."

Of course, the problem is that the people around us are so inconvenient!  They have bad habits, they irritate us, they're not trustworthy and they often aren't the kind of people we'd prefer to be around.  So we tend (like the lawyer) to spend our time and attention on those we're more comfortable with.  With or without expressing it in words, we may say things like "they're not like us;" "they have too many needs for us to help with;" or even "he got himself into that mess, he can get himself back out." 

In the book of James, written by the brother of Jesus, we're instructed that favoritism speaks against the love of Jesus Christ:  "If you give special attention and a good seat to the rich person, but you say to the poor one, “You can stand over there, or else sit on the floor”—well, doesn’t this discrimination show that your judgments are guided by evil motives?" (2:3-4).  James goes on to say in verses 8 and 9, "Yes indeed, it is good when you obey the royal law as found in the Scriptures: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you favor some people over others, you are committing a sin. You are guilty of breaking the law."

It may be impossible to give lots of time and attention to everyone in our lives, especially in the days of email, Facebook (some people have 2,500 'friends' on FB -- is that even possible?) and a generally over-extended lifestyle that a lot of us have.  But that's not what James is saying; he is telling us not to favor one over the other due to judgmental thinking, writing some people off because they don't fit our standards or we feel better about loving others instead.

I have neighbors that take good care of their grass, keep their stuff neat and don't make much noise.  I have others who, well let's say, aren't quite as considerate.  It's easy to start thinking of them as a nuisance, assigning them a "back seat" in friendship compared to the ones that are less trouble.  But that's just what James tells us not to do.  Our love for others is supposed to stretch to everyone, even if they are not like us or maybe more trouble than we'd like to deal with.  After all, God has loved "the world" (John 3:16) not just a select few.

If the "glorious Lord Jesus Christ" (James 2:1) had died only for good people, where would that leave me and you?