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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Drinking Songs

Guess What Day New Year’s Day is…

Well, it’s January 1.  That means it is another first day’s shot at reading through the Bible in a year (maybe less).  I’ve seen many blogs on reading schedule choices (Here’s a great blog with many choices).  I decided to go simple this year.  My bible has 1042 pages in it from Genesis 1.1 to revelation22.21.  Divided out over 365 days that comes to 2.85 pages.  I know that I will have less regularity over the weekends than I wish I would, so I upped it to 4 pages.  4 pages a day and you can read the entire Bible in a year even if you only read on weekdays (yes, I know smarty-pants-with-the-calculator-app, that’s only 1040 pages, but my Bible has 3 blank pages between the New Testament and the New Testament).

Todays reading covered Creation, the fall of man into sin, and ended with the birth of Noah.

First Songs and Implications for Drunkenness

In reading today I was struck by the first two songs recorded in the Bible.  One sung by Adam, one sung by a man seven generations removed from Adam through his son Cain, Lamech.

Adam sings in Genesis 2.23.  Sin has not yet corrupted man’s thoughts or desires. So what do we find in song on the lips of this sinless Adam?  A Hymn? No.  A song of praise? Yes.  About God?  No.  About his wife.

“This at last is bone of my bones

and flesh of my flesh;

she shall be called Woman,

because she was taken out of Man.”

Though the song is not sexual, it does have sexual undertones.  Eve has been brought to Adam to be the perfect receptor of his love.  She alone perfectly completes him. Together they are the perfect culmination of creation.  Immediately following the song, they are spoken of as being wed fast together and becoming one flesh.  The chapter ends by stating that they were both naked and were not ashamed.

The implications about God’s goodness are profound.  Our father in heaven delights in the physical love between a husband and wife.  The only two places in Scripture where God endorses drunkenness and indulgence both refer to the physical love between a husband and wife. In Proverbs 5.19 the young man is instructed to be intoxicated with love for his wife.  In Song of Solomon 5.1 both the husband and the wife are encouraged, even cheered on, to be drunk with love for each other.

As with so many other good gifts from God, the greater the gift the greater the potential we have for destroying it with our sin.

The second song ever recorded in Scripture for us also, at first glance, does not seem to have any sexual implications, however on deeper reading we see the foundation laid in the destruction of God’s design.

In Genesis 5.23 we read a song Lamech sang to his wives.

“Adah and Zillah, hear my voice;

you wives of Lamech, listen to what I say:

I have killed a man for wounding me,

a young man for striking me.

If Cain’s revenge is sevenfold,

then Lamech’s is seventy.”

Lamech sings praises to violence.  He is pleased with himself for killing a young man who had offended him.  He puts himself in the place of God as Judge, and Executioner of this young man and as Defender of himself and his own actions.  Lamech is drunk on violence and satisfying his own cravings without one care about anyone in his path or in his wake

Where does sex enter into this song?  In Geneses 5.19 we are told, “And Lamech took two wives. The name of the one was Adah, and the name of the other Zillah.”  Lamech had done violence to God’s design and to other humans before he ever killed that young man.  Lamech had decided that God’s design and plan for marriage was not for him.

Many point to Scripture, especially the Old Testament, as proof that polygamy was acceptable to God at least at one point.  But you cannot find a description of polygamy in the Bible where a happy family life or happy ending is described.

When the union, which God went to such lengths to create and bless and grant incomparable delight for us, is broken – whether through adultery, or pornography, or emotional affairs, or neglect – violence has occurred.  Without repentance and repair and reconciliation, violence will continue.  Perhaps through bitterness or resentment.  Maybe through harsh words or avoidance.  Maybe even through abuse or further destruction.

Learning the Lyrics and Draining the Dregs

As husbands and wives we can be both encouraged and warned though these songs.  The warning is striking – sexual sins, all sexual sins, always overflow and harm far more people than you thought they would.  But there is a place where God designed for you to be not only naked and unashamed with someone, but where you are encouraged to be intoxicated and drunk on one another.

Those “drunk” passages come centuries after sin entered the world.  That kind of love between husband and wife is possible even in the midst of a fallen world, even in the aftermath of grievous sin against each other.  There is hope, because there is forgiveness, because we have a Savior who did not get drunk on love but got drunk on God’s wrath so that we could drink from God’s cup of blessing and find forgiveness and restoration and hope for all of our relationships.  After all we are called now the bride of Christ and the union between husband and wife was intended from the beginning to be a picture of the union between us and Jesus Christ.

In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.  -Ephesians 5.28-32

For my married friends – May 2014 be a year of wonderful repair and restoration and wonton drunkenness between you and you spouse.

For my unmarried friends – in the words of the most interesting man in the world, “Stay thirsty, my friends.”

Hope for Hump Day, November 13

I have been reading Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Life Together. I was struck by this sentence:

If my sinfulness appears to me to be in any way smaller or less detestable in comparison the sins of others, I am still not recognizing my sin at all.

