Unequal Love, but That’s the Way It’s Supposed to Be

Saturday morning. It is 6:30. I sit here in the football stadium under an overcast sky wondering if three is too many to hope for. Will this, the third high school graduation I’ve saved these exact same seats for, be the one we get drenched? If not there’s one more opportunity in two years when our fourth walks this same path.

 

I am alone in the stands. Well, not quite alone.  There are many other parents beginning to show up and even some already here before me, saving seats for their clans.  But I am the lone clan member sitting here this morning saving a dozen spaces for extended family.  I sit here and watch the activity before me and think about what we are celebrating and who we are celebrating.

 

Of course we celebrate you, the graduates. You have worked hard (many of you) and accomplished much (some of you). But whether you’ve worked hard for this day or squandered opportunities up until this day or struggled with friendships and workloads and other issues, here you all will be soon. But more importantly, here are gathering their family members to celebrate this day. The unconditional love that is driving all the bustle in the stands is palpable. It’s even forgivable that this love causes us to forget for a moment that everyone in the stands, saving the seats, jockeying for the best picture spot, all of us are here celebrating our child. We are all excited. We are brothers and sisters in this journey with more in common than we realize.  We want this moment to last. I understand you. I feel you. Here. Use my towel. You don’t want to sit on that oxidized bench without wiping it down. We’re in this together.

 

Yes, of course, we celebrate you, our children and your accomplishments. But that cannot be all that we celebrate. I cannot sit here and watch the bustle on the field and on the track and in the stands and ignore how many it took to make this day possible.

 

I see your fellow classmates. They are putting out programs and sunglasses on every chair. They are dressed in their best and eager to serve you, their friends. They have all worked and played and laughed and even cried together and with you and at you. They do this for you and dream a little about a day one or two years in their future when others will be setting out their programs and sun glasses.  This day would not be possible without the friends that helped you through these four years.

 

I also see a dozen men and women in the stands. They don’t have a child here. They have gloves on and towels that look like they once were white but are now a mottled gray and black. These dozen faithful are here simply to wipe down the stands before the parents and grandparents and aunts and uncles come and sit down. They do this work quietly and faithfully. They are not looking for recognition. They appear embarrassed if you thank them. This does not stop my wife from seeking one out and giving her a big hug and thanking her over and over again. This is not the first thing these faithful servants have done so quietly in these four years to make this day possible for you. They have cleaned up after you. They have prepared rooms and facilities and picked up enough paper off the ground to republish whole sets of encyclopedias. Their work is as essential as it is overlooked. But you would not have this day to celebrate without them.

 

And definitely I see the teachers and administrators.  They are preparing the stage and their speeches. These have sacrificed much for you. They have given up evenings to grading and prepping. They have sacrificed far better pay, even just a county away, in order to instruct and serve and love you. Many are the very inspiration you and other young men and women have needed to see a brighter future for yourselves.

 

I watch all of this and know that somewhere inside the building behind me are 500 plus soon-to-be graduates. You are not thinking of your fellow classmates who set up your chairs. You are not thinking of the staff who have cleaned up ahead of and after you for four years. You are not thinking of your inspiring and patient teachers and administrators who have watched and forgiven much in these four years. You are not even thinking of us your parents. Our work. Our tears. Our fears. Our twelve years of wondering how on earth we will ever get you to this day. No. You are, admittedly, thinking of yourselves. Your accomplishments. Your parties that will follow. Your futures.

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And we gladly give you this day. We know that this momentary amnesia toward us and others is not who you will be in a few years.  Maybe not even in a few hours. But even if it takes until you are sitting in these stands and you are saving your own seats and watching the commotion unfold before you. In that moment you will be free from that nasty beast of self-centeredness. We can forgive you and give you this day. We know (well, we ought to know by now) this is not an equally reciprocating love. We know that we will pour far more into you than we will ever receive back. It must be this way. It can only be this way. There is no way for you to return the sacrificial love we have for you. And we would be embarrassed if you tried to. We are delighted to celebrate you today. On this day, we are as impressed with you as you are. On this day, we come a little closer to knowing the perfect love of a Father who loves us not because we will ever reciprocate that love anywhere near the level of sacrifice he has given for us, but simply because he chose to love us. He is driven entirely and purely by his love for us.  And we are driven entirely (though not always so purely) by our love for you.

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But now my thoughts are interrupted. Because you have walked in. Yes, you, plural, you 500+ seniors who will graduate in less than two hours.  But more specifically.  You.  Singular.  You have walked in.  You in your dress and your gown and your cap.  You, who feel so grown up.  I know.  I remember.  And you, who feel so scared.  I know.  I remember.  And I see you.  You and 500 of your closest friends walking to your seats. But they mean very little to me in this moment. You are all I see. But I can barely see you. My eyes are blurry. My throat feels funny. I am here and yet not here.  I am in a thousand moments spread over 18 years and crammed into one instant. I’d say I cannot imagine loving another this way. But that’s not true. I love three others this exact way. I would live and die and give and cry for them and for you. And not because of who they or you might become if I love you all well enough. But just because. I love them and you because you are mine. I love you, because I love you.  There is no higher reason.  There is nothing I am after.  I love you. Period. End of story.  And realize I am loved. Period. End of story.

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Rejoice in the Lord, Only?

Last month, as we continue to worship our way through the Gospel According to John at Hope of Christ Church, we found ourselves in John 2.13-25 and the account of Jesus cleansing the Temple.  You may listen to that sermon here if you are interested.  In that passage, we were shown that the Old Testament prophesied that Jesus would delight in and be consumed with the worship of God:

“His disciples remembered that is was written, ‘Zeal for your house will consume me.’” – John 2.17

In an attempt to emphasize the attitude of Christ toward worship, I fear I overstated and went beyond even God’s thoughts on how you ought to view the rest of your life and the gifts of God in your life.

While it is true that we ought to be consumed by God’s love for us, especially as displayed in Christ and on the cross, this does not mean that we cannot or even ought not find joy and delight in other smaller, even temporary gifts from God.

My mother once told me about a woman in the church where I grew up.  Her attitude toward ministry was that it wasn’t serving Christ if you enjoyed it.  You were really only serving and ministering if it was something you didn’t like.  She was my 3-4-year-old Sunday School teacher.  This revelation explained a lot.

Maybe none of us would go this far, but I wonder if this is not our assumption about most of the rest of life – if you are enjoying it, it is probably an idol.  But is this true?  Is this the attitude God wants us to have toward our work, our possessions, our endeavors?  I think not.

God has given to each of us certain abilities, passions, possessions, and opportunities.  If these are all gifts from God, he has not given them so that we despise or ignore them, but that we might enjoy the gifts and even share them with other people.

James 1.17 states, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.”  This reminder comes right after James has warned believers of the temptations and trials that come our way.  He points out that these temptations don’t come from God but form our own lusts and desires.  The good and perfect gifts are from God.  Our wrong uses and attitudes toward those gifts are from our own lusts and desires.  The answer is not to deny the goodness of the gifts nor to avoid those gifts, but to take those gifts captive for the glory of God.

Psalm 104 is a great celebration of all of creation.  The psalmist celebrates everything from the Sun and moon, the mountains and seas, the forests and pasturelands, the wild beasts and domestic animals, labor and toil and rest, and even oil and wine and bread.  Certainly, none of the pieces of creation are delighted in as an end in themselves, but always as a means to delighting in God.  But the delight is there all the same.

It is good for us, and even an act of worship, when we enjoy the gifts God has given.  You worship God when you enjoy your work and your abilities.  You worship God when you are passionate about aspects of creation and delight to share that passion with others.

Certainly, we each need to know our own hearts, and seek to keep our desires in a healthy God-honoring place and confess our lusts as the Holy Spirit exposes them.  But when we enjoy our work or our hobbies or passions or any other aspect of creation we are enjoying things the way God first intended creation to be before sin affected it and the way things will one day be again when the old is passed away and the new comes.  God is delighted when we find delight in his gifts as any earthly parent is delighted when the gift they give their child is enjoyed and appreciated.

C. S. Lewis describes the difference between looking at a sunbeam and looking along a sunbeam and at the sun. The sunbeam has a beauty and glory in itself, but that beauty and glory are not from itself. The glory of a sunbeam comes from the sun.  the beam cannot exist without the sun.  The sun can easily exist without the beam.  We need not deny the beauty of the beam in order to properly value the sun.

Enjoy the beams of your work, your passions, your abilities, your children, your relationships.  And let those beams of goodness draw your eyes upward to the Son.  Look along the gift to see the Giver.

A Secret Decoder Ring for Your Best Life Now – Hope for Hump Day with a View toward Sunday

This week at Hope of Christ, we will continue to look at the last chapter of Philippians.  Specifically verses 10-13:

I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me

Everyone loves secrets and mysteries.  Whether you’re Colonel Sanders with your 11 secret herbs and spices, or Coca Cola with your secret recipe for Coke, New Coke, Coke Classic (which was the new, new Coke, making the old new coke, the new old coke), or Coke Zero (which is the new, new, new Coke based on the old New Coke which, again, is the new old coke, recipe).

Even Paul loves mysteries.

Now to him who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages but has now been disclosed and through the prophetic writings has been made known to all nations, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith— to the only wise God be glory forevermore through Jesus Christ! Amen. -Romans 16.25-27

For this reason I, Paul, a prisoner for Christ Jesus on behalf of you Gentiles— assuming that you have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace that was given to me for you, how the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I have written briefly. When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit. This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel. -Ephesians 3:1-6

Even authors today delight in claiming that they have found the secret to life’s mysteries.  It’s what sells.  Write a book claiming that you’ve tried a few things; they worked for you; they may or may not work for others.  See how many copies you sell.  But announce to the world that you have figured out “the secret.”  and watch those royalty checks roll in.  But the secret has to be exciting.  It has to be something that I can do by focussing more on me. In fact, If you could spend about 200 pages telling me that the secret to my happiness is just a little more selfishness and self-will and self-love and self-promotion and self-esteem, I won’t even mind (or notice the hypocrisy) of a couple pages claiming I should think about others too.

We love secrets.  As long as they’re not too secret.  We like secrets that are decodable.

And Paul says he has figured out the secret.  He has figured out the secret to living your best life now.  And it seems to be a slightly different take than others who write books focussing on that very idea.  Whereas one author tells you that the secret to your best life now is, “don’t ever get satisfied with where you are,” Paul has found that the secret is actually the opposite of that advice.  The secret is…

well, some secrets are better revealed Sunday mornings.  But I promise one thing.  It won’t be a crummy commercial.