The way I heard one pastor put it was, we need to view our own sin with the judgement of sobriety and others’ sin with the judgement of charity.

I usually reverse those. I have all sort of excuses and circumstantial extenuations for why I sin. It usually is closely related to other people’s sin. Do you ever do that? “Sure I’m not treating my spouse the way God directs me to, but he/she sinned first.” “Okay, I’m not treating my child with the dignity and respect owed him as human, but he acted so foolishly.” “Yes, I should not have spoken about that person the way I did, but did you hear what she did to me?”

In Ephesians 3.8 Paul says,

To me, though I am the least of all the saints, this grace was given

Here is the man who wrote nearly half of the books in the New Testament. And his view of himself is that he is the least of all the saints.

When I view your sin as worse than mine I will always have an excuse for withholding love or forgiveness or even mere kindness. When I view your sin as worse than my sin I have an excuse to sin against you, because it will feel like justice.

But when I view my sin as worse than your sin I will be quick to forgive because I know how much I have been forgiven. I will be quick to empathize because I know the temptations that are common to all of us. I will not withhold love from you because God does not withheld His love from me when I sin.

Is there someone in your life whose sin you are convinced is worse than your own? Is there a “lesser” saint than you in your life? What would your relationship look like if you were to view your own sin as worse than theirs? How would it affect your interactions, your attitude, your heart? What if you made as many excuses and explanations for his or her sin as you do for your own? “He was tired.” “She had a rough day.” “He’s really been under a lot of pressure.”

Brotherly love will find any number of extenuations for the sins of others, only for my sin is there no excuse whatsoever.

Galatians 6.2,3

Bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself.

Enjoy the Journey.

Hope for Hump Day, October 30

Never Use ‘Always’ – Always Avoid ‘Never’ – Unless…

It happened again. Your spouse, your teenager, your brother or sister, your friend has let you down. An argument, a disagreement, a misunderstanding, a missed opportunity. And now the words begin to flow – maybe to the offending party, maybe to someone else about the offending party. Soon the words are not merely flowing, they are flying with the speed and accuracy – and deadliness – of an arrow off a crossbow. And then it comes:

“You always…”

“She never…”

“You never…”

“He always…”

They are such easy words to say. And they certainly communicate well your frustration and hurt. But do they over-communicate? Do they say more than you intended to say? And is it true?

“Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (Ephesians 4.29-32).

Hello, My Name Is…

When you use words like, “You always,” or “You never,” what you are saying is, “This trait, this offense is your identity. This defines you.” In other words, nothing else in the person’s past has any capital or impact on who this person is at his or her core. This, and this only, is their identifier. It becomes the monochromatic lens through which you view the person. Everything they do is colored by this one fault or flaw or sin.

But if you can take a moment to be honest you have to admit, that is simply not true. Hyperbolic language is always over-the-top and never accurate (see what I did there?). This sin is NOT the defining character trait of your husband or wife, your teenager or sibling or friend. Our sin is not our identifier. It is certainly true that our sin used to be our identity, but no longer. Christ has delivered us.

“You were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” 1 Corinthians 6.11

“For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!” The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs–heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ.” Romans 8.14-17

If God himself does not identify us by our sins, we ought not use each other’s faults as identifiers either.

Abandon all hope, ye who enter here

When we use the language of “you always” and “you never” and other phrases like them, what we are saying is that there is no hope for change. “This is so much your definer that the Holy Spirit is not going to change you.” “I have no hope for anything ever changing in you.”

Is that what we are seeking to communicate with one another? Is that an accurate assessment of the ongoing struggle with the power of sin?

“He who began a good work in you will be faithful to complete it.” Philippians 1.6

“We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed.” 2 Corinthians 4.8,9

If God’s view of us is that we are washed, justified and sanctified shouldn’t that be our view of each other?

Our words have meaning and power, power to heal and help or power to tear down and destroy.

“Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruit.” Proverbs 18.21

Where ‘always’ will always work and ‘never’ will never be out of place

So, how does God use always and never when he describes our relationships on earth? Won’t we always be dealing with each other’s sin? Won’t we never be perfected before the Lord returns? Yes, and so we need love… always.

1 Corinthians 13 is that well-known passage that is read at so many weddings. It’s the “love” chapter. Have you ever noticed that most of the descriptors of love are in response to a negative situation? “Love is patient.” When is it that you need patience? “Love does not insist on its own way; it is not resentful or irritable.” When is it we are most insistent that others follow our way? When are you tempted to be irritable or resentful?

The passage ends with four “always” and one “never.”

“love bears all things (always bears), believes all things (always believes), hopes all things (always has hope), endures all things (always endures). Love never ends.

Love never gives up. This is the love God has for you. This is the love God grants to you for each other. The next time you are tempted to throw the “always” and “nevers” into an argument. Remember the always and nevers of the Gospel, of Christ’s love for you, of the Spirit’s presence both in you and in the other person. And never give up.

Enjoy the journey